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Baseball 2010 Archives

December 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Lack of Zack

I'm still getting my head around the Royals dealing Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to Milwaukee for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and two pitching prospects, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.

From Greinke's perspective, the deal is great news; he escapes the Sisyphean despair of the Royals (losing out, in the process, on the joys of playing with Jeff Francouer), joins a team that at least for now (pending the end of Prince Fielder's contract after the 2011 season) has some offense and another quality starter in Yovanni Gallardo, but Greinke also avoids testing his mental and emotional health - an issue in the past - against the pressures of a big market. It's obvious that the losing and hopelessness got to Greinke.

For the Royals, Escobar and Cain are both likely to improve the everyday lineup/defense, but Cain's .291/.366/.415 career line in the minors, combined with just adequate base stealing ability, and Escobar's disastrous .235/.288/.326 sophmore season in Milwaukee following a .293/.333/.377 career in the minors, suggests that neither should be regarded as a coming star; Cain will have an uphill battle to fill the shoes of David DeJesus, and it remains questionable if Escobar will ever be a league-average hitter. More here, here and here on how the pieces fit together.

From a business perspective, the deal is great news for Milwaukee, where ticket sales have spiked since the trade, but make you wonder how on earth the Royals are supposed to convince any fans to show up after dumping the team's lone major star a year removed from his Cy Young season. Honestly, this may be the last straw in convincing anybody who still doubted it that this franchise needs a completely fresh start, including - much as it pains me to imagine it - leaving KC.

But what's interesting to me most of all is what Greinke is really going to do now that he's in a new league and away from the train wreck of the Royals. Is he really the superstar we saw in 2009, or the simply good pitcher (more suited to be a #2 starter) of 2007, 2008 and 2010? Greinke's 2009 was spectacular, and it was the product of great pitching, not great defense. His BABIP the past four years has been steady - .317, .309, .307, .309 (unlike his 2004 rookie campaign, when a .269 BABIP made him look closer to ready than he was, fooling the Baseball Prospectus into projecting him as an immediate Cy Young candidate). If you use the crudest fielding-independent pitching measure (((BB+(4*HR))/K)*9), Greinke's 3.53 mark for 2009 is the 13th best among ERA qualifiers since 1977. That's even more impressive when you look at the other guys in the top 15 - Pedro Martinez (four times), Greg Maddux (3), Randy Johnson (3), Roger Clemens (2), Kevin Brown (1) and Dwight Gooden (1, in 1984, not 1985).

But was it nonetheless something of a fluke for it all to come together like that? Greinke in 2009 averaged 0.4 HR, 2.0 BB and 9.5 K per 9 innings, compared to a steady average for 2007-08 and 2010 of 0.8 HR, 2.4 BB and 7.8 K, very good numbers but nothing like his historic 2009. Brown's 1998 may be a good parallel - at age 33 he averaged a career-best 9.0 K/9, matched his career-best 0.3 HR/9, and had his second-best rate of 1.7 BB/9. As with Greinke, those numbers don't totally stick out - Brown had averaged 0.3 HR/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 7.0 K/9 the prior two years (including a slightly fluky 1.89 ERA in 1996), and would average 0.7 HR, 2.2 BB and 8.1 K the following three. He just never again pitched quite as well as he did that one year. That's my guess here - Greinke may have a better ERA than he did in 2010, and the move to the NL may help as well, but I'm skeptical that he can be a guy who consistently strikes out above a batter per inning, let alone with such perfect control and low HR rates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:45 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bert Belongs (the Saga Continues)

I've been a Bert Blyleven fan going way back, and since we're in Hall of Fame voting season, time to rehash here my prior writings on behalf of his Cooperstown case:

-My first Blyleven Hall of Fame column, from TEN years ago.

-Blyleven was MUCH better than many Hall of Fame pitchers.

-On whether to choose Blyleven or Koufax, if you could pick one at age 19 & hold their whole careers.

-How Blyleven outlasted most of the other top phenoms.

-In his wins, Blyleven was as good as all but a few of the best, and much better than Jack Morris.

-Blyleven places well on my list of High Quality Starts.

More fun facts:

-A graphic comparing Blyleven to the median Hall of Fame starting pitcher.

-A chart of pitchers with a career ERA+ of 112 or better and 4000+ innings pitched. Note that everybody on the list - other than recent 300-game winners who are Hall-bound (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Randy Johnson) - is in the Hall but Blyleven.

-Blyleven's the only eligible pitcher with 10 seasons of 200+ IP and an ERA+ of 120. Number 2 is Mullane & Hippo Vaughn with 7.

-Blyleven threw as many shutouts as Greg Maddux & Tom Glavine. Combined.

-So, you think Blyleven didn't win enough. Let's see you try to go 19-7 for the 1984 Cleveland Indians.

-14 eligible pitchers with 230+ wins are not in the Hall of Fame. Oddly, this includes all five European-born pitchers to win 100+ games. Those 5: Blyleven (287), Tony Mullane (284), Jim McCormick (265), Jack Quinn (247), Tommy Bond (234). (It's safe to say Jack Quinn will never lose the distinction of being the winningest pitcher born in Austria-Hungary.)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:12 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
December 8, 2010
BASEBALL: Hot Stove Roundup (NL East)


Thus far, the Mets have been playing it cautious, as befits a team in their position. The latest moves are a mixed bag: new backup catcher Ronny Paulino is probably a downgrade from Henry Blanco defensively, but Blanco's age and decaying bat made it important to bring in a younger backup who can hit a little (Paulino batted a weak but not completely punchless .265/.323/.384 his last two years in Florida) and step in to play every day in case anything happens to Josh Thole. Paulino made more sense than bringing in Russell Martin, who still needs another shot to play every day but shouldn't be taking time from Thole.

The other latest signing, DJ Carrasco, is a righthanded reliever with no particular strengths; either Alderson sees something that's not in his numbers, or he's just stockpiling arms.

Pedro Feliciano, who declined arbitration, will be a tougher call. Feliciano is undoubtedly valuable; over the past five years he's averaged 82 regular season appearances a year with a 3.09 ERA (ERA+ of 136), averaging 0.7 HR/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9. He was a bit off this season, his K rate down slightly to 8.0 but his HR rate also down to 0.1 (just 1 HR in 62.2 IP), but mainly scuffling with his control (4.3 BB/9, 3.4 if you leave out intentional passes). I'm not worried enough to want to dump him, but at age 34 and having averaged 89 appearances a year the last three years, there's enough mileage on Feliciano that he becomes a much less reliable investment if you have to outbid somebody who wants to throw a whole lot of money at him for a 3 or 4 year deal.

Then there's the rumor that the Mets may be shopping Carlos Beltran to Boston (presumably this would not end with him sharing an outfield with Mike Cameron again). This is a classic In Alderson We Trust deal - I'd be terrified if Omar Minaya was shopping Beltran when his market value is at its lowest ebb, but I'm not as worried that Alderson will get fleeced, and while I like Beltran and expect his bat back in 2011, he really is less valuable to the Mets if he's not back to his old self as a center fielder, his relationship with the organization isn't the best, and his contract's only got one year left anyway. Dealing him could open some more flexibility in the outfield.

(UPDATE: Scott Boras on Beltran: "His plan right now is to be a New York Met. He has a no-trade clause. If anything were brought to him I think it would depend on what the situation were." I think we can all translate what that means, given the source).


I know I tend to be biased against guys like Jayson Werth, a guy who was basically an unheralded backup outfielder until he seized an everyday job in August 2007 at age 28; there's no doubting he's been a star-caliber player the past three years and no rational reason why Werth can't follow the Raul Ibanez career path. But still, giving the man $126 million over 7 seasons from age 32-38 seems like madness. His road batting line the last three seasons is .270/.374/.481, making him 35th in the big leagues in slugging on the road over that period (minimum 600 PA) but 20th in OBP. That's a valuable commodity right now, combined with solid defense and baserunning, but the Nationals are a rebuilding team with more corner outfielders coming down the pike, and the odds that Werth will be anything but an albatross at that price by the fourth year of the deal, when he's a 35 year old first baseman, seems slim. Worse yet, while it appears the deal may have been made in part to mollify Ryan Zimmerman, who was bent out of shape about the departure of Adam Dunn, but when Zimmerman's deal is up in 2014, will the Werth contract let the Nationals spend the money they'll need to keep him?


You can't argue with the price of Dan Uggla (a sold-high Omar Infante and Mike Dunn), for a second baseman who came into the league as a prime power bat and added patience, hitting .264/.361/.493. I'd be more jealous of the Mets missing out on that deal, but it will still cost the Braves a lot of money to sign Uggla to a long-term deal and he may not really be a viable second baseman in his thirties (he'll be 31 next season). That's less of an issue for the Braves, since they're moving Martin Prado to the outfield but could move him back if he gets healthy and Uggla's glove fails.


If Javier Vazquez can't make it in Florida, he can't make it anywhere. His $7 million price tag is a risk for a guy who saw his velocity fall off last season at age 34, at least for a team as budget-conscious as the Marlins, but Vazquez is durable and a fly ball pitcher who should eat innings and could bounce back somewhat.

By contrast, if Vazquez is well-suited to a spacious park, John Buck, the Marlins' new free agent catcher, is not; the value of Buck's .271/.309/.487 batting line in 639 plate appearances the past two seasons is almost entirely derived from his 28 homers and 37 doubles, while his 166/29 K/BB ratio is a constant threat to send his average back to the .220s.

Lowered expectations would seem to be the theme of the Marlins' deals generally, as toolsy 24 year old underachiever Cameron Maybin was packed off to San Diego for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, two decent bullpen arms with no similar upside projections, and Andrew Miller and his 5.84 career ERA to the Red Sox for Dustin Richardson. Maybin and Miller may have reached their natural need-a-new-team stage in Florida, but that's two fewer guys with any hope for sudden improvement on a roster that could use some hope.

(Nothing really to add on the Phillies thus far besides the departure of Werth)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:26 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 1, 2010
BASEBALL: A Tale of Two Shortstops

2009 was the best of times and the worst of times for New York's star shortstops, Derek Jeter and Jose Reyes. Jeter had one of the best seasons of his storied career, batting .334/.406/.465 in 716 plate appearances (OPS+: 125, his second-highest since 2000) while stealing 30 bases in 35 attempts (only his fourth career 30-steal season, and first since 2002), batted .344/.432/.563 in the posteason as the Hated Yankees won their first World Championship since 2000, and even had a resurgent year in the field; while his raw range factors remained poor, he set a new career-best .986 fielding percentage and, using the Bill James Fielding Bible ratings, had a positive plus/minus (+6) and positive runs saved (+5) for the first time since the Fielding Bible started compiling its ratings in 2005 (over the prior four years his average +/- rating, the number of outs he made compared to an average shortstop fielding a similar number and mix of balls in play, had been -25). By Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating his range was positive for the first time since 2002. He finished third in the MVP voting. Fangraphs lists his Wins Above Replacement as 7.1, the second-best of his career.

Jose Reyes, by contrast, suffered a calf injury and then a season-ending torn hamstring as a part of the Book of Job-like disaster befalling the 2009 Mets. Reyes, who had averaged 158 games and 741 plate appearances the previous four seasons, appeared in just 36 games and was unavailable to start the 2010 season.

2010 was a bit of a snap back year for both, but with both ending below where they'd been entering 2009. For Jeter, age 36 proved a lot more unforgiving than 35. While leading the league in plate appearances (with 739), he batted .270/.340/.370 (OPS+ of 90, career lows in all four of those categories), and didn't bat above .300 or slug above .400 in any month after April; in 536 plate appearances from May 3 to September 10, Jeter batted an anemic .245/.318/.336, and he salvaged his batting average with a late-season hot streak only by slapping the ball without authority (.342/.436/.392 from September 12 to the end of the season, followed by .250/.286/.375 in the playoffs). Away from hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, Jeter batted .246/.317/.317 on the season.

Jeter's fielding regressed as well. He's getting more sure-handed - he set another career-best .989 fielding percentage and the +/- system rates him as +8 on balls hit right at him, his second best of the 2005-10 stretch - but his range is nonexistent, -17 overall due to a complete inability to cover ground to his right or left, and -13 runs saved. His raw range factor was the second-lowest of his career. UZR has him back in the negatives again, albeit not at the colossally incompetent levels of his 1999-2001 or 2005-07 seasons. Overall, Fangraphs rates his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 2.5, the lowest of his career. As with the excellence of Jeter's 2009, the various sophisticated stats are pretty much in agreement that Jeter was down across the board and had the worst year of his career.

As for Reyes, superficially, 2010 was a rebound year. After a delayed start to the season - he missed the first four games finishing up an abbreviated spring training and came back rusty, batting .210/.256/.280 through May 19 (the season's one-quarter mark), and missed time on four other occasions - Reyes batted .310/.346/.485 in 435 plate appearances the rest of the way, cleared 600 plate appearances (603 in 133 games) and finished at a respectable-looking .282/.321/.428.

Yet there were still signs that Reyes wasn't all the way back. While he hit with authority, he abandoned the patience he'd learned; from 2006-09 he'd drawn 54 walks per 600 plate appearances for a .355 OBP; in 2010, that dropped to 31. Perhaps he was just being aggressive to re-establish himself with the bat, but it's a bad sign for a leadoff man. He stole 30 basis, after averaging 64 steals a year before the leg injuries. While he returned with the same strong arm and his raw defensive stats were largely unchanged, the Fielding Bible rated him as just a hair below an average defensive SS in 2010 (a +/- of -1 and -1 runs saved) and also in 2008 (-2, and -2 runs saved), compared to excellent seasons in 2006-07 (+16 and +13, and +12 and +10 runs saved). Fangraphs UZR sees an even more dramatic trend, with Reyes falling from a highly-rated SS in 2007 to around average in 2008 and well below in 2010. While Citi Field is not a hitter's haven like the new Yankee Stadium, Reyes, too, is dependent on the home park's spacious power alleys, batting .291/.338/.453 at home, .273/.302/.403 away. Overall, Reyes rated in Fangraphs' view at 2.8 WAR compared to an average of 5.7 per year from 2006-08.

Which brings both New York teams to the question of what to do about their fan-favorite but now likely overrated shortstops, Jeter a free agent heading into his age 37 season, Reyes with one more year on his contract heading into his age 28 season. On the Yankee side, the team has looked at their declining, aging shortstop and - in light of his years of service, fan sentiment and the fact that he's 94 hits from becoming the first guy to get 3,000 in a Yankee uniform - reportedly offered him the extremely generous salary of $15 million a year for three years, ending at age 39. Jeter's response? He wants 6 years at $150 million, which means he'd be making $25 million a year through age 42, although supposedly he's flexible on the number of years and willing to consider an offer in the $22 million a year range. That would still make him just the sixth player in Major League Baseball earning more than $20 million per year, three of whom (Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabatha) are his fellow Yankees (the other two are Joe Mauer and the injured Johan Santana. Albert Pujols makes $16 million a year, Hanley Ramirez' contract will average $14.25 million a year from 2011-14).

As for Reyes, who will make $11 million next season, the Mets are reportedly shopping him around but not that likely to deal him this offseason unless they get a great package back with 3-4 players in it.

Meanwhile, if I can take the liberty of putting a third shortstop deal into the mix, the Rockies have just locked up Troy Tulowitzki for the next ten seasons. Tulowitzki is reportedly inking an extension variously reported as 7-years for $134 million or 6 years for $119 million - in either case, around $19 million a year - presumably depending how you count his current contract, which already runs through 2014; either way the extended deal runs through 2020, when he'll be 35. Tom Tango finds the dollar figure to be an eerily accurate valuation.

Tulo is doing everything Reyes and Jeter haven't; as a 25-year-old whose team always seems to win only when he's healthy and hitting and a natural leader, Tulowitzki had his second straight monster year with the bat this year, and also the glove; the Fielding Bible rates him at +11 and +16 the last two seasons (8 and 12 runs saved), the latter figures despite his one weakness, injuries (he missed 40 games in 2010, 61 in 2008). A far cry from his monster 2007 season with the glove (+35), but impressive nonetheless. (UZR rates him a very good SS in 2010, closer to average in 2009). Tulowitzki's obviously worth the money right now and just entering his prime, and with his strong arm he's a good bet to age well defensively, but the injuries are a huge risk for a contract that long.

To put the Yankees' and Mets' options and dilemmas in context, consider: only six shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances had an above-league-average year with the bat in 2010, by OPS+ (Tulowitzki, Rafael Furcal, Hanley, Stephen Drew, Reyes, and Jamey Carroll). Of those, Tulowitzki's now locked-up long term, Furcal is 32 and injury-prone, and Carroll is a 36 year old utilityman. If you go out to guys with 500 or more plate appearances over 2009-10, it's 11 shortstops - the same group (excluding Carroll), Jeter, Jason Bartlett, Juan Uribe, Asdrubal Cabrera, Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada. But Bartlett's had just one above-average season in 7 years in the big leagues, Scutaro one in nine seasons (and is under contract with the Red Sox for next season, when he'll be 35), Tejada is 37 and slowing down severely, Uribe and his .300 career OBP and career OPS+ of 85 just signed a 3-year, $21 million deal with the Dodgers...basically, unless you can get Stephen Drew from the Diamondbacks or pry loose a not-yet-established youngster like Starlin Castro, Ian Desmond or Elvis Andrus, your pickings for filling an open shortstop hole are going to be very slim.

In that context, the usual question - Does it make sense for the Yankees to re-sign Jeter at all? - takes on a different cast. A-Rod's hip injury eliminated the chance that he could slide over to short, so (1) the Yankees will need to fill the shortstop job and (2) if they do re-sign Jeter, he'll remain at the position no matter how badly he fields it. But it's still worth recalling that giving Jeter playing time at all could be a bad bet. You know how many shortstops age 37 and up have had an OPS+ of 100 or better in a season of 400+ plate appearances, in the game's entire history? Ten, of the 42 seasons in which somebody's given that much playing time to a shortstop that age, 22 of which were by Hall of Famers. And eight of those ten were the same two guys, Honus Wagner (who was the only player of his generation to lift weights, and thus had a leg up on the aging process in ways Jeter can't, plus he was a better hitter than Jeter) and Luke Appling, who was more of a slap hitter. The odds of Jeter, coming off a rough year, bouncing back substantially in 2011 aren't great; the odds of him being an above-average hitter for the next three years, let alone six, are poor. Add that to a substandard and declining fielder and only the critical lack of options - and the non-baseball value of Jeter at the box office - justifies bringing him back at any price, and that only barely. Which makes his desire to be one of baseball's highest-paid properties not just wrong but hilarious.

One reason this spectacle has collided so badly with Jeter's image is that Jeter, for all his career, has been lauded as the pinnacle of unselfishness, but it's easy to be unselfish when you are never, ever asked to give up anything - not money or fame, not glory or good press, not the team captaincy or his position afield. Only now is Jeter in a position where he should do what's best for the team - accept a short-term deal for reasonable money - rather than insist, for reasons that can only be adequately explained by an ego-driven desire to be paid like A-Rod, that he be compensated like a superstar rather than a declining commodity with his head barely above replacement level.

(I'm leaving aside here the other consideration: Jeter's contract helps set the scale for other players. Arguably, it's in the Yankees interest to ridiculously overpay their players to drive up the cost of competition, but at some point they are still a profit-making business, moreso I suspect with George gone.).

In years gone by, the Yankees could have used the traditional route for showing respect to an aging team leader with declining skills and made him a player-manager. But the organization hasn't had a player/manager since hiring Miller Huggins in 1917, and neither of the last two guys hired for the job fresh off their playing days (Yogi and Bob Shawkey) lasted more than a year, even though Yogi won the pennant. Jeter's not gonna unseat Joe Girardi, so he has to be paid purely as a player.

As for the Mets, dealing Reyes now may well be the best way to capitalize on his value in a time of scarcity. But it's a painful decision; Reyes and Wright are the homegrown face of the franchise, popular in the community. And more importantly, unless they can get one of the other good young shortstops, they run the risk of opening a hole of their own that can't be plugged (the internal options are of questionable value as shortstops, and the only thing worse than Ruben Tejada in the lineup is two Ruben Tejadas in the lineup).

The wild card, given that it looks like a deal of Reyes is unlikely, is what effect the rumors will have on him. Reyes is an emotional, upbeat player, but the flip side of that is that he's been known at times to get in a funk and not have his head in the game. I tend to think that rap is somewhat overstated, but the reality is that just like Beltran's Olerud-like expressionlessness, Reyes' highs and lows are part of his emotional skillset just as much as his speed and sometimes balky hamstrings are part of his physical skillset. People are what they are. My guess is that management has leaked word that they're shopping Reyes in part because they are hoping he'll respond well entering his walk year - not just with a good work ethic (which he's always had) but a renewed focus on plate discipline and work on his defensive positioning.

The Yankees seem likely to put a resolution on Jeter's contract status sooner rather than later, with more meetings in the past 24 hours. The Reyes situation may linger much longer, and only when the games are played will we see how he reacts.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
November 30, 2010
BASEBALL: The Pointed Shot

I'm no fan of the jurisprudence of now-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, but Stevens was in attendance at the 1932 World Series game where Babe Ruth hit his famous "called shot," and Stevens says Ruth definitely pointed to the stands with his bat before hitting it.

Score one for the legend.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Meet The New Boss

I can't say I'm any sort of excited over Terry Collins taking over as Mets manager. Collins' record as manager of the Astros and Angels, and even of the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, was that of a somewhat Buck-Showalter-like high pressure, do-it-my-way manager who helped build a contender out of a talented but scuffling team (in the Angels case, one rebounding from the trauma of 1995), but then suffered clubhouse strife, saw the team decay in his hands, and was replaced by a guy who got them over the hump. His last U.S. managing job, either in the majors or minors, was in 1999 (he's managed in Japan and the Chinese WBC team since then and worked as a minor league organizational guy with the Dodgers and Mets). As ESPN's Mark Simon points out, one of Collins' trademarks as a major league manager was his teams' September pennant race collapses, absolutely the last thing Mets fans want to hear. Collins was thought to be a frontrunner for the job throughout the interview process, and is plugged in with the Alderson/Beane crowd that now runs the organization, having been Paul DePodesta's apparent choice to take over as Dodgers manager until DePodesta - now with the Mets - was fired as GM.

So, let's summarize:

-Not a new guy from outside the organization
-Never won anything, and his teams improved after he left
-Poor September pennant race showings
-Difficulty relating to players

What could go wrong?

I trust Sandy Alderson's judgment in building rosters, and when you bring in a big name GM who knows what he's doing in the regard, the manager is less critical and it's important that he be in tune with the program, which Collins apparently is. That said, given the history of Alderson's comments about managers as "middle managers" and the shortcomings of the post-LaRussa A's in the postseason, I do wish that Alderson had learned from his time in the Marine Corps that middle managers still have an important role to play as emotional leaders, especially when managing young men. Marine NCOs are not less vital as teachers and motivators of young men just because the chain of command tells them where to go and what to do.

All that said, the conventional wisdom outlined above assumes that Collins, now 61, has neither matured nor learned from his earlier shortcomings and his decade to ponder what he got wrong. In fact, managers can and do grow over time. There are a number of managers who didn't really get it done until their second or third job - Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog, Bobby Valentine...the most recent and perhaps more apt examples would be Terry Francona and Joe Girardi. Francona in particular really seemed like a guy who grasped the job of leading his players better the second time around. Some of those guys were always good managers and just needed the horses, but others really did need to learn and mature into the job. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel would be from the world of football: Bill Belichick was a flop his first go-round with the Browns for reasons somewhat similar to Collins' earlier frustrations, but obviously he was better prepared to be the head coach when he went to New England.

It may also help that Collins knows the Mets' system inside and out and will, I assume, be eager to deploy those youngsters in the system who have impressed him. The Mets are, barring a real stroke of luck, not likely to be significant contenders in 2011, but this is not a complete rebuilding job either assuming the team holds its core of under-30 players and plays its cards right, the franchise may well be a contender again by 2012. Let's hope that by then Collins is able to avoid yet another replay of 2006-08.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:10 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2010
BASEBALL: Alderson Gets The Band Back Together

On the whole, excellent news to see the Mets' hiring of Sandy Alderson, the A's GM from 1983 to 1997, as the new GM. The decision came down to Alderson and recently-sacked Arizona GM Josh Byrnes, but Alderson's experience (also including stints as CEO of the Padres and in the MLB front office) won the day:

[T]he 40-year-old Byrnes impressed with his intelligence and enthusiasm. He would not have made it to the second round of interviews if not for his five years of experience as GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he could not approximate Alderson's stature as a GM. People close to the situation say that Byrnes and White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn - another impressive candidate who lacked the type of experience the Mets were seeking - very much wanted the Mets job.

I carefully followed the mentions of Hahn; while I don't know Rick especially well, I went to law school with him (Alderson is also a HLS grad) and he was in my first fantasy basketball league (as I recall, he didn't win the league, but I believe he finished well above my 9th or 10th place debacle). He's been second in command to Kenny Williams with the White Sox and should get a GM job sooner or later.

I can't argue with the selection of Alderson. Maybe at 63 he's not as much of a long-term investment as Byrnes, who also seems like a sharp guy, but his stature in the game should give him the most important thing a GM in this organization needs, the autonomy to run the team his way without micromanagement from Jeff Wilpon. And now it seems he's trying to put the old Moneyball band back together (other than Billy Beane), reaching out to Paul DePodesta and JP Ricciardi. While it's debatable whether either of those guys' track records as GMs warrant another shot at the top job, they were clearly both valuable parts of the team in Oakland, and Beane has missed what they brought to the table, especially in locating and developing prospects.

With Alderson, for the first time since the days of Frank Cashen I really have faith in the Mets management.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:02 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
October 27, 2010
BASEBALL: Ralph Kiner: An Appreciation

Before another baseball season goes by, it is time to appreciate Ralph Kiner, baseball announcer, on the occasion of today, his 88th birthday.

Oh, yes, I know the popular perception: Kiner was a Hall of Fame slugger, sure (averaged 37 homers, 102 RBI, 97 Runs, 101 walks and a .279/.398/.548 batting line for a 10-year career marooned among horrible teammates; that batting line holds up well under slightly more advanced analysis) and a World War II veteran (mainly as a stateside Naval aviator trainee), but he's sort of a comic figure as an announcer, notorious for his malapropisms. He spent years calling Curt Ford "Curt Flood," Barry Bonds "Bobby Bonds," referred to Cory Lidle as an ancestor of steamboat inventor Robert Fulton (he was a descendant) and declared, of Benito Santiago, "Santiago is Spanish for San Francisco." And he'd start stories and stop them abruptly, like when he announced without ever finishing the tale that "Biff Pocoroba's father was a spy." And those are just the ones I heard with my own ears. He was a member of the original Mets broadcasting crew in 1962, and for their first seventeen seasons the Mets' only announcers were Kiner, Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson; Murphy and Nelson, now both deceased, are in the Hall of Fame's broadcasters wing, Kiner is unlikely to join them there. These days, he shows up maybe once a week for an inning or three.

All that's true; I'm not here to tell you that Ralph Kiner should be considered the equal of Bob Murphy, a professional announcer and incurable optimist who was truly the voice of Mets fandom for more than four decades of Happy Recaps. But I am here to tell you that Ralph has given Mets fans a lot over his 49 seasons in the booth, and we should appreciate that for what it is before he's gone.

The first thing that's valuable about Ralph is simply how much the man has seen. He's been a part of every major event in Mets history until the past few years, and that's not easily replaced, not even by live-and-breathe-Mets diehards like Howie Rose. But it goes deeper: Ralph has seen an enormous amount of baseball history. He could do things like break down Eric Davis' swing in comparison to the swings of Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby. He learned the craft of hitting from Hank Greenberg, his mentor his second season in Pittsburgh, and knew the swings and approaches of the great hitters of the Thirties and Forties and everybody since. He'd break into a broadcast with a discussion of how he'd asked the greatest hitters alive, at a Hall of Fame event, what pitch was the toughest for them to hit, and recount in detail their answers. He also spent years talking about the nightmares he got from facing Ewell Blackwell, the fireballing sidearmer who took the NL by storm in 1947. Ralph didn't tell you how much he knew about the game, he just let it seep out.

For a while in the late 80s, the Mets had a feature, mainly focused on trivia questions, called "Ask Tim & Ralph." Questions would come in from viewers that would be posed to Kiner and broadcast partnerTim McCarver. It was generally assumed that McCarver, the author of "Baseball for Brain Surgeons" and the know-it-all's know-it-all, would rack up a humiliating margin of victory over Kiner, and a running tally was kept. But a funny thing happened: McCarver was terrible, to the point where I once saw him miss a question to which the answer was Tim McCarver. Whereas Ralph wasn't any sort of trivia whiz, but he remembered the things he'd seen happen or remembered from when they happened, and after so many decades in the game that was quite a lot of stuff, enough to give him a much more respectable showing. Eventually, the feature was discontinued.

Kiner's perspective is also somewhat unique. He was a union activist as a player; along with Robin Roberts and others, he was one of the prime movers in the early 50s for getting the players a pension plan. But he was also management, having worked as a GM in the Pacific Coast League in the late 50s (the team was the San Diego Padres, then a minor league affiliate of the Indians; Greenberg was the Indians GM at the time). He's stayed active in the Hall of Fame, and thus stayed in touch with his connections among the game's immortals.

The one thing Ralph has always cared about, and on which he has strong opinions, is hitting a baseball. Before the sabermetric revolution, Kiner was - perhaps in part out of partisanship for his own kind of hitter - an advocate for the school of thought that an offense is built around power hitters who wait for their pitch and drive it. He hated seeing home run hitters asked to bunt, consistent with his mantra from the 50s that "home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords," or "the Cadillacs are down at the end of the bat." (This is probably his most famous line, although Kiner is sometimes credited with the line that "two thirds of the earth's surface is covered by water and the other third is covered by Gary Maddox"; I'm not sure who coined that one but he did love to use it). Probably nothing in several decades of broadcasting upset him as much as the Walt Hriniak school of hitting; Ralph would go on and on about how Hriniak's approach, in which the hitter's hand flies off the bat during the follow-through, was death to power hitting. (Frank Thomas ultimately proved it was possible to be a great power hitter with a sort of modified Hriniak stance, but Thomas was the exception; many other of his disciples fell apart after a year or two). At least in his prime as an announcer, Ralph rarely missed a home run call, having hit so many himself.

Ralph's other longstanding job - I believe this is what won him an Emmy some years ago - was Kiner's Korner, the post-game interview show. You can catch up on some clips and interviews with SNY's Ted Berg here, here and here; in the last clip he talks about how Bing Crosby, a part-time owner of the Pirates when Ralph played there, once fixed him up on a date with a young Liz Taylor. Kiner's Korner had its rough moments in the early years, like his famous interview with an uncommunicative Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman:

Perhaps most famous was an interview on Kiner's Korner, the Mets post-game show. Host Ralph Kiner asked Choo Choo "What's your wife's name and what's she like?" Choo Choo replied "My wife's name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me, bub." Another time Kiner asked Clarence how he had gotten the name Choo Choo. "I don't know, Ralph." was the answer.

But for the most part, the show was easygoing, conventional interviews, and of course in my childhood in the 70s it had a fantastically cheesy set. (You can read more viewer reminisces here). Most everybody in the game was comfortable around Ralph. Here's Howie Rose (I transcribed this from a broadcast in 2008):

The closest I have ever seen Ralph come to getting angry in the years I have sat beside him in the booth - he smokes these cigars, and let me tell you, you can tell from the smell they are not cheap - was when somebody came into the booth in San Diego, and said, "Mr. Kiner, I'm sorry, it's a state ordinance that you have to put out that cigar." And Ralph turned around and said, "you know, this used to be a great state."

Happy Birthday, Ralph.

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October 26, 2010
BASEBALL: Diplomacy

Yankee fans probably shouldn't spit on Cliff Lee's wife if they want to sign him in the offseason (for fun, if you know a Hated Yankees fan and a Phillies phan, goad them into wagering on who will sign Lee. Both groups of fans have clearly already penciled him into their 2011 rotations). Of course, Lee could just sign with the Mets; everybody spits on the Mets.

Which gives me all the excuse I need to link to this.

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October 23, 2010
BASEBALL: The Absent Past

One of the interesting subplots in the Giants-Phillies series is the subplot that isn't: the teams' historic rivalry. They don't have one, not even some dusty forgotten past to resurrect. They've been in different divisions since 1969 and never faced each other in October, narrowly missing in 1993 when the 103-win Giants lost the last true pennant race to the Braves. And before that, despite being in the same league since 1883, they never managed to stage a memorable pennant chase. 2010 is only the third time they've both won 90 games in the same season, the others being 1993 and 1964. Between 1883 and 1968, they finished 1-2 in the league only twice, in 1913 (Giants 101 wins, Phillies 88) and 1917 (Giants 98 wins, Phillies 87), neither of which was a close race. Granted, the Giants in 1950 and 1964 were the third wheel in classic Phillies pennant races, but what's remembered is the Phils beating the Dodgers and Cardinals. For a really memorable rivalry, the best you can do is the Phillies' Harry Coveleski playing spoiler against McGraw's Giants in the legendary 1908 pennant race against the Cubs.

So, this one's been a long, long time coming.

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October 21, 2010

Fascinating chart from baseball-reference.com collecting all the walk-off hits in postseason history. A few notes:

-There were only 3 walk-off hits in the first 20 World Series (1903, 1905-23). First one? A Jimmy Sheckard single off Chief Bender, Game 4, 1910.

-There have only been two walkoff hits while trailing in a winner-take-all game: Francisco Cabrera off Stan Belinda in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, and Edgar Martinez off Jack McDowell in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Edgar's came in the 11th inning - I'd forgotten quite how dramatic that series was.

-The only player with 3 walkoff postseason hits is not that surprising: David Ortiz. The others with 2: Goose Goslin, Paul Blair, Bernie Williams, and Alfonso Soriano.

