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September 25, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

American League, September 13-19

by Steven Goldman

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Readers will kindly forgive your host if he confuses teams, players, postseason assignments, and the approximate quality of shortstop Bobby Meacham, who currently cavorts overhead singing "Copacabana." The author has a high fever and should really punt it all and be in bed. This was, in fact, the plan, but BP is a soulless beast with an insatiable appetite. I was scourged from my place of rest and chained to the keyboard with the reminder that if I didn't cooperate, on the day I settled down to take that long-overdue bath I would wind up like this guy.

…Sorry, dozed off there. For a second I thought I had actually finished. The completed column began...

In Washington did MLB
A stadium decree
Where Anacostia, the muddy, ran
Through beltways measureless to man
And across Bud Selig's knees.

Just when I thought I had it down, two lawyers from Baltimore knocked on my door and the whole thing vanished right out of my head, leaving me with only my intended conclusion...

Oh, give me a home
Where the spectators roam
And the fans come out summer through fall
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
And French is not spoken at all.

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Another disastrous week, splitting four with the Mariners and dropping two of three to the Rangers. One of the chief killers was, as always, Darin Erstad, who batted .080 on the week. He wasn't the only one who slumped, but he was the only self-inflicted wound. Joe McCarthy used to say that you had to be ready to cut your own grandmother if it would help the team improve. Telling yourself pretty stories about a fellow's defense at first base is an act of denial, of avoidance, and measured against the McCarthy ethos (respect for the man prevents us from utilizing the adjective "McCarthyite") it's weak… Kelvim Escobar had two starts and was excellent despite splitting on decisions, with the line 15.0-9-2-2-3-14, 1.20. At the beginning of the season there were not many, if any, who predicted that Escobar would be, by far, the best starter of the bunch. The Angels made a good move by singing Bartolo Colon, but sometimes you do the right thing and it doesn't work out as well as it should on paper. That's the human uncertainty with which neither statistics nor scouting can come to grips. I'm hopeful that statement doesn't get me labeled an apostate. Docked a grade for pennant race let-down. GRADE: F

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

After last week's comment on the Orioles, reader DK began a dire kvetching. "In BPro's blind hatred for the team, you guys attack them for reasons that ain't even true! …[B.J.] Ryan IS being used in close and late situations. Ryan has pitched in 29% of the 'close and late' innings for the Orioles. That leads the AL! On bad teams that don't generate many save opps, the set-up role is more important. BJ is being used properly." Three responses to the Dark Knight:

  • First of all, the jury is still out on the whole "BPro" thing. Much like "Trekkie" versus "Trekker," we can't quite agree on what the correct shorthand is for our little enterprise. I have suggested "Beepie," but that doesn't seem to have caught on.

  • As you can imagine, whenever TEAMS or any other BP feature criticizes a ballclub, we get e-mail from fans of that club accusing us of organized bias. Not true. As with the nickname issue above, there is a complete absence of groupthink at BP. Even if we tried to pick a particular club to gang up on, we wouldn't be able to agree. The fact is, that's never going to happen, because that's not what our editorial point of view is about. Our intention is to point out excellence when we see it, analyze failure when that occurs, and attempt to puzzle out the reasons for both. If we're missing that with the Orioles then we need to take a closer look at our coverage, but that would be an issue of oversight, not bias.

    TEAMS is a special case because being a week in review column it is very much in the moment, very much responsive to the statistics and win-loss record of the previous week. The O's pitched reasonably well last week, but I had watched them pitch three very sloppy games against the Yankees and let those contests influence my reading of the situation rather than the week as a whole. Also, John Sterling kept bashing them, so it must be true. Suffice it to say that no pitching staff should be judged solely by what they do against the Yankees' offense.

  • DK is right about B.J. Ryan. It was not my intention to suggest that he was being used incorrectly but that he has been so good this year that his usage might be too limited. In the mold of a Rich Gossage, he could close, he could set up, he could come in for Sidney Ponson in the third inning and try to stop a game from getting away. That's not a criticism of the Orioles; no team is doing that right now, but it makes for a far more logical usage pattern than does the whole set-up man/closer thing. DK, if we had a No-Prize, we'd send you a No-Prize.

