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Archive for September, 2010

Despite leading the American League in just about every meaningful statistic, Felix Hernandez has hovered around the .500 mark all season. To some in the mainstream, Hernandez “inability” to rack up wins has disqualified him from consideration for the Cy Young, which, of course, has made him the poster child for sabremetricians far and wide.

Although Hernandez is probably the most deserving candidate for the award, he isn’t exactly a slam dunk. According to various advanced metrics, Hernandez’ lead over other deserving candidates, such as Francisco Liriano, C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester and David Price, isn’t very large. In fact, Fangraphs version of WAR actually ranks Cliff Lee as the American League’s best pitcher, with surprising candidate Justin Verlander just a shade behind the King.

2010 AL WAR Leaders

Pitcher Team IP WAR
Cliff Lee Multiple 205 1/3 6.6
Felix Hernandez Mariners 249 2/3 6.4
Justin Verlander Tigers 224 1/3 6.3
Francisco Liriano Twins 186 1/3 6.2
Jered Weaver Angels 217 1/3 6
Jon Lester Red Sox 204 5.9
Zack Greinke Royals 213 5
CC Sabathia Yankees 237.2 4.8
David Price Rays 207.2 4.4
Colby Lewis Rangers 196 4.4

Source: fangraphs.com

In an attempt to counteract the lazy, misguided conventions of the past (i.e., a pitcher’s job is to “win”), it seems as if those advancing Hernandez’ cause have exaggerated his performance a bit. Although he has certainly had a great season, and is a great pitcher, by no means does Hernandez’ 2010 campaign register on a historic scale, whether you use tradition or advanced metrics to perform the measurement. In other words, if Hernandez were not to be voted the Cy Young, it wouldn’t exactly be a travesty.

Instead of focusing on Hernandez, the more interesting part of the equation is the historic futility of the team on which he plays. After all, that’s exactly why the debate exists in the first place. Not only does Hernandez “lead” all of baseball with the lowest level of run support (3.75 runs per game/ 3.07 per 27 outs), but the Mariners have managed to score two or fewer runs in 15 of his 34 starts. No matter how you slice it, the Mariners lack of support for Hernandez is startling.

Pitchers with Lowest Run Support (min. 160 IP)

 Pitcher Team RS
Felix Hernandez SEA 3.75
Johan Santana NYM 3.98
Ted Lilly CHC/LAD 4.10
Roy Oswalt HOU/PHI 4.14
Jason Vargas SEA 4.48
Dallas Braden OAK 4.51
Doug Fister SEA 4.62
Zack Greinke KC 4.69
Fausto Carmona CLE 4.85
Randy Wells CHC 4.96

Source: ESPN.com

Hernandez shouldn’t take his offense’s lack of support too personally, however, because the Mariners’  lineup has been a universal deadbeat. To date, Seattle has scored only 506 runs (or 3.20 runs per game), which is good for last in the American League by almost 100 runs (the Orioles are next with 597).  How bad is that? Well, since 1901, only 123 teams have scored fewer (out of 2,272 seasons), and of the teams that did score less, 50 played in a season shortened by either a strike (1981 and 1994) or war (1918 and 1919).

On a per game basis, only 64 teams have scored fewer runs than the 2010 Seattle Mariners, and all but four played in either the dead ball era (39 between 1902 and 1918) or the pitching dominant period that preceded the DH (21 between 1963 and 1972). Regardless of qualifications, not since the 1981 Blue Jays, which averaged 3.10 runs/game, has the major leagues seen such a low scoring team.

Taking things one step further, when compared to the per game average of the league, the Mariners 71.8% rate ranks an astounding fifth worst in baseball history, dating all the way back to 1901.With the season not yet concluded, the team could still conceivably “climb” as high as second on the list of all-time futility, or “drop” back a few slots, but regardless of the final weekend, the 2010 Mariners have locked up a claim to being one of the top-10 worst offensive teams in modern baseball history. Even if you want to cut the team some slack for playing in a pitchers’ ballpark, the historic proportions of the offense’s ineptitude is still rather impressive.

