Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci's Baseball Mailbag appears weekly on CNNSI.com. To send a question, click here.
Let's go straight to the questions on this somber day ...
I'll be honest -- I don't know much about baseball, but even I can see that Ichiro deserves to be MVP of the American League. He has the highest fielding percentage among right fielders who have played more than 100 games. He has the highest batting average. He is second in stolen bases. Bret Boone is great, but Ichiro is the best player on the best team in baseball. Sure, watching Barry Bonds hit a home run is fun, but watching him walk around the bases is boring. Watching Ichiro hit and then show his speed by advancing the way he does is exciting. You guys should really start talking more about him when you're talking about MVP or best player in baseball.
I think Ichiro is among the most exciting players in the game, but I don't think he's even the MVP of his own team. Boone made that lineup. Give me middle-of-the-order hitters over table-setters any day. Most GMs would agree (just look at how players are paid). Plus, Boone is a terrific defensive second baseman who turns the double play as well as anybody. Ichiro's not even among the league leaders in on-base percentage, and at last check he had scored only seven more runs than Boone. Ichiro is more exciting, but Boone is more valuable. And, no, that doesn't mean I'm endorsing Boone for AL MVP. The season's not over yet, folks. No reason to start giving away the award just yet.
I recently read an article regarding the lack of quality leadoff hitters. With several top-notch guys becoming free agents -- Johnny Damon, Eric Young, Roger Cedeño, Jose Offerman (just kidding about Offerman) -- and a lot of teams looking for quality leadoff batters, how do you see this unfolding? Who will be the major players in the offseason? Also, do you see any rookies or sleepers who could make good leadoff hitters for next season?
The Yankees could use a leadoff hitter now that Chuck Knoblauch seems to be done. I'd like to see New York move Derek Jeter into the No. 3 hole next year to see if he has a nose for ribbies. (He's better there than leadoff because of his aggressiveness.) The Rangers need one if Rusty Greer doesn't make it back. The Red Sox need one in front of Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. As for your second question, I think Jimmy Rollins can be a real good one in Philly for years and I like Juan Pierre's work ethic, which bodes well for continued improvement from him. The Mets should plant Matt Lawton in that spot next year and leave him there.
If you bought the Red Sox, whom would you put in charge of the massive overhaul that is needed? I say Larry Lucchino and Billy Beane. Would they work well together? Most important, do you think they have the personalities to survive and thrive in Boston?
Those two names are two of the brightest minds in the game, so you'd get no argument from me. They'd be successful anywhere, though I have no idea how they would work together. Trust, chemistry and familiarity are important. One guy I'd take a hard look at is J.P. Ricciardi of the Oakland A's. He's a young, Boston-area guy who knows that weird landscape so well, he's a tremendous evaluator of talent and he has great communication skills.
When people talkk about why there aren't any more .400 hitters, lots of reasons are mentioned (night games, relief pitchers, etc.). However, is it possible that batting averages are somewhat lower for the same reasons home runs are up: smaller ballparks? Take a look at pictures of old baseball fields, and you'll see that the outfielders had to cover much more room than today, leading to more hits simply because the outfielders couldn't get there in time. Is this a plausible explanation?
Yes, to a small degree. Coors Field, for instance, helps batting averages because the outfield is so huge. However, I think the biggest reason is the shift in offensive philosophy. Baseball is a power game. Almost nobody chokes up. Nobody uses thick-handled bats. Few guys cut down on their stroke with two strikes. Most guys don't care if they whiff 100 (or 150!) times. Owners repeatedly have shown that they pay for home runs. Contact hitting is de-emphasized. Also, generations grow up now with super-light aluminum bats with thin handles. The emphasis is on bat speed, not bat control. I don't see this trend changing for years and years.
If you were the Indians, which team would scare you the most, the Mariners, A's or Yankees?
Rich, Queens, N.Y.
The Yankees, only because of their past success in October. They may not be the best team -- you could argue they weren't the best last year, too -- but they know how to win big games.
I was wondering if you have noticed the unglorified (and recently unrecognized) talent of two premier young hitters, Reds outfielder Adam Dunn and Braves second baseman Marcus Giles. Both are physically talented and have the ability to hit for power and average. And though Giles is better defensively, Dunn has a very strong arm. Do you believe both will become mainstays with their respective clubs? By the way, will the Braves look to move some pitching for a solid first baseman or corner outfielder this offseason, à la Mike Sweeney, Jeromy Burnitz, maybe Barry Bonds?
I think Dunn looks like he's going to be a big-time power hitter for years, a perennial All-Star in time -- though he will never be a Gold Glover. I haven't seen enough of Giles, but he looks like he should stick on that team, even if it's not at an All-Star level. I do think the Braves will turn up an RBI bat this winter, be it Sweeney or Moises Alou or Burnitz.
Everyone is talking about the Astros' young pitching staff, but is there a better hitting lineup in the majors this year? Moises Alou and Lance Berkman were leading the league in hitting for a while in a lineup that includes the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Richard Hidalgo and Vinny Castilla. Houston also has proven hitters and veterans like Orlando Merced, Jose Vizcaino and Daryle Ward coming off the bench. How do the Astros stack up against the Mariners and Yankees?
The Astros' power is scary, but I think the team is vulnerable to hard-throwing right-handed pitching. Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez make the Yankees a bad matchup for Houston. Seattle doesn't have the same kind of power arms. That said, the Astros would gladly take a spot in the World Series no matter which team they'd play or how they'd match up.
Do you think Barry Bonds and the Yankees are a good match for one another? Bonds wants a championship and the Yankees are going to need a good, reliable left fielder.
I think they are a terrible match. Give Ken Griffey and Juan Gonzalez credit; unlike Bobby Bonilla, they knew they weren't New York kind of players and turned down chances to play there. I'd put Bonds in the same category. The fans and media cut players no slack in New York, especially newcomers who don't produce right away and anybody who shows the least bit of sensitivity. I think the best place for Barry is exactly where he's at right now. Why roll the dice on creating another Bonilla-like disaster at this stage of his career? The next 4-to-5 years should be the victory lap to one of the greatest careers in baseball history.
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