At long last, much-heralded rookie pitcher Jesse Foppert is set to make his first major league start in this series. It might come on Saturday or it might come on Friday or, knowing how these things go and my luck now that I'm leading with this item, it will probably come Thursday against the Pirates.
The good news for Foppert is that his mates are scoring a lot of runs for their pitchers. The bad news -- provided the opponent does turn out to be the
Phillies -- is that Philadelphia is too. Both are plating over six runners per game, although the Phillies are doing so without benefit of the home run. They are, in fact, last in the National League in that category through Sunday. So, though they might make it tough for Foppert in his first start, at least they won't traumatize him with mammoth home runs. That is, unless Jim Thome and Pat Burrell find themselves between now and then.
Fact: Not all great players have/had starting jobs in the major leagues at the age of 21.
Fact: Not all players who have/had starting jobs in the major leagues at the age of 21 turn out to be great.
Fact: Having said that, often times, one is a pretty strong indication of the other.
With two 21-year old starting outfielders in the persons of Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, what are the Devil Rays looking at long term? Is there a decade
of joy to follow? Before answering "yes" to that question, we must ask another: how disturbing is it that Baldelli and Crawford have combined for two walks in over 160 plate appearances so far this year? At least Crawford walked nine times as a rookie a year ago. Baldelli did not walk once in 95 plate appearances at Triple A last season and has drawn just one so far as a major leaguer. Is this just a case of typical rookie anxiousness or is this the shape of things to come for these two? Can a player who is so
not predisposed to wait out a pitcher have a great or even very good career?
Here are a few who did:
Roberto Clemente: The legend had no patience in his early years. He was just as hopeless in this
department in 1959 (13 unintentional walks in 456 plate appearances) as he was as a rookie four seasons
prior to that (15 in 501). In 1960, he got somewhat better and, while never really adding walks to his
repertoire, with increased selectivity came much better production in other areas.
Kirby Puckett: Two years older than Baldelli as a rookie, he out-Clemented Clemente, walking just 15
times in 583 plate appearances. He also had no power. It was one of the most deceptive rookie years ever for
a future Hall of Famer.
Willie McGee: Sort of the anti-Kirby, McGee and
Puckett displayed the incredible diversity of baseball
body types when both played centerfield in the 1987
World Series. For our purposes, McGee walked 10 times
unintentionally in 439 plate appearances as a rookie.
While he never exactly became Eddie Yost, neither was
he ever that bad again. He went on to have the kind of
career most players would take in a heartbeat.
Alfonso Soriano: It isn't exactly a career yet, but
what little there's been is shaping up to be pretty
good. Soriano had cups of coffee with the Yankees in
1999 and 2000, totaling 61 plate appearances. In that
time, he drew one walk. In 2001, he got the second
base job full-time. As of April 28, a full 28 games
into the season, he had yet to draw his second walk.
He had, therefore, gone over 160 plate appearances
with one walk to start his career. He picked it up a
little bit after that and never quite got to the
infrequency levels of Clemente, Puckett and McGee
And now you decide to come home? Where have you
been, huh? I heard you ran off to the Caribbean. You disappear for two weeks and
you expect me to be waiting for you when you get back?
Don't count on it. While you're at it, why don't you
just move out? If I'm not good enough for you all
the time, then I'm not good enough for you some of
the time, either. Why don't you just pack up
everything and leave? Oh, that's what you plan to
do? Good! I don't care where you go, just go. The
sooner the better.
One fellow who might miss playing in Montreal is the Expos' most important player, Vlad "the Franchise Albeit League-Owned" Guerrero. Since the start of the 1999 season, his OPS is about 100 points higher in Montreal than it is elsewhere.
