June 2012

A little Friday afternoon blogging

A few thoughts from the past week or so of watching baseball (including three games in person, which was quite nice)…

 

* I talked about this some on Twitter last night, but after seeing the Indians and White Sox this week, and after researching them both quite a lot in advance of seeing them, I’m a much bigger believer in the Sox than the Tribe.

 

As I wrote in my column last night, the Sox don’t have many real gaping weaknesses. The ‘pen has been an issue, but the arms are there for it to be plenty good, and of course there’s nothing easier to fix than a bullpen. Alexei Ramirez’s falloff has been really puzzling, but that’s still only one lineup spot. Elsewhere in the lineup, there’s danger even at the spots where there are OBP issues.

 

Meanwhile, I just don’t see a lot to like with Cleveland. The back of the bullpen has been effective, but beyond those three guys, it’s a problem. And three-man bullpens tend to burn out. The rotation only goes about two deep with any real effectiveness, and the lineup has far too many holes. Chicago’s a better defensive team too.

 

Of course, that still leaves the Tigers, who I’m having a hard time getting a handle on, but my expectation is that it will be a Tigers-White Sox race. The opportunity would have been very much there for the Royals if they had had more luck keeping their starters healthy, but the injuries to Duffy and Paulino just look like too much to overcome.

 

* I find myself believing a little bit in the Mets, even after their rough weekend against the Yankees. The lineup is better than it gets credit for (third in NL in runs scored… yes, really), the rotation is solid and deep, and the bullpen… Well, can it really be THIS bad? The NLE is a fascinating division where there are a lot of strengths and a lot of weaknesses, and I’m beginning to think the Mets should buy.

 

* I’ve also been thinking a bit about paces. Nobody ever hits them, and there’s a reason for that. Remember early in the year, the paces that Josh Hamilton was on? Now it’s Joey Votto, on pace for about 70 doubles.

 

Here’s the thing: we only seem to extrapolate guys’ paces when they’re at their absolute peaks. Earl Webb hit 67 doubles in 1931. That means that on AVERAGE, he was at a 67-double pace. Not at his high point. At one point, in mid-July, Earl Webb was on pace to hit 77 doubles.

 

Over the course of a season, a player has peaks and valleys on the way to his final numbers. He doesn’t sustain his hottest stretch for a full season. Joey Votto is almost certainly not going to hit 69 doubles.

 

Doesn’t mean he’s not having a great season, of course. Just a reminder that hot streaks are considered hot streaks for a reason.

 

-M.

A couple of R.A. Dickey nuggets

I’ll be writing about R.A. Dickey in advance of his start Sunday night, and that’ll appear on Mets.com and MLB.com at some point in the next 24-48 hours, so I attended his news conference at Citi Field today.

 

It was, in a word, fascinating. He’s one of the most interesting, thoughtful players I’ve heard speak, and there was a lot of good stuff in the presser. Most of it I’ll save for the story, but I wanted to pass along two things that I thought were particularly of interest.

 

* The first is an anecdote. He was asked whether he takes note of, or enjoys, or whatever, the reactions of hitters to trying to hit the flutterball. And, well, let’s just say the answer is yes.

 

“I do look at reactions of hitters,” he said. “Not only their swing reaction to the pitch I’m throwing, but their facial expressions. For instance, Adam Jones, the first at-bat [on Monday], I saw him talking to Josh [Thole, catcher] and Josh told me what he said. I saw him giggling after a couple pitches, and that right there tells me that he’s going to be struggling with it all night. That’s a bullet in my gun. I’m out there to win the game, and I’m out there to make him go back to the dugout as quickly as possible. So if I have that, that certainly is ammunition.” (emphasis added)

 

He’s a nice guy and an interesting guy. He throws a pitch that has kind of a “cute, cuddly” connotation. He’s also a competitor, and if you give a competitor an edge like that, well, that’s what happens.

