Friday, September 19, 2003

Football stuff

As many of you know, I'm currently writing a weekly fantasy football column for the newspaper I work at. Here's the link to this week's column:

Fantasy football: Sagging numbers plague top tight ends

As always, please let me know if you read the column. Also, many of you know that I'm picking the outcome of every football game this year as part of a friendly competition over at Seth Speaks. Here's the link to everybody's picks for Week 3.

Last week, I tied for the best record by going 12-4. Overall this season, I'm in second place with a 22-10 record.

Enjoy your weekend everybody. I definitely won't be posting tomorrow, because I will be attending the Syracuse vs. Central Florida football game at the Carrier Dome. Should be a lot of scoring going on, as both teams are in the top 30 in the nation on offense and both are in the bottom seven in the nation on defense.

Low scoring series

Did anybody notice just how few runs were scored in the just-completed Arizona/Los Angeles series? The Diamondbacks won the first two games by scores of 3-2 and 2-0 before the Dodgers avoided the sweep by winning 2-0 last night. For those of you who don't like to add, that's nine runs scored total by two teams in a three game series.

Arizona outhit the Dodgers 19-16 and outwalked them 12-7, but could only score one more run (5-4) over the three games. Arizona struck out 21 times and grounded into four double plays while Los Angeles struck out 20 times and was the victim of two double plays (one of which was of the strike-em-out, throw-em-out variety).

By far the strangest statistic of the series is that the two teams, despite scoring a grand total of just nine runs, combined for four home runs.

There were only 10 extra-base hits in the series (seven by Arizona and three by LA), but each team hit two homers, all of which were solo shots.

Arizona scored three runs in the first game on the strength of four non-home run extra-base hits. Junior Spivey hit two doubles and drove in two runs. Steve Finley hit a double and was the man to cross the plate on both of Spivey's doubles. Alex Cintron tripled and scored the other run on a Shea Hillenbrand groundout.

LA got half of its two runs in the first game on Jeromy Burnitz's 29th home run of the season. Alex Cora doubled and scored the other run on a Dave Roberts single.

There were only two extra-base hits total in the second game, and both of them were Luis Gonzalez home runs.

In the third game, Robin Ventura gave the Dodgers all the runs they would need with a second-inning home run. Roberts added an insurance run in the eighth when he walked, stole second and scored on Hillenbrand's error.

The amazing thing is that the starting pitchers didn't even have great strikeout and walk rates. The six starting pitchers combined to allow six runs on 28 hits and 11 walks with 29 strikeouts in 41 innings. That works out to a 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6.37 K/9IP and 2.41 BB/9IP.

Kaz Ishii was the only starter who did not pitch at least seven innings. He allowed two runs on five hits and three walks with four strikeouts in five innings in the first game.

Brandon Webb was the best starter in the series. He pitched eight shutout innings in the second game, allowing two hits and three walks with five strikeouts for a game score of 80.

The other four starters were very similar, as the all went seven innings. Wilson Alvarez had a game score of 72 after allowing no runs on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Miguel Batista had a game score of 68 thanks to just one run on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Curt Schilling allowed a run on eight hits and a walk with eight strikeouts for a game score of 64. Edwin Jackson allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts for a game score of 61.

The bullpens were almost as good as the starters. Eight relievers combined to allow three runs (two earned) on seven hits and eight walks with 12 strikeouts in 12 innings. That works out to a 1.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.00 K/9IP and 6.00 BB/9IP.

Everybody knows about LA's offensive woes, but Arizona may actually be a worse offensive team. Sure, Arizona has scored 4.33 runs per game this year and the Dodgers have only scored 3.58 runs per game, but LA plays in a pitcher's park and Arizona plays in a hitter's park.

On the road, the Dodgers have scored 3.85 runs per game while the Diamondbacks have managed just 3.72 runs per game. At home, Arizona almost looks like a decent offensive team with 4.92 runs per game while the Dodgers are killed by their stadium, scoring just 3.33 runs per home game.

