Friday, September 01, 2006

Steve's "Trachy" Season Paying Off Nicely

by Rob Hyman

The win is one of the lesser telling statistics in baseball. My esteemed colleague Doug Silversten wrote about this in his June 12th column “When Wins and Losses are Meaningless Stats. Doug is right – the win is a meaningless stat and Roger Clemens’ 2005 season is a great example of that. He finished 13-8 with a 1.87 ERA. Five times during the season, he left the game in a scoreless tie, only for his Astros to lose 1-0. In nine of his 32 starts, he got zero run support. Point is - his mediocre win total, which was not his fault, kept him from winning his 8th Cy Young Award.

Well there is something going on in the National League this year that has magnified this point even further. Something that has jumped from just some luck (good or bad) affecting a player’s season into a statistical anomaly. This phenomenon is known as Steve Trachsel. Steve’s career ERA entering this season was 4.23 and his record is 119-135. Not impressive by any means, but he is reliable 4th or 5th starter. Except for last year’s back injury, Steve has been a mainstay in his team’s (Cubs '93-'99, Rays and Jays in 2000 and Mets since 2001) starting rotation. In 350 career starts, he has averaged 6.1 innings per start. His career walk to strikeout ratio is a respectable, 1.89 (for comparison - Clemens’ is 2.96; Maddux 3.36; Glavine 1.75).

This season, Steve’s ERA is 4.98. Assuming it ended up around there (anywhere between 4.81 and 5.14 will do), it will the third-worst ERA of his career. His average innings per start is at 5.62 – second lowest in his career. Strikeout to walk ratio – 1.12. That’s the worst in his 14-year career. That’s a result of being on pace for his lowest strikeout total (87) and third-highest walk total (77).

Okay, so he’s not having a great season – what’s the big deal? The big deal is that if you take a look at the wins leaders in the National League – guess who is tied at the top. Yup you got it, Steve Trachsel is 14-5 and is tied with four others for the league lead in wins. Only one time in the last 50 years has the National League wins leader ended the season with an ERA over 4.00 (Lew Burdette won 21 games for the 1959 Milwaukee Braves with a 4.07 ERA.) So here is Trachsel flirting with a 5.00 ERA and a league lead in wins.

The best two explanations I can come up with both help prove Doug’s theory because they have nothing to do with Steve:
  • Right place, Right time: This is by far the best team Steve has ever been on. Trachsel has never been on a 90-win team (okay fine – the 1998 Cubs won 90 games, but it was thanks to Trachsel’s win in a one-game wildcard playoff). The Mets have scored the most runs in the National League and their bullpen has the lowest ERA in the league. This means great run support and great bullpen support. So when on May 23rd, Steve gave up 6 runs in five innings to the Phillies, the Mets were able to overcome a 6-2 deficit to win 9-8 in 16 innings – a sure loss becomes a no decision. On August 23rd against St. Louis, Steve did the same – 6 runs in 5 innings – but the Mets offense was charged up and Trachsel got the win in a 10-8 game.
  • AL Interleague domination: In interleague play, the AL defeated the NL 154 – 98. So it’s no wonder that 14 wins is leading the way with one month to go. There have been a lot less wins to go around. At this pace, the leader will probably end up with 17 or 18 wins – the lowest top win total in a non-shortened season since Rick Sutcliffe’s 18 wins for the Cubs in 1987.

If Trachsel does end up on top, he may get the distinction of being the first pitcher to do so and not get any Cy Young Award votes.

Well in this year of statistical oddity for Steve, at least he can be comforted to know that he threw his first complete game in three years. It was your run of the mill complete game: May 11th at Philly - two runs, six hits, 4 ½ IP, lost 2-0. The game was called for rain in the 5th, but he still gets credit for a complete game. Yeah – it’s been a pretty standard year for him.

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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mets Don't Deserve their "Amazin'" Moniker

by Scott Silversten

Do you want to know what is the biggest oxymoron in baseball? Well, here it is: The Amazin’ Mets.

