It’s been a while since I’ve had a real opportunity to blog, and since the 2006 season is in the books there’s less to say on a daily basis. Sure there’s news every day – in just the last week we have major award winners and major free-agent signings, there’s been a big trade in Yankeeland (Sheffield), Manny is back in play…
Well the real issue is having enough time to come up with a topic, think it through, do the required research, then bang out the entry. It takes more time than you might think, and with 2 young kids (including a baby) and a more-than-full-time job (here at MLB Advanced Media) I have less time available then I might like. Which leads to significantly reduced blogging.
I do plan to check in from time-to-time during the offseason as time allows, particularly if there’s a news item of interest. Unfortunately for any readers out there I can’t commit to a specific schedule, so you’ll just have to check back periodically. One thing I AM planning to blog about is the Winter Meetings, which this year are in Orlando from December 4-7. I’ll be there representing MLBAM and specifically http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com, and plan to share my thoughts on the meetings here sometime mid-December.
So enjoy your offseason and check back now and then if you’re still interested. And hopefully come the Spring I’ll be able to make the time to post regularly again. Thanks for reading!
Why the title of this post? What would lead me to say that baseball is a great game, when an 83-win team just won the World Series? There are a lot of folks decrying this development, but after thinking about it a while I think it shows how great a sport baseball really is.
First of all, the Cards’ series win shows just how evenly matched MLB clubs really are. The difference between the Cardinals record and that of the Tigers was 12 games, which seems like a huge amount until you realize that it amounts to about 1 extra win every 2 weeks of the season. Of course, the beauty of the long baseball season is that over the course of 6 months and 162 games you do get the separation across clubs. And there is certainly reason to celebrate winning 95 games, as the Tigers did this year.
But the other interesting thing that happens over a long season is that clubs change over time. The Cards team that won the World Series is very different from the one that started the season. I’m not a Cardinals expert by any means, but I do know that their closer, Jason Isringhausen, was injured late in the season, which forced Tony LaRussa to try some other arms out of the pen. Given Izzy’s ineffectiveness this year, it’s likely that using other pitchers in that situation made the Cards a better team. Likewise, over time players come and go with injury, but during the Series the Cards were basically healthy (Izzy aside). Further, St. Louis didn’t have Jeff Weaver at their disposal during most of the regular season, which based on his career record you would think would be a benefit. In the postseason, though, Weaver pitched brilliantly, making the Cards a better team than their regular season record would indicate.
On the other side of the ball you have the Tigers, who played with the full complement of players (basically) who posted a 95-win record, but had to contend with a long layoff and looked rusty and out of their groove in the Series. This was the team that we saw down the stretch in September, the one that lost the division title in the last week of the season as it stumbled to the finish line. It was not the team that steamrolled the Yankees and A’s en route to the World Series. For Detroit, it was a case of not playing well at the right time – over the course of 162 games they won 95, but they were supremely capable of losing 4 in any stretch of 7.
What I find interesting about this is that there really is no secret formula to winning the World Series in major league baseball. Being the best in the regular season means that your organization is best able to win over the long haul (which is why the Yankees won 97 games this year). Because rosters aren’t frozen at the beginning of the season, the challenge is not just assembling but managing the roster/lineup/pitching rotation/bullpen/bench every day over the course of the season. It means handling the inevitable injuries, wading through slumps, and doing whatever is possible to bring in the best players and get rid of the worst. The regular season is indicative of which organization is best equipped to handle these challenges, which is why money does present a significant advantage.
But the playing field levels in the playoffs. In a best of 7 (or especially a best of 5), you have to play with the roster you’ve assembled to that point, and you have to hope that your team plays the best baseball they can in that stretch. At that point, regular season records, both actual and Pythagorean, are pretty much out the window. You can’t really predict the outcome of such a series when the participants are by definition among the top teams in the league. Whoever plays the best in that set of games wins. Period. It’s actually quite maddening – if you’re a Tigers fan, you feel that yours was probably the better team in the World Series, but in this particular stretch of games they looked like the Devil Rays. If you’re a Yankee fan, you can see why the Steinbrenner Doctrine (not winning the World Series = failure) is self-defeating, as even the best-constructed team couldn’t possibly be assured of winning in a tournament.