-Only pitchers to allow 2 postseason walkoff hits: Alejandro Pena, Dan Miceli, Dennis Eckersley, Jack Bentley, Jeff Reardon, Roberto Hernandez, Ron Perranoski, Steve Kline, Tom Niedenfeur, Tug McGraw.

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October 18, 2010
BASEBALL: Wagnerian Tragedy

When the Braves were eliminated from the NLDS, Aaron Gleeman took a look back at the remarkable career of Billy Wagner - which appears to be over - and I highly recommend it. A few additional facts:

-Wagner got better as he got older - his ERA over the last 8 seasons of his career, from age 31-38? 1.99. Among pitchers who pitched from age 31-38 and threw at least 100 innings, Wagner's ERA is the best, followed by Mariano Rivera (2.02), Three Finger Brown (2.19), Cy Young (2.21), and Eddie Plank (2.21). By ERA+, Wagner at 218 is second to Rivera (221), followed by Randy Johnson (178), Kevin Brown (158), Lefty Grove (156) and Trevor Hoffman (152). After his return from injury in 2009, Wagner averaged 13.8 K/9, 4.9 H/9 and a 1.48 ERA in his last 85 regular season innings.

-Perspective on Wagner's career ERA+ of 187 (i.e., 87% better than the league average, when adjusted for park effects): Rivera's the only other pitcher with a career ERA+ of 155 or better to throw 600 or more career innings (1150 to Wagner's 903; the only guys to throw more innings than Wagner with an ERA+ above 150 are Pedro Martinez and early 19th century pitcher Jim Devlin, and Devlin was banned from baseball for throwing games at age 28).

Wagner has thus earned his place very high on the list of the greatest of modern closers. How great? Let's compare him to Rivera, per 162 games over the years 1996-2010 (both pitched briefly in the 1995 regular season):


As Bill James once said, if you can stand next to Babe Ruth and not look ridiculous, you're doing awfully well, and while Wagner's performance and times lost to injury leave him a little short of Rivera, on the whole he hasn't been that far short. (I should run the full comparison to other top modern closers when I have a few more minutes to spare). A side note: Wagner was exclusively a starter in the minors, posting solid but unspectacular numbers; Rivera, in his first pro season, in 1990 at age 20 in rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, he posted an 0.17 ERA and allowed just 17 hits in 52 innings, mostly in relief; his MLB career got a late start because the Yankees then spent the next five years trying to turn him into a starting pitcher, with mostly success in the minors but not in 10 starts at the major league level.

But of course, what separates the two men is October, and a more dramatic contrast, you could not devise. Wagner's teams appeared in 31 postseason games over his career, Rivera (entering tonight) 148. Here's how they stack up, projecting their postseason records to 162 game schedules, although perhaps the simplest summary is that Rivera has allowed fewer homers (2) and earned runs (11) in 137.2 career postseason innings than Wagner (3 HR, 13 ER) in 11.2 career postseason innings:


In Rivera's case, he's raised his game in October to a level nobody else has ever matched, not just in quality but in carrying a workload essentially double what he does in the regular season; more than 10% of his career innings have come in the postseason. No other player in MLB history comes close to having as much of his value tied up in postseason games as Rivera, and it's hard to express how much better it makes your team to have a guy who throws the equivalent of 150 high-leverage innings with an 0.72 ERA against playoff teams.

Wagner suffers by that comparison, but he also suffers terribly by his own standards - especially the home runs (as you can see, his K rate was just fine in the postseason and his control significantly improved) - as well as the fact that his teams made it out of the LDS just once in seven tries, only to see Wagner get tagged by a game-winning So Taguchi homer in Game Two of the 2006 NLCS, get kicked around again in Game Six and watch from the sidelines as Aaron Heilman coughed up Yadier Molina's series-deciding homer in the ninth inning of Game Seven. Even as small as the sample size of 11.2 innings is, it hangs over the memory of Wagner's career. Which is why, as Rivera will and should waltz into Cooperstown, Wagner will likely get only a handful of votes, as grand a career as he had.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:33 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: For All The Marbles

Baseball-Reference.com has a fascinating chart of the pitchers who have started the most Game Seven-style do-or-die postseason games. Bob Gibson's still the only guy to start and win two of them (although he lost Game 7 in 1968). Roger Clemens has started the most (5), but it's kind of sad to see Jaret Wright tied for second. John Smoltz has the best ERA in deciding games (0.81); Blue Moon Odom is a deceptive second at 0.96, deceptive because he threw 5 innings in one start and 4.1 innings in the other. Ron Darling gets the honor of the worst Game Seven starter of all time (he got chased early in the 1986 World Series and clobbered in the 1988 NLCS, although in the latter case his fielders bore a lot of the blame; Darling didn't allow a walk, homer or flyball double in that game), followed by Andy Pettitte, who would seem to be slated to start Game Seven if the ALCS goes that far.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Unjinxable

The NY Daily News noted an interesting fact over the weekend: the Yankees all time are 7-0 in the ALCS when starting a series 1-1. That's just wildly improbable.

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October 12, 2010

Bobby Cox's managerial career ended with yet another disappointing exit from the postseason and the usual flurry of questions about his tactical decisions in October, a perennial topic dating back to the 1985 ALCS, when Dick Howser went righty-lefty-righty to expose Cox's platoon system, usher in a new age of relief specialists and, ultimately, deal the death blow to extensive up-and-down the lineup platoons. But by this point, nobody questions the overall record of the Dean Smith of baseball managers; like Dean Smith, maybe Cox only won the one championship but his teams were well-oiled contenders year in and year out against generation after generation of adversary.

(UPDATE: Yeah, I forgot that Dean Smith won two titles. I think the comparison is still apt.)

A quick list of just some of the players who played for Bobby Cox, a list that includes managers, front office guys, broadcasters, authors, Hall of Famers (current and future), NFL stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners, Rookies of the Year, druggies, racists, eccentrics, the deceased, the overachieving, the disappointing...Cox has seen it all:

Cito Gaston, Jim Bouton, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Al Hrabosky, Mike Lum, Chris Chambliss, Gaylord Perry, Buck Martinez, Dale Murray, Dave Stieb, Mickey Klutts, Al Oliver, Cliff Johnson, Cecil Fielder, Willie Aikens, Luis Leal, Lonnie Smith, Doug Sisk, Dale Murphy, Steve Avery, Marvin Freeman, Deion Sanders, Danny Heep, Vinny Castilla, Rick Mahler, Juan Berenguer, Jeff Reardon, Bill Pecota, Lonnie Smith, John Rocker, Steve Bedrosian, Fred McGriff, Jay Howell, Roberto Kelly, Mike Bielecki, Gregg Olson, Mike Sharperson, Mike Devereaux, Jason Schmidt, Luis Polonia, Rowland Office, Jeff Burroughs, Randall Simon, Paul Byrd, Ozzie Guillen, Dennis Martinez, Gerald Williams, Norm Charlton, Javy Lopez, Bret Boone, Reggie Sanders, Brian Jordan, BJ Surhoff, Scott Kamieniecki, Dave Martinez, Julio Franco, Steve Karsay, Bernard Gilkey, Gary Sheffield, Jaret Wright, Roberto Hernandez, Mike Hampton, Garth Iorg, JD Drew, Raul Mondesi, Todd Pratt, Rick Ankiel, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Jason Heyward.

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October 5, 2010
BASEBALL: Rays vs Rangers

More notes:

-Carlos Pena (.196/.325/.407, with 28 HR, 84 RBI on 95 hits, and 87 BB) has to be the first guy in the post-1920 era (i.e., when home runs became a significant part of offenses, rather than random curiosities) to lead a playoff team in homers while batting below .200. In fact, Mark McGwire in 2001 is the only other guy to hit 20 or more homers with a sub-.200 batting average for a playoff team, hitting 29 of them in 299 at bats, but that team had 37 homers from Albert Pujols, 30 from Jim Edmonds and 27 from JD Drew.

(Off topic of the Rays, but Mark Reynolds this season became the first player to hit 30 homers while batting below .200 (.198, 32 HR), and with 211 Ks was a major contributor to the D-Backs' ludicrous 1,529 strikeouts, 132 more than the prior record and 170 per lineup slot - the first team in MLB history to strike out more than once per lineup spot per game).

-The Rays are an unusual offensive team: third in the majors in runs despite being 8th in the AL in OPS, including 6th in OBP, and 8th in slugging and sixth in homers. But don't declare them a superior contact-hitting team: they finished 13th in the AL in batting average and first in strikeouts (the OBP was made up only by leading the league in walks), and they ran themselves into the fifth-most caught stealings in the AL. They didn't do it by bunting runners over, having a below-MLB average number of sac hits. How'd they do it? An MLB-best 172 steals helped (White Sox were second with 160), as did an MLB-best 57 sac flies (not an easy accomplishment when you lead the league in Ks and are in the middle of the pack in baserunners). But maybe the most staggering number: a MLB-low 92 GIDP, 32 below the MLB average; Carlos Pena, despite not being especially fast, hit into just two double plays all year, the fruits of a lot of strikeouts and fly balls. I'd be interested to see how many MLB teams have put more than 2,000 men on base - more than 1,500 of them on first - and hit into less than 100 double plays (the Cardinals did it in 1985). The team batting line of .266 /.368/.422 with men in scoring position undoubtedly helped too, compared to .275/.338/.431 with a man on first and .230/.313/.386 with the bases empty. Good baserunning and clutch hitting may be cliches that are rarely the keys to success, but for this team, that's the answer. Carl Crawford scored 47.2% of the times he was on base, fourth-best in the majors among players with 300 or more plate appearances (behind Tyler Colvin, Drew Stubbs and Cameron Maybin), and Sean Rodriguez scored 46% of the time. Crawford was also one of the Rays who was best with men in scoring position, as you can see here: he hit .359/.400/.538 with RISP; Matt Joyce hit .288/.444/.576, Pena hit .239/.411/.415, BJ Upton .234/.368/.402, Ben Zobrist .276/.358/.408. Neither Crawford nor Pena hit into a double play with men in scoring position all year. The team's propensity to draw walks with men in scoring position was definitely a contributor to its ability to concentrate a lot of runs out of a relatively few baserunners. The downside is, running the bases audaciously and hitting in the clutch are hard things to replicate in the postseason (Bill James looked at this historically in explaining the failure of the 1985 Cardinals, and subsequent teams like the 1987 Cards and the 2001 Mariners have reinforced the point).

-This insanely detailed look at the evolution of David Price's pitch selection and location is fascinating and helps show the development of a stud starter.

-James Shields is one of those rare pitchers who seems to constantly struggle to get a break on balls in play despite good K/BB numbers and not-terrible HR rates. He managed career-best K numbers this year (187 K, 8.3 per 9 IP with a still-good 2.3 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9, his career worst but usually survivable with a great K/BB ratio), but saw his opposing BABIP soar from .287 in 2007-08 to .311 in 2009 and .344 this year, even as the Rays had the second-best team defense on balls in play in the AL. And while his numbers were spoiled by the notorious 6 homer outing against the Jays August 7, his ERA - 2.99 through May 25 (BABIP .315, 5.07 K/BB) - was 6.01 over the 15 games before that fiasco (BABIP .327, 3.44 K/BB), and 5.88 in the ten starts after it (BABIP .407 3.47 K/BB), so it wasn't just one game, and his troubles with balls in play escalated as the season wore on. You can't be optimistic that, whatever the causes, that tailspin will get worked out overnight.

-Few things illustrate the current success of the Rays and the historical suffering of even good Rangers teams - recall, Texas is the only MLB team that's never won a playoff series - than Joaquin Benoit's 1.34 ERA with Tampa after posting a career 4.79 ERA in eight seasons in Texas. And Benoit didn't even learn a knuckleball the way RA Dickey did (5.72 ERA in Texas, 2.84 with Mets). As much as getting Rafael Soriano healthy at last, Benoit was a huge factor in this season's Tampa pen.

-In fact, the Rangers have only ever won one game in the postseason. Click here to see who the winning pitcher was.

-Vlad Guerrero rallied to hit .311/.351/.491 after September 1 following an ice-cold July and August, so his solid numbers this year weren't entirely the product of his early surge. He still hit far better at home than on the road. (Needless to say, both Vlad and Josh Hamilton need to be healthy and productive for this team to take out Tampa).

-People beat up on Elvis Andrus for having no power (15 doubles, 3 triples, no homers in 674 PA), but nobody should be surprised by this. Andrus is 21 and batted .257/.338/.343 in A ball in 2007, .295/.350/.367 in the Texas League in 2008. He's a fine fielder and baserunner and led the league in sac hits, but it's impressive that he's able to hit enough (.342 OBP) to avoid being a complete offensive liability. Maybe he'll be a decent hitter when he's 25 (his most-similar player according to Baseball-Reference.com is Alan Trammell), but for now, he is what he is.

-The Rangers actually do have a solid if unheralded rotation entering the postseason, with Cliff Lee's 3.98 ERA since joining the team actually the fourth-best behind CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter.

This series is tougher to predict. I see Tampa falling down somewhere along the lines, but not against the Rangers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:37 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Phillies vs Reds

For the first of the divisional series - the NLDS matchup between the Phillies and Reds - you can't fight the conventional wisdom that the Phillies have a heavy advantage from their starting three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. A couple thoughts and observations:

-Who ever thought these Phillies would enter a postseason series as the offensive underdogs, but relying on their pitching?

-I'm not gonna do a full analysis here, but Joey Votto has to be MVP, right? This is the textbook MVP season. Votto's team made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Votto plays the same position in the same division as the best player in baseball (Albert Pujols), and Votto's team beat Pujols' team in part because Votto had a better year (not that Pujols had that much of an off-year, leading the league in HR and RBI). You go toe to toe with the king and knock him off to give your team a surprise title, that's an MVP. (And while Votto plays in a good hitters' park, he also batted .349/.452/.641 on the road). That's even before you consider Votto's resume of clutch hitting, which while it may not be a year-to-year predictable talent is certainly a factor in awards for who helped the most in the games actually played this year. Votto hit .390/.486/.695 with a man on first, .369/.491/.638 with runners in scoring position, .370/.453/.685 in the late innings of close games, .375/.438/.806 in the 8th inning, .436/.522/.667 in the 9th inning, and .357/.438/.857 in extra innings.

-Sign of the times: the Reds scored 790 runs in 2010 and led the NL in scoring. In 2000, the average NL team scored 811 runs.

-Related note: only two Phillies topped 20 home runs this year.

-Bad timing: Since 1981, the Reds have finished first 5 times and second 7 times, but this will be just their third playoff appearance in that span; they got nothing from having the best record in the NL West in 1981 and the NL Central in 1994, and lost a 1-game playoff to Al Leiter and the Mets in 1999, the closest they've come to the Wild Card.

-Jay Bruce has defied predictions of imminent superstardom, but don't count him out just yet; he's still just 23 and has slugged .453, .470 and .493 his first three seasons, with this year's .281/.353/.493 line being the first time he's made contact and gotten on base enough to translate that power into being a productive regular. Only 5 of the 58 walks he drew in 573 plate appearances were intentional. Maybe he'll never be Adam Dunn with the bat, but steady growth is all Bruce needs to mature into a star.

-I'm not sure there's a more quietly underappreciated player in the game than Bronson Arroyo. No, he shouldn't be a #1 starter for a playoff team (as he was until the return of Ednison Volquez), but even as a slightly built pitcher, Arroyo's managed at least 32 starts and 200 innings six years running, and has averaged a 13-11 record, a 4.06 ERA (ERA+ of 110, adjusting for unfriendly parks), 210 innings, 33 starts, and 142 strikeouts to 60 walks over a 7-year period. That kind of durability and consistency is hard to replace.

-It seemed almost impossible for Roy Oswalt to avoid his first losing record this season, but a 7-1 mark with a 1.74 ERA with Philly did the trick. Oswalt finished with his best K rate since his rookie year. Talk about a guy who's glad to get back to a competitive team.

-Carlos Ruiz, through age 29: .242/.329/.359 (OPS+: 77). This season, age 31: .302/.400/.447. Ryan Madson, age 25-27: 6.9 K/9 (7.3 as a reliever). Age 28-29: 9.8 K/9. Ruiz is probably a fluke, but historically, that's how teams stay on top - somebody steps up.

-Traditionally, teams built around youth up the middle and at key defensive slots. But the Reds have 35-year-old Orlando Cabrera, well past his prime with the bat, at short and 34-year-old Ramon Hernandez behind the plate; also 35 year old Scott Rolen at third. The Phillies have used 34-year-old Placido Polanco at third, and to fill in at second. Raul Ibanez is the only other player in either lineup over 32.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
September 23, 2010
BASEBALL: Bing's Home Movie

The first complete footage of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series found in Bing Crosby's wine cellar.

I'd be kind of frustrated if I was the guy who'd written an entire book on that game using the radio tape and only now got to see the film.

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September 9, 2010

-Dave Rader in 1973 became the first player since intentional walks started being tabulated to have more intentional walks (23) than striekouts (22). The only other guy to do it: Barry Bonds 2002, 03 & 04 (3-yr tot: 249 IBB, 146 K).

-Hack Wilson in 156 home games in 1929-30 drove in 215 runs. His whole batting line: .383/.466/.753, 222 Hits, 105 Walks, 215 RBI, 150 R, 437 Total Bases, 58 HR.

-Speaking of home/road splits, Dazzy Vance from 1922 (when he returned to the majors and started his run of greatness; home/road splits aren't available before 1920) to the end of his career had a record of 109-62 (.637) with a 2.79 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and a 2.95 K/BB ratio at home, compared to 88-74 (.543) with a 3.71 ERA, 5.1 K/9 and a 1.97 K/BB ratio on the road. Which gives some credence to the theory of his contemporaries that Vance gained an advantage from pitching at Ebbets Field on days when the women in apartments behind the outfield would hang out their white laundry; Vance would bleach the sleeve of his pitching arm, so batters couldn't pick up the ball at all. Of course, even 5.1 K/9 was something like double the league average for his prime years.

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BASEBALL: Balls In Play

So, Baseball-Reference.com currently has the numbers for batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for all pitchers since 1950. Some interesting stuff digging through those numbers. First of all, the variances over entire careers are pretty substantial, enough to make you question the Voros McCracken thesis that BABIP has nothing to do with the pitcher. Granted, that thesis has been modified a good deal since it was first introduced, and it still remains ground-breakingly useful, if only because BABIP varies from year to year for individual pitchers so much more than other elements of pitching success or failure. And granted, that's before you consider the differences in eras, park effects and the defenses pitchers pitched in front of.

Speaking of which, while the lowest career BABIP among pitchers with 3000 or more innings pitched is Andy Messersmith (.243), the highest is Andy Pettite at .312, and Chuck Finley is the only other guy at or above .300 (.300 on the nose). What could account for Pettitte's historically poor defensive support? Well, among other things, he's the only guy on the list to have thrown 2500 or so innings with Derek Jeter at shortstop. Mike Mussina's BABIP as a Yankee: .307. Roger Clemens': .300. (Mariano Rivera: .263. The lesson, as always, is that Rivera's inhuman). Granted, BABIP have been up around the league in the past 15 years or so (Rick Reuschel was the worst until recently), but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Yankees' poor defense, especially up the middle, has hurt Pettitte (though not as much as their offense and bullpen have helped him).

A few other notes:

The lowest BABIP season since 1950, among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title: Dave McNally, 1968 (.203), which should not be surprising. The highest: Kevin Millwood, 2008 (.358), which is why he was such a great candidate to bounce back in 2009 (this year's another story). Also an unsurprising entry near the top is Jeff Robinson, who had the one really fluky year in 1988. Interestingly, the 6th lowest: Don Larsen 1956 (.216). And one guy who had generally worse (except for 1985-86) BABIP than the league: Dwight Gooden.

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Sidney Crosby goes deep. Very deep.

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September 1, 2010
BASEBALL: Ground Uncovered

Amazin Avenue has a look at Joaquin Arias' defensive stats:

The first thing that jumps out from initial analysis is that Arias has been called a shortstop by some pundits. He's probably not a shortstop in the major leagues. Total Zone has him as a -12 shortstop over 150 games, and that's in Triple-A. Perhaps he can move over and play in a pinch, but the Rangers have only used him there for 32 innings in his big league career, which has spanned around 475 innings. No shortstop here.

But the Mets have a need at second base with Luis Castillo letting balls through the five hole and Ruben Tejada swinging a limp noodle, so he could still be useful at that position. And a -10 shortstop can actually still be a scratch defender at second base, so defense shouldn't keep him off the field. His -7.7 UZR/150 only comes in 390 innings and is usually more reliable after three seasons of data - I think he can better that number with regular work.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:48 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Immortal Edmonds?

Aaron Gleeman notes that Jim Edmonds is talking about hanging it up, and that Edmonds really should get more serious consideration for the Hall of Fame:

I'm fairly certain Edmonds won't come close to getting the votes necessary for the Hall of Fame, but he has a very good case and is perhaps one of the most underrated players of this era. He's an eight-time Gold Glove winner with 391 career homers and a .902 lifetime OPS that ranks 10th all time among center fielders. Few people seem to recognize it, but Edmonds is likely one of the dozen best center fielders in baseball history.

I didn't rate Edmonds when I ran my look at similar players after the 2005 season and don't have time to do a full run of those numbers now, but I'd agree that he deserves a look; his issue is durability. If you isolate his 11-year prime from 1995-2005, you get an excellent hitter (.293/.388/.554, 141 OPS+) and fielder over enough years to make the core of a Hall of Fame career; quality-wise, my guess is he stacks up pretty well in the company of Earl Averill, Bernie Williams, Kirby Puckett, Larry Doby and Earle Combs, four of whom are already in Cooperstown on the basis of 9-10 year primes. But then look at their plate appearances per 162 scheduled games: 699 for Averill, 649 for Bernie, 678 for Puckett, 630 for Doby, 682 for Combs; Edmonds, at 560, is more in the league with Reggie Smith, Jimmy Wynn and Fred Lynn, all of whom were also Cooperstown-quality talents. The plate appearances largely reflect a lost 1999 season, although he also missed extensive time in 1996 and played fewer than 145 games in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2005, notching 600 plate appearances only five times in a 17-year career. Edmonds' per-162 line for 1995-2005, age 25-35: 135 games, 560 PA, 94 Runs, 88 RBI, 30 HR, only 8 GDP. Fairly or not, he's also lacking the extensive postseason heroics of guys like Bernie and Puckett, although his .274/.361/.513 line in the postseason, two pennants and a World Series ring (all with the Cardinals) aren't too shabby.

I'll need to look at his candidacy more closely down the line, but the lost time chips away at his credentials in a fairly substantial way. I know I've belabored this point, but far too much statistical analysis overlooks the value of in-season durability. Edmonds deserves a look and maybe on further reflection he belongs in, but he's going to be a borderline candidate, in my view.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:51 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)


Amazingly, the Mets managed not only to unload Jeff Francouer yesterday (were the Rangers looking at their lineup and thinking, "we really need a guy who makes more outs"?), but also to get an actual Major League baseball player in return, Joaquin Arias. In seriousness, the theory behind the deal seems to be to use Francouer as a platoon player:

About $897K remains on Francoeur's contract, but the Mets will pay most of that. The 26-year-old is hitting just .236/.293/.369 in 443 plate appearances, so he was a non-tender candidate on the Mets and remains one on the Rangers.

Like most right-handed hitters, Francoeur has markedly better numbers against left-handed pitching, both for his career (.820 OPS) and in 2010 (.767 OPS). David Murphy struggles against left-handers, so the Rangers needed a right-handed complement to Murphy, especially given Nelson Cruz's hamstring and Josh Hamilton's knee.

This sounds good, until you look a little closer. Francouer's line against lefties this season is .280/.351/.410, but his OBP drops to .321 if you exclude his intentional walks (5 of his 11 walks in 114 plate appearances against lefties have been intentional). He crushed lefties to the tune of .344/.356/.521 last season, but was helpless against them in 2008 (.210/.273/.307). In other words, the one thing he's being hired to do, he doesn't even do all that reliably (I will miss his throwing arm, though, which is genuinely marvelous).

As for Arias, he's also a limited player (as Dr. Manhattan pointed out to me, the Rangers must regret choosing Arias over Robinson Cano to include in the A-Rod/Soriano deal), but cheaper, a year younger than Francouer (25 to Frenchy's 26) and one of more immediate use to the Mets. His career batting line is .286/.322/.379 over 242 major league plate appearances (.291/.314/.393 away from Texas), .285/.317/.378 over nine minor league seasons, and he's stolen 28 bases per 162 games in the minors. That's not a great offensive asset, but a guy who can play second and short, hit .280 and steal some bases is at least worth something. Of more concern is the quality of his defense, which is likely why he was available and makes questionable whether he could take over Luis Castillo's job if Castillo is gone next year and Ruben Tejada continues to be miles from ready to hit major league pitching.

While I'm not over-optimistic about Arias, Francouer is addition by subtraction and a sign the team is serious about making some changes and not marrying its mistakes. Baby steps.

(H/T for the photo)

UPDATED for a great line: "if you praise Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora for their grittiness, while bashing Jose Reyes, you lose the right to complain about the team not winning."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:45 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
August 23, 2010
BASEBALL: That Meddling Catcher

Carl Crawford has reached base 5 times by catchers interference this season, 3 short of tying the single season record set by Roberto Kelly in 1992. A look at the records here.

The suspense is killing me, too.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 20, 2010

It seems like the past year or two we suddenly have fewer guys having big years with the bat after age 35. How true is that?

Here's one back of the envelope look: players age 35 and up having an OPS+ of 140 or higher (minimum 300 plate appearances, which isn't that much). 140 is a pretty high bar to cover only really outstanding seasons, and of course it's not the same as looking at who improved after age 35, which I did in this post on Barry Bonds' unprecedented improvement after 35. But it's another cut on the data to add to the picture.

Let's look first by decade at the number of players having such seasons:

1870s: 1
1880s: 7
1890s: 4
1900s: 3

1885 is the only season in the first four decades with more than one player qualifying. Not surprising that it starts out low - seasons were shorter before the mid-1880s, life expectancies were much shorter, and since professional baseball only began in 1869, you'd expect there to be few guys in their late 30s in the 1870s but a few of the founding generation hanging on a decade later.

1910s: 8
1920s: 14

Bill James has noted the spike in veterans in the 1920s and early 1930s as a symptom of the game's upswing in prosperity motivating more guys to work harder at staying in the game longer. And so we see 3 in 1911, 2 in 1912, only two more in the 1913-21 period, but then 3 in 1923, 3 in 1924, and 5 in 1925 before guys like Cobb and Speaker got too old.

1930s: 10

2 each in 1930, 1931 & 1932. Babe Ruth turned 35 in 1930.

1940s: 11

The war: 3 in 1944, 2 in 1945, then 2 in 1948.

1950s: 15

A steady 2 a year in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958. Ted Williams turned 35 in 1954, Stan Musial in 1956.

1960s: 6

You'd expect a bunch more than that with expansion, but the expanded strike zone among other things may have worked against older hitters. Only season with 2 was 1968 (Mays & Mantle).

1970s: 20

Boom. 2 in 1970, 6 in 1971, 2 in 1972, 3 in 1973, 2 each in 1974, 1975 & 1976, then just one between 1977-79. The 6 in 1971 remains the all-time high: Aaron, Mays, Frank Robinson, Clemente, Kaline and Norm Cash. Cash is the only one who looks out of place, but his career OPS+ was 139.

1980s: 16

None in the strike season, but 5 in 1982, 2 each in 1983, 1984, 1987 & 1988.

1990s: 13
2000s: 32

Just one between 1989-92, 5 between 1993 and 1996 (including 2 in 1995), but then we start to see the uptick: 3 in 1998, 4 in 1999, 5 in 2000, 4 in 2001, 3 in 2002, 4 in 2003, 5 in 2004, 1 in 2005, 3 in 2006, 4 in 2007, before petering out to 2 in 2008, 1 in 2009, and just one (Scott Rolen) at last check this year, although the season's not over yet (Jim Thome, who's already counted here for 2006 & 2007, is at a 160 OPS+ in 257 plate appearances and is playing pretty regularly).

Do we attribute all that to steroids? Certainly weight training and sports medicine are helping players age better, plus we had waves of expansion in 1993 and 1998, plus historically we seem to get more veteran hitters taking flight during good offensive times than bad. But the sharp uptick in the 1998-2007 period (35 guys in a decade) followed by the recent dropoff doesn't seem like it can be explained entirely by one or two outlying hitters or those other factors.

I'm not offering this as a systematic study of the issue, just another way of quantifying what we've all observed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:09 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
August 18, 2010
BASEBALL: You Like Pizza, Don't You?

Matthew Artus at Always Amazin' has a funny-yet-sad-because-it's-true look at a focus group conducted by the Mets to gauge fan perceptions of the park, the organization, etc.:

The consultant asked if the group felt it important to know the team's overall strategy, which induced responses that the fans would really like to just be under the impression that the team has any kind of meaningful strategy to execute.

On the day after the Mets players admitted to struggling with the agony of defeat and a lost season, the consultant successfully brought the frustrations of the Mets fan base to the surface. The group described the Mets as "pathetic," "hopeless," and "embarrassing." They struggled to justify paying the prices asked by the ticket office to see the debacle currently sporting the orange and blue. They worried about raising their kids as Mets fans for fear of introducing them to this kind of heartbreak.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Joe Kernan of the Post argues that the Wilpons understand the need for an overhaul and lays out a plan that makes a good deal of sense, including hiring Kevin Towers as GM and - perhaps more significantly - adding a head of baseball operations between the Wilpons and the GM. Given that a lot of the organization's problems are believed to emanate from Jeff Wilpon's involvement, that may well be advisable, but it's always hard for owners to get the message that they and their families are part of the problem.

I don't dislike Jerry Manuel as much as a lot of people do, and even Omar Minaya has his virtues (eg, the scrap heap claim of RA Dickey), but both of them obviously need to go, and the housecleaning equally obviously needs to go further to the dysfunctional nature of the organization, its tendency to get into disputes like the current effort to dock K-Rod's pay or the offseason battle with Carlos Beltran over his surgery. This is a shabbily run organization, and there's no reason it has to be.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:34 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 16, 2010

If you read only one thing this summer, make sure it's Joe Posnanski's feature in the latest Sports Illustrated (the magazine, not on the web as far as I can tell), on Stan Musial, the player, the man, most of all the sportsman in a sense we have too few of, and always have.

Statistically, there are too many amazing Musial numbers to recount; one of my favorites is that he finished in the top 5 in the league in batting average 17 times (top 5 in OPS 15 times, top ten 17 times). Musial was a great singles hitter (lifetime .331 average) and home run hitter (475 career homers left him sixth on the all-time list and second in NL history when he retired), but was even better known for his doubles and triples (Musial's third on the career doubles list with 725, and with 177 triples he's the only player to break in since 1925 to top 140; Lou Gehrig at 163 and Al Simmons at 149 are the only other lively-ball era players to approach that level and both started their careers two decades earlier). Here's Musial's average season over the 14-year period (not counting 1945, when he was in the Navy) from age 22 (1943) to 36 (1957), prorated to 162 team games played: 158 games, 706 plate appearances, 117 Runs, 111 RBI, 208 hits, 43 doubles, 12 triples, 28 homers, 90 walks, 34 K, 356 total bases, 13 GIDP, 5 steals in 7 tries, and a batting line of .341/.428/.585 (169 OPS+). His average season, for a decade and a half.

UPDATE from the comments: here's the web version.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:23 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
August 13, 2010
BASEBALL: High Quality Starts, Part II

Following up on my earlier post on High Quality Starts, here's the rest of the post: a look at HQS as a percentage of starts, as well as a percentage of wins (unsurprisingly, for good pitchers these constitute an outsize component of wins).

Now, read this chart with caution. First of all, guys who spent a lot of years in relief will have relief wins - Kenny Rogers is last on the list with HQS representing just 37.9% of his wins, and while that accurately reflects that Rogers generally needed help to win, it's a little exaggerated by his time as a reliever. Then again, Sandy Koufax tops the list with 73.3% of his wins being HQS, despite having worked heavily in relief for much of the late 1950s.

Second, here is where you really see the differences in era - Koufax and Rogers are pretty much at the far poles here, but there's a very large difference between the Sixties and the 00s, between Dodger Stadium and Arlington.

Third, bear in mind that some guys here - e.g., Pete Alexander - pitched parts of their careers before 1920 (1920 was the last year of Alexander's prime).

That said, I tip my hat to the guy who topped even Koufax for percentage of his starts that were HQS: Jim Palmer, who came the closest to notching a HQS in half his career starts. And the guy who was the first real surprise among the immortals atop the list, Mel Stottlemyre. Maddux rated lower than I'd expected, but he did start a huge number of games, many of them late in his career after he'd stopped really being Greg Maddux.

Note the list of 200-game winners who turned in a High Quality Start in less than a third of their career starts: Jamie Moyer, Jesse Haines, David Wells, Herb Pennock (not counting the 61 starts Pennock made before 1920), Bobo Newsom, Andy Pettitte, Red Ruffing, Mel Harder, Burleigh Grimes, Ted Lyons, Waite Hoyt, Charlie Hough, Charlie Root, Jim Kaat, Chuck Finley, Joe Niekro and Jerry Reuss. Mostly this is a list of bad Hall of Famers, but other than Kaat (who has no business in a Hall discussion despite a high career win total), Niekro and Reuss, they're also all from high-scoring eras. I'll have to revisit later the question of Pettitte as a deserving Hall of Famer.

(Tommy John and Bert Blyleven both come in the 36% area).

Chart below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:03 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: High Quality Starts

We all know the definition of a "quality start": 6 or more innings, 3 earned runs or less. While the run scoring environments and expectations about pitcher workloads have changed over the years, a pitcher who throws a quality start - even the bare minimum 3-in-6 - at least has given his team, in most circumstances, a fighting chance to win.

Baseball-Reference.com now has pitcher-game data going back to 1920, and I thought it would be interesting to raise the bar to high quality starts: games where the starter had earned a win with ordinary offensive and bullpen support. I picked 7 innings, 2 runs (earned or otherwise) or less. Throughout the lively ball era, that's generally been a good day's work for a starter, and we assume that a starter who does that will almost always take home a W, or has been the victim of hard luck if he doesn't.

