Monday, March 26, 2012

Will Chipper Jones keep his .300/.400/.500 career batting line?

UPDATE: He did! The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer batted .287/.377/.455 in 448 plate appearances to finish his career with a .303 batting average, .401 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage. He is the seventh player to post a .300/.400/.500 slash line over 10,000 or more PA.

Last week, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones announced that he is retiring at the end of season. The seven-time All-Star and 1999 NL MVP is not only a no doubt Hall of Famer, but one of the greatest third baseman in history.

He ranks 34th all time among position players in Baseball-Reference WAR (82.7 bWAR) and ranks 35th in Fangraphs WAR (87.5 fWAR).

Mike Schmidt is just about a lock as the all-time greatest 3B, but in setting the 2-6 spots it's wide open between Jones, Eddie Mathews, George Brett, Wade Boggs and Brooks Robinson. Here are the all-time leaders in bWAR among those who played 50% of their games at third base:

Mike Schmidt 108.3
Eddie Mathews 98.3
Wade Boggs 89
George Brett 85
Chipper Jones 82.7
Brooks Robinson 69.1
Ron Santo 66.4
Scott Rolen 66.2

Keep in mind that Alex Rodriguez lurks at 45% (1081 of 2402 career games at 3B). He should move onto this list after another couple of seasons at the hot corner. As it stands, 43.6 of his 104.6 bWAR (41.7%) have been accumulated since his move from SS to 3B in 2004.

Heading into his farewell season, Jones holds a batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .304/.402/.533. Amazingly, only six other players with at least 10,000 plate appearances have hit the .300/.400/.500 mark:

Tris Speaker .345 .428 .500
Ty Cobb .366 .433 .512
Babe Ruth .342 .474 .690
Mel Ott .304 .414 .533
Stan Musial .331 .417 .559
Frank Thomas .301 .419 .555
Chipper Jones .304 .402 .533

Needless to say, that is incredible company. We're talking about five top-tier Hall of Famers and a soon-to-be one in Thomas.

Several other players join the list if you lower the PA requirement, among them are Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Edgar Martinez, Rogers Hornsby and Larry Walker. However, Jones reaching 10,000 speaks to his longevity and his ability to stay at peak performance for a long time.

After all that, the question I'm looking to answer today is "Can Chipper Jones maintain his remarkable .304/.402/.533 career batting line?"

His .533 career slugging percentage ranks 46th on the all-time list. He would have to have 562 consecutive hitless at bats to fall below the .500 mark, so he'll definitely keep that.

Keeping the .300 batting average is a little tougher, but very doable. He sits at .3042 (2615-for-8597) right now. Last year he batted .275 (125-455) and if he repeats that in the same number of at bats, he'll finish at .3027 lifetime. With 455 at bats again this year, he only needs to hit .222 (101 hits) to stay over .300. Of course, if he has fewer AB's in 2012, this season's performance has an even smaller impact on his career numbers, lowering the bar further.

While he'll definitely stay over .500 slugging and will almost certainly keep his batting average over .300, the last hurdle will be doing enough to keep his .4021 on base percentage over the .400 line.
He had a .344 OBP last year and if he repeats that over 455 at bats in 2012, his career mark will dip to .3993. He needs just a slight uptick in that category, or the same OBP over five fewer at bats to stay over .400.

So will he be able to get on base enough in 2012 to stay over .400?

Here are his 2011 AB and OBP totals along with ZiPS, Marcel and ESPN projections for 2012. The third column is what his post-2012 career OBP will be according to each projection:

2011 455 0.344

ZiPS 361 0.343 .3998
Marcel 429 0.342 .3994
ESPN 420 0.347 .4000

Average 403 0.345 .3996

As you can see, it's going to be extremely close and something to keep an eye on throughout the season. Whether or not he gets it, you can count on Chipper's induction at Cooperstown in the summer of 2018. Since this could also be the last season for Mariano Rivera as well, this distant class is already shaping up as a great one.

