July 24, 2003

Reader Mail (Operation: Clean Out Mailbox, Volume Two)

Last week I chronicled the problems I've been having keeping up to date with all the emails I receive from readers now that this blog has a fairly sizable audience. I am proud to say that I am almost completely caught up with all my emails right now and I thought I'd take today's entry to clear out the few remaining emails I have stored in my AOL "personal filing cabinet."

The Minnesota/Toronto trade of Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart, and my subsequent entry devoted to it, generated a ton of reader response. Rather than show you the various emails I received, allow me to simply show you just one, which essentially sums up the response I got from most people, particularly after Bobby Kielty had 3 hits (including a homer) in his Toronto debut:

"Dear Aaron,

After observing tonight's baseball game, I have a simple request: Please pass along my thanks to the Twins organization.

Yours truly,

A Blue Jay Fan"

Both Kielty and Stewart have actually been phenomenal since the trade. Stewart is hitting .444/.531/.630 and has scored 7 runs in 8 games, while Kielty is hitting .357/.438/.571 and has scored 9 runs in 7 games.

I am extremely happy about Kielty's hot start as a Blue Jay, because I am a big fan of his and I want him to succeed. And, while there is a part of me that wants Stewart to fail miserably, just so the Twins see how dumb the trade was, I still want the Twins to do well and Stewart hitting .444 certainly helps them do that.

That said, Kielty and Stewart's performances for their new teams so far and for the remaining games this season have absolutely nothing to do with my feelings on the trade. Whether Kielty struggles or Stewart struggles or they both continue to do extremely well, my feeling about the trade will remain exactly the same, because I never felt the trade hurt the Twins this season. It does, however, hurt them in the future, when Bobby Kielty will be putting up .380 OBPs for another team while making very little money and Shannon Stewart will be long gone.

I've said enough about the trade already and, to be honest, discussing it still makes me sad and angry. So, if you missed it the first time, make sure to check out my entry about the trade...

So long Bobby... (July 17, 2003)

Our next email comes to us from "Cynthia," in response to my "Questions and Answers" entry from earlier this month, when I told the story of the best sporting-event I have ever attended - my high school winning the Minnesota state basketball championship:

"Today I read that you went to Highland Park, so I had to write. I am an HP alumna myself, but quite a bit older than you -- I graduated in 1974. Glad to see a Scotsman making a name for himself. You might end up ranking among the most-famous alumni including Jack Morris."

Now, I am not really aware of any particularly famous Highland Park grads besides Morris, but if I am ever among the most famous graduates in the school's history...well, that doesn't say much for the school's history.

To the best of my knowledge, the "Highland Park most famous alumni" list looks like this:

1) Jack Morris, MLB pitcher

2) Mo Hargrow, College basketball player

And that's it.

I have to think that I am at least missing a few other division one college athletes or something though, right? If any other "Scotsmen" out there have knowledge of other famous graduates, I'd love to hear about them. I had a few classes with Mo (although he is unaware of this fact, I am sure), so I am hoping he makes it to the NBA, so I have a nice story to tell. He had a great sophomore season for the Gophers last year, averaging 32.6 minutes and 13.2 points per game. He was, in my opinion, the team's best player, which is pretty impressive for a guy who barely played as a freshman.

Our last email comes to us from "Scott," in response to Rich Harden's major league debut, which I urged everyone to watch at the end of one of my entries from earlier this week. Scott was fortunate enough to have seen Harden's debut, and he had this to say about it:

"I enjoy your blog greatly - even though I'm a White Sox fan. I live in the Kansas City area and I've had Rich Harden stashed away on my fantasy team's roster (keeper league) since he went 39 up and 39 down in his first 2 AA starts this year. So, I was watching him very closely last night and you were certainly right - I will be telling people years from now that I saw his debut.

His command and composure were outstanding, way beyond his years. He got up to 97 at times without looking like he was overthrowing, or even trying hard at all. His breaking pitches had good bite and had the Royals off balance all night. He kept his composure when the Royals threatened a few times, including after Eric Byrnes just flat-out dropped a fly ball for a 3-base error.

A couple of peripheral type things that impressed me too - he's got a great pick off move for a right-hander. He picked off Beltran from first and that was after he'd come pretty close to catching him a couple of innings earlier. But the one thing that impressed me most is how, for a pitcher with power who is going to get a good amount of strikeouts, he seemed to also be an extreme ground ball pitcher.

Last night his ratio was 15:1. Now, that doesn't include Byrnes' error and the one fly ball was the sac fly that drove in the Royals' only run, but still impressive. Most weren't even well hit ground balls, a lot of worm killers and slow choppers. Of course this is a really small sample size - do you know if this is normal for him?"

Great email Scott, I really appreciate the report on Harden's debut since, sadly, my MLB Extra Innings package for DirecTV didn't show the game like I thought it would.

Harden's "stuff" definitely belongs to an extreme ground ball pitcher. He has a power fastball and also features a heavy sinker and a splitter. I'd want to see more of him before I start making real comparisons to other pitchers, but from everything I have heard (and from the little I have had a chance to see previously), he looks to me like his teammate, Tim Hudson, but with better velocity on his fastball.

Hudson is one of the most extreme ground ball pitchers in baseball. His GB/FB ratio is 2.28 so far this year (the 5th-most extreme among starting pitchers) and 2.15 for his career. I don't know what Harden's minor league GB/FB ratios looked like, but anyone who gets 15 ground balls and just one fly ball in his major league debut seems like a good bet to be an extreme ground ball pitcher.

