I thought I might take a few minutes and review my pre-season expectations as we wind down to the post season. Below are my picks from Spring Training.
NL EAST: Phillies
I’ll admit, I really hope I end up wrong on this one. It would be a nice story if the Braves could win one more for Bobby Cox. As of last night, the Phillies have taken over first place in the NL East by 1/2 game. I’m not sure the Braves’ offense, sans Chipper Jones, has enough to retake and hold the lead against a healthy Phillies squad down the stretch.
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
Here’s another one where I’m happy to be wrong–I like to see an underdog win (especially given baseball’s extremely uneven playing field). Votto is for real, and the Reds won the all the games they needed to win (even if they tend to struggle against the upper-echelon teams). I think there starting pitching is too thin for the playoffs, but they are a great story.
NL WEST: Giants
As of today, the Giants are two back in the loss column to the surprisingly good Padres. I do think the Giants will take them–but this in large part relies on what the Padres do with their young stud Latos. I’ll assume anyone reading this knows the Verducci Effect. Latos threw 120 combined minor league and major league innings last season. He’s already over the Verducci guideline–throwing 160.2 thus far in 2010. History would advise the Padres shut him down now. Chances are, given the economic situation in San Diego, they will pitch him into the ground over the next month. I also think he should be a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, but I’ll save that for a future post.
NL WILDCARD: Braves
Yup. If the season ended today, then I would have called it. Again–I’d rather see them win the division and secure home field.
AL EAST: Rays
Please, Tampa, please–don’t blow it. You are pretty much my only hope.
AL CENTRAL: White Sox
I originally liked the Twins in the spring–but I drank the White Sox kool-aid and bought into the possibility of a resurgent Jake Peavy. I thought the White Sox could win 90 games–and it looks like they will. What’s unexpected is the Twins winning 95 or 95 games. I thought the central would be a stronger division (what happened to the Tigers? Oh yeah, injuries).
AL WEST: Angels
I didn’t like any team in this division–and I’m happy for the Rangers for the same reason that I’m happy for the Reds. I also wonder how this pitching staff will hold up in the playoffs against high powered offenses; thier pitching numbers get padded in an offensively challenged (read: historically inept) Al West. Any chances the Angels had broke with Morales leg.
AL WILD CARD: Red Sox
I have already cathartically released my disappointment for the Sox this season–but it wasn’t meant to be. Now the Rays will likely win the Wild Card, and the Yankees the division. The Yanks are relatively healthy this year, like last year; even if Pettitte can’t contribute in the playoffs, I think the Yankees have to be the favorites. Oh sweet baseball gods, what have I done to deserve this two years in a row?
I’m pretty sure the title to this post says everything I have to say on the matter. Both players are beloved in their respective markets. Both players signed lucrative extensions after their 30th birthday. If there is a difference: Ortiz’s contract (12.5 million per year) is half of Howard’s contract (25 million per year)–and Ortiz was considered something of a bargain when he signed that deal. Compared to A-Rod’s monstrous contract for similar production, it seemed as if the Red Sox were locking up one of the game’s most dominant hitters for a nice price. Now Howard will essentially make the same money as Rodriguez. Questions regarding the wisdom of Howard’s deal are flying around before the ink even has a chance to dry.
If the 1/2 hour of ESPN I listened to on the ride to work is indicative of how today’s response to Howard’s deal has gone, then its probably cliche to remark that big, long swinging sluggers usually don’t age well. So, Phillie fans, I’ll say it again:
Here’s to hoping Ryan Howard ages better than David Ortiz.
Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
First, as if in response to one of my questions from a few days ago, Buccholz has found a temporary spot in the rotation. I don’t know if Wake is really hurt or not–but this gives him a chance to rest up for a bit (he was clearly feeling his age at the end of last season–giving him, essentially, the month of July off is a good thing), and gives Buccholz an extended audition for the three spot in the rotation. I say three spot, because despite praising the pitching last week, I think you can see that the Red Sox have a number one starter, a number two starter, a number four starter (Wake) and then three number fives (Smoltz, Penny, Dice-K). We need a reliable third starter for the playoffs, and I don’t think we have that quite yet. (Smoltz might recover, Buccholz might develop, Dice-K might return to form, I might win the lottery).
