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Baseball 2009 Archives

December 30, 2009
BASEBALL: Keeping The Wolf At Bay

So, Omar Minaya finally accomplished something this offseason besides acquiring Henry Blanco, RA Dickey and...I dunno, working on his Soduku game or something.

Regarding the Mets' signing of Jason Bay yesterday, let me start by getting this out of the way: I have a bad feeling that this is not going to work out well at all. I have no rational basis for that whatsoever - maybe it's just a hangover from George Foster and Bobby Bonilla (granted, both of whom had some good years with the Mets). But with that out of the way, let's look at this rationally.

Bay will be 31 next season, 34 when he finishes the fourth guaranteed season of the 4-year-$66 million deal (an average of $16.5 million per year), and 35 when the Mets will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million for a fifth year he can qualify for by meeting certain benchmarks (details are unclear, but it sounds like Bay will get the fifth year if he stays healthy). That's a lot of money, but for a team with the Mets' market, it shouldn't be a budget-buster.

What were the options? The Mets had no credible left fielder last year except when Gary Sheffield was hitting well, and you couldn't bring back Sheffield as a long-term solution. The Mets could have focused on a first baseman, but - more on this below - they presumably prefer to keep open the option of bringing back Carlos Delgado rather than a similarly risky left fielder. And rebuilding remains a non-option: Santana, Beltran and K-Rod are all going to be in their primes for only a few more years, so the team still needs to look to compete seriously no later than 2011.

With Hideki Matsui signed, Matt Holliday, Vlad Guerrero and Johnny Damon are the other choices on the free agent market (the Mets' minor league cupboard being thin, they would prefer a free agent to trading for, say, Adam Dunn). Guerrero remains a very dangerous hitter (.309/.373/.515, OPS+ of 130 the last three seasons), but he'll be 35 next season, has a history of back trouble, missed a third of the season in 2009 and his ability to play the field is questionable. Damon's 36, has no arm, is a less dangerous power threat (.285/.364/.449, 114 OPS+), and hit 17 of his 24 homers last year at home. Holliday is a better player than Bay: he's a year younger, more athletic, a significantly better glove, and as a hitter he comes out ahead over the last three seasons, .325/.403/.555 143 OPS+ to .267/.362/.493 121 OPS+, thanks in large part to Bay's crummy 2007 season (and in the raw numbers, to Coors Field). They're similarly durable - Bay's missed 35 games the last 3 years, Holliday 33. Holliday runs a bit more, but neither is a big base thief and Bay's a career 82.5% base thief to 76.9% for Holliday. Over their careers, Holliday's OPS+ is 133, Bay's is 131. Significantly, Bay's a career .278/.366/.532 hitter on the road, Holliday .284/.353/.454.

So, while Holliday is probably a better bet, his salary demands are outrageous - I'm seeing numbers thrown around like 8 years and $18 million a year. He's not that much better.

One difference between Bay and some of the Mets' less successful imports is that he won't be expected to be the star of the show - Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Santana and K-Rod all remain bigger names. And assuming Reyes is healthy, adding Bay's power-and-patience bat to Wright, Reyes, and Beltran immediately makes it more sensible to bring back Delgado to join with (ugh) Jeff Francouer to give you a series of power hitters in the middle of the order (I expect Francouer to revert to a middle-ground .280/.310/.470 type season this year, the value of which depends heavily on how many other guys in the lineup are on base).

As for Delgado, it appears he's had some offseason setbacks, so bringing him back may be a less certain proposition. But strategically, the Bay deal at least makes it a more sensible option to consider.

UPDATE: Rob Neyer looks at how the Bay signing is emblematic of the Mets' lack of a farm system and consequent reliance on veteran free agents (a problem they might have had less of if they hadn't dealt Bay for Steve Reed in 2002). All of that is true and very much Omar Minaya's fault - they allocation of too few resources to signing young talent is especially galling - but it doesn't really detract from the fact that if that's the fix you're in, signing Bay makes sense and rebuilding in the middle of the Beltran, Santana, K-Rod, Wright and Reyes contracts (not to mention the Castillo and Ollie Perez albatrosses) doesn't.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:42 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Decade of Gold

Rob Neyer has a provocative all-decade Gold Glove team. Granted, I had to get by the seizure I had at seeing Kenny Rogers on any sort of all-decade team.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:22 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Javy's Back

Well, the Hated Yankees may have looked a day or two ago as if they'd settled on Joba and Phil Hughes as their #4-5 starters and Melky Cabrera backed by Brett Gardner in left field, but accepting the Braves' generous donation of Javier Vazquez in exchange for Melky unsettles all that:

Pitcher Javy Vazquez was traded back to the Yankees by the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday for outfielder Melky Cabrera, a move that pushed New York’s payroll for next season over $200 million.

New York also got left-hander Boone Logan as part of the deal, and the Braves obtained a pair of pitching prospects, left-hander Mike Dunn and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, along with about $500,000.

(As you'll see from following the links, Vizcaino has promising numbers in the low minors, but in small samples and is only 18; Dunn's numbers look unimpressive).

It would seem logical that this deal re-opens the Yankees to re-signing Johnny Damon, and if not it puts them back in the game for another serious left fielder (Vladimir Guerrero or Matt Holliday, I wonder? The AP's suggestion of Mark DeRosa seems ridiculous. But as the Mets are the only hot contender for Jason Bay at the moment, the Yankees may see an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by pursuing Bay). And the Vazquez deal leaves them with four established starters (along with Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte), so either Hughes and Chamberlain will fight for a rotation slot, or one of them will be slotted again as a reliever or packaged in a deal.

For the Braves, this looks like cost-cutting. The Mets, of course, could have used Vazquez, but presumably Atlanta wanted to deal him out of the division. But it's still hard to believe, unless they have a very high opinion of Melky, that they couldn't have gotten a better package from someone else, given the short supply of durable power pitchers with excellent control (yes, Vazquez is somewhat inconsistent and gopher-prone, but he's still unquestionably a valuable property who can be a frontline starter in his good years).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:45 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)
December 19, 2009
BASEBALL: The Granderson Deal and Nick Johnson's Return

I'm way overdue here to run through the results of the winter meetings, so let's start with the Hated Yankees' two big moves: the acquisition by trade of Curtis Granderson and by free agency of Nick Johnson (coupled with re-signing Andy Pettitte and letting Hideki Matsui and, apparently, Johnny Damon walk).

It's an interesting set of moves, and clearly continues (as with last year's offseason moves) the Yankees' determination to finally address the longstanding problem of the team being too many heavy hitters in their 30s and not enough guys who are younger or good defensive players. Granderson's not that young - he's 29 - but he's got 7 years on Damon and Matsui. And he's a fantastic defensive center fielder, probably the best the Yankees have had since ... well, it's a fair debate who was the last steady genuine center fielder the Yankees have had (Bernie was a good glove in his heyday but could never throw much, and neither could Mickey Rivers; Rickey was really a left fielder with good wheels).

Sabermetrically-inclined observers have fretted that Granderson slid to .249 withg a .327 OBP this season, but I wouldn't be overly concerned. First of all, he played at an MVP level in 2007-08, batting .292/.363/.524, and even in an off-year in 2009 he managed 30 homers, 72 walks, 20 steals in 26 tries, and batted into just one double play in 710 plate appearances. The Yankees can afford to carry a guy who is a defense-first center fielder, and if Granderson manages a happy medium on those numbers he'll be much more than that. Baseball-reference.com identifies the two most similar players at the same age as two athletic Tigers outfielders of recent decades (Kirk Gibson and Bobby Higginson), and while both of them hit the wall at age 32, they each had three outstanding seasons with the bat between age 29-31, including Gibson's MVP campaign. And Granderson's a power hitter, the kind who should thrive in the new Yankee Stadium. On the whole, the projected outfield of Granderson, Swisher, Cabrera and Gardner should be excellent and athletic defensively (all have played center field at length in the past two years), if less dangerous offensively than the Yankee infield.

The deal still doesn't make a lot of sense from the perspective of the Diamondbacks. At least the Tigers got high-upside frontline starter Max Scherzer (along with Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and pitching prospect Daniel Schlereth). Granted, Scherzer is brittle, but he's a heckuva talent. (Schlereth is a wild card, 24 and wild but with 82 strikeouts in 58 innings as a professional, a quarter of that in the majors; Jackson's become expendable due to failing to develop much power yet). So, you can understand this as a reloading deal. But Arizona gives up Scherzer for Edwin Jackson, who has matured into a solid third starter but doesn't seem to have Scherzer's upside, or indeed much upside at all beyond his 2009 season - unless the D-Backs are sufficiently concerned about the health of Brandon Webb and the rest of their rotation to feel the need to bring in someone more durable.

Then there's Nick Johnson. At 31, Johnson's not the high-upside "next Jeff Bagwell" he was projected as when he left the Yankees, having never stayed healthy enough at length to become a major star - even healthy last season he managed just 8 homers and slugged .405 - but since 2005 when he's played he's batted .285/.420/.467. His on-base skills make him a serious addition to any offense even if his power doesn't come back, especially a Yankee offense that won't depend on him any more than it will on Granderson. The slightly odd thing is that with Teixeira ensconsed at first, Johnson will have to DH, and while that's probably the best for his health (see Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez for examples of guys who suddenly got healthy in their 30s when they gave up playing the field), it does mean - if Johnson's healthy, a big if - that the DH slot won't be left open to provide a blow to A-Rod, Posada and Jeter.

On the whole, a sound strategy by the Yankees. Now, we'll just have to see how they manage to settle on the roles of Joba and Hughes and, if they settle in the rotation, who will hold up the rest of the bullpen without them and Coke.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:42 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
December 14, 2009
BLOG: Busy Signal

Real life intrudes, from time to time, so apologies to regular readers if I'm tied up a few days - I know I'm particularly overdue on the Winter Meetings roundup. Hopefully, I'll be back in the blog saddle again by Wednesday.

Feel free to treat this as an open thread - baseball, politics, whatever. You can even talk about the Giants, but you can't make me listen.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:21 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Football | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
December 4, 2009
BASEBALL: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Interesting to see the breakdown of who was and wasn't offered arbitration among this year's free agents. Recall that if a player is offered arbitration, he can accept or he can decline and be a free agent, in which case the team gets compensation in the form of a draft pick. If the team doesn't offer arbitration, it loses the chance to get a draft pick. (In 2006, the CBA eliminated restrictions on re-signing players denied arbitration). In other words, given that offering arbitration gives the team a benefit (a draft pick) it would otherwise miss out on, the team should offer arbitration to ensure it gets compensated for its possible loss unless one of the following things is true:

1. It doesn't want the guy back at any price; or
2. It thinks the arbitrator is likely to give the player more money than he'd get on the open market.

In theory, the purpose of arbitration is to give players something like their value on the open market; the system looks at what comparable players make, and values them accordingly. Since the comparable players are either guys who signed on the open market or guys who lacked the leverage of free agency (usually because they're not FA-eligible yet), in theory, there should be almost zero risk of an arbitration award greater than the player's open-market value. Which means that if a significant number of teams are declining arbitration offers to players they still have some interest in employing (obviously some of the players denied arbitration are genuinely unwanted by their teams), the teams must feel that the arbitration system isn't working and/or that its system of comparisons is out of whack because the salary market is declining.

Here's ESPN's list of significant players denied arbitration so far:

Johnny Damon
Miguel Tejada
Randy Wolf
Orlando Hudson
Bengie Molina
Jermaine Dye
Octavio Dotel
Placido Polanco
Darren Oliver
LaTroy Hawkins
Orlando Cabrera
Kevin Gregg
Hideki Matsui
Andy Pettitte
Vladimir Guerrero
Kelvim Escobar
Jon Garland
Jarrod Washburn
Erik Bedard
Carlos Delgado
Mike Cameron
Miguel Olivo

By contrast:

Just 23 players received arbitration offers -- one fewer than last year -- and only 10 were position players: St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday and third baseman Mark DeRosa; Boston outfielder Jason Bay; Los Angeles Angels third baseman Chone Figgins; Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre; Tampa Bay catcher Gregg Zaun; Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielder Marlon Byrd; and Toronto catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Marco Scutaro.

Pitchers offered arbitration included Angels ace John Lackey; Boston reliever Billy Wagner; Detroit's Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney; Minnesota's Carl Pavano; Oakland's Justin Duchscherer; Tampa Bay's Brian Shouse; Atlanta's Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano; Colorado's Rafael Betancourt and Jason Marquis; Houston's Jose Valverde; and St. Louis' Joel Pineiro.

Look at the Yankees as an example of this. They presumably want Pettitte back. They seem to prefer dumping Matsui and keeping Damon, but it's hard for me to see why they'd not even try to get Damon to accept arbitration. Yet they didn't offer arbitration to any of them. That suggests a lack of faith in the system.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:27 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 25, 2009
BASEBALL: Looking for Stupid

With the baseball writers inexplicably having gotten all the major awards right, one has to dig deeper for examples of blazing stupidity in end-of-season awards, but Jonah Keri finds one in Topps naming their all-rookie catcher. Matt Wieters? Nope. Omir Santos.

I suppose there's no downside in Omar calling up the Orioles to see about a deal, but even the Angelosi aren't that stupid.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 21, 2009
BASEBALL: Ray of Offense

In 2007, the Tampa Bay Rays finished last, 30 games under .500. In 2008, they won the AL pennant. In 2009, they went 84-78 and missed the playoffs.

How much variance was there in their offense to explain those? Let's look first at the raw numbers of how the team's offense performed, compared to the league average:


Then, each season's numbers translated into the 2009 context, for uniformity of context:


As you can see, the offensive context has fluctuated, but when you adjust for the league, Tampa's offense has shown gradual, year-on-year improvement, albeit not dramatic improvement, with the offense becoming incrementally more patient, more successful making contact, and less dependent upon the home run ball. But clearly, the major variable over the past three seasons has been the pitching and defense, not the offense.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:23 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 19, 2009
BASEBALL: Twice As Nice

The baseball writers for once got both Cy Young Awards right. One thing that jumps out as a sign of the times: neither 15-game-winner Tim Lincecum nor 16-game-winner Zack Greinke (both of whom were "supported" by weak offensive teams) had so much as 25 decisions.

Looking at Greinke's ERA+ of 205, tied for the 31st best league/park adjusted ERA of all time with Addie Joss' 1908, I was reminded to go back and look at how many of the 35 pitchers to post an ERA+ of 200 or better did it more than once. Here's that list, by number of seasons being twice as good as the league:

5-Pedro Martinez
4-Walter Johnson
3-Roger Clemens
2-Christy Mathewson
2-Greg Maddux

A short list indeed, and one that rather eloquently makes the case for the top 3 names on that list being on any short list of the greatest pitchers the game has known. Surprisingly, Lefty Grove did it only once, Sandy Koufax never did. So yes, just by ERA relative to the league and park (leaving aside, obviously, the difference in workload), Greinke was better this year than Koufax ever was. Think about that one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:19 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 11, 2009
BASEBALL: It Was A Great Year Except For The Playing Baseball Part

I had assumed that Ken Griffey jr would retire after hitting .214 this season, to preserve some dignity, but apparently he not only wants to return in 2010, but has convinced the Mariners he's enough of an asset to give him a contract comparable to his 2009 salary of over $3 million Why?

Griffey returned to the Mariners in 2009 under rookie manager Don Wakamatsu and almost single-handedly transformed what had been a fractured, bickering clubhouse with his leadership, energy and constant pranks....

"He went beyond anything that I would have expected," Zduriencik said.

Griffey even turned formerly reclusive star Ichiro Suzuki into a smiling, joking teammate. He had neckties made for road trips bearing Wakamatsu's likeness. He also had the Mariners wearing ties bearing his own likeness and the words "World's Greatest Teammate" for one midseason flight out of Seattle.

"His influence, the presence he has -- there are players on this ballclub who are very excited to know they are going to be teammates again with Ken Griffey Jr.," Zduriencik said.

The Mariners even carried Griffey off the field on their shoulders immediately following October's season finale.

That's all to the good, and by and large Griffey's been one of the good guys in his career; yes, he's been prone to whining and self-centeredness at times, especially in mid-career, but some of that comes with being told from your teen years that you are going to be a superstar, and it being right. On the whole, he's a guy I've always liked and rooted for, and it's good to see he's grown into a real clubhouse leader in his later years.

But it might help the Mariners to replace Griffey with someone who can provide a little more than a nice personality.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:09 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
November 9, 2009

ESPN talks to Ralph Kiner about his World War II-era military service as a Navy pilot. The one baseball note I'd either forgotten or not noticed before was that fresh out of the military, Kiner hit 13 home runs in spring trainining in 1946 to make the Pirates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:45 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
November 6, 2009
BASEBALL: Free Agents 2010

The NY Post has the full list of possible free agents this offseason.

The Mets have only one free agent they may have concerns about losing, and that's Delgado. Really, all decisions about 2010 flow from Delgado - they can try to stick with the hand they have and keep him, bring in another veteran for at least a stopgap, or just go younger.

The first base options aren't superstars, but Adam LaRoche might be a decent short-term pickup, there's always Aubrey Huff, and of course you could roll the dice with Nick Johnson's health (Jim Thome would bring all the same downsides that Delgado has, plus he's an even worse defensive option; ditto Jason Giambi).

The other main area where the Mets might go for some relatively high-profile help would be starting pitching, but aside from John Lackey, the options include some extremely high-risk gambles like Erik Bedard and Rich Harden. Doug Davis would be more the low-impact type of signing. John Smoltz looks like a high-risk, low-ceiling gamble, although his K/BB ratios remained strong.

There's also setup men and corner outfielders...I don't see the Mets pursuing Vlad Guerrero, but you never know. The Angels shelled out $19 million over two years for Bobby Abreu, which seems like a reasonable deal for both sides; Abreu looked solid enough this season to assuage immediate concerns about his age, but he could still go south at any minute.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
November 5, 2009
BASEBALL: 27 Yankees

A fitting end, to a baseball season of unremitting agony, all the way down to the Hated Yankees' fans getting to taunt Pedro, who arrived without his fastball. While Pedro pitched well enough down the stretch (3.63 ERA, 37/8 K/BB ratio) and put on a respectable showing overall in the postseason (3.71 ERA, 16 K in 17 IP), I have to wonder if it's just time for him to hang it up while he can go out on something resembling a high note, if he's out of gas starting his third game in a month.

I will say that Much as I hate the Yankees, I cannot hate Matsui; he's the Japanese Tommy Henrich. But I will hate Matsui quite a lot if he is a Met next year, because he will hit .233 with 8 HR and 47 RBI. Fortunately, it looks more like he'll stay in the AL even if the Yankees let him go.

As for Mariano Rivera, you just have to tip your cap; he was automatic again to the end, even at 39, even for the two-inning save. He ended up this season lowering his career postseason ERA to 0.74. Small sample sizes or no - Mariano's never thrown more than 8 innings in a postseason series - he has now appeared in 29 postseason serieses, and his ERAs for those serieses break down as follows:

4:50: 1 series (1 HR in 2 IP in the 1997 ALDS vs the Indians)
3.00: 2 serieses
Between 1.12 and 1.93: 7 serieses
0.00: 19 serieses

The only players to hit postseason homers off Rivera in 133.1 postseason innings are Sandy Alomar in 1997 and Jay Payton in 2000.

Neither here nor there, but to update a figure I have cited before, the Yankees are now 20-3 in World Series play under Democratic presidents, 7-10 under Republicans. Since their first pennant in 1921, that's 20 championships, 23 pennants and 26 postseason appearances in 41 seasons under Democratic Administrations, 7 championships, 17 pennants and 22 postseason appearances in 48 seasons under Republican ones.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:35 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
November 4, 2009
BASEBALL: Game Six Open Thread

In case I don't get to post something later this evening. As usual, if I am home watching the game I will probably be Twittering updates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:48 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
November 3, 2009

Quick thoughts:

-Good Burnett followed by Bad Burnett has been pretty much the story of his season, and really of his career. Really, given that the Hated Yankees' middle relief has been so bad, it's been hugely important that until last night, they hadn't had a starter knocked out of the box before the sixth inning. Pettitte and Sabathia will need to come up strong on short rest to avoid having more games get away before Rivera arrives (you can be sure Mo will appear to start the 8th if there's a lead in Game Six).

-The gonging home run Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park is pretty freaking cool in a big game, at night, with a packed house. I could almost picture Chuck Barris coming for Phil Coke.

-I would not have any trust at this point in either Pedro or Hamels pitching at Yankee Stadium. The advantages all favored Pedro in Game Two: rest, some element of surprise on hitters who hadn't faced him in years, the pressure all on the Yankees. All of those are reversed this time. I'll be very surprised if this goes to a Game Seven.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:12 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 2, 2009
BASEBALL: Expected Goats

The World Series often produces unexpected heroes and goats. But thus far, the goats, at least, of the 2009 World Series have been exactly who Phillies phans might have expected from the 2009 regular season: Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.

The Yankees couldn't do anything with Cliff Lee in Game One, and the Phils couldn't touch the revived AJ Burnett in Game Two; these things happen. But when Philly got to Andy Pettitte early in Game Three, that was their opportunity, and they're behind the 8-ball now in large part because the man who was supposed to be their ace this season, Hamels, just wasn't up to holding a 3-0 lead, coughing up a 2-run homer to A-Rod in the 4th before being KO'd by a 3-run rally in the 5th highlighted by Pettitte's RBI single.

What ailed Hamels this year? This is a guy who was 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 2007, only 14-10 but with a 3.09 ERA in 2008. At 25, he should be one of the top starters in the game, yet he slumped to 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA.

The evidence of a dramatic falloff is hard to find in Hamels' HR/BB/K per 9 IP data:

2007: 1.2 HR, 2.1 BB, 8.7 K
2008: 1.1 HR, 2.1 BB, 7.8 K
2009: 1.1 HR, 2.0 BB, 7.8 K

As you can see, the dip in Hamels' strikeut rate came in 2008, not 2009, and otherwise he's been exactly the same pitcher. The Hardball Times lists Hamels' xFIP (a fielding-independent ERA measure) for the past four years as 3.91, 3.53, 3.78 and 3.75. In other words, with an average defense, Hamels has been the same pitcher all along - never as good as his best ERAs, nor as bad as his worst (another sign that 2008's ERA was an outlier: Hamels allowed 11 unearned runs compared to 3 in 2007, 2 in 2009). His groundball/flyball percentage has also remained somewhat stable, although his percentage of line drives allowed among balls in play shot up (along with the lower K rate) from 19.4% in 2007 to 21.8% in 2008, before dipping to 20.8% this year. Basically the whole difference is that the Defensive Efficiency Rating behind him (percentage of balls in play converted to outs) went from a stellar .721 in 2007, to an astounding .741 in 2008, to a poor .683 in 2009. That being said, even if Hamels' problems this year were bad defense and/or bad luck, they stayed with him in Game Three.

Game Four will be controversial because of the decision to start Joe Blanton rather than Cliff Lee on short rest (a decision that also means Hamels will start if there's a Game Seven). But Lee has, so far as I can tell, never started a game on three days' rest, let alone two in a row, and it's not like Blanton's been terrible this year. I can understand the decision. But the game ultimately came down to Lidge vs Mariano Rivera, and we all know how that ends. Lidge has had a seesaw career since his catastrophic 2005 postseason, and this year has been all saw, to the point where the Phillies should hope he goes the Jay Howell route and gets suspended for the rest of the series. Unlike Hamels, there's no mystery with Lidge: he went from 0.3 HR/9, 4.5 BB & 11.9 K in 2008, when he was 4th in the Cy Young balloting, to 1.7 HR, 5.2 BB & 9.4 K this year. But for good measure, the DER behind him also cratered from .704 to .645. (On the whole, the Phils' DER this year was off only slightly, from .695 to .691, but other than JA Happ, all the really high DERs were behind the Phillies' middle relievers).

The final point: I have not run the numbers or seen if anyone has, but this Series has to be approaching the all-time record, if not shattering it, for percentage of the total runs scored in the Series that are scoring on home runs.

PS: On the other hand, it's ironic that the team using only 3 starters is the one having trouble getting middle relief help.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:29 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
October 29, 2009
BASEBALL: Pedro Ehmke?

Friend of the site Dr. Manhattan asks whether Pedro Martinez is a candidate tonight to do to the Yankees something like Howard Ehmke famously did to the Cubs in the 1929 World Series. As you may recall, Ehmke - a 35-year-old pitcher who started just 18 games in 1928 and 8 in 1929 - was sent by Connie Mack to scout the Cubs for the last several weeks of 1929, and then pitched a surprisingly dominating game against them in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. Pedro, of course, hasn't had nearly as long to know who his opponent would be, and the Yankees won't be surprised to see him, but otherwise there is some similarity: Pedro started just 9 games this season, and his 2-hit, 7-shutout-inning performance on October 16 against the Dodgers is his only appearance this month. So he should be fresh, rested and have a well-thought-out game plan to attack the Yankees. Downside is that Pedro in recent years has struggled to be sharp in the first inning, which could be a real issue for a guy who hasn't pitched in almost two weeks.

I won't make any prediction. Generally, the home team that loses Game 1, unless it's noticeably the inferior team, is a good bet to win Game 2; on the other hand, the pressure will be all on the Yankees tonight, and that's the worst time to face a crafty speed-changing veteran with nothing to lose. At any rate, Pedro's return to the Bronx will undoubtedly be tonight's spotlight storyline.

As for last night's game, not much to add besides the obvious: Cliff Lee dismantled the Yankees lineup. It really had to be a fairly rough game for Indians fans to watch their two best pitchers facing each other in the Series.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2009
BASEBALL: Curse of the 9s

Too bad there will be no World Series played this year.

Seriously, this is about the most unpleasant Series matchup I can imagine. I suppose I will pull for the Phillies - they can't really get more annoying by winning another one - but other than tuning in to pull for Pedro, I can't have much enthusiasm for any of this. The only two Serieses I can remember where I had no possible rooting interest were the 1999 Series (Yankees-Braves) and the 1989 Series (A's-Giants). If you'd asked me before the 1989 Series I'd have said I was rooting for an earthquake, so maybe this time I should keep quiet.

One thing I noted: the Yankees have 9 players with 200 or more total bases this season, the Phillies 7; 200 TB isn't a huge number, but since you need to slug .400 or have more than 500 at bats, it's a sign of having some level of stability and/or productivity up and down the lineup (the Mets had 2).

Last night's game got unwatchable after the Angels' 8th inning meltdown on the errors by Kendrick and Kazmir trying to field bunts. I'm sure I wasn't the only Mets fan who watched Kazmir and felt, as with the Braves' deflated performance in the 1999 Series, that it was the ultimate insult to Mets fans.

I still have to wonder, despite his struggles, at the decision not to use Brian Fuentes when the Angels had to hold the Yankee lead to 1 run in the 8th. Yes, you want your closer available on the road if you get a lead to hold - otherwise any lead is a Pyhrric victory - but the game was totally on the line there, and Scioscia ended up using two struggling starters instead of his ace (boy, did the Angels ever live to regret the disastrous year that Jose Arredondo had).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:18 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
October 23, 2009
BASEBALL: Nails, Bitten

I've complained previously about the absence of close serieses in this postseason, and the Phillies-Dodgers series hasn't done anything to improve that picture. The Angels' rousing 7-6 victory last night, however, offers at least the hope that this series may go down to the wire (a close Game Six would count). This series has already gone further than any of the others.

Carl Bialik in yesterday's WSJ, however, pointed out that the games themselves have been as tight as any postseason in memory: if you add in last night and if you count the Twins-Tigers 1-game playoff, 12 of 24 games this postseason have been decided by 1 run. Only twice in the post-1969 history of multi-round playoffs - and never since the addition of the wild card - has the game seen half of the postseason games decided by one run. Bialik also noted (again, writing before last night):

The Tigers tied the game in the 8th, took the lead in the 10th and lost it in the 12th. Since then, nine of the 20 postseason games - or 45% - have seen ties or lead changes in the 8th inning or later, making for an unusually thrilling postseason. Of 1,232 playoff games before this season, just 307, or 25%, were so close so late.

As Bialik notes, the highest percentage of one-run games (64.7%) is the all-time champion of great postseasons, the 1972 postseason, the last before the adoption of the DH rule. That postseason featured the following:

-All three serieses went the distance.

-11 of the 17 games were decided by 1 run.

-The ALCS featured two extra-inning games, one-run games in the deciding Games 4 and 5, and one of the two Oakland runs in the 2-1 Game 5 victory being scored on a steal of home on which the A's best player (Reggie Jackson) suffered a season-ending injury.

-The deciding Game 5 of the NLCS was won 4-3 on two runs by the Reds in the bottom of the ninth, a game-tying homer by Johnny Bench and a series-ending wild pitch.

-All but Game Six of the World Series between the Mustache Gang Oakland A's and the Big Red Machine were one-run games, and there were four lead changes in the seventh inning or later.

The other postseason with at least half the games (11 of 19, 57.9%) decided by one run was 1991.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:33 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
October 20, 2009
BASEBALL: Unmanaged

Watching Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi at work last night reminded me of one of the hardest things in managing: doing nothing.

Anybody who has managed anything, even a Little League team or a Rotisserie baseball roster, knows that feeling: you've set your team, things go well, then they start getting tight, and you feel like you need to be doing something. Pull some levers, make something happen. Not just sit there.

But at the end of the day, the manager isn't the players. Sometimes the best thing to do, once all the pieces are in place, is trust the men under your command to do their jobs. Yes, the manager needs his head in the game at all times, be on top of all the options. But that doesn't mean he has to insert himself into every at bat. And in fact, being a leader of men - a significant part of the job - sometimes requires you to convey to them your trust in their abilities.

Hence, the contrast between the two fateful decisions that set up last night's game-winning double by Jeff Mathis off Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the 11th. On the Angels side, when Mathis doubled to lead off the tenth and then reached third with nobody out on a botched throw by Mariano Rivera on Erick Aybar's bunt, Tim McCarver announced that Scioscia should replace Mathis with the speedier Reggie Willits. McCarver's observation made a lot of sense - it's the winning run on third with nobody out, and the Angels carry three catchers, so even with Mike Napoli out of the game, Mathis isn't the last guy left. McCarver and Joe Buck repeated the point about ten more times the remainder of the inning. But Scioscia sat impassively in the dugout. Scioscia is certainly an active manager - the Angels play a lot of little ball, witness Aybar's bunt - but on this one he made a decision and didn't budge just because he had another more active option. A few times in this series we've seen him do that, just remaining outwardly calm and immobile in the dugout when he could have pushed another button. As it turned out, the Angels didn't score in the inning and wouldn't have with Willits unless he stole home, and Mathis won them the game the next inning.