Friday, March 23, 2012

BREAKING: Twins were psyched out by Yankees in playoffs

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer have confirmed what we all suspected. That during the ALDS in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, the Twins were intimidated by the Yankees and were, as Heyman put it, beaten before they started:

Hunter recalled one 2004 ALDS game the Twins lost where they had a runner on third with one out down a run against the great Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Twins manager called on a young righty-hitting Lew Ford to bat against Rivera, and Torre recalled Ford turning down the pinch-hit assignment. "You need a righty hitter against Rivera with his cutter,'' Hunter recalled. But according to Hunter, Ford shook his head no. So Gardenhoire turned to another kid, Jason Kubel, a lefthanded hitter, who Hunter recalled getting jammed. "Kubel wasn't afraid, but he's a lefty hitter,'' Hunter said.

I'm sure most fans thought something like this. Those Twins teams were very good, but when they came to the Stadium, a lot of weird things would happen and the Yanks would pull out yet another tight victory before rolling on to the ALCS. While standing in to face Mariano Rivera is an unenviable task, I think it's pretty crazy that Lew Ford would turn down a pinch-hitting assignment, let alone in a playoff game. I attended several of these games and I've decided to try and find the game that Hunter is talking about.

Looking at Jason Kubel's postseason gamelog, he made two appearances in the 2004 ALDS. One was a pinch-hit appearance in Game Four in which he doubled off Tom Gordon in the eighth inning of a 5-5 game. He started at DH and hit sixth in Game Two at Yankee Stadium, going 0-for-6 with a game-low -0.36 WPA.

Johan Santana outdueled Mike Mussina 2-0 to give the Twins the opener the night before. The Yankees led the second game 5-3 in the top of the eighth when the Twins rallied with one out against Tom Gordon. Jacque Jones reached on a strikeout/wild pitch and moved to second on a single by Hunter. Joe Torre then turned to Rivera for a five-out save.

Justin Morneau hit Mo's first pitch for a single to bring home Jones and cut the lead to 5-4. Corey Koskie worked a great eight-pitch AB and served a ground-rule double to plate Hunter and shockingly tie the game.

Now comes the at bat in question. Hunter misremembers slightly, saying the Twins were down a run when he had actually just scored the tying run himself. The Twins were poised to take the lead with runners at second and third and only one out. Hunter says Ford "just shook his head no" when Gardenhire called on the righty to pinch hit.

Hunter also says Kubel got jammed, when in fact, he struck out on three pitches. The next batter, Cristian Guzman, tapped out softy back to Rivera to strand the runners and end the inning.

The score held at 5-5 into the 12th when Hunter cracked a solo homer off Tanyon Sturtze that put the Twins three outs away from taking a 2-0 series lead back to the Metrodome.

Of course, it was not to be. Joe Nathan, 32 pitches into his outing, began his third inning of work. With one out, Nathan walked Miguel Cairo on five pitches and Derek Jeter on four pitches. Alex Rodriguez was next and he came through with a ground-rule double. Cairo scored to tie the game and Jeter was now 90 feet away representing the winning run. Five years later, Rodriguez would famously get the best of Nathan in the ALDS again.

Back to 2004. Nathan intentionally walked Gary Sheffield to load the bases and set up the double play with Hideki Matsui coming up. Gardenhire called on the southpaw J.C. Romero to replace Nathan. Matsui hit the first pitch into shallow right. Jones made the catch, but his throw home was not close as Jeter scampered home with the winning run. The series was tied and the Yankees went to Minnesota and took the next two games to advance.

History repeated itself. The year before, the Twins took Game One in New York before dropping three straight. That comeback began on my 17th birthday, when the Yankees broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the bottom of the seventh to win Game Two. I was at that game and thoroughly enjoyed Gardenhire's postgame excuse that Ronan Tynan's rendition of "God Bless America" took too long and got his team out of rhythm.

The Yankees swept Minnesota in 2009 en route to the World Series crown and again in 2010. They won 12 of 14 games over the four matchups, including all seven games played in Minnesota.

