Saturday, September 27, 2003

Almost there 

The Yanks clinched home field advantage throughout the postseason yesterday with a win in the first game against the O's and an A's loss to the M's later that night. Jorge passed 100 RBIs and tied Yogi's record of 30 homers by a Yankee catcher in the win. In the nightcap, rookie Jorge DePaula went perfect through 5 1/3 and kept his no-hitter through 6 1/3. The Yanks eventually lost that game, due in part to the fact that Karim Garcia was playing center field.

Meanwhile, the Marlins' clinched the NL Wild Card, which I think is a fantastic story and a well deserved reward for an organization that refused to give up this year. It also helps clear up the NLDS picture which now looks like this:

Marlins @ Giants
Cubs/Astros @ Braves

With the Astros loss to the Brewers yesterday the Cubs lead by a half game. They play a double header today with Prior and Clement taking the hill against the Pirates. Baseball Tonight showed a graphic last night which revealed that there has been a much higher rate of double header sweeps this year than in any other in the recent past. I'm still rooting for those Cubbies.

Roger Clemens makes the final regular season start of his career today at the stadium. Game time is 4:05. While I've always admired Clemens' ability, I've never been a particularly big fan of his. Still, anytime an all-time great like the Rocket heads into the sunset, especially in the case of a player who's still got something left in the tank, my heart sinks just a little. Baseball is better for having had Roger Clemens.

posted by Cliff at 11:22 AM

Friday, September 26, 2003

MVP, pt. II  

This was a tough one. I gotta warn you up front, this is a lo-o-o-o-ong post.

Yesterday I took a look at the Yankees six MVP candidates and concluded that Jorge Posada has indeed been the team’s Most Valuable Player.

Today I will bring Jorge into the picture for a discussion of the American League MVP candidates.

In an attempt to avoid anyone saying “you didn’t even consider ______,” I made a list of 21 candidates (the most productive players at each position and for each team) and reduced that list to one player at each position, with first base, DH, and the corner outfield positions counting as one collective position.

Having done so there are still five players I did not consider, all of whom are clearly the most valuable players on their respective teams. They are Milton Bradley, Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Dmitri Young.

Additionally, I did not consider Jason Varitek, as Jorge beats him for the catcher slot hands down, even though it is closer than I had expected:


Having eliminated them all yesterday, I also did not consider any other Yankees, thus handing the second base slot to Bret Boone. For fun, here’s how he stacks up against Soriano:


Not even close, never mind that Boone’s a better defensive player.

Shortstop was a little closer, though I shouldn’t have to tell you who came out on top there. Just to put it in perspective, here’s how A-Rod stacks up against his closest competitor:


Again, that’s a pretty clear-cut victory. A-Rod also eliminated fellow shortstop Miguel Tejada and kicked Hank Blalock out of the third base picture. If Blalock isn’t even the most valuable player in his own infield, how could he be the most valuable player in the entire league?

The third base picture is a bit of a muddle, and I’ll get to it in a second. But first center field and 1B/DH/RF/LF.

I’m amazed that, with all of the blowhards championing Garret Anderson or (ludicrously) Shannon Stewart, I can’t recall a single mention of either Vernon Wells or Carlos Beltran. Take a look at these guys:


Phenomenal seasons, both. I give the edge to Beltran. To begin with, Beltran’s speed gives an extra dimension to his game. What’s more he has the high OBP to make it useful and a tremendous success rate as a basestealer (91 percent!) that proves that he also has the ability to use it effectively. Beltran trails Wells in slugging but leads him in OBP by a similar amount, his speed gives Beltran the advantage here. Also, one must remember that Beltran has missed some time this season due to a pair of minor injuries, this explains his slight lag in counting stats and makes it all the more impressive that he leads Wells in win shares. Ultimately that is the key, as Wells has spent the entire season batting in front of Carlos Delgado, who’s had a monster season as we’ll see in a moment, for a team with the league’s best offense and its likely Cy Young winner, while Beltran has clearly been the best player on a team with an identical record. Beltran is also the better defensive player.

Speaking of Carlos Delgado, he sure made things easy. He’s been so good this year that I was able to eliminate eight pretenders from the 1B/DH/RF/LF slot without batting an eye. Thus gone are Anderson and Stewart (please!), David Ortiz and Trot Nixon (two of five Boston candidates, not counting Varitek or Pedro), Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas, and Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki (*cough* overrated *cough*). Which left me with Delgado and Manny Ramirez, the only two players of my 21 who have an OPS higher than 1.000. On some level it seems a shame to have to eliminate one of them, but when you put ‘em side by side, it’s a pretty simple task:


Sure, it’s close, but I have very few qualms about taking Delgado. He’s quite simply been better. If you throw in the strength of the Boston lineup top to bottom, which undermines Manny’s value, and contrast Manny’s mysterious illnesses, mental lapses, and adventures in left field with Delgado’s team leadership, it’s a no brainer.

