Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Good luck, Youk

So, I arrived home last night from an amazing two-week honeymoon to Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia to find that Kevin Youklis was traded to the Chicago White Sox yesterday in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zach Stewart and utility infielder Brent Lillibridge. The trade analysis is almost painfully simple. The Red Sox have had a better designated hitter and a better first baseman for a couple years now, and with the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, have a better third baseman. Youkilis - one of the best hitters alive from 2008-2010, with a .308/.404/.560 line - no longer had a place in the Red Sox lineup.

It's been a bit of a crazy few months for us Red Sox fans. First, Tim Wakefield officially retired. Then, a few days later, Jason Varitek followed suit. Now Youkilis has been traded, leaving David Ortiz as the only player with a 2004 World Series ring left with the team.

Red Sox fans have been following Youkilis since even before his famous inclusion in Moneyball. The 2001 tenth rounder out of the University of Cincinnati had been tearing up the minor leagues, rising fairly quickly through the Red Sox system until he reached Pawtucket, where he continued to mash but waiting a long time for his chance. Injuries got him some playing time in 2004, and the poor play of Kevin Millar led to calls from several circles to give him playing time the following year. Finally, in 2006 he beat out J.T. Snow for the starting first baseman job. (Admit it. You forgot J.T. Snow was on the Red Sox).

He played fairly well that year, came into his own in '07, and turned into a star in '08. In all, he spent six excellent years as a starter, working deep counts and ripping doubles inside the left field foul line. His grimacing (I believe it was Joe Magrane who said the look he makes after a called strike resembled a "bitter beer face") and bat throwing and shouting made him into something of a lightning rod, being a player that people either loved or loathed, but even his detractors appreciated his production.

Losing his job to Will Middlebrooks this year seemed almost poetic, as this season has marked something of a generational shift in the Red Sox. Varitek, Wakefield, Youkilis, Papelbon, Drew, Epstein and Francona are now all gone. A year ago, the departure of any one of them wouldn't have been surprising, but the loss of all of them in such a short time seems almost seismic. The current Red Sox would be unrecognizable to someone who saw them only one year ago. I can visualize my mother, listning to the game on the radio and asking me "who are these guys?"

Even though the move is sensible, it's impossible not to be sentimental. Youkilis was immediately recognizable, fiery, and really, really good. I miss that bitter beer face already.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Only a fun-hater wouldn't enjoy a no-hitter

I've had it.

I consider myself a "stathead." I love, to varying degrees, all of the little measurements that people a lot smarter than I am have come up with over the years. I love the fact that baseball fans, and baseball teams, act a lot more sensibly than they did 15 years ago, not necessarily because they are smarter, but because they have access to better information and better understand non-baseball concepts. The randomness in statistics is one good example.

As fans have becomes smarter regarding the inherent randomness, though, there's thing that's happened that I just cannot stand for. Every time there is a no-hitter, some smarty-pants commentators, particularly the type who use the insipid comment function on various websites, seem to feel the need to inform the rest of us that it was all "chance" or "luck" that a no-hitter happened. One such commenter, who I won't link to here, stated that a three-hitter is just as good as a game where a pitcher throws a no-hitter and allows two walks and a hit batsman. 

So what??

Seriously. Everyone knows that no-hitters require luck. Even the late Bob Feller, who the guy who invented the wheel would've considered "old school," stated as much. On the contrary, it's the luck involved in the no-hitter that makes them so cool. The confluence of good fielding, bad hitting, maybe a lucky call or fortunate bounce, and great pitching that results in the opponent having a "zero" in the H column is so awesomely cool that I can't understand why someone who likes baseball wouldn't be able to appreciate it.

So here's the deal. While I can't stand it when people tell others how they should enjoy something - it's one of my main pet peeves when a grouchy columnists at one of the dying newspapers around the country breaks out his annual "statheads and people who play fantasy sports aren't REAL fans like I am" rant - I'm going to go entirely against my usual inclination. If you don't like no-hitters, you're a fun-hating jerkface.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Johan Santana's no-hitter is a good reminder that he's awesome

As just about all of you already know, Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets history this past Friday. It was also the first no-hitter of Santana's excellent career. While no longer considered one of the ace pitchers in the game, Santana has been fantastic in his comeback this year. He only has three wins because of the sometimes-anemic Met offense, which had, until Friday's gem allowed Santana to fly somewhat under the radar, he now has a 2.38 ERA (6th in NL), 68 strikeouts (8th), a 1.029 WHIP (8th), and is the only pitcher in the majors with two complete games. He ranks tied for fifth (with fellow Met R.A. Dickey) in Baseball-Reference's WAR calculation.

Johan Santana (Credit: slgckgc)
Perhaps it's hard to imagine because of all the other stuff that went on around him during his time in Queens, but the trade for Santana may have been the best the Mets have ever made. Compare Santana, with a 2.80 ERA (144 ERA+) in 668 innings, giving him a 16.4 WAR, to David Cone, with his 3.13 ERA (113 ERA+) in 1209.1 innings, good for a 9.6 WAR. The theft of Cone from the Royals was cited by the MLB Network's Prime Nine program (not necessarily a bastion of objective analysis, but certainly an idea of the general consensus) as the 8th most lopsided trade in all of baseball history. Objectively, the Santana trade was better for the Mets.

Of course, we don't always consider these things objectively. The Mets were an elite team when Cone pitched for them, and Cone was a workhorse, pitching 200+ innings in each of the years he was in the rotation. Meanwhile, Santana got a huge contract and spent a bit of time on the disabled list, during a time when lots of Mets signed big contracts and spent time on the disabled list. It seemed like he was viewed as part of the problem more than part of the solution, which was unfair - it wasn't Santana's fault that Jason Bay broke down.

With a WAR over 50.0, two Cy Young Awards, and now a no-hitter, Santana may very well be the most difficult decision for the Hall of Fame of any active player. With only 136 wins and only two with more than 16, he doesn't have the traditional statistics voters tend to look for, so it's my guess that he won't get in. Still, no eligible player with two Cy Young awards has ever missed out on the Hall. It's hard to imagine Santana having enough left in the tank to get the 64 wins he'd need to reach 200, but it was also hard to imagine Santana carrying a 2.38 ERA through two months of the season. 

With that in mind, since he doesn't have the traditional stats, and HOF voters are far behind season-award voters when it comes to advanced stats, it's going to take a great narrative to get Santana into the Hall. With a no-hitter as part of a season that sees the Mets, improbably, in first place two months into the season, maybe he's getting that chance.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Your Friday morning Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam performs Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town at Buffalo's HSBC arena, May 2, 2003. I was lucky enough to be at this one. Cup of Coffee: Brentz, Bradley finish impressive May on high note

6/1 Cup of Coffee: Appropriately, May ended with big nights by the two players in the system who had the most dominant months - Bryce Brentz went 5 for 5 to lead Portland in a morning game, while Jackie Bradley, Jr. had a 4 for 5 evening that helped propel Salem to victory.