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Saturday, September 27, 2003

With the Cubs win and the Astros loss today, the cubs are now the heavy favorites in the NL central. Actually, they're playing the nightcap of a doubleheader right now, and the Cubs are up 6-1 in the 8th, so by the time i get this article up the Cubs will be the central champs, barring a very unexpected turn around. That sets the National Leauge playoffs, so let's take a look at the matchups in the senior leauge this year. I am, as you know, a National Leauge fan, and in general know more about the teams in the NL. So this will probably be a bit more in depth, and organized then my article on the AL.

San Francisco Giants vs Florida Marlins

Giants

Rotation:

Jason Schmidt 17-5 207.2 IP, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .200 Opp Avg, 208 K, 46 BB
Sideny Ponson 17-12 216 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .257 Opp Avg, 134 K, 61 BB
Jerome Williams 7-4 131 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .242 Opp Avg, 88 K, 49 BB
Kirk Rueter 10-5 147 IP, 4.53 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, .297 Opp Avg, 41 K, 47 BB

They might throw Rueter in front of Williams because he's "experienced", despite the fact that Williams has clearly been the better pitcher. Schmidt has been dominant this year. That 0.95 WHIP is one for the ages. Beyond that, the rotation is solid but not spectacular. Ponson finally capitalized on his talent and had his first good year in the majors. Jerome Williams has pitched very well, especially for a rookie, and Kirk Reuter has been decent when healthy, despite terrible indicators. It's good enough if they hit, but beyond Schmidt this rotation is'nt scaring anyone.

Line Up: ( The line up does'nt work out perfectly using whose batted the most in what spot, and other then Barry consistently at no 4, they've done a ton of swapping around, so like the rotation, some of this reflect my personal views, mixed in with whose batted where most often for the Giants)

Ray Durham .285 .365 .442 42 xbh(8 HR), 60 R, 32 RBI, 49 BB, 80 K
J.T. Snow .272 .388 .419 29 xbh (8 HR), 48 R, 51 RBI, 55 BB, 55 K
Marquis Grissom .301 .323 .471, 56 xbh(20 HR), 81 R, 79 RBI, 20 BB, 82 K

(And the Cubs are officially the NL Central champs)

Barry Bonds .339 .528 .747 67 xbh (45 HR) 109 R, 89 RBI, 148 BB, 57 K
Edgardo Alfonzo .258 .333 .386 37 xbh (12 HR) 55 R, 79 RBI, 57 BB, 40 K
Benito Santiago .278 .329 .424 34 xbh (11 HR) 53 R, 56 RBI, 29 BB, 69 SO
Rich Aurilia .275 .322 .408 39 xbh(13 HR) 64 R, 58 RBI, 35 BB, 81 K
Jose Cruz Jr .249 .365 .407 46 xbh (19 HR) 88 R, 65 RBI, 102 BB, 121 K

A few things here. Jose Cruz Jr really did spend the largest portion of his at bats in the no 8 slot, and led the Giants in at bats from there. That's very odd considering his on bae percentage. It's not like this is the AL where he could be like a second lead off man, because he's got a pitcher behind him. Personally i think this line up makes a lot more sense if you bat him him fourth behind Barry, or 3rd in front of Barry.

It's amazing the difference one man can make. The Giants don't have anyone particularly bad in the line up, Rich Aurilia has been the worst regular hitter, and he's been pretty good except for the OBP. They do have 4 guys with paltry OBP's ( Fonzie only because of his avg, his palte discipline is still excellent) and that's never a good thing. Grissom's had a nice year for power, and Cruz always has some pop, but except for Barry there is'nt a lot of power in this line up either. But of course, they do have Barry. And he changes everything. Take him away, and this line up is going to struggle mightly to score. With Barry, they're a respectable 7th in the leauge, 1 run from 6th.

Basically the Giants depend on Bonds, Schmidt and a whole lot of roleplayers. Other then them, there's noone particularly great on the team, but no weak link either. The only people who don't hit (Aurilia, Santiago) do so at a position where their hitting is decent in comparison to the leauge average. I'm not counting Fonzie, whose been very good since the break. And all the pitchers behind Schmidt are good to adequate. Looking at the roster, i'm actually kind of surprised this team won as many games as it has, but i guess that's a tribute to the value of depth. And of course Barry makes everyone hitting in front of and behind him better. That does'nt hurt.

Marlins

Rotation:

Josh Beckett 9-8 142 IP, 3.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .246 OAVG, 152 K, 56 BB
Brad Penny 140-10 196 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .264 OAVG, 138 K, 56 BB
Dontrelle Willis 14-6 160.2 IP 3.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .245 OAVG, 142 K, 58 BB,
Mark Redman 14-9 190.2 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .239 OAVG, 151 K, 61 BB


Line-up:

Juan Pierre .305 .361 .373, 36 xbh (1 HR), 100 R, 41 RBI, 55 BB, 35 K, 65 SB, 20 CS
Luis Castillo .314 .381 .397, 31 xbh (6 HR), 99 R, 39 RBI, 63 BB, 60 K, 21 SB, 19 CS
Ivan Rodriguez .297 .369 .474, 55 xbh ( 16 HR) 90 R, 85 RBI, 55 BB, 92 K
Mike Lowell .276 .350 .530, 60 xbh (32 HR), 76 R, 105 RBI, 56 BB, 78 K ( or Jeff Conine, .282 .338 .459, 59 xbh (20 HR), 88R, 95 RBI, 50 BB, 70 K)
Juan Encarnacion .270 .314 .447 62 xbh (19 HR), 80 R, 94 RBI, 37 BB, 82 K 19 SB, 8 CS
Derek Lee .271 .380 .509, 64 xbh (31 HR), 91 R, 92 RBI, 88 BB, 131 K 21 SB, 8 CS
Miguel Cabrera .268 .325 .468 36 XBH (12 HR), 39 R, 62 RBI, 25 BB, 84 K
Alex Gonzalez .256 .313 .443 57 XBH ( 18 HR), 52 R, 77 RBI, 33 BB, 106 K

A few things about the Marlins. Most people like to tell you that Florida is in the playoff race because the young pitching finally produced, Jack Mckeon did a great job, and Dontrelle Willis sparked the team a few months ago, pitching them into contention. There's no questioning that these things happened. The young starters pitched very well when it was healthy, and Willis stepped in when Burnett was lost for the year. And Jack McKeon definately did a great job. Willis definately drew attention to the Marlins, and won a string of games near the All Star break, without which the Marlins would not now be the wild card team. All of this is true, and it's also true that the Marlins probably would'nt be in the playoffs without them. But there's something that noone talks about. The lineup. They finished a respectable 8th in the NL in runs scored, just 1 run behind the Giants in 7th, and 2 behind the sixth place Pirates. That does'nt represent how good this line up is though. Like the Giants, there is no weak link from top to bottom. The three worst hitters in the line up are an outfielder hitting .270 with 62 extra base hits, a rookie with 36 xbh and 62 RBI in barely more then half a season, and a shortstop with 57 xbh, inlcuding 18 home runs, and 77 RBI. That's pretty damn good from your worst 3 hitters. There's no Barry here, but unlike the Giants, there is depth here of very good hitters, not just guys who are adequate. Five of their 8 regulars are very good hitters or better, and the speed at the top can wreak havoc. The line up would actually be better if Lee were batted ahead of Encarnacion, but as it is, this is one of the most under rated hitting teams in the leauge. The top 3 all of have a very good avg and OBP, and hit a good amount of doubles. The two big sluggers behind them ( Lowell and Lee) are both enjoying superb seasons. Mike Lowell has hit for a ton of power, and Lee has hit for very good power, with an OBP of .380. Both men are very dangerous hitters. If Conine plays for Lowell, who just got back from injury, then the line up is not quite as good, but there is enough talent that Lee could be slotted into the clean up spot, and Conine into Lee's and it would still be a formidable 1-8. They have a very good, and consistently productive 1-5, and one of the best 6-8 in the leauge. There's not a single easy out in the line up, and past the table setters Pierre and Castillo, there's not a single hitter who is'nt a threat to go deep. Rather then worry a whole lot about one guy who can kill you if you give him the oppurtunity, you have to worry a little bit about every player who steps up to the plate, some more then others of course, but there's not a single player on this Marlins team that would'nt worry you a little with the game on the line. Alex Gonzalez, easily their worst hitter, has an OPS of .819 on the road, has hit 18 long balls, and a bunch of doubles(33).

The pitching has been very good. Surprsingly so with AJ Burnett out. Beckett missed some time with injury, but when healthy has lived up to his hype last year as the next young ace in the majors. He's got a 2.55 ERA since the break. Willis came out of nowhere to be the best pitcher in the leauge for a couple of months, before slumping badly in August. The 25 year old Brad Penny was solid, and took a big step in his continued developement, improving his control back to where it was in his excellent 2001 season, and bringing his hits below innings pitched again. And he's actually been grat since the break. A terrible June drags down his overall numbers, but since the break he's got an ERA of 3.50, and opponents are hitting just .247 off him. And Mark Redman came out of nowhere to be one of the best no. 3/4 in the leauge. To be fair, he pitched well with Detroit last year, but at 29 years old, i don't think anyone expected this big of an improvement.

The Matchups (home team) bold = team i give the pitching edge to

Jason Schmidt vs Josh Beckett (SF)
Sidney Ponson vs Brad Penny (SF)
Kirk Rueter vs Dontrelle Willis (Fla)
Jerome Williams vs Mark Redman (Fla)
Jason Schmidt vs Josh Beckett (SF)

Now i understand the logic of pitching your best pitcher first, and pitching Beckett in game 1 means he can pitch on four days rest in game 5 if needed. It also means he has to face Jason Schmidt in both games. If i were Jack McKeon, i'd pitch Penny in game 1 against Schmidt, and Becket in game 2 against Ponson, then on 3 days rest in game 5 if needed. To begin with, you can't worry about game 5 right now, you've gotta win two to get their. Becket's ben better then great since returning from injury, but whoever you run out there against Jason Schmidt is going to be a decided underdog the way he is pitching this year. By throwing Beckett first, then Penny, you give San Francisco the edge in starting pitching in games 1 and 2. By throwing Penny first, your conceding the advantage to Schmidt and the Giants in game 1, but i think Josh Beckett would have to be considered the favorite over Ponson in game 2. In my view, that would switch the pitching match ups in the Marlins favor, 3-2. And if they can pitch effectively around Barry, that would actually give them a good chance of pulling this off. As it is though, they're going to throw their best pitcher in a game that they are decided underdogs in, no matter who pitches for them. Maybe Schmidt is'nt at his best, and Beckett is, and everything works out, but i think that throwing Penny vs Schmidt and Beckett vs Ponson gives you your best chance to at least split in San Francisco, the goal of the Marlins and every other road team in the playoffs. As for the current match up between Ponson and Penny. Ponson's been better over the course of the year, Penny's been better in the second half, but onyl slightly so. I'll give the edge to Ponson here for the more consistent performance. So i'd pitch Penny first, and Becket second, and if he has to go on three days rest, so be it. Noone's ever come up with any evidence that going on three days rest actually produces worse results from pitchers.

