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Tag: jonah keri

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Yankees pitcher  Mussina pitches against Toronto in New York

Is Mike Mussina a Hall of Famer?

Jonah Keri writes:

He’s a rich man’s [Jack] Morris. When people argue for Morris, they cite his ability to take the ball every fifth day without fail, pitch deep into games, and give his team a chance to win. Mussina did that, too, but he did it better, allowing fewer runs in a significantly tougher era for pitchers. From 1995 through 2003, Mussina averaged 222 innings pitched per year, topping the 200 mark in every one of those seasons (including in ’95, a strike-shortened year). During that time — the peak of the PED era — Mussina struck out about four times as many batters as he walked, and posted a 3.64 ERA that was 28 percent better than league average. Granted, Mussina was just the sixth-best pitcher in the game during that span, but there’s not much you can do when you’re pitching alongside five future Hall of Famers, three of them arguably among the five best pitchers of all time and the fourth with arguably the best two-season peak of any pitcher ever. Mussina was no stiff the rest of the time, either, ending his career with an ERA 23 percent better than league average, putting him on par with Marichal and ahead of Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, and the next guy on this list.

Jay Jaffe thinks Mussina belongs but it’ll be a long time before he gets there:

Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, with a total higher than Hall of Famers Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 29 other enshrined starting pitchers. Moving beyond that — seriously, I’m done with the wins talk now — his 2,813 strikeouts rank 19th all-time and his 7.1 strikeouts per nine ninth among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That’s in part a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were almost continually on the rise, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second only to Curt Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60-foot-6.

As for the postseason, Mussina may not have won a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it’s 0.26 lower than his regular season ERA, which itself was 23 percent better than the park-adjusted league average. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fourth all-time, while his 9.3 strikeouts per nine is second among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Johnson is first at 9.8). Sadly, Mussina’s teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts, because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it’s tough to pin his failure to win a ring on him.

As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn’t have to share value with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 39 of the 57 enshrined starting pitchers; it’s 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.6 above fellow candidate Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 10.4 wins above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina’s peak WAR of 44.5 doesn’t stack up as well; while it’s still 65th all-time, it tops only 20 enshrined starters and is 5.7 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 2.4 points above the Hall average, good for 28th all-time, one spot below Schilling (64.4) and two above Glavine (62.9). He’s 132 spots higher than Jack Morris (38.4). His score beats those of 36 enshrined starters. He’s good enough for Cooperstown.

Mussina’s JAWS score beats those of 36 enshrined starters, and it will still be above the standard once Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez and Tom Glavine all get their due (the admission of those five would raise the respective bars to 75.1/50.7/62.9). He’s good enough for Cooperstown.

Still, the Moose won’t be loose in upstate New York anytime soon. On the contrary, Mussina probably has a long road before he gets a bronze plaque. In such heavy traffic, it’s probably asking too much even to hope that he approximates Schilling’s 38.8 percent debut last year. But like the aforementioned Bert Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. It’s just going to take some time for them to carry the day.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Nice long feature on Coco Crisp and the art of stealing bases by Jonah Keri over at Grantland.

[Photo Credit: vanderwal]

Know When to Walk Away and Know When to Run

It’s getting late early in Philadelphia. Here’s Jonah Keri on the Phillies:

They’ve already turned over more than half the lineup, handing starting roles to much younger players. But none of those players are premium prospects. Moreover, the team’s trio of infield stars, the ones who’ve been the face of Phillies baseball for nearly a decade, are still around, fighting injuries and Father Time as they desperately try to keep the Phillies relevant in a division that’s left them behind. Then you’ve got the starting rotation’s three aces and the fire-breathing closer, all making big bucks, all hugely attractive gets for many other teams were they to become available. Four months from now, if Philly appears on its way to another mediocre season, should the team cash in their biggest trade chips for younger players who could help build a winning team for 2014 and beyond?

Maybe the bigger question is this: If the Phillies do reach that point, could they go through with it — tearing down the most dominant collection of players the team has seen in 30-plus years?

Speed Kills

Over at Grantland here’s Jonah Keri on why Mike Trout is the AL MVP and not Miguel Cabrera. That said, Bobby Valentine has a better chance of keeping his job than Trout does of winning the MVP.

[Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images]



Time Will Tell

Here’s Jonah Keri’s reaction to the Pineda-Montero trade:

When breaking down a player’s value, it’s easy to fixate on his weaknesses. Pineda’s got some question marks, but two of the main criticisms levied against him — that he was a lousy pitcher away from Safeco Field and that he faded badly down the stretch last season — don’t hold water. Dave Cameron broke down both those criticisms, noting that Pineda’s core skills stayed strikingly consistent, and that luck and regression toward the mean played far bigger roles in his fluctuating stats.

