Keeping The Wolf At Bay

So, Omar Minaya finally accomplished something this offseason besides acquiring Henry Blanco, RA Dickey and…I dunno, working on his Soduku game or something.
Regarding the Mets’ signing of Jason Bay yesterday, let me start by getting this out of the way: I have a bad feeling that this is not going to work out well at all. I have no rational basis for that whatsoever – maybe it’s just a hangover from George Foster and Bobby Bonilla (granted, both of whom had some good years with the Mets). But with that out of the way, let’s look at this rationally.
Bay will be 31 next season, 34 when he finishes the fourth guaranteed season of the 4-year-$66 million deal (an average of $16.5 million per year), and 35 when the Mets will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million for a fifth year he can qualify for by meeting certain benchmarks (details are unclear, but it sounds like Bay will get the fifth year if he stays healthy). That’s a lot of money, but for a team with the Mets’ market, it shouldn’t be a budget-buster.
What were the options? The Mets had no credible left fielder last year except when Gary Sheffield was hitting well, and you couldn’t bring back Sheffield as a long-term solution. The Mets could have focused on a first baseman, but – more on this below – they presumably prefer to keep open the option of bringing back Carlos Delgado rather than a similarly risky left fielder. And rebuilding remains a non-option: Santana, Beltran and K-Rod are all going to be in their primes for only a few more years, so the team still needs to look to compete seriously no later than 2011.
With Hideki Matsui signed, Matt Holliday, Vlad Guerrero and Johnny Damon are the other choices on the free agent market (the Mets’ minor league cupboard being thin, they would prefer a free agent to trading for, say, Adam Dunn). Guerrero remains a very dangerous hitter (.309/.373/.515, OPS+ of 130 the last three seasons), but he’ll be 35 next season, has a history of back trouble, missed a third of the season in 2009 and his ability to play the field is questionable. Damon’s 36, has no arm, is a less dangerous power threat (.285/.364/.449, 114 OPS+), and hit 17 of his 24 homers last year at home. Holliday is a better player than Bay: he’s a year younger, more athletic, a significantly better glove, and as a hitter he comes out ahead over the last three seasons, .325/.403/.555 143 OPS+ to .267/.362/.493 121 OPS+, thanks in large part to Bay’s crummy 2007 season (and in the raw numbers, to Coors Field). They’re similarly durable – Bay’s missed 35 games the last 3 years, Holliday 33. Holliday runs a bit more, but neither is a big base thief and Bay’s a career 82.5% base thief to 76.9% for Holliday. Over their careers, Holliday’s OPS+ is 133, Bay’s is 131. Significantly, Bay’s a career .278/.366/.532 hitter on the road, Holliday .284/.353/.454.
So, while Holliday is probably a better bet, his salary demands are outrageous – I’m seeing numbers thrown around like 8 years and $18 million a year. He’s not that much better.
One difference between Bay and some of the Mets’ less successful imports is that he won’t be expected to be the star of the show – Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Santana and K-Rod all remain bigger names. And assuming Reyes is healthy, adding Bay’s power-and-patience bat to Wright, Reyes, and Beltran immediately makes it more sensible to bring back Delgado to join with (ugh) Jeff Francouer to give you a series of power hitters in the middle of the order (I expect Francouer to revert to a middle-ground .280/.310/.470 type season this year, the value of which depends heavily on how many other guys in the lineup are on base).
As for Delgado, it appears he’s had some offseason setbacks, so bringing him back may be a less certain proposition. But strategically, the Bay deal at least makes it a more sensible option to consider.
UPDATE: Rob Neyer looks at how the Bay signing is emblematic of the Mets’ lack of a farm system and consequent reliance on veteran free agents (a problem they might have had less of if they hadn’t dealt Bay for Steve Reed in 2002). All of that is true and very much Omar Minaya’s fault – they allocation of too few resources to signing young talent is especially galling – but it doesn’t really detract from the fact that if that’s the fix you’re in, signing Bay makes sense and rebuilding in the middle of the Beltran, Santana, K-Rod, Wright and Reyes contracts (not to mention the Castillo and Ollie Perez albatrosses) doesn’t.

Javy’s Back

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

Pitcher Javy Vazquez was traded back to the Yankees by the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday for outfielder Melky Cabrera, a move that pushed New York’s payroll for next season over $200 million.
New York also got left-hander Boone Logan as part of the deal, and the Braves obtained a pair of pitching prospects, left-hander Mike Dunn and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, along with about $500,000.

(As you’ll see from following the links, Vizcaino has promising numbers in the low minors, but in small samples and is only 18; Dunn’s numbers look unimpressive).
It would seem logical that this deal re-opens the Yankees to re-signing Johnny Damon, and if not it puts them back in the game for another serious left fielder (Vladimir Guerrero or Matt Holliday, I wonder? The AP’s suggestion of Mark DeRosa seems ridiculous. But as the Mets are the only hot contender for Jason Bay at the moment, the Yankees may see an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by pursuing Bay). And the Vazquez deal leaves them with four established starters (along with Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte), so either Hughes and Chamberlain will fight for a rotation slot, or one of them will be slotted again as a reliever or packaged in a deal.
For the Braves, this looks like cost-cutting. The Mets, of course, could have used Vazquez, but presumably Atlanta wanted to deal him out of the division. But it’s still hard to believe, unless they have a very high opinion of Melky, that they couldn’t have gotten a better package from someone else, given the short supply of durable power pitchers with excellent control (yes, Vazquez is somewhat inconsistent and gopher-prone, but he’s still unquestionably a valuable property who can be a frontline starter in his good years).

The Granderson Deal and Nick Johnson’s Return

I’m way overdue here to run through the results of the winter meetings, so let’s start with the Hated Yankees’ two big moves: the acquisition by trade of Curtis Granderson and by free agency of Nick Johnson (coupled with re-signing Andy Pettitte and letting Hideki Matsui and, apparently, Johnny Damon walk).
It’s an interesting set of moves, and clearly continues (as with last year’s offseason moves) the Yankees’ determination to finally address the longstanding problem of the team being too many heavy hitters in their 30s and not enough guys who are younger or good defensive players. Granderson’s not that young – he’s 29 – but he’s got 7 years on Damon and Matsui. And he’s a fantastic defensive center fielder, probably the best the Yankees have had since … well, it’s a fair debate who was the last steady genuine center fielder the Yankees have had (Bernie was a good glove in his heyday but could never throw much, and neither could Mickey Rivers; Rickey was really a left fielder with good wheels).
Sabermetrically-inclined observers have fretted that Granderson slid to .249 withg a .327 OBP this season, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned. First of all, he played at an MVP level in 2007-08, batting .292/.363/.524, and even in an off-year in 2009 he managed 30 homers, 72 walks, 20 steals in 26 tries, and batted into just one double play in 710 plate appearances. The Yankees can afford to carry a guy who is a defense-first center fielder, and if Granderson manages a happy medium on those numbers he’ll be much more than that. identifies the two most similar players at the same age as two athletic Tigers outfielders of recent decades (Kirk Gibson and Bobby Higginson), and while both of them hit the wall at age 32, they each had three outstanding seasons with the bat between age 29-31, including Gibson’s MVP campaign. And Granderson’s a power hitter, the kind who should thrive in the new Yankee Stadium. On the whole, the projected outfield of Granderson, Swisher, Cabrera and Gardner should be excellent and athletic defensively (all have played center field at length in the past two years), if less dangerous offensively than the Yankee infield.
The deal still doesn’t make a lot of sense from the perspective of the Diamondbacks. At least the Tigers got high-upside frontline starter Max Scherzer (along with Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and pitching prospect Daniel Schlereth). Granted, Scherzer is brittle, but he’s a heckuva talent. (Schlereth is a wild card, 24 and wild but with 82 strikeouts in 58 innings as a professional, a quarter of that in the majors; Jackson’s become expendable due to failing to develop much power yet). So, you can understand this as a reloading deal. But Arizona gives up Scherzer for Edwin Jackson, who has matured into a solid third starter but doesn’t seem to have Scherzer’s upside, or indeed much upside at all beyond his 2009 season – unless the D-Backs are sufficiently concerned about the health of Brandon Webb and the rest of their rotation to feel the need to bring in someone more durable.
Then there’s Nick Johnson. At 31, Johnson’s not the high-upside “next Jeff Bagwell” he was projected as when he left the Yankees, having never stayed healthy enough at length to become a major star – even healthy last season he managed just 8 homers and slugged .405 – but since 2005 when he’s played he’s batted .285/.420/.467. His on-base skills make him a serious addition to any offense even if his power doesn’t come back, especially a Yankee offense that won’t depend on him any more than it will on Granderson. The slightly odd thing is that with Teixeira ensconsed at first, Johnson will have to DH, and while that’s probably the best for his health (see Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez for examples of guys who suddenly got healthy in their 30s when they gave up playing the field), it does mean – if Johnson’s healthy, a big if – that the DH slot won’t be left open to provide a blow to A-Rod, Posada and Jeter.
On the whole, a sound strategy by the Yankees. Now, we’ll just have to see how they manage to settle on the roles of Joba and Hughes and, if they settle in the rotation, who will hold up the rest of the bullpen without them and Coke.