Team Year Games W L R R/G Lg R/G %
Phillies 1942 151 42 109 394 2.61 3.90 66.87%
Red Sox 1932 154 43 111 566 3.68 5.23 70.24%
Senators 1909 156 42 110 380 2.44 3.44 70.79%
Padres 1969 162 52 110 468 2.89 4.05 71.25%
Mariners 2010 158 61 97 506 3.20 4.46 71.81%
Giants 1902 141 48 88 405 2.87 3.98 72.11%
Cardinals 1908 154 49 105 372 2.42 3.32 72.65%
Beaneaters (Braves) 1905 156 51 103 468 3.00 4.11 73.06%
Superbas (Dodgers) 1908 154 53 101 375 2.44 3.32 73.24%
Red Sox 1930 154 52 102 612 3.97 5.41 73.40%

Source: Baseball-reference.com and proprietary

So, instead of wasting time hemming and hawing about Felix Hernandez’ lack of run support, it’s time everyone took full notice of  the real star of the show in Seattle. King Felix may very well earn his Cy Young award, but the 2010 Mariners’ lineup is the one making history.

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The Blue Jays honored retiring manager Cito Gaston before last night’s game (Photo: AP).

The Toronto Blue Jays paid tribute to retiring manager Cito Gaston with an on-field ceremony before last night’s game and then gave him a proper sendoff by not only setting the franchise record for most home runs, but also besting the Yankees in a season series for the first time since 2000.

Entering the game, the Jays had belted a league leading 244 round trippers, which matched the total established by the aforementioned 2000 team (for those interested in cosmic links, a Batista, minus the “u”, also led the Jays in homers that season). It didn’t take long to break that link to the past, however, as Travis Snider, who along with several teammates sported a fake mustache in honor of Gaston, belted Javier Vazquez’ fourth pitch of the game deep into the right field stands. With the home run, Vazquez also wrote his name into the record books, but not on a page he’d like to see it. The Snider blast was the 30th homer surrendered by Vazquez, making him the only pitcher in franchise history to allow at least as many in two different seasons.

Yankee Pitchers Who Surrendered More than 30 HR in a Season

Player Year HR G W L IP ERA
Ralph Terry 1962 40 43 23 12 298.2 3.19
Orlando Hernandez 2000 34 29 12 13 195.2 4.51
Javier Vazquez 2004 33 32 14 10 198 4.91
Randy Johnson 2005 32 34 17 8 225.2 3.79
Jim Bouton 1964 32 38 18 13 271.1 3.02
Javier Vazquez 2010 32 31 10 10 157.1 5.32
Dennis Rasmussen 1987 31 26 9 7 146 4.75

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Both Vazquez and the Jays added to their history making efforts later in the game when John Buck launched a solo blast in the second and Aaron Hill sent Vazquez to the showers with a three run shot in the fifth. Although his concerns are likely elsewhere, Vazquez can take some solace in knowing that he wasn’t alone on the team in helping assist the Jays with their record setting performance. The Yankees surrendered 33 home runs to the Jays in 2010, 21 of which came courtesy of Vazquez, Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett.

On a more positive note, Alex Rodriguez made some history of his own by belting his 30th home run of the season in the sixth. Like Vazquez, the number had special meaning for Arod because it gave the Yankees’ third baseman a record setting 13th consecutive season with 100 RBIs and 30 homers, not to mention an all-time best 14th such season overall. Despite missing over 20 games for the third consecutive season, a late surge once again carried Arod across the milestone’s finish line. Last year, it was a historic 2 HR and 7 RBI inning in Tampa that turned the trick, while this season it was a more methodical 9 HR and 26 RBI September that cinched the accomplishment.

30 HR/100 RBI Seasons

Player Seasons
Alex Rodriguez 14
Manny Ramirez 12
Jimmie Foxx 12
Babe Ruth 12
Barry Bonds 11
Albert Pujols 10
Rafael Palmeiro 10
Hank Aaron 10
Lou Gehrig 10

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

While history was being made all around the ballpark, the Yankees were squandering another golden opportunity to leap back into first place. Another Rays’ loss to the Orioles once again opened the door, but the lousy pitching of Vazquez quickly slammed it shut. After Arod’s historic blast, the Yankees did mount a rally that saw Nick Swisher come to the plate with the bases loaded as the tying run, but after a double play ball the air was completely let out of the game. Meanwhile, Brett Cecil pitched another gem against the Yankees, upping his season record against the Bronx Bombers to 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. In keeping with the theme of the night, Cecil’s four victories against the Yankees made him the first lefty to accomplish the feat since Chuck Finley did the same in 1996 (with a remarkable 0.57 ERA).

