July 31, 2003

365 days later

Exactly one year ago today, I was reading one of my favorite websites, David Pinto's Baseball Musings, when I read the following:

"Zachary D Manprin has started a blog on the Oakland Athletics. This is the fourth or fifth blog that a reader has started. It's lots of fun, a great way to vent your feeling about baseball, or any subject of interest. Give it a try."

I was home from school for the Summer, without a job, and I definitely needed a a place "vent" about baseball. The whole blog thing sound like a fun idea, so figured what the heck and I did as David suggested and gave it a try.

I immediately went over to blogger.com and signed up for a blog. Just a couple hours after reading David Pinto's message, I had my first ever entry completed.

Well, it's now a year later. The Summer ended, I went back to school and miraculously completed my sophomore year, and now I'm back at home, without a job again. And I'm still writing about baseball.

To be honest, I never even thought about this whole blog thing being anything more than a hobby for the rest of last Summer. It's now a year later, I've written literally several hundred entries and over 140,000 visitors have stopped by to read them. It's quite amazing to me, not only that that many of you have taken an interest in what I have to say, but that I was able to stick with something for an entire year!

As I do at the beginning of every month, here is the month-by-month visitor count for Aaron's Baseball Blog:

Month          Visitors     Per Day

August 2,800 90
September 3,200 107
October 4,200 135
November 4,400 147
December 6,600 213
January 7,800 252
February 10,100 361
March 11,500 371
April 14,900 497
May 20,550 663
June 25,950 865
July 30,200 974
-----------------------------------
TOTAL 142,200 390

I do think it is getting to the point that expecting each month's totals to continue to rise is wishful thinking, but I've been saying that for a while now, so who knows?

I really want to thank everyone who has stopped here over the last year. I've enjoyed doing this more than anything I've ever done. Waking up each morning to check all the emails I have gotten from people always starts my day off right and checking the visitor totals for that day before I go to bed always gives it a nice ending too.

I also want to thank all my fellow bloggers and other writers out there who have given me words on encouragement and plugs on their sites and, in a few cases, have become my friends. A special thanks to David Pinto, who unknowingly inspired me to do this on a Thursday afternoon last August.

It's been a really fun year for me and I hope you have all enjoyed it as well. If you promise to keep stopping by everyday, I'll promise to keep writing. And if you enjoy this site, don't be afraid to tell some people about it. Whether that means telling a few guys at your office or a couple buddies in one of your fantasy leagues or giving me a plug on your website - every little bit helps.

To celebrate the blog's one year anniversary, I thought it would be fun to take a look at back at the millions of words I typed into this blog over the past 365 days and pull out some of the more interesting ones. From the brilliant predictions and the funny lines to the horrible predictions and the lame attempts at humor, from the insightful to the unintelligible and the sublime to the ridicluous...

Aaron's Baseball Blog, August 1, 2002 - August 1, 2003: The Year in Quotes

August 1, 2002:

"I just finished watching Marlins' ace A.J. Burnett improve to 11-7 by shutting out the St. Louis Cardinals. Burnett has been one of baseball's top pitchers throughout the season and he was awesome tonight, but the way his manager, Jeff Torborg, is using him has me worried about his future."

[My first ever entry. I didn't know it at the time, but not only would I spend the next year writing entries about baseball on this blog, a very large portion of them would be devoted to A.J. Burnett and his injuries.]

August 2, 2002:

"The Red Sox (finally) released Jose Offerman. Unlike everyone else who pays attention to major league baseball, this apparently came as a huge shock to Jose."

[The first entry in which I openly mock someone, something that has become a staple of Aaron's Baseball Blog.]

August 9, 2002:

"There are some stupid people in this world. There are some really stupid people in this world. There are some people that I would go so far as to call complete morons. When those people say something idiotic, you can live with it because, well, they are morons, they have an excuse.

Then there is Phil Rogers."

[The first of many entries devoted entirely to bashing the hell out of Phil Rogers. A year later, it still hasn't gotten old.]

August 9, 2002:

"Barry Bonds just deposited career home run #600 over the fence in straight away center, at Pac Bell.

I don't really have much to add at this moment. I just wanted to say that I was watching while it happened, and it was pretty freaking cool. It strikes me that I may have just watched the 600th career home run by the greatest ballplayer I will ever see play. And I am only 20 years old.

There is nothing quite like baseball when it is right. Congrats Barry."

[And thus begins the worshipping of Superman on this blog.]

August 15, 2002:

"I have seen the future and it's name is Mark Prior.

I saw a 4-time Cy Young Award winner pitch today. This 5-time league ERA champion only went 6 innings. But the Cubs' all-time leader in strikeouts and wins did manage to strikeout 12 Astros in those 6 innings. However, this 4-time 20 game winner didn't even get the victory. Yeah, that's right, I saw Mark Prior pitch today.

WOW!"

[And thus begins the worshipping of Mark Prior on this blog.]

August 22, 2002:

"I suspect that many of you are not very familiar with [Johan] Santana, but with the way he has pitched this season, that might change very quickly."

[Just like that, the FREE JOHAN SANTANA! campaign was off and running.]

September 1, 2002:

"I just read that the Marlins are considering letting A.J. Burnett pitch again this season, "to test his elbow." This strikes me as something that is incredibly dumb, although that would certainly not be anything new for the Marlins. Apparently they want him to throw a few innings in a game in September to see whether or not he needs surgery. Whether or not he needs surgery?!?! So there is a chance he already needs surgery and a) they don't know it and b) they want him to pitch again. Absolutely incredible..."

[Example #1,245,042 of 5,430,056 of me calling into question the way the Marlins are handling A.J. Burnett.]

September 13, 2002:

"If ESPN's #1 analyst, Joe Morgan, didn't write his (often idiotic) opinions each week on ESPN.com, I would probably like him as an announcer more than I do."

[Ah, the first anti-Joe Morgan entry. Don't worry Joe, it gets much worse in a few months.]

October 4, 2002:

"Francisco Rodriguez can throw it a little bit."

[Uttered immediately after Rodriguez made his post-season debut. I believe that statement officially qualifies for Understatement of the Year.]

October 14, 2002:

"After going approximately 19 years and 9 months without any mention in a major metropolitan newspaper, Yours Truly has now been mentioned twice in one week! I already talked about my mention on StarTribune.com (Minneapolis' newspaper) last week. And today I found out that this site is mentioned in a Chicago Tribune article too."

[My head officially begins to swell.]

October 23, 2002:

I live in a dorm at the University of Minnesota. My floor has a student "Community Advisor" that lives on the floor and sort of runs things. Here is the exact, word-for-word bulletin/note that he posted inside of the men's bathroom yesterday (I stole one of the many copies of this bulletin, so as to accurately reproduce it for my audience):

*******************************************

REQUESTS FROM YOUR COMMUNITY ADVISOR

Please respect this floor as I respect you and your room

1) Flush the toilet when you are done using it! The floor would appreciate not looking at others feces before they use the toilet.

2) Do not leave trash in the hallway or bathroom. There are multiple disposal areas on the floor designated for garbage and the hallway and drinking fountain are not on the list.

3) Do not dispose of food in the sinks or drinking fountain Dump unfinished food in the garbage or flush it down the toilet.

If you gentlemen do not abide by these three requests I will begin documenting and directing attention toward things that I am sure you would like to keep to yourselves.

One person can ruin it for the entire floor.

Thank you to everyone that has respected these already, please continue to make this is a pleasant environment to live in.

If there are questions please come talk to me.

Andy

*******************************************

Yep, that's dorm life for ya. Feces in unflushed toilets. Trash in the hallways. Old food in the drinking fountains. Threats of revealing things that "you would like to keep to yourselves." (read: sex, drugs and rock & roll). And a Community Advisor that suggests flushing unfinished food "down the toilet."

[Your first real glimpse into the glamorous life of a blogger. I have some other "interesting" dorm stories to tell, but I'll spare you.]

