Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Have Two Baseball Games Ever Played Out Identically?

A few year's back, one of my brothers asked this intriguing question while the two of us played a game of chess: considering the centuries of history that the game of chess has enjoyed the world over, and the millions upon millions of games that must have been played over that time, it seems likely, maybe even definite, that the game we were playing at that moment had been played at least once before at some point in history. Every move that we made from the first move to the last had, in all likelihood, played out in that exact same order by someone else, years or centuries before. It was a fascinating observation that really got me thinking - kind of the "if a tree falls in a forest..." question for nerdy gamers.

Well, a few months back, while pondering how spoiled we are to live in a world of Baseball Reference & Retrosheet, it occurred to me that, with the decades of baseball games under our belts, there might be two games that played out identically. In other words, are there any two games in baseball history that, if I were to pick up the scorecards for each, they would be indistinguishable? Granted, one century of baseball games (and only 50 years of Retrosheet data) is not quite the same as the five centuries of worldwide recreational play that chess as seen, but it still seemed at least possible to find a pair of identical ballgames among all those seasons. And since the Retrosheet data is all there, ready to be queried, it just seemed irresponsible not to go digging.

After getting a new faster laptop with a bigger hard drive a couple of weekends back, I was finally able to follow Colin Wyers' instructions for Creating a Retrosheet Database. It's a great, simple set of instructions that helps you get everything that you need to play around with Retrosheet's play-by-play data. If anyone is interested in that kind of thing, you owe it to yourself to read Colin's piece and get started. Be aware that running queries on a full Retrosheet database can take an incredibly wrong time, even on a fast computer.

Anyhow, with the Retrosheet database installed and ready to go on my computer, I decided to take some time this weekend to explore this question. The short answer to the question is, of course, no, there are not two games in the Retrosheet era of baseball history that played out identically. If you think about the numbers involved, it's not surprising in the least: with at least a dozen possible standard outcomes available for each plate appearance (and another dozen or more possible, but highly unlikely outcomes), and with 60 or 70 or even 80 plate appearances per game, the odds become fantastic that two games would be identical. Since there's only 100,000 or so games in the Retrosheet era, it is by no means surprising that I couldn't find any matching games. Below, I describe the methods that I took to come to this (non-)conclusion and explore some of the results. I know the answer may be slightly dull, but the journey there was still pretty interesting.

Like I said above, running a query on the full Retrosheet database can take an exceptionally long period of time, so the first thing I needed to do was to cut that list down to a more manageable number of games. I did this by looking at every game in the database and finding any games that had identical end-game statistics to it. If two games had the same number of innings played and identical home- and road- runs, hits, errors, and men left-on-base, I marked them as a unique pair. There were 3,479 such pairs of games.

Next, I went through each pair of games found above and counted the number of "events" (mostly plate appearances, though there are some other events that can sneak in there) in each. From there, if the two games in a given pair were found to have the same number of events in them, I set them aside for further study. After all, in order for two games to have played out identically, they must have the same number of events (batters, baserunners, etc). This left me with 608 pairs of games, all of which had the same number of home- and road-runs, hits, errors, men left-on-base and the same number of events and innings played as their pairing. If there ever had been two identical games played in baseball history, that pair of games would be somewhere on this list.

Finally, the last step was to take this list and match each paired game up, event for event. Ideally, we would find a pair of games that has every event in Game A match up with the same event in Game B - that is, if the first at-bat in Game A was a 5-3 groundout to third, then the first at-bat in Game B would be too, and so on, from the top of the first to the bottom of the ninth (and beyond). This query would be the moment of truth, telling us if there were any identical games and, if not, what games might be the closest.

I know, I've already ruined the surprise, but there are no two games (in the Retrosheet era, at least) that played out identically.

This may not be a surprise to some, as the odds were never in favor of it happening, but I'm still a little disappointed and surprised. "Disappointed" because, despite my knowledge of basic probabilities, I still was hoping to find something interesting. And "surprised" because, even without finding two identical games, I still expected to find a pair or two with significant similarities, and this just didn't really happen. Below are the ten "most identical" pairs of games in baseball history, as judged by the percentage of identical events between the two games.

PHI 0 @ CIN 1 (4/29/98) & CLE 0 @ DET 1 (10/1/70)
Num. of Events: 57 Num. of Similar Events: 10 Pct. of Similar Events: 18%

NYM 4 @ CIN 3 ( 6/3/94) & CAL 4 @ MIN 3 (4/17/85)
Num. of Events: 70 Num. of Similar Events: 12 Pct. of Similar Events: 17%

ARI1 @ SD 3 (8/27/07) & CHC 1 @ LAD 3 (5/21/69)
Num. of Events: 64 Num. of Similar Events: 11 Pct. of Similar Events: 17%

WAS 2 @ FLA 5 (7/14/07) & SD 2 @ MON 5, 8/18/89
Num. of Events: 68 Num. of Similar Events: 10 Pct. of Similar Events: 15%

COL 1 @ NYY 2 (6/8/04) & CAL 1 @ BAL 2 (9/26/65)
Num. of Events: 67 Num. of Similar Events: 10 Pct. of Similar Events: 15%

MIN 1 @ CAL 5 (5/5/96) & LAD 1 @ ATL 5 (5/11/68)
Num. of Events: 70 Num. of Similar Events: 10 Pct. of Similar Events: 14%

TEX 5 @ BAL 1 (8/16/75) & CAL 5 @ CHI 1 (9/10/72)
Num. of Events: 70 Num. of Similar Events: 9 Pct. of Similar Events: 13%

DET 2 @ CLE 5 (8/15/07) & PHI 2 @ SD 5 (7/6/94)
Num. of Events: 69 Num. of Similar Events: 9 Pct. of Similar Events: 13%

TBD 1 @ BOS 2 (8/14/07) & CHC 1 @ STL 2 (9/28/97)
Num. of Events: 68 Num. of Similar Events: 9 Pct. of Similar Events: 13%

NYM 5 @ STL 1 (8/16/77) & NYM 5 @ SD 1 (5/29/71)
Num. of Events: 78 Num. of Similar Events: 9 Pct. of Similar Events: 12%

If I were to list each of the "similar events" from each pair of games, you would see that the most common outcome of identical events is the strikeout (I can provide that list to anyone interested). Again, this makes a lot of sense: with balls-in-play, there are at least a dozen different outcomes for the batted ball, from a base hit to a 5-4-3 doube play and more. However, with a strikeout, all that variance disappears and the pure result is recorded. I suspect that if I broke each at-bat down to it's more basic outcome (ie, "groundout" vs "4-3" or "flyball" vs "8"), then I would find many more matching events. I worry that this would distract some from the overall goal of finding identical games, but I think it's a worthwhile exploration. I've tried to come up with other ways to compare two games for similarities, but I haven't been able to think of anything else.

If anyone can come up with some other ways that I might want to compare two similar games for the purposes of finding the "most identical games in baseball history", I'm all ears. In the meantime, I hope you found this exploration at least a little interesting. I imagine I'll have a little more information on these "somewhat" identical games in the days to come, starting with the most common score in baseball history and going from there.

Update: This post has gotten a lot of attention, so I figured I'd repeat here what I wrote over at Baseball Think Factory yesterday:
I think I'm definitely going to run this list a couple of more times, though. First off, the "hit" data (ie, single, double, etc) in the retrosheet file is very specific ("S9" means single to right, "D8" means double to center, etc), so when I'm matching the hits, they have to be perfectly identical to match. I think that's a little more precise than I need to be.

And that may also go for the outs. Does a 6-3 putout need to match another 6-3 putout to be considered identical, or can I just lump it as a "groundout" and have it match any other "groundout"? I mentioned that at the end of the article, but I think I definitely need to explore it. Plus, I need to sanitize the event data a little, too, to get rid of remarks like "63!".

Finally, somebody commented on the piece that it might be interesting to see the games that have identical line scores across the 9 innings of play. I might run that too, just to see what it finds.

