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Baseball considerations: Chris Martin, AL MVP, Millar in the booth, '84 Fisk, Clemens, Ashburn

Thursday 9/21/23

Chris Martin is having what's being talked about as an amazing year for a relief pitcher in Red Sox history. There haven't been many bright spots for the 2023 edition of the Old Towne team, but he's one of them.

This is true, but it's also somewhat fluky. I don't just mean in terms of what you'd expect from Chris Martin in his age thirty-seven season. He's been average to slightly better than average as a reliever in his eight years in the Big Leagues, having gotten started late. I would suggest though that this season doesn't mean a whole lot from him, and not just because it's later in his career, which makes it mean even less going forward.

In 54 appearances, he has an ERA of 1.07, which is good for an ERA+ of 428. You won't see too many of those. But it's not sustainable, even if he was younger. It's not close to sustainable.

I can tell you exactly why Martin has had this success this year: he doesn't walk anyone. He has issued only eight walks on the year. I can also tell you why something will give, though, and probably next year. I'm not sure what his contract status is, but the Sox might want to sell high on this guy. Because despite that ERA, Martin gives up a lot of hits. For instance, in his last five appearances, he's thrown a total of five innings. He's given up eight hits in those five innings. Despite that ERA, his WHIP is 1.053.

Now, when I see an ERA that low, I'm expecting a WHIP well under 1. He's pitched well, but like I said, it's also been a year when things have just gone his way and not caught up to him. But they always do in baseball eventually. Your luck will run out.

I remember being in first grade and sitting in the basement of the Mansfield library after school one day, reading a book about the history of the Boston Red Sox. On the last page, it said something like, "If the Red Sox aren't in the postseason, they're contenders. If they're not contenders, they're spoilers." It gave the Red Sox credit for always be something positive, no matter how much they sucked, like the Red Sox couldn't fail to be something positive and admirable. Spoilers sounds noble: you're finished, but you're doing the right thing. You're Sydney Carton.

I thought about that Tuesday night, that lowly spoiler designation, watching the Sox play the Rangers in Texas. The Rangers needed the game, as they're fighting for a playoff spot, and they got it, and yesterday's contest as well, which they took by a score of 15-5. And I did think, "It's like that damn book--I'm watching simply to see them play spoilers." But that didn't make me think that part of the book was any more correct than I recall thinking it was back in first grade. I did like the idea, though.

He has no chance of winning it, but Corey Seager should be the AL MVP. It's a down year in the AL for MVP candidates. There really aren't many viable ones.

Saw someone pose the question of who is the best player who debuted after 1920 to have less than 300 home runs? I would say it's either Rickey Henderson or Joe Morgan.

Carlton Fisk had a bad year in 1984, but he did hit 21 home runs, which was--and is--pretty good for a catcher, but I'm afraid those home runs were also a source of embarrassment. Fisk only had 41 RBI that year, despite those home runs. He missed time--he only had 359 at-bats--but still, that's a stat coupling that really stands out. He logged a terrible OBP of .289, and yet still had an OPS+ of 102, meaning he was a better than average hitter that year. Of those 21 home runs, 18 were solo shots. The other three were two-run jobs.

How weird is that? Fisk was hitting second in the line-up for all but three of those home runs (twice he was in the clean-up spot, and one was in a pinch-hitting role), so the bottom of the line-up guys would need to be on, which is obviously less likely than the guys hitting second/third/fourth--in theory--but however much they were or weren't, that's just a really strange home run to RBI ratio.

Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, which is the most by anyone, but he should have won nine.

Kevin Millar says some bizarre things when he's in the Red Sox booth, like when he casually stated the other night that Triston Casas is now a guy who will hit 40 homers every year, when the much greater probability is that Triston Casas will never hit 40 home runs in a season. But he made a key point, I thought, when he said that guys used to talk to each other, as teammates, about what they saw in each other's swings, whereas now, a guy makes an out and he goes down the tunnel to look at video of himself.

I think that's huge, and it's one reason why I believe that a baseball player in 1960 was no worse than a baseball player right now. I don't think current players are better than in times past. Not in baseball. In football, basketball, hockey, they are physically superior. I'm not saying they're more creative. But in baseball, as I've written in these pages, I don't think harder, faster, stronger is automatically better. It's a more refined, nuanced game than that. Force is not the end all be all. It may not even help you. And it's not the de facto way to be the most successful, or even the most likely way, I'd say.

I maintain that there was value in living the game. Being a team unit, talking the game constantly. The ins and outs. You can't tell me that that didn't have rub-off on players and their ability to perform at higher levels. That's the nature of environment. And baseball once had more of a baseball-based environment, which sounds odds, but there's truth in that statement.

I have always thought Richie Ashburn was a pretty cool player. He's in the Hall of Fame, but it took him a while to get in, because he had zero pop, and he played in an era where the top outfielders--Mickey, Willie, the Duke, Aaron, Frank Robinson--had big-time pop.

Ashburn only hit 20 career home runs. And you know what? He didn't really hit that many doubles, either. His career high for those was 32. His 162 game average for doubles was 23. Paltry! He twice led the league in triples, but Ashburn pretty much hit singles and got into the Hall of Fame for hitting singles. He also walked a lot. Twice he led the league in batting average--and I will always believe that means something--and led in OBP four times.

But when you have no power, you're usually shit out of luck on the OPS+ front, and it took all of those singles and walks to get Ashburn to 111 on that score for his career. He was an exciting player. Lively. Fast, a pain who seemed like he was always on base. Good fielder. Strange to think of him in his last season on that 1962 New York Mets team, which has to be the most famous bad team in baseball history. Ashburn was in his mid-thirties and certainly could still play--he hit .306 that year in 473 plate appearances/389 at-bats, with an OPS+ of 121.

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