[UPDATE - all the way down at the bottom, I screwed up. Takashi Saito is 37, not 27 - don't know how I misread his player bio, but it happened. I asterisked it twice to emphasize my nitwittery.]
Or, chatting in the place of Joe. [Link goes to the decidedly not-Morgan friendly FJM, since ESPN restricts the chat transcripts to Insider members. Both his original comments and the requisite fisking are there. As always, I cut and paste the questions here, answer them, and then read up later.]
Matt (Watertown, NY): Where do you put the blame for the fall of the White Sox this year? I'm blaming injuries for our demise.. Erstad, Podsednik, Crede, and Dye have been injured, hurting our offense!
NF: No doubt, but the injuries are a symptom of larger issues – the ChiSox are getting old. Thome and Dye are beginning to decline, Joe Crede is coming back to level after a career season, Erstad and Podsednik… well, truth be told Matt, they’re not that good right now. They still have the heart but not the skills to be regulars in the lineup. Also, Chicago plays in a tough division. They had to get better just to keep up with Detroit, Cleveland, and Minnesota; they got worse instead.
Brent S. (fjm): Why are the yankees so up and down ths season? also what are your thoughts on the rocket coming in relief?
[First - note that nifty "fjm" there. Nice shout-out. Brent asks a number of these today.]
NF: The pitching isn’t there for them. Mussina is looking poor, the young guys are hurt or not ready, and even Wang and Pettitte make their fielders work since neither of them is a big strikeout pitcher. It’s constant pressure. As a result, they work harder to get the same outs. Part two of your question is related. Clemens’ relief appearance is a giant neon sign hanging in the Yankee bullpen – We Are Overworked. Proctor, Farnsworth, Vizcaino, and etc. are all seeing more innings than is wise, and pitching poorly in those innings.
Zach (Montezuma, IA): What will the Padres get out of Barrett?
NF: Improved offense, for one. It’s a calculated risk on their part. I think the Cubs cut ties because you can’t have your starting catcher punching out your best pitchers (or getting punched out by them). Barrett knows this and I think that he’ll be on his best behavior because of the extra scrutiny that will follow him (even to San Diego). He can’t risk being seen in a shoving or shouting match with Jake Peavy or Chris Young, or his career will be seriously damaged.
Will (Lexington, KY): the reds have young talent for sure, but can they become contenders with the management they have right now?
NF: Tough to say. Of course, that question will determine what they can get for Junior in a trade… and it’s hard to say until the trade happens how bright the future might be for Cincy. If they only get middle prospects or average players, the answer’s obviously No. If they can bring over a strong prospect and a young current star in a deal for him to a deep contender, then you can be more confident. Thing is, their moves recently haven’t been terrible. I’m hopeful for a turnaround in a couple of years, especially if they can build around Dunn and Hamilton’s bats.
Brent S. (fjm): Are the braves dead?
NF: Not remotely. (Full disclosure – I am a very nervous Mets fan.) I like their young hitters, and they’ll get Chipper up to full speed in a couple of weeks and threaten for the Wild Card at least. As the recent Met slide shows, nobody is a lock in the NL East this year. If the Braves manage a deal for another pitcher, they are a good candidate for the postseason.
Brent S. (fjm): is sammy sosa a hall of famer?
NF: I would vote no. The doping has one side-effect nobody can ignore: stat inflation. Even 500 homers isn’t the milestone it used to be when there are 50 players every season who can hit 2o homers. And it snowballs – in “Game of Shadows” Barry Bonds is shown saying, in effect, that if McGwire and Sosa can get away with obvious juicing, and get the respect I never had simply for being great, then I’m juicing too. Soon guys like Rey Ordonez are juicing too, just to try to hang on in a sport increasingly compromised by inflated power numbers.
