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Monday, September 13, 2004
Race for awards heating up

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

Sept. 12

Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield or Vladimir Guerrero for MVP? Or is it Mariano Rivera, who has been the backbone of a team with a 4.89 starters' ERA (staff 5.01 since the All-Star break) that has the best record in the league.

Mariano Rivera
Rivers has issued just 17 walks in 71-plus innings.

Ramirez leads in homers, runs created and has a huge lead (1.038, Sheffield .961, Guerrero .937) in OPS. Contrary to the notion that he is too often the clown, Ramirez has played hard most of the season. He goes out early almost every day to work with coach Lynn Jones on his left-field defense. But Sheffield's argument is that he has not had David Ortiz behind him, that his strikeout numbers (75/85 K/BB, where Ramirez has 114 strikeouts) have helped him be the league's most dangerous situational hitter.

Because winning the AL East is so important this season -- the Red Sox or Yankees will have a distinct homefield advantage -- the Ramirez-Sheffield MVP race may come down to the head-to-head meetings.

This is not a put-down of Ichiro Suzuki, who is an extraordinary player. He is a Gold Glove-quality right fielder who can throw. He brings energy to an aging team. But to most who have voted over the years, there is a difference between the Most Valuable Player and the Player of the Year. Was Alex Rodriguez the POY in 2003? Absolutely. Was he the MVP? Probably not. Was he therefore punished for being on a last-place team? Yes. And A-Rod's case last year was more compelling than Ichiro's this time around, because the leaders at the top are so much better candidates. At his current pace, Ichiro will reach base 311 times, which would rank him 74th for one season. Barry Bonds reached base 356 times in 2002, Carlos Delgado 334 in 2000, Jeff Bagwell 331 in '99, and among players of this generation, Mark McGwire, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi all had seasons in which they reached base more often.

And, lest we forget how great George Sisler really was, recall his 154-game line in 1920:

2B 3B HR R RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
49 18 19 137 122 42 46 19 .407 .449 .632 1.081

Of course, Barry Bonds had already reached base 334 times. His OPS is 1.445, with Jim Edmonds second at 1.117. What Bonds has done to keep the Giants in the wild-card race defines MVP no matter what happens from here on out, with all due respect to Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols, Edmonds and Scott Rolen. In the last eight seasons, the Giants have played 11 meaningless games. Thanks, Barry.

As for the Cy Young Award, Rob Neyer's Cy Young Predictor has great merit. Rivera and Eric Gagne are probably the most dominant pitchers in their respective leagues. But I have always thought of relievers as everyday players/MVP candidates, and I have a mental block that somehow the Cy Young Award winner is someone who records 650-750 outs. Is Curt Schilling's 740 outs more important than Rivera's 240 when the season is over? That's for a higher entity to decide.

Gagne may well win the award. But if it comes down to a starter, Carl Pavano, who leads the NL in wins and quality-start percentage, is the frontrunner. Or among those who haven't had the misfortune to pitch for the Diamondbacks.

IP BB/K ERA QS QS pct.
Johnson 215.2 41/257 2.75 22 71 %
Pavano 195.2 46/121 2.94 20 74 %

It makes one think that perhaps Randy should have opened up his trade list earlier. He did that the last week of July, too late. Florida GM Larry Beinfest says "we were in the middle of it. The Diamondbacks had said that whoever got Brad Penny could get Randy, so we had the Red Sox and Yankees working feverishly trying to get Brad. The Dodgers had the right package." Incidentally, for those who criticize the Dodgers for making that trade, their lead has increased, their bullpen ERA is actually lower and one of the biggest differences between the Dodgers and Padres is that Los Angeles got Steve Finley and San Diego did not.

Then there's the Johan Santana-Schilling debate. Santana's sick second half: 10-0, 1.38, 41 hits, 17 walks, 92 K, 78 2/3 IP -- likely wins. Schilling is 11-1 against teams with winning records; Santana 7-1, Pedro Martinez 8-5. Schilling is 10-3 after his team has lost, Santana 9-6. Schilling's run support is 7.37, Santana's 5.3.

Now, if Schilling beats the Yankees and pitches the Red Sox to the division crown ... both probably deserve to be in the top 10 in the MVP balloting, and Rivera and Joe Nathan as well.

Sisler sons remember
When Princeton coach -- and former major league catcher -- Scott Bradley was playing for Nashville in the Yankees organization, his hitting coach was Dick Sisler. "One day he called me up to sit next to him on the bus," Bradley said. "He showed me this four- or five-page letter that his father [George] wrote to him when he decided to get into coaching. It was about what good hitters should look for. I remember that he talked a lot about not getting beat on the fastball, that one should always look fastball and adjust, but I wish I had a copy of that today."

