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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Hits and Misses in Major League Baseball

Baseball's regular season is over, and here are some thoughts about the 2004 season that I've put together over the past couple of days:

HIT: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Marines, for breaking the record for hits in a season with 262, 5 more than George Sisler had for the St. Louis Browns in 1920. Ichiro handled the chase with class and grace, which is more than you can say for certain sportswriters who dissed him because either they're unfamiliar with his play, they don't like singles hitters, he doesn't play in NYC or he isn't Barry Bonds.

MISS: The Oakland A's heralded pitching staff, and the trio of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito no longer strikes fear in the hearts of American League hitters. I harken back to an SI article during the beginning of the decline of Fernando Valenzuela, who had been such a wunderkind when he came to the Majors, about how too many throws before a pitcher hits 25 can really cut down on a career. Evidence pro: Doc Gooden, who peaked very young and was done by his early 30's. More evidence: crafty lefties who peak late and therefore don't get over-used before they're 25.

HIT: David Newhan, Baltimore Orioles. The 31 year-old journeyman always was on the cusp of making the Majors, but never quite got there. Some wondered whether he drew more attention because his father, Ross, is an acclaimed sportwriter in L.A. (who, I believe, is in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame). Well, Newhan played great for an up-and-coming Orioles' team this year, hitting .311 in 373 ABs. Just goes to show you that patience pays off.

MISS: The Philadelphia Phillies, on many fronts. First, don't let that 86-76 record fool you. The Phillies got hot and put a string together after they were all but out of the NL Wild Card hunt. As Jim Fregosi, their one-time manager, said, "You can't pay too much attention to what happens in September [when the team is out of the race]." Double miss for the Phillies' mentioning that Jim Fregosi was in the pool of people they are considering to replace Larry Bowa as manager. They should keep that chapter closed.

HIT: John Gibbons, Manager, Toronto Blue Jays. No more "interim" tag for this former Major League catcher whose playing career never took off. I don't recall the year, but it was at some point in the mid-80's, prior to when Gary Carter joined the Mets, when Gibbons was scheduled to be the Mets' starting catcher. Well, the Phillies' Ozzie Virgil, Jr. collided with him in a spring training game, breaking Gibbons' cheek, putting him on the shelf, and his career fizzled. An acquaintance who played minor-league ball with Gibbons said way back when that he'd make a great manager, and he did well in his trial after the Jays fired Carlos Tosca. Now he'll show what he can do in a full season.

MISS: Kevin Brown, New York Yankees. For the umpteen millions he gets a year, and for his chemical engineering degree from Georgia Tech, he still hasn't figured out a way to master the pre-school problem of acting out a temper tantrum. There's summa cum laude, and then there's summa cum living. Brown might have the engineering degree, but players like Yogi Berra have the ball yard smarts. If the Yankees win in the post-season, it will be despite Kevin Brown, not because of him.

HIT: Mark Shapiro, Cleveland Indians. He grew up in the GM's office in Cleveland as the protege to John Hart, the GM who build the great Indians' teams of the 1990's. He acceded to the GM's job after Hart departed for Texas and after most of the big names in Cleveland were dealt. The result: Shapiro made some good deals in the past couple of years, and the Indians show promise of taking their game to the next level next season.

MISS: Milton Bradley, Los Angeles Dodgers. Throws a tantrum in Cleveland in pre-season, gets traded to Dodgers before season starts. Confronts fans in L.A. after Frank Francisco threw a chair into the stands in Oakland and throws a water bottle into the stands. One week later, he calls the L.A. Times reporter asking him questions an Uncle Tom, this after agreeing to attend anger management sessions. Multi-million dollar talent, ten-cent head.

HIT: Chris Young, Texas Rangers. It's hard to be a two-sport star in college, with the potential for pro careers in both (just ask Mark Hendrickson, pitcher for the Devil Rays who played for a few NBA teams for a while). Well, Young left Princeton's hoops program after two years of being a first-team all-Ivy player (he remained to graduate) and opted for a career in pro baseball. Going into the off-season, he was a 25 year-old prospect who was in his third organization, having been dealt by Pittsburgh (for Matt Herges, whom they cut almost immediately) and then by Montreal (earlier this season). The result: Young added a few miles per hour on his fastball, pitched well enough to get to AAA, and then held up reasonably well under pressure during the Rangers' drive for the AL Wild Card spot. Look for him to lock up a spot in the Rangers' rotation in spring training.

