Thursday, October 27, 2005

Congrats Sox. Again.

The White Sox won it all in convincing fashion. An 11-1 record in post-season plus 5 game winning streak at the end of the regular season. Plus holding the Astros scoreless in their last 19 innings at bat. The 2005 White Sox may not go down in history as one of the greatest teams, but they should be remembered at how they won. Party on.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

DH Rule Gives AL Team Series Advantage

You read it right. The Designated Hitter Rule gives the advantage to the American League team in the World Series. And in interleague play for that matter. This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, which is wrong, and I'll prove it. Read on...

Conventional wisdom says the NL team has the advantage, but this is only so because it doesn't look at the DH rule from an objective point of view, but from a subjective point of view. Here's how it goes: When a game is played in the NL park, the AL team, which is used to having a DH in the lineup, is penalized by not being allowed to use the DH. This is an AL disadvantage. In the AL park the NL team, which is used to not having the DH, gets to add a bat to its lineup, which is an advantage for them. Some people even carry the argument further by pointing out that in the NL park, where both teams have to bat their pitchers, the NL pitchers have had the benefit of both hitting and taking batting practice during the year, giving the NL team the advantage. Some go even further and suggest that to rid this "unfair" NL advantage the DH rule should be changed to allow each team to use "what it used go get to the World Series." That is, the AL team should be allowed use the DH in all 7 games while the NL team shouldn't.

This view is prevalent throughout baseball. I've heard commentators, broadcasters, fans and even life long baseball people hold this view. But it's wrong. Why is it wrong? Because it looks at the argument in terms of hitting, which is a subjective thing as opposed to looking at it in terms of the designated hitter rule itself, which is an objective thing. It's easy for us Americans to look at things through the rose colored glasses of hitting, because we love offense, and especially the home run. This is so even though we know that pitching is 70% of the game. To show just how skewed the conventional wisdom is, let's now look at the DH rule from a different subjective point of view. The point of view of pitching. The resulting conclusion will be the exact opposite. Here it is:

When a game is played in the NL park, the AL team, which is used to facing a tough lineup with a DH in it, now has an advantage because it gets to face an easier lineup with a pitcher instead of a DH. This is an AL advantage. And in the AL park, the NL team which is used to facing a lineup of 8 position players and one pitcher is now facing a much tougher lineup. This is an NL disadvantage. Plus, in the AL park when both teams can use the DH, the AL team gets to use a specialized player who has spent all year hitting, and who is usually one of its best hitters, while the NL team has to scrape a utility player off the bench to use as a DH. This utility player has spent most of the year on the bench and isn't as good a hitter as any other of the players in its lineup. That's why he's on the bench to begin with! And to carry the argument the same further step as the conventional wisdom argument, maybe each team could have "what it had to get to the World Series." That is, the NL team should get to face a lineup with 8 players and a pitcher, while the AL team should get to face a lineup with a DH. Even with this the AL team would still have the advantage because the hitter an NL team could put in its lineup wouldn't be as good as the quality DH hitters the AL team is used to facing. Maybe to rid us of this "unfair" AL advantage, the NL team could have the option of drafting a player from another team. To be fair, this player could be limited to free agents who have just completed their contract with a non-contending team.

If this last view seems like nonsense to you, it's because it is. But, it's the same argument, point by point, as the argument from the hitting view. It's no more absurd as the conventional view. Now I'll look at the DH rule from an objective point of view and use actual history to prove my point. This view will look at the rule from the view of the DH itself.

In the AL park, both teams get to use the DH. Both of their lineups are made up of the same components. Eight position players plus a DH. In the NL park, both teams again have the same lineup. Eight position players plus a pitcher. Even though it's true that NL pitchers have batting practice and hitting experience during the year which would give them a slight advantage in games played in the NL park, this advantage is nowhere near the advantage the AL team has in using its own DH, while the NL team is limited to choosing bench players to use as a DH. If we look at history, AL teams that make it to the World Series usually have a very good to awesome DH in their lineup. This hitter is usually a huge part of its winning. He bats in the heart of the order. But in the NL, no team ever makes it to the Series because it has good hitting pitchers. They simply don't have the influence. They bat at the bottom of the order, and there's a different pitcher everyday. Collectively they don't hit very well at all. Consider also that in the NL park the AL team can insert their DH into the field to gain his bat or use him as a great pinch hitter off the bench. This is a liberty the NL team doesn't have. And if the NL team uses it's bench player as DH, if the player is a good late inning defensive replacement, the NL team can't use him in the field without losing the DH slot in the lineup.

