Tuesday, November 2, 2010

One season following another

And so the 2010 baseball season has ended, with a World Series champion few saw coming. (I will point out this humble scribe picked the Giants to win the NL West back on Opening Day and picked the Giants to beat the Rangers in seven games. I probably also need to point out this same humble scribe picked the Phillies to beat those same Giants in the NLCS. Eh, nobody's perfect.)

So how did San Francisco do it? Well, they managed to draft and develop four top-notch starting pitchers: Tim Lincecum (first round, 2006), Matt Cain (first round, 2002), Jonathan Sanchez (27th round, 2004), Madison Bumgarner (first round, 2007). They managed to draft and develop a top-notch catcher: Buster Posey (first round, 2008). They managed to unearth a diamond in the rough and develop him into one of the game's best closers: Brian Wilson (24th round, 2003).

And then they managed to make some incredibly shrewd acquisitions in the last two years as they sensed their time coming: Edgar Renteria (December 2008 free agent), Andres Torres (January 2009 free agent), Freddy Sanchez (July 2009 trade), Aubrey Huff (January 2010 free agent), Pat Burrell (May 2010 free agent), Javier Lopez (July 2010 trade), Cody Ross (August 2010 waiver claim).

They fielded one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and a lineup lacking anyone who hit 30 homers or drove in 90 runs. They boasted a rock-solid defense that committed only 73 errors during the regular season.

And they had a manager who figured out how to use every one of those parts to his team's advantage, mixing and matching lineups and getting contributions out of just about everyone on the roster.

That's how you win a World Series.

Couple other thoughts on this first true day of the offseason...

-- Bud Selig says he wants to add to two more teams to the postseason and thinks the change could be made by 2012. Am I the only one out there who thinks this is a really bad idea? Baseball doesn't need more postseason. It needs less.

The current three-round format already drags on too long. It feels like it's been three months since Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS. It's November 2 and the baseball season just finally ended. Yes, they're moving the schedule up a few days next year so the World Series will always end by Halloween, but that's still too late. The Fall Classic should take place around October 15-25. It shouldn't continue past that.

Plus, am I the only one who thinks the World Series has lost quite a bit of oomph since the postseason was expanded in 1995? There have now been 16 postseasons since the Division Series was added. During that time, the World Series has lasted an average of only 5.3 games, with only three of the 16 series reaching a seventh game. In the 16 postseasons prior to 1995, the World Series lasted an average of 5.9 games, with six reaching a seventh game.

Maybe the problem is that everyone gets too exhausted from a month-long postseason and runs out of gas by the time the World Series finally arrives. That applies both to players in the games and fans who watch. You've got to be a serious die-hard to tune in every night for a month, which perhaps explains in part baseball's diminished TV ratings.

Finally, am I the only one who thinks a fair number of teams make the postseason already? If they had expanded to 10 participants this year, the 90-win Padres and the 89-win Red Sox would have made it as the second wild cards. Have you heard much clamoring from those teams and their fans about getting hosed out of the postseason? Did either of those teams really deserve to make it? Wasn't the final day of the regular season (with the Giants, Padres and Braves all scrambling to seize the last two spots) great theater? Under the new format, all three would have already clinched by then.

What if the format also applied last year? You know who would have made the playoffs? The 88-win Giants and the 87-win Rangers. Were those teams ready for primetime a year ago? No, they needed some significant tweaking to make themselves World Series participants this year.

Who would have made it in 2008? The 89-win Yankees and the 89-win Mets. Anyone out there crying neither of those teams made it? How about 2007? The 89-win Padres (denying us one of the great one-game playoffs in baseball history) and either the 88-win Tigers or Mariners.

Look, the wild card has been a good thing for baseball. It's opened the door for many more teams and cities to be involved in pennant races. But a second wild card wouldn't open the door to anyone else. All it would do is kill the few pennant races we still have.

Stick with eight teams, Bud. Then figure out a way to condense the current postseason into fewer days so the World Series and Halloween never again intersect.

-- Last but not least ... the five-day period in which teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their pending free agents has begun. When the clock strikes midnight Sunday morning, all those free agents (including Adam Dunn) are free to talk to any team they want.


slopitchtom said...

Mark, I have to disagree with you. I think 2 more wildcard teams is a good idea. It'll keep more teams in the hunt later in the season and give fans of more teams hope that their team might make it to the playoffs. Let the two wildcards play a best of 3 series. We're talking about adding 4 days to the playoff schedule. I agree with you about not having the season drag on into November. The solution is simple. Chop off the last week of spring training, it's way too long as it is. Start the regular season a week early. There are enough warm weather cities (plus a few domes) so that the northern teams could start on the road against the warmer weather teams to avoid early season postponements.