 

* Second was something that I saw brought up on Twitter a couple of days ago (I forget who I saw mentioning it, sorry about that). Dickey was asked whether writing a book this winter, and revealing some traumatic experiences (most notably sexual abuse that he suffered as a child), might be contributing to his success this year. In short, whether having that off his chest might help him, or whether that was a stretch.

 

The response: “I don’t think that’s a stretch. I think that’s good insight. I think any time you feel the freedom to be yourself, it’s going to enhance the other aspects of your life. Whether it’s how you are as a father, how you are as a baseball player. That was certainly one of the things that I was hoping for when I wrote it. And as far as the attention that it’s gotten, I’m certainly flattered and my hope in that is that people will learn from my mistakes.”

 

-M, blogging fiend today.

June 22 and 23, 2002, and beyond — some memories

Pardon kind of a freeform post here. Not that they all aren’t, I guess.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, 2002 was my first year on the beat, and in fact the first year I ever held a beat of any kind. As everyone knows, that’s the year Darryl Kile and Jack Buck died. But it was also the year Tino Martinez stepped in for Mark McGwire, the year that 11 different pitchers started a game for the Cardinals before the end of May, the year the Cards traded for Chuck Finley and Scott Rolen, and the year that Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was the most eventful season out of my 10 covering the team.

To top it off, I finagled my way into covering the College World Series for MLB.com that year as well. I was out of town when Jack Buck passed away, and I was out of town when the club held a memorial service for Buck.

And on Saturday, June 22, I was sitting in the press box at old Rosenblatt Stadium one more time, covering the national championship game between Texas and South Carolina, when I heard-but-didn’t-hear something. Surely you all know how that is. Something is said in a crowded room, and somewhere in the back of your brain you’re aware that it was said, but you don’t really hear it. You don’t really process it.

Someone said, “Darryl Kile died.” And I didn’t process it. Then somebody else said it, and I came a little closer to actually hearing it. By the third or fourth time, I actually processed it. This was something that had happened. This was something real.

I got to the work part of things as quickly as I could, but there wasn’t much that I could do. The Cardinals were in Chicago, and my esteemed colleague Carrie Muskat was covering the series. Carrie was on top of everything, and honestly I owe her a huge debt to this day. I remember being in the press box, hearing the news and finally processing it, like it was yesterday. I literally remember nothing else about that day. I’m sure I wrote something off the game. I’m sure I had dinner. I know for a fact that I rearranged my travel plans, but I don’t remember doing that either.

But I know I did it, because I got on a much earlier flight on Sunday than I had intended. I had been scheduled to come back from Omaha sometime in the afternoon. Instead, I adjusted things so I could get on an early morning departure. Flew back to St. Louis, rushed back to my apartment in the Central West End to grab a change of clothes, and made straight for Chicago.

I pulled into a parking lot somewhere near Wrigley at about 3:15 p.m. Rushed to pick up my credential, hustled up to the press box (if you’ve never done that, it’s an endeavor. You take the stairs, and it’s not real close), and basically walked in there right at the moment that the clubhouse was to open.

I walked up to Carrie, tried to take a minute to thank her for carrying the load the day before, and she stopped me before I could even finish. There was work to be done. This is why I love working with Carrie, by the way.

Mercifully, the Cardinals did not open the clubhouse that night. The players didn’t want it, the coaching staff didn’t want it, and I assure you I didn’t want it. I can’t speak for anyone else in the media, but I was extremely relieved. Five years later I was in the clubhouse pregame the day after Josh Hancock died, and I wish I hadn’t been.

They brought a couple of people out to talk to us, and everyone was just in a haze. The game was played in a haze, truth be told. Jason Simontacchi had the unenviable task of pitching on what would have been Kile’s day, and he handled himself as well as could be asked. Kile took pride in the fact that he never missed a start in the big leagues. Taking his spot, under the lights on ESPN no less, was unfair to ask of anyone.