Through Wednesday's action, 188 pitchers have thrown 100 or more High Quality Starts since 1920; 22 of those have thrown 200 HQS, 10 have thrown 250, and only two have thrown as many as 300 High Quality Starts. A full chart is below the fold. Some of the breakdowns may surprise you. The two pitchers to throw 300 High Quality Starts? #2 is unsurprising, Roger Clemens with 308. #1? Don Sutton, 310 of them. Sure, he was never dominant, he pitched in an ideal pitcher's park in a great time for pitchers, and he had a cheesy perm, but 310 times he went to the hill and earned a win, more than any other modern pitcher. If that doesn't explain for you why he's in the Hall of Fame, I'm not sure what will.

Only three eligible pitchers have thrown 200 or more HQS and are not in the Hall of Fame: Tommy John (257), Bert Blyleven (248) and Frank Tanana (204); Clemens, Maddux, Randy Johnson, Glavine, and Mussina aren't eligible yet. Honestly, I had expected the breakdowns here to feature Blyleven more prominently as a hard-luck guy, but he doesn't especially stick out. Still, 248 HQS is a heckuva credential. I'm marginally more impressed with John's Hall of Fame case from looking at these breakdowns, but still not sold on him. Dizzy Dean, whose career is sort of the mile marker for the shortest career you can have as a Hall of Fame starting pitcher, notched exactly 100 HQS, winning 91 of them out of his 230 career starts and 150 career wins (12 of Dean's career wins were in relief).

The largest number of wins from HQS? Warren Spahn, 249. Spahn is, not coincidentally, the only man in that time period to throw 200 complete games in which he allowed 2 runs or less, a staggering 266 of them, in which he went 242-24. You hang on that long in a well-pitched game, sooner or later either Hank Aaron or Eddie Mathews is going to bail you out.

The pitcher with the largest number of High Quality Starts in which he didn't earn a win? Greg Maddux, with 92, followed by Sutton (89), Nolan Ryan (82), Tom Seaver (78), John (76), and Clemens (74). If you pencil in a W for each of the times Maddux threw a HQS and got jobbed, you get 447 career wins. (Clemens would sit at 428, Sutton at 413, Spahn and Ryan at 406 each. Walter Johnson would have 433 and Grover Alexander 399 just if you added their HQS without a win from 1920 on).

The most losses in HQS? Robin Roberts with 45, followed by Ryan (41), Seaver and Gaylord Perry (40 each).

The pitcher most likely to notch a W when throwing a HQS? Lefty Gomez (93.5%), which makes sense when you have Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and either Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio hitting behind you; most of the top 10 is from the 1930s. Least likely? Slow-working Steve Trachsel (60.8%), followed by Ron Darling. The average pitcher among this sample won 75.4% of his HQS.

Most likely to lose a HQS? Dolf Luque (28.2%; Luque, the pride of Havana and my high school Spanish teacher's favorite pitcher, was 76-31 with an 0.98 ERA in 110 HQS); least likely, Tim Hudson (2.8%). The average was 11.9%. Hudson's record in his HQS? 142 starts, 104 wins, 4 losses, 34 no decisions. Probably the biggest factor for Hudson was just that a lot of his HQS came in the really high scoring early part of the last decade, but also it may help that even at his best, Hudson - when he was surrounded by Zito & Mulder - was rarely a guy that either team would rejigger their rotation around, so I suspect he never faced a disproportionate number of aces the way a Maddux or a Randy Johnson or a Koufax or a Seaver or a Whitey Ford (especially Ford) did. Note that the top 10 least likely to lose a HQS include David Wells, Gomez, Ron Guidry, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, and Eddie Lopat. I think you can see a trend. But #3 is Mike Hampton.

Most likely to get a no decision? Darling (24.8%), who of course was famous for this with the Mets (that's how Roger McDowell won 14 games in 1986 and Jesse Orosco 8). Least likely? Bob Lemon (0.7%), followed by Gomez and his teammate Red Ruffing. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lemon and Ruffing were both excellent hitting pitchers. The average? 12.7%.

The average for the sample is 8.41 IP per HQS, and a complete game in 57.3% of those; the latter in particular has declined sharply over time. Four early pitchers (Bucky Walters, George Uhle, Lefty Grove and Ted Lyons) averaged over 9 innings per HQS, while Johan Santana at 7.49 is the only pitcher below 7.5, and he'd be at 7.5 if you included yesterday. Uhle, a 1920s workhorse, also tops the field by completing 98% of his HQS; Santana at 9% is the only guy below 14%.

The best ERA in his HQS? Juan Marichal, 0.87. Worst? Brad Radke, 1.46. I didn't run an average but it's probably around 1.10.

Seven pitchers have thrown 10 or more HQS in the postseason since 1903: John Smoltz (14), Tom Glavine (14), Curt Schilling (13), Greg Maddux (13), Andy Pettitte (12), Orel Hershiser (10), and Whitey Ford (10). It says something about the modern postseason that Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux each have just one World Series ring to show for all those outstanding postseason starts.

I'll have a followup post looking further at HQS numbers. The full chart is below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:24 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
August 9, 2010
BASEBALL: Frenchy Must Go

OK, this is perhaps the most obvious post I've ever written, but it needs to be said: Jeff Francouer must go. The Mets have sufficiently faded from the division and Wild Card races - they're not out of either race yet, but they're in miracle-comeback territory - that it's no longer worth pretending that they are playing for 2010. Which means it's time to get rid of Jeff Francouer by any available means.

Not that Francouer is an asset in the short run, either. But he's the most visible symbol of the futility of a Mets lineup that, based on today's stats, has yet to field a lineup this season in which everyone in slots 1-8 had a slugging and on base percentage above .300. A .300/.300 line should be the barest minumum competence for any major league "hitter," yet the Mets have given extensive playing time to four batters with sub-.300 OBPs (Francouer, Rod Barajas, the just-released Alex Cora and Ruben Tejada) and three so punchless they can't slug .300 (Luis Castillo, Cora and Tejada). If you're keeping score at home, that's a catcher, three middle infielders...and an everyday right fielder who is slugging .385 and has hit .255/.300/.390 over 1668 plate appearances over the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, with more GIDP than HR over that period. Among players with 1600 or more plate appearances over that stretch, only Kevin Kouzmanoff and Billy Butler have scored fewer runs.

I've been a Francouer skeptic ever since he arrived in the NL in 2005 due to his total lack of plate patience, but early on, his talent was undeniable; he hit .300/.336/.549 in half a season as a 21-year-old, and after stumbling his first full season, batted .293/.338/.444 at age 23, cracking 40 doubles and doubling his walk rate.

How far has Francouer fallen? Here's the 10-most-comparable players' rest-of-career lines for him, from ages 22-25 - note the revival of hope at the end of last season, which undoubtedly will vanish this year:

22 (2006): .273/.350/.461 (120 OPS+)
23 (2007): .279/.357/.452 (116)
24 (2008): .273/.344/.436 (111)
25 (2009): .276/.355/.458 (118)

Even as late as early this season, I held a sliver of hope that, like Jose Guillen, the 26-year-old onetime first round draft pick who batted .311/.338/.498 after leaving Atlanta last season might put together a 1-3 year prime where he had just enough discipline at the plate for his talents to briefly shine through in his physical prime.

Not to be. Francouer has never learned, and still says he's just not comfortable taking pitches early in the count, which means he never sees strikes. Unlike last season and April of this year, he's not even hitting at Citi Field anymore, .222/.267/.375 on the season. He's still dangerous against lefthanders - .318/.379/.471 in 95 plate appearances this season, .300/.344/.485 career - and still has the great throwing arm, but at $4 million a year and eligible for arbitration, he's far too expensive to keep around just in a Tatis-style role. And starting a corner OF who hits .217/.266/.357 against righthanded pitching should be grounds for immediate termination.

I don't expect the Mets can get anything useful for Francouer, and perhaps they would have to eat so much of his salary it would hardly be worth it, but they're stuck paying him as is, so the only benefit to not trading him is the joy of watching him make outs. Yes, it may sound churlish to say that when he's hit three game-winning homers in a week, but sell high if you can, and if not, just cut the cord.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:27 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Stat of the Day

Roy Halladay is leading the league in complete games and shutouts for the third year in a row. Last pitcher to lead the league in both categories three years running? Grover Alexander 1915-17 (Walter Johnson also did it a few years earlier).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:55 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
August 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Ozzie Guillen Has Half A Point

Ozzie Guillen, known for his penchant for speaking first and maybe thinking later, contends that Japanese players are treated better than Latin players:

Guillen said it's unfair that Japanese players are assigned translators when they come to the U.S. to play pro ball, but Latinos are not. "Very bad. I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don't have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don't?" Guillen said Sunday before Chicago played the Oakland Athletics. "Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid ... go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is." Guillen, who is from Venezuela, said when he went to see his son, Oney, in class-A, the team had a translator for a Korean prospect who "made more money than the players." "And we had 17 Latinos and you know who the interpreter was? Oney. Why is that? Because we have Latino coaches? Because here he is? Why? I don't have the answer," Guillen said. "We're in the United States, we don't have to bring any coaches that speak Spanish to help anybody. You choose to come to this country and you better speak English."

We can all sympathize with Ozzie's concern over matters of language. Language is a sensitive issue, because people who can't talk to each other can't do much else. It's not somehow irrational or racist to be concerned about that. But this is a classic case of noticing a difference but misunderstanding why it exists. As is often the case, when you see such things, the law is at work behind it.

There are three different systems for developing you players:

(1) American players are, from an early stage, the property of American Major League teams. An exemption from antitrust law allows the teams to collude to assign players to the organization that drafts them, at cost to the players' liberty but benefitting the competitive balance of the league. Players drafted as teens have two choices: sign with one team, or go to college. (The ability to go to college is a more realistic prospect for some players than others, depending on their educational abilities and financial needs, among others.) This system makes American players cheaper to develop than they would be otherwise, plus of course American players have no additional layer of problems adjusting to living in the US, so while it restricts the liberty of the individual, it also benefits American players as a group.

(2) Latin American players are not subject to these rules - Latin players can sign with whatever team they want. They have greater freedom than American players to negotiate their own deals, and the best ones can have multiple teams competing for their services. The flip side is that, coming as many of them do from poor backgrounds, they tend to sign young and few go to college. Signing young keeps them competitive, cost-wise with American players who may be more well-established (less risky) but lack the same ability to negotiate their services on the open market.

(3) Japanese players are subject to a similar system to the U.S. system within Japan - for the first several years of their careers they are owned by a Japanese league team. To come to the U.S., such players must be purchased from their Japanese team, and they arrive in mid-career, as established players. (I believe a similar system is involved in purchasing Korean players, although they generally arrive younger).

What does this all mean? It means that teams invest a lot of money in the top Japanese players, but as you may have noticed, there are a lot less of them than there are Latin players. (Notice Ozzie's example: a team with 17 Latin players and one Korean). Latin players, being cheaper to acquire at an earlier stage of their development, are more numerous but less valued than the cream of the Japanese crop - but if you're a less talented Japanese player, you may simply never get the chance to play in the U.S. The Japanese player who never appears on our shores is invisible in this debate.

I'm not saying there's nothing else to Ozzie's point but the economics - there's also undoubtedly a cultural sense that it's easier to either learn English or get by without it if you come here from a nearby Latin country than from Asia, especially given the critical mass of Latinos already on the roster of almost any team in organized baseball. It's easy to see why Latin players may find it frustrating to not get the same special treatment as the rarer Japanese prospect, but I'd suggest that most of them would far rather play in the U.S., closer to home and with the company of many other Latino players who share some of their cultural background and outlook, than play in Japan, where there may be nobody else in the organization who speaks their language and where the cultural norms may be far more different from, say, Venezuela than playing on a team in Arizona or Florida.

But in any language, money talks.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:45 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
July 27, 2010

With Matt Garza giving Rays fans a no-hitter last night, it's high time I re-ran this list - the Mets, now in their 49th season in the National League, have still never had a no-hitter, but they've had plenty of pitchers who did:

Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters After Leaving The Mets:
Nolan Ryan (seven times, including for every other franchise he pitched for)
Tom Seaver
Mike Scott
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Hideo Nomo

*Octavio Dotel (1 inning in combined no-hitter)

Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters Before Coming To The Mets:
Warren Spahn (twice, albeit long before he was a Met)
Don Cardwell
Dock Ellis
John Candelaria
Bret Saberhagen
Kenny Rogers
Al Leiter
Hideo Nomo (got 'em on both ends)
Scott Erickson

**Pedro Martinez (9 perfect innings, but allowed hit in tenth; no longer officially counted as a no-hitter)
*Alejandro Pena (1 inning in combined no-hitter)
*Billy Wagner (1 inning in combined no-hitter - same one as Dotel)

If you count Pedro and leave out the relievers, that's 15 pitchers, 23 no-hitters, and one heck of a trivia question.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
July 13, 2010
BASEBALL: Unbossed

George Steinbrenner has died, at age 80, of a massive heart attack. The Boss' timing was perfect to the end: a week after his 80th birthday on July 4th, on the morning of the All-Star Game (with the baseball media all gathered in one place with nothing much to write about), which Joe Girardi will manage as the skipper of the defending champs (the 7th in the 37 years of Steinbrenner's tenure), just days after the passing of public address announcer Bob Sheppard at age 99 (Sheppard being one of the last links to the old, pre-George Yankees, having been the PA announcer since Mickey Mantle's rookie year, 1951), and less than a week removed from the LeBron James spectacle, which in its own way was the logical endpoint of a culture of free agency that George did as much to create in pro sports as anyone.

Steinbrenner's personality and legacy will be described as "complicated," which is sort of true although the pieces are easy enough to stitch together into a coherent whole with some effort. My all-time favorite line was from Luis Polonia in 1989: "Steinbrenner is only interested in one thing, and I don't know what it is." At times, when the Yankees weren't winning, it seemed that way. Nobody cared about winning more than Steinbrenner, and that of course was his greatest virtue as an owner; the Yankees made a lot of money under George, but he never saw the money as something to pocket separate and apart from winning, and as a fan there are few things you want more in your team owner. His signature move was signing Goose Gossage to be his closer immediately after Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award, an act of colossal baseball gluttony that turned out to be visionary; Sparky's arm gave out and he went, in Graig Nettles' words, "from Cy Young to Syonara in one year," while the Goose went on to have the prime of his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes.

But he cared about other things too, and even with winning, sometimes he cared too much. He was the only baseball owner you could turn into a Seinfeld character with minimal alteration. Until his old age and infirmities mellowed him, he meddled incessantly, firing managers like Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, bullying his players in public (recall him calling Jim Beattie "gutless" on the occasion of summarily demoting him to AA), breaking the rules and the law to dig dirt on Dave Winfield and help Richard Nixon get re-elected. He created an impossible atmosphere for developing young players - especially pitchers, catchers, shortstops who can take more time to learn their craft - and it's no accident that the two great Yankees teams of his tenure were built during his absences (the suspensions in the mid-70s over his conviction and in the early 90s over the Winfield affair), or that the second Yankees dynasty thrived because it never needed to replace its catcher, shortstop or closer again in George's lifetime.

There was also his love of the back page, even his beer commercials with Billy and Reggie, and of course his obsession with topping anything that would get publicity for the Mets, even in periods when the Mets were in deplorable shape. But while George thrived on publicity and controversy and abused his subordinates, he was also long on forgiveness and charity. Many famous grudges were held against Steinbrenner, most famously Yogi Berra (the Yankees of the late 80s, like the Mets of the late 70s and the Yankees of the late 60s, endured the lost decade that is one's penance for firing Yogi), but other than Winfield, who George perhaps hated the more because he remained under guaranteed contract, Steinbrenner was not a man to hold grudges; you could be fired today and rehired tomorrow. He loved giving second and third chances to guys with problems (Billy Martin, Steve Howe, Darry Strawberry, Dwight Gooden).

It's too late, in a sense, to object to the changes Steinbrenner wrought on the game; he was a force for change, and shaped how those changes in the game occurred and were perceived. Steinbrenner was the ideal man for his franchise (while the Yankees lost the aura of classy professionalism they'd had in the 50s, they were always first and foremost about domination), and his adopted city's tabloid culture (he could never have stayed in Cleveland). Love him or hate him, he was the kind of villain who made sports fun to follow and fun to write about, and the Yankees, yes, a fun team to hate. His controversies will pass; his monuments will be with us for some time.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2010
BASEBALL: Howard's Patience

One of the things that can be deceptive about walk rates is if a player - especially a slugger - has dramatic changes in his intentional walk rates year to year. So with Ryan Howard, who averaged 36 IBB per year in 2006-07, but fell off to 17 in 2008, 8 in 2009, and 6 in half a season this year. (Vlad Guerrero has had similar patterns). Here's Howard's walks per 600 plate appearances if you subtract IBB from both:

2005: 44
2006: 64
2007: 70
2008: 56
2009: 58
2010: 35

The pattern in Howard's total walk rates suggested he walked a lot in 2006 and 2007 and had big falloffs in 2008 and 2009, but as you can see, while Howard's non-intentional walk rate peaked in 2007, the trend from 2006 to 2009 was mostly consistent. Whereas this year, he really has fallen off dramatically, albeit covering that in his OBP by hitting .296.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:34 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: To The Utley

Want a measure of how valuable Chase Utley has been to the Phillies? Utley had had a 900 OPS and OPS+ of 125 or better, in 600 or more plate appearances, each of the past five consecutive years. Here's the list of guys to have a 125 OPS+ or better in three or more seasons total, in at least 500 PA, playing at least half their games at 2B, by number of seasons:

Eddie Collins

Nap Lajoie

Joe Morgan

Rogers Hornsby

Charlie Gehringer

Ryne Sandberg
Larry Doyle

Chase Utley
Jeff Kent
Craig Biggio
Roberto Alomar

Lou Whitaker
Jackie Robinson
Tony Lazzeri
Billy Herman
Bobby Grich
Joe Gordon
Bobby Doerr
Cupid Childs
Rod Carew

Frankie Frisch
Tom Daly

(Plus 19 guys who did it twice, including Hall of Famers Johnny Evers and Bid McPhee as well as two active players, Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano)

Doyle's the only one of the 6-years-and-up guys not in the Hall of Fame, and he was a bad glove man who played in the dead ball era. Utley could easily join that group if he returns healthy from his current injury without missing too much time. If you look at raw numbers of seasons of 900 OPS or better, the list is even narrower:






Bret Boone
Chuck Knoblauch
Buddy Myer

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:49 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 6, 2010
BLOG: And Now I'm Back, From Outer Banks

So, we just got back last night from a week plus vacation, mainly in Duck, in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Apologies for not setting up a guest blogger this time, I had anticipated doing a little blogging from vacation but we had the worst possible WiFi setup - I had internet access only up an observation tower on our rental house, and atop the tower it was too sunny to see the laptop screen by day and too dark to see the keys at night. (Also, I ended up doing more work on vacation than anticipated; it's been that kind of year). So, I was able to use Twitter from my Blackberry, but no blogging. Hopefully, regular blogging will return shortly.

We did get a chance, on the way out of town, to check out Kitty Hawk, where the second set* of Wright Brothers chose for their spot to make aviation history, and you only have to fly a kite in the Outer Banks to see why they picked the spot - the wind conditions are perfect for effortless flight. Of course, my 4-year-old was able to walk the distance of the first flight in almost the time it took the Wright Brothers to get there by airplane. The first flight wasn't that fast. But it is striking that it's one of the very few great moments in scientific and technological history that was captured for posterity in photographs. And of course, as befitted (befat?) men of that era, everyone involved wore neckties, topcoats and top hats.

On the trip back, we caught the July 4 Mets-Nationals game at Nationals Park. It's a nice place for a ballgame, with scarcely a bad seat in the house, notwithstanding that it was hot enough there Monday to melt the One Ring. I wouldn't say it's quite as attractive a venue as Citizens Bank or Citi Field, but it's very wide-open, and when Craig Stammen is pitching (he's in the rotation the day after Strasburg), you can have any seat in the house. We sat in the field-level right field seats (Section 135L), which were awesome until the heat became unbearable, then backed up to the covered seats at the top of the section.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Blog 2006-14 • | History | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 18, 2010
BASEBALL: Can't Handle The Truth

Stephen Strasburg: too much for human umpires to handle, says Pitch f/x.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:21 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
June 15, 2010

The Orioles are now 17 1/2 games out of fourth place. Eventually, the Blue Jays will drop some steam - until recently, the AL East had the four highest-scoring teams in MLB, but Toronto's fallen off to 8th now and sports an AL-worst .309 team OBP (then again, last year's hitting stars, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, are both below .300, and could offset a lot if they start hitting) - but the strength of that division has to come out of someone's hide, and the Orioles have drawn the short straw.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:59 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Year of the Slightly Better Pitcher

Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus looks at the numbers and finds progress, but not dramatic progress, in reducing scoring this season, mainly in the AL and principally resulting from increased strikeout rates and declining numbers of bases per hit.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:57 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 14, 2010
BASBALL: You Don't Walk Into Heaven

Baseball-Reference.com's blog looks back at at the recently deceased Oscar Azocar.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:50 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 9, 2010

Stephen Strasburg's debut could hardly have gone better, even taking account of the fact that he was facing the second-worst offensive team in the majors (only the Astros have scored slightly fewer runs per game than the Pirates). He looked like Danny Almonte blowing through overmatched Little Leaguers out there, and at times like Sidd Finch. Quick rundown of his run at the record book:

-14 Ks in a major league debut is one short of the record of 15 by Karl Spooner in 1954 and JR Richard in 1971. (Bob Feller struck out 15 in his first start, but he'd made relief appearances before that).

-Strasburg set a MLB record for fewest pitches required (94) to 14 Ks.

-Strasburg broke Johnny Cueto's two-year-old record for most Ks in a MLB debut (10) without issuing a walk. At least as far as I could find from baseball-reference.com, 7 rookie pitchers have struck out 14 or more batters in a game without a walk: Kerry Wood (20), Dwight Gooden (16, twice in the same month), Mark Prior (16), Roger Clemens (15), Gary Nolan (15) and now Strasburg (14). Bill James ran an analysis in the 1985 Abstract concluding that the chances of Clemens (4.32 rookie ERA) being a really good pitcher were high just on that one game alone, i.e., that random chance would have a very low probability of allowing a poor pitcher to strike out that many guys in one game with no walks.

On the downside, JR Richard threw his last game at 30, Spooner at 24, Prior at 25 (1-6, 7.21 ERA), Nolan at 29 (4-4, 6.09 ERA), Gooden from age 29 on was 40-31 with a 4.99 ERA, and Wood since age 28 has been 13-16 with a 4.04 ERA (with 58 saves) almost exclusively as a reliever. That's a lot of falling short of potential that only Clemens, in that group, reached (the jury's still out on Johnny Cueto and his 4.55 career ERA). The greater challenge for Strasburg, as with all young pitchers, will be staying healthy.

In short, in one start, Strasburg has amply demonstrated that he has the talent to be the real deal. Now, the hard part: I'd like to see him do it again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:46 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
June 8, 2010

Pete Rose, bat corker. This should not really surprise anyone at this point.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:09 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Strasmas Eve

Speaking of Posnanski, he has the definitive take on Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg is Christmas morning. (Tom Bridge offers up a Night Before Strasmas)

It's unlikely that Strasburg will be as revolutionary from the outset as Bob Feller. Between the dawn of the 4-ball-3-strike era in 1889 and 1935, only six pitchers struck out at least 8 batters per 9 innings in a season of 25 or more innings. Three of those six (28-year-old Norwegian-born Jimmy Wiggs with 37 K and 29 BB in 41.1 IP in 1905, 22-year-old Marty O'Toole with 34 K and 20 BB in 38 IP in 1911, and 25-year-old Roy Parmalee with 23 K and 14 BB in 25.1 IP in 1932) were essentially short-season flukes by wild pitchers who were never able to duplicate those strikeout rates over anything like a full season of innings. One was 26-year-old "won't you come home" Bill Bailey, whose career 4.2 K/9 rate more than doubled to 9.16 in 128.2 IP in the Federal League's inaugural 1914 season, but dropped to 4.9 the next year and never topped 3.1 again. The other two, at 8.39 and 8.20, were the peak seasons of baseball's true strikeout master to that point, Rube Waddell, at the peak of his powers at age 26-27.

Feller, age 17, struck out 76 batters in 62 innings in the American League, over 11 men per 9 innings. While allowing just one home run. His ERA was 3.34, although he walked 6.8 men per 9. His numbers after joining the rotation August 23 were even more staggering: 8 starts, a 2.67 ERA, 41 hits allowed, 70 K (11.67 per 9). This, in a league where the average pitcher struck out 3.3 men per 9, walked 4, had a 5.04 ERA and the average hitter batted .289/.363/.421. Feller made the cover of Time Magazine in April of the next year, before an Opening Day start in which he fanned 11 men in 6 innings (Feller made just two more appearances, in relief, before joining the rotation on July 4; he had to finish high school first). In his second season, in 148.2 IP, Feller struck out 150 men at age 18, becoming as a teen the only man after 1889 outside the Federal League to clear a strikeout per inning for more than 100 innings. In those first two seasons, he was a strikeout-inducing force such as the game had not seen. Feller's K rate settled down a bit after that, but in 1891.2 innings between age 17 and 27 (interrupted by joining the Navy for World War II, where he saw combat as a gun captain on the USS Alabama, and punctuated by a 1946 barnstorming tour facing a Satchel Paige-led Negro League team a year before the color line broke), he struck out 1640 batters and allowed just 71 home runs, posting a 2.96 ERA. Feller's 7.8 K/9 over that 11-year span dominated the majors; only two other pitchers with 1000 innings pitched over those years struck out more than 5.71 per 9 (Hal Newhouser at 6.26, Johnny Vander Meer at 6.06, and Newhouser racked up some of his biggest K numbers during the war). Feller, a physical marvel at 17, was the starting pitcher in the Cooperstown Classic old-timers game last year at 90, and plans to pitch again this year at 91.

It's also unlikely that Strasburg will be as dominant a phenom as Dwight Gooden. Gooden's then-record 11.39 K/9 as a 19-year-old in 1984 was just a warmup; his 1.53 ERA in 1985's 24-4 season was, relative to the league (ERA+ of 229), the 7th-best ERA to that point in a season of 200+ innings (it's 11th now, with the addition of two better seasons apiece by Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez), and is still the only ERA+ of 200 or better in a 200-inning season by a pitcher under age 22. And in raw terms, as I noted last week, if you include unearned runs he had the 4th fewest runs allowed per inning of all time, at 1.66 runs/9. At his peak, over 50 starts stretching from August 11, 1984 through May 6, 1986, Gooden was 37-5 with a 1.38 ERA (1.51 if you count unearned runs), completed half his starts and threw shutouts in almost a quarter, averaged 8.1 innings per start, 9.2 K per 9, 2.0 BB, and 0.38 HR.

Since 1900, the ten winningest pitchers through age 21, ERA+ of 120 or better (Feller & Gooden are still comfortably 1-2 if you include guys with lesser ERAs; Amos Rusie and Kid Nichols join if you go back to 1890):

1. Bob Feller: 82-41 (.667), 3.19 ERA (140 ERA+), 973 K (7.92 per 9)
2. Dwight Gooden: 58-19 (.753), 2.28 ERA (155 ERA+), 744 K (8.99 per 9)
3. Smoky Joe Wood: 47-38 (.553), 1.98 ERA (144 ERA+), 475 K (6.52 per 9)
4. Babe Ruth: 43-21 (.672), 2.11 ERA (132 ERA+), 285 K (4.55 per 9)
4T Bert Blyleven: 43-41 (.512), 2.86 ERA (122 ERA+), 587 K (7.24 per 9)
6. Fernando Valenzuela: 34-20 (.630), 2.62 ERA (132 ERA+), 395 K (7.18 per 9)
7. Don Drysdale: 34-27 (.557), 3.27 ERA (126 ERA+), 334 K (5.65 per 9)
7T Christy Mathewson: 34-37 (.479), 2.42 ERA (129 ERA+), 400 K (5.50 per 9)
9. Frank Tanana: 32-30 (.516), 2.88 ERA (120 ERA+), 471 K (7.67 per 9)
9T Walter Johnson: 32-48 (.400), 1.94 ERA (122 ERA+), 395 K (5.36 per 9)

Pretty good company, if you can reach it. But Strasburg doesn't need to be as revolutionary as Feller or as dominant as Gooden or as great over as long a career as Paige or Walter Johnson to deliver on enough of the hype to satisfy. There's still plenty of room in between to dream.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:05 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Class of 06-07

Joe Posnanski uses the occasion of the Jeff Suppan release to look back at the disastrous free agent class of 2006-07, baseball's equivalent of the subprime mortgage bubble. I wish I'd updated my own analysis in midstream of that free agent class. Patrick Sullivan has argued that JD Drew's at-first-glance-obscene contract is actually a bargain compared to the rest of his peers, and while I still think you wouldn't sign Drew for the same money today, he's right in light of the market conditions of that insane offseason.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:37 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 7, 2010
BASEBALL: Home Sweet Home

I've hit a few times on the Mets' bizarre run of dominance (22-9) at Citi Field. Some of the causes are explicable - Reyes, Pelfrey playing well at home - some are surprising (Jason Bay adjusting his game to a park where he struggles to hit home runs), and some are just freaky coincidence. Here's a few of the latter:

-Fernando Nieve hasn't allowed a run in 14 innings at home this year, compared to a 13.50 road ERA (18 runs in 12 innings). Nieve's career ERA at Citi Field: 1.13.

-Mets pitchers are batting .213/.226/.246 with 3 Runs, 4 RBI, 5 Sac Hits and 0 GIDP in 62 plate appearances at home this season.

-Fernando Tatis at home: .389/.476/.611.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 3, 2010
BASEBALL: The Kid Bids Adieu

The Galarraga controversy almost obscured yesterday's bigger news, the retirement of Ken Griffey jr. It was overdue by at least a month. One example: I had looked late last week at the ten players with the highest and lowest number of bases per hit in MLB with at least 100 plate appearances. You don't really want to be on either of these lists - a good hitter should have plenty of singles to go with the extra base hits - but the guys on the low list are almost all punchless slap hitters. The results?

Top 10: Jose Bautista, Paul Konerko, Nelson Cruz, Andruw Jones, Kelly Johnson, Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, David Ortiz, Aaron Hill, Seth Smith.

Bottom 10: Cesar Izturis, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Theriot, Ken Griffey, Juan Pierre, Elvis Andrus, Luis Castillo, Julio Borbon, Jason Kendall, Lou Marson.

Plus, he was batting .183; this is why Griffey was slugging .204. If his career was a horse, we would have shot it. He should have hung it up after 2009, when he batted .214 but was still mildly useful and hit well at home; returning made him a four-decade player, but did nothing else for anyone and resulted in the ignominious controversy over Griffey allegedly taking a nap when he was needed for pinch-hitting duties.

Anyway, memories of Griffey's 2010 can hopefully now be erased, and we can remember a guy who played the game with grace, joy, hard work and a world of talent. I've looked systematically before at Griffey's place among the Hall of Fame slugging outfielders/first basemen who had around a decade-long prime (I counted Griffey from age 20-30), and ranked him offensively a bit below Albert Belle, Paul Waner, Duke Snider, Jim Thome, Bill Terry, Fred McGriff, Sammy Sosa, and Dick Allen - granting that several of those guys are rated on 9 seasons to Griffey's 11, with only Waner (12) and Allen (11) matching the length of Griffey's prime, even with Billy Williams (who was a lesser hitter but more durable) and a bit ahead of Al Simmons, Chuck Klein, Joe Medwick, Earl Averill, Minnie Minoso and Goose Goslin. Griffey would have ranked higher except that his spectacular 1994 season, when he slugged .674 and was on pace to challenge Roger Maris, was confined to a short schedule, and he missed half the 1995 season with a broken hand.

Griffey's career went in stages. In 1989, he was a promising rookie, batting .264/.329/.420, impressive enough for a teenager in that era. In 1990-92, from age 20-22, he was truly The Kid: playing alongside his dad for the first two of those seasons, he hit his peak as a glove man (he won the Gold Glove every year of the 1990s) and hitter for average, but his power hadn't come in all the way yet, batting .311/.376/.513 (146 OPS+), averaging 36 doubles, 24 homers and 94 RBI per year. From 1993-2000, covering age 23-30 and including his first year in Cincinnati, he was a monster: adjusting for the shortened 1994-95 schedules, his average season was .294/.387/.606 (152 OPS+), 46 HR, 112 R, 122 RBI, 15 SB, and 82 BB. Griffey was mostly durable aside from the 1995 injury, leading the league in homers four times and surpassing 700 plate appearances three years in a row and 600 plate appearances every non-strike-shortened season between 1990 and 2000. He did benefit from a home-field advantage at the Kingdome, slugging .605 there for his career (.555 at Cinergy Field in his later years in Cincinnati); between 1991 and 2000, Griffey hit .312/.401/.636 at home, 4th in the majors in slugging at home, but .287/.371/.547 on the road, 11th in the majors in slugging on the road (number one? Mike Piazza, at .350/.414/.616).