November 19, 2002:

Kansas City waived shortstop Neifi Perez. This transaction brought to mind a bit I remember hearing George Carlin do. He basically said:

'Do you realize that somewhere in the world is the worst doctor? There is a guy who is a doctor, but he is the worst doctor. And somewhere, someone has an appointment to see him!'

Neifi Perez was baseball's version of the worst doctor in the world this year. For the past season and a half, the Royals have not only had an appointment to see him, they traded Jermaine Dye and about $5 million bucks for the appointment!

[My ode to Neifi remains one of my favorite entries. Amazingly, he hasn't been completely horrendous this season.]

November 26, 2002:

"The Red Sox named Theo Epstein General Manager yesterday. Congrats to Theo. From everything I have heard about him, he sounds like an incredibly smart guy with a great baseball mind and I think he will do an excellent job in Boston.

As many of you probably heard, he is 28 years old, making him the youngest GM in the history of MLB. As many of you also probably heard, I am 19 years old and my biggest dream in life is to be the GM of a Major League Baseball team. For that reason, I am so incredibly jealous of Theo Epstein right now that I don't know how to contain myself. If you ever feel like hiring someone even younger than you, please PLEASE PLEASE let me know."

[I'd say the Theo Epstein Era in Boston is off to a pretty good start. Oh, and that offer still hands Mr. Epstein, sir.]

December 2, 2002:

First things first, before I get to the baseball stuff, I must deal with the most important news of the weekend. Yes, that's right...Heidi Klum is now a free agent. The future Mrs. Gleeman divorced husband Ric Pipino and is now "on the market." Heidi, I am sure you are an avid reader of Aaron's Baseball Blog, so please send me an email, let's talk...

[The first of many entries devoted to the lovely Ms. Klum, who, surprisingly, has yet to contact me.]

January 22, 2003:

"Yesterday was my first day of classes for second semester. A few of the highlights...

I took my usual glance around the [class]room. This is always a fun experience, particularly in a small class like this (about 20 people). I continued my glance, but was quickly interrupted when an older man, probably around 50, stood up and hurriedly told the teacher that he needed to go to the bathroom. As he was leaving the room, I noticed a rather large spot of moisture on the crotch of his grey sweatpants. I just assumed that a grown man of 50 (or so) wouldn't pee on himself and then ask to use the restroom while in a non-fiction writing class, so I waited for him to return to the room, hoping for some sort of clues or an explanation.

He returned, with the large, damp spot still intact and later told everyone that he was taking some medication that was a diuretic. I immediately felt bad for the man, because he had in fact peed his pants in the middle of a college class. However, I obviously didn't feel that bad for him, seeing as though I have now reported it to my entire, massive audience."

[Another thrilling look into my everyday life. Amazingly, the guy continued to "pee his pants" in class for the next several meetings and then mysteriously dropped the class around the 3rd week, never to be seen again.]

January 23, 2003:

"Pudge

Pudgy.

The Pudge Meister.

Pudgy Pudgman.

Pudge-orama.

The Pudginator.

Pudgatolla.

Pudge-stein.

Pudgywuggy.

Pudge-zilla.

The King of Pudge-ville.

Pudge-ster.

Pudge-arino.

Sorry, I just felt like doing that for some strange reason. The Florida Marlins inked Ivan Rodriguez to a 1 year year contract yesterday, for $10 million dollars."

[This is the first official sign of me going insane. The process is still ongoing, as far as I known.]

February 5, 2003:

"For I am Gleeman, LORD OF THE IDIOTS!

I am an idiot.

I like to live in a cool environment. Now, by "cool" I don't mean good or nice or whatever else you want to use the slang term to represent. By cool, I mean literally cool. When I am not at the dorm, I keep the temperature in the house at 67 degrees and sit comfortably while my mother and dog shiver under layers of blankets. When I am at the dorm, like right now, I keep the window in my room open, despite the fact that it was 0 (yes, ZERO) degrees outside yesterday. I don't know what to tell you, I can only sleep when I am cold.

So anyway, back to why I am an idiot. I wake up yesterday morning and hop out of bed. I was all set to walk across the room to hit the snooze button on my alarm when I think to myself, "Hmm...it's kind cold...maybe I'll close the window before I go back to sleep." So I mosey on over to the window, with what I like to call my "sleep face" in full effect (eyes swollen shut, hair completely out of sorts, mouth all stinky and gross, etc). I go to close the window and I get about 75% of the way through the job when I realize I just dropped the window on my finger.

I am an idiot.

I finish closing the window and then look down at my finger. It is all bloody and the nail is already purple. Not a good thing to be looking at first thing in the morning, especially when you have to squint to see because your eyes are still swollen shut. It is about this time that it starts hurting. A lot.

Anyway, there is no punchline to this story and definitely no moral. I just wanted to inform everyone that I am, in fact, an idiot."

[Another look into the always fascinating life of one Aaron Gleeman. For those of you wondering, my finger is completely healed and I remain a gigantic idiot.]

February 6, 2003:

Letter number one comes to us from Heidi K.:

'Aaron you sexy thing, I am so sorry to hear about you dropping a window on your finger. It is too bad I don't live in Minnesota or I would come over to your dorm room and kiss it and make it better.'"

[An example of me utilizing an injury to advance my effort to stalk Heidi Klum, who, again, has yet to respond to any of my numerous advances.]

February 20, 2003:

"In my book, the only acceptable reason for a girl making me go outside, in the Minnesota winter, at 10 pm and walk a half hour to her dorm is...well, I don't want to finish that sentence, because I am pretty sure my mom reads this blog every day."

[That quote, taken just slightly out of context, is another exciting look into my life as a college student. It is also the first official "Aaron's Baseball Blog Life Lesson," so I hope you kids out there were paying attention. You might want to write that down and keep it in your wallet or something.]

March 7, 2003:

I was in my non-fiction writing class. We were talking about books we've read recently and I said that I had read "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy," by Jane Leavy. So, as I'm leaving class I walk by this girl and she reaches out and grabs me by the shoulder.

Girl: Hey, Aaron right?

Me: Yeah...

Girl: Guess what?

Me: Um...what?

Girl: One of my nicknames is "Koufax!"

Me (having completely forgotten that I had talked about reading the Sandy Koufax book 15 minutes earlier): Koufax?

Girl: Yeah!

Me (amazingly remembering the girl's name is Sandee): Oh, yeah...cause you're Sandee, right?

Girl: Yep, people call me that all the time!

Me: [awkward pause] Well, that's cool...um...see ya.

Girl: Oh...ok...bye...have a good day...

Damn, I am soooooo smooth. I don't mind making a fool of myself by saying dumb things as much as I do not being able to think of even a single thing that could possibly keep a conversation alive!

So I leave class with my confidence quite shaken and I hop on the bus that will take me back to my dorm. I sit down next to this cute little blonde and, amazingly, start up a decent conversation. I shocked the hell out of myself, but I figured I'd try to keep chatting as long as possible.

So we are talking, about the campus bus system (she doesn't like it), about her classes (she's an English major) and some other stuff. She's laughing (and not at me!) and I'm "on top of my game." We're approaching 10 minutes of conversation when we finally get to my stop. Feeling confident, I manage to come up with a non-embarrassing goodbye and get up to leave...

BOOM, I smack my head on the metal bar hanging over the seat near the ceiling of the bus! I doubt she even noticed, but I did. Now, the first thing that says about me is that I am tall - which is good, I guess. In addition to that, it was almost like the bus felt the need to remind me that I'm just not that smooth with the ladies. Sort of like saying: "Hey Gleeman, where do you get the nerve successfully talking to an attractive female on me?!"

I would like to appologize to the bus and say that I am pretty sure it won't happen again."

[No comment.]