The ensuing days were scarcely any better. We had to write about Kile, but humans grieve in a lot of different ways, and some of these guys simply didn’t want to talk about him — understandably. Matt Morris, who counted Kile as one of his closest friends, just didn’t want to talk about it. As I’ve mentioned here before, Dave Veres was a godsend, because he wanted to talk about his friend. It helped him.

The rest of the season, of course, continued to be tremendously memorable for better and worse. The Cardinals weren’t done losing members of their family; Darrell Porter and Enos Slaughter both passed away in August. The Rolen and Finley trades were huge boosts to a team that played inspired baseball through the summer. The playoff win against the Diamondbacks was uplifting.

And then there’s one last memory I have of that team and that season. I’ve been in a lot of losing locker rooms, including World Series and LCS. I’ve seen some teams take some hits. And I have never, in my time covering baseball, been in a clubhouse as silent, as dejected, as punched in the stomach over the outcome of a game, as the Cardinals after the 2002 NLCS.

They sincerely believed, like no team I’ve been around, that they were destined. They were playing for Darryl and Jack, and for the fans who had their back throughout the season, and for each other with all they went through. There’s always disappointment when a season ends, but that team wasn’t just disappointed. I really feel like they thought they had let people down.

They didn’t, of course. Quite the opposite. That was a remarkable team, and among other things for my money it was the best managing job TLR ever did. But there was no hearing it that night. No “we gave it a good run.” It wasn’t the time for appreciating what they’d done, as far as they were concerned.

Anyway, this is long and rambling, so I’ll stop now. Thanks for reading.

-M.

My favorite — only? — Darryl Kile story

I’m writing a column on Darryl Kile — writing it now, actually, and this blog post is me taking a breather in that process — and the column will be up later this afternoon. As with my remember of Tony La Russa’s career, though, sometimes there’s an anecdote that just doesn’t fit into a story if you want to tell the anecdote right.

 

Kile, as I’ve written and said before, was very tough to cover when he was in St. Louis. I’ve heard that that was not the case when he pitched for the Astros, but by the time he got to the Cardinals, after a stop in Denver, he didn’t like giving interviews. He could be prickly and was always brief. I was in my first year on the beat, my first year on any beat, and in fact had been warned by my predecessor that Kile could be a bear to reporters. He was a big guy, I was a rookie who was totally out of his depth — it’s fair to say I was a little intimidated by him.

 

(Note: please read the column when it goes up, since it’s all about my reflection on the difference between the player that we in the media see and the man that the player is at other times.)

 

Anyway, it was early in Spring Training. I’d been down in Florida for maybe a couple of weeks. The reporters were standing around at the corner of Field 1, waiting for La Russa to come out and hold his customary briefing. Pitchers were tossing, warming up for the day. The nearest pair of pitchers was Kile and Rick Ankiel — Kile near, along the warning track, Ankiel farther, out in the outfield. This was 2002, so Ankiel’s difficulties throwing the ball were already well known and documented. It was a sore subject, to say the least.

 

(Perhaps some other time in this space I’ll share my favorite Dave Duncan story, which also pertains to Ankiel and is extremely funny but would require some heavy editing to fit in a family blog. But that’s for another day.)

 

So we wait, and we watch the pitchers throw. That’s quite a bit of what you do in Spring Training. And after a few, Ankiel throws a ball that drifts a bit, sailing in the direction of the writers. It didn’t sail a lot. It didn’t get away. But Kile had to stretch to get it. And from my angle, it really did look like the ball was coming right at us.

 

So, I said, not loudly and not pointedly, “Heads up.” The universal signal for, “Hey, that baseball could be in someone’s face sooner than later, so you might want to be careful.” Like I’ve said dozens, maybe hundreds, of times over the years at ballparks.

