November 13, 2019

1990 Baseball Predictions: How Did They Turn Out?

June 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

When I was a teenager February meant two things: the start of spring training  and my annual trek to the supermarket to load up on baseball preview magazines.  Back then, you could score a handful for about $15.  These days, at $8-$9 a pop (or even $12.99; I’m talking to you Maple Street Press), I typically grab only one or two.  Recently I was thumbing through a few of them and I thought it would be fun to review some of the predictions that were made.  I have four of them from 1990—Athlon’s Baseball, The Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, Inside Sports Baseball Preview and the Baseball Digest Yearbook—and I figured what better season to review than one that was played exactly 20 years ago.

It’s not my intent to throw any of these men under the bus; if you’ve ever tried to make preseason predictions, you know how difficult it is.  One major injury to a superstar is all it takes to throw the hardball world off kilter.  As I said, I just thought it would be fun to review what was written and see how things really turned out.

In The Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, Peter Pascarelli, then of the Philadelphia Inquirer, predicted the National League’s award winners and All-Star team, Moss Klein of the Newark Star-Ledger did the same with the American League, and a team of TSN correspondents predicted the teams’ order of finish.  Athlon only predicted the teams’ order of finish, as did Inside Sports; Baseball Digest primarily broke down what happened in 1989, but there was one prediction made by Joe Goddard that I want to address.

So let’s start with the teams’ order of finish (listed by actual finish, followed by each publication’s prediction):

N.L. East
Team W-L TSN ATH IS AVG
1. Pittsburgh 95-67 4 4 4 4
2. New York 91-71 1 2 1 1.3
3. Montreal 85-77 5 6 6 5.7
4. Chicago 77-85 3 3 3 3
5. Philadelphia 77-85 6 5 5 5.3
6. St. Louis 70-92 2 1 2 1.7

Based on the above it’s obvious that the Pirates and Expos surprised the writers, while the Cardinals proved to be a huge disappointment.  Since winning the 1979 World Series, the Pirates won at a division-worst .470 clip and finished below third place seven times, including 1989 when they finished fifth at 74-88.

Inside Sports claimed the Pirates had good young pitching but not enough hitting to help Bobby Bonilla carry the offense.  TSN thought the Pirates’ infield was weak defensively on the left side and needed rebounds from Andy Van Slyke and Sid Bream, who was injured for much of ’89, to compete.  TSN had a point; Jay Bell and Jeff King proved to be below average in terms of fielding runs.  But Pittsburgh’s offense rebounded in a big way, finishing first in on-base percentage and OPS, and second in runs and slugging, after finishing near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories in 1989.

At 25, Barry Bonds broke out in a big way, batting .301 with 33 homers, 114 RBIs, and 52 steals, and led the league in slugging and OPS.  Bonilla also had a big year, hitting .280 with 32 homers and a career-high 120 runs batted in; Van Slyke did indeed rebound, batting .284/17/77; Bream was healthy and hit .270/15/67; King chipped in 14 homers and 53 ribbies; and the bench was led by the quartet of Wally Backman (.292), Gary Redus (.419 SLG), Don Slaught (.300/.375/.457), and R.J. Reynolds (.288, 12-for-14 in SB attempts).

The pitching staff really had only one star, Doug Drabek, who went 22-6 with a 2.76 ERA, but the rest of the mound corps was very good, posting a team ERA of 3.40, good for third in the league.  Zane Smith, acquired in a late-season deal with the Expos, shored up the rotation and went 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 10 starts.  And the bullpen, led by Bill Landrum, posted a 2.90 ERA in 335 innings.

Everything came together for the Pirates in 1990 and they finished with a record of 95-67 and a winning percentage of .586 that was .129 points higher than their 1989 mark.

The St. Louis Cardinals, on the other hand, fell from .530 in 1989 to only .432 in 1990, and finished in last place for the first time since 1918.  TSN thought Pedro Guerrero and the league’s best defense would be enough to keep them competitive, but admitted they needed Willie McGee to “return to form” and Vince Coleman to “rediscover his former boldness” to give the offense a boost.  The mag was also concerned about closer Todd Worrell’s elbow after he underwent surgery on it the previous December. 