Busy Signal

Real life intrudes, from time to time, so apologies to regular readers if I’m tied up a few days – I know I’m particularly overdue on the Winter Meetings roundup. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the blog saddle again by Wednesday.
Feel free to treat this as an open thread – baseball, politics, whatever. You can even talk about the Giants, but you can’t make me listen.

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Interesting to see the breakdown of who was and wasn’t offered arbitration among this year’s free agents. Recall that if a player is offered arbitration, he can accept or he can decline and be a free agent, in which case the team gets compensation in the form of a draft pick. If the team doesn’t offer arbitration, it loses the chance to get a draft pick. (In 2006, the CBA eliminated restrictions on re-signing players denied arbitration). In other words, given that offering arbitration gives the team a benefit (a draft pick) it would otherwise miss out on, the team should offer arbitration to ensure it gets compensated for its possible loss unless one of the following things is true:
1. It doesn’t want the guy back at any price; or
2. It thinks the arbitrator is likely to give the player more money than he’d get on the open market.
In theory, the purpose of arbitration is to give players something like their value on the open market; the system looks at what comparable players make, and values them accordingly. Since the comparable players are either guys who signed on the open market or guys who lacked the leverage of free agency (usually because they’re not FA-eligible yet), in theory, there should be almost zero risk of an arbitration award greater than the player’s open-market value. Which means that if a significant number of teams are declining arbitration offers to players they still have some interest in employing (obviously some of the players denied arbitration are genuinely unwanted by their teams), the teams must feel that the arbitration system isn’t working and/or that its system of comparisons is out of whack because the salary market is declining.
Here’s ESPN’s list of significant players denied arbitration so far:
Johnny Damon
Miguel Tejada
Randy Wolf
Orlando Hudson
Bengie Molina
Jermaine Dye
Octavio Dotel
Placido Polanco
Darren Oliver
LaTroy Hawkins
Orlando Cabrera
Kevin Gregg
Hideki Matsui
Andy Pettitte
Vladimir Guerrero
Kelvim Escobar
Jon Garland
Jarrod Washburn
Erik Bedard
Carlos Delgado
Mike Cameron
Miguel Olivo
By contrast:

Just 23 players received arbitration offers — one fewer than last year — and only 10 were position players: St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday and third baseman Mark DeRosa; Boston outfielder Jason Bay; Los Angeles Angels third baseman Chone Figgins; Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre; Tampa Bay catcher Gregg Zaun; Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielder Marlon Byrd; and Toronto catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Marco Scutaro.
Pitchers offered arbitration included Angels ace John Lackey; Boston reliever Billy Wagner; Detroit’s Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney; Minnesota’s Carl Pavano; Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer; Tampa Bay’s Brian Shouse; Atlanta’s Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano; Colorado’s Rafael Betancourt and Jason Marquis; Houston’s Jose Valverde; and St. Louis’ Joel Pineiro.

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

Looking for Stupid

With the baseball writers inexplicably having gotten all the major awards right, one has to dig deeper for examples of blazing stupidity in end-of-season awards, but Jonah Keri finds one in Topps naming their all-rookie catcher. Matt Wieters? Nope. Omir Santos.
I suppose there’s no downside in Omar calling up the Orioles to see about a deal, but even the Angelosi aren’t that stupid.

Ray of Offense

In 2007, the Tampa Bay Rays finished last, 30 games under .500. In 2008, they won the AL pennant. In 2009, they went 84-78 and missed the playoffs.
How much variance was there in their offense to explain those? Let’s look first at the raw numbers of how the team’s offense performed, compared to the league average:

TBD 4.83 187 131 48 545 1324 0.268 0.336 0.433 119
2007 4.90 161 97 35 536 1053 0.271 0.338 0.423 137
TBR 4.78 180 142 50 626 1224 0.260 0.340 0.422 111
2008 4.78 162 94 35 537 1060 0.268 0.336 0.420 136
TBR 4.96 199 194 61 642 1229 0.263 0.343 0.439 104
2009 4.82 183 110 39 550 1094 0.267 0.336 0.428 130

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

2007 4.75 213 149 53 559 1376 0.264 0.334 0.438 113
2008 4.82 203 166 56 641 1263 0.259 0.340 0.430 106
2009 4.96 199 194 61 642 1229 0.263 0.343 0.439 104

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

Twice As Nice

The baseball writers for once got both Cy Young Awards right. One thing that jumps out as a sign of the times: neither 15-game-winner Tim Lincecum nor 16-game-winner Zack Greinke (both of whom were “supported” by weak offensive teams) had so much as 25 decisions.
Looking at Greinke’s ERA+ of 205, tied for the 31st best league/park adjusted ERA of all time with Addie Joss’ 1908, I was reminded to go back and look at how many of the 35 pitchers to post an ERA+ of 200 or better did it more than once. Here’s that list, by number of seasons being twice as good as the league:
5-Pedro Martinez
4-Walter Johnson
3-Roger Clemens
2-Christy Mathewson
2-Greg Maddux
A short list indeed, and one that rather eloquently makes the case for the top 3 names on that list being on any short list of the greatest pitchers the game has known. Surprisingly, Lefty Grove did it only once, Sandy Koufax never did. So yes, just by ERA relative to the league and park (leaving aside, obviously, the difference in workload), Greinke was better this year than Koufax ever was. Think about that one.

It Was A Great Year Except For The Playing Baseball Part

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

Griffey returned to the Mariners in 2009 under rookie manager Don Wakamatsu and almost single-handedly transformed what had been a fractured, bickering clubhouse with his leadership, energy and constant pranks….
“He went beyond anything that I would have expected,” Zduriencik said.
Griffey even turned formerly reclusive star Ichiro Suzuki into a smiling, joking teammate. He had neckties made for road trips bearing Wakamatsu’s likeness. He also had the Mariners wearing ties bearing his own likeness and the words “World’s Greatest Teammate” for one midseason flight out of Seattle.
“His influence, the presence he has — there are players on this ballclub who are very excited to know they are going to be teammates again with Ken Griffey Jr.,” Zduriencik said.
The Mariners even carried Griffey off the field on their shoulders immediately following October’s season finale.

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

Free Agents 2010

The NY Post has the full list of possible free agents this offseason.
The Mets have only one free agent they may have concerns about losing, and that’s Delgado. Really, all decisions about 2010 flow from Delgado – they can try to stick with the hand they have and keep him, bring in another veteran for at least a stopgap, or just go younger.
The first base options aren’t superstars, but Adam LaRoche might be a decent short-term pickup, there’s always Aubrey Huff, and of course you could roll the dice with Nick Johnson’s health (Jim Thome would bring all the same downsides that Delgado has, plus he’s an even worse defensive option; ditto Jason Giambi).
The other main area where the Mets might go for some relatively high-profile help would be starting pitching, but aside from John Lackey, the options include some extremely high-risk gambles like Erik Bedard and Rich Harden. Doug Davis would be more the low-impact type of signing. John Smoltz looks like a high-risk, low-ceiling gamble, although his K/BB ratios remained strong.
There’s also setup men and corner outfielders…I don’t see the Mets pursuing Vlad Guerrero, but you never know. The Angels shelled out $19 million over two years for Bobby Abreu, which seems like a reasonable deal for both sides; Abreu looked solid enough this season to assuage immediate concerns about his age, but he could still go south at any minute.