 

Kile caught the ball and immediately turned around. With a scowl, he practically growled, “Who said that?!?!?” I meekly acknowledged that I had, but that I certainly hadn’t meant anything by it. He didn’t follow up, didn’t pick a fight. I’m sure he quickly realized that it wasn’t a shot or a dig at Ankiel — but he didn’t know that at first, and for all he knew until he checked, it might have been. So it was his duty to make sure he had his teammate covered.

 

It was a little thing, but it was very much the essence of what Kile was about when he was around the team. Teammates first, above all else. He’d sent his message — he had Ankiel’s back, and if anybody DID want to get cute, they were welcome to go through him.

 

-M.

Fun with selective endpoints

Upon returning to the office on a Monday morning, I always make a point to spend a good part of the morning poring through boxscores and the standings. No matter how much ball I saw over the weekend, it’s valuable to see those lines, and they typically send me digging up info on a number of players and teams.

So, I figured, why not share it? Following are a few of the numbers and trends I came across while poking around this morning.

 

* I’ve written and tweeted a good bit about the Yankees lately. I guess that’s what living in NYC does. But it’s amusing the degree to which Yankees fans freaked out early in the year. This team is very good, and now they’re showing it. Despite the RISP struggles that have been beaten to death, they’re still fifth in the league in runs scored. That’s likely to climb. But what caught my eye this morning was starting pitching, and in particular two guys who were giving people heartburn earlier in the year.

Ivan Nova’s last six starts: 42 1/3 innings (7.1 per start), 33 K, 9 BB, 5 HR allowed. The latter number is still too high, but overall that’s very encouraging.

Phil Hughes’ last eight starts: 52 1/3 innings (6.5 per start), 49 K, 13 BB, 8 HR allowed. Again, the homers are high, but overall, really good.

 

* Adam Wainwright was very good again on Sunday. Every time he has an iffy start, people kind of freak out, but they’re getting fewer and farther between. The trend line, overall, is very good even if there’s the occasional step back.

Wainwright’s past six starts: 41 IP (6.8 IP/S), 40 K, 10 BB, 1 HR. His past 11 starts: 71 IP (6.45 per start), 66 K, 22 BB, 3 HR.

 

* Eric Hosmer’s overall numbers are still ugly, but he’s definitely coming around after a truly brutal start. Hosmer is at 297/369/473 over his last 24 games, in part because an almost impossibly low BABIP of .165 has corrected itself. Hosmer’s a hitter. He’s going to hit.

BTW, over those 24 games, the Royals are 13-11, even as the previously torrid Mike Moustakas has cooled off a little. Along with Hosmer, Alex Gordon has heated up a good bit over that span (297/423/451). KC is five games out of first in a wide-open division. The Royals remain one of the more intriguing teams around, for my money.

 

* Carlos Zambrano has 21 strikeouts and 21 walks in 30 innings over his past six starts.

* Cole Hamels has 26 Ks and 6 walks over his past four starts… and has allowed 20 runs in those games (six homers will do that).

* Brett Lawrie is at 316/381/474 over his past 19 games.

 

Now playing: Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls”

-M.

Friday tidbits: Yankees, Cain, EJax, and more

A few nuggets, including some baseball, as we head into the weekend…

 

* I tweeted this in brief, but look out for the Yankees. The schedule is pretty meaty for the next few weeks, but everything else seems to be coming together. Bringing David Robertson back restores the bullpen to as strong as it’s going to be in the absence of Rivera, which is to say pretty dadgum strong. Phil Hughes is definitely trending in the right direction, and it appears Ivan Nova is as well. Andy Pettitte has been brilliant. And the offense is going to hit. Even with those heavily publicized RISP and bases loaded woes, the Yankees are fifth in the league in runs per game.

They already have the best record and second-best run differential in the AL, and that’s with quite a bit of sputtering over the first two months. I picked this as the best team in baseball before the season started, and while they may not reach those heights without Michael Pineda, the Yanks are a very good, very dangerous team that appears to be hitting its stride.

