SweetSpot: John Smoltz
It's also a celebration of those great Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. Maddux and Glavine were teammates from 1993 through 2002, and the Braves won a division title in each of those seasons, excepting the never-completed 1994 season. Throw in division titles in 1991 and 1992 plus three more from 2003 to 2005 and the Braves won a remarkable 14 consecutive division titles, one of the most remarkable achievements in baseball history.
This article isn't meant to be a criticism or to detract from the accomplishments of Maddux, Glavine and Cox, but it's fair to point out that part of the legacy of those Braves teams is that those 14 playoff appearances led to just one World Series title (1995). Why wasn't it more? The law of averages -- if every playoff team were considered equal -- suggests the Braves should have won 2.1 championships in this period, so they underperformed by only one title by this measure.
But the Braves were often better than the opponent that beat them, at least in the regular season, so maybe it should have been at least three titles. I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what went wrong for them. We'll list three factors for each postseason series defeat during that period.
1991: Lost World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins
Let's go straight to Game 7, a classic game in maybe the best World Series ever played. (By starting at the end, we conveniently skip past Otis Nixon's drug suspension late in the season, Kent Hrbek doing this to Ron Gant in Game 2 and Kirby Puckett doing this in Game 6).
2. Still, the Braves had runners on second and third with no outs and couldn't score. Gant grounded out, and after an intentional walk to David Justice, Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play. From what I can tell from a play-by-play search on Baseball-Reference.com, this is the only 3-2-3 double play in World Series history.
3. Dan Gladden's bloop double leading off the 10th off Alejandro Pena that eventually led to the winning run. Thank you, Metrodome turf.
1992: Lost World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays
1. In Game 2 -- the Braves up 4-3 in the ninth, about to go ahead two games to none -- little-used Ed Sprague (one home run on the season) hits a two-run, pinch-hit homer off veteran reliever Jeff Reardon, who had been acquired late in the season.
2. More bullpen blues in Game 3. The Blue Jays had tied it in the eighth off Steve Avery, who was removed after a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth. Mark Wohlers enters to face Joe Carter and Dave Winfield -- but Roberto Alomar steals second, so Bobby Cox intentionally walks Carter. Winfield bunts the runners along and Mike Stanton is brought in to face John Olerud, but Cito Gaston goes again to Sprague and Cox issues another intentional walk. Candy Maldonado then delivers a deep fly-ball single off Reardon to score the winner. The big mistake was walking Carter, a free swinger, but I'm guessing Cox never imagined Gaston would have Winfield bunt.
3. Nixon's bunt. OK, Otis could run. But in the bottom of the 11th, the Braves down 4-3, pinch runner John Smoltz at third base with two outs and the World Series on the line, Nixon tried to bunt for a hit. Gutsy play or dumb play? Mike Timlin fielded the bunt, and the Jays won.
1993: Lost NLCS in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies
1. Bad run distribution. The Braves outscored the Phillies 33-23, winning two games by 14-3 and 9-4 scores but lost three games by one run.
2. More bullpen blues: Greg McMichael, the rookie closer, lost Game 1 in the 10th inning on Kim Batiste's RBI double. Wohlers was the loser in the 10th inning of Game 5 when Lenny Dykstra homered.
3. Maddux's poor Game 6 outing. He walked four batters in giving up six runs in 5⅔ innings.
1995: Won World Series in six games over the Cleveland Indians
1996: Lost World Series in six games to the New York Yankees
1. That hanging slider from Wohlers in Game 4.
2. Earlier in that game, the Braves led 6-0 in the sixth inning when a rookie named Derek Jeter lofted a pop fly down the right-field line that Jermaine Dye chased after until he ran into umpire Tim Welke. The ball fell for a hit, starting a three-run rally. (We should have realized back then that the Yankees rookie shortstop was destined for greatness, considering he would also hit the Jeffrey Maier home run in the ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles a week earlier.)
3. Marquis Grissom's error. His dropped fly ball led to the only run in Game 5 as Andy Pettitte outdueled Smoltz 1-0.
1997: Lost NLCS in six games to the Florida Marlins
1. Eric Gregg. The worst strike zone in the history of baseball (undocumented but presumably true) helped rookie Livan Hernandez strike out 15 and beat Maddux 2-1 in Game 5. Here are all 15 strikeouts. Fast-forward to the 1:30 mark for the final out on Fred McGriff on a pitch that will make you laugh, cry and disgusted.
2. Glavine's stinker first inning in Game 6. Single, walk, single, two-run single, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk (sure seems like Cox issued a lot of intentional walks), HBP with the bases loaded, RBI groundout, strikeout. The Marlins were up 4-0 before the Braves came to bat.
3. Pinch hitting. Thought I'd throw this in here somewhere. Braves pinch hitters were generally awful in the postseason during these 14 years. I'm not sure if that had to with the strength (or lack thereof) of the Braves' benches or just something that happened. Cox always liked to carry a third catcher for the playoffs, which generally meant he wasted a roster spot when he could have had another pinch hitter available. Then again, during much of this period, he carried only nine or 10 pitchers, not the 11 or 12 you see now, so he still had plenty of pinch-hitting options. Anyway, by my count, from 1991 to 2005, Braves pinch hitters went 39-for-208 (.188) in the postseason with zero home runs, 17 walks and just 22 RBIs. Considering postseason pinch hitters are often used in critical situations, that performance had to have hurt. Outside of Francisco Cabrera in the 1992 NLCS, they were certainly lacking their Ed Sprague moments.
1998: Lost NLCS in six games to the San Diego Padres
1. Sterling Hitchcock. In two starts, San Diego’s journeyman left-hander allowed just one run in 10 innings.
2. More bullpen blues. The closer this year was another rookie named Kerry Ligtenberg, who was discovered in independent ball. He had a good year with 30 saves and a 2.71 ERA. The Braves generally had good bullpens during this period. They just didn't always pitch well in the postseason. In Game 1, Ken Caminiti torched Ligtenberg for a home run in the 10th inning.
1999: Lost World Series in four games to the Yankees
1. Another crucial error. In Game 1, the Braves lead 1-0 in the eighth, with Maddux pitching a gem. Scott Brosius singles. Darryl Strawberry, pinch hitting, walks. Knoblauch bunts, but first baseman Brian Hunter -- who had just replaced Ryan Klesko for defense -- boots the play to load the bases. Jeter singles to tie the game, and Paul O'Neill greets John Rocker with a two-run single, with Hunter making another error that allowed the runners to move up a base. After an intentional walk and two strikeouts, Rocker walked Jim Leyritz with the bases loaded. Yankees win 4-1.
2. The Chad Curtis Game. Knoblauch had tied the game in the eighth with a two-run homer off Glavine that Brian Jordan just missed -- a classic Yankee Stadium home run. That led to Curtis, now rotting in jail after being convicted for sexual misconduct, hitting the game-winning home run, his second of the game, in the 10th inning off Mike Remlinger.
By the way, if you're counting, extra-winning wins, 1991-2005 postseason:
3. Mariano Rivera. One win, two saves. The Yankees had him; the Braves didn't.
2000: Lost NLDS in three games to the St. Louis Cardinals
1. Maddux got pounded in Game 1.
2. Glavine got pounded in Game 2.
3. Kevin Millwood got pounded in Game 3.
2001: Lost NLCS in five games to the Arizona Diamondbacks
1. Randy Johnson. The Big Unit allowed two runs in 16 innings in winning both of his starts.
2. Bad Maddux, bad defense. In Game 4 -- a must-win against Albie Lopez, the weak link behind Johnson and Curt Schilling -- Maddux gave up eight hits and six runs in three innings. The Braves committed four errors in the game, including three in a four-run third, leading to three unearned runs.
