Friday, October 29, 2004

Wha'aapen (part one) 

Check out my email conversation with Alex Belth and Jay Jaffe over at All-Baseball regarding where the worm turned in the ALCS.

Part two, due Monday, will contain our initial impressions of what the fallout from the loss will be. Once that's up I'll officially fire up the Yankee Hot Stove here at the BRB.

posted by Cliff at 8:21 PM

My IBWA Ballot, part 1: the big four 

The results of the first annual Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards have been announced over at All-Baseball. Not to be confused with Baseball Prospectus's Internet Baseball Awards, which are open to the public, the IBWA Awards are voted upon only by members of the IBWA, the newly established on-line answer to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, founded 1908). The BBWAA, of course, votes on the official baseball awards as well as the Hall of Fame. In this inaugural year, 37 members of the IBWA voted, including yours truly. Here is the first half of my ballot with some explanation and the official finish of each of my selections in paretheses:

NL Player of the Year

1. Barry Bonds (1)

AL Pitcher of the Year

1. Johan Santana (1)

We were allowed to vote for ten players of the year (ranked 1-10) and three pitchers, but these two where such runaways that I only filled out the top spot. The way I see it, there's only one winner, and if for any twisted reason the winners of these two awards were not Bonds and Santana, I didn't want to have anything to do with it. Santana led the AL in ERA, Strikeouts, ERA+, WHIP, K/9 and H/9 (more on him below). Bonds hit .362/.609/.812 (need I continue?) with 45 homers, 129 runs, and 101 RBI in just 373 at-bats while walking 232 times, 120 of them intentional. Both walk totals were runaway single-season records, as was his .609 OBP. His OPS+ of 260 was the third best ever. His .812 slugging the fourth best ever. His Giants finished two games out of first place after taking the Dodgers down to the final weekend.

NL Pitcher of the Year

1. Randy Johnson (1)
2. Ben Sheets (3)
3. Brad Lidge (8)

Notice the absence of Roger Clemens. Explaining him out of the top two spots is pretty simple:

Johnson: 2.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.62 K/9 (290 K), 1.61 BB/9, 4 CG, 2 SHO
Sheets: 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10.03 K/9 (264 K), 1.22 BB/9, 5 CG
Clemens: 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.14 K/9 (218 K), 3.32 BB/9, 0 CG

That's a no brainer. Johnson is clearly better than Sheets who is even more clearly better than Clemens. So why Lidge third? Look at the season he had:

1.90 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 14.93 K/9 (157 K in 94 2/3 IP), 2.85 BB/9, 80 G

What really hooks me are those strikeouts. Last year, when Eric Gagne won the Cy Young with an inhuman season out of the Dodger's pen he struckout 137 men in 82 1/3 IP, that's 14.98 men per nine innings, the highest single-season rate ever (minimum 15 innings pitched). This year, Lidge struck out 14.93 per nine over an additional 12 1/3 innings--good for third all-time above 15 IP (Billy Wagner's 14.95 K/9 in 1999 is second), second all-time above 75 IP, and best ever above 85 IP pitched (by more than a strikeout per game over Randy Johnson's unreal 13.41 K/9 over 249 2/3 IP in 2001). Meanwhile, Lidge posted a better ERA and WHIP than Mariano Rivera (1.94, 1.08), who finished third in the IBWA AL Pitcher of the Year voting, all of which impressed me far more than anything the remaining NL starters did this season.

AL Player of the Year

1. Valdimir Guerrero (1)
2. Johan Santana (2)
3. Manny Ramirez (3)
4. Travis Hafner (12)
5. David Ortiz (6)
6. Carlos Guillen (9)
7. Melvin Mora (7)
8. Gary Sheffield (4)
9. Mark Teixeira (21)
10. Hideki Matsui (14)

Vladimir Guerrero hit .337/.391/.598 with 206 hits, 39 doubles, 39 homers, 124 runs, 126 RBIs and 15 steals (at an 83 percent success rate). He also hit .371/.431/.733 in September as his streaking Angels overtook the A's for the AL West lead despite a rash of injuries, a dearth of pitching, and the suspension of Jose Guillen.

