Going around the diamond

Questions on Mark Prior, Leo Mazzone and Mike Hampton, and Roberto Alomar fill up the e-mailbag.

Originally Published: September 10, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Answering e-mail while wondering if maybe the White Sox are not, at this moment, as good as just about anybody in the league ...

    Rob,

    I liked your column on Tuesday, but I don't know about making compensation a part of the eligibility criteria for Rookie of the Year. How would Mark Prior have fit in? I don't know what his salary was in 2002, but I know he got a pretty big contract and I don't think there is too much doubt that if the Cubs had started him all year he would have been far and away the best rookie last year.

    -- Peter

Including his pro-rated signing bonus, in 2002 Mark Prior was paid nearly $1.6 million ... and that's nothing. Josh Beckett was a rookie last year, and made more than $2 million (including his pro-rated signing bonus). Eric Munson was a rookie last year, and made $1.7 million. Mark Teixeira's a rookie this year, and he's making nearly $1.9 million.

Mark Prior
Mark Prior might emerge as the best pitcher in the game.

I don't know if those figures were/are higher than the MLB average salaries, but that's not really the point. The point is that the very top prospects are, when they sign, often given huge signing bonuses and/or significant starting salaries. And I don't think anybody would argue that Mark Teixeira shouldn't be eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award.

I hate to complicate things, because I'm serious about this and complication will lead to disdain. But we probably do need to add something to Tuesday's suggestion, that a player be ineligible for the Rookie of the Year award if he makes more than a certain amount of money. So how about this? A player may be considered for Rookie of the Year if his salary (including pro-rated signing bonus) is lower than the MLB average or he has not already played more than three professional seasons.

No, that's probably not perfect, either. But I think the elements are there for perfection. So, Baseball Writers Association of America, I present you with this idea for perhaps making one of your august awards a bit more relevant in these modern times. And you don't even have to give me a membership card.

    Rob,

    Before the season you wrote that Leo Mazzone deserves a plaque in Cooperstown if he turns Mike Hampton around. Well, Hampton is 13-7 with a 3.74 ERA. He's allowed 11 homers, down from 31 and 24 in his two Colorado years. He's allowed a 685 OPS, down from 860 and 850 in 2002 and 2001 respectively. Can we chalk this up to Hampton moving out of Coors, or to Mazzone's influence, or both? Hampton is not the pitcher he was in 1997-2000, but he's fairly close. Is this a ticket to the Hall for Rockin' Leo?

    -- Shaun Payne

Do I think it's a ticket? No way, because the rules as they're currently configured will make it virtually impossible for a coach to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Do I think it should be a ticket? Well, I wrote it so I should stick by it. And there's not a question about it: somebody has turned Hampton around. While he's not nearly the pitcher that he was in 1999 and 2000, he's made a miraculous recovery from Coors Disease, more even than we'd have expected simply because he no longer does half his pitching in Pitcher's Hell.

So yes, I consider Hampton's success a great piece of evidence in Mazzone's Cooperstown case. Which would have a significantly better chance of carrying the day if the rest of the Braves were pitching so well. Once you get past Russ Ortiz -- who's really not pitching any better with the Braves than he did with the Giants -- and there's not much for Mazzone to hang his hat on.

Still, considering what he's done with Hampton this season, and what he did with Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz for all those years, and how he turned so many castoffs and unheralded prospects into top-notch bullpens ... for all of that, I'm perfectly willing to say that Leo Mazzone deserves to be the first man elected to the Hall of Fame for his performance as a pitching coach. Well, him or Johnny Sain.

    Rob,

    As a Mets fan I'm getting very sick of hearing and reading that Roberto Alomar is just more comfortable with the White Sox, in the American League, playing with his brother, etc, etc. It seems to be accepted in the sports media that Alomar is his "old self" again, and turning it around with the White Sox. Could you please include in one of your columns Alomar's numbers with the Mets and the Sox this season, to demonstate that they are virtually identical?

    Much thanks,
    Tom Kaiser

Ah, the magic of winning.

What's truly amazing isn't that people actually think that Alomar's playing better. What's truly amazing is that Alomar's doing almost exactly for the White Sox what he'd been doing for the Mets.