3. Three-man rotation? Maddux and Glavine started Games 4 and 5 on three days' rest while Johnson started Game 5 on four days' rest. Neither pitched well. Was this an issue throughout this era? From 1991 to 2005, Braves starters pitched 24 times on three days' rest. There were some notable successes -- Smoltz pitched 7⅓ scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Glavine pitched a four-hit complete game in Game 1 of the 1992 World Series, and Denny Neagle tossed a four-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 1997 NLCS -- but the Braves went 10-14 in these games and the starters allowed 4.37 runs per nine innings; when pitching on four or more days of rest in the other 98 games, the starters allowed 3.64 runs per nine innings and the team went 53-45.
So to recap, and considering Cox used his best starters on short rest:
Three days of rest: 10-14, 4.37 runs per nine innings. (The Braves were 0-3 in games started on two days' rest, after a starter had appeared earlier in relief.)
Four or more days of rest: 53-45, 3.64 runs per nine innings.
Cox understandably put a lot of faith in Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and, early on, Avery. In retrospect, maybe he should have trusted the depth of his rotation a little more.
2002: Lost NLDS in five games to the San Francisco Giants
1. Glavine. In two starts, he lasted a combined 7⅔ innings, allowed 17 hits and 13 runs and had more walks (seven) than strikeouts (four). In his final playoff start for the Braves in Game 4, he got knocked out in the third inning after Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer. Glavine signed with the Mets that offseason, and you wonder if his poor playoff performances in recent years was a reason the Braves let him go.
3. One last gasp that fell short. Game 5, bottom of the ninth, the Braves had two on with nobody out. Gary Sheffield struck out and Chipper Jones grounded into a double play.
2003: Lost NLDS in five games to the Chicago Cubs
1. No offense. By 2003, the Braves had morphed into an offensive powerhouse. This team led the NL with 907 runs scored as Javy Lopez clubbed 43 home runs, Sheffield hit 39, Andruw Jones hit 36, and Chipper Jones hit .305 with 27 home runs. They hit .215 with three home runs against the Cubs.
2. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Prior pitched a two-hitter in Game 3 (throwing 133 pitches). In Game 5 in Atlanta, Wood allowed one run in eight innings. Again, note that Wood was pitching on four days of rest while Mike Hampton went on three days.
3. Smoltz as reliever. From 2001 through 2004, following Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2000, Smoltz became the team's closer. However, he rarely had save opportunities in the postseason in these years; considering he later returned with success to the rotation, you wonder how Braves history would have been different had Smoltz been starting those years.
2004: Lost NLDS in five games to the Houston Astros
1. Jaret Wright. The Braves' Game 1 starter (posting a 3.28 ERA that year), Wright gave up 10 runs in 9⅔ innings in his two starts and lost both games.
2. Carlos Beltran. He hit four home runs and drove in nine runs for the Astros in the five games, including going 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs in a 12-3 rout in Game 5 -- yet another Game 5 loss at home.
3. Marcus Giles. He hit .125 in the series without an RBI. In 25 postseason games for the Braves, he hit .217/.277/.315 with two home runs and six RBIs in 101 plate appearances. Not to pick on one guy or anything.
2005: Lost NLDS in four games to the Astros
this walk-off home run off Joey Devine. You remember Joey Devine, right?
2. Kyle Farnsworth. The Braves blew a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of that game. Farnsworth gave up a grand slam to Lance Berkman in the eighth and a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth to Brad Ausmus.
3. Failed opportunities. The biggest came in the 14th inning when the Braves loaded the bases with one out. But Brian McCann struck out and pinch hitter Pete Orr grounded out. Roger Clemens, pitching on two days' rest after starting Game 2 and making his first relief appearance since 1984, then tossed three scoreless innings to get the win.
And that was it. The end of an era. That wasn't a great Braves club, going 90-72, at least compared to some of the earlier editions. In 2006, they fell to 79-83, but they rebuilt and gave Cox one final playoff appearance in 2010 -- in which the Braves lost the division series once again. (With another loss in 2013, the Braves have lost six consecutive division series, with a wild-card defeat thrown in as well.)
Still, it was a splendid stretch of baseball. From 1991 to 2005, the Braves played 125 postseason games. They won 63 games and lost 62. Maybe they should have won another World Series. In going through the play-by-play of a lot of these games, besides the obvious bullpen issues, I was struck by how many games were affected by errors. The Braves allowed 55 unearned runs in these 125 postseason games; as it turns out, that total isn't that much different from how the Braves performed in the regular season. From 1991 to 2005, not including 1994, they averaged 61 unearned runs per season; in the postseason, they were a little worse, as their total prorates to 71 over 162 games.
Of course, in the postseason, when the margin for error is smaller and the opponents better, those mistakes become more important. Still, maybe that wasn't a decisive factor; the Braves reached on an error 58 times in these 14 playoff years, their opponents 64.
Maybe a key to the Braves' success -- starting pitching depth -- just wasn't as big of a factor in the playoffs, when their opponents could shorten their rotations. Maybe power pitching does win in October; think of some of the pitchers the Braves lost to (Schilling with the Phillies and Diamondbacks; Johnson; Wood and Prior; Clemens and Roy Oswalt). The Braves' best playoff starter was Smoltz, more of a power pitcher than Maddux and Glavine. Maddux went 11-13 with a 2.81 ERA in his Braves postseason career but also allowed 18 unearned runs in 27 starts; he was good but not quite the Maddux of the regular season. Glavine was 12-15 with a 3.44 ERA in his Braves postseason career. (He had a 3.15 ERA in the regular season during this period.)
But Braves fans will always have 1995, Maddux pitching a two-hitter to win the opener and Glavine clinching it with that masterful Game 6 performance, allowing just one hit in eight innings. It's hard to believe that was 19 years ago.
Many shocks from ESPN's Hall of 100, the biggest thus far is that they have John Smoltz as better all time than Tom Glavine. #Hallof100— Julian Spivey (@julianspivey44) December 12, 2012
I was a little surprised as well that John Smoltz came in at No. 75 while Tom Glavine ranked No. 93, considering Glavine won 305 games compared to Smoltz's 213. We know that wins aren't everything, still ... 92 wins is a lot of wins to make up in other areas. Of course, these two are easier to compare than most pitchers since they were teammates from 1988 through 2002, pitching with the same defenses behind them.
Smoltz was the more dominant pitcher -- more strikeouts, harder to hit. But Glavine had nearly 1,000 more innings as Smoltz battled some injuries (missing all of the 2000 season) and spent three seasons and part of a fourth as a closer. All those extra innings helped Glavine achieve the edge in career wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com), thus seemingly turning this into a debate over career value versus peak value.
But that's not really the case. Let's rank their top 20 seasons:
1. Glavine, 1991: 8.2
2. Smoltz, 1996: 7.1
3. Glavine, 1998: 5.9
4. Glavine, 1996, 5.6
(tie Smoltz, 2006: 5.6
6. Glavine, 1997: 5.3
7. Smoltz, 1991: 5.1
8. Smoltz, 2005: 4.7
9. Glavine, 1995: 4.6
(tie) Glavine, 2000: 4.6
11. Smoltz, 1997: 4.5
12. Smoltz, 2007: 4.3
13. Smoltz, 1999: 4.2
14. Smoltz, 1995: 4.0
15. Glavine, 2005: 3.9
16. Glavine, 2002: 3.8
(tie) Glavine, 2004: 3.8
18. Glavine, 1992: 3.6
19. Smoltz, 1989: 3.5
20. Glavine, 2001: 3.4
I can't see where Smoltz rates the edge in peak value. If anything, in looking at the best 10 seasons, Glavine rates the edge. Smoltz did edge out Glavine in career ERA, but that's a factor of (1) Smoltz spending those years in the bullpen (his ERA was 3.40 as a starter); and (2) Glavine taking a few years to get going (4.29 ERA through his first three-plus seasons).
It may also be worth looking at how each performed in the Braves' closest pennant races.
1991: Braves beat Dodgers by 1 game (Glavine: 20-11, 2.55; Smoltz: 14-13, 3.80)
1993: Braves beat Giants by 1 game (Glavine: 22-6, 3.20; Smoltz: 15-11, 3.62)
1999: Braves beat Mets by 6.5 games, lead was 1 game with 12 to go (Glavine: 14-11, 4.12; Smoltz: 11-8, 3.19). In September, Glavine beat the Mets twice, allowing three runs in two starts. Smoltz had a no decision in one start against the Mets, allowing one run.
