Knick-Knack Notes
June 20, 2005

I flipped through most of the games this evening hoping something would stand out that was worth writing about.  Other than the fact that Casey Fossum seems to be on his way to realizing the potential the Red Sox though he had when they held on to him so tightly a couple of years ago before finally relenting to trade him, there really wasn't anything that required any real analysis.  You don't need me to tell you Jake Peavy is awesome or that Vlad Guerrero can hit.  That said, despite playing on a bad team Fossum is a guy to target for the second half and definitely someone to try to snag in a keeper league.  Say what you will about the D-Rays, but Chuck Hernandez is a pretty good pitching coach.  If a guy has any talent, more often than not he's going to make it work.  Fossum struck out better than a batter per inning over the course of his minor league career with a WHIP of 1.19.  He's not going to pull a Johan but he should be a nice addition especially in strikeout leagues.

Back to Peavy for a second... his 13-strikeout, two-hit performance was the best of his brilliant young career but not dramatically so.  Last September he 3-hit the Dodgers over 8 innings while striking out 11.  He now has 10 career starts against the Dodgers and is 4-1 with a 2.26 ERA against them, easily his best mark against any team against which he's had at least 5 starts.  Teammate Adam Eaton has also put up his best numbers against the Dodgers, going 9-3 in 18 career starts with a 2.51 ERA.  Ironically enough, Oliver Perez, who began his career with the Padres before being traded to Pittsburgh, also has done some of his best work facing the Dodgers with a career ERA of 2.57 against LA. 

The D-backs called up Brandon Medders to help out their bullpen.  Brandon Lyon will probably resume the closer's role if/when he ever returns.  After Lyon, only one other D-back reliever has an ERA under 5 and that's Lance Cormier who gave up 4 runs against the Giants last night to push his ERA to 3.35.  If Arizona stays in the race for a while, they will probably make a trade for a closer although the ranks of eligible quality closers has thinned with Hawkins and Urbina off the table already.  But if they collapse in June - a strong possibility with a rotation that depends on Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz, Brad Halsey and possibly Claudio Vargas - they're not likely to part with one of their top prospects for a rent-a-closer.  Without a healthy Lyon or a legitimate hired gun brought in, Medders could get an audition.  After posting a 1.80 ERA and striking out 11+ batters per 9 innings in the hitter friendly PCL at Tucson this year, he deserves a shot.

Chris Carpenter exacted a bit of revenge this weekend when he one-hit the Blue Jays.  It was just two years ago they released him after he struggled with injuries in 2002 that led to surgery and missing the 2003 season.  As good as he's been for the Cardinals this year and last, he really hasn't made any quantum leaps forward.  Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan has been influential, but probably the most significant change has been pitching in the NL and in front of a better infield defense than he had in Toronto.  Like Roy Halladay, Carpenter is an extreme groundball pitcher (1.99 G/F ratio; Halladay is 2.63) who gets a good number of strikeouts (Carpenter is currently at 8.68 per 9 IP).  That's a nice combo of skills to have pitching in front of exceptional glovemen like Scott Rolen. 

Greg Maddux tied Tom Seaver for 17th on the all-time wins list, but after tonight's game he's only 27 strikeouts away recording 3000 strikeouts with fewer than 1000 walks.  Interestingly enough, Ferguson Jenkins, the only pitcher to finish his career with those same marks, accomplished the feat as a Cub also.  Maddux is still over 100 walks away from 1000 (Jenkins finished his career with 997 to go along with 3142 Ks) so unless Maddux's control completely deserts him over the next couple of years, he'll finish with a better control rate than Jenkins.  The feat sounds a little more impressive than it is - Sandy Koufax would have likely been the first one to accomplish it had he pitched two more years at the same K/BB rate as his last couple of years before he retired.  When Roger Clemens passed 3000 strikeouts in 1998 he also had fewer than 1000 walks.  Obviously, he's pitched a little more since and thus passed the 1000 walk mark for his career.

Speaking of Clemens, he won career number 333 on Friday.  If the Astros would ever give him some run support, he could pass Tim Keefe this year for 8th on the all-time wins list.  But that really doesn't do his accomplishment justice because Keefe pitched when the mound was ten feet closer to home plate plate and it wasn't unusual for a starter to make more than 50 starts in a season.  For a better comparison, only Warren Spahn has more wins (363) since the advent of the live ball in 1920.  Pete Alexander and Walter Johnson pitched after 1920 and also finished with more wins, but they pitched most of their careers during the deadball era.  So since baseball began playing by the same measures we use today, Clemens is second overall in wins to go along with being second all-time in strikeouts. 

Pedro Martinez currently has a 2.76 ERA, which is good for 7th best in the NL, 9th best overall.  However, that's actually higher than his career average (2.71).  More notably, when one compares him to league average he has the best ERA in history (ERA+ of 167) by a wide margin.  The second place pitcher in ERA+ is Lefty Grove at 148.  Shea has historically been one of the most favorable parks for pitchers in baseball and it's conceivable Pedro could finish his career as a Met.  So given his current lead and the park he's pitching in, it's almost certain that Martinez will finish his career with the best ERA ever when comparing his numbers to league average. 

Another pitcher who fares well when comparing to his contemporaries is Randy Johnson.  The 4th pitcher ever to pass 4000 strikeouts, he's not far behind Grove for career adjusted ERA at 144.  Coming back to the AL won't help him there, although Yankee Stadium has played favorably for lefties historically.  But he's also within hailing distance of 300 wins, which is probably the primary reason he was so adamant about coming to the Yankees in the first place.  He's won a World Series already plus netted his fair share of Cy Young awards.  The only thing missing from his "greatest ever" resume is the 300 wins.  With the run support he'd get in New York and Mariano Rivera at the end to assure wins in games he didn't complete himself, he must have thought that 20 wins a season for the remainder of his contract was assured.  It's too bad he didn't know about defensive efficiency; Anaheim might have better suited his purpose.

Of course all sorts of issues arise when comparing players across eras, but there's legitimacy to the argument that we have been witness to four of the top twenty starters ever during the past decade or so.  Given the incredible number of amazing young pitchers - Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Mark Prior, Oliver Perez, Carlos Zambrano, Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Dontrelle Willis and Mark Beurhle are all 26 years old or younger - has there ever been a better time to be a fan of pitching?