27 Yankees

A fitting end, to a baseball season of unremitting agony, all the way down to the Hated Yankees’ fans getting to taunt Pedro, who arrived without his fastball. While Pedro pitched well enough down the stretch (3.63 ERA, 37/8 K/BB ratio) and put on a respectable showing overall in the postseason (3.71 ERA, 16 K in 17 IP), I have to wonder if it’s just time for him to hang it up while he can go out on something resembling a high note, if he’s out of gas starting his third game in a month.
I will say that Much as I hate the Yankees, I cannot hate Matsui; he’s the Japanese Tommy Henrich. But I will hate Matsui quite a lot if he is a Met next year, because he will hit .233 with 8 HR and 47 RBI. Fortunately, it looks more like he’ll stay in the AL even if the Yankees let him go.
As for Mariano Rivera, you just have to tip your cap; he was automatic again to the end, even at 39, even for the two-inning save. He ended up this season lowering his career postseason ERA to 0.74. Small sample sizes or no – Mariano’s never thrown more than 8 innings in a postseason series – he has now appeared in 29 postseason serieses, and his ERAs for those serieses break down as follows:
4:50: 1 series (1 HR in 2 IP in the 1997 ALDS vs the Indians)
3.00: 2 serieses
Between 1.12 and 1.93: 7 serieses
0.00: 19 serieses
The only players to hit postseason homers off Rivera in 133.1 postseason innings are Sandy Alomar in 1997 and Jay Payton in 2000.
Neither here nor there, but to update a figure I have cited before, the Yankees are now 20-3 in World Series play under Democratic presidents, 7-10 under Republicans. Since their first pennant in 1921, that’s 20 championships, 23 pennants and 26 postseason appearances in 41 seasons under Democratic Administrations, 7 championships, 17 pennants and 22 postseason appearances in 48 seasons under Republican ones.

Game Five

Quick thoughts:
-Good Burnett followed by Bad Burnett has been pretty much the story of his season, and really of his career. Really, given that the Hated Yankees’ middle relief has been so bad, it’s been hugely important that until last night, they hadn’t had a starter knocked out of the box before the sixth inning. Pettitte and Sabathia will need to come up strong on short rest to avoid having more games get away before Rivera arrives (you can be sure Mo will appear to start the 8th if there’s a lead in Game Six).
-The gonging home run Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park is pretty freaking cool in a big game, at night, with a packed house. I could almost picture Chuck Barris coming for Phil Coke.
-I would not have any trust at this point in either Pedro or Hamels pitching at Yankee Stadium. The advantages all favored Pedro in Game Two: rest, some element of surprise on hitters who hadn’t faced him in years, the pressure all on the Yankees. All of those are reversed this time. I’ll be very surprised if this goes to a Game Seven.

Expected Goats

The World Series often produces unexpected heroes and goats. But thus far, the goats, at least, of the 2009 World Series have been exactly who Phillies phans might have expected from the 2009 regular season: Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.
The Yankees couldn’t do anything with Cliff Lee in Game One, and the Phils couldn’t touch the revived AJ Burnett in Game Two; these things happen. But when Philly got to Andy Pettitte early in Game Three, that was their opportunity, and they’re behind the 8-ball now in large part because the man who was supposed to be their ace this season, Hamels, just wasn’t up to holding a 3-0 lead, coughing up a 2-run homer to A-Rod in the 4th before being KO’d by a 3-run rally in the 5th highlighted by Pettitte’s RBI single.
What ailed Hamels this year? This is a guy who was 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 2007, only 14-10 but with a 3.09 ERA in 2008. At 25, he should be one of the top starters in the game, yet he slumped to 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA.
The evidence of a dramatic falloff is hard to find in Hamels’ HR/BB/K per 9 IP data:
2007: 1.2 HR, 2.1 BB, 8.7 K
2008: 1.1 HR, 2.1 BB, 7.8 K
2009: 1.1 HR, 2.0 BB, 7.8 K
As you can see, the dip in Hamels’ strikeut rate came in 2008, not 2009, and otherwise he’s been exactly the same pitcher. The Hardball Times lists Hamels’ xFIP (a fielding-independent ERA measure) for the past four years as 3.91, 3.53, 3.78 and 3.75. In other words, with an average defense, Hamels has been the same pitcher all along – never as good as his best ERAs, nor as bad as his worst (another sign that 2008’s ERA was an outlier: Hamels allowed 11 unearned runs compared to 3 in 2007, 2 in 2009). His groundball/flyball percentage has also remained somewhat stable, although his percentage of line drives allowed among balls in play shot up (along with the lower K rate) from 19.4% in 2007 to 21.8% in 2008, before dipping to 20.8% this year. Basically the whole difference is that the Defensive Efficiency Rating behind him (percentage of balls in play converted to outs) went from a stellar .721 in 2007, to an astounding .741 in 2008, to a poor .683 in 2009. That being said, even if Hamels’ problems this year were bad defense and/or bad luck, they stayed with him in Game Three.
Game Four will be controversial because of the decision to start Joe Blanton rather than Cliff Lee on short rest (a decision that also means Hamels will start if there’s a Game Seven). But Lee has, so far as I can tell, never started a game on three days’ rest, let alone two in a row, and it’s not like Blanton’s been terrible this year. I can understand the decision. But the game ultimately came down to Lidge vs Mariano Rivera, and we all know how that ends. Lidge has had a seesaw career since his catastrophic 2005 postseason, and this year has been all saw, to the point where the Phillies should hope he goes the Jay Howell route and gets suspended for the rest of the series. Unlike Hamels, there’s no mystery with Lidge: he went from 0.3 HR/9, 4.5 BB & 11.9 K in 2008, when he was 4th in the Cy Young balloting, to 1.7 HR, 5.2 BB & 9.4 K this year. But for good measure, the DER behind him also cratered from .704 to .645. (On the whole, the Phils’ DER this year was off only slightly, from .695 to .691, but other than JA Happ, all the really high DERs were behind the Phillies’ middle relievers).
The final point: I have not run the numbers or seen if anyone has, but this Series has to be approaching the all-time record, if not shattering it, for percentage of the total runs scored in the Series that are scoring on home runs.
PS: On the other hand, it’s ironic that the team using only 3 starters is the one having trouble getting middle relief help.

Pedro Ehmke?

Friend of the site Dr. Manhattan asks whether Pedro Martinez is a candidate tonight to do to the Yankees something like Howard Ehmke famously did to the Cubs in the 1929 World Series. As you may recall, Ehmke – a 35-year-old pitcher who started just 18 games in 1928 and 8 in 1929 – was sent by Connie Mack to scout the Cubs for the last several weeks of 1929, and then pitched a surprisingly dominating game against them in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. Pedro, of course, hasn’t had nearly as long to know who his opponent would be, and the Yankees won’t be surprised to see him, but otherwise there is some similarity: Pedro started just 9 games this season, and his 2-hit, 7-shutout-inning performance on October 16 against the Dodgers is his only appearance this month. So he should be fresh, rested and have a well-thought-out game plan to attack the Yankees. Downside is that Pedro in recent years has struggled to be sharp in the first inning, which could be a real issue for a guy who hasn’t pitched in almost two weeks.
I won’t make any prediction. Generally, the home team that loses Game 1, unless it’s noticeably the inferior team, is a good bet to win Game 2; on the other hand, the pressure will be all on the Yankees tonight, and that’s the worst time to face a crafty speed-changing veteran with nothing to lose. At any rate, Pedro’s return to the Bronx will undoubtedly be tonight’s spotlight storyline.
As for last night’s game, not much to add besides the obvious: Cliff Lee dismantled the Yankees lineup. It really had to be a fairly rough game for Indians fans to watch their two best pitchers facing each other in the Series.

