Welcome to the awards.
For award definitions and background on the column itself, please consult the Primer.
All weekly stats are for the period of Monday, July 20 though Sunday, July 26. All season stats are through Sunday.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an arcane practice that must stop
Good Luck Division:
Nick Blackburn and Gio Gonzalez were owned by Matt Holliday and Justin Morneau with 18 combined runs allowed between the two of them. They escaped their own ineptitude with matching no decisions because they faced each other. Jose Mijares actually took the loss despite being merely poor rather than disastrous, yielding one run on three hits in an inning and a third.
Bad Luck Division
Rich Harden and Joe Blanton had the misfortune of facing each other as they each shut down the opposing hitters, posting seven frames with only one run allowed each. They got matching no-decisions in a game that took 13 innings to reach a conclusion.
Brett Cecil’s day was ruined by Scott Downs, who inherited a 1-0 lead and allowed two runs on two walks, a double, a triple and an error. Cecil had effectively shut down Cleveland for seven innings, striking out nine and scattering 11 baserunners.
Zack Greinke was brilliant against the Rangers, striking out 10 in seven innings. His only sin was giving up a Marlon Byrd solo shot. I would also say something about Scott Feldman putting up a classic ASADIIFP performance with eight scoreless, four-hit innings with only two strikeouts.
A brief Mark Buehrle note
I feel obligated to talk about the Buehrle no-hitter. But I have a couple of handicaps to worth with here. First off, I have not watched it. I was at a Prospect League game in downstate Illinois at the time. And also through the quirk of scheduling, I will be five days behind the curve when this article posts. With those two things in mind, I fear that I have nothing informative and original to say about the game itself.
That being said, because of the standard subject matter of the column, one might say that the game conforms to the any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching principle. But the fact of the matter is unless a pitcher strikes out 16 or 18 batters, then a no-hitter or perfect game is almost definitionally a confluence of a lot of luck and a lot of skill. And if you did rack up that kind of a strikeout total, you would be pushing any kind of pitch count limit you might be on or wear down and lose a slice of that brilliance. So I say we take that luck factor as a given and use this event as an excuse to talk about Buehrle himself.
I think Buehrle flies a bit under the radar when it comes to the national scene. He has a kind of quietly consistent excellence that usually bores the sports media to tears. He is deathly boring for ESPN or talk radio jocks to cover because he doesn’t have flashy accomplishment. He’s finished in the top five of Cy Young voting only once. He only has eight shutouts and 24 complete games in his 288-start career. This is his seventh season with an ERA in the threes. His two down seasons were a 4.24 and a 4.99. He’s rarely bad. He’s simply really, really good.
He also isn’t in the media often because outside of his absurd truck, there’s nothing particularly interesting about his life when he is off of the mound. He has never picked fights with Jay Mariotti or Phil Rogers. He doesn’t get in trouble or monopolize every microphone in a 10-mile radius.
I forget where I heard it, but I remember a radio show or a podcast a while ago where the host and the guest were weighing possible 300-game winners playing today. The guest threw out Buehrle’s name as a guy who might age well and find his way into contention for 300. He currently stands at 133 wins as a 30-year old, so that is plausible. Clearly, the odds are not terribly good, but any bet on a pitcher outside of a couple of years from now is a weak proposition.
What I find interesting is that if he keeps up his current performance for the next 10 seasons and ends up right in the neighborhood, he would be his generation’s embodiment of the criticism that has dogged Mike Mussina, where a Hall of Fame case could be made for a very good pitcher for a very long time, but one who lacked the high peaks that you find in a Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson or Johan Santana.
At this point he doesn’t have those ridiculous seasons in which he ran away from the rest of the league and posted an ERA in the neighborhood of 2.50. It is fair to ask if that should veto anybody’s hall credentials, but it bears mentioning that Mussina is a good comp for Buehrle at this point. Mussina had 136 career wins at the end of his age 30 season and probably could have seen 300 had he decided to carry on. I am not saying that this is at all likely or reasonable to expect. I am just thinking out loud here and you can tell me how ridiculous and off-base I am in the comments if you like.
Vulture alert! Vulture alert!
To succeed, all Kevin Gregg had to do was retire Edwin Encarnacion, who currently sits at .202/.331/.372. To fail, he would have had to allow Encarnacion to homer, and then allow Jonny Gomes to follow it up with another blast.
