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Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently published a piece (subs required) where he posits something that I know many Yankee fans have been ruminating about in recent days, myself included. The money and years in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes have reached a point where the team that loses the bidding will ultimately be better off. He writes:

Meanwhile, we continue to wait, with Rangers fans hoping to keep the hero that led their team to their first World Series, and Yankee fans wishing to prove that their team’s financial might can bring them the biggest free agent name once again. 1-At this point, I’d recommend that both fans start rooting for the other side, as the ‘winning’ the Cliff Lee sweepstakes has all the makings of a classic Pyrrhic victory.

The age aspect of any deal is easy to see, as no matter the length, Lee will be well into the downside of his career during the latter part of the contract. The bigger risk is simply Lee himself. 2-It’s easy to forget that this is a pitcher just three years removed from pitching his way back to the minor leagues, with the Indians trading him away as much of over the risk of him declining as to his potential price tag.

And there is simply Lee the pitcher. Even the great version of Lee is succeeding mostly on nearly super-natural command. While his pure stuff is far too good to be classified solely as a finesse arm, it’s hardly the arsenal of a power pitcher, and to be the Cy Young-level pitcher, 3-he can afford no degradation in his ability to not only throw strikes, but to place his pitches nearly perfectly in the zone. When that’s not happening, Lee falls from elite to very hittable, with game one of last year’s World Series serving as our most recent exhibit. The chances of Lee being the pitcher he’s been over the last few seasons two years from now are slim, four years from now, tiny, and six years from now? Unfathomable.

I’ll address each of his main points in order.

1-I think this is more true for Texas than the Yankees. Bad deals rarely tie the Yankees hands in terms of acquiring players. The biggest problem it gives them is roster inflexibility, as we saw in the out years of the Jason Giambi deal, or in forcing them to make a headache for headache trade, as we saw when they extended Jeff  Weaver and later dealt him for Kevin Brown. In either case, the team still had enough elsewhere to make the playoffs. The Rangers, however, can’t afford to have too much payroll tied up in any one player an still be able to compete. That’s why Alex Rodriguez is playing for the Yankees.

2-It’s easy to forget because he won a CY Young award in 2008 and posted 3 terrific years despite playing on two very bad teams, the 2009 Cleveland Indians (65-97) and the 2010 Seattle Mariners (61-101).

3-And this isn’t true of every pitcher who ever lived? Hard throwing AJ Burnett doesn’t get blasted when his control is off? The consistency with which he threw strikes this past year was no doubt superhuman, he walked a mere 18 batter in 212.2 IP. But his career BB/9 rate is 2.2 and a lefthanded fly ball pitcher (1.13/1.04 GB/FB rate the past two seasons) pitching half his games in lefty-friendly Yankee stadium only figures to do better, not worse.

36 Responses to “Goldstein: The (Cliff Lee) Winner Finishes Second”

  1. Something to ponder:
    If the Yankees do not acquire Clifford Lee I think the smart move and to the anguish of many impatient Yankee fans is to at best strengthen the bull pen, bring in a plus plus defensive catcher whom probably at best will hit .240 and maybe sign a middle of the rotation guy for one year. Also bring in some risky gambles like Mark Prior.
    Than, concede the Red Sox are now possibly the team to beat with that offense and speed and their pitching will improve as well. They have a healthy Youkilis, Pedroia, Beckett and have added a dangerous 1B and top LF and improved there overall defense dramatically. Now if they get a catcher they are set. We are now the under dogs which is fine. Their speed on bases is better, their power in the middle is equal, their defense is better, and their pitching gets the nod.
    This does not mean we cannot compete for the division and win the wild card. It does mean we should not trade away the farm for guys like Grienke who may or may not mentally break down. He is also a righty and we do need another lefty.
    So what I would do is give Montero a shot. Sign Martin for one year but if he doesn’t sign give the starting spot to Montero to lose to Cervelli. Bring in a top defensive catcher and let all three compete. When the Yanks play the sox or any team with speed platoon Montero with Posada as DH and play the defensive catcher. Build up the pen with guys like Wood if we can sign him and give the two opening starting jobs to whomever wins it from this list:
    Joba
    Nova
    Banuelos
    Brackman
    Betances

    Pettitte will not return without Lee signing cause he knows the chances of winning without Lee are slim with the Red Sox rebuilt team. Think wild card while allowing an infusion of youth. It may be more exciting for fans and if it doesn’t work out it’s a year of rebuilding and allowing the new kids to get ready.