I have always thought that, if given the choice, I would much rather have a pitcher who is an extreme ground baller than an extreme fly baller. The theory being that, when ground balls go for hits, they are usually singles. Whereas when fly balls go for hits, they are usually doubles or homers.

Of course, if you've got Mike Cameron, Darin Erstad and Torii Hunter as your three outfielders and your infield includes the names "Rivas" and "Guzman," you may want to choose the fly ball pitcher. But, with everything being equal, I think I'd take the ground ball pitcher every time.

In case anyone is curious, here are the top 5 most extreme ground ball and fly ball pitchers so far this season:

GROUND BALL                               FLY BALL

GB/FB ERA GB/FB ERA
Derek Lowe 4.05 4.85 Jarrod Washburn 0.64 4.92
Brandon Webb 3.58 2.43 Garret Stephenson 0.71 4.79
Kevin Brown 3.30 2.12 Ryan Franklin 0.73 3.50
Matt Clement 2.34 4.37 Darrell May 0.79 3.33
Tim Hudson 2.28 2.69 Kris Benson 0.79 4.79

Well, I can tell you which group I'd rather have! Although, to be fair, Javier Vazquez, Barry Zito and Jamie Moyer are also among the most extreme fly ball pitchers this year.

I think smart teams could really do quite well by building their teams around a certain type of pitcher - whether ground ball or fly ball - to take advantage of both their ballpark and their defense. I know, in recent years, most Twins pitchers have been extreme fly ballers, which is smart when Torii Hunter is in CF, Jacque Jones is in LF and the Metrodome is no longer a great place to hit homers in.

The Mariners, for one, would be best served to get as many extreme fly ball pitchers as humanly possible, because not only is their ballpark spacious, their outfield defense is one of the best units ever (yes, ever). And, to their credit, it appears as though they've done just that, as their team GB/FB ratio is the most fly ball dominant of all 30 MLB teams this year.

On the other hand, a team that wanted to simply focus on getting as much offense into the lineup as possible could sacrifice some outfield defense by playing a right or left fielder in center with a couple of DH/1B types in the corner spots, and then build around a ground ball dominant pitching-staff.

I suspect many, if not most, teams are doing something along these lines, at least to some degree. Whether it impacts how they ask their pitchers to pitch or the choices they make in their lineup everyday or their decisions on trades and free agent signings, this seems like an area that a smart team with a good plan could really take advantage of.

That's it for today. Thanks for stopping by this week, I hope you enjoyed yourself. If you missed any of this week's previous entries, here they are:

Monday: Breaking my silence (well, sort of)

Tuesday: The Old Man

Wednesday: May 27, 1968

Thursday: Rookies

This Week's Featured Links:

Monday: Eisenberg Sports

Tuesday: Dodger Thoughts

Wednesday: Stephen Silver

Thursday: Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Myers) +140 over Florida (Willis)

Los Angeles (Perez) +190 over Arizona (Johnson)

Minnesota (Rogers) -120 over Cleveland (Westbrook)

Total to date: + $955

W/L record: 181-182 (3-3 yesterday for +215, including 3 nice upset picks.)

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

July 23, 2003

Rookies

I was thinking about the leading contenders for this year's Rookie of the Year awards and I was struck by how many good rookies there are this season.

I mean, there have been quality rookies throughout the history of baseball, but for every 2001 - when Albert Pujols won in the NL, Ichiro! won in the AL, and guys like Roy Oswalt, Adam Dunn, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano and Jimmy Rollins all had nice rookie years - there is a year like 1992 - when Eric Karros won the NL award by hitting .257/.304/.426 and Pat Listach won the AL award with a .349 slugging percentage.

This year's crop of rookies appears, at least at this point in the season, to be a very solid group, with a lot of outstanding performances and an especially impressive amount of depth.

Let's take a look at some of the top rookies so far...

(A player is a "rookie" if he came into the season with no more than 130 at bats and/or 50 innings pitched at the major league level)

HITTERS


AB AVG OBP SLG EqA
Hideki Matsui 399 .301 .358 .454 .291
Rocco Baldelli 383 .303 .332 .444 .276
Ty Wigginton 372 .274 .327 .425 .264
Angel Berroa 330 .282 .338 .461 .275
Scott Podsednik 308 .308 .384 .416 .288
Ken Harvey 303 .257 .305 .416 .245
Mark Teixeira 285 .260 .342 .477 .280
Eric Munson 271 .236 .313 .435 .267
Jody Gerut 240 .275 .332 .500 .288
Lyle Overbay 227 .273 .365 .405 .263
Marlon Byrd 225 .298 .368 .409 .278
Jason Phillips 210 .319 .397 .476 .303
Reed Johnson 196 .311 .369 .464 .285
Hee Seop Choi 170 .229 .364 .441 .283

That list is really long and it's leaving off quite a few guys (like Bo Hart) who are putting up good numbers in limited playing time.

To put those performances in some context, when Karros won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1992, he had a .270 Equivalent Average (EqA) as a first baseman, the most "offensive" position. Of the 14 guys I listed there, 10 of them have an EqA above .270, including 3 everyday centerfielders and an everyday shortstop.

No one is having a rookie year like Pujols in 2001, but it's a very deep group and several of them are near the top of their respective positions offensively. Among American League rookie hitters, Rocco Baldelli and Hideki Matsui have gotten by far the most attention, but Angel Berroa and Mark Teixeira are quietly having similarly good seasons.

Baldelli started very fast, hitting .368 in April and .314 in May, but slowed down quite a bit after that, hitting .255 in June and .257 so far in July. Meanwhile, Teixeira started very slow offensively and didn't get much playing time at first, but has really been hot lately, slugging .507 in May, .529 in June and .508 so far in July. Like Teixeira, Matsui started slow, but his season numbers are very solid thanks to an incredible June, when he hit .394/.484/.673 in 104 at bats. Berroa has had 3 good months out of 4, including a very nice .327/.382/.592 June.

