Is there anything to the notion that teams need an ace to compete in October, or is it just another in a long line of flawed theories about post-season success?
As October approaches, several contending teams find themselves without ironclad aces at the top of their rotations. The Rangers will go into Game One with Yu Darvish, who’s riding a string of several strong starts but has struggled at times during his debut season. The A’s may have to enter October with an all-rookie rotation lacking both Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. The Orioles’ rotation is fronted by Wei-Yin Chen, who’s been barely better than league average. The Cardinals are hoping the reckoning for Kyle Lohse doesn't come until 2013. Should the Dodgers claim a wild card, their hopes of advancing to the NLDS might depend on Josh Beckett. And even Yankees ace CC Sabathia has looked uncharacteristically shaky in the second half.
Meanwhile, a few other playoff locks and hopefuls can count on handing the ball to a starter who’s been consistently successful all season. The White Sox (Chris Sale and Jake Peavy), the Nationals (Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann), the Tigers (Justin Verlander), the Reds (Johnny Cueto), and even teams on the periphery of the race like the Angels (Jered Weaver) and Rays (David Price) can rest secure in the knowledge that their top starter would match up well with any opponent in a play-in game or at the start of a series.
Four years after the Twins and Mets pulled off a blockbuster, almost no one involved is still standing.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
A writer who never saw Jack Morris pitch watches him in action for the first time and comes away even less convinced that the traditionalist case for his candidacy should earn him a call to Cooperstown.
A humor-tinged recap of one of the most exciting World Series of our generation
Track #1: Iron Maiden: “The Duelist” “Ready to start the duel begins the best man wins in the end.
A lunge and a feint, a parry too late
A cut to the chest and you're down
Seeing the stain then feeling the pain
Feeling the sweat on your brow.”
Finding an ace for a staff is exceedingly difficult, but there are some prospects who could emerge to fill that label.
So how does the industry define an ace? Is in on a performance level? A scouting level? Some combination or both, or something more esoteric? “I think every team has an ace,” said one American League Scouting Director. “There is someone on the staff who is a leader both on and off the field, but I don't think ace necessarily equates to No. 1 starter.”
Oh, the mascot. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are as much a part of today's game as nine-figure contracts, HD ribbon boards, and journalistic digs at Alex Rodriguez.
These costumed, oversized creatures are clearly intended to appeal to the elementary school set, with their bright colors, funny shapes, and/or cartoon influences, but one need not look far to see that they often appeal to much older groups. The Racing Sausages, Mariner Moose, the Phillie Phanatic... people of all ages get excited by these classic mascots on a nightly basis.
How often do teams' Opening Day starters live up to their top billing?
“He deserves it. He earned it. He should have made the All-Star team last year. Right now, I think Mike Pelfrey should be the No. 1 guy on this staff.”—Terry Collins
The quote above is a variation on a theme repeated exactly thirty times per preseason. At some point before 25-man rosters are finalized and the games start to mean something, each manager makes a show of anointing his team’s Opening Day starter. The names change—in most cases, they’re more impressive than Pelfrey’s—but the platitudes stay the same.
Could Bud Selig's plan to cram in more playoff teams have a silver lining?
Somewhere among the piles of spiral-bound notebooks stacked in my closet lies a short-lived diary titled "The Last Pennant Race." It recounts the day-by-day events of the last two months of the 1993 Yankees season, of which pretty much all I can remember is, first, that the Yankees managed to tie the eventual champion Blue Jays for first place roughly three dozen times, but never managed to take the lead on their own, and second, that in one late-season game, Don Mattingly, presaging the Jeffrey Maier incident by three years, got credit for a key home run despite it being caught by a fan leaning so far into the field of play that he could have shaken hands with the second baseman.
I chose the diary's title not because I was pessimistic about the Yankees' future—after ten years of Andy Hawkins and Torey Lovullo, I could see as well as anyone that players like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill were headed for bigger things—but because I knew that the term "pennant race" would never again have the same meaning. That's because it had already been announced that 1993 was the final season under the old four-division system; henceforth, the leagues were to be split in six, and wild cards would be born. (Thanks to the player strike that would wipe out the 1994 postseason, they were not actually baptized until the following season.)
Attempting to turn a perennial contender with early post-season exits into a champion.
Stepping in as the general manager for the Minnesota Twins, even for a day, is a somewhat daunting task. Ask around the league and you’ll hear franchise after franchise, at least those in the “Accord/Split-Level/Vacations In Orlando” economic strata, talk about how they want to model their organizations after the Twins. While some of the traits attributed to the Twins in the media, such as their commitment to “small ball” and how they “play the game right,” seem more like a projection of how outsiders familiar with the Upper Midwest mostly through Fargo and A Prairie Home Companion would expect a Minnesota franchise to play than how the Twins actually go about their business, there’s no doubting their success or how they’ve achieved it. The Twins have managed to win six division titles in nine years, and have done so with a payroll that has only twice broken the $70 million mark. They’ve achieved this due to a productive player development system and a commitment to avoiding crippling long-term contracts—a responsible, conservative business plan that leads to success, stability, and rather boring Hot Stove seasons in the Gopher state.
Hero worship has a large role in how teams are built.
To say that baseball and American culture are intertwined is cliché. There is an entire genre of American rhapsodic poetry reserved for reflection, reverie, and remembrances of baseball, in general used as a subplot or an allegory to some other major story line from 20th-century American history in the foreground. How the game of baseball affects and influences American culture is a fascinating field of study, one traversed by many before me.