In fact, Arizona is the second-worst scoring road team in all of baseball. Only the Expos, with 3.42 runs per road game, have been less potent with the bats away from home. Even the lowly Detroit Tigers have managed to score one more run on the road than Arizona in the same number of games.

If you're a fan of low-scoring games, you should definitely try to organize a tournament between the Dodgers, Expos, Tigers and Diamondbacks to take place at PacBell Park.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Day off

I hate to do this with so many people coming over from Aaron's Baseball Blog, but I have to take today off from blogging. I have to go put in a long (read: 12 hour) day at the office, which will inlcude me finishing up a special project, writing my fantasy football column and then working my normal five-hour part-time shift.

I promise that I'll be back with at least one post tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Roy Hobbs indeed

Over at Aaron's Baseball Blog, Aaron Gleeman casually referred to Michael Ryan as Michael "Roy Hobbs" Ryan. I wonder if Aaron truly appreciates the magical nature of the production the Twins have been getting from Ryan recently.

After yesterday's game, Ryan is hitting .389/.425/.750 (1.175) with four doubles and three home runs in 36 at-bats (19 games). Now, 36 at-bats isn't going to make or break any team's season, but when those 36 at-bats are as good as Ryan's 36 at-bats have been, it certainly helps.

Even though it's a small sample size and I know he probably won't even finish this season with numbers anywhere near this good, I can't understand how Ryan has an OPS of 1.175. You see, I feel at least somewhat more qualified to discuss Ryan than other players (although I discuss those other players anyway), because I live in Rochester, NY and Ryan played most of this season in Rochester, NY.

What's more, I saw and/or listened to at least 15 of the 115 games he played here. I'm also good friends with the beat writer who covers the Rochester team on a daily basis. In a word, Ryan was awful.

In those 115 games, Ryan received 408 at-bats and hit a paltry .225 with a .289 OBP and a .404 SLG for a .693 OPS. And this was from a 26-year-old outfielder who was spending his third full season at the AAA level.

Ryan collected 92 hits in 408 at-bats, and the only thing that prevented him from being truly terrible is the fact that he does have some pop and some patience. He hit 20 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs and drew 38 walks (while striking out 89 times).

If he ever was thought of as a top prospect, Ryan certainly cannot be thought of as a prospect at all right now. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Twins in 1996 and played 43 games that summer for the GCL (Gulf Coast League) Twins, hitting .197/.260/.275 (.534).

The next year, he played for Elizabethton of the Rookie-level Appalachian League and hit .300/.404/.386 (.790) in 62 games. Then, he played two full seasons for Fort Meyers of the Class A Florida State League.

In 1998, Ryan hit .318/.382/.471 (.853) in 113 games. I don't know why they sent him back to Fort Meyers after such a nice season there, but he regressed in 1999, hitting .274/.356/.393 (.749) in 131 games.

In 2000, Ryan played most of the season for New Britain of the Class AA Eastern League, where he hit .277/.323/.426 (.749) in 122 games. After that, he played the majority of the next two seasons with Edmonton of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

In 2001, Ryan hit .288/.353/.486 (.839) in 135 games. Then last year, he hit .261/.330/.522 (.852) in 131 games before getting a cup of coffee with the Twins, where he collected just one hit in 11 at-bats (for a line of .091/.091/.091).

Now, .839 and .852 aren't bad OPS's, but they're not great and they're especially not great in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. And that .852 in particular is not an especially great OPS coming from a 25-year-old outfielder who is spending his second full season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

At any rate, the only reason Ryan changed teams after two years with Edmonton is that the Twins decided to change their AAA affiliation. After their partnership with Edmonton in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League ended, the Twins formed a partnership with the Rochester Red Wings in the pitcher-friendly International League.

And so Ryan toiled through probably his worst season as a professional baseball player, only to get called up to the major leagues on August 12th and make a meaningful contribution to a team fighting for a playoff spot.

Heck, I'm not sure the story of Roy Hobbs was even that unbelievable.

