Congratulations Ichiro On Hit Number 4,000!! (Make Sure You Purchase Your Commemorative T-Shirt On The Grand Concourse)

Award Winners, Ballparks, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats

Just remember one thing when quantifying Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000 combined hits in Japan and North America: Kei Igawa was considered a “star” pitcher in Japan with these gaudy numbers before joining the Yankees. Considering the fact that he was pitching for a powerhouse Yankees team in 2007 and 2008, Igawa could have been less than mediocre and, based on his attendance record, won 12 to 15 games. Instead, in 16 games, the Yankees got an evil 6.66 ERA for their $46 million.

This is not to decry Ichiro’s accomplishment, but how can we legitimately consider this to be worthy of all the attention it’s getting as something other than an attempt on the part of the Yankees to sell some T-shirts? It may not be as silly as my snide Twitter crack that we should calculate O.J. Simpson’s accumulated yards in the white Bronco chase and add them to his NFL rushing total, but it’s in the vicinity.

Because of his contact with an agent, Reggie Bush’s USC football records were wiped out, he surrendered his Heisman Trophy and USC’s wins in 2005 were vacated. Since he was benefiting from these relationships while in college, couldn’t it be argued that he was technically receiving remuneration for his work and was therefore a professional? Shouldn’t his college rushing yards be added to his NFL totals?

You see where I’m going here.

The argument with Ichiro is that he was such an accomplished hitter in the major leagues that he would have had a vast number of hits—probably coming close to 4,000 by now—if he’d spent his entire career in North America. I don’t doubt it. But we can’t give legitimate accolades for a record of this nature based on “probably would have” vs. “would have” and “did.”

If Babe Ruth had been a hitter for his entire career rather than spending his first five seasons with the Red Sox as a pitcher, how many home runs would he have hit? If Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige had been allowed to play in the majors rather than being relegated to the Negro Leagues, what could they have done? There are no answers.

Then we get into the Japan-North America comparison. Do Randy Bass’s 202 homers in Japan get added to his nine big league homers to make 211? Does he jump ahead of Kirby Puckett (207) and Roberto Alomar (210) on the career list?

With a clear stake in the perception of being the top hit-getter in baseball history, Pete Rose diminished Ichiro’s hit total as not being equal in difficulty to his. Any comment Rose made was probably done during a break in relentlessly signing bats, balls and other memorabilia to accrue cash, but he’s not wrong in scoffing at the concept that Ichiro’s 4,000 hits are in any way equivalent to his 4,256 hits. Although he’s banned from baseball and unable to receive Hall of Fame induction, Rose is the true hit king whether Ichiro “passes” him in the next couple of years or not.

The Yankees’ celebration of the achievement was relatively muted compared to what they’ve done for such occurrences in the past. They’ve retired numbers they shouldn’t have retired (Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Roger Maris) and created “history” out of thin air even if it isn’t actual history in any way other than to suit the narrative. Michael Kay didn’t have a long-winded and poorly written moment-infringing speech prepared similar to the pablum he recited when Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. The Yankees came out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro and there will probably be a small ceremony at some point (to go along with the T-shirts), but Ichiro had 2,533 of his hits with the Mariners. His Yankees numbers are those of a fading veteran hanging on and collecting more numbers.

It was handled professionally and appropriately by the Yankees. The problem with this is the idea that there’s a connection between what Ichiro did in Japan and in the majors. There’s not unless you want to start going down that slide to count everything any player has ever done anywhere as part of his “professional” resume. That slide leads back to Igawa. He was a horrible pitcher for the Yankees who didn’t belong in the big leagues and was a star in Japan. For every Yu Darvish, how many pitchers are there like Igawa in Japan against whom Ichiro was getting his hits? Probably a lot. And that means the 4,000 hits is just a number that’s being lost in translation from Japanese to English. It’s an impressive number in context, but a number nonetheless.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Advertisements

Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

//

Bryce Harper’s Textgate With Davey Johnson

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

Bryce Harper sent a text message to Nationals manager Davey Johnson with the ultimatum, “Play me or trade me.” The implication of this is that the 20-year-old was telling his veteran manager that he didn’t want to sit on the bench under any circumstances and that if Johnson knew what was good for him and the Nats, he’d write Harper’s name in the lineup. Or else. The reality of the situation is that Harper was being held out due to the lingering concerns over a knee injury that placed him on the disabled list and an ongoing slump. Johnson wanted to give him a few days off, but Harper wanted to play and said so. Johnson put him back in the lineup.