Athlon’s Charlie Miller figured the Cards’ experience—only rookie Todd Zeile had less than four full years of major league experience—defense, pitching led by Joe Magrane and Jose DeLeon, and a plethora of bullpen arms to choose from would push the Cards to the top of the division.  Of course, they also had Whitey Herzog pushing all the buttons.

Inside Sports liked the Mets to take the division, but had St. Louis right behind, claiming that only the genius of Herzog could send them past New York.  It cited too many health concerns, no real home run threat, and trouble in the bullpen as its reasons for not picking the Cardinals to win the N.L. East.

Well, it looks like everyone was right to some extent.  The defense finished first in the National League in runs above average, but was ninth in defensive efficiency and below league average in fielding percentage.  The only home run threats were Zeile, who hit 15, and Guerrero with 13; pretty weak for a league that boasted 37 batters with at least that many.  McGee rebounded to hit .335 with 76 runs and 28 steals, and Coleman hit .292 with 73 runs and 77 steals.  The rest of the starting lineup was mostly pathetic, but the bench featured a trio of youngsters—Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, and Felix Jose—who showed promise in cups of coffee.

The pitching staff was mostly terrible, especially Magrane and DeLeon, who went a combined 17-36 with a 3.99 ERA.  Ironically, 36-year-old John Tudor, whom Inside Sports called a “nostalgic gamble,” led the rotation with a 12-4 record and a superb 2.40 ERA.  The Cards also struck gold when they acquired closer Lee Smith from the Red Sox for outfielder Tom Brunansky.  Smith saved 27 games and posted a 2.10 ERA in 53 appearances.  Unfortunately not much else went right for the “White Rat” that year and the city of St. Louis suffered through an historically bad season.

N.L. West
Team W-L TSN ATH IS AVG
1. Cincinnati 91-71 3 3 3 3
2. Los Angeles 86-76 4 2 4 3.3
3. San Francisco 85-77 2 4 2 2.7
4. Houston 75-87 5 6 6 5.7
5. San Diego 75-87 1 1 1 1
6. Atlanta 65-97 6 5 5 5.3

The mags did a better job with the N.L. West with the obvious exception of the Padres, whom they all had winning the division.  Why were they so high on San Diego?  Three reasons: 1. Manager “Trader Jack” McKeon, who’d led the Padres to a .563 winning percentage since taking over for Larry Bowa in 1988, 2. The acquisition of outfielder Joe Carter, and 3. The Padres were the hottest team in the second half of the ’89 season, going 37-19 down the stretch.  Apparently most thought the team would ride that momentum into the ’90 season.  How wrong they were.  The Pads found themselves four games out of first by April 21 and they never recovered.  They were 10 games back by May 26 and at least 10 back from June 25 through the end of the season.

Carter proved to be a somewhat valuable addition, finishing second on the team with 24 homers and easily leading the club with 115 RBIs, but he also finished with an OPS+ of only 85, second worst among the regulars.  After averaging .336 and winning four batting titles from 1984-1989, Tony Gwynn hit “only” .309.  Thirty-four-year-old Jack Clark was the team’s best hitter (25 homers and 104 walks) and Bip Roberts put up a very nice season, batting .309 with 104 runs and 46 steals, but the bench was anemic, led by 38-year-old outfielder Fred Lynn, and the defense was awful.  Prior to the season Inside Sports wrote, “We love this lineup,” but the Padres managed only an eighth-place finish in runs, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS.

The pitching was only middling too, although Ed Whitson (14-9, 2.60), Bruce Hurst (11-9, 3.14), and Andy Benes (10-11, 3.60) formed a solid trio atop the rotation.  Craig Lefferts saved 23 games and posted a 2.52 ERA and Greg Harris pitched to a 2.30 mark and saved nine games, but the team finished in the middle of the pack in ERA and ninth in saves.

McKeon was canned after leading the team to a 37-43 record and replaced by Greg Riddoch, who didn’t do much better at 38-44.  Riddoch led the Padres to a 162-150 record and consecutive third place finishes from ’91-’92 before being replaced by Jim Riggleman.

