The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Baseball Today”

Baseball, Wages, and the American Middle Class

As you can clearly see from this graph, the middle class has been trending in the wrong direction, regarding its share of national income, for over 40 years now.  If you are at least over 45 or 50 years old, you may recall a time when a one income household (usually headed by a male breadwinner) could adequately, even comfortably, provide for itself.  My father, for example, was a factory worker his entire life in Bridgeport, CT.  With a sixth-grade education, and a lot of hard work, he was able to support my mom, my younger brother and I until I moved out of the house in the 1980’s and began to support myself.  By that time, (a bit earlier, actually) my mom had gone back to work as well.

My dad worked in a union shop and received a fair wage for hard work, as had his parents’ generation before him.  I, too, worked for a couple of years in a union shop.  The Teamster’s Union negotiated wages and contracts for us at UPS in Stratford, CT in the early 1980’s.  When I started working there (loading and unloading trucks) I was earning about $10.00 per hour.  Even in Connecticut, that was a pretty nice wage for a kid just out of high school.  Within about a year, I was earning around $12.00 per hour, shared an apartment with a friend of mine, bought a car, and was able to save a little money.

It should be noted that UPS was enjoying prosperity in those days as well, despite the presence of labor unions in its midst.

In the late fall of 2011, a month or so before Christmas, I thought about making a little extra money down here in Greenville, S.C. where I now live.  My wife is the primary breadwinner in our family, but I like to work, so I thought, just for the hell of it, I would check out what UPS here in the greater Greenville area was paying its employees for the same job I used to do around thirty years ago.  It turned out their starting wage, in a non-union facility, was around $8.00 per hour.  Now, adjusting for thirty years of inflation, I can’t even imagine what this “modern” wage would have equated to thirty years ago.

Now let’s turn to Major League baseball for a few minutes to see how the ball players, represented by the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, have fared over approximately that same time period. MLB Salaries Since 1970

As you can see, the players, represented by a very strong union, have become wealthier than they probably ever could have dreamed of just forty years ago.  Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees will earn $28 million dollars this season. Derek Jeter’s net worth is around 125 million dollars.  Now, obviously supply and demand is an important factor here.  As long as baseball remains popular, the money will be there to pay this select group of highly talented athletes.

But it’s equally important to remember that baseball has been a capitalist enterprise for well over a century now, yet ball players have not always grown rich, and least not this rich.  The minimum salary for a player (his contract negotiated by his union) is now over $400,000 dollars, around ten times the average salary of a non-union teacher here in South Carolina.  I am not making an argument over the relative fairness of what a teacher makes vs. what an athlete makes.  Great teachers are rare, but so are great athletes.  Still, children understand and respond to incentives just like the rest of us.  What choices are we encouraging our children to make based on the incentives available to them now and in the future?

The primary arguments I’ve heard from people (some of whom haven’t earned  a middle class wage for years) against unions is that either A)  Unions are corrupt, B)  Union workers are greedy, or C)  We can’t afford them.

Let’s take each of these three arguments as they relate to baseball.

A)  Unions are Corrupt:  There’s no question that the Player’s Union hindered the development and implementation of any rules regarding testing for steroids.  One reason for this was that they believed protecting a player’s privacy was an important consideration.  How could they be sure this wouldn’t turn out to be a witch-hunt?  In that regard, they turned out to be right.  The so-called confidential list of players who tested positive was partially leaked to the press, then on to the public.  From that point on, all players have been branded guilty until “proven” innocent.  Many of the Hall of Fame voters themselves seem to be waiting for “more information” regarding players they suspect might have used PED’s.  Perhaps more names from another “confidential” list will someday illegally be made public.  Then, with illegally obtained information at hand, they can penalize still more “dirty” players.

Sure, there are other kinds of corruption.  These kinds also exist in non-union corporations, and among many of the Congressmen on Capital Hill, some of whom feel the need to remind us of the corruption of unions for political purposes while finding loopholes around and through the rules in an effort to enrich themselves at public expense.

B)  Union Workers Are Greedy:  Like us, baseball players seek to maximize economic gain within the realm of their chosen occupation, appropriate to their level of talent and experience.  My friends in the private sector routinely do this as well.  This is called (for better or worse) pursuing the American Dream.  A couple of my friends are now quite wealthy.  More power to them.  This is not a zero-sum game where their prosperity comes at the price of someone else’s poverty (well, not directly, anyway.)

Public sector employees are also often accused of being greedy, despite the fact that they often earn less money than their private sector counterparts who have similar levels of education and job experience.  My first year as a teacher, in a small town in rural Maine, I earned $20,900.  That was in the mid-1990’s, not all that long ago.  In my final year as a teacher, after a dozen years of experience and 36 Master’s Level college credits, I was earning $49,000.  A friend of mine who graduated college the same year I did, who now works in the private sector, earns about twice as much as I did then.

We are all greedy.  But for public sector unionized employees, as for MLB players, this is not a zero-sum game.  The money a teacher, fireman or policeman makes is part of the tax base that pays for their own salaries, as well as the benefits received by others.  Moreover, their disposable income is just as vitally a part of the consumer spending that promotes and supports local business as the dollars spent by private sector employees.  Therefore, any attempt to “control” the costs of public employees by destroying their unions may have, at the local level, the unintended side effect of hurting overall consumer spending, which benefits no one.

C)  We can’t afford them.  This argument, that unions will destroy the economy, was an argument that MLB franchise owners made over and over again in the years leading up to the creation of the Baseball Player’s Association, and especially during the dawn of free agency.  Exploding baseball player salaries will kill the game.  Tickets will no longer be affordable, and player greed will kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  Also, team owners will be put out of business because they won’t be able to afford these new, extravagant salaries.

None of these things came to pass.  When George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973, he paid just under ten million dollars for the franchise.  Estimates are that the Yankees franchise is now worth around three billion dollars.  Certainly, not every franchise can boast that same level of economic success, but in the rare occasion when an MLB franchise does go on the market, it rarely lacks a plethora of interested millionaires seeking to purchase it.  Moreover, the eight best years of attendance in baseball history have each occurred in the past eight years.  Clearly, if you build it, they will come, no matter how much the employees are getting paid.

