Friday, May 27, 2005

As of today....

The AL East is officially bashing.

Stan the Man and Mad Dog

I was thinking about Stan Musial the other day and how little he’s talked about when people discuss the game’s great hitters. This is a shame and probably because Musial never led the NL in homers. That’s the only reason I can see for it.

Musial led the NL in batting 7 times, was second twice and third on five occasions. He led in runs 5 times and was second four times. He was tops in doubles 8 times and second 3. And here’s the stat that always amazes me – he led in triples 5 times and was second once. Although he never led in HR, 12 times he was in the top 10. He led in RBI twice and is fifth all time. Seven times he was best in OPS.

He was the MVP three times and was second in the voting four times. His overall ranks among the four Hall of Fame rating systems used on Baseball Reference are: 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, and 5th. (I’m not really sure how those rankings work, but that looks impressive.)

Next, a discussion started about Greg Maddux. I believe Maddux will be the pitching equivalent of Musial. This is because Maddux isn’t a power pitcher like Clemens or Johnson. Strikeouts are like homers.

But consider this: Maddux’s career 162-game average is 17-9 with a 2.95 ERA (vs. a league ERA of 4.14). Clemens is 17-8 with a 3.18 ERA (vs. league average of 4.47) and Johnson is 17-8 with a 3.07 ERA.

Baseball Musings offers a neat little stat generator that allows you to compare players. During Maddux’s prime, from 1989 through 1998, Maddux was 175-91 with a 2.49 ERA, tops among all starters in the game. Next best on the list (with a minimum of 1,200 IP) was Jose Rijo with a 2.75 ERA. That means Maddux’s ERA was 0.26 better than the next best in the game during that stretch.

Clemens was 155-90 with a 2.90 ERA (3rd best) during that time frame. Johnson was 140-79 with a 3.37 ERA.

No one won more games than Maddux during that time and he was third in win percentage behind Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine.

Even if you go from 1989 to the present day, Maddux’s 2.83 ERA is second to only Pedro’s 2.72. And Pedro has thrown about 1,500 fewer innings.

And Maddux did all this when the game favored hitters and homers were being hit in ridiculous numbers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hit parade

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, OK? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp ... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes ... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week ... and you're in Yankee Stadium. - Crash Davis, in "Bull Durham"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

New York, New York

The Tigers have defined mediocre through the first 42 games. They are 20-22. They are 10-13 at home and 10-9 on the road. They are 4-5 vs. the East, 10-11 vs. the Central and 5-4 vs. the West. They were 11-11 in April, and 9-11 in May. They are 5-5 in their last 10.

Surprisingly, it's been the bats that have let the Tigers down in recent games. They lost 1-0 to Arizona on Sunday and have scored more than 4 runs in just 4 of their last 24 contests. They rank 9th in the AL in runs scored for the season and they are last in the league over the past 7 days. They are batting .231 over the past week, also last.

Fortunately, Detroit's 3.66 team ERA is 4th best in the AL and the Tigers have posted a 2.95 ERA over the last week. Detroit's starters have a 3.88 ERA and average 6.1 innings per outing, 6th best.

A trip to NY might be a tough task now, but it would be great to see the Tigers take at least 2 of 3. The match-up tonight favors the Yanks (Ledezma vs. Mussina) but Maroth and Bonderman follow. Those are games Detroit must win to take that next step. Maroth tossed a shutout in his only start last year against the Yanks and Bonderman is rapidly moving toward "ace" status.

The bullpen has picked up after a slow start, and even overcome the loss of Percival. This team is capable of being exciting. If the bats return to life, and pitching remains strong, it could be a fun summer.

Right now, it's just time to cool the Yanks (if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere) and help out Stanley's Orioles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Why April matters -- Part 2

The Philadelphia Inquirer had a story yesterday about Charlie Manuel saying the Phillies still had time to turn around their season. But writer Todd Zolecki produced some interesting stats:

From 1980 to 2004 - excluding the 1994 and 1981 strike seasons - there were 132 playoff teams. Just five teams (3.8 percent) were five or more games under .500 on May 15, which the Phillies were. Just six teams (4.5 percent) were seven or more games out of first place on May 15, which the Phillies were.

