Thursday, June 30, 2005

« All "Player To Be Named Later" Team »

By Suss
Players to be named later. It's kind of an odd stipulation to a baseball trade, but it happens a lot.

Often times the player who is named later gets no attenion because he is a minor league player nobody's heard of.

Now the player isn't just picked out of the entire organization, or even out of the entire level in the minor league. No, the teams say in advance which of these 5-10 players are suitable for you to take when chosen, according to a 2000 Slate article.

Usually the trade is done to get it under the deadline so that the players can contribute for each team, and the player is usually a minor league filler player.

However, not always is that the case, as I've pored through all of the transactions on RetroSheet and come up with a good 25-man roster of current MLB players who have been this unheralded"PNL" at some point in their career. Here we are:


1. CF Scott Podsednik, White Sox: In 1995, traded from Texas to Florida along with Wilson Heredia (also a PNL) in exchange for Bobby Witt. (Named two months later)

2. RF Coco Crisp, Indians: In 2002, sent from St. Louis to Cleveland along with a prospect in exchange for Chuck Finley. (Named 19 days later)

3. DH David Ortiz, Red Sox: In 1996, traded from Seattle to Minnesota in exchange for Dave Hollins. (Named 15 days later)

4. 1B Dmitri Young, Tigers: In 1997, traded from Tampa Bay to Cincinnati in exchange for Mike Kelly. (Named 7 days later)

5. LF Moises Alou, Giants: In 1990, traded from Pittsburgh to Montreal along with Scott Ruskin and Willie Greene in exchange for Zane Smith. (Named eight days later)

6. SS Fernando Vina, Tigers: In 1994, traded from New York Mets to Milwaukee along with fellow PNL Javier Gonzalez in exchange for Doug Henry. (Named 22 days later)

7. 2B Marco Scutaro, A's: In 2000, sent from Cleveland along with Paul Rigdon, Richie Sexson and Kane Davis to the Brewers in exchange for Bob Wickman, Steve Woodard and Jason Bere. (Named 33 days later)

8. 3B Keith Ginter, A's
: In 2002, sent from Houston to Milwaukee along with another player to be named later (Wayne Franklin) in exchange for Mark Loretta and cash. (Named 5 days later)

9. C Miguel Olivo, Mariners: In 2000, sent from Oakland to Chicago in exchange for Chad Bradford. (Named 6 days later)


Jason Schmidt, Giants: In 1996, traded from Atlanta to Pittsburgh along with Ron Wright in exchange for Denny Neagle. (Named two days later)

Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers: In 2002, sent to Detroit from Oakland in the three-team deal that sent Jeff Weaver from Detroit to New York, Ted Lilly from New York to Oakland and Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and Bonderman from Oakland to Detroit. (Named 50 days later)

Tony Armas, Jr., Nationals: In 1997, traded from Boston to Montreal along with Carl Pavano in exchange for Pedro Martinez. (Named a month later)

Kevin Brown, Yankees: In 1990, traded from New York Mets to Milwaukee along with PNL Julio Machado in exchange for PNL Kevin Carmody and Charlie O'Brien. (Named eight days later). He was also a PNL in 1987 when Atlanta sent him to New York in exchange for Terry Blocker.

Ted Lilly, Blue Jays: In 1999-2000, sent from Montreal to New York Yankees along with another PNL (Christian Parker) in exchange for Hideki Irabu. (Named 3 months later)


Jose Mesa, Pirates: In 1987, traded from Toronto to Baltimore along with Oswaldo Peraza in exchange for Mike Flanagan. (Named 4 days later)

Ray King, Cardinals: In 1996, traded from Cincinnati to Atlanta along with Chad Fox in exchange for Mike Kelly.

Matt Belisle, Reds
: In 2003, sent from Atlanta to Cincinnati in exchange for Kent Mercker. (Named two days later)

Elizardo Ramirez, Reds: In 2003, sent from Philadelphia along with other prospects to Cincinnati in exchange for Cory Lidle. (Named two days later).

John Halama, Red Sox: In 1998, sent from Houston to Seattle along with Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen in exchange for Randy Johnson.

Scott Downs, Blue Jays: In 1998, sent from Chicago Cubs to Minnesota in exchange for Mike Morgan. (Named 70 days later)


OF Craig Wilson, Pirates: In 1996, traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh along with Jose Silva, two prospects and two other PNLs (Abraham Nunez and Mike Halperin) in exchange for Carlos Garcia, Dan Plesac and Orlando Merced. (Named 27 days later)

OF David Newhan, Orioles: In 2000, sent from San Diego to Philadelphia in exchange for Desi Relaford. (Named 3 days later)

OF Brady Clark, Brewers: In 2002, sent from Cincinnati to New York Mets along with Shawn Estes and another player to be named later (Raul Gonzalez) and cash in exchange for Pedro Feliciano and a prospect. (Named 24 days later)

INF Jason Smith, Tigers
: In 2001, sent from Chicago Cubs to Tampa Bay along with Manny Aybar in exchange for Fred McGriff. (Named 10 days later)

INF Bobby Hill, Pirates: In 2003, sent from Chicago Cubs along with Jose Hernandez and a prospect to Pittsburgh in exchange for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and cash. (Named 23 days later).

INF Enrique Wilson, Cubs: In 1994, traded from Minnesota to Cleveland in exchange for Shawn Bryant. (Named 31 days later)

No longer active players who were named later:

3B Scott Brosius joined the Yankees in 1997 as a PNL when the A's traded him for Kenny Rogers and cash. (Named 11 days later)

2B/SS Jay Bell joined the Pirates in 1988 when the Indians traded him for Denny Gonzalez and another former PNL, Felix Fermin.

2B/OF Mark McLemore: In 1989, traded from California to Cleveland in exchange for Ron Tingley. (Named 41 days later)

SP Tim Belcher was given to the Dodgers four days after L.A. gave Oakland Rick Honeycutt.

« Biggio's new record probably stings a bit »

By Suss
Don't rub it. It'll sting more.

Biggio grimaces after being hit by Byung-Hyun Kim Wednesday, setting the modern HBP record. (
Craig Biggio has heard that from commentators for 268 times, the most recent time being Wednesday when he was hit by a Byung-Hyun Kim pitch on the elbow.

Biggio is known for his arm brace to catch a few extra balls. But he's a great hitter and now that arm brace that caught HBP #268 will go to the Hall of Fame, for that pitch broke the modern-era record for being hit the most times by a pitch in a career. The previous record of 267 was set by Don Baylor two decades ago. The overall record has yet to be broken, which is 287 held by Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings, who played from 1891-1918, and was last hit by a ball in 1903.

'88-'94: 3808 plate appearances, 36 HBP = once about every 106 AB
'95-'05: 7188 plate appearances, 232 HBP = once about every 31 AB

What happened between '94 and '95? The baseball strike. Clearly this had a direct impact on Biggio getting hit more. The pitchers were upset over not working for a few months and took it out on the Astro second baseman.

Or not.

Biggio's average and power numbers also went up starting in the '95 season.

You gotta hand it to the man. It's even more believable that he's taken all those hits, and yet he's only been on the DL once his entire career. He's also stayed with the same team his entire 17-year career, an active record.

He was a good sport when Jeff Kent came into town, so he moved from second base and played center field for a season and a half. He even moved to left field in 2004 when they traded for Carlos Beltran in midseason. And with both gone, he's back at second base. Many other players would have demanded a trade, but Biggio stuck with Houston and has gained the respect of many baseball purists for it.


As he continues on his "quest" to be hit by #288, is his record safe?

Besides Biggio, seven other players have been plunked at least 100 times. Of those, Oakland catcher Jason Kendall is the youngest and has the most at 177 HBPs and 31 years old. On average, he gets hit about 20 times a year. If he plays eight more years, he will be as old as Biggio is currently and just might surpass 300 HBPs. But if Biggio plays a couple more years, he may eclipse the 300 mark as well.

Not exactly A-Rod chasing Hank, but it's something to watch out for in eight years.


HBP record aside, there's a good case for and against.