Moving on, Willis has recovered from his August slump, and Rueter's decent ERA suggests of luck given his indicators. Advantage Dontrelle. Redman vs Williams is a little more interesting. Redman's pitched alot more, but Williams, overall numbers are a bit better. Both were better in the first half then in the second. Since the break Redman has a 3.94 and Willaims 3.97. The difference in there ERA for the year comes from the first half. 3.26 for Redman vs 2.64 for Williams. Redman pitched 41 more innings in the first hald, and 23 more in the second. The difference in there second halves becomes apparent though, when you look a little closer. Redman pitched about the same in the second half as he did in the first half, except for the half a run difference in the ERA. Williams ERA drop reflects a corresponding drop in his indicators. Redman's H/IP K/9 and K/BB are all slightly better since the break. Opponents are hitting the same .239 against him. His walk rate has gone up a bit, and he's given up four more home rusn in 8 less innings. The home runs are probably responsible for the small ERA difference ( 4 more earned runs in 8 less innings). Williams on the other hand has seen his hits rise above his innings pitched, and his home run rate go from non existant (0 in 58 pre all star innings) to 1.32/9. Oponnents have hit .268 off him, compared to .222 before the midsummer classic. To be fair, he did strike out slightly more batters, and walk less in the second half, a good indicator of future success, but everything else dropped off signifigantly after the break. So despite the similar ERA's, Redman has pretty clearly been the better picher the last couple of months, and he's got a big edge in innings pitched this year. Advantage: Redman

As for the line ups, there is no comparison between the quality depth, and the danger 1-8. But then, the other line up has Barry Bonds. If you offer soemone the Marlins line up without Derek Lee, or the Giants without Mr Bonds, there is no comparison. The Marlins are young fast and deep in good hitters. The Giants are old slow and deep in mediocre hitters. But Barry changes everything. When you pitch to him, he's going to crush the ball. And almost every time he steps to the plate with men on, he's going to be pitched around. Putting another man on base and creating a dangerous situation for the Marlins. There's noone particularly dangerous behind Bonds to drive those runs in, but none of the options are bad either. Give decent hitters enough chances to drive in runs, and they're going to hurt you eventually. That's basically how the Giants line up has functioned this year. Durham and Snow get on base, forcing opponents to either let Barry hit, or walk him, giving the much less talented hitters behind him an even better chance to drive in runs. It's hard to give an edge here. The presence of Mr Bonds makes the line ups about equally dangerous, but I'll give an edge to the Marlins because they can't be contained by shutting down one man.



This series is alot closer in talent then i first thought. Ponson was a huge aquisition for the Giants, and because of the way the match ups will fall, probably gives the Giants a bit of an edge in the pitching department. But the Marlins can run 4 guys out there who should all be expected to pitch a real good game. We all knew that the Giants hitting revolved around Bonds, but in till taking a look for this article, i did'nt know just how good the Marlins line up has been this year. So i would'nt be shocked to see the Marlins make this a real interesting series, and maybe pull it off. In a short series though, and with the presence of Jason Schmidt, it will be difficult. I think the chances of the Marlins taking game one against Schmidt in Pac Bell are pretty slim. And then they've got at best an equal pitching match up in Game 2, and i still give a slight edge to Ponson. So there's a pretty good chance they'll be staring at an 02 whole back in Miami. If they can get a split in San Fran though, they hold the pitching edge in games 3 and 4, and would have to jump on the chance to close out the series in Pro Player, or face Schmidt again in game 5 at Pac Bell. A lot of things would have to go right for the Marlins to win. They'd almost certainly have to win at least one of the first two games at Pac Bell. Penny, Redman, and Willis have to out pitch their Giants counterparts, or two of them have to do it and Becket has to pitch a gem to beat Schmidt in Game 1 or 5. Now i suppose you could say all the same things about the Giants in there own way, but Schmidt is as close to certain to throw a gem as anyone in the majors this year, and the presence of Barry means your almost never going to completely shut down the line up. He's the most dangerous hitter of our lifetime when you pitch to him, gets everyone in front of him better pitches to hit, and creates more RBI oppurtunities behind him then anyone in baseball. They're the two main reasons the Giants have won 100 games this year. The Marlins are a very talented team, and very young. They should be good for years to come if they are willing to spend the money to keep their talent, but the Giants are just too much for them this year. It will be a much more interesting series then people are expecting though.

Giants in 5




Atlanta Braves vs Chicago Cubs

Braves

Rotation

Russ Ortiz 21-7, 212 IP 3.81 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .223 OAVG 149 K, 102 BB
Mike Hampton 14-8, 190 IP, 3.84 ERA, 1.39 WHIP .255 OAVG, 110 K, 78 BB
Greg Maddux 16-11, 218 IP, 3.96 ERAm 1.18 WHIP, .268 OAVG, 124 K, 33 BB
Horacio Ramirez 12-4, 182 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .263 OAVG, 100 K, 72 BB

Bobby Cox says he may throw Horacio Ramirez in game 4, he has'nt decided yet. For now we'll assume he goes with a three man rotation. Ortiz has been good, but not nearly as good as his record suggests. That's a product of his run support, fifth highest in the leauge, 7th in baseball. He walks way, way to many guys, but opponents hit only .223 against him, and he gives up only .72 HR/9, keeping his ERA down. It started to catch up with him in the second half though (4.29 ERA) Hamtpon has been pretty good this year, much better then i expected. He was inconsistent for a while, capped by a terrible July. Since then though, hes been great, with a 2.91 ERA since the break. Maddux has improved drmatically also. For most the season his ERA floated between 4.5 -5. He did'nt have an ERA for a month below 4.5 until July. Since then though, he's been good old Greg Maddux. 3.00 ERA since the all star game. Ramirez hs been real good for a rookie.

Lineup

Rafael Furcal .292 .352 .443, 60 xbh(15 HR, 10 3B), 130 R, 61 RBI, 60 BB, 76 K, 25 SB, 2 CS
Marcus Giles .316 .390 .526, 72 xbh(21 HR) 101 R, 69 RBI, 59 BB, 80 K, 14 SB, 4 CS
Gary Sheffield .330 .419 .604, 78 xbh(39 HR), 126 R, 132 RBI, 86 BB, 55 K, 18 SB, 4 CS
Chipper Jones .305 .402 .517, 62 xbh(27 HR), 103 R, 106 RBI, 94 BB, 83 K,
AndruwJones .277 .338 .513 66 xbh(36 HR), 101 R, 116 RBI, 53 BB,125 K
Javy Lopez .328 .378 .687 75 xbh(43 HR), 89 R, 109 RBI, 33 BB, 90 K
Vinny Castilla .277 .310 .461 53 xbh(22HR), 65 R, 76 RBI, 26 BB, 86 K
Robert Fick .269 .335 .418 38 xbh(11 HR), 52 R, 80 RBI, 42 BB, 47 K

Best line up in the National Leauge. With all due respect to the Cardinals, the Braves are clearly a step above them this year. The 1-6 is absolutely devastating. 7 guys with 50 xbh, 6 with 60, and 3 with 70. 5 100 run men, 4 with 100 RBI, and 3 with both. Sheffield and Lopez would be legitimate MVP candidates in most leauges. I dare say either one would win it if they were on a contending AL team this year(non Yankees, since the expectations of the Yankees to be great kills all their MVP candidates). I could go on, but you get the point.


Cubs

Rotation

Kerry Wood 14-11, 211 IP, 3.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .203 OAVG 266 K, 100 BB
Carlos Zambrano 13-11, 214 IP, 3.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .239 OAVG, 168 K, 94 BB
Mark Prior 18-6, 211 IP, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .231 OAVG,245 K, 50 BB
Matt Clement 14-12 201 IP, 4.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .227 OAVG, 171 K, 79 BB

Best rotation in baseball, with all due respect to Oakland. When Mulder is back, i think i'd still take Oakland Hudson, Muklder, Zito, Harden, Lily. It's real close though, and Mark Prior looks like the best pitcher amongst both teams. I could see the argument either way. Wood/Zambrano/Prior is absolutely dominant right now, and Clement is among the best back of the rotation starters in the game. Cubs pitchers broke the record for most strike outs in MLB history this year

Lineup

Kenny Lofton .296 .350 .450 52 xbh(12 HR), 97 R, 46 RBI, 45 BB, 51 K, 30 SB, 9 CS
Mark Grudzielanek .315 .366 .417 42 xbh(3 HR), 73 R, 38 RBI, 29 BB, 64 K, Sammy
Sammy Sosa .279 .358 .553 62 xbh(40 HR), 99 R, 103 RBI, 62 BB, 143 K
Moises Alou .280 .357 .462 58 xbh(22 HR), 83 R, 91 RBI, 63 BB, 67 K
Aramis Ramirez .272 .324 .465 61 xbh(21 HR), 75 R, 106 RBI, 42 BB, 99 K
Eric Karros .284 .339 .437 28 xbh(11 HR), 36 R, 39 RBI, 28 BB, 46 K
Alex S Gonzalez .226 .294 .402 56 xbh(19 HR), 70 R, 58 RBI, 47 BB, 123 K
Damian Miller .233 .310 .369 29 xbh(9 HR), 34 R, 36 RBI, 39 BB, 91 K

Not great, but better then i was expecting. This line up certainly is'nt putting fear into any pitchers, but it's decent enough behind that pitching. The first four guys all hit for a good average and decent OBP. Sosa has come back huge after the cork incident, silencing all his critics. And Alou has come back with a strong season after last year's huge dissapointment. Aramis Ramirez has never learned to take a walk, but there's no denying his power wtih 61 extra base hits, and he's driven in 106 runs. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez has the worst average and OBP in the line up, and strikes out a ton, but like his Marlins namesake he has good pop with 56 extra base hits. Eric Karros hits well enough for a second basemen, and Damian Miller is the weak link, an almost automatic out, but he's a gold glove caliber catcher, so that gets overlooked. After the fist two hitters, the batting averages are a little low, but 3-8 are all a threat to go deep except for Karros and Miller. The real weakness to this line up is OBP. The first 4 hitters are all respectable, but not particularly good for top of the order hitters, and beyond Alou they have issues gettign on base. They'll need to improve that to take advantage of the the high walk totals of Ortiz, Hamton, and Ramirez.