On the flip side, 70 of those 132 playoff teams (53 percent) were in first place on May 15.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why April matters

The Yankees have won 9 in a row, sending waves of euphoria over NY fans. But this streak illustrates how tough it is to dig out of a hole. Even though we're only about 25 percent done with the season, the Yanks still have work to do and it won't be easy.

NY remains 5 games behind the first-place Orioles. Even after winning 9 in a row, the Yanks have failed to pass a single team in the AL East standings. Even after winning 9 in a row, NY has the 8th-best record in the entire league.

Certainly, the Yanks have stopped the bleeding, but they won't be playing Seattle and Oakland forever. They are 9-14 in their division, and that's where the battle will be decided.

And if they come back to win the division, please forget you ever saw this.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Bird is the word

On May 15, 1976, Mark Fidrych made his first start for the Detroit Tigers, tossing a 2-hitter in beating Cleveland, 2-1. It's a shame that such a genuinely nice guy suffered injuries that ended his career all too soon. Oh, the baseball gods are fickle.

But for one season, it was an incredible ride. On June 28, 1976 he shut down the Yankees 5-1 on Monday Night Baseball. Tiger Stadium, packed with 47,855 fans, rocked as the Bird ended NY's 5-game win streak. Fans refused to leave the park after the game until Fidrych returned for a curtain call.

He talked to the baseball. He got down on his hands and knees and manicured the mound. His salary was $16,500 and fans sent him money, which he returned. Eventually, the Tigers gave him a raise. Fidrych finished with a 19-9 record with 24 complete games and a league-leading 2.34 ERA in 29 starts.

Prior to the 1977 season, Fidrych appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for a second time, this time joined by Sesame Street's Big Bird. During spring training, he tore cartilage in his knee while shagging (and leaping) for fly balls -- despite a warning from teammate Rusty Staub to knock it off.

He returned in May and still went 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA and 7 complete games in 11 starts. But his knee problems led to arm trouble, and his career tumbled from there.

Ironically, the Bird's injury opened the door for Jack Morris to join the Tigers rotation.

Fidrych completed 34 of his 56 career starts and five times pitched into extra innings -- three times winning games that he pitched into the 11th inning.

Even at the height of his popularity he wore blue jeans, drove a beat-up old pickup truck, and claimed he had three dishes: a plate, a knife, and a fork.

This little story from director Peter Farrelly that recently appeared in Sports Illustrated tells you all you need to know about Fidrych, the man:

We offered him a role in Me, Myself and Irene. He drives a truck and lives on a farm in Massachusetts. He said, "Great, I'd love to, when is it?" I said, "It's this Wednesday." He said, "I can't do it. I have a delivery to make." I said, "Mark, is there any way to get somebody else to do the delivery so you can do the movie?" He said, "Pete, I've been making this delivery for the past 18 years every Wednesday. They count on me to be there every Wednesday. I'm not going to miss a day because I'm in a movie." I hung up thinking: That's one cool dude.

Indeed, he still is.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Going deep

How has the HR boom of recent years, artificially enhanced or otherwise, affected baseball from a historical perspective? Forget the single-season HR record or career HR mark and consider how it might affect players from other eras in general.

Let's look at Mike Schmidt, for example. I would say Michael Jack was the game's premier power hitter from 1975-87, or so. Yet Schmidt's seasons don't look impressive compared to what players have done since the mid-1990s.

In 1980, Schmidt hit 48 HR and had 121 RBI. In 2001, when Bonds hit 73 HR, Schmidt's total wouldn't have even made the top five in the NL. Yet in 1980, Schmidt was dominant. He hit 13 more homers than his nearest league rival and only 3 NL players hit more than 30 HR that season.

The previous year, Schmidt hit 45 HR, second to only Dave Kingman's 48, and 11 more than the player who was third that season. The Houston Astros as a team hit 49 (and finished 89-73). Schmidt's efforts were Ruthian.

Next, consider that in 1980, NL teams averaged 104 HR. In 1985, it was 119 and in 1990 it was 127. When we hit 1995, the number jumps to 141 and in 2000 it was a mind-boggling 188.

Finally, Schmidt's 162-game career average for HR-RBI was 37-107.

