Wednesday August 29th, 2007

With the Yankees' recent bump in the road on their trip through Anaheim, and the Angels' continued success against them, it reminded me of something I've been puzzled about since the 2003 offseason: Why did the Yankees pursue Gary Sheffield instead of Vladimir Guerrero when they were both free agents?

Guerrero is younger, a better hitter, better defender, and faster than Sheffield. Plus, he would not have come with all of the attitude and hoopla that Sheffield generates. In the end, they signed Sheffield for nearly as much money per season (three years, $39 million) than Guerrero signed for (five years, $70 million). -- Jeff Neiger, Chicago

Good observation. In fact, there was a split among Yankees people on which guy to pursue. A lot of the baseball people wanted Guerrero, largely because he was younger. George Steinbrenner, though, preferred Sheffield. Remember, too, some people in baseball were concerned about Vlad's back at the time. The team you also should call out for not signing Vlad was the Dodgers, who let him slip through their hands to the Angels.

I get the feeling that the stats geeks would prefer not to play the games at all, just crank it through the computer, prove their point that Team A is best, and crown them champs, and then let the blogosphere and Internet argue it out, maybe use it for 10 or 12 more Top 10 lists. Maybe if y'all would put down the Bill James and actually watch a bleeping game you'd have a bleeping clue ... [The Diamondbacks and Mariners] play together, play smart, never give up an out, have exceptional closers, and win most of the games that they have a chance to win. It ain't rocket science; it's as old as when the only stats were wins, losses, batting average and ERA. -- Jon DeMent, St. Cloud, Minn.

Here's the way I look at it: It's not an either/or proposition. Stats can enhance your understanding and passion for the game; and your understanding and passion of the game should keep the stats in their proper context. What I find really interesting is when stats challenge some time-honored baseball "traditions" or conventions. But I still think one of the best things about baseball is -- despite the wealth of information we have about past performance -- its unpredictability. No matter how much we know about baseball, that will always be true.

Is there something wrong with me or am I the only person who thinks it is crazy to pay a pitcher $10-$15 million to play two-thirds of a game once a week? The more they are protected the shorter their careers. Insane. -- Darrell Fetzer, Greenville, S.C.

Believe me, you are not alone. It doesn't seem to make sense that despite advances in training and nutrition that we ask pitchers to work less and pay them more for it. But there are so few people in the world who can do that job well (or close to it) that there is a premium for such a service. And as for the salary, it's a reflection of how much we have come to value baseball, and sports in general, as an important part of our lives as an entertainment option. I am amazed how much the sport has grown in 25 years.

Seattle has a killer schedule to end the year. What do they need to do to stay in front? Can they do it without beating the Angels? -- Scott Menzies, Seattle

Yes, Seattle has only two off days in the last 45, with one off-day in the 37-day stretch they're in now. The upcoming Cleveland-Toronto-New York-Detroit trip may decide their fate. I don't think the Mariners are catching the Angels, but they should hang in the wild-card race through the last week of the season. They could grab the wild card, but only if their starting pitching picks it up. Maybe Jeff Weaver has turned a corner in his season, though he struggled in the M's loss to the Angels on Tuesday. We'll see.

Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes and Red Sox lefty Jon Lester have posted similar, albeit mediocre, results so far. Which phenom do you you see as having a higher ceiling and will go on to have a better career? -- Jun Shimmachi, Tokyo

Great question, because I have begun to think that people may be expecting too much from Hughes. Don't get me wrong. The guy is really, really good, but I don't know if he's Santana/Peavy/Halladay good. He may not be a knockout No. 1 starter the way some have anointed him -- at least not so soon. But I'd still give him the edge over Lester, because Hughes, despite being younger, allowed fewer baserunners and struck out more batters than Lester in the minors.

Wow, a Baltimore fan questioning the Devil Rays' existence given how bad they have always been is pretty funny. The only reason Baltimore has not been the worst team in the AL East for the past seven season is because of the Devil Rays. The Orioles have managed one season with a winning percentage over .475, so be careful what you ask for. The Devil Rays go away and the Orioles lose the 18 games a year against the Devil Rays which they've been able to use to get their records those seven seasons to the low .400s. -- John Holecek, St. Petersburg

Nice comeback. The Orioles are 92-70 against Tampa Bay. In other words, the Rays make the O's look like a playoff team. That's not easy to do. But I still think Baltimore is a sleeping giant in baseball: great tradition, great ballpark, great fans.

Re: Bert Blyleven. Go over to baseball-reference.com and compare Blyleven's stats to Bob Gibson's as adjusted for league average while they played. It's hard for me to understand why Gibson is supposedly so good and Blyleven isn't in the Hall of Fame, except that Gibson pitched under rules where ERA's under 2.00 were possible. -- Richard Aronson, Oakhurst, Calif.

You're not going to convince me that Blyleven was as good or better than Gibson. Give me each pitcher at his peak and there's no way I'd trade Gibson for Blyleven. But if your point is that Blyleven isn't as far off from Gibson as many people think, you may have a point. Take their very best seasons as ranked by relative ERA. Gibson does have four of the best six seasons between them. But stretch it out to eight and each can claim four.

It may seem shocking to the uninformed, or at least those out east, but Chris Young is pitching better baseball right now than anyone in the majors. Are Jake Peavy and him the best one-two punch in the majors? They both seem to be headed to the forefront of the NL Cy Young race. -- Ricardo C., Portland

I really like Young, but we have to see how his back holds up. Looks like he might be back on the mound this weekend. And yes, the Padres could be a very scary postseason team behind Peavy and Young. But at this rate don't expect Young to get more Cy support than Peavy or Brandon Webb. Young won't even win 15 games, but what's really not in his favor is his huge home park advantage. His home/road split has to be considered (0.66/3.59).

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