Matchups

Kerry Wood vs Russ Ortiz (A)
Carlos Zambrano vs Mike Hamtpon (A)
Mark Prior vs Greg Maddux (C)
Matt Clement vs Horacio Ramirez (C)
Kerry Wood vs Russ Ortiz (A)

This is'nt to say that the Braves pitching is bad. Ortiz, Hamton, and Madduz have all pitched pretty well this year, and the latter two have been very good in the second half. And they all have post season experience to draw on, but they just can't hang with Chicago's flamethrowers right now. Prior's got a 1.52 ERA since the break, striking out 6 times as many batters as he walks. Zambrano's at 2.31 since the all star game, Wood 3.21, and Clement is at 3.74. Wood's actually been their 3rd best pitcher the last couple of months, despite being superb himself. The match ups work out nicely for the Cubs here, as Wood will draw Russ Ortiz, whose struggled since the break. The way Zambrano and Prior are pitching lately, they are the favorites against almost anyone right now, and they draw the Braves two best pitchers of the second half. The Braves pitching has been good, but the Cubs rotation has been on a whole other level from anyone else in baseball the last few months. Against most teams, the Braves pitching could match-up to be the favorite in at least a couple of games, but everyone on the Cubs staff has been so good, i believe they have the pitching advantage in every game of this series.

There's no comparison between the line ups. The Cubs is mediocre, Atlanta's is the best in the leauge. Their 1-6 is absolutely devastating, and it would'nt surprise me to see Atlanta slug it's way to at least one victory in this series. The Cubs pitching is so good though, it is going to be tough for Atlanta to flex it's batting muscle to victory more then once. Meanwhile, the Cubs line up is'nt particularly fearsome, but Atlanta's pitching is far from its previous dominance this year. Atlanta has won all year by pitching decently enough to support it's offense, which scores a ton of runs. But i highly doubt that offense is going to continue to do so against the Cubs, and the pitching is 9th in the NL. The Braves have allowed slightly more then 4.5 runs per game this year. That's not going to cut it the way the Cubs are pitching. So the Braves pitchers are going to have to step up, and bring down their runs allowed. One of the major keys to that, and this series, will be the health of John Smoltz, and the ability of the Braves starters to get to him, becuase their middle relief is very suspect.

With 101 wins, and their best balanced team in year, the Braves are certainly considered the favorite for this series. In a short series though, great pitching, especially power pitching, is baseball's most valuable commodity. And the Cubs are absolutely loaded with it. This will be a battle between the Cubs amazing pitching, and the Braves extraordinary hitting. If one clearly dominates, the series is over. If, as seems more likely, they meet soemwhere in the middle (As in, the Cubs don't completely shut down the Braves, but limit them to 2-3 runs in most games), the series is pretty close to a "pick-em". The Braves have stronger balance, but basically this comes down to the leauge's best hitting vs the leauge's best rotation. I've always been a pitching guy, especially in a short series. So I like the Cubbies here, behind a gem or two from their staff.

Cubs in 5

P.S. Any baseball fan should be penciling Game 3, Prior vs Maddux into their schedule right now. This one promises to be a classic, and could well determine the winner of this series.

I wanted to get this up before tommorow's games. I'll write something on my projected NLCS tommorow, but i like the Cubs in 6 over the Giants, again, because i see them as the clear favorite in the pitching match ups. Prior is the only pitcher in the NL playoffs that Jason Schmidt is not a favorite over right now, and even if Dusty throws Wood vs Schmidt, it would limit the Giants advantage, and the Cubs would have the advantage in every other game. Even if Schmidt throws two gems, and the Giants beat Clement, i can see the Cubs winning this on two Zambrano and two Prior victories.




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Waiting on the NL Central race to be decided before i do the NL playoffs, but i'll tell you that if the Cubs get in, i think they're the favorites behind that rotation. Yes that's right, if the Cubs get in, i'm taking Boston vs Chicago in the Series. If Houston pulls it out, i like San Fran to represent the NL.

While i'm waiting for the National Leauge to be settled, i thought i'd post what's turn into a rather extensive chain of e-mails between regular reader Avkash and i on the state and future of the Mets. It's not Rob and Rany on the Royals, but i think that there's some good stuff about our team in here.

Avkash

(Following my post on Al Leiter)

Michael,

The Negative:

Just recently Steve over at the Kranepool Society had similar sentiments about Leiter. All of us Leiter bashers should be eating crow because he's come off the DL and pitched like an ace. I cannot debate that. My problem with Leiter is not so much his overall numbers, but his approach to the season, and the larger implications about the Mets organization in light of it.

Simple fact: Leiter wasn't in shape this year. At the start of the season he didn't look like his usual self (he had about an extra 20 pounds of ass), however, the results were good, and the team had larger personnel problems, so no one really took him to task over it. It wasn't until he stunk it up in June that everyone started criticizing him. He went on the DL and returned. He looked slimmer and reports were that he had lost 15-20 pounds through strenuous workout regiments. He runs off a string of quality starts and comes out of all of this smelling like roses.

What no one bothered to ask was why Leiter wasn't in top shape from the start for the "contending again" 2003 Mets. It wasn't until he took a pounding both on the mound and, more importantly for the Senator, in the media, that he decided to bite the bullet and get in shape. The reason they call him the Senator is because he has the media and ownership in his pocket and get away with this stuff, and that my friend, does not speak well of the Mets. I wrote an email like this one to the Kranepool society and he seems to agree with me. No doubt Leiter can still pitch and can play a role on the Mets, however, his 2003 season speaks volumes about the Mets culture and that's the first thing that needs to change before any real progress can be made.

I can literally go on like this forever, but what's the point. Don't let the Mets fool you with their words, let their actions speak volumes this off-season. They have MANY parts in place to make a sustained run from 2005 and beyond, lets see if they're smart enough to leverage their position, or if they just plan on feeding us the same garbage about being one or two signings away.

The Positive:

Have you taken a look at David Wright's season? I was debating just how good he is in a recent baseball primer game chatter, and I'm convinced he's the next coming of Scott Rolen.
Here are the stats:

as a 19yr old at Capital City (Sally League): 266/369/401 with 76/114 bb/so ratio and 43xbh (11hr) in 496 ab. throw in 21/26 in sb/att with a good glove at third.
as a 20yr old at St.Lucie (FSL aka death to hitters): 270/369/459 with 72/98 and 56xbh (15hr) in 466 ab. 19/24 sb with solid glove at third.

Bells and whistles should be going off if you read the stats in the proper context. He improved his discipline numbers while increasing his power production, all while moving into a more difficult hitting environment. Very, very few guys can claim this distinction. Dude is primed to put up gaudy numbers moving into the cozy confines of Binghamton. What's that, you want to see comparable players? Here are Mike Cuddyer's lines:

as a 19yr old in the Sally League: 276/355/451 with 61/107 and 56xbh (12hr) in 497 ab
as a 20yr old in FSL: 298/395/470 with 76/91 and 44xbh (16hr) in 466 ab

Mighty similar, huh? Well, here are some differences. Cuddyer plays what is popularly known as a Bobby Bonilla third base, whereas Wright is considered a plus at the corner. Second, while Cuddyer also moved up to a more difficult hitting environment and improved his discipline numbers, he did it at the cost of power, a trade-off Wright didn't make. Here's how Cuddyer did in doubleA:

as a 21yr old in the eastern league: 263/352/394 with 55/93 and 44xbh (6hr) in 490 ab
as a 22yr old in a do over in eastern league: 301/397/560 with 75/106 and 69xbh (30hr) in 509 ab

The red flag in regards to his power numbers in the FSL caught up with him in his first go round at double A. Wright does not have this red flag. Also, Cuddyer was a butcher at third, getting a (-29) rating by Clay Davenports ratings at baseballprospectus. considering he only had about 130 games to earn that, he just might have been closer to -40 by the end of the year, and that would make derek jeters defense stellar (he consistently gets -20s. Again, no prob there for Wright. Also, that second year for Cuddyer was as a rf, a switch Wright won't need. All signs look good, I'm sure you want more proof:

Miguel Cabrera as a 19yr old in the FSL: 274/338/421 with 38/85 and 53xbh (9 hr) in 489ab.

At first glance, those numbers don't look as good as Cuddys or Wrights, but that one year makes a huge difference. He promptly went Pujols in double A this year before being promoted.

20 yr old in double-A (southern league): 365/429/609 with 31/49 and 42xbh (10hr) in 266ab.
20 yr old in the majors: 251/309/449 with 19/66 and 28xbh (9hr) in 247ab.

Like Reyes, who also handled FSL at the age of 19, Cabrera is the real deal, but he's not as disciplined as Wright. Cabrera's gonna be one of the best hitters in the NL soon enough, and I think it speaks volumes for how well Wright and Reyes compare to him.

Lastly, if your not convinced yet, here's Rolen:

as a 19yr old in the sally league: 294/363/462 with 55/90 and 53xbh (14hr) in 513ab
as a 20yr old in the FSL: 290/385/487 with 37/46 and 25xbh (10hr) in 238ab. he got a quick 76ab look at doulbe A before the season was over.
as a 21yr old in double A (eastern): 361/443/591 with 34/32 and 33xbh in 230ab. promoted to triple A mid season where he: 274/378/411 with 28/28 and 19xbh (2hr) in 168ab

The Phillies took a pro-active role with Rolen, but I think the Mets are doing the right thing with Wright. They have Wiggs to handle 3rd until the second half of 2005, when Wright should be ready to take over like Reyes this year. If he puts up a line like Rolen's intro to double A, The Duke would be wise to shop Wiggs during the trading deadline next year. We'll have to wait and see.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we as Mets fans have reason to be optimistic about certain aspects of the organization. I can make a convincing argument for the Mets post 2005 future in many regards, and Senator Al, Tom Terrified, John Franco, Mike Stanton, and Tackleberry are not a part of that future. If the Mets truly understand how well positioned they can be in the very near future, they'll avoid the free agent market this winter, and get rid of the "veterans" at the first opportunity. Remember, its not just their production that upsets me, but the culture that surrounds the Mets and their decision making process. Like I said, I could go on forever about this stuff. Lets see if The Duke can leverage the Mets strengths, or if he wants to be Steve Phillips Jr. And if you haven't already, jump on that David Wright bandwagon, and think Rolen/Renteria 2003 when thinking of Reyes/Wright 2006.

Lets Go Mets,


Michael

From John Sickel's latest article.

I love Wright, and he deserves more attention than he's received.