Here are some other current players' averages entering this season: Manny Ramirez 41-134, Alex Rodriguez 43-124, Sammy Sosa 43-116, Jeff Bagwell 34-116, Jim Thome 41-112, Barry Bonds 42-110, Chipper Jones 33-109, Gary Sheffield 33-108, Larry Walker 32-108, Rafael Palmeiro 33-106, Jim Edmonds 34-102, Troy Glaus 36-101.

How many guys on that list would you take over Schmidt? Essentially, Schmidt averaged 37 HR when teams averaged about 110. That's means Schmidt's output was 34% of the teams of that time. Sosa has averaged 43 when teams are hitting about 170. That's 25%.

When Bonds hit his 73, NL teams averaged 185, so Bonds' output was 39% of the average squad. When Schmidt hit his 48 in 1980, it was 46% of the 104 that NL teams averaged.

Speed thrills

The other day, the Tigers scored runners from first (Nook Logan) and second (Omar Infante) on a play that started with a wild pitch and ended with a throwing error by the catcher. Both runners had reached base on infield singles.

Logan, widely regarded as the game's fastest player, is batting .386 with 17 R and 4 SB in 28 games. He has done most of his damage while batting ninth in the order, although he has hit well over .400 when given the chance to lead off.

He is only 25. If he can continue to play well, the Tigers have their CF of the future.

How's that again?

Jon Garland won his seventh decision for the White Sox last night vs. the Orioles. The broadcast was carried on WGN. For those who haven't seen Garland pitch, he's got a fastball that rides in on right handed hitters. The Orioles must have had a dozen (or more) broken bats last night.

All of the broken bats prompted Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the White Sox announcer, to tell the following story:

A friend of his (Ron Fairly) had heard a story about Hank Aaron and, upon a chance to speak with the Hammer, endeavoured to get confirmation of its' veracity.

Ron Fairly: "Hank, is it true that you never broke a bat in a Major League game?"
Hank Aaron: "Yes. I wore a few out in batting practice, though."

22 seasons, 3298 games, 12364 at-bats and the Hammer never broke a bat.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

All's not well for Bagwell

It's hard to believe it was 15 years ago I covered Jeff Bagwell in the minors and watched him set the single-season hit record for the New Britain Red Sox. Hate to see him go on the DL now. He's always been one of my favorite players. Hopefully he can get healthy and finish with a flourish.

Bags had one of the best offensive seasons in history in 1999. He batted .304 with 42 HR, 143 R, 126 RBI, and 30 SB. He is one of only 3 players to hit at least .300, score at least 125 runs, drive in at least 125, and steal at least 30 bases in a year. The other two, Ellis Burks and Larry Walker, did so while playing in Colorado.

Only Barry Bonds and Bags have had more than one 40 HR - 30 SB season.

Gammons at Death's door

Peter Gammons last night named Miguel Tejada the best player in baseball. He didn't mention Death to Flying Things, but it seems interesting this pronouncement came just a couple days after our noting Tejada doesn't seem to get the attention he deserves.

Imagine if Tejada played for the Yankees? They wouldn't be putting his face on quarters, like they've done with A-Rod and Jeter, he'd be on 10s and 20s.

In a recent column Gammons quoted Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley as saying, "I played with Pete Rose and coached Kirby Puckett and Miggy is just like them. He is the best player in the game, hands-down. Like Rose and Puckett, he puts it out there every day, and they are those rare players off whom teammates feed. You can crunch every number you want, you can't put a premium on the energy one player can bring to an entire team. This franchise changed the day he arrived."

Adds a Red Sox official: "We watched him from the stands during BP. And we could not believe his energy, his enthusiasm, and how teammates feed off him. He is special."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Any fight in Phils?

For as poorly as the Phillies have played so far, they're only 5.5 games back of Atlanta. They've had only 3 hitters producing as expected -- and 1 of those, a leftfielder who will remain nameless, has fallen off his hot early-season pace ... again. Only Bobby Abreu (.288 - 5 HR - 17 RBI - 20 R - 9 SB) and Chase Utley (.311 - 6 HR - 12 RBI - 14 R - 2 SB) have been fairly consistent performers.