Johan Santana, in 34 starts posted a 2.61 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, struck out 265 (10.46 K/9) while walking just 54 (2.13 BB/9). The opposition hit .192/.249/.315 against him. This despite a 5.61 ERA in April and May. In the remaining four months of the season he allowed just 30 runs, posting a 1.51 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, struck out 11.37 per nine innings (211 Ks in four months!) and walked just 1.89 per nine. What's more, he did all of that for a playoff team whose best hitter played in just seven games prior to the All-Star break. Santana was the Twins this year.

Manny Ramirez hit .308/.397/.613 with 44 doubles, 43 homers, 108 runs, and 130 RBIs. His .332 GPA led the league, but I chose Guerrero over him because of Vlad's added ability in the field and on the bases, the fact that Manny was less essential to the Red Sox offense than Vlad was to the Angels', and because of a post-break line that read .264/.345/.528. Of course, that means he went absolutely nuts in the first half (.344/.437/.682), but Vlad was extremely consistant, with a pre-break GPA of .324 and a post-break GPA of .327 as opposed to Manny's .367/.287 split. Consistency is important.

Travis Hafner hit .311/.410/.583 with 41 doubles, 28 homers, 96 runs, 109 RBI. That Travis Hafner ranked twelfth in the final voting stupifies me. To begin with, he lead the leage with a 158 OPS+. Admitedly that's the lowest leage-leading figure in either league since Mike Schmidt's 152 in 1986, but he still lead the league in a key, park-adjusted total offense statistic. And, yes, his Indians were a sub-.500 team, but they threatened the eventual AL Central champion Twins in August before failing against them head-to-head, and finished 12 games better than the 2003 edition, thanks in large part to Hafner's bat. And yes, he was the DH, at least he didn't cost his team seven runs on defense as Manny Ramirez's 93 Rate as a left fielder indicates he did. This was Hafner's first full season. Take another look at his numbers and imagine what would happen if he learned to hit lefties (his .254 GPA against southpaws is a large part of the reason that he only got 576 plate appearances).

David Ortiz hit .301/.380/.603 with 47 doubles, 41 homers, 94 runs, 139 RBIs. There are a great number of parallels between Hafner and Ortiz. Both are bulky, late-blooming, left-handed designated hitters. Neither is much of a threat against lefthanded pitching (Ortiz's GPA against lefties was just .259). Eyeballing their numbers, Ortiz's stats look more impressive, but if we peer behind the curtain you'll find out why I listed Hafner ahead of Papi. Start with the obvious: park factors. Fenway's was a juicy 106 to Jacobs Field's mildly stifling 98. Add in the overall superiority of the remainder of the Boston offense (.282/.360/.472 to Cleveland's .276/.351/.444), which has a big influence on run production. Then consider the amount of lefty pitching each had to contend with. Cleveland's four AL Central opponents tallied 2349 2/3 innings pitched by left-handers this season compared to just 1300 for Boston's four AL East opponents. That meant both more playing time for Ortiz (669 plate appearances to Hafner's 576) and far fewer at-bats as a .260 hitter. All of these factors explain Ortiz's higher counting stats and yet, despite all of these factors, Hafner still lead Ortiz in GPA by a comfortable margin (.330 to .322), not to mention edging him out in both OPS and, of course, OPS+. That's not to take anything away from Ortiz's ridiculous season, but as far as I'm concerned a vote for Ortiz is a vote for Hafner. And if you want to argue team success, I'll simply ask you which of the two has a teammate who finished a concensus third in this vote.

Carlos Guillen hit .318/.379/.542 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers, 97 runs and 97 RBIs while posing a spectacular 113 Rate at shortstop. The Detroit Tigers, after coming one loss from tying the 1962 Mets modern record for losses, improved by a staggering 29 games this season. Guillen was the primary reason why. His numbers would have been even more impressive had his season not been cut short by a knee injury on September 11th. At the time of the injury he had a seven game hitting streak going that included four two-hit games.

