July 10, 2012
As I hope you have noticed, I try to establish a theme in each of my B.A.B.E.S.’s posts. At the All-Star Break last year, my theme was how amazingly smart most of us appeared to be given the standings at that time. Of course, 3 of the 8 teams that were in a post-season position at the 2011 Break failed to make it there, including the Braves and Red Sox, whose nearly simultaneous historic collapses proved yet again the truest of all sports truisms: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
My last post before the start of this season was entitled “Sweet Parity,” and my theme was the belief that more teams this year have a legitimate claim to the title “World Series Contender” than has been the case for many, many years. That assertion appears to be holding up, as 19 teams are within 4.5 games of the post-season at this year’s Break, but like last year (and any year), one can look foolish handing out awards when the season is only half-over.
So, instead of giving you meaningless over-all Society standings at the Break (which you can calculate on your own, if you want), I will instead adopt as my theme this time that there simply is no theme, other than that a bunch of weird stuff has happened.
Some have suggested that it is the year of the pitcher due to 2 perfect games and 3 other no-hitters in the first half. But can that really be true when the MLB leader in wins is a knuckleballer (the only one active in MLB – for now) and the winner of two of the last 4 NL Cy Young awards (who holds the record for the most k’s in his first 4 MLB seasons) already has 10 losses and the worst ERA of all qualifying MLB starters (last out of 150 pitchers!) That just weird to me.
Check out these pitching stats for yesterday’s starters in the PIT v. SFO game: 10-2, 3.47 ERA; 3-10, 6.47 ERA . Now guess which one is AJ Burnett and which one is Tim Lincecum? (Hint: we’re about to see the first $20 million/year AAA pitcher. Lincecum’s nickname “The Freak” is taking on a whole new meaning.)
If that fact isn’t weird enough for you, how about this one: a guy named Phil Humber pitched his very first complete game at any level of professional baseball, and it just happened to be only the 21st perfect game in MLB history. Even with those 9 shutout innings and one very big “W,” his record and ERA at the Break are 3-4, 6.01. Weird, huh?
And what about the fact that a pitcher started 10 games and won 2 of them at the age of 49? And he’s not even a knuckleballer! He’s a crafty -and creaky – lefty. I remember thinking Jamie Moyer was washed up when the Rangers traded for him in 1989!!! Totally weird.
But wait, there’s more!
1. It is no surprise that one team from PA leads its division and has a sparkling staff ERA of 3.47 (5th best in MLB), while another team from PA is in last place in its division, 14 games out with a staff ERA of 4.23 (22nd in MLB). What’s weird is that the first place team is the Pirates and the last place team is the Phillies. PIT, you may know, has finished below .500 for 19 consecutive seasons, the longest streak of any team in any professional sport. PHI, of course, is supposed to have the best rotation in baseball and has been to the post-season 5 years in a row (longest current MLB streak and tied for 3rd longest in history – uh, I don’t think they are going to break that tie). Really weird.
Kudos to my wife, Jennifer, who is the only Society member (and probably the only person on the planet) to have selected PIT as the NL Central winner. Even at the All-Star break, that is an impressive bit of prognostication. The opposite of kudos (criticism) to the 16 of you who put PHI in the playoffs, and severe criticism (derision?) to the 8 of you who predicted PHI would win the Series. Even if they do have 75 games left, it appears certain that is not going to happen. PHI has 50 losses at the break, only 10 fewer than they suffered all last season! Perhaps injuries to Howard, Utley and Halliday are fair excuses, but recall that this team couldn’t win a 5 game series with homefield advantage in last year’s post-season. It is weird to me that so many people expected even more of them this year. Nominal kudos to Rip L. and Bruce R. for leaving PHI out of the playoffs.
2. What are the chances that a society of “experts” proves to be 90% wrong? Not only is DET – our nearly unanimous choice as the AL Central winner – not in 1st place in its division (or even 2d), it is only 2 games over .500 and out of the post-season even with 2 wild card slots. For a team with Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder, that’s just weird. Surely Jim Leyland will figure something out like he did last year when DET had the best record in baseball in the 2d half. In fact, he may have it figured out already, with the Tigers having won 5 in a row to get over .500 and draw to within 3.5 games of CWS at the Break. (Uh-oh. Prince Fielder just won the Home Run Derby. Now watch his stroke go in the tank for the 2d half.)
3. Speaking of managers with their work cut out for them, Ozzie G and Bobby V have simply not been the “fits” that the Marlins’ and Red Sox’s organizations were hoping for. Which is evidence of a worse fit? a) praising Fidel Castro in Little Havana, or b) trashing Kevin Youkilis in Boston? Apparently the organizations can live with either because Ozzie is still in MIA and Youk now plays for the White Sox, hoping for a Fisk-like renaissance, no doubt. Bobby V may wish he had traded jobs with Robin Ventura rather than Terry Francona, or perhaps even Ozzie. Clearly neither he nor Ozzie has what it will take to lift these underachieving teams into the post-season. Both teams trail their division leaders by 9 games despite having two of the highest payrolls in MLB. That’s maybe not so weird, since most of us know that money can’t buy happiness, particularly in the chicken-fried BOS clubhouse….