    If team stays healthy;

    Pitching:
    CC-19 wins
    Hughes-17 wins
    AJ-14 wins
    Joba-10 to 12 wins
    Banuelos-10 wins

    Bullpen:
    Rivera, Robertson, Wood, Logan, Noesi, ?????? (pick from kids in minors)

    Infield:
    Tex, Cano, Jeter, A-rod, Nunez, Laird

    Outfield:
    Gardner, Swisher, Granderson, Laird, Mesa

    With four spots to fill in.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Banuelos and Betances have never even started a triple A game and with Manny’s age and size he shouldn’t see the majors for at least another year and after Betances has finally worked his way back from TJ surgery it would be a disatser to ship him to the majors, he was on a 60-75 pitch count last year and had trouble finishing 5 IP in most cases. Neither are ready for the majors at all this year and it would be a mistake for either one of them to even compete for the spot in ST, hell they both need some more time in double A let alone Triple A.

    If you want to let Brackman compete for a starting spot I’m more open to it since he is older than Banuelos and he has actually logged some triple A innings, I would rather see him stay in Triple A for at least 2 months but if he wins it in ST worse could happen.

    Brackman, Joba, Mitre, Nova and Noesi would be the ones to compete for the starting job if they let Brackman do it and I’m pretty sure we’d end up with a rotation of Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett, Nova and Mitre, if that were the case I’m pretty sure you’d see them bring in a Brandon Webb type.  (Quote)

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    smurfy Reply:

    Wow, that’s a lot, but I mainly agree, especially about pitching. I want some good Wood! I dunno whether the B’s are ready, but I’d like them to get tryouts.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I’m just not so sure Wood will come back without Lee I mean why would you take the same or less money to setup for a team that might miss the playoffs when you could go close for a team that might miss the playoffs. I also have doubts on the contract as much as I want Kerry back I think he is going to go after a 2 year deal and if that’s the case he can walk, we all know Wood won’t be as good as he was last year and he has a history of these highs and lows in his career and anything in the multi year range is a bad investment.  (Quote)

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    smurfy Reply:

    You raise some interesting points: we may could talk to Wood about the gentle use of Mo, as example of the care we would employ with him. If he signs as a closer, he will be on call for every emergency. Two good years as setup man beats getting injured. If he continues strong, the Yanks will be needing such talents as his into the future.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    But a 1 year deal for 4-6 million doesn’t beat a 2-3 year deal 6-8 per yearwhich he could get or more on the market and there is no way I would give him 2 years with his injury history.

    So far this offseason 2 setup men have been signed both inked 3 year deals worth 15 and 16 million respectively and Downs is the same age as Wood, he has to believe he can get at least that closing somewhere.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I highly highly doubt Hughes will win 17 games I would assume he will be much closer to 14 or 15 I think some people tend to forget Phil should have lost quite a few games last year and was bailed out by having the most runs scored behind him in baseball.