In most cases, the writers picked the Reds to finish third only because of injuries and the Pete Rose gambling scandal, which some thought would distract the team.  But others thought a healthy Reds squad led by new manager Lou Piniella “could make some noise.”

“Barring injuries, the Reds’ starting eight is solid though unspectacular,” wrote Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, “and the pitching is as sturdy as the Berlin Wall, circa 1961.”  And Inside Sports wrote, “Actually, this team is good enough to finish at least second, but the Reds have underachieved for so long we’ve lost patience with them.”  TSN listed the rotation and bullpen as the team’s strength, and catching, second base, and third base as its weakness.

The experts were right about the pitching—Tom Browning (15-9, 3.80), Jose Rijo (14-8, 2.70), Jack Armstrong (12-9, 3.42), and Danny Jackson (6-6, 3.61) formed a formidable foursome and the bullpen was led by “Nasty Boys” Randy Myers (31 saves, 2.08), Rob Dibble (11, 1.74, 136 Ks in 98 IP), and Norm Charlton (2.74).  In fact, only Rick Mahler was below average among pitchers who threw significant innings.

And, as it turned out, the supposed weaknesses actually became strengths.  Catcher Joe Oliver batted only .231 but fielded at a .992 clip and threw out 40% of would-be basestealers; second baseman Mariano Duncan hit .306 with 11 triples, 10 homers, and 53 RBIs; third baseman Chris Sabo led the team with 25 homers and chipped in 25 steals.  The rest of the lineup was also solid—25-year-old Hal Morris batted .340 in 309 at-bats and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting; Barry Larkin batted .301 with 30 steals; Billy Hatcher stole 30 bags as well, and Eric Davis pilfered 21 and belted 24 homers while driving in a team-leading 86 RBIs.

All of the above led to a World Series title after the Reds swept the heavily-favored Oakland A’s in October.

A.L. East
Team W-L TSN ATH IS AVG
1. Boston 88-74 3 4 1 2.7
2. Toronto 86-76 1 2 2 1.7
3. Detroit 79-83 7 7 7 7
4. Cleveland 77-85 5 6 3 4.7
5. Baltimore 76-85 4 3 5 4
6. Milwaukee 74-88 2 1 6 3
7. New York 67-95 6 5 4 5

What stands out here are that the Yankees were expected to finish fifth, on average, and the Tigers and Brewers fooled almost everyone.  With New York’s run of success since 1993, it’s hard to remember them being that bad.  But they proved to be even worse than expected (oh, how I long for those days). Inside Sports proved prescient by picking the Red Sox to win the division and nailing their record right on the nose.  The mag figured that with the Wade Boggs-Margo Adams affair behind them and a resurgent Roger Clemens, the Sox would have enough to win a weak division.  TSN disagreed, “…the Red Sox won’t be much better [than 1989].”

The offense, led by Ellis Burks (.296/21/89), Boggs (.302, 187 hits), Mike Greenwell (.297/14/73), Tom Brunansky (.267/15/71), and Jody Reed (.289, 45 doubles), paced the junior circuit in batting and on-base percentage and finished third in slugging, but finished seventh in runs scored.  The starting rotation of Clemens (21-6, 1.93), Mike Boddicker (17-8, 3.36), Greg Harris (13-9, 4.00), Dana Kiecker (8-9, 3.97), and Tom Bolton (10-5, 3.38) was strong, and closer Jeff Reardon saved 21 games and posted a 3.16 ERA.  But the rest of the bullpen was horrid, boasting no one with an ERA under 4.44.

It didn’t matter much, though.  They were swept by Oakland in the ALCS and didn’t win a postseason series until 2004.

The Sporting News made a somewhat ironic prediction when it wrote, “Not even the Bambino can save the Tigers from finishing in the cellar.”  Had Babe Ruth been alive and in his prime, he probably could have kept the Tigers out of last place.  For proof, witness one Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder who did his best Bambino impression in 1990, blasting 51 homers, driving in 132 runs, and scoring 104 times to lead Detroit to a surprising third-place finish.

