Baseball postsMonday November 17, 2008
All Hail King Albert!
So Albert Pujols of the fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals was voted the National League MVP today by the BBWAA. I'm a fan of not limiting the MVP to players whose teams made, or nearly made, the post-season, so I was a fan of the decision in that regard. Pujols' main competition, Ryan Howard of the eventual World Series-champion Phillies, came in second with 308 points. Pujols had 369. Close but not that close.
Rob Neyer has a piece suggesting other worthy candidates, including Lance Berkman, and I went to the stats to see what I could see.
First. The main argument for Howard is the gross numbers. He led the majors in HRs (48) and RBIs (146) but struck out a lot (199 times). The main argument for Pujols is the percentage numbers: .357 BA, .462 OBP, .653 SLG for a 1.114 OPS. Best in the majors. He also hit 37 HRs and drove in 116. Howard's percentages aren't lousy (.251, .339, .543 for a .881 OBP) but not MVP-calibre. Put it this way: Pujols' BA was higher than Howards' OBP. By nearly 20 points.
That's one thing I saw. Here's another thing, and this wowed me. I sorted by HRs, with Howard on top, and I was glancing to see what other homerun hitters struck out a lot: Howard (199), then Adam Dunn (164), then Carlos Delgado (124)... The next number stopped me cold: 54. Only 54 strikeouts for a homerun hitter? I looked over. Pujols. I looked down. None of the top 15 NL homerun hitters struck out fewer than 100 times. None. And Pujols struck out only 54. Plus he walked 104 times.
Pujols is 2nd in the NL in walks and tied for 116th in strikeouts.
Howard is tied for 13th in walks but 2nd in strikeouts.
Berkman? Fourth in walks (99) and 38th in strikeouts (108).
I know. Walks/strikeouts. Who cares? But it is indicative of who's the dangerous hitter, and Pujols' ratios are like Ted Williams' ratios. It's rare to find anyone in the majors these days, let alone a slugger, who strikes out fewer times than they walk. And a ratio of almost 2-to-1? For a slugger? Wow.
This isn't the argument why Pujols deserved the MVP. Just interesting.
An Open Letter to Bud Selig
My friend Jim came over to watch Game 5 of the World Series last night. We were both hoping for a Rays’ win. We were both hoping for at least six games. We haven’t seen that in a while.
The game started at 5:30 p.m. for us, 8:30 p.m. on the east coast, standard fare under your watch. Bad enough the 162-game schedule and three tiers of post-season play have pushed the most important games of the year into late October, when cold weather becomes more and more of a factor; but, for the sake of TV revenue, which is to say MLB revenue, you make them play at night, when there’s no hope an autumn sun will warm things up a bit. Hell, because of Saturday night’s rain delay, you made them play into the darkest part of the morning. The nine-inning game ended at 1:47 a.m. No wonder you got your lowest ratings ever. You warp the game to get it into prime time and then Mother Nature pushes you into a timeslot reserved for infomercials for the lonely and pathetic. Nice irony.
Jim and I talked about this last night. We talked about the weather — even before the rains came. Gametime temps were in the low 40s, and there was a fierce wind blowing in from left field, and I said, for the thousandth time: “This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun. It’s not fun to watch guys freezing their asses off in the most important games of the year.”
Then the heavens opened up. In the regular season the game would’ve been called, or postponed, by the 5th inning if not sooner. But these guys, playing the most important game of the year, were forced to keep playing. You could see them wondering about it. Looking up, shaking their heads, getting drenched. It was a joke.
The Fox broadcasters seemed oblivious, or muzzled, for a time. While Jim and I were yelling at the TV set, they blathered on about everything but the need to suspend the game.
When they did talk about it, they, or at least Joe Buck, implied that the power to call or suspend a game belonged to the umps during the regular season but to someone else during the World Series. Is that right? Does it belong to you, Bud? If so, what took you so long? Why did you wait for the infield to become a swamp? Did B.J. Upton really need to tie the game, as many have implied, before you acted? And if he hadn’t, would you have kept playing? In that cold swamp? It seems unimaginable.
You want to know what else Jim and I were talking about before the rains came? How long it’s been since we’ve seen a decent World Series. Sweeps in three of the last four years, no sixth game since ’03, no seventh game since ’02.
If this Series doesn’t go to Game 7, that’ll be a record. Since the Series became a best-of-seven affair in 1922, the longest Game 7-drought has been five years, 1935 through 1939, and we’ve already tied that.
We’ve already had four years without a Game 6. That’s a record. The previous record was three years, set several times.
In a way, we’re spoiled. In the 21 years from 1955 through 1975, the World Series went to seven games 14 times. Glory years: Amoros’ catch, Mazeroski’s homer, Gibson and Brock, Fisk waving the ball fair, “Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher!”
In the last 20 years? We’ve watched a Game 7 only four times: ’91, ’97, ’01 and ’02.
In the last 10 years, we’ve watched five sweeps.
I know. This is beyond your control, beyond anyone’s control. But it seems indicative that something is wrong with the game.
Baseball is a sport where, during the regular season, the worst team wins and the best team loses a third of their games. For the World Series that would mean, in general, a Game 6. October happenstance occasionally takes you to Game 7. So where is it? Why aren’t we getting it? At all?
Is it the extra tier of playoffs? Are teams getting too many off-days? Is the problem playing until late October, and often past midnight, in weather conditions meant for football?
Is this fun?
In the past I always thought it out-of-the-question to ask you guys to give up short-term revenue to think of the long-term interests (and revenue) of the game, but that’s what I’m doing now.
