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August 2, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Angels, Umpires and Legends

by Joe Sheehan

I really did intend to write about the Angels, but between Shane Demmitt's piece here at BP and Rich Rifkin's recent analysis, I don't know what I can add. The Halos are playing good baseball right now, and have to be taken seriously in the five-team scrum for three playoff spots. They do a great job of preventing runs, and as Demmitt points out, are a unique team offensively.

I'm just surprised I can't get decent seats for this weekend's series with the Yankees. Friday and Saturday appear to be sellouts (or perhaps just singles available), with only seats in Brea and Placentia available for Sunday. What will be interesting, when watching the games, will be seeing whether it's actually Angel fans sitting in the seats. Last night's game had a significant Yankee fan presence, and my experience is that Yankee/Angel games at the Big Ed are an awful lot like those at 161st and River Ave., save the lack of a gray haze above the bleachers.

There's a small, selfish part of me that wouldn't mind seeing the Angels make the playoffs. I've never been to a postseason game, in large part because I settled in California just before the current Yankee dynasty began. Since 1988, I've been in the same region as playoff games just twice, those being the Dodgers' brief Division Series appearances in 1995 and 1996. I'd really like a chance to see live playoff baseball, and if the Angels make October, there's a decent chance they'd play the Yankees out here.

Anyway, read those two articles, they're good.

I was thinking about writing about stupid umpiring decisions, having watched Dan Iassogna make an egregious error in judgment yesterday in the Reds/Dodgers game, but Rob Neyer beat me to that one as well. Suffice to say that Eric Gagne should not have been ejected.

I don't have my copy of Lords of the Realm handy, having lent it out to a BP staffer, but I'm reminded of something in the book. There's a section about arbitration that mentions that many arbitrators (at least then) had no baseball knowledge. The book even relates a story in which one asked, "What's an RBI?".

I was thinking about that yesterday. An umpire who knows so little about baseball as to believe that a pitcher would hit a batter intentionally to bring the tying run to the plate with no one out in the ninth inning has no business calling an MLB game.

With those topics shot, I'm left with writing about one of my favorite players. Last night, I got to do one of the things I enjoy most in this world: watch Greg Maddux pitch. He wasn't notably sharp last night, getting into and out of trouble in the first and third innings, but he threw six shutout frames to lower his league-leading ERA to 2.45 and get his 11th win. Maddux has had some injury issues this year that have kept his workload down (he's on pace to throw fewer than 200 innings for the first time since 1987--he even got there in 1994!), which keeps him from being a great Cy Young candidate, but this is probably his most effective season since 1998.

I've long admired his compact, smooth motion, which is one of the things that has enabled him to put together a long string of 200-inning seasons. He has no wasted effort, and always finishes square to the hitter and up on his feet, in position to field a batted ball. Watch him in a bunt situation: Maddux is often moving towards the area of the bunt even before the bat hits the ball.

What makes Maddux effective is the movement he gets on just about every pitch, and his control of that movement. He throws mostly strikes, and when he throws balls, they're purposeful balls. I never get the sense that his concentration slips for more than a pitch or two, or that he makes any pitch without knowing exactly what he wants to do with it. That's admirable, entertaining, and a recipe for success.

This isn't a real good stathead column, I know, but I just really enjoyed watching him pitch last night. Usually I flip among a few games, but I watched the first six innings of the Braves/Brewers game almost without interruption, solely because I didn't want to miss any Maddux.

Perhaps his days as the game's best pitcher are over, but he's still one of the best, perfectly capable of pitching the Braves deep into October. Beyond that, Maddux is probably one of the five greatest pitchers in history, when you consider the era in which he performed his greatest feats.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Greg Maddux,  Angels,  Umpiring

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