The media sought to make it into a big deal with a flashy headline, speculation and faux investigation into whether there’s any tension brewing between Harper, Johnson and the Nats where none appears to be in evidence. Johnson has never shied away from confrontation. As a player for the Braves, he got into a fistfight with manager Eddie Mathews. Mathews happened to be one of the toughest customers in baseball who simply liked to fight. Johnson blackened Mathews’s eye and the two made peace over drinks after airing their grievances with their fists. As a manager, Johnson had multiple altercations with Darryl Strawberry, fought with Kevin Mitchell, and nearly fought with Bobby Bonilla. It’s not as if he picked the lightweights. Those who have followed Johnson’s career know that even at age 70, he wouldn’t hesitate to take on the 6’2”, 230 pound 20-year-old Harper if it were necessary, but that’s not what this was. Not even close.

Harper has gotten a bad rap due to the perception that he was anointed at such a young age. He and support staff—family, representatives—are partly at fault for it by putting out preposterous stories of his exploits (he passed the GED without studying), his favorite players (Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose whose careers ended years and decades before his birth), and his own silly minor league behaviors (war paint and tantrums with umpires). There’s a pretentiousness in Harper’s biography that has not been consistent with his actions on the field.

He’s done some stupid things like smashing his bat against the runway wall in Cincinnati and nearly pulling a Ralphie from A Christmas Story (You’ll whack your eye out!), and plays the game with zero concern for his physical well-being. He goes all-out, doesn’t act like a spoiled brat on the field as shown with his mature and classic response to Cole Hamels intentionally hitting him as he humiliated Hamels by stealing home, and wants to play every day. His text message to Johnson may have sounded like a pampered would-be megastar making untoward demands upon his manager with implied threats knowing the club had little choice but to cave, but that’s just the way it’s being framed by the media and fans looking to find more reasons to knock Harper down a few pegs. In an age in which many players want to coast, Harper wants to play and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s refreshing.

//

MLB Trade Deadline: Questions Surrounding the White Sox Players and the Manager

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Trade Rumors

Looking at the White Sox, the main thing preventing them from making huge changes at the trading deadline is that, objectively, they don’t have many things that other teams would want. Or at least they don’t have many players that teams are going to give anything worthwhile to get.

Jake Peavy, if he was healthy, would attract interest. He’s not. If Peavy returns from his fractured rib and pitches well, he’ll get through waivers in August due to his $14.5 million contract for 2014, so someone would take him if the White Sox pick up a portion of his contract. It’s unlikely but possible. John Danks is still recovering and finding his groove after shoulder surgery. A potential trade chip, Gavin Floyd, is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. No one’s taking Adam Dunn. Someone would take Alex Rios and they’re going to get an overpay for Jesse Crain. Nothing earth-shattering is coming back for any of these players.

The big question is whether they’ll trade Paul Konerko. They could get something for Konerko, but that opens up another issue: how could they make Konerko the player-manager if they trade him?

No. I’m not kidding.

Ken Williams was willing to do anything when he was the everyday GM and now that he’s been moved up to executive VP of baseball and Rick Hahn has taken over as GM, Hahn will take his cue from Williams and listen to whatever is floated. The problem they have now is that there’s really not much of anything to do to improve their fortunes in the near future. Williams was serious when he said he considered Konerko as player-manager prior to hiring Robin Ventura and Ventura is not going to be the White Sox manager for much longer. It’s not because they’re going to fire him, but because he took the job as a “let’s see if I enjoy this” test endeavor and he certainly didn’t sign up for a team that’s going to lose 95 games in 2013 and has a few years of retooling ahead of them. There was talk earlier this year that Ventura wasn’t planning on managing for very long and he sort of “aw shucksed” it as a brush off without a fervent denial when he turned down the club’s offer of a contract extension. He might enjoy managing, being around the players and the competition, but he doesn’t need it and that attitude can tend to get on the players’ nerves. He’s signed through next year, but I think it’s iffy that he manages in 2014.