Was this all because of that famous MYSTIQUE and AURA? Of course not. The Yankees had home-field advantage in the first three sets and here are the win totals of the two clubs for each season:

2003: NYY 101 MIN 90
2004: NYY 101 MIN 92
2009: NYY 103 MIN 87
2010: NYY 95  MIN 94

The Yankees were the better team in each of the four seasons, even holding a better record as a wild card team than the Central-winning Twins in 2010.

Having said that, there was definitely a Murphy's Law factor in all of these series. The Twins held leads in seven of the 12 games they lost. There were a ton of goofy things that all went the Yankees' way, from baserunning miscues in big spots, to Joe Mauer's double-that-wasn't, to Joe Nathan turning human.

As for the 2004 ALDS, this Yankee fan kinda hopes Minnesota had won and spared New York from the 3-0 collapse against Boston in the next round.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Opening Day Starters for Defending Champs (Continued!)

Yesterday, I wrote about Kyle Lohse and where he will rank among the Opening Day starting pitchers for recent reigning World Series champions. I concluded that Lohse ranked at the bottom of the list.

In the initial post, I only covered those from 1950-2012. Now I will examine the rest. The list is below.

Bob Feller
Allie Reynolds
Howie Pollet
Hal Newhouser
Ted Wilks
Hank Borowy
Mort Cooper
Red Ruffing
Paul Derringer
Red Ruffing
Red Ruffing
Red Ruffing
Lefty Gomez
Schoolboy Rowe
Dizzy Dean
Carl Hubbell
Lefty Gomez
Flint Rhem
Rube Walberg
Lefty Grove
George Pipgras
Herb Pennock
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Vic Aldridge
George Mogridge
Bob Shawkey
Hugh McQuillan
Art Nehf
Stan Coveleski
Dutch Ruether
Carl Mays
Eddie Cicotte
Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth
Dick Rudolph
Bullet Joe Bush
Smoky Joe Wood
Jack Coombs
Chief Bender
Howie Camnitz
Orval Overall
Orval Overall
Nick Altrock
Red Ames
Cy Young

Now this is filled with legends: Young, Ruth, Alexander, Grove, Hubbell, Feller. Also included are Smoky Joe Wood, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez and Hal Newhouser.

Guys like Dutch Ruether, Bullet Joe Bush and the rhyming duo of George Mogridge and Vic Aldridge had unspectacular careers but very solid peaks of three-to-five years that keep them out of consideration for the bottom spot.

Here are those "contenders":

Ted Wilks (1945 STL)
Hank Borowy (1944 NYY)
Flint Rhem (1932 STL)
George Pipgras (1929 NYY)
Hugh McQuillan (1923 NYG)
Nick Altrock (1907 CWS)

Here they are listed by their average seasonal Baseball Reference WAR (Career WAR, ERA+):

Avg bWAR Career bWAR Career ERA+
Wilks 1.6 15.4 119
Borowy 1.4 14.0 104
Pipgras 0.9 10.1 99
McQuillan 0.7 7.4 95
Rhem 0.4 5.1 98
Altrock 0.4 6.0 96

Wilks, a wartime standout for the Cardinals, is included because his career bWAR was so low. I had never heard of him and was intrigued to see that he was one of the early star relief specialists. In 1944 he went 17-4 with a 2.64 ERA and league-leading 1.07 WHIP. He helped the Cards take down the Browns in the All-Saint Louis World Series, closing out the clinching sixth game by going 11 up, 11 down though the last three and two-thirds innings. He and Bobby Jenks are the only pitchers to close out a World Series in their debut season. He was tabbed with the Opening Day start in '45 before he shifted to a bullpen role in 1946, winning all eight decisions that year. In 1949 and 1951 he led the National League in both saves and appearances. Over his last six seasons, from 1948-53, he registered a 121 ERA+.

Borowy had a fine rookie season for the Yankees in 1942, going 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA that ranked fifth in the league. His year ended on a sour note as he was drilled for six runs in three innings in Game Four of the World Series against St. Louis, the eventual champs. He exacted revenge the next year, pitching a gem in Game Three of the Fall Classic to snap a 1-1 tie with the Redbirds and help lead New York to the championship. He averaged 3.0 bWAR for his first three seasons, but the Yankees surprisingly sold him to the Cubs in July 1945. The move angered Yankees skipper Joe McCarthy and was reportedly a key factor in his resignation.

