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October 14, 2005

Prospectus Today

Ballot

by Joe Sheehan

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Watching Roy Oswalt do to the Cardinals what Mark Buehrle did to the Angels one night before got me to thinking about how similar the two pitchers are to each other in approach. Both work very quickly, both pound the strike zone, and both are reliable innings guys. They aren't physically similar--Buehrle is taller and beefier than Oswalt--and they have differing repertoires, but the two are alike in many ways

Consider their career lines through the end of the regular season:


           W-L    ERA      IP    H   BB   SO   HR   DERA  PRAR  WARP1
Oswalt    83-39  3.07   980.2  933  225  850   80   3.31   403   37.5
Buehrle   85-53  3.63  1224.0 1226  280  730  129   3.95   392   41.1
Oswalt has been better, although some of the raw difference between their ERAs is a difference in run context. Buehrle reached the majors first, near the end of the 2000 season, despite which he's more than a year and a half younger than Oswalt. Neither pitcher has had an arm problem; Oswalt's balky groin, suffered in '03, is the only significant injury either has suffered since reaching the majors. Oswalt has pitched for generally better teams, and has had the 20-win seasons that have gotten him more recognition and Cy Young Award votes.

This morning, however, the key similarity is that the two pitchers each held their opponent to one run in a critical game, enabling their teams to tie their respective League Championship Series at one game apiece. Oswalt did it without, ahem, the circumstances that led to Buehrle's win, but I think we're past the point of re-hashing Wednesday night's action.

(OK, one last note: try explaining exactly what happened to a spouse who is, at best, baseball-tolerant. Start by trying to explain the nature of the dropped third strike rule. "See, if the ball hits the dirt, or if the catcher drops the ball--but only if there's no runner on first or if there are two outs no matter who's on firstů." I've been then ever since drinking.)

Just as Buehrle was in Chicago two nights ago, Oswalt was a lot of fun to watch last night. He works largely off a mid-90s fastball, and when he's getting ahead in the count--first-pitch strikes to 21 of 29 batters last night--he's a major challenge for hitters. He threw 108 pitches in seven innings, a big chunk of those in the first and the seventh; he largely cruised through the middle five frames.

Oswalt gave the Astros exactly what they needed, what they'll continue to need from their starters if they're going to stay with the Cardinals. Although they've tied the series, Game Three looms large, as the weak spot in their rotation, Brandon Backe, is scheduled for Game Four. We'll see and read a lot about last year's NLCS gem, but more relevant right now is Backe's mediocre command (97/67 K/BB in 149 1/3 innings).

Some other notes from last night's game:

  • After a rough night Wednesday--in addition to the Doug Eddings controversy, there were questions about Tim McClelland's strike zone in St. Louis--the umpires made a nice comeback, getting close calls right on tag plays in the second and third.

  • Jim Edmonds would just as soon not see Oswalt again. After a first-inning opposite-field single, Edmonds struck out twice and grounded to first, coming up with two outs and runners on in the fifth and seventh and failing to cash them in. Edmonds' matchups with Oswalt were the biggest at-bats of the game; oddly enough, there was no rush to declare Edmonds a gutless choker. It's amazing what happens when you get these games out of New York and Boston.

    Edmonds made the play of the night in the field, stretching out to rob Morgan Ensberg of at least a double in the sixth. It was hard to tell, from live action and replays, what kind of jump he got, but just based on where he made the catch and the logical positioning for Ensberg, it didn't seem like a bad-route catch; it was a legitimately great play on a ball that just kept tailing away from him.

  • Brad Lidge added to his legend in St. Louis, tossing two shutout innings. He wasn't terribly sharp, but the Cardinals were unable to leverage some good counts into baserunners. If they had, they might have gotten back to the heart of the lineup and made the ninth inning interesting. Counting the postseason, Lidge hasn't allowed a run to the Cardinals since 2003, in close to 30 innings over two years.

--

Today is the last day of voting in the Internet Baseball Awards, which prompted me to get my ballots together. This was a difficult season, especially down-ballot, and a strange one in the National League.

Keep in mind my frame of reference: I don't consider team performance a factor except in separating very close calls, and I have a bias towards up-the-middle players in most cases.

American League MVP

  1. Alex Rodriguez
  2. David Ortiz
  3. Johan Santana
  4. Jhonny Peralta
  5. Travis Hafner
  6. Derek Jeter
  7. Miguel Tejada
  8. Vladimir Guerrero
  9. Brian Roberts
  10. Mariano Rivera
Honorable Mention: Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, Mark Buehrle, Mark Ellis, Manny Ramirez

The best hitter in the league by about one win also played a good third base, while the #2 guy played 78 innings in the field. There's been some analysis that indicates Ortiz is shorted by measures such as Equivalent Average or Value Over Replacement Player, ones that don't take into account situations. I think it's an interesting line of discussion; certainly, Ortiz had a lot of high-profile, high-leverage hits, which is why the studies were undertaken. However, without a comfort level with the new information, or much context beyond the value of some performances, I don't think I can use it to close the gap between him and Rodriguez.