Start off, yes, by taking us back to a 154-game schedule. Then end the season sooner. The last week of September should be the first week of the post-season. The Series should be over by October 20, not beginning on October 22. Late October turns nasty. By scheduling the most important (and potentially, the most-watched) games of the year during this stretch, you’re just inviting the disasters of Monday night.
Then, at some point, whenever you work out your next contract with the next network to cover the post-season, schedule some World Series games during the day. Let’s see the boys of summer play in the sun. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe a day game will be postponed right into prime time on the east coast. Maybe some kids will be able to watch it. Maybe they’ll become fans. Nothing’s impossible.
Do this soon. Please.
Next season, I see, you have Game 7 (if we ever make it there again) scheduled for late night on Nov. 5. November!
This isn’t baseball. This isn’t fun.
Jamie Moyer: Class Act
Game 3 was an exciting one but, because of the late start required by Fox, plus those longer half-inning breaks required by Fox so they can squeeze in an extra commercial or three, not to mention the hour-and-a-half rain delay, the game didn’t end in Philly until 1:47 a.m. Brutal. That’s not baseball. At least it wasn’t too cold there. In the ALCS, a friend of mine, who didn’t care between BoSox and Rays, rooted for stadiums, and thus chose classic Fenway over the Tampa Dome. But the Dome, in Florida, is merely an extra reason (as if I needed it) to root for the Rays. I’m tired of watching the best players in baseball play the most important games of the season past midnight in 40-degree weather. I mean, seriously. Get your head out of your ass, Bud. Fix this.
I know: Lotsa luck. It’ll be even worse next year. Game 7 is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2009, which means “The Simpsons” Halloween special will probably air on Nov. 8. Another tradition effed up because of the demands of the marketplace.
Moyer, by the way, as he always does, tipped his cap to the ump after he left the mound in the 7th, saying, “Nice job.” Class act. Someone to emulate.
Tampa Bay Rays: Champions of the American League
I’ve been rooting for the Rays all year, certainly more than I have for the Mariners, and only slightly less than I have for the Twins. Didn’t know how much I cared for the Rays until the collapse in Game 5, the finger pulling in Game 6, the twisting into pretzels in the 8th inning of Game 7.
I think I was rooting for the Rays not merely because they were the underdog of underdogs but out of some measure of schadenfreude as well. The freude I felt wasn’t so much for the schaden done to the Red Sox (whom I like), or even the Yankees (whom, everyone knows, I despise) but to the Mariners, who were once my team but whose front office effed things up beyond measure throughout the ‘90s and into this decade, until the M’s, who were the Rays of the ‘80s, are now the Rays once again: the worst team in baseball.
But how does the Rays’ success hurt the Mariners? The subhed here says it all. Now that the Rays are World Series-bound, the three teams who have never won a pennant are the Senators/Rangers, founded in 1961; the Expos/Nationals, founded in 1969; and your Seattle Mariners, founded in 1977. And the Mariners are the most embarrassing of the bunch.
Why most embarrassing? After all, haven’t the M’s been around the least amount of time? And haven’t they done the best of the three? Going to the ALCS three times? Fielding future Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson? As well as superstars like Edgar Martinez (who should go to the Hall), Jay Buhner and Jamie Moyer?
And that’s the very reason the Mariners should be most embarrassed. This team should’ve gone to the Fall Classic at least once. Hell, they should’ve owned the damned thing. Because every one of those players mentioned above was on the team at the same time. Future baseball historians are going to look back at the mid-to-late ‘90s Mariners, at the talent stuffing that team, and at how little they accomplished, and go: WTF?
Every team gets a shot. The Mariners had two: the Griffey-led team in the ‘90s, and the Ichiro-led team in the early ‘00s. Neither took. Now look. The M’s are in a hole it’ll take years of smart moves to dig out of; and I don’t know that they have the guys to make those smart moves. I think, despite all the firings, they have the opposite.
Enough of that. Here’s to a team that did the most with its shot. And here’s to seven games.
People who know me also know I hate me some Derek Jeter, or at least wish him season-ending injury (“hate” is such a strong word), which is why my friend Adam forwarded this article about a Sports Illustrated survey of 495 Major League Baseball players who basically agree with me. In the survey, Jeter got 10% of the votes for “Most Overrated.” He wins again. Cue FOX Sports shot of Jeter jumping up and down as he runs for the hogpile on the pitcher's mound — but this time alone.
But then I read the rest of the survey and just shook my head. Barry Zito was second at 9%. Overrated? The dude's barely rated. He might have gotten a lot of press and money in the past, but these days he's hanging onto the game by his fingernails. Worse was one of the players tied for third: Alex Rodriguez. Now I don't agree with Jason Giambi who thinks that when Alex retires he'll be known as the greatest player ever to play the game, but he'll certainly be ONE of the greatest players ever to play the game. The guy's about to turn 33. He already has: 532 homeruns, 411 doubles, 2316 hits. He's got 1540 runs scored, 1544 runs driven in. Lifetime AVG/OBP/SLG: .307/.390/.580. Not quite part of Bill James' exclusive .300/.400/.500 club, but nearly. Overrated? I've had my nasty run-ins with A-Rod in the past, but that doesn't make the dude overrated.
BTW: My irrational hatred of Derek Jeter, and my daily prayer that he suffers a season-ending injury, or better, strikes out with the bases loaded (again and again and again... and again and again and again), doesn't mean I don't recognize his value. He's a good, possibly great ballplayer: .316/.387/.460. A candidate for 3,000 hits. He's just not as good/great as everyone thinks. Don't even get me started on his defense.