Griffey was often referred to, even by me, as the best player in baseball in those years. He was near the top, and contra Bill James he was better than Craig Biggio, but he wasn't #1 even when you give him a leg up for his amazing glovework. Let's take a back of the envelope look. For the 1993-2000 period, there were many comparable hitters. If you rank them by OPS, there were 21 guys with a 900 or better OPS over those years and more than 4000 plate appearances. We can drop seven of those guys from direct comparison, as they had fewer than 4400 plate appearances to Griffey's 4896: Manny Ramirez, Thome, Gary Sheffield, Andres Galarraga, Juan Gonzalez, Chipper Jones, David Justice (McGwire falls even further short). Six more were below a 950 OPS to Griffey's 993, and thus also not directly comparable: Mo Vaughn, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Salmon, Sosa, Bernie Williams and John Olerud. Thus, our direct comparisons:

Barry Bonds .303/.439/.626 (1065 OPS, 4885 PA, 180 OPS+)
Frank Thomas .320/.437/.590 (1027, 5147 PA, 166 OPS+)
Jeff Bagwell .311/.428/.583 (1011 OPS, 5172 PA, 164 OPS+)
Edgar Martinez .325/.441/.562 (1003 OPS, 4445 PA, 158 OPS+)
Ken Griffey .294/.387/.606 (993 OPS, 4896 PA, 152 OPS+)
Mike Piazza .330/.394/.584 (978 OPS, 4546 PA, 157 OPS+)
Albert Belle .305/.385/.587 (972 OPS, 5266 PA, 150 OPS+)

Bonds, clearly, was the game's best player in that stretch; Griffey's .387 OBP was good, of course, but not in the same class with Bonds, Thomas, Bagwell or Edgar, and Bonds was also an excellent fielder and baserunner. At the other end, Belle was a slightly lesser hitter and not a comparable glove man to Griffey, so he clearly rates slightly below the Kid during that period (my column rated him higher with the bat, but it included Belle's 1991-92 and not 2000, although the other big difference was the edge Belle gets for durability).

The other four are closer calls. I'd rate Piazza ahead of Griffey, especially given his superior road numbers; Piazza being a passable catcher with the same bat was more valuable than Griffey being a great center fielder. I'd put Griffey ahead of Edgar, who missed a good deal more time and had zero defensive value. And when push comes to shove, I'd rather have Thomas and Bagwell's superior on-base skills than Griffey's better glove and speed, although it's close.

After 2000, Griffey became an overpaid half-time player; even with the hometown discount he accepted to go home to Cincinnati, his contract killed the small-market Reds, while the Mariners - perennially disappointing in the postseason in the Griffey era - won an AL-record and MLB-tying record 116 games in 2001 without him, albeit ending in another postseason bust. He was still good, batting .277/.363/.533 (129 OPS+) from age 31-35, but averaged just 89 games a year.

In 2006-07, Griffey got a bit healthier, but his skills started eroding, despite a valiant comeback effort in 2007; he batted .266/.348/.492 (110 OPS+) over those years, averaging 126 games a year. Then the power went; at age 38-39, drifting through three teams, he hit .234/.340/.418 (99 OPS+). This year, reduced to .184/.250/.204 (28 OPS+) in 108 plate appearances, he was cooked.

Griffey could be whiny and self-centered a bit, and his smile hid more turbulence than you might guess (he attempted suicide semi-seriously in high school), but on the whole he was a joy to watch and a fun prankster to have in a clubhouse, took tons of batting practice, and is generally regarded as one of the few sluggers of his era who is above suspicion of steroids. We may never see another Willie Mays, but Griffey was a pretty good facsimile for the modern fan, finishing with 630 homers. It was a great ride.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:59 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Past Imperfect

A few thoughts on last night's fiasco in Detroit, in which - if you missed it - Armando Galarraga missed a perfect game against the Indians when umpire Jim Joyce completely blew a call at first base (it wasn't even close) on what would have been the 27th out; Galarraga then calmly recorded another out and the game ended:

-I don't ever remember hearing Jim Joyce's name before, although he's been in the league for years. That, as well as his forthright admission that he blew the call, speaks well of him. Sometimes, even good umps make bad calls.

-Galarraga handled the whole situation with incredible class and grace, not even arguing the call and making a show of forgiving Joyce for the whole thing. (And if don't you think the umps around the league will remember that....)

-This will probably lead to MLB adopting the instant replay for more plays than just disputed home run calls. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of more game delays, but fixing really egregious errors when they happen is for the best.

-On the other hand, retroactively awarding Galarraga the out on the bad call, as so many sportswriters are now demanding, would be an awful idea. The Tigers didn't protest the game (I don't think, offhand, that a protest can be pursued by the winning team or on a safe/out call on the bases), so the one precedent (the 1983 pine tar game, when the league reversed an on-field decision to strip a home run from George Brett, requiring the game to be replayed from that point) doesn't provide any support. And doing so just to preserve one player's individual accomplishment is antithetical to the point of team sports, in which we celebrate individual achievements that are reached within the flow of the game. It's not as if the league ordinarily does anything about blown calls even when they decide pennant races or postseason serieses. Galarraga will be remembered as the guy who earned the distinction, and in a way that's close enough. Like Harvey Haddix, he'll go down in history in a way that Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden won't.

-Three perfect games in a month: amazing. Scoring's down a bit, but not nearly enough to account for that.

-I gotta add this: I definitely picked the right week to have just activated Galarraga on my fantasy team.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:41 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
June 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Throwing Zeros

If the season ended today, Ubaldo Jimenez would qualify for the ERA title with an 0.78 ERA. Pitching in Coors Field. Only three men in baseball history have thrown more innings in a season than Jimenez has already thrown (80.1) and finished with an ERA below 1.00: Dutch Leonard (0.96 ERA in 224.2 IP in 1914), Hall of Famer Tim Keefe (0.86 ERA in 105 innings as a rookie in 1880), and the immortal Ferdie Schupp (0.90 ERA in 140.1 innings as a swing man in 1916; more on the 1916 Giants here).

That's impressive, even with the caveat that one bad outing could double his ERA in a hurry. But even more impressive is the fact that Jimenez hasn't allowed an unearned run this season. Which puts him on pace for an even more exclusive club: if the season ended today, he'd be the only man ever to qualify for an ERA title allowing less than 1 run per 9 innings. Indeed, Rob Murphy in 1986 (50.1 IP, 0.72 ERA, no unearned runs) holds the current record for most innings in a season with a RA (ERA, but including unearned runs) below 1.00.

Here's the complete list of guys who qualified for an ERA title with an RA below 2.00, including at present both Jimenez and Jaime Garcia:

Ubaldo Jimenez2010260.780.7880.
Dutch Leonard1914220.961.36224.75.570.122.407.05
Bob Gibson1968321.121.45304.75.850.321.837.92
Walter Johnson1913251.141.46346.
Dwight Gooden1985201.531.66276.76.440.422.248.72
Greg Maddux1995291.631.67209.76.310.340.997.77
Jaime Garcia2010231.321.7661.36.750.153.967.48
Dean Chance1964231.651.81278.
Mordecai Brown1906291.041.82277.36.430.031.984.67
Pedro Martinez2000281.741.82217.05.310.711.3311.78
Carl Lundgren1907271.171.83207.05.650.004.003.65
Smoky Joe Wood1915251.491.83157.36.860.062.523.60
Mordecai Brown1908311.471.84312.
Luis Tiant1968271.601.85258.35.300.562.549.20
Fred Toney1915261.581.86222.76.470.042.954.37
Christy Mathewson1909281.141.86275.
Jack Coombs1910271.301.89353.06.320.002.935.71
Tom Seaver1971261.761.92286.36.600.571.929.08
Doc White1906271.521.93219.36.570.081.563.90
Pete Alexander1919321.721.95235.06.890.111.464.63
Christy Mathewson1908271.431.96390.76.470.120.975.97
Walter Johnson1918301.271.96326.06.650.061.934.47
Greg Maddux1994281.561.96202.06.680.181.386.95
Sandy Koufax1963271.881.97311.06.190.521.688.86
Mordecai Brown1907301.391.97233.06.950.081.554.13
Eddie Cicotte1917331.531.97346.76.390.051.823.89
Sandy Koufax1964281.741.98223.06.220.522.149.00

When you look at the RA column, it really underlines how historically amazing Leonard, Gibson and Walter Johnson were in their peak seasons. (Henry Thomas, in his excellent bio of Johnson, notes that Johnson got beat up the last day of the season in what was then a common practice of playing essentially a 'joke' game with guys playing out of position and whatnot). Gooden and Maddux, too. And of course, Pedro in 2000 and Maddux in 1994-95 are especially impressive when you consider the context they pitched in. (Fun facts about Pedro in 2000: one, the league allowed 5.28 runs/game; two, he had an 0.99 ERA through June 14; three, he was only 6-5 at home despite a 1.84 home ERA; four, 23 of the 44 runs scored off him were on home runs - he allowed 9.95 runs/9 on homers and 0.87 runs/9 otherwise). But if by some stroke of good fortune Jimenez was able to keep this up all year, he'd go straight to the head of the class for the best-pitched season ever (setting aside the debate over how heavily to weight workloads compared to a guy like Johnson).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:53 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 27, 2010
BASEBALL: Country Joe

Does Joe West have a conflict of interest?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:23 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
May 26, 2010
BASEBALL: Around The Horn

Mets: The Mets' season has had a Perils of Pauline character to it, with the team kicking into gear whenever Jerry Manuel is closest to getting fired. Manuel's the classic replacement-level manager - he brings some things to the table and takes some things off the table, and probably any number of other managers would have the same results - so I still think he's not the core of the problem and not worth replacing unless you have a better candidate lined up. Of course, much of the inconsistency is just another way of saying that (1) this is basically an around-.500 team that could win 85-88 games if it gets some breaks and lose 90 if a bunch of things go badly, (2) the Mets are 16-9 at Citi Field, 6-14 on the road, (3) they've played 16 one-run games, a very large number, and gone 5-11 in them. The home/road split is more pronounced and less random than quality of opposition; they're 14-4 against the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Braves and Cubs, scoring 4.5 runs/game and allowing 2.8, but 6-15 against the Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Reds, scoring 4.2 runs/game and allowing 4.6. The biggest difference? The Mets have allowed 13 homers at home (0.52 per 9), 27 on the road (1.34 per 9). They've also batted .268/.350/.417 at home, .223/.287/.351 on the road, including 19% more doubles per plate appearance at home, 38% more walks, and three times as many triples.

Jose Reyes' big game last night was an especially encouraging sign, along with the hot streak that suddenly has Jason Bay hitting .307/.395/.472, second on the team in OPS to Ike Davis. And Japanese import Hisanori Takahashi has been a revelation. The bad news: Jeff Francouer, batting .457/.535/.857 entering the 20-inning marathon in St. Louis, has hit .137/.186/.214 in 129 plate appearances since then, dashing hopes that he might have a Jose Guillen-like prime in him. Fortunately for Frenchy, Carlos Beltran's still out, Fernando Martinez is batting .244/.300/.378 at Buffalo, Gary Matthews flopped to the tune of .182/.250/.218, and Nick Evans has been buried at AA Binghamton (where he's hitting .284/.360/.518) after a disastrous 2009. But there's still Chris Carter, 27 years old and a career .307/.380/.514 hitter in the minors; Carter's mostly a first baseman, but he's played some outfield, and can his glovework out there be any worse than Francouer's bat has been?

Mariners: Ichiro is on a pace for 236 hits and 33 RBI. If you're wondering, that would tie Richie Ashburn for the second-lowest RBI total by a guy with 200 hits (even Willie Keeler managed 44 RBI the year he hit 207 singles and 9 extra base hits), second to Lloyd Waner, who drove in just 27 runs as a rookie in 1927 on 223 hits. But at least Waner scored 133 runs; Ichiro's on a pace for (a team-leading) 77. The Mariners have gotten just nothing from Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman or their catchers, plus of course Ken Griffey has been playing as if he's already encased in bronze. Figgins has been possibly baseball's second-biggest disappointment this season, after Grady Sizemore.

For all that, the Mariners' defense is still above average, which makes this even more bizarre: in 36.2 innings over 5 starts, Cliff Lee is 2-2 with a 3.44 ERA - despite the most staggering perhiperal stat line I have ever seen: no HR, one walk and 32 strikeouts. If you're wondering, only two pitchers since 1883 have averaged less than 0.5 HR and 0.5 BB per 9 in a season of 30 or more innings - a rookie pitcher named Johnny Podgajny for the 1940 Phillies (2.83 ERA, 35 IP, 0 HR, 1 BB, 12 K; he would finish his career with a 0.78 K/BB ratio) and Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (0.61 ERA, 0.2 HR, 0.5 BB, 9.0 K).

Rangers: Vladimir Guerrero, home: .385/.412/.688 road: .258/.299/.323. Yeah, moving to Texas was a good career move. There is definitely still room on the Justin Smoak bandwagon - Smoak still looks like a promising prospect, but strike yet another one against overhyping rookies without adequate consideration of the adjustment period they sometimes take.

Astros: Cutting Kaz Matsui is the first step, and as I noted before the season, it makes all the sense in the world for this team to deal Oswalt, Berkman and Lee if they can get value in return. Unfortunately, Lee in particular has been doing everything possible to ensure he and his enormous contract have no trade value (10 extra base hits, 9 GIDP). Oswalt has been pitching some of the best baseball of his career (8.9 K, 2.4 BB per 9); he's 32 and has some real miles on him (3.81 ERA the last two years), but he's been in the league a decade and never had a losing record or worse-than-league ERA. He's worth an investment for a contender.

Angels: Brandon Wood is looking increasingly like the next Brad Komminsk or Mike Stenhouse, a guy who was the real deal in the minors but just can't get it done in the big leagues. Hopefully, he'll eventually turn it on, as guys like Bill Robinson and Gorman Thomas did after repeated flops. Sooner or later, you stay healthy through enough opportunities, talent will out. Then there's Howie Kendrick, who looks more like the next Brent Gates: there may yet be a batting title in there somewhere, but for now it's time to admit that Kendrick has been playing for 5 years and has a career .328 OBP.

Phillies: The league-wide doubles average is down a bit from April, but it's still close enough to historic highs to make it worth watching to see if Jayson Werth can make a real run at Earl Webb's 79-year-old record of 67. Somebody gets ahead of Webb's pace every year in the early going, but Werth is way ahead now, an 83-doubles pace (22 in 43 games).

Twins: For once, he'd deserve it: if you were giving out MVPs right now, hands down it would go in the AL to Justin Morneau, batting .383/.497/.701. NL is a tougher nut: Andre Ethier's batting .392/.457/.744 with 38 RBI in 33 games and is second in total bases to Werth, but Chase Utley is a second baseman who's played in 24% more games batting .307/.429/.587, albeit in a bandbox.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 20, 2010
BASEBALL: Moving Baserunners

It's an article of faith among traditional sportswriters and others of that mindset that winning teams are the ones who move baserunners and hit in the clutch. Lots and lots of empirical data says otherwise: the teams that win may do those things, but the better indicator of winning offensive teams is getting men on base in the first place, followed by hitting for power.

The Tampa Bay Rays are pressing the limits of that observation. The team is 29-11 despite several gaping holes in their lineup (Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, BJ Upton, Jason Bartlett and Pat Burrell are hitting a combined .213/.300/.337 in 671 plate appearances). Overall, the Rays are 6th in the AL in slugging and 7th in batting and OBP - yet they're second in runs scored, thanks to a team batting line of .304/.380/.484 with runners in scoring position (compared to .280/.343/.435 with a man on first and a pathetic .225/.306/.356 with the bases empty), plus excellent team speed that has them tied for the league lead in steals and next to last in GIDP. Pena is batting .250/.396/.525 with RISP, Bartlett .400/.447/.629, Evan Longoria .346/.393/.558.

The speed will continue to help them, as will their excellent pitching (2d in AL in K/BB ratio) and team defense (AL-best 71.7% of balls in play turned into outs) but that level of teamwide clutch overachievement is unsustainable. The 2001 Mariners, one of the best clutch teams in recent memory, batted .295/.385/.454 with RISP compared to .274/.340/.424 with the bases empty (as well as a ludicrous .320/.377/.494 with men on first), an impressive showing but nothing on the order of what Tampa is doing. I'd love to see a historical analysis of the widest spilts in teamwide lines between RISP and all other situations or bases empty, but I guarantee it would show no splits of this magnitude sustained over a full season.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 15, 2010
BASEBALL: Rapid Robin

Meant to link to this earlier - Chris Jaffe writes an obituary for Robin Roberts, as a pitcher, that hits on the key point: Roberts' incredible workloads. When I was working with translated pitching stats some years back, there were four guys who really stood out for their workloads at their peak, relative to the years they pitched in: Roberts in the early 50s, Bob Feller in the late 30s to the season of his return from the war, Phil Niekro in the late 70s, and John Clarkson in the mid-late 1880s. But Niekro was a knuckleballer, and Clarkson was just doing what everybody else had been doing 5 years earlier; only 12 pitchers between 1924 and 1962 threw 320 innings in a season, and three of those were Roberts in consecutive seasons (in that 3-year stretch he averaged 338 innings and 31 complete games), and three others were Feller, albeit separated by four years in which Feller didn't pitch due to the war. Roberts tossed 300 innings six years in a row and less than 3 innings short of a seventh, at a time when the #2 workhorse in the game (Warren Spahn) was miles behind.

Roberts in his prime was sort of like Mariano Rivera throwing 300 innings a year, in that he threw so hard with so much movement and control that he scarcely needed a breaking ball (obviously, he was more homer-prone - Jamie Moyer may soon break his career record of 505 homers allowed, but it's a record that has withstood many challenges). Like Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige and Lefty Grove, all of whom that was true of to some extent at their peaks, he made heavier use of a curve as he got older (Paige reportedly didn't really develop his curve until he was pitching in the International League around age 50 and left the majors). As with Johnson and Paige, such heavy reliance on the fastball undoubtedly contributed to his ability to carry fantastic workloads with minimal stress.

Roberts, by his telling, became an elite pitcher in an instant and lost it as quickly. In his autobiography, My Life in Baseball, he explains that his mechanics just fell into place one day as a college pitcher in the summer of 1947, giving him great velocity with little stress on his arm; a year later, he was a major league pitcher, and he continued on carrying those eye-popping workloads until near the end of the 1955 season, his sixth in a row of 20 wins and 300 innings, when his manager, Mayo Smith, in a quest to get the team to finish at .500, pushed him too hard. Roberts threw 10 innings on August 14 against the Dodgers, albeit throwing just 123 pitches (pitch counts in that era are available only for Dodgers games, as the team tracked them (while Roberts was economical with his pitches, he cracked the 150 pitch mark twice in 1953, once in 1954, once in 1957, and once in 1958, including a 12-inning 190-pitch monstrosity on Opening Day in 1957). He threw 9 innings (90 pitches) against the Dodgers August 19, to run his record to 20-9 with a 2.83 ERA. Then, the next day - August 20, 1955 - Smith had Roberts come back to relieve, getting the save in a 3-2 win. He faced only one batter - Don Newcombe, pinch hitting - and got him. Then, Smith had Roberts warm up the next day as well, but didn't use him. After his next start, on August 25, Roberts couldn't straighten his arm, and the rest of the season he went 3-5 with a 5.37 ERA and just 17 K in 57 innings, beginning a long string of sore-armed seasons. The man who had dominated National League starting pitching for six seasons would go 74-97 with a 4.16 ERA (94 ERA+) and barely more than a strikeout every other inning from 1956-61 until the 34-year-old Roberts bottomed out at 1-10, 5.85 ERA in 1961, got cut by the Phillies and cut by the Yankees before reinventing himself to go 47-38 with a 2.98 ERA with the Orioles and Astros from age 35-38.

And that's before you get into his pioneering work in the Players' Association.

I met Roberts at an autograph event about 5 years ago - I mentioned that I'd read his book - and he sort of reminded me, in a good way, of Don Rumsfeld, a square-jawed, square-shouldered Illinoisian in his mid-70s, still looking physically strong and mentally quick. He reportedly watched the Phillies game the night before he died.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:40 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
May 14, 2010
BASEBALL: The Vanishing 100-Inning Reliever

Tyler Clippard leads the major leagues in innings by a reliever with 25; he's on a pace to throw 115.2 innings this year, all in relief. Manuel Corpas is #2, and on pace for 111. In the AL, nobody is on pace to crack 100 innings solely in relief - Joel Zumaya is on pace for 98.2 innings in relief.

With deeper bullpens, even in the face of declining innings by starters, the 100-inning reliever has become an ever-rarer species. Looking decade-by-decade just at guys who cracked 100 innings without starting a single game (thus skipping over the guys who pass 100 relief innings plus a few starts), we see the rise and fall of the 100-inning reliever (and why Mike Marshall will almost certainly remain the only man to pass 200 innings in relief in a season):

1930s: 3
1940s: 8
1950s: 15
1960s: 67
1970s: 100
1980s: 115
1990s: 29
2000s: 6

The first guy to do it was Clint Brown in 1937, the last Scott Proctor in 2006 (what's with guys named Scott? The last before him was Scot Shields, and the last to do it more than once was Scott Sullivan in 1999, 2000 & 2001), so we've already passed three straight seasons without a 100-inning reliever. And the guys on pace in mid-May to just clear 100 are usually not great bets to keep that up all year.

As with many pitcher-usage issues, there are good reasons why innings have been declining (see my history of pitcher workloads), but no particular reason to think that managers are currently striking the right balance between avoiding injury risks and handing too many innings to second- and third-tier pitchers. Mariano Rivera and Derek Lowe both survived 100-inning relief seasons without doing any great damage to their arms. But the game continues to move in that direction regardless of whether anybody is analyzing whether it makes sense.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:18 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
May 5, 2010
BLOG: Ten Years Burnin' Down The Road

I wish I had more time for a proper retrospective, but I can't let today go by without noting that it was ten years ago today that I began blogging, with my first (then-weekly) column on Bill Simmons' Boston Sports Guy website. I stand by my argument in that column that baseball should change the rules to require relief pitchers to face at least three batters.

Long-time readers know the story: I was sending around long baseball emails to college friends, and one of my college roommates, Jay Murphy, suggested I should be writing on the web for Simmons; Bill and I had written for The Crusader, our college newspaper, at the same time. Jay got me back in touch with Bill, who immediately agreed to run a weekly column, which I banged out in one sitting Thursday night, and it ran Friday, May 5, 2000 (he had a couple other friends writing guest slots, including a guy who wrote about pro wrestling). The rest is history; I had no idea of what lay ahead - the Subway Series, Bill leaving to join ESPN and ultimately national stardom, my column moving to the Providence Journal, 9/11, starting my political blogging on Blogspot in August 2002, getting my first big link (from Andrew Sullivan, of all people) a few weeks later, joining The Command Post and redesigning this blog in its present (Movable Type) form in the spring of 2003, getting a then-coveted spot on Instapundit's blogroll, winning the Best Sports Blog vote in the Weblog Awards in 2004, running my own guest-blogger from Iraq during the run-up to the Red Sox winning the World Series, joining RedState as a diarist in the summer of 2004 and being promoted to a Contributor during the Harriet Miers fight in 2005 and ultimately becoming a Director at RS and a contributing columnist at the New Ledger, having my work run on CBSNews.com and the Hardball Times and referenced on CNN and ESPN.com and in the pages of Sports Illustrated, interviewing Mark Sanford, joining Twitter, etc. It's been a wild ride, and while the volume and shape of my output has waxed and waned at various times, I wouldn't trade it for anything, I'm thankful to all my readers and all the people who have published my stuff in many different outlets, and hope the next decade is as interesting as the first one.

Newer readers can sample my best stuff from the sidebar. It's hard to pick one favorite, especially among serieses of baseball and political columns that were designed to hang together as a coherent whole, but if pressed, I might pick my column on the 2008 farm bill, which I'm told was handed out around Capitol Hill; I had an enormous amount of fun writing that from the primary source in a white heat on a Friday morning, just plowing through the bill and finding one outrageous thing after another.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:23 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)
April 30, 2010
BASEBALL: Mark of Zito

Aaron Gleeman looks at the resurgence of Barry Zito. Oliver Perez could take lessons from Zito in how to survive when your fastball leaves you.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 22, 2010
BASEBALL: The Met-Killers

See if you can guess the 12 players to post an OPS of 1.000 or greater in their careers against the Mets (minimum 100 plate appearances; source). Some are deeply obscure, but most are familiar, even household names. Answers below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:54 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2010
BASEBALL: Play At The Plate

The Sporting News bring us some baserunning even Joey Gathright might envy,
as Fordham infielder Brian Kownacki evades a plate-blocking catcher in spectacular fashion:

HT Ben Domenech.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:09 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
April 20, 2010
BLOG: Quick Links 4/20/10

*The Mets have had some questionable decisions already this year. We saw Fernando Tatis try to score on a wild pitch with two outs, the bases loaded, down 3 and David Wright at the plate against a pitcher having trouble throwing strikes. We saw Jerry Manuel pinch run Tatis for Mike Jacobs and then have to use Alex Cora to pinch hit in the same inning. We saw Manuel play for one run on the road with Joe Mather pitching and Jose Reyes on first base, asking Luis Castillo to bunt before Mather had proven the ability to get anybody out. But perhaps none worse than Manuel on Saturday having K-Rod staying warmed up for 12 innings and possibly as many as 125 pitches in the bullpen before coming in tired to blow the save. Let's hope that doesn't linger. That's why you use the closer as soon as you hit extra innings on the road.

*Craig Calcaterra looks at the curious suspension of Ednison Volquez.

*Joe Posnanski's all-time NBA top 10. His mini-essays on Wilt, Kareem and Jordan are all spot-on, and in Jordan's case reminded me of his obvious, though smiling, irritation earlier this year when Jay Leno asked if he could still dunk. This, about Wilt, is an excellent point:

You know, if you think about Wilt Chamberlain's career - it really is staggering to think that he has through the years been labeled as a guy who did not win enough. I mean, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino or Charles Barkley or Barry Bonds - fair or unfair, it is true they didn't win championships. Chamberlain won TWO. What's more, he led his team to the Finals four other times. What's more than that, his teams were beaten by the Celtics six times in those years, and while so many would like to make that a Russell vs. Chamberlain thing, the truth is those Celtics teams had 10 Hall of Famers. TEN HALL OF FAMERS! Two starting lineups of Hall of Famers. Those teams at various times had Havlicek and Sam Jones and Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones and so on and so on ... all in addition to Russell. They also were coached by Red Auerbach and Bill Russell.

To believe that Wilt Chamberlain - with the help of a Hal Greer here or a Tom Meschery or Paul Arizin there, guided by an Alex Hannum or Dolph Schayes - somehow SHOULD have beaten those Celtics teams is to believe that there has never been a more dominant presence in basketball than Wilt.

*Ronald Reagan and James Dean, together on film.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Basketball • | Blog 2006-14 • | Pop Culture • | War 2007-14 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 15, 2010
BASEBALL: Master Melvin, Home & Away

Speaking of the Baseball-Reference.com splits, one of the more interesting cases is Mel Ott. As is well-known, Ott has the biggest home-field advantage in the 500 home run club, having hit 323 of his career homers at home, just 188 on the road; the short porches in the Polo Grounds, especially in right field, were an inviting enough target to help convert the diminutive (5'9", 170-lb) Ott into the only man in the first 88 years of National League history to crack the 500 home run barrier (at his retirement, Ott was the NL home run king by a margin of 211 homers over Chuck Klein). But as Bill James has pointed out, while the Polo Grounds was a great home run park, it was actually not a hitter's park at all, so Ott's accomplishments aren't to be devalued by virtue of the park.

We now have the data to back that up, at least for 1926-39, covering Ott from age 17-30, including the bulk of his prime (Ott hit 30 homers in a season only once after age 30). Ott in those years hit 211 homers at the Polo Grounds, 158 on the road (this does mean the split got wider as he aged - 112 more homers at home to 30* on the road). But he batted .297/.418/.553 at home, compared to .331/.421/.563 on the road, thanks in good part to hitting nearly twice as many doubles in the more normal-shaped parks around the league (235 to 124). The extreme example is 1930-31, when Ott hit 41 homers and drew 108 walks at home, compared to 13 homers and 77 walks on the road; yet, his overall line was .297/.419/.588 with 116 Runs and 121 RBI at the Polo Grounds, .345/.422/.537 with 110 Runs and 113 RBI on the road - nearly the same player in terms of value, but a completely differently-shaped batting line.

Let me illustrate this with a chart showing Ott's percentages, batting average on balls in play, and doubles, triples, homers, walks, strikeouts, runs and RBI per 600 at bats at the Polo Grounds and in each of the other NL parks (I'm leaving out here Shibe Park, where the Phillies moved in 1938, presumably one of the causes for Ott's homers drying up on the road after age 30):

NYG-Polo Grounds3783.297.418.553.2722444112153124128
CIN-Crosley Fld571.307.364.458.3214689524674106
PIT-Forbes Fld606.323.434.549.3134382511337124141
STL-Sportsman Pk589.305.404.527.300286319564117118
CHC-Wrigley Fld572.345.423.621.341357397768119132
BRO-Ebbets Fld554.304.395.518.304446249155108101
PHI-Baker Bowl557.415.508.774.3884855210840181209
BSN-Braves Fld517.330.426.531.336461216964212886

As you can see, Ott was scarcely a home run hitter at all in Boston and Cincinnati, whereas his ability to get hits on balls in play was severely constrained at home. And, like Chuck Klein and pretty much everybody else, he was a holy terror at the Baker Bowl.

Here, just for comparison purposes, is how Ott hit team-by-team against each opponent when batting at home. As you can see, some 'park' effects could be the pitching staffs - for example, the Reds' control-oriented staff was less apt to walk Ott in either venue - while, say, Ott's home runs against the Braves and Pirates were clearly held down only by their home parks, his ability to get hits on balls in play was the same against the Pirates wherever he played:

Cincinnati Reds545.290.387.539.263205409650119134
Pittsburgh Pirates567.340.464.621.3102204913450141143
St. Louis Cardinals538.300.413.493.2861833111950109105
Chicago Cubs563.268.366.509.25326635946899108
Brooklyn Dodgers499.288.411.532.2683133712756132121
Philadelphia Phillies551.287.430.547.2572963914640130145
Boston Braves520.310.433.636.2672145513255143138

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Worst Ever?

This is a good read, and the conclusion is unsurprising. Rey Ordonez managed to escape this ignominious fate, finishing with the 9th worst career OPS+ among all hitters with 3000 plate appearances, 8th worst if you don't count Cy Young (and second worst among Mets). My favorite facts about Bill Bergen, even beyond his .194 career OBP and his career per-600-plate appearances average of 26 Runs and 35 RBI: his career high in runs scored, in a decade-long career as a #1 catcher, was 21.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:21 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Lefty Splits, #42

Baseball-Reference.com has in recent months been expanding the years for which it has data, and I've been having some fun with the splits for older ballplayers - the breakdowns are now available for 1952-present and 1920-39. Here's a few fun ones.

Don't Get Jackie Mad

Today being Jackie Robinson Day, it's worth recalling that the Cardinals were tough on Jackie at the beginning of his career, being the most Southern team in the NL. From 1952-56 (the last five years of his career, the only ones for which we have data), Robinson hit .337/.424/.498 against the Cards.

On a related note, my dad dug up some newspaper accounts of the April 15, 1947 Boston Braves-Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field that saw Robinson make his debut and score the winning run. The newspapers did not treat Jackie as the big news story, possibly out of a desire to keep his debut low-key, possibly because off-field controversies were not seen in those days as ideal fodder for beat writers, and in some cases possibly because the writers may not all have been on his side. The big story, as you can see from the box score, was a big game by the hoped-for star of that ultimately pennant-winning Dodgers team, Pete Reiser.

Reiser was the same age as Jackie Robinson (28), and both had missed prime years in the military service, but while Robinson was a rookie, Reiser's best years turned out to be already behind him. He'd hit OK in his return from the service in 1946, batting .277/.361/.428 (122 OPS+; it was a low-scoring season, with fresh pitching arms facing off against rusty hitters as everyone returned from multi-year layoffs and tried to get their timing back) and leading the league in steals with 34, but also missing 32 games and falling far short of his 1941-42 form (.328/.392/.513, 155 OPS+). Reiser ended up having his last really good year in 1947, batting .309/.415/.418 (the Dodgers had three players with OBPs between .414 and .415, and counting their top 3 bench players had 10 players slugging between .410 and Arky Vaughan's team-leading.444) but missing another 44 games.

Lefty Grove, Closer

I also used the splits to break down Lefty Grove's performance as a starter and as a reliever over the five years that both he and the A's were at their peak (1929-33, although there's some fun stuff in the game logs I could use to revisit my account of the 1928 pennant race, including Grove going 14-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 3 saves between June 29 and September 7, 1928 to get the A's caught up with the Yankees).

Anyway, here is Grove as a starter and a reliever, 1929-33:

Starter: 157 starts, 116 CG (102 of his 110 wins as a starter were CGs, and 14 of his 26 losses), 1268.1 IP (more than 8 IP/start), 110-26 W-L (.809; Grove won more than 70% of the games he started), 2.80 ERA, 8.7 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, 5.3 K/9.

Reliever: 65 G, 153.1 IP (2.35 IP/G in relief; these were not short outings), 18-7, 31 SV (86% of his relief appearances were a decision or a save), 1.70 ERA, 7.3 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.8 K/9 (note - a trend I noticed with a number of pitchers of that era, unsurprisingly - a markedly higher K rate in relief. Besides night baseball, lighter bats, an increased focus on power hitting, reduced stigma from striking out, and an increase in the variety of breaking pitches, the increased use of relievers and fewer tired starters has definitely driven the rising K rates from the 1920s to today)

Chuck Klein, Home Boy

You probably knew that Chuck Klein benefitted from playing in the tiny Baker Bowl in his prime years. But how much? In his five full seasons in his first go-round with the Phillies (also 1929-33), Klein batted a ridiculous .424/.470/.772 at home, .294/.352/.501 on the road. His career line at the Baker Bowl: .395/.448/.705, compared to .253/.319/.386 at the Polo Grounds, .244/.294/.335 at Braves Field, .276/.316/.451 at Crosley Field and even .284/.354/.487 at Wrigley. Klein is perhaps more a creation of his home park even than Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla.

The Babe's Hot Hand

We think of Babe Ruth as an immediate success with the Yankees, but he actually had quite a rough start in 1920, given the fanfare that accompanied his arrival, his breaking of the home run record the prior year and continuing controversy at the time over whether it was really advisable for him to stop pitching altogether to play every day. On May 9, 20 games into the season, Ruth was batting .210/.290/.371 with just 2 homers, 8 runs scored, 10 RBI and on a pace to strike out over 100 times, a then-unheard-of figure; the Yankees were 8-10 in games Ruth had appeared in. What followed, of course, was the 25-year-old Ruth putting on the most sustained, ridiculous hitting display in the game's history, batting .403/.564/.924 the rest of the way; in 124 games he scored 150 runs, hit 52 homers and drew 143 walks, and the Yankees went 80-44 in those games.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 13, 2010
BASEBALL: Pagan Sacrifice?

