Here's the link to my final fantasy football column of the season:
Fantasy football: Holmes easy pick for MVP
For some reason (probably because there's nothing going on today), I was thinking about Manny Ramirez today. I wanted to see just how good a hitter he's been, so I headed over to Baseball-Reference.com to check out his player page. While I was there, I was completely blown away by something.
No, it wasn't the fact that he's had a batting average of at least .325 in five of the last seven seasons. It also wasn't the fact that his OBP has only dipped below .400 twice in the last nine seasons (and one of those times it was .399). Nor was it the fact that he's had an SLG above .585 in six straight seasons. It wasn't even that his OPS+ has been at least 140 for the last nine seasons and at least 160 for the last five seasons.
No, the thing that blew me away regarding Ramirez doesn't even have anything to do with his offensive performance, at least not directly. It has to do with a table that can be found at the very bottom of the page -- his salary table. What blew me away was that in eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Ramirez made just 75-percent as much money as he made last year with the Boston Red Sox.
Think about that. The Indians paid the grand total of $15.2-million for eight seasons in which Ramirez hit .313 with 237 doubles, 236 homers and 804 RBI in 967 games. Let me put it another way. The Indians paid $64,406.78 for every home run Ramirez hit for them. Last year, the Red Sox paid $540,540.54 for each of Ramirez's 37 homers. In case you don't want to do the math, that's 8.39 times as much money per home run.
The difference is almost as significant if you use runs created. The Indians paid $18,181.82 for each run created Ramirez provided for them. Last year, the Red Sox paid $141,843.97 for each of his 141 runs created. That's 7.8 times as much money per run created.
John Hart is taking a lot of crap for what's going on in Texas right now, but he sure knew how to lock players up in order to save money when he ran the Indians.
Recent events have finally closed the books on a trade that was made very early in the off-season. The trade to which I'm referring is Houston's trade of Billy Wagner to Philadelphia for Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio. When the trade was made, I was skeptical of how good a trade it was for both teams.
For Philadelphia, there was no doubting the quality of the reliever they acquired in Wagner, but I thought it might limit their ability to help a rotation that I thought needed some help. For Houston, saving $9-million was nice, but I wasn't sure they would actually use that savings to improve the team.
Well, after trading for Wagner and his $8-million salary, the Phillies traded for Eric Milton and his $9-million salary. They then surprisingly offered arbitration to Kevin Millwood and he accepted, meaning that he will also take up a hefty chunk of Philadelphia's payroll. Meanwhile, Houston did use the Wagner savings on the team, signing Andy Pettitte to a three-year contract worth $31.5-million.
So, both Philadelphia and Houston alleviated any concerns I had about the quality of this trade for either team. The funny thing to me now is the perception of each team in this off-season. Lots of people are talking about Philadelphia as the best team in the NL right now, while most people simply think the Astros are doing a good job considering their budgetary limitations.
Well, you might be surprised to hear this, but Philadelphia and Houston are remarkably similar. Both teams have good offenses, good starting rotations and good bullpens. Both teams also underachieved last year and both teams could have made the playoffs last year, but folded in the final weeks.
Houston went 87-75 last year, but scored 805 runs and allowed 677 runs for a Pythagorean record of 95-67. Philadelphia went 86-76, but scored 790 runs and allowed 697 runs for a Pythagorean record of 91-71.
And how do the teams stack up heading into 2004? Well, let's take a look.
First of all, both teams have offenses that, while good, have holes in two or three spots. Let me list the potential starting lineups for each team, with last year's OPS+ in parentheses for each player.
C - Mike Lieberthal (119)
1B - Jim Thome (151)
2B - Placido Polanco (112)
3B - David Bell (56)
SS - Jimmy Rollins (88)
LF - Pat Burell (89)
CF - Marlon Byrd (109)
RF - Bobby Abreu (134)
With 85 games played, Bell is the only player on that list who didn't take the field at least 120 times last year. He should play more often and he should hit better this year, but even at his best he won't be better than an average offensive player. Burrell should bounce back from an awful season and Byrd should continue to improve while Chase Utley may play second base more than Polanco. Thome, Lieberthal and Abreu should be just as good as they were last year and Rollins should be just as bad as he was. Essentially, I'd expect the Phillies offense to improve by 20-40 runs, which would put them above 800 runs scored.
C - Brad Ausmus (54)
1B - Jeff Bagwell (127)
2B - Jeff Kent (118)
3B - Morgan Ensberg (130)
SS - Adam Everett (79)
LF - Lance Berkman (137)
CF - Craig Biggio (95)
RF - Richard Hidalgo (142)
For Houston, I'd expect the offense to be at least as good in 2004 as it was in 2003. Berkman should be a little better, but Hidalgo should be a little worse. Ensberg should play more than 127 games, but he may not hit as well as he did in those 127 games. Kent should play more games and may hit a little better, but either Bagwell or Biggio could decline a little.
So, both Philadelphia and Houston should score at least 800 runs in 2004, which should put them both in the top five in runs scored in the NL again.
On the pitching side of things, both teams are once again very similar. Both teams have solid starting rotations that will likely include a pitcher who did little or nothing in 2003.
The Phillies will go with Millwood, Milton, Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf and Brett Myers. Last year, Millwood, Padilla, Wolf and Myers combined to give the Phillies 823.2 innings with a 4.06 ERA and I doubt they'll be much different in 2004. In the fifth spot, the Phillies got a 4.95 ERA in 145.1 innings last year, and Milton should be able to improve upon that pretty easily. I'd say Philadelphia's rotation should be about 10-20 runs better than it was last year.
In Houston, the rotation looks like it will be Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Carlos Hernandez and Tim Redding. It's harder to predict Houston's rotation's performance for 2004 because Oswalt has a bad injury history, Pettitte is switching leagues and Hernandez didn't pitch at all last year. Still, the Astros used a dozen starting pitchers to rack up a 4.29 ERA last year, and I'd have to think they can do at least that well this season.
Finally, we get to the bullpens. Philadelphia got a solid 3.72 ERA from its relievers and will pretty much be using Wagner and Tim Worrell to replace Jose Mesa, Mike Williams, Carlos Silva and Dan Plesac. The four departing relievers posted a 4.90 ERA in 200.1 innings. Wagner and Worrell posted a 2.30 ERA in 164.1 innings. I don't know if Worrell will be as good in 2004 as he was in 2003, but I think it's safe to assume that the Phillies bullpen will be significantly better than it was.
In Houston, the Astros will be without Wagner and his 248 ERA+ in 86 innings, but they've still got Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge and Ricky Stone, who combined to post a 3.25 ERA in 255 innings. Houston's bullpen will probably be worse in 2004, but I don't think it will be that significant, especially since the relievers shouldn't have to throw 581.1 innings again.
So, taking a look at all the quick and dirty predictions I've done here, I think Houston and Philadelphia will both score 810-830 runs and will both allow 660-680 runs. That would give both teams a Pythagorean record of between 95-67 and 99-63. Those may be a little high as expectations for these teams, but my ultimate point is that the teams aren't very different. So why is the perception surrounding them different?
Two reasons. First, Philadelphia's main division competition (Atlanta and Florida) has gotten worse this season while Houston's main division competition (Chicago Cubs) has gotten at least a little better. Second, Philadelphia has spent a ton of money while Houston has merely dumped one contract in order to be able to sign another.
Make no mistake about it, though. If Philadelphia deserves to be discussed as potentially the best team in the NL, then so does Houston. Sometimes, the payroll just doesn't really matter that much.