SweetSpot: Randy Johnson
THE TEAM: Seattle Mariners
THE YEAR: 1998
THE SITUATION: Contract talks with Randy Johnson had stalled and the Mariners were a disappointing 15 games under .500 by the end of June after winning the division title the year before. Johnson was vocally unhappy with management -- in part, because he believed the team hadn't offered proper condolences when his father died -- and Johnson didn't always appear focused on the mound with a 4.33 ERA. As it became apparent Johnson wasn't going to re-sign with Seattle, Mariners management began using that against him in the media to help sell the upcoming deal.
THE TRADE: Moments before the July 31 deadline, GM Woody Woodward traded Johnson to the Astros for minor leaguers Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama (a player to be named later). The deal for the three generally unknown prospects was widely panned in the press and Woodward whined that there wasn't much interest in Johnson ... who was only averaging 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings at the time. Garcia would be Baseball America’s No. 61 prospect before the 1999 season, Guillen No. 73.
THE AFTERMATH: The Mariners are known for their bad deadline deals (Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb, Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard), but this one worked out as Garcia and Guillen, and Halama to a lesser extent, helped the Mariners reach the postseason in 2000 and 2001 and win 90-plus games in 2002 and 2003, as well. It also worked out for Houston, as Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, although the Astros would lose to the Padres in the Division Series (Johnson lost both of his starts, though he pitched well). Johnson would sign with Arizona after the season and win four straight Cy Young Awards and the 2001 World Series.
The boycott never materialized, but the fans had a right to be upset. The four young players the Mets received for Seaver -- Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman -- never developed into anything more than minor contributors and the Mets would average 97 losses in nonstrike seasons from 1977 to 1983.
The Seaver deal remains one of the most shocking deadline deals in baseball history. Even though everyone knew Seaver was at odds with Mets management over a new contract and the state of the team, nobody really expected the Mets to trade their franchise icon. That's what makes the trade deadline so exciting -- even if a big name is central to trade rumors, we don't know where the player will land.
The trade deadline was later moved from June 15 to July 31 in 1986, resulting in more deadline trades than occurred with the earlier date. Here are the five biggest blockbusters to happen in July -- not necessarily the best trades, but the ones with the biggest names in deals that sent shock waves through baseball land.
5. July 31, 1997: A's trade Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein.
Why the trade: The A's were floundering in the post-Bash Brothers era, Tony La Russa was already in St. Louis and McGwire was an impending free agent. The A's needed to rebuild and everyone knew they were shopping McGwire, but would they have the guts to trade him in a season in which he had a chance to break Roger Maris' home run record? Yes, they would. The surprising part was the destination: The Cardinals were 51-56 at the time of the trade, 7½ games out of first place and even further behind in the wild-card standings.
Quote: "What I hope is the fans understand we're trying to rebuild this team to a contending level and that sometimes calls for hard decisions." -- A's general manager Sandy Alderson
What happened: McGwire had 34 home runs for the A's but went on a tear with St. Louis, slamming 24 home runs in 51 games to finish with 58, three short of Maris' record. McGwire wouldn't test free agency but would instead sign a three-year deal with the Cards and break Maris' record the next year. The three pitchers the A's acquired never did much.
Similar player today: Let's see: Franchise icon, one of the game's premier power hitters maybe somebody like the Red Sox trading David Ortiz.
4. July 9, 2010: Mariners trade Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to the Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.
Why the trade: Lee had won the AL Cy Young Award with the Indians in 2008 and then dominated in the 2009 postseason with the Phillies, going 4-0 in five starts with a 1.56 ERA. The Phillies inexplicably traded him to the Mariners that winter, but the Mariners were awful and Lee's ability and postseason performance made him the hot commodity on the trade market. The Rangers were in first place on July 9, but hadn't made the playoffs since 1999 and needed an ace to lead the rotation. The Mariners were close to a deal with the Yankees for Jesus Montero -- reports said Yankees GM Brian Cashman had actually called Lee to say a deal was imminent -- before the Rangers relented and finally included rookie first baseman Smoak. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn't seem concerned about trading within the division.