Curse of the 9s

Too bad there will be no World Series played this year.
Seriously, this is about the most unpleasant Series matchup I can imagine. I suppose I will pull for the Phillies – they can’t really get more annoying by winning another one – but other than tuning in to pull for Pedro, I can’t have much enthusiasm for any of this. The only two Serieses I can remember where I had no possible rooting interest were the 1999 Series (Yankees-Braves) and the 1989 Series (A’s-Giants). If you’d asked me before the 1989 Series I’d have said I was rooting for an earthquake, so maybe this time I should keep quiet.
One thing I noted: the Yankees have 9 players with 200 or more total bases this season, the Phillies 7; 200 TB isn’t a huge number, but since you need to slug .400 or have more than 500 at bats, it’s a sign of having some level of stability and/or productivity up and down the lineup (the Mets had 2).
Last night’s game got unwatchable after the Angels’ 8th inning meltdown on the errors by Kendrick and Kazmir trying to field bunts. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Mets fan who watched Kazmir and felt, as with the Braves’ deflated performance in the 1999 Series, that it was the ultimate insult to Mets fans.
I still have to wonder, despite his struggles, at the decision not to use Brian Fuentes when the Angels had to hold the Yankee lead to 1 run in the 8th. Yes, you want your closer available on the road if you get a lead to hold – otherwise any lead is a Pyhrric victory – but the game was totally on the line there, and Scioscia ended up using two struggling starters instead of his ace (boy, did the Angels ever live to regret the disastrous year that Jose Arredondo had).

Nails, Bitten

I’ve complained previously about the absence of close serieses in this postseason, and the Phillies-Dodgers series hasn’t done anything to improve that picture. The Angels’ rousing 7-6 victory last night, however, offers at least the hope that this series may go down to the wire (a close Game Six would count). This series has already gone further than any of the others.
Carl Bialik in yesterday’s WSJ, however, pointed out that the games themselves have been as tight as any postseason in memory: if you add in last night and if you count the Twins-Tigers 1-game playoff, 12 of 24 games this postseason have been decided by 1 run. Only twice in the post-1969 history of multi-round playoffs – and never since the addition of the wild card – has the game seen half of the postseason games decided by one run. Bialik also noted (again, writing before last night):

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

As Bialik notes, the highest percentage of one-run games (64.7%) is the all-time champion of great postseasons, the 1972 postseason, the last before the adoption of the DH rule. That postseason featured the following:
-All three serieses went the distance.
-11 of the 17 games were decided by 1 run.
-The ALCS featured two extra-inning games, one-run games in the deciding Games 4 and 5, and one of the two Oakland runs in the 2-1 Game 5 victory being scored on a steal of home on which the A’s best player (Reggie Jackson) suffered a season-ending injury.
-The deciding Game 5 of the NLCS was won 4-3 on two runs by the Reds in the bottom of the ninth, a game-tying homer by Johnny Bench and a series-ending wild pitch.
-All but Game Six of the World Series between the Mustache Gang Oakland A’s and the Big Red Machine were one-run games, and there were four lead changes in the seventh inning or later.
The other postseason with at least half the games (11 of 19, 57.9%) decided by one run was 1991.


Watching Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi at work last night reminded me of one of the hardest things in managing: doing nothing.
Anybody who has managed anything, even a Little League team or a Rotisserie baseball roster, knows that feeling: you’ve set your team, things go well, then they start getting tight, and you feel like you need to be doing something. Pull some levers, make something happen. Not just sit there.
But at the end of the day, the manager isn’t the players. Sometimes the best thing to do, once all the pieces are in place, is trust the men under your command to do their jobs. Yes, the manager needs his head in the game at all times, be on top of all the options. But that doesn’t mean he has to insert himself into every at bat. And in fact, being a leader of men – a significant part of the job – sometimes requires you to convey to them your trust in their abilities.
Hence, the contrast between the two fateful decisions that set up last night’s game-winning double by Jeff Mathis off Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the 11th. On the Angels side, when Mathis doubled to lead off the tenth and then reached third with nobody out on a botched throw by Mariano Rivera on Erick Aybar’s bunt, Tim McCarver announced that Scioscia should replace Mathis with the speedier Reggie Willits. McCarver’s observation made a lot of sense – it’s the winning run on third with nobody out, and the Angels carry three catchers, so even with Mike Napoli out of the game, Mathis isn’t the last guy left. McCarver and Joe Buck repeated the point about ten more times the remainder of the inning. But Scioscia sat impassively in the dugout. Scioscia is certainly an active manager – the Angels play a lot of little ball, witness Aybar’s bunt – but on this one he made a decision and didn’t budge just because he had another more active option. A few times in this series we’ve seen him do that, just remaining outwardly calm and immobile in the dugout when he could have pushed another button. As it turned out, the Angels didn’t score in the inning and wouldn’t have with Willits unless he stole home, and Mathis won them the game the next inning.
Meanwhile, the less experienced Girardi – who has been burning through pitchers as if he’s worried the’ll cut his pitching budget for next season – pulled the righthanded David Robertson from facing the righthanded Mathis after just three batters (groundout, flyout, single), in favor of the righthanded Aceves, who promptly lost the game.
It can be hard for a manager to accept when doing nothing is the better move. Girardi is getting roasted today by the NY papers anyway, but managers always prefer to get criticized for doing too much than too little, since it’s the latter criticism that gets guys branded as stupid (I could recite here chapter and verse of what the Boston press did to several generations of Red Sox managers) rather than just overly aggressive. Nobody wants to feel stupid. But sometimes, if you want to win, that’s a risk you have to be willing to take.

About Time

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

Quick Links 10/5/09

*Is there a bigger example on the web of not knowing your audience than automatically playing video content – i.e., with sound – when you open the page?
*I’m still unclear on why exactly the Twins-Tigers game has to be tomorrow instead of today….I’ll have a more detailed post – whether you like it or not – on my Roto team, but I enter that game tied for first place, and if I lose the pennant by one home run or one RBI (both a real possibility) despite having the possible AL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year on my team, I swear I’m gonna sue Grady Sizemore.
*This video of Mark Sanford’s confession speech set to the laugh track from David Letterman’s confession is genius. (Hat tip: Rob Neyer).
It’s been sad watching the direction of Letterman and his show the last few years. I’ve had progressively less time to watch anyway since I started working for a living, but I’d been a fan on and off for decades. If there’s one lesson here, it’s that if you wanted to keep an affair secret, you don’t take the woman you’re sleeping with, put her on air on your national TV show and flirt with her shamelessly. Well, that and a guy who’s a producer at 48 Hours shouldn’t be dumb enough to think he could get away with blackmailing a public figure. Another glorious chapter in the history of CBS News.
*The Olympics story is pretty much a dead horse at this point, but this American Thinker piece does a bang-up job of dissecting the Obamas’ sales pitch to show how it violated pretty much every rule of sales pitches.
*The Washington Post’s paid left-wing activist Greg Sargent is proud that the Left is playing the race card on health care – seriously, read this post. Sargent’s thesis is that the ad in question is racial code and that that’s a good thing. Regardless of what you think of the ad itself, that speaks volumes about Sargent’s mindset. What remains less clear is why the Post employs a full-time left-wing activist in the first place.

So Much For Help

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

Z Is For Cy

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

1 Z.Greinke 16 8 .667 2.06 32 6 223.3 213 47563 569 0.36
2 F.Hernandez 17 5 .773 2.49 32 2 224.3 174 39028 368 0.56
3 R.Halladay 16 10 .615 2.90 31 8 230.0 151 34730 384 0.31
4 C.C.Sabathia 19 7 .731 3.21 33 2 227.3 139 31595 329 0.24
5 E.Jackson 13 8 .619 3.36 32 1 209.0 136 28424 195 0.30
6 J.Lester 14 8 .636 3.52 31 2 197.0 135 26595 300 0.14
7 J.Verlander 17 9 .654 3.41 33 3 224.3 134 30056 407 0.28
8 J.Beckett 16 6 .727 3.78 31 4 207.3 125 25913 265 0.35
9 J.Danks 12 10 .545 3.82 30 0 186.3 123 22915 156 0.24
10 J.Lackey 11 8 .579 3.77 26 1 174.3 121 21090 215 0.46
11 K.Millwood 12 10 .545 3.75 30 2 189.6 120 22752 126 0.28
12 J.Niemann 12 6 .667 3.81 28 2 172.3 119 20504 169 0.26
13 M.Buehrle 12 10 .545 3.95 32 1 207.3 119 24669 138 0.26
14 J.Weaver 15 8 .652 3.84 32 4 206.0 118 24308 205 0.13
15 G.Floyd 11 11 .500 4.06 30 1 193.0 116 22388 220 0.28
16 S.Feldman 17 6 .739 3.90 29 0 180.0 116 20880 148 0.05
17 J.Washburn 9 9 .500 3.78 28 1 176.0 116 20416 125 0.15
18 M.Garza 8 11 .421 3.93 31 0 197.0 116 22852 206 0.18

QI= Quality Innings, a quick-and-dirty metric I like to use: ERA+ times innings pitched.
QCI= Quality Component Innings, a similar metric to quickly look at the defense-independent numbers: K/((HR*4)+BB)
URA: Unearned Run Average. Just worth checking to see who’s giving up an unusual number of unearned runs. In this case, almost all the best ERA guys are allowing a few extra unearned runs, most of all King Felix.
Anyway, this cut on the numbers pretty strongly underlines why Greinke is the obvious Cy Young choice. He’s just so far ahead of the field when you add up measures of quality, and he’s carried about the same workload as the league’s big workhorses, and only Sabathia with the Yankees offense behind him is more than one win ahead of him.

Catching A Vote

It was inevitable that at least one of the moribund division races would heat up, and the AL Central has stepped up to the plate, with the Twins – despite the loss of Justin Morneau – being carried on the back of Joe Mauer to a 25-12 record in their last 37 games since falling 5 games under .500, including an 11-1 stretch snapped only by Zack Greinke yesterday, to pull within 2 games of the Tigers entering a 4-game set in Detroit starting tonight for all the marbles. Mauer, for his part, has – despite the wear and tear of catching 102 games since returning to action May 1 – batted .399/.475/.622 since August 2, .406/.513/.594 since September 7.
If Mauer manages to pull this team to a division title with multiple holes in its lineup and a wobbly pitching staff, the MVP debate will intensify, as the writers seem primed (as I’ve discussed previously) to give the award to Derek Jeter, despite Mauer being far and away the best hitter in the league – leading the AL in batting by 20 points, OBP by 32, slugging by 34, OPS by 95, and likely to finish around 600 plate appearances while spending 80% of his time as a catcher and despite missing a month of the season.
It occurred to me that it was worth looking back at how other big-hitting catchers have fared in the MVP balloting over the years. Here’s the top 25 seasons by a catcher who qualified for the batting title and spent at least 75% of his games behind the plate, in years that MVP awards were given, ranked by OPS+, along with how they finished in the MVP balloting and who won the award:

# Catcher Year OPS+ PA Vote Winner OPS+ Pos
1 Mike Piazza 1997 185 633 2 Larry Walker 178 RF
2 Joe Mauer 2009 181 567
3 Mike Piazza 1995 172 475 4 Barry Larkin 133 SS
4 Mike Piazza 1996 166 631 2 Ken Caminiti 173 3B
5 Johnny Bench 1972 166 652 1
6 Chris Hoiles 1993 162 503 16 Frank Thomas 177 1B
7 Carlton Fisk 1972 162 514 4 Dick Allen 199 1B
8 Ernie Lombardi 1942 161 347 13 Mort Cooper SP
9 Roy Campanella 1951 159 562 1
10 Gabby Hartnett 1937 158 405 2 Joe Medwick 180 RF
11 Bill Dickey 1936 158 472 5 Lou Gehrig 190 1B
12 Mickey Cochrane 1933 157 542 15 Jimmie Foxx 200 1B
13 Darren Daulton 1992 156 585 6 Barry Bonds 205 LF
14 Joe Torre 1966 156 614 16 Roberto Clemente 146 RF
15 Mike Piazza 2000 155 545 3 Jeff Kent 162 2B
16 Roy Campanella 1953 155 590 1
17 Jorge Posada 2007 154 589 6 Alex Rodriguez 177 3B
18 Roy Campanella 1955 153 522 1
19 Ernie Lombardi 1938 153 529 1
20 Mike Piazza 1998 152 626 14 Sammy Sosa 160 RF
21 Mike Piazza 1993 152 602 9 Barry Bonds 204 LF
22 Dick Dietz 1970 152 612 NA Johnny Bench 141 C
23 Gabby Hartnett 1933 151 461 1
24 Bubbles Hargrave 1926 151 365 6 Bob O’Farrell 112 C
25 Mickey Cochrane 1931 149 521 9 Lefty Grove SP

Jeter’s OPS+, if you are wondering, is 127.
I was surprised by how many guys there were on the list who fared very poorly in the voting. Obviously, the cheif takeaway here is that the voters never respected Mike Piazza. Other cases are justifiable: no shame losing to a Triple Crown winner, or getting beat by Lou Gehrig or Barry Bonds in their primes, and no surprise that guys with less than 400 plate appearances did poorly in the voting. In other cases, somebody else got robbed (Sandy Koufax, 1966). It’s appalling that Dick Dietz didn’t get any MVP support at all, but not so surprising that the winner in 1970 was Johnny Bench, who drove in 148 runs for a pennant-winning team and was Johnny Bench behind the plate. But even so, more of these guys should have been finishing close to the top, if not the top.
We’ll see what the AL voters do this time.

Coming Home To Die

Very little good can be said of Ken Griffey Jr.’s reunion season in Seattle, but say this: he hasn’t let down the paying crowds at Safeco. Griffey is batting .272/.385/.523 in 179 plate appearances at home, including 9 homers and 27 walks in 41 starts at home (a pace for 36 homers and 106 walks per 162 games). Not quite the Griffey of old, but still a very dangerous bat.
Unfortunately, he’s had a lot more of his playing time on the road, where he’s batting .173/.280/.308. Eccch.

Never Out

Since the question came up in the comments to yesterday’s post on 500-out seasons, I checked and there have been 67 seasons since 1871 in which a player made fewer than 300 outs in a season of 502 or more plate appearances (list here). Only two of those made less than 250 outs: John McGraw with 243 outs in 1899, and Barry Bonds with 244 outs in 2004. Unsurprisingly, this tracks OBP pretty closely. The top 13 seasons (275 outs or less) include two by McGraw, three by Bonds, two by Tris Speaker, three by Ted Williams and one each by Mickey Mantle, Frank Chance and Billy Hamilton. However, the seasons by McGraw, Hamilton and Chance are all from years when caught stealing data was not collected, and one assumes that McGraw with 73 steals, Hamilton with 54 and Chance with 38 would all have had a significant number of CS (those years and Speaker’s also predate GIDP data).
Besides Bonds, the seasons from this decade on the list? Chipper Jones in 2008, and Manny Ramirez in 2000 & 2002.
Speaking of GIDP, Ichiro has hit into only one double play all year. Entering last night’s action, that was one GIDP in 636 plate appearances for a player who:
-Is 35 years old
-Strikes out in barely more than 10% of his plate appearances (65 K)
-Hits the highest percentage of ground balls in the AL (56.4%)
-Unlike NL leadoff men, does not bat behind the pitcher
UPDATE: Since 1939, the first year we have GIDP data for both leagues, 17 players have finished a season of 502+ plate appearances with 1 or 0 GIDP; Ichiro, Curtis Granderson and Michael Bourn could make it 20. The only guys to make it with no GIDP? Craig Biggio, Dick McAuliffe, Pete Reiser and Rob Deer. Biggio in 1997 had 744 plate appearances with no DPs. I looked to see how long his streak was, but he hit into one on Opening Day in 1998.

Let’s Make Out!

Jimmy Rollins made his 500th out of the season last night. This was the 6th time in his career that Rollins has made 500 outs in a season, a new Major League dubious record. Here’s the list of players who have managed the feat more than twice (you’ll note that they’re mostly middle infielders):
6 – Jimmy Rollins
5 – Cal Ripken, Juan Pierre
4 – Bobby Richardson, Dave Cash
3 – Jose Reyes, Larry Bowa, Juan Samuel, Omar Moreno, Rick Burleson

Double Trouble

A season in three movements:
On May 13, Fernando Tatis went 3-4 with 4 RBI, raising his season average to .358/.417/.566 in 60 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he also hit into his first GIDP of the season.
From May 13 to July 24, Tatis hit into 13 double plays in 155 plate appearances, a pace at which he would have shattered the single season record in a little over 2/3 of a season. This almost perfectly coincided with Tatis’ coldest stretch of the year, as he batted .193/.262/.304 in 151 plate appearances from May 14 to July 25.
Since July 27, Tatis is not only batting .317/.370/.484 over 140 plate appearances, but he hasn’t grounded into a single double play.
It’s interesting – most players who hit into a lot of double plays will do so even when they’re going well, since sometimes you hit line drives or hard grounders right at people. But Tatis has been all or double-nothing.

Quick Links 9/20/09

*You know who quietly helped his Hall of Fame case this season? Bobby Abreu. Stayed healthy for a winning team, close to .300 average, .400 OBP and 30 steals, on the verge of his 7th straight 100-RBI season.
*Obama points out to David Paterson that he’s already dead. Apparently redistricting trumps racial solidarity (so much for Paterson’s effort to argue that all criticisms of him were racist, an argument that was especially dangerous to Obama due to Paterson’s effort to equate himself with Obama; Obama has enough problems of his own without carrying Paterson as baggage). Of course, with only one GOP-held Congressional seat and few others even potentially competitive, redistricting isn’t as big a deal as it will be in California, Texas, Illinois or Florida, but it’s still a priority for the White House to bigfoot governors’ races.
*Kaus waits for the next shoe to drop from Breitbart.
*Excellent post by Ace on right-wing rhetoric.
*Ben Domenech notes that Salon’s polling shows that Obama had an 85% approval rating among Hispanics the week before the Sotomayor nomination, but 68% after her confirmation. So much for that battle damaging the GOP.
*Michael van der Galien looks at how Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the anti-war Left’s next target, with the declining salience of Iraq and the departure of President Bush dispensing with the need to pretend to be in favor of pressing on with the war that was started when America was attacked from Afghan territory by terrorists who were essentially indistringuishable from the Taliban. This was entirely predictable to anyone familiar with the Left, but it has nonetheless been more depressing than amusing to watch the turn in particular among the leading left-wing bloggers.


I’m generally suspicious of efforts to argue that the most valuable players in baseball are anyone other than the best players. That said, due to the way teams are constructed, there’s no denying that there always seem to be some guys whose presence and success is especially important to their teams, and right now there are very few players more critical to a team’s success than Troy Tulowitzki with the Rockies. Tulowitzki’s rise in 2007 coincided with the team’s meteoric run to the World Series, his injury-plagued 2008 coincided with the team’s equally dramatic decline, and now the Rox, counted out early, have the whip hand in the NL Wild Card race and are the last second-place team that’s really alive despite chasing a Dodgers team that looked for much of the season like the class of the game.
Jim Tracy, of course, deserves his share of the credit for the Rockies turnaround – they’ve played .646 ball under him after Clint Hurdle was sacked with the team 10 games under .500. And much of the credit goes to the pitching staff, with the revival of Huston Street leading a strong bullpen and Ubaldo Jimenez anchoring a more-than-adequate rotation. Despite his strong arm, Tulowitzki can’t claim a ton of credit for that: Colorado is (in part due to its park) below average in team Defensive Efficiency, and its pitchers have prospered more by allowing the 5th fewest homers and walks in the NL, as well as a league-average strikeout rate.
But the Rox catching fire also coincided neatly with when Tulowitzki started hitting 10 games into Tracy’s tenure. On June 7, the team was 23-32 and 14 1/2 games out of first place, and Tulowitzki was batting an anemic .216/.306/.377; since then, he’s hit .315/.396/.596, with 20 homers, 62 Runs and 60 RBI in 86 games played; the Rockies have gone 56-30 in those games. The Colorado offense has had only a few other real surprises – Seth Smith, the development of Carlos Gonzales, a respectable OBP by Dexter Fowler – but Tulowitzki has been the biggest difference-maker.
Anyway, I didn’t have time to do a really comprehensive rundown or figure out if somebody else has, so I’m sure I missed someone interesting or useful, but I thought it would be fun to run the record of the Rockies with Tulowitzki in and out of the starting lineup over the 2007-09 period against a comparison group of other stars (I left off people like Hanley Ramirez who haven’t missed enough games to be worth asking – as it is, there’s something of a small sample size issue with Pujols and Jeter). Here’s the result – the last column is the team winning percentage with the player in the lineup minus the team winning percentage without him in the lineup, with the difference multiplied by 162 games to give a value of the difference in wins:

Player W-In L-In % W-Out L-Out % Diff
J.Reyes 194 160 0.548 46 68 0.404 23.4
A.Rodriguez 244 160 0.604 32 37 0.464 22.7
C.Beltran 197 169 0.538 43 59 0.422 18.9
C.Delgado 175 145 0.547 65 85 0.433 18.4
D.Jeter 262 178 0.595 14 15 0.483 18.3
J.Mauer 190 169 0.529 49 61 0.445 13.6
C.Jones 189 180 0.512 42 56 0.429 13.5
T.Tulowitzki 206 178 0.536 40 46 0.465 11.6
A.Pujols 233 204 0.533 16 16 0.500 5.4
C.Utley 241 184 0.567 22 19 0.537 4.9
M.Ramirez 216 151 0.589 59 46 0.562 4.3
V.Guerrero 220 152 0.591 60 35 0.632 -6.5

Simply compiling a chart like this helps explain its limitations. Multiple Mets are atop the chart in good part because they were all injured at once this season, multiplying the impact of their absences. The same is partly true of Tulowitzki; it wasn’t just his absence that doomed the Rockies last season. On the other hand, for believers in the notion that one player only has so much impact, the size of the gaps here is pretty striking. It’s probably not wholly coincidental, either, that Vlad Guerrero’s numbers look so poor given that the bulk of his missed time has come this season, when he has been less than stellar (the Angels are 41-38 with Guerrero starting, 45-19 without).
As for A-Rod, well, until the Hated Yankees win in the postseason, nothing compiled on his behalf can answer his critics (and as long as he’s on the team, all postseason failures are charged to him and him alone). But, you know, the Yankees really are a better team with him in the lineup, and not just this season; in 2007-08 they were 12-20 without him.

MV Who?

I’ll have to go more thoroughly, as we reach the end of the season – much always depends on September – through the MVP arguments. Hard as it is for me to imagine the case for robbing Joe Mauer yet again, Allen Barra makes a game effort at defending the Derek Jeter MVP bandwagon.
Were Mauer not having such a historic year, Jeter is certainly playing well enough to be part of what would usually be the MVP discussion. Then again, how crucial is he to the Yankees offense? He’s first on the team in batting, OBP and tied for first in runs, but none by large margins; he’s third on the Yankees in total bases, fourth in OPS+, and 8th on his own team in slugging and RBI. The depth of the Yankees offense can’t be held too much against Jeter, especially since he plays a critical defensive position, but it does suggest some caution in declaring him the team’s indispensable man.

Disco Hayes

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

“You know what I would like to do?” Disco says. “I would love it if they would take all the relievers who throw 95 mph and put them in one group. And then take all the relievers who throw submarine style like I do and put them in another. And then compare their ERAs. I wonder what that would show.”
Well, I don’t know what it would show overall, but it’s worth noting that the Royals do have a bullpen filled with guys who throw extremely hard. Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Robinson Tejeda and Roman Colon all have mid-to-high 90s fastballs. They have a combined ERA of 5.56.
The funny thing about baseball is that people will believe what they want to believe. Nobody in the game will watch Kyle Farnsworth give up runs and conclude: “Well, apparently guys who throw 100 mph can’t get people out in the big leagues.” But it’s that way with the submarine pitchers.

I’ve always had a thing for sidearmers/submariners, even before I started reading Posnanski, or Michael Lewis, or even Bill James; Terry Leach may still be my all-time favorite ballplayer.
So get down tonight, Disco Hayes.
UPDATE: Also, go read Posnanski on this year’s Royals, with a bonus discussion of the 1993 Mets.

The Book of Fred

The Lord sat upon His throne, watching – of course – the World Series. Satan came into His presence. And the Lord spoke.
“See My faithful servant, Fred Wilpon? I have allowed you to test him as you said. In 2005, his team fell short of the postseason. In 2006, you took his ace pitcher, sent his heavily favored team into the NLCS with a shoestring pitching rotation, and even after they got agonizingly close, snatched away the World Series at the last possible moment. In 2007, you gave them the most dramatic September collapse in the game’s history. This year, you let his hopes get up and then repeated the trick – and for good measure, their hated divisional rivals are about to win the World Series.”
“Yet he has remained My good and faithful servant. He spends money to maintain a big-market payroll. He has nearly completed a beautiful new ballpark. As we speak, he is planning yet again to sign a significant free agent to fix his team’s largest weakness. Truly, his faith in his team cannot be shaken.”
“You’re getting cocky again,” replied Satan. (The Lord smirked knowingly – He had heard this routine before – but let him continue). “I have more up my sleeve for this season. This time, I will make him lose faith once and for all.”
“First, I will take his money. I have faithful servants too, you know. My man Bernie has him set up perfectly.”
“Then, I will cast a shadow over his new ballpark. Already, the economy has soured and he won’t be able to sell tickets the way a new park should; now, Congressmen will write angry letters; rumors will fly. Oh, I won’t have the sponsorship pulled, but he will wonder, and worry, how long that source of money will last.”
“Then, the injuries will start…”
Mets fans can perhaps be forgiven for wondering if this season really is a replay of the Book of Job, with owner Fred Wilpon or perhaps the whole of Mets fandom being put to the test by a plague of misfortunes of Biblical proportions. It is difficult to think of a team in the game’s history – a history rich with snakebit seasons – that has had quite so dramatic a run of injuries to nearly every one of its front-line stars.
The ill omens, as mentioned, began with money: it was revealed before the season that Wilpon had lost a significant sum of money in the Bernard Madoff fraud (Wilpon won’t say how much but has denied reports that it was $700 million), and just when his personal finances were called into question, the $20 million-a-year naming-rights deal for Citi Field came under scrutiny from Congresspersons wondering where the bailout money given to Citigroup was being spent, and paying little mind to the fact that the point of the sponsorship deal was – as is generally the case when banks sponsor ballparks – precisely to advertise Citi’s financial stability and status as an unshakeable pillar of the community. In the end, the naming-rights flap seems to have passed, but it contributed to the souring of what should have been a grand opening for Citi Field.
That storm passed, but the portents grew worse as the season approached. Oliver Perez, signed in the offseason to what looked like a bargain 3-year, $36 million contract, was never right from the time he arrived for spring training; his velocity was off early, and that led to more tentative pitching and more struggles with his always-shaky control. Still, heartbreak requires hope, and Mets fans were given plenty of hope this spring. The team’s main weakness, the bullpen, had been fortified by the addition of a prime closer, 27-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, coming off a Major League record 62-save season, and a second prime closer, JJ Putz, to act as K-Rod’s setup man. Yes, K-Rod’s K rate had been dropping for a few years and Putz had had injury problems, and former ace closer Billy Wagner wasn’t expected to join them until September at the earliest, but there was every reason to believe that the pen would be vastly improved. Second baseman Luis Castillo, another weak link, came to camp in his best shape in years. The team looked like it would have enough holes plugged around its core of stars – K-Rod, Johan Santana, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado – that it could make a serious run at the Phillies. And despite a rough April, the Mets got off to a decent start; as late as May 29, they were in first place and on pace to win 93 games.
But the drip of injuries had already set in; they came early and often to the Mets’ battery of stars, and have never let up:
-Carlos Delgado, batting .298/.393/.521 and erasing memories of 2008’s terrible start, last played on May 10, down with a hip injury.
-Jose Reyes was injured May 15 in the midst of a 12-for-27 tear reminiscent of his annual late-spring hot streak, and has not played since May 20, having torn a hamstring in the minors rehabbing the calf injury that originally sidelined him. The mishandling of Reyes, along with last year’s botched management of Ryan Church’s concussions, is one of the prime reasons why the Mets’ medical staff has become the laughingstock of the game.
-JJ Putz has been out of service since June 4 with a bum elbow; Putz had been ailing for weeks, with a 1.29 ERA through April 18, 6.45 after that as his arm unraveled.
-John Maine, whose shoulder has proven unable to handle the workload of a starting pitcher, hasn’t pitched since June 6, and last threw 100 pitches on May 19.
-Carlos Beltran, batting .336/.425/.527 and carrying the team along with David Wright, went down on June 21 with a knee injury.
-Wright, batting .349/.435/.504 when Beltran went out, proved less able to carry the whole load alone, hitting .287/.384/.414 until he was beaned on August 15, suffering a concussion of his own.
-Johan Santana called it a season on August 20, opting for surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
-Oliver Perez’ season ended to knee surgery on August 23 (Perez was off the roster between May 3 and July 18, due to ineffectiveness and injuries, and has been useless since spring training).
All had been expected to be key contributors; all but Wright, whose return is imminent, are either out for the season or at best highly questionable to return in addition to having their performance degraded by injuries.
Even the replacements brought in couldn’t stay healthy:
-Scrap-heap find Fernando Nieve was a revelation as a substitute starter, posting a 2.95 ERA; Nieve tore a quadricep running the bases on July 19 and hasn’t pitched since.
-Top pitching prospect Jon Niese was called up to stay on July 25; three starts into his introduction to the rotation, he tore a hamstring covering first base on August 5 and was done for the season.
-Top hitting prospect Fernando Martinez, already struggling at a .176/.242/.275 clip after being pressed into service when Beltran and Ryan Church hit the DL in May, was sent to the DL July 9 with a knee injury and has not returned.
-Utility infielders Alex Cora and Ramon Martinez both appear to be done for the season. Cora, who was holding his own with an OBP above .350 as late as July 2, was never supposed to be an everyday player for this team; he went down for the year with a torn thumb ligament on August 12. Martinez played his 12th and final game of the season June 2 before hitting the 60-day DL with a fractured pinkie.
There have been other injuries as well, with Castillo spraining an ankle tripping on the dugout steps and Gary Sheffield missing time with hamstring troubles, plus Church, plus starting catcher Brian Schneider was sidelined from April 15 to May 30 and has contributed nothing since his return, batting .189/.272/.318 on the season. Jeff Francouer, acquired from the Braves for Church and hitting better than he has in years, tore his thumb but is playing through it. (Wagner and Angel Pagan had also opened the season out of service, but those were expected.)
There have also been a few disappointments not directly related to injuries. Daniel Murphy, a third base prospect who batted an encouraging .313/.397/.473 in a 49-game trial last year, was a defensive disaster in left field and, since being moved to first to replace Delgado, has been one of the worst everyday bats in the game. Even a recent hot streak – Murphy has batted .297/.329/.464 since July 25 – has been all singles and doubles, not really a sign that he’s developing the skills you’d need to make a living as an everyday corner outfielder or first baseman. Hard-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell struggled after a promising start, and has been shelled after being pressed into service as a starter. Mike Pelfrey, who pitched wonderfully last season, has seen his walk rate regress from 2.4 in his last 24 starts last season to 3.4 this year, his ERA balloon to 4.80; while a good deal of that is the deterioration of the infield defense without Reyes (to which the groundball-dependent Pelfrey is unusually vulnerable), it also reflects his narrow margin for error when not throwing first-pitch strikes. Pelfrey went seven innings in 12 of his last 24 starts last year, averaging 6.27 IP/start – this year, he’s gone seven innings just 8 times in 25 starts and averaged 5.85 IP/start, adding to the strain on the bullpen.
When this team wasn’t losing players, of course, it has lost games in agonizing fashion. Two endings stand out. On June 12, against the Hated Yankees, K-Rod induced what should have been a game-ending popup from Alex Rodriguez, only to see Castillo drop it; the Mets lost 9-8 (the game is also emblematic of the Yankees’ season, as despite relatively subpar performance by A-Rod, the team has gone 64-32 in games he started after struggling in his absence). On August 23, against the bitter rival Phillies, Francouer managed to line into only the second game-ending unassisted triple play in Major League history with the tying runs on base; another loss, 9-7.
Time will tell how the franchise rebounds from this staggering run of ill luck. The Mets rebounded from a disastrous 1972 to steal a pennant, and they won 100 games in 1988 after losing their top 7 starting pitchers in a dispiriting run in 1987. But the 1988 team was absurdly deep in talent. This team probably needs to jettison Delgado (on the heels of cutting Wagner and Livan Hernandez loose) and get younger, and it has many holes to fill even if all the walking wounded return; the starting rotation is now full of question marks, and there are few causes for confidence in the lineup besides Wright, Beltran and Reyes (assuming Reyes returns from what may be offseason hamstring surgery).
As for Wilpon, he’s insisting now that he intends to keep the team regardless of his Madoff losses, because he’s emotionally invested and wants to leave the team to his son. That’s a plausible explanation, and surely the team is still profitable enough to maintain as a stand-alone business, but then if Wilpon really does need to sell, he has every reason not to reveal any financial straits he might be in.
Job, after being put to the test, is finally rewarded for his faith with a new family and new sources of wealth and joy. Mets fans can only hope for the same reward in 2010 and beyond.

Taking A Dive

Regular reader/commenter Jim Anderson has an excellent Part I of II piece in the Hardball Times on hitters having spectacular second-half collapses.
Carney Lansford’s appearance on the list is no surprise; George Brett’s is more surprising given his usual pattern as a hot-weather hitter, but 1983 was an unusual year for him. Several of these are memorable collapses or dropoffs from memorable first halves.

This Is What Else Can Go Wrong

Note to self: stop asking “what else can possibly happen to the Mets this year?”
I don’t necessarily agree with Filip Bondy’s suggestion that the Mets shut David Wright down for the entire season after last night’s concussion-inducing beaning – you don’t want to ice him too long and make him gunshy – but I’d at a minimum keep him shut down for a full week before even considering playing him again. The season is lost, Wright’s the Mets most valuable asset, and the team’s incompetent medical staff proved clearly last season with Ryan Church that they cannot be trusted to evaluate head injuries.
UPDATE: Mets have put Wright on the 15-day DL. It’s the right call.


UPDATE: Consensus in the comments seems to be that my recollection is wrong and Jason is no relation to Ross Grimsley.
Jason Grimsley is apparently talking to the feds about Roger Clemens and steroids. Grimsley is something of a Zelig of baseball cheating: his father Ross was a notorious spitballer, and Grimsley has previously confessed to stealing a corked bat that had been confiscated by the umpires from then-teammate Albert Belle.

Everyone Will Be Doing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The absence of consent isn’t as big a deal to me as it is to people with more emotional attachment to the players’ union and the collective bargaining process, but James is right that the absence of collective bargaining gave the players good reason to believe there wasn’t really any sort of enforceable rule).
Anyway, read the whole thing, as the excerpts cannot do it justice. My own view remains that, aside from the extreme Joe Jackson case of people trying to lose ballgames or conspiring with those who do, the Hall should not judge people who got away with things that were fairly widespread to win baseball games – the Hall has always honored the true ethos of professional sports, which is that it ain’t cheating if you don’t get caught, and it’s 70-odd years too late to change that. And, more fundamentally, the Hall isn’t for the players as much as it is for the fans, and a Hall without the likes of Bonds and Clemens (and Pete Rose) ceases to be a Hall worth taking seriously. Put them in, and let the arguments themselves be immortal.

Not Their Halladay

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

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

First of all, that’s basically the whole farm system at this juncture. Second, I don’t think Halladay helps them a whole lot this season – he’s great, of course, but the point of bringing in another guy to lose games 2-0 and 3-1 is questionable. The offense is just too weak.
Look, I’d love to get Halladay, but it mostly comes down to whether the Mets think Halladay is worth the money – even if you’re writing off 2009, as seems prudent to do, you’re getting him for 2010 as well, and if you could lock him in for a few more years at a price you can live with, he’s a decent bet to give you more value than those four guys, talented as they are. If you’re not willing to pay the money, that’s a hugely expensive rental.

The French Reclamation

The most important take-home lesson from the Mets’ deal of Ryan Church for Jeff Francouer is that the team is rebuilding. Church is not a great ballplayer, but he’s a useful one; Francouer, right now, is not. Offensively, he does nothing: hit for average, hit for power, draw walks, steal bases. Francouer is, like Oliver Perez in 2006, a complete recalamation project, a talented athlete who needs to relearn from square one how to play baseball. In the present tense, his only actual strengths are his durability and his great throwing arm in right field.
That’s not to say that Francouer, like Perez in the 2006 NLCS, might not have a well-timed hot streak, or might not, like Richard Hidalgo, have a good first month as a Met. But over the 2008-09 seasons, Francouer has posted a .243/.290/.357 batting line over 976 plate appearances, which is a serious problem for a catcher or a shortstop; for a right fielder, it’s death.
If there’s a hopeful parallel for Francouer, it’s Jose Guillen, a similar player who showed some flashes of hitting talent but no plate discipline at age 21-22 (assuming Guillen is his reported age, that is), then proceeded to bat .252/.310/.381 while playing for four teams over four seasons from age 23-26. Guillen eventually found his swing, batting .286/.343/.489 and averaging 100 RBI per 162 games from age 27-31. Francouer could certianly do the same – but betting on him to help the Mets in 2009 is not something anyone committed to winning in the present tense would do (in fact, anyone who wants to finish ahead of the Braves would never have relieved them from the gaping wound Francouer represented in their lineup, much less given them in return a hustling player with an enormous grievance against the Mets for his treatment by the team’s Keystone Kops medical staff).
Meanwhile, the Mariners have dumped Yuniesky Betancourt on the Royals for prospects. Betancourt is basically the same player as Francouer, a good athlete with a great arm and no plate discipline who has regressed since his early 20s as a hitter. Of course, Betancourt is a shortstop….I understand what Seattle and KC are both trying to accomplish: the Mariners are trying to make a point and add smarter, more dedicated ballplayers and discard the apathy of the past few seasons, while the Royals, their sights set perpetually low and their shortstop (Mike Aviles) having Tommy John surgery, are looking to buy low on a guy who plugs a hole and might help them just a little if he ends up being just marginally more dedicated to self-improvement than Angel Berroa was.

Just This Once

Cool list of things that have only been done once in baseball history. H/T Some of these are familiar, others less so, and of course a few of them are gags or gimmicks.
You could make a longer list. Offhand, the obvious one to add would be Ed Reulbach in 1908 being the only guy ever to throw shutouts on both ends of a doubleheader (with bonus points for doing it in September of one of the game’s most heated pennant races).