Friday, June 23, 2006

Links to the Past

by Rob Hyman

We all know the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” I guess there’s an argument that any actor or actress can be linked to Kevin Bacon within six levels of separation. Well, let’s try a baseball version of this. Despite being well into the 21st Century, you’d be surprised at the links to the past that are only three degrees away (six degrees seems too much for this purpose).

So here we go...

Let’s start with “Three degrees of Julio Franco”
At 47, he’s the oldest player in the Major Leagues since 48 year-old Phil Niekro pitched for the Braves in 1987.

In 1982, Franco started his Major League career with the Phillies, playing 16 games. On that team were Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw. These are pitchers that started their careers in the mid-60s. Carlton’s career started in St. Louis in 1965. In 1967, an aging Roger Maris joined the team. Maris, of course played with the likes of Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford.

Speaking of Berra – McGraw played with him – albeit it very briefly. In 1963, Berra retired after 18 seasons with the Yankees. The next year he managed the Yanks to the AL Pennant, and then in 1965, he came out of retirement and played 4 games for the Mets. Odd sequence, but I digress.

Well, while Berra played with those same Yankee stars from the late 50s and early 60s, he also was around earlier and crossed paths for six years with Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. I love the fact that despite the fact that DiMaggio retired in 1951, there’s still an overlapping path to him that doesn’t seem too distant. Go to Shea Stadium today and you’ll see a guy who played with a guy who played with a guy who played with DiMaggio. Joe was a sex symbol of his time and I’m sure he had some great stories to speak of. I wonder how far those stories travel. I’m sure Berra told stories about DiMaggio. Did he tell them to McGraw and did McGraw repeat those stories to Franco?

Okay another one –

“Three degrees of Roger Clemens”

The second-oldest player in the majors these days (as of yesterday) is Roger Clemens. Before we get to Clemens’ attachment to the past, however, Clemens had a near miss, which would probably not be able to be topped. Both connections to the past missed each other by one year. Clemens made his debut in 1984, one year after Carl Yastrzemski’s retirement in 1983. Yaz’s debut in 1961 was one year after the retirement of Ted Williams! Williams, whose career started in 1939 played with fellow Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove!!!

That would have been an amazing string, alas, it was a just miss. Clemens, however, can be linked to Roberto Clemente through Mike Easler and Willie Stargell.

One other three-degree connection of note:
Jose Valentin, experiencing a resurgence with the Mets this year, played early in his career with Robin Yount. Yount’s early career was shared with Hank Aaron, whose early career was shared with Warren Spahn.

As the years go by, these links will fade away, but new links will form. Someday it will become interesting to note who has a lineage to the likes of Clemens, Bonds or Pedro.
Whoever they are, I’m sure they’ll have some good stories to tell.

Note: You can play your own "Three Degrees of Separation" at http://www.baseball-reference.com/oracle/.

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Solstice Baseball Thoughts...

by Scott Silversten

While it may just be the heat of summer, I find myself wondering...

-- Why do we react in outrage when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game – an exhibition contest, no less – ends in a tie, but praise the U.S. soccer team’s tie on the world’s biggest sporting stage?

-- How is it possible that the MLB executives still think it’s a good idea to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game? Even die-hard baseball fans can’t remember what happened in the Mid-Summer Classic approximately 23 minutes after the contest ends. Once again, IT’S AN EXHIBITION! If the game’s ratings are so terrible, then just cancel it. Or better yet, come up with some other gimmick that will draw attention.

-- Injuries aside, why do the Oakland Athletics perform so poorly in the season’s first two months, only to become a juggernaut once summer arrives?

-- How many baseball fans would be able to pick Joe Mauer out of a crowd?

-- To date, has there been a more intriguing pitching match-up this season than tonight’s clash between returning Houston Astros legend Roger Clemens, and Minnesota’s 22-year-old phenom Francisco Liriano? Since moving into the Twins rotation, Liriano is 5-1 in six starts with a 1.50 ERA and .167 batting average against.

-- How come there haven’t been any complaints from Mets fans recently about the number of Hispanic players on the team?

-- Speaking of the Mets, I think the annual debate should begin now … Will they be rusty, or rested, entering the playoffs?

--Why MLB isn’t investigating Ozzie Guillen’s actions in last Thursday’s game against Texas? If ordering one of your pitchers to hit an opposing batter is not against the rules, why do managers get thrown out of games even when their pitchers DO NOT hit their perceived intended target (see Torre, Joe and Johnson, Randy)?

-- When is it too early for newspapers to begin printing wild card standings? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d like to avoid complicated math in determining where teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies stand in the postseason race. For those who haven’t been paying attention, a wild card winner has reached the World Series in five of the last six years.