March 31, 2003:

"'Here Comes the Sun'

Little darling, it's been a long, long lonely winter

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say, it's alright

Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since they've been there

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say, it's alright

Little darling, mmmmmm, I see the ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear

There goes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say, it's alright

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say, it's alright

It's alright

It's alright

OPENING DAY IS HERE! ("It seems like years since it's been here")"

[The best day of the year. I finally had actual baseball to write about again.]

April 14, 2003:

"Last week I asked everyone to vote on their favorite nickname for Luis Rivas. The result of the vote was almost completely in favor of one nickname, which also happens to be the one I like the best, which means it is now his official nickname! From now on (or at least until Luis or a member of his family hunts me down and murders me), Luis Rivas is (drumroll please)...

Luis Oh-For-ThRivas"

[And just like that, a nickname was born. Also, I am still alive, which likely means no members of Luis' immediate family are readers of this blog.]

April 28, 2003:

"Anyway, A.J. Burnett went back on the disabled list over the weekend and is likely facing major elbow surgery and is probably out for the season - at least."

[The well-documented saga continues.]

May 8, 2003:

"I am gonna keep this short and sweet. I have 2 finals today and a third class in which a "Final Paper" is due. As you can probably guess, I am wayyyyyyyy stressed out and about ready to concede failure on at least one of the finals.

So, if you've got something you pray to or a lucky something you rub, I'd appreciate you praying to it and rubbing it for me. Trust me when I say this: I need all the help I can get."

[More on (and moron) the life of a college student. Also, thanks to everyone who prayed and rubbed, because it worked!]

May 11, 2003:

"'The Miami Herald is reporting in Sunday editions that Marlins manager Jeff Torborg has been fired.'

Well, my job here is done."

[The saga continues some more.]

May 12, 2003:

"Very late Thursday night/early Friday morning (like around 12:30 am), I suddenly got bombarded with emails. They were flying into my mailbox left and right and I was also getting "instant messaged" by just about everyone on my 'buddy list.' The basic topic of all of them was: 'Holy s---! You got mentioned in a Jayson Stark article on ESPN.com!'

Holy s---! indeed."

[It is at this point that my head officially was given it's own area code.]

June 2, 2003:

"At what point is it okay to call Joe Morgan an idiot? I mean, it is obvious from listening to Joe that he is a fairly smart guy. He speaks well, he has quite a lot of intelligent thoughts and he generally comes off as a person of above-average intelligence. But c'mon Joe!

Not only does Joe have his facts wrong about Billy Beane and Moneyball, he is now making a big deal about the situation, based on his incorrect facts. It is to the point that Joe bashes the A's/Billy Beane/Moneyball at every possible opportunity he gets, whether it is on ESPN, ESPN.com, ESPN Radio, wherever. It is almost an obsession. And I think it is all based on Joe being incredibly offended by Billy Beane writing a book that Billy Beane didn't even write!

It really is quite incredible. I mean, Joe is doing a chat and someone asks him an innocent question about what he would do to improve the A's struggling offense "if he was Billy Beane." And Joe immediately takes that opportunity to bash Beane for writing Moneyball.

When I first started paying attention to baseball heavily in the early 90s, I thought Joe Morgan was awesome. He did national games and I thought he was really a great announcer. At this point, I think Joe is slowly becoming an angry old man, who seems to have latched onto the idea that any new baseball knowledge is bad baseball knowledge and the fact that the GM of a baseball team that uses some of that new knowledge would write a book and show himself as the genius behind the franchise really offends Joe Morgan. Never mind the fact that a person named Michael Lewis - an author with several best-selling books - actually wrote Moneyball and Billy Beane had absolutely nothing to do with the content that was in the book or the manner in which he was portrayed.

Someone needs to tell Joe that the subject of a book doesn't always write the book and they need to do it pretty fast, because Joe Morgan is starting to really look like an ass."

[See Joe, I told you it got much worse.]

June 23, 2003:

"Joe is a smart guy, so I don't know what the heck is going on with him lately. He has been saying weird stuff for years now, but lately it is getting very weird. First he goes off on weekly rants about Billy Beane and Moneyball, ripping Oakland's GM for writing a book he didn't write. Now he makes a statement in an article and then, about 24 hours later, denies he made any such statement and actually scolds people for "putting words in his mouth." Nevermind the fact that he has been putting words - no, make that an entire book - in the mouth of Billy Beane."

[In one of the more interesting developments of the Summer, Joe Morgan officially went insane. Fortunately, I was there to cover every minute of it.]

July 7, 2003:

"Freedom finally rang for Twins fans Saturday night.

Joe Mays gave up 5 runs in 3 innings against the Cleveland Indians, raising his season ERA to 6.57. After the game, the Twins announced that Mays was no longer a member of the starting rotation and he would instead be pitching out of the bullpen.

Beyond the freedom of Twins fans to not have to watch Joe Mays pitch every fifth day, the more important liberation that took place over the weekend is that of Johan Santana. Santana, aka "The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog," will take over Mays' spot in the rotation, starting with Friday's game against the Angels."

[Mission accomplished! The Johan Santana Liberation Movement was successful.]

July 11, 2003:

"Let me put it to you this way: In their primes (which, in my opinion, was about 2 years ago), Christina Aguilera could maybe have competed with Britney Spears in the looks department on her best day and Britney's worst day. Maybe."

[I take time out of my busy schedule to answer one of the most important questions in the history of mankind.]

And there you have it, an entire year's worth of writing. From A.J. Burnett, Johan Santana, Bobby Kielty and Barry Bonds, to Heidi Klum, Joe Morgan and Britney Spears. It was a lot of fun and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Here's hoping the next 12 months are just as fun!

If you missed any of this week's previous entries, here they are:

Monday: Lima Time!

Tuesday: Eating Innings 101

Wednesday: From Rags to Riches: The story of Theo and his bullpen

Thursday: Another worn out welcome

This Week's Featured Links:

Monday: Baseball Primer

Tuesday: Batter's Box

Wednesday: Bryball

Thursday: Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

Today's picks:

Arizona (Schilling) -140 over Chicago (Cruz)

Tampa Bay (Kennedy) +200 over Kansas City (Lima)

Chicago (Colon) +110 over Seattle (Garcia)

Total to date: + 925

W/L record: 191-194 (3-5 yesterday, although I broke even thanks to a +340 against Pedro.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

July 30, 2003

Another worn out welcome

With the trade deadline looming later today, there has been a flurry of deals in the last 72 hours. From Cincinnati dealing Jose Guillen to Oakland (I think Reds did well and I wouldn't be surprised if Guillen was on the move again) and Scott Williamson to Boston (which I discussed yesterday) to Rey Sanchez heading to Seattle (Pat Gillick finally makes a trade and it's for Rey Sanchez?) and whatever other deals are made between the time I wrote this and the time you are reading it.

For whatever reason though, Tuesday's Yankees/Diamondbacks deal is particularly interesting to me, so I thought I'd discuss it a little...

To Arizona:

Raul Mondesi

$2,000,000

To New York:

David Dellucci

Bret Prinz

Jon-Mark Sprowl

Raul Mondesi is a mediocre player with a crappy attitude and, just like the Dodgers and Blue Jays before them, the Yankees finally got fed up with him and cut bait.

My favorite quote from the trade is courtesy of Yankees GM Brian Cashman:

"After [Mondesi] was pinch hit for by Joe Torre, he decided he was going to shut it down, shower up and leave. That's what made Joe Torre and I decide on another venue for Raul."

For whatever reason, I just found that quote really funny. You can almost sense the frustration in Cashman's words and I would love to have heard the meeting he and Joe Torre had right before the trade was made. I imagine a few F-bombs were dropped and I would guess Mondesi was referred to as some things other than "Raul."

Of course, I agree completely with Cashman and Torre on this issue. If this were another team or Raul Mondesi were a better player, it might be worth putting up with his nonsense from time to time. But this is the New York Yankees, in first-place with the biggest payroll in baseball, and this is Raul Mondesi, a 32 year old right fielder who is hitting .258/.330/.471.