A supplemental first-round pick in 2001 out of high school in Virginia, Wright has made steady progress. He hit .266 with 11 homers and 76 walks in the Sally League in '02. In '03, he boosted his production playing at St. Lucie in the Florida State League, hitting .270 with a .369 OBP and a ..459 SLG. He is an across-the-board producer, hitting 39 doubles, 15 homers, drawing 72 walks, stealing 19 bases. He does a lot of things well. The doubles are an indicator of more power to come, and he shows both tools and skills. Wright is also a good defensive third baseman, and made just 16 errors in 130 games this year. He has fine lateral range and a strong arm.

Wright has an excellent work ethic and is easy to coach. He's improved each year, and I think he's a great candidate for a major breakout in 2004. I wouldn't expect to see him in Shea Stadium until sometime in '05, but a big season in Double-A next year could alter that timetable


Avkash

I value Sickel's assessments of prospects, and this is another positive for Wright and the Mets. I think the best plan for the Mets is to start thinking about the Wright/Reyes/Huber Mets instead of the Piazza/Leiter nucleus. Every move made for the Piazza team is at the cost of something for that future team. The Mets need to realize how rare an opportunity they have with Wright, Reyes, and Huber, who all play difficult defensive positions, favorably project offensively, and are all home grown. The Big Three are primed to have their age 24 to age 29 seasons between 2005 and 2010, and the Mets should leverage all resources towards that team for a sustained run, as opposed to this one or two signings away spin. And if you find yourself trying to defend this position amongst Mets fans who think The Big Three is too far into the future (as I find myself doing), feel free to remind them that The Big Three are closer than the last Mets playoff team (2000).

Lets Go Mets


Avkash

(Following my post on Huber)

Excellent post on Huber and the Florida State League. I too used to have problems finding minor league stats, that is, until I found The Baseball Cube earlier this year. Its a very annoying site, with all the adds and banners and pop-ups, but its well worth it considering the awesome content. The website is: http://www.sports-wired.com/store/. It is one of my favorite sites on the web, and has endless minor league and major league stats to check out. One of my favorite things to do is see how current major leaguers fared in their minor league stints. Also, be sure to check out the draft lists. It has every drafted player from the past few years linked to their career stats, minor and major, and is the best resource on the Web to evaluate different organizations draft strategy and sucess rate. Why this site isn't more popular is beyond me.

One thing you didn't mention in your Huber review was the man between Huber and Phillips, Mike Jacobs. His 2003 campaign came out of nowhere compared to the rest of his record, but he is someone to keep an eye on for 2004. Even if he struggles at Norfolk, he's helping the organization by letting Huber get a good look in Binghamton. Also, Matt Peterson and Lenny Dinardo will start the season in AA, and Kazmir will join them soon enough, if not at the start of the season. I think it's a big positive to have Huber working with these guys for a whole season. It will make their transitions into the majors that much easier with a catcher they are familiar with, and vice versa for Huber.

You still calling Reyes/Wright/Kazmir the Big Three? I'm gonna stick with Reyes/Wright/Huber, and keep my fingers crossed with Kazmir. Regardless of their individual health concerns, I think its great the Mets have quality quantity in Seo, Heilman, Kazmir, Peterson, and Dinardo. The ones that make it from these five, along with the boatload of guys the Mets can use for the pen (Roberts, Cerda, Moreno, Ring, Diaz, Hill, Bevis, Anderson,Wheeler, Bell, etc) give the Mets a talented, young, and cheap foundation in regards to pitching for 2005 and beyond. Same goes on offense with Reyes, Wright, and Huber. The Mets have quite a few parts in place and have to continue to evaluate and then go into free agency waters. If they jump into some signings this off season, it will be a sign that they either (a) don't know how well placed they are in player development for 2005 and beyond or (b) they do know, but choose to make high risk short term moves at the cost of long term sucess. Either way, I think its a bad sign if they try to contend in 2004. Should be an interesting off season.

As always, keep up the good work.

Lets Go Mets,

Michael


I agree that trying to contend in 2004 would be an awful sign, especially if Duquette is promoted to permanent GM ( which i've speculated is nothing but a formality at this point). For whatever reason, i have confidence in Duquette's understanding that the Mets need to rebuild around the young talent for 2005 and beyond. Maybe because he was in charge of the farm system as assistant GM, and so is one of the men most responsible for it's strong state right now. In any case, given that confidence in Duquette, an attempt to win next year would be a sign to me that the Wilpons are making the baseball decisions, a very scary proposition. That does'nt mean we should'nt be looking at the free agent and trade market though. There will be many players available this year and next that could help us in the long term. We just need to remember that the focus is long term, and not sign 30 something guys that will only help now. I think we need to evaluate current orginational strengths and weaknesses, and start looking sooner rather then later for the people to fill the holes

I'm very pleased with the current state of the pitching in our organization. Kazmir of course is one of the pre eminent pitching prospects in the game. And while it is true that pitchers are in general a great deal less projectable then hitters, Kazmir, from all reports, has good mechanics and control, and is not an overly high effort pitcher, despite his small frame and high veloicty. So for a pitcher at least, and especially for a high school pitcher he is among the easier to project. Not on the Mark Prior level by any means, but far better then most high school flamethrowers. I expect him to start back in the FSL, and move up to Binghamton by mid year, unless he dominates, which could speed up the timetable.

Anything is possible with minor leaugers, but Jacobs seems like a strong candidate for a fluke season, possibly aided by Binghamton's hitter friendly nature. For whatever reason, home/raod splits are gone for Binghamton on the CNNSI page, so i can't check till i find another source. Thanks to your heads up about the Baseball Cube though, i have finally been able to look at the minor leauge stats of some of our players. I was very pleased at what i saw from Jason Phillips. Other then one bad season, all he's done is hit. Ty Wigginton is a bit more of a mystery. His first full year, he did'nt hit well, did'nt walk, and struck out a whole lot. He moved up to the FSL anyway, where he hit .....292 with a .502 SLG and a 56/82 BB/K. Very impressive as you know. He hit well again in Binghamton, .285 with a ..490 SLG, but a terrible 24/107 BB/K. Then in 2001 he was terrible, .250 / .377 SLG, with a 27/66 BB/K. Last year, .300/.366/.431 43/50 in Norfolk, and ..302/.354/.526 8/19 with the Mets. And of course .254/.315/.390 43/122 this year. It's like Brett Saberhagen, he's a different player from year to year. Maybe next year we get the good version again.

As for Huber, i must admit i'm extremely impressed by the FSL numbers, and the power/patience combination he's showed at all levels. He's no longer in the low minors, and if he makes the adjustments in AA to bring the strikesouts down and the average back up, i think we can then begin to think of him as very likely to enjoy major leauge success. ( Of course he's always been very likely in relation to other prospects, but i don't think any prospect can be considered better then a decent chance, say 50/50 at best to be a major leauge success before they've proven themselves at AA.)

Also of some note is that Victor Diaz, our main aquisition from the Dodgers hit .354 in his time at AA. I'd like to see home/road splits for him also. And Royce Ring, our main aquisition from Chicago had a 1.66 ERA. So far so good from then.

It's truly amazing the turn around our system has gone through. Just a few years ago we were widely considered one of the worst, most talent lacking organization in the majors. And now we are widely considered one of the stronger systems, and we are well stocked in quality prospects, with above average and improving organizational depth.

Avkash

I tend to disagree with most people in regards to possible free agents available this off season who could help the Mets in the long term. Two reasons for this:

a) The Mets are horrible at the moment, and are going to be pretty bad next year as well. Floyd and Piazza are the only real studs in the lineup, and both really top out at 140 games for a season. Reyes was and is good, and is bound for greatness, but I see his 2004 season as just acquiring plate appearances at the major league level. I would expect 290/330/430 from him next year, with an outside chance at 310/360/450. Then there's Phillips, who has done nothing but hit over the course of his career, though his 2003 looks more like a peak season than his true level of ability. Plus, if Piazza moves to first, there's no telling what the full season catching duties will do to his offensive production. I'm not as worried about that because he did catch in the minors, and Piazza can spot him. I am concerned that we might have just seen his best season. That leaves Ty Wigginton, who right now, is not that much different than Roger Cedeno at the plate. The reason Ty's minor league lines are so weird is because he played all of 2001 with bone chips in his throwing elbow, and it severely effected his swing (why he was out there in the first place is a different matter). I think there's enough in his minor league record that says he can use the 600 PAs he's gotten this year and make some adjustments for 2004. Also, he's entering his peak period, so there's every possibility he could have a breakout year, like Phillips. Essentially, the Mets have Reyes, Wiggs, Piazza, Floyd, and Phillips on offense next year, and while they all have positives, they all have negatives as well. Same thing with the pitching. Here's some stuff I posted at a baseball primer chatter recently:

Tom "Terrified" Glavine
2001 age 35: 219 ip 4.76 k/9 1.20 k/bb 0.98 hr/9
2002 age 36: 225 ip 5.09 k/9 1.63 k/bb 0.84 hr/9
2003 age 37: 178 ip 4.04 k/9 1.21 k/bb 1.06 hr/9

He's going to be 38 next year, that k/9 rate is not just a concern, its downright scary, especially with a 1.21 k/bb ratio. And he's giving up more homeruns while moving from a home stadium with a 995 5-year park factor to one with a 935.

"Senator" Al Leiter

2001 age 35: 187 ip 6.82 k/9 3.09 k/bb 0.86 hr/9
2002 age 36: 204 ip 7.58 k/9 2.49 k/bb 1.01 hr/9
2003 age 37: 172 ip 6.97 k/9 1.43 k/bb 0.78 hr/9

His RA for the respective seasons above are: 3.89, 4.36, 4.35. It's not as ugly as Glavine, but he tops out at 200 ip if all goes well, and his control of the strike zone has gone down significantly over the past few seasons.

Steve Trachsel

2001 age 30: 174 ip 7.46 k/9 3.06 k/bb 1.45 hr/9 4.66 RA
2002 age 31: 174 ip 5.44 k/9 1.52 k/bb 0.83 hr/9 4.15 RA
2003 age 32: 199 ip 4.85 k/9 1.70 k/bb 1.18 hr/9 3.99 RA

Again, not as scary as Glavine, not as risky as either Glavine or Leiter, and not as expensive as either, but his K rate has decreased significantly over the past two seasons. He's been great this year, but don't let the ERA mask the underlying performance.

These guys haven't been the biggest problem for the Mets this year, but a look at the stats that have predictive value unearths guys who are on a cliff, and we shouldn't be surprised if, or when, they fall off.

b) A free agent costs more than just the salary over the term of the contract. If a free agent is a Type A or B player, he costs whoever signs him a first round pick, though since the Mets have such a bad record, it'll cost them a 2nd and/or 3rd rounder. Also, whoever they sign will be blocking a spot on the major league roster that can be used to evaluate the current players in the system. I mean, if we're convinced the Mets are really bad this year (they are), and will not contend next year regardless of who they sign (they won't contend), why waste a major league spot so a 65 win team might become a 81 win team, if everything works out well. This sort of thinking is what has gotten the Mets in this mess to begin with, and they should avoid repeating it.