Now, I completely understand the “Amazin’” moniker that was affixed to the team during its glorious 1969 World Championship season, but in its current use, the nickname is just plain silly. The Mets are far from amazing and they have much more in common with their cross-town rivals than they do with the Florida Marlins, who are truly an amazing story this year.

The Mets attempt to pass themselves off as the underdog, forever in the shadow of their more successful fellow New Yorkers. They are the plucky team that rises up to grab division titles approximately once a decade, a rag-tag bunch more than the sum of their individual parts.

What hooey!

In fact, the only real difference between the Mets and Yankees is that the boys from Flushing have stunk for years, while the Bronx Bombers have used their big-market advantages to build perennial playoff teams and World Series champions.

The Yankees are often mocked for their excess of riches, given the fact that they have current or former All-Stars in eight of their nine position players (including designated hitter). They have a future Hall-of-Famer as the supposed ace of the rotation (Randy Johnson), another at closer (Mariano Rivera), and yet another starter (Mike Mussina) who could still find his way to Cooperstown.

With a team like that, anything short of a spot in the postseason should be considered a failure.

Then there are the Mets. Let’s see, the King of Queens have current or former All-Stars at seven of their eight every day positions, they have a future Hall-of-Famer as the ace of the rotation (Pedro Martinez), a No. 2 starter likely bound for upstate New York (Tom Glavine) and a borderline immortal at the back of the bullpen (Billy Wagner).

Yet somehow, we are all supposed to believe the Mets are this tremendous story as they establish themselves as the best of a weak National League. To be honest, with their embarrassment of riches, it would be headline news more so if the Mets were not in this position.

However, let’s give the Mets this credit: They have been able to put together an eerily similar team to the Yankees for a lot less money. The Yankees may have a $200 million payroll, but they clearly don’t have $200 million worth of talent. The Yankees overpay, but hey, it’s their money, not ours.

Despite these facts, the Mets are viewed differently. While success is expected in the Bronx, it’s cheered as a novelty at Shea. Even the Mets’ superstars are not viewed in the same light. For those that have not noticed, third baseman David Wright has suffered through a horrible August at the plate and is without a homer in a month.

Although it’s nearly impossible to imagine more discussion about the town’s other third baseman, one can only begin to guess the insults and barbs that would be tossed Alex Rodriguez’s way if he had finally hit his first homer last night since July 28.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of Derek Jeter’s candidacy for American League Most Valuable Player, it’s the Mets shortstop that has arguably had the better season. Jeter has the higher average and on-base percentage, but Jose Reyes tops “Mr. Clutch” in slugging percentage due to 16 homers and 16 triples, and has more than double the amount of stolen bases. And considering he follows the bottom of an NL lineup, the RBI differential (83 to 68) is not that great.

Meanwhile, the best player on either team all season has been Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran (39 homers, 111RBI, .389 OBP). At least Mets fanatics took their cue from Yankees supporters when it came to Beltran, booing him during the first home stand of the year due to a down year in 2005.

Both squads have plenty to choose from in the bullpen (the Mets’ loss of stud Duaner Sanchez was extremely unfortunate), the benches are built nicely for the respective leagues (the Yankees have more pop, the Mets more versatility) and the bottom of the rotation appears to be each’ s weakness.

A strong possibility exists for the second Subway Series in seven years between the teams, and there is this notion that the match-up would put the Yankees in a “no-win” situation. If the Yankees prevail, well, they are supposed to win. If they lose, they’ll never live it down.

The Yankees pay for their tremendous success with lofty expectations, while the Mets get a pass for their failures of recent past.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dye for MVP?

by Sam Sowl

Not long ago, we here at BFT decided to expand our roster by one, and to add a columnist to our Wednesday slot. We put out the word, waited for all of the applications to arrive, and then chose our newest columnist. Today, we are thrilled to introduce Sam Sowl (rhymes with bowl, not bowel)! Sam's a good midwestern boy from Wisconsin, and like the rest of us here at BFT an obsessed follower of the church of baseball. Specifically, he loves the White Sox and is a fan of the Brewers as well, and dreams of one day becoming a GM. Both funny and full of energy, a great addition to our lineup - here every other Wednesday, only at Baseball For Thought!

