TDIB Monday

Monday, August 28 2006 @ 12:15 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

Let's begin with a Blue Jays Trivia Question, the answer to which seems unlikely to change in 2006.

Toronto has played 41 post-season games in their history. Who is the only Blue Jay to pitch a Complete Game in the post-season?

The Jays are on the road this week, in Cleveland and Boston. They find themselves just two games behind the Red Sox as the week begins.

The Jays get the Indians first, and Cleveland are this season's poster boys for Pythagorean Underachivement, a mantle the Blue Jays are happy to shed to some other unfortunate squad. Cleveland has scored more runs than Boston (707 to 700) and given up fewer (646 to 669). You certainly wouldn't expect them to be more than 10 games behind the Red Sox, anymore than you'd expect them to be 9 games below .500.

And then Boston. What happened there, anyway? The Second Boston Massacre has naturally attracted most of the attention, in the same way we might gawk at a spectacular car accident, or Tom Cruise. But the whole month has been terrible. The Sox have spent most of August playing teams with losing records and getting beat by them. They were swept by Seattle and Kansas City; they lost two of three against Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Was there a turning point, when it all went bad for Boston?

Well, who knows. But let us flash back to July 31, when David Ortiz hit a three run homer in the ninth inning to give Boston yet another dramatic come from behind victory over the Indians. In the third inning, Jason Varitek had twisted his left knee while running the bases. He had surgery three days later. Boston has won just 8 of 26 games without him. No doubt they miss his bat, but the Red Sox have run into more serious issues on the other side of the ball. They have has been giving up more than 6 runs a game in August, with Javy Lopez and Doug Mirabelli handling the pitching staff. Prior to Varitek's injury, they were allowing 4.9 runs per game.

Those of us who were skeptical about Boston's chances heading into the season were wondering mostly about the age and health of their pitching staff. And, sure enough, Tim Wakefield and David Wells have missed great chunks of the season. Of the the other elderly and/or health-challenged hurlers, Curt Schilling has had a very fine campaign. But Keith Foulke has yet to recover from the enormous workload he shouldered in the 2004 post-season. And Mike Timlin, after a fine first half (4-0, 2.59 at the Break) seems to have either run out of gas or suddenly grown old (1-4, 6.36 since the break.)

Meanwhile In the NL (which I assume stands for Not-so-good League), Cincinnati had a lousy weekend, getting swept by the Giants. But the Reds are still just 2.5 games back of St.Louis in the Central division, and they lead the way in the hunt for the the NL Wild Card.

This seems like a fine opportunity to review some of the comments made back in mid-July when they sent Felipe Lopez to Washington. This trade did not receive universal applause. Keith Law wrote that Jim Bowden had fleeced his old employers and sent cincinnati to the back of the NL playoff queue. Dan Symborski wrote that the Reds had "tanked the 2006 season:"

If I were a Reds fans, Iíd be choking back the vomit right about now. The Reds, a team in contention, have just given up two of their most important position players to pick up 2 good relievers, a horrible SS, a waiver-wire 3B, and a decent pitching prospect with some injury problems.

The Transaction Guy
didn't think too much of the trade either:

...a potential 30 HR outfielder, an All-Star shortstop, and a former #1 draft pick pitcher? Not a bad haul for a washed up infielder, an infielder who wishes he was good enough to someday be washed up, a decent reliever, and a couple of young pitchers who donít project. Iím certainly not breaking any new ground when I write that this looks like a terrible trade for the Reds.

However, one or two of the folks here - not me - at Batter's Box had a different perspective. And why not? After all, we've actually seen Felipe Lopez play shortstop. Bruce Wrigley bravely asserted that:

To many people, it's an absurd deal but I think that on the contrary, it may be a season-saving move for the Reds. Leaving aside the fact that Clayton is hitting almost as well as Lopez is when you take their home parks into account, there is a vast gulf between the two players defensively.

I said nothing at the time. Once bitten, twice shy. You see, in the spring of 2005, I had mercilessly ridiculed the Arizona Diamondbacks for many reasons that seemed excellent at the time. They had just lost more than 110 games, and part of their plan to get better involved bringing in Royce Clayton to play shortstop. I let them have it, and of course Arizona mysteriously improved by 25 games and finished second. I didn't want to repeat that experience. But I must admit, I'm coming around to the position that replacing a terrible defensive shortstop with a good one may actually be worth sacrificing what looks to be a disproportionate amount of offense. If I had to choose, I do think I'd rather have... oh, Mark Belanger at short than Felipe Lopez.

OK, sudden change of subject:

I've been plugging away at the next entry for the Lobby of Numbers, and because it's the Colorado Rockies, I've been thinking a little bit about home-road splits.

Here are two American League outfielders who began their careers in the 1960s and finished up in the 1980s.

              G    AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB IBB   SO HBP  GDP  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG
Player A 1410 5065 821 1358 267 26 283 876 713 82 1291 50 101 129 65 .268 .362 .499
Player B 1632 6040 822 1597 264 21 215 781 886 81 753 15 168 87 66 .264 .357 .422
As you can see, these are two quite similar offensive players. Player A is clearly a little better - he has significantly more power, and from the stolen base, triple, and GDP data we might infer that he is probably a little faster as well. They're about the same hitting for average, and while both draw plenty of walks, Player B draws a few more of them. Would anyone like to guess their names?

Wait, you're thinking. If these guys played in three decades - shouldn't they have played quite a few more games?

Indeed. This is just half of each player's career - the half spent playing on the road. This is what they did in neutral parks. But when they got home, each player encountered very different circumstances, and their numbers reflect it. Player A would maintain his advantage in hitting home runs, but that's about it. Player B suddenly has a whopping 50 point lead in batting average. He hit almost twice as many doubles, and increased his lead in drawing walks.
             G    AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB IBB   SO HBP GDP  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG
Player A 1410 4799 730 1226 196 23 280 826 663 82 1305 46 82 99 50 .255 .349 .481
Player B 1676 5948 994 1822 382 38 237 1063 959 109 642 25 157 81 49 .306 .402 .503
Player B had an enormous home park advantage. This obviously affects how we have come to think of these two players, not just in terms of both quality but also the kind of player that they each was. See, what I've been wondering a bit is how much this huge difference in home ball parks, beyond shaping the type of numbers these two players posted, affected each player's approach to the game.

Player A clearly played his home games in parks that discouraged hitting for average. But they don't seem to have affected his power too much, and so that was what he made into the focus of his offensive game. He became a slugger, who struck out a lot and didn't hit for impressive battting averages. Whereas the other guy won several batting titles...