Sunday, September 1, 2002

I'm not sure if we in the blog community are encouraged to endorse print media, but the cover article of today's New York Times Magazine is all about Bonds and his makeup as a professional athlete. It's pretty good. That's all.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Bud's Reign and Rockies' Rain all washed out

I cannot believe this. On the air, on KNBR 680 AM radio in the Bay Area, I'm hearing the horrible weather looming over the ballpark in Denver this afternoon. The lights at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, have just gone out, a tornado has sprung up in the vicinity and lightning has struck quite near the game, which is now in its ninth inning.

Broadcaster Jon Miller astutely chimed in that the perilous meteorological conditions may symbolize the labor struggle leading to the looming player strike tomorrow, August 30, the strike date posted by Donald Fehr and the players' union reps. Will the players strike? Some say they will. has publicized clever signs brandished by fans nationwide at recent games; one message — "You strike, we're out!" — sums up the sentiments nicely.

More optimistic followers of the labor negotiations point to upbeat comments made by this or that player for this or that ball club. Tom Manager leaves one of his starters in for a certain number of pitches. Dick General Manager shuffles a few non-prospects for a 35-year-old starter and cash. Harry Ballplayer (not in the Wade Boggs way) sells the union line, something like caring about the fans. Many fans point to these as signs of progress. Others hold more skepticism.

Baseball thinkers and writers who understand the labor struggle better than I do cover the process with more insight and clarity than I could ever aspire to, so I'll just stick to the weather in Colorado in this space. But it strikes me that the Rockies, more than any other franchise, exemplify the disastrous path baseball has taken since '94.

The expansion to the Rocky Mountains — strictly Bronco territory until then — seemed to work, initially. Starting with the team's inception in '93, the Rockies outdrew beyond expectation. They were the first team (I may be wrong on this) to draw four million tickets in a season. In only their third season they reached the playoffs, losing to Atlanta in the National League Division Series. The highly-touted Blake St. Bombers tandem of Castilla, Bichette, Galarraga and Walker rang in brand-new Coors in style, mashing home run after home run into the jam-packed stands.

Recently, however, the Rockies have struggled in their personnel decisions, and have also failed to maintain a fruitful farm system. Darryl Kile never settled into the thin Rocky Mountain air. The unloading of aging cash vacuums like Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla proved to be smart moves by the Colorado front office, but current GM Dan O'Dowd has misspent those Benjamins on Mike "Gosh, the schools are great here" Hampton and Denny "I look like the young John Lithgow but I pitch like the old John Lithgow" Neagle. The current roster features two legitimate stars (Molson Man Walker and Tennessee Helton), and more so-called "tools" outfielders-turned late-bloomers (Kapler, Payton, Cust) than Clint Hurdle can cram into a lineup card.

Attendance, while healthy by, say, Tampa Bay standards, has declined noticeably since the The Year That Ellis Burks Was God (1996), and who could blame the fans? Would you show up to see Shawn Chacon cough up seven in four and watch as the Rockies come back to win 13-8? With the NFL season gearing up for kickoff? With the Avs putting up such a great fight in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs? With the Colorado State football team riding last year's thrilling campaign? With Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe keeping basketball interesting in the post-LaFrentz/Van Exel/McDyess era?

The Colorado Rockies, an organization that thrived as a fan-friendly product through the mid-to-late-nineties, have failed despite playing into all the scams of its generation. Expansion. New ballpark. Money. Fans. Homers. Money. Contracts. Losses. Failure. Lightning. Thunder. Rain. Wind. Destruction.

As the baseball world awaits word from New York — be it good news or bad — the ballclub in Denver is feeling the harsh effects of 1990s baseball already. They threw money at top-name players, and those contracts backfired. Now, their team is lousy, stuck with the lowly-but-hopeful Padres, behind three good-but-beatable teams. Hey, the days of Kevin Ritz and Jody Reed may not sound very exciting in retrospect, but fans were excited then.