Quote: "We had ongoing talks with several clubs. And at the end, when you're finished and you go another direction, before you consummate a deal, you always go back and tell the other club, 'Hey, look, this is the direction we're going, this is the decision we made.'" -- Zduriencik
What happened: Lee went only 4-6 down the stretch with the Rangers, but Texas won the division easily. Lee really earned his keep in the postseason, beating Tampa Bay twice in the division series and beating the Yankees with eight shutout innings in the ALCS. He did lose both his World Series starts, but the Rangers at least got there for the first time in franchise history. The transformation of the Rangers into one of the big players in MLB was helped by that World Series appearance -- helped by a division rival. As for the Mariners Smoak owns a .230 career average.
Similar player today: Cliff Lee?
3. July 31, 2004: In a four-team trade, the Red Sox trade Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins.
Why the trade: It's easy now to forget how popular Garciaparra was in Boston, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000 and driving in 105 runs in 2003, when the Red Sox fell one game short of the World Series. But there were reports that Garciaparra was unhappy in Boston and the Red Sox had come close to an offseason deal that would have sent him to the Dodgers or White Sox and brought Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. General manager Theo Epstein was also interested in improving the team's defense, and Cabrera would be an upgrade there. Official news of the deal didn't come down until an hour after the deadline.
Quote: "I think as far as Nomar goes, maybe it was good. Give him some time to clear his head. Sometimes starting over is not so bad. He's going to a great place to play, just like Boston. Now what we need to do is get our team headed in the right direction and I think we have a good chance to do that." -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona
What happened: The Red Sox were 56-46 at the time of the trade, 8½ games behind the Yankees and a game out of the wild-card lead. They would go 42-18 after the trade and while they didn't catch the Yankees they would ride that momentum to a World Series crown. Cabrera hit .294, drove in 31 runs in 58 games and played excellent defense. The Cubs were 1½ games out of the wild card but would fall three games short of the playoffs. Garciaparra hit .297 with 20 RBIs in 43 games, missing some time with an injury (he'd never be completely healthy again).
Similar player today: Popular player, injury risk, impending free agent how about Chase Utley?
2. July 31, 2008: In a three-team deal, the Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and acquire Jason Bay from the Pirates.
Why the trade: The Red Sox were in second place behind the Rays, a game ahead of the Yankees and Twins in the wild-card race, but had grown tired of Manny's act, which had included a fight with teammate Kevin Youkilis, a physical altercation with the team's traveling secretary and, most damaging, several instances in late July of not running out ground balls, perhaps in protest of his contract situation. The Dodgers were 54-53, but just one game behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Red Sox and Marlins were in heated talks, but Boston couldn't pry Class A slugger Mike Stanton away from the Marlins. The Pirates were then brought in, sending two-time All-Star Bay to Boston and receiving prospects Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Dodgers and Red Sox in a deal consummated at "3:59 and seconds," according to Pirates GM Neal Huntington (in other words, just before the 4 p.m. ET deadline).
Quote: "The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me. During my years here, I've seen how [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them. The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don't deserve me. I'm not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don't have peace here." -- Manny Ramirez, just before deadline day
What happened: Hitting .299/.398/.529 with Boston, Ramirez heated up with the Dodgers, hitting .411 in August and .396/.489/.743 over his two months with the team, carrying the Dodgers to the NL West title and finishing fourth in the MVP vote despite playing just 53 games in the National League. He also got the Dodgers to drop two team options for 2009 and 2010 (although he would end up re-signing with the club). The Dodgers upset the Cubs in the division series but lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Bay played well with the Red Sox, who lost Game 7 of the ALCS, and hit 36 home runs the following season. As for the Pirates well, LaRoche was the big prospect but didn't pan out and only Morris still remains with the organization.
Similar player today: Veteran slugger who had fallen from grace sounds sort of like Alex Rodriguez, if A-Rod were healthy and hitting.
1. July 31, 1998: Mariners trade Randy Johnson to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama.
Why the trade: The Mariners had won the division title in 1997 but hadn't signed Johnson, an impending free agent who had made it clear he wasn't returning to Seattle. They first shopped him around in the offseason, reportedly turning down a Mariano Rivera offer from the Yankees because a "Mariner official also said there are concerns about Rivera's arm. There were suspicions the 27-year-old right-hander had shoulder trouble late in the season."
Anyway, the Astros were in first place but looking for another starter to complement Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima.
Quote: "It's hard to believe, but there was very little interest in Randy Johnson." -- Mariners general manager Woody Woodward. Really, Woody?