If Ventura leaves and with Konerko a free agent at the end of the year, I could easily see them pulling the trigger and making Konerko the manager if he retires or player-manager if he wants to do it. It would distract from the retool/rebuild, give Konerko experience in handling a media circus and managing for when the White Sox are ready to contend again because, by then, he’ll almost definitely be retired. There hasn’t been a player-manager since Pete Rose and it would be a juicy story to watch and distract the masses as to how bad the White Sox promise to be for the next several years as they move on from this group and reload.

//

The Invisible Rose

All Star Game, Award Winners, CBA, Draft, Football, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MVP, NFL, PEDs, Players, Politics, Stats

As ridiculous as it sounds for Pete Rose’s name to have been expunged from mere mention on Topps Baseball Cards as baseball’s career hits leader, what were they supposed to do and why is it even a story?

All the context provided makes perfect sense. PED users such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro haven’t been banished as Rose has. Accused, suspected and prosecuted for perjury, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are still listed on all records. No one has ever sought to remove O.J. Simpson from any of the NFL record books. Did Rose, as a player, do worse things that these people?

For all his activities and selfishness, Rose always played the game on the up-and-up. Charlie Hustle was a hustler and a self-promoter. His headfirst slides were done to garner attention to himself even when they were totally unnecessary. The running to first base on a walk was a trademark to stand out from the crowd. He accumulated praise for maximizing limited abilities as if he couldn’t play at all and clawed his way to the top of the record books, but it’s ignored that amid all the salable perception of “Rose made it with a lack of ability,” it’s not true. He was a great player and would have been a great player even if he’d behaved as lackadaisically as Robinson Cano does.

It’s a matter floating morals. Compartmentalized into legality, illegality and semantics, Rose is off the MLB officially licensed products while players who have done far worse to the game itself are still there. MLB was complicit in the use of performance enhancers and has put up a front of trying to eradicate the sport of this type of drug use, but that front is somewhat laissez faire, knowing that for as many suspensions, tests and investigations they perform, players will still go to the Biogenesis Clinics around the world and seek a method to dance through the raindrops and beat the tests. By all reasonable accounts, Ryan Braun got away with likely PED use to win the MVP in 2011 and avoided a suspension on a technicality. Then his name was discovered in the records of Biogenesis.

The rules for inclusion are what they are and because of Rose’s lifetime banishment, he’s not permitted to be mentioned. Of course it’s silly and selective, but Rose isn’t being singled out any more than the PED users are receiving a pass. It’s just the way it is.

The only reason this is a story is because it’s made into a story and Rose has pleaded that he wants his name reinstated—probably because it can make him more money. Perhaps Topps is trying to drum up interest in the cards in the event that collectors will see the omission of Rose as a future novelty if he’s ever reinstated, posthumously or not. Who’s going to Topps for recordkeeping anyway? And who’s going to MLB for propriety and logic?

No one.

//

Lance Armstrong, MLB, Drugs and Confessions of Convenience

Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, PEDs, Players, Politics

Lance Armstrong is preparing to provide what’s been referred to as either a confession or a “limited” confession (whatever that means) to Oprah Winfrey in a televised interview later this week—NY Times Story. In truth, it’s likely to be nominal mea culpa cloaked in semantics just short of asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid self-incrimination. If he were giving legal testimony, he wouldn’t say a word.