While I'm not surprised the Yankees got tired of Mondesi, I am surprised they were able to get as much value for him as they did. David Dellucci is one of my favorite role players in baseball. He's a good defender capable of playing all 3 outfield spots and he is always able to provide half of a very solid platoon.

Here are Dellucci's numbers against right-handed pitching in recent years:

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG

2001 .283 .363 .513
2002 .262 .346 .436
2003 .270 .354 .433

Those aren't great numbers, but they are decent. He gets on base against righties, hits for a little power and plays solid defense. That's a nice guy to have around, whether as a platoon starter or just as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder.

If you stick Dellucci out in right field every time a right-handed pitcher starts, I would be willing to bet he'd hit as well and possibly better than Mondesi would in those games. Then all you need to do is find a lefty-masher to be his platoon partner. Plus, Dellucci is 3 years younger than Mondesi and about $12 million cheaper, although that is partially off-set by the money the Yankees sent along to Arizona.

Considering the Yankees were probably interested in just ridding themselves of Mondesi, that they were able to get a solid, young, cheap outfielder to help replace him in right field is great - that they were also able to get two other players of at least some value is amazing.

Bret Prinz went 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings for the Diamondbacks back in their championship 2001 season. He's battled some injuries since then and hasn't pitched well in his stints with Arizona, but he had a 2.97 ERA and a 34/9 strikeout/walk ratio in Triple-A last year and has a history of some pretty good pitching throughout his minor league career. He's not going to be anything special, but he's only 26 years old and can certainly be a decent relief pitcher, which even a team like the Yankees can always use.

John-Mark Sprowl isn't a particularly good prospect and he's pretty old to still be in Single-A, but he's a catcher with some good on-base skills (.402 OBP this year, .404 OBP last year), so he could end up being of some value at some point.

In my opinion and judging from some of the comments coming from various Yankees and from Mondesi's play of late, simply ridding yourself of Mondesi is addition by subtraction. Getting a nice platoon outfielder, a decent relief pitcher and a minor league catcher is an amazing bounty for making Mondesi someone else's problem.

Another interesting quote is this one from Arizona GM Joe Garagiola Jr.:

"We're very pleased that we were able to make this deal. Raul Mondesi is a terrific offensive player, and we needed a terrific offensive player because we are struggling to score runs."

Don't you just love it when someone's definition of a word doesn't exactly match up with your definition of the same word? In this case, the word in question is "terrific."

Year      AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

2001 .252 .342 .453 .278
2002 .232 .308 .432 .262
2003 .258 .330 .471 .284

I suppose there is a situation where those numbers would be considered "terrific." Like perhaps if they came from a Gold Glove shortstop or if they were put up in 1968. In this case though, those numbers belong to Raul Mondesi, a right fielder who has just been described as a "terrific offensive player."

Mondesi is 32 years old and is basically an all-or-nothing slugger at this point. His batting average hasn't been above .280 since 1997 and it's been in the .240-.260 range for the last 3 years now. He'll hit you a few homers and have stretches where he actually shows a little plate discipline, but he is anything but a terrific offensive player. Even his defense in right field is "okay" but very overrated, thanks to a strong throwing arm.

Mondesi's Equivalent Averages (EqA) over the last 3 years are: .278, .262 and .284. The average EqA for a major league right fielder this season is .281, and it was .283 last season. That means Mondesi's hitting over the last 3 seasons makes him a slightly below-average offensive right fielder, and that's giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Those numbers are nothing special, and certainly doesn't qualify as a terrific offensive player and it's definitely not worth dealing with someone like Mondesi for.

There is one final quote on this trade that I enjoyed, once again from Joe Garagiola Jr.:

"To get Raul Mondesi back to the National League competing against the Giants and Dodgers and teams he competed against when he was with the Dodgers, I have a hunch that will get him fired up"

Joe Jr. may be right and, if he is, that's one hell of a "hunch." But is playing a few games against the Giants and the Dodgers while on an Arizona team that is struggling to stay above .500 and in the Wild Card chase really going to motivate him more than playing for the New York Yankees, who are fighting for the AL East title and the best record in the American League?

Not to mention, the Diamondbacks have a grand-total of 14 games remaining against either the Giants or the Dodgers and, in all honesty, they are 12.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West, so they aren't really "competing against the Giants" for much of anything at this point.

Finally, one more thing on this trade and then I promise I'll give it a rest...

Around this time last season, when the Blue Jays unloaded Mondesi's massive contract on the Yankees, baseball experts all over the country were congratulating the Yankees on a brilliant acquisition and mocking the Blue Jays for having lost a player simply because of money issues. In fact, in doing a little research for this entry, I stumbled across something from SportingNews.com, dated July 2, 2002. It is the description of an interview with Sporting News "Baseball Expert" Ken Rosenthal, from one of their "Sporting News Radio" shows:

"Mondesi trade proof MLB needs cap:

TSN's Ken Rosenthal tells Doug Russell and Chris Russell that Raul Mondesi's trade to the Yankees is simply a salary dump for the Jays and evidence that baseball needs a cap."

That statement was fairly dumb at the time and it looks even dumber right now. So, if the Blue Jays getting sick of Mondesi and dumping his salary on the Yankees was "evidence that baseball needs a cap," then is the Yankees getting sick of Mondesi and dumping his salary on the Diamondbacks proof of the same thing? And, if so, which team would benefit from the salary cap? The team that originally dumped him, the team that originally picked him up and then dumped him, or the team that just recently picked him up and is delusional about his offensive talents?

Link of the Day:

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog - "Hey, it's free!"

Today's picks:

Milwaukee (Kinney) -105 over New York (Heilman)

St. Louis (Williams) -130 over Montreal (Day)

Colorado (Tsao) +105 over Cincinnati (Acevedo)

Houston (Miller) -110 over Atlanta (Reynolds)

Cleveland (Westbrook) +220 over Oakland (Harden)

Baltimore (Johnson) +110 over Minnesota (Rogers)

Texas (Lewis) +340 over Boston (Martinez)

Chicago (Loaiza) -125 over Kansas City (Snyder)

Total to date: + 925

W/L record: 188-189 (2-2 yesterday for +5 - yes, +5.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

July 29, 2003

From Rags to Riches: The story of Theo and his bullpen

A major league bullpen is a very complicated thing these days.

There is this fascination with having one reliever in a role which only allows him to pitch the final inning of games that his team is leading by 3 runs or less. Regardless of what you think about the importance of having a "closer," doesn't it seem sort of dumb to place a label on one of your best relievers so that he is only used in certain, predetermined situations?

Wouldn't you want the freedom to use any reliever, let alone your best reliever, in whichever situations arise during a game that you feel they would be the most valuable in? And what's more valuable, getting the final 3 outs in a 4-1 game or coming into a tie game in the 8th inning or a game your team is leading 2-1 in the 7th to pitch out of a bases loaded jam? It's obviously a rhetorical question, but I hope we are all in agreement on the answer.

Well, before this season, new Boston GM Theo Epstein and his "stat-head" front office (which includes the stat-head, Bill James) decided that they thought such labels and restrictions were dumb and they chose to ignore them. They let Ugueth Urbina, their high-priced "closer" from last season, leave, and they didn't replace him with another "established closer" with a bloated salary. Instead, they built a bullpen without a closer at all and simply put together the best group of relief pitchers they could.

Unfortunately for them, the group they put together just wasn't all that good. The Red Sox bullpen struggled from the very start this season, blowing late-inning leads in each of their first 2 games. The media - both Boston and national - jumped all over them for what was almost universally described as their "closer-by-committee" setup. Of course, what the Red Sox were doing had absolutely nothing to do with closer-by-committee or anything having to do with a closer at all, and that was the entire point. Not surprisingly, the majority of the mainstream media didn't bother actually checking into any of this.

