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In response to my column on the best lefty duos since 1972, a number of you wrote in wondering why that cut-off date was used and, if it hadn’t been, where Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles would have ranked. The reason ’72 was the starting point for the list is that is how far back the BP database reaches at this juncture. You’ll see that date on a lot of BP studies. I, too, would have assumed McNally and Cuellar would have made the grade as lefty tandems. I asked Keith Woolner to calculate their VORP figures for the years just prior to 1972 when they were at their Earl Weaverian peak. This is how they look:

1969: Cuellar, 64.9; McNally, 43.6
1970: McNally, 59.4, Cuellar, 48.5
1971: Cuellar, 44.9, McNally, 36.0

Their combinations for 1969 and ’70 are pretty close at 108.5 and 107.9 respectively while 1971 does not meet the minimum standards I established wherein both pitchers had to contribute at least 40.0. How would this rank with the lefty duos since 1972? 18th and 19th–just ahead of Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor of the 1979 Orioles and Bob Knepper and Vida Blue of the 1979 Giants.

Yes, I thought they would have ranked higher, too.

Spring Training: Hassle-free zone
There oughta be a law. When a pitcher gets torched in spring training, he, his manager and his pitching coach should not have to answer questions about what went wrong. Here’s a headline from an AP story about Mike Mussina getting beaten up by Detroit yesterday:

“Torre says he’s not concerned about Mussina’s performance”

Is this even newsworthy? Isn’t that what spring training is for, to get the kinks worked out? Of course Torre isn’t concerned. How about a headline that reads “Torre says he’s not concerned that sun rose in east yesterday”?

On Saturday, Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir had a rough start against the Twins, not getting out of the first inning because he walked five of the seven men he faced. When the game was over, Kazmir had a lot of explaining to do.

“They were close pitches,” he told the Associated Press. “I didn’t feel like I was completely all over the place. I felt like I was letting it go pretty well. It was just minor things. I felt like I was barely missing by just a hair.”

His manager, Joe Maddon, was in full defensive mode, too. “I believe he’s going to be fine,” he said of Kazmir. “If he was not healthy, then I would be worried. Honestly, I’m not worried at all.”

Seriously, until he starts beaning the octogenarians in the sixth row for three or four games running then it’s a non-issue.

Can we please have a moratorium on this kind of thing?

A fine mess
It’s one thing to trade for a player who can’t play because he has no talent. Lots of general managers pull off that trick. It’s another thing entirely to trade for one who can’t play simply because he won’t. Somehow, Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals has managed to do the latter with Alfonso Soriano.

There are those who will side with management on just about any issue for the simple reason that they believe players are overpaid and spoiled and should do anything–up to and including taking the sweeper out into the stadium parking lot for a bit of tidying up. That crowd will say that, for 10 big bikinis a year, Soriano should do anything and everything his employer asks. It misses the point, though–Soriano was brought in from the outside to do this thing without his new employer bothering to check first if he might be up for it. This is not a case of Ol’ Vet taking the hit for a long-time employer. He’s a hired gun.

Without getting into any of Soriano’s defensive infamies and offensive shortcomings (well-covered in Baseball Prospectus 2006), the Nats are about to put themselves into a tiny little corner by placing the Recalcitrant One on the disqualified list. When that occurs, their leverage with possible trading partners will slip a few notches below its already precarious perch. I would imagine the Nats are going to have to pay at least half of Soriano’s salary to whichever club gets him out of their hair.

Any team that doesn’t demand that Washington pick up a significant portion of the tab is foolish because Soriano at $5 million per year is much closer to his real value. Going down this road could lead to a long and unnerving discussion about the receiving team already contributing to the portion of Soriano’s salary the Nationals agree to pay since they are still owned by the 29 other clubs.

Anyway you look at it, Bowden has outdone himself this time. If he can find a patsy, there is still a chance for absolution, however.

A passion for bunting
Good gravy, the Japanese team sure was bunting up a storm in last night’s WBC final victory over Cuba! Even when they had a pitcher on the ropes, they would give the fellow a helping hand by tossing an out his way courtesy of a sacrifice. As sometimes happens, we find a manager employing a strategy that flies directly in the face of how he himself played the game. Sadaharu Oh hit more homers than anybody ever but he still bunted like it was 1899.

Can we watch?
Now that everybody is feeling all international, perhaps the United States should host some regular season games of foreign leagues. Much as major league teams have done beginning with the Cubs and Mets in 2000, perhaps the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers could come to Dodger Stadium and/or Petco Park for a pair of regular season tilts next year. What would it take to get a couple of teams from the Cuban National League to come to Florida in mid-December or January to break up our baseball-less winter monotony? Probably an act of Congress.

Trouble at home
Here’s a question for you hardcore baseball types out there (Americans only): how many times in your life have you been asked to explain why you love baseball so much? Huh? That’s right, probably more than you can count. Why is this? Seeing the scenes in Parque Central in Havana last night it occurred to me that none of the people watching the Cuban national team on the big screen television there have probably ever been asked why they have such a passion for the game. It is a question that simply need not be raised because the game is part of the national fabric of Cuba. Ditto the Dominican Republic and ditto Japan. Yet we, here in the place where the game originated, always seem to have to justify our passion to unbelievers. What, as our standup comedians are fond of saying, is the deal with that?

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