Interestingly, the injury to Jim Thome might have been a blessing in a way; the Phils are 5-4 this month without him. First, this forces other players to pick up their games. Second, it might improve the batting order, despite the obvious drop in power potential. At least for now considering the way Thome was swinging the bat.

Let's face it, I think the Phils' offensive woes can be traced in large part to the Thome-Burrell-Lieberthal-Bell portion of the lineup. If these guys aren't putting balls over the wall, it's trouble. They're slow, they don't hit for average and they strike out frequently. Polanco and Jason Michaels might not have the pop, but they're much better contact hitters with a little more speed.

It would be great to see Rollins get going, too. And to get Lofton back. Hopefully, Myers and Lieber will continue to pitch well and Wolf or Padilla will join them. Or, maybe, Gavin Floyd.

This still is a team that could make a run at the playoffs. I'd love to see them go with the young guys, though. I doubt it would be possible to trade Thome because of his contract and, I would guess, his ability to nix trades. But I would much rather see the Phils unload Thome than Howard. I'd also get rid of Burrell if I could get something moderately decent in return.

Howard is 9 years younger than Thome, and the Phils can lose with Howard as easily as Thome. Rollins and Utley are 26, Polanco and Michaels are 29, Abreu is 31.

When all are healthy, this is my vision of the Phils' best order: Rollins, SS; Lofton, CF; Abreu, RF; Thome, 1B; Utley, 2B; Michaels, LF; Polanco, 3B; Lieberthal, C. I still have Thome there because I think he's better than Howard, but for the longterm, I wouldn't mind seeing Thome moved. I think Utley-Michaels-Polanco could manufacture runs.

Of course, I realize this is all "fantasy baseball" stuff.

Monday, May 09, 2005

No. 10 in your program

But perhaps No. 1 at SS?

It seems to me that Miguel Tejada doesn't get near the respect he deserves. This guy has played 162 games each of the last four seasons and puts up incredible offensive numbers year after year.

Last season, he batted .311 and led the AL with 150 RBI. This year he's hitting .339 with 36 RBI in just 30 games. If he can maintain his pace, he would become the first player since Lou Gehrig in 1936-37 to drive in 150 or more runs in consecutive seasons.

His next HR will be the 200th of his career. And he doesn't turn 29 until the end of this month.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


The term "roller-coaster season" has taken on new meaning this year thanks to the Mets. The Metropolitans started the season with a 5-game losing streak, followed by a 6-game win streak. Then they lost 2 in a row, won 4 out of 6 (including 3 straight) and dropped 4 consecutive.

On Sunday, NY had a 4-game win streak snapped by Milwaukee. Next up for the Mets is a trip to Chicago. I'm saying the Cubs look like pretty solid bets to win the first two of that series, maybe sweep.

Let's review: That's 5 winning-or-losing streaks of 3 or more games in the season's first 5 weeks. At least Willie Randolph is a Brooklyn kid, so he probably grew up riding the Cyclone.


Ray Miller at it again?

The Orioles brought Ray Miller in as pitching coach mid-season 2004. He immediately started working on impressing Orioles pitching with the Ray Miller philosophy - "Throw strikes, change speeds, work fast".

With half of last season and a full spring under Ray Miller, Erik Bedard appears to have "drank the Kool-Aid". In 2004, Bedard's rookie campaign, he was 6-10 with a 4.59 ERA. He averaged 5.13 innings pitched per start. He could not finish at-bats, even those where he was ahead in the count. He walked many hitters. Even those where he was ahead in the count. Even in his good starts, he would have around 100 pitches at the 5 inning mark.

This season Bedard has added a change-up to his arsenal and so far, this pitch has been devastating. In 6 starts, he is 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA and averaging 6.61 innings per start. His one loss was against the Tigers, who ripped him for 8 runs in 4 2/3 innings. In Bedard's other 5 starts, he's surrendered 3 earned runs. He's given up 1 ER in his last 23 IP. He's given out 7 walks in his six starts. He's got 36 K's in 39 2/3 IP, including 12 in 8 IP in his most recent start - a victory over Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays in a helluva pitching duel (both pitchers threw shutout baseball through 7 innings).

Bedard has found a groove. He's just a kid (26 yrs old) so he might not be able to stay in it.

