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August 24, 2009

Prospectus Today

AL Awards Quandary

by Joe Sheehan

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You've probably read in any number of places about the split in opinion over who should be the frontrunner for the American League MVP Award. I've stayed out of it, and I've done so for exceptionally arrogant reasons. The idea that anyone other than Joe Mauer is the most valuable player in the league is a joke. Mauer leads the league in OBP and SLG, and also leads in VORP and EQR despite missing nearly a month, and he does all these things while being one of the best defensive catchers in the game. It's not that Mauer is the best player in the league; it's that he's so far and away the best player in the league, dominating the field in a way we haven't seen since the early-2000s versions of Barry Bonds. The arguments for anyone else, from legitimate runner-ups like Ben Zobrist and Derek Jeter to the quixotic attempt to call Mark Teixeira the most deserving, are all laughable. Joe Mauer is the AL MVP, and I fully expect the voters to get there by October 6.

The more interesting race to me is for AL Cy Young, where we could see history made. No American League starting pitcher has ever won the Cy Young Award in a full season with less than 18 victories. Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and Pete Vuckovich all took down the honor in years when they were credited with 18 wins, which is the low mark.

With five weeks and about seven starts left, none of the top contenders for the award in the AL have more than 13 wins. Just two pitchers have more than that number at all, Josh Beckett, who isn't a candidate, and CC Sabathia, who rates as about the sixth- or seventh-best starter in the league by the value metrics. If there's going to be an off-the-board choice this year, it will probably be Sabathia, who has a good chance to lead the league in wins and innings pitched and could end up as the only pitcher to reach 20 wins, which is always a good way to steal a Cy Young Award.

By the metrics, it's clear who the best pitchers in the league have been, and just as clear who the most deserving candidate for the hardware is:


Pitcher             ERA     VORP      SNLVAR
Zack Greinke       2.44     60.2         6.7
Roy Halladay       2.78     54.7         5.0
Felix Hernandez    2.73     51.4         6.1
Edwin Jackson      2.86     49.9         5.9

The line starts at Greinke, who also leads the group in strikeouts and strikeout rate. However, by dint of playing for an awful Royals team, he has just 11 wins. Hernandez has 12, Jackson 10, and Halladay is the leader of the pack at 13. Only Jackson seems likely to get above-average support from his teammates the rest of the way, and he's both last among the group on merit and coming from the furthest back in the W column.

While not as dominant as Joe Mauer as a position player, Greinke has been the best pitcher in the league, and is the most deserving candidate for the Cy Young Award. The gap between him and Halladay and Hernandez is small enough that it could be closed in the next seven starts, but given how unlikely it is that any of these pitchers will rack up a lot of wins-Greinke is 1-5 in his last nine starts, six of which have been quality starts and some of which have been excellent-the AL Cy Young voters are going to be tested. They've failed this test, and very recently. Go back to 2005, when Johan Santana was far and away the best pitcher in the league; that year, the voting pool couldn't tear itself away from wins and voted Bartolo Colon and his 21-8 record as the best hurler in the league.

It's not the AL MVP Award that's in danger of going to an undeserving player who happens to have great teammates bolstering his context stats. No, I think it's the AL Cy Young, where the best candidates for the award all have low wins totals and there's a good-not-great starter who has been supported by his lineup and bullpen all season long. If the voters overlook the actual greatness of Greinke, Halladay, and Hernandez and support the single-number candidacy of Sabathia, it will be a significant error in judgment. The voters eventually have to recognize that wins are an outdated, now useless, way of evaluating pitching performance, and 2009 is a very good time to do so.

---

I'm putting a streak on the line today, and I have very little chance of seeing it hold up. Home teams are 11-0 this year when I'm at the park, and 15-0 dating back to Game Two of the 2008 World Series. That seems likely to end today when I head to Shea… just kidding... CitiField to watch Cliff Lee, who has bitch-slapped the National League, take on the desiccated remnants of the 2009 Mets. Even if the Phillies play a getaway-day lineup behind Lee, that will be a better collection of talent than what the Mets run out there, with a Triple-A roster of still-standing position players. Baseball is not football-no one is ever better than maybe a 2-1 favorite to win a game-so we'll get on the 7 train and see what happens. It's day baseball-there's no outcome that won't make for a fun afternoon. If the Mets can somehow steal today's game, I can extend the streak to 17 Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs will be taking on the Nationals behind Rich Harden.

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

Related Content:  The Streak,  The Who

60 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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John Carter

Perhaps, this is the year to give the Cy Young to Mariano.