    He won’t be so lucky again and since he won’t be in the 5th spot this year his competition on the hill night and night out will be much tougher therefore I expect some growing pains from Phil this year, I think he will end up with an ERA in the same range as last year maybe a little worse and I expect him to struggle more in the first half of the year than he did last go round.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    smurfy Reply:

    And they rode him hard and put him away wet. Some Verducci effect sb expected.  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I don’t know about all that many people dispute Verducci’s findings so I don’t take it as gospel but with Hughes he should have some regression just based on the league not being fooled this time around, batters will have a full year of starting tape to watch and guys in our division have more than gotten a feel for him. The offense in the league should adjust well to him and give him a hard time in the first half but the true judge of Hughes’ talents will be in the second half of the season, if he can make his adjustments to their adjustments I assume he will have a better second half than last year and his overall peripheral numbers will be about the same but his win total should be lower just based on not getting as much run support.  (Quote)

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  2. I want to see the Cliff Lee practice surgery on the Yankes mound, for us not against us, in the worst way. And, Steve, you are right in fizzling pts 2 & 3, but no. 1 does scare me. The Yanks should make it policy that 5 years is as far as they go. Rich contracts, yes, specialize in that, team options, sure, but prudence requires a feasible limit.  (Quote)

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  3. At this point I would root for the Rangers to save us from ourselves but I’m afraid they may trade all of our minor leaguers for just anyone out of panic at this point.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    at seven years i hope he signs with texas..and melts in july and august…7 years ..what a joke, and he has to think about for this long..he is using the yanks…cash wake up..  (Quote)

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  4. Well, the worst that could happen is that ’11 becomes a “transtition year” and management decides that they can break-in some of their top pitching prospects and see what they have. The bad thing about that is that the left side of the infield get’s another year older….  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Actually Kevin if we miss out on Lee that’s the best thing that could happen, yes the corners of the infield and Jeter lose a year of winning now but that’s much better than a panic trade that depletes the system, if we do miss out on Lee I just hope Cashman goes your way!

    All though I wouldn’t use this year “to break in” our top pitching prospects because none of them outside of Brackman is even close to ready for major league duty and to force a 20 year old kid like Man Ban into starting in the bigs could ruin him and I really doubt that Betances’ 65 pitch count limit will translate to the bigs either, they both need at least a year in the minors.

    I wouldn’t mind breaking in some of the lesser pitching talent though that is already in triple A looking for a shot like Noesi, stoneburner, Nova, etc…  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    Yep, I agree. Wonder how the New York press and the corp. box seat crowd will react. BTW, how come when the Yankees spend on “anything” the national press (and Lupica) deem it “obscene, but when Theo, Genius, pays the big bucks he shows again that he’s The Genius? Just wonderin’….  (Quote)

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    T.O. Chris Reply:

    So I see you read Lupica’s article too… what was it called Pay, Pay, Pay the Yankees way or something like that and he basically bashed us for the Lee money the whole time, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t actually like baseball but instead just loves bashing the sport and the attention he gets from being outrageous (like Skip Bayless).

    I love how on the day Boston signed Crawford all sportscenter kept saying was how the Yankees were forcing Boston to spend money and the only way to beat the Yankees is become the evil empire, that whole network is bias out it’s ass, MLB network is pretty bad about it too Megraine, Mitch Williams and Harold Reynolds clearly hate anything Yankee related and then they sign Peter Gammons as if they weren’t pro sox enough.  (Quote)

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    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    Chris I think that clearly ESPN via MLB deliberately fans the firestorm of this BS. Along with that comes this idea of “parity” which, to begin with has never existed in baseball, ever. I watched the Yanks win in ’77, ’78 then watched for another 18 years before they won another ring. Obviously “somebody” other than the “un-stoppable Evil Empire” was taking the ring, right? If it’s all about market share then how many champions have come out of Chicago or Los Angeles? As a fan I want ownership to re-invest their money into their team, if not then I’ll be damned if I’ll spend my life following a franchise whose ownership is only interested in stuffing their portfolios (see Marlins). Anyway, I hope that we win the Lee “sweepstakes” but if not, life goes on, and here’s hoping that Cashman isn’t forced to empty the farm for “ANYONE”. Ciao.  (Quote)

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  5. Missing out on Cliff Lee could quickly turn us into losers if we trade Jesus Montero. The Yankees are going to need an all-around power hitter to complement Cano and Texieira as Arod ages out of the 30 hr club. Arod may not view himself as a “homerun hitter” … fine, he likely wont be a three seasons.