The experts can’t be blamed for having so little hope or faith in the Tigers, especially after they lost 103 games in 1989 thanks to an anemic offense that finished 13th in runs scored, a pitching staff that posted the worst ERA in the league, and a poor defense that was well below average in almost every category.  There was also little to no talent on the horizon at the minor league level with guys like Scott Lusader, Tory Luvullo, and Jim Lindeman being more suspect than prospect.

The Tigers pitching was still awful in 1990, finishing last in the league in ERA again, despite boasting a borderline Hall of Famer in Jack Morris and a 240-game winner in Frank Tanana.  But their best days were behind them and along with the five other guys who made at least 11 starts that season, the rotation posted a 4.76 ERA.  The bullpen, on the other hand, was very good, boasting a 2.88 ERA on the backs of Mike Henneman (22 saves, 3.05), Jerry Don Gleaton (13, 2.94), and Ed Nunez (6, 2.24).

But the Tigers’ real strength came from their offense.  Thanks to Fielder, they led the league in homers, and were second in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.  Alan Trammell had another very good year, batting .304 with 14 homers and 89 RBIs; Lou Whitaker was solid with 18 homers and 60 runs batted in; and rookie Travis Fryman batted .297 with nine homers and 27 ribbies in 66 games after making his debut on July 7.

They still finished under .500 but it was good enough for third place in a very weak division.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Milwaukee Brewers.  “The underachieving Brewers should start living up to expectations soon,” wrote TSN.  Athlon’s George Leonard took it a step further and claimed, “The Brewers Have The Ingredients,” and predicted a division crown.  Leonard’s reasoning was that re-signing Robin Yount and acquiring free agent DH Dave Parker “could tip the scales in their favor.”  But Inside Sports disagreed.  “Even if their young talent blossoms, an unsettled infield and a lack of pitching depth figures to turn the Brew Crew truly blue.”

Inside Sports was right on the money with its assessment.  Only two Brewers—Parker and Yount—ended up with more than 500 at-bats.  Paul Molitor led the team with a 125 OPS+ but played in only 103 games; Parker hit .289 with 21 homers and 92 RBIs despite turning 39; 21-year-old Gary Sheffield hit .294/10/67 and stole 25 bases; Rob Deer hit a team-leading 27 homers; and Greg Vaughn chipped in 17.  Amazingly, despite finishing 12th in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging, the Brewers plated the fourth most runs in the American League, mostly through their legs, as they paced the circuit in steals with 164.

Except for a few bright spots—Ron Robinson (12-5, 2.91), Teddy Higuera (11-10, 3.76), Dan Plesac (24 saves), and Chuck Crim (11 saves, 3.47)—the pitching staff was pretty brutal, finishing 10th in ERA at 4.08 and last in total runs allowed and strikeouts.

A.L. West
Team W-L TSN ATH IS AVG
1. Oakland 103-59 1 1 1 1
2. Chicago 94-68 7 7 7 7
3. Texas 83-79 4 4 4 4
4. California 80-82 3 3 3 3
5. Seattle 77-85 6 5 5 5.3
6. Kansas City 75-86 2 2 2 2
7. Minnesota 74-88 5 6 6 5.7

It looks like these guys were all in the same room when they made their picks; they differed on only two teams and only slightly, although they completely blew the Chicago and Kansas City picks.  Again, it’s hard to blame them; the Royals finished in second place in ’89 at 92-70 and the White Sox finished last at 69-92.  In fact, with the exception of Seattle and Minnesota, they predicted the same exact finish as the season before.  Not really going out on a limb, are we fellas?

TSN called the White Sox too young and insisted they still had some learning to do.  Inside Sports thought they lacked a veteran starter and a consistent table setter.  Athlon figured they were saving up for a spending spree in the free agent market before moving into new Comiskey Park in 1991.

TSN was right about the Pale Hose being young—at an average of 24.9 years of age they boasted the youngest pitching staff in baseball—but youth served them well.  25-year-old southpaw Greg Hibbard paced the rotation in wins (14) and ERA (3.16); 24-year-old Jack McDowell went 14-9 with a 3.82 ERA; 24-year-old Melido Perez won 13 games and finished second on the team in strikeouts; 26-year-old Eric King went 12-4 with a 3.28 ERA; and 20-year-old Alex Fernandez debuted on August 2 and went 5-5 with a 3.80 ERA.