-- Is it too early to cast my Manager of the Year votes for Florida’s Joe Girardi and Detroit’s Jim Leyland? Here’s hoping Girardi gets a long and loud ovation when he brings the Marlins to Yankee Stadium on Friday night, not just for the character he showed while in New York, but also for the way he has convinced his young team to ignore all the doubters and play respectable baseball.

-- Does anyone care that David Segui used HGH? While we’re on the subject of steroids, Ken Kendrick’s unprompted allegations concerning possible steroid use by Luis Gonzalez were inappropriate and unbecoming a senior baseball executive. It will be interesting if the day ever arrives in which Kendrick faces a steroid controversy involving a valuable member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

-- Is there a more beautiful site in baseball than the swing of Ken Griffey Jr. when he connects for a home run?

-- Why baseball is always ridiculed for the late start of its postseason games, but nobody says a word when Sunday’s NBA Finals contest begins at 9:20 p.m. and ends at 12:35 a.m. in the East? At least in baseball, a game’s key moments might occur before midnight. In the NBA, anything worth watching doesn’t happen until the witching hour.

-- How much different the last decade in baseball would have been if Torre and then-General Manager Bob Watson had succeeded in trading Mariano Rivera for a second baseman during spring training in 1996?

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

HR and ERA: a 25-year perspective

This week on Wild-Card Wednesdays, columnist Alan Eliot takes a look at how the game has changed, graphically, over the last 25 years- using HR and ERA.

In light of baseball's "steroid era", many have called for the erasing of personal records and statistics of suspected cheaters- but realistically such endeavors are impossible. Who juiced and when? What if a pitcher juiced- do you give "extra" credit for the batter getting a hit? Do you take away the batter's K?

Obviously, with regards to the time in baseball from the mid-90's to the early 00's, there will be some historical adjustment, whether a fuzzy asterisk over the era, or just a mental adjustment to the numbers (not unlike numbers garnered in Coors Field, for example). Now of course, expansion baseball, smaller ballparks and juiced balls may all add into the equation, but anyone who downplays performance-enhancing substances and their effect on baseball in the last 15 years is not paying attention to reality. Today, as baseball endeavors to clean itself, we look back at what once was, to the numbers that impressed us in a given year, and how our expectations of great players changed over a quarter-century.

Harken back to 1992, the last year a player was able to lead his league with thirty-something HR. Note that in the ten full seasons since 1996 (with twenty league-leaders, one per league), only once, in 2004, did someone lead their league with 46 HR or less. That's 95 percent who hit 47 + HR. Compare to the 15 prior years, where only four of thirty, or 13.3 percent, led their leagues with 47 + HR.

Also note that the NL has not had a collective ERA under 4.00 since 1992. In the 12 seasons between 1981 and 1992, the NL's collective ERA was under 4.00 11 times.

We provide the numbers. Ultimately though, we leave the judgement of historical legacy up to you, the reader.

HR League Leaders, from 1981-2005 (with average total of top three leaders in parentheses) ; graph to follow

1981* NL: 31, Schmidt (25.7) /AL: 22, four tied (22)
1982 NL: 37, Kingman (36) /AL: 39, R. Jackson/G. Thomas (38.3)
1983 NL: 40, Schmidt (36) /AL: 39, Rice (36.7)
1984 NL: 36, Murphy/Schmidt (33) / AL: 43, Arman (37)
1985 NL: 37, Murphy (34.7) / AL: 40, Darrell Evans (37.7)
1986 NL: 37, Schmidt (33) / AL: 40, Barfield (36.3)
1987 NL: 49, Dawson (44) / AL: 49, McGwire (43.3)
1988 NL: 39, Strawberry(32.7) / AL: 42, Canseco (36)
1989 NL: 47, Mitchell (39) / AL: 36, McGriff (34.7)
1990 NL: 40, Sandberg (37.3) / AL: 51, Fielder (42.3)
1991 NL: 38, H. Johnson (34.7) / AL: 44, Canseco/Fielder (40.7)
1992 NL: 35, McGriff (34)/ AL: 43, J. Gonzalez (40)
1993 NL: 46, Bonds (41.3) / AL: 46, J. Gonzalez (44)
1994* NL: 43, M. Williams (39.7) / AL: 40, Griffey (38)
1995* NL: 40, Bichette (37.3)/ AL: 50, Belle (43.3)
1996 NL: 47, Galarraga(43.7) / AL: 52, McGwire (50.3)
1997 NL: 49, L. Walker (44.3)/ AL: 56, Griffey (47.3)
1998 NL: 70, McGwire (62) / AL: 56, Griffey (50.3)
1999 NL: 65, McGwire (57.7)/ AL: 48, Griffey (46.3)
2000 NL: 50, Sosa (48.7)/ AL: 47, Glaus (44.3)
2001 NL: 73, Bonds (64.7)/ AL: 52, A. Rodriguez (49.3)
2002 NL: 49, Sosa (45.7)/ AL: 57, A. Rodriguez (50.7)
2003 NL: 47, Thome (45.7) / AL: 47, A. Rodriguez (43.7)
2004 NL: 48, Beltre (46.7)/ AL: 43, Ramirez (41.7)
2005 NL: 51, A. Jones (46)/ AL: 48, A. Rodriguez (46.7)
* 1981 was a shortened season of 103-110 games. 1994 was a shortened season of 112-117 games. 1995 was a shortened season of 144 games.



