The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “New York Yankees”

National League Predictions For 2015

There is but one potentially great team in the National League, the Washington Nationals.  They are the only team in the Majors that I could imagine winning as many as 100 games in 2015. There are about another half-dozen N.L. teams I can see making the playoffs, depending on the breaks they receive.  The weakest division in the N.L., even with the inclusion of those Nats, is the N.L. East.  Like wages in right-to-work states, it is essentially a race to the bottom in that division.

N.L. East

1888 Washington Nationals team photo

1888 Washington Nationals team photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Nationals – It’s a pretty ridiculous pitching staff when Doug Fister is your 4th starter.  Prediction:  98 wins.

2)  Mets – Young and ready to rise above .500, and Matt Harvey adds swagger.  If everything breaks right, a potential Wild Card contender.  Prediction:  83 wins.

3)  Marlins – In some ways, not really all that different from the Mets.  The return to form of Jose Fernandez is key.  Prediction: 81 wins.

4)  Braves – May not finish in last place only because the Phillies are still allegedly a Major League baseball team.  Prediction:  74 wins.

5)  Phillies – May not finish in last place only because the Braves might be even worse than expected.  Prediction:  69 wins.

N.L. Central

1) Cardinals – Does this team ever have a really bad season?  Not this year.  Should rather easily win the Central Division.  Prediction:  90 wins

2) Pirates – An outfield of McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte is one to salivate over.  Should take a Wild Card slot, even with some pitching issues.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Cubs – Lots of people pick the Cubs to grab a Wild Card slot this year.  Could happen, but I’m betting their chances are better in 2016.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Brewers –  Really didn’t do much to improve their team in the off-season.  Lost their de facto ace, Gallardo.  Should be consistently mediocre.  Prediction:  79 wins.

5)  Reds –  A franchise that appears to be moving in the wrong direction.  Will Joey Votto and Jay Bruce return to form?  Prediction:  73 wins.

N.L. West

1)  Dodgers – Look very strong on paper.  Would be hard-pressed not to at least make the playoffs, even if they somehow don’t win this division outright.  Prediction:  93 wins.

2)  Padres – Lots of upgrades in the off-season, but still not a shoo-in for a Wild Card slot, though I think they’ll grab one.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Giants – The Giants are consistently the most difficult team for me to pick correctly.  Bumgarner is a monster, but tossed a huge number of innings last season.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Rockies – Car-Go and Tu-Lo, Corey Dickerson, Blackmon and Arenado provide a solid core of offense.  If the pitching improves at all, this could be the surprise team of the N.L.  Prediction:  80 wins.

5)  Diamondbacks – Hard to envision this team not finishing in last place.  May even be the worst team in the entire Majors this year.  Prediction:  65 wins.

World Series prediction:  Nationals over the Red Sox in seven games.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this series.  If you are just discovering this series, and you want to go back and take a look at prior posts, here’s the link to Part 1 (which also discusses the criteria I used compile this list) and Part 2, which lists players #11-#20.

Now, on to pitchers #21-#25:

English: Mike Mussina

English: Mike Mussina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

21)  Mike Mussina – Yes, here’s another one whom we might not think of as, strictly-speaking, a 21st-century pitcher.  Yet about 43% of Mussina’s career WAR value occurred from 2001 until his retirement after the 2008 season.

Mussina’s career fits neatly into almost two halves.  He spent the first ten years of his career, through the year 2000, with the Baltimore Orioles.  They were generally his best years.

During that span, he finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting five times.  In his tenure with the Yankees (2001-2008), he managed to make the top five in voting just once (with a 6th-place showing in his final season as well.)

As an Oriole, Mussina was often a borderline-great pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 130 in ten years.  As a member of the Yankees, Mussina was still a very good pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 114, and a WHIP of 1.212, in his final eight years.

As a Yankee, in the 21st-century, Mussina compiled a WAR of 35.2, and a won-lost record of 123-72 (.631), with an ERA of 3.88.  He made 249 starts with the Yankees, tossed 1,553 innings, and struck out 1,278 batters.

His WAR ranks 10th-best all-time for a Yankees pitcher, and his 1,278 K’s rank sixth-best ever for a Yankee starter.

