Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

2010 Forecasts: AL West

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow night with some thoughts on individual players and awards, but let’s do the last of the six divisional previews first.

Does it
seem to you as if Brandon Wood has been on the verge of breaking in to the LOS
ANGELES line-up since Mark Langston was the Angels’ pitching ace? Whether it’s
been four years or forty, this is the first time the team is actually relying
on Wood, and the
pressure is probably a lot more intense than generally understood. If Wood does not produce
a power-filled season, or doesn’t hold on to the job, the Angels will have to
revert to the Chone Figgins-driven line-up, only without Chone Figgins. It’ll
be tough enough adjusting to Erick Aybar at the top of the line-up, without the
Halos also failing to add the last layer of punch they missed so dearly in the ALCS
last year. The emergence of Kendry Morales and the resuscitation of Howie
Kendrick gave life to the club last year, but face it, four key positions are
beginning to creak a little bit with age, including the now three ex-Yanks in
the line-up. Torii Hunter should be terrified at Mike Scioscia’s insistence that
he may occasionally use Hideki Matsui in left. If placed between Matsui and the
periodically mystified Bobby Abreu in right, MLB might consider letting Hunter
ride a Razor. Pitching is deep but once you get past Jered Weaver, not very
intimidating, and Joel Pineiro might have been the off-season’s most overrated
signing (Fernando Rodney might have been the second, but with or without him,
the bullpen is the team’s top asset).

OAKLAND
looks like an all-or-nothing proposition. Anderson, Braden, and Cahill might
emerge as world-beaters. Sheets and Duchscherer could make remarkable
comebacks. Bailey could expand on a ROTY season. Or literally any one of the
six could lose his job by June 1. The ailments of Joey Devine and Michael
Wuertz thin out an already thin pen, and the line-up, while energetic and
dynamic, does have to play 81 games on the road against teams that actually hit
those things where, you know, the ball goes past those walls behind the gents
standing on the far lawn – what are those called again? Honestly, if your
line-up looks like it could be beaten up, man for man, by that of the Royals,
you could be in for a long summer, even if every one of the pitchers come
through.

With the
strategic building in SEATTLE over the last two years – Figgins, Wilson,
Gutierrez, Lee, even Byrnes and Snell and League (to say nothing of Wakamatsu)
added to the Ichiro/Felix base, it would seem it would be almost impossible for
the Mariners not to be favored. But as I have suggested before, Jack Zduriencik
managed to make the one move that could undo all the good ones. Ask the 2004-05
Dodgers, who thought he was the guy who could take them over the hump. Ask the
2006 A’s, who thought he was the missing piece (and surrendered Andre Ethier to
get him). Ask the 2007 Padres, who brought him in for the stretch run (and
infamously coughed up the division to the Rockies). Ask the 2008 Rangers, who
signed him, only to start shopping him at mid-season. Ask the 2009 Cubs, who
gave him $30 million for three years and sent him home before the first year
ended because nobody could abide his presence any more. Ask the fans he’s
confronted, the reporters he’s confronted, the play-by-play man he ran up
several flights of stairs in hopes of knocking silly. It’s not as if Milton Bradley
has had a few problems. This is six clubs in six seasons and the longest he
lasted with any of them was until June 29th of the second year. I
don’t know what it will be, I don’t know when it will be, but Bradley will do
something to cost the Mariners the division. And if this somehow does not come
to pass, he will have earned an apology from me – but probably will not have
asked for it, because he would have already experienced an epiphany in which
his consistently uncontrollable behavior would have appeared as unacceptable to
him as it has to everybody else, and he
would have apologized to the Cubs. And the Rangers. And
the Padres. And the A’s. And the Dodgers (and just for good measure, Cliff Lee
is not only hurt – he has the most nagging and unpredictable of injuries for a
baseball player, ‘something in the abdomen.’)

