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Wednesday, January 24, 2007



The eternal debate over who's hot and who's not is driven by an even more maddening question: What, exactly, is the definition of hot? Well, let's ask ESPN's Bob Klarrpischrnrg:

The eternal debate over who's hot and who's not is driven by an even more maddening question: What, exactly, is the definition of hot?

Hey! You totally just copied my intro! How dare you?!

In identifying baseball's hottest division, do we mean the trendiest (most attractive to free agents), the most talented (greatest star quotient) or the most competitive (tightest races)?

I don't really care. This whole thing seems kind of meaningless to me, but off the top of my head I'd say it means the division with the best, most exciting teams.

Let's face it, instant popularity is king in a world of short attention spans, which is why the NL West gets our vote. It's hot, at least right now, because it's the new home of the game's richest free-agent pitcher (Barry Zito), the most celebrated homecoming king (Randy Johnson) and the collective migrations of Jason Schmidt, Greg Maddux, and David Wells.

Oh. I guess "hot" means..."old?"

Zito, I guess, lends some "hotness" to the NL West. But Randy Johnson? He's 43, has no cartilage in his knees, and wasn't a very good pitcher last year. Jason Schmidt is pretty good, but Greg Maddux? "Hot?" And Wells? Really? He makes the NL West "hot?" That's like saying that "Mork and Mindy" got "hot" when Jonathan Winters came aboard to play Mearth.

It's enough to make you think the lure of the East is finally on the decline; Zito turned his back on what should've been an layup courtship for the Mets, just as Schmidt blew off the Yankees and everyone else to the right of the Mississippi. Had it not been for the Red Sox's snaring of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the East would've had its worst recruiting winter in years, although it can still be argued that the Sox and Yankees are still on the shortest path to October.

Yeah...I guess the only thing that might make the AL East "hot" by your definition is... the $100m+ signing of the biggest international superstar not already in MLB. Also, Vernon Wells re-signed with Toronto early. And JD Drew is coming. And Bobby Abreu last year, for the Yankees. So:

AL EAST: Major new additions or re-ups since last July 31:

V. Wells


Fat D. Wells

You pick.

In the meantime, however, the NL West likely will post the majors' lowest overall ERA -- or as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told Peter Gammons recently, "[the division] is clearly a pitching-oriented division."

PetCo is huge. Dodger Stadium is huge. It's like 534 feet to left center in PacBell. The former BOB is huge. Congrats on having the lowest ERAs, NL West.

What made the West so tempting? For some, it was money. Zito obviously couldn't resist the $126 million he'll be earning over the next seven seasons. While it's true the Giants essentially were bidding against themselves -- one AL general manager called it "madness in a market that'd already gone mad" -- Zito opted for San Francisco's familiarity over, say, New York's energy.

Scott Boras: You ready to talk decision, Barry m'boy?
Barry Zito: (Ending transcendentalist tantric yoga session) Yes. Present me with a forked path, down one of whose tines I shall wander.
Scott Boras: The Mets are offering some money, as well as the nebulous idea of 'New York's energy.' The Giants are offering way way way too much money. Like, crazy "fuck-you" money. Money that will make you the richest pitcher ever, which is crazy, because you're like a B+ pitcher. So, just to reiterate: New York, money and nebulous idea of "energy." San Francisco: a million dollars for every zen water fountain in your house.
Barry Zito: But...I have 126 zen water fountains.
Scott Boras: Correct. They are offering $126 million. But remember, New York is offering "New York's Energy." Now, I know that you're a very spiritual person, so you have to think long and ha--
Barry Zito: Giants and money.
Scott Boras: That's my boy.
Barry Zito: Namaste.

Familiarity was also a critical factor in Johnson's request to be traded back the Diamondbacks. Soon after the death of an older brother, the Big Unit told a Yankees official he "wouldn't mind" if they could engineer a deal with Arizona. One club official said, "he didn't confront us and demand anything like Gary [Sheffield], but it was clear Randy wanted to move on."

The NL West is H-O-T hot! How hot? So hot that Randy Johnson, a 43 year-old jerk with no cartilage in his knee and a very bad ERA and a lot of HR given up last year, mentioned in passing to someone that he:"wouldn't mind" coming back! Feelin' hot hot hot!

The NL West: Old People Wouldn't Mind Comin' Back! If you can't take the heat, then you should mind coming back!

And why, you might ask, does an old person not mind coming back? Because he couldn't hack in in NY because of the pressure and excitement! And he got mildly grumpy and said to himself, "Hey, I know who is desperate enough to give me another year on my contract -- those desperately-in-debt folks in Arizona who need to sell tickets!"

Ouch! The scalding hot NL West strikes again!

Johnson might or might not be the strikeout machine who averaged nearly 11 K's a game in 2004, his last year in the National League. Logic says no chance, considering he's 43, coming off back surgery and was working with a diminished fastball in his two years with the Yankees. But working in a friendly environment will make a real difference to Johnson, who was a virtual outcast in pinstripes, distancing himself from teammates and fans alike.

The NL West: So Hot We Got a 43 Year-Old Grumblepuss Who Just Had Back Surgery and Has No Cartilage In His Knees to Come Back Here and Pitch for a Mediocre Team Where He Will Likely Make Very Little Difference! Feel the Heat!!!!