Map usa unions

Map usa unions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, beyond the world of baseball, the argument has been made that we can no longer afford unions.  Yet many corporations that argue against unionized employees are among the richest companies on earth.  Keeping their employees unnecessarily poor may allow them to please their shareholders, but the end result is a two-tiered economy that undermines real economic opportunity, upward mobility, and democracy itself.  Even Henry Ford, who was anti-semitic and an early admirer of European fascism, declared that it was right to pay his assembly line workers a fair, living wage if for no other reason than that they should afford to buy the cars they were manufacturing.

It should also be noted that in the richest states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, public-sector employee unions have been strong for decades.  The strength of those unions did not prevent those states from becoming and remaining wealthy.  Conversely, many so-called “right to work” anti-union states, especially in the south, have long been among the poorest in the nation.  The lack of unions has not, nor will it ever, lift these states out of their second or third-rate economic performances.  Yet, counter-intuitively, most of the residents in these same, relatively poor states, harbor negative opinions of unions.

The anti-union propaganda machine has long been effective in keeping people poor and ignorant.  Thirty or forty years of union decline in this country has not made the nation richer, it has made the middle class poorer.  One only has to look at the recent history of Major League baseball to see the obvious solution to this state of affairs isn’t to continue to undermine, even outlaw, the few remaining unions we have left.  True, fortunes can be made in the private sector outside of unions.  But trends are trends, and in the long run, if current trends continue, there may not be a middle class in the future to enjoy Major League baseball.  It will be a game of the few, by the few, for the few.

If that day comes, baseball and America will both be greatly diminished.

The Baseball Hall of Fame Vote (Or, Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship)

Normally, when a ship is about to smash itself upon the craggy coast of, say, a nineteenth century New England village during a nor’easter, the black rats aboard would be wily enough to read the warning signs in time to jump ship and attempt to save themselves by swimming through the swells.

Not so, apparently, with the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA), America’s last bastion of discomfiting morality.  Just as the S.S. Hall Ballot 2013 set sail, the BBWAA rats began to puncture holes in their own vessel, now listing dangerously to port-side before they’d even left port.  And more of them  continue to climb aboard,  though it should be obvious by now that their (nautical) position, (like Dave Kingman playing third base), is untenable.

How else to account for the inevitable shipwreck-of-a-ballot being buffeted around like a latter-day Pequod doing battle with the GREAT WHITE WHALE of our time, steroids?

Wait a minute.  Aren’t the writers — those sportswriters lucky enough to actually receive a ballot (in a newspaper industry, mind you, with about as much of a future as a harpooner) — simply supposed to vote for the best players of the past decade or so whose names now appear on ballot?  When did the baseball writers, an old-time boys club not to be mistaken for a boy’s choir, become the Maginot Line of virtue in our society?

Yet moralize they will once their ballots are submitted on January 9th.
Some of them will tell you it’s simply wrong to allow cheaters into The Hall of Fame even though plenty of cheaters are already in there.  They will argue that to let in a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens will turn the Hall’s Plaque Room into an atrocity, akin to burying Napoleon’s remains in Westminster Abbey (well, they probably won’t come up with that one, I suppose, though they’ll wish they had.)

Yet the Hall has withstood the induction of a KKK member, Tris Speaker, as well as the enshrinement of such other virulent racists as Cap Anson and Ty Cobb, to name just two of probably many.

Gaylord Perry was an admitted cheater.  He even wrote a popular book about cheating called, “Me and the Spitter.”

 Leo Durocher, while managing the Giants in ’51, had his players utilize a complex set of mirrors and a German-made telescope to steal the signs of opposing pitchers in the second half of the ’51 season, up to and including  the pennant deciding game in which Bobby Thomson probably knew what Ralph Branca was about to throw before he hit the legendary (probably tainted) home run.

Don Sutton and Whitey Ford were said by many to have regularly scuffed the ball.

And as for Performance Enhancing Drugs, “Greenies” don’t count?  Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron were both admitted users of “Greenies” and Willie Mays probably used them as well.  “Greenies” have been specifically banned from baseball since 1971.  They might not have enabled a player to hit a ball further or to throw it harder, but they did allow the player to continue to perform at peak performance when their body otherwise might not have been able to.  That is the same purpose for which  Mark McGwire claims to have used PED’s.

Meanwhile, even if none of those reasons impress you very much or cause you to take a second look at PED use, consider this.  It’s probable that at least one or two PED users are already in The Hall.  The taint has probably already occurred.  If PED use really began to manifest itself in the Majors in the early to mid-1980’s, this means that for around twenty years now, the BBWAA has been inducting players who could conceivably have used PED’s.  Given the large number of stars who’ve now been linked to PED’s (either by leak, personal admission, or circumstantial evidence) over the past 20 years, is it inconceivable that some of their peers already in The Hall might also have been users?

Consider, as well, that the despite the “best” intentions of the BBWAA over the next decade, almost certainly at least a couple more PED users will be enshrined.  The alternative is that NO players will be enshrined, and despite the Baseball HOF’s best efforts at appearing Regal and Above the Fray on this issue, no organization will squawk louder than The Hall will when NO player is inducted into The Hall for several years running.

We’re talking big bucks on the line here for The Hall’s big, annual Induction Weekend.  No induction, no big crowds.  No big crowds, a lot less money coming into the town coffers.  (Current Hall Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, whose family owns just about all that is worth owning in Cooperstown, would not be happy about that.)

Finally, there is the long-term issue of the continued relevance and viability of a HOF which excludes virtually all of the significant record holders and award winners of an entire generation of players.  Consider List A and List B, for a moment:
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List A:

Tommy McCarthy
George “High Pockets” Kelly
Rick Ferrell
Lloyd Waner
Jesse Haines
Freddie Lindstrom
Chick Hafey
Herb Pennock
Jim Bottomley
Ray Schalk
Rube Marquard
Elmer Flick
Ross Youngs
Kiki Cuyler
Joe Kelley

That’s a list of 15 players who are actually in the HOF.
Now let’s take a look at List B:
Barry Bonds
Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Roger Clemens
Sammy Sosa
Larry Walker
Mark McGwire
Craig Biggio
Edgar Martinez
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell
Kenny Lofton
Curt Schilling
Fred McGriff
Lee Smith

Virtually every player on List B is better than every player on list A, yet there’s a very real chance that NONE of the players on List B will be elected this year, and that perhaps only 2 or 3 will be elected in coming years.  Granted, not all of these players suffer from the scarlet letter of Steroids.