2003  Games  OBP  Slug
Mets    73  .336  .357
Sox     53  .339  .346

Considering this is almost exactly what Alomar did in 2002, we're rapidly approaching the point at which we might assume that Roberto Alomar the Superstar ain't coming back.

And yet, if you're watching a baseball game and the broadcasters happen to bring up the first-place White Sox, there's an excellent chance they'll mention just how much Alomar and Carl Everett have meant to the Sox. And about Everett, it's true. Since coming to the White Sox from the Rangers, his power has dropped off but he's actually reaching base more often.

Crede
Crede

Konerko
Konerko

But the real key for the White Sox hasn't been Everett, and it certainly hasn't been Alomar. The real key has been exactly what we always thought it would be: getting quality performance from their quality players, specifically in the persons of Paul Konerko and Joe Crede.

Prior to the All-Star Game, Konerko batted .197 with five home runs in 233 at-bats. Since the All-Star Game, Konerko has batted .329 with 13 home runs in 167 at-bats.

Prior to the All-Star Game, Crede batted .225 with eight home runs in 302 at-bats. Since the All-Star Game, Crede has batted .329 with 10 home runs in 170 at-bats.

Basically, the White Sox have gone from having two terrible players in the lineup to having two great players. Except they're the same players.

Absent injuries, it was pretty obvious that Konerko and Crede would turn things around, because both are talented hitters. However, there was no way to predict they'd turn things around this much. But it's the best way to explain the White Sox making up roughly 10 games in the standings over the last couple of months.

    Rob,

    How about giving some play to what the Expos have done -- or rather, not done -- over the last few weeks. In the middle of a pennant race, they called up zero minor leaguers (including breakout player Terrmel Sledge) and made no effort to improve the team. If Todd Zeile counts as an "improvement," I've got a pocket dictionary that I should mail to Commissioner Bud.

    And with no serious plan -- and by all accounts, virtually no effort being made -- to sell the team to an actual owner, where's the outrage?

    -- Jason

I'm not sure what to make of the Expos, Jason. While it's true that Zeile's no longer much of a player and he was cheap, when they got him I did figure that maybe the Expos actually were making the effort to win, especially considering they did pick up both Orlando and Livan Hernandez before the season, and they did not trade Javier Vazquez or Orlando Cabrera.

Lately, though, it's been pretty ugly. You know how all the teams call up at least a few minor leaguers in September? All the teams except the Expos, who didn't call up anybody on September 1, or since. So yes, outfielder Terrmel Sledge still awaits the call, even though he hit .324 with power and patience at Triple-A Edmonton this season.

Sadly for the Expos' future, Sledge is their only prospect who obviously should be in the major leagues right now, but couldn't every manager use an extra arm in the bullpen or a guy who can run a little?

When September dawned, the Expos were still a part of the wild-card race, and at least a few observers have suggested that the majority owners of the Expos -- the baseball owners, don't you know -- didn't want the club getting any help at this late stage. I don't really buy that explanation ... but it surely is strange, what the Expos have not done this month.

    Rob,

    I noticed the current Beane Count standings are very close to the actual league standings, with one glaring exception ... my Cubbies (14th place in the NL). Do you think the Cubs are a fluke or is there some other reasonable explanation for their solid W-L record?

    -- Pat Hurley

Do I think the Cubs are a fluke?

Well, that's something of a loaded question. I do believe the statistics included in the Beane Count -- home runs and walks, both for and against -- are more consistent, going forward, than singles, doubles, and triples. So yes, I do think the Cubs are, if not a fluke, a team that needs to make some changes next season. If they're going to win 90 games, their hitters will have to draw more walks or their pitchers will have to issue fewer.

Since you brought up the Beane Count ... I never intended this as anything more than a fun little thing. I'll admit that I was a bit impressed with my cleverness when I came up with the idea (and ESPN.com's own Jim Baker came up with the name), but it's nothing but a trifle. A toy. So it's a little annoying when people e-mail me in May to say something like, "Hey Professor, I see the (insert flash-in-the-pan team here) are in first place despite their poor showing in the Beane Count. You think maybe it's not as important as you thought?"

Well, I never said it was that important. But you know, it's funny how, when the end of the season rolls around, the teams that hit home runs and draw walks and don't allow a lot of home runs or walks tend to wind up near the top of the standings.

Not that it means anything.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

ALSO SEE