George Sisler's son Dave, who pitched Princeton to the 1951 College World Series and later pitched for the Red Sox, Tigers, Senators and Reds has never seen that letter. "Dad didn't talk a lot about the game with me," said Sisler, 73, semi-retired in St. Louis after a very successful investment career. "In fact, he only saw me pitch twice, once in a summer tournament game, although when he worked for Branch Rickey and the Dodgers he did see me throw batting practice almost every day. He was a very modest man, a wonderful, great, soft-spoken man who did not believe in self-promotion. It was only long after he retired from playing that he wrote a book on hitting. He ran a sporting goods company here in St. Louis, then in the late '40s worked for Rickey with the Dodgers."

As Dave Sisler, who was 38-44 in his major league career that included Ted Williams, Al Kaline and Frank Robinson as teammates, looks back, he wonders one thing. "I'd love to know how hard I threw," he said. "In those days, they didn't have radar guns, or anything like that. Teammates told me that I threw hard, but I don't really know."

News and notes
  • There is debate within the Oakland organization whether or not to bring up Huston Street, who was pitching for Texas in the College World Series in June. The A's have a serious problem in middle relief because they have no swing-and-miss guys. Street is in the PCL playoffs throwing up to 94 mph with his nasty slider and they could probably put him onto the postseason roster (a la K-Rod) if they get there. "I worry that that would be too much to put on Street's shoulders at this point in his career," Billy Beane said. "It was different with Nick Swisher. He had two full years of pro experience."

    Hudson
    Hudson

    Mulder
    Mulder

  • Another problem is that Oakland's starters have not had their usual second halves. Rich Harden is 6-1 with a 3.49 ERA since the break, but Mark Mulder (5-2, 5.06) has been out of sync, Barry Zito (6-3, 4.61) has struggled with confidence in his fastball and Tim Hudson (4-2, 4.09) was coming off injuries. The Big Three are all down in strikeouts per nine innings, Hudson from 6.8 for his career prior to 2004 to 4.8.

  • Arizona's selling point to Johnson this offseason will come if it signs Richie Sexson and re-signs Finley, thus restoring some hope for 2005.

  • Last year, when the Red Sox made their Brandon Lyon-Scott Sauerbeck deal with the Pirates, they were supposed to get left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez, now one of the nastiest left-on-left relievers in the NL, but the Lyon injury negated his inclusion. This winter, when they agreed to send Nomar Garciaparra and Scott Williamson to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez, the White Sox had agreed to put right-hander Brandon McCarthy -- 17-6 on three minor league levels this season -- in the trade as a throw-in.

  • One scout's opinion: The Phillies' Ryan Howard equals David Ortiz, which means he has to be traded to the AL because Jim Thome is in his way.

  • As the Mets and Orioles appear ready to shake up their scouting and development systems, Grady Fuson is rumored to be on his way to Baltimore to oversee its scouting operation.

    McLendon
    McLendon

  • J.P. Ricciardi is leaning toward bringing John Gibbons back as manager. And Dave Littlefield seems to be bringing Lloyd McLendon back in Pittsburgh.

  • Cleveland's principle experiment in September is to look at Jason Davis in the bullpen, where his sinker, which has been clocked as high as 100 mph, might be more effective. "This is not something definitive," GM Mark Shapiro said. "We just want to see how he bounces back and how resilient he is in that role." The fact that the winter free agent reliever market is so weak plays into the idea.

  • Eric Wedge believes that Grady Sizemore is a leader in the mold of Scott Rolen, Derek Jeter, Jason Varitek, Darin Erstad. Now with the depth they have, the Indians could have Jhonny Peralta at shortstop next season, with Brandon Phillips (all three positions), Casey Blake (3B-2B-1B), Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard in the infield.

  • The free agent shortstop pool includes Edgar Renteria, Nomar, Orlando Cabrera, Jose Valentin, Omar Vizquel, Pokey Reese and likely Julio Lugo and Cristian Guzman. Those potentially in the market include the Cardinals (if they don't sign Renteria), White Sox, Cubs (depending on Garciaparra), Giants, Diamondbacks, Red Sox (depending on Cabrera and/or Reese), Rangers and the Washington Lobbyists. "It's an interesting market," one GM said. "But where last year you had Miguel Tejada being bid on by the Orioles, Tigers and Mariners, there are enough market options that it's unlikely any of those shortstops will get Tejada money."