Aug 24, 2009 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
sjd0378
(555)

Whether or not he deserves it I think the voters may wind up on Mariano as sort of a career achievement award especially if no SP seperates from the pack in the voter's minds.

Aug 24, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: -1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I was wondering the same thing. It's not hard to envision a groundswell of support for giving Rivera a Lifetime Achievement Award. Heck, we've already seen Wakefield selected for the all-star team this year.

In fact, if a couple of prominent writers decide to pick up the Rivera-for-Cy-Young torch, I'd guess he'd be at worst a 2:1 underdog.

Aug 24, 2009 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

I could see Mariano getting a life-time Cy Young, but not for this season. It's pretty hard to argue for any reliever who has only 1 win and 36 saves at this point as being a Cy Young candidate, with wins being the apparent game changer. With 7 wins and 43 saves, Rivera was the runner-up to Colon in 2005 with Santana being an inexcusable 3rd. Just look at last year, K-Rod finished 3rd with 62 saves because Lee & Halladay both cracked 20 wins. Maybe this will FINALLY be the year where performance is more than just wins as Joe alluded to.

Looking back at relievers winning Cy Youngs, I came across Mike Marshall's run from 1972-1974 & then 1978-79. His win/save totals from those years were 14/18, 14/31, 15/21, 10/21, & 10/32. His Cy Young year of 1974 saw him log 208 inning as a reliever. I think this is the type of performance that should be rewarded a Cy Young as a reliever when having to compare to the performance of a starter who is generally in the 200+ inning range, more than likely having more value than a 60-80 inning guy mopping up at the end of games. Without confirming, I would guess WXRL would probably agree.

Aug 24, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 1
 
awayish

I dont think even baseball writers take wins seriously for relievers. It is the great showdown of irrelevant stats, saves vs wins.

Aug 24, 2009 16:12 PM
rating: 1
 
jdseal

It's tough for a closer to get a win. Yes, they sometimes come into tie games. But (somebody could check), I would guess that a high percentage of wins by closers were the result of blowing a save and then having their team score in the next half inning. It's rarely even a sign of a good outing.

Aug 25, 2009 07:31 AM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

It's definitely not a good sign when you only throw 80 innings, but a guy like Marshall averaged 2 innings per appearance, which is much more valuable.

Aug 25, 2009 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
RayDiPerna

And here I was thinking that no award selection could be worse than Teixeira over Mauer.

Aug 24, 2009 21:42 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

What is the geatest win differential between Grienke, Halladay, or Hernandez and Sabathia that could be ignored by yourself.

Sabathia 20 Grienke 12,13,14,15 ?

Aug 24, 2009 10:08 AM
rating: -2
 
baserip4

Assuming Greinke doesn't fall apart and Sabathia doesn't reel off a 2008-esque streak to end the year, 11 wins for Greinke and 20 wins for Sabathia would both be irrelevant. Wins do not figure into the equation at all.

Aug 24, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

You mean at what point do Wins become the be-all and end-all of measuring pitcher performance.

Never. Wins are a meaningless, arbitrary stat that do not, and never were intended to, measure pitcher perfomance. If you haven't learned that by now, your subscription is a waste of money - cancel it now.

Aug 24, 2009 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I asked at what point one would draw the line ... based on your response you would vote for a starter with 1 win over someone with 20 wins? 2 wins? 3 wins? 9 wins? 15 wins?

If you'd vote for someone with 5 wins, I'd suggest that you are the one who has adopted a prejudicial closed-minded view.

Aug 24, 2009 14:32 PM
rating: -9
 
jjgreen33

How so? If a starting pitcher allows exactly 1 run over a full 9 innings in each of his 33 starts, it is conceivable that he could go 0-33. But he would be the best pitcher in the league.

Aug 24, 2009 15:22 PM
rating: 6
 
John Collins
(110)

Have you ever noticed how politicians that espouse family values usually turn out to be philanderers and closeted gays? Along those same lines, I notice that sbirnish77 makes it his mission to decry the bias and prejudice that he sees all over BP, usually from Joe Sheehan but now from Eighteen and sometimes from others. If he thinks everyone who disagrees with him is guilty of bias or prejudice, he's probably not the most objective observer.

Aug 24, 2009 15:43 PM
rating: -2
 
sbnirish77

I merely asked the question, more so directed at Joe, of "what the maximum difference in wins that could be ignored?"