Meanwhile, the less experienced Girardi - who has been burning through pitchers as if he's worried the'll cut his pitching budget for next season - pulled the righthanded David Robertson from facing the righthanded Mathis after just three batters (groundout, flyout, single), in favor of the righthanded Aceves, who promptly lost the game.

It can be hard for a manager to accept when doing nothing is the better move. Girardi is getting roasted today by the NY papers anyway, but managers always prefer to get criticized for doing too much than too little, since it's the latter criticism that gets guys branded as stupid (I could recite here chapter and verse of what the Boston press did to several generations of Red Sox managers) rather than just overly aggressive. Nobody wants to feel stupid. But sometimes, if you want to win, that's a risk you have to be willing to take.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
October 16, 2009
BASEBALL: About Time

The encouraging thing about last night's seesaw Dodgers-Phillies game is the promise of a tight, competitive series. The pennant races this year, aside from the dramatic and spectacularly climaxed Twins-Tigers race, were all duds, but often that's the price of admission for a great postseason, as superior teams make for dull races. The ALDS and NLDS have been no better, despite some matchups (e.g., Angels-Red Sox) that held out the promise of excellent serieses. But they, too, were flops - some good games, but quickly dispatched. So, here's to finally getting some quality baseball.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:58 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
October 12, 2009
BASEBALL: Winningest

Trivia question of the day: name the winningest pitcher of the decade, 2000-09. Bonus: name the top 10.

Read More »

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October 8, 2009
BASEBALL: Looking Back and Forward

Lyford looks back at the 2009 Red Sox season, and projects the playoff serieses.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:21 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
October 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Hot Streak

Stat of the day: counting the postseason, Mariano Rivera has a 1.91 ERA over his last...974 appearances (242 ER, 1140.1 IP going back to the 1995 postseason).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:15 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 10/5/09

*Is there a bigger example on the web of not knowing your audience than ESPN.com automatically playing video content - i.e., with sound - when you open the page?

*I'm still unclear on why exactly the Twins-Tigers game has to be tomorrow instead of today....I'll have a more detailed post - whether you like it or not - on my Roto team, but I enter that game tied for first place, and if I lose the pennant by one home run or one RBI (both a real possibility) despite having the possible AL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year on my team, I swear I'm gonna sue Grady Sizemore.

*This video of Mark Sanford's confession speech set to the laugh track from David Letterman's confession is genius. (Hat tip: Rob Neyer).

It's been sad watching the direction of Letterman and his show the last few years. I've had progressively less time to watch anyway since I started working for a living, but I'd been a fan on and off for decades. If there's one lesson here, it's that if you wanted to keep an affair secret, you don't take the woman you're sleeping with, put her on air on your national TV show and flirt with her shamelessly. Well, that and a guy who's a producer at 48 Hours shouldn't be dumb enough to think he could get away with blackmailing a public figure. Another glorious chapter in the history of CBS News.

*The Olympics story is pretty much a dead horse at this point, but this American Thinker piece does a bang-up job of dissecting the Obamas' sales pitch to show how it violated pretty much every rule of sales pitches.

*The Washington Post's paid left-wing activist Greg Sargent is proud that the Left is playing the race card on health care - seriously, read this post. Sargent's thesis is that the ad in question is racial code and that that's a good thing. Regardless of what you think of the ad itself, that speaks volumes about Sargent's mindset. What remains less clear is why the Post employs a full-time left-wing activist in the first place.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
October 1, 2009
BASEBALL: So Much For Help

Since Carlos Beltran returned on September 8, he's batting .306/.404/.441 - not the power you'd like, but not a bad stretch and something to build on entering next season. But David Wright hasn't been helped at all by Beltran's return; he's batting .205/.267/.349.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 28, 2009

While we are on the subject of AL awards, a quick cut on the data for the AL Cy Young Award, looking at the 18 AL ERA qualifiers (not counting Cliff Lee, who will cease qualifying by season's end) with ERAs under 4.00 (you win a prize if before the season you thought this list would include Jeff Niemann, Edwin Jackson and two Rangers):


QI= Quality Innings, a quick-and-dirty metric I like to use: ERA+ times innings pitched.

QCI= Quality Component Innings, a similar metric to quickly look at the defense-independent numbers: K/((HR*4)+BB)

URA: Unearned Run Average. Just worth checking to see who's giving up an unusual number of unearned runs. In this case, almost all the best ERA guys are allowing a few extra unearned runs, most of all King Felix.

Anyway, this cut on the numbers pretty strongly underlines why Greinke is the obvious Cy Young choice. He's just so far ahead of the field when you add up measures of quality, and he's carried about the same workload as the league's big workhorses, and only Sabathia with the Yankees offense behind him is more than one win ahead of him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:11 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Catching A Vote

It was inevitable that at least one of the moribund division races would heat up, and the AL Central has stepped up to the plate, with the Twins - despite the loss of Justin Morneau - being carried on the back of Joe Mauer to a 25-12 record in their last 37 games since falling 5 games under .500, including an 11-1 stretch snapped only by Zack Greinke yesterday, to pull within 2 games of the Tigers entering a 4-game set in Detroit starting tonight for all the marbles. Mauer, for his part, has - despite the wear and tear of catching 102 games since returning to action May 1 - batted .399/.475/.622 since August 2, .406/.513/.594 since September 7.

If Mauer manages to pull this team to a division title with multiple holes in its lineup and a wobbly pitching staff, the MVP debate will intensify, as the writers seem primed (as I've discussed previously) to give the award to Derek Jeter, despite Mauer being far and away the best hitter in the league - leading the AL in batting by 20 points, OBP by 32, slugging by 34, OPS by 95, and likely to finish around 600 plate appearances while spending 80% of his time as a catcher and despite missing a month of the season.

It occurred to me that it was worth looking back at how other big-hitting catchers have fared in the MVP balloting over the years. Here's the top 25 seasons by a catcher who qualified for the batting title and spent at least 75% of his games behind the plate, in years that MVP awards were given, ranked by OPS+, along with how they finished in the MVP balloting and who won the award:

1Mike Piazza19971856332Larry Walker178RF
2Joe Mauer2009181567----
3Mike Piazza19951724754Barry Larkin133SS
4Mike Piazza19961666312Ken Caminiti1733B
5Johnny Bench19721666521---
6Chris Hoiles199316250316Frank Thomas1771B
7Carlton Fisk19721625144Dick Allen1991B
8Ernie Lombardi194216134713Mort Cooper-SP
9Roy Campanella19511595621---
10Gabby Hartnett19371584052Joe Medwick180RF
11Bill Dickey19361584725Lou Gehrig1901B
12Mickey Cochrane193315754215Jimmie Foxx2001B
13Darren Daulton19921565856Barry Bonds205LF
14Joe Torre196615661416Roberto Clemente146RF
15Mike Piazza20001555453Jeff Kent1622B
16Roy Campanella19531555901---
17Jorge Posada20071545896Alex Rodriguez1773B
18Roy Campanella19551535221---
19Ernie Lombardi19381535291---
20Mike Piazza199815262614Sammy Sosa160RF
21Mike Piazza19931526029Barry Bonds204LF
22Dick Dietz1970152612NAJohnny Bench141C
23Gabby Hartnett19331514611---
24Bubbles Hargrave19261513656Bob O'Farrell112C
25Mickey Cochrane19311495219Lefty Grove-SP

Jeter's OPS+, if you are wondering, is 127.

I was surprised by how many guys there were on the list who fared very poorly in the voting. Obviously, the cheif takeaway here is that the voters never respected Mike Piazza. Other cases are justifiable: no shame losing to a Triple Crown winner, or getting beat by Lou Gehrig or Barry Bonds in their primes, and no surprise that guys with less than 400 plate appearances did poorly in the voting. In other cases, somebody else got robbed (Sandy Koufax, 1966). It's appalling that Dick Dietz didn't get any MVP support at all, but not so surprising that the winner in 1970 was Johnny Bench, who drove in 148 runs for a pennant-winning team and was Johnny Bench behind the plate. But even so, more of these guys should have been finishing close to the top, if not the top.

We'll see what the AL voters do this time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:27 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 25, 2009
BASEBALL: Coming Home To Die

Very little good can be said of Ken Griffey Jr.'s reunion season in Seattle, but say this: he hasn't let down the paying crowds at Safeco. Griffey is batting .272/.385/.523 in 179 plate appearances at home, including 9 homers and 27 walks in 41 starts at home (a pace for 36 homers and 106 walks per 162 games). Not quite the Griffey of old, but still a very dangerous bat.

Unfortunately, he's had a lot more of his playing time on the road, where he's batting .173/.280/.308. Eccch.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:00 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Since the question came up in the comments to yesterday's post on 500-out seasons, I checked and there have been 67 seasons since 1871 in which a player made fewer than 300 outs in a season of 502 or more plate appearances (list here). Only two of those made less than 250 outs: John McGraw with 243 outs in 1899, and Barry Bonds with 244 outs in 2004. Unsurprisingly, this tracks OBP pretty closely. The top 13 seasons (275 outs or less) include two by McGraw, three by Bonds, two by Tris Speaker, three by Ted Williams and one each by Mickey Mantle, Frank Chance and Billy Hamilton. However, the seasons by McGraw, Hamilton and Chance are all from years when caught stealing data was not collected, and one assumes that McGraw with 73 steals, Hamilton with 54 and Chance with 38 would all have had a significant number of CS (those years and Speaker's also predate GIDP data).

Besides Bonds, the seasons from this decade on the list? Chipper Jones in 2008, and Manny Ramirez in 2000 & 2002.

Speaking of GIDP, Ichiro has hit into only one double play all year. Entering last night's action, that was one GIDP in 636 plate appearances for a player who:

-Is 35 years old
-Strikes out in barely more than 10% of his plate appearances (65 K)
-Hits the highest percentage of ground balls in the AL (56.4%)
-Unlike NL leadoff men, does not bat behind the pitcher


UPDATE: Since 1939, the first year we have GIDP data for both leagues, 17 players have finished a season of 502+ plate appearances with 1 or 0 GIDP; Ichiro, Curtis Granderson and Michael Bourn could make it 20. The only guys to make it with no GIDP? Craig Biggio, Dick McAuliffe, Pete Reiser and Rob Deer. Biggio in 1997 had 744 plate appearances with no DPs. I looked to see how long his streak was, but he hit into one on Opening Day in 1998.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:43 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
September 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Let's Make Out!

Jimmy Rollins made his 500th out of the season last night. This was the 6th time in his career that Rollins has made 500 outs in a season, a new Major League dubious record. Here's the list of players who have managed the feat more than twice (you'll note that they're mostly middle infielders):

6 - Jimmy Rollins
5 - Cal Ripken, Juan Pierre
4 - Bobby Richardson, Dave Cash
3 - Jose Reyes, Larry Bowa, Juan Samuel, Omar Moreno, Rick Burleson

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:18 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
September 21, 2009
BASEBALL: Double Trouble

A season in three movements:

On May 13, Fernando Tatis went 3-4 with 4 RBI, raising his season average to .358/.417/.566 in 60 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he also hit into his first GIDP of the season.

From May 13 to July 24, Tatis hit into 13 double plays in 155 plate appearances, a pace at which he would have shattered the single season record in a little over 2/3 of a season. This almost perfectly coincided with Tatis' coldest stretch of the year, as he batted .193/.262/.304 in 151 plate appearances from May 14 to July 25.

Since July 27, Tatis is not only batting .317/.370/.484 over 140 plate appearances, but he hasn't grounded into a single double play.

It's interesting - most players who hit into a lot of double plays will do so even when they're going well, since sometimes you hit line drives or hard grounders right at people. But Tatis has been all or double-nothing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:36 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 20, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 9/20/09

*You know who quietly helped his Hall of Fame case this season? Bobby Abreu. Stayed healthy for a winning team, close to .300 average, .400 OBP and 30 steals, on the verge of his 7th straight 100-RBI season.

*Obama points out to David Paterson that he's already dead. Apparently redistricting trumps racial solidarity (so much for Paterson's effort to argue that all criticisms of him were racist, an argument that was especially dangerous to Obama due to Paterson's effort to equate himself with Obama; Obama has enough problems of his own without carrying Paterson as baggage). Of course, with only one GOP-held Congressional seat and few others even potentially competitive, redistricting isn't as big a deal as it will be in California, Texas, Illinois or Florida, but it's still a priority for the White House to bigfoot governors' races.

*Kaus waits for the next shoe to drop from Breitbart.

*Excellent post by Ace on right-wing rhetoric.

*Ben Domenech notes that Salon's polling shows that Obama had an 85% approval rating among Hispanics the week before the Sotomayor nomination, but 68% after her confirmation. So much for that battle damaging the GOP.

*Michael van der Galien looks at how Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the anti-war Left's next target, with the declining salience of Iraq and the departure of President Bush dispensing with the need to pretend to be in favor of pressing on with the war that was started when America was attacked from Afghan territory by terrorists who were essentially indistringuishable from the Taliban. This was entirely predictable to anyone familiar with the Left, but it has nonetheless been more depressing than amusing to watch the turn in particular among the leading left-wing bloggers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Blog 2006-14 • | Politics 2009 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 15, 2009
BASEBALL: Indispensable

I'm generally suspicious of efforts to argue that the most valuable players in baseball are anyone other than the best players. That said, due to the way teams are constructed, there's no denying that there always seem to be some guys whose presence and success is especially important to their teams, and right now there are very few players more critical to a team's success than Troy Tulowitzki with the Rockies. Tulowitzki's rise in 2007 coincided with the team's meteoric run to the World Series, his injury-plagued 2008 coincided with the team's equally dramatic decline, and now the Rox, counted out early, have the whip hand in the NL Wild Card race and are the last second-place team that's really alive despite chasing a Dodgers team that looked for much of the season like the class of the game.

Jim Tracy, of course, deserves his share of the credit for the Rockies turnaround - they've played .646 ball under him after Clint Hurdle was sacked with the team 10 games under .500. And much of the credit goes to the pitching staff, with the revival of Huston Street leading a strong bullpen and Ubaldo Jimenez anchoring a more-than-adequate rotation. Despite his strong arm, Tulowitzki can't claim a ton of credit for that: Colorado is (in part due to its park) below average in team Defensive Efficiency, and its pitchers have prospered more by allowing the 5th fewest homers and walks in the NL, as well as a league-average strikeout rate.

But the Rox catching fire also coincided neatly with when Tulowitzki started hitting 10 games into Tracy's tenure. On June 7, the team was 23-32 and 14 1/2 games out of first place, and Tulowitzki was batting an anemic .216/.306/.377; since then, he's hit .315/.396/.596, with 20 homers, 62 Runs and 60 RBI in 86 games played; the Rockies have gone 56-30 in those games. The Colorado offense has had only a few other real surprises - Seth Smith, the development of Carlos Gonzales, a respectable OBP by Dexter Fowler - but Tulowitzki has been the biggest difference-maker.

Anyway, I didn't have time to do a really comprehensive rundown or figure out if somebody else has, so I'm sure I missed someone interesting or useful, but I thought it would be fun to run the record of the Rockies with Tulowitzki in and out of the starting lineup over the 2007-09 period against a comparison group of other stars (I left off people like Hanley Ramirez who haven't missed enough games to be worth asking - as it is, there's something of a small sample size issue with Pujols and Jeter). Here's the result - the last column is the team winning percentage with the player in the lineup minus the team winning percentage without him in the lineup, with the difference multiplied by 162 games to give a value of the difference in wins:


Simply compiling a chart like this helps explain its limitations. Multiple Mets are atop the chart in good part because they were all injured at once this season, multiplying the impact of their absences. The same is partly true of Tulowitzki; it wasn't just his absence that doomed the Rockies last season. On the other hand, for believers in the notion that one player only has so much impact, the size of the gaps here is pretty striking. It's probably not wholly coincidental, either, that Vlad Guerrero's numbers look so poor given that the bulk of his missed time has come this season, when he has been less than stellar (the Angels are 41-38 with Guerrero starting, 45-19 without).

As for A-Rod, well, until the Hated Yankees win in the postseason, nothing compiled on his behalf can answer his critics (and as long as he's on the team, all postseason failures are charged to him and him alone). But, you know, the Yankees really are a better team with him in the lineup, and not just this season; in 2007-08 they were 12-20 without him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:11 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2009
BASEBALL: Run, Don't Walk

Posnanski notes that all 8 members of the Dodgers starting lineup have drawn more walks than any member of the Royals this season.

H/T Pinto.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:25 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
September 3, 2009

I'll have to go more thoroughly, as we reach the end of the season - much always depends on September - through the MVP arguments. Hard as it is for me to imagine the case for robbing Joe Mauer yet again, Allen Barra makes a game effort at defending the Derek Jeter MVP bandwagon.

Were Mauer not having such a historic year, Jeter is certainly playing well enough to be part of what would usually be the MVP discussion. Then again, how crucial is he to the Yankees offense? He's first on the team in batting, OBP and tied for first in runs, but none by large margins; he's third on the Yankees in total bases, fourth in OPS+, and 8th on his own team in slugging and RBI. The depth of the Yankees offense can't be held too much against Jeter, especially since he plays a critical defensive position, but it does suggest some caution in declaring him the team's indispensable man.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:33 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
September 2, 2009
BASEBALL: Olerud Part II

David Wright

The Great Gazoo


I don't mean to poke fun at Wright's desire to avoid another head injury...but if these helmets are really going to become the standard, they're gonna look awful silly.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:18 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
September 1, 2009
BASEBALL: Disco Hayes

Joe Posnanski, the best baseball beat writer in the business, is now at Sports Illustrated and liberated from the Kansas City dungeon. His last column in KC, on a minor league sidearmer named Disco Hayes, is vintage Posnanski. A sample, but really you should read the whole thing:

"You know what I would like to do?" Disco says. "I would love it if they would take all the relievers who throw 95 mph and put them in one group. And then take all the relievers who throw submarine style like I do and put them in another. And then compare their ERAs. I wonder what that would show."

Well, I don't know what it would show overall, but it's worth noting that the Royals do have a bullpen filled with guys who throw extremely hard. Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Robinson Tejeda and Roman Colon all have mid-to-high 90s fastballs. They have a combined ERA of 5.56.

The funny thing about baseball is that people will believe what they want to believe. Nobody in the game will watch Kyle Farnsworth give up runs and conclude: "Well, apparently guys who throw 100 mph can't get people out in the big leagues." But it's that way with the submarine pitchers.

I've always had a thing for sidearmers/submariners, even before I started reading Posnanski, or Michael Lewis, or even Bill James; Terry Leach may still be my all-time favorite ballplayer.

So get down tonight, Disco Hayes.

UPDATE: Also, go read Posnanski on this year's Royals, with a bonus discussion of the 1993 Mets.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:47 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Book of Fred

The Lord sat upon His throne, watching - of course - the World Series. Satan came into His presence. And the Lord spoke.

"See My faithful servant, Fred Wilpon? I have allowed you to test him as you said. In 2005, his team fell short of the postseason. In 2006, you took his ace pitcher, sent his heavily favored team into the NLCS with a shoestring pitching rotation, and even after they got agonizingly close, snatched away the World Series at the last possible moment. In 2007, you gave them the most dramatic September collapse in the game's history. This year, you let his hopes get up and then repeated the trick - and for good measure, their hated divisional rivals are about to win the World Series."

"Yet he has remained My good and faithful servant. He spends money to maintain a big-market payroll. He has nearly completed a beautiful new ballpark. As we speak, he is planning yet again to sign a significant free agent to fix his team's largest weakness. Truly, his faith in his team cannot be shaken."

"You're getting cocky again," replied Satan. (The Lord smirked knowingly - He had heard this routine before - but let him continue). "I have more up my sleeve for this season. This time, I will make him lose faith once and for all."

"First, I will take his money. I have faithful servants too, you know. My man Bernie has him set up perfectly."

"Then, I will cast a shadow over his new ballpark. Already, the economy has soured and he won't be able to sell tickets the way a new park should; now, Congressmen will write angry letters; rumors will fly. Oh, I won't have the sponsorship pulled, but he will wonder, and worry, how long that source of money will last."

"Then, the injuries will start..."

Mets fans can perhaps be forgiven for wondering if this season really is a replay of the Book of Job, with owner Fred Wilpon or perhaps the whole of Mets fandom being put to the test by a plague of misfortunes of Biblical proportions. It is difficult to think of a team in the game's history - a history rich with snakebit seasons - that has had quite so dramatic a run of injuries to nearly every one of its front-line stars.

The ill omens, as mentioned, began with money: it was revealed before the season that Wilpon had lost a significant sum of money in the Bernard Madoff fraud (Wilpon won't say how much but has denied reports that it was $700 million), and just when his personal finances were called into question, the $20 million-a-year naming-rights deal for Citi Field came under scrutiny from Congresspersons wondering where the bailout money given to Citigroup was being spent, and paying little mind to the fact that the point of the sponsorship deal was - as is generally the case when banks sponsor ballparks - precisely to advertise Citi's financial stability and status as an unshakeable pillar of the community. In the end, the naming-rights flap seems to have passed, but it contributed to the souring of what should have been a grand opening for Citi Field.

That storm passed, but the portents grew worse as the season approached. Oliver Perez, signed in the offseason to what looked like a bargain 3-year, $36 million contract, was never right from the time he arrived for spring training; his velocity was off early, and that led to more tentative pitching and more struggles with his always-shaky control. Still, heartbreak requires hope, and Mets fans were given plenty of hope this spring. The team's main weakness, the bullpen, had been fortified by the addition of a prime closer, 27-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, coming off a Major League record 62-save season, and a second prime closer, JJ Putz, to act as K-Rod's setup man. Yes, K-Rod's K rate had been dropping for a few years and Putz had had injury problems, and former ace closer Billy Wagner wasn't expected to join them until September at the earliest, but there was every reason to believe that the pen would be vastly improved. Second baseman Luis Castillo, another weak link, came to camp in his best shape in years. The team looked like it would have enough holes plugged around its core of stars - K-Rod, Johan Santana, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado - that it could make a serious run at the Phillies. And despite a rough April, the Mets got off to a decent start; as late as May 29, they were in first place and on pace to win 93 games.

But the drip of injuries had already set in; they came early and often to the Mets' battery of stars, and have never let up:

-Carlos Delgado, batting .298/.393/.521 and erasing memories of 2008's terrible start, last played on May 10, down with a hip injury.

-Jose Reyes was injured May 15 in the midst of a 12-for-27 tear reminiscent of his annual late-spring hot streak, and has not played since May 20, having torn a hamstring in the minors rehabbing the calf injury that originally sidelined him. The mishandling of Reyes, along with last year's botched management of Ryan Church's concussions, is one of the prime reasons why the Mets' medical staff has become the laughingstock of the game.

-JJ Putz has been out of service since June 4 with a bum elbow; Putz had been ailing for weeks, with a 1.29 ERA through April 18, 6.45 after that as his arm unraveled.

-John Maine, whose shoulder has proven unable to handle the workload of a starting pitcher, hasn't pitched since June 6, and last threw 100 pitches on May 19.

-Carlos Beltran, batting .336/.425/.527 and carrying the team along with David Wright, went down on June 21 with a knee injury.

-Wright, batting .349/.435/.504 when Beltran went out, proved less able to carry the whole load alone, hitting .287/.384/.414 until he was beaned on August 15, suffering a concussion of his own.

-Johan Santana called it a season on August 20, opting for surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

-Oliver Perez' season ended to knee surgery on August 23 (Perez was off the roster between May 3 and July 18, due to ineffectiveness and injuries, and has been useless since spring training).

All had been expected to be key contributors; all but Wright, whose return is imminent, are either out for the season or at best highly questionable to return in addition to having their performance degraded by injuries.

Even the replacements brought in couldn't stay healthy:

-Scrap-heap find Fernando Nieve was a revelation as a substitute starter, posting a 2.95 ERA; Nieve tore a quadricep running the bases on July 19 and hasn't pitched since.

-Top pitching prospect Jon Niese was called up to stay on July 25; three starts into his introduction to the rotation, he tore a hamstring covering first base on August 5 and was done for the season.

-Top hitting prospect Fernando Martinez, already struggling at a .176/.242/.275 clip after being pressed into service when Beltran and Ryan Church hit the DL in May, was sent to the DL July 9 with a knee injury and has not returned.

-Utility infielders Alex Cora and Ramon Martinez both appear to be done for the season. Cora, who was holding his own with an OBP above .350 as late as July 2, was never supposed to be an everyday player for this team; he went down for the year with a torn thumb ligament on August 12. Martinez played his 12th and final game of the season June 2 before hitting the 60-day DL with a fractured pinkie.

There have been other injuries as well, with Castillo spraining an ankle tripping on the dugout steps and Gary Sheffield missing time with hamstring troubles, plus Church, plus starting catcher Brian Schneider was sidelined from April 15 to May 30 and has contributed nothing since his return, batting .189/.272/.318 on the season. Jeff Francouer, acquired from the Braves for Church and hitting better than he has in years, tore his thumb but is playing through it. (Wagner and Angel Pagan had also opened the season out of service, but those were expected.)

There have also been a few disappointments not directly related to injuries. Daniel Murphy, a third base prospect who batted an encouraging .313/.397/.473 in a 49-game trial last year, was a defensive disaster in left field and, since being moved to first to replace Delgado, has been one of the worst everyday bats in the game. Even a recent hot streak - Murphy has batted .297/.329/.464 since July 25 - has been all singles and doubles, not really a sign that he's developing the skills you'd need to make a living as an everyday corner outfielder or first baseman. Hard-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell struggled after a promising start, and has been shelled after being pressed into service as a starter. Mike Pelfrey, who pitched wonderfully last season, has seen his walk rate regress from 2.4 in his last 24 starts last season to 3.4 this year, his ERA balloon to 4.80; while a good deal of that is the deterioration of the infield defense without Reyes (to which the groundball-dependent Pelfrey is unusually vulnerable), it also reflects his narrow margin for error when not throwing first-pitch strikes. Pelfrey went seven innings in 12 of his last 24 starts last year, averaging 6.27 IP/start - this year, he's gone seven innings just 8 times in 25 starts and averaged 5.85 IP/start, adding to the strain on the bullpen.

When this team wasn't losing players, of course, it has lost games in agonizing fashion. Two endings stand out. On June 12, against the Hated Yankees, K-Rod induced what should have been a game-ending popup from Alex Rodriguez, only to see Castillo drop it; the Mets lost 9-8 (the game is also emblematic of the Yankees' season, as despite relatively subpar performance by A-Rod, the team has gone 64-32 in games he started after struggling in his absence). On August 23, against the bitter rival Phillies, Francouer managed to line into only the second game-ending unassisted triple play in Major League history with the tying runs on base; another loss, 9-7.

Time will tell how the franchise rebounds from this staggering run of ill luck. The Mets rebounded from a disastrous 1972 to steal a pennant, and they won 100 games in 1988 after losing their top 7 starting pitchers in a dispiriting run in 1987. But the 1988 team was absurdly deep in talent. This team probably needs to jettison Delgado (on the heels of cutting Wagner and Livan Hernandez loose) and get younger, and it has many holes to fill even if all the walking wounded return; the starting rotation is now full of question marks, and there are few causes for confidence in the lineup besides Wright, Beltran and Reyes (assuming Reyes returns from what may be offseason hamstring surgery).

As for Wilpon, he's insisting now that he intends to keep the team regardless of his Madoff losses, because he's emotionally invested and wants to leave the team to his son. That's a plausible explanation, and surely the team is still profitable enough to maintain as a stand-alone business, but then if Wilpon really does need to sell, he has every reason not to reveal any financial straits he might be in.

Job, after being put to the test, is finally rewarded for his faith with a new family and new sources of wealth and joy. Mets fans can only hope for the same reward in 2010 and beyond.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
August 19, 2009
BASEBALL: Field of Nightmares

Back from Citi Field tonight: it's my third trip this year, counting the preseason exhibition, and I have yet to see the Mets enter the third inning with a chance to win the game.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:34 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
August 17, 2009
BASEBALL: Taking A Dive

Regular reader/commenter Jim Anderson has an excellent Part I of II piece in the Hardball Times on hitters having spectacular second-half collapses.

Carney Lansford's appearance on the list is no surprise; George Brett's is more surprising given his usual pattern as a hot-weather hitter, but 1983 was an unusual year for him. Several of these are memorable collapses or dropoffs from memorable first halves.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:14 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 16, 2009
BASEBALL: This Is What Else Can Go Wrong

Note to self: stop asking "what else can possibly happen to the Mets this year?"

I don't necessarily agree with Filip Bondy's suggestion that the Mets shut David Wright down for the entire season after last night's concussion-inducing beaning - you don't want to ice him too long and make him gunshy - but I'd at a minimum keep him shut down for a full week before even considering playing him again. The season is lost, Wright's the Mets most valuable asset, and the team's incompetent medical staff proved clearly last season with Ryan Church that they cannot be trusted to evaluate head injuries.

UPDATE: Mets have put Wright on the 15-day DL. It's the right call.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:04 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
August 12, 2009

UPDATE: Consensus in the comments seems to be that my recollection is wrong and Jason is no relation to Ross Grimsley.

Jason Grimsley is apparently talking to the feds about Roger Clemens and steroids. Grimsley is something of a Zelig of baseball cheating: his father Ross was a notorious spitballer, and Grimsley has previously confessed to stealing a corked bat that had been confiscated by the umpires from then-teammate Albert Belle.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:47 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 10, 2009


Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:27 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 29, 2009
BASEBALL: Trade Season Open Thread

Yes, been delinquent on the baseball-analysis front here lately, I know. Have at it on Holliday to the Cards, Cliff Lee to the Phillies, and Roy Halladay to maybe nowhere.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:41 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: It's Been That Kind of Year

Fear leads to anger.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
July 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Everyone Will Be Doing It

Bill James has posted his intended-to-be-definitive take on steroids and the Hall (warning: link opens a PDF). You may or may not agree with it all - I can't say I agree with everything he says - but as always, James is wise, witty and thinking outside the box. Here's James in full futurist mode, on why the stigma attached to steroids is likely to fade with advances in technology:

If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.

