The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Boston Red Sox”

A Half-Dozen Underrated Baseball Players, 2015

Now that another baseball season has come and gone, (the regular season anyway), it’s time to take a look back.  But instead of forecasting who will win the annual award hardware, let’s instead review those players who had fine seasons that may have gone somewhat under-appreciated.  The players I’ve chosen might not make your list.  To refer to a player as “underrated” or “under-appreciated” is to make a subjective judgment call.  Still, I’m guessing that unless you are a total baseball junkie, at least a couple of these names may have gotten by you this year.

  1. 3B Nolan Arenado:  Colorado Rockies – Arenado, a right-handed batter, was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.  All Arenado did in this third season in the Majors in 2015 was lead the N.L. in home runs (42), RBI (130) and total bases (354.)  A triple slash line of .287 / .323 /.575 indicates that while Arenado could stand to be a bit more selective at the plate, he certainly does crush his pitch when he gets it.  Not just a slugger, however, Arenado is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who led all N.L. third basemen in putouts (105), assists (385), double-plays turned (42) and range factor.  This 24-year old played in his first All-Star Game in 2015, and should have many more in his future.
  2. SP Gerrit Cole:  Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole, a right-handed pitcher, was the very first pick of the 2011 amateur draft.  In his third season in the Majors, he nearly won 20 games (19-8 in 32 starts.)  In 208 innings, he struck out 202 batters while walking just 44.  He posted a tidy 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP), with an ERA+ of 148 and a WHIP of 1.09.  Cole surrendered just eleven home runs all year.  Also a fine fielding pitcher, he did not make an error all season. Like Arenado, Cole made his first All-Star team in 2015.  In many seasons, Cole would be the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. Cy Young award.  But with the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke out in L.A., and the remarkable season enjoyed by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta (who could also make this list, perhaps), Cole may find himself finishing no higher than 4th or 5th in the Cy Young voting.  Still just 25-years old, however, Cole should have many chances in the future to win that particular award.
  3. CF Kevin Kermaier:  Tampa Bay Rays – Kermaier was not drafted until the 31st round in 2010.  A left-handed batting center-fielder, let me make it clear at the outset that Kermaier did not make this list due to his bat.  As a hitter, he’s about league-average, sporting an OPS+ of 98, though he did finish second in the A.L. in triples with 12.  But a .263 batting average and an on-base average of just under .300, with little power, isn’t going to win him any MVP awards in the near future.  Kermaier is on this list, instead, for his remarkable fielding ability.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfielder finish a season with a 5.0 dWAR before, but Kermaier reached that lofty summit in 2015.  His overall WAR of 7.4 makes Kermaier a very valuable player, even despite the average bat.  Kermaier led A.L. center-fielders in Total Zone Runs (24) while recording 410 putouts and 15 assists.  If his bat improves during the coming seasons, the 25-year old Kermaier could become an All-Star caliber player.
  4. RP Zach Britton:  Baltimore Orioles – Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, this 27-year old lefty began his career as a starter, but converted to relief-pitching before the 2014 season.  Since then, he has been one of the best closers in the A.L.  This past season, Britton finished more games (58) than any other pitcher in the A.L., while recording 36 saves.  He recorded an ERA of 1.92, an ERA+ of 217 and a FIP of 2.01.  His WHIP was a fantastic 0.990, and he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings, while walking just 14.  He gave up just three homers all year.  Britton was a first-time All Star in 2015, and while not a household name outside of Baltimore, Britton seems poised to enjoy many very productive seasons to come.
  5. 3B Josh Donaldson:  Toronto Blue Jays – Though drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 draft, Donaldson made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s in 2010, but didn’t play as many as 75 games in the Majors until he was already 26-years old in 2012.  Since then, this right-handed batting third baseman has been a one-man wrecking crew.  Similar (though older) than Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Donaldson has a better batting eye, and is nearly as good a defensive third baseman as Arenado.  Also, like his third base counterpart in the Senior Circuit, Donaldson led his league in total bases in 2015 with 352, just two fewer than Arenado.  Of the two, however, Donaldson probably has the better shot at league MVP this year.  Donaldson led the A.L. in both runs scored (122) and RBI (123) while slamming 41 homers and 41 doubles.  Though Donaldson will turn 30-years old this December, his obvious talent should continue to shine on in Rogers Centre, Toronto for the foreseeable future.
  6. CF / 2B Mookie Betts:  Boston Red Sox – Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, this second baseman / center-fielder has brought life and energy to the Red Sox (despite their losing record.)  Mookie turns 23-years old this Wednesday, October 7th, so Happy Birthday in advance, Mookie.  Primarily an outfielder these days, Mookie batted .291 in 2015, with a perhaps surprising .479 slugging percentage.  He has plenty of pop in his bat, as evidenced by his 68 extra base hits this season, including 18 home runs.  Mookie scored 92 runs in 145 games and stole 21 bases while accumulating a 6.0 WAR in his first full year.  This athletic and deceptively powerful young man may already be the most valuable player on the Red Sox, and figures to man center-field for them for years to come.