NF: Once upon a time, Sosa would have been a prized player – at his peak it’s not hard to see him roping 45 doubles, 25 or 30 (legit) HRs, hitting.280 or so, stealing 15 or 20 bases, and playing a pretty good corner outfield. Not enough now: and he’s one of the guys whose tainted success is directly responsible. I’m going to say no.
mvp (mvpland): will ken griffey jr. get traded if so what team?
NF: He can veto any deal, so a move is going to be more difficult – probably why the media have Dunn on the block every second Tuesday, instead of Griffey. But I think it does get done. In Seattle Griff let slip that he would like to play some meaningful baseball while he still has a couple of productive years remaining. The Reds will try to get it done, for his sake and theirs. Minnesota would make sense; I could even see him going to Boston, with the Sox splitting him in CF and RF, sitting either Drew or Crisp (or sending one of them in return) depending on the circumstances. One of the NL West teams may bite in an effort to separate from the logjam at the top of the table.
Shawn Dayton Ohio: What do the indians need to do before the trading deadline to help them make the final push to the world series
NF: Most teams could use another starter. The Sowers/Westbrook combo has been dreadful for Cleveland. The White Sox would never send Contreras or Buehrle to a division rival, though, so it’s hard to see who the Indians could get. Maybe, perhaps, Dontrelle Willis for the right package.
NF: Oh, and it would help if Josh Barfield could learn to draw the occasional walk.
Bob (Brooklyn): What's more important to evaluate a pitcher: Wins or ERA?
NF: ERA. Thirty years ago, when pitchers regularly finished a third or half of their starts, wins weren’t a bad single-digit stat, but the modern bullpen has made it nearly meaningless. I mean, in ’86 Nolan Ryan led the league in ERA and went 8-16 because the Astros scored less than AC Green. ERA isn’t as bad for a starter because you get to see how much the offense has to do to get a win for the team whenever that pitcher takes the ball.
NF: On a related rant – some stats have to be totally revamped for pitchers, especially relievers. Take the Cubs/Rockies game recently: up five runs in the ninth, Eyre and Howry combine to nearly blow the game – but Soriano bails them out. Who gets the win? Believe it or not, it’s Bobby Howry, with this pathetic line: 1 IP, 3 ER on 3 hits – and two inherited runners scored (both charged to Eyre). Now, granted that Scott Eyre wasn’t at his best, but he came in with two men on in the seventh and stranded them both. Wouldn’t he have been a better choice for a win than Howry, who came in with a four-run cushion and left trailing? For that matter Mike Wuertz tossed a scoreless inning of relief and stranded two inherited runners in the sixth. He gets a HOLD. Quick – who leads major league baseball in holds? (Answer below.)
Jason (Michigan): Hi Fly. Do you think the Tigers will be able to get some breathing room from the Indians in the central? These teams have been 2 games apart from each other for 2 months and it's clear that the Tigers are the better team all around.
NF: One thing the Tigers have that the Indians don’t is more depth to make deals to strengthen their team. They’re tied in the standings this morning and that’s with Cleveland getting reduced production from Sizemore and Hafner, and almost nothing from their fourth and fifth starters. I see that division going to the wire, unless Detroit can shore up their bullpen a bit (it’s their weakest department right now).
Pat ((Ontario,CA)): Do you think Russell Martin is one the best catchers in the game?
NF: He’s playing well right now – and what’s more, a lot of the “name” catchers of the past ten years aren’t around, or aren’t playing well, except for Jorge Posada. You can’t just pencil in Piazza, Javy Lopez, and Ivan Rodriguez on an All-Star ballot like you could for years and years. So yes, this season he’s been very good, especially in the National League where the field isn't as crowded. All the other raking backstops (Mauer, Posada, Victor Martinez, even Joe Buck) are in the AL.
Mike, Rockaway Beach: What team(s) do you like to watch during the week when you aren't working the Sunday night games?
NF: The Mets, as a fan. Honestly, I keep up more through reading and highlights, since I have a day job. (Gee, isn’t it fun to answer other people’s mail?)
Kyle (Kansas): What is the most overated stat in baseball?