 

* Did you know how good a season Matt Cain was having even before his perfect game? His 14 K/0 BB showing brought his K/BB ratio for the year to 6.00, but even before that it was at 5.13, which would be fifth in the Majors. His 2.18 ERA is second in the NL, his 14.9 pitches per inning average is 12th in the league and a career-low. It’s no longer quietly a brilliant year, thanks to the perfecto, but it’s still a brilliant year, a Cy Young-type of season at this point.

 

* Speaking of pitches per inning… I bet if I gave you 25 guesses, you wouldn’t name the most efficient starting pitcher in the Majors so far this season. It’s Edwin Jackson at 13.8 pitches per inning, a drastic drop for a pitcher who’s never averaged fewer than 16.0 and once had a full season where he averaged 18.4

 

* One of my favorite events starts tonight. The College World Series is the best thing in American sports that seemingly nobody knows about (though thanks to some nice work from ESPN, its profile is growing). The ball is tremendously entertaining, the crowds are great, the drama is huge. Do yourself a favor and check it out, and if you ever get a chance to go in person, do not miss it.

 

* There’s been a serious dearth of music talk here at OYNAG lately. Thanks to Spotify, I’ve gotten into a few albums lately, though. After 2-3 listens to a whole bunch of new stuff, my favorites these days are Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock,” Dr. John’s “Locked Down,” Justin Townes Earle’s “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now,” and Red Collar’s “Welcome Home.”

 

* And, finally, a personal note. There probably aren’t two people in the world who are more devoted readers of what I write than my dad and my father-in-law. I couldn’t have a better one of either and I’m incredibly thankful for them both. Happy Father’s Day to both of you. I know you’ll both see this, so thanks.

 

-M.

The second-greatest game in history? A couple of thoughts

If you weren’t watching Matt Cain last night, you missed out. There was so much packed into just the last 3-4 innings that even if he hadn’t completed the perfect game, it would have been a blast to watch. Gregor Blanco’s spectacular play, Cain’s changeup to get Jed Lowrie in the seventh… it was really terrific stuff.

I figure I’m not really going to have anything to add to last night that somebody hasn’t already written. There’s a bunch out there, you should go read it (starting here, but I’m biased). But it got me to thinking about a topic that I wrote about during the spring — the greatest single-game individual performances in history.

One of the candidates was Sandy Koufax in his perfect game in 1965. Koufax held (and now shares) the record for the most strikeouts in a perfect game with 14. That means that he also is tied for the second-highest game score in history, at 101. Game score is not perfect, but it’s a pretty good quick-and-dirty measure of how good a game a pitcher had. The only other 101 (again, before last night) was posted by Nolan Ryan in 1991, when he struck out 16 and walked two in a no-hitter. Kerry Wood holds the record with 105, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, two things.

One is, I think you can make a case that Cain’s game really is the second-greatest performance in history. Although offense is down somewhat these days relative to a decade ago, it’s still not really a pitching-dominated era. The average runs per team per game in 1965 was 3.99. In 1991 it was 4.31. In 2012 so far it’s 4.30.

Taking nothing away from Koufax, who is an all-time great and was brilliant on that night, you basically can’t construct a better pitching environment in the last 90 years or so than Dodger Stadium in 1965. It was an extreme pitchers’ park in an extreme pitchers’ era, and Koufax threw his gem against a team with one of the poorer offenses in the league. A great, special, historic accomplishment, but at a lower degree of difficulty than either Cain or Ryan managed. “Merely” one of the 5-10 greatest nights by any pitcher.

Ryan, meanwhile, pitched his 1991 no-no in old Arlington Stadium, which was not a bad place to hit but isn’t the kind of haven that the new place in Arlington is. Cain’s perfecto came at AT&T Park, which is one of the better pitchers’ parks these days. Slight advantage, Ryan. Ryan faced a team that went on to win the World Series, but it wasn’t a potent offensive club. In fact, the 2012 Astros are averaging ever so slightly more runs per game than the ’91 Jays did (4.26 to 4.22… I was surprised too, but that’s why you look things up). Slight advantage, Cain.