Yet, from both a historical standpoint as well as from a perspective of pure entertainment, obviously far more fans (despite their misgivings about any particular player) would prefer to visit Hall Plaque Room B over Hall Plaque Room A.  And certainly the players on List B were both more talented and, therefore, more Hall-worthy than List A.  So, the question arises, how irrelevant do we want to allow The Hall of Fame to become?

Which players from List B (and let’s add Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, and Don Mattingly to round out our ballot) would you vote for?  Remember, you can vote for up to ten players.  Which ones would you choose not to vote for, and why?

Happy New Year,
Bill Miller

Baseball Standings 2012: The Good, The Bad, and the Lucky

Now that the 2012 baseball season is around one-quarter over, I thought it might be a good time to take a break from the normal fare of this blog, and check in with what’s been happening around the Majors.

It is common in the late winter and early spring to prognosticate about what will happen in the up-coming baseball season.  Baseball magazines and blogs are rife with predictions.  Inevitably, many of those predictions soon look pretty foolish.  I’m as guilty as the next guy as far as these predictions are concerned.

But sometimes, baseball surprises us much more than usual.

Take for example, the early success of the Baltimore Orioles who currently sport a gaudy 28-17 record.  They have a simply remarkable record of 15-6 on the road.

Did you see this coming?  I doubt anyone else, including Orioles management on down to the lowliest clubhouse attendant, did either.

But how much of any particular teams success or failure at this point is simply pure dumb luck?  Which teams are either underachieving or overachieving?  And which teams are playing about as well as they should be?

One easy way to measure the difference between how a team is actually performing (its won-loss record) is to compare that team’s performance with its run differential.  Run differential simply measures how many runs a team has scored vs. how many they have surrendered.  The Giants, for example, have scored 184 runs this season, and they have given up 181.  Thus their run differential is +3.

You would expect a team with a +3 run differential to be about one game over .500.  The Giants, in fact, are three games over .500 (24-21), so it can be deduced that they’ve overachieved a little bit.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the teams.  In the left-hand column is a list of teams, from best to worst, based on their winning percentage.  In the right-hand column is a list of each team’s run differential, also rated from best to worst.  It is interesting to note which teams are either underachieving or overachieving at this point.

1)  Dodgers – .682                                            1)  Rangers  +79

2)  Orioles – .622                                              2)  Cardinals  +64

3)  Rangers –  .600                                           3)  Dodgers  +44

3)  Rays –  .600                                                 4)  Blue Jays  +35

5)  Indians – .591                                               5)  Braves  +32

5)  Nationals – .591                                            6)  Nationals  +19

7)  Reds – .568                                                   7)  Red Sox  +17

8)  Braves – .565                                                8)  Orioles  +14

9)  Cardinals – .556                                            8)  Rays  +14

10)  Blue Jays – .533                                         10) Houston  +12

10)  Giants – .533                                               11) White Sox  +11

10)  Marlins – .533                                             12) Reds  +8

10)  Mets – .533                                                  13)  Yankees  +7

14)  Yankees – .523                                            14)  Phillies +4

15)  White Sox – .511                                          15) Giants +3

16)  Phillies – .500                                              16) Cleveland +1

16)  Red Sox – .500                                             17) Angels -2

18)  Oakland – .489                                             18) Marlins -6

19)  Houston –  .477                                             19) Detroit -10

20)  Angels – .457                                                 19) Seattle -10

21)  Detroit – .455                                                 21) Arizona -14

21)  Pirates – .455                                                 22) Oakland -20

23)  Seattle – .447                                                 23) Kansas City -22

24)  Arizona – .444                                                24) Colorado -27

25)  Milwaukee – .409                                          25) Milwaukee -29

26)  Kansas City – .395                                         26) Pirates -34

27)  Colorado – .372                                               27) Mets -35

28)  San Diego – .370                                             28) San Diego -37

29)  Cubs – .341                                                      29) Cubs -46

29)  Twins – .341                                                    30) Twins -72

Starting at the bottom, no matter how you cut it, it’s going to be a long year for the Padres, Cubs, and Twins.  Unfortunately for the Brewers, their run differential matches their record, so there’s not much reason to expect a big turnaround there.  It’s time to start selling off some of their most tradeable parts.

As for the Mets, they better not start printing playoff tickets just yet.  Their run differential is that of a sub-.500 team.  They’ve been playing with a lot of heart, but over the course of a 162 game season, talent usually trumps heart.

Houston is a big surprise to me, not because they are a sub-.500 team, but because their run differential suggests they should be playing better than .500 baseball.

The Cardinals already appear to be playoff bound, but their run differential suggests that the best may be yet to come for them.

The Red Sox, who have recently been playing better baseball, actually have a better run differential than the division-leading Orioles.  Expect the Red Sox to close ground on Baltimore over the next several weeks, even if the slightly overachieving Orioles continue to play good baseball.

The Yankees are a decent team, but are a long way from being a 95 win team.  At this point, they more closely resemble an 84-win team.  It’ll certainly be interesting to see how that new reality plays out in New York.

If the White Sox can figure out how to win at home, their run differential shows that they can yet win their division this year, but Cleveland is not at all a bad team.

The Phillies, like the Yankees may be, in fact, a mediocre team masquerading as division contenders.  On the other hand, the Braves and the Nationals appear to be for real.

Comparing the two columns above, what did you notice?

Baseball Predictions – 2012

As the calender turns to March, it is that time of year again when we force ourselves to turn away from the latest U.S. Women’s soccer headlines (“U.S. Starts Algarve Cup By Defeating Denmark!”), and turn, instead, towards the rising sun of Spring Training, and a new baseball season.

Which means it’s time for my 2012 baseball predictions.

You know the drill.  I predict, you shake your head sadly, we all forget about it a day later and move on with our lives.  So let’s get on with it.

American League 

East

1)  Tampa Bay

2)  Boston

3)  New York

4)  Toronto

5)  Baltimore

This is the year Tampa Bay begins to take charge in the East.  The pitching, the youth, the coherent plan emanating out of the front office.  It’s a good time to be a Rays fan.

Boston is still a very good team, but I don’t think they’ve gotten last season’s collapse out of their collective heads.  They wasted unbelievable seasons by Ellsbury and A-Gone, Beckett is a head-case, Lester let the team down in the end, and Bobby V. is too much of a lightning rod for this to be a smooth year in Boston.