Much like other users of performance enhancing drugs or those who have been accused of behaving in a way that compromised their legacies and flouted the ingrained ground rules of their particular sport, Armstrong is taking the route previously traversed by other notables such as Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Pete Rose. For the most part though, Canseco, McGwire and Rose didn’t go to the lengths that Armstrong did in portraying themselves as clean, innocent victims; nor did they cross the line into threatening accusers and contemporaries with legal action, implied physical violence, loss of employment, tattered reputations and hanging in effigy for merely stating the obvious.

The rumored Armstrong admission is indicative of the inherently egocentric dismissal of long-term consequences on and off the field of play by the physically talented athlete who thinks the ends justify the means and believes that if he’s called to answer for the ends, an apology and feigned contrition will suffice. But Armstrong is somehow worse than the baseball players who made similar public admissions of what they did.

This is not to exonerate Rose, McGwire, Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds or anyone else who was involved in controversies such as PEDs or gambling, but Armstrong’s behaviors extended beyond maintaining his veneer of cleanliness and heroism. He became a champion of altruism, using his story of winning what appeared to be a hopeless fight against cancer and made millions for himself in the process by getting healthy and returning to his sport and again becoming best in the world.

Was his dedication to the Livestrong cause real? Or was it all part of the image he hoped to convey, thereby letting him function with an aura of untouchability in a circular feeding of cancer survivor —> champion cyclist —> generous giver of time and money —> abusive bully that gave him the freedom to behave any way he wanted because of the good things he did counteracting the bad. As distasteful as it is to imply that a person milked having cancer, Armstrong certainly fits the profile. He helped a lot of people, but he harmed a lot of people and made a lot of money while making aggressive denials of drug use.

The baseball people denied what they did hoping it would go away. It didn’t go away. Rose, after his suspension from baseball for gambling, ended up incarcerated in a halfway house for tax evasion. Rose, Canseco and McGwire admitted what they did in one form or another for reasons that were steeped in self-interest.

Canseco wanted vengeance against baseball for, as he believes, blackballing him. In a strange way in spite of the ongoing and somewhat entertaining (check his Twitter account) train wreck his life has become, Canseco deserves accolades for revealing who used PEDs during his time in baseball. Canseco got the ball rolling to at least try to eradicate PED use from the game.

McGwire admitted he used steroids because he wanted to take a job as the Cardinals hitting coach and unless he addressed the issue, he wasn’t going to be capable of doing the job without being a distraction. With the crocodile tears and expressions of regret, it was absurd that he denied PED use until he needed to admit it to have a job in baseball. Once he admitted it though, it went away and he was able to function as a hitting coach for Tony LaRussa and has since moved on to the Dodgers to work in the same capacity. He’s liked by the players and respected in the job.

Rose’s admission was an all-too-late attempt to have his lifetime suspension removed and possibly gain admission to the Hall of Fame. He also wanted to sell a book. Rose (fresh with a new reality show) may care to a certain extent about his enshrinement as a player, but with him the majority of what he’s done in his life has had a foundation in money and wanting to accumulate a lot of it. A Hall of Fame plaque would potentially increase the fees he charges for autographs and appearances. It’s doubtful Rose, at age 71, wants to get into baseball in any on-field capacity, as a front office person or broadcaster. As great and intense a player as Rose was, his known intelligence on the field could be a boon to players as a spring training instructor. The argument as to whether he should be allowed in the Hall of Fame would be dealt with by the voters, but Rose being able to go to a ballpark as a former star wouldn’t harm anyone.

The one thing they all have in common with Armstrong is that none are sorry for what they did, but sorry when it conveniences them to be sorry. Armstrong is different in that he steadfastly denied drug use and utilized an underlying threat of danger if his accusers continued making the assertion that he did use banned drugs to win his Tour de France titles.

Armstrong was a rainmaker. Logically, no one with a brain could have bought the line that out of every person who completed the grueling bicycle race, the only one who did it clean—and won!!!—was Armstrong. It’s not even that he lied so consistently and adamantly, but that he was litigious, nasty and obsessive in bolstering that lie. The real Armstrong was hidden by shady informers, drug dealers, corporate entities, disposable employees, enablers, protectors and interference-runners because Armstrong was necessary. Eventually it got to the level where there was no longer a point in denying it as it became so glaringly obvious that he’s guilty.