It’s sort of a matter of taste between the two, but I think I’d take the perfecto with very nearly as many Ks over the game with two more Ks and two more walks. But when this is the question you’re asking, second- or third-greatest game ever, that really says it all. There’s sometimes some chatter about becoming desensitized to no-hitters or whether they’re becoming devalued, and in general I just think that’s silly. But even if it were true, last night’s game was not “just another no-hitter.” It was a game for the ages.

The second thing to come from it, though, for me, is an increased appreciation for Wood’s 20-K game in 1998. When I wrote the piece on the greatest individual game, I talked to a wide variety of people in baseball — players, front office folks, broadcasters, analysts, etc. And while there was no clear consensus, the Wood game received more votes and mentions than any other.

The only baserunner was on an infield hit, a roller in the hole on the left side. Wood didn’t walk anybody. He struck out 20, tying the all-time record, and becoming the only person with that many Ks and fewer than three baserunners. He needed only 122 pitches to do it. He did it at a hitters’ park against an excellent team, an Astros club that won 102 games, led the league with 5.4 runs per game and posted a season-long OBP of .354. And he did it in the midst of one of the greatest offensive eras in history.

It may not be the toughest environment you could construct for a pitcher, but it’s in the conversation. And even so, Wood dominated like no one has before or since. ‘Kid K’ hung it up this year, and many tributes were written to him a few weeks ago when he did. But here’s one more: that game keeps looking better the longer you look at it.

 

-M.

Lucky Seven, Interleague edition

1. Best catch to help preserve a no-no: DeWayne Wise, Mike Baxter or Gregor Blanco?

 

2. The Nationals have the biggest division lead of any team in baseball. You buying?

 

3. Who should start the All-Star Game for the NL? Strasburg? Cain? Dickey? Beachy? Lynn? Other?

 

4. Angels and Giants are both 3 1/2 back. Which team has the better chance of winning its division?

 

5. NBA Finals: who ya got?

 

6. GOAT: Nadal, Federer, Sampras, Laver, other?

 

7. It’s Father’s Day this weekend. Tell me something cool about your dad. Mine was/is the absolute king of “creative” cooking and making casseroles out of whatever was in the house. This may not sound like much; trust me it’s a heck of a skill.

 

-M.

The Pirates and reliever workloads

So I just tweeted a little bit about this. It’s something I stumbled across in writing a piece about the Pirates and Indians, which will run on MLB.com on Friday. So, y’know, get ready, Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

 

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about the Pirates a lot, for a variety of reasons. They’re interesting, of course, as a team trying to make a surprising run for the second straight year. They’re unusual in how few runs they score and allow. And they play in a city starved for a good baseball team, a city that is absolutely desperate to come out and believe in them and follow them. I really want to see the Pirates succeed, so I am watching them closely.

 

And I had a notion a couple of days ago, that one of their biggest problems from last year wouldn’t be a problem this year. I wrote this over the winter, but one of the truly critical issues that plagued the ’11 Buccos was reliever fatigue. They had four very good relievers, and they rode them hard. As a result, all four — Joel Hanrahan, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, and Jose Veras — experienced significant fades in the second half.

 

That’s part of why I really liked the A.J. Burnett trade for them, as I outlined here when the deal was made. Burnett brought a high likelihood of a high innings total, and that’s something Pittsburgh needed badly.

 

So when I took a look at the Bucs, and saw Burnett, James McDonald (who I’m also really high on, and have been for a while), and Erik Bedard all putting up very strong years, I just kind of assumed that the relievers would be working less. And then I looked up the numbers, and what do you know, it’s the opposite.