Borowy went 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA down the stretch (think Rick Sutcliffe in 1984) as the pickup helped the Cubs hold off St. Louis for the '45 pennant. In the World Series against the Tigers, he pitched a six-hit shutout in the opener and lost Game Five. He came back the next day and worked four innings in relief, getting the win when Stan Hack doubled home the game winner in the 12th. But Charlie Grimm went back to him after an off day to pitch Game Seven. The gassed ace allowed three singles to start the game and was quickly removed. All three came around to score as Detroit scored five runs in the first inning en route to the title. The Cubs have not been to the World Series since. Borowy is unique in that he is the last Cub to both win and lose a World Series game.*

*For a long time, he was the only player to win ten games in a season in both the American and National Leagues. In '45 he was 10-5 with the Yanks and 11-2 with the Cubs. Bartolo Colon joined him in 2002 when he went 10-4 with both the Indians and the Expos. For more on Borowy, this is a great bio on the SABR website.

Pipgras earned the 1929 starting nod for the defending champion Yankees after winning Game Two of World Series sweeps in 1927 and 1928, against the Pirates and Cardinals, respectively. He had a particularly strong 1928 season, as he ran up a 4.2 bWAR and led the AL in wins (24) and innings (300.2).*

*The last pitcher to throw 300 innings in a season was Steve Carlton of the 1980 Phillies

Starting with that 1929 opener, Pipgras went 67-53 with an ERA+ of an even 100. He pitched in one other World Series game and it's a famous one. He was the winning pitcher of Game Three in 1932 at Wrigley Field, the day that Babe Ruth may or may not have called his shot. He closed out his career with the Red Sox and became a minor league umpire after retiring, reaching the majors and working the American League circuit from 1939 to 1946.

McQuillan came up with the Braves and after he posted an ERA+ of 90 over his first four and a half seasons, Boston dealt him to the crosstown rival Giants in July 1922. The right-hander was serviceable down the stretch with a 106 ERA+, but really stepped up in the World Series. In Game Four, with the Giants up 2-0 on the Yankees (Game Two ended in a tie), he turned in a complete-game 4-3 victory that put the Giants one win from the title. They clinched the next day. He got the Opening Day start in 1923 and contributed solid seasons in '23 and '24, winning 29 games with a 122 ERA+. 89 percent of his career bWAR was run up over these two years (6.6 of 7.4). He followed with three lackluster seasons and finished his career back with the Braves.

In 1932 St. Louis Cardinal Flint Rhem, like George Mogridge of the '25 Senators, was sent to another team after starting on Opening Day for the defending champions. He led the NL in wins in 1926 with 20 as the Cards beat the Yankees in the World Series.*

*Rhem surrendered two home runs to Babe Ruth in Game Four of the '26 Series. After Rhem left the game, Ruth connected for another one off Hi Bell to become the first player to hit three home runs in a World Series contest. Ruth would do it again at Sportsman's Park in Game Four of the '28 Series as the Yanks rolled to a sweep. Of course, Ruth has since been joined by Reggie Jackson ('77 GM 6) and Albert Pujols ('11 GM 3)

Rhem, a drinking companion of Hall of Fame teammate Grover Cleveland Alexander, put up a decent 110 ERA+ from 1926-28 and from 1930-32. In the middle of a productive run, he spent the 1929 season in the minor leagues due to disciplinary issues. He worked an inning of mop-up duty in the 1931 World Series and after winning his second title, he started the opener the next year. That June he was sold to the Phillies, where he was worth 3.2 bWAR the rest of the year, a career high despite only making 20 starts with Philly. He bounced between the Phillies, Cardinals, Braves and Cardinals again from 1933-36 (75 ERA+) to wrap up his career.

Nick Altrock began his big league playing career with the Louisville Colonels in 1898 at age 21 and ended it in 1933 at age 57. In between, he was briefly one of baseball's best young hurlers, a key to one of the great upsets in World Series history and one of the game's greatest clowns.

