The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Derek Jeter”

Mets vs. Yankees: A Unique Look at a Crosstown Rivalry

Growing up as a Mets fan, there haven’t been that many seasons where I’ve had the pleasure of being a fan of the better team in the New York area.  I’m aware, of course, that the Yankees have enjoyed many more World Championships than have the Mets since I started following baseball in the mid-’70’s.  But it occurred to me that I’d never really taken a look at each of the teams’ respective best players on a year-by-year basis.  I wondered if perhaps the Mets actually had the better player (measured by WAR) as often as not over the past half-century.

Here, then, are the results:

1962:  F. Thomas – 2.6    M. Mantle – 6.0

1963:  C. Willey – 4.2       E. Howard – 5.1

1964:  R. Hunt – 3.2        W. Ford – 6.8

1965:  J. Lewis – 2.4        M. Stottlemyre – 6.9

1966:  D. Ribant – 3.5      T. Tresh – 5.4

1967:  T. Seaver – 6.7      A. Downing – 4.6

1968:  T. Seaver – 7.0     S. Bahnsen – 5.9

1969:  T. Seaver – 7.2     M. Stottlemyre – 6.1

1970:  T. Seaver – 6.4       R. White – 6.8

1971:  T. Seaver – 6.9     R. White – 6.7

1972:  J. Matlack – 6.1      B. Murcer – 8.1

1973:  T. Seaver – 11.0    T. Munson – 7.2

1974:  J. Matlack – 8.7     E. Maddox – 5.4

1975:  T. Seaver – 8.2      C. Hunter – 8.1

1976:  T. Seaver – 5.3      G. Nettles – 7.9

1977:  L. Randle – 4.1       G. Nettles – 5.5

1978:  C. Swan – 5.5         R. Guidry – 9.6

1979:  L. Mazzilli – 4.8      R. Guidry – 6.5

1980:  L. Mazzilli – 3.2     W. Randolph – 6.6

1981:  H. Brooks – 2.6       D. Righetti – 3.5

1982:  J. Stearns – 3.8       R. Gossage – 4.5

1983:  K. Hernandez – 4.3   R. Guidry – 5.3

1984:  K. Hernandez – 6.3   D. Mattingly – 6.3

1985:  D. Gooden – 13.2     R. Henderson – 9.9

1986:  K. Hernandez – 5.5    D. Mattingly – 7.2

1987:  D. Strawberry – 6.4  D. Mattingly – 5.1

1988:  D. Cone – 5.8             R. Henderson – 6.3

1989:  H. Johnson – 6.9     S. Sax – 4.4

1990:  F. Viola – 6.3          R. Kelly – 5.5

1991:  D. Cone – 4.3          S. Sax – 4.1

1992:  S. Fernandez – 6.2   M. Perez – 6.0

1993:  D. Gooden – 4.2         J. Key – 6.2

1994:  B. Saberhagen – 5.7   W. Boggs – 4.5

1995:  J. Kent – 3.2              B. Williams – 6.4

1996:  B. Gilkey – 8.1        A. Pettitte – 5.6

1997:  E. Alfonzo – 6.2        A. Pettitte – 8.4

1998:  J. Olerud – 7.6       D. Jeter – 7.5

1999:  R. Ventura – 6.7      D. Jeter – 8.0

2000:  E. Alfonzo – 6.4   J. Posada – 5.5

2001:  M. Piazza – 4.4       M. Mussina – 7.1

2002:  E. Alfonzo – 5.0      J. Giambi – 7.1

2003:  S. Trachsel – 4.5    M. Mussina – 6.6

2004:  A. Leiter – 4.7        A. Rodriguez – 7.6

2005:  P. Martinez – 6.5    A. Rodriguez – 9.4

2006:  C. Beltran – 8.2    C. Wang – 6.0

2007:  D. Wright – 8.3        A. Rodriguez – 9.4

2008:  J. Santana – 7.1    A. Rodriguez – 6.8

2009:  A. Pagan – 4.0       D. Jeter – 6.6

2010:  A. Pagan – 5.3       R. Cano – 8.2

2011:  J. Reyes – 4.7        C. Sabathia – 7.4

2012:  D. Wright – 6.9      R. Cano – 8.5

Overall Tally:  Mets 19 wins, Yankees 31 wins, with one tie (1984.)  If you throw out the first five years after the expansion Mets came into existence, the Mets have 19 wins to the Yankees 26.  From approximately 1985-2000, the Mets matched up pretty well overall with the Yanks.  In the 21st century, however, it’s mostly been all Yankees.