The game has been called by now, and hopefully residents in the Denver area are protected during the storms. We all know by now that more imoprtant things than baseball command our attention at times. However, in the coming hours, we will discover whether Miller's comment, which sparked this train of thought for me, is timely prescient, or merely an inspiration for this rant.

But I digress.

Monday, August 12, 2002

I have a friend (yes, the rumors are true) with whom I talk baseball every time I see him. We take turns bemoaning the plight of our teams (Oakland and the Mets) and argue about who has the better players, etc. When we're going back and forth, nothing ignites passionate disagreement between us more than a good ol' Hall of Fame debate — the merits of this player vs. that one, did so-and-so peak too early...

Vladimir Guerrero hit his 200th home run a few nights ago against Milwaukee, and the brightest star his side of Niagara said that he has his sights set on 600. With so many young players (A-Rod, Helton, Andruw, Vlad) climbing higher up the all-time lists with each crack of the bat, my thoughts return to my friend and the player central to one of our most hotly-contested Hall of Fame debates: Sammy Sosa.

Now, I don't mean to offend anybody here. To some of you, Sammy Sosa may be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if you ever saw one. And I can see your point. He's been an incredible force the last four and a half seasons, finishing with more than 60 home runs in three of four full years. He's slugged over .600 and improved his walk total each of the past four seasons, and he has a chance to finish his 2002 campaign as a member of the 500 club. Despite turning 33 just this summer, Sosa's gaudy numbers over the last five years have generated discussion about Sosa's place in history, and with another productive season almost in the books, it's hard to deny that Sosa has been one of the greatest hitters of the last decade.

As is the case with everyone who's been a Mets fan the past two seasons, however, I've learned that to deny something that seems obvious to everyone else — like, I dunno, a certain team's postseason chances — is altogether very possible, no matter how difficult it may seem. To follow that thought: Sammy Sosa is not a Hall of Famer. Not yet, at least. Why not? Well, it doesn't take a ton of research to realize this, but without his home runs totals, Sosa doesn't really have anything special to support his candidacy. Let's stroll through the record books, shall we?

To gain a better understanding of his achievements, it's important to compare Sosa to two groups of players — his contemporaries, and everyone else. Sosa has hit 39 homers so far this season, sending him past Ken Griffey, Jr., for the second-highest active total. Among active players, Sosa also places inside the top 25 in slugging, runs, hits, total bases, RBI and steals. Such an elementary examination of the facts certainly supports the notion that Sammy is a very good hitter, one of the best playing today, which is an assertion I'm comfortable agreeing with.

But Sosa's numbers fall apart somewhat when viewed in a more historical light. His 489 career home runs still hold up, yes; 19th all-time is something to be proud of. However, strikeouts aside (he's closing in on Dave Kingman for seventh), Sammy doesn't place among the top 25 in any other main category. His .548 career slugging mark is close, and he'll finish 2002 ranking someplace around 60th in RBI, but nothing besides the homers really stands out as exceptional.

"Okay, Misha, that's fine, but what would you say about Mark McGwire? What did he ever contribute other than a healthy dosage of bombs? I suppose you're telling me McGwire doesn't belong in the Hall?" This argument is interesting, and by "interesting," I don't mean anything sarcastic like "flawed" or "misleading." I mean, it's those things too, but that's not what I'm saying. Big Mac struck out a ton and will be remembered only because he hit homers, and without his four-year surge of dominance from '96 through '99, there's no way he reaches Cooperstown, either.

Still, there's a hell of a difference between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. In fact, there are many differences. McGwire had a much better OBP (.394 to .348) despite batting 15 points worse over his career. He takes Sammy in slugging (.588 to .548), and his 162-game averages are superior in homers (50 to 43) and nearly double in walks (114 to 63). McGwire also had a better strikeout rate and slightly more RBI over 162 games, while nearly matching Sosa in runs. In runs created, McGwire blows Sosa out of the water. Essentially, McGwire was quite a bit better than Sosa at a few things, and I think the difference means McGwire's inclusion in the Hall.