Still, for this level of precision (which is admittedly a little too high), it's pretty obvious that there aren't a whole lot of games that played out very similarly. I'm sure I'll find a larger number of similar games as I lower the precision, but I doubt I'll find anything as identical as I was hoping.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Through the Years: Mike Mussina

Earlier this winter, Mike Mussina retired from baseball with a 270-153 career record and 2,813 career strikeouts. His 3.68 career ERA was good enough for a 123 ERA+ while pitching exclusively in the AL East for 18 years (in an era in which the AL East was not represented in the ALCS only 4 times in 18 years). When he retired, there was a lot of discussion on whether or not he would be voted in to the Hall of Fame. The discussion seemed to revolve around his apparent lack of dominance and whether or not he was ever the best pitcher in his league (that is, it was the classic compiler vs. dominator discussion).

When Curt Schilling retired last week, the Hall of Fame debate seemed to be resurrected. What surprised me about reading these new discussions was how it seemed to be taken for granted that Mussina was a Hall of Famer. Now, I'm not complaining - I happen to feel he's a definite HOFer - but I thought it was interesting how quickly opinions can change in only three months' time.

Since the Schilling and Mussina discussions were so prevalent last week, I figured it would be a good idea to explore the two pitchers' careers. Last week, I did a "Through the Years" post on Schilling, going back through my collection of baseball preview guides to see how he was being viewed by writers on a year-to-year basis. Now it's Mussina's turn.

Before I begin, I should make the disclosure that, as someone who grew up an Orioles fan, Mike Mussina was my favorite non-Cal Ripken player in baseball for five years or so. I saw how he led the team year-after-year with excellent performances and how he stepped up his game for big moments. He was a great Oriole on some great (and not-so-great) teams, and I was incredibly bummed when he signed with the Yankees. But I never begrudged him any of that, as the Yankees gave him a too-good-to-deny offer (and the Orioles and Peter Angelos treated him terribly). Even when he was on the Yankees, I was always hoping the best for him. With that said, I think we can now begin this retrospective.

Mike Mussina was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 1987 amateur draft when he was 18 years old. He chose not to sign and instead went on to pitch at Stanford. Three years later, after graduating early with an economics degree, he was again drafted by the Orioles, this time in the first round (20th overall), signing a short while later. Heading into the 1991 season, the 22-year-old was already a top prospect. The Sporting News yearbook claimed, in their "Top AL Minor League Prospects" section, that he "could be an Oriole starter in '91." That April's Baseball Digest also said "rookie Mike Mussina may prove a find."

Mussina made his big league debut that August and pitched well in his limited time. His 4-5 record that year obscures some quality numbers, including a 2.87 ERA (138 ERA+) and 52 strikeouts in 87 innings. It was a good start to a good career. TSN agreed in their 1992 yearbook:
"Mussina pitched so well down the stretch that he is being considered a candidate for this year's opening-day starting assignment. He was 4-5 in 12 starts, but his 2.87 earned-run average suggests that he might be the best starting pitcher in the organization."
The 1992 season started even better for Mussina, and it helped the O's get out to a surprising record early. The May 18 issue of Sports Illustrated didn't let it go unnoticed:
"Mussina, 23, looks and acts as if he has been in the majors for years. As of Sunday [May 12], he had made 18 big league starts, dating back to last August, and had pitched into the seventh inning 17 times. He had an 8-5 record with a 2.89 ERA. "He's very creative," says Baltimore pitching coach Dick Bosman. "He'll take a slider we've been fiddling around with in the bullpen and use it in a big situation to get an out. He can change speeds intuitively, which shows a lot of poise and composure. Good pitchers are often bright—not necessarily well educated, but bright."

Mussina is both. He graduated from Stanford in 3 1/2 years with a degree in economics. Says Oates, "I don't talk to him. I'm afraid he'll ask me something I don't know. He's got a line of books about three feet long in his locker. I probably talk to him less than anyone on the team. He needs less stroking than most players."

The Orioles made Mussina the 20th pick in the first round of the June 1990 draft. He pitched only 1 1/2 years in the minor leagues, putting together a 13-4 record and 2.43 ERA, before Baltimore called him up on July 31, 1991. Says Palmer, now an Oriole broadcaster, "The only way Mike won't win 20 games this season is if they don't score runs for him. What do I like about him? Everything.""
His performance didn't diminish as the season progressed, and his 18-5 record with 130 strikeouts and a 2.54 ERA (157 ERA+) was rewarded with a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting in only his first full season. He also made his first All-Star appearance that year. It was enough to give him the title of "staff ace".
"Sutcliffe won 16 games to reestablish himself as one of the game's top starters, but Mussina emerged as the ace of the staff. In '92, he led the league in winning percentage (.783) and ranked among the league leaders in wins (18), earned-run average (2.54), complete games (eight) and shutouts (four)."
The '93 season didn't go as well for Mussina, though that was mostly due to injuries. Back and shoulder injuries nagged him enough to limit him to 25 games that season, and contributed to his league-average 4.46 ERA. He did go 14-6 that year, though, with 117 strikeouts in 167 innings. The injury concerns did not dampen anyone's expectations for him in the 1994 season. TSN wrote this, while also predicting that Mussina would start the 1994 All-Star game:
"Mussina's health will remain at issue until he gets back into a regular-season routine, but his standing as one of the most effective righthanders in the game is not in question. He came back from an 18-5 season in '92 to go 14-6 despite nagging injuries last year."
Moose did make the 1994 All-Star team for the third straight year, though he did not start it. By the time the strike rolled around in August, he was having his best year to date. In only 24 starts, Mussina put up a 16-5 record with a 3.06 ERA (163 ERA+) and three complete games. He was awarded with yet another 4th-place finish in the Cy Young voting (David Cone won the Cy that year with a 16-5 record, 2.94 ERA, and three shutouts).

As 1995 rolled around and baseball returned to normal following the strike, it was pretty clear that Mussina was a top-tier pitcher. In four full seasons, he had finished in the top five of Cy Young voting in three of them and his ERA+ only dipped below 145 once, in a season where he was nagged by shoulder injuries all year. In fact, the 1995 TSN yearbook predicted a Cy Young award for Mussina that year (they would predict a Cy Young award for Moose three more times in the next ten years).

Mussina did not win the Cy Young that year, but it was not for lack of trying. In the strike-shortened season, Moose started 32 games and ended the season with a 19-9 record. In 221 innings, Mussina posted a 3.29 ERA (145 ERA+), struck out 158 batters and had the second-lowest WHIP in the AL (1.069). Randy Johnson very understandably won the Cy that year (18-2, 2.48 ERA, 294 K), but Mussina finished all the way in fifth place, behind Jose Mesa, Tim Wakefield, and David Cone. The 1996 TSN yearbook went ahead and predicted a Cy Young for him for the second year in a row.
"Righthander Mike Mussina had another outstanding season in 1995 (19-9) and looks as if he's going to be a perpetual Cy Young candidate, but he can't do it alone."
Moose followed up his excellent '95 campaign with another 19-win season in '96. He also pitched a career high 243 innings and struck out 200 batters for the first time (204). His ERA suffered that year, though, when he finished with only a 4.81 ERA (103 ERA+).
"Mussina still is the cornerstone of the rotation. He won 19 games last year [in 1996] but didn't really pitch that well. His ERA was 50 percent higher than it was in 1995, and he allowed more hits than innings for the first time in his pro career. That could mean one of two things: His arm is wearing down or he is primed for a monster year in 1997."
In 1997, the Orioles went wire-to-wire and took the Indians to Game 6 of the ALCS before bowing out. Individually, Mussina's '97 season was excellent, though a little understated. He posted a 15-8 record with a 3.20 ERA (137 ERA+), but his K-rate and strikeout-to-walk were the best of his career. In only 224 innings, he struck out 218 batters and walked only 54. He also pitched 4 complete games with one shutout. His postseason was even better: in 4 games in the ALDS and ALCS, he pitched 29 innings, struck out 41 batters, and gave up a total of 4 runs. He went 2-0 in those 4 games, with both his ALCS starts ending with extra-inning Cleveland victories (2-1 in 12 and 1-0 in 11).