All of that huffing and puffing aside, the Orioles had a very fine week, taking two of three from the Blue Jays and Twins respectively, outscoring opponents by a ridiculous margin of 42-19. The pitching staff was marvelous, with a weekly ERA of 2.94. They walked just 16 in 52 innings, holding the oppo to a .287 OBP. Had they done this all year, there wouldn't be any need to have a BP conspiracy against them. Besides, I'm already in on the YES conspiracy to kill Pedro Martinez, and I don't have time to work on two… GRADE: B+

BOSTON RED SOX

Got an early lead against the Yankees and then punted on first down. The key move was the decision not to hold Curt Schilling out a day and let him open the Yankees series. Instead, he started the day before and picked up an easy 11-4 decision against the Devil Rays, a game the Sox had a good shot at winning with a lesser pitcher given that the opposing starter was the literally gigantic bust Mark Hendrickson. Schilling is now scheduled to pitch against the Yankees on the last day of their final series of the season, at which point it may not matter whether he wins or loses. Team ERA for the week: 7.10. There was this sugary, lachrymose Robin Williams flick a few years back where he played a teacher whose main advice to his students was to "seize the day." The costs of this advice are demonstrated via a tortured device in which the desire to play a hobgoblin in an Elizabethan farce is used as a metaphor for closeted homosexuality. The Red Sox should avoid this film at all costs. They're motivated enough. Motivation and execution are not always the same thing; being told to seize the day is not the same as having the ability to seize it. Just like that movie, we all struggle for deeper meaning, but the best most of us can do is win the wild card. GRADE: D

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Lost four straight to the Twins and the Tigers before waking up… Paul Konerko batted .400 with three home runs on the week, continuing an extraordinary comeback season, while Joe Borchard is going to need one after going 3-for-16. It's tough to come back when you've never been here. At this writing young Borchard, 25, has been to the plate 179 times and batted .161/.246/.292. If you don't mind a tad of irony, allow us to point out a bit of Twilight Zone: Meet another young outfielder who had trouble putting the bat on the ball. It was 1988, an election year just like this one. A guy named Bush was running for president against an effete fellow from Massachusetts, just like now. The outfielder, 24, batted .159/.221/.305 with the Toronto Blue Jays. His name was Kenny Williams. Don't know what this says about Borchard's future as a ballplayer, but it's a near certainty that a dozen or so years from now he will trade Barry Bonds, Jr. to the A's for Derek Jeter, 42. GRADE: D

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Jettisoned two of three each to the Tigers and Royals, pitched uniformly badly, hit four home runs on the week, Ryan Ludwick had one hit in 12 at bats, Omar Vizquel had one hit in 18 at bats. Good offense, blah, blah, no pitching, blah, blah. Pitching staff next year? Chances: blah. Liked Cleveland-generated "American Splendor" better, also series debuts of "Lost," "Veronica Mars". GRADE: D-BLAH

DETROIT TIGERS

Punched 18 home runs, scored 43 runs, but the pitching was so porous that the oppo scored 42 and made it a losing week for the Felids. Still, it wasn't bad for a week without Carlos Guillen. Omar Infante batted .344/.382/.813 with four home runs (he was one of three Tiggers to smack four), and if the breakthrough seasons that he and Guillen put together are real, "Carlos and Omar" is shortly going to be as decisive to turning around the Tiger operation as was "Alan and Lou" 25 years ago. Then there's "Hope and Crosby," but they don't really fit in here. Hope had a piece of the Indians, Crosby a bit o' the Pirates, and if only those two franchises had met in the World Series there would have been some intensely rivalrous croonin' and wisecrackin'. Detroit's Hollywood connection is Tom Selleck, who turned down either "Indiana Jones" in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Rick" in "Casablanca". The stories get confused…