If the season ended right now, I think the choice for best AL rookie hitter would be a tough call. Do you go with the left fielder (who has also played some CF) who has a .291 EqA over an everyday centerfielder with a .276 EqA? Or do you go with the everyday shortstop with a .275 EqA? Or maybe you go with the guy with a .280 EqA who has filled in all over the diamond, spending time at 1B, 3B, LF and DH. It's a tough call, and that's not even mentioning Jody Gerut and Reed Johnson, who have both been very good, but in less-than-everyday playing time.

The crop of NL rookie hitters isn't nearly as impresssive. Ty Wigginton has the most playing time of any rookie hitter in the league, but his hitting hasn't been particularly good, although it also hasn't been bad either. Marlon Byrd started slow and had some injury problems, but he has been playing very well lately as Philadelphia's starting centerfielder. He's got his OBP up to .368 and is now their leadoff man. Hee Seop Choi started very fast, got hurt and has struggled to find playing time all season, although his overall numbers are still very solid.

The best rookie hitter in the NL this season has been Scott Podsednik. Podsednik gradually started to get playing time early on and, after the Brewers traded Alex Sanchez to the Tigers, Podsednik became their everyday centerfielder. He has done a great job, hitting .308 with a .384 on-base percentage, while adding in 20 steals and solid defense. Besides Podsednik, the most overlooked rookie hitter in the NL is Jason Phillips, a former catcher who has taken over as the Mets' everyday first baseman. Phillips is hitting .319/.397/.476, which is good for a .303 EqA - the best of any rookie in baseball. He only has 210 at bats so far though, and his defense at first has been pretty rough.

PITCHERS


IP ERA
Jason Davis 118 4.72
Jae Weong Seo 113 3.83
Jeriome Robertson 107 4.56
Jeremy Bonderman 105 5.38
Horacio Ramirez 104 4.17
Brandon Webb 103 2.45
Mark Hendrickson 101 5.17
Claudio Vargas 99 3.55
Jesse Foppert 85 5.53
Dontrelle Willis 84 2.67
Billy Traber 72 4.38
Kyle Snyder 71 4.29
Matt Roney 68 3.69
Kurt Ainsworth 66 3.82
Zach Day 65 3.44
Jerome Williams 64 2.83
Oscar Villarreal 58 2.62
Brad Lidge 58 2.34
Francisco Rodriguez 52 3.12
Lance Carter 48 4.10
Mike MacDougal 43 3.98

Another deep group.

The big name receiving the bulk of the attention is obviously Dontrelle Willis, who has taken over the baseball world by storm the past 2 months. Dontrelle has been excellent this year and was even chosen to the all-star team after pitching only 82 big league innings. However, to be quite honest, Dontrelle Willis, as good as he's been, has not even been the best rookie starting pitcher in the National League so far this year. That honor belongs to Arizona right-hander Brandon Webb.

           IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG

Webb 103 2.45 89 29 8 .211
Willis 84 2.67 80 27 3 .248

Willis' only real edge is his 9-2 record, compared to Webb's 7-3 mark. But, as any intelligent baseball fan knows, a pitcher's win-loss record is far from the best way to judge him. Webb has pitched more innings with a lower ERA, he's got a slightly better K/BB ratio (3.1/1 to 2.9/1) and he's holding opponents to a batting average that is nearly 40 points lower than Willis.

That's no knock against Dontrelle Willis, because he is having a great rookie season and he is an extremely exciting player to watch. I have seen him pitch 6-7 times already this season, simply because I make it a point to watch the Marlins when he's on the mound. That said, the fact that the media has grabbed hold of a certain player and hyped him endlessly is nothing new, nor is the fact that they are ignoring another rookie playing the exact same position who is having an even better season than the guy they are hyping.

How many times have you seen a feature on Brandon Webb on ESPN? I'm gonna guess the number is pretty close to zero, whereas Willis is featured on ESPN on what seems like on a daily basis. He's an exciting player and I have no problem with him being heavily talked about and I don't even have a problem with style over substance (to a certain degree), but Brandon Webb should be getting the credit he deserves too, and that's not happening, at least not yet.

Beyond Webb and Willis, who are both having excellent rookie seasons, there are several other rookie starters having very nice years. Jerome Williams has been nearly as impressive as both Webb and Willis, although in fewer starts. I watched Williams toss a complete-game against the Cardinals two weeks ago and came away extremely impressed (although I was a little upset Felipe Alou let him throw 127 pitches). Williams is 5-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 10 starts so far. That said, he has yet to give up a homer in 63.2 innings pitched and that's simply not going to continue much longer.

Jeriome Robertson, Jason Davis, Jae Weong Seo and Horacio Ramirez are all putting together very solid years, while pitching a lot of innings. They are all already over the 100-inning mark and have kept their ERAs in the 3.75-4.75 range. Even Jeremy Bonderman has had quite a few quality stretches after getting off to a horrible start.

In addition to the rookie starters having nice seasons, there are a ton of rookie relievers having good years. Last year's playoff-hero, Francisco Rodriguez, got off to a slow start, but has a 1.38 ERA over the last 2 months and his season ERA is down to 3.12. K-Rod has 50 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched and has limited opponents to a .177 batting average.

Mike MacDougal has had some very rough patches, particularly this month (9.95 ERA), but he has generally done a nice job as Kansas City's closer this year. He is 24/30 (80%) in save opportunities and had a 2.59 ERA prior to the all-star break. Speaking of the All-Star Game, no discussion of rookie relievers is complete without everyone's favorite all-star...Lance Carter! Who? Exactly.