What happened: The trade was widely panned, especially in Seattle, where Ken Griffey Jr. said "I was ordered not to say anything." In Houston, manager Larry Dierker seemed critical, as well, suggesting the team was sacrificing the future for the present. Well, Johnson was dominant for the Astros, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, but the Astros would lose in the division series to the Padres. Garcia would be better than advertised (the Mariners had wanted Scott Elarton) and he, Guillen and Halama would help the Mariners to the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.
Similar player today: Imagine a taller Clayton Kershaw with longer hair and a harder fastball and meaner scowl. In other words, the best lefty in the game.
Honorable mention: David Cone to the Yankees (1995); CC Sabathia to the Brewers (2008); Fred McGriff to the Braves (1993); Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks (2000); Mark Teixeira to the Braves (2007); Scott Rolen to the Cardinals (2002).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
1. Kudos to the Mets and Orioles for midweek interleague sweeps against other contenders. Believe it or not, the Mets and Orioles are each in the top 10 in runs scored!
2. We get Dave’s opinion on Matt Cain and the greatest games ever pitched, and praise R.A. Dickey for postgame comments about his performance.
3. Dave shares his thoughts on what Team USA could look like in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
4. Our emailers have thoughts on Randy Johnson’s dominance, Wrigley Field and more!
5. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball will feature the Red Sox and Cubs, but there is plenty of other interesting action, including Yankees-Nationals, Reds-Mets and Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw!
So download and listen to Friday’s fine Baseball Today podcast, thanks again for supporting the show and have a great weekend!
With that prompt, I'd thought it would be fun to list 10 of my all-time favorite matchups I would have wanted to see ... although a few of them are recent enough that some of us did see them. With help from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, we can even find results of the matchups.
Ty Cobb versus Walter Johnson (.366, 1 HR)
According to researcher Terry Cullen, Cobb hit .366 in his career off Johnson (120-for-328) -- pretty amazing considering Cobb's average against all pitchers was ... .366. While Cobb reportedly said Johnson's fastball "looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed," he certainly didn't have issues hitting it. Cobb knew Johnson was too nice to pitch inside, so he'd crowd the plate. "I saw him wince when he fired one close to somebody's head, and he used to tell me that he was afraid someday that he would kill a man with that fireball," Cobb once said. "So I used to cheat. I'd crowd that plate so far that I was actually sticking my toes on it when I was facing Johnson. I knew he was timid about hitting a batter, and when he saw me crowding the plate he'd steer his pitches a little bit wide. Then with two balls and no strikes, he'd ease up a bit to get it over. That's the Johnson pitch I hit. I was depending on him to be scared of hitting me." Now, that's what Cobb said; seems a little too simple though, doesn't it? Why didn't every hitter do that? There's no doubt the approach helped Cobb, but unlike most hitters, he could hit Johnson's fastball. (By the way, his only home run off Johnson was an inside-the-parker.)
Babe Ruth versus Lefty Grove (incomplete)
Some say Grove was the best pitcher of all time -- 300 wins with a .680 winning percentage, nine ERA titles, seven consecutive strikeout titles. Wouldn't you love to see Ruth taking a big cut against Grove's legendary fastball? I couldn't find Ruth career's numbers against Grove, but he did hit nine home runs off him, tied with Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg for the most against Grove. In the data Retrosheet has available, Ruth hit .300/.349/.438 with three home runs in 80 at-bats, six walks and 27 K's.
Ted Williams versus Bob Feller (.347/.467/.677, 9 HR in 124 ABs)
Those numbers are from Retrosheet, but are incomplete. From 1948 to 1956, Williams crushed Feller -- .389/.511/.833, with eight home runs in 72 at-bats. So, at least initially, Feller fared better before Williams started dominating. Williams did call Feller the best pitcher he ever faced.
Willie Mays versus Bob Gibson (.196/.315/.304, 3 HR in 92 ABs)
With his fastball/slider combo, you might expect that Gibson was tough on right-handed batters and you'd be correct: right-handers hit .204 against him, left-handers .257. Basically, he owned Mays, who struck out 30 times in 108 plate appearances and had just four extra-base hits. In James Hirsch's biography of Mays he tells the story of Gibson once visiting Mays' home wearing glasses. Gibson didn't wear them when he pitched. "You wear glasses? Man, you're going to kill somebody one of those days," Mays said. Hirsch writes that later in his career Mays started conveniently scheduling off days against hard-throwers like Gibson and Tom Seaver, and that he always preferred off-speed pitches to fastballs.
