Why? Just Why?

What the ****! You spend some time on a Saturday morning posting to the **** weblog site, and it comes out looking like Michael Jackson’s face. Why doesn’t a simple copy and paste function work in this thing? I had no other problems before. What, did I just become completely inept with computers in the last month? Just sign me up for the short bus until I can get this figured out.Cool_bus


Getting Hot Too Early

The Oakland Athletics have been on an incredible tear lately, winning 18 of their last 22 ballgames.  They have taken over sole possession of the wild card spot in the


, and appear to be hitting their annual second half stride.  So why then do I think that the A’s team will be on the golf course come October?  Well two reasons really.  One, I can’t stand the guy in my office telling me everyday about how hot they are and how great they are.  And two, and more precisely, two with a bunch of sub points, is as follows: they got hot too early.

What the heck does that even mean?  Is it possible to get hot too early?  Most out there would argue that a win is a win, regardless of when it happens in the schedule.  At the end of the year, the wins from April count just as much as the wins from September.  Well yes, and no.  True the wins count just as much towards the record, but when a team is in the playoff hunt at the end of the year, those wins are more important to ensure that your team stays in the race, puts pressure on their competitors to win, and gathers momentum for the end of September push into the playoffs.  Ideally a team would play their best baseball for the months of September and October, while remaining above .500 the rest of the year. 

The A’s got hot in the middle of July.  The law of averages dictates that a team playing baseball at an .818 clip is not going to keep it up for 3 or more months.  In fact, let’s say that the A’s were to play at a .600 clip from the middle of July through the end of the year (encompassing 75 games).  To put .600 baseball into perspective, a team finishing the season with a .600 winning percentage will have a record of 97-65.  At that pace, the A’s would post a record of 45-30 over the 75 game span.  That translates into a 27-26 record from this point out when one considers their 18-4 record in their last 22.  27-26 is not going to get them into the playoffs with the Yankees, Indians, and Twins having yet to hit their hot streak.

So I’ve made a lot of assumptions in the previous paragraph.  One could easily say, “what if they play .625 (29-24 the rest of the way) or .650 (31-22) baseball the rest of the way out?”  I would argue that .625 baseball is certainly plausible, but would going 29-24 the rest of the season be enough to get them in?  I for one don’t think so.  In fact I think they would need to play .650 ball to assure themselves the wildcard spot, and I’ll believe they’ll play at a .650 clip for 3 months when I see it.

Plus, let’s take a closer look at their current .818 run.  They have played


(7-1), LA (2-1),






(3-1), and

Kansas City

(1-0).  With the exception of LA, they haven’t faced the stiffest of competition. 


is pretty good, as is


, while




, and

Kansas City

are sub par teams.  I can’t penalize the A’s for taking care of business against




and KC.  And they played well against LA,




.  However, let’s look at the schedule moving forward for


the rest of the way.

Opponent                    Opp. W%                   Games Remaining

Angels                          .578                                         10

Red Sox                       .574                                         4

Yankees                       .542                                         3

Indians                         .527                                         3

Twins                           .514                                         6

Rangers                        .500                                         6

With 32 games against opponents at .500 or better, both the timing of their hot streak and their schedule are certainly against them. 

A Look at the AL East

Less than a week after the All-Star game, three teams stand separated by 1.5 games atop the American League East.  Holding two of those spots, surprise, surprise, are the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.  However, wedged in between those teams in the standings, which may have surprised anyone who does not follow the AL East, is the Baltimore Orioles.  None of these teams are perfect by any means, so like any guy going into his senior prom, we should expect to see some action before July 31st.  What will it take to put one of these teams over the top? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

Red_sox The Boston Red Sox are in first place with a 50-40 record.  Their offense has produced as expected scoring a MLB high 500 runs through their first 90 games.  They may be able to grab another bat off the bench, but with the likes of John Olerud, Doug Mirabelli, and Kevin Youkilis available to pinch hit, and Gabe Kapler and Alex Cora bolstering the defense, the Sox should have plenty of late inning options.  What has prevented this team from building and maintaining a large lead is their bullpen.  Before Keith Foulke went on the DL, he was atrocious.  He had 5 losses, and ERA of 6.23, WHIP of 1.56, and opponents are slugging .528 off of him.  To put it into perspective, the Red Sox barely allow John Halama to have some meaningless innings, and statistically he has pitched much better than Foulke.  Things are so bad at closer that the Sox have actually placed a starter that is not even ready to compete at AAA yet in the closer’s role.  Yankee’s boss George Steinbrenner for the first time had praise for the Sox front office.  Other duds in the Sox bullpen this year have included, well, everybody but Mike Myers and Mike Timlin.  The Sox recently acquired Chad Bradford, who if healthy should give them at least a third option in the bullpen.  What do the Sox need to win the East?  A healthy and effective Foulke back, along with 2 more quality relievers.