2000: Braves beat Mets by 1 game (Glavine: 21-9, 3.40; Smoltz: Missed entire season)
2001: Braves beat Phillies by 2 games (Glavine: 16-7, 3.57; Smoltz: 3-3, 10 saves)
That was it while they were teammates. In 2005, the Braves topped the Phillies by 2 games and Smoltz went 14-7, 3.06. In 2006, Glavine's Mets won the National League East by 12 games.
Anyway, it's pretty clear that Glavine rates the decided edge in "close pennant race" seasons. He pitched in 1991 and 1993, seasons the Braves won the East by 1 game (and there was no wild card). Due to injuries, Smoltz wasn't a factor in close races in 2000 and 2001.
We've left out one thing, however: Postseason performance.
Smoltz is one of the great October pitchers of all time, going 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA and four saves. Glavine went 14-16 with a 3.30 ERA. Smoltz pitched 209 innings and allowed 67 runs; Glavine pitched 218.1 innings and allowed 91 runs.
To push Smoltz past Glavine, you have to give him extra credit for that postseason performance, which is certainly reasonable. So we're kind of left with this: Glavine helped his teams a little more in getting to the postseason; Smoltz was the guy you wanted starting in the postseason. Tough call. I wonder if our image of Smoltz is stronger because he threw harder and if you watched postseason baseball in the '90s, you remember some of his big games.
If anything, maybe they should have been 75 and 76 in the Hall of 100 ... I'm just not sure in which order.
Bryant and company cruised throughout the tournament until Sunday's gold-medal game against Spain, prevailing 107-100 after leading by just one point heading into the fourth quarter.
Anyway, that's a lead-in to this: What would baseball's dream team from 1992 look like? Let's turn back the clock and imagine we're in the summer of 1992. Let's pick a 25-man team -- 15 position players, seven starting pitchers and three relievers. Just like the '92 hoops Dream Team, legend status should come into play a bit. Since we're imagining an Olympic-type scenario, we're going with U.S. players only.
1. 2B Ryne Sandberg, Cubs (.304/.371/.510, 26 HR, 7.6 WAR)
Made his ninth consecutive All-Star appearance in '92.
2. CF Kirby Puckett, Twins (.329/.374/.490, 19 HR, 6.8 WAR)
Had led the Twins to a World Series title in 1991; finished second in '92 American League MVP vote.
The best player in the game; won his second MVP award in '92.
4. DH Frank Thomas, White Sox (.323/.439/.536, 24 HR, 6.7 WAR)
In his second full season, but the most feared hitter in the AL. Led the league in OBP and OPS for the second consecutive season.
5. 1B Mark McGwire, A's (.268/.385/.585, 42 HR, 6.2 WAR)
Had rebounded from a poor 1991 to lead the AL in slugging percentage and the A's to the AL West title.
6. RF Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners (.308/.361/.535, 27 HR, 5.5 WAR)
At 22 years old, already one of the game's best all-around players. We'll move him to right field with Kirby in center.
7. 3B Terry Pendleton, Braves (.311/.345/.473, 21 HR, 4.8 WAR)
People remember his 1991 MVP season, but he finished second to Bonds in the '92 vote.
8. C Darren Daulton, Phillies (.270/.385/.524, 27 HR, 6.7 WAR)
It was a weak year for catchers, but Daulton had a monster season with the fourth-highest WAR among position players.
9. SS Cal Ripken, Orioles (.251/.323/.366, 14 HR, 3.8 WAR)
Not a good season but a baseball dream team wouldn't have been complete without Ripken.
OF Rickey Henderson, A's (.283/.426/.457, 15 HR, 5.4 WAR)
The best leadoff hitter in the game compiled 5.4 WAR despite playing just 117 games.
OF Andy Van Slyke, Pirates (.324/.381/.505, 14 HR, 5.9 WAR)
Led the NL in doubles and hits, fourth in the MVP vote, Gold Glove center fielder. His window was small, but a terrific player for a few years.
OF Dave Winfield, Blue Jays (.290/.377/.491, 26 HR, 3.8 WAR)
Others with a higher WAR, but Winfield gets credit for legend status and helping the Blue Jays win the World Series.
SS Ozzie Smith, Cardinals (.205/.367/.342, 0 HR, 5.0 WAR)
Tough call here: Barry Larkin (.304/.377/.452, 5.5 WAR) or the 37-year-old Ozzie? The Wizard could still pick it and had 43 steals.
3B Gary Sheffield, Padres (.330/.385/.580, 33 HR, 6.0 WAR)
Challenged for the Triple Crown much of the year before finishing first in batting, third in homers and fifth in RBIs.
C Terry Steinbach, A's (.279/.345/.411, 3.8 WAR)
Gets the nod over Mickey Tettleton as the backup catcher for his good defense and leadership.
Tom Glavine, Braves (20-8, 2.76 ERA, 3.6 WAR)
The only lefty on our 10-man staff, finished second in the Cy Young vote after winning it the year before.
Won the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards.
Roger Clemens, Red Sox (18-11, 2.41 ERA, 8.4 WAR)
Led the AL in ERA, shutouts, WHIP and SO/BB ratio, but finished just third in Cy Young vote.
Doug Drabek, Pirates (15-11, 2.77 ERA, 5.1 WAR)
Career went downhill after signing with the Astros in '93, but regarded as one of the toughest competitors in the game at the time.
Jack Morris, Blue Jays (21-6, 4.04 ERA, 2.5 WAR)
Morris absolutely would have been on a '92 dream team despite the high ERA. He'd just won back-to-back World Series titles and had the 21 wins.
Jack McDowell, White Sox (20-10, 3.18 ERA, 4.9 WAR)
Kevin Appier and Mike Mussina had better ERAs, but Black Jack had the image at the time. And the league-leading 13 complete games.
Nolan Ryan, Rangers (5-9, 3.72 ERA, 1.8 WAR)
The numbers don't merit inclusion, but by '92 Ryan was the biggest icon in the game, a 45-year-old flame-throwing legend. Much like Bird, you wouldn't leave him off.
Dennis Eckersley, A's (7-1, 1.91 ERA, 51 saves, 2.8 WAR)
The last AL reliever to win the Cy Young, Eck also walked away with the MVP trophy. OK, it was a bad vote, but Eck seemed unbeatable back then.
Rob Dibble, Reds (3-5, 3.07 ERA, 25 saves, 0.9 WAR)
At the time, Dibble had four of the five highest K/9 rates in major league history (minimum 50 innings).
Jeff Montgomery, Royals (1-6, 2.18 ERA, 39 saves, 3.0 WAR)
From '89 to '93, Montgomery fashioned a 2.22 ERA with 159 saves. What, you expected Mitch Williams?
So, who got Isiah'd? We mentioned Barry Larkin. Tony Gwynn was in a bit of a down spell (for him), so he loses out as well. We can't find room for NL home run leader Fred McGriff, Will Clark or Paul Molitor. For pitchers, some of the better statistical options would have included the aforementioned Mussina (7.9 WAR) and Appier (7.7 WAR) as well as Frank Viola, Sid Fernandez, Bob Tewksbury and David Cone, plus some up-and-coming guys like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling.
How does this team compare to a 2012 dream team? I'll let you debate who would be on such a 2012 team in the comments section.
This list only includes drafted players, so Latin American free agents like Johan Santana (signed originally by the Astros) are not included. There are also a couple of U.S.-born players who weren't drafted who could have made the list, such as Toby Harrah or Tom Candiotti, but they weren't included either.
This post is longer than I intended, but I thought I'd fill in some details on why the player was traded or lost. So here's the team with Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement noted. Active players who could some day make the list would include Adrian Gonzalez (drafted by the Marlins), Josh Hamilton (Rays), Austin Jackson (Yankees) and Gio Gonzalez (White Sox).