Second, I am probably just pushing the panic button because the Yankees have just overtaken us for first place, but I want to propose the notion that the Red Sox should make a go at acquiring Halladay. He would become the ace immediately, and that would just make Beckett and Lester that much more effective come playoff time. I’ve been looking at the offers the Jay’s are hoping for (specifically the offer the Mets allegedly rejected) and think the Red Sox could easily put a package together. PS, if the Mets and the Phillies did reject the reported deals, then they must be smoking crack. The Jay’s asking price is quite reasonable for what might be the best pitcher in baseball. It is not a stretch-run rental–you get him for another whole season. While prospects are valuable–the Red Sox have shown that–you also have to realize there is a limited window to win. For the Mets and the Phillies, due to contract obligations too long to cover here, that window is likely next season.
Anyway, here’s my potential deal. In exchange for Halladay, the Red Sox exchange:
- Michael Bowden (BP’s # 31 prospect for 2009)
- Justin Masterson(BP’s # 53 prospect for 2008) [OR] Daniel Bard (BP’s # 97 Prospect for 2009)
- Lars Anderson (BP’s # 17 prospect for 2009)
That’s three highly scouted prospects (all have ranked in BP’s top 100). Bowden is pitching great at the AAA level. I covered how a little investigation shows Masterson’s numbers to be better than they initially appear last post. Bard is a flamethrower out of the pen, and could potentially replace BJ Ryan as closer for the rebuilding Jays. I see Anderson as the hardest to let go, only because in a year or two the Sox might envision Youk moving back to third and Anderson starting at first.
So, Sox fans, Jays fans, other fans, what do you think?
My lunch hour today belongs to the memory not of Pedro Martinez, recently signed by the Phillies, but to the force that was known simply as “Pedro” (whispered to the tone of Dan Patrick’s “in fuego”). I will go to my grave arguing that Pedro’s 2000 season was the single greatest pitching performance in the history of baseball. Further, for a short span from 1997 to 2003, Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher ever.
I’m sure that in the coming weeks, Pedro will get batted around a bit. He won’t have the old swagger that dared to bean the Babe (or at least his ghost) right on the ***. Even the humility displayed by Pedro Martinez in his welcome to Philly press conference, humbly asserting that he might be able to add a little bit to a great team, betrays the cocksure assurance of the “Pedro” I so loved. But baseball needs to celebrate that Pedro more. He is everything Sandy Koufax was and more, except his injuries allowed him to keep playing past his greatness. Koufax’s “we’ll never know” is Pedro’s comeback from the Dominican Leagues.
Something needs to be understood here: Pedro is likely the last champion of the Boston Red Sox. By this, I mean the last champion before they were champions. See, the Red Sox fan base endured 87 years of losing–but we had our champions. Our victories were the boasts of individuals greats: Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived. Carl Yastrzemski, the last reigning triple crown winner. Carlton Fisk, he who pushed the ball. Roger Clemens, the MVP Rocket. And then there was… Pedro.
To try and highlight Pedro’s greatness, I’d like to compare his numbers in some under-appreciated statistical categories. I’d like to compare him to the all-time greats, but the numbers I want to focus on have only been tracked since 1988. Those numbers are:
- Strike Percentage (Str%): strikes / total pitches
- Strikes Looking (L/Str): all strikes looking / all strikes
- Strikes Swinging (S/Str): all strikes swinging / all strikes
- Contact Percentage (Con): (foul + inplay strikes) / (foul + inplay + swinging strikes)
- First Pitch Strike Percentage (1st%): exactly what you think it is
Now here’s a breakdown of his generations HoF class alongside Pedro’s numbers:
- Clemens: S% 62%, S/Stk:17%, only three times did he cross 20% (in fairness, MLB started keeping track of this statistic in 1988, after his two greatest years). Career L/Str: 26%. con 74%, FPs%: 59%.
