- Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Joe Sheehan took a good
look at the unraveling of the Astros’ season–sub-par pitching from the
back end of the rotation, Andy Pettitte‘s elbow trouble,
and a huge drop in offensive production has dropped the Astros to the .500
level, with little upside in sight.
Give them credit, they gave it a shot with the Carlos
Beltran trade, but things just didn’t gel, and the Astros are going
to end up with their worst finish since they stumbled to a 72-90 record in
2000 after three consecutive division titles.
As Houston looks toward the future, they’ve got some very tough decisions to
make, and they’ve got some contracts that they would probably rather not be
burdened with. Jeff Bagwell, who is down near a career-low
in slugging, is under contract to the Astros through the 2006 season, and
will make $32 million over the next two seasons, which is obviously a little
much for the 37- and 38-year old seasons of a first baseman who’s putting up
a VORP in the middle of the pack for his position.
Meanwhile, Craig Biggio, the other pillar of the Astros
success over the past ten seasons, is having his best year since 2001.
Unfortunately, he’s a 38-year old center fielder who’ll never reach the
heights of his mid- to late-90s greatness again. Jeff Kent has also declined
this season. Frankly, this is a team that, all of a sudden, looks old–not
experienced, just old.
Lance Berkman is the exception. He’s having another
exceptional season at age 28, and PECOTA sees good things in the future.
He’s a free agent after the season, and with over $30 million owed to
Bagwell, Biggio, and Kent next year, Gerry Hunsicker will have to convince
Drayton McLane to pony up for Berkman–the only player the Astros have to
build a future around as their current crop of stars start the long, painful
slide toward the end of their careers.
- Father Time, revisited: Of course, for some players, age doesn’t
ever seem to be a factor. Earlier
this season, we looked at Roger Clemens, and how he had
a chance to have one of the greatest seasons ever for a pitcher in his 40s.
As we approach the last month of the season, Clemens is now set to crack the
top-ten VORPs ever posted by a 40+ pitcher:
PITCHER YEAR AGE VORP ------------------------------------ Alexander, Pete 1927 40 64.9 Martinez, Dennis 1995 40 56 Moyer, Jamie 2003 40 51.3 Seaver, Tom 1985 40 50.8 Spahn, Warren 1961 40 50.4 Ryan, Nolan 1987 40 49.8 Spahn, Warren 1962 41 49 Quinn, Jack 1924 40 47.7 Niekro, Phil 1979 40 46.2 Quinn, Jack 1928 44 45.9 CLEMENS, ROGER 2004 41 45.2 Lyons, Ted 1942 41 44.7
Clemens only signed for one year with the Astros before the season (he also
reportedly has a 10-year personal services contract with the club which
kicks in when he stops playing). We certainly wouldn’t advocate most teams
committing to a 42-year old pitcher, but it seems, given Clemens’
performance this year, that he might emulate Nolan Ryan in longevity as well
as in strikeout prowess.
- MVP Follies: Like the rumbling of a passing herd of cattle in the
midst of a drive, it’s begun. The august members of the Baseball Writer’s
Association of America will soon face the annual intelligence test–voting
for their post-season awards, including the Most Valuable Player awards.
This topic was brought to mind by Murray Chass’s column in Sunday’s New York Times. We don’t mean to
pick on Murray, who’s a very nice guy and a helluva softball pitcher, but
the sort of thinking in this piece is the sort of thinking that we’ve come
to dread in award voting.
The Cardinals are loaded. They are also loaded with M.V.P. contenders. But
if a team has so many outstanding players, so many strong contenders, they
dilute each other’s value in terms of the award.
This is, of course, an example of the “where would they be without him?”
school of MVP voting, which Chass admits he is a member of. Unfortunately,
this is the school which denied Alex Rodriguez, who was clearly the best
player in the AL for several years, an MVP award until last year. After
all, the Rangers could have finished last without him, right?
We don’t believe in punishing players for the ineptitude of their teammates;
we don’t believe in punishing players for being surrounded by other great
players either. This is the problem with this school of thought–if you
follow the logic to its extreme, the only player you can give the MVP to is
a superior player who manages to drag a mediocre team into the pennant
chase. That’s a pretty constrained group, and it leads to absurdities like
Chass revealing that he’d vote for Adrian Beltre at the moment. Don’t get us
wrong, Beltre is having a wonderful year (he’s 6th in the NL in VORP), and he’s a big factor in LA’s surprising
season. But he’s not the MVP.
