The New York Yankees Report
Thursday, June 19, 2003
SERIES PREVIEW: NEW YORK METS
The Yankees return to interleague play and the road as they take on the New York Mets in a 3-game series beginning tonight (okay so maybe it’s not like being on the road exactly). The Yanks are 7-5 in interleague action and 22-12 on the road this season.
The Mets are 33-37, sitting uncomfortably in 4th place in NL East, 13.5 games behind the Braves, and just a .5 game in front of the last place Marlins. However, they have played better lately, finishing up a 10-game road trip with a record of 6-4. The Mets are 5-4 in interleague action so far, pretty good considering they played all 9 games against AL West teams. They’re 16-16 at home this season.
With a minimum of 200 AB, only OF Cliff Floyd and 3B Ty Wigginton are above the league average in OPS. Floyd leads the team in 2B, HR, RBI, and BB, while Wigginton leads the team in AB, H, and SO.
With Piazza sidelined, the only other hitters with an above-average OPS are OF Jeremy Burnitz, C Vance Wilson, and C/1B Jason Phillips, but none of them have played in more than 42 games this season. Burnitz missed almost 30 games with an injury and Wilson/Phillips (I couldn’t resist that one) have been platooning most of the year.
Jae Seo is the only Mets’ starter with an ERA below league average, although Tom Glavine is close.
However, they do have a few good relievers. Graeme Lloyd has been solid with a 2.28 ERA in 21 relief appearances. Trade bait Armando Benetiz, although shaky early on, has been impressive with 17 saves and a 2.89 ERA. He’s been worthy of the attention many teams are showing. Finally, David Weathers has a very respectable 3.60 ERA in 40 IP.
The Mets’ catchers have caught 23 would-be base stealers, while allowing 47 steals for a .329 CS PCT.
Probable Pitching Match Ups
**The Yankees have not officially announced Mussina as the starter for Game 2. But the choices are Mussina on full rest or Weaver. Seriously, what would you do?
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Soriano v. Pujols
While watching the Cards and Yanks play this weekend, I noticed I was watching two of the best young hitters in baseball, Albert Pujols and Alfonso Soriano. (it’s interesting to note that both are RHH. There’s a nice crop of good RHH coming along, including Rocco Baldelli and Vernon Wells). I was curious which one is the better hitter so far in their young careers.
Note: Soriano played in 31 games and had 58 at bats before his first full year. I did not include those stats in this analysis.
It’s actually not close. Pujols is a much better hitter than Soriano, despite being two years younger too. He bests Soriano on hits, extra-base hits, runs, RBI, HR, BB, SO… it goes on and on. (Although RBI is misleading because Soriano has been a leadoff hitter most of his career. Yet, we would expect him to score more runs than Pujols and he hasn’t, 261 v. 289, probably because of the low OBP). But what really stands out about these two hitters is BB and SO.
Soriano is a notorious free-swinger, striking out a ton and walking about as often as Steinbrenner avoids conflict. Pujols is more disciplined, with an even amount of BB and SO. In fact, so far in his career, Pujols has only 18 more SO than BB. This discipline helps explain the 81-point difference in OBP. Pujols has slightly more power with a .06 PA/HR compared to a .04 for Soriano. This would be a little bit closer if we adjusted for park factor. Yankee stadium is not that kind to RHH. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that Albert Pujols is already a great hitter.
The only area in which Soriano excels compared to Pujols is SB. Soriano has 103 career SB (77% SB PCT) compared to Pujols’ 3 SB (27% SB PCT).
I was then curious to see how Pujols’ early career would compare to some great modern-day hitters… Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. So, compare Pujols’ two-and-a-half seasons to Bonds and Rodriguez’s first three seasons.
Note: A-Rod played in 65 games and had 198 at bats before his first full season as a regular. I did not include those stats in this analysis.
Pujols has a better AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS. He’ll probably end up with more RBI and HR. He’ll definitely have fewer SO. Only Bonds will have more BB. Overall, it’s pretty impressive. Is Pujols the best hitter in baseball right now? Probably not. But all of the signs indicate he will be soon enough.