So maybe comparing Sosa to the great McGwire isn't fair; after all, a slugger of McGwire's talent comes along once a generation. And this really is the heart of what I'm saying: except for his home runs, players with Sosa's numbers (or better) are abundant in today's game. Here's a chart showing the career 162-game averages for Sosa and other hitters of his generation with a shot at the Hall:

S. Sosa11.34105264311763158.348.548.896.279

J. Gonzalez9.71102384213645122.344.563.907.296

R. Palmeiro14.629735331067678.376.521.894.293

M. Ramirez7.31111394013592134.407.562.999.312

L. Walker10.07113403311070100.398.576.974.318

F. Thomas10.25111383612312391.432.5681.000.314

M. Piazza8.4010029401246693.390.576.966.322

E. Martinez10.66102432510110392.425.530.955.315

B. Bonds14.80121344110912689.425.5921.017.294

K. Griffey, Jr.11.31109324111980106.379.563.942.295

F. McGriff14.2791293310488124.380.514.894.286

J. Thome8.241073138108116163.412.560.972.285

B. Williams9.2311337241058898.411.487.889.306

J. Bagwell10.801173934120109116.414.550.964.302

As you can see, there are a dozen guys with numbers like Sosa's, and most of them have serious chances at Cooperstown. This list doesn't even include players who aren't eligible yet but who also have good numbers, like Jason Giambi, A-Rod, Vlad, Giles, Helton and Chipper. Sosa's numbers are very good, but even his only outstanding mark, his home run average, fails to clearly elevate him above the rest. A glance at the all-time career homer leaderboard shows that at least twenty of the top fifty home run-hitters played most of their careers in the past 25 years. Twenty-one active players are inside the top 100. Because of this, whenever somebody asks me questions like, "Would you keep Sosa out if he hit 500? How many would it take?" I have to explain that I don't know how many he (or anyone else) would have to hit. As far as I'm concerned, no number of home runs thrown into discussion is safe, certainly not the Hall yardstick of old, 500. Four players — Sosa, Griffey, McGriff and Palmeiro — will probably reach the milestone this or next year. It is not out of question to speculate that, ten years from now, a dozen more could lay claim to the same feat.

Look, it's impossible to ignore what Sosa has accomplished over the last five or six seasons. If you hit sixty home runs three times, you're going to get attention, and you probably deserve it. But Sammy Sosa is a perfect example of why fans should avoid measuring players by their milestones. Three and a half seasons ago, Sosa wouldn't have even made today's top-100 list. Does a player really go from outside the top 100 — in his only statistical category of dominance, no less — to a Hall of Fame plateau in three and a half seasons? Home runs and saves are the only categories I can think of that allow someone to bypass so much history in such a short period of time, and there isn't really much history in the all-time saves list, anyhow.

Sammy Sosa will pass Lou Gehrig on the home run leaderboard by the end of the month, and pretty soon will start drawing comparisons to the all-time greats. And somewhere, a lonely, dissenting baseball fan will wonder how so much praise is showered on a player who's not even a great among his peers.

Thursday, August 8, 2002

Stick-in' it to Wireless Park

I was fortunate enough to be at Pac Bell Park for the Giants-Cubs game tonight, and while the Giants pulled off a 10th-inning victory against Chicago, you wouldn't have known it if not for the scoreboard. His first time up, Barry Bonds stepped into the box and was greeted by something like 14,000 camera flashes. He lined a pitch from Kerry Wood to the warning track, eliciting groans from the unusually-packed-for-a-Giants-game-in-the-first-inning crowd. When Bonds doubled in the fifth inning, it was the most unanimously-booed double I have ever had the pleasure of reacting to. After Bonds came out of the game for pinch runner Tom Goodwin in the eighth, so many "fans" left the ballpark so quickly you'd think there had been a bomb scare. By the time Benito Santiago dribbled an infield single between Billy Mueller and Six Finger Alfonseca to push across the winning run in the 10th, the game had become something of an afterthought. Most of the boats had left McCovey Cove. The arcade section containing the right-field bleachers, which had been packed tighter than a post-game Express Caltrain only innings earlier, once more featured standing/breathing room, its former tenants long having returned to their garlic fries, cell phone conversations and other assorted things not remotely related to baseball or the game at hand.