And here is his take on how the explosion of sex on television illustrates the dynamic that drives the gradual erosion of standards:

[T]his happened without the consent and without the approval of most of the American public. It was never true that most people wanted to see more sex on TV. Probably it was generally true that most Americans disliked what they regarded as the erosion of standards of decency. But it was always true that some people wanted to see more sex on TV, and that was all that mattered, because that created a market for shows that pushed the envelope, and thus eroded the barriers. It was like a battle line that disintegrated once the firing started. The importance of holding the battle line, in old-style military conflict, was that once the line was breached, there was no longer an organized point of resistance. Once the consensus against any sexual references on TV was gone, there was no longer any consensus about what the standards should be - thus, a constant moving of the standards.

His point about the forgiving nature of history is also an excellent one, as is his view that there was never, in practical terms, a real rule against steroids in the game, in any sense that we understand the concept of rules and law:

It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner's periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction - that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some "rule" to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply not going to see it that way.

(The absence of consent isn't as big a deal to me as it is to people with more emotional attachment to the players' union and the collective bargaining process, but James is right that the absence of collective bargaining gave the players good reason to believe there wasn't really any sort of enforceable rule).

Anyway, read the whole thing, as the excerpts cannot do it justice. My own view remains that, aside from the extreme Joe Jackson case of people trying to lose ballgames or conspiring with those who do, the Hall should not judge people who got away with things that were fairly widespread to win baseball games - the Hall has always honored the true ethos of professional sports, which is that it ain't cheating if you don't get caught, and it's 70-odd years too late to change that. And, more fundamentally, the Hall isn't for the players as much as it is for the fans, and a Hall without the likes of Bonds and Clemens (and Pete Rose) ceases to be a Hall worth taking seriously. Put them in, and let the arguments themselves be immortal.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:05 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
July 20, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Their Halladay

Apparently the Mets have turned down a deal for Roy Halladay:

This just in via Jon Heyman

Mets rejected request of package of F-mart, Niese, Parnell and Ruben Tejada for Halladay.
This was a very reasonable request by Toronto. I would have to guess the Mets are adverse to paying the price to keep Halladay around and don’t want to give up four of their better prospects. As I said with Brian Cashman on last night’s show, and this goes double for Minaya, he better be right on these guys or he will regret watching Halladay beat him in Philly.

First of all, that's basically the whole farm system at this juncture. Second, I don't think Halladay helps them a whole lot this season - he's great, of course, but the point of bringing in another guy to lose games 2-0 and 3-1 is questionable. The offense is just too weak.

Look, I'd love to get Halladay, but it mostly comes down to whether the Mets think Halladay is worth the money - even if you're writing off 2009, as seems prudent to do, you're getting him for 2010 as well, and if you could lock him in for a few more years at a price you can live with, he's a decent bet to give you more value than those four guys, talented as they are. If you're not willing to pay the money, that's a hugely expensive rental.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:09 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 11, 2009
BASEBALL: The French Reclamation

The most important take-home lesson from the Mets' deal of Ryan Church for Jeff Francouer is that the team is rebuilding. Church is not a great ballplayer, but he's a useful one; Francouer, right now, is not. Offensively, he does nothing: hit for average, hit for power, draw walks, steal bases. Francouer is, like Oliver Perez in 2006, a complete recalamation project, a talented athlete who needs to relearn from square one how to play baseball. In the present tense, his only actual strengths are his durability and his great throwing arm in right field.

That's not to say that Francouer, like Perez in the 2006 NLCS, might not have a well-timed hot streak, or might not, like Richard Hidalgo, have a good first month as a Met. But over the 2008-09 seasons, Francouer has posted a .243/.290/.357 batting line over 976 plate appearances, which is a serious problem for a catcher or a shortstop; for a right fielder, it's death.

If there's a hopeful parallel for Francouer, it's Jose Guillen, a similar player who showed some flashes of hitting talent but no plate discipline at age 21-22 (assuming Guillen is his reported age, that is), then proceeded to bat .252/.310/.381 while playing for four teams over four seasons from age 23-26. Guillen eventually found his swing, batting .286/.343/.489 and averaging 100 RBI per 162 games from age 27-31. Francouer could certianly do the same - but betting on him to help the Mets in 2009 is not something anyone committed to winning in the present tense would do (in fact, anyone who wants to finish ahead of the Braves would never have relieved them from the gaping wound Francouer represented in their lineup, much less given them in return a hustling player with an enormous grievance against the Mets for his treatment by the team's Keystone Kops medical staff).

Meanwhile, the Mariners have dumped Yuniesky Betancourt on the Royals for prospects. Betancourt is basically the same player as Francouer, a good athlete with a great arm and no plate discipline who has regressed since his early 20s as a hitter. Of course, Betancourt is a shortstop....I understand what Seattle and KC are both trying to accomplish: the Mariners are trying to make a point and add smarter, more dedicated ballplayers and discard the apathy of the past few seasons, while the Royals, their sights set perpetually low and their shortstop (Mike Aviles) having Tommy John surgery, are looking to buy low on a guy who plugs a hole and might help them just a little if he ends up being just marginally more dedicated to self-improvement than Angel Berroa was.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:19 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
July 10, 2009
BASEBALL: Just This Once

Cool list of things that have only been done once in baseball history. H/T Some of these are familiar, others less so, and of course a few of them are gags or gimmicks.

You could make a longer list. Offhand, the obvious one to add would be Ed Reulbach in 1908 being the only guy ever to throw shutouts on both ends of a doubleheader (with bonus points for doing it in September of one of the game's most heated pennant races).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
July 8, 2009
BASEBALL: Dead in the Water

I was out at Citi Field last night, and the Mets looked as lifeless as I have ever seen them, which is saying a lot, since I remember August 1991. With Wright slumping and all the other top hitters gone, there's just no offense to speak of. Sheffield's been a great pickup and all - he hasn't grumbled, and he's been surprisingly energetic on the bases - but you can't make an offense from Sheffield at this stage of his career. And everyone else is a supporting player at best.

It didn't help that Pelfrey was working behind in the count, which he can't get away with doing. Probably the highlights of the game were (1) Ryan Church making a sliding catch in center that Beltran would have made standing up without breaking a sweat and (2) Alex Cora faking out a Dodger baserunner by pretending to turn a double play on a ball hit to the warning track in left field.

The Mets were in good shape about a week ago when they were hanging one game back, but suddenly they look like a team that could drop completely out of contention before they get Beltran back, let alone Reyes.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Getting It Done

177 players have at least 250 plate appearances thus far this season (if you're keeping score, roughly 6 per team). Daniel Murphy, playing first base for the Mets, is 159th in OPS in that group. Surprisingly, he's not even the worst 1B/corner OF in baseball (by far, that's been Brian Giles, and Jeff Francouer has also been significantly worse than Murphy.

Also notable is quite how far the top 4 guys stick out from the rest of the crowd.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:21 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 1, 2009
BASEBALL: Something Brewing

A couple of thoughts on the Brewers as they move in for the sweep of the Mets and surge into first place.

1. This team is pretty good, but man do they have deplorable starting pitching aside from Gallardo - they seriously miss Ben Sheets. Looper, Suppan, Bush and Parra have been healthy enough that the Brewers have given just 3 starts to pitchers outside their front five, but the results are ghastly: a 5.60 ERA, with mediocre K/BB numbers (3.65 BB/9, 6.00 K/9), and more importantly 1.6 HR/9. It's hard to see a whole lot of room for improvement there, although if Parra (7.62 ERA) can get straightened out and throw strikes, they'd be in less of a hole. They're still going to need a #2 starter eventually.

2. Trevor Hoffman having the second-best ERA of his career is definitely a surprise. Before the season I'd thought he needed to be restricted to a ROOGY role, but he's held lefties to a manageably soft .300/.364/.300 while slaughtering righthanded hitters at a .116/.130/.163 clip (he's faced about a 50/50 mix). The main reason for the low ERA is that he hasn't been taken deep yet this season; his other numbers are good but not exceptional.

3. Mike Cameron is a textbook example of a guy who transformed from a talented underachiever to a respected veteran simply by doing the same thing every year for enough years. He's always been a guy who would give you some power and speed, great defense and a little plate patience, strike out a ton and hit for a low average. As a young player, people focused on the whiffs and what he could accomplish if he made more contact. At 36 and still striking out at a clip of 140-160 times a year, he is what he is.

4. I have JJ Hardy on one of my fantasy teams, and for the fantasy owner, Hardy is maddening because he's so incredibly streaky that you hate to bail on him even though he's batting .233/.308/.368. Last season, for example, Hardy was batting .242/.319/.343 on June 10; by July 7, he was batting .296/.364/.493. In 2007 it was a hot start; he batted .323/.371/.628 through May 16, but finished at .277/.323/.463.

Needless to say, he's just as frustrating for his real owners/fans, although in Milwaukee's case there's no serious thought to be given to replacing him; they just have to grit their teeth and wait for him to catch fire.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:06 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
June 30, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Working

Joe Posnanski ponders, at his usual length, how the apparently knowledgeable people running the Royals ended up - through a combination of poor decisions, lack of resources and bad luck - taking a very bad offensive team and making it progressively worse each of the past two seasons.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:40 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: No-Hittable, Part II

wezen-ball looks at the pitchers who took the most no-hitters into the 7th inning. H/T Unsurprisingly, Nolan Ryan laps the field, while Don Sutton leads among guys who never closed the deal. Interesting to see Tim Wakefield's name on the honorable mentions.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:07 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: No-Hittable

Chris Jaffe looks at the 10 hardest and 10 easiest lineups ever no-hit. The Nomo no-hitter might go to #1 if you only looked at home batting averages, but #1 is indeed hard to top, especially since it was no-hit by a guy who that season struck out 83 batters while allowing 294 hits.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:21 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 24, 2009

Irony alert: Brad Pitt's film version of Moneyball appears to have been cut from the roster, presumably to save money.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:56 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Rich Lederer has an excellent post breaking down MLB starting pitchers this season by strikeouts per 100 pitches, which is a nice way of correlating the ability to get strikeouts with pitch efficiency. You can really see what a great year Javier Vazquez is having, as well as one of the year's most significant stories, the development of Justin Verlander. On the down side, Mike Pelfrey is way at the bottom of the list (of course, Pelfrey's groundball tendencies mean he doesn't need a great K rate to win, but he has to do better than this).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:01 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 18, 2009
BASEBALL: Scapegoat

I'm as disappointed as the next guy with how things have gone for the Mets this season, but I seriously can't believe people are starting to call for Jerry Manuel's head. I don't love Manuel as a manager, and yes, like his predecessor he's on some thin ice after a late-season collapse (albeit a slightly less epic one in 2008 than in 2007). But really, what more could the man have done this year? It's not Manuel's fault that Reyes, Delgado, Church, Schneider and occasionally Beltran have been injured. It's not Manuel's fault that Perez, Putz, Pelfrey and Maine have as well. It's not Manuel's fault the team has no legitimate corner outfielders, an overpaid, aging slap hitter at second base and little offense from the catching position. All things considered, this team could be doing a lot worse with all the adversity.

If anybody deserves to be sacked, it's the training staff. You can't eliminate injuries, but the Mets rather persistently seem to have trouble diagnosing them and getting people back in the lineup quickly without getting reinjured. Maybe that goes higher up the organization than the trainers, but dammit Jim, Manuel's a manager, not a doctor.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:56 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
June 13, 2009
BASEBALL: Subway Series Open Thread

Sorry, still don't have the heart to write about last night. Talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:07 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
June 12, 2009
BASEBALL: Climate of Suspicion

Jeff Pearlman on Raul Ibanez and steroid suspicion; David Pinto wrote about the same comments from a different angle, and Pinto looked here at the extraordinary season Ibanez is having.

Today's probably not the day for a Mets fan to have perspective on Ibanez...that said, Pearlman and Pinto both hit the basic point that Ibanez' complaints are really better aimed at the current climate in the game rather than the particular folks pointing fingers at him; the rumors may be unfair but we've passed the point of sanity a long time ago in this discussion. I think it's still somewhat premature to point the steroid finger at a guy for having a good year in the middle of June a little more than a third of the way through the season, but Ibanez really is at the point where he's pretty likely, at age 37, to blow away his career high in homers, and oddly he's hit 13 of the 21 away from Citizens' Bank Park, whereas last season he hit 14 of 23 at home, so the obvious explanation of a homer explosion triggered by escaping SafeCo doesn't seem to hold water.

UPDATE (from the comments): Joe Posnanski, who has followed Ibanez in KC for years, weighs in - it's worth reading the whole thing, as is always the case with Posnanski, but the core of his argument is that Ibanez has always been unusually streaky:

Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.

OK, let's start in 2002. That year, Ibanez had a 50-game streak -- June 7 to Aug. 2 -- when he hit .328/.385/.704 with 15 doubles, five triples, 15 homers. He drove in 54 runs. Few noticed because the Royals were abysmal that year, and it was in the middle of the season. But that stretch, you will note, is about as good as the stretch he's on now. In some ways, it's even better.

In 2003 he had a 55-game stretch where he hit .326/.360/.514 ... not as good, but pretty damned good.

In 2004 he hit .365 over a 54-game stretch. In 2005 he got off to a dreadful start and then hit .330/.400/.524 over his next 55 games. In 2006 he hit 18 homers and drove in 57 runs in a 52-game stretch.

Over the last 52 games of the 2007 season Ibanez hit .363/.425/.652 with 15 homers.

Last year, for 55 games, July 12 to Sept. 14, he hit .374/.435/.648 with 17 doubles, two triples, 13 homers. And that, you might remember, was in Seattle and a lousy hitters' ballpark.

This is a man who, when he gets hot, absolutely tears up pitchers. I've seen it up close. He has had a 50-to-60 game hot streak EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2002.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:38 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
June 10, 2009
BASEBALL: It's Not The Wind

It's still a little early in the inaugural season to jump to conclusions about park effects - David Wright's moaning about CitiField being hard on home run hitters seems rather premature after yesterday's game. But AccuWeather takes a look at the new Yankee Stadium and concludes that the weather patterns, at least, are not a significant factor in the new Bronx Bombing Range:

After analyzing the 29 games played and the 105 home runs hit at the new Yankee Stadium, AccuWeather.com has determined that a portion of the home run derby that has taken place this season cannot be directly attributed to the weather. As it turns out, walls, not weather, are the homer helpers for 19 percent of the home runs thus far in the new Yankee Stadium.


Taking into account the dimensions of the field and wall height, AccuWeather.com has calculated that 19 percent (20 out of 105) [of the] home runs would not have flown out of the old stadium. If the first 29 games are any indication, 293 home runs will be hit by the end of the year at the new Yankee Stadium, just short of the record of 303 home runs hit at Denver's Coors Field in 1999. If this is the case, as many as 56 home runs could be attributed to the size of the new playing field.

As far as the weather is concerned, there has been no consistent pattern observed in the wind speed and direction that would lead to an increase in home runs so far this year. Rather, any weather-related changes would seem to be due to differences between the old and new Yankee stadiums and their effects on the micro-weather regimes.

Of course, we have yet to see as well how the wind will shift once Old Yankee is torn down.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
June 6, 2009
BASEBALL: Scratched Out

Even in victory tonight, the Mets looked like Marlon Brando at the end of On the Waterfront. I think my brain still hasn't processed how hard and fast the injuries have come on, and I'm not sure Jerry Manuel has either.

I'm still trying to figure out why David Wright thought it was a good idea to steal third with nobody out in the top of the tenth, but since he'd already driven in the winning runs, that'll be forgiven. I still think Wright could really have a monster year this season; he still doesn't seem like he's gotten untracked this season, and he's hitting .338.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 4, 2009

NY Post Mets beat writer is reporting that Jose Reyes has a hamstring tear and will likely be out until the All-Star Break (he'll be evaluated in two more days). Aside from Wright, and maybe even more than Wright, this is the injury the Mets are least equipped to handle. It really has been an awful deluge of injuries.

More details here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:30 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Big Unit Lands

Congratulations to Randy Johnson on winning his 300th game. I've previously pooh-poohed the perennial "this is the last 300 game winner" prediction, which after all was made by people in the media even as Johnson and Tom Glavine were closing in on the milestone (as well as Mike Mussina, who likely would have made it if he'd wanted to). But this time there really should be something of a drought: I have to collect my prior posts and run the numbers again, but look at the active leaders: the only guy within 80 wins of the goal is Jamie Moyer, who's 46 and allowing 2.4 home runs per 9 innings this season. Pedro Martinez, ahead of the pace 2-3 years ago, will need a serious resurgence to get another 86 wins and is presently unemployed. John Smoltz is 42 and not close. That leaves only Andy Pettitte. Pettitte shouldn't be counted out, but even if he notches another 10 wins this season he enters his age 38 season needing 70 more wins, and like Mussina his desire to pitch into his 40s is questionable at best.

If Pettitte doesn't make a run, probably we'll be waiting on guys who aren't halfway there yet, like Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay (I don't take Mark Buehrle's chances too seriously), or maybe Santana (Sabathia's ahead of Santana's pace but seems likely to break down by age 35). The 300 game winner may not be extinct, but we should probably expect some period of hibernation.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:09 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Out of Action

Some interesting hard data breaking down trips to the DL.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:25 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: McLouth Overboard

There's not much good that can be said about the Pirates trading Nate McLouth to the Braves for three prospects. It's not as if McLouth is about to walk as a free agent:

McLouth is under contract through at least 2011, having signed a three-year, $15.75 contract in spring training. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year at $10.65 million, with a $1.25 million buyout.

That's really not that much money, even for a team like the Pirates, and while McLouth is hardly a superstar - according to the Fielding Bible, he was a very far cry from deserving his Gold Glove last season - he's not at all overpaid for a guy who has produced a 120 OPS+ since 2007 (.268/.353/.482), runs well and can play an outfield corner if you're not happy with his defense in center. As Bill James wrote of the Seattle Mariners in the early 1980s, if you couldn't afford to pay Floyd Bannister, you have no business owning a major league baseball team. The same goes for the Pirates: if you can't afford to pay Nate McLouth, you have no business owning a major league baseball team.

Yes, the Bucs got three prospects back, but they have plenty of "prospects"; what the Pirates lack is baseball players. McLouth is 27 and, with the arguable exception of Freddy Sanchez, is the best player on the team. Maybe he'll be a little past his prime and at the end of his contract by the time Pittsburgh's younger players have come into their own, but if you keep dealing away guys like McLouth you never even get close enough to contending to make those kinds of decisions.

And what did they get back? Gorkys Hernandez, the key guy in the deal, has slugged .387, .387 and .391 the last three seasons (two of those in A ball), and this year has 15 walks and 54 strikeouts in a third of a season and has been caught stealing 8 times in 18 tries. That may not suggest a failed prospect: Hernandez is still just 21, and the Braves system has a lot of pitchers' parks. But he's a long way from being the player in AA that McLouth is in the National League. Charlie Morton flopped with the Braves last year, although his minor league numbers are still pretty good. And Jeff Locke is 6-16 with a 4.42 ERA in A ball since the beginning of last season; Locke's peripheral numbers are better than that, but like Morton and Hernandez, he's got nothing in his record that would just blow you away and make you say "hey, we should trade our best player, who is 27 and signed for two more years, for this guy."

Now, I pity the fools who run the Pirates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:52 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 3, 2009
BASEBALL: Fear Will Keep The Batters In Line

The WSJ notes that Randy Johnson has hit more batters with pitches than any pitcher since 1900 other than Walter Johnson and Eddie Plank.

Also from the WSJ Daily Fix blog, an analysis of A-Rod's declining foot speed.

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June 2, 2009
BASEBALL: Carried Away

It was a sad day when the Mets dealt away Ramon Castro to make room for Omir Santos. Castro's perennial problem has been his durability; I've never questioned the decision to leave him as the backup catcher, because he clearly physically can't catch 100 games a year. And given Brian Schneider's own durability issues, Castro's trips to the DL have been doubly frustrating. And Santos has hit surprisingly well this season (.275/.303/.475 with a number of big game-breaking hits).

But Castro and Santos are actually both known quantities, and only one of them can hit. Castro in his Mets career has batted .252/.321/.452 over 785 plate appearances, better on balance than what Santos has done...and Santos has only made 89 plate appearances. Yes, Castro is 33, but then Santos is 28 and has batted .258/.303/.348 over 2,429 minor league plate appearances. I don't care how many game-winning hits you get in a month, that's not a major league hitter. Given that Schneider is also 32 and not hitting, the broader answer is that the team needs a new everyday catcher. But Omir Santos will never be that guy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:16 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
June 1, 2009

Daily News has a nice profile of Jay Horwitz, now in his 30th year of doing PR for the Mets, a job that would have driven a lesser man around the bend.

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Bill James and Joe Posnanski discuss hype and reality with Matt Wieters. I'm very high on Wieters, but I find myself being a bit contrarian because the hype is so out of hand compared to what even the all-time greats can do as rookies. Should the Orioles be happy if Wieters gives them a .294/.349/.472 season with 15 HR, 57 Runs, and 65 RBI? That's the average of the rookie seasons of Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catchers the game has seen (average age: 23, same as Wieters).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:28 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
May 30, 2009
BASEBALL: Take A Ride on the Redding

Anyone who watched the train wreck of Tim Redding's outing today has to be depressed at the news that Oliver Perez has been sent back to Port St. Lucie with a bum knee, leaving Redding in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Jon Niese being 0-4 with an 8.04 ERA at Buffalo (Freddy Garcia's is 8.18) leaves the Mets with fewer options still.

O Pedro, where art thou?

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May 28, 2009
BASEBALL: F-Mart Blue Light Special

Necessity makes a fool of the best laid plans, but I'm still ambivalent at best about Fernando Martinez being rushed to the majors, and even moreso after watching him fail to run out a popup last night (I think it was only last night, this week has blown my sense of time). Martinez has been an impressively touted prospect since he batted .333/.389/.505 in the Sally League at age 17 in 2006, but at every step since then he's put up decidedly mediocre numbers until arriving at Norfolk this season, where a recent hot streak pushed him to .291/.337/.552. Yet the Mets keep promoting him, on the theory that the numbers are good for his age.

There are four drawbacks to this approach. Number one, of course, is if it turns out the guy's not the age you thought he was. Number two is if his growth stalls - Andy Marte, for example, dined out on the "good for his age" bit until he ceased improving. Martinez is more athletic than Marte, but it's still a concern. Number three - exemplified by the popup incident - is if the prospect doesn't work hard enough on the details of his game because he knows he doesn't have to earn promotions. Immaturity is a universal at Martinez' age, and even the most dedicated young athletes sometimes need to be pushed to get everything out of their talent. And number four is the problem of getting overwhelmed and never really mastering the levels he's at - Martinez has never learned to steal bases despite good speed, and with the exception of one 3-game stop he's never drawn more than 47 walks per 600 plate appearances at any level, while consistenly averaging about 2.7 strikeouts per walk. (The fifth problem is arbitration eligibility, but that's less of an issue for a team like the Mets).

That's not to say that rapid promotions are all bad - it more or less worked out for Jose Reyes (although in the interim the Mets suffered through terrible plate discipline from Reyes as a leadoff hitter in his early years, plus he's never entirely gotten away from annoying mental mistakes). I'm generally all for skipping levels if a guy has had great results at AA. But once the immediate emergency passes in right field, I'd like to see Martinez put together at least one season of really being a consistent minor league hitter before bringing him into the big leagues for good.

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May 27, 2009
BASEBALL: Unhealthy

Ken Davidoff on the Mets' persistent mismanagement of injured players.

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May 26, 2009


UPDATE: Moe Lane has some more philosophical thoughts from Mr. T on the nature of pitying the fool.

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May 24, 2009
BASEBALL: How Citi Plays

In case you are wondering, here are the early returns on Citi Field.

Mets batting at home: .287/.368/.432, 4.95 R/G, Home run every 55.07 plate appearances.

Mets batting on the road: .285/.366/.407, 4.81 R/G, Home run every 66.08 plate appearances.

Don't have the pitching splits handy, but it's hard to see much of an effect there yet. If that variation in homers keeps up over a full season, we'll have a little better basis for declaring it a good home run park.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:38 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Win Call, Lose Closer

Very dramatic win last night for the Mets, with an excellent performance by Pelfrey and the game-winning homer awarded to Omir Santos in the 9th inning only after review of the instant replay showed (correctly) that the ball hit off the top of the Green Monster above the orange line. Nonetheless, I have to fault Gary Sheffield for not running harder and thus not being in position to score if the ball had been ruled a double. Sheffield's been a professional baseball player for 24 years now, you'd think he'd have absorbed a basic lesson like not assuming a ball in the air leaves the park. But you can't teach an old dog new tricks; Sheff has turned into a very valuable guy to have (at least for now) with Delgado out.

The bad news is K-Rod. Just when they get Putz back again after yet another brief absence, K-Rod collapses from back spasms:

Rodriguez...was put on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a local hospital following the 3-2 win over the Red Sox.

Mets officials had no further word on K-Rod's situation two hours after the game and did not say if the problem was serious enough to involve a disk in Rodriguez's back.

Rodriguez suffered the back spasms -- the first of his career, he said -- while running in pregame warmups and was unavailable to pitch the ninth inning. J.J. Putz closed out the game in K-Rod's place.

The Mets gave Rodriguez muscle relaxers before the game, but he collapsed shortly after waving off help from trainer Ray Ramirez and trying to leave the clubhouse under his own power.

The Post observed Rodriguez weeping from the pain after being helped into a golf cart, and a stretcher and emergency medical technicians were called to the scene.

That doesn't sound very encouraging.

UPDATE: The Post's Twitter feed says K-Rod is moving around without a wheelchair this morning, which is...supposed to be good news.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Size Matters

Yes, bigger players hit longer home runs. Another data point against those who argue that steroids, which clearly help build muscle mass, have no effect on the ability to hit for power.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:57 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 20, 2009

Scott Schoenweis' wife found dead by their 14-year-old daughter. No further details at this point, but really, further details won't do any good. Very sad no matter the cause.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:08 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 19, 2009
BASEBALL: Infield Of Holes

Last night's Mets loss in extra innings was ... well, you can call it many things, but surprising would not be one, not when they faced a first-place (albeit Manny-less) team with the following lineup:

Angel Pagan - LF
Luis Castillo - 2B
Carlos Beltran - CF
Gary Sheffield - RF
David Wright - 3B
Fernando Tatis - 1B
Ramon Martinez - SS
Tim Redding - P

At least we have not yet been treated to Tatis at shortstop, where he is apparently now considered an option with Alex Cora on the DL.

The Mets' record may look good, but they have some serious issues to deal with. One is what to do about first base. The NY Post reports that "Carlos Delgado's surgery this morning was successful" and the Mets "expect him back in 10 weeks." That's good, but there's still a lot of season in 10 weeks. This is, unfortunately, a terrible time for Nick Evans to have been sent back to extended spring training because he was batting .093 at AAA. One solution may be to use first to get more playing time for Tatis, and another is using Murphy there more to get better gloves in the outfield, but those are probably stopgaps. Murphy really might end up as the longer-term answer at first than picking up a journeyman veteran like the suitcases-always-packed Aubrey Huff, but there's little enough reason to think Murphy can hit enough to be a league-average first baseman or better.

Then there's Reyes, who had just started getting hot when he got hurt, batting .444/.516/.630 in his last 7 games. John Harper thinks the Mets should bail on Reyes because of his mental lapses, but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Stan Musial or Jackie Robinson and 10 being Manny Ramirez, Reyes can't possibly be more than a 5 or 6 in terms of doing things to drive the manager nuts. His current injury is the first time he's been out of the lineup for any real time in years - the past 4 seasons, he's averaged 158 games and 741 plate appearances a year. Showing up on time and producing cover a multitude of sins. And I do think he's gotten a little better with time. Yes, Reyes can still make you tear your hair out at times, but it's just nonsensical to suggest that a contending team with no other options at short part with a 26-year-old with Reyes' talent and track record.

Reyes is a unique player: he's one of only three players ever to hit 15 homers and steal 50 bases in the same season as a shortstop, and one of only seven to hit.300, hit 15 homers and steal 30 bases as a shortstop. Being that Hanley Ramirez is on both lists, it's hard to really find a parallel to project his development forward, the closest possibly being Barry Larkin. Baseball-Reference.com's ten most similar players at the same age includes only one guy (Roberto Alomar, a much more patient hitter) who was within 100 steals of Reyes at the same age.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:12 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Having A Bad Weeks

The news that Rickie Weeks is out for the season with a wrist injury is a sad turning point of sorts on a couple of levels. Weeks has always been a talented player, but with limitations - defensive problems, injuries, offensive inconsistency. He's shown power, speed, plate patience and decent batting averages, but has rarely put them all together in the same season. At 26 and off to his best start with the bat, Weeks looked like he might make this, at last, the year when he could put it all together and give the Brewers a couple of really high-quality seasons.

Now, of course, he faces long rehab on his wrist, and undoubtedly will be rusty, especially in the field, when he returns. Add to that the depletion of the Milwaukee rotation over the last few years - Sheets, Capuano, Sabathia - and despite a 24-14 record, that sound you hear may be the Brewers' window of opportunity to put together a championship-quality team with this talent core (Fielder, Weeks, Braun, Hart, Hardy, Gallardo, Sheets and Capuano) closing for good.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:07 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 18, 2009
BASEBALL: Every Breath You Take

Peter Abraham on the ultimate Yankee collectible.

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May 15, 2009
BASEBALL: Robbed Blind

Video, if you missed it, of Jayson Werth stealing home on Russell Martin's throw back to the mound after having stolen second and third:

You'd think a guy who already had three steals in the game would be watched a little more carefully.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:31 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Home Bitter Home

The WSJ looks at how the new Yankee Stadium could end up being seen as a flop:

When new stadiums have flopped in the past -- that is, when the public has come to loathe them or their teams haven't benefited from them -- it's generally been for one of four reasons, say historians, sports executives and fans. Either the stadium catered too much to affluent fans, or too little, or had dimensions or weather conditions that negatively affected play.