Yankees What was said about the Red Sox offense basically goes for the Yankees, who have scored the 2nd most amount of runs in baseball.  The Yankees need a little pitching help in the bullpen, maybe picking up 1 more quality reliever to compliment Rivera, Gordan, and Sturtze.  The Yankees are also hurting for a quality starter, but that is more a function of Brian Cashman building a rotation with more guys that should be part of the American Association of Retired Persons instead of Major League Baseball.  If these guys could ever stay healthy, who knows how good they might be?  We have Randy Johnson (41) and Mike Mussina (36) pitching well enough for this offense to win a lot of ballgames.  Kevin Brown (40) has only pitched 65 innings this year due to an assortment of injuries, and the young pickups, Carl Pavano (29) and Jaret Wright (29) have missed significant time on the DL as well.  Their most effective starter, 25-year old Chien-Ming Wang, just went onto the DL and may miss the rest of the season.  So what was the Yankees response to this news?  They went and grabbed Al Leiter whose not only old (39), but horrible (6.64 ERA, 1.85 WHIP).  He is making his Yankees debut today against the Red Sox, and if I were a Yankees fan, I would not even bother turning on the TV unless you enjoy seeing runs scored on the level they were Friday night (17-1 Sox win).  The Yankees need a healthy and effective Pavano or Wright to come back from the DL, otherwise they will be shopping for two very elusive quality starters.

Orioles That brings us to the Orioles.  Though they don’t score the same number of runs as the Yankees or Red Sox, they have a potent lineup.  They could use another bat off the bench, but their overall offense should be plenty to get them into the post season.  Their starting rotation is solid, with Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez pitching well, and Cabrera pitching better of late.  The O’s need Sidney Ponson to start pitching better, and if Erik Bedard can return to the same form he had before his trip to the DL (5-1, 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), the Orioles will have their legitimate ace, and a very impressive starting 5.  Their bullpen is actually a strength.  BJ Ryan has saved 21 of his 24 opportunities and boasts a 2.40 ERA.  In addition to Ryan, Jorge Julio, Todd Williams, James Baldwin, and more recently, Chris Ray have pitched very well.  Overall, the best bullpen in the East and a starting rotation right up there with the Red Sox.  What do the Orioles need to put them over the top?  Sidney Ponson to pitch better and Erik Bedard to return healthy will give them all the pitching they need.  Otherwise, the O’s will need 1 quality starter, and a bat or two off the bench.  Red Sox and Yankees fans better start watching the O’s very closely, because they might very well win the East.

Prediction?  It’s going to be the best AL East race in decades as pennant fever will grip 3 of the top baseball cities on the East Coast.  The Red Sox win the AL East, Orioles win the wild card finishing 3 games out, and the Yankees just miss out on the playoffs, 5 back from Boston and 2 back of Baltimore.  Things are going to get really exciting down the stretch.

Who Cares?

Barry_bonds1 In the biggest sports story west of Nevada, north of Los Angeles, but south of Oregon, Barry Bonds* has yet to step into the batter box for the San Francisco Giants this year. Attendance is down at SBC Park, and many fans complain daily about not having “the best hitter in the history of the game” playing. However, in just about every other Major League city in this country, the fans reaction to Barry* not playing is one of glee. Could it be that Barry* strikes such fear into the heart of opposing fans that they would rather see him out of the game? Hardly. Believe it or not, outside of the city of San Francisco, cheating is not an acceptable means to attain victory, or in Barry’s* case, baseball records. I for one believe that Barry* being out on the DL is a good thing for baseball.Barry_bonds3

With the steroids controversy swirling around baseball during spring training, one had to wonder how much the topic would dominate and overshadow the 2005 season. Indeed the big story opening day was how Alex Sanchez was the first player suspended under MLB’s new drug testing policy. Forget the fact that the Boston Red Sox were taking the field as the defending world champions for the first time in 86 years, or even that this was MLB’s opening day after two of the most exciting seasons in the last decade. I will admit it was a big story, being the first of its kind, but to have it dominate baseballs’ opening day was a rather ominous start to the 2005 campaign. (On a side note, was I the only one who barely recognized Sammy Sosa when he stepped into the batters box this year? Did he not eat in the off-season? I almost mistook him for a Dominican refugee for crying out loud. He looks a good 15-20 pounds lighter than he has been in the past, and I don’t buy that it’s the different color uniform, either.) The first two months of the season have been pretty good overall, and with the exception of the 8% decline in homeruns, there has been relatively little talk about players and steroids this year.