C -- Jason Varitek (career WAR: 21.3)
Drafted: Seattle Mariners, 1st round, 1994
How lost: The Red Sox acquired Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, July 31, 1997
One of the great deadline heists of all time. Desperate for a reliever, the Mariners gave up two of their top prospects for the mediocre Slocumb. It's difficult to understand why the Mariners were willing to deal Varitek, even though he was hitting just .254 at Triple-A Tacoma. He'd been a first-round pick and had power and solid defensive skills.
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 4th round, 1989
How lost: Astros got Bagwell for Larry Andersen on Aug. 30, 1990
Fighting for the AL East title, the Red Sox decided they needed another reliever. Andersen did pitch well, allowing three runs in 22 innings, and the Red Sox edged the Blue Jays by two wins to take the division. But for 22 innings of Andersen they gave up one of the greatest first basemen of all time.
2B -- Tony Phillips (career WAR: 48.2)
Drafted: Montreal Expos, 1st round of January secondary draft, 1978
How lost: The Expos traded Phillips to the Padres for Willie Montanez (who hit .185 with Montreal). But the Padres traded Phillips to the A's with two others for two guys who never played for the Padres.
Phillips, of course, became a standout utility player with the A's, Tigers, Angels and White Sox, posting a .374 career OBP and scoring 1,300 runs. With the Expos in Double-A in 1980, Phillips had hit .249 with five home runs, but with 98 walks and 50 steals. Trading him for the washed-up Montanez was bad as it looks. The Padres traded Phillips late in spring training of 1981, acquiring reliever Bob Lacey (who must have gotten hurt). Billy Martin is listed as Oakland's GM at the time, but I'm not sure who actually made the deals for Oakland then -- president Roy Eisenhardt, Martin or a young lawyer named Sandy Alderson, who became the team's GM in 1983. Who knows, maybe Martin saw Phillips in a spring training game. Or the A's, early converts to the value of the walk, noticed Phillips' minor league stats.
3B -- Darrell Evans (career WAR: 55.1)
Drafted: Kansas City A's, 7th round, January secondary draft, 1967
How lost: The Braves selected Evans in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 2, 1968
Evans had actually been drafted four times previously before finally signing with the A's. Evans had some sort of injury in 1968 and hit .241 with three home runs in Double-A in just 56 games, and considering he wasn't a high pick, probably wouldn't have been considered a top prospect in the modern style of thinking. Chalk it up to good scouting by the Braves. Evans went on to hit 414 home runs as one of the more underrated players in baseball history.
SS -- Jay Bell (career WAR: 34.1)
Drafted: Minnesota Twins, 1st round, 1984
How lost: Traded to the Indians for Bert Blyleven, Aug. 1, 1985. The were other players, but it essentially ended up Bell-for-Blyleven.
The Twins had another young shortstop in Greg Gagne, so could afford to part with Bell. The deal paid huge dividends two years later when Blyleven helped the Twins win the 1987 World Series. As for Bell, he didn't hit with the Indians, who of course gave up on him even though he was just 22 years old and traded him to Pittsburgh for somebody named Denny Gonzalez.
OF: Chet Lemon (career WAR: 52.0)
Drafted: Oakland A's, 1st round, 1972
How lost: Traded to the White Sox with Dave Hamilton for Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock, June 15, 1975.
Here's a case of a player who clearly was a top prospect being dealt away. In fact, I'm sure if Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein were ranking prospects in the summer of 1975, Lemon would have been one of the best in the game, considering his age (20), production (he was hitting .307/.373/.508) in Triple-A, and speed. He was, however, fielding .858 at third base. The A's were in a pennant race (they'd win the AL West) and wanted a veteran starter. But here's what's odd: Bahnsen had a 6.06 ERA at the time of the deal. The White Sox moved Lemon to center field where he became an elite defender (though, surprisingly, never won a Gold Glove) and solid hitter.
OF -- Amos Otis (career WAR: 39.2)
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 5th round, 1965
How lost: The Mets drafted Otis in the 1966 minor league draft
I'm not quite sure of the rules at the time, but somehow Otis was exposed in the minor league draft after the 1966 season. I assume he had to be placed on a certain roster relative to his experience, since the Mets jumped him from the New York-Penn League to Triple-A. Three years later (Otis had spent most of that time in Triple-A), the Mets traded him to the Royals for Joy Foy. Otis became a five-time All-Star while Foy played 99 games with the Mets.
OF -- Willie McGee (career WAR: 30.9)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 1st round, January secondary draft, 1977
How lost: Traded to the Cardinals for Bob Sykes, Oct. 21, 1981
If Baseball-Reference's date is correct, this trade happened on the day the Yankees played the second game of the World Series, which seems a little odd. Anyway, Sykes never pitched for the Yankees; in fact, never pitched again in the majors. But McGee wasn't even the best prospect the Yankees gave away during this era ...
DH -- Fred McGriff (career WAR: 48.2)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 9th round, 1981
How lost: Traded to the Blue Jays with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd, Dec. 9, 1982
Murray posted a 4.73 ERA in 62 games with the Yankees. McGriff went on to hit 493 home runs. Would McGriff have been considered a top prospect at the time? He'd hit .272/.413/.456 in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, with nine home runs in 272 plate appearances. He struck out a ton (63 whiffs) but drew walks and the nine home runs led the league. The Yankees certainly should have realized he had big power potential. Instead, he was a throw-in for a mediocre veteran reliever. Man, I miss George Steinbrenner.
Drafted: Boston Red Sox, 2nd round, January phase, 1986
How lost: Traded to the Orioles with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker, July 29, 1988
Schilling was actually traded three times before finally hitting it big with the Phillies -- the Orioles traded him to the Astros in the regrettable Glenn Davis deal and then the Astros traded him to the Phillies for (cough) Jason Grimsley. And then the Phillies traded him to the Diamondbacks and the Diamondbacks traded him to the Red Sox. The only deal where the team that traded Schilling actually got any value in return was the first one; Boddicker at least helped the Red Sox win division titles in 1988 and 1990.
SP -- John Smoltz (career WAR: 62.6)
Drafted: Detroit Tigers, 22nd round, 1985
How lost: Traded to the Braves for Doyle Alexander, Aug. 12, 1987)
Even though Smoltz had been a 22nd-round pick, I believe he was a highly rated prospect out of high school (he'd been an All-State pitcher in Michigan), but teams believed he was going to attend Michigan State. The Tigers took a flyer and signed him in September. At the time of the deal, he had a 5.68 ERA in Double-A with nearly as many walks (81) as strikeouts (86). Sometimes those hard-throwers do figure things out.
SP -- Cliff Lee (career WAR: 30.6)
Drafted: Montreal Expos, 4th round, 2000
How lost: Traded with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew, June 27, 2002.
Forced to trade Colon the following January, that crafty Omar Minaya acquired Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer.
SP -- Kevin Tapani (career WAR: 26.6)
Drafted: Oakland A's, 2nd round, 1986
How lost: Traded to the Mets in a three-team deal, Dec. 12, 1987
The A's ended up getting Bob Welch in the deal. Tapani later became part of the Frank Viola deal with the Twins and was the best pitcher on the 1991 World Series champs. Yes, he was: Tapani had a 2.99 ERA that year, Jack Morris a 3.43.
SP -- Doug Drabek (career WAR: 25.0)
Drafted: Chicago White Sox, 11th round, 1983
How lost: Traded to the Yankees for Roy Smalley, July 19, 1984
Drabek was tearing up Double-A when the White Sox traded him for Smalley, who proceeded to hit .170 and was traded in the offseason to the Twins for Randy Johnson. Wrong Randy Johnson. Drabek pitched well as a rookie with the Yankees in 1986, but of course back then they always preferred an old guy on his last legs as opposed to a young guy with potential, so they traded Drabek to the Pirates for Rick Rhoden. Really, can't we get the Steinbrenners more involved in making trades again?