Yup, Albert Pujols is good, and remember, you heard it here first.
HOME IS SWEET AGAIN
By contrast, the Yankees are just 3-4 so far this month on the road. Coming into June, they were 19-8 on the road. The Yankees have only 5 more home games this month compared to 8 road games.
HEY, POSADA, TAKE A WALK!
SERIES RECAP: ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The Yankees won their second consecutive interleague series with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. It was an incredible series for the Yanks, the best since April. They hit well (.320 BA, 1.029 OPS), pitched well (2.00 ERA), and Roger Clemens managed to win his 300th game.
The Yanks kept pace with the Sox who swept the Astros. The Yankees retained their .5 lead over the Sox.
Although the Yanks outperformed the Cards in every category, the one that really stands out is walks. The Yanks drew 15 BB, compared to just 4 BB for the Cards. This is an area where the Yanks continue to outperform teams.
The Yankees had such a good series offensively, it’s easier to dicuss who didn’t perform well. But once again, Jason “clearly back on track” Giambi topped the list. Giambi.
But Ruben Sierra, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Raul Mondesi all had OPS over 1.000.
About the only Yankee who struggled against the Cardinals was Alfonso Soriano, who posted a .154/.154/.231/.385 for the series.
The best Cards’ hitter was Tino Martinez (and what Yankee fan can complain). Tino was deservedly cheered at each bat and I was thrilled for him to hit so well during the series.
Albert Pujols, arguably baseball’s best hitter right now, had a good series offensively as well.
Clemens finally got his 300th win, going 6.2 and allowing 6 H and 2 R. Even Pettitte managed a good outing, allowing just 5 H and 2 R in 7 IP, which included a lengthy rain delay. Mussina top them all with an 8 IP, 4 HR, and 2 R performance.
The Cardinals pitching struggled in the series. The Starters only pitched 12 innings. Mostly, because Matt Morris was pulled after a lengthy rain delay. But Jason Simontacchi and Woody Williams were roughed up as well. The Starters gave up 14 of the 23 R scored and had more BB than SO (10 v. 7).
Actually, the relievers weren’t that bad. Brett Tomko gave up 12 of the 16 H, all 9 R, and all 4 HR. The rest of the relievers gave up just 4 H and 0 R in 6.2 IP.
Monday, June 16, 2003
SERIES PREVIEW: TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
The Yankees take a brief break from interleague play and take on the division-rival Tampa Bay Devil Rays for 4 games at the Stadium. The fourth game is a make-up game for a rain out on April 11th. The Yanks will make that game up with a double header today. The Yanks are 3-2 so far against the Devil Rays this season (1-1 at home), all of those games occurring in April when the Yanks were playing extremely well. The Yanks have outscored the D-Rays 33-19 over those 5 games.
The Devil Rays are 23-44, 16.5 games behind the Yankees for the division lead. While the Devil Rays opened 10-17 in April (pretty good for them), they have scuffled lately, going just 1-9 over their last ten games, 2-10 in interleague play.
Both teams have played poorly since they last met on April 13th. The Yanks are 31-26 since then, and the Devil Rays are just 18-37.
Although he’s been slumping lately, Alfonso Soriano hit very well against Devil Rays earlier this season.
Hopefully, Soriano can bust out of his slump during the series. Another starter to watch is Raul Mondesi.
Also, look for Bubba Trammell to start a game perhaps. In 2 starts as the DH v. Tampa Bay, he went 4-for-8, with 2 2B and 3 RBI.
The D-Rays did hit decently against Yankee pitching back in April, it’s hard to remember now, but the staff was pitching quite well back then. The D-Rays posted a solid .303 BA, but only managed 19 runs in the 5 games.
The D-Rays struggled in two areas specifically against the Yanks, walks and homeruns (Beane Count). They drew just 9 BB and hit just 1 HR (and that one by the backup catcher, Javier Valentin), while the Yanks worked 25 BB and hit 9 HR.