Obviously, there are many more players who I could add to this list.  But let me put the question to you, oh wise readers.  Which players would you include on this list, based on their 2015 stats?

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American League Predictions for 2015

Now that the 2015 baseball season is just right around the corner, it’s time to once again take a look at which teams will be the pretenders, and which will be the contenders this year.

I normally have no idea how my predictions turn out from year to year, because I typically forget all about them by about April Fool’s Day.  So I decided to go back and take a look at last season’s predictions, and, strangely enough, I did pretty well.  Of the ten teams that made the playoffs last season, I correctly forecast eight of them:  Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.

The ones I got wrong?  I picked Tampa Bay to win the A.L. East, and they turned out to be terrible.  Instead, the A’s made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  In the N.L., I somehow thought the Reds looked strong enough to capture a Wild Card slot, but the Giants once again assembled just the right mix of players to vaunt all the way to the World Series, where Madison Bumgarner took things into his own hands.

With the Red Sox alternating horrible years with World Championship seasons, it’s always a challenge to predict where they will finish in the A.L. East, which then makes it difficult to slot the other divisional teams around them, but we’ll have a go at it anyway.

A.L. East

To begin with, I don’t think there’s a 90-win team in this division.  Whichever team wins this division will probably finish with around 87-89 victories.

1)  Red Sox (they finished last in 2014, so….)

2)  Tampa Bay (may win anywhere from 78-85 games.  I’ll go with 83 wins.)

3)  Toronto (will one win fewer games than the Rays.)

4)  Orioles (will finish right at .500.)

5)  Yankees (will win around 80 games.)

A.L. Central

The primary question here is whether or not the Tigers have enough left in the gas tank to pull out yet another divisional title.

1)  White Sox (Some nice moves over the winter, and a division ripe for the taking.)

2)  Tigers (Still enough left to win up to 85 games, but no longer the favorites to win.)

3)  Indians (Will look more or less like last year, a competitive team without enough horses.)

4)  Royals (Significant regression here.  Perhaps not even a .500 club.)

5)  Twins (Not quite a minor league team; we’ll call them a Four-A club.)

A.L. West 

Baseball’s best division.  The A’s might still have enough to steal a Wild Card, and the Astros will make a significant leap forward this year.

1)  Angels (Still the deepest team, and Garret Richards is coming back mid-April.  My early choice for A.L. Cy Young winner.)

2)  Mariners (Wild Card, but consider:  Only twice in his career has Nelson Cruz ever topped 130 games played.  Yes, he’ll mostly D.H., but guys like him find ways to get hurt.)

3)  A’s  (One of two teams in the Bay Area it is foolish to completely rule out.  More wins than losses again this year.)

4)  Astros (Could push 80 wins, but I’ll call it 79, nine more than last year.)

5)  Rangers (Seem to have declined in a hurry.  Sub-.500.)

 

Next time, my N.L. Predictions.

 

Whatever Happened to Home-Field Advantage?

