Time’s Arrowby John Walsh
March 08, 2006
The title of this article is taken from the Martin Amis novel of the same name. Time's Arrow is a thought-provoknig book that describes the life of its protagonist in an original way: starting at the end and progressing backwards until reaching the beginning. You're probably asking yourself what the heck this has to do with baseball. Well, one thing about Time's Arrow is that it provides a fascinating take on how our perceptions of something are influenced by the flow of time. Ok, I'll stop beating around the bush: what if the 2005 baseball season were played in reverse? How would our perceptions of the season change? I can tell you right now that approximately 100 million words on the demise of the Yankees would never have been written.
You might think that looking at the 2005 season with the arrow of time pointing the other way is an idle exercise. After all, the results at season's end are the same whether you add them up starting from the beginning or starting from the end. But I think the order in which things happen does influence our thoughts on players and teams. Consider a player who has a red-hot April and May: he's on the leaderboards for half a season, and we notice his performance. Never mind that he finishes with his usual .270/.330/.420 line, from April until late June he's entered our conciousness as "having a good year," and we probably don't notice when he stumbles badly in the second half. (Unless he's on our fantasy team, then we notice, and how!) By the same token, we may not notice the September hot streak that pushes some season-long mediocrity into the ranks of the useful players.
So, what follows is a brief review of the 2005 season, actually two reviews, one that gives highlights of the season as it actually happened and the other with time's arrow reversed, assuming the games were played in reverse order.
Time Going Forwards
Middle of May
AL East W L GB WP BAL 24 13 - .649 BOS 22 15 2.0 .595 TOR 20 18 4.5 .526 NYY 19 19 5.5 .500 TBD 14 25 11.0 .359Despite winning two out of three from Boston to open the season, the Yankees swiftly moved to the lower half of the AL East and are are playing some very poor baseball. The offense looks sluggish with Posada and Matsui looking uncharacteristically feeble. Bernie and Womack have been terrible, but no surprise there. The wild card of the Yankees' lineup coming into the season, Jason Giambi, simply looks finished. Author of a .202/.383/.326 line, it's time to stick a fork in the guy. He still has the good batting eye, but pitchers will figure out soon enough that he looks like he's swinging underwater. Farewell, Jason. Overall, the Yankees' starting pitching has been below average, with solid work by Mussina and Johnson completely negated by new Yankees Pavano and Wright.
Over in the AL Central the surprising White Sox have grabbed a super-quick five-game lead over the preseason-favorite Twins.
AL Central W L GB WP CHW 27 11 - .711 MIN 21 15 5.0 .583 DET 17 19 9.0 .472 CLE 16 20 10.0 .444 KCR 11 27 16.0 .289The Indians, whom some hoped might contend, look like they already might be out of it after a poor start by Travis Hafner (4 HR, 16 RBI and remember, folks, we've played a quarter season already) and a truly horrendous start by Vic Martinez (.210, 2 HR, 10 RBI).
Elsewhere around the majors, Miguel Tejada has picked up where he left off in his 150-RBI 2004 campaign, leading the majors thus far with 38 runners driven home. Alex Rodriguez paces MLB with 12 home runs. Among hurlers, the early standout is Dontrelle Willis, who seems to have rediscovered his top rookie form of 2003 and then some. The likeable lefty has won all seven of his starts, posting a nifty 1.08 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 4.00. Next on the ERA leaderboards come two greyheads, Roger Clemens (3-1, 1.11) and, surprisingly, Kenny Rogers, who checks in at 4-2, 1.49.
Well, the All-Star Game is at hand and, lo and behold, the Washington Nationals are the surprise of the season, as they rule the roost in the NL East and by a sizeable 4.5 games:
NL East W L GB WP WSN 48 31 - .608 ATL 44 36 4.5 .550 FLA 40 37 7.0 .519 NYM 40 39 8.0 .506 PHI 40 40 8.5 .500The Nationals' starting pitching has been very solid, with staff ace Livan Hernandez (11-2, 3.32) flanked by newcomer Esteban Loaiza (3.81 ERA) and youngster John Patterson, who has posted an ERA of 3.17 thus far. RFK Stadium appears to be playing as a very tough park for hitters, but Jose Guillen (.300-15-44) has put up fine numbers. Nick Johnson is also having a fine season (.320/.444/.508) and, most importantly, has been healthy thus far.