But you have to try. And that’s what makes it a great sport and a great game: teams continually trying to figure out a way to assemble a team that can win in the regular season and the postseason. It gives you Billy Beane and Terry Ryan, Wayne Huizenga and George Steinbrenner, Ozzie Smith and Tony LaRussa, David Eckstein and Alex Rodriguez. We now fire up the hot stove and move into the offseason, and every team will look for strategies that will help them win a championship. The endless drive to figure it out will keep us talking and thinking about baseball even while there are no games being played. What better tribute to a sport?
I haven’t had much of an opportunity to blog lately, and frankly I’m pretty disinterested in the World Series so I don’t have much to say about baseball right now anyway. I have, however, accumulated a couple of short nuggets that I have time to pass along now…
It’s great to have Lou Piniella back at the helm of a major league club. No matter how bad the Cubs are next year, at least there will be something to read in the Chicago papers every day. Piniella has a pretty good track record as a manager, generally speaking, but you have to wonder about how suited he is to this specific situation. The Cubs are an absolute mess, and there’s no clear plan for the future. The best bet for that organization is to rebuild with and around youth, but that’s not really Lou’s strength; nor is it in his wheelhouse to handle a fragile pitching staff, which is about the most charitable description you can provide when talking about the Cubs. I have a feeling things will start ok, go south quickly, and end badly. This could be Lou’s last year as a manager; the broadcast booth should be looking really good after managing this Cub team for a year.
First of all, let’s stop with the "gate"s already. No more.
My personal belief regarding what happened with Mr. Rogers is that he was caught doing what a lot of pitchers do, particularly on cold/dry days, which is why no one (including the umpires) wanted to do anything overt about it. Perhaps he was stupid to allow his stick-em or pine tar or what have you to be so visible, particularly in the only nationally-televised game of the day; nevertheless, it seems that this is a case of one of the "unwritten rules" that live within the baseball fraternity coming to light. Seems like much ado about not much to me.
However…perhaps Kenny Rogers is crazy like a fox? Now that everyone is barking up the tree of doctoring baseballs, no one seems to be talking about the fact that a 41-year-old pitcher is suddenly throwing 95-96 miles an hour. Or that a formerly subdued/sedate/seemingly comatose strikezone nibbler is now an animated, fist-pumping aggressor. Do these things not seem strange to anyone? Certainly, baseball is a game where anyone can have a few horrible or great games in a row. Jerry Reuss was a good pitcher, but you couldn’t expect him to throw 23 consecutive shutout innings (he did, in the 1981 WS). Alex Rodriguez (there he is again) is one of the greatest hitters EVER, and he had a bad 4 games in the ALDS. Jeter went 5-for-5 in ALDS game 1, then disappeared in games 2-4. These things happen. And importantly, I don’t have anything resembling proof of wrongdoing by Kenny Rogers. But if we’re allowed to speculate as to whether Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard are using performance-enhancing drugs, can we not wonder about the source of Kenny Rogers’ fountain of youth???
The Yankees picked up Sheffield’s option for 2007, and of course this upsets him. It’s almost time to reveal my plan for the 2007 Yankees, now complicated by the fact that I expected the Yanks to let Sheff go (and was in favor of it). You have to play the cards you’re dealt, so I’ll deal with that one and other topics (pitching? ARod? Melky?) in the next post, hopefully this week.
With the Mets’ ejection from the 2006 playoffs, we now have even more evidence that the regular season and the postseason are two completely different things. The two participants in the World Series, the Cardinals and Tigers, were the two teams who played the WORST down the stretch in the regular season. St. Louis had the worst record of any playoff team, with only 83 wins. The two teams with the best records in the regular season (Mets and Yankees, both with 97 wins) are out. And the power (home runs) supplied by the Cardinals lineup came from not Pujols/Rolen/Edmonds/Encarnacion but from Eckstein/Molina/Suppan. This tells you why it is so incredibly difficult to predict the outcome of one specific game or series – small sample size. Over 162 games, the Mets were the better team; but in one specific series, at one specific time of year, under one specific set of conditions, the Cardinals were just a little better.