For: Should reach 3,000 hits by 2007. Over 4,000 times on base. Six All-Star appearances. Four Gold Gloves. Only been on the DL once. Has played full seasons as a catcher, infielder and outfielder. When he gets 13 more doubles, he will reach 600, making him only one of five players with 600 doubles and 400 stolen bases (Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Paul Molitor). On base average (.372) is about average for HOFers.

Against: Never in the top 3 of MVP. Career .286 hitter, only four seasons were above .300. 1,500 strikeouts; only two HOFers have 1,500+ strikeouts and fewer than 450 homers (Lou Brock and Tony Perez) and Biggio -- with 244 -- has far less homers than either them. Less than a career .200 postseason average*, never played in a World Series and probably never will.

Biggio might want to call Jim Rice and ask what it feels like to be a candidate on the fence with the hearts of future ballot voters.

*EDIT: Changed from "Less than a career .200 average."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

« Weekend Babble: Vargas, Maddux, Bernie »

By Suss
TIGERS AT DIAMONDBACKS - The odds were stacked against Claudio Vargas Sunday afternoon. He was 1-4, facing a 9-4 Jeremy Bonderman, and neither Luis Gonzalez nor Troy Glaus -- the team's two top RBI leaders -- were behind him in his lineup. To boot, Carlos Guillen, hitting well above .300 prior to his injury, returned to the lineup.

Undaunted, Vargas pitched 6-2/3 innings, allowing three runs and striking out 8 as the D-Backs gave him plenty of run support in a 13-7 win. Bonderman didn't make it out of the third inning.

Vargas, who began a rocky start filling in for the injured Russ Ortiz and almost relegated to the bullpen, has now won his last two previous starts.

METS AT YANKEES - Friday night, in the top of the 2nd inning, the Mets scored three run in a historic fashion -- all sacrifice flies.

But a sac fly requires recording an out, right? Kinda. After a Ramon Castro sac fly, the "third" sac fly (the second in chronological order) happened with Bernie Williams dropped a routine fly ball hit by Jose Reyes which would have scored David Wright as a sacrifice as the second out. Instead, all runners were safe the inning continued with a Mike Cameron sac fly for the second out.

It is the first time a National League team hit three sacrifice flies in a game, and it also tied the NL record for sac flies in an entire game.

But Williams, whose blunder opened the door for the record, knows how it feels to hit three in an inning. Three American League teams have accomplished the rare feat, and the Yankees doing it twice in the year 2000, with Williams having one of those sac flies in a June 29, 2000 game against Detroit.

WHITE SOX AT CUBS - In a Chicago Cubs telecast a few years ago (details elude my frail mind), a broadcaster read aloud an e-mail from a listener: "What's more likely to happen: The Cubs winning the World Series or Mark Prior winning his 300th game ... for the Braves?"

The punch line was in reference to the ex-Cub Greg Maddux signing with the Atlanta Braves in 1993 after a 95 wins his first seven seasons in Chicago. Maddux went on to win 194 more games in Atlanta from '93-'03. He was on pace to eclipse the rare 300-win mark, something only 18 other pitchers before 2003 have ever done. (And with the increase of dependence of the bullpen, it is unlikely to reoccur for future starters.)

But Maddux returned with his former team in 2004 and ended up winning his 300th game in 2004.

And on Saturday he kept his winning ways, notching win No. 312 against the White Sox, passing legendary Mets/Reds hurler Tom Seaver on the all-time list. He is only 2 wins shy of tying Gaylord Perry, but is also 17 wins behind also-still-active Roger Clemens, who won No. 300 two years ago.

SPEAKING OF PRIOR: After that heart-stopping line drive that squarely caught Prior's pitching elbow May 27, putting his season and possibly career in jeopardy, he returned to the mound Sunday, allowing only one hit in six shutout innings against the best team in baseball: the White Sox.

People wondered if he would miss multiple months, let alone the season. And he didn't even miss an entire month (29 days).

Also, co-ace Kerry Wood is scheduled to start Wednesday after a shoulder injury. At 38-36 and reloaded with two stellar arms, the Cubs are still in the Wild Card chase, only 3 games back of current Wild Card leader Atlanta.

Some curse.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

« Third best bullpen, quietest .500 team »

By Suss
We've (I've) already established time and time again that a strong bullpen is a cornerstone of a successful ballclub.

Among the top five bullpen ERAs this year include the following teams and notable relievers:

1. Cleveland -- Bob Wickman, Arthur Rhodes, David Riske
2. Minnesota -- Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero
4. St. Louis -- Jason Isringhausen, Julian Tavares, Ray King
5. Los Angeles Angels -- Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields

The third best team in baseball was omitted for the purposes of this entry, because they're my second favorite team, and a team you wouldn't expect to have a winning record.

The Detroit Tigers.

And they're bullpen is among the best in the league, even after they traded Ugueth Urbina.

Their success (total ERA: 3.07) is a mixture of acquisitions and prospects, with one mainstay since 2002. And you've probably never heard of him prior to this post.

Their major acquisitions this year were the free agent Troy Percival, the Angels franchise leader in career saves, and Kyle Farnsworth, the flamethrowing righthander they received from the Cubs in a trade.

The prospect relievers -- Franklyn German and Chris Spurling -- were all prospects in the Detroit farm system, although German was acquired as a prospect in a trade.

German's numbers are outstanding (2-0, 2.39, 1 save) considering his ERA the previous two years was over 6.00 both times. He was a prospect that came over from Oakland in the 2002 three-team deal that sent former Tiger Jeff Weaver to the Yankees and New York's Ted Lilly to Oakland. (Two other players Detroit got from Oakland: First baseman Carlos Pena and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Jeremy Bonderman. Talk about a trade that paid dividends!)

Spurling is one of those classic touted Yankee prospects that somehow wound up in Detroit. This year, the 27-year-old has seen German's 2-0 record and raised him a 1.86 ERA.

The constant in that bullpen has been lefthander Jamie Walker. The former Royal found his way to Detroit in 2002 and, despite his ERA never going higher than 4.00, he has never grabbed the closer role and only has 5 saves in his Tiger tenure. He has been a steady setup man, garnering 45 holds in that timespan. And this year, Walker's numbers are even better (3-3, 1.78 ERA).

Those guys would make a good pen, but to mimic Al Pacino, "I'm just gettin' warmed up!"

Farnsworth warms up batters quite nicely, as his fastball can usually hit 100 MPH in a game (it did Saturday). He sets up Percival with that fastball and 88 MPH slider as he strikes out 11.79 batters per 9 innings, which is among the league lead for relievers.

This leads to Percival, who has been injured for most of the year. Percival only has 5 saves in 7 opportunities, but nobody doubts he can get the job done in the ninth inning.

The pen sets the perfect tone for how the team plays all of the game. The team is a blend of young players (Nook Logan, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante), veterans (Pudge Rodriguez, Rondell White, Dmitri Young) and role players (Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe).

And finally, the starting rotation has been consistent as well. Along with Bonderman, their team's best starter, pitchers Jason Johnson, Mike Martha, NATO Robertson and occasionally wile Ledezma make up a sort of 4-1/2 man starting rotation. The only man out of those five who have started a game was Saturday night when Sean Douglass was called up from AAA Toledo and pitched 6 innings, giving up only one run and earning the win in Arizona.

This team is winning ball games, but the payroll this year comes in just under $69 million, giving them the 15th highest payroll. But that doesn't seem right, given the unheralded names like Logan, Inge and Shelton making a name for themselves.

That's because over $19 million in checks go to Bobby Higginson, Magglio Ordonez and Fernando Vina, who have played a combined 26 at-bats, and those were all Higginson. Carlos Guillen, their $4 million shortstop, is also hurt. So if you took $23 million out of the mix of their salary, their payroll is about $45 million, about as much as 6th-lowest Toronto's.

Imagine what happens when they get healthy (except for Higginson -- he's never had amazing numbers since the 90's and they're stuck with his $8.85 million contract).

Saturday, June 25, 2005

« Boston in first, but will it last? »

By Suss
It wasn't too much of a surprise when Boston wasn't in first place. They were underperforming, but they had rattled off eight straight postseason wins to break some kind of curse or something.

"“If they didn't win the World Series last year, everyone would say 'Sure, they're in first place for now. ' "
They were still "hungover," as many basebalanalyststs described, from 2004.