Which brings us to third base. Having eliminated Blalock I’m left with three candidates: Bill Mueller, Eric Chavez and Corey Koskie:


Mueller leads this trio in every rate stat. With the exception of his narrow lead on Koskie in OBP, he leads these categories by a significant amount. However, Mueller’s shortcomings are the others’ strengths. Mueller is average in the field while both Koskie and Chavez are excellent defensive third basemen. Koskie and Chavez are capable of stealing a base, while Mueller is 1 for 5 in that category. What’s more, Mueller, like Ramirez et al., is but one of many offensive cogs in the Red Sox machine, whereas Koskie and Chavez are the best offensive players on their teams and have little competition for that title (Chavez just inches past Tejada but there’s a big drop off after those two). So what does Mueller have to offer to counter these hidden advantages? How about ten games at second base? That’ll do it. The versatility that that allows his manager combined with the ability to bring his level of production to a position so lacking in offense league-wide is plenty, in my eyes, to make him my third base pick.

So we’ve narrowed it down to six candidates:


One could argue that it’s actually harder to get production from third base than shortstop in a league with A-Rod, Nomar, Tejada and Jeter (not to mention Jose Valentin and the emergence of Angel Berroa), but A-Rod pretty much devastates Bill Mueller here. To those who want to argue about the value of a player on a last place team, I simply remind them of the value of a player in the same lineup as Manny, Nomar, Ortiz, Nixon and Varitek. So after all that debate about third base, Mueller’s outa here. Plus A-Rod’s got legs and a glove.

Now things get tough as we’re really comparing apples and oranges with the remaining five. Looking at them as hitters only, Delgado is the clear favorite, with A-Rod as his closest competitor. Expanding our view, one could argue for A-Rod’s added defensive value and stolen bases, which might push him ahead of Delgado until you look at the standings.

Switching to defensive value, you have to put Posada and Boone, both of whom play skill positions which rarely offer their level of offensive production, at the top. Looking at the Win Share breakdowns they also have the two highest fielding sums of our remaining five. Those of you who feel that a catcher’s defensive value is greater than that of any other player on the field might want to give Bill James a ring as Boone scores a 8.03 to Posada’s 7.47. Fact is, Boone is a significantly better defensive player than Posada. Jorge ranks fourth among catchers in fielding Win Shares (behind Ramon Hernandez, A.J. Pierzynski—both strong offensive performers this year—and Benji Molina) and is essentially tied with Brent Mayne. Boone, meanwhile, ranks third among second basemen, behind Orlando Hudson and Mark Ellis—both of whom are stronger defensive than offensive players—and well ahead of the fourth place finisher who, believe it or not, is Alfonso Soriano (remember Win Shares are cumulative).

One could argue that Posada’s defensive contributions extend to pitch calling and are thus reflected in the success of his pitching staff, but I could counter that argument by pointing out that each of the Yankees top five pitchers have had equal if not greater success when being caught by someone else (Clemens and Wells within the past five years in Toronto, Mussina in Baltimore, Pettitte and Rivera with Girardi). It’s not an air tight argument, but my primary point is that it would be irresponsible to give Posada additional credit for the performance of four pitchers who have combined for 855 wins and 295 saves over their careers, thus making Posada’s contributions as a pitch-caller and receiver moot.

By now you may have figured out what’s going on here. Our beloved Jorgy is getting the boot (my girlfriend is furious about this, by the way). Going back to offense, Boone has maintained his production over an additional 109 plate appearances. He does trail Jorge by quite a bit in OBP, but makes a good chunk of that back up with his slugging. Add in Boone’s 16 stolen bases (at an 84 percent success rate) and his slight advantage in “bases created average” (.586 to .579 for Jorge) and we’re down to four: Boone, A-Rod, Beltran and Delgado.

Next step, Delgado vs. Beltran. They’re both the best player on teams with essentially identical records. Beltran has far more defensive value and adds those 41 stolen bases and 91 percent stolen-base success rate, he also switch hits with nearly equal success from both sides of the plate. That’s a lot to contend with, especially considering that the remainder of Beltran’s team doesn’t even include a Vernon Wells or a Roy Halladay. But then, Delgado’s leads in EqA, OBP and Slugging (and thus OPS) aren’t slight. Looking to our bases created average to evaluate the worth of Beltran’s speed as compared to Delgado’s slugging we find that he actually leads Delgado .638 to .634. Looking at Win Shares, one wonders how much of the difference between the two is attributable to their difference in playing time, as Beltran has exactly 100 fewer plate appearances due to injury. Well, dividing Win Shares by Games played we get .196 for Beltran to .190 for Delgado, which makes this even closer. I’ve got to choose one of them, and when it comes down to it, as much as I’d like to reward the more complete player, it’s next to impossible to overcome 25 points in EqA, 40 points in OBP and 74 points in slugging. Delgado is the Carlos of choice.

In our other semifinal we have would-be teammates Alex Rodriguez and Bret Boone. Just looking at our chart, Rodriguez has higher totals in every single category except strikeouts, and identical stolen-base stats. Looks like A-Rod in a walk, especially as both players are more-or-less equally adept at fielding their positions. However, as we’ve seen, it’s much more difficult to come by this level of offensive production at second base than it is at shortstop.