For Phillies fans there is bad news (they are in the cellar in the NL East), and there is good news (they are playing .500 ball), and there is more bad news (they have been outscored 370-392). Pitching has been the thorn in their side, as they rank 13th in the league in runs allowed. Jon Lieber has been the main culprit, posting a frightening 5.18 ERA in 17 starts.
Derrek Lee, whose name is getting mentioned in Triple Crown discussions, is first in the NL in batting (.379), second in home runs (23), and second in RBIs (65). Lee has always been a solid and under-appreciated player, but I don't think even Mrs. Lee was expecting him to be quite so dominant this year. Before you run off to look up the last Triple Crown winner (Yaz, '67), note that Lee will have a hard time leading the Senior Circuit in RBIs with Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez, with on-base percentages of .301 and .276 respectively, batting in front of him.
Elsewhere on the leaderboards, we find Andruw Jones and his 25 homers, Carlos Lee with his 72 RBIs, and could anybody have foreseen Brian Roberts, who toils as pivotman for the Baltimore club, painting this masterpiece: .365/.439/.614? Isn't baseball great?
Mark Buehrle gets the All-Star Game starting assignment after a stellar first half, going 10-1 with a 2.42 ERA.
2005 All-Star Teams
Starters: C - Varitek 1B - Teixeira 2B - B. Roberts 3B - A. Rodriguez SS - Tejada OF - M. Ramirez, Damon, Guerrero DH - Ortiz SP - Buerhle Reserves: C - I. Rodriguez 1B - Sweeney, Konerko 2B - Soriano 3B - Mora SS - M. Young OF - G. Anderson, Podsednik, Sheffield, Suzuki DH - Hillenbrand SP - Colon, Clement, Garland, Halladay, Rogers, Santana RP - Rivera, Baez, Nathan, Ryan, Wickman, DuchschererNational League
Starters: C - Piazza 1B - Lee 2B - Kent 3B - A.Ramirez SS - Eckstein OF - Beltran, Edmonds, Abreu DH - Pujols SP - Carpenter Reserves: C - Lo Duca 2B - Castillo 3B - Ensberg, Rolen SS - Izturis, Lopez OF - L. Gonzalez, Alou, A. Jones, Bay, C. Lee SP - Clemens, L. Hernandez, Willis Peavy, Pedro, Oswalt, Smoltz RP - Cordero, Fuentes, Isringhausen, Lidge, B. Wagner
NL West W L GB WP ARI 52 55 - .486 SDP 51 54 - .486 LAD 47 58 4.0 .448 SFG 45 59 5.5 .433 COL 37 67 13.5 .356What is going on in the NL West, anyway? We're already into August, and nobody seems to be able to get their heads above the .500 mark. Arizona, after losing several hundred games last season, sits on top, but what does it all mean? The Giants are on pace for 72 wins, and since they won 91 games last year, can we conclude that Barry Bonds is worth almost 20 wins a year?
While you ponder such deep questions, I'll come out and say that about the only thing you can count on in the NL West is seeing the Rockies in last place. Boy, the Rockies' offense really, ahem, stinks. Despite playing in a park that turns baseballs into Flubber, they have scored fewer runs than the Diamondbacks and (virtually) the same number as the Dodgers and Giants. Yuck.
Let's turn to a more cheerful subject, league leaders: Red Sox Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are performing a pas a deux atop the RBI leaderboard, while the longball crown is a three-way dispute right now among Andruw, Derrek and Adam Dunn. In OPS, Lee still commands the top spot by a wide margin, followed by Pujols (ok) and Miguel Cabrera (wow). Among pitchers, along with Houston's Big Three of Clemens (9-4, 1.46), Oswalt (14-8, 2.40) and Pettitte (9-7, 2.58), the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter has elbowed his way into NL Cy Young talk with an ERA of 2.33 and a 15-4 record. In his last 14 starts, all quality starts by the way, Carpenter has gone 10-2 with five complete games, three shutouts and a 1.35 ERA.