The
line-up in TEXAS frightens me. I know Josh Hamilton is not going to hit 57
homers. I understand Vlad Guerrero has aged. I’m sure Chris Davis could repeat
the first half of 2009. I noticed Ian Kinsler’s on the DL. Without them this
is still the most potent batting order in the division.
So the Rangers’ questions are, as
ever, on the mound. But in addition to reclaiming Darren Oliver and bringing
back Colby Lewis from banishment, Texas has one other answer to those
questions: Neftali Feliz. It is impossible to watch him pitch and not see
either a super closer, or a 250-strikeout starter. Either one of them will do
the Rangers fine upon his maturation; for now, a dominating 8th-inning
presence will probably win them the division. And it will be fascinating to
watch any player struggles completely overshadowed by the good or bad conduct
of a manager – not to make a comparison that would be slanderous to the
good-hearted Ron Washington, but we haven’t seen that since Billy Martin died,
and it occasionally helps a team get on with its business while the skipper
takes the heat.

DIVISION FORECAST:
As suggested, I like Texas. Oakland’s pitching could jell to challenge them;
Milton Bradley could go AWOL on May 1 and save Seattle’s season; Brandon Wood
could be everything the Angels ever wanted from him. But I don’t think any of
those things are going to happen. Rangers by a five or six game margin, with
the others following in a jumble I can’t quite yet discern.

LEAGUE
FORECAST: I think Tampa ends up with the best record, Texas the worst, and the
Rays will handle the Rangers easily. The Wild Card will go to Boston, most
likely, and they should probably dispatch Detroit, setting up a re-run of 2008,
including the TB victory. This time I like the Rays to win the Series, five
years after other owners seriously murmured about moving them or contracting
them.

Milton Bradley Makes The Worst Teams In The World

Jack Zduriencik was one move away from completely rebuilding a shaken franchise in a little over thirteen months.

And then he made the move.
How much easier could this be to understand? You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. 
He’s a “good teammate and a nice guy,” said the Mariners’ GM, hours after guaranteeing that all the startlingly good work he and his manager Don Wakamatsu had done in the last year would be washed away by some cataclysm (or “event,” as the nuclear plant engineers pleasantly call them) involving Bradley next season. Since April 1978, when his Dad filled out the name on his birth certificate without his Mom’s consent, there’s always been something. Tearing an ACL while having to be restrained from hitting an umpire. Bumping an umpire. Charging a third umpire. Suspended for the season by the Cubs. Trying to get to the press box during the game to confront the visiting announcer. Fighting with Eric Wedge. Fighting with Lou Piniella. Throwing the baseball bag on the field. Throwing a bottle back into the stands. Throwing the game ball into the stands – after the second out.
And by the way, we are talking about a player whose career highs are 34 doubles, 22 homers,  77 RBI, 17 steals, and a .321 average. This is not Albert Belle. This is not even Carl Everett. Statistically, this is a poor man’s Ben Grieve (my apologies to Ben Grieve).
And after signing Chone Figgins and Russell Branyan (and maybe even re-signing him), and dealing for Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson, Cliff Lee, Ian Snell, and David Aardsma, all the good work by Zduriencik is undone by adding a player who is being described as looking for a “fresh start.” This’d be his seventh. 

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

This was my favorite part of the annual SABR Journal – the curious things the late Al Kermisch found, presumably in pursuit of grander truths (an example from his last “From,” published after his passing in 2002: as a professional, Phil Rizzuto never played on a team that finished worst than third, and in 17 years, he was on 14 pennant-winners). I can’t hope to emulate the quality of Mr. Kermisch’s work but I do hope to touch the curiosity factor, both with nuts-and-bolts research and, in the case of my first effort, whimsy.
Meet the greatest name in baseball history: Phifer Fullenwider. 
Don’t go looking him up in the Baseball Encyclopedia; he never actually pitched in the big leagues (though he did make it to Spring Training one year, at a time when less than 30 men per team did so).
Fullenwider graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the University of North Carolina in 1908, but instead of to a drug store, he headed to the Carolina Association, where, as Baseball Reference’s superb minor league database indicates, he opened a fourteen-year minor league career with a 13-4 record for Charlotte. But it would be 1911 before he really broke through with a 26-9 mark for Columbia of the South Atlantic (SALLY) League.
And that impressive season leads us to this rather remarkable public domain image from the Polo Grounds in New York:
Fullenwider1912,jpg.jpg

That is none other than our Mr. Fullenwider, in the uniform of the Columbia Commies (had a different meaning then), standing in New York’s Polo Grounds, most likely late in the season of 1911, or possibly early in 1912. In those days before extensive farm systems, major league teams not only drafted players from minor league teams, but did so wholesale – and usually days after the minor league season ended. Thus it was not unusual for “bushers” to report to the big leagues – and apparently to bring their uniforms with them.