Mussina’s 4.01 strikeout to walk ratio is the best in the entire history of New York Yankees starting pitchers.

Although Mussina led the A.L. in wins with 19 in 1995 (and he also won 19 games in 1996), the first and only time in his entire career that he won 20 games was in the final season of his career, in 2008, when he posted a 20-9 record, in a league-leading 34 starts, for New York’s A.L. franchise.  Lest you think those 20-wins were primarily about run support, his ERA was 3.37, and his ERA+ was 131.

It’s good to go out on top, and that’s what Mussina did after the 2008 season.  He certainly enjoyed a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and he definitely belongs on the list of best pitchers of the 21st-century.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren (Photo credit: on2wheelz)

22)  Dan Haren – Haren has been about as solid as they come over the past decade.  He has won 129 of 316 starts, and boasts a fine WHIP of 1.186.

Over a seven-year period, 2005-11, he averaged 34 starts per season, leading the league in that category three times, and pitching over 200 innings in each of those seven seasons.

From 2007-09, inclusive, he posted a fantastic ERA+ of around 140.  He made three-consecutive All-Star teams, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting in 2009 while pitching for Arizona.

An excellent control pitcher, Haren has walked more than 50 batters in just three of his eleven seasons.  At the same time, he has been an above-average strikeout pitcher, fanning at least 192 batters five times, and over 200 three times.

Though Haren’s past couple of years have been somewhat below his historic standards of effectiveness, a move to the Dodgers and to the N.L. West could help Haren post a nice comeback season in 2014.

cain

cain (Photo credit: artolog)

23)  Matt Cain – Similar to Haren in that he has not received the press he should have for the many fine seasons he’s enjoyed pitching for the Giants.  Still just 29-years old, Cain has already been a veteran of parts of nine MLB seasons.  One of the unluckiest of pitchers, Cain has received little run support throughout his career, and usually ranks among the leaders in no-decisions for that reason.

Cain’s career record of 93-88 does not accurately reflect how well he has usually pitched since 2oo5.  From 2009-11, for example, Cain won just 39 of 99 starts, and was left with 30 no-decisions.  His record during that period was 39-30, but with proper run support, it could have been closer to 50-25.

Still, Cain has received moderate attention in Cy Young voting in three of his seasons, and he’s  been named to three All-Star teams in his career.

A veteran of eight post-season starts, he has demonstrated poise and effectiveness on that stage, going 4-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 51 innings.

Cain certainly has the potential to accomplish much more in has career, which may just now have reached roughly its midpoint.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

24)  Josh Beckett – I saw Beckett pitch twice while he was a Portland Sea Dog (AA-Portland, ME) back in the summer of 2001, in the Eastern League.  He was absolutely dominant on both occasions.  He made 13 starts for Portland, posting an 8-1 record, a 1.82 ERA, and 102 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 74 innings.  At age 21, he pitched like a man among boys.

Beckett had been the Marlins 1st-round pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft (2nd pick overall), and rapidly progressed through the Marlin’s system.  After Portland, Beckett later that season made his debut for the Marlins, making four starts near the end of the year.  In those four starts, he struck out 24 batters in 24 innings, resulting in a 1.50 ERA.

For the next four years in Florida, Beckett’s strikeout rate hovered around one per inning.  But he never stayed quite healthy enough to put it all together.  There were always some sort of blisters to contend with, or one ailment or another that suppressed his starts and innings pitched each season.  It wasn’t until he got traded to Boston in the deal for Hanley Ramirez just before the ’06 season that Beckett finally reached the 200 inning pitched level.

But before we get to his Boston years, let’s back up a bit to the 2003 World Series.  Beckett’s performance in that series provided the Marlins with a competitive edge vs. the Yankees.  The 23-year old Beckett made two starts against the Yankees in that World Series.

In 16 innings, he struck out 19 Yankees, gave up just eight hits, only two earned runs, and posted a 1.10 ERA, along with an 0.796 WHIP.  He shut out the Yanks in Game 6, the final game of the Series, defeating Andy Pettitte 2-0.  For his performance, he was named the World Series MVP.