Before I make my general point, I feel a disclaimer is appropriate. In the few dozen games I've attended in my 18 years, I've been a part of some pretty special moments. I got to see my favorite player from my childhood, Darryl Strawberry, smack three homeruns against the White Sox one steamy summer night in the Bronx. I saw David Cone's first start back from his shoulder aneurysm in '96, when he no-hit Oakland for seven innings but was lifted by manager Joe Torre for precautionary reasons. Cone had pitched the first game that this life-long Mets fan went to in '89, and this comeback game cemented him as my new favorite player, as Straw — the constant disappoint — had fallen somewhat out of my good graces over the years.

A few summers later, with Don Larsen throwing out the first pitch on Yogi Berra day in the Bronx, I was in the stands to see Coney pitch a perfect game against Montreal. That same summer, I sat in the stands with my grandpa and 30,000 screaming Dominicans as Sammy Sosa belted two homers against the Mets on Dominican Night at Shea. I've seen a grand slam, a playoff game, several major league debuts, many extra-innings games and even the Village People (before "Until There's A Cure Day" a few summers ago at the Stick). These moments aren't all terrible rare, or even particularly unique; the point I'm trying to make is that I've been at more than my share of games that were overshadowed by an accomplishment or offset by one circumstance or another.

That said, I have never been part of a crowd as disinterested in a game as tonight's Pac Bell crowd was. The fans seemed so caught up in the Bonds sideshow that they completely missed obvious clapping moments like Russ Ortiz walking off the mound with the lead after pitching seven strong innings. The Cubs tied the game in their half of the 9th with a base hit well over the head of Shawon Dunston. Dunston, though, who never makes a play in the outfield look pretty, fell on his ass attempting to make a play, and was raucously booed when he stepped up to the plate later in the game.

Look, on a theoretical level, I appreciate that the Giants built Pac Bell Park. The sight lines are great from every seat in the building, it has unbelievable views of the Bay and it's not too hard to look at, either. But after going to a dozen or so games the past three seasons, I'm ready to move back to Candlestick. It's been great going to sold-out games held at an architectually-astounding park with all the "modern amenities" and so forth, but the Pac Bell fans are killing me. Not only are most of the fans stupid, but they can't even be stupid in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of way. They all bring their phones, and their calling plans all seem to require that they place and receive several calls while in their seats. When they cheer, it's de-personalized garbage they read off of the scoreboard, and many of them don't arrive until the fifth inning.

Candlestick was an eyesore of a ballpark, and it didn't draw anywhere near the number of fans that the "Jewel of San Francisco" rakes in. It didn't have an oversized baseball glove or a Coke bottle slide, and I'm pretty sure there were never any Portugese water dogs. The Stick was concrete grey and grass green, and the only other colors were in the opposing teams' uniforms. When you went to watch a game there, though, by God, that's what you went to do. Make no mistake about it; Candlestick Park was a dump and I'm probably more happy than sad to be watching games in a more hospitable environment. But when doing so is at the cost of sanity, I just might watch Barry go for 700 from my couch.

Monday, August 5, 2002

OPS-olutely horrible

As of this morning, none of the Detroit hitters who qualify for the batting title (or other rate stats) have an .800 OPS. With Robert Fick (.792) and Randall Simon (.775) leading the pack, the Tigers are the only team that can make this claim. They should be so proud.

