Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XIV)

Written by :
Published on : June 10, 2016

 

 

Apparently, I’ve been away for way too long. Last time I posted, Jackie Bradley Jr. was the red hot hitter on the Red Sox everyone was talking about and, the next thing I know, he’s yesterday’s newspaper and everyone had moved on to Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. And then seemingly overnight, after one long home run, all of the baseball talking heads have deemed that Madison Bumgarner is the next Babe Ruth. So let’s get caught up on what’s going on around the league. I know I needed to.

 

AL East

 

We know that the Red Sox can hit. I’ve already talked about it too much. But their horrific pitching has been the main reason why I still don’t think this team should be the favorite in the division, let alone the league. Sure, they can try to get another arm, but it’s not like there’s an abundance of available guys out there on the trade market. And who knows if the 40-year-old, Big Papi, can keep up his maddening pace. Like, is this team really the ’27 Murderers Row Yankees? Also, if you look at their own division, the Sawx have losing records against both the Orioles and the Blue Jays.

 

I’ve already cast aside the Yankees and Rays, but if you look at the Orioles, they’re pretty much in the same boat as the Red Sox. Except they’re currently playing better baseball. And you have to assume that, at some point, the Blue Jays (who have the best pitching in the division) are going to start hitting. Michael Saunders should probably not be the best hitter on that loaded team. I do think the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays will be battling it out in the end. And the big problem for the Red Sox is that any one of those teams can expose their 4-man disaster of a rotation. They don’t stop anybody now. So I don’t see how they’ll stop the Jays or Orioles down the stretch. You know, either that or they’ll just keep scoring 15 runs a game. Whichever sounds more logical to you.

 

Also, I could spend time talking about Manny Machado and the Orioles-Royals brawl, but I guess I’m sick of pitchers who don’t have to hit throwing 99 miles-per-hour at essentially defenseless dudes at the plate. I don’t know why any kid thinking of playing baseball would look at that and think, “Yeah. Sign me up for that shit.” All that being said, I still want to see Jays-Rangers in the playoffs because I’m still totally okay with fisticuffs between position players. Moving on…

 

AL Central

 

When Mike Moustakas went down for the season and the White Sox decided to absolutely tank their season (James Shields?!), the door finally opened for the Indians. That four-game sweep of the Royals was a real momentum changer. And if the Indians can get a big bat in July, it should be their division for the taking. Then again, who knows if they’re in a position to go after anybody on the market. And then this division could just keep on shuffling around aimlessly.

 

AL West

Ken Giles thinks the Astros have a more talented team than the Rangers. Uh, no. Right now, the Rangers have the best record in the American League and their biggest problem is where to put all of their young talent. Look at Nomar Mazara replacing Shin-Soo Choo in the outfield. Look at Jurickson Profar replacing Rougned Odor in the infield. Look at how they’ve absolutely pounded the Astros. Other than Prince Fielder sucking and a few injury scares, there’s really no reason not to think this one is coming down to the Rangers and Mariners.

 

NL East

 

I gotta say, I think the Mets might be screwed. Only the Phillies and Braves have scored fewer runs this season, and their string of injuries isn’t going to help. The pitching staff is still really good (especially since Matt Harvey decided he was done being lousy), but they might have to pray they hang on to that Wild Card spot, because the Nationals are going to win the division and the Cardinals and/or Dodgers seem poised to pass them by. Oh, and remember when the Phillies were above .500? Yeah. That didn’t last long.

 

NL Central

This is where I get to talk about the Cubs. They have five guys leading in All-Star Game balloting. And they have the best team ERA in the Majors. How many of those five guys deserve to start the All-Star Game? I’d say probably three or four. Ben Zobrist was Mr. May and has exceeded all expectations from when he signed with the club. I’d also say he’s having the second-best all-around season of any National League position player, after Dexter Fowler. And then no third baseman is more worthy of a start than Kris Bryant. That includes Nolan Arenado. You could also argue for Anthony Rizzo at first, if not for what Wil Myers and Paul Goldschmidt are doing. But Addison Russell at short is a bit of a stretch.