    Anyways, there are probably guys on the trading block that won’t cost us Montero. Fellas like Gavin Floyd, Ricky Nolasco, … ehh … COLE HAMELS.

    Hamels is signed through 2011 and then hits free agency. Would the Phillies trade Hamels for a price of TWO killa Bs + STONEBURNER or NOESI + ROMINE + JR MURPHY.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    No thank you to Gavin Floyd we really would be better off just going into the season with what we have or a Brandon Webb type over trading good prospects for the like Gavin Floyd.

    Ricky Nolasco won’t be traded before the season the Marlins are trying to compete, why would they trade their number 2 starter when they believe they can go to the playoffs? They have made no moves this offseason that would suggest anything but going for it, why else would they sign John Buck?

    I say no to Hamels as well I don’t think he is a great fit in the AL East and we have already seen in 09 that is his velocity falls he’s very VERY hittable and he had gotten dropped down below Pedro Martinez in their rotation for the World Series. Besides the Phillies want to keep all 3 of those guys going into this season because they think they can win the Series which they can if Howard and Rollins stay healthy, isn’t Oswalt’s contract up after this year anyway? They plan on just letting him walk (they don’t have to pick up the option) and re-sign Hamels I thought.

    Are you suggesting the Phillies would trade Hamels for by choosing between a package of 2 B’s (who are in double A) and Stoneburner? Or Noesi, Romine and Murphy?

    The Phillies have one of the best systems in baseball they would laugh at both of those preposals.  (Quote)

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  6. If we are going to try and trade for a starter they need to be young on the level of an ace or very close to it not just trade for Gavin Floyd types to plug a hole, we should wait for the All-Star break and see who’s out of the playoff mixture by then maybe JJ does become available in Florida.  (Quote)

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  7. Funny regarding your Phillip Hughes projections for 2011. I couldn’t DIS-agree with you any more. You figure Hughes will regress and win 14 games. You make some points that the Yankee offense scored plenty of runs for him and that he will face tougher pitchers in the three hole. I say gooblygook to all of it. Look at his match ups last year, there were plenty of times he faced the number three and better. That is a silly point. As far as the Offense scoring for him, that comes and goes. The big picture your missing is he’s a year older and while teams may have an idea of his arsenal, he’s a year smarter and coming into his own. Which means he will be smarter, stronger, and better. Count on Hughes for at least 16 wins if not more. Do not trade the farm for a pitcher when as it stands right now we cannot sacrifice our farm due to the age on our big league club.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    There is an old saying in football that if you get a QB to preform as well in his sophomore year as he did in his rookie year you accomplished something because the league adjusts to the young player and it takes a while for them to learn to adjust back, this is especially true for pitchers, every hitter in the league has 200 innings of starting work to examine your every movement, the ones that stick are the ones who adjust back which I said Phil will do but he’s not a god he’s a man and men learn through failure. He will struggle more in the first half of the season more than last season but he won’t struggle as much in the second half of the year like last season.

    You can disagree with me whenever you choose to do so that is your right as a human being but to just say he will be better because he is a year older is silly and doesn’t make any sense, sports just don’t work in that way and especially baseball it’s a game of adjustments. Look at Cole Hamels in 2008 he’s the world series MVP and in 2009 he is below Pedro Martinez as their 3rd starter in the playoffs but yet he was a year older, a year stronger and a year wiser, why then wasn’t he better? Simple for 2 reasons

    1. Because he had never pitched that many innings before and going deep into the playoffs taxed his arm (sounds like Hughes this year)
    2. Becaus e the league had made adjustments to his change up and his lack of a plus 3rd pitch was causing him to be beaten (the league adjusting to a two pitch pitcher? Hughes is a 2 pitch pitcher) and he had to make adjustments to the league again which he did this year.