Whether you want to call the Red Sox bullpen "closer-by-committee" or "closer-less" or even just a "bullpen" (which is what I prefer), the fact is that it has been very poor for the majority of this season. While the bullpen and their lack of a "closer" hasn't exactly cost them their chance at the post-season, like so many ESPN personalities and newspaper reporters opined early this season, the bullpen has been a weakness for the team and has no doubt cost them games.

But, while shuttling guys in and out of the bullpen and watching them struggle during the early part of the year will cost a team a few wins, ultimately, the most important thing for a championship-level team like the Red Sox is to end up with the right pieces in place by the end of the year. The Red Sox are are 63-42 right now, which puts them 1 game back in the AL East and and in the lead for the Wild Card.

In other words, if the season ended today, they'd be playing in the playoffs, so the most important thing for Boston - and any other team in a strong position to make the post-season - is to make the final changes to the roster and to head into August and September with the group they want to go to battle with down the stretch and into October.

By making a few trades and by sorting through the options they already had to determine which ones worked the best, the Red Sox have completely made over their bullpen in just a few months. They have turned what was once a major weakness into what now appears to be a major strength.

Here are the relievers who pitched for Boston in April, sorted by the amount of innings they pitched:

Mike Timlin

Ramiro Mendoza

Brandon Lyon

Steve Woodard

Chad Fox

Jason Shiell

Alan Embree

Bob Howry

Kevin Tolar

Howry was a complete bust, posting a 12.46 ERA in 4.1 innings before being sent to the minors, where he has stayed all season. Chad Fox, who the Red Sox hoped was fully recovered from the injury that kept him out for all but 3 games in 2002, has not been completely healthy or effective this whole year and currently has a 4.41 ERA in just 16.1 innings.

Brandon Lyon has pitched well and was a very nice "scrap heap" find for Boston. He appeared in 42 games and pitched a total of 52.2 innings with a 3.93 ERA, and even went 9/11 (82%) in save opportunities (Urbina had a save percentage of 84% last year). Then, last week, the Red Sox traded Lyon to the Pirates in exchange for veteran left-handed reliever Scott Sauerbeck. Turns out Lyon is now injured and may be done for the year, which the Pirates are understandably a little upset about. I don't know enough about the situation yet to really comment, so I'll just stick to the on-field stuff and say that Boston added a nice left-handed arm to the bullpen.

Ramiro Mendoza was a complete mess early in the season and hasn't been much better of late. After 6 straight seasons with the rival Yankees, where his ERA didn't rise above 4.29, Mendoza joined the Red Sox and had a 9.39 ERA in April and followed it up with ERAs of 5.65, 4.70 and 5.40 in May, June and so far in July. For the year, he has a 6.33 ERA in 58.1 innings and opponents are hitting .352 off him.

Out of the group of 9 relievers that the Red Sox used in April, I would say just 2 of them (excluding Lyon) are "keepers" at this point. Mendoza and Fox may be used down the stretch and into the post-season, but I don't think they'll be trusted in many important situations. No, the two guys who lived through the early bullpen wreckage and walked out alive are Mike Timlin and Alan Embree.

Timlin has pitched in 45 games, totaling 58 innings with a 3.41 ERA. He's got an amazing 47/5 strikeout/walk ratio and opponents are batting .253 with a .276 on-base percentage off him. Meanwhile, Embree has appeared in 41 games, pitching a total of 40 innings with a 3.83 ERA. His strikeouts are down from his past levels, but he's limited batters to a .222 batting average. I would guess that Timlin and Embree have earned the right to be trusted in important spots the rest of the way.

So, they've got Timlin and Embree, along with Sauerbeck, as far as relievers-who-can-be-trusted go. That's 3 relievers, so now all they needed to do was find themselves a couple more guys and they had a real, championship-level bullpen.

The Red Sox traded third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona for closer-turned-starter Byung-Hyun Kim. At first, Boston used Kim in the rotation, but the need in the bullpen was too strong and he was eventually moved there. He has now established himself as the team's best reliever and is 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA and a 23/4 K/BB ratio in 18.2 innings out the Boston bullpen.

And now, late last night, the Red Sox traded Phil Dumatrait, a solid pitching prospect in Single-A, and a PTBNL to the Cincinnati Reds for right-handed reliever Scott Williamson.

After 105 games and countless changes, the core of their bullpen now looks like this:

Byung Hyun-Kim

Scott Williamson

Scott Sauerbeck

Mike Timlin

Alan Embree

That looks a whole lot better without the "Woodards" and "Howrys" and "Tolars" mucking it up, and without Mendoza and Fox in key roles. In fact, I would say the current Boston bullpen has to be considered one of the best in baseball.

Of course, if Boston does get to the post-season, their regular season reliance on 5 or 6 relievers will no longer be an issue. In my opinion, a team can get by pretty well with 3 dependable relief pitchers in the playoffs, and having 4 is just a bonus. The Red Sox may have 5 and, at the very least, they have 2 guys that can definitely get the job done.

Here is what Williamson and Kim have done as relievers over the past 2 years:

                     ERA      IP      SO     BB      H     HR

Byung-Hyun Kim 2.37 103 115 30 82 6
Scott Williamson 3.04 115 136 61 80 11

Those two are now, without a doubt, one of the top 1-2 punches in any bullpen. Over the last 2 years as a reliever, Kim has struck out 10 batters per 9 innings and has a K/BB ratio of 103/30, with a sparkling 2.37 ERA. Williamson's strikeout rate is even better (10.6/9 IP), but his control is quite a bit worse. However, batters have hit just .181 and .218 off him during the last 2 years.

In addition to being great relievers, Kim and Williamson are especially valuable because they are very capable of pitching multiple innings at a time. Kim has started 12 games this year and Williamson was a starter in the minor leagues and, as recently as 2000, started 10 games for the Reds.

For most teams that abide by the closer label, a pitcher's ability to go multiple innings means he can come into a 3-1 game in the 8th inning instead of the 9th inning. For a team like the Red Sox, who don't care about who gets a "save," that means the pitcher can come into a tie game and pitch 2-3 innings or he can come into a game they have the lead and pitch a couple innings or - *gasp* - he can come into a game they are trailing by a run and try to shut the other team down for 2-3 innings while the offense tries to come back.

The Red Sox have transformed their bullpen from bad to good and it's not only good, it's flexible. And it's all because Theo Esptein, Bill James and the rest of the Red Sox front office got together and decided it was dumb to let a meaningless statistic control the way they ran their bullpen. It may have hurt them early in the year when they didn't have the arms to make the plan work, but they've got everything sorted out and they've definitely got the arms now. Come playoff time, you can bet they'll feel a whole lot better with Byung-Hyun Kim and Scott Williamson available to go whenever and wherever they are needed than they would have with some guy with 40 saves waiting to show up in the ninth inning to collect his stat.

The Red Sox are for real this year. Their offense is the best in baseball, they've still got Pedro on their side, their bullpen is looking good, and they've got smart people in the front office who are willing to do things that the media may not understand, because it won't matter what Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds called their bullpen back in April when they're playing in October.

Link of the Day:

Bryball - "Where Opinion Rounds the Bases"

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Schmidt) -110 over Chicago (Wood)

Philadelphia (Myers) +120 over Los Angeles (Brown)

Colorado (Chacon) -115 over Cincinnati (Graves)

Baltimore (Ponson) -100 over Minnesota (Radke)

Total to date: + 920

W/L record: 186-187 (4-1 yesterday for +325.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

July 28, 2003

Eating Innings 101

I was thinking about my baseball watching habits yesterday afternoon when it struck me that the Toronto Blue Jays have become my favorite non-Twins team in all of baseball. When the Blue Jays are available for me to watch on DirecTV and the Twins aren't on at the time, I almost always watch them. And, unlike some teams, the quality of their announcers has nothing to do with why I watch them, since the Canadian broadcasts of their games aren't even available on MLB Extra Innings. Whenever I catch a Jays game, I am watching the broadcast of whichever team they are playing and, trust me, with the "quality" of some of these announcers, it says a lot about how much I like the Blue Jays that I am still able to watch them all the time.