As a Chicago White Sox fan, I have to say I'm very disappointed with their starting pitching this year. No, I'm not just stating the obvious; I know everyone reading this column knows that every White Sox fan is pretty perturbed with the likes of Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, and Javier "Untouchable through 4, automatic 2 home runs given up in the 5th" Vazquez. I'm stating my disappointment because the Sox shoddy pitching is preventing them from locking up a playoff spot, which in turn has prevented me from being able to enjoy what has been the Chisox's best offensive output in recent memory. The Sox could very easily end the season with four players (Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, and Jim Thome) with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and batting averages above or right below .300. And it's not like the rest of the lineup isn't helping out. I hate to blame just the pitching, but the hitting really can't get much better than this.

Leading this offensive charge is Jermaine Dye, who is having the best season by a White Sox hitter since Frank Thomas' prime. Dye has long surpassed his previous high in home runs (33 in 2000 with the Royals, when Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran were his fellow outfielders and.....they still sucked! Mac Suzuki was their number two starter after all) with a nice 38, all before September, not to mention he's hitting a solid .326, with 102 RBIs. Sounds like MVP statistics to me. However, this year in the American League, there are a number of qualified individuals. So why don't we see how Jermaine stacks up to the rest of the competition.

1. David Ortiz. A DH has never won the MVP award. Could Ortiz be the guy to change that? In last year's voting, Alex Rodriguez won the award with 331 points, while Ortiz followed closely with 307. Ortiz may have been more clutch, per say, but A-Rod did have more home runs, stolen bases, a better batting average, and a better OPS. That's as close as a DH has ever come. Combine that with the news out of Boston concerning his heart problems, it appears that Papi has a tough road ahead if he wants to win the MVP award. To his benefit, he does have a whopping 47 home runs and 121 RBIs, so maybe his chances are as good as anyone's....wait I forgot, THE RED SOX ARE DONE. And I hope that pisses off as many Red Sox fans as possible- especially Red Sox fans from Grand Rapids, Michigan (this means you, Tommy). Side note - if you aren't a Red Sox fan, I hope you weren't one of those people who were "happy for them" now that they had finally won the World Series back in 2004. Red Sox fans were coming out of the ****ing woodwork at that time, and I took much joy in watching the White Sox set them down last year. Regardless, no playoffs for the BoSox, no MVP for Big Papi.

2. Manny Ramirez. Doesn't it seem like every sportswriter hates this guy? Aren't they the guys who vote for the MVP award? Doesn't he look ridiculous in that hairdo? I think these three things put him out of the MVP race completely.

3. Derek Jeter. Now this is the guy I'm scared of. I'll admit right now, the Yankees appear to be the best team in baseball at this point, and heading into the post-season I fear them more than anyone. Have you seen that lineup? And they still have Matsui and Sheffield coming off the DL. Once that lineup is in place, every single guy in it, one through nine, is an All-Star who has the potential to hit 20 or more home runs, and hit over .300. Not to mention, they're all guys who work the count well and can take the walk. And Jeter is their leader. When you're the most valuable player on a team that stacked, it has to help your chances at winning the most valuable player in the league. His stats aren't as good as any of the other contenders, but his intangibles are better.

4. Travis Hafner. Ok, so he has 30 grand slams this year. Big deal. Right place at the right time. Why should he be rewarded because the Indian's #3 hitter can't knock anyone in? In all seriousness though, the Indians are seriously DONE. They're 20 games out in the AL central. The only way Hafner would win MVP would be if every other player in the race got hurt for the rest of the season. And the Indians won the rest of their games. But then he would definitely win, so hey, he has a shot, right? Right? Oh wait, he's a DH too. No chance.

