SweetSpot: Pedro Martinez

If you want to take a break from the MLB draft or actual baseball games, some stuff to check out:
  • Fun list from the Baseball Prospectus staff: 11 draft-day what-ifs. Of course, there is no end to the what-ifs, but these are some good ones that could have happened.
  • Matt Kremnitzer with an interesting idea if the Orioles fall out of the playoff race: Could Nelson Cruz be a trade chip? At 30-27, I'm not sure the Orioles will fall out of the everyone's-in-it AL wild-card race, but if they do, it's a plausible scenario.
  • David Laurila of FanGraphs interviews Pedro Martinez on the art -- and science -- of pitching. Love this quote: “My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it." Note: Ramp up when I needed to. Relates to one of the issues we've been talking about with all these Tommy John surgeries: Pitchers don't have to -- and probably shouldn't -- air out every fastball at max velocity.
  • Joe Posnanski has a little fun with a scouting report on Derek Jeter.
  • Michael Eder of It's About the Money is a little more blunt: Jeter is hurting the Yankees.
  • More Posnanski: How the A's continue to thrive, a decade after "Moneyball." Money quote: "Moneyball II is not about being smart. Everybody in baseball can be smart. Moneyball II is about doing smart things. There's a big difference. The A's face the same pressures, the same groupthink, the same visual cues as everyone else. They have the same gut reactions to events, and they initially want to respond in the same way as everyone else. To say that they are smarter than everyone else misses the biggest point.

     



    "The biggest point is this: Nobody's that smart -- not even the A's. They have to work just as hard as anybody to avoid the traps, address their weaknesses, overcome the silly flaws in their System One thinking. They have to call up Josh Donaldson when brains tell them not to call him up. They have to pitch Tommy Milone even though they see that nothing fastball and can't figure out how he can get anyone out."
  • You may have read Tim Kurkjian's piece last week on the unwritten rules of baseball. Former major league reliever and book author Dirk Hayhurst had a pointed response on Deadspin: "None of the players passing along their wisdom seemed to realize that it was all completely arbitrary. No one came close to acknowledging, 'You know, it's stupid and none of us know where it came from, and before we go fracturing some poor rookie's wrist because he looked too happy about going yard on a vet, we should really sit down and ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime.'"
  • Jonathan Judge says Kendrys Morales is more valuable to the Brewers than he would be to other teams.
  • Fire Brand of the AL with their latest podcast on the Red Sox.
  • Here's the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" podcast on all things Indians.
  • Maybe it's time the Rangers admit that Mitch Moreland just isn't that good.
  • Ryan P. Morrison with a look at the Diamondbacks' defense. Last year, Arizona's defense was excellent; this year, it's been mediocre -- or unlucky. Either way, maybe the pitchers have been as awful as everyone thinks.
  • This may be of more interesting to baseball fans in Connecticut than to Twins fans, but the New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, is relocating to Hartford for 2016, as the city is building a new downtown stadium.
  • Finally, this is pretty awesome: Harry Caray, when he was a broadcaster for the White Sox in 1972, kept a diary that year. It was a pretty simple diary: Caray kept track of the bars he visited and the bar tabs. The first date is Jan. 1 and it lists four bars. At one point, he goes 288 consecutive days visiting a bar. Now that is a legendary streak.
Sandy KoufaxFocus on Sport/Getty ImagesOver his final five seasons, Sandy Koufax went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA and three Cy Young Awards.
This is another follow-up to a debate that arose in a recent chat session: Which pitcher had the best five-year peak?

With Sandy Koufax having spent time at Dodgers camp this spring it seems like a perfect time for a list, doesn't it?

Well, I can never make things easy, so this will be a long list. I started with pitchers since 1950, primarily because I'm not as interested in comparing the peak of dead-ball era pitchers to the more modern game. Plus, we had to make this somewhat manageable. I'm going to use Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement to rank the pitchers and we'll have a vote at the end of the story.

The rules: It has to be a five-year consecutive peak -- not necessarily the best five seasons of a pitcher's career, but the best five years in a row. A pitcher can appear only once. That's it. I didn't include postseason results, but maybe should have. I looked at all the Hall of Fame starting pitchers from this era, some current guys and some others I wanted to include. The list is 41 pitchers, but this is not the best 41 peaks. I left out some good pitchers, such as Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Roy Oswalt and others. I do think I got all the guys who accumulated at least 30 WAR, however.

Jack Morris, 1983-1987: 20.2 WAR
We have to start somewhere.

Don Sutton, 1971-1975: 21.1
Despite winning 324 games, Sutton was a controversial selection to the Hall of Fame when he made it on his fifth year on the ballot. He was viewed as a compiler -- and, well, he sort of was, as his career-high WAR was 6.3 and he topped 5.0 just three times. From '71 to '75 he went 89-53 with a 2.63 ERA and 25 shutouts. Not bad for a compiler.

Early Wynn, 1952-1956: 22.3
In 1948, Wynn went 8-19 with a 5.82 ERA for the Senators, walking 94 and striking out 49. Bill Veeck of the Indians coveted Wynn anyway because of his good fastball, they got him along with Mickey Vernon in a trade, pitching coach Mel Harder taught Wynn a curve and slider, and he went on to average 18 wins per season in his nine years in Cleveland.

Whitey Ford, 1961-1965: 22.5
Here's a fair question: Is Whitey Ford overrated? Think about it: He pitched in the old Yankee Stadium, with its mammoth left-center power alley, certainly helpful to a left-handed pitcher; he didn't have to face the best team in the league, back when there were only eight teams in the league for much of his career; he won "only" 236 games. Of course, he was the ace of many World Series winners and was certainly clutch in the postseason. Ford's best five years came after Casey Stengel was fired after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series. Stengel was always cautious with Ford's workload, using him for more than 230 innings only once. But from '61 to '65 Ford averaged 260 innings and went 99-38, a .723 winning percentage.

John Smoltz, 1995-1999: 22.9
When Smoltz shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot, it will be interesting to see how he fares compared to Curt Schilling, two guys with similar career records (Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33; Schilling: 216-146, 3.46) and similar excellence in the postseason. The big difference between the two is Smoltz never had the string of dominant seasons like Schilling did.

Catfish Hunter, 1971-1975: 23.4
Made his mark by winning seven games in the postseason as the A's won three consecutive World Series from 1972 to 1974, but vastly overrated as a pitcher. This five-year peak accounts for two-thirds of his career WAR of 32.1

Tom Glavine, 1995-1999: 24.0
What were the odds that a 22-year-old pitcher who led the league with 17 losses and struck out only 84 batters in 195 innings would turn into a 300-game winner and future Hall of Famer? Lower than slim and none? Glavine's best season via WAR was his breakout campaign in 1991 (8.2) when he won his first Cy Young Award, but in many ways he was similar to Sutton, an amazingly durable pitcher who was very good for a long time.

Felix Hernandez, 2008-2012: 24.1
Working on four straight years of 230-plus innings and doesn't turn 27 until April. With his new contract, the Mariners are banking on many more of those 230-inning seasons in the future.

Nolan Ryan, 1973-1977: 26.0
His first big year came after the Mets traded him to the Angels in 1972 and he won 19 games with a 2.28 ERA, worth 5.8 WAR. Twenty years later he was 44 and posted a 5.0 WAR season for the Rangers. In between, he was a dynamic, often wild, always amazing, and certainly one-of-a-kind. His mid-'70s peak was dragged down by a couple mediocre seasons in '75 and '76 when he posted a 3.40 ERA, only league average for the time once you adjust for his home park.

Mike Mussina, 1999-2003: 26.7
His career WAR of 78.1 is higher than many Hall of Fame pitchers of this era. Best season came in 1992 (7.9 WAR), but he had seven seasons of 5.0 or higher, five of those coming with the Orioles.

Justin Verlander, 2008-2012: 26.7
This stretch includes Verlander's 2008 when he went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA, worth 1.5 WAR, so the total will jump up with a big 2013. Verlander led the league in losses that year, which prompts the question: How many Hall of Fame pitchers led their league in losses? Well, Phil Niekro managed to do it four straight seasons. Bert Blyleven did it at the end of his career in 1988, and future Hall of Famer Glavine did it the same season at the beginning of his career. Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts each did it twice. Early Wynn and Hal Newhouser. A couple of others. Not necessarily that unusual.

Steve Carlton
Rich Pilling/Getty ImagesSteve Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, but only one came during his best five-year WAR peak.
Steve Carlton, 1969-1973: 27.9
Maybe the most inconsistent great pitcher ever, this period includes Carlton's all-timer season in 1972 when he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that won only 59 games. No other pitcher won more than seven games, and he was a reliever. But Carlton followed that up with a 13-20, 3.90 year in 1973 and had some less-than-stellar years. His best stretch of consistent excellence actually came later in his career from 1980-1983, but his 11.7 WAR in '72 helps make this his best five-year stretch.

Don Drysdale, 1960-1964: 28.0
Dodger Stadium: 65-43, 2.19 ERA
L.A. Coliseum: 36-25, 3.14 ERA
Road games: 95-92, 3.41 ERA

Cliff Lee, 2008-2012: 28.9
Sort of the anti-Nolan Ryan. Whereas Ryan would never give in to a hitter, preferring to walk a batter rather than just throw something over the middle of the plate, Lee never wants to give up a free pass. Over this five-year stretch he has walked 165 batters; Ryan walked that many in a season three times.