Although I think OPS really is an overused stat in making basic player evaluations/comparisons, and .800 is a fairly arbitrary cutoff (after all, Fick is only eight points away), the Tigers are still pretty pathetic. The Yanks have six qualified hitters over .800, and the Red Sox have five (plus the quite-productive Cliff Floyd, who obviously won't finish the year with enough ABs to qualify in either league but whose OPS is over .900). If they continue like this, Detroit will be the first team without an .800-OPS hitter since... You guessed it: the 2001 Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Sunday, August 4, 2002

Two pariahs, 1161 homers, one peculiar distinction

David Pinto just pointed out that Barry Bonds now has 11 straight seasons with at least 30 homers. While there's nothing special about the number 30 as a cutoff point (as opposed to 25, or 28, or 34), there are two reasons immediately obvious to me why this stat is a testament to Bonds' greatness:

1) It shows that Bonds has been hitting balls out of the park since the days when only two middle infielders (Ripken and Sandberg) playing the game had that of power, as opposed to some of the bums knocking out 30 the past few years (Ed Sprague, Jay Bell, Tony Batista). Look, the last thing I'd want is to commit the crime of overrating the players from my baseball card-collecting days, or romantically wax about the fonder days of baseball, but perhaps 30 really is a good benchmark. I mean, just eight or nine years ago, if a player hit 30 homeruns, that was a hell of a year. Forty was something reserved for the best of the best — Frank Thomas, Bonds, and once in a while someone like Jeff Bagwell. At least that's how I remember it. Compare that to just last year, when Shawn Green connected for 49 and you wouldn't have known about it unless you checked the leaderboards yourself. Last season, three players in one league hit 57! That's insane! Bottom line, Bonds is one of the few modern power hitters who I feel has earned his place among the all-time leaders.

2) It's REALLY HARD to sustain such a level performance for this many CONSECUTIVE seasons. Perhaps I'm stating the obvious here, but consider: many players have hit thirty home runs in a season. We talk about them all the time. "Oh yeah, he'll getcha yer 30 homers, 100 RBI, etc...) Raul Mondesi, Eric Karros, Larry Walker, Tim Salmon, Gary Sheffield, Paul Konerko, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd... I could throw out a dozen more. But these players don't really churn out 30 homeruns a year. They might do well enough in their most productive seasons to average thirty a season, but they don't really hit 30 every season. Walker's "only" done it four times. Mondesi's done it three times. Alou? Klesko? Twice. And this isn't even talking about consecutive seasons. Matt Williams? Yeah, he hit 30 six times. But never more than two seasons in a row. Ditto Ron Gant, Jimmy Edmonds and Dante Bichette. Hell, Reggie Jackson never hit 30 homers in back-to-back years. As the man says, "You could look it up." Therefore, for Bonds to have performed this consistently, he's had to avoid serious injury, and also compensate for minor injuries and minor inconveniences to do so. Just thinking about how many promising seasons and careers have been derailed by injury and war brings me an even greater appreciation of what Bonds has done.

EXTRA! EXTRA! The Mets make a transaction we can all agree with!

Heh... I just read that the Mets designated Mark Little for assignment, bringing Steve Phillips' seasonal stat line to:

Number of trades/free agent signings that have backfired for the Mets: 4

Number of times Mark Little has been designated for assignment: 1

Don't worry, Steve. You've got plenty of time to designate him a few more times to even your record.

Mo offense needed

One of my favorite types of charts (ok, I sound like a geek; what kind of person has favorite charts?) is commonly used by Rob Neyer when making player comparisons. Here's one of them, showing a projected 162-game performance based on 2002 stats:

Player A56712757160146862167.321.324.645.224

Player B5621671122305813568171.372.648.1.020.296

Who are these players? Well, Player A is Mo Vaughn through June 23, and Player B is Vaughn from June 23 through his first at bat in today's game against Arizona, in which he homered. It's no secret that Mo's been on a tear of late, I was just curious to see how much better he's been. Sadly (for me), the Mets have only gone 17-18 since Mo heated up.

Saturday, August 3, 2002

One more thing...