Tegwar said...

Who would have thought that pitching and defense could win you a World Series?

I agree do not expand the postseason teams. While it is fun to see who wins the World Series and I hope someday the Nationals will, I still get more enjoyment in the marathon run of the season then the postseason playoffs. Maybe its just me?

yankish2 said...

Why not reduce the regular season to 154 games? What a dumb idea? It's all about the money and 2 more wild card team adds to the revenue stream. It's not about the fan stupid.

sm13 said...

Mark, I agree with you on maintaining the current numbear of wild card teams. However, when the Nats become the 2nd NL wild card qualifier and I get to attend a playoff game at Nats Park, I will change my mind completely!

Doc said...

Me three on not expanding the playoff format. It looks stupid in hockey and basketball, and will look stupid in baseball. If Selig wants to generate more money, let him take a pay cut from the $18 million that he currently pockets.

This post-season stuff is hardest on the pitchers.

Brian Sabean for Baseball Executive of the Year. The way he put together the Giants was awesome---and probably a little bit lucky!

hb said...

Keep the current number of postseason teams--the playoffs already seem diluted and we don't want to become the NBA or NHL. Shorten the season by playing more doubleheaders, and real ones at that, where you get two games for the price of one. The baseball regular season used to be the greatest event in sports, with every team playing every other team in its league an equal number of times, so that the true champion won the pennant. Cutting it to add to a bloated, boring postseason would be a further dilution of the games that should be the meat of any decent owners' revenue.

natsfan1a said...

Me five, or six, or ??? Whatever the current count is. Just. Don't. Expand. (And hasn't Selig retired yet? :-))

N. Cognito said...

No expansion of the number of teams in the playoffs. Adding any more teams (other than adding 8 more) introduces byes into the playoffs. We don't need no stinkin' byes.

N. Cognito said...

There's no byeing in baseball.

Josh said...

I agree that we shouldn't add more teams, but not exactly for the reasons you're saying. Professional baseball has perhaps the most even talent distribution of any professional sport (even though it doesn't seem that way); statisticians have shown that after 57 MLB games just 50% of the variation in observed win percentages is actually true talent; in basketball the same point is reached after 13 games. After 162 MLB games we know as much about the "real" talent of the teams as we do after 32 basketball games (which is why the basketball season feels so much longer than it really is). In baseball, even the worst of the worst teams win about 30% of their games, and even the best of the best teams lose about 30% of their games. That kind of parity just doesn't exist in most sports. As a result, the long regular season is perhaps the [i]only[/i] way you can really tell which team is "best."

The postseason and World Series are exciting, to be sure, but just a glance at the names of some recent postseason heroes--David Eckstein, Cody Ross, Benji Molina, etc.--should reveal why we should try to keep them to a minimum: anything can happen in a short series of baseball. This is borne out by the fact that the Yankees--perennial contenders who make the postseason almost every year--have only won one World Series since 1999. Once you make the playoffs, it's a total crapshoot. By reducing the number of teams that make the playoffs, you increase the likelihood that the actual best team wins. Now, there may be those who argue that that's not what the postseason should be about--that we should look to the example of basketball or hockey and open the postseason to 10, 12, or even more teams. But this is to foolishly ignore the difference in parity between the two sports: in basketball, the better team almost [i]always[/i] wins a best-of-seven series. In baseball? It depends on the competition, but in the playoffs it's often nearly 50-50. I don't know about you guys, but I want the best team to win every year. Adding more wildcards is going to make the odds of that happening even lower than they already are.

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

Congrats to the Giants, they played solid all-around fundamental baseball for 162 games and continued it into the postseason...PLEASE take note Mr. Rizzo!

Mr. Selig, please let's not turn into the NHL or NBA playoff wise, let's keep it the way it is OR go back to division winners only!

Mr. Rizzo - Sign Adam Dunn!

Section 223 said...

Selig is a car salesman. While the product (car) may be good, he is always looking at the flash and useless add-ons to make the sale more profitable. If more teams can claim that they are a "playoff team," more revenue is generated. That doesn't make it a better product (baseball).

JD said...


Rizzo is taking note; he is building the team through young pitching and not spending wildly on the FA market as some would want.

Did you see the lineup the Giants put out to win the world series? give me a break; the Nats lineup is 2 levels better and that's with Morgan and without Dunn.

Just goes to show you; if you have pitching depth the sky's the limit.

Anonymous said...

The only thing worse than having a World Series game in November is having the Stanley Cub in June.

JaneB said...