Bret Saberhagen, 1985-1989: 29.1
Includes his Cy Young seasons in 1985 (6.9 WAR) and 1989 (9.2 WAR), but he couldn't stay healthy after that. Remember when Dave Stewart whined about not winning the Cy Young in 1989? Yeah, let's not get into that.

Jim Palmer, 1975-1979: 29.2
Palmer won 20 games eight times in nine seasons, but went 7-12 in 1974 right in the middle of that stretch to drag down his five-year peak (we ended up using a mediocre 10-6, 3.30 partial season in 1979 to round out our five years).

Frank Tanana, 1974-1978: 29.3
One of the best young pitchers ever, but hurt his arm in 1978. Returned as a finesse guy to have a long career.

David Cone, 1993-1997: 29.4
Only averaged 184 innings per season over this span thanks to the two strike-shortened seasons and an injury in 1996 that limited him to 11 starts, but went 64-35 with a 3.17 ERA during a high-scoring era and won the Cy Young Award in 1994.

CC Sabathia, 2007-2011: 29.7
Finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting all five seasons.

Rick Reuschel, 1976-1980: 29.8
A favorite of sabermetricians because of a career WAR of 64.6 that ranks 32nd all time among pitchers -- just ahead of Palmer, Sutton and Smoltz. Hmm. Reuschel's career record of 214-191 with a 3.37 ERA doesn't blow you away, but he spent his best years with mediocre Cubs teams in a hitter's park with bad defenses behind him. In these five years, he went 77-62 with a 3.33 ERA, topped by a 1977 season (20-10, 2.79 ERA) in which Baseball-Reference rates him not only as the best pitcher in the National League (9.2 WAR), but as the most valuable player. In comparing to Palmer, Baseball-Reference estimates Palmer's defense saved him 0.33 runs per nine innings over his career but cost Reuschel 0.18 runs per nine innings (a difference of about 14 runs over 250 innings). Maybe Reuschel would have won three Cy Young Awards if he had Mark Belanger and Paul Blair behind him.

Jim Bunning, 1963-1967: 30.2
After going 12-13 with a 3.88 ERA in 1963, the Tigers traded Bunning to the Phillies (for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton), figuring at 32 he was past his prime. He wasn't. Instead, Bunning reeled off four magnificent seasons with the Phillies, going 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA while averaging 298 innings per season.

Kevin Appier, 1992-1996: 30.9
Surprise! Went 69-43 with a 3.22 ERA, including a spectacular 9.0-WAR 1993 when he led the AL with a 2.56 ERA and allowed only eight home runs. Should have won the Cy Young Award that year.

Warren Spahn, 1949-1953: 32.2
This stretch includes four of his five highest WAR seasons, the other being his best one -- 9.1 in 1947. Two awesome Spahn stats: (1) From 1947 to 1963, the fewest innings he pitched was 245.2; (2) Led the NL in complete games seven consecutive seasons, from ages 36 to 42. Here's a third one: Led or tied for the NL lead in wins eight times.

[+] EnlargeDave Stieb
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesToronto ace Dave Stieb should have won a Cy Young Award or two in the early '80s.
Dave Stieb, 1981-1985: 32.4
Underrated in his own time, Baseball-Reference rates Stieb as the first- or second-best pitcher in the AL all five seasons in this stretch, but he never finished higher than fourth in the Cy Young voting because they were giving the awards to guys like Pete Vuckovich and LaMarr Hoyt.

Roy Halladay, 2007-2011: 32.5
Went 93-44 with a 2.80 ERA.

Bert Blyleven, 1971-1975: 33.5
Blyleven's run came from ages 20 to 24 and included a 325-inning season in 1973 when he was 22. Somehow his ligaments and tendons remained attached and didn't turn into soba noodles. You'll notice that Blyleven is the third pitcher with the exact same five-year dates; to a large extent this is because innings totals increased during this period. With more innings comes a higher WAR. In the 1960s, for example, there were 25 300-inning seasons; in the first five years of the '70s, there were 27. Or, really, innings started ramping up in the late '60s, when offense declined, leading to the lowering of the mound after 1968 and the advent of the designated hitter in the American League. To put a more dramatic spin on the increase in workload, from 1955 to 1964, there were seven 300-inning seasons (three by Drysdale); in the next 10 years, there 47 300-inning seasons.

Johan Santana, 2004-2008: 34.2
Won three ERA titles and two Cy Young Awards (and probably should have won a third) in this period.

Ferguson Jenkins, 1968-1972: 34.9
Went 107-71 with a 3.02 ERA, averaging 309 innings and winning the 1971 Cy Young Award. The Cubs were still pretty good in this era, finishing over .500 all five years, so this wasn't just a pitcher excelling despite a bad team behind him.

Curt Schilling, 2000-2004: 35.0
This run includes half a season in Philly, three and a half in Arizona and his first year in Boston, a year that culminated with a bloody sock and the lifting of a curse. Five-year totals: 85-40, 3.24, three Cy Young runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons, a 300-strikeout season (he had two more in 1997 and 1998) and two World Series championships. Schilling pounded the strike zone -- he averaged only 1.5 walks per nine innings -- and had a remarkable 316/33 strikeout/walk ratio in 2002.

Kevin Brown, 1996-2000: 35.4
Deserved to hang out on the Hall of Fame ballot longer than one year and have his case at least discussed. For a time, Brown was impressive as any pitcher of his generation, throwing that hard, mid-90s sinker. In this stretch he went 82-41 with a 2.51 ERA in the heart of the steroids era, averaging 242 innings, twice leading in ERA and pitching in two World Series. His seasonal WAR totals: 7.7, 6.7, 8.3, 5.9, 6.8.

Juan Marichal, 1962-1966: 35.4
Starting in 1963, he went 25-8, 21-8, 22-13, 25-6, 14-10, 26-9 and 21-11. You know how many Cy Young votes he received those seasons? None. His best five-year peak would be better if not for that 1967 season where he missed some time and made 26 starts. As is, he went 107-45 with a 2.37 ERA.

Wilbur Wood, 1970-1974: 36.7
Another early '70s guy, Wood's knuckleball allowed him to post some of the more freakishly awesome seasons in modern history, including 1971 when he had a 1.91 ERA in 334 innings, and 1972 when he started 49 games and pitched 376.2 innings. Those two seasons were worth 11.5 and 10.3 WAR. (He slacked off in 1973 and started only 48 games and threw 359.1 innings.)

10. Gaylord Perry, 1972-1976: 37.0
OK, we're into the top 10, so we'll start numbering the countdown. If you're getting the idea that the early '70s were to pitching what the late '90s and early aughts were to hitting, then give yourself a gold star. Perry's 1972 with Cleveland was an amazing season: 24-16, 1.92 ERA, 29 complete games, 342 innings, worth 10.4 WAR. From May 6 to Aug. 5 he started 22 games and completed 19, posting a 1.55 ERA. Here's the kicker: He averaged more than nine innings per start in that stretch (one of his non-complete games was a 13-inning scoreless effort).

Five-year totals: 97-79, 2.83 ERA, 313 innings per season.

9. Tom Seaver, 1969-1973: 37.4
Went 103-51 with a 2.35 ERA. Followed this up with another five-year stretch valued at 30.2 WAR.

8. Bob Gibson, 1966-1970: 38.0
This period includes his memorable 1968 season when he went 22-8 with a 1.12 ERA, a year that included a 47-inning scoreless streak and one period where he allowed two earned runs in 92 innings. No wonder baseball lowered the height of the mound from 15 to 10 inches for 1969. That season was worth 11.1 WAR, and he followed that up with two more pretty good ones: 10.3 WAR in 1969 and 8.4 in 1970, when he won another Cy Young Award. If not for a broken leg that forced him to miss two months in 1967, he'd be even higher on the list. (Or if we included hitting; he accumulated 3.3 WAR at the plate as well, and had 19 RBIs in 1970.) Five-year totals: 99-48, 2.30, 27 shutouts.

7. Phil Niekro, 1974-1978: 38.6
This is never mentioned as a great peak since Niekro's record was just 87-77 (pitching for bad Braves teams in the post-Aaron era) and his ERA was 3.16. He even led the league in losses in 1977 and 1978 (and would do so again in 1979 and 1980, joining Pedro Ramos as the only pitchers to do that four consecutive years). His ERA+ of 127, for example, was much lower than Gibson' five-year mark of 153. What Niekro did was throw a lot of innings -- 302.1, 275.2, 270.2, 330.1 and 334.1 -- and that workload led to WAR totals of 7.5, 6.5, 6.4, 8.6 and 9.6.

6. Sandy Koufax, 1962-1966: 39.1
Only sixth? For a pitcher who went 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA, won the NL ERA crown all five years and had seasons of 25-5, 26-8 and 27-9? He won an MVP Award and finished second in the voting two other years, while winning three Cy Young Awards (when they gave it to just one pitcher in all of baseball). So why only sixth? Well, there's no doubting Koufax's domination -- he, Gibson and Wood are the only two pitchers with two seasons of 10+ WAR during their peak runs. But a couple of things: (1) Dodger Stadium was a huge pitcher's park in those days, with a notoriously high mound (Koufax had a 1.37 ERA at home and 2.57 on the road, not that there's anything wrong with 2.57), so his numbers are knocked down a bit to adjust for that; (2) He missed time in 1962 (184 innings) and 1964 (223 innings), so that cuts into his value, at least compared to the other three seasons.