 

And just for a full disclosure, I did a write-in vote for David Ross at catcher even though I know full well it should be given to Jonathan Lucroy. It’s Ross’ swan song in the big leagues and he’s never been selected to the Midsummer Classic before. I don’t know if I got more joy out of watching Grandpa Rossy hit his 100th career home run, or seeing video of him hitting his first in 2002 off of Mark Grace.

 

As far as the Cubs’ staff goes, just take a look at a few ERAs.

2.     Jake Arrieta         1.80
5.     Jon Lester            2.06
6.     Jason Hammel    2.14
10.   John Lackey         2.63
19.   Kyle Hendricks    2.90

 

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s all five starters with a sub-three ERA. I know Arrieta’s winning streak just ended at 20. But he’s still Jake Fucking Arrieta. And Lester is pitching the best games he’s had since coming to Chicago, a month ahead of when he usually heats up. Plus, he also has those sick NBA-style tracksuits. The bullpen might become an issue for the team down the road, but the starters might be the main reason why the Cubs are the fastest team to 40 wins since the 2001 Mariners, are still on pace for 114 wins and are up 10 games on the Cardinals and Pirates.

 

NL West

 

Well, everybody wants Madison Bumgarner in the Home Run Derby. And I’m fine with that. But I’d actually love a pitchers-only derby with MadBum, Noah Syndergaard, Adam Wainwright, Jake Arrieta, Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, Kenta Maeda and (obviously) Bartolo Colon. You could probably also throw in Mike Leake, Zack Greinke and Travis Wood, just for old times sake. I know MadBum would win easily, but I’d still enjoy the freak show.

 

Actually, Bumgarner is about the only player on the Giants hitting anything right now. Even though they have the best record in the Majors since May 11. I just don’t know if they can maintain that pace with all their mounting injuries. Not that the Dodgers (other than Corey Seager) are hitting much either. And I’m sad that the Julio Urias project wasn’t ready for prime time. As an LA resident, part of me wanted to see Fernandomania Part Dos. And I’d talk about the Rockies, D-Backs and Padres, but I don’t want to MadBum you out. That pun was worth it.

 

Okay. See you in the next Angelino in the Outfield. If you need more, you can always check me out on the MLB recap episodes on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon. Until next time, Ichiro needs 29 hits. And the Cubs’ Magic Number is 94.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode III: The Greatest Pitching Staff of All Time)

Written by :
Published on : March 14, 2016

 

Ah, the Dog Days of March, am I right? The days when the initial excitement of Spring Training has probably started to wane and, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot going on in the game of baseball. I was going to use this week’s column to bash the kid in the ‘Dad Saves Son From Flying Baseball Bat’ photo for being on his fucking iPhone during a live baseball game. But then I realized the kid was nine-years-old, celebrating his birthday with his dad and adorably sending photos of the game to his mom back home. And I don’t want to sound like Goose Gossage telling Bryce Harper to get off his lawn or watching a Jose Bautista bat flip and wanting his country back. So this week, I’m going to do a continuation of a theme I’d touched on the previous week, and that’s hating on the New York Mets.

 

At some point last week, I heard Karl Ravech of ESPN say that he really thinks the young Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest pitching rotation of all time. My immediate reaction was to think, “Okay great. Now I know I never have to listen to anything Karl Ravech says ever again.” But the more I thought about it, the more I decided I should probably know which staffs in baseball history are currently in that conversation to begin with. I can’t just be some derpy politician claiming Hillary Clinton is the worst Secretary of State of all time if I can’t name anybody else who did the job. I mean, I assumed the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves teams of the nineties had to be in there somewhere. But I didn’t know if there was some rockstar Philadelphia A’s team in the 1920’s with Flippo Gumslaw and Pud Hayseed or some shit.

 

 

So I decided to look into it. And yes, it turns out the nineties Braves are the greatest pitching staff of all-time. I can go ahead confirm that for you right now. That’s based on the combined WAR of each team’s top four starters. And yes, I know everybody has a five man rotation now. And yes, I know the Mets might go with a six man this year. But I had to stay with four to keep things fairly even across eras. We good now? Okay. Let’s get back to the Braves. I could have just said “Seven Cy Youngs, 873 wins and three first-ballot Cooperstown plaques” and dropped the mic. But again, what about the Flippos and Puds of the world?