How could I forget to point out that Ritchie's on pace for 20 losses? Most of you may already know that this hasn't been "accomplished" since Brian Kingman dropped 20 for Oakland in 1980. What most of you may not know is that Kingman did this for an 86-76 team, with a park-adjusted ERA only .07 worse than average (3.83 to 3.76). It seems fair to guess, without looking too much farther into it, that Kingman was simply a victim of shitty luck. On the other hand, Ritchie has the third-worst ERA in baseball, ahead of only Ryan Drese and Mr. "I signed here for the schools" himself, Mike Hampton. I know that Kingman is fiercely proud of his place in history; in recent years, he's attended the September starts of any pitcher who threatens to reach the Big Two-Oh, hoping to serve as a good luck charm and preserve his claim to fame. However, Kingman doesn't deserve the fame nor the stigma associated with such dubious achievements. Ritchie has put together a season that deserves to rank among the worst of the last ten years, and it will take something like losing 20 to gain that type of notoriety. Therefore, it is with good intentions and full apologies to Brian Kingman that I ask you all to now pray nightly for Ritchie to lose just five more games. If we all work together, it just might work.

(For a ton of great pace-related stats, check out Aaron Gleeman's entertaining and insightful blog.

Well, that's why they don't call him Todd Pitchie...

For tonight's entry, we travel way back in time to December 2001, when the following trade summary could be seen on your favorite baseball web site's Transactions page:

Chicago White Sox acquired RHP Todd Ritchie and C Lee Evans from the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Sean Lowe, RHP Kip Wells and RHP Josh Fogg.

These guys weren't the best or even the most popular players traded in the offseason, but — of the top of my head — this deal strikes me as the worst of the offseason. After his shelling tonight, here's what Ritchie's season stat line looks like:


Yuck. The other player Chicago received was minor-league catcher Lee Evans, who has progressed from AA to AAA in the Sox’s system this season. Evans, however, has not contributed to the ballclub this year. How does Ritchie compare to the big-leaguers the Pirates fetched for him?





Hmm. It sure looks like the Pirates cleaned Chicago’s clock on this deal. Before the 2001 season, White Sox GM Kenny Williams appeared to have pulled a fast one on Toronto when the Blue Jays discovered that Mike Sirotka — whom Williams had sent north of the border for Boomer Wells — was unable to pitch. While Wells was far from a success during his one-year tenure in the Windy City, Sirotka has yet to return to the majors.

Since the Sirotka-Wells deal, it seems every deal Kenny Williams makes eventually turns to rubbish. An anti-Midas in his field, Williams has traded away backfired free-agent signings (Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr.) and promising young talent (Fogg, Wells, Ray Durham) alike, and has almost nothing to show for it. Mark Buehrle, Paul Konerko and Magglio Ordoñez are the only things keeping the White Sox respectable, while Fogg and Wells have been bright spots in the Pittsburgh rotation. What really gooses me about the deal (gooses?) is that Williams actually mistook Ritchie for the type of player who could have helped the White Sox win. I mean, you don’t give up two young pitchers like Fogg and Wells unless you’re on the “win now” end of a vet-for-kids swap. I can think of no reason for Williams to make that trade unless he thought he was immediately helping the ballclub. If I haven’t made my opinion clear by now: Williams failed.

With Fogg and Wells coming into their own and Kris Benson’s return-to-form expected soon, along with Jimmy Anderson establishing himself as slightly better than the Pirates’ other options (not the highest compliment, but it's something), Pittsburgh fans should feel good about the relative stability in a rotation that hasn’t been anchored since Denny Neagle got his lottery ticket to Atlanta all those years ago.

Meanwhile, Chicago stinks. It isn’t fair to put all the blame for the failed 2002 campaign on Kenny Williams’ shoulders. The team’s young pitchers have been subpar, Keith Foulke hasn’t been very good and Lofton produced little after a hot start. But as the White Sox fall farther in the standings behind a team (Minnesota) with a much lower payroll, Kenny Williams needs to follow the leads of other recently-hired GMs Mark Shapiro and J.P Ricciardi. Otherwise, the White Sox will very soon be able to lay claim to one of the more dubious distinctions in sports: worst team in Chicago. I’m serious. I think they could really give the Bulls a run for their money in the next year or two. Hopefully, fans of the South Siders will find some consolation in the startup of NFL training camp.