While we're on the subject of me living in the city where the Rochester Red Wings play, I may be a very lucky baseball fan next summer.

You see, the Twins currently boast two of the best hitting prospects in all of Major League Baseball. First baseman Justin Morneau saw some time in Minnesota this year and spend the rest of the year slamming 25 home runs in 91 minor-league games. His final line of .268/.344/.498 (.842) in 71 games at Rochester isn't great because he slumped a bit after he was returned from Minnesota, where he had gotten rusty from sitting on the bench.

The other top prospect is catcher Joe Mauer, who was just named the 2003 Minor League Player of the Year after terrorizing pitchers at Class A and AA.

Depending on what the Twins do with A.J. Pierzynski and Doug Mientkiewicz, among others, there is a good chance that both Morneau and Mauer will start next season with the Rochester Red Wings.

If they do, I will be heading out to see as many Red Wings games as possible, because Morneau and Mauer could very well become the cornerstones of some very good Minnesota Twins teams. And I want to see them play while I've got the chance.

A follow-up

You may or may not remember that I wrote about Carlos Lee last Wednesday. In that post, I said, among other things:

"If you ask him, or certain media types, however, they would probably say he is having a breakout season. And that's unfortunate, because it means that he's unlikely to go back to drawing a lot of walks. And that means that his offensive value will have nothing to fall back on the next time he gets unlucky and loses 10-15 hits because of any of a number of things that can happen when you put the ball in play."

Well, in Tuesday's Chicago Sun Times, Doug Padilla wrote a story praising Lee for his breakout season (thanks to Mike Labuda of ChiSox Daily for emailing me the link). Here is part of what Padilla writes:

"Lee is on pace to have Thomas- or Magglio Ordonez-like numbers, with a chance to finish near 35 homers and 115 RBI, not counting what he might be able to do beyond Game 162 if the Sox qualify for the postseason."

First of all, it is patently ridiculous to say that Carlos Lee is as valuable to the White Sox as either Frank Thomas or Magglio Ordonez.

Coming into Tuesday's game, Lee had a .286 EqA while Ordonez was at .314 and Thomas was at .313. Lee also had 89.6 EqR, which was well behind Ordonez's 105.6 EqR and Thomas' 102.1 EqR. If you look at RARP (Runs Above Replacement Position), Lee is again a distant third on the White Sox. He is 25.3 RARP while Ordonez is at 48.2 and Thomas is at 25.3.

So, enough about Lee being as valuable, or even nearly as valuable, to the White Sox offense as Ordonez and Thomas. It's just not true.

It seems that Padilla's main reason for thinking that Lee is in the midst of a breakout season is -- surprise, surprise -- that Lee has set career highs with 30 homers and 104 RBI.

Aside from being largely unimportant, those numbers are also misleading. First of all, Lee is not hitting home runs any more frequently than he did last season. Last year, Lee hit 26 home runs in 492 at-bats, which works out to a homer every 18.9 at-bats. This year, coming into Tuesday, Lee had 30 homers in 572 at-bats, which works out to a home run every 19.1 at-bats.

What about Lee's power in general? Is he hitting for more power in this, his "breakout" season, than he did last year? Well, no. Not exactly.

Sure, Lee's .512 SLG this season is better than his .484 SLG of last year, but a lot of that is due to the fact that Lee is batting .294 this year after hitting just .264 last year. Lee's Isolated Power (IsoP, which is simply SLG minus batting average) is .218 this year compared to .220 last year.

Secondary Average (SecA) looks at a player's extra bases gained without looking at batting average, which is the most incosistent stat in baseball. The formula for SecA is (TB-H+BB+SB-CS)/AB.

Lee's SecA this year is .306. His SecA last year was .366.

Quite simply, the only thing Lee has really improved this season, aside from his RBI total, is his singles rate. This year, Lee has gotten a single every 5.5 at-bats. Last year, he got a single every 6.5 at-bats.