On top of that, they lost ace Curt Schilling to injury and starting pitcher Derek Lowe and shortstop Orlando Cabrera to free agency. Granted, they picked up shortstop Edger Renteria and starting pitcher Matt Clement, but the team wasn't playing up to expectations.

But the out-of-the-gate-first Orioles have waned and the Red Sox are now in first place, and everybody seems to be playing 2004-style ball.

Of course, if they didn't win the World Series last year, everyone would say "Sure, they're in first place for now. It won't last." Will it this time?

The Yankees are making too many bonehead mistakes for a $205 million payroll. Last night Bernie Williams flat out dropped a fly ball. They're 3-7 against Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay.

So, if the Yankees are playing bad baseball and the Orioles pitching staff is running out of gas, are the Red Sox in position to default as the AL East champion in June, keeping in mind will most likely get Schilling back sometime in July?

Personally I'm surprised they've grabbed first this early. I figured they would lull in second place, quietly staying in the race until Schilling returned to the mound.

A few reasons why you can't write them in as division champs:
  1. The Orioles can still hit.
  2. The Yankees are still the Yankees.
  3. Boston still plays both the Orioles and Yankees 10 more times this season.
But Boston has taught us all never to automatically count them out. They're very much in the race, but by no means are they a postseason lock. Two other very good teams are in that division, and even if they finish second, they're not guaranteed the Wild Card as they normally are because Minnesota, Texas and even Cleveland are suddenly contenders.

And Toronto, 37-37 and in fourth place, aren't necessarily dead for the season. I wouldn't be surprised for them to be a spoiler in the division -- not necessarily make the playoffs, but beat up the second place team, dampening their Wild Card chances.

It's gonna be a Big Ten-like division, meaning all teams are evenly matched -- even Tampa shows glimmers of brilliance at times -- and the winner will be battle tested for the postseason, but second place may not have the record to slip into the playoffs as well.

Friday, June 24, 2005

« Can St. Louis not win the NL? »

By Suss
Uh-oh, the Cardinals have just lose three straight games.

Don't get used to it, because they've only had one other 3-game losing streak this year -- when they were swept by San Diego in early May. However, the three games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh look bad.

Still, look at the aggregate stats. Among NL teams, they have the best offense (5.2 runs/game). They have the best pitching (3.74). They have the best bullpen (3.15). They have the winningest active manager in Tony Larussa (2114). And they're three games better than everyone else in the league. In their division alone, they're 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Chicago.

It's almost not fair. Nobody ever talks about the Cardinals. Yet they've averaged 95 wins a season since 2000. They've won the division four times. And, oh by the way, they were that other team in the World Series. They were in the way of the Red Sox Destiny, and had the Sox been ousted in the ALCS, chances are we're all ranting and raving about the juggernaut that is the Cardinals.

But maybe their silent-but-deadly is just the way they want it. Said Larussa to,
"I think the worst thing you can do sometimes is get distracted. And good stats distract you, and bad stats distract you. Compliments, criticisms, they all distract you. This game is mostly about concentrating on the next competition. And then, when the competition's over at the end of the regular season, then you look back and say, 'Hey, this is what the numbers were,' and you rank it wherever it was. But we don't need to get distracted."

This was in response to a question about their 45-25 start, their best beginning in 60 years. Eyes on the prize, Tony.

Is there any way they can lose this division? With an 8 1/2 game lead, they need only worry about Chicago, who will have their aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior return shortly. But the lead is almost insurmountable as St. Louis will only get better now that All Star third baseman Scott Rolen has recovered from his shoulder injury.

Aside from Rolen, the Cards have three bona fide starting fielders. First baseman Albert Pujols is the obvious team leader in all major categories -- average, runs, homers and RBI -- while Jim Edmonds gives fans a great catch almost every night, and shortstop David Eckstein is a modern day Rudy: he hustles given little athletic ability.

The team is chock full of role players as well. Outfielder Reggie Sanders knows how to win -- he did in 2001 with Arizona. Larry Walker plays a textbook right field, the position in which he has won 7 Gold Gloves and an MVP. Catcher Yadier Molina is one of 3 catchers to start at least 60 games this year, and he leads the universe in throwing attempted basestealers at a 65 percent clip.

Their starting rotation of Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan is, put simply, an entire staff of #1 or #2 pitchers for most other teams. Each have at least 6 wins, and nobody else has had to start a game for them.

The bullpen is even more menacing. Middle relievers Al Reyes, Ray King, Brad Thompson and Julian Tavarez all have ERAs under 3.00. Then Jason Isringhausen is a game-over closer with 21 saves and a 1.85 ERA.

The way baseball is being played in St. Louis, no other team in this league -- Washington, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Arizona, or Florida -- will have a shot at dethroning the defending pennant champs.

So watch them if you must. But if they slip under your nose, they'll be one of two remaining teams in October.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

« Yankees 20, Devil Rays 11 »

By Suss
Quite a wild affair:
  • 31 runs
  • 8 homers
  • 41 hits
  • 15 extra base hits
  • 10 pitchers
  • 4 players with at least 4 hits
  • 3 players with at least 3 RBI
  • 9 runs scored with 2 outs
  • 99 batters
  • 357 pitches
  • 1 player out of 22 who did not reach base

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

« Wild ping: ASU 8, Nebraska 7 (11 innings) »

By Suss
It's hard to get into college baseball. The game's players may one day play in the major leagues, but it will take a few years for those players to move through the minor league. Occasionally a phenom will go from college to pro in a year or two. Mark Prior comes to mind.

"As much as I love PTI, two lead changes in the 9th is a skosh more exciting than 'Toss Up!' "
Still, the games can be exciting, as the Arizona State-Nebraska game this afternoon proved to the world.

Both teams were facing elimination from the College World Series, and I was facing a quandary: watch the end of an exciting game -- featuring teams I have no obligation to care about -- or watch "Pardon the Interruption."

And in this epic inner conflict, the game came out victorious.

The game was tied 3-3 going into the 7th, already marking it as exciting. The loser of the game would be done for the season, the winner would stay alive to play Florida.

ASU took the lead in the bottom of the 7th with two runs.

One of the runs may have been averted had the defense communicated well on a Colin Curtis foul ball. Instead, the ball innocently landed in foul territory and Curtis lived to drive in the second run of the inning. ASU was up 5-3.

Nebraska responded in the 9th, down by two with an RBI single by Alex Gordon and took the lead on a 3-run homer by Andy Gerch, taking a 7-5 lead.

At this point I thought the game was over, because Nebraska came out of the dugout to meet Gerch at home plate. So I switched over to "PTI."

But then I got an instant message from my friend, who was also watching the game. "Wow, ASU tied it," he said.


Oh, ASU was the home team.

After Seth Dhaenens reached on an error, he stole second, advanced to third on a bunt single and scored on a double play. With two outs, Jeff Larish went deep to tie the game, 7-all.

As much as I love PTI, two lead changes in the 9th is a skosh more exciting than "Toss Up!"

The game was finally settled in the 11th when a bloop single by J.J. Sferra drove in the decisive 8th run for Arizona.


Games like this just might make me want to ... *gulp* ... care about college baseball.

Basketball and football are the only two college sports the media really exposes. Even when a great college athlete in another sport comes around, it gets minimal coverage.

Many of the playoff games are on TV. I have a sneaking suspicion people will watch it if it's on TV more. It's the media's job to get me interested in a game. Hype it. If they can get people to watch the first game between Shaq and Kobe and the first Pistons-Pacers game after Ron Artest cried over spilled beer, they can get people interested in college baseball.

Here's what they can do:
  • Pitch the product to a national network lacking in sports coverage, like NBC
  • Pitch the sport to Electronic Arts, who can make a video game series out of it
  • Have a selection show similar to that of the college basketball tournaments
ESPN is already throwing their best talent into covering these games. Gary Thorne was the play-by-play man for the ASU-Baylor game, and Harold Reynolds color commentated the following Tulane-Baylor game.

I'll keep my watchful eye out for the CWS's best-of-three final. If this previous round is any barometer of the excitement it may bring, you can count on me shirking responsibility in lieu of aluminum bats.