Hank Aaron versus Bob Gibson (.215/.278/.423, 8 HR in 163 ABs)
Aaron had a little more success than Mays. So who did hit well against Gibson? Billy Williams hit .259 but with 10 home runs in 174 at-bats and 24 walks against 14 strikeouts. Richie Hebner had a 1.127 OPS against Gibson in 74 PAs, batting .387. Darrell Evans, facing mostly the late-career Gibson, never struck out against him in 35 PAs, drawing 11 walks and and hitting three home runs.
Willie Mays versus Sandy Koufax (.278/.426/.536, 5 HR in 97 ABs)
Of course, Mays faced the young Koufax, and then the unhittable Koufax. During Koufax's 1962-1966 run, when he led the National League each season in ERA, Mays still hit a respectable .242/.373/.484, with more walks than strikeouts.
Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax (.362/.431/.647, 7 HR in 116 ABs)
Of 73 players with at least 40 career plate appearances against Koufax, only five hit .300. Most of that damage was against pre-'62 Koufax, as Aaron hit .259 from '62 to '66.
Mike Schmidt versus Nolan Ryan (.179/.405/.482, 5 HR in 56 ABs)
Ryan came over to the Astros in 1980, the year Schmidt won the first of his three MVP trophies. In the ultimate battle of power hitter versus power pitcher, the results were perhaps what you would expect: Schmidt hit for a low average, but got on base and popped home runs at a pretty good ratio.
Barry Bonds versus Greg Maddux (.265/.376/.508, 9 HR in 132 ABs)
The two came up in 1986, so it's not surprising that Maddux faced Bonds more than any hitter in his career. How good was Bonds? Even the pitcher with pinpoint control walked him 24 times in 157 PAs with just 16 strikeouts. Bonds' nine home runs off Maddux are the most he hit off one pitcher, tied with John Smoltz. Bonds had an .883 OPS against Maddux, but 1.138 against Smoltz and .992 against Tom Glavine. Who did own Bonds? He went 3-for-33 off Chuck McElroy, with just one walk (although two home runs).
Barry Bonds versus Randy Johnson (.306/.452/.551, 3 HR in 49 ABs)
Johnson had 37 intentional walks in his career; 34 were to right-handed batters. Two were to Barry Bonds. The other? Jeremy Hermida. Go figure. The first walk to Bonds came in 2003, runner on second, no outs, sixth inning, Diamondbacks down 2-0. The second one came in 2004 and is more interesting: 2004, game tied in the fifth, runners on first and second. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a fly ball to deep left-center that Luis Gonzalez dropped; Steve Finley was then credited with an error on the throw in as all three runners scored. The walk to Hermida came in 2008, in a game Hermida was batting eighth. Maybe that's when Johnson knew he was nearing the end.
What are some of your favorite matchups?
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
In World Series history, only eight starts have scored 90 or better according to the game score metric -- in addition to the three above, the others were recorded by Gibson in 1968 (93), Randy Johnson in 2001 (91) and Monte Pearson in 1939, George Earnshaw in 1931 and Bill Dinneen in 1903 (all 90).
Derek Holland's game scored at 84, just the 45th outing in World Series history to score that high, and the highest since Josh Beckett's five-hit shutout in Game 6 of 2003, which also scored 84. ESPN's Stats & Information team broke down Holland's start, complete with heat maps of his pitch locations, and also reports Holland was just the seventh left-hander since 1920 to record a game score of at least 84 -- joining Johnson, Sandy Koufax (who did it twice), Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn, Tom Glavine and John Tudor.
After the game, Holland said he couldn't let the importance of the game -- down two games to one, it was a needed win for the Rangers -- get to him. "I just wanted to make sure I could go out there and execute all my pitches," he said. "That was the main thing. I wanted to go right after these hitters. I wanted to show that I belong here."
He certainly did that. Since Jack Morris' 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of 1991, here's my ranking of the five best World Series starts.