If, like me, you were wondering who the hell C. Willey was on the ’63 Mets, Carl Willey was a 32-year old pitcher from Cherryfield, Maine who finished the season 9-14 despite a reasonable 3.10 ERA over 183 innings.  Two years later, he was out of baseball.

The best single season of the group?  Dwight Gooden’s 13.2 WAR in 1985.  The best Yankee?  Ron Guidry’s 9.6 in 1978.

Perhaps with the Mets new emphasis on youth (and perhaps spending some dollars this coming off-season) as well as the obvious aging of the Yankees, the tide may turn.  But one thing Mets fans have learned over the years is, never count out the Yankees.

 

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Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio

It won’t be long before Craig Biggio comes up for Hall of Fame voting.  The former second baseman / outfielder (he caught a little, too) of the Houston Astros was one of the finest infielders of his era.  Though this post is not specifically meant to be an argument in favor of his HOF induction, the stats we will be looking at today certainly do nothing to diminish his case.

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans aft...

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans after a double against the Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to middle infielders like Biggio (and he was primarily a second baseman), the usual expectation as far as offense is concerned is a player with around a .300 batting average, good bat control (meaning few strikeouts and a reasonable ability to bunt), and decent, if not spectacular, speed.  Durability and solid defense are obvious pluses as well.

What we don’t necessarily expect from a middle infielder, (though there have been some notable exceptions) is solid power.  Most middle infielders survive with the occasional homer, breaking into double digits in the odd season.  Some push a bit further than that, into the 10-20 home run range.

When I was first studying Craig Biggio’s stats, there were several that impressed me a great deal.  First of all, in his amazing 1997 season, he grounded into exactly zero double plays in 744 plate appearances.  That same year he led the N.L. by being hit by 34 pitches, one of five seasons in which he led the N.L. in that statistic.

I was also impressed that when he led the N.L. in stolen bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 39, he was also caught just four times.

Perhaps most impressively, Biggio’s 4,711 career total bases are just one short of Rogers Hornsby’s record of 4,712 among players who primarily played second base in their careers.

And how about those 668 doubles, fifth most in baseball history?

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio ...

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio (Right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurred to me, then, almost as an afterthought to take a closer look at his home run numbers.

So here’s an exercise for you.  (In the spirit of the upcoming school year), take out a piece of paper and a #2 lead pencil.

Now write down the following players’ names in the order you believe they had the most to least 20 homer seasons.

Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Joe Morgan, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio.

I know that you know where this is going, but hell, play along anyway.

Finished yet?

The now obvious question for this post is, then, “How Many 20+ Home Run Seasons Did Craig Biggio Accumulate in His Career?”

Here is the list of players in order from most 20+ homer seasons to fewest:

1)  Jeff Kent – 12

2)  Craig Biggio – 8

3)  Joe Gordon – 7

3)  Rogers Hornsby – 7

5)  Ryne Sandberg – 5

6)  Joe Morgan – 4

6)  Lou Whitaker – 4

8)  Roberto Alomar – 3

8)  Bobby Doerr – 3

8)) Derek Jeter – 3

11) Bobby Grich – 2

11) Barry Larkin – 2

11) Alan Trammell – 2

14) Charlie Gehringer – 1

15) Frankie Frisch – 0

15) Tony Lazzeri – 0

As you can see, few middle infielders in baseball history consistently hit as many home runs as Craig Biggio.  Yet ten of the players on this list are already in the HOF, and Derek Jeter will surely follow them in when the time comes.

Biggio retired after the 2007 season at age 41.  He hit 291 home runs in his career, the same number as “Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and just ten fewer than Rogers Hornsby.  He hit more homers than did first basemen Will Clark, Steve Garvey and Ted Kluszewski.

Craig Biggio’s eight 20+ home run seasons are also as many as Don Mattingly and Roberto Clemente  accomplished, if you put them together.

The point here is that if you are looking for a hole in Craig Biggio’s potential Hall of Fame resume, you’ll have to look elsewhere, for hitting for power was a relative strength of his.

All statistics, of course, are, to a certain extent, arbitrary.  I am not arguing that Craig Biggio was the best player on this list  (though few on this list were clearly better.)

There is no doubt, however, that Craig Biggio’s power was an underrated, and perhaps surprising, facet of his game.

Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams at the plate, His Birthday, Se...

Image via Wikipedia

I really hate to do this to Bernie Williams. Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I did happen to like and respect Williams during his tenure with the Yanks.  He always seemed to me to be a man of dignity and  self-respect.  There really wasn’t any reason not to like Bernie Williams.