In the June 1998 issue of Baseball Digest, the cover asks the question "Is There a Cy Young in Mike Mussina's Future?" After pointing out that, from "1900 through 1997, there were 439 pitchers who won at least 100 games in the major leagues, but only three of them posted a higher winning percentage than Baltimore righthander Mike Mussina's .683 mark," the article goes on to say:
"And during the 1997 postseason, Mussina, often pitching on three days' rest, dominated like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. His playoff line: two wins, no losses, 29 innings, 11 hits, 41 strikeouts and a 1.24 ERA.

But it's a new season, and the playoff atmosphere has long since faded.
If Mussina, who has posted records of 18-5, 14-6, 16-5, 19-9, 19-11 and 15-8 the last six years, continues where he left off last season, he should be a strong contender for the AL Cy Young Award.

To which Orioles manager Ray Miller, one of the game's outstanding pitching mentors, would say 'Amen.'"
As we all know, Mussina never ended up winning his Cy Young award. His highest finish was in 1999, when he finished second behind Pedro Martinez's line of 23-4, 313 strikeouts, 2.07 ERA (243 ERA+). Despite that, Moose had a great career. For those first 10 years of his career, when he was still with Baltimore, he was clearly regarded as one of the top pitchers in the American League, a notch below Clemens, Pedro, and Johnson, maybe, but still top tier. His strong ERA+ and fantastic won-loss record (as overrated as it can be at times) and his frequent placement in the Cy Young results all help support this.

The last eight years of his career, though, which he spent on the Yankees, were not nearly as good as his first. Whether this is a product of his complacency after signing a big contract, or a result of the pressure of pitching in New York City, or just a natural result of his aging (after all, he didn't sign with the Yankees until he was 32), it's hard to say. It is clear that those Yankees years were not up to the standard that he set for himself in Baltimore, and that seems to be the main reason that some people don't remember him as being great. Still, when you look at Mussina's career on the whole, I think it's pretty clear that he was an outstanding pitcher who belongs in the Hall. I have a feeling it might take him a few years before it happens, though. I'll be happy to see it when it does, though.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Strat-O-Matic's Three True Outcomes

I don't normally do "link posts", where I'm just passing on a link without trying to add something interesting to it, but I'm at work right now and I just don't know what I can add to this:

Using his old Strat-O-Matic cards, The Common Man takes a look back at some of the most interesting baseball players you can find - the Three True Outcome sluggers. From Steve Balboni to Sam Horn to Cecil Fielder, these Strat cards do a better job of describing just how remarkable TTO guys are than any written description ever could. And, well, if you haven't heard of the Three True Outcomes before, just take a look at some of those cards and you'll get a pretty good idea.

It's a great piece, and definitely one that I wish I had written. Go take a look.

Guide Preview: Award Preview

As a wrap-up to the last six weeks of Guide Previews, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at how each magazine predicted the upcoming postseason, from World Series participants to awards. As with every other guide preview, it's important to note that none of these magazines are very prescient with their predictions.

More importantly, I recognize that none of these predictions actually mean anything, and so comparing them isn't quite as important as, say, discovering Ty Cobb's true number of hits. But that doesn't mean it's not a fun thing to do, or that it's not at least a little useful. For example, I can look back at the mid-90s Sporting News yearbooks and see that, for three years in a row at least, Delino Deshields was considered the best second-baseman in the National League. It may not be all that important or earth-shattering, but it does give us some context. Plus, it's just fun to look back and say "Really? They thought Justin Verlander was going to be last year's Cy Young?!" Who doesn't like that?

So, without further ado, here's the list of predicted postseason awards and World Series participants from last year and this year.

 World Series Participants
Sporting NewsAthlonLindy's
2008Red Sox over Cubs
Red Sox over Diamondbacks
Tigers & Phillies
2009Yankees over Cubs
Red Sox over Phillies
Yankees & Cubs


Sporting NewsAthlonLindy's
2008Magglio Ordonez (AL) & Mark Teixeira (NL)
David Ortiz (AL) & Ryan Howard (NL)
Grady Sizemore (AL) & David Wright (NL)
2009Evan Longoria (AL) & Albert Pujols (NL)
Alex Rodriguez (AL) & Hanley Ramirez (NL)
Mark Teixeira (AL) & Hanley Ramirez (NL)

Cy Young

Sporting NewsAthlonLindy's
2008Josh Beckett (AL) & Carlos Zambrano (NL)
Justin Verlander (AL) & Brandon Webb (NL)
Justin Verlander (AL) & Carlos Zambrano (NL)
2009CC Sabathia (AL) & Johan Santana (NL)
Jonathan Papelbon (AL) & Johan Santana (NL)
Jon Lester (AL) & Cole Hamels (NL)

Rookie of the Year

Sporting NewsAthlonLindy's
2008Evan Longoria (AL) & Cameron Maybin (NL)
Jacoby Ellsbury (AL) & Kosuke Fukudome (NL)
Evan Longoria (AL) & Jay Bruce (NL)
2009David Price (AL) & Tommy Hanson (NL)
David Price (AL) & Cameron Maybin (NL)
Matt Wieters (AL) & Colby Rasmus (NL)

Some quick thoughts: There weren't a lot of quality predictions from last year. Lindy's and TSN did well with the Evan Longoria as ROY pick, but Lindy's was the only magazine to correctly choose either of the World Series participants. Not that some of their other choices were poor - Howard finished second in the MVP voting last year, and Webb did well in the Cy voting. And you can't really argue with a Sizemore or Wright pick. They just didn't work out.

As for this upcoming season, both TSN and Lindy's seem to be pretty high on the Yankees and Cubs. In the MVP voting, it seems pretty clear that Hanley Ramirez is held in pretty high esteem, as are Pujols, Longoria, and Teixeira. And I guess Johan's second half really impressed everyone, as it's pretty obvious that the writers believe in him again. The ROY predictions are the most interesting, though. With all the press that Wieters is getting, I'd have suspected him to get more support. I guess it just seemed more likely that ALCS hero David Price would get a little more playing time. There is absolutely no consensus on the NL ROY, though.

So we've now seen what the three main preview magazines think of each of the thirty major league teams, and how they view the postseason, awards and all. There's not much left to do then in this last week before Opening Day except sit and wait for the first pitch and come up with our own predictions. After all, we've spent the last 5 months discussing and analyzing all of the offseason moves - it's only natural to have an opinion on how the season will play out. All of that can wait until next week, though. In the meantime, enjoy the postseason preview above, and let me know your thoughts if you have them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guide Preview: Texas Rangers

Here we are, the 30th and final guide preview. Six weeks ago, I thought it might be fun to use the season preview magazines that I buy every year and do a team-by-team preview of the 2009 season. I figured it'd be a good way to accomplish a few goals: to see how well each magazine does at predicting teams' success, to give a flavor of the different opinions that writers have for each team, and, most importantly, to give me a good reason to read and learn about all 30 ballcubs. In those regards, I think it's been a pretty big success. In that time, I've learned a lot about teams that I might not have normally paid attention to, and the Rangers are no exception. It's been a good run, and I hope everyone has enjoyed it.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for all the other guide previews.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Texas Rangers
Last Year: 79 - 83, 2nd Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News3



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The 2008 Rangers made no airs about what they were: an offensive team, through and through. With strong offensive seasons from Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Milton Bradley, the Rangers should have been situated for a good, healthy 85-or-so win season. And even with Bradley leaving for the Cubs this offseason, the Rangers should still be able to score plenty of runs in 2009.
"Hamilton, acquired from the Reds for Edinson Volquez, had one of baseball's all-time feel-good seasons. A No. 1 overall draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1999, Hamilton returned to the majors the previous season after a three-year absence caused by drug and alcohol problems, and he flourished in Texas. He led the league with 130 RBIs, which helped him earn an All-Star appearance and a memorable Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, where he hit 28 blasts in the first round.

Even if Texas can't land a significant bat to replace Bradley, Hamilton will have nice parts around him, particularly No. 2 hitter Michael Young, a five-time All-Star. Second baseman Ian Kinsler (.319, 102 runs) also made the All-Star team, and the Rangers added two more promising hitters to their lineup last season in outfielder David Murphy and Chris Davis, who can play third or first. (TSN)"
But the offensive prowess of those stars just wasn't enough to offset the weaknesses of the staff, and 2009 doesn't look any more promising.
"As usual, there are a ton of questions in the starting rotation, which ranked last in the majors in ERA (5.51) in 2008 and didn't draw any new bodies for 2009. Will Brandon McCarthy ever be healthy enough to be a stready contributor? Is lefty Matt Harrison ready for the big leagues? Can reformed reliever Scott Feldman, a relative surprise in 2008, take another step? Those questions and others won't matter a lick if the Rangers don't get more from Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. Both are making more than $11 million per season. Both have had consecutive underwhelming seasons. And both are in potential free agent seasons. ... The Rangers need the duo to lead the way for the rest of the staff, and club president Nolan Ryan has challenged them to do just that. (Athlon)"
The weak pitching staff isn't enough to be completely down on this franchise, though. After a few trade deadline deals over the last couple of years, the Rangers have what many call the best farm system in baseball. Those prospects may not all be major league-ready for 2009, but they will be soon enough, and then things will be looking up for Texas and their fans.
"The Rangers have had one winning season since 1999 - also the year of their most recent division title. And with the Angels in firm command of the American League West, the Rangers' postseason drought is unlikely to end in 2009. But the Texas farm system is full of talent. Thanks in large part to trades involving Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne at the 2007 trade deadline, general manager Jon Daniels has a group of prospects with which to mold the franchise's future. At long last, a number of them are pitchers, including righthander Neftali Feliz and lefthander Derek Holland. Feliz and Holland finished last season at Double-A Frisco, which suggests that they could join the big league staff by next season. Elite shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus also spent all of last season at Double-A. Translation: The 2010 Rangers are certain to have a different look, even if 2009 brings more of the same. (Lindy's)"
Spotlight Quote

Athlon highlights the Rangers' biggest move of the offseason:
"Coaching Carousel: Perhaps the biggest addition the Rangers made during the offseason was to go out and get Maddux. Mike Maddux, that is. The club convinced Maddux to leave Milwaukee behind for a two-year deal worth more than $1 million to revitalize the Rangers' pitching staff. Maddux got his start in coaching for Nolan Ryan's Round Rock Express. Maddux becomes the Rangers' seventh pitching coach since the start of the 2000 season. He inherits a staff that ranked last in the majors in rotation ERA (5.51). Also, Andy Hawkins, who began 2008 as the Triple-A Oklahoma pitching coach and later served as interim pitching coach, will handle the bullpen. Former major league infielder Dave Anderson will handle the third base box and infield instruction and Jackie Moore will take over as bench coach."

The Rangers are a tough team for me to understand. They finished last season in second place, with only 79 wins. They improved only 4 games from the year before, but moved up from fourth & last place all the way up to second. This tells me that the division they're in, with only three other teams, is just too fickle and too easy. A 79-win season would have been fourth or worst in every other division in baseball except the extraordinarily weak NL West, where it would have earned them a third place finish. All of that tells me that they're just not a good team.

But it's hard to accept that at face value, too. The 2008 Rangers had some pretty amazing players, with the likes of Milton Bradley, Ian Kinsler, and Josh Hamilton. Everyone loved the Josh Hamilton story last year, and for good reason. It was a little overhyped at times, but the story really is something. And the way he played last year, especially for the first half or so, definitely deserved it. Bradley was the same way, finally showcasing his talents and abilities to everybody.

Looking at the stats from last year's team, it seems that injuries, and a worse-than-subpar pitching staff, were their weakness. Neither Bradley nor Kinsler were able to play in 130 games, and the best ERA+ among their starting rotation was Vicente Padilla's 93 (a 4.74 ERA). When you add all of that together, you rarely get a winning season.

Heading into the 2009 season now, with all of the issues from last season and minus their best player in Milton Bradley, I just don't know what to say. It's hard to see them improving on their record. The rest of the West is just as confusing, though, and, with the right cards falling their way, any team has a chance. My money would be placed on another 75-to-80 win season, but I don't think I'd be surprised with anything these days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Through the Years: Curt Schilling

When I began the team-by-team guide previews one month ago, I promised that they would not get in the way of my regular posting schedule. I said that I would continue to post the various items that some of you may have come to expect from me, such as the Prospect Previews or Historic Hot Stoves. I tried my best to live up to that promise, but I have to admit that it was hard at times. There were a couple of weeks there that I didn't add much beyond the five guide previews. That's fine, I suppose, but I do want to get back to the other posts.

With Curt Schilling announcing his retirement earlier this week, it seemed like the perfect time to get back into the swing of things. If you glance around at a few of the Schilling retrospective pieces available around the blogosphere, you'll see that the topic everyone is interested in is whether Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. Many of his numbers clearly show his dominance, such as his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio, but then there are those more "old school" stats like wins that seem to say something else. And of course there's Schilling's postseason success - the bloody sock, the World Series MVP, the three World Series rings. It's hard not to have a Hall of Fame conversation about Schilling without mentioning that.

Personally, I think he belongs in the Hall (and I said as much over at IIATMS). The nature of pitchers is so strange that one cannot rely solely on certain milestone numbers to judge a pitcher's worthiness, and if you look at Schilling's overall career, it adds up to something pretty special. Maybe not Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux special, but something pretty special nonetheless.

Anyhow, with Schilling's retirement and with everybody taking the time to look back at his career, I thought it might be a great time to do a "Through the Years" retrospective on him. As with other posts, I'll be looking at Schilling's career through my collection of baseball preview guides to see how he was being viewed by writers on a year-to-year basis, and to see just when writers started thinking of him as something special.

