Let’s get started with a quick fact.
Rockies record on May 19: 18-25
Rockies record, since May 19: 41-29
Why May 19? Well, it was on May 19 that the Rockies finally decided enough was enough, cut John Mabry, and recalled Ryan Spilborghs from AAA. Now, that wasn’t the only move the Rockies made around that time; on May 13, the Rockies shipped out BK Kim, and on May 21 the Rockies got Kaz Matsui back after over a month on the disabled list, but it seems like the biggest move. (On the subject of Kaz, the Rockies were 5-7 when he went on the DL, 13-20 without him, and 41-27 since.)
Yeah, Spilborghs is just a fourth outfielder, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that he’s a big reason why the Rockies have been a better team from mid-May on. Even in a bench role, replacing Mabry’s .118/.231/.235 with Spilborghs’s .343/.389/.615 was an obvious improvement. Coupled with the return of Kaz — who’s hitting .299/.339/.424 — the Rockies clearly got better around that time. It meant Jamey Carroll could return to the backup role he’s suited for. Furthermore, the recall of Spilborghs meant that the Rockies had a capable platoon partner for Brad Hawpe, relegating Jeff Baker, whose .218/.290/.319 has been a severe disappointment for the team. Spilborghs’s ability to play center at least adequately meant that Steve Finley and his .181/.245/.245 were no longer necessary.
Sure, the Rockies as a team started hitting better around that time. But to cut straight to the point, having Spilborghs available off the bench suddenly made the offense that much more dangerous. When the Rockies had Mabry, Finley, Carroll, and Baker — and, in Kaz’s absence, some combination of Omar Quintanilla and Clint Barmes — available off the bench, opposing pitchers had nothing to fear. Baker can hit for power, but he hasn’t been doing it. These days, it’s Carroll, Spilborghs, Sullivan, and Baker.
Just how important is a team’s bench? Late in the game, it’s key. Having to face Ryan Spilborghs late in a game is more daunting than having to face John Mabry (at least, the 2007 version of John Mabry.) And pinch-hit situations late in the game are, almost by definition, high-leverage situations. Spilborghs’ 1.73 WPA is seventh on the team, behind Hawpe, Holliday, Helton, Matsui, Tulo, and Francis. It’s a far cry from Mabry’s -0.60. (Props to Fangraphs for that.)
How good would the Rockies be if they’d made the right move and carried Spilborghs on Opening Day? We’ll never know. Somehow the Rockies weren’t convinced by the .412/.432/.735 he hit in Spring Training.
To change subjects — well, there’s a new home run champ, and his name is Barry Lamar Bonds. I’m no Bonds defender. However, I do think Bonds has received unfair treatment from the media.
First of all, even if Bonds has used steroids, he’s certainly not the only baseball player to have ever done it. Steroid controversy has surrounded Mark McGwire pretty much ever since he broke Maris’s record. Same goes for Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids. Jose Canseco freaking wrote a book about it. Jason Giambi has, through a few cryptic statements, probably admitted to using steroids.
All four of those players prove two things: first, that if Barry did anything, he certainly wasn’t the only one who did it; and second, well, none of those other guys hit 756 homers, now did they? From the way the media treats the story, you’d almost think that if I, a random, 5’9", 180-pound white guy, started using all of the performance-enhancing drugs that Bonds did, took on his workout regimen, and hired his personal trainer, I’d hit 756 homers, too. Hey, it’s a done deal, right?
Uh, wrong. Steroids may be a reason for the increased number of homers in the 1990s, but they’re not the only reason. Smaller ballparks, a smaller strike zone, "diluted pitching," and Major League Baseball’s expansion into Colorado have all played a role. 29 of Barry’s 756 homers have come in either Mile High Stadium or Coors Field. Without Colorado, Barry might still be looking for number 756.
I said the same thing when Barry hit #714: it’s still an accomplishment, steroids or not.
Also this weekend, Tom Glavine won his 300th career game, something that only 22 other players have ever done. Almost immediately, sports commentators said that Glavine was going to be the last guy to ever win 300 games. Apparently they didn’t learn their lesson when they proclaimed back in 2004 that Greg Maddux was going to be the last pitcher ever to win 300. Back then, Glavine was 41 wins away from 300 and was 38, so I suppose it was reasonable to think that Glavine would not get to 300. But still… are we just stupid now?
To say that nobody will ever win 300 games again is incredibly dumb. Sure, right now almost every team uses the "specialized bullpen" model, but who’s to say that twenty years from now some team won’t go back to the model that expects the starters to go seven or eight innings every time out?
While eleven active pitchers have won 200 games, nine of those are already 40. Mike Mussina, at 38, has 246 career wins, and while it’s certainly no guarantee, were he to pitch four or five more years, he could conceivably win 300. Further down the list, Tim Hudson, at 31, has 131 wins. He could get to 300 by pitching until he’s 42 and winning 15 games a year — which, if he continues to play for good teams, could happen. Barry Zito and Roy Oswalt, both 29, have 110 wins. Mark Buehrle, at 28, has won 106. C.C. Sabathia, at 26, already has 95 career wins. Heck, Felix Hernandez is 21, and he’s already got 24 career wins.
And you’re telling me that none of these guys will stay healthy, pitch long enough, and play for enough good teams to get to 300 wins? Saying that it’s unlikely to happen is one thing; saying it like it’s a guarantee is quite different.
That’s all for now. 19-4 today. I can smell the playoffs from here. Thanks, Spilly.