The idea that home-field advantage is of special value in providing a given baseball team a competitive edge is an old one, and may once upon a time have been largely true (though I haven’t done enough historical research to actually verify this.)  While it may have been generally true in the past, it doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season.  Nearly half of all Major League teams actually have fewer wins than losses at home, with only a few teams enjoying a truly decisive edge on their home turf.

Home Field Advantage (album)

Home Field Advantage (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of teams from worst to best at home based on win-loss percentage.  Granted, some of the teams with sub-.500 home records are just bad teams to begin with, but there are clearly some surprises on this list.  (Games are through Friday night, June 6, 2014):

1)  Arizona – 9-23  (yet somehow 17-14 on the road)

2)  Philadelphia – 12-19

3)  Dodgers – 13-19  (but 19-11 on the road)

4)  Mets – 13-17  (Since Citi Field opened, the Mets are 204-229 at home)

5)  Houston – 14-18

6)  Yankees – 13-16

6)  Tampa Bay – 13-16

8)  San Diego – 15-18

9)  Baltimore – 11-13

10) Cincinnati – 13-15

11)  Kansas City – 14-16

11) Minnesota – 14-16

13) Boston – 15-17

14) Seattle – 14-15

15) Texas – 15-15

16) Detroit – 15-14  (But 17-11 on the road)

17) Cubs – 14-13

18) Cardinals – 16-14

19) Angels – 16-13

20) White Sox – 17-14

21) Atlanta – 18-14

22) Pittsburgh – 17-13

23) Washington – 19-15

24) Oakland – 17-12   (Nice, but they’re an even better 21-11 on the road)

25)  Colorado – 16-11 (But just 12-21 on the road)

26)  Milwaukee – 19-13

26)  Toronto – 19-13  (slightly better on the road at 19-11)

28)  Cleveland – 21-11 (Only 9-20 on the road, so clearly, home-field advantage is important to them)

29)  Miami – 22-11 (10-18 on the road)

30)  San Francisco – 20-9  (as well as a respectable 20-12 on the road)

As you can see, there appear to be few teams who benefit decisively from home-field advantage.  As good as even Oakland and Toronto are at home, they are even better on the road, and the Giants are only slightly better at home than they are on the road.

Perhaps, then, making home-field advantage for the World Series contingent on which league wins the All-Star Game   is an overrated concern.  After all, even last year’s World Champion Boston Red Sox won just two of their four victories at home.  And in 2012, the Giants swept the Tigers, winning two first in San Francisco, then winning Games Three and Four in Detroit.  The way the Giants played, they might have won four straight even if all four had been played in Detroit.

I suppose it’s often psychologically comforting to be able to enjoy the comforts and familiarity of home, but it appears that when it comes to actually winning baseball games, being at home may be largely irrelevant.

 

 

 

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Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction.  The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary.  Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.

Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories:  On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.

Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories:  Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.

Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.

Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.

I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF.  In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member.  But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine.  Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.

Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates.  Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.

Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.

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Baseball Predictions for 2014

Watching the first spring training games on the MLB Network always lifts my spirits.  Some people believe that the new year begins on January 1st.  The rest of us know that it begins on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

Although each spring makes fans of all 30 teams optimistic for the new season, there are some things that can be safely predicted in advance.  I’ve jotted down a few of them here for your approval.

1)  Somewhere in New England, a Red Sox fan will complain that the Yankees have an unfair financial advantage, though the Red Sox payroll in 2014 is estimated at 148 million dollars, about 42 million more than the average franchise.

2)  Somewhere in the Tri-State area, a Yankees fan will complain about the new austerity that the current regime has imposed on this storied franchise.  Yet, like a drunk for whom every drink is going to be his last, the Yankees payroll in 2014 will be around 194 million dollars, about 45% more than the average MLB payroll.

3)  Somewhere on the North American continent, a player will consider the odds of getting caught using steroids, will rationally think through the consequences of getting caught, and will still decide that it is in his best financial interests to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at a higher level of play.