Because Armstrong came back from a battle with cancer and became an icon of charitable contributions, it doesn’t automatically free him from being held responsible for what he did. Now, under siege and without choice in admitting his guilt to get on with his life, he’s planning to kindasorta admit his guilt. Armstrong is said to be concerned about criminal charges and with good reason. The linked NY Times piece above says that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is “unlikely” to reopen an investigation into Armstrong for a variety of potential crimes such as fraud, money laundering and drug trafficking. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office avidly pursued perjury charges against Clemens and Bonds knowing that they had little chance at a conviction and even if they got a conviction very little—if any—jail time going to Clemens and Bonds.

What Armstrong is accused of doing is far worse than anything Clemens and Bonds did as they were lying to protect themselves and Armstrong was clinging to an empire he’d built. Armstrong has proven to be narcissistic, greedy and bordering on sociopathic. It’s a good bet (one that Rose would undoubtedly take) that Armstrong is eventually going to wind up doing some jail time for his crimes. He’s going to be broke, will probably write a tell-all book (as Rose did) admitting everything to make himself some quick money to settle lawsuits, pay fines and obliviously think he’ll be able to convince a vast majority of readers that he’s sorry. He doesn’t seem to get that the public simply wants him to go away.

When all is said and done that’s exactly what he’s going to do and not by conscious decision. Instead of choosing to recede into the background, however, it’s going to be in handcuffs with cameras following him, lightbulbs flashing, and news stories of a a fall from grace that was unavoidable from the start, except no one wanted to admit its inevitability. There’s no longer an option. Armstrong’s self-serving “confession” won’t alter the fact that he’s not sorry and doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. The public, media, his fellow athletes and most importantly, the government will see it differently. They will have the final say. In situations such as this, they always do and Armstrong can’t force them to say what he wants them to say anymore.

//

2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

***

My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

//

Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

//

Bryce Harper’s Age Is Not An Excuse

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

There are dueling and diametrically opposed memes at work with Washington Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper.

He’s been compared to the greatest baseball players in history for what he can do on the field and described in vulgar street vernacular on the social media sites for his behaviors and attitude.

In what appears to be more of an act of contrarianism for the sake of it rather than an impassioned belief that Harper’s misunderstood, the lukewarm defense of Harper’s arrogance is defended by his age, 19.

It doesn’t work that way.

Age is not an excuse any more than talent is a justification. Harper has benefited from the attention he’s attracted since he burst onto the scene after taking his GED so he could go to junior college early, compete against a higher level of competition and start his career fast. A prodigy who reaps the rewards for his skills doesn’t get the pass that a normal teenager does. The oft-mentioned and comic book style lament of “with great power comes great responsibility” holds true.

What precisely is the benefit of turning Harper into this egomaniacal and reviled monster? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have a Tim Tebow-style story of likability, charm and dedication combined with something Tebow doesn’t have—actual on-field upside commensurate with all that attention? Why would anyone want to be seen as an obnoxious, arrogant and spoiled brat whose behaviors have been glossed over as a nod to expediency to maintain the façade and hold true to the brand?

He’s not even a charming bad boy about whom the masses chuckle and nod in a “boys will be boys” acknowledgement that he’s not really hurting anyone.

On the one hand, we hear about his age, abilities and anointing as a future megastar going back years; on the other we have his age presented as a reason to give him a break for acting entitled.

Is it all his fault? No. When someone is held to a different set of criteria because of a series of gifts that are so unique, it’s going to affect his actions. He is a kid; he is 19 and immature.

Those who are saying how stupid they were at 19 probably weren’t in the position where their stupidity was baited, recorded and analyzed by outside influences 24/7.

In short, nobody cared enough about what you or I were doing at 19 to pay attention to it as the foundation of a debate as to propriety.

Harper doesn’t have that luxury.