Curt Schilling first appeared in the 1989 Sporting News preview guide as one of the Orioles "top rookie prospects," with TSN saying that he "promises to be sleeper from Boddicker deal, but might not wake for a year." The following year was his first full season in the majors, and he performed well in his bullpen roll. That offseason, however, the Orioles traded him, along with Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley, to the Astros for Glenn Davis. Davis never worked out for the O's and Schilling never quite worked out for the Astros. He was traded to the Phillies just as the 1992 season began, but it was too late for the magazines. This is what the '92 TSN guide had to say about Schilling on the Astros:
"Righthander Curt Schilling, who opened the season as the Astros' closer, had eight saves overall but was so ineffective at one point that he was sent to the minors."
After a month-and-a-half of relief duty for the Phils, he was moved into the starting rotation and never really looked back. The '92 season saw him put up 147 strikeouts in 226 innings, and post an ERA of 2.35 (150 ERA+). It was a great beginning to his life as a starter. His success didn't go unnoticed, although it was viewed with a little caution.
"Although Mulholland (a league-leading 12 complete games) will be the No. 1 starter, Schilling and Rivera have developed faster than expected. Schilling, acquired from Houston before the start of last season, compiled a 14-11 record and a 2.35 earned-run average in 226 1/3 innings of work. Opponents hit just .201 against him (the lowest figure in the league), and his 10 complete games ranked second only to Mulholland's 12."
Schilling's 1993 season wasn't quite as good as the year before, but he did seem to start learning his role as a power pitcher. His strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio increased dramatically, but his ERA suffered, with his ERA+ dropping to 99. He did post a 16-7 record, though. It was enough to label him the "staff ace" of the NL pennant winners.
"Schilling's career-high 16 wins established him as the staff ace even before he won the NL playoff Most Valuable Player award and subsequently shut out Toronto in Game 5 of the World Series. Schilling's emergence and the continued development of Tommy Greene made it possible for the Phillies to shop No. 2 starter Terry Mulholland over the winter."
The strike-shortened season of 1994 was one to forget for the newly minted ace. He posted a 2-8 record on the season, with only 58 strikeouts and 28 walks in 83 innings pitched. Injuries caused him to miss two months of playing time in May and June before the players struck. As the 1995 season began, hope had returned that a healthy Schilling would be able to help the Phillies.
"Curt Schilling and Tommy Greene, arguably the team's two best pitchers, spent most of last season either pitching in pain or stuck on the disabled list, and the Phillies still finished fourth in the league with a 3.85 ERA. ... Schilling and Greene were hampered by injuries last season, but are healthy and will be counted upon to lead the staff. In 1993, the duo combined to go 32-11 in 64 starts with a 3.74 ERA; in '94, they went 4-8 in 20 starts with a 4.50 ERA."
Schilling pitched much better in 1995. With 114 strikeout and 26 walks in only 116 innings pitched, he posted a strikeout rate of nearly 9 strikeouts per 9 innings and a strikeout-to-walk rate better than 4:1. He was sidelined with a shoulder injury in late July, though, and had to undergo surgery in the offseason. He wasn't able to return to the rotation until May of '96, but he pitched well when he did. For the remainder of the season, he posted a 3.19 ERA (134 ERA+) in 183 innings, with 182 strikeouts. It wasn't enough to help the 67-95 Phillies, though. At least his contribution wasn't unnoticed.
"Schilling proved his surgically reconstructed right shoulder was healthy last year and should be considered among the top pitchers in the NL."
The 1997 season was his best season to date. In 254 innings, Schilling struck out 319 batters while only walking 58. His 2.97 ERA (143 ERA+) was good for 8th in the league, and his 17 wins (for a 68-win team) placed him 5th in the NL. It was the first year he received any Cy Young votes, finishing fourth. Heading into the 1998 season, the Phillies were certainly pleased to have Schilling at the top of their rotation.
"After striking out an NL-righthander record 319 batters and winning a career-high 17 games last year, Schilling has established himself as one of the game's dominant power pitchers. The ultra-competitive Schilling enjoys anchoring the rotation, and he wants to win 20 games and the Cy Young Award."
Schilling followed that great '97 season with another great season. Technically, his numbers were down across the board, but they were still dominant. In 268 innings that year, he struck out 300 innings and walked only 61, and his ERA of 3.25 was still good enough for a 134 ERA+. That offseason, Kevin Brown signed a 7-year, $105 million contract with the Dodgers, upping the ante for all pitchers.
"If Kevin Brown is worth $15 million a year on the open market, Curt Schilling isn't far behind. The workhorse righthander pitched a league-leading 269 innings in 1998, and again was the leader in strikeouts-per-inning. Perhaps the most telling statistic was the club's 8-1 record when scoring five or more runs in Schilling starts (or perhaps it was the 22 starts in which he received three or fewer runs of support). After again leading the majors in pitches thrown, how much does the 32-year-old have left? Schilling wants to duplicate Roger Clemens' mid-30s success."
The 1999 season looked to be more of the same for Schilling as it began (he started the All-Star game, for example), but, as the season wore on, his arm and shoulder started acting up again, limiting him to only five appearances in the second half. He opted for surgery that December, and wasn't able to re-join the rotation until April 30.

The contract extension that Schilling signed with the Phillies in 1997 was set to expire at the end of the 2000 season (though there was a club option), making him a very valuable commodity at the deadline, especially for a team in the middle of another 65-97 season. As the deadline approached, it was Arizona who made the Phillies the best offer, trading Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Nelson Figeuroa, and Vicente Padilla for the ace. Schilling pitched well in his 13 starts for the Diamondbacks that season, but it was well short of spectacular. The Dbacks were not deterred, though, and they were able to convince Schilling to sign a 3 year, $32 million deal with the club. This matched Schilling with the other most dominant pitcher in the NL, Randy Johnson, and quickly set up the Dbacks for one of the most improbable World Series victories in history. The preview guides were very excited at the prospect of those two pitching together for the entire season. From the 2001 TSN:
"Only the Yankees can match the one-two punch of lefthander Johnson, who has won the last two NL Cy Youngs, and righthander Curt Schilling.
Schilling, acquired in July from the Phillies, will be motivated by his 5-6 record after the trade. More important, he will be more than a year removed from December 1999 shoulder surgery and thus should be able to reach back for extra zip when he needs it. The club had enough faith in Schilling to give him a contract extension through 2004."
And from the 2001 Athlon:
"Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling comprise as good a twosome as any in the game. Johnson still touches 100 mph with his four-seam fastball, and his 89 mph slider makes him death to right-handed hitters. Schilling can be overpowering as well."
The Dbacks went on to win the 2001 World Series, beating the Yankees in 7 games. Johnson and Schilling were responsible for all four Arizona victories in the Series, and the two pitchers each pitched in the deciding Game 7. It was enough to earn them co-MVP awards. Athlon had this to say in the next spring's preview magazine:
"Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling give the Dbacks the best 1-2 power punch in the game after combining for 52 victories in '01, including nine in the postseason. They are dominant enough to do it again."
At this point in Schilling's career, I think it's impossible to say that anyone was ignoring or underestimating him anymore. It seems like a good place to stop this retrospective. It's far from the end of Schilling's story, though, as he finished second in the Cy Young voting three more times. And, oh yeah, pitched one of the more memorable games of the last generation.

Schilling was definitely an interesting pitcher. It took him a number of years before his talent and his health were able to sync up to form something memorable, but when they did, he was a monster. The fact that he struck out 300 batters in three separate years and then led three separate squads to World Series titles has to make him one of the most successful pitchers of his generation. In the end, I think it'll be enough to put him in Cooperstown.

Guide Preview: Seattle Mariners

The beauty of saving the AL West for last in this guide preview series is that, with only four teams in the division, it feels like we're flying through the division. It's almost like having a 4-day work week: it doesn't seem like the one less day will make a difference, but everything just feels shorter and easier that week. That's how I'm feeling about this guide preview series, and, since the guide previews also serve as a countdown to Opening Day, it feels even better. Today, we get to look at the Seattle Mariners, who had the worst record in the AL last year, shocking some of the preseason pundits from last year.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Seattle Mariners
Last Year: 61 - 101, 4th Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News4



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Mariners went into the 2008 season with high expectations, but ended it at the bottom of the barrel. Things did not go well for anyone in the organization, and changes had to be made.
"For years, fans in Seattle clamored for change. It finally came in 2008. General manager Bill Bavasi. Manager John McLaren. First baseman Richie Sexson. Designated hitter Jose Vidro. All of them are gone. In fact, all of them were gone by the end of the regular season.

More recognizable faces left over the winter. Raul Ibanez, the steady run producer and clubhouse presence, signed with the Phillies. Popular closer JJ Putz was dealt to the Mets in a three-team, 12-player trade.

Meanwhile, a new leadership team took shape. Jack Zduriencik, who had been the Brewers' successful scouting director, took over as Mariners GM in October. Less than one month later, Don Wakamatsu became the manager. Based on last year's performance, Zduriencik and Wakamatsu have a great deal of work ahead of them. (Lindy's)"
The face of the Mariners for this past decade has easily been Ichiro, the exciting rightfielder, leadoff hitter and base-stealer. It may be even truer this year, after all the moves Zduriencik made in his first few months on the job. Ichiro anchors a speedy and power-deficient outfield that hopes to be one of Seattle's strengths.
"The [Putz trade] brought the Mariners two outfielders, including their top target in the deal, Franklin Gutierrez, who will handle center field after playing the corner spots in Cleveland. That will allow Ichiro to play right field, his preferred position and the spot where he can best use his sensational arm.

Endy Chavez, who came over from the Mets in the deal, will play left field, which was vacated when steady producer Raul Ibanez accepted a free-agent contract from the Phillies. Second-year outfielder Wladimir Balentien, one of Seattle's most-hyped prospects in recent years, also should see time there. (TSN)"
But it's the pitching staff that gives the M's and their fans the most hope. As good as Ichiro is, he does not have the nearly-unlimited ceiling that Felix Hernandez and some others have. At some point, King Felix has to live up to his hype, so why can't it be this year?
"If there is one major upside to the Seattle picture entering 2009, it's the starting rotation. Hard-throwing righthander Felix Hernandez, still just 22, will be the No. 1 starter. He only went 9-11 last year, but his ERA dipped to 3.45, down almost half a run from the 2007 season. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA and seventh in strikeouts with 175. Lefthander Erik Bedard might not be the most popular guy in the game, but he knows how to pitch. In between two stints on the DL (hip and shoulder), he won six games and had a 3.67 ERA. When healthy, Bedard is one of the top lefties in the league. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

TSN provides "The Book on... Felix Hernandez":
"He's as good as he wants to be, and there aren't many who are as talented. What's not to like? There might be some immaturity issues, but he's young and everyone would love to have him. He's got every quality you look for in a No. 1 starter. ...