 

Through 60 games, Pirates starters have pitched 340 innings, fourth-fewest in the Majors. Their relievers have pitched 188, ninth-most in the Majors. That’s a bit disconcerting, since once again a big part of the Bucs’ success is riding that excellent bullpen to success in close games.

 

However, I’m not at all convinced they’re doomed to a similar fate, for a few reasons.

 

One is that the innings and the success have been spread across more guys. Pittsburgh has six relievers who have pitched in at least 20 games, and all of them have been somewhere between decent and very good.

 

The second, and this I think is the real key, is that the heaviest workload on the Bucs’ relievers didn’t happen in the early part of last season. Over the first 60 games, Pirates relievers tossed 179 1/3 innings, or just the slightest smidge less than 3.0 per game. It was over the NEXT several weeks that they were really used up. From game 61 through game 101 (the infamous extra-inning loss in Atlanta), they pitched 134 1/3 innings in 41 games, or nearly 3 1/3 innings per game. One extra out per game may not seem like much, but when it’s every single night, you start paying a price.

 

From July 27 through the end of the season, Pittsburgh relievers posted a composite 4.96 ERA. You want to know how a team stops outperforming its pythagorean projection? That’s how.

 

So the question is whether they can avoid putting that kind of stress on those guys between now and the stretch run. I think they can. McDonald has emerged as one of the league’s better pitchers. Burnett is averaging nearly 6 1/3 per start, and it’s 6 2/3 per start over his last seven. Erik Bedard is always a health question, but as long as he is healthy, he should continue to go deep into games.

 

The Bucs need to find a way to score more runs. They need to stay healthy. They need a lot to go right. I’m not writing them into the playoffs by any means just yet. But I think there’s reason to believe that one key cog in their fall last year won’t necessarily be repeated this year.

 

-M.

A little musing on Andre Ethier and Matt Holliday

I had a thought when I started seeing the details of the new Andre Ethier contract, as reported by my friend and teammate Jesse Sanchez among others last night.

 

Not so much about whether it’s a good or bad deal especially; I think I like it a little more than some of my analyst friends do, but not as much as it seems that more traditionally-minded ball writers do. Instead, my mind wandered to some thoughts about context and comparables, and one comparable in particular. Essentially, the Dodgers have given Ethier the second through sixth years of Matt Holliday’s contract, plus the option.

 

Ethier and Holliday are closer in age than I suspect many people think. Holliday is two years older, but his deal started three years earlier, so the deals cover very similar portions of the two men’s careers. His deal covers his age-30 through 36 seasons, with an option on 37, at a clean $17 million per year. Ethier’s deal covers his age-31 through 35 seasons, with an option on 36, at $17 million per year. The Cardinals’ option is a straight club option, whereas Ethier’s deal has a vesting option based on plate appearances. One significant difference: Holliday has blanket no-trade protection. Ethier doesn’t yet, though he’ll reach 10-5 status sometime early in 2016.

 

And in broad strokes, they’re pretty similar players. They both have well-rounded offensive games, with moderate but not spectacular power, solid strike zone judgment but not extremely high walk rates, and not much speed. Holliday is a better hitter for average, but they’re more or less cut from the same cloth.

 

Here’s the thing, though: by pretty much any measure, Holliday does those things better. He’s a better player. He has significantly higher career AVG/OBP/SLG, and before you write that off to Coors Field, Holliday has been better over the past two-plus years to boot. Since the start of his deal, the start of the 2010 season, Holliday has hit 300/384/516 in 340 games. In that same span of time, Ethier has hit 292/364/469 in 334 games. He’s also the better defender by pretty much every statistical measurement that I use and trust. They have similar durability records.

 

There’s not really a huge, block-letter point here, other than this: with every year that goes by, and every new outfielder contract that gets signed, the Holliday deal looks a little better. And I should probably eat a little crow on that. I didn’t hate it when it was signed, but I didn’t love it, either. It seemed like an awfully hefty deal and big risk, but the more context we get as far as other deals, the better it looks.

 

-M.

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