Getting a single is the most luck-dependent positive result possible for a hitter. Drawing a walk means that you exhibited patience at the plate. Hitting a double or a triple generally means you hit the ball hard. Hitting a home run means you hit the ball really hard.

Getting a single, however, could mean that you hit the ball hard, or it could mean that you hit the ball softly but not at anybody, or it could mean that you hit the ball so pathetically that it stays in the infield and nobody can get to it quickly enough to make a play.

Every year, there are many, many singles that were hit poorly enough that they should have been outs and many, many outs that were hit well enough that they should have been singles. Generally, the luck will balance out and a hitter will get approximately as many singles in his career as he should get.

A smart team will realize this and understand that a player who is hitting .294 after hitting .269 and .264 the previous two seasons is probably not really a .294 hitter. And if Lee isn't hitting .294, then he's really not going to be an asset at all unless he goes back to walking a lot like he did last year or he really exhibits a meaningful power spike.

So, that should take care of the notion that this is a breakout season for Lee simply because he's reached the magical 30-homer level. Now, to take care of the 100-RBI mark.

Yes, Lee has 104 RBI after averaging 85.3 RBI per season the last three years. What's the reason for this? All signs, or at least most of them, point to luck.

From 2000-2002, when he was averaging 85.3 RBI per year, Lee was hitting .268/.335/.467 (.802) with the bases empty. With runners on base, however, Lee hit .291/.350/.492 (.842) and he hit .279/.346/.495 (.841) with runners in scoring position.

So, Lee was a slightly better hitter with runners on base than he was with the sacks empty. This year, however, Lee is a much better hitter with runners on base and he's been ridiculously good with runners in scoring position.

With the bases empty, Lee is hitting .285/.332/.466 (.798) this year. With runners on base, Lee is hitting .305/.343/.573 (.916) this year. And with runners in scoring position, Lee is hitting .353/.387/.683 (1.070) this year.

Lee should get some credit for hitting well when it matters most this year, but it's not something he's likely to continue. Not only are RBI more of a team-dependent stat than a player-dependent stat, but Lee's RBI totals would very likely be worse even if he played next year with the exact same offense around him and had the exact same overall offensive numbers himself.

You might think that Lee is being helped by batting second with Thomas and Ordonez behind him, but that's not that big a factor. He is hitting better in the two-hole than he's hitting overall, but he has 221 at-bats batting second and 336 at-bats batting either fifth or sixth. So, I don't think you can really draw any conclusions in either direction from his spot in the lineup.

When you look at all of the numbers involved, you can't help but reach the conclusion that Lee has been, at best, just as good this year as he was last year. It's possible that he's been worse this season than he was last year, and this certainly hasn't been a breakout season.

What's more, his offensive achievements this season seem to be dependent upon a large amount of luck, while his offensive achievements last season were almost entirely dependent upon himself. Hopefully for the White Sox, their front office understands this better than their players, their manager and their beat writers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Bad comparison

A couple of notable free swingers from the Dominican Republic had nice games last night. Vlad Guerrero hit his 25th home run of the season in just his 101st game and Alfonso Soriano hit two home runs to join the 30-30 club for the second year in a row with 31 homers and 33 steals.

Soriano is a good hitter and he's an impressive physical specimen. He's such a rare type of hitter that there are no really good comparisons for him. When most people try to come up with a comparison for him, however, they think of Guerrero. And people have often said that they think Soriano could become as good a hitter as Guerrero is.

Quite simply, that's a horrible comparison and it was never realistic to think that Soriano could hit like Guerrero.

Soriano's first extended playing time in the majors came at age 23 in 2001. He played 158 games and hit .268/.304/.432 (.736) with 34 doubles, 18 homers, 29 walks, 125 strikeouts and 43 steals in 57 attempts (75.4-percent success rate).

Guerrero's first extended playing time in the majors came at age 21 in 1997. He played 90 games and hit .302/.350/.483 (.833) with 22 doubles, 11 home runs, 19 walks, 39 strikeouts and three steals in seven attempts.

