Saturday, August 16, 2003

One of the nicest stories in MLB this year is Rod Beck. Beck is remembered as "Gasoline Beck" by Red Sox fans in 2001 because they weren't aware that he was pitching with a blown out elbow. All they saw were six saves and five blown saves.

After the 2001 season, Beck had Tommy John surgery and missed the 2002 season. Since Beck is right-handed and since he was 34, he didn't receive a major league offer for 2003. But Beck knew he could still pitch and ended up in Iowa, pitching for their minor league team as he lived in a motor home behind centerfield. For a terrific article on Beck's minor league start to this season, please go to:

When the Padres lost Trevor Hoffman for the season, they tried a couple of different options and none panned out. Finally they gave Rod Beck a call. All he's done since then is win two of his three decisions and convert sixteen out of sixteen save chances to go along with a 1.82 ERA.

Beck's success, along with other great stories like Chris Hammond for the Braves last year, are what make baseball unique and so very much fun to follow. Go Rod Go!

Friday, August 15, 2003

Aaron Boone came up to bat for the Yankees in the top of the ninth with the Yankees down a run to the Orioles. The Yankees had runners on first and second with one out. Boone was mired in a terrible slump as he started his Yankee career with six hits in fifty-one at bats (a .117 batting average!). The Yankees' bullpen blew a great performance by Roger Clemens the previous half inning, denying Clemens his 305th win. This was the time for Boone to come through.

Boone pulled the first pitch hard foul down the third base line--no balls, one strike. Boone took the next pitch the opposite way and the ball hit inches right of the right field foul line. Typical for a man in a slump to just miss a game tying double. Boone then took a slider outside. And then a pitch came pouring in towards Boone's hands. Boone brought his hands in and swung quickly. The ball jumped off his bat and flew down the left field line. The third base umpire ran down the line...and called it foul.

Boone jumped into the air and ran across the diamond--a stupid move fortunate not to be noticed. The Yankees screamed. When you're batting .117, this is the worst thing that can happen for the new guy in an embarrassing starting slump. Fortunately for baseball, the umpires consulted and the home plate umpire overruled the call--by the replay correctly--and Boone became a New York Yankee with a game winning three run homer.

Lost in the shuffle of the hour long ninth inning (Rivera again struggled in the ninth but got the save with one run scored) was a curious call from Torre to the Yankee bullpen an out into the eighth inning after Clemens struck out the first batter. Torre brought in Jesse Orosco, who looked every month of his forty-seven years and blew the win. The Yankees better hope Gabe White will join the club soon and save Torre from making that mistake again.

Sammy Sosa single-handedly beat the Dodgers for the second time in a week as he collected both RBI in a 2-1 complete game win for Mark Prior. Prior looks so good it's scary. Sosa now has 78 RBI in his 97 games. The Cubbies are back on top of their division by a half a game. As Mel Allen would have said: "How about that."

Randy Johnson, like Mariano Rivera, just isn't the same pitcher this year. The Braves hacked him up tonight for seven runs to push his season record to 3-5 with a 5.05 ERA after ten starts.

The Cleveland Indians beat Tampa Bay tonight 1-0 to improve their record to 8-2 in the last ten games. C.C. Sabathia pitched a complete game shutout to improve his record to 11-7 with a 3.28 ERA. With Hafner and Broussard blossoming as rookie hitters and pitchers like Sabathia and Anderson, the Indians are going to be a really good team in a couple of years.

The White Sox are suddenly tumbling again as they have lost three in a row. This is such a strange and exciting season as both Central Divisions in both leagues feature teams flip flopping back and forth in the standings. Between the Central Divisions and the wildcard races in both leagues, it's going to be an exciting last forty games of this season.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The Cubs and Red Sox both faced crisis coming into their respective series. The Cubs had just lost two of three from the Dodgers and had fallen two and a half games behind the Astros and further out in the wildcard race. The Red Sox started their series in Oakland after losing two of three to the Orioles.