5. Greg Maddux, 1992-1996: 39.2
This is when he won his four consecutive Cy Young Awards. Five-year math: 90-40, 2.13 ERA, 191 ERA+, single-season WAR of 8.9, 5.5, 8.3, 9.5, 7.0 (followed by seasons of 7.6 and 6.3). And remember, his value was held down by the shortened seasons of 1994 and '95, when he had ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe young Roger Clemens wasn't too shabby.
4. Roger Clemens, 1986-1990: 40.1
The numbers: 100-42, 2.71 ERA, 156 ERA+, 256 innings per season, 57 complete games, 23 shutouts, two Cy Young Awards (and was robbed in 1990). Also had 33.7 WAR from 1996 to 2000 and six other seasons of 5+ WAR not included in either of those two stretches.

3. Robin Roberts, 1950-1954: 40.5
Now this is what you call a peak: 115-64, 2.87 ERA, 138 ERA+, 135 complete games, 327 innings per season, seasons of 7.0, 7.6, 7.9, 9.4 and 8.6 WAR. By the 1950s, innings pitched totals had to started to decline, especially compared to the dead-ball guys, but not for Roberts. There were 10 300-inning seasons in the decade and Roberts had six of them. From his autobiography (tip of the cap to the "Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers"): "I was mainly a one-pitch pitcher, although sometimes I mixed in a curveball when I was ahead in the count. I could put my fastball where I wanted it, but I was sometimes criticized for not pitching inside more. ... I just went after people with my best stuff and let the batters hit it if they could."

Roberts threw very hard -- Bill James says he threw about as hard or possibly harder than Bob Feller or Bob Gibson or any of those big guys. Because his control was so good, he relied primarily on that one pitch. (He did give up a lot of home runs.) Outside of this stretch, Roberts had only one more season rated above 5.0 WAR, and one other above 4.0.

2. Pedro Martinez, 1997-2001: 41.4
Let's take these seasons one-by-one:

--1997: 17-8, 1.90 ERA, 8.7 WAR, 241.1 IP, 158 H, 305 SO, won Cy Young Award. Led NL in ERA and complete games (13).
--1998: 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 6.9 WAR, second in Cy Young voting in first year with Red Sox, struck out 251 in 233.2 innings.
--1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 9.5 WAR, won Cy Young, second in MVP voting, 313 SO in 213.1 innings (13.2 per nine).
--2000: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 11.4 WAR, won Cy Young, somehow only fifth in MVP voting, 284 SO in 217 IP, opponents hit .167 off him -- .167! This isn't a closer we're talking about here. .167.
--2001: 7-3, 2.39 ERA. Injured, made only 18 starts.

It's too bad we couldn't sub in his 2002 (20-4, 2.26) or 2003 (14-4, 2.22). Great fastball, the best changeup of all time, command, varied his arm angles, mixed in a cut fastball, slider and curveball, and wasn't afraid to deliver some chin music every now and then. Only thing he lacked was the durability to rack up a lot of innings.

Five-year totals: 84-28, 2.18 ERA, 215 ERA+, 1,316 SO in 1,022 innings.

1. Randy Johnson, 1998-2002: 42.2
As awesome as Pedro was, the Unit rates even higher, which tells us something about how good he was. Five-year totals: 100-38, 2.63 ERA, 174 ERA+, four Cy Young Awards, three ERA titles, 41 complete games, 17 shutouts, five 300-strikeout seasons, 1,746 SO in 1,274 innings.

Individual seasons: 5.4, 8.8, 7.8, 9.8, 10.4. In fact, his five-year peak could have been higher had he not sulked his way through the first half of 1998 with the Mariners before finally getting traded to the Astros (where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts).

On a rate basis, Pedro was a little better, as reflected in his better ERA+. He also had to face DH lineups for four of his five seasons. But Johnson was dominant and durable -- he pitched 252 more innings than Pedro in his five-year peak and that puts him at No. 1.

* * * *

Of course, you don't have to rely on WAR for your own personal rankings. My top five would probably go Johnson, Martinez, Koufax, Maddux, Clemens, with apologies to Bob Gibson.

In the poll, we can only include five names. I apologize to Robin Roberts fans for leaving him out despite his No. 3 ranking above. Like Phil Niekro, his value comes as much from a huge workload as being a great pitcher. But he wasn't dominant in the same sense as some of these other pitchers -- he never led his league in ERA, for example, and his ERA+ during his five-year peak was 138, well below the others. So he got the boot from the poll.

Who do you have?
Mike TroutGary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAngels outfielder Mike Trout has the tools to be baseball's most exciting player for years to come.
We all have our own favorites, of course, and maybe they change from season to season. Or month to month. That's a little of the beauty of baseball; we don't all have to enjoy and appreciate the same players. The stars aren't necessarily shoved down our throats like a certain sport played with an orange ball.

For me, Mike Trout has been the most exciting player in baseball in 2012. It's completely subjective opinion, of course, but if you think of some of the factors that would be considered for such a description, Trout fits (as do Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp and others):

1. Power. Check.
2. Speed. Check.
3. Spectacular plays on defense. Check.
4. Young. Check. This is kind of like how we get excited over a new restaurant or new girlfriend or new TV show.
5. Looks good in a baseball uniform. Check.
6. Has the It Factor. Hard to define, but you know what it is when you see it.
7. Cool name. Mickey Mantle wouldn't quite be Mickey Mantle if his name had been "Andy Stankiewicz."
8. He's good. Duh. Although I suppose there's a different kind of excitement for players who aren't good.

Pitchers have a slightly different list of criteria, much of which boils down to "He's one bad dude."

The first year I remember following baseball was 1976, the year before the Mariners arrived in my hometown. Leaving out the fact that most of us probably prefer a guy on our favorite team, here's my own list of Most Exciting Player in Baseball since that year.

1976: Mark Fidrych, P, Tigers

There hasn't been anybody like Fidrych since he became a national phenomenon as a 21-year-old rookie. For all the attention given to Trout or Harper this year, imagine if ESPN and 24-hour sports coverage had been around in 1976, when Fidrych was talking to baseballs and shaking hands with infielders after a good play -- in the middle of innings. I remember watching the famous June "Monday Night Baseball" game against the Yankees, that's how big it seemed at the time. Fidrych would start the All-Star Game, complete 24 of his 29 starts and boost attendance whenever he pitched (he accounted for nearly half of the Tigers' attendance that year while making just 18 starts at Tiger Stadium). In Dan Epstein's "Big Hair and Plastic Grass," a history of baseball in the '70s, he writes that other teams begged the Tigers to pitch Fidrych in their parks.

How exciting was he? Here's a clip of that Yankees game; fast-forward to the 2:30 mark and not just for the awesome '70s clothes and fans smoking in the stands. Detroit fans hung out after the game, chanting "We want The Bird! We want The Bird!" When he finally appears from the clubhouse, the place explodes. One of a kind.

1977: George Foster, LF, Reds

Maybe a bit of a one-dimensional slugger, but his 52 home runs that year seemed otherworldly. And maybe they were. It was the only 50-homer season between Willie Mays in 1965 and Cecil Fielder in 1990, Foster waved that menacing black bat and was awesome.

1978: Dave Parker, RF, Pirates

Built like a linebacker, for a few years there Parker was arguably the best all-around player in baseball. He was the MVP in 1978 as he led the majors in batting average and OPS and owned a howitzer for an arm. Plus, this was the year he fractured his jaw and cheekbone in a home-plate collision and returned two weeks later wearing a hockey mask at the plate (quickly replaced by a football-like face mask).

[+] EnlargeGeorge Brett
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesGeorge Brett had 85 extra-base hits for the Royals in 1979.
1979-1980: George Brett, 3B, Royals

That sweet Charlie Lau swing. The dirty uniform even though he played his home games on turf. And then the chase for .400 in 1980. But how about this line in 1979: .329, 212 hits, 42 doubles, 20 triples, 23 home runs.

1981-1983: Rickey Henderson, LF, A's

Actually, you could probably give him the whole decade if you want.

1984-1985: Dwight Gooden, P, Mets

In 1984, he was Kid K, the 19-year-old phenom who finished second in the Cy Young vote, helping turn around a moribund Mets franchise. In 1985, he was Dr. K, the best pitcher on the planet -- 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts. He pitched eight shutouts that year with his blistering high fastball and knee-buckling curveball, plus he had two more nine-inning scoreless outings where he got a no-decision. The four games he "lost" he allowed two, two, two and three runs. With a little luck, he could have gone unbeaten. You couldn't watch all the games back then, of course, unless you lived in the New York area, but I'd stay up late to watch the news to see how Gooden fared or devour the box score in the morning paper.

1986: Roger Clemens, P, Red Sox

Twenty strikeouts in a game. Twenty-four wins. Nothing then about needles in the butt.

1987: Eric Davis, CF, Reds

Skinny as a golf club, Davis somehow generated big power from his slight frame and combined that with blazing speed and acrobatic outfield play. In 1986, he hit 27 home runs and stole 80 bases; in 1987 he hit 37 home runs and stole 50 bases (in just 129 games). In a Sports Illustrated story, Reds manager Pete Rose said, "It's like having an atomic bomb sitting next to you in the dugout." Teammate Dave Parker said, "Eric is blessed with world-class speed, great leaping ability, the body to play until he's 42, tremendous bat speed and power, and a throwing arm you wouldn't believe. There's an aura to everything he does." In the long run, he couldn't stay healthy, although he did last until he was 39. If you missed seeing the young Davis, you missed something special.

1988: Jose Canseco, RF, A's

Don't laugh. When he went 40-40 it was a very big deal. But, no, I never called the Jose Canseco hotline.