I can not understate the importance of those draft picks. One of the best features of the Baseball Cube are those draft lists. They list every player drafted from the past few years drafts, along with links to their career stats, major and minor. Just looking at these drafts shows that the Mets usually have a pick in the first round at somewhere between number 15 and 20, but don't have another pick until about 120+ picks later. It's amazing the system isn't completely barren considering the neglect towards these picks during the Steve Phillips Era. They will probably have the #3 pick in the 2004 draft, and have 3 of the top 100 picks in the nation. It is very important they save those picks for refined college hitters (like the A's have been doing, and the Blue Jays and Red Sox have started doing). It's kind of like the Mets pitching right now with Heilman/Seo/Kazmir/Peterson/Dinardo. No one can really say who of these five will make it, but having five at least puts the odds in the Mets favor that two, and if they're lucky, three or four, will make it. If they take 6 refined college hitters with the first 180 picks or so, a couple are bound to be ready to make an impact by the time Reyes/Wright/Huber are established at the MLB level. Even if those hitters don't make it all the way to Shea, they can be used to make trades (again, like the A's).

By using 2004 to develop (and win 65-70 games) instead of trying to contend for the wild card (and win 80-85 games), they can have good slots to pick in the 2005 draft as well. It is very important they plan for the Reyes/Wright/Huber/Kazmir/Seo/Heilman/Dinardo/Peterson/Diaz/Phillips/etc Mets, and have alot of talent to support that team (in talent and trade bait). There's no doubt that a guy like Cameron or Sheffield or Colon, or Player X can help the Mets in 2004, but to what end? Even with the signings, they will be a 25% chance to win the wildcard, and that's the sort of short term high risk move that has got the Mets into this mess to begin with. All signs point towards building for 2005 and beyond, and NOT signing any free agents this off season plays a big role in that happening. Like I said, it's going to be an interesting off season.

And if you were wondering what good ol Steve Phillips is up to these days, he's writing for the Star Ledger apparently: http://www.nj.com/mets/ledger/index.ssf?/base/sports-1/1064123806277820.xml I don't think The Onion could have made me laugh as hard as this article. Here are some saner idea's: http://premium.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2339. As always, keep up the good work.

Lets Go Mets

Michael

I agree every bit that we should'nt waste time or roster spots trying to compete next year. What i'm getting that is that there are guys that will be available that can help for 2005 and beyond. Signing Gary Sheffield would be a terrible, short sighted move. He'd be a huge addition in the short term, but is already in his mid 30s. Exactly the type of player we need to stay away from. But someone like Javier Vazquez, who will be available this winter, is a different story. He's 27, and a clear no 1 starter. In 2005, when the bulk of our prospects are in the majors or on the brink of it, he'll be 29. In 2006, when we should really start to become good again, if the talent developes, he'll be 30. A perfect veteran ace to anchor a rotation. Young enough to have many good years left, and old enough to be an experienced, veteran presence for the kids. Carlos Beltran is another example. Though most people think he'd shrink under the pressures of New York. Any team that is trying to rebuild for 2005 and beyond needs to be looking at Beltran, because he's a superstar that is young enough to still have many many good years left beyond 2005/2006.

I'm not saying we need to go out and sign or trade for a superstar. But over this offseason and next, there will be a handful on the free agent and trade market that are young enough to be a cornerstone player for years to come. We can't not consider them as they come along, simply because we are'nt ready to compete yet.

Avkash

If I had to pick two guys that I would go for, it would be Vasquez and Beltran, especially Beltran. Though both guys could be available through trades this off season, neither will be a free agent until after next season. The Mets will, or should be, better positioned to decide if they want to sign either guy. And if they try to get those guys in a trade, every GM knows who the Mets have that is worth one of those players: Wright, Huber, Kazmir, and Reyes. Those guys are the core that the Mets should be building for, not using to get guys already in their primes. And again, next off season, or the following one, there are going to be many players who are non tendered and therefore available without having to give any draft compensation. The Mets need to use 2004 to see what they have in Wright/Huber/Diaz/Scutaro/Garcia/Kazmir/Peterson/Seo/Heilman/DiNardo/all those guys in the bullpen not named Franco, Weathers, or Stanton, while restocking their farm system with those draft picks. Sure, right now they have an idea as to what they need for the Big Three Mets, but they will have a much better idea at this time next year, with an additional year in the majors for Seo and Heilman, those guys in the bullpen, and double A for the rest of those guys

The next free agent signing I want the Mets to make is Carlos Beltran in 2005. Everyone else either doesn't fit into their plans, or costs too much for the Big Three Mets (in draft pick compensation). Those draft picks are so misunderstood by every organization except for Oakland, who always has a prospect to trade at the deadline without affecting their major league team. They've traded Hinkse, Berroa, and Pena, just to name a few in the past few years. In another organization those three would be an infield of the future, in Oakland, there trade fodder. The Mets should aim for a self sustaining system like the A's and go out into free agent waters only when studs who are in their primes are out there, like Beltran

Until then, they have alot of work to do. They have to implement a strong draft plan. They have to make knowledgable roster moves (like getting rid of Weathers, Stanton, and Franco). And they have to continue to evaluate what they have, insted of looking for an old man they can call a quick fix

Lastly, the market for players is vastly different under the new CBA than it was under the Steve Phillips era, and the consequences were already seen this past off season. Almost no one gets more than a two year committment. If it wasn't for the Mets signing Glavine, Floyd, and Stanton, there were only like 10 guys who got more than a two year commitment. Also, whereas in past years there were about 50 free agents or so per off season, this upcoming market, and future ones, have many more free agents (125+) as well as 50+ non-tender guys. The market has gone from 50 to 200 guys per off season moving around looking for one or two year deals. This isn't an exception, it's the new rule of baseball labor, and the Mets can take advantage of their money ONLY if they first lay down the foundation for a strong self sustaining team and THEN go out and find the Matt Stairs and Bill Muellers of the world

Michael

Beltran does seem like the perfect fit. There's no outfield help anywhere close in our system, and as i've said many times on the site, center field has been a black hole since we traded Lenny Dykstra. There's a lot of concern that he could'nt handle new york though. That's one reason the Mets never came up in the Beltran rumors last year. Do you buy the idea that some players simply can't handle the pressures of New York, or does Beltran's obvious talent prevail?

Avkash

Like I said, the Mets need to become a self sustained organization when it comes to their on the field talent, and go into the free agent market for a player who costs them a draft pick only if the player is a top tier player who is entering his prime, not past it. Carlos Beltran fits the description, and here's a post I made on Baseball Primer a few weeks back in defense of my position:

2001 age 24 MLB: 306/365/514 with 52/120 and 68xbh(24hr) in 617ab 303 EQA
2002 age 25 MLB: 273/350/501 with 71/135 and 80xbh(29hr) in 637ab 291 EQA
2003 age 26 MLB: 302/386/503 with 64/73 and 41xbh(22hr) in 463ab 305 EQA

Bells and whistles should be going off if you read these stats in the proper context. If I see this correctly, we have a player who for each of the past three seasons improved his discipline numbers without it having a detrimental effect on his power (look at the ISO more than SLG). The guy is STILL developing and we don't know yet what he is fully capable of. Even if 2003 is his last step on the developing ladder, this guy stands to give whoever employs him a 300+ EQA (which is league and park adjusted) for the term of the contract.

This is quite different than the likes of Mike Cameron, Kaz Matsui, Player X, all nice players in their own ways, but who have all seen their best years, and now are just settling into a slow decline, with the outside possibility of their performance falling off a cliff at any time. But I said I wasn't a pessimist, so back to the good stuff:

Carlos Beltrans pitches per plate appearance for the corresponding three seasons: 3.64, 3.95, 3.85. Like I said, he's still figuring out how to leverage his immense talent into offensive value, but the signs are all there that he's doing it with his head, as opposed some kind of Soriano swingfest.

Oh by the way, did I mention he's a switch hitter? And not of the Robbie Alomar garden variety either. His L/R for the past three seasons:

2001 as LHB: 303/359/530 with 37/91 and 52xbh(20hr) in 448 ab
2001 as RHB: 315/372/467 with 15/29 and 16xbh(4hr) in 169 ab

2002 as LHB: 283/359/508 with 56/104 and 59xbh(21hr) in 474 ab
2002 as RHB: 245/307/479 with 15/31 and 21xbh(8hr) in 163 ab

2003 as LHB: 288/367/476 with 41/54 and 27xbh(15hr) in 330 ab
2003 as RHB: 336/428/567 with 23/21 and 14xbh(7hr) in 137 ab

Who do you think is in charge during the at-bat when a lefty comes in to face Beltran in 2003? The bigger point is that the small fluctuations in his splits are due more to small sample sizes and his continued development, as opposed to some percieved weakness. Oh yeh, Beltran set the record for most extra base hits by a switch hitter in 2002 with 80. Not a Royals record, all time, Mickey Mantle and all

Beltran's base running (year: sb/cs)

1999: 27/8
2000: 13/0
2001: 31/1
2002: 35/7
2003: 34/3

I think it was Thad Bosley or Ron Washington when speaking of Ray Durham described what a base stealer was: "A guy who the whole ballpark knows is gonna run, and he gets it anyways"

How nice is having Beltran's "skill set" towards the end of a game? I wonder what the opposing manager is thinking? Should I bring in my LOOGY for Floyd? Nah, they got Beltran behind him. Should I bring in my ace reliever with a killer slider for Piazza? Dammit, they got Beltran up next. Oh yeh, as much maligned as the SB is, most people do admit its worth the risk if you can do it at a 70% clip. Well, Beltran's career 88.2% sucess rate is also a major league record for players who have attempted at least 100. This Beltran character seems to enjoy breaking major league records, huh?

The only centerfielders who are more productive to a major league offense as measured by EQA (which adjusts for his Kaufman advantage) are Jim Edmunds .326 and Milton Bradley .322. Andruw Jones, Vernon Wells, Bernie Williams, are all guys who are below Beltran's .305. And from the whole group, only Wells and Beltran show signs of still developing (Bradley's record shows he can be a .290 to .300 guy, but .322 is a stretch for him).

Yeh, so I guess you can see why I'm kind of big on the guy. Someone said something about filet a few games ago, so I won't repeat. Beltran is a worthy investment at 7/120 considering that the Mets are likely to speand similar money for two or three players who are much riskier.