Or is it? Let’s look at our history. Boone effectively replaced A-Rod on the Mariners in 2001 and helped the M’s win 25 more games than they had in 2000. Of course, that jump wasn’t entirely Boone’s doing (Though it certainly wasn’t Ichiro’s. Despite his tremendous number of hits and high batting average, Ichiro’s OPS in 2001 was actually lower than Jay Buhner’s was in 2000. Did I mention Ichiro won the MVP that year? *cough* overrated *cough*) Both Boone in 2001 and Rodriguez in 2000 had better years than they’ve had this year, but by similar amounts, thus it’s not entirely unfair to use this history as part of our current discussion. Let’s look at the success the Mariners had at filling second and short in the absence of Boone and Rodriguez to give us an idea of how difficult they are to replace. In 2000 the Mariners used just two men at second base, Mark McLemore, who had an OPS of .665 in 129 games at second, and David Bell, who had an OPS of .770 in 48 games (interestingly, a much higher total than in his 93 games at third that year). In 2001 the M’s primary shortstops were McLemore again (.777 in 35 games) and Carlos Guillen (.691 in 137 games). Very similar numbers (the slightly higher OPS by the 2001 shortstops can be cancelled out by the fact that A-Rod’s OPS exceeded Boone’s by a larger amount both this year and in 2000 as compared to Boone’s 2001) that would suggest that, even though there are more productive shortstops in the league (in number) than there are second basemen, it is equally difficult to replace a productive shortstop as it is a productive second baseman.

Which brings us to the big hot topic of this whole MVP debate: can a player on a last place team be considered as valuable as a comparable player on a contending team. I would say yes. Value is value. It’s not about first place/last place. With more divisions there are more last place teams, and thus tens more players about which one could say “they could finish last without him.” It’s about wins and, using Win Shares, A-Rod is worth a good 15-20 wins per year over a competent full-time replacement like Carlos Guillen (or Christian Guzman, or David Eckstein, or, or, or . . .). Sure last place is last place, but there is a difference between losing 90 and losing 110, between a .444 winning percentage and a .321 winning percentage. It’s not A-Rod’s fault the Rangers have no pitching, and it’s not his contract’s fault either. The Rangers spent $12 million on Chan Ho Park this year and got a 7.58 ERA in 7 starts in return. Jeff Zimmerman earned $3.37 million this year despite not throwing a pitch since 2001. Rusty Greer earned $7 million while missing the whole season due to injuries described as “various.” Throw in the portion of the $13 million the team spent on Juan Gonzalez (who at least had the decency to hit while he was healthy) that got eaten up by the DL and you’ve got more than another $22 mil right there. At least the $22 mil spent on A-Rod produced 32 Win Shares, 41 homers, a .993 OPS, 16 stolen bases and solid defense at short. So what does this all prove? A-Rod’s clear statistical advantage over Boone is legitimate.

Which brings us to our final two competitors: Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado. Let’s refresh those stats:


Oh man. If you’ve read this far you’re clearly the sort of person who gets some unexplained natural high from seeing numbers like that. Just phenomenal. So what are the intangibles here? Well, A-Rod’s got the speed and defense and is far less replaceable as a shortstop with these sort of numbers than Delgado is as a firstbaseman. Delgado has Vernon Wells, a fellow MVP candidate in his lineup, but A-Rod has both Rafael Palmeiro and Hank Blalock in his. In fact, A-Rod hits between those two, while Delgado is typically followed by either Josh Phelps or Greg Myers. Delgado also has an advantage in EqA, Avg., OBP (36 points!) and OPS (27 points), and has created 24 more runs in 9 fewer plate appearances. A large part of that is due to his 141 RBI. One is tempted to attribute his tremendous RBI total to his following Wells in the Blue Jay batting order, but Wells’ .358 OBP is nearly identical to the .354 OBP posted by the batter Rodriguez follows in the order, Hank Blalock. So the question we’re left with is, can A-Rod’s miniscule advantage in slugging combine with is value in the field and on the bases to overcome Delgado’s dominant hitting stats? Like we did for Beltran, let’s look at their “bases created averages” Delgado: .634, Rodriguez: .655. Combine that with a 84 percent success rate on the bases and excellent defense at short and the BRB AL MVP for 2003 is . . .

Alex Rodriguez.

Wow. I honestly didn’t expect that. I had been voting for Delgado on all the various ESPN/SportsNation polls. The way I had it figured, this was A-Rod’s “worst” year since 1999. Combine that with the Rangers’ poor showing and contrast it against Delgado’s second best year ever (2000) and the Blue Jays stronger showing and I figured Delgado would take home the prize. This was before he went deep four times the other day. It was also before I fully convinced myself that the standings, which reflect the performance of the other 24 players on a team as much or more than that of a team’s best player, are largely irrelevant when determining “value,” and should be used only to break the tightest of deadlocks.

Well, that’s why I went through this exercise. I hope you made it all the way through it, and I’m curious to read your feedback.

Now I can finally go read what Aaron Gleeman had to say about this.

ROY soon, then my take on the Yankee’s postseason roster and a preview of the Twins series.

posted by Cliff at 2:17 PM


Red Sox clinched the Wild Card last night, setting up the ALDS as predicted.

Marlins beat the Phillies again, eliminating them from the Wild Card race and clinching a tie with the NL Central loser. Only now do I realize that had the Phillies made the postseason I might have been able to catch a postseason game at the Vet, which now has just three games left.

The Cubs and 'Stros are tied atop the NL Central with three left to play.

Yanks play a single-admission twi-night double header at home vs. Baltimore today. Andy Pettitte and Jorge DePaula, as predicted, get the starts.