Both teams left those losing series in a bad way and now had to begin series against important opponents. The Cubs had to face the Astros who were on top in the Central Division. The Red Sox had to play Oakland, their closest wildcard competitor. And both teams took it on the chin their first games by tidy pitching performances. Oakland's Tim Hudson handcuffed the Red Sox for a complete game shutout, out-pitching Pedro Martinez. Wade Miller outpitching the Cubs' Kerry Wood in a one run performance.

By then, Boston was tied with Oakland for the wildcard and the Cubs were three and a half back of the Astros. The Red Sox continued to struggle and lost the next game to Oakland and for the first time, the Red Sox trailed the wildcard race. Cub fans and the Red Sox nation groaned: "Here we go again. Another late season swoon."

But the Cubs roared back and won the next three games against Houston and the Red Sox won convincingly yesterday and came from behind today with a ninth inning Manny Ramirez bomb and won in extra innings with more Bill Mueller heroics.

Now the Cubs are only a half a game back of the Astros and only two and a half off the wildcard race. The Red Sox are back a game ahead of the A's in their wildcard race. These are fun teams with a lot of spirit and a lot of passionate players. The Cubs won't quit with Dusty Baker in the dugout and their hard nosed pitching and the Red Sox are playing more as a team than any team in long time Boston memory.

Personally, I don't believe the Astros can stay in the race. Their starters have been in and out with injuries and inconsistencies all year long and their bullpen has to be pretty gassed as they pitch tough games every day. Jimy Williams is a staff killer and Houston won't be any different.

The Cubs, then, will only have to worry about the resurgent Cardinals who are capable of anything with Pujols and Edmunds in the lineup.
The Cardinals were also given a big shot in the arm by two straight excellent starts by fill in starter: Garrett Stephenson. The Cubs have a lot of work to do but they showed character as did the Red Sox, by not folding when they most certainly could have.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Baseball excitement is back in Florida and in Kansas City. At this point in the season, the Marlins must look forward to extra inning games as they always seem to hit a homerun to win the game. It happened again tonight as Mike Mordecai became the latest improbable hero as he pinch ran for Mike Lowell and then came up in eleventh inning and put the game away with only his second homerun of the year. It's wonderful to see.

Even more exciting is to watch the Royals play. Fans are now starting to pack the stands and Tony Pena is some kind of manager and motivator. The Yankees hit a buzz saw and were murdered tonight 11-0. Watching the game, I couldn't help but feel good for that organization as the players are all pulling for each other and the fans are going crazy. Now that Mike Sweeney is back (four RBI tonight), their offense is even better and there is a possibility that they could actually pull this off.

The top three teams in the NL Central are now a game and a half apart. Houston, who lost two out of three to the Cubbies, are a game up on the Cardinals (who lost tonight to the Pirates) and a game and a half up on the suddenly surging Cubs.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the best record in the AL East for the second week in a row. Lou Piniella is really getting a lot out of his players and could actually turn around a dead organization by his will alone. They aren't an easy win anymore.

And now for the Fan's favorite boxscore players and their last seven games:
- Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli batted .304 for the week to keep his season average at an even .300. I hope he ends up over the mark since he has been over .300 all year.
- Luis Matos. Kind of a new favorite for the Fan, Matos came from nowhere to join Melvin Mora (who I hope comes back soon) at the top of the Orioles batting success. Matos had kind of a quiet week as he batted .290 in 31 at bats. He did drive in five runs for the week.
- Coco Crisp. Kookoo for Coco Crisp had a tough week in some respects as he only batted .219 in 32 at bats. But he did score seven runs in the seven days and he hit two homeruns. Crisp is now batting .269 for the season.
- Hank Blalock. I haven't understood what Showalter has been doing with Blalock as he hasn't been in the lineup regularly and is up and down in the batting order. Maybe because of that, Blalock only batted .250 last week but he did manage four RBI. Blalock is still a solid .319 for the season.
- Laynce Nix. The football star with the baseball uniform batted .421 last week with a homer and four RBI. His season average is now .269.
- Mark Teixeira. Mark had a tough week, batting only .214, but he did have a homer and four RBI.
- Mike Lowell. Lowell is an inspirational story who is doing what star players do: Lead their teams during pennant races. Lowell batted .355 last week with eight RBI. He now has 98 RBI for the season!
- Miquel Cabrera. Cabrera was out-classed last week as he only batted .160 for the week with nine strikeouts in twenty-five at bats. His season average is down to .242.
- Pat Burrell. Well...we've been following the travails of Burrell this season and I finally have good news to report. Pat batted .400 last week! His OBP was over .500 and he had two homers a triple and four RBI. His batting average for the season is now a whopping .206. But, what has gone unnoticed is that his OBP for the year is a respectable .319.
- Jose Reyes. Reyes had another outstanding week as he batted .350 for the week to raise his season average to .300. This guy is going to be special.
- Bo Hart. Bo knows fielding but his batting has turned noticeably south. He sunk under .300 for the first time this season as he batted only .214 last week with nine strikeouts in seven games. He did score five runs though and made more highlight shows with his fielding.
- Sean Burroughs. Jeff's son had his second tough week as he only batted .235 last week with only one extra base hit. His season average is now at .283.

