September 28, 2008
Every Given Sunday
One Man's Ballot
It will not be an easy task for the Baseball Writers Association of America, those who have been asked to select the American League's Most Valuable Player. Ballots filled out by the 28 voters (two in each city in the league) must be e-mailed back to the BBWAA headquarters by the time the postseason begins on Wednesday afternoon, and it is easy to picture a many of them mulling over their choices until the very last minute, because there is no easy choice.
Rightly or wrongly, many voters believe that the MVP can only come from a team that either qualifies for the playoffs or at least contends deep into September. Only in circumstances where the perceived "best player" in the league is clearly from a bad team, such as Andre Dawson of the 1987 Cubs or Alex Rodriguez of the 2003 Rangers, will the voters throw their support behind someone who has played on an also-ran.
The quandary for AL voters is that there are enough viable candidates from the contending teams, but none who stand above the crowd. At the same time, no player on a non-contender has had an overwhelmingly productive season, so it is conceivable that the winner could be one of two Red Sox (first baseman Kevin Youkilis or second baseman Dustin Pedroia), or one of two Twins (catcher Joe Mauer or first baseman Justin Morneau). The voters might also get a little loopy and hand the plaque to Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, based on his becoming the first reliever in history to record more than 60 saves in as season.
The National League voters don't have such a daunting choice, unless they feel that the winner must come from a playoff team. If that's the case, then Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard could be the undeserving winner; if however the voters consider that the Cardinals were unlikely contenders into the final week, then first baseman Albert Pujols will be the clear choice. It would not be a surprise to see Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez or even Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia placed high on some ballots, since they have had profoundly affected their clubs after being acquired in mid-season trades. However, no one has ever won an MVP award after beginning the season in the other league, and a precedent is not likely to be set this year.
Here is how one man who has the privilege of filling out a ballot for one of the BBWAA's eight post-season awards-this year, it's the NL Cy Young-would cast his votes:
NL Most Valuable Player
Pujols was clearly the best player in the league, and a big reason why the Cardinals stayed in the race a lot longer than most anyone had dreamed of. He leads the major leagues in WARP3 (12.5), VORP (94.9), and EqA (.371). The advanced metrics do not support Howard's status as an MVP candidate-he is 31st in the NL in VORP (33.0)-but it is hard to deny that he has played a huge role in the Phillies being able to rally past the Mets in September to win the NL East for a second straight year.
AL Most Valuable Player
The numbers give the nod to Mauer, as does baseball common sense. Mauer leads the AL in WARP3 (11.5), is fourth in EqA (.317), and eighth in VORP (55.3); a strong showing across the board. Beyond that, he has been a steadying influence behind the plate in guiding a young starting rotation, and that counts for something in the intangibles department.
NL Cy Young
Lincecum doesn't have as many wins as Webb, the usual benchmark for a Cy Young winner, but he leads all NL pitchers in WARP3 (9.7), SNLVAR (8.2), and VORP (69.4), the BP triple crown of pitching. Webb is just seventh in the league in SNLVAR.
AL Cy Young
Conversely, the pitcher with the most wins is sometimes also the best hurler in the league, and that is the case with Lee. He tops AL pitchers in WARP3 (11.0), SNLVAR (7.7), and VORP (74.6), another triple crown.
NL Rookie of the Year
The Cubs have seemingly been looking for a long-term answer behind the plate ever since Randy Hundley left town, and have finally found their man in Soto, who ranks 17th in the NL with 8.6 WARP3 and also tops all rookies with 39.1 VORP.
AL Rookie of the Year
The Rays took heat for not making Longoria their Opening Day third baseman, but he was in the major leagues by the middle of April, and has had a fine season despite suffering a broken wrist in August, ranking 16th in the AL in WARP3 (9.2) and VORP (36.4).
NL Manager of the Year
Yes, the Cubs were the pre-season favorites to win the Central, but Piniella kept them amazingly consistent until they hit one rough patch in late August. They have been the best team in the league, and his decision to convert Ryan Dempster form closer to starter and Kerry Wood from starter to closer has worked out quite well.