The Cards have three of the top seven hitters in the league, as measured by
VORP. Edmonds is just behind Beltre, and is playing some of the best
baseball of his life. You can give him a little boost for his defense, if
you like, but he’s the third-best player on his team, which is a scary
thought for whoever draws St. Louis in the playoffs.
Scott Rolen has already been mentioned as a possible MVP, and he’s having a
marvelous year. He’s fourth in the NL in VORP, and he’s a Gold Glove-quality
third baseman. He’s the the best in the game at his position by a long
shot…and he’s the second-best player on his team.
That brings us to Pujols, who’s just sick, with a VORP up over 70. He just
mashes. This is what an MVP looks like…in a world without Barry
We don’t buy Chass’s argument that the Cards Big Three should cancel each
other out. It’s just that Bonds is in a different league. His VORP of 105.8
is 30 points higher than Pujols–he’s got the votes of the “best
player in the game” school of MVP voter. And for the “where would they be?”
school, Bonds is the only thing separating the contending Giants from
joining the Diamondbacks in the depths of the NL West. Sorry, Cards fans,
but the MVP is still in San Francisco. But the postseason run that your team
is primed for should more than make up for it.
- For Real: The Rangers’ magic number in the AL West is 40.
All right, that might be a little premature, but Texas has made it through
most of August (an unusually mild one in Arlington), and sit just half a game back of the A’s in the AL West, with Anaheim half a game back as well. Most of the division races in the game aren’t going to amount to much this year, but out West, it’s going to be a barn-burner.
The Rangers remained in touch with a nice eight-game winning streak until
getting thumped Sunday by the Royals. Over those eight games, the Rangers
allowed only 24 runs. One thing you can take to the bank–if the Rangers can
hold teams to three runs a game, they’re going to be damn hard to beat.
We’ve known for years that Texas’ would be competitive if they could get
people out. And, lo and behold, here they are:
Rangers AL Pitching Ranks 2003 2004 ------------ ERA 14th 5th Runs Allowed 14th 10th HR Allowed 14th 6th
Amazing how keeping the ball in the yard helps you keep runs from scoring,
Now, we can discuss whether you think that someone like Ryan Drese can keep
getting people out, or whether or not Kenny Rodgers is for real. But thus
far in 2004, the Rangers have been much stronger on the mound than anyone
could have expected (PECOTA pegged the Rangers staff as the fourth-worst in
the AL before the season), and for that, they deserve a lot of credit, and,
yes, even some respect.
- Keeping Cordero: We’re not usually fooled by big save numbers,
but Francisco Cordero has been excellent for the Rangers
this season: 1.68 ERA, 39 saves in 41 chances, and 57 K in 53.2 innings.
That’s not only been enough to keep him amongst the leaders in our Adjusted
Runs Prevented reports, it was also enough to get him a new contract, a
two-year, $8 million extension with a team option for a third year.
This begs the question: is he worth $4 million a year? Is any reliever worth
$4 million a year? Billy Beane, who has watched his A’s stay within reach of
the rest of their division due to a bullpen with a penchant for torching
games in the late innings, would probably say that a consistent reliever
like Cordero is worth his weight in gold.
- Olympic Cycle: We’d be lying if we told you that the Olympics
hadn’t taken some of our focus off the dog days of August in the baseball
season. But there was one feat last week that, in a Goldman-esque fit of
free association, let us tie the two together nicely.
Mark Teixeira punctuated what has been a very good season
by hitting for the cycle on Aug. 17 in the Rangers’ 16-4 win against
Cleveland. Teixeira became the second Ranger to hit for the cycle:
Oddibe McDowell also did it against the Indians on July 23,
You might best remember McDowell as a starter on the 1984 U.S. Olympic
baseball team which also featured Will Clark, Mark
McGwire, and Barry Larkin. Baseball was a
demonstration sport in Los Angeles, but the team was hyped as the greatest
amateur team ever put together.
The U.S. team, headed by legendary USC coach Ron Dedeaux, breezed through the
round-robin portion of the competition, and then beat South Korea, 5-2, in
the semis, as McDowell hit his third homer of the tournament, a two-run
shot. The US went into the Gold Medal game against Japan as a heavy
favorite, but the Japanese upset the Americans, 6-3.
As for McDowell, he was up with the Rangers, hitting for the cycle a year
later. But unlike some of his Olympic teammates, McDowell never really
became much of a factor on the major league level, and only ended up playing
in 840 games in his career.