The Starting Rotation: Fathers and Sons
The Ace: Like Father, Like Son
On Wednesday night, Kyle Drabek made his major league debut. As one of the Blue Jays' best prospects, it was a solid curtain-raiser. He gave up nine hits and walked three, but held the Orioles to just one run and struck out five in his six innings. If Kyle is lucky, some day his career will match the one his dad, Doug, had in the in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily with the Pirates and Astros, in which he won the 1990 Cy Young Award and made the 1994 All-Star team.
The Drabeks are just one of many multi-generation baseball families (according to this Wikipedia page, there are more than 200). That there are so many father-son combinations in baseball shouldn't be surprising. Is there anything that feels more American than a father and his young son playing catch on a warm summer night? There are movies made about exactly that. Some of my earliest memories are of watching baseball with my dad and pestering him with questions about the game.
Everyone can name more than a few exceptional father-son baseball tandems without even trying. The two best players of the 1990s, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., are the sons of All-Stars from the 1970s. The Boone family churned out three generations of All-Stars, from Ray to Bob to Aaron and Bret. And there are the Alous, Moises and Felipe, who both were excellent players in their day. There's Cecil and Prince Fielder. There's Gary Matthews Jr. and Sr., who share a nickname. Daryle Ward's career may not have matched his father Gary's All-Star career, but they're the only father-son combo to both hit inside-the-park home runs.
There's something obviously in common here with the father-son combinations that jumps out immediately: they're almost all position players. In some ways, second-generation players like Bonds and Griffey and Fielder are the evolution of their famous fathers. Bobby Bonds had some truly great seasons with the Giants, but he struck out quite a bit. Even before his late-career controversy, Barry was the prototypical five-tool player (Will we ever see a season like Bonds' 1990 again? As a 25-year old he had 33 homers, 52 stolen bases, 83 strikeouts and 93 walks. And his '91, '92, and '93 seasons were even better at the plate but with lower stolen base totals.). Ken Griffey Sr. was a solid hitter and a good outfielder, but he never had the power that Junior did. Cecil Fielder bloomed late and only strung together a couple monster seasons. Prince cracked the 50-homer barrier at 23, and his 2010, with a .410 OBP and 30 homers, is considered a disappointment.
But all of these players are position players. Besides Drabek, the only sons of pitchers in baseball right now are Brian Bannister (son of Floyd), Casey Coleman (son of Joe, recently debuted with the Cubs), Jason Grilli (son of Steve) and James Russell (son of Jeff, also with the Cubs). There are a few position players who have fathers that pitched (Adam and Andy LaRoche are the sons of Dave "LaLob" LaRoche, Neil Walker is the son of Tom Walker, Ike Davis is the son of Ron Davis, Robinson Cano is the son of Jose Cano) and some pitchers that have position-player fathers (Tony Armas Jr., Darren Oliver, and Ryan Webb), but the connection doesn't seem to be as strong as it is for father-son position players.
The record for most wins by a father-son duo is held by Mel and Todd Stottlemyre. Mel won 164 games and had a solid, if unspectacular career with the Yankees. Todd won 138 for Toronto, Oakland, St. Louis, Texas, and Arizona and finished with an ERA+ of 100 (meaning that once his ERA is adjusted for park factors, it's exactly average). There are some other similar duos -- Dizzy and Steve Trout, Jim Bagby Sr. and Jim Bagby Jr., Julio Borbon Sr. and Julio Borbon Jr. all come to mind -- but those guys are more on the level of Gary Matthews Sr. and Jr. than the Bondses or Griffeys or Fielders or even Alous.
Why is it that talent seems to pass so freely from generation to generation in the outfield but not on the mound? It could just be that we're dealing with a relatively small sample and that eventually things will even out. The 400-odd players we're talking about here may seem like a lot, but they're a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands that have played Major League Baseball over the years. The other possible answer is that pitching mechanics just aren't genetic. A son might inherit a tough ulnar collateral ligament or a particularly robust labrum from his dad, but he still has to work at all of the small things that go into the unnatural motion of pitching. The athleticism to play the outfield or the hand-eye coordination needed to hit the ball are things that some people just come by naturally.
What does this all mean for Drabek? In the end, Doug graded out as just about average (his career ERA+ was 102). He did have a very good peak, though, between 1988 and 1994. He was particularly good from 1990-92 for the last relevant Pittsburgh Pirates teams. In three National League Championship Series, he put up a 2.05 ERA in seven starts, though the Pirates' bats only managed to get him two wins. Kyle's an excellent prospect (he was the Blue Jays' main return in the Roy Halladay trade and he just jumped from Double-A to the majors), but it's a long road from prospect to good big-leaguer. If he can match his father's career, though, it's possible that we'll remember the Drabeks as one of the best father-son pitching combos in history.
-- Pat Lackey
The No. 2: Derek and DMB
Lately, I've been struck by the parallels between Derek Jeter and Dave Matthews Band.
If you're too young or too old to know who that is, allow me to explain. Dave Matthews Band is a wildly successful rock group, known especially for their "improvisational live shows" (thanks, Wikipedia!), whose popularity crescendoed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
That crescendo roughly coincided with my college years at the University of Maryland, and, well, Dave Matthews Band was everywhere – blaring from dorm rooms, on every other poster, quoted ad nauseum in AIM profiles.