Another interesting fact from this year’s playoffs – the Mets (in the NLDS) were the only team with homefield advantage to win their series. The Yankees/Twins/Padres (in the Division Series) and both the A’s and Mets (in the LCS) lost. I’m not sure this proves anything, though it’s more evidence in favor of the point that, among the major sports, homefield advantage is weakest in baseball.
Reviewing my picks in the LCS, I was 1-for-2, as I had the Mets over the Cardinals (like everyone else outside of St. Louis) as well as the Tigers over the A’s. I’m now 2-for-6 in predicting series this year, which means you’d be better off with a coin flip. It won’t, however, stop me from posting a World Series prediction: Tigers in 5. As much as I’d like to go against the grain or point out various arguments posed by the experts and others that don’t hold water in my mind, it’s hard to go against the grain on this pick for one simple fact: the Tigers are the much better team. Detroit has much better starting pitching, a deeper and healthier lineup, and a significantly better bullpen. Defensively Detroit has the edge simply because the Cardinals are so banged up: Edmonds and Rolen look like they’re going to fall over any minute, and you could see the effect on Rolen when he chucked a ball into the stands last night. The only real concern for Detroit is the long layoff, but with their youth in the lineup it shouldn’t be a problem and the pitchers are used to long stretches between appearances, so this seems like a non-issue to me.
All that said, I go back to my original point in this post: it’s hard to predict the outcome of one specific series. Despite all the evidence that says Detroit is the better team (95 wins vs. 83?), anything could happen when you play the games. If the Cardinals keep getting strong performances from the likes of Weaver and Suppan to go with Carpenter, and their relief pitching continues to hold up, and they continue to get power from unlikely sources, they could wind up taking the Series. And hey – given that a game 7, if necessary, will be played in Detroit, maybe the Cards are actually at an advantage?
The rain in St. Louis has given back an off-day to the Mets, who sorely need it to rest their "pitching" "staff". Much is being made about Glavine getting an extra day, based on his age and his poor track record pitching on short rest in the playoffs – the Mets are favored largely due to this fact. The reality is, in terms of predictions, that in a single baseball game anything can happen, and that’s really the beauty of the game. Sure, Glavine might go out there and shut the Cardinals down, give the Mets 7-8 good innings and save further wear on the bullpen. He also might go out and throw a stinker, forcing Willie Randolph to pull him in the 2nd inning. Or maybe he gets hit by a line drive in the first inning and has to come out, or he pulls a hamstring running out a ground ball in his first at bat. What if these things happen? Does it mean the Mets will certainly lose the game and the series?
Of course it doesn’t. Maybe Heilman comes in from the pen and throws 6 shutout innings in long relief, allowing the Mets to get back in the game and win it. Maybe the Mets relief is just good enough to contain the ravaged Cardinals lineup, while the offense pummels the horrid St. Louis pitching. You really can’t predict what will happen in one game, which is why all that is being made of Glavine’s extra day is really no more than a way to fill newspaper space on a day with no game.
To take that one step further – does the winner of this series have a chance against Detroit? Detroit comes out of the bigger/badder American League, will be completely rested & healed, will be able to set up its pitching, and looks dominant. Again, of course the NL team has a chance. It’s harder to win a 7-game series than 1 game, but the games are played one at a time, and you never know what will happen. I personally believe at this point that the Tigers will win it all, but to say that the Mets/Cards have no chance in the World Series is preposterous. Detroit could suddenly fall apart – remember their sweep at the hands of Kansas City at the end of the regular season, where they gave up 2 leads of 5+ runs and lost the division title? If Zumaya is too injured to go, it alters the handling of the starting pitching and the rest of the bullpen, and puts some extra pressure on the starters. That in turn puts some more pressure on the hitters, who might start gripping the bat a little tighter and pressing a little more. Who knows?