As far as I can figure, there are 3 main reasons for my becoming a very big Blue Jays fan:

1) In the last year or so, I have become good friends with Craig Burley and, to a lesser extent, Kent "Coach" Williams. Craig and Kent are both Canadians and big Blue Jays fans, and they also help run the "Batter's Box" - which is the best place for Blue Jays information and discussion on the internet.

I talk baseball with them quite often and the discussion usually involves the Blue Jays or the Twins. And, just as I suspect they have become more interested in the Twins by talking to me, I have become more interested in the Blue Jays by talking to them.

2) The Blue Jays are one of the 3 "sabermetric teams" in baseball right now. Actually, I shouldn't say there are only 3 sabemetric teams right now, because that's probably not true. More like there are 3 "openly" sabermetric teams in baseball right now ("not that there's anything wrong with that"), the other two being the Oakland A's and the Boston Red Sox.

The A's and their GM Billy Beane have been in the spotlight for several years now while using sabermetric principles throughout their organization, and guys like me ("stat-heads" or whatever you want to call us) have sort of adopted them as our official team. Before he became the GM of the Blue Jays, J.P. Ricciardi was the director of player personnel for the A's, and played a big part in both the success of the team and the way the organization was run. Upon arriving in Toronto, Ricciardi turned the Blue Jays into a sabermetric front office and the results of that conversion can be seen in the organizational philosophies of the big league team and throughout the minor league system.

The A's are sort of like the baseball team equivalent of Pamela Anderson. I've been a big fan of them for a long time already and, while they are still worth admiring, it's nice to have a new sabermetrically inclined team like the Blue Jays to drool over...oops, I mean root for. I guess that would make the Blue Jays the baseball team equivalent of...I dunno, maybe Jennifer Garner?

3) Of course, the biggest reason why I have become such a big Blue Jays fan is that they are a very interesting team with a lot of good, young players. I mean, let's face it, if the Blue Jays were playing like the Tigers this year, it wouldn't matter how many of my friends were Tigers fans and it wouldn't matter how much the front office stressed the importance of things like on-base percentage, I wouldn't be watching them play every time I get a chance. The Blue Jays are playing well and they have a ton of young talent, and that's why they're fun to watch.

The majority of that good, young talent is in the hitting department. Actually, I should rephrase that: The majority of the good, young talent at the major league level is in the hitting department. The Toronto minor league system, thanks in large part to new organizational philosophies involving the draft, scouting and player development, is very strong and features quality and depth in both position players and pitchers. At the major league level however, it's all about offense right now.

The team is built around veteran slugger Carlos Delgado, who is having a tremendous season. Delgado has batted cleanup for the Jays all year long and, because of his impressive hitting (.310/.420/.617) and the great on-base skills of the guys batting in front of him, he already has 105 runs batted in on the year, and we're not even to August yet. Delgado is on pace to drive in over 160 runs this year, which would rank him among the top 25 single-season RBI men in baseball history..

While Delgado leads all of baseball in RBIs, his teammate, Vernon Wells, is second in the AL and not that far behind Delgado with 93. At just 24 years old, Wells is having a breakout, MVP-caliber season. He is on pace for 40+ homers, 40+ doubles and 140+ RBIs, all while playing a great centerfield

The rest of the Toronto offensive attack consists of a mix of veterans and youngsters. For veterans, there are guys like Greg Myers, Frank Catalanotto, Mike Bordick, Tom Wilson and, before he was traded, Shannon Stewart. While the group of younger hitters includes Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Reed Johnson, Josh Phelps and the newly-acquired Bobby Kielty.

It's a very good and deep group of hitters and they are currently second in all of baseball in runs scored with 607, or 5.8 per game. Their offense has been so good this season that it has been able to hold up a sagging pitching staff. And, in the case of the lone Toronto pitcher having a great season, the offense has made him look damn near unbeatable.

Roy Halladay is currently 15-2 on the year. That's pretty amazing in itself, with the 15 wins leading baseball, but it's even more amazing when you consider Halladay started the season 0-2. After his first 4 starts of the year, Halladay was 0-2 with a 4.44 ERA. Since then, he has gone 15-0 with a 3.08 ERA in 20 starts, which is getting pretty close to completely unbelievable.

The amount of wins, the great winning percentage and the amazing winning streak have Halladay at the top of most "experts'" Cy Young Award lists. As any intelligent baseball fan knows though, a pitcher's wins and losses are not the best way to judge his overall performance. Many things can impact a pitcher's record that are beyond his control - bullpen support and offensive support being two of them. So, while Halladay gets all the attention from people like Peter Gammons, Harold Reynolds, Bobby Valentine and the other various ESPN "personalities," keep in mind that he is pitching with the second highest scoring offensive in baseball providing him with run support, which does a whole lot to make your record look nice and pretty.

Halladay has been great this year and is no doubt one of the best pitchers in baseball. That said, I wouldn't vote for him as the Cy Young winner right now and a good case could be made that there have been several AL pitchers better than him thus far. However, while he gets perhaps too much credit for his amazing win-loss record, I want to recognize Halladay for something he is doing that seems to be going completely unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Quite simply, he is eating innings like a fat guy at a buffet.

Halladay is leading Major League Baseball in innings pitched this year with 175 and is currently on pace to throw 270 innings. In an era when 200 innings is the benchmark for a pitcher being a "workhorse," 270 seemed like an incredibly high number, so I did some digging. Turns out, it's a really high number.

Here is the list of the pitchers who have topped 270 innings in a season over the last 15 years:

                    YEAR       IP     
Dave Stewart 1988 275.2
Roger Clemens 1991 271.1
Randy Johnson 1999 271.1

As the great Porky Pig says, "Eb-dee eb-dee eb-dee eb-dee...That's all folks!"

Only 3 pitchers have pitched as many as 270 innings in a season in the last decade and a half, and only Randy Johnson has done it in the last 10 years.

How is Halladay eating so many innings? Well, for one thing, he's going deep into almost all of his starts. He is averaging 7.3 innings per start and has gone at least 6 innings in all but one of his starts this season and has gone 7+ innings in 75% of his starts. He'll often give you 7+, but he doesn't often give you a full 9, having completed just 2 games all year, despite his huge inning totals. This is because the Blue Jays realize the importance of keeping a young pitcher's workload fairly low in regard to pitch count. Halladay is averaging 101.6 pitches per start, but has gone over 110 pitchers in a game just 5 times all season and has yet to go over 120 pitchers in a game.

It's not the innings that are likely to hurt a pitcher, because an inning can be 3 pitches. Rather, it is the repeated heavy pitch-count workloads of single games that, in my opinion, is the biggest danger for a young pitcher. A.J. Burnett, who is out for the year (and then some) with an elbow injury and about whom I have devoted thousands of words and dozens of entries to, was treated almost the exact opposite of how Halladay is being worked by Toronto.

While Halladay has topped 110 pitches in just 5 starts all year, Burnett averaged 109.5 pitches per start last season. And while Halladay has yet to throw more than 120 pitches in a game all year, Burnett threw 120+ pitches 10 different times last year, or in a total of 35% of his starts.

This is not to say there is a perfect cause and effect relationship here. Burnett got injured because he was overworked, that much I am sure of. But, overworking a pitcher does not always lead to injury, just as being careful with a pitcher does not always lead to perfect health. It's a good start though and the way the Blue Jays are handling Halladay is infinitely better for both the team's future and the pitcher's future than the way the Marlins destroyed Burnett.

Despite his team being careful with his pitch-counts, Halladay is no less a workhorse than Burnett was and, in fact, he is more of a workhorse than Burnett and is on pace to be more of a workhorse than all but three pitchers in the last 15 years. He is able to do so because he throws strikes.

