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October 25, 2005

Prospectus Today

World Series Mailbag

by Joe Sheehan

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I get a lot of e-mail, and I don't answer nearly as much of it as I should. That's not a reflection of the quality of the feedback, but more a reflection of my sloth.

"The Astros may have their backs up against the wall, but they also have Roy Oswalt, who is their best pitcher right now, and they are going back to a place where they've won eight straight postseason games."

In fact, the Astros are going back to a place where they've lost one straight postseason game--have you forgotten about Pujols already?
--J.Y.

Yeah, I appear to be running out of steam as we head down the stretch.

That's a bad one...thanks, J.Y., and the many others who e-mailed me about that.

I've tried to restrain myself from ranting about this too much, but it's starting to get to me. While a few commentators have touched on this, I'm struck by how much attention has been paid to 'Bagwell and Biggio finally getting to the WS' while almost no attention at all has been paid to Frank Thomas. Obviously I don't expect the same level of hype for Thomas, especially given that he's unable to play in the Series. He hasn't even qualified as an afterthought in the eyes of many commentators discussing the Series, and for the life of me, I can't understand why. Is it because he's surly? Not a team player? Because he isn't a 'clutch player?' Or because mentioning Frank Thomas as being the best White Sox player since 1959 would go against the 'This is a Smallball team' mantra that's being drilled into our skulls?

It's just always upsetting when a guy that I was always a fan of, and who always produced whether hurt or healthy, is actively discarded because 'it's a better story' or some such crap like that.
--J.R.

I think the simplest explanation--Thomas barely played this year, and not at all in the playoffs--is the most likely one.

There are, of course, other factors. Biggio and Bagwell are media favorites, and you're welcome to examine the reasons for that. Neither player retains the stench of the machinations that cost Dierker his job, to their discredit, whereas Thomas still seems to suffer from the perception that he was difficult during his peak.

Thomas is a fascinating player who is going to be a very interesting Hall of Fame case. For people like me, he's a first- ballot, inner-circle guy, based on his staggering peak. I can't shake the notion, though, that the electorate doesn't hold him in that regard. I don't doubt he'll be voted in, but perhaps not in as easy a fashion as he deserves.

I live in England and am only able to watch occasional baseball these days, so I rely on writers like you to inform me of what's happening in the game.

One of your continuing narratives regarding the White Sox has been how small ball has hurt them rather than helped them. Fair enough; I haven't seen the games. But if you wish to remain credible on this theme I think you should cite plays that contradict your viewpoint as well as ones which support it, and then make some attempt to weigh the evidence.

I stayed up to watch Game 1 and I read your column about it. Yes, Lamb made a mistake that probably ended up costing the Astros two runs. But the reason that the Sox had runners at first and third in the first place was because of a small ball play that worked, the hit-and-run single that Rowand bumped into right after Biggio went to cover second base. One could argue that Lamb should still have made the play, but that's missing the point: one of the reasons people play aggressively on the basepaths is to put pressure on the fielders because then they occasionally make mistakes. I'm sure that Guillen felt that that inning was a vindication of his aggressive tactics, and in this particular case I'm inclined to agree.
--D.W.

That's an excellent point, and I think Pierzynski's getting from first to third was a key in both of the first two games.

Honestly, though, the Sox don't have great speed, and don't run the bases all that well. It's one of the things that keeps them from being the Angels, who actually are fast. The Sox have one legitimately fast guy in Podsednik, and some average to average-plus runners in Rowand, Uribe and Iguchi. The rest of the team is pretty slow.

Aggression on the bases affecting fielders has never been proven. I think legitimate speed can have an impact, but just running willy-nilly with so-so baserunners doesn't get you far.

Just wondering if you think the cool Chicago weather has resulted in the starters not being as sharp at the beginning of Game 1. The six combined runs are more than most people would predict for an entire game.
--Jeff Cavett

My recollection is that cold weather is supposed to help pitchers, rather than hitters. Given the starting pitching we've seen so far--12 runs in 24 IP, not horrible but below par for the month for these teams--I guess it's possible that the weather is a reason.

Sox starters haven't walked a batter yet, though. They've walked 12 in their last seven starts, total. Color me impressed.

Do you really think the umpire was out of position on the Molina call? I never umpired past Little League, so I don't know, but I'm not sure where else he COULD have been. Sadly for the Cards, the place he WAS was the ONE place where he COULDN'T see what he needed.
--M.W.

I think he was in position for the play that was supposed to happen, and unfortunately, blocked for the one that developed.

I had a number of e-mails from people insisting that the first-base umpire had a clear view of the play, and disappointed that he didn't interject himself into the decision. I'm the last person to praise the NFL relative to MLB, but I think they do a much better job of getting the call right in consultation than MLB umpires do.

I also think I couldn't name five NFL officials at gunpoint, and if you think there's no connection between those two thoughts, you're wrong.

Joe, I've spent the last few weeks comparing this year's White Sox team to the 1969 Mets: Both are average (at best) offensive teams with strong defense and superb starting pitching. The difference, as I see it, is that the ChiSox put the division away in June, while the Miracle Mets won going away in September. Now the Astros have made it with almost precisely the same model (although they snuck into the playoffs as wildcards). What do you think of this 1969/2005 analogy? If you agree with me at all, which 2005 team do you think is the 'true' heir to the Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman Mets? (Or do we have to see who wins?)
--Dan Rosenbaum

This is interesting...if we're going to grant the premise, it's clear that the White Sox--the much younger of the two staffs--are the better comparison.

Now, I don't know how well things hold beyond that. No current White Sox pitcher looks like Tom Seaver or anything close, so that's a problem, and I don't think even those people related to Bobby Jenks would line him up next to Nolan Ryan.

Mark Buehrle and Jerry Koosman match up reasonably well, now and into the future, and if you squint, you can see Jon Garland and Gary Gentry as a match. Guillen's lack of a true closer pairs up nicely with that Mets team, which had a number of good relievers but no single relief ace.

I like the parallel for one season, though, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the team. Great e-mail, Dan.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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