The Giants thought enough of Fullenwider to bring him to spring training in 1912. The camp was in Marlin, Texas, and the team picture indicates just how few prospects were included among the veterans:
1912 Giants.jpg
NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

The bottom row is, left to right, Giants aces Red Ames and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, an otherwise unidentified “trainer,” Fullenwider, and outfielder Josh Devore. The legendary John McGraw is second from right in the middle row (almost right behind his prized pitching prospect), and in the back are the only two guys not wearing the goofy hats: catcher Chief Meyers (fourth from the right) who is capless, and next to him, wearing his cap backwards, Christy Mathewson. For this team photo is nothing less than a 1912 manifestation of that which we purists fear may some day happen in the future – players wearing advertisements on their uniforms! Those caps are ads for “ANGER’S Ice Cream Cones.” And evidently Mathewson and Meyers are having none of it (and yes, that’s my boy Merkle, back row, far right).
But back to Phifer Fullenwider, and something even stranger than an ad for ice cream cones on his uniform.
Fullenwider1912.jpg
The one-time UNC pitching hero is still wearing his Carolina cold-weather baseball sweater. The thing is four years old at least, he’s the property of the defending National League Champion New York Giants,  they took him to spring training in hopes that he might pitch alongside Christy Mathewson – and nobody gave him his own Giants’ sweater!
As it proved, Fullenwider never would pitch alongside Matty, nor any other big leaguer. The records of 1912 are a lot less precise than today, but while nearly everybody else in that photo went on to win the N.L. crown again in 1912 and 1913, Fullenwider shows up pitching for Buffalo of the International League (where the Giants often sent their extra players, in an informal arrangement), where he would win 20, 19, and 17 games in the next three seasons and yet never get a call to the big time. After a 19-victory season at Atlanta in 1917, he apparently quit. A 1919 entry in the University of North Carolina alumni review notes that Fullenwider (“Phar. ’08”) “is a druggist, with the Rose Drug Co., of Rocky Mount. He will be remembered as a star pitcher on the varsity baseball team. He has a one-year old child.”
The game was not gone from his system, however. Phifer Fullenwider, at the age of 34, reapp
ears in the minor league record in that same city – Rocky Mount, pitching for the Tarheels of the Virginia League for two seasons, then Columbia in 1922 and Greenville in ’23. He’d finish up with a record of 194 and 146, with memories of a trip to Marlin, Texas with McGraw and the boys, and at least one winter of the greatest kind of hope and optimism. One wonders if he got to keep the Ice Cream Cone hat.
There’s one other note before we let Mr. Fullenwider out of the clutches of the researcher. He may not have gotten a big league game under his belt, but he did make it onto a baseball card. From the Contentnea Cigarettes series called T209, dating from the 1909 season — and a dandy it is, I might add.
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Fullenwider.jpg

How The Phillies Can Still Win

So,
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:

- CC
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?

- Chase
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?

- Two
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?

- Joe
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?

- Cliff
Lee would have pitched a complete game?

- The
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?

- Ryan
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
daring base-running?

- Mark
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?

- Joe
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?

These
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.

The
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
season.

But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
rest tonight.

Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.

I Got Blood Coming Out My Ears

Nothing against the multiple talents of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys but the pregame performance is a LITTLE LOUD.
This is not specific to such programs. They appear to have borrowed Spinal Taps control knob for the Yankee Stadium PA System. An Air Force flyover would probably be drowned out by the Yankee Trivia Quiz.
Nick Swisher, benched tonight in favor of Jerry Hairston, to a Yankee employee wishing him luck: Yeah Ill need it for my next at bat – in Game Seven.
One other thought before Game Two starts: wasnt there a time in the games history when a pitcher like Cliff Lee making a basket catch as he did last night would be greeted by an angry batsman charging the mound?