Carter somehow got selected for the All-Star Game, despite a 4.05 pre-break ERA (which has since risen to 4.10). He has 16 saves on the year, but has also blown 6 saves. Still, a 4.10 ERA isn't bad for a rookie asked to close ballgames for most of the year.

Brad Lidge and Oscar Villarreal also deserve some recognition for the jobs they have done in the bullpen for Houston and Arizona. Villarreal is 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 58.1 innings of work and has already appeared in 52 games. Lidge is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 57.2 innings, while appearing in 50 games. Lidge has been one of the more dominant relievers in baseball, striking out 10.3/9 IP while limited opponents to a .171 batting average. He and Octavio Dotel (2.56 ERA, 10.4 Ks/9 IP, .170 OAVG) make one nasty right-handed setup combo, and when you get past them, you get to face Billy Wagner and his 11.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

In all, I'd say Matsui, Baldelli, Berroa, Teixeira, Podsednik, Webb, Willis and maybe Seo, Lidge, Rodriguez and Phillips are having what I would call Rookie of the Year caliber seasons at this point. That's not to say they would all win the award in other years, just that, in an average year, they would all be in the running.

Of course, as Pat Listach can tell you, a nice rookie season doesn't equal a nice, lengthy major league career. As for which of this year's rookies is headed for the best career? Who knows, although I bet Rich Harden and a few other guys not in the running for this year's awards will have something to say about it.

Link of the Day:

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while now. Basically, there are a ton of awesome websites out there, many of which are featured in my links on the left side of this page. I visit quite a few of those sites on a semi-regular basis, but I don't always get a chance to give them the "plugs" that I think they deserve. So, what I am going to do (for a little while, at least) is have a featured "Link of the Day." I might feature a site with a really great article currently posted on it or a blog of a team that is making headlines or, most likely, just one of the many great websites that I enjoy. Today's link...

Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.

Today's picks:

Florida (Penny) +160 over Atlanta (Ortiz)

Philadelphia (Padilla) +150 over Chicago (Wood)

Colorado (Chacon) +175 over Los Angeles (Brown)

Baltimore (Ponson) +185 over New York (Clemens)

Tampa Bay (Zambrano) +180 over Boston (Mendoza)

Kansas City (May) +120 over Minnesota (Radke)

Total to date: + $740

W/L record: 178-179 (1-2 yesterday for -65, and under .500 for the first time in a while.)

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

July 22, 2003

May 27, 1968

As far as I can tell, May 27th, 1968 was a fairly routine day in the history of the world. The year, 1968, was extremely eventful, but this particular day was pretty routine.

On May 27th, 1968...

The top of the music charts featured "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel, "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" by the Ohio Express and "Mony, Mony" by Tommy James and the Shondells.

After 48 years as coach of the Chicago Bears, George "Papa Bear" Halas retired.

The nuclear submarine "Scorpion" was lost.

Major League Baseball awarded expansion franchises to Montreal and San Diego.

R&B singer Little Willie John, who would later go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died at the age of 30.

The cover of Sports Illustrated featured a 27 year old switch-hitter who would go on to set the major league record for hits in a career.

Also on May 27th, 1968, two baby boys were welcomed into the world. Beyond their birthdays, the similarities between them appeared to be non-existent.

Frank Edward, a black guy, was born in the South (Columbus, Georgia), while Jeffrey Robert, a white guy, was born in the North (Boston, Massachusetts). Frank grew up to be 6'5" and 275 pounds, while Jeff stopped at 6'0" and 215.

They did however, have one fairly large similarity: They both played baseball - and they both played baseball very well.

It is now just a little over 35 years after their births and Frank Edward Thomas and Jeffrey Robert Bagwell have each become one of the greatest first basemen in baseball history and, amazingly, their baseball careers are almost as similar as their birthday.

Consider...

Frank Thomas starred at Auburn University before being selected in the first round of the 1989 draft.

Jeff Bagwell starred at the University of Hartford before being selected in the fourth round of the 1989 draft.

Both players played their first full-season in the majors in 1991. Thomas finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting, while Bagwell won the NL Rookie of the Year award.

In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Thomas hit .353/.487/.729 and was the MVP of the American League, while Bagwell hit .368/.451/.750 and was the MVP of the National League.

This past Sunday, Jeff Bagwell hit his 400th career home run, becoming just the 35th player in baseball history to do so. Meanwhile, yesterday afternoon, Frank Thomas hit his 399th career home run and will join Bagwell as the 36th member of the 400-homer club with his next blast.

The odds of two major league baseball players being born on the exact same day strikes me as relatively rare. The odds of two all-star level major league baseball players being born on the exact same day seems incredibly rare. The odds of two Hall of Fame level major league baseball players being born on the exact same day seems almost impossible.

And the odds of two Hall of Fame level major league baseball players who play the same position, won MVP awards in the same season, will both hit their 400th career home runs within a week or so of each other and have incredibly similar overall career statistics strikes me as something that is extraordinarily unbelievable.

Take a look at how eerily similar their career hitting stats are:

             AVG      OBP      SLG      HR      2B      RBI

Thomas .311 .430 .567 399 417 1339
Bagwell .301 .412 .548 401 444 1376

I'd say that is about as close as two players can get after they both play 13 or 14 years in the major leagues.

The obvious question that arises regarding these two incredibly similar future Hall of Fame first basemen born on the same day is: Which one is better?