With the retirement of Posada and the jettisoning of Burnett onto Planet Pittsburgh, The Yankees are going through a kind of youth movement by attrition.  Pineda was a nice pickup, but with two statues on the left side of the infield, a mediocre defensive outfield, and a team that is being heavily courted by the A.A.R.P, the Yankees have to hit a wall, and my money says it happens this year.

Toronto is like the girl on the fringe of her group that you should hit on because she’s the one most likely to say yes.  Not a threat to the others, but just interesting enough to keep your eye on.

Baltimore is the girl whom your best-friends wife insists has a nice personality.  Keep moving; nothing to see.

English: Miguel Cabrera at Dodger Stadium.

Image via Wikipedia

Central

1)  Detroit

2)  Cleveland

3)  Kansas City

4)  Chicago

5)  Minnesota

Not so comfortable with my three middle picks, but confident that Detroit and Minnesota will be the bookends.  I like where K.C. is headed, but I think Cleveland is, for the time being, a step ahead of them.

Robin Ventura will restore order in the White Sox clubhouse, and they could be better than I suspect, but there are just so many unanswered questions on this team right now that it is almost impossible to predict how they’ll finish.  So let me go ahead and foolishly say they’ll win 79 games.

Minnesota, even if Mauer and Morneau are reasonably healthy, is a bad team in a nice park.

West

1)  Angels

2)  Texas

3)  Seattle

4)  Oakland

If we’re going ahead this year with two Wild Card teams, and as of this writing it looks like we are, then one of the Wild Card teams will be either the Angels or the Rangers.  The other could be either Boston, or even, in a surprise, Cleveland.

Both the Angels and the Rangers have established themselves as the Dreadnoughts of the Western Division.  It should be a heavy-weight slug-fest of epic proportions, you know, like the ones we used to get excited about between the Red Sox and the Yankees.  I have to give a slight edge to Pujols and the Angels.

The Mariners, with Ichiro batting third, finish third by default because Oakland will basically field a Four-A baseball team (again) this season.

A.L.  MVP – Albert Pujols

Cy Young – David Price  

Rookie of the Year – Brett Lawrie  

National League

Bryce Harper

Image via Wikipedia

East

1)  Phillies

2)  Atlanta

3)  Nationals

4)  Florida

5)  New York

It all begins with the pitching, and I think the Phillies will find a way to score enough runs to support their legendary pitching staff.  Their window may not be open for much longer, but they should be able to hold off the competition in their own division.

The Braves have excellent young pitching, but there are some players on that team (Hanson, Jones, Jurrjens, and others) that are good friends with the D.L, and I’m not sure their lineup is sufficient to score enough runs to keep their pitchers from blowing out their arms.  Jason Heyward’s performance will go a long way in determining the overall success of this team.

I really like the Nats.  I think they are only a year or two away from being serious contenders.  I was even tempted to pick them to finish in second place in the N.L. East, but I chose the safe pick instead.  Harper will play at some point, and, for the Nats, the earlier the better.  Strasburg and the two Zimmerman boys (Jordan and Ryan) along with Harper will offer a plethora of choices for Nats fans to cheer about.

It is much anticipated that the Marlins, with all the changes they’ve made (not the least of which is their brand new stadium) will perhaps challenge for the top of the division this year, and perhaps they will.  I think Mike (Giancarlo, please) Stanton will lead the league in home runs.  But I also think  the rest of their best players are all too injury prone to lead this team out of mediocrity.  They’ll win more than they’ll lose, but they won’t see more than 85 wins this year.

The Mets won’t compete until around 2014, but I do like their G.M. and his associates, and Terry Collins was a good boy in Year #1.  Reyes was more exciting than he was highly productive, and I think they’ll be able to replace the runs they lost when he booked town, bogus batting title in tow.  But their pitching is probably the worst in the division, and until a couple of their young pitching prospects develop, and until current ownership is towed out to sea and buried in a lead-lined container, the immediate future looks bleak.

Central

1)  Brewers

2)  Reds

3)  Cardinals

4)  Cubs

5)  Pirates

6)  Astros

I had a hard time picking the winner here, but I like the Brewers starting pitching, and Braun will be back for a full year after-all, so I think they have enough to keep the wolves at bay for 2012.  The Reds are just too enigmatic to predict (though Votto is great)  and, yes, the Cardinals have been weakened by the losses of Pujols, LaRussa and Duncan.  Even with the return of Wainwright, I just don’t see enough pitching there to grab the division.

The Cubs, Astros and Pirates are each in various stages of rebuilding (or, in the Pirates case, re-re-re-rebuilding.)  The Cubs seem to be in the best position to turn things around the quickest of this group, but not this year.

West

1)  Diamondbacks

2)  Giants

3)  Rockies

4)  Dodgers

5)  Padres

The Diamondbacks are for real, and no other team in this division has enough balance to challenge them this year.  Justin Upton could win the MVP award this season.  They are not a GREAT team, but they are perfectly capable of repeating in this mediocre division.

I considered picking the Rockies to finish third, but Tulowitzki is due to carry this team into the playoffs (and, with a second Wild Card, he still might.)

I love the Giants top three pitchers:  Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner, but this team reminds me a little of the Mets in the early-to-mid ’70’s, excellent starting pitching with a well-below average offense.  They should win 80-something ballgames, but until they locate another serious bat, their fans will be treated to a lot of 3-2 pitching duels.

Even the magic of Kemp and Kershaw couldn’t lift the Dodgers out of mediocrity last year, and I don’t expect things to change much this year.  Another proud franchise undermined by horrid ownership.

The Padres play in lovely San Diego, so even if they suck, their fans will enjoy the day at the park.

N.L. MVP – Joey Votto  

Cy Young – Yovani Gallardo

Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper

Baseball’s Prospects: Mickey Mantle, or Mr. Hype?

An image of Major League Baseball pitcher Clin...

An image of Major League Baseball pitcher Clint Hartung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first published this article on 19 January 2011, but realized that it is as relevant today as it was then, so I decided to re-post it.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the latest young prospects arriving in the Majors.  Hopes are high that these young men will go on to become the stars of the future, if not the present.

It got me to thinking about all of the young phenoms over the years who had long, successful careers ahead of them, or so we thought.  These prospects capture our imagination because of what they might become.  Perhaps the next Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or Stan Musial is in our midst, and we just have to look a little harder to recognize him.

Or, just as likely, the youthful apparitions gracing the baseball landscape will turn out to be the next Clint Hurdle, Joe Charboneau, or Sam Horn.

