BTB Awards Week 1

Welcome to a new BTB weekly feature. The weekly awards are something that I dreamed up while reading a Gregg Easterbrook column on ESPN's Page 2. Every week he calls out coaches, players, and anybody else who does something stupid and praises people when they get it right despite the orthodox groupthink that tends to infect sports on a regular basis. In baseball we have numerous things that make thinking fans grind their teeth while they sleep and a certain number of things that just need to be pointed out so that all can see. The column will come out late Monday, early Tuesday every week.

So here's an introduction to the award categories. Every award is not necessarily going to be handed out every week. And as we go through this season and seasons to come, the categories will evolve.

This Week's Small Sample Size Warning

Tony Pena Jr. has a career minor league line of .253/.285/.335/.620. This week he hit .286/.318/.571/.890 for the Royals. That .571 slugging percentage was inflated by the three triples he collected in those 21 at bats. He has 14 career triples in 2308 MiLB at bats. Consider yourself warned.

Also consider that the week's poor weather contributed to the sample size problems. The Mariners as a team had 89 at bats as they played 3 official games.

And that brings me to the point that baseball should put forth some modest efforts to modify the schedule to reduce the number of ridiculously cold games fans and players have to endure. It's not every year that a city has a foot of snow fall during the baseball season, but every year you do see a number of games in Chicago or New York or Detroit where the temps are in the 30's. Teams shouldn't have to wait until May for their home openers, but getting road trips to Miami, Tampa, Houston, Phoenix, LA, Seattle, Milwaukee, and Toronto in early just makes sense.

Please don't bring this up when I'm complaining about 95 degree afternoon games in July.

This Week's Proof That Assigning Wins and Losses to a Pitcher is a Silly Practice that Must Stop

Good Luck Division:

Vulture alert! Vulture alert! On Tuesday night, Jarrod Washburn gave the Mariners 6 good innings, allowing 2 Oakland runs, "scattering" 3 hits and 3 walks. In came Julio Mateo at the start of the 7th inning, screwing it up for the home team. Mateo allowed 2 runs, both of them earned to give up the lead. Mateo was then bailed out by Kiko Calero, who only threw 10 pitches in the game, but was charged with 3 runs, all of them earned, highlighted by an improbable two run homer by Yuniesky Betancourt. Mateo got "credited" with a win for his effort.

Bad Luck Division:

Daisuke Matsuzaka's US debut was a triumphant one. He threw 7 stellar innings, fanning 10 Royals, walking one, allowing only 6 hits and a single run. But assigning wins and losses to pitchers is a zero sum concept so somebody had to take the loss and that was Zack Greinke, who happens to be one of my personal favorites both as a clearly biased Royals fan and as a fan of smart, crafty pitchers, and as somebody who roots for people who are clearly trying to overcome problems that aren't of their own making. Greinke was spectacular in his own season debut, going 7 innings himself, striking out 7, walking one, and allowing 8 hits and a single earned run. Unfortunately, his defense failed him and he allowed an unearned run as John Buck's throwing error let Julio Lugo to score from third. The Royals offense and bullpen also didn't help as they couldn't score on the BoSox relief corps and Joel Peralta allowed another 2 runs (one of them earned, the other not so much). Both of these starting pitchers did everything their teams asked them to do and then some. The idea that one of them should have their stat sheet branded with a sign of failure is a moronic notion that has no place in the modern game.

The Rico Brogna Award

Rico Brogna drove in over 100 runs in both 1998 and 1999 for the Philadelphia Phillies. In those two seasons he posted OPS's of .765 and .790 as a first baseman during the peak of the sillyball era. The average National League hitter in 1999 had an OPS of .771. Brogna was hurting his team by being an average NL hitter playing an offensive position. Nevertheless, rotoleaguers, color analysts, and sportswriters were high on Rico Brogna because he was an "RBI man". He could drive in runs. There's always a Rico Brogna though. Every season some mediocre hitter gets gifted with some baserunners and even though he COSTS his team runs by not getting on base and hitting for power at a higher rate than his positional rivals.

This week's award goes to Chris B. Young, who drove in 9 runs this week despite posting a batting line of .192/.214/.346 in 26 at bats. I wouldn't worry too much about him continuing to hit this poorly. He's much better than this. Nevertheless, it's certainly odd that somebody who has hit that poorly would be the NL leader in runs batted in.

The Harmon Killebrew Batting Average is for Wussies Award

Harmon Killebrew had a long, productive career that led him to the Hall of Fame. He hit 573 home runs, walked 1559 times, and won the 1969 AL MVP award. He also has a career batting average of .256 and never hit .300 unless you count the season where he was an 18 year old rookie and had 13 at bats. Still, batting average isn't everything and the Killebrew award demonstrates that you can be valuable while not posting a gaudy batting average.