Congratulations to Mike Piazza for his five RBI performance in his first game back from a long injury shelving. Congrats also go to Wilson Alvarez, once a star, who has battled major injuries and has an ERA under 3.00 for the Dodgers while giving up only 1.07 hits and walks per nine innings.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Have you ever watched a game where there was a batter on first or first and second and no outs and the manager calls for the next batter to bunt? Have you ever yelled at the T.V. when it happens something like, "What the hell are you thinking!" There is a fascinating Web page ( that gives a statistical overview of whether it's a good idea to bunt in certain situations. Here's a breakdown in plain English:

If there is a runner on first base and nobody out, then, according to the matrix set up on this Web page, there is an expectation of scoring 0.98 runs that inning. If you bunt that batter to second and now have one out, you have the exact same expectation (0.98)!

If you take the same scenario but this time making it first and second with no outs, there is an expectation of scoring 1.6 runs that inning. If you bunt the runners over to second and third and now have one out, there is an expectation of scoring 1.5 runs in that inning. So you've lost something there!

The above situations assume the bunt is successful. If in the first scenario, the bunt is unsuccessful and now there is a runner on first still but now with one out, the run expectation drops to 0.60. In the second scenario where the runners stay on first and second and now the bunt fails so there is one out, the run expectation drops back to 0.98 again. Fascinating!

I'm not smart enough to figure out all the writer is saying, but batting average does seem to play a part in the decision making process. According to the writer, the break even point for batting average: "Unless the batter when swinging away can achieve the singles outcome at least 29.2% (batting average = .292) the expected outcome favors bunting."

There is also another statistical nugget listed on the page that lists a success rate of 77% on stolen bases as the break even point on whether you should steal or not. Rickey Henderson was successful nearly 81% of his career so you can assume that his attempts were always helping the team. But the year he set the MLB record with 130 steals (1982 - 21 years ago!), he was thrown out 42 times for a success rate at a little over 75%. According to the statistical guru on the Web page, he didn't help his team that year. He did score 119 runs that season making his run expectation rate at 0.46 which seems to bear that out. Very interesting stuff if you like this sort of thing.

If you really are a mathematician and hunger for more of this stuff, see the following page:

The bottom line for a Fan like me is that I'm happy as a cat in a tunafish factory if the stolen base or the bunt is successful and leads to runs and yell like anything at the manager if the opposite happens.

Monday, August 11, 2003

The Fan has a real dilemma tonight. Readers of previous posts have noted that the Fan is a serious Yankee fan and has been since Horace Clarke played second base at the Stadium...the OLD Yankee Stadium. But the Yankees are playing the Royals and I'd really like to see the Royals win their division. A Royals division win would be great for baseball and a great story.

At the same time, the Red Sox are playing the A's out in Oakland and quite frankly, a Yankee playoff series with Oakland, Seattle or the Red Sox would be difficult. But given my druthers, I'd rather face the Red Sox because they don't play the defense that Seattle does and the Red Sox don't pitch as well as Oakland can.