UPDATE, Wednesday 2:24 AM: I spoke too soon about exciting games. Baylor came back from a 7-0 deficit to win in the final at-bat 8-7. Nutty.

Monday, June 20, 2005

« Why the Reds eat it hard »

By Suss
Cincinnati isn't good and hasn't been good in a while. So how come they can't seem to win?

They're second in the NL in offense (4.89 runs/game). They're tops in home runs (88). While they play in the Great American Ballpark, the fifth biggest (smallest?) launchpad in the majors with 1.222 a game, it ranks middle of the road in runs scored.
"It's as if pitchers come to Cincinnati to kill their careers."

And of course, we look to the other half of the roster and look at the pitching. P-U.

Their hurlers have an ERA of 5.66 - only three hundredths better than the worst pitching team Colorado.

They shelled out a lot of money for former Twin and Philly Eric Milton, who -- in a small ballpark -- leads the NL in losses with 9. While he won't tell you being a flyball pitcher isn't a factor in a small park, he throws a cut fastball and changes speeds, which results in the ball sailing in the air. He's given up a league-high 25 home runs in only 15 starts, and his ERA is a dismal 7.82. Giving up 5 runs in 6 innings would actually lower his ERA.

Starter Ramon Ortiz isn't much to brag about, either. He's been OK at best everywhere he went. He had moderate success in Anaheim (16 wins in 2003) mainly because of run support, for his ERA in '03 was 5.20. His stuff is too blase to be anything beyond a 4th or 5th starter who will give you 3 runs for every 5 innings.

Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen have been their only effective starters. Harang, at 4-6 and a 4.08 ERA, is 6th in the league in strikeouts (86 in 90 1/3 IP) and leads his own team in wins, WHIP, starter ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts. Claussen (3-4, 4.02) is a young lefthander who

The combined 2005 salary of Harang and Claussen is $760,000. That's a fraction of the combined salary of Milton and Ortiz -- $8,883,333.

So getting back my headline of "Why the Reds eat it hard," it's not the massive underperformance of their pitching staff. They simply overpay average starters.

There was a reason the Angels demoted Ortiz to the pen last year, and there was a reason they declined his $5 million option.

Milton has pitched a no-hitter in his career, but this year he will make over $5.3 million and probably surpass his career high for losses in a season (14), which was in 1998 when he only made $140,000. According to all logic he should be a good pitcher, and has the stuff to be the ace of a staff. But since right-handers are hitting a colossal .336 with 22 HR against him, he will have to keep his pitches low in the strike zone and not hang his cutter in the wheelhouse of anybody with a hard swing.

Also, Paul Wilson, whom the Reds signed to a lucrative deal in the offseason, is out for the year after undergoing surgery to repair his right shoulder.

But Harang and Claussen, two young pitchers, seem to have the right stuff.

In my long and winding conclusion, the front office is to blame for the Reds bottom feeding status in recent memory. Incoming free agents and trades have not helped much. They don't seem to lure quality starters. It's as if pitchers come to Cincinnati to kill their careers.

On the other hand, it's not like their prospects are great and are just slipping away, since few Reds pitching prospects have made an impact on other teams.

The Reds have the offense like that of the Big Red Machine. The pitching is a machine too, but more like a batting practice machine for the opposing team. But if they can't find it out of young talents or free agents, they're never going to win.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM JUNE 21 The Reds read my article and promptly fired their manager and pitching coach. Dave Miley, who has been manager since July 2003, will be replaced by interim manager Jerry Narron, and pitching coach Don Gullett will be replaced by the minor league pitching coordinator Vern Ruhle. Gullett has been the pitching coach since 1993. Story

Read it again at Blogcritics and get the full effect, so I'm told.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

« Indians 13, D-Backs 6 ... and I was there »

By Suss
CLEVELAND - That almost didn't suck.

In a wild game, there were more than a few streaks kept alive. Let's count down from 14 -- a nice solid number and probably the ERA of many Diamondback relievers -- and fill in some spots if I can't find a streak or pertinent number in them.

14 - The number of batters who reached base that didn't get a base hit (10 walks, 2 hit batsmen, 2 errors)

13 - The number of consecutive starts Indians pitcher Cliff Lee has gone at least five innings.

12 - Couldn't really find a streak here, but the D-Backs got 11 hits and the Indians got 13, so it could be the mean hit total for both teams. It's a reach, but let's move on.

11 - Number of Indians who consecutively reached base in the bottom of the third inning

10 - The number of runs the Indians scored in a row in the bottom of the third inning, taking the lead for good. Also the number of consecutive games Diamondbacks second baseman Craig Counsell has scored a run (in which he played).

9 - Diamondbacks third baseman Troy Glaus's current hitting streak.

8 - The number of consecutive games in which the Diamondbacks have homered. Counsell and shortstop Royce Clayton each went yard. This is also the number of consecutive years I have attended a Diamondbacks game, tying the world record of eight held by many countless fans (they came into existence in 1998).

7 - The current win streak for Cleveland, a season high. They move up to 7-0 under skipper Eric Wedge post-stache. It's also the seventh straight game the D-Backs have played a game in which a save was not recorded. Diamondbacks outfielder Shawn Green and Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore have also hit in seven straight games.

6 - Consecutive games in which Claudio Vargas has appeared and given up at least three runs - not impressive when those six outings lasted 5, 3 2/3, 1 2/3, 1 1/3 and 2/3 innings.

5 - Straight Friday home games (all of them) in which the Indians have failed to draw at least 25,000 fans. Friday's game attendance of 23,138 was the first time they eclipsed the 20,000 echelon this year.

4 - With Arizona designated hitter Scott Hairston's 0-for-4, the Diamondbacks have only 4 hits in 36 at-bats for their DH spot this year. Again, another reach, but I'm getting lazy and just want to get through this.

3 - The amount of starts D-Backs pitcher's Brad Halsey has lost in a row since I blogged about his 4-2 record. Also Arizona has committed two errors in three consecutive games.

2 - While it is Arizona's current losing streak, it's more notable to mention it's the number of consecutive games in which they have allowed a 10-run inning, giving up at least a three-run lead.

1 - A streak of one? Too many to name.

Earlier I said the Indians are hot. Scoring 13 runs in a game will make you hotter, especially when you score them in bunches. In their 10-run third inning, the Indians batted 14 times, which meant 5 players batted twice in that inning.

The game was poorly pitched on both sides. The only 1-2-3 innings came in the 1st (both sides) and the 9th (only Arizona batted). Both lefties looked sharp until that third inning, when Clayton's solo homer and Tony Clark's two-run single -- his 1,000th career hit -- gave Arizona a 3-0 lead. But Halsey didn't make it out of the third. He was charged with 8 of the 10 runs in that inning -- four of them unearned thanks to two errors -- and when reliever Matt Herges stepped on the mound, things didn't get much better. His first two batters, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and Sizemore each homered. It was the first time Cleveland put a 10-spot in an inning since 1999.

Good news: the last team that gave up 10 runs in an inning in consecutive games was the 1969 Mets. They won the World Series that year.

The D-Backs are now 2-6 in games I see in person. I've seen both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling lose games.
Anecdotal data, conveniently separated by ellipses: I also saw an old guy push over a little kid while fighting for a batting practice ball. When confronted by the kid's dad of accusations, he simply yelled "That's just shit!" Made me laugh. After averting a severe beatdown, Gramps saw the dad leave saying, "I'll give you 10 bucks and you can go buy yourself a ball." Classic . . . Our section won a lottery ticket, which I think everybody scratched and won another free lotto ticket. But here's the catch: it's a buy-one-get-one. Now we each have to pay $2 to get another $2 free. I would have been better off losing, but all the sections that didn't win think they got gypped . . . Earlier in the day, waiting in line for Subway, the guy in line next to me noticed by D-Backs jersey and said, "You a player or a fan?" I'm not sure what to make of it. It's either an insult to my team, or a compliment to my baseball ability . . . Why do people do the wave? Does it sober you up? Or does it freak out the opposing team, thinking an earthquake is coming? . . . The flies were out in record numbers. People were shooing them in other sections with the free beach towel they gave us. I yelled out, "Sinners!" . . . In batting practice, a surefire way not to get a ball thrown at you by a ball-shagging outfielder is to say "Please, mister purple shirt guy! I'm desperate to get a ball!" Doesn't work for sex, doesn't work for free baseballs . . . My friend finally got the Biblical reference on the way back home. Yeah, it took him that long. My jokes were admittedly getting too obscure . . . Slider is one goofy mascot. What the heck is it supposed to be? . . . I never knew why people around me booed at balls and strikes. We're hundreds of feet away and are in no position to see if it was over the plate . . . Keeping score is a fun way to keep track of the game, until your team gives up 10 runs in an inning. Not only do you have to waste a column on the second time through the line-up, but it was evident that the runs I was blacking in were becoming more homicidal looking.

EDIT: The score in the headline said "13-9." That was never entirely true, on account of Arizona only scoring 6. Upside down mistakage.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

« Be back Saturday ... »

By Suss
... as I witness the epic struggle between the Diamondbacks and Indians in Cleveland Friday night.

« "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..." »

By Suss
Twelve teams have at least 35 wins: White Sox, Cardinals, Orioles, Nationals, Twins, Angels, Red Sox, Padres, Rangers, Phillies, Cubs and Diamondbacks. Only eight teams make the playoffs, and although the season is only three-eights over, four teams can be pinpointed as teams that have the odds against them. The following stat, accurate as of June 15, will reveal them:

Bullpen ERA:
25. Rangers (5.08)
26. Red Sox (5.17)
27. Devil Rays (5.23)
28. Phillies (5.59)
29. Rockies (6.04)
30. Diamondbacks (6.26)
The average bullpen is active for three innings a game. If the aggregate ERA is 6.00, that means the pen is giving up 2 runs for every 3 innings. In short: you're not gonna win the close games.

Over the weekend against the Royals, the Diamondbacks had difficulty keeping up with Kansas City's relievers. With a comfy 11-3 lead, the bullpen took an eight-run lead into the 8th inning. The D-Backs' Edgar Gonzalez gave up 4 runs while only retiring one batter. Teammate Matt Herges did twice as good -- only giving up 2 runs in 1/3 inning. Lance Cormier blew the save in the 9th inning by allowing the final two runs, taking the 11-11 game into overtime.

Now, The Diamondbacks escaped with a 10th inning Troy Glaus home run. But they weren't so lucky two days later against the same team.

The game went into extra innings again, by a score of 1-1. Both pitchers, Brandon Webb and D.J. Carrasco, pitched gems. The Royals had a suspect pen as well, with the corps ranking high in both innings pitched and blown saves. And with two shaky bullpens, the game got wacky.

Kansas City scored a run in the top of the 10th, but Arizona responded with a run of its own in the bottom half. In the 11th, Kansas City scored a run in the top and again Arizona responded in kind. But in the 12th inning, Kansas City let loose with 6 runs, while Arizona could only score one more run in the bottom half, losing the game 9-4 and the series 2-1 to the team with the worst record in the major leagues.


When you look at Arizona's bullpen, it is simply a mixture of bad pitchers and good AAA pitchers. After the injuries to closer Brandon Lyon, who had an amazing April as closer, and Oscar Villareal, the remaining talent was rather thin. The closer role was handed to Brian Bruney (5.93 ERA) until then-injured Greg Aquino returned, but Aquino has had a rough start back from injury, allowing 8 runs in 1 1/3 innings. The only left-hander in the pen is Javier Lopez (8.36). Mike Koplove (5.06) and Jose Valverde (6.35) are familiar faces to the Arizona pen, but they haven't done as well as they've done in previous years. In fact, he only effective reliever for Arizona has been Lance Cormier (2.45). They tried to bolster the pen by trading for Herges (10.80), but that hasn't quite worked out yet.

Boston's pen isn't much better. Although Mike Timlin (1.45) and Mike Myers (2.03) serve as a reliable right-and-left tandem, everyone else has stunk. Matt Mantei (5.40), John Halama (6.44) and Alan Embree (7.00) have each pitched at least 20 innings, and the three combine for only two losses, which explains why you can't look at that stat for a reliever. Their heralded closer, Keith Foulke, has only blown two saves, but is shamed with a 5.59 ERA. Yuck.

Texas has been notorious in the past five years for bad pitching, but two starters -- Kenny Rogers and Chris Young -- have anchored the starting rotation and have combined for a 14-5 record. Imagine how many more wins they would have if their bullpen performed better. Kameron Loe and Brian Shouse each have sub-3.00 ERAs. The disaster comes from Doug Brocail (5.26) and Ron Mahay (8.38). Francisco Cordero is doing mediocre, converting 16 saves with a 4.21 ERA. And the pen situation got worse as Benoit (0.63 ERA) went on the DL Monday.

Philadelphia's pen actually looks pretty good, mainly because bulk of trouble pitchers have been either designated for assignment or sent back down to AAA. Aaron Fultz, Ryan Madson and closer Billy Wagner -- who have ERAs under 4.00. They also traded for Ugueth Urbina from the Tigers to add depth, and his combined ERA on both teams is a decent 3.64. In fact, Rheal Cormier is the only reliever currently on the staff with an ERA over 5.00. Tim Worrell had a rough start, but he is on the DL for what the team calls "personal psychological issues." Also, with starter Randy Wolf possibly out for the season, Robinson Tejeda will move from the pen to the rotation, weakening their depth.

While these four teams with good records are in dire need of relievers, nobody can have enough pen members. The problem is, and always has been, a shortage of quality pitchers who aren't already starters or closers. Middle relief is the most underappreciated pitching role today, and the spot is often reserved for young pitchers making their league debut or so-called "demoted closers" who can't keep a lead late in the game. A person may be able to make a career out of pitching a perfect 6th inning, but the role is more a proving ground for young pitchers than anything.


In the meantime, teams who want to win now would rather have a veteran pitcher fill that role. Perhaps teams should look at these players, in no particular order:

Jose Mesa, Pirates: The 39-year old can still do it. While his 4.56 ERA isn't attractive, he does mix four pitches to get batters out and can help out any team looking to make a postseason run. Hopefully teams forget his past: Mesa is notorious for blowing the a lead in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, allowing Florida to come back and beat Cleveland in extra innings.

Rick White, Pirates: This guy might hold the record for most times traded in mid-season that nobody has heard of. White has over 450 relief appearances with only 14 saves -- proof this kind of role can be a career.

Scott Eyre, Giants: With San Francisco pretty much done, they should consider unloading Eyre, a rare left-handed reliever. Opposing batters are hitting only .178, and that number stays pretty constant against right and left-handed batters, home and away. He also averages a more than a strikeout per inning. Teammate reliever Jason Christiansen is also a possibility.

Brian Fuentes, Rockies: What? A Rockies reliever? Are you kidding me? Not at all. In the hitter-happy Coors Field, Fuentes boasts a 2.14 ERA with 5 saves and none blown. He, also, is a lefty who can get out batters from either side of the plate.

Lance Carter, Devil Rays: You'd think somebody not even good enough to be the Devil Rays closer wouldn't be good enough for any other team, but the former All-Star has enough stuff for long relief -- possibly even as a setup man -- for a lacking bullpen.

Kyle Farnsworth, Tigers: Detroit got a good reliever for this year, but it looks like they really won't need him. He will overpower batters as his fastball has reached 100 mph. With 37 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings -- as well as only 9 walks -- he has the stuff to definitely set up, perhaps close, for a winning team.

Kent Mercker, Reds: Another left-hander, Mercker has a 2.00 ERA at home. And that's impressive when your home field is the size of a matchbox. Also, Mercker has thrown a no-hitter in his career, back in 1994 with Atlanta -- his only career shutout.

Dan Wheeler, Astros: Houston acquired him in last year's stretch run, and his 0.98 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) is quite attractive for him to be Rick White-d for the second straight year.

Ron Villone, Mariners: The 35-year-old lefthander has alternated between starting and relieving all his career, and with his ERA as low as it's been since 1997, he could come out from the pen or spot start for your team.

Miguel Batista, Blue Jays: The former carpenter, who won a ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001, has found a role as a closer in Toronto. If the Blue Jays feel they can't compete (even though they have a better record than the Yankees), they should consider stockpiling some talent for this man, whose 2.60 ERA and 12-for-13 saves could give him a chance to earn a closer job for a better team.