4. Albert Pujols and his Angels have at least delayed for now the painful conclusion that $350 million can’t buy Arte Moreno a World Series title – or even a post-season spot. A horrendous first 6 weeks of the season culminated in the sacrificing of nice-guy hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. It seems like a weird fix, but LAA has since recovered to lead the Wild Card standings and are only 4 games behind TEX in the AL West. I think the fix was more the addition of Mike Trout than the subtraction of Hatcher. (Who’s Mike Trout? See below.) Some weirdness remains however, with King Albert and his decade-long contract looking a lot like A-Rod the Albatross already. Did you notice that Pujols was in the DH spot for LAA’s last two games, although Mgr. Sciosia insisted Albert has “no physical issues.” Hey, only 9.5 years and $237 million left on his contract.
5. Speaking of A-Rod, or rather, please note the weird fact that no one seems to be doing that. I guess it is because the Yankees are leading their division and have the best record in baseball – which is also weird since I personally think NYY is a weak team, which brings me back to A-Rod. Although he’s spent no time on the DL, A-Rod is on a pace for about 25 homers and 75 rbi’s (with a not-so-studly .793 OPS). He couldn’t man-up for both games of a double-header this past weekend in Boston and Girardi used Raul Ibanez instead of A-Rod to pinch hit in the 9th with the game on the line. Next thing we hear, Ibanez will be pinch hitting for A-Rod. As Arte Moreno is learning, $25 million/year in salary doesn’t necessarily get you all you need or want from a player. The only weird thing about that is that Arte hadn’t learned this previously from Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner.
Although I joined many of you in selecting NYY for the play-offs and they do have the best record at the Break, I’m quite comfortable in asserting that the Evil Empire will not win title #28 this year, and it won’t be due to the injury to Mariano Rivera (NYY’s success without Rivera supports my belief that the closer’s role is overrated).
6. On the positive side (which I promise I do have), some teams have exceeded modest expectations and some players have even met unreasonable ones:
– The Pirates are certainly the shocker, but the Nats, White Sox, Orioles and Mets have been surprising successes. LAD, STL, CIN, CLE and ATL have kept themselves right in the hunt, and even OAK is playing .500 ball.
– Bryce Harper may really be Superman, if Josh Hamilton is not (but Hamilton probably is a super hero, so maybe he and Bryce are really Bat Man and Robin).
7. In the positively weird department,
– the aforementioned Mike Trout, a rookie, is way more valuable to LAA than Albert Pujols. Their record is 40-24 with him and Albert, 8-14 with just Albert.
– AJ Burnett is the latest proof that pitching in NYC kills careers and that getting out of the Big Apple saves them (somewhere Carl Pavano is smiling – wait, I just checked and he’s still pitching for MIN, just not very well)
– the Pirates’ centerfielder is a legitimate candidate for the Triple Crown (quick, can you name him? If so, can you correctly spell his last name?).
– Carlos Beltran is copying Lance Berkman’s year of redemption in STL. (Maybe Lincecum will ask to be traded to the Cardinals.)
– R.A. Dickey (my fellow Tennessee Volunteer) has completed a 12-year journey off Rocky Top as a #1 draft pick to the top of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow. Who could have predicted that he would float there on a nearly perfect knuckleball? (Answer: Buck Showalter.) Weird, sad and sweet at the same time (you’ll understand if you read Dickey’s book. Yes, he wrote a book, too!)
8. And one last little tid-bit of weirdness that may also refute the notion that this is the year of the pitcher. ARI’s Aaron Hill hit for the cycle on June 18 and then again on June 29. That is only the second time a player has done it twice in one year and the first time a player has done it twice in the same calendar month since 1883! Something that comes around only once every 129 years is more than a little weird, and worth studying, I think. So I did.
I was surprised to learn that hitting for the cycle is almost as rare as pitching a no-hitter (293 cycles in MLB history to 272 no-hitters), and apparently harder to accomplish. Two teams have never had a cycle – MIA and SDO – while only one team has never had a no-hitter – SDO (Hmm. No surprise SDO has also never won a World Series.)
Anyway, the most cycles by any player is 3 (Nolan Ryan had 7 no-hitters) and only 20 players have done it more than once, while 30 pitchers have multiple no-hitters. The longest stretch in MLB history between no-hitters is 3 years, but the longest stretch between cycles is 5 years. That’s all pretty weird to me since the possibility for a cycle occurs at least 18 times in every single game while the possibility of a no-hitter occurs only twice each game.
Ok, this has probably all been pretty weird to you and you may have stopped reading by now. If you have stuck with me, I wish I could come up with fascinating way to end this post and reward your diligence, but nothing comes to mind. Perhaps that is the beauty of this weird season – and any season of MLB. No matter how much you love the game and how much time you spend thinking about it, something is going to happen that you could never imagine.
However, I am wondering what are the odds that a team’s pitcher would throw a no-hitter in the same game that one of his teammates hits for the cycle. It’s never happened, but it could, right?
Can you imagine any other combination of rare feats that we might see before the next World Series Champion is named in October? Let me know if you can (and if you have any other first-half weirdness that I’ve left out).
P.S. Robert and Tim: Do you think it is weird that I made it through such a long post without once insulting the Cubs? Uh, that was the insult – they’re irrelevant.