The new Yankee Stadium has seemed cursed from the beginning, as if Babe Ruth disapproved of the abandonment of the house he built. That it opened during a recession, with a major-league-high $72.97 average price for a nonpremium ticket (up 76% over 2008, according to Team Marketing Report) has created contempt among fans who otherwise love the team.

It's a bit early to write an obituary. The Hated Yankees still have a deep team and one whose financial advantages make it likely they will be competitive at any give point in the future. It's not the stadium's fault that A-Rod got hurt (or Nady or Posada), or that Rivera and Jeter are showing their age, or that Teixeira is hitting .202, or that Burnett, Wang and Hughes have a collective ERA of 9.39 on the road this year (although the park can be blamed for Sabathia, Pettitte and Joba, who collectively have an ERA of 6.00 at home, where they average 1.31 HR/9 and 4.12 BB/9, compared to an ERA of 2.67 on the road, where they average 0.51 HR/9 and 3.08 BB/9).

The new stadium is, of course, designed not to seem new, unlike Citi Field. The main thing the Yankees need to do, which they have already started, is bring ticket prices in line with economic reality. The rest is likely to simply be a reflection of fans' patience with the product on the field.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Parting The Wieters

If you're wondering, Matt Wieters is hitting pretty well at AAA, batting .301 with a .404 OBP - perfectly respectable numbers for a guy in his second year of pro ball a step removed from the majors, and entirely consistent with his top prospect status. But Wieters is slugging just .422, with only one homer.

Reason again to remember that even the best young players can't automatically be projected to come out of the gate as established stars.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:02 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Joakim Soria's trip to the DL is a bad omen for the Royals on three levels. One, last year's Devil Rays notwithstanding, your Cinderella teams generally need to avoid significant injuries, and they've already lost Alex Gordon for a long time. Two, KC has enough solid arms in the bullpen - Juan Cruz will be closing for now - that the Royals shouldn't take too much of a loss from a two-week absence, but a team with as thin a talent core as the Royals can't afford to see Soria go the way of BJ Ryan or Eric Gagne. They will have to cross their fingers that the precautionary DL trip is just that. And three, there's a real temptation right now to run Zack Greinke into the ground. The 25-year-old has tossed 4 complete games in 7 starts, which is a lot these days for a young pitcher early in the season. His fantastic efficiency has been a big factor - he's cleared 110 pitches three times this season but has topped out at 115, which really is not that much. But lacking his closer could tempt Trey Hillman to push him further, and that could be a very bad thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 8, 2009
BASEBALL: Worst Story Evah

Jonah Keri rounds up the sportswriting reaction, and mostly overreaction, on Manny.

Blogger Curt Schilling (well, OK, yeah, yeah) doesn't buy the I-didn't-know defenses:

I was never a fitness freak or gym rat - those are the guys that measured every milligram, count every tablet in their regimen. Yet somehow we’re hearing these same people talk about being struck momentarily stupid when West African bullfrog semen is found in their blood. "What? How'd that get there????" Their routines, from reps to nutrition are as mapped out as scouting reports. They eat a certain way, train a certain way, and they play a certain way. There is no 'black hole' or 'hidden formula' happening in these instances.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:19 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Some Slump

David Wright, widely viewed as being mired in the worst slump of his career, is batting .314/.408/.490 this season, including .406/.487/.750 with 9 RBI in his last 9 games.

Yes, I know, Wright's striking out a lot with men on base. It's a long season, and I refuse to panic; his career batting line remains .312/.396/.542 with men on base, .299/.393/.498 with men in scoring position. The guy who should be getting the grief is Reyes, who is hitting .246/.326/.351 thus far. People notice Wright whiffing with men on base, they don't notice the bases being empty in innings Reyes starts by making out. I'm not freaking out about Reyes either, given his history (I expect him to warm up soon), just saying if you need a target, he's a better one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:16 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Things Even Manny Must Know

Leon Wolf looks in detail at what Manny did or did not know, based on what's been reported.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:01 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Very Good DiMaggio

Dom DiMaggio has died at age 92; the Globe looks back. (I had recently noted him among the handful of star players still living in their 90s, but lists of that nature are by definition fleeting). My column on the Hall of Fame and the tablesetters looked at DiMaggio, who was a similar player to Brett Butler but had his career interrupted by war. RIP.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:53 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 7, 2009
BASEBALL: Manny Being Barry

Say it ain't so: Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drug test.

This is a bad thing, but in one way a good thing: it's the first such suspension that really has a chance to unsettle a pennant race. The steroids horse is way too far out of the barn, in my view, to punish people retrospectively. It's never going to be possible to say with certainty, looking backwards, who used what, who was clean, and what difference was made in their careers. Certainly, we can look askance at the really unnatural Bonds-like career patterns, but ultimately, I think the sportswriters will have to recognize that the drugs are just another generation's unique playing conditions, and the Hall of Fame will adjust accordingly.

But putting real teeth in the enforcement mechanism going forward at least will move us towards having a little more confidence in a clean game in the future. A real suspension for a real star is the wake-up call that's needed to get the public to believe it's a real effort.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
May 6, 2009

Rob Neyer looks at the Royals' HR & BB numbers and pitcher Ks and wonders if they might be for real. He makes some good points about why they are better this year even aside from Greinke's monster start, but I don't see how it's really sustainable - they don't have a whole lot of new guys doing established things, nor young guys developing. Mike Jacobs does give them some more power, but he's the only guy on the team on pace for 20+ HR, while I am very doubtful that Coco Crisp will draw the 126 walks he's currently on a pace for.

Improvement? Yes, the Royals may manage that even without Alex Gordon. But I don't see how this team will end the year anywhere near the top of Neyer's "Beane Count."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:56 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Animated James

In the upcoming movie version of "Moneyball," starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Bill James will appear as an animated character.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:37 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Crippling

Peter Abraham has a rundown on the Yankees-Red Sox and the severity of Jorge Posada's injury.

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May 4, 2009
BASEBALL: The New Doug Sisk?

If there's been one constant for most of the three decades I've been a Mets fan, it is that there is nearly always at least one guy in the bullpen who is really, really unpopular with the fans, and usually for good reason. After he walked in the winning run in extra innings against the Phillies this Saturday, the early lead for this position in 2009 seems to have been cemented by Sean Green.

My original concern about Green was his pronounced tendency to run off the rails the last two months of the season, but at this rate, with an 8.76 ERA and 18 hits and 8 walks allowed in 12.1 IP, he may not make it that far.

Looking back, since 1980, a Mets reliever has walked at least a batter every two innings (4.5 per 9) 13 times, most recently Aaron Heilman in 2008. Doug Sisk and Armando Benitez each did it three times, but Benitez at least offset the walks with truckloads of strikeouts, and in the end his unpopularity had more to do with home run balls. Green could be the new Sisk.

Sisk in some sense got a raw deal from the fans - through his second full season with the team (1984) he had a 2.12 career ERA despite his nearly 2-to-1 BB/K ratio, thanks to not giving up home runs. And in 1986-87 he was modestly effective after getting his control under control. But the 1985 season, when he posted a 5.30 ERA on a team with no other pitching holes that lost a tight pennant race by 3 games, combined with general fan frustration with a guy who just couldn't throw strikes, earned him permanent infamy. Sisk's ERA+ of 66 that season is the second-lowest of the last 40 years among Mets relievers to appear in 40 or more games, with only Lee Guetterman in the lost season of 1992 being worse (the only other guy below 73 in a season when the team was competitive was Mel Rojas in 1998). (If you are wondering, the worst reliever ERA+ ever with at least 40 appearances is 49 by Ron Davis for the Twins and Cubs in 1986, narrowly edging Vic Darensbourg in 1999)

Green will need to turn things around pretty shortly if he wants to stay on the roster, much less stay above Bobby Parnell on the depth chart.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:32 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 1, 2009
BASEBALL: Anonymous Tip

Color me skeptical that A-Rod with the Rangers was tipping pitches for his friends among opposing middle infielders. I'm not saying it's not true, but first of all the sourcing is anonymous - I continue to be skeptical of anonymously sourced reports. Second of all, the article notes that infielders do this routinely to tip each other off, so it's totally impossible to rebut this and entirely possible that A-Rod was misinterpreted.

That said, if this report is true, this is worse than anything Pete Rose ever did. You don't throw at bats, no matter the score.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
April 28, 2009
BASEBALL: Being There Is Not Enough

I probably can't summarize the Mets' frustrations this season better than these two facts:

1. The Mets have a team OBP of .362. (The club record is .361 in 1999, the only Mets team above .346).

2. The Mets are 7th in the National League in runs scored.

Partly that reflects more GIDP than usual, but mostly it reflects a combination of very high-scoring conditions and poor hitting with men on base, especially for power.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:55 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 26, 2009
BASEBALL: Zack Attack!

Every season, baseball brings us something at least slightly new. Zack Greinke has struck out at least 7 batters without allowing an earned run in each of his first four starts (no runs at all in the first three). Nobody has started the season with more than two such starts dating back to 1954 (as far back as baseball-reference.com's database goes). Here's how Greinke's first four starts stack up to some classic seasons past:

Zack Greinke20094-
Cliff Lee20084-
Pedro Martinez20004-028.11.595.400.641.5912.71
Greg Maddux19943-
Dwight Gooden19852-130.01.505.100.302.407.80
Fernando Valenzuela19814-
Bob Gibson19681-130.01.977.500.601.805.40

(If you're wondering, Gibson went on to throw 23 innings in his next two starts).

This isn't a scientific sample, and four starts do not a season make - but this is one heck of a start to a season, and it's gaudy enough to raise a real possibility that Greinke has broken the barrier between promising and dominating.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:58 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 23, 2009
BASEBALL: Must Not Be In The Front Row!

The NY Times looks at a trend that speaks to the Mets' and Yankees' mispricing of seats at their new stadiums, and maybe more metaphorically to the state of the NY City economy: fans buying the cheap seats while the best seats in the house are empty.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:03 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2009
BASEBALL: Murphy's Law

Tonight's Mets loss came from a variety of factors. One, Carlos Beltran failed to slide when he really needed to when attempting to score after going from second to third on a fly ball. Two, Oliver Perez couldn't find home plate with a lead.

And three, tonight was yet another reminder that Daniel Murphy is not a major league outfielder, as he fell down while misjudging a catchable fly ball off the bat of Brendan Ryan that ended up as a triple and the winning run.

Murphy's a major league hitter, but as yet there's no reason to think he's the kind of offensive one-man wrecking crew that can justify an iron glove in left field (see: Ramirez, Manny). He's more of a Ty Wigginton or Melvin Mora type of hitter, a tweener who is only as good as the defensive positions he can handle. And right now, he's not even adequate at a position on the far left end of the defensive spectrum.

Also, neither here nor there, I was playing "who looks like who" tonight...doesn't Pedro Feliciano remind you of David Paterson? Partly it's superficial - they're both light-skinned black men with sketchy beards - but they also share a certain Will Ferrell-ish set of the jaw to complete the picture. A similar and totally unrelated thought: Johan Santana reminds me of Mike Hampton, with his small jaw and semi-pointed 1930s movie-villian goatee.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:09 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 20, 2009

Some heads-up work by the Mets signing Wily Mo Pena to a minor league deal. Obviously, guys who get cut by the Nationals are not as a general matter the best investments, and Pena's .205/.243/.267 line last season was pretty horrific. Still, Pena is 27 years old, he slugged .504 over a three year period from 2004-06, and he's righthanded and has a career batting line of .277/.339/.457 against lefthanded pitching; for your cheap outfield pickups, at least that gives him some specific skills to fall back on, and if he starts hitting again he'd be a logical guy to step up if a replacement is needed for Sheffield or Tatis. (Interestingly, Pena for his career has a slightly higher slugging percentage on the road despite playing in Boston and Cinicnnati, but has a career batting average 15 points higher at home and a career OBP 25 points higher). If not, well, that's why it's a minor league contract.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:15 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
April 19, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 6 of my preseason previews is the NL Central; this is the last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior previews: AL Central and AL West, AL East, NL East, NL West.

I'll be frank: as often happens, I'm a bit at the end of my tether and pushing to get done after the season starts when I get to the NL Central, baseball's largest division and the one with the most lost ships. The numbers are all here, but some of the commentary may be a bit abbreviated.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 226.00 (75 W)
Adjusted: 245.11 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 217.59 (73 W)
2009 W-L: 85-77

C26Geovany Soto*1224
1B33Derrek Lee1613
2B29Mike Fontenot#87
SS29Ryan Theriot1312
3B31Aramis Ramirez2319
RF31Milton Bradley1513
CF32Kosuke Fukudome*812
LF33Alfonso Soriano1916
C230Koyie Hill00
INF32Aaron Miles108
OF32Reed Johnson108
1228Joey Gathright66
1329Micah Hoffpauir+24
SP128Carlos Zambrano1616
SP227Rich Harden99
SP333Ted Lilly139
SP432Ryan Dempster139
SP526Sean Marshall45
RP131Kevin Gregg108
RP226Carlos Marmol1011
RP329Neal Cotts21
RP434Luis Vizcaino43
RP530Aaron Heilman54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - So Taguchi. Esteban German was cut and headed for the Rangers.

Pitchers - Relievers Angel Guzman and David Patton, starting prospect Jeff Samardzija. Chad Gaudin was cut and has caught on with the Padres.

Analysis: The Cubs are the favorites in the NL Central; they're not any more an overpowering one than the Dodgers, but they're a good, solid team and nobody else in the division has a proven basis for being considered one. As usual, the health of Rich Harden will be a significant factor - Harden's still only 27, but has the medical history of a 37-year-old. Soto's recent banged-up status is also a concern; catchers have that and thus far it may just be routine, but he's such a valuable commodity the Cubs would be in trouble if he ends up with one of those lost seasons that happen to catchers sometimes.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 205.00 (68 W)
Adjusted: 217.72 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 212.57 (71 W)
2009 W-L: 84-78

C35Jason Kendall1611
1B25Prince Fielder2328
2B26Rickie Weeks1416
SS26JJ Hardy1719
3B29Bill Hall1110
RF27Corey Hart1617
CF36Mike Cameron1915
LF25Ryan Braun*1928
C232Mike Rivera32
INF38Craig Counsell75
OF29Chris Duffy32
1226Casey McGeehee04
1326Brad Nelson+04
SP123Yovanni Gallardo#45
SP234Jeff Suppan85
SP326Manny Parra#56
SP429David Bush87
SP534Braden Looper96
RP141Trevor Hoffman107
RP225Carlos Villanueva67
RP328Seth McClung44
RP428Todd Coffey22
RP530Jorge Julio43

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Gallardo is a heckuva pitcher and if healthy should blow by that EWSL. I didn't ding Hoffman, since his EWSL incorporates the injury woes of fortysomething pitchers.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Tony Gwynn jr.

Pitchers - David Riske, Mitch Stetter, Wes Littleton, Chris Capuano, and Chase Wright.

Analysis: The Brewers return the same lineup and should score runs in bunches with all that power, but the pitching staff has been decimated by the departure of Sheets and Sabathia and the failure of Capuano. Suppan's K rate was in decay last season, and through 2 starts so far he has 7 BB, 2 K and a 12.91 ERA in 7.2 IP. It's possible that a healthy Gallardo could be an ace, and it's possible that they'll find the money to bring Sheets back in midseason, but on the whole this team just doesn't have the arms.

When I mentioned the National League's oversupply of failed Mets relievers, I forgot to note the Brew Crew with Looper and Julio. They should make Willie Randolph feel right at home.

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 181.67 (61 W)
Adjusted: 201.84 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 185.89 (62 W)
2009 W-L: 75-87

C26Yadier Molina1315
1B29Albert Pujols3432
2B29Skip Schumaker#1012
SS29Khalil Greene1110
3B26David Freese+04
RF30Ryan Ludwick1513
CF29Rick Ankiel#910
LF28Chris Duncan1010
C235Jason LaRue42
INF32Troy Glaus1714
OF22Colby Rasmus+04
1228Brian Barden#04
1327Brendan Ryan#33
SP127Adam Wainwright1111
SP230Kyle Lohse108
SP330Joel Pineiro33
SP430Todd Wellemeyer87
SP534Chris Carpenter42
RP127Jason Motte+16
RP227Brad Thompson43
RP336Ryan Franklin76
RP432Dennis Reyes54
RP536Trever Miller33

Subjective Adjustments: None. The 3B situation is in flux pending Glaus' return, which may take months; I have Freese listed as the starter but graded as a bench player rather than take the WS out of Glaus, and anyway Joe Thurston is battling Freese for the playing time. Carpenter's injury is in line with his recent history, so no adjustment needed.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Thurston, Joe Mather, Brian Barton. Mather and Rasmus are the team's outfielders of the future, but only if they can get rid of the current outfield.

Pitchers - Kyle McClellan, who's been perhaps their best reliever in the early going, Josh Kinney, and Royce Ring.

Analysis: The Cards have started hot, and this team often has people who surprise me - two of the three outfielders (Duncan and Ludwick) have picked up where Ankiel and Ludwick left off last year. I'd warn that Pujols is reaching the age where guys as good as him start to be less consistently awesome every single year, but he hasn't looked thus far like this will be the year he gets his first taste of kryptonite. He'll be the best player in the game until someone wrests the title from him (although EWSL does rate Hanley Ramirez above him due to his youth).

Greene is an offensive enigma. Entering last season, while his overall numbers were poor because he hit so badly in San Diego, he had a career road batting line of .280/.338/.515, but he batted .212/.225/.317 on the road last season and has hit .158/.158/.316 on the road in the early going this year. He'll run out of excuses if he repeats last year's road performance.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 210.50 (70 W)
Adjusted: 214.57 (72 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.56 (61 W)
2009 W-L: 73-89

C37Ivan Rodriguez149
1B33Lance Berkman3126
2B33Kaz Matsui1210
SS35Miguel Tejada1611
3B36Geoff Blum97
RF26Hunter Pence#1621
CF26Michael Bourn#57
LF33Carlos Lee2218
C229Humberto Quintero22
INF29Jeff Keppinger88
OF33Jason Michaels76
1235Darin Erstad64
1331Jason Smith11
SP131Roy Oswalt1715
SP230Wandy Rodriguez76
SP336Mike Hampton21
SP437Brian Moehler54
SP535Russ Ortiz10
RP129Jose Valverde1211
RP232Geoff Geary65
RP335Tim Byrdak32
RP436LaTroy Hawkins55
RP531Chris Sampson65

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Catching prospect JR Towles, who suffered a colossal (.137/.250/.253) wipeout last year, and outfield nomad Reggie Abercrombie. Aaron Boone was slated to play but will miss the season following heart surgery.

Pitchers - Doug Brocail started off in the pen but hit the DL after early ineffectiveness. Wesley Wright and Clay Hensley will be in the pen, and Brandon Backe's still trying to get back where he was. Jeff Fulchino and Jose Capellan are also on hand.

Analysis: The Astros were surprisingly competitive in 2008, but they were 9 games above their Pythagorean record, their team is old, and frankly they are fooling themselves if they think this roster is anything but spare parts to sell to contenders, or in the case of the back end of their rotation, guys who should have been put to pasture by now.

Lance Berkman had to win the 2008 "guy least likely to double his career high in steals while hardly ever getting caught" award. Berkman is basically Bob Horner if he'd stayed in shape, but he's a better athlete than Horner was even when young.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 156.67 (52 W)
Adjusted: 174.71 (58 W)
Age-Adj.: 174.65 (58 W)
2009 W-L: 71-91

C33Ramon Hernandez1311
1B25Joey Votto*1115
2B28Brandon Phillips1818
SS32Alex Gonzalez54
3B26Edwin Encarnacion1517
RF22Jay Bruce*414
CF27Willy Taveras99
LF33Jerry Hairston jr76
C228Ryan Hanigan*24
INF26Paul Janish+14
OF27Chris Dickerson*35
1230Darnell McDonald+11
1328Laynce Nix00
SP125Edinson Volquez910
SP231Aaron Harang1210
SP332Bronson Arroyo129
SP423Johnny Cueto*36
SP526Micah Owings#57
RP134Francisco Cordero128
RP239David Weathers98
RP334Mike Lincoln21
RP439Arthur Rhodes43
RP528Jared Burton#56

Subjective Adjustments: None. I thought of knocking Jay Bruce up a few spots, but 22 year olds, even ones who are accurately projected as big stars, are never a sure thing to make that dramatic an improvement. And Volquez has been kicking around long enough that I wasn't at liberty to just disregard his pre-2008 performance.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jonny Gomes, Jacque Jones and Norris Hopper; Daryle Ward got cut.

Pitchers - Relievers Bill Bray, Danny Herrera and Nick Masset, and starter Homer Bailey, who seems to have been reclassified pretty swiftly from the next Clemens to the next Schiraldi but is still young and hard-throwing enough that nobody's counting him out yet. If nothing else, Bailey will get the chance to break the reputations of a few more pitching coaches before he's through.

Analysis: The Reds will feel the loss of Dunn, and at least symbolically the loss of Griffey as well, but there remains enough young talent here to build on with Votto, Bruce, Volquez and Cueto; it's just that there are still a lot of holes as well. Dickerson is sharing time with Hairston in left. I'm not sure I see the point of employing Taveras to play in a bandbox - it was one thing to live with his slap hitting in Colorado, where at least the vast outfield requires a fleet center fielder.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 135.83 (45 W)
Adjusted: 142.68 (48 W)
Age-Adj.: 136.16 (45 W)
2009 W-L: 58-104

C28Ryan Doumit1213
1B29Adam LaRoche1615
2B31Freddy Sanchez1614
SS31Jack Wilson1210
RF25Brandon Moss*36
CF27Nate McLouth1616
LF28Njyer Morgan#33
C226Jason Jaramillo+04
INF32Ramon Vazquez76
OF32Craig Monroe54
1231Eric Hinske76
1325Luis Cruz*11
SP127Ian Snell66
SP226Zach Duke44
SP327Paul Maholm77
SP426Ross Ohlendorf*11
SP526Jeff Karstens11
RP125Matt Capps910
RP231Tyler Yates32
RP330John Grabow54
RP426Sean Burnett11
RP525Craig Hansen11

Subjective Adjustments: None. The Pirates are, however, a classic vacuum situation: there's a lot of young guys on hand who haven't established themselves, most of whom have failed in a half a season or so worth of playing time but haven't yet proven themselves failures. A few of those single-digit guys in the lineup are bound to find their sea legs enough to keep this team from being quite as bad as 104 losses, but they won't be able to keep them far from the cellar.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Cruz was listed by default, as he seems to have been less of a proven failure than Brian Bixler, also a shortstop. Also catcher Robinson Diaz and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Pitchers - Relievers Jesse Chavez and Donald Veal; starter Tom Gorzelanny is in AAA purgatory. Phil Dumatrait is injured.

Analysis: There's no sense blowing up a bad team in exchange for prospects if you're not gonna play the prospects, and so that's what the Pirates are doing: the younger LaRoche, Moss, Ohlendorf, Karstens, and Hansen are the bounty of various deals the last few seasons as Pirate veterans like Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were sent to contenders, and Pittsburgh means to find out if they can do the job. It's still a shame that a storied franchise playing in a beautiful new stadium can't support itself - the Pirates' winning percentage dating back to 1993, during which they've suffered 16 straight losing seasons, is .438, good for a 71-91 record over a 162 game season, and they haven't finished higher than 6th in the NL in attendance since 1972, not even when they won the World Series in 1979 or the three straight division titles in the Bonds/Bonilla/Van Slyke era. 2001, when they opened PNC Park, is the only time in franchise history they've averaged more than 26,000 fans per game, and 1990-91 were the only other years they cracked the 2 million mark. It's hard to paint the current rebuilding effort with much hope if there just isn't any reason to believe that the current club ownership thinks it could make more money by having a winning team.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:24 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 16, 2009
BASEBALL: Quick Links 4/16/09

*Nothing quite like Jose Reyes scoring from first base on a wild pitch last night. Speed gets overrated sometimes compared to the ability to get on base - without which it's of little use - but that play was a perfect illustration of how speed can really unsettle a defense: Nick Hundley may well have let the ball go by and Luis Castillo score from third in part because he was distracted by Reyes taking off for second, ending with Reyes coming all the way around to score on a comedy of bad throws.

The Mets radio announcers were complaining that neither they nor the managers nor the team PR staff that runs the scoreboards can see into the new bullpens to figure out who is warming up. Last night that was multiplied by the fact that everybody was wearing #42, which is a nice tribute to Jackie Robinson but kind of confusing in mid-April when people haven't absorbed all the rosters yet.

*Lyford notes an even more no-hitter friendly lineup. Ouch.

*Matt Wieters walks in his only appearance against David Price; presumably there will be many, many more rematches. Is PECOTA overprojecting Wieters by virtue of overly lenient adjustments for players from the Eastern and Carolina Leagues? And how long will it be before I can remember to write "Wieters" instead of "Weiters" without checking?

*I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that Chris Carpenter is injured.

*I don't love all aspects of the new baseball-reference.com redesign (which converts the site to features that had already been in place for the sister sites covering football, basketball and hockey); I'm always skeptical of things that make a site run slower and less clean, and that create more hazards of clicking something that will do something on a page when you are just moving your mouse or trying to scroll down. And some information seems to be harder to find or navigate to. That said, there is a huge amount of new data, and from my personal perspective, the ability to copy and paste stats into an Excel spreadsheet is a colossal improvement - I experimented with the method I use for my Hall of Fame columns in particular and found I could run four or five players in the time it used to take to run one. On balance, I give it a big thumbs up.

*Not baseball, but big sports news: John Madden is retiring. Madden's not as sharp as he used to be, but he's still entertaining, and he'll be remembered as the man who revolutionized NFL analysis.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:49 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Football | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 15, 2009
BASEBALL: Knuckling Under

Tim Wakefield hasn't given up a hit through 7 innings today.

These things usually take some help from the opposing team....take a look at that Oakland lineup:

Ryan Sweeney CF
Orlando Cabrera SS
Jack Cust DH
Matt Holliday LF
Mark Ellis 2B
Travis Buck RF
Kurt Suzuki C
Bobby Crosby 3B
Landon Powell 1B

Now, several of those guys are solid players for one reason or another, but seriously, how many of them would you put money on to bat above .250 this season? Maybe three - Holliday, of course; Cabrera; and probably Sweeney. It's definitely a lineup prone to a shortage of hits.

UPDATE: Suzuki singles in the 8th to break it up.

For a famous example of how a lineup can set up a pitcher's accomplishments, here's the box score for Roger Clemens' first 20-K game. Again, not a terrible lineup but a very high-strikeout one, with Steve Yeager and Spike Owen and a bunch of big-swinging sluggers including Danny Tartabull at second base. (Amazingly, only one of Clemens' Ks that day was Gorman Thomas).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:08 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
April 14, 2009
BASEBALL: Full of Years

The recent spate of deaths in the game brought this to the fore of my mind - my older brother and I were having a discussion over the weekend about who the oldest living baseball stars are, specifically with reference to Tommy Henrich being the oldest remaining star of the Yankees. According to this website, the oldest living Major League ballplayer is Tony Malinosky, who appeared in 35 games in 1937 for the Dodgers and will turn 100 in October. Henrich, who just turned 96 in February, is 6th on the list, with the top player of any note being Lonny Frey. As best I could figure, here's a list covering the high points among players who are now past the age of about 85, covering the last of the guys who made their mark in the majors before World War II (I've almost certainly missed some people and probably listed somebody here who died recently); they are a generation passing from the scene:

Lonny Frey19101933
Connie Marrero19111950
Tommy Henrich19131937
Eddie Joost19161936
Phil Cavaretta19161934
Buddy Lewis19161935
Dom DiMaggio19171940
Virgil Trucks19171941
Bob Feller19181936
Bobby Doerr19181937
Johnny Pesky19191942
Ralph Houk19191947
Stan Musial19201941
Dave Philley19201941
Eddie Robinson19201942
Boo Ferriss19201945
Ralph Kiner19201946
Alvin Dark19221946
Mel Parnell19221947
Red Schoendienst19231945
Bobby Thomson19231945
Jerry Coleman19241949
Yogi Berra19251946
Minnie Minoso19251949
Bobby Shantz19251949

Of course, when you look through the registers by year, you can really see the impact of the war, especially around 1924 (the generation that was 18 years old in 1942), in terms of there simply being fewer guys born that year who were able to have long and successful big league careers; there was only one pitcher born that year who went on to win 100 games (Alex Kellner) and nobody who got 2000 career hits, although there were some successful sluggers like Gil Hodges and Ted Kluzewski.

UPDATED: A commenter points out that Mickey Vernon, listed in the original chart, died last fall at age 90.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:01 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2009 NL West EWSL Report

Part 5 of my preseason previews is the NL West; this is the fifth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior previews: AL Central and AL West, AL East, NL East.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Los Angeles Dodgers

Raw EWSL: 232.67 (78 W)
Adjusted: 251.63 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 234.49 (78 W)
2009 W-L: 91-71

C26Russell Martin2022
1B25James Loney#1318
2B31Orlando Husdon1916
SS31Rafael Furcal1411
3B35Casey Blake1510
RF27Andre Ethier1818
CF24Matt Kemp1317
LF37Manny Ramirez2516
C240Brad Ausmus84
INF35Doug Mientkiewicz85
OF31Juan Pierre119
1237Mark Loretta117
1323Blake DeWitt*612
SP124Chad Billingsley1315
SP234Hiroki Kuroda*57
SP321Clayton Kershaw*37
SP432Randy Wolf64
SP536Jason Schmidt32
RP125Jonathan Broxton1011
RP226Cory Wade*47
RP331Will Ohman43
RP435Guillermo Mota32
RP527Hong-Chih Kuo65

Subjective Adjustments: None; this team is pretty heavy on established talent.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Tony Abreu, outfielders Jason Repko and Delwyn Young, and catcher Danny Ardoin.

Pitchers - Claudio Vargas is on the 60-day DL. Joe Torre wants Jeff Weaver to take a crack as a reliever, but for now, Weaver and Shawn Estes are Isotopes. Also Ronald Belisario, Ramon Trancoso, and James McDonald.