Please note the very obvious upward trend in the graph.

Average League ERA, from 1981-2005; graph to follow

1981 NL: 3.49 / AL: 3.66
1982 NL: 3.60 / AL: 4.07
1983 NL: 3.63 / AL: 4.06
1984 NL: 3.59 / AL: 3.99
1985 NL: 3.59 / AL: 4.15
1986 NL: 3.72 / AL: 4.17
1987 NL: 4.08 / AL: 4.46
1988 NL: 3.45 / AL: 3.97
1989 NL: 3.49 / AL: 3.88
1990 NL: 3.79 / AL: 3.90
1991 NL: 3.68 / AL: 4.09
1992 NL: 3.50 / AL: 3.94
1993 NL: 4.04 / AL: 4.32
1994 NL: 4.22 / AL: 4.80
1995 NL: 4.18 / AL: 4.71
1996 NL: 4.22 / AL: 5.00
1997 NL: 4.21 / AL: 4.57
1998 NL: 4.24 / AL: 4.65
1999 NL: 4.56 / AL: 4.86
2000 NL: 4.63 / AL: 4.91
2001 NL: 4.36 / AL: 4.47
2002 NL: 4.11 / AL: 4.46
2003 NL: 4.28 / AL: 4.52
2004 NL: 4.30 / AL: 4.63
2005 NL: 4.22 / AL: 4.35




Stats courtesy of our fave, B-Ref.com

"Wild-Card Wednesdays" appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Arms Race: Rookies dominating on the hill

by Jeremy Bird

Matt Cain, the 21-year old Giants rookie, was four outs from a no-hitter last night. He struck out 10, winning his fifth straight game.

Cain’s unbelievable game fits well into a narrative going on in baseball this year: rookie pitchers are making a huge impact in both leagues. Cain's performance has me considering who has been and will be the impact rookie pitcher of 2006. Here are my choices:

1. Jonathan Papelbon. Red Sox.
Papelbon is simply amazing. The guy came into the season as a reliever for the Sox, found himself as the closer and has been unstoppable for a first-place team.

Papelbon’s ERA is 0.25. Nothing more to say really. 0.25. He has 23 saves in 24 opportunities. He has struck out 35 batters in 35 innings pitched.

After two months, Papelbon was perfect with 20 consecutive saves, setting an MLB record for save conversions to start a season.

The fourth-round, 114th selection of the 2003 draft has been the best closer in the game when the The Red Sox desperately needed one. Papelbon is one of the key reason the Sox are first in the East. Look for Papelbon to continue his Rookie of the Year season, even if his 0.25 rises and he blows a few down the stretch.

2. Francisco Liriano. Twins.
Liriano has been compared to Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. In fact, some people think he will be better. If his first few months in the majors are any indication, Liriano will be at least as good as Santana.

The 22-year-old lefty is 6-1 with a 2.16 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .150 against him. He has 67 strikeouts in just 58 innings.

Though he started in the bullpen, Liriano has moved into a starting role, where he has been dominating. He struck out 11 in one game recently. He has the talent to win 15 games this year, and the Twins will need every single one of them.

3. Justin Verlander. Tigers.
The 23-year-old right-hander is 8-4 with a 3.21 ERA for the Tigers in his debut season. Verlander is, undoubtedly, one of the key reasons the Tigers are off to such a hot start.

Verlander’s fastball is dominating, topping 100 mph. Last year, he was called up to make two starts for the Tigers and lost both. Fortunately for Detroit fans, the Tigers liked Verlander’s promise.

The Tigers haven't had a winning season since 1993. They have not been to the playoffs since the 80's. Verlander might be one of the key reasons that all changes in 2006.

4. Matt Cain. Giants.
Cain might have the best raw talent of the rookie pitching core. Last night’s 8-inning one-hitter was not even his best game of the season. In May, he threw a one-hit complete game against the A's.

He is 6-5 on the season with a 4.79 ERA. He has struck out 62 in 77 innings. While his numbers are not as impressive as Papelbon, Liriano or Verlander, his ability to completely dominate a team shows how good he can be when he learns how to pitch. I look for him to have the best second half of the bunch.

