In 1881 the future National League wanted to upgrade its image and target a more upscale fan base by doubling ticket prices, banning gambling, and outlawing alcohol sales. Several team owners who happened to be brewers refused to accept the new rules and banded together to form what would eventually become the American League. The National League attempted to discredit the new league by dubbing it the Beer and Whiskey League. This, of course only made the new league more popular. Duh!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Contreras to Popular Belief

Before either of them makes his first start for his new team, I just want to put my two cents down on the Loaiza-for-Contreras deal, since most of the coverage I've read really only talks about what Loaiza will purportedly do for the Yankees and what Contreras has not done for them.

Sportsline gives a moderate edge to the Yanks, saying that "the Yankees acquire the runner-up in last year's AL Cy Young Award voting in exchange for the inconsistent Contreras." This is fairly typical of the coverage, which tends to read things off of Loaiza's resume (Cy Young runner up last year, All-Star); of course, it's even more obvious than usual that none of these writers have been paying any attention to the White Sox this season.

You want to talk about inconsistent? Okay, Contreras has certainly been that, but Loaiza this season has been consistent in only one area--his decline; he put up an ERA of 3.71 in March and April, 3.68 in May, 5.35 in June and 6.89 in July. Here are his hits allowed vs. innings pitched, last year versus this:

2003 196 H, 226.1 IP
2004 156 H, 140.2 IP

Last year, Loaiza gave up 17 home runs all season; this year, he's already given up 23--with two months to go. He has an ERA of almost 8.00 in his last 7 starts. And yet, Brian Cashman doesn't seeem to think that we've already seen the best we're ever going to see out of Loaiza, and neither do most of the sports writers. At the beginning of the year, nobody thought Loaiza was going to come close to last year's numbers; now, everyone thinks New York got the better end of the deal because of them. Meanwhile, everyone's mumbling about how Kenny Williams just traded away last year's Cy Young runner up--many of the same people who were mumbling that Loaiza would never put up those kinds of numbers again.

Loaiza's success last year came largely because he learned a new pitch--the cutter--which allowed him to mow down all kinds of hitters who thought they knew him. But when the final weeks of the season rolled around, and the White Sox needed big wins out of him against the Twins, who had already seen a lot of the new Loaiza, he lost both starts. As 2004 opened, his velocity was down, his arm slot was dropping, and he didn't look much at all like the Cy Young runner-up Chicago fans remembered. Not only did opposing batters know there was a new pitch to look for, but it wasn't coming at them as fast. That didn't stop Joe Torre from inexplicably selecting Loaiza as the White Sox's lone representative for the All-Star team, though his 4.37 ERA and .283 opponents' batting average hardly seemed worthy of the honor. Perhaps, in retrospect, we should see this as an audition? Why else select a guy who was nowhere near the top in any category (Loaiza) over guys who were near the top in several (Thomas, Konerko)?

It's not as if Kenny Williams hasn't made some bad pitcher-for-pitcher trades in the past (okay, let's say that Kip Wells + 2 for Todd Ritchie was worse than bad), but everyone seems to think that Cashman pulled the wool over his eyes on this one. Let's remember that no one doubts Contreras's stuff. It's incredible. Loaiza's stuff, on the other hand, seems to have left the premises (along with a lot of his pitches); he can hardly hit 90mph anymore, which wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for the fact he doesn't exactly fit the Jamie Moyer mold. Contreras, enigmatic as he has been, still has a huge upside, whereas Loaiza appears to be in the midst of not only a regression to the mean, but a rather swift decline. For a moment, let's remove the names Loaiza, Contreras, Williams and Cashman and just say this: "Here's a former 21-game winner whose velocity has dropped 5 mph since last season and whose ERA has increased steadily each month this year; and then here's a guy who throws 95, struck out 17 in 11 postseason innings last year, but has been incredibly inconsistent--which one would you rather take a chance on for the stretch run?"

Perhaps the move to New York will be good for "Zesty," and I wish him well. Perhaps the goatee has been hindering him all this time. Perhaps a move out of New York and into a clubhouse with a Spanish-speaking manager will do a world of good for Contreras. I think it's a crapshoot for both teams, and not the unmitigated New York victory everyone seems to think it is.