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

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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.




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Hamilton’s Poised For A Run At The Home Run Record, But Which One?

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Josh Hamilton‘s home run binge is making a run at the major league record a legitimate possibility.

The question is, which record? Is it 61 or 73?

Given the retrospective knowledge that Mark McGwire was using steroids as he achieved his massive power display that led to him hitting 70 home runs in 1998 and the allegations that have followed Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds as they hit 66 and 73 respectively, is Hamilton going to be after Bonds’s record? Or will he be judged as the “clean” home run king if he beats Roger Maris’s 61?

It’s ironic that someone with Hamilton’s history of substance abuse has the word “clean” next to him in a context other than recreational drugs and alcohol. There have never been any performance enhancing drug allegations levied against Hamilton. He’s a supremely talented and streaky individual who’s playing his home games in a hitter’s heaven. He’s not someone who would need PEDs to achieve those heights, validating a home run chase even more.

Hamilton hit 4 homers in one game against the Orioles last week and has 18 in the Rangers’ 36 games so far. The big obstacles in his path are staying healthy on and off the field and which record he’s chasing. By mid-summer, that’s going to heat up with the weather.

Hamilton has put up bigger power numbers at home than on the road. In his MVP season of 2010, he had a slash line of .390/.438/.750 at the Ballpark in Arlington with 22 homers in 69 games; on the road, it was .327/.382/.512 with 10 homers. The numbers at home and on the road were similar last season with a .912 OPS and 14 homers at home and .852 and 11 homers on the road.

So far in 2012, he has a 1.464 OPS with 11 homers on the road and a 1.159 OPS and 7 homers at home. Obviously he’s not going to keep that up, but he’s gotten off to this blazing start and is singing for his free agent supper. The injuries wouldn’t stop a team from paying Hamilton after the season; but his substance abuse problems could very well dissuade an interested team from paying him for his talent. There are real and understandable concerns that he’s a risk to return to alcohol and/or drugs if he’s lavished with a guaranteed contract of untold riches.

If he approaches or sets the record for home runs, there will be a team to pay him something close to the $214 million Prince Fielder got from the Tigers. Positives are easy to sell when signing a player. Negatives are seen as excuses to be cheap. Home runs are more entrenched in the public consciousness than his off-field woes and there will be one team to roll the dice.

Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all broke Maris’s record, but given what we know now, it’s not old-school whining to suggest that Maris is still the home run champion. There’s an argument for just that position. In the record books, Bonds is the home run king, but the fans do have a say in the matter.

Hamilton’s not hitting 74 home runs. But he might hit 62.

Which record will it be?

Let the debate begin.

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Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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Verlander Casts A Spell

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When Roger Maris had the infamous asterisk* attached to his home run record because of the extra 8 games played in Maris’s time as opposed to Babe Ruth‘s time, Maris rightfully and indignantly said something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last 154? The middle? A season’s a season.”

For the record, there was never an asterisk*; there was a 162 game season and 154 game season separation.

It’s a similar comparison to Justin Verlander and those who say that his mere job of being a pitcher and only participating in 34 games a season should eliminate him from consideration for the Most Valuable Player award.

But what about the games in which the other candidates Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista did absolutely nothing while Verlander was dominating for 27 of those 34 starts?

It’s impossible to quantify the importance of a particular player based on his position.

Would the Tigers have won 95 games without Verlander?

Of course not.

Because they had such a blazing hot streak of 12 straight wins in September and ran off with a weak division, the contribution of Verlander is being mistakenly muted.

Early in the season, when the Tigers were essentially playing Verlander Incanter (the French word for cast a spell—yeah, I’m going high-end; do something about it) that the rest of the starting rotation would provide something—anything—of use so the Tigers could win a few games that Verlander wasn’t starting, the team would’ve been buried without him.

Max Scherzer was inconsistent to start the season; Rick Porcello was mostly terrible; Brad Penny was Brad Penny; and Phil Coke was yanked from the rotation after 14 starts.

In conjunction with his production, the “where would they be without him?” argument is a viable reason to give someone an MVP vote.

The momentum from the leader of the staff grew so the Tigers were able to stay near the top of the AL Central and make mid-summer trades for Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young to bolster a flawed team. On August 17th, they only led the division by 2 games and were 9 1/2 games out in the Wild Card; at that time, it was generally assumed that the Wild Card was going to come down to which team between the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t win the AL East. The dynamic changed drastically in September for everyone. For the Tigers, their playoff position was not assured until September despite winning the division by 15 games.

It’s not only about where the team and player ended, but how they got there.

The Tigers would’ve been nowhere without Verlander.

Once we accept that it wasn’t a situation of the Tigers being so deep that they were going to win that division anyway, Verlander’s value becomes stronger.