Analysis: The Dodgers bear a pretty strong Joe Torre stamp by now, especially the antiquarian bench. 16 Win Shares still looks small for Manny after his colossal 2008 stretch run, but the history of 37-year-old hitters is ugly; even if he hits, there's the risk of injury. The Manny lovefest in LA has already been tarnished some by the offseason wrangling; it will be Torre's job to keep him happy for another year (you take one month at a time with Manny). Hudson, meanwhile, should upgrade the interior defense (especially if Furcal is healthy), helping offset an outfield defense with Kemp stretched in center and Manny in left. The pivotal guy for the offense, though, may be Loney, a lifetime .304 hitter who is about reaching the point where he'll either start hitting some home runs or never do it.

The rotation's combination of the young, wild Kershaw and the surgically rebuilt Wolf and Schmidt is naturally unstable, and will undoubtedly at some point tempt Torre to put Kuo back into a starter's role. Then again, the bullpen isn't that solid even when healthy.

The Dodgers are the natural favorite in the West, but age and injuries will be their trial.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Adjusted: 222.03 (74 W)
Age-Adj.: 216.61 (72 W)
2009 W-L: 85-77

C28Chris Snyder1414
1B29Chad Tracy66
2B29Felipe Lopez1111
SS26Stephen Drew1719
3B25Mark Reynolds#1319
RF21Justin Upton*48
CF25Chris Young#1419
LF27Conor Jackson1516
C225Miguel Montero#34
INF34Augie Ojeda44
OF33Eric Byrnes119
1237Tony Clark32
1325Alex Romero*11
SP130Brandon Webb2118
SP228Danny Haren1817
SP333Doug Davis96
SP429Jon Garland1110
SP524Max Scherzer*25
RP130Chad Qualls109
RP230Jon Rauch98
RP327Tony Pena77
RP441Tom Gordon43
RP535Scott Schoeneweis42

Subjective Adjustments: None. Scherzer seems likely to do better than 5 Win Shares if he's healthy, but combine that with the uncertainty inherent in any young pitcher, and I'm leaving him as is. Webb's injury doesn't yet look bad enough for me to feel confident about downgrading him from 18.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder/utilityman Ryan Roberts.

Pitchers - Relievers Doug Slaten, Billy Buckner and Juan Gutierrez and swingman Yusmiero Petit.

Analysis: You need three things to develop a young team into a powerhouse. One, you need a plan that identifies good young talent, commits to developing young players and slotting them into your lineup and pitching staff. Two, you need money - at least enough money to keep guys up through free agency and bring in the occasional complementary veteran. And three, you need luck - all the scouting in the world can't guarantee you'll land a major star.

The D-Backs have executed the first two parts of the plan: by a weighted average of their starting lineup by non-age-adjusted EWSL, they come in at an average age of 26.5, right on the sweet spot for a team coming into its own. They have multi-talented athletes, power threats, good gloves....but as of yet, when you let the park-effect air out (besides scoring 4.84 runs/game in 81 games at Chase Field last season, they scored 6.11 runs per game in their 9 road games at Coors, compared to 3.79 everywhere else), there are no stars in this lineup. And Reynolds, with his stone glove and outrageous K rate, isn't primed to become one, which leaves the D-Backs hoping either that (1) Drew or Young will have a big year or (2) Upton will mature into a star faster than his brother did.

Arizona seems a perfect illustration, however, of Bill James' "Devil's Theory of Ballparks," by which teams in good hitters' parks get complacent about mediocre hitters who put up big numbers, but develop outstanding pitching staffs because only the strong survive there (and vice versa for pitcher's parks). (The theory has exceptions, as an extreme location like Colorado simply destroys pitchers). Because what the D-Backs do have is - at least when healthy - a genuinely outstanding rotation. Scherzer, who throws nasty stuff in the high 90s, should make for a fearsome Big 3 when he comes off the DL tonight, assuming he can stay healthy and nothing is seriously wrong with Webb's shoulder. Haren in particular managed the difficult feat of setting a career high in K/9 and career lows in HR/9 and BB/9 while moving into high-scoring Chase.

Arizona's main asset last season was their superior ability to pound the NL West's three weak sisters: they went 8-10 head to head against the Dodgers, but picked up six games by going 36-18 against Colorado, San Francisco and San Diego (they were 15-3 against the Rox) compared to 30-24 by the Dodgers.

I expect Arizona, as usual, to hang in the division and wild card races to the end. The health question marks about their pitching, and the loss of Orlando Hudson's glove, are the main reasons to hesitate picking them as the favorites in the NL West.

Colorado Rockies

Raw EWSL: 170.67 (57 W)
Adjusted: 185.44 (62 W)
Age-Adj.: 182.72 (61 W)
2009 W-L: 74-88

C26Chris Iannetta#1014
1B35Todd Helton1510
2B30Clint Barmes76
SS24Troy Tulowitzki#1319
3B29Garrett Atkins1615
RF30Brad Hawpe1715
CF29Ryan Spilborghs87
LF26Seth Smith*23
C230Yorvit Torrealba54
INF24Ian Stewart*512
OF23Dexter Fowler+04
1228Jeff Baker44
1327Omar Quintanilla22
SP130Aaron Cook1311
SP225Ubaldo Jimenez#79
SP330Jason Marquis76
SP428Jorge De La Rosa44
SP523Franklin Morales#12
RP125Huston Street1112
RP226Manny Corpas99
RP327Taylor Buchholz66
RP432Jason Grilli64
RP539Alan Embree54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Outfielders Matt Murton, Carlos Gonzalez and Eric Young (that's Eric junior), and 1B Dan Ortmeier. Scott Podsednik was cut and signed with the White Sox.

Pitchers - Ace Jeff Francis is out for the season following shoulder surgery. Many options are on hand: starters Greg Smith, Josh Fogg, Jason Hammell, Greg Reynolds and Glendon Rusch, and relievers Matt Belisle and Ryan Speier. I didn't say they were all good options, but Smith at least deserves another chance in a big-league rotation after posting a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts with Oakland last year (although his peripheral numbers were not encouraging).

Analysis: The departure of Matt Holliday and the loss of Francis formalized the Rockies' return to full-time also-ran status, and Helton's advancing age and declining health and production (just 29 RBI last season) mark the end of an era in Colorado baseball. The lineup is weak, the rotation in shambles. Fowler and Stewart will probably end up playing a lot - Fowler's had more plate appearances than Seth Smith so far, and there's not going to be any reason not to let the kids play.

I understand why people think Huston Street was overrated in Oakland, and certainly his start this season (10.12 ERA through 3 appearances) is not encouraging, but I don't subscribe to the idea that a guy who entered the season with career averages of 0.6 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9 is a certain disaster waiting to happen or necessarily a bad pick over Corpas to close. Street's only 25, he should have more up his sleeve. That said, there have been concerns over both his and Corpas' velocity, and Street's not a guy who can lose a few miles off his heater and remain an elite reliever.

San Francisco Giants

Raw EWSL: 173.50 (58 W)
Adjusted: 188.93 (63 W)
Age-Adj.: 178.62 (60 W)
2009 W-L: 72-90

C34Ben Molina1613
1B25Travis Ishikawa*25
2B24Emanuel Burriss*25
SS33Edgar Renteria1211
3B22Pablo Sandoval*312
RF35Randy Winn1712
CF31Aaron Rowand1513
LF28Fred Lewis#810
C237Rich Aurilia912
INF29Juan Uribe1211
OF25Nate Schierholtz#23
1227Eugenio Velez*24
1331Andres Torres00
SP125Tim Lincecum#1520
SP224Matt Cain1315
SP326Jonathan Sanchez#34
SP445Randy Johnson96
SP531Barry Zito87
RP127Brian Wilson66
RP235Bobby Howry74
RP330Jeremy Affeldt54
RP429Brandon Medders22
RP526Alex Hinshaw*24

Subjective Adjustments: None. I could bump up Ishikawa on the same theory as I used to bump up Ortmeier last season, but that didn't work out so well.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Steve Holm is the #2 catcher, but has been sent down, so Sandoval will back up Molina. That's why I listed Aurilia as the backup catcher, since he will likely sub for Sandoval at third when Sandoval catches. I'm not sure I've seen a team carry only one catcher and use the backup to play everyday at another position before (maybe the Yankees when they used Elston Howard in left, before they got Johnny Blanchard). Also Kevin Frandsen.

Pitchers - Noah Lowry, still struggling to reclaim his past form; Joe Martinez, who is injured; and Justin Miller and his armful of tattoos.

Analysis: The Giants are probably a year away from getting a handle on whether any of their youngsters are going to be productive regulars, but at least they now have some. On the other hand, with a heavy investment in starting pitching, they have made the defensible decision to rest on veterans in the key defensive slots at C, SS and CF (perhaps less defensible in Renteria's case, as his glove is somewhat shaky at this stage). Progress by Sanchez in throwing some strikes and/or a return to form by Lowry would be a big help.

If you are wondering, Nolan Ryan at Johnson's age - 45 - remained effective and a power pitcher, but saw his K rate drop from 10.56 to 8.98. Johnson's throwing well thus far, and while his durability is dubious at best, he seems to have recovered his strikeout rates from their dropoff with the Yankees.

San Diego Padres

Raw EWSL: 145.50(49 W)
Adjusted: 170.47 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 159.34 (53 W)
2009 W-L: 66-96

C25Nick Hundley*24
1B27Adrian Gonzalez2324
2B34David Eckstein109
SS29Luis Rodriguez32
3B27Kevin Kouzmanoff#1215
RF38Brian Giles1914
CF31Jody Gerut75
LF25Chase Headley*410
C237Henry Blanco32
INF31Edgar Gonzalez*46
OF29Scott Hairston76
1236Cliff Floyd75
1322Everth Cabrera+04
SP128Jake Peavy1615
SP230Chris Young97
SP329Cha Seung Baek#43
SP428Kevin Correia44
SP532Walter Silva+04
RP131Heath Bell86
RP226Cla Meredith55
RP325Edward Mujica*00
RP425Luke Gregerson+06
RP529Duaner Sanchez33

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Perennial journeyman outfielder Emil Brown.

Pitchers - Starters Shawn Hill and Mark Prior, although Prior is way, way off anybody's radar to pitch again soon. Reliever Mike Adams, who is injured. Also Edwin Moreno and Eulogio De La Cruz.

Analysis: The Padres win this year's award, usually going to the Marlins, for most players I had to add to the spreadsheets for the first time; it's practically half the roster, as only 8 players return from last season's Padres depth chart. The Mets announcers last night quoted Bud Black as saying that the Padres' bullpen would change as other teams released people, which pretty much speaks for itself. Don't be fooled by the 6-2 start, this team has a lot of holes and comparatively few strengths. Hundley, if you are wondering, is no relation to Todd and Randy; he just happens to be a weak-hitting catcher named Hundley.

If nothing else, the Mets can feel good about having distributed their failed relievers across the NL - Mota in LA, Schoeneweis in Arizona, Sanchez in SD, Heilman in Chicago, Jorge Sosa in Washington. Of course, if watching Sanchez and Bell last night is any indication, those guys will be lights out against the Mets.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 13, 2009
BASEBALL: More Farewells

Rest in peace, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych, both of whom died suddenly, Kalas collapsing in the broadcast booth at age 73, the Bird in an accident on his farm at 54.

I looked a little at Fidrych's celebrated rookie season in this post.

UPDATE: Following up on a point in that post - Fidrych, of course, is best known and will be most vividly remembered for his offbeat personality, but from a numbers point of view the great unanswered question of his career was whether, if he hadn't gotten hurt, Fidrych would have continued to be a highly successful pitcher, given his extremely low strikeout rate. As I noted in that 2008 post, he may well have struck more guys out as he matured as a pitcher, but if he hadn't, could he have sustained anything like his career 126 ERA+ with his career K rate of 3.71 per 9 innings? Well, I ran the numbers, and among pitches who threw 1000 or more innings after World War II while striking out fewer than 4 batters per 9 innings, there were a few successful pitchers, albeit almost all of them relievers. Leaving aside the guys this picks up who were already in mid-career by 1945, only six managed an ERA+ of 110 or better:

Dan Quisenberry (146)
Mel Parnell (125)
Bob Stanley (118)
Greg Minton (118)
Dave Rozema (117)
Ned Garver (112)

although other reasonaly successful pitchers on that list included Bill Lee, Larry Gura, Ed Figueroa, and Randy Jones. Then again, only six pitchers since 1960 have thrown 1000 innings with a lower HR/9 rate than Fidrych's 0.5 (one of them being Minton); combine that with Fidrych's career rate of 2.16 BB/9, and you have a highly unusual combination; since 1945, only two other pitchers besides Fidrych have thrown 250 career innings while allowing as few as 0.5 HR and 2.2 BB/9, those being Mariano Rivera and Steve Howe. Both of those guys were relievers with good K rates - another way of saying that Fidrych's skill set as an extreme low-K, low-BB, low-HR starting pitcher was somewhat historically unique. Whether he could have sustained it, like so much about Fidrych, is a question that remains frozen in time in the mid-70s and unanswerable, just as Fidrych will remain in our memory, forever 21, lanky and eccentric.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:35 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
April 10, 2009
BASEBALL: Flamethrower

In case you missed it, Baseball America had a good interview a couple weeks back with monster pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg. He comes off about right, as a guy who has some brains and knows how good he is and what he needs to do. He seems pretty level-headed in the interview, but then, so did Doc Gooden; you can't know that much about these guys from a distance. Here's hoping he stays healthy enough to show us what he can do; the comparison to Mark Prior is a cautionary one.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:54 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2009 NL East EWSL Report

Part 4 of my preseason previews is the NL East; this is the fourth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior previews: AL Central and AL West, AL East.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

New York Mets

Raw EWSL: 254.67 (85 W)
Adjusted: 264.84 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 240.03 (80 W)
2009 W-L: 93-69

C32Brian Schneider108
1B37Carlos Delgado2013
2B33Luis Castillo1210
SS26Jose Reyes2730
3B26David Wright3034
RF30Ryan Church1210
CF32Carlos Beltran2923
LF24Daniel Murphy*38
C233Ramon Castro54
INF33Alex Cora54
OF34Fernando Tatis76
1240Gary Sheffield95
1328Jeremy Reed22
SP130Johan Santana2017
SP225Mike Pelfrey88
SP328John Maine88
SP427Oliver Perez77
SP534Livan Hernandez74
RP127Francisco Rodriguez1615
RP232JJ Putz129
RP332Pedro Feliciano54
RP430Sean Green43
RP524Bobby Parnell+06

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Utilityman/pinch hitter Marlon Anderson is clinging to the last roster spot for now; he will probably be moving soon into a role as a third base coach. Nick Evans was the odd man out in the outfield corners but remains a promising if unspectacular prospect. Angel Pagan, now long-forgotten after last year's hot start, will return to the outfield mix when he returns from injury, but continues to lack any significant skills. Robinson Cancel is the third catcher when he finds space on the roster, as he will do whenever Castro is on the DL. Fernando Martinez remains a heralded prospect but has yet to put up numbers commensurate with that status and is unlikely to get more than a late-season cup of tea; perhaps he'll still end up a superstar, but perhaps he should have been traded while his reputation was sky-high.

Pitchers - Billy Wagner is out for most or all of the season, but the bullpen could really be impressive if he makes it back by September, as has not yet been ruled out. Darren O'Day is currently in the pen. Jon Niese will likely claim the fifth starter job eventually; rehabbing Freddy Garcia and organizational fodder Nelson Figueroa and Casey Fossum are also candidates. Other pitchers in the mix include reliever Brian Stokes, swing man Tim Redding (also on the DL) and starter Brandon Knight. Orlando Hernandez remains unsigned at last check; I've lost track of whether he's trying to pitch this season, but it won't be with the Mets; the same goes for Matt Wise. A return of Pedro Martinez hasn't been ruled out - Omar still loves him - but seems unlikely.

Analysis: This Mets team is no juggernaut, but it could well be enough to take the division despite the weak links at second base, catcher and the outfield corners, due to the powerful frontline talent that if anything has gotten younger the past two years as K-Rod, Santana and Pelfrey have replaced Wagner, Pedro and Glavine. The bullpen should be improved, although as I have noted repeatedly, K-Rod's workload and declining K rate and Putz's health are both risks. But this team will ultimately rise or fall on its starting pitching; the front four starters all have their risk factors but they all have upsides too, albeit in Santana's case his upside is doing the same thing again. Santana's gradual transition to a control pitcher is a concern, as are Pelfrey's big jump-up in innings last season and still low K rate. Perez might flop or bust out or pretty much anywhere in between. But the most pivotal of all is Maine, who showed flashes of real star potential in late 2006 and much of 2007, but faded down the stretch in 2007 (other than his sensational start the next to last day of the season) and was sufficiently hobbled by injury last year to raise questions about whether he's cut out to be a starter at all. If Maine fails to make 30 starts this season, his days as a starting pitcher may be numbered.

Let's compare two starters in 2008:


The first, of course, is Pedro Martinez; the second is Livan Hernandez (who may or may not actually be 34 years old now). Livan allowed 257 hits in 180 innings in 2008; among pitchers to qualify for the ERA title, that's the third-highest hits/innings ratio since 1900, and the top two pitched in the Baker Bowl in the 1930s. Neither was effective in 2008, but looking at those lines I'd take Pedro's still-respectable K numbers and K/BB ratio (and velocity and ability to change speeds) over Livan's superior control and less gruesome HR numbers. The Mets have their reasons for preferring Livan - partly his durability and mostly his lower salary demands - but it would be hard to justify preferring Livan as a baseball decision.

Sometimes, players have a clear trendline pointing one way or another, but Carlos Delgado is all ways at once. On the one hand, he's 37 and coming off a year of dramatic improvement, so you would expect a serious dropoff; on the other, he's leaving a park that just murdered him (Delgado batted .237/.337/.458 for his career at Shea Stadium, although he did hit 21 homers at home last year), and he tore the cover off the ball after getting healthy again after a string of nagging injuries. My hope is that Delgado will take a slow decline from where he was the last four months of last season, which might mean, say, 28 HR and a .340 OBP. Delgado has started hot, but then last season he batted .375/.423/.542 the first six games before falling into a funk and being useless through the end of May.

In addition to keeping Putz healthy, the hard-throwing Parnell - still a work in progress - may become important, given that Feliciano and especially Green have had problems with overwork in recent years. The Mets will simply need to avoid having those guys throw 75+ appearances.

World Champion Philadelphia Phillies

Raw EWSL: 260.50 (87 W)
Adjusted: 261.63 (87 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.46 (75 W)
2009 W-L: 88-74

C30Carlos Ruiz#88
1B29Ryan Howard2624
2B30Chase Utley2925
SS30Jimmy Rollins2622
3B34Pedro Feliz109
RF30Jayson Werth1311
CF28Shane Victorino1616
LF37Raul Ibanez2215
C236Chris Coste75
INF31Eric Bruntlett43
OF41Matt Stairs95
1230Greg Dobbs76
1335Miguel Cairo43
SP125Cole Hamels1517
SP228Brett Myers98
SP328Joe Blanton109
SP446Jamie Moyer118
SP536Chan Ho Park43
RP132Brad Lidge129
RP231Chad Durbin65
RP328Ryan Madson66
RP433Clay Condrey43
RP533JC Romero64

Subjective Adjustments: None; as befits a defending World Champion, the Phillies are relying entirely on established players.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Pablo Ozuna, outfielder Jason Ellison, and John Mayberry jr. Marcus Giles, in camp with the Phillies, did not make the team and appears to be finished.

Pitchers - Relievers Gary Majewski and Scott Eyre; starter Kyle Kendrick is in the minors; also JA Happ and Jack Taschner.

Analysis: The Phillies had to win when they did - this is not yet an old team, and the window of opportunity probably has a good two more years left in it, but there's little room for improvement left, as Hamels is the only player listed here under age 28 (Moyer was 28 in 1991). The Phillies' bullpen was their surprising strength last season; how that holds up will have a lot to do with their ability to repeat as division champs, let alone in the playoffs. As for the rotation, you'd love to have five of Hamels, but beyond him, the question is what kind of pitcher thrives in a bandbox like Citizens Bank. You'd assume that the pinpoint control of Moyer and Blanton has been their success - make the homers solo shots - but actually Hamels walked many fewer batters, whereas Moyer allowed the rotation's fewest longballs - 0.9 per 9 innings, his lowest average in five years and only the second time in the past decade he's allowed fewer than a homer per 9. That seems unlikely to continue; his groundball percentage was up last year, but mostly he allowed far fewer homers per fly ball, some of which is just luck. In fact, among current Phils who have thrown at least 50 innings at Citizens Bank, Moyer has the worst career ERA there:

Chad Durbin1153.22.010.503.526.37
J.C. Romero2251.22.260.525.238.71
Clay Condrey9077.03.160.472.106.08
Cole Hamels2012259.23.291.322.118.15
Brett Myers2725430.04.081.512.608.23
Kyle Kendrick125143.04.221.322.644.22
Ryan Madson1912222.
Jamie Moyer169206.24.661.612.535.66

Atlanta Braves

Raw EWSL: 196.33 (65 W)
Adjusted: 222.90 (74 W)
Age-Adj.: 208.93 (69 W)
2009 W-L: 82-80

C25Brian McCann1822
1B26Casey Kotchman1214
2B27Kelly Johnson1617
SS26Yuniel Escobar#1114
3B37Chipper Jones2415
RF25Jeff Francouer1214
CF22Jordan Schafer+011
LF37Garret Anderson1611
C232Dave Ross76
INF27Omar Infante77
OF31Matt Diaz54
1225Martin Prado56
1336Greg Norton65
SP136Derek Lowe1412
SP232Javier Vazquez1310
SP323Jair Jurrjens#68
SP433Kenshin Kawakami+04
SP543Tom Glavine64
RP131Mike Gonzalez44
RP229Rafael Soriano55
RP324Eric O'Flaherty#12
RP430Peter Moylan#44
RP530Jorge Campillo*58

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Clint Sammons is the third catcher. Nobody else appears immediately on the horizon, but young players seem to shoot pretty quickly through the Atlanta system to arrive in time to help out the big club in mid-season.

Pitchers - Tim Hudson could be back from Tommy John surgery by August, which would help. Other available arms include Blaine Boyer, JoJo Reyes, Buddy Carlyle, Boone Logan, Jeff Bennett, and Charlie Morton.

Analysis: Speaking of pitchers with diametrically opposite styles, it would be hard to find teammates more specially designed for opposite circumstances than Lowe, Mr. Groundball, and Vazquez, Mr. Flyball. The revamped veteran-heavy rotation was a necessity for the Braves, who have had their starting staff unravel in recent years and don't have young arms ready to carry the load besides Jurrjens.

This isn't exactly a contending team - the Braves aren't a bad team, but they'll need the Mets and Phillies to stumble badly to be a serious player in the race. It's not quite a rebuilding team either - McCann is a young star, Jurrjens could be, Schafer may be in a few years (he's supposed to be a multi-tool type, he's still very young, and I know the Braves have a lot of pitcher's parks in their system, but he's also a career .270/.339/.447 hitter in the minors who's never hit more than 15 homers in a season and hasn't played above AA before); Francouer could still find his way, but he regressed so badly last season he's lucky to have a job at all. Kotchman, Johnson and Escobar are all solid players just hitting their primes, though none have star potential. The Gonzalez-Soriano 1-2 punch in the pen never seems to end up as impressive as it should be, although Gonzalez' bizarre rocking motion does appear to have added an additional level of deception to an effective reliever. Campillo actually had the staff's best K/BB ratio last season and should get an extended look somewhere on the staff.

The third basemen are next up in my annual "Path to Cooperstown" series, and I intend to get a serous look at where Chipper stacks up against the best third basemen of all time, updating this from before the 2001 season, but I'm thinking he may well be in the top five by now, jockeying for position with Brett and Boggs, a bit ahead of Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor and behind Schmidt and Eddie Mathews.

Florida Marlins

Raw EWSL: 151.50 (51 W)
Adjusted: 174.59 (58 W)
Age-Adj.: 183.67 (61 W)
Subj. Adj.: 187.67 (63 W)
2009 W-L: 75-87

C28John Baker*59
1B27Jorge Cantu1111
2B29Dan Uggla2120
SS25Hanley Ramirez2936
3B24Emilio Bonifacio*17
RF28Cody Ross1213
CF22Cameron Maybin+211
LF25Jeremy Hermida1215
C228Ronny Paulino77
INF31Alfredo Amezaga76
OF26Brett Carroll+04
1233Wes Helms54
1333Ross Gload65
SP125Josh Johnson56
SP226Ricky Nolasco88
SP325Anibal Sanchez22
SP422Chris Volstad*48
SP524Andrew Miller#11
RP129Matt Lindstrom#55
RP226Reynel Pinto33
RP326Logan Kensing33
RP425Leo Nunez44
RP534Kiko Calero21

Subjective Adjustments: I added +4 to Bonifacio, who is rated on a fairly small major league sample here but seems to have the third base job in hand.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - 1B Gaby Sanchez is in AAA. Dallas McPherson wins the "what does a guy have to do?" award for being released this spring after keeping his back healthy all year and smashing 42 homers in 448 at bats at AAA (along with a .379 OBP). McPherson's still an injury risk who strikes out a ton, but he's only 28 and has legitimate power, so he figures to catch on somewhere.

Pitchers - Rick VandenHurk, Dan Meyer and Hayden Penn are all hoping to turn things around after falling from grace as starting pitching prospects. Scott Proctor is also in the bullpen.

Analysis: As usual, EWSL is pretty much at a loss in dealing with the Marlins, since "established major leaguer" generally translates into "former Marlin." The rotation is very young and regrouping from injury, a bad combination if you want to try to rely on major league track records. Maybin has tools to burn but is still extremely raw. This looks like a team that will jostle with the Braves for third, but with this much youth on hand, you never know. The Marlins have continued to get more mobile and athletic, which has to help them consolidate the gains in team defense that followed the departure of Miguel Cabrera.

Volstad's ERA was very impressive last season, but 3.8 BB and 5.5 K per 9 are not a good mix; unless he can keep his HR/9 rate down near last season's microscopic 0.3 per 9, he'll have problems, and even then he still needs work on his control. Nolasco's K numbers are much more impressive. Bonifacio has made a lot of early noise, but didn't hit a lick for the Nationals last season and has a career .285/.341/.362 line in the minors. Hermida, of course, continues to disappoint - he's got JD Drew's durability without the same kind of production - but at 25, he is still young enough that we should not be surprised if he takes a huge leap forward at some point.

The perils of not doing previews all at once: sharp-eyed observers will notice that the NL East preview includes two players (Sheffield and Gload) who were also featured in my AL Central preview.

Washington Nationals

Raw EWSL: 164.33 (55 W)
Adjusted: 178.93 (60 W)
Age-Adj.: 177.61 (59 W)
2009 W-L: 72-90

C24Jesus Flores#710
1B30Nick Johnson65
2B26Anderson Hernandez*25
SS31Cristian Guzman1210
3B24Ryan Zimmerman1520
RF29Austin Kearns1110
CF24Lastings Milledge811
LF29Adam Dunn2018
C231Wil Nieves22
INF34Ron Belliard1211
OF25Elijah Dukes#58
1230Josh Willingham1513
1331Willie Harris87
SP124John Lannan*57
SP225Scott Olsen67
SP328Daniel Cabrera66
SP422Shairon Martis+04
SP523Jordan Zimmerman+04
RP127Joel Hanrahan*45
RP231Saul Rivera65
RP332Joe Beimel75
RP431Jesus Colome33
RP527Jason Bergmann33

Subjective Adjustments: None. Anderson Hernandez isn't rated on anything like a full season's worth of work, but I remain unconvinced that he can hit enough to play every day, despite his outstanding glovework (he's also on the DL to start the season). Nick Johnson, of course, will be worth a lot more than 5 WS if he's healthy, but that's as big an "if" as there is in the game.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Dmitri Young is still on the DL with a bad back and an uncertain timetable. Catcher Josh Bard and disappointing outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Corey Patterson are at AAA if needed. Wily Mo Pena has been given his walking papers.

Pitchers - Wil Ledezma, Gustavo Chacin, Steven Shell, Mike Hinckley, Julian Tavarez and Matt Chico; Chico is rehabbing from the unbiquitous Tommy John surgery.

Analysis: Hope and Change may be the buzzwords in political Washington, but both are in short supply for the capital's baseball team, which brings to mind words from the financial press these days instead. 14th among the 16 NL teams runs scored in 2008, 15th in runs allowed, just below average in defensive efficiency (and 15th in fielding percentage), 15th in homers, 13th in batting average, 13th in pitcher strikeouts, the Nationals needed to repair everything about their team, and while the addition of Adam Dunn addresses one of those needs - home run power - and there are causes for optimism regarding individual players (Jesus Flores showcased some doubles power early last season before fading in the second half, and Milledge as usual showed flashes), the failure to assemble a starting rotation leaves the Nats perennially in a hole that only a powerhouse offense - which they obviously lack - could get them out of. Importing Cabrera, the poor man's Bobby Witt, is just a symptom of the desperate need for stability. Ryan Zimmerman, of course, has been the biggest disappointment; it's no longer reasonable to project him as a guy who will go head-to-head against David Wright, but they need him to step up and become the team's go-to guy. It also doesn't help that a combination of inconsistency and lunacy has sent Dukes back to the bench yet again, given his talents. 2009 is unlikely to be as grim as 2008, although I suspect that the 72-win estimate above is the high end of what is realistic.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 9, 2009
BASEBALL: Cut Too Short

Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart killed by a hit-and-run driver just hours after his first start of the season. Adenhart was just 22; RIP.