 

What I found is that, for the top four starters on any given team, a combined WAR of 15 means a staff is pretty good. An 18 means they’re really good. And anything above a 20 is basically all-time great. Last year’s Mets staff (where the best four were Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon) got a 15.2 combined WAR. Their projections for 2016 (with Steven Matz replacing Colon as the #4) are also between a 15 and 16. Just so we’re all clear, let’s look at what those nineties Braves staffs did.

 

1993. Maddux. Avery. Smoltz. Glavine.         19.8
1994. Maddux. Glavine. Avery. Smoltz.         15.6*
1995. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Avery.         19.3
1996. Smoltz. Maddux. Glavine. Avery.         23.9
1997. Maddux. Smoltz. Neagle. Glavine.       23.5
1998. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Milwood.     20.8
1999. Maddux. Milwood. Smoltz. Glavine.    20.7

* Strike-shortened.

 

That’s insane. But when I looked through all the stats, I also realized just how rare it was for a team to have that many quality starters to get to a 18-20 WAR. Especially after the Dead Ball Era. For a pre-Babe-Ruth Era team (when the players were white, but the balls were not) to be in the ‘best of all time’ running, they usually had to revolve around a Hall of Fame-level super-ace like Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson. And while there have been plenty of amazing individual single-season pitching performances over the years, the idea of a dominant staff is a much more recent phenomenon. In other words, aces come and go. That part is fairly easy. The hard part is getting yourself a Steve Avery – the Braves’ #4 pitcher, not the beloved Manitowoc County murderer from the Internet.

 

So who’s the second-best rotation ever, you ask? Surely it must be the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960’s or the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling Diamondbacks of the early 2000’s or that 2011 Phillies team with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Nope, Nope and Nope. While those teams are up there near the very top, I’d say the second-best staff of all-time and the placeholders before the Braves came around were the 1969-1970 Chicago Cubs. Seriously. Well, I guess it’s hard to be a placeholder, when nobody back then had advanced stats and everybody would have just been looking at stuff like win totals and then slobbering over overrated teams like the 1971 Orioles, who had four 20-game winners, but a combined WAR of 14.8. But that Cubs staff anchored by Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands put up a crazily-impressive 23.4 in 1969 and a best-ever-in-history 24.7 in 1970.

 

 Ken Holtzman

 

And while it may be easy on the surface of things to poo-poo a Cubs staff led by a 3rd-ballot Hall of Famer and some other dudes you’ve never heard of (especially when the 1969 Cubs are synonymous with curses, black cats and choking) just realize that Jenkins is one of the more underrated pitchers of all-time, Holtzman threw TWO no hitters in his career and also the cold hard fact that no other team in the history of baseball besides the ’96-’97 Braves ever put up those kind of combined WAR numbers. Like, ever. Not the Christy Mathewson-led New York Giants. Not the Walter Johnson-led Washington Senators. Not the Flippo Gumshaw/Pud Hayseed Philadelphia Athletics of the pretend 1920’s. Not even even those ’72-’74 Oakland teams where Holtzman ended up winning three World Series rings. And they did it all in Wrigley Field, which isn’t necessarily known as a pitching-friendly park. The numbers are there, whether you’ve Googled these guys or not (and fun fact: Googling ‘Bill Hands’ in 2016 gets you some equally interesting results on both Bills Cosby and Clinton).

 

All of this is probably why people like Karl Ravech think they have a point. A staff as deep as the current Mets are on paper is a rare sight in baseball history. And we don’t celebrate many of the other great staffs in history besides Glavine, Smoltzie and the Professor. Individual pitchers, yes. But great staffs, not so much. So it seems easier to spout off about ‘greatest ever’ without some asshole like me with the free time to do some basic fact checking. And since we’re dealing with the entire history of baseball here, the 1990 Mets had Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola, David Cone and Sid Fernandez. Their combined WAR was 20.8. There’s also three Cy Young Award winners, 14 All-Star Games and 10 World Series rings among them. Call me when this Mets staff even approaches that level. In fact, call me when they approach the 1976 Mets (19.0 WAR) with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Mickey Lolich. And know that just because you don’t know something, it doesn’t give you the right to spout off about it with confidence.

 

You really think this Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest of all-time? Keep checking your iPhone for it to happen. Maybe your dad will save you seconds before a bat smashes you in your stupid face.

 

 


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