Okay, see, this is what I'm talking about. Armando Benitez just gave up a homer to Craig Counsell in the top of the ninth, and the game is tied at 5-5. Now, I mentioned before that Little was caught stealing last inning. What I didn't mention was what happened next. Rey Ordoñez got his fourth hit of the game (no, that's not a misprint), a single to left field. The next hitter, Tony Tarasco, struck out, ending the inning. But if Little runs the bases with the smarts that any 30-year-old player should have, there are two runners on with Robbie Alomar at the plate.

Obviously, we can't hang the blame for a potential loss on Little's baserunning error. He didn't give up the home run, Benitez did, and the game isn't even over yet. But if I know Mets fans, I'm not the only one ready to lynch the new guy if the Mets should lose.

Big show, Little success

I'm listening to the first game of the Mets-Diamondbacks doubleheader over the Internet, and Mark Little was just caught in a rundown for the second out in the bottom of the 8th. This seems as good a time as any to unveil my prediction that Little will be one of the most useless Mets over the next two months. He's a 30-year-old outfielder with just over 200 career at bats, in which he's hit .251 with three homers and 18 RBI. The Mets recently acquired him in a deal for pitcher John Thomson, and the Rockies took Jay Payton (and Mark Corey and Robert Stratton). I'm guessing New York took Little over some other non-impact player because he can replace Payton in the outfield, but I just see no way he can help us.

Friday, August 2, 2002

How much does Lieber have left?

The Cubs placed Jon Lieber on the 15-day DL today with tendinitis in his right (throwing) elbow, and I can't help but wonder if the 620+ regular-season innings Lieber's given the Cubbies since the start of the 2000 season have anything to do with it. His 2002 numbers don't seem to be far off from where they should be; he's 6-8 with a 3.80 ERA, and his 1.17 WHIP is good enough for sixth-best in the NL. He's allowed only 12 walks in 141 innings, and 12 of his 21 outings have been Quality Starts (6+IP,3-ER). These numbers look pretty good, but one thing worries me: his strikeout rates. Here's a chart detailing Lieber's performance in his six full years as a starter:







Lieber's elbow has been bothering him since Spring Training. He's put up a worse strikeout rate this season than ANY other in his career. He's thrown 200 innings the past three years, and is on pace for 215 this year. (Okay, so he'll miss two or three starts while on the DL, but you get the point.) Former manager Don Baylor has been criticized for letting his starters work too late into ballgames, and while there's certainly nothing wrong with running up a 120-pitch outing every three or four starts, Lieber should have been spared from such rigor this year, given the chronic state of his injury, and also his big workload the past few years. Also, interim manager Bruce Kimm has let it been known that he plans to ride his starters as long as possible. Says Kimm, "Ideally, you don't want to go past 110 a lot of times. But up here these guys are good athletes, and there's no reason they can't go 120, 125. It's not a set thing. But if they are really throwing well, I'll push them up to 120." Yikes. I mean, I can understand Kimm's reluctance to hand the ball over to the Cubs' relievers, but...

All kidding aside, such pitcher abuse (something tracked statistically by Baseball Prospectus) doesn't bode well for Lieber, who will be 33 next season. Is this the beginning of the end for Jon Lieber? Or will he overcome his elbow problems and return to his capable self? As someone once said, only to quoted by millions since: Only time will tell.

Welcome, all.

Welcome to Digressions on Baseball. Please, make yourself comfortable. (Okay, put that back on.) My name is Misha Imberman Berkowitz, and I'm a Film/Math undergraduate at UC-Santa Cruz (go slugs?). For most of my 18 years I've been an avid baseball fan, and for the past two months I've been an unemployed baseball fan. With all this time at my disposal -- and the fastest Internet connection Pacific Bell's DSL service can muster -- I've been reading a lot about baseball this summer, from Bill James' New Historical Baseball Abstract and Win Shares to Rob Neyer's Baseball Dynasties to online material (Baseball Prospectus, Rob Neyer's work at, David Pinto's Baseball Musings). These authors' research and analysis have contributed much to my constantly-changing opinions, and have inspired me to transform my thoughts into words, my curosity into research and my love of baseball writing into a summertime hobby. Thanks for the motivation, fellas. I'm gunnin' for ya.