As usual in these situations, the loss to the fans and the game pales in comparison to the loss of life, so I'll just say that, as with guys like Josh Hancock and Darryl Kile, what disturbs us at the sudden death of an athlete isn't just the usual forceful reminders of arbitrary mortality we get from any news story about a young person dying suddenly, nor is it the more banal sports impact of a team being robbed of a player without warning, as happens as well with mere injuries; most of all, it's that when people say "this puts the game in perspective," it feels wrong because the whole point of the games is to give us a respite from perspective. (That's a point I made in my essay after September 11, and it's also why I generally don't spend much time on stories about steroids or off the field scandals or even business of baseball stories, if I can avoid them). Most of us get our fill of real life from real life itself - the tragedies, the tradeoffs, the obligations. Our loss when a man like Nick Adenhart dies is a small loss, insubstantial compared to the loss to his loved ones and teammates, but it's a loss nonetheless: an erosion of the safe haven sports provides from the rest of the world.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 6, 2009
BASEBALL: On Sabathia's First Day, He Rested

A little perspective for panicked Yankee fans - CC Sabathia's stat line in his first start of the season, 2006-08:

13.2 IP (4.5 per start), 7.24 ERA, 11.20 H/9 IP, 2.63 HR/9, 3.29 BB/9, 7.90 K/9. I don't know why Sabathia can't get himself loose for Opening Day - pick your favorite theory - but that's his history. Last year, of course, was the extreme example, with CC posting a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, 1.88 in his last 31.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:10 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: According To Plan

Mets openers in recent years haven't had a lot of true surprises or variations from script - either the game goes pretty much according to the script the Mets envisioned before the season, or it goes horribly wrong in a predictable way. Today, with Santana pitching well despite poor control and the Putz/Rodriguez tandem slamming the door in the 8th/9th, fell into the former category, which was nice. Magic number: 161.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:10 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2009 AL East EWSL Report

Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL East; this is the third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior previews: the AL Central and AL West.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

The Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 283.00 (94 W)
Adjusted: 288.43 (96 W)
Age-Adj.: 253.86 (85 W)
2009 W-L: 98-64

C37Jorge Posada1510
1B29Mark Teixeira2624
2B26Robinson Cano1618
SS35Derek Jeter2216
3B33Alex Rodriguez2823
RF30Xavier Nady1513
CF25Brett Gardner24
LF35Hideki Matsui118
DH35Johnny Damon2014
C232Jose Molina76
INF33Cody Ransom22
OF28Nick Swisher1516
1324Melky Cabrera911
SP128CC Sabathia2222
SP232AJ Burnett129
SP329Chien-Ming Wang1110
SP437Andy Pettitte1110
SP523Joba Chamberlain#79
RP139Mariano Rivera1715
RP234Damaso Marte54
RP328Edwar Ramirez#33
RP428Jose Veras*35
RP527Brian Bruney44

Subjective Adjustments: None; I had considered downgrading A-Rod for his injury, but the age adjustment hacks off 5 Win Shares, and that's probably a built-in adjustment for the scope of the injury (assuming A-Rod is something like the old A-Rod when he returns; if he's not, things will get ugly in a hurry).

The Yankees get a boost for having two outfielders on the bench (Swisher and Melky) who are rated largely on the basis of regular playing time, but that just offsets Gardner and Matsui, who are not.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - The Yankees' bench is stronger than it has been in some time, but the next level down is still pretty sad; other than Shelley Duncan, the people immediately on hand are non-hitting catcher Kevin Cash and Royals castoff Angel Berroa. 22-year-old OF prospect Austin Jackson appears to be a year away from being ready to help at the big league level.

Pitchers - Here, there is more depth. Phil Hughes will likely step in if one of the rotation starters gets hurt (a pretty good bet with the likes of Burnett and Joba), and there's also Brett Tomko, Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa, although the latter two are in very bad odor. Also relievers Jonathan Abadejo, Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves. Darrell Rasner signed with a team in Japan.

Analysis: The Yankees seem more vulnerable offensively than they have in years, with the injury to A-Rod and Father Time chasing down Jeter, Posada, Damon and Matsui. But EWSL says they are still the team to beat in this division, thanks very largely to the acquisitions of Teixeira and Sabathia (see here if you missed my look back at the Yankee's pitching acquisitions of the last 35 years). I'm not sure I'd go that far, but this team has excellent starting pitching, few holes and a fair amount of redundancy built in; they're going to be formidable.

This is (other than Wang) a very high-strikeout staff, maybe even one that could challenge the 2001 Yankees' AL record for strikeouts (1266). Andy Pettitte, at 7 K/9, was above his career average last season and higher than in any of the Yankees' championship seasons, and Sabathia, Burnett and Joba combined to strike out 600 batters in 574.2 innings last season, 9.4 per 9 innings. Of course, they will still need defense. The Yankees, as so often has been the case in the past decade (and in contrast to days of yore) were third from the bottom of the AL in defensive efficiency. With many of the same fielders returning, aside from a distinct upgrade at first, the pressure will be on the light-hitting speedster Brett Gardner (the poor man's Jacoby Ellsbury) to provide a boost with the glove. Gardner is a kind of light, fast player the Yankees haven't had much lately - Derek Jeter in 2006 is the only Yankee in the last five years to steal 30 bases in a season; Chuck Knoblauch in 2001 and Tony Womack in 2005 are the only Yankees since 1995 to steal 20 or more bases without hitting double figures in home runs.

Somehow, though, the story of the Yankees' year seems destined to be Alex Rodriguez. Your guess of how he will perform when he returns is as good as mine. With Cody Ransom handling third base in his absence, the pressure will mount daily to get A-Rod's bat back in the lineup no matter how unpopular he is.

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 258.00 (86 W)
Adjusted: 274.51 (92 W)
Age-Adj.: 252.87 (84 W)
2009 W-L: 97-65

C37Jason Varitek106
1B30Kevin Youkilis2421
2B25Dustin Pedroia#1928
SS33Julio Lugo76
3B35Mike Lowell1611
RF33JD Drew1513
CF25Jacoby Ellsbury#1015
LF30Jason Bay2017
DH33David Ortiz2118
C226George Kottaras+04
INF25Jed Lowrie*49
OF27Rocco Baldelli44
1333Mark Kotsay76
SP129Josh Beckett1312
SP228Daisuke Matsuzaka#1214
SP325Jon Lester1112
SP442Tim Wakefield107
SP531Brad Penny97
RP128Jon Papelbon1615
RP233Hideki Okajima#86
RP327Manny Delcarmen66
RP439Takashi Saito1312
RP531Javier Lopez54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Nick Green, and outfielders Cris Carter, Paul McAnulty and Chip Ambres. The Brad Wilkerson experiment seems to have run its course; Wilkerson was once a multi-tool player, but too many disappointing seasons have left him at what looks like the end of the line at 32.

Pitchers - The Red Sox have an embarrassment of pitching riches, even taking account of the traditional baseball maxim that you can never have too much pitching, and if you do you'll end up needing it all. I didn't even have room to list reliever Ramon Ramirez, the bounty of the Coco Crisp deal who had an outstanding year for the Royals last season, or Justin Masterson. The Sox hope to get John Smoltz to return around June, and presumably they'll make room for him somewhere. Clay Buchholz was a hotter property than Lester this time last year; Buchholz had a 2.52 ERA this spring (0.46 until his last spring outing), he struck out 8.5 men per 9 last season and had a 2.47 ERA while striking out a batter per inning at Pawtucket last season; none of that was enough to avoid getting sent back to AAA this year, but for a 24-year-old pitcher with his credentials and stuff, 76 innings of poor control and too many longballs last season should not be enough to give up on him as a prospect.

Analysis: The Sawx remain a deep team with few real holes and lots of pitching depth, albeit without a proven front-line regular-season ace (yes, I know about Lester's and Matsuzaka's big years last season and Beckett's 2007 and postseason glories). The offense should be OK as long as Jason Bay doesn't revert to 2007 form, even assuming some return to earth from Pedroia, but the man in the spotlight will be David Ortiz. Ortiz remained productive last season, but 2007's falloff in homers amid an otherwise outstanding season followed by 2008's distinctly declining production for a guy who - while better-conditioned - has the build of a Mo Vaughn or a George Scott raises the question of whether he'll be following a similar mid-30s fade or whether last year was just the kind of off year that signals a guy moving out of his prime but not necessarily sledding straight downhill.

Baldelli should get his chance to seize the fourth outfielder role before Kotsay returns from injury.

Tampa Bay Rays

Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Adjusted: 238.52 (80 W)
Age-Adj.: 244.84 (82 W)
2008 W-L: 95-67

C25Dioner Navarro1114
1B31Carlos Pena2017
2B30Akinori Iwamura#1516
SS29Jason Bartlett1514
3B23Evan Longoria*1024
RF29Gabe Gross87
CF24BJ Upton1925
LF27Carl Crawford1616
DH32Pat Burrell1916
C228Shawn Riggans*24
INF26Willy Aybar45
OF24Matt Joyce*38
1328Ben Zobrist55
SP125Scott Kazmir1314
SP227James Shields1312
SP325Matt Garza88
SP426Andy Sonnanstine#68
SP523David Price14
RP139Troy Percival44
RP231Dan Wheeler98
RP326JP Howell66
RP431Grant Balfour65
RP526Jeff Niemann+06

Subjective Adjustments: None; I could rate Niemann as a starter and Price as a reliever, but it doesn't really matter. Niemann will open as the fifth starter following Jason Hammel's trade to Colorado, but Price will be in the rotation pretty quickly, I have to assume, and the Rays don't seem shy about sending Niemann to the pen.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Gabe Kapler in the outfield and Adam Kennedy in the infield provide insurance. SS prospect Reid Brignac is on hand, but will be pressed to make his move quickly on Bartlett by the specter of Tim Beckham, the last first pick in the draft the Rays are likely to have for a while. Outfielder Fernando Perez is out three months with a dislocated wrist. Morgan Ensberg was in camp but was cut.

Pitchers - Reliever Joe Nelson, who had a great year for the Marlins last season and veteran relievers Jason Isringhausen, Chad Bradford, Brian Shouse and Lance Cormier provide depth.

Analysis: EWSL rates the Rays pretty highly when you factor in all the adjustments, but it's unsurprising that any rating based on established major league performance still shows they have to prove last year wasn't a fluke compared to the twin titans of this division. Of course, at the end of the day, it's unlikely that there will be three 95-win teams in the East no matter how solid they are; one of them will have to give.

I scoffed last season at Baseball Prospectus' projection that the Rays would cut their runs allowed from 944 to 713 in a single year, being unable to find any precedent for such an enormous percentage reduction in runs allowed by a single team in a single year and operating on the assumption that you never predict something that's never happened before. A year later, I still have yet to do a systematic study but I've also yet to locate another team with such a dramatic reduction - yet the Rays allowed 671 runs, accounting for almost the entirety of their improved record. As I've detailed on several occasions, that improvement was partly the young pitching but overwhelmingly the defense. There being really no precedent for this sort of thing, I remain guarded and skeptical at best about whether they can avoid a natural letdown from such a drastic leap forward in defense in a single season.

If you are looking for a sleeper on this suddenly under-the-microscope team, it would be Matt Joyce, who slugged .492 with the Tigers last season before being dealt for Edwin Jackson. Joyce may even get an audition in center when Upton's unavailable.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 186.50 (62 W)
Adjusted: 211.64 (71 W)
Age-Adj.: 190.57 (64 W)
2009 W-L: 76-86

C33Rod Barajas76
1B32Lyle Overbay1210
2B27Aaron Hill1212
SS33Marco Scutaro1210
3B34Scott Rolen1311
RF28Alex Rios2021
CF30Vernon Wells1714
LF25Adam Lind#69
DH21Travis Snider+211
C232Michael Barrett43
INF34John McDonald43
OF37Kevin Millar117
1328Jose Bautista1010
SP132Roy Halladay2015
SP224Jesse Litsch#811
SP327David Purcey*11
SP424Rickey Romero+04
SP529Scott Richmond+14
RP133BJ Ryan86
RP233Scott Downs96
RP328Jesse Carlson*59
RP431Brian Tallet54
RP526Brandon League33

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Joe Inglett and Russ Adams in the infield, Buck Coats in the outfield and catching prospect Curtis Thigpen.

Pitchers - Dustin McGowan may or may not be out for the season; Shawn Marcum likely is. Others on hand include relievers Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp, as well as TJ Beam, Brad Mills, Brian Burres (a year removed from his unfortunate tenure in the Baltimore rotation), Casey Janssen, and Brett Cecil.

Analysis: Sometimes, a team that underachieves its Pythagorean projection is a candidate for a leap forward the next season on the grounds that bad luck evens out, but sometimes, as with the Jays (who fell 7 games under theirs last season), it's just a missed opportunity. The injuries to McGowan and Marcum and the departure of Burnett have left a shell-shocked remnant of the AL's best pitching staff last season (hey, you could look it up). Litsch, with a career average of 4.7 K/9, seems an unreliable second starter, and things get scarier after that (Purcey's an excellent prospect but as yet unproven). And beyond Lind and Snider, both unproven as well, there isn't a lot of future in their current lineup - Rios and Hill and in their primes, and the rest are 30 and up. Not that you'd be looking to dump a guy like Rios, but at this point he doesn't look like much to build a championship team around.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 160.50 (54 W)
Adjusted: 192.43 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 175.94 (59 W)
2008 W-L: 72-90

C23Matt Wieters+011
1B32Aubrey Huff1613
2B31Brian Roberts2016
SS29Cesar Izturis76
3B37Melvin Mora1510
RF25Nick Markakis2025
CF23Adam Jones*512
LF24Felix Pie#34
DH31Luke Scott119
C238Gregg Zaun86
INF31Ty Wigginton1311
OF33Ryan Freel54
1334Chad Moeller21
SP130Jeremy Guthrie#1111
SP234Koji Uehara04
SP331Adam Eaton22
SP435Mark Hendrickson43
SP528Alfredo Simon04
RP132George Sherrill75
RP227Chris Ray44
RP326Jim Johnson*49
RP428Dennis Sarfate*34
RP537Jamie Walker43

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Newly-acquired infielder Robert Andino, catcher Robby Hammock, Luis Montanez and Donnie Murphy.

Pitchers - Rich Hill, who has fallen incredibly far in such a short time but will probably get another crack at a rotation gig once he's healthy, Danys Baez, Matt Albers and Radhames Liz.

Analysis: Another grim year in Baltimore, and like Toronto, while the Orioles don't look like they have a 100-loss kind of lineup, their weaknesses - especially a pitching staff that may rival the Rangers for the league's worst when you adjust for the park - will be brutally exposed playing New York, Boston and Tampa all year.

That said, there is some hope here - once Wieters gets promoted, you really do have a core of very young and at least possibly very good players in Wieters, Markakis, Jones and Pie (the latter two being crapshoots at this stage, but young and gifted enough to be worth hoping on). Hopefully for O's fans, they won't fall into delusions of adequacy again if the rotation opens with a few good weeks.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
April 4, 2009
BASEBALL: Day At The Citi

I was out at Citi Field today for the Mets-Red Sox exhibition. Thoughts and impressions:

-The new park really is gorgeous, but it is most definitely not ready for Opening Day quite yet. Part of that impression is just the fact that it's new and nobody - least of all me - knows their way around, and perhaps part is where we were sitting (down in the lowest ("Sterling") level seats behind home plate - spectacular seats)...construction seems to be finished, but there's a distinct lack of signs showing you where to go and it was extremely difficult to get from one place to another, with a lack of ramps and escalators, stairs with no re-entry and elevators that don't go down. There's a bar and grill down there but there's no signs anywhere to tell you what food is for sale where or at what prices (there were also no vendors in our section and no waiters either, as Shea generally had in the priciest field-level seats). We had to go up a level to get a simple beer and hot dog, were told that other food choices required a trip to right field, and had to beg passage in a freight elevator to get back down again. The scoreboards were out of sync and sometimes showed the wrong team's pitcher. There's a disturbingly large amount of un-sold or at least un-posted ad space on the scoreboard. And the lines everywhere were bad, especially on entry. I suspect a lot of this is more in the nature of initial disorganization than lasting problems with the park, but we shall see. I was at a similar dry run at Camden Yards, the first game ever played there in the spring of 1991 (a Mets-Orioles exhibition that Sid Fernandez christened with a classic Sid outing, five no-hit innings followed by a 5-run sixth), and that place was totally ready in a seamless way that immediately made you realize you were walking into the future of baseball stadiums. This is still a work in progress.

-There were, so far as I could see, no championship banners up. I know they are selling the old ones from Shea online, but I'd expected they had the replacements ready.

-One overwhelming impression: man, was there a ton of garbage on the field, just loads of wrappers, cups, plastic bags - Youkilis and Ortiz were stopping to scoop up trash. The grounds crew would clean up between innings, and then it would get bad again. I don't know if it was the wind, the closeness of the seats to the field, the exhibition game crowd or what, but they're going to have to do something about it.

-Like I said, though, it's a wonderful park. There's a lot of foul territory around first and third but home plate is barely in front of the backstop, so sitting in the field level seats behind the plate is like being at a Little League game (in a good way). The padded seats are much more comfortable than anything I have previously seen at a ballpark. The Magic Apple, which didn't exactly have a busy day today, is enormous, and the irregular outfield dimensions will make life interesting. There's no longer a screen above the seats behind the plate, so it's prime foul ball territory, but they may have to rethink giving people plates and glasses to sit at some of the little tables back there - we heard quite a crash when a guy knocked a plate over diving for a foul ball. The party area in right field is also kind of unnerving. The color scheme on the fences has more of a (baseball) Giants than Mets motif. Also, the field really has a close view of incoming airplanes, perhaps due to facing a little different direction than Shea.

-I don't know if the radar gun was slow, but between Perez, Maine and Matsuzaka we didn't see a single pitch above 86 mph.

-It could be a long year for Oliver Perez. I don't know that I have ever seen a guy booed like that in a spring training game. The Mets have purged most of the unpopular guys from the bullpen, so the boo birds will need a new favorite, and when Perez is like today and can't find the strike zone, he's an easy target.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:24 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 3, 2009
BASEBALL: Sheffield Finally Arrives

The Mets have signed Gary Sheffield. Generations of Mets front offices have been panting after Dwight Gooden's nephew since about 1988, so it was inevitable that they would get him eventually, and most likely when he wasn't any good anymore. On a gut level, I like the move: lacking corner outfielders who are good enough to play everyday, the Mets should probably be platooning both Church and Murphy, but Fernando Tatis can't play both corners at once against lefthanded pitching. Sheffield's been a great hitter for years, and roared down the stretch as recently as 2007, so he doesn't seem a bad bet to have some gas left in the tank for a cheap salary. And he's not really in a position to be that much a distraction if he's fighting for playing time; if he becomes one, you can just cut him.

Realistically, though, I'm not sure that's my head talking. His personality aside, Sheffield's 40, he's probably not using all of the, er, substances he's used in the past, he batted .225/.326/.400 in 2008 (a slightly more respectable .232/.328/.455 in the second half), and worst of all he hit .239/.314/.440 against lefthanded pitching, so platooning him may not end up yielding a lot of benefits. So, this may be a low-risk move but it's still one that may not generate much in the way of runs on the scoreboard.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:48 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
April 1, 2009
BASEBALL: News From Alaska

David Pinto has an item you simply must read today.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:08 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 31, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 AL West EWSL Report

Part 2 of my preseason previews is the AL West; this is the second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior preview: the AL Central.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 251.17 (84 W)
Adjusted: 259.00 (86 W)
Age-Adj.: 231.51 (77 W)
2009 W-L: 90-72

C27Mike Napoli1011
1B26Kendry Morales11
2B25Howie Kendrick1214
SS25Erick Aybar#812
3B31Chone Figgins1613
RF34Vladimir Guerrero2517
CF33Torii Hunter2117
LF35Bobby Abreu2215
DH30Juan Rivera55
C226Jeff Mathis45
INF28Macier Izturis1313
OF34Gary Matthews1210
1328Reggie Willits#56
SP130John Lackey1614
SP226Jered Weaver1213
SP328Joe Saunders1212
SP433Kelvim Escobar86
SP526Ervin Santana1313
RP133Brian Fuentes118
RP225Jose Arredondo*612
RP333Scot Shields96
RP435Justin Speier43
RP538Darren Oliver76

Subjective Adjustments: None. Once again, there's nothing so off in the AL West I felt compelled to repair it. As usual, where some individual players came in lower than their projected playing time would suggest (here, Kendry Morales) the team also had guys sitting the bench who are rated on more playing time than they'll get (Matthews, Izturis), and rather than over-project Morales beyond what he's proven he can do, I'll just say "show me."

Also on Hand: Position players - 1B/3B Robb Quinlan and SS/3B Brandon Wood are the main non-pitchers, and Quinlan may actually stand to pick up some time if Morales isn't up to everyday productivity; with the flexibility of Figgins and Izturis, they give the Halos a lot of possible combinations.

Pitchers - Starters Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart are the likely fill-ins, and Jason Bulger and Shane Loux in the pen. Adenhart's minor league control numbers aren't as ghastly as his 13 walks in 12 innings last year with the Angels, but they're not good; Mosely had a 6.94 ERA at AAA to go with 6.79 in the AL, so while he throws strikes he's not fooling anyone. Bulger, by contrast, was just staggeringly dominant at Salt Lake, striking out - this is not a misprint - 75 batters in 43 innings (15.7 per 9) with an 0.63 ERA, and whiffing another 20 in 16 IP in the majors, albeit with even poorer control. Bulger, Loux and Moseley are all out of options.

The Salt Lake team, by the way, played .580 ball and won the Pacific Coast League.

Analysis: The Angels last season passed over the line from dominance to hegemony in the AL West, and nothing suggests that they are likely to surrender the crown this season even if Oakland returns to the neighborhood of the pennant race. With the departure of Mark Teixeira, K-Rod, Jon Garland and Garret Anderson, the Angels probably lost more free agent talent than anybody this offseason, yet they will probably end up with a slight upgrade by signing Bobby Abreu to replace Anderson (Abreu's a much better player, but he's also turning 35, a dangerous age for a guy who has already lost most of his power), they signed an adequate closer in Brian Fuentes, Garland will be replaced by the returning Escobar, and of course Tex was only here for half a season (he'll be replaced internally, by Morales). Despite that, the Angels are the picture of stability in a division of upheaval, with essentially everyone but Abreu and Fuentes a familiar face.

The main risk, of course, is the health of the starting pitching - Lackey, Escobar and Santana are all varying degrees of banged up at this stage - as well as whether Joe Saunders can avoid falling too far off from last season's career year. Really only the rotation could possibly give this division away. The team, as Angels teams this decade have tended to be, is about an ideal age mix, with an aging but not over the hill outfield and back of the bullpen mixed with a bevy of early/prime age players in the infield and rotation and at catcher.

Life, they say, is what happens while you're busy making other plans, and that's been the story of Juan Rivera's career and to some extent Escobar's and Weaver's as well - it's about time to start looking at them as the players they are, not who they might once have seemed likely to become. Morales and Wood are high on the list of guys who are running out of time to avoid the same fate. Morales now has a career line of .332/.373/.528 in the minors, most of it at AAA (albeit at high-altitude Salt Lake City), but just .249/.302/.408 in 407 big-league plate appearances. Wood's just 24, but he's smacked 128 homers the last four seasons (6 of them in the majors); while he flopped with the Angels last season, he also cut his strikeout rate at AAA. He needs a position; he seems to be regarded as a question mark at short, but his error rates in the minors at 3B are alarming.

Vlad Guerrero is and remains a great player, but his whole career trajectory has to be re-evaluated a bit since we found out he's a year older than he claimed.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 172.50 (58 W)
Adjusted: 202.41 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 195.44 (65 W)
2009 W-L: 78-84

C25Kurt Suzuki*1116
1B38Jason Giambi139
2B32Mark Ellis1613
SS34Orlando Cabrera2118
3B31Eric Chavez65
RF25Travis Buck#69
CF24Ryan Sweeney*616
LF29Matt Holliday2321
DH30Jack Cust1513
C227Landon Powell+04
INF29Bobby Crosby87
OF28Rajai Davis#45
1323Daric Barton*612
SP131Justin Duchscherer97
SP225Dana Eveland44
SP323Sean Gallagher*12
SP423Gio Gonzalez*00
SP525Dallas Braden23
RP125Joey Devine*510
RP229Brad Ziegler*611
RP329Santiago Casilla#33
RP440Russ Springer75
RP530Michael Wuertz44

Subjective Adjustments: None. Barton, however, will struggle to get the playing time to meet his EWSL.

Also on Hand: Position players - Nomar Garciaparra is the biggest name, and will slot in wherever an extra hand is needed, especially if Chavez can't stay healthy; Jack Hannahan is still around, but was awful last year and likely not Oakland's next choice at third after Chavez (Barton is no longer considered a third baseman). Outfielder Chris Denorfia is around as well, and outfielders Eric Patterson and Aaron Cunningham behind him. Pitchers - Hot prospects Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson have been competing for rotation slots along with Josh Outman, and it now appears that Cahill will start the season's second game, with Duchscherer on the shelf with elbow surgery and Gonzalez having a rough spring. I rated them on the incumbents anyway, but it doesn't alter the numbers much. Jerry Blevins will be in the bullpen, and Andrew Brown is also on hand; both had ERAs in the low 3s last year.

Analysis: The A's perennially get more Win Shares from players I don't include in the preseason EWSL charts than almost anybody, and I have no doubt - especially if you look at the list above - that will happen again this year, and you can probably consider this closer to an 85-win than a 78-win roster. Of course, their young rotation could have substantial up- or down-side, especially a volatile power arm like Gonzalez or the highly touted Cahill and Anderson (although Gallagher may be the best bet for a step forward of the group). They'll probably end the season with a team more comparable to the Angels than they are on Opening Day, but even with the addition of Holliday's bat and Cabrera's glove, it will take quite a lot for this team to actually haul down the 24 1/2 game gap that separated them from the Angels last season.

Devine is seeing the dreaded Dr. Andrews, apparently leaving Ziegler to close (backed up by Casilla, who had a tough 2008). I believe Dr. Andrews gives a volume discount on former Braves pitchers.

Barton is hoping to avoid becoming the next Dan Johnson (the original finally gave up and signed to play in Japan); he'll probably be traded if he gets playing time and hits. Like Johnson, his timing is awful, as he's currently nursing a quad strain just when he was having a hot spring.

Fun fact from the Bill James goldmine: Duchscherer, the heir to Steve Karsay and Steve Ontiveros, narrowly missed having a 1-2-3 inning in half his innings last season.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 173.00 (58 W)
Adjusted: 179.40 (60 W)
Age-Adj.: 164.92 (55 W)
2009 W-L: 68-94

C33Kenji Johjima1311
1B33Russ Branyan54
2B25Jose Lopez1518
SS27Yuniesky Betancourt1313
3B30Adrian Beltre1513
RF35Ichiro Suzuki2517
CF26Franklin Gutierrez55
LF39Ken Griffey jr1411
DH29Chris Shelton22
C225Jeff Clement*24
INF26Ronny Cedeno44
OF31Endy Chavez54
1327Mike Morse11
SP123Felix Hernandez1313
SP230Erik Bedard119
SP326Ryan Rowland-Smith#57
SP434Jarrod Washburn75
SP530Carlos Silva43
RP124Brendan Morrow#57
RP227Chad Cordero55
RP326Mark Lowe11
RP429Roy Corcoran*46
RP527Randy Messenger22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - 35-year-old Mike Sweeney has torn the cover off the ball this spring, and Don Wakamatsu speaks warmly of having him on the team, which seems to give him the inside track for the DH or platoon DH job, but Shelton's had an even better spring and I expect his relative youth and durability to win out sooner or later. Outfielder Wlademier Balentien, who was just lost last season at the plate, is the other guy likely to get significant playing time, as may Chris Burke, just picked up from Houston. Shortstop prospect Matt Tuiasasopo is also on hand, as is outfielder Mike Wilson, and Jamie Burke may yet reclaim the backup catcher slot.

Pitchers - Relievers Miguel Batista, David Aardsma and Sean White (Tyler Walker has been cut) as well as Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson and Cesar Jimenez.

Analysis: The Mariners have rid themselves of a lot of deadwood - admitting you have a problem is the first step - but there's not that much here to really build on as a long-term foundation besides King Felix and maybe Lopez, and Lopez is too free-swinging to be a star. In the short run, they're making do with cheap spare parts like Branyan, Shelton, Sweeney and the Ken Griffey nostalgia tour. They may yet have a dominant front end of the rotation with Hernandez and Bedard, but that didn't work out last season.

The Mariners' closer job has been an ongoing soap opera. Cordero should get a crack at the job, but he may not pitch before June, so in the interim they are going with just-now-converted starter Brandon Morrow, but Morrow may not be adjusted to close by Opening Day, so in the interim it could be Lowe, except that he's had the stuffings beaten out of him this spring. At one point, they were actually looking at Batista. Safeco will probably help the bullpen hang together, and there's a lot of guys there who can pitch a little, just no ace.

The defense, next to last (above Texas) in defensive efficiency last season, may be another story. The infield is basically the same aside from 1B. The M's have four center fielders, sort of, with Ichiro, Griffey, Endy and Gutierrez, so Gutierrez better be careful calling for balls, but of course Griffey doesn't move especially well anymore and may DH as much as he plays left.

Ichiro has been taking some rest after feeling light-headed, which is hopefully just jet lag. It's hard to believe that Ichiro's only four years younger than Griffey, having arrived in Seattle 12 years later and representing a different era of baseball in Seattle.

Clement has been talked about as a possibility as DH or starting catcher ahead of Johjima, but he was sent back to AAA for now amidst concern about his glove.

Texas Rangers
Raw EWSL: 158.00 (53 W)
Adjusted: 171.10 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 162.51 (54 W)
2009 W-L: 67-95

C24Jarrod Saltalamacchia#57
1B23Chris Davis*410
2B27Ian Kinsler2021
SS20Elvis Andrus+011
3B32Michael Young2218
RF28Nelson Cruz55
CF28Josh Hamilton#1721
LF27David Murphy#79
DH28Hank Blalock88
C225Taylor Teagarden+24
INF35Frank Catalanotto75
OF32Andruw Jones108
1331Marlon Byrd119
SP134Kevin Millwood75
SP231Vicente Padilla76
SP326Scott Feldman33
SP425Brandon McCarthy23
SP523Matt Harrison*23
RP129Frank Francisco44
RP228CJ Wilson54
RP338Eddie Guardado43
RP431Derrick Turnbow22
RP527Kason Gabbard33

Subjective Adjustments: None, but I am sorely tempted to downgrade Andrus, as discussed below.

Also on Hand: Position players - Slugging catching prospect Max Ramirez would garner more attention in another organization, but with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden on hand, there's a surplus of potential and a deficit of proven production at the position. With all Texas' needs, you have to figure at least one of them will be dealt by the deadline. Brandon Boggs is on hand in the outfield, Omar Vizquel, Joaquin Arias and German Duran are all poised to step in if Andrus fails.