As a player, along with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, Williams was an important part of the Yankee Championship teams during his era.  A five-time All Star, Williams was a player that any manager would love to have on his team.

Having said all that, Bernie Williams does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, I read an essay by Jim Caple of ESPN arguing that Williams should be elected into The Hall.  I further indulged myself by skimming through the reader responses to Caple’s analysis.  The majority of readers responded in the negative as far as Williams’ Hall worthiness was concerned, but there were several responses  to the effect that Williams is an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

I decided to analyze their primary arguments as to why they believe Williams should be elected into the Hall of Fame.  It appears to me that Bernie’s advocates supply three major reasons why they think Williams belongs in The Hall.  Let’s take each reason, one at a time, and examine them more closely.

1)  Bernie Williams compiled excellent career play-off numbers: 

It is certainly true that Williams is among the all-time play-off leaders in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, walks, home runs, and RBI.  But the primary reason why Williams is generally in the top three in each of these categories is because he played on a lot of excellent Yankee teams, and because there are simply more playoff series now than there were in prior generations.

Bernie Williams was fortunate to play on teams that allowed him to receive 545 plate appearances in playoff games.  That is essentially one regular season’s worth of plate appearances.  Williams triple slash line during the regular season in his career was ..297 / .381 / .477.  His playoff game triple slash line was .275 / .371 / .480.  Overall, not a lot of difference, other than a drop in batting average.

These numbers are about what one would expect considering a generally higher level of competition in playoff games.  Still, is there anything outstanding about that playoff triple slash line?  Williams was the 1996 A.L. ALCS MVP.  Per at bat, Williams numbers are good, but they are not outstanding.

2)  Bernie Williams was a great defensive center fielder:

Bernie Williams won four Gold Gloves, from 1997-2000, during which he accumulated a WAR of -4.1.  Yes folks, that’s a negative sign in front of the 4.  Very early on his Williams career as a full-time center fielder, beginning in 1993, Williams was a half-way decent outfielder.  He was young and quick, and he even accumulated a couple of seasons of positive WAR.

But the fact remains that Williams, who finished his career with a defensive WAR of -12.0, was, by any objective standard of measurement, a below average center fielder who happened to somehow impress Gold Glove voters into making them believe that he was, in fact, a very good outfielder.

It happens.  There are some Gold Glove winners (Keith Hernandez, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith) who really do deserve the award virtually every season they earn it.  There are others, like Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Rafael Palmiero, who earn them despite the fact that their skills eroded more quickly than people noticed.

My theory about this is that fans, managers, baseball announcers, and other  judge a player’s defense by entirely subjective criteria, like how graceful a player looks while playing his position.  Or how dirty his shirt is at the end of a game.  Yet, looks can be deceiving.  Sometimes a player has a dirty shirt because he is slow-footed and often out of position.  Or perhaps he looks as graceful as Nureyev  running across the wide expanse of the outfield, yet a disproportionate number of balls land just out of reach for inning-extending base hits.

Regardless of how well Williams appeared to play the outfield, the fact of the matter is, relatively speaking, he just wasn’t very good at it.

3)  Bernie Williams was an excellent switch-hitter who won a batting title and accumulated impressive career numbers.

Williams did win the A.L. batting title by hitting .339 in 1998.  Perhaps as a result, he also led the A.L. in intentional walks received in 1999, with 17.

Other than that, in Williams entire 16-year career, he never led the A.L. in any other category even once.  Not in at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, or WAR.

Williams finished his career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs scored (95th all-time), 449 doubles (96th all-time), 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 147 stolen bases, just over 1,000 walks, and the aforementioned triple slash line of .297 / .381 / .477.  His OPS was .858, and his OPS+ was 125.  His career WAR was 47.3.

There is nothing wrong with any of those numbers.  They are very solid, respectable numbers.  But here’s the problem with these numbers.  If you induct Williams into The Hall with those numbers, then you better be ready to punch the ticket for Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Will Clark, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and a cast of dozens of other players whose career numbers are right there with Williams.

Finally, it is also reasonable to expect that a Hall of Fame caliber player should have dominated the game to the extent that his dominance was rewarded with an MVP award or a Cy Young award or, at the very least, multiple finishes in the top five or top ten in voting for those awards.

Williams best finish in MVP voting was just 7th place in 1998.  He also finished in 10th place in 2002.

