Thursday, September 28, 2006

And the 2006 BOP is..... (BOP???)

by Rob Hyman
My fellow colleague (and new father of two!) Scott Silversten spelled out some of the major debates in today’s game. I’d like to pick up where he left off – let’s discuss the annual debate on the proper criterion to decide on an MVP and a CY Young award winner.

The debate with the MVP is whether or not the term Most Valuable Player should be taken literally or does it really mean BOP (Best Offensive Player). If you go back into history, I tend to think that the award was created to honor the player who performed the best throughout the course of the season. The problem is that person is not necessarily the most valuable to their team.

It’s my feeling that until they change the name to BOP, which I’m sure will happen any day, the MVP award has to be given in the context of:
a) Percentage of offense contributed by the player
b) Success of the team a player is on
c) A perceived difference in team success with and without the player

Take David Ortiz for example. Ortiz clearly far and away wins the BOP in my mind. Going into Thursday’s games, he has 54 home runs (11 more than the next best) and 137 RBIs (eight better). Additionally, he’s second in OPS (behind yours truly’s pre-season pick for MVP – Travis Hafner). Problem is, however, Boston has been essentially out of the pennant race since mid-August when it was swept in a five-game series against the Yankees. Despite his great performance, you cannot convince me that he was the most valuable player to his team. I need a player who impresses me with his number and is in the pennant race. If you’re not fighting for the playoffs, how can you be more valuable than a slugger who is putting up numbers on the way to his team’s push for the playoffs.

So, who’s my MVP in the American League? Well it was Jermaine Dye up until a few weeks ago. The White Sox were in the thick of the race and Dye’s numbers were a tremendous part of that push. Dye had 39 HRs and 107 RBIs and was hitting .327 entering September. During the month he hit only 4 HRs and 12 RBIs while hitting .256. Dye wasn’t there for the Sox down the stretch and is no longer the most valuable player in the AL.

Justin Morneau is my choice. While only 2 of his 34 HRs have come this month, he has 19 RBIs and has hit .359. He’s been a tremendous value to the Twins for the entire season and am convinced that the team would not be in the playoff hunt had he not been here. His numbers don’t match those of Ortiz, but his value is significantly higher.

In the National League, the decision is much simpler. Even if the Phillies do not pull out the wildcard, Ryan Howard is the indisputable MVP and BOP. His 58 HRs and 146 RBIs both lead the league and he’s tied for 7th in batting at .316.

For the Cy Young award, the focus has never been on value to the player’s team, but solely on performance. That being the case, the choices this year are relatively easy. Especially in the American League where, in addition to being on a winning team, Johan Santana continues to assert himself as far and away the best pitcher in the league. Santana shares the league lead in wins with Chein-Ming Wang at 19, has the only ERA in the league that is below 3.00 and has 245 strikeouts – 45 more than next best Jeremy Bonderman. Santana is in line to win the first pitcher’s triple crown since Randy Johnson in 2002.

In the National League, while there is not one pitcher that particularly stands out, the decision to me is clear. Brandon Webb is tied for the league lead in wins with 16 and like Santana, is the only pitcher with an ERA under 3.00 – his ERA of 2.88 is next matched by Roy Oswalt’s 3.07. It’s a down year for National League pitching (assuming 16 or 17 is leading win total, it will be the lowest EVER for a non-shortened season) Despite this, Webb’s performance – especially his being 8-0 with a 2.01 ERA through the end of May, makes him my choice.


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

Baseball's Great Debates

by Scott Silversten

For those who wax poetic about the grand old game, one of the great allures of baseball has always been the way it lends itself to debate. Baseball is a pastime, we are often told, and the game’s rhythms are perfect for historical comparisons and barstool arguments.

And without failure, there are two baseball debates that arise, like clockwork, once a season.

The first occurs in late March/early April. It is at this time when all of us try to determine if the hitters are ahead of the pitchers, or is it the pitchers are ahead of the hitters? It never ceases to amaze that nobody really knows the answer, but every spring, experts tell fans that it’s one or the other.

My guess is the gentlemen who have played the game in the major leagues are not sure themselves.

The second great debate occurs this week, when the following must be asked: Are teams better off playing crucial late-season games and fighting for a playoff spot throughout September, or is a big division lead and the ability to rest key players more beneficial come October?

Just like the first debate, no one seems to have a good answer for the second question, either.

If you come down on the side of the argument that says late-season pressure is good, well, there is a lot of evidence to support that theory. The last four World Series have all featured at least one team that reached the postseason through the wild card, and wild card winners had won three straight championships prior to last season (Anaheim in 2002, Florida in 2003 and Boston in 2004).

Of course, fighting to the end of the 162-game schedule can also have its detriments. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox battled to the season’s final days a year ago, and both were quickly vanquished in their respective American League Division Series.

I happen to believe that flipping a switch come October is not easy to do. Teams like the Yankees and their cross-town rival New York Mets have not played truly meaningful games in some time, and that lack of intensity is not always so easy to regain.

However, there many fine examples to counter that argument. The most famous recent example seems to be the 2000 Yankees, who lost 15 of their final 18 regular-season games, including the final seven, but then stormed through the playoffs to their third straight World Series triumph.

Next week, unless they somehow draw St. Louis, the Mets will be faced with battling a team that has been forced to bring playoff-like intensity to the ballpark for the last several weeks. Philadelphia, Los Angeles or San Diego would arrive at Shea Stadium with tremendous momentum and the knowledge that one victory could send panic through the veins of New Yorkers.

It’s easy for the Mets to rely on the old baseball cliché that “momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.” But with such a shaky rotation featuring a gimpy Pedro Martinez, and the aging Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez, even that cliché cannot warm the hearts of Mets fanatics.