But he might.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Doing the math

Sure it's just the first week of May, but as Yogi Berra once said, "It gets late early." Such might be the case for the Yankees. At least we haters of pinstripes hope so.

After losing 3 of 4 to Tampa Bay, a team the Yanks have traditionally treated like a rented mule, NY is 11-18 and 8 GB first-place Baltimore. (You have to love the NY Daily News' headline of "Torreble" and the Post's "Stinko De Mayo.")

I know it's dangerous to predict doom for this team, but remember, if you count their collapse in the playoffs, the Yanks are 11-22 over their last 33 games.

Now, for the Yankees to reach 95 wins, which hopefully is what it will take for them to reach the postseason, they will have to go 84-49 the rest of the way. That's .632 ball for a team that right now is playing at .379, which is fourth worst in the majors. This might not be as easy as it sounds. Over the last 40 years, NY has played better than .632 for a season just three times. To reach 90 wins, the Yanks have to play .594 ball.

Right now, there is no indication this aging lineup and staff can turn it around like that. The last time NY was 7 games under .500 was 1995 when it won 79 games and reached the playoffs as the wild card before losing to Seattle.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More woes in Motown

So, after a 5-game win streak put the Tigers at 11-10 near the end of April, the Detroiters have lost 5 of 6 to fall to 12-15.

Boston beat the Tigers 2-1 Thursday, dropping the Motor City Kitties to 3-8 in 1-run games this season. Urbina gave up the winning run in the ninth one day after Farnsworth gave up the winning run in the eighth.

This has been unbelievable. Even during the win streak, the Tigers' pen failed in three of the games but got bailed out with clutch hitting. I really thought the bullpen would be a strength. Now, who knows?

Onto Anaheim to face the first-place Angels.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Home cooking

Teams following the Orioles in the AL East and the Marlins in the NL East better hope that those teams continue to struggle at home.

Baltimore is 8-7 at Camden Yards, or, to put it in perspective, 1/2 game better at home than lowly Tampa Bay. But the Birds are 9-2 on the road. Florida is 8-6 at home and 7-3 on the road.

Having looked at a random sample of division winners since 1990, it seems most play between .600 and .650 ball at home. If the Orioles put it together at home, they might be very tough to unseat. Of course, chances are the Birds won't continue to win at the same rate on the road, so it might balance out.

The struggles might be a good sign, too. The Orioles last division title came in 1997 when they went 46-35 at home and 52-29 on the road.

Oddly, Houston has the best home record in the majors at 10-4, but is 1-10 on the road.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Timeless beauty

The Cardinals scored 7 times in the 9th Monday night to beat the Reds 10-9, which calls to mind the following:

"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all." -- Earl Weaver

For the record, Weaver's Orioles won at least 100 games in a season in three different decades.

Flippin' over Felipe

Is there any better managerial magician than Felipe Alou? I think not.

Alou's Giants are 14-11 this season with a starting staff that has gone 7-10 with a 5.09 ERA. In addition, he's been without Bonds and he lost his closer.

His regular lineup consists of Omar Vizquel, Pedro Feliz, Edgardo Alfonzo, Marquis Grissom, Ray Durham, Mike Matheny, J.T. Snow and Michael Tucker.

The key here might be Feliz, who at 30 finally seems to be blossoming into a fine hitter. He was .276-22-84 last year and is .284-4-22 so far this season. Fonzie, who really hasn't put up bad numbers since arriving in SF, also has been a key contributor (.356-2-16) as well as ageless Omar, who is batting .299 and has 7 SB.

Prior to getting to SF in 2003, Grissom's previous best year was in 1993 (.298 - 19 HR - 95 RBI - 53 SB) while with the Expos. Tucker had his most productive year in 2004, his first in SF.

Alou, for whatever reason, seems to get the best from his players. He is 896-860 in his career, which is incredible considering he spent 10 years in Montreal.

Heck, his Giants won 100 games in 2003 with a team that had nobody drive in more than 90 runs -- Bonds led with 90 -- and only Bonds scored more than 90 runs. He had 10 pitchers make at least 5 starts that season (including household names like Kevin Correia, Damian Moss, and Jesse Foppert) and used 13 starters total.