Jeff Weaver, David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte are all expected to start a game during this series. Only Pettitte hasn’t pitched against the D-Rays this season.
The D-Rays didn’t get much pitching in the 5 games v. the Yanks, but the Relievers were terrible (despite getting the two wins).
Lance Carter was about the only effective pitcher during both series.
That’s right Zambrano has given up 12 BB in 11.1 innings versus the Yanks this year.
Probable Pitching Matchups
Sunday, June 15, 2003
He then writes about Clemens, “Like all the modern players, he may deserve to rate higher than I have ranked him. In fact, like Seaver, there is actually a very good argument that he is the greatest pitcher who ever lived.”
To determine where Clemens falls in terms of the greatest pitchers, I decided to compare him with the top six pitchers on this list. I made this decision for two reasons. One was a hunch that Clemens would likely fall somewhere in the top five. The second reason occurred to me when I listed the chronology for each pitcher.
With the exception of 1943-45 and 1967, one of these pitchers pitched in every season dating back to 1890 (Spahn pitched briefly in 1942 and then fought in WWII from 1943-45). From this perspective, the list is a run down of the best pitchers from each era, back to 1890. (Note: I agonized over including Christy Mathewson. He was probably the best pitcher between 1901-10, better than Young and Johnson at that time. But overall, I felt Johnson was a better comparison and again, gut instinct was telling me that the Rocket was probably better than the Big Six. I’ll probably run the numbers just to prove it to settle my mind about it.)
For the purposes of this comparison, I am only including Clemens’ statistics through the 2002 season.
WINS AND WINNING PERCENTAGE
Sure, Cy Young won more games than any other pitcher in baseball history, but he also lost more games too. Grove’s total wins would be higher, but he spent years wasting away in the minors when he would have been a very good major league pitcher. However, perhaps the biggest injustice occurs to Walter Johnson, who toiled away for years on terrible teams in Washington. Johnson lost 65 games because the Senators were shutout, 26 of them 1-0, both career records. It’s not quite as fair to Clemens either because he spent his entire career in the five-man rotation, therefore getting fewer opportunities to pitch as the others.
To better understand wins and losses, we have to examine each pitcher’s Winning Percentage (W PCT).
Again, however, this isn’t quite fair to Johnson, Young, and Seaver, who pitched their careers on teams with losing records. Instead, let’s examine their winning percentages compared to their teams winning percentage when they weren’t pitching.
* Team’s W PCT excludes that pitcher’s decisions
Does Lefty Grove have the best career W PCT because he pitched on some great Philadelphia Athletics teams and some good Boston Red Sox teams after that? Perhaps, among these pitchers, he was fortunate enough to have played on the best teams. Is Walter Johnson’s W PCT lower because he played for the Washington Senators?
To better understand each pitchers’ W PCT, we need to compare their Wins Above Team (WAT). WAT represents the number of games a pitcher won beyond those expected of an average pitcher for that team.
In terms of career WAT and WAT/Year, Young tops the list. That’s expected considering he pitched in more games, career and per year, than anyone else. To eliminate this bias, it’s better to look at how many WAT a pitcher got for every 90 games he pitched. And Roger Clemens tops the list, which means that despite pitching on some good teams, Clemens still won more games than an average pitcher would have on those teams. In other words, his W PCT is very justified. (Grove’s W PCT is justified too and he deserves his career-leading W PCT.)
Ultimately though, wins/losses and W PCT are an imperfect measure of a pitcher’s performance, because there are many factors outside of the pitcher’s control that affect whether he wins or loses a game.
ERA and ERA+
Again, this is out of context. The top three pitchers in terms of ERA spent good portions of their career in the Dead Ball Era, where offense was meager and runs were hard to come by. An average ERA in the AL in 1910 was 2.48, while in the AL in 1996 it was 5.00. So, just having the lowest number doesn’t always mean everything. To correct for this, we need to compare each pitcher’s adjusted ERA (ERA+). ERA+ compares a pitcher’s ERA to league average and factors in the pitcher’s home park factor.