Craig Glaser at Sabometrics argues that the Mets should convert Jason Bay into a first baseman to get Angel Pagan's bat in the lineup long term while eliminating the Hobson's Choice between Daniel Murphy and the Jacobs/Tatis platoon. More broadly, Glaser argues that "[w]hen you have five above average major league hitters available to you (Wright, Reyes, Bay, Francoeur, Pagan) it's a really glaring mistake to keep one of them on the bench" in favor of Gary Matthews.

Leave aside the wishful-thinking assumption that Jeff Francouer will continue to be an above-average major league hitter, as he has been with the Mets (.323/.353/.532, 132 OPS+ in 81 games in blue and orange, averaging 200 hits, 46 doubles, 24 homers and 94 RBI per 162 games) but was not with the Braves (.266/.308/.424, 89 OPS+ in 632 games as a Brave), I question whether Pagan is really good enough to be more than adequate as a major league regular. His career line is .281/.332/.441 (99 OPS+), which you can live with from a good defensive center fielder, but is nothing to write home about offensively, and totally inadequate for a corner outfielder or - more significantly, if you're moving your left fielder to first base to make room for Pagan - a first baseman. While Pagan may be a slightly better hitter than the Jacobs/Tatis platoon or than Murphy, the difference isn't enough to justify forcing a $66 million acquisition to learn a new position.

I'm not opposed on principle to moving Bay to first at some point during his contract; he's not that much of a glove man in left. But the Mets clearly have a plan at first, which is to hold out until Ike Davis is major-league ready. Davis, who's 23, struggled in his first year of short-season exposure to A ball in Brooklyn in 2008, but took huge strides forward last season, batting .288/.376/.486 in 59 games in high-A St. Lucie and .309/.386/.565 in 55 games in AA Binghamton, and through the season's first week he's batting a scorching .375/.545/.938 at AAA Buffalo. Admittedly, if Davis and Fernando Martinez (who's off to a poor start at Buffalo, as are pretty much all the hitters there except Davis) both develop rapidly into quality players, that will create some issues of where to put Bay, Pagan and/or Francouer (assuming Beltran's back in center), but that's a good problem to have and most likely best solved by dealing Frenchy when you get to that point. And right now, Davis looks like a much better bet to contribute to the Mets in 2010 or 2011 than Martinez.

As for Pagan against Matthews, that's a much easier question, and I agree entirely that Pagan should be a no-brainer to play every day while Beltran is out; the 35-year-old Matthews' .214 slugging percentage thus far says about all you need to know about his ability to convince people that his .245/.326/.358 line in 837 plate appearances the past two seasons was some sort of fluke, and it's not like Matthews is such a great defender anymore.

What is even clearer is that as long as Beltran is out, and maybe even when he returns, Pagan should never be out of the lineup at Citi Field. For a guy who has never played in one of the really tremendous hitters' parks like Colorado or Texas or Cincinnati (Wrigley's not what it once was), Pagan's career home-road splits are jaw-dropping: .314/.366/.522 at home, .246/.295/.354 on the road. His career line in 49 games at Citi Field? .332/.372/.547, with a per-162-games average of 46 doubles, 20 triples and 17 homers. Even given the small sample size, you have to like how well he's acclimated to the park's spacious power alleys and good hitting backdrop, in contrast to guys like David Wright (.298/.378/.434 at home, .314/.401/.458 on the road last year) and Beltran (.292/.376/.403 at home in 2009, .354/.448/.585 on the road).

Indeed, Pagan's success at home may point the way towards a different kind of offensive team than what worked at low-average, high-strikeout Shea, where the best offensive game was the Darryl Strawberry/Howard Johnson model of homers, walks and steals to make up for the difficulty of winning by trying to put the ball in play (I will pass without comment the irony that HoJo became the Mets hitting coach only as the team left Shea behind). Jose Reyes, a similar style of hitter to Pagan, has thus far played just 22 games at Citi Field but has hit .323/.400/.473 there, averaging 52 doubles, 15 triples, and 7 homers per 162 games at Citi. Luis Castillo last season batted .350/.429/.402, at home, .250/.341/.284 on the road. Murphy, who is less of a speed player but also a line-drive type more than a power hitter with a lot of loft in his swing, batted .294/.323/.500 at home in 2009 (averaging 50 doubles, 9 triples and 16 homers per 600 plate appearances), .238/.304/.358 on the road. Francouer's career line in 45 games at Citi is .310/.348/.530 with per-162 game averages of 54 doubles, 7 triples and 22 homers. (Granted, this is similar to his line overall as a Met.)

Of course, you have to win on the road, too, so it's not necessarily a bad idea to have guys like Wright, Beltran and Bay who play a more traditional offensive game. But in the long run, in allocating resources at the margins, guys who can rack up the doubles and triples in the gaps may well be the ideal Citi Field hitters, much as was true of the Royals and Cardinals of the 70s and 80s; the Mets may need to start thinking of themselves as a turf team.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 12, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 6 of my preseason previews is the NL Central; this is the sixth and last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. (As usual, the large and depressing NL Central brings up the rear; I almost never seem to get to the NLC until after Opening Day). Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL West, NL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 214.50 (85 W)
Adjusted: 231.22 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 212.35 (84 W)
WS Age: 29.79
2010 W-L: 84-78

C27Yadier Molina1718
1B30Albert Pujols3633
2B30Felipe Lopez1715
SS28Brendan Ryan99
3B27David Freese*11
RF31Ryan Ludwick1916
CF23Colby Rasmus*716
LF30Matt Holliday2422
C236Jason LaRue22
INF30Skip Schumaker1614
OF27Joe Mather#12
1225Allen Craig+04
1328Nick Stvinoha*11
SP128Adam Wainwright1616
SP235Chris Carpenter117
SP332Brad Penny75
SP431Kyle Lohse76
SP523Jaime Garcia+04
RP137Ryan Franklin119
RP237Trever Miller44
RP326Kyle McClellan#46
RP428Jason Motte*22
RP533Dennys Reyes43

Subjective Adjustments: None, but obviously Freese will either exceed 1 Win Share or lose his grip on anything like an everyday job. But bear in mind the eccentric nature of "everyday" under LaRussa, given the flexibility of Lopez and Shumaker in roaming the infield. Rasmus, by contrast, is appropriately projected to take a step forward this season.

Also on Hand: Position players - Tyler Greene.

Pitchers - The perennially rehabbing Rich Hill, Blake Hawksworth.

Analysis: By LaRussa standards, this is a youth movement, as the Cards are still breaking in Rasmus (career .277/.366/.485 in the minors, all at age 21 or younger), Freese (career .308/.384/.532 in the minors, including .304/.363/.542 in 735 plate appearances at AAA) and Craig (career .306/.366/.513 in the minors, including .322/.374/.547 last season in a full year at AAA), while deploying prime talents like Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright, Molina, and Lopez. The Cards remain the class of a weak division but potentially face competition from the Brewers and Cubs.

Pujols should be due for his first career off year somewhere between 2010 and 2012, but thus far this season he's at .375/.444/.875, so don't bet the ranch against him just yet.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 199.83 (80 W)
Adjusted: 211.27 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 203.30 (81 W)
WS Age: 30.00
2010 W-L: 81-81

C39 Gregg Zaun86
1B26Prince Fielder3034
2B27Rickie Weeks1112
SS23Alcides Escobar*25
3B27Casey McGeehee*918
RF40Jim Edmonds53
CF24Carlos Gomez810
LF26Ryan Braun2933
C227George Kottaros*11
INF39Craig Counsell118
OF28Corey Hart1314
1232Jody Gerut54
1332Joe Inglett54
SP124Yovanni Gallardo78
SP233Randy Wolf107
SP334Doug Davis97
SP430Dave Bush43
SP535Jeff Suppan43
RP142Trevor Hoffman107
RP229Todd Coffey43
RP337LaTroy Hawkins86
RP429Mitch Stetter#33
RP526Carlos Villanueva45

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mat Gamel, Norris Hoppes, Luis Cruz.

Pitchers - David Riske (on the DL), Claudio Vargas, Manny Parra.

Analysis: As with so many teams, the pitching staff is the big question mark for the Brewers, who aside from Gallardo have largely loaded up with the sorts of veteran arms one settles for at small-market prices, which in turn puts a premium on their defense (most of the veteran arms throw a lot of strikes, but few are high-K pitchers), which in turn is one reason why they need Carlos Gomez and have to hope for good glovework from erratic-at-best fielders like Weeks, Braun and McGeehee. I'd be worried about Edmonds running into Gomez, though.

A big offensive key will be getting Hart to avoid a repeat of his underachieving 2009 while getting McGeehee, who had never hit well in the minors (.279/.332/.409 over six seasons and more than 2,800 plate appearances, including three full years trying to master AAA pitching), to repeat his seriously overachieving .301/.360/.499 line.

Alcides Escobar (I do love the Latin American guys with classical-allusion names like Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera) has thus far lived up to his minor league rep as a high-average, little-else hitter, but he's young yet; he's still working on translating his minor league success as a base thief.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 215.67 (85 W)
Adjusted: 234.51 (91 W)
Age-Adj.: 202.57 (81 W)
WS Age: 30.74
2010 W-L: 81-81

C27Geovany Soto#1214
1B34Derek Lee2118
2B30Mike Fontenot88
SS30Ryan Theriot1614
3B32Aramis Ramirez1915
RF33Kusuke Fukudome#1414
CF32Marlon Byrd1613
LF34Alfonso Soriano1412
C231Koyie Hill43
INF29Jeff Baker66
OF31Xavier Nady87
1230Chad Tracy43
1324Tyler Colvin+04
SP129Carlos Zambrano1311
SP233Ryan Dempster139
SP334Ted Lilly1410
SP427Tom Gorzelanny33
SP527Randy Wells*712
RP127Carlos Marmol1110
RP227Sean Marshall54
RP331John Grabow65
RP426Esmailin Caridad+26
RP531Carlos Silva22

Subjective Adjustments:

Also on Hand: Position players - Micah Hoffpauir.

Pitchers - Jeff Samardzjia, Justin Berg, James Russell. Angel Guzman is out for the season.

Analysis: The Cubs, as you can see, are functionally tied in the EWSL analysis with the Brewers. They're actually the strongest team in the division before applying the age adjustments, so expect people to want more from their roster "on paper" than they can deliver. Even some of the younger guys like Zambrano are showing their mileage. The great disappointment here is Soto, who is batting .091 and already at risk of losing playing time, having lost his power last season to shoulder troubles.

Using the age adjustments I had at the time, when the Cubs signed Soriano in November 2006 for 8 years and $136 million ($17 million/year), I rough-estimated that if he followed a predictable aging pattern, Soriano would be worth 13 Win Shares per year for the life of the deal, which obviously was a pretty grim assessment at the time. Three years in, he's averaged 15 WS per year so far and age-projects for 12 in 2010; looks like I may have been optimistic.

Wells was something of a low-key pleasant surprise last year, finishing with the 10th-best ERA in the league (6th best if you park-adjust), although he's had great control records and good K and HR numbers throghout the minors. I'm sure Toronto, which returned him to the Cubs after a Rule V claim in 2008, could use him back.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 190.67 (77 W)
Adjusted: 206.51 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.60 (74 W)
WS Age: 31.58
2010 W-L: 74-88

C26JR Towles11
1B34Lance Berkman2723
2B34Kaz Matsui1412
SS27Tommy Manzella+011
3B35Pedro Feliz1410
RF27Hunter Pence1819
CF27Michael Bourn1515
LF34Carlos Lee2017
C230Humberto Quintero33
INF30Jeff Keppinger77
OF34Jason Michaels54
1237Geoff Blum85
1330Cory Sullivan32
SP132Roy Oswalt1310
SP231Wandy Rodriguez1210
SP329Brett Myers55
SP425Bud Norris*23
SP526Felipe Paulino*00
RP130Matt Lindstrom43
RP230Brandon Lyon98
RP330Jeff Fulchino*46
RP436Tim Byrdak54
RP538Brian Moehler43

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Pitchers - Chris Sampson, Samuel Gervacio, Yorman Bazardo, Wilton Lopez.

Analysis: The Astros may not be as bad as their 0-6 record, but they're pretty bad. Adding insult to grinding mediocrity, they're the second-oldest team in the majors by weighted average EWSL, behind only the Yankees. And the Yankees have a reason to be old. In fact, four of the nine teams with an EWSL age of 30 or older are in the NL Central; no other division has more than two (the AL Central has none). If you're looking for a winning business model for fielding a quality team in small markets in hard times, this division is not where you shoud look. In Houston's case, the primary culprits are the team's dependence on Berkman, Lee and Oswalt; this team should probably tear it up, deal the three of them along with Matsui, Feliz, and spare parts like Moehler and Blum if they can (as they did in jettisoning Miguel Tejada), and start over. Older players are harder to keep healthy (Berkman hasn't played yet in 2010) and harder to keep motivated when they're playing pointless games. Jeff Bagwell's not walking through that door, Craig Biggio's not walking through that door, and if they did, they'd be old and gray.

Paulino earned his zero Win Shares last year by giving up 1.8 HR/9 and getting pounded for 11.6 Hits/9, but 3.4 BB/9 and 8/6 K/9 indicate a sign of a guy who might be able to contribute; he didn't have longball issues in the minors, but of course he wasn't pitching in Minute Maid to big-league hitters (then again, look at his home run log and you see a lot of guys like Jay Bruce and Corey Hart and Elvis Andrus, not Pujols and Braun).

It would be hard to fail more completely as a major league hitter than JR Towles, who has batted .299/.390/.473 in the minors and debuted with a 14-game, .375/.432/.575 cup of coffee in 2007, and then went on to faceplant to the tune of .144/.238/.268 in 283 plate appearances since 2008. The Astros, however, really have nothing better to do than wait and see if Towles can come around and recapture the brief glory days of Mitch Meluskey.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 174.00 (71 W)
Adjusted: 189.11 (76 W)
Age-Adj.: 173.02 (71 W)
WS Age: 30.12
2010 W-L: 71-91

C34Ramon Hernandez119
1B26Joey Votto1921
2B29Brandon Phillips1918
SS35Orlando Cabrera1813
3B35Scott Rolen1411
RF23Jay Bruce#710
CF25Drew Stubbs*36
LF29Jonny Gomes77
C229Ryan Hanigan#66
INF27Paul Janish*24
OF28Chris Dickerson#56
1229Laynce Nix33
1336Miguel Cairo22
SP132Aaron Harang86
SP233Bronson Arroyo128
SP324Johnny Cueto#67
SP424Homer Bailey33
SP522Mike Leake+04
RP135Francisco Cordero128
RP228Nick Masset66
RP325Danny Herrera*36
RP440Arthur Rhodes64
RP527Micah Owings54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Wladimir Balentien, Aaron Miles.

Pitchers - Aroldis Chapman, the latest in a long list of hyped Reds prospects. Jared Burton, Mike Lincoln, Travis Wood. Also Jose Arredondo and Ednison Volquez, neither of whom is expected to pitch after Tommy John surgery.

Analysis: The Reds have a stable infield, but everything else is either a crapshoot or just crap. Stubbs seems like a Gary Pettis type player, but maybe with more power in this park. Leake recently became the rare first-round draft pick to debut directly in the majors without minor league seasoning; he had a great college career, but pitching in this bandbox has traumatized plenty of young pitchers. There's still hope that Cueto and Bailey could become a 1-2 punch, but progress has been slow.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 118.67 (53 W)
Adjusted: 144.49 (61 W)
Age-Adj.: 142.55 (61 W)
WS Age: 28.11
2010 W-L: 61-101

C29Ryan Doumit109
1B26Jeff Clement#11
2B31Akinori Iwamura1210
SS27Ronny Cedeno56
3B26Andy LaRoche78
RF29Garrett Jones*59
CF23Andrew McCutchen*922
LF25Lastings Milledge78
C227Jason Jaramillo*12
INF30Bobby Crosby55
OF31Ryan Church108
1228Delwyn Young#55
1326John Raynor+04
SP127Zach Duke77
SP228Paul Maholm87
SP327Ross Ohlendorf#66
SP426Charlie Morton#23
SP527Daniel McCutchen+14
RP136Octavio Dotel65
RP228Joel Hanrahan44
RP338Brendan Donnelly22
RP427Evan Meek*24
RP533DJ Carrasco53

Subjective Adjustments:

Also on Hand: Position players - Brandon Moss. The Padres didn't get equal value from Brian Giles when they traded Jason Bay to get him, but of the four teams to deal away Bay, they were the only ones who didn't get completely ripped off. The sad spectacle of Moss and Craig Hansen giving Pittsburgh essentially nothing from the deal that sent Bay to the Red Sox and Manny to LA has just been the icing on the cake for this franchise.

Pitchers - Hayden Penn, Javier Lopez, Jack Taschner, Hansen (on the DL).

Analysis: Not every major league franchise rates a profile in Failure Magazine, but the Pirates are unique; last season they displaced the 1933-48 Phillies' record for the most consecutive losing seasons in major professional team sports history by notching their 17th consecutive losing record. Indeed, only twice since Barry Bonds' departure as a free agent following NL East-winning seasons of 95, 98 and 96 wins in 1990-92 have the Bucs topped 75 wins in a season, topping out at 79 in 1997. Not coincidentally, in terms of both cause and effect, the Pirates' 11th place finish in the NL in attendance in 2001 - the year they opened PNC Park - is the only time in that period that they finished higher than 12th or drew 2 million fans. 1962, when they still played in Forbes Field, was the last time the Pirates finished in the top 4 in the league in attendance, and they've led the league only once, with the 1925 World Champions. Even the 1908 Pirates, finishing a game out of first place in the NL's most legendary pennant race and with Honus Wagner having his greatest season, finished fifth in attendance.

All of this is a way of saying that the monotony of the Pirates' condition is such that really any discussion of their present roster is almost pointless; it is long past time to move this franchise. I feel for the Pirates fans; this is a venerable franchise, tracing its Pittsburgh roots back to 1882 and having played continuously in the same city in the National League since 1891. And I don't buy the idea that the game's economic structure is fundamentally broken; the Pirates and Royals are the only two teams that plainly can't be saved. Nor is contraction the answer, since the union won't allow it and the owners would just turn around and re-expand at the next available opportunity. No, the Pirates have to move on to a better market, and bid a fond, wistful farewell to a city that hasn't been able to support them for a very long time.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 8, 2010
BASEBALL: The Path to Cooperstown: Third Base

If you're wondering what I was working on lately besides the division previews, my fifth annual Hall of Fame column is up today at The Hardball Times, and it's on the third basemen.

UPDATE: I'll have to post the full tables here when I get a chance, the plate appearance figures are crucial to the column, and it looks like the editors at THT removed them to save space. They took out the steals, caught stealing and GIDP data, too. Urk.

Charts below the fold:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:15 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Columns • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 5, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 NL East EWSL Report

Just in time for Opening Day: Part 5 of my preseason previews is the NL East; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL West.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies

Raw EWSL: 285.67 (108 W)
Adjusted: 293.93 (111 W)
Age-Adj.: 248.82 (96 W)
WS Age: 31.17
2010 W-L: 96-66

C31Carlos Ruiz119
1B30Ryan Howard2523
2B31Chase Utley3126
SS31Jimmy Rollins2219
3B34Placido Polanco2017
RF31Jayson Werth2118
CF29Shane Victorino2018
LF38Raul Ibanez1913
C233Brian Schneider76
INF31Greg Dobbs54
OF28Ben Francisco#810
1238Juan Castro21
1334Ross Gload54
SP133Roy Halladay2114
SP226Cole Hamels1415
SP329Joe Blanton109
SP427JA Happ*1514
SP547Jamie Moyer96
RP133Brad Lidge75
RP229Ryan Madson97
RP332Chad Durbin54
RP438Jose Contreras54
RP534JC Romero43

Subjective Adjustments: None. As has been the case for a few years now, the Phillies have few players whose value isn't established. That said, Joe Blanton being out 3-6 weeks and Brad Lidge and JC Romero opening the season on the DL mean that their EWSL may be slightly aggressive.

Also on Hand: Position players - None expected to contribute.

Pitchers - Danys Baez, who should sub early for Lidge and Romero; Antonio Bastardo and Kyle Kendrick.

Analysis: The Phillies, like the Tigers of the 80s, have a core (aside from Hamels) that's all around the same age, so as I've been noting for a few years now their window is limited - but there is a time when you have to take a team with two pennants and a World Championship, ride it as far as it will go and live with the downfall that follows. (Heck, the Yankees are still riding Jeter, Posada and Rivera, who apparently last night became the first trio of teammates in the history of the major pro sports to spend a 16th consecutive season together). For now, the team's good enough that there's no point in worrying about the core passing 30.

Aside from the freak abdominal injury, the Halladay for Lee deal remains controversial, but Halladay should benefit from coming to the NL, and he helps balance an overly lefty-heavy rotation. I would not bet against a big bounce-back year for Hamels.

New York Mets

Raw EWSL: 213.67 (84 W)
Adjusted: 230.07 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 214.40 (85 W)
WS Age: 29.79
2010 W-L: 85-77

C34Rod Barajas108
1B25Daniel Murphy#710
2B34Luis Castillo1311
SS27Jose Reyes1617
3B27David Wright2526
RF26Jeff Francouer1011
CF33Carlos Beltran2118
LF31Jason Bay2521
C238Henry Blanco43
INF29Mike Jacobs88
OF28Angel Pagan88
1235Fernando Tatis86
1334Alex Cora54
SP131Johan Santana1714
SP226Mike Pelfrey67
SP329John Maine65
SP428Oliver Perez55
SP523Jonathon Niese+14
RP128Francisco Rodriguez1312
RP233Pedro Feliciano64
RP320Jennry Mejia+06
RP435Hisanori Takahashi+06
RP527Fernando Nieve22

Subjective Adjustments: None; I would have adjusted Beltran and Reyes downward for their injuries, but both are already valued on the basis of missing a huge amount of time last season, and Reyes is expected back early anyway. Murphy joins them on the DL to open the season.

Also on Hand: Position players - A cast of thousands, and they'll be needed. Gary Matthews jr., Frank Catalanotto, Ike Davis, Nick Evans, Omir Santos, Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores, Fernando Martinez, Russ Adams.

Tejada's been rushed to the Opening Day roster, but he's a 20-year-old who hit .289/.351/.381 last year in AA; he's obviously not ready to hit major league pitching.

Pitchers - Kelvim Escobar, Bobby Parnell, Pat Misch, Sean Green, Kiko Calero, Nelson Figueroa.

Analysis: Mind you, I tried to play it conservative with the Mets, not listing established players like Matthews, Escobar, Calero, and Catalanotto (of whom Matthews and Catalanotto are on the roster, and Matthews in today's lineup), and they're still second. That's a testimony to how much established talent is still on hand here, even with all the injuries, as well as the mediocrity of the Phillies' competition.

EWSL's standard rookie-reliever adjustment could be optimistic about the two new guys. Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya are definitely going out on a limb using untested pitchers like Mejia and Takahashi over Green, Parnell and Calero, but it's not as if Green and Parnell set the world on fire last season. Mejia's walked almost 4 men per 9 innings in the low minors, which makes me skeptical of him.

Pelfrey, Maine and Perez remain the biggest variables here. Pelfrey needs to have a little better luck on balls in play and keep his walk and homer rates low. Perez needs to get his velocity back. Maine is probably the best bet of the three for quality, but the most dubious in terms of durability; this may be his last chance to establish himself as being able to carry a full rotation starter's workload, especially given how many pitches he throws per inning.

Murphy's injury may not be a bad thing, with a Jacobs/Tatis platoon likely to produce some power, at least. Jacobs had a horrific year last season, but his career slugging percentage against right-handed pitching is .505; while that's the sum total of his value as a major leaguer, if he can put up those kinds of numbers that could be a productive platoon. Murphy, by contrast, has 14 homers and 56 walks in 707 career plate appearances; even with great doubles power (47 career doubles, 7 career triples), Murphy - like Rico Brogna before him - needs to hit over .300 to be of any use as a first baseman with those numbers and glovework that's not spectacular.

I'll reiterate quickly my views on the rest. Bay, of course, is a quality acquisition, assuming he has no concealed injury risks. Francouer, I still hope, can have a Joe Guillen-like prime in which he's briefly able to have his natural talent overcome his impatience for a couple years, but he's still basically a hacker whose only reliable skill is his throwing arm. Josh Thole should be the starting catcher, and hopefully will be once he establishes himself in AAA. Blanco and Barajas are both decent enough weak-hitting veteran backup catcher types, but combining the two doesn't accomplish much.

And hopefully, Wright's first-inning homer today is a good sign. I think he was pressing last year after Beltran went down, and don't see any reason why his power numbers should continue to lag.

Atlanta Braves

Raw EWSL: 202.67 (81 W)
Adjusted: 226.01 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 213.89 (84 W)
WS Age: 29.89
2010 W-L: 84-78

C26Brian McCann1920
1B33Troy Glaus98
2B26Martin Prado910
SS27Yunel Escobar1819
3B38Chipper Jones2215
RF20Jason Heyward+011
CF28Nate McLouth1920
LF25Melky Cabrera1113
C233Dave Ross65
INF32Eric Hinske65
OF32Matt Diaz108
1228Omar Infante77
1330Joe Thurston*35
SP124Jair Jurrjens1314
SP237Derek Lowe119
SP323Tommy Hanson*511
SP434Tim Hudson86
SP534Kenshin Kawakami*45
RP138Billy Wagner65
RP240Takahasi Saito96
RP331Peter Moylan54
RP425Eric O'Flaherty33
RP524Kris Medlen*23

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jordan Schafer, last year's failed rookie experiment.

Pitchers - Jo-Jo Reyes, Scott Proctor.

Analysis: 13 Hall of Fame outfielders have had 400 or more plate appearances as rookies at age 22 or younger; their average season was .302/.362/.467 with 85 Runs, 76 RBI, 14 homers and 10 steals. The best modern ones of the bunch - Ted Williams, Frank Robinson and Joe DiMaggio. Not included in that group - Mickey Mantle, who hit .267/.349/.443 in 386 plate appearances as a 19-year-old rookie, Barry Bonds (age 21, .223/.330/.416); Ken Griffey (age 19, .264/.329/.420); Manny Ramirez (age 22, .269/.357/.521 in a strike-shortened season). All of which is to say, keep your expectations in check for Jason Heyward - maybe he'll be as great at age 20 as Williams, Robinson, Ty Cobb, A-Rod, Mel Ott, Mantle, or Kaline, but Williams and Robinson are the only ones of those guys who were making their first trip around the league. More likely, even if he's Cooperstown-bound, is something more like Mantle at 19.

The Braves have a regular UN going - Saito and Kawakami from Japan, Jurrjens from Curacao, Moylan from Australia, Escobar from Cuba, Prado and Infante from Venezuela, Melky from the Dominican.

Undoubtedly, the biggest problem Atlanta faces, even with a possibly healthy Hudson, a full season from Hanson, and the veteran imports in the pen, is replacing the productivity of Javier Vazquez (219.1 IP, 2.87 ERA), Rafael Soriano (75.2 IP in 77 games, 2.97 ERA), and Mike Gonzalez (74.1 IP in 80 games, 2.42 ERA); over 369.1 IP those three combined to strike out 430 batters (10.48 per 9 IP), walk 104 (2.53 per 9), allow 33 homers (0.80 per 9) and surrender just 290 hits (7.07 per 9).

Florida Marlins

Raw EWSL: 170.33 (70 W)
Adjusted: 204.11 (81 W)
Age-Adj.: 209.92 (83 W)
WS Age: 27.35
2010 W-L: 83-79

C29John Baker#1011
1B26Gaby Sanchez+011
2B30Dan Uggla2018
SS26Hanley Ramirez3236
3B28Jorge Cantu1515
RF29Cody Ross1514
CF23Cameron Maybin*22
LF25Chris Coghlan*1126
C229Ronny Paulino76
INF25Emilio Bonifacio#46
OF29Brian Barden10
1234Wes Helms54
1327Brett Carroll*35
SP126Josh Johnson1212
SP226Anibal Sanchez33
SP327Ricky Nolasco 87
SP423Chris Volstad#46
SP532Nate Robertson32
RP126Leo Nunez77
RP227Reynel Pinto44
RP328Dan Meyer*36
RP431Brian Sanches*35
RP527Burke Badenhop#33

Subjective Adjustments: None, but I'd bet on Maybin to beat his EWSL, as well as Anibal Sanchez, if healthy. Brian Sanches starts the season on the DL with a hamstring issue.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mike Lamb

Pitchers - Clay Hensley, Rick Vanden Hurk, Andrew Miller, Jose Veras.

Analysis: The youngest team by Win Shares age in the five divisions I've reviewed so far, the Marlins are the Brazil of baseball: the team of the future and always will be. Well, except that they do have two World Championship flags with teams that acquired veterans in a timely fashion...but this is not such a team, unless they make some big strikes at the trade deadline - these Marlins are yet another young-talent outfit. And as per usual of late, recent pitching injuries are the main source of uncertainty.

As always, a downside to doing these previews in serial format is having at least one guy every year who shows up twice, in this case Nate Robertson, penciled out of the Detroit rotation and into Florida's.

Washington Nationals

Raw EWSL: 165.67 (68 W)
Adjusted: 179.84 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 170.07 (70 W)
WS Age: 29.53
2010 W-L: 70-92

C38Ivan Rodriguez86
1B30Adam Dunn2220
2B34Adam Kennedy1210
SS24Ian Desmond+111
3B25Ryan Zimmerman1721
RF32Willie Harris97
CF29Nyjer Morgan99
LF31Josh Willingham1311
C225Jesus Flores67
INF32Cristian Guzman1210
OF28Willie Taveras66
1228Mike Morse11
1327Alberto Gonzalez#44
SP125John Lannan89
SP231Jason Marquis129
SP335Livan Hernandez43
SP426Craig Stammen*23
SP527Garrett Mock#11
RP126Matt Capps66
RP228Jason Bergmann32
RP325Tyler Clippard*36
RP428Brian Bruney44
RP539Miguel Batista54

Subjective Adjustments: None. I take no legal responsibility for the accuracy of Livan Hernandez' reported age.

Also on Hand: Position players - Justin Maxwell, Wil Nieves, Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett.

Pitchers - As always, plenty of arms indistinguishable (at least) with the guys being trotted out. Stephen Strasburg is supposed to be the next Dwight Gooden if not the next Walter Johnson; I buy him as the next big thing, but as with Heyward the record of rookie pitchers gives some caution - Strasburg's unlikely to have a better career than Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux, who had rookie ERAs of 4.32 and 5.61, respectively. Also the rehabbing Jordan Zimmerman and Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Olsen, Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten, and Shairon Martis. Ron Villone was cut recently.

Analysis: For a team that's supposed to be rebuilding, there's a surprisingly small number of un-established players here until Strasburg descends from the clouds, although with the addition of veterans like Kennedy, the Nats should at least not match last season's 103-loss fiasco. How sad is the pitching staff? Aside from Strasburg, who will probably be mentioned in almost every sentence written about this team this year, Baseball Prospectus projects Jason Marquis to lead the staff with 90 strikeouts.

Aside from Strasburg, the other rookie on the radar here is Desmond, who looks like a prospect if you look at his 2009: he batted .306/.372/.494 in 189 plate appearances at AA, .354/.428/.461 in 205 PA at AAA, and .280/.318/.561 in 89 PA for the Nats. Unfortunately, even including those numbers, his career minor league line is .259/.326/.388.

As with Mark DeRosa in San Francisco, Willie Harris starting in an outfield corner is diagnostic. Strasburg can't arrive soon enough.

Ivan Rodriguez is fading fast; at age 38, he's clearly on hand mainly to provide a veteran to work with Strasburg. He's batted .278/.304/.418 the last five seasons, and the Nats will be thrilled if he can match even that after last year's .249/.280/.384. Even Pudge's legendary arm is not quite what it was; the past three years, he's caught 31%, 32% and 35% of opposing base thieves, allowing 47, 52 and 41 steals - still good numbers, but down from catching at least 48% of opposing baserunners 9 of the prior 12 years and the first time he'd allowed more than 40 steals in a season since 1996, when he caught a career-high 1223.1 innings. Can he keep an everyday job for three more years? He has 2,711 hits, and two more years of about a hundred hits a year (he's averaged 108 the past two) would get him close enough to possibly reach 3,000 by hanging on as a backup. How amazing would that be? Ted Simmons, with 2,472 hits, is a distant second among players to spend at least half their career games at catcher, but Pudge has caught 96% of his career games - Jason Kendall, with 2,084 hits, is the only other catcher with 2,000 hits to catch 90% of his career games.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 2, 2010

Bernie Carbo and his performance non-enhancing drugs. Carbo was a heck of a hitter (career .387 OBP and OPS+ of 126), and doubly so to do the things he did while stoned, but if you ever wondered why he underachieved in the big leagues, well, wonder no more. Good to see he's gotten his life straightened out since finding the Lord, though.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:54 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bill Simmons Joins The Revolution

The Sports Guy gives an overdue thumbs-up to sabermetrics. It's only fair to note that I was using context-translated pitching stats, using OPS and discussing the latest research on BABIP, looking at zone ratings and getting linked by Baseball Prospectus a decade ago when I was writing for Bill's site, so really this stuff should not have been news to him in 2010, but converts to the cause are always welcome. Bill's a great basketball writer and does a number of other sports well, but realistically he'd fallen behind the times in writing about baseball by ignoring the revolution in statistical analysis.

Bill also echoes a point I made recently about the obstacles that some of the more complex stats face in gaining public acceptance (although oddly he picks as his example OPS+, which to me is one of the more easily intuitive stats - like ERA+, it's a simple ratio that compares you to the league average):

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for sabermetricians (not just in baseball, but every sport) is making their numbers more accessable to all types of sports fans.