1. Josh Beckett, Marlins, Game 6, 2003 (game score: 84)
Pitching on three days' rest and in Yankee Stadium, Beckett tossed the five-hit shutout with nine strikeouts, throwing just 107 pitches, to clinch the title for the Marlins. Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and the Yankees went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
2. Tom Glavine, Braves, Game 6, 1995 (game score: 85)
In another clinching game, Glavine held the explosive Cleveland lineup (Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) to just one hit in eight innings, walking three and striking out eight. Mark Wohlers got the final three outs as the Braves won 1-0 for their only World Series title in Atlanta.
3. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks, Game 2, 2001 (game score: 91)
Johnson dominated with an 11-strikeout, three-hit shutout to give Arizona a 2-0 series lead. He struck out each Yankee at least once and only baserunner reached second base.
4. Derek Holland, Rangers, Game 4, 2011 (game score: 84)
Considering the circumsances: Trailing in the series, pitching in a tough ballpark against an explosive lineup, an absolute masterpiece.
5. Roger Clemens, Yankees, Game 2, 2000 (game score: 87)
Yes, this was that game. What everyone forgets is that Clemens pitched eight masterful innings, allowing just two hits, no runs, no walks while striking out nine. (The Mets scored five runs in the ninth to make the final score 6-5.)
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.
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.
C -- Carlton Fisk, 1990 White Sox (42). Only two catchers have caught at least 100 games at 40 or older, with Fisk and Bob Boone each doing it twice. In 1990, Fisk caught 116 games (and played in 137 overall) and hit .285/.378/.451 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. His OPS+ was eighth-best in the American League among all hitters. He even stole seven bases -- more than Joe DiMaggio ever stole in a single season.
1B -- Darrell Evans, 1985 Tigers (40). You'd think first base would be the refuge of old hitters who could still rake, but such is not the case. Evans hit .257/.359/.501 with 34 home runs and 99 RBIs, making him the only 40-year-old first baseman (minimum 50 percent of games played at first base) to hit more than 20 home runs or drive in 70. Pete Rose did hit .325 at age 40, although with a homer, and 45-year-old Julio Franco hit .309 in part-time duty for the Braves in 2004.
2B -- Joe Morgan, 1984 A's (40). Only five players have played 100 games at second base at age 40: Morgan, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Rabbit Maranville and Nap Lajoie. Morgan, Maranville and Lajoie are all Hall of Famers and Biggio and Kent may get there. None of them really hit all that, but in his final season in the majors at least Morgan drew a lot of walks to post a good on-base percentage. His final line: .244/.356/.351 with six home runs and 43 RBIs.
3B -- Graig Nettles, 1985 Padres (40). Nettles hit .261/.363/.420 with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs, edging out Hall of Famer Luke Appling, who hit .314 but with no home runs for the 1948 White Sox.
SS -- Luke Appling, 1949 White Sox (42). Appling was back at shortstop in 1949 and hit .301/.439/.394, ranking second in the AL in on-base percentage. He drew 121 walks ... and struck out just 24 times.
LF -- Ted Williams, 1960 Red Sox (41). In his final season, Williams hit .316/.451/.645 with 29 home runs and 72 RBIs in 113 games. There was stiff competition for this slot: Barry Bonds had a .480 OBP at age 42, Stan Musial hit .330 at age 41 and 40-year-old Rickey Henderson hit .315 with 89 runs scored for the '99 Mets.
CF -- Willie Mays, 1971 Giants (40). Mays had lost a step in the field, but thanks to 112 walks led the NL with a .425 on-base percentage. He added 18 home runs and scored 82 runs. two other 40-year-olds have been regular center fielders in recent years: Kenny Lofton in 2007 and Steve Finley in 2006.
RF -- Ty Cobb, 1927 A's (40). Not a bad outfield, eh? Cobb hit .357 with 93 RBIs and 104 runs, edging out Sam Rice's 1930 season with the Senators (.349, 121 runs). Rice was one of the great 40-and-over performers, racking up 551 hits from his age-40 season onward (second only to Pete Rose).
P -- Randy Johnson, 2004 Diamondbacks (40). Johnson went 16-14 with a 2.60 and led the NL with 290 strikeouts while pitching 245 2/3 innings. And here's the thing: He finished second in the NL Cy Young vote to 41-year-old Roger Clemens, who went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 214 innings. Johnson had the better season. The list of 40-and-over great pitchers is a long one, from Cy Young to Warren Spahn (23-7 age 42) to Phil Niekro to Nolan Ryan to Jamie Moyer. Since 1901, Niekro has the most wins from his age-40 season on with 121, followed by Moyer's 103.