Focusing on ERA+, it’s obvious that Clemens’ 3.15 ERA is actually much better than first appearance; in fact, it’s better than Spahn’s 3.09, Young’s 2.63, and Alexander’s 2.56. His career ERA+ moves him from sixth place to third.
PERIPHERAL PITCHING STATISTICS
Once again, this is without context. This demonstrates exactly why it is so hard to compare modern pitchers to pitchers from the Dead Ball Era. The comparison is complicated because offensive strategy has changed over time. The homerun is highly regarded in the modern game, and because of that, strikeouts are tolerated. In the Dead Ball Era, homeruns were nearly non-existent and strikeouts were to be avoided at all costs. A Dead Ball Era hitter with lots of strikeouts would lose his job. Therefore, hitters from that era choked up when they had two strikes and focused on making contact.
To really understand the above statistics we need to adjust them, similarly to the way we did with ERA. This adjustment is required for us to really be able to compare each pitcher’s effectiveness.
Adjusted to league average and for home park factor
After adjusting each pitching statistic, we learn that Clemens leads in two categories, hits allowed and homeruns allowed. Originally, we might not have suspected homeruns allowed, because before the adjustment, Clemens was sixth. But the adjustment allows us to ignore the fact that homeruns are more prevalent in the modern era.
If we focus on total career WS or the average WS/Year, we would expect Young to top the list because he pitched so much and for so long. But these two factors tend to favor pitchers with longevity rather than effectiveness. To eliminate the longevity bias, it’s better to look at WS/90 G (Win Shares per 90 Games Pitched). Roger Clemens jumps ahead of Cy Young after this adjustment, suggesting that Clemens has been more effective than Young over their careers.
Win Shares Rating Comparison
However, James admits his rating system is arbitrary, with an emphasis on favoring longevity (more career innings and more innings per season) and consecutive great seasons. Others might not agree with his criteria. But accepting his system, Clemens compares better with modern day pitchers than the early 20th century pitchers. I can identify three reasons why that is, two of are not Clemens’ fault, while the other one is.
The first reason is pitcher use. Pitchers simply aren’t used the same way in the modern game as they were at the turn of the century. In short, pitchers threw more games and innings in the Pre-War era than they do today. Should that be held against Clemens? With this system it clearly does and that might not be fair. If we declare that it is fair and just, then modern pitchers are more affected in the comparison.
Another reason is with regards to competitive balance. It is much more difficult to dominate in today’s game than it was in the early years of the game. Bill James is aware of this and adds a scale to correct for competitive balance. But it’s quite possible his correction doesn’t adequately counteract this injustice. (I’m not saying it doesn’t, I’m just positing the question). What’s obvious is that Clemens faced much tougher competition than any of the other pitchers. He pitched his entire career against a DH and all of the best players in the world. (The league now includes the best players from the U.S., Latin American, and Asia.)
The final reason is that Clemens just didn’t put together enough consecutive great seasons. And this one is his fault. Clemens best five consecutive seasons was between 1986-90, average of 25 Win Shares over this period. Unfortunately for Clemens, that doesn’t include his best season, 1997. If you took the average of Clemens 5 best seasons (non-consecutively) you would get a score of 28.6.
I’ve already mentioned, Clemens has pitched fewer innings because pitcher use has changed over the years, and unfortunately, it’s hard to adjust innings pitched into an historical context that’s useful. Therefore, we’ll have to address this concern in a case-by-case basis.
However, let me comment quickly on Clemens and his innings pitched. Clemens has pitched a lot of innings for a pitcher in his era. He is the current active leader in innings pitched. In 12 of 18 years he pitched in over 200 innings, and he would have in 1994 too if the strike had not ended the season. In short, Clemens has pitched a lot of innings for a pitcher of his era.
Other Subjective Factors
I’m comfortable with placing Roger Clemens ahead of Tom Seaver and Warren Spahn.