Please hold the applause
Jon Rauch retired two batters, walked Ian Stewart, and let Ryan Spilboroughs triple to drive in Stewart, making a two-run Diamondbacks lead into a one-run advantage. He still was credited with a hold.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
This week’s dumbest thing ever
As I was flipping through the channels Friday, looking for highlights of Buehrle’s perfect game, ESPNews was covering SEC’s football media day. Evidently the story of the day was that somebody had failed to vote for Tim Tebow as the preseason all-SEC quarterback and reporters were trying find out who had the audacity to do such a thing. Naturally, I was a bit taken aback since I was unaware that anybody anywhere cared about who was named in what amounts to preseason predictions.
As a baseball fan, I would be floored if a single year went by when at least one award didn’t get completely botched by the voters, let alone if the right guy won, only not unanimously. I fail to see how anybody with any measure of sanity could consider this a story worth hours of airtime and breathless attention. There aren’t many areas where I am a foremost world authority. The field of inconsequential, made-up awards with arbitrary definitions is what I do here. I’m not building a framework to convert the upcoming HITf/x tool into a comprehensive defensive metric. Nope, I am here to figure out new ways to poke fun at empty batting averages and pitchers who get saves in 30-3 blowouts. Preseason conference coaches polls are the definition of inconsequential awards with arbitrary definitions.
Joe Carter Award
Raul Ibanez had some bad luck on balls in play, which nuked an otherwise positive week in which he doubled twice, hit a home run and walked four times in 25 at-bats. Still, he hit .200/.310/.400 while driving in eight runs.
Rey Sanchez Award
Travis Ishikawa was seven for 21 with no extra base hits and no walks for a symmetrical .333/.333/.333 line.
Hank Blalock hit .292/.292/.375 in 24 at-bats. That is five singles, two doubles and nothing else in particular.
Harmon Killebrew Award
Blalock’s teammate Andruw Jones had a small 14-at bat sample. But despite zero singles in those 14 at bats, he was very productive with two doubles, a home run, and three walks for a .214/.353/.571 line.
Steve Balboni Award
Jim Thome whiffed 10 times in 22 at bats, negating his home run and four walks with a .091/.231/.227 overall line. Juan Uribe had a similar week, minus the walks, going .208/.208/.333 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.
This week’s second dumbest thing ever
I watched a few minutes of Jim Rice’s press conference for his Hall of Fame induction. His remarks have made some headlines, notably his observation that metal bats keep young players from learning “fundamentals,” which he narrowly defined as hitting behind the runner and a willingness to sacrifice for the team. What stuck with me was his insistence that major league organizations don’t teach fundamentals anymore, but instead teach on-base percentage. My mind swarms with responses.
First off, I am curious whether Rice believes that he was inducted in the Hall this weekend because of his ability to ground out to second base or because of his peak as a first-rate home run hitter in the late ’70s.
Secondly, I am curious how the ability to get on base at a high rate and provide others with base runners to knock in could be thought of as anything other than a fundamental skill.
Third, I wonder if he really believes that teaching a good sac bunt and teaching the ability to work a walk are mutually exclusive within an organization.
Fourth, as a Royals fan, I feel ripped off since my favorite team seems incapable of teaching either of those skills.
Fifth, this is at least a little more understandable than Joe Morgan’s crusade against the guys with spreadsheets and calculators. At least the sabermetrics set was the core of the anti-Rice movement. The propeller heads often have said that Morgan is underrated by traditional analysis.
And lastly, I wonder how long it will take for somebody to Photoshop a graphic with Jim Rice yelling at those darned kids to stay off his lawn.
This week’s MVP
AL: Michael Young is having a resurgent year, hitting .313/.368/.497 and making me look foolish in the short term for doubting whether he would hit enough to be a positive contributor on an infield corner. His move to third base has been a huge positive for the Rangers defense, allowing Elvis Andrus to ply his trade where Young was a liability last year and putting Young at a position where he could be a solid performer defensively.
Young outdid himself this week, firing off a .500/.560/.864 line for Ron Washington’s troops while they were going 5-1 on the week.
NL: Andre Ethier smoked five doubles and two bombs, and drew five walks, good for a .545/.630/1.045 week.
Special interleague edition: Matt Holliday split his week between the East Bay Athletics and St Louis. He was probably the best player in baseball, going .556/.581/1.037 in 27 at-bats.