The NL Central was actually a close second to the NL West in generating winter heat. The Cubs, in particular, put on a dazzling show, spending enough money to fuel a third-world economy. The new faces include Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Henry Blanco and Jason Marquis, not to mention Lou Piniella. All that was missing from the Central's coronation as baseball's hottest division was Roger Clemens' announcement that he's returning to the Astros.

Soriano, Pinella, the presence of Carlos Zambrano and the resigning of Derrek Lee a year+ ago makes the Cubs alone more interesting and "hot" than any team in the NL West. Also, Klorprishh, guess where Clemens is going to sign? Can't guess? The team is in a big city on the East Coast. Derek Jeter plays for them. (Hint: Not Arizona.)

When Clemens signs with the pinstripers I want an immediate apology and retraction from you, Bob Krellpshren, because the AL East will officially be hotter than the NL West. And hotness is something I care about!

Further down on the list is the AL East, which didn't undergo any radical makeovers but nevertheless played host to the global bidding war for Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Thousand Year conflict between the Yankees and Red Sox became even more more intense after Boston invested some $100 million on Japan's greatest pitcher. Can't wait for the first showdown between Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui.

Neither can I. But you know what I look forward to more? The first showdown between Barry Zito and Andre Ethier! Hot hot hot hot!

The AL Central isn't quite the bruising division it was two years ago. The Twins will be hard-pressed to replace starters Brad Radke (retired) and Francisco Liriano (Tommy John surgery). Actually, the division race will be determined by just how much leftover momentum the Tigers will have in '07. Their acquisition of Gary Sheffield was an intriguing one; his loyalty to Jim Leyland, his former manager in Florida, might be the tipping point in sending the Tigers back to the playoffs.

I just crunched the numbers, and the AL Central, especially if Liriano comes back, is way hotter than the NL West. Liriano, Sheff, the Tigers' Young Guns, Sizemore, Hafner...the Hotness Index is off the charts!

How can Kirkplecch say that the NL West is the hottest division?! If I didn't know better, I'd almost say that "hotness" is a dumb adjective to use when you think about baseball.

Wait a guys don't think...

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posted by Anonymous  # 10:20 PM
You guys, I totally pulled my own Klapischistic boner: I just announced that all the NL West parks were huge, and linked this to pitchers having low ERAs. I kind of knew that I would get hit for this...somewhere in the back of my brain was the feeling that, like, the Former BOB was a hitters' park. And lo and behold, several of you were less lazy than I was, and wrote in to chastise me. Here's Eric:

Chase Field is widely regarded to be a hitter's park, despite its size. [However, BP] lists Arizona as a better hitters park than all but Coors Field in 2004.

Here's David:

"PetCo is huge. Dodger Stadium is huge. It's like 534 feet to left center in PacBell. The former BOB is huge. Congrats on having the lowest ERAs, NL West."

Not so fast. Park factors from ESPN indicate the division skews toward hitters. --

Coors Field, despite the humidor bringing HR back down to reasonable levels: #2 hitter's park in MLB last year.

Chase Field is located in Phoenix, which is at about 1200 feet of altitude and which was most conducive to HR last year: #4 hitter's park.

Dodger Stadium, with the new extremely reduced foul ground: #10 hitter's park.

SBC Park, even with the 421 foot power alley in right center and its tendency to destroy left handed hitters' power: #16 hitter's park last year, right in the middle
of all MLB teams.

You're right about PETCO; best pitcher's park in MLB.

Also, not that I'm defending Klapisch's choice of a term like "Hot Index", or whatever, but one can be rationally optimistic about the NL West this year because
those of us who enjoy good pitching are looking forward to the possibility the division has the four best 1-2 starter combos in the league.

Zito/Cain, Peavy/Young

is each better than any other team except perhaps Sheets/Capuano, or Willis/Johnson. Extend that to the AL, and the Central is the only one of the three AL divisions with that depth of pitching talent.

Fair enough. Thanks to all of you who correctly chastised me for a silly mistake.
P.S. Kid Canada adds this to the discussion (as did many others, BTW):

Klapisch is giving divisions credit for its teams adding players...but if the player stayed within the same division, does that make the division "hotter" or merely maintain the previous level of "hotness"?

Jason Schmidt went from San Francisco to the Dodgers. Greg Maddux went from L.A. to San Diego. Jason Marquis (the EPITOME of hotness) went from the Cardinals to the Cubs. All of these moves just keep the hotness of those divisions at the same level. Although I would argue the NL Central would have gotten hotter if Marquis had gone elsewhere. His HORP (Hotness Over Replacement Player) was a disgusting - 182.76 last season.

P.P.S. A lot of people also wrote in to point out that Henry Blanco should in no way be associated with anything involving "hotness." Theron sez:

I think it's funny that the Klapisch article mentions Henry Blanco as both a new face on the Cubs and an element in making them a hot team. Not only has he been a Cub since 2005 anyway, but he's a backup catcher. Maybe the true measure of the next hot division will depend on where Chris Widger ends up?

And Eli:

Additionally, Henry Blanco is not a "new face" to the Cubs. He's a familiar face, attached to a body that plays terrible baseball.
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