Eighteen make the mistaken charaterization of my position

"You mean at what point do Wins become the be-all and end-all of measuring pitcher performance."

I never suggested that wins were the be-all just as I would never suggest any single given statistic be given 100% importance.

Likewise I wouldn't suggest that any single statistic be completely ignored. I would think that is the more open-minded position than a response of NEVER.

Aug 24, 2009 19:29 PM
rating: -3
 
Sam Mauser

And what we are saying to you is that if a pitcher has a better PRAA(random example, insert your own robust pitching stat here), then we are willing to ignore(disregard, we would rather say) any difference in wins.

To wit:

In 2006, Randy Johnson went 17-11, with a 5.00 ERA, and a -15 PRAA

Also in 2006, Kelvim Escobar went 11-14, with a 3.61 ERA, and a +4 PRAA

I would, in a heartbeat, "ignore" Johnson's six extra wins and say that Escobar was the better pitcher that year.

It is hard to conceive of a scenario where there could be a 20 win difference between two(starting) pitchers, where the pitcher with 20 fewer wins was a better pitcher, but that doesn't speak at all to the quality of wins as a statistic.

Aug 25, 2009 08:18 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Wins aren't a metric, they're an accounting category, much like RBI. They don't measure anything not better measured by SNLVAR, VORP, WARP, et al. I'll look at the metrics, then the components, then things like strength of schedule and, in very close races, relevance of performance to a season (See Santana vs Lincecum last year.)

Pitcher wins are not relevant to my evaluation of pitchers. In a perfect world, they would not be relevant to anyone's. There are far too many better ways to evaluate performance than to use such one so often misleading.

Aug 25, 2009 09:56 AM
 
Richie

Joe's just said wins are irrelevant to him, meaningless. I think that means he's ready to ignore any differential.

Aug 24, 2009 10:16 AM
rating: 3
 
ScottyB

By the way- Please let's stop censoring people with opposing positions. I would advise us to only give - to post sthat are clearly by trolls and/or are offensive.

Why is everyone so touchy if someone asks a question about win differentials or states that wins aren't *entirely* meaningless? Make a counter-argument, ignore the post, please just stop thought-policing here!

Aug 25, 2009 19:26 PM
rating: 1
 
Farber

Hear hear, ScottyB. I may not agree, but that doesn't mean his point of view is valueless.

Aug 26, 2009 07:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

Yeah, that's by far the biggest problem with the comments.

Aug 27, 2009 23:02 PM
rating: 0
 
ragerd

are you allowed to say bitch-slapped? :-)

Aug 24, 2009 10:44 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Gotta disagree- Joe, I think there's a very good chance Mauer gets shafted this year

Aug 24, 2009 10:53 AM
rating: 1
 
baserip4

When you're relying on the BBRAA to make an informed choice, there is always a good chance you will be disappointed.

Aug 24, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: 4
 
ElAngelo
(942)

I agree. If Derek Jeter finishes with something like .335, 25 HR, 30 steals, and 110 runs scored, he will get a lot of consideration, especially if the Twins finish well under .500.

Aug 24, 2009 10:58 AM
rating: 2
 
Ira

And it would be a travesty. Jeter is just not there. Sure he sits second in VORP, but its a distant second. and when you figure in defense, Mauer just pulls away and Jeter fades.

Oddly, Young fades even more, becoming the number 4 Ranger position player after Kinsler, Cruz, and Elvis. Just hard to vote for Kinsler with his sub-.250 BA. (did I say batting average? )

Aug 24, 2009 12:52 PM
rating: 1
 
TheBunk

If Jeter and Sabathia take home the mvp and cy awards respectively, I might throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Aug 24, 2009 11:16 AM
rating: 2
 
Rob_in_CT

I would too, and I'm a Yankee fan (this assumes that Jeter & CC don't go on absolute tears while the others fall apart).

Mauer has been shafted repeatedly in the past. I hope Joe is right and the voters will come around, but something tells me they'll invent enough "narrative" to give the award to someone else. Others have noted this too, but watch this idiocy come back when people talk about Mauer's credentials for the HOF. "Well, he never won an MVP..." Oy.

Aug 24, 2009 11:32 AM
rating: 6
 
JKGaucho

Joe, I think you should include Justin Verlander in your look at Cy Young candidates. His WAR is second to Greinke, FIP is second to Greinke, and by traditional standards he has 13 wins and plays on a first place team. He is definitely a better candidate than Jackson, his teammate. His SNLVAR is also higher than Halladay. Verlander is also tops in K/9.