I realize this type of conjecture doesn’t make for the most interesting reading. It’s much more interesting to make picks and lay out the reasoning for them, particularly if one’s statements are controversial or mean-spirited. There’s a place for that; in fact, it’s right on the front page of the newspaper and every sport website. I guess I was feeling in the mood to go the other way today, and talk about what everyone else is NOT talking about, namely that in the NLCS there are 2 depleted teams not playing their best baseball, anything can happen, and anyone can win.
Checking in on my LCS picks:
American League – Detroit in 6
This one is looking pretty good. In fact Detroit may sweep this one as they’re up 2-0 and playing much better baseball. It’s starting to look like the fomula is wildcard team + feisty manager + young power arms + power hitters = postseason success. They are very similar to last year’s White Sox in those ways. Also the weather at this point won’t help the West Coast A’s (sleet? at a baseball game?).
National League – Mets in 5
With the rainout leading to 5 straight games with no off day, I’m tempted to say this one isn’t looking that good. Of course Glavine gave a great effort yesterday, so the Mets are up 1-0 and haven’t had to deplete the bullpen yet. This pick looks pretty good at this point as well.
World Series – too close to call
Still too close. Even if you assume Tigers-Mets, it’s hard to pick at this point. There will be issues with the weather, pitching, how the teams get through the LCS’s, etc. Right now, though, Detroit looks like the team of destiny.
Who could possibly be interested in my predictions for the LCS-es and World Series at this point? I wouldn’t even bother, except my track record for the LDS-es was no worse than that of most of the "experts" out there:
- Yankees-Tigers: I picked the Yankees, Tigers won (0-1)
- A’s-Twins: I picked the Twins, the A’s won (0-2)
- Mets-Dodgers: I picked the Mets, and they beat LA (1-2)
- Cards-Padres: I picked the Padres (to advance to the WS no less) and the Cards won (1-3)
I think I was with most of the major experts/analysts out there, and we went a collective 1-3. Not good…but it underscores that the postseason, in the immortal words of Billy Beane, are "a crapshoot." In a short series, one team can get hot and play with confidence, another team can press and look terrible, and next thing you know you have an upset (see Detroit over Yankees, A’s over Twins).
Despite these lousy prognostications, here are my going-forward picks, for the record:
ALCS – Detroit in 6
IF Detroit plays with the same aggressiveness, focus and intensity with which it played the Yankees, and with which they played during the season, I think they prevail. They have more balance in the pitching staff and the lineup, and as the wildcard they are taking on the "team of destiny" aura. Of course, I picked the A’s to win it all in the preseason, so it would certainly make me look smart to see them go to the World Series. And it’s certainly possible the Tigers will have a letdown after their big win over the Yankees. Still, after game 2 of the LDS, I’m a believer in Detroit’s pitching, which I think will take them to the World Series.
NLCS – Mets in 5
Willie Randolph has done a tremendous job fashioning 9 innings per game out of his ragtag pitching staff. I can’t tell you how great it is to see a guy I’ve rooted for throughout his playing and coaching career flourish in his first shot as a manager. Couldn’t happen to a better guy. Of course, he walked into a situation created by Omar Minaya, who has done a terrific job of assembling a talented, deep roster, even if he might wish he still had Mr. Anna Benson around to pitch game 4. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals have come about as far as they can, I think – Carpenter can only pitch 2 games in this series, and after him their pitching is too weak to handle the best lineup in the NL (and maybe in all of baseball). The Cards might steal a game, particularly one of Carpenter’s starts, but I think the Mets dominate and go to the World Series.
World Series – too close to call!
I’ll make a World Series prediction after the LCS-es are over. There doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to pick who would win a Mets-Tigers matchup, as a) it might not happen, and b) if it did, it’s too close too call at this point. Gun to my head, I’d say Detroit is the team this year, and they go all the way…but you’ve seen how my picks usually turn out…