The 1980s were about introducing sabermetrics (with Bill James leading the way). The 1990s were about working out the kinks. The 2000s were about three things: a generation weaned on the James Era creating their own formulas and pushing things to another level; front offices incorporating advanced metrics into their own evaluations; and the mainstream media begrudgingly accepting that there were new ways to look at the sport (although there's a ton of work left, obviously). Now we're here. We have so many precise ways to break down baseball players that you could skip watching an entire season and still know exactly what happened, and yet, a disconnect between sabermetricians and regular fans remains. Why? Because regular fans don't want to spend clutter their brain with things like, So we start at 100, and then every point you're better than a 100 equals half of a percentage point that you're better than everyone else ...

Important note: I'm not absolving regular fans, although you can't put a gun to their heads and force them to care about this stuff. Nor should media members be absolved. (For example, any mainstream writer, announcer or talking head who discusses someone's 2010 power credentials solely by referring to homers and RBI needs to hop in the Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to 1986.) But we don't want sabermetrics to be exclusionary, either. What good does that do? A stat like OPS+ just seems stubborn to me: Its appeal could be broadened with a simple tweak, only nobody wants to make it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:16 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Hard Contact

This came up in the comments of my JD Drew post and I thought it would make an interesting post of its own. Manny Ramirez is 15th all-time in strikeouts, tied with Dale Murphy, and should enter the top 10 this year (Jim Thome is #2 on the list, but assuming he's done as an everyday player, he's likely to fall short of the 284 Ks he needs to catch Reggie). But Manny is #1 on the career K list of lifetime .300 hitters. Here's the top 10, or rather top 12 since #10-12 were so close together. I included in the chart BA-K, which is batting average when not striking out; BABIP, which is average on balls in play (i.e., when not striking out or homering); K/plate appearances; and BB/K ratio.

1Manny Ramirez17480.31394377962249454612830.4010.34418.5%0.73
2Alex Rodriguez17380.30596118304253158310600.3850.32618.1%0.61
3Willie Mays15260.3021249310881328366014640.3510.30212.2%0.96
4Derek Jeter14660.3179809865927472248850.3820.36214.9%0.60
5Frank Thomas13970.301100748199246852116670.3630.31013.9%1.19
6Hank Aaron13830.3051394012364377175514020.3430.2959.9%1.01
7Babe Ruth13300.342106178399287371420620.4060.34012.5%1.55
8Jimmie Foxx13110.32596708134264653414520.3880.33613.6%1.11
9Paul Molitor12440.3061216010835331923410940.3460.33010.2%0.88
10Chipper Jones12310.30792737825240642613430.3650.32113.3%1.09
11Larry Walker12310.3138030690721603839130.3810.33615.3%0.74
12Roberto Clemente12300.31710212945430002406210.3650.34612.0%0.50

A few interesting notes:

-Manny and Babe Ruth are the only guys on the list to bat .400 career when not striking out. Without checking, they may be the only ones ever; Rogers Hornsby batted .391 when not striking out, Ted Williams .379, Ty Cobb .385 for the years when we have strikeout data (1913-28, during which he hit .367, a point above to his career average), Ichiro .369, Albert Pujols .375.

-Only Jeter and Clemente here top Manny's .344 average on balls in play. Jeter's got to be near the top of that list all-time (Cobb's at .378 for the years we have strikeout data, Hornsby for his career is at .365, Ichiro .359, Pujols .321).

-Manny and A-Rod easily top the chart in stikeout frequency, not just totals, making their career averages that much more impressive.

-Clemente, unsurprisingly, has the worst BB/K ratio on the list, followed by Jeter and A-Rod; Ruth, of course, had the best.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
April 1, 2010

Is JD Drew a disappointment in Boston? Depends who you ask. Certainly Drew can't have surprised anybody with his performance in Boston. From age 24-30 in St. Louis, Atlanta and LA, he batted .291/.399/.517 and averaged 75 Runs, 21 HR and 65 RBI/year in 472 plate appearances per year over 120 games per year. In three years in Boston from age 31-33, Drew has batted .276./.390/.485 and averaged 82 Runs, 18 HR and 65 RBI/year in 516 plate appearances per year over 129 games per year. This is just about exactly what you would expect for a player of his age with his prior track record. But his contract still draws flak - here's the Globe's Tony Massarotti:

Despite the recent assertions of one longtime major league evaluator and executive that the Red Sox really have not signed any bad contracts during the Epstein Era, there have been mistakes. The Sox are still paying Julio Lugo. Until last year, they were still paying Edgar Renteria. J.D. Drew wouldn't be nearly the lightning rod he is if his salary were $10 million instead of $14 million...

H/T Patrick Sullivan, who responds that "J.D. Drew wouldn't be nearly the lightning rod he is if [Massarotti] & friends knew what constituted a good baseball player." In one sense, Massarotti is correct: the market has gone down since Drew was signed in the 2006-07 offseason, and you would no longer pay $14 million per year for a guy who does what Drew does and misses as many games as Drew misses. But Drew's been hearing this since the deal was signed, and it does rather miss the point of the relative scarcity of guys who can put up a .390 OBP with solid power, and how useful those guys are to your team.

Has Drew been less than clutch? That charge sticks to him, and while the sample sizes in Boston aren't large enough to accuse him of a tendency to not hit in clutch situations, on the whole you can't blame people for concluding that his performance is less aggressive in certain situations. The flip side is that Drew walks in clutch situations a lot, and that has value of its own.

Here's how Drew's numbers break down over his three-year Red Sox career.

First, over 453 plate appearances with men in scoring position in Boston, Drew has batted .243/.411/.451, compared to .288/.381/.497 in his other 1094 regular season plate appareances. He's reached base by walk or hit batsman 104 times with RISP, compared to 82 hits; in non-RISP situations the ratio is 144 to 273. That may suggest that he's pressing or that pitchers are working around him, or both, or be simply a statistical fluke; it does indicate that over his Sox tenure, he's been less of a threat to hit the ball and more of a threat to draw a walk when there are men in scoring position. I think the extra 30 points of OBP are more than enough to balance the scales out (you almost never find yourself in a better situation after walking a guy when there are already runners in scoring position), but it's at least a noticeable difference.

Then there's the late innings of a close game, much the same story: .234/.382/.354 over 220 plate appearances, with 21 RBI (an average of 49 RBI per 516 plate appearances compared to the 65 he's averaged overall), reaching base by BB or HBP 43 times compared to 41 hits. Some criticism can fairly be laid here for Drew slugging .354 in these situations, granting that it's only 220 plate appearances and probably a disproportionate number of those are against Mariano Rivera and other closers.

Finally, there's the postseason, in which Drew as a Red Sox has been the opposite way, batting .286/.346/.459, an improved batting average but one with less power and a lot less walks (he's reached by BB/HBP in the postseason 9 times vs 28 hits). Of course, postseason games are against a tougher cut of competition, and there's a hidden factor at work; whereas he's missed an average of 33 games per year the past three seasons, Drew has played in all 28 Boston postseason games over that period, with per-162-game averages of 23 homers, 64 Runs, and - wait for it - 109 RBI. You can't very well fault Drew as an RBI man without noticing that he's stepped up his RBI game in the biggest games of his Boston career.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:24 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2010 NL West EWSL Report

Part 4 of my preseason previews is the NL West; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Los Angeles Dodgers

Raw EWSL: 242.67 (94 W)
Adjusted: 250.60 (97 W)
Age-Adj.: 230.19 (90 W)
WS Age: 30.48
2010 W-L: 90-72

C27Russell Martin1819
1B26James Loney1618
2B24Blake DeWitt#46
SS32Rafael Furcal1411
3B36Casey Blake1713
RF28Andre Ethier2021
CF25Matt Kemp2126
LF38Manny Ramirez2215
C241Brad Ausmus53
INF35Ronnie Belliard107
OF38Garret Anderson128
1233Reed Johnson65
1335Jamey Carroll86
SP125Chad Billingsley1213
SP222Clayton Kershaw#810
SP332Vicente Padilla75
SP435Hiroki Kuroda#75
SP537Ramon Ortiz00
RP126Jonathan Broxton1314
RP233George Sherrill107
RP327Ramon Trancoso#55
RP427Ronald Belisario*46
RP528Hong-Chih Kuo55

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Nick Green. Jason Repko was cut, and Brian Giles retired.

Pitchers - Charlie Haeger is in the long-term mix for fifth starter. Jeff Weaver appears to be on the Opening Day roster. Russ Ortiz joined Ramon in this spring's Night of the Living Ortiz spectacle. Also James McDonald, Carlos Montaserios, Justin Miller, Luis Ayala, Josh Towers and Cory Wade. Fifth starter candidate Eric Stults was sold to the Hiroshima Carp.

Analysis: The NL West is not baseball's strongest division, but it remains its most competitive, with no dominant team and four of five primed to battle for first place. That said, the Dodgers should still be the strongest of the five, with a talented outfield, two possible rotation anchors, a good bullpen and the steady leadership of Joe Torre.

Age keeps coming up here, age and what it does and doesn't mean. EWSL values three Dodgers (Martin, Loney and Billingsley) as improving young players, not the worn-down veterans or they looked to be at times last season. It's easy to forget that Martin's still just 27 and Billingsley only 25. Billingsley's probably the most crucial Dodger - Kershaw continues to improve but may not quite be ready for center stage and a full #1 workload at age 22, so keeping him as the #2 man will be valuable. Martin, by contrast, looks unlikely to recover his past offensive glories. Manny's age matters too, as he showed it at times last year, batting a most un-Manny-ish .251/.378/.431 from July 24 through the season's end. At 38, the end of his years as a dominating slugger may be at hand, although he's likely to remain a dangerous bat. Blake's age (36) suggests that he's unlikely to sustain last year's pace, although his big improvement was in walks, an area where older players tend to retain improvements. And the bench is geriatric even by the standards of Joe Torre benches (assuming Belliard doesn't end up as the starting 2B; that situation remains unstable).

Kuo starts the year on the DL. It's anybody's guess whether the fifth starter will end up being Ortiz, the other Ortiz, Weaver, Haeger, or somebody else (Kuo's probably not returning to starting).

UPDATE: Haeger wins the 5th starter job. If we add him in for Ortiz, it won't change the EWSL picture much; he's 25 but has been kicking around the majors for four years now in small doses. His control remains iffy.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Raw EWSL: 194.50 (78 W)
Adjusted: 212.27 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 226.73 (89 W)
WS Age: 27.63
2010 W-L: 89-73

C26Miguel Montero89
1B30Adam LaRoche1715
2B28Kelly Johnson1313
SS27Stephen Drew1818
3B26Mark Reynolds1820
RF22Justin Upton#1229
CF26Chris Young1213
LF28Conor Jackson88
C229Chris Snyder99
INF29Ryan Roberts*48
OF23Gerardo Parra*511
1235Augie Ojeda54
1325Tony Abreu11
SP129Dan Haren1917
SP231Brandon Webb119
SP326Edwin Jackson1213
SP425Ian Kennedy00
SP526Billy Buckner11
RP131Chad Qualls98
RP226Juan Gutierrez*49
RP326Clay Zavada*24
RP426Esmerling Vasquez*23
RP536Bob Howry55

Subjective Adjustments: None - obviously Upton's age adjustment is fairly aggressive, but he batted .300/.366/.532 as a 21-year-old last season, and earned 19 Win Shares in 138 games; 29 this season is not an especially unusual target.

Also on Hand: Position players - Brandon Allen, Cole Gillespie, Drew Macias, Rusty Ryal.

Pitchers - Aaron Heilman, Kris Benson, Kevin Mulvey, as well as some non-ex-Mets: Rodrigo Lopez, Blaine Boyer, Leo Rosales.

Analysis: If Chad Billingsley is the most critical Dodger, Brandon Webb may be the most critical player in the whole NL West. A healthy Webb would give the D-Backs a formidable 1-2 punch, and combined with the solid Edwin Jackson as the third starter, give Arizona's offense a lot of chances to win. But as of now, Webb hasn't thrown since early March and is expected to miss at least the season's first month, which makes you wonder how long he'll be out and what he'll be like when he returns. That bumps Jackson to the #2 spot, and he's miscast as a #2 starter despite a good ERA last season in a less challenging ballpark (albeit in a tougher division), and after Jackson you have the deluge Arizona can't compete unless it gets at least half a season's worth of something resembling the old Brandon Webb. I have to figure that Webb's health was a driving force behind the otherwise inexplicable deal that brought in Jackson in exchange for Max Scherzer - Jackson doesn't have Scherzer's A-list talent (granted, that talent only got him a 9-15 career record in Arizona), but he's started 95 games and tossed 558.1 regular season innings the last three seasons, whereas Scherzer retains a reputation for being brittle. That may have been more risk than this staff could absorb. As for Jackson, his main risk is whether he can retain the improvements in his control that saw his walks per 9 innings drop from 4.9 to 3.8 to 2.9 the past three years.

Of course, a big part of last year's 92-loss fiasco was the offense managing to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored despite playing in a high-altitude bandbox that inflates everyone's offensive numbers. LaRoche and the continued development of Upton should help that (Arizona first basemen last year hit an appalling .229/.321/.398, to go with .219/.293/.379 from their center fielders, mainly Young; Upton was their only outfielder with any punch). They'll also need better years from Young and Drew and a return to the land of the living by Conor Jackson and Kelly Johnson; the latter steps in for Felipe Lopez, one of the team's few bright spots last year.

Mark Reynolds should be a steady power source after 2009's breakout, and could be devastating if he could cut his strikeouts to the 160-170 range some year; he's whiffed 427 times the past two seasons. I wouldn't hold my breath, but it's the sort of thing he could pull off once.

Colorado Rockies

Raw EWSL: 218.00 (86 W)
Adjusted: 231.77 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.05 (88 W)
WS Age: 29.45
2010 W-L: 88-74

C27Chris Iannetta1212
1B36Todd Helton1813
2B31Clint Barmes119
SS25Troy Tulowitzki1924
3B25Ian Stewart#913
RF31Brad Hawpe1815
CF24Dexter Fowler*819
LF24Carlos Gonzalez#710
C231Miguel Olivo87
INF38Melvin Mora118
OF27Seth Smith#810
1239Jason Giambi97
1330Ryan Spilborghs87
SP126Ubaldo Jimenez1415
SP231Aaron Cook1210
SP329Jeff Francis43
SP429Jorge De La Rosa87
SP527Jason Hammel66
RP126Huston Street1313
RP235Rafael Betancourt85
RP328Matt Daley*24
RP424Franklin Morales33
RP533Joe Beimel54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Eric Young and Omar Quintanilla compete with Mora for the reserve infield role.

Pitchers - Manuel Corpas and Taylor Buchholz still fighting to get all the way back. Greg Smith, Matt Belisle, Tim Redding, Randy Flores, Justin Speier.

Analysis: The Rox have their own returning-injured-ace issue with Jeff Francis. Jimenez seems to have taken the ace reins; although I remain skeptical of the long-term prospects of any starter who carries the burden of Coors, he did finish second in club history in ERA and strikeouts last year (his 198 Ks second only to 210 by Pedro Astacio in 1999), and set a club record for fewest hits/9. He's a quality starter.

I was baffled last season why so many outlets were prematurely burying Huston Street, who rebounded well in 2009 (including a 70/13 K/BB ratio and a 1.71 road ERA), but Street has been shut down repeatedly this spring with shoulder stiffness, which may unsettle the bullpen.

He may not be the question mark that Billingsley or Webb or Francis is, but how critical has Tulowitzki been to the Rockies over his career? Since his arrival in August 2006, Tulowitzki has had an OPS above 750 in a month 10 times, and below 750 (or didn't play) 10 times. The Rockies' record in the ten good months? 164-109 (.601), with a winning record in 9 of the 10 months. Their record in his ten bad months? 117-154 (.432), with a losing record in 8 of the 10 months. Last season, the Rockies caught fire on June 4, turning from a 20-32 record, 15 1/2 games out of first place, to go 52-36 and pulling within a game of the Dodgers through October 2 before dropping the last two to LA and settling for the wild card. Tulowitzki's season went the same way: batting an anemic .216/.306/.377 on June 6, he tore the league up to the tune of .336/.414/.637 with 27 homers in 101 games through October 2, before going 0-for-4 against Kershaw and the Dodgers bullpen on October 3 and sitting out the final game. Still only 25, he'll have a chance this season to add the missing consistency that is the only thing holding Colorado's indispenable man back from superstardom.

San Francisco Giants

Raw EWSL: 220.83 (87 W)
Adjusted: 226.57 (89 W)
Age-Adj.: 209.10 (83 W)
WS Age: 29.86
2010 W-L: 83-79

C35Ben Molina1511
1B33Aubrey Huff1311
2B32Freddy Sanchez1411
SS34Edgar Renteria1210
3B23Pablo Sandoval#1623
RF26Nate Schierholtz56
CF32Aaron Rowand1613
LF35Mark DeRosa1713
C230Eli Whiteside*23
INF30Juan Uribe1211
OF32Andres Torres43
1225Emmanuel Burriss#23
1329Fred Lewis98
SP126Tim Lincecum2122
SP225Matt Cain1718
SP332Barry Zito86
SP427Jonathan Sanchez65
SP531Todd Wellemeyer54
RP128Brian Wilson1111
RP231Jeremy Affeldt86
RP330Brandon Medders44
RP436Guillermo Mota43
RP527Sergio Romo#34

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Ishikawa, Buster Posey, Eugenio Velez, John Bowker.

Pitchers - Alex Hinshaw, Danny Bautista, Kevin Cameron, Byung Hyun Kim (who came out of retirement), and Santiago Casilla, who's been approaching triple digits this spring.

Hot prospect Madison Bumgarner is one of the people on the cover of this year's Baseball Prospectus, asking if he's the next Lincecum. The book overall isn't quite as hyped on Bumgarner, but even so. Obviously Bumgarner's a talented guy, and at first glance his numbers are eye-popping: 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA in 283 professional innings, an ERA below 2.00 at each of his four stops, including 10 innings in the big leagues. His walk and home run rates are microscopic. You do that at any level as a teenager, you're a serious prospect. But I also know he's 20 years old and has pitched a grand total of 117 innings above A ball, in which he has struck out 79 batters, just over 6 per 9 innings. I'm guessing that a guy who's barely striking out 6 men per 9 in AA isn't quite ready to take the majors by storm in 2010 (his K/BB was 164/21 in 141.2 innings in the Sally League, so he's not a low-K pitcher). Adjust your short-term expectations accordingly.

Analysis: One of the joys of looking at your favorite team's roster before the season is imagining what the team will look like if everything breaks right, if the guys with injuries get healthy, the guys with potential put it all together, the guys who are inconsistent get in a groove. For most teams in a given season, that daydream falls apart once the harsh reality of the season sets in, but there are always a few teams for whom most of the pieces fall into place.

Giants fans can't do much of that with this team, especially the non-pitchers. What room for growth is there? Who's going to blossom on this team? Most of the lineup is old (seriously: a 35-year-old second baseman in left field?), the rest aside from Sandoval has little potential, and Sandoval was pretty close to maxed out in 2009. The pitching staff, while much more talented, has mostly put it all together (or in Zito's case come as far back as he's gonna come), the main exception being Sanchez, who has struck out more than a batter per inning for his career while allowing less than 1 homer per 9, but has been held back by consistently poor control.

All this is another way of saying that the Giants will be fortunate indeed to match the 88 wins of last season. Their pitching should keep them in the hunt, but they're the least likely of the four contenders to close the deal.

San Diego Padres

Raw EWSL: 160.50 (67 W)
Adjusted: 179.10 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 171.49 (70 W)
WS Age: 29.14
2010 W-L: 70-92

C26Nick Hundley#68
1B28Adrian Gonzalez2930
2B35David Eckstein1310
SS23Everth Cabrera*717
3B26Chase Headley#913
RF27Will Venable#56
CF30Scott Hairston1110
LF23Kyle Blanks*36
C231Yorvit Torrealba76
INF32Oscar Salazar54
OF34Jerry Hairston jr.87
1227Tony Gwynn jr.77
1342Matt Stairs63
SP131Chris Young43
SP230Jon Garland109
SP329Kevin Correia55
SP426Clayton Richard#45
SP522Mat Latos*11
RP132Heath Bell108
RP226Luke Gregerson*35
RP331Mike Adams54
RP426Edward Mujica#23
RP528Joe Thatcher22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Josh Barfield, Eric Munson, Aaron Cunningham.

Pitchers - Sean Gallagher, Adam Russell.

Analysis: The Padres don't have the Giants' problem, but they do have a fairly narrow foundation to rebuild upon, at least so far, and it will get a lot narrower if they deal Gonzalez or Bell. (I assume Young will be dealt if he's able to recapture his 2006-07 form)

The mountainous Kyle Blanks showed some real pop last season (.250/.355/.514 in 172 plate appearances at age 22 after a .304/.393/.505 minor league career); the Pads hope the outfielder, listed at 6'6" 285, isn't the next Ken Harvey.

Mike Adams, who basically disappeared off the map due to injuries and ineffectiveness after being penciled in as the Brewers closer entering 2005, throwing just 15.2 big league innings over a three-year stretch, has had an amazing revival in San Diego, a 1.85 ERA and 10.5 K/9 the past two seasons, including an 0.73 ERA and just one home run allowed last season.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 27, 2010
BASEBALL: Roto Madness

Some of this blog's readers are not going to be interested in what follows, but I know some of you are fellow fantasy baseball players interested in my annual draft - which took place today - so click below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:46 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 26, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL Central EWSL Report

Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL Central; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior previews: the AL West & AL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 241.50 (94 W)
Adjusted: 252.03 (97 W)
Age-Adj.: 243.37 (94 W)
WS Age: 29.05
2010 W-L: 94-68

C27Joe Mauer3031
1B29Justin Morneau2120
2B32Orlando Hudson1915
SS27JJ Hardy1313
3B29Brendan Harris99
RF31Michael Cuddyer1411
CF26Denard Span#1621
LF24Delmon Young1114
DH28Jason Kubel1616
C227Jose Morales*24
INF32Nick Punto108
OF25Alexi Casilla56
1339Jim Thome1511
SP128Scott Baker1211
SP228Nick Blackburn#911
SP326Kevin Slowey67
SP426Francisco Liriano23
SP534Carl Pavano43
RP131Jon Rauch87
RP231Matt Guerrier86
RP325Jose Mijares*49
RP428Jesse Crain43
RP534Clay Condrey54

Subjective Adjustments: None, but given Justin Morneau's usual durability, unless Jason Kubel spends a good deal of time hurt or in the field, Jim Thome's not going to approach 11 Win Shares.

Also on Hand: Position players - Matt Tolbert, Jacque Jones, Ben Revere. Revere, a 22-year-old center fielder, may not make an appearance for a while, but he's a career .337/.396/.430 hitter in the minors, where he averaged 70 stolen bases per 162 games. That's all A ball and lower, so don't get too excited just yet, but a guy who can hit .379/.433/.497 and steal 44 bases in 83 games at age 20, as Revere did in Class A Beloit in 2008, is one to watch. Revere has hit .325 this spring in big league camp, but is headed for AA to work on his defense, which reading between the lines suggests that he'll end up as a left fielder.

Pitchers - Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Ron Mahay, Brian Duensing, Bobby Keppel, Anthony Swarzak, Rob Delaney. Also Joe Nathan, of course, but Nathan's having Tommy John surgery today, so Opening Day 2011 is an optimistic timetable.

Analysis: Despite the costly loss of Nathan, which likely leaves the closer job either in Rauch's hands or a combination of Rauch and Guerrier, the Twins remain the class of the field due mainly to Mauer and a solid infield. I already had Mauer approaching historic levels as a two-way catcher when I wrote my Hall of Fame catchers column in February 2009, and that was before he led the AL in batting, slugging and OBP. Fact: Mauer has now had 600 plate appearances in a season three times, and won the batting title all three. Fact: No other AL catcher has ever won a batting title; Mauer has as many as all NL catchers combined (Deacon White did win the 1875 National Association title as a catcher, and White and King Kelly won batting titles while doing some part-time catching in 1877, 1884 & 1886). But Mauer caught only 26% of opposing baserunners last season, by far a career low; like some of the other great catchers, he may end up with his best offensive and defensive seasons a little mismatched.

Delmon Young's progress remains agonizingly slow, but guys like him have been known to creep forward with little apparent improvement and then suddenly kick up to another level; he's still only 24, and I'd wait to see his 2010, 2011 and maybe 2012 before writing him off as a potential star. But the slow pace of Young's improvement, combined with Denard Span's success and Revere's potential, probably contributed to the decision to cut bait on also waiting for Carlos Gomez to progress, even if it meant losing the last tangible tie to the Santana trade. Anyway, adding Hudson and the offensively erratic Hardy should stabilize the infield.

The big question, as is so often true, is the rotation. Liriano has struggled badly enough that there's been talk of converting him to relief, and don't be surprised if that possibility is explored with Nathan out; Duensing could end up replacing him in the rotation. Assuming the old Liriano doesn't resurface, Baker and Slowey should be the anchors. Slowey posted a 5:1 K/BB ratio last season, but coughed up as many homers as walks, and was shut down after July 3 to have surgery on bone chips in his wrist; in Slowey's last two starts with the injury he surrendered 11 runs and 3 homers in 6 innings, ballooning his ERA from 4.04 to 4.86. Slowey's 0.56 spring ERA suggests he may be all the way back. Blackburn, like Baker and Slowey, has amazing control - the Twinkies and the Cardinals were the only major league teams to walk fewer than 3 men per 9 innings last year - but with his low K rate will depend more on the defense, and thus should benefit most from the arrival of the O-Dog.

Punto and Harris are still grappling over who gets to give away the third base job to the other; Casilla, who I have listed here as an outfielder solely because there was no room to list him as something else, is competing with Tolbert for the backup infield job.

Rauch currently holds the single-season record for most saves (18) by a pitcher who is taller than 6'10". Because you needed to know that.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 213.17 (84 W)
Adjusted: 224.53 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 204.31 (81 W)
WS Age: 29.95
2010 W-L: 81-81

C33AJ Pierzynski98
1B34Paul Konerko1513
2B23Gordon Beckham*615
SS28Alexei Ramirez#1417
3B28Mark Teahen1111
RF27Carlos Quentin1313
CF29Alex Rios1615
LF32Juan Pierre119
DH33Andruw Jones65
C234Ramon Castro54
INF43Omar Vizquel74
OF34Mark Kotsay65
1327Jayson Nix*36
SP129Jake Peavy119
SP231Mark Buehrle1613
SP325John Danks1416
SP427Gavin Floyd1211
SP534Freddy Garcia32
RP129Bobby Jenks1110
RP233Matt Thornton107
RP333Scott Linebrink43
RP428Tony Pena77
RP533JJ Putz64

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Brent Lillibridge, who had a horrible 2009. Alejandro de Aza. 24-year-old catcher Tyler Flowers, who improved his career minor league batting line to .293/.406/.495 last season, handled AAA pitching just fine, and got a quick cup of the big league coffee in September. Kenny Williams seems more concerned with Flowers batting .188 in that 10-game trial...I expect him to take over for Pierzynski at some point, but that could be next year unless Pierzynski gets dealt in July.

Pitchers - Sergio Santos, Greg Aquino, Randy Williams, Daniel Hudson, Carlos Torres, Freddy Dolsi, Scott Elarton.

Analysis: As has been the case for a few years now, I'm a little unclear on what the White Sox think they are doing, other than just muddling through in a weak division. On the upside, the double play combination is young and talented, the power hitters are still sort of in their prime other than Jones, the top 4 in their rotation should - if Peavy's healthy - stand up well to anybody but the Red Sox, the bullpen's fairly deep, and as noted there seems to be an orderly succession plan behind the plate. On the downside, Pierre is likely to return to being an offensive millstone and is ill-suited to a power park like whatever they're calling Comiskey these days, and there are serious perennial questions about the attitudes of Quentin, Rios and Jones - if you could give one of those guys Pierre's attitude, you'd be in much better shape (I'm not clear on why Rios is seen as the center fielder here over Pierre). The Jones signing is a gamble, but when you acquire a DH who is 33, overweight and has hit .207/.304/.393 the past three seasons, you need a better Plan B than ... Mark Kotsay? Please tell me they're never gonna wake up one morning with Vizquel as the starting DH.

On balance this looks like a team that can make a run at the division if the Twins stumble and things break well with the rotation (including Garcia, who has a lot to prove after three seasons lost to injury) and the outfield.

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 180.17 (73 W)
Adjusted: 213.91 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 204.25 (81 W)
Subj. Adj.: 201.25 (80 W)
WS Age: 29.20
2010 W-L: 80-82

C30Gerald Laird1211
1B27Miguel Cabrera2425
2B25Scott Sizemore+011
SS33Adam Everett54
3B33Brandon Inge1210
RF36Magglio Ordonez1813
CF23Austin Jackson+011
LF36Johnny Damon2116
DH34Carlos Guillen119
C223Alex Avila*24
INF30Ramon Santiago65
OF29Ryan Raburn66
1326Clete Thomas#56
SP127Justin Verlander1615
SP221Rick Porcello*1321
SP325Max Scherzer#68
SP427Jeremy Bonderman32
SP532Nate Robertson32
RP130Jose Valverde1311
RP225Joel Zumaya22
RP332Bobby Seay54
RP428Zach Miner76
RP523Ryan Perry*24

Subjective Adjustments: The 1.581 multiplier for pitchers age 21 and under is based on a sample of 9 seasons, two of them Felix Hernandez and most of them guys who had not, as Rick Porcello did last year, started 31 games in the majors. Projecting him to leap to 21 Win Shares seemed unrealistic even for optimists about Porcello, who after all struck out only 89 batters last year. I trimmed him down -3 to 18.

Overall, the Tigers are heavily dependent on guys without an established profile; they're the only team in the AL starting two pure rookies (Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson).

Also on Hand: Position players - Jeff Larish.

Pitchers - Dontrelle Willis, who's had a great spring and isn't out of contention for a rotation slot just yet. Armando Galarraga, deposed from the rotation but still hanging around. Fu-Te Ni, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Eddie Bonine.

Analysis: The Tigers' question marks start with replacing Curtis Granderson, especially defensively. Jackson is currently penciled in as the heir, although they could still go with Clete Thomas. Sizemore is actually the better hitter at this stage than Jackson (.308/.389/.500 between AA and AAA last season; Jackson's career slugging percentage in the minors is .410), but is two years older, and second basemen with questionable gloves are not always the most likely guys to develop as hitters.

Cabrera is reportedly sobered up and slimmed down; we'll see how much that matters and how long it lasts. My guess is that it's not going to affect his hitting much, but of course being in shape and not hung over is likely to help his baserunning, defense and long-term durability. In a way, it seems almost quaint to see a player whose issue is alcohol.

Much of the rest of the offense is creaky, nonexistent (Everett) and/or likely to struggle in Detroit (Damon).

The pitching staff could be impressive if Scherzer finally has a healthy season and Zumaya holds up. Bonderman's ceiling now looks a lot lower than it once did. And getting Dontrelle back on track could help.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 179.00 (73 W)
Adjusted: 185.47 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 182.74 (74 W)
WS Age: 28.74
2010 W-L: 74-88

C36Jason Kendall129
1B24Billy Butler1316
2B26Chris Getz*511
SS28Yuniesky Betancourt1010
3B26Alex Gordon89
RF30David DeJesus1816
CF30Rick Ankiel87
LF34Scott Podsednik87
DH34Jose Guillen87
C228Brayan Pena11
INF27Alberto Callaspo1111
OF27Josh Fields44
1329Mike Aviles#78
SP126Zack Greinke2021
SP231Gil Meche98
SP326Luke Hochevar#22
SP428Robinson Tejeda44
SP529Brian Bannister65
RP126Joakim Soria1415
RP231Juan Cruz43
RP334Kyle Farnsworth32
RP426Kyle Davies55
RP530Roman Colon21

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mitch Maier, last year a frequent starter in the outfield. Wilson Betemit, Willie Bloomquist, Brian Anderson, Vance Wilson.

Pitchers - Where to begin? Bruce Chen (yes, that Bruce Chen), Jorge Campillo, Phil Humber, Brad Thompson, Victor Marte, Josh Rupe, Matt Herges, 37-year-old Yasuhiko Yabuta (who actually pitched much better in his second crack at American minor leaguers in 2009), Rule V pickup Edgar Osuna, Bryan Bullington.

Analysis: A little hope, but not much. Donald Zachary Greinke was so good in so many ways last year that he has to be considered an elite pitcher and not a one-year fluke, but even the elite don't repeat seasons like that. Gordon, once a hyped "next George Brett" by the same people who used the same tag on Hank Blalock, starts the season on the DL, which puts Callaspo at third. Butler is the trendy pick for a breakout, and for good reason: from June 10 to the end of the season he batted .312/.374/.526 with 34 doubles in 101 games, including a blistering stretch of .346/.418/.596 with 45 RBI in 53 games from August 4 to September 30. That may be partly a matter of being a second-half hittter, but it does seem that Butler's making real progress. He also had ridiculous home/road splits: .362/.415/.612 in KC, .240/.307/.372 on the road. Getz had a .324 OBP last year as a rookie, and should improve enough on that to actually be useful.

Then, there's the ugly side, the guys who have neither present nor future. The acquisition of Podsednik is like the White Sox acquisition of Pierre: cheered by Roto players but mostly an investment in a season that's unlikely to be repeated. Both guys remain useful fourth outfiielders miscast as starting corner outfielders. The Royals remain desperate enough for starting pitching that they've considered using Kyle Farnsworth in the rotation. Kendall is durable and ends their experiment with sub-.300 OBPs behind the plate, but he's old, slow, punchless and can't throw. Betancourt's only 27 and has been declining for two years now (from a peak when his OBP was .308). Guillen remains a 34-year-old headache who's been paid $24 million the past two years to bat .257/.305/.415 and block Butler from DHing. Expectations should be limited accordingly.