MVP pt. II later today/tonight.

posted by Cliff at 10:24 AM

Thursday, September 25, 2003

MVP, part I 

There have been a lot of names thrown around as candidates for the AL MVP this year. One that really surprised me when I first heard it was Jorge Posada. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jorge, but I can’t recall ever wishing he was up in a clutch situation, or even being particularly optimistic when he did come up in such a situation. So before we get into Posada for MVP, lets figure out if he’s even been the Yankees’ MVP.

Looking at the Yanks’ starting lineup, third base and right field can be eliminated straight out, as, sadly, can Bernie, who’s having his worst offensive season since 1993, his third season in the bigs and first as a full-time starter. His struggles, I hope, are due in large part to the knee problems that have made him a station-to-station baserunner and a liability in the field. After a red-hot April the only things Bernie’s had to offer this team are his plate discipline, the ability to hit the occasional mistake out of the park, and his winning personality.

So that leaves Posada, Giambi, Soriano, Matsui, Jeter and Nick Johnson.

Let’s start by taking a look at their contributions at the plate.


The easiest place to start here is Johnson and Giambi, since they play the same position. Johnson has a slight advantage as a defender and baserunner, but only enough to break an absolute deadlock. Nick lost 56 games to injury, which is hardly his fault, but makes his case that much more difficult. The only reason he’s even in this discussion is because he’s been so tremendously productive while healthy. Which brings us to the Equivalent Average column, which neatly adjusts for variations in playing time by measuring “total offensive value per out.” Johnson does hold a two-point advantage over Giambi here, but I hardly think that difference is enough to counter the difference in playing time, which has seen Giambi “create” almost 74 percent more runs than Johnson and earn 80 percent more Win Shares. Likewise, while Johnson holds a decisive advantage in Batting Average and On Base Percentage, Giambi has outslugged him and has actually drawn more walks per plate appearance. On the intangibles side, I give Giambi extra credit for playing through numerous short-term injuries and one chronic one that will require knee surgery in the off season, and, most importantly, for his ability to contribute by getting on base even while experiencing extended slumps. I’ll take Giambi here.

Next on the hit list is Hideki Matsui who, like Giambi, plays an offensive position. Matsui has been outstanding (based on subjective observation) in the field, even when (and perhaps especially because of) starting 46 games in center in Bernie’s absence. So, even though he’s a left fielder, you have to give him extra credit for his defense. Matsui also has the highest total of runs created of our six candidates. A look at his EqA tells a different story, however, as he lags significantly behind the pack. In fact, in an almost identical number of plate appearances, Matsui trails Giambi’s production in almost every category, in most cases by a significant amount. Giambi again.

We’re now down to four: Giambi and players at three skill positions, second, short and catcher. Since Jeter and Posada are in the same neck of the woods plate-appearance wise (Posada has about 50 more PA), lets compare those two. Jeter has a big advantage in Batting Average and contributes far more on the basepaths, but elsewhere Jorgy pretty much wastes him. I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of their respective defensive strengths and shortcomings just yet. Partially because I think it’s a moot point here as, no matter how much you protest the accuracy of Jeter’s defensive stats in determining his defensive worth, you’re not going to be able to swing the pendulum far enough the other way to overcome Jorgy’s offensive numbers.

Now Giambi vs. Soriano. This is tough. Their Runs Created and Win Shares are essentially identical. Both have played through nagging injuries (though Giambi’s had more to deal with), and both have gone through prolonged slumps that, all totaled, have stretched over a good three months of the season for each player. These slumps both undermine their team MVP credentials and make their production totals that much more impressive. The catch here is that when they slump, Soriano is an offensive non-entity while Giambi is still capable of getting on base via the walk. At the same time, Soriano plays a valuable defensive position every day while Giambi not only plays an offensive position at first base, but has made only 85 starts in the field. That’s just over half as many games as Soriano at a less valuable defensive position. So, even though Soriano isn’t going to win any Gold Gloves at second, his additional value in the field compared to Giambi is even greater than the typical gap between second and first basemen. Is that additional value enough to compensate for Giambi’s ability to get on base while slumping? Well, the only measure in our chart above that factors in fielding is Win Shares, in which Giambi has an advantage of one (actually .81), which implies that if it isn’t enough to compensate, it sure is close.

Looking at the rest of their numbers, Giambi again has a convincing lead in all rate stats other than Batting Average, again thanks largely to his 90-walk advantage. Their runs created are identical, though Soriano’s had about 40 more plate appearances, thus his lower EqA. At the same time, Soriano has another dimension to his game that Giambi doesn’t: his speed and ability to steal a base. “Ah,” you may say, “but what good is that if you don’t get on base.” True enough, though it can be tremendously valuable when you do, especially in a close ball game where every run and every base means that much more. With that in mind, lets add walks and stolen bases to total bases and divide that whole number by plate appearances (I’m sure this is some low-level sabermetric stat that I’m just not familiar with, I’ll call it “bases created average”): Giambi .603, Soriano .583. That doesn’t factor in caught stealing, which would surely bring Soriano’s number down even further. In the end, both players have been similarly productive. Soriano can help you in more ways than Giambi, but Giambi is far more reliable even when slumping and “creates” bases and runs at a higher rate. The unseen factor here is that there are very few second basemen in the majors who are as valuable as Soriano, whereas there’s another first baseman on this team who rivals Giambi’s production, at least this year. Thus, losing Soriano would be a far bigger blow to the Yankees than losing Giambi, because it would be much more difficult to replace Soriano (this is also the best argument for not moving Soriano to the outfield—which I feel is a ludicrous idea to begin with), thus literally making Soriano more valuable. Indeed, should the Yanks reach the World Series they’ll have to choose between Giambi and Johnson in the National League park, which is a major blow to the value of both players. So, for the same reason that I’ve not made Mike Mussina (and his 20 Win Shares) a part of this discussion (the Yankee rotation without Mike Mussina is still one of the best in the bigs), I’m going to have to choose Soriano here.