Among the 102 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title right now, Halladay throws the 3rd-fewest pitches per plate appearance. The fewer pitches you devote to each hitter, the more hitters you face, and the more hitters you face, the more innings you can eat. It's a simply philosophy really and, when you think about it, it is the exact opposite philosophy that teams like the Blue Jays and A's preach to their hitters.

They want their hitters to make pitchers work, to take pitches, to wait for something good to hit, to make the opposing pitcher rack of huge pitch-counts. And then they teach their own pitchers to do just the opposite, to throw strikes, to make the hitter swing, to conserve pitches, to work more innings.

Halladay is 3rd in MLB in fewest pitches per plate appearance, while Oakland lefty Mark Mulder is 6th and Oakland righty Tim Hudson is 20th. Toronto starter Corey Lidle, who came to the Jays from Oakland this off-season, is currently tied with Mulder for 6th. Oakland lefty Barry Zito, who doesn't have the greatest control in the world, throws a lot of pitches, but even he is just 38th in most pitches per plate appearance.

All of which is why Halladay currently leads MLB in innings, Hudson is 2nd, Mulder is 6th and Zito is tied for 8th, all despite their teams being very strict with their pitch-counts. Being a workhorse means you eat a lot of innings for your team, it doesn't mean you have to be worked so hard that you need to be taken out back and shot after the season.

Roy Halladay is on pace to pitch nearly 20% of his team's innings this year, he's done some of his pitching in a 4-man rotation and he's very likely going to end the year with one of the highest innings-totals of the last 15 years. And yet, the way he is being worked - or not being worked - would make me feel more confident about him pitching 400 innings than most guys on other teams tossing 200 innings.

The wins are nice and they're probably going to get him a Cy Young Award this year, but the real story is not that Halladay has been able to rack up 15 wins thanks to great run-support, it's that he is pitching extremely well while eating innings at an astonishing pace, and is doing so without being worked in an extremely stressful way. In fact, now that I think about it, the real real story in Toronto isn't happening on the pitching mound, it's happening in the front office. For a baseball nut like me, that's something I can get excited about, and who knows, someday I may even forgive them for stealing my favorite player from my favorite team.

Link of the Day:
Batter's Box - "Opinions and observations about the Pastime, from a Toronto perspective"

Today's picks:
Arizona (Webb) -110 over Florida (Penny)
San Diego (Perez) +130 over Pittsburgh (D'Amico)
Milwaukee (Sheets) +105 over New York (Glavine)
Chicago (Clement) -115 over San Francisco (Moss)
Chicago (Buehrle) -100 over Kansas City (May)

Total to date: + 595
W/L record: 182-186 (0-2 yesterday for -260 and I am officially in a massive slump.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

July 27, 2003

Lima Time!

Just a few months ago, Jose Lima was a total joke. That may sound mean, but it was true. He was a pitcher who had two very nice seasons sandwiched in between a whole bunch of horrible ones and, as his ERA soared, "Lima Time!" became something people laughed at, instead of with. It was sort of like the pitching version of "The Mendoza Line."

After starting his career 9-22 with a 5.92 ERA, Jose Lima somehow went 16-8 with a 3.70 ERA for the Astros in 1998, and then followed it up by going 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA the following year. Then, he put up the following numbers:

Year      IP      ERA     W     L

2000 196 6.65 7 16
2001 166 5.54 6 12
2002 68 7.77 4 6
----------------------------------
TOTAL 430 6.40 17 34

Initially, Lima's troubles were blamed on the Astros moving from the spacious, pitcher-friendly Astrodome, to their new ballpark, Enron Field, one of the better hitter's parks in baseball. While the change in ballparks certainly would have hurt any pitcher, placing all the blame on it was pretty silly. Lima's road ERA in 2000 (6.32) was horrible and just slightly better than his home ERA (6.92). In fact, for all the talk of the homer-friendly Enron Field killing him, Lima gave up a homer once every 4.2 innings on the road and one every 4.0 innings at home.

Even when he was pitching well, Lima never struck many people out and instead relied upon good control and the ability of his fielders to turn the many fly balls he induced into outs. Despite pitching in the Astrodome, Lima served up 34 homers in 1998 and 30 in 1999. Then, in his first season in Enron Field, he gave up 48 homers in 196.1 innings.

His strikeout rate dropped over 15% from his 1999/2000 levels and his walk rate also got significantly worse. Those things hurt him, but the home runs are what killed him. His 48 homers allowed were the second-most in the history of baseball, behind only Bert Blyleven's 50 in 1986. Of course, Blyleven gave up those 50 homers in 271.2 innings, while Lima served up his 48 in just 196.1 innings. In fact, Lima became just the 2nd pitcher in baseball history to give up 40+ homers in less than 200 innings (Shawn Boskie in 1996 is the other one).

Lima didn't have a single good month in 2000. His monthly ERAs were: 8.42, 7.68, 5.17, 5.91, 6.67 and 6.16. Even the worst pitchers usually find a way to scrape together 2 or 3 good starts in a month at some point, but not Lima.

Right-handed batters hit .272/.305/.488 off him. That's not great, but the .305 on-base percentage against is pretty good and the .488 slugging percentage is bad, but not completely awful. His performance against lefties however, was completely awful. In 360 at bats against left-handed batters, Lima gave up 131 hits (.364 AVG), including 30 doubles and 25 homers - good for a obscene .689 slugging percentage.

Basically, all the lefties who batted against Lima in 2000 hit like Barry Bonds. One more amazing thing about his righty/lefty splits from 2000 is that Lima's strikeout/walk ratio was excellent against righties and absolutely horrible against lefties. Against righties, he had 92 strikeouts and 27 walks. Against lefties, he had 32 strikeouts and 41 walks. Of course, if lefties were slapping you around to the tune of a .689 slugging percentage, you might start walking a few of them too.

As long as we're having fun with Lima's splits from 2000, here are a few more fun numbers to chew on...

--- Batters hit .453 off him on the first pitch of an at bat. In 117 at bats when the ball was put in play on a 0-0 count, Lima gave up 53 hits, including 9 homers and 10 doubles - for a .769 slugging percentage.

--- Wait, it gets worse. When the hitter didn't smack the crap out of his first pitch and instead took it for a ball, their batting average went up to .462 on 1-0 counts. He gave up 9 homers in 65 at bats with the count 1-0.

--- Even when Lima managed to keep the batter from hitting the ball over the fence for a few pitches and got the count to 3-2, he still gave up a .322 batting average, along with a .729 slugging percentage.

--- In 91 at bats against the #3 batter in the lineup, Lima allowed them to hit a combined .451/.514/.890. In fact, the only spots in the batting order that didn't slug at least .500 off Lima in 2000 were the #8 spot (.405 SLG) and the #9 spot (.338).

--- Amazingly, Lima only gave up 1 grand slam the entire year, although batters did hit .375/.462/.875 off him with the bases loaded.

--- With runners on base, Lima gave up 21 homers and 22 doubles in just 325 at bats, and hitters accumulated a total of 111 RBIs in that situation, or 1 RBI every 2.9 at bats.

Okay, so I think you get the picture. Lima's 2000 season was a complete disaster and ranks as one of the worst seasons by a pitcher in baseball history. Perhaps because of his success in 1998 and 1999, the Astros stuck with Lima the next season. He rewarded them by posting a 7.30 ERA in 53 innings, before they finally pulled the plug on him and dealt him to the Tigers for Dave Mlicki, in what has to be considered one of the greatest "I'll take your crap if you take my crap" trades of all-time.

By being traded to the Tigers, Lima moved from Enron Field to Comerica Park, one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball. His numbers improved significantly, but he still posted a 4.71 ERA and went 5-10 in 18 starts for Detroit. And, even while pitching in one of the toughest parks in baseball to hit home runs, Lima served up 22 long balls in 112.2 innings with the Tigers, including 10 in 67.2 innings in Comerica.