4)  Somewhere on that same continent, a late middle-aged man will consider the odds of enjoying a successful sexual encounter with his wife or girlfriend, will realize that his chances are remote without a supplement such as Cialis, and will, therefore, ingest this drug to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at all.  Odds are, this man will rip the baseball “cheaters” who he believes to be steroid users, the very next day.

5)  The Mets will, once again, win between 70 and 80 games.  Manager Terry Collins will do his best to make you believe no finer 74-win team has ever existed on the face of the Earth, and millionaire team owner Jeff Wilpon will somehow continue to enjoy the support of some Mets fans who, for some strange reason, see it as their duty to try to find ways to help him save money.

6)  Perhaps even as I type this, a highly touted pitching prospect will go down needing Tommy John surgery.  No one will be surprised.  Yet somehow, someone will blame the “unusually high pitch count” that the pitcher endured during a spring training game.

7)  A-Rod, noticing he has been off the front pages for a while, will make a statement that is at once offensive, guileless, self-serving and naive.  Baseball’s  Twitterati  will explode in predictably humorless, self-righteous, and self-serving indignation (you know who you are.)

8)  Just for fun, Miguel Cabrera will pull down another Triple-Crown, simply because he can.

9)  The Braves will finally come to their senses and realize that second baseman Dan Uggla is no longer an actual baseball player, nor even a reasonable facsimile of one.

10)  Brewers center-fielder extraordinaire Carlos Gomez will rob no fewer than ten hitters of home runs this year, and will save every Brewers’ pitcher an average of 0.45 on their ERA.  Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman is already plotting several moves ahead, figuring out the circumstances under which he might bring Gomez to the Big Apple.  Meanwhile, Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson is having toast and tea, with his favorite strawberry preserves, watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show.

11)  At some point, apropos to nothing, a rabid Pete Rose fan will remind us all, once again, why PETE ROSE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!  (They always type all in caps.)

12)  At the All Star break, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will have hit 30 homers, with 85 RBI and a .309 batting average.  But due to a second-half injury, he will finish the season with 37 homers, 102 RBI and a .289 batting average, and will finish third in voting for the N.L. MVP award.

13)  Commissioner Bud Selig, in his final season at the helm of MLB, will dream of a deep, profound speech he will give at a black-tie dinner in his honor.  But when he wakes up, he will fart loudly, scratch his ass, and realize the only part of the speech he remembers from his dream is, “You’re all probably wondering why I came here to speak to you tonight.”

14)  In a factory in Turrealba, Costa Rica, a women, not yet old, but getting old before her time, will dream of a better life someday for her family as she sits stitching baseball’s together for the Rawlings Corporation for $1.60 per hour, ten hours a day.  If she can stitch above her weekly quota, she will earn an extra 56 cents per baseball she produces.  Meanwhile, each baseball retails for $14.99 in the U.S.A.  Rawlings annual revenue is around $213 million dollars per year.

15)  The noise level at ballparks will finally reach the decibel level first achieved by The Who back in 1978.  No one will have any idea of what’s going on down on the field, but there will be plenty of giveaways, the youngsters will be able to run around on the grass in the picnic area, and the twenty-somethings will occupy themselves taking selfies with their I-Phones and posting Facebook status updates throughout the entire game.  Clearly, this isn’t your great-grandfather’s baseball experience.  But then again, baseball will continue to evolve and survive, just as it has always done.

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Major League Teams – Best to Worst, By Run Differential

One way to list the 30 MLB teams from best to worst is by using run differential, that is, the difference between how many runs a team has scored minus the number of runs they’ve surrendered.  Although it’s still very early in the year, you will notice some real surprises on this list.