Which brings us down to two: Soriano and Posada. Let’s make this easy. I just chose Soriano over Giambi. Posada, again in every category other than batting average, has inferior offensive stats to Giambi as does Soriano. But unlike Giambi, Posada shares many of Soriano’s defensive advantages. Posada may very well be the best offensive catcher in the major leagues (I’m avoiding absolutes because I don’t want to get into those discussions at this moment), thus making him more-or-less irreplaceable. Posada, like Giambi is of very little use on the basepaths, especially when compared to Soriano, but, also like Giambi, he compensates by getting on base at a much higher rate than Sori. Going back to my “bases created average” Posada has a .579 compared to Soriano’s .583. Thus, unlike Giambi, Posada does not hold a clear advantage in “creating bases.” In fact, I’d call that dead-even between Sori and Jorgy.

Much of the verbiage promoting Posada as an MVP candidate has focused on the fact that he is a catcher and that any catcher that is able to produce the sort of offensive numbers he’s put up this year should be an automatic candidate. But couldn’t the same be said for a second baseman like Soriano? Sure, catcher is a more demanding position, but that also means that Posada is going to need a day off more often than Soriano, who’s played in all but seven games this season, thus reducing his value. Ultimately, what I think this comes down to is consistency. Posada has not had a OPS lower than .839 in any single month this season, nor a OBP lower than .369 (both May, not coincidentally the one month the Yankees had a losing record). Soriano, meanwhile, fell short of those numbers in May, June, July and August. Of course, we’ve established that OBP is one area in which Posada has a marked advantage over Soriano, so let’s look at Soriano’s strength, Slugging:


If you cross-compare their August and September stats, these numbers are eerily similar. Soriano has a distinct advantage in April and Aug/Sept. But his numbers dipped below Posada’s for May, June and July, while Posada has maintained significant advantages in OBP in every month since April, and in OPS in every month other than April and September. That’s consistency and reliability, and it gives Posada the nod over Soriano as the Yankees team MVP.

Good Job, Jorgy!

Now to compare him to the rest of the league . . .

posted by Cliff at 12:05 PM

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Two thoughts I had to share 

1) I failed in my previous state-of-the-standings post to congratulate the Kansas City Royals for winning their 82nd game and clinching an above .500 record, restoring hope to a once proud franchise and fanbase, and vesting Mike Sweeney's contract. Much as I'd love to see Carlos Beltran roaming center in the Bronx (with Bernie in left and Godzilla in right), I hope they find a way to keep him and build on what they've done this season.

2) With the possible exception of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays--a 1998 expansion team that is finally showing signs of life thanks to Lou Piniella and exciting young players like Huff, Baldelli, Crawford and Waechter--the Detroit Tigers, in addition to having the worst single season in modern history this year, have easily been the worst team in the AL over the past 10-15 years. This is a team in a major metropolis (albeit one that greatly resembles a war zone) with a long, proud history, a (once) strong fanbase and a brand new (albeit poorly conceived) ballpark. There is no excuse for the state of this franchise. It is the product of neglect and mismanagement. With that in mind, I propose that Major League Baseball move the nomadic Montreal Expos to Detroit as a short-term solution to the current problems of that franchise, rename them the Detroit Bears and have them play in still-standing Tiger Stadium. I guarantee they'd outdraw the Tigers. This would allow the Expos to have a single home city in the same general region they are in now, eliminate the deficit created by earning Canadian dollars and paying their players American, greatly improve the quality of their ballpark, and improve their attendance to boot. As for the current Tigers and their ownership, maybe having a winning team in town drawing away paying customers would force them to . . . well to shit or get off the pot, frankly. By 2005 or 6 the "Bears" would be permanently relocated in DC or Portland. In the meantime, Detroit fans could see some winning baseball and the Expos (who could use the potential extra profit to resign Vlad Guerrero . . . not that I wouldn't love to see him in right field in the Bronx, with Bernie in left and Matsui in center) could remember what it's like to be a real franchise, rather than league's ugly duckling.

posted by Cliff at 2:25 PM

Thuuuuuu YANKEES Clinch! 

Didn't see that coming.

The Twins and A's also clinched their divisions last night. The Red Sox can clinch the wild card tonight. The Yanks' magic number for home-field advantage in a potential ALCS with the A's is 2 (as posted at left). Other home-fields are set:

ALDS: Twins @ Yanks, Red Sox @ A's (as expected)
ALCS: Red Sox @ Yanks or Twins, or Twins @ A's

In the NL the Cubs are now a game up on the Astros, both teams have four games left as follows:

Cubs: 2 v. Reds, 3 v. Pirates
Astros: 1 v. Giants (today at 2:05), 4 v. Brewers

The Astros have lost four in a row to the Cardinals and Giants, the Cubs meanwhile split their four-game series with Pittsburgh over the weekend. Still anybody's division, but that one game advantage looks huge for the Cubs right now.