The Tigers, not exactly bursting at the seams with quality pitching, kept Lima around for the start of the 2002 season. He began the year in the rotation and had a 12.15 ERA in 4 April starts, before being banished to the bullpen, where he posted ERAs of 9.00 and 10.39 in May and June. Lima's season ended after his 9.53 August ERA and he ended the year with a 4-6 record and a 7.77 ERA in 68.1 innings.

At that point, his career looked finished. He had just posted ERAs of 6.65, 5.54 and 7.77 in his last 3 seasons and even a move to a great pitcher's park that suppressed homers, his main weakness, wasn't helping him at all. Not surprisingly, Lima didn't get any major league offers for the 2003 season and signed on with the independent league Newark Bears, the same team Rickey Henderson was with.

Lima pitched very well for Newark, going 6-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 8 starts, with an excellent 52/5 strikeout/walk ratio in 54 innings pitched. Somewhere in an office in Kansas City, Royals GM Allard Baird got the bright idea that his team - in first-place and the surprise of baseball - should sign Jose Lima and insert him into their starting rotation.

The transaction was no doubt laughed at by baseball fans across the country and, I will admit, I was among those laughing. In fact, I did more than just laugh - I wrote about it. Here's what I said in my Bi-Weekly Review of the AL Central for Baseball Primer, back on June 17th:

"In a move perhaps meant to off-set their winning ways, similar to the management-wants-the-team-to-lose plotline in "Major League," the Royals signed Jose "Life to Flying Things" Lima and actually gave him a start against Barry Bonds and the Giants. Jose served up a massive homer to Barry and ended up pitching six innings, allowing four runs in a no-decision.

No word yet on whether or not there is a life-sized cardboard cutout of Royals owner David Glass in just his skivvies in the KC locker room."

Not only was I absolutely positive that this move was a big mistake by the Royals, I was very happy they signed Lima, because, as you may know, I am a bit of a Minnesota Twins fan. On top of that, I was quite proud of myself for coming up with what I believed to be an incredibly clever nickname for Lima - "Life to Flying Things." Not only was it accurate (or so I thought), it was also a tribute to Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson, a player in the 1800s and the owner of one of the coolest nicknames in sports history.

Anyway, it turns out signing Jose Lima wasn't exactly a disastrous decision. And, it turns out, Jose Lima joining the Royals' rotation wasn't exactly good news for the Twins and their fans. You see, Jose Lima, he of the 5.14 career ERA and 6.40 ERA over the last 3 seasons, currently has the following numbers this season for Kansas City:

GS       IP      ERA     W     L

8 49.2 2.17 7 0

That's right, he's got a 2.17 ERA and has 7 wins - and zero losses - in 8 starts. In all honesty, I think I may have been more likely to believe it if you told me this Jose Lima that is currently 7-0 was actually not the same guy, and was some young rookie who slipped under the radar or something.

But, I have checked around and, according to all the information I can find, the man who is currently 7-0 with a 2.17 ERA for the Kansas City Royals is, in fact, Jose "Lima Time!" Lima.

I could try to rationalize it or even try to explain it, but who are we kidding? There isn't a single person in this entire world - including Allard Baird and Jose Lima himself - who thought Lima would pitch anywhere near this good. If you search long enough, you may be able to find three people in Antarctica who are about 4 years behind on the news and maybe they thought Lima could still be a decent pitcher in 2003, but you'll never find anyone who can honestly say they thought Jose Lima would have anything resembling a 2.17 ERA and a 7-0 record this year.

The cynic/logical person/realist in me is forced to say that this is a fluke. Jose Lima, at 30 years of age and coming off of back-to-back-to-back horrible seasons, has not suddenly remembered how to pitch, especially since he never knew how to pitch like this.

To Lima's credit though, he is doing some good things. Not good enough to explain a 7-0 record and a 2.17 ERA, but good things nonetheless. Mainly, he is actually keeping the ball in the ballpark. Lima has now pitched 49 2/3 innings this season and has given up just 3 home runs. That works out to a homer every 16.6 innings. To put that in some context, Lima has never, in his entire career, had a season in which he pitched even 9 innings for each homer he gave up.

Here are his home run rates during his career:

Year     IP/HR

1995 7.4
1996 5.6
1997 8.3
1998 6.9
1999 8.2
2000 4.1
2001 4.7
2002 5.7

2003 16.6

Aside from the homers, not much about Lima has changed. He has 23 strikeouts in 49.2 innings, which is 4.2 per 9 innings. Not only is that a really bad strikeout rate, it is actually the lowest rate in Lima's entire career. In fact, take a look at Lima's strikeout rates over the last several seasons:

Year      K/9

1999 6.83
2000 5.68
2001 4.56
2002 4.35
2003 4.17

That's not an encouraging pattern and not exactly the type of thing that screams out "THIS GUY IS GOING TO GO 7-0 WITH A 2.17 ERA!"

In addition to not having a good K rate this year, Lima's walk rate is actually up quite a bit too. At his peak (1998/1999), Lima was walking 1.2 and 1.6 batters per 9 innings. His great control, in addition to a strikeout rate that was still somewhat decent, allowed him to post excellent strikeout/walk ratios of 5.28/1 and 4.25/1. So far this season, Lima is walking 3.1 batters per 9 innings and his strikeout/walk ratio is 1.35/1, which is awful.

Basically, Lima is doing a great (and completely uncharacteristic) job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, and his strikeout and walk rates are both bad. So, how exactly does he have a 2.17 ERA and a 7-0 record?! Defense, it's all about the defense.

When Lima has allowed a ball to be put in play - that is anything that's not a homer, strikeout or walk - it has been converted into an out about 80% of the time. That is an unbelievably good percentage. In fact, it is too good - as in so good it's impossible to keep up.

The best defense in baseball at turning balls in play into outs so far this year is Seattle's. The Mariners are converting 73.6% of BIPs into outs this year, which is a great rate. The A's are second at 73.5% and the Cardinals lead the National League at 72.7%. Last year, the Angels led all of baseball at 73.1%.

A 73% BIP-out% is fantastic. A 74% BIP-out% is extraordinarily good. A 75% BIP-out% is bordering on unbelievable. Jose Lima has gone right past "fantastic, "extraordinarily good" and "bordering on unbelievable," and then he has gone ahead and skipped whatever adjective you want to attach to 76%, 77%, 78% and 79%.

If Jose Lima can continue to avoid giving up home runs to the degree has so far, he can be a successful pitcher. Not 7-0 with a 2.17 ERA successful, but successful. Of course, counting on Jose Lima to give up 3 homers for every 50 innings he pitches is pretty crazy, to put it mildly.

Jose Lima may still be a horrible pitcher and his current performance with the Royals may be a complete fluke with absolutely no chance to continue, but, no matter what happens, he's still got a 7-0 record and a 2.17 ERA on July 28th and I'm guessing if you would have walked into Allard Baird's office back in June when he signed Lima and told him that Lima would be 7-0 six weeks later, he probably would have smiled, nodded yes, and then hit slowly picked up his phone to dial security.

It may not last much longer, but no one thought it would last this long anyway, so what the heck do we know? Enjoy it while it lasts, because you never know when Lima Time! will be gone again. As a Twins fan, I'm hoping it'll be gone the next time Lima steps onto a mound, but I must admit it's pretty fun to watch.

Lima Time! baby. It's back and it's better than ever (for a limited time only, good while supplies last).

Link of the Day:

Baseball Primer - "Baseball for the Thinking Fan"

Today's picks:

Montreal (Vazquez) -110 over Atlanta (Hampton)

Philadelphia (Wolf) -150 over Cincinnati (Dempster)

Total to date: + 855

W/L record: 182-184 (1-2 yesterday for -100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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