Consistency has been his problem, but that's typical for someone so young. It can't help his development that he's had different pitching coaches every year the last few years and he's had a catcher who doesn't speak English. But he has the stuff to strike out 20 guys a night. ... You can't help but bet on him with his age, his stuff and his competitiveness. You can't help but think he's a star..."

The Mariners did not have a good season last year, losing 100 games for the first time in 25 years (though they did lose 99 games in 2004). Nothing seemed to go right for the team, despite having some better-than-average players in Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix Hernandez. I can't help but think that that had to be a result of a poor start snowballing into uninspired play as the summer wore on. I just don't see how the collection of players on the M's could add up to such a bad team.

For 2009, I don't really know what to expect, but I have to assume it'll be better than the stinker they put together last year. The hiring of GM Jack Zduriencik is a big move, but I'm not sure it'll be able to pay immediate dividends. As the scouting director for the Brewers since 1999, he was responsible for just about all of the great draft picks in recent years, which many credit with their recent success. As a Brewers fan, I'm sad to see him go, but I can only imagine good things will come from this for the Mariners. Hopefully, for M's fans, some of that will pay off soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Twelve Ballparks and Counting

I have this feeling that Russ Smith's "Seventeen Ballparks and Counting" piece from yesterday is going to be a trend on the good ol' baseball blogosphere. ShysterBall already put up his own, and I can only imagine you'll start seeing it on some other blogs rather soon.

I figured, then, that I might as well join in the fun. I mean, what's more interesting to other people than writing about yourself and the stadiums that you've visited? Ok, probably a lot, but I enjoyed Russ's piece and Craig's piece, so I may as well do my own. I know, I already wrote a little about this in my "random facts" post. But, in the spirit of Russ's piece from yesterday, this is more of a review/accounting of each ballpark and what I thought of it. I think it's a little more interesting...

Here we go (in a rough order of which ones I visited first):

Dodger Stadium: I put this one first because I know for a fact that I went to a bunch of games here when I was really young (say ages 3-5). I don't remember much about any of those specific games, but I do know that I've always known what Dodger Stadium is like... the hike up the hill to the upper level main gates, the view of the palm trees across Chavez Ravine, the general layout and disarray of the Dodger Dog stands. When I went there for the first time as an "adult", I wasn't experiencing the ballpark for the first time - I was remembering everything about it from when I was 4 years old. Anyhow, I love the stadium. There's nothing fancy about it. Instead, everything is just as it should be. It's a no-nonsense type of stadium, without any of the cheap genericness of the Oakland Coliseum (or any of the other cookie-cutter stadiums from the 1970s, I suspect). Plus, being up there in Chavez Ravine, having to drive through Elysian Park and then driving up the long driveway into the hills/mountain there is great. It's like you're being taken out of Los Angeles and into this separate baseball world (of course, I never had to drive out of there myself, so I don't have any bad driving stories to ruin my memories). I really wish I could've seen last night's fantastic WBC Finals game from there. It would've been perfect.

Angels Stadium: Like Dodger Stadium, I put this higher on the list because I know I went to some games here when I was a small child, but I don't necessarily remember them. This is the first stadium that I clearly remember going to, though, for an Indians-Angels game in 1989. I've since been to the stadium a few times as an adult, in Disney's complete redesign of it. It's a nice stadium. The fake rocks and waterfall out in the outfield is cool, and it's a pleasant place to watch a game. The large ballcaps above the entryway are cute too. But I don't think I agree with everyone else when they say that it's one of the nicer places to watch a game. Maybe I haven't been there enough (probably 4 times in the last 10 years), but it's just not that special. It's not bad at all, and that probably says a lot right there, but it seems a little too generic. It doesn't help that I once walked around the entire concourse looking for a pencil from one of the vendors and no one could help me. How's a guy supposed to keep score?!

Candlestick Park: I don't remember a whole lot about Candlestick. I think I was 8 or so the one time I was there. I definitely remember the drive into San Francisco. It was the first time I remembered seeing tall, tall buildings or a bridge as big as the Oakland Bay Bridge. I do remember the long walk up those curly-q ramps, and being a little chilly sitting in the shade. My biggest memory of Candlestick, though, is probably the trough-style urinals. That was rather traumatic on my 8-year-old mind, apparently. Maybe I should go there again so I can have a better lasting-memory of the place than that.

Safeco Field: Safeco was the first "new" park that I ever visited, and the first stadium I went to on my own as an actual adult. My buddy and I flew up to see the M's & O's only about 2 weeks after the park opened. My uncle was able to get us some great field level seats for a Friday night game and Saturday afternoon game. I've since been back like 5 or 6 times, and I love it every time. The field is fantastic, the seats are comfortable, the view is great, and the roof is out of the way unless it's needed. And it's even a nice place to explore. The concourse is roomy but not generic. I think Safeco may be my favorite ballpark.

Pac Bell Park: But Pac Bell (or SBC or AT&T) Park may give it a run for its money. You really can't beat the sightlines or the placement of the park, right there on McCovey Cove. It's beautiful to walk around (which is something you can do, with a nice path winding around the entire stadium), and great to sit in. I actually like to sit in the upper deck there because it gives you a fantastic view of the water while not sacrificing in the slightest your view of the field. The right-field wall is also a pretty cool place to catch an inning or two. All in all, I don't think I'd ever pass up a chance to visit this park.

Oakland Coliseum: I feel like I've kind of ripped on the Coliseum so far in this, and that seems unfair. True, the Coliseum is a pretty uninspiring building, but, as a place to watch a ballgame, it's not that bad. I've sat high up on the field level many times (maybe row 30 or so, well under the overhang), and I never felt like I was missing anything. I've even sat in the terrible centerfield seats ($5, sit anywhere you like). It wasn't too bad, though when the ball rolled to the wall below us, we couldn't see anything. Still, I count the Coliseum as a nice, cheap, easy place to see a ballgame at. Plus, it's so easy to get in and out of that stadium, with the freeway right there and a BART station connected directly to the stadium. It's about as simple as they come.

Camden Yards: I won't go into the big, long story about my (very abbreviated) visit to Camden Yards. I already covered that in my "random facts" post (see #12). Suffice to say, I visited Camden Yards, but I was only able to spend about 3-and-a-half innings there before needing to leave. It was a cold, rainy, ugly night, but the ballpark was beautiful. It reminded me almost entirely of Safeco, but with it's own very distinct feel. The street area between the park and the Warehouse, where Boog's is, is a pretty cool place to walk down. I sat in the front row behind the left field wall, next to a very, shall we say, blue collar woman in her mid-30s. It was a good time, for what it was, but I certainly wish I could've figured out a way to stay the whole game. Spending two hours sitting in sprinkling rain and seeing two sub-.500 teams play three ugly innings (highlighted by a grand slam, at least) is not exactly how I was hoping to remember my visit. Still, it's a fantastic park, and I can see how it inspired a movement.

Miller Park: This is the stadium I've been to the most, by a mile. It may not be Safeco or Pac Bell, but I love going to it every week. It's a nice park. The seats are comfy and affordable and give you a good view of the action. When the roof and windows are open, it's super comfortable with a nice breeze coming through. The roof is unique, in that it closes like a fan instead of being pulled across like in Seattle and Houston. Because of this, the roof is an omnipresent force, even on a crisp beautiful day. That may bother some people, but I don't mind it too much. What I like best about Miller Park is the openness of the stadium (with the concourses and all) and the crowd that shows up to every game. It's definitely a blue-collar town, and the crowd that shows up to every game reflects that. The tailgating, the carry-in food policy, the affordable ticket prices - it all adds up to a lot of normal, everyday people and their families enjoying a game. Couple that with a new stadium with very little problems, and it just makes for a great baseball experience, 81 games a year.

