I Wuz Robbed
One of my favorite things each season is to read all the complaining that goes on immediately after the All-Star teams are announced. It goes on ever year, so the day after the All-Stars were chosen this year, I checked around the league and found complaints from at least half the teams.
My favorite complaint comes from Philadelphia. Now, as I talked about in great length earlier this week, Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia’s rightfielder, was incredibly deserving of an All-Star selection and was left off the initial team. Abreu was then voted onto the team through the “Final Vote” contest on MLB.com, which is great.
While there were some complaints from Abreu’s teammates after his initial snubbing, the most vocal complaints were about Eric Milton being left off the roster.
“What a [bleeping] joke,” Wagner said. “Pitching in this [bleeping] band box, you ain’t going to have a [good] ERA. I didn’t realize ERA was part of the criteria.”
Now, Billy Wagner is one hell of a relief pitcher. In fact, he’s very likely one of the greatest closers in baseball history. He’s also someone I personally root for; from his difficult upbringing to his diminutive stature and 100 MPH fastball, he’s a guy I love to see succeed. With that said, he “didn’t realize ERA was part of the criteria” for choosing All-Star pitchers?
Milton chimed in about himself, too …
“I think a 4.00 ERA in this ballpark ain’t too bad,” he said. “It’s a tough ballpark to pitch in. I don’t look at ERA. I just try to win, and I think there’s something to say for 11 wins.”
The idea that Philadelphia’s new ballpark is an extreme hitter’s park seems to be spreading. I’ve heard it on TV, I’ve read about it in various places, and people brought it up in e-mails to me in response to my Abreu article. The only problem is that the numbers, so far at least, don’t bear that out.
In 44 games at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies and their opponents have scored 451 runs, or 10.25 per game. In 39 games on the road, the Phillies and their opponents have scored 392 runs, or 10.05 per game. So, for all Billy Wagner’s “bleeps” and for all the talk about the new ballpark being a “band box” and a “tough ballpark to pitch in,” the difference so far has been about one total run every five games. In other words, there is no difference — Citizens Bank Park currently ranks 12th out of 30 ballparks for increasing offense.
Of course, we’re only half way into the very first season in the new park, and it’s very possible that, over time, it will play as very favorable to hitters. It’s all very possible, but it hasn’t been the case thus far.
The really silly thing about the whole argument Wagner and Milton are presenting is that Milton has a 4.21 ERA at home … and a 4.80 ERA on the road. So, not only isn’t he being killed by the new “hitter-friendly” ballpark, he’s actually doing significantly worse away from Philadelphia.
The boys in Philly weren’t alone in their complaining. I also found some other good All-Star complaints in papers across the country.
Here’s a quote from Minnesota …
“Torii Hunter is an All-Star,” [Ron] Gardenhire said. “Not taking anything away from Matt Lawton, but Torii is a better player. Matt is just having a good year.”
Prefacing a statement by saying “not taking anything away from …” is a favorite of mine. It ranks right up there with “no offense, but…” on the list of completely disingenuous things people say. While in class during this past school year, I actually heard someone say, “No offense, but you’re an idiot.” And they said it with a straight face, too.
Here’s an “incident” from Chicago …
Frank Thomas still is not talking to the media, but he made sure his thoughts were known regarding the All-Star selection process that yielded the White Sox only one spot on the American League team.
Thomas walked through the visiting dugout in Wrigley Field using an expletive-laced tirade while calling the roster-compiling process political.
Thomas, who has been named to five All-Star teams, did not necessarily seem to be upset that he was left off the roster. He pointed to Paul Konerko, sitting on the bench nearby, while saying his teammate should have made the team.
So, we’ve got Billy Wagner and his potty mouth complaining loudly about a guy with a 4.48 ERA not making the team, and now we’ve got Frank Thomas having “an expletive-laced tirade” about Paul Konerko. Konerko is having a nice year, sure, but he currently ranks just 9th among American league 1B/DH in Win Shares Above Average (WSAA).
Just looking at Konerko’s offense, he trails David Ortiz (who made the AL team) and Travis Hafner (who didn’t) by about 20% in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and trails … brace yourself … Frank Thomas by nearly 25%. Throw in the fact that Konerko was awful last season (.234/.305/.399 in 137 games) and I don’t see what the big fuss is about. Clearly The Big Hurt is not an avid THT reader, because he’d know to save his expletive-laced tirades for a good cause, like Bobby Abreu.
And here’s one from the other side of Chicago …
Sammy Sosa, Carlos Zambrano and Moises Alou were named Sunday to the National League All-Star team. But the Cubs are not satisfied with three of a kind.
“The first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Did Aramis [Ramirez] make it?’” Alou said.
I’ll give Moises Alou credit. At least the first thing out of his mouth wasn’t “bleep,” like some people we know. Incidentally, if Moises has an issue with the All-Star selection process, he might want to take a look in the mirror.
And there’s plenty more where that came from. I found similar complaints in Baltimore, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Anaheim and Los Angeles, and I wasn’t even really looking that hard. I’m sure if you did some serious digging, you could find quotes from players and managers suggesting that a minimum of 50 more players “deserve” to be on the All-Star teams.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, because there’s nothing wrong with saying nice things in support of a teammate who is playing well. It’s still funny to read about every … single … year.
