ATR: Ask the Reports Answers Your Baseball Questions: Special World Series Edition
Saturday October 27th, 2012
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Jonathan Hacohen: In a few short hours, Game 3 of the World Series will be played from one of my fave parks in baseball, Comerica Park in Detroit. It has been a very interesting season and playoffs for me. While I readily admit that I bleed blue and orange, I did not pick the Tigers to make the playoffs this year. That fact usually stuns other Tiger fans. “How can you support the team and not pick them to win the World Series”…that is a question that I am often asked. The answer is simple: while I enjoy Comerica and have a soft spot for the Tigers, I am first and foremost a baseball writer. Baseball fandom is not something that one can turn on and off like a light switch. But if one is going to do their job properly, they need to stay fair and impartial. So while my heart wanted the Tigers to win the AL Central, my brain said that the White Sox were this year’s team of destiny. Goes to show that you never know what will happen in baseball.
As the Tigers kept winning, I kept doubting them further. So just to prove a point, Detroit swept the Yankees in the ALCS and made it to the World Series as the favorites. At that point, I saw the Tigers beating the Giants, likely in 5 games to win the World Series. But then a couple of pitchers named Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito came along. They proved that the Giants had a ton of fight in them, They also proved that I had no business trying my hand at any predictions during the 2012 playoffs. The Giants are up 2-0 in the series, with Ryan Vogelsong taking the mound against Anibal Sanchez. My heart and brain are saying that the Giants will win big tonight and jump out to a 3-0 lead. Does that mean that the Tigers will win one and get back into this series? We will find out very shortly.
A great pitching matchup tonight, with Ryan Vogelsong and Anibal Sanchez as the probable starters. Sanchez has enjoyed a great run as of late for the Tigers, while Vogelsong has been solid for the most part. I am seeing here a big win for Vogelsong. He is a great success story for the Giants, their version of R.A. Dickey. Having watched Sanchez implode on too many occasions, I have a hard time trusting him. Although he is batting for the almighty free agency contract, so perhaps he has a quality start in him. If the Tigers don’t pull it off, they have the near impossible task of facing Matt Cain on Sunday down 3-0. Max Scherzer will take the mound tomorrow night for the Tigers. He could be helping the Tigers even the series 2-2, or watch the Giants sweep their way to another World Series championship. In a short series, anything can happen.
Given the amount of World Series questions that we have received this week, I decided to feature the most popular questions surrounding the Tigers and Giants. If these guys can make it to the finals, the least we can do is discuss/analyze them.
Now let’s get to your top questions of the week:
Q: Should the Giants be thanking Melky Cabrera for getting them home field advantage in the World Series?
JH: We can’t start a Giants Q&A without talking about Melky Cabrera. It’s like discussing the Nationals and failing to mention the Stephen Strasburg shutdown. Not going to happen!
The good news is that we don’t need to thank Melky for this one. The Giants (94-68) had a better regular season record than the Tigers (88-74). So no matter how you slice or dice it, the Giants deserved home field advantage in this year’s World Series. Melky really deserves nothing. He got his All-Star game MVP award and moment in the sun. He played at an extraordinary level in the first half to help the Giants. The ironic part is that the Giants played better, including the playoffs, without Melky. Maybe his PED suspension motivated his teammates to pick it up a notch. Who knows at this point. The Giants and their fans could care less. They are two wins away from a World Series title. Period.
If I was running the Giants, I would have placed Melky Cabrera on the active roster for the end of the NLCS and rest of the playoffs. I felt all along that the Giants are lacking in offense and having one of their best weapons sit is a mistake. He may be rusty, but Melky Cabrera should have provided the Giants a much-needed jolt. Judging as to how the Giants have actually performed at the end, they clearly made the right move not playing Melky. He would have been a distraction for a team that simply needed to focus on playing as one unit. Maybe that’s why Brian Sabean sits where he does.
Q: How great was Pablo Sandoval in Game One?
JH: For all the questions about Kung Fu Panda, he certainly earned his place in baseball history on Wednesday night. Never mind his weight. The man is now officially a legend in the record books. Before Sandoval, three players have hit 3 home runs in a World Series game. Ever. Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols. Ruth accomplished the feat twice in fact, 1926 and 1928. When Reggie joined the list in 1977, he cemented his nickname as the “Straw that Stirs the Drink” as well as “Mr. October”. Sandoval though is the only one to hit three consecutive home runs in a single World Series game. Is he now the Power Panda?
Big accomplishments on a huge stage tend to stick with players for many years, sometimes a lifetime or more. I would say that no matter what Pablo Sandoval accomplishes for the rest of his career, Game one will stick in fans’ minds forever. Just ask David Freese. The man will be an icon in St. Louis forever. If the Giants end up taking it all this year, Pablo Sandoval may even get himself a statute one day. The Giants have seen some big stars as a part of their team over the years. This might just be the start of a magical career for Pablo Sandoval, or just a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. Regardless, let’s give the man the respect he deserves. Well done Panda. Bravo!