And another thing, about whether Beltran can handle New York, the same question applies to any player who will ever come to New York. The Mets can never quantify that stuff, so instead of using that as a reason to or not to sign a player, why not focus on the stuff that has meaning, at least as it applies to contributing to a major league offense, which is a player's performance record. If the Mets were to get Beltran, I think he would have the Shawn Green expierence. Green is a talented player in his own right, and has been since the begining of his pro career. The shock effect was present when he went from Toronto to LA, but because he too was still developing at the time, he continued to make adjustments and became a stud for the men in blue (I don't know what to make of his 2003 campaign, but that's another matter). Beltran will probably see his 2005 avg/hr/rbi numbers take a hit, especially compared to his 2004 year with the Royals, but that should be expected, considering Shea is a different run environment. The raw numbers will go down and everyone and their mother will say he can't handle NY, but some of us will know better.

So maybe I'm just some cockeyed optimist for seeing the rare oppurtunity the Mets have with a core of Wright/Reyes/Huber/Beltran in 2005-2010. And maybe I'm crazy for acknowledging the changing player market, where 29 to 33 year old players will continue to be non-tendered and given their free agency, therefore increasing the number of players on the market, which in turn will drive their prices down, both in terms of dollars and years. Like I said, if it weren't for the Mets with Stanton, Floyd, and Glavine, there are only like 10 or so players who got anything more than a two year committment this past off season. The new player market will have the likes of a Raffy Palmiero, or Reggie Sanders, or Marquis Grissom, or Doug Mienkiewicz or some other reasonable facsimile available at bargain rates, especially at positions like 1b,lf,rf.

I can't believe a guy like Beltran needs to be defended, but there are quite a few people who want to get Cameron for 3 years instead of waiting for Beltran. The guy will have his age28 to age33 seasons between 2005-2010, when Reyes/Wright/Huber are in their age22-age27 seasons. Now that's a core that can be built around, and I will be very upset if the Mets sacrifice this rare oppurtunity for some more of their high risk short term planning

Lastly, one of the things that always gets brought up with Beltran is whether the Mets can get him or not on the free agent market in some bidding war. Well, his agent is Scott Boras, and thats a huge plus for the Mets. When a player hires Scott Boras, they don't want a nice school system, or play near their home, or any of that other PR. Its strictly cold hard cash, and the Mets can outbid anyone out there (including the Yankees) if they don't waste their money in 2004 on mediocre players. Even if Beltran wants 15mil+ a year, he's worth it. Especially when you consider the Mets were ready to give Mo Vaughn and Mike Stanton more than that for 2003 and 2004 before Mo got hurt. Beltran is so talented and so rare and still so young, he's the type of guy you can lose your 1st round pick for, not the Cedeno's and Stanton's of the world. Beltran, considering talent and age, is the the best thing coming into the free agent market in 2004-2006, except for maybe Eric Chavez, but the Mets have Ty, and then Wright for that spot

Keep going along with Reyes/Wright/Huber/Phillips/Diaz, draft well (and in quantity) to restock farm system and have more Reyes/Wright/Huber types for 2005 and beyond, and use 2004 to find out who from Heilman/Seo/Kazmir/Peterson/DiNardo is going to be a part of the Reyes/Wright/Huber/Beltran Mets. The parts are in place to make a sustained run from 2005 and beyond, lets just hope the Mets choose that road instead of this year to year stuff they've gotten used to

Lets Go Mets

Michael

There's certainly no denying Beltran's talent. My worry here is that the Royals will trade him this offseason, or sometime next season. That gives the jump on signing him to whoever aquires him from the Royals. Like the Cardinals with Scott Rolen. He never even got to the market. I see a strong chance of the Beltran situation mirroring this. I think i'd agree that Beltran is the best free agent between 2004-2006, if we are talking about hitters. Age gives him the edge over Nomar, and Beltran is the better fit on our team anyway. Of course that's just off the top of my head. I don't know all the 2005/2006 free agents. Overall, i think i'd argue that Hudson ( 2005) Mulder and Zito ( 2006) are the most valuable free agents coming up in the next few years, but i've always been a pitching guy. Back to Beltran though, let's say i'm right, and the Royals do try and move him. Do you get in on it, and try to get Beltran for a package built around Huber or Wright, with of course a stipulation that we have a certain amount of time to try and sign Beltran long term or the deal is off. Or do you stay out and hope that he still makes it to the market. Remember that if we trade for him, and sign him long term, he does'nt cost us any draft picks, helping to at least partially offset the loss of the prospects we give up for him.

I certainly agree that Beltran would be a great sign, but i think there's a very strong chance that getting him will require giving up at the very least one of Kazmir/Wright/Huber, and one of Diaz/Ring/Peterson/Dinardo. And i'm reasonably sure that the Mets will not even entertain discussion on Kazmir right now, not that i know any better then anyone else what Mets brass is thinking. Wright might be approaching un touchable status at this point also, though i suspect with the presence of Jason Phillips, they will at least listen to talk on Huber. So again the question would be, do we sacrifiice some of the prospects. Now, as i mention in my article today, I'm also a huge fan of Oakland and the way they run there system. With our resources, the Mets could be an amazingly succesful franchise if we produce a sulf sustaining farm system, full of surplus talent to make trades. Like you said, exactly what Oakland does. That said though, I'm of the mind that if you can get and sign star players in there prime years for prospects, then you do it. Assuming of course your one of the teams that can afford this monetarily, which we are. No matter how good they look they're still prospects. Beltran is an established star center fielder in the majors first entering the prime of his career. If we can get him for say Huber/Peterson/Baldiris ( .313/.396/.427 51/55 this year has given him some value), or something similar, i think you have to strongly consider making that trade.

Also, if we don't wind up spending huge money on Beltran, or if we do but have cleared enough off the books to afford another large contract, then i'd go hard after one of Vazquez/Hudson/Wood/Mulder/Zito between 2004 and 2006 ( Vazquez 2004, Hudson/Wood 2005, Zito/Mulder 2006. Zito is the youngest among them.) Out of Seo, Heilman, Kazmir, Peterson, Dinardo, we'd be lucky to see 3 make it. To see all of them make it would be beyond extraordinary. Even if we draft well, come up with a couple more prospects, and produce 4 good or better pitchers, we are going to need to sign at least one, perferably an established ace. These guys are the best starters that i can think of available for free agency in the next few years. Most will be 28 or 29 when they come up for free agency, Hudson will be 30 It's a little bit older then we might like, but young enough to have many good years of pitching left in them. And besides, noone's giving pitchers more then 3-4 years in the current market

Avkash

I agree with the gist of your reply, but I don't think there's any worry that Beltran will be traded this off season. First and foremost, Allen Baird, Royals GM, has already come out and said the Royals will offer Beltran arbitration, and are ready to pay the $11-$12 million he's likely to get. I think this is a good move, since the Royals can capitalize on this years upturn. They can start the 2004 season with their 2003 team (at least the important parts) intact, along with any other moves they make during the off season. If they are the real deal next year, and can stay in contention, they will keep Beltran until his free agency and take the compensation when he signs with someone else. If they struggle and show this year was a fluke, Baird will start looking for offers. This is where the Mets should NOT go after Beltran. Teams will be lining up to get Beltran, and the Mets would have to give up either Wright or Huber in a package to get him. As much as I love the idea of Beltran in centerfield, building a self sustaining team is paramount for the Mets, and the hard truth is that there is NO shortcut to get there, and there is NO middle ground. First develop your core, and then buy the rest.

I think your under estimating the Scott Boras effect. If you hire him, you have one thing in mind, free agency, and getting the most cash that is out there. Period. Which ever team trades for Beltran in 2004 will do it knowing that they will have no exclusivity, and he will test the free agent market, unless they hand Scott Boras a blank check so to speak. If this scenario means the Mets don't get Beltran, fine. Its a sacrifice they have to make if they want sustained success, instead of year to year hoping

The central theme to any move the Mets make should be to build a substantial core. We already know they have Reyes, and Wright is looking more and more like the real deal. Huber is a not as much as a sure thing as the first two, but for a catcher with his pro record so far, he's a close as it gets to a catching prospect who projects to hit this side of Joe Maur. We already know about the starting pitching group, and two or three will make it, and two or three won't. Bullpens are successful by collecting a mess of young, cheap guys with good indicators, and finding the right mix, not getting a David Weathers one year and a Mike Stanton the next. If the Mets use their first five round draft picks in 2004 and 2005 on a group of 10 or so refined college hitters, they stand to see at least three of those guys make it to the majors, and can use that group to fill gaps and/or trade with. Once they have accomplished all this, they can go out into free agent waters, and if Beltran's out there, jump on him. If Zito or Hudson are out there, jump again. Can you imagine NLers getting introduced to Zito's curve? Jim Thome: "We're fucked." And how about Huddy? The guy doesn't let the ball escape the infield, let alone Shea's outfield. But all that kind of good stuff can and should only come AFTER they have done the other hard work, otherwise, its going to be the same old same old, and I don't know how much more of this I can take.

Oh yeh, Wilpon is the devil.

Lets Go Mets


Michael

I tend to agree that you build your core first, and don't trade parts of it away, but Beltran is part of a core. A guarenteed part If we can get him without sacrificing Reyes Wright or Kazmir, I think it demands serious consideration. But ONLY if some kind of trade and sign could be arranged. That is, the Royals would have to give us a window of like 48-72 hours to try and sign Beltran long term, or the deal is off. Granted, when you hire Boras you do it to get as much money as possible in free agency, but that's not to say that keeping the player from free agency is impossible. If you offer the right contract, they're not going to turn it down on the hopes that someone will over spend in free agency. If someone trades for Beltran, with a window to sign him, and offer him 7/105, i can't see Boras turning it down to test free agency.

Avkash

The last offer Boras made to the Royals was for 8/130, so I think you are still under estimating him. And yeh, if there was some way to guarantee that he would sign, I'd try to trade for him, but it would be a big blow if they lost anyone in their system right now. As good as he is, I'm sick of the same old same old with the Mets, and would rather sacrifice a year or two of contention if it meant they were building towards a self sufficient system built for a sustained run.

I know you focus mainly on the performance and analysis side of the Mets on your blog, but on a side note, Bob Murphy called his last inning for the Mets tonight against the Pirates. Murph is the voice of summer in my book, and I really enjoy listening to the games instead of the god awful people on TV. It's gonna be strange not hearing him on my radio from now on and I will miss him. As his era was ending, a new one began with Mike Piazza at first base. Now if only the Paul DePodesta Era would begin. I can dream can't I?