Maybe they should get Dontrelle; he could probably use some advice in coming back from anxiety problems from Greinke and Ankiel.

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 133.00 (57 W)
Adjusted: 153.64 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 158.73 (66 W)
WS Age: 27.48
2010 W-L: 66-96

C24Lou Marson+111
1B34Russell Branyan108
2B24Luis Valbuena*38
SS24Asdrubal Cabrera1418
3B28Jhonny Peralta1515
RF27Shin-Soo Choo1718
CF27Grady Sizemore2021
LF23Michael Brantley*24
DH33Travis Hafner76
C239Mike Redmond33
INF25Matt LaPorta*24
OF26Trevor Crowe12
1326Andy Marte22
SP132Jake Westbrook32
SP226Fausto Carmona55
SP325Justin Masterson#56
SP425Aaron Laffey45
SP525David Huff*23
RP133Kerry Wood75
RP228Rafael Perez44
RP326Joe Smith44
RP426Tony Sipp*23
RP527Jeremy Sowers22

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Brantley and LaPorta should produce more than that with more playing time (LaPorta may be platooned with Branyan).

Also on Hand: Position players - Anderson Hernandez, Austin Kearns, Mark Grudzeilanek, Brian Bixler, Chris Gimenez, and smooth catching prospect Carlos Santana.

Pitchers - Chris Perez, Jensen Lewis, Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Tom Mastny, Hector Rondon, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot. Carrasco and Talbot are seen as in the rotation mix not far down the road.

Analysis: I see Baseball Prospectus has the Indians at 79-83. I get where some of the difference comes from: BP, as it often is with unproven players, is bullish on Masterson and LaPorta and has Brantley, Hafner and Westbrook valued relatively more than EWSL does. I'm not going to argue methods here - EWSL isn't a fine-tuned system like PECOTA, but its blunter approach can be summarized as: show me. Because to meet their PECOTA projections, all of those guys will have to do more in the majors than they've established as a baseline the past three seasons in the majors.

On a gut level, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, most divisions end up with a doormat, and the Indians have the look of a team with a complete mess of a starting rotation and an uneven offense beyond Sizemore and Choo. On the other hand, this division isn't overflowing with the kind of tough competition that hangs a 3-15 record on a team in one or more of its head-to-head matchups. Consider: the Indians last year went 4-14 vs Detroit but 16-20 against the Twins and White Sox; the Royals were 6-12 last year against the Twins but 17-19 against the other two. By contrast, the Orioles last year were 15-39 against NY, Boston and Tampa (including 7-29 against the top two) and the Blue Jays were 17-37 against the trio. Cleveland must look at the Blue Jays and think, there but for the grace of God...speaking of which, one major similarity this team has to Toronto is the destructive effects of a huge contract for a declining player in a collapsing economy, although Hafner's deal is not nearly the long-term millstone that Vernon Wells' is.

POSTSCRIPT: If you're wondering, the AL records, with all adjustments factored in, add up to an average of 82 wins per team, which is actually fairly consistent with the AL's aggregate record in the age of interleague play.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 25, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL East EWSL Report

Part 2 of my preseason previews is the AL East; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior preview: the AL West.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 296.33 (112 W)
Adjusted: 298.90 (113 W)
Age-Adj.: 266.84 (102 W)
WS Age: 31.10
2010 W-L: 102-60

C31Victor Martinez1815
1B31Kevin Youkilis2622
2B26Dustin Pedroia2426
SS34Marco Scutaro1714
3B31Adrian Beltre1210
RF34JD Drew1614
CF37Mike Cameron1811
LF26Jacoby Ellsbury1719
DH34David Ortiz1513
C238Jason Varitek96
INF36Mike Lowell1411
OF26Jeremy Hermida1213
1326Jed Lowrie#34
SP130Josh Beckett1512
SP226Jon Lester1516
SP331John Lackey1411
SP425Clay Buchholz44
SP529Daisuke Matsuzaka87
RP129Jon Papelbon1513
RP234Hideki Okajima86
RP328Ramon Ramirez76
RP425Daniel Bard*24
RP543Tim Wakefield97

Subjective Adjustments: None, but bear in mind that EWSL is valuing Lowell, Varitek and Hermida based on being everyday players in 2009, Lowrie in light of extensive playing time in 2008. That's not irrational - teams with that kind of depth often end up needing it, especially Hermida when you consider the injury histories of Drew and Cameron. But in the end, there won't be at bats enough for all of them.

Also on Hand: Position players - Bill Hall (another recently deposed regular!), Josh Reddick, Tug Hulett.

Pitchers - Manny Delcarmen, Joe Nelson, Boof Bonser, Kason Gabbard, Dustin Richardson, Brian Shouse, Fabio Castro, Michael Bowden.

Analysis: This Red Sox team doesn't look offensively strong enough to me to be a real 100-win team, but they and the Yankees are doubtless the strongest teams in the game by a healthy margin, in Boston's case due to their depth, pitching and defense. The rotation has some question marks, especially Matsuzaka and the durability of Lackey, but as with the rest of the roster there are fallbacks. Maybe the biggest vulnerable keystone is Mike Cameron, the oldest guy in the starting lineup and a key to improving Boston's outfield defense; a Drew-Ellsbury-Hermida outfield is not nearly as solid afield.

EWSL recognizes that Lester is really the star of the pitching staff now, and without the tougher road of pitching in Fenway in the AL East, he might be right there with Lincecum, Greinke, King Felix, Santana and maybe Halladay and Sabathia as the game's very best pitchers; as it is, he's at least in the next tier with Verlander, Lee, Wainwright, Haren and Carpenter. But of course Beckett remains the big-game ace.

I remain...I think the proper word is incredulous, rather than skeptical, at Scutaro as a major league everyday shortstop at age 34, but he's built up to this gradually, he's a solid enough bat and defensively the Sawx have Beltre and Pedroia to help cover his sides.

The Defending World Champion Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 283.67 (108 W)
Adjusted: 289.60 (110 W)
Age-Adj.: 250.32 (97 W)
WS Age: 31.92
2010 W-L: 97-65

C38Jorge Posada1511
1B30Mark Teixeira2724
2B27Robinson Cano1717
SS36Derek Jeter2418
3B34Alex Rodriguez2522
RF29Nick Swisher1615
CF29Curtis Granderson2120
LF26Brett Gardner#67
DH31Nick Johnson109
C224Francisco Cervelli*24
INF24Ramiro Pena*25
OF36Randy Winn1713
1333Marcus Thames55
SP129CC Sabathia2118
SP233AJ Burnett139
SP338Andy Pettitte119
SP433Javier Vazquez1510
SP524Phil Hughes66
RP140Mariano Rivera1612
RP224Joba Chamberlain88
RP335Damaso Marte32
RP427Alfredo Aceves#55
RP525David Robertson#23

Subjective Adjustments: None. Winn has the same issue as some of the Red Sox bench, but he's sharing time with Gardner, and while 20 Win Shares seems optimistic for the pair, it's not crazy. Also, the Yankees will need bench depth (both Winn and Marcus Thames) with Nick Johnson in the starting lineup.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mike Rivera, Kevin Russo, Jamie Hoffman.

Pitchers - Jonathan Albaladejo, Chan Ho Park, Sergio Mitre, Kei Igawa, Boone Logan, Royce Ring. Chad Gaudin was released this morning.

Analysis: At every turn, the Yankees have a stronger offense and more impressive-looking frontline talent than the Sox, but they're also older (except in center field) and subject to more uncertainties.

Hughes was named the fifth starter today, sending Joba back to the bullpen. Your guess is as good as mine how long either of those assignments will last, although at some point the Yankees need to make a long-term commitment what they're doing with those two guys. I think the die has been cast now to try Hughes as far as he will go as a rotation starter, but Joba is more enigmatic. He may even need a change of scenery.

A-Rod's streak of consecutive 100-Run/100-RBI seasons ended last year at 11, second only to Lou Gehrig's 13. In 14 major league seasons, he's either driven in 100 runs, scored 100 runs, or (12 times) both, every year.

The re-signing of Joe Mauer in Minnesota, the aging and injuries to A-Rod, and the continuing uncertainty around Joba means that there remains no heir apparent to Rivera, Jeter or Posada. When those guys go, this may be a more different team than anyone now envisions.

Tampa Bay Rays

Raw EWSL: 227.83 (89 W)
Adjusted: 241.67 (94 W)
Age-Adj.: 238.37 (93 W)
WS Age: 28.31
2010 W-L: 93-69

C26Dioner Navarro910
1B32Carlos Pena2116
2B29Ben Zobrist1615
SS30Jason Bartlett1917
3B24Evan Longoria#1828
RF25Matt Joyce#34
CF25BJ Upton1822
LF28Carl Crawford1717
DH33Pat Burrell1311
C230Kelly Shoppach98
INF27Willy Aybar66
OF34Gabe Kapler54
1329Hank Blalock66
SP128James Shields1312
SP226Matt Garza1111
SP327Jeff Niemann*611
SP424David Price*37
SP524Wade Davis*12
RP130Rafael Soriano87
RP232Dan Wheeler86
RP327JP Howell98
RP432Grant Balfour65
RP527Andy Sonnanstine44

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Matt Joyce and Wade Davis, if healthy all year, should well exceed their previously established major league performance.

Also on Hand: Position players - Perennial SS prospect Reid Brignac, Desmond Jennings (who is supposed to be Carl Crawford 2.0, although at the same age, Crawford was entering his fourth season as a major league regular), Sean Rodriguez.

Pitchers - Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Winston Abreu, Dale Thayer. Abreu's an interesting "prospect" case: a 33-year-old Dominican who entered the Atlanta system in 1994 (before Chipper Jones' first season as a regular), he's crapped out in brief major league trials (7.31 ERA in 44.1 innings for four teams over three seasons), has pitched in Mexico and Japan - but since 2006, he's thrown 168.2 innings at AAA with a 1.93 ERA and eye-popping peripherals: 5.40 H/9, 0.54 HR/9, 3.00 BB/9, 12.68 K/9.

Analysis: The Brewers had a wonderful collection of talent in the 1978-83 period, but somehow they only put together the one magical pennant (plus a postseason appearance in the scrambled season of 1981). Somehow, they often ended up third. Will that be the fate of these Rays? The good news is, there still seems to be a fair amount of potential upside/bounce-back here. Their Win Shares age marks them as the youngest team in the division (if Baltimore is hoping to rebuild to where the Rays are now, they need to build back in time). BJ Upton, David Price, Pat Burrell, Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine could hardly have had more disappointing seasons in 2009, and James Shields was off his game as well; Price and Wade Davis could potentially arrive in a hurry. On the other hand, a Navarro-like dropoff could easily plague the three Rays who played massively above expectations last season: Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and Jeff Neimann (Zobrist Win Shares the last three seasons: 1, 8, 27). Check out how Tampa's infield, powered by Zobrist and Bartlett, stacked up last season against their division rivals:

Average starting infielder, 2009:


(Poor Nick Green has the honor of dragging down the Red Sox. Note the low GIDP total for the Rays despite Longoria hitting into 27 despite batting third behind Crawford all year, mostly with Upton or Bartlett leading off - that high a total suggests that it's in the team's interests for Crawford in particular to run more ahead of him to avoid that this year, although as it is he ran 76 times last season). Niemann is perhaps unfairly lumped in that group, as he had a fine minor league record, and his signature skill (a low HR rate) has persisted at every level; if he can bump up his K rate even a little from 6.2 K/9 last season (it was 9.1 for his minor league career), he could be a star.

Boy, this division has some 24-year-old pitchers, doesn't it?

Navarro sounds as if he'll be reasonably ready to start the season despite a horrific spring training collision with Jacque Jones, who's fighting tooth and nail for a roster spot on the Twins.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 171.50 (70 W)
Adjusted: 193.50 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.93 (74 W)
WS Age: 29.61
2010 W-L: 74-88

C24Matt Wieters*511
1B30Garrett Atkins1110
2B32Brian Roberts2016
SS30Cesar Izturis87
3B36Miguel Tejada1814
RF26Nick Markakis1921
CF24Adam Jones#1015
LF26Nolan Reimold*511
DH32Luke Scott119
C235Chad Moeller21
INF32Ty Wigginton97
OF25Felix Pie45
1326Robert Andino#22
SP135Kevin Millwood107
SP231Jeremy Guthrie108
SP324Brad Bergesen*510
SP423Brian Matusz*23
SP522Chris Tillman*12
RP132Mike Gonzalez65
RP227Jim Johnson67
RP327Cla Meredith44
RP435Koji Uehara*23
RP536Mark Hendrickson54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jeff Salazar, Lou Montanez, Michael Aubrey.

Pitchers - Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Alfredo Simon, Will Ohman.

Analysis: In another division, I'd be guardedly optimistic; the Orioles finally seem to be getting their rotation together, their outfield is reasonably young and talented, Wieters still looks like an eventual superstar if not the immediate one everybody predicted last season, and the infield and bullpen are at least anchored mostly by competent veterans (Gonzalez, like Soriano with the Rays, was heisted from a Braves franchise disproportionately disgusted with its bullpen help). Granted, there are trouble signs: Millwood has been terrible this spring, Markakis could just as easily turn into Ben Grieve rather than Carl Yastrzemski, Reimold may not repeat last season's pleasant surprise, and any of the trio of Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman could easily go the way of so many promising young pitchers. But the main problem the Orioles face is 54 games on their schedule with the Beasts of the East.

I swear, I will spend the next several years muttering "e before i spells Greinke, i before e spells Wieters."

Tejada has averaged 27 GIDP per year the past four seasons, leading the league five times in six years; he hasn't yet cracked Jim Rice's surprisingly durable single-season record of 36.

Luke Scott's Win Shares the past three seasons: 11, 11, 11. That's an established performance level.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 150.50 (63 W)
Adjusted: 160.50 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 153.81 (64 W)
WS Age: 29.39
2010 W-L: 64-98

C29John Buck76
1B33Lyle Overbay1210
2B28Aaron Hill1818
SS33Alex Gonzalez65
3B27Edwin Encarnacion1011
RF29Jose Bautista87
CF31Vernon Wells1210
LF22Travis Snider*38
DH26Adam Lind1416
C235Jose Molina64
INF35John McDonald32
OF29Jeremy Reed22
1332Randy Ruiz*22
SP125Ricky Romero*511
SP228Shaun Marcum65
SP330Scott Richmond*23
SP425Brandon Morrow56
SP524Marc Rzepcynski*25
RP132Jason Frasor65
RP234Scott Downs86
RP328Jeremy Accardo33
RP432Kevin Gregg97
RP534Shawn Camp43

Subjective Adjustments: None. This is all there is, folks. But Snider should beat 8 WS if he's in the lineup all year.

Also on Hand: Position players - Raul Chavez, Joey Gathright, Jorge Padilla, Jarrett Hoffpauir.

Pitchers - Plenty of about the same quality as the guys listed above: Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil, Dana Eveland, David Purcey, Jesse Carlson, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch.

Analysis: 2010 marketing slogan: "Hey, we already paid them." Marcum, who did not throw a pitch last season, has been named to start Opening Day, replacing the departed (liberated?) Roy Halladay. The Yankees, Sox and Rays may be tough places to break in as a young starting pitcher given the pressures, but Baltimore and Toronto are even less enviable, especially Toronto without Millwood: the youngsters (in Richmond's case, not even young) have to carry the front of the rotation on top of facing all those tough opponents.

The Jays aren't so desperately under-talented - there's at least a plausible gap-filler at most every position, and the bullpen's deep enough in decent arms that they should eventually be able to figure out which ones are going to pitch well this year - but in this division, with so little front-line talent and an unproven rotation, I'll be surprised if they avoid 100 losses.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 24, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL West EWSL Report

Part 1 of my preseason previews is the AL West; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 225.00 (88 W)
Adjusted: 241.34 (94 W)
Age-Adj.: 218.33 (86 W)
Subj. Adj: 216.33 (85 W)
WS Age: 29.94
2010 W-L: 85-77

C26Adam Moore+111
1B27Casey Kotchman1213
2B26Jose Lopez1415
SS32Jack Wilson108
3B32Chone Figgins2116
RF36Ichiro Suzuki2619
CF27Franklin Gutierrez1314
LF32Milton Bradley1411
DH40Ken Griffey jr116
C227Rob Johnson*59
INF29Ryan Garko1312
OF30Ryan Langerhans33
1334Eric Byrnes65
SP124Felix Hernandez2022
SP231Cliff Lee1714
SP331Erik Bedard97
SP428Ian Snell55
SP527Ryan Rowland-Smith76
RP128David Aardsma98
RP227Mark Lowe44
RP329Sean White44
RP427Brandon League33
RP526Shawn Kelley*23

Subjective Adjustments: As I did last season, I'm trying to be very sparing with introducing purely subjective adjustments into what is intended to be an objective system, but sometimes you have to have a sanity check. I'm docking 2 Win Shares from Adam Moore, the Mariners' rookie catcher, because I can't quite value the combination of him and weak-hitting #2 catcher Rob Johnson as being cumulatively worth 20 Win Shares, and given the choice between the two, I prefer to dock the guy who is less proven. That said, Moore's career line in the minors is .301/.369/.483; even factoring in the very large adjustment from a Class A hitters' haven like High Desert to Safeco, that suggests a guy who will bring noticeably more pop than the punchless Johnson.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jack Hannahan, Matt Tuiasosopo, Corey Patterson, Mike Sweeney, Mike Carp, Josh Bard, Michael Saunders.

Pitchers - Luke French, Jason Vargas, Yusmiero Petit, Garrett Olson, Kanekoa Texeira, Randy Messenger, Ryan Feierabend. French appears to be the favorite to take Bedard's rotation slot until when and if Bedard is ever ready to pitch, and with Cliff Lee starting the season shelved with an abdominal strain, the staff may need to dig deeper than that. French put in three very undistinguished seasons in the Tigers' system before reeling off 13 excellent starts at AAA Toledo last year, posting a 2.98 ERA and improving his K/BB ratio to 3.6 from 1.47, earning him a promotion. He had a 3.38 ERA but weak peripherals with Detroit before arriving in Seattle, where he surrendered a ghastly 2.1 homers per 9 innings in 38 innings of work. So, French should be regarded as a work in progress.

Analysis: Probably no team moved as aggressively or with as clear a plan in mind in the offseason as the Mariners, a franchise adrift for much of the past 6 years despite occasional youth movements and spurts at overachieving contention-like records (last season's 85 wins exceeded their Pythagorean record - i.e., their record as predicted from runs scored and allowed - by 10 games). The reason was obvious: they saw an opportunity and a limited window to grab it. The opportunity came in the form of the Angels' free agency losses - John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero, on the heels of last year's losses of Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jon Garland and Garret Anderson. It's cold comfort to Angels fans that many of those guys were declining commodities unlikely to match their prior production in Anaheim; the point was that that prior production will be hard to replace, leaving the team that dominated this division to the tune of five division titles in six years suddenly vulnerable. At the same time, with star Ichiro Suzuki now 36 and Felix Hernandez subject to the usual concerns about how long a very young pitcher can stay on top before he breaks down, the team had a sense of urgency about seizing this opportunity.

The Mariners' plan wasn't brilliant, but you can accomplish quite a lot just by knowing what you want to do and sticking with it. They snagged Figgins from the Angels, which killed two birds with one stone, depriving the Angels of his services and importing a slap hitter more suited to Safeco than departing underachieving slugger Adrian Beltre. Even if Figgins can't sustain his improvement in walks last season, he'll be a solid addition in the short run. Casey Kotchman was brought in to soften the blow of Russell Branyan's departure, and while Kotchman is a fairly punchless hitter, he's just hitting age 27 and he and Milton Bradley are both guys who similarly don't depend on the home run for their offensive value (Kotchman may end up platooned with Ryan Garko at first). Ditto for stretch-drive acquisition Jack Wilson at short and scrap heap claim Eric Byrnes.

On the pitching side, bringing in Cliff Lee was part of a larger project (along with last season's addition of Ian Snell) to prop up the Mariners' low team strikeout rate (only Felix Hernandez notched more than 90 Ks last season), rendering them less dependent on repeating last season's AL-best-by-a-wide-margin .712 Defensive Efficiency Rate, and enable the team to re-sign the rehabbing Erik Bedard without having to bank on him as the #2 starter.

Not everything fit the pattern, of course; the team re-upped 40-year-old Ken Griffey jr. to DH (assuming Bradley can play left), after Griffey hit .214, albeit with a really freaky home-road split in which he mauled opposing pitchers at Safeco but was utterly helpless on the road. But Griffey is apparently supposed to provide veteran leadership. If he falls on his face in a "Willie Mays, 1973" way, the Mariners don't have a ton of hitting depth to cover the LF/DH spots, especially if Bradley is, as usual, frequently unavailable. Griffey is the most extreme example of a division-wide trend: the average AL West DH is 36 years old this season.

Clearing 90 wins by more than a hair will be an uphill battle for Seattle unless Lee, Bedard, and Snell suddenly all get healthy and back to top form at once - like the rest of this division, the Mariners are out of the wild card race before the season starts, when you look at the AL East - but this team has definitely made the moves necessary to swipe a division title if one can be had in the high 80s.

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 221.17 (87 W)
Adjusted: 230.68 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 210.64 (83 W)
WS Age: 30.12
2010 W-L: 83-79

C28Mike Napoli1011
1B27Kendry Morales1212
2B26Howie Kendrick1416
SS26Erick Aybar1517
3B25Brandon Wood#11
RF36Bobby Abreu2216
CF34Torii Hunter2118
LF31Juan Rivera108
DH36Hideki Matsui1511
C227Jeff Mathis55
INF29Macier Izturis1514
OF29Reggie Willits33
1327Freddy Sandoval+04
SP127Jered Weaver1413
SP226Scott Kazmir910
SP327Ervin Santana109
SP431Joel Pineiro87
SP529Joe Saunders1311
RP134Brian Fuentes108
RP233Fernando Rodney75
RP330Brian Stokes33
RP431Jason Bulger*46
RP525Kevin Jepsen*24

Subjective Adjustments: None, although I expect Brandon Wood to finally establish himself as a reputable major league hitter after cracking 160 home runs in a long minor league career that saw him bat .272/.338/.497, .296/.375/.595, and .293/.353/.557 over the past three full seasons at AAA. Also, one assumes that Kendry Morales will do better than 12 Win Shares, but I don't argue with EWSL's bias against guys like Wood and Morales whose recent history still includes flopping in extended trials against big-league competition.

Also on Hand: Position players - Robb Quinlan.

Pitchers - Scot Shields, Sean O'Sullivan. The stability of the Angels, even with all the free agent losses, is reflected in how few battles for roster spots and starting jobs they have this spring; if everybody's healthy, you'll know who their players are.

Analysis: Mike Scioscia also knows what he's doing, though I'm starting to worry he's suffering from Gene Mauch/Buck Rogers Syndrome, where the ownership assumes he can keep winning without having to supply him with quality players. Notice, as is often the case with the Angels, the focus on prime talent: the roster above includes two 25-year-olds, three 26-year-olds, five 27-year-olds, a 28-year-old, and three 29-year-olds - more than half the roster in that age cohort, and except for the outfield (where Abreu's age remains a concern) the age is mostly concentrated in the bullpen. That's a similar distribution to the one I noted in the 2002 World Champs.

That said, the Angels' fate will rest with the health of their starting rotation, especially the power pitchers. Kazmir needs to rebound, and recent reports are not optimistic about Ervin Santana. And I remain skeptical that Pineiro can keep his walk and home run rates sufficiently microscopic to survive his inability to strike anybody out. If Weaver and Saunders end up as this team's 1-2 starters, they're in trouble and could easily sink below .500.

Texas Rangers
Raw EWSL: 181.67 (74 W)
Adjusted: 203.30 (81 W)
Age-Adj.: 201.73 (80 W)
Subj. Adj.: 199.73 (80 W)
WS Age: 28.27
2010 W-L: 79-83

C25Jarrod Saltalamacchia67
1B24Chris Davis#69
2B28Ian Kinsler2323
SS21Elvis Andrus*921
3B33Michael Young1916
RF29Nelson Cruz1110
CF24Julio Borbon*36
LF29Josh Hamilton1615
DH35Vladimir Guerrero1612
C226Taylor Teagarden*33
INF25Joaquin Arias#11
OF28David Murphy1010
1332Endy Chavez33
SP127Scott Feldman98
SP228Rich Harden99
SP323Tommy Hunter*49
SP426Brandon McCarthy34
SP523Derek Holland*12
RP130Frank Francisco76
RP229CJ Wilson87
RP327Darren O'Day#56
RP439Darren Oliver87
RP522Naftali Feliz*37

Subjective Adjustments: A primary reason why I added subjective adjustments was what I think of as the Khalil Greene problem, since he's one of the first (but not the last) second-year shortstops to exhibit it: EWSL assesses a very young hitter as having a lot of rapid room for growth, but as a result it tends to overvalue second-year hitters who are (1) under age 25 and (2) have a disproportionate amount of their value in their gloves. Nobody improves that much defensively from a good start in one year. So, rather than 21 Win Shares, I've trimmed back Elvis Andrus by 2 Win Shares to 19, which is still +2 from last year's total of 17.

Also on Hand: Position players - Esteban German, Max Ramirez, Brandon Boggs, Toby Hall. Ramirez is the third of Texas' troika of hugely hyped young catchers, but he had a .234/.323/.336 train wreck of a season at AAA last year, and with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden scuffling at the major league level, suddenly nobody's talking about this as the second coming of the Giants' McCovey vs Cepeda problem.

Pitchers - Colby Lewis (who's been in Japan and may end up in the rotation), sometime closer Chris Ray, Edwar Ramirez, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Doug Mathis.

Analysis: The story has been the same for years: the sun is rise, the sun is set, and there's no pitching in Texas yet. Have we finally turned a corner? Certainly, this team's pitching doesn't present the ghastly hue that doomed past Rangers squads to the cellar. Last season's 4.57 team ERA was actually better than the league average, especially when adjusted for the park. Scott Feldman's one-season improvement suggests a guy who can serve as an innings-eater (though 0.9 HR, 3.1 BB & 5.4 K/9 are decent numbers, but don't foretell much more room for growth, esepcially after two seasons of being pounded). Whether he stays in middle relief or becomes a Joba Rules-style starter, Naftali Feliz has an enormous upside as a power pitcher. Young control/groundball starter Tommy Hunter had a good ERA last season, while Derek Holland, who struggled, struck out more than twice as many as he walked (7.0 K, 3.1 BB, but a frightening 1.7 HR/9) following a fairly spectacular tour through the minor leagues (career rates of 0.4 HR, 2.6 BB, 9.9 K, albeit mostly in A ball). Rich Harden - who's only a year older than Feldman - is on hand, bringing the same gambler's chance to Texas that Bedard and Snell bring to Seattle, Kazmir and Santana to Anaheim, and Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer to Oakland. For once, there's some hope. But in the short run, the pitching will have an uphill battle to match last season with the departure of staff ace Kevin Millwood, the dependence on young pitchers and potentially erratic setup men and the mercurial Harden.

(UPDATE: It currently looks like the Rangers will be trying CJ Wilson in the rotation and McCarthy in the bullpen, but we'll see how long that experiment lasts.)

The offense was more unreliable last season. Kinsler's 30-30 numbers made Roto fans happy, but a .253 batting average just isn't enough in a park like Texas. Andrus was adequate and promising, but still isn't an offensive plus. Davis needs to arrest his strike zone problems before his career vanishes. And one of the catchers needs to step up.

Vlad Guerrero was a good gamble - he fell off last season and could be almost done, but guys with his talent and track record have been known to bust out with one last gasp around this age, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him notch a season like Andres Galarraga's first year in Atlanta, Juan Gonzalez' first year in Cleveland, Frank Thomas' first year in Oakland, or Gary Gaetti's 1995 with Kansas City.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 168.67 (69 W)
Adjusted: 196.13 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 196.19 (79 W)
WS Age: 27.90
2010 W-L: 79-83

C26Kurt Suzuki1517
1B24Daric Barton#79
2B33Mark Ellis1311
SS26Cliff Pennington*56
3B28Kevin Kouzmanoff1515
RF25Ryan Sweeney#1015
CF30Coco Crisp88
LF29Rajai Davis99
DH31Jack Cust1613
C228Landon Powell*35
INF27Jake Fox*36
OF30Gabe Gross87
1327Eric Patterson*23
SP131Ben Sheets76
SP232Justin Duchscherer53
SP322Brett Anderson*49
SP426Dallas Braden56
SP522Trevor Cahill*48
RP126Andrew Bailey*918
RP230Brad Ziegler#88
RP331Michael Wuertz76
RP429Craig Breslow54
RP526Joey Devine#34

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Buck, a supposedly healthy Eric Chavez.

Pitchers - Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, Lenny DiNardo, Brett Tomko, Jerry Blevins, Clayton Mortenson. Also Josh Outman, the obligatory Tommy John rehab case.

Analysis: Sure, Billy Beane's vaunted "Moneyball" savvy and bargain-hunting skills are widely revered. Sure, he's spun silk from a sow's ear repeatedly with Chad Bradford- and Scott Hatteberg-style scrap heap finds. Sure, every year when I do my post-season EWSL wrapups, the A's are at or near the top of the list of teams getting the most Win Shares from guys not even on their preseason 23-man lineup, attesting to Beane's ongoing ability to retool his teams on the fly.

But look back at the glory days of Beane's A's and you'll notice something else: Jason Giambi won the MVP Award in 2000 and was the runnerup the following year, batting .338/.476/.653 over those two seasons; Miguel Tejada won the award in 2002 and averaged 30 HR and 116 RBI from 2000-2003. Barry Zito won the Cy Young Award in 2002, going 23-5. Ben Grieve was Rookie of the Year in 1998, Bobby Crosby in 2004, Huston Street in 2005. Tim Hudson went 20-6 in 2000, and finished 2d, 4th and 6th in the Cy Young balloting over a four-year period. Mark Mulder had 21- and 19-win seasons back to back, finishing second in the Cy Young balloting in 2001. Eric Chavez averaged 100 RBI per year from 2001-2005. In short: the A's had stars, big ones, most of them homegrown along with star-level seasons from acquisitions like Jermaine Dye, Matt Stairs and John Jaha.

That's what's missing now from a team whose best everyday player is...Kevin Kouzmanoff? Kurt Suzuki? Ryan Sweeney? Rajai Davis? Ugh. You can hold together a battleship with duct tape, but you need a battleship first.

The A's have the usual array of young pitchers, granting that none of the starters are blazing from the minor league gate as Hudson and Zito did, and Sheets and Duchscherer are rolls of the dice. The bullpen could be outstanding, but beware of their various aches and pains: Bailey was a great surprise last season but spring soreness could portend a guy who takes a step back after flying too close to the sun for a year, and Breslow and Devine are also various shades of banged up. I expect Beane to press enough buttons to keep Oakland around .500, but for more than that, they need to wish upon a star.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2010
BASEBALL: The Top Ten (Twelve, Actually)

Continuing my warmup posts on Established Win Shares Levels, since I have kept you all waiting for the team previews, here's how the method, with the updated 2010 age adjustments, values the top 10 players (actually twelve, as I'm listing the guys who are essentially tied at 26 EWSL) in the game in terms of established performance level adjusted by age. EWSL is explained here. Chart below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:05 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2010
BASEBALL: EWSL 2010 Age and Rookie Baselines

It's time once again, however belatedly, for my annual division previews using Established Win Shares Levels, which are explained here. Before we get to rolling out the 2010 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use each year. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past six seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful in evaluating the established talent base on hand for each team entering each season. As a reminder: EWSL is not a prediction system. It's a way of assessing the resources on hand. Time, chance, and mid-season replacements happen to all.

First up is the age adjustments; I've reformatted the table a bit from year to year. See my writeups on the age adjustments following the 2004 season - also here - 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. Here's the 2009 age adjustments (i.e, how each age of non-pitcher or pitcher stacked up to their un-age-adjusted EWSL), and the totals for 2004-09 - in some ways, if you study these sorts of things, the numbers accumulated over this many seasons become interesting in themselves:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:02 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2010
BASEBALL: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Lee at Gettysburg, Napoleon at Waterloo; historians will forever debate whether they erred at critical junctures by misunderstanding or misjudging the lay of the land. In a similar vein, Morgan Ensberg says on his blog that he was mis-positioned by Phil Garner at a key moment in the 2005 NLCS due to an optical illusion from Garner's vantage point in the Minute Maid dugout.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:44 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 11, 2010

Joshua Fisher, in the course of a useful primer on sabermetric stats, makes a point I've come back to again and again:

Our arrogance comes from the strength of our position; we're right about baseball and we know it. The problem is that things have become almost cultish; our alphabet-soup language poses a formidable barrier to entering the club. And that's where these primers come in. If we can walk people through the silliness of pitcher wins and ERA, they'll greet FIP with open arms. That's the plan.

But I'm not sure it works as elegantly as we'd like. I believe we've reached a sort of saturation point with advanced stats. Most anyone who wants to know about WAR is already plugged in. And the primers, while enjoyable, accurate, and insightful, are still lessons. I don't know about the rest of you, but I got into sabermetrics because I enjoyed discovery. There's a fine line between learning and being taught, and the former is much more enjoyable than the latter.

What's more, at the end of the day, do we really care if the people we watch the game with know the differences between UZR and Dewan Plus/Minus? Does it matter if they can discuss the merits and flaws of SIERA? Do our friends need to carry run expectancy charts in their briefcases?

I say no. What's important about sabermetrics isn't the statistics, but the approach to the game.