1)  Boston Red Sox   +34

2)  Atlanta Braves    +33

2)  Cincinnati Reds    +33

4)  Texas Rangers     +29

5)  Colorado Rockies  +28

6)  St. Louis Cardinals +23

7)  New York Mets      +18

8)  Oakland A’s            +17

9)  Arizona Diamondbacks   +15

10) Baltimore Orioles   +11

10) Kansas City Royals  +11

10) New York Yankees  +11

13) San Francisco Giants +8

14) Detroit Tigers             +6

15) Pittsburgh Pirates      +1

16) Tampa Bay Rays       -3

17) Milwaukee Brewers  -5

18) Cleveland Indians     -6

19) Chicago White Sox    -7

20) Minnesota Twins     -7

21) L. A. Angels              -10

22) Washington Nationals -15

23) Philadelphia Phillies   -17

24) Chicago Cubs             -18

24) L. A. Dodgers            -18

26) San Diego Padres      -28

27) Seattle Mariners      -29

28) Toronto Blue Jays    -29

29) Houston Astros          -40

30) Miami Marlins            -46

Starting at the top, certainly the Red Sox, Rockies, Mets and, to a certain extent, the Diamondbacks have to be counted as pleasant surprises.  Though many people had the Braves picked to at least win the Wild Card in their division, they have been playing perhaps even better than expected.  The A’s are the little engine that can, and does, always find a way to win.  Notice, too, that the expected collapse of either the Yankees and / or the Orioles hasn’t occurred to this point.  And the Rangers don’t appear to miss Josh Hamilton very much yet, either.

On the negative side of the ledger, Don Mattingly’s days as Dodgers’ manager may be short-lived if he can’t turn his team around before the All-Star break.  Like the Dodgers, the Blue Jays have gone all in this year, but have realized the same lack of success.  The Astros and the Marlins were both expected to be terrible, and they are working hard to deliver on that promise.

What’s with the Angels?  Although Pujols is playing well, they are seriously under-performing to date.

The Washington Nationals slow start, however, must rate as the most stunning in all of baseball to this point.  Many people picked them to win the N.L. pennant this year, but (with the exception of Bryce Harper) they are playing like a team that is trying not to lose, rather than as a confident team playing good baseball.  I think they will turn it around.

Another team that I think will play much better as the season progresses is the Tampa Bay Rays.  Currently, they are a mediocre 16th overall, but I have little doubt they will finish the season among the top half-dozen teams in baseball.

As a Mets fan, I would like the see the Mets finish among the top seven teams at the end of the season, but, barring some peculiarly astute, timely trade,  I see little chance of that happening.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Pirates finish at or above .500 this year?  I think they are capable of doing so.

Which teams do you think will improve, or implode, over the course of the rest of the season?

Ten Fast Starts in Baseball History

In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start.  If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day.  And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.

Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series.  Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out.  Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.  

While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.

1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May.  They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where they lost in five exciting games.

2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies.    The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day.  They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.

3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98.  The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to  37-13 after two months.  The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.

4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back.  They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games.  Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.)  Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts.  The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.

5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles – Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games.  The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play.  After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season.  Through May 30th, they were 34-14.  The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.

6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st.  They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park.  They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series.  Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.

7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th.  By the end of May, they were 32-11.  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.  Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10.  Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season.  By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season.  They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.

10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham.  The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd.  Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season.  In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.

As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start.  While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

American League Baseball Predictions – 2013

This is the time of year when many of us baseball bloggers get carried away with what we think we know, and proceed to make fools of ourselves by attempting to predict the future of the impending baseball season.  The great thing about these sorts of predictions, of course, is that no one ever goes back to check them out.  Did you predict, for example, that the Red Sox would win the World Series last season under new manager Bobby Valentine?  See?  No one remembers you made that hideous prediction, so you don’t have to hide your head in shame.

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper (Photo credit: L. Richard Martin, Jr.)

Having said that, it is cool when you turn out to be right.  For example, around three years ago, I predicted on this site that if anyone was to ever win the Triple-Crown again, it would be Miguel Cabrera (seriously, I did.)  Last spring, I correctly predicted that David Price would win the A.L. Cy Young award, and that the Nationals Bryce Harper would be N.L. Rookie of the Year.  Incidentally, here’s what I said about the Red Sox new manager Bobby Valentine: “Bobby V. is too much of a lightning rod for this to be a smooth year in Boston.”