There’s no reconciliation between the blatantly transparent and crafted biography of Harper, a Mormon who utters self-deprecating and tiresome baseball clichés and the person who engages in interviews like this GQ profile in which his personality comes blasting out as if a cage had been unlocked and, for a brief moment, he was able to be himself.

His heroes are Pete Rose and Mickey Mantle?

Really?

Based on what?

Rose was disgraced and banned from baseball three years prior to Harper’s birth; Mantle was a legend who, to Harper, could just as easily have been a fictional character out of Lord of the Rings as much as a real human being.

These are his heroes?

It strikes of intent; of what sounds good; of what’s salable.

He’s not going to discuss the posters he may have had on his wall as a kid, he’s going to try to fulfill the legacy and become comparable to one of the greatest and most revered players in history, Mantle; or one of the hardest-working, intense, maximizers of finite limits like Rose.

Is his favorite actor Laurence Olivier? His favorite singer Elvis Presley? Is he in love with Bettie Page?

Where does it end?

It’s a story. Nothing more.

The rarity of Harper’s ability automatically removes him from the overwhelming masses of 18-21-year-olds who are allowed moments of formative stupidity. He’s one-in-a-million on the field and that automatically implies that he’s not categorized among those masses. On his first major league hit—an impressive line shot double over Dodgers’ centerfielder Matt Kemp’s head—Harper sprinted around first and halfway between first and second flung his helmet off with quick upward flick of his hand.

It was indicative of attention-getting behavior because he’s “special”; because he’s enabled to do what he wants as a result of the things he can do on the field.

It has to be addressed and checked.

He’s held to a different standard, as he should be. That he’s 19 is not an acceptable excuse. For no other reason than to maximize that talent, he needs to be reined in. And that’s before getting to his still-developing brain and future as a human being.

//

Bryce Harper Tears the Cover Off Of Bryce Harper

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Umpires

GQ’s profile of Bryce Harper has made worse my prediction that he’s going to have big trouble assimilating to the big leagues.

The abrupt piece (its conclusion is hanging there and I was flipping pages wondering, “is that it?”) makes Harper look immature, arrogant, obnoxious and like he’s asking for trouble.

The comparisons to Gregg Jefferies are becoming more and more accurate. Jefferies was another phenom whose self-serving tantrums, self-containment and expectations of greatness from him and everyone else served to ruin his formative years with the Mets because of veteran hatred of the contrived nature of Jefferies’s biography.

Jefferies’s favorite player was Ty Cobb.

Harper’s is supposedly Pete Rose.

Ironically (or maybe not so much) Jefferies’s first big league manager was Davey Johnson.

Johnson is now managing the Nats and he made no secret of his desire to give Harper a chance to play in the big leagues. To make matters worse, he stuck the 19-year-old in center field.

The Nats resisted the temptation to promote Harper in part because he didn’t hit enough to force their hands and in part because they seem to be entertaining the idea of playing him in center field and giving him substantial time at the position in Triple-A.

Center field is a rotten idea on all levels because the mircorscope he’s currently under would be exacerbated. Even if he can play it adequately, it’s a bad idea.

His attitude is awful. I don’t care how talented he is.

Harper is rapidly becoming the Eddie Haskell-type player who utters the clichés to the media massed around his locker to put forth the pretense of humility, but when he’s alone—as he was with the author of the GQ piece Will Leitch—the real Harper comes out. It’s not an attractive picture; nor is it a positive portent for the future.

Of course Leitch and the other reporters don’t want Harper to change. It’s a juicy story when a young player draws the ire of everyone because of his personality. The target on Harper’s back will extend off the field with anyone and everyone trying to sabotage the image he’s trying to portray, but betrays when he’s alone as he was with Leitch.

He’s 19 and, thanks to his prodigious talents, has been enabled and catered to all his life. But when the real Harper comes out it doesn’t bode well for the future once he does get to the big leagues and is scrutinized exponentially to the way players were 20 years ago. Unless the Nats rein Harper in immediately, his behavior could ruin his career.

***

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections.

My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

It’s great for your fantasy teams and useful all season long.

//