Clemens has clearly been more effective than both, ahead in WAT/90, ERA+, and WS/90. In addition, Clemens is also ahead of Spahn in terms of the Win Shares rating comparison. Both Spahn and Seaver pitched more innings than Clemens, 29% and 18% respectively. Regardless, I believe that Clemens’ effectiveness more than makes up for the fewer innings pitched. It’s a tougher call with Seaver than Spahn, but Clemens has been more effective against tougher competition.
At the same time, I’m also comfortable with placing both Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove ahead of Roger Clemens.
Johnson was more effective than Clemens (leading in all but one major category) and he pitched 45% more innings. For me, Walter Johnson is the greatest pitcher ever. Similarly, Grove leads Clemens in all but one major category. And even though Clemens pitched 3% more innings than Grove, I don’t feel it’s enough to make up for Grove’s consistent effectiveness.
Things become much more difficult when comparing Clemens to Pete Alexander and Cy Young.
Clemens leads Alexander in two of the major categories, but he pitched fewer innings. Clemens leads Young in three of the major categories, but he pitched far fewer innings. We’ll need to make a closer examination before we can make any further determination.
The Case v. Alexander
Clemens has been more effective in the peripheral pitching categories, better than Alexander with hits allowed and home runs allowed; both are tied in WHIP; and Alexander beats Clemens in walks allowed. We’ll need to look at the other subjective factors in order to decide.
Clemens gets the nod in terms of caliber of competition. It was much harder in his era to dominate the league. I would say Clemens faced better hitters than Alexander did, especially if you factor in that Clemens pitched his entire career against the DH.
I would also give Clemens the edge with regards to character and its impact on the team. Clemens has a bit of a negative image, most of it created by the media, the Boston media in particular. In his later years, he has taken on the roll of mentor to younger pitchers. By all accounts though he is a good teammate and doesn’t negatively affect his team’s play with bad behavior. Alexander was a loner and not one to speak much to his teammates. It’s hard to imagine him encouraging a teammate. Further, he was an alcoholic and there were charges throughout his career that he pitched while drunk.
Compare post-season records.
With today’s expanded post-season, Clemens pitched more games and innings than Alexander. Of course, all of Alexander’s appearances were in the World Series. Neither pitcher’s record is spectacular and their ERA are similar.
However, Clemens did pitch better in the World Series.
I give a slight edge to Clemens because of his World Series performance.
It‘s a hard case to decide though. Win Shares favors Alexander. Clemens has a better Winning Percentage, WAT, and ERA+. Further, Clemens had a better impact on his team and performed slightly better in the post-season, all while facing better competition. I give an edge to Clemens until you come to innings pitched; and that one goes to Alexander, pretty handily. Alexander threw 28% more innings than Clemens. That’s a lot more, which is reflected in the Win Shares scores. You can argue that this isn’t fair to Clemens because of the change in pitcher use, but that’s why it makes it so difficult to compare modern day players to pre-War era players.
Rather than claim that pitcher use has unfairly hurt Clemens, I would argue that a larger injustice was done to his effectiveness. Clemens posted a better ERA+ and better strikeout rates despite facing a DH versus a pitcher. This is the larger unknown. Wouldn’t Clemens have been more effective if he had pitched in the NL his entire career? Most definitely. Would it have been enough of a difference to overcome Alexander’s innings pitched? I’m just not sure. You could make a good argument for either side. But in the end, Clemens did pitch against the DH and did throw fewer innings than Alexander, and after all that, it’s very close. Since it’s so close, I’ll go with the innings pitched and take Alexander.
The Case v. Young
Clemens has the edge in the peripheral pitching categories, better than Young in hits allowed, home runs allowed, and strikeouts; Young was better in walks allowed and WHIP. (Young just edges Clemens in WHIP, because he allowed a staggering low amount of walks during his career, so he was really better than Clemens in walks allowed only.) Clemens’ effectiveness deserves more consideration because he faced a considerably higher caliber of competition. Both Clemens and Young were good teammates and didn’t negatively affect their teams’ performance, and I wouldn’t give an edge to either pitcher on that count.
