Author: Matthew Pouliot

Pirates Fans

98-win Pirates deserved better than one-and-done


Well, it had to come down to this. Because baseball’s postseason is more about making money than fair play, the teams with the second- and third-best records in baseball played a one-game series on Tuesday night. And the team with the second-best record lost.

In a just world, the Pirates and Cubs would have opened a seven-game NLDS tonight. Not that seven games really tells us who the best team is, either, but it’s certainly more illustrative than one game. In the last two years, the wild card Pirates have gone up against Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta in games with no margin for error. They went down quietly in each, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when Cy Young contenders are at the top of their games.

Baseball isn’t about to eliminate its divisions, so this is the kind of thing that’s going to happen all too often. Unfortunately, good teams are doubly punished for playing in strong divisions. They deal with tougher schedules during the regular season, and they often deal with harsher seeding when it comes to the postseason.

Make no mistake, the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs didn’t simply rack up their strong records this year by beating up on a pair of also-rans in the Brewers and Reds. The NL Central was 99-62 against the NL East and 89-76 against the NL West (the big three were 66-33 against the NL East and 69-30 against the NL West). The 97-win Cubs had five wins on the Dodgers for the NL’s third-best record. Maybe the margin wouldn’t have been that significant if the Dodgers had something to play for in September, but they did go 17-13 in their final 30 games, giving them a practically identical winning percentage to their 92-70 full-season mark.

But, again, baseball isn’t getting rid of it’s divisions. And it probably won’t follow the NBA’s lead in discounting divisional standings when playoff time comes around. Which doesn’t seem like very good news for the Pirates at all. The Cubs are looking like a future juggernaut, and the Cardinals show few signs of slowing down. The Pirates have quite a bit going for them, too, but they’ll be the third favorite in the NL Central next year and just getting to another winner-take-all wild card will again be an accomplishment.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Who will make up the next wave of Hall of Fame starters?

Tim Hudson

Tim Hudson’s retirement has me thinking about what we’re going to be looking at for new starting pitching Hall of Famers a few years down the road… just how many and maybe who should go in from the group that’s debuted the last 15 years or so.

But we need some perspective first before trying to figure that out. We’re working on a remarkable stretch in which five starting pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame on their first ballots these last two years. On the other hand, no starting pitcher who retired in between Nolan Ryan in 1993 and Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in 2008 has been elected.

So, let’s look at the Hall of Fame starting pitchers of the last 50 years. Right now, there are 17 of them whose prime years started in 1966 or later. I’ve broken them down by 10-year timeframes, starting with 1966-75, and also listed other pitchers still receiving or deserving of consideration. Each pitcher is slotted into the timeframe in which he was most valuable.

Bob Gibson 82 WAR, 127 ERA+ in 3,884 IP
Catfish Hunter 37 WAR, 104 ERA+ in 3,449 IP
Fergie Jenkins 83 WAR, 115 ERA+ in 4,501 IP
Juan Marichal 62 WAR, 123 ERA+ in 3,507 IP
Phil Niekro 97 WAR, 115 ERA+ in 5,404 IP
Jim Palmer 68 WAR, 125 ERA+ in 3,948 IP
Gaylord Perry 94 WAR, 117 ERA+ in 5,350 IP
Tom Seaver 106 WAR, 127 ERA+ in 4,783 IP
Don Sutton 69 WAR, 108 ERA+ in 5,282 IP

Tommy John 62 WAR, 111 ERA+ in 4,710 IP
Jim Kaat 45 WAR, 108 ERA+ in 4,530 IP
Luis Tiant 66 WAR, 114 ERA+ in 3,486 IP

Obviously, this is the big group, from a time in baseball history in which excellent hurlers were able to rack up huge inning counts. The result was nine Hall of Famers, plus three more guys who still receive support.

Bert Blyleven 97 WAR, 118 ERA+ in 4,970 IP
Steve Carlton 84 WAR, 115 ERA+ in 5,218 IP
Nolan Ryan 84 WAR, 112 ERA+ in 5,386 IP

Jack Morris 44 WAR, 105 ERA+ in 3,824 IP
Rick Reuschel 68 WAR, 114 ERA+ in 3,548 IP
Dave Stieb 57 WAR, 122 ERA+ in 2.895 IP

Here it thins out, and we see the makings of the 1980s drought; the three HOFers here were all at their best in the 1970s. Morris is the only true 1980’s pitcher with a chance of being elected. The BBWAA turned him down, but it’d be a surprise if he doesn’t sail in through the Veterans Committee.


Roger Clemens 139 WAR, 143 ERA+ in 4,917 IP
David Cone 62 WAR, 121 ERA+ in 2,899 IP
Bret Saberhagen 59 WAR, 126 ERA+ in 2,563 IP

And now we have no Hall of Famers from this decade, if only because of Brian McNamee and the steroid allegations against Clemens. Of course, Maddux was also a huge part of this era, though he was slightly more effective in the following one.