1989-1994: Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Mariners

OK, Barry Bonds was better. He was faster. When you break it down, he was a little better hitter and that was even before Big Barry broke out. But Griffey had the It Factor from the time he reached the majors at age 19 and Bonds never really did.

[+] EnlargeRandy Johnson
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonRandy Johnson's heroics in 1995 perhaps saved baseball in the city of Seattle.
1995: Randy Johnson, P, Mariners

Power and might, adrenaline at 100 miles per hour with his long hair flapping behind him, as intimidating a pitcher the game has ever seen. And if you were a Mariners fan in those days, a Johnson game was a treat to be savored. And when he trudged in from the bullpen in Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series, the Kingdome exploded in pandemonium. Without Johnson's spectacular '95 season (remember, Griffey was hurt part of that year), there may not be baseball in Seattle.

1996: Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners

The common theory is that A-Rod -- like Bonds -- never managed to connect with the fans on a national scale like Griffey, but that's a little rewriting of history, especially after he left Seattle for his first megabucks contract. In 1996, when he was 20 years old (turned 21 in July), he was, like Mike Trout, a young guy putting up bizzaro offensive numbers -- he'd hit .358 with 36 home runs and 54 doubles. It's too easy to forget now but there was a moment when Rodriguez was a player of our affection instead of a player of derision.

1997: Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Mariners

Griffey's MVP season when he led the AL with 56 home runs and 147 RBIs.

1998: Mark McGwire, 1B, Cardinals ... and Sammy Sosa, RF, Cubs

You have to put them together, no? And, no, you can't rewrite history: The home run chase was exhilarating, thrilling and astonishing.

1999-2000: Pedro Martinez, P, Red Sox

In the midst of the barrage of home runs, Pedro was putting up numbers we'd never seen before from a pitcher. In 1999, he struck out 313 batters in 213.1 innings, an average of 13.2 K's per nine innings ... and he walked just 37. He was Nolan Ryan with command and one unhittable changeup. In 2000, opponents hit .167 off him. This wasn't some reliever throwing one inning at a time. Attending a Pedro game at Fenway during this peak was like going to a religious revival, 35,000 fans believing fervently in the gifts of Pedro. He wasn't a god, but he sure pitched like one.

2001: Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Mariners

I think this list is just making Mariners fans sad.

2002-2004: Barry Bonds, LF, Giants

Are walks exciting? Bonds somehow made them so. Love him or hate him, a Bonds at-bat in this era was must-see TV.

2005: Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals

A weird season. Bartolo Colon won a Cy Young Award. Roger Clemens had a 1.87 ERA at age 42. Scott Eyre picked up 10th-place MVP vote. No, seriously, he did. We'll give the nod to Pujols, if only for that 9,000-foot home run off Brad Lidge in the NLCS.

2006-2008: Jose Reyes, SS, Mets

Over those three seasons he hit .292 while averaging 16 home runs, 16 triples and 66 stolen bases per season. Admit it: He was fun.

2009: Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins

Maybe should have mentioned him during the Reyes seasons. This was the year he hit .342 with power and speed.

2010: Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers

He was so good he won the MVP Award despite missing the final month.

2011: Justin Verlander, P, Tigers

With apologies to Matt Kemp.

So that's my list, no slights intended to those I left off. What about your most exciting players? Discuss below ... and enjoy baseball.


In spring training of 2010, the Mets made their first cuts in mid-March. A 35-year-old pitcher who was trying to make the team as the last man out of the bullpen was one of those sent to minor league camp.

Give up? Retire? Are you kidding? The pitcher threw a knuckleball.

R.A. Dickey began that season at Triple-A Buffalo. He'd spent a lot of time in Triple-A, racking up 148 career starts and 42 relief appearances among Oklahoma City, Nashville, Tacoma and Rochester. That's a lot of Holiday Inns and a lot of minor league roommates.

It's two years later, and Dickey has perfected that knuckleball, like Mariano Rivera perfected the cutter or Pedro Martinez perfected the changeup or Greg Maddux perfected the outside corner. Dickey just threw his second straight one-hitter in the Mets' 5-0 win Monday over the Orioles, the first pitcher to do that since Toronto's Dave Stieb did so in his final two starts of the 1988 season.

(Stieb, for those who remember, lost both of those near no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning. He also pitched a shutout in the start before those two games.)

But Dickey has gone to another level, becoming the first pitcher to allow no earned runs and strike out at least eight batters in five consecutive starts. He joined Stieb as one of 10 pitchers since 1900 to allow one hit or fewer in consecutive starts. Over his past six starts, Dickey is 6-0 with a 0.18 ERA (one earned run in 48 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts, five walks and a .131 average allowed.

It is a beautiful thing, when a pitcher gets on a roll like this, when he shuts down the opposition inning after inning, batters helpless to do anything but take their awkward swings and slump back to the bench. Even in this season, in which it seems somebody flirts with a no-hit bid on a nightly basis, it's an amazing string of games. At some point, you'd think Dickey would hang a knuckler or a batter would accidentally run into one or a bleeder would be followed by a bloop.

That's not happening. Dickey himself is almost having trouble explaining his dominance. When asked about his favorite moment during this run, he laughed, saying, "Probably the base hit," referring to his leadoff single in the sixth inning Monday, starting a rally that led to Ike Davis' grand slam. "In reality, I have a good feel for [the knuckleball] right now, making it do a couple different things."

Watching him mow down the Orioles reminded me of something Roger Angell once wrote about Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series, when he pitched shutouts in Game 5 and, on two days' rest, Game 7:

"It is almost painful to watch, for Koufax, instead of merely overpowering hitters, as some fastball throwers do, appears to dismantle them, taking away first one and then another of their carefully developed offensive weapons and judgments, and leaving them only with the conviction that they are victims of a total mismatch."

That's what it was at Citi Field against the Orioles: a mismatch, the game's hottest pitcher facing the team that has struck out more than any other. Dickey, of course, has been commanding and locating the knuckleball with precision. He walked two against the Orioles and has just seven walks in his past eight starts. Seven walks by a knuckleballer? Phil Niekro walked at least seven batters in a game 12 times; Nolan Ryan, who didn't throw a knuckleball, walked that many in a game 71 times.

So we're left wondering: Where does Dickey's run of excellence rank? Orel Hershiser, of course, spun six consecutive shutouts in September 1988. Hershiser wasn't quite as dominant as Dickey, as he allowed a .160 average over those 55 innings but had just 30 strikeouts. In 1994, Greg Maddux posted a 1.56 ERA; he was mostly a model of consistency that season, allowing two earned runs or fewer in 21 of his 25 starts. From July 2 until the strike hit in August, he had an eight-start stretch in which he allowed seven earned runs (but 11 runs) and allowed a .182 average with 50 strikeouts and five walks. In 1995, when he posted a 1.63 ERA, he had a 58-inning stretch over eight starts, during which he allowed five runs.

Maybe the most dominant run I've ever was seen was Pedro Martinez at the end of the 1999 season. Over his final seven starts, he allowed seven runs (five earned) with eight walks and 96 strikeouts in 55 innings. In consecutive starts, he struck out 15, 11, 15, 17, 14, 12 and 12. Against Seattle on Sept. 4, he pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits. In his next start, he was nearly perfect against the Yankees, allowing only a Chili Davis home run as he struck out 17. Every start at Fenway was a raucous party, fans standing and cheering with every two-strike count from the first inning onward.

In the postseason, he threw 17 more scoreless innings, allowing just five hits, a string that included his memorable six-inning hitless relief appearance in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Add all that up -- including a one-inning relief appearance at the end of the season -- and Pedro allowed five earned runs over 73 innings (0.62 ERA) with 120 strikeouts.

There have been other memorable runs, of course. Fernando Valenzuela at the start of the 1981 season, when he threw five shutouts in seven starts and allowed two runs in 63 innings. Bob Gibson, in 1968, had an 11-start stretch in which he threw 11 complete games and allowed three runs. Hey, it was 1968 and all, but still, that's just sick.

We could go on. But this is what it feels like watching Dickey right now, that we're seeing the stuff of legends -- Maddux's control, Pedro's arsenal, Fernando's screwball, Gibson's fastball/slider combo ... R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. For the past six starts, it's been as dominant as any pitch, for a short period of time, as we've ever seen.

Maybe he'll lose the feel of it one of these starts. Maybe he'll crack a fingernail. All I know is this: I'll be watching his next start. It's the best story of the season.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Nyjer MorganBenny Sieu-US PresswireGiven recent headlines, maybe Nyjer Morgan shouldn't make a federal case out of a call.

Tim Lincecum worth a long-term extension

January, 16, 2012
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There’s a long-held bias against shorter pitchers in baseball. Part of that’s based on the entirely reasonable observation that pitchers only so tall are limited in the number of angles they can come into the strike zone with; part of it’s also associated with the expectation that shorter pitchers can’t handle the workload of regular rotation work.

These were some of the reasons why the Giants’ Tim Lincecum slipped to the 10th overall choice in the 2006 draft, something Brian Sabean and company happily exploited when he fell to them. Yet the Freak’s height (5-foot-11) and slight build are also parts of the reason why some might wonder whether the Giants should now sign the two-time Cy Young winner to a multi-year extension to keep him in the fold beyond his date with free agency after 2013.