Josh Beckett then spent his next seven seasons, the prime of his career, pitching for the Boston Red Sox. It was a mixed bag.  At times, Beckett demonstrated the incredible promise he flashed in the minors, and from time-to-time with the Marlins.  At other times, he seemed uninterested, unmotivated, and uninspired.  In alternate seasons, Beckett was either among the better pitchers in the A.L., or one of the biggest disappointments.

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, Beckett posted WAR’s of 6.5, 5.1, and 5.8.  In ’07, he won 20 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting for the A.L.  In ’11, he again finished in the top ten in voting.  In each of those three seasons, he made the All-Star team.

In ’06, ’08, ’10, and ’12, however, he posted WAR’s of 2.7, 3.3, -1.0 and 0.2.  What’s more, in perhaps only one season in his career, 2007, out of 13 seasons, could he be said to have pitched and acted like the ace of his staff.  He generally seemed satisfied to get in his 30 starts per year, not push it to the max, and coast when he was able to.

Finally labeled (fairly or not) an out-of-shape clubhouse cancer, he was shipped off to the Dodgers near the end of the dismal (for the entire Red Sox team) 2012 season.  Apparently, management felt that Beckett (and another pitcher or two) eating fried chicken and drinking beer during games did not set a professional tone in the clubhouse.

Stories regarding Beckett simply not taking the game seriously enough even occurred back in his younger days in Florida.  Manager Jack McKeon used to literally lock the door leading from the dugout to the clubhouse because Beckett and one or two others would simply disappear off the bench during games, go into the clubhouse and start drinking beers during the game.

McKeon actually instituted a hall-pass system for the use of the bathroom during games.  Apparently, he expected Beckett to pay attention during the games even on his “off-days” so he could actually learn something by watching the other team’s hitters.

From his earliest days in Portland, Maine in the minors up until last season, Beckett has always been the Texas stud who has gotten by with his hard stuff, dominating on pure talent and adrenaline in short spurts.  But he’s never appeared to take his craft seriously enough to reach the high level of success predicted for him, or the talent God gave him.

Now, at age 34, whatever Beckett has left in the tank should carry him through another couple of seasons in the Majors.

Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

25)  Bartolo Colon – As probably already know, the Mets acquired the portly 40-year old pitcher as a free agent this past off-season.  What you may not know is that Colon has a chance to surpass 200 career victories this coming year.  Currently, he has 189 wins in his 16-year career.

Actually, 138 of those wins occurred in our current century.  Colon threw his first pitch in the Majors at age 24 in 1997.  As recently as last season, he led the A.L. in shutouts with three, while winning 18 games and posting a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts.  The big question is, of course, (especially for Mets fans) how much does he have left in the tank?

To a certain extent, a great deal of Colon’s success will depend on the defense behind him.  He throws strikes (just 29 walks in 190 innings last season), so he won’t beat himself with the free pass.  Not at all a strikeout pitcher, he averaged just 5.5 / 9 innings last season, down from his career high of over 10 / 9 innings in the year 2000 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

With the Mets outfield defense vastly improved over this time last season (assuming they start the terrific Juan Lagares in center-field on Opening Day), and considering that Citi-Field is basically yet another pitchers park (as is Oakland, where he pitched last season), and figuring in that this season he gets to pitch against the others teams’ pitchers for the first time since he spent a half-season with the Expos about a dozen years ago, there is room for optimism here.

The Mets may have caught lightning in a bottle here with this three-time All Star (who won a Cy Young award for the Angels in 2005), or they may discover to their horror that the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin.  But Colon surprised many with his improbable comeback which began in 2012.  Perhaps he can continue to do it on a larger stage in New York City.

Briefly, Those Who Did Not Make the List:

Barry Zito – Zito has made over 400 starts this century, and only three pitchers have tossed more than his 2,477 innings.  He also has a WAR of 30.5.  So why did he not make the list?  Well, his career ERA of 4.07 is one reason.  Another is his 1.339 WHIP, higher than any of the 25 pitchers who did make the list.  Also, despite the advantage of pitching his home games in favorable parks, his ERA+ is just 105, a little more than a replacement-level pitcher.