At first glance, this seemed like an obvious answer to me, because, in looking at their hitting stats, Frank Thomas is clearly superior. Thomas has a higher career batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and his career Adjusted OPS (OPS+) is 163, compared to Bagwell's 155. And, not only are Thomas' career hitting numbers better than Bagwell's, he has also had more "elite" offensive seasons.

A simple way of looking at that would be to line up their best OPS+ figures from full-seasons (550+ PAs, except for strike-seasons):

Thomas      Bagwell

212 213
181 179
180 169
178 168
178 158
177 152
174 144
160 142
129 141
125 138
117 137
134

Bagwell's best season and Thomas' best season both came in 1994, when they were both MVPs. Those two seasons were essentially equal offensively, but, after that, Thomas has the edge for the 2nd-best season to the 8th-best season.

So, while Bagwell's offense has been tremendous throughout his career, it hasn't been quite at the level of Thomas'. That said, Bagwell does have 2 things on his side when it comes to a "Who's the better player?" argument.

1) Base stealing and base running.

The base running part is tough to put an exact value on, but I think it's pretty obvious that Bagwell has a sizable advantage in that department, however much value that has.

The base stealing part is easy to put a number on...

             SB     CS       SB%

Bagwell 190 71 72.8%
Thomas 32 21 60.4%

Stolen bases are, in my opinion, a very overrated part of a hitter's game. That said, the fact that Bagwell has 158 more steals than Thomas and a much higher stolen base success rate does add value to Bagwell's career compared to Thomas'. Exactly how much value? I'm not quite sure, although certainly not enough to come anywhere close to off-setting the difference in their OPS+ figures.

2) Defense

Like base running, defense is a difficult thing to place an accurate value on. Instead of attempting to do that - because people much smarter than me have attempted to do so with mixed results - I will simply say that Frank Thomas has never won a Gold Glove and, to the best of my knowledge, has always been considered a significantly below-average defensive first baseman. On the other hand, Jeff Bagwell won a Gold Glove in 1994 and, to the best of my knowledge, has always been considered a signficantly above-average defensive first baseman.

So, in the simplest of terms, here is what the argument boils down to:

Hitting:

Thomas - 163 OPS+ with 8 seasons above 150 and 6 seasons above 175.

Bagwell - 155 OPS+ with 6 seasons above 150 and 2 seasons above 175.

Running:

Thomas - 32 career SBs at a 60.4% success rate, along with below-average base running.

Bagwell - 190 career SBs at a 72.8% success rate, along with above-average base running.

Defense:

Thomas - 0 Gold Gloves and below-average defense.

Bagwell - 1 Gold Glove and above-average defense.

Like I said, those are the simplest of terms. If I had to choose, I would be inclined to go with Thomas, simply because his elite offensive seasons are more plentiful and more dominant than Bagwell's elite offensive seasons. Plus, stolen bases are overrated and a 72.8% success rate isn't that great anyway. And, of course, defense is nice, but it's not that important at first base.

That's certainly no knock on Bagwell, because I think both he and Thomas should be first-ballot Hall of Famers. It's just that Frank Thomas is one of the best dozen or so hitters in baseball history and it's tough to compete with that.

Of course, both Bagwell and Thomas are still productive players and a lot could change between now and the time they decide to hang up the spikes. However, the way they have played in 2003 is, to me at least, very suprising.

Here is what Thomas and Bagwell did offensively the past two years:

BAGWELL                                   THOMAS

Year PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Year PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+
2001 717 .288 .397 .568 141 2001 79 .221 .316 .441 95
2002 691 .291 .401 .518 137 2002 628 .252 .361 .472 117

While Bagwell's 2001 and 2002 seasons were sub par for his standards, they were still excellent. He was one of the top first basemen in the National League in both seasons and finished 7th in the NL MVP balloting in 2001.

Meanwhile, Frank Thomas missed all but 20 games of the 2001 season because of an injury and then had the worst season of his career in 2002. His .252 batting average and .361 on-base percentage were both career-lows, as was his 117 OPS+.

So, heading into this season, it seemed fairly obvious that Jeff Bagwell was the favorite to have the better season between the two of them. Of course, the exact opposite is happening...

             AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B     BB

Thomas .273 .403 .558 23 24 65
Bagwell .278 .371 .497 21 17 51

Despite playing in a much better ballpark for hitting, Bagwell trails Thomas by over 30 points in on-base percentage and nearly 60 points in slugging percentage. Thomas is on pace for 38 homers and 39 doubles, while Bagwell is on pace for a total of 64 extra-base hits, which would be his lowest total in a non-strike season since 1993.

Baseball can be a funny game and things can happen when you least expect it. Many people wrote Frank Thomas off completely and yet he's having an MVP caliber season, ranking in the top 10 of the AL in homers, on-base %, slugging % and OPS (on-base % + slugging %). At the same time, Jeff Bagwell is having his worst offensive season in a long time.

About 4 months ago, you would have had a hard time finding anyone willing to predict that, and that's the beauty of the sport. It is impossible to even predict which Hall of Fame first baseman born on May 27th, 1968 will have the better season. And if you can't predict something that specific, how in the world is anyone going to see something like Esteban Loaiza coming?!

By the way, according to Baseball-Reference.com's "Player Similarity Scores"...

Jeff Bagwell's most similar player in baseball history? Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas' most similar player in baseball history? Jeff Bagwell

That must have been one hell of a day.

Link of the Day:

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while now. Basically, there are a ton of awesome websites out there, many of which are featured in my links on the left side of this page. I visit quite a few of those sites on a semi-regular basis, but I don't always get a chance to give them the "plugs" that I think they deserve. So, what I am going to do (for a little while, at least) is have a featured "Link of the Day." I might feature a site with a really great article currently posted on it or a blog of a team that is making headlines or, most likely, just one of the many great websites that I enjoy. Today's link...