The easiest way to make my point is to list the DH's that have been used by both leagues in the World Series. The AL teams have had used heavy sluggers, including four current and possibly two future hall of famers. Most of the hitters were at the tops of their careers when they made it to the Series. The NL teams have used nobodies that nobody remembers. Bench jockies that had a hard time even making a starting lineup. Most of the AL DH's are the likes of Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson (Hall of Fame), Hal McRae, Don Baylor (twice), Dave Parker (twice), Harold Baines, Chili Davis (three times), Dave Winfield (HOF), Paul Molitor (HOF), Eddie Murray (HOF), Cecil Fielder, David Justice (twice), Darryl Strawberry, Jason Giambi and David Ortiz. Wow! These guys are awesome! And what about the NL pine riders? Dan Driessen, Lee Lacy, Vic Davalillo, Lonnie Smith (four times!), Keith Moreland, Garth Iorg, Kurt Bevacqua, Danny Heep, Terry Pendleton (twice), Mike Davis, Ernie Riles, Hal Morris, Brian Jordan, Jim Eisenreich, Jim Leyritz, Jose Hernandez, Keith Lockhart, Lenny Harris, Erubiel Durazo, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Shawon Dunston, Jeff Conine and Marlon Anderson. Who?

I think you get my point. How could anybody after looking at those lists even consider the NL to have an advantage? If you do you would have to take Lee Lacy over Reggie Jackson, Marlon Anderson over David Ortiz, Jeff Conine over Jason Giambi, Danny Heep over Don Baylor, Ernie Riles over Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith over Dave Winfield, and on and on. If you still think the DH rule gives the advantage to the NL, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. And if you act now, I'll throw in Ebbetts Field.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Holy Toledo!" Remembering Bill King

How sad it was to hear of the passing of a legend. I realized that I had listened to Bill my whole life. What makes a man like Bill King so special is not necessarily his peculiarity, because he certainly was peculiar, but his familiarity. Amazing calls of last-second long bombs for thrilling Raider victories, witty and eloquent descriptions of A's home runs, and rapid-fire accounts of a Warriors fast break certainly spoke for his talent and his personality. But simply hearing his voice for three hours at a time, every day for decades, while working in the yard, doing the dishes, driving in the car or falling asleep on the sofa was what won the heart.

The mundane in broadcasting is what constitutes the greatness of the broadcaster. Holy Toledo, Bill, I will miss you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

One Strike Away!

Wow, could this be 1986 all over again? Both the Angels and the Red Sox who beat the Angels were one strike away from the Pennant and Series victories. One in game 5 and one in game 6.

The Astros were one strike away when Eckstein was at the plate. Each base runner then Pujols' homer quieted the frenzied crowd successively until it was dead silent. If the Cards pull this one off, the next home game for Houston will be opening day.... next year.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Longest World Series Droughts

Here's a list of how long it's been for each team not to have won a world series. Years in parenthesis mean that team has never won, and the year listed is the year when they were an expansion team or moved to their current city

1908 Chicago Cubs
1917 Chicago White Sox
1948 Cleveland Indians
1954 San Francisco (1958) & New York Giants
(1961) Texas Rangers (1972) and Washington Senators
(1962) Houston Astros
(1969) San Diego Padres
(1969) Milwauke Brewers (1970) and Seattle Pilots
(1969) Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals (2005)
(1977) Seattle Mariners
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates
1980 Philadelphia Phillies
1982 St. Louis Cardinals
1983 Baltimore Orioles
1984 Detroit Tigers
1985 Kansas City Royals
1986 New York Mets
1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
1989 Oakland A's
1990 Cincinnati Reds
1991 Minnesota Twins
1993 Toronto Blue Jays
(1993) Colorado Rockies
1995 Atlanta Braves
(1998) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2000 New York Yankees
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks
2002 Anaheim Angels or Los Angeles or whatever
2003 Florida Marlins
2004 Boston Red Sox
2005 ???