The Mets do have the advantage of possessing several potential starters they can use as long relievers, such as John Maine or Oliver Perez. It will be incredibly interesting to see how manager Willie Randolph and General Manager Omar Minaya fill out the postseason roster in the coming days.

But while we await those decisions, here is another debate to pass the time: When did Tony La Russa cease being a genius?

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Strat


by Sam Sowl

I’d like to start this column with a prediction that will hopefully bode much better with my critics from San Diego than my previous predictions did: the San Diego Chargers will not make the playoffs this year. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

Strat-O-Matic Baseball. To those of you who know what this means, the sentiments expressed in this column will surely resonate deeply in your soul. When I was about eight years old, my dad introduced me to the world of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which is exactly what the game gave you – a whole other world. A world in which baseball never stops, games can be played in as short as 20 minutes, and it always manages to feel as though what was happening in the game could just as easily be happening in real life. That makes Strat-O-Matic what it is; it prides itself on realism. Years later, when the makers of the game put it out as a product for computers, seasons could be simulated with astoundingly accurate results. It was a dream come true for the young statistician that I was.

Then there was my eternal foe. In a house of two baseball fans and one set of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a rivalry that exceeds Yankees/Red Sox is born. My dad had played the very same game himself when he was a kid, and had probably been counting the days until my baseball knowledge had reached a proficient level for playing Strat-O-Matic. The very first game we played, I hit a home run with my first at bat. Well, Tim Raines hit the home run, but I don’t think I had ever been happier. By the end of the first game, my dad had beaten me (of course), and I was in tears. So maybe I wasn’t ready to play the game just yet, but that’s beside the point: I was in tears! This game was so fun, realistic, hard, dramatic, etc., that I was in tears!

As the years passed, we played hundreds, maybe thousands of games. We would attempt to play the whole season of the Milwaukee Brewers, taking turns playing as their opponents. In typical childlike fashion I would try to lose when it was my turn to be the opponent, and become furious with my dad when he won as them. Strat-O-Matic provided a realm for me to be a kid, playing and living in a world that revolved around baseball. I wasn’t the only kid either. One night when my mom was out late, my dad put my brother and I to bed, but gave me specific orders to sneak downstairs after fifteen minutes. When I arrived, the game was ready to go, with both teams selected in my dad’s typical fashion. When my brother snuck down himself, he made it into the scandal of the century, and still brings it up. I never understood why, because hey, we let him watch.

There are plenty of things for sons to do with their dads. Some go hunting, fishing, or camping. Some drool over cars and watch them go fast (around a track – which is pretty cool, I’ve heard). Others watch baseball games together. Then there are the few father-son combos that share Strat-O-Matic baseball, and I can assure you that it has changed my life (hey look, I write a column at a baseball website!). Not surprisingly, I’ve already begun counting the days until I play Strat-O-Matic with my own son (who doesn’t exist yet). Hopefully I can recruit him as a fellow rival against his grandpa.

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

September Swoon

by Jeremy Bird

What the hell is happening to the St. Louis Cardinals?

Last Wednesday, the team’s magic number stood at five. The Reds were 7½ games out of first, and the Astros stood 8½ back. St. Louis was in cruise control on its way to another division title and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

After six straight losses and a horrendous four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, St. Louis is poised for one of the most unbelievable late-September collapses in baseball history.

The current St. Louis swoon could become baseball’s worst meltdown of all time. Should the Cards complete their nose-dive over the last six games of the season, it will overcome some of the most notable late-September swoons.

The 1969 Chicago Cubs

Of course, you would expect the Cubs to feature prominently in any talk of baseball meltdowns. In ’69, Chicago led the New York Mets by 9½ games on August 13th. By the end of August the Cubs’ lead was down to two games. And, it kept getting worse as things tend to do on the northside of Chicago.

In September, the Cubs saw their once large lead turn into a nightmare, losing eight in a row in September while the Mets won 10 straight. The Cubs finished eight games out of first and failed to make the playoffs for the 25th straight year. The ’69 Cubs are high on the list partially because they fell so far out of first in September.

But, the Cards current meltdown is far worse than the 1969 Cubs. The Cubs took two months to unravel and lose their 9½ game lead. It has taken the Cards less than a week to nearly blow an 8½ game lead.

Only one other late-season collapse comes close to mirroring the Cardinals’ recent slide.

The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies

This one hurts for Phillies fans out there.

In ’64, Philadelphia was the best team in baseball for 150 games. Then, the team lost 10 straight games and saw its 6½ game lead disappear. Ironically, the St. Louis Cardinals overtook the Phillies and won the pennant that year by one game. (The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series).

The Phillies’ collapse has haunted Philadelphia fans for years. The book The September Swoon recounts the 1964 free-fall, which has been called “the greatest late-season collapse in Major League baseball history.”

There were the 1934 Giants, the 1938 Pirates, the 1942 Dodgers, the 1951 Dodgers, the 1987 Blue Jays, the 1993 Giants, and the 1995 Angels. But, none of them blew it quite as horribly and quickly as the ’64 Phils. Until now.

If the 1964 Phillies are considered the worst late-September chokers in baseball history, the 2006 Cardinals are making a run to overtake them. The ’64 Phils led by 6½ with 12 to play. The ’06 Cards led by 8½ with 11 games to play. If they lose the NL Central this week, it will be the worst September collapse ever.

St. Louis fans hope they won’t be reading The New September Swoon and wondering what happened to their playoff hopes.

While they say momentum in baseball is only as good as your next starter, there seems to be something horribly wrong with the water in St. Louis. Houston and Cincinnati are rising fast and the Cardinals are in disarray.

We could be watching a meltdown for the history books.

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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