CC Yawns

The view from the not-so-cheap-seats:

If attitude foretells outcome, Game One might have been over when CC Sabathia yawned while completing his warm-ups before facing the Phillies in the bottom of the first. Not that Sabathia pitched poorly nor was expecting the Phils to roll over, but for symbolic contrast you can’t beat Sabathia’s yawn compared to Carlos Ruiz calling time, up 6-1, two out, bottom of the 9th, 0-2 on Jorge Posada – and running out to talk to Cliff Lee when Lee was an out away from one of the modern Workd Series pitching masterpieces. Turned out he was reminding him there was a runner on. 
Also disturbing, and far more visible on the tv replay than in the ballpark, was Hideki Matsui’s vapor lock on the bizarre Jimmy Rollins trap-catch of Robinson Cano’s dying liner in the 5th. Matsui’s obligation, in the absence of conclusive guidance from the umpires, is to get his butt back to first base as soon as Cano has passed it. As it proved, Matsui was entitled to return to the base and Cano was out. But even if it was the other way around, Matsui, forced at second, then standing at first does not in any way endanger a Cano who is safe at first. The umpires also did a mediocre job making clear that Rollins had caught the ball and not trapped it, but it’s Matsui’s responsibility to not let himself get tagged out for a deflating double play.
I don’t think any Yankee other than Derek Jeter hit one of Lee’s pitches squarely, and there by itself is another decisive contrast: those two homers by Chase Utley were, as you’ve doubtless heard, the first surrenderred by Sabathia to a lefthanded hitter at Yankee Stadium this year. One good team played above expectations, the other, well below them.

Bunning And Short And Lidge… And Happ?

I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but it may have been 1987. I never knew his name and I could not then verify his story, but he claimed that he had been at every one of Gene Mauch’s opening days since 1965 (and a lot of other Mauch-managed games, even some in spring training).

His act was always the same. He was there when the park opened, and he stayed till it closed. And any time he thought Mauch could possibly see him, he raised his sign, which read, simply “BUNNING.” If he had one friend with him, that guy carried another sign reading “AND SHORT,” but there was supposedly a three-man version (one fellow with “AND” and the other with “SHORT.”). “He has to be reminded,” I heard the guy say. “He has to be reminded, every year, what he did.”
The vengeful fan’s argument – echoed by a lot of people then and now – was that the infamous Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 was neither organic nor accidental, but the direct result of a crazy managerial strategy pronounced by then-Phils’ skipper Gene Mauch. Around the 13th of September that year, with Ray Culp lost to injury and onetime ace Art Mahaffey shaky, Mauch had pronounced that he wanted the Hall of Fame righty Jim Bunning, and the unsung southpaw Chris Short to each pitch in each of the remaining six series the Phils had to play. “Bunning and Short,” Mauch supposedly said, “these are my men. Bunning and Short.” If Mauch indeed said it on the 13th, he said it when the Phillies still had a six game lead and an 86-57 record.
They would thereafter go 6-13 and between them Bunning and Short would win a total of three games and the Phillies’ collapse would be etched for all-time as the most painful, if not the mathematically worst (they were still 90-60 after play on September 20th, still six-and-a-half up, and then lost 10 of the last 12).
So this fan followed Mauch to Montreal, to Minnesota, to the Angels, and every year trotted out his message of “Bunning And Short.” And Gene Mauch never did get to the World Series, and as history narrows his place in its nooks and crannies, it will be for the collapse, and “Bunning And Short,” that he will be remembered. 
And I wonder if Charlie Manuel isn’t going to join him. Inherent in the criticism of Mauch is that there is nothing unforgivable in a manager, other than inflexibility. Indeed, some of the greatest managers have been the ones who have let go of their deathgrip on consistency. Think of Connie Mack starting the washed-up Howard Ehmke in Game One of the 1929 Series. Ehmke was, in fact, Mack’s seventh starter, behind Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, 24-game winner George Earnshaw, 18-game winner Rube Walberg, and three lesser lights who had each won 11. Ehmke merely set the then-record for strikeouts in a Series. Later skippers like Chuck Dressen used relievers like Joe Black and Clem Labine as Series starters. As late as 1974, Walter Alston was leaning towards starting Mike Marshall – who had only relieved 114 times that year – to start the sixth game against Oakland, if the Dodgers had survived that long. Consider Mayo Smith of the 1968 Tigers deciding, on August 23rd, with his team up by seven-and-a-half games but his shortstop Ray Oyler hitting just .142, that he had better find an alternative – and giving centerfielder Mickey Stanley an audition of exactly nine games before penciling him in at short for Game One of the World Series.
And here is Good ‘Ol Charlie, insistent on closing with Brad Lidge, who has the singular flammability – and more impressive, the endurance - of the infamous Underground Fire Of Centralia, Pennsylvania. I have written before here of the paucity of viable alternatives: Ryan Madson is now at 8/14 in Save conversions this season, but just 13 of 32 lifetime. Brett Myers may not be able to pitch on any nights, let alone consecutive ones. Eyre, Park, and Romero are hurt. Condrey’s a quandary and Durbin’s doubtful.
But whatever his future redemption might be, Lidge is Charlie Manuel’s ticket to Mauch-like infamy. He needs to punt, and he needs to punt now, and he has insisted he will not. And still there is Tyler Walker and his respectable record as a closer, or if this still somehow seems more terrifying than a guy doing the Human Torch act during your three-game failed defense of your World’s Championship, take a page from Chuck Dressen or Walter Alston, mix in a little Mayo Smith, and work in reverse. Nominally, at least, you have six starters, two of whom you will not use as such no matter how long you go in the playoffs.
This is no time to stick to tradition. Crunch the numbers and talk to the men and, if need be, ask for a volunteer. Presumably you cannot envision a world in which you don’t start Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee as often as you can. But are you really risking your rotation if you pick one man out of the other four to serve as your emergency closer? 
Interestingly, just a superficial look at data suggests there are two candidates, one of each arm kind. A closer must have, more than any other attribute, the ability to be effective immediately. If you get that first man out in the ninth, your track record with runners-on or in late innings becomes decreasingly relevant. And one Philly starter offers these numbers in the first innings of his games: .219 opposing batting average, .259 opposing on base percentage, less than one base-runner per first inning, 3.41 ERA. Another maps out at  a.197 BA, .288 OBP, 1.05 WHIP, 1.35 ERA.
The first guy is Joe Blanton. The second one is J.A. Happ.
Charlie – you can’t get by without one of them in your rotation? Hamels, Lee, Happ, Martinez is too lefty-laden for you? What about Hamels, Lee, Blanton, Martinez? (Parenthetically, if you’re wondering about the others, Hamels has a .238 OBP in the first inning, Lee .268, Martinez .369, Moyer .381. Intuition tells you that a still-rehabbing Pedro might be the choice – the numbers don’t).
The point here, of course, is that if the Phillies swap out Lidge for Blanton or Happ, and it fails, Manuel will be criticized. But at least he won’t be criticized for ignoring the possibility that there was a way of avoiding the iceberg. Fate even offers him one righty and one lefty, to fit whichever kind of rotation he thinks will serve him best against whoever he might face along the way.
The other alternative, I’m afraid, is three guys showing up every day for the rest of Charlie’s managerial career. One has a sign reading “Brad,” the second has one reading “Lidge,” and the third one uses the fireplace lighter for comedic effect.