Santana is a clear #3. After him, it's a mess, with various metrics pointing in different directions, an assortment of candidates with flaws, and no real tiers among the next 10-12 possibilties. Peralta and Jeter get bumped up on positional value, and Peralta benefits from a high rating in Clay Davenport's defensive system. I can't say I feel strongly about any of the picks after Santana; I did think I was going to find room for Ellis, but I couldn't push him ahead of the Orioles' middle infielders.

American League Cy Young

  1. Johan Santana
  2. Mariano Rivera
  3. Mark Buehrle
  4. Roy Halladay
  5. Bartolo Colon

The question is not whether Santana should win. The question is how many of these might he win in a row. Halladay would have won had he not been hit by that line drive in Texas. Rivera's placement is very high for a reliever on my ballot; the DT system credits him with a notch over nine WARP, a huge figure and the determining factor in sliding him ahead of Buehrle.

American League Rookie of the Year

  1. Joe Blanton
  2. Huston Street
  3. Tadahito Iguchi

Both Blanton and Street were helped by their defense a lot, which may mean I'm shorting Iguchi. There's no "long-time pros can't be Rookie of the Year" logic in play here, however.

American League Manager of the Year

  1. Ozzie Guillen
  2. Eric Wedge
  3. Joe Torre

A brutal pool. Mike Scioscia is the only other guy who you might consider a vote for, although I guess Lee Mazzilli has been forgotten a bit quickly. After that, you're down to voting for guys whose accomplishment was finishing the season without blood on their hands.

National League MVP

  1. Derrek Lee
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Roger Clemens
  4. Jason Bay
  5. Chris Carpenter
  6. Andy Pettitte
  7. Dontrelle Willis
  8. Miguel Cabrera
  9. Roy Oswalt
  10. Andruw Jones

Here's what's bizarre. In the American League, the crowd wants to give the MVP to the slightly inferior hitter with no defensive value. In the NL, the crowd wants to give the MVP to the guy 40 runs worse than the leaders because of his defensive value. It might make sense if Jones was the glove man he was at his defensive peak. He's not that guy anymore, and if he wins the MVP, it will be because he got credit for his 2005 bat and his 2000 glove.

Lee maintained enough separation from Pujols to keep his spot atop the ballot, and I say that because there was a time in September when it looked like the two might end up close enough to make the teams' performances an issue. When Lee doesn't win the award, he'll have only Dusty Baker to blame; his fascination with a top two of Neifi Perez and Corey Patterson cost Lee an RBI title, and with an RBI title, he might have beaten back the competition more easily. It's the problem with RBIs, in a nutshell.

Can you believe there was a time, largely before I discovered rec.sport.baseball, that I didn't think pitchers could be viable MVP candidates? I doubt I would have thought pitchers could be five of the nine most valuable players in the league even six months ago, but it was that kind of season in the National League. I can't separate the three guys after Clemens, and I wouldn't argue with any ordering of them. Clemens, however, was superior to all of them.

Honorable Mention: Morgan Ensberg, David Wright, Todd Helton, Brian Giles, Pedro Martinez.

National League Cy Young

  1. Roger Clemens
  2. Chris Carpenter
  3. Andy Pettitte
  4. Dontrelle Willis
  5. Roy Oswalt

Clemens outpaced the league in pitching VORP and Support-Neutral stats, even with an innings gap between him and the other three contenders. He has no chance to win the BBWAA award, although I will be interested to see how he does. Like Lee, Clemens was a victim of some brutal non-support, and that will cost him hardware.

National League Rookie of the Year

  1. Zach Duke
  2. Ryan Howard
  3. Jeff Francoeur

If there had a been a viable full-season candidate, Duke would never have risen to the top. With his toughest competition also short on playing time, though, Duke's considerable statistical edge was too great to ignore. The gap between Francoeur and the next guy is pretty big.

National League Manager of the Year

  1. Bobby Cox
  2. Ned Yost
  3. Frank Robinson

There are at least twice as many NL candidates for this award as AL candidates. Tony La Russa and Phil Garner both deserve a mention, and maybe even Jack McKeon. As it is, Cox gets my nod for dealing with massive in-season turnover and for giving up on Danny Kolb pretty quickly. Yost has a good grasp of pitcher usage and seems to distribute playing time well. I think Robinson did well to take a .425 roster and play .500 ball with it, a trick he's done many times before.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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