Aug 24, 2009 11:21 AM
rating: 8
 
Al Skorupa

There's one more guy better than Sabathia.

Aug 24, 2009 11:34 AM
rating: 4
 
joheimburger

He also leads the league in Ks which seem to be another shiny object (though rightfully so - unlike wins) for BBWAA members in past years.

If Verlander finishes with 17 or 18 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and more than 250 Ks (all very achievable), I'd expect him to win.

Aug 24, 2009 11:44 AM
rating: 3
 
ClubberLang

Yeah, the inclusion of Edwin Jackson confused me -- Verlander is and has been a vastly better pitcher.

Something I found illuminating:here's Edwin Jackson's peripherals and totals: 163.2 IP, 25 starts, 128 Ks, 50 UBB, 19 HR allowed.

Now Pitcher B: 165 IP, 25 starts, 141 Ks, 51 UBB, 16 HR allowed. Also nowhere near the Cy Young discussion, and rightly so.

Jackson has been very lucky and has a nice defense behind him. He's not even the best starter on his staff, let alone in the AL this year.

By the way, Pitcher B is Gavin Floyd.

Aug 24, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Had I extended my list to five, Verlander would have been next. His relatively high ERA and lower standing in VORP kept him off the list. His strikeouts are his strongest point.

Aug 25, 2009 10:00 AM
 
jtrichey

Listen, I know that wins are not the way to measure a pitcher. But it is also very wrong to say that wins are completely meaningless. Wins do have some meaning, and saying they don't is going too far in the opposite direction. I would take 7 or 8 stats above wins when judging the quality of a starting pitcher, but wins are not completely meaningless.

Aug 24, 2009 11:38 AM
rating: 0
 
TADontAsk

One also needs to consider context. If you're talking about who you think *should* win the Cy Young in a BP discussion, then you're not going to bring up wins.

However, if you're talking about likely winners then you have to talk about wins as a measurement because, right or wrong, that's one of the main focuses of the BBWAA.

Aug 24, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 3
 
wbricks

You will get modded down because people don't understand the mod system, but you are right. They aren't meaningless. Guys like Sabathia and Halladay get lots of wins because they pitch lots of innings - something that's often missed when you focus too much on rate stats. The less you leave up to your bullpen, the less chance you are to be hurt by "LUCK."

Stats like VORP and SNLVAR don't give enough credit to the true workhorse pitchers, IMO. All that being said, Greinke is pitching just as many innings as Sabathia or Halladay and deserves the nod for Cy Young.

Aug 26, 2009 20:34 PM
rating: 0
 
alanj
(767)

It seems very likely to me that the AL Cy Young votes of thinking people will be split among Greinke, Halladay, and perhaps others. The traditionalists will vote in a bloc for the guy with a big shiny number in front of W, pitching for a playoff team, with fun storylines about coming in to restore dominance of a dynasty, which is Sabathia. I'd be very, very surprised if Sabathia doesn't win.

Aug 24, 2009 12:35 PM
rating: 2
 
Ira

A couple of things. Any question that Michael Young deserves some down-ballot support for MVP. Despite questionable 3b defense, he's about the only Ranger doing anything offensively (well, anything that isn't pretty offensive).

on the Pitching side, it seems pretty clear that there's no clear answer here. I figure that each pitcher has 5 or 6 starts left before the end of the year (assuming that they aren't being rested either for the playoffs or for younger players on non-contenders.) Lets also assume that these pitchers win 4 of those games. That means we're looking at 19 game winner CC Sabathia, 15 game winner Zach Grenke, 17 game winner Roy Halladay, and 16 game winner Felix Hernandez. Plus 17 game winner Justin Verlander. Grenke, despite being the best, probably doesn't win the Cy, Sabathia might or might not win 20, depending on how much the Yanks want to push him, which I guess won't happen unless the Red Sox make up some ground in a hurry.

Obligitory Ranger Note: Neither Millwood nor Feldman seem to have much of a chance in this despite some really effective pitching...

Aug 24, 2009 12:39 PM
rating: 0
 
JoeSky60

ira,
Man, I love the Rangers too, but you've got to stop taking that Kool-Aid by IV.

Aug 24, 2009 13:48 PM
rating: 3
 
Ira

I don't understand. which part made no sense? the down ballot vote for MY? its defensible from a BB writer sense (perception is that his defense isn't as bad as it really seems to be).

Or is it that Millwood and Feldman have been effective?