Within that post, Cameron explained that despite its enormous reputation as a pitcher-friendly stadium, Safeco doesn’t play as an extreme park in right field, only left-center. That part is true: Safeco dinged homers by lefty hitters at a relatively modest 5 percent rate. Problem is, Yankee Stadium’s ludicrously short porch in right helped inflate homers at that park a massive 43 percent. That’s not to say that no right-handed pitcher can possibly survive in that park. Some chap named Mariano Rivera’s been pretty OK there so far. Like Rivera, Pineda offers a pitch that’s highly effective against left-handed hitters, a slider that at its best bites down and in. It’s just a one-year sample size, but Pineda held lefties to just .237/.296/.357 in 2011. Still, there’s a seed of doubt here. Pineda posted the seventh-lowest ground-ball rate among all qualified starting pitchers last year. You can try to apply a simple park adjustment to a fly-ball pitcher moving from a homer-suppressing stadium to a nightmarish launching pad, but it’s unlikely that Pineda’s move to Yankee Stadium will be that easy to predict. He might see one too many elevated fastballs scrape over the wall, panic, change his approach, and fall apart. Or maybe he’ll become a Yankee in the Paul O’Neill mode, embracing his new digs and playing above his already considerable talent.

• That’s what makes this trade so fascinating. Though it’s not a swap of players at the same position, it still resembles what you’d call a challenge trade. Before this offseason, you’d have to dig deep to find examples of high-impact young players traded for each other; deals tend more often to involve one veteran for a bunch of prospects, or pretty much any other combination that’s not two wildly hyped 22-year-olds changing teams. One of the biggest (and only) ones that immediately jump to mind was 2007’s swap of Delmon Young for Matt Garza — and even that’s cheating, since Jason Bartlett was also a key part of that trade. There’s also Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez, but for whatever reason, this type of trade has suddenly become all the rage. There were other players involved, but Mat Latos for Yonder Alonso fits the profile. So too does Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner. If two teams laying it on the line by trading young, potential impact players is about to become a trend, I’m all for it.

[Photo Credit: Martinico37]

Dear Prudence

Over at Grantland, here’s Jonah Keri on how Brian Cashman now runs the show in the Bronx:

Perhaps the biggest change in Cashman’s approach has been the way he values the team’s own prospects. Three years ago, he dealt Jose Tabata and three other young players to Pittsburgh for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. Two years ago, he forgot the cardinal rule: Never trade anything of value to bring Javier Vazquez to New York. But Cashman has grown increasingly stingy in his willingness to give up homegrown potential stars. He held on to Robinson Cano for years amid swirling trade speculation and concerns about his young second baseman’s unrefined approach, and got an MVP candidate for his patience. He’s resisted all overtures for phenom Jesus Montero, preferring to let the 22-year-old slugger swing for the fences in Yankee Stadium next year, not somewhere else. Though they might still get dealt at some point, Cashman’s refusal to sell too quickly on pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances has resulted in both pitchers maturing into hot commodities with big value to both the Yankees and potential suitors. When the team does decide to part with a top prospect, it can only be if an excellent player offering multiple years of team control is available, the way Curtis Granderson was after the 2009 season.

And then, this:

But here’s the real $189 million question: Are prudence and austerity the right ways to run baseball’s marquee franchise? The Yankees have won just one World Series in the past 11 seasons. In 2010, they had a chance to trade for Cliff Lee, the best pitcher in baseball that year. As with all trade rumors, we can never exactly know what was discussed, and who may have turned down which offer. But the Yankees had Montero and other enticing prospects at their disposal to trade for Lee … and Lee went to the Rangers instead, who rode the lefty’s dominant performance in the ALDS and ALCS to the World Series that year, knocking off the Yanks in the process. When Lee spurned New York’s advances that offseason, the Yankees went bottom-fishing instead, taking flyers on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Amazingly, both panned out. Still, there was a sense that last season’s team needed another front-line starter to make a title run. The Yankees never got that arm, watching the trade deadline pass without any major activity, then bowing out of the playoffs for a second straight year.

You can now make it three straight years that the Yankees could really use a strong no. 2 starter to slot in behind Sabathia. But the team’s lowball bid on Yu Darvish and lack of strong interest in C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle point to a GM who either didn’t want to spend a ton of money on free-agent pitchers this winter, didn’t like the names that were out there, or both.