Of course eugenics seem like a bad idea! Sterilizing
certain members of society because they don't fit our
perception of acceptable? Who gets to decide? Who are
we to judge? It's immoral, unseemly and just plain
Then you see the footage of that guy running on the
field at The Cell to attack umpire Laz Diaz and the
father-son combo from last year attacking Tom Gamboa
and suddenly you find yourself thinking, "On second
When two baseball teams meet, there is usually
something that ties them together. There are the
obvious rivalries like the Red Sox and Yankees or the
Dodgers and Giants. Then there are teams that have met
recently in the playoffs (like the Angels and Yankees
this week) or teams that recently made a big trade
with one another. There is usually something that
ties them together.
For the life of me, though, I can't come up with
anything for this meeting. When is the last time you
pieced together a thought that contained both the
Marlins and the Brewers? Milwaukee and Miami. Places as
different as Venus and Mars. Part of the problem is
that the Brewers arrived in the National League just
as the Marlins were in full dismantle mode. Neither
team has posted a .500 season since they began playing
one another. If ever a series had no hook, this is it.
But here they are, going at it for the sixth year now.
For what it's worth, here are the won-lost results of
their first 37 meetings:
1998: Milwaukee 9, Florida 0
1999: Florida 5, Milwaukee 4
2000: Milwaukee 4, Florida 3
2001: Florida 4, Milwaukee 2
2002: Florida 4, Milwaukee 2
Total: Milwaukee 21, Florida 16
Maybe that's the hook right there: the Marlins can
take the lead in the all-time series if they sweep the
Brewers in all six games this year.
Every once in a while I like to scout about the Web
and see what people are writing about various baseball
topics. One of my favorites is Bill Biast, who
operates out of Long Island (I think). Here's his take
on the Yankees season so far and this series against
"I predicted the Yanks to win 117 this year even
though I couldn't picture in my mind them walking off
the field after 45 losses. Forty five -- that's a lot of
defeats when you think about them all at once. If they
came in a row you'd be really depressed. But if you
look at it another way, it's less than twice a week. I
can probably handle that.
I had a hard time finding a bookmaker who would take
any "over" action on the Yanks. I had to dial in the
Yankees for 120 wins to get any action and even that
had a twenty percent vig. But who's crying now? Not
me, pally. The Yanks are projecting to over 130
wins, so it looks like my bet is safe. That's the last
time I ever undervalue them. I was worried about Jose
Contreras, to be honest and I was right, but the other
guys are picking up the slack. They're just better
players than everybody else has and that's all there
is to it. Like the Twins. The Twins are a good team --
but look what happens when they take on the mighty
Yanks. Outhomered 25-2 or something like that in the
last couple of years. Is it that the Twins are really
good or is the rest of the league just that bad
compared to the Yankees? I think it's gotta be a
combination of the two. Now it's the Angels' turn. The
Yankees got cheated out of the playoffs last year
(those of you who saw it know what I mean) and now
it's time for vengeance!"
I'll be checking in with Bill Biast from time to time
this season to see what he's writing about.
There's an old baseball adage that goes something like
this: no team has ever won a ballgame that did not
have a lead at some point in the game. Sometimes that
point does not come until the last pitch, but, as sure
as the sun will rise in the morning, the moment always
arrives for the winning team. I bring up that salient
fact here because the Tigers did something against the
Royals on Sunday that they have not managed to do all
season: they managed to have the lead twice in the
same game. They still lost, but when you're 1-16, you
have to take your positives where you find them.
Let's consider a lead something that lasts until the
next time they come to the plate. So, if a team scores
in the top of the sixth to take a lead but gives up
that lead in the bottom of the sixth, then that is
only a lead of one-half inning's duration. With that
in mind, here are the Tigers' stats in that department
Total number of separate leads: 8
Total duration of leads: 23 innings
Total number of innings played: 155
Total number of innings tied: 29 ½
While one can argue that it doesn't matter how a team
loses -- and even that it is worse to lose after
holding a lead than by never having one in the first
place -- what I find especially distressing about the
Tigers 2003 start is that they aren't even grabbing
Here's my candidate for Stat Line of the Week: 4 0 0 0.
