Parity is a word the NFL and its fans love. For some reason, everybody seems OK with the fact that no team is particularly dominant if the trade off is an equal chance for most teams to win a championship, regardless of last year's record.
In baseball, however, parity is mildly intriguing (the entire NL West will likely have a shot at winning the division come All-Star Break) but ultimately a sign that too many teams exist. If parity existed in a league where the equal teams were equal because they were all GOOD, then we'd be in baseball heaven. The reality in today's sports world is that parity means a LACK of good teams and a heavy dose of mediocrity.
That mediocrity boosts interest in individual cities such as Colorado and Arizona, but interest in the game itself suffers because no one outside those cities is interested in "parity leagues," knowing that parity exists because no team has a #3, 4, or 5 starter as opposed to every team playing well.
In the NL West (and the NL in general this year), there is no real story except that none of the teams are exhibiting qualities of division winning baseball. The result is the rest of the nation only becomes interested the last week in September to see which team earns the right to lose in the Wild Card round.
Get rid of 4-6 teams, drop the season schedule back to 154 games and you will see similar parity but with a much higher level of play. Division winners will earn their titles and the World Series will include teams with few holes in their rosters. Economically, it's an idea that can never happen, but it would make MLB a better game.
The topic of steroids is "raging" once again (as always, puns are always intended at TCO) thanks to Jason Grimsley refusing to wear a wire and instead ratting out a large group of users, the names I sure we will learn in the near future. I'd prefer to write about Detroit's success or Atlanta's recent slide, but my readers are demanding an article about steroids. Without further adieu, here is the latest Hot Corner.
Despite a horrible start, Ichiro Suzuki has already upped his batting average to .350 and his OBP is now above .400. For those of you who like to pick apart Ichiro's one weakness, accumulating walks, note that his .402 OBP is better than ANY leadoff hitter in baseball. Regardless of HOW you get to first base, the object is just to get there.
Coming into 2006, Ichiro was averaging 226 hits per season, meaning that if he didn't spend 8 seasons in Japan, we might be looking at a durable 32-year old nearing 3,000 hits and threatening to become the all-time hits leader.
The St. Louis Cardinals, my fantasy team, and baseball in general has suffered a loss in '06 with Pujols hitting the DL. With no one in baseball rooting for Barry Bonds to do anything of importance, Albert Pujols was giving a serious run at the single season home run record. Even though it's only early June, Pujols is no Brady Anderson and watching him continue his torrid pace was not entirely unthinkable. With Pujols shelved for a month or so, the Cardinals will have to live with Edmonds at first base, and I will have to figure out how to gain in my fantasy standings with Aubrey Huff replacing El Hombre!
TCO fans: I know what's been on your mind the past couple summers: what the heck happened to Bunker & Dewey?? Fear not, faithful followers! I had them locked up together in a basement for almost 2 years. They emerged needing a tooth brush, a shower, and perhaps a fresh outlook on life, but who am I to criticize.
With all the hype about Bonds and the focus on the monster season Albert Pujols is having, one story flying under the radar this season is the play by Alfonso Soriano. After a much publicized whine about playing the outfield in spring training, Soriano has since kept his mouth shut and played like a superstar trying to accumulate stats in a free agent year (yes, Soriano's contract expires this season). Through May, Soriano's numbers (.297-19-38-12SB) are as impressive as anyone not named Pujols. Despite playing in a heavy pitcher's park, Soriano is on pace for career highs across the board. Keep an eye on this situation come September because Soriano might have some interesting demands for future suitors.
A few notes from the box score of yesterday's 1-0 13-inning victory for the Mets over the Diamondbacks:
-the 13-inning affair lasted only 3 hours, 19 minutes
-the Mets used just 3 pitchers
-Brandon Webb's season ERA is now a measly 2.01
-total walks in the game: 2
-in a game with 23 total strikeouts, chronic free swinger Jose Valentin (a career K/rate just shy of 1 K for every 4 AB) managed to avoid the "strike three" call over 5 at bats and even scored the winning run
It's beginning to be a real possibility that the Braves AND the Yankees may miss the playoffs, the first time that's happened in... forever? Toronto is for real, but at 5 games back already (and Papelbon LIGHTS OUT in the 9th), the Jays better make up some ground soon because Boston's powerful middle of the order should carry them through the summer. Expect a close 3-way race in early September with one team slipping by the end.
With Detroit and Chicago absolutely dominating the league, few have noticed that Minnesota has won 7 in a row (further proving that Santana is MLB's best pitcher: 5-0, 1.05 ERA in June) and Grady Sizemore is putting up some monster stats in Cleveland (leading AL in total bases and extra base hits). Don't hand the wild card spot over to the Central just yet, however. The Twins and Indians are quite capable of bringing the Tigers and White Sox back to earth, giving hope to New York, Toronto, and others.