The bullpen was also solid led by closer Bobby Thigpen who set a new single-season record for saves with 57 and posted a 1.83 ERA, and Barry Jones, who went 11-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 65 appearances.

The regular lineup included veterans Carlton Fisk, who led the team in homers with 18 at the age of 42, Scott Fletcher, and Ron Kittle before the latter was dealt to the Orioles.  The rest of the lineup was composed of players 28 and younger.  Dan Pasqua (.274/13/58) and Ivan Calderon (.273/14/74, 32 steals) joined Fisk as the only regulars who were above average offensively, which explains why the Sox finished ninth in runs scored.  But a trio of youngsters—Sammy Sosa (15/70, 32 SB), Robin Ventura (1.04 EYE) and Frank Thomas, who batted .330/.454/.529 in 60 games—gave the White Sox hope for the future.

On the other end of the spectrum were the Kansas City Royals, who were aging fast, but who’d also made a splash in the free agent market by signing N.L. Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis, who’d saved 44 games for the Padres in 1989, as well as pitchers Storm Davis and Rich Dotson.  TSN claimed the Royals had “enough weapons to challenge the A’s,” but also felt they had no infield depth and an erratic offense that struck out too much to sustain rallies.  Inside Sports felt the Royals were one “big bopper” away from giving Oakland a run for its money.

Ironically, it was the offense that ended up carrying the team and the pitching that let them down.  The regular lineup was led by George Brett (.329/14/87), Bo Jackson (.272/28/78) and Danny Tartabull (.268/15/60) and finished first in doubles, second in triples, third in slugging and sixth in runs.  Jim Eisenreich, Kevin Seitzer, Willie Wilson, Bill Pecota and Brian McRae all made positive offensive contributions.

The pitching, though, was hammered by injuries, inconsistencies and just plain poor performances.  Staff ace Bret Saberhagen pitched only 20 games due to a sore elbow that required minor surgery; Storm Davis battled injuries as well and finished with a disappointing 7-10 record and a 4.74 ERA; Mark Gubicza made only 16 starts before his season was shut down by a rotator cuff injury that required surgery.  The rotation was anchored by second-year man Tom Gordon, who went 12-11 with a 3.73 ERA, and rookie Kevin Appier, who went 12-8 with a 2.76 ERA.

Mark Davis, who inked a four-year, $13 million deal in the offseason, proved to be a huge bust, going 2-7 with only six saves and a gaudy 5.11 ERA in 53 games.  Fortunately Jeff Montgomery inherited the closer role and earned 24 saves while posting a 2.39 ERA, and Steve Farr (13-7, 1.98) and Andy McGaffigan (3.09) solidified the bullpen.

“The Royals were baseball’s free-spending flops last year, staggering to a 75-win season…after entering the year with realistic hopes of dethroning Oakland in the American League West,” wrote Steve Cameron of the Kansas City Star.  “But the Royals were wracked by injuries, a feast-or-famine offense, an erratic bullpen and generally slipshod work in the field.  Even worse, they often played with a lack of passion that sometimes approached boredom.”

The Sporting News’ Award Predictions

N.L. MVP Prediction: Eric Davis, OF (CIN)—”The Reds will be in the pennant chase for real this season and Davis should be primed for the total year that so far has eluded him…the mind boggles at Davis’ potential.

Davis had another good year in 1990, hitting .260 with 24 homers, 86 RBIs, 84 runs, and 21 steals and earned enough votes to finish 12th in MVP balloting.  But he never stayed healthy enough to enjoy that “total year” Pascarelli wrote about.  In 17 major league seasons, Davis never accumulated more than 474 at-bats and reached 500 plate appearances only six times with a high of 562 in 1987.