AL Manager of the Year
More than a few people thought that Maddon was crazy when he declared in spring training that the Rays' goal was to win the AL East, considering the team had never won more than 70 games in any of their 10 seasons. Yet, when the Rays take the field on Wednesday for the first playoff game in franchise history, an AL East championship banner will be flying over Tropicana Field, thanks in part to Maddon making his team believe, while also deftly handling a roster beset by injuries.
Piniella's contract with the Cubs runs through 2009 with a club option for 2010, and though they have expressed a desire to extend that deal, the 65-year-old has been sounding during the final days of the season like a man who doesn't want to stick around much longer. "It has been a tough year, and sometimes it can really take a toll on you," Piniella told the New York Daily News. "I don't know how much longer I want to do this."
That has led to plenty of speculation that Piniella could retire if the Cubs go on win the World Series for the first time since 1908, ending their 100-year title drought. Piniella reportedly has an offer from the Yankees to join their organization as a consultant when he is finished managing. This past week he further fueled speculation that he is nearing the end while talking about the expectations being placed on the Cubs by the Chicago media to win the World Series. "I'm trying the best I can," Piniella said. "And if I don't win it, there'll be somebody else here you'll be talking about, and if I do win it, there'll be somebody else here anyway, so what's the difference?"
Piniella later backed off that statement and said he plans on staying with the Cubs at least through next season. "Basically what I told [the Daily News] is that I'm not in this thing till I'm 70," Piniella said. "I want to enjoy my life a little bit, too. Next year, if the Cubs win [this fall], I'm signed to manage the Cubs. I've never said anything to the contrary."
Piniella does admit, though, that the seasons tend to be more of a grind as he gets older. "They're tiring jobs," Piniella said. "Most of my real good friends are all retired. Hell, I'm the only one working. As long as I still have the drive and the passion, I'm fine. If I lose that, I'm not going to cheat anybody and take anybody's money, that I can tell you."
By virtue of having the best record in the American League, the Angels have chosen the eight-day rather than the seven-day format for their best-of-five ALDS against the Red Sox. With that extra offday, the Angels can use a three-man rotation in the series, as each of their front three could pitch on the normal four days' rest between starts. "You have an opportunity to condense some things on the pitching side," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You weigh who you have confidence in, whether there's a matchup you like or how they're throwing the ball. Those are things you consider against the exposure of throwing two times in one series. That's certainly an option we'll have, to have guys go on normal rest in a five-game series and only use three guys."
Scioscia said that the decision was made more because of in-house considerations than their matchup with the Red Sox. For their three, the Angels will go with right-handers John Lackey and Ervin Santana and left-hander Joe Saunders. "There's some consideration to see where the other team's rotation ends up, what decisions they'd have to make about bringing a guy back early, but that's less important than making sure your guys are where they need to be lined up," Scioscia said.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona had the choice of formats last season and also took the eight-day so he could bring ace Josh Beckett back for Game Four on normal rest. It never got to that point, because the Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS on their way to winning the World Series. "I don't know if playing in eight days or seven days makes a difference," Francona said. "I didn't even care last year when we had to pick. I just figured that whoever plays better is going to win. I don't think it gets in the way that much."
The Padres have used the Moneyball approach to building their team ever since Sandy Alderson took over as club president. It was Alderson who was one of the pioneers in using statistical analysis to help build the Athletics' great teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but there now appears to be some friction between the Padres' coaching staff and front office over the approach, as evidenced by hitting coach Wally Joyner resigning this past Monday. The Padres will have their fourth hitting coach in as many years in 2009.
"It bothers me a lot that I have come to the point where it is clear that I need to move on," Joyner told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I came to the job hoping to put my experience and ideas to good use in teaching and coaching the Padres' hitters, but it has become obvious to me in the past few months that the organization's approach is different from mine." Joyner said he is not necessarily a proponent of hitters working the count if it causes them to lose their aggressiveness. "My experience in playing baseball at the major league level is that you cannot afford to not be ready for any pitch that you see," he said. "It might be the best pitch you see that night. I know how valuable that preparation was for me in my career. I wanted our hitters to be ready from pitch number one, and I think that was the difference."