This post is also on

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

« 1,000 AL hits since 2000 »

By Suss
Since 2000, only one baseball player has recorded 1,000 hits in the American League. Who is it?

a) Johnny Damon, Royals-Athletics-Red Sox b) Derek Jeter, Yankees c) Alex Rodriguez, Mariners-Rangers-Yankees d) Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners e) Miguel Tejada, Athletics-Orioles

The other four have at least 990 hits, so it's close. But this guy did it first with a hit on Monday night.

But here's a few more clues, and if you're a fan of the guy you might just know it unless you scroll down.

He's played every game since June 1, 2000, -- more than 800, the active leader -- and if he plays every game this year he'll have the seventh longest consecutive game streak in MLB history, ahead of Stan Musial's 895.

He's a one-time MVP, two-time All-Star.

Last year he led the league in RBI and sacrifice flies.

If he drives in 49 more runs this year, he'll have six straight years of 100 or more RBI.

It's not Jeter or Damon - neither have been MVP.

It's not Ichiro (although he was at a disadvantage since he joined the league in 2001.)

And it's not A-Rod. It's Miguel Tejada.

He's earned the chance to be mentioned as one of today's greatest players. He leads the AL in slugging percentage (.663). He's second in homers (170), third in RBI (49) and fourth in batting average (.324). He probably won't win the Triple Crown, but then again who will in that league?

Monday, June 13, 2005

« Nameless All-Star voting »

By Suss
I got the idea from an episode of "Baseball Tonight" few years ago, who no doubt got it from the Pepsi Challenge. The idea is to dispel any premonitions you have of players who were once good but aren't performing this year. After all, Nomar Garciaparra leading all NL shortstop in voting, despite hitting just .157 with no homers in 51 at-bats, and has been injured since April. But the fans recognize Nomar more than they do David Eckstein or Cesar Izturis, and if they were to tune into the All-Star game would rather see a player they can recognize. But if the best players get network exposure, they have the chance to become the next Nomar.

So here's how the game works: In each category, the current voting results are listed, and the statistics of those players are given without the name. They are obviously not in order by number of votes. To mix it up, I added a deserving player into the mix that isn't part of the top five (beyond that, except for outfield positions, are not yet released). Maybe you can pinpoint your favorite player by the votes and try to find him. Share and compare, then click on the link to see the player's profile. All links open in a new window.

Then, maybe to be true to yourself, you can vote for those players at Or share in the comments link below who you picked.

American League First Basemen

1.Tino Martinez, Yankees: 473,844
2. Kevin Millar, Red Sox: 332,888
3. Paul Konerko, White Sox: 293,405
4. Mark Teixeira, Rangers: 272,032
5. Richie Sexson, Mariners: 201,264
NR: Mike Sweeney, Royals

.263 _4 26 21 20 27 194 Profile
.242 15 41 36 36 51 219 Profile
.230 12 32 29 21 27 161 Profile
.244 14 49 39 34 70 205 Profile
.298 _9 37 23 12 24 208 Profile
.290 16 48 46 19 41 255 Profile

American League Second Basemen

1. Brian Roberts, Orioles: 629,574
2. Alfonso Soriano, Rangers: 587,083
3. Mark Bellhorn, Red Sox: 276,636
4. Tony Womack, Yankees: 220,773
5. Bret Boone, Mariners: 131,258
NR: Ron Belliard, Indians

_3 16 27 34 70 _1 188 Profile
_8 26 25 13 25 _2 191 Profile
_0 10 30 11 33 16 213 Profile
_5 29 22 18 41 _3 222 Profile
.361 11 34 39 29 34 13 219 Profile
.289 15 36 47 12 44
_8 235 Profile

American League Shortstops

1. Miguel Tejada, Orioles 713,587
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees 587,109
3. Edgar Renteria, Red Sox 391,683
4. Carlos Guillen, Tigers 126,621
5. Michael Young, Rangers 115,573
NR: Julio Lugo, Devil Rays

.308 _8 33 44 19 34
_2 253 Profile
_2 16 25 15 26 _1 169 Profile
_5 24 32 15 34 _3 234 Profile
_6 26 41 30 43 _8 237 Profile
_2 27 30 18 23 15 247 Profile
.325 17 51 44 34 34
_1 252 Profile

American League Third Basemen

1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 860,958
2. Bill Mueller, Red Sox 314,350
3. Melvin Mora, Orioles 216,709
4. Adrian Beltre, Mariners 192,449
5. Hank Blalock, Rangers 169,975
NR: Brandon Inge, Tigers

.289 10 35 34 24 56 1 246 Profile
_5 27 36 32 53 3 233 Profile
_5 30 34 _9 40 1 238 Profile
.304 13 42 40 16 44 6 247 Profile
.323 19 56 48 39 43 6 229 Profile
_3 18 30 29 24 0 174 Profile

American League Catchers

1. Jason Varitek, Red Sox: 633,959
2. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers: 472,364
3. Jorge Posada, Yankees: 350,969
4. Javy Lopez, Orioles: 239,847
5. Joe Mauer, Twins: 139,352

_5 24 32 _5 40 .485 215 Profile
_5 21 19 21 22 .271 164 Profile
.323 11 26 28 18 41 .257
186 Profile
_7 22 25 _9 30 .311 162 Profile
_8 29 24 23 33 .255 189 Profile

CS% - Batters thrown out trying to steal

American League Designated Hitters

1. David Ortiz, Red Sox: 958,811
2. Jason Giambi, Yankees: 248,540
3. Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles: 244,258
4. Dmitri Young, Tigers: 184,251
5. Frank Thomas, White Sox: 126,590
NR: Shea Hillenbrand, Blue Jays


.298 16 50 42 32 48 235 Profile
_2 _3 _4 _2 _3 _15 Profile
_8 28 25 24 21 200 Profile
_4 15 15 27 41 141 Profile
_6 41 41 13 42 237 Profile
.266 11 33 33 15 44 218 Profile

American League Outfielders

1. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox: 758,904
2. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: 707,654
3. Vladmir Guerrero, Angels: 695,246
4. Johnny Damon, Red Sox: 609,597
5. Gary Sheffield, Yankees: 516,140
6. Hideki Matsui, Yankees: 431,461
7. Trot Nixon, Red Sox: 304,906
8. Torii Hunter, Twins: 296,150
9. Sammy Sosa, Orioles: 289,719
10. Bernie Williams, Yankees: 234,305
11. Scott Podsednik, White Sox: 187,533
12. Garret Anderson, Angels: 137,652
13. Steve Finley, Angels: 130,336
14. Jacque Jones, Twins: 110,101
15. Jermaine Dye, White Sox: 97,566
NR: Kevin Mench, Rangers

_9 34 26 23 45 _5 204 Profile
_4 41 35 24 40 _2 237 Profile
_7 48 30 _9 31 _0 230 Profile
.255 10 27 24 11 42
_4 208 Profile
.278 10 39 37 21 38 14 223 Profile
_3 19 41 19 26 15 254 Profile
.251 12 46 33 27 50
_1 219 Profile
.283 11 34 33 17 26
_0 187 Profile
_0 14 36 24 30 31 205 Profile
_2 35 44 23 25 _7 244 Profile
.296 10 38 34 39 33
_6 216 Profile
_3 19 14 22 20 _1 176 Profile
_7 24 28 13 18 _5 164 Profile
_8 37 29 27 21 _1 175 Profile
_8 21 20 18 28 _1 171 Profile
_8 38 25 19 33 _6 215 Profile

Remember, people vote for three outfielders.

This game should add legitimacy to some of the leading vote-getters. But were you pleasantly surprised by some of your picks? Comment.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

« Where's the criticism of Boston? »

By Suss
The Yankees have the highest payroll and have a losing record and blah blah blah. Yeah, we know that.

The Red Sox are the defending World Series champs, and kept most of their team intact. They're only 3 games above .500 (before Sunday's game), have a losing record in the division and have the third worst ERA in the American League (5.04, only better than Tampa and Kansas City).