Of all the lessons Cashman has learned in the past decade, none resonate more than this: The playoffs can be random, capricious, and cruel. He might still pursue a starting pitcher via trade, sign someone like Hiroki Kuroda as a solid tier-two option, or upgrade the roster in other ways. But if he doesn’t, he can look at a team built with true stars, not retreads, one with rare upside for a Yankees club with Montero poised to improve over a 162-game season. If the Yankees do nothing else this offseason, they’d be a strong bet to get back to the playoffs, where they’d have about as good a chance as anyone of going all the way.

There. Happy?

Wait, What Happened?

Over at Grantland, Jonah Keri recaps the 21 top moments of a crazy Game Five.

[Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]

Ray of Light

Too Late?

Will the the Rays catch the Red Sox and win the AL wildcard. Don’t count on it writes Jonah Keri over at Grantland:

No team has ever squandered a lead of 7.5 games or more in September. Yes, the Sox have seen their 9.5-game cushion on Tampa Bay shrink to three games in just 12 days. But this isn’t horseshoes or nuclear war. No points are awarded for coming close. If the Sox merely play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Rays need to go 11-5 (.688) just to set up a tiebreaker.

The schedule says that won’t happen. Seven of Boston’s final 16 games come against the Orioles; the Rays have just two games left against them (and seven against the loaded Yankees). Baltimore owns the worst record in the American League, second-worst in the majors. Last night’s O’s lineup included Matt Angle, Kyle Hudson, and Robert Andino. The Red Sox could send a 51-year-old Oil Can Boyd out against the Orioles and they’d still win. Steamroll the O’s as expected, then win a handful of other games, and you force the Rays to play ostensibly perfect baseball for the next 2½ weeks.

Regression is coming. Everything that could have gone wrong for Boston has gone wrong. Dustin Pedroia, one of the best all-around players in the league, has gone ice-cold. He’s 3-for-34 in his past eight games, with nine strikeouts and one extra-base hit. He’s hitless in his past 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The recent RISP woes run deeper than that: The Sox are hitting just .228 in that situation over their past eight games, including a 1-for-15 stretch against the Rays.

These things don’t last.

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]

Can We Talk?

Joe Posnanski on the AL MVP race:

Right now, I firmly believe the best player in the American League is Jose Bautista. And, right now, he’s my MVP. There are plenty of good candidates who can catch him — and most of them are on teams in contention. The Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, both are having great years. One of my favorite players in the game, Curtis Granderson, is having a marvelous season for the Yankees. Ben Zobrist, one more time, is having the best year nobody’s noticing. Miguel Cabrera continues to slug. It’s difficult to compare pitchers and hitters, but Justin Verlander has been almost unhittable — at time actually unhittable — and others like C.C. Sabathia and the Angels pair of Dan Haren and Jered Weaver are pitching extremely well.

But, for me, it’s Bautista by two or three lengths heading into the home stretch. Somebody has to catch him. And, no offense to the quality of leadership or hustle or RBIs or wins or any other sort of unnoticed value, but they’re going to have to catch him with production I can see.

Agreed. Be interesting if Verlander makes a push, though.

And over at Grantland, here’s Jonah Keri on Montero vs. Posada:

The Montero Legend took a huge leap forward Monday night. Playing the remainder of a suspended game plus a full game in what amounted to a virtual doubleheader, the 21-year-old slugger exploded, going 5-for-8, blasting two homers, and knocking in seven runs. After a slow start, Montero’s up to .290/.349/.456 for the year. Although skeptics wonder whether he can handle the defensive rigors of catching in the big leagues, most believe he’ll be a great hitter.

… Posada has actually put together a half-decent season as a platoon guy (.249/.354/.453), after a disastrous start to the year. Despite Montero’s recent surge, Posada’s line against righties compares favorably with the kid’s overall numbers. The old man may not be quite dead yet.

So what to do? Montero’s tantalizing talent still has Yankees fans drooling to get a look at him — a chance they might get in September. If Montero succeeds, Posada might get left off the postseason roster, his days as a Yankee over for good. Whatever decision gets made, Yankees fans should hope it’s based on performance, not politics. You can get away with a sub-optimal roster when the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners are on the schedule. But in the postseason, you’d better bring your best 25 with you. Or else.

[Montero picture via Bronx Baseball Daily]


Over at ESPN, Jonah Keri writes about six teams you don’t want to face in the playoffs.

[Photo Credit: USA Today]

The Extra 2% Solution

Jonah Keri headlines Gelf’s Varsity Letters Speaking series tomorrow night. I’m not going to be able to make it due to a conflict in my schedule but Jonah is a rip–as evidenced by this interview with Gelf. If you are downtown, do yourself a favor and pop in.