Big Papi hit .217 this week in claiming the title. How does a DH bat .217 and still carry his weight on offense? Simple, 4 of his 5 hits went for extra bases, 2 doubles and 2 homers.  He also added 3 walks, bringing his full line to .217/.333/.565. It's still early, but that's a textbook example of what this award is about.

The Rey Sanchez Batting Average is all I've Got Award

Rey Sanchez was a lousy hitter, but while he was with the Royals nobody ever seemed willing to admit that he was a lousy hitter courtesy of him having a superficially attractive batting average. There's always a Rey Sanchez around who puts up a batting average just good enough to make everybody forget about the extra base hits he isn't collecting and the walks he isn't drawing. Secondary skills are important.

You won't find Sanchez anywhere on Carlos Lee's most comparable player list, but he's our leader in the clubhouse for the Sanchez Award. .278 sounds nice and all, but when that's all you do, it doesn't help. Lee hit .278/.292/.400. A .692 OPS doesn't cut it as a corner outfielder.

The Steve Balboni Award

Think of this as the antidote for the Sanchez Award. While batting average isn't everything and you can be a lousy hitter with a decent batting average, you can only go so far with the no batting average thing before it drags you down. Steve Balboni had a couple of good, not great seasons for my Royals in the mid-80's, but his inability to get hit batting average up over .245 made it hard for him to be a real asset most seasons. It's possible to be a good hitter while batting .230, but you have to draw one heck of a lot of walks and hit one heck of a lot of home runs.

Adam LaRoche had a tough week. He struck out 13 times in 24 at bats. Sure he walked 3 times and smacked a homer and a double. But because of the K's, he only came out of it with a line of .158/.273/.368.

The Hacktastic Award

This should be fairly straightforward. It should be even more obvious when I tell you that Alex Gordon was the runaway winner here by flailing to the tune of .053/.100/.053 with no walks, no extra base hits, and 8 whiffs in 19 at bats.

3 True Outcomes Alert!!!

Let's talk about the week that Mark Teahen had. He demonstrated a three true outcomes approach that I don't recall him having in the past. In a mere 15 at bats, he hit a home run, drew 6 walks, and struck out 7 times. That's 21 plate appearances, a full two thirds of which, the defense could well have been painting their nails, reading the newspaper, or signing autographs in the crowd and nothing would have changed.

Yes, that makes it 4 awards that I've given to the Royals and yes, the Royals are my favorite team. I never claimed any sort of neutrality. Don't like it? Suggest somebody else next weekend.

This Week's Dumbest Thing Ever

I may be nitpicking here, but I was watching the Cubs/Reds game on Wednesday night's game and something just irked me a bit. In the top of the 8th inning, the Cubs were up 2-1 on the road with runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs. The Reds brought in Mike Stanton and the Cubs countered with Ryan Theriot. Theriot was under orders to sac bunt the runners over. Stanton's first 2 pitches are way, way off the plate on the inside corner. Theriot leaps out of the way of both pitches before succeeding in laying down a bunt to Edwin Encarnacion and being gunned down at first, just as planned. He got high fives all around for a job well done. I might be the only one on the planet who was thinking this at the time, but if he would have just turned a bit and let Stanton hit him in the hindquarters or back of the leg, he would have had a painful bruise, but he would have advanced the runners AND he would have preserved the out. Bases loaded, nobody out is a far better outcome than runners on second and third, one out. I know it's easy for me to say since I'm not the one who would be leaning into a pretty solid object thrown at a high rate of speed, but isn't it worth an extra ice pack in the trainer's room for a much better game situation? This is made all the more obvious since the Reds intentionally walked Michael Barrett with the next 4 pitches, setting up the possibility of an inning-ending double play. So you now have bases loaded, 1 out. Am I alone here?

This Week's Completely Made-Up Award

There are certain kinds of genius (or stupidity) that nobody sees coming and which fall into no specified award category. It's just a special way to recognize the unique, the indescribable, the special.

Special recognition should be paid to Howie Kendrick, who did alright for my keeper league team with a head to head points setup, but didn't do much for the Angels as he only hit .231/.259/.346 with no walks, a homer, and 7 strikeouts. When you don't take walks, you need to either go the Ichiro route, never striking out and living on batting averages that are well into the .300's, or they need to go the Alfonso Soriano route, packing on the power.

I need the help of you, the reader. If you see something or hear something that needs a forum, drop me a line at JMBarten@gmail.com. I really appreciate the heads-up that I can get from you the reader. This is my column, but I want to involve you in this thing.

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