Melvin Mora hit .340/.419/.562 with 187 hits, 41 doubles, 27 homers, 111 runs, and 104 RBIs. Both Mora and Guillen missed 22 games to injury. Both, unlike any of the players above them on my ballot, played valuable defensive positions. Both also played on poor teams. Mora's numbers are consistantly better than Guillens, but I listed Guillen above him for two reasons. 1) Park Factor: Comerica - 96, Camden - 104. 2) Guillen was a huge asset in the field at a middle infield position (113 Rate), while Mora was a liability at a corner infield position (90 Rate). To a lesser extent the fact that Guillen's team improved by 29 games after having added Guillen while Mora's improved by a still-impressive but comparativly small 8 games with Mora being a hold over, also influenced my rankings. As for Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada, neither of whom made my ballot. I refused to take multiple players from bad teams without overwhelming evidence. Guillen outperformed Tejada (112 Rate, .311/.360/.534) across the board as a fellow shortstop, and Mora flat out-hit him as a teammate. Likewise, Guillen was more valuable both defensively and offensively than Rodriguez (97 Rate, .334/.383/.510).

Gary Sheffield hit .290/.393/.534 with 30 doubles, 36 homers, 117 runs and 121 RBIs. Mora flat out-hit Sheff as well and Guillen put up similar rate stats while also being far more valuable in the field and far more isolated in his team's line-up. Scrolling up to Vlad/Manny/Hafner/Ortiz, the numbers aren't terribly close. Sheffield played through injury, and got a lot of key hits for the Yanks, but he also stumbled out of the gate, hitting .273/.367/.404 in April and May and fell off with a similar September. That means Sheff was only crushing for three months, during which he hit .311/.414/.661 and knocked out 28 of his 26 homers. Mighty fine, but that can't even compare to Manny's .344/.437/.682 first half (about three months long itself), which is yet another reason why he's down here.

Mark Teixeira hit .281/.370/.560 with 34 doubles, 38 homers, 101 runs and 112 RBIs yet he finished 21st in the voting, with just one other IBWA member listing him on his ballot. What gives? Looking at the everyday players not yet mentioned who finished above him, two are teammates with much more severe home/road splits that he out-produced anyway--Hank Blalock (102 Rate at 3B, .276/.355/.500) and Michael Young (a poor 91 Rate at short, .313/.353/.483)--two are gold-glove level third basemen, whom he also out-produced--Eric Chavez (108 Rate, .276/.397/.501), who finished immediately above him, and Alex Rodriguez (105 Rate, .286/.375/.512), who finished another ten spots higher (you figure that one out, I can't)--and two are gold-glove level outfielders whom, again, he flat out-hit--Ichiro Suzuki (103 Rate, .372/.414/.455), don't get me started, and Mark Kostay (111 Rate, .314/.370/.459), who slugged one hundred points lower than Teixeira. All I can think is that Teixeira was being penalized for playing first base. Of the six players I just listed, the only one I could be convinced might have been more valuable than Teixeira this season is Chavez (who would thus knock Kotsay even further down my list). For me the near-tie was broken by the fact that Teixeira's team improved by 18 games with Teixeira having a breakout season, while Chavez's team declined by five games.

Finally, Hideki Matsui hit .298/.390/.522 with 34 doubles, 31 homers, 109 runs, and 108 RBIs. Matsui also out-hit the six men listed in the previous paragraph, though only three of them finished higher than he did in the voting.

Debuts, Managers and Executives of the year in my (far less compelling) next post.

posted by Cliff at 8:12 PM

Thursday, October 28, 2004


And so it's come down to this. Eighty-six years, one month and sixteen days after the 1918 Boston Red Sox finished off the Chicago Cubs behind a 2-1 Carl Mays complete game to win the World Series four games to two and claim their third World's Championship in four years, Keith Foulke is taking the mound in Busch Stadium for the bottom of the ninth inning of the fourth game of the World Series with his 2004 Red Sox leading the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0 in both the World Series and Game 4. The Red Sox have been this close before. Heck, they've been even closer, but they've not won a World Series since Carl Mays got Les Mann to ground out to Dave Shean at second base eighty-six years ago.

Between Foulke and history stand three of the very best players in all of major league baseball: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. Foulke starts Pujols off with a called strike, then misses for ball one. Pujols fouls off a pair of pitches before cracking a hard grounder up the middle, right between Foulke's legs, for a lead-off single. As every muscle in Red Sox Nation tightens, Scott Rolen, hitless for the Series, steps to the plate. Foulke starts him of with another first-pitch called strike. Rolen then waves at the next pitch, falling into a 0-2 hole. After ball one, Rolen lifts Foulke's fourth offering to Gabe Kapler in right field. Two outs to go. This just might happen.