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Congrats, White Sox.

Okay, now you have the opportunity of eliminating one more team from the list who hasn't won a Series for a longer time than the Giants. Last year it was the Red Sox that scratched 1918 off the list. And with the finsh the Indians had this year, will 1948 fall next year? Ouch, that would leave the Cubs 1908 and Giants 1954.

Last year I was actually cheering for St. Louis to beat Boston, mostly out of jealousy for the Giants' long suffering, but also because I don't like the Red Sox. This year is different. The ChiSox have been so harmless over my lifetime, and even though they play in the 3rd largest market, the Cubs get all the ink. I might root for the NL team, but won't despair if the Sox take it all. I just wonder how the Cubs fans are taking all this.

Congrats to the Sox and their fans, you've waited several lifetimes. I just wish it were the Giants playing you.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

The Weird Division Series

I'm not a fan of the division series and I've figured out why. Originally I was opposed to another round of playoffs being added to baseball. But there are also some odd things that go with the division series.

For instance, it's only five games. In 1985 after baseball realized that the 5 game LCS just wasn't doing it, it stretched it to 7 games. I know of nobody that disagrees with that move. Yet, we're back to a 5 game series. There are also too many of them. Four going on at once with odd playing times. The 2-2-1 format, while superior to the old 2-3 format that prevented the opening team from viewing the clinching game on their field, has that weird one game at the end. Some teams have to travel 3000 miles late at night just to immediately head back home again.

But the biggest reason it's not a hit is I believe is this: the winner of the division series doesn't win anything except being able to advance on to the LCS. When a team clinches first place it wins the division flag. Or crown or championship, or whatever you call it. It wins a title. It gets bragging rights over the other teams in the division. It gets to print up T-shirts and raise a flag on opening day. A big celebration takes place. The same with the pennant. Win the LCS and you win the league. Again, bragging rights and a title. A trip to the World Series. Raise a flag. With the World Series you get the biggest prize of all. The trophy, a ring, the title and a parade. With each clinching of the division, pennant and World Series, there are tangible rewards, something to play for, spoils, booty and take home.

Win the division series and there's nothing to take home. No flags, no bragging rights, no rings or titles. It doesn't even have an MVP award. It's also the biggest yawn of them all. I like the LCS the best.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Playoff Schedule Nightmare

Well, the playoffs are here with us again. That means several precious idiocies thrust upon us for yet another October. TV is in the middle of it, of course. I'll have to explain each item first before I put them together to make my point. Bear with me.

The first idiocy is the homefield advantage brainchild. Another NFL lightbulb. The three division winners in each league are ranked or seeded for the playoffs based on their final records. Home field advantage for each series played is based on a combination of these records and the teams that are remaining (for the LCS). If two teams tie with the same record, NFL type tie-breakers are enforced.

The second idiocy is the TV ratings-based time slots for all playoff games. The top ratings draw team matchups are placed in the top TV time slots. Of course this just guarantees the Yankees the lion's share of prime time, and should I say, sensible, time slots. Eight-oh-five Eastern time is not too different from their normal 7:35 starts. The ratings bottom dwellers have to painfully endure late night games after early day games and West coast twighlight finishes. Not only that, but as each of the ongoing playoff series are concluded, time slots are re-shuffled based on the remaining matchups' ratings potentials. Teams may have no idea when they're playing their next games.

The results of all this? If a high seed TV slot series has a chance of finishing their series early due to a 3-0 sweep, the other series can move up only if that series actually ends. I remember a situation where the top TV seed had the prime time slot (late game, East Coast time) with a chance to end their series that night. Another team would play their game either at 1pm or 7pm the next day, depending on the outcome of the late game in the other league. The late game went extra innings and didn't end until after midnight. So the fans and teams in the time-to-be-announced game went to bed that night not even knowing the time of their game the next day. If you're a fan with a job and you have tickets, you're screwed. Just tell your boss you'll be taking the entire month of October on flex time.

