Friday, September 16, 2005

AL MVP - The Real Difference Makers

Apparently people actually read this and might be disappointed that I have not updated this blog in a fortnight (I can only wonder why?). I had intended to write about the worlds smallest scorecard (it really was small and I might write about it soon anyway) but instead I shall stick to more ordinary topics till I can finally get moved into a new house.


Its coming to the end of the year and people are starting to talk about who will be the league MVP’s and typically all the Yankee and BoSox fans are once again making us believe that only one of their guys can possibly win the award. Of course they seem oblivious to the fact that despite they have the two highest payrolls in baseball their teams have been hit and miss all year with heavy bouts of ordinaryness and despite their high talent level neither has secured a playoff spot yet (as was predicted before the year) and one might even miss out altogether and not many would have foreseen that at the beginning of the year. So despite this underachieving we are led to believe that we should be looking to A-Rod and David Ortiz to find the AL MVP this year or in other words, who has contributed most to the missing of a teams preseason targets?

For starters, why should the MVP be a middle order guy? People seem to have the fixation with numbers or, to be more accurate, the accumulation of numbers rather than looking at what the numbers mean. The fact of the matter is, there are only two middle of the order guys who actually influence how teams approach the whole line-up and they are Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds. Take Big Papi out of the Boston line-up and they’ll just plug one of many big bats into the order and that machine like offence will roll on, constantly hoping their pitching concedes less runs than they score. Take Rodriguez out of the Yankee line-up and well…nothing really, Sheffield is still the impact bat in the order and Jason Giambi would continue to be the difference maker as he continues his post-confessional renaissance. I suppose the Yankee clubhouse would have more personality.

Now if you really look at the best offences in the league, it starts at the top of the order (except for The Yankees who just don’t so much get bang for the buck as use bucks for bangs). You only have to look at Florida to see a floundering offence due to an ineffective leadoff man (Juan ‘me and Mike Lowell are taking the year off’ Pierre) suddenly get going when they get someone effective at the top of the order (Luis Castillo).

Last year you might remember Boston were getting a good kicking from the Yankees until Johnny Damon suddenly had an idea that a few big hits might help his team. You might also remember that St Louis were almost unbeatable until they decided the World Series was a good time to put a new guy at the top of the order.

Right now the best team in the AL, maybe even in all of baseball, is the Cleveland Indians and those of us with a memory will remember they couldn’t hit for toffee at the beginning of the year (if they could people would be talking about Kevin Millwood and his Atlanta days) and it wasn’t until Grady Sizemore was plugged into the leadoff spot that their season took off and their belated playoff march ensued. Sounds like an MVP to me.

Of course we can’t ignore the White Sox who were far and away the best team in the AL for so long, then Scott Podesednik got injured and it levelled off and now he’s back the ship has started to right itself (we’ll see how their season finishes). So much has been made of Ozzie Guillen and the job he’s done this year (and quite rightly) and of course the pen is great and the rotation is anchored by the oft under rated but undoubtedly superb Mark Buerhle (the win lovers will look past him again for the Cy) but no one typifies the whole Ozzie Guillen ‘Go-Go Sox’ philosophy like Podsednik as he has slapped away and run about as much as he’s been able and has created so much for a light-weight but effective offence.

I like to look beyond the usual suspects and try to stay away from the north-east bias that seems to permeate these issues (although the MVP always seems to come from out West) but we have two teams in the Central who have surpassed expectations and much of that has happened due to the igniters at the top of their line-ups. They might be the best two teams in the AL so can we at least try to look beyond homeruns and think about how else people help their teams and maybe give the likes of Sizemore and Podsednik some credit for what they have meant to their teams?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Felix V The Big Unit

Every now and then there are pitching match-ups that you look at and know that something special is about to occur.

Randy Johnson has long been the dominant lefty pitcher in baseball with his long, gangly frame and the KFC beard staring down hitters and abusing them with his heat and the hard and tight slider which for some reason leaves a lot of lefty batters feeling a bit queezy and wanting the day off.

Felix Hernandez is a 19 year old pitcher who has recently been brought up to the big club and minor league hitters are happy. Yet to fully fill out, Hernandez is able to get his fastball into the high 90's already and throws an assortment of hard and sharp breaking pitches that has seen him climb to the top of Baseball America's prospect ratings. The last time someone came up so early to this kind of hype was Rick Ankiel so lets hope Hernandez has better luck.

In short, this was a match-up between one of baseballs most dominant forces over the last decade and someone who could usurp him as the next immovable object that hitters want to take the day off against.

The game was set up as a landmark event and it lived up to those expectations.

Johnson threw as good a game as he has done in Yankee pinstripes allowing just three seventh inning hits, striking out seven before turning the game over to the bullpen in the top of the 8th. Hernandez countered by going eight and with the help of some great Mariner infield D (I do like Betancourt) matched The Unit for K's and allowed just four hits. The sad thing for Hernandez was that he learned the hard way that Sheffield can juice anyones fastball and, coupled with another solo shot the inning before by Robinson Cano gave New York all the runs they needed as the Yankee pen closed out the game to seal a 2-0 win.

I suppose this game tells us that, even though it hasn't been a vintage season by Johnson, he still rules the roost but Felix Hernandez is right on his shoulder waiting to take over. This kid can hang with the big boys but it might help to have someone other than Gary Sheffield at the plate sitting on a fastball.