Actual N.L. MVP: Barry Bonds, OF (PIT)—Bonds blew the rest of the field away, earning 23 of 24 first place votes and finishing 119 points ahead of runner-up and teammate Bobby Bonilla.  He led the league in slugging (.565), OPS (.970) and OPS+ (.170), and batted .301 with 33 homers, 114 RBIs, 104 runs, 52 steals and 93 walks.  He also won a Silver Slugger award and a Gold Glove and was named to the All-Star team.  Davis did none of those things in 1990.

A.L. MVP Prediction: Tony Fernandez, SS (TOR)—”The talented shortstop is Toronto’s key player…his defense was outstanding all season and, at age 27, he’s healthy and headed for a prime-time performance.

I credit Klein for going out on a limb but it snapped when he got too far from the tree.  Fernandez was a fine player who’d garnered MVP support every year from 1986-1989, his best finish being eighth in 1987.  At that point he was a four-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star, but he was only average offensively and had led the A.L. in only two categories, pacing the loop in games and at-bats in 1986.  Fernandez was solid again in 1990, hitting .276 and leading the league in triples with 17, but was ignored by voters.  No Gold Glove, no All-Star berth, and no MVP support came his way.

Actual A.L. MVP: Rickey Henderson, OF (OAK)—In a much tighter vote than in the N.L., Henderson edged Cecil Fielder by 31 points to win his first and only MVP Award.  Rickey led the league in runs with 119, steals (65), on-base percentage (.439), OPS (1.016), and OPS+ (188).  He also batted .325, belted 28 homers, and walked 97 times in 136 games.

N.L. Cy Young Prediction: John Franco, CL (NYM)—”With the excellence of the Mets’ starting rotation, Franco could have a shot at becoming baseball’s first 50-save man.

Kudos to Pascarelli for predicting baseball’s first 50-save man (in a roundabout way).  It’s too bad he had the wrong league.  Franco led the N.L. in saves with 33 and had a very good 2.53 ERA, all of which earned him his fourth and last All-Star berth, but he wouldn’t receive Cy Young consideration until 1994.  Reds closer Randy Myers earned one MVP point in 1990 thanks to his 31 saves and 2.08 ERA.  The rest of the nominees were starters.

Actual N.L. Cy Young Winner: Doug Drabek, SP (PIT)—Drabek paced the senior circuit in wins (22) and winning percentage (.786) and received 23 of 24 first place votes.  Runner-up Ramon Martinez earned the other first place vote and finished 48 points behind Drabek.  Voters were so impressed with the Pittsburgh ace that he finished eighth in MVP voting.

A.L. Cy Young Prediction: Mark Gubicza, SP (KC)—”There will be plenty of competition…but the hard-throwing righthander will be the best of ’90.

Klein can hardly be blamed for going with Gubicza, especially after the Royals righthander went 35-19 with a 2.86 ERA over his previous 71 starts dating back to 1988.  On the other hand, Gubicza had amassed more than 1,300 innings by the age of 26, averaging 255 per season from 1987-1989, and made 106 starts in that same period.  It was either proof that he was durable or a recipe for disaster.  When he came up with a lame shoulder after 16 starts in 1990, it looked like the latter.  He underwent surgery but was never the same pitcher, going 44-62 with a 4.62 ERA over his last seven seasons.

Actual A.L. Cy Young Winner: Bob Welch, SP (OAK)—To this day, the voting for the 1990 A.L. Cy Young Award still chaps my ass.  Don’t get me wrong, Welch was very good (an understatement considering he won 27 games, the most in the majors since Steve Carlton won 27 in 1972 and the most in the American League since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968).  But Roger Clemens was better.  Clemens’ 1.93 ERA was more than a run better than Welch’s 2.95.  He had twice as many shutouts (4-2), five more complete games (7-2), and 82 more strikeouts (209-127) despite making four less starts.  Welch received better run support (5.03 runs per start) than Clemens (4.23 R/GS) and pitched in a park with a ridiculously low park factor (89) while Clemens pitched in a hitter’s park (105).