Wrigley Field: When I moved out Milwaukee in the summer of 2005, one of the first things I wanted to do was visit Wrigley Field. It's only 90 miles away, and it seemed criminal not to do that. That winter, I spent a couple of days in Chicago for work and, while I was down there, some friends and I went out to dinner in Wrigleyville. We got off the El and, lo and behold, there was Wrigley Field. It was fantastic. I knew we would be near the stadium, but I didn't expect to be across the street from it. I was floored. It was a cold November night, though, and the stadium was under construction, so I couldn't see much. Still, my appetite had been whetted. It was another full season before I was able to get back there and attend an actual game, though. The field is as beautiful as it looks on tv, and the atmosphere around the park is pretty cool. Street carnival-ish. I hope to go back a few more times to get a more comfortable feeling about the place. That said, I didn't get this "super-awesome" vibe from the park. Maybe it was the ushers who only let ticketed people close to the field, or maybe I should've tried to brave the drunken bleachers - I don't know. It was a very nice place to be, though. I'd still rank it behind Fenway.

US Cellular Field: I went to US Cellular Field last April, when I was in Chicago for a conference. It was a super cold and crappy night, and neither the Twins nor the White Sox really seemed like they wanted to be there. Still, the park was pretty nice - from what I saw of it, at least. See, when I got to the game, I had the decision to spend $30 on a field-level seat far from the plate or on an upper-deck seat right above home plate. Like I said before, I kind of like to sit up high as long as I'm behind the plate, so I went with the upper deck seat. What they don't tell you, and what you can't exactly figure out until you get inside the stadium, is that, if you have an upper level seat, then you're not allowed to go to the lower level to look around. I mean, not at all. Which is terrible, really, because the stadium seems to be built around a very nice and very walkable lower lever concourse that spans the entire circumference of the park. But, since my ticket was for the upper deck, I couldn't actually walk down there to find out. Terrible. I plan on visiting the stadium again this year, and you can be darn certain that I'm buying a lower level seat. Why would the Sox want to remove all that potential revenue? It's not like they have a big fancy gift shop or anything else like that up high. I just don't get it.

Yankee Stadium: I made my first visit to New York City last summer with my girlfriend so we could see the great Yankee Stadium before it was too late. We went on a Saturday afternoon in August and sat in the upper deck, above the third base line. It was a hot, hot day, and my program pretty much melted away as I kept it open to keep score. It was a fun time, and the people around us were nice. There were some definite New Yorkers there, and some definite out-of-towners. It was a good balance. As for the park itself, I wasn't really inspired. It's not all that attractive on the inside, and it was definitely cramped. The $70 I spent on beer and food didn't help, either. That's not to say I didn't have a good time or that I hated the place, though. I was actually pretty surprised at the openness of the park - I guess I was expecting security to stop me at every corner. In the end, I wasn't overly impressed with the stadium, but I sure am glad that I got to go to learn that for myself. If I had let the chance slip by, I probably would've regretted it for years.

Fenway Park: Once the Yankee game ended, we got ourselves out of NYC and took the bus on up to Boston. We had field level tickets to Fenway Park for the game the next day, and we weren't going to miss that. I had a blast at Fenway Park, though I feel a little ashamed of saying that: The Red Sox got trounced by the Blue Jays that day, and both Josh Beckett and JD Drew left the game due to injury. If the Sox were my team and Fenway was my stadium, I probably would be upset at the fan that I was that day. But I can't apologize too much. I went for the experience of Fenway Park and to enjoy myself at one of baseball's cathedrals, and I did just that. The people around us were very nice (all of whom were from the area, I believe), and I enjoyed walking around the park and onto Yawkey Way. I know this isn't unique to Fenway, but the feeling I got when I saw the sparkling green grass of rightfield as I walked through the hallway from the concourse to the seating bowl was fantastic. I'd seen that sight before, in Wrigley, but it was just perfect that day. I understand that Fenway has a lot of problems and quirks, and that I was probably lucky to be in a good section, but I still had a great time. My one complaint after the game was over, and I still think it's a very valid one, is that, if I were a Red Sox fan living in Boston, I wouldn't be able to go to games too often. And, as a baseball fan, that seems like a pretty big tease. It's definitely one reason to feel grateful for living in Milwaukee.


Well, that's it. I had toyed with the idea of including some brief reviews of a couple of minor league ballparks (the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies stadium is supernice), but this is already about 5 times longer than I expected, so I won't. I am going to visit Jacobs Field next month, and I'm rather excited about that. I've been admiring the Jake from afar for 12 years now. Hopefully, I'll add another ballpark to the list this year, but I'm afraid that might be it. I guess I'll just have to settle for the 20+ games that I already have tickets for. That's alright with me.

Guide Preview: Oakland Athletics

Continuing our look at the American League West, we come next to the Oakland A's. It's been a few years now since Michael Lewis' Moneyball was published, but it's still hard not to see them as anything but "the Moneyball team". The funny thing about that actually - and I'm not the first one to bring this up - is that the book wasn't actually about Billy Beane and his fascination with OBP. Instead, it was Beane recognizing the inefficiencies in the market, and exploiting them. Of course, now that everyone seems to know about the secrets of OBP, it's no longer a market inefficiency. It makes you wonder what exactly he's trying to exploit these days.

In the meantime, of course, the A's still have to play their games, and they didn't do a fantastic job of that last year, finishing 11-games under .500 and in third place. The A's have to be hoping that the moves they made this offseason and last will finally start to pay off.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Oakland Athletics
Last Year: 75 - 86, 3rd Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News2



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

It's been a fast-moving and exciting couple of years for the A's, as long as you look away from the won-loss record. Since making it to the ALCS versus Detroit back in 2006, the A's have traded away seven major big league contributors to get back 20 others. It's a process that many believed signaled a commitment to youth. The November trade for Matt Holliday really made people second-guess that assumption, though.
"Billy Beane loves his reputation as a maverick general manager. He always seems to be a year or two ahead of conventional methodology. 'Billy's very good at knowing when to buy and when to sell,' one major league executive said over the winter. 'And he's never afraid.' But will Beane's latest round of wheeling and dealing once again make Oakland a playoff contender? There are cynics who believe Beane may have gone too far, trading starting pitchers Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Rich Harden long before they were eligible for free agency. Outfielders Mark Kotsay and Nick Swisher (who had been signed to a five-year contract a year earlier) were also traded last offseason. It was all part of the team's latest round of cost-cutting. And it may take a couple of seasons to discover whether Beane's moves were beneficial or detrimental. Until then, it appears the A's will be mired in the second division of the American League West, which means watching the Los Angeles Angels win another title. (Athlon)"
The big news involving the A's this season revolves around their acquisition of Colorado slugger Matt Holliday. Holliday has been a mainstay of the Rockies' lineups for the past five seasons, and finished second in MVP voting in 2007. Critics of the deal say that Holliday is merely a product of Coors Field, and point to his home/away splits (such as his 1.068 home OPS and his .803 away OPS) as evidence. The A's are betting that he'll still be a valuable player playing half his games in Oakland - at least for the one season that they have control of him.
"The rep is that he's not good away from Coors Field, but with his approach, he should be able to continue to put up good numbers away from Colorado. He can hit wherever he plays. He has tremendous power to the middle of the field and right center, and good plate coverage - he just crushes mistakes, and he can hit pitchers' pitches, too. He's so strong and dangerous I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be very productive. I've seen him in big stadiums and he's gone off. But if he doesn't have any protection, pitchers will just pitch around him. That's going to be a bigger problem than the ballpark unless they can add another bat or avoid the kinds of injuries they've had recently... (TSN)"
The Holliday trade came, in part, as a result of the Dan Haren trade from last season. Two of the three players the A's sent over to Colorado for Holliday were part of the Haren trade, who was only the first Oakland pitcher to be shipped out for excess talent. Blanton and Harden soon followed. Clearly, Beane thinks his pitching staff will hold up to the rigors of a full season as-is. If he's wrong, Oakland has little chance to compete.
"Oakland's rotation accounted for 48 victories last year, after Joe Blanton and Rich Harden were traded away and Justin Duchscherer missed roughly two months with injuries. Young lefthanders Greg Smith (since traded) and Dana Eveland made big impacts after arriving from Arizona, finishing 1-2 on the staff in innings and combining for a 4.24 ERA. This year's rotation should include Duchscherer, Eveland and righthander Sean Gallagher, with the remaining spots to be decided among Dallas Braden, Josh Outman and Gio Gonzalez. The rotation could improve in a hurry: Top prospects Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, who project as top-end starters, should arrive soon. The bullpen is deep, even after Huston Street's departure in the Holliday trade. The A's have two possible closers, with righthanders Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine coming off sensational 2008 seasons. Ziegler opened his career with 39 scoreless innings, a modern record, while Devine's 0.59 ERA was even lower than Ziegler's 1.06. (Lindy's)"
Spotlight Quote