Barry_bonds_4 Back to Barry Bonds*. Is there anyone out there who thinks that if Barry* were playing this year that steroids would not be the main focal point of baseball? Instead of admiring what Roger Clemens has been able to do at the age of 42, or smile at the fourth place Yankees, or even discuss the merits of “Billy Ball” as the Athletics get hammered day in and day out, every at bat for Barry* would be accompanied by the talk of steroids. After every home run hit (and judging from history, it would be numerous), the questions would begin, the asterisks would be pulled out, and opposing fans would rekindle a chant that was once only reserved for Jose Canseco. And imagine the bind MLB would be in if Barry* hit number 715 or 756. Could they celebrate and honor it the way they did for Cal Ripken Jr. when he broke Lou Gherig’s record? Or will it be too unpopular for baseball with Hank Aaron refusing to attend and publicly stating “any way you look at it, [what Barry* did] is wrong.[1]” As with most issues today, San Francisco would find itself on an island hanging onto ideals that the rest of the country is unwilling to accept.

Barry_bonds2 Barry Bonds* is bad for baseball. Anyone who uses an illegal performance enhancing drug while playing sports, is bad for the game. Not only will they bring shame on themselves and their families as Barry* has done, but they will also bring shame to the game. I know Barry* (and most players today) thinks he’s bigger than baseball, but that title will only go to one man in the history of the game, Babe Ruth. The Babe is the only man who ever played the game that was himself, larger than the game. Babe Ruth saved baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal by hitting more homeruns by himself than most teams combined could hit. He single-handedly revived the game by sparking interest in it once again. In a time when baseball appeared to be peaking, Barry Bonds* seems to be the anti-Babe Ruth. The steroids controversy grew largely out of investigations into him and BALCO. He single-handedly gave baseball a black eye. If Barry* returns and sets the all-time homerun record, thousands of former major leaguers will roll over in their graves if his name in the record books does not include an asterisk. I hope that he does what is right for the Giants, for himself, and for the game, and retires.

* Will hopefully accompany every mention of Barry’s* name in the future.

The Rocket’s Still Firing

Clemens1 Last year’s NL Cy Young award winner, and quite possibly the best pitcher to come along in the last 50 years, is still pitching like an ace in his prime. Unfortunately for him, the Astros have been awful at giving him any semblance of run support. Roger Clemens, at the age of 42 (soon to be 43 in August), is pitching well enough to warrant another all-Star start, and another Cy Young award. His success, unfortunately, will depend upon the bats of the poor hitting Astros.

Roger Clemens has the statistics and track record to be considered a modern day legend. His record of 329 – 165 (.666 winning percentage) is the best among modern day 300 game winners, he ranks second all time in strikeouts, has won 7 Cy Young awards, and an MVP. He also holds the record for most strikeouts in a 9 inning game at 20, and he did it twice in his career. Below is how Clemens has fared against other recent 300 game winners:

Download 300_game_winners.xls

This year, Clemens has allowed only 6 earned runs in his 6 starts, yet his record stands at 1-1. All of his starts qualify as quality starts, which will lead many to conclude he should be 6-0 or maybe 5-1. His one loss was to Greg Maddox in a well pitched game (though statistically his worst of the season) where Clemens’ line was: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks. Let’s take a look now at his 4 no-decisions. 1) 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks; 2) 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 Ks; 3) 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks; and 4) 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 8 Ks. To say that Roger should have won 3 of those games would be an understatement.Clemens2

If we strip away Roger’s record and compare his statistics to the NL leaders, he does quite favorably. His ERA of 1.29 is second behind Dontrelle Willis (1.07), his strikeout total of 44 is third behind Pedro Martinez (52) and Jake Peavy (49), his innings pitched of 42.0 is tied for ninth, with the league leader Livan Hernandez at 49.0 (Livan has 1 more start this year), and his WHIP of 0.95 is fifth best behind Martinez (0.70), Willis (0.86), Peavy (0.91) and Myers (0.94). The season is still young, but given Roger’s track record, we should expect Roger to be a Cy Young candidate if he starts getting some of the wins he deserves.

