The Commish Online www.thecommishonline.com
BLOG ARCHIVE: 04/05/05 - 04/29/05
While everyone is talking about the Maddux/Clemens matchup tonight, with their respective teams floundering a bit, the more interesting matchup might be the reuniting of former Oakland aces. Mark Mulder and the surging St. Louis Cardinals head into Atlanta tonight to face Tim Hudson and the pesky Braves. While Maddux and Clemens give us a glimpse of the past, Mulder and Hudson give us a peak into the present in what could become the first of many duels between these former A's.
On last night's Diamondbacks - Dodgers broadcast on ESPN2, Joe Morgan made two statements which immediately qualify him for King of Hyperbole. At one point, he called Olmedo Saenz "one of the best right handed hitters in the game." Later, as Tony Clark stepped to the plate, he reminded the audience that, not too long ago, when Clark was in the A.L., he was "one of the best in the game."
Is he serious? Clark might have been one of the best in the current Tigers game he was playing in, but not in the game of baseball. Maybe I'm wrong though. Let's start with the Saenz comment and look at the CAREER stats for the 34 year-old "slugger":
.265 BA, .345 OBP, .801 OPS, 43 HR, 146 RBI
I could trot out the stats of the 150+ right handed hitters in the league better than Saenz, but I think the point is already made.
Now on to Tony Clark. Perhaps he was better than I remember. Flipping the pages in my 2005 Bill James Handbook reveals:
In a 3-year period from '97 to '99, Clark averaged 32 HR, 106 RBI, 88 R, and an OPS in the .875 range (not exact). Quite good, indeed, but one of the best in the game?
My other favorite reference piece, www.baseball-reference.com, indicates "no." In those three years, Clark finished 6th in RBIs, 7th in walks, and 10th in runs in '97, 10th in total bases in '98, and that's about it. Oh yes, he finished in the top 10 in strikeouts all three years. Clark didn't make the All-Star team until 2001, and that was his lone appearance. "One of the best in the game?" Hardly. Ease up on the compliments, Joe. Your listeners will appreciate it.
The more I look at stats, the more I look at stats. For instance, inspecting San Fran's record (8-11) and realizing that for the players Alou is forced to play every day, the hitting has actually been quite adequate. The pitching, therefore, must be the downfall. Sure enough, only Jason Schmidt has an ERA under 5.00 of the starters and of the 19 games, only 8 Quality Starts (6+ IP, 3 or less ER) have been registered. So far so good in my theory.
I then expected to scan the National League and find that 8 Quality Starts was near the bottom, right in line with perhaps the Pirates, Rockies, etc. While the bad teams are hovering in the 7 to 9 range, the first place Dodgers only have 8 Quality Starts as well. How can that be? Well, 18 more runs in 19 games (approx. 1 more run / game) compared to San Fran certainly makes a difference, but I still expected more pitching out of a first place team. The stats usually tell the story, though, and this case is no different: 2 teams experienced similar pitching for 3 weeks but one team scored an extra run every game. Not surprisingly, the team with the higher offense is several games ahead in the standings. That's why I like stats.
It's not exactly time to waive the white flag yet, but the wearers of pinstripes in New York should begin to worry a little. With Jaret Wright on the shelf and Kevin Brown stinking up the joint, there's suddenly a lot more pressure on newcomers Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson. While the lineup still boasts A Rod, Jeter, Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi appear past their primes, so it's not as potent a lineup as it may look on paper.
With a diluted farm system through trades always being focused on "winning now, not later," the Yankees may have finally gotten themselves into some trouble. Not to worry, though, New Yorkers: with no salary cap, George can just keep buying until he finds the right combination.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has an interesting article about Ichiro and Pujols. Note the tidbit about Ichiro's "runs not scored" and Pujols's stats compared to the hitting greats. Check it out here.
When statistics don't mesh:
One team in the American League is posting an absolutely abysmal TEAM on base percentage of .285, easily last in all of the majors. That team? The 11-4, first place, Chicago White Sox. That's why a baseball season is 162 games long - it all evens out in the end.
It's the age old question: would you rather have consistency or more talent?
Take these two pitchers for example (since 2001):
Based on the much higher strikeout rate and lower ERA, Player A has the greater ability to dominate. However, in the stats that matter, Player B gets the job done more often. He has averaged about 5 more starts/year, 50 more innings/year, and 5 more wins/year. Those are significant differences, and I would be hard pressed not to choose Player B to be on my team. I have always had the mentality that an average player on the field is better than a superstar on the bench. In this case, it looks like Player A (averaging only 185 innings/year) has more trouble staying healthy and Player B is actually much better than average.
For the record, Player A is Kerry Wood and Player B is Mark Buehrle. Surprising to many, both have only made one All-Star appearance, but with the direction their careers are headed, expect Buehrle to finish his career with more wins, more starts, and more All-Star appearances than the more heralded Kerry Wood.
Sure enough, yesterday's doubleheader was symbolic of Chicago's recent past: win some, lose some. When one pitcher falters, the other one picks up the slack, and vice versa. If Chicago can get its pitchers firing on all cylinders at the same time, the playoffs will be waiting; otherwise, it will be just more "win some, lose some."
Today's doubleheader in Wrigley Field should be quite symbolic of Chicago's season to come. Kerry Wood starts game 1 and Mark Prior starts game 2. A successful season for the Cubs, as well as a successful Wednesday in April, depends heavily on the aforementioned arms. Carlos Zambrano looks to be steady and Greg Maddux is as consistent as they come, but it will take a healthy and effective Wood and Prior to bring the Cubs to the next level. It's early, but today should be a good indicator of what is to come for Cubs fans.
The other day during a Mets game, I heard an announcer say how "valuable" a guy like Doug Mientkiewicz is to have on your team. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the first time something like that has been uttered about the well-liked first baseman.
I believe that leadership and clubhouse chemistry play a certain role, but there is a breaking point between performance and chemistry, and Mientkiewicz surpasses that mark. A 30 year-old first baseman with only one Gold Glove (2001), Mientkiewicz has never hit over 15 home runs. Unlike John Olerud and Mark Grace, two recent defense oriented first basemen with more offensive skills, Doug has not been capable of maintaining a high batting average (.272 career) or on base percentage (.363 career). Knocking in runs hasn't been his forte' either, never surpassing 75 RBIs in a single season despite playing on several division winning clubs. For the record, Grace and Olerud knocked in 75+ RBIs four times each by the age of 30 (with many more to follow), helping to dismiss the need for "home run power" at the position, although Olerud held his own.
My point? If you told me my first baseman would be a decent fielder and an average hitter with little power, I would tell you that I can find about 20 first basemen in the league more "valuable" than that.
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First baseman Phil Nevin, to my surprise, has been playing since 1995 but only has 174 home runs to his credit. I always thought of him as more of a power hitter, but his inability to stay healthy has taken its toll on his career stats.
Different year, same results: Last year's NL ERA leader Jake Peavy dominated the competition again, striking out 10 Pirates last night while throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball. Unfortunately for Peavy (and his fantasy owners), the Padres waited until the 12th inning to score their first run.
How different can one baseball game be from another? The Indians - White Sox game clocked in at a swift 1:51 (I've seen "chick flick" movies that were longer) while the Diamondbacks - Cubs marathon finished in 3:16 (even outlasting a Lord of the Rings movie).