Pitchers - The usual cast of thousands - high-ceiling prospect Neftali Feliz, and veterans Kris Benson, Joaquin Benoit (out with rotator cuff surgery), Jason Jennings, Dustin Nippert, Josh Rupe, and Warner Madrigal.

Analysis: The story of the Rangers, as always, starts and ends not with the AL's top-scoring offense in 2008 but with their appalling starting pitching, the reason they will be fighting the Mariners to stay out of the cellar. No help appears immediately on the way, although Feliz could be in the rotation later this year. The bullpen is more adequate, but nothing special. The Rangers were 14th of 14 teams last year in ERA and defensive efficiency, 13th in Ks, 12th in homers, 11th in walks; you can't blame all that on the park or the defense. Although, clearly some help would help: the average AL pitcher last season allowed 1.00 HR, 3.32 BB and 6.64 K/9; Kevin Millwood's averages were 0.96 HR, 2.61 BB and 6.67 K - better than average on all counts - but whereas the average AL pitcher gave up 9.19 hits per 9, Millwood allowed 11.74. Ouch.

Key to the defensive improvement will be Andrus, who has drawn raves for his glove this spring. Assuming the Rangers are committed to him, Andrus may be a decent fantasy baseball bet: he steals bases (94 in 244 games the last two seasons), plays short and plays in Texas. But realistically, I'll be shocked if he has an OPS+ above 80: the guy's 20 years old and slugged .367 in the Texas League last season. John Sickels notes that he's considered a good hitting prospect given his age, but that doesn't mean he's ready. And his defensive range better be good, because Andrus has averaged 45 errors per 162 games in the minor leagues. Rangers fans will need to be patient when he steps on his own blue suede shoes.

Saltalamacchia - the man who broke the box score - hasn't really repeated his stellar 2005 as a 20-year-old in A ball, raising memories of catching prospects like Javier Valentin and Robert Fick who just had a great year in the minors they could never live up to. With Teagarden and Ramirez on his heels, he'll have a short leash.

Davis, I'm a little leery of - yeah, great half-season run in the Kevin Maas style, but over his major and minor league careers he's averaged 47 walks and 172 K per 162 games to go with his averages of 42 HR and 44 doubles. The power is real, but so is Marcus Thames' (if we are still speaking of ex-Braves).

Frank Catalanotto, the king of the hot streak, has been a survivor and exceeded expectations many times before, but given his dependence on his batting average and dwindling defensive flexibility, he strikes me as exactly the kind of 35 year old who isn't on anybody's roster at 36.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 30, 2009
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day

Who hit the first major league home run against Nolan Ryan?

Answer in the top of the seventh inning here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:11 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 27, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 AL Central EWSL Report

This year, I'm starting my preseason previews with the AL Central; this is the first of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 200.50 (67 W)
Adjusted: 228.28 (76 W)
Age-Adj.: 233.23 (78 W)
Subjective Adj.: 233.23 (78 W)
2009 W-L: 91-71

C26Joe Mauer2731
1B28Justin Morneau2425
2B24Alexi Casilla#57
SS31Nick Punto97
3B31Joe Crede108
RF30Michael Cuddyer1311
CF23Carlos Gomez#711
LF23Delmon Young*1319
DH27Jason Kubel1011
C238Mike Redmond64
INF28Brendan Harris#1012
OF25Denard Span*820
1325Jason Pridie04
SP125Francisco Liriano55
SP225Kevin Slowey#68
SP327Scott Baker99
SP427Nick Blackburn*510
SP526Glen Perkins#45
RP134Joe Nathan1711
RP227Jesse Crain43
RP330Matt Guerrier54
RP428Craig Breslow*36
RP531Boof Bonser43

Subjective Adjustments: None - I'm trying to be stingy with those - but clearly, 20 Win Shares from Denard Span and his sloppy pants is very aggressive for a guy who entered 2008 having never slugged higher than .369 in any stop in the minor leagues and appears to be starting the season without a fixed position in the outfield, although he's expected to end up with semi-regular playing time. That said, I'm not going to adjust downward a guy who only appeared in 93 games last year; he can lose a fair bit of productivity and make up for it with increased playing time.

Also on Hand: Position players - Infielders Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert; Buscher was basically the everyday 3B for part of last season, and may yet get decent playing time if Crede's back gives out again.

Pitchers - Relievers R.A. Dickey, Luis Ayala, and Jose Mijares, and starters Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey, both fruits of the Santana trade. Pat Neshek, so valuable the last few years, is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Analysis: As referenced in the comment above about Span, Ron Gardenhire's approach to playing time is a fluid one, and that's reflected in the distribution of Win Shares (and other statistical markers) among the Twins' non-pitchers. It may affect the catching corps as well: Joe Mauer is banged up already with a lower back strain, which is the kind of thing that can start the process of eating into his productivity around the edges even if he's only on the shelf for a few days. Redmond should start in his absence, although the Twins seem to be toying with Kubel behind the plate. It's premature to be overly worried about what could just be a week or two of early season stiffness, but with catchers you never know; it would be a shame if it ended up that Mauer, who should have been the AL MVP last season, had more of his best years already behind than ahead of him. (If you missed my look at the all-time great catchers, Part II of that series noted that Mauer has just a tremendous record by historical standards in throwing out base thieves).

The Twins' dependence on Mauer and the 34-year-old Nathan (along with Morneau, but as a 28-year-old slugging first baseman Morneau is as close to a sure thing as exists in the uncertain world of baseball) is a risk factor, but the major area for upside for the Twinkies - as well as the sort of downside that sends teams unexpectedly to the cellar - is their just-hitting-their-primes starting rotation. I think it's highly likely the rotation as a whole delivers more Win Shares than what's set out above; only Blackburn is really rated here as if he's a successful full-season starter. Liriano would surprise nobody if he won the Cy Young Award, ERA and/or strikeout titles this season, but his career high in innings is 167.2 as a minor leaguer and 121 in the major leagues - he needs to establish himself as capable of carrying the workload of a #1 starter. Then there's Slowey, who in his last 19 starts last season was 10-5 with a 3.24 ERA and averaged 1.0 HR, 1.3 walks and 7.2 K per 9 innings. If he can keep going at that rate, he too will be a top-of-the-line starter. Baker also has solid peripheral numbers, though he has struggled badly this spring. Blackburn, by contrast, has never struck out 100 batters at any level, so I'm skeptical of his viability going forward (ask Brian Bannister how that works out). On the whole, I think I'd much rather enter the season with this team than any other in the division, and EWSL appropriately rates them as the handy favorites.

On the everyday side, Gomez and Casilla should be an interesting bet for steals in fantasy baseball, but their value in the real world remains speculative (Bill James notes that Gomez laid down a MLB-high 66 bunts last year; Casilla at 37 was fourth). Delmon Young improved at the margins in a bunch of areas last year - upped his steals a bit, cut his GIDP a bit, cut his K/unintentional walk rate from 5.25 to 1 to 3.75 to 1 - and it's not that unusual for a very young hitter to follow an stagnate-then-explode growth pattern rather than steady improvement every season. That said, the drop in his doubles rate reduces some of the grounds for optimism about a big power breakout, while his dismal glovework raised the more immediate, short-term questions about whether he is helping the team while they wait for him to make the leap forward (the Baseball Prospectus article on the Twins argued that Young should be dealt, given that the Twins are contenders).

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Adjusted: 225.56 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 220.62 (74 W)
2009 W-L: 86-76

C30Victor Martinez1614
1B28Ryan Garko1313
2B23Asdrubal Cabrera#813
SS27Jhonny Peralta1920
3B34Mark DeRosa1916
RF26Shin-Soo Choo910
CF26Grady Sizemore2730
LF27Ben Francisco*59
DH32Travis Hafner108
C229Kelly Shoppach109
INF34Jamey Carroll98
OF35David Dellucci53
1323Luis Valbuena+14
SP130Cliff Lee1412
SP225Fausto Carmona910
SP327Anthony Reyes33
SP425Scott Lewis+24
SP524Aaron Laffey#34
RP132Kerry Wood75
RP225Jensen Lewis#46
RP327Rafael Perez#78
RP434Rafael Betancourt85
RP525Joe Smith#45

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Josh Barfield and Andy Marte, both of whom will probably get only one more chance to reclaim their status as potential everyday players; speedy 25-year-old outfielder Trevor Crowe, who is trying to catch on as a utilityman; slugging OF prospect Matt LaPorta, received in the Sabathia deal; 24-year-old 3B prospect Wes Hodges. Pitchers - Jake Westbrook, who may be back around midseason after Tommy John and hip surgeries; Carl Pavano; top prospect Adam Miller; Matt Herges; Japanese import and onetime Japan League ace closer Masahide Kobayashi, who was largely a flop last season despite a respectable 2.5-to-1 K/BB ratio (he had trouble with the longball); and Juan Salas.

Analysis: When you get past the shattered hopes of 2008 and the residue that remains (e.g., the ghost of Travis Hafner), there's actually some grounds for optimism in Cleveland. This remains a division for the taking if Minnesota's rotation unravels, and like the Twins, the Indians have some young pitchers with upside, like Scott Lewis and Reyes, as well as guys like Carmona and the two Rafaels who could bounce back from last season (granted, Cliff Lee's not going to repeat 2008). The Indians have announced Pavano, Scott Lewis, and Reyes in their rotation and sent down Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, but there's nothing less reliable in this world than Carl Pavano, so I rated them on the assumption that Laffey, the lesser of those two evils, will have to step in soon enough; Pavano would rate at essentially zero. If the Indians' training staff can keep both Pavano and Kerry Wood healthy all season, they should get a Nobel Prize or something.

Choo is penciled in for now in the Indians' plans, but he's 27 and owes the South Korean government two years of compulsory military service before age 30, and awaits word on whether he can get an exemption. There are not the greatest of outfield options at the big league level if he has to go serve his country, but I would assume LaPorta would get a crack sooner or later. Peralta's another guy whose value in the real world is a good deal less than to fantasy baseball owners: his defense is poor, his OBPs are uninspired, and he's hit into 57 double plays the past 3 seasons. Valbuena, a 23 year old second baseman, may get a crack at regular playing time, but aside from an out-of-nowhere power surge in 70 games at AA last season (which he was unable to duplicate at Tacoma), his minor league line is pretty unimpressive.

And of course, there's Sizemore, the American League's answer to David Wright: like Wright, he's a perennial MVP candidate already at age 26, and like Wright he's likely sooner or later to have a bust-out year that soars over even his already elevated standards. Baseball-reference.com identifies the most similar player through age 25 as Barry Bonds (Duke Snider is third, having been Sizemore's closest comp in earlier years).

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 220.00 (73 W)
Adjusted: 227.07 (76 W)
Age-Adj.: 206.60 (69 W)
2009 W-L: 82-80

C29Gerald Laird98
1B26Miguel Cabrera2529
2B33Placido Polanco1815
SS32Adam Everett65
3B32Brandon Inge1210
RF35Magglio Ordonez2316
CF28Curtis Granderson2222
LF33Carlos Guillen1714
DH40Gary Sheffield95
C233Matt Treanor54
INF29Ramon Santiago44
OF32Marcus Thames76
1328Ryan Raburn#33
SP126Justin Verlander1213
SP226Jeremy Bonderman77
SP327Armando Galarraga*712
SP425Edwin Jackson66
SP531Nate Robertson65
RP129Brandon Lyon87
RP232Fernando Rodney43
RP324Joel Zumaya44
RP431Bobby Seay43
RP527Zach Miner66

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Clete Thomas, who subbed adequately for Granderson in center field last season; 25 year old OF Brent Clevlen, coming off a .279/.358/.496 season at AAA Toledo; and 26-year-old 1B Jeff Larish, coming off a .250/.341/.477 season at Toledo. All three could likely step in and provide adequate production, much as the Twins were able to keep throwing rookies out there last season. Pitchers - Dontrelle Willis is still part of the eventual rotation mix unless the Tigers can find a greater fool for his contract, although he's unlikely to be in the Opening Day rotation, as is 20 year old super-prospect Rick Porcello, who pitched well but without a whole lot of strikeouts in his first go-round in pro ball last season. The mediocre K rate is nothing to worry about until we see another season from him, but it does suggest he's not big league ready. Also Juan Rincon, Clay Rapada, and Freddy Dolsi. Aquilino Lopez has been justifiably given the boot after a year in which he had good K/BB numbers and a 3.55 ERA, but let in 29 of 57 inherited runners and saw the Tigers lose two thirds of his appearances.

Analysis: By season's end, the Tigers and Indians looked like Germany and Russia circa 1919, two onetime adversaries reduced to rubble, shell shock and internal strife. While nobody as valuable as Sabathia has left Detroit, the Tigers' problems may be more intractable, with more, older players (Polanco, Guillen and Ordonez are all 33 and up and Sheffield may be finished) and more severe pitching injuries, especially to Bonderman and Zumaya. I'm more optimistic about Verlander, but the rotation remains questionable, and Brandon Lyon is not exactly the most reliable closer.

Maybe it's a coincidence that the Marlins' defense improved significantly, and the Tigers' decayed significantly, when Cabrera left Florida for Detroit. The revelation about Vlad Guerrero being a year older than he let on makes me wonder about guys like Cabrera who - great a hitter as he is - tend to get a very large boost by analysts for being so young.

Hard to believe Granderson's 28 already. He played at close to MVP candidate level after his return last season, but the Tigers never escaped the hole his injury caused, especially defensively.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 185.83 (62 W)
Adjusted: 202.13 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 201.52 (67 W)
2009 W-L: 80-82

C30Miguel Olivo87
1B28Mike Jacobs1112
2B26Alberto Callaspo#45
SS28Mike Aviles*917
3B25Alex Gordon*1217
RF33Jose Guillen1210
CF29Coco Crisp1212
LF29David DeJesus1817
DH23Billy Butler#610
C228John Buck88
INF33Ross Gload65
OF27Mark Teahen1414
1331Willie Bloomquist43
SP130Gil Meche1311
SP225Zack Greinke1112
SP325Kyle Davies44
SP428Brian Bannister55
SP525Luke Hochevar*23
RP125Joakim Soria#1317
RP230Juan Cruz65
RP333Kyle Farnsworth32
RP438Ron Mahay65
RP529Horacio Ramirez21

Subjective Adjustments: None, but color me a skeptic on Aviles repeating 2008.

Also on Hand: Position players - Well, there's Ryan Shealy and Tony Pena, both refugees from the starting lineup, as well as catcher Brayan Pena (who has been stuck in AAA for four years) and outfielder Shane Costa. 25-year Hawaiian 1B Kila Ka'aihue is an enigma, batting .199/.303/.300 in AA in 2006, .248/.359/.435 between A and AA in 2007, then exploding for 38 homers and a .313/.453/.618 line at three levels, mostly AA, in 2008. Pitchers - As usual, a cast of thousands, including Robinson Tejeda (who could end up in the pen or the rotation), Sir Sidney Ponson (who actually stands a pretty decent chance of cracking the rotation), Brandon Duckworth, Joel Peralta, and John Bale.

Analysis: The Royals are still the Royals, so fourth place is something they aspire to. There remains a lot of upside in Gordon, Butler and Greinke, and it's too early to write off Hochevar after a bad rookie campaign, although based on his 4.35 career minor league ERA, the jury is still out on whether there was ever a rational basis to consider him something more than the next Dan Reichert or Jeremy Affeldt. Greinke, by contrast, is a pitcher, not just a thrower; on a team with more offensive and defensive support I'd be more willing to buy into the idea that he's on the verge of emerging as an elite pitcher, or rather of putting up numbers commensurate with that stature.

I have a feeling that Coco Crisp is going to have a much improved year with the bat. No, I don't precisely have a rational basis for that other than a lifetime of watching the shapes of players' careers. DeJesus remains the Lee Mazzilli of these Royals. It's hard to envision this team winning anything (defined as 85 or more games) so long as Guillen is in the clubhouse.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 167.67 (56 W)
Adjusted: 197.80 (66 W)
Age-Adj.: 180.15 (60 W)
2009 W-L: 73-89

C32AJ Pierzynski97
1B33Paul Konerko1412
2B25Chris Getz+011
SS27Alexei Ramirez*919
3B26Josh Fields#45
RF35Jermaine Dye1611
CF28Jerry Owens#22
LF26Carlos Quentin1416
DH38Jim Thome2014
C223Tyler Flowers+04
INF27Wilson Betemit55
OF31DeWayne Wise11
1325Brent Lillibridge+14
SP130Mark Buehrle1513
SP224John Danks#1013
SP326Gavin Floyd89
SP437Jose Contreras76
SP525Clayton Richard*00
RP128Bobby Jenks1414
RP235Octavio Dotel43
RP332Scott Linebrink64
RP432Matt Thornton85
RP532Mike MacDougal21

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jayson Nix, whose leg injury mostly left the 2B job to Getz; perennial disappointing CF Brian Anderson; Ben Broussard; and 33-year-old Crash Davis-style minor league catcher Corky Miller, and young SS Gordon Beckham. Pitchers - Bartolo Colon looks like he'll be in the starting rotation, but as with Pavano, I've rated the guy (Richard) likely to pick up the slack if Colon's not able to hitch up the plow every five days; the White Sox wouldn't rate much better if I rated Colon, who has amassed four Win Shares in the past three years. Then again, at least at the outset, Contreras may still be on the shelf. Jeffrey Marquez and Lance Broadway are also on hand. MacDougal is not a favorite of Ozzie Guillen, but his performance record still gives him the inside edge over those guys.

Analysis: EWSL and I were pretty down on the White Sox and wrong about it last year, and this year's prognosis is grimmer still; I don't actually see this as a last place team, but they do have real problems. Last year's improvement was driven by a bunch of breakout years from young players (Quentin, Danks, Floyd and Cuban import Ramirez); other than maybe the still gopher-prone Floyd, those guys look likely to be the real deal, but that doesn't mean they won't backslide some this season. It was also driven by the veteran power core, and another year of age on Thome, Dye and Konerko (also Pierzynski, Contreras and Dotel) is likely to catch up with them soon. The White Sox are likely to miss Orlando Cabrera's glove, and they still don't have a credible center fielder. That said, Fields could still provide some upside at 3B.

Flowers is 23 and hasn't played above A ball, and will start the season in the minors, and you never trust a guy the Braves let get away, but his career .291/.400/.488 line suggests potential, and it won't be surprising if the Sox give him the everyday job and deal AJ at some point.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 23, 2009

apple.JPGMetsgrrl has an up-close photo essay and review of CitiField, including shots of the old and new Magic Apples in their current locations (at left is a clipped version of her shot of the old apple). Her takeaway - the park is still pricey, but a definite upgrade from Shea:

It was like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy wakes up and everything is in color. It felt odd, because I am not used to being comfortable when I go see the Mets. I am not used to having room. I am not used to things being carefully thought out and well-planned.

H/T Pinto. She also notes that they're not quite finished with the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. For all the efforts to mimic Ebbets Field, though, it sure does look a lot like Citizens Bank Park.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:13 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2009
BASEBALL: 2008 EWSL Team Review

I'm short on time, so with only minimal comment I'll present the table comparing the 2008 Established Win Shares Levels to the teams' actual results, with the caveats noted in last year's writeup.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:07 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 17, 2009
BASEBALL: Meet The New Mets

Matthew Artus made a point a few days ago, after Duaner Sanchez was released, that bears noting:

As of today, there are officially 9 Mets on the current roster that donned a Mets jersey in 2006. 7 of them played in the 2006 NLCS.

Lemme see, offhand: the seven would be Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Perez, Maine, and Feliciano, and (after checking) the other two would be Castro and Pelfrey (I assume he doesn't count Wagner or Valentin, since Wagner's on the DL and Valentin presumably won't be on the Opening Day major league roster).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:56 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2009

Two books that look like interesting looks at a pair of the most important figures in mid-20th century baseball. First, Allen Barra's biography of Yogi Berra:

I flipped through it, and it looks good. It's a very thick hardcover. Next, Michael D'Antonio's biography of Walter O'Malley:


Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:26 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: EWSL 2009 Age and Rookie Baselines

It's time once again for my annual division previews using Established Win Shares Levels, which are explained here. Before we get to rolling out the 2009 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past five seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful (how accurate EWSL was in 2008 is another day's story, but of course as I always remind my readers, EWSL doesn't predict the future, it just provides a rough count of the talent on hand).

First up is the age adjustments; I've reformatted the table a bit from past years (see my writeups on the age adjustments following the 2004 season - also here - 2005, 2006 and 2007.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 9, 2009
BASEBALL: Storybook

Joe Posnanski has a heartwarming story.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:11 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2009
BASEBALL: Piazza and Steroids

Matthew Artus has a good post on the topic, which I pretty much agree with across the board.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Paying The Piper

Peter Abraham on A-Rod:

So in a span of less than a year, Rodriguez tore a quad and now needs a hip operation. Can you draw a line from three years of steroids to these injuries? I have no idea, medical experts will have to determine that. But signing this guy to a 10-year contract looks like a decision that will haunt the franchise for years to come. They had a chance to be free of him and they let it pass.

If you look at the guys who are believed to have gone on the juice, there does seem to be a pattern of them being basically indestructible for a few years and then starting to break down, especially if they got clean. We don't know when A-Rod started using steroids, aside from his own self-serving account that he started in 2003. Travis Nelson notes that A-Rod never had a sudden or unexplained spike in his production as a hitter - he was a huge star, nationally known since high school and slugged .588 in 32 games at AAA as an 18-year-old - and neither has his physical development been anything but smooth. Neither of those facts prove anything other than that we don't have the kinds of big flashing signs we had with Bonds of a guy doing something unnatural. But if A-Rod was clean before 2003, and if his injuries now are exacerbated by steroid use, then you have to say that he got a terrible deal out of using the roids, as he was arguably no better a ballplayer and no healthier after 2003 than before.

Which might not be the worst lesson for young fans to see.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:41 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 4, 2009
BASEBALL: Manny Back In Blue

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like we're finally ready to go now that Manny Ramirez has at long last signed with the Dodgers. This offseason was one of so much suspended animation for such a long time, but slowly but surely the late-to-sign free agents have been coming into the fold - Oliver Perez back to the Mets, Bobby Abreu to the Angels, Adam Dunn to the Nationals - while Ben Sheets opted for surgery. Manny was the last of the really big names still out there, at least the last still near his prime (Pedro's another story).

Two years, $45 million is not a bad deal at all - sure, it's an outrageous salary for a guy Manny's age with Manny's durability issues, personality issues, and lack of contribution in the field and on the bases, but the man can hit. I'd have taken that deal happily if the Mets had made it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:28 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Running Gags Aren't Always Funny

This is a sad story: a minor league pitcher who became the butt of jokes after being traded for ten maple bats (he was in good company - Cy Young was sold to the Cleveland Spiders for $300 and a suit) ends up dead six months later of a drug overdose. No precise connection is drawn, and he obviously had drug problems already, but the story at least suggests that his initial good humor about the bat deal faded in the face of heckling and struggles on the mound.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:20 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 3, 2009
BASEBALL: Denial is a River in Queens

It's too early to worry about Johan Santana's elbow.

It's too early to worry about Johan Santana's elbow.

It's too early to worry about Johan Santana's elbow.

It's too early to worry about Johan Santana's elbow.....

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:58 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 24, 2009
BASEBALL: Stealing Sutcliffe

Home Run Derby looks back at an amusing Cubs broadcast from 1987. And links to this classic baseball story about Rick Sutcliffe and Bill Murray:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:57 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 23, 2009
BASEBALL: Conclusion to The Yankee Starting Pitcher Study

Due to technical problems, I couldn't post the whole thing as one entry. Here's the conclusion.

As you can see from the top of the list, the Yankees have been far from uniformly unsuccessful with acquiring established veteran starting pitchers, and they've struck gold a bunch of times both with top-of-the-line acquisitions and with reclamation projects. But then, if you have a ton of money and you go in the market every year, you are bound to look like a genius now and then. And despite having, in the main, good baseball people working for them throughout most of this period, the Yankees have had flop after flop throughout every stage of the Steinbrenner years, from Gullett and Messersmith to Burns and Alexander to Hawkins and LaPoint to Mulholland and Rogers to Weaver, Pavano, Wright and Igawa. The collective Yield of the group, excluding the foreign pitchers, is 74.6%. The waste of dollars, of young talent in trade, of innings and run support to struggling starters, is enormous.

There are a variety of causes for this, and we generalize at our peril, as the Yankees have sometimes succeeded with the very same types of pitchers they failed with. Some of it, as with any team, is the unpredictable nature of pitching. Some is that having too much money to burn makes you sloppy. But we can generalize that the Yankees have made the same mistakes repeatedly over the years: they have too often put their faith in pitchers with major injury red flags; they have overpaid for guys coming off one good year; they have brought in too many veteran low-strikeout groundball pitchers, who are less consistent, have less of a margin for error, and are more dependent on their defense; and when they have brought in high-end power pitchers, too often they've been so old Father Time was bound to catch up with them eventually.

What does this mean for this year's crop? Sabathia looks like a good bet; he's up there with Hunter, Mussina, Cone, Clemens and Johnson among the best pitchers they have acquired, he's a power pitcher with a reasonably good health record and much younger than some of those guys. Burnett's also a power pitcher, but riskier, more like some of the failures; he's tended to get healthy only in his walk years. What is certain, it would seem, is that next year we'll be asking the same question about the next crop.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:35 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Yankees and Their New, Veteran Starting Pitchers

Hope springs eternal in baseball, and for the New York Yankees, with an aging offense, a lot of familiar faces gone and a steroid scandal swirling around the team's biggest star, a lot of those hopes ride on the shoulders of the team's two new free agent starting pitchers, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Yankee fans have been down this road before.

Few things have been more constant in the Steinbrenner Era (dating back to George Steinbrenner's 1973 purchase of the team and continuing under his sons Hank & Hal) than the importation of established veteran starting pitchers. Since 1975, counting the importation of pitchers from Cuba and Japan, the Hated Yankees have brought in an established starting pitcher in the offseason 52 times in 35 seasons; only in five offseasons have they failed to do so in that period. Here is the list of those pitchers by year, along with their ages in their first season in pinstripes, how many seasons or parts of seasons they played with the Yankees, and how they were acquired:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
February 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Still The Oakland A's

As recently as November, everything looked full speed ahead for the A's move to Fremont, and I speculated about how that affected their offseason moves. Now, it seems to have fallen through, leaving the A's where they are. Sign of the times.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:47 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 20, 2009
BASEBALL: The Mets Rotation

Here's a good overview writeup at MetsGeek about Oliver Perez (I realize I neglected to write this up when he finally signed). Assuming John Maine is healthy, the Mets rotation now looks something like this:

1-Johan Santana
2-4 - Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez; the order may be interchangeable. I'm not 100% ready to believe that Pelfrey won't backslide some this season, but thus far he's the most durable of the bunch and may be the most reliable.
5 - Jon Niese, if he can win the job; Freddy Garcia or Tim Redding otherwise, with Livan Hernandez in reserve.

3 years for Perez, which takes him through age 29, is an ideal contract length; the Mets aren't lashed to him in perpetuity, but they needn't worry for a while, and by the next time he's up, most of the uncertainty around Perez will be gone, as he'll either be consistent and durable the next three years or prove that he never will.

$12 million per year is pretty pricey for a guy with a career road ERA of 4.70 - that's just a hair less than what Pedro averaged the last four years - but it's not my money, the Mets could afford it, and the other options for healthy young starting pitchers were pretty slim. It beats the heck out of having Redding as the fourth starter. The key with Perez, of course, is to value him for what he is, not what he might become. Perez has great stuff, but I put at about zero the chance that he will ever find the mechanical and emotional consistency to improve his command to the point where he can be a year-in-year-out star. That said, in any given year when he's healthy there's maybe a 5-10% chance that he could break out and have a Cy Young caliber season. That may sound like a lot, but if he threw 210 innings of the quality of his 2004 season with the Mets, he'd win 18+ games and be a legit Cy Young candidate. There's also, of course, at least an equal chance of an injury or complete meltdown. But on average, you'd project him forward as a guy who gives you 180-200 innings, with an ERA around 3.30 in the up years and 4.30 in the down ones, and that's a valuable thing in today's game.

I'm not much of a fan of Garcia, Redding or Livan, but look at the numbers for the guys the Mets have used as, essentially, emergency starters the last three years:

2008: 17 starts, 93 IP, 7-6, 5.52 ERA (Nelson Figueroa, Claudio Vargas, Niese, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas and Brian Stokes).

2007: 11 starts, 50.2 IP, 1-5, 9.95 ERA (Brian Lawrence, Jason Vargas, Dave Williams, Phil Humber, Chan Ho Park). If you count Jorge Sosa, it's 25 starts, 131 IP, 8-13, 6.66 ERA.

2006: 24 starts, 125.2 IP, 7-9, 6.37 ERA (Pelfrey, Williams, Alay Soler, Jose Lima, and the late Jeremi Gonzalez). If you count Perez, who was little more than an emergency fill-in and ended up starting Game 7 of the NLCS, the regular season numbers are 31 starts, 162.1 IP, 8-12, 6.38 ERA.

It's a very useful thing to have extra guys around who can keep to a minimum the number of starts given to people who can't post an ERA below 5.50. I think Livan still has enough gas in the tank to pitch in the low fives, and I'm pretty optimistic the other two do (Garcia threw well in his last three starts last season after returning from injury, but we'll see how he holds up if he ends up in the rotation).

On the whole, I think the Mets stack up favorably against the Phillies' projected rotation of Hamels-Myers-Moyer-Blanton-Kendrick/Park (ugh), and are pretty clearly superior to the Braves' rotation, which starts with Lowe and Vazquez and some combination of Jurrjens, Campillo, Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami and Glavine, and the Marlins rotation of Johnson, Sanchez, Nolasco, Volstad and Miller. (The Nationals' "rotation" is not really worth comparing).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:22 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 18, 2009
BASEBALL: Sources Unfiltered

Via David Pinto, why Peter Gammons didn't press A-Rod harder:

"I realized right away that this was the first surefire, by his performance, Hall-of-Famer to admit this," Gammons said, "and therefore I thought keeping him talking, and getting as much as I could out there, was very important. I really felt my first duty was to get his words onto my employer's network."