The Padres, playing their home games in the pitchers' paradise of Petco Park, are last in the major leagues scoring just under four runs per game. Dave Magadan was fired as hitting coach during the 2006 season, Merv Rettenmund suffered the same fate midway through last season, and Padres minor league hitting consultant Jim Lefebvre appears to be the frontrunner to replace Joyner. Right fielder Brian Giles believes it is Petco Park, and not the hitting coaches, that are behind the Padres' offensive problems. "Wally does a good job," Giles said. "He knows how to coach to each individual's approach as far as hitting. Wally's been great. Obviously people look at statistics and see the offense at the bottom. You put this team in Arizona's ballpark or somewhere else, I think the numbers would be a lot different."
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The White Sox are discussing a contract extension with general manager Kenny Williams, whose current deal is believed to run through 2009. ... The Red Sox may go with 10 pitchers in the ALDS, which means that veteran reliever Mike Timlin could be dropped in favor of rookie first baseman Jeff Bailey. Meanwhile, it appears Tim Wakefield rates the edge over Paul Byrd to be the Red Sox's fourth starter if they should advance to the ALCS. ... Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell hopes to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic next March, despite being scheduled for hip surgery when the season ends. Major League Baseball will also extend spring training by six days next year to help teams and players better prepare for the WBC than they were able to for the inaugural event in 2006. ... Rookie left-hander Jose Mijares has pitched so well during a September call-up that he will likely be the Twins' primary set-up man in the postseason. ... The Yankees reportedly are making outfielder Nate McLouth their top off-season trade target, but the Pirates have no desire to deal him. Meanwhile, some in the Yankees' organization feel they should give the starting center fielder's job to rookie Brett Gardner next season. ... The Yankees have also reached out to left-hander Andy Pettitte and first baseman Jason Giambi in recent days, asking them to return in 2009, though they will pay Giambi a $5 million buyout rather than exercise his $22 million option. Pettitte will either pitch for the Yankees next season or retire. ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland says the only two pitchers assured of spots on his staff next year are starters Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga, though Jeremy Bonderman would be the third if he is recovered from surgery to remove a blood clot in his pitching arm. Leyland also wants struggling left-hander Dontrelle Willis to play winter ball in order to continue working on his control problems. ... The Mariners are likely to now bring left-hander Erik Bedard back next season rather than non-tender him, since the shoulder surgery he underwent this past week turned out to be minor. Meanwhile, left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith's conversion from reliever to starter has gone so well that he is expected to be in the Mariners' rotation in 2009. ... The Orioles are considering non-tendering right-hander Daniel Cabrera this winter, and the Indians are likely to take the same course with third baseman Andy Marte.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd will wait a few weeks after the season before holding organizational meetings, and there is some belief that he may fire manager Clint Hurdle, or at least order him to revamp the coaching staff. The Rockies also want to make an effort to re-sign left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes before he becomes a free agent. ... There has been talk in recent days that Phillies GM Pat Gillick might postpone his retirement by a year rather than step down at the end of this season. ... Right-hander Pedro Martinez is unlikely to be re-signed by the Mets, but he wants to pitch at least three more years. ... The Dodgers are leaning toward paying right-hander Brad Penny a $2 million buyout instead of exercising his $9.25 million option for 2009, especially after he abruptly left the club this past week when placed on the 60-day DL, eliminating his chance of being on the post-season roster. ... Right-hander Ryan Dempster is eligible for free agency after the postseason but is expected to re-sign with the Cubs. ... The Astros are likely to re-sign left-hander Randy Wolf. ... The Marlins will dangle right fielder Jeremy Hermida on the trade market this winter after nearly sending him to the Pirates in late July in a three-team trade that would have had Manny Ramirez go from the Red Sox to Florida. ... The Diamondbacks plan to stick with Chad Qualls as their closer when next season begins. ... Mets outfielder Moises Alou, whose season was wrecked by injuries, is undecided about playing next season. ... The Giants are considering non-tendering right-hander Kevin Correia. ... The Reds plan to give rookie Ryan Hanigan first crack at the starting catcher's job next spring rather than acquiring a veteran front-line backstop in the offseason. ... The Pirates would like to retain two of their key bench players, Doug Mientkiewicz and Jason Michaels. ... The Padres will receive a better prospect as the PTBNL in the Greg Maddux trade since the Dodgers won the NL West.
Interesting facts as the regular season comes to a close: