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Baseball 2008 Archives

December 29, 2008
BASEBALL: Like A Brad Penny

Joy of Sox looks at the flier the Red Sox are taking on Brad Penny, who will presumably take over Bartolo Colon's role on the Sox. I guess given Boston's experience with Josh Beckett they are currently more enthusiastic about fragile ex-Marlins than Yankees fans are to see AJ Burnett walk in the footsteps of Carl Pavano.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:30 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Yankee Dollar


The Yankees are like Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life. He was buying up bank shares cheap during the depression, but he was also supplying liquidity. The Yankees are doing the same, as their luxury tax and revenue sharing bills help keep other teams competitive.

I hate the Hated Yankees as much or more than the next guy, I still think it's bad for baseball that one team should have such vastly larger financial resources than even the other rich teams, and I still support my matching fund idea as a more elegant solution to economic disparities ruining the fun of the game. Pinto's and Drezner's analogies notwithstanding, baseball is a sport before it is a business (as Bill James once noted, the game would survive if the business model collapsed, but the business would never survive if interest in the sport collapsed); we may want Coke and Pepsi to drive lesser soda companies out of business, but the Yankees would not benefit if the Royals ended up folding halfway through a season as was known to happen in 19th century baseball.

All that being said, some of the reaction to the latest Yankee spending spree has been overblown, not least given the huge salaries that are coming off the Yankee payroll this offseason - Giambi, Mussina, Abreu, possibly Pettitte. And of course, the 21st Century may yet see a New York baseball team win a championship, but it hasn't thus far. Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett are just the Yankees being the Yankees.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
December 26, 2008

For your viewing enjoyment, as you (hopefully) have a day off to lay about the house and enjoy the fruits of Christmas: Tony Oliva playing Wii baseball:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:10 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 22, 2008
BASEBALL: The Middle Infielders Revisited

After I did my Hardball Times column on the post-1920 middle infielders in the Hall of Fame conversation, including the recently elected Joe Gordon - and you should go back and read the column if you expect to make sense of this post - I figured I'd like to check how the rough offensive "Rate" metric I was using stacks up to more sophisticated measurements that incorporate defense. With that in mind, I've pulled together in chart form for the long- and short-prime middle infielders a ranking by Win Shares per 162 team games for their prime years. To add to the picture I list their WS/162 for the non-prime seasons of their careers, which of course are highly variable (some guys get charged with "seasons" for a brief cup of coffee, like Alex Rodriguez in 1994 and 1995 or Rogers Hornsby spending the last 6 years of his career as a manager and part-time pinch hitter). Anyway, as you will see, the WS rankings match up fairly well with mine but naturally diverge in some cases, most obviously guys like Ozzie Smith who had a lot of defensive value.

PlayerAgeYearsSeasonsWSWS/162Career WSRestRest YrsAvg WSRate
Rogers Hornsby24-331920-299.5136238.0750214012.1211.55186.7
Joe Morgan25-331969-778.9530433.9751220811.6917.79131.4
Arky Vaughan21-291933-418.5627832.48356784.7516.42132.1
Craig Biggio25-331991-998.5726931.3942815911.0014.45127.3
Alex Rodriguez20-271996-038.0025031.253991496.5922.61140.7
Ryne Sandberg24-321984-929.0026028.89346866.3613.52116.3
Charlie Gehringer25-351928-3810.4630228.87383817.6010.66128.4
Lou Boudreau22-301940-488.5623827.80277395.706.84114.8
Cal Ripken21-301982-9110.0027327.3042715410.2315.05121.9
Roberto Alomar23-331991-0110.5728126.58375946.0015.67113.4
Derek Jeter24-331998-0710.0026326.30320573.9014.62121.2
Vern Stephens21-291942-508.5622526.29265405.707.02111.3
Frankie Frisch22-321921-3110.4627426.20366927.5212.23106.3
Joe Cronin23-341930-4111.4129625.94333377.604.87108.6
Jim Fregosi21-281963-708.0020725.88261549.965.42106.9
Jeff Kent29-371997-059.0023225.783391077.5914.10116.6
Joe Sewell22-291921-287.6019525.66277825.7014.39110.4
Billy Herman25-331935-438.5621725.35298815.7014.21110.9
Barry Larkin27-351991-998.5721725.3234713010.0013.00101.3
Nellie Fox23-321951-609.5124025.24304648.807.27103.2
Pee Wee Reese27-361946-559.5123724.92314775.7013.51100.8
Chuck Knoblauch23-301992-997.5718824.83231434.0010.75110.9
Luke Appling26/421933/4914.2635424.82378244.755.05100.3
Bobby Doerr22/321940/509.5123224.40281493.8012.89107.7
Joe Gordon23/341938/499.5123024.19242120.9512.63106.1
Bobby Grich23-351972-8412.6729623.36329334.008.2599.5
Alan Trammell22-321980-9010.6724823.24318708.608.1499.1
Lou Whitaker26-351983-9210.0022822.803511238.2714.87102.6
Ozzie Smith30-371985-928.0017922.3832514610.2714.2284.4
Tony Fernandez23-311985-939.0019822.00280827.6010.7990.0
Tony Lazzeri22-321926-3610.4623021.99252222.857.72105.6
Davey Concepcion26-341974-828.6718921.80269809.958.0485.9
Jay Bell25-331991-998.5718321.35245629.006.8999.5
Jim Gilliam24-341953-6310.6021920.66247283.009.3384.3
Willie Randolph21-321976-8711.6723820.39312746.0012.3385.6
Bert Campaneris23-341965-7611.9524120.17280396.685.8480.5
Ray Durham26-341998-069.0017419.33231573.9014.6293.8
Davey Johnson24-311967-748.0014718.38171245.004.8086.7
Luis Aparicio25-361959-7011.8521217.89293815.8013.9776.2
Marty Marion23-311941-498.5615317.87177243.806.3266.8
Bill Mazeroski20-311957-6811.7519516.60219244.914.8971.9
Frank White27-361978-879.6714815.31211638.007.8872.3

As you can see, Frisch, Cronin, Smith and Larkin - as befits their reputations - all go up the list by this measure, while Lazzeri, Whitaker, Bell and Durham go down (you will note, amusingly, that this puts Whitaker and Trammell together).

Two small data inconsistencies with the article, which was written after the 2006 season. One, I added Derek Jeter's 2007 (but not 2008) to complete his prime years; two, I adjusted Miguel Tejada's age.

PlayerAgeYearsSeasonsWSWS/162Career WSRestRest YrsAvg WSRate
Jackie Robinson29-331948-524.7516234.11257954.7520.00135.6
Robin Yount24-281980-844.6714430.8442327915.0018.60129.2
Ernie Banks24-301955-616.6519429.1733213811.9011.60135.3
Rod Carew25-291971-754.9512926.0638425513.6818.64120.7
Miguel Tejada26-322000-067.0018226.00239575.0011.40115.9
Eddie Stanky28-341945-516.6516424.66191273.807.1198.2
Nomar Garciaparra23-291997-037.0016924.14218496.008.17109.4
Gil McDougald23-291951-576.6515723.61194372.8512.9894.8
Dave Bancroft29-351920-266.6515623.462691138.2813.6593.2
Maury Wills27-331960-666.9016023.19253936.9113.4680.4
Phil Rizzuto29-351946-526.6515423.16231775.7013.5187.0
Davey Lopes28-341973-797.0015822.57240828.649.4993.0
Alvin Dark26-321948-546.6515022.56226766.6511.4396.8
Julio Franco26-321985-917.0015522.1428012515.707.96105.3
Red Schoendienst28-341951-576.6514722.1126211511.519.9997.3
Travis Jackson22-271926-315.7012622.11211858.569.9389.0
Cecil Travis21-271935-416.6514621.95169234.754.8496.8
Omar Vizquel29-351996-027.0011917.0026714812.5911.7682.4

As discussed in the article, Carew and Yount - like A-Rod - have other seasons that are "prime" but not as middle infielders (I looked at Carew's broader prime in the article on the tablesetters).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
December 17, 2008

Rafael Furcal maybe hasn't signed with the Braves; at least, the Dodgers think he's still talking to them.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:53 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Brave Once Again

The Braves re-signing Rafael Furcal would seem, at first glance, an admission that the younger DP combination of Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson has failed, and needs to be replaced. But at least offensively, both Escobar and Johnson have held up their end, and I don't really see the basis for dumping either of them on defensive grounds (just on a quick check, both had good range factors this season, and the Braves had a fairly good team Defensive Efficiency Rating and turned an above-average number of double plays). So I have to assume that the deal is setting up Escobar and/or Johnson to be traded (ESPN suggests possibly as a package for Jake Peavy).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:56 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 15, 2008
BASEBALL: Sometimes You Feel Like A Putz

Omar Minaya's work on the bullpen this offseason has been less a restructuring than an exorcism, with the signing of Francisco Rodriguez, the trade of Scott Schoeneweis to Arizona, and the deal sending Aaron Heilman and Joe Smith to, respectively, the Mariners and Indians and bringing home JJ Putz, the Mets have now dumped most of the culprits in the last two seasons' bullpen collapses (Guillermo Mota and Jorge Sosa already being gone and Luis Ayala not offered arbitration and possibly headed to Colorado, although Duaner Sanchez remains) and have two closers (Putz being the setup man as long as K-Rod is healthy) and pretty good odds that at least one of them will be really good. As of now, assuming Wagner's not available to pitch next season, the pen looks like Rodriguez, Putz, Feliciano, Sanchez, the newly-acquired Sean Green, and youngsters (Feliciano being the only lefty in the group).

Keith Law has an overview here of the Putz deal. Putz has great stuff and still had an excellent K rate last season, but really - as we've said so often with the Mets the past few years - it's all about his health. In pure baseball terms, the Mets did give up a lot to get Putz, but a good deal of that was guys like Heilman and Smith who probably needed to be evacuated from Queens. Endy Chavez will be missed for sentimental reasons but is the most replaceable type of outfielder and was barely playing by season's end. The Mets need better bats in the corners, anyway. Mike Carp is the guy I hated to see go - he'll just be 23 this year and batted .299/.403/.471 in AA in 2008, suggesting a guy who could be a legit 1B or LF in the bigs.

As for the other new arrivals, Jeremy Reed was a highly-touted prospect back when he batted .409/.472/.591 in half a season at AA as a 22-year-old, and his career minor league line is .321/.386/.476, but Reed's never recovered his swing after some hand injuries and has at most been a singles hitter in the majors - last year from June 1 to August 16 he hit .297 but still managed just a .337 OBP and .394 slugging. He even hit better at home than on the road in 2008, for a change, so his struggles at the big league level can't be blamed on Safeco.

Then there's Green, who has been very frustrating for Mariners fans in his two full years in Seattle, in which he's posted a 4.29 ERA in 136 appearances (146 if you count AAA). Green keeps the ball down (only 0.31 HR/9 over those two years) but is terribly wild (4.29 BB/9 compared to 7.04 K). He has about the same home and road numbers. But what jumps out, given the fairly large number of games he's appeared in, is a very pronounced tendency to hit the wall in August: in 2007-08 he had a 2.76 ERA through July 31, averaging 7.99 Hits, 0.37 HR, 3.77 BB and 7.71 K per 9; from August 1 through the end of the year, that goes to a 7.35 ERA, 12.86 H, 0.18 HR, 5.33 BB and 5.69 K. Green threw, counting AAA, 45 games through the end of July 2007 and 53 through the end of July 2008 (on the whole, his 82 appearances from 8/1/07 through 7/31/08 ranked him sixth in the majors, albeit ranked behind Heilman and Feliciano and tied with Ayala). I don't know if the late-season fades are preventable, but I'd sure like to see Green kept on a tighter leash in 2009.

On the Schoeneweis deal - as an exercise in comparative agony, consider this Chicago item begging the Cubs to trade Jason Marquis to get Schoeneweis. You can see the minor league numbers here for Connor Robertson, the righthanded reliever the Mets got for Schoenweis; he'll be 27 next year and had a 5.02 ERA in the (admittedly hitter-happy) PCL last season, averaging 3.77 BB/9 and 1.26 wild pitches per 9. On the upside, he's struck out 11.32 batters per 9 innings in his minor league career, and he doesn't have Schoeneweis' contract.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:45 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Stealing Time

For one of the longer-term projects I've been working on, I've been going over the league-wide stolen base and caught stealing data at Baseball-Reference.com; I've been going back to the beginning of the Retrosheet era in 1956, since that's when the site has defensive stolen base data for individual catchers, although for the NL the site has league-wide figures back to 1951, and the AL to 1920.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the chart I put together for the 1956-2008 period, showing the number of games played, steals and caught stealings for each league, followed by the league-wide average of stolen base attempts per 162 team games and league-wide stolen base percentages.


A couple of conclusions:

1. You can see the rapid upward movements in steal attempts in the NL around 1962 (Maury Wills' big year) and 1974 (Lou Brock's), the AL much later in 1965-66 and then around 1974, and the big falloff around 2000 capping a longer-term decline (the NL's one-year spike in 1999 looks like just a fluke).

2. We're at something like a historic happy medium for stolen base attempts. Very low numbers of steal attempts generally mean that a lot of steal attempts are busted hit-and-runs, with a low success rate (the stolen base percentages of the 1950s bear this out), whereas very high numbers indicate a lot of high-risk running.

3. I think a good deal of the shift from the AL to the NL in big base stealing in the late 1970s was driven not just by the DH rule but by managers: Chuck Tanner moved to the NL in 1977, Whitey Herzog in 1980. Tanner in particular left his stamp on the AL in 1976, when he forgot his mother's admonition that if you make that steal sign on Opening Day it might freeze that way. The 1976 A's, on their way to their first failure to win the division in six years (helped along by the exodus of the Mustache Gang's stars) attempted an obscene 464 steals (the only other team in the league over 230 was Herzog's Royals at 322), albeit at an admirable 73.5% success rate. Don Baylor attempted 64 steals, Bill North 104, Sal Bando (!) 26, Phil Garner 48, Claudell Washington 57, Bert Campaneris 66, and the team's two full-time pinch runners, Matt Alexander and Larry Lintz, combined to attempt 69 steals while having only 33 plate appearances.

4. Stolen base percentages were growing steadily for much of the period, but have really entered a golden age only in the last 2-4 years - before 2004-05, it was rare for the AL to reach a 70% success rate, and the NL wasn't able to stay consistently above 70%; since then, we've seen the NL average spiral as high as 75.6%, with both leagues above 73% the past two seasons for the first time ever. The Mets and Phillies, led by Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, have been the leaders: in 2007-08, the Mets attempted an average of 210 steals per year with an 80.5% success rate, the Phillies an average of 159 steals with an 86.2% success rate.

It's an interesting question what the cause of this is. Probably the influence of sabermetrics is a part, especially since the growing popularity of Baseball Prospectus, the 2003 publication of Moneyball, the passing of generational torches and other events have helped focus managers' attention on not running themselves out of innings (a process accelerated by the post-1994 scoring/home run explosion that peaked in 1999-2000). I suspect that baserunners have gotten faster at a greater rate than catchers have been throwing harder. I don't think it's the pitchers; if anything, you hardly see the big leg kicks of the 1970s anymore. Looking around the league, it's hard to say that teams are really diminishing the priority they place on catchers who can throw, either (Piazza's not in the league anymore). I don't think equipment is a big factor, especially with artificial turf in declining usage, but better shoes may be incrementally aiding the baserunners.

Anyway, it's yet another reminder of how many different aspects of the game evolve over time, both in terms of strategy and in terms of outcomes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:46 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 10, 2008
BASEBALL: It's Not The Years, It's The Miles

Quick followup to the anecdotal evidence cited in yesterday's post: here's the complete list of pitchers who threw at least 200 games through age 26, with at least half of those appearances in relief. As you can see, K-Rod is second on the list at 408, and the #3 guy, Terry Forster, is 65 games behind him. K-Rod trails Mitch Williams 437-429 if you include the postseason.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
December 9, 2008

No formal confirmation yet, but the Mets appear to have signed Francisco Rodriguez for 3 years and $37 million. This is good news for the Mets, and of course much worse news for the Angels, who have a fairly big budget of their own to throw around but have a lot of holes to plug.

First, the Angels. They exceeded their Pythagorean record by 12 games in 2008, which means that (1) they're due to fall backwards next year and (2) they relied heavily on a deep bullpen in 2008. Take K-Rod out of the picture, and that will be stretched thinner (Darren Oliver is returning, but he's not cut out to be more than a fifth man in the pen). I assume Jose Arredondo will eventually take over closing duties, though Scot Shields will probably get first crack. And that's before you deal with the challenge of re-signing Mark Teixeira, as well as clearing out Jon Garland and Garret Anderson and Juan Rivera also free agents - all guys (other than Tex) that you can spare, but it's harder to replace them all at once.

From the Mets perspective, I've always liked K-Rod, but I've been suspicious of him as a long-term investment. Some of that may just be a matter of listening to the Baseball Prospectus people fretting about his mechanics for years, of course. But there's also history: as I have noted before, by far the most similar pitcher to K-Rod through age 26 is Gregg Olson, who flamed out at 27, and #3 is Bobby Thigpen, who did the same at 28. Looking at the all-time leaders through age 26, K-Rod is one of 3 relievers in the top 10 in games pitched (the rest are 19th century starting pitchers), and the others are Mitch Williams, finished at 29, and Terry Forster, who threw just 58 innings between age 27 and 29. The top 10 in saves is K-Rod, Olson, Thigpen, Chad Cordero (who was hurt most of this season at age 26), Rod Beck, Williams, Ugueth Urbina, Bruce Sutter (who had his first off year at 30 and broke down starting at 32), Billy Koch, who hit the wall at 28, and Forster. Even bearing in mind that K-Rod has none of Williams' mental problems or Forster's conditioning issues, basically there's two guys on that list who didn't really suffer a sudden loss in effectiveness (Beck and Urbina, although Beck basically never recovered his high strikeout rates) and one (Sutter) who lasted into his 30s before the wheels came off. Turning to the top 10 in games finished, we get most of the same crowd plus Goose Gossage, whose broken hand at 27 was the only bump in the road, Byung-Hyun Kim, who missed most of his age 25 season and hasn't been the same since, and Jorge Julio, who at any rate has come down in the world from when he was 23, was terrible at 26 and 28 and was hurt this season at 29. We may not have a very lengthy track record to evaluate the durability of young relievers who throw a lot of games in their early twenties, but what we do have presents pretty grim odds.

Statistically, there's also K-Rod's declining K rate; although it was still over 10 this year, the trend combined with his high walk rate are worrisome signs.

All of which is why a 4-year contract would have scared me, a lot, and why I still regard K-Rod as a risky acquisition, much as Billy Wagner and BJ Ryan were big injury risks three years ago, and both of them went down. But the Mets needed a closer; Wagner's out most or probably all of next year, and K-Rod was better than the other options on the market. If he stays healthy for two of the three years of the deal, it won't be a bad investment. The Mets took advantage of the fact that there were more closers on the market than demand for them, and played some hardball. They will need more relievers to overhaul the bullpen after the last two seasons' fiascoes, but this was the logical place to start.

One guy they were rumored to be considering: Trevor Hoffman, who would give them three pitchers under contract with a total of 1147 career saves. Hoffman's close to finished and can't carry a huge workload - he threw 45.1 innings this season - but he may have enough left to contribute as a setup man. He had a 2.88 ERA from April 13 to the end of the year, including a 41-5 K-BB ratio. Over the past two years, righties have batted .167/.188/.292 (Avg/OBP/Slg) against Hoffman compared to .295/.355/.472 for lefties, which suggests that he might be more useful in a situational role (of course, I said that earlier this year about Schoenweis - guys with those splits tend to get exposed sooner or later). I'm not saying Hoffman's a good idea, but if he's not too expensive he may have his uses.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:38 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Sour Grapes

Lots of stuff to blog about today that deserves longer treatment, but I just have to say that while Ron Santo strikes me as a deserving Hall of Famer (not overwhelmingly so, but he clearly meets the standard for third basemen after you finish adjusting his numbers for the huge boost he got from Wrigley Field - career .296/.383/.522 at home, .257/.342/.406 on the road - as offset by the terrible era for hitters he played in), his complaining about the Veterans Committee balloting system can't help but come off as sour grapes. Frankly, the Veterans Commitee exists for one reason: to correct injustices, whether to guys the writers never saw play (i.e., Negro Leaguers, pre-1930s players) or that the writers for whatever reason failed to appreciate or had a grudge against. If the commitee rarely elects anybody, that's fine.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:15 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
December 8, 2008
BASEBALL: Hall Calls Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, as other candidates including Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Gil Hodges, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, and seriously old-time players like Sherry Magee, Bill Dahlen and Deacon White fell short. I'll come back to some of the guys who lost when I have more time to write, but you can go here for my take on Gordon as well as Vern Stephens and Maury Wills, also on this year's ballot. (In fact, I've been meaning to revisit and supplement that essay with an additional point, and will when I get a chance). Basically, Gordon - who died 30 years ago - is OK with me as a Hall of Famer when you give him back the two years he lost to World War II (he probably wouldn't have hit .210 in 1946, either, if he hadn't missed those two years). He was extremely comparable as a hitter to his contemporary Bobby Doerr and to a lesser extent Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Frisch, though less adept at getting on base than Lazzeri and Frisch, and while all four had comparable-length primes, Frisch had a longer career and success as a manager (Gordon didn't, and this excellent Steven Goldman essay I'd been meaning to link to gives Gordon some of the blame, along with Bobby Bragan, for ruining Herb Score's arm).

I also looked here at the 1948 Indians, for whom Gordon played a key role; Gordon is the sixth member of that team inducted to the Hall, as well as the seventh member of the 1938-39 Yankees and the seventh member of the 1941-42 Yankees (incidentally, that 1942 Yankees team, for which Gordon won an MVP award that really should have gone to Ted Williams - Williams won the Triple Crown, led the league in Runs by 18, RBI by 23, Slugging by 135 points and OBP by 82 and times on base by 60 - was a really good team, starring Gordon, the DiMaggio-Keller-Henrich outfield, Rizzuto, Dickey, and a largely forgotten pitching staff, although they were overshadowed by the late-30s editions and the fact that they lost the Series to a Cardinals juggernaut).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
December 4, 2008
BASEBALL: We Built This Citi

NY Daily News has the latest photo tour of CitiField, plus pictures of Shea's slo-mo demolition and Jeff Wilpon looking silly in a hardhat.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
December 1, 2008
BASEBALL: Triple Crown Trivia

The pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in Wins, ERA and Strikeouts) may not have the glamor of the batting one, but its winners make up a pretty distinguished roster. Try your hand at some Triple Crown trivia, answers below the fold.

1. Since 1997, we've had a bumper crop, with five pitchers winning a total of six Triple Crowns. Name them.

2. Name the threeo pitchers to win it three times.

3. Two of the first three winners (Tommy Bond in 1877 and Guy Hecker in the American Association in 1884) aren't in Cooperstown - but between 1889 and 1996, 18 pitchers combined to do it 27 times - name the three of those 18 who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:43 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
November 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Billingsley Broken

Chad Billingsley has a fractured fibula from a fall on ice. Hopefully, the prognosis of being ready to go by the spring is on target. The Dodgers have a bunch of talented young pitchers, but as the one who has proven the most so far, Billingsley's probably the single player - even beyond Russell Martin - most important to the franchise's future, as a 23-year-old coming off his first 200 IP/200 K season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:29 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
November 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Start Me Or Trade Me

Aaron Heilman wants to start in Queens or start somewhere else. Heilman's failure last season at least takes away the "he's too valuable in the pen" card - I personally think that (1) he needs a change of scenery so badly the Mets probably have to sell low and get rid of him and (2) the logical destination is St. Louis. Heilman's 30 years old, reasonably healthy, has a history of some success but has lacked consistency and has lately been failing - that is, to a T, the profile of the kind of pitcher LaRussa and Duncan have made their careers with, from Dave Stewart to Eckersley to Chris Carpenter to Lamarr Hoyt to Isringhausen to Storm Davis to Looper to Lohse to Todd Stottlemyre, etc.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:54 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Needs hip surgery, could be out as long as until June. Given his tail-off this season, that could be very worrisome. Much as I loathe the Phillies, Utley is one of the game's real stars, and this has all the hallmarks of a "he was never the same again" injury. I hope I'm overreacting.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Moose It Or Lose It

While he was still issuing non-denial denials last night, it certainly looks all but official that Mike Mussina is retiring. It's a shame for the game, and a decision Mussina may regret later on. Mussina can afford to retire, of course - according to Baseball-Reference.com, he's made $144 million in his career - but even if he hung on 2 or 3 more years, he'd still be 42 or 43 years old and never have to work again, with maybe 40+ years of retirement ahead of him. But you only get a limited number of years to play Major League caliber baseball.

Sure, Mussina's very unlikely to have another year like 2008. After a a 4.59 ERA in 2004, a 4.41 ERA in 2005, a 5.15 ERA in 2007 and a 5.75 ERA in his first four starts in 2008, Mussina, who turns 40 in December, can be forgiven for thinking that the pendulum will swing back down sooner rather than later, and deciding to go out on top. But still: the man has won 270 games and is coming off a 20-win season when he struck out 150 batters and walked 31. Mussina almost certainly deserves to go to Cooperstown, as discussed below, but from here on in, even another 5 or 10 or 15 wins is going to make his case that much easier, and it's hardly improbable for him to get to 300 wins; given the exclusivity of that club, it's hard to imagine a competitive professional athlete never looking back and wondering if he could have done that. Plus, of course, Mussina's on the Yankees; if he drops back to a 5.00 ERA next year, he'll still win games. And who wants to retire having pitched 8 seasons with the Yankees and never won a championship?

Buster Olney argues that it's about the age of his kids:

Mussina's logic in retiring now is that he really felt like that if he was going to continue playing, it was going to be because he would pursue 300 victories -- and with 270 wins, he felt that realistically, he probably would have to pitch three seasons to get those last 30 victories. And he did not want to pitch three more seasons, not at a time when his youngest children are beginning to play youth sports and he can coach them.

Well, OK...I get that if his family's in Pennsylvania he doesn't get the same kind of time at home as if they were in New York, and he'd still be 3-4 hours from home even if he signed with the Phillies. But this is a guy who is off for three full months of the offseason, the kids can come to NY for the summer...it's still not a bad life.

Anyway, assuming Mussina calls it quits, will he make the Hall? I'd assume he will - especially now that the "he never won 20" knock is gone, and probably the writers, ever suckers for a human interest angle, will give him a break on falling short of 300 because he could have if he'd wanted to.

And he should. Let's look at the career records of pitchers since 1893 with between 250 and 300 wins, ranked by ERA+ (park-adjusted league ERA divided by career ERA; 100 is a league-average pitcher, higher is better; G+ is games over .500). I've left off here 5 such pitchers who pitched mostly or entirely before the mound moved back in 1893 (Al Spalding, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Jim McCormick), of whom only Spalding's in the Hall, since there's no point comparing Mussina to the standards by which those guys are judged:

Randy Johnson295135.6484039.1137n/e
Carl Hubbell25399.6223590.1130IN
Bob Gibson25177.5913884.1127IN
Jim Palmer266116.6383948.0126IN
Mike Mussina270117.6383562.2123n/e
Bob Feller266104.6213827.0122IN
Red Faber25441.5444086.2119IN
Bert Blyleven28737.5344970.0118Out
Ted Lyons26030.5314161.0118IN
Fergie Jenkins28458.5574500.2115IN
Eppa Rixey26615.5154494.2115IN
Robin Roberts28641.5394688.2113IN
Tommy John28857.5554710.1110Out
Red Ruffing27348.5484344.0109IN
Jim Kaat28346.5444530.1107Out
Burleigh Grimes27058.5604180.0107IN
Jack Morris25468.5773824.0105Out

Now, there are two guys on this list who still don't belong here - Randy Johnson will most likely cross the 300-win barrier next season if he's healthy for even about a third of the season, and Bob Feller would probably have won 300 and had better career averages if he hadn't missed more than 3 years of his prime to World War II. And of course, career totals aren't the be-all and end-all (Roberts, in particular, is in the Hall for his dominant prime, not his career totals). That said, two things should jump out at you here: a lot more of these guys are in the Hall than out, and Mussina looks a lot more like the guys who are in with no questions asked than like the guys who are out (243-game winner Juan Marichal comes up as the most similar player to Mussina). He may be superficially similar to Jack Morris, but he's really much more similar to Jim Palmer - all three had good offenses behind them (Mussina probably had less defensive support than Morris, and definitely less than Palmer), but Mussina's record is pretty consistent with his ERAs. The worst you can say is that Mussina, in line with modern practice, has thrown a lot fewer innings, but recall as well that he's thrown an extra 139.2 innings of postseason work. And he's been fantastically consistent - 17 straight seasons winning in double figures with only one losing season, 9 straight 200-IP seasons, 12 straight with ERA+ better than 100. In today's American League in particular, that's more than enough for me.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:43 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
November 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Jeter and Everett

I just located online Bill James' article from the Fielding Bible following the 2005 season using Derek Jeter and Adam Everett to illustrate different approaches to evaluating shortstop defense. It's an excellent read, as always. From the conclusions:

Read More »

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BASEBALL: Great Moments in MVP Voting

In 1967, Elston Howard finished 17th in the AL MVP balloting. The 38-year-old Howard, who appeared in 108 games that season, batted .178/.233/.244 for two teams. Presumably he got named on ballots for his 42 games with the pennant winning Red Sox, for whom he batted .147/.211/.198, scored 9 runs and drove in 11.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:14 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

As I have noted previously, this year's AL MVP race is a mess because so many of the possible candidates got hurt. Carlos Quentin went down for the season from his own foolishness at a key point in the race for a team that went all the way to a 1-game playoff. Evan Longoria, the best player on the league's best team, missed a month; Ian Kinsler missed more. Curtis Granderson played brilliantly upon his return from injury, but his team was already down for the count when he started his season. A-Rod, the defending MVP, led the league in slugging again but missed 24 games. Milton Bradley was the league's best hitter, but he was only able to appear in 126 games (and the Rangers were happy to get that much from him).

Nor can you really give it to a pitcher. I've explained already why K-Rod is a silly MVP candidate. And Cliff Lee had a great year, but not the kind of super-dominant season necessary to give the MVP to a starting pitcher who threw 223 innings for an also-ran team (I did argue for Pedro as MVP in 1998, 1999 and 2000 - in retrospect, that 1998 column looks kinda silly - so I'm not averse in extreme cases to giving it to a pitcher).

What does that leave? I'm fine with giving the award to a player on a non-competitive team, but not if it's a guy who doesn't play a key defensive position and isn't clearly the best hitter in the league, so sorting through Josh Hamilton (and his gaudy RBI totals), Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore (neither of whom even had a particularly great year by their own standards), Aubrey Huff, and Nick Markakis is pointless. Among the contenders, Justin Morneau likewise was just another good first baseman. You want the award with your bat, you have to seize it.

Probably the best offensive player among the guys who stayed healthy all year and played for a contender was Kevin Youkilis, who batted .312/.390/.569, drove in 115 runs and grounded into only 11 double plays and pitched in as a respectable substitute at 3B in addition to playing first. Youkilis would not be the worst MVP, but fundamentally, it comes down to the two guys who were competitive with him with the bat and contributed more on the defensive side: Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia. Let's look at the offensive tale of the tape:


PA=Plate Appearances
TOB=Times on Base
XO=Extra outs (GIDP plus Caught Stealings)
LgOPS=Park-adjusted League OPS, from Baseball-Reference.com

As you can see, you can make a case for either of them with the bat. Mauer has the 37-point edge in on base percentage; Pedroia has the 42-point edge in slugging. Pedroia scored 20 more runs and racked up 80 more total bases on the strength of 93 more plate appearances, but he also used up 80 more outs in those extra 93 plate appearances, so the marginal offensive value to the team was pretty much negative. On the other hand, that also translates to an extra 19 games in the field (Mauer caught 139 games), which is important when comparing two good defensive players at key defensive positions. Pedroia stole 20 bases, something Mauer at age 25 has already stopped doing. But note the LgOPS figure: Fenway was a much more favorable offensive environment this season, so while both players hit better at home than on the road, overall you have to apply a bigger discount to Pedroia's numbers.

Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which rates hitters compared to a replacement-level player at the same position, rates Pedroia #3 and Mauer #4 in the league, with A-Rod at #1 and Sizemore at #2.

What about "clutch" performance with the bat? I'm not a great believer in clutch ability as a persistent trait, but there's no question that in determining value in a particular season, it's fair to look at who actually did come through in big situations. Let's look how they hit with men in scoring position, men on base and in the late innings of close games:


Both fine performances, but advantage: Mauer for his superior batting and OBP figures with men on base, which is how he managed more RBI in fewer opportunities. Pedroia, of course, finished the season withg a flourish, but Mauer, with his team in a death struggle for the division title, batted .365/.414/.490 the last month of the season, a tough time of year for a guy who's been behind the plate all season.

It's a close call, but at the end of the day, I have to rate Mauer slightly ahead with the bat, given that most of Pedroia's offensive advantages simply come from playing in a better hitters' park and burning a lot of extra outs. And then you turn to the defensive side. That's more subjective, given the difficulty of getting good defensive stats. The Win Shares system, which tabs Mauer as the AL MVP over Youkilis and Morneau (with Pedroia tied for sixth), rates him second only to Kurt Suzuki for the most valuable defensive player in the league (Suzuki's the only catcher in the AL to catch more innings than Mauer), with Pedroia seventh. ESPN's Zone Ratings peg Pedroia as the second-best AL 2B behind Mark Ellis; among the catchers, Mauer's rated #3 behind Suzuki and Dioner Navarro in catching base thieves. The Fielding Bible +/- ratings rate Pedroia at +15, the fifth best 2B in MLB. Clearly, both guys contributed a good deal with the glove.

It's hard to get a good comparison, but good catchers who can hit are really hard to come by, and ones who can stay in the lineup for 633 plate appearances are even rarer. And consider that the 25-year-old Mauer also did such a good job with the Twins' young pitching staff - the overachievement of the Twins' young arms (between Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano, the Twins gave 128 starts to four pitchers who had an average of 20 career starts and 126 innings entering the season) was a big part of how they ended up in the race to the season's final day despite being buried by most commentators after the Santana trade. Catchers used to win a lot of MVP awards; that's fallen out of favor (Pudge Rodriguez in 1999 is the only catcher to win the award since Thurman Munson in 1976; Mike Piazza couldn't even win when he batted .362/.431/.638 and drove in 124 runs playing for a contending team in Dodger Stadium), but Mauer is pretty much the textbook example of how a catcher can make a big difference on several fronts, from getting on base to hitting in the clutch to cutting off the running game and handling the pitchers (he's the closest thing we'll likely see in our lifetimes to Mickey Cochrane). He could easily have been MVP two years ago when he became the first AL catcher to win a batting title; between Mauer's offensive and defensive contributions, I'd say he should win it this year after being the second.

UPDATE: Pedroia wins, Morneau finishes second. The tools of ignorance once again get no respect. The good news? K-Rod finished sixth.

SECOND UPDATE: I suppose Pedroia's strong second half was just too much to overcome. Pedroia was batting .262/.313/.365 on the morning of June 14, but from June 15 to the end of the season he hit .375/.422/.590 and scored 78 runs in 88 games. That sort of thing tends to leave an impression. I really have no idea what we should expect from Pedroia next year - my guess would be less power overall, but maybe a few more homers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
November 17, 2008
BASEBALL: The Right Choice

Pujols wins the NL MVP, Howard second, Braun third, Manny (!) fourth.

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The NL MVP balloting will be announced this afternoon. To my mind, there's only one candidate: Albert Pujols.

There seems to be a fair amount of sentiment for Ryan Howard, as there was before the Mets' collapse for Carlos Delgado, and for the same reasons....but Pujols is the best player in the league, he had arguably his best year with the bat, he's a better defensive player and baserunner than Howard or Delgado or Lance Berkman, he doesn't play in an offensive haven like Philly or Houston, and his team, with a deeply unimpressive collection of supporting talent, won 86 games, was within 2 games of first place on July 22 and 4 games on August 1, and within 2 games of the wild card lead on August 16 and 3 1/2 on September 9. Pujols led the league in Slugging and OPS, was second in batting and on base percentage, and despite missing two weeks with an injury he managed to lead the league in Total Bases and Times on Base and finish third in homers, fourth in RBI, third in hits, second in walks and fourth in doubles (Chipper Jones was the only really comparable hitter in the league in percentage terms, but Pujols had 641 plate appearances to Jones' 534). There's really no serious dispute that if you put Pujols on the Phillies or Mets in place of Howard or Delgado, the team with Pujols would have improved by several games, and the Cardinals would have gone nowhere.

Pujols batted .357/.462/.653 on the season, .335/.443/.613 on the road. Howard batted .251/.339/.543 on the season - a 106 point gap in batting average, a 123 point gap in OBP, and a 110 point gap in slugging. Howard may have had the great September, but Pujols batted .398/.491/.745 in August and .321/.427/.702 in September. With 2 outs and men in scoring position he hit .326/.592/.791. On the whole, Ryan Howard batted .276/.370/.638 with 18 HR and 51 RBI and 38 Runs from August 1 to the end of the season; Pujols, with a lot less help from his teammates, batted .363/.461/.725 with 16 HR, 49 RBI and 35 Runs over the same period.

Howard batted .241/.317/.514 on the road, making him an easier out on the road than Yadier Molina, Cristian Guzman, Brian Schneider, Kazuo Matsui, Aaron Miles, Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger, or Rich Aurilia (Pujols led the majors in OBP on the road), and a less fearsome slugger away from Citizens Bank than Jayson Werth, Xavier Nady, Casey Blake, Cody Ross, or Mike Cameron (Pujols led the majors in Slugging on the road).

Pujols batted .354/.494/.638 with men on base, compared to Howard's .309/.396/.648 (yes, Howard really did elevate his game with men on base - there is some reason for him being in this discussion). Pujols batted .339/.523/.678 with runners in scoring position, compared to Howard's .320/.439/.589. The difference? Howard had 47 more plate appearances with men in scoring position (223 to 176) and 29 more with men on base (351 to 322). As with Francisco Rodriguez' save opportunities, Howard is an MVP candidate almost entirely because of the opportunities his teammates gave him. He may have raised his game in those situations, but even then, as in the stretch run, he couldn't raise it to Pujols' level.

Berkman had a better year than Howard, but also doesn't stack up to Pujols, and unlike Howard's RBI advantage he did nothing better than Pujols except steal 18 bases. He batted .312/.420/.567, .306/.413/.514 on the road. He had a horrendous September, batting .171/.343/.289.

There are a number of other guys who have good arguments for being on the ballot besides Howard and Berkman - Jones, Delgado, Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum, four other Mets (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana), Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, maybe even Manny down at the end of the ballot. But there's only one choice for #1: Albert Pujols.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 14, 2008

Excellent move by the Yankees to buy low and pick up Nick Swisher (don't be fooled by David Pinto's headline) coming off a terrible year in which he hit .219. Swisher's only 28, he can play 1B and RF and even play center in a pinch; he was an excellent player in 2006 and 2007, and he had productive stretches in 2008 (in 71 games from June 3 through August 26, he batted .262/.374/.545, averaging 41 HR, 91 walks, 116 Runs and 116 RBI per 162 games). It was really just his batting average that fell off, as his Isolated Power was essentially unchanged from 2007. Swisher will always struggle with his average, but basically he's a good player hitting .255, but not when hitting .220.

Pinto notes that Swisher particularly struggled on the road, so a change of park alone won't help him. It's certainly possible that he's just washed up young, as sometimes happens to young players with his skill set (the Yankees had a similar failed experiment with Morgan Ensberg, who's a couple years older, this season), but the odds favor a return to productivity, similar to Johnny Damon after his off-year at age 27. Swisher was probably miscast as a leadoff man, batting .210/.354/.324 in the role (by contrast, he actually hit better when playing center field than 1B, so you can't blame the strain of a tougher defensive position). My guess is that he's the kind of player who will particularly benefit from a lower-profile role down in the lineup, even on the bigger stage New York provides.

The Yankees got him fairly cheap (cheap enough that I'm left wondering why Omar Minaya didn't go after him, given the Mets' holes in the OF corners). Part of the reason, as usual, was money: Swisher "has three years left on a five-year, $26.75 million contract." Wilson Betemit has his uses but is pretty much your classic expendable utility infielder at this point, and has been used mostly as a first baseman of late. Jeff Marquez, a 24-year-old starter who posted a 3.65 ERA with just 5.45 K/9 in 2007 at AA and a 4.47 ERA with 4.47 K/9 mostly at AAA this season, would appear to be a marginal prospect at best. 23-year-old Jhonny Nunez has a career minor league ERA of 3.64 and has pitched just 27 innings above A ball, and so can't really be projected much; I don't know anything about him but his numbers, but my guess is that a guy his age with good K rates and spotty control will probably get converted to the bullpen. As Pinto discusses, Kanekoa Texeira, the reliever the Yankees got in return, seems a much better prospect than either of them; he "does exactly what a team wants; lots of strikeouts, few walks and a minuscule number of home runs."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:26 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
November 13, 2008
BASEBALL: Pieces of Seasons

Steve Treder has an excellent Hardball Times piece on the best short seasons by hitters, including parts of seasons when a player switched teams. Two current free agents are prominently featured, as you might expect.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:12 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Holliday On The Road To Fremont

Now, we're starting to get some real activity in the baseball offseason. The big news is a projected, non-finalized blockbuster deal sending Matt Holliday to the A's for a package that reportedly includes Greg Smith, Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez. I'll try to look at the on-the-field angle once we have a final report of the players involved, but this is an interesting deal from the perspective of analyzing the A's franchise, since it represents the A's doing the big-market thing and packaging young players for an established star, represented by Scott Boras, who is going to command a huge salary on the free agent market after the 2009 season (much like when they acquired Johnny Damon, who promptly had a lousy year and then left). It remains to be seen whether Lew Wolff is planning to pull the trigger on a big contract for Holliday now that the A's are heading for a new stadium and a new city.

On that subject, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman ran for re-election as a supporter of finally bringing the A's to Fremont by 2012 (his opponent was against the plan), and Wasserman's victory is widely seen as a victory for the new stadium. Wolff sees it that way, and is still hopeful that the park can be ready by 2011:

Despite challenges to building a new baseball stadium, Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff said "we can get it done" in Fremont.

Wolff said Monday at a luncheon of the Associated Press Sports Editors that, "We're getting close to receiving the first drafts of the environmental impact reports," according to ESPN.com. "We've run into lots of things, which every developer does in California."

Some Fremont resident concern about traffic and public transportation access to the project, for example, has dogged the project.

Still, Wolff cited last week's election results in Fremont as a development that broke in his favor. Voters in the city re-elected incumbent Mayor Bob Wasserman, a strong supporter of a plan by the Oakland Athletics to build a $500 million stadium surrounded by 3,150 residential units and enough retail and restaurant space to fill almost nine football fields.

The bad news:

Wolff would change the team's name to the Athletics at Fremont, and the classic brick ballpark, scheduled for completion in 2012, would be named Cisco Field after the computer networking company.

Ugh. I suppose "at" conveys their transience better than "of" ... given the franchise's history, they may as well just call them the Traveling Athletics and be done with it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:14 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
November 9, 2008
BASEBALL: Least Valuable of All

A little detour to the days of yore: Looking back in baseball history, no discussion of the least valuable players in any single season can be complete without Joe Gerhardt in 1885.

Baseball in the 1880s had a number of very good 1- or 2-year teams (such as those turned in by NL franchises in Detroit and Providence), but the decade was really dominated by three franchises: in the NL, the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) of 1880-86 and the New York Giants of 1885-89, and in the American Association the St. Louis Browns of 1885-89 (the Browns moved to the NL after the AA folded in 1891, and are now the Cardinals).

The Giants, in fact, got the nickname that stuck with them largely from the 1885 team, which featured six Hall of Famers in their primes:

*Towering, slugging 27-year-old first baseman Roger Connor (at 6'3" a huge man for the era) was probably the second-best hitter of the decade behind Dan Brouthers - Connor held the career home run record until Babe Ruth, although in those days power was mostly about doubles and triples, which he also produced in bulk - and Connor had his best season, batting .371/.435/.495 compared to a league Avg/OBP/Slg of .241/.284/.322, for an OPS+ of 198 (i.e., nearly twice as good as the league-average hitter).

*25-year-old catcher Buck Ewing, at 5'10" also on the tall side even for a mid-twentieth catcher, batted .304/.330/.471 (OPS+ 155). As Bill James has documented, Ewing's peers regarded him as the best player in 19th century baseball; his batting stats don't entirely bear that out, but in his prime he was as good a hitter relative to his leagues as all but a handful of catchers in the game's history, and that's before you get to his defense. We don't have stolen base data before 1886 or caught stealings before the mid-teens, but in 2008 the average team stole 0.57 bases per game in the NL, 0.58 in the AL; in 1886, the NL average was 1.35. So, even adjusting for the open-ended definition of stolen bases in those days, there were a lot of people running. A typical modern catcher averages less than an assist every two games, with around half of those being caught stealings; Ewing, for his career, averaged 1.6 assists per game - a role much more active, between gunning down base thieves and pouncing on bunts, than today's catchers (Ewing's career range factor, measuring number of plays made per game, was 11% better than the league, and 8.6% better at third base, where he played part-time in his later years).

*34-year-old center fielder Jim O'Rourke had a year typical of his long career, batting .300/.354/.442 (155) and scoring 119 runs in 112 games. The team's two other veteran outfielders batted .326/.346/.421 (146) and .293/.317/.362 (118).

*They also had 25-year-old shortstop John Ward, a Hall of Famer more for his pitching and his role as a union organizer and all-around poineer; Ward was the team's second-weakest hitter at .226/.255/.285 (73).

*The team had two ace starting pitchers, both 300-game winners; against a league ERA of 2.82, 25-year-old Mickey Welch had his best season, going 44-11 with a 1.66 ERA, while 28-year-old Tim Keefe went 31-12 with a 1.58 ERA. The two accounted for 89% of the Giants' decisions.

Overall, in the shortened seasons common at the time, the Giants cruised to an 85-27 record, for a .759 winning percentage, a 123-win pace in a modern schedule. (Their Pythagorean record was the same, reflecting the league's second-best offense - by a run and a quarter over #3 - and by far its best pitching/defense team.) But there was one problem:

They finished second.

You see, the White Stockings, behind among others Hall of Famers Cap Anson, King Kelly and John Clarkson - the latter going 53-16 with a 1.85 ERA, the second-highest win total of all time - went 87-25 (.777), a 126-win pace by today's schedule and good enough to take the pennant by two games. They didn't have the Giants' pitching depth and defense, or a hitter as good as Connor, but other than a .209-hitting half-time catcher they had no real holes in their lineup, and so scored a run a game more than the Giants. Despite winning the season series against the White Stockings 10-6, the Giants spent the last two thirds of the season looking up in the standings, and scored just 8 runs in three straight losses to Chicago at the end of September to ice the race.

In the middle of this you had the 30-year-old Gerhardt (himself 6 feet tall), who played every inning of every game at second, and batted a staggeringly anemic .155/.203/.195 (29), considerably worse than the team's pitchers. Gerhardt scored just 43 runs, compared to 51 for the pitchers and a team average of 85 for the other 7 lineup spots. Amazingly for the day, he had more strikeouts than runs scored. He may not have been that fast, either - in a league where everybody ran constantly, he played everyday in 1886 as well and stole just 8 bases. This is just a breathtakingly disastrous offensive showing for a guy on a great team that was having a great season and coming up short. It's hard to think of a team this good that had a guy whose OPS was less than a third of the league playing anything like every single game.

Did Gerhardt make up for it with his glove? At a remove of 123 years, based on the numbers alone, it's hard to say. Manager Jim Mutrie, who won 3 pennants and more than 60% of his career games, must have seen something in him besides the absence of warm bodies on the rosters of the day to justify that awful bat. The Giants were a tremendous defensive team, which speaks well of Gerhardt - while they led the league in strikeouts handily (4.61/game compared to a league average of 3.75), the low ERAs testify more to a great record on balls in play - their defensive efficiency rating (% of balls in play becoming outs) of .701 was almost 30 points higher than that of the #2 team and good even for a 21st century team, let alone a team with guys playing the infield barehanded or wearing gloves that to the modern eye look more like Isotoners; their .929 fielding percentage was likewise 13 points above the nearest competition, and in those days fielding percentages really made a difference, with most fielders making an error one times in ten.

Individually, Gerhardt's numbers don't really stand out. His range factors and fielding percentages had been much higher than the league from 1877-1884, but in 1885 he was at .911 fielding percentage compared to .900 for a league-average second baseman, and 5.95 range factor compared to a league average of 5.70 - good but hardly great for a guy playing every inning. On the other hand, his range factors jumped back up in 1887 when he left the Giants, so some illusion created by the team context may be involved even beyond the fact that Keefe and Welch were comparatively high-K pitchers for the day.

Anyway, the evidence suggests that Gerhardt was probably a pretty good fielder, but it's hard to see at this distance how he could possibly have been good enough to make up for that catastrophic showing with the bat, when a mere .210 hitter would likely have won the Giants the pennant.

Maybe Gehrhardt wasn't as disastrous on both sides of the ball as the famous John Gochnauer, who in 1903 batted .185/.265/.240 (54) and made 98 errors at shortstop (with fielding percentages and range factors far below the league averages of the day) for an Indians team that somehow finished 77-63, and maybe he wasn't as epically futile with the bat as Bill Bergen, who compiled a career OPS+ of 21 including three years at the end of his career as a starting catcher batting .139/.163/.156 (1), .161/.180/.177 (6) and .132/.183/.154 (-4). But in the annals of guys who turned in a total flop at the plate when even ordinary incompetence would have been the difference in a pennant race, Gerhardt's place in history is surely secure.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:35 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
November 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Rapid Robert

Bob Feller at 90. A nice profile of the last remaining star of the 1930s (Feller broke in in 1936 and went 24-9 in 1939; he and Stan Musial are reallly the only major stars left from the pre-war era). H/T.

Given how short a pitcher's prime can be (Feller's last year as a great pitcher was at age 28, although he managed a 22-8 record at age 32 and 13-3 as a sore-armed 35-year-old), Feller probably lost more of his best baseball to the war than any other great player; he missed three full seasons and most of a fourth to the war from age 23-26, after winning 24, 27 and 25 games the prior three years and 26 his first full year back, and retired 34 wins short of 300. Granted, we don't know if he would have broken down earlier without that break in his years of carrying a major league workload (the man averaged 309 innings and 26 complete games a year from age 19-22), and we don't know if he would have lasted longer if he hadn't thrown 371.1 innings and 36 complete games for a team going nowhere his first full year back. When I ran my translated pitching stats project some years ago, Feller was one of four pitchers who really stood out as throwing a lot more innings per year in his prime than his contemporaries, the others being Robin Roberts, Phil Niekro and John Clarkson. He was and is, in any event, one of the all-time greats.

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November 6, 2008
BASEBALL: When To Hang It Up

Thomas Wayne at Dugout Central looks at where Ken Griffey might land next season. I'm just not sure he brings anything to the table at this point...I mean, would the Mets have use for Griffey to take Endy Chavez' job, for example? Teams keep around reserve outfielders who can do specific things, not just old guys who might or might not have one last good season in them as a part-timer. He notes that they had Moises Alou this year (lotta good that did), but Alou was coming off hitting .341. I just don't see the upside to giving him a roster spot at this point. He'll probably sign somewhere, but the smart move at most is a spring training invite.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Being There

Let us consider five relief pitchers' MVP candidacies:


What would you say if I told you that only one of these pitchers even got a single vote for the MVP, even though Pitcher C pitched for a contending team (a second-place team that finished four games out of first place) and the other four all pitched for division winners? Could you guess which one placed in the MVP balloting?

You might guess A, who carried the largest innings workload, was clearly the most effective (most strikeouts, by far the lowest opposing slugging %), and allowed easily the fewest inherited runners to score. Then again, Pitcher A didn't convert a very large percentage of save opportunities. He did finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting, though.

You might well guess C, who had the best ERA, the best save percentage, the second-most games and innings, and the fewest walks, although his home run rate was the second-highest. Unless you count him out for his team losing the pennant race. He, too, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting.

What about Pitcher E? He appeared in the most games, and had a better ERA than Pitchers B and D, but he also pitched less than an inning per game, significantly fewer innings than A or C; his save percentage was only the third best on the list; his strikeout rate was easily the lowest without offsetting advantages in the walks or homers column.

Read More »

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November 5, 2008
BASEBALL/POLITICS: President Obama and the National Pastime

Lester Munson at ESPN has a long and interesting look at what Obama's election means for baseball and the world of sports in general, including his likely strong support for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago:

Japanese Olympic officials already have expressed their concern that Obama could turn the tide in favor of Chicago when the IOC votes in October.

"Mr. Obama is popular and good at speeches, so things could get tough for Japan," said Tomiaki Fukuda, a senior Japanese Olympic Committee board member.

If Sen. John McCain had won the election, the U.S. bid to play host to the 2016 Olympics might have been negatively affected. Many IOC members remember McCain's scathing investigation of the bribery scandal involving IOC members who helped award the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. Two members of the Salt Lake City bid committee were indicted, and McCain's investigation led to major changes in the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Many IOC members remain bitter over McCain's aggressive efforts for reform.

An Olympics in his home city of Chicago in the late summer of 2016 would be a grand finale for an Obama presidency that would be about to wind down if he were re-elected to a second term.

(OK, I didn't have to include that paragraph about McCain, give me more than a day on that reflex...the irony is that the bribery investigation led to Mitt Romney taking over the Salt Lake City Games, which led to Romney's political rise - talk about your chains of unforeseen consequences).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:32 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Other Sports • | Politics 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 3, 2008

A rare combined baseball and politics post - well, sort of; this is obviously intended to be a little more lighthearted. Updating and correcting this June 2003 post - the Hated Yankees haven't won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. Counting since 1921 (their first pennant), the Yankees are 19-3 in the World Series (with just three playoff losses) in 40 years of Democratic Administrations, but just 7-10 in the World Series (with five playoff losses) in 48 years of Republican Administrations. They've gone 0 for the last five GOP Administrations while failing to bring home a championship on the watch of only one Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.

The breakout, by World Series W/L/No Pennant:

Harding/Collidge/Hoover (R): 4-3-5
FDR/Truman (D): 11-1-8
Eisenhower (R): 3-3-2
JFK/LBJ (D): 2-2-4
Nixon/Ford (R): 0-1-7
Carter (D): 2-0-2 (one loss in playoffs)
Reagan/Bush (R): 0-1-11
Clinton (D): 4-0-4 (two losses in playoffs, one strike)
Bush (R): 0-2-6 (five losses in playoffs)

So, you know, if you're not a Yankees fan...

UPDATE: Corrected. Somehow my brain blocked out the Yankees losing the Series in 2001 & 2003.

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BLOG: This Week's Schedule

1. Baseball content, and in general a more normal balance of content, should resume around Thursday.

2. Sadly, I never did get to the end of my list of posts to write up before the election. I'll be rolling a few more things out if I have the time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:45 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-16 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
October 29, 2008
BASEBALL: And So It Ends

World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, for only the second time in 126 years.

Not the way I wanted this season to end - it's been a rough 7 1/2 weeks all around - but congrats to the Phillies phans out there.

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October 27, 2008
BASEBALL: It's Not Sunny In Philadelphia

I can almost hear the Rays fans tonight:

You mocked our domed stadium.

You derided our domed stadium.

You told us how much prettier yours was than our domed stadium...

UPDATE: I believe this may be the first suspended game in the modern postseason, and certainly the first time it has happened to an elimination game in the World Series. In the years before lights, there were, of course, World Series games called for darkness - Game One in 1907 was called 3-3 after 12, Game Two in 1912 was called 6-6 after 11, and Game Two in 1922 was called 3-3 after 10, all of which were declared ties. The most famous weather event in World Series history was Game Seven in 1925, played in Washington between the Senators and Pirates; as I described that game in an essay on the 1925 Pirates:

Although they were forced to rely on their pitching while the team was twice handcuffed by a 37-year-old Walter Johnson in the World Series, the Pirates' knack for hitting the ball with authority finally paid off handsomely in one of the wildest Game 7s in World Series history, played in a torrential downpour at Forbes Field without the benefit of lights. The Pirates mauled Johnson, battering out 15 hits, including 8 doubles and two triples (the 25 total bases absorbed by Johnson in going the distance is a World Series record unlikely to be broken), including the game-winner, a 2-run ground rule double by [Kiki] Cuyler into the darkness in right field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth (Goose Goslin said later that he never even saw where the ball went).

There were other disputes over fair/foul and strike calls in the darkness and the rain, unsurprisingly. Henry Thomas, in his book Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train, recounts at p. 282 the scene with the Senators leading 6-4 after six innings:

As the sixth inning ended, a waterlogged [Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain] Landis, enduring the downpour from his box seat, turned to [Senators owner] Clark Griffith, sitting next to him. "You're the world champions," the commissioner told him. "I'm calling this game." Incredibly, Griffith talked him out of it. "No, you can't do it," he replied. "Once you've started in the rain you've got to finish it."
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October 23, 2008

Last night's loss by the Rays drops the all-time World Series home record of teams in domed stadiums to 12-3. The Twins went 8-0 at the Metrodome in 1987 & 1991 (and 0-6 on the road), including the legendary Morris-Smoltz Game 7 in 1991, and the Blue Jays went 4-2 at home in 1992-93 (and 4-2 on the road), including the Joe Carter game. All four dome teams won the Series.

This is actually only the second World Series in my lifetime (after 2000's Subway Series) in which I have already visited both ballparks (Serieses where I've been to both subsequent to the Series? 1986, 1981, 1977-78, and if you go back before my lifetime and include Old Yankee, 1963. The longest-ago Series where the two parks are still standing is 1918, of course.).

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October 22, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Still Only One National Pastime

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:25 PM | Baseball 2008 • | History • | Politics 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
October 21, 2008
BASEBALL: Better Pen

Following up on the issue of the Rays' improvement in keeping runs off the board, Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus studies the issue ($) and concludes that since 1954 - as far back as BP's database goes - they had the largest single-season improvement by a bullpen by two different measures.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:37 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Random Thought of the Day

Am I the only one who thinks David Price reminds me an awful lot of Tim Duncan?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
October 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Not With Their Bats

In 2007, Tampa Bay scored 782 runs and finished 8th in the league in scoring, scoring 98.6% as many runs as the average AL team.

In 2008, Tampa Bay scored 774 runs and finished 7th in the league in scoring, scoring exactly as many runs as the average AL team (the AL average dropped from 4.83/game to 4.78/game).

What changed, obviously, was all the pitching and defense. The Rays reduced their runs allowed from 944 runs, the highest in MLB, to 671 runs, a staggering 28.9% reduction in a single year.

Bleg - I'm thinking of looking for historical comparisons to see what precedents there are for a team reducing its runs allowed so dramatically in one season (I had looked briefly before the season while scoffing, obviously prematurely, at Baseball Prospectus' notion that the Rays would do just that, but now we have a genuine point of comparison). Can anyone tell me if a study has been done on that? I may have missed it if somebody looked at this already and don't want to reinvent the wheel if it's already been done somewhere else.

Anyway, if you boil that down even further you see how much of their success is pure glove:


Rays pitchers reduced their homers buy a good chunk this year and cut their walks, and those are certainly steps forward, but they also struck out fewer batters - but the dropoff of 300 fewer hits allowed and 27 fewer errors is mainly attributable to radically improved defense, as they went from the MLB-worst .650 Defensive Efficiency Rating on balls in play to an MLB-leading .708. The dropoff in unearned runs reflects that.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Treasure Beyond Price

Well, the nation last night got its formal introduction to David Price, and barring injury we're going to see a lot more of the man who is generally regarded as the best pitching prospect in baseball - Price's pennant-clinching ninth inning probably cements him a key, K-Rod-in-2002 type role in the Rays' pen in the World Series, and he left veterans like Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek (granted, not exactly Ruth and Gehrig at this stage of their careers) looking sadly overmatched.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
October 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Sox-Rays Open Thread

OK, since I have admittedly been deficient in delivering baseball content lately - an open thread for readers who want to kick around tonight's game.

UPDATE: BJ Upton goes deep! 2-0 Rays. Upton is part of the real disjunct with the Rays - this team was ninth in the AL in runs scored, but they really can be a better offensive team than that when you consider the off years and/or injuries to Upton, Crawford, Baldelli and Longoria, all of whom are now healthy.

UPDATE: Two more homers, from Pena and Longoria (again), and it's 4-0. Dice K does not have it.


7-0. Papelbon in a 7-0 game. That says it all, doesn't it?

UPDATE: BIG PAPI WILL NOT GO QUIETLY! 3-run homer, 7-4 Rays.

7-6 after Drew goes deep. Wow, this is a game. And that's why you use Papelbon down 7 in a game like this.

Tie game! Amazing. It's 2004 all over.

Best Joe Morgan line ever: Miller: "Can you analyze Joe Maddon's managing tonight?" Morgan: "You don't want me to do that."

Unfortunately, he then proceeded to.

Ball gets by....Gross! Red Sox win! Red Sox win!

That was some amazing baseball. Man, the Red Sox are drawing on their vast account at the karma bank.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Grumble, Grumble, Congratulations, Grumble, Grumble

If you were wondering, no, I didn't have the heart to watch the Phillies wrap up the pennant last night.

Boy, this has been a fun last five weeks, hasn't it?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:47 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
October 5, 2008
BASEBALL: These Are The Saddest of Possible Words

I really do have to feel for the Cubs fans today. I mean, there are more wrenching ways to end a season, as I have been forcefully reminded the past three years, but this was a team that had a sufficiently long run as the best record in the league that their long-suffering, century-without-a-championship fans, really had good reason to expect a long march through an exciting postseason, with a good shot at the NL pennant for the first time since 1945 and a fighting chance to reclaim the World Championship at last...and three games in, they are just gone with hardly a ripple, without winning a single game. It's just so deflating. Even the Mets in 1988 and 2006 went seven games, and in 2006 they had won the NLDS first. For Cubs fans, it's just...empty.

Do Cubs fans have a long period of success ahead of them to recover from this? I'm not so sure. Ramirez and Lee are still in their primes and Soto is young, but Theriot, Soto and Mike Fontenot, who may have had a career year this season (he's 28 and his career minor league slugging % is .437), are the only significant non-pitchers under 30. The rotation depends on the much-the-worse-for-wear Zambrano and the brittle Rich Harden. Other than Harden, Fontenot and DeRosa there aren't a lot of guys here who obviously can't repeat their 2008 seasons next year, but this is also not a team stocked with young talent in bloom.

Wait 'til next year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:45 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
October 4, 2008

One of the broadcasters on the Brewers-Phillies game actually just said, on national television, that Geoff Jenkins left the Brewers because he got tired of watching young players like Jeromy Burnitz and Carlos Lee come out of the Brewers system and then leave.

Wow. Reminds me of the time Howard Cosell said during a Monday Night Baseball Mets-Reds game in about 1986 that Keith Hernandez had begged him not to mention on the air that Keith's lifetime batting average was .152. I'd love someday to ask Hernandez how he kept a straight face for that one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Hit and Run

I've admittedly been in hiding a bit on the baseball front the past few weeks, partly out of bitterness/depression over the end of the Mets season, partly with stuff going on at work, and of course partly due to being wrapped up in the election and the bailout and having some labor-intensive posts on the topics (I have some long-brewing baseball posts as well but none that are close to completion).

Anyway, hope to be back on the beat at least in time for the LCS...for now, about the last bit of news the Mets bullpen needed was an arrest warrant out for Ambiorix Burgos for killing two women in a hit and run accident (although perhaps needless to add, for perspective it helps to remind yourself that this turned out worse for the women than it did for the average Mets fan). I assume this is curtains for Burgos' baseball career.

UPDATE: If it makes you feel any better, Brian Bannister had a 5.76 ERA this season. Actually Bannister seems like a good guy, I hope he rights the ship, but it's a reminder that a good head without a real good arm isn't really that much more useful than the opposite.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:16 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 28, 2008
BASEBALL: It Is Tempting To Just Propose A 161-Game Season

Another year, another grim defeat.

The Mets have now faced baseball's classic do-or-die game - win and advance, at least to a 1-game playoff or the next round of playoffs, lose and go home - for three straight years and lost each in excruciating fashion, losing on late inning homers in 2006 & 2008 and a first inning meltdown in 2007. This is not unprecedented in baseball history, of course - the Brooklyn Dodgers, for example, also did it three years in a row when they lost the pennant on late inning homers on the season's last day in 1950 and in the legendary playoff in 1951 and lost a 7-game World Series in 1952, plus they lost the Series in 7 in 1947, 5 in 1949, and 6 in 1953. If there's any consolation, most Mets fans were pretty numb by the time the ax fell.

Although the offense came up fairly empty, it was the bullpen in the end that was left to do the team in, and I found a sort of macabre justice in seeing the guys responsible for getting the Mets in this mess finish them off. I definitely want Schoenweis (and Heilman) gone next year, so we have a fresh group without the same ghosts, and I'm not thrilled about Ayala either, although he may just need a new season to get right again. With Schoenweis I argued all year that he was at least useful if used properly to face only lefties, but today he was brought in, the first batter was pinch hit for with a righty, and he served up the gopher ball that broke the camel's back. It's time to move on.

Oliver Perez was, ultimately, what you expect: in a big game he kept the team in the game but couldn't get past the sixth inning. That's who he is.

Endy Chavez really is an amazing glove man, and his great running catch against the wall in the top of the seventh brought back memories. I actually wondered down the stretch why he wasn't starting in right against lefties (like today) with Church in such a funk.

Random observation: Alfredo Amezaga was wearing enough lampblack to make a mask.

The broadcast team noted that Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado were the first quartet of teammates to each appear in at least 159 games since the 1968 Cubs (another team not known for its strong finishes, the late-60s Cubs); those guys really did play their hearts out all year. The Mets entered this season with four major stars in their primes - Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Santana - and you could not realistically have hoped for more from them. They entered with three formerly major stars - Delgado, Wagner and Pedro - and got collectively what you tend to get with a group like that (one major resurrection, one effective but erratic and injury-shortened season, one wipeout). Perez was a bit off what you'd like but won a lot of big games, and the rise of Pelfrey offset the struggles of Maine. Brian Schneider gave the Mets the best you would have reasonably hoped from him...basically, this was a good team whose front-line players did about what they should have, but that just had too many holes, and the bulk of those in the bullpen. Management will still have that core next year, but it needs to do a better job of bringing in new relief arms and sorting through the pile of young players to figure out who is going to actually help.

Nice to see Ralph Kiner in the Shea booth one last time. You can tell Ralph's mind is still there, the words just don't come as cleanly as they used to.

I guess the upside is, I can say I was at the last Mets win at Shea.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:28 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
September 27, 2008
BASEBALL: There Is Only One Johan Santana

I was out at Shea today, undoubtedly for the last time (even if they make the playoffs, I'm not going to be able to score tickets and the free time to go), and witnessed what was probably the second-best clutch, must-win pitching performance in Mets history, behind only Al Leiter's 1-hitter in the 1-game playoff in 1999. Santana was just amazing, not messing around but going right after hitters and thus keeping his pitch count low enough to go the distance on three days' rest to pull the Mets back into a tie. And unlike John Maine, who pitched an even more dominating game in precisely the same situation last season, Santana had only two runs to work with, and thus was facing the tying run at the plate all the way to his last pitch.

Amazingly, Santana now finishes with the best ERA of his career, albeit not the most impressive of his seasons given the switch to a lower-scoring league and park. He's clearly been the second-best pitcher in the NL this season, behind only Lincecum. Nobody can say Santana hasn't earned every dollar of his massive salary this year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:21 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
September 23, 2008
BASEBALL: 100 Years Later

With the Cubs in New York on the 100th anniversary of their greatest moment here, it's worth a look at Tom Elia's post with a video tribute to the Merkle Boner.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: No Relief In Sight

Among the solutions being mooted about for the Mets' ghastly bullpen problem is relying more on hard-throwing rookie Robert Parnell...if there was ever a mark of desperation, this is it. Parnell certainly throws hard, and it makes all the sense in the world to consider him for a relief job next season, but look at his career: the guy (1) has a 4.03 career ERA in the minor leagues, (2) has made a grand total of 8 appearances above AA ball, and (3) has made just 2 appearances as a reliever in his 94 games in the minors. In 151.2 IP this season over three levels, mostly at AA, he's averaging 0.83 HR, 3.92 BB and 6.94 K, none of those especially impressive figures.

You can make a live arm into a productive reliever even when he has a mediocre record like that, but if this is the best option the Mets have left to throw to the wolves right now, the situation is dire indeed (we saw graphically last night how this is not the time for a talented young pitcher's growing pains). John Maine's return, of course, would be welcome news, but at this point the only question is whether the bullpen's implosion takes the Mets clear out of the Wild Card race, or whether it continues to haunt them in the playoffs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:51 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Yankee, Go Home

I'm going to be frank here: I won't miss Yankee Stadium.

Yes, yes, in part that's a reflection of how I feel about the Hated Yankees. And yes, it's also colored by the fact that it's extremely inconvenient to get back and forth to Yankee Stadium from where I live in Queens, and that most of my experiences there over the years have been night games in the upper deck. And yes, I know that most of the nostalgia about any baseball park is about the memories of great moments there - that's as it should be - and Yankee Stadium has had more than its share.

But as to the structure itself, I always found it an unpleasant place to watch a baseball game, and of the six other big league parks where I've seen games (Shea, Fenway, Dodger Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Camden Yards, and Tropicana Field) I can't seriously rate it ahead of any but the Trop, and there largely because of Tampa Bay's horrendous parking situation and some of the curious decisions made about its scoreboard. The clogged arteries at the heart of the stadium - the steep, narrow staircases leading to and from the higher decks - make entering and exiting the place slow, hot, crowded and claustrophobic. The interior of the stadium is dark and grim. Yankee Stadium lacks the intimacy of Fenway or the charm, bells and whistles and better sightlines of the newer parks, and isn't a family ballpark in the way that Shea is or a relaxed, sunshiney place like Dodger Stadium. Much as I despise the Yankees, their franchise has long deserved a better home.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 20, 2008
BASEBALL: End of His Rope

You know, Pedro Martinez may well not be done as a quality pitcher; I would not bet against him returning to a second act as a winner. But he has basically all but run out of things he can do to signal that he is done.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Adam's Guts

Rany Jazayerli looks at Adam Pettyjohn's long road back to the majors from ulcerative colitis.

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September 15, 2008
BASEBALL: Cliff Dweller

One of the really remarkable things that has happened thus far this season is Cliff Lee - almost certainly the AL Cy Young Award winner - not just bouncing back from a horrendous 2007 when he posted a 6.29 ERA to toss an MLB-best 2.28 mark (and it's for real: a staggering 157-28 K/BB ratio and just 10 HR allowed in 210 IP), but racking up a 21-2 record for a team having a dismal year. The Indians are 72-77 (.483), a respectable but unspectacular 7th in the AL in runs scored but with a wrecked bullpen (Jensen Lewis leads the team with 8 saves). It's unusual for an ordinary pitcher to have such a great year, but doubly so to do it for a severely struggling team. For a comparison, CC Sabathia, who some people are touting for the NL Cy Young, posted a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts for the Indians between April 22 and July 2 (during which he pitched 3 complete games, two of them shutouts, and averaged 7.45 IP/start) - and went 6-5.

How hard is it to do this? Well, I looked at the all-time leaders in winning percentage, and Baseball-Reference lists 37 pitchers in the game's 133 year history who won 85% of their decisions. 8 of those pitched mainly in relief, which skews W-L records, 2 pitched for the 1884 St. Louis Maroons who dominated the Union Association (a 1-year league that was barely "major" in any sense) and 3 of those are this season. In other words, prior to this year, in 133 years of NL, AL, Federal League and 19th century AA seasons, it's been done by a starting pitcher only 24 times, only 21 times since the mound was moved back to its current distance in 1893.

Anyway, of the 24 prior starting pitchers to crack 85%, all but two of them pitched for teams that won 55% or more of their games. The only exceptions were Randy Johnson in 1995 going 18-2 for a Mariners team that won the division playing .545 ball and Mike Nagy, who went 12-2 for the 1969 Red Sox, a .537 team. Lee's accomplishment of reaching 20 wins while winning 90% of his decisions for a losing team is entirely unprecedented.

And yet, he might not be completely alone. One of the other two pitchers who will finish at or above an .850 winning percentage if he avoids losing over the season's final two weeks is Dice-K Matsuzaka, 16-2 for the powerhouse Red Sox, but the other is Tim Lincecum, who stands at 17-3 for a truly horrendous Giants team - they're playing .456 ball, but outside of Lincecum it's .395, as the team is 14th in the NL in Runs Scored and 10th in ERA.

In baseball, even after a century and a quarter, you truly can see something new every year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
September 14, 2008
BLOG: Cooperstown Travelogue

I had started writing this up when I got back from my vacation in August and got sidetracked - I'll just offer up a truncated version here.... we spent a week in Lake George and the last few days in Cooperstown making a pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame. It was the first time I'd been back since the inductions in 1982. The Hall seemed different in a number of ways, although it's always hard to tell how much of that is not being 11 years old anymore. There are a lot more Hall of Famers, now, of course - you can basically go by a set of panels that collect in one place the stars of the 70s, and by now the 80s collection is fairly well-stocked as well. When I was there in 1982, there was basically nobody there I'd seen play; now there are guys like Ripken and Boggs I remember as rookies, and even one guy (Kirby Puckett) who came to the majors, played his whole career, retired, got inducted in the Hall, and died since the last time I was there. Oddly, at random places there were a few shiny new plaques for Hall of Famers who'd been in a while - I guess guys like Ruth and Bob Feller needed their original plaques replaced at some point. (Odd promotion: they were advertising for 9/10 year olds to do a sleepover in the Hall itself, on its hard stone floors among the plaques. That seems very cool but also kinda ghoulish).

The Hall, of course, is a must-make pilgrimage for any serious baseball fan. It's still basically a museum you can cover in one day - although I got rushed through one or two sections because of the kids, we basically covered the whole place with hours to spare. (One thing that struck me in the equipment exhibits: Honus Wagner used a much thicker-handled bat than guys who played at or shortly after the same time, like Sam Crawford. Also, I hadn't known that in the 1880s they used color-coded uniforms, like today's NFL numbering schemes, to distinguish the different fielding positions). I also stopped in the day before at the library (it's only open M-F) - I'd still like to do a book someday if I get the free time, so I wanted to get a concrete sense of how research is done there and what's available. It's basically a one-room reading-room by-request operation, no public stacks at all, but nonetheless very user-friendly.

If I had one beef with the Hall, it's that the caliber of the stuff in the gift shop didn't match up to the souvenirs we got 26 years ago. Back then, we came home with, among others, a book collecting pictures of all the plaques and a punch-out book of cardboard replicas of actual old baseball cards of all the Hall of Famers. I went looking for similar things for my kids this time and came up empty, as too much of the selection was generic MLB merchandise.

We also took some time after lunch to check out a "Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum" down the street. This was a bit less of a serious fan site, but it was a fun mid-day diversion you can cover in an hour or so. The exhibits are eclectic - amidst the ballplayers there's George Costanza, a League of Their Own exhibit, Joe D and Marilyn, even George W and Rudy at Yankee Stadium after 9/11. But they also clearly made use of their unauthorized status to get a hookup with Pete Rose (they seem to have a fair bit of stuff that came from Rose himself) and an exhibit on Joe Jackson. Definitely worth seeing if you have kids.

Driving around upstate New York, you realize how many vast stretches of sparsely-populated greenery and farmland there still is in what people in the rest of the country still think of as a densely-settled urban state. After you've driven through stretches like that in New York, Pennsylvania, even Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and then compare them on the map to the size and scale of the whole rest of the U.S., you really start to appreciate how enormous this country is and how little of it looks like New York City and its immediate surroundings, where I have spent most of my life along with the Boston-Worcester area, northern New Jersey, and Washington DC.

A brief political note: we did see an Obama TV ad or two in Lake George, which struck me as odd since I couldn't see why he'd be advertising in New York (the closest neighboring state is Vermont). We saw a lot of ads for the incumbent Congresswoman, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who was still ripping the Iraq War but solely on grounds that it costs money that could be spent in her District.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-16 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 10, 2008
BASEBALL: Just Laying Down A Marker

I hate to jinx the Mets, but I can't get around the feeling that last night's win was the one that iced this division race. Yes, it's just a gut feeling about momentum. Yes, the lead is 2 1/2 games with 18 to play. But there you have it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:56 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 9, 2008
BASEBALL: They Have His Number

Oliver Perez entered tonight's game with a 5.84 ERA this season, and 5.45 career, against the Nationals. That will go up considerably. You hate to go to the bullpen this early, given that with Wagner now out until late next season at the earliest, that's like getting on a bus with no brakes. This one's gonna be a long slog, even with the Mets having tied the game at 7 through 4 innings.

UPDATE: Nationals grab 8-7 lead, Beltran & Delgado homer to make it 10-8 Mets. What a seesaw.

Mets win 10-8! I am staggered that they made this stand up.

You know, looking at Luis Ayala's record before 2008 and with the Mets this season, you have to wonder what the Nationals were doing this year to screw him up so badly.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:59 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
September 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Second Most Valuable Met Carlos

If the Mets win this game tonight - I write this in the middle of the 4th inning - you will probably hear a little more of Carlos Delgado for MVP on the strength of a 2-RBI single off Cole Hamels to make this must-win game (the Mets nursing a 1-game division lead and this their last game against Philly after losing the first two in the series) 3-1 in the first and a long homer in the third to make it 4-2, answering a homer by Ryan Howard.

It's a nice sentiment for the importance of Delgado's comeback with the Mets, but don't believe it; he's still the team's 4th or 5th most valuable player, behind Wright, Reyes, Beltran and maybe Santana. Delgado does nothing that doesn't show up in the box score - he's at best mediocre in the field as a 1B, a liability on the basepaths, and his .346 OBP is OK but nothing special, 12 points below the average NL first baseman.

You can beat that to be MVP as a slow, slugging first baseman only if you are truly the league's preeminent slugger and RBI man. But Delgado is, entering tonight, 8th in the league (and third on the Mets behind Wright and Beltran) in RBI, fifth in the league in HR, and second on the team and not in the league's top 10 in Slugging. That's a heckuva season for a 36-year-old who spent the spring on the verge of being cut, but it's no MVP.

UPDATE: Delgado adds a HR in the fifth, another bomb off Hamels, and the crowd chants "MVP". I stand by my point, but man is his timing good right now.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:21 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
September 5, 2008

Yes, I realize I have been terribly delinquent on the baseball side of the blogging ledger the last 2 weeks, being absorbed with the political conventions and the VP selections as well as having a lot of stuff going on outside the blog. It really doesn't seem like this should be it, but here we are: the last Mets-Phillies series of the season, 3 games at Shea, Mets up by 3 in the standings. Amazingly, the Mets have actually scored more runs than the Phils this year, 693 (4.95/game) to 676 (4.83/game), the margin being 5.08-4.74 on the road, so this is not solely a factor of Shea being more homer-friendly this season. So much for a team with only one reliable outfielder (Endy Chavez, batting .272/.311/.336, is second among Mets outfielders with 265 at bats), no regular second baseman (Damion Easley, batting .265/.318/.361, leads Mets 2B with 294 at bats) and a defense-first catcher being unable to keep up with the vaunted Phillies offense (go back and see my preseason preview on why the Phillies' offense is overrated, but please do not look at my preseason previews of the AL East and the two Central divisions while you are there....)

In marked contrast to last season, the Mets have thus far faced down their division opponents head to head. They are 10-5 against the Phillies, accounting for more than the margin of their lead in the division, and explaining why the Mets are 10 games over (32-22) vs the NL East, while the Phils are 4 over (29-25).

A sweep by the Phillies would erase all of that; a sweep by the Mets would effectively end the race, with Philly lacking the head-to-head matchups to repeat last year's late charge. It's a big weekend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:07 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
August 28, 2008
BASEBALL: Uneasy Lies The Head

All I gotta say on the last two nights' Mets-Phillies games is, maybe sometimes it is better not to have the early lead.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:41 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
August 26, 2008
BASEBALL: Stuff About Stuff

In case you have missed it, The Hardball Times has had two recent looks at Mets starting pitchers and where and how they are locating their pitches - Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez. Santana may yet end up leading the league in ERA and innings pitched, but THT notes his alarming drop in strikeout rate, which I had assumed was tied pretty directly to lost velocity, but THT's numbers indicate no loss compared to 2007 (there's no data shown for his Cy Young campaigns) and seems more concerned about movement on his fastball declining from outstanding to just good. Santana has a 2.13 ERA since June 1, third best in the game in that period, but he's done it by controlling the high HR rate that plagued him in 2007 and early 2008, possibly at the expense of the K rate. Meanwhile, it seems that Pedro's lost velocity is making his slider far less effective. Meanwhile, Maine is back on the DL. The Mets have no good options, although if they intend to give Neise a shot, better to try him out now rather than have to throw him to the wolves with no margin for error as they did to Phil Humber last year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:10 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
August 21, 2008
BASEBALL: Working Economically

Following up on last night's thoughts on the Mets' rotation and their ability to go deep in games, here are the key numbers for the Mets' five primary starters:


The thing that really jumped out at me is that Maine has thrown at least 7 full innings in a start only twice this season compared to 11 times for Pelfrey, 6 for Perez and 16 for Santana (Pedro's done it once). At the opposite end of the scale, Perez has twice failed to throw 2 innings in a start, which pulls down his averages, while Pedro's injury-shortened first start is the only time any of the others has thrown less than 4 full innings.

As you can see, Santana and Pedro are both efficient with batters, while Maine is extremely inefficient. Pedro's problems are his lack of effectiveness (the high number of hitters per inning) and durability (the low pitch count), while Maine's innings are held back almost entirely by the number of pitches he eats up getting through each hitter; he throws nearly as many pitches per start as Santana and Pelfrey.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:31 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 20, 2008
BASEBALL: He Could. Go. All. The. Way.

You know, I was just thinking something last night that was borne out completely by tonight's Mets game, in which Mike Pelfrey went the full 9 innings, throwing 108 pitches: if you go into a big series or the postseason without Wagner, your #2 starter behind Santana has to be Pelfrey. I am not sure I really trust Pelfrey quite enough to think him more effective in a big game than Maine or Perez; but I'm quite certain that I trust his ability, more than theirs (or certainly Pedro's) to go 7 or 8 or 9 innings. And if your starter goes 8, for example, you retain the ability to go lefty-righty-lefty with the specialists and not have to rely on the closer you don't have.

PS: Daniel Murphy is the new Ty Wigginton. Discuss.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:39 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

With the news of Carl Yastrzemski having chest pains resulting in open-heart surgery, it's worth remembering - while he is still with us, hopefully still for many years to come - what a ballplayer Yaz was. He's one of those guys whose career is subject to a number of cross-cutting statistical illusions: he played his prime years in a hitters' park in a pitchers' era, was an excellent glove man in the outfield (as a left fielder he averaged 15 assists per 162 games for his career) who nonetheless spent seasons as a 1B and DH and even was given a short-lived experiment as a 3B*. But the biggest one is the fact that - like Ernie Banks, Robin Roberts, Robin Yount and Craig Biggio - Yaz had a very long career (he's second only to Pete Rose in plate appearances) yet should be best remembered for the handful of seasons when he was really a dominating ballplayer.

In Yaz's case, he was a productive hitter most of the years from age 22 (1962) to 43 (1983), including some very good seasons here and there, mostly for bad Sox teams, but it was four seasons (1967-70) when he was truly one of the very best players in the game. For those four years, swimming against the tide of the late-60s pitchers' era, he batted .302/.414/.554 and averaged 106 R, 102 RBI, 37 HR, 110 BB, 30 2B and 15 SB - numbers that ranked him first in the majors in Runs, second in OBP, third in slugging, fifth in HR, 6th in RBI and 7th in batting average.

The true Fenway faithful, of course, remember him the best for the magical 1967 season that transformed a franchise that had been adrift since the early 1950s. More than anybody, the left fielder from Long Island created what we now think of as "Red Sox Nation" - it may seem hard to believe now, but between 1959 and 1966, the Red Sox finished in the bottom half of the league in attendance 6 times in 8 years; from 1961-66 they never averaged as many as 12,000 fans per game, and dropped below 10,000 twice. Attendance in 1967 doubled, and the Sox have remained the centerpiece of the Boston sports world ever since. Yaz was everything that year - MVP, Triple Crown, led the league in OBP and Slugging and Runs and Total Bases, won the Gold Glove, had 3 hits in the All-Star Game, carried his team to the pennant in an airtight race with a blistering stretch from August 19 through the end of the year when he batted .358/.466/.723 with 16 HR and 40 RBI in 45 games (including .523/.604/.955 with 16 RBI in the last 12), batted .331/.434/.662 with RISP and .367/.467/.674 when batting with two outs, and hit .400/.500/.840 3 HR in the World Series. It was an amazing season for a great player.

* - Ever notice how many Hall of Famers who played the bulk of their careers at other positions spent at least part of a season as regular third basemen? The list includes Yaz, Johnny Bench, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Tony Perez, Cal Ripken, Jackie Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Ryne Sandberg, Buck Ewing, Frankie Frisch, Joe Sewell, Honus Wagner, Luke Appling...some of these guys played the hot corner at the beginning or end of their careers or were just migrant sluggers - none were really third basemen - but several of them were, like Yaz, basically mid-career experiments to plug a hole.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:12 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 19, 2008
BASEBALL: No Closer To Winning

While the Mets have been going pretty well of late, it's still quite clear that they just can't close out games without Billy Wagner, so the news that an MRI of Wagner's elbow shows inflammation that could put him out for the season is dire indeed. The acquisition of Luis Ayala over the weekend (for Anderson Hernandez, batting .203/.262/.307 at AAA) seems more like hope than strategy:

The Mets are hoping they can fix Ayala in much the same way they repaired Guillermo Mota in 2006. Their scouts have determined Ayala has regained most of the velocity he lost in '06 when he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, but they also believe he has lost the sink that made an effective reliever with the Expos in 2003 and '04.

They believe an adjustment in the angle of his arm will help him regain the sink.

Leaving aside Mota's substantial role in losing the NLCS that year, you can't just extrapolate from Rick Peterson's modest success with a struggling Mota that the current Mets brain trust can do the same for Ayala just because he's been bad. And make no mistake: Ayala's long been an excellent pitcher, but he's been horrid this year to the tune of a 5.77 ERA and crummy peripheral stats to match.

Obviously, my previous optimism about Aaron Heilman was misguided. But Duaner Sanchez hasn't shown any consistency either, and really nobody else is a credible candidate (Feliciano's really a specialist - righties are batting .322/.412/.517 against him and .318/.413/.500 against Schoenweis, while lefties are batting .318/.434/.455 against Joe Smith). And I continue to think, as I did before they called him up, that Eddie Kunz' AA numbers don't suggest a guy who is big league ready, and it's dicey to take a starting pitching prospect like Jon Niese and toss him into a MLB closer job. The only starter they could spare now is Pedro, who probably could not really transition well to working multiple days in a row (El Duque maybe, but he probably won't be ready to pitch until 2009, if ever). I'd suggest a deal (Huston Street?), but not only is it past the deadline but the acquisition of Ayala suggests that the Mets tried already and that was the best they could do.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:39 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Roto Rooting, Down The Drain

As a general rule, on grounds of not boring the audience, I don't write that much about my fantasy baseball teams other than an annual roundup of my draft (which I was too busy to get to this year) and the occasional aside about who I do and don't own as a way of explaining who I'm watching more closely. But permit me here a moment of despair.

I have three teams - an AL-only traditional Roto team and two AL/NL Yahoo autodraft teams. At this writing I'm tied for fourth in the former and in first and second in the latter two. The roto team is my 'main' team, consuming the most effort because you have to dig much deeper on AL rosters to fill out your squad. My active lineup this season has featured such luminaries as Denard Span, Joe Inglett, Brian Buscher, Guillermo Quiroz, Morgan Ensberg, Shawn Riggans, Andy Marte, Jonny Gomes, Chris Shelton, Willy Aybar, Brandon Boggs, Ben Broussard, Jose Vidro, Grant Balfour, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Jennings, Sean Green, Dustin Moseley, Arthur Rhodes, Jesse Carlson, and Ross Ohlendorf.

Anyway, thus far I have survived the injury to my $27 ace pitcher, Erik Bedard (thank you, John Danks, Dice-K, Joakim Soria and BJ Ryan). I have been surviving the injury to my $38 top offensive player, Carl Crawford. I have been surviving the injury to the revived Joe Crede, and disappointing years from Nick Swisher and Adrian Beltre.

But if Ian Kinsler is out for the season with a sports hernia, I am even more thoroughly doomed than the Rangers are. Kinsler's batting .319, he's leading the majors in hits, he has 18 HR, 26 SB and 71 RBI, and he's been on fire in recent weeks. He and Crawford account for more than half my team's steals.

This has been an unusually busy summer for trades and an unusually busy August, in particular, for injuries. In both real and fantasy baseball, the healthiest will have a huge leg up to outlast the competition.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:14 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
August 11, 2008
BASEBALL: The complete total base

Posted by Ricky West

I know Crank is a lot like most new-age baseball fans & pays close attention
to OPS (on base plus slugging), as do I.  Like batting average, though,
that can take into account a player's value only when he's on the field which
can be deceiving for a player who is as likely to be injured or on the DL as he
is to be on the field.  Take Nomar Garciaparra, for instance, always good
for a high batting average & decent OPS but also rarely available for more than
130 games per season.  My fantasy league has created what we feel to be the
true barometer for a player's value when it comes to performance on the field:
the overall total base.   The calculation for this category is quite
simple, MLB's total bases plus walks plus HBP plus steals.  So, other than
when a batter/fielder moves the runner up, this formula encapsulates what a
player has done on the field during the season.  Does this really
matter?  Well, ask any rotisserie (or MLB) owner of Milton Bradley or
Chipper Jones, who have been day-to-day seemingly since June.  Currently,
for players with more than 200 at-bats, the top 20 OPS performers in MLB are:



A. Pujols


C. Jones


L. Berkman


M. Bradley


M. Holliday


A. Rodriguez


R. Ludwick


M. Ramirez


C. Quentin


X. Nady


P. Burrell


J. Drew


B. McCann


K. Youkilis


C. Lee


C. Utley


R. Braun


J. Dye


J. Hamilton


A. Soriano


Diehard fans look at that list and know that Pujols was on the DL last month. 
Chipper, #2 on the list, has 327 at-bats (David Wright has 453).  Milton
Bradley, fourth on the list, has two plate appearances in the last week and a
half.  Alfonso Soriano, #20, has missed over a third of the season. 
Fantasy owners know all too well that there are two categories that are of the
utmost importance: at-bats and innings pitched.  If they don't play, they
don't help you.  Here are the current overall total base leaders through
Sunday's games, and chances are that means these are the fantasy 'studs' in your



G. Sizemore


L. Berkman


H. Ramirez


J. Reyes


I. Kinsler


C. Utley


D. Wright


A. Pujols


M. Holliday


J. Hamilton


C. Quentin


R. Braun


B. Roberts


N. McLouth


N. Markakis


P. Burrell


J. Bay


M. Teixeira


C. Lee


P. Fielder


Yes, Shady Grady Sizemore is the complete total base champ of baseball, at
this juncture.  Yes, he has a high number of at-bats & a mediocre batting
average  (.269).  At the end of the day, though, when your fantasy
league is tallying up runs, homeruns, rbi and steals (and, maybe, MLBs total
bases) you're more likely to wish for Mr. Sizemore's presence on your squad than
Xavier Nady, J.D. Drew or Jermaine Dye.  The old commercial may have said "chicks dig the long ball" but fantasy owners dig players who are on the field. Honesly, who is happy that they picked Howie Kendrick and his batting average?

Assuming that there is no reliable specific data that one can point to in order to judge a player's worth, does this truly account for a player's numerical fantasy value? Thoughts? Reactions?

Posted by Ricky West at 9:29 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 8, 2008
BASEBALL: The worst player in the majors?

Posted by Ricky West

Scott Boras, infamous for being a first-class jerk who nonetheless is constantly able to garner big bucks for his clients (often much more than they’re worth), may have been able to offset some of the bad PR throughout the entire A-Rod debacle, where he came out the big loser. He was able to snag a $36 million dollar deal (2 years) for Andruw Jones, who statisticcally appears to be the worst player in the majors. Say what you will about Boras, and there's not much positive that I can conjure, but knowing that his client is guaranteed well into fiveeight figures next season is quite a feat when you consider that with the acquisition of Manny Ramirez, Jones has lost his grasp on the 4th outfielder's slot in Los Angeles.

The year-to-date figures
are staggering when one considers that Carlos Delgado almost matched the home-run and RBI figures in the Mets game of June 27.


Ricky normally doesn't blog very much any more at blog.rjwest.com, but in his spare time he enjoys baseball, fantasy baseball, Baseball Tonight on ESPN and knowing that he can renew Tim Lincecum for a pittance on his fantasy team next season. On the downside, he realizes that Andruw Jones would probably be the third outfielder on this season's Braves team. Plus, his phone service has been on the fritz for about 18 hours, so he's hoping that he'll be able to provide Crank with some material early on in his well-deserved vacation.

Posted by Ricky West at 10:57 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Kid Nichols in Action

nichols1890.jpgThere are any number of interesting things you can stumble across on the web, and this public-domain collection of old-timey (1880s-1910s, mainly 1901-06) baseball photos from the Boston Public Library is pretty impressive. Among others you can find Honus Wagner shaking hands with Nap Lajoie, a 1906 Cubs team picture, a picture of Hugh Duffy in mid-career, an 1895 picture of four of the stars of the old Baltimore Orioles, and a 1901 team picture with Cy Young at the center.

Below the fold you can see one series of pics from 1901 of Hall of Famer Kid Nichols demonstrating for a photographer his pitching grip & motion (granted, the motion's a bit artificial since it has to be stopped for still photos in a studio). Nichols, largely forgotton today, was easily one of the 10 best pitchers in the game's history - he won 63% of his career decisions with a 2.95 ERA pitching mainly in the offense-crazy 1890s, his career ERA+ of 140 means he was 40% better than the league for his career (among pitchers with over 3,000 career IP, only Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens can top that, and Nichols threw a thousand more innings than Grove), his average record from age 20-28 was 31-15, his decision to be a player-manager in the Western League for two years in mid-career is probably the only reason he didn't join Cy Young and Walter Johnson as a 400-game winner, and he was durable and tremendously consistent despite carrying a heavy workload from an early age (over 420 innings a year from age 20-24). The picture at the side here is of Nichols as a 20-year-old rookie in 1890. It's funny; I've known a fair bit about Nichols for a long time and this is the first time I've seen anything like action shots to give a sense of what he looked like on the mound.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:37 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
August 6, 2008
BASEBALL: Throwing Zs

Amidst the collapse of a previously overachieving A's team (in part an unavoidable risk of Billy Beane dumping Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton), one high point has been Brad Ziegler, who entered tonight unscored upon in 34 innings over 26 appearances.

Ziegler attracted notice last week for breaking George McQuillian's 101-year-old record for most consecutive scoreless innings to start a career. He may be approaching the record for consecutive scoreless games to start a season as well; baseball-reference.com's database, going back to 1956, lists the record as 33 by Mike Meyers in 2000, albeit over only 17.2 innings. Since high-turnover relief pitching was in its infancy in 1956, that's probably the record. He's also passed the club record for consecutive scoreless innings by a reliever.

I'm less sure if it's the record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a season. Walter Johnson's AL record 55.1 consecutive scoreless innings started on Opening Day 1913, but the Yankees got a first inning run against the Senators that day, and I assume Johnson was the starting pitcher, so he must have allowed that run.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:14 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 5, 2008
BASEBALL: Heilman the Fireman

Jerry Manuel confirms that he'll turn to Aaron Heilman as the closer with Billy Wagner on the DL. This makes sense to me - Duaner Sanchez just hasn't been consistent this year, and while he can be quite effective at times, I suspect it's still physical problems from his injury rehab that cause him to be erratic. Feliciano, Smith and Schoenweis are better suited to righty/lefty work. Whereas a lot of Heilman's periodic struggles (like he had this weekend) seem mental as much as physical, and the challenge of closing may help lock him in - Heilman's exactly the sort of pitcher who probably has a streak of 11 straight saves in his arm at some point in his career.

Of course, the loss of Wagner for any stretch is still a big blow and one that cascades down the line in the pen - Heilman closing means Sanchez has to be the go-to 8th inning guy, etc. Ruddy Lugo is being called up to add to the pen, which of course will be leaned on hard if Maine and/or Pedro can't get back to contributing a reliable 6-7 innings every fifth day some time soon. The upside is that if Wagner does come back at full strength, the rest may make him fresher for September and possibly October than he's been in past years.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:31 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
August 4, 2008
BASEBALL: Mets Open Thread

Try as I might, I just can't bring myself to write about this weekend. Have at it, or anything baseball.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:25 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 1, 2008
BASEBALL: The Ones You Don't Make

Cerrone summarizes Omar Minaya's press conference on why the Mets made no deals at the deadline. Realistically, having dealt Milledge and stripped much of the farm system's tradeable chips in the offseason to get Santana, the Mets could not compete for the likes of Manny or Jason Bay. Bay brought home 4 prospects - the Mets only really have two prime time prospects now, outfielder Fernando Martinez and LHP Jon Niese, and with a long-term core of Wright-Reyes-Santana-Beltran-Maine (if healthy)-Pelfrey in place, they don't want to totally abandon the future to win now just because they are running near the end of the line with Delgado, Pedro, Wagner and maybe Perez (I won't mention Alou and El Duque here since they aren't contributing now anyway). It's frustrating, since this is a pretty good team now that just has some gaping holes to fill, especially with Church's status perenially uncertain, but I guess we are now wedded to Fernando Tatis as an everyday player, and hoping the 33-year-old Tatis doesn't wake up one morning and realize the 1990s are over.

Cerrone runs down the longer list of guys Minaya talked about as prospects. A quick look:

*Martinez, 19, is batting .292/.332/.420 at AA and has is ailing again, this time his hamstrings. .292 with doubles power is not bad for a teenager at AA, but with no HR power yet and a 14/56 BB/K ratio he's clearly not going to be of any use to the big club this year and probably needs a full year in the minors in 2009 before you can talk about him as a serious major league regular.

*Niese, 21, has just been bumped up to AAA. I assume we see him for a September cup of coffee, earlier only if Maine's rotator cuff is worse than the Mets are letting on. He has a 2.95 ERA and his per 9 ratios are 8.15 K, 3.15 BB and 0.41 HR in 23 starts. His ERA was 4.29, but with similar peripherals, in A ball last year. He seems to project as a third starter type, maybe a #2 at best.

*Robert Parnell, the #2 starter behind Niese at AA Binghamton, pitched really well his first season in low A ball in 2005, but has a 4.39 ERA since then, including 4.32 this season, averaging 6.56 K, 4.32 BB and 0.93 HR. I can't see what in his performance record makes him a prospect any time in the near future.

*Dan Murphy, 23, has good numbers at AA this year (.308/.374/.496 with 26 2B, 13 HR, and 14 steals). Unfortunately, Murphy's a third baseman (and an error-prone one at that, career fielding % of .920) and has little prior track record of minor league success; to be useful to the Mets he would need a new position, but breaking in a new position makes a guy hard to trade while he's learning it.

*Eddie Kunz, 22 and also at AA Binghamton, is a RH reliever who has never allowed a home run in 59 pro innings, has a 2.87 ERA and 7.85 K/9 this season, but also 4.40 BB. Like Murphy, he's only done anything to merit appearing on the prospect radar this season. I can't see the use in rushing a guy like that until his control improves.

There's also Nick Evans and Mike Carp, of course, who will presumably battle it out for the 1B job next season assuming Delgado is allowed to walk (anything else would be nuts) and the Mets finish second in the Teixeira sweepstakes.

One more note: the Mets officially do not miss Paul Lo Duca, who was cut by the Nationals along with Felipe Lopez and Johnny Estrada.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
July 31, 2008
BASEBALL: Manny Blue

As deadline deals go, this is a biggie: Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, Jason Bay to the Red Sox, a package of prospects to Pittsburgh:

Third baseman Andy LaRoche and right-handed pitcher Bryan Morris will go to the Pirates from the Dodgers. Outfielder Brandon Moss and right-handed pitcher Craig Hansen will leave the Red Sox organization for Pittsburgh.

The core of the deal is the contract status of the two stars. "Ramirez is in the final guaranteed season of an eight-year, $160 million contract. It also contains club options at $20 million each for 2009 and 2110," while Bay "has one year and $7.5 million left on his four-year contract and will make $7.5 million in 2009."

Sox fans seem to be split on this, with the majority being steaming mad and a dedicated minority happy to finally reach the end of Manny's annual rituals of exasperating the fans, teammates and front office. Pirates fans are like a wino without the energy to grab the bottle after it tips over and drains out on the sidewalk. They just sit there, watching it flow....although in the long run, they did get a decent package of players, as LaRoche has some good pop at 3B and Hansen has a decent arm, although he has yet again been ineffective at the big league level. As always with a team like the Bucs, the question is less the guys they got in return than what this says about their business model and whether it includes ever being competitive.

For the Dodgers, this is a win-now move, and one borne of the weakness of their division and the parlous state of their lineup, which is 13th in the NL in runs. I'm not sure win-now makes a ton of sense for a team that by all rights should get squashed in the playoffs, but recent history has been kind to weak teams in the playoffs.

The major attention will focus on the Sawx, though, since they are the ones dumping a Hall of Fame talent who is having a good year (.299/.398/.529, 66 Runs, 68 RBI - not the Manny of old but not bad for age 36) and who, after many years of underachieving in October, has batted .317/.548/.438 and averaged an RBI a game in the playoffs since 2004, as the heart of the Sox two World Championship teams. They deal him for Bay, a 29-year-old .281/.375/.515 hitter who is batting almost exactly that (.282/.375/.519, 72 Runs, 64 RBI) this season. (Both players are hitting marginally better at home, but Bay has been working in the comparatively weak NL Central).

How you value the deal depends entirely on whether you think the loss of Manny's bat in the postseason is worth trading a half season of Manny for a year and a half of Bay (the Sox are eating Manny's contract so it's not a financial savings). I tend to think it's a defensible deal, in the 50s Yankees sense of trading a guy a year too early rather than too late, although I frankly probably would not have made this deal myself. The Sox are, after all, defending a World Championship, and even though this has been something of a reloading year for them, they are still very much in the hunt, 3 games behind an overachieving Rays team and leading the Wild Card race. On the other hand, Manny has been enough of a distraction, and Bay is good enough, that at least the players are unlikely to look at this as a surrender.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:15 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Griff-Sox?

I'm not sure where Ken Griffey would fit in with the White Sox. Frankly, Griffey looks pretty close to done at this point. I suppose the Sox can always use insurance against an injury by Dye, Thome or Konerko.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:33 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

The interesting thing about the Pudge Rodriguez for Kyle Farnsworth deal is that both teams are trying to sell high. Farnsworth, coming off consecutive poor seasons in 2006-2007, has been pitching well in 2008, albeit not so well that anybody really trusts him, especially allowing 2.23 HR/9 IP, which is a recipe for catastrophe. Before getting rocked in his last outing, he had a 2.11 ERA in 23 outings since May 27, with only 3 HR allowed in that period. The Yankees figured they could unload him before he blew up again to a Tiger team whose bullpen has been a wreck.

Rodriguez is the same story, though - he's 36, he showed signs of age when he batted .276/.290/.444 in 2005, and after a bounce-back 2006 he hit .281/.294/.420 last season and .245/.286/.349 through June 8 of this year (He's also no longer absolute death to opposing base thieves, although his rate of catching a third of them over 2007-08 is still quite good, just not in the 50% neighborhood of yore). But Pudge got blazing hot since then - .382/.429/.536 over his last 30 games. The Yankees, desperate for catching with Posada down, obviously figured it was worth the gamble that he could stay over .300, where he needs to be to have any offensive value at all given his minimal power, no patience and negative speed at this juncture.

Of course, for Detroit this means Brandon Inge is now the long-term starting catcher, which I find a relatively dubious choice but they did not have a lot of other options, or indeed any others.

UPDATE: OK, I can't possibly top David Pinto's take: "With A-Rod and I-Rod in the fold, can E-Rod, O-Rod, U-Rod and sometimes Y-Rod be far behind!"

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 29, 2008
BASEBALL: The Pain In Maine's Is Mainly A Strain

Diagnosis for John Maine after his MRI, as just reported on WFAN: mild strain of the rotator cuff. The "mild" part is good; the "rotator cuff" part is not. Hopefully this can be treated with a little rest - Maine's supposed to rejoin the team shortly. But the Mets should take this one more carefully than they did with Ryan Church's head injuries.

PS - In case I don't get to it in more detail, the Mark-Teixeira-to-the-Angels deal is huge on several levels...definitely comes as close as a deal like this can to locking down the AL West for the Angels, clearly signals that the Braves have given up (not irrationally), and puts the Angels in the drivers' seat to sign Tex and keep him off the market, which is bad news for teams like the Mets and Yankees that have big-ticket 1B coming to the end of their contracts.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:43 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
July 28, 2008
BASEBALL: Cooking With The Goose

In honor of Goose Gossage's Hall of Fame induction, go here for my Armchair GM piece arguing for the Goose in the Hall. I'd been making the case for Gossage since this January 2001 column, but the Armchair GM piece pretty much sums up all the best stuff I'd written about him in the intervening years.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:26 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
July 26, 2008
BASEBALL: Hearing Footsteps

Well, two pitchers who are living on the edge were on the mound last night. Livan Hernandez, his job threatened if the Twins decide to promote Francisco Liriano, did not pitch especially well (5 runs in 8 innings), but he did what he does best, going the distance (119 pitches).

Then there's Edwin Jackson, the winning pitcher for Tampa with 2 runs allowed in 5 innings. I have to figure that Edwin Jackson is hearing footsteps at this point from the approach of top pitching prospect 22-year-old David Price, who may yet be brought up for the stretch drive for the first place Rays.

Ex. A: Price is now at AA and is 8-0 with a 2.01 ERA on the season. His Ks are down below 1 per inning and his HRs are up (4 in 37.1 IP) since going to AA - his numbers to this point look a good deal like Mike Pelfrey's at the same stage. In other words, he's beating AA hitters but not utterly overwhelming them as top prospects often do, and thus he's no guarantee to dominate immediately at the big league level. But given everything I've heard about his stuff and the fact that he's a polished college pitcher, the 6'6" power lefty is a prime time talent and almost certainly ready to help the big club. I could easily see him coming up and giving Tampa 10 starts and a 3.60 ERA.

Ex. B: Jackson's the likely odd man out if you looked at how Tampa's 5 young starters are pitching from June 1 entering last night. Note the perilous drop in his K rate to go with the 4.99 ERA over that stretch. I foresee a demotion to middle relief in Jackson's near term future. Jackson probably does too, and I assume that was on his mind last night.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: X Marks The Spot

The Yankees obviously made a good deal, or at any rate a necessary one, picking up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates for four youngsters, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP George Kontos, LHP Phil Coke and OF Jose Tabata.

There are a few cautions on Nady. He's never had 500 at bats in a season. His .330/.383/.535 line way ahead of his career .281/.337/.456 line at age 29. He's a career .281/.336/.476 hitter in the first half and career .300/.355/.448 hitter in August, but .266/.329/.392 in September. But then, the Yankees are looking for a capable fill-in, not expecting a .330 hitter with power. The 33-year-old Marte, of course, has always been an effective reliever and his control has only improved in recent years. If anything, his 47/16 K/BB ratio suggests that he's pitching better than his 3.47 ERA would indicate - and he has been, with a 2.35 ERA since April 5 after allowing 6 runs in 2/3 of an inning in his first two outings, and allowing just 4 of 29 inherited runners to score since then.

I've been a fan for a while of the 25-year-old Ohlendorf, who has struck out 45 batters in 46.1 IP in the bigs and has excellent K/BB numbers in the minors, but his control hasn't been good this season and since joining the Yankee organization he's been too prone to the longball. Presumably the Pirates will give him a long trial as a starter and can afford to wait out his growing pains.

Tabata is supposed to be a big prospect and he's only 19, so he has time. Like Fernando Martinez, he's generally been young for his league and responded by hitting a lot of singles and doubles and little else, but he's been overmatched so far in AA, hitting .248/.320/.310. The Pirates can wait, and the Yankees can look into him again when he approaches free agency.

The 25-year-old Coke and 23-year-old Kontos, both at AA, also seem like decent prospects, especially Coke, who in 344.1 IP since 2006 (split between A and AA; he was only just promited to AAA before the deal) has averaged 7.82 K, 3.03 BB - both decent numbers, nothing special - but just 0.44 HR/9.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:28 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
July 25, 2008
BASEBALL: Respectability

Continuing the last-365-days view, Carlos Delgado dating back to this time last season is now batting .265/.351/.473, and is one of a reputable (not truly exclusive) club of 40 major league hitters with at least 25 HR and 90 RBI over that period (Delgado has 27 and 94). When you adjust for the Citizens Bank Park effect, that actually makes Delgado's productivity comparable - not quite even, but comparable - to Ryan Howard, who over the same period is hitting .244/.346/.522 (with 225 strikeouts!). Granted, Howard's stayed in the lineup more, giving him an eye-popping 49 HR and 143 RBI, but given Delgado's age, hand injuries and early season haplessness, merely keeping the Mets competitive with Howard at first base is a major accomplishment. I remain skeptical that Delgado has enough in the tank to get another everyday job next season, but here's hoping he has one last drive in him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 24, 2008
BASEBALL: Stuck In Traffic

The New York media would eat Jose Reyes alive if he missed a key game the Mets lost to the Phillies because he showed up late. Jimmy Rollins isn't getting off much easier for doing just that in today's loss to the Mets.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:11 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Trivia of the Day

Three major league players have 40 doubles, 30 homers and 20 steals over the past 365 days. Name them.

Answer here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:06 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
July 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Welcome To The Doghouse

I believe tonight's game officially ends the honeymoon for Jerry Manuel. The manager can't be blamed for his closer not being available, but there will be a lot of questions about why Johan Santana wasn't left in to finish the game with a 3-run lead after throwing 105 pitches, instead letting three middle relievers (Sanchez, Smith and Feliciano) blow the lead.

I still maintain that I trust Heilman more than I trust Sanchez.

UPDATE: This was not as excruciating a loss as some of the losses last fall, if only because the circumstances are not as dire. But combined with the narrow escape in the last game of the last Phillies series, it was pretty horrible, just one of those endings that leaves you gaping in shock that this actually happened.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Who's Not On Third

September 14, 2005. Before Sunday, that was the last time Carlos Beltran was caught stealing third base.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:04 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 21, 2008
BASEBALL: The Man Who Ruined Relief Aces

Sportswriter Jerome Holtzman has died at age 82. I can't say I ever read much of his work, so to me and generations of baseball fans to come, Holtzman will be best remembered as the inventor of the save rule, the statistic that probably does more than any other to shape the way the game is played, as managers since the late 1970s and especially since the early 1990s have increasingly defined the job of the relief ace as that of a "closer" who pitches when, and only when, the rule defines his job as a "save situation."

Anyway, Holtzman didn't anticipate that; his idea was a reasonable enough one at the time, but it created a Frankenstein's monster.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Pelfrey's Stuff

A more detailed breakdown of what Mike Pelfrey has been doing differently (this is before yesterday). Via THT.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
July 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Get Over Yourself

So Francisco Liriano's agent wants a players union investigation of the Twins for not bringing Liriano up to the majors:

Greg Genske has asked the players' union to investigate why Liriano remains in Rochester despite going 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his past nine starts.

"I think that Francisco is dominating down there," Genske said Thursday. "The club concedes that as well. We're a little frustrated he hasn't been called up."

...Genske said the delay has had an adverse effect on Liriano's service time, which determines when he is eligible for arbitration. After three years in the big leagues, a player qualifies for arbitration. Liriano has two years and 45 days.

Seriously, get over yourself. Three points:

1. Genske seems to have amnesia here. After he missed the 2007 season with elbow surgery, the Twins rushed him back to the big club on April 13 of this season. Liriano wasn't ready, he lost three straight starts with an 11.32 ERA and walked 13 men in 10.1 innings. The Twins are in the middle of a pennant race, 1.5 games out of first place. They could certainly use a healthy Liriano, but I can understand why they want to make extra certain that he's ready this time. Liriano has pitched well in the minors, but his 3.34 ERA isn't really that much more impressive than the four Twins starters presently between 3.47 and 4.26 for the big club. I'd be ready by now to slot him in for Livan Hernandez (5.44 ERA, third straight season above 4.80), but that effectively means giving up on Hernandez, and teams are often slow to make those decisions. It's not like Liriano would be stepping into an open hole or bumping a struggling rookie.

2. I'm no expert in this area, but since when does the collective bargaining agreement give the union authority to supervise these kinds of decisions? The CBA makes arbitration and free agency dependent on the amount of major league usage a team gets from a player. That system has some benefits to the players, specifically guys like Liriano who come up pretty young (personally, I'd prefer a minimum age) but also creates some perverse incentives; that's the deal. Small-market teams have regularly played games with service time (why do you think Evan Longoria started the year in the minors?), albeit at a cost to their own competitiveness on the field, but unless there's something in the CBA saying they can't, I don't see what stops them.

3. Personally, I'd have brought Liriano up by now....before he did this. Now, if I were the Twins, I would definitely keep him cooling his heels a bit to make a point about who runs the team, because if they let the agents dictate this kind of stuff, they will have problems well beyond this one incident (plus, they will need to negotiate with Genske and Liriano in the future - you need to demonstrate that they can't just dictate terms). Bill James made this point emphatically when Whitey Herzog traded Ted Simmons when Simmons refused to move out from behind the plate - if the manager can't tell the players what to do, he's no longer the manager of anything. Ron Gardenhire understands that:

"I just back into town and I hear all this stuff, and Buster Olney is making my team up now and [Genske] wants to tell me who is going to pitch here," Gardenhire said. "No one is going to tell us who to put on our team and no one on ESPN is going to tell us who should pitch for my team....

As Gardenhire noted, Liriano should let his arm do the talking, not his agent:

"He's pitching well, and he's trying to force the issue," Gardenhire said. "And what should all Minor Leaguers try to do? Try to force the issue. That's the greatest thing in the world. We have depth, now. We have a guy that is knocking on the door and trying to take someone's job. What is wrong with that? I don't get it."

Still, the skipper was cognizant of future ramifications that could arise from bending to the will of others outside the organization.

"We have a guy that has 18 homers in Double-A and his agent is going to start calling if we start letting all this happen," Gardenhire said. "You don't let other people dictate what we do."


UPDATE: It would be unfortunate for the Twins if this keeps Liriano in the minors too long, but as I said, they gotta do what they gotta do now. Ironically, you will remember that Tom Kelly had something of a power struggle back around 1999-2000 in which he pointedly sent a bunch of guys back to AAA and made them rot there - the incident ended up holding back the careers of Doug Mientkiewicz, Todd Walker, AJ Pierzynski, and to a lesser extent Matt LeCroy and David Ortiz, but the Twins improved by 16 games in 2001 once all those guys were back in the lineup.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:01 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 17, 2008
BASEBALL: Beane Overboard

You know, I've been more down the more I think about it on the Rich Harden deal from the Oakland standpoint - yeah, Harden's value is ephemeral given his injury history, but why'd they throw Chad Gaudin, who had value of his own, into the deal? I get that Billy Beane thought Matt Murton could help his offense ASAP, which makes sense when you look at some of the people they are running out there these days. Sean Gallagher looks like a serious prospect, albeit one who is not yet even with Gaudin as a major league pitcher. Eric Patterson doesn't. Josh Donaldson tore up low A last year but has crapped the bed this season in high A and thus has to be a few years away, if anything.

But even if you write off Harden, following up by dealing Joe Blanton to the Phillies for prospects really smacks of Beane having decided up front that no matter how competitive the A's are, they would stick to a rebuilding schedule this season. Yes, Blanton's pitched poorly (5-12, 4.96 ERA), yes the A's still have a lot of pitching, and yes Blanton's a free agent in the offseason. (You can read my offseason analysis of Blanton here).

There is some logic to deciding that 2008 is not Oakland's year. They're 6 games back of the Angels, who have the game's best record. They are third in the wild card race, five games behind Tampa in the loss column and with the Yankees breathing down their throats. Still, that's certainly a team that could still pull out a playoff slot. It's hard to sell the fans on coming to the park when you are so clearly signalling surrender when you are 7 games over .500 at the break.

I suppose the counterargument is just that the Oakland fans have had enough of first round playoff exits. Playing to bring home another one may be secondary to stockpiling young talent for a run later on, when the new stadium arrives.

So, what about the returns? The delightfully named Josh Outman is a 23-year-old reliever in AA with good K and HR rates but a poor control record. Adrian Cardenas, a 20-year-old 2B in high A, was presumably expendable to the Phils with Chase Utley in the way; Cardenas smacked 30 doubles last year as a teenager and is batting .309/.374/.444 with 16 steals, so he may be a real prospect but hasn't yet proven himself as a real high upside guy. His teammate Matt Spencer is two years older, an OF and a career .254/.318/.405 hitter with a more than 2-to-1 K/BB ratio, so I would assume he's a throw-in. Not a terrible yield for Blanton compared to letting him walk, but I don't see a major established blue chip here, either. I have to think Beane just feels that Blanton's not going to be that useful the rest of the season (to Oakland; to the Phillies, a 4.96 ERA looks real tasty). But he's really putting the fans' faith in him to the test.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:27 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Any Way You Count It

This Slate article does a pretty good job of capturing why anybody who takes statistical analysis of baseball even remotely seriously ends up sooner or later writing about Derek Jeter's poor defensive performance. (Note, of course, that most of those analysts don't dispute that Jeter is justly headed to Cooperstown - analysts may feel Jeter is overrated by the media and Yankee fans who think he walks on water because the Yankees win the World Series every year, but, as I argued last January, his bat still makes him one of the all-time greats at his position). I would quibble with just this part, at the end of the discussion of the many complex and sophisticated defensive statistics that have been developed and their unanimity that Jeter has been a bad defensive shortstop for most of his career:

Until defensive numbers have the same score-at-home simplicity of ERA or batting average, Jeter's reputation is probably safe (as long as he keeps his error totals down).

First of all, errors also couldn't dent Jeter; he was second in the league in errors in 2000, and it didn't leave a mark (although for his career, Jeter's error rates have been pretty good - not great, but good). Second, you don't need complicated statistics at all to suspect that Jeter's a bad defensive shortstop - Range Factor is the simplest of defensive stats (it asks how many plays a guy has made per game or per 9 innings), and Jeter's Range Factors have often been quite bad. Per 9 innings, the average AL shortstop over Jeter's career has turned 4.58 balls into outs; Jeter's rate is 4.18. Jeter was slightly below average by this easy-to-tabulate measure in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2004, and above average in 2005; otherwise he's been way below, and frequently dead last in the league - making only 84.8% of the league average number of plays in 2001, 83.5% in 2002, 82.6% in 2003.

The burden of proof of invoking complex (and more accurate) measurements of defense, then, is on Jeter's defenders, who must substantiate their excuses for why he doesn't make more plays. As it turns out there have been some mitigating factors - the Yankees had a high-strikeout, high-flyball pitching staff in the early 2000s (the 2001 team set the AL strikeout record, whiffing 22% more batters than average), and Jeter's numbers got better by virtually any measurement in 2004, when Roger Clemens left the team and A-Rod joined. One of the problems with individual defense (not just in baseball but in other sports) is the tendency to think of it as a fixed characteristic, rather than a matter of performance that varies from year to year and changes over time just like hitting or pitching - most analysts agree that even aside from the illusions created by the pitching staff, Jeter really did improve with the glove for about two years there. But there is nonetheless unanimity among virtually every statistical measurement in the business that Jeter has been a significantly below-average fielder for the balance of his career (and, indeed, the more concrete measures of team defense have shown the Yankees to be a poor defensive team for much of this decade), which is why the argument is not between simple and complex measurements of performance but between those who are interested in measuring performance and those who simply refuse to accept the idea that defensive performance can be measured by anything but the eyes of sportswriters. And that is why analysts return to this issue again, and again, and again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)
July 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Stat of the Day: RBI%

Who has been baseball's best and worst RBI men this season? Well, RBI alone won't tell you that, any more than the hits leaders tell you who has the best batting average. I decided to divide the number of RBI with men in scoring position by the number of plate appearances each player had with men in scoring position. It's not a perfect measurement, since (1) this excludes driving in runners from first and (2) players on good offensive teams are more likely to bat with multiple men in scoring position and/or with a man also on first. Still, for a rough cut on the data, it's useful and interesting. I excluded intentional walks from plate appearances for these purposes, since it would be unfair to penalize the guys who are sufficiently feared to regularly get the bat taken out of their hands. Minimum number of plate appearances with RISP to count: 50. Source is David Pinto's database.

Best in MLB this season? Jesus Flores. No kidding.
Worst? His teammate Dmitri Young.
The full chart is below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Earning Their Rays

Before the season, my Established Win Shares Levels assessment had the Tampa Bay Rays as a 71-win team based on the established major league performance of their roster, and I explained why I was optimistic about the Rays but unwilling to buy into the idea that the most likely outcome for them was 88 or more wins.

Well, here we are at the break, and the Rays until recently had the best record in the game, and even if you assume (as I do) that they are likely to tail off in the second half, they are highly likely to win more than 85 games. How have they exceeded their track record? Let's look at Win Shares through July 10 on the Hardball Times website and compare the pre-season EWSL to the per-162 game pace of the Rays as of that date:

3B22Evan Longoria+121527+15
OF30Eric Hinske51120+15
C24Dioner Navarro71018+11
SP524Edwin Jackson1611+10
SP324Matt Garza#3712+9
2B29Akinori Iwamura*131221+8
CF23BJ Upton#191527+8
SP425Andy Sonnanstine*3611+8
RP138Troy Percival247+5
1B30Carlos Pena131018+5
RP330Dan Wheeler759+2
SP226James Shields#11712+1
INF25Willy Aybar435+1
1327Ben Zobrist#112+1
SP124Scott Kazmir127120
C233Josh Paul200-2
RP431Gary Glover200-2
RP529Juan Salas*200-2
RP237Al Reyes412-2
RF35Cliff Floyd835-3
DH27Johnny Gomes935-4
SS28Jason Bartlett1459-5
LF26Carl Crawford241018-6

As you can see, most of the Rays' improvement against expectations came from young (25 and under) talent coming together all at once - Longoria, Jackson, Garza, Navarro, Sonnanstine, Upton - the classic recipe for a 'surprise' team. This exploits a known issue with EWSL: it may project rapid improvement from some base of major league success for a young player, and it gives a certain amount of standard credit for a rookie like Longoria, but what it doesn't do (since there's no reliable way to do this at present) is project leaps forward based on minor league numbers. I expect those guys as a group to cool off a bit in the second half, but it won't be a huge upset if they don't, at least in the case of Longoria and Upton; given the unimpressive K/BB ratios of some of the starting pitchers (notably Jackson), I expect less from them in the second half, especially if Jason Bartlett's knee doesn't heal 100%. Either way, though, hats off to the young players who have made so much difference for this team.

Hinske is the one real and unpredictable surprise (none of the people touting the Rays in March mentioned him), but if he tails off that could be offset by Carl Crawford, who traditionally has had a lot of good second halves (career: .288/.327/.428 before the break, .301/.332/.442 after).

By the way, my rough adjustment this year assumed that the average team, historically, gets 38.57 Win Shares from players not on the pre-season 23-man roster I run the numbers from; that should translate to 21.67 Win Shares so far, and the Rays have 26, so they have been only mildly dependent on a better-than-expected showing from guys who came out of the woodwork, some of which is simply the fact that Riggans and Howell have stepped in in place of Paul and Salas.

RP25JP Howell061111
OF28Gabe Gross061111
RP30Grant Balfour0355
C27Shawn Riggans0355
SP25Jason Hammel0244
RP35Trever Miller0244
Four others0477

Honestly, when I added that up, it surprised me; I thought they were more dependent than that on the large number of guys performing well in limited at bats and innings, but some of those have fizzled a bit in recent weeks.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:17 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Like An All-Star Game

Last night's game was, when you stripped away the hype and the usual nonsense that surrounds the All-Star Game these days, just some really, really good baseball. I think the guy I came away most impressed with was Russell Martin - I can't remember the last time I saw a catcher handle that many plays at the plate in extra innings in one game, topped off by the game-saving throw by Nate McLouth to cut down Dioner Navarro at the plate (you would not have gotten odds before the season on Nate McLouth throwing out Dioner Navarro in the All-Star Game).

Highlight of the night from the fans:

1. The Yankees, at least in theory, hope to be in the World Series this year.

2. The outcome of the game had the chance to make it easier or harder for them, if they do so, to win the World Series.

3. Papelbon came in to pitch for the AL in a key late inning situation. If he could help the AL win, it could help the Yankees, if they make the World Series.

4. The Yankee fans decided to taunt Papelbon.

5. Papelbon responds by giving up the tying runs.

Great work, Yankee fans!

A few other random thoughts:

*My two-year-old daughter got confused and annoyed that we were watching a baseball game and not all chanting "Let's Go Mets".

*Yogi is still the coolest guy in baseball.

*Joe Buck called Yankee Stadium "our Coliseum". Does that make the Red Sox the Christians?

*I don't know who Josh Groban is, but I now know he's a weenie. He sang "God Bless America" like he wanted America to go to bed with him.

*It will be a shame if Yankee Stadium goes out without one last "Steinbrenner Sucks" chant.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:56 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)
July 14, 2008
BASEBALL: Going To Ground

The national ESPN audience got to see last night what Mets fans have been seeing for a few weeks now: Mike Pelfrey has become a major league pitcher, and the Mets' insistence on keeping him in the rotation this season has paid off. In his last nine starts through last night, Pelfrey is 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA.

To start with the obvious problem he still has: Pelfrey still needs a strikeout pitch. Pelfrey is averaging 5.3 K/9 on the season; even in his eight "quality starts," in which he has a 1.29 ERA in 55.2 IP, he's averaging a pedestrian 5.98 K/9. Strikeouts are a pitcher's most potent weapon for keeping men off the bases without the assistance of his defense, and Chien-Ming Wang aside, few pitchers get to the front of the rotation if they can't get past 6 K/9 or so. That said, Pelfrey's K rate has been going up lately, a positive sign.

But when the Ks aren't there, you have to max out in other areas, and a guy with Pelfrey's hard, heavy sinker and good control has the weapons to do that. First, he has cut his already low HR rate to microscopic levels - at 0.33 HR/9 he's second in the majors to Dana Eveland. Opposing batters are slugging .381 against Pelfrey on the season, compared to .374 against Scott Kazmir, .376 against Johan Santana, .380 against Cole Hamels. Second, cut off the running game - with the help of Brian Schneider, Pelfrey has allowed one stolen base all year (in five attempts). That helps set up the DP - Pelfrey's induced 14 GIDP on the season (the MLB leader, Mark Buehrle, has 23, but Pelfrey is among the leaders if not that close to the top), and 9 in his last 8 starts. Durability helps too - Pelfrey's averaging 104 pitches per start and has thrown at least 95 pitches in every start this year. It helps to be big, young, strong and have good mechanics (this is also a byproduct of not throwing a lot of breaking balls). And the more times a guy like Pelfrey throws a full game's worth of pitches to major league hitters, the more he learns about how to command those pitches and what works and doesn't work in getting hitters out.

Command is key. Pelfrey's always around the strike zone; he never struggles to find the plate. But he gets in trouble when he nibbles or just can't place his pitches exactly where he wants them. His 3.56 BB/9 and opposing OBP of .359 are way too high for a control pitcher. Even in the last 9 starts, Pelfrey's walk rate is 2.87 BB/9, decent but not where you want a low-K ground ball pitcher to be.

Again: Pelfrey still has his weaknesses. He's been reliant on Shea Stadium - his ERA is 2.35 at home, 5.56 on the road. Lefties are batting .317/.398/.457 against him on the season, sitting on his sinker; his K/BB ratio is 45/15 against righthanded hitters, but an unsightly 19/28 against lefties. All of which explains why, for now, he's still a fifth starter. But what you ask of your fifth starter is to go out there, eat innings, and keep his ERA around the league average, and Pelfrey has gotten good at the first and, for the moment at least, now exceeded the second. He's still got more to learn, but he has rewarded the Mets' preference for starting him rather than sending him back to AAA while they start the likes of Claudio Vargas or Tony Armas in his stead. And if Pelfrey can give us more in the second half of what we have seen in the last 9 starts, he may find himself ahead of Oliver Perez on the depth chart before the season is over (maybe Pedro too, but that will be all about what Pedro does, not about Pelfrey).

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

UPDATE: I checked, and Justin Verlander has the largest number of consecutive starts this season (20) throwing at least 95 pitches; Pelfrey is third behind Verlander and Ervin Santana. Since 1988 - as far back as there seems to be reliable data - the longest such streak is 44 starts by Jake Peavy from September 2006 to May 2008; three of the top 6 are by Randy Johnson. Across seasons, Verlander's streak of 24 is rthe tops, and Pelfrey's current streak is tied with Ervin Santana at 19.

Also, Pelfrey's career 0.49 HR/9 rate is the lowest - or essentially tied with Wang for the lowest - among any pitcher with 30 or more starts since 1993.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:04 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 13, 2008
BASEBALL: RIP Bobby Murcer

Bobby Murcer has lost his battle with cancer at age 62. Murcer had a long career with the Yankees in several capacities; as a player, he will always be remembered as the poor man's Mickey Mantle, a power-hitting center fielder from Oklahoma who could do at least a little bit of everything. The Mick was one of the 5 or 6 greatest players ever, so being a lesser Mantle is not a bad thing at all; Murcer was a legitimately great player for two years (1971-72, when he batted .331/.427/.543 and .292/.361/.537), a quality regular for a decade, and a valuable bat off the bench in his second go-round in the Bronx. He was also a classy, likeable guy, like his hero and mentor, Mantle, but unlike Mickey he didn't make an irresponsible wreck of his own life off the field. Murcer fits neatly in the second tier of Yankee outfielders, the ones ranging from borderline Hall of Famers to long-time quality regulars - Bernie, Maris, O'Neill, Roy White, Keller, Henrich, Combs, Meusel, etc.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:14 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
July 12, 2008
BASEBALL: Is Richie Sexson Done?

David Pinto seems to think so, given his terrible numbers this year. The Yankees, in particular, are a focus of debate about signing him.

Sexson's 33, so while he may be done, it's just a little early to write him off without one last look. As I often do for players in his position, former stars who just seem to have hit the wall awful quickly, I looked at his splits. Here is Sexson this year vs RHP and LHP:

vs RHP: .178/.281/.304
vs LHP: .344/.423/.623

Last year is less dramatic...Sexson has only 61 at bats this year vs. lefties, and his 2007 splits are less dramatic, but I'd guess that even if he's done as a regular, he could well be a useful platoon partner (Carlos Delgado comes to mind here) and may still have something to contribute against lefthanded pitchers.

Then there's the home/road:

Safeco: .178/.267/.256
Everywhere else: .260/.363/.512

Again: Sexson's got a huge swing and tons of power when he connects - a big pitcher-friendly ballpark is death to him at this point. (That probably rules out Shea, even if it's been friendlier to power hitters this year). But put him in the right place, and he can still mash (caveat being that his 2007 splits, again, are not as dramatic).

Bottom line: Sexson still has some value as a bench/platoon player, used judiciously. I agree that he's probably finished as a regular. But that should not stop the right organization from squeezing the remaining value out of him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:24 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Being Manny

Pinto links to a classic Manny Ramirez photo.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:24 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
July 9, 2008
BASEBALL: Rich Harden to the Cubs

I guess they were feeling nostalgic for the Mark Prior Era.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:16 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
July 8, 2008
BASEBALL: The Wright Thing

Go here, if you can't follow the widget, to vote for David Wright for the last spot on the NL All-Star Team (I voted for Evan Longoria, the best player on the team with the best record in baseball, for the AL). (H/T). I ordinarily don't pay a ton of attention to the All-Star balloting, but this is ridiculous. Wright is one of the two or three best players in the NL, in his prime, and having a reasonably good year, .288/.382/.512 with 70 RBIs a week before the break - the very definition of an All-Star. Let's take a look at how the numbers stack up for Wright against the other guys on the end of the ballot since last year's All-Star Break:

David Wright162616120198432311261075102258200.3210.4190.549
Pat Burrell162536931533524111412221340050.2850.4140.588
Carlos Lee16262289187430361164416681160.3010.3450.543
Corey Hart156595881764310271032912113207120.2960.3370.538
Aaron Rowand157603931835102493431513225190.3030.3630.507

I think it's pretty clear who the class of that field is - only Burrell really stacks up as a hitter, and that's before you consider the Citizens Bank Park effect and the difference between Wright and Burrell in the field and on the basepaths. Corey Hart, currently leading the balloting, isn't even close. Let me put it this way: if you were drafting a roster from scratch for the second half of this season, and you could pick (independent of salary considerations) David Wright, Pat Burrell, Carlos Lee, Corey Hart or Aaron Rowand to build your team around, which one would you pick? It's really not a close call, is it?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:09 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Recovering Heilman

Don't look now, but yesterday was actually only the second time since April, and the first since May 20, that Aaron Heilman gave up a home run. In 19 appearances since the beginning of June, Heilman now has a 2.04 ERA, with a 20/5 K/BB ratio and 14 hits allowed in 17.2 IP, stranding all 9 runners he's inherited. (He's also hit 4 guys in that stretch - Heilman's 8 hit batsmen are second in the NL to only Oliver Perez with 10. The Mets have hit a MLB-leading 48 batters, with Arizona at 47 the only other team within 10 of them).

I still think it will be some time before we can trust Duaner Sanchez to really be a consistent setup man, so it is good to have Heilman back and maybe ready to fully take over the 8th inning duties again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:55 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2008

JJ Hardy has raised his slugging percentage 176 points since June 2, when he was batting .245/.325/.319, to .295/.362/.495. In his last 23 games, Hardy has driven in 23 runs and batted a Ruthian .398/.440/.849.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Excruciating Replay

Listening to Billy Wagner try to close out what should have been a rout when the Mets got a 10-1 lead...this is all too reminiscent of last fall's fiascoes against the Phils, notably this disaster, which among other things sealed Paul Lo Duca's fate in NY.

If Wagner - facing Howard as the tying run - blows this one, the season is well and truly over.

Wagner gets Howard swinging. Now Pat ^!~&#&!%#%&&@^ Burrell is up.

Wagner gets Burrell to fly out. Huuuuuge out. Pedro Feliz is up as the last out/tying run.

Wagner gets 2 quick strikes.

Feliz singles, 2 runs in, and Feliz gets to second on a rare throwing error by Beltran - I know Beltran was trying to nail the second runner at third and end the game, but that's a very costly error. 10-9.

Werth pops up, and it ends. Very big win, but the moral whupping the Mets could have placed on the Phils was largely dissipated, just as Friday night was the lost opportunity to make this a sweep.

For now, the Mets are 2.5 games back in the East. Given how they have played this far, it could be much, much worse. Now the real challenge: figuring out how to beat a Giants team that's 11 games under .500 and a Rockies team that's 15 under. If they can swing that, the team could actually go into the Break feeling like this is a real race.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:36 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Pitching Dutchman

Mike Carminati looks at guys who top the fluky list of pitching the most innings or seasons in the majors without allowing a run, and finds the one guy on both lists is....Honus Wagner.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:32 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Big Game Ollie

When I noted a while back the Mets' good performance against good teams (they are now 21-15 against teams over .500, and looked even better than that before the D-Backs dropped below the line), one of the chief contributors to that split personality has been Olver Perez, as has become even more pronounced with outstanding starts against the Yankees and Phillies, against whom he's a combined 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA in 5 starts. Here's Perez's line against winning vs. non-winning teams:

Winning (10 starts): 5-0, 2.74 ERA, 6.64 H, 1.01 HR, 3.75 BB, 8.09 K/9, 6.2 IP/Start
Losing (8 starts): 1-5, 7.97 ERA, 10.02 H, 2.31 HR, 7.20 BB, 6.69 K/9, 4.4 IP/Start

It's hard not to conclude from this, as from his performance in the 2006 NLCS, that Perez' problem in very large measure is his inability to focus on what he's doing when the pressure is off.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

I'm still dumbfounded by the turn of events that has brought the Indians to the pass of trading CC Sabathia to the Brewers in exchange for outfield prospect Matt LaPorta, pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson and a player to be named later.

First, the take: LaPorta's numbers, at least, suggest a quality right-handed slugger, given his career minor league line of .294/.395/.616 in 411 at bats, mostly at AA this season, where he has 20 HR, 66 RBI and 44 walks in half a season. He's 23, so presumably he's pretty close to major league ready, but close to being on the older side for a AA slugger. Bryson appears to be a high-ceiling reliever prospect, 11.81 K/9, 2.64 BB/9 and just 0.41 HR/9 in 109 minor league innings mostly as a reliever, but he's 20 years old and hasn't pitched above A ball, so he's necessarily unproven against serious competition. Jackson, who started 7 games for the Brew Crew in 2006, does not appear to be much of a prospect. As for the Brewers, Sabathia is obviously a serious ace in his prime and on a roll; after 4 horrible starts to begin the season, the defending AL Cy Young winner has posted a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts, with 0.69 HR, 1.73 BB and 9.40 K/9. He's averaged 110 pitches per start in that stretch, with a single 98-pitch outing the only one below 100.

Sabathia has made clear that he'll be a free agent, so while the Brewers would seem an unlikely buyer, they are really just renting him, whereas the Indians really had to look to 2008 only. The list of things that have gone wrong with Cleveland is exhaustive, from injuries (Hafner, Martinez, Carmona, Westbrook) to a collapsed bullpen, all of which has offset an unbelievable year by Cliff Lee and what had, for a while, been a really outstanding performance from the rotation (Paul Byrd is 1-7 with a 7.40 ERA in his last 9 starts, Westbrook's pitched once since April, Carmona not since May, and the replacements have been less effective). While it's been rough from the outset for the Tribe, they were right in the thick of things with the AL Central in disarray; they were 22-19 and a game and a half in front of the division on May 15, but since then the team has been 15-32 and the staff aside from Sabathia, Lee, Rafael Perez and Scott Elarton has been a train wreck.

One thing that sticks out is that they are 6 games below their Pythagorean projection, and I'm starting to think we may have reached the point where Eric Wedge has to shoulder some of the blame for what no longer looks like just random chance; the team is 19 games below its projection for his tenure, including -5 in 2003 and -11 in 2006 (2007 they were +5, the only year they did not underachieve compared to their runs scored and allowed in the Wedge era).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Uneasy Lies The Head

Faketeams.com notes the high turnover rate for closers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 29, 2008
BLOG: 6/29/08 Quick Links

*Maybe when you hurt yourself moving pillows on your bed, it's a sign you're not really cut out to be a professional athlete.

*Price fixing does not sound like a useful solution to the hazards of maple bats. (H/T). Does anyone really think Major League ballplayers are currently using cheap knockoff bats?

*George Carlin on Kiner's Korner. And a few of his one-liners from the later stage of his career (i.e., when he wasn't high). Some of those were only funny because of Carlin's delivery, and some have become cliches by now, but he does have a few classics there. Carlin was at his best when he was being misanthropic.

*Chicks don't dig the Mariners. (H/T). This would be even funnier if they had not just whupped the Mets.

*Replacing Chris Noth with Jeff Goldblum on Law & Order: Criminal Intent is not a step up. Amusingly, that photo makes Goldblum look quite a lot like Jerry Orbach, though.

*There's money in poverty, if you're a friend of Barack Obama. Decent housing's another matter.

*The Barackheads do not like it if you mock their god.

*It's like joining a cult, except...I'm working on it....let me think ....

*Comparing your client to the Rosenbergs is not a great idea.

*Somebody on Kos tried to do a response (sans permalink) to our RedState editorial on the GOP as the party of freedom of choice, and I think I hurt my brain reading the thing. The paragraph on the salary cap is priceless, and the sad part is that the author presumably intends us to take the Jeff Spicoli quote as authoritative, as if quoting Montesquieu or something. In a similar vein, this is awfully unspecific. Why should it matter if I'm "ungrateful" to farmers - I pay for my food, and that should be enough for them just as it is for lawyers, autoworkers, toymakers, whoever.

*Interesting writeup on great NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk, who I'd never known much about. Man, that's a guy with a lot of problems and a lot of injuries.

*Nice writeup about 100-year-old ex-MLB player Bill Werber (career numbers here). The Babe Ruth anecdote is vintage Ruth.

*Hugo Chavez and Hezbollah, perfect together.

*This is an oldie but a goodie, on Live Earth. Our old friend and Holy Cross classmate Dave Holmes makes it out of this with more of his dignity intact than most of the participants.

*I shouldn't laugh at Al Sharpton on a bicycle (in fact, I can't ride one myself), but what the heck, he's Al Sharpton.

*I have to feel like the AP is stacking the deck when they give us this, this and this as pictures of Spain's fans at a Spain-Russia soccer game and this as the picture of a Russian fan.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-16 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 28, 2008
BASEBALL: He Chose Poorly

I really am at my wits' end, and the Mets' management must be as well, about Jose Reyes' baserunning. I mean, first and second, two outs, down 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth with Wright up, he gets picked off second base. No reason why a guy with his wheels should be that far off second - he'll be running on the play and will score on pretty much anything. Wright then hits a solo homer to lead off the next inning instead of what might have been a 2-out 3-run shot, and the Mets lose 3-2.

I wish I had count of the number of times this season Reyes has run the Mets out of an inning on a poor percentage play at second or third, often making the first or last out at third base in violation of one of baseball's cardinal rules. It's just inexcusable by this point for him not to have learned that lesson.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
June 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Root, Root, Root For The Road Team

Tonight's day-night doubleheader was nothing if not frustratingly inconclusive, with the Mets and Yankees both getting humiliated in front of the home crowd. One lesson, clearly, is that it's not a good idea to take home runs away from Carlos Delgado; he remembers.

Pedro's stuff actually looked pretty good tonight, but somehow didn't translate well. I'm one more bad outing from actually starting to worry about him rather than making excuses.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:58 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Things Joe Morgan Used To Know

Joe Posnanski, who's been working on a book on the 1975 Reds, notes that Joe Morgan's Luddite tendencies seem to represent a curdled cynicism left over from his playing days, when he was far more enlightened:

I cannot tell you how many stories I have read where Morgan is trying to explain to some reporter why on-base percentage is the most important statistic, why slugging percentage is so telling, why it isn't important how MANY stolen bases you have but how often you are successful.

Really. If you go back to 1975 ... and you read a bunch of sports sections, you will see that there was something fundamentally different about Joe Morgan. The guy was absolutely ahead of his time, not just as a player but as a thinker too. So many of those things that seemed so fresh and new in Joe's much hated Moneyball - the concept that it isn't about how good a player looks, the notion that popular statistics didn't tell you much, the philosophy that scoring runs and winning baseball is about simple and tangible things - heck, Joe was preaching this stuff back when Gerald Ford was in office.

The thing is ... nobody really got him then. Owners didn't pay you to walk. Managers didn't always look beyond size. Reporters didn't get what REALLY won the game. Every day, in the paper, you saw batting averages, and RBIs, and stuff that Joe understood were secondary, selfish stats, not directly in line with winning. I think THAT'S when Joe Morgan lost any real use for statistics ... they didn't TELL you what mattered. I think that was when Joe thought: "Statistics are useless. You have to watch and play baseball to really understand it."

Random note here: one of the more horrifying things I have heard was earlier this season when President Bush was in the ESPN box and Bush confirmed for John Miller that he had, in fact, once offered Morgan a front office job with the Rangers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:56 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Like him or not, it's pretty clear that the revival of the previously floundering Yankees coincided almost perfectly with the return of Alex Rodriguez; the Yanks dropped to 20-25 and 7.5 games back on May 20, A-Rod's first day back from injury, and have been rebounding ever since, going 22-11. A-Rod hasn't done it alone; while he's batted .352/.443/.672 since his return, Giambi has hit like the 2000-2001 Giambi (.346/.447/.663), Damon has hit .413/.464/.524, and Matsui and Posada have been tearing it up as well (the full lineup here). The pitching staff's been less spectacular (other than Joba and Mariano), but Pettitte has been pitching well the continuing revival of Mussina has been a big contributor as well; Mussina, Pettitte and Rivera have combined for an 88-17 K/BB ratio in that stretch.

By the way, this may not be that surprising a stat for a guy who has mainly worked as a late-inning setup man, but for his career, the Yankees are now 36-8 in games where Joba appears. For a contrast, the Red Sox record in 2007-08 when Okajima pitches is 69-29; the Mets' record in that period when Heilman pitches is 63-56.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
June 26, 2008
BASEBALL: To Ash You Shall Return

Peter Abraham summarizes the problem with unsafe, easily-splintered maple bats, and - sadly - why they are yet another thing that, as was so long true for steroids and the DH rule, (1) should be subject to immediate rulemaking by the Commissioner but instead (2) will likely be held hostage indefinitely by the players' union in the hopes of getting the owners to make some concession in return for a ban. Which is not to suggest in either case that the owners are pillars of virtue, just that so long as the collective bargaining process is in the way, considerations of the best interests of the game take a back seat to the grim zero-sum logic of the bargaining table. You can see, by contrast, how the game's control over umpiring has improved greatly since the umpires' union was for all intents and purposes broken by the owners.

David Pinto suggests that Bill James has argued for requiring all players to use identical bats - I'm not sure if this is a reference to the Historical Abstract's essay on the size of bat handles vs. barrels of something more recent...certainly, there should be some allowance for the size of the batter (one needn't make Luis Castillo and Adam Dunn use exactly the same bat), but it does seem entirely reasonable, and likely to end the arms' race towards ever-narrower-handled and more-fragile bats, to standardize the equipment more; the pitcher doesn't get to choose the baseball, after all. James has been arguing for years that the whip-handled bats have been as big a factor in the offensive upsurge of the last 15 years as smaller ballparks and more muscular hitters; a restoration of a little of the tradidtional balance of power on that front would not be a bad thing either.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 23, 2008
BASEBALL: Rising To A Challenge

Question of the day - can you name the four major league teams that are at least 5 games over .500 against teams with winning or .500 records?

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Role Reversal

You know, one thing that's been driving me up the wall lately is the media's newfound effort to turn Willie Randolph into a martyr (best example here, and while I can't fault the Daily News for jumping at the exclusive, there's also Randolph's own maudlin account). I never bought into some of the more heated criticisms of Randolph, but I accepted the fact that the time came when he simply had to go, as unpleasant as the process of dumping a manager mid-season is. Yet somehow, the same media that spent the past year and a half burning effigies of Randolph now wants to make the man out to be some sort of innocent victim of a dire conspiracy. The truth is a lot less dramatic, in all directions.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:55 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 19, 2008
BASEBALL: Badly Dunn

Pinto notes two related problems with Blue Jays GM and, we were told, Billy Beane protege JP Ricciardi: first, the release of Frank Thomas has worked out badly, a move I thought questionable and badly-explained at the time and that Beane obviously recognized as a buying opportunity. (H/T). Second, Ricciardi has ripped Adam Dunn, questioning Dunn's desire for the game and his low batting average, the kind of justifications that generally precede a team backing away from a player without an especially good reason for doing so. I can understand why you would not want nine guys like Dunn on your team. He does have some significant holes in his game. But like the caller Ricciardi was responding to said, the Blue Jays are not exactly overflowing with guys who produce Dunn's kind of combination of power and patience - the team leader in HR has 8, Vernon Wells and Rod Barajas are the only guys slugging over .434, and Lyle Overbay's the only guy on the team with 30 walks. Toronto is slugging .376 as a team; the starting left fielder is slugging .303.

That said, the bigger concern with Dunn is not overvaluing his bat when translated to a new ballpark. Dunn's career line of .242/.373/.494 on the road is good, but lags pretty far behind his career .252/.390/.545 line in Cinci, most of that compiled in Great American Ballpark, where he has hit .254/.387/.561.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:29 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 17, 2008
BASEBALL: Midnight Massacre

panicbutton.JPGIt's not 1977, but the Mets waited for deep into last night to finally sack Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto and install Jerry Manuel as interim manager.

I've been skeptical of firing the manager in midseason, and installing Manuel pretty much guarantees that no dramatic change is really at work, since Manuel's been at Randolph's side through all of this. That said, the team was going badly enough that you can't fault the team for cutting bait, and by this point the whole when-will-Willie-go drama had reached the point of no return; you can't leave a man twisting in the wind like that. The team had to either unambiguously give him the rest of the season, or be done with it.

I'm not a fan of getting rid of Peterson. His tenure has seen its share of successes and failures, and in some cases (e.g., Oliver Perez) successes followed by regression. But he's clearly a sharp and talented pitching coach, and of course he can't be held responsible for the failures of the offense.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
June 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Met-a-phor Alert

Even the Magic Apple is AWOL.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:27 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Best Pitcher In Baseball?

Best in the business is a fleeting title, but it's also one that's earned over at least some period of time. I've been thinking lately about whether Johan Santana, for a few years now pretty much the undisputed best pitcher in the game, still deserves the title. Let's start by looking back over the past two years to get a sense of who has been the top of the game in that time; you will see just three pitchers who have averaged 200 innings a year since June 16, 2006 with an ERA below 3.47:

Jake Peavy6331160.660412.1328136131301314342.869.472.860.65
Johan Santana6735190.648451.0375167151581074623.
Brandon Webb6737190.661462.1402189165251293773.217.342.510.49

If you think slicing at mid-season too arbitrary, we can go all the way back to the start of 2006, raising the bar along the way to 450 innings. This gives us five pitchers below 3.39:

Brandon Webb8145200.692567.0501217189311424513.
Johan Santana8141230.641547.1457200183691235663.019.312.021.13
John Lackey7235210.625486.0455195170371324013.157.432.440.69
Jake Peavy7635230.603490.1407179174421505193.199.532.750.77
John Smoltz7333190.635465.2442179169431104443.278.582.130.83

Of course, Smoltz is no longer part of this discussion, given that he's out for the rest of the season. Lackey really doesn't quite measure up either, although he has come back quite better than expected this season from an early injury.

Peavy looks impressive at first, but over the longer period his ERA advantage evaporates despite pitching in a great pitcher's park, and he's 60-80 innings behind the leaders. Realistically, it really is a two-horse race between Santana and Webb at this stage. Santana strikes out more batters and thus is less dependent on good defense, as you can see from his lower rate of unearned runs (if you include those, Santana bests Webb 3.29-3.44), while Webb allows far fewer home runs and thus gives his defense more chances to help him. On that evidence, I'd be disinclined to hand off the title to Webb, since Santana's better-equipped to do it all on his own.

On the other hand, if you go back just a year, you get seven pitchers below 3.48:

Brandon Webb342380.742233.019786739571872.827.222.200.35
Tim Hudson3417100.630222.2223837714521343.115.422.100.57
Adam Wainwright3215100.600216.1201867516601483.126.162.500.67
Carlos Zambrano3519100.655227.2194828016951753.166.923.760.63
Johan Santana3316110.593220.2194857831502163.188.812.041.26
Roy Halladay3417110.607250.22421019016471713.236.141.690.57
Felix Hernandez341680.667231.1231948521721883.317.312.800.82

When you look at the numbers that way, Webb begins to take a decided advantage; he's gaining on Santana and pulling away from the crowd. And for one reason: despite playing in a great HR park, Webb has allowed the fewest HR/9 of any pitcher in baseball with 200 innings over the past year (Chien-Ming Wang is the only one close), while Santana is sixth from the bottom (although with just 1 HR allowed in his last 5 starts, there are signs he's getting the problem under control). I don't know if that's quite enough time to crown a new king, but with Santana's velocity off this season from past years, I think if I had to make the call right now, today, I'd take Webb.

It's early yet to start looking at Webb through the prism of great pitching careers, but you'll note that his comps through age 28 (i.e., the end of last season) already include three Hall of Famers (Jim Bunning, Gaylord Perry and Bob Gibson), plus David Cone, and Webb's ERA relative to the league is much better than any of theirs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
June 15, 2008
BLOG: 6/15/08 Quick Links

*The idea of a steroid blacklist is not implausible, but it's not the simplest explanation, especially where Barry Bonds is concerned: it seems more likely that no team wants the PR headache and distraction of the disgraced, indicted Bonds. And with guys like Jay Gibbons, there's the double issue of "will he still be any good if he's not juicing?"

*Will Carroll on Secretariat:

Here are the important numbers:
Big Brown (2008 Kentucky Derby): 2:01:82 Affirmed (1977 Kentucky Derby): 2:01 1/5 Secretariat (1973 Kentucky Derby): 1:59 2/5

I don't need the advanced numbers like Beyer Speed Figures to see what's at work here. Big Brown won two legs of the Triple Crown, possibly aided by steroids, but he wasn't as fast as the last Triple Crown winner, and he wasn't as fast as horse racing's Babe Ruth. Steroids didn't make a horse into Superman. Horse expert Michael Hindman said it better than I could:

Secretariat would be Babe Ruth if Babe Ruth had once hit 90 homers in a season and no one else has ever hit more than 50. The gap in physical ability between him and all other thoroughbreds is unlike anything else in sports history. Put it this way: Secretariat was capable of hitting 600-foot homers. Secretariat's 35-year-old Kentucky Derby record time still stands, and nobody has ever come close to it. His 35-year-old world record time at a mile and a half set in the Belmont has never been challenged by any horse ever, anywhere. He ran his mile and a half in 2:24. No other horse--anywhere, ever--has broken 2:25.3. That means that the second best time at a mile and a half, ever, would have been eight lengths behind him. Secretariat also set the world record at a mile and an eighth. He ran once on the grass and set a track record at Belmont Park (again at a mile and a half) that still stands 35 years later. Secretariat ran against and beat the crap out of at least five other Hall of Fame horses. Big Brown is beating one of the worst crops of three year olds ever. By the way, we've used Winstrol and Equipoise on horses from time to time over the years, and as far as I can tell it doesn't do much for them other than run up the vet bill.

*Drill, drill, drill. It's not the long-term answer, but it's appalling that the U.S. insists on preferring to import Saudi and Venezuelan oil rather than do the sorts of routine oil exploration and development that's done everywhere else in the world. Note Gingrich's point about offshore drilling in enviro-conscious Norway.

*The NY Times on the dangers of an inexperienced candidate for president. You know, a lot of Bush-hating liberals respond to questions about Obama's experience by noting Bush's relative inexperience compared to some past candidates...but even if you insist on ignoring the advantages Bush had over Obama, I have to ask: are you saying now that Bush worked out just fine? Because that wasn't what I heard from you up to now.

*Yes, McCain's been busy already in key swing states.

*Excellent 3-part interview with Justice Scalia here, here and here. One excerpt:

In the course of writing the book, you and your co-author, Bryan Garner, consulted more than a dozen judges. Did you learn anything about the habits of your colleagues?

We learned an awful lot from them. Stuff that I didn't know. For example, the part about judges who retro-read.

Read the briefs in reverse.

Yeah. If you're really in a hurry and you don't care about how the lawyers have slaved to make sense out of stuff, it saves time because, as the case goes along, it gets narrower. You pare down. It's good if you really want to find the kernel of a dispute. I didn't know that a lot of judges did that. I don't do it. I don't think it's fair to the lawyers.

I'd have to think that would be counterproductive in a lot of cases where the briefs are loaded with references back to complex facts and defined terms in the beginning, but it's a caution to lawyers to consider how a brief looks like from the back to the front.

*Free speech is so un-French.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-16 • | Other Sports • | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
June 13, 2008
BASEBALL: Carlos In The Citi

Matthew Artus at Always Amazin' had a good post the other day on how Shea seems to be more homer-friendly this season, perhaps due to changes in the wind patterns brought about by the construction of Citi Field. Let's look specifically at how the change has affected Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, in recent years the two Mets batters most hurt by Shea - here are their combined home/road splits for 2006-08 (for Runs and RBI I projected the 2008 numbers out to 81 home and 81 road games):


As you can see, though not driven by homers, Dos Carlos are having arguably their best year together at home, or at least comparable to 2006, and that's serving to mask how far they have fallen off on the road.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Tale of Two Joneses

Even knowing this, seeing it in print is amazing: over the past 365 days, Chipper Jones is batting .379/.465/.628. And at the far end of the scale is his old teammate Andruw, batting .207/.292/.363. You'd never know that Chipper's the one who is 36, and Andruw 31.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:21 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Really, I don't even know what to say after last night's Mets fiasco. Certainly we have further evidence that, while Duaner Sanchez has looked good at times this year, he's nowhere close yet to being a reliable clutch reliever; there are still too many days he has nothing at all. But the Mets' hole has gotten enormously worse now that they are chasing the Phillies rather than the Marlins. It has started to get late early.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
June 10, 2008

MT ate my last post this morning, so let me just summarize:

*The Reds are on pace to strike out 1,298 batters this year. Four starters and five relievers are hanging around a batter per inning.

*The all-time record is 1,404 by the also-Dusty-Baker-managed 2003 Cubs. Hopefully, the Reds young pitchers will fare better over the long haul.

*The AL record is 1,266 by the 2001 Yankees.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:58 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Prior Damage

David Pinto links to some interesting speculation that Mark Prior's shoulder woes may have begun with a 2003 collision with Marcus Giles. Note that while Prior had a great second half in 2003, it's still possible that this was the beginning of the damage that would reveal itself later (interestingly, Giles also had a monster second half that year and also hasn't been the same player since).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 9, 2008
BASEBALL: Legends, Unclassified

Dugout Central has two interesting pieces, one an interview with John Paciorek (Tom's brother, who famously reached base in all five of his Major League plate appearances), the other an argument for Bill James for the Hall of Fame, which seems like a no-brainer to me - I'd put him in with Alexander Cartwright and Henry Chadwick myself, since an innovator is just as valuable as a pioneer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 8, 2008
BASEBALL: Making History (Of A Sort)

Via Attila, the Mets contribute to the Padres earning an odd place in history.

As for today's fiasco, I turned away for a minute from a 6-4 lead and it was 8-6...Billy Wagner sure has had awful timing for a guy who is otherwise having a fine year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:35 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Bury The Tigers

The news that Jeremy Bonderman is done for the season is about the official nail in the coffin for the massively underachieving Tigers. More on this to follow, but there was probably no greater unexpected disappointment than Detroit's starting rotation this season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
June 5, 2008
BASEBALL/LAW: Watch For Bats

The New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) today affirmed the dismissal of a baseball-related personal injury suit:

While at a ballpark, plaintiff sustained injuries when a baseball player in an off-field on-deck batting circle struck her with a bat. Because plaintiff concededly observed batting equipment and players swinging bats in the area where the accident occurred, the Appellate Division correctly held that she had assumed the risk of her injuries, and properly affirmed the Supreme Court order dismissing the complaint.

The fact description is pretty sparse, but this seems a sensible enough rule at least in cases where the batter didn't throw the bat and she just got too close to somebody swinging a bat.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Doomed in Seattle

Pinto links to a Seattle report suggesting that John McLaren is probably toast. I'd add that in the worlds of politics and law you see the same dynamic noted by the Seattle writer:

Now, I have a firm belief about managers and coaches who go bonkers. I call it the Cuckoo Principle. When they go cuckoo, that's it. They're done. It works in almost every case, except for Guillen. The White Sox manager is incessantly cuckoo and blessed with the cushion of a World Series. But even his time will arrive soon.

An explosion is always proof that either you've lost the grip on your team, or you're struggling with the pressures of the job. McLaren had to be provoked to act out of character.

PS - McLaren is a good data point for not sacking the manager in mid-season without a ready replacement. Yes, Hargrove quit, but the point is that McLaren was not the long-term answer for Seattle.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:38 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 10 Cent Beer Night

Paul Jackson at ESPN.com has a lengthy and entertaining look back at how cheap beer went wrong one night in Cleveland in 1974. I found this detail, harking back to the 1932 opening of Municipal Stadium, fascinating:

Their new home, the first sports venue built entirely with public financing, seated 74,400 fans -- making it by far the largest stadium in America at the time -- and sacrificed comfort for quantity. First announced in 1928, the scale of the building led to rumors that Cleveland might bid for the 1932 Summer Olympics, which eventually went to Los Angeles. Though such a proposal wasn't submitted, the fact that Cleveland's civic leaders would even dream of an Ohio Olympiad suggests that, at the time, this was a city squinting into a bright future.

In 1928, Cleveland supplanted St. Louis as America's fifth largest metropolis. Just three years later, the city was closing in on fourth-place Detroit. With Cleveland's shoes growing a full size every decade, civic planners designed a sports stadium roomy enough to accommodate thousands of citizens who had not yet arrived. They did not realize that their city's growth spurt was over, nor could they have anticipated the decades of sullen adolescence just over the horizon.

Read the whole thing. Soak in the irony of the "winning" manager of a game forfeited on account of unruly drunks being Billy Martin.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 4, 2008
BASEBALL: Not A Moment Too Soon

Let's just lay down a marker here: the Mets were 28-28 before Pedro returned last night.

Yes, we saw vividly in last year's stretch run that adding Pedro, even Pedro pitching very well, is no cure-all, and yes, he's still got to stay healthy the rest of the way. But it sure is good to have the old master back.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 3, 2008

You really don't, if you're a Nationals fan, want to see Ryan Zimmerman and Dr. Andrews mentioned in the same article.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:27 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL/LAW: A Win For Fantasy Sports

Supreme Court refuses to step in:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the players association in their case against CDM Fantasy Sports. The justices' decision ends a bitter legal fight that lasted more than three years.

St. Louis-based CDM in 2006 won the right in federal district court to use major league players' names and statistics in commercial fantasy games without a license. That set off a lengthy series of appeals from MLBAM and the union that mushroomed into a case with significant implications for all of celebrity licensing.

Read the whole thing for the implications.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:09 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Law 2006-08 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 2, 2008
BASEBALL: Verrry Disappointing

Oliver Perez is really not making himself a compelling case for a big contract in the offseason.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Your Stat of the Day

HR by 2B, NL East, entering tonight's action:

PHI 20
FLA 17

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:28 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame Trivia

11 Hall of Fame pitchers have had a season with an ERA of 5.00 or higher in enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. One of those did it twice in his career. Name him.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:34 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Sunshine Of Your Glove

It's starting to get far enough into the season that it's worth taking seriously the Rays (now with the best record in baseball at 31-20) and the Marlins (with the best record in the NL at 30-20). What gives? Well, let's note for now three things:

1. It's the defense. I was deeply skeptical in the pre-season of the Rays' ability to turn the corner overnight and become a pitching/defense powerhouse after allowing the most runs in the majors by a wide margin last season and posting the worst Defensive Efficiency Rating (the percent of balls in play turned into outs) in Major League Baseball. I would have been still more skeptical of where they'd be today if you'd told me that Scott Kazmir would miss the whole month of April. But Tampa has done a 180: their DER of .721 is now the best in baseball, up 11% from last season's .650. It's a staggering turnaround that explains how guys like Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson are posting solid ERAs, and Jason Hammel isn't getting pounded, despite weak K/BB ratios (Garza's peripheral numbers are no better than Mike Pelfrey's, but he's 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA).

Really great team DERs tend, I think, to be the kind of thing that are hard to sustain over a full season (the Mets last year being a graphic example of the late-season collapse of an early-season defensive juggernaut). It's a little harder to quantify exactly who is responsible, but a comparison of the Rays by ESPN's Zone Ratings to the top non-Rays fielder in the league at each position suggests pretty strongly that Jason Bartlett has truly lived up to all expectations of turning around the Rays (for the catchers I'm instead listing caught stealing %):

PosRaysZRAL LeadZR
1BPena.831D. Barton.953
2BIwamura.852M. Ellis.879
SSBartlett.859E. Aybar.855
3BLongoria.790M. Mora.826
RFGross.927F. Gutierrez.985

As you can see, Bartlett and Crawford are both leading the league at their respective positions, and Iwamura and Upton are settled in well to their relatively new positions, crucial ones on the defensive spectrum, and Navarro has been solid. (It's also worth noticing the number of A's on this list and the superior quality of the Cleveland outfield).

Florida has not improved as dramatically, but at .696 they are now in the middle of the NL pack rather than dead last, as last season; that's still enough to make a big difference. Presumably the absence of Miguel Cabrera, the most visible change in the defense, has helped, plus Josh Willingham hasn't played since April. Even so, none of Florida's starters besides Scott Olsen has actually been particularly effective (the remaining 6 starters have a combined ERA of 5.22 in 210.1 IP, which is why Florida's only 8th in the league in ERA).

2. A little luck helps. The Rays are 2 games ahead of their Pythagorean record, the Marlins 4. I think the Marlins are in general less 'for real,' and that will be reflected as the season rolls on, but neither team is surviving entirely on smoke and mirrors, and both - especially Florida, with Kevin Gregg and Reynel Pinto - have benefitted significantly from excellent bullpen work, always the hallmark of a surprise team. I don't really regard either Gregg or Pinto as an above-average pitcher, though, so that may not last much longer.

3. Crazy hot bats. I don't think even the greatest enthusiasts about Tampa expected Dioner Navarro, a solid but unspectacular young hitter at age 21-22, to rebound from last season's disastrous .227/.286/.356 to .369/.412/.468 this season, but while he is unlikely to keep up that pace, the lesson is never write off hitters under age 25. The other big-time surprise in Tampa is Eric Hinske, a 30-year-old .256 .336 .439 hitter who batted .204 last season, hitting .257/.342/.529; along with B.J. Upton, those two have been Tampa's most effective hitters. In Florida, it's been more the usual suspects (Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Willingham, Mike Jacobs) but Uggla's just been insane (.317/.398/.694 and a pace for 123 RBI) and Willingham was hitting .341/.406/.637 before he got hurt. As a rookie, Uggla fell off from .307/.365/.510 in the first half to .256/.311/.449 in the second; we'll see how he holds up this time, but Florida would still not be near the top of my list of teams to hold on to the NL East crown, and with the Mets' early struggles I've been glad to see them leading the pack rather than Philly or Atlanta.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:02 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 23, 2008
BASEBALL: Stay of Execution

Omar Minaya just held a press conference at Coors Field to give a vote of confidence in WIllie Randolph. You read that right: Minaya held a press conference in mid-game to say he had flown to Colorado to not fire Randolph.

Past history tells us that these kinds of declarations are no barrier to an eventual firing, but I think this gives us a few weeks' reprieve from speculation about an imminent sacking.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2008
BASEBALL: 1-2 and Lights Out

It never ceases to amaze...the Red Sox are firing on all cylinders at this point, from the offense (1st in the AL in scoring, batting, slugging and OBP, with Julio Lugo the only player with at least 10 at bats who is below the league average in OPS), the rotation (I, for one, am very happy to have drafted Dice-K on all three of my Rotisserie teams this year, and the 4.24 ERA for Lester and Buchholz combined beats the heck out of 8.70 for Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy), but the most amazing thing is still the front of the bullpen - here's the career combined numbers for Papelbon and Okajima: 1.79 ERA, 6.10 H/9, 0.73 HR/9, 2.32 BB/9, 9.94 K/9, 300 K compared to 254 baserunners. Wow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:46 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Mets Trivia of the Day

Among players with 1000 or more plate appearances as a Met, only three have a lifetime Mets batting average of .300 or better. Name them.

Answer here.

Bonus: try to guess the all-time batting leader for the Rangers/Senators franchise; they have 8 career .300 hitters as Rangers/Senators.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Willie Randolph Faces The Music

panicbutton.JPGShould the Mets fire Willie Randolph? In general, I'm not a fan of firing the manager in-season. You can usually get a short-term boost from doing so, even if you hire an empty suit (the Mets' hot streak after hiring Bud Harrelson to replace Davey Johnson in 1990 being a good example), but the #1 problem is that it's hard to find a good replacement in mid-season. Little enough would be accomplished in terms of shaking up the clubhouse by promoting Jerry Manuel.

That said, Randolph has endured more than just a slump. Since last May 30, the Mets are 77-79. The offense is 10th in the NL in scoring this season and 13th in slugging; going back to 5/30/07, you can see that the names have changed but the problem remains, with Jose Reyes (.270/.337/.413 in 649 at bats) being the big disappointment and Beltran and Delgado more generally failing to live up to billing, especially this season. The pitching has been hit or miss, with Oliver Perez the most frustrating over that period - I actually don't feel as concerned about the staff right now, although after yesterday we got another reminder of why the best long-term plan with Pelfrey (leave him in the rotation and let him grow up) conflicts with the team's short-term need for a reliable fifth starter. Even in his four really good starts this season, Pelfrey's averaged less than 5 K per 9.

The case against Randolph isn't so much statistical as a broader sense that his low-key personality has contributed to the team's mental errors and general lack of consistent hustle and sense of urgency - not that they always lack those things, but that the day-to-day focus isn't there. I'm almost out of patience with Randolph myself, so I can see where people with less patience are a lot further along.

As for the flap about Randolph's comments on race, for which he has now apologized:

Randolph, the first black major league manager in New York, wondered aloud in the column whether race had anything to do with his being held to a different standard.

"Is it racial?" Randolph asked in the column, written by The Record's Ian O'Connor. "Huh? It smells a little bit."

"I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there," Randolph said in the column. He cited the example of former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards as a coach who was initially successful, but did not last long when the Jets started losing. He also noted the treatment of former New York Knicks coach and GM Isiah Thomas, saying "Isiah didn't do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. ... There's something weird about it."

I missed it when it happened, but I gather on Sunday Joe Morgan made a point of asking why Randolph is on the hot seat and Joe Girardi isn't. As usual, Morgan misses the thunderingly obvious - let's review their 2007 performance:

Girardi - Had not been hired yet.
Randolph - Took a team that was 16 games over .500 at the end of May and led them to arguably the worst September collapse in baseball history.

I don't even know where to begin with the Isiah comparison except to say that if Randolph thinks it's "wierd" that Isiah is unpopular in New York, he clearly does not follow basketball, read the newspapers or watch television; Isiah has been the perfect storm of unpopularity since he was hired, and for a seemingly endless list of very good reasons.

It should be noted that Randolph was a popular choice with the fans and the media when he was hired - he'd been a disciple of Joe Torre, had played and coached for many winning teams, was well-liked when he played for the Mets, and had been regarded as a smart, heads-up player. Does that mean there's no racial element to his unpopularity? We can only speculate. But the point is, there were good reasons why Randolph was initially liked, and good reasons why he is now unpopular. There's no need to look further.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:52 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
May 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day

Who was the last man to get a hit off Satchel Paige?

The answer is in the play-by-play in this boxscore from his last start.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:17 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Piazza Hangs 'Em Up

Mike Piazza, still unsigned, has decided to retire. Piazza could certainly still have been useful, if nothing else as a backup catcher, but obviously preferred not to end his career on that note. He'll remember his years at Shea fondly:

"Within the eight years I spent in New York, I was able to take a different look at the game of baseball," Piazza said. "I wasn't just a young kid that was wet behind the ears anymore - I was learning from other veteran guys like Johnny Franco, who taught me how to deal with the pressures of playing in New York, and Al Leiter, who knew what it took to win a world championship." ...

"Last but certainly not least, I can't say goodbye without thanking the fans," Piazza said. "I can't recall a time in my career where I didn't feel embraced by all of you. Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Miami - whether it was at home or on the road, you were all so supportive over the years.

"But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn't have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful."

I haven't updated the analysis in this post from 2001, but by any measurement Piazza has to be the best hitting catcher in the history of Major League baseball, his only real competition for best hitting catcher ever being Josh Gibson, whose talents are more difficult to measure. It's really a crime that he never won the MVP Award while cranking out all those .320-35-110 seasons as an everyday catcher for winning teams in a couple of pitchers' parks.

One of the all-time greats.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:06 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
May 19, 2008
BASEBALL: Some Guys Have All The Luck

Jon Lester throws a no-hitter. I don't begrudge Lester, who has had an inspiring road back from cancer - this is your basic Hollywood ending to that return - but Red Sox fans have had their share of these; someday, Mets fans will get a turn to enjoy a no-no.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The 2 Train

A 2-game sweep of the Yankees isn't quite the good news for the Mets that a 3-game sweep would be, but I'll take it; it's nice to get a break from playing teams like the Nationals...I don't know if Carlos Delgado has 63 more homers left in him, but if he ends up at 499 for his career, he can blame Bob "The Balking Man" Davidson. But then, I'm still bitter at Davidson from this game.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
May 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Manny Being Manny

In lieu of your regularly scheduled Mets-Yankees matchup - it's somehow emblematic of these two teams' 2008 season that they should be rained out - I give you the very best of Manny Ramirez:

Inspired by this play, on which he managed to give a high five to a fan in the middle of a play (in case you missed that, too). H/T here and here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:04 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Penny For Your Thoughts

This is awesome.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 15, 2008
BASEBALL: Unnecessary Roughness

This is just cruel.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:28 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Using Schoenweis With Care

I obviously spoke too soon about my confidence in the Mets bullpen, given last night's showing by Aaron Heilman, although realistically last night is as much the offense's fault as anyone's. But I did want to follow up on one thought from yesterday, which is Scott Schoenweis' improved performance this season - a 1.50 ERA in 16 appearances and just 1 homer and 13 baserunners allowed in 12 innings.

Granted, Schoenweis has allowed as many unearned as earned runs, and granted he's still a waste of $10 million on a 34-year-old pitcher with a 4.97 lifetime ERA, but ... well, if you look at the breakdowns, you will see that Schoenweis has not at all solved the problem of getting murdered by righthanded hitters - .316/.390/.574 in 2007, .381/.391/.524 in 2008. He's improved instead in two ways. One, he's gone from good but a little wild to utterly devastating against lefties - .204/.308/.247 in 2007, .095/.174/.238 in 2008. .095 is obviously unsustainable, but it's not unrealistic to hope that he can be maybe a little better than he was last season against lefthanded hitters (though his career mark of .226/.301/.296 against lefties is solid, but not great).

But what has made the bigger difference is the mix of hitters he has faced. In 2007, righties faced Schoenweis 157 times to 108 lefties - a 59/41 split. This year, it's been 23 righties and 24 lefties, almost an exact 50/50. If Randolph can keep that ratio, Schoenweis still won't be earning his salary, but he'll at least do no more harm than good.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:02 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Righting The Ship

One guy who is really locked in now is CC Sabathia. Even accounting for the dropoff in scoring across the AL this season, the incumbent Cy Young winner had been the one weak link in Cleveland's stellar pitching thus far, getting pummelled to the tune of a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, but in his last 5, Sabathia has a 1.49 ERA in 36.1 innings, allowing 7.18 H/9, 0.25 HR/9, 1.98 BB/9, and 10.65 K/9.

The big fella is back. Now the Tribe just needs to figure out how to get runs on the board. Unfortunately, Josh Barfield is batting .255/.301/.392 at Buffalo, (nobody on Buffalo is particularly tearing it up) and Andy Marte isn't doing much with his occasional opportunities, so the guys who are most obviously next in line to pick up for people like Asdrubal Cabrera, Casey Blake and even Travis Hafner are not offering a lot of hope. Ben Francisco's been recalled, but it is not as if he was great shakes at Buffalo either (.228/.308/.315).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:51 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 14, 2008
BASEBALL: What Ails The Yankees?

A quick look here at what's wrong with the Yankees, from a Win Shares angle - you'll recall that my EWSL method had the Yanks pegged before the season as having 89 wins worth of talent, which would translate to 101 wins if they got a typical number of Win Shares from players beyond the 23 guys I rated before the season.

So if they keep up their pace through the first 40 games, here's how those 23 guys would finish up, compared to their preseason EWSL:

25Robinson Cano2B023-23
32Alex Rodriguez3B827-19
22Philip Hughes*SP-85-13
32Morgan Ensberg3B011-11
36Jorge PosadaC817-9
23Ian Kennedy+SP-44-8
26Wilson Betemit3B49-5
36Andy PettitteSP813-5
28Shelley Duncan*1B04-4
34Derek JeterSS2024-4
35LaTroy HawkinsRP03-3
37Jason Giambi1B89-1
23Melky Cabrera#OF1617-1
33Jose MolinaC440
22Joba Chamberlain*RP862
32Kyle FarnsworthRP844
39Mike MussinaSP1284
38Mariano RiveraRP16124
34Bobby AbreuOF24204
26Brian BruneyRP826
34Hideki MatsuiDH20137
34Johnny DamonOF24177
28Chien-Ming WangSP241410

As you can see, while guys like Giambi and Mussina have gotten a fair amount of grief, they are not doing too badly given the low expectations EWSL had for them before the season. Giambi's on a pace for 28 homers, 89 walks and 81 RBI, even with his ugly .194 batting average; if he can hit .240, he'll have done basically what's expected of him, while Mussina's actually righted the ship enough to be exceeding his EWSL, much unlike Pettitte. The catastrophic failure of Cano (.183/.237/.303) and injuries to A-Rod and Posada have been the big factors, as well as Ensberg's failure to step up when opportunity knocked and Hughes' and Kennedy's early failures. Jeter's decline, masked by a good batting average, has been a smaller contributor. Note that Win Shares also penalized players who don't perform in the clutch - besides being hurt, A-Rod is batting .130/.259/.174 with runners in scoring position and .111/.273/.111 in the late innings of close games (neither of which has been a particular problem for him in prior years, including .333/.460/.678 with RISP last year).

I should add that the problem doesn't end there - the Yanks have 5 WS so far from the other 10 guys they have used so far (1 each for 6 guys and a -1 for Igawa), which would project to 20 WS, compared to 38.5 for an average team over the past few years. So the cavalry hasn't been riding to the rescue.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:51 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Cleaning House

It can only be good news that the Mets finally dumped Jorge Sosa, choosing instead to keep Joe Smith on the roster when Matt Wise returned from injury even though Smith had options left and Sosa has a guaranteed contract with something like $1 million still owed on it. I wanted Sosa gone by the end of last August; this was long overdue, Sosa having allowed 23 runs in 21.2 innings this season. It was a little sad to see Nelson Figueroa go as well, but Figueroa was clearly a stopgap option, and while his 5.12 ERA was no worse than you would have expected from him, his departure is no loss, and a reminder of what an upgrade it will be if we finally see Pedro back in action in a few weeks. With Schoenweis pitching well, as long as he's limited to LOOGY or mopup duty, I'm actually feeling pretty good about a Wagner-Heilman-Feliciano-Sanchez-Wise-Smith-Schoenweis pen (Sanchez has been very uneven, but he's only been scored on in 3 of his 14 outings, two of which accounted for 7 of the 8 runs and 8 of the 12 hits he has surrendered so far).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:44 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 12, 2008
BASEBALL: "Apologize this retard"

Dan Graziano explains, in an item that needs to be read in its entirety, how his latest run-in with Carlos Delgado's agent, David Sloane, shows that Sloane is...um, not the most professional fellow. H/Tfrom a dumbstruck Cerrone. Damien Heath at MetsGeek had a much more extensive rundown of Sloane's follies back in 2005. A reminder that some agents may be super-PR savvy, but some are just the same crazy people that any practicing lawyer encounters from time to time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:41 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Baby Steps

The Mets had another frustrating weekend, in the sense of a series they could have swept but didn't on the heels of dropping 2 out of 3 against the Dodgers, but the silver lining is that at long last, Beltran and Delgado are hitting. This team can't get far above .500 without those two. In his last 10 games entering today, Delgado was batting .342/.419/.737, while in his last 7, Beltran was batting .348/.407/.565 (this after a three-game span when he didn't hit at all but drew six walks). Add in 1-for-3 for Delgado today and 2-for-5 with a double and a homer for Beltran, plus the recent return of Moises Alou, and you start to have an offense and not just a couple of guys being asked to carry the team.

Honestly, in Delgado's case I'm starting to wonder if this will be his last year; if he ends up not even matching last season, he may find himself unemployable and too proud to battle for a bench job. For now, we'll see how long he stays locked in.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:26 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2008
BASEBALL: Making An Entrance

Yesterday's start by Johan Santana reversed his usual pattern; whereas he has thus far, except for his beating at the hands of the Brewers, basically had stretches of dominance interrupted only by too-frequent home runs, yesterday he was laboring with a lot of men on base but muddled through to allow just a single run and leave with a lead the bullpen then gave away.

Now that we are 7 starts in to the Johan Santana Era, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the first 7 appearances by prior mid-career arrivals to the Mets rotation. I tried to limit this list to guys who were slotted comfortably into the rotation, and left off guys who were not yet established starters (other than Rick Reed), guys who were obvious reclamation projects (Pete Harnisch, Randy Jones, Don Cardwell, Ray Burris), guys who started off in the pen (George Stone posted an 0.60 ERA in 7 relief appearances in 1973 to force his way into the rotation), guys who went down for the year with injuries before making it through 7 starts (Vic Zambrano), guys who came straight from Japan (Masato Yoshii) and guys who started with the team in its expansion years. Here, in ascending order of ERA, you can see the great, the hideous, and everything in between (Seaver is listed here for his 1983 encore). One or two of these guys made a few relief appearances in here, but they all started at least 5 of the 7 games.

Al Leiter3219983-21.3945.13601641
Rick Reed3219973-21.5048353532
Bob Ojeda2819865-11.7042.13621027
Tom Seaver3819832-22.12513122038
Bruce Berenyi2919844-32.7043.14031829
Johan Santana2920083-22.9146.13571247
Pedro Astacio3220025-22.94494471140
Pedro Martinez3320054-13.0650253963
Mickey Lolich3519762-43.14434621139
Frank Viola2919892-43.18514121442
Pat Zachry2519771-33.2638.23642124
Armando Reynoso3119972-03.27443541826
Hideo Nomo2919981-13.5238.12922540
Tom Glavine3720034-23.64424441322
Bret Saberhagen2819922-24.02474131146
Mark Clark2819961-54.3747.15371429
Orlando Hernandez4020062-44.8938.23961230
Kevin Appier3320012-35.0637.14431524
Mike Torrez3619831-35.1629.23111613
Kris Benson2920043-35.49414661324
Oliver Perez2420061-36.3836.24171741
Mike Hampton2720002-46.5238.24123619
Orel Hershiser4019992-46.6235.14102218
Steve Trachsel3020011-57.05375091125

I'm not sure you can generalize much here except to say that 7 games does not a season make - some of these guys stayed with the tone they set early, others saw their seasons turn around dramatically, whether for the better (Hampton, Trachsel) or for the worse (Astacio). Other notes:

*Note that the subsequent performance record of the guys who topped 49 innings is decidedly worse than the rest.

*Berenyi and Astacio were the only ones to get decisions in all 7 appearances.

*Yes, Santana's HR rate is bad. On the whole, Santana's had one of the better starts, but of course Viola was the only guy who arrived with comparable fanfare (Pedro and Saberhagen were surrounded by health questions from Day One).

*You forget quite how utterly dominant Pedro was in those early appearances.

*Remember that the league ERA has gone up a lot over the years; under the circumstances, the Mets were happier with El Duque on his arrival than they were with Lolich.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Beane Does It Again

I don't know whether to believe that the A's are at all for real - I suspect not, at least for 2008 - but given their 19-14 start (and 21-12 Pythagorean record) you have to give Billy Beane credit for yet again reloading the team in a way that keeps it playing competitive baseball.

Offensively, the A's are almost a cliche sabermetric team - they don't hit for much average (8th in the league and only recently up that high), they don't hit for power (12th in HR, 11th in Slugging), they don't run (13th in steals) but 3rd in runs scored almost entirely on the strength of leading the league in walks. Jack Cust's recent power surge has him up to .244/.426/.427 (Avg/OBP/Slg), Jack Hannahan is batting .205/.355/.329, Kurt Suzuki .286/.360/.321, Daric Barton .259/.365/.362, Ryan Sweeney .267/.325/.320, newly-arrived Frank Thomas .270/.400/.378 since his return.

The AL-ERA-leading pitching staff is truly a classic no-names unit (the biggest surprises being totally unheralded Greg Smith and Andrew Brown), but they're second in the league in K, second in fewest HR allowed, and 3d in fewest walks. I have to believe that their success, combined with the injuries riddling the Angels' staff, has put an end to talk of trading Joe Blanton, at least until close to the deadline and probably until after the season.

Hats off to Beane. He'll need more than just pitching and walks to go further with this team, but they are already way ahead of where most of us projected this squad before the season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:10 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 29, 2008
BASEBALL: Cliff Lee Roolz

Rany Jazayerli explains why Lee has gone where Koufax, Gibson, Gooden, Maddux, Pedro, and many others haven't.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:11 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Class of '49

Jon Weisman pays tribute to Vin Scully.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Wright Ending

Good ending to tonight's game - David Wright has definitely entered the stage of his career where you get to extra innings with an o-fer and you figure the other team just can't shut him down that many times. The bullpen was another matter, but all is well that ends well.

Random thought: Is it just me, or does that Pirates catching gear make Ronny Paulino look like an overweight C-3PO?

Darryl Strawberry: studio analyst just seems strange to me.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

I guess I am not the only one to notice that Ben Sheets is a dead ringer for Brett Favre:


At one point during lunch, a fan approached Sheets and said "Hey Brett, how are you enjoying retirement?"

"I'm not Brett," Sheets said, pointing at [Geoff] Jenkins, who was mistaken for Brett Favre early in his career. "He is."

The confused fan walked away as the players laughed.

"I loved it," Jenkins said. "And he was dead-set that it was Sheeter. Now that I'm gone, I guess I'll pass that on to Sheets. I passed the torch."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:08 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Football | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bad Investments

$126 million for a middle reliever.

Zito is a natural lightning rod, but of course it's not his fault that the Giants have no hitting (an anemic 3.26 R/G, second to worst in the NL) and a crummy defense (.673 defensive efficiency rating is the lowest in the NL and ahead of only the Rangers across MLB). In fact, Zito may end up needing to be traded to stop trying to carry the team.

That said, his core problem seems to be a loss of velocity, and that's not just psychological. Check out the analysis by veteran pitching guru Paul Nyman at The Hardball Times, introduced somewhat verbosely here, with the second installment here.

UPDATE: By the way, one reason Zito may be getting the blame is how well the Giants' other top pitchers are doing. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the surprising Jonathan Sanchez, between them, are 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA, striking out 10.1 batters/9 and allowing 0.6 HR/9; they've been wild (4.8 BB/9, mainly Cain's doing), but effective. If you look at DER, Lincecum (.630) and Zito (.667) are getting the short end of the stick, with the others above .700. But Zito has historically relied on a combination of good DERs and decent K rates to keep the hits down, and he's lost both.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:41 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: "85% of the World's Working. The Other 15% Come Out Here"

25 years ago today: the legendary Lee Elia press conference. Bad language warning, of course:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:36 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 28, 2008
BASEBALL: Up There Hacking

One of the interesting revelations about watching Johan Santana this season has been watching him hit. Pitchers, even ones who can swing the bat, usually have swings that are not that pretty to watch - they try to meet the ball, or take a butcher-boy approach to whacking it into the ground - but Santana's swing is relatively compact but with a sharp uppercut, a Mo Vaughn/David Oritz kind of swing, not at all what you expect from a pitcher who spent his whole career in the AL and isn't built like a burly first baseman.

And Santana's had decent results - he's batting .231/.286/.462 with 3 doubles in 13 at bats entering tonight's action, .250/.283/.386 in 46 career plate appearances, for a career OPS+ of 75, almost the level of a weak-hitting everyday catcher or shortstop.

The other reason this surprised me is that lefthanded power pitchers, in particular, have a fairly grisly track record at the plate. Some examples - bear in mind that you really need to work hard to get an OPS+ below zero; with 100 being the league average hitter, an OPS+ in the 20s is plenty bad (although by 2007, with pitchers falling further and further behind the average hitter, the NL OPS+ for pitchers was -3; in 1956 the Major League average for pitchers was 23) - I'm aware that not all these guys are known as power pitchers, but all of them were when they entered the league:

Barry Zito-
Al Leiter-
Sandy Koufax-
Bob Veale-
Randy Johnson-
David Wells-
Jerry Koosman-
Danny Jackson-
Lefty Gomez-
Al Downing-
Vida Blue-
Mickey Lolich-
Sam McDowell-
Mark Langston-
Lefty Grove6.148.209.207
John Matlack6.129.230.136
Johnny Vander Meer6.152.200.180
Dave McNally14.133.196.201
Rube Marquard17.179.207.202
Carl Hubbell18.191.212.227
Steve Avery18.174.194.252
Billy Pierce19.184.232.203
Rube Waddell25.161.197.219
Ed Morris26.161.193.208

I included Waddell and Morris since they hale from an era when pitchers were expected to contribute more with the bat; Morris' presence shows that you can find this trend all the way back to the very first lefthanded pitcher to have a significant successful career (although his 1880s contemporaries Matt Kilroy and Toad Ramsey were much better hitters, with OPS+ of 72 and 42, respectively).

It's not all lefthanded power pitchers, of course; there's Babe Ruth, and there's also the following list of guys who ranged from dangerous hitters to fairly average hitting pitchers (Sabathia, like Santana, has limited hitting experience, just 39 plate appearances):

CC Sabathia90.297.316.405
Tommy Byrne77.238.286.378
Dontrelle Willis68.234.280.359
Warren Spahn43.194.234.287
Hal Newhouser36.201.267.234
Steve Carlton33.201.223.259
Hippo Vaughn33.173.232.223
Fernando Valenzuela30.200.205.262
Whitey Ford28.173.256.200
Sid Fernandez21.182.206.223

(I remember Sid being a better hitter than that but he batted .080 after turning 30).

Even recognizing that this is more an anecdotal than a systematic study, I don't have a good single explanation here. Clearly some of these guys were not great athletes, but Koufax, for example, was an excellent basketball player; some of these guys are latter-day AL pitchers, but the pattern precedes them back to the early days and has continued in the NL. I suppose the ability to throw hard as a lefthander probably means most of these guys got identified as pitchers earlier in their baseball-playing youth than your typical stud athlete who plays a lot of SS and CF before settling into a single position; that seems to me the most likely reason.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:16 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
April 27, 2008
BASEBALL: Davey Looks Back

The Daily News talks to Davey Johnson. On Dwight Gooden:

DN: You managed one of the greatest young talents the game has ever seen in Dwight Gooden, who went 24-4 as a 20-year-old. How do you feel when you think about his career, and his life after baseball?

DJ: Unbelievably sad. The biggest shock in my life in baseball was in the spring of 1987, when he came into my office and said, "Skip, I've got a problem. I've got to go to drug rehab." I said, "You've got to be kidding me." Doc was like a son to me. He was the first one to the ballpark every day. He was always happy. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing.

The thing with Dwight is that he meant no harm, but he couldn't say no - to his guys from his hometown. He didn't want to feel bigger or better than anybody else.

DN: He was a good pitcher after that 1985 season, but never the same pitcher.

DJ: Never the same. I blame it on the drugs, and I also blame it on the delivery change they had him make. I don't even know where the orders came from, but they didn't come from me or Mel Stottlemyre. They wanted him to shorten his delivery, lower that big high leg kick and not turn as much. Sure, he could be run on, but they could run on (Greg) Maddux, too; did they change his delivery? To this day I regret even going along with it.

Um, yeah. That doesn't sound like a great idea. Of course, today you would not ask a 20-year-old pitcher to throw 276 innings, either.

DN: If you were starting a team and could choose from all the players you managed or played with/against, who would be your No. 1 pick?

DJ: Henry Aaron. I loved Barry Larkin and Cal (Ripken), but Henry, he could do anything he wanted to do. He was just so powerful. Even at the end of his career, he could do things with such ease. I asked him once, "What do you look for when you go to home plate?" He said, "The breaking ball." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I know they can't throw the fastball by me."

One time late in his career we went into San Francisco. Henry was 40-something years old. Normally he would take off a day game after a night game. This time the Giants' pitcher, (John) Count Montefusco, said in the paper, "Why am I pitching against the lowly Braves? I want to pitch against a good team." Henry read it. He went to (manager Eddie) Mathews and said, "I'm playing." Now Montefusco had a nasty slider. Just wicked. Ralph Garr got on, Mike Lum got on. Henry got up and Montesfusco threw a slider, down and away, his best pitch, And Henry went boom, and hit it out of the ballpark. He got back to the dugout and said, "Maybe that'll teach this kid a little humility."

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 24, 2008
BASEBALL: I Just Can't Resist Noting It

The Tigers are presently scoring 19 runs per game with Curtis Granderson in the lineup.

With 78 runs in their last 10 games, I think you can say Detroit's offense, at least, is back.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:31 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 23, 2008
BASEBALL: Card In The Hole

The Reds have hired as their general manager Walt Jocketty, the greatly successful former Cardinals GM. We'll see if Jocketty can recapture his winning formula from St. Louis, which focused on concentrating scarce resources on star-quality prospects and surrounding them largely with reclamation-project veterans (in a sense, not so different from how the Reds were run the past decade, but better), and trading actively while eschewing big free agent signings.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:34 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Grandly Unsuccessful

With Jorge Sosa giving up a grand slam to Ronny Cedeno (career SLG: .351) and running his ERA to 7.24, it is real tempting to run this picture again. In 13.2 IP this season, Sosa's allowed 16 hits, 7 walks and 4 homers.

But at least we have those fond memories of his great stretch run last season...

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Soft Up The Middle

I have been thinking of Bill James' study (in this year's Goldmine book) confirming the conventional wisdom that good teams tend to be strong up the middle in the context of the Tigers' early struggles. Edgar Renteria seems to be doing OK, but look elsewhere: at catcher, Pudge Rodriguez is batting .271/.316/.414, and only in the last day or two got his OBP out of the .280s. At second, Placido Polanco - the anchor of the Detroit infield defense - has been injured, and when healthy he hit just .148/.292/.167. In center, star CF and key offensive and defensive contributor Curtis Granderson has been hurt and hasn't played yet.

That's not the whole explanation, of course; DH Gary Sheffield is hitting .192/.364/.308, left fielders Jacque Jones and Marcus Thames are hitting .178/.224/.178 and .172/.250/.276, respectively, and starters Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Kenny Rogers have combined to walk 5.77 men per 9 innings while striking out just 4.05. But the weakness up the middle is a key element.

Of course, Sheffield probably isn't totally done, Thames will hit again, and eventually Polanco and Granderson should be healthy. I still expect them to score buckets of runs. I'd be more concerned about the starters.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:17 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2008
BASEBALL: Moving On Without Them

This should be the last post from my preseason Established Win Shares (EWSL) division previews, and it's one I have been meaning to do in past years: a look at the amount of roster turnover. Each year, I identify 23 players who are projected to play roles for their team - 13 non-pitchers and 10 pitchers. That's not the whole Opening Day roster, but it pretty closely corresponds to the number of people who have something like a steady major league job, given the insecurity of life as a 12th pitcher or last man on the bench.

So, comparing the 2008 23-man rosters to the 2007 ones, how much turnover was there? 173 players were listed last season but not this year, an average of almost six per team. In percentage terms, 173 out of 690 - that's a 25% attrition rate in a single year even for guys who had made it all the way up the professional pyramid and shimmied up the greasy pole at the top to have one of those scarce jobs playing major league baseball. I'm not making any excuses for anyone when I say that you should remember figures like that the next time you read about ballplayers taking steroids, lying about their ages, corking their bats, scuffing the baseball, concealing injuries, or whatever other edge they think they need to get a big league job and contract and cling to it.

Not all these guys dropped out of the big leagues - some just slid from 10th pitcher to 11th, some are on the DL but could well be major contributors again by midseason, some are youngsters who got sent back for a little more minor league seasoning, some were guys I was just mistaken in thinking last year they'd have jobs. Some, in fact, are already back in a regular job a month later. The under-30 crowd in particular is dominated by injured pitchers. That said, the bulk of this list is guys who fell victim to the dog-eat-dog competition for scarce Major League jobs, most of whom will not return to that perch, and others of whom face an uphill battle in reclaiming those jobs from eager youngsters. In the main, they are a reminder that many more Major League careers end with a whimper than a bang.

The average age of the dropouts? 31.8. Average Win Shares earned show a pattern: 5.8 in 2005, 5.4 in 2006, 2.5 in 2007, with an age-adjusted EWSL of 3.4.

Here's the full list by age (sorted among age groups by declining EWSL) - each and every name on this list is a story of a guy who, at a minimum, started 2008 with less hope and optimism about his future than he did a year earlier:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:07 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Not So Frank

The Blue Jays have unceremoniously cut Frank Thomas, and in the process insult our intelligence:

Thomas was hitless in his past 13 at-bats and had gone 4-for-35 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. Known as a slow starter, he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto this season.

Last season, Thomas batted .277, leading the team with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs.

"I don't know that we have the luxury of waiting two to three months for somebody to kick in because we can't let this league or this division get away from us," Ricciardi said.

Thomas' deal included a $10-million option for 2009 that would have kicked in automatically if he made 376 plate appearances this season. On Saturday, Thomas said the Blue Jays had benched him to prevent him from reaching that mark.

"It's pretty obvious," Thomas said. "Sixty at bats isn't enough to make that decision. I'm angry, I know I can help this team. My career isn't going to end like this."

Thomas did not shake hands with his teammates following Toronto's 3-2 victory over Detroit Saturday and left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

Ricciardi said Thomas was more calm when they met Sunday, adding that the contract was not part of their discussion.

"That never came up," Ricciardi said. "I told Frank our decision is based on performance and his decision is based on not being able to be in the lineup."

There are many things that could be said for this decision - that John Gibbons needed to assert his authority over the team in the face of Thomas' griping about playing time, that the Jays aren't going to win anything this year and need to build for the future, that the move cuts expenses for the future...but two things that can't be said are that this is strictly about 2008 performance and that it's not at all about money.

The latter is obvious; as to the former, the main point here is to create playing time for Shannon Stewart in left field, thus forcing Matt Stairs into the DH role (note that Stairs is 40 and Stewart 34; this will make much more rebuilding sense once that PT goes to Adam Lind). And Stewart is batting .235/.341/.294, not much better than Thomas' .167/.306/.333.

In fact, the Big Hurt, even having a bad year through the 19th of April, still has 3 homers and 11 walks in 16 games/60 at bats. A 4-for-35 slump is way too early to give up on a guy who batted .277/.377/.480 and drove in 95 runs last season. In 2006, Thomas was batting .178/.300/.373 on May 20, and hit .302/.408/.603 the rest of the way.

Given that Thomas can't really play 1B, the market for his services is pretty narrow, but I'd be surprised if someone doesn't snap him up (Seattle, maybe? Minnesota? Baltimore? Tampa, if Jonny Gomes can go back to the outfield?).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
April 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Magic Number

Gotta find a place in the sidebar for this:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:45 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 17, 2008
BASEBALL: Aging Before Our Eyes

Turns out Miguel Tejada has been lying about his age, and just turned 34, not 32. Oddly, unlike some players whose ages are adjusted, the arc of Tejada's career makes a lot more sense if he was still 32, since this means he basically had his best season at 30 and his best batting average at 32. Anyway, adjust your long-term expectations downward.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:41 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: One To Watch

Looking for a player who may be inching towards a big leap forward? It remains very early, but one guy to watch may be Wandy Rodriguez with the Astros. The 29-year-old Rodriguez is an unlikely prospect to become a really outstanding pitcher; he's not young and his first two years in the league he was horrible. But he did significantly improve his K/BB numbers last season, from 6.50 K/9 and 4.18 BB/9 in 2006 (also 1.13 HR) to 7.78 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9 (also 1.08 HR) in 2007. In three starts this season, Rodriguez has dialed it up a notch further, to 8.84 K/9, 0.93 BB/9, but 1.40 HR/9. The walk numbers are unsustainable, but if Rodriguez can make another stride forward in the K/BB department while keeping the homers from running away from him, he could be a legitimately solid #3 starter (not that the Astros have a #2). (One caution - Rodriguez pitched well in the first half last season, too - there may be durability issues as well.)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:16 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: August Personages

A good baseball column at Slate (no, really!): why so many U.S.-born major leaguers are born in August and so few in July.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:44 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
April 16, 2008
BASEBALL: The Biggest Loser

On Sunday, Tom Glavine passed a milestone I was watching for a year ago, becoming just the second pitcher to lose 200 games among pitchers who broke in after 1973, the first being his longtime teammate Greg Maddux, who is one win away from 350. Barring a Roger Clemens return to rack up 16 more losses, the only active pitcher approaching 200 is Jamie Moyer, who needs 22 more - a feat he can accomplish if he stays in the rotation through the end of 2009 (as he's 45 now and straining to crack 80 on the radar gun, that may be a stretch). After that is Steve Trachsel, who's 37 and needs 44 more losses; about the only other active pitcher who is anywhere in the neihborhood is Livan Hernandez, whose age is indeterminate but who needs 72 more losses, about 6 years' work for him.

The 200-game loser is likely to remain rarer than the 300-game winner - as with Maddux, Glavine, Clemens and possibly Randy Johnson, the path to 300 wins will mainly be trod in the future by guys who win more than 60% of their decisions, given how hard it is to get that many decisions these days.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:03 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Mets Open Thread

I don't have that much to add to last night's couldn't-be-any-better victory except to say that, as good as it was to have Duaner Sanchez back, there just isn't anything more encouraging for the organization right now than having Mike Pelfrey throw 7 shutout innings.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 15, 2008
BASEBALL: Still on the Shelf

There are three bad things that can happen in April, in order of importance:

1. Injuries.
2. Having somebody else start walking off with the division.
3. Getting buried early in the standings.

And #3 has to be really serious (i.e., what is happening in Detroit, the only team in baseball that's more than 4 games out of first place) before it's worth panicking. I'm not happy with the Mets' performance and W-L record thus far, but they are only 1.5 games back, percentage points behind the Phillies and a half game ahead of Atlanta, so no need to flip out yet. The worst that can be said is they are squandering opportunities.

But the injuries to Pedro and El Duque are problematic, and it now looks like Pedro's down for a while:

General manager Omar Minaya told the New York Post for Tuesday's editions that the team doesn't expect the injured Martinez to return to the mound for the Mets until the middle of May or possibly June.

"We're definitely going to be more conservative with him," Minaya told the Post. "With hamstrings, you just never know. We've got to be careful."

Martinez suffered a left hamstring strain in his first start of the season. It was diagnosed as a mild hamstring strain and at the time, he was expected to miss four to six weeks.

Minaya told the Post that the Mets' doctors have ruled out Martinez's return before the six-week mark of his recovery.

Granted, assuming Pedro comes back recovered, there's no reason the hamstring injury needs to be chronic, and his arm may be fresher in September/October for cutting him some slack now. But a long stretch with only three reliable starters plus reliance on Pelfrey and Nelson Figueroa is a good way to keep squandering.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:29 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 11, 2008
BASEBALL: Giants Among...Well, Bigger Men

The Onion nails it. Man, it's gonna be a long year in San Fran.

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April 10, 2008
BASEBALL: Figgins On Fire

Entering tonight's action, Chone Figgins is batting .381 since last May 31. In fact, Figgins batted .405 over an 83-game stretch of last season after hitting .133 through May 28.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:36 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Flesh For Fantasy (Baseball)

Is it just me, or does CBS Sportsline fantasy baseball analyst Amber Wilson look disturbingly like a CGI creation?


(See here and here for video). It may just be the film they use for web video; I've only caught her roundups a few times (my Roto league uses CBS Sportsline), but I don't recall her seeming quite so ... animated last season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Baseball Link Roundup

*Aaron Gleeeman interviews Rob Neyer:

Maybe I'm more sympathetic toward storytellers because I'm a lousy storyteller. Analysts, though? I believe they should be held to the highest of standards, because we don't ask them to entertain us; first we ask them to be right.

Neyer also addresses why blogging is more work than writing columns.

*Rays Index wants to know if the Rays can get compensation from the Twins if Matt Garza was already hurt. This is why, in general, you don't trade great young OF prospects for great young pitching prospects.

*Mike Carminati answers the burning question for Tigers fans: how many teams have made the postseason after starting the season 0-7? (Hint: less than one. But go check out the chart of the teams that recovered the best).

*The Indians lock up Fausto Carmona. As a team, you'd rather see Carmona do it again before you ink him to a big deal, but of course the player's leverage and asking price goes way up at that point. Which is why we seem to be seeing more of these kinds of deals after a guy has his first good year; once a player gets established, he's more apt to wait it out and try his hand at the open market.

*I haven't had time to watch the whole thing myself, but here's the 60 Minutes segment on Bill James.

*I didn't get to this story at the time, but I still think Zimmer was right and Girardi was wrong. You don't play games halfway.

*Obviously this Art Garfamudis character at ESPN (see here and here) is some sort of joke/hoax/parody, but I still don't exactly see the point.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:57 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 9, 2008
BASEBALL: Predictably...

...Cliff Floyd and Rich Harden are hurt (you didn't see that coming, did you?); Floyd is headed for surgery and the leaky boat of the Rays has sprung another leak. Actually, this may be the excuse they need to get Evan Longoria back up to get a power bat in the lineup, with Eric Hinske currently taking Floyd's playing time.

One guy who could benefit from the chaos in Tampa is Shawn Riggans, who has been stepping in for Dioner Navarro at catcher; I mentioned in the AL East preview that the Rays didn't have a Plan B if Navarro again fails to hit, but the 27-year-old Riggans is a career .292/.351/.454 hitter in the minors, much of that at AA and AAA, and while he's not a well-regarded defensive catcher, a strong showing while Navarro is sidelined could persuade Tampa to give Riggans a larger share of the catching duties going forward.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:43 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Another Pitching Prospect Returns to Square One

Andy Sisco has Tommy John surgery.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:39 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Welcome To Florida, Kid

Andrew Miller's first two starts:

HR/9: 1.17
BB/9: 3.52
K/9: 10.57
ERA: 12.91

Why? With a DER of 0.444, the Marlins defense is turning less than half of balls in play against Miller into outs. Granted, THT's numbers say that 25% of those are line drives, which will usually mostly be hits, so Miller's not entirely innocent here. But while some of that is just unusually bad luck in a small sample size (7.2 IP), I suspect he will not enjoy pitching before the Marlins' defense, which is already second only to the Giants for the worst in the majors thus far.

I expect Miller to be a good pitcher in time; he has the tools, once he masters his control. But he'll need a better defense behind him before you see that reflected in his results.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Final EWSL Predictions

Now, lest I be accused of predicting the major leagues to finish above .500, I noticed that if you add up the W-L records in my preseason EWSL reports add up to have all of MLB over .500. The reason for that, of course, is as follows:

1. EWSL - by rating only 23 players per team, whereas the average team uses something like 35-40 players in a season - tends to underreport the total number of team wins.

2. To fix this in converting team EWSL to a W-L record this season I applied an average adjustment of plus 12.853 wins per team. That's the average number of wins you get from 1/3 of the average number of Win Shares per team earned in 2005-07 from players I didn't rate in a team's preseason 23-man EWSL roster.

That's a reasonable enough fudge factor, and I was doing one division at a time; but now that I have all 30 teams done, I need to rebalance the numbers to get them all out at .500. Also, I made two adjustments for roster changes between the writing of the previews and the start of the season: I replaced Kelvim Escobar, who is out for the season, with Dustin Moseley, thus dropping the Angels team EWSL from 250.31 to 247.08, and I replaced Reed Johnson (who got rated on both the Blue Jays and the Cubs) on Toronto's roster with John McDonald, dropping the Jays from 209.93 to 207.68. I stayed away from less drastic tinkering, but of course you can expect a downgrade on Detroit's full-season outlook, for example, from being without Curtis Granderson for the early part of the year (not that I'd blame his absence for everything that's gone wrong so far for the Tigers).

With those two adjustments made, we get a major league total of 6193.10 EWSL, which is enough for 68.81 wins per major league team. Now, there are two ways I could get that up to 81 wins per team - proportionally, as I did in 2005 and 2006, or by sticking with the straight addition per team approach. I'm using the latter because (1) historically, I have not observed any notable positive relationship between a team's preseason EWSL and how many WS it generates from players outside the 23-man roster and (2) adjusting proportionally gets us into some question-begging issues about the unbalanced schedule...I just don't want to get into that. So I'm now using a standard adjustment of plus 12.188 wins per team. Of course, for all that math it's an adjustment of less than half a win per team, so the end results here should not be all that dramatic.

Without further ado, here are the final standings according to EWSL:


NL Wild Card: Phillies.

Red Sox887413
Blue Jays818120
White Sox818120

AL Wild Card: Indians.

A few final notes, bearing in mind that in the division previews I already went through where I subjectively expect particular teams to depart from their EWSL baseline expectations. As noted in the divisional previews, EWSL is furthest out on a limb, compared to the general consensus among preseason analysts, in being pessimistic about the Red Sox, Cubs and Rays - the Cubs mainly because of their age, the Rays mainly because of their reliance on unproven youngsters, the Sox because of a mix of the two. The disadvantage of a system like EWSL that is not at all individualized is that it can't target the particular players who are likely to do a lot more than their prior major league accomplishments, as more refined systems like Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system can. But prediction isn't an exact science anyway; in looking over where things stand entering a season, there's something to be said for considering the discipline of a remorselessly depersonalized system such as this one, which cautions that unproven youngsters should be valued as such until they show us otherwise, and that age cuts down everyone sooner or later. The early injury to Matt Garza is perhaps one indicator of the wisdom of this approach. That said, as an empirical-testing matter, I'll be interested to see whether EWSL turns out to be a better guide as a whole to the direction of those three teams.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The One To Have When You Are Having More Than One

Braves prospect Jordan Shafer suspended for 50 games for using HGH.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Men, Don't Try This At Home

Meant to link to this a while back, words of, er... wisdom?... from Dusty Baker:

Asked about being back in baseball after a year off, Dusty said, "I enjoyed spending time with my son, my wife, my daughter and my dog. My dog is 11-years-old and I miss my dog. That's the best woman in my life." Baker's 9-year-old son heard that comment and quickly said, "I'm going to call mom and tell her."

"I love my mom, my sisters, my daughters, everybody, and it's no slight on anybody, but my dog (Bailey, a German short-haired pointer) - well, my wife knows how I feel about my dog. My wife ain't never run and got no pheasant for me. Best hunting dog I ever had and don't they always talk about man and his dog? Ain't no slight on any women in my wife.

H/T Pinto. Sounds like Dusty's son is learning better these days how and when to get out of the way.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:13 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 8, 2008
BASEBALL: Like Old Times


It's just so wonderful to see Scott Schoenweis and Jorge Sosa again.

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April 7, 2008
BASEBALL: The King And His Castle

Felix Hernandez has great stuff and potential, and at 22 it's too early to conclude that he won't be a great pitcher someday, or even someday soon.

But it's probably past time to recognize that King Felix's success so far, such as it has been, owes a lot to SafeCo Field. Check out his career splits:


The HR numbers are the least surprising - SafeCo is obviously death to fly balls - but also a reminder that for all Hernandez' vaunted ground ball tendencies, his ability to avoid the Big Fly is largely a creature of his home park. But the K rate is the most worrisome, since his high strikeout rate is generally the most positive indicator for his future.

That said, the road numbers still are not bad for such a young pitcher. But he has a ways still to go.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:47 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 6, 2008
BASEBALL: Frank Sullivan Today

Sullivan, who I wrote about in one of my first columns back in 2000, was recently inducted in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, having worked in golf since his retirement from baseball. H/T ProJo.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:47 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Split Stardom, Part 2

The next pitcher whose best year was split over two seasons is James Rodney Richard. For those of you who are too young to remember, J.R. Richard was basically Randy Johnson 1.0. Richard was righthanded, black (in the 70s, black pitchers were still something of a novelty*), and an easygoing if introverted personality, but otherwise, he was Johnson to a T - a tall (6'8"), fireballing, fastball/slider pitcher who improved in a series of sudden leaps forward - each man was a too-wild-to-use project through age 25, and then a workhorse K king who was held back from real dominance by his wildness through age 28:

Pitcher Age 26-28WLIPERAH/9HR/9BB/9K/9ERA+
J.R. Richard5638833.12.946.750.484.287.89114
Randy Johnson3935631.13.796.830.775.939.45106

Richard pitched in a more pitcher-friendly situation (the Astrodome vs the Kingdome in a DH league) on better teams, while Johnson pitched in a higher-strikeout era when workloads were lower...when you adjust for all that, they were nearly the same pitcher, and Richard if anything was better, winning 20, 18 and 18 games.

At 29, each pitcher started to bust out - Richard improved his K/BB from 303/141 to 313/98 and cut his ERA to 2.71, Johnson from 241/144 to 308/99 and went 19-8. For Johnson, it was off to the races after that - from age 29 on, he has won nearly 70% of his decisions, going 235-102 with a 3.03 ERA (ERA+ of 151), nearly 3800 strikeouts on the way to Cooperstown. He's still a power pitcher at age 44.

Richard's performance in the first half of 1980 - 9-3, a 1.51 ERA througfh June 17 - suggested a similarly dizzy upward trajectory, before he started complaining of a variety of symptoms (dizziness, arm and back stiffness), was ineffective and left early in his last three starts in late June and early July, and eventually had a stroke on July 30 that nearly killed him and effectively ended his baseball career, though he did try to come back the following spring and eventually pitched again briefly in the minors in 1982.

Astros Daily has a much more comprehensive writeup on J.R. Richard's career and sad story, which at one point in the 90s left him living under a bridge before money was raised to get him back on his feet, including his minor league stats, his 48-0 record as a high school pitcher, the details of his stroke and even an interview. But for my purposes, I'm more interested in the fact that while Richard was denied even the ability to finish that one crowning season, he did have a calendar year that showed his true dominance. From June 25, 1979 through June 24, 1980, only five major league pitchers who threw 200 or more innings had an ERA below 3.00 - it was one of those periods in the 70s and 80s when the hitters had control for a while - and only one was below 2.88: J.R. Richard at 1.90. He was 21-10, with 301 Ks and a preposterous 6 homers allowed in 275.1 IP. He allowed just 5.59 H/9 IP, which over a regular season would be one of the lowest figures ever compiled. He was completely the dominant pitcher in baseball, and the Astros, had they had his services when they lost an LCS that concluded with 4 straight extra inning games in a best-of-5 series, might well have been World Champions in 1980. Richard was 36 when the Astros won the division in 1986; he might have pitched into his 40s, might have been one of the all-time greats.

*In fact, even to this day, only 2 black pitchers, Fergie Jenkins and Bob Gibson, have won 250 games.

Speaking of what might have been, Sutton's 1976 also led me to Mark Fidrych, not for split seasons (unless you like this) but just to marvel at his workload, as a 21-year-old on a going-nowhere team. In his first 22 major league starts, Ralph Houk had The Bird - hardly a hulking figure at just 175 pounds over his 6'3" height - throw 19 complete games and 198 innings, an average of 9 innings a start, going extra innings five times, four of them extending to 11 full innings, and one of those into the twelfth. From May 31 to July 16, Fidrych threw 94.1 innings in 10 starts - no, that's not a typo, he averaged almost 9 1/2 innings a start. On the season, Fidrych completed 24 of his 29 starts and averaged 8.6 innings a start, a staggeringly high figure even for the mid-70s and inexplicable for a prized young arm on a 74-win team. No wonder he blew his arm out the next year. While it's debatable how long a career Fidrych would have had - he only struck out 3.5 men per 9 innings as a rookie - he was young enough that he might have been able to get those numbers up (he reached 5.8 K/9 over a 6-start stretch the next season before the wheels came off), and his great control and sinking fastball made him otherwise brutally tough to beat, averaging 1.9 walks and 0.42 HR/9 that rookie year, when he finished second in the Cy Young balloting and 11th in the MVP. Like Richard, Fidrych could have been of great use to his franchise much further down the road, had Houk not wasted his arm in a losing season - he was 23 when the Tigers became a contender in 1978, 29 when they won the Series in 1984, 32 when they won the division in 1987, in his mid-30s when the Tigers' monster offenses were dying for pitching help in the early 90s.

Finally, for split-season fun: the 365-day period in which Nolan Ryan struck out 407 batters.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:45 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 4, 2008
BASEBALL: Split Stardom, Part 1

I was looking at this fascinating Hardball Times article on pitching splits (as well as a few batting splits, like the Royals batting .332 in July 1980, thanks mainly to George Brett, Willie Wilson and Hal McRae), and the one that caught my eye was the 1976 Dodgers posting a 1.98 team ERA after August 1 - though amazingly, even with three rotation starters throwing in the ones, only one pitcher on the team was more than one game over .500 in that stretch.

Which got me looking at Don Sutton's incredible stretch run that year (12-2 with a 1.49 ERA after the All-Star Break)...the funny thing is, Sutton looks like the most consistent and unspectacular of pitchers in that era - 21-10, 3.06 ERA in 1976, 14-8, 3.18 ERA in 1977, in an era when an ERA in the threes in Dodger Stadium was nothing all that special. Yet, when you look at the 365-day period from roughly the 1976-1977 All-Star Breaks (7/13/76-7/12/77), Sutton was basically the game's dominant pitcher, posting a Major League-best 1.97 ERA and a gaudy 22-5 record that tied for the most wins and gave him easily the best winning percentage in the game. Granted, Sutton was partly lucky in his defensive support (0.73 HR, 2.67 BB and 5.40 K/9 are not such tremendous numbers - but he allowed just 194 hits in 270 innings). Yet, think of how differently perma-Don would be remembered today, even with the same career stats, if he had had a single season in his career of 22-5 with a 1.97 ERA.

Sutton's not the only one; a guy who is in many ways a similar though lesser pitcher to Sutton is Jack Morris. Morris was a 2-time 20-game winner, but he never finished higher than third in the Cy Young voting, never had an ERA below 3.00, never had that signature dominant season. But as was well known when he was pitching, Morris would get locked into hot streaks where he would win all his starts for a month with an ERA in the ones or zeros.

It turns out, though, that Morris' greatest year-long stretches crossed over seasons in a way that might have made people think about him very differently. From June 1, 1983 to May 31, 1984, Morris was 27-9 with a 2.36 ERA (best in the AL and second in baseball only to 1983 NL Cy Young Award winner John Denny); in addition to the 27 wins, Morris threw 24 complete games and struck out 248 batters (second only to Steve Carlton) in 317 innings. Like Sutton, his success in this stretch was partly defensive luck and good run support, and maybe that's a lesson in why the great seasons tend to be by pitchers less dependent on help - 0.68 HR, 2.50 BB, 7.04 K but 235 hits in 317 innings. Then in 1986-87, Morris did it again: from July 5, 1986 through July 4, 1987, he went 26-5 with a 2.98 ERA, albeit while allowing 37 homers in 275 innings.

Would these records have been possible in individual seasons? In Morris' case it's probably true that slicing through the middle of a season may slightly inflate his numbers; workloads and fatigue even out over a season, so this may cut in a way that increases the number of starts caught. But partly it is just luck. I've argued against Morris as a Hall of Famer, though he would not be a terrible one, but I think it safe to say that even with the same career stats, if he had posted seasons of 27-9, 2.36 and 26-5, 2.98 - basically, Lefty Gomez' two best seasons - he would be in the Hall now.

UPDATE: BTW, check out the White Sox starters in that 1983-84 breakdown: Richard Dotson 24-4, 2.69, LaMarr Hoyt 24-9, 3.44. Also, I looked back before at the 2002-03 golden age of Oakland's Hudson/Zito/Mulder Big Three.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:03 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 4/4/08

*This analysis of major league managers' tendencies illustrated as cartoon faces is...well, you have to click on the graphic to get the full effect. It's bizarre. H/T Rays Index.

*Today is the 97th anniversary of the introduction of baseball's MVP Award by automaker Hugh Chalmers. The first-ever MVPs? In the AL, 24-year-old Ty Cobb for his first and best .400 season, batting .420/.467/.621 with 47 doubles, 24 triples and 83 steals, scoring 147 runs and driving in 127. In the NL, 28-year-old veteran Cubs rightfielder Frank "Wildfire" Schulte, narrowly over Christy Mathewson, for batting .300/.384/.534 with 21 triples and 21 homers (only the third 20-HR season ever if you exclude the fluky 1884 Cubs), 105 Runs, and 107 RBI.

*Our old friend Dr. Manhattan is back blogging! While I was tied up doing my baseball previews, he had a fine column taking John McCain to task for his knee-jerk ignorance on the connection between vaccines and autism. As a general rule, the more science is involved in an issue, the worse McCain is. He seems sometimes to have a superstitious faith in junk science.

*Former equipment manager Yosh Kawano is leaving the Cubs clubhouse after 65 years. That's a very long time to work for one baseball team and not get a World Series ring. I think Kawano's name is familiar to me from one of Joe Garagiola's books...as in, he was there when Garagiola played for the Cubs.

*Via Pinto, Travis Nelson at Boy of Summer has a lengthy attack on Melky Cabrera. I'm more optimistic about Cabrera's potential for across-the-board growth as a hitter, but I'd generally agree that his prospects are much dimmer if you don't regard him as a competent defensive center fielder.

*There's no such thing as an innocent non-Muslim? This may go a ways to explaining what this means. I can't buy into Hawkins' notion, which has been pushed for some time by my RedState colleague Paul Cella, that the U.S. should bar immigration by Muslims, but when you consider Hawkins' logic, I have to admit that that's more an emotional reaction than a reasoned position on my part.

*While I don't agree with all the analysis, David Frum and Bill Kristol have some useful points about the perlious passivity of the Bush Administration in responding to criticism, most particularly the conviction that there's no point in fighting over the past. The Administration's enemies have nourished a number of myths about the past 7 years that have proven terribly corrosive of its credibility, goodwill and, ultimately, ability to get anything done. (On a related note, consider how little press went to the Army Corps of Engineers' ultimate admission that its design defects caused the flooding of New Orleans).

*Yes, Glenn Greenwald is still a fool who has trouble with elementary logical reasoning.

*The Nineties economy in a nutshell. This, too.

*Guns don't kill people, guns kill movie scripts.

*24 is coming back! Maybe that means Jack Bauer will stay out of trouble.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:09 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Blog 2006-16 • | Business • | Hurricane Katrina • | Politics 2008 • | Pop Culture | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 3, 2008
BASEBALL: Johnny K Good

Johnny Cueto made his major league debut for the Reds today, and in 7 innings he struck out 10, walked nobody and allowed just one hit (a Justin Upton homer). How rare is this? I looked for rookie pitchers racking up double-figure strikeouts without walking anyone, and since 1956 (as far as baseball-reference.com's database goes back), it's been done 50 times in a pitcher's first 30 major league appearances, but (1) none of those was a major league debut (Andy Sonnanstine, Frank DiPino and Dennis Ribant did it in their second, third and third appearances, respectively) and (2) only two of them allowed just a single hit, Kerry Wood in his 20-K game and Kevin Millwood.

During the same period, 16 pitchers racked up 10 Ks in their big league debut, the lowest BB totals being 1 for Dice K, Steve Woodard and Juan Marichal, and 2 for Mark Prior and Don Aase.

Conclusion: Cueto is in company with some very good pitchers, some guys who started great and petered out, and some other people who never made it big at all. Jury's still out. But it's a good start.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:15 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
April 2, 2008
BASEBALL: At This Pace

The obligatory "at this pace" post: at this pace, assuming the umps don't reverse their call denying him a homer in this game, Carlos Beltran will break the single-season doubles record on May 14. He has 5 through 3 games.

The Mets are really taking out their frustrations on the Marlins tonight.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Where The Sonnanstine

I noted in the AL East preview that Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine had very good K/BB numbers as a rookie last season and not-terrible HR rates, thus making him a good bet to improve this year. But I didn't realize at first how historic his rookie year was: in fact, among pitchers who threw 100 or more innings with a K/BB ratio of 3-to-1 or better, Sonnanstine's 5.85 ERA was the second-highest ever, behind only Ken Dixon in 1985, who never returned to the majors after posting a 6.43 ERA at age 26.

What does this mean? Let's take a quick look. I picked out the 10 highest ERAs among this group by pitchers age 27 or younger, who pitched again in the majors, and pitched after the modern ball-strike counts were set in 1889 - this chart shows their age in the season when they had the high ERA and their ERAs in the following three seasons, with an asterisk on seasons of very few innings:

Joaquin Benoit263.724.862.85
Frank Castillo275.426.833.59
Chris Bosio243.362.954.00
Eric Milton244.324.84*2.65
Glendon Rusch264.706.423.47
Odalis Perez263.254.566.20
Steve Woodard245.855.20*6.62
Josh Towers24*7.904.485.11
Jon Lieber274.114.074.41
Ben Sheets242.703.333.82

Definitely a mixed record, but one with a substantial opportunity for short-term optimism. While nearly every name on this list has had in one sense or another a disappointing career other than maybe Lieber, almost all of them have been effective and valuable pitchers at some point in their careers (Woodard being the exception, and Woodard and Towers have the worst ERAs ever for pitchers with career K/BB ratios above 3 to 1), and a number of these guys became stars overnight - Sheets, Bosio, Perez.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 1, 2008
BASEBALL: It Was Nice While It Lasted

Well, so much for my thought earlier about opening in Florida...Pedro popped a hamstring in tonight's loss. No word yet on how long he will be out.

Oh, and by the way: I haven't yet caught the name of the new radio guy working with Howie Rose - Wayne something? - but he seems to be really boring.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:49 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Why The Mets Traded Nolan Ryan

Well, there wasn't just one single reason, but in considering the Mets' much- and justly-maligned deal of Nolan Ryan, I had never previously looked at the breakdowns from the 1971 season. Ryan that year started off looking very much like the pitcher he would soon become; at the end of June, he was 8-4 with a 2.05 ERA; in 92.1 innings he was allowing 6.24 hits, 0.49 HR, and 5.26 BB, 9.06 K per 9. Ryan pitched OK in defeat in his next start, but beginning with his appearance the day before the All-Star Break, he completely lost the strike zone: from July 11 through the end of 1971, he was 2-9 with a 7.62 ERA (9.00 if you include unearned runs), averaged just 3.89 IP per start in 13 starts, and averaged 10.04 H, 10.04 BB, and only 6.75 K (he did still avoid the longball, 0.52 HR/9). The Mets won just 2 of Ryan's last 16 appearances, and one of those was a game where they scored 20 runs.

Yes, it was terribly short-sighted to give up on a 24-year-old pitcher who threw 100 mph, and the Fregosi trade, along with the Amos Otis deal, was one of the cornerstones of the downfall of the franchise in the 1970s. But few GMs would have much more patience with a starting pitcher who walks 10 men per 9 innings and an equal number of hits over half a season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:04 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Doug Davis has thyroid cancer, but seems optimistic that it is less serious than Tommy John surgery.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Opening Well

Just a couple quick thoughts on yesterday's Mets opener, which I had to follow on the web after the batteries in my transistor radio died:

1. Definitely shades of last season in the first inning: Castillo fails to score on a Beltran double, setting up Delgado to go quietly with two men in scoring position and two outs. It was Delgado's two-out, men-on troubles as much as his overall numbers that were painful to watch last season.

2. Advantage to starting the season in Florida: fewer worries about pitching arms tightening up in the cold weather, allowing Randolph to stretch Santana out to 100 pitches, getting him a step closer to midseason form. (Contrast this with opening in, say, Cleveland, where Victor Martinez' hamstring tighened up on him, or Chicago, where Martinez left last season's opener with a quad injury).

3. One item of concern for Santana, who was otherwise brilliant: dating back to last season he has now surrendered 16 homers in his last 14 regular season starts.

4. Angel Pagan batted ahead of Ryan Church. I just don't understand this. I mean, presumably the Mets thought Church would hit enough to be a real corner outfielder when they acquired him. He's a career .271/.347/.462 hitter, .279/.355/.484 on the road. Pagan, by contrast, has a career batting line of .280/.337/.373 in the minor leagues, and hasn't slugged .450 since rookie ball; his career major league line is .255/.309/.417. Even assuming this was because of Church's struggles with lefties like Mark Hendrickson, a career .254/.331/.392 line, the switch-hitting Pagan's career mark against lefties is a pitiable .219/.280/.406. I know Pagan is a good athlete and had a good spring; I know at 26 there's always the outside chance that he will take a step forward; and I know the Mets are short-handed. So I understand why we may be stuck with him getting playing time. But I can't see any reason for batting him ahead of Church.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:10 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 31, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 NL Central EWSL Report

The last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: the NL Central. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold. Amazingly, for once I have finished all six divisions before the season is underway in earnest.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 195.83 (65 W)
Adjusted: 220.43 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.43 (75 W)
2008 W-L: 88-74

C34Jason Kendall1412
1B24Prince Fielder#1929
2B25Rickie Weeks1215
SS25JJ Hardy1216
3B28Bill Hall1515
RF26Corey Hart#1217
CF35Mike Cameron2014
LF24Ryan Braun*1128
C231Mike Rivera11
INF37Craig Counsell106
OF25Tony Gwynn jr.*24
1228Gabe Gross66
1332Gabe Kapler11
SP129Ben Sheets98
SP222Yovanni Gallardo*511
SP333Jeff Suppan118
SP428David Bush88
SP524Carlos Villanueva#56
RP132Eric Gagne43
RP230Derrick Turnbow76
RP331David Riske65
RP436Salomon Torres66
RP525Manny Parra* 12

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Eric Munson lost the initial backup catcher battle to Rivera, but may be back. OF Laynce Nix and Russell Branyan were in camp, as were 3B Abraham Nunez and young 2B Joe Dillon. Pitchers - Chris Capuano, who had hoped to see if better defense could help him recover from last year's catastrophic falloff, faces an uncertain prognosis and may yet need Tommy John surgery. Don't bank on him. The Brew Crew has also been sentenced, like Sysiphus, to the potential of Seth McClung and Guillermo Mota. Chris Spurling and 39-year-old Brian Shouse are other relief options.

Analysis: The status of preseason favorite in the NL Central is a desirable one but by no means prestigious. The Brewers won 83 games last year, a bunch of their key guys are young, they brought in some veterans like Cameron (once his suspension is up), Riske and Torres...they will compete, and somebody's gotta win this division.

The rotation is far from imposing in the absence of Capuano, who has to be a longshot to reclaim his old form even if he is able to muddle through. If Sheets somehow stays healthy and Gallardo makes no return trips to the DL (he's on it now, recovering from offseason knee surgery), they could have a good 1-2, but the rest aspires merely to adequacy. The guys with real upside here are Weeks and Braun, if they can somehow avoid wrecking the defense again, and also the potential for a revival by Hall and Gagne.

88 wins sounds about right. That could be enough.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 202.17 (67 W)
Adjusted: 223.93 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 198.61 (66 W)
2008 W-L: 79-83

C24JR Towles+212
1B32Lance Berkman2622
2B32Kaz Matsui109
SS32Miguel Tejada1916
3B30Ty Wigginton119
RF25Hunter Pence*920
CF25Michael Bourn*25
LF32Carlos Lee2118
C239Brad Ausmus87
INF36Mark Loretta1410
OF34Darin Erstad55
1234Jose Cruz jr.65
1335Geoff Blum85
SP130Roy Oswalt1916
SP230Brandon Backe43
SP329Wandy Rodriguez54
SP430Shawn Chacon54
SP530Chris Sampson#44
RP128Jose Valverde1111
RP226Oscar Villarreal44
RP341Doug Brocail43
RP431Geoff Geary54
RP536Brian Moehler22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - C Humberto Quintero, who had a good spring and presumably would step in if the Astros finally realize that Ausmus is finished; Tomas Perez, David Newhan, Reggie Abrecrombie, Victor Diaz. Pitchers - Wesley Wright, a wild young lefty with good K numbers but little experience above AA, made the roster; Mark McLemore, with similar numbers last year in Houston, didn't. Dave Borkowski, Chad Paronto and Mike DeJean are also around; Woody Williams was a late cut (a terrible spring at 41 after posting a 5.27 ERA will do that; Williams can still throw strikes but I suspect he just has nothing left).

Analysis: For the second year in a row, EWSL seems unaccountably optimistic about the Astros, but I suppose optimistic is a relative term, when a lineup with this many quality veterans, a solid closer and a major ace pitcher is still projected to finish below .500. The new but not improved rotation seems unlikely to be competitive beyond Oswalt, but you never know; maybe this will be the year Backe is finally healthy. The bullpen is totally rebuilt, but in some cases with less than the most consistent relievers. Valverde is solid, but the Win Shares system may overrate him just a bit because of the extreme number of close games the D-Backs led in last season (not that he doesn't deservie his share of the credit for that).

Geoff Blum is ailing, and it's not like he's Mike Schmidt when he is healthy. Matsui is too, but we won't get into that. Ausmus is the emergency infielder, and that about says it all.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 185.83 (62 W)
Adjusted: 216.63 (72 W)
Age-Adj.: 196.25 (65 W)
2008 W-L: 78-84

C25Geovany Soto+212
1B32Derrek Lee1715
2B33Mark DeRosa1312
SS28Ryan Theriot#89
3B30Aramis Ramirez2118
RF31Kosuke Fukudome+012
CF23Felix Pie*37
LF32Alfonso Soriano1514
C236Henry Blanco32
INF25Ronny Cedeno33
OF31Reed Johnson97
1233Daryle Ward54
1328Mike Fontenot*35
SP127Carlos Zambrano1716
SP228Rich Hill#810
SP332Ted Lilly128
SP429Jason Marquis76
SP531Ryan Dempster87
RP131Kerry Wood22
RP225Carlos Marmol#68
RP334Bobby Howry107
RP429Michael Wuertz55
RP536Scott Eyre54

Subjective Adjustments: None. Felix Pie hit too poorly last season to deserve any sort of bump until he proves himself.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Alex Cintron lost out on the middle infield reserve job. Matt Murton will almost certainly be traded unless there's an injury that presses him into service very soon. 2B Eric Patterson is also on hand. Pitchers - The Cubs have them in reserve if needed - Neal Cotts, Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall and Carmen Pignatiello.

Analysis: Why is EWSL so down on the Cubs, when everyone else in the universe seems to have ceded them this division? Age is a big factor: the age adjustments take a big bite out of 30-and-up players like Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Howry, and Lilly, and those add up. Nobody on the team rates more than 18 EWSL; Arizona, Toronto and the White Sox are the only other teams with pretensions at contending that don't have a 20 EWSL player, and the D-Backs are deep in young talent and pitching, in ways the Cubs aren't, while I'm less than impressed with the other two. Some guys may be underrated here; Marmol, like Fausto Carmona, is rated in part on his dismal 2006, since I can't and won't just make it magically vanish, but Marmol in particular seems likely to come closer to last year's 11 WS than to the projected 8, just as Derrek Lee does seem likely to stay healthy enough to turn out 20 WS, as his 2006 injury was a fluke. The main upside here is in players who are unproven or a crapshoot - Wood, Soto, Pie and Fukudome. But EWSL is designed to deliver the bad news: by banking on each of them, the Cubs are banking on hope of something that has not happened at the Major League level before. I can see expecting the Cubs to outpace their EWSL record by several game; I can't see projecting this team as likely to cruise to 90+ wins, even with a boatload of games within a dreadful division.

I don't know any more about Fukudome than you do. He's listed at 6'0" and 190, so he doesn't quite have Hideki Matsui's size, and thus may be less reliable in preserving his HR power (and Matsui himself lost quite a few homers in translation). Fukudome's had great OBPs in Japan, it remains to be seen whether pitchers will work around him as much if he hits for less power here.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 192.00 (64 W)
Adjusted: 211.53 (71 W)
Age-Adj.: 193.18 (64 W)
2008 W-L: 77-85

C31Dave Ross87
1B24Joey Votto+212
2B27Brandon Phillips1314
SS31Alex Gonzalez119
3B25Edwin Encarnacion1317
RF38Ken Griffey jr.1310
CF28Corey Patterson99
LF28Adam Dunn1920
C232Javier Valentin65
INF28Jeff Keppinger55
OF32Ryan Freel86
1229Norris Hopper*47
1338Scott Hatteberg118
SP130Aaron Harang1614
SP231Bronson Arroyo1411
SP322Johnny Cueto+04
SP431Josh Fogg64
SP524Ednison Volquez#11
RP133Francisco Cordero129
RP238David Weathers119
RP329Jeremy Affeldt43
RP427Todd Coffey44
RP527Jared Burton*35

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jay Bruce, of course, is the elephant in the AAA outfield. Juan Castro is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery (how many times have I written that in these previews this year?) Also OF DeWayne Wise, C Paul Bako and INF Jolbert Cabrera. Pitchers - Homer Bailey got passed on the way up by Cueto; Bailey still has great stuff but has apparently not proven all that swift a learner. Kent Mercker is on the roster; Mike Stanton got cut, and Greg McMichael was not in camp. Matt Belisle is expected to have a job when he is ready. Others include Bill Bray, Gary Majewski, Jon Coutlangus, snf Bobby Livingston.

Analysis: How many stories can Dusty Baker jump out of and still land on his feet? Perricone thinks the answer is "none, unless Barry Bonds is involved." The decision to bring in Corey Patterson and make him the CF/leadoff man has been hashed out by others, but I wonder if it's really just a smike screen for the same thing Tampa is doing, and keeping Bruce in the minors until the first time Griffey gets eaten by wolverines (15-day DL) so they can keep Bruce's service time down. Or, Dusty could just be an idiot.

The Reds are unlikely to be terrible, and that alone will make Baker look fine. There's not a ton of talent here unless the real youngsters (Bruce, Votto, Cueto, Bailey) go nuts, but there's enough to hang around .500.

I confess I had no idea Cordero was 33 already; as I noted in November, while he's not a great pickup he does have a pretty good record at avoiding the longball, which is key in this park.

Is it just me or does Ednison Volquez change the spelling of his name every year?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 179.67 (60 W)
Adjusted: 188.57 (63 W)
Age-Adj.: 180.17 (60 W)
2008 W-L: 73-89

C27Ronny Paulino#1012
1B28Adam LaRoche1516
2B30Freddy Sanchez2017
SS30Jack Wilson1614
3B27Jose Bautista#911
RF29Xavier Nady109
CF26Nate McLouth67
LF29Jason Bay1817
C227Ryan Doumit55
INF37Chris Gomez43
OF27Njyer Morgan*24
1234Doug Mientkiewicz55
1328Chris Duffy56
SP126Ian Snell89
SP225Tom Gorzelanny#79
SP333Matt Morris86
SP426Paul Maholm66
SP525Zach Duke67
RP124Matt Capps#911
RP233Damaso Marte53
RP329John Grabow43
RP430Tyler Yates22
RP526Franquelis Osoria11

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Matt Kata, Luis Rivas. Pitchers - Evan Meek, Phil Dumatrait, Sean Burnett, John Van Berschoten; Jonah Bayliss was also in camp but seems to have been let go.

Analysis: Maybe this is unfair to some of these guys, but when I was doing the depth charts, anytime I came across some guy who is miserable, washed up or otherwise down on his luck, and I was wondering where he ended up? Pirates camp.

Doug Mientkiewicz? Check.
Jaret Wright? Check.
Casey Fossum? Check.
Matt Morris? Check.
Luis Rivas? Check.
Chris Gomez? Check.
Byun-Hyung Kim? Check.
Elmer Dessens? Check.

They cut Kim, Dessens, Fossum and Wright, but then they traded for Tyler Yates, and gave a bullpen slot to Evan Meek, who has a career minor league ERA of 5.14, has never pitched above AA and has walked 198 batters in 287 career innings. Maybe this isn't satire.

David Wright, David Ortiz, Jack Wilson, Magglio Ordonez, Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena, Jorge Posada...one of these things is not like the others. That's the Major League OBP leaders for last August 1 through the end of the year, all of whom slugged above .560 with an OBP of at least .444 for that stretch. Wilson, who hit .409/.467/.697 down the last two months, had batted just .252/.303/.342 before that. (Actually, the whole Pirate offense had a torrid run to the finish line.) It was a bizarre hot streak, but don't expect a repeat. I do think LaRoche will turn in a better year, but Fredy Sanchez's early injuries worry me (Duffy is also hurt).

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 174.33 (58 W)
Adjusted: 191.10 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 179.90 (60 W)
2008 W-L: 73-89

C25Yadier Molina1114
1B28Albert Pujols3435
2B32Adam Kennedy97
SS28Cesar Izturis55
3B31Troy Glaus1614
RF28Skip Schumaker*47
CF28Rick Ankiel*48
LF27Chris Duncan#1215
C234Jason LaRue65
INF31Aaron Miles108
OF26Brian Barton+04
1229Ryan Ludwick55
1330Rico Washington+01
SP126Adam Wainwright#1013
SP229Kyle Lohse86
SP329Todd Wellemeyer33
SP433Braden Looper75
SP526Brad Thompson55
RP135Jason Isringhausen117
RP239Russ Springer65
RP335Ryan Franklin64
RP432Randy Flores22
RP529Joel Pineiro33

Subjective Adjustments: None. I could have bumped up Ankiel, but who knows what to expect from him? I at least rated him as a rookie last year, since he's not the same player he was in 1999.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Juan Gonzalez is, unsurprisingly, hurt, much to Ryan Ludwick's relief; Juan Encarnacion is out quite a while. Brendan Ryan is hurt. D'Angelo Jimenez is on hand. Scott Speizio is not, having been cut in late February after an ugly DWI incident. Yes, the Cards have a Brian Barton and a Brian Barden. Colby Rasmus and Joe Mather are the soon-to-arrive power-hitting OF prospects. Pitchers - Much will turn on the impossible-to-predict returns of Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and Matt Clement from injury; Tyler Johnson is also hurt. Anthony Reyes is at the back of the bullpen but remains a promising rotation prospect. Others on hand incluyde Ron Villone, Kelvin JImenez and Kyle McClellan.

Analysis: There are many storylines around the Cardinals this spring, and few happy ones - bad elbows and bad shoulders, steroids and HGH, lawsuits and demon alcohol. Minor league old soldier Rico Washington getting a major league job is one of the nicer ones, but inconsequential in analytical terms. From Pujols' could-blow-anytime arm on down, it's a fool's errand to predict anything of this team, but they won't be real good, that much is clear.

Pineiro will take one of the rotation spots, probably Thompson (the 5th starter) or Looper (who had a crummy spring) when he returns in a few weeks. LaRussa and Dave Duncan will be called on yet again to work their magic with Lohse, a classic guy nearing 30 with a live arm and not much to show for it, exactly their type.

If you were picking a guy to lose nearly 50 points off his batting average in 2007, you would not have selected LaRue, who had batted .194 the prior year.

Given that Molina is only 25, it may turn out that he will hit some after all; his brother Bengie didn't hit until he was 28.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 28, 2008
BASEBALL: Meet The Fifth Starter

If it wasn't already obvious, you have to assume that today's game clinched the Mets' fifth starter job for El Duque.

UPDATE: Cerrone notes that the Braves have claimed Ruben Gotay off waivers, and the Rockies have reclaimed Steve Register. The Braves don't have an everyday job for Gotay either, but I share Cerrone's apprehension that the Braves must be able to get more out of his talent than the Mets.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:10 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2008 NL East EWSL Report

The fifth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The NL East. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

New York Mets

Raw EWSL: 268.00 (89 W)
Adjusted: 268.70 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 248.56 (83 W)
2008 W-L: 96-66

C31Brian Schneider119
1B36Carlos Delgado1914
2B32Luis Castillo1714
SS25Jose Reyes2431
3B25David Wright3140
RF29Ryan Church1211
CF31Carlos Beltran2723
LF41Moises Alou148
C232Ramon Castro54
INF38Damion Easley75
OF30Endy Chavez76
1234Marlon Anderson55
1326Angel Pagan#45
SP129Johan Santana2017
SP236Pedro Martinez66
SP327John Maine87
SP426Oliver Perez56
SP542Orlando Hernandez86
RP136Billy Wagner1412
RP229Aaron Heilman87
RP331Pedro Feliciano65
RP432Matt Wise53
RP531Jorge Sosa65

Subjective Adjustments: None. Indeed, Angel Pagan is the only guy listed here on less than three years' big-league experience. Pagan, Pelfrey, and relievers Joe Smith and Steve Register are basically the only non-established players who are likely to be a factor this year for the Mets, barring a meteoric rise by OF prospect Fernando Martinez.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jose Valentin is still around and his knees are recovered, but has hinted at retirement if things don't improve with the pinched nerve in his neck; for now he will start the season on injury rehab. Ruben Gotay may be done with the Mets, having been placed on waivers, which is a shame because Gotay can hit, but he's just not that good a fielder and his chance at winning the everyday job in the near future was iced by the 4-year, $25 million contract for Castillo. If neither of them stays with the team, weak-hitting glove wizard Anderson Hernandez moves up the depth chart behind Easley (Marlon Anderson made just one appearance at 2B last year but can presumably still handle the position in a pinch). Brady Clark leads the pack of reserve outfielders, followed by Fernando Tatis, now in a second career as a utilityman, and Ben Johnson. Raul Casanova is the third catching option. Olmedo Saenz was also contemplating retirement; he's been sent to the minors. Pitchers - Sosa, who I had hoped never to see again, may get some starts early in the year, but Mike Pelfrey will be the main option for a #6 starter, which between El Duque and Pedro the team will inevitably need. It occurs to me that Pelfrey is basically the ideal situation for a pitching coach. Think about it: as a pitching coach you want four things:

1. A currently unsuccessful pitcher (you get no credit for working with Johan Santana),
2. Who has the talent to succeed if he plays his cards right,
3. Who has no obvious obstacle to succeeding, and
4. Who will listen to you.

Pelfrey scores on all four. On #1, his career major league ERA is 5.55. On #2, Pelfrey is tall (6'7"), throws very hard (mid-90s), and has great sinking movement on his fastball (0.67 HR/9 in the majors, 0.77 at AAA, 0.27 at AA). On #3, Pelfrey's never had a significant injury, he has command issues around the plate but has never had really serious control problems, he's still just 24, and he has had enough success at lower levels (including success following prior failures in college) that he won't have his confidence shattered. On #4, he seems to be regarded as a fairly intelligent, coachable guy, even adjusting for the tendency of white players to get a better reputation on that score. Rick Peterson has had many more successes than failures (Maine and Perez being great successes last season for which Peterson deserves some of the credit), and working with Pelfrey to figure out what second pitch he can best develop without hurting his arm and how to improve his command will be a real opportunity for Peterson. The downside is that it may take so much time that Pelfrey ends up getting traded for peanuts and not hitting it big until later on for someone else - I was discussing the other day with my older brother whether Pelfrey is more reminiscent of a young Kevin Brown or a young Mike Scott, and neither parallel suggests a short path to success.

Other starting options on hand include Jason Vargas, who has been suffering from a torn labrum in his hip, Tony Armas jr., Clint Nagoette, and blast-from-the-past ex-prospect Nelson Figueroa.

In the bullpen, Duaner Sanchez will sooner or later play a significant role but it's not quite clear yet what his status will be to open the year. Sidewinder Joe Smith will make the roster, and of course Scott Schoenweis is still around as a situational lefty. Others in the bullpen mix include Ruddy Lugo, Brian Stokes, and Rule 5 righthander Steve Register (the Mets are trying to work out a trade so they can keep Register without having him on the major league roster all year). Ambiorix Burgos is still rehabbing from surgery and unlikely to pitch this season, and the perpetually injured Juan Padilla has been sent down.

Analysis: EWSL rates David Wright as the best player in baseball. 40 Win Shares seems optimistic (EWSL has Wright and Reyes worth 24 wins all by themselves), but I can't disagree with the assessment that Wright is the player most likely to be the best in the game this season, even ahead of Pujols (whose elbow could go at any time), A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera or Grady Sizemore. Of course, the team's extreme dependence on four players (those two, Beltran and Santana) just underlines the risks that the Mets face if one of them gets injured (or, in Beltran's case, has his skills degraded by nagging injuries).

The Mets don't have a powerhouse offense (unless Delgado finds one last Delgado year in his bat), but the starting rotation could be tremendous (EWSL is properly cautious about guys who have not repeated success or are coming off large amounts of time missed to injury, plus it recognizes the extent to which Mets starters benefit from good defense and a favorable park, but I still expect a good deal more than 19 Win Shares from Pedro, Maine and Perez combined) and the defense should hopefully recover from last year's late-season defensive meltdown; the Mets should score enough to win a lot of games if they prevent as many runs as I expect. Of course, the bullpen hasn't really done much to address the horrors of 2007 other than shipping Guillermo Mota out of town, but Wise and Sanchez could take some pressure off the rest of the staff (I've been a Wise fan for years), and I'm hopeful that Smith can be more effective.

Ryan Church is one guy who, while he is unlikely to have a glorious career with the Mets, I am optimistic that he can have a big year in his first season away from RFK. EWSL rates Church as a downgrade from where Shawn Green was at this point last season, but there is upside potential here in the short run.

Philadelphia Phillies

Raw EWSL: 232.17 (77 W)
Adjusted: 247.13 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 223.76 (75 W)
2008 W-L: 87-75

C29Carlos Ruiz*712
1B28Ryan Howard2425
2B29Chase Utley2725
SS29Jimmy Rollins2624
3B33Pedro Feliz1210
RF33Geoff Jenkins1412
CF27Shane Victorino#911
LF31Pat Burrell1916
C235Chris Coste#54
INF29Greg Dobbs44
OF29Jayson Werth87
1232Wes Helms54
1330Eric Bruntlett43
SP124Cole Hamels#1012
SP227Brett Myers1111
SP323Kyle Kendrick59
SP445Jamie Moyer97
SP530Adam Eaton33
RP131Brad Lidge108
RP240Tom Gordon75
RP327Ryan Madson55
RP432JC Romero53
RP530Chad Durbin33

Subjective Adjustments: None. Kendrick might exceed that 9 Win Shares if he holds up over a full season, but I am pretty much out of the business of projecting rookie pitchers to do that.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Chris Snelling, healthy for once and trying to break into the OF picture, So Taguchi, and 1B Pete LaForest. Pitchers - Kris Benson and relievers Vic Darensbourg, Travis Blackley, Clay Condrey, JD Durbin, and Fabio Castro.

Analysis: The Phillies remain a contending team loaded with players in their prime, but to understand why they aren't really quite as impressive as they first appear, you have to remember that all that offensive talent - like the Mets pitchers - benefits significantly from Citizens Bank Park; take a look at the career home-road splits during the years they played for the Phils since the park opened in 2004) of the incumbent regulars:


These are all fine players, other than Ruiz; they just aren't quite as great as they look. Note that while there are, as you would expect, some variations in the home-field advantage, the most pronounced effects show up in the guys with the largest sample of at bats to work with (Rollins, Utley, Burrell). Also, ironically, while Rollins rolls up a lot of Win Shares by his durability, it also means that there is nothing left for the bench to contribute at his position. That's a good problem to have - I've long argued that durability is a vastly underrated skill - it's just another way you have to avoid letting the statistics deceive you.

On the whole, I expect to see Rollins come back to earth a bit this year from last year's record-setting season (Rany Jazayerli has a fine look at the historic nature of Rollins' records for at bats and plate appearances), and Burrell to be off a little as well, but balanced off by better or healthier seasons from Utley and Howard and the removal of the sinkhole of Abraham Nunez at 3B. But as always, much will turn on the pitching staff, and the question of whether Hamels and Myers can each kick in 200+ innings of the kind of work they are capable of. My guess, again, is that the two of them will step forward but the back end of the rotation will falter again; Eaton still stinks, Moyer is 45 and has to run out of tricks eventually, and Kendrick won't have another ERA in the threes by striking out less than 4 men per 9 innings while pitching in a bandbox. In the bullpen, I suppose the theory is that Lidge (who is injured already) won't have a repeat of his mental struggles in Houston, in that the always-supportive Phillies fans and genial Philadephia media won't turn on him when he hits the first bump in the road.

To sum up, the Phillies are the same sort of adversary for the Mets that they were in 2007: available if given the opportunity, but fundamentally beatable if the Mets take care of their own business. And, of course, there's no particular reason, especially with Santana and a hopefully healthy Pedro in the rotation and the addition of a catcher who can throw, why the Mets should repeat their head-to-head problems beating these guys.

Atlanta Braves

Raw EWSL: 193.67 (65 W)
Adjusted: 207.73 (69 W)
Age-Adj.: 204.88 (68 W)
2008 W-L: 81-81

C24Brian McCann1620
1B28Mark Teixeira2526
2B26Kelly Johnson1113
SS25Yuniel Escobar*615
3B36Chipper Jones2317
RF24Jeff Francouer1722
CF32Mark Kotsay87
LF30Matt Diaz87
C226Brayan Pena*00
INF26Omar Infante56
OF25Josh Anderson*24
1226Scott Thorman#22
1324Martin Prado#12
SP141John Smoltz1512
SP232Tim Hudson139
SP342Tom Glavine129
SP435Mike Hampton11
SP522Jair Jurrjens*12
RP128Rafael Soriano77
RP230Mike Gonzalez65
RP329Peter Moylan*58
RP430Will Ohman33
RP526Chuck James#79

Subjective Adjustments: None. I suppose I could have added two Win Shares to bump up Jurrjens to equivalent to a pure rookie starter, but he did start 7 games last year, and frankly that was balanced out by rating Moylan only on 2007, not 2006. I could also arguably have given a bump to Escobar, but the age adjustment adequately compensated him and 15 Win Shares seems pretty close to a fair target for him.

I included Mike Gonzalez, who says he will be back from Tommy John surgery by May, as well as DL-bound John Smoltz and Omar Infante. None of them are particularly unreasonable bets to match their EWSL despite the injuries, especially since Gonzalez' numbers include the 2007 season that was interrupted by injury in the first place.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Perennial disappointment Joe Borchard's presence suggests how thin the Braves are in the outfield. Top prospect Brent Lillibridge, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Adam LaRoche-for-Mike Gonzalez deal, is seen as a possible replacement if Johnson, Escobar or Chipper gets hurt, or if Escobar's 2007 proves a fluke. Pitchers - Buddy Carlyle and Jo-Jo Reyes are the next starters in line after Jones to step in if Smoltz or Hampton gets hurt (Smoltz is ailing already, and Hampton, well, you know that story) or Glavine reaches the end of the road, or rather returns from the end of the road where he was at the end of last season. The relief corps also includes Royce Ring, Jeff Ridgway, Manny Acosta, and Blaine Boyer.

Analysis: Last season was the first time since the divisional alignment that the Braves entered a season as not the team to beat. Mazzone is gone, Schuerholz is semi-retired and many of his key deputies are gone, Bobby Cox may be on his way towards retirement, the team's finances remain cloudy (Mark Teixeira remains unsigned after this season and is represented by Scott Boras), Andruw Jones is gone after a terrible year, and even John Smoltz won't last forever. The Braves, at last, are just another team.

They still could make some noise with full seasons from Teixeira and Yuniel Escobar, a bounce-back from still-young Brian McCann, a solid bullpen and continued development from Francouer, who - as I have said repeatedly - is a better long-term than short-term bet when you weigh his ability to drive the ball at such a young age against his appalling plate discipline. Francouer may finally be ready in 2008 to have some business batting in the middle of a contending team's order.

But there are problems, too. I really am convinced that Glavine is just done, and who knows what they will get from Hampton. I'm gunshy about saying this after EWSL picked them to finish last in 2005 in part because their starting outfield included Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi and they won the division anyway, coming up with Francouer and Ryan Langerhans, but Atlanta really doesn't have much of an outfield besides Francouer and not much help on the way. Kotsay's just a stopgap at this stage (OPS+ below 100 three of the last four years), Diaz can mash but he's a platoon player, Josh Anderson had a nice debut with the Astros last year, but the man has a career line of .296/.339/.370 in the Texas League (AA) and .273/.325/.341 in the Pacific Coast League (AAA), both hitters' paradises; he projects as a poor man's Scott Podsednik, and Heaven help them if they need to rely on Borchard.

UPDATE: Mac Thomason emails that I'm overlooking the fact that if Diaz can't handle an everyday job, there's also Brandon Jones, who is 24 and batted .295/.367/.490 between AA and AAA last season. With the Braves, there does always seem to be another guy. Also, he notes that Gregor Blanco, a highly similar player but with more patience, may take Anderson's slot.

Washington Nationals

Raw EWSL: 175.00 (58 W)
Adjusted: 184.50 (62 W)
Age-Adj.: 186.88 (62 W)
2008 W-L: 75-67

C36Paul Lo Duca129
1B29Nick Johnson1211
2B33Ron Belliard1412
SS30Cristian Guzman54
3B23Ryan Zimmerman#1830
RF28Austin Kearns1718
CF23Lastings Milledge#47
LF24Elijah Dukes*13
C232Johnny Estrada98
INF28Felipe Lopez1415
OF28Ryan Langerhans77
1234Dmitri Young109
1326Wily Mo Pena67
SP127Shawn Hill#34
SP231Odalis Perez32
SP325Matt Chico*36
SP426Jason Bergmann#33
SP530Tim Redding32
RP126Chad Cordero1213
RP229Jon Rauch87
RP330Luis Ayala33
RP430Saul Rivera#55
RP530Jesus Colome32

Subjective Adjustments: None. Zimmerman may look a little high but it's not an unreasonable assessment of his age and talent. Dukes and Milledge may be low, but the point here, as always, is that neither has established himself as a Major League regular.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Oddly, there's a ton of depth here in terms of guys who you could slot in for the people in the lineup above and not alter the team's EWSL. Jesus Flores is the eventual starting catcher down the road, and might be the #1 catcher today due to Lo Duca's and Estrada's injuries, but in the intermediate term he will be headed for AAA. Utilitymen Rob Mackowiak and Willie Harris are battling for end-of-the-bench slots, along with 29-year-old perpetual OF prospect Alex Escobar. Aaron and Bret Boone are on hand, and probably both headed for the minors, along with OF Kory Casto and Michael Restovich and fourth C Humberto Cota. I forgot to mention in the NL West roundup that Nook Logan has left DC for the Dodgers. Pitchers - John Lannan is the sixth starter, and LOOGY Ray King will inhabit the back of the bullpen. Reliever Ryan Wagner will probably have a job waiting for him when he returns from injury, despite the crowded Nationals pen; starter Jason Simontacchi may not, despite the chaotic Nationals rotation.

Analysis: The Nationals are almost a mirror image of the Mets: they are deep in position players but lack stars (other than Zimmerman), they have a logjam at first base (last year's MVP Dmitri Young reported out of shape and let Nick Johnson get ahead of him), their bullpen is deep, stable and productive, and they are almost wholly lacking in established starting pitchers. Of course, given the choice I would always rather have one star than three guys who are just above replacement level; Washington's challenge is figuring out what to do with the pieces they have as they enter a new ballpark.

Milledge still looks like a coming offensive star, but color me skeptical that the man is or ever will be a major league center fielder, given the troubles he had handling right field with the Mets. I suppose the Nats were unimpressed with Dukes' contributions in center last season to the game's worst defensive team. That said, the outfield will be the fun part of this team, as both of them try to tap their talents (recall that Dukes last year averaged 33 homers and 108 walks per 600 at bats, but did absolutely zero else, batting .190 with 3 doubles and 2 steals in 184 AB). Wily Mo Pena, who finished last season with such a rush, now says he will have a much quicker than expected recovery from an oblique injury, but we shall see how that goes. #1 starter Shawn Hill is also ailing early.

The rotation remains a complete crapshoot, and without the crutch of pitcher-friendly RFK, though we have not seen how the new stadium will play. I was once an Odalis Perez fan, but his numbers for the last two seasons are ghastly: 5.87 ERA, and 4.95 K per 9. His HR and walk numbers aren't as bad (1.09 HR, 2.76 BB per 9), but they aren't the sort of excellence in those categories you need to survive that plunging K rate.

Florida Marlins

Raw EWSL: 137.17 (46 W)
Adjusted: 161.43 (54 W)
Age-Adj.: 160.64 (54 W)
2008 W-L: 66-96

C32Matt Treanor54
1B27Mike Jacobs89
2B28Dan Uggla#1620
SS24Hanley Ramirez#2233
3B26Jorge Cantu56
RF24Jeremy Hermida#913
CF22Alejandro de Aza*11
LF29Josh Willingham#1416
C228Mike Rabelo12
INF30Alfredo Amezaga44
OF27Cody Ross#79
1240Luis Gonzalez138
1338Jason Wood*22
SP134Mark Hendrickson53
SP223Rick VandenHurk*00
SP323Andrew Miller*12
SP424Scott Olsen#44
SP525Ricky Nolasco#22
RP130Kevin Gregg76
RP233Lee Gardner*45
RP328Matt Lindstrom*35
RP425Taylor Tankersley#35
RP530Justin Miller32

Subjective Adjustments: None, but obviously I will be surprised if they don't get more than 2 Win Shares from Andrew Miller and Rick VandenHurk.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Future roto stud Cameron Maybin has been sent back to AA, and with just 69 career at bats above A ball and 181 K per 600 at bats as a pro, he probably just isn't ready to take his game to the big show yet. 3B Dallas McPherson is back at AAA hoping to keep his balky back healthy long enough to challenge for the 3B job if Cantu falters. Middle infielder Robert Andino is on hand, as is 1B prospect Tagg Boziel. Offseason acquisition Jose Castillo was cut and ended up with the Giants. Pitchers - The walking wounded include Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Henry Owens, Sergio Mitre and Harvey Garcia, none of whom is expected back at a reliable enough date in the near future to be worth including in the EWSL tables; the rotation listed above appears to be set. Swingman Wes Obermuller, reliever Reynel Pinto and starting prospect Burke Badenhop appear to be the main next options, as well as starter Christopher Volstad Act and reliever Logan Kensing.

Analysis: There's no particularly good reason why baseball should not succeed in South Florida, but yet again the Marlins are doing their best to suck the joy out of what had not long ago been a talented young team, while tantalizing fans with newly acquired young talents who will, in their turn, move on as well. They may legitimately have needed to move Cabrera to do something about their terrible defense and his disinclination, in Florida, to stay in shape, but they still have to figure out if a new 3B can cover more of Ramirez' ground. Fredi Gonzalez does, however, deserve credit for putting together a bullpen that was one of the team's strengths last season amidst the collapse of the rotation.

Cantu has had a bizarre odyssey - debuting as a professional as a 17-year-old, he was basically a slap hitter for years until he hit AAA in 2004, where his slugging average shot up 200 points in a year, resulting in a major league trial where he batted .301 and smacked 20 doubles in 50 games. The following year, as a 23-year-old second baseman, he cracked 69 extra base hits and drove in 117 runs, batting .325/.361/.601 with men in scoring position. But he's been in reverse gear ever since, with terrible plate discipline and who knows what else affecting him. This may be his last chance to show he can hold an everyday job. The yoga better work.

Rabelo may end up as the starting catcher but he's been hampered by spring injuries, so Treanor is the guy for now. Hermida will open the year on the DL, which is too bad - the guy whose talents he most resembles is JD Drew (he batted .340/.401/.555 in the second half last year, although his top 5 statistical comps are Shawn Green, Billy Conigliaro, Bernie Carbo, Mel Hall and Vernon Wells), but you'd like to see him avoid Drew's fragility.

They still don't have a center fielder; the departure of Juan Pierre just hasn't worked out for anyone.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
March 26, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 NL West EWSL Report

The fourth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The NL West. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Raw EWSL: 199.17 (66 W)
Adjusted: 238.10 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 238.71 (80 W)
2008 W-L: 92-70

C27Chris Snyder1111
1B26Conor Jackson#1114
2B30Orlando Hudson2017
SS25Stephen Drew#1015
3B24Mark Reynolds718
RF20Justin Upton+112
CF24Chris Young*818
LF32Eric Byrnes1815
C224Miguel Montero*24
INF28Chad Tracy1111
OF34Trot Nixon87
1233Augie Ojeda22
1327Jeff Salazar*34
SP129Brandon Webb2117
SP227Danny Haren1515
SP332Doug Davis107
SP444Randy Johnson76
SP525Micah Owings*715
RP128Brandon Lyon88
RP226Tony Pena#68
RP329Chad Qualls97
RP429Juan Cruz54
RP525Edgar Gonzalez44

Subjective Adjustments: None, but as I have generally been doing I rated Justin Upton as a straight rookie, rather than using the lower rating that would come from his 140 mediocre at bats as a teenager last season. Upton probably isn't 100% ready to make full use of his prodigious talents (.309/.399/.556 in a half season at AA last year) at the big league level, but for this year he may be roughly equivalent in value to an older, more polished and less talented rookie. Think Ken Griffey Jr, who as a 19-year-old rookie batted .264/.329/.420.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Longtime Astro Chris Burke, finally freed of being assigned to play wherever Craig Biggio isn't, and third catcher Robby Hammock. Pitchers - Brandon Medders, LOOGY Doug Slaten, and Dustin Nippert are the main ones who will get lots of major league usage. Prospect Billy Buckner is on hand as well. Yusmeiro "Big Y" Petit, still just 23 years old, remains a tantalizing prospect, but he's posted a 4.99 ERA in 288.2 career innings between AAA and the majors in large part because he's allowed a staggering 1.53 HR/9 IP, 2.05 if you look only at the majors. 321 times in major league history a pitcher has allowed 1.5 or more homers per 9 in a season of 100 innings or more; only 47 of those managed an ERA below 4.50, only 16 managed an ERA below 4.00, and only one (Dave Boswell, 3.40 ERA in 1965) got below 3.58. Eddie Guardado in 2000 is the only major league pitcher ever to have an ERA below 4.25 while allowing more than 2 homers per 9. Petit's K/BB numbers haven't been bad (2.84 BB, 6.30 K over those same 288.2 IP), but not spectacular as they were at lower levels and as they need to be to offset the longballs. Arizona may not be the ideal place for him.

Analysis: The Diamondbacks hugely overperformed their EWSL last season and, not coincidentally, outdid their Pythagorean record by 11 games, advancing to the LCS despite allowing 20 more runs than they scored. Now, ordinarily a team that wins that many games and exceeds its Pythagorean projections by that much would be close to a mathematical certainty to decline in the following year, as nobody stays that lucky (or that "clutch") for that long, especially when the team's most significant offseason departure is the guy who saved 47 games last year.

But the Diamondbacks are more reminiscent of another team that won 90 games while being outscored by 24 runs, besting its Pythagorean record by 12 games: the 1984 Mets, who went on to improve their real record by 8 games in 1985 and 10 more in 1986, and improve their Pythagorean record by 18 games in 1985 and 7 in 1986. Like those Mets, this team is just stacked with young, in many cases very young, talent, although configured a bit differently - Arizona's pitchers are mostly in or near their prime, while the hitters include a number of people who are still 2-3 years away (Young, Reynolds, Drew) and one (Upton) who is probably 5-6 years from his prime. Aside from Eric Byrnes and a few of the bullpen guys, almost nobody here really had a career year in 2007, and only Byrnes and Randy Johnson are really on the downside of the age mountain. While there's no guarantee that they won't backslide this year if the young hitters take a year before striding forward and the bullpen unravels, it's not at all difficult to envision Arizona winning 100 games in 2008, 2009 or 2010, and maybe more than once.

What that presages for the future of this division is a fascinating question. The NL West looked just a year ago like a weak division, but Colorado and probably the Dodgers will be competitive for the next several years - and they will likely be chasing the Diamondbacks.

In the rotation, of course, we have Randy Johnson, who I expect will be effective when available (even last year, his rates were 1.11 HR, 2.06 BB and 11.44 K per 9), and Edgar Gonzalez is expected to sub for him in the meantime. Bill James likes Micah Owings (of course I remember when he liked Jimmy Haynes), and Owings finished the season strong, with a 3.02 ERA in his last ten starts (1.36 HR, 1.96 BB and 6.79 K per 9 in that stretch - much will depend, as with Petit and new arrival Danny Haren, on keeping the ball inside the friendly confines of Chase Field, f/k/a the BOB).

National League Champion Colorado Rockies

Raw EWSL: 191.17 (64 W)
Adjusted: 224.00 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 226.36 (75 W)
Subj. Adj.: 221.36 (74 W)
2008 W-L: 87-75

C29Yorvit Torrealba65
1B34Todd Helton2220
2B25Jayson Nix012
SS23Troy Tulowitzki*1228
3B28Garrett Atkins1920
RF29Brad Hawpe1615
CF26Willy Taveras1214
LF28Matt Holliday2324
C225Chris Iannetta*36
INF29Clint Barmes43
OF28Ryan Spilborghs#67
1232Scott Podsednik65
1327Jeff Baker#22
SP127Jeff Francis1212
SP229Aaron Cook108
SP324Ubaldo Jimenez*24
SP422Franklin Morales*25
SP534Mark Redman43
RP125Manny Corpas#911
RP232Brain Fuentes118
RP338Matt Herges43
RP433Luis Vizcaino65
RP526Taylor Buchholz#34

Subjective Adjustments: Troy Tulowitzki -5 (from 33 to 28). I've seen this repeatedly before (Khalil Greene and Bobby Crosby come to mind): EWSL over-projects the growth potential of a second-year shortstop whose rookie value consisted very heavily of his defense. Sorry, Tulowitzki just doesn't have that kind of room to improve with the glove. 28 Win Shares is +4 from last season, when he was effectively the leader of a pennant-winning team; if he does that, Rockies fans will be thrilled. You will notice, however, that the subjective adjustment for Tulowitzki, small though it is, comes very close to tipping the microscopic balance of power between the Rockies and the Dodgers.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Marcus Giles was brought in to replace the departed-to-Houston Kaz Matsui, but Giles has apparently played his way out of a job and, at age 30, seems destined for the Brent Gates Hall of Second Base Careers That Never Quite Happened (he's being shopped to the Dodgers and Orioles). Omar Quintanilla is the next infielder in line, and Ian Stewart and Seth Smith are the remaining OF options. Pitchers - Jason Hirsh remains talented and a good bet to end up in the starting rotation at some point once he gets healthy again; Hirsh is still just 26. Veteran starters Kip Wells and Josh Towers are also on hand, as are relievers Micah Bowie, Jose Capellan (who had a busy winter), and Ramon Ramirez.

Analysis: My gut tells me that this team's future may already be behind it - 2007 will be a tough act to follow. And the whole back end of the bullpen, so effective last season, is gone - Hawkins, Affeldt, Julio (not that any of those guys is likely to repeat 2007 anyway). That said, Helton, Fuentes and Herges are the only significant players past 30, and even in a rough division, Colorado should be a force to contend with for the next few years. But Helton was third in the majors in OBP last season; if he takes a nosedive, it will be a big gap in the offense. Moving Corpas to the closer role may end up being counterproductive to the extent that it takes him out of the setup role where he was so crucial last season - but there's no money in being a setup man, and you have to keep your best players happy.

Like KC with Angel Berroa, the Rockies remain haunted by the Ghost of Shortstop Past in Clint Barmes, who may make the team as an older and wiser bench player.

The big question as always is pitching. I noticed when checking the Rays stuff that Baseball Prospectus projects the Rox to allow the most runs in the NL, always a hard fate to avoid in Coors (humidor or no) but a dubious distinction they have evaded the past three seasons. The Win Shares totals suggest what you already know: even on an effective staff, the park just doesn't let any one pitcher shine as they could elsewhere. Jeff Francis may be harder to replace than most teams' aces, but he still will never contribute as much positively to the Rockies as a guy in another park who can throw 20 more innings and exert more influence on the game. And three years from now he could look like Jason Jennings.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Raw EWSL: 211.17 (70 W)
Adjusted: 236.84 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 220.33 (73 W)
2008 W-L: 86-76

C25Russell Martin#1624
1B24James Loney*920
2B40Jeff Kent1911
SS30Rafael Furcal2118
3B34Nomar Garciaparra1211
RF23Matt Kemp#610
CF31Andruw Jones1815
LF30Juan Pierre1311
C236Gary Bennett32
INF23Tony Abreu#26
OF26Andre Ethier#1014
1238Mark Sweeney43
1326Jason Repko22
SP130Brad Penny1513
SP235Derek Lowe128
SP323Chad Billingsley#89
SP433Hiroki Kuroda+04
SP536Esteban Loaiza45
RP138Takashi Saito#1514
RP224Jonathan Broxton#89
RP331Joe Beimel64
RP431Scott Proctor65
RP526Hong-Chih Kuo*11

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Top prospect Andy LaRoche was supposed to challenge for the 3B job, but is injured and may not end up getting his opportunity for some months. Delwyn Young appears to have made the team as a reserve infielder (more on the latest roster doings here). Infielder Ramon Martinez is also in camp but may go elsewhere if not on the Opening Day roster. Pitchers - Jason Schmidt will be trying to pitch through pain in his shoulder, but his recovery is going slowly and he may not pitch until May or June. Either Schmidt or the talented but frustrating Kuo, who has made the team as a reliever, could be a valuable addition to the rotation if needed, assuming Schmidt still has something left. Fireballing lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw has impressed everyone this spring, and may also step in but despite his enormous talent, he's likely to have the same control issues as Kuo (0.66 HR, 4.94 BB and 12.02 K between A and AA last season). If the Dodgers need a ninth starter - and I can't say they won't - the glass case containing Chan Ho Park is near at hand. Reliever Yhency Brazoban is in extended spring training after labrum surgery, and ancient LOOGY Mike Myers is on the same bubble as Martinez. Rudy Seanez was a late cut.

Analysis: As I have noted before, Joe Torre has spent 31 seasons in the National League as a player and/or manager and only been to the postseason once; it remains to be seen whether Torre can build a winner without Rivera, Jeter & co. The team he inherits has talent, including a fair distribution of young talent - but it also has a bunch of age, injury and contract questions: Kent is 40, missed a lot of time last year and may not be ready for Opening Day this season, Juan Pierre can't hit nearly enough to play a corner and makes too much money to trade, Nomar is of questionable value at this point and is already injured, Saito has been ailing this spring, and Derek Lowe is reaching a dangerous age. Can Torre work the young core of Martin, Loney, Kemp, Eithier, LaRoche, Billingsley, Broxton, Kuo and Kershaw into regular slots the way he did once upon a time with Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte, and more recently with Melky and Cano? Or will he stay too long with the broken-down or breaking-down veterans as he did with Bernie? This team has the potential for a lot of frustrating second and third place finishes over the next few years if the management, including Torre, lacks the will and judgment to limit the playing time of veterans to those who are really still contributing. Which is not to say this team should strip down and rebuild, but rather that they can't contend on the cheap - they need to get the higher-ceiling kids broken in and use their financial resources to surround them with quality veterans, not just keep holes plugged with declining players who are merely adequate, as the Padres are doing.

The 33-year-old Kuroda seems to be, quality-wise, in the Masato Yoshii model (career 0.96 HR, 2.36 BB and 6.65 K per 9 in Japan).

San Diego Padres

Raw EWSL: 195.67 (65 W)
Adjusted: 211.60 (71 W)
Age-Adj.: 192.29 (64 W)
2008 W-L: 77-85

C30Josh Bard1210
1B26Adrian Gonzalez1821
2B33Tadahito Iguchi1715
SS28Khalil Greene1717
3B26Kevin Kouzmanoff*817
RF37Brian Giles2113
CF38Jim Edmonds129
LF28Scott Hairston44
C231Michael Barrett97
INF25Callix Crabbe+04
OF30Jody Gerut10
1227Paul McAnulty*00
1336Tony Clark54
SP127Jake Peavy1717
SP229Chris Young1210
SP342Greg Maddux108
SP431Randy Wolf43
SP527Wil Ledezma22
RP140Trevor Hoffman129
RP230Heath Bell76
RP325Cla Meredith#67
RP428Kevin Cameron*24
RP525Justin Germano*24

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - The Padres had a fair amount of outfield chaos in camp (more on which below), ending by the decision that hot hitting prospect Chase Headley really needed to go back to the minors despite a great camp following a bust-out year in AA, despite a better minor league record than Paul McAnulty; Headley hasn't played at AAA and is being converted to the outfield from 3B (which is blocked by Kouzmanoff), and the Padres want him to get his feet under him on both counts before making the jump to the majors. (More here). Chip Ambres is in camp as well; Jeff DaVanon and Robert Fick were late roster cuts. Matt Antonelli is the heir apparent at 2B (his minor league numbers are solid, esp. that career .406 OBP, but at 23 Antonelli has yet to face AAA pitching himself), and Oscar Robles and Luis Rodriguez are on hand as well. Pitchers - In the short run, Ledezma's competition for the last rotation slot is Germano and the revived Glendon Rusch (returned after retiring due to blood clots), as well as Shawn Estes. Longer term, the Padres are taking a savvy but possibly fruitless flier on the oft-injured Mark Prior, the Brigadoon of starting pitchers, though he's been missing almost as long as D.B. Cooper and might take longer to return. Other arms on hand: Justin Hampson, Joe Thatcher, Enrique Gonzalez, Adam Bass and Aaron Rakers (probably the most likely to contribute at the back of the pen).

Analysis: Pity the poor Padres, still working off a 2004-07 blueprint for winning the NL West - over the past 4 years, the division winner has averaged 88 wins a year. This roster might, if things break right, be up to the task of winning in the high 80s against weak intra-division competition - but against a deep and talented trio of opponents, the Pads are just outclassed, and should be officially in rebuilding mode by midsummer, looking to shop Giles, Maddux, Iguchi, and possibly Clark and Edmonds (Hoffman, I assume, will remain a Padre to the bitter end).

Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming: Jim Edmonds is hurt and not ready for the season's opener (it was past time for the Cardinals to be rid of the frustration of Edmonds and Rolen). That likely leaves Hairston in center and Jody Gerut, who has missed two full seasons with a major knee injury, starting in left (more here - the Pads may end up needing another CF).

In the infield, I expect Kouzmanoff to pick up where he left off, batting .310/.364/.514 after May 14 following a horrible beginning to the season that saw his average drop as low as .108. The utilityman role has been given to speedy Callix Crabbe, acquired from JK Rowling in the Rule 5 draft and who stuck with the Pads due to his versatility.

Kevin Cameron had a ludicrous 0.80 ERA through mid-August but got torched to a 9.69 mark the rest of the way; his second tour around the league will tell whether he can find a workable medium. He still has not allowed a home run.

San Francisco Giants

Raw EWSL: 170.33 (57 W)
Adjusted: 186.30 (62 W)
Age-Adj.: 161.47 (54 W)
Subj. Adj. 164.47 (55 W)
2008 W-L: 68-94

C33Ben Molina1311
1B27Dan Ortmeier*26
2B36Ray Durham129
SS41Omar Vizquel169
3B36Rich Aurilia107
RF34Randy Winn1614
CF30Aaron Rowand1614
LF36Dave Roberts1410
C229Eliezer Alfonzo#44
INF23Brian Bocock+04
OF27Rajai Davis*35
1226Kevin Frandsen#23
1327Fred Lewis*35
SP123Matt Cain1110
SP224Tim Lincecum*48
SP330Barry Zito1210
SP427Noah Lowry1010
SP527Kevin Corriea66
RP126Brian Wilson#34
RP228Brad Hennessey88
RP332Tyler Walker43
RP429Vinnie Chulk43
RP525Jonathan Sanchez#11

Subjective Adjustments: Dan Ortmeier (+3 from 3 to 6); I was tempted to bump up Ortmeier further but remembered the Ryan Shealy fiasco from last season. +3 is a conservative adjustment for the fact that Ortmeier, who isn't really a great prospect, should play a lot more this year and is rated on one partial season. On the other hand, Brian Bocock's inexperience and weak minor league batting line, combined with the likelihood of Omar Vizquel's return, prevented me from giving Bocock any more Win Shares to reflect the fact that he is temporarily the everyday SS in Vizquel's absence.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Catcher Guillermo Rodriguez, OF Nate Shierholtz, SS Eugenio Velez. Pitchers - Mostly veteran releivers - Steve Kline, Randy Messenger, Scott Atchison, Patrick Misch.

Analysis: The Giants are slowly, slowly easing out the ancient veterans, but the guys who are taking their place in the lineup are not that young and already close to their ceilings. Rarely have I seen such a desperate, terrible lineup supporting such a deep and talented pitching staff as these Giants last season and this. Rowand should give good defensive backing, as will the old and young shortstops, but Durham is awfully creaky this spring. And of course, you need to score the occasional run to win games.

While Cain and Lincecum should exceed those WS numbers, Lowry is out until late April at least due to forearm surgery, and Sanchez will replace him in the rotation in the interim.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:35 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 24, 2008
BASEBALL: Travels With Rowland-Smith

Cool Sydney Morning Herald profile of Ryan Rowland-Smith and how he worked out as a starter in Venezuela this winter. Favorite quote from the Aussie hurler with the "150kmh fastball," on facing Ken Griffey jr. in his first major league appearance:

"I thought that it was pretty cool, because even my mates back in Australia would know who he was because he was on The Simpsons"

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:04 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Shea Stadium, October 1973

A classic trip down memory lane:

Via our old friend Art Martone. Sadly, Lindsey Nelson's jacket in this one is quite subdued. Note that in the joint interview with Seaver in the second clip, Catfish is unusually blunt in criticizing Charlie Finley on live television (Reggie too, in the first clip), and both Catfish and Seaver are remarkably cliche-free in discussing their status as undisputed staff aces (I would have expected a few more nods to the idea that it's not such a bad thing for the teams to start Koosman or Matlack or Blue or Holtzman in a big game).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:55 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Nathan's Rich (and Famous)

I'm kinda surprised that the Twins re-signed Joe Nathan after being too poor for the much more valuable Johan Santana, but I suppose Nathan's price tag is smaller. Which is kinda sad, since dollar for dollar the investment in Santana is a much better one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:50 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Happy Blogoversary David Pinto

Keep up the good work.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:47 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Picture of the Day

You never know when you might need Manny to play second base:


Via Allan Wood.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:44 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Reed Johnson For Hire

I would hope the Mets take a look at the newly-unemployed Reed Johnson, cut yesterday by the Blue Jays; the righthanded-hitting Johnson is no star and no power hitter and at 31 is coming off a horrible year after a career year in 2006, but he's a career .308/.371/.462 hitter against lefthanded pitching. That's a free talent who could be useful. Downside is that most of his career power output, such as it is, has come at hitter-friendly SkyDome.

UPDATE (3/25): The Cubs have signed Johnson. The lesson is one any Roto GM knows: when free talent is scarce it goes fast, even when the player involved is nothing special.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Cliff Is Back

Cliff Lee has landed the #5 starter job for the Indians. Personally I thought it was way premature to write off Lee after last season, and figured he'd be back in the Cleveland rotation sooner or later.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:09 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 AL East EWSL Report

The third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The AL East. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

The Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 277.17 (92 W)
Adjusted: 289.23 (96 W)
Age-Adj.: 265.51 (89 W)
2008 W-L: 101-61

C36Jorge Posada2317
1B37Jason Giambi149
2B25Robinson Cano1823
SS34Derek Jeter2724
3B32Alex Rodriguez3327
RF34Bobby Abreu2220
CF23Melky Cabrera#1017
LF34Hideki Matsui1413
DH34Johnny Damon1917
C233Jose Molina54
INF32Morgan Ensberg1311
OF28Shelley Duncan*24
1326Wilson Betemit89
SP128Chien-Ming Wang1414
SP236Andy Pettitte1413
SP339Mike Mussina98
SP422Philip Hughes*25
SP523Ian Kennedy+14
RP138Mariano Rivera1512
RP222Joba Chamberlain*36
RP332Kyle Farnsworth64
RP435LaTroy Hawkins53
RP526Brian Bruney22

Subjective Adjustments: None. But certainly Joba Chamberlain is likely to contribute more than 24 innings of work. I did not want to rate him higher than a rookie, though, whereas I used the rookie adjustment for Ian Kennedy, who would otherwise have had 2 WS.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Alberto Gonzalez, catcher Wil Nieves. Pitchers - Failed/injured starters Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, young starters Jeff Karstens, Matt DeSalvo, Darrell Rasner and Ross Ohlendorf, and relievers Chris Britton, Edwar Ramirez, and the unfortunate Sean Henn. I gather that Igawa will pitch out of the bullpen; Pavano will pitch if mutually convenient dates can be arranged.

Analysis: The Hated Yankees have run off the road in October seven years running now, but the regular season juggernaut shows no sign of stopping. A lineup with four 34-year-olds, a 36-year-old and a 37-year-old could change that in a hurry - consider even how much the Yankees lose if A-Rod drops back to .290 and 40 HR - but there's a lot of quality bats here and the Yanks' bench, while not great, is not quite as bare as it was for much of the late Torre years. 2008 is an exciting year for purist Yankee fans who have waited a long, long time to see the team break in a significant amount of young talent (Melky getting an everyday job, two rookie starters and maybe three if Joba slots in for Mussina), but it's also a year of risk. In a sense - and this was reflected in the desultory pursuit of Johan Santana - the Yankees and Red Sox almost seem to have entered into an unspoken detente this season, both deciding simultaneously to take a breather from big-ticket acquisitions, prepare for the decline in earnest of their aging stars, and start working more youth into their rotations and lineups - a Melky for an Ellsbury, a Hughes for a Buchholz, a Kennedy for a Lester, a Mussina for a Schilling, a Giambi for a Manny (both of whose contracts finally end in 2008). If there was a serious threat to their two-superpower system this would be risky, but as of now there still isn't.

The notoriously indestructible Matsui's numbers are still dragged down by his 2006 injury, although of course at 34, he may be more susceptible to injuries anyway. Jeter, by contrast, seems on the path of slow, gradual decline, with age starting to eat away around the corners of several of his assets, breaking down his weak defense and stripping some of his speed and power. I expect Jeter to continue to be productive into his late 30s, like similar hitters like Paul Molitor and Pete Rose; just a little less like the Jeter of old.

I can't add much to the Joba saga except to note the obvious that his future path will probably be determined less by his own performance than by Mussina's and by Mariano's health.

World Champion Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 216.17 (72 W)
Adjusted: 240.37 (80 W)
Age-Adj.: 221.03 (74 W)
Subj. Adj.: 226.03 (75 W)
2008 W-L: 88-74

C36Jason Varitek129
1B29Kevin Youkilis1816
2B24Dustin Pedroia*1023
SS32Julio Lugo1412
3B34Mike Lowell1816
RF32JD Drew1412
CF24Jacoby Ellsbury*313
LF36Manny Ramirez2216
DH32David Ortiz2823
C230Kevin Cash00
INF32Alex Cora54
OF28Coco Crisp1415
1331Bobby Kielty54
SP128Josh Beckett1515
SP227Daisuke Matsuzaka*612
SP341Tim Wakefield108
SP423Clay Buchholz+24
SP524Jon Lester#44
RP127Jon Papelbon1515
RP232Hideki Okajima*69
RP342Mike Timlin75
RP430Javier Lopez32
RP526Manny Delcarmen#45

Subjective Adjustments: Jacoby Ellsbury (+5 from 8 to 13, to place him just ahead of the typical rookie). Buchholz I just rated as a rookie. Obviously, there's some significant upside to both Buchholz and Lester, but young pitchers are also a risk. Ellsbury will probably clear 13 WS, but if he does, Crisp won't approach 15 in a Sox uniform this year, so I didn't want to get carried away.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Sean Casey, onetime big league regular Keith Ginter, SS Jed Lowrie, OF Brandon Moss, catcher Dusty Brown. Pitchers - The injured Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, relievers Julian Tavarez, Devern Hansack, Kyle Snyder, David Aardsma, and Bryan Corey.

Analysis: I can't quite put my finger on one single reason why the defending champs are not rated higher by EWSL, other than the loss of Curt Schilling. The rest is little things - the mid-30s wearing-down of Manny, Lowell and Varitek, the uncertainty of two rookies in the rotation, the relative lack of solid relievers after Papelbon and Okajima, the difficulty of projecting health and productivity from the erratic backgrounds of Beckett and Drew, even the decision to carry a backup catcher with a remarkable facility for accruing service time without accumulating even a single Win Share (Cash has notched zero Win Shares in four of his five big-league seasons). Other than the rookies, Matsuzaka (who I expect to do better this season) and who-knows with Drew, about the only upside here is possibly a slight recovery for Julio Lugo, who was sapped by an intestinal parasite last season.

End of an era: Manny doesn't expect the Sawx to pick up his $20 million options for 2009 & 2010, and is arming for war with the hiring of Scott Boras.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 237.50 (79 W)
Adjusted: 242.70 (81 W)
Age-Adj.: 209.93 (70 W)
2008 W-L: 83-79

C37Gregg Zaun106
1B31Lyle Overbay1210
2B26Aaron Hill1619
SS33David Eckstein1513
3B33Scott Rolen1312
RF27Alex Rios1919
CF29Vernon Wells1917
LF31Reed Johnson97
DH40Frank Thomas169
C232Rod Barajas65
INF32Marco Scutaro108
OF40Matt Stairs109
1334Shannon Stewart116
SP131Roy Halladay1714
SP231AJ Burnett108
SP326Dustin McGowan66
SP426Shaun Marcum#68
SP523Jesse Litsch*47
RP132BJ Ryan96
RP226Jeremy Accardo910
RP332Scott Downs75
RP430Jason Frasor43
RP530Brian Tallet#33

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Russ Adams, John McDonald and Hector Luna are all in the middle infield mix. Adam Lind has fallen out of favor but remains a top prospect, and it's not hard to see him reclaiming a corner outfield or DH slot if the logjam of veterans ahead of him break down. Young Curtis Thigpen and old Sal Fasano are on hand to back up Zaun and Barajas. Pitchers - Starter Gustavo Chacin is still trying to get healthy enough to get back to where he was in 2005. Brandon League will be in the bullpen mix, as will Brian Wolfe and perhaps the recently acquired Armando Benitez. Casey Janssen is out for the year, which is a shame given his talent - I was wondering why I thought Janssen had been kicking around Toronto's system for a long time and then I realized I was thinking of Marty Janzen.

Analysis: I admit that I have tended to discount Toronto this offseason in thinking about the AL East...there's definitely upside here - if healthy that rotation could be quite good (you never know with Burnett and Halladay; McGowan's numbers here are suppressed by including his 2005-06 struggles), and BJ Ryan might come around to his old form. But only 3 non-pitchers are under 31, and one of those is Vernon Wells, whose power may well be permanently degraded as a result of his bum shoulder (Will Carroll seems pessimistic). David Eckstein is not likely to age well. Frank Thomas has been old for a very long time. And life is too short to discuss here all of Scott Rolen's health woes.

Tampa Bay Rays

Raw EWSL: 147.17 (49 W)
Adjusted: 172.30 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 175.50 (59 W)
2008 W-L: 71-91

C24Dioner Navarro57
1B30Carlos Pena1513
2B29Akinori Iwamura*713
SS28Jason Bartlett1314
3B22Evan Longoria+012
RF35Cliff Floyd118
CF23BJ Upton#1219
LF26Carl Crawford2124
DH27Johnny Gomes89
C233Josh Paul22
INF25Willy Aybar34
OF30Eric Hinske65
1327Ben Zobrist#11
SP124Scott Kazmir1312
SP226James Shields#811
SP324Matt Garza#23
SP425Andy Sonnanstine*23
SP524Edwin Jackson11
RP138Troy Percival22
RP237Al Reyes54
RP330Dan Wheeler87
RP431Gary Glover22
RP529Juan Salas*12

Subjective Adjustments: None, but see below re: Garza and Sonnanstine. I suppose I could have rated Upton on a 3-year basis, since he was really a rookie in 2004, or a 1-year basis; this was a reasonable compromise. By contrast, Pena is rated here on a 3-year basis since he's 30 years old and has been a regular in the past; ditto for Percival.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Rocco Baldelli is probably done for his career due to his bizarre mitochondrial illness, which is a terrible shame for such a young and talented man who never really got to find out whether he had what it takes to turn a promising debut into major league stardom. Shawn Riggans and the undead Mike DiFelice are the catching backups. Hot SS prospect Reid Brignac, OF Justin Ruggiano and INF Joel Guzman. Pitchers - A bunch of relievers will round out the bullpen options - Trever Miller, Grant Balfour, Chad Orvella, JP Howell, and Kurt Birkins. Jason Hammel is on hand as a starter, followed by waves of highly touted youngsters who don't appear to be likely contributors in 2008 (first round draft pick David Price is the biggest name but hasn't pitched in the pros yet).

Analysis: Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system has projected the Rays to win 88 or 89 games this season, a prediction Nate Silver has confidently touted. Allow me to say: this is nuts.

Last season, Tampa allowed 944 runs (5.83 per game), the highest in the majors by a margin of more than 50 runs. This season, BP is projecting them to allow 713 runs (4.40 per game), the lowest in the AL, third-lowest in the majors (behind the Mets and Padres), and a 32% reduction from last season. This for a team that returns 4 of last year's top 5 starting pitchers, last season's closer as a setup man for a 38-year-old who just came out of retirement in the middle of last year, and six members of last season's starting lineup, one of whom is learning to play second base at the major league level after not having played it since junior high. I have not done a study to see how many teams have (absent a radical change in the league scoring environment) cut their runs allowed by a third in one season or shot in the space of a year from the worst to the best pitching/defense team in the league, but it's an incredibly ambitious goal - the 2006 Tigers cut their runs allowed by 17%, the 1991 Braves by 27%. And remember: like EWSL but with more science behind it and more ambitions to be an actual prediction system, PECOTA is supposed to predict, not what might or will happen, but what is most likely to happen. Until I saw BP's prediction, I considered myself quite bullish about Tampa; they could, if everything breaks right, win in the high 80s even in this division, and they seem likely to get up around or maybe a little over .500, which would be a historic achievement for this franchise and a great foundation for the future of a young team. 81 wins would require them to exceed their EWSL by 10 games - and note that at least measured by the 23-man rosters, only 5 teams in the past three years have cleared their EWSL by 30 or more. BP has put itself way out there on a limb on this one.

All of that said, let me give my own reasons, not so dissimilar from BP's, why I am optimistic about this team. As I have explained before, there has been a fair amount of deadwood pruned from the pitching staff, and the arrival of Jason Bartlett, if he stays healthy, should do wonders for the majors' worst defense in 2007, thus lifting a big load off the shoulders of the pitching staff. The rotation could be quite good, as Kazmir and Shields are solid and still improving, and Edwin Jackson's improved K rate suggests a guy who is gradually learning to harness his long-heralded natural talent, although I would not expect dramatic improvement given the problems he still has with walks and homers. The key to the rotation will be Garza and Sonnanstine. Garza has front-of-the-rotation talent and had a good 3.69 ERA last year; he could put it all together, but young pitchers are young pitchers. Sonnanstine got shellacked last season to the tune of a 5.85 ERA, but his main rate stats (1.24 HR, 1.79 BB and 6.68 K/9) suggest a guy who should be a solid big leaguer and could be a good one if he can get the homers down; in 257 innings at AA and AAA, those rates were 0.81, 1.65 and 7.67. Again: reasons to like Sonnanstine. Not reasons to bet the ranch on a guy with a 5.85 big league ERA.

The lineup is another story - the Rays desperately need more than last season's .227/.286/.356 Avg/OBP/Slg from Dioner Navarro, and don't really have a workable Plan B if they don't. The outfield looks good, but the departure of Baldelli, Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes means that the problem of too many talented young outfielders has now been replaced with hoping that Cliff Floyd can hold up as a regular again at age 35. Longoria could be a big star right away, but even if he's going to be one eventually, he could be Alex Gordon's 2007. Tampa's 1324 strikeouts (on offense) set an AL record, and other than Delmon Young, all the major offenders are still here.

Carl Crawford's slugging percentage dropped 16 points last season, and in 2005 his OBP stayed steady from 2004. I mention these two examples because they are the only exceptions - otherwise, Crawford has increased his average and his slugging percentage and his OBP each of his six seasons in the majors, a record of steady growth that makes up for not having taken the explosive leaps forward of similar hitters like Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Still, one more significant improvement is needed if he's going to be the cornerstone of a contending team.

There's a good reason why Baseball-Reference.com and Baseball Prospectus both identify one of the most similar players to Carlos Pena as Jim Gentile.

Trivia - Did you know that Cliff Floyd's real first name is Cornelius?

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 155.00 (52 W)
Adjusted: 189.80 (63 W)
Age-Adj.: 166.92 (56 W)
2008 W-L: 68-94

C32Ramon Hernandez1412
1B36Kevin Millar129
2B30Brian Roberts2017
SS24Luis Hernandez+110
3B36Melvin Mora1411
RF24Nick Markakis#1421
CF22Adam Jones+012
LF30Luke Scott#99
DH31Aubrey Huff1110
C226Guillermo Quiroz11
INF27Brandon Fahey#22
OF35Jay Payton117
1331Jay Gibbons65
SP129Jeremy Guthrie*610
SP224Adam Loewen#23
SP327Daniel Cabrera76
SP437Steve Trachsel66
SP524Garrett Olson*00
RP131George Sherrill54
RP233Chad Bradford64
RP336Jamie Walker66
RP425Matt Albers*00
RP527Brian Burres*23

Subjective Adjustments: Luis Hernandez (-2 from 11.5 to 9.5). Hernandez is just such a horrible hitter (.296 career OBP in the minors) that I couldn't seriously assign him the standard rookie EWSL.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Freddy Bynum, whose knee injury took him out of the infield picture for now; Tike Redman, and Adam Stern. Pitchers - Chris Ray and Danys Baez are among the scores of pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery this spring. Hayden Penn, Greg Aquino and Fernando Cabrera are on hand; Aquino is sometimes a useful pitcher.

Analysis: Another year, another roster full of short-term thinking. I don't envy new pitching coach Rick Kranitz, trying to see if he can do a better job with this staff than did Cooperstown-bound pitching guru Leo Mazzone, and without the team's ace, Erik Bedard, and its top 2 relief arms. Let's put it this way: they are contemplating starting Steve Trachsel on Opening Day. More here on the remaining rotation battles. Guthrie and Loewen should contribute solid full seasons, but they can't fill the void left by Bedard.

Whether the lineup will be weak or horrendous depends on who else gets shipped out of town to start yet another half-hearted rebuilding process (Brian Roberts is supposed to head the list). Pity poor Nick Markakis, who will be stuck in this mess for years to come.

Luke Scott's comps have some interesting names, the most encouraging of which are Mike Easler and Matt Stairs.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2008
BASEBALL: Fantasy Baseball - New Team Needed

As happens from time to time, my Roto league is short a team (we go with 12 teams, now have 11). League (which I have been in since 1994) is an AL-only traditional Roto league. Auction-style draft is this Saturday in Manhattan at 10:30am, usually lasts about 8 hours. Email me if you are interested.

I've bumped this back to the top - still looking.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:33 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 18, 2008
BASEBALL: Hope Springs Eternal

First Strawberry, then Gooden. I still wish Gooden well, but he's long passed into "show me, don't tell me" territory.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:32 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Curtains Approach

Jose Valentin may be at the end of the line due to a pinched nerve in his neck.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:32 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2008 AL West EWSL Report

The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The AL West. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold. One new development: I've added a line for each team's estimated 2008 W-L record, to reflect EWSL plus 38.57 Win Shares, which is the average number of Win Shares by the rest of the team's roster (i.e., the players other than the 23 listed before the season) over the teams I have tracked the past three seasons. I'll go back and add that in to the AL Central report in a little while.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two