At this moment, the Royals are up on the Yanks by one in the eighth and Tim Hudson and the A's are up 2-0 on Pedro and the Red Sox. The Yankee pitching staff is starting to unravel a bit and the Red Sox great offense has sputtered against some really good pitching.

Oops! The Royals now have a three run lead as Hammond, Orosco and Prinz (the former Diamondback pitcher?? Where did he come from?) couldn't hold the Royals down and Sweeney, who is finally back, just broke the inning open with a two run double.

Oops again! The Yankees have pounced on struggling Royals' reliever, Mike McDougal for two runs, but now have two outs as Posada hit into his 401st double play of the year. The game is now over. Royals win...mixed feelings...

Raul Mondesi has accused the Yankees of trading him because they are anti-Dominican players. Oh please! They traded him because his average dropped from .320 at the end of April to the .250's by August. And then he didn't like being pinch hit for (so much for being a team player) so he left the Stadium. When asked, Soriano--also from the Dominican--basically said that he didn't know what Mondesi was talking about.

Peter Gammons has got to be one of the most unbiased writer of the game when it comes to international players and he has always been all over Mondesi. The man has talent rarely seen in MLB but has never driven in one hundred runs despite playing for good offenses wherever he's played.

I watched Mondesi play quite a few games for the Yankees and he could turn it on any time he wanted but rarely did. He hustled when he wanted but turned his mind off when he wasn't interested. Concerning Mondesi, the Yankees have to feel like the family that had another family steal their nasty dog. Whew! Glad that happened!

One more Yankee note: Aaron Boone has started his Yankee career with four hits in thirty-seven at bats. Yeesh!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Fallen Angels. The Anaheim Angels lost again today to bring their record since the AllStar break to a Tigers-like 5-20. That is five wins and twenty losses. Such a record wouldn't be newsworthy except for the fact that the Angels are the World Champions.

Last year, the Angels were the "Angels With Dirty Faces" as they dove, bunted, ran and scrapped their way into the World Series. The defied all then opinion by beating the Yankees in the first playoff series and then winning the American League title. The little team that could then went on and beat the Giants in the World Series. It was an amazing run that started after the AllStar game last year.

A team hasn't fared this poorly after a World Series win since the dismantling of the Florida Marlins after their series win. Upon contemplation of the team's fall, it seems logical that a team that won with passion and spirit more than with talent would falter badly when that passion finally hits a wall. Injuries and sagging performances were that wall and it's now starting to spin the team downward quickly.

Let's start with the injuries. Darin Erstad has been injured twice and hasn't been a factor all year. Troy Glaus went on the disabled list at the end of July. Brad Fullmer went on the disabled list at the end of June. That's three really good hitters from their lineup. And Troy Percival has had hip problems despite having another good year.

And then there are performances by core players that are well below that of last year. Pitcher Kevin Appier was a solid starting pitcher for the Angels for two years with a winning record and an ERA under 4.00. This year, his ERA was at 5.63 when he was released. Mickey Calloway, another starter who helped the Angels down the stretch had a 6.81 ERA before he too was released.

John Lackey was 9-4 last year with a 3.66 ERA and started Game 7 of the World Series! This year, he is 7-10 with an ERA of 5.60. Jarrod Washburn was 18-6 last year with a 3.15 ERA. This year he is 9-11 with a 4.51 ERA. And now comes news that his start today was scrapped as his right elbow is hurting. The Angels' relief pitching has been excellent again, but their starters just can't get it done.

But pitching isn't their only problem. The hitting, from the infield especially, has not been what it was:
2002 2003
Eckstein .297 107 runs .253 52 runs
Kennedy .312 .268
Spiezio .285 .259

Even the Rally Monkey was fired according to the ESPN commercial!

Sammy Sosa personally defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kevin Brown today. Brown only gave up five hits but two of them were homers to Sosa who now has 28 for the year. Keep in mind that Sammy missed at least a third of the year and is within seven homers of the leader, Barry Bonds!

As impressive in that game was Mark Prior who dominated, giving up only one run on five hits. Then was the Dodgers, one of the worst hitting teams in baseball. Even so, a complete game five hitter is a complete game five hitter.