Just by looking at each player's first season, you can see two major differences between them. First, Soriano is a very good basestealer and Guerrero is not. Second, Guerrero has an uncanny ability to make contact with almost any pitch and Soriano does not.

Both trends have continued for each player.

In his three-year career, Soriano has 119 steals in 155 attempts for a 76.8-percent success rate. In his career, Guerrero has 122 steals in 192 attempts for a 63.5-percent success rate. Both players have put up gaudy stolen base totals before -- Soriano has at least 30 steals in each full season he's played and Guerrero had 77 steals over his last two seasons -- but Soriano is a good basestealer and Guerrero is a bad basestealer.

The other thing you'll note is that Soriano has struck out at least 120 times in each of his three full seasons. After 125 strikeouts as a rookie, he fanned 157 times last year and has 120 strikeouts so far this season. Guerrero, meanwhile, has never struck out even 100 times. He struck out 95 times in 1998, which was his first real full season, and then had strikeout totals of 62, 74, 88 and 70 each of the last four seasons while playing almost every game. This year, he has 48 strikeouts in 101 games, which would project to 77 in 162 games.

After Soriano's lackluster rookie season, he captured everybody's attention by nearly joining the 40-40 club last season. He finished with 39 homers and 41 steals in 156 games and he managed to keep his batting average right at .300 while posting a .332 OBP (thanks to just 23 walks) and a .547 SLG for an .879 OPS.

A lot of people plugged Soriano for the AL MVP award last year, but he wasn't nearly as deserving of the award as Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez (although he was more deserving than the guy who did win the award).

This year, his third full season, Soriano is hitting .287/.335/.502 (.837) with 33 doubles, 31 homers, 35 walks, 120 strikeouts and 33 steals. It is a very good season for a second baseman, but he is not one of the best offensive players in baseball.

In Guerrero's second and third seasons in the majors, he hit .324/.371/.589 (.960) and .316/.378/.600 (.978). He averaged 37 doubles and 40 home runs those two years. He walked 42 times the second year and 55 times the third while striking out 95 times in year two and 62 times in year three.

Really, aside from the basestealing, everything about Guerrero is better than Soriano.

While Soriano struggled to hit .300 last year and hit well under .300 his other two seasons, Guerrero has never hit below .300 and hit .345 in his fourth season.

Soriano's .335 OBP this season is the best of his career. The .350 OBP Guerrero posted as a rookie was the only time in his career that he got on base less than 37-percent of the time. This year is Guerrero's third with an OBP above .400.

Soriano had a .547 SLG last year and has a .502 SLG this year. Those SLG's would rank seventh and eighth in Guerrero's career, behind his six full seasons and ahead of his 90-game, .483 SLG rookie season. Guerrero's worst SLG in a full season was his .566 mark in 2001.

Baically, there are two reasons why Soriano is a very nice offensive asset. First, he plays almost every game. After missing 10 games combined the last two years, he would miss just seven games this year if he plays in the rest of the Yankees games.

Second, he plays second base, although some of that value is counteracted by the fact that he does not play second base well.

If you put Soriano in left field, as it has occasionally been suggested will eventually happen, he would not be nearly as good an offensive asset. Although, he may still be seen as a great player because he hits home runs and steals bases, and the media loves guys who can do those things, especially if said player can do both things together.

When all is said and done, Soriano's going to have been a much better fantasy player than he ever will be in the real game. Guerrero, meanwhile, has a chance to go down as one of the greatest hitters to grace the baseball diamond.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Interesting trio

An interesting group of young pitchers started for their respective teams yesterday. If I were to ask you to say one thing about Carlos Zambrano, Matt Riley and Cliff Lee, you might say the following:

Zambrano is an up-and-coming major-league pitcher, Lee is an impressive prospect and Riley is a former top prospect. While those would pretty much be accurate, it's interesting to note the ages of the three pitchers.

Zambrano is the youngest at 22 years old, Riley just turned 24 years old and Lee just turned 25 years old. Of the three, Riley is probably the pitcher most people know the least about.

Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 1997 draft, Riley didn't pitch professionally until 1998, when he had a 1.19 ERA, 136 strikeouts (14.75 K/9IP) and 44 walks (4.77 BB/9IP) in 83 innings for Delmarva in the Class A South Atlantic League. He obviously wasn't a real polished pitcher, but he had great stuff.

It was that stuff that allowed him to move up in the Orioles system quickly, maybe too quickly.

In 1999, Riley started the year at Frederick in the Class A Carolina League and posted a 2.61 ERA with 58 strikeouts (10.10 K/9IP) and 14 walks (2.44 BB/9IP) in 51.2 innings. After that, he moved up to Bowie of the Class AA Eastern League and had a 3.02 ERA with 131 strikeouts (9.38 K/9IP) and 42 walks (3.01 BB/9IP) in 125.2 innings.

Having already pitched 177.1 innings that year at the tender age of 20, the Orioles decided to call him up to pitch 11 more innings in the major leagues. Riley struggled, allowing nine runs on 17 hits and 13 walks with just six strikeouts.

The next year, injuries struck. Riley pitched just seven innings in 2000 (for Rochester of the Class AAA International League) and did not pitch at all in 2001. If that didn't take away his prospect status completely, the fact that he was also thought of as immature and having an attittude problem did.

Last year, Riley finally returned and he still had his control problems, but he no longer had the amazing strikeout rate to go with it. In 109.1 innings at Bowie, Riley posted a 6.34 ERA with 105 strikeouts (8.64 K/9IP) and 48 walks (3.95 BB/9IP).

Having fallen completely off the map, Riley finally started to make progress towards a real big-league career this season. He started this season at Bowie again and had a 3.11 ERA with 73 strikeouts (9.08 K/9IP) and 23 walks (2.86 BB/9IP) in 72.1 innings when he was promoted to Ottawa of the Class AAA International League. There he posted a 3.58 ERA with 77 strikeouts (9.85 K/9IP) and 28 walks (3.58 BB/9IP) in 70.1 innings.

With the IL season and playoffs complete, Riley made his first major-league appearance in about four years yesterday. He finally picked up his first big-league win, allowing two run on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Riley obviously still needs to improve his control, but he's still young, he still has good stuff and he's still left-handed. All of which means that he can definitely be a part of Baltimore's starting rotation next season. He's not a top prospect anymore, but that doesn't mean he can't still become a good pitcher.

Then there's Lee, who was already 22 years old when he pitched professionally for the first time. Lee was drafted by the Montreal Expos in fourth round of the 2000 draft and went straight to Cape Fear of the Class A South Atlantic League, where he posted a 5.24 ERA with 63 strikeouts (12.69 K/9IP) and 36 walks (7.25 BB/9IP) in 44.2 innings.

Having gotten a taste of pro ball, Lee was much better the following season at Jupiter of the Class A Florida State League. He had a 2.79 ERA with 129 strikeouts (10.59 K/9IP) and 46 walks (3.78 BB/9IP) in 109.2 innings.

Then last year, Lee had a crazy season. He started the season at Harrisburg of the Class AA Eastern League and was pitching very well with a 3.23 ERA, 105 strikeouts (10.95 K/9IP) and 23 walks (2.40 BB/9IP) in 86.1 innings when the Expos traded him to Cleveland as part of the package for Bartolo Colon.

The Indians stuck him in Akron of the Easterrn League for 16.2 innings before promoting him to Buffalo of the Class AAA International League. In 43 innings at Buffalo, Lee had a 3.77 ERA with 30 strikeouts (6.28 K/9IP) and 22 walks (4.60 BB/9IP). After the IL season ended, the Indians gave hmi his first shot at the major leagues. Lee made two starts and allowed just two runs on six hits and eight walks with six strikeouts in 10.2 innings.

Despite the fact that his numbers from last season didn't really suggest that he was ready, Lee was rumored to be in contention for a spot in Cleveland's rotation this spring. Then, right as the season was about to start, an abdominal injury landed him on the 60-day disabled list.