Time Going Backwards
Middle of May
AL East W L GB WP NYY 30 15 - .667 BOS 27 19 3.5 .587 TBD 21 22 8.0 .488 TOR 19 25 10.5 .432 BAL 16 28 13.5 .364Despite losing two out of three to Boston to open the season, the Yankees swiftly moved to the top of the AL East and are playing excellent baseball. On the offensive side, the Yankee attack as been led by Alex Rodriguez, .327-13-35, (not so surprising) and the resurgent Jason Giambi, .252-11-36 (very surprising to many). With only a quarter of the season gone, it's too early to talk about postseason awards, but Giambi certainly looks like a candidate for comeback player of the year. On the other side of the ball, Randy Johnson quickly showed why the Yankees acquired him in the offseason, going 6-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 10 starts. Almost as good has been Aaron Small (who?), 6-0, 3.56 ERA.
Over in the AL Central things are a little more unexpected:
AL Central W L GB WP CLE 30 14 - .682 CHW 25 21 6.0 .543 MIN 22 22 8.0 .500 KCR 18 27 12.5 .400 DET 15 30 15.5 .333The Twins, preseason favorites of many pundits, have dug themselves a hole and are already eight games back of the Indians, who have bolted out of the gate thanks to red-hot starts by Travis Hafner (.296/.401/.667) and Vic Martinez (.354/.424/.544). Is this going to be the long-awaited breakout year from C.C. Sabathia? The big southpaw has started the season on fire, posting a 7-1 record and a miniscule 1.82 ERA.
Turning to other League Leaders, we find Carlos Pena second (tied) for home runs in MLB with 15. Pena has never fulfilled his potential since being a highly hyped prospect a few years back. Is this, his age-27 season, the breakout for which we've by now stopped waiting? Other interesting names on the leaderboards are Matt Holliday (third in RBIs with 43) and Randy Winn, third in OPS and author of the downright Ruthian .381/.406/.714 line, at this, admittedly early, stage of the season.
Among pitchers, Johan Santana is the early ERA leader, which might have been expected, but seeing Tom Glavine (5-3, 1.71), Jose Contreras (8-1, 2.42) and rookies Brandon McCarthy (3-1, 1.69) and Paul Maholm (3-1, 2.18) on the pitching leaderboards is probably more of a surprise.
NL East W L GB WP PHI 48 34 - .585 ATL 46 36 2.0 .561 NYM 43 40 5.5 .518 FLA 43 42 6.5 .506 WSN 33 50 15.5 .398Well, the All-Star Game is almost upon us, and the Phillies are atop the NL East, as they have been for most of the first half. Rookie Ryan Howard, who has taken over first base duties for injured slugger Jim Thome, has exceeded even the lofty expectations that we had for him, clouting 21 homers and driving in 62 runs in this half-season. Jimmy Rollins, who of course started the season with an amazing 36-game hitting streak, has cooled off some, but he still has had a fine first half.
It would have been a nice, feel-good story to report that the Nationals, Washington's first major league team in 45 years, were contending in their division, but alas, such is not the case. The Nats languish in last place in the NL East, 15.5 games back, with few prospects of competing in the division. It's been a tough beginning for the Washington club.
David Ortiz has streaked to the top of the HR and RBI leaderboards (28 and 82) in the AL, with A-Rod tied in HR but a ways back in RBI (64). They are neck-and-neck in OPS though: A-Rod 1.049, Big Papi 1.046. Who knows, this might be the start of an MVP race.
On the other side of the ball, Andy Pettitte has emerged as the dominant pitcher in the majors this season, posting a glittering 13-2 record to go with his sparkly 1.69 ERA. Rookie phenom Zach Duke is the buzz of the NL, with his 8-2, 1.81 effort. Felix Hernandez, the 19-year-old pitching in Seattle, has the same types of numbers, sans the winning record, due mostly to a lack of run support from his teammates.