In the NL Wild Card, the Marlins came from behind to beat the Phillies last night with a five-run explosion in the seventh--including a three-run Jeff Conine dinger that chased Kevin Millwood--extending their lead to two games. The two teams play two more head-to-head before the Phills take on the Braves and the Fish meet the Mets. Tonight and tomorrow are absolute must-win games for the Phillies.

Back in Yankee land, last night's 7-0 score is deceptive as Giambi hit a 9th inning Grand Slam to pad the lead. Contreras never had a lead of more than two runs all night and pitched great against the White Sox explosive offense, thus passing his biggest test of the home-stretch. I'm beginning to think that if the Yanks make the ALCS but get a subpar start from Wells in the ALDS, Contreras should get the fourth spot in the ALCS rotation without hesitation. Of course, the schedule works out so that the Yanks could actually get through the ALDS with just three starters, but I don't think that's Torre's style. Nor would be replacing Wells in the rotation in the second round, but such is Torre, loyal to a fault.

Tonight we get a head-to-head matchup of two of my five Cy Young candidates, Mussina and Loaiza. Loaiza is desperate to win his 20th so that he can go for Fernando Valenzuela's record of 21 wins by a Mexican pitcher on the final day of the season on short rest . Moose should be taking it easy, hopefully yielding to the pen after six or seven. A win tonight would eliminate the need for the tie-break in the East, which would be nice. The two wins needed for home-field over the A's would get the Yanks to 100 wins, neither of those is terribly important, however. Otherwise, the goal from here on out is to keep the bats hot, the arms rested and everybody healthy. If that sounds exciting to anyone, the Hurricane Isabel game against the O's will be made up in the Bronx as part of a single admission double header on Friday (I assume DePaula will draw a start in that one unless Stottlemyre really thinks he was getting somewhere in Weaver's last quasi-effective start). Myself, I'll be at the final game of the season on Sunday, cheering Wells on to his 200th win.

My goals between now and Game 1 against the Twins on Tuesday are to take a look at the MVP and ROY races in the AL (I may or may not bother with the NL awards), size-up the Yankees post-season roster options, and preview the series with the Twins. If I get enough free time I'd like to take a look at all four postseason matchups, but I make no promises.

posted by Cliff at 12:22 PM

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Shakin' out the postseason pitching staff 

3-3 game. Bottom of the tenth. One on, one out with the White Sox top two hitters, both righthanders, coming up. Jeff Weaver gets the ball. First batter, Frank Thomas. Ball, Ball, Ball, Called Strike, Ball 4. Second batter, Magglio Ordonez. First-pitch three-run game-winning homer. A no-doubter to left center. Game over. Jeff Weaver's last scrap of postseason hope is blown to bits by the Comiskey Park scoreboard.

This is the game Torre will be playing throughout this series. Last night he got a solid 1 2/3 from Jeff Nelson. Gabe White finished the 9th for Nelson and got one out in the tenth before giving up a hit to Roberto Alomar and handing the ball off to Weaver, who promptly handed White a loss. Expect to see Osuna, Heredia and Hammond tonight or tomorrow, even (perhaps especially) if the game is on the line. Moose doesn't need to win his 200th this year. There are no round numbers left to shoot for. If anything, it would probably be a good idea to take the starters out early in the final trip through the rotation to rest them for the ALDS.

Speaking of which, Torre has flip-flopped Mussina and Contreras in the rotation, sending Contreras to the mound tonight against Buehrle and holding Mussina until tomorrow, when he'll try to freeze Loaiza at 19 wins. Of course, the switch has nothing to do with Loaiza. This is Joe setting up the postseason rotation:


Looks good to me. Moose, as I pointed out in my previous post, has been the Yankees best starter this season. He'll also be the Game 5 pitcher if the ALDS goes that far. If the Yanks make the ALCS and can keep the same order it would set up Clemens as the Game 7 starter, which works out just fine as he's less likely than Andy or Boomer to suffer an implosion and, if you look at the chart from my previous post, he's been the team's second best starter on the year (don't be distracted by Andy's record, put your thumb over W-L and Pct., you'll see what I'm talking about).

As for Wells, no one really knows if he will pitch next year. Supposedly, not long after the YES Network announcers said he had decided to call it quits about a month ago, Boomer told someone that he'd rather pitch for the Padres (in his home town) than the Yankees next year (which, of course, makes me think he'll be back in pinstripes). Still, if this is it for Boomer, he's got one more chance, on the final day of the regular season, to get his 200th win.

Then there's Alfonso Soriano. Check out what I wrote exactly one week ago:

Soriano's . . . first homer was also his 11th to lead off a game this year, he's one behind Brady Anderson's single season record there.