In fairness, I do have to admit that I thought the Phillies would win the N.L. East (they finished right at .500) and that the Rays would win the A.L. East (they won 90 games, but finished 3rd.)  I also picked the A’ for last in the A.L. West, so of course they won their division.  For N.L. Cy Young, I picked the Brewers Yovani Gallardo.  He did win 16 games and led the league with 33 starts, and he did strike out 204 batters in 204 innings (his 4th straight 200-K season), but his ERA was a rather high 3.66 and his WHIP was 1.304.  In other words, he wasn’t really all that close to winning the Cy Young award.

Now, with little in the way of insightful analysis, here are my predictions for 2013.

American League

East

1)  Tampa Bay – Still the best pitching and most overall talent of the bunch.  Longoria will win MVP award.

2)  Toronto – Made a big splash in the off-season, but that doesn’t always portend a division title.

3)  Baltimore – Could be for real after-all.  Over-achieved last year, but Yanks & BoSox are ripe for the picking.

4)  New York – Older and more obsolete than last month’s Apple product, and more expensive as well.

5)  Boston – Forensic examiners are still trying to piece together last year’s car-wreck.  Lester becomes Steve Avery.

Central 

1)  Detroit – Verlander and Scherzer K nearly 500 guys between them.  V-Mart is back.  Another division title.

2)  Kansas City –  Acquisition James Shields adds credibility, and young hitters step up and rake = 2 game over .500.

3)  White Sox – Konerko & Co. can pound the ball, but team is full of inconsistent players = 2 games under .500.

4)  Cleveland – Went out and got Michael Bourn (The Bourne Futility), but this is still a 76 win team.

5)  Minnesota – Mauer turns 30 in April.  His knees turn 38.  Scott Diamond is the de facto ace of the staff. ‘Nuff said.

West

1)  Anaheim – Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, oh my!  Trout is great again, and this time, all the pieces fit = 93 wins.

2)  Texas – G.M. Nolan Ryan finally gives up on manager Ron Washington this year as Rangers win fewer than 90.

3)  A’s – Nice year last year.  Solid group of young pitchers, and a sound organization = 85 wins.  Poverty sucks.

4)  Seattle – Like the ugliest kid in the class, Seattle is now thrilled that a new uglier kid, Houston, has just moved in.

5)  Houston – Remember the glory days of Bagwell, Biggio, & Berkman, or Wynn, Richard & Cedeno?  Ancient history.

The Angels go to the World Series, and lose in seven games.

Next up, my National League Predictions for 2013.

Eight Reasons Why the Red Sox Stink in 2012

Personally, I have nothing against the Red Sox.  It is true that, as a Mets fan, I did get my biggest baseball thrill from watching the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.  Yet I’ve never felt any animosity towards the proud Red Sox franchise.  In fact, I always root for the Red Sox to defeat the Yankees.

Still, a fact is a fact, and there is no denying that the 2012 version of the Red Sox are the least enjoyable, not to mention the least successful, Red Sox team I have witnessed in many years.

Not being a regular viewer of Red Sox games (though when I lived up in Maine for 20+ years, I often listened to WEEI, Red Sox radio), I haven’t paid close attention to the BoSox relative failure this year, aside from occasionally looking at the A.L. standings.

So I decided to examine a bit more closely why the Red Sox, despite their prodigious payroll, fanatical fan-base, and the bewildering wizardry of stat guru, Bill James, this team stinks.

Here are eight items I came up with:

1)  Red Sox pitchers are giving up too many bases on balls.  As of this writing, Red Sox pitchers have surrendered 370 walks this year.  Only four A.L. pitching staffs have walked more batters.  The Yankees pitching staff, by way of contrast, have walked the fewest.  They can’t score if you don’t put them on.

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH...

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH3 . . 1,943×2,936 (2.01 MB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  The Red Sox pitching staff is starting to show its age.  They are now the third oldest group of pitchers in the A.L.  Obviously, some pitchers age faster than others.  The Yankees staff is actually a bit older.  But Red Sox pitchers appear to be exhibiting a bit more wear and tear thus far than their New York counterparts.

Josh Beckett, for example, is 32 going on 36.  And Clay Buccholz, whom some Red Sox fans still maintain is a rising star, recently turned 28-years old.