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
AP Photo/Eric RisbergThere are plenty of reasons the Giants need to lock down Tim Lincecum, his shorter height withstanding.
Scouts certainly don’t have it wrong in the broad strokes — of the 359 starting pitchers who have thrown 800 or more innings from 1969-2011, just 60 were 6 feet tall or shorter, and 24 of those 60 were lefties. So in 43 years just 36 rotation right-handers standing 6 feet or less have tossed 800 or more innings in the big leagues. Some of that might be blamed on selection bias, but not all of it.

However, some teams have recognized this and made a point of developing short pitchers to exploit this "market inefficiency." In the ’90s the Astros cranked out Roy Oswalt, Kirk Saarloos and Tim Redding, none of whom stand taller than 6 feet. (Not to mention the 5-foot-10 closer Billy Wagner.) The Astros also traded for Mike Hampton (5-10), and then later swapped Hampton to the Mets for Octavio Dotel, another 6-footer.

Oswalt’s name is worth bringing up because he’s an established ace today, but he’s not the only notable power righty who stood in nobody’s shadow at the front of a rotation. Greg Maddux is generously listed at 6 feet; he’s going to the Hall of Fame. Catfish Hunter and Juan Marichal already have. Pedro Martinez is the same height as Lincecum.

Extraordinary talents, of course, make for exceptions, and Lincecum is clearly exceptional. Perhaps his loss of velocity is a source of greater concern, because his fastball’s down around 92 mph where it was sitting at 94 during his Cy seasons. His strikeout rate has similarly dropped — at 24 percent last year, it was still above MLB average, but his rate’s going down at the same time that strikeout rates hit all-time highs. But it’s also worth noting he’s mixing in a lot more sinkers these days, and generating a higher proportion of groundball outs.

Whether that’s the workload or the wisdom of age is the $20 million Average Annual Value question. The Giants are already going to pay Lincecum a raise from last year’s arbitration-generated $14 million, and next year they’ll have to pay another raise beyond whatever he gets this winter. Why not take arbitration out of the equation and put at least a five-year deal on the table now? Including posting fees, the Red Sox spent more than $100 million on 6-footer Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that was in 2006-07 dollars. Jered Weaver accepted less than $20 million per year when he accepted his five-year, $85 million extension last August. That was after his first two spins in arbitration.

FanGraphs’ valuation metric has the value of Lincecum’s work the past two years just under $20 million per season, which might make that sort of pricing tough to accept. On the other hand, the same metric says Lincecum’s performance was worth more than $30 million in each of his Cy Young campaigns. So there’s certainly no guarantee that Lincecum would accept a five-year, $100 million offer, even if it were made, and even if the Giants were willing to trade on their direct knowledge of Lincecum, and whether the dropping strikeout rates and velocity are more by design than red flags for the faint of heart.

Certainly, Sabean has never been afraid to sign a big check. And that’s part of the problem; the Giants still have Barry Zito to afford. But that’s an expense that has almost run its full course with just two years to go and $46 million to spend ($39 million to employ Zito, and $7 million to kiss off their 2014 club option). The Giants can’t afford to let the past entirely dictate their future.

As far as the Giants’ budget goes, now and beyond 2012, they already have big expenses coming off the books. The Giants no longer have to pay $6 million or more apiece for Cody Ross, Miguel Tejada or Mark DeRosa. Next year, they can replace the reliably mediocre Freddy Sanchez at second base for less than the $6 million it cost per year to employ him, Aubrey Huff’s $10 million per season salary goes away as well, and the last checks to Aaron Rowand to pay off that $60 million mistake. The immediate future of the offense belongs to Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, and the closest any of them are to free agency is Sandoval after 2014.

So the time to shell out for the rotation, the platform of the team’s success in 2010 as well as 2012 and beyond, is now. And that means not just affording the more conventionally beefy Matt Cain before he heads into free agency after this season, it means keeping their Freak on.

Verlander's season warrants MVP award

September, 19, 2011
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Justin Verlander beat the A's in Oakland on Sunday to improve his record to 24-5, making him the first Tigers pitcher to win 24 games in a season since Mickey Lolich won 25 in 1971, and the majors' first 24-game winner since Randy Johnson in 2002. Verlander is the first pitcher in Tigers history to win 12 consecutive starts and the first in the big leagues since Johan Santana in 2004. Verlander is just the seventh American League pitcher since World War II to record 24 wins and 240 strikeouts in a season and the first since Ron Guidry in 1978. He threw a no-hitter May 7 at Toronto. He's a cinch for the AL Cy Young Award. He should also be the AL MVP.

Yes, wins is a flawed yardstick by which to measure pitching performance, I get it. A pitcher used to be credited with a win. Now it's almost as if pitchers are ACCUSED of wins if they happen to be presented with more than one or two runs of support by their offense. ("Sir ... I accuse you of WINNING games ... J'accuse!" ) The WAR (wins above replacement-level) metric exists, in part, to measure one player's contribution to the win column versus that of another, and in determining the "value" of a most valuable player that worth in the minds of many voters is a currency paid out in victories. Detroit has won 89 games to date and Verlander has led the way in 24 of them. Let's not get too hung up on the idea of simply handing the MVP trophy to the position player with the sexiest sabermetric stats and disqualify the player who is likely having the most superb season simply because he's a starting pitcher.

The last starting pitcher to win the MVP Award was Roger Clemens in 1986. Clemens also won the Cy Young that year, a double that I'm arguing Verlander should repeat. Granted, each year presents its own unique voting landscape but Clemens won his AL MVP with these numbers 25 years ago, numbers that Verlander has matched or surpassed:


Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly was runner-up to Clemens in that 1986 MVP vote. How do Mattingly's '86 numbers line up with the two players currently leading the American League in WAR? If Verlander's 2011 season appears equivalent to, or perhaps slightly better than Clemens' 1986 season and Clemens' numbers were enough to trump Mattingly, one could argue that this year's two leading position player candidates would have to surpass Mattingly's '86 season to beat out Verlander. Granted, this season isn't complete, but Mattingly's .352 average with 53 doubles and only 35 strikeouts in 677 at-bats may trump Jacoby Ellsbury's average and steals as well as Jose Bautista's home run and on-base totals.


In 1986, Clemens won the AL MVP Award easily, collecting 19 first-place votes and 339 points to Mattingly's five first-place votes and 258 points. Mattingly may have had the superior season, but Clemens won the award and it wasn't close. Things have changed since then. From 1987 through 1998, only once did a starting pitcher finish higher than sixth in an AL MVP vote; 1999 was the tipping point in a seismic shift away from starting pitchers' MVP candidacy in the voters' minds. Boston's Pedro Martinez collected the most first-place votes but fell 13 points shy of Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Martinez's '99 performance was perhaps the greatest pitching season of his generation but two writers left him off their ballots completely.


Rodriguez had a career season in 1999, batting .332/.356/.558 with 35 HRs and 113 RBIs. The idea, however, that Martinez's value didn't merit a single voting point on two ballots was outrageous. In November of 1999, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden, now in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame, wrote that he felt "compelled to express my embarrassment and dismay" over the results of that MVP vote, but the mentality has lingered. Only four times since 1999 has an American League starting pitcher finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting and never higher than fifth. Martinez's pitching was the elite performance of that 1999 season, as Verlander's has been in 2011.

We're lost in numbers nowadays. They are extremely useful tools and provide a much more thorough means of evaluating performance as well as interesting discussion and insight, but they can't serve as a de facto chart to simply calculate a formulaic winner. Roger Clemens won an MVP award when Don Mattingly should have. Ivan Rodriguez won an MVP award when Pedro Martinez should have. The shifting philosophies have made for queasy stomachs and bogged down the navigation process. Take a step back. Reset your compass. Breathe. Ellsbury, Bautista and Curtis Granderson have all had outstanding seasons. Justin Verlander has had that special season. He's the MVP.

Follow Steve Berthiaume on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.

All-time AL Hispanic greats

September, 15, 2011
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In the spirit of the season with Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a look at the all-time best players of Latin descent for each of the American League teams.

Baltimore Orioles: Mike Cuellar of Cuba. Cuellar only had an eight-year run in Baltimore, and arrived well after he’d turned 30, but the O’s saw a workhorse, and innings and wins are what they got. Cuellar became the first Latin pitcher to win the Cy Young Award when he split it with Denny McClain in 1969 -- his first year as an Oriole. He went on to notch 143 wins during his time in Baltimore, and also delivered WAR seasons worth 2.5 wins or more in five of his first six seasons.

[+] EnlargePedro Martinez
AP Photo/ Jim RogashPedro Martinez won at least 14 games in six of his seven seasons with the Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox: Pedro Martinez of the Dominican Republic. When you can count Manny Ramirez and Luis Tiant among the runners-up, you know you’ve got a full field, but three Cy Young awards and a career 2.52 ERA for the Red Sox over seven seasons during the age of injection-enabled offense puts Pedro on a plane all his own.

Chicago White Sox: Minnie Minoso of Cuba. In his various stints with the White Sox, the Cuban Comet managed to miss the team’s lone pennant in 1959, but the vast majority of his career value (42.7 WAR) came from his the nine seasons in his first two incarnations with the Sox (1951-57, 1960-61); there were three more yet to come. There’s room for an honorable mention for Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio (31.5 WAR), but like Minoso, he spent chunks of his career in other unis.

Cleveland Indians: In another full field, you could pick Venezuela’s Omar Vizquel or Mexican-American Mike Garcia; Garcia was a rotation regular for the 1950's Tribe, and he’s a reasonable choice for the 32.4 WAR, 3.27 ERA and 142 wins he gave them. However, his value on the mound was essentially equal to Manny Ramirez’s 32.8 WAR he produced with his bat in almost eight seasons with the Indians. Surprising nobody, Manny’s WAR numbers go down when you count his defense, but that production at the plate puts the Dominican immigrant among the 10 most productive Indian bats of all time.

