Talking Baseball

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Posted by Ben K. on Sunday, January 18, 2004

Overhyping the Astros and Pudge's trip to purgatory

Pencils ready everyone? Good, because it's time for a pop quiz.

Name the top five starting rotations in Major League Baseball heading into Spring Training 2004. Boston and the Yankees, you say? Good choices. One through five, these two teams appear to sport the best rotations in baseball. Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, Contreras, and Lieber are as qualified as any 5 and a rotation fronted by Schilling and Pedro with Lowe, Kim, and Wakefield backing up is nothing short of spectacular.

The A's? Of course, with the Big Three, plus a very promising Rich Harden and now Mark Redman, it's hard to go wrong with the Billy Beane's boys. How about the Cubs? Prior and Wood make this a force not to be reckoned with; Zambrano and Clement have huge upside, and talk of adding Greg Maddux must have Cubs fans thinking next year could finally end their curse.

So that brings me to number 5. And the point of my post. After reading Mike's post from yesterday (just scroll down--I'm too lazy to HTML the link in here), I decided that I did not agree that the Astros have the best rotation in baseball. Yes, they are vastly improved and have three frontline starters in Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt. They also have to worry the most about declines in the numbers Clemens and Pettitte will put up next season. According to the incredibly confusing stats over at Baseball Prospectus, Clemens and Pettitte both overachieved last year. Playing with a subpar defense and a superb offense, Roger and Andy both won more games than either should have. Now, they're going to be pitching for a team that may field better than the Yankees have recently, but won't give Clemens practically six runs a start and won't give Pettitte nearly seven runs per game.

The Astros should also be concerned that Pettitte fell two short of a career high for HR allowed in a single season. In 1996, Pettitte surrendered 23 HR while pitching 13 more innings. Last season, the Astros' pitchers gave up 16 more HR than Yankee pitchers, with 89 of their 161 HR coming at home. Pettitte, it seems is not primed for another 21-7 season. While this rotation could easily be the 5th best this season, it's been completely overhyped. I think Boston and New York are much better than the Astros. Within their own division, I think the Cubs are a better bet, pitching-wise, than Houston. In fact, I think the 5th best rotation won't be enough for Houston to make it to the Playoffs. I predict the Cubs to lead the Central; I think the Phillies will win the NL this year. Finally, don't count out Atlanta. Somehow, despite all of the naysayers, Bobby Cox and the Braves have won the East every year since the dawn of time. While the Phillies have been called by ESPN analysts the most improved team, Atlanta just won't every go away.

Houston will be relying on one of the premier setup men in Major League Baseball to close (Octavio Dotel) and a rotation that, while solid, will face many questions. The health of the five starters rests on shaky ground. But if Clemens' legs, Pettitte's elbow, Oswalt's entire body, the band box nature of that left field fence in Minute Maid Park, or a lack of production from the offense all become factors, the fans in Houston will be in for a very long summer.


Changing the subject, I would like to give my two cents on Ivan Rodriguez and the rumors that he's going to sign with the Detroit Tigers. Yes, the same Tigers that lost 119 games last season, and yes, the same Ivan Rodriguez who was instrumental in the Marlins' winning the World Series. If this deal goes through, Pudge will sign for four years and $40 million with a team that has no future and no hope of being good before Pudge retires or becomes a free agent after the 2007 season. Yet, as hard as it is to believe, it looks like Ivan Rodriguez will be behind the plate in a Tigers uniform next season. Pudge will get a chance to play on some of the worst teams in the history of the game. He coulda been a contender; instead, he's ending up back on a team worse than the Texas Rangers. The next time he's a free agent, he'll be 36 and in the twilight of his career.

Of course, I don't feel pity for Pudge. He and Scott Boras, his greedy agent, got exactly what they deserve. (Of course, I'll eat my words if the deal doesn't go down, but it's looking quite likely these days). Pudge, a 32-year-old catcher with a history of injury, wanted his 10 mil a year for four years. He would be 36 years old at the end of his contract, well passed his catching prime. The Marlins, a team with young pitchers and a solid offense, offered him something in the neighborhood of 8 million a year. Pudge could stay on the team where he finally won a ring. He would lead the newly-named Miami Marlins through a few years in their glorious new ballpark in downtown Miami and he would be the hero of South Florida. But he couldn't deal with not getting those 2 million extra dollars.

Instead, he's signed up for a one-way trip to baseball hell. This is no cornfield on a farm in Iowa. He'll play on a Detroit team with Rondell White and Fernando ViƱa. The Tigers may have signed some new players this season, but they've poured their money into oft-injured fourth outfielders and backup infielders. They didn't sign pitching, their one sore spot. While Pudge might be a good choice to develop Bonderman and Maroth into something other than 20-game losers, he won't win. At all. Ever. For all of his years in Detroit. Is $2 million really worth 100 losses?

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