In fact, the Red Sox currently have just one pitcher on their staff, the combustible Felix Doubront (4.70 ERA) under the age of 25.

3)  The Curse of the Piano.  What, you thought that just because the Red Sox won two World Series in the past eight years, that they’d no longer be cursed?  Well, no one told the Babe, a moulderin’ in his grave.  Perhaps you’ve never hear of the curse of the piano?  Well, unless someone drags the Babe’s old piano out of the pond up in Sudbury, this “other” curse might just linger for another century.

4)  Bobby Valentine is entirely miscast as a Major League manager.  In fact, he would be miscast as a manager at any level.  A manager, like a teacher, is a father figure (assuming the male gender, of course.)  Bobby V. is not a father figure.  He is the odd uncle who comes over on Christmas afternoon with his latest exotic girlfriend, this one from Saigon, the last one from the Philippines.

Always too quick to put little brother up on his shoulders (narrowly missing the overhead fan by mere inches), he always has an odd anecdote to tell about a business deal that narrowly went sour.  When he finally leaves around 7:45 p.m., he’s had one too many, and his hugs are awkward, and strangely tearful.  His girlfriend will do the driving, and you know as you wave to them as they back out of your dad’s icy driveway, you won’t see or hear from him again until next Christmas.

Wally the Green Monster

Wally the Green Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Wally the Green Monster, the Red Sox’ mascot, has been having some problems of his own.  After a torrid, three-year affair with Bernie Brewer, followed by a brief, drunken fling with the Milwaukee Sausages, Wally the Green Monster had just about settled down with the Swinging Friar (San Diego.)

But it turns out that the Swinging Friar had a few secrets of his own.  Apparently, he’s been seen leaving some local San Diego hot spots with the always unpredictable Stomper (Oakland), himself recently recovering from an addiction to powdered, fried dough.

Word is that Wally has been so depressed lately that he’s usually hung over and asleep inside the Green Monster until the 8th inning, when misty-eyed and reckless, he starts to undress for the fans in the center field bleachers during the bizarre routine of the disembodied voice of Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Socks

Socks (Photo credit: scalkins)

6)  Their socks.  They’ve been the Red Sox now for over a hundred years.  Perhaps it’s time to change those socks?

When either of my sons goes a couple of days without changing theirs, the stench is unbearable.  Why should it be any different for Major League baseball players who sweat in theirs all day long?

So, in keeping with the Sox recent advances into the 21st century (a Facebook page!), here’s a look (see pic) at what the BoSox are considering for their players next season.  David Ortiz is already on record endorsing the new look saying, “My toes get cold in April and in October.  Those little toes on the socks look toasty and warm.  I hate New England weather.”

7)  Their Offense:  Despite the fact that the Red Sox are among the league-leaders in runs scored, there are some problems here as well.  For starters, Carl Crawford, a huge disappointment since he joined the Sox (his on-base percentage in his last 160 games played is .293), is about to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday.  Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury, who enjoyed an MVP-caliber season last year, currently sports a .309 on-base percentage to go along with his one home run and six stolen bases.  Last year, he had over 30 steals and 30 homers.

The injury bug, then, has seriously affected the Red Sox ability to add to their already very respectable run totals.

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck i...

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck in Fenway Park in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Their Enthusiasm:  It hasn’t been this boring to watch the Red Sox play (and I don’t very often) since the heady days of Phil Plantier, Bob Zupcic, Jody Reed, and Luis Rivera.  The Red Sox have finished below .500 just three times since 1992.  This year could be their fourth finish below .500 in 20 years.

Worse, it is hard to say that any of the players on the field look like they’re enjoying themselves.  Sure, losing sucks, but you’re not likely to play any better if your approach is the same as the man who gets to go to work in the West Virginia coal mines, earning a tiny fraction of what the players make.  Gone are team leaders like Varitek, Wakefield, Millar and Damon, guys that could both lighten up the clubhouse and/or lead by example.