Let's Go Mets

PS

I read your post on the playoffs, and I think the Red Sox will beat the A's. I too will have a hard time rooting for or against either team because I do enjoy following the A's (and learning how a good organization runs things) and I have gotten used to rooting for the Sox because I'm a Yankee hater. I've also enjoyed following them since last off season when they named Theo Epstein GM. That offense is just too good, and the A's offense is almost Met like. Sox in four, Yanks in four, and quite a ALCS. I see the Cubs in the playoffs and beating the Braves in five. Giants in four against the Marlins, and a Dustycentric NLCS. Any combo of the remaining four teams should make for a good world series, which is all I can ask for at this point.

Michael

DePodesta being named GM would be one of the happiest days i've had in years, but i think Duquette getting the job is just a formality at this point. I wrote about this once on my sight. The Mets had two men considered strong GM candidates, Omar Minaya and Jim Duquette. LA came asking about Duquute, and the Mets refused to grant permission to Duquette to interview for the job. The Expos, in the form of the commisioner's office, came asking about Omar Minaya, and the Mets let him go. Granted, there was a lot of pressure on the Wilpons to let Minaya interview, and it was almost a given once they did, that he would get the job. Selig wanted to hire minorities, simple as that. That's not to say Minaya and Frank Robinson are'nt qualified, they certainly are, and both have done excellent jobs. But Selig wanted a minority for the job, and Minaya was the best minority candidate. Noone even questioned Selig's motives because Minaya had already been talked about around the majors as a future GM. So our guy was perfect, and Selig put pressure on the Wilpons to let him interview.

It was'nt quite the same with Duquette, the commisioner was'nt personally lobbying the Wilpons, but when certain clubs come calling, assistants are almost always granted the right to interview. People are denied the right to interview for GM jobs every year, for teams like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Cincinatti etc. But rarely is someone denied the oppurtunity for a job with a team like the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, or Boston, Case in point, last year where Oakland almost said no, but eventually let Billy Beane talk because it was the Red Sox. And he of course si there GM, not just an assistant. You just don't tell a guy he can't interview for one of the top 5 jobs in all of baseball. It says a lot about the Wilpon's feelings on Duquette that they told the Dodgers no. I think that the Mets will interview Minaya, because he satisfies Selig's whole deal on interviewing minority candidates. And it does so without being an obvious token interview, because of his former position in the organization, which right now makes him the no 2 candidate in most people's eyes. And then they name Duquette to the job permanently.

That's how i see it anyway. I think the Wilpons are still sticking to there story about a full search for the best guy, blah blah blah. My biggest nightmare is they actually do that, an interview 5 or 6 guys, and none are named Beane, DePodesta, or Ricciardi.

Anyway, back to this core we keep talking about. If all goes right, we have an infield, and part of a starting rotation ( i'm a realist, so 3 out of 5 qualifies as all going right to me). The outfield is empty, aside from what by 2005/2006 will be the aging Cliff Floyd, and he's gone after 2006 anyway. Unless Piazza is re signed (definite possiblity, Wilpon wants him in the hall wearing a Mets hat, and i could think of worse things), pushing either Huber or Phillips to a corner spot, we have nothing in the outfield. Lastings Milledge is an outfielder, but we know nothing about him yet. Yet another reason Carlos Beltran would be a huge addition. It also means that ideally, we'd focus on outfielders among the refined college hitters we'd both like to see the Mets start drafting. I don't know that it needs to be the first five picks in both drafts. I'd love to see them all be college players, but think we still should be mixing in pitchers. We say, quite correctly that 3 out of Kazmir/Heilman/Seo/Peterson/Dinardo, would be excellent. But that's just making it. The chances of more then one being a no 1 pitcher are'nt very good. That's why what Oakland has done is so remarkable. I'd like to see a few more high ceiling pitching prospects in the system. But anyway, what we have now leaves us with at least two wholes in the outfield, and presumably at least two in the rotation. Beltran, Hudson, Zito would be a dream, but we need to be realistic, and put our focus there when we draft.

Avkash

Michael,

We already have high ceiling prospects in the system, its the depth beneath them that isn't there, or could be stronger. The goal of the draft, in my eyes, should be to select as many players as possible that are a good bet to make the majors as regulars, even if they don't seem like they could be a star or high ceiling guy. In theory, you draft about 40-50 guys a year like this, and about 10 or so will be in AA within 2 years of their draft date, and have an outside chance of being better than anyone thought. This is essentially what the A's do. They know their draft strategy safely yields at least 10 guys who within 3 years can fill in as regulars on a major league roster, and about 15-20 guys who will at least be at AA within 2 years of the draft, and are good are good trade bait . They repeat this cycle every year, and literally have a prospect factory, though they trade more of them to build around their foundation at the major league level than actually wait until they're ready for the bigs. They want the sustaining quality first, and then worry about high ceiling. They know just how much of a crapshoot the draft is, and know anyone of the 40 players they select could become star quality. If they went after a high ceiling prospect with every pick, they might get two guys, but they essentially get nothing from the remaining players, and will still have a tough time projecting the time table of the high upside guys.

This is a strategy that works so well for them because they don't have money to fill those holes with free agency. The Mets don't have this weakness, and it's usually the reason why they don't have a foundation to begin with. Regardless of who the free agent is, regardless of the year, and regardless of the team's record the previous season, the Mets must at some point bite the bullet on short term contention and become self sufficient first. If they go out into free agent waters this off season, they either don't realize the value of those picks and being self sufficient first, or they just choose to ignore an efficient system.

I would also be quite happy if the Mets hired DePodesta, but if I remember correctly, he turned down the Toronto job, so he knows how good he is, and won't jump at the chance. He will look at any prospective job objectively, and if he doesn't like what he sees, will simply pass on it and continue his apprenticeship/partnership with Beane. With the Mets, he would see an owner in Wilpon and Wilpon Jr. who insists on having a say in the player decisions as well as a manager who is tied up for the next three years. I can't see him taking the job even if Wilpon gave him a blank check. Again, Wilpon is the devil.

One thing I do want him to do, regardless of who he hires, is to do it quickly. The longer he takes to make a final announcement, the less time the GM and the front office will have to implement any plans they have. If Wilpon is going to hire the Duke, he should tell him so, so he can start planning for the team, and then go through the interviewing process. And if he's not sure who he wants, don't drag it out, decide what your looking for in the front office, and then get it. If he waste time, it can only hurt the Mets.

Lets Go Mets





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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I know i said that my next article would continue with the minor leauge review, but talking baseball with my roomate and a friend earlier prompted this article. The playoffs are still 4-5 games away from being set, but i'm going to do a pre emptive look at this year's post season.


American Leauge


Oakland Athletics vs Boston Red Sox

This is going to be one gell of a series, as two of the three "sabermetric minded" organizations in baseball face each other for the right to to the ALCS.

In the interest of full disclosure, i should tell you that i consider the A's my second favorite baseball team. As you may have figured out by now, i'm a big fan of baseball's "new way of thinking". Since people have very different ideas on what that means, let me give you mine. The general sense among those who are not inclined to this new way of thinking is that we're all stat freaks, obsessed with numbers, and without a sense of the actual game. It's true, that it does rely heavily on objective statistical analysis, and i readily admit that i'm a stat junkie. But that's because when applied in the proper context, stats provide an accurate, and i might note, the only real measure of a baseball player's performance. That seems obvious to me, but that's not what baseball's new regime is all about. As i see it, the basic ideas are as follows:

Baseball is a game in which outs are the only finite resource. You get 27 and no more (barring extra innings of course). If you never make an out, you'd score an infinite number of runs.

Home runs and walks are the only two completely outproof events. They are the two most damaging things a pitcher can allow, and while the value of a home run is obvious, walks are far more valuable to a hitter then in "traditional baseball thinking" A pitcher who walks guys and gives up home runs is going to give up a ton of runs (i don't think anyone's ever questioned that), and a hitter who takes walks and hits home runs is valuable even if he does not hit for a high average.

Because outs are the only finite resource, On Base Percentage, or, the percentage of times a hitter does not make an out, is the most important statistic in the game.

The most important factor in determining the success of all players is command of the strike zone, in the form of control for a pitcher, and plate discipline and pitch recognition or "batting eye" for a hitter.

Strike outs are the best thing a pitcher can do, because it is the one event which guarentees an out. However, strike outs are not particularly damaging for a hitter, provided they are within reason, and a good number of walks are taken to compensate. A better way to say this is that strike out to walk ratio is often the primary indicator of success for both pitchers and hitters. There are exceptions to this of course.


That's how i see this new line of thinking, which i'm a rather adament supporter of, and the A's are as we know the poster team for this new way, and Billy Beane the poster child. So I'm a big fan of Billy Beane, and i spend my baseball seasons kind of casually rooting for Oakland once the Mets are out of it. Anyway, after that long and amazingly un related tangent, let's get back to the matter at hand.

Normally i take Oakland to win the World Series every year, partly because they're my second favorite team, and partly because that pitching scares the hell out of everyone. This year is a bit different though. For the first time, the A's are'nt hitting at all ( though admittedly, that's changed recently). And the pitching is'nt as strong. Hudson has been outstanding, and Zito's overall numbers look great, but he's looked off at times, getting hammered by the Yankees, Toronto, and Tampa Bay in the last two months. And of course Mark Mulder is out with injury. The addition of the talented Rich Harden has helped to offset the loss of Mulder, but after his initial dominance, Harden has struggled lately. There's no denying the talent, and he's a very strong candidate for future stardom, but for now he's not Mulder, and he's a rookie being called upon to win October games. So for the first time in a few years, i'm not entirely confident in Oakland's ability to go all the way. If we assume Hudson will be excellent, it depends on which Barry Zito we get, and how Harden handles the pressure.

I also root for Boston every year, but that's a side factor of me hating the Yankees, not because i like the Boston. The Sox will be extremely dangerous if Pedro Martinez is at his best. This is the best line up since the Indians of the mid 90s, i think it was '95 that Cleveland scored 1000 runs. Boston's at 932 if you were wondering. I understand that generally only teams with very good pitching make the playoffs (there are always exceptions, except for Johan Santana, that Minnesota staff is'nt scaring anyone). And that Boston's hitters will thus be facing increased competition, but this line up is so good from top to bottom, it's going to steal a game here and there by putting up a ton of runs, and it will be extremely difficult to shut down all together. So if Pedro dominates, and wins his starts, Boston is going to be very, very tough for someone to beat.

This series comes down to a couple of things

1. Tim Hudson vs Pedro Martinez

Short series are interesting creatures. One pitcher can essentially control an entire series by winning Games 1 and 5. Or if a team goes with a three man rotiation, which you have to think the A's will strongly consider, and Boston at least ponder the idea, Games 1 and 4 or 2 and 5. Martinez and Hudson are the keys for their respective teams, and will face off at least once, in Game 1. The winner of that one, and who performs better between the two will go a long way towards determining who wins this series.