When he returned, Lee went back to Akron for 12 innings before pitching most of the season at Buffalo. In 63.1 innings there, he posted a 3.27 ERA with 61 strikeouts (8.67 K/9IP) and 31 walks (4.41 BB/9IP).

Lee did pick up his first major-league win at the end of June, when he allowed two unearned runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts in six innings against Kansas City. Lee did not make another appearance in the majors until mid-August, however, when he returned to Cleveland's rotation, presumably for good.

When he did return, Lee made three nice starts in a row, allowing nine runs (eight earned) on 19 hits and three walks with 19 strikeouts in 21 innings. After that, however, Lee had some problems, allowing six runs (just two earned) on four hits and three walks with two strikeouts in three innings to the Detroit Tigers and then allowing two runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts in 5.1 innings against the Chicago White Sox.

Yesterday, Lee was back in control, allowing Minnesota to score three runs on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in seven innings. With that performance, Lee has a 3.19 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 14 walks in 42.1 innings in the major leagues this season.

Like Riley, he's a left-hander with good stuff and questionable control. He should be a full-time member of Cleveland's rotation starting next season.

Finally, pretty much everybody knows about Zambrano. At just 22 years of age, he has a 2.77 ERA (sixth-best in the NL), 160 strikeouts (10th-most in the NL; 7.05 K/9IP) and 86 walks (eighth-most in the NL; 3.79 BB/9IP) in 204.1 innings (sixth-most in the NL).

Since the All-Star break, Zambrano has a 1.61 ERA with 66 strikeouts (7.10 K/9IP) and 29 walks (3.12 BB/9IP) in 83.2 innings. He's pitched three complete games in that time while going 7-2.

Clearly, Zambrano appears to have the best future of these three young pitchers. The big question is whether or not he'll get a chance to see that future.

While pitching his third complete game of the season yesterday, Zambrano threw 129 pitches. That was the fifth time this season that Zambrano has thrown more than 120 pitches.

For the season, he averages 106.8 pitches per start, but he has been abused much more in recent games, which isn't really surprising considering that the Cubs are in a playoff race.

In his last 10 starts, Zambrano has averaged 115.2 pitches and he's thrown more than 115 pitches seven times. In his last four starts, he's averaged 119.5 pitches.

I know every game is critical to Chicago's chances of making the playoffs, but Dusty Baker and the Cubs need to be careful with Zambrano. If the only way they can make the playoffs is to work him as hard as they have been recently, then I'd rather they didn't make the playoffs. Playing in October isn't worth the risk that Zambrano won't be able to play at all for an extended period of time.

It will be interesting to see which one of these young, hard-throwers with less-than-stellar control will end up having the best career. We need only look at another of yesterday's pitchers to remember that you can't always tell what will happen to a pitcher with great stuff and not-so-great command.

Yesterday, Randy Johnson pitched a complete-game, one-hit, one-walk, 12-strikeout shutout. His game score yesterday was 96, which may be the best of this season (Kevin Millwood had a 94 game score when he threw his no-hitter).

When Johnson was 22 years old, he had just started pitching professionally after being drafted by Montreal in the second round of the 1985 draft. He had a 5.93 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 24 walks in 27.1 innings for Jamestown of the short-season New York-Penn League that year.

When he was 24 years old, Johnson pitched the whole season for Jacksonville of the Class AA Southern League. He had a 3.73 ERA with 163 strikeouts (10.48 K/9IP) and 128 walks (8.23 BB/9IP) in 140 innings.

At age 25, Johnson started the season with Indianapolis of the Class AAA American Association, where he posted a 3.26 ERA with 111 strikeouts (8.81 K/9IP) and 72 walks (5.72 BB/9IP) in 113.1 innings. He also got his first shot in the majors that year, posting a 2.42 ERA with 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 innings with the Expos.

I'm sure nobody envisioned Johnson turning into one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time back then, just like nobody knows exactly what will become of the three young pitchers who caught my interest yesterday.