So I’ve compiled a list (because that’s what I do) of several of baseball’s biggest busts that were once highly touted prospects.  Actually, some of these players were relative busts, meaning they may have had perfectly acceptable careers, but they never soared to the Olympian heights that had been predicted for them.

Let’s begin with…

Catcher – Sandy Alomar, Jr.

The Hype: From the same gene-pool that produced both his dad (Sandy, Sr.) and his brother (Roberto).  A can’t-miss prospect with raw athletic ability behind the plate and a an idea of how to handle the bat.

The Promise: Alomar hit .290 in 1990 while playing in the All-Star Game, winning a Gold Glove, and being named A.L. Rookie of the Year.

Fast Forward: Alomar finished his twenty-year career with an OPS+ of 86, a career WAR of 13.2, and, although he played in a few more All-Star games, he never won another Gold Glove.

First Base: Bob “Home Run” Hamelin.

The Hype: A powerful man who will hit tons of home runs in the Major Leagues.

The Promise: Won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award for the Royals in 1994, swatting 24 homers in just 374 plate appearances.

Fast Forward: Hamelin lasted just four more seasons in the Majors, finishing his career with a career total of 67 home runs.

First Base:  Nick Esasky

The Hype: First Round pick by the Reds in 1978.  Would become the next Tony Perez, only with more power.

The Promise: Hit 43 homers over three partial seasons through 1985.

Fast Forward: Retired in 1990 at age 30 after compiling a .250 career batting average and 122 home runs.

Second Base:  Bump Wills

The Hype: As with Sandy Alomar, Jr., Wills was supposedly a top-notch prospect due to his lineage; his father, Maury, stole a bunch of bases back in the 1960’s, leading some people to mistake him for a Hall-of-Fame deserving candidate.

The Promise: In his rookie year with Texas, 1977, he hit .287 and stole 28 bases.  Finished third in Rookie-of-the Year balloting.

Fast Forward: Bump did not carry the Wills name to new heights, scoring just 472 runs in his brief, six-year career.  Career batting average:  .266

Third Base:  Chris Sabo

The Hype: Out in Cincy, many prognosticators had already acclaimed Sabo the next Pete Rose, for his slashing hitting style and his aggressive style of play.

The Promise: Sabo was named N.L. Rookie of the Year for 1988, hitting 40 doubles while stealing 46 bases.

Fast Forward: Sabo finished his nine-year career with 898 hits and a .268 batting average.  He had a decent career, but turned out to be more  Kelly Gruber than Pete Rose.

Shortstop:  Tony Kubek

The Hype: Well, dammit, he was a Yankee, wasn’t he?  Heir apparent to Phil Rizzuto.

The Promise: 1957 A.L. Rookie of the Year (notice a trend here?)  As a 21-year old, played steady defense and nearly hit .300.

Fast Forward: Actually finished with an even lower career OPS+ (85)  than Rizzuto (93).  Rule of thumb: an OPS+ under 100 =  NOT GOOD.

Outfield:  Clint Hurdle

The Hype: The following paragraph comes directly from the March 20, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated:

“The very mention of Hurdle’s name causes heads to bow and heartbeats to quicken. General Manager Joe Burke calls him “one of the top prospects I’ve seen in the 17 years I’ve been in the major leagues.” John Schuerholz, the director of scouting and player development, says, “I bubble inside when I think about his potential.”

Hurdle’s picture graced the cover next to the words, “This Year’s Phenom.”

The Promise: In a brief trip up to The Show as a 19-year old in 1977, Hurdle impressed virtually everyone.  In 28 plate appearances, he batted .308 and recorded an OPS of nearly .900.  His OPS+ was 139.

Fast Forward: This can’t-miss prospect missed badly.  He produced only 360 hits in his entire Major League career, eventually calling it quits in 1987 at the age of 29.

Pitcher / Outfielder:  Clint Hartung

The Hype: Preceding Clint Hurdle by a generation, Hartung was so over-hyped that baseball writers, executives and fans at the time referred to The “Hondo Hurricane” as an entire ball club in one man.  The question wasn’t whether he would make it into the Hall of Fame, it was simply a question of when.  “He was considered Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller all rolled up into one,” (Bill Gallo, New York Daily News.) 

The Promise: As a rookie in 1947 for the New York Giants,  Hartung made 20 starts, won nine of them, and hurled eight complete games.  He also played nine games in the outfield, batting .309 in 97 plate appearance.  (Remember, he had at-bats as a pitcher, too.)

Fast Forward: Like Clint Hurdle a generation later, Hartung was out of Major League baseball by age 29.  He hit just 13 home runs in his career.  As a pitcher, he finished with a career record of 29-29 and a 5.02 ERA.

Outfield:  Joe Charboneau

The Hype: “Super Joe” Charboneau took the media by storm in the summer of 1980 with his enthusiastic play and goofy behavior.  He would drink beer through his nose and insisted that he did his own dental work.  Handsome in a wild kind of way, men wanted to be him, and girls wanted to date him.

The Promise: Won the A.L. Rookie of the Year award as a 25-year old playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1980.  He hit 23 homers, drove in 87 runs, and batted .289.

Fast Forward: Charboneau played so poorly the following season that he became the only ROY winner to be sent back down to the Minor Leagues.  He batted .210 in ’81 and .214 in ’82, and that was it.  After his rookie year, he slugged only six more home runs in his entire career.  He was out of baseball before he turned 28-years old.

There are, of course, many other failed prospects littering the annals of baseball history.  You could include Sam Horn of the Red Sox, Mike Vail of the New York Mets, Ron Kittle of the White Sox, Greg “Toe” Nash of Tampa Bay, and on and on.

Consider this, then, a cautionary tale.  The odds are greater that this year’s over-hyped baseball phenom will turn out to be more like Clint Hurdle rather than Mickey Mantle.

But hope springs eternal, especially as  Spring Training approaches.

Dream, then, of the slender young man in his clean uniform against the brown backdrop of the baseball diamond.  A world of limitless possibility awaits him, and we long to be part of it.

After all, that’s what baseball is for.


Halladay the Great

 

Roy Halladay

Image via Wikipedia

 

Congratulations to Phillies pitcher, Roy Halladay, who tossed the first post-season no-hitter in the Majors since Don Larsen‘s perfect game in  1956.  Halladay also pitched a perfect game earlier this year on May 29th vs. the Marlins.

Now is the time for all baseball fan’s to finally recognize how truly great Halladay has been in his fantastic career.

