Here are the baseball stories that you won’t find on the sports-media headlines because...well, probably because Ted Thompson, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers aren’t involved.
The A’s Can Catch the Angels
Many people point to the Harden trade as a signal that Billy Beane has thrown in the towel for the 2008 season.
I see it differently. So should you.
Beane astutely understood that Rich Harden’s market value had reached its peak after a blistering first half. Over 13 starts, he had a 2.34 ERA and struck out 92 batters in 77 innings. For comparison, Harden had made 13 starts combined, during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Injuries were the only thing holding Harden from becoming a top-10 starter in baseball. The A’s brass must have been anticipating this moment to deal for years.
Much like he unloaded Mark Mulder for Danny Haren, Kiko Calero, and Daric Barton in the winter of 2004, Billy Beane received a package of prospects for the long haul. Consider Sean Gallagher the Danny Haren of this bundle.
Just 22-years old, Gallagher sports an impressive 4.25 ERA in his debut season. Looking back at Danny Haren’s first season in the majors, we see that he had a 5.08 ERA in 72-2/3 innings when he was just 22-years old. We all know how he turned out.
Another piece of the Harden trade, Matt Murton, has already proved he can hit in the bigs, despite falling out of the Cubs' good graces. Murton’s career .810 OPS should serve well in left field, and he will push Jack Cust to the designated-hitter role, where he belongs.
It will be a tough road to the playoffs, as he A’s find themselves six games back behind the Angels and 6.5 games back in the Wild Card.
However, the A’s have a lot to be excited about.
The A’s have allowed the fewest runs in the majors and 31 fewer than the next best team. So if they had a surplus of anything, it was quality pitching. Their huge run differential (+65) and their Pythagorean W-L record indicate that the A’s should be four games better rather than 51-44.
The Angels, on the other hand, have played way over their heads, with a Pythagorean W-L of 50-45 and have a run differential of just +21.
Chalk it up to a spell of unluckiness that the A’s aren’t ahead of the Angels right now. Don’t be surprised if they switch spots in the near future. I know Billy won’t be.
Not a Dominant Team in Baseball
If you listened to New York sports radio for a few minutes these days, you’d probably think that the Mets are on pace to win 115 games and the Yankees were destined to be delegated to the Independent League.
Not so. In fact, the Mets are merely one game ahead of the Yankees and faring no better than the Brewers or the A’s.
There’s no parity in baseball you say?
The Yankees have the same record as the Marlins, who have spent less on their roster than the Yankees have on Giambi this year. The second highest payroll belongs to the Mets, and they have a worse record than the second lowest spending team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
No team in baseball is projected to win 100 games this year, and the NL West’s division leader isn’t above .500. Not only that, in five out of the six divisions, the lead is less than two games.
The tight competition should make teams yearn for four Wild Card spots in October. And as we all know, there’s only ONE OCTOBER!
Derek Jeter Is Having His Worst Season
Hank Steinbrenner’s mouth has started several controversies this year, but let me mention something he probably refuses to admit: Jeter has been mediocre this season.
Why hasn't anyone brought up the fact that a player who is making $21.6 million this year has a worse OPS than Ryan Theriot?
Derek Jeter is batting .284 /.345/.395 (or a .740 OPS) while the league average is .745. He’s never batted below .290 in a season.
It’s his worst hitting first-half performance since he sported a .730 OPS in the first half of the 1996 season, his first full season in the majors. To make matters worse, fellow New York shortstop Jose Reyes is posting better numbers across the board than “Jetes”.
Don’t think Jeter’s contributions can be measured solely by his bat? Well, Eric Hinske’s six stolen bases thwarts Derek Jeter’s total. Yes, Eric Hinske.
For all the troubles the third-place Yankees have had this season, you’d think that Jeter’s ineptitude would be talked about more often.
Jeter’s Not Alone
A.L. shortstops have been absolutely terrible this year. Sure, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez are no longer star shortstops in the American League, but their replacements are pathetic.
Consider these factoids.
All-Star Michael Young is the only A.L. regular shortstop with a batting average higher than .285. The five regular shortstops in the AL East have a combined 13 HRs or the same as J.J. Hardy of the Milwaukee Brewers. Freddie Bynum and Tony Pena Jr. have amassed 293 at-bats this season.
I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that teams continue to allow Freddie Bynum and Tony Pena Jr. to step into the batters box. I’m serious. I’ve thought about this for a long time.
A.L. Shortstops Are Not Alone
The American League may have snagged their 12th straight All-Star Game victory, but they should feel very lucky.
American League hitting, as a whole, hasn’t been this bad in about 15 years. Runs, hits, and home-run rates are all much lower than they have been. A.L. teams haven’t hit this badly (9.1 hits per game) since 1992 when they compiled a paltry 8.9 H/G. They also haven’t had this low of a home-run rate (0.96) since 1993, when A.L. teams hit 0.92 home runs a game.
Is better pitching to blame?
New Era of Elite Starting Pitchers
Even though the All-Star Game is not the best measuring stick for the best players in the game, it does serve as a barometer of whom the fans, coaches, and players feel deserves a spot.
This All-Star Game may be the sign of younger things to come. For the first time, the names John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Curt Schilling were not on the roll for the All-Star Game—ironic, given the Hall of Fame ceremony before the game.
Just to illustrate how young the starters elected to the All-Star Game are, none of the top-20 active wins leaders were in this All-Star Game, and only Roy Halladay and Carlos Zambrano are listed in the top 50.
The Infamous Omar Minaya Trade
Just before the All-Star break in 2002, the Montreal Expos found themselves in the middle of the NL Wild-Card race. Knowing that it may be the last time they might have the chance to make the playoffs, then-GM Omar Minaya executed a steal of a trade with the Cleveland Indians.
Minaya sent a few minor-league prospects along with Lee Stevens for one of the game's top pitchers, Bartolo Colon.
And by steal, I mean for Indians GM Mark Shapiro. The Expos finished a game out of the Wild Card that year. Oh, and those prospects were Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.
The Upton Brothers Are Actually Identical Twins
You might not find this as cool as I do, but here you go anyway. B.J. Upton’s OPS is .787. His younger brother Justin has a .786 OPS. Maybe Justin hasn’t developed his old-man strength yet?