Finally, if you remove his fantastic 2002 season in which he won the A.L. Cy Young award, his career record stands at just 142-138, despite pitching for mostly good teams. This is not to say that Zito has not provided the Giants with any real value, just not nearly as much value as they paid for when they signed him to a contract for over one-hundred million dollars.

Tim Lincecum – Despite two Cy Young awards and four quality seasons, Lincecum did not make my list because his career WAR stands at 23.3 after seven seasons.  Consider that Clayton Kershaw has a WAR of 32.2 after just six seasons.  They’ve each won a pair of Cy Young awards, but the difference is that Kershaw has never had a bad year.  Lincecum has now suffered through two very poor years in a row.

Basically, if Lincecum had even just decent seasons in 2012 and ’13, garnering an additional 3.5 WAR per year, for example, he would have made the list and would have probably been slotted in right behind Kershaw.  But two terrible years, during which he produced a combined -2.3 WAR, cost Lincecum anywhere from 7.0 to 10.0 WAR, a significant drop in production.  In fact, few pitchers in baseball history have ever gone from being so very good to so very bad so quickly, unless they were injured.

As far as we know, Lincecum has not been suffering from any serious arm injuries.  He pitched nearly 200 innings last season, and his strikeout rate is still very solid, if not quite where it was a few years ago.  In short, I have no idea why Lincecum’s career has so suddenly all but imploded.  But whatever the reason, it certainly cost him a place on this list.  I do hope, however, that he finds a way to reverse his recent misfortunes, because The Freak at his best is not only good for the Giants, it’s good for baseball.

Randy Johnson – Johnson was a still a great pitcher in the early first couple of seasons of this century and, like Lincecum, actually won a pair of Cy Young awards while some of us still hadn’t quite grasped that the 1900’s were gone for good.  But eight of Johnson’s best eleven seasons occurred in the 20th-century, and Johnson’s last five seasons in the Majors did not add much to his legacy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly make a case that R.J. belongs on this list, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did.  But in compiling this list, I chose to emphasize pitchers whose accomplishments this century would continue to be overlooked if I added nearly every pitcher who began his career back in the ’80’s, but who remained effective through ’01 or ’02.  Therefore, I decided to evaluate each pitcher on a case-by-case basis.  Since over 60% of R.J.’s effectiveness occurred in the last century, I chose to leave him off this list.  You may disagree with my reasoning, and that’s fine.

Roger Clemens –  See:  Johnson, Randy above.

Yovani Gallardo – Despite four consecutive seasons of over 200 strikeouts, and double-digit wins five times, Gallardo annually posts rather low WAR’s.  I was surprised when looking at his career stats that after seven years, his career WAR stands at an oddly unimpressive 13.3.  In fact, he’s never produced a single-season WAR that’s reached even 3.0 in his entire career.

Gallardo, as far as I can tell, lives for the high pitch count, which limits his overall innings pitched, and produces some big innings for the opposition.  For even though Gallardo has struck out nearly a thousand batters over the past five years, his career WHIP is 1.304, which indicates simply too many runners getting to first base, regardless of his live arm and numerous strikeouts.  His career home run rate of around one per nine innings also reduces his overall effectiveness.  And it isn’t simply the home runs that are the problem, it’s that there always seem to be runners on base when they occur.

Gallardo’s career ERA+ of 109 through age 27 either indicates a to-this-point under-achiever, or a he-is-what-he-is preview of his next seven years.  It’s not that Gallardo has been a bad pitcher.  It’s just that he’s sometimes mistaken for an ace, when, in fact, he’s been more of a #3 starter for his entire career. What comes next, entering his age 28 season, will go a long way towards clarifying his probable future.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you on this topic.  Agree or disagree, I hope it was worth your while to read it.

 
Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

 

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.

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.

Seven Baseball Stories You May Have Missed in 2012

There were lots of great stories this year.  The unexpectedly strong showings of the Orioles and the A’s, as well as the Nats, probably top the list.  Also, many people thought that no one would ever win another Triple Crown.  In past years, I’ve read articles that sought to “prove” that it could never happen again.  Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable achievement may be the last time many of us ever witness this event in our lifetimes.