Q: Triple Crown and now the World Series. Is Miguel Cabrera the AL MVP to finish off a dream season?
JH: My second biggest blunder of the season. Firstly, I predicted that the White Sox would win the AL Central. Wrong. From there, even as the season was coming to an end, I forecast Mike Trout as the 2012 AL MVP winner. Sorry Mike, but I can’t bet against a Triple Crown winner. The arguments for both players though are easy to make. Trout almost had a 30-50 season. Power, speed and gold glove defense. But c’mon people, a Triple Crown??? That is incredible. I pushed Trout because of his speed and defense. That in my mind put him a step ahead of Cabrera. When you take out the Triple Crown effect, I can really see that Mike Trout deserves the award. But aside from becoming the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to win the Triple Crown, Miguel Cabrera has another key factor in his pocket. He has never won the MVP award during his career.
Imagine. For all his accomplishments from a young age, Miguel Cabrera has never won a MVP award. He finished 2nd in the 2010 vote and never higher than 5th before that. If that is the tiebreaker reason, I’m fine with that. Mike Trout will win many awards over his career. But Miguel Cabrera, having finished his 10th season, has earned the opportunity to stand in the light for now. So while a World Series title would be the ultimate cap to a dream season, Miguel Cabrera at the very least will be named the AL MVP winner in 2012. Tigers fans are hoping that Cabrera wins another ring to go along with that trophy destined for his fireplace mantle.
Q: How much did Jose Valverde cost himself in free agency this year with his poor playoff showing?
JH: Poor Jose Valverde. He has certainly become the whipping boy for this year’s Tigers team. Is it all deserved? Mostly…yes. If you take a look at his regular season performance, he certainly was not awful. Valverde finished the year with a 3-4 record, 3.78 ERA, and 35 saves. 48 strikeouts in 69 innings is certainly not what you want to see from a closer. His 1.246 WHIP was decent and believe it or not, he only gave up 3 home runs all season long. May to August, Jose Valverde was lock-down. His April was slow and then his September was brutal. Closers like most players, will face their ups and downs all season long. But Valverde picked the worst time to suffer through his worst slump of the season. The playoffs.
How bad has Jose Valverde been this October? Try a 16.20 ERA in the ALDS, followed by a clean 54.00 ERA in one game pitched in each of the ALCS and WS. When Valverde came on in Game 1 against the Giants, he proceeded to give up 2 runs in 1/3 of an inning, on 4 hits. Against the Yankees, he made one appearance in the ALCS. He pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up 4 runs on 3 hits (2 of them were home runs). He walked one but did strike out two. Translation: we will never see Jose Valverde likely throw another pitch for the Tigers.
It is a real shame because Jose Valverde deserves a better fate than he will receive. Implosions in the playoffs have a way of sticking out in people’s minds for a long time. Valverde when he came up, had the good year/bad year splits year to year with the Diamondbacks. He was solid on odd years and then brutal in even years. The Dbacks had enough of his inconsistencies and he moved on to Houston. After 2 solid campaigns with the Astros, Valverde for the most part has been the rock in the Tigers pen for the past 3 seasons. But few will remember the good times. It is this year’s meltdown that will stick out.
Papa Grande is a big boy. 6’4″ and 255 lbs. He is a beast on the mound. He will be turning 35 by opening day 2013 (in Dominican years). Teams have to ask themselves several questions. Does he have anything left in the tank? Can I trust him? Does he trust himself? Even if he has a good campaign, do I even take the chance of having him close if we make the playoffs? These are all fair assessments that need to be made. If he had even a decent playoff showing, Papa Grande would have walked away this offseason likely with a 2-year contract with an option, at approximately $10-12 million per season. Experienced closers tend to get fairly good coin, that is the law of baseball economics. But with his latest implosion, Valverde cost himself millions next season. A contending team like the Yankees and Red Sox will not let him anywhere near their pens. He will need to catch on with a team that will give him a one-year deal with incentives. Remember the Rays signing Fernando Rodney?
I will go on record and tell you that Jose Valverde is not done. Many people may point to Francisco Cordero and try to make the comparison. There are no guarantees that Valverde will go down the Cordero the road. But closers have a way of just losing it suddenly one day. My crystal ball says that Jose Valverde has a couple of good seasons left in the tank. The Rays, Jays, Athletics, and several other clubs will give him a look. Given what happened this October though, the Tigers clearly will need to move on. Jose Valverde will sign a one-year deal with a base of $4-5 million with incentives and possibly an option year. He will need to start somewhere fresh and rebuild his value. If puts this season behind him and looks ahead (as a good closer should do), he will be fine. But yes, the past two weeks will cost him dearly. As I have said before, baseball can be a very cruel sport that way.
Q: Does Barry Zito have one more big contract in him?
