Baker's Dozen: The week in preview
Jim Baker has a look at the series to watch in baseball's third week of the regular season.
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This series features the two teams with the best combined records of any other matchup this week. On top of that, it sports the return of Jeff Kent to San Francisco, a place where he most definitely did not leave his heart, but certainly deposited a good deal of bile. Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes him as saying of his decision to leave the Giants for the Astros, "If I thought the Giants were in that same class. I'd probably still be there.'' How is that for WWF-style pre-event hyperbole?
The Astros' Lance Berkman finally drove in a couple of runs on Sunday after a 10-game drought to start the season. We are, all of us, guilty of worrying too much about what players are doing when the season begins. It is human nature to take things at face value. Our minds look at the calendar, see that the third week of the season is about to begin and that one of the better hitters in the game has yet to drive in a run. From this we naturally draw the conclusion that something is amiss.
Of course, it isn't. It is quite possible to go that long without knocking in a buddy and still have a heck of a season. In 2001, Berkman had RBI-less streaks of 10 games, nine, seven and six and still managed to drive in 126 runs. Last year, his longest drought was only six, but he had a whole host of four-game streaks and one five-game RBI hiatus, yet he drove in 128.
Another very good player, one who received a lot of attention for MVP last year, got off to a similarly bad start. Torii Hunter did not score a run in the Twins first 10 games. Last year, he had two six-game run-less streaks and the year before he had one of seven and three of six. In both years he still managed to score over 80 runs. It happens. Don't read anything into it just because it happened to start the season this time around.
It's said every year because we always seem to forget the lesson over the winter: don't even start thinking about worrying until May 1.
Here's something old school that should be modified, in my estimation. It's the ancient baseball tradition of what is totaled in the line score: runs, hits and errors. Why does this persist? Errors are no longer anything like an important part of the game and having them take such a prominent place in the short story version of a game score is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
It has been a while since a single team averaged as much as one error per game. Last year, the average for both teams combined was about 1.3 per game. When this tradition was born, I am not exactly sure, but if had to venture a guess I would say it was in the 19th Century when errors were very much part of the game. In the 1880s, there were as many as 10 errors per game between both teams. By 1890 that number had dropped to seven and by 1900 to under five. This reduction continued gradually to the point that, by 1950, it was at about two per game. Now, as I mentioned, that 1950 number has fallen by a third. (This brings up a question: while it will be impossible to ever have error-free baseball, will we someday get to the point where there won't be but 1,000 errors in an entire season?)
If not errors in this sacred triumvirate, then what? How about walks? Walks are an important part of the game and help tell the story of why there are the number of runs there are much better than do errors in this day and age. In 2002, there were 6.7 walks issued per game. Doesn't it stand to reason that those 6.7 walks affected the score more than those 1.3 errors? Yet the tradition continues. Why? Force of habit. It's a part of baseball that has become routine. At the end of almost every half inning, the announcer will recap what happened by reciting the runs, hits and errors. That's over 40,000 such mini-recaps, about 95 percent of which contained "no" as the numerical error count.
I say it's time we make the switch to walks or men left on base or something that has a little more relevance.
Since the season was only a week old last week, I relied on 2002 records to identify the matchups. This week, I'm switching over to the 2003 records, so there are going to be a few surprises in the early going -- like this one. By winning their first nine games, is it already safe to say that the Royals are going to escape the 100-loss ghetto? Not definitely, but it's a pretty good bet. They still don't have enough to contend and have not even guaranteed themselves a .500 season, but, in order to lose 100 games, they'd have to go 53-99 from here on out. With 16 games left with the Tigers, that might prove difficult.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "defeated in detail?" It comes from military encounters and was probably bandied about once or twice over the course of the past couple of weeks on some of your news channels. It basically means that the whupping was a thorough one. I bring it up here because the Tigers haven't just been getting defeated these last two weeks, they have been getting it in detail. In this case, I don't mean that they're getting blown out every time, because they're not. I think the phrase is appropriate because they haven't been getting any leads.
They have now played 99 innings this year and have led for a grand total of 13 of them. Seven of those innings came in one game, their victory over the White Sox on Saturday. What might be even more disturbing is that they have only been tied for eight additional innings -- and that includes scoreless ties at the starts of games that hold until the first team scores. No less than five times so far, their opponents have scored in the first inning and never looked back. That, to me, is getting defeated in detail.
Their manager, Alan Trammell -- a man who will have to conjure up something like 110 post-game loss clichés this year -- says: "I'm sure people are thinking it's the same old story, which I guess it is. But the first thing is that we're not going to quit."
I have to ask, would there be any discernable difference if they did?
Here's some mail:
Jim: What are the specific criteria for the awarding of a "Hold" to a relief pitcher? Can you quote, or point me to the MLB rule on it?
This is how I understand it, George:
A "hold" shall be awarded to any pitcher who shows up in a clean uniform and comports himself in a manner thought to be in keeping with the guidelines of good sportsmanship. If, for any legitimate reason, a pitcher finds that he cannot attend that day's game but would still like to receive a hold, he may present a notarized letter explaining his absence and one may be awarded him at such time as the official scorer sees fit to review the situation.
Speaking of letters. I get a lot from readers who often express the following sentiment: "I sure would like baseball a whole lot better if it had more statistics." Well, here's another one: Hold Percentage. This is calculated by taking the number of Holds a pitcher has and dividing it by the number of relief appearances he made less saves with which he was credited. Here are the 2002 leaders in this highly questionable category (minimum 20 holds):
Ricky Bottalico (.500 on 15 holds) and Terry Adams (.444 on 12), both of the Phillies, would have rated had they gotten more holds. Look for Hold Percentage not to have a life beyond the punctuation mark at the end of this sentence.
Here are some more fun Hold facts. You don't have to be a good team to have a lot of them, but it helps. Pittsburgh led the majors last year with 96, although the next four teams made the playoffs. You also don't have to be a bad team to have very few of them, but again, it helps. The Yankees and Red Sox, winners of nearly 200 games between them, finished 25th and 26th in the majors in holds. The next four teams were Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay, however. A bad bullpen is the key for being at the bottom -- obviously -- and the Red Sox, Cubs and Royals had pretty bad ones last year. Of the five teams with the least amount of holds, all had terrible records in one-run games except for Detroit, which finished 23-23 in that category last year, a huge improvement on their record in other games.
The Indians are out of the run scoring business. That used to be their paper route, but they've given it up almost entirely. Well, they will have by the year 2010 if this trend continues:
Indians runs per game:
2003: 518 projected
It seems hard to believe that it was only four years ago that they were scoring runs at twice the rate they are now. Not that they will continue at their current pace. Rookies Brandon Phillips and Travis Hafner will start to pick it up and Matt Lawton has had a rough first 30 at-bats. They should be able to get within shouting distance of last year's run total. Having been to the mountain top so recently, though, this downturn must be especially jarring for Indians fans. Ten years ago, the team had been down so long their older fans had forgotten what success looked like and their younger ones simply never knew it. Now, the blueprint is fresh in their minds.
6. Mystery Matchup of the Week
? vs. ?.
One team almost moved in 1974 and their opponent once gave indications that it was not long for its locale by scheduling regular-season games in another city, much like the Montreal Expos are doing this year. Who are they?
Jim Baker writes Monday through Friday for ESPN Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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