Stephen Silver - "This blog is about politics, sports, entertainment, current events, religion and much more."

Today's picks:

Florida (Redman) +145 over Atlanta (Hampton)

Arizona (Batista) +110 over San Francisco (Brower)

Oakland (Zito) -110 over Seattle (Franklin)

Total to date: + $805

W/L record: 177-177 (2-2 yesterday for -40 with one rainout.)

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

The Old Man

A couple weeks ago, 44 year old outfielder and former 10-time major league all-star Rickey Henderson was dominating the independent Atlantic League, while playing for the Newark Bears. Henderson signed with Newark after trying unsuccessfully to find a job with a big league team this off-season. Having found none interested, Rickey was faced with the choice of either retiring from the game he had played professionally for the last 27 years or trying to prolong his career by playing in an independent league, in front of sparse crowds and zero spotlight.

Rickey chose to play, because...well, that's what he loves to do and that's what he has always done.

The general thought about aging star athletes is that they should retire while they are on top, or at least not at the bottom. For anyone who has seen a player at the very top of his game and his sport, it is painful to watch them struggle in the twilight of their career, like, for example, the great Willie Mays did for the 1973 Mets. It is generally thought that a great player deserves better than to play poorly while trying to hang onto the last days of his career, and that whatever legacy that player has is hurt somewhat by his final days as a sub par player.

Rickey Henderson is 44 years old and has not been at the "top of his game" since about 1995. The difference with Rickey is that his game, at 44 and nowhere near the top, is still pretty damn good.

When a baseball fan thinks of Rickey Henderson, the first thing that comes to mind is almost certainly his amazing ability to steal bases. Stolen bases are exciting, and Rickey Henderson did it better than anyone in the history of the sport. His 1,403 career stolen bases are nearly 50% more than the second leading base-stealer of all-time, Lou Brock.

What many casual fans don't realize is that the things that made Rickey Henderson such an amazing baseball player went far beyond his ability to steal a base. And, as he has aged and his speed has gradually dimished, with his power slowly leaving with it, it is his one remaining outstanding skill that has enabled him to continue to be a valuable player well into his 40s.

What is that skill? Quite simply, the ability to get on base.

Early in his career, that meant hitting .290 and drawing 90 walks. Later in his career, it has meant hitting .225 and coaxing as many walks as humanly possible.

Despite declining speed and power and bat speed, Rickey Henderson has been able to continue to be a valuable major league outfielder by doing the one thing that he always was able to do better than any other leadoff man in baseball history - get on base.

Which brings us to last week. The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the few major league teams that Rickey Henderson had yet to play for, found themselves in contention for a playoff spot, despite the worst offense in the National League.

In an effort to strengthen a unit that ranked last in the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, walks and home runs, the Dodgers traded for Mets outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. Then, shortly after that, they signed the greatest leadoff man in baseball history, a 44 year old outfielder that had been playing his games for the Newark Bears.

Rickey was immediately installed as a starter and the Dodger lineup suddenly had a familiar look at the top:

1) Henderson, LF

Rickey started 3 of the 4 games the Dodgers played against the St. Louis Cardinals and his impact on the lineup was felt immediately. He hit home runs in 2 of the games, including the 81st leadoff home run of his career (an all-time major league record) in front of Joe Morgan, Jon Miller and a national audience on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

In his three starts against the Cardinals, Rickey went 5-13 (.385) with 2 homers, as the Dodgers scored 6, 8 and 7 runs. Last night, in his fourth start as a Dodger, Rickey had his first bad game, going 0-4, as the Dodgers lost 4-1 to Colorado. Prior to signing Rickey, the Dodgers averaged 3.52 runs per game this season. In Rickey's 4 starts as a Dodger thus far, they are averaging 5.5 runs per game. Small sample size, I know, but it's fun anyway.

Now, it's unlikely that the Dodger offense is suddenly going to turn into a run-scoring machine and it's unlikely that Rickey Henderson is going to continue hitting a homer every other game. But Rickey Henderson can still play the game of baseball at age 44 and his being in the Dodger lineup will help them score more runs. Rickey isn't going to hit .385 or probably even .285 this year, but he'll get on base and that's something any offense can use.

It's way too early to speculate as to what Rickey Henderson's 2003 season will end up looking like. Although he's off to a good start, it's unlikely that he'll end the year with a ton of plate appearances, simply because the Dodgers are not expected to play him everyday when Dave Roberts returns from his injury, and also because Rickey wasn't signed until after the Dodgers had already played their 93rd game of the season.

Still, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what Rickey Henderson's competition for "Best Offensive Season by a 44 Year Old" looks like. As you may have noticed, I have "The Rickey! Watch" on the left-hand side of this page and I have dubbed Rickey, "The best 44 year old hitter in baseball history." Now that I've dubbed him that, I thought maybe it would be a good idea if I actually looked to see if it were true or not.

Before I show you the actual numbers and players involved, take a guess as to how many different seasons there have been in the history of baseball when a hitter that is 44 years old or older has accumulated at least 125 plate appearances. Go ahead, take a guess.

Now, here's the answer:

                      YEAR       PA     AGE     

Pete Rose 1985 500 44
Cap Anson 1897 497 45
Cap Anson 1896 459 44
Sam Rice 1934 367 44
Pete Rose 1986 272 45
Tony Perez 1986 228 44
Carlton Fisk 1992 214 44

That's it. 7 seasons in the 100+ year history of the sport. If Rickey can join that list (he would need to average about 1.8 plate appearances per game), he'd be joining some pretty special company. Of the 5 players on that list, 4 of them are in the Hall of Fame and one of them is Pete Rose.

