It's just fitting that the money pitcher for the Braves for the past 16 years won his 200th game last night in a critical rubber match against the hated Mets, and it wasn't just any victory, but appropriately, it was a taut 2-1 win over his old buddy Tom Glavine.
(By the way, this point was made by Mark Lemke on the Braves' pre-game show last night and it's well worth repeating: where would the Braves and Mets be right now if the Braves could have found $8M to sign Glavine in the off-season when he indicated that he would take less money to return to Atlanta? You think that payroll isn't important in baseball? You think that the Braves wouldn't be the best team in the NL with a Smoltz-Glavine-Hudson top of the rotation to rival the Wickman-Gonzalez-Soriano trio in the bullpen? Liberty Media, I don't expect you to lavish money on the Braves such that you lose money on the operation, but if you could at least provide John Schuerholz with a little payroll flexibility such that he can take advantage of Hall of Fame pitchers who want to return to Atlanta, that would be great.)
Here is Smoltz's line from his last two starts: 14 IP, 0 ER, 10 H, 12 K, 1 BB. Oh, and those starts have come against the Red Sox (third in the AL in runs scored) and the Mets (third in the NL in runs scored). (By the way, I was somewhat surprised to see that the Phillies and Marlins are first and second in the NL in runs scored. The Braves are fourth in the NL in runs scored, so the NL East is apparently the hub of offense for the Senior Circuit this season.) I didn't think it was possible for my affection for Smoltz as a ballplayer could get any greater and then he starts turning in a season like this at age 40.
File this nugget away under the category of "Signs you're listening to a radio show hosted by a collection of carpet-baggers" (and I use that term with a bit of a sense of irony, given that I only moved to Georgia when I was nine and went to college at that noted bastion of Southern pride in Ann Arbor): Mayhem in the AM were discussing Smoltz this morning at the end of the 7:25 segment and the question was asked "where does he rank in terms of the greatest right-handers of all time?" Clemens was offered up as the presumed #1, followed by mentions of Pedro Martinez and Tom Seaver. As of the time they went to break, this guy's name had not yet been mentioned:
You're an Atlanta radio show, for the love of G-d!!! This guy won three Cy Young awards for the Braves! He was a six-time all star in Atlanta! He had consecutive seasons in which his ERA started with a one! He's not even worth a mention as the greatest right-hander of recent memory? We just assume that a Met, a Red Sock/Met, and a Red Sock/Yankee are all automatically better? I expect Steak Shapiro to miss the boat on this question, but I was really surprised that Chris Dimino didn't utter the words "Greg Maddux" as I was shouting at the radio while pulling into the office.
And while I'm acting grumpy, I need to mention Jason Stark's piece proclaiming Andruw Jones to be the third-most overrated player in baseball today. For the record, I can't disagree that Andruw's defense in centerfield has declined over the past several years as he's put on weight. Stark is right that Gold Glove awards are not a good measure of defensive abilities and Andruw has been receiving them in recent years based on reputation. Scott Boras is going to try to sell Andruw as a great hitter at a defensive position, but he plays more and more like a corner outfielder and we can only expect that trend to continue as he gets older.
That said, I'm not inclined to buy the criticisms of Andruw's offense. He has developed more power as he's gotten older and his offensive numbers have been excellent over the past several years. His OPS+ (OPS indexed for league averages) for the past two years were 133 and 129. There's no way to rationally criticize Andruw's offensive production over the past several years, nor can he be described as "overrated" offensively because he's never discussed as one of the best hitters in baseball.
The real weakness of Stark's argument is that he's totally inconsistent in how he evaluates players. For instance, he ranks J.D. Drew as the second-most overrated player in baseball because he's never made an all-star team, he gets hurt a lot, and he's gone over 30 homers and 100 RBIs once as a major leaguer. Well, let's apply those standards to Mr. Jones. Andruw is a five-time all-star. He's remarkably durable, having played 150+ games in every one of his full seasons as a major leaguer. He has six 30+ home run seasons and five 100+ RBI seasons. By the J.D. Drew measuring sticks, Andruw is one of the best players in baseball. So which is it?