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by Bryan Leonard - 03/25/2007
Baseball is a game rich in stats. ERAs, walks allowed, on base percentage, strikeout percentage, home/road stats, hitting streaks, and dozens of other stats to examine. One thing to keep in mind is that this is a brand new season. Stats that a player may have rung up last year or the year before often aren't relevant.
This is very important to keep in mind, especially with regard to pitchers. Look no further than White Sox starter Jon Garland the last three years. In 2004 Garland was 12-11 with a 4.89 ERA. In 2003 he was 12-13 with a 4.51 ERA. But did those stats matter? In 2005 Garland went 18-10 with a 3.50 ERA, going 8-0 in his first 8 starts. He was a very different pitcher, a terrific one.
Then last season, Garland was again a very different pitcher â€“ a bad one! The White Sox started 6-6 in his first 12 starts are Garland struggled with a 6.20 ERA. The point is, you never know from season to season how players are going to perform, and they can be remarkably different. This is why, when handicapping baseball in April, you should examine such things as home/road play, off-season changes, speed and defense, in addition to stats. But don't get hung up on last season's stats for individual players, because last year was 2006 and this is 2007. If you don't believe me, just look at your calendar.
Boston righty Josh Beckett is another good example. While with the Marlins in 2005, Beckett was 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA. Last season his ERA ballooned to 5.01. What happened? He changed leagues, going from a pitcher-friendly park in Florida in 2005, to a hitter-friendly park in Fenway last summer.
Other things change, too, which can skew stats. New ballparks can alter things dramatically. Seattle's old Kingdome used to be a hitter's haven and a pitcher's nightmare. Now the reverse is true with Safeco Field. San Diego opened up Petco Park, and it has turned into a terrific park for pitchers and one that frustrates hitters.
While with the Phillies in 2004, lefty Eric Milton was 14-6. A year later with the Reds, Milton was a mess going 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA in a terrible park for pitchers. Milton is a fly-ball pitcher and the change to the new stadium was disastrous for him. You can't use stats from one year when teams move into different stadiums.
Players, too, rotate to different teams, different leagues and different stadiums. Randy Johnson was sensational in Arizona in the NL, but as soon as he came to the American League the last two years with the Yankees, his ERA and home runs allowed rose considerably. It will be interesting to watch the Big Unit this summer as heâ€™s back with Arizona in the NL.
Other times a player can suffer nagging injuries that can alter their performance, and sometimes a player won't even reveal there is a problem. Boston's Curt Schilling was a victim of this in 2005, when he went 8-8 while trying to bounce back from ankle surgery. New Yorkâ€™s Carl Pavano will start opening day for the Yankees. He had a great final season with the Marlins in 2004, but hasnâ€™t been healthy since.
One of the best examples of players being different from year to year was Bob Knepper, a former lefty starter with the Giants and Astros. Knepper had consecutive seasons where he went 17-11 to 9-12, 6-13 to 15-10, 17-12 to 8-17, and 14-5 to 7-12. You never knew which starter was going to show up from year to year! Handicappers need to keep this in mind as the new season starts.