Detroit Tigers: It might be cause for surprise, but the Tigers are one of the very few teams from among the league’s original eight who have yet to boast a long-term Latin star. Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera has only just become the franchise’s first Latin player to accumulate 20 career WAR with the Kitties, and he still hasn’t spent half of his career in Detroit. One man worthy of an honorable mention is Willie Hernandez, for his MVP- and Cy-winning 1984 season, but the Motor City was the Puerto Rican Hernandez’s third stop, and his career didn’t make it to the ’90s.

Kansas City Royals: It’s been so long since Carlos Beltran of Puerto Rico played for the Royals that you might forget he was almost every bit the MVP-caliber player there as he’d get more recognition for in Houston and New York. His 2003 season (7.3 WAR) rates among the 10 greatest seasons by a Royals position player, a list that has five different George Brett seasons and four other guys besides Beltran on it. Before the season, you might have wanted to lean towards Mexico’ Joakim Soria, but a bumpy 2011 was enough for me to play wait and see.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels’ roster has been characterized by so much turnover historically that it’s been hard for anyone to settle in and pile up big career totals as a Halo, something that only recently changed with Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson. So while Vladimir Guerrero of the Dominican Republic has played less than half of his career in Anaheim, he’s pretty much by his lonesome for spending so much of his productive career there.

[+] EnlargeRod Carew
AP PhotoRod Carew spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota Twins: One of the other reasons tabbing Vladi as an Angel was necessary is because Panama’s Rod Carew did most of his damage during his long career with the Twins. If you remember the fleet-footed old man for his 3,000th hit at the end of his career back in 1985, you might remember him as an Angel, but more than 2,000 of those hits came hitting in the frosty confines of Minnesota’s old Metropolitan Stadium, as unlikely a landing spot for a youngster from the Canal Zone as you might imagine.

New York Yankees: You might fidget over Lefty Gomez, who was Portuguese and Spanish on his father’s side and all-Californian enough to merit the nickname “Goofy,” and Dominican Alex Rodriguez and Puerto Rico’s Jorge Posada would be easy choices in other organizations. But with almost 56 WAR contributed to one pinstriped contender after another, the man who has delivered the most career value is Panama’s Mariano Rivera.

Oakland Athletics: It’s important not to forget that Reggie Jackson claims Hispanic heritage on his mother’s side, but the key player from the Big Green Machine of the ’70s who deserves a shoutout here is Cuba’s Bert Campaneris. With 649 career steals, Campy leads all Latin ballplayers while ranking 14th overall, and his 43.1 career WAR suggests how much value he added in the field as well as on the bases.

Seattle Mariners: Perhaps no player more perfectly captures Puerto Rico’s complicated relationship with the United States than Edgar Martinez, who was born in New York City but grew up on the island. Whatever label you care to apply, anyone can take pride in the definitive DH’s career after he hit .312/.418/.515 while producing 66.9 WAR at the plate.

Tampa Bay Rays: With an existence that doesn’t even stretch back two full decades yet, it might be premature to tab an all-time great Latin Ray, but Dominicans Carlos Pena and Julio Lugo lead the pack of notables, with Cuba’s Rolando Arrojo leading the pitchers.

Texas Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez’s career may well be winding down, and he might be a decade removed from his last full season in Arlington, but Pudge has been the pride of Puerto Rico as the greatest position player in Rangers history, topping all Texas players with 48.6 WAR. He’s long since punched his own ticket to Cooperstown.

Toronto Blue Jays: As one of the first franchises to truly invest in Dominican talent, it should come as no surprise that some of the best ballplayers in Blue Jays history came from the island: infielder Tony Fernandez, slugger George Bell and pitcher Juan Guzman. But the Jays also came away with a ton of talent from Puerto Rico, starting with Carlos Delgado and Roberto Alomar. If you go by WAR, it should be Delgado, but Alomar’s Gold Glove-studded career as a fielder is one of the great causes for debate over the strengths and limitations of both scouting and statistical analysis of defense. For the purposes of this sort of exercise, let’s give the new Hall of Famer his due and tab Alomar.

On Friday, we’ll turn to the National League and give the 16 greats of those franchises their props.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
On Thursday, I wrote a post on my list of the 15-best pitching seasons since 1960, topped by Pedro Martinez's superlative 2000 campaign.

I wanted to post this quick follow-up chart, which lists each pitcher's runs allowed per nine innings, innings pitched per start, hits and strikeouts per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio, all rated as to how much better they were than the league average for that season. (Totals are not park adjusted.)


A few notes. Gaylord Perry and Zack Greinke probably have the shakiest ground to be on the list. Depending on the importance you want to place on the various numbers, Greinke's relative lack of stamina and Perry's relative lack of dominance in strikeout rate and strikeout/walk ratio hurt them. Perry was amazingly durable that season, throwing 342 innings, so his WAR (wins above replacement) was very high. But it was a low-scoring era and a lot of starters pitched deep into games that year, so Perry's innings per start, while still high, didn't necessarily tower over the league.

Greg Maddux probably deserved to be ranked higher. I didn't put him as high since he only made 28 starts in the strike-shortened season, but I rated Pedro's two 29-start seasons higher. Maddux didn't dominate like Pedro did with the killer strikeout rates, but he did dominate in his own way. I think you could also make the case the Roger Clemens' 1997 and Dwight Gooden's 1985 seasons were incrementally more impressive than Bob Gibson's 1968.

Anyway, that's the fun thing on a list like this. I don't think there a right answer, but it's fun defending your choices.

Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Bob GibsonGetty ImagesWho had the best season since 1960? Pedro, Randy and Bob Gibson are in the running.
Last week on his blog, Curt Schilling wrote an interesting post on what he called Pitcher Dominance Factor -- a way to evaluate the best starting pitchers. His formula basically rates a pitcher by comparing his ERA to the league average ERA for starters, and comparing his baserunners allowed per nine innings to the league average.

In many ways the formula works perfectly -- it rewards pitchers with low ERAs and those who don't allow many baserunners. It has a couple primary flaws in assessing overall value: There are no park effects and it doesn't factor in innings pitched, so a 170-inning season can have the same "dominance factor" as a 250-inning season.

There's another flaw: All of Schilling's highest-rated seasons since 1960 came during the so-called steroid era. His top 13 seasons included five from Pedro Martinez; two apiece from Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown; and one each from Roger Clemens and Johan Santana. Now, maybe those are the best seasons since 1960, as those guys dominated in a high-scoring era.

Of course, there are other metrics out there as well to measure the best pitcher seasons.

Wins: I think we all agree by now that wins aren't the best way to measure a pitcher. By this method, in 1990 Bob Welch had the second-best season since 1960 with 27 wins -- despite ranking just sixth in his own league in ERA and posting a mediocre 127/77 SO/BB ratio.

ERA: Better than wins, but doesn't adjust for home ballpark, era (a 2.05 ERA in 1968, when the American League ERA was 2.98 is not as valuable as a 2.05 ERA in 1996, when the AL ERA was 5.00) or innings pitched.

ERA+: The Baseball-Reference stat adjusts a pitcher's ERA for his park and era to a scale where 100 is average. Much better than regular ERA, although it still doesn't factor in innings pitched, unearned runs, or the quality of a pitcher's defense. It actually ends up generating a list similar to Schilling's as 15 of the top 25 ERA+ seasons since 1960 occurred between 1994 and 2005. ERA+ also doesn't factor in "dominance" in the sense of what Schilling was looking for, as it's possible to post a low ERA without dominating peripherals.

WAR (wins above replacement): WAR establishes a value to a pitcher's season. FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have different versions of WAR, and both arguably have a problem in generating a list of the best pitching seasons since 1960.

Under the Baseball-Reference formula, the more innings you pitch, the more value you accumulate. While completely logical (you're more valuable if you pitch more innings), its list ends up skewed towards the late '60s and early '70s, when starters routinely racked up 300-plus innings. Fourteen of its top 25 seasons reached 300 innings (and only four have fewer than 275), so modern pitchers struggle to make the top of the list since they don't pitch as many innings.

FanGraphs' version of WAR doesn't factor a pitcher's ERA or runs allowed. Instead, it extrapolates a pitcher's innings, strikeouts, walks allowed and home runs allowed (adjusted for park and era). It also only has pitcher WAR dating back to 1974. As it turns out, nine of its top 10 seasons occurred between 1995 and 2004, and you also end up with seasons like Schilling's 2002 in the top 10, when he had a great strikeout-to-walk ratio, but finished just 10th in the NL in ERA.

Both the B-R and FanGraphs lists are a terrific guide to greatness. I'm not knocking their lists. I'm just not sure either should be considered the definitive list of the "best" seasons. So here's my subjective 15 best since 1960, trying to account for the changing patterns of the game ... with apologies to the many great pitchers who finished 16th in my personal tally.

15. Steve Carlton, 1980 Phillies
24-9, 2.34 ERA, 304 IP, 243 H, 90 BB, 286 SO, 15 HR

The last pitcher to throw 300 innings, Carlton led the NL in wins, innings, strikeouts and SO/BB ratio. He held opponents to a .218 average -- and this despite Greg Luzinski usually behind him in left field.