    Any starting pitcher has the advantage in his first full go through in the majors because no one knows exactly what to expect you don’t have a big enough sample size to draw from as a hitter so you face the guy store the info and move on, once they go through the league the second time though all that starage gets used guys learn your mannerisms, how your fastball moves, when to expect the curve, does a guy have a pattern he likes to repeat all of that becomes known.

    I never said he would “regress” I said that he would have a worse first half than last season but a better second half of the year but his peripherals would remain about the same and his ERA will be similar but slightly higher or lower either way it’s about the same year just in reverse.

    last season most of Phil’s success came before the All-Star break and he struggled mightily in the second half and most of wins were logged early on in the campaign, it looked on the outside like maybe he just slowed down but in reality his peripheral numbers suggested he was pitching above his head much of the first half his FIP even when his ERA was in the 2′s still showed in the 4′s he got caught up too.

    Hughes will have a drop off in wins if for no other reason than he won’t be leading the league in runs scored behind him, there won’t be as many blowouts in the 3rd inning as he was pitching in last year and closer scores means more losses and more no decisions which equal less wins.

    It doesn’t mean he won’t pitch well he just won’t have the sub 3 ERA most people drinking the Hughes Cool-aid think he will, I imagine he will still be in the low 4′s ERA wise and around 14-15 wins.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    smurfy Reply:

    Two points, Chris: what I meant saying Phil would suffer the Verducci effect is your pt. 1 above; you are right about 2 – pitch pitchers, and Phil was starting to adjust and throw his changeup in the playoffs. He may show a lead on the league in “adjustments,” but he won’t have that pizazz on his fastball and sharp movement on his cutter till his arm recovers the following year.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  8. Do not make any careless trades. Wait and see where we are at half way mark and guaranteed players will become available and we can fill some holes than. This may be a rebuilding year or a wild card year. Get use to it.  (Quote)

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  9. People are being blinded by 2 straight (2009-10) seasons of October success against the Yankees. Cliff Lee is 26-22 the last 2 regular seasons. He has had 2 great seasons and nearly every other season (including the last 2) were, at best, ordinary.

    And he’s stupid. He must be, if he thinks Dallas (or Arlington) is close to home in Arkansas. Has he never looked at a map? Lee’s hometown of Benton is 314 miles from Arlington. That’s roughly the distance between Boston and Philadelphia. Now, if a guy from, say, Norristown, Pennsylvania (as Mike Piazza was) wants to sign with the Red Sox — or a guy from Billerica, Massachusetts (as Tom Glavine was) wants to sign with the Phillies — because he thinks it gives him a good chance at a World Series ring, that’s a legitimate reason. But he’s not going to say, “Well, Philly (or Boston) is just 300 miles from my home town.” He looks like a fool.

    But he’s Cliff Lee, and he beats the Yankees, therefore he must be paid a fortune. Not by MY team, he shouldn’t!  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Which of these is ordinary?

    2008- 2.54 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 223 IP, 1.4 BB/9, 5.0 K/BB, 1.10 WHIP, 7.2 WAR
    2009- 3.22 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 231 IP, 1.7 BB/9, 7.0 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP, 6.6 WAR
    2010- 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 212 IP, 0.8 BB/9, 10.28 K/BB, 1.00 WHIP, 7.1 WAR

    Dallas is like an hour or two by plane ride New York is the other side of the country, huge difference! If he wants to fly back to Arkansas he can while in Texas on a non-throw day but he can’t in New York.  (Quote)

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  10. I agree with a lot of what Goldstein said, but I still hope we sign him. I can see Cashman making a bad deal to get a starter if we don’t, and not trading Montero has been my main concern over the part year. I was hoping the trade for Lee fell apart for the same reason-guys that hit like him are as valuable as 32 year old pitchers.
    I really don’t like the Yankees buying into the ‘pitching is more important than hitting’ idea. In my opinion (and that of some guys who’ve studied the matter extensively) it isn’t.
    I want Montero being the next Manny for the Yankees, not the Royals (or whoever). If being saddled with a broken down 35 year old making 24 per means we get to keep him and the B’s and etc., I’m all for it.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Are you serious you don’t think pitching is more important than offense? I guess the Giants didn’t just beat one of the best offenses in the league in the World Series, a team might I add that outpitched the number 1 scoring team in the league in the Yankees and Boston was the 2nd best offense and they missed the playoffs completely.