This has long been one of my two major critiques of Baseball Prospectus, much as I respect and value what BP brings to the table (the other is the ceaseless hyping of prospects without adequate perspective about how often super-prospects stumble and face a learning curve even when on their way to great careers): too much advanced math too close to the surface, too many non-obvious acronyms (WXRL sounds like a radio station to me), too many boutique stats with non-obvious scales (quick: what's the typical WARP for an All-Star? An MVP?). That's all well and good if you are writing a trade journal for professional GMs, and sometimes that seems to be what BP aspires to, but it's impossible for even an educated BP reader to translate this stuff quickly and cleanly to neophytes. And it often leaves one with a false sense of certainty about inherently imprecise inquiries, while the opaque nature of the numbers renders their inner workings impervious to analysis by most outsiders, who simply have to take the workings of the formulae on faith. Personally, I never use any math on this site more complex than algebra; partly that's my own mathematical limitations, and I recognize that there are times when a regression analysis would come in very handy, but if you start with the assumption that your readers come to be entertained and enlightened rather than have all arguments settled for all time, it's sometimes worth trading some level of precision for more easily understood measurements. That's a lesson Bill James, not just the greatest original thinker among baseball analysts but also the greatest popularizer of the form, has never forgotten, and I try to adhere to his example.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:28 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2009 EWSL Wrapup By Team

Further to the process of looking back at 2009's Established Win Shares Levels reports in preparation for 2010, here's how the 2009 teams stacked up. The first column is the number of EWSL by team (recall that my preseason reports collect only 23 players, so I'm always going to be a little short); the second is the number of win shares earned by those 23 players in 2009 (whether on that team or not); the third is the difference between the two; fourth is team wins; fifth is the total number of WS for the team's players minus those earned by the 23 guys I identified before the season; the last column is total team WS minus EWSL.

TeamEWSL2009 WSDiffWinsRestWS-EWSL

Unsurprising that the Mets were the biggest underachievers. Also unsurprising that the A's were near the top, as happens nearly every year, in Win Shares earned by players not on the preseason depth chart, topped only by the Mariners.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:34 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 10, 2010
BASEBALL: Say Goodbye, Part I

Part of the process of compiling my annual Established Win Shares Levels-driven preseason previews is looking back at the prior season. Let's start with a look at the mortality of baseball careers: a list of the players from the 2008 previews who didn't make it into anybody's previews in 2009, by how they did in 2009:

10 or more Win Shares: These guys seriously returned to the land of the living, in Hughes' case making his mark on his second try as a prospect.

Adam Kennedy, David Aardsma, Scott Podsednik, Tony Gwynn, Angel Pagan, Jonny Gomes, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Jason Frasor

5-10 Win Shares: These guys re-established themselves as major leagers.

Carl Pavano, Clay Buchholz, Jason Nix, Robinson Tejeda, Mike Sweeney, Lance Cormier, Omar Vizquel, Danys Baez, Josh Anderson, Scoyy Eyre, Miguel Batista, Justin Miller, Gabe Kapler, Shawn Camp

1-4 Win Shares: Some of these guys are just scrubs who flit on and off the 23d roster slot; others returned briefly from injury; others were winding down Hall of Fame careers.

Tim Hudson, Freddy Garcia, Brian Stokes, Brett Tomko, Jack Hannahan, Brendan Donnelly, Jason Jennings, Josh Bard, Pedro Martinez, Claudio Vargas, Brian Anderson, Bartolo Colon, Matt Herges, Andy Marte, Jeremy Sowers, Josh Fogg, Rich Vanden Hurk, Chad Gaudin, Tyler Walker, Robb Quinlan, Matt Albers, Brayan Pena, Luis Ayala, Tim Redding, Billy Wagner, Kyle Kendrick, Tom Gorzelanny, Brian Shouse, Jeremy Accardo, Ryan Langerhans, Paul Bako, Juan Castro, Kip Wells, Dustin Moseley, Ramon Ramirez, John Smoltz, Josh Barfield, Matt Belisle, Randy Flores, Juan Rincon, Alejandro de Aza, Doug Brocail, Tony F. Pena, Tony Abreu, Kevin Cash, Kevin Cameron, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Gonzalez, Eliezer Alfonzo, Jamie Burke, Garrett Olson, Kevin Frandsen, Chad Bradford, Jason Isringhausen, Esteban German, Julian Tavaraz, Paul Byrd, Luis Hernandez, Eric Milton, Matt Murton.

0 Win Shares: Most of these guys barely played and are all but finished as big leaguers.

Rich Hill, Jimmy Gobble, Vinny Chulk, Dontrelle Willis, Taylor Tankersley, Aaron Boone, JR Towles, Joel Peralta, Jason Repko, David Riske, Marlon Anderson, Angel Berroa, Casey Fossum, Shelley Duncan, Ian Kennedy, Chris Denorfia, Jeff Salazar, Emil Brown, Shawn Hill, Chris Burke, Brian Barton, Joaquin Arias, Russ Adams, Brian Burres, Alex Cintron, Wil Ledezma, Jorge Sosa, Fernando Cabrera, Lenny DiNardo, Rodrigo Lopez, Sergio Mitre, Guillermo Quiroz, So Taguchi

Did Not Play: Aside from a few guys rehabbing major injuries, nearly all these guys' careers have now ended.

Antonio Alfonseca, Moises Alou, Tony Armas, Rick Bauer, Robby Hammock, Brad Hennessey, Paul McAnulty, Brian Broussard, Aaron Fultz, Norris Hopper, Jacque Jones, Daryle Ward, Juan Salas, Jake Westbrook, Jeff Francis, Dan Ortmeier, Scott Proctor, Jason Wood, Toby Hall, Clay Hensley, Ryan Shealy, Oscar Villereal, Chris Capuano, Callix Crabbe, Wes Littleton, Pat Neshek, Bobby Kielty, Jose Valentin, Kei Igawa, Pablo Ozuna, Franquelis Osoria, Brian Babcock, Noah Lowry, Ron Washington, Joaquin Benoit, Jason Botts, Adam Loewen, Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Matt Chico, Javier Valentin, Dmitri Young, Armando Benitez, Gary Bennett, Ryan Bowen, Ambiorix Burgos, Sean Casey, Juan Castillo, Gustavo Chacin, Shawn Chacon, Brady Clark, Humberto Cota, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, Brad Eldred, Morgan Ensberg, Johnny Estrada, Brian Fahey, Eric Gagne, Lee Gardner, Justin Germano, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Giles, Gary Glover, Chris Gomez, Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Orlando Hernandez, Jason Hirsh, Tadahito Iguchi, Chuck James, Geoff Jenkins, Dan Johnson, Byun Hyung Kim, Mike Lamb, Jason Lane, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Kameron Loe, Ruddy Lugo, Hector Luna, Rob Mackowiak, Tom Mastny, Macay McBride, Adam Melhuse, Kevin Mench, Trot Nixon, Josh Paul, Jay Payton, Wily Mo Pena, Odalis Perez, Andy Phillips, Mike Rabelo, Mike Redman, Al Reyes, Dave Roberts, Kenny Rogers, Kirk Saarloos, Rudy Seanez, Richie Sexson, Ben Sheets, Andy Sisco, Chris Snelling, Scott Speizio, Scott Stewart, Mark Sweeney, Frank Thomas, Scott Thorman, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel, Jason Tyner, Jose Vidro, Ryan Wagner, Brad Wilkerson, Vance Wilson, Matt Wise, Jake Woods.

Again: some of these last two lists are guys who will be back, but most won't, and while there are plenty of names there of guys who were real or potential stars at one point or another - 20-game winners, 100-RBI guys, World Series heroes, ERA champs, hot prospects - and few of them left on their own terms.

It's a tough business.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 8, 2010
BLOG: Ramping Up

Regular readers have undoubtedly noticed that things have been quiet about here lately. Partly that's work and family time commitments, and partly I've been using Twitter more for links and one-liners, and doing more longer-form posts for the blog, but I'm also at the point of the year where I'm ramping up on the preseason baseball previews, which require a lot of development time. I've also got something else baseball-related in the works that took a lot of time and won't be out for a bit.

I'll be back to talk about good news for the Mets, if there ever is any.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:46 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 3, 2010
BASEBALL: One More Thing

Looking over the Biblical array of misfortunes plaguing the Mets last season (and I'm still kicking myself that that column didn't even get to the Tony Bernazard fiasco, which turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving), you'd be forgiven for thinking the Mets had covered pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong.

But no! We didn't have a performance-enhancing drug scandal! Which we have now, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes questioned in an FBI investigation of an HGH-dealing doctor (how HGH could help Reyes, in particular, is beyond me; HGH, which helps build mass but doesn't actually aid any sort of performance, is arguably useful to guys already using steroids to add muscle mass; while steroids can help sprinters too - think Ben Johnson - a player looking mainly to improve his fast-twitch lean muscles would have no need I can think of for HGH).

Anyway, yet another story I really would rather avoid. Can't anybody here just play this game?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2010
BASEBALL: The Age of Innocence

As usual, Joe Posnanski is mostly spot-on.

I do think steroids are worse than amphetamines in baseball, although it's a matter of degree. First of all, I'm no doctor but my guess is that using steroids year-round is worse for you than using amphetamines on game days. Relatedly, why we at least feel instinctively that steroids are a bigger deal is that they actually change the structure of your body, or help doing so, as opposed to just being a more extreme version of legal stimulants like caffeine.

But I agree completely with the broader point: there never was an age of innocence in baseball. At most, there was an age of maturity - the generation who played in the late 40s and early 50s, the age of guys 5-10 years older than Willie Mays, seem to have been a more serious and mature generation of players, not by nature but by experience, so many of them having experienced World War II. Among other things, the breaking of the color line would probably have been harder if so many of the players of that era hadn't had that experience. But it was hard nonetheless. And that generation still had its share of all the sins of baseball and society from the 1870s to the present day, just leavened a bit with hard experience.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:02 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 19, 2010
BASEBALL: Hall of Mags

Congratulations to Dave Magadan, who was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. No, I never thought I'd use "Dave Magadan" and "Hall of Fame" in the same sentence either, but as Pete Abraham notes, Magadan's college batting stats were otherworldly: a career .439 batting average and 188 RBI in 162 games. His plate patience must have made Magadan just impossible to pitch to at that level. (He also batted .323 as a minor leaguer).

Magadan's value as a major leaguer was almost entirely in his impressive career .390 OBP, which ranks 99th all time. In 16 big league seasons, only once (his last) did he fall below a .360 on base percentage (for contrast, Don Mattingly's career OBP was .358). Magadan didn't do much else - he was slow, not much in the field either at third base or first, no power, and was often platooned (career 671 OPS against lefthanded pitchers is a major reason he never had 600 plate appearances in a season). His best year came at age 27 in 1990, when he took over Keith Hernandez' job as the Mets first baseman, batted .328/.417/.457 and finished just 2 points short of leading the majors in batting (that distinction went to Eddie Murray, who batted .330 for the Dodgers, although Willie McGee won the NL batting title at .335 before being dealt to the A's).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
February 18, 2010
BASEBALL: Where We Left Off

Not that this should come as a huge surprise, but Kelvim Escobar is apparently so injured that he can't grip a baseball right now.

Escobar's been a good pitcher in the past, and even if he's not a reliable workhorse, a sometimes-healthy Escobar would be an asset to the Mets. But this report suggests that Will Carroll, who's been sounding alarms on the Escobar signing all winter, was right: the Mets' comically inept medical staff got suckered again into inking a guy who's maybe not going to pitch this season at all.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:32 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 16, 2010
BASEBALL: It Tholes For Thee

Omar Minaya says the first thing he's said in months that made any sense:

Josh Thole will compete with Omir Santos this spring training to be the Mets' starting catcher, GM Omar Minaya told NJ.com...."I think Thole is going to compete for a job in spring training," Minaya said. "We'll see how he plays coming off a very good year. He led the league in hitting in Venezuela (winter ball). With Thole, where is he? Do we rush him? Does he take the job?"

Maybe now we can dispense with the hand-wringing over the Mets lacking the money to sign a fourth-string catcher.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:21 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 9, 2010
BASEBALL: Jake Is Back

The Mets have re-signed Mike Jacobs to a minor league deal. Which would make a lot more sense if not for the fact that Daniel Murphy, the incumbent 1B (cringe) is lefthanded. For his career, Jacobs has hit an acceptable .263/.325/.505 against righthanded pitching - enough power to kinda sorta justify the crummy OBP - but a horrifying .221/.269/.374 against lefties.

If Murphy's the first base option, that probably makes Jacobs a platoon pinch hitter.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:33 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
February 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Speed of Lightning

Jose Reyes seems ready to go, thanks to people not employed by the Mets:

Panariello and his partner, Adam Elberg, work independently of the Mets, recommended by Reyes' agent Peter Greenberg. They have a good relationship with the Mets' medical people, including trainer Ray Ramirez, but the rehab and training is their deal, and this amazing indoor facility has all the bases covered.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:53 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 1, 2010
BASEBALL: The Minaya Era in a Nutshell

The reasons why Omar Minaya needs to be fired - and probably Jeff Wilpon too - are legion, but this interview with JJ Putz captures perfectly the essence of a dysfunctional organization more interested in futile news cycle-to-news cycle CYA efforts with the press than with doing the work needed to create a winning ballclub and hold accountable the people who fail to get their jobs done:

"When the trade went down last year, I never really had a physical with the Mets," said Putz. "I had the bone spur (in the right elbow). It was discovered the previous year in Seattle, and it never got checked out by any other doctors until I got to spring training, and the spring training physical is kind of a formality. It was bugging me all through April, and in May I got an injection. It just got to the point where I couldn't pitch. I couldn't throw strikes, my velocity was way down."


[T]he Mets told Putz not to talk about being hurt with the media.

"I knew that I wasn't right. I wasn't healthy. The toughest part was having to face the media and tell them that you feel fine, even though you know there's something wrong and they don't want you telling them that you're banged up."

Ugh. So, don't bother checking out the guy's arm when you're making a multimillion dollar business decision, then order him to cover up what you were too dumb or lazy to check - knowing full well it will come out soon enough anyway.


Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:49 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
January 27, 2010
BASEBALL: Nothing Doing

For the most part, the recent signings of Joel Pineiro with the Angels and Jon Garland with the Padres is good news for the Mets, as both were rumored to be on Omar Minaya's radar, and neither seems a reliable option. Pineiro, 31, is coming off a good year under Dave Duncan's tutelage in St. Louis, but 0.5 HR/9 and 1.1 BB/9 are the kinds of microscopic rates that are hard to sustain every year - the fact is, Pineiro has a 4.97 ERA over the past five seasons for a reason, and 4.9 K/9 in that period is a big part of that.

Garland is more useful, since he's tremendously durable - he's started 32 or 33 games 8 years in a row, during which time he's averaged 205 innings per year - but he, too, hasn't cracked 5 K/9 since 2003. With Pelfrey already in the rotation, adding another very low-K pitcher would probably put more strain on the Mets defense than it already faces.

The failure to sign Ben Sheets, snapped up by Billy Beane and the A's, is more depressing. Sheets' injury record is pretty grim - he averaged 21 starts and 135 IP from 2005-2007, and after a solid comeback in 2008 he missed all of last season. And Sheets' K rate has also tailed off with the years, to around 7 per 9 innings. But when healthy, Sheets is a legitimate #2 starter, and would represent a genuine upgrade.

Still, avoiding the dumb moves is progress, at this point.

UPDATE: I should add that I have very mixed feelings about John Smoltz. On the one hand, Smoltz pitched far better than his 6.35 ERA would suggest - 2.1 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9 are both good figures, and 1.3 HR/9 is high but not bad enough to preclude a guy with a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio from being successful; he cut his HR rate more than in half after moving from Boston to St. Louis. On the other hand, all good things come to an end, and a 43-year-old pitcher who has started just 21 games in the past two seasons can't be penciled in to just keep putting up those kinds of numbers week in and week out.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:35 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
January 22, 2010
BASEBALL: Gary Matthews Jr. Is Back! We're Saved!

On the upside of the Mets' reacquisition of Gary Matthews Jr., Brian Stokes isn't that hard to replace, although he was certainly effective this year, and the Angels are eating $21 million of Matthews' remaining $23 million contract (that's not a misprint).

(Just for the record, Matthews Jr. has batted .266/.336/.418 since the Mets dumped him as a 27-year-old in 2002).

Matthews can maybe sorta play center field better than Angel Pagan, and even in a crummy season last year he walked enough to keep his OBP at a non-damaging .336, and with Carlos Beltran's status up in the air, Fernando Martinez needing more minor league seasoning and Jeremy Reed cut loose, the Mets could probably use a little more outfield help. But Matthews is still not much of an upgrade, if at all, on Pagan; he's 35 and has batted .248/.325/.383 over his three seasons as bane of the Angels.

Not a terrible move, but symptomatic of Omar Minaya's defective thought process and lack of imagination.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:45 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
January 21, 2010
BASEBALL: Idiot Wind

Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts fires back in an ongoing war of words with Murray Chass and Dan Shaughnessy, the fossilized deans of sportswriting at the NY Times and Boston Globe, respectively (all he needed was Bill Plaschke of the LA Times for the trifecta). You have to read Chass' article to believe it.

A reminder, if one were needed, that the sports sections of those papers are as bad as their news sections.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:34 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 20, 2010

Excellent news for the Mets yesterday as the Giants re-signed Bengie Molina, saving Omar Minaya from possibly giving a contract to a 35-year-old catcher who had a .285 OBP last season and runs like a library. I mean, Molina's still OK defensively and has some pop, so even with the bad OBP he's not a terrible backup option, but the Mets already have Henry Blanco, who is perfectly well-suited to that job and probably a better glove, and they have Omir Santos as well. What they should be doing is giving Josh Thole the chance to win the job and possibly provide some real offense. Thole isn't anything special but has the potential to maybe be an AJ Pierzynski-type hitter in his best years, and if he's not ready, Molina would not be that much of an upgrade on Santos and Blanco.

Instead, the Mets are reportedly looking at Yorvit Torrealba, who has batted .258/.316/.394 the past four seasons while playing in Coors Field. Does Thole secretly have the bubonic plague or something?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:47 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
January 13, 2010
BASEBALL: Of Steroids and Agendas

The latest half-a-confession on steroids, this one from Mark McGwire, has set off the usual round of arguments on the topic. As usual, we see the formation of two polar-opposite camps. In one corner are the baseball beat writers and other traditional-media sportswriters, who are frothing with moral outrage as they attack players - at least some players - who used steroids. Craig Calcaterra has collected some of the more overheated examples, such as Dan Shaughnessy implicitly comparing Mark McGwire to Hitler and Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Daily News comparing steroid use to apartheid.

On the other side, we have a battery of analysts, mostly new-media sabermetric types, who at every mention of steroids roll their eyes, pronounce what a complete non-issue it is, express their weariness at moral outrage, and in some cases affirmatively seek to deny that steroids have any effect on performance whatsoever.

Personally, I find myself in the (somewhat unusual) middle position. On the one hand, I've explained before why I think steroids that help build physical strength contribute to hitting for power, and that's aside from (short-term) benefits to durability and fast-twitch muscle quickness. I'm perfectly comfortable calling out the users for breaking the law, endangering themselves (and implicitly pressuring others to do the same) to get an unfair advantage, and in some cases - but arguably many less than we may think - breaking the rules of the game, to say nothing of lying to us, to grand juries and to Congress. If moral opprobrium follows them wherever they go, that's fine with me.

On the other hand, I don't think steroid use is the biggest deal on earth; it's not as if players haven't always sought ways to gain unfair advantages, sometimes with illegal drugs - think of spitballs, greenies, corked bats, sophisticated sign-stealing schemes, extra balls hidden in the outfield, etc. As I have previously explained, I don't advocate keeping anyone out of the Hall of Fame for it, partly because we already have many Hall of Famers who cheated to win games, partly because steroid use was so widespread in the era, partly because we're never going to know all the people who did it, and most of all because at the end of the day, the Hall is as much for the fans and the history of the game as it is for the players. Let 'em in and let each man add his own asterisks. And let's get and keep to work on cleaning the influence out of the game going forward. And if the next Manny Ramirez misses out on the Hall because of time lost to suspensions, then we'll know the system worked.

And frankly, I don't give a hoot whether these guys admit, apologize, or not. They did what they did, and it can't be undone, and they must live with the jeers as well as the long-term health consequences. One of the most absurd spectacles in this whole mess is the importance sportswriters place on what players say, rather than what they do - as if the only thing that matters is not who wins or loses but who says the right things to sportswriters.

Which brings me to my main point: so much of what goes on in the public dialogue on this issue is driven by underlying agendas.

The traditional sportswriters' agendas are not hard to identify. First, moral outrage is a default position for many sportswriters, and helps sell newspapers (not an easy task these days). Second, as noted, sportswriters tend to overvalue what athletes say to sportswriters at the expense of all else. Third, to be frank, too many sportswriters are underpaid, unhappy, and not treated well by famous millionaire athletes, and thus get an undue amount of satisfaction from taking them down (this underscores why they tend to focus their ire on superstars). Fourth, much of the respect sportswriters used to command has been undermined by statistical analyses of the game. Thus, anything that undermines the integrity of the statistical record - or better yet, allows it to be undermined selectively by means of rumor and reportage on facts sportswriters are better-equipped to find than are outside analysts - shifts the balance of power back towards the traditional sportswriters. It is obvious, in many cases, that a motivating agenda here is the desire of the writers to discredit the accomplishments of post-1994 power hitters, especially when you consider the same writers' serial Hall of Fame elections of guys like Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Tony Perez who were inferior hitters by the standards of their day but were clean.

All of these incentives are frequently mentioned by the analysts. And yet, the sneering superiority of many analysts has its own set of agendas. One is simply knee-jerk hatred of the sportswriters, combined with instinctual contrarianism. A second - one I confess to being influenced by myself to some point - is a recognition of the very threat that sportswriters seek to exploit: if you can't trust the numbers, that's a threat to people whose jobs involve explaining them. (In politics, we see the same phenomenon when the poll-analysts get nervous at too many attacks on the reliability of polls). A third, for what seems like a significantly loud faction of analysts, is part and parcel of a broader political libertarianism with regard to drugs and drug laws. (There's no group more consistently over-represented on the internet than libertarians of any stripe). A fourth, which is really part of a deeper trend that seems to run throughout the work of a lot of analysts, is over-identification with the parochial interests of the players in labor-management disputes.

In other words, the next time you read someone writing on this topic, ask yourself what their angle is, and which side of the longstanding sportswriters vs. analysts divide they fall on. You will probably find, sadly, that that predicts most of what they have to say.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
January 6, 2010
BASEBALL: Dawson Alone

So, Andre Dawson gets into the Hall of Fame and the voters take a pass on everybody else. I literally would not have traded Roberto Alomar, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, or Kevin Appier for Dawson in their respective primes - maybe Dave Parker (who was effectively the same player), Jack Morris or Robin Ventura. This is insane.

Dawson will be remembered as ... a winner? For being Rookie of the Year for a 5th place team, MVP for a last place team, hitting .128 career in the LCS with no World Series appearances, having two of the four franchises he played for (the Expos and Cubs) decline the year he arrived and all four improve the year after he left.

I'd do my annual chart of the progression of the balloting, but it's too depressing. This is willful idiocy at its worst. (UPDATE: Craig Calcaterra has a look).

This may be worst day for Hall of Fame balloting since Joe DiMaggio failed to get elected on 1st ballot. (UPDATE: In 1954, Joe D got 175 votes, just under 70%. Rabbit Maranville was elected with 209 votes.)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:19 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: When It Raines...

Jonah Keri goes fanboy over Tim Raines - great read (he notes Raines being given Dawson's center field job in 1984). Like me, Keri saw Raines and Dawson in their primes - moreso, as an Expos fan - and won't be taking any of this "you had to see Dawson play" nonsense from sportswriters.

Joe Posnanski, who is the sort of writer I should just link to every time he writes something, has his own ballot. His list's not the same as mine, but the only one I really seriously disagree with him on is Dale Murphy. He makes an excellent point about Dave Parker and Andre Dawson being largely the same player, complete with the career path from young athletic complete star, to mid-career washout, to late-career resurgence as a pure slugger.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: My 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot

Hall of Fame balloting will be announced this afternoon. Here's my rundown of how I'd vote on the players on the 2010 ballot.

Returning candidates:

1. Andre Dawson: HELL NO.
2. Tim Raines: YES.

I've taken on Dawson at length here and run the numbers here, and did the same for Raines here.

I'm still appalled at the idea that serious people consider Dawson a better player than his teammate Raines, to the point where he got three times as many votes last year. Excuse Dawson's numbers all you like for the context of his times, Raines played in the same park on the same team for six years of their primes, and then Dawson moved to a bandbox - and watched his new team, the Cubs, sink to last place while Raines led the Dawson-less Expos to a surprise 91-win season, their best record in 8 years. (Yes, the 1987 Expos scored more runs than the 1987 Cubs, despite a lineup including Herm Winningham and, Mike Fitzgerald and not having another Hall of Famer (Ryne Sandberg) in the lineup. During the 6 years Dawson hit behind Raines, Dawson was 7th in MLB in At Bats w/RISP, but 12th in RBI. Dawson's critical weakness is his poor on base percentage, uniquely among all comparable sluggers: his OBP rates 44th of 45 players w/400 HR (ahead of only Dave Kingman), 50th of 50 w/1500 RBI, and 75th of 76 w/4000 TB (ahead of only Brooks Robinson). Dawson was, simply, a uniquely easy out among sluggers.

Raines hit .270 in five postseasons for three franchises and collected two World Series rings; Dawson hit .186 in three and never played in a World Series.

Joe Posnanski notes that by Win Shares, Raines was the best player in baseball over the 1983-87 period, and in the running for several contiguous 5-year stretches; Dawson shows up a fairly distant second just once (1979-83).

Raines' career OPS is higher, and of course is more heavily weighted towards OBP, the more critical of the two elements; he batted .294 to Dawson's .279, if you're of an old-school mind. Both men played more than two decades. Breaking down this year's hitting candidates by OPS+ and QPA (OPS+ times plate appearances), Raines rates ahead of Dawson:

Fred McGriff875713051341348308
Harold Baines990810621201316400
Tim Raines887213301231254846
Andre Dawson99275891191251404
Edgar Martinez721312831471248912
Mark McGwire618713171621215648
Dave Parker93586831211214961
Roberto Alomar907310321161172180
Dale Murphy79609861211082466
Barry Larkin79379391161029616
Andres Galarraga80965831181024122
Ellis Burks72327931261011150
Alan Trammell82888501101005180
Don Mattingly7003588127964057
Robin Ventura70641075114927846
Todd Zeile7573945103877354
Ray Lankford5747828122802150
Eric Karros6441552107748251
David Segui4847524110590810

I fear that sportswrters will vote Dawson in this year as a thumb in the eye to two groups they hate: steroid-using post-1990 sluggers, and statheads. But why not hit the first group by honoring a guy from the same era who symbolizes the kind of player that the home run madness of the past 15 years has made endangered?

3. Bert Blyleven: DEFINITELY YES.
4. Jack Morris: CLOSE, BUT NO.

Not much to add that I didn't say 9 years ago.

More on Bert here, here, here, and here.

5. Lee Smith: NO. Lotta saves, good pitcher for a long time, but only sporadically dominant and didn't carry a Goose/Fingers like workload for most of his career.

6. Mark McGwire: YES, I THINK. I get the argument for dividing the steroids guys by whether we think they'd have made it without roids (Bonds/Clemens/A-Rod in, Palmeiro maybe out), but in the end I come down for putting people in who did the job on the field.

But I could yet be persuaded that McGwire's lack of durability requires rethinking his value - he basically was a really, really good player for six years (1987-92, when he was a critical part of the Oakland dynasty) and a monster for five more (1995-99 - he missed half of 2000, to his team's great detriment), separated by a three-year gulf of being mostly unavailable. That raises the issue I have stressed over and over again: baseball is played in seasons, and consistency across seasons and durability within them matters a lot - and while McGwire had two separate substantial primes, several of McGwire's teams in the center of his career got screwed by his unavailability, or by the year he hit .201. He was a terrible bust in the postseason, batting .217/.320/.349 including hitting .059 in the 1988 World Series and being limited to pinch-hitting in the 2000 NLCS, both serieses when his teams desperately needed him. Like Baines and Edgar, he was a slow runner with little defensive value. So, it's actually a closer call than you'd think.

7. Alan Trammell: CLOSE BUT NO. I looked at Trammell here.

8. Dave Parker - NO
9. Dale Murphy - NO
10. Don Mattingly - NO
11. Harold Baines - NO

Discussed here, here, here and here. Baines is, for reasons similar to those discussed with regard to Edgar Martinex below, kind of the poster boy for a good, durable bat who nobody takes seriously as an immortal.

New Candidates:

1. Roberto Alomar: EASY YES. A no-brainer, despite my bitterness over his Mets tenure.
2. Barry Larkin: CLOSE, BUT YES.

Discussed both of them here. The line separating Larkin and Trammell is a very thin one, but ultimately Larkin was a better glove and more important to teams that won with a less impressive supporting cast.

3. Fred McGriff: YES.

Discussed here; the Crime Dog was a great player for 7 years, mostly prior to the big offensive explosion, batting .288/.390/.545 from 1988-94 when those numbers were a big deal, and a quite good one for 8 more; he was consistent and durable; he batted .303/.385/.532 in five postseasons, was a huge factor in an epic pennant race in 1993 and slugged over .600 in each of the three serieses in 1995 that gave the Bobby Cox Braves their only World Championship.

4. Edgar Martinez: CLOSE, BUT NO.

Probably the toughest call on the ballot for me and the one I'm most likely to rethink later on. Edgar was unquestionably not just a Hall of Fame quality hitter but an inner-circle one, batting an eye-popping.329/.446/.574 over his prime years from 1995-2001 (OPS+ of 163), but he has just about everything else working against him that could work against him:

-He had no defensive value, having most of his big seasons as a DH; he played more than two-thirds of his career games as a DH.

-He was a very slow baserunner.

-He was injury-prone, averaging 112 games a year from 1990-94 and 128 games a year from 2002-04, so his actual prime was fairly short, just seven seasons.

-He played most of his prime years in a bandbox (the Kingdome, where the Mariners played through 1999) and all of them in an era of offensive bonanza, so his raw numbers are inflated.

-His teams chronically underachieved despite staggering amounts of talent (at various points including Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, and Ichiro, among others). Edgar was murderous in the ALDS, a career .375/.481/.781 hitter, but batted an anemic .156/.239/.234 in three losing efforts in the ALCS.

Some of these are small things, some larger, but they add up and all in the same direction. Edgar's career OPS+ of 147 is slightly lower than those of Gavvy Cravath and Charlie Keller, and in a lot of ways I think of him as more similar to those guys than to Ralph Kiner. So, for now, no.

5. Everybody else: NO. Robin Ventura and Kevin Appier were both Hall of Fame quality players at their peaks who had substantial careers, but neither lasted quite long enough at prime-level production to make it. To a lesser extent the same is true of Andres Galarraga and the oft-injured Ellis Burks. Ray Lankford, Pat Hentgen, Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, Shane Reynolds, Mike Jackson and David Segui should all, in all seriousness, be honored just to be on the ballot. I'll doubtless look more closely at Appier another day, at Ventura when I get done with my next Path to Cooperstown installment on the third basemen (which will include some surprises), and Jackson in a long-overdue look at the great middle relievers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 AM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
January 5, 2010
BASEBALL: The Unit Has Landed

Randy Johnson has announced his retirement. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, of course, but how good really was Johnson? Below the fold, I run some quick numbers. These are career stats - Johnson's prime from 1993-2002 stacks up even more impressively against the prime of any other lefthanded pitcher with a long career - and some of the calculations are a little rough, but you should get the idea: Johnson was probably the second-best lefthanded pitcher ever (behind Lefty Grove) and has a case for #1, depending how one weighs adjustments for different eras of the game.

Guide to the numbers below - ERA+, as regular readers know, is the park-adjusted league ERA divided by the pitcher's ERA, so it's a % of how far better than league-average a pitcher's ERA was. An ERA+ of 200 means an ERA half the league. The sample below compares Johnson to the other 28 lefthanded pitchers since 1871 to throw 3,000 or more career innings (so: no Koufax) with an ERA+ of 100 or better, of which Johnson's ERA+ of 136 places him second only to Lefty Grove.

QI or Quality Innings is ERA+ times IP - basically a quick method for combining quality and quantity.

LgERA is the park-adjusted baseline used to compute ERA+

BIP% is a rough calculation of balls in play that became hits, the part of the pitcher's game that depends upon defense (also luck, but luck evens out pretty well over this many innings).

For BB/9, I combined walks with hit batsmen (Johnson put a lot of guys on base that way).

dERA is a measurement of defense-independent ERA based on Voros McCracken's DIPS formula designed to compute what a defense-independent ERA should have been (based on a pitcher's HR, BB, K and HBP allowed, assuming an average defense), although given the uneven availability of intentional walk data I left out Voros' adjustments for IBB.

dERA+ is dERA divided by LgERA, to quickly adjust for differing playing conditions.

QdI is the Quality Innings formula again, except using dERA+

As you will see, when you rank the lefties all-time by QI, the race goes to the longest-distance runners (Spahn and Carlton), but ranked by QdI, Johnson - with his massive K numbers making him less dependent on his defense - pulls to #1.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:39 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
January 4, 2010
BASEBALL: Voting About Voting

This is from last year, but in advance of Wednesday's announcement of the Hall of Fame balloting: Patrick Sullivan with a look at how single-season award voting haunts the Hall voting process (multiplied when you consider that both draw from largely the same pool of voters).

I agree with Bill James' view that it's worthwhile to look at how well a player fared in the voting when he was active, but anybody who follows the MVP voting knows that it's often terrible, and bad decisions plus age don't become good. I well recall that Andre Dawson's 1987 NL MVP, for example, was one of the worst MVP awards ever when it happened; I'm supposed to respect that now, when I didn't then, just because 22 years have passed?

I'll hopefully have more on the Hall the next day or two, but I continue to maintain that my dream would be to be a GM with a lineup of nine Tim Raineses in a league where all the other GMs prefer a lineup of nine Andre Dawsons.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:41 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
January 3, 2010
BASEBALL: Royal Mess

The invaluable Joe Posnanski pens a 9,000 word retrospective on his blog on the past decade of the Kansas City Royals, and how the supremely talented young cast of the 1999 Royals and their new deep-pocketed owner descended into a decade of futility. A must-read.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:50 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
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