So, what would Rickey Henderson have to do to be the best hitter on that list?

Let's take a look...

                      YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+

Cap Anson 1896 .331 .407 .400 110
Pete Rose 1985 .264 .395 .319 99
Cap Anson 1897 .285 .379 .361 92
Tony Perez 1986 .255 .333 .355 88
Sam Rice 1934 .291 .351 .364 83
Carlton Fisk 1992 .229 .313 .309 76
Pete Rose 1986 .219 .316 .270 61

I ranked the 7 seasons by "Adjusted OPS" (OPS+), which takes a player's on-base percentage and slugging percentage and adjusts them for the ballparks, leagues and eras they were posted in, and spits out one number. 100 is "league-average," anything below 100 is below-average, anything above 100 is above-average.

Basically, only once in baseball history has a hitter 44 years or older had an "above-average" season. That's pretty remarkable and it surprised me quite a bit. Cap Anson is the king of the group, hitting .331 as a 44 year old in 1896, while posting a .407 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage. All 3 numbers - AVG, OBP, SLG - are the top figures among the 7 seasons.

Anson's season also came in a very good environment for offense. The National League as a whole (adjusted to Anson's home ballpark) hit .302 in 1896. The NL also had a .368 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage - which is actually 4 points higher than Anson's .400 slugging percentage. Anson's OPS+ (which weighs OBP and SLG differently) for 1896 was 110, meaning about 10% better than league-average.

It would be impossible to try to figure out what the overall hitting environment of the National League will be at the end of this season, let alone the individual "park factor" for Dodger Stadium, but a pretty good estimate can be made.

Last year, the National League hit .259/.327/.410.

This year, the National League is hitting .262/.333/.420.

Assuming Dodger Stadium ends up having a similar effect on offense as it did last season, the National League, adjusted to Dodger Stadium, will likely look something like .257/.333/.415.

What would Rickey have to hit, while playing in an environment with a .257/.333/.415 average, in order to top Cap Anson's 110 OPS+ from 1896? Well, obviously, there are a lot of different answers. A player could get a 110 OPS+ by having a high OBP and a low SLG, a low OBP and a high SLG, slightly above-average OBP and SLG...you get the idea.

But let's try to figure out a reasonable estimate for a 44 year old Rickey Henderson. Over the last two years, Henderson has hit .226/.367/.351. His OPS+ figures for those 2 seasons are 95 and 96. So, a performance in line with how he has played over the last 2 years is going to fall short of Anson's mark. In fact, if Rickey put up a 95 OPS+ this year, it would rank 3rd on the list, behind Anson's 1896 season and Pete Rose's 1985 season.

Let's say Rickey gets a few more singles to drop this year than he did in 2001/2002 and he is able to raise his batting average about 25 points. That sounds like a lot, but it's not so impossible, since, over the course of 150 at bats, the difference between a .225 batting average and a .250 batting average is a measly 4 hits.

So, let's add 25 points to Rickey's batting average and do the same to his OBP and his SLG. Our new numbers are .251/.392/.376. Doing a quick-and-dirty calculation, with the assumption that the league-average for Dodger Stadium will be .257/.333/.415, Rickey's OPS+ would be 108.

108 isn't quite 110, but it's pretty close. If Rickey does a little better than .251/.392/.376 or if Dodger Stadium depresses offense more than it did last season or if the National League hits a little worse in the second-half than it did in the first-half - Rickey could find himself with a 110 OPS+.

Of course, projecting a 44 year old to perform they same way he did at 42 and 43 is risky, and projecting him to hit the same way, with an additional 25 points of AVG, OBP and SLG added on, might be considered crazy. That said, he's off to a very good start (.278/.278/.611 in 18 PAs), he had a 130 OPS+ as a 40 year old, and stranger things have happened.

Just by simply getting 125 plate appearances this season, Rickey Henderson will have one of the top 8 seasons in baseball history for a hitter 44 or older. Judging from his first few games though, I'd say Rickey's got slightly loftier goals. I think Rickey has an outside shot at bettering Cap Anson's 110 OPS+ from 1896, but, more than likely, will have to settle for an OPS+ somewhere around 100. That's not too shabby either.

Of course, "Greatest 44 year old since 1900" doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "Greatest 44 year old hitter in baseball history."

Finally...

Remember yesterday, I said the following:

"If you have a chance to watch the Oakland/Kansas City game tonight (8:05 ET), make sure you do so. It will feature the major league debut of stud pitching prospect Rich Harden. In a short time, he'll be the reason why Oakland's "Big Three" is Oakland's "Big Four" and, trust me, you'll want to be able to say you saw him pitch his first game in the big leagues."

Sadly, it turns out the game wasn't even available for me to watch on the MLB Extra Innings package for DirecTV. For those of you who did get a chance to see it, you are the lucky few.

Rich Harden certainly didn't disappoint. In his major league debut, Harden pitched 7 innings of 4-hit ball, striking out four, while walking two. He gave up a single run in the 6th inning and got a no-decision, as the A's scored 5 runs in the top of the 9th inning to break a 1-1 tie and win the game.

"He was terrific," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "He was tipping his pitches a little bit, and I think they picked that up in the first inning. But his stuff was so good it really didn't matter."

