erik lundegaard

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Tuesday January 13, 2009

Hall of Fame Links

A batch of fun articles on ESPN.com yesterday about Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by (lest we forget) the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). How great that the most prestigious awards in our national pastime — Hall of Fame, MVP, Cy Young — are doled out by observers rather than participants? Image, for example, the most prestigious film award being that scroll from the National Society of Film Critics.

How good was Rickey? He was, according to Tim Kurkjian’s article, “too good.” Kurkjian gives us the stats but this is the one I like: The career stolen-base gap between Henderson in first place (1,406) and Lou Brock in second (938) is 468 — which is more than the entire total for the active leader, Juan Pierre (429).

Great quotes from pitchers, too. Here’s Mike Flanagan:

“He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen. If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great.”
Tom Candiotti is less diplomatic:
“I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can.”
Rob Neyer returns to that career stolen-base record and argues why no one will ever break it. He keeps drilling down. Active leader Juan Pierre is 31 percent of the way to Rickey’s record but he’s also 31 years old. Next on the list is Omar Vizquel, who’s 41. Among young speedsters, Jose Reyes, is 25 with 290 steals. During the last four years he’s averaged 65 steals per season, and to catch Henderson, Neyer writes, “all Reyes has to do is continue stealing 65 bases per season … for another 17 seasons.” Last season Reyes stole 56 bases so he’s already off the mark. So Neyer creates a fictional speedster and tells us what he’ll have to do. He’ll have to arrive in the majors early, steal a lot early, last 20 seasons, and average 70 steals per season for those 20 seasons. The catch? “In the first nine seasons of this new century, only two players — Reyes and Scott Podsednik — have managed to steal 70 bases in even one season.”

Finally, it’s worthwhile to check out Neyer’s arguments against Jim Rice and for Tim Raines, not because I necessarily agree — I haven’t crunched the numbers — but as a reminder of how difficult it is to measure quality. Few industries are as meritocratic as baseball. Entire professions — scouts and coaches — have been created to judge and aid excellence in baseball. Then there are the numbers players leave behind. We know their quality by their quantity: 1,406; 755; 511; .366. And yet we still have these arguments. Most industries don’t nurture talent so systematically, and there are no numbers. We’re forced to rely on other means. These means. Imagine baseball with no scouts and no stats and you have some idea how the rest of the world is working.

Badly.

Posted at 08:42 AM on Jan 13, 2009 in category Baseball
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Monday 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.

Posted at 04:18 PM on Nov 17, 2008 in category Baseball
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Tuesday October 28, 2008

An Open Letter to Bud Selig

Dear Bud:

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.

Best,

Erik
Posted at 02:26 PM on Oct 28, 2008 in category Baseball
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Sunday October 26, 2008

Jamie Moyer: Class Act

A shout-out to Jamie Moyer, 46 years old next month, whom so many people, including myself, have underestimated. He was thought to be washed up in the early 1990s — some suggested a coaching position for him back then — and now it’s 15 years later and he just started Game 3 of the World Series. Probably would’ve won the thing, too, if not for a bum call on a great play. In the top of the 7th, Carl Crawford dribbled a ball down the first base line that Moyer reached for, gloved, and, as he dove, tossed, with his gloved hand, into the bare hand of first baseman Ryan Howard, barely beating Crawford to the bag. Beautiful bang-bang play. But the ump called him safe. A subsequent double meant second and third with nobody out rather than a man on second and one out. Big difference. Both of those Rays’ runs scored — the second after Moyer left to an ovation from the normally boo-happy Philly crowd — and, an inning later, after B.J’s Upton showed what speed can do (infield base hit, stealing second, stealing third and scoring when the throw bounced off his foot) the game was tied and Moyer was no longer the pitcher of record. Still, and even though I’m rooting for the Rays, I’m glad the Phillies went on to win the thing in the bottom of the 9th. That “W” is yours, Jamie. Hope to see you on that stage again soon. Game 7 maybe?

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.
Posted at 10:20 AM on Oct 26, 2008 in category Baseball
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Monday October 20, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays: Champions of the American League

A quick shout-out to all the Tampa Bay Rays fans out there — particularly those who’ve been following the team, and its many futilities, for years. More than owner Stuart Sternberg (who didn’t own the team until 2004), general manager Andrew Friedman (who didn’t GM it until 2005) or even the players (who did the heavy lifting, but whose senior member, Carl Crawford, has been with the club all of six years), this pennant’s for you. You supported a crappy club. You went to a crappy stadium when there was no hope. You cheered on a team that was last place in its division every year but one of its existence, that never had a record above .500, that never fielded a superstar. Seriously, drink up.

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.
Posted at 05:01 PM on Oct 20, 2008 in category Baseball
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