Mike Trout’s historic rookie season was one for the ages.  No other rookie in history ever produced a 30 homer, 40 steal season, leading the league with 49 steals.  He also led the A.L. in runs scored (129) and in OPS+ (171).  It’ll be interesting to see how the vote for the A.L. MVP award turns out.

But there were several other “smaller” stories, if you will, that were no less worthy of notice.  Some of you will already be aware of some of these facts, stories, and other tidbits of information.  But, in general, the items that follow were each, in my estimation, a bit under-reported.  Then again, I’m attracted to relatively useless trivia, so please bear with me.

craig kimbrel

craig kimbrel (Photo credit: taylor magnone)

1)  Craig Kimbrel:  Kimbrel accomplished something this season that no pitcher, not Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera, Rob Dibble, Dick Radatz, or any other flamethrower, ever did before.  Kimbrel struck out half the batters he faced (116 out of 231.)  How crazy is that?  He also struck out about four batters for every hit (27) he surrendered in his 62.2 innings pitched.  His ERA of 1.01 and ERA+ of 399 are just cartoonish.  Oh, and did I mention he led the league in saves with 42?  Displaying impeccable control, he walked just 14 batters, and hit just two.  So yes, he’s a pretty good pitcher.

2)  Carlos Beltran:  Beltran became the eighth player in baseball history to join the 300 homer, 300 stolen base club.  He is the only switch-hitter in history to have both 300 homer and steals.  Currently, he has 334 homers (which puts him in the top 100 all time), and 306 stolen bases.  His outstanding 86.7 career stolen base percentage ranks 3rd best of all time.  Finally, Beltran’s career WAR of 62.3 — about the same as Ernie Banks — certainly places Beltran in the conversation about future Hall of Famers.

Joe Blanton

Joe Blanton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Joe Blanton:  I love Joe Blanton.  I have a separate post in mind devoted entirely to Joe Blanton.  I might even get around to writing it.  In the meantime, you might not find Blanton’s 10-13 record, 4.71 ERA or ERA+ of 84 to be awe-inspiring.  But did you know his strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.88), ranked 2nd in the entire National League?  Did you know that his 1.6 walks / 9 innings was third best in the league?  How about that he had more shutouts (1) than Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto?  In fact, Cueto had only four more strikeouts than Blanton (170 to 166) in 2012, and it took Cueto 26 more innings to top Blanton.  Did you know these little bits of trivia?  Well, know you do.  And don’t you feel better knowing them?

4)  New York Yankees:  So the Yankees made the playoffs again.  Did you know the Yankees have now made the playoffs fifty-one times in their history?  All fifty-one times have occurred since 1921.  That means that over the past 92 seasons, the Yankees have made the playoffs 55% of the time.  No other team is particularly close.

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Dodgers, for example, have made the playoffs 26 times since 1916.  That’s about 27% of the last 97 seasons.  The Cardinals have made the playoffs 25 times since 1926.  That’s about 29% of the best 87 seasons.  Not a bad showing.  The Giants and the A’s have each made the playoffs 24 times since 1905.  The Braves have been there now 22 of the past 99 seasons.  The Red Sox, 20 times since 1903.  Since the beginning of the twentieth century, no other team has ever made the playoffs as many as 20 times.

So the Yankees have made the playoffs about twice as often as the next best set of teams.  Even to someone like me who is not a Yankees fan, that’s an impressive run of success.

5)  Colorado Rockies:  On the other end of the spectrum, the Rockies have now existed for twenty seasons, and 2012 was their worst one yet.  Their .395 win-loss percentage was the lowest in team history.  You know you’ve had a bad year when the highest WAR recorded on the team was accumulated by a relief pitcher (Rafael Betancourt: 2.6.)  Their attendance this year was down to 2.6 million, not a bad total, but this once proud franchise topped well over three million spectators per year every season from their debut in 1993 through 2001.  In fact, in ’93, they drew about 4.5 million fans.

The Rockies are long past the point where it can be said that they’re a young franchise going through growing pains.  Now they are simply painful to watch.