Link of the Day:

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while now. Basically, there are a ton of awesome websites out there, many of which are featured in my links on the left side of this page. I visit quite a few of those sites on a semi-regular basis, but I don't always get a chance to give them the "plugs" that I think they deserve. So, what I am going to do (for a little while, at least) is have a featured "Link of the Day." I might feature a site with a really great article currently posted on it or a blog of a team that is making headlines or, most likely, just one of the many great websites that I enjoy. Today's link...

Dodger Thoughts - "Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball"

Today's picks:

Houston (Robertson) -145 over Pittsburgh (Torres)

Montreal (Ohka) +120 over Florida (Pavano)

Arizona (Schilling) -140 over San Francisco (Moss)

Oakland (Hudson) -155 over Kansas City (Wilson)

Toronto (Halladay) +110 over New York (Pettitte)

Total to date: + $845

W/L record: 175-175 (1-3 yesterday for -220, and back under 1,000.)

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

July 20, 2003

Breaking my silence (well, sort of)

Back on July 14th, I wrote the following:

"I am so completely frustrated/annoyed/confused with the Twins right now that I have decided I will stop writing about them until they get back to .500. I may throw in an occasional Johan update or a note about a trade or something, but if they don't get to .500, they won't have the honor of having thousands of words devoted to them on this blog. I'm sure that'll motivate them!"

Amazingly, just a few days after I said that, the Twins made a rather large trade, at which point I broke my self-imposed ban and talked about it. However, I can assure you that, following the Kielty/Stewart trade, my plan was to continue with my self-imposed ban on lengthy Twins discussion. Of course, as the famous quote goes, "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

Going into the all-star break, the Minnesota Twins had lost 8 games in a row and 22 of their last 28. In addition to that, they made what I believe to be a very poor trade during the break. It was not a particularly fun time to be a Twins fan and the team morale, in addition to the fan morale, seemed to be at rock-bottom.

Then, this past weekend, something completely unbelievable and incredibly remarkable happened: The 54-39 Oakland A's came to the Metrodome for a 4-game series and started, in succession, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Ted Lilly.

The Twins beat Hudson 6-2 on Thursday. The Twins beat Zito 3-2 on Friday. The Twins beat Mulder 9-4 on Saturday. The Twins beat Lilly 6-4 on Sunday. It was the first time since April of 2001 that "The Big Three" of Hudson, Zito and Mulder have taken the loss in consecutive games.

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea how a team can look so bad for so long, appear to be completely demoralized as a unit, and then turn everything completely around and take 4 straight games from one of the best teams in baseball, beating 3 of the best pitchers in baseball in the process.

Also, to be honest, I don't really care how they did it. Maybe Bobby Kielty was secretly hated in the clubhouse and had a reputation for stealing purses from elderly women and taking candy from children, and getting rid of him was all that was need to turn things around. Maybe Shannon Stewart, despite going 1-8 in the first three games of the series before getting 4 hits in game four, is such a wonderful human being that he changed the entire mood in the clubhouse, resulting in better pitching all around and better clutch hitting.

Whatever it was, it worked - and man am I thankful it did!

Of course, technically, even with the 4 straight wins over the A's, the Twins are still just 48-49 and not yet at or above .500, so I really shouldn't be writing about them like this.

I really shouldn't tell you that Johan Santana made his second start as an official member of the starting rotation on Friday night and was absolutely brilliant, outclassing Barry Zito in a battle of awesome young lefties. And I really shouldn't tell you that Rick Reed, Brad Radke and Kenny Rogers all pitched well for the first time in a long time, with Radke getting his first win since May 16th. And I really shouldn't tell you that Doug Mientkiewicz hit huge home runs in both game three and game four of the series or that Torii Hunter made a game-saving diving catch in the 9th inning of game two or that Joe Mays pitched two brilliant innings out of the bullpen in game four.

Since they aren't yet at .500, I really shouldn't tell you all those things. So I won't.

What I will say is that it's nice to be a fan of a team that is back to playing how they are capable of playing and it's wonderful to see them start the second-half of the season so well after ending the first-half so poorly. It's confusing as hell, but it's still wonderful.

I'm so sorry I couldn't write about the Twins today, but I did make a promise that I wouldn't do so until they got back to .500 and one thing I always do is keep my promises. Check back when they get to .500 and maybe I'll talk about them a little bit. It's a shame too, because if I could talk about them, I would show you these really cool pictures of Johan Santana from Friday night...

                     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR      ERA

Johan Santana 7.1 4 1 1 1 7 0 2.84

Finally...

If you have a chance to watch the Oakland/Kansas City game tonight (8:05 ET), make sure you do so. It will feature the major league debut of stud pitching prospect Rich Harden. In a short time, he'll be the reason why Oakland's "Big Three" is Oakland's "Big Four" and, trust me, you'll want to be able to say you saw him pitch his first game in the big leagues.

Link of the Day:

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while now. Basically, there are a ton of awesome websites out there, many of which are featured in my links on the left side of this page. I visit quite a few of those sites on a semi-regular basis, but I don't always get a chance to give them the "plugs" that I think they deserve. So, what I am going to do (for a little while, at least) is have a featured "Link of the Day." I might feature a site with a really great article currently posted on it or a blog of a team that is making headlines or, most likely, just one of the many great websites that I enjoy. Today's link...

Eisenberg Sports - "A seemingly regular rant on baseball, college football, and whatever else gets my attention"

Today's picks:

Houston (Redding) -120 over Pittsburgh (Fogg)

Milwaukee (Kinney) +110 over Cincinnati (Acevedo)

Texas (Dickey) +130 over Baltimore (Hentgen)

Oakland (Harden) -110 over Kansas City (Snyder)

Total to date: + $1,065

W/L record: 174-172 (2-0 on Friday for +240, putting me back over both 1,000 and .500.)

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

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