From 1904 to 1906, Altrock averaged 21 wins and 2.9 bWAR with a 108 ERA+ for the Chicago White Sox. The 1906 club had the worst batting average in the league (.230) and slugged .286 (32 points below the league average). However, the pitching staff led them to the World Series against crosstown Cubs, who won a record 116 games and were huge favorites. Altrock landed the first punch for the ChiSox by beating Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown 2-1 in the opener. Brown answered in Game Four by outdueling Altrock 1-0 to even the series. But Ed Walsh and Doc White won the next two games as the "Hitless Wonders" stunned the Cubs to take the crown.

The lefty started the 1907 opener and battled injuries through the next three seasons before being traded to the Washington Senators. He was just about through as a player by 1912 at age 35, but he was just getting started as a coach. He soon started a comic act in the coaching box that was very popular and he would later work with another former pitcher and future "Clown Prince of Baseball," Al Schact.

Altrock periodically moved from the coaching box to the batter's box or pitcher's mound as a late-season publicity stunt, often for only one game. That includes the last day of the 1924 season, when he made his last appearance on the mound and cracked a triple at the age of 47. He came up for individual plate appearances in 1929, 1931 and 1933, the last coming when he was 57! He and Minnie Minoso are the only major leaguers to play in five different decades (both had publicity-stunt plate appearances for the fourth and fifth decades).

I'll conclude this 3,000 word monstrosity by saying that while Kyle Lohse got the nod yesterday for the 1950-present group, he competition in Nick Altrock and Flint Rhem. In fact, Lohse and Rhem are remarkably similar:

Lohse 102 106 4.64 94 1762.0 527 1095 1.403
Rhem 105 97 4.20 98 1725.1 529 534 1.441

Wow. The only major difference is in strikeouts, but thanks to this amazing chart from High Heat Stats, you can see that Rhem's K numbers are actually better since strikeouts are much more prevalent today. Both are below the league average for their time, but Rhem's was 92.8 percent of the league average while Lohse's is 84.2. To hammer it home some more, Joel Pineiro, Carl Pavano and Ismael Valdez are all among the top seven in similiarity scores for both pitchers.

After the Mariners and A's square off for two games in Japan next Wednesday and Thursday (six days away!), the stateside start to the MLB season is April 4 in Miami. The Marlins will open up their sparkling new ballpark (with fish tank and crazy home run structure!) against the defending champion Cardinals. The man on the mound for St. Louis will not be either of the aces Carpenter or Wainwright, but journeyman Kyle Lohse. When Lohse takes the hill, he'll have a hard-drinking kindred spirit there with him. And his name is Flint.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Opening Day Starters for Defending Champs

As Joe Strauss reported in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Chris Carpenter has a bulging disc in his back and Kyle Lohse will get the Opening Day start for the reigning World Series champions.

That prompted this tweet from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus: "Meaningless info, but I wouldn't mind if someone compiled a list of defending WS champs opening day starters to see where Lohse ranks."

Ah, meaningless info, my specialty, As you would suspect, Kyle Lohse will rank near the bottom of the list of guys who have gotten the ball for the defending champs' first game. Below is the list of Opening Day starters for the team that won the World Series the previous season (since 1950).

Tim Lincecum
CC Sabathia
Brett Myers
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Chris Carpenter
Mark Buehrle
David Wells
Josh Beckett
John Lackey
Randy Johnson
Roger Clemens
Orlando Hernandez
Roger Clemens
Livan Hernandez
David Cone
Greg Maddux
Juan Guzman
Jack Morris
Scott Erickson
Tom Browning
Dave Stewart
Tim Belcher
Frank Viola
Bobby Ojeda
Bud Black
Jack Morris
Scott McGregor
Bob Forsch
Jerry Reuss
Steve Carlton
Bert Blyleven
Ron Guidry
Ron Guidry
Woodie Fryman
Gary Nolan
Vida Blue
Catfish Hunter
Catfish Hunter
Dock Ellis
Dave McNally
Tom Seaver
Denny McLain
Bob Gibson
Dave McNally
Claude Osteen
Bob Gibson
Sandy Koufax
Ralph Terry
Whitey Ford
Bob Friend
Don Drysdale
Bob Turley
Warren Spahn
Whitey Ford
Don Newcombe
Johnny Antonelli
Whitey Ford
Vic Raschi
Vic Raschi
Vic Raschi
Allie Reynolds

It's quite a list, filled with Hall of Famers, Cy Young Award winners and World Series MVP's. There are some interesting entries in here. As far as I can tell, only three were not on the previous year's championship club, David Wells (2005 Red Sox), Roger Clemens (1999 Yankees) and Woodie Fryman (1977 Reds).