RP -- Trevor Hoffman (career WAR: 27.0)
Drafted: Cincinnati Reds, 11th round, 1989
How lost: Selected by the Marlins in the 1993 expansion draft
Hoffman had been drafted as a shortstop before converting to the bullpen. The Marlins would end up trading him, Andres Berumen and Jose Martinez to the Padres for Gary Sheffield. Somehow I doubt the Padres knew they were acquiring a reliever who would rack up 601 career saves.
Baseball lore is full of great scouting stories, like the tale of the scout who was driving through rural Maryland one day and stopped to ask a kid working in a field for directions. The kid -- future Hall of Fame Jimmie Foxx -- raised his plow with one arm and pointed: "That way."
The scout, seeing the kid's raw strength, asked him the obvious question: "Do you play baseball?"
Who knows, maybe Brandon Beachy will become one of those stories.
Beachy played mostly third base and first base at Indiana Wesleyan and pitched a little, but went undrafted. A Braves area scout named Gene Kerns saw Beachy one July evening pitching in relief in the Virginia Valley League, a college summer league. He saw a kid with good size throwing in the low 90s.
After the game, he asked Beachy if he'd been drafted. (He wouldn't be allowed to talk to him if he had.) When Beachy said no, Kerns, as he relayed in a 2011 interview, then asked the obvious question: "Do you have an interest in professional baseball?"
Kerns convinced the club to sign him as a non-drafted free agent. Barely two years later, Beachy was in the major leagues. Now, after a sterling rookie season, Beachy is 5-1 after throwing his first major league complete game and shutout in a 7-0 victory over the Marlins. Beachy threw 122 pitches, struck out six, walked nobody, allowed four singles and one double and showcased why he leads the major leagues with a 1.33 ERA.
In less than four years he has gone from an undrafted college infielder to minor league reliever to maybe-he's-a-prospect to major league starter to ... well, what do we call him now? The most underrated pitcher in baseball? A possible All-Star? I'm not sure. For now, let's just call him very good.
Beachy isn't overpowering, usually settling in around 90-91 mph with his four-seamer, occasionally cranking it up to 94. He gets some running sink/cut on his fastball, although it's not a cutter. He tweeted earlier this season that "No, I don't throw a cutter. Just 4-seams and an occasional 2." He mixes in a changeup, a slow curve (72-74 mph) that he commands well and a slider. Yes, he relies to some extend on a deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for batters to pick up the ball, but he's excelling on more than deception; his stuff is better than advertised.
He was in control all game against the Marlins. They did get two runners on with two out in the fifth, but Jose Reyes lined out to right. In the seventh, Giancarlo Stanton doubled to lead off the inning and Chipper Jones made a nice diving stop on Gaby Sanchez for the first out. Beachy induced Emilio Bonifacio to ground out to second on a 94-mph four-seamer and then struck out Brett Hayes on a lovely changeup.
From there it was six up, six down and the shutout.
Last season, Baseball America ranked Beachy as Atlanta's No. 8 prospect, behind more heralded arms Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Arodys Vizcaino. But Beachy beat out Minor -- a former No. 1 pick -- for the No. 5 rotation slot out of spring training and never looked back. He made 25 starts and finished 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA, striking out 169 batters in 141.2 innings, the highest strikeout in the majors for pitchers with at least 100 innings.
His biggest issue as a rookie was an inability to pitch deep into games. The strikeouts were nice, but also meant he ran up his pitch counts, leading to early exits. He pitched seven innings just twice. Thursday was the fourth time in eight starts that he's gone at least seven. While his strikeout rate is down -- 6.5 Ks per nine -- he has been even more effective. His ground ball rate is up from 33.8 percent to 43.1 percent, he has allowed just one home run in 54 innings and his walks are down. There may be a little luck going on here --- the home run rate is absurdly low for a fly-ball pitcher and his .214 BABIP will surely rise -- but at this point you have to call him one of the best pitchers in the majors.
I asked Braves fans if they've been surprised by Beachy's sophomore campaign. A few responses:
- "That dominant game from Beachy tonight is just a continuation of the good work he's been doing this year. Kid's got the goods." -- @jackson_todd
- "Beachy has earned everything through hard work and dedication. I was surprised when he came up but not this year." -- @PaulGrey27
- "Not surprised that he's been the Braves best pitcher. Very surprised that he's been THIS good." -- @JUnderwood9
- "biggest surprise is continued ability to get swinging strikes on the fastball up, even when sitting 91-93. Huge asset." --@puckhoo
- "so no, not too surprised. if he can stay efficient and get his K rate back up a little bit he will become a legit ace" --@telfo1
- "Beachy reminds me so much of John Smoltz. His mechanics are simple which enables him to repeat pitches without stress." --@M823SL
Somewhere Gene Kerns was probably watching a baseball game tonight. I hope he got a chance to check out a few innings of Brandon Beachy. And if he wants to somehow involve a plow in future retellings of how he discovered Beachy, I think that sounds perfectly fine.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
August 12, 1987: Tigers acquire Doyle Alexander from Braves for John Smoltz
People love to talk about this as one of the worst trades in Tigers history, but when you look at it from the perspective of the time of the deal, it wasn't all that bad. Smoltz at the time was a former 22nd-round pick toiling in Double-A with a 4-10 record, 5.73 ERA and 1.64 WHIP; the year before, in A-ball, he struck out only 5.6 batters per 9. Do those numbers scream "prospect?" On the flip side, Detroit acquired the wily veteran Alexander, who went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch, significantly helping the Tigers win the AL East by two games over the Blue Jays. Sure, Smoltz went on to have a spectacular career, but if the Tigers didn't make that move, they may not have made the postseason.
August 31, 1988: Tigers acquire Fred Lynn from Orioles for Chris Hoiles and two PTBNLs (Cesar Mejia, Robinson Garces)
Fred Lynn hit seven homers and drove in 19 in 27 games for the Tigers, but batted only .222 as Detroit finished one game short of the AL East title. Lynn played one more so-so season in Detroit before moving on to San Diego and retirement. Meanwhile, Hoiles hit 151 homers in 10 seasons with the Orioles, including 112 from 1992-1996.
August 8, 1990: Pirates acquire Zane Smith from Expos for Scott Ruskin, Willie Greene and a PTBNL (Moises Alou)
It's been almost 20 years since the Pirates last enjoyed a winning season -- and Zane Smith was a member of that 1992 club. Smith went 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA down the stretch in '90 to help the Pirates finish first in the NL East, then went 16-10 in '91 to help them win another division title, and was the victim of poor run support in an 8-8 season for that final winning club in '92. On the other hand, Moises Alou went on to deliver a career .885 OPS over the next 17 seasons.
August 30, 1990: Red Sox acquire Larry Andersen from Astros for Jeff Bagwell
Like the aforementioned Alexander/Smoltz deal, this one goes down as a doozy, but again, it made some sense at the time. Unlike Smoltz, Bagwell had strong numbers in the minors -- a .310 average and .810 OPS in A-ball in 1989 and then a .303 average / .880 OPS in Double-A at the time of the deal. However, there were two issues in play. First was that Bagwell hadn't yet shown any of the home-run power required of a corner man; he'd hit only six homers in his first 831 plate appearances as a pro. Second, as primarily a third baseman at that point in his career, Bagwell was stuck behind Wade Boggs at the big-league level and the highly-touted (at the time) Scott Cooper in Triple-A. A move to first base was blocked by a behemoth named Mo Vaughn in Triple-A Pawtucket, who was already on the fast track to the majors. Meanwhile, the Sox were in a tight race with the Blue Jays and needed a reliable arm in the 'pen. Andersen provided that, posting a 1.23 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through 15 games in September, helping Boston win the AL East by two games. Remember, the Red Sox were still haunted by The Curse of the Bambino, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
August 27, 1992: Blue Jays acquire David Cone from Mets for Jeff Kent and a PTBNL (Ryan Thompson)
Cone -- the "hired gun" -- won four games down the stretch for the World Champion Blue Jays in '92, then left Toronto for Kansas City as a free agent that winter. Thompson was a five-tool player who never lived up to the hype and Jeff Kent went on to become, well, Jeff Kent -- though not until after he was jettisoned from New York in a 1996 deadline deal.