Compare post-season records.
Young’s record doesn’t seem to reflect his ERA. Young pitched in only one World Series (1903); here’s the comparison of just their World Series performances.
Considering the difference of eras, I’d give the edge to Clemens.
Things become complicated when we compare innings pitched. Young pitched over 7,000 innings. That’s 81% more innings than Clemens! In order for Clemens to be ahead of Young, he would have to be considerably more effective than Young. But is he?
WAT/90 – Clemens is 12% more effective than Young
Based on these numbers, would you say that Clemens was effective enough to balance out Young’s innings? On the surface, I’d say no. But this rating system contains a high (maybe even an unacceptable) level of injustice to Clemens.
I’ve mentioned one factor already, the DH. Clemens clearly faced tougher competition throughout his career than Young because of the DH. In addition, Young was able to dominate his league far easier than even Alexander, and the difference between him and Clemens is greater still. But the largest factor concerns a rule change in 1893. The pitching distance was changed in 1893 from 50 feet to its present distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. Cy Young pitched for three seasons at the 50-foot distance. I included these seasons in my calculations, but I really shouldn’t have; and when you don’t, the numbers change drastically. In short, Young’s effectiveness is exaggerated in our analysis, especially in relation to Roger Clemens.
But what about all of those innings? Again, it’s probably not fair to hold this difference against Clemens because baseball strategy has changed over the years. However, I do hold it against him.
Once again, it becomes a judgement call, and you wouldn’t get any consensus of opinion. It all depends on how you want to rate the differences of effectiveness versus the differences in innings pitched, and it’s difficult to really rate how much more effective Clemens was than Young. Again, I’d say I’m just not sure. But unlike with Alexander, I do think Clemens’ effectiveness makes up for the extra innings that Young pitched. So, I’ll take The Rocket over The Cyclone. But I admit it could easily go the other way. Regardless, I love the irony that Clemens, who has won more Cy Young Awards than any other pitcher, should be so closely tied with the man whose name stands for pitching greatness.
So, here’s my final list of the top seven pitchers of all time.
(** I suspect that Satchel Paige would fall somewhere in this mix too, but of course it’s completely impossible to determine accurately. But, I believe it would be unjust to deny Paige a mention.)
But as I said, it is almost impossible to compare Clemens to the Dead Ball era greats. You can make an argument that he’s third, fourth, or fifth. I think it’s harder to argue that he’s higher or lower than that. What is obvious is that Clemens is probably the greatest pitcher of his era and could likely be the best I’ll ever see pitch in my lifetime (Pedro Martinez is probably a little better but it’s unlikely he’ll pitch enough innings.)
Roger Clemens has mentioned repeatedly that this is his last season. I, for one, don’t intend to miss another one of his starts, because it is clear that he is simply one of the greatest pitchers of all time. And how often can you say you saw one of the greatest ever pitch?
A PITCHER BY ANY OTHER NAME
“….” – Warren Spahn didn’t have one as far as I know, at least not one that can be shared in public
“Pete” – Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched under the nom de guerre of Pete. Three pitchers on this list are know more familiarly to us by their nicknames, and this is the lamest of the three.
“Tom Terrific” – although absolutely true, it’s still pretty weak.
“Cy” – short for Cyclone. Cy’s real first name was Denton. I would probably rank this one as number one if he went by Cyclone, but it loses some of it’s charm when it’s just Cy.
“Lefty” – Robert Moses Grove was called Lefty for a completely obvious reason… he was a southpaw. I’ll admit, it’s not great, but it was my nickname when I played baseball, so he got extra points.
“The Rocket” – not only is it appropriate, it’s pretty cool.
“Big Train” – Notice that the top two nicknames are variations on the same theme, a fast moving mode of transportation. If rockets had existed back in naught-seven, it would have been Walter Johnson’s nickname. I have always thought this was one of the best nicknames ever, because you can just hear the ball swishing by you.