It's no surprise that Oakland started slowly and now stands atop the division. The Angels have run out of firepower and don't have the horses to come back. Texas STILL needs more pitching, but Seattle might just keep things interesting with veteran starters, live young arms in the bullpen (Putz, Soriano), and a lineup boasting Ichiro, Sexson, Beltre, and others. My money is still on Oakland, but Seattle should hang around longer than most expect.
I'm still not a true believer of the Mets, simply because everyone is hitting on all cylinders right now and I don't think it can continue forever. A division championship? Yes, but a .610 winning percentage? I don't think so. The problem in this division is that no one else wants to step up. The Phillies are succeeding individually at the plate yet still managing to lose more games than they win. The rest of the division simply isn't worthy of mention. New York will hang on, but will falter in the playoffs.
Now it is apparent that the NL as a whole is just plain bad. The Cardinals are 2-8 in their last 10 games but are still viewed as head and shoulders above the rest. Cincy is creeping back to reality, Milwaukee continues to play hard but lacks to total package, Houston is praying for another second half run (it won't happen this year), and the rest are just praying.
Yuck. If anything, at least it's competitive. With San Diego in first and Arizona last, just 4 1/2 games behind the Padres, don't be surprised if the standings do a complete 180 by the end of September. In a division without many strengths, much depends on the arms of young pitchers such as Peavy, Webb, Cain, and others. I picked San Fran at the start of the season, so I'll stick with that in a division where anyone can win.
0 - 1 - 0 - 2 - 9 - 2 - 12 - 3 - 3 - 3 - 2 - 4 - 2. Those are the runs scored for the Chicago Cubs in their last 13 games, starting with the most recent. It's easy to figure out with 2 games they won and also easy to figure out why they lost the other 11.
Interleague has been making a mockery of the National League so far this year, giving new hope to teams like the Mariners and solidifying the dominance of the AL Central. While the Tigers and White Sox continue to win just about every day, the Twins have been almost as hot but can't gain any ground, while the Indians have been disappointing considering they were many writers' pick to win the division. Look for the wild card to come from the Central, leaving Boston, New York, or Toronto on the outside looking in come October.
For those of you on the East Coast, or the rest of you who just enjoy sleeping at night, you missed a masterful performance by San Francisco's Matt Cain last night, throwing 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball before yielding a single to Chone Figgins. Cain walked his share of batters (4) but also struck out 10 in the 8 innings he pitched. The box score doesn't do Cain justice, because it doesn't show him hitting 98 on the radar run with 2 outs in the 7th or buckling hitters with a dead on curveball after a series of fastballs.
With Cain yet to see his 22nd birthday and 25-year old Noah Lowry in the Giants' rotation, San Francisco has a chance to stay near the top of the division even after the Barry Bonds circus leaves town.
It's been a long process, but newspapers and television broadcasts are slowly catching up to the stat geeks, revealing more data than just AVG-HR-RBI for hitters when they step up to the plate or when they are written about. OBP (on-base percentage) and OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) are becoming more visible on graphics and newsprint. For you to appreciate them, you really need to know what is a good number and what is a bad number.
By now, all of you reading this type of site likely know what OBP and OPS are, but do you really know what your leadoff hitter's OBP should be if you expect your team to be successful? You know what it means to be a .300 hitter, a .270 hitter, and a .240 hitter, so let me put it in terms of batting average and overall MLB rank. Below is a simple table, showing BA, OBP, and OPS for the #1, #100, and #150 ranked player in MLB (as of 6/15) in each category. Later in the season I will explain the comparisons in greater detail, but for now, study the table and know that your leadoff hitter's OBP of .338 is not going to cut it.
OPS is an interesting stat because it combines power with the ability to get on base. In other words, you must do both well to boost your OPS, making OPS a good indicator of overall success at the plate. For instance, Torii Hunter and Mark Grudzielanek have an almost identical OPS (.752 and .750 respectively) at this point of the season, yet they got there in very different ways. Hunter is the more talented player, but this year his BA is lower than Grudzielanek's while his power numbers (HR and RBI) are higher. So who has been more productive? According to OPS, they are about even, which makes sense considering Hunter's HRs and offset by Grudzielanek's extra doubles, triples, and slightly higher OBP. In the end, the combined numbers add up equally except for RBIs, which can be attributed to Hunter playing on a team that actually puts runners on base ahead of him. The point is that you can look at ALL the numbers and conclude that Grud is having a fine season, comparable to a Torii Hunter-type, or you can look at OPS and come to the same conclusion easier and faster.