I like Gammons, but this is a point I have made before about him and how he is similar to political journalists like Bob Novak and David Broder, and for that matter like Woodward and Bernstein. We all sometimes want to see reporters get adversarial with their subjects the way we lawyers do, to be fearless seekers of the truth...and there is something to be said for that style of journalism, but it's also worth remembering that lawyers get to be lawyers because we can use subpoenas to force people to talk to us. Journalists can't, and unless they have a Tim Russert type national perch, their targets are rarely at their mercy. Gammons represents a different type of reporter, the source-greaser; when Gammons tells you something, he's not telling you what he believes, he's relaying something one of his sources wants you to believe. The upside of that is that this kind of reporter gets a lot more access to powerful people; the downside, of course, is fluff interviews and a lot of disinformation, especially when the identity of the source isn't disclosed. You always have to bear in mind which kind of reporter you are reading.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Known Unknowns

Athletics Nation talks to Will Carroll and comes up with a lot of uncertainty about injured A's. I agree with his view that guys who get hurt a lot tend to keep getting hurt a lot even if the injuries seem small and unrelated.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:21 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 12, 2009
BASEBALL: At Least Dunn Will Do Something

.243 batting, .330 OBP, .376 slugging, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 68 Runs scored, 10 stolen bases, 71 walks, 130 strikeouts.

That's the average production the Nationals got from all their three outfield slots last season, when you add up everyone who played there. Nationals first basemen batted .269/.360/.402 with 14 HR, 69 RBI, 73 Runs, 13 steals, 79 walks, 115 K.

Yeah, I think they will like Adam Dunn in Washington.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
February 11, 2009


Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:28 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bargain Angel

The Angels get Bobby Abreu for a reported one year and $5 million. I know Abreu is 35 and not the power threat he once was, but that's a steal. The Mets should have nabbed him at that price.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Stache is Back

Jose Valentin will be Plan B or C or D (I lose track) in the Mets' collection of unappealing second base options. I assume if he doesn't make the team, he'll be hired as a coach or minor league manager ASAP.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 10, 2009
BASEBALL: Snoopy Goes Deep

Wezen-ball looks back at Charles Schultz's strips in which Snoopy chased Babe Ruth's home run record while Hank Aaron did. Being a Peanuts fanatic in my youth, I recall reading these strips in one of my many collections of Schultz's work.

H/T Pinto, who has some thoughts about how perceptions have changed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:13 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ben wrote largely the point I was going to make on A-Rod: he's probably the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as being able to point fingers at individual steroid users rather than just throw your hands up at the culture of the era. Which is, of course, great news for Bonds and McGwire.

To use a political analogy, it was one thing when Douglas Ginsburg could be bounced from his nomination to the Supreme Court (where Judge Ginsburg would have been a fine Justice, BTW) because he smoked pot; it was a political flap but not fatal when Bill Clinton finally admitted smoking pot, but really by the time of Clinton it was more about whether he'd been honest about it, and by then, Clarence Thomas was already on the Supreme Court having admitted to smoking pot. And then, we found out that Newt Gingrich had smoked pot, and Al Gore had smoked pot, and George W. Bush wouldn't even tell us what he'd done, and by 2008 we elected a President who admitted using cocaine and it wasn't even an issue, and there was even serious talk about hiring a guy to run a federal agency who'd been busted for heroin.

And the same defining-deviancy-down dynamic (in Pat Moynihan's words) is at issue here; we're about at the critical mass of MVPs and Cy Young winners with a steroid asterisk next to their names that we don't even notice the asterisk anymore, just as we have stopped even mentally discounting all the records set since the 162 game schedule's arrival in 1961. The story will get more play for a while, since A-Rod is still active, hugely unpopular, plays in the game's biggest media market and was dishonest about it to boot; but we'll probably look back and see that he was the moment when, behind the noise, we stopped really caring who took steroids and who didn't.

UPDATE: Looks like federal prosecutors are not among those who don't care, as they are charging Miguel Tejada with perjury for lying to Congress about steroids.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:35 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Other Catchers

Here's the second half of my Hardball Times column on the great (and not-so-great) catchers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:52 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 6, 2009
BASEBALL: Dual Loyalties

Matt Welch looks back at how Buzzie Bavasi sold out the Padres in the 1969 expansion draft. Wow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 5, 2009
BASEBALL: Curtains for Sheets?

So Ben Sheets may be having elbow surgery that will knock him out for half the season. Looks like he played chicken with the owners and lost; unless this is the result of genuinely new medical information, Sheets would have been better served having the surgery in October and jumping on a 1-year deal rather than trying to bluff some team into signing him with a bum elbow.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:30 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 3, 2009

Sign of tough times:

Citigroup Inc., eager to quell the controversy over how lenders are using government bailout money, is exploring the possibility of backing out of a nearly $400 million marketing deal with the New York Mets, say people familiar with the matter.


In a statement Monday, Citigroup said that "no TARP capital will be used" for the stadium -- referring to government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But as it revisits the pact, Citigroup is essentially acknowledging that the volatile political climate could make it untenable for the bank to proceed with the deal.


The Mets deal was attacked last week as an example of misplaced spending by financial institutions that needed bailout funds. Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) and Ted Poe (R., Texas) wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday, asking him to push Citigroup to dissolve the Mets deal.

I can't really get into this story very far, and it's the worst kind of story as far as I'm concerned (I'm not a big fan of business-of-baseball stories and I hate being compelled yet again to mix baseball and politics), but a few quick observations:

1. So much for the brief era in which the Mets appeared to be getting closer to financial parity with the Yankees. I'm not that personally familiar with the state of the naming-rights market but I have to assume that it will be very hard to get an equivalent contract in terms of annual revenue or duration.

2. Sadly, if Citi does exit the deal, it will be tough to get a name that fits as well with the team and the city - I dread some phone company or regional bank that changes its name every three years, or something silly like "Vitamin Water Park." And I swear, if they end up naming it "Obama Field" I'm not going to be responsible for my actions.

3. As you can see if you've seen pictures or been by the park, the colossal Citi signs have been up for a while now.

4. We have not even seen the beginning of how Washington politicians are going to be micromanaging entities that have accepted taxpayer money. More on this another day, but while I supported the original Paulson Plan - which involved the federal government buying bonds in arms-length transactions in the hopes of recovering most if not all of its original outlay - I can't possibly support any of the more expansive bailouts that have been done since, not least because of the galloping corporatism that is unleashed when the government goes from being a mere customer of private business to an investor, donor and business partner.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:28 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Business • | Politics 2009 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
January 30, 2009
BASEBALL: The Catchers and the Hall

My very large long-brewing project, my annual THT Hall of Fame column, is up in Part I today, on the post-1920 catchers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:54 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
January 29, 2009
BASEBALL: For All The Cubs Fans

Feel the love:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:37 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
January 28, 2009
BASEBALL: The Ethics of Cornering A Thin Market

Jack Marshall at the Hardball Times, after defending in general how Scott Boras does his business, argues that he's violating legal-ethical duties to his clients:

Imagine you are a lawyer who is retained by a parent to sue a school district in a sexual molestation case. You believe you can win and are pretty sure that you have a chance to break the bank and take almost all the assets of the district. Now another client comes to you wanting to sue a school in the same district to get damages for a horrible injury sustained by her child on a defective jungle gym. You can’t take the second case. If you achieve the objective of the first client, there won’t be money left for the second one. If you achieve the goals of one, you can’t possibly achieve the goals of the other.

The remedy for conflicts of interest is often informed consent. If both clients completely understand the implications of hiring the same lawyer to sue the same client with limited resources, can’t they just decide to trust the lawyer and hire you anyway?

The answer is no. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers, specifically Rule 1.7, declare that the waiver of all parties is sufficient to waive the conflict only if the lawyer reasonably believes that the representation of one client won’t interfere with the representation of the other. In this situation, you can’t reasonably believe that, because it is impossible. To the extent that you help one client, you hurt the other. It is an unwaivable conflict.


If the Yankees were the team most likely to contest the Dodgers for Manny Ramirez, in the event that New York did not wrap up Teixeira, Boras was undermining his own client's bargaining power by helping Teixeira reach an agreement with New York. If the Angels signed Sabathia, as was a realistic possibility, it would have made the team an unlikely bidder for Teixeira or Ramirez. Sports commentators, talking heads and bloggers sensed this, speculating that Boras might "steer" Teixeira to an East Coast team to keep open a West Coast landing place for Manny. But Boras cannot ethically manipulate one client's fate to benefit another. For a lawyer, doing so is grounds for bar discipline; for a non-lawyer, it is simply disloyal and wrong.

Boras represents two fading, star veteran catchers: Ivan Rodriquez and Jason Varitek. The Red Sox, with a veteran pitching staff, would like a veteran catcher. Varitek has appeal to Boston because he has anchored the team for over a decade and has been the team captain; Rodriguez might be attractive because, based on last season at least, his skills have not declined as steeply. With two different agents, I-Rod and Tek would be competing with each other for the job in Boston or other teams seeking a veteran catcher. But with the same agent, such competition is either impossible or unethical.

Read the whole thing. I'm not sure how I come out on this - it's an interesting argument, and it passes the test of being true at a fundamental level - for example, an agent representing Varitek might reasonably have chosen to argue that he was, specifically, a better investment than Rodriguez; representing both, Boras cannot do that. On the other hand, the pond at issue here is so small that if you never represent two players with possibly competing interests, you'd hardly be able to represent more than about 10 players.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:07 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Law 2009-14 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
January 27, 2009
BASEBALL: Lego Stadia

If there's one thing I am invariably a sucker for, it's Lego geekery. Behold: Major League Stadiums in Legos. We did an Olympic Coliseum and an aircraft carrier when I was a kid (the latter involved just building the deck and hull and sticking a control tower from an airport set on top), but never one of these.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:10 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Obama SoxThere's a long tradition of your basic ceremonial honors between the White House and the National Pastime, all of which is well and good even during times when you may not like the current occupant of the Oval Office. But really, does the game need to do this?

The Chicago White Sox are aiming to release a President Barack Obama-themed version of their cap in time for the start of spring training.

The club has developed two prototype designs of its club hat with Obama marks on the side and back. The hats have been approved by MLB Properties, and the White Sox now are awaiting a formal blessing from the Obama administration before league licensee New Era goes into production. Both designs will be made if accepted by Obama.

Even for those of us who love baseball and love politics, it's better to keep the two separate. It's bad enough that Obama* is being merchandised like he's the latest George Lucas character (I swear some of the newspapers are only staving off bankruptcy by selling Obama commemorative memorabilia to his fans), and that businesses all over the place seem completely unaware of the fact that 59 million Americans voted against the guy - but to go and stick Obama logos on the hats of an MLB team is going too far. It would have been cheesy for the Rangers to do that for Bush even though he used to own the team; it's no different with Obama.

* - Kung fu grip not available on all models. Batteries sold separately.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:31 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Politics 2009 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
January 26, 2009
BASEBALL: Hey, Why Not?

The Royal Treatment looks at KC's audacious, desperate effort to move Mark Teahen to second base. Stranger things have happened, but usually to organizations with a better idea what they are doing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:39 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Losing A Little Steam

The House That Dewey Built looks at Papelbon's first/second half splits. The results are clear but far from dramatic, and are consistent with the way a lot of closers are. I'd be more concerned if it were not for his 25 career innings in the postseason, in which Papelbon has a 0.00 ERA, 7 saves and has struck out 22 batters while allowing just 16 baserunners. If he was just burning out at year end, he wouldn't be doing that. The lesson instead is that, as the Yankees have done with Rivera most years, Papelbon's workload should be held down in the regular season even at the cost of the occasional game to ensure he remains fresh enough to keep dominating in October.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:12 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Cold Stove

In baseball, as in politics, my blog posts generally come from two sources: one, I have ideas that I put into research and produce a longer or more labor-intensive end product; two, I react to the news of the day, to what I read online, get emailed to me or talk about.

I've got some of the former on the burner at present, but the latter has really been slim pickings lately. It feels like the pilot light went out on the hot stove league this year. You can read up on Ben Sheets' medical report, but I'm not a doctor so your guess is as good as mine. After carrying a heavy workload from age 23-25, Sheets averaged just 21 starts and 135 IP a year from 2005-2007. Last year was supposed to be his salary drive and he still fell a hair short of 200 IP and finished badly. Sheets is pretty much the classic guy who will be either a bargain or a total waste of money because it's impossible to put a reliable value on his health.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:50 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Professional Hitter

David Pinto looks at Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Fame candidate. There's really no doubt that Edgar was a better hitter than at least two thirds of the position players in the Hall. His career OPS+ of 147 is equal to those of Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, and among the 40 players ahead of him on that list, only 8 are not in the Hall of Fame - three flawed players from the 1880s (Pete Browning, Dave Orr and Charley Jones), Federal League star Benny Kauff (who was later banned, at least informally, from baseball), short-career sluggers Charlie Keller and Gavvy Cravath, and Mark McGwire and Dick Allen. Martinez' peak years were especially fearsome.

But you know, somebody has to be the best hitter not in the Hall, and if you were to design a player to fit that bill, it would look a lot like Edgar:

-No defensive value (after a couple early years at third base, he spent the bulk of his career as a DH).

-Slow baserunner.

-Relatively short career; Martinez was more or less in his prime from 1990-92 and 1995-2003, which does add up to twelve really good years, albeit separated by a lot of time lost to injury in 1993-94. There's not a lot outside that. His real peak was seven seasons from 1995-2001. That said, his 8672 career plate appearances dwarfs the totals for guys like Keller and Cravath, and indeed is more than anyone above Fred McGriff on that chart.

-Not really as good as his raw numbers; Martinez played in a hitter's era, and until 2000 played in a hitter's park.

-Injury-prone; besides the 1993-94 period, Martinez missed more than a third of the season in 2002 and missed at least 20 games in 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2001.

-Played for teams that seemed to chronically underachieve, not winning a single pennant with Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner, and then going belly-up in the ALCS after winning 116 games in 2001.

Martinez isn't a friviolous Hall candidate, and in fact you could make some of the same points about McGwire, who I regard as above the line, but I just think he has too many strikes against him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:40 AM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
January 15, 2009
BASEBALL: Biggie or Smallie?

David Pinto notes, contrary to reports on the dimensions of Citi Field, that the hitters who have tried the place out in the winter think it will be a launching pad. I don't see any reason why that would be true, but we'll see how it plays during the season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:54 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 14, 2009
BASEBALL: Trivia Question of the Day

Name the only post-1900 player to score 300 runs over his last 3 seasons in the major leagues.

The feat was done 4 times in the 19th century: Jim McTamany, who ended his career when the American Association went out of business, scored 369 runs in 1889-91; Hall of Famer John Ward scored 338 runs in 1892-94; Mike Griffin scored 325 runs in 1869-98, and the 19th century's best third baseman, Bill Joyce, scored 321 runs also in 1896-98. There are a variety of reasons why careers tended to end abruptly back then, in these cases generally due to economics (guys like Ward and Joyce could make better money doing something else). But can you name the lone post-1900 player to hang it up after averaging 100 runs scored a year for his last 3 years? Answer below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:33 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
January 13, 2009

Derek Lowe has reportedly signed with the Braves for 4 years and $60 million. The Braves can use a durable rotation anchor, and Lowe has averaged 212 innings a year in his four years in LA, so this isn't entirely a terrible idea. But it's not a good one. The Dodgers got a lot of value out of their 4-year, $36 million deal with Lowe, but signing an extreme groundball pitcher without great strikeout rates from age 32-35 is one thing; signing him from age 36-39 is another. Lowe benefitted tremendously from Dodger Stadium; he has a 4.68 ERA on the road over the past six seasons, with 2005 being the only year below 4.10 in that period. Even if you just look at his Dodger years, Lowe averaged a 4.03 ERA on the road (4.89 runs per 9 - Lowe always allows a lot of unearned runs), 5.69 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, and 0.75 HR/9, not bad on any count none of those particularly impressive enough numbers to suggest a guy who will be worth $15 million a year when he's 38. The signing turns the screws on the Mets by raising the market price for Oliver Perez, but if they end up with Perez instead of Lowe, I'll be happy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:23 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Book Review: But Didn't We Have Fun?

I recently finished reading Peter Morris' book But Didn't We Have Fun?, a look at the development of baseball from the dawn of organized amateur baseball in the mid-1840s until the dawn of organized professional baseball in 1869-71. It's a good, quick read (230 pages), and worthwhile for the novice fan looking to learn some history or the experienced student of 19th century baseball.

Morris focuses on two angles: a historical narrative of how the game progressed, and an effort to bring to life the spirit and atmosphere of mid-19th century amateur and semi-amateur baseball. My interest in the book was mainly in the former, though the latter consumed a great deal of the book and offered a lot of fascinating detail. Morris' view is that baseball developed through a process of basically Darwinian evolution, a series of sudden mutations that sometimes (but not always) superseded the old ways because they provided inherent advantages, thus forming breaks in the historical continuity from older games to baseball, and from early amateur baseball to the professional game.

There are several of these critical junctures Morris identifies, including the sudden explosion of interest in baseball in 1857-59 with the 1-2 punch of the growth of rail transport and the widespread distribution of written rules, the first professional player (probably primeval pitcher Jim Creighton for the Excelsiors of Brooklyn in 1859, although it would be a decade before players were paid openly), and the key tours by various clubs. But two are particularly crucial.

First, Morris argues that baseball was, in essence, invented by 25-year-old Alexander Cartwright and the other members of the New York Knickerbockers (Cartwright was not the leader of the club) around 1845, by adopting a set of written rules that made two key innovations that separated baseball from myriad earlier games like "town ball" (versions of which existed with extensive variations in many locales) to say nothing of more distant cousins like cricket and rounders (Morris discusses at some length the extent to which baseball did and did not owe a debt to various of those other games). One of these rules was the creation of foul territory, which had a couple of significant effects: it allowed the game to be played on smaller fields more suited to urban areas (as Morris makes clear, baseball was always, despite its pastoral mythology, an urban game that began in New York City and spread outward from the larger cities to rural areas), and it forced the ball into the field of play, thus putting a premium on fielding the ball rather than just chasing it. (Like many early baseball innovations, Morris explains that this one was to some extent driven by the exigencies of the available land, which at the time was a limited space in Hoboken). The second and really crucial innovation, providing the dramatic break from "town ball" and its ilk and effectively creating the new game of baseball, was the decision to eliminate the practice of throwing out baserunners by hitting them with a thrown ball. As Morris explains, this didn't just change a single rule to make the game more resemble its modern counterpart; it was revolutionary because it singlehandedly (1) placed a premium on fielding skill, (2) eliminated a significant source of injuries, and (3) enabled the use of a harder ball that would travel further when hit (you needed a really soft ball if you were throwing it at men wearing no protective gear), thus creating a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. Morris spends a lot of time discussing the early game's equipment in the days before manufacturers existed to turn out baseballs, bats and bases and before fields were dedicated to play; the ball was hard to make and replace (he has one amusing anecdote about a town where the baseball cores were made from fish eyes), and so was a precious thing - it's not hard to see why men like Albert Spalding saw a great business opportunity in sporting goods by the 1870s.

Of course, the third and most significant of all the decisions made by Cartwright was to write the rules down, enabling the "New York game" to be memorialized and spread around the country just at the moment when an explosion of newspaper circulation and inter-city transportation were creating the first true mass national market for entertainment. Morris is at great pains to explain that the Knickerbockers' goal was not to do anything but formalize rules for a club that had already been playing ball for two years but struggled to keep its members' interest, and indeed the first decade after 1845 showed little growth in the game before those changes in the nation's communications and transportation networks created the conditions for it to spread. One of the core themes of his book is to remind the reader, sometimes by repetition to a fault, that the point of the early game was to have fun and that its participants had quite a lot of fun despite the stuffy formality of the style in which their rules were written down.

The second milestone was the construction of the first enclosed ballpark, the Union Grounds in Brooklyn in 1862. Morris follows a long series of steps that led the way from the organized amateur game to professionalization, but the critical one was that professional teams needed steadier sources of revenue than member dues or wealthy patrons, and that meant charging growing crowds for admission - which in turn meant enclosing the field so such charges could be enforced. As with college football or the Olympics, you can use all the subterfuges you want to hide the compensation of the players, but there's nothing "under the table" about the game's sources of revenue, and once the stadiums were built at considerable expense even for a fairly primitive park (Morris noted that the very first park had a pagoda in center field for the owner and guests, effectively the first luxury box), a club had no choice but to put its best efforts into fielding an entertainingly competitive team, making professionalization inevitable.

Morris' book goes into a lot of additional, colorful detail on the games, the rituals that surrounded them, and the many logistical difficulties faced by early baseball, such as road trips in the days before trains had reliable schedules. He explains how the first team to travel west of the Alleghenies, the original Nationals of Washington in 1867, were aptly named because they were essentially financed by the federal government (in those days before civil service reform, the head of the club was able to hire several players to patronage jobs in the Treasury Department). I have a few criticisms. First, as I said, Morris works a little too hard to remind the reader how much fun the early players were having and how important their rituals were to them. Second, some stories felt undertold - Cartwright himself gets only the most passing treatment - appearing on just two pages of the book - compared to the more fleshed-out portraits of key figures like Henry Chadwick and Harry Wright, and while Jim Creighton is a pivotal figure, the tragic story of his death at age 21 in 1862 (the same year, probably not coincidentally, that Brooklyn was building the Union Grounds) is scattered in footnotes rather than being given a full treatment.

Jim CreightonMorris credits the diminutive Creighton with being the first man to change the pitching position from an ordinary fielder to a baffler of batters, with his tricks for increasing velocity and movement and his penchant for throwing pitches that trailed away from the hitter (with terrible physical costs to himself - in the absence of ball/strike calls, hitters would just wait him out, in one instance cited by Morris leading Creighton to throw over 330 pitches in three innings). Here are two accounts of Creighton's death; Morris suggests that his death from a home run swing may be apocryphal, but he doesn't offer an alternative theory. First:

On October 18, 1862, playing against the Union Club of Morrisania, NY, Creighton hit a home run. John Chapman, who was on-deck, heard something snap during Creighton's swing. After Jim crossed home plate he assured Chapman that his belt had broken. Four days later the Excelsior star was dead having ruptured his spleen or bladder in the process. He had bled to death of internal injuries. Jim Creighton was 21.


He swung so mighty a blow in the manner of the day, with hands separated on the bat, little or no turn of the wrists, and incredible torque applied by the twisting motion of the upper body, that it was reported he ruptured his bladder (later review of the circumstances, aided by modern medical understanding, pointed to a ruptured inguinal hernia).

After four days of hemorrhaging and agony at his home at 307 Henry Street, Jim Creighton passed away at the tender age of 21 years and 6 months, having given his all to baseball in a final epic blast that Roy Hobbs (the cinematic one, that is) might have envied. He, like so many others, is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York with his grave marked by a granite obelisk adorned by a marble baseball.

(You can read an 1887 recounting of Creighton's death here).

But these are minor quibbles. Anyone interested in how the game of baseball came to be, and how it became a professional game, will be interested in Morris' book.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
January 12, 2009
BASEBALL: The Schneid

Adam Rubin looks at some data, in relatively small samples (we're talking 50-60 at bats in some cases, although the selected items all point the same way) suggesting that Mets relievers and some of their starters were markedly less successful with Brian Schneider catching than Ramon Castro. (I got the link from Bill James Online; James is skeptical of how dramatic the data is). The difference seems mostly to be in home runs allowed, as no homers were hit off Heilman, Wagner, Sanchez or Feliciano with Castro catching, and markedly fewer off Pedro and Santana. Of course, one has to consider alternative explanations: for example, Castro started only 4 games in September, when several key relievers were tired and wearing out, and Castro played more of his games at pitcher-friendly Shea (22 starts at home, 18 on the road). And Keith Woolner, who has studied the issue with deep math, is unconvinced that catcher effects on ERA are anything more than random chance (more here). That said, it's a question that merits further examination, since Schneider's defensive value is the main reason he has a job.

So, with that in mind, let's look at the overall numbers for ERAs with Schneider catching and not catching, based on the Hardball Times numbers for Catching ERA over the past five seasons:


Looks to me like there's not a significant effect teamwide in 2008, and even less of one over the long term, although individual seasons seem to show Schneider as a huge net positive in 2004 and a large negative one in 2006-07. Granted, the opposition-slugging data in the article may be more probative for the relievers than ERA, but even so, where are the OBPs? This suggests some cherry-picking of the data here, and honestly given that the source of the data is guys who work for agents, I have to wonder if they have an agenda in passing along the selection they are sending Rubin.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bartlett Off His Game

Rays Index looks at Jason Bartlett's defensive decline in 2008. (H/T Pinto). I find it kind of surprising that Bartlett's numbers were not good - the Rays as a team improved dramatically with the glove in 2008, by far the largest factor in their one-year improvement, and Bartlett was leading the AL in Zone Rating when I looked at the individual members of their defense in late May. ESPN no longer appears to carry Zone Ratings, but while his Zone Rating was .859 at the time, the Hardball Times has his Revised Zone Rating at .807 for the year, sixth among AL Shortstops; that would appear to support the interpretation that Bartlett's injuries took a toll on his defense over the year. It's also a testimony to the resilency of the Rays - Bartlett's glovework, like Eric Hinske's power bat, was a key factor in the Rays' early success that deserted them as the season went on, yet they kept plugging in different contributions from different people as the season ran on.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:16 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Rickey and Rice

So the Hall of Fame has inducted Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, and has yet again snubbed Mark McGwire, Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines.

My quick take:

1. As I explained in my column on the tablesetters, Henderson's a no-brainer, but Raines should be in too.

2. Rice, I would not have voted for but I regard him as right on the bubble and not a particular embarrassment to the Hall. I came down against Rice for the reasons set forth here (more on Andre Dawson, a comparable but much weaker candidate here) but I had previously supported Rice, who was a genuinely fearsome slugger for 12 years even adjusting for the context of his home park and his proclivity for GIDP.

3. Blyleven, of course, should be in; I stand by what I wrote 8 years ago on Blyleven, Morris and Tommy John.

4. McGwire belongs in the Hall, it's just too late in the day to set a standard for the Hall other than excellence on the field.

5. I discussed Alan Trammell here.

Here's the voting trends for the long-term candidates (Henderson got 94.8% of the vote, meaning 5.2% of the BBWAA is unfamiliar with Major League Baseball), I'll be updating the chart as I get the full tallies:

Six Year Voting Trend:

L. Smith42.336.638.845.039.843.344.5

Note that other than Mattingly dropping below Parker, the order of the candidates in terms of vote totals was unchanged (I left off Dale Murphy and Harold Baines, both of whom are trapped in the area between 5-15% of the vote). Tommy John now drops off the ballot after 15 years, and all the first-time candidates properly drop off for lack of the 5% minimum other than Henderson (David Cone was a HoF quality pitcher in a number of seasons, and Mo Vaughn in his prime was a comparable hitter to Rice, but neither had the kind of durability needed to make a serious Hall case for players of their quality).

Vote totals here, 2003-08 sources here; the Hall has a drop-down menu of all past votes here.

UPDATE: One final thought about Rice: the one thing I really hope is that the election of Rice is not used as precedent to put in Dawson.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:08 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
January 8, 2009
BASEBALL: Ahistorical Comment

Neil Best of Newsday informs us that Hall of Fame pitcher Addie Joss "became a sportswriter after he retired!" I find it hard to think that anyone who knows anything about Joss is unaware that he died in mid-career. Maybe there's a bizarre inside joke there I'm missing.

UPDATE: Well, we all make mistakes. Best has issued a correction, as noted in the comments here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:38 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Welcome to the Big Citi

Eric Simon at Amazin Avenue talks to Greg Rybarczyk about his theory that Citi Field is going to be a very hard place to hit home runs, which if true is terrible news for Delgado in particular (he's suffered enough from Shea) but great news, of course, for Johan Santana. (H/T) Assuming that Rybarczyk is right about the dimensions, it certainly won't be a hitter's haven like Citizen's Bank Park (on the Bill James Handbook's list of guys with the shortest average home run distance, the top six are three Phillies and three Astros), but besides altitude, which remains constant, the two biggest reasons for Shea being a pitcher's park were visibility and wind, and while the new park is more enclosed and appears to have better lighting, it's premature to guess exactly how those will play out. Still, that large power alley in right center (where Wright hits a lot of his opposite-field shots) and deep straightaway right field suggests a Mets future where you need a CF & RF with good range and not to rely on lefthanded power hitters unless they really specialize in pulling the ball straight down the line.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:36 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Joe Posnanski, the best working baseball writer, has a fine Hall of Fame column (although I seriously disagree with him on Tommy John, and kinda disagree on Grich and Trammell), with a marvelous digression about Barry Manilow and the songs of the 1980s. His earlier effort on the Hall was good too, and has some interesting historical walk data - basically, the recent high tide of walk rates in 1994-2000 in the AL (in the NL it was just 1999-2000) has largely receded to historical levels akin to those of the 1969-93 period (walks have always been less common in the NL, even before the DH; the all-time high was the AL in the late 40s, with the NL season high set in 1894).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:57 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 7, 2009
BASEBALL: Burrell and Abreu and More

Joe Sheehan looks at the corner outfield options in the free agent market, comparing those who have signed (Pat Burrell with the Rays for 2 years at $8 million per, Milton Bradley with the Cubs and Raul Ibanez with the Phillies, each for 3 years at $10 million per) to the guys still unsigned (Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn). Pretty much none of these guys can play much defense at this stage of their careers - Sheehan notes the Bill James/Fielding Bible +/- ratings and UZR have them all deep in the negatives except Bradley, who is too brittle to play the field but will have to anyway with the Cubs. I was surprised that Burrell is actually a year older than Bradley.

As a Mets fan, I have to say I was thrilled to see Burrell sign with the Rays; it will be worth a win or two a year just for the Mets to have him out of their division. The deal looks like a bargain for the Rays, who get him much cheaper than the more fragile Bradley or than Ibanez, who is five years older; Burrell brings power and patience balance, although I should note that despite a reputation as an aggressive, athletic team, the Rays were second in the AL in walks last year and fourth in homers.

Burrell has benefitted a lot from Citizens Bank Park, but his road numbers are not shabby. Here are the three-year road totals for the corner OF/1B who are free agents, were traded or got renewed this offseason, ranked by road OPS:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:45 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
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