2. Zito/Harden

It seems amazing that even i have the slightest bit of doubt about Zito after last year's Cy Young, and what are admittedly superb numbers this year. Hell, opponents are bating .195 off of him since the break, and his ERA in the second half is 3.12. And i have any doubt about his pitching this year? The numbers are credit to just how good Zito has been when he's on his game. Maybe i'm just making something out of nothing, but at times Zito just has'nt looked right. Everyone gets hit hard once in awhile, and the Yankees and Blue Jays certainly have good line ups, but what's with Zito getting shelled twice by the Devil Rays since the break? His strikeouts have gone way down this year, and his stamina has been an issue. Up until about 90 pitches, Zito is excellent ( Pitches 76-90, opponents are hitting .185/.276/.315 against him) but once he crosses 90, there's a signifigant decline. From 91-105 opponents hit .285/.345/.330 against him, and from 106-120 they hit .348/.418/.457. Granted, Oakland rarely lets it's pitchers throw that many pitches in a game. Zito has thrown 49 pitches all year after passing a pitch count of 105, so it's a small sample size relative to the rest. Pitches 91-105 is about equal to the sample size of pitches 1-15 16-30 etc. and there is a severe decline in his performance after he crosses the 90 pitch mark. So don't expect Zito to pitch any complete game shut outs right now. As for Harden, he dominated initially, but has struggled since, bringing his ERA up above 4. Analysts like to point out that Harden's struggles started when the A's "changed his delivery", feeling that Harden was tipping his pitches before. Or so they say. In any case, I suspect the struggles have alot more to do with a rookie in first taste of the big leauges, adjusting to facing guys like Edgard Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, etc. He definately has the ability to dominate, but the Red Sox are a tough task for any rookie. Oakland needs Zito to be reigning Cy Young Barry Zito and Harden to at least be good. If they don't pitch well, Oakland would need a miracle to win the series. Like two wins from Hudson and an offensive explosion in a third game, because if you don't pitch well, Boston will make you pay.


I hate picking this series. Oakland is my second favorite team, and rooting for Boston has become like second nature, because i'm always cheering for them to beat the Yankees. It's also a very hard series to pick. I believe Boston is the better team right now, with Mulder hurt, but like i said, short series are funny things. And while i have a flicker of doubt about ZIto this year, he's still Barry Zito. As i sit here and point out his struggles in some areas this year, he is the reigning Cy Young winner, and his 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .216 Opp Avg for the year are all great. In fact, they are among the best in the leauge, and he's been outstanding except for the handful of starts i've mentioned. I can see it already, i sort of criticize Zito, my favorite player on my second favorite team for the first time, and question there ability to go all the way this year, and Zito will come out and throw a shut out in Game 2. So Oakland could well have two dominant pitchers in this series, in fact most people would say they already do. And based on the numbers alone, it would very hard to argue with them. If ito brings his A game to the playoffs, Oakland clearly has the best 1-2 in the AL, making them the favorite in any short series. If that's the case, then Boston's hopes hinge entirely on Pedro Martinez.

Boston on the other hand, can run Pedro Martinez out there twice in a five game series. When he's at his best, Pedro is still the most dominant pitcher in the game. He leads the AL in ERA, and amazingly in strikeouts, despite being 30th in innings pitched. Boston has to be considered the favorite every time he takes the mound, even against Tim Hudson, and that's not even considering that Pedro will have the far superior line up supporting him.

I think Oakland will go with a three man rotation of Hudson, Zito, Harden. Boston will start with Pedro, Lowe, Wakefield, and then one of either John Burkett or Jeff Suppan. Personally, i would make BK Kim my fourth starter, and let Scott Williamson close that night if needed, but Boston is'nt going to do that, so it leaves us with these match ups:

(home team)

Game 1 Tim Hudson vs Pedro Martinez (O)
Game 2 Barry Zito vs Derek Lowe (O)
Game 3 Rich Harden vs Tim Wakefield (B)
Game 4 Tim Hudson vs John Burkett/Jeff Suppan (B)
Game 5 Barry Zito vs Pedro Martinez (O)

Based on pitching alone, since there's no comparison between the line ups, I think Boston has to be considered a slight favorite in Game 1. If it were any other elite AL pitcher, i'd called it a draw, with a slight edge to Oakland for home field, but it's Pedro, and Pedro can still dominate like no other pitcher in baseball. Oakland is a clear pitching favorite in Game 2, with Zito going against Lowe, who has been good but not great this year. Game 3 i give a slight edge to the Red Sox. There's little question that Rich Harden is a more talented pitcher then Wakefield, but he's a rookie that's been struggling lately. And Wakefield is a veteran knuckleballer that's been pitching very well since 2001. Game 4 is a huge advantage to Oakland with Hudson facing either Burkett or Suppan, neither of whom is a very attractive option right now to pitch a playoff game. And then Game 5 is another small advantage for Boston, thought not quite as close as Hudson vs Pedro. If Zito is at his best, these match ups will present a problem for Boston. If there line up can't overcome Oakland's clear pitching advantages in games 2 and 4, then Pedro must win twice, and they have to hit Harden. Game 1 is going to mean everything. If Oakland wins that, then it's very likely that they go into game 4 giving Hudson a chance to close out the series again either Burkett or Mulder. If Boston wins game 1, then we go to Oakland for what should be a classic, as Zito and Pedro face off for the series.

Ok, at this point i'm just procrastinating, because i really don't want to pick this series. But i gotta do it. I'll take the Sox in 5. If Oakland takes game 1 though, i'm going to be hating this pick.

New York Yankees vs Minnesota Twins

The obvious talent advantage here is to the Yankees. Minnesota is a good team, but on paper they are pretty clearly the weakest team in the AL playoffs. And they are 0-13 against the Yankees the last few years. They do have the Metrodome though, the biggest home field advantage in the AL. And they have an excellent outfield defense, which except for Shannon Stewart, has a lot of experience tracking balls in that white roof. Not an easy thing to do. Acutally it's that which accounts for a large part of the Twins home field advantage. So i do think the Twins have a shot, but they'll have to play very well. Of course, they've been doing just that, with baseball's best record since the break.

The key for the Twins will be there starting pitching. Johan Santana is finally being allowed to start, and he is there best pitcher right now. I don't know enough about the twins to venture a guess at how they'll order there starters, but the four starters ( in the order i'd pitch them) will be Johan Santana, Joe Mays, Brad Radke, and Kenny Rogers. Now that's not bad by any means, but it's sure not scaring anyone either. A couple of these guys are going to have to step up and have big starts for the Twins to have a shot. The same with there line up. It's not bad, but it is'nt scaring anyone either. Corey Koskie, Shannon Stewart, AJ Pierzynski, and Doug Mientkiewicz have all been very good. Torii Hunter has had a real down year, but is still a threat to take one ling. Jacque Jones hits .300 with some pop, but does'nt take a walk. The line up is filled with decent to good hitters, and has great depth, but it lacks power.

The Yankees are, well, they're the Yankees. They've got a ton of high priced talent all over the field, alot of them over payed, but most are very good baseball players. And they can hit from almost every position. Posada is having a huge year behind the plate. Giambi is mysteriously hitting around .250, but is still taking a ton of walks and has huge power. His 1B/DH partner Nick Johnson is an on base machine, and has been among the most productive hitters in the leauge when he's been healthy. Soriano is not as good as he was last year, he's struck out 125 and his OBP is a paltry .339, but he's hitting .291 with 36 home runs. Any team will take that from there second basemen, that is, and i suppose we can consider Soriano a second basemen. He does play there every day, but i think there's little doubt that he's really a corner outfielder. Aaron Boone is a good hitter for a third basemen, though he's been terrible so far with the Yankees. In the outfield you've got Bernie Williams, whose had an off year, but maintains a solid OBP and has hit 15 home runs. It's not the normal Bernie, but it's still pretty good for a center fielder. In right is Hideki Matsui, whose been good, but far from great. His RBI number are inflated by batting no. 5 in the Yankees line up. Regardless, he's a solid hitter. The one gaping whole in the Yankees line up is right field. They failed to address this at the dead line after trading away Raul Mondesi, but 1 out of 9 (DH) is'nt bad. The rotation is old, and somehwat suspect except for Mussina, but still has the potential to dominate, if Clemens and Pettite pitch well.

The Twins should put up a fight, but i think the Yankees are too much for them in this one.

Yankees in 4

ALCS New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox

Sox fans will be salivating for this one. Another chance to beat the hated Yankees and go on to try for their first title since 1918. It should be a real interest series. Boston has the better top to bottom line up, and a better heart of the order. But the Yankees line up is quite good in it's own right. Boston has Pedro Martinez, far and away the best pitcher in the series, but the Yankees 2-3 of Clemens and Pettite can dominate, and have a very good post season track record. Wakefield and Lowe are both good pitchers, but i don't think either can be expected to single handedly win a game. The pitching match ups for a Yankees Red Sox LCS should look something like this

Game 1 Mike Mussina vs Pedro Martinez (NY)
Game 2 Roger Clemens vs Derek Lowe (NY)
Game 3 Andy Pettite vs Tim Wakefield (B)
Game 4 David Wells vs John Burkett/ Jeff Suppan (B)
Game 5 Mike Mussina vs Pedro Martinez (B)
Game 6 Roger Clemens vs Derek Lowe (NY)
Game 7 Andy Pettite vs Tim Wakefield (NY)

Again, Boston's problem will be pitching match ups. Martinez draws the Yanks best starter, Mike Mussina, lowering the chance he wins his games. And then they're at a dis advantage. Clemens may be 40, and at the end of his career, but he's still got a great fastball/splitter combo, and he is always a good bet to pitch well in a big game. You've gotta give him the edge over Derek Lowe. Andy Pettite and Tim Wakefield have pitched about equally well this year, and over the last three years, Wakefield has actually been the better pitcher. Pettite though, has been a good pitcher for a long time now, and has an excellent post season performance record. I think that you have to give the Yankees a slight advantage here also. Burkett and Suppan are, well, they're soft tossing, aging, 30 something right handers. Wells is past 40 also, and has'nt been good of late, but he's pitched well as recently as the first half of this year. Again, advantage to the Yankees.

So after Pedro vs Mussina, the Yankees have the pitching advantage in this series. However, I don't have enough confidence in Clemens and Pettite anymore to shut down the Boston hitters. The Angels proved last year that the pitching is vulnerable. I like Boston to win the series on the strength of their hitting. They'll get to the Yankees pitching at least twice in the series for a handful of runs, and win in 7 behind a gem from Pedro.

National Leauge coming next.

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