MISS: Adam Dunn, Cincinnati Reds, literally. Dunn whiffed 195 times this season, breaking Bobby Bonds' record of 189. The good news: he hit 46 HRs, knocked in over 100 runs, walked over 100 times and had an on-base percentage of .388. Great moneyball player, also good if you're sitting near home plate on a muggy day in August in Cincinnati and need a good breeze every now and then.

HIT: Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles. He was a big free-agent signing, and the fourth SS in the conversation about which of Jeter, Garciaparra and A-Rod was the best SS in the AL. Hint, this guy in the NL is pretty good too, and he and Tejada get props for having at it every day and not getting nearly the recognition they deserve. Who you rather have had this year: Tejada or Jeter? Jeter or Renteria? You decide. (There are those who love Jeter and who think that his intangibles are as valuable as his numbers, and there are those who stress the numbers). One year does not a career make, but no matter how you look at it, Tejada had one great year.

MISS: Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox. It says here that the once very formidable player with the still very good batting eye but a tendency for spending too much time on the DL still needs to string together some good seasons to lock up his position in the Hall of Fame. And, while he's at it doing that, perhaps help his team to some post-season glory.

HIT: Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks. Who knows what really went on before the trading deadline? Was the Big Unit too stubborn in insisting he'd only go to the Yankees? Would he have made the difference in Anaheim, at least in the post-season? Why did he stay with what proved to be the worst team in the NL in over 10 years? All are interesting questions, but, perhaps, the most interesting one is whether he'll win the NL Cy Young Award with a 16-14 record for a plum awful team, 44 walks to 290 strikeouts, among other amazing stats? It says here that he should, with all due respect to Roger Clemens. Put the Big Unit on the Astros or Cardinals, and he might have won 30 games.

MISS: The Chicago Cubs, generally, and Sammy Sosa, specifically. The Cubs were built for Fenway and then traded for Nomar Garciaparra before the trading deadline, giving them a Murderers' Row of bashers in Sosa, Moises Alou, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Garciaparra, and they still couldn't get it done. True, they had major injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior during the year, but their collapse during the final week of the season rivals the 1964 Phillies' meltdown (although the Fizz Kids were up 6 with 12 to go and managed to finish tied for second). The Cubs have fined Sosa, and true to the American way, he's filing a grievance about it.

HIT: John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox, Leo Mazzone and everyone else who helps make the Atlanta Braves tick. Left for dead as wounded roadkill in the off-season, having lost Javy Lopez, Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield after having lost Tommy Glavine the years before, the Braves cobbled together another very solid team and are now 1-1 in the ALDS, winning tonight in dramatic fashion on a home run by Rafael Furcal in the bottom of the 11th. A funny thing happened on the way to the post-season appearances of the Phillies and the Marlins -- no one told the Braves that they were supposed to vacate first place.

MISS: The Colorado Rockies, for generally being a mess. True, Vinny Castilla, ready for baseball's version of the AARP but showing all the pluck of Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference, won the RBI title, but they don't have enough pitching or enough, well, enough (akin to what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, "there's no there there." Todd Helton's stats probably would translate elsewhere, and perhaps Joe Kennedy's would too, but the Rockies seem doomed to have a Cubs- and Red Sox-like existence, read: even when you're really good, teams that are built for power will run into a better-rounded team that won't strike out as much, won't hit into as many double plays, and won't have to rely on the home run as much. But it's been a long time since the Rockies were that good.

HIT: The nice tributes that the late John Cerutti, former Blue Jays' pitcher and broadcaster, who died last week, has received. Click here to read fans' tributes and here to read tributes of friends. John Cerutti was 44.

MISS: Roberto Alomar, Diamondbacks. In the same way his team's season figuratively fell off the table, so has Alomar's career. He's probably still a Hall of Famer, but he might have to rely on the Veterans' Committee, since many baseball writers probably cannot remember when he was the best at his position.