August 8, 1996: Rangers acquire John Burkett from Marlins for Rick Helling and Ryan Dempster
This was a good deal over the short term, as Burkett went 5-2 in '96 to help Texas win the AL West by 4.5 games -- but won only nine games per year for the next three before re-discovering the magic under Leo Mazzone's guidance in Atlanta. Ironically, Helling returned to the Rangers the following year in another waiver-wire deal, and won 20 games for them in '98. Over the long term, though, there is the matter of Dempster, who went on to become an All-Star in Florida and remains a solid MLB starter today.
August 28, 1996: Braves acquire Denny Neagle from Pirates for Corey Pointer, Ron Wright and a PTBNL (Jason Schmidt)
Neagle won only two games down the stretch for the Braves in '96, but won 20 in '97 and another 16 in '98 before being dealt to Cincinnati. Nothing became of Pointer or Wright, but Schmidt was a durable starter for Pittsburgh before becoming a dominant ace in San Francisco.
August 29,1996: Mariners acquire Dave Hollins from Twins for a PTBNL (David Ortiz)
Hollins hit .351 with a .916 OPS in 28 games for the M’s, who finished 4.5 games behind the aforementioned Rangers. Hollins left for Philadelphia as a free agent in the winter and you know what happened to David Ortiz -- but did you know that the Twins weren't the first team to give up on him?
August 6, 1998: Padres acquire Randy Myers from Blue Jays for Brian Lloyd
This deal is unique in that it not only looks bad in hindsight, it looked bad at the time. Lloyd never made it to MLB, which in retrospect softens the blow, but the deal put a strain on the low-budget Padres, who were responsible for $13.5 million through 2000 – back when that was a lot of money. The irony is that the Padres didn't really want or need Myers -- they were 13 games ahead of the second-place Giants and had a rock-solid bullpen led by Trevor Hoffman. However, Atlanta was likewise running away with the NL East -- and would therefore be the Padres' playoff opponent -- and they were desperate for a closer. Presumably, the Braves were working on a deal with the Jays for Myers, assuming he passed through waivers. So the Padres put a claim on Myers to block the deal -- and were caught off-guard when Toronto, looking to dump salary, were happy to let the Padres take Myers off their hands. Myers was awful for San Diego, posting a 6.28 ERA over 14 innings. He had rotator cuff surgery after the season and never pitched in MLB again.
August 26, 2003: Padres acquire Brian Giles from Pirates for Jason Bay, Oliver Perez and a PTBNL (Corey Stewart)
California native Giles had been pining for a deal to a team closer to home, and was obliged by being sent to the last-place Padres. He had some solid seasons in San Diego, but Petco Park and age robbed him of his home-run power. Interestingly, Bay was part of a deadline deal the previous year (the Mets traded him and two others for bullpen help), and would be sent away from Pittsburgh in another deadline deal. In between, he was an All-Star for the Pirates, and Oliver Perez (who also was eventually traded away in a deadline deal) had one brilliant season for the Bucs in 2004 before becoming an eternal enigma.
August 19, 2006: Phillies acquire Jamie Moyer from Mariners for Andy Baldwin and Andrew Barb
What intrigues me about this deal is the longevity the Phils received from Moyer, whose five wins down the stretch of a non-race in '06 were insignificant. Who would have thought that the ageless lefty would win 51 more games over the next four years?
Joe Janish is the founder of Mets Today, a SweetSpot network affiliate, and has thrown BP to Don Mattingly, caught Jim Bouton's knuckleball, and eaten a meal prepared by Rusty Staub. You can follow him on Twitter here.
1. John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. (Braves/Tigers, 1987.)
Alexander did go 9-0, 1.53 to help the Tigers win the AL East. Smoltz had a 5.86 ERA in Double-A at the time of the trade with an 86/81 SO/BB ratio, but he was in the majors a year later and an All-Star by 1989.
2. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen. (Astros/Red Sox, 1990.)
Like the Smoltz/Alexander trade, this was actually an August deal. Bagwell hit .333 but with just four home runs in Double-A. But he actually had the second-best OPS in the Eastern League. A year later, he was the NL Rookie of the Year.
3. Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris for Mark Langston. (Mariners/Expos, 1989.)
The Mariners deal Langston in late May, knowing they wouldn't be able to sign him as a free agent. He went 12-9, 2.39 for the Expos, but they fell out of the pennant race.
4. Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon. (Indians/Expos, 2002.)
Another Expos disaster, a desperate move by Omar Minaya made on June 27 when Montreal was 6.5 games out of first place and 5 games out of the wild card. (By the way, earlier in the year Minaya had traded minor leaguer Jason Bay to the Mets for Lou Collier.)
5. Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps. (Mariners/Yankees, 1988.)
Buhner hit 301 home runs for the Mariners. Phelps hit 17 for the Yankees.
6. Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama for Randy Johnson. (Mariners/Astros, 1998.)
Garcia, Guillen and Halama were all key contributors to the Mariners' playoff teams in 2000 and 2001. As you can see, that original Mark Langston draft pick turned into immense value for the Mariners. Unfortunately, the chain was broken when they traded Garcia for Jeremy Reed (and Mike Morse and Miguel Olivo, although those two didn't do anything for Seattle) and Guillen for Ramon Santiago.
7. Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb. (Red Sox/Mariners, 1997.)
Made minutes before the deadline buzzer, Slocumb wasn't even that good of a reliever.
8. Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera and David West for Frank Viola. (Twins/Mets, 1989.)
Aguilera was a proven major leaguer, but Tapani developed into one of the big three Twins' starters (along with Jack Morris and Scott Erickson) on the 1991 World Series champs.
9. Michael Young for Esteban Loaiza. (Rangers/Blue Jays, 2000.)
Nearly 2,000 hits and seven All-Star appearances later, the Rangers are still reaping the rewards of this deal.
10. Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Mark Teixeira. (Rangers/Braves, 2007.)
The Rangers decided to deal Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he hit free agency, and dug into the lower levels of the Atlanta system.
There are certainly some recent deals to keep an eye on; I have a feeling Carlos Santana-for-Casey Blake will eventually enter lists like this one.
Nick (editor): Verlander alert!
Dave (blogger): Crap! At the grocery store after going to the gym.
Nick: He’s thru 6, with 10 K’s.
Dave: On way home.
Nick: Thru 7 and making the Indians look stupid.
Justin Verlander, of course, didn’t get his second no-hitter of 2011 on Tuesday night, but he did throw what might have been the most dominant game of the season: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 SO. Using the Bill James Game Score method, which grades a start on a 0 to 100 scale, Verlander scores a 94, the best of the season, edging James Shields’ 13-strikeout, three-hit shutout over Florida on May 22.
What’s frightening to opponents -- and in particular to American League Central rivals such as, say, the Cleveland Indians -- is that Verlander seems to have turned it up a notch since that May 7 no-no in Toronto. That day, Verlander struck out just four and after the game talked about his maturation as a pitcher, not always going for the strikeout and conserving his energy early in the game. Indeed, he was clocked at 100 mph in the ninth inning.
Well, as of five days ago, he had yet to strike out 10 batters in a game this season. Now he’s done it in back-to-games. He’s 8-3, his ERA is 2.66 (more than a run below his career average), and he’s walking fewer hitters than ever and allowing fewer hits. Opponents are batting .185 off him. I’m pretty sure most observers would agree he’s the best pitcher in the AL right now.
* * * *
As I drove home, I started thinking of this question: Since I’ve been a baseball fan (1976), which starting pitchers have had the most dominating stuff? By that, I guess I mean something like from a scouting perspective -- velocity, command, pitch variety, stamina, stature and so on. Here’s the list I came up with:
1. Randy Johnson. Once he developed control of his 100 mph heater and wipeout slider, he just destroyed hitters. Lefties would come up with colds, sore backs and pink eye when he pitched. To put his dominance in perspective: Verlander has 18 10-strikeout games in his career; Johnson twice had 23 10-strikeout games in one season. Good lord.
