LONGSHOTS: Observations at baseball’s midway point
by Dave Long
Mid-season arrived in the majors this week, which is when things start to get interesting. For the most part by now you know who’s having the big year you didn’t expect, who’s going to be in line for the personal awards, who’s going to be in it and that those teams are starting to figure out what they need to get by trading deadline at the end of the month. So it’s time to offer a series of observations on what’s gone down and what there is to think about going forward:
Isn’t the collapse of Tampa Bay — who led the Red Sox by 8.5 games in May and then came to Fenway five weeks later a game back of them — just the latest example that baseball’s a marathon and not a sprint?
Anyone else think it’s weird that the top three hitters on the Sox stat sheet are pitchers and tops on their ERA board is an infielder-outfielder, as they were called back in the day? That’s right: with five hits in inter-league play, Clay Buchholz (1.000), Dice-K (.500) and John Lackey (.400) are 1-2-3 in hitting and Bill Hall’s 0.00 ERA from his emergency stint is best as well.
At the midway point they are on a pace to hit 215 homers and had three guys projecting to knock in 100 in David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre. So so much for the winter jitters about not having enough power after Jason Bay left for the Mets.
Bay, incidentally, was hitting .275 with 36 RBI and a paltry six homers on July 1.
You may recall the panic over the feared power outage had many in the Nation willing to throw almost anyone at the Padres to get their first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to fill the void — including Clay Buchholz. If they’d done that deal, Kevin Youkilis would have moved to third base and Adrian Beltre wouldn’t have been signed. So let’s look at that trade now: essentially it would’ve been Gonzalez and his July 1 (.302, 16 and 51) numbers for Buchholz (10-4 and 2.45) and Beltre (.349, 9 and 51). Would you do that deal now? Theo gets bonus points for resisting the public pressure to do it.
Speaking of which — I guess it’s time for me to say he was right and I was wrong on Beltre. Not that I thought he was bad, just that I wasn’t enthusiastic about him.
And speaking of projections — the Sox also have three pitchers on pace to win 20 games in Buchholz, Jon Lester and John Lackey. That would be most notable if it came to pass since that rarely happens at all for one guy in a season let alone by three on the same staff.
Baseball 101: Anyone know who the last staff was to have three 20-game winners on it at one time?
This may be the best pitching year in baseball since the Year of the Pitcher in 1968. As I write this there are 21 pitchers with ERAs under 3.00. In the height of the steroid era in 2000 there were three — Pedro Martinez (1.74), Kevin Brown (2.58) and Randy Johnson (2.62).
That 1.74 speaks to just how great Pedro was at peak. That was his lowest ERA for the Sox and the highest was 2.89 in his first season at Fenway during a time when the league average for the ERA was more than two runs higher.
The only pitcher more dominant — and it’s debatable — for a five-year period in my lifetime was Sandy Koufax between 1962 and 1966. I’ll take Koufax because he came in an era when he threw 300+ innings and was expected to pitch complete games. I don’t think Pedro’s body would have held up under the same stress.
Last week I mentioned this stat and it’s worth saying again: Chris Carpenter is 22-1 since July 5 of last year after tacking a 9-1 start to last year’s 12-1 finish.
So I guess the Blue Jays got it partially right when they picked him number one overall way back when. I say “partially” because when he was arbitration-eligible and facing a year rehab after a 2002 injury they non-tendered him. That was, as Julia Roberts likes to say, a big mistake — HUGE! Since getting back on the field for the Cardinals in 2004 he’s 77-23 in the years he’s been healthy. That’s a .770 winning percentage.
For perspective: the active winning percentage leader is none other than Jon Lester, whose lifetime mark is .729. Spud Chandler is the all-time leader at .717 — which says something about Lester and what Carp has done for the Cards.
Above-the-Tarrier-Line Fact that is Nice to Know but You Don’t Need to Know: Because closers rarely come in with the score tied, they’re more likely to get a loss than a win, and here’s another amazing fact that speaks to the greatest of Mariano Rivera. His .579 lifetime winning percentage is 15th-best among active pitchers. He’s the only closer in the top 70. The next one to show up is Trevor Hoffman — who people are talking about for the Hall of Fame — at .458!
And speaking of Toronto, last year it was the hitters, this year it’s the pitchers who once played for the F-Cats making their mark. In particular, Ricky Romero, whose 2.83 ERA is lower than Lester’s 2.98.
If Ubaldo Jiminez, whose ERA went from 1.15 to 1.83 in two starts, doesn’t rebound let it be known that it was the Red Sox who started the ball rolling when they got to him for six runs in 5.2 when they were in Colorado.
But since he won his next start to move to 14-1, he’s STILL on pace to win 30 — which has happened exactly one time since Dizzy Dean won 30 games in 1934.
Baseball 101 Answer: The last staff with three 20-game winners in the same season were the 1973 Oakland A’s when Catfish Hunter and Kenny Holtzman and Vida Blue won 20.
You can feel sorry for the Sox if you want for losing Dustin Pedroia for five weeks. But if you do you’ve got to feel the same for the Phillies, who last Chase Utley for eight weeks after thumb surgery.
Here’s what I’m for doing as they try and hold down the fort with all the injuries. Don’t sell off a bunch of the future for a six-week fill-in for Pedroia unless Theo can flip him for something better over the winter — which is doubtful. Instead make the pitching even better by getting a reliever and trying to get the expendable Cliff Lee in a rental deal with Seattle. He’s really good and he OWNS the Yankees.
Would starting with Dice-K, who’d be a draw for the large Asian market in Seattle, Michael Bowden and/or another B+ prospect get it done?
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.