Bernie Williams was an excellent baseball player and a class Yankee who deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

But Bernie Williams does not deserve to be elected into the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hero Worship and Baseball: Is A-Rod Today’s Narcissus?

Alex Rodriguez sharing his thoughts on a calle...

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote the following article, which first appeared on the baseball website, “Books on Baseball,” two months ago.  I am reprinting it here in its entirety for those of you who might not have had a chance to read it at that time.

Can a baseball player whose biggest fan is himself still be a hero to others?  Historically, baseball’s great ball players have broken down into two camps:  those who refuse to accept the mantle of role model versus those who understand and accept that with great fortune comes great responsibility.

So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves! (Ovid)

Stan Musial, in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, is portrayed accurately as a hero because he has spent his whole baseball life living up to this responsibility in a humble, self-effacing way.  He has always gone out of his way to please his fans, many of whom have worshipped him as a hero now for decades.

Still other players, too numerous to mention, clearly enjoy the fame and fortune that baseball affords them, but refuse to accept any personal, let alone moral responsibility for their actions either on or off the field.  If a fan wants to worship him as a hero, fine.  It’ll mean more money in said player’s pocket.

Among the more recent players who have graced this great game, Cal Ripken, Jr. probably comes closest to embodying the characteristics of a true hero.  Not only was Ripken a great player, he was also a selfless player, putting his body on the line every single baseball game for nearly close to two decades without a break.  Moreover, he was a hero because, as a citizen of baseball, no shadow of doubt regarding his life-style, including his personal or professional choices, ever darkened his legacy.

How ironic, then, that one of the players who grew up idolizing Ripken was Alex Rodriguez, who recently hit his 600thcareer home run, a milestone that even Ripken never reached.

But is Alex Rodriguez a hero?

A-Rod is an interesting case because he doesn’t appear to fit into either of the two camps I outlined earlier.  His fawning, pouting countenance before the cameras betrays an inclination to covet a heroic reputation, but his actual behavior suggests the opposite.  He first lied about, then tearfully acknowledged and asked for forgiveness, regarding his use of steroids.  He also enjoys his association with a true hero, Derek Jeter, despite, at one point, jealously belittling Jeter’s skills and talent.

Alex Rodriguez wants it both ways.  Like a spoiled child, he wants to be loved, but he also believes that he should be immune from the norms and rules that govern the behavior of others, because he believes he is Beauty and Talent personified.

In fact, almost 2,000 years ago, this form of the “human condition” can be found in Roman poet Ovid’s work.

Ovid, a prolific writer who penned poetic tales of erotic love based on Greco-Roman mythological figures, wrote the following about Narcissus, a beautiful young man who stared at his reflection in a pool of water until he died:

“What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more.  That which you behold is but a shadow of a reflected form, and has no substance of its own.”  (Ovid’s Metamorphosis)

Alex Rodriguez wants us to love him as much as he loves himself.  But this is impossible, because no one can love A-Rod as much as he loves himself.  And, like Narcissus staring at his own reflection, A-Rod sees only one man before him; there is simply no room, nor is there any need, to see others as well.

Like Narcissus’ ending, staring at his own reflection forever, A-Rod’s career has been also tragic.  Because of his personality and actions, fans have become numb to his historic achievements.  Even as he his home run numbers hit historic proportions, we have become by-standers in his one-man narcissistic drama.

A-Rod may very well reach 700, or even 800 home runs, a staggeringly high number.  A question lingers for him….

Will A-Rod always be Narcissus, merely a shadow of a reflected form, a hollow image of greatness devoid of humility or gratitude or can he rehabilitate himself–stand away from the reflective pond waters–and earn the fans’ respect?

Can Alex Rodriquez truly become a hero?

Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

Joey Votto Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for Jeter:

First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about Scott Feldman:

Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on Liriano:

Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







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.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff

There is more to life than baseball.

Well, perhaps not.  But there are other things that fill up our day-to-day lives that, at one time or another, at least some people deem important.

Things such as the Punic Wars.  Or the T.V. show, “M.A.S.H.”  Or the Industrial Revolution.

Some of these events / people / movies / wars, etc.  have been underrated.  Some of them have been overrated.

Baseball, of course, has always featured its fair share of underrated players, managers and teams, and their overrated counterparts as well.

In this blog-post, I will combine my all-time (including contemporary) underrated and overrated people and topics regarding baseball, and some of everything else as well.  And I do mean everything.