This past season, Halladay led the National League in wins (21) complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2) and batters faced (993).  The epitome of a true workhorse, Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings in each of the past five seasons.

Halladay set a new career high in strikeouts this year with 219, the fourth 200 K season in his career.

Halladay’s career record is now 169-86, good for a .663 win-loss percentage.

His career WAR stands at 54.3, about the same as Sandy Koufax.

He has already won one Cy Young award, and should be the favorite to win his second this year.  He has also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in four other seasons.

Halladay walked just 30 batters this year, and has topped 40 walks in a season just twice in the past decade.

Halladay has now appeared in seven All-Star games.

For over a decade now, Halladay has been one of the finest pitchers in baseball.  What he accomplished yesterday was not merely a moment of greatness.  It was yet another moment of greatness in a storied career that will one day lead inevitably to induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Halladay’s is the kind of career we will one day want to share with the younger generations who weren’t around to see him pitch.  We should count ourselves lucky for having witnessed his greatness.

My Picks for the All-Star Game – 2010

Being a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), we have been asked by this organization to post a list of our picks for this year’s All-Star game.  Those members who post primarily about one team will submit picks for the league in which their favored team plays.  So a Mets blogger will, for example, post their N.L. All Star picks.

Unencumbered by such limitations, I chose to list my picks for each league, with accompanying commentary.

So here they are.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think.  Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with my picks, and why.

National League:

1B  Albert Pujols –  This has not been his finest season to date, but he is still the best player in baseball until someone else proves otherwise.

2B  Chase Utley – Brandon Phillips has better numbers so far, but Utley will pull away in the second half.

SS  Hanley Ramirez – I had been planning on picking Troy Tulowitzki, but he just went on the D.L. for the next six weeks.

3B  Scott Rolen – This was a tough call because Ryan Zimmerman is having a nice season, and David Wright, despite his huge strikeout numbers, has been productive.  But Rolen is crushing the ball in a way we haven’t seen from him in years.

C  Yadier Molina – N.L. players at this position are not having an outstanding year in ’10, but this Molina brother is the best choice.

OF Ryan Braun – Got off to a great start in April; has been merely good since then.

OF  Andrew McCutchen – Yes, this Pirate really does deserve to go to the All-Star game.

OF Andre Ethier – Just keeps getting better and better each season.

Starting Pitcher:  Ubaldo Jimenez – Simply off to one of the best starts to a season we have ever seen.

American League:

1B  Justin Morneau – In my Pre-Season Picks blog post, I stated that if any currently active player was to win the Triple Crown, it would be Miguel Cabrera.  Ironically, even though Cabrera is having a fine season, Justin Morneau is posting Triple Crown worthy stats.

2B  Robinson Cano – Having one of the best seasons by any second baseman in history.

SS  Derek Jeter – No A.L. shortstop is having a great season, but Jeter has earned this honor, regardless.

3B  Evan Longoria – With a strong second half, has a chance to win A.L. MVP Award.

C  Joe Mauer –  You were expecting, perhaps, Kelly Shoppach?

OF  Josh Hamilton – I was wrong.  I thought he would be a bust.   And I’m glad I was wrong.

OF  Vernon Wells – Very nice, and certainly unexpected, comeback year.

OF  Alex Rios – Finally putting forth the monster season long predicted.

DH  Vlad Guerrerro – Perhaps the most unappreciated super-star in the history of baseball.

SP  Jon Lester – David Price got off to the better start, but Lester could win the Cy Young this year.

If you feel I left out any obvious candidates, please let me know.

Next post:  Wednesday, June 23rd:  Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 6 – The Brooklyn / L.A. Dodgers.

Firing a Major League Manager

Some things never change.

Already, fans and sportswriters for certain teams are suggesting, even demanding, that their favorite under-achieving franchise fire the manager.

But when is it time to fire a major league manager?

Another way of asking the question is, how much actual difference does firing a manager make in turning around a particular team’s fortunes?  Also, if nothing is expected of a team going into a season, as with Kansas City, Cleveland, Baltimore or Pittsburgh, then what exactly is the point of firing one of their respective managers once it is apparent that another unsuccessful season is in the offing?

Lets take these questions one at a time.

Yes, sometimes, although not as often as fans and some sportswriters like to think, a managerial change can make a positive difference.  Last season for example, after getting off to an 18-28 start, the Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with Jim Tracy.  From that point on, the Rockies went on a 74-42 run, finishing second in the N.L. West.

Notice that the Rockies fired Hurdle after 46 games, about the middle of May.  That’s just about where we are this season, which is why this issue is now relevant.

Taking the second question, is there much point in firing the manager of a team that is universally expected to be bad?

That depends.  How bad is bad?  Is the team at all competitive?  The Pirates, for example, currently have a predictably poor 14-18 win-loss record.  But considering their run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) of -83 is the worst in baseball, they have actually over-achieved this season.

In other words, their on-field talent is so poor that their record should be something more like 9-23.  So not much point in firing the manager there.

So how about under-performing teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Cubs, White Sox (sorry, Chicago), and Mariners?

Taking the first three of those teams, no one is going to fire Joe Torre, Bobby Cox (in his last season, anyway), or Lou Piniella, at least not this year.  They have accumulated more than enough managerial capital over the course of their careers to make it politically impossible for them to be terminated.

Not so the case, however, of Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox and Don Wakamatsu of Seattle.  Taking the White Sox first, they are 13-19 on the season, already a full eight games out of first place.  Guillen also a tendency to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and he has had his share of run-ins with G.M. Ken Williams over the years.

Lately, the blame for the White Sox poor start has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of closer Bobby Jenks.  Admittedly, Jenks, never one to care much about conditioning, hasn’t done his job very well.  But, with the exception of first baseman Paul Konerko and pitcher John Danks, few of the White Sox players have gotten off to a good start.

Finally, Guillen, despite winning one World Championship in 2005, doesn’t exactly have a long track record of success, and his tendency to call out his players in public, rather than in private, will catch up to him eventually in terms of being able to motivate his players.  In fact, it may already have.

Guillen, therefore, is certainly a possible candidate to lose his job this season.

Don Wakamatsu, manager of the Seattle Mariners, is, if anything, on an even hotter seat in his town than is Guillen.  With the splashy additions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, many people, including yours truly, expected the Mariners to have a legitimate chance of winning the mediocre A.L. West division.