2. Pedro Martinez. As former ESPN analyst (and former major infielder) Dave Campbell once told me, “The thing that makes Pedro so unhittable is he has four pitches. Guys like Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton were basically fastball-slider guys. You could feel comfortable against them. You’d go 0-for-4, but it would be a comfortable 0-for-4. Against Pedro, you have no chance.” At his peak, he had an explosive fastball and the best changeup in the game, plus a slider, curve and cut fastball, all thrown with impeccable control -- and an occasional one high and tight, just to make sure you didn’t dig in a little too much.
3. Nolan Ryan. He’d be downgraded for lack of command, but there’s a reason he threw seven no-hitters, throwing his fastball and curve (and adding a changeup late in his career), never giving in to a hitter and knocking you on your rear end if he felt a little mean that day.
4. Stephen Strasburg. Yes, he was that electrifying. Even if he comes back at 90 percent, he’ll be great.
5. Justin Verlander. The most impressive thing is his ability to maintain his velocity into the ninth inning. The command hasn’t always been there and at times the fastball can be too straight, which has made him a little more hittable at times than you would expect.
6. Dwight Gooden. The young Doc had a high fastball that he blew by hitters, and a big curve that made girls swoon and grown men cry.
7. Kevin Brown. Threw a hard, two-seam sinking fastball that would dive in on right-handed batters. The pitch was so dominant it was both a strikeout pitch and a ground ball pitch.
8. Kerry Wood. Oh, that rookie season ...
9. Roger Clemens. Primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher early in his career; added that unhittable splitter later on.
10. John Smoltz. On pure stuff, he would grade higher than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Anyway, that’s my list -- many others I could have included, such as CC Sabathia, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, the young Bartolo Colon, Curt Schilling, Mario Soto, Mark Prior, Johan Santana ...
* * * *
Back to Justin Verlander. Is this the year he puts it all together? By that, I mean keeping his ERA to less than 3.00 (his career best is 3.37), maintaining his health (never an issue with him during his career) and keeping his focus for 30-plus starts?
I think it is. Maybe that May 24 start against Tampa Bay, in which he allowed six runs with only two strikeouts, was a bit of a wake-up call. As talented as he is, the great pitchers still have to pitch and think and work hitters. Verlander has the stuff. But there is no cruise control in baseball. His foot is on the pedal, and right now -- like Dwight Gooden in 1985 or Pedro Martinez in 2000 or Randy Johnson in 2001 -- he’s become appointment viewing.
Because I suspect I’ll be getting a couple more “Verlander alert!” emails this season.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
- TBS, exclusive home of the 2010 Major League Baseball League Division Series (LDS) and American League Championship Series (ALCS), announced today broadcast teams for the network’s 2010 regular season Sunday MLB on TBS schedule. A rotation of play-by-play announcers will call the action, including Emmy winner Ernie Johnson, Dick Stockton and Brian Anderson. The network’s play-by-play announcers will be paired with Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz, who is joining the Turner Sports family this season ...
Smoltz, who captured the Cy Young Award in 1996, will serve as a TBS analyst for the regular season, as well as the network’s coverage of the MLB Playoffs. Additionally, Smoltz will serve as an analyst for Braves games this season on Peachtree TV, alongside Johnson and 18-year Turner veteran Joe Simpson. Smoltz is no stranger to Turner Sports. The former eight-time All-Star was an in-studio guest analyst during the 2007 MLB Postseason on TBS and served as an analyst during the network’s coverage of the 2008 LDS. Previously, he served as an analyst for games on Peachtree TV while rehabbing an injury during the 2008 season.
“Joining Turner Sports’ Major League Baseball coverage is a great opportunity for me to stay immersed in the game that I love and I’m really looking forward to this experience. Having worked with TBS and Peachtree TV before, I am thrilled about the start of the 2010 season,” said Smoltz.
Qualitatively, the only real difference between John Smoltz in 2009 (3-8, 6.35 ERA) and the John Smoltz who's heading to the Hall of Fame (213-155, 3.33) was five pitches that turned into five home runs.
Last year, Smoltz struck out 8.4 and walked 2.1 hitters per nine innings, both figures slightly better than his career marks. He did allow 1.3 home runs per nine innings, which is roughly twice his career rate (0.7) ... but that's just five home runs. If Smoltz had allowed six homers rather than 11, he'd have hit his career rate exactly. Which is, by the way, almost exactly what he did in both 2007 and 2008.
Those five "extra" home runs aren't meaningless, and last year Smoltz wasn't throwing as hard as he had in the previous few seasons. But people are going to look at his 6.35 ERA last season and assume he had to retire, and I just don't think that's true. I think he can still pitch, and I hope he's got something in his new contract that allows him to delay his TV career if somebody really wants him to pitch.
Understandably, Schultz gives extra play to the possibility of a Braves reunion. It'd be a nice way to go out, and Smoltz remains in contact with Braves manager Bobby Cox. Still, as far as opportunities go, the Braves appear set with their rotation and the back end of the bullpen.
Ten teams have expressed interest in Smoltz at various points this winter, according to reports: the Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mariners, Astros, Rangers, and Orioles.
A year ago, the Red Sox were pretty set with their rotation and the back end of their rotation, too. But that didn't stop them from signing Smoltz and (later) Paul Byrd, and eventually trading for Billy Wagner. But the Braves aren't the Red Sox, and it's probably true that they're not going to sign Smoltz unless they've a rotation slot to fill.
Of course it's worth mentioning that Smoltz will turn 43 in three months. It's also worth mentioning that only 10 pitchers last season started at least a dozen games and struck out at least four times as many hitters as they walked, and Smoltz was one of them (along with a bunch of stars and Ted Lilly and Koji Uehara).
Like most of the rest of the unsigned veterans who used to play in All-Star games, Smoltz probably is still good enough to play in the majors. It's just a question of money and pride.
Today I was.
I didn't know how many players would be elected. I figured at least one, but probably two and possibly three.
Well, it was one. And not the one I would have guessed.
Kidding. But Dawson did finish his career with a .323 on-base percentage, which means he's wrested the title Hall of Fame Outfielder With the Worst OBP away from Lou Brock ... and it wasn't much of a battle, as Brock's OBP is 20 points higher than Dawson's.
This bothers pointy-headed nerds like me. It did not bother most Hall of Fame voters, who chose instead to focus on his eight Gold Gloves, his MVP award in 1987 and the dynamic power/speed blend that typified Dawson's five best seasons. I wouldn't have voted for Dawson, but his career does (roughly speaking) fall in line with the Hall's historical standards. I mean, he wasn't anything like as good as Tim Raines, but that's an argument for another day. Raines got only 30 percent and deserved better (but at least he's moving up). Alan Trammell got just 22 percent, and deserved much better (he moved up, too, but just slightly).
Roberto Alomar should have been the easiest choice on the ballot. He finished his career with more than 2,700 hits, he stole 474 bases, and he won 10 Gold Gloves at second base. The only knocks against Alomar are that he once spit on an umpire and that his last good season came when he was still just 33. But only 74 percent of the voters saw well past those things, and it takes 75 percent. Although the BBWAA's collective decision is indefensible, it will be forgotten a year from now when Alomar clears the bar with ease.
Also falling just short -- just five votes short -- was Bert Blyleven, in his 13th try. Consider the progress that he's made, though. In his first three tries, he couldn't clear 20 percent. Five years ago, he cleared 50 percent for the first time. And now he's at 74.2 percent, and will almost certainly join Alomar on the podium next year. And when he's up there, I suspect that Blyleven will have a word of thanks for Rich Lederer.
There were three first-time candidates other than Alomar who deserved particularly serious consideration.