5. Jermaine Dye. Yes, I already told you about his awesome numbers, but I left a few of the MVP making stats out. Dye's current slugging percentage is .649, trailing only Albert Pujols in all of baseball. And Pujols happens to be in the National League, which means, yes, Jermaine Dye currently has the best slugging percentage in the American League. Much higher than Ortiz's meager .633. Super leader Jeter isn't even over .500. I don't want to forget to mention that Dye is hitting .362 with runners in scoring position. And aside from Jeter, he's the only player among the contenders to have a defensive bone in his body. But he's not just an average fielder; baseball fans know his gun in right is rarely tested.

To tell you the truth, when I started this article, I wasn't sure if Jermaine would be my current pick for AL MVP. And after going through all the other candidates, it's still going to take a little more to put JD over the top. I think he has what it takes though. This is a guy who is not considered a superstar by today's standards; instead he is a quiet and reserved player who leads by example. I wasn't even sure if he would be a candidate until I saw what he did to the Twins stellar closer, Joe Nathan, with the Sox down two and a man on in the bottom of the ninth. He did exactly what an MVP would do in the middle of a playoff race - went deep and put his team right back in the game. So barring an injury, I'm making my first bold claim as a baseball columnist - Jermaine Dye will win the AL MVP award...if the White Sox make the playoffs, which is really the only way those senile sportswriters base their votes anyways. At least that's what I've surmised.

Sam Sowl's column, "Sowl's Surmisings", appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Anti-Yankee Story

by Jeremy Bird

To me, the Yankees symbolize pretty much everything that is wrong with major-league baseball.

A team should not be able to buy championships with essentially no regulation. The game needs a salary cap. It needs more parity. It needs more restraint on unlimited spending.

It needs less of the Yankees and more of the Marlins.

The Fish just won their eight straight last night with a series sweep of the Brewers. With 21 different rookies used this year and a payroll of $14 million (dead last in the majors), the Marlins season is a story of youth and hard work against incredible odds.

It is the anti-Yankee story.

Earlier this season, the Marlins were 11-31. They were inexperienced, and it showed with one of the worst starts possible. But, instead of buying veteran players and blowing up their payroll by the millions, the team relied on its rookies to get better. Joe Girardi coached his team. Young players were given the opportunity to play the game every day, and they started to flourish.

Josh Johnson, the 22-year-old rookie, now leads the majors with a 2.87 ERA. Right now, he is in the contention for the NL Cy Young Award. Second baseman Dan Uggla is also in the rookie of the year category. Last night Uggla hit a 473-foot homer, his 20th of the season, putting him five short of the rookie record for a second baseman, set ironically by Joe Gordon of the Yankees in 1938.

Three of the Marlins rookie starters already have 10 wins or more, putting them in striking distance of breaking Dontrelle Willis' team record of 14 wins in a rookie season.

The Yankees struggled earlier this season as well, though not as bad as the Marlins. So, what did the team do? They bought more players, including the most recent acquisition of Bobby Abreu. The Yankees current payroll is $199 million, $79 million more than the next closest team (The Red Sox).

The Yankees have 5 players who make more than the entire Marlins team. Five.

I know I have opened a can of worms with the whole salary cap issue. Not to mention the Yankee-hating on a site full of Yankee lovers.

But, the real debate is not about the Yankees. It is about the cap. That issue stirs up a lot of debate in the baseball world. Sure, there are many details to discuss, but whether it is "hard" caps or "soft" caps, franchise-player exemptions, luxury taxes, or some other concoction, the games needs something to stop the Yankees of the world from buying their victories.

Baseball needs more of the Marlins. I hope we get more of it this season. I hope the Fish keep on winning and take the NL Wild Card.

I don't necessarily think any team should spend as little as the Marlins. I don't necessarily even like the Marlins. But, I like the concept of a team full of rookies making a serious run at the playoffs.

Ah, writing this makes me think back to the 2003 World Series. Josh Beckett's complete game shutout in Game 6 was a beautiful thing for all of us anti-Yankee fans.

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