Speaking of Soriano and his lead-off homers, it delights me that Joe Torre has finally figured out that Nick Johnson is a top-of-the-order hitter, and that he should stay a top-of-the-order hitter. He's also figured out that Matsui doesn't have to hit fifth and that Bernie can be moved around. All that's left is for him to realize that Jeter is his lead-off hitter. That is to say that, with the way Torre's coming to his senses about the line-up, Sori better get that record from Brady "#&$@" Anderson right quick.

Well, last night Sori hit two homers off Bartolo Colon, the first of which was his record-breaking thirteenth lead-off homer of the year. That shot also extended the Yankees team record for lead-off homers in a single season to fifteen (Jeter has the other two). Soriano has hit seven homers in the past week (beginning with that Baltimore game last Tuesday) and has raised his average ten points in that period (this is a guy with 660 at bats! ten points in a week!). He's also sporting a respectable .340 OBP. Not lead-off material, but 2003 should mark the second straight year in which he's increased his OBP. Let's just hope he can stay hot into the playoffs.

posted by Cliff at 10:00 AM

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Sweeping up / Cy Young 

It seems like just yesterday that the Yanks were fuming over the Hurricane Isabel fiasco in Baltimore, but somehow between then and now they managed to peel off a sweep of the Devil Rays in Tampa Bay. In the first two games of the series Alfonso Soriano hit his single-season record-tying twelfth lead-off home run (a clear sign that he's been reading this blog . . . riiiight), Andy Pettitte earned his twentieth win, and the team clinched a playoff birth. Meanwhile, with the Red Sox late-inning collapse against Cleveland last night, the magic number for the AL East Championship is down to two.

Taking a closer look at some of the events of the past few days, the Contreras v. Waechter match-up on Friday turned out to be a great pitchers duel. The Devil Rays have to be stoked about this Waechter kid. Meanwhile, Contreras is posting some impressive numbers for the Yanks. Take a look at his 2003 totals (remember these include his two meltdowns against Boston and his early-season struggles):

61IP 48H 62K 28BB 6-2 1.25WHIP .214 AVG 3.84ERA

He's finally looking like the guy the Yankees hoped would fill the third spot in the rotation next year.

Take a look at his six starts since rejoining the rotation in late August:


The shortened start on Sept. 9 against the Tigers is the game in which he sprained his ankle. There is no excuse for his Aug. 29 start at Boston. His two implosions against Boston (both at Fenway) remain the only major blights on his record.

I wrote on the eve of the final series against the Red Sox in the Bronx that one of the more interesting aspects of the final month of the season would be the potential battle between Contreras and Wells for the fourth starting spot in the playoffs. With that in mind, compare Contreras’s four post-Boston starts above against the three Wells starts that followed my post on the topic:


In Wells’ most recent start against Baltimore he gave up four of those five runs in the second inning. Thus, if you eliminate that one bad inning, he gave up 1 run in 7 innings and has only walked 1 man in his last three starts. Contreras has been more consistent, and maybe even a little better than Wells over the last two weeks, which would make you think that Torre’s got a tough decision on his hands. The reality of the situation, however, is that Contreras has not proven himself against a good team. The closest he’s come is that one start against Toronto (in which he did hold both Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado hitless, striking out Delgado three times in four at-bats). Wells, meanwhile, has a history of delivering in big games, and stepped up once again against Boston two weeks ago. Contreras will get one more start against the White Sox. Wells will face the White Sox and then start against Baltimore in the season finale. Personally, I’d still like Wells to prove that that second inning in Baltimore was a fluke, as his disastrous start in Anaheim in last years ALDS is still fresh in my mind. Meanwhile, Contreras needs to show me that he can dominate a post-season contender like the White Sox (even though their run for the Central Division title is over and they’re only one game better than the Blue Jays on the season). He’ll be doing so against Esteban Loaiza, making his fourth and final attempt to win his 20th game, should be fun. Of course, we all know that Wells will be Torre’s fourth starter in the playoffs, but even after three solid Wells starts, that decision is less of a gimme than it seemed a couple months ago.

As for Andy winning his 20th game, I’m thrilled about it. In part because I think it increases his chances of returning to the Yanks next year, as it would be hard even for the Boss to rationalize not resigning a home-grown, 31-year-old, left-handed 20-game winner whose never played on a team that didn’t make the playoffs (right?). Of course, one shouldn’t let Andy’s 20 wins fool them into thinking he’s been the Yankees best starter this year, not with his 4.12 ERA and .271 opponent’s batting average. But, he has been more consistent this year than any other since 1997 (to my eyes, some may argue for his performance in 2000), and certainly was the go-to guy in the rotation for a large part of June, July and August. His primary accomplishments this year are 1) staying healthy 2) posting a career-best strikeout rate while maintaining his low walk rate and 3) avoiding what Larry Mahnken calls “Bad Andy,” those starts where he just looks lost giving up more than five runs in fewer than five innings. This year Bad Andy’s only really reared his head four times, three of which occurred in May and early June. Since that third Bad Andy start on June 8, Pettitte has lost exactly twice. The second of which was his fourth Bad Andy start in the first game of the last Boston series. It’s hard to argue with 20-8 and a 177:49 K/BB ratio, but lets take a look at the Yankees top four starters together:


