Random Friday Stuff

Can I have one of those “random thoughts” columns today? I’ve never done one before, and I’ve got a bunch of thoughts that don’t really demand a full article, so if you wouldn’t mind indulging me…

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Mark Prior has now made two starts since coming off the DL, one of them very good and one of them very bad. Everybody’s been talking about what his impact will be on the 2004 Cubs, but I got to wondering, what are his chances of long-term greatness?

Yes, that’s a cliche topic, but indulge me a minute. Last year, Prior won 18 games as a 22-year-old. Since World War II, there have been 18 pitchers that age who have won at least 17 games. How many of them went on to Hall of Fame-level careers? Three. Don Drysdale is in the Hall, Greg Maddux will be, and Bert Blyleven should be. Only one other guy on the list, Frank Tanana, won as many as 200 games in his career.

If we lower the bar to 15 wins, Tom Seaver and Robin Roberts join the club. Still, that’s just 6 pitchers (out of 28) that went on to 200-win careers. Prior may be the next Tom Seaver, but he’s anything but a sure thing.

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Mike Mussina got tagged with an ugly “disappointment” label after an ugly start to the season, but he’s been fine since May. Look at his splits:

Months    W   L    ERA     IP   SO   BB   HR
Mar-Apr   1   4   6.55   34.1   23   14    6
May-Jun   6   0   3.19   48.0   30    5    1

Mussina’s strikeout rate is still low by his standards, but he’s just quit walking people and allowing homers. And get this — he’s on pace for 20 wins this year, a mark that has eluded him throughout his career. It’d be really weird for him to finally win 20 in a year that everyone initially thought was a disappointment, but he’s got a great chance of doing that.

Also, if Mussina finishes the year with 215 innings (his average over the past couple years) and has a 3.19 ERA through the end of the year, his season ERA will be 3.73, which isn’t far off his career mark of 3.56.

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How is Ken Harvey leading the majors in batting average? He’s always hit well against lefties, but he’s completely changed his tune against right-handed pitchers. Check out his performance against righties in ’03 and ’04:

YEAR   AVG   OBP   SLG
2003  .234  .282  .334
2004  .388  .433  .556

Harvey’s not really Tony Gwynn against northpaws, but his .616-OPS-versus-RHP days are over.

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Over at the Sons of Sam Horn Red Sox message board, there’s a thread that asks the question, “Should [Scott] Williamson be our #5?” Well, Williamson has made 10 major-league starts, all with the Reds in 2000. He pitched very well in those 10 starts: 55.1 innings, 53 strikeouts, 29 walks, 4 HR allowed, and a 2.93 ERA. The walk rate was higher than you’d like, but the guy more than held his own.

Williamson was exclusively a starting pitcher in his three minor-league seasons. He had about a full season’s worth of stats in his minor-league career: 36 GS, 12-7 record, 206.2 IP, 223 SO, 78 BB, 2.92 ERA. So in 46 starts as a pro, he’s got a combined 2.92 ERA and more than a strikeout an inning. It’s been 4 years since he made a start, but since Boston acquired him, I’ve thought he was worth a try.

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Larry Mahnken had started a Jeter Watch not all that long ago, tracking Derek Jeter’s return to brilliance after his nightmarish start to 2004. That feature of Larry’s blog has apparently disappeared, for some reason, but anyway, since May 26, Jeter has batted .432 (19-for-44) with 6 doubles, 5 HR, 14 runs scored, 12 RBI, and a .909 slugging percentage in 11 games. Strangely, he didn’t draw a single walk from May 21 until yesterday (when he walked twice against Colorado).

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Here’s a generic question: who will win the big end-of-season awards? I’m not asking who the MVP is right now, but rather who will win come November.

The race for NL MVP will probably come down to the usual suspects — Bonds and Pujols — with Scott Rolen and Lance Berkman getting some votes. This one is Bonds’ to lose, and barring injury, I don’t see him losing it. He may well win another batting title, and he’s on pace to hit 44 homers in 335 AB. If Bonds gets hurt, Pujols will be a pretty easy choice. (Also, how about “The Bridesmaid” as a nickname for Pujols, especially if he loses the MVP vote again this season?)

The AL MVP race isn’t nearly so clear-cut. Looking at the guys having big years, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero are the ones most likely to stay at their current levels. If Anaheim makes the playoffs, Vlad will win the award, but I don’t think the Angels will do that. Manny will probably deserve to win, but he’s underappreciated in a lot of circles. A-Rod the Yankee will have to take his game to another level to win the award, and I don’t see that happening this year.

A dark-horse candidate is Ivan Rodriguez, who is currently batting .350. If he finishes the year around .330 or so and the Tigers finish with 70+ wins, he’ll get a bunch of support. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Ivan will win it, but the stathead vote will go to Manny.

The NL Cy Young Award will be a battle of oldies, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Jason Schmidt could sneak in there, too. He’s basically duplicating his stellar 2003, and if the old guys’ arms fall off, Schmidt would be a worthy pick. Unless he collapses, though, Clemens will win the award. Oh, and Danny Graves won’t sniff the Cy Young. Yes, he’s on pace for 80-gajillion saves, but he’s merely good, not great, and while the Reds’ record is 34-25, their run differential is that of a 27-32 team. Graves will end up with something like 47 saves and an ERA around 3.00 or so.

As for the American League Cy Young Award, like the MVP, it’s muddier than in the NL. Pedro Martinez is having an off year, and Mike Mussina’s early struggles have probably ruined his chances. I see the AL race involving four pitchers: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Curt Schilling, and Javier Vazquez. Vazquez will probably get lost in the shuffle of Yankee pitchers, and while Schilling has been very good, he hasn’t been really great yet. Hudson and Mulder have virtually identical stats, and both have relatively low strikeout rates.

Who will win? I’m going with Schilling — he gets 20+ victories with an ERA around 3.00, and Hudson and Mulder will split the Oakland Ace vote. Schilling’s ’04 Cy Young Award will be much like A-Rod’s 2003 MVP — not his best year, but good enough to make it through a less-than-clear field of competitors.

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That’s it for me. Have a great weekend.

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