Rays Update: Hair, Catwalks, and Kyle Farnsworth With A Crossbow

These days, the Rays are the Yankees’ rivals every bit as much as the Red Sox are. So in the know-your-enemy spirit, and given all the renewed Rays interest sparked by friend-of-the-Banter Jonah Keri’s new book “The Extra 2%,” I figured I’d gather up some recent developments down in Tampa.


First of all, Rays manager Joe Maddon is awesome. I’m sorry, but he is. I loved his golf pants efforts last season, and he’s still in full support of his players getting goofy with their personal appearance:

I might have preferred to get an “almost” in there before the “wherever,” but I applaud the sentiment. Although I think we’ve all seen by now that ballplayers hardly need much encouragement to grow fantastically horrible facial hair.

Last season, Maddon complained when the Trop’s bizarre house rules cost the Rays a run, after a pop-up hit one of those oddly placed catwalks and went for a single–saying the team needed “a real baseball field.” He subsequently apologized to the injured party via Twitter:

“most recent whine was my getting on Trop roof, have since apologized to said roof and r now on much better terms, maybe best ever…”   RaysJoeMaddon

Now, the Trop’s bizarre, byzantine ground rules are changing… or, rather, changing back to what they were before last fall’s Division Series. TampaBay.com explains, sort of:

At the request of Major League Baseball, the 2011 regular season ground rules pertaining to the catwalks at Tropicana Field will revert back to the language that was used during 2010 regular season. Tropicana Field’s ground rules were changed prior to the 2010 American League Division Series. 2011 Tropicana Field Ground Rules.

– Ball lodging on, under or in the bullpen seating area: OUT OF PLAY. A ball is deemed to be lodged when it goes in or behind equipment or seating or, in the umpire’s judgment, is deemed otherwise unplayable.
– Ball enters the bullpen seating area and rebounds out of the seating area: IN PLAY.
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: HOME RUN.
– Batted ball that is not judged a home run and remains on a catwalk, light or suspended object: TWO BASES.
– Batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk, light or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder. If caught by fielder, batter is out and runners advance at own risk.
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over foul territory: DEAD BALL
Previous rule:
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the upper catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: DEAD BALL and the pitch does not count. Any declaration of an Infield Fly after the hit shall be nullified.

You know what, Maddon was right the first time: that team does need to get themselves a real ballpark. Damn.

Finally, a Marc Topkin profile of our old frenemy and current devilish Ray Kyle Fransworth last week turned up several facts about the man of which I was not aware:

  • He lives in the Disney owned and operated town of Celebration, Florida.
  • He is a non-practicing Mormon.
  • He has been sober for the last two years, after some hard drinking in his younger days.

The article’s overall tone is generally one of “oh look, he’s not actually that terrifying, he bakes holiday cookies!” but it undercuts that point with details like this:

Farnsworth’s 2003 technically perfect pursuit, tackle and takedown, plus subsequent pummeling, of Reds pitcher Paul Wilson — captured in photographs and still-popular video — remains his greatest hit, though a similar 2005 tussle with Royals reliever Jeremy Affeldt is close.

“He went crazy wanting to fight everyone,” said Affeldt, now with the Giants. “I’ve been in the weight room with him after that working out, and there’s no bitterness. It’s like it never happened. Kind of weird.”


That competitiveness and machismo thread runs through everything he does: high-intensity workouts, martial arts training, marksmanship, paint ball and his beloved hunting, as he switched from gun to crossbow five years ago to make it more challenging as he pursues deer, turkey and hogs on his 2,500-acre plot in Georgia that is his favorite getaway.

Sober cookie-baking Disney mormon or not, the image of Kyle Farnsworth running after a hog with a frigging crossbow is quite a vivid one.

The Extra 2% Solution

Jonah Keri’s “The Extra 2%,” is a book about the Tampa Bay Ray and how they used Wall Street strategies to take the team from last place to a contender. It is a fine, brisk read, a more intellectually honest version of “Moneyball.” You’ll be smarter for having read it. It should on your short list of baseball reads this spring and it hits the shelves today.

GQ has an excerpt. Dig it…

Buy the book at Amazon.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Pitching (and More)

Dig Jonah Keri’s exhaustive profile on Nolan Ryan and the Rangers’ new/old approach to pitching.

Ray of Light

BJ Upton and Evan Longoria screamed at each other yesterday in the Ray’s dugout. The Rays are a frustrated team at the moment. Jonah Keri, who is writing a book on the organization, offers 10 Things the Rays should do to compete for the Whirled Serious.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver