Well people, I'll be gone for the next week, so today's post is my New Year's present to everyone. For your enjoyment I typed up every lineup the way it currently stands. Enjoy, and maybe I'll get all the rotations and bullpens done on vacation. Have a Happy New Year!
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
And my earliest 2004 predictions for divisional champions: Yankees, Royals, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, Padres
Breakout Stars: Brad Wilkerson and Jake Peavy
Only The Lonely
The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven
--Roy Orbison and Joe Melson
In my most recent article, I pointed out that catchers and third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I specifically mentioned Ted Simmons, Wally Schang, and Joe Torre as among a group of catchers who deserve a second look. There are a few third basemen, most notably Ron Santo, who have been ignored and warrant inclusion. However, none of the players mentioned are on this year's ballot so a discussion of their merits can be saved for a later day.
In the meantime, I would like to review the candidacy of a Hall of Fame-worthy player who is on the ballot for the seventh time. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen of the selection jury, I hereby introduce Exhibit One in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
1 Nolan Ryan 5714 2 Steve Carlton 4136 3 Roger Clemens 4099 4 Randy Johnson 3871 5 Bert Blyleven 3701 6 Tom Seaver 3640 7 Don Sutton 3574 8 Gaylord Perry 3534 9 Walter Johnson 3509 10 Phil Niekro 3342 11 Ferguson Jenkins 3192 12 Bob Gibson 3117Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
Maybe strikeouts are not all that important as a standalone measure, you say? Well, you may be right. The object of the game is to shut down the opposing team no matter how you get them out, correct? With that understanding, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present Exhibit Two for your consideration.
1 Walter Johnson 110 2 Grover C Alexander 90 3 Christy Mathewson 79 4 Cy Young 76 5 Eddie Plank 69 6 Warren Spahn 63 T7 Tom Seaver 61 T7 Nolan Ryan 61 9 Bert Blyleven 60 10 Don Sutton 58 11 Ed Walsh 57 T12 Three Finger Brown 56 T12 Pud Galvin 56 T12 Bob Gibson 56 15 Steve Carlton 55 T16 Jim Palmer 53 T16 Gaylord Perry 53 18 Juan Marichal 52 T19 Rube Waddell 50 T19 Vic Willis 50Bert Blyleven ranks ninth in career shutouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, every pitcher with 50 or more shutouts has been enshrined in Cooperstown. Nineteen pitchers on the inside, one pitcher on the outside. Bert Blyleven, Only the Lonely.
Still not convinced, ehh? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce into evidence Exhibit Three. Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) represent the number of runs that a pitcher saved his team versus what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects.
1 Cy Young 813 2 Kid Nichols 678 3 Lefty Grove 668 4 Walter Johnson 643 5 Roger Clemens 613 6 Greg Maddux 540 7 Grover C Alexander 524 8 John Clarkson 508 9 Randy Johnson 461 10 Pedro Martinez 453 11 Christy Mathewson 405 12 Tom Seaver 404 13 Tim Keefe 377 14 Amos Rusie 370 15 Carl Hubbell 355 16 Bob Gibson 350 17 Bert Blyleven 344 18 Phil Niekro 322 19 Whitey Ford 321 20 Warren Spahn 319Every pitcher in the top 20 who is eligible for the Hall is in with one exception. And who might that pitcher be? Once again, it's none other than the Only The Lonely man himself, Bert Blyleven.
What about ERA? Well, thank you for asking. Ladies and gentlemen, I take this opportunity to introduce Exhibit Four.
DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Roger Clemens 1.20 3.19 4.39 2 Walter Johnson 1.07 2.17 3.24 3 Kid Nichols 0.94 2.95 3.89 4 Cy Young 0.92 2.63 3.54 5 Grover C Alexander 0.83 2.56 3.39 6 Warren Spahn 0.81 3.08 3.89 7 Tom Seaver 0.79 2.86 3.66 8 Christy Mathewson 0.78 2.13 2.91 9 John Clarkson 0.73 2.81 3.54 10 Tim Keefe 0.71 2.62 3.34 11 Ted Lyons 0.68 3.67 4.34 12 Red Faber 0.64 3.15 3.79 13 Old Hoss Radbourn 0.59 2.67 3.26 14 Red Ruffing 0.56 3.80 4.36 15 Gaylord Perry 0.53 3.11 3.63 16 Eddie Plank 0.53 2.35 2.88 17 Nolan Ryan 0.53 3.19 3.72 18 Robin Roberts 0.51 3.40 3.91 19 Bert Blyleven 0.50 3.31 3.81 20 Eppa Rixey 0.50 3.15 3.64Nineteen of the top 20 pitchers have had their day in upstate New York or, in the case of Clemens, have already made reservations. The omission this time? You got it. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
For those of you who still need more information, I would like to present Exhibit Five. Neutral Wins is a statistic that projects the number of victories the pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering his total number of decisions.
1 Cy Young 533 2 Walter Johnson 470 3 Grover C Alexander 374 4 Kid Nichols 373 5 Christy Mathewson 361 6 Pud Galvin 359 7 Warren Spahn 353 8 Tim Keefe 346 9 Phil Niekro 337 T10 Gaylord Perry 336 T10 Nolan Ryan 336 12 Steve Carlton 327 13 John Clarkson 323 14 Bert Blyleven 313 15 Tom Seaver 312 16 Eddie Plank 311 17 Don Sutton 310 18 Roger Clemens 306 19 Old Hoss Radbourn 300 20 Lefty Grove 298Please excuse Mr. Blyleven for feeling a little paranoid at this time but, as you can see, he is the only pitcher in the top 20 in Neutral Wins who is eligible for baseball's highest honor but has not yet been voted in. Only The Lonely.
Think the above stat is a little too theoretical? Well, members of the selection committee, let's take a look at Exhibit Six. Actual wins. Nice and simple, just the way you guys and gals like it.
1 Cy Young 511 2 Walter Johnson 417 T3 Christy Mathewson 373 T3 Grover C Alexander 373 5 Warren Spahn 363 6 Kid Nichols 361 7 Pud Galvin 360 8 Tim Keefe 341 9 Steve Carlton 329 10 John Clarkson 328 11 Eddie Plank 326 T12 Nolan Ryan 324 T12 Don Sutton 324 14 Phil Niekro 318 15 Gaylord Perry 314 16 Tom Seaver 311 17 Roger Clemens 310 T18 Mickey Welch 309 T18 Old Hoss Radbourn 309 T20 Early Wynn 300 T20 Lefty Grove 300 22 Greg Maddux 289 23 Tommy John 288 24 Bert Blyleven 287 25 Robin Roberts 286 T26 Ferguson Jenkins 284Although the number of wins is not the end all for evaluating pitchers, I am proud to say that our man once again finds himself in the company of nothing but Hall of Famers with just one other exception. Furthermore, there are dozens of pitchers who have won fewer games, yet you have found reason to induct each and every one of them.
Who would some of those fortunate souls be? None other than famous oldtimers such as Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (239), Bob Feller (266), Carl Hubbell (253), and Joe McGinnity (246); greats from the '50s and '60s like Jim Bunning (224), Don Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Bob Gibson (251), Sandy Koufax (165), Juan Marichal (243), and Robin Roberts (286); and more decorated contemporaries over the first half of Mr. Blyleven's tenure such as Catfish Hunter (224), Ferguson Jenkins (284), and Jim Palmer (268).
Speaking of Mr. Blyleven's peers, I thought it might be instructive to compare how he ranks in RSAA over the course of his career. I would like to offer Exhibit Seven for your review.
1 Bert Blyleven 344 2 Roger Clemens 329 3 Tom Seaver 321 4 Jim Palmer 289 T5 Dave Stieb 241 T5 Phil Niekro 241 7 Steve Carlton 239 8 Gaylord Perry 228 9 Nolan Ryan 215 10 Dennis Eckersley 204Not only is Mr. Blyleven number one but he is the only pitcher on this list who has come before you and not been so honored. I recognize that the time period chosen favors our man because it conveniently covers his entire career. Nonetheless, if you run the same screen ten times using the various career lengths for each of the above moundsmen, the pitcher ranked first in every sort is in the HOF or will be in the HOF (in the case of Clemens, who is #1 over his playing days as well as Dave Stieb's career).
Want a "cleaner" period like the decade of the 1970s instead? Ladies and gentlemen, I provide you with Exhibit Eight.
1 Tom Seaver 281 2 Jim Palmer 280 3 Bert Blyleven 261 4 Phil Niekro 248 5 Gaylord Perry 237 6 Ferguson Jenkins 195 7 Steve Carlton 176The top seven are all in the HOF except for the fellow with the initials "BB", who ranks third. The two hurlers ahead of him--Tom Seaver and Palmer--are multiple Cy Young Award winners and first-ballot HOF inductees. Bert Blyleven. Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel).
Bert Blyleven also ranks in the top ten for the decade of the 1980s, and he is second for the ten-year period (1975-1984) overlapping these two decades--behind only Steve Carlton, who is also a multiple Cy Young Award winner and first-ballot HOF inductee.
In addition to the above qualifications, Mr. Blyleven meets or exceeds three of the four Hall of Fame measures established by Bill James, one of baseball's foremost analysts. Only 21 pitchers in the history of the game have met all four standards, including just nine who began their careers after World War II. I present Exhibit Nine for your consideration.
Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Furthermore, as displayed in Exhibit Ten, eight of the most similar pitchers according to Baseball-Reference.com (one of the most widely used and highly respected baseball statistical sources) are in the Hall of Fame.
Don Sutton (914) *
*Denotes Hall of Famer.
The two pitchers not in the HOF are most similar to Mr. Blyleven in terms of their number of wins, but neither ranks among the top 20 in any of the other Exhibits that I have presented before you. Seven of the remaining eight show up not only on the career wins table alongside my client but at least once more. As such, I would contend that the following seven pitchers (Hall of Famers all) are the most statistically comparable to Mr. Blyleven:
Herewith is Exhibit Eleven in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
IP H ER BB SO HR ERA W L PCT Blyleven 4970 4632 1830 1322 3701 430 3.31 287 250 .534 Group Average 5032 4577 1800 1379 3396 448 3.22 316 239 .569As detailed, Bert Blyleven's stats are roughly in line with the average of these seven pitchers across the board with the possible exception of wins, losses, and winning percentage. However, as shown in Exhibit Twelve below, his rate stats for the three areas controlled by the pitcher are actually better than this exclusive group.
BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78 Group Average 2.47 6.07 0.80How was it possible that Mr. Blyleven could have better rate stats yet have 22 fewer wins and five more losses than the group average? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the difference in my client's won-loss record was nothing more than being a victim of poor support. For example, do you realize that his team scored just 18 runs in his 15 losses in 1971? In fact, I would argue that Mr. Blyleven is one of the "unluckiest" pitchers in the history of baseball.
To compare "apples to apples", I hereby offer Exhibit Thirteen, which reveals the won-loss records of Mr. Blyleven and the group average by equalizing the run support for my client and the same seven starters, all of whom are among the elite group of pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
NW NL PCT Blyleven 313 224 .583 Group Average 316 239 .569Neutral Wins and Losses prove my point that the only differences in Bert Blyleven's actual won-loss totals and winning percentage are a function of run support (or lack thereof). Recall that Mr. Blyleven broke in with the Minnesota Twins after the franchise's hey day in the second half of the 1960s, then played for the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, the Twins again, and the California Angels.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to summarize Bert Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
1. Mr. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. You have seen the virtues of electing the top dozen other than the man known as Only The Lonely.
2. Mr. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. You have seen the virtues of inducting the top 20 other than our subject.
3. Mr. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. You have seen the virtues of honoring every eligible pitcher ahead of him save one.
4. Looking at more advanced metrics, Bert Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. You have voted in every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
5. Mr. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. You have enshrined every pitcher in the top 20 other than him.
6. Among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings, Bert Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average. Once again, you have found a spot in Cooperstown for every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
For some icing on the cake, may I point out that Bert Blyleven was named American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1970 at the age of 19, threw a no-hitter in 1977, and was voted Comeback Player of the Year in 1989? I might also add that Mr. Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 won-loss record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason.
By the way, I would like to bring to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, the little-known fact that you haven't honored any pitchers born since 1947 (Nolan Ryan), yet you have felt compelled to induct eight hitters (George Brett, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount) born since then. Furthermore, every pitcher that has been elected since Mr. Blyleven became eligible six years ago, as well as the two immediately preceding his candidacy, has won 300 or more games. In fact, Rollie Fingers in 1992 was the last pitcher that was voted into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins and he, of course, was a reliever.
Based on the above, one can't help but think that winning 300 games has become the de facto standard for pitchers. As a point of clarification, had you held to that magical mark all along, there would only be 20 pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame with another one on his way (Clemens) and perhaps a second one on the horizon (Greg Maddux). A total of 22 starting pitchers would be comparable to only four or five position players. The fewest number of HOFers at any one position is 11 (3B). As such, holding starting pitchers to a minimum of 300 victories is overly strict and unfair. Focusing exclusively on wins is also a mistake as this stat is as much dependent on the pitcher's team as it is on the pitcher himself.
Ladies and gentlemen of the selection committee, I believe the facts in The Case For Bert Blyleven are indisputable. The evidence presented clearly indicates that Mr. Blyleven has all the qualifications necessary for you to finally reward him with his own plaque in Cooperstown.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com
[Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
The Night Before Christmas
Not much is doing in baseball as GMs and agents tidy their stockings, but the fun never stops for us bloggers. In fact, a personal favorite blogger, Rich Lederer, wrote a whole post yesterday proving an inaccuracy in a statement I made in yesterday's article. I wrote that Lopez is "far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time." He proves that Lopez is not the 3rd best at all, and actually argues for 5th.
First, Rich points out what I didn't, that the top two are Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, then argues on the behalf of Jorge Posada and Jason Kendall. He uses the stat RCAP, or Runs Created Above Position, in showing that Javy stands 9th since 1984, and is 32nd on the all-time list. I used slugging percentage against league average for catchers to see that Lopez was ninth all-time, which led me to my drastic statement. I will concede the fact that Lopez might not be top twenty, and I'll even say that Jorge Posada is better than Loez. But Jason Kendall?
Kendall Career: .304/.385/.422 64HR 526RBI 620R in 4032AB
In basically the same amount of at-bats, Lopez has hit 150 more home runs than Kendall, and brought in 168 more runners. His lead in slugging makes up for the gap in OBP, although some systems (Aaron Gleeman's GPA) would refute that point. Anyhow, I believe Kendall's recent dip in productivity gives Lopez the edge here. While I made an indefensible statement glorifying Lopez, I refuse to believe that Jason Kendall is a better catcher.
And while I wrote about the tough opponents in the AL East yesterday, reader John Geer gave me a list of some career splits for Javy and his new enemies:
Vs. Schilling: .300/.333/.425 1BB/10K in 40AB
So, in 139 at-bats against American League pitching, Lopez is hitting .252/.283/.374, and that doesn't even include Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Jose Contreras, Derek Lowe, etc. Needless to say I'm not bullish on Javy in 2004, and now Rich has steered me into conceding Javy is the second best catcher in his division.
Moving in another direction, the Alex Rodriguez deal reached its deadline last night, and the Majors' best player will not be moving to the Northeast. I've written sparingly on this trade due to my own skepticism, and now Yankees fans can rejoice. The backlash we'll hear about from the Boston clubhouse should be harsh, and those who once yearned for Terry Francona's position are likely content.
Boston is still far and away the second best team in their division, and barring any freak breakouts, should win the Wild Card in 2004. The main competition will come from the loser of the A's v. Angels war, and I don't think either offense can match the Sox firepower. I'm very disappointed with the Players' Union now that this trade has been pronounced dead, and a friend pointed out to me that this more than violates the "free markets for free men" philosophy that free agency was argued for. Rodriguez will stay in Texas and remain an MVP candidate, but we'll likely hear trade rumors in every winter until his contract ceases. Tom Hicks doesn't show the enthusiasm for winning he once did, and only Kerry Wood will be able to transform this franchise into a .500 club. Unfortunately for A-Rod, that's a battle that will be fought in a year, while Alex will be spending another year in purgatory.
Wood most likely will never leave Chicago though, as Jim Hendry is currently negotiating a long-term contract. The Cubs' GM did have time to make another move yesterday, signing the best second basemen on the free agent market left, none other than postseason hero Todd Walker. Todd turned down better offers from different teams for the chance of winning, and signed a one-year, $1.75M deal. Here's a look at Walker's meaningful splits from 2003:
Walker played inspired baseball in Fenway Park, but shouldn't have a hard time adjusting to the dimensions at Wrigley Field. His role with the Cubs isn't set in stone, although I would imagine something like Walker plays second against right-handers, and Alex Gonzalez will play shortstop against southpaws. Mark Grudzilanek will then shift through the middle infield positions accordingly. Walker will also give Derrek Lee the occasional day off as well.
Jim Hendry is doing a fantastic job giving Dusty Baker the team that Baker will thrive with, not giving a role to a young hitter. The Cubs may not have the money to sign Pudge Rodriguez anymore, possibly sending him to Los Angeles.
Finally, a few more transactions that deserve at least a moments time...
Phillies sign Shawn Wooten- Wooten will actually fill the Tyler Houston role with Philadelphia, hopefully without the drama with Larry Bowa. Wooten will probably let Thome have the day off against some southpaws, keep Todd Pratt to a pinch-hitting role, and might even fill in at third if necessary. His hitting has declined in each of his last three seasons, but his bat is one that easily deserves a bench role.
Diamondbacks sign Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds- Not exactly the replacements I would have guessed for Curt Schilling and Miguel Batista, but Garigiola is trying, right? This Arizona team will not be very good next season, although their offense will be the best it's been in years. Both these pitchers are terrible, but Sparks is the type that might have a five game run allowing only 3 runs or something.
Pirates sign Chris Stynes- Stynes isn't a great hitter, although he does have the potential to put up Mark Loretta-type numbers and make Dave Littlefield look smart. The Pirate roster is beginning to take shape, although the team is still in need of one more outfielder.
Braves sign Antonio Alfonseca and Armando Almanza- Yikes! The Braves bullpen is going to be hideous after John Smoltz next season, what with Jaret Wright, Alfonseca, Almanza, Will Cunnane, and Jung Bong. Who would have guessed that Leo Mazzone would be missing Roberto Hernandez by the All-Star Break?
Brewers sign Ben Grieve- Milwaukee will have a very interesting lineup next year, and the Grieve move set it in stone. Barring any earth-shattering move, this will be the Brewers lineup on Opening Day...
1) Scott Podsednik- CF
The bench will include Gary Bennett, Keith Ginter, Bill Hall, and Brady Clark. And yes, the Brewers will field the worst team in the National League next season.
And with that, I leave you. I won't be posting on Christmas, although I am hoping to have a weekend post on Friday. My readership has grown in the past month, and I want to thank all of you, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas. God Bless all of you.
Can't Wait 'Til Next Year to Comment on This One
Not only do I like to research and write articles about baseball, but I also enjoy reading a number of other baseball blogs on a regular basis. One of the bloggers that has differentiated himself from the masses is Bryan Smith, the proprietor of Wait 'Til Next Year, a site focused on the future of baseball, today.
In Bryan's most recent post, he takes an interesting look at Javier Lopez' gaudy numbers in 2003 and forecasts how he will fare for the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. Bryan points out rather astutely that Lopez will face the triple challenge of hitting in a more difficult home ballpark, playing in a division loaded with baseball's best pitchers, and facing an age that has not been all that kind to catchers in the past.
I would beg to differ with Bryan on two matters though. He states Lopez has been "far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time". I would rank Lopez as no better than the fifth most productive catcher during the past two decades, and I would not place him in the top 20 all time--at least not as this point in his career.
Although Bryan didn't actually list his top two catchers, I believe it is safe to say that he rates Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez numbero uno and dos. I don't think he would find much debate there. However, I contend that there are two other active catchers who deserve to rate higher than Lopez and a few more retired backstops who I could argue on behalf of, too.
Piazza and Rodriguez clearly stand out as the two best catchers over the past 20 years or since the Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, and Ted Simmons era of the late 1960s through the early-to-mid 1980s.
Piazza is unquestionably the best hitting catcher not only of this era but all time. He ranks among the top ten across the board in career totals and in the top two in every important rate-based stat. Piazza also sits atop the leader boards for catchers when it comes to BA, SLG, OPS, and Total Average vs. the league average. I believe Piazza's superior production at the plate more than makes up for his defensive deficiencies. In fact, the latter have been so well chronicled over the years that his overall value has been unfairly tainted in my opinion.
Rodriguez shows up on many of these top ten lists, plus he is one of the best defensive catchers of all time (as attested by several fielding metrics as well as his 10 Gold Gloves).
Beyond Piazza and Rodriguez, there may not be any more Hall of Famers in our midst. However, there have been two catchers--both of whom are still in their primes--who have produced at a higher level than Lopez over the course of their careers.
Although Lopez (.502) has a higher career slugging average than Jorge Posada (.474) and Jason Kendall (.422), he has a much lower on base percentage (.337) than both (.375 and .385, respectively). Lopez simply makes too many outs compared to Piazza, Posada, and Kendall, and he doesn't rank anywhere near I-Rod when it comes to defense.
These on base and slugging averages are important as they relate to creating runs, which is what it is all about, right? The following table probably summarizes it best.
1 Mike Piazza 528 2 Ivan Rodriguez 244 3 Jorge Posada 181 4 Jason Kendall 178 5 Mickey Tettleton 177 6 Chris Hoiles 167 7 Darren Daulton 159 8 Mike Stanley 137 9 Javier Lopez 127 10 Gary Carter 108As shown, Piazza has created more than twice the number of runs as Rodriguez. I-Rod, in turn, has generated one third more runs than Posada and Kendall and nearly twice as many as Lopez. Posada's advantage over Lopez is eye-opening given that he has played in nearly 200 fewer games with over 1,000 fewer at bats.
Does this all mean that Baltimore made a mistake? Well, not really. The Orioles signed Lopez to a three-year deal for $22.5 million, or $7.5 million per year. How does that compare to the other active catchers on the above list?
Piazza $15.0m Rodriguez $10.0m Posada $ 8.0m Kendall $ 8.7m Lopez $ 7.5mLopez' contract was about in line with what one would expect given his production. Mike Lieberthal is the next highest paid catcher in baseball at $7.25 million. Slotting Lopez in between Posada/Kendall and Lieberthal seems right on the money.
Will Lopez be worthy of his contract? Now that is a totally separate question. As Bryan details, the going is gonna get a lot tougher for Javy in 2004 than it was in 2003. I hope Oriole fans are prepared.
As far as all time goes, let's not get ahead of ourselves here by annointing Lopez as one of the 20 best catchers ever. Using Runs Created Above Position once again as our metric of choice, let's see just where Javy ranks among catchers:
1 Mike Piazza 528 2 Bill Dickey 473 3 Yogi Berra 430 4 Mickey Cochrane 425 5 Gabby Hartnett 364 6 Carlton Fisk 360 7 Johnny Bench 347 8 Ted Simmons 321 9 Gary Carter 251 10 Wally Schang 249 11 Ivan Rodriguez 244 12 Ernie Lombardi 241 13 Joe Torre 222 14 Roger Bresnahan 214 15 Roy Campanella 206 16 Smoky Burgess 194 17 Darrell Porter 193 18 Jorge Posada 181 19 Jason Kendall 178 T20 Gene Tenace 177 T20 Mickey Tettleton 177
Half of Javy's RCAP were generated in 2003, an indication of a high peak value but also a more mediocre career otherwise. His only other double-digit years were from 1997-1999 when he averaged 18 per season. If Lopez can string together three similar campaigns for the Orioles, then--and only then--might one be able to make a case for him being included in a discussion about the top 20 catchers of all time.
Excluding Piazza and Rodriguez, both of whom will surely be enshrined in Cooperstown upon retirement, it is interesting to note that all but three of the top 15 catchers have a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Catchers are the second most underrepresented position in the HOF (behind third basemen only), an oversight that needs to be corrected by adding a few deserving candidates. Ted Simmons may have hurt his standing among voters by prolonging his career as a designated hitter and first baseman, but his numbers as a catcher appear much more worthy than the one-year and out look he received from voters. Wally Schang, a switch-hitting catcher from 1913-1931, played on seven pennant-winning and five World Series championship teams, yet never received more than 11 votes for the HOF. Joe Torre's totals above only tell part of the story as he created an additional 92 runs above the league average at his position as a first baseman and third baseman. His overall total of 314 is good for 87th on the all-time list of modern-day players.
The Newest O
In the last ten years, one big name free agent has come to the Baltimore Orioles. Albert Belle. Unfortunately for Peter Angelos and Orioles' fans, that contract didn't go so well; Belle has made more money from Angelos since his retirement than he made in uniform. The Baltimore front office saw 2003 as their chance to try again, and have been quick on the attack thus far.
Last week, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan inked 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada to a six-year contract. Given Tejada's age, defensive skills, and fantastic road numbers last year, it's hard to foresee Orioles' brass regretting that move. But yesterday the team went out on the limb more, risking $23M on a 33-year-old catcher. Laughable, right? Well, not exactly. See, this catcher set the record last year for home runs in a season at the catching position. Yes, at age 32, Javy Lopez gave his career a complete turnaround, throwing sabermatricians everywhere for a surprise.
During the course of his career, Javy Lopez has hit .287/.337/.502, giving the catcher an impressive 114 career OPS+. Compared to his league, Lopez ranks 11th of all catchers in slugging percentage. Lopez is far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time. But given his age, new team, and new style of hitting, what can we expect next season?
First, let's take a look at the gaudy, insane splits Lopez had last season:
Lopez showed a huge preference to Turner Field, which played out to favor hitters slightly last season. In contrast, Camden Yards was a pitcher's park last year, very similar to National League fields Miller Park and Shea Stadium. Interestingly enough, Lopez hit only two extra-base hits in those stadiums a year ago, although 27 at-bats is a very small sample size. Turner Field will not see Javy at all in 2004, so expect him to be much more like the road version of himself next season.
To put Javy's 2003 into perspective, the slugger hit more home runs (by 6), and had a better slugging percentage (by .101) than any other catcher over 31 all-time. After tossing out Mike Piazza, these are the numbers for most home runs by a catcher after 31 years of age:
1. Lopez ('03)- 43
And those, besides Piazza's 2001 and 2002, are the only times a catcher after 31 has hit thirty home runs. Now here is the list using slugging percentage:
1. Lopez ('03)- .687
Only four times in the history of Major League Baseball has a catcher above thirty-one years of age has slugged better than .550, and Lopez is the only one to slug .600. Here is a look at the five seasons mentioned above not including Piazza, whom I deem as a bad comp to any catcher...
Fisk '85: .238/.320/.488 115OPS+
Lopez '03: .328/.378/.687 174OPS+
While Javy blows everyone out of the waters with his 2003, it's interestring that Campanella and Cooper came up as the two closest examples. Walker Cooper began his Major League career with 19AB in 1940, although he didn't reach 400AB with the St. Louis Browns until the 1942 season, when he was twenty-seven. Cooper was oft-injured during his career, but did have 1284AB during the 1942-1944 seasons, compiling an impressive .305/.341/.466 hitting line. He only had 298AB the next two seasons, and in 1947 exploded with 35 home runs, nearly 3 times his previous high of 13.
Campanella was similar to Cooper, not reaching 400AB until he was 27 years of age. In that 1949 season, Campanella hit .287/.385/.498 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then improved his slugging percentage in each of the next two seasons. Campanella's best season actually came as a 31-year-old, when he hit 41HR and hit .312/.395/.611 with the Dodgers. After an off year in 1954, Roy had his fateful 1955 season.
In contrast, Lopez started playing often in 1995 with the Braves, when he was only 25 years old. In that season, Lopez hit .315/.344/.498 with the Braves, similar to Campanella's first real season with Brooklyn. He was always very close to Cooper in terms of OBP, but closer to Campanella in SLG. As a 27-year-old in 1998, Lopez broke out, hitting .295/.328/.540 with 34 home runs, although his OPS had dropped from the year before (when he hit only 23HR). Javy was then hurt during the 1999 sason, only catching in 65 games. Coming back from injury was a disaster, as Javy got worse in AVE, OBP, and SLG in from 2000 to 2001, and 2001 to 2002. He looked finished in 2002 after hitting .233/.299/.372, but obviously bounced back with one of the greatest catching offensive seasons of all-time.
So how did Campanella and Cooper finish after these big seasons? Campanella struggled mightily the next two seasons, putting up .219/.333/.394 and .242/.316/.388 lines. He did manage to hit 33HR in those two seasons, which spanned 718AB, although only 15 doubles. While that doesn't bode well for Lopez, remember that Campanella's 1955 was his 33-year season, while Lopez was 32 last year. Cooper's career went until 1957, actually closing out the same year as Roy. But during those ten seasons after 1947, Cooper only amassed 300AB once, in 1949, when he hit .258/.308/.436. In the ten years after his fantastic 1947 season, Walker Cooper had 2386 at-bats, and hit a paltry .275/.327/.425.
Finally, let's consider the competition Javy will be facing next season. Moving to the AL East, this is a list of the pitcher's Javy will face in-division next year, ranked by their 2003 ERA:
1. Pedro Martinez -2.22
Yes, there are seven pitchers in the AL East that had ERAs below 3.50 last year, and they rank as some of the best pitchers in baseball. This list also didn't include Derek Lowe, David Wells, Tim Wakefield, Miguel Batista, Pat Hentgen, and Jeremi Gonzalez. Lopez didn't face the best competition in the NL East last season, in which Kevin Millwood seemed to be his worst enemy.
When considering the change in ballparks, change in division, and change in age, it's unquestionable that Javy Lopez won't nearly match his 2003 statistics. My guess is .275/.330/.475, likely going from the most valuable fantasy catcher, to one that finds himself below the likes of Mike Lieberthal. But Baltimore fans can't complain. At least he's not Albert Belle.
(This article couldn't have been possible without the help of Rich Lederer, and his trusted Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. So do yourself a favor and head over to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, then go buy an Encyclopedia from Lee Sinins)
Examining the Non-Tenders
Busy weekend, as teams sent 59 players to free agency as an early Christmas present. The list doesn't include any big names, as players like Freddy Garcia and Carlos Lee were kept by their respective teams. Instead, the free agency market was clouded with players who even the average GM likely didn't recognize (i.e. Geraldo Garcia).
Of the 58 players non-tendered, seven are expected or have re-signed with that team. Mark Redman and Michael Barrett re-upped with the Marlins and Cubs respectively, while Edwin Almonte, Gabe Kapler, Jason Shiell, Kris Wilson, and Scott Elarton are all expected to re-sign. Teams can re-sign players then non-tender until January 9th, making the arbitration situation the single most confusing in all of sports. This is what Michael Barrett has seen in the last week:
- Michael Barrett traded to Oakland for P2NL
Whew. This is an area the next Commissioner (Alderson?!?!) must amend, but something Bud seems much too preoccupied to do. Also, by my count, eleven players were non-tendered with less than twenty games experience for pitchers, and 150AB for hitters. That list is...
- Andy Van Hekken
Of that list, I would say that Sears is the best bet to have a future. If you remember, Sears was fantastic in Spring Training last year, but flamed out after only 24G in the Bigs. He is a nice left-handed bat to have off the bench, but his inability to play the outfield well likely will keep him resigned to the 4-A mantra.
That leaves, by my count, 41 meaningful players that have now joined the free agent market. Seventeen of those players are hitters, and only four have earned a starting job over the last two seasons. Karim Garcia held a job well in the second half of 2002 with the Indians, actually leading the Majors in RBI during that span. Marlon Anderson has spent time starting with the Devil Rays and Phillies, occupying both the 2B and 3B roles. Randall Simon has held a starting 1B job at various times during his career, and he held up a platoon with the Cubs late last season. Finally, the best player on the market is Jay Payton, he of the .302/.354/.512 line.
Payton will be the most sought after of the non-tenders, although his numbers are seen as slightly inflated due to Coors Field. Payton is considered a league average centerfielder, although he primarily played in left last season. He's an interesting Coors player, seeing as though his road numbers were still good at .281/.330/.483 in 2003. My gut tells me the Padres will be all over Jay, and that the rumor that Boston was interested is completely bogus.
1. Karim Garcia
As for the pitchers, I see the list as breakable into three categories, first the starters, then the right-handed relievers, and finally the southpaws. The starting list is limited to three, Jason Johnson, Damian Moss, and Orlando Hernandez. Personally, I find the Orioles actions here indefensible, seeing as Rodrigo Lopez (he of the 5.82ERA), is the only current Baltimore starter with more than 25 2003 starts. Next on that list? Omar Daal with 17 starts. Yikes. In fact, this is the current Oriole pitching staff, barring any changes...
1. Rodrigo Lopez
Now surely the team will sign a starter, possibly Sidney Ponson, but how can they defend throwing so many millions into hitting without any pitchers? I mean, as I'm writing this, I hear Javy is close to a 3-year, $23M. My guess? Kelvim Escobar will be the better buy...
Jason Johnson and El Duque are a toss up, where Johnson has the edge in pitching, Hernandez is the bigger and better name. Johnson is fully capable of an ERA in the low 4.00s, although he struggled mightily after the break, and on the road last season. Hernandez was hurt all of last season, and may be getting to the point where middle relief is the better option. And Damian Moss? He sucks, but will undoubtedly have a job next year, if not only for the 'burns.
Here's my ranking of the top 10 right-handed relievers...
1. Braden Looper
Looper is the most accomplished of the bunch, what with his new World Series ring and all. Teams with open closing positions will go after him, although I imagine the Devil Rays and White Sox to be the higher bidders. Baez could be very good in a middle relief role, and it will be interesting to see if the Phillies are interested, seeing as they almost acquired him a month ago. Jayson Durocher and Scott Stickland are coming off surgeries, but both had high upside beforehand.
Finally, my list of LOOGYs...
1. Carl Sadler
I like Sadler a lot, so I decided to put him above Sauerbeck and Miller. He did quite well in the Indians 'pen last year, and will come very cheap. Miller was also very good in Toronto, but Sauerbeck has a bigger name. The Padres are in the market for a LOOGY, so expect them to land one of these names.
Whew, so that's all the non-tenders. I wanted to close with comments on a few transactions. First, Jeremy Burnitz signed with the Rockies this weekend. I just don't understand where O'Dowd is going this offseason, with millions being spent on the likes of Burnitz and Castilla, when Atkins and Rene Reyes were ready. Next they'll spend on a shortstop, and in a year's time they'll regret not having Bellhorn there. O'Dowd needs to be spending this money in pitching! Imprison O'Dowd!
Secondly, the World Champions named their closer this week, signing Armando Benitez to a one-year deal. Benitez going back to Shea will be quite interesting, as will be his attempts at closing. I've said letting Armando just face right-handers would produce good results, but I wince everytime he faces a left-hander. So does he, as his BB/9 rate skyrockets. The Marlins won't necessarily regret this, but Benitez and Fox isn't the scariest 8-9 combo...
Finally, the Red Sox inked Pokey Reese this weekend, likely as a defensive replacement. He'll be good to start during Lowe's games, but I don't find him completely useful other than that.
That's it for today, have a good one...
Mantle's Stats and Rankings Unplugged
I received several e-mails about the Mickey Mantle article, questioning his place in history. As a result, I decided to take a look at Mantle's career from different vantage points other than Win Shares and Runs Created Above Average and Above Position on a year-by-year basis.
ELITE EIGHT (in alphabetical order):
Of the eight players, all but Aaron have also earned The QUAD Award for leading the league in the two most important counting stats (times on base and total bases) and the two most important rate stats (on base percentage and slugging average). Capturing the QUAD demonstrates sheer dominance over the league and is a good measure of peak value, validating the appropriateness of the Elite Eight. Furthermore, all but Hornsby led the entire major league in each of the four categories rather than just their league. The Rajah was victimized by having a concurrent career with Ruth. Cobb (2x), Hornsby (4), Musial (2), Ruth (5), and Williams (5) have been bestowed QUAD honors for their individual league multiple times.
Based on the Jamesian standards outlined above, the Elite Eight would rank ahead of Mantle given that they all beat him out in each of the four categories. But one could make a strong case for placing Mantle ninth on the all-time list of players with the greatest career achievements. An argument could also be made on behalf of Willie Mays, who ranks ahead of his counterpart in three of the four areas (including two top fives). Mays comes up a little short in the Black Ink test (65 for the Oklahoma Kid and 57 for the Say Hey Kid).
There are only seven other players who outpoint Mantle in two of the four lists. By definition, it means that The Mick ranks higher than them in two of the four as well. However, in the case of Mantle, he places no lower than 18th in each of the rankings. Of the seven, only Barry Bonds and Nap Lajoie rate in the top 20 in all four standings. The other five (Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Tris Speaker) are not only Hall of Famers but among the best ever at their position.
Bonds, of course, is still active and is likely to continue climbing the leader boards every season between now and his retirement. Bonds needs ten more Black Ink and four more Gray Ink to surpass Mantle. In defense of Bonds, he has played his entire career with at least 12 teams in his league whereas Mantle spent half of his career with only eight and the other half with ten. As a result, Bonds has competed against more players than Mantle (and all of the other players from the pre-expansion era), making it more difficult for him to acquire Black and Gray Ink.
Based on the above discussion, there are 11 players who stand out in the all-time rankings offensively, at least in terms of the Black and Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor lists.
ENORMOUS ELEVEN (in alpha order):
Interestingly, these 11 players also rank among the top 17 in batting Win Shares. I had mentioned three (Ott, Robinson, and Speaker) of the remaining six previously. The others are Eddie Collins (who ranks in the top 20 in three of the four tests), Rickey Henderson (no top 20s), and Pete Rose (two top 20s). Like Bonds, Henderson and Rose (to a lesser extent) have been disadvantaged by playing during the post-expansion era.
Given that these rankings are all based on cumulative stats, a review of a rate-based stat such as Adjusted OPS might provide some further color on the subject.
TOP 20 OPS+
Babe Ruth 207 Ted Williams 190 Barry Bonds 179 Lou Gehrig 179 Rogers Hornsby 175 Mickey Mantle 172 Joe Jackson 170 Ty Cobb 167 Jimmie Foxx 163 Mark McGwire 163 Frank Thomas 162 Stan Musial 159 Hank Greenberg 158 Johnny Mize 158 Tris Speaker 158 Manny Ramirez 157 Dick Allen 156 Willie Mays 156 Hank Aaron 155 Joe DiMaggio 155 Mel Ott 155
Only Honus Wagner (T28th at 150) from the list of 11 fails to place among the top 20 in OPS+. Interestingly, if we use the 11 players as a baseline for the top offensive performers, we can then rank them using OPS+ to get a feel for the best ever on a combined quantitative and qualitative basis.
Babe Ruth 207 Ted Williams 190 Barry Bonds 179 Lou Gehrig 179 Rogers Hornsby 175 Mickey Mantle 172 Ty Cobb 167 Stan Musial 159 Willie Mays 156 Hank Aaron 155 Honus Wagner 150
That's not a bad list, and it may serve as a ballpark ranking of the top offensive players of all time. We can create groups within groups, too. For example, Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, and Cobb are the only players who place among the top ten in all four of the Bill James HOF standards as well as Adjusted OPS. Musial and Aaron rank among the top ten in the HOF standards and 12th and 19th, respectively, in OPS+.
Getting back to the issue of Mantle, only four players--Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, and Hornsby--rank higher than him in all five areas. This does not mean that Mantle is the fifth most productive offensive player ever. It just suggests it would be difficult to argue that he deserves to be listed among the top four. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to place Mantle somewhere between #6 and #11 on the all-time list of hitters. The upper end would be determined more on peak value, rate stats, and relative rankings whereas the lower end would be predicated more on career totals.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Babe Ruth 1795
Voila! The top eight in RCAA are among the top 11 discussed throughout. Looked at another way, the 11 players I've identified all rank among the top 14 in RCAA. More impressively, 10 of these 11 players comprise the top 10 in Runs Created Above Position (RCAP). Aaron is the only one of the Enormous Eleven outside the top 10 in RCAP, and he is not far back in a tie for 12th place.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
1 Babe Ruth 1594 2 Ted Williams 1246 3 Barry Bonds 1218 4 Rogers Hornsby 1094 5 Ty Cobb 1078 6 Mickey Mantle 1009 7 Honus Wagner 994 8 Stan Musial 992 9 Lou Gehrig 988 10 Willie Mays 856 11 Mel Ott 831 T12 Eddie Collins 822 T12 Hank Aaron 822 14 Joe Morgan 820 15 Tris Speaker 777 16 Jimmie Foxx 700 17 Frank Robinson 674 18 Rickey Henderson 636 19 Eddie Mathews 633 20 Joe DiMaggio 629
What Does It All Mean?
From my vantage point, these lists suggest that no matter which metrics (HOF standards, OPS+, Win Shares, and/or RCAA and RCAP) or style (counting, rate, and/or relative stats) one uses, the best offensive players identify themselves. This study also goes a long way in proving that Mantle has unquestionably earned his status as one of the very best hitters ever. Choosing the best overall players is more problematic, given the need to account for positions, defensive performance, and baserunning skills. Having said that, I wouldn't dismiss any of these 11 from, say, a list of the top 15 overall players (excluding pitchers) as none of them are so poor defensively or on the base paths as to detract materially from their production at the plate.
Williams is probably the worst combination of position (LF), defense ("C") and baserunning (24 career SB, 17 CS; 58%), followed by Ruth (corner OF w/ "C-" grade and 110 SB vs. 117 CS in the years both were counted) and Hornsby (2B w/ "C" and only 56 SB vs. 64 CS in the years both were counted). Gehrig (1B, "B-", 102 SB/101 CS) and Musial (corner OF, "B", 29 SB/31 CS in the years both were counted--which unfairly penalizes him by excluding the first nine years of his career) were above-average defensively and on the basepaths. Aaron and Bonds rank surprisingly low defensively ("C") but both were fast with high stolen base totals and outstanding SB percentages. As corner outfielders, I believe Win Shares undervalues their defensive contributions by comparing them to CF. Aaron won three Gold Gloves and had a 2.08 range factor vs. 1.88 for the league average and a .980 fielding percentage vs. .976. Bonds has won eight Gold Gloves and has an above-average range factor (2.24 vs. 1.92) and fielding percentage (.985 vs. .981).
On the other hand, Wagner and Mays rank high defensively ("A+") and both were among the fastest and most successful base stealers of their time (Wagner, 722 SB--10th all time--with limited CS data; Mays, 338 SB/103 CS, 76%). Cobb ("B+" defensively with 892 SB--4th all time--and a 72% success rate during the only three years in his prime in which CS were kept) would rate right behind Wagner and Mays in these peripheral areas. A case could also be made on behalf of Mantle ("B+" and considered one of the fastest runners in the history of baseball in his early years plus an astounding 80% SB rate) ranking on the heels of this trio.
Among the players on the fringes, Collins (2B, "A-", 744 SB--7th all time) and Speaker (CF, "A+", 432 SB--54th all time--but only a 56% success rate in the years in which CS were maintained) would rate best based on a combination of defense and baserunning. One might be able to make a case for DiMaggio (CF, "A+"), too, although it is difficult to give him as high of a mark for his baserunning given his lack of stolen bases (30) although he was effective (76%). Adding these three players into the mix produces a total of 14. Throw in the next top three sluggers (Foxx, Ott, and Robinson) plus several players (Lajoie, Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, and Alex Rodriguez come to mind) from positions (3B, C, and SS) or eras (decade of the 1900s plus 1970s-on) that are under represented and one can come up with the makings of a pretty good top 25 list (excluding pitchers, 19th century performers, and Negro League players).
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com (Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, HOF Monitor, and OPS+), the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (RCAA and RCAP), and Win Shares by Bill James and Jim Henzler.
A Gleeful Interview With The New Aaron of Baseball
Up until the summer of 2002, if a baseball fan mentioned "Aaron," you knew they were referring to baseball's all-time home run king. Well, things have changed over the past 16 months. Online baseball fans now know that the name "Aaron" is none other than Aaron Gleeman, the proprietor of Aaron's Baseball Blog. Aaron's blog is one of the most widely read and entertaining of them all.
Aaron was born and raised in Minnesota. He is an undergrad student majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota. In addition to maintaining his blog, Aaron has written articles for Baseball Primer, InsiderBaseball.com, and is currently working with RotoWorld.com on its fantasy baseball annual.
I corresponded with Aaron by email and instant messaging during the past week during his winter break. Not surprisingly, Aaron responded with a Gleeman-length interview.
RWBB: How long have you been a baseball fan?
Aaron: I really wish I had a cool story to tell, like how I went to my first game and saw Kirby Puckett hit a game-winning homer and I fell in love with the sport or something, but I really don't have a good story.
My mom's side of the family is really into sports and so I guess I just got into it that way. I do remember my grandmother (on my dad's side) buying me my first baseball cards. 1987 Topps, with the borders that looked like wood paneling. I had three stacks, held together by rubber bands.
In my early days as a sports fan, baseball was probably #3 on the list, behind basketball and football. My uncle, who is the biggest baseball lover I have ever met, used to always tell me that one day I would see the light and see that baseball is the sport to fall in love with. Sometime around my 15th or 16th birthday, I saw the light.
RWBB: Being from Minnesota, what do you remember about the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins world championship teams?
Aaron: Sadly, I remember absolutely nothing about 1987. I was only four years old then. I'm sure I watched (or slept through) the games, but I have no memory of them.
1991 is right around the time I started to follow baseball, which is pretty convenient. I remember I used to watch the playoff games with a notebook in my hand. I would keep my own stats for all the players, a stat-head from the very start. I have fond memories of watching Game Seven in 1991. I remember how incredibly happy everyone around me was and I don't think I quite grasped it at the time. As far as I knew, winning championships was a yearly thing for the Twins.
RWBB: Who is your all-time favorite Twin?
Aaron: I go back and forth on this one. The easy answer is Kirby, but he stopped playing when I was 11 and it turns out he isn't such a wonderful guy. I took a liking to Torii Hunter after Kirby, because he seemed to me to be sort of a similar guy. Outgoing, funny, full of smiles, exciting on the field. Hopefully, Torii doesn't chase his wife around the house with a power-saw like Kirby.
But really, if I'm being honest, I'd say my favorite Twin is Johan Santana. I sort of feel like I have watched him grow up, which is funny for a 20-year old kid to be saying. But it's true. I am proud to say I was on the bandwagon right away and I am very excited to see how his career plays out. Plus, Johan seems like a pretty good guy, and I like his demeanor on the mound and the fact that he can make hitters look absolutely ridiculous at times.
RWBB: You list Ted Williams on your "about me" page as your favorite ballplayer of all time. That's heady stuff for a 20-year-old.
Aaron: For whatever reason, I tend to take a liking to guys who are portrayed as jerks. To me, there is something interesting about someone like that. Someone like Cal Ripken or A-Rod or some other "perfect" guy just isn't that interesting to me. But Ted Williams? That's a guy I could read about forever. And really, what does it matter if we hear he wasn't nice to the media or that he didn't tip his cap to the fans in Boston? Kirby was loved by the media and fans like no other player I have ever seen and he turned out to be 100 times the jerk Ted Williams ever was.
I like personalities, good or bad. Plus, the man can flat-out hit and, beyond that, he has thoughts about hitting that are incredibly interesting to hear/read about.
RWBB: Barry Bonds is another one of your favorites.
Aaron: See, Bonds is just like Williams, another guy I love who is supposed to be a jerk. I like a guy who wants his own recliner in the locker room. I like a guy who hits a ball 500 feet and stands at the plate admiring it. If you hit the damn thing that far you should be able to do whatever you want. We need more Jeffrey Leonard doing one-flap down, if you ask me. If the pitcher doesn't like it, tell him not to let him hit it that far.
RWBB: Let's say you're putting together a team and you need a left fielder. Who would it be, Ted Williams or Barry Bonds?
Aaron: I don't get a DH? This is really tough, but I think I would go with Barry for his defense. If you ask me next week though, I may give a different answer. It's like asking me to pick between Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba. I'd rather let Heidi DH and not have to make the choice.
RWBB: Did you play baseball as a kid?
Aaron: Yeah, I did. I played Little League until I was like...I don't know...I think maybe 15 or so. When I started I couldn't hit at all, but I was a good fielder. Then, as I got older, I still couldn't hit, but I wasn't absolutely horrible at the plate. My final year I batted fifth and played second base. We had a couple of future Golden Gophers on that team.
I hit right-handed and my offense was all singles. I'd love to say that I walked a lot, but I honestly don't think that I did. My specialty was blooping singles into right field. At second, I had very good hands, very little range and zero arm.
RWBB: Sounds like the Twins could use you.
Aaron: Trust me, the Twins have all the no-range, no-hit second basemen they need as it is.
RWBB: Good point.
Aaron: I actually got beaned right in the forehead when I was like 13 or so. The ball was thrown way behind me and I instinctively jumped back, which actually was really dumb. If I had just stood there, it would have hit my back or maybe missed me completely. Instead, it went under the brim of my helmet and nailed me right in the forehead. I had a really good bruise/egg for like a week. After that, I was scared of the ball in a lot of ways, which is just about the worst thing you can be in baseball (besides Neifi Perez).
RWBB: Other than to rag on poor Neifi, what made you decide to create Aaron's Baseball Blog?
Aaron: Well, I was home for the summer in 2002 and I started checking out some blogs like David Pinto's Baseball Musings, Mike's Baseball Rants and Only Baseball Matters. One day David posted something about how some of his readers were creating blogs and he showed how to sign up for one. So, I went and did it and had my first post up that night. It was about A.J. Burnett and how I was worried about his health, which turned out to be a pretty good little prediction! As for why I did it, I have no idea. I guess I was just bored one summer day and I wanted to talk baseball.
RWBB: You have received over 300,000 hits since your blog's inception on August 1, 2002. That's a lot of clicks of the refresh arrow.
The fact that the site cracked 300,000 is absolutely unbelievable to me. I remember that first week or two, I would sit around all day and stare at the "Site Meter" thing, just waiting for someone to show up. I think I got a plug on Pinto's site after a few days and I got 35 hits. I was in heaven.
Now I am averaging somewhere around 1,500-2,000 per day. Some days it reaches over 3,000. It's pretty crazy. I still get a kick out of seeing the visitor counts everyday and I love finding out where people are coming from, what sites have linked to my blog. I am a night-owl, so it is fun to check the visitor count at like 2 am and see that 243 people have already stopped by. Hopefully that will never stop giving me a thrill.
RWBB: What do your Mom and Dad think about it all?
Aaron: At first my mom loved it, because it was something to take up my time. I think parents' #1 goal in life is to get their child to do stuff, no matter what it is, just so they aren't sitting around doing nothing. She's very supportive of what I do. She's always telling people to go to the site, people I have never met before.
My dad thinks it's cool, I guess. He asks me about it once in a while, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't read it. He is not a sports fan at all, but he tries to fake it sometimes. He'll often ask, "Did you watch the game last night?" I'll say, "Which game?" He'll sort of confess and say, "I don't know, I just figured you watched a game."
RWBB: How is college life at the University of Minnesota treating you?
Aaron: It's not bad. I like the whole living on my own thing. I'm not such a fan of the going to class everyday thing though. My main problem with school is that someone like me, who has known for years that he wants to do nothing but be a writer, is forced to take math classes and science classes and foreign languages classes. That's fine for people who want a well-rounded education or for people who don't know what they want to be, but I want to write and I want to do nothing but take classes on writing. A journalism class here is 3 days a week. A foreign language is 5 days a week. It doesn't make sense to me.
RWBB: Habla Espanol or sprechen sie Deutsch?
Aaron: I have enough trouble with English as it is. Trying to get me to master another language is like trying to teach Rey Ordonez a better home run trot. It's just not needed and there are plenty of other areas to work on first.
RWBB: You're majoring in journalism, you have one of the most widely read baseball websites in the entire blogosphere, and yet you have not been able to land a job with the student newspaper. What gives?
Aaron: Kind of weird, isn't it? I'm a little limited in what I can/should say, because the MN Daily is already very angry at me, apparently.
But I will say the bare facts, which is that I applied for an entry-level position in the sports department at the all-student newspaper here at the U of M on four different occasions, spread over three years. Sometimes, I applied for an unpaid internship, other times for a low-paying beat writing position covering one of the lesser sports like volleyball or track and field or gymnastics, etc.
Twice I went in for interviews with the sports editors and another time I did a phone interview. And I didn't get the job any of the four times. There are some other details that make the situation more frustrating for me, but I should probably keep my big mouth shut for once. I wrote about getting rejected for the 4th time on my blog some time ago, because I was upset that they didn't even let me know that I hadn't gotten the job. Over a month had passed and I hadn't heard anything from them, so I wrote about my frustration on the blog. And then, wouldn't you know it, I got an email from them the very next day.
It's very frustrating, because all I want to do in life is write about sports and the MN Daily is a very good and respected student paper. My aunt wrote for them and she loved it, and it was a big part of my plans when I started school here. Plus, it sucks getting asked all the time if I write for the student paper and having to say no. It's a great paper and I would be honored to write for them. For whatever reason, they don't want me.
RWBB: Have you ever had a real job?
Aaron: Sort of. When I was in junior high and high school I used to do sports card and memorabilia shows all across the country. I did shows in all over Minnesota and in California, Georgia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois - all sorts of places. They were on the weekends and I would buy a booth and set up my merchandise. It was a lot of fun and very good money for a young kid. I think it was a good experience, having to manage a little business. You had to invest in product and you had to manage your resources.
After that, I worked for a little while recording stats for NBA games for STATS Inc. Of late, I wrote prospect reports for InsiderBaseball.com last season and am planning on doing that again this year.
I've had some jobs. No 9-5 stuff and no stuff that isn't related to sports. I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
RWBB: What year are you and when do you plan to graduate?
Aaron: I am officially a junior, but more accurately I am in my third year. I plan on graduating at some point in the next 10 years. I'd say I'm on the "five-year plan," but that might be kind.
I'm in no hurry to leave. I've heard the real world is kind of scary. I'll say this though, if someone were to offer me a nice job doing something interesting, I would accept it immediately and quit school. It's the same reason I am in favor of high school players going to the NBA. If you have a chance to do something you want to do, don't wait around because of school. You can always go back to school.
RWBB: What would you like to do when you "grow up"?
Aaron: There have only been three jobs I have ever wanted in my entire life. One was to play major league baseball. That was done as a possibility when I was born, pretty much. The second is to write about sports, either for a newspaper, magazine or website. As long as I can remember, I would reply "sports writer" to anyone who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. It has never changed. No "fireman" or "astronaut" or anything like that.
And then the third thing would be to work in an MLB front office. I think that's the dream of anyone who follows baseball like I do. You want to be the guy making the moves, instead of the guy talking about the guy who made the moves. If there are any teams out there, I will work for free. Seriously. Zero pay and I'll quit school immediately.
RWBB: You turn 21 on January 3rd. Do you have any plans to celebrate your big birthday?
Aaron: Oh yeah! I'm heading to Vegas on the 4th for a week. My first trip there. I can't wait. If anyone reading this is out there, look for me at the MGM Grand sports book. I'll be the guy with the blue Twins hat and no money.
RWBB: Maybe that PayPal button you have displayed will come in handy between now and then. By the way, are these donations treated as income for tax purposes?
Aaron: (Nervous laugh) I don't know what you're talking about...
Actually, that Paypal thing is basically just there for the look of it. I figure if I keep it there maybe some rich baseball fan will decide to give me a million bucks some day. But it's not exactly a money-maker, which is fine. I mentioned it one day and asked for donations and I was incredibly surprised by how many people donated. But I feel wrong bringing it up on a regular-basis, so I have just done so that one time.
RWBB: To your credit, you list some of the negative as well as positive comments about your blog in the sidebar.
Aaron: I actually just added that a couple weeks ago. I thought it might be funny and the blank space on the sidebar was bugging me.
RWBB: Will Carroll has said, "Gleeman is prolific, yes, but a factory that churns out lots of crap is still a crap factory." Do you care to respond?
Aaron: Will's quote is the reason I thought to add that stuff. Will and I have become good buddies over the last few months. We are both usually up very late, so our paths cross at like 3 am a lot of the time. He's usually the only guy on my buddy list at that point and I suspect I'm probably one of the only guys on his too, so we've become friends. That quote was from a year or so ago, when we didn't know each other so well.
I like it, mainly because it is a really awesome line. And then also because I think it's somewhat truthful. I have a bit of a rep for churning out lots of "stuff." I talked about it with Will the other day and I can't remember exactly what he said. I'm glad he didn't try to take it back or something like that. I like a guy willing to rip someone and then stand by his ripping.
RWBB: Al Bethke, on the other hand, calls Aaron's Baseball Blog "the best baseball weblog out there".
Aaron: Al is a good guy, despite being a Brewers fan.
My favorite quote on there is from the Chicago Tribune, just shortly after I started the blog back in the middle of 2002. The article was about various baseball blogs and there was a description of www.TwinsGeek.com that was very glowing and complimentary. And then there was a quick mention of my site that said it was, "Nearly as prolific but less intriguing."
On one hand I was likely holy shit, I just got mentioned in the Chicago Tribune. It's the sort of thing you tell someone about, but leave out the actual quote. If Aaron's Baseball Blog were a movie, I would use that quote in the preview and it would say, "The Chicago Tribune says it is Prolific....Intriguing..."
RWBB: Others have compared you to a young Rob Neyer.
Aaron: That is a huge compliment. Rob was probably the first sabermetric writer I came across. Either him or the Prospectus guys. Even before Bill James. Rob does what I try to do, which is blend numbers into baseball, while maintaining a conversational, informal style.
Rob has my dream job, without a doubt. He writes about baseball for a great website, he (presumably) gets a nice chunk of change, he can work on other projects, and he has the freedom to write about whichever subjects come to mind. He's a lucky man and he deserves it.
RWBB: You've got a great knack for it all, especially being so young.
Aaron: I used to be young. Now there are a whole bunch of bloggers out there younger than me! Blogging is a kid's game, I think. Who else has the time to spend on baseball everyday? Has to be someone with no life or family. Someone who can skip their biology lecture so they can write about Mike Cameron.
RWBB: What do you say to those who think you are cocky or arrogant, especially for someone your age.
Aaron: Hmm...Well, as you can probably tell by my liking guys like Williams and Bonds, I don't necessarily think cocky and arrogant are horrible things to be. That said, before I started this blogging thing, I never would have guessed that I came off cocky or arrogant. I think people would get a very different impression of me in person. I have never, in my entire 20+ years on this earth, been said to be cocky, arrogant or anything at all like that by someone who has actually met me. At least not to my face.
I'm not entirely sure where I get that rep from. I suppose it has to do with having strong opinions or my willingness to "pick on" other writers? I don't know. A weak opinion isn't interesting and how can you resist Joe Morgan? I mean really, Joe is so wonderful, but he is just asking to be ripped apart sometimes. And people have ripped me plenty. It's only fair.
RWBB: Speaking of Li'l Joe, you love to give him and Tim McCarver a hard time.
Aaron: Yeah, I do. I try not to sometimes, but it's really difficult. With Joe it has to do with what he writes for ESPN.com and what he says in his ESPN.com "chats." I don't have a problem with him as an announcer or as a player. When he is asked to put his opinion down on paper, that's when I think he gets in trouble.
With McCarver, I have no idea whether he is able to even put his ideas down on paper, but I have heard him speak enough so that my ears begin to bleed at the very mention of his name. I am told that at one point people thought McCarver was a pretty good announcer. Having been forced to listen to him do the most important baseball games of the entire year, year after year, I have to wonder about that. At this point all he really does is repeat tired cliches, kiss certain players' asses and make what he thinks are brilliant points about things that don't particularly make much sense.
If Saturday Night Live were to do a parody of an old announcer, McCarver would be it. The one thing McCarver and Morgan have in common as announcers (and it isn't much, which is a compliment to Morgan) is that they both subscribe to the "everything was better when we played" theory. I'd say about 95% of all their thoughts and opinions come from that starting point.
RWBB: You recently created the Gleeman Production Average or GPA. Please explain.
Aaron: My stat of choice for measuring offense is Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA). The stat of choice for more and more casual fans these days is becoming OPS (on-base % + slugging %). I find OPS to be somewhat useless and in fact hardly ever use it. At the same time, I found myself wanting something that was simple to calculate and use like OPS, but that added more value and told me more. So, I came up with GPA, which fit what I was looking for perfectly.
It is like a cross between EqA and OPS, giving you some of EqA's value and some of OPS' speed and simplicity. You can not only use it for full-season numbers or career numbers, but also stuff like lefty/righty splits, home/road splits and stuff like that. I have found it to be very handy for me to use.
RWBB: Don't you think we have enough baseball metrics for evaluating performance already?
Aaron: Yeah, we probably do. Part of the reason I love baseball so much is the numbers though. I think the numbers in baseball can tell you more about the game and about the teams and players than the numbers in any other sport.
GPA is definitely not here to replace EqA or Win Shares or Linear Weights or any of that other stuff that is good to use. It's just here because I couldn't find a stat to use in some situations that I found myself in, and GPA fills that void for me. If other people also find it useful in similar situations, that's a bonus.
RWBB: I'm as guilty as the next, but I fear that it's all beginning to look like alphabet soup to the more casual fan.
Aaron: Definitely. The casual fan, for the most part, isn't even ready to use OPS yet. GPA isn't for the guy who argues about who the MVP should be by using his batting average and RBI-totals. It is for guys like me, the Baseball Prospectus/Baseball Primer/Bill James crowd, who like to look beyond simple stats.
RWBB: Having said all that, who would comprise your all-GPA team?
Aaron: Here's the starting lineup from last year, using the best GPA at each position:
If we're in the AL, you can stick Albert Pujols (.364) in at DH.
RWBB: Which players show up as the most undervalued?
Aaron: The guys who show up as undervalued are the high-OBP guys, which is how it should be. The 27 outs in a game are like a team's currency. Once you spend it, you're done.
If you ever find yourself saying "Yeah, he gets on base a lot but he doesn't hit for much power" about a player, he's probably undervalued.
RWBB: Who would GPA identify as overvalued?
Aaron: I would say the overvalued guys with GPA are the same guys who are, for the most part, overvalued in baseball. Guys like Juan Gonzalez or Juan Encarnacion or Shea Hillenbrand or Jacque Jones. Basically, guys who are very good hitters for average and power and everything like that, but who simply make a ton of outs.
This is part of the problem with OPS. If you say there are two guys who each have an .850 OPS, they are equals. But if one of them gets his .850 OPS from a .330 OBP and a .520 SLG, he isn't nearly as valuable as the guy who gets the .850 OPS with a .400 OBP and a .450 SLG.
RWBB: Multiplying OBP by SLG works better than adding them and, in fact, would identify the latter player as more valuable. In any event, who is your best bet as a breakout player this year?
Aaron: Mike Cameron, without a doubt. I've been singing his praises on my blog for some time now and I think he is set for a big year, simply because he'll be away from Safeco Field, which has destroyed his offense.
Some other guys who I think could breakout in a big way this year: Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson. On a lesser scale, I think Michael Cuddyer, if given the playing time, will finally have the year I've been waiting for with the Twins.
For pitchers, it's definitely Johan Santana, although I guess his "breakout" came last year. The big breakout pitcher this year might be Rafael Soriano, who looks like "the next" Santana to me. If he gets a chance to start, he could be incredible. Other pitchers I like to breakout are Jake Peavy and Grant Balfour.
RWBB: You were an early supporter of Bobby Kielty. Do you feel vindicated given J.P. Ricciardi's and Billy Beane's subsequent interest in him?
Aaron: Well, I think they see in him what I see in him, which is a switch-hitter who plays good defense at all three outfield spots, has incredible plate discipline and some good power. Now, Kielty definitely had a sub-par year last season, but I still think he can be a special hitter.
He's the type of guy the Twins almost never have, which is maybe why I took a liking to him immediately. And, of course, they only had him for a little while. It was tough to see him go, but the deal (for Shannon Stewart) has turned out about as well as the Twins could have hoped. I still think they should have kept Kielty though.
Aaron: Yeah, I think Joe Mauer is going to be very special. Maybe not immediately, because the guy is actually like 6 months younger than I am, but at some point. Everyone seems to think his defense is great, right now, and his offense has been spectacular in every area except power. I think his pessimistic projection is someone like Jason Kendall - a high AVG/high OBP/low power guy with good speed. His high-end projection? Who knows? There aren't a whole lot of Gold Glove catchers who hit .330 with good power and tons of walks.
I still think about Mark Prior and Johan Santana in the same rotation though. Hopefully Mauer will make me forget all about that.
RWBB: What do you see for Justin Morneau?
Aaron: Hopefully a lot of home runs. Morneau is the first Twins prospect in a long time who has a chance to be a legit slugger. Since I've been following the team and actually long before that, they've been built around batting averages and gap hitters. The Twins haven't had a 30-homer season from anyone since 1987, which is pretty amazing considering the rise in homers that has gone on of late.
Morneau has a chance to be an elite offensive player. He's not ready to do that right now, but I am hoping he'll be starting at first base in 2005.
RWBB: Very enlightening, Aaron. One final question: Which teams are you going to place bets to win the World Series when you go to Vegas next month?
Aaron: The Twins, of course. I might go with Boston, just because I like to suffer along with them and because I think they are the best team right now, on paper. For a sleeper team in the mold of Florida and Anaheim the last two years, I think maybe Toronto or San Diego, or maybe even the Mets.
I have no patience for long-term bets though, so I'll probably just stick to putting ridiculous amounts of money (for me, at least) on whatever college basketball game happens to be on the big screen while I'm there.
RWBB: If Vegas would book it, I would load up on a long-term bet on Aaron. Now.
[Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
While the East coast teams are always the more interesting and dramatic topic of discussion, this offseason has been quite tumultous for a foursome out West. Four California teams, the Padres, Angels, Dodgers, and A's, all have posed very interesting subplots during this offseason. In short, they read as follows:
San Diego: Back in the game, using surprise element to take NL West
Now, for the more detailed versions...
San Diego Padres
After five years of being out of contention, Kevin Towers chose his time wisely. While each of the NL West teams have become worse during this offseason, the Padres began improving last July. Towers used money he received from Trevor Hoffman's insurance to trade for Brian Giles, one of the best OBP players in the Majors today.
Quickly during the offseason, Towers traded with Oakland, acquiring Ramon Hernandez (and T. Long) for Mark Kotsay, which would then open up a slot for Xavier Nady. He kept Mark Loretta, a player who broke out last season, Hoffman, and new fan favorite Rod Beck. He went after a Japanese relief ace, and has most recently finalized the rotation. Yesterday, the team announced it had struck deals with Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes. Here is a look at those two players...
Hitchcock: 6-4 4.72 91/87.2 68/32
Valdes: 8-8 6.10 148/115 47/29
Neither of these are huge signings, but each has a little bit of upside. Hitchcock showed great improvement starting with the Cardinals down the stretch, showing very good H/9 and K/9 numbers. Valdes was terrible last season, but it was also because of pitching in the third worst stadium in baseball for starters, Arlington. His road numbers are likely indicative of where he stands, and by moving to the NL, and especially the spacious NL West ballparks (save Coors), Valdes should be right around 4.50. His contract is miniscule, and the team could still conceivably make an offer to Greg Maddux.
One problem this team faces is defense. Their starting outfield right now would be Ryan Klesko in left, Giles in center, and Xavier Nady in right. I've advocated trading Phil Nevin, but it appears that a centerfielder will be acquired and Nady will find himself on the bench. San Diego lost out on Mike Cameron and Kenny Lofton, and they are having a difficult time trading for centerfielders, because everyone asks for Peavy.
Jake Peavy had modest numbers last season (12-11, 4.11), but is one of the top ten pitchers in baseball primed for a breakout season. He had great H/9 numbers (173H/194.2IP), and also struck out a considerable number of batters (156). His second half ERA was just 3.46, and his BB/9 and HR/9 improved in that span. The team is refusing to trade Peavy at all costs, and same goes for Adam Eaton. Eaton is a very similar pitcher who made great strides coming back from arm surgery last season, and should improve even more in 2004. These two youngsters, along with Brian Lawrence, have provided a good foundation for the rotation.
All that's left on the to-do list for Towers is to acquire a CF, and sign a LOOGY. Jacque Jones appears to be a reasonable candidate, and the team will pursue Jay Payton if they believe he has the range for center. I am calling for Mike Myers to be picked up as a LOOGY, and that's reasonable given the dwindling resources Towers has. Regardless, I am already looking forward to the Padres v. Giants battle next year, one that will largely depend on the arms of Hitchcock, Valdes, Peavy and Eaton.
Arte Moreno vowed to Angel fans when he bought their franchise that he would spend this offseason. So far, he has not let them down, forking over serious coinage for the likes of Kelvim Escobar, Bartolo Colon, and most recently, Jose Guillen. The team also surprised me Thursday by re-signing Adam Kennedy to a three-year contract, deciding against non-tendering him. This either means that David Eckstein is about to join the non-tender list, or that scrappy middle infield will be back in 2004.
Another difficult non-tender decision will be that of Jarrod Washburn. Escobar, Colon, and Guillen have limited Stonemann's money, and while Washburn would make this rotation fantastic, he would prove costly. Plus, the team now has six starters: Colon, Escobar, Washburn, Ortiz, Lackey, and Aaron Sele. Prospects Bobby Jenks and Ervin Santana will be up in September, if not earlier.
The bullpen won't be a worry, and the team may very well non-tender Ben Weber on Saturday as well. Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez are great at the end of games, and Brendan Donnelly is fantastic in middle relief. The club also loved what they saw from Derrick Turnbow, and Scot Sheilds remains their long man. The team has lacked a real LOOGY for years, indicating that Kevin Gregg or Greg Jones may gets spots as well.
Offensively, the addition of Guillen is questionable. Jose's OBP dropped to just .311 with the A's, and his OPS was .770 while in the American League. But, he struggled within the confines of Oakland, a problem he won't face so much next season. Guillen is also a standout defensively, almost enough so to justify the money spent in this acquisition. He also moves Tim Salmon to DH, a move that should helpfully increase Salmon's numbers, as well as the length of his career. The only thing left on the slate is a first basemen, as the team doesn't appear to be content with Shawn Wooten in the role. Both names that have been mentioned, Travis Lee and Rafael Palmiero, make sense, although I would think the former is more logical. Lee is Gold Glove-like at first, and his bat emerged in Tampa.
The Angel team will take a new shape this weekend, when the team is forced to make non-tender decisions on Jarrod Washburn, Ben Weber, David Eckstein, and Shawn Wooten. Moreno is trying to make Angel fans forget about Gene Autry, and they should start opening up to him next year, when the Angels are submerged in battle with Oakland.
Los Angeles Dodgers
I can only write so much without getting sick here. The ownership situation of the Dodgers isn't the publicized topic I thought it would be, but it's definitely a problem for Major League Baseball. First, FOX supposedly reached a deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneer owner Malcolm Glazer, and now with Frank McCourt. Either way, FOX is cutting its losses, and Dan Evans hasn't had the money he's used to and help baseball's worst offense in 2003.
It all started with Juan Encarnacion, a move made during the Winter Meetings. I don't think Encarnacion will play well in Dodger Stadium, and Evans should end up looking like a fool for that. He's also saved money to spend in other places, although as I said yesterday, the big names are all gone. The team will probably look at Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, then either trading Lo Duca or moving him to first. The team saw Tejada and Kaz Matsui drive by at shortstop, all while the Dodgers were busy holding their breath for Nomar Garciaparra. Now it's time to move on, as Nomar appears locked in the cages of Fenway Park for one more season.
The Dodgers will make an interesting decision in the coming days as well, regarding the tendering of Odalis Perez. Odalis has appeared in every trade rumor possible the last few seasons, but now no one is calling. And, the team has been left with seven starters. Wilson Alvarez signed a contract to stay yesterday, and he'll surely have a rotation slot. As will Hideo Nomo. So does Odalis, if he stays. And Jeff Weaver. And Kaz Ishii. In that scenario, Darren Dreifort would move to the bullpen, and Edwin Jackson to AAA. That likely is the best option, and it gives the team one helluva bullpen, again.
Eric Gagne will be back in 2004, probably pitching as good as ever. His set-up man, Guillermo Mota, is likely to return as well. Paul Shuey, ace middle relief pitcher, is back, as is friend and LOOGY Tom Martin. Dreifort is set to join the bullpen, and assuming he doesn't hurt himself, his fastball/slider combination should be effective down there. Steve Colyer should be the second leftie, and the team will probably use one more player, maybe Duaner Sanchez, from the right side.
Dan Evans has very little wiggle room, as he doesn't know how long his job will last when Frank McCourt takes over. The team currently would have an infield of Ventura, Cora, Izturis, and Beltre, assembling possibly the worst infield in the game. Evans must get rolling, and he must do so fast. He must investigate Vladimir Guerrero thoroughly, and should lack Rafael Palmiero up at any cost. Rich Aurilia wouldn't be terrible at short, and Todd Walker could be used at second. It's probably too little, too late for the Dodgers, and they will soon be asking fans to wait for the likes of Jackson, Greg Miller, and James Loney.
It hasn't been long since I last wrote about Billy Beane's team, but they've already changed so much since. Beane has now found his closer, signing Arthur Rhodes to a three-year contract (worth $9.2M) late yesterday. He also acquired left-hander Chris Hammond from the Yankees, whom will join Ricardo Rincon from the left side. And, the team is high on Rule V pick Frank Brooks, also a leftie. But, it's these different philosophies that have worked before, so I'll wait to see the results this bullpen has before I criticize.
Tuesday, Beane added soft-throwing leftie Mark Redman to a star-strapped rotation. This pushed Justin Duchscherer out of the picture, and makes top youngster Rich Harden the best fifth starter in the league. It also gives Beane a valuable bargaining chip midseason, when Joe Blanton or Duchscherer prove ready for rotation slots. Redman should succeed in Oakland, although the ERA should be slightly up from 3.59 next season.
To clarify, I think Beane has a plan with this bullpen. Rhodes will close, and Moneyball hero Chad Bradford will pitch in relief. Chris Hammond will also be used as a reliever, as he actually showed a reverse platoon split last year. Expect Mike Remlinger and Hammond to follow similar path lines the rest of their careers. Anyway, Ricardo Rincon will be used to get tough lefties out, and Jim Mecir will be called on in groundball-needed situations. Duchscherer will make the team as a long reliever, possibly leaving a seventh spot open for Rule V pick Brooks. It ain't pretty, but I don't doubt that it will work.
Same applies to the A's offensively, where Beane is putting everything on the line for this team. The team lacks a real catcher, although Damian Miller could be named an A within days. That would give the team a defensive leader, as well as an effective bottom of the order hitter. Beane is looking for more from personal choices like Erubiel Durazo, Bobby Kielty, and Mark Kotsay next year. He is praying for improvement from Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye, and for development for Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby.
But while this A team is no lock to win the division next year, I wouldn't advise anyone to bet against Zito-Hudson-Mulder-Harden-Redman.
Have a good weekend, and I'll probably make a quick post before Monday concerning the non-tenders...
Previewing the Non-Tenders
Yesterday was a really boring day for baseball. The everlasting A-Rod trade has more drama, as the player's union has stepped in to veto the deal. Bud Selig may override that decision, forcing an arbitrator to decide. I guess this is what happens when the best player in the Majors gets traded, huh? This weekend, teams will non-tender players, putting a whole new spin on the free agent market. So I figured since tomorrow might be dedicated to Rodriguez becoming a Red Sox player, that today would become a day to look over what's left on the free agent market, and what might be added when I check back on Monday.
So, first, what is left on the current free agent market?
Well, there is still a very recognizable front tier left. Vladimir Guerrero, the league's best free agent, is still technically a free agent, although anyone but the Orioles is a surprise at this point. The two catchers, Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, are also two big names left available. One of the two will join Guerrero in Baltimore, while the left out catcher will look to offers from the Cubs and the Dodgers. Greg Maddux is left over, and probably will be when the New Year hits. If the Padres really do sign Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes, the main suitor for Maddux's services will be thrown out the window. After that, only the Giants, Cubs, and possibly the Cardinals could make serious offers.
The second tier is led by Sidney Ponson, too much of a questionable pitcher to be in the top foursome. Rumors of a torn labrum have brought down his market, and currently the right-hander is entertaining offers from the White Sox and Orioles. Both teams have him down on their priority list, so Ponson will be left as an open box on a to-do list for quite some time. Rafael Palmiero is a nice name for anyone to pick up, but like Ponson, he's not a high priority for any team. The Angels, Dodgers, and Orioles have all given consideration, and I would gamble on one of the West Coast teams landing the powerful Viagra sponsor. Next on my list is Arthur Rhodes, a player good enough to be given a whole column over at Aaron's Baseball Blog. Rhodes' agent says a three-year deal with the A's is imminent, but both sides are yet to close the door on that move. Until then, Rhodes will also be sought after by the Twins, White Sox, Braves, and Devil Rays.
Ugueth Urbina, World Series hero, has likely been wowed by the lack of interest he's drawn. Many people just assume he will become a Met, a rumor I've been reporting since November. Juan Gonzalez is an interesting choice, but when he narrowed teams he'd like to play for at the trade deadline (AL team on grass), he also narrowed his offseason market. If the Royals manage this signing I'll be greatly impressed, or Juan Gone may consider trying right field in Shea Stadium for a season or two.
Infield veterans Robbie Alomar and Rich Aurilia are big names, with Aurilia likely to be signed in the next week or so. My guess is the Blue Jays will sign Aurilia, leaving Alomar a spot that is still open with the Cardinals. As a Cubs fan, I promote that move will all my heart. Eric Karros had nice numbers last season, and absolutely destroys left-handed pitching. I mentioned him in yesterday's column associated with the Yankees, although I'm yet to hear those rumors. Todd Walker is considered to be one of the better hitters left, and he will be a Ranger is the A-Rod trade gets completed.
On the pitching side, Wilson Alvarez is a great name that no one is considering. The Padres toyed with the notion of picking up the left-hander for awhile, but apparently have decided on Sterling Hitchcock instead. After Alvarez the next most interesting starter would be Pedro Astacio, whom I read will give a tryout in January to tempt teams. As will Maels Rodriguez, the Cuban star, whom has defected. He will get a signficant amount of money, no doubt, but where? There are still interesting relief options like Jeff Nelson, who was given a bad rap, almost undeservadly.
10 other remaining free agents that have caught my eye:
- Travis Lee (1B)- Gives Gold Glove-caliber defense, and bounced back last year from an offensive standpoint. Might be a good fit for the Angels, assuming they lose out on Palmiero.
- Armando Benitez (RH)- Has been given lots of bad press in the past, but Benetiz is an asset if used primarily against right-handers.
Now, who will become a free agent on December 20? Using rumors I've heard, along with a list of arbitration-eligibles available at CBS Sportsline, here's some names I've come up with.
First, here is a list of players I'm pretty confident will get non-tendered, unless their respective team can sign them before the deadline hits (listed alphabetically)...
Marlon Anderson- IF
No huge names, although I believe that Garcia and Payton will command some attention. There are also a group of questions I have, that could add to that list considerably...
All those names are interesting to consider, and given some set of happenings, could become non-tenders this year. There will also be some players you could care less about, but I think I landed most of the people correctly. We'll double check my work on Monday. A few news and notes:
- You have to agree with Rob Neyer in his piece about Omar Vizquel. As hard as Bill Bavasi tried to further worsen the Mariners, Vizquel's knees just wouldn't let it happen. Mark Shapiro almost got a fast one by the new GM.
- I didn't get to the Mark Redman for Mike Neu trade yesterday. It's always nice when you can turn a Rule V pick into a good piece of trade bait, as Beane has done with Neu. Redman's numbers shouldn't change much moving from Pro Player to the Coliseum, and he's very similar to Ted Lilly. Interestingly enough, it pushes Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Justin Duchscherer to the bullpen, or back to Sacramento.
- The Tigers signed Al Levine, meaning that Danny Patterson, Matt Anderson, and Al Levine will all be in the Tiger bullpen next season. This is going to be one ugly team, but Levine should break through as one of the bright spots.
- One of the main reasons Shawn Chacon is being moved to closer in Colorado is his shoulder. The Rockies are concerned about injury there, although I do question the motives of losing your best starter to the bullpen. Aaron Cook would have made just as much sense. If they are trying to follow the Dodgers model with Gagne, they are going to be rudely awakened.
- The Raindrops, one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, has moved from Blogger to weblogs.us. Head over to his brand new address, http://theraindrops.weblogs.us, and send him a hello. Also, Christian Ruzich has a nice interview of Dave Kaval, the man behind the scenes of the Golden Baseball League, an independent league similar to the Atlantic League of the Northwest. Some interesting stuff.
That's all for today, but if the A-Rod deal goes through, check back for very thorough analysis tomorrow.
As promised, today I am going to be looking at the progress that last season's division winners have made during this offseason. I will likely step over a lot of the same ground that Ben Jacobs did in this post, and I apologize for that. The 2004 offseason has defnitely been East-heavy, although I think it's more important to keep things relative to their division than to break it up by League. So, here are my breakdowns of six Major League teams, where they've been, and where they're headed...
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been active this offseason, as Brian Sabean has needed creativity to reconstruct a team with minimal resources. He started that at catcher, virtually replacing Benito Santiago with A.J. Pierzynski. Here are the stats of those two last season:
Santiago: .279/.329/.424 56 RBI in 401AB
That is a significant upgrade, and should help make up the loss the team is going to suffer at shortstop. Arbitration was not offered to Rich Aurilia, whose .277/.325/.410 is less than exciting. But those numbers look like Barry Bonds' when you put them up against Aurilia's likely replacement, Neifi Perez (.256/.285/.348). It's hard to say that those two positions come out a wash, but Sabean didn't stop looking for improvements. Although Gold Glove winner Jose Cruz Jr. is gone, consider the production of Giants' RF last season:
RF: .244/.344/.395 in 582AB
So, Sabean re-signed Jeffrey Hammonds, picked up Michael Tucker, and most recently traded to newfound friend Terry Ryan for Dustan Mohr. Let's look at the numbers from those three:
Tucker: .262/.331/.440 in 389AB
My guess is that Tucker will play the position against right-handers (.274/.342/.474), Mohr will play vs. southpaws (.265/.348/.453), and Hammonds will be used as a fourth outfield/defensive replacement type. That should produce a rough outcome of .270/.345/.460 in right field, far surpassing the mark that Jose Cruz and company set last year.
Sabean is also banking that 2003 disappointments Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo bounce back and have healthy and consistent 2004s. Durham bounced back from a lack of an August to have a nice final month (.297/.350/.514), and Alfonzo showed nice improvements in the second half (.296/.372/.474). Also, can surprises Barry Bonds (.341/.529/.749), J.T. Snow (.273/.387/.418), and Marquis Grissom (.300/.322/.468)
Here's an overview of a Giant offense that should be equal to the 2003 version:
C- A.J. Pierzynski
Bench: Yorvit Torrealba (C), Pedro Feliz (1B/3B), Cody Ransom (SS), Jeffrey Hammonds (OF), Dustan Mohr (OF)
While the offense doesn't need much work (maybe replacing Ransom?), Sabean does have an open hole in his pitching staff. Currently, the team has Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, and Jerome Williams to start their rotation. The team is looking to depend on those three horses for more than the 77 starts they posted last year, to help bridge the gap for the losses of Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Sidney Ponson.
Sabean brought back Dustin Hermanson to fill the fifth slot, but the team is looking to fill the fourth spot in their rotation currently. Shane Reynolds has been a hot rumor this week, and as I suggested in their offseason preview, the Giants will pursue Greg Maddux if he drops into the $5-7M range. Jesse Foppert will be lost for the season with an arm injury, and Kevin Correia is going to have to pitch very well at AAA to unseat Hermanson. For now, it looks like Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen will be lost to the bullpen.
Speaking of, the bullpen has seen its top two workhorses, Tim Worrell and Joe Nathan, leave San Francisco this offseason. The two pitched in a combined 154 games last season, and only one other reliever appeared in seventy games (Scott Eyre). To replace Worrell will be a healthy Robb Nen, whom will return to his closing role with questions surrounding him. Felix Rodriguez will continue to close, and Matt Herges, along with Brower and Jensen, should complete the right-handed side of the bullpen. Eyre will be the top leftie, and I imagine the expensive Jason Christenson will make the team as well. With Worrell and Nathan, the team is losing more than one hundred and fifty innings of under 3.00 pitching. Can Nen and Herges make up for the losses?
The Giants pitching staff:
Rotation: Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, Jerome Williams, Dustin Hermanson
In conclusion, the Giants have taken a miniscule step back this offseason, but it could have been a lot worse considering the substantial drop in payroll. The team will be in the hunt again next season, but this time don't expect the division to be locked up by the All-Star Break.
Five outs. The number still hurts for Cubs fans to think about, but it also breeds optimism for the 2004 season. They were so close last year, an Alex Gonzalez grounder away, but lost. Redemption will be in the minds of players, a trait Jim Hendry has used so far this offseason. Hendry has been quick and efficient to amend the Cubs' issues, making bold, sometimes questioned moves. But no one questions Hendry's motives: to bring a World Series to the north side for the first time in 95 years.
To do so, Hendry first realized he must fix an offense that ranked among the worst in baseball last season. Consider the following:
Choice A: .276/.349/.469 in 608AB
You would take the second option, right? Well Hendry did, already having acquired choice B, and lose the A players (Karros, Choi, Simon). Lee will bring speed, defense, and even more power to an offense in desperate need of it. Also, consider this:
Choice A: .272/.324/.465 in 607AB
The first one is the obvious choice, and the numbers that Aramis Ramirez would bring in a fullseason. Second was what Cubs third basemen actually did, although the numbers were boosted with Ramirez having 232 .259/.311/.491 at-bats. And while I won't get into the catching situation, it's hard to imagine any situation where the combination of Damian Miller, Paul Bako, and Michael Barrett couldn't best the .229/.309/.351 that Miller and Bako combined for last season.
So, I think what my demonstration has proven is that the Cub offense should be a much larger threat next season, not costing the team victories and lapses of confidence. Here, again, is the Cub team:
Bench: Miller/Bako (C), Martinez (IF), Goodwin (OF)
The Cub pitching staff was sensational in 2003, as the starters combined for a 3.69ERA despite the ugly numbers that Shawn Estes (5.70) put up. Estes is gone, and the team is looking for Matt Clement to regress to his 2003 numbers and become one of the league's premier pitchers once again. Whether it is Juan Cruz or another pitcher in the fifth slot remains to be seen, but it's common thought around Cub fans that it can't possibly get worse than Estes in 2004, and we all expect that starter ERA to drop below 3.50 next year.
Another important flaw of the 2003 version was middle relief. While Borowski, Farnsworth, and Remlinger were quite sufficient to end games, the problem was bridging the starters and those three. And what about when Farns or Rem need a day off. Look at the numbers of a trio of Cub relievers last season:
7-5 4.64ERA 152H/141.2IP 101K/54BB
While these aren't Estes-horrific, the combination of Mark Guthrie, Antonio Alfonseca, and Dave Veres was pretty bad last season. The team has already got LaTroy Hawkins to fill one of those spots, and Hawkins is one of the best right-handed set-up men in the game today. And while the team hasn't named the other two quite yet, it won't be hard to find a pair of relievers that bad, at any cost.
Chicago's offseason is hardly over, as Hendry must fill a bench, rotation, and bullpen still. But the thought is that he can't do any worse than last year, and when paired with the core of players this team already has, Chicago becomes the National League favorites in 2004.
Never say die. I've learned to not question John Scheurholtz's motives until the season starts the last few years, but every offseason I end up doubting if the run of divisional championships can continue. Will that thought corrupt my mind the rest of this offseason? Yes. It will be difficult for me to choose any other team than the Phillies in March, but I will at least give Schuerholtz and Cox until then to sway my opinion.
Here is the cumulative output of four players last season on the Atlanta Braves roster:
600H/1984AB (.302BA) 115HR 397RBI 332R 183BB 278K
Those are the combined numbers for the four free agents the Braves have lost from their starting lineup last season, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, and Rob Fick. What do those numbers prove? Well, this should help put it into context, the following numbers are the percentage that these four made for the Atlanta offense last year:
These four players made up for more than a third of the Braves hits, runs and walks last season, and nearly accounted for HALF of the total homers and runs batted in. Who replaces them? How does Johnny Estrada, Adam LaRoche, Mark DeRosa, and J.D. Drew sound? Less than enthusiastic? You should be.
My thought was well, if the offense is going to worsen so much, surely the team will combat that with improvements in pitching, right? Not so fast.
Player A: 16-11 3.96 225/218.1 124/33
Player A is the choice, although a large part of that decision is ERA. Greg Maddux has been a mainstay in the Atlanta rotation for a long time, but Scheurholtz chose the more economical choice B, John Thomson. While Thomson has room to grow into a solid third starter, we're hardly talking about Maddux Jr. I think Brave optimism should breed from Mike Hampton's second half, one that saw the leftie go 9-3, with a 2.91ERA. Could Hampton be back to the New York Met version of himself? Tune into TBS next season to find out.
John Smoltz saw a lack of support in the bullpen last season, especially from highly esteemed veterans Roberto Hernandez and Darren Holmes. Ray King had a decent season, although he was included in part of the package to acquire J.D. Drew. The team will replace Hernandez and Holmes with Jaret Wright and Will Cunnane next season, an inexpensive gamble that Scheurholtz is gambling a lot on. He's yet to name the left-hander, but rumors are surfacing that Arthur Rhodes will become Bobby Cox' favorite southpaw.
Atlanta's run is in more than jeopardy for next season, it's in doubt. Regardless, Scheurholtz is best managing his assets to build a good ballclub, and Atlanta fans should just bath in the fact that they aren't the Mets next season...that should be enough.
While Billy Beane is still a favorite among most of my readers, it's time to accept the man is hardly a perfect General Manager. In fact, he was one of the major losers of the Winter Meetings, although even Sean McAdam was afraid to admit so in an ESPN article yesterday. Beane lost out on top two choices Keith Foulke and Mike Cameron, left to search for other options.
When your team begins with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden, you're going to be good. Damn good. Harden's arm wore down a little last season, but if you sit and wonder what the 2004 season will bring him, a 3.50 ERA sounds pretty nice. Especially as a fourth starter. Hell, you'd think we were talking about my Cubbies here. And whether the fifth starter is Justin Duchscherer or the hot rumor of Mark Redman, the rotation is the strength to this team.
Next, is the bullpen. While Moneyball describes just how fungible relievers truely are, this offseason will truly be a test to that theory. With the best closer off the market, with few available on the block, can Beane create another forty save player? I don't know. Keith Foulke was the most valuable non-big 3 player the A's had last season, arguably the most important of all. He added 87 innings of 2.08 ball, and closed the door on 43 games. Here is a good description of Foulke's importance:
A's Bullpen in '03: 29-14 3.65 381/423.2 308/177
With Foulke, the A's bullpen is very good last season, but without him, they're merely adequate. Look at the K/BB rates after he leaves, along with the signficant rise in ERA. If he turns the 2004 bullpen to the '03 version, than I'll stop giving Beane so much flak. Right now, we know the 2004 bullpen has Chad Bradford, Jim Mecir, Mike Neu, Ricardo Rincon, and Rule V pick Frank Brooks. The club will sign someone to fill the closer spot, and expect Chad Harville, Jeremy Fikac, and Mike Wood to all battle out that last spot. No, there won't be any 3.65ERA this year.
Also, isn't it ironic that a Billy Beane team could only manage to post a .327OBP in a season. Well, that's what happened in 2003, when Beane's team struggled offensively, only scoring a total of 768 runs, or 4.74 runs a game. Granted, this offseason we've seen the loss of some of Beane's least favorite players, the group of Miguel Tejada, Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Chris Singleton, and Jose Guillen.
Last year those five had 2081 at-bats with the A's, roughly 37.9% of the team's at-bats. In that time, these five players, including a former MVP, posted a .313OBP. Meaning, in nearly 40% of the A's at-bats, their on-base clip was depressing. Then, throw in the .261 figure posted by Jermaine Dye, that has to go up, and there is some optimism. To replace the aforementioned five, Billy Beane will likely use Adam Melhuse (.372), Bobby Crosby (.395 in AAA), Mark Kotsay (.343) , and Bobby Kielty (.358). Yes, I believe the offense will improve next year.
Here, should be the Opening Day lineup of the 2004 Oakland A's:
1. Mark Kotsay- CF
While that ain't top five, it's an improvement from last year. Given the right choice at closer, Billy Beane's intellect will end up battling Arte Moreno's pocketbook for the AL West title. And Mariner fans? I'm really sorry about that Bavasi choice.
I'm really starting to get discouraged with Terry Ryan, and I'm not even a Twins fan. The man promises changes, vows to go after Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, and Shannon Stewart. To do so, he needs to trade Pierzynski and Eric Milton. Uh-oh, only Shannon Stewart re-signs. Now, the team has been left with a depleted rotation, bullpen, and a lineup that Earl Weaver couldn't decide among.
The Twins have two questions to answer in the coming weeks: do we trade/non-tender Doug Mientkiewicz? And, what should we ask for Jacque Jones? Me? I would trade both. I would have, and would, attempt to talk the Expos into taking Christian Guzman, and maybe a prospect or two, for Orlando Cabrera. I would send Mientkiewicz to Atlanta, trade Jones to San Diego. In exchange, ask for pitching, pitching, and some more pitching.
In the end, I fully expect the Twins to hold onto Mientkiewicz, and trade Jones. That will be Justin Morneau somewhere, although I'm not quite sure where. If my gut feeling is right, this is the Twins lineup:
1. Shannon Stewart- LF
Hardly a bad lineup, in fact, it's a pretty good one. Does it beat Santiago, Sweeney, Graffanino, Berrora, Randa, Stairs, Beltran, Guiel, and Harvey? Probably not.
Last season, the foursome of Kenny Rogers, Rick Reed, Joe Mays, and Eric Milton combined to make 76 starts for the Twins. Roughly half of the time, those four pitchers were being used by the Twins. Now, their combined ERA was above 5.00, so inotherwords, the Twins have suffered from addition by subtraction this offseason. They will use Grant Balfour in one of these rotation spots, and Ryan should really find someone to fill the final slot behind Santana, Radke, Lohse, and Balfour.
While the bullpen lost horses Guardado and Hawkins, they got back Hawkins' replacement in Joe Nathan. Nathan was the best reliever in baseball against right-handers last season, so him and J.C. Romero could make a mean tandem in set-up for someone. The question though, is who? Aaron Gleeman supports Arthur Rhodes, and the Twins have placed a call into Rhodes' agent. The rest of the bullpen shoud include Juan Rincon, Carlos Pulido, and Mike Nakamura.
In a perfect world, Twins fans would have read this during the Winter Meetings:
- Twins trade Boof Bonser and Christian Guzman to Expos for Orlando Cabrera
No, no, no. It's all part of Terry Ryan's plan to become the next Stand Pat Gillick.
New York Yankees
A look into the 2003 Yankees:
Yankees '03 3B: .242/.316/.386 in 591AB
Clemens+Pettite: 38-17 3.96 426/420 370/108
Osuna: 48G 3.73 58/50.2 47/20
To clarify, the Weaver+Contreras is how they did in the rotation, the "non-Hammond/Hitchcock LH" division is the LOOGYs the team used that weren't Chris Hammond (there were 5), and the "Hitchcock/Weaver/Contreras" was those three's combined numbers being used in long relief. Now, here will be the men that fill those roles this coming season:
There is little question left, and the team still needs to sign a right-handed corner infielder to play first against southpaws, during which Bernie will play center, and Giambi will DH. An example of that player is Eric Karros, a good clubhouse guy that kills lefties (.366/.441/.545 last year). So, all those players represent significant improvements in my mind, meaning the Yankees will be a helluva lot better next year than they were this year.
Even with Boston completiting the Alex Rodriguez trade, ESPN says it will become official today, I don't think they can be in the Yankees league next season. This team is too good, and while they appeared to be lacking direction at times, it will all come together to form a solid group. The only things left on this team's agenda are re-signing David Wells, and picking up a guy like Karros.
I'll be back tomorrow, and the A-Rod deal will probably be the topic of discussion. Until next time...
Ruling on the Rule V
Sadly, we saw the very end of the Winter Meetings yesterday, which finished with one of my favorite yearly events, the Rule V draft. Johan Santana is probably the best player to come through the draft, and there were numerous pitchers who made a difference last season. Here is a look at every player drafted, their stats, and whether they will stick with their brand new team.
Detroit- Chris Shelton (C/1B)
Info: Shelton is a former 33rd-round pick of the Pirates, an example of the 'bad body, big bat' type player that some teams love. Shelton supposedly plays catcher, but he doesn't do it very well. The obvious comparison is Matt LeCroy, although LeCroy didn't even approach those numbers in the minor leagues.
Chance of Staying: The Tigers will give every chance for Shelton to make their team as a 3rd catcher, right-handed bat off the bench, and likely the 13th or 14th hitter Alan Trammell picks. His staying will largely depend on how well he can his left-handers, which will allow Trammell to bench Carlos Pena on those days. Shelton may not be Major League-caliber quite yet, but a year learning Major League southpaws likely wouldn't deter his career.
Kansas City- Rich Thompson (OF)- TRADE
Info: Kansas City traded cash to move up and choose Thompson, a high-OBP, high speed outfielder whom is very good defensively. Thompson relies on speed, and has nearly stolen 100 bases the last two seasons. His walk numbers and very close to his strikeout rates, and he's nearly ready for the Majors.
Chance of Staying: Thompson has a relatively good chance of staying as prospects David DeJesus and Alexis Gomez need more refining at AAA. If so, Thompson will be the 5th outfielder, and come into games for defensive purposes, as well as for pinch running. If used effectively, Thomspon could be better than Jason Tyner, although I see them heading down the same path.
Tampa Bay- Alec Zumwalt (RHP)
Info: While Zumwalt's career started with a bat, he is learning the art of pitching very well, and his Arizona Fall League performance impressed Tampa Bay scouts. Zumwalt throws in the low-90s, and isn't considered to have a 2nd real pitch. I don't think he's the best Atlanta choice, but he does have the highest upside.
Chance of Staying: With the Devil Rays, Zumwalt will try to become the 5th right-handed reliever, a job he may be handed by Lou Pinella. I don't think he's ready for the Majors quite yet, so I fully expect the Braves to get his arm back at some point during the season. But, there is an outside chance that Zumwalt produces, and has a season a la Aquilino Lopez in Toronto.
Oakland- Frank Brooks (LHP)- TRADE
Info: Probably the safest choice in the draft, Brooks was traded to the Pirates last trade deadline, as the Phillies acquired Mike Williams from the Bucs. Brooks was the first southpaw drafted, and his claim to fame is a slurvy breaking ball that is a killer on lefties. He won't be the first to break 90 mph, but he'll change speeds, and has been more effective in each season.
Chance of Staying: As good as anyone in the draft. Brooks has proven himself at every level, and is ready to be a LOOGY, and second leftie in a bullpen. The A's are working to sign Ricardo Rincon, but they will then use Brooks as their second southpaw out of the bullpen. Brooks should succeed more than anyone else next season, and Billy Beane scores two points on this trade.
Milwaukee- Jeff Bennett (RHP)
Info: I really question this pick, but it was supposedly made under the notion that Bennett's newly found 95 mph heater wouldn't desert him anytime soon. Baseball America says there are rumors about a sore shoulder, leading explanations of a significant drop off at the AAA level.
Chance of Staying: He won't. Milwaukee really wasted this pick, and was a lot better off giving the money to me. What do they have to gain from choosing this player that they won't from a Buddy Hernandez or Ty Howington? Doug Melvin has done some nice work in the minor league department this offseason, landing gems like Travis Phelps and Trent Durrington, but I'm less than impressed with this pick.
Baltimore- Jose Bautista (3B)
Info: High upside, but hardly ready for the Major Leagues. Baustista was a top-ten prospect a year ago, but after breaking his hand in frustration, was limited to 165 AB this year.
Chance of Staying: There is no way that Bautista stays. He should be getting pushed back to high-A next season, but definitely not back to Lynchburg. The Orioles may try at acquiring the rights for Bautista, but otherwise, this is a wasted pick. Next...
Cincinnati- David Mattox (RHP)
Info: Could end up being special, as Mattox is still learning the art to his trade after converting from the infield during college. He was the first starter taken, which makes a lot of sense when considering how bad the Reds' staff is. Josh Boyd of Baseball America says that he "operates with four quality pitches," the best of which is a change up.
Chance of Staying: I think the Reds will keep onto Mattox, likely handing him a long relief job out of Spring Training. This choice could really prove to pay off, and my guess is that Mattox is being tried in the rotation as early as Matt Ford and Wil Ledezma were a year ago.
Texas- Chris Mabeus (RHP)
Info: Grady Fuson once again looked back into his old franchise for this pick, Mabeus helped his case showcasing a good fastball in the AFL. He may not be ready for the Major Leagues, but the Rangers are banking that a mid-90s fastball supercedes that.
Chance of Staying: Little, but when considering how bad the Rangers bullpen is, possible. Mabeus must really pitch well in Spring Training to make the team, but my guess is that Texas gives Oakland a player or money for his rights.
Colorado- Matt White (LHP)
Info: The Red Sox chose White in the Rule V draft a year ago, and actually preferred him to fellow choice Javier Lopez, whom they shipped to Colorado. Lopez went on to have a great season with the Rockies, while injuries seriously hampered White's development, who gave up 14 earned runs in about five innings. He was then traded to the Mariners, and finally given back to the Indians. A nice fastball/curveball combo makes him an attractive option.
Chance of Staying: Doubtful. White will either have to outperform Brian Fuentes and/or Javy Lopez (again) to stay, or convince Clint Hurdle to keep three southpaws. He may be a player, but I don't think the Rockies were the right team to make this choice.
San Diego- Jason Szuminski (RHP)
Info: A former MIT graduate, Szuminski finally saw the light after years of struggling in the Cubs' organization. Szuminski flew through three levels last season, and is arguably ready for the Major Leagues. A high-90s sinking fastball makes him a groundball pitcher, and the Padres traded the rights of Rich Thompson for Szuminski.
Chance of Staying: Very possible. The Padres will surely give Hoffman, Beck, Otsuka, and Linebrink jobs in the bullpen, but Szuminski will likely battle with Brandon Villafuerte for the team's 25th slot. Szuminski is a very likely choice to be the next Luis Ayala, but he'll need to have a very good March.
Montreal- Andy Fox (IF)
Info: Fox has a long Major League career, mostly used as a utility infielder with the Rangers and Marlins. He re-signed a minor league contract, but the Expos found a way to get a cheap infielder, finding a nice loophole. Andy had a full-time job in 2002 when Alex Gonzalez got hurt, and didn't disappoint stealing 31 bases during the season.
Chance of Staying: Almost 100%. The Expos have found their middle infield bench option, and Fox isn't the worst choice they could have come up with. His veteran influence will surely be appreciated.
Toronto- Talley Haines (RHP)
Info: Haines name will never come up in prospect lists, and he wasn't mentioned in possible Rule V choices. He's always had good control, but other than a good splitter, he lacks great pitch selections.
Chance of Staying: Plausible. The team likes Rule V choices, but Haines doesn't bring much to the table. If his splitter proves to be great and his fastball improves, he's a lock. If not, Carlos Tosca will look in another direction.
Chicago (AL)- Jason Grilli (RHP)
Info: Grilli was the 4th overall selection in the 1997 Amateur Draft, but a trade and arm injuries have led to a downfall. Last year was his first season back from injury, and reports have it that his stuff is back. If so, why such low K ratings?
Chance of Staying: Ozzie Guillen likely saw Grilli in Florida, and he'll give him a long look in Spring Training this season. He won't win the 5th starting spot for sure, but I see him as an equal option to Matt Ginter, with a considerable amount of upside. Spending the year as a long reliever really couldn't hurt.
St. Louis- Hector Luna (SS)
Info: This is the second straight year Luna gets drafted, but he failed to make the Devil Rays a year ago. He lacks skills defensively, but has speed and a little bit of power in his bat. He really isn't Major League caliber, but has just enough skills to tempt the guys that make these decisions.
Chance of Staying: Luna will battle with Brent Butler for the middle infield bench spot next Spring Training, and he probably isn't ready for another Major League job.
Boston- Lenny Dinardo (LHP)
Info: Dinardo throws as slow as anyone in this draft, but he still manages to show nice strikeout rates during his career. He's yet to relieve consistently, but the Red Sox think his cutter might be good enough to handle the role.
Chance of Staying: Dinardo has a chance, but it appears to be a slim one. Theo Epstein appears content to giving the second leftie to some mix of Tim Hamulack, Dinardo, and recent waiver claim Mark Malaska. The latter is the favorite to win the job, and don't be shocked if Epstein throws another name into the list.
Houston- Willy Tavares (OF)
Info: Tavares has as much potential as anyone in the draft, and these types of players usually flame out quickly in the Majors. He has speed and defense on his side, but riding the bench surely won't help him develop as a hitter.
Chance of Staying: I think that Tavares will make the team out of Spring Training, he won't spend the year with Houston. Expect Tavares to be spending time as an Akron Aero next year.
Detroit- Mike Bumatay (LHP)
Info: I thought the Tigers would pick Ty Howington with this choice, but they went with the more Major League-ready Bumatay. Left-handers hit a disastrous .136 off Bumatay last year, thanks to a three-quarters breaking ball.
Chance of Staying: Pretty good. With Jamie Walker and Bumatay, it's very possible the Tigers best asset next year will be their left-handed relief. With Shelton and Bumatay, Dambrowski hasn't done badly for himself.
Colorado- Luis Gonzalez (UT)
Info: Couldn't get any info past this season about Gonzalez, a super-utility player that walks more than he strikes out. He will be a nice 14th man, but that's really the only choice.
Chance of Staying: As I said, it will probably between keeping Gonzalez, and carrying 7 pitchers. If you play in Coors, the choice usually tends to be to carry seven pitchers. We'll see what Hurdle does, but don't bank on Gonzalez.
Boston- Colter Bean (RHP)
Info: Theo Epstein likely added insult to injury stealing the hefty Bean away from the Yankees in the second round. I wonder, do the Yankees even know a Rule V draft exists? Anyway, Bean is an effective right-handed reliever that uses a submarine type delivery to drive right-handers crazy.
Chance of Staying: Will get his chance to beat Ramiro Mendoza, and if he can't do that, he really doesn't deserve a spot. But it's not like these two teams will come together to get the Red Sox Bean's rights.
Detroit- Lino Urdaneta (RHP)
Info: This is really when the Tigers should have chosen Howington, the Reds 10th prospect, and very similar to last year's selection Wil Ledezma. Instead they go the fire-thrower Urdaneta that only relies on high-90s heat. Hell, the Tigers can have that with Matt Anderson and Franklyn German.
Chance of Staying: None.
Quickly, addressing 8 moves made today:
- Scott Spiezio signs with Mariners for 3 years, $9M: Wow, overpaid! Spiezio will likely be the team's third basemen next season, and also allowed Bavasi to do the following trade...
- Greg Colbrunn traded to Arizona for Quinton McCracken: McCracken will probably play left against southpaws, allowing Randy Winn to play everyday in centerfield.
- Carl Everett to Expos for two years, $7.5M: With Vidro, Cabrera, Everett, Wilkerson, and Nick Johnson, the Expos should have quite the offense next year.
- Roberto Hernandez to Phillies for nothing: Well, is he better than Turk?
- Jeff Suppan and Reggie Sanders to Cardinals: Really makes the Cardinals better, as J.D. Drew couldn't match the numbers of Sanders. Suppan might completely flunk out, or he may continue putting up the stats he did in Pittsburgh.
- Michael Barrett to A's for P2NL: The A's either get Barrett to play well, or try playing Adam Melhuse everyday. What Billy Beane sees as a can't lose situation, other GMs would cringe at.
- Dustan Mohr to Giants for P2NL: Nice move for the Giants, giving the team five very good outfielders.
Come back tomorrow for looks at last seasons division winners...
Items on Mickey's Mantel Draw Millions of Dollars
"I measure it by Cadillacs. I used to pay $5,000 for mine. They pay $20,000 now. So if they make three times as much as I did, what's the difference?"
--Mickey Mantle, 1979
Guernsey's conducted an auction of Mickey Mantle memorabilia at Madison Square Garden last Monday that raised $3.25 million. The items were affixed with a "Mickey Mantle Auction" tag and accompanied by a certificate signed by a member of the Mantle family certifying that the items came directly from the family's archives. The proceeds from the auction are slated to pay for the college education and first homes for each of Mantle's four grandchildren.
YEAR SALARY 1951 $ 5,000 1952 $ 7,500 1953 $ 17,500 1954 $ 21,000 1955 $ 25,000 1956 $ 32,000 1957 $ 60,000 1958 $ 65,000 1959 $ 70,000 1960 $ 60,000 1961 $ 70,000 1962 $ 90,000 1963 $100,000 1964 $100,000 1965 $100,000 1966 $100,000 1967 $100,000 1968 $100,000
Mantle earned a total of $1,123,000 during his major league career, ranging from his rookie salary of $5,000 to his peak of $100,000 for the final six seasons of his career. Mickey received his biggest percentage increases after his outstanding sophomore season at the age of 20 and on the heels of winning the Triple Crown in 1956. Mantle's other raises were fairly pedestrian for a player of his accomplishments, especially when you consider that the Yankees were the best team in baseball during his career and regularly led the league in attendance throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, the $10,000 paycut that Mantle took for the 1960 season seems rather harsh given his production the previous year.
Mantle's 1959 Counting Stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO 144 541 104 154 23 4 31 75 21 3 93 126Mantle's 1959 Rate Stats vs. the League Average:
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Mantle .285 .390 .514 .904 150 League Avg. .257 .328 .393 .720 100Mantle ranked 2nd in the A.L. in runs and stolen bases; 3rd in walks; and 4th in home runs, times on base, extra base hits, and total bases. The Yankees slugger also placed 2nd in the league in OPS and OPS+. Moreover, Mickey led the league in Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) and Runs Created Above Position (RCAP).
1959 A.L. RCAA
1 Mickey Mantle 54
1959 A.L. RCAP
1 Mickey Mantle 43
Mantle also tied for the league lead in Win Shares along with Nellie Fox, the MVP honoree that year.
1959 A.L. WIN SHARES
Mickey Mantle 30 Nellie Fox 30 Rocky Colavito 29 Minnie Minoso 29 Tito Francona 27 Al Kaline 27 Eddie Yost 27 Harvey Kuenn 25 Jim Landis 25 Camilo Pascual 24 Pete Runnels 24Given that the Chicago White Sox won the pennant in 1959, I don't really have a problem with the writers voting for the slick-fielding second baseman despite his inferior offensive stats (.306/.380/.389). To Fox's credit, he hit over .300, had 71 walks against just 13 strikeouts, captured a Gold Glove, and was the best player on the best team.
Nevertheless, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that Mantle ended up 17th in the MVP balloting in 1959. Mantle was simply held to a higher standard than his peers and almost anyone else who ever played the game. The Yankees finished in third place that year, one of only two times between Mickey's rookie year in 1951 and his last great year in 1964 in which the team did not win the American League pennant (1954 being the other). Rather than winning three MVPs, Mantle could have won as many as ten based on the fact that the Yankees center fielder led or tied for the league in Win Shares every year from 1954-1964, except 1963 when he was injured and played in only 65 games.
Win Shares MVP Actual MVP 1954 Mantle Berra 1955 Mantle Berra 1956 Mantle Mantle 1957 Mantle Mantle 1958 Mantle Jensen 1959 Mantle/Fox Fox 1960 Mantle Maris 1961 Mantle Maris 1962 Mantle Mantle 1963 Yaz/Tresh Howard, E. 1964 Mantle Robinson, B.As Bill James wrote in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, "Of course, Mantle didn't win all of those awards, as the writers went through an annual process of figuring out, (a) who do we give the MVP Award to this year, other than Mantle, and (b) why is it we're snubbing Mickey this year?"
Mantle was not only snubbed by the MVP voters in 1959, but he was slighted in 1954 (15th), 1955 (5th), and 1958 (5th) when he failed to pick up a single first-place vote in any of these four years. Mickey earned some respect in 1960, 1961, and 1964 when he trailed the winner only. However, one could argue that he deserved better in 1960 when he was the recipient of more first-place votes (10) than Roger Maris (8), yet finished three points behind his teammate.
Mantle's Runs Created Above Average and Runs Created Above Position yearly rankings also validate his greatness.
RCAA RCAP 1951 23rd 24th 1952 1st 1st 1953 3rd 4th 1954 2nd 2nd 1955 1st 1st 1956 1st 1st 1957 1st 1st 1958 1st 1st 1959 1st 1st 1960 1st 1st 1961 2nd 1st 1962 1st 1st 1963 10th 9th 1964 1st 1st 1965 15th 28th 1966 5th 6th 1967 7th 11th 1968 9th 11thAs detailed, Mantle topped the A.L. in both categories nine times (1952, 1955-1960, 1962, and 1964). He also led the league in RCAP in 1961 when he finished second (behind Norm Cash) in RCAA. Whether Mickey earned ten MVPs (based on Win Shares and RCAP) or nine (RCAA), this study at least points out that Mantle was robbed of as many as seven MVP Awards during his career.
As another indication of Mantle's lack of proper respect, he received raises of only $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, after his MVP campaigns in 1957 and 1962. Furthermore, he topped out at the $100,000 mark and made the same salary for each of his final six seasons. In fact, his 1968 contract had a special covenant that read as follows:
"It is specifically understood and agreed that of the $100,000.00 provided for, $25,000.00 shall be paid during the 1968 year. The remaining $75,000.00 shall be paid as follows: $25,000.00 on January 15, 1969; $25,000.00 on January 15, 1970; and $25,000.00 on January 15, 1971. The above sums cannot be withdrawn before the maturity date."
Can you imagine a player of Mickey Mantle's stature today getting three quarters of his pay deferred without even any interest? Don't get me wrong, Mantle was paid as well as any player in the game in the early 1960s. I recognize that Mantle's seemingly "paltry" salaries and increases were more a function of the times than anything else. However, it is still a fun exercise to compare his pay back then to the players of today. Even if you exclude the salaries that were negotiated at the top of the market a few years ago prior to the establishment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it would be safe to assume that Mantle would be "worth" at least $15 million per year in today's world. That is 150 times Mantle's highest annual level. Using Mantle's reasoning about the correlation between Cadillacs and salaries, that would mean General Motors should now be charging $750,000 for its luxury automobile.
Given that most Caddies go for about $50,000 now, one can deduce that Cadillacs were either overvalued back then or are dramatically undervalued today. Alternatively, one could argue that Mickey Mantle was either unbelievably underpaid in his playing days or the current superstars are overpaid. No matter where your opinion falls, there is no doubt that Mantle--even as great and as beloved as he was--was still underappreciated throughout his Hall of Fame career.
An Even Dozen
The Winter Meetings always bring a nice weekend, and while I wasn't there, Alex Belth helped me picture the scene in one of the best blog entries of the year. The meetings didn't really heat up until late Saturday, and Sunday must have been a madhouse. It concludes with the Rule V draft tomorrow, and I'm really excited to see how that turns out. Anyway, here's my look into the twelve transactions that occurred, from most important, to Brent Mayne...
Since the signing of Albert Belle, Oriole owner Peter Angelos has been unable to bring a big name free agent to Baltimore. So far, he's one for three this offseason. Angelos signed Miguel Tejada, the 2002 MVP, yesterday to a 6-year, $72M contract, finally finding a replacement for the empty shoes of Cal Ripken. First, a few Tejada splits:
As you can see, Tejada was very good away from Oakland last year, a trend that has been evident for a few seasons now. He's also hit very well against AL East foes the last three seasons, so I'm predicting big things out of Miguel Tejada next season. Don't be surprised by a .300/.350/.500 season, possibly becoming the best shortstop in his division.
The Orioles are also close with Vladimir Guerrero, and will undoubtedly sign either Pudge Rodriguz or Javy Lopez this offseason. Assuming those things to be true, here's the Orioles lineup next season:
Very good lineup, assuming Jack Cust gets the majority of at-bats in the designated hitter spot. In fact, they will almost have too many bats, leaving either Melvin Mora or Luis Matos to the ninth hole. This would be a good team, but they lack a rotation. Some reports have them as the leaders for ex-Oriole Sidney Ponson, joining Jason Johnson, Kurt Ainsworth, and Matt Riley as Oriole starters next season. The last spot will be a battle between Rodrigo Lopez and Omar Daal in a battle the O's just can't win.
But, no matter what, the Orioles are stepping forward. Angelos is keeping his end of the bargain to be true, and this team is really making some improvements. I like what they have done under the Jim Beattie/Mike Flanagan regime, both revitalizing the Major League and minor league departments. Hopefully the fans will follow in beautiful Camden Yards.
Next, the rumored trade between the Yankees and Dodgers was completed, sending Kevin Brown to the Yankees. In exchange, the team gave up hated Yankee Jeff Weaver, converted pitcher Yhency Borzoban, another minor leaguer, and $2.6M. The Yankees will virtually be paying Kevin Brown $16.3M the next two seasons, while the Dodgers will pay Weaver salaries of $4.95M and $7.95M. Here are the splits of Brown:
Brown= 14-9 2.39 184/211 185/56
Surprisingly, Brown did not show an affinity for Dodger Stadium, one of the few Dodgers to do that. He actually threw 57 more innings in Dodger Stadium, which is my little known fact of the day. Brown is a good groundball pitcher that will suffer more from having Giambi, Soriano, and Jeter behind him than leaving Dodger Stadium. He's a health risk, and a rise in ERA seems to be in the cards. Overall, the Brown addition really matches that of Curt Schilling, leaving Javier Vazquez to compete with Derek Lowe.
The Yankees also have some addition by subtraction losing Weaver, who quickly became a fan target after posting these numbers:
Weaver= 7-9 5.99 211/159.1 93/47
Call me crazy, but I think Weaver is still a good pitcher, and should benefit from playing in Los Angeles. The team needs a better offense to bring Weaver into consideration for a fantasy draft, but expect the ERA to be in the fours next season. Los Angeles still has one too many pitchers when considering Odalis, Dreifort, and Edwin Jackson all in the equation. I would keep Odalis and Dreifort, send Jackson to AAA to work with Joel Hanrahan. Then, if and when a spot opens up, Jackson or Hanrahan are competing for the starts.
Here's a look at the player Evans brought in from the Yankees as an addition:
Brazoban (A+)= 2.83 27/28.2 34/12
Not very promising. I am left to think the player to be named later is very good, someone in the Rudy Guillen, Robinson Cano department. I think this deal will ultimately hurt the Dodgers, since they've lost out on Tejada and all left fielders (thanks to transaction #9). Nice haul by the Yankees, but I'm still less than impressed with Dan Evans here.
When Steinbrenner stole Gary Sheffield from Atlanta, it left a sizeable hole that John Scheurholtz had little to spend for. But as usual, the Braves' GM has improved the team for 2004, acquiring J.D. Drew from the Cardinals, with Eli Marrero for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and #3 prospect Adam Wainwright.
Drew, the most important name in the deal, was thought to be the Cardinals primary tool for bringing in a very good pitcher for next season. Instead, it landed Wainwright, a pitcher Baseball America calls "an ideal combination of size, talent, and makeup." The oft-injured Drew was a pain in the neck for the Cardinals, but the Braves are willing to take on the risk. He's drawn every comparison in the book, but we need to see 500AB before a judgment can really be made. During his career, he's never even gotten half of that. Here's the splits from last season:
Turner Field won't really help Drew, although I doubt it will hurt him much either. The second half was due to injury, but I'm less than impressed with his numbers against southpaws. I'm left to wonder if Gary Mathews Jr. will play in those situations, since Eli Marrero actually hits better against right-handers. Marrero only had 107 at-bats due to injury last season, but he'll take on the ultra-utility role next season, as well as backing up Johnny Estrada at catcher. This is the Atlanta lineup next season
1) Rafael Furcal- SS
I moved Giles to the sixth spot, where his bat will be more focused on replacing the large void left by Javy Lopez. Mark DeRosa will get his chance at third base, although I doubt he'll have the .800 OPS that Vinny Castilla did. Estrada isn't meant to do much, and I can't say his numbers will be any better than the last good International League catcher, Toby Hall.
As for the Cardinals, there seem to be mixed opinions for the trade. It's obvious they are worse for 2004, but I almost wonder if they are giving up on 2004 and waiting to jump back on the scene in 2005 and 2006. It would make sense, as that's when the likes of Wainwright and Blake Hawkesworth hit the bigtime, and Dan Haren should be much improved by then. The 2004 team will almost surely start either John Gall or Steve Cox at first next year, and are now left to sign a serviceable right fielder. They were on the trail of our #7 addition, but appear to be too late. I expect Reggie Sanders name to be thrown around often in the coming days.
As for the bullpen, Ray King will be the second leftie, and Jason Marquis will most likely battle for a long relief spot. The team currently has Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Dan Haren, and Cris Carpenter penciled in for spots, but they would really like to sign a #3 pitcher as well. That leaves a bullpen of Isringhausen, Eldred, Kline, King, Calero, and some mix of Josh Pearce, Jim Journell, Marquis, Stechschulte, and Simontacchi. Let me echo Jim Bowden in saying the 2004 NL Central race is really between the Cubs and the Astros.
In our fourth addition, the Red Sox have formally ditched the closer by committee option, and landed this year's best reliever, Keith Foulke. The deal is three years and $21M, which means that Boston's payroll will surely be between $120-130M next season. Here are Foulke's numbers:
Foulke= 2.08 57/86.2 88/20
The road and 2nd half numbers really jump out at me, and scream success for Foulke in 2004. Fenway Park will not help, but Foulke has become a very good closer. Being in Chicago I've seen him pitch numerous times, and I stand by the fact that his change up is the best in the league. He'll be very good in Boston, who now lose both Scotts (Williamson and Sauerbeck) from their bullpen next year. That 'pen will likely include Foulke, Mike Timlin, Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree, Mark Malaska, and painfully, Ramiro Mendoza. Don't be surprised if Williamson yields a middle reliever who will put Arroyo in long relief and Mendoza out of the equation.
While Foulke isn't the sexy name that Mariano Rivera is, he's even more dependable, pitching in 65 games each of the last five seasons. Foulke also has the endurance to start in the eighth, which means that Schilling and Foulke should be the only two names in the box score on every fifth day.
The fifth best addition at the Winter Meetings were made by the New York Mets, who signed one of the best outfielders still available in Mike Cameron. Mike will bring the best centerfield to Shea Stadium has seen in years, along with a promising, albeit sometimes frustrating bat. Cameron is fully capable of hitting four homeruns in a given night, then promptly not hitting a ball for 10 straight at-bats. Here are his splits:
The road numbers breed some promise, although Shea Stadium was hardly built for hitters. He seems to be getting worse by the year, and judging by his 2nd half numbers, by the half. Cameron has improved his batting eye, and could very well hit the cover off the ball next season. But be rest assured, I will not pick him in any fantasy draft of mine. Cameron should hit sixth on the Mets, after whomever they get for right field, but before Jason Phillips. Here's the Mets most likely lineup next season:
1) Jose Reyes- 2B
Hell, the Mets could make a run for third place next season with those numbers. Expect New York to best the Montreal Expos next year, but they'll likely finish fourth behind any given combination of the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins. I like Cameron a lot, and their overall defense is improving by leaps and bounds. This is an example of a player the Mets should sign, and I'll likely classify Jose Guillen as that too. Here's a look at the 2006 Mets team, which could be dazzling:
C- Justin Huber
Damn, that will be a very good lineup. Throw in Aaron Heilman, Matt Peterson, and Scott Kazmir, and you might have the division favorites. Jim Duquette has hardly been a good GM with the Mets, but it seems that the team is somehow heading in the right direction.
The sixth best acquisition was the first of the Winter Meetings to be announced, and that was the signing of Miguel Batista by the Toronto Blue Jays. J.P. Riccardi has added yet another pitcher, this time for the next three years, at $13M. Batista took awhile to get started, but he really blossomed pitching every fith day last year. Here are his splits:
Batista= 10-9 3.54 197/193.1 142/60
Many have pointed to a very good career ERA on turf as well, predicting success for Batista in a Blue Jays uniform. I'm not so bold, and I'm hardly sold on him being the team's second starter next season. It's a very nice move, and he'll fit well with Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen, but I don't think his ERA will get any better than 3.40.
Riccardi has done a lot to improve this team's staff, and their rotation should actually be very good next season. Part of the reason for Batista's breakdown could have been it was his first season starting every single game, so maybe that will change next year. Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen had very good second halves, and this team really thinks they could make some noise as a Wild Card contender. Then they woke up and realized their division also included the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Seventh was a move, or three moves, made by yet another AL East team. In their quest for 70 wins, the Devil Rays added Jose Cruz, Geoff Blum, and Rey Sanchez yesterday, likely at a combined cost of $5M. Cruz signed a two-year, $6M contract, while Sanchez will stay for one million. Blum was acquired for Brandon Backe, a crappy AAA middle reliever. Here's a look at the splits of Cruz last season:
Cruz lost all his power in the second half, and if that continues, he isn't the best option. But, his plate discipline improved substantially, so I'm bullish on Cruz next season. He is a little platoonable, and it worries me that the AL East really does have a lack of left-handed pitching (Wells in NY, Lilly in TOR, Riley/Daal in BAL) in the division.
Here's a look at the Devil Rays lineup next year:
1) Crawford- LF
Not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but this is finally a ballclub that should eclipse the 70-win mark under the guidance of Lou Pinella. I think Crawford will improve next year, and I don't know what to think about Rocco Baldelli. He could very well be the Shea Hillenbrand type, a player that excites in April and then sucks the rest of the year. The team's future is basically non-existent, but they are putting a team that Bud Selig shouldn't contract next year.
Going from one bad team to worse, the Tigers signed another post-peak player to a 2-year, $6M contract, signing Rondell White to play left field. They missed out on Miguel Tejada, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Aurilia ends up signing here. If so, this will be the Tigers starting nine:
C- Brandon Inge
That will be a better team, no doubt, but this club should really be focusing on free agents that aren't past their peak seasons. I mean, what's the best that team could do? Anyways, here's a look at White's splits last year:
White's AL numbers were greatly influenced by Kauffman Stadium, and he's much more of the National League version. One good thing about White is that he isn't platoonable, a problem the Tigers really had last season. While there isn't a lot of upside when signing Vina, White, and Aurilia, it's going to be a waiting game for Tiger fans, and having the occasional recognizable name is a plus.
To end the string of outfield acquisitions is Juan Encarnacion, whom was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Encarnacion has always had the skills, but is yet to really put together an All-Star caliber season. Instead, he reminds me of Adrian Beltre. Here are his numbers:
Dodger Stadium will do more to hinder his numbrs than Pro Player did, so this really wasn't a great offensive addition by the Dodgers. While Encarnacion should improve the .220/.291/352 numbers that Dodger LF hit last season, numbers of .260/.300/.425 really wouldn't shock me. Why wouldn't this team pay a like amount to Reggie Sanders, Rondell White, or Matt Stairs? I have no idea, and that doesn't even begin to talk about the player they had to give up. The Dodgers really do lack direction, and the sooner the Frank McCourt thing is passed, the better this organization will be.
Here's a look at the Marlins starting 8, as a result of the Encarnacion dump:
C- Ramon Castro
Is it possible for Choi and Cabrera to match the 2003 production of Lee and Encarnacion? Very much so. Also, can Jeff Conine and Ramon Castro combine to match the production of Pudge and Todd Hollansworth last year? Probably. So, this lineup shouldn't be much worse next season, although they won't get any better midseason as they did last year with Conine and Cabrera. Mike Lowell really needs to stay healthy next year, and it would be a very good time for Choi to start 'getting it.'
The tenth move of the Winter Meetings was the only 3-team trade, one that sent 6-10 Mark Hendrickson to Tampa Bay, Joe Kennedy to Colorado, and Justin Speier to Toronto. I'll take this one team-by-team.
First, the Devil Rays don't seem to improve much with Hendrickson v. Kennedy, although they won't have to pay Hendrickson next year. Mark is two years removed from the NBA, so he actually does have room to improve. And it will be hard not to when considering the disastrous numbers he posted last year:
Hendrickson= 9-9 5.51 207/158.1 76/40
Well, the road numbers are a little more promising, possibly giving hope to Hendrickson pitching under 5.00 next season. He'll just fill the void left by Kennedy, and it all but assured a spot next year. He leaves behind the Blue Jays whom were most happy in this deal, acquiring an already proven reliever in Justin Speier. Here are Speier's splits from last season:
Speier= 4.05 73/73.1 66/23
Pitchers after they leave Coors are always a good buy, and I think Speier's first half numbers are really what to expect out of him next year. He'll be given every chance to win the Toronto closing job next year, in stiff competition with the likes of Kerry Ligtenberg and Aquilino Lopez. He pitches well against both right-handers and left-handers, and his home run rate should decrease in the Skydome next season. I really like the Speier addition, and J.P. Riccardi is a real winner of the Winter Meetings.
As for Kennedy, I don't know if he was worth giving up Speier. It's very possible that Joe will never break 6.00 in Coors Field, after witnessing him give up a few jacks on more than one occasion this season. Rich Lederer pointed out that he actually had the best and worst AL game score last season, although there will be more of the latter in 2004. The Colorado rotation now looks to have Kennedy, Shawn Chacon, Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, and Denny Neagle. And O'Dowd still has a job?
I really like the 11th move, mainly because I really like the player. Kansas City did a very nice job signing Tony Graffanino to a 2-year, $2.2M contract. Graffanino is a .370 career hitter in Kauffman Stadium, and overall one of my top five favorite players in baseball. Tony Pena says that Desi Relaford still has the 2B job, which deeply saddens me, yet predicts that The Boy (El Nino) will have 400AB next season. Given 500AB, I'd say we're talking about a .275/.350/.450 player in Kauffman. Free Tony Graffanino!
Finally, moving from an new Royal to an ex-Royal, the Diamondbacks announced their signing of Brent Mayne about an hour ago. It's for 800,000, and it means the team will non-tender Rod Barajas and use Robby Hammock as their main catcher in 2004. I'm way too tired to go in-depth on Mayne, so please just come back tomorrow for insight on the Rule V draft picks.
A day ago, the Andy Pettite to the Astros signing sounded atrocious to Yankee fans. I agreed with that group, accusing the Yanks of lacking direction. A day later, we learn that Pettite turned down a three-year, $39M from Steinbrenner, for $31.5M to stay home in Texas. So, the team moved on, and Newsday is reporting a Kevin Brown deal is all but finished. While I could spend an article writing about the 2004 Yankees, I'll save that for another day, and talk extensively about the Pettite signing.
First, a look at Pettite's 2003 overall splits (W-L, ERA, H/IP, K/BB):
Overall: 21-8 4.02 227/208.1 180/50
First of all, Pettite's second half is deceiving. He faced the Orioles five times, and also pitched against the Devil Rays, Angels, Tigers, and Indians. The two losses came against the Mariners and Red Sox, and his two best victories were against the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. Also, Pettite had a majority of his starts in New York after the Midsummer Classic.
Although Yankee Stadium is a hitter's park, there is no question Pettite pitched better in the Bronx. Call it Yankee fans, but it's been a fact of Pettite throughout his career. In fact, each of the last five seasons he has had a better ERA at home, with his injury-plagued 2002 being the exception. But in 2001, Pettite had a 3.16ERA in New York, compared to a 4.97 on the road. This is the first worry, especially considering Houston had a 6.6% park effect, compared to 4.9% in Yankee Stadium, according to the SNWL reports at Baseball Prospectus.
Speaking of those reports, here's a look at Pettite's numbers:
SNW: 12.8 (21 actual)
The latter stat is the one Michael Wolverton uses to evaluate pitchers, which is "the number of support-neutral wins a pitcher has above what what a .425 pitcher would get in the same number of decisions." Basically, when taking bullpen support, run support, and park effects into the equation, the SNWAR reports how much better the player is than a average, .425 pitcher. Surprising to me, was that Pettite's win-loss record was about 13-11 from Baseball Prospectus, much worse than the 21 he raked up with the AL champs. And the SNWAR? Here's the rest of the MLB pitchers with a 2.6:
Very interesting group, and it gives you a lot to think about. The Braves were said to be considering Pettite, but instead signed John Thomson, the last name on that list, for $7M less annually than Pettite gets. Horacio Ramirez, also a Brave, was the only other southpaw on the list, matching Pettite in his rookie season. Millwood and Beckett are familiar names, but their 2003s weren't THAT impressive. Andy is hardly in great company, and you have to wonder if John Scheurholtz was looking at this list when he inked Thomson.
I decided to look further into run support, as that is a key component in overvaluing a pitcher. I went through all of Andy Pettite's starts, totaling up the Yankees runs the day Pettite pitched. Divide that by the number of starts, and you have run support. Then, I did the same with the Astros five most-pitched starters, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Tim Redding, Jeriome Robertson, and Ron Villone, whom started 136 of the Astros 162. Here are my results:
Houston's five main 2003 starters had 4.85 runs on average, to work with from their offense. Pettite's 6.58 is among the highest in the league, and he can't expect that with Houston. That's nearly two runs of difference assuming Pettite at least gets 4.85, and that alone should take a chunk from his win total.
OK, well, two of the main keys people speak of for Pettite is that he's left-handed, and he is a great "clutch" postseason pitcher. The AL East is considered a very good offensive division, with two good offenses in the Red Sox and Blue Jays playing the Yankees a ton during the regular season. Houston? They get to play the Cubs, Reds, Pirates, and Brewers' offenses nearly half the season. So I went through all the division teams, totaling up their 2003 OPS vs. left-handers:
St. Louis: .860
Not nearly the difference I anticipated, which means that Pettite will hardly have an easier schedule of opponents in the NL. It's something, but minute. OK, what about the postseason experience part of his resume? Pettite has pitched in 21 different playoff series, and six different World Series. Here are his numbers in that time:
Overall Playoffs: 17-5 4.05 195/186.2 118/52
Considering Pettite's career ERA is 3.94, he's just about at his average when he pitches in the post season. But, that is a positive, considering it is against the best teams, at the highest stakes.
One thing I love about Pettite, is his consistency. Andy has failed to appear in 30 games just once in his career, 2002, when he still registered only 22 starts while injured. Pettite has six two hundred inning seasons, for a career average of 6.33 IP/G, just about six and a third innings per start. Andy matched that total in 2003 (6.33), so you know he's dependable.
In his old age, Pettite's become more of a strikeout pitcher than at any other time in his career. Here are the K/9 rates for all of Andy's nine Major League seasons:
After his rookie season, Pettite had a 6.60 K/9 rate in a very good 1996 season. After that, he had four straight years in which those numbers declined, causing more than a few worries. But since, Pettite has become a different pitcher, with a 7.30 K/9 rate in the last three years, almost a full strikeout higher than his career average of 6.40. Strikeouts should be easier to come by against the likes of Milwaukee and Cincinnati, so fantasy owners have at least one thing to look forward to.
Recap time. We have proven that Pettite is an overvalued player, that a large part of his wins were due to the confines of Yankee Stadium, as well as the huge run support his team gave him. Minute Maid Park likely won't treat him the same, and the Astros are hardly as helpful as the Bronx Bombers. Baseball Prospectus calls $3.5M John Thomson a similar pitcher, so I think I've proven Pettite is over payed.
2004 is an important season in Houston. After next year, Jeff Kent, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, and Craig Biggio are all free agents offensively. Their buyouts will cost $3.7M, Ausmus will be $2M, and Bagwell and Pettite combine for $25.5M of their $75M payroll. The team has about $32M spent towards next years team, but will have to pay up for arbitration-eligibles like Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, and Octavio Dotel, likely escalating the payroll to $50M.
OK, coming back to 2004, let's look at the Astros team as we know it:
1. Criag Biggio- CF
1- Andy Pettite- LHP
CL- Octavio Dotel
So really, the only battles are for the fifth rotation spot, which I would give to Carlos Hernandez, whom is pitching fairly well in winer ball. Jeriome Robertson did good against left-handers last year, and might be an asset in the bullpen. Please, just forget his 15 wins. Send Duckworth to AAA, and make him prove to you that he's ready.
After a great 2003 race, the NL Central is poised for another great showdown in 2004. The Cubs and Astros are both ahead of St. Louis, which needs a bullpen and a second starter to become a real threat. Houston is good, but they still can't match the Cubs' pitching. We'll see what the Cubs do in the Winter Meetings, but don't anticipate the NL Central champions losing their crown next season.
And for Pettite? Well, I'll just say it won't surprise me to see something like 14-11, 4.40 with about 170-180 strikeouts.
ESPNews reporting Miguel Batista is going to sign with the Blue Jays, and an interesting story posted over at the Cleveland Indians Report, likely a hoax. Anyway, keep your eyes and ears tuned to New Orleans, and break on Sunday to watch Rex Grossman's first NFL start. I'm out...
In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell joined a host of other writers documenting the offseason as we've seen it. Joe Sheehan wrote a nice piece hinting towards collusion, but only among a certain group of owners. I disagree with Joe, and the best defense I have is the New York Yankees. In past offseasons, the phrase "what George wants, George gets," has held as true as anyything. But that seems to be changing, as Steinbrenner has missed out on targets Curt Schilling and Kaz Matsui, and looks to have a weak grip on Andy Pettite, Gary Sheffield, and Kenny Lofton. Collusion is quite hard to prove when the richest team in baseball is constantly moving to plan two.
Yesterday, a New York radio station, along with the Houston Chronicle, both ran stories that Andy Pettite has all but signed with the Astros. The rumor is Drayton McLane has signed Pettite for three seasons, at $10M per year, stealing him away from the Boss. On the same day, Gary Sheffield talks have started to dwindle, as Sheffield is angry about bonuses, buyouts, and deferred money. Kenny Lofton may feel more loved by San Diego, who can all but match the Yankees one-year, $3M offer. If George is 0/3 with these players, heads will be pounded in the Big Apple. In contrast, the hated Boston Red Sox are moving in a different direction, currently hot after the league's best player.
Where? That is the question circulating Yankee offices in Tampa, as the team currently lacks direction with two-thirds of their top targets (Vazquez, Pettite, Sheffield) may go in other directions. While the present team boasts a lineup fans in Milwaukee and Detroit couldn't dream of, there's one team that's better. There is one team that is smarter, one team that is more active. The Boston Red Sox. While this may be a bit hasty, I'm tempted to say that Theo Epstein is the best thing to happen to this organization in the last 50 years. The type of creativity and intelligence that Epstein brings to the Red Sox front office is second to none, much of the reason Boston is currently a better team, with $50M less.
George has been