Wells signed with Boston after spending the '04 campaign with San Diego. Curse-breakers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe signed with the Mets and Dodgers, respectively, and Curt Schilling had an injured ankle which left Boomer with the assignment. He was knocked around for four runs on ten hits in four and one-third innings at Yankee Stadium as he was beaten by Randy Johnson, who was making his New York debut.

Clemens joined the Yankees after a February 1999 trade sent him from Toronto in exchange for Wells, incidentally, as well as Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush.

Fryman was an Expo in 1976 as the Big Red Machine won their second straight title. He was dealt with reliever Dale Murray to Cincinnati in a highly unpopular trade for dynasty mainstays Tony Perez and Will McEnaney. Fryman won the snowy opener, but he abruptly retired in July only to return upon being traded to the Cubs that offseason.

Yet I digress. Back to what inspired this post. Will Kyle Lohse be the worst Defending Champ Opening Day Starter since 1950?

Looking at the above list, a few candidates jump out. I've picked seven guys to break down along with Lohse:

Brett Myers (09 PHI)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (08 BOS)
Livan Hernandez (98 FLA)
Juan Guzman (93 TOR)
Tom Browning (91 CIN)
Tim Belcher (89 LA)
Woodie Fryman (77 CIN)

Here they are listed according to their average seasonal Baseball Reference WAR:

Guzman 2.3
Matsuzaka 1.9
Belcher 1.9
Browning 1.6
Hernandez 1.5
Myers 1.4
Fryman 1.2
Lohse 0.9

Guzman was coming off of three seasons in which he averaged 3.9 bWAR and posted a 40-11 record and 129 ERA+. After subpar '94 and '95 seasons, he bounced back with a big year in '96 as won the AL ERA crown (2.93) and set a career high in bWAR with a 6.5 mark that was fifth in the league among pitchers and tenth among all players.

Matsuzaka was a big-ticket signing in 2007 and he pitched well for the Red Sox in their championship year. Beginning with his OD start in 2008, he had a strong sophomore campaign, going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA that was the third-best mark in the AL. His 5.1 bWAR ranked fifth in the circuit as he led the league in H/9 (6.87) and walks (94)*.

*Matsuzaka is one of 17 pitchers to lead the league in walks with a H/9 that low. The five guys to do it more than once are just who you'd suspect: Nolan Ryan (5 times), Sam McDowell (3), Bob Turley (3), Randy Johnson (2) and J.R. Richard (2)

I was very surprised to see Tim Belcher get the OD start for the Dodgers in 1989 over Orel Hershiser, who was coming off his amazing scoreless innings streak and postseason run. Hershiser had the flu, however, so Tommy Lasorda went with Belcher. The righty finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1988 and posted a 4.2 bWAR in '89 while leading the circuit in shutouts with eight.

It was the beginning of the end for Tom Browning in his OD start in 1991. He averaged 3.5 bWAR from 1988-90, going 48-26 in that span (highlighted by a perfect game in 1988) while leading the NL in starts each year. After he helped lead Cincy to their surprising World Series win over the vaunted A's, things went downhill as he posted an 87 ERA+ over the next four seasons. In 1994, the southpaw broke his left arm throwing a pitch to Archi Cianfrocco in one of the more gruesome MLB injuries in recent history. His comeback bid with the Royals the following season lasted only two games.