The Angels were weakened by off-season losses of key personnel, and neither the A’s or the Rangers were obvious choices to replace the Angels atop this division.

But the Mariners anemic offense, the worst in their league, coupled with the injury to Cliff Lee, may have doomed their chances of stealing the crown.  Although the Mariners are only 5 1/2 games out, a record of 12-19, and a team playing without any apparent spark at all, is a major disappointment.

And Wakamatsu has little in the way of a track record to buttress his reputation.  Already, the Mariners have fired their hitting coach, Don Cockrell.  Firing a coach or two is often a warning to a manager that things better improve sooner than later.

If  Seattle continues to languish in their ineptitude over the next several weeks, don’t be surprised to see this team decide to change its manager.

Other teams whose managers might not survive the season include Baltimore’s Dave Trembley (9-23), Houston’s Brad Mills (10-21), Kansas City’s Trey Hillman (11-21) and Arizona’s A.J. Hinch (14-19.)

Although not much was expected of the first three of those teams, there is bad, and then there is really bad.  Kansas City, for example, made a big show in the off-season of signing a couple of free agents (Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall), and during spring training their players and manager all said the right things like, “People are going to be surprised this year.  We’re going to make some noise in our division.”

Nonsense, of course.  Ankiel and Kendall were poor signings, and this is a team that could only avoid last place due to its fortuitous geography of being in the same division as the Indians.

But if some of the powers-that-be within the Royals organization really believed, however erroneously, that their Royals should be much more competitive this year, then Manager Hillman might be looking for work before the end of summer.

Hinch, in Arizona, also appears to be vulnerable.  Granted, the Diamondbacks have several young players still in their initial stage of development, but if this season ends up being an organizational step backwards, it is doubtful that this turn of events will be tolerated in Arizona.

Houston manager Brad Mills, is in his first full season as the field commander, will be allowed a significant honeymoon period.  The truth is, Houston is a lousy, and in some quarters, overrated team with a handful of good players surrounded by a cast of replacement level talent.  The inevitable overhaul of this franchise starts at the top.  Mills, therefore, appears to be safe at this point.

The truth is, of course, that none of us know how the 2010 season will progress from here.  Surprising turnarounds happen all the time.  When we look at the standings come the All-Star Break, they could, and probably will be, significantly different from what they look like today.

One thing is certain, however.  At some point, perhaps sooner than later, we will be reading about how a particular team has come to the unavoidable conclusion that it is time to change horses.  References to last year’s Rockies will be made, and the expectations laid upon the head of the new manager will be many.

Yet it is also virtually certain that the teams who actually make the playoffs are not going to be the teams who change managers this season.

The teams that make the playoffs will be, as always, the teams that actually have the best players.

Some things never change.

Make it Stop: Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball at PNC Park – Comedy Video

Call this the weekend edition of The On Deck Circle.

A baseball-blogging colleague of mine, Dave Kreshover, is part of a comedy team called Nine More Outs.  He, along with two of his friends who comprise this group, visit various major league parks around the country pretending to be fans of that particular team for the day.  Previously, they invaded Toronto to poke fun at the Blue Jays.

In this youtube video that Dave asked me to post on my blog, NineMoreOuts find themselves in Pittsburgh attending a Pirates games.  This is their second stop on what they call their Stadium Shmadium Tour.

I found the video to be very funny, and I think will, too.

By the way, Dave also has a baseball blog of his own which is well worth checking out.  It is called, “Be Gone With Wilpon.”  If you are a Mets fan, you might already be aware of its existence.

So, without further ado, here is the video…

Enjoy your weekend, Bill

Baseball 2010: The Season So Far…

Every April, baseball is full of surprises.

This April has been no different.  In fact, it has been one of the more unpredictable April’s in recent years.  This is a good thing, of course, because if all of the predictions regarding this season turned out to be accurate, how boring that would be?

Luckily, teams like the San Diego Padres (14-8), the Washington Nationals (12-10), and yes, even the New York Mets (13-9) exist to make a mockery of our pre-season predictions.   In a more negative fashion, so too do the Atlanta Braves and the L.A. Dodgers, both 8-14.

Among the players, April has had its share of heroes and goats as well.  Some come as a surprise (one way or the other), while others do not.

One of last season’s break-out players, second baseman Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, for example, has been a huge bust to this point, batting just .162 with just six hits in 37 at bats, including one home run.  Some regression to the mean was expected from this 28-year old, but no one expected Hill to suddenly morph into the second coming of Alfredo Griffin.

Meanwhile, Kelly Johnson, second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been a revelation playing in the desert south-west.  Last season, while with Atlanta, Johnson lost his job to Martin Prado (himself off to an outstanding start this year.)  This year, Johnson has already belted nine home runs and driven in 18, along with 17 runs scored.

But the real question isn’t, “Who has been hot and who hasn’t?”

It is, “Which trends are real, and which are just April illusions?”

Let’s begin with a team from which no one expected anything other than a last-place finish in the annual dog-fight that is the N.L. West.  I am referring to the first place Padres, of course.  At 14-8, with a .636 win-lost percentage, they are on pace to win 103 games.  Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

Of course not.  But, in the mediocre National League, do they have a shot at making the play-offs, perhaps as the Wild-Card team?  Well, to answer that question, we have to take a closer look regarding how it is they came to be 14-8 in the first place.

Going into last night’s games, they had scored 103 runs in April, good for an 8th place tie in the N.L., although all but one teams in their own division actually out-scored them.  Their pitching and defense surrendered 77 runs, good for 4th best in their league.  Their differential then (runs scored minus runs surrendered) is a positive 26, again, 4th in the N.L.

Importantly, though, both Colorado and San Francisco – teams in their own division – are two of the three teams that have better run differentials.

Taking a look at specific Padres players, Adrian Gonzalez, no surprise here, is having a fantastic start to the season, having already slugged six homers with 16 R.B.I and 45 total bases.  His OPS is an outstanding .999.  He is easily one of the top five first basemen playing today.

Gonzalez’s teammates, third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Will Venable have also been quietly productive.  Headley has hit an unsustainable .333 with 29 hits and 38 total bases.  Venable has a .239 batting average, but has slugged .507, primarily due to his four home runs.

The Padres as a team have hit just .249 which suggests that they have enjoyed good luck maximizing their relatively few run scoring opportunities.  In short, there is no way this offense will remain in the middle of the pack in the N.L. in scoring runs.