5. Chad Billingsley. Dodgers.
Billingsley started his first major league game June 15. He went a solid 5 1/3, allowing six hits and two runs in a no-decision.

This pick is simply based on what the experts say. In the Baseball America preseason top 100 prospects, Billingsley was ranked 7th overall, above all four I listed above.

The 21-year-old was throwing 96-mile-per-hour fastballs in his first start. The experts say he also has a great curveball. The guy also hit a two-run single in his first career at-bat.

With the Dodgers in the race to win the West and make a strong playoff run, the rookie Billingsley could be a huge impact player in 2006.

So, who did I miss?

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, June 19, 2006

Yankee Diary #8

by Michael Carlucci

Thursday, June 8

This was a bad night. Not only did we lose to the Red Sox and Curt Schilling, but I was present to witness it. The Yankees held a 3-1 lead until the sixth, when the bullpen first strained under the weight of their own ineptitude, then collapsed. Scott Proctor, still possessing Torre's Most Favored Status, allowed three runs to come in (one on A-Rod's error). Next inning Proctor served up a three-run homer. Then came Scott Erickson, who let in two more. Suddenly the game was a blow out. A-Rod was due up in the bottom of the seventh, and you could sense the crowd was going to let him have it. Nourished by who knows how many $8 beers, a patron stood up to complain about A-Rod's salary and inability to get the "big hit." While most of the man's rant was either vulgar or incomprehensible, I can summarize by saying he wished A-Rod would've hit a home run at some point earlier in the game, considering the exorbitant compensation he earns. Many people laughed at this buffoon, some shouting comments of their own, the gist of which was now that the game was out of reach, A-Rod would probably homer. This was an impossible situation for anyone, even for a guy who makes $25 million a year. He was going to get booed. I was actually happy to see him pop out, because I would've hated to see a Yankee Stadium crowd boo a Yankee homer.

It's easy to understand why A-Rod is hated. No one can live up to his expectations. Of course, being handsome, impossibly talented and obscenely rich doesn't endear him to slobs in the stands. It's when intelligent sports fans suggest that A-Rod is a problem that I scratch my head. He -- and not Jeter or even the great Mariano -- is the reason we made the playoffs last year. Yes, he played poorly in those five games, but nobody was spectacular. The question no one can answer is, If not A-Rod, who would you prefer at third base?

Friday, June 9

Randy Johnson provided yet another sub-par outing tonight, this time against the weak-hitting A's. 6 runs -- 5 earned -- and three homers allowed in only four innings of work. One of the bombs came courtesy of Frank Thomas, one of the greatest hitters of his generation. The other two were by weak hitters, including the guy who might be the worst hitter ever to hit a home run against the Big Unit, Antonio Perez. Until this at-bat, Perez had managed one hit in thirty-three trips to the plate. He hadn't homered in over a year. His OPS was lower than Derek Jeter's batting average. And yet he hit a two-run shot that ended up being the difference in the game. He would not have even fouled the ball off the Unit in his prime, but the Unit left his prime in Arizona.

A run scored tonight because Bernie Williams was in the outfield. A shallow fly ball to right, a slow runner at third, and still the sacrifice fly worked because Bernie Williams simply can't throw the ball. Why is he still out there? Honestly, I could've made that throw. My wife could've made that throw. In any case, while I can't back up that last claim, I can say that any other major leaguer -- I mean anyone, at any position -- would have prevented that run from scoring. We lost by that run.

Wednesday, June 14

Obviously, it's good that Randy Johnson pitched well tonight. But let's not go crazy. We know he can't do this consistently anymore. And anyway, it wasn't vintage Johnson, seeing as how he only struck out 6 over 6 1/3 innings. Much was made of Posada's overreaction to being hit, and Johnson's subsequent "defense" of his catcher by throwing inside to Perez. But that move was probably unnecessary, at least not until the ninth. He could've saved the bullpen some work.

In any case, I remain a skeptic about Johnson. I don't think he will keep it up.

Sunday, June 18

To say that these last two games were the worst two losses of the season might be a little melodramatic, but these were the worst two losses of the season. You can't blow seven-run leads to weak teams like the Nationals, especially with Mo serving up the last three. Today was even worse, but you can't go a whole season without losing a few like today's game. Wang pitched very well, but he still lost the game in the ninth on a home run. Those are always crushing.

The team desperately needs another starter and another bullpen arm. This is because we invested $40 million in Carl Pavano, $25 million in Jaret Wright, and $17 million in Kyle Farnsworth. Those who say the Yankees have too much money might be right, but if you squander it ($16 million for Randy Johnson this year and next), it takes away your advantage. These four pitchers alone are making what many teams make, but they're all performing horribly (except Pavano, who's too injured to perform at all). Wouldn't you rather they hadn't acquired these guys?

Michael Carlucci's column, "Yankee Diary", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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