Jim Edmonds steps to the plate with his team's season on the line and is hacking. Swinganamiss, strike one. Foul, strike two. Swinganamiss, strike three. Two down. Just one out left.

The man at the plate is Edgar Renteria. Back in 1997, his second year as a major leaguer, Renteria, just 21 at the time, stepped into the batters box in bottom of the eleventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series for the Florida Marlins with the score tied 2-2, the bases loaded, and two outs and singled home the series-winning run. Tonight he takes ball one from Foulke as Pujols goes to second uncontested. He then swings at Foulke's second pitch, bouncing it back to Foulke who grabs it tightly in his glove, turns and runs a few steps toward first before flipping it overhand to Doug Mientkiewicz. Three outs.

That's it.

They did it.

Nothing went wrong. Mientkiewicz caught the ball with is foot on the bag and the Red Sox are the World Champions of baseball for the first time since before women had the right to vote.


I have to say, as much as I dislike this Red Sox team, and as much as I love the mythology of the Curse of the Bambino and all that it signifies in terms of the relationship between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, a grin crept across my face as Foulke gloved Renteria's grounder and turned toward first. Regardless of where one stands on the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, anyone who had any sort of emotional investmentment in the Curse or the rivalry had to recognize that moment as something incredibly unique and incredibly special. Yes, I'll mourne as yet another of the defining characteristics of the sport as I came to know it in the '80s follows Lou Gehrig's Iron Man streak, the Yankees-only 60-homer club, and soon Hank Aaron's all-time home run crown into the dustbin of history. But for right now, let the Red Sox fans enjoy what all have waited a lifetime to see.

Here's hoping that Johnny Pesky, Bill Buckner, Mike Torrez, Bob Stanley and maybe even Calvin Schiraldi, John McNamara, Grady Little and Don Zimmer are asked to help celebrate when the Red Sox return to Fenway next year. Here's to Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Fred Lynn, Reggie Smith, Jim Lonborg, Rico Petrocelli, George Scott, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr helping to raise the Red Sox Championship banner. May they all share in what this team has accomplished.

May the Red Sox fans reap every bit of joy possible from this victory and do so in a safe and responsible manner.

And may the Yankees kick the Red Sox asses in 2005.

posted by Cliff at 1:13 AM

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Unpleasant Business 

Beginning their first official week of the postseason, the Yankees are taking care of business. Gary Sheffield is in Birmingham having his left shoulder looked at by Dr. James Andrews, who will perform any necessary surgery after a proper diagnosis. Paul Quantrill and Javy Vazquez both had MRIs. Quantrill's, on the right knee he injured in a collision with Alex Rodriguez in the Yankees' opening game in Japan, indicated no need for surgery. Vazquez's, on his pitching shoulder, was a precautionary measure prompted by Javy's performance rather than any complaints of discomfort. As per Javy's insistence that he was not hiding an injury, the MRI came back clean.

Meanwhile, George Steinbrenner has gathered his "brain trust" in Tampa for three days' worth of meetings beginning today. Those expected to be present are GM Brian Cashman, team president Randy Levine, CFO Lonn Trost, VP and Assistant GM Jean Afterman, VP and head of the minor leagues Mark Newman, pitching instructor Billy Connors, and head of scouting Bill Emslie. The articles I've seen have made no mention of Gene Michael, but I would have to assume he will be there as well. The purpose of these meetings is for the brain trust to discuss the Yankees options in terms of coaching (only Torre is under contract for next season) and player personnel and lay out a game plan for the offseason.

In the meantime, the criminal case against Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia for their role in the brawl with Fenway Park groundskeeper Paul Williams during last year's ALCS reached resolution today. The two defendants reached a deal calling for 50 hours of community service and evaluation for anger management. A cross-complaint against Williams brought by Nelson was dropped last week due to lack of evidence. According to Assistant Attorney General David Fredette, the existing video shows that the bulk of the damage Williams suffered (supposedly including broken teeth, a neck injury, a deviated septum and the loss of his sense of smell) was caused by players other than Nelson and Garcia. Williams' civil suit against the two players is not effected by the deal.

Finally, a moment of silence for Robert Merrill. A fixture at both the Metropolitan Opera and Yankee Stadium, Merrill died while watching the World Series on Saturday night. He was 87.

posted by Cliff at 3:22 PM

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