Recommended Prospects, Recommended Reading (Updated)

Funny that with all the big names moving before the deadline, the number of primo prospects was actually pretty low. I was particularly unimpressed with what the Indians got for Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco) although I am only about ten percent insufficiently skeptical to address the Lee deal as I did the McLouth one – that the trading team was selling a guy, if not at peak value, then at the last moment he would be seriously overvalued, and were doing well to get anything hopeful back.

Having said that, if you still consider Justin Masterson a prospect and not a full-fledged major leaguer, he was clearly the most gifted of all the players given up for “the names.” A year from now, when Brad Penny and John Smoltz and who knows who else are Red Sox memories, Boston would not have parted with him, and not just because of his pitching gifts. The Sox are astounded by his quiet leadership, an almost unheard-of quality for a pitcher. He doesn’t rant, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t slap his glove against his thigh, and nothing bleeds from his sock. He just inspires his teammates to feel more secure about their talents and accomplishments, and their prospects for winning the game. Terry Francona will miss him, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.
And ironically, given how they are howling in Pittsburgh over the exiling of McLouth, then Jack Wilson, then Freddie Sanchez, the head-and-shoulders pick for the top pure-prospect traded against the deadline was the guy the Bucs got for Sanchez, pitcher Tim Alderson. Harkening back to the Johan Santana/Yankees post here, the rule of thumb is that half of all pitching prospects fail. That would ordinarily discourage the ever-discouraged Pirate faithful. However, Alderson and Charlie Morton are both front-of-rotation, ace-of-staff prospects. If one makes it and the other turns merely into a righty Jarrod Washburn, they’ve done awfully well – and this assumes that very little else from the McLouth or Wilson trades bears great fruit, which is not necessarily a correct assumption.
One more deadline note. The amazement at the Adam LaRoche/Casey Kotchman trade itself amazes me. The Red Sox made a similar acquisition in 2004, a glove-first, low-power starting first baseman, about whom everyone said “where they gonna play him?” His name was Doug Mientkiewicz and the point was, his window as a starting player was pretty much over, as is Kotchman’s. He will never hit enough. So you keep the defensive whiz as your back-up and pay for it by spending the middling slugger with the middling glove. The only complication this time is that the Boston backup on those days when Victor Martinez is playing first, is a fellow named Youkilis, and he’s no slouch.
BRIEF UPDATE NOT WORTHY OF ITS OWN POST