JH: For this week’s final question, I had touch upon Barry Zito. The man got more questions this week than any other player in the game. The reinvention of Barry Zito has been one of the biggest stories of this year’s playoffs. Considering the man was left off the Giants last World Series roster, his return has been nothing short of remarkable. The 34-year old Zito has been one of the longest running jokes in baseball for some time. He signed a 7-year $126 million deal and was essentially a disaster from the second he joined San Francisco. From 2007 to 2012, Barry Zito never had an ERA under 4.03 and a WHIP under 3.44. For his regular season career in San Francisco, Barry Zito is 58-69 with a 4.47 ERA, and 1.404 WHIP. He has given up 968 hits in 1006 career Giants innings, with 444 walks and 701 strikeouts. I purposely placed Barry Zito right after Jose Valverde for a reason though. For as much of a disaster that Zito has been throughout his Giants career, this postseason will be all that people remember. Do two weeks make a player? Not in my estimation. Whether it is fair or not, Barry Zito will now be hailed as one of the new kings of San Francisco.
Looking at Zito’s numbers from the past regular season, the number that will stick out is his record: 15-8. People will be going all ga-ga over this number and pointing to it as a sign that he was going to break out in the playoffs. I’m sorry my friends, but this is incorrect. Barry Zito had a 4.15 ERA this season with a 1.389 WHIP. Very similar numbers to his 2009 and 2010 campaigns, when he won 10 and 9 games respectively. In fact, his WHIP was higher in 2012 and his strikeouts were way down (114, compared to 154 and 150). As many fans of sabermetrics and statistics will tell you, wins mean very little. Wins are dependant on so many factors out of your control. Run support, bullpen, and luck play huge parts in win totals. So while his won/loss record in 2012 looks impressive, the rest of Zito’s regular season numbers are nothing to write home about. 4th or 5th starter numbers at best. Doug Davis numbers. Not ace numbers. Considering that Zito made $19 million this season, it is almost painful to consider how much he robbed the Giants throughout the life of his contract. Guaranteed contracts…gotta “love them”.
For all those jumping on the Barry Zito bandwagon, remember that it was not too long ago that Giants fans were screaming to trade him straight up for Vernon Wells. Bad contract for bad contract. If you are a long-time reader of my work, you know how I feel about Vernon Wells and his deal. I didn’t like it at the time of signing and I have grown to detest it until this day. I still can’t believe that the Jays were able to unload him onto the Angels. For that move alone, Alex Anthopoulos should have won an award. But the Giants were seen as not as lucky and stuck with Barry Zito. He is getting a cool $20 million this season, with an $18 million option for 2014. That option is based on innings pitched, which likely will not be attained. He would need to pitch well over 200 innings next season for that to happen. But consider this: the buyout on the option is $7 million. Sadly enough, if the Giants are already paying $7 million, they might as well pay another $11 million and keep him. Or should they?
The discussion will start and end with this year’s playoffs. While not so great in the NLDS against the Reds, Zito was outstanding in both the NLCS and WS. In the NLCS, he pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals in the game of a lifetime. Against the Tigers in Game one of the World Series, he gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings. Big Game Barry based on those two games will be back in San Francisco next season and likely 2014. As long as he pitches to a 4.00 ERA and 1.350 WHIP next year, I expect his option to be picked up. The $7 million buyout dictates that the actual final cost is $11 million for his services. Given how little healthy and productive starting pitching arms are on the open market, the Giants may want to go with the devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t know.
Consider as well that Tim Lincecum is getting $22 million next season and will be a free agent in 2014. The Freak likely will be departing after next year, with Barry Zito being a decent bridge for another season. By the end of 2014, the Giants can figure out where they are at as far as their starting pitching needs. But all of this begs the question: Does Barry Zito have one more big contract in him? The answer is no. As much as two starts in the playoffs will get people excited, it will not create a long-term reaction. Compared to Valverde, Zito has bought himself some time, for next season and likely 2014. But after that, I can’t see any team giving him a big deal. He will be 36 going on 37 in the 2015 campaign. After his next contract is done, Barry Zito is going to enter the year-to-year contract phase of his career. He has been down for too long, that I simply can’t see any team giving him a big 2-3 year contract. I just find it ironic that Jose Valverde had a better regular season campaign than Zito, but the only memory that we will have for each going into next season is their playoff performances. Zito will be entering 2013 as a star again, while Valverde will be the former closer looking to rebuild his shattered career. Let’s talk at the end of 2013 and see where each player is at. The 2013 statistics for Zito and Valverde should be very interesting indeed.
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Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
Posted on October 27, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged ask the reports, atr, barry zito, baseball, baseball questions, boston red sox, cincinnati reds, closer, detroit tigers, jose valverde, melky cabrera, miguel cabrera, mlb, new york yankees, pablo sandoval, playoffs, reggie jackson, san francisco giants, texas rangers, Triple crown, world series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.