And I hated them for it.
It was nothing they had done to me. I enjoyed a number of their songs, still do today, but I just couldn't stand all the adoration because it seemed so out of proportion with their musical talent and significance.
At some point, I got over it. I allowed myself to enjoy Dave Matthews Band for what they were to me. I realized -- and this isn't some great epiphany -- that it shouldn't matter to me whether people liked them more than, say, The Clash or Pearl Jam.
That brings us back to Jeter, and what transpired Wednesday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., when he played up -- pretended, acted out, mimicked, faked -- a hit by pitch in the seventh inning of a game against the Rays.
To many, Jeter is just like Dave Matthews Band once was to me.
On the one hand, you have legions upon legions of loyal Jeter supporters, both fans and media. To these folks, there's little in the baseball-loving world better than the Yankee captain. Some of these people are sycophants. Jeter, quite literally, can do no wrong in their eyes. These people are very annoying on the subject of Derek Jeter.
On the other, you have a smaller, but extremely vocal group of people who are tired of the fawning praise that has been laid at Jeter's feet for the last 16 seasons. Some of these people are hyper-critical, pointing out that he is poor defensively, that he may have been selfish in refusing to move from shortstop when the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez, that he has rarely, if ever, been the best player in the major leagues during his lengthy career, etc. These people are also very annoying on the subject of Derek Jeter.
For both the Jeter sycophants and hyper-critics, Thursday is the best day ever.
The critics have their first true piece of ammunition against Jeter since, well, anyone can remember. It's hard to hold his defense against him personally, and who knows what transpired when the A-Rod trade went down, but what he did Wednesday night was, at the very least, dishonest.
Let's not paint it any other way. He faked an injury to his team's gain and to the detriment of his opponent, the Rays, who went down 3-2 when the next batter, Curtis Granderson, took Chad Qualls deep. He didn't violate any rules, but that doesn't mean he met every ethical standard in the book like you might expect if you took every bit of hyperbole uttered or scribbled about Jeter to heart.
On the flip side ... that was pretty damn clever.
There are tangible, measurable reasons that Jeter is a future Hall of Famer, but that doesn't mean his intangible qualities aren't very real too. His baseball instincts are tremendous and this is just another example. It was intelligent gamesmanship, even if A-Rod would have been raked over the coals for doing the exact same thing.
(Oh, wait, he already was.)
As for me, I'd like to think that maybe the complexity of this whole issue would allow all of us to have a real discussion about Derek Jeter for once -- the kind I was able to have about Dave Matthews Band once I got over the fact that I thought too many people liked them too much.
But who am I kidding?
Jeter is always going to be wildly overrated to some and a saint to others. Both sides like to make their points at the loudest possible decibel in that debate.
Those of us in the middle mostly think he's a supremely talented and intelligent baseball player -- nothing more, nothing less -- but we'll probably get drowned out in a lot of places.
I'm not sure if what Jeter did Wednesday night was right or wrong because that's a sliding scale anyway, and I'm a sportswriter, not an ethicist. I just know he did what a lot of other ballplayers would have done, and what I would have as well, were I in his shoes.
Keep that in the mind the next time the next time you hear an announcer or scribe waxing poetic about Jeter. Or the next time you hear them damning some other player's Hall of Fame credentials because of his "sportsmanship, character and integrity."
-- Andrew Johnson
• The Reds just about have a playoff spot locked up with a seven-game lead on the Cardinals. That means it's up to them to reverse the NL Central's recent poor luck in the National League playoffs. Since the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, the division has won just one playoff game in four series. The NL Central is the only division to not win a playoff series in the last three seasons.
-- Pat Lackey
• Dan Uggla became the first second baseman in major league history to hit 30 homers in four consecutive seasons this week. That got me thinking. Uggla is already one of the best power-hitting second baseman ever, but he's a guy who, with his skillset and the late start to his career, it's hard to see ever making a run at the Hall of Fame. Who are the greatest home run hitters at each position who aren't in Cooperstown or, in the case of active players, don't have any semblance of a real shot?
Note: Hall of Fame candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drugs were excluded. Player's career homers in parentheses.
Catcher: Lance Parrish (324)
First Base: Fred McGriff (493)
Second Base: Lou Whitaker (244)
Third Base: Graig Nettles (390)
Shortstop: Jose Valentin (249)
Left Field: Albert Belle (381)
Center Field: Ellis Burks (352)
Right Field: Dwight Evans (385)
Designated Hitter: Harold Baines (384)
Pitcher: Wes Ferrell (38)
-- Andrew Johnson
• It seems to happen once a year at the trade deadline. A contender swings a deal for a key piece that could put them over the top, and then that piece flops. Last year, it was the Tigers and Jarrod Washburn. Detroit got the left-hander from Seattle to fill out a strong rotation, and he went 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA in eight starts as the Tigers ultimately finished second in the AL Central. This year's Washburn? How about Ryan Ludwick? The outfielder was supposed to be a difference-maker for the at times offensively challenged Padres, but he's hit .229 since moving to Petco Park. San Diego woke up Friday out of first place as its fade continues.
-- Andrew Johnson