The Rangers sent Frank Francisco out on rehab to AAA. To Frisco of the Texas League. Making him Frank Francisco of Frisco.
Nearly as good as Johnny Podres of the Padres, Jim York of New York, or Ted Cox of the Red Sox.
READ – IN FACT, YOU’RE DOING IT NOW!

Three books to endorse with high praise and the caveat that I’m mentioned in one, and two of them are written by friends. I write as a guy who was once the country’s only nationally-published reviewer of baseball books (who once gave the second edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia a panning for some awful typos) so finding three I like at one time is quite a feat.
First there’s Marty Appel’s Munson: The Life And Death Of A Yankee Captain. When a book reveals details of a man’s life to his own family, it’s a pretty good book. I am duly impressed both with the research effort and the clarity of Marty’s work, and the attempt to recreate that sad day 30 years ago tomorrow when Munson’s death shocked baseball. It is not happy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.
I think Ron Darling may have written (let’s broaden it out to all of them who didn’t go to Yale; even co-written) the best book by a pitcher since Kirby Higbe’s HIgh And Inside. Ron’s is called The Complete Game and it takes a novel approach: a pitch-by-pitch, thought-by-thought recitation of key innings of key games, nearly all of them his own, throughout his long span in college and major league ball. Apart from taking you inside an entire team’s thinking as the pitches succeed each other, Ronnie also underscores what is to me the most underrated skill among elite athletes: Memory. Nearly all of the microscopic detail (what he was thinking between the third and fourth pitches, to the third hitter, in the fifth inning, of his thirteenth start, etc) was pulled from his recall and simply verified in the record books. He rolls the details out the way Gordie Howe once rolled out each shot he took in a Detroit Red Wings-New York Rangers game, 27 years after he played it. A great read, and very well written.
Almost not at all written is the third suggestion: Chris Epting’s The Early Polo Grounds. This is 181 pre-1925 photos taken at the legendary home of The New York Giants and it borders on time travel, even if the captions aren’t always complete (a date of an October, 1910, photo is disputed by the author because the Giants didn’t play in that year’s World Series; he seems not to have known that in those days the Giants and Yankees regularly played post-season series for the “Championship of New York”). Having just spent hours in the photo vaults of Cooperstown looking at all the photos of the fabled ballpark, I can say that this collection rivals that part of the Hall’s from the 20th Century – plus, they won’t arrest you if you try to take it home.


Marquis Performer

If you’ve seen Baseball Prospectus you may have waded through my overly cute introduction – at minimum you know I am awed by the accuracy of the forecasts of the figure filberts.

But every year, amid the Nostramadus-like exactitude of most of the player line previews, they miss by more than a mile. Last year it was Cliff Lee. This year an early front-runner for the 2009 version is Jason Marquis.
The Rockies’ righthander is now at 8-4, 3.98, 1.34.
BP predicted 6-10, 5.57, 1.61.
This is not to say they could not still come awfully close. The forecast was for 21 starts and 11 relief appearances. Marquis would not exactly have to go up like downtown Chicago in 1871 to go 0-6 the rest of the year, fall out of the rotation after nine more starts, and inflate the ERA by not much more than a run and a half. Manny Parra could offer him instructions.
Still, as I noted in that intro, spooky things do seem to follow when the forecast maximums are reached. Tim Hudson was expected to end up 12-10 last season; he got to 11-7 and then his elbow went blooey. Mr. Marquis is now two wins past where he was supposed to end up.
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