Most of the focus on this team will be on the staff. Led by the two former Yankees, Clemens and Pettitte will team with two potential aces and a quality starter in Tim Redding. This rotation is as deep as any in the league, including the Cubs and Red Sox–Dayn Perry’s made a very good case that I should be including the Yankees in that discussion. Among these four, all are subject to depth questions…except the Astros. More than any other team, the Astros can handle even a season-ending injury to a starting pitcher. With names like Carlos Hernandez, Brandon Duckworth, and Jared Fernandez available, the Astros had so much depth that they dealt away Jeriome Robertson and could perhaps make a deadline deal if needed. Of the current pitchers, I am most worried about Wade Miller, who spent most of last season hiding an elbow injury. Once it was discovered, the Astros did their best to deflect reports of a frayed UCL, but given the information we have, that’s the most likely diagnosis. Calling it “dead arm” just doesn’t fit, since his velocity never tailed off significantly.
We at Baseball Prospectus occasionally hear the complaint that we make the game too complicated, with all the numbers and bizarre acronyms we throw around. So today I’m going to do my part to simplify the game. I’m here to suggest that baseball and its fans would be better off without one of its most fundamental, and most complicated, scoring rules. It’s time to ditch the “earned” run. The earned-run rule is widely accepted, or at least tolerated, throughout the baseball world, even in sabermetric circles. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, there’s 116 years’ worth of tradition behind the rule. I learned the rule because my dad learned the rule because his dad learned the rule, etc. ERA is on the back of every pitcher’s baseball card, and it pops up in nearly every baseball-related article or news report you’ll see. For another thing, believing in “earned” and “unearned” runs isn’t nearly as harmful as, say, believing that RBI are meaningful for evaluating hitting. You have to pick your battles, and in the big scheme of things, this one may not be a battle worth fighting. Perhaps most importantly, the earned-run rule might have gotten a pass because it’s designed to achieve what everyone agrees is a noble goal: separating pitching from fielding. But good intentions aren’t enough. The earned-run rule is a lame and counterproductive attempt at solving the pitching/fielding conundrum, one that deserves to be put out of its (and our) misery.
I closed my comments on Joe Mauer yesterday with a line about how this relatively minor injury might impact his later career. That one deserves further explanation. What I mean is that small injuries such as Mauer’s torn meniscus have a tendency to cause further problems. Combined with the normal wear and tear a catcher’s knees take, Mauer might get into a situation where his bat becomes too valuable to risk further damage to his legs. The easy comp is Craig Biggio, moved for different reasons, but with good results. Mauer’s bat is special enough that he would retain a lot of his current value even if moved to third base. As I said, we don’t know enough about the stresses to make blanket statements; I made my comment as possibility, not fact. In the “when it rains, it pours” category, the Twins will now have to deal with an injury to Matthew LeCroy. LeCroy left Wednesday’s game with what was termed a “ribcage injury.” This sounds like an oblique strain to me…and almost as I type this, the phone rings to let me know that LeCroy is on the DL with an oblique strain. LeCroy strained the muscle batting, then injured it further on a throw to second. Oblique strains have a tendency to linger and LeCroy seems to be on David Wells’ diet–the old one. The Twins probably won’t do something as wild as remember that Justin Morneau once was a catcher (and said on Baseball Prospectus Radio last season that he would love to get back behind the plate!)
The Diamondbacks’ Brandon Webb is likely to regress after an impressive rookie campaign… or is he? The Royals are just chalked full o’ southpaws. And the Phillies’ Pat Burrell has many holes. All this and much more news from Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in your Thursday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
I’ve been trying to write this column for about a month, but I wasn’t sure how to frame it. What follows isn’t a list of breakout players, or sleepers, or MVP candidates, or really anything that is easily describable. It’s just a list of players who I really, really like going into this season. They range from a player with 67 games of Double-A experience to a six-year veteran with his fourth team, and in age from 21 to 29. I expect some of these guys to get MVP votes, some of them to contribute to playoff teams, and others to just establish themselves as solid major leaguers or future stars. But I can’t lump all 10 of them into one category, unless, “guys who appear on almost all my fantasy teams,” is a category. I guess this is just a column about…my guys.
Carlos Gomez is a work in progress. At 26 years old, the Puerto Rico native has only 60 innings of professional ball under his belt in baseball backwaters such as Canton, Ohio and Allentown, Pa. With a high school career hampered by injury and a college career marred by ineffectiveness and then a bout of “Ankielitis,” envisioning any kind of professional career at all for Gomez seemed a stretch. But persistence and a willingness to experiment have allowed Gomez to cast off his pitching woes and remake himself as a sidearming reliever, and intellectual curiosity has spurred him to incorporate objective research into his pitching approach. His is the story of Moneyball writ small, one player searching for any advantage he can get in order to rise through the professional ranks.