Johan the Starter
My main man Johan Santana has been almost unhittable during his past seven starts, going 5-2 with a 1.98 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 54.2 innings. He’s also got a 71-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch, and opponents are hitting just .145 off him.
After a very slow start, Santana now has his ERA down to 3.89 ERA on year. He’s 7-5 with a league-leading 125 strikeouts and a pristine strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.31-to-1, which ranks third in the AL. Opponents are hitting .230 off him (2nd in the AL), with a .283 on-base percentage (2nd) and a .393 slugging percentage (14th).
Santana has now made 18 starts this season, his third straight year of making double-digit starts. Here’s how his yearly numbers as a starter compare …
YEAR IP IP/GS OAVG SO/9 BB/9 SO/BB HR/9 2002 74.2 5.74 .214 10.73 4.58 2.34 0.72 2003 110.1 6.13 .206 8.89 2.20 4.04 1.14 2004 115.2 6.43 .230 9.73 2.26 4.31 1.32
There’s a lot to like there. First and foremost is that Santana is going much deeper into his starts after initially getting the reputation as a “six-inning starter.” Santana has gone at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts and his most recent appearance was a complete game, 13-strikeout/3-hit shutout against the Royals. His average of 6.43 innings per start ranks 15th in the AL among full-time starters.
Part of his ability to pitch more innings is that he’s cut way down on his walks per game. Back in 2002, Santana racked up huge strikeout totals, but also walked a ton of batters. Over the last two years, he’s cut his walks in half while maintaining the high K rate. His strikeout-to-walk ratios as a starter have gone from 2.34-to-1 to 4.04-to-1 to 4.31-to-1.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Santana has become very homer-prone over the last two years. He seems to be taking the Curt Schilling/Bert Blyleven approach to pitching, which entails improving control and attacking hitters while giving up plenty of homers. The key, as Blyleven makes sure to tell everyone during just about every Twins TV broadcast, is to make most of the homers solo shots.
Santana has perfected the attacking hitters and improving control part of the equation, but he hasn’t quite mastered the not-giving-up-homers-with-men-on aspect. Seven of his 17 homers allowed this year have come with men on, and early in the year, that really hurt him.
Praising ESPN (Seriously)
I give ESPN a lot of heat, both for their website and for their TV content. As I’ve said numerous times, I find SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, once must-see shows, to be almost unwatchable now. I find that many of their baseball “experts” make my ears bleed. And I find that quite a few of their online columnists and the agendas they are constantly pushing are worthless (or worse).
With all that said (yes, there is a compliment coming here), they have a small group of columnists on the website who I consistently enjoy. I’ve talked about my fondness for Bill Simmons and Eric Neel in this space before, and those two guys, both found on ESPN’s Page 2, are two of my favorites anywhere on the web.
With Rob Neyer‘s columns going to the Insider (pay) side of the website, I was worried that the regular baseball coverage would suffer greatly. While not being able to read Neyer each day really stinks, I’ve come to love Alan Schwarz‘s work, both at Baseball America and on ESPN.com. It was Schwarz’s online “chat session” on ESPN.com yesterday afternoon that made me realize just how great he is to read. The chat session is a great one, not only because Schwarz gives intelligent, informative, humorous answers, but also because he chats for what had to have been several hours.
Schwarz is like a mix of “old-school” and “new-school.” He’s very knowledgeable about the importance of stats (and not just stats, but the right stats), but he’s also tapped into the traditional stuff that is so important for a great writer to have a grasp of.
A perfect example of this can be found in Schwarz’s answer to a question about Derek Jeter …
Steve (NY): what’s your opinon on Derek Jeter? the guy has good stats, not the best, but it seems this guy comes through time after time in clutch situations.. stats can’t account for this….can they?
Alan Schwarz: Derek Jeter drives a wedge between stat folks and traditional scouting folks. I believe that the debates have been so polarized that we really can’t appreciate the benefits of each side. OK, so Jeter’s (reputed) skills don’t show up in the stats, particularly defensive ones. But I don’t think that in itself means we can dismiss his influence on the Yankees. I say that, though, with two HUGE caveats: One, I think that clutch hitting is disastrously misunderstood (in particular by Derek himself, though that isn’t the point) and I hate judging players by saying, “Yeah, but he has 4 rings.” That was a product of far more than Jeter himself.
He was also honest and gutsy enough to give his actual opinion on a few ESPN-related things that he’s not a big fan of, including John Kruk (who I’ve written about here in the past) and Buster Olney’s beloved Productive Outs stat, which our own Larry Mahnken has ripped apart on several occasions.
On Kruk, Schwarz says, “I don’t think Kruk is a half-wit. I think he’s about a .178-wit.” On Productive Outs, Schwarz says, “I’m not big on productive outs, frankly.”
The whole chat is definitely worth checking out and I’ve heard Schwarz’s new book, The Numbers Game (which he was doing the chat to promote), is also very good. I’ll be heading to the bookstore to pick up a copy this weekend.
Rob Neyer might be behind the pay door and there might be a whole lot of junk to negotiate your way through on ESPN.com, but it’s worth wading through it to read guys like Simmons, Neel and Schwarz. The nice thing about ESPN.com is that they have so many writers onboard that they almost have to luck into hiring a few who are good.