I love baseball, but I hate that it goes into November -- and that the solution to THAT seems to be to start in MARCH. No more wild card team. NCognito I loved "no byeing in baseball." Selig is not helping baseball with this plan (nor with his stubborn refusal to use instant replay more). It's already like two different seasons, two different types of baseball. Enough is enough, and the current system is already more than enough.

So, are we going to learn we lost Dunn because we sign someone to replace him, or because we hear he's signed with someone else? And those who were saying we could and would get Huff instead....umm, you no longer think that, right?

Sec3MySofa said...

Where is the Players Union on all this?

(And while I'm here: the Nats lineup is better than the Giants?? Seriously?? at what?)

Sec3ms said...

I don't remember anyone saying the Nats *would* get Huff.

sec3ms said...

I remember a lot of people getting huffy ...

Anonymous said...

The playoffs are way too long, this isn't the NHL. I would like to see baseball go back to two leagues, one World Series and that's it. The whole point of baseball is supposed to be who is best over the long grind of the 162 game season, not who is hottest at one particular point in October. This would also lessen (if not eliminate) the buying of 'hired gun' players at the trade deadline.

I know its not gonna happen because of the money involved in the postseason TV and gate reciepts. But it would be best for the game.

Slidell said...

I agree with Josh. Playoffs merely reveal who is the best team at that moment, and making them longer tends to exaggerate discrepancies. If it were up to me (and it certainly isn't),I would go further and restructure MLB to have just two divisions in each League, with the two division-winning teams dukeing it out to go to the Series. It would be much more meaningful. But that probably makes too much sense. As Section 223 says, it's not about the product, it's about the money.

N. Cognito said...

Huff is not the firstbaseman you're looking for.

And if anyone suggests we try to acquire Renteria, I'm going to reach through my PC and rip out your IP address.

I've always liked the idea of going to 16 team leagues each with two eight team divisions, with one team from each division advancing to the postseason. Alas, even assuming there's enough talent available, it's hard right now to find two more cities that can support MLB.

It is about the money. Since the day the first professional team was organized, it was about the money. Professional sports are first and foremost, a business.

Feel Wood said...

"So, are we going to learn we lost Dunn because we sign someone to replace him, or because we hear he's signed with someone else?"

I suppose what you're really asking here is whether or not there is another team out there that's going to give Dunn the four year deal he thinks he's worth, since he hasn't accepted the three year deal that Rizzo has had on the table for several months now. Dunn (or more likely his agent) clearly expects a bidding war to erupt on Sunday after the five-day window expires - as occurred with Soriano in 2006, resulting in him signing that eight year albatross deal with the Cubs on the first day he was allowed to sign. I think Dunn's agent will learn the hard way that much has changed since then - the economy tanked, GMs have gotten smarter - and his hoped-for bidding war for Dunn will not materialize. Meanwhile, I fully expect Rizzo to start making moves immediately to strengthen the team via free agency or trade. And if Dunn happens to get a whiff of Rizzo's willingness to move on before the big offers for him come rolling in from other teams (if that even happens), he just might change his tune on the three year deal Rizzo has offered him, and decide to take it. Whatever happens, though, I expect it to be a drawn out process for Dunn. Rizzo OTOH has made it quite clear that he's not going to stand pat and wait around for Dunn. Dunn can either jump on the Nats bus now, or take his chances that a bigger and better bus is coming along after it to pick him up. Should be interesting...

Anonymous said...

Extended playoffs just further reward teams with a couple strong pitchers but an incomplete staff. You only need 3-4 starters instead of a full rotation to make it to the playoffs. Extending them just makes this imbalance even more noticeable. Few teams have 5 dominant starters. This is what makes the regular season so much more competitive. Staffing a playoff team is different than staffing a 162-game season. The championship should be determined in a situation as similar to the regular season as possible. I'm all for purity--go back to 2 divisions in each league, or even eliminate the divisions altogether. End the interleague dog-and-pony shows. But given that this cannot happen , please don't bastardize this sport any further!

Richard said...

I agree with Mark: the playoffs are too long and diluted now; but, since we ain't down-sizin' under Selig or anyone else, I'll favor what we've got now. Pls, no more teams!

DC Tom said...

2010 Giants are testimony that it can happen here if we get starting pitching depth. In all seriousness, if you stack the Nationals projected 2012 everday lineup against the 2010 Giants, the Nationals come out ahead or at least even:

Who would you rather have:

1B: 2010 Huff or 2012 Dunn/Pena/Lee? --wash--
2B: 2010 Freddy Sanchez or 2012 Espinosa? --Espinosa--
SS: 2010 Renteria or 2012 Desmond? --wash--
3B: 2010 Uribe/Sandoval/Fontenot mix or 2012 Zimmerman? --Z--
C: 2010 Posey or 2012 Ramos? --Posey (but by less than you think)--
OF: 2010 Torres, Rowand, Burrell, Guillen, Schierholtz or 2012 Harper, Willingham, Morgan, ??? --Nats 2012 outfield--

Remember that only two seasons ago the Giants were coming off four consecutive 70-some win seasons in the post-Bonds era. The team had no theme, as recently as 2008 their everyday lineup included Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Omar Vizquel. But Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Wilson were in place...the seeds were sown.