With the homefield advantage pecking order combined with last-minute playoff spot clinches during the last weekend of the season (many times on the last day of the season), and all contending teams jockeying for position, ticket holding fans (season ticket holders are forced to buy tickets in "strip" format, that is, all possible games that can be played at the time of purchase) may not even know until Sunday afternoon who or even if they'll be playing on Tuesday, and even whether the game is at home or on the road, and even the time. The LCS is the same way. If you're a non-homefield advantage division winner, you'll either host games 3, 4 and 5 or 1, 2, 6 and 7 depending on whether the HFA or lower seed team wins.

In 2003, Giants fans found out at the last minute that they would host mid-week day games against Florida in games 1 and 2 of the division series. Not an easy ticket to use or sell even for a team that sells out its entire season. I remember seeing front row seats next to the 3rd base dugout for sale on eBay at face value on the day of the game... with NO offers. I woulda gone, cept'n I hadda work.

Baseball's nightmaringly complex playoff bowl of spaghetti makes it very difficult for fans to plan to go to games. No wonder few LDS games sell out. Baseball's post season used to be very simple and orderly. LCS series alternated home field advantage each year, East one year, West the next. The ALCS started on Tuesday one year, Wednesday the next with the NLCS the opposite. The World Series alternated from AL to NL, year to year. It used to be that a fan could say, "three years from now, game 3 of the NLCS will be in the Eastern city on Friday" or something similar. Now, only God knows.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Earth to Selig: Nix the NFL Tie-breaking System

Fenway Green Monster Standings: "Boston 96-66; New York 96-66"
Selig: "Well, actually since New York had the same record that Boston did, it wins the division. Of course the team that has a worse record against inferior teams wins the tie-breaker."
Baseball Fan: "Huh?"
Selig: "That's right. The team with the worst record against inferior teams wins."
Baseball Fan: "I don't get it. Huh?"
Selig: "It works like this. If you have a better head-to-head record against the team you're tied with by x number of games, since you have the same record it logicall follows that you have a worse record against other teams by the same x number of games. And since you're tied for first place, all other teams (which are NOT in first) have a worse record than the two teams that are tied. So, since the Yankees went 10-9 against the Red Sox, they had a 86-57 record against inferior teams, while the Red Sox had a 87-56 record against all other (inferior) teams. Since the Yankees had a worse record against inferior teams, they win the division."
Fan: "This is stupid!"
Selig: "Hey, don't blame me, we got this idea from the NFL. This way we don't have to have a playoff game that will make history, and instead the season finale can fade into a dud."
Fan: "I don't even want to watch football now."

What a waste. The Yankees "clinched" the division only to lose their one game lead on the final day and fall into a real tie with Boston. Baseball has adopted nonsense as rules with the NFL-ization of the national pastime. What's next, an "in-the-grasp" rule for collisions at home plate?

Baseball is the thinking man's game. Football is not, and never will be. Traditionally, baseball has resorted to settling differences (both teams' claim to a title despite having the same record, for example) via the playoff. Since baseball is an every day sport, it has that luxury. Football doesn't so it needs to resort to gimmicks not associated with a final showdown on the field. Instead it relies on a complex system of nonsense tie-breakers. Head-to-head records, records within division, against common opponents, point differentials, yardage differentials, coin tosses. These have nothing to do with who is the better team. One year, I remember the last week had some bizarre playoff spot twists. The Vikings were trying to make the playoffs, and the tie-breaker with another team was down to a point differential. They had to beat a team by 30+/- points more than another team's win. So, with a three touchdown lead and 4 minutes left, they were throwing 80 yard bombs instead of running out the clock, trying, not to beat their opponent, but, to beat the point differential. The opponent on the field was suddenly not the issue. How lame.

Baseball has adopted the wild-card and tie-breaking systems from the NFL and is the worse off for it. There's only one place anything should be settled at all. That's on the field. You listening, Mr. Selig?

Sunday, October 2, 2005

In the End in the End

As a followup to my post about the Braves' 14th division title, a startling thing came to mind just yesterday. For the past nine seasons, the last pitch of the Braves' year has resulted in watching the opposing team celebrate the winning of a post-season series. The Yankees streak is at four seasons watching the other team celebrate, while the Twins' 3 season streak was snapped this year by not making the playoffs at all.

Ten straight, boys?