How many times has this happened to you? You go to
check out the box scores and see that a team that has
one of your fantasy team players on it has scored a
boxcar load of runs. You start salivating at the
thought of all the crooked numbers your boy will have
produced. But then, you find that, while everyone else
on the team had a feeding frenzy on the other team's
pitching staff, your guy took a collar home. This was
the case for me last week with Damian Miller and the
Chicago Cubs. Miller, who has actually been pretty
good this year so far, posted the above line while his
mates were plating 16 runs against the Reds on
Here's a related question: is it worse to discover
your guy was the sole celibate at the hitting orgy or
to find out that he wasn't even in the lineup? I had
both experiences last week, as Jose Valentin sat out
the White Sox 12-3 pounding of the Indians two day's
after Miller was blanked. I'd have to say it's a wash.
In the past, Craig Biggio has always brought a wide
array of weapons to the plate, including some home run
power. He never relied on the long ball to carry his
game, however. In the past, his home runs represented
about 12 percent of the body of his OPS. This year
things are quite different. Biggio's impressive home
run total is masking the fact that he isn't doing
anything else. He has six in just 85 at bats, meaning
that homers account for over a third of the value of
his OPS. He's only got one other extra-base hit (a
double) and a single walk. He is still getting
plunked, though. With three so far, he's on pace to
get hit by about 20 pitches, a fairly typical recent
Biggio showing in the self-abuse department.
What's going on? For one thing, except for those six
home runs, he's hitting everything on the ground these
days, after a career of hitting 1.3 grounders for every
fly, he's up at a two to one ratio.
Through games of Sunday, the Yankees and Rangers were
tied for the league lead in home runs with 35 each.
But not so fast! Before we start looking for a home
run fire mission at the Ballpark in Arlington, let us
not forget that Yankee pitchers have only surrendered
four homers so far this year. Ranger pitchers -- as
is their custom -- have been almost as prolific serving
up homers as Ranger batters have been hitting them.
Only the Devil Rays and Blue Jays have given up more.
True, that is a bit of an overstatement. Still though,
the Twins and Royals have combined to win two-thirds
of their games in spite of the early slumping of Torii
Hunter and the total absence of Carlos Beltran from
their respective lineups. Beltran was activated in time for the
Tigers series over the weekend but must have thought
he was playing for Detroit, as he went hitless in 10
at-bats. That won't last. Neither will Hunter as a
sub-.200 hitter. Hunter has only tried to steal one
base this year. Last year, he tried to steal about
once every five games. This brings up an interesting
question: do players who are playing below their usual
level of expectation have a tendency to lose their
confidence on the basepaths as well? Or is it just a
function of not having as many opportunities owing to
not getting on base as much?
12. The Mystery Matchup of the Week
? vs. ?.
In 1979, these two teams featured a number of players
who had would either go on to play for the other or
who already had. There seemed to be so many players
going back and forth between them that it got a bit
confusing. The '79 roster of one featured three
starting position players who would spend time with
the other while the other had two starters and a
reserve who had or would do time with their opponent.
The first team had three pitchers on its staff who
also did time with the other. Hint: They were both
pretty good teams, too.
Last week's Mystery Matchup was he Dodgers vs. the
Padres. It was San Diego that almost moved to
Washington, D.C. at the start of the 1974 season and the
Dodgers who played seven games regular season games in
Jersey City in their final year in Brooklyn. Thanks to
all of you who wrote in with your guesses.
Wouldn't it have been nice to have seen the outfield
of Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. get a
whole year together? Oh fate, you cruel and spoiled
child. Would that have made for a better outfield than
the Ken Griffey, Sr., Cesar Geronimo, George Foster trio
of 1975-1979? It makes for a fun debate, but, if
Griffey, Jr. never gets healthy again, we'll just
never know. Certainly, they aren't going to spend
anything like five seasons together. Five weeks would
be nice for a start.
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.