Taking a quick look at their pitching, the story is similar, if somewhat brighter.  Kevin Correia has taken to his new role as de facto ace by sporting a 4-1 record over his first five starts with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings.  His stuff is good, and he pitches in a pitchers paradise, so there is reason to believe that he should remain at least somewhat productive throughout the season.

But Correia also has an ERA of 3.86, which translates into over 4.00 in most N.L. parks, and he will only win as many games as the Padres are able to score runs for him.  In other words, he is not a break-out gem; he is a decent pitcher who has enjoyed some good fortune.

Meanwhile, his teammates Wade Leblanc, Jon Garland, and closer Heath Bell have also enjoyed some early season success.

Bell is a legit top-notch closer.  LeBlanc, however, is a decent young left-handed starter who rarely touches 90 with his fastball.  He is a classic case of, the more the league sees this kid, the less successful he will be.  Garland has been a league-average starting pitcher for a few years now.

Mostly a ground-ball pitcher, Garland has fanned 20 in 28 innings, but he has also walked 15.  His ERA stands at 2.58, but whenever he leaves the friendly confines of PetCo Park, the worse he will look.

If, at this point, if you are scratching your head wondering how in the hell the Padres are 14-8, you are not alone.  Although they may be a bit better than most of us thought before the season started, in reality this team will gradually slip back down to .500, and probably a bit below that, by season’s end.

Yet another N.L. team that has enjoyed its share of luck this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates (10-12).  Why do I describe a team with a record of 10-12 lucky?  Because, with their major league worst run differential of -75, (nearly twice as bad as the 4-18 Orioles), the Pirates are a truly awful team.  They have scored just 80 runs, second worst in their league, and they have surrendered 155, the most in either league.

The Pirates have virtually no legitimate major league-caliber starting pitchers, and perhaps one or two good hitters (outfielder Andrew McCutchen, hitting .305 with 14 runs scored and ten stolen bases, is an excellent young player.)

The Pirates, going into last night’s game against the scuffling Dodgers, shouldn’t have a record anywhere near .500, and, by the end of this season, they certainly won’t.

On a positive note, don’t look now, but your where’s-the-starting-pitching New York Mets, having just defeated the Phillies as I type this, are now a stunning 14-9 on the season.  The Mets have now won eight games in a row.  If nothing else, this puts off the inevitable firing of manager Jerry Manuel for at least another month.

Everyone knew that the Mets certainly had a few high quality players, but the dizzying array of questions that surrounded this team just a month ago seem to have been rendered irrelevant by this scorching start.

So, then, why and how have the Mets managed to perplex the pundits up to this point?

It seems that a few key players have made all the difference.  The biggest surprise by far has been 26-year old starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.  Pelfrey had been maddeningly short on showing any actual progress as a major league-caliber pitcher up until, uhm, about three weeks ago.

Then suddenly, Pelfrey became the second-coming of Kevin Brown or Mike Scott (in their Glory Days.)  Apparently, Pelfrey discovered a split-fingered fastball that has been the true out-pitch he had been lacking.  And he has been using it to devastating effect throughout the league.  Pelfrey’s record now stands at 4-0 with a miniscule 0.69 ERA.

Over the past sixteen games, the Mets team ERA has been 1.55.

Their offense, on the other hand, is in the middle of the pack with 105 runs scored.  So, as David Wright said recently, “We will go as far as our pitching will take us.”  He is right about that.  But no team can sustain an ERA at this level indefinitely.  Pelfrey’s ERA figures to go up a couple of runs, perhaps more, new pitch or not.   His 19-13 strike-out to walk ratio suggests a little less dominance than meets the eye.

Overall, I am sticking with my pre-season prediction that the Mets won’t win more than 84 games, and will miss making the playoffs by about five wins.

Among players that have busted out thus far, look no further than outfielder Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rasmus is an excellent combination of speed and power.  He is what Grady Sizemore was supposed to have been, and more.  Rasmus is hitting .333 with six home runs, 12 RBI’s and he has already scored 19 runs.  He has also drawn 17 walks and has three stolen bases.  His on-base percentage is nearly .500, and he is slugging over .700.

Rasmus’ only downside to this point is that he hasn’t had much success against lefties.  He is just 2 for 13 so far this year, with ten strikeouts.

But Rasmus is just 23-years old, and figures to gradually improve his success-rate vs. lefties over time.  Rasmus is one of the reasons why the Cardinals are off to an N.L. best 15-7 start.

Another break-out player is 24-year old David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (17-6, the best record in baseball, if you haven’t noticed.)  Price was a highly touted rookie last season, but disappointed many unrealistic fans with a mediocre overall performance.

That appears to have changed this season.  After just four starts, Price is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.  The A.L. is hitting just .202 against Price, and he has 26 K’s and just nine walks in 28 innings, suggesting that his overall numbers aren’t a fluke.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that Price could end up winning somewhere between 16-18 games this season, with many more to come in the future.

Best Players in the National League:  1) Albert Pujols  2) Chase Utley  3) Ryan Braun  4) Hanley Ramirez  5) Matt Kemp.   Honorable mention:  Adrian Gonzalez.

What are we to make of the defending N.L. Champion Phillies?  At 12-10, they are actually in third place in their division.  Why isn’t their record more like the 15-7 Cardinals?

Well, don’t blame Roy Halladay.  He has done everything expected of him up to this point.  He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and an 0.975 WHIP.  Moreover, he has a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 33 to 3!

Meanwhile, Halladay has again exhibited supreme durability by averaging eight innings pitched per start.

Ryan Howard, who the Phillies just signed to a huge mega-contract that almost certainly won’t turn out well for them, has been a bit of a disappointment so far.  Although he has four homers and 17 RBI, his OPS is just under .800, not a strong showing from your cleanup hitter.

But the Phils run differential of +16, coupled with their 9-6 road record, suggests that they will be fine, and, despite tonight’s 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Mets, they are still likely to overtake the Mets at some point this season.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at the standings in the A.L. West, where all four teams are separated by just one game, and try to predict a winner.

Surprising Oakland has the best run differential of the bunch (+7), but I’m sticking with my pre-season pick, Seattle, to win this division.  Cliff Lee is due back soon, and he could be the piece that puts the Mariners over the top.

Have a bone to pick with me?  Are there players or teams that you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know, and I’ll consider them in my next blog-post on this topic.

Meanwhile, if you are in a Fantasy League and he’s still available, make sure you go pick up Colby Rasmus.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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