For the sake of the Red Sox and their fans, some of the veterans on this team (and it can’t be just Dustin Pedroia) have to step up and lead by example, while demonstrating to the kids that playing baseball can still be fun, even if you are expected to take home obscene amounts of cash.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ted Williams

Ted Williams is commonly considered the greatest hitter in baseball history.

He was the last batter to hit over .400 (.406 in 1941, at age 22), and he won the Triple Crown twice in his career.  No modern player has won the Triple Crown even once since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

English: An image of Major League Baseball hal...

English: An image of Major League Baseball hall of famer Ted Williams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams was an uncommonly patient hitter who hit a lot of home runs and drew a lot of bases on balls.  Unlike the mythical portrayal of “Casey at the Bat,” a superlative slugger who wasn’t afraid to strike out, Williams actually didn’t strike out very often.  In other words, he did not sacrifice batting average for power.

If you peruse Williams’ career numbers over at Baseball-Reference.com (as indispensable a baseball reference tool as exists anywhere), you’ll find lots of “black ink” on his resume, indicating that he led his league in multiple offensive categories several times throughout his fabled career.

There are batting crowns, home run titles, and, for the modern sabermetrics-inclined baseball fan, OPS+ and WAR victories as well.

But did Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all-time, ever lead his league in hits?  

To clarify, I’ve already pointed out that Williams won several batting titles.  But was there a single season during which he actually accumulated the most safe hits in his league?

Among players who have won batting titles, several of them have also led their league in hits.  Tony Gwynn, for example, won eight batting crowns and also led his league in base hits seven times.

Ty Cobb won an amazing 11 batting titles and led the league in base hits eight times.  Rogers Hornsby won seven hitting crowns and led the league in hits four times.

Generally speaking, then, players who win multiple batting crowns also tend to  lead their league in actual hits at least some of the time.

It may surprise you to learn, then, that Ted Williams never once led his league in hits.

Ted Williams’ career high for hits in a season was 194 in 1949, when he was 30-years old.  Interestingly, despite winning six batting titles in his career, Williams did not lead the league in hitting in the season in which he accumulated a career high in base hits.

Ted Williams in the Marines

Ted Williams in the Marines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The secret to all those batting titles for Ted Williams, was, of course, his fantastic batting eye.  He might not have accumulated a staggering number of hits, but, perhaps more importantly, he generated very few outs per plate appearance, relative to virtually every other hitter who ever played the game.

Ted Williams simply would not swing at a bad pitch.  When he was in the batter’s box, it was the pitcher who was immediately at a disadvantage, despite the fact that the pitcher could throw any pitch he wanted, at any speed he wanted, anywhere he preferred.

What then to make of baseball’s continuing fetish for high hit totals, especially 200-hit seasons?

Just a decade and a half after Williams retired, Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, a ten time All-Star and the N.L. MVP award winner in 1974 was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game.  Garvey made a science of accumulating 200 hits in a season, apparently reasoning that it was an obvious mark of excellence.  He reached the 200 hit mark six times in seven years from 1974-80.

Yet Garvey, who never walked more than 50 times in a season, also never won a batting title.  I recall as a boy growing up at the time that a base on balls was considered a wasted plate appearance.  Apparently, there were many players at the professional level who believed the same thing (and some who still do.)  As Juaqin Phoenix’s character, Merrell Hess says in the movie, Signs, “It just felt wrong not to swing.”

There have been many baseball pundits, philosophers, managers, coaches, players and mere fans who have reasoned over the past several decades that to hit for power, you have to sacrifice some batting average.

Sluggers are supposed to drive in runs by driving home runs out of the park.  Meanwhile, the rest of the players — especially at the top of the lineup — like Pete Rose, Lou Brock and Ichiro (none of whom drew very many walks overall)  are supposed to swing away, lashing singles and doubles around the park.

Yet Ted Williams proved long ago that a slugger does not have to sacrifice batting average for power, and that the number of base hits a player accumulates is not really all that important a statistic.

It appears, though, that Ted Williams was just way ahead of his time, and it has taken so-called baseball experts a while to catch up.

But the great ones are always ahead of their time and, as far as hitting is concerned, Ted Williams was the greatest of them all.

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