2005 All-Star Teams
Starters: C - V. Martinez 1B - Giambi 2B - Mark Ellis 3B - A. Rodriguez SS - Michael Young OF - Manny, Damon, Vlad DH - Ortiz SP - Santana Reserves: C - Varitek, Mauer 1B - Teixeira, Konerko 2B - Polanco 3B - Mora SS - Peralta OF - M. Cabrera, Crawford, Sheffield DH - Hafner SP - Felix, Millwood, Sheets, Lackey, Mulder, Contreras RP - Rivera, Nathan, Street, Howry, WickmanNational League
Starters: C - Barrett 1B - Pujols 2B - Utley 3B - Wright SS - Rollins OF - Jenkins, Winn, Bay DH - Delgado SP - Pettitte Reserves: C - LaRue 1B - Helton, Howard 2B - Kent 3B - Ensberg SS - Furcal OF - Tracy, Holliday, Andruw SP - Duke, Clemens, Glavine, C. Zambrano, Pedro, Carpenter RP - Turnbow, B. Wagner, Dempster, Lidge, Linebrink(Editor's note: I was too lazy to observe the rule that requires a player from each team.)
NL West W L GB WP COL 52 59 - .468 SFG 52 59 - .468 SDP 49 60 2.0 .450 ARI 47 62 4.0 .431 LAD 45 65 6.5 .409OK, what is going on in the NL West? Here we are into August and nobody is within seven games of .500. Can we send these guys home and call in five teams from the Pacific Coast League? And, look, the Rockies are in first place! Sort of. Todd Helton is having his usual great season, .352/.472/.591, a great line even if Coors-assisted. Some other Rox are coming through as well though: Garret Atkins (who?) has driven in 79 runs thus far (more than Albert Pujols!) and Matt Holliday has continued his early hard hitting, with a .942 OPS. I know these numbers are helped out by playing half the games in Coors Field, but I'm just sayin'.
Looking at the leaderboards, we see Hafner leading everybody in OPS (1.094), and if there's any justice in the world (hah!), Hafner will get some MVP consideration. Giambi continues to rake, getting his average up to .287 and his OPS to 1.077. Derrek Lee has been quietly make his way up the offensive boards and now sits sixth in HR and fifth in OPS. Sort of came out of nowhere. Speaking of coming out of nowhere, on the pitcher board we see Joe Blanton putting together a fine season (12-7, 2.53 ERA). Another Bay Area youngster, Noah Lowry, is also looking very solid with an 11-8 record and 3.14 ERA.
Here at The Hardball Times we love the graphical depiction of the divisional races that can be found in our Teams section. Once you get used to looking at those graphs, a quick glance tells you how the divisional race proceeded. So to wrap up this piece, I'd like to present a one-sentence summary of each divisional race along with the corresponding graph of the race. Normal time is on the left again and backwards time is on the right. I find that the season played in reverse had a few more interesting races. Have a look and see what you think.
AL EastBaltimore bolts, New York trips and falls, but by midseason things are back to normal: New York and Boston fighting for the division.
AL CentralChicago charges out of the gate and never looks back. Well, almost never, but they hang on for the division crown.
AL WestOakland's blazing June and July cannot compensate for a hellish beginning and blah finish: Anaheim hangs on easily in the end.
NL EastAtlanta plods towards 90 wins, while the Nats turn into a pumpkin on June 30.
NL CentralThe Redbirds steam ahead toward 100 wins, and nobody else is close after two weeks.
NL WestNothing to be proud of here.
AL EastEverything according to script, Yanks and Sox battle for the division title from the get-go.
AL CentralThe Tribe go ahead early and lead most of the way, but succumb to the White Sox in September in a great divisional race.
AL WestThe Angels inexorably pile up wins, while Oakland stumbles, then soars, and finally crashes and burns.
NL EastA good old-fashioned pennant race between the Braves and the Phillies, with you-know-who prevailing. Nobody noticed, but the Nats had a good second half.
NL CentralThe Astros go toe-to-toe with the Cardinals right up into August, but the Cards pull away at the end.
NL WestNor here. Some things are ugly no matter how you look at them.
References and Resources
Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis, is my favorite Amis novel. It makes you think, but it makes you laugh also. Good stuff.
Splits for this piece were obtained from several sources:
- David Pinto's excellent Day By Day Database;
- BB-ref.com has tons of information: league standings on any date (check out the standings the day you were born!) was one feature I used heavily for this piece.
John Walsh dabbles in baseball analysis in his spare time. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail.
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