You want to hear crowing, how about Tommy Hunter for ROY

Aug 24, 2009 14:56 PM
rating: 0
 
fgreenagel2

The great shafts (doesn't sound good, does it?) of the last 20 years:
87: Dawson over Ozzie Smith
95: Vaughn over Belle
96: Gonzalez over Arod
99: Pudge over Jeter
01: Ichiro over Giambi
05: Colon over Santana & Rivera
06: Morneau over Mauer, Santana & Jeter
06: Howard over Pujols

I'm all for the Mariano lifetime acheivement Cy Young. It worked for Al Pacino & Paul Newman.

Aug 24, 2009 13:17 PM
rating: 3
 
jman2050

You forgot 2002: Tejada over everyone else

Aug 24, 2009 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
joheimburger

I think Jack Clark despite missing 30 games, Eric Davis and Dale Murphy may have as good an argument as Ozzie in '87.

Dawson wasn't one of the 15 most valuable players that year.

Aug 24, 2009 14:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

89: Yount over Sierra

Aug 24, 2009 15:04 PM
rating: 0
 
nstampe

I'd forgotten how close that race was. Yount probably did steal that one.

Aug 25, 2009 05:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Rowen Bell

93: Thomas over Olerud. Olerud played the same position with far better defense and equally good offense; both played for division winners; but Olerud got penalized by the voters for having teammates that were also having MVP downballot seasons (Alomar and Molitor).

Aug 24, 2009 15:32 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt

Dude, you forgot everybody over Piazza.

Aug 24, 2009 15:49 PM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

99: I humbly submit that it was Pedro Martinez who got shafted for MVP, not Derek Jeter. Ditto for 2000.

Aug 24, 2009 16:39 PM
rating: 11
 
jjgreen33
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05: Pujols over Derrek Lee

Aug 24, 2009 15:27 PM
rating: -10
 
drballgame42

1998: Gonzalez over A-Rod and Belle was pretty bad as well

Aug 24, 2009 18:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam B.

Why not Cliff Lee for AL Cy Young? Is there a requirement that the pitcher end the year in the American League or that only his American League statistics be considered?

Aug 25, 2009 09:29 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Perhaps not a requirement, but certainly the weight of tradition dictates such. And I'm comfortable with that.

Besides, as we've seen, the gap between the leagues means that giving Lee CYA votes in the AL would be doing so because he was destroying a lesser league. That's not terribly fair to Greinke, et al.

Aug 25, 2009 09:58 AM
 
Adam B.

Fair enough. It's a shame that folks like Lee (and Sabathia last year) are in an awards no-man's-land, but at least they have the opportunity to win playoff hardware.

Aug 25, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
yankee
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Joe,
I agree about Mauer, but in the interest of full disclosure, aren't you also a Twins fan ?
Respectfully,
Paul Dunn

Aug 25, 2009 10:45 AM
rating: -4
 
ClubberLang

Joe grew up a Yankees fan in NY.

Aug 25, 2009 14:49 PM
rating: 0
 
yankee

Clubber,
But is he still a Yankee fan ?
Regards
Paul

Aug 27, 2009 09:00 AM
rating: -3
 
T. Kiefer

Hi Joe--
Great article, and I agree that Joe Mauer deserves MVP and Zac Greinke the Cy Young. However, I think there's a strong chance neither will receive their awards, because they come from small-market teams or from cities that have "fly-over" status. Correspondingly, players from large-market teams (New York) probably have a slight advantage, ceteris paribus.

Is this a fair statement? Is there any statistical evidence to back this up--namely, that when there is not a clear winner, odds *tend* to lean in favor players from large-market teams?

On the question of Justin Verlander, is there any weight by voters given to a major turnaround, i.e., the fact that his 2008 season was somewhat wretched? If Zac doesn't get it, he should definitely be in the runner-up category.

Aug 25, 2009 11:35 AM
rating: -1
 
John Collins
(110)

No, there really isn't any bias in voting against midwestern teams, or in favor of coast teams. Look at Morneau's victory over Jeter, Juan Gone over A-Rod and many others.

Aug 25, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
wbricks

Cliff Lee won it last year, so past performance doesn't seem to impact at all.

Aug 26, 2009 20:42 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

A couple more for consideration:

1988 - Kirk Gibson over Strawberry (teammate McReynolds 3rd)

1991 - Terry Pendleton over Bonds (teammate Bonilla 3rd)

Aug 26, 2009 07:01 AM
rating: 0
 
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