Last Five Lefties to Beat Yankees Four Times in a Season

Player Year GS W ERA IP SO
Brett Cecil 2010 4 4 2.93 27 2/3 15
Chuck Finley 1996 4 4 0.57 31 1/3 32
Floyd Bannister 1984 4 4 4.18 28 15
Geoff Zahn 1979 4 4 1.59 28 1/3 7
Mike Flanagan 1978 4 4 2.37 30 1/3 14

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Not only did Vazquez help to pitch the Yankees out of the division title, he probably also pitched himself off the post season roster. On the other hand, Royce Ring may be slowly pitching his way onto it. In the fifth, Ring was summoned to face lefty Adam Lind and retired the slugger on a ground ball to third. Granted, Ring’s appearance lasted only one batter, but if promoted to the post season roster, that’s exactly the role he would occupy. Carrying a second lefty specialist might be too much of a luxury for the post season roster, but it’s getting to the point where the Yankees can simply not afford to trust a playoff game to the cadre of righty long men who might otherwise fill the slot.

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vs. Brett Cecil PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 20 0.313 0.450 0.313 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 12 0.222 0.417 0.222 0 1
Mark Teixeira 1B 19 0.167 0.474 0.417 1 1
Alex Rodriguez 3B 12 0.273 0.250 0.364 0 1
Robinson Cano 2B 16 0.333 0.375 0.600 1 1
Marcus Thames DH 9 0.444 0.444 0.889 1 2
Austin Kearns LF 6 0.000 0.167 0.000 0 0
Francisco Cervelli C 3 0.667 0.667 0.667 0 0
Greg Golson CF 3 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Total 100 0.289 0.400 0.446 3 6
             
vs. Javier Vazquez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Travis Snider LF 4 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Yunel Escobar SS 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jose Bautista RF 12 0.300 0.417 0.900 2 2
Vernon Wells CF 42 0.190 0.190 0.429 2 3
Lyle Overbay 1B 30 0.269 0.333 0.500 1 5
Aaron Hill 2B 20 0.105 0.150 0.316 1 2
Adam Lind DH 10 0.250 0.400 0.250 0 0
John Buck C 25 0.200 0.280 0.400 1 3
John McDonald 3B 13 0.364 0.462 0.727 1 2
Total 158 0.211 0.266 0.451 8 17

 

Yankees vs. Blue Jays    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TOR: 9-8 NYY: 12-6 TIED: 9-9 NYY: 267-214

 

  Last 10 Last 20 Last 30
Yankees 4-6 8-12 16-14
Blue Jays 7-3 10-10 15-15

 

  Away vs. LHP
Yankees 42-35 31-26
  Home vs. RHP
Blue Jays 44-33 69-54

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Ken Burns’ Baseball anthology went into extra innings last night when the long awaited “Tenth Inning” was broadcast on PBS.

Some of the early reviews of Burns’ latest take on the national pastime weren’t too kind, but the general consensus was that although unremarkable, the Tenth Inning is definitely worth watching if you are a baseball fan. For the best overview of what really is a series of vignettes covering a selection of overarching themes, Alex Belth’s take is highly recommended. Unfortunately, however, the documentary ultimately boils down to just another story about steroids, and in particular, a comment made by Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell.

There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said ‘What’s that?’ and he said ‘it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake’. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.” – Thomas Boswell, excerpted from an interview in The Tenth Inning (via Wezen-ball.com)

At Wezen-ball.com, Larry Granillo compiled a list of possible candidates who would fit Boswell’s allegation. After drawing several inferences from Boswell’s statement, Granillo narrows down the list to eight potential suspects before concluding that Rickey Henderson most fits the profile. In a follow-up post, Granillo presents some history behind the “Jose Canseco milkshake” reference, and concludes that the vagueness behind the implication makes in unfair to single any one player out.

Although Granillo is correct to pull back from casting too strong an aspersion, it’s very likely that others are going to connect the same dots and land on Rickey Henderson. In fact, it wouldn’t be the first time that such whispers surfaced. Last July, just days after Henderson’s induction to the Hall of Fame, a story surfaced in which Jose Canseco alleged that at least one member of the hallowed institution had taken steroids. Canseco later expounded on his comment in a radio interview on ESPN 950AM in Philadelphia, suggesting that “one or two” Hall of Famers were likely on the now infamous list of 104 positives stemming from testing done in 2003. Because of the timing of the comment, and the lack of reference to the Hall of Fame in any of Canseco’s prior comments, the initial speculation centered on Henderson.