The Astros have scored exactly 13 runs for an average of 2.2 runs per game. However, in 2 of Roger’s starts, the Astros did not put up a run until extra innings. If one were to look at the number of runs Houston has scored for Roger while he is still in the game, the RPG drops to 1.8. Roger may have thrown 6 gems in his first 6 starts, but he has nothing to show for them. It is unrealistic to think that the Rocket will finish the season with a sub 1.80 ERA at the age of 42, so it is possible that Roger may actually have a losing season unless the Astros start scoring some runs. The addition of Lance BerkmanClemens3 will certainly help the fledgling offense, but will it be enough to send Roger out with a record he deserves? Only time, and the Yankees record come the trade deadline, will tell.

From October Surprise to April Surprise

What’s black and pinstripe and red all over? George Steinbrenner after spending $204 million to field a team that is currently 3 games under .500, and only 1/2 a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Yankees have ensured their first losing April since 1991, and in the process have probably sent Joe Torre, and the entire front office running for the Pepto to calm their very uneasy stomachs. After not even a whole month, is it fair to criticize the Yankees for their performance? After all, we are only 13% of the way through the 2005 season, and Bronx Bombers would only need to go 86 and 59 the rest of the way to win 95 games (a .610 winning percentage from here on out). Should anyone be concerned?

The answer is yes, we have the right to criticize, and yes, the Yankees should be worried. When a team spends more than double the league average on payroll, has an all-star at virtually every position (2-former MVP’s), and sports 5 former  cy-young candidates in their starting rotation, there is no way they should ever fall below .500, even after just 21 games.  They should lead the MLB in runs scored and in ERA (or WHIP, whichever metric you want to use to measure quality pitching) from the beginning of the season to the end. The offense has done its part, scoring 118 runs through the first 21 games, for an average of 5.6 RPG, however the pitching has been non-existent.  Through their first 21 games, the Yankees have allowed 121 runs, or 5.76 RPG. To put that into perspective, the Yankees biggest weakness last year was their pitching, and in 2004 they only gave up 4.99 RPG while scoring 5.54 RPG in the process. Their pitching needs to improve dramatically, by roughly a run per game, in order to compete not only for the Division, but also for a Wild Card spot. Having to compete with baseball’s other juggernaut, the Red Sox, and another of baseball’s best hitting clubs in the Orioles for 38 games, does not help matters either.

George_steinbrennerIt is true that we are early in the season and given the relatively small sample size of events to this point, cannot use the first 21 games to learn anything statistically significant about this Yankees team. However, there are some aspects that should downright scare Yankees fans. Randy Johnson, who is used to dominating hitters, has faired ok so far in his short tenure. However, according to many recent reports, his fastball, which has regularly been clocked between 96-98 mph, has averaged 93-95 mph this season. He still has the velocity necessary to dominate, and will probably crank it up a notch come the warm summer, but until that time, he needs to realize that a 93 mph pitch catching the inner ½ of the plate is a home run pitch, where he can get away with a 98 mph pitch catching the same inner ½ against many MLB hitters. Likewise Mike Mussina’s velocity has been down considerably, with gun readings of his fastball in the 86-88 mph range. Kevin Brown has yet to find success in the Bronx, Jaret Wright is on the DL, and that leaves only Carl Pavano, who only has 1 solid year in his track-record (though he has looked good early on). The Yankees bullpen has not faired much batter with Rivera and Gordon, two staples of the pen, of to slow starts.

It is still early and the Yankees have plenty of time to turn things around, especially with the likes of Randy Johnson pitching every fifth day. I don’t believe his struggles will continue because everything in his history indicates that he will find his groove, and when he does, he will be the best pitcher in the AL East. As for the other four starters, if 2 of them don’t find their groove by the beginning of the summer, it will be a very hot, very long summer in the Bronx for the Yankees and their fans, and a very short and disappointing fall as well.

On the brightside, the season is only 21 games old, so no permanent damage has been done, especially considering that they are only 5 games out of first place. The Yankees are 9-12 through their first 21 games. The Pythagorean formula suggests they should be 10-11, so they should theoretically be a game ahead of their current position. However, whether they are 9-12, 10-11, or even 11-10, they are performing far below expectations.