Tom Glavine 74 WAR, 118 ERA+ in 4,413 IP
Randy Johnson 104 WAR, 135 ERA+ in 4,135 IP
Greg Maddux 105 WAR, 132 ERA+ in 5,008 IP
Pedro Martinez 86 WAR, 154 ERA+ in 2,827 IP
John Smoltz 67 WAR, 125 ERA+ in 3,473 IP

Kevin Brown 69 WAR, 127 ERA+ in 3,256 IP
Mike Mussina 83 WAR, 123 ERA+ in 3,563 IP
Andy Pettitte 61 WAR, 117 ERA+ in 3,316 IP
Curt Schilling 81 WAR, 127 ERA+ in 3,261 IP

The recent surge. We have five Hall of Famers here and two guys who should join them eventually in Mussina and Schilling.

So, obviously, we don’t have any sort of even distribution when it comes to starting pitchers and the Hall of Fame. 14 Hall of Fame starters debuted in between 1955 and 1967 and then none debut in between 1971 and 1985 (or 1983, if you want to include Clemens). From this upcoming 2006-15 group, there’s no way to start right off and say that history dictates three or five or seven of these guys should eventually go in. And we also have to reconcile that these candidates just aren’t going to get the chance to match the inning and win totals of the great ‘70s pitchers.


Mark Buehrle 60 WAR, 117 ERA+ in 3,276 IP
Zack Greinke 48 WAR, 122 ERA+ in 2,087 IP
Roy Halladay 66 WAR, 131 ERA+ in 2,749 IP
Cole Hamels 45 WAR, 124 ERA+ in 2,005 IP
Felix Hernandez 50 WAR, 128 ERA+ in 2,262 IP
Tim Hudson 57 WAR, 121 ERA+ in 3,124 IP
Clayton Kershaw 47 WAR, 154 ERA+ in 1,607 IP
Jon Lester 35 WAR, 120 ERA+ in 1,793 IP
CC Sabathia 55 WAR, 117 ERA+ in 2,984 IP
Johan Santana 51 WAR, 136 ERA+ in 2,026 IP
Justin Verlander 44 WAR, 122 ERA+ in 2,105 IP

That’s 11 names. I just wanted to list the candidates clearly more than halfway to Cooperstown, so I left off Max Scherzer, David Price, Madison Bumgarner and younger options.

What we have here is one guy shaping up as an inner-circle Hall of Famer in Kershaw, one more should-be certainty in Halladay and a third guy who just needs to survive as a quality pitcher into his mid-30s in Hernandez.

Some might question my opinion of Halladay, given the rather short career. However, he was far and away baseball’s best pitcher in a 10-year span from 2002-11. He racked up 62 WAR in those seasons, whereas the next best guys were Santana at 50 WAR and Sabathia at 48. He won two Cy Youngs and had cases for two more. He’s clearly in for me.

Santana is the tougher call. I value peak more than longevity, and he had a run as baseball’s best pitcher before Halladay overtook him. He practically lapped the field in a five-year span from 2004-08, racking up 35 WAR. The next high totals were Brandon Webb at 27 and Roy Oswalt at 26. That 35 WAR matches Kershaw’s total during his current incredible five-year run. So, yeah, when the time comes, I’ll make a case for Santana and the Hall of Fame. I don’t think he has much of a shot, though.

Then we have Greinke, Hamels and Verlander. Whereas King Felix has already had all of the big seasons he needs for a strong case, those three are going need more years of Cy Young contention in order to sway future voters. Greinke and Hamels seem like the better bets right now. Some may scoff at Hamels, but he’s just 31 and he’s second to Kershaw on the WAR list over the last five years.

Lester could be a special case. He has a long way to go by the numbers, and he’d seem to be a weaker bet than Greinke and Hamels going forward. However, he’s already pitched for two World Series winners (with a 3-0 record and a 0.43 ERA in World Series play), and he seems well set up for more chances at postseason heroics over the next several seasons.

That leaves us with the Buehrle-Hudson-Sabathia group. Buehrle, incredibly enough, is the active leader in pitching WAR, even though he’s never had a season with a sub-3.00 ERA and he’s received Cy Young votes just once in his career, that when he finished fifth on the 2004 ballot. The lack of greatness figures to cost him in the end, particularly since it doesn’t appear that he’ll try to hang on and continue to eke out wins into his 40s.

Sabathia looked like a future Hall of Famer three years ago, but his case has taken a huge hit since. Through age 31, he had 191 wins and a 125 ERA+ in 2,564 innings. In the three years since, he’s won just 22 more games with a 4.85 ERA that’s knocked his career ERA+ all of the way down to 117. What we’ll need to ask was whether the greatness that came before was sufficient. He won a Cy Young and turned in four other top-five finishes. There’s not really any span in which he was baseball’s best pitcher, but for seven years from 2006-12, he was a close second to Halladay. His postseason track record is mixed; he came up big in 2009 when the Yankees won the Series and he’s 9-5 overall, but that comes with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. Sabathia is pretty much the borderline Hall of Fame candidate for me.