In the era of three divisions and the wild card, the distance from awful to champions is not that far.

James Hoy said...

Back in the days of 16 teams, 2 teams made the post season. And it was quite a feat to do so. Winning the pennant was a cause for celebration. Now, a team does not have to be the best in its division (they could even play for the wild card, like the Yankees might have done this year) to have a chance to be champions. We play 162 games to determine who the best teams are. Wild cards and expanded playoffs make those games irrelevant (see: NHL and NBA). With only 16-18 games in football, I can understand the use of wildcards. But at the end of the season in baseball, we KNOW who the good teams are. We shouldn't reward not being the best.

And, since this is baseball, let's look at some numbers. In the days of 16 teams, 2 teams made the playoffs, or 12.5% of teams. In the days of 20 teams, that was 10% of teams. We have 30 teams now, 8 of which make the playoffs. That's 26% of the league making the playoffs. When baseball reduces its season to 35 games, I'll get behind 26% of teams in the playoffs.

Heck, if it were up to me (and it never will be), we'd have two 12 team leagues and relegation, like English soccer.

Steve M. said...

This is another team that gives you some hope that you can build with young players you have drafted and sprinkle in some luck and BAM, you are a winner.

I still think a lot of luck. Cody Ross the hero of the playoffs and the 23 year old rookie Buster Posey (WOW) and Lincecum back to ACE form beating Halladay and Cliff Lee in the same post-season.

Who would have thunk it?

JD said...

SEC 3 mysofa,

the nats are better at every position except Catcher and maybe 2nd base some by a landslide:

3rd base, left field, SS.

It's just pitching baby,

DC Tom said...

1. Move one team from NL back to AL (Brewers, please).
2. Eliminate the divisions.
3. Top 6 teams from each 15-team league make the playoffs.
4. Give the top two team in each league a bye.
5. The other five teams in the playoffs have a double-elimination tournament that lasts a week.
The best part about playoff baseball is the desperation uses of starting pitchers as relievers in games 6-7...in a double-elimination tournament you'd have that from Day 1. Double-elimination tourneys are also part of baseball's tradition at every amateur level.
6. 7-game LCS and World Series.

Simple, elegant, resolves the crazy unbalanced schedule/unbalanced division structure we have now, gives a significant reward to the two teams that are no doubt the best two teams in baseball, gives you a very exciting and high-drama first week of playoff baseball (instead of the 9:30 pm start yawners we now must endure).

PHILLIE$ $UCK said...

I am still so darn happy to have seen the Phillies PHAIL. They are everything to hate in sports while at the same time admire what they have built minus the a$$hole phans. In the end, Halladay was not better than Lincecum and Oswalt wasn't better then Matt Cain.

The Rangers looked tired and their team was built around Cliff Lee being unhittable and Josh Hamilton bashing and while Cliff Lee was superb, Lincecum was better and Josh Hamilton looked real bad as did most of his teammates with their bats in the WS (.190 batting ave.)

The Giants came through clutch but I really think the way they beat the Phillies was more impressive.

Every World Series, some obscure player like a Cody Ross steps up and shines but at the end of the day, this Post Season was all about ACE pitching. Cliff Lee got his Rangers to the WS and Lincecum and Cain pitched lights out.

In a best of 7 series with travel time, 2 aces on one staff can shut another team off and thats what the Giants did.

SonnyG10 said...

I agree expanding the playoffs is a bad idea. The world series meant a lot more to me when it was just the pennant winners playing in the post-season.

dale said...

It was not only that SF had two aces, it was that Bumgardner blew away any fourth pitcher on any other staff. The Phillies looked unbeatable until they hit the road bump of the Giants. I loved that MLB went back to playing consecutive games again in the series, which actually means the third and fourth pitchers on the staff are vital to winning the series. Except for putting Pat Burrell in the lineup Bochy had an amazing intuition on who would come through. I loved watching the Giants play, I loved watching a skilled team play defense and get the timely hit. In the post steroid era, it will be the model to emulate: pitching and defense, no surprise there.

To the Dunn supporters, ask yourself how Dunn would have made a difference on the SF ballclub, the answer will validate Rizzo's thinking.

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