    Yankee fans have seen bats go cold time and time again against great starting pitching in the playoffs and the only series we have won in the last decade was built on pitching, besides Alex almost every bat went cold in 2009 playoffs including Cano”s but Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte pitched well throughout the entire playoffs including on short rest and we won out.

    I want Montero to stay a Yankee as much or more than anyone but that has nothing to do with this year after year the playoffs prove the way to win is pitching and defense not out slugging your opponent otherwise we would have won more rings in the 2000′s because we could always slug we could just never pitch.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Craig Reply:

    Aside from that disagreement, he is on the same page as you are regarding his hope that the Yankees don’t trade Montero in a knee-jerk deal for a starting pitcher.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    Yeah, I know that…  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Steve S. Reply:

    Good stuff. Agree 100% on all counts, Old Pep.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  11. We’ve seen the Yankee bats grow cold against mediocre pitching as well. We’ve also seen great pitchers-including the one we’re going to try to pay a whole lot of money to (not to mention our current ace) get beat up pretty good just this past postseason.

    Baseball is about scoring more runs than the other team. 50% of the is the runs you score. The other 50% is about the runs you prevent. Pitching is part of the latter 50% and defense is part of it.

    If you look at baseball history, the teams that score the most runs win more often than the team with the best ERA.

    I don’t want to get into another back-and-forth on this, Bill James did an extensive study in the 80s, and what’s happened since hasn’t changed anything. If you want to believe pitching wins more games, I’m not going to convince you otherwise.

    As for the NYY winning in the 2000′s, we stopped hitting in a lot of postseason series, and it was against some pretty ordinary pitchers. We made it to 2 WS before we won it all last year, and we got to a third ALCS. How many teams can say that? (Besides the team with Manny and Ortiz).  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    So 50% is pitching, 50% is hitting and defense is part of pitching? That doesn’t even make sense… at best 60% is pitching and defense and 40% is hitting, I would also say that most of those ERA leaders who didn’t win just couldn’t hit at all (like this years A’s) and also favored from home ball parks giving mediocre pitchers better numbers (like the A’s) I bet if you look at FIP and not ERA you would see a better correlation between championships and pitching.

    You can hit and just pitch and you can’t pitch and not hit but great pitchers come through against great hitters more often than hitters get to those pitchers, if you don’t want to have a conversation about differing ideas then that is your choice.

    I would much rather have a team with great starters and OK to good hitting than top notch hitters with pitchers that are OK to good, the Giants this year show how good you can be with 4 solid starters and suspect lineups, the way a 7 game series is setup is to take advantage of deepest starting rotation whether it’s a 3 or 4 man rotation.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  12. that’s not what I said. Not even close. I said 50% scoring and 50% stopping the other guy from scoring.

    I don’t understand how you can say defense isn’t part of stopping the other team from scoring. If it isn’t, then what is it?  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    You can’t just lump defense and pitching into one 50% and hitting in the other because hitting isn’t more important than pitching and defense.

    I’m saying that it’s 50% pitching, 40% hitting and 10% defense at minimum depending on how much you favor defense, you can seperate 3 parts of the game into 2 categories.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  13. Chris, “I would much rather have a team with great starters and OK to good hitting than top notch hitters with pitchers that are OK to good.” Growing up a Cubs fan, we had good hitting (Banks, Williams, Santo) and OK and less pitching, and it sure did not add up to championships. Great for a kid that liked 10 – 9 games, though.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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