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

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!*****

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