Lindy's offers some commentary on the A's management and their hopes for a new ballpark:
"In the near term, Oakland is the greatest threat to the Angels' recent dominance in the American League West. If enough of their young players emerge into bona fide big leaguers this year, the A's could return to contention right away. The acquisition of Matt Holliday looks like a one-year gamble, but it will be worthwhile if he carries the team with a reprise of his 2007 performance in Colorado (.340, 36 home runs, 137 RBIs). The A's may be criticized by some in the industry for their approach, but it's no accident that two AL West rivals recently hired Oakland coaches to manage their teams: Ron Washington in Texas and Don Wakamatsu in Seattle. But it appears that a new ballpark is the only way the A's will contend annually without rebooting the system each time the big league roster becomes expensive."

The A's finished in third place last year for the second consecutive year. It was the first time the A's have finished below second place in back-to-back years since 1997-98, Billy Beane's first two years as GM. It may be a calculated move by the A's, though: they did trade their best (healthy) pitcher before the start of last season for a number of not-necessarily-ready-for-the-majors players, making it's hard to believe that they were expecting to win the division right away. The trade of Rich Harden in July certainly didn't help them in the chase for the 2008 division crown.

But now they've added Matt Holliday in an offseason trade and signed a 38-year-old Jason Giambi, and they feel that they can compete. Considering the added offense that these guys bring, their young bullpen studs, the young pitching prospects in their system like Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, and the Angels' expected decline this season, Oakland probably does have a chance. I'm not sold on them, though. Even considering Anaheim's expected decline, I just don't think this new talent will be enough to bridge the gap. They are competing in a weak division, which is to their benefit, but, with the way the AL East looks these days, it seems that a division crown is the only way to the postseason. That will probably be tough.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guide Preview: Los Angeles Angels

It may be unbelievable, but we're now in the sixth and final week of the guide previews. For the past five weeks, we've gone through the entire National League and most of the American League. It's been rather fun. I've read the preview mags probably closer than I ever have before, and it's definitely helped me to know the league better than ever. I know the previews may have slowed down the other content on this blog a little bit, so I apologize for that. It takes a little while to put these together sometimes, and I can't always write 2 or 3 posts a night. I hope the guide previews and the other content that I was able to get up in the meantime were worth reading.

Anyhow, we're down to only one division to preview: the AL West. Other than the Angels, who have been playing at a high level for years now, it's been a pretty topsy-turvy division for a while now. But those Angels fans have to be happy. They won 100 games last year, and there's little reason to doubt that they won't win the division for the fifth time in six years this season, even without Mark Teixeira or Francisco Rodriguez. Now if only they can get past the first round.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Last Year: 100 - 62, 1st Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News11
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Angels ran away with their division last year, winning 100 games and beating the second-place Rangers by 21 games. The squad was led by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez. And even with that squad and with a double-digit lead in the division at the time, the team felt it was necessary to trade for Mark Teixeira at the deadline. It worked, in that they made it to the postseason, but they still weren't able to advance past the first round. K-Rod and Teix have since left for New York's greener pastures, but the Angels still feel pretty confident about their chances this year.
"Francisco Rodriguez set the all-time major league saves record last year while playing with the Angels, then left as a free agent to join the Mets. Worse, for an offense that struggled at times last year, first baseman Mark Teixeira accepted an enormous offer from the Yankees. Teixeira had been acquired last summer to beef up the Angels' lineup, and his departure left the team considering several other options.

With the Angels' terrific balance, however, they should be able to weather any defections. The team didn't lead the league in any specific categories, but was at the top or in the middle in most statistics, with decent hitting, excellent speed, strong pitching and better-than-average defense.

An even bigger plus for the Angels: They play in a relatively weak division, one in which the other three clubs have glaring deficiencies. Los Angeles' overall competence has resulted in four AL West titles in the last five seasons, and there's little reason to think the team can't repeat in 2009. (TSN)"
The club's biggest strength last year was its rotation, with the likes of Jon Garland, John Lackey, Ervin Santana and K-Rod. It was about as consistent of a rotation as you could ask for, and there's not much more that you can ask for in the major leagues.
"The Angels rotation accounted for 73 victories last year, the most in the majors. Of their five primary starters in 2008, all but one (Jon Garland) will return. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders made the All-Star team, and five starters finished with double-digit win totals. This year's fifth spot will likely belong to a young internal candidate, such as Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart or Anthony Ortega. Kelvim Escobar is expected to miss the first half while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum. The bullpen will have a different look, now that Francisco Rodriguez is a Met and Brian Fuentes has arrived to replace him. Fuentes saved 111 games for Colorado over the past four seasons. (Lindy's)"
Outside of the pitching staff, the outfield was the Angels' biggest strength last year. Torii Hunter fit in quite well in center, and Vlad Guerrero continued to put up solid, underappreciated numbers. But it's not the outfield that is getting the most buzz coming into the 2009 season - it's second baseman Howie Kendrick, who Athlon dubs the "Difference Maker".
"When a player bats .368, .363, .367, and .369 in four straight minor league seasons, as Howie Kendrick did from 2003-06, you get a pretty good sense he can hit. That remarkable consistency has yet to show up in the major leagues, but Kendrick was showing signs of being a stalwart before he re-injured his hamstring last August. If Kendrick, 25, improves on a .306 batting average and ups his extra-base hit total from 31, he could give a big bounce to an offense that has a lot of aging players whose numbers could be on the decline. Kendrick projects as a prototypical No. 2 hitter, and he could team with Chone Figgins to give the Angels excellent table-setters for Vladimir Guerrero and Co. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

Lindy's points out a couple of intriguing facts about the Angels that may excite fans of the other AL West teams:
"While they have won only one postseason series since their World Series championship in 2002 - and bowed out in the Division Series against the Red Sox for the third time in five years - the Angels have dominated their division as no other team has in recent years. They finished atop the American League West in four of the past five seasons, the most division crowns for any club over that span.
The organization's hallmark is a fertile farm system that has been used more often for promotions than trades. But it is notably weaker now, while the Athletics and Rangers now have two of the best farm systems in the game. Their young talent will start to emerge in the next couple of seasons, so the Angels will have to fight to stay on top."

First things first, I absolutely hate this "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" thing that they've had going for the past few years. I know the city took the team to court a few years back to get them to change it back but lost. I guess that since the "Anaheim" was technically in the name, no matter how lame it is, they weren't in violation of their deal with the city. If I were ShysterBall, I could probably write something thorough and thoughtful about the whole ordeal. Since I'm not, though, all I can say is that, while this whole "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" thing may not be against the letter of the deal, it definitely seems to be against the spirit of it. I wish those things could be reconciled a little more in the courts these days.

Okay, enough about that. I didn't really mean to say much about it except that I prefer to call them the Anaheim Angels (just like I still call it PacBell Park), but it seems fair to use the full name in this preview guide. As for how this season will go, I just can't see how the Angels can lose their hold on the division crown. They won 100 games last year and, though they lost single-season saves record-holder Francisco Rodriguez and half-of-a-season's worth of Mark Teixeira, they're still good for 90+ wins. There's just no other team in the division able to match that. After all, the Rangers were the runners-up last season with all of 79 wins. The division is the Angels to lose, and I don't think Mike Scioscia will let them lose it.