But let’s go beyond the raw numbers for a moment and look at newer measurements that either weren’t around in 1990 or weren’t yet in vogue.  Clemens had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 9.5, while Welch’s WAR was only 2.5, which wasn’t even close to being his career best (Fangraphs.com has Clemens at 8.7 and Welch at 1.8).  According to Lee Sinins’ RSAA (Runs Saved Against Average), Clemens saved 55 runs while Welch saved only 14.  According to Baseball-Reference.com’s Rrep (Runs expected for Replacement Level), Clemens allowed 88 fewer runs than a replacement level pitcher; Welch was only 23 runs better than replacement level.  Welch’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which calculates a pitcher’s responsibility for the runs he allows based on his walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed, and scaled to match league average ERA) was 4.19; Clemens posted a stellar 2.18.

Clemens had 28 Win Shares, fourth in the A.L. behind Henderson, Fielder and Alan Trammell.  Welch had 18, sixth on his own team behind Henderson, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, Dave Henderson and Dennis Eckersley.  Based on Win Shares, Welch wasn’t even the most productive pitcher in the city of Oakland, let alone the entire American League.

Based on Sinins’ Neutral Wins and Losses, which are park adjusted and take into account how many wins and losses a pitcher would have had with average run support, Clemens should have been 22-5 (he went 21-6) while Welch’s record drops from 27-6 to 19-14.  And did I fail to mention that Clemens finished third in MVP voting behind Henderson and Fielder (Welch finished eighth).  How can a man who was considered the third most valuable player and most valuable pitcher in his league not also be considered the best pitcher?

Am I a bitter Red Sox fan?  Probably.  Would I be making these same arguments had the roles been reversed?  Maybe not.  Bob Welch is certainly not the least deserving pitcher to win a Cy Young Award and it’s hard to argue with a guy who went 27-6 with a 2.95 ERA for the best team in baseball.  But it’s nice to see the newer metrics support what I’ve known all along—that Roger Clemens should have seven Cy Young Awards on his mantle and not six.

N.L. Rookie of the Year Prediction: Pat Combs, SP (PHI)—”He has the savvy and ability to be an ace on a staff that desperately needs one.  He’ll produce numbers good enough to edge out such solid candidates as Cardinals catcher Todd Zeile, Cubs pitcher Mike Harkey and Astros outfielder Eric Anthony.

Not.  Even.  Close.  Pascarelli’s prediction was based on the six starts Combs made at the end of the ’89 season, five of which were quality.  Combs went 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA, an excellent K/BB ratio of 5.00 and a K/9 of 7.00.  But in 1990 he went 10-10 with a 4.07 ERA, and his K/BB ratio and K/9 both dropped to 1.26 and 5.3, respectively.  He also walked 4.2 batters per 9 innings, and it was his lack of control that proved to be his downfall (he walked 6.0 and 5.8 batters per nine in his last two seasons).

Actual N.L. Rookie of the Year: David Justice, 1B/OF (ATL)—Harkey and Zeile both received votes but Justice ran away with the award, earning 23 of 24 first place votes and outpointing Delino DeShields by 58.  Justice hit .282 with 28 homers, 78 RBIs, 76 runs scored, and 11 steals, and finished in the top five in slugging and OPS.

A.L. Rookie of the Year Prediction: Sandy Alomar Jr., C (CLE)—”The pressure will be on, with everybody watching to see if this highly touted catcher can live up to his reviews.  He will…

The 1990 crop of rookies in the junior circuit was solid and included Alomar, Frank Thomas, Kevin Maas, John Olerud, Travis Fryman, Robin Ventura, Kevin Appier, Ben McDonald and Kevin Tapani.  Thomas was the offensive standout of the group (177 OPS+) but played in only 60 games.  Maas seemingly came out of nowhere and belted 21 homers with 41 RBIs and 42 runs in 79 games with the Yankees.  After a stellar career at Washington State University in which he starred at the plate and on the mound, Olerud skipped the minors altogether and hit .265 with 14 homers and 48 ribbies for the Blue Jays.  Fryman batted .297/9/27 in 66 games with the Tigers.  Appier went 12-8 with a 2.76 ERA for the Royals; McDonald went 8-5 with a 2.43 for the Orioles; and Tapani went 12-8 with a 4.07 ERA for the Twins.