14. Gaylord Perry, 1972 Indians
24-16, 1.92 ERA, 342.2 IP, 253 H, 82 BB, 234 SO, 17 HR

A great season that nobody remembers, although Perry did win the Cy Young Award. While 1972 didn't see much hitting -- there was a reason the AL instituted the DH rule for the 1973 -- Perry's workload was amazing as he had 29 complete games and averaged 8.5 innings per start. That's a lot of spit. From May 6 through Aug. 5, he started 22 games and averaged more than nine innings per start, all while compiling a 1.55 ERA.

13. Randy Johnson 2002 Diamondbacks
24-5, 2.32 ERA, 260 IP, 197 H, 71 BB, 334 SO, 26 HR

Johnson captured his fourth straight Cy Young Award with one of his many dominant seasons. He allowed two runs or fewer in 22 of his 35 starts and struck out 15 or more four times. He also tightened up when it most counted, holding batters to a .174 average in "high-leverage" situations, with just one home run allowed in 154 at-bats.

12. Zack Greinke, 2009 Royals
16-8, 2.16 ERA, 229.1 IP, 195 H, 51 BB, 242 SO, 11 HR

Greinke hasn't been able to replicate the consistency, focus or, yes, the little bit of magic he had in 2009. He allowed one run or less in more than half of his starts -- 18 of 33 -- but due to lack of run support won just 12 of those 18 games. (Thank you, Royals teammates.) His relative lack of stamina prevents him from ranking higher as he pitched fewer than seven innings in 13 of his starts.

11. Greg Maddux, 1995 Braves
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 209.2 IP, 147 H, 23 BB, 181 SO, 8 HR

The shortened season cost Maddux a few starts, otherwise he'd rank even higher with the additional innings pitched. He allowed 39 runs (38 earned) in 28 starts and had a remarkable 0.81 WHIP. His .224 OBP allowed is the second-best since 1960 and his ERA+ is third-best (he ranked even better in 1994, although he did allow nine unearned runs that year.) Maddux allowed more than two runs just four times and more than three runs just twice. He painted the corners, got grounders, didn't give up home runs and dominated without just blowing batters away. Some say he also had a few extra innings off the plate to work with thanks to the kindness of the umpires.

10. Tom Seaver, 1971 Mets
20-10, 1.76 ERA, 286.1 IP, 210 H, 61 BB, 289 SO, 18 HR

The only season on our list not to result in a Cy Young trophy, as Seaver lost out to Fergie Jenkins, who went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA for the Cubs. The vote actually wasn't a travesty; once you adjust for Shea Stadium and Jenkins' 39 more innings pitched, the seasons are close in value. However, Seaver did outpitch Jenkins by quite a bit on the road: 1.63 ERA versus 2.70 ERA, so I rate Seaver's season as better. Seaver's 9.1 K's per nine led the league, at a time when the league average was 5.4, a ratio of +69 percent. In 2011, the NL average is 7.2 K's per nine; a rate of +69 percent would equate to 12.2 K's per nine.

9. Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees
25-3, 1.74 ERA, 273.2 IP, 187 H, 72 BB, 248 SO, 13 HR

My buddy Bish is going to punish me for not ranking Louisiana Lightning her, but this is a tough field. Guidry, all 160 pounds of him, threw 16 complete games and tossed nine shutouts. Guidry didn't lose until July, and in September, with the Yankees battling the Red Sox for the AL East title, he went 6-1 with a 1.19 ERA. He went 3-0 in four starts against the Red Sox. Can we have a re-do on that AL MVP vote?

8. Pedro Martinez, 1999 Red Sox
23-4, 2.07 ERA, 213.1 IP, 160 H, 37 BB, 313 SO, 9 HR

Pedro's second of three Cy Young reasons resulted in an opponents' batting line of .205/.248/.288, as he allowed just nine home runs while fanning 13.2 per nine, the second-highest total ever for a starter. He fanned 15 batters four times, 16 once and 17 once. He allowed more than four runs just once, a nine-run disaster after his All-Star start that landed him on the DL. In fact, that's the only strike against this season: He made just 29 starts. Well, that and these gloves he wore during the playoffs.

7. Randy Johnson, 2001 Diamondbacks
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 249.2 IP, 181 H, 71 BB, 372 SO, 19 HR

And if you want to give him extra credit for winning three games in the World Series, please do so. Johnson struck out 10 or more in 23 starts, including a record-tying 20 on May 8 against the Reds. His 13.4 K's per nine is the best ever for a starter, left-handed batters hit one home run off him all season and you didn't dare dig him against him: he also hit 18 batters. Yes

6. Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers
27-9, 1.73 ERA, 323 IP, 241 H, 77 BB, 317 SO, 19 HR

You could flip a coin between any of Koufax's three Cy Young seasons (1963, '64, '66). His strikeout and hit rates were better in 1965 than 1966, but he also allowed 14 more runs in the same number of starts. He threw 11 shutouts in 1963, but had a big home park advantage that year. In 1966, he had 1.52 ERA at home and 1.96 on the road, his most even split, so I give '66 the nod. This was his final season, as he pitched in so much pain doctors were injecting steroids directly into the elbow joint, according to Jane Leavy's "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy." Down the stretch, with the Dodgers battling for the pennant, he started seven times over the final 26 days, posting a 1.20 ERA.

5. Steve Carlton, 1972 Phillies
27-10, 1.97 ERA, 346.1 IP, 257 H, 87 BB, 310 SO, 17 HR

If you want to argue that Carlton's season was the best ever, I won't mount much of a disagreement. Carlton famously won nearly half of his team's 59 wins as he completed 30 of his 41 starts and threw eight shutouts. He held batters to a .207/.257/.291 line while making 31 starts on three days' rest. He allowed one home run to a cleanup hitter all season. And did you check the innings pitched total? The National League OPS that year was .680, not far below the .704 so far this season. Carlton's 12.2 WAR ranks No. 1 on Baseball-Reference's list since 1960.

4. Roger Clemens, 1997 Blue Jays
21-7, 2.05 ERA, 264 IP, 204 H, 68 BB, 292 SO, 9 HR

While the AL was batting .271/.340/.428 in 1997, Clemens dominated with a .213/.273/.290 line. He won the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts while allowing zero runs or one run in 20 of his 33 starts. Clemens had many great seasons -- seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles -- but 1997 stands out as his best. Red Sox fans just punched the wall in disgust.

3. Dwight Gooden, 1985 Mets
24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276.2 IP, 198 H, 69 BB, 268 SO, 13 HR

He allowed just a .201 average and .270 slugging percentage. Left-handed batters had a lower OPS off him than right-handers. In September, with the Mets fighting the Cardinals for a division title, he went 4-0 in six starts with a 0.34 ERA. His strikeout rate of 8.7 per nine may not appear to stand out now, but that's 58 percent better than the NL average. He even hit .226. And he did all this at 20 years of age while partying with Darryl Strawberry.

2. Bob Gibson, 1968 Cardinals
22-9, 1.12 ERA, 304.2 IP, 198 H, 62 BB, 268 SO, 11 HR

Yes, 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, but even in a league where the league ERA was 2.99, Gibson's 1.12 ERA ranks as fourth-best ERA+ since 1968. He threw 13 shutouts (meaning he was just 9-9 if he didn't throw up a zero). You can find areas to nitpick: He allowed nine unearned runs, he averaged just 7.9 K's per nine (although that was second-best mark in the NL). But this is what stands out most to me: He pitched seven innings his first two starts of the season ... and then at least eight every start after that. The man literally didn't have a bad game all season.

1. Pedro Martinez, 2000 Red Sox
18-6, 1.74 ERA, 217 IP, 128 H, 32 BB, 284 SO, 17 HR

Can a guy who pitched 87 fewer innings than Gibson have had a better season? (Vote in the poll!) Pedro's opponent batting line is just sick: .167/.213/.259. Absolutely incredible. He was throwing 95-mph Wiffle balls that year, unhittable heaters and changeups and curveballs with precise location. The AL ERA in 2000 was 4.92, giving Pedro the best adjusted ERA since 1960. I think I answer it this way: If I wanted one of these guys pitching at his peak in a game to save the future of mankind, I'd take 2000 Pedro Martinez.

(Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com.)

Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield and the SweetSpot blog on Facebook.

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.
Dave: Crap!

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
Rain Jesse Johnson/US PresswireYeah, not exactly a night for baseball. Anybody for a tarp slide? No? Well, OK then.
We talked baseball caps. We talked Braves and Derek Jeter and lots of other things. Check it out here.
To go with our Willie Mays package today, SportsNation worked up a list ranker with 30 of the greatest players of all time. Don't agree with me that Willie Mays was the greatest ever? Then Click here to vote yourself.

Here's my quick list without spending too much time thinking about it:

1. Willie Mays: He could hit, hit for power, run the bases and field with the best we've ever seen. Could have won as many as 10-11 MVP Awards.
2. Barry Bonds: If he had played center field instead of left, I'd consider him for No. 1.
3. Babe Ruth: I'd like to see him hitting 95-mph fastballs on a regular basis.
4. Hank Aaron: A testament to longevity, consistency, durability and greatness.
5. Stan Musial: Won three MVPs and finished second four other times.
6. Ted Williams: Maybe the greatest hitter of all time, but I give Musial the slight all-around edge.
7. Albert Pujols: Barring injury, he's this good.
8. Roger Clemens: We don't know what he did and if it helped. But we know what he did on the field. Greatest pitcher of all time.
9. Mike Schmidt: Dominated the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. Eight-time home run champ and one of best fielding third basemen ever.
10. Walter Johnson: Could have dominated in any era.