In their precarious position, the Tigers held the Ace every fifth day; on the morning of a Verlander start, they knew they had a great chance to win because of Verlander. Added to that overriding feeling of foreboding for his opponents and comfort for his teammates, he led the league in starts, wins, strikeouts, ERA, ERA+, WAR (and not just pitcher WAR, WAR period), and WHIP.

My criteria for MVP is, in no particular order: performance; importance; indispensability.

Based on performance, you can make the case for any of the top 5 finishers, but the final trigger for me in such a close race comes down to Velrander’s irreplaceability.

The Blue Jays were a .500 team with Bautista and they misused him by failing to get players on base in front of him and trying to steal too many bases for no reason to run themselves out of innings.

The Red Sox came apart in spite of Ellsbury’s heroics.

The Yankees would’ve found someone to play center field and hit well enough to account for not having Granderson and had the surrounding players to survive his absence.

The Tigers could’ve found a first baseman (perhaps Victor Martinez who was DHing) to play first base and gotten 25 homers from that spot and had better defense.

Given the difficulty in finding quality pitching, can anyone honestly say that the Tigers could’ve replaced Verlander’s innings? His dominance? His mere presence? And still been anywhere close to the 95 wins they accumulated?

No.

The MVP is not for everyday players alone because the pitchers have the Cy Young Award—that’s a faulty premise. The Cy Young Award is for pitching performance independent of team—that’s how Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010; the MVP is an all-encompassing award based on the team and the individual, and by that judgment, Verlander is the Most Valuable Player in the American League for 2011.

Period.

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Jose Reyes Does What Baseball Players Do Sometimes…Especially Late In The Season

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Players have pulled themselves out of games in the interests of individual pursuits forever.

They’ve adjusted their competitiveness to be part of history.

They’ve been placed in different parts of the lineup.

They’ve bunted.

They’ve swung at pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone to get extra swings to achieve goals.

They’ve gone for doubles and triples to complete cycles.

They’ve done it all.

Baseball is an individual sport within a team concept.

There are 162 games in a baseball season and rules as to how many innings and plate appearances are necessary for players to be eligible for ERA and batting titles.

Do you really believe that as the season winds down that players are concerned—first and foremost—with winning?

No. They want to pad their stats and they do it intentionally.

Today Jose Reyes of the Mets went up to the plate leading the National League in batting over the Brewers Ryan Braun. (I’m not looking up the percentage points because, truth be told, I couldn’t care less about the batting title); Reyes had told Mets manager Terry Collins beforehand that if he got a hit, he wanted to come out of the game.

Then he bunted for a hit.

Then Collins took him out of the game.

Collins and Reyes admitted as such after-the-fact, in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Before this information was revealed, two of the most absurd places for the dissemination of fact on this or any other planet in the universe—Twitter and Michael Kay—went on abusive rants against the Mets as if they were the one perpetrating this act on an unsuspecting public waiting for aboveboard and fair victors in the all-important batting race.

Naturally, no one retracted their statements when the truth came out.

It was still the fault of the Mets somehow even if it wasn’t.

Never mind that Bernie Williams won a batting title in 1998 after starting the day tied with Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox and when Williams went 2 for 2 with a sacrifice fly, he was pulled.

Never mind that players like Bill Madlock won batting titles after taking themselves out of games to achieve that end.

Pete Rose bunted for a hit to win the batting title over Roberto Clemente.

Denny McLain threw a room service meatball to Mickey Mantle for Mantle to hit his 535th career homer because McLain wanted to be part of history; in fact, he asked Mantle where he wanted the pitch and Mantle obliged by telling him.

The St. Louis Browns let Napoleon Lajoie bunt to his heart’s content in an attempt to take the batting title away from the reviled Ty Cobb.

Reyes played in 126 games this season; George Brett played in 117 in the year he hit .390 and nearly hit .400.

Does the fact that Reyes pulled himself from a game to try and win the title and was injured with hamstring problems twice in 2011 “ruin” a title that few really pay attention to anymore? Does the fact that Brett was oft-injured as well somehow equate into the batting title needing to be put in a negative frame of reference in terms of competition?

When Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth‘s home run record, it was decreed that there would be two separate records, one for the 154 game schedule and the other for the 162 game schedule. Incredulous, Maris asked something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last? The middle?”

The batting title is a resume builder; it’s an award; and it’s relatively meaningless.

This reaction is based on Mets hatred and the attempt to cast a negative light on a baseball player like Jose Reyes who looked to increase his own status with an “award”.

If you don’t know this or can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be talking about it in such a judgmental, holier-than-thou way.

They’re baseball players.

This is what they do.

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