HIT: Cesar Izturis, Los Angeles Dodgers. Baseball Prospectus had dissed him as the worst offensive player in the game (or close to it), while all scouts loved his defense and those who held out hope for his promise likened him to Omar Vizquel. The bottom line is that Izturis hit .288 this season with a .330 on-base percentage. That offense, along with his fielding, shows that Izturis has the grit to stay in the majors for a long time.

MISS: Kansas City Royals. See the Colorado Rockies, above. This is a franchise that is going nowhere, fast, and trading away one of the most exciting players in the game in Carlos Beltran sends a message to K.C. fans that the Royals are quickly becoming what the A's were in the 1950's -- a farm team for other Major League Clubs.

HIT: The Detroit Tigers, for bringing back manager Alan Trammell for next season. The debacle that was the 2003 season wasn't Trammell's fault, and the Tigers showed significant improvement this season. And, while we're talking about Trammell, let's rekindle his Hall of Fame campaign. He was a preeminent SS during his long career in Detroit, and the Hall of Fame voters should remember that he was a force on the field for a long time.

MISS: New York Mets. No one expected them to be that good this year, but the way that they weren't "that good" bothered a lot of people. Kaz Matsui can't field, and, as one wag put it in an NY daily paper, they have the wrong Delgado (Wilson instead of Carlos), the wrong Zambrano (Victor instead of Carlos) and the wrong Matsui (they don't have Hideki).

HIT: Carl Pavano, Florida Marlins. I saw Pavano pitch AA for the BoSox years ago, and he always seemed to have a line of 9 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7K. He had that type of year this year, finally having overcome the injuries that had plagued him early on. He's a free agent now, but he likes the Marlins and has said that he hopes to re-sign with them. He will. For the big bucks.

MISS: The owners of the Major League baseball teams, for re-upping Bud Selig through 2009. No one will confuse Selig with Paul Tagliabue or David Stern, but at least he's doing more for professional baseball right now than Gary Bettman has done for professional hockey.

HIT: Ben Sheets, Brewers. Up until last year, Sheets had promise. This year, he showed that he has something more -- a chance to be among the NL's elite starters for a long time. Tom Verducci in SI has him in the top 3 in Cy Young voting for the NL, but with a 12-14 record he doesn't have the status of the Big Unit to pull it off. And Roger Clemens (who deserves a "HIT" of his own, as we all should return from "retirement" the same way he did!) and Carl Pavano also will get more votes.

And, for what it's worth:

1. NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson.
2. NL MVP: Adrian Beltre (sorry, Barry, but your team didn't make the playoffs).
3. AL Cy Young: Johan Santana.
4. AL MVP: Mariano Rivera (I agree with Peter Gammons, although Vladimir Guerrero is an excellent choice).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hits and Misses on SportsProf's hits and misses:

Hit: Ichiro -- good for you for taking up the cause of this unique player.

Miss: Adam Dunn -- only in that you classified him as a miss.

Hit: Alan Trammell for the Hall of Fame -- the best all-around SS of the 80's (sorry Cal), though I am biased in Alan's case.

Miss: Mets -- you forgot that they also have the wrong Shea (the stadium rather than Hillenbrand).


9:30 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

Denying Bonds the MVP because his teammates aren't that good is a big mistake. He had a historic season, and the Giants didn't miss the postseason because of him, they missed it in spite of one of the most dominant offensive performances in the history of the game. Put him on the Dodgers and Beltre on the Giants, and that last series with LA wouldn't have meant much to either team.

3:34 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

As for TIGOBLUE's, I made my comment about Adam Dunn somewhat in jest. He did set the whiff mark, prompting him to say that at least he beat a Bonds in something. I am in the camp that he's a good player.

As for Andy, it's hard to argue with you. I suppose I made the choice because Beltre's team made the playoffs and Bonds' didn't. That said, you're right, without Bonds, the Giants are more like the Diamondbacks than they are the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see how the sportswriters vote this year. I know they voted already, but if they waited to vote until after the interview in this weeks SI with Gary Sheffield, they might have put him third or fourth. No question, he had a great year.

7:13 PM  
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