It doesn’t take a genius to figure out from those numbers that, aside from Wells’ insanely low walk totals (barring implosion he’ll be the first AL pitcher in the DH-era to finish a season with fewer than one walk per nine innings pitched) and Andy’s slight advantage record-wise, Mike Mussina has been far and away the team’s best pitcher over the course of the entire year. What’s scary is that Mussina is having an almost identical season to his first Yankee campaign in 2001, when he out-pitched his teammate and that year’s Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens. Here’s a comparison of Mussina’s 2003 and 2001 seasons and Clemens’ 2001 campaign (2003 totals are one start short of complete, of course), with some additional rate stats thrown in:

Mussina 200317-7.70830209.118120381908.171.635.
Mussina 200117-11.60734228.220220422148.421.655.
Clemens 200120-3.87033220.120519722138.702.942.96.246.307.375.6821.263.51

The further to the right you look in that chart, the closer Mussina’s two seasons become, and the more obvious it is that he out-performed Clemens’ Cy Young-winning season in both of them. Yes, Moose will fall short of 20 wins for the 13th straight season, but if he beats Mark Buehrle and the White Sox on Tuesday, he’ll win his 18th for the sixth time. Does he have a shot at the Cy Young this year? The good news is that no one started the season 20-1 like Clemens did in 2001 (thanks to many opportune no-decisions). The bad news is that Roy Halladay did peel off 15 in a row and Esteban Loaiza came out of nowhere to lead the Chicago White Sox into a pennant race. Let’s throw in Tim Hudson, who’s seen many potential Ws disappear thanks to his bullpen, and the always-a-factor Pedro Martinez and we’ve got the top five pitchers in the AL WHIP column and our five top AL Cy Young candidates:


Add to those stats 8 Complete Games for Halladay (compared to 3 for Hudson and Pedro, fewer for everyone else) and two shutouts for Halladay and Hudson.

It’s a remarkably close race with no clear-cut winner. Halladay seems most likely to take the award home as he’ll lead the league in wins, had that 15-win run, and could very well lead the league in winning percentage as well. One has to give him credit for those 8 complete games and the fact that he’s pitched so many innings yet managed to maintain a WHIP almost identical to those of Moose, Hudson and Pedro. Likewise, his walk rate is absolutely astounding, Wellsian even. However, he’s got the highest ERA, AVG, SLG and OPS of this bunch, has given up the most home runs and most homers per nine innings (.89 beating out Moose’s .86 both of which greatly out distance the number allowed by the other three) and does not counter those home runs with strikeouts the way Moose does.

With an eye toward the rate stats Hudson and Martinez become the favorites as they are the top two in ERA, Avg, SLG, OPS and HR/9. Pedro leads in ERA by a full half run, but is hurt by low IP and win totals. In reality, neither of these two is likely to win the voting as their win totals are too low (Hudson could finish with 16 if he wins his final start) and the Cy Young has made recent stops in Oakland and Boston (voters lean toward new blood and are less likely to remember or care that Blue Jay pitchers won the award three years straight from 1996-98). Also, the AL Cy Young has never gone to a starter with fewer than 18 wins in a non-strike year. (In the NL, the only time a starter with fewer than 17 wins won the Cy Young in a non-strike year it was Rick Sutcliffe, who actually won 20 on the year but was traded to by the Cubs to Cleveland where he won his final four.)

Loaiza has been a great story all year, but I think he’ll be out of the running if he fails to win his 20th in his fourth attempt this Wednesday against Jose Contreras and the Yankees. He leads this group in losses and is last in WHIP and OBP, but holds tight elsewhere finishing in the middle of the pack in ERA, posting better walk and strikeout numbers than Hudson and preventing homers better than Halladay and Mussina.

As for Moose, he’s had a terrific season, but the only categories he leads are OBP and WHIP. Even in a one-on-one match-up against Halladay (assuming Hudson and Pedro are out due to low win totals and Loaiza loses support for a poor final month that included two key loses to the Twins and saw his ERA increase by a half run), it’s unlikely that Moose can overcome Doc’s three Ws: wins, walks and workload. In all honesty, if I had a vote, I’d probably go with Halladay. My reasoning includes his WHIP, OBP and walk rate, throw-back workload, winning percentage (remember, he and Loaiza pitch for teams a good 10-15 games worse than the other three), and the fact that unlike any of the others he’s been the only truly reliable starter on his team. Kelvim Escobar hasn’t even matched Tim Wakefield’s season, thus making every Roy Halladay start that much more of a must-win for Halladay and the Blue Jays, and he’s clearly delivered. Halladay has, in the past two seasons, become the sort of pitcher whose name on the list of probables for an upcoming series leads to thoughts that begin “well if we can with the other two . . .” I won’t make any apologies about giving the Cy Young award to a pitcher like that.

Yanks begin a three-game series in Chicago tomorrow. They’ll face all three of the Sox big pitchers (Colon v. Wells, Buehrle v. Mussina, Loaiza v. Contreras). They were shut down by Loaiza and Colon in late August (though the Yanks were floundering then). It’ll be interesting to see how the Yankees, particularly the offense, handle a team like the White Sox after going 11-2-1 against the Tigers, Devil Rays and Orioles. Should be a good wake-up call for the postseason, which is just a week away.

Hopefully I’ll have a slow enough week that I can follow up on today’s Moose/CY discussion with posts on Posada and the MVP and Matsui and the ROY. Stay tuned!

posted by Cliff at 2:17 PM

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