Fans are still kind of in love with the Sox after last year, but they're underachieving as much as anybody else not owned by George Steinbrenner. But if we truly love them, we have to be critical of them as well. It's the only way they'll know.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

« Hey! How 'bout them Nationals? »

By Suss
Ladies and gentlemen, the Expos are in first place.

Wait ... (checks notes) I'm pleased to inform you they are no longer the Expos. They are the Nationals.

Our nation's capital inherited a team that made the playoffs once in their 36-year history. They've never been to the World Series. They haven't had a winning record since 1996. The team saw many promising players leave their spacious Olympic Stadium: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Cliff Floyd, Ugueth Urbina, Rondell White, Vladmir Guerrero, Moises Alou, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, Milton Bradley.

The Quebecois had very little to cheer about with this team in the neighborhood. Instead of relocating the team, MLB (which owned the team because nobody else wanted to) decided to have the Expos play a portion of their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Greenland would have been closer to home for Montreal. After the Great Latin American Experiment, MLB shipping Les Expos to D.C. The team got a fresh start and a fresh name, and the Nationals added two key players: journeyman pitcher Esteban Loaiza, veteran third baseman Vinny Castilla and accomplished outfielder Jose Guillen.

Equipped with talent already, the Nationals are not just in the thick of things in that NL East: They are leading it. With every team in that division possessing a winning record, the Nationals aren't exactly the survivors of a pitiful division.

Their record is equal to that of the Padres. They're a half game behind the Angels. They have a better record than the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Dodgers. But the team probably cherishes the team stat they lead the National League in: record at home (22-9). They haven't played a true home game in quite some time, given the attendance in Montreal.

And it's not a fluke. Their ace Livan Hernandez is a proven winner, having won a ring with the Florida Marlins. Young players like Brad Wilkerson and Nick Johnson are finally coming into their own. Castilla leads the team with 32 RBI, young outfielder Ryan Church is performing well with a .333 average in 132 at bats.

And their current eight-game winning streak happened without the only recognizable player on last year's team -- second baseman Jose Vidro -- currently injured.

And now the team is looking like a team that wants to win, because they aren't satisfied with winning now -- they want to ensure they'll keep winning all year. So they made a few moves. With Vidro as a question mark because of his health, they acquired former All-Star second baseman Junior Spivey from the Brewers in exchange for pitcher Tomo Okha. And to account for Ohka's absence, they claimed pitcher Ryan Drese off waivers from the Rangers.

Players on the team don't have the flashiest stats in the league, and five of their players are currently on the DL. But with Frank Robinson managing that team, it's difficult to wait for them to take a nose dive in the standings. And it's hard to believe they'll stop making moves. Behind Hernandez and Loaiza, their rotation is filled out by Tony Armas, John Patterson and Drese.

And if you want to see them play, catch them against the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday, June 15 at 10:05 (eastern) on ESPN2.

Also seen on BLOGCRITICS

Friday, June 10, 2005

« When columnists go up against Jennie Finch »

By Suss
Jennie FinchI don't need an excuse to post a picture of Jennie Finch, but after reading columnist Gene Wojciechowski's piece on his experience batting against the standout softball pitcher, I had to find a good one and show it for all to see.

A slew of big league pitchers have struck out against the guy in exhibition at-bats: Albert Pujols, Mike Piazza, Richie Sexson, to name a few. Many of them struck out, looking just plain stupid in the dust.

And she's gorgeous, which makes it OK, because nobody wants to get mowed down by an uggo.

She's engaged to thye Arizona Diamondback "farmhand" (he was on the team last year because of injuries but now thanks to good free agents he's in AAA) Casey Daigle, a.k.a. the luckiest bastard in the face of the earth. Of course, I say that now looking at the picture on the right (and I am, probably as you read this) but I am reminded of a picture I was e-mailed many years ago of a cookie cutter big-breasted girl in a tight swimsuit with the caption "No matter how good she looks right now, somebody's sick of putting up with her shit."

So I'm not jealous after all. But I'm glad I never have to bat against her. Then again if I faced anyone I'd swing and miss by about 4 feet, because I have what the experts call "poor athleticism."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

« Who drafts during the season? »

By Suss
I know MLB held a draft for two reasons:
  • The Diamondbacks had the first pick, reminding me they resembled a AAA team last year
  • BGSU outfielder Nolan Reimold was drafted in the second round to the Orioles, reminding me I no longer go to college and have wasted space for over a month since graduation
All painful memories aside, baseball is the only sport of the "Big Four" (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) that, for one reason or another, drafts during the season. This means the players drafted don't even get a chance to come to spring training. They join teams in the middle of the season and lose two, maybe three months, of pro conditioning.

What's more, the draft ended yesterday, and the College World Series playoffs are still going on. There is probably an explanation for this, as baseball loves to be different. They're the Nintendo of professional sports. (PlayStation and Xbox games are on CDs and have extensive online play, and their consoles can play music CDs and DVDs. The GameCube plays mini CDs, barely uses online capabilities and never heard of music CDs.)

Nobody cares about the draft because the fans are the game are too busy tracking the sport, which plays at full capacity virtually every day from April to September.

Every other sport is called the "offseason." Baseball entices people in a little better with the "hot stove" title. Add more intrigue to it by following this schedule:
  1. Finish the season, wait until the World Series champion is crowned.
  2. Re-sign players whose contracts are up or trade them.
  3. Draft new players.
  4. Sign free agents.
Draft needs won't conflict with needs at the top level, because talent is drafted, rather than immediate results. And even though the NFL and NBA draft are different (neither have a true farm system), the NHL does have a minor-league system.

Maybe last January I would have been excited for the Diamondbacks drafting shortshop Justin Upton, since the last taste I had of Arizona baseball was them finishing dead last among all teams. But since the season has started and the team has pulled out of last place and into second, I'm more proud of the results of this year. I'm excited about the play of Troy Glaus, the return of Craig Counsell and the presence of a true five-man rotation for the first time in franchise history. Drafting a player and sending him to the Class-A affiliate is barely a secondary thought.

So why not try it next year? Push the draft to the next winter. Hey, the publicity can't get any worse. Better yet, hold it the same day as the NFL's Pro Bowl, reminding sports fans that football season is over and baseball will be here when the snow melts.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

« Tigers trade Urbina to Philly for Polanco »

By Suss
Ugueth Urbina ( Polanco (, the Tigers' closer, was traded to the Phillies along with utility infielder Ramon Martinez in exchange for Placido Polanco.

Polanco is hitting .316 and rarely strikes out (9 K in 158 AB). He should get playing time ahead of current second baseman Omar Infante, who his only hitting .215. Infante can then play the utility infielder Martinez used to be.

But the real loss is Urbina, although he seems to find a new team each year (six different teams in five years, third time he's been traded in midseason). Now he goes into a bullpen in Philadelphia along with Billy Wagner and Rheal Cormier. This is a smart pick-up for the Phils as they vie with every other team in the NL East for the division.

« Pitchers at the plate ... who never bat »

By Suss
If you are desensitized by interleague games, you have to at least be mildly amused by American League pitchers when they go to a National League ballpark. That means they have to hit.

Watching the tail end of the Tigers' pre-game show, I caught the Tigers' pitching coach Bob Cluck toss B. P. to the pitching staff.

These guys never hit, and they're gonna have to. The NL pitchers know how to lay down a bunt and last year 23 pitchers had at least 5 RBI, Livan Hernandez leading the league with 10 in 81 at-bats. This year Jason Marquis already has driven in 6, including a homer and a .379 average (11-for-29).

So how are those American League pitchers doing at the plate so far? Not many have bat, but interleague play will continue for a little bit, so the lightly-touted crown of Best Hitting AL Pitcher has yet to be crowded. As you'll read, good hitting doesn't necessarily mean getting a base hit, although it helps.

With the exceptions of great-hitting pitchers such as Marquis, Hernandez and Mike Hampton, all a pitcher is expected to do is advance a runner on a sacrifice. Getting a hit is a pleasant surprise, but the bottom line is to advance any runners, or at least see a lot of pitches and hopefully put the ball in play, rather than strike out.