NF: THE SAVE. Criminy, it’s useless.
Chad (Austin, TX): Fly, How come you never got into coaching or managing?
[Boy, some of these questions are weird when you don't ask a Hall-of-Fame second baseman.]
NF: I used to coach youth roller hockey. I ref games. Had a doozie last night, actually. I'm guessing you asked because of the recent article on Ryne Sandberg managing in the minors.
Greg (Palatine, IL): Do you think Beurhle going to the Red Sox would be a good move for Boston?
NF: Lefties have to be careful in Boston because of the Green Monster – lazy fly balls become doubles and homers out there. Now, Beurhle has been keeping men off base (1.05 WHIP) and has more ground-outs than fly-outs, so it may be a risk Boston takes if they aren’t going to get Schilling back in good form.
Billy (Michigan): Hey Fly, Who is your MVP for the AL and NL?
NF: Alex Rodriguez has to get consideration because he’s pasting everything in sight. Magglio Ordonez and CC Sabathia have been the best players on first-place teams. Haren's been awesome, but for no real logical reason I think he's more a Cy Young candidate than MVP. In the NL, there’s Jose Reyes, who is in the middle of nearly everything the Mets do, and Prince Fielder is raking. Lots of guys having strong seasons in the NL, actually: Griffey and Dunn; Miguel Cabrera and Dan Uggla in Florida; Bonds has to mentioned, asterisk or not; Chipper Jones, if he can get more plate appearances, may get some notice (1.002 OPS in 54 games).
Bill (Chicago): How come there is so much parity these days?
NF: I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you on that, Bill. Less than halfway through the season, every single division has at least a ten game gap between first and last place. Half the divisions have at least a six-game gap between first and second. Two of the six have second place teams at or below .500. Ten different teams are on pace to lose at least 90 times. Then there’s Boston, Milwaukee, both LA teams, Cleveland and Detroit, the Mets… Toss in San Diego and Arizona, who are both playing well. That’s nine candidates for our two pennant winners. And despite that disparity, we have three very good division races and some heat in both wild card chases.
Fred (Atlanta): Who's the best hitter in the game today?
NF: His name is Alex Rodriguez. He’s a third baseman, playing for the New York Yankees. He is currently the Chuck Norris of hitting. A-Rod didn’t actually hit his last home run – he just glared at the pitch and it hid behind the outfield wall. He once hit a pitch so hard, it went back in time and he drove in Thurman Munson. (You get the idea.)
NF: Pujols has the track record, and is coming around, but nobody’s doing better than Rodriguez right now.
[And your trivia answer? "Who cares." There are probably general managers who don't know how many holds their own pitchers have - on the Official MLB site, you have to hit "Next Stats" TWICE to find "holds" on their stat pages. But the player is Milwaukee's Derrick Turnbow, with 21 holds (and one save) in 25 total opportunities. The rest of the top five are-
Steve Shields, LAA, 19 (and 2 saves) in 25 tries
Jonathan Broxton, LAD, 17 (and 1 save) in 21 tries
Brandon Lyon, ARZ, 17 (and 2 saves) in 23 tries
Tony Pena, ARZ, 16 (and 1 save) in 20 tries
I included saves even though they're silly because when you blow the hold, it counts as a blown save, not a blown hold - so useless or not, they have to stay. Notice that the guys leading in holds are all key pitchers on first-place contending teams - and notice, via this comparison, how the other metrics stack up. Shields and Pena give up fewer than one baserunner per inning; Turnbow's ERA is sort of high but so is his K/9 IP. In general these are guys going into higher-pressure situations than their closers and getting the job done.
Those closers are doing well, too - Saito's got 41 K and only 3 BB, holy crow - but it doesn't always work that way, as Joe Borowski or Todd Jones could tell you. And notice how young those guys are. Only Cordero is older than 27.** Unless a pitcher is just lights-out dominant like he's been, he's largely wasted as a closer instead of a rally-killer.]