- Maddux: S%, 66%, S/Str: 13%, Looking: 27%. Con 81%, FPS%: 64%. How good? only once below 60%, in 1996 not kidding–71% for an entire season.
- Glavine: S% 61%, S/Str: 13%, S/LK: 26%, Con 82%, 1t% 54%
- Johnson: Total S%: 64%, S/Str: 21%, L/Str: 27%, Con 72%, 1st% 57%
- Pedro: Str%, 65%, 61%, Swinging S% 21%, Looking 27%. Con: 71%. In 99, the 2nd greatest season in the history of pitching, Pedro’s contact percentage was a ridiculous 63%.
At first Pedro seems pretty average. But then you realize that, unlike the other’s who have clear strengths but also stand-out weaknesses, Pedro has dominant numbers in every category. His contact percentage is lower than either Johnson or Clemens. His total S% and 1st% is second to only Maddux, yet his S/Str is 8% higher and matches Randy Johnson. And, let’s not forget, that I am using his career numbers here. Unlike the workhorses I am comparing him to, Pedro really lasted those brief 7 seasons (1997 to 2003). During that span, his ERA was 2.20 (in the hight of the steroids era). He struck out 1761 while only walking 315, a 5.5 K/BB, which would decimate Tommy Bond’s all-time 4.4 (Pedro’s total career K/BB is 4.3, 3rd all-time behind only Bond and Schilling). He hit 70 batters because they dared to look him in the eye (at least, that’s my version). He wasn’t Pedro Martinez–he was simply Pedro.
Neutralizing his statistics, as the statistician magician advised in a post, reveals how dominant Pedro’s numbers are when viewed across baseball history. For instance, if you examine the all-time career leaders for ERA+, Pedro ranks 2nd all-time behind only Mariano Rivera. His 2000 campaign becomes the best season all-time save only Tim Keefe’s 1880 campaign (Keefe posted an 0.86 ERA in 12 starts… yet went 6-6). In 2000, unarguably the most amazing performance in the history of hurling round objects, Pedro’s record was an underwhelming 18-7 (his raw ERA was 1.74 and his WHIP an all-time modern record .737). His losses that season: CG 0-1, 2-3, 1-2, 0-3, 5-6, CG 1-2, 3-5, 1-2. Assuming the Red Sox scored 4 runs in all his starts, his record that season would have been 24-2 in 29 starts. His neutralized ERA that season equates to a 1.49; if you calibrate the numbers to 1968, then he pitched the equivalent of a 1.04 season.
But Pedro’s greatness for me isn’t merely a matter of numbers. Pedro’s pitches were the definition of nasty. He threw a two-seam fastball that moved more than any pitch I think I have ever seen. From the same arm slot, he threw the most wicked circle change baseball has known. Pedro was the Barry Sanders of baseball–he quite simply made other professional athletes look foolish. That, for me, has always been the “eyeball” check of true greatness. It is unfortunate that MLB does not provide us access to their video archives. I would love to post some footage of his vintage wiffle balls.
1999 was the season I referred to in my Cleveland post–the year that a fatigued Pedro came out of the bullpen for the deciding game of the 1999 ALDS to crush the Tribe’s final run at a title. He pitched six innings in relief that game and didn’t allow a single hit. It was the most glorious sports performance I had ever seen (and remember watching–I was only ten when the Celtics won their last title). My adolesence was spent watching people lose. I always rooted for the loser. Now, as an adult, I teach and practice deconstruction and sophistic rhetoric–disciplines dedicated to the marginalized, silenced, disenfranchised, or ignored. Go figure.
This entire trip down memory lane is an attempt, likely futile, in the coming weeks to remember that, as we watch the struggles of Mr. Martinez, we do not forget the unquestionable greatness that was, simply,