Stay with me on this one, and I think you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Overrated:  “Field of Dreams.” This movie becomes increasingly unbearable to watch with each subsequent viewing.  It is basically an  exercise in Baby-Boomer self-indulgence masquerading as a lesson about “listening to your dreams.”  The overwrought Ray character (Kevin Costner vs. The Man) Stays True to Himself and reconnects with his estranged dad (even if he is just a ghost tromping around in a cornfield.)

Baseball is Spiritual!

And there’s something in there about kidnapping an African-American Civil Rights era writer (who ends up being O.K. in the end with having been kidnapped, of course) so that they can go to a baseball game together.

Baseball is Progressive!

Just, please, stop.

Underrated:  “Eight Men Out.” Every time I watch this film, I notice something subtle I hadn’t noticed the first time around.  Not as graceful as “The Natural,” but not as mawkish, either.  And, of course, this movie about the Black Sox Scandal has taken on added irony since Roger Clemens, who has a cameo in this film, has been embroiled in his own scandal as well.

Overrated:  B.J. Upton – No, he is not likely to ever become the superstar that baseball fans have been fantasizing about for around three years now.

Underrated:  Justin Upton – Yes, he is likely to become the superstar that many people thought his older brother, B.J., would become.

Overrated:  The Revolutionary War – Yeah, I know, it’s cool to be an independent nation and all, but the American colonies, over time, would probably have enjoyed an increasingly greater level of self-government vis-à-vis the Brits.  And we would have avoided the pointless War of 1812 as well.

Underrated:  The French and Indian War – If the French Army, in league with their Canadian trapper and Indian allies, had won this war, the inhabitants of the original English colonies would have eventually faced the choice of sailing back to England, or becoming subjects in the North American realm of King Louis’ French Empire.  There wouldn’t have been any Founding Fathers, Constitution, United States as Beacon of Liberty / Spread of Democracy Worldwide, etc.  Game. Set. Match.

Overrated:  Carl Yastrzemski – O.K., Red Sox fans, name your favorite Carl Yaz moment.  You can’t, can you?  Perhaps the single most boring superstar of all-time.

Underrated:  Luis Tiant – Although I rooted for the Big Red Machine in the ’75 Series (someone had to), I certainly did enjoy watching Tiant pitch against the Reds in that series.  What a character. Tiant’s dad, by the way, once pitched against a St. Louis Cardinals team barnstorming through pre-Castro Cuba.

Overrated:  John F. Kennedy / Ronald Reagan – Given the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, I probably shouldn’t point out that people of Irish ancestry routinely deify their heroes, whether they’re dead or not.  Bono, for example, has already surpassed James Joyce as the Emerald Isles wordiest artist-in-search-of-immortality.

Underrated:  Dwight D. Eisenhower – Supreme Allied Commander during WW II, two-term President of the United States, responsible for America’s interstate highway system, sent the 101st Airborne into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school integration, and warned us (presciently, as it turned out) about the dangers posed by the Military-Industrial Complex in his Farewell Address.

Overrated:  Derek Jeter – Not as a player, but given the sorry state of baseball’s “marketing” campaign, as the de facto “Face” of baseball.  Um, like it or not, yes he is.

Underrated:  Albert Pujols – Not as a player, but as a symbol of the Latino community’s continual, and unjustifiable, second-class status as Americans.  There is no reason why Pujols, the greatest player in the game today, should not be as recognizable to the average American as Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, or (ahem) Tiger Woods.

Overrated:  Napoleon – One Word:  Waterloo

Underrated:  Alexander the Great – One Word:  Undefeated

Overrated:  David Wright – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Underrated:  Ryan Zimmerman – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Overrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1950’s.  Their bodies were safely covered up like Mainers in the Summer, wary of that sudden, impending chill off the lake.

Underrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1930’s.  In the heady days before Hollywood went off the deep end with its puritanical rating system, Jane is obviously, sumptuously nude while swimming in the water of an African river.  Good stuff.

Overrated:  A’s General Manager Billy Beane: Yes, I know, he always has a limited budget to work with.  But didn’t he give a huge contract extension to Eric (maybe I’ll play tomorrow) Chavez?  Like it or not, a G.M. still has to win something once in a while to stay credible.

Underrated:  Braves General Manager John Schuerholz: Does anyone remember the last time the Braves had a string of truly awful seasons?  You would have to go back to the late 1980’s, culminating in the 65-97 record of 1990.  That’s back when a country called the U.S.S.R. still existed.  Since 1991, the Braves have enjoyed 13 ninety-plus win seasons in 20 years.  In a football crazy region, with a medium-level payroll, Schuerholz usually (but not always) avoids big mistakes, gambles effectively, and promotes discipline and balance throughout the Braves system.