C.C. SabathiaWith statistics accurate by the end of June 7's games, AL pitchers are going a super 3-for-55 (.055) at the plate. That's a worse percentage than Gibsonburg baseball. The three hits go to three different pitchers: The Yankees' Kevin Brown, the A's Danny Haren and the Indians' C.C. Sabathia (right). Brown is the only one of the three who played in the National League before. And C.C.'s hit was more than just a hit -- it was a two-run homerun, making him the only AL pitcher with an RBI or a run thus far.

What's even odder is that both Brown's and Haren's hits were both doubles. So the entire fleet of AL pitchers have yet to record a single.

What about reaching base? The White Sox's Jose Contreras and the Angels' Jarrod Washburn have both drawn walks. Good eye.

But the cornerstone of a good batting pitcher is bunting. Let's look at the numbers:
Freddy Garcia, White Sox: 2 bunts in 7 plate appearances
Casey Fossum, Devil Rays: 1 bunt in 2 plate appearances
Gustavo Chacin Toronto: 1 bunt in 3 plate appearances
Or you can see how many pitches you saw. It may be a minor stat, but a one-swing-and-yer-out or a three-pitch strike out are both unproductive and really a gift for the guy on the mound. Pitchers should know that more than anything else. Of pitchers with at least two at-bats:
Brandon McCarthy, White Sox: 13 pitches in 2 AB (6.5)
Hideo Nomo, Devil Rays: 11 pitches in 2 AB (5.5)
Randy Johnson, Yankees: 26 pitches in 5 AB (5.2)
Jose Contreras, White Sox: 10 pitches in 2 AB (5.0)
But the bottom line is: don't strike out. At least put the ball in play and make the fielder throw you out. The sad strikeout-numbers:
Randy Johnson, Yankees: 2 in 5 AB
Carl Pavano, Yankees: 2 in 2 AB
Gustavo Chacin, Blue Jays: 2 in 2 AB
Brandon McCarthy, White Sox: 2 in 2 AB
And the most plate appearances without a strikeout goes to:
Freddy Garcia, White Sox: 7
John Lackey, Angels: 4
Barry Zito, A's: 3
C.C. Sabathia, Indians: 3
Cliff Lee, Indians: 3
Jerrod Washburn, Angels: 3

But a K is not the worst at-bat. The worst is a double play. (OK, it's actually a triple play, but those require sheer horrible luck and something about the waxing and waning of the moon, so let's just forget about triple plays). Only one pitcher grounded into a double play so far: the A's Joe Blanton. Let's all laugh at him for now, but I guarantee another pitcher will do it before interleague play is over.

Right now the Team Award would go to the White Sox for the performances by Garcia and Contreras (McCarthy saw lots of pitches but struck out both times), but with just one hit (it was a big one though), Sabathia is my early choice for Best Hitting AL Pitcher.

Monday, June 06, 2005

« Wedge-stache, NL East and Gibsonburg High »

By Suss
In the classic "well our hitting is bad so we can't blame the players," the four-runs-per-game Indians fired their hitting coach Eddie Murray. While the .240 average could be attributed to the Hall of Fame outfielder-turned-coach, one Web site disagrees.

Eric WedgeA grassroots movement in Cleveland,, is trying to petition the Indians skipper to shave the 'stache off, which apparently has cursed the offense this year. Last year when they made a playoff run, Wedge was clean shaven. This correlation was reason enough to register the domain name and post pictures of other moustached losers in history, including Mr. T., Popeye's rival Bluto and Hitler.

So if this firing a Hall of Famer thing doesn't work, maybe he'll go shopping for a new razor. (Murray will find another coaching job.)

Today I was asked by fellow BG grad Cullen Gatten who my playoff predictions were. My wild card teams were Texas and Florida. While I forgot the Twins are a game ahead of Texas, I stuck to my guns as I'm a stubborn son of a gun. But it makes sense. While Minnesota is probably a better team (and if the two played a one-game playoff I'm taking the Twins and the points) Texas has a much easier road:

Minnesota is in the same division with the White Sox (the best team), the Royals (the worst team), Detroit and Cleveland (two .500 teams). Texas plays Anaheim (a very good team), Seattle and Oakland (two horrible teams). Also, a short tenure of history is on my side, as the AL Central is the only division of the current six never to have a team win the wild card.

I said Florida would win the NL wild card out of the East because they're the next best team in that division. But three teams in that division -- Washington, New York and Florida -- are all coming off weekend sweeps. And the current standings go as follows:
Washington .... 31-26
Atlanta ....... 30-26, 1/2 back
Philadelphia .. 30-27, 1 back
NY Mets ....... 30-27, 1 back
Florida ....... 28-26, 1-1/2 back
All have winning records. Suffice to say, it's anybody's race. It will probably come down to divisional games to decide who doesn't have a chance and, from there, records in one-run games may decide who will have a chance. Right now, Philadelphia looks to be the odd team out with a 12-18 record against divisional opponents. And the early June award for best one-run game record in that division goes to ... Washington?!? Wow. (Keep in mind the Nationals are really just the Expos with special guests Jose Guillen and Esteban Loaiza.)

And to break new ground on the Futon Report, we will discuss Ohio high school baseball, namely the historic championship by Division IV Gibsonburg. The Golden Bears beat Lancaster Fisher Catholic 5-4 to win the title, but the remarkable thing here is that Gibsonburg went 6-17 in the regular season and a 3-11 conference record, making them the first Ohio team to win a state baseball title with a losing record. Ain't nobody gonna break that record anytime soon.

Analyzing the record further, a 6-17 record is a .261 winning percentage. By comparison, the 2003 Detroit Tigers went 43-119, a .265 mark.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

« A watched Tiger never boils »

By Suss
I told my college roommate that the Detroit Tigers play so well every time I see them on TV. This was due to them beating up on the Orioles 7-3 after four innings. Then we went bowling.

While I was gone (e.g., not watching them), Baltimore came back and scored some runs.

Some = Eleven.

Baltimore went on to win, 14-7. (Box score opens in a new window)

And I turn on the TV just as Dmitri Young steps to the plate. He promptly smacks a two-run homer.

I think Detroit's kicking themselves for not striking that deal with Detroit's UPN 50. This is the first year in a while that Tiger baseball has not been on that channel. Now they're only seen on Fox Sports Detroit and sparingly on ESPN, if at all.

Perhaps I could petition the Tigers to be an official "watcher of the game" so they don't lose so many. I say this because nobody else in the history of the world has ever kept track of their team winning games while they see them vs. not seeing them. Nobody ever does that. Nope. Not once. Not you. Just me.

« MLB on a homer diet? Nah, just low-carb »

By Suss
Steroid talk isn't something you will see a lot of here, mainly because the sport has so much more to offer and this blogger has so little knowledge of sports supplements. Having said that, this lengthy but factual and engaging column by's Jayson Stark details the reason that there are not as many home runs as last year, going down the list of theories and rejecting most of them.

Home runs really are nice to have, and for the casual fan make games more interesting. But a ball going far? Big deal. If you want to see balls go far, watch golf. The triple is way more exciting anyways. Maybe I should do an expose on the decline of the triple. Still, I understand a power hitter can change the face of a game, because pitching around Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez gives the batters behind them a chance to drive in a run with a hit.

But when they aren't as plentiful in a year, teams still find a way to win. Name one White Sox player, besides maybe Paul Konerko, who is a home run threat. Frank Thomas is injured, and Carl Everett might be another answer, but still they find a way to small-ball their way to first place in the division.

And whether I'd like to admit it or not, the new drug policy has changed the pacing of the game. To quite Stark who quoted Mets pitcher Al Leiter:
Marlins pitcher Al Leiter thinks lineups have suddenly become "more manageable." Where once these same orders seemed to be stacked with four and five scary power bats, now "pitchers don't have to pitch around more than a batter, or maybe two," Leiter said.
Pitching is all about matchups and if

Pitching is all about matchups. Earlier in the Stark piece:
"The big thing," Phillies closer Billy Wagner said, "is the effect on confidence. [Not being able to hit on steroids] takes the confidence out of the hitter."
If nothing else, the Stark piece is an excellent example of good sportswriting and, from a newspaper/computer nerd's perspective, solid Internet design with use of pulled quotes and sidebars. Pocket protector sold separately.