Actual A.L. Rookie of the Year: Sandy Alomar Jr., C (CLE)—And we have a winner!  After sticking his neck out on his first two predictions, Klein went with the highly-touted safe pick and scored a victory.  Alomar dominated the voting, earning all 28 first place votes and finishing 93 points ahead of Maas.  The Indians backstop batted .290 with 9 homers, 66 RBIs and 60 runs in 132 games, and though he committed career-worsts in errors (14) and passed balls (11), he showed off a strong arm and nabbed 34% of would-be base thieves and won his first and only Gold Glove Award.  He was also named to the A.L. All-Star team and went 2-for-3 with a run and caught seven shutout innings.

N.L. Manager of the Year Prediction: Jack McKeon (SD)—”Trader Jack…takes the team he built to a pennant…

Not only did Trader Jack not take the Padres to a pennant but he became “See-You-Later” Jack after leading the Padres to a 37-43 record through 80 games.  McKeon remained as general manager before being fired on September 21.  McKeon would eventually win two Manager of the Year Awards in 1999 with the Reds and 2003 with the Marlins.

Actual N.L. Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland (PIT)—After leading the Pirates to a surprising 95-67 record and first place finish, Leyland was named N.L. Manager of the Year, beating out Lou Piniella (CIN), Tommy Lasorda (LA) and Buck Rodgers (MON).

A.L. Manager of the Year Prediction: Cito Gaston (TOR)—”He learned the ropes under difficult circumstances last year, replacing Jimy Williams in mid-May and prodding his team to a division title.  With that experience behind him, the soft-spoken but competitively tough Gaston should excel.

Gaston did excel, leading his team to a second-place finish, which earned him six points in balloting and a fifth-place finish.

Actual A.L. Manager of the Year: Jeff Torborg (CHW)—Despite finishing nine games behind the division-winning A’s, Torborg beat out Oakland’s Tony LaRussa for his first and only MOY Award.  Under Torborg, the Pale Hose went from 69-92 and last place to 94-68 and second place.  He led them to another second-place finish is 1991.  Torborg received 23 of 28 first place votes and finished 56 points ahead of LaRussa, who earned four of the remaining five first-place votes (Boston’s Joe Morgan received the other).

“MARK THIS DOWN: Mark Davis and Gregg Olson will be the relief aces of the 1990s!”—Joe Goddard, Baseball Digest 1990 Yearbook

Trying to predict the dominant closers in a single season is difficult enough; trying to predict dominance over an entire decade is a fool’s game.  To Goddard’s credit, he also mentioned Randy Myers and Jeff Montgomery, both of whom finished in the top five in saves during the decade.  But Davis saved only 11 games in the ’90s and finished with an 11-19 record and a 5.37 ERA in his eight seasons during the decade.  Olson was much better, saving 190 games from 1990-1999, good for 12th among closers during the decade, and posted a 3.47 ERA in 507 appearances.

For the same reason it’s difficult to predict future success for closers based on one year, it’s nearly impossible to know who might eventually jump into that role and succeed.  Take John Wetteland, for example.  Wetteland was projected as the Dodgers’ fifth starter going into the 1990 season but he started only five games before finishing the year in the bullpen, then landed in Triple-A where he was converted to a closer in 1991.  He was traded twice during the offseason before landing with the Expos in 1992 where he became one of the best closers in baseball.  Wetteland saved 295 games for the Expos, Yankees and Rangers from 1992-1999, tops in the majors and posted the best ERA among relievers at 2.53.

Another good example of this was Rick Aguilera, who began his career as a starter with the Mets in 1985 before being moved to the bullpen in 1988.  He appeared in 36 games for the Mets in 1989, all in relief, before being traded to the Twins, who put him in their rotation, where he posted a very good 3.21 ERA in 11 starts.  In January 1990 the Twins announced their intention to move Aguilera back to the bullpen, where he spent most of the rest of his career.  During the decade, Aguilera saved 282 games for the Twins, Red Sox and Cubs and posted a 3.41 ERA.

Mike Lynch is the author of Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League and It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, and the founder of Seamheads.com.

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