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
- Phillies trade Cliff Lee to the Mariners for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies: This was for a full year of Lee. Nobody’s a slam-dunk deal-winner more than a year later. Aumont should be a good reliever someday, but Gillies is still struggling with hamstring woes that have kept him from becoming the leadoff prospect he was made out to be. Ramirez is putting up good numbers in a repeat spin at Double-A, but his slider’s MIA, taking his strikeout rate with it (nine in 32 innings).
- Mariners trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers (with Mark Lowe) for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Matthew Lawson and Blake Beavan: The Mariners were only dealing away a few months of Lee’s time before free agency, but were also surrendering the draft picks his departure would inevitably bring. Lawson’s already gone (dealt for Aaron Laffey), but Smoak’s living up to his billing as a top prospect, and Beavan should help round out a rotation someday. Lueke’s off-field jail time and on-field struggles have made him a source of embarrassment. A merely decent package for a three-month rental of an ace.
- Astros trade Roy Oswalt to the Phillies for J.A. Happ, Brett Wallace and Anthony Villar: Houston paid for the privilege of making this deal happen, giving the Phillies $11 million to offset Oswalt’s 2011 salary, because this wasn’t just a season-ending rental. This was a humiliatingly bad deal, even if Happ sticks as a mid-rotation filler for the four seasons he’s under Astros control, and even if Wallace winds up being an adequate bat for first base. Villar is hitting in Lancaster in the Cal League.
- Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay to the Phillies for Michael Taylor, Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek: A reasonable exchange, because the Phillies could put together a financial package to make Doc happy, while the Jays got at least one premium talent. Drabek looks like he’ll be a quality big-league starter for years to come, while d’Arnaud is a 22-year-old strong-armed receiver dealing with the tough jump to Double-A. Taylor was swapped for Brett Wallace, who was subsequently converted into outfield speedster Anthony Gose to help the Astros’ end of the Oswalt exchange.
- Indians trade Cliff Lee to the Phillies for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Lou Marson: Donald and Marson make for little more than nice reserves, so this deal boils down to the two pitchers’ upside for a year and a half of Lee. Knapp came over with a bum shoulder that needed repair, but has been excellent in the Sally League this spring, while Carrasco’s a reasonable mid-rotation starter.
- Twins trade Johan Santana to the Mets for Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Carlos Gomez: An unmitigated disaster, but Santana’s role in forcing the Twins’ hand via his no-trade rights to get himself the multi-year deal he coveted with New York was a critical factor. Mulvey and Humber are both out of the organization, the toolsy Gomez (now with the Brewers) may never hold a regular job in center and Guerra may never get past Double-A.
- Indians trade CC Sabathia to the Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson, and Rob Bryson: Not a lot of wow in this exchange, because LaPorta seems to have recovered enough at the plate to kill the Brad Komminsk comparisons as a potential all-time washout, while Brantley’s a serviceable outfield starter. All this for almost three months of Sabathia, and no draft picks? It makes the Mariners’ trade of Lee last year look good by comparison.
- Diamondbacks traded Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and cash. This was equal parts about the Big Unit’s cost and the dissatisfaction with Vazquez after his initial flop in the Bronx, but the Snakes got some payback by getting Chris Young from the White Sox in their own Vazquez package deal.
- Diamondbacks traded Curt Schilling to the Red Sox for Brandon Lyon, Jorge De La Rosa, Casey Fossum, and Michael Goss: In retrospect, this salary dump didn’t turn out as badly for the Snakes as it looked at first blush, but that’s mostly because De La Rosa did eventually establish himself -- six years later, and on the Rockies’ watch. Lyon has a career, but Fossum was a top prospect who didn’t pan out.
- Indians trade Bartolo Colon (and Tim Drew) to the Expos for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Lee Stevens, and the ubiquitous Cliff Lee: A flat-out disaster, but from the other side of the equation. Omar Minaya grabbed for headlines without landing an actual ace, at the low, low, low price of handing the Tribe a trio of blue-chip talents. Every team trying to trade an ace can dream of getting a package this good, but a deal this awful comes along once in a generation, and there are no more Expos to keep alive the memory of the other side of this disaster, let alone entertain Clevelanders with their lamentations.