How about Hudson? He has a better ERA+ and more innings than Sabathia. His best seasons came when offense was at its peak, making them look less impressive. It also doesn’t help that he was still competing with the likes of Johnson and Martinez in his prime; his best five-season run of 27 WAR from 2000-04 places him a distant fourth behind those two and Schilling. Hudson is rather like a lesser Mussina, and while I mean that in a good way, it certainly doesn’t bode well for him that Mussina himself can’t get elected.

Fortunately, we have plenty of time to think about these things. Sabathia and Hudson might look like better or worse candidates a few years from now, depending on how pitchers like Greinke, Hamels, Lester, Scherzer and others progress. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does. No one was making cases for pitchers like Cone and Brown while such obvious Hall of Famers were winding down their careers.

When things are said and done, I’d like to think that at least five pitchers from the above group wind up in Cooperstown. If I had to guess, I’d go Kershaw, Halladay, Hernandez, Hamels and Greinke. Still, I hope the cases of Sabathia and Hudson aren’t quickly dismissed.

Can we talk about how awesome of a season Bryce Harper is having?

Bryce Harper

After seeing a column today suggesting, of all things, that Yoenis Cespedes should be the NL MVP, it occurred to me that some might not realize just how outstanding Bryce Harper has been this year. Let’s recap a little bit.

– Harper is currently in line for the sabermetric triple crown, leading the NL in average (.333), OBP (.465) and slugging (.640). There are several challengers in average, and Joey Votto could still overtake him in OBP. The slugging title would seem to be wrapped up, though.

– His .465 OBP would be the highest mark for a batting-title qualifier since Chipper Jones came in at .470 in 2008 (Votto finished at .474 in 2012, but he played in just 111 games).

– Harper’s .640 slugging would be the highest mark since Albert Pujols finished at .658 in 2009.

– His 1.106 OPS would be the top mark since another Pujols season in 2008 (1.114). He’d join Pujols as the only other player to finish above 1.100 in the last 10 years.

– His 198 OPS+ (adjusted for league and ballpark) would be the highest mark in either league since Barry Bonds’ 2004 campaign.

– He leads the NL in runs scored at 101.

– He leads the majors at 8.7 rWAR. That’s a higher total than anyone finished with last year, even though there’s 24 games left in the Nationals’ season. Prorating his current figures gives him 10.2 WAR, which would be the highest total for an NL player since Bonds finished at 10.6 in 2004 (Mike Trout came in at 10.8 in the AL in 2012).

Harper’s season is set to go down as one of the five greatest for someone 22 or younger in the history of the game. Here are some single-season leaderboards, using players only 22 or younger (must qualify for the batting title).

.552 – Ted Williams 1941 (22)
.465 – Bryce Harper 2015 (22)
.463 – Jimmie Foxx 1929 (21)
.458 – Mel Ott 1930 (21)
.449 – Mel Ott 1929 (20)

.735 – Ted Williams 1941 (22)
.673 – Joe DiMaggio 1937 (22)
.640 – Bryce Harper 2015 (22)
.637 – Jimmy Foxx 1930 (22)
.635 – Mel Ott 1929 (20)

235 – Ted Williams 1941 (22)
198 – Bryce Harper 2015 (22)
193 – Ty Cobb 1909 (22)
179 – Mike Trout 2013 (21)
177 – Stan Musial 1943 (22)

There aren’t any flukes on those lists. Harper is currently 11th on the rWAR list for 22-year-olds and younger, but he’s on pace to finish third. Everyone around him went on to have a Hall of Fame-type career.

10.8 – Mike Trout 2012 (20)
10.6 – Ted Williams 1941 (22)
9.9 – Rogers Hornsby 1917 (21)
9.8 – Ty Cobb 1909 (22)
9.7 – Eddie Collins 1909 (22)
9.4 – Alex Rodriguez 1996 (20)
9.4 – Stan Musial 1943 (22)
8.9 – Mike Trout 2013 (21)
8.8 – Rickey Henderson 1980 (21)
8.8 – Dick Allen 1964 (22)
8.7 – Bryce Harper 2015 (22)
8.5 – Alex Rodriguez 1998 (22)
8.3 – Eddie Mathews 1953 (21)
8.2 – Cal Ripken 1983 (22)
8.2 – Al Kaline 1955 (20)
8.2 – Joe DiMaggio 1937 (22)

None of this is an MVP argument as much as an appreciation. Trout has spoiled us the last few years, but for sheer firepower, he hasn’t matched what Harper is doing right now. Unless you were lucky enough to have witnessed Ted Williams 74 years ago, you’ve never seen a 22-year-old hit like this.