Rumblings and Grumblings
More Steroid Rumblings
Bud Selig's new steroid plan has garnered considerable attention over the past couple of weeks. So much attention, in fact, that it's almost completely obscured the fact that home run totals are considerably down from last year. Surprising? Not really, considering how many big leaguers showed up at spring training sporting more sudden weight loss than Anna Nicole Smith.
Many of the game's suspected former juicers are experiencing power draughts. Jason Giambi? Only three homers so far this year. Not-So Pudge-y Rodriguez? Also just three home runs. Sammy Sosa? Four home runs. And tellingly, Barry Bonds has yet to play this season.
Rafael Palmeiro, 10th on the all-time career home run list with 552 (through Friday's games), has just one home run this year, which ties him with noted sluggers Michael Restovich, Humberto Cota and Chris Magruder.
The modest threesome of Justin Morneau, David Wright, and Jason Lane started the season with 49 career home runs combined, compared to 1828 homers for the trio of Palmeiro, Bonds, and Sosa. And yet, this season, through Friday's games, each of them has hit as many home runs (5) as Palmeiro, Bonds, and Sosa combined.
Overall, home run rates are down 14% this year compared to 2004. The last time home run rates fell by as much as 14%? You have to go back to 1988, when home runs fell by 28% compared to the previous year. And who led the major leagues in home runs in 1987?
That would be Mark McGwire, with 49 long flies. That would be the same Mark McGwire who was so deft at dodging questions during recent congressional hearings that former Enron employees were seen taking notes.
You can be sure that we haven't heard the last of this. The ball is in Donald Fehr's court now.
Through Friday's games, the White Sox lead all major league clubs with a 22-7 record. They're hotter than the new iPod Shuffle, and what's more, they're winning despite ranking just 18th in MLB in runs scored. But that's not all that's confusing about the 2005 White Sox. They're leading the A.L. in stolen bases despite placing last in the league in triples.
For a team heralded for playing "small ball", it's curious to find them excelling in one speed category while failing so miserably in another. How curious is it? To find the last big league team to win a pennant while finishing first in stolen bases and last in triples, you have to look back to the 1890 Louisville Colonels of the now-defunct American Association. So can the White Sox defy history and do what no other team has done in 115 years?
"Sure, why not", said Giants GM Brian Sabean. "Who gives a crap about teams that finish first in stolen bases and last in triples?".
Shannon Stewart is starting to turn things around in May after a slow start in April. Stewart was plagued by injuries last season, preventing him from returning to his MVP-calibre form of 2003. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was optimistic. "When he's healthy, Shannon is one of the best outfielders on our club, no question" stated Gardenhire proudly.
Does he foresee a repeat of Stewart's magical 2003 season?
"Hopefully", laughed Gardenhire. "Shannon's willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win".
Devil Rays talent scout Marty Martins has a more unorthodox opinion on the subject. "Frankly", he scoffed, "Stewart's just not that good. His trade to the Twins in 2003 just happened to coincide with Radke and Lohse getting hot during the second half. It also happened at the same time that the Twins' management finally figured out that Johan Santana belonged in the starting rotation."
To say that Martins' opinion is a bit on the fringe is like saying that Paris Hilton's cell phone getting hacked caused her a bit of embarassment. "Stewart can play" said one NL GM. "He can energize a lineup". Said another: "He's a solid outfielder, no question". Royals bullpen coach Brian Poldburg agrees. "He's been very consistent throughout his career".
Maybe "Moneyball" was right after all -- what do scouts know? In particular, the Devil Rays -- who have averaged 62 wins per year over the last four years -- might want to put their scouting money where their mouth is.