Barry Larkin played more than 150 games in only four seasons, which is about the only bad thing you can say about him, but it is a bad thing. Larkin played in just 2,180 games; Dave Concepcion, another lifetime Red who played shortstop and has supporters of his own, played nearly 2,500 games. But Larkin won a dozen Silver Sluggers and was an All-Star a dozen times, plus he stole nearly 400 bases and picked up a few Gold Gloves. He'll make it, eventually.
One never got the sense that Edgar Martinez really had a chance. Not this time, anyway. For the non-obvious candidates, the only path to election includes starting out well short of the goal, then building support over the years as voters take a closer look and perhaps are dragged aboard the bandwagon.
2009 inductee Jim Rice got just 30 percent his first time on the ballot; Andre Dawson, just 45 percent. There aren't any guarantees, but at least Edgar's still in the game. The problem, for him and any other candidate who's not elected in the next two years, is that the ballot will be flooded with highly qualified first-time candidates in both 2013 and '14. Some of those candidates will be pushed to 2015 and beyond, when they'll be joined by the likes of Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Ivan Rodriguez and ... well, those ballots are going to be mighty crowded.
Fred McGriff got just 22 percent, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. Maybe he would have fared better if he'd hit 500 home runs (rather than 493). But 500 isn't a magic number these days. More than anything, McGriff simply suffers by comparison to his contemporaries at first base: Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Mo Vaughn and Jason Giambi all won MVPs during McGriff's career; Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro did some impressive things, too. With the exception of the last two months of the 1993 season, McGriff was overshadowed by all of them.
If I may indulge in a bit of speculation ... Alomar is obviously one of history's greatest second basemen. A huge majority of ballots already made public included Alomar's name. I can only guess that a significant number of voters were simply too apathetic about baseball during Alomar's career to pay any real attention. I don't say that to explain why he didn't get elected this year. I say that to explain why he'll get elected next year, as a few dozen voters say to themselves, "Hey, this Alomar fellow was almost elected last year. I guess I should probably vote for him!"
At least they do usually get it right, eventually. The process works, sort of.
- After Bronson Arroyo held the St. Louis Cardinals to one run in a 6-1 Reds win Wednesday night, a Cardinals coach accused the pitcher of cheating.
Cardinals starter John Smoltz said he had trouble gripping the ball. He tossed several out of play even before trying to pitch with them. Smoltz walked five batters, two more than in all the games played since he joined the Cardinals earlier this year.
Balls are supposed to be rubbed with a special mud before each game, a job usually performed by the home team's clubhouse crew.
"They were fine for me," Arroyo said. "They don't mud them up as much here as they do at other places. It was a cool night, and it's hard to hold on sometimes."
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said, "I'm sure he had pine tar on his cap. He didn't have any problem getting a grip. Balls like that can generate a lot more movement than a slick ball that hasn't been rubbed up."
For his part, Arroyo denied the allegations in a story on the Reds' Web site.
"The reason he's saying that is because I've been using this hat all season," Arroyo said. "That's what happens from playing games in every other park, where there is so much mud on the balls. That black stuff comes off on my fingers every day."
This time it's Bronson Arroyo, and the supposed foreign substance is spotted on the bill of his cap rather than the base of his pitching thumb.
I saw a video clip of Arroyo today, explaining himself and displaying his cap. He seems like a straight shooter and I believe him. If Dave Duncan doesn't want pitchers running out with brown spots on their caps, then he should lobby his general manager to lobby for a rule prohibiting dirty baseball caps. That'd be fine with me (though I'd prefer they go after the gunky batting helmets first).
Another thing Duncan might lobby for: uniform rubbing. In the old days -- actually, just a few years ago, I think -- the umpiring crew took care of the baseballs, with the junior arbiter usually stuck with the job. But that practice died, presumably because the umpires hated the job, particularly with so many dozens of baseballs being used in every game. When the job is left to the home team, though, you're bound to wind up with a visiting team complaining when the balls don't seem up to snuff.
There's no obvious solution, other than Major League Baseball paying someone to do the dirty work. Quick, call the Commissioner's office ...
- The 42-year-old righthander is expected to serve as the Cardinals' fifth starter, though he eventually could move to a setup role for closer Ryan Franklin. St. Louis has been seeking a fifth starter since demoting righthander Todd Wellemeyer to the bullpen earlier this month. Given an opportunity to fill that void, righthander Mitchell Boggs went 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in two August starts.
Smoltz went 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA in eight starts for Boston this season before being designated for assignment, and eventually released earlier this week.
Of course, Smoltz's biggest problem with the Red Sox was giving up eight homers in 40 innings. Well, that and giving up a .386 batting average on balls in play, which is almost comically absurd.
The question isn't if Smoltz can pitch like he used to pitch, or if he can pitch better than he pitched for the Red Sox. The question is if he can pitch better than Wellemeyer and Boggs. And considering his still-impressive stuff and the advantages he's about to enjoy, I believe that he can.
The Cardinals have a big lead in their division already, and they're piling on, and I like that very much.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka made the Red Sox' decision about what to do with their extra pitching a little easier [Friday night]. Dice-K allowed six runs in 4+ innings, raising his ERA to 8.23. He was wild, walking four. When he was around the plate, the Braves collected eight hits. Opponents are now hitting .378 against the Boston righty. All that pitching depth is about to pay off.
Meanwhile, [Kenshin] Kawakami let the good times roll. He allowed just two runs in six innings as the Braves won 8-2. It was a good game for former Pirates as both [Nate] McLouth and [Jason] Bay homered.
And of course there's still Clay Buchholz. Wednesday night in Pawtucket, John Smoltz -- in his "final tune-up" before joining the big club -- started for the PawSox and went four solid innings ... but it's Buchholz who got the victory with four solid innings of his own. In 71 innings, Buchholz is 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 65 strikeouts.
I would agree with David that the Red Sox's pitching depth will pay off. It has already, and almost certainly will again. But I still maintain that the Red Sox, right now, have more than they need. And that they might have been better off worrying last winter about their shortstops.
Regarding Kenshin Kawakami, yeah: The good times have been rolling. Since a lousy start in late April, Kawakami's ERA has decreased (or held steady) in nine straight starts, dropping from 7.06 to 4.42. Not bad for a rookie who turns 34 on Monday.
- A look at the Red Sox' rotation since May 1 gives us a pretty good idea exactly who should be replaced when Smoltz returns:
• Josh Beckett: 5-1, 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 50 Ks, 16 BB
• Jon Lester: 4-3, 4.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 63 Ks, 18 BB
• Tim Wakefield: 6-2, 6.13 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 26 Ks, 22 BB
• Brad Penny: 3-2, 4.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 38 Ks, 9 BB
• Daisuke Matsuzaka: 1-3, 6.20 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 27 Ks, 9 BB
Clearly the best starting rotation at the moment does not include Matsuzaka, who (unlike Wakefield) has shown us nothing positive in his seven starts this season. A second DL stint -- fatigued shoulder, one month for arm strengthening, mechanics work and a bevy of rehab starts -- seems like the most logical choice. If and when a good enough offer for Penny arises, Buchholz can take his place in the rotation.
It's the only option that makes sense right now. The Red Sox would be foolish to simply dump Penny, a solid pitcher at this point, simply because they can. And they would be foolish to keep Smoltz out of the rotation when he would be a clear improvement over the Sox' worst starter.
Frankly, I wonder if there's not some other solution to this Gordian Knot. I wonder if the Red Sox wouldn't be better -- in the short term, at least -- with Smoltz and Buchholz in the rotation ... and Wakefield and Matsuzaka out.
Of course, that would be a tricky thing. Wakefield is beloved by all, and for good reasons. The Red Sox have a huge amount of money invested in Matsuzaka; $103 million, to be roughly exact. Many years ago, Bill James wrote in one of the Baseball Abstracts that it's possible to have too many viable starting pitchers. That you wind up wasting a lot of energy figuring out which five are your best.
I don't know that the Red Sox have too many. But in the process of sorting everything out, they're probably going to wind up losing a few games and hurting a few feelings. I believe that entering a spring -- if not a season -- with seven or eight starters is probably a good idea. I'm not sure that having seven or eight in June is optimal.