THT Awards: Week 1

Starting out, I want to thank everybody here at The Hardball Times for inviting me in and making me feel welcome. It is great be a part of this.

For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.

On with the show. This is it.

This week’s small sample size warning

The Tigers as a whole are a great example of the small sample size principle. One week doesn’t mean any more than any of the other 25 weeks that they’ll play baseball this season. The volatility of one week or even one month of play is staggering. Brandon Inge is hitting .375/.474.875 while the man who replaced him as the everyday third baseman is hitting .111/.238/.278. Those two facts will not continue.

Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco, who hit .363/.343/.595 and .341/.388/.458 respectively last year, are hitting .280/.280/.360 and .087/.087/.087. The Tigers will be fine. I predicted them to finish second in the Central and barely miss the AL Wild Card. I’m not backing off of that because of one terrible week and nobody else should either.

This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an idiotic practice that must stop

Good Luck Division:

Wandy Rodriguez and Greg Maddux combined for 11 innings, allowing eight runs on 14 hits including five home runs on Wednesday. If you’re a starting pitcher, it’s always a good idea to time your bad days to coincide with the other pitcher’s bad day. Preferably both bullpens also have a bad day alongside you. Maddux and Rodriguez followed this easy advice and they both walked away with merciful no decisions.

If you require an example of a pitcher who received an ill-deserved win, look for Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies. On Friday he allowed four runs to the Reds in five innings while striking out only one batter, walking two, and getting pelted with eight hits. Fortunately for him, Ryan Madson, Rudy Seanez, and J.C. Romero threw shutout ball after he left for the showers and Josh Fogg was even worse, yielding six runs in as many frames.

Bad Luck Division:

The only blemish to Cole Hamels’’ start on Wednesday was a solo home run by Ryan Zimmerman. Nevertheless, eight innings of one-run baseball wasn’t enough to make up for the deficiencies of the Phillies offense that day as they were shut out by Tim Redding and a pair of relievers. Hamels got the loss. I’ll have more on this game later.

Vulture alert! Vulture alert!

Rarely does a game encapsulate the shortcomings of the win/loss statistic as well as the Brewers-Cubs season opener. Setting the stage were Ben Sheets and Carlos Zambrano, combining for 13 brilliant innings They handed it over to relievers Carlos Marmol, Salomon Torres and Guillermo Mota, who carried the game (still scoreless) through the eighth inning.

At the top of the ninth, all hell broke loose. The Cubs brought in Kerry Wood, their appointed closer. His inning of work went like this: hit batsman, sac bunt, intentional walk, RBI single, strikeout, two-run double, ground out to end the inning.

So with a three-run lead, Brewers closer Eric Gagne gave up a single, a walk, three-run home run, tie ball game.

Bob Howry spared Gagne a small amount of dignity by letting Tony Gwynn put the Brewers back on top in the top of the 10th and then David Riske protected Gagne’s ill-gotten lead in the bottom of the 10th. The pitchers who combined for eight full innings of brilliance got the same “reward” for their troubles as one guy who gave up three runs in a single frame: a no decision. The other pitcher who was brutally awful got credit for the win! There is no justice in this.

The Wes Littleton Award

In a faithful tribute to the inspiration for the award in the first place, Torres received a “three inning” save in Friday’s beatdown. Torres was charged with protecting an 11-run lead. When the save rule was created, the intention was good.

Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching

All right, here’s the REAL story behind Hamels getting screwed out of a win by dumb luck. Redding, Luis Ayala and Jon Rauch produced nine shutout innings among them. Not only that, they pitched a one-hitter. In those nine innings, they struck out two Phillies. That’s a truly bizarre thing given that the Phillies boasted a lineup with guys who normally punish balls they hit. A lineup with Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins is pretty strikeout-prone. And when they don’t strike out, they should do some serious damage on a regular basis.

The fact that this squad, which also had Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, would put 26 balls into play and not come away with a single run, and collect only one hit along the way, is just unfathomable.

Random unrelated pitching note

Indians starter Fausto Carmona had a 16-1 GB/FB ratio in Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the White Sox.

The Joe Carter Award

Emil Brown of the A’s has driven in five runs this season in 23 at bats, which makes for a pretty good rate. On the other hand, his batting average is dragging him down to a .217/.250/.391 line.*

*Note that I’m treating the opening two games the A’s played in Japan against the Red Sox as part of this week, as well as the Braves/Nats game on Sunday, March 30.

The Harmon Killebrew Batting Average Is for Wussies Award

Like Brown, Chris B. Young is batting .217, but he’s also rapped a pair of doubles and three homers, and collected seven walks on his way to a very Adam Dunnesque .217/.400/.696 line.

The Rey Sanchez Batting Average Is All I’ve Got Award

Delmon Young is doing much better than the previous two in batting average, but isn’t doing anything else for the Twins. In 27 at bats, he has seven singles and a double. He has no walks and no home runs. His line is an ugly .296/.296/.333. I’m going to hold to my small sample size principles and hold all judgment, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is exactly the kind of thing he did all last year when he batted .288/.316/.408.

The Steve Balboni Award

Matt Holliday almost had a good week, with a double, a home run and three walks. He also struck out seven times in a scant 23 at bats. It’s hard to keep your numbers up when you’re fanning in 28 percent of your plate appearances. He hit .182/.280/.364.

Three True Outcomes Alert!

Chris B. Young’s week tops the list. Of his 30 plate appearances, 19 of them ended with a walk, a strikeout or a home run. He is tied for third in baseball in strikeouts, tied for fourth in walks, and tied for the lead in home runs.

This week’s dumbest thing ever

I shall declare no dumbest thing ever this week. I have no animus to vent because I’m on vacation and by the time you read this I will be on a plane to Kansas City to watch a week of baseball and eat barbecue.

This Week’s Completely Made-Up Award

I’ll just hand an unnamed award to the months of March and April. It’s really a special time for sports fans of all stripes. The only major American sport that isn’t playing right now is football, and the NFL is getting ready for the draft.

For fans of baseball teams that have been bad for a long time, like me and my Royals peeps, the beginning of the year is probably the best part because the anticipation hasn’t been ground down by losing streaks, injuries and underperformance.

Personally, I also have the beginning of the Formula1 racing calendar, the NCAA Final Four, the NBA and the English Premier League in the home stretch of their seasons. You could include the NHL into that if you’re into it. I’m not.

Anyway, it’s just nice to see some live baseball games. And there are plenty of other options going on right now for the 20 or 21 hours a day where your team isn’t on the field.

The Every Given Tuesday Award

I think I said everything that needed to be said about the Tigers’ week from hell in the Small Sample Size Warning section. The unpredictability of baseball has been adequately demonstrated.

This Week’s MVP

AL: This might be the first and only time A.J. Pierzynski gets this award. He had an exceptional week, hitting four doubles among six extra base hits, collecting three walks, and not striking out once for a .500/.565/1.000 line in 20 at bats. It was a good week for Poles in sports as Robert Kubica won the pole in Bahrain and finished on the podium for the race.

NL: Chase Utley didn’t do quite as much as A.J., but he did hit .429/.519/.952.

Least Valuable Player

AL: To say Travis Buck has had a rough start to his season would be a massive understatement. He’s currently sitting at .000/.043/.000.

NL: Adam LaRoche has a .091/.167/.136 line.

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