The good news for the Mariners is how Hernandez is not like these others: He's under contractual control through 2014, so he’s not a rental, and at the age of 25, these next four seasons should be prime campaigns worthy of a real premium. His $58 million salary for 2012-2014 might seem like a deterrent to getting a deal done, but that’s still below the coin it would have taken to buy a King on the open market in any of the recent starter-starved pools of free agents.
If anything, to get a sense of what Hernandez might bring in a deal, you might want to compare the King’s value to that of Matt Garza. The Cubs traded a five-player package of worthwhile prospects to the Rays to acquire three seasons of a talented pitcher in the middle of his career. That’s what Jack Zduriencik would have to use as his measure, because if history’s any guide, the M’s GM shouldn’t be interested in moving his ace, just to move the expense of employing him.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
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.
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.
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.
- And what are the Astros thinking? They will interview 10 candidates for their managing job, none of which is Brenly. They will interview the legendary Al Pedrique and the two-first-named Bob Melvin, meaning the Astros will consider two guys who followed the World Series-winning manager in Arizona, but not the guy who actually won the World Series. Excuse me?Oh, and Brenly obviously is a guy who know the NL Central, having broadcast the last four seasons for Cubs television. What's more, his World Series came with a roster of largely veteran players, which is exactly the Astros' situation. Brenly wants to manage again and probably will. Selfishly, I want him to stay in the booth with Len Kasper, but if he has to go, Cubs fans better hope he goes to the NL East or West.
I want him to stay in the booth with Len Kasper, too; they're one of the two or three most entertaining and insightful teams around. Isn't it strange, though, that we don't hear Brenly's name mentioned more often when a managerial job opens up? To my last breath, I won't understand why he didn't pull Randy Johnson a couple of innings earlier in this game.
But that's a terribly niggling criticism. In his first season as a manager, his team won the World Series. In his second, his team won 98 games. The Diamondbacks fell off in his third season and collapsed in his fourth, but a .536 career winning percentage is perfectly fine. This winter Brenly turns 56, which used to be considered somewhat old for a manager, but Brenly is 11 years younger than Lou Piniella and 14 years younger than Joe Torre.
My guess is that Brenly simply doesn't have a great deal of interest in managing. If not, could you blame him? But I do think we'll find out eventually, because eventually some team will come after him, hard.
- Rob Dibble: Below the knees. Below our Pitch Track. And (Umpire) Tim Timmons now in line to save Randy Johnson's 300th victory.
Bob Carpenter: Yeah ... they'll give it to Brian Wilson.
Dibble: They have not called that strike all year. Joe Kerrigan, pitching coach for Pittsburgh, talked about it - they don't give that knee strike anymore. You can't just call strikes because a guy is going for his 300th victory.
Carpenter: That's a ten-year veteran sitting back there. And the Nationals have just found out in the last two weeks that they can't fight City Hall.
- At game speed it certainly looked like a strike to me. With the stills it looks perfectly borderline. It certainly wasn't definitively enough a ball to begin accusing an umpire of handing Johnson his coveted 300th win. If anything, the Pitch Track shows it nicked the very bottom of the zone.
I know Dunn has a fantastic eye, but hitters also have to know the situation and not allow an umpire to make a call on them. If it's nicking the zone on Pitch Track, it's too close to take. Never once were they critical of Dunn for taking a borderline pitch, and that's something I consistently hear home broadcasters point out about their players.
Another odd thing about Dibble's and Carpenter's exchange: As Townsend notes, MASN's own Pitch Track did show the pitch brushing the strike zone. What's more, Pitchf/x shows strike three squarely within the (generic, in this case) zone, too. There simply wasn't any (good) reason for anyone in the dugout -- or for that matter, the broadcast booth -- to get worked up over a borderline pitch that was quite possibly called correctly. Not that you can blame anyone on the Nationals' side for being frustrated, as 14-38 isn't any fun.
Really, I just wanted an excuse to write about Rob Dibble. For years, I was less than a fan of his work at various networks. So you can imagine my shock, when I realized that I sort of like him in his current role with the Nationals. Yes, he's still a blowhard who believes that if you didn't play the game, you don't know anything about it. But he's got a good voice, he's quite a bit smarter than you probably think, and he's not been pulling his punches while the Nationals have become the biggest joke in the game.
Dibble was wrong about the pitch that preserved Randy Johnson's 300th win. But he's doing more right than I would have guessed.