Overrated:  Classical Music – Before you snub your nose at me and laugh at my blue-collar, Bridgeport, CT, roots, let me tell you that, yes, over the years I have listened to, studied, and even purchased classical music, so I believe I do have a healthy appreciation of this art-form.  Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” are some of my favorites.

But I also have no doubt that if an 18th century audience heard Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” in a live performance down the hall, they would have wet their collective bloomers in astonishment and excitement, and stampeded towards that remarkable sound.

Underrated:  Jazz Music – The purest and greatest of all American art-forms.  It is simply impossible to imagine America without Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis.  America without Jazz music would be like watching a film in a movie theater with the sound turned off; you could still enjoy the spectacle, and figure out the basic premise, but you’d miss the mood, tone, and soul of the film.

Overrated:  Roger Clemens – America loves the image of the lone Texas gunslinger riding into town, wrestling control of the situation through violence, or the threat of high-heat, and riding off mysteriously into the sunset.  Nolan Ryan may have been baseball’s original Clint Eastwood-Anti-Hero archetype, but Clemens played it to the hilt. Clemens, however, (even before the steroid scandal broke), more accurately fit the Shape-Shifter archetype.  The defining trait of this archetype is Uncertain Loyalties.  To whom was Clemens ever loyal?  He was more like a soldier-of-fortune.  Rooting for him was pointless.  He existed to fulfill his own ambitions.

Underrated:  Greg Maddux: He actually did all the things that a Western gunslinger is supposed to do, but he did them without the self-preening drama carefully orchestrated by Clemens.  During the 1990’s, in the Era of The Hitter, Maddux posted a period of seven consecutive years of ERA’s beyond comprehension.  From 1992-98, his annual ERA’s were as follows:  2.18, 2.36, 1.56, 1.63, 2.72 (Oh, My!), 2.20, and 2.22.  These are ERA’s right out of the Dead Ball Era.  Well, it’s just too bad he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, because strikeouts are sexy.

Oh, really?  Maddux finished tenth all-time in career strikeouts with 3,371.  Who is just ahead of him in ninth place?  None other than Walter Johnson.

Maddux, by the way, also won 18 consecutive gold gloves.

Lastly, Maddux broke the immortal Cy Young’s record of 15 consecutive seasons of 15 or more wins, having reached that total in seventeen consecutive years.  Maybe the Cy Young award should be renamed the Greg Maddux award.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing.  Greg Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas.

Overrated: T.V. Show, “M.A.S.H.” – For too many years, this preachy message-driven drivel (War is Bad!) was imposed on a Vietnam Era audience (although it uses the Korean War as its backdrop.)  It turns out that even in the face of an odious, unjust conflict, American boys (and a girl or two) could crack jokes, shower together, and drip sincerity between commercial breaks.  Who knew?  The way Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) looked during his nervous breakdown in the Final Episode was the way I felt through most of the other episodes I ever bothered to sit through.

Underrated: T.V. Show, “The Shield.” –  How do you survive and do the job that needs to be done when no one around you (including your boss) wants you to?  Hidden dangers, both from without and within, lurk everywhere.  There is enough betrayal, passion, cruelty and nobility in this show to make Shakespeare envious.  And beyond that, it was never predictable or dull.

Overrated:  Alfonso Soriano – Usually leads the league, or is among the league-leaders, in Outs Made.  Even during his best seasons, his baseball instincts have always been poor.  Now he is older and injury-prone.  Good luck, Cubbies!

Underrated:  Bobby Abreu – Eight 20 / 20 seasons (homers / steals). Eight seasons of at least 100 runs scored, and eight seasons of at least 100 RBI’s.  His career Adjusted OPS+ is 132, higher than Hall-of-Fame outfielders Roberto Clemente, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Carl Yaz, Goose Goslin, and Jim Rice.

Overrated:  “300” – Plays like an S&M / Bondage primer masquerading as a modern, historical epic.  The Spartans, mind you, really did practice enforced homosexual relations within their ranks.  Perhaps this film isn’t such a stretch after all.

Underrated:  “Gladiator” – Russell Crowe’s best film.  Fantastic performances, excellent dramatic tension, great battle scenes.  “A people should know when they are conquered.”

Let’s leave it at that for today.  I hope you enjoyed this blog-post.  Agree / Disagree with any (all) of my underrated / overrated items?  Let me know.  Again, thanks for reading.

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