Of late, ESPN has been hyping and rehyping an unnecessary movie on cosmic dunderhead Pete Rose. At one point during the proceedings, someone mentions, with exclamation points, that Rose might break Ty Cobb's record! As if that meant anything to anyone, just as Ichiro Suzuki's sail past Gene Simmons will not set many hearts aflutter, because who loves George? You can't correct that problem with a movie, because Sisler was not a terribly scintillating personality, unless you want to do his mid-career loss of eyesight thing as a tragic movie-of-the-week deal, but if you're going to do that you may as well start with the more contemporary Kirby Puckett. The guy who really needs a movie is Cobb. Despite the film of the same name, he's never had one--"Cobb" was not about Cobb, but about some old guy who used to be Cobb. His story was not unique. All biographies that end with the subject dying in bed at an advanced age--Winston Churchill, say, or Casey Stengel--have in common the heroes yielding to the ravages of age and ceasing to be the vital presences that made them interesting in the first place. Senile Cobb, senile Churchill, senile Stengel, the only differences are in the details. Young Detroit Tiger Cobb was unique: paranoid, violent, and altogether the best at what he did. That movie should get made before we have any more Rose inflicted upon us. Go away already! GRADE: C+

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Went 3-3 on the week, an accomplishment for this club. Good portents: encouraging performances from Jimmy Gobble, Zack Greinke, and Jeremy Affeldt (three innings, no hits, no runs, two walks, six strikeouts). We can all breathe a sigh of relief: Darrell May still has a chance to lose 20 games. GRADE: C+

MINNESOTA TWINS

Went 5-2, and just as it was last year at this time, the story was Jo-ho-ho-han Santana, who made two starts and turned in a line of 15.0-9-0-0-1-21. You can imagine Lefty Grove having weeks like that (someday Retrosheet will get around to Grove and we'll know for sure). With Santana seemingly unstoppable, it's certain that the Yankees and the AL West winner will count themselves lucky to avoid them in the first round. GRADE: A

NEW YORK YANKEES

Endured two very shaky losses, one a blowout at the hands of the Royals, the other a Mariano Rivera self-immolation, and otherwise were brilliant. In addition to beating back Boston's charge (Q: How do you stop the Red Sox from charging? A: Take away their credit cards), the big news of the week was the continuing Mike Mussina Reunion Tour: he's been reunited with his ability to pitch, and as Peaches and Herb sang, it feels so good. I don't know that personally, I'm just assuming. Mussina's line for two starts came to two wins, 15.0-10-1-1-3-19, 0.60 ERA. At this writing, the Moose has reeled off five consecutive quality starts; his September ERA is 1.75. This is potentially a season-saving development. The Yankees spent the year winning despite their lack of a number-one starter, but post-season opposition promised to test this manner of doing business. Mussina, who has a 3.06 ERA in 100 postseason innings, was just what the doctor ordered. Special nods to Derek Jeter (.458/.500/.833) and especially Alex Rodriguez (.524/.630/.952), who was in the middle of everything, driving in seven, scoring nine, and finally hitting when it counted. GRADE: A

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Went 4-3, which looks worse than it turned out to be. They split with the Rangers, which isn't a worst-case scenario, then took two of three from the Mariners. One might have liked more of a statement rather than a hangin'-in-there kind of week, but at least not one inch of territory was ceded or lost. Things could have been far worse, for the pitching was spectacularly un-A's-like, with an aggregate ERA of 5.71, which is roughly the team ERA for the month of September. The invincibility of the A's was a myth that was long in the debunking; just recently Ozzie Guillen was propounding the awesomeness of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson as the reason his team lost to Rich Harden and Mark Redman (and shellacked Zito). In the words of John Lennon's first solo chart-topper, whatever gets you through the night. GRADE: C+

SEATTLE MARINERS

Roughed up the Angels, which was what they're supposed to do, but the real news was the fine work of the pitching staff, particularly Bobby Madritsch, who allowed just four runs in 15 1/3 innings. On the offensive side, Ichiro Suzuki batted .185. Fortunately for him, George Sisler failed to gain any ground, what with being dead and all. This is also true of Bret Boone, who trails Ichiro by 148 hits. If you put Boone in front of a mirror, can you see his reflection? …Speaking of Boone, there was talk of his being offered in trade to keystone-impaired contenders back at the deadline. The Yankees chose not to bite, sticking with Miguel Cairo. The taste test:

Cairo: .293/.347/.423, .267 EqA, 22.5 VORP, $900,000
Boone: .250/.313/.421 .256 EqA, 25.5 VORP, $8 Million

And once again, Brian Cashman made the right decision by keeping his hand out of the owner's wallet. GRADE: C

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Went 2-4 against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, with a nice start from Scott Kazmir as the highlight of the week. The rest was all pain and suffering, Sodom and Gomorrah, and rude Piniellas slouching towards Bethlehem. GRADE: D

TEXAS RANGERS

Here is a mini-continuum of baseball suspensions:

  • 1947: Leo Durocher, general lifestyle issues or something, including getting divorced and letting actor George Raft gamble in his apartment when he wasn't there, one year

  • 1984: Steve Howe, drug abuse, one year

  • 1922: Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel, unsanctioned barnstorming, 40 days

  • 1932: Bill Dickey, breaking Carl Reynolds' jaw with a punch, 30 days

  • 1988: Shoeless Pete Rose, shoving umpire Dave Pallone, 30 days

  • 1912: Ty Cobb, going into the stands and beating a fan, indefinite suspension, later reduced to 10 days and $50. Tigers players, who staged a sympathy strike, paid higher fines

  • 1987: Joe Niekro, scuffing the ball, 10 games

  • 1987: Kevin Gross, scuffing the ball, 10 games

  • 2004: Julian Tavarez, doctoring the ball with pine tar, eight games

  • 1973: Bert Campaneris, throwing a bat (but not hitting anyone) during the 1972 ALCS, seven games

  • 1965: Juan Marichal, hitting Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat, seven days

  • 1991: Albert Belle, hitting a fan in the chest with a thrown ball, seven days

  • 1910: Art Devlin, hitting fan in stands, five days

  • 1991: Roger Clemens, ranting at the umpires during 1990 ALCS, five games

  • 1997: Roberto Alomar, spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, five games

  • 1922: Babe Ruth, throwing dirt on umpire/going into stands after fan, one game, $200, loss of Yankees captaincy

  • 1996: Tony Phillips, going into the stands after a fan, $5000 fine

Today, a pitcher throwing inside to a batter can get run from a game, an insult to baseball's history and a castration of the pitcher in his battle for the inside part of the plate. That sanction can be imposed without a batter being hit by a pitch or clear proof of intent. Ejection is likely to be followed by a suspension.

Assault another human being, including winging one with a piece of furniture, begets a proportionally weaker response. The fans in question may in fact be subhuman, given that they have professed to being gratified by heckling other human beings. That in no way makes assaulting them acceptable.

Baseball has done very little to protect its fans from the thugs that teams sometimes employ, and it is clear from the 15-game penalty imposed on Frank Francisco that they do not take the issue seriously.

Now that Major League Baseball has made its inadequate response, there remains the issue of sanction from the Rangers organization itself. The New York Mets set the standard for stand-up behavior in these circumstances in May, 1993, after Vince Coleman injured three fans, including two children, by tossing a lit firecracker at them. Mets ownership decisively stated that Coleman would never again play for their ballclub, and did not relent.

Meanwhile, out on the field the Rangers had an adequate week. They split four with the A's, took two of three from the Angels and gained ground on second place, if not on first. GRADE: C

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Split six with the Orioles and Devil Rays. Ted Lilly pitched well in his one start, as he has pitched well all season. That the Yankees traded him for Jeff Weaver has, on occasion, caused me to wail so loudly that I have put stretch marks on the cat. It's not so much the giveaway that I regret as much as the loss of an opportunity; as one who is obligated to follow the Yankees day in and day out, I could have been watching this young lefty turn into someone interesting instead of watching old pitchers stagnate... The two best hitters were Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado, one of whom will be here next year and the other of whom won't, unless he hands Mr. Ricciardi the "I Love the Local Sushi So Much I Can't Bear to Leave" discount. GRADE: C

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  The Who,  What You Need To Know,  Ty Cobb,  Alex Cobb,  Yankees Fans,  Q&A

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