I’ll tell you this, Major League Baseball is going to have a big, big problem on their hands when they find out they have a Hall of Famer who’s used.” – Jose Canseco, quoted on ESPN.com, July 30, 2009

To be fair to Henderson, in the aforementioned radio interview, Canseco denied having any knowledge of his steroid use, but that didn’t stop the speculation. Unfortunately, the same will be true following Boswell’s vague implication.

Craig Calcattera wasn’t as interested in identifying Boswell’s mystery man, but instead took the columnist to task for casting a wide net. Calcattera is correct to call Boswell out for keeping this information under wraps, but perhaps that speaks to the flimsy nature of the allegation? In any event, the most interesting point is one echoed by Rob Neyer. If the Hall of Fame already has a PED user enshrined, what impact would/should that have on future elections?

By spending so much time on the topic of steroids, and then including a purposely veiled allegation, Burns’ Tenth Inning has probably pigeon-holed itself as just the latest in a long line of increasingly stagnant steroid exposés. With so many other great stories from the last 20 years either completely ignored or overshadowed by the focus on steroids, it seems a shame that Burns opted for this tired narrative. But, then again, that approach just might be the most fitting way to define the era. If art can imitate life, why not baseball?

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The champagne was flowing last night as the Yankees finally made the inevitable a reality by clinching at least a wild card spot with a 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Several Yankees players douse manager Joe Girardi with beer (Photo: AP).

Although the events of last week made October baseball stop feeling like a fait accompli, it was still a little disconcerting to see the Yankees celebrate a post season berth with first place in the division still up for grabs. The Yankees weren’t alone in their premature partying, however, as the Rays also popped the corks after clinching with a victory over the Orioles in front of just under 18,000 fans. Two teams, two celebrations, but neither for first place…welcome to the odd realities of the wild card era.

In order to clinch entry into the post season, Girardi turned to his ace lefty C.C. Sabathia, a controversial move because it seemed to contradict the strategy of prepping for the playoffs. Instead of setting up the big lefty to start the post season on regular rest, the increasingly beleaguered manager decided to go for the kill with his ace. The ultimate validation of that decision won’t come until after game 1 of the ALDS, but until that time, Sabathia’s 8 1/3 innings were an ample reward.

While Sabathia was cruising through the free swinging Jays’ lineup, the Yankees were doing something they had struggled to accomplish all month: build runs. Over the last few weeks, the team had become overly dependent on the homerun and turned an inability to score runners from third with less than two outs into an epidemic. Last night, however, the team seemed fine tuned in the art of small ball. The Yankees scored single runs in the first, third, fifth and ninth as well as two runs in the eighth, but most noteworthy was all six tallies occurred without the help of an RBI base hit. Instead, three sacrifice flies, two RBI groundouts and a bases loaded walk were responsible for all six runs scored, the team’s most prolific display of manufacturing runs since seven men crossed the plate without the benefit of hit back on May 3, 1986 against Texas.

Entering the ninth inning, Sabathia had less than 100 pitches under his belt, which, along with the prospect of long rest between his next outing, prompted Girardi to allow his ace to go for the complete game. Having Sabathia on the mound for the clincher would have been appropriate, but after two of the first three batters reached, Girardi opted for the next best thing. Although not a save situation, Mariano Rivera was called on to get the final two outs and send the Yankees into the playoffs to defend their championship title. As soon as Alex Rodriguez’ throw on a Lyle Overbay groundout settled into Mark Teixeira’s glove, Girardi and his coaches shared an embrace, while the players more casually exchanged handshakes on the field. Soon thereafter, however, a raucous celebration would take place.

It remains to be seen how the final four games of the season will play out. During the celebration, just about every player insisted that finishing first in the AL East was still a goal, but Girardi immediately announced that Javier Vazquez would take over Andy Pettitte’s Wednesday start and also vowed to rest several of his regulars. Considering that the Yankees still trail by a game in the loss column and the Rays hold the tie breaker, it’s all but certain that the playoffs will open on the road in Minnesota. There will be plenty of time to debate the extent to which the organization’s strategy was successful or not, but for now, the time has come to look forward to the difficult decisions ahead.

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vs. Kyle Drabek PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jorge Posada C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Lance Berkman DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Brett Gardner LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
             
vs. C.C. Sabathia PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Travis Snider LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Yuniel Escobar SS 9 0.222 0.222 0.333 0 2
Jose Bautista RF 8 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Vernon Wells CF 32 0.194 0.219 0.387 2 6
Lyle Overbay 1B 6 0.167 0.167 0.167 0 0
Aaron Hill 2B 21 0.158 0.238 0.421 1 2
John Buck C 44 0.205 0.295 0.359 1 4
Edwin Encarnacion 3B 11 0.300 0.364 0.500 0 0
AJ Arencibia DH 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 131 0.189 0.237 0.352 4 14

 

Yankees vs. Blue Jays    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TOR: 9-7 NYY: 12-6 TIED: 9-9 NYY: 266-214

 

  Last 10 Last 20 Last 30
Yankees 4-6 7-13 15-15
Blue Jays 8-2 11-9 15-15

 

  Away vs. RHP
Yankees 41-35 62-38
  Home vs. LHP
Blue Jays 44-32 12-21

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The Tampa Bay Rays entered last night’s action needing just one win to clinch a playoff spot for only the second time in franchise history. Rays’ fans seemed unimpressed by the potential accomplishment, however, as only 12,446 fans showed up for the game against the Orioles.

The sparse crowds to which the Rays have been playing have not gone unnoticed by the players. After last night’s lightly attended game, a boiling point seemed to be reached as All Star third baseman Evan Longoria openly questioned the empty seats.

We’ve been playing great baseball all year. Since I’ve been here in [2006], the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They’ve wanted to watch a contender. And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.” – Evan Longoria, quoted by ESPN.com news services

Longoria wasn’t alone in expressing his disappointment. Following the Monday night loss to the Orioles, David Price took to Twitter to voice his dismay. “Had chance to clinch postseason spot tonight w/about 10k fans in the stands,” Price commented not long after the game. Although the ace lefty followed soon thereafter with an apology, the cat had already been let out of the bag. As is often the case in this age of social media, Price’s message made its way around the internet with lightening speed, eliciting strong reactions from both sides of the issue.

Those critical of Longoria and Price have pointed to the Tampa regions relatively high unemployment as well as the inconvenient location of the Tropicana Dome as reasons for the depressed attendance, but in a region of nearly 3 million people, those excuses don’t really compute.   At an average price of $18, Rays’ tickets are among the cheapest in baseball, so the team is not prohibitively pricing itself out of the market.

Meanwhile, those who support the players’ comments have pointed to the fans’ apathy as evidence that the Tampa market isn’t willing to support baseball.  However, the Rays’ high television ratings seem to suggest a strong level of interest in the team. So, why is there a disconnect?

At TYU, Moshe Mandel presents several reasons why attendance at the ballpark has been depressed. Regardless of why fans have been staying away from the Tropicana Dome, the team and the community need to collaborate on a solution.

Not helping matters, however, has been the recent public posturing by Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg. Last Wednesday, Sternberg told reporters that there was nothing that could prevent the Rays from having to significantly trim down payroll during the offseason. Regardless of the veracity of such a statement, the timing was curious to say the least. On the one hand, the Rays expect their fan base to make a long-term investment in the team, but on the other hand the owner is openly declaring his unwillingness to do the same. Can you blame the community for not exactly buying into the team?

Nothing can change that. Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless (manager) Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it or I hit the lottery.” – Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, USA Today, September 22, 2010

Not surprisingly, many in the media have been sympathetic to Sternberg’s plight. After all, if the fans in Tampa wont come to games, why should the team spend any money? As is often the case, such sentiment is blinded by an economic smokescreen often put forth by sport team owners.

According to Forbes, the Rays have had $146 million in operating profit since 2004, during which time the franchise value has increased by 80% to $316 million. Sternberg first bought into the Rays when he led an investment group that purchased 48% of the team for $65 million. Sternberg eventually bought out former owner Vince Namoli in 2005 and has since seen his investment increase significantly. Obviously, no one should be shedding a tear for Sternberg, nor should they be so easy to accept his cries of poverty.

In many ways, the Rays are confronted with a chicken and egg situation. The Sternberg group seems to be demanding an overwhelming response before making a more significant long-term investment in the team, while the fan base has been tepid to the team’s success because of its tenuous status in the community.

Although the Rays’ players initial response has been to question the fans, their doubts would be more appropriately directed toward ownership. Sternberg knew the market in which he was entering, so its reticence to support the team should not come as a surprise. Instead of threatening a cut back, the Rays’ ownership should be promising increased investment. In order to sustainably grow revenue, risk is required. Simply spending to break even won’t result in the level of growth needed to support the team in the long run, and such a strategy is hard to justify when you consider the team’s favorable economics. It would be nice if Rays’ fan would come out to the ballpark in droves, but until ownership has done everything possible to make that happen, the raised eyebrows around baseball should not be cast upon the fans.

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