11. Honus Wagner: Won batting titles, ran the bases and hit for power in the dead-ball era.
12. Lou Gehrig: Only strike against him is he didn't play a premium defensive position.
13. Alex Rodriguez: You can't deny the numbers.
14. Lefty Grove: The most underrated great pitcher of all time. Won nine ERA titles.
15. Mickey Mantle: If only he had stayed healthy.
16. Ty Cobb: Would love to go back in time and bring him back to 2011.
17. Josh Gibson: They say he hit 'em longer than the Babe.
18. Joe Morgan: The most underrated great position player of all time. Did everything well.
19. Rickey Henderson: The object is to score runs and nobody has scored more than Rickey.
20. Greg Maddux: 355 wins, fourth-most starts, more pitches painting black than anyone.

21. Cal Ripken: Overrated as a hitter, underrated as a fielder.
22. Tom Seaver: Mets fans still can't believe they traded him.
23. Pedro Martinez: At his peak, the best ever. Four pitches that made batters cry.
24. Frank Robinson: And to think he was only third-best NL outfielder of the early '60s.
25. Johnny Bench: Knees gave out, but those first 12 seasons were amazing.
26. Satchel Paige: Was he even the best Negro Leagues pitcher?
27. Rogers Hornsby: No denying his hitting numbers. Too low? Maybe so.
28. Pete Alexander: Won 94 games over one three-year span, impressive even for the time.
29. Cy Young: Yes, you can say I'm disrespecting the 19th century.
30. Sandy Koufax: A little bit of a product of his time and a huge home/road splits, plus short career for this list.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.
I don’t actually remember the first baseball game I attended, but in the spring of 1973 my father assures me we went to see a local high school phenom named Floyd Bannister, who would go 15-0 with an 0.00 ERA and three years later become the first pick in the draft by the Astros.

The first major league game I saw in person was Mariners versus Red Sox, Kingdome, May 1977. Must have been backpack night or tote bag night because the attendance totaled more than 52,000, and back then the Mariners drew that many fans only on Opening Day or for promotional giveaways. Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk hit home runs and, of course, the Mariners lost.

[+] EnlargeMark Langston
AP Photo/Fred JewellFormer Seattle ace Mark Langston's high leg kick was a staple at Mariners games for years, like during this 1987 shutout of the White Sox.
While I suffered through endless defeats, I witnessed plenty of exciting moments, like Ruppert Jones hitting an inside-the-park home run against the Yankees that first season that propelled everybody into a “Rupe! Rupe! Rupe!” chant at the top of our lungs. Or bat night in 1981, when Tom Paciorek beat the Yankees for the second night in a row with a ninth-inning home run and we started banging our bats against the metal bleachers in a deafening celebration. I was there with my father when Gaylord Perry won his 300th game and later that season when Perry was ejected for the only time in his career for throwing a spitball (Boston’s Rick Miller swung and missed a pitch by about two feet and charged the mound, leading to an impressive melee).

I’ve seen Mark Langston two-hit the Tigers, compelling Sparky Anderson to call him the best young left-hander he’d seen since Sandy Koufax. I loved Langston and his high leg kick, but the Mariners couldn’t afford him and he was later traded for a tall, gangly rookie named Randy Johnson, and I was there in the upper deck when Johnson beat the Angels (and Langston) in the 1995 tiebreaker to put the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

I’ve sat in primo box seats at Fenway Park (thanks, Rob), watching Pedro Martinez strike out 17 Devil Rays … and lose 1-0 because Steve Trachsel pitched a three-hit shutout. I’ve seen Clemens throw a bat at Piazza, squinting from the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, not sure I saw what I thought I saw. I’ve seen Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hit bottom-of-the-ninth homers to tie World Series games, and I definitely couldn’t believe what I saw.

I’m just one fan, with my own chamber of baseball memories. You have your own, but we all keep going to the ballpark or watching on television or checking updates on our phones for the same reasons: We still love the games. We want to know who wins, who loses, hope for a game-winning home run or a young left-hander who throws 95 and makes us believe he’s the next Koufax.

So with the 2011 season soon upon us, I can’t wait for the games to begin, to see more memories formed.

To see what Buster Posey and the Giants will do for an encore.

To see whether Jason Heyward will explode in his sophomore campaign.

To see Carl Crawford going first to home on an Adrian Gonzalez double off the Monster.

To see if the Rays can again shock the baseball world and win the AL East for the third time in four seasons.

To see Cardinals fans give Albert Pujols a five-minute standing ovation the first time he steps to the plate.

To see Joey Votto deliver more big hits for Reds. (Note: I have a man crush on Joey Votto.)

To see Troy Tulowitzki range deep in the hole and rob a batter of a sure single. And then blast a 425-foot home run later in the inning.

To see Joe Mauer spray line drives all over the field.

To see Justin Verlander and Josh Johnson blow away hitters.

To see the artistry of Roy Halladay.

To see Yankees fans panic if Derek Jeter starts the season 1-for-14.

I can’t wait to see the late game on Opening Day: Tim Lincecum versus Clayton Kershaw, the little righty with the funky motion and two Cy Young Awards versus the big lefty who could win one this season.

If our memories of games are a tangled web of neurons, well, that’s kind of how baseball works, too. Langston was drafted in the second round with a pick acquired from the Rangers after they signed Bill Stein as a free agent. The Mariners picked Stein in the expansion draft from the White Sox, who had acquired him for Jerry DaVanon, who had been traded for Roger Repoz, who was acquired for Jack Sanford, who came up on the unlucky end of a 1-0 loss for the Giants in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. The Giants didn’t win a World Series in San Francisco until 2010, led by their ace Lincecum, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle -- maybe the first game he ever saw featured Mark Langston -- using a pitching motion his father taught him, a motion modeled on the delivery of Sandy Koufax.

The SweetSpot blog will be here all season, writing about and discussing and analyzing the web that is a baseball season. Join myself and other contributors as we discuss the news, have some fun and give you a chance to interact. Mostly, we’ll be watching a lot of games, as the moments of 2011 unveil themselves.

I can’t wait. How many hours until the first pitch?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

Pedro won't pitch, won't retire

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
5:55
PM ET
The Phillies suddenly are desperate for a starting pitcher, but they can't have this one:
Pedro Martinez has decided he will not pitch this season but he has not closed the door to pitching again in 2011, said a source close to Martinez today.

Several teams expressed interest in making Martinez a second-half addition to their rotation but as of today, those teams have all been told that Martinez will remain on the sidelines.

Martinez, who will turn 39 in October, decided that he was enjoying the time off with his family this summer too much to embark on a comeback for the second season in a row, according to the source.

--snip--

Martinez is “wide open’’ to pitching next season, said the source.

Yeah, whatever. I'll believe it when he actually pitches. And I'm reminded of Jim Palmer, who retired in 1984 when he was 38 ... and tried to come back in 1991, when he was 45. That didn't work out so well.*

* The best thing about Palmer's comeback attempt was this story ... According to Richard Hoffer in Sports Illustrated, Palmer began his comeback with some workouts at the University of Miami. A young Hurricanes baseball coach, who supposedly didn't recognize Palmer, said, "You'll never get into the Hall of Fame with those mechanics." To which Palmer responded, "I'm already in the Hall of Fame." True enough, but Palmer pitched two innings in spring training and retired (for good this time).

By the way, Pedro's agent has confirmed this story. I don't begrudge Pedro his retirement, let alone his time with the family. But this is the last time he gets to tease us like this. Or me, anyway. You'll not see his name again in this space unless a) it's in a historical context, or b) he's signed a professional contract and promises to pitch.

Pedro in too long?

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
3:50
AM ET
We talked about Pedro Martinez quite a bit before Game 2, and quite a bit during Game 2. After Game 2, though? Well, Bob Ford is still talking about Pedro. I'm just not sure why ...
    Every decision Charlie Manuel has made since the postseason began has been with the intent of putting the Phillies in better position to repeat as World Series champions.

    October decisions come with risk, however, particularly when they involve messing around with the starting rotation and hanging one's hopes on a string of best-case scenarios.

    --snip--

    As it was, they got a decent pitching performance from Pedro Martinez, but not one that matched up against the work of A.J. Burnett. Martinez was good, but he gave up two home runs on mistake pitches and put the insurance run in scoring position with a pair of hits in the seventh inning before departing.

    "I felt Pedro did a tremendous job, but he got hurt by the long ball to the left-handed hitters," Manuel said. "It was a very close game. We just couldn't pull it out."

    It can be said that Manuel stayed too long with Martinez, sending him back out for the seventh inning having already thrown 99 pitches, but that kind of second-guess is pointless. Manuel had committed to Martinez for this start and he was going to ride him as far as he could, trying to delay dipping into his bullpen as long as possible. He did have Happ out there, warmed and ready, but the pitcher who was the Phillies' most consistent starter all season didn't get into the game.
It's not pointless because of Manuel's commitment to riding Pedro as far as he could; that's a really silly thing to commit to, anyway. It's pointless because no manager would have yanked Pedro before the seventh inning, and before the seventh inning the Yankees had already scored more runs than the Phillies would in nine innings. Sure, we all thought of Grady Little in the seventh inning, when Pedro gave up a couple of hits. But the Yankees wound up scoring just one run and, again, they didn't even need that run.

As I wrote immediately after the game, while there was plenty of room for second-guessing at the time, none of the questionable decisions seemed to have much impact on the outcome. This was first a players' game, and then an umpires' game -- more about that later, probably -- and only then a managers' game.

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