Hernandez burst onto the scene with the Marlins in 1997 and became the fourth player to win the LCS MVP and World Series MVP in the same postseason.*

*There are now six players to win both MVP's, all in the National League: Willie Stargell (1979), Darrell Porter (1982), Orel Hershiser (1988), Livan, Cole Hamels (2008) and David Freese (2011)

Livan getting the World Series MVP in 1997 was an odd call. He registered 5.27 ERA, but won Games One and Five thanks to a combined 15 runs of support. Meanwhile in seven games, Moises Alou hit .321 (9-for-28) with three homers and an 1.101 OPS.

Since that postseason run, he's been average. His career record is 174-176 and his ERA+ stands at 96. Still, you gotta' tip your cap to a guy who's been able to hang around this long with middling stuff, and it sure is fun to watch him hit (and run the bases). He signed with the Astros over the winter and he's said he wants to be the right-handed Jamie Moyer, so he'll keep going out there until no one else will take him.

Myers was making his third straight OD start for the Phillies. He had posted bWAR's of 2.8 and 3.9 in 2005 and 2006 and pitched the team's first game of 2007 before moving into the closer role. He switched back into the rotation in 2008 upon Philly's acquisition of Brad Lidge, who played a key part in making the Phils defending champs in '09.  He has since gone to the Astros, where he will be a closer once again in 2012.

Those six guys are a mixed bag, but generally solid, particularly when they made their Opening Day start. So I'm eliminating them from the running and making it a two-horse race between Fryman and our man Lohse.

As mentioned earlier, Fryman struggled in Cincinnati after enjoying a 1976 season in Montreal in which he ran up a 4.2 bWAR and made the All-Star team at 36. After his pseudo-retirement from the Reds, he had two rough months with the Cubs before finding himself north of the border again. He was traded back to the Expos and rejuvenated his career, posting a 154 ERA+ from 1979-81 (from ages 39-41!).

Lohse (one of three active Native-American major leaguers along with Jacoby Ellsbury and Joba Chamberlain) has had an up-and-down career, registering an ERA+ higher than 100 in only four of his 11 seasons. After five-plus years as a back-of-the-rotation guy in Minnesota, he was dealt at the 2006 deadline to the Reds, who were only 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis and leading the wild card race. He went 3-5 with a 4.57 as Cincy faded down the stretch and finished 80-82.

He was on the move at the deadline in 2007 as well, going to the Phillies. They fared better than the Reds did, surging past the collapsing Mets with a 13-4 mark to reach the playoffs.

The righty signed with the Cardinals in 2008 and had his best season yet under the tutelage of Dave Duncan, going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and 2.4 bWAR. After an ineffective 2009 and 2010, he bounced back with a very good 2011. He topped his '08 bWAR with a 2.6 mark and went 14-8 with career-bests in ERA (3.39) and BB/9 (2.01).

In three postseason starts during the Cards' miracle title run, he was blasted to the tune of a 7.82 ERA, taking the loss in two games and a no decision in the Albert Pujols three-homer game.

With a career record of 102-106 and an ERA+ of 94, Lohse's top similarity score comps are Brett Tomko and Jeff Weaver, which sounds about right. Even with his serviceable 2011 season, I will declare that when Kyle Lohse takes the mound on April 4 in the first game at Marlins Park, he will become the worst Defending Champion Opening Day Starter in recent history.

*** PART TWO covering the defending champs from before 1950!

Let's See How This Goes

Hello! Welcome and thank you for finding your way to the blog. My name is James Smyth and I'm a 25-year-old aspiring baseball play-by-play man from Irvington, NY.

I love sports, especially baseball, and after many suggestions from friends and family, I figured now is as good a time as any to finally get into the blogging game.

My baseball experience includes little league (I peaked at age seven or eight), video games (but not since Triple Play Baseball 2001) and the broadcast booth.

I spent the summer of 2010 in the New England Collegiate Baseball League as the voice of the North Shore Navigators in Lynn, Massachusetts as the team won the league championship.

I made the jump to the minor leagues in 2011 as the #2 broadcaster for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Texas Rangers. This June I will start my new gig as the play-by-play man for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League (Rookie-level).

Well that does it for the introduction. I've got one post coming right up and after that who knows. Thanks and enjoy!