6)  Alex Rios:  A fair amount has been written about the comeback season enjoyed by White Sox D.H., Adam Dunn, and rightly so.  Yet his teammate, outfielder Alex Rios, also managed a remarkable turnaround in 2012.  In 2011, Rios batted just .227, slugged .348, and posted an OPS+ of 63.  He hit 13 homers, stole eleven bases, and drove in 44 runs.  In 2012, he bounced back in a big way, batting .304, slugging .516, and posted an OPS+ of 124.  He also slugged 25 homers, stole 23 bases, and drove in 91 runs.

In other words, Rios was essentially twice the player in 2012 as he was in 2011.  Considering he was playing his age 31 season, that has to rate as one of the more unlikely comeback seasons in baseball history.  Considering the ChiSox are on the hook with Alex Rios for the next three years, they’ll have ample opportunity to find out which one is the “real” Alex Rios.

Omar Vizquel, with the Cleveland Indians

Omar Vizquel, with the Cleveland Indians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Omar Vizquel:  At age 45, Omar Vizquel is finally calling it quits.  He has certainly compiled some impressive stats over the course of his career, especially with his glove.  The three-time All Star won eleven Gold Gloves in his career, and his .985 career fielding percentage as a shortstop is the best in baseball history (minimum, 4,000 chances.)

Vizquel’s 28.4 dWAR is also among the top ten players in baseball history whose primary position was shortstop.  He ranks third all-time in assists, with 7,676, and 11th in putouts with 4,102.

As an offensive player, Vizquel accumulated 2,877 hits, good for 40th place in baseball history.  His 2,264 singles are 16th best.  His 456 doubles are more than HOF’ers Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Barry Larkin and Luke Appling.  He also stole 404 bases, and scored 1,445 runs.

Does Vizquel belong in the Hall of Fame?  On that issue, I abstain.  I’ll leave that decision up to the BBWAA to decide five years from now.

So there you have it,  seven items you may not have known about.  I hope you feel much more enlightened by this trivia I have shared with you.

You’re welcome.

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.

Soundtrack for Baseball: July, 2012

This is my third offering in a sporadic series in which I mix baseball analysis with some of my favorite music artists.  Let’s call this one “The Blues Edition.”  (Please ignore any commercials that may appear.  For “Full Screen,” click the icon on the lower, right-hand corner of each video.)

The relationship between the analysis and the songs is tenuous at best, but it amuses me nevertheless (as do bright, shiny objects and fire trucks.)

Here were my offerings for April and May (June somehow slipped by me unnoticed.)

The point of these posts is to create a video-blog of the highlights (and low lights) of the baseball season.  I’ll leave it to other bloggers to address this season’s stats and stories in a more traditional fashion.

So let’s begin.

Has any PHEENOM ever made such a huge impact in his first full season as Mike Trout has done this season?  The list of players who were great right out of the gate, and who went on to have fantastic careers, is not a very long one.  That list would include, for example, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez and a handful of others.

Add Mike Trout to that list.  Sure, it’s true that Trout’s future is yet to be written, but other than the possibility of injury, there is no reason to think that we’re not looking at the next Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle.

All Trout has done so far is hit a league-leading .351 to go along with a circuit-pacing 78 runs scored in just 80 games.  Oh, and did I mention he’s also stolen the most bases in the A.L. (35) while being caught an absurdly low 3 times?  How about that 180 OPS+, also the best in the junior league.

The fact is, pitchers have to learn to stop “Messin’ with the Kid.  Here’s a direct appeal to MLB pitchers from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, so listen up.

Meanwhile, up in New York, the Yankees have added both age and depth to their first-place team by trading for Seattle’s most famous icon (and, no, I don’t mean Starbucks.)

Ichiro Suzuki has been a fixture in the Mariners outfield since he burst on the Major League scene in 2001.

But after 11 1/2 years in Seattle the former MVP has finally been granted his wish to play for a team that could well find itself in the World Series this year.

Ichiro has accumulated over 2,500 hits in his MLB career along with a career batting average of .322.  The ten time All-Star and future Hall of Famer has won 10 Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and has led the A.L. in hits seven times.  He has been a one-of-a-kind player in his generation.

Yet Ichiro is also 38-years old, and clearly isn’t the player he once was.  His OPS+ of 82 this season is unimpressive, while his batting average is just .261.  Though it’s true he still has some value, it is clear he is no longer able to do “The Things That {he} Used To Do.”

I’ll let the immortal Stevie Ray Vaughan spell it out for you.

I wasn’t sure he could do it again.

I’m talking about the Tigers Uber-Ace, 29-year old Justin Verlander.  Last year, he won both the Cy Young award and the MVP award.  It was perhaps asking too much for a repeat performance, yet Verlander is not far off last year’s pace.

Granted, Verlander won’t finish this season with a 24-5 record, as he did in 2011.  His record currently stands at 11-7, but he has pitched better than that. Verlander leads the A.L. in innings pitched, complete games, and fewest hits surrendered per nine innings.  His ERA is just .23 higher than last year.  He is second in his league in strikeouts, starts and WHIP, while also leading the league in WAR for pitchers.

Verlander is a polished pitcher with a solid arsenal, but his bread and butter pitch is an old-fashioned 100 mile per hour fastball.  His is the ultimate power arm.  His nickname should be the “Smoking Gun,” ’cause that’s what he brings to the table.

So let’s dedicate this next song, “Smoking Gun,” performed by the smooth as silk Robert Cray, in honor of Verlander’s awesome right arm.

When we were kids, our best pitcher would always pitch the most games.  Sounds logical, right?  In the Majors, of course, things are much different.  Sure, it’s true that a relief pitcher will probably appear in more games than a typical starting pitcher.  That’s the nature of the job.  But, apparently, it doesn’t necessarily follow that even your best relief pitcher will lead the staff in appearances.

That honor is often enjoyed by the specialist of all specialists, the situational lefty.

He doesn’t have to be particularly good, mind you, just left-handed.

Situational lefties are the summer school teachers of the bullpen.  They’re willing to do the job, and there just ain’t that many others to choose from with their particular mix of modest self-esteem and masochism.

Which explains (though it doesn’t excuse) why lefty Tim Byrdak of the Mets leads the entire Major Leagues in appearances (as of August 1st.)

In 55 appearances, Byrdak has managed to accumulate a paltry 30.1 (not entirely effective) innings pitched.  His ERA on the season is 4.45.  Apparently, his “situations” have been a bit more challenging for Byrdak than he would like.

But once a Major League manager gets an idea in his head, or develops an irrational affinity for a particular player, there’s just no turning back.  So manager Terry Collins runs the 38-year old Byrdak out there about two out of every three games (actually, Byrdak has recently missed a couple of games with a sore knee) and hopes for the best.

Good baseball strategy?  Who cares.  It’s what’s de rigueur these days in Baseball Land.  Obviously, it’s simply impossible to love mediocrity too much.  Does it backfire sometimes?  Sure, love is like that.

So here’s an ode to loving someone or something too much by the late, great, blind Canadian blues artist, Jeff Healey.

Someday, I’d like to meet an actual Padres fan.

The San Diego Padres were one of baseball’s expansion teams in 1969.  Forty-three years after their founding, not only have they not won a World Championship, but they’ve won only one World Series game.  (Andy Hawkins beat the Tigers’ Dan Petry, October 10, 1984, 5-3.)

They’ve also never reached the 100-win plateau in any season, topping out at 98 wins in 1998.  In fact, they’ve topped 90 wins in a season just four times since the first man walked on the moon.

During their existence, they have lost 520 more games than they’ve won.

Their only league MVP winner, Ken Caminiti in 1996, turned out to be a steroids user, was arrested in a Houston hotel room for possession of crack cocaine, and died prematurely at age 41.

If that’s not enough to give a baseball fan the blues, I don’t know what is.

Sure, other MLB teams have suffered long droughts of futility, but, other than Tony Gwynn, can you give me one reason the Padres haven’t been baseball’s most superfluous team?

The question is, “How Many More Years” will the Padres offer so little in the way of hope and success to their (presumably loyal) fans?

Perhaps it’s time for a little Howlin’ Wolf as an antidote to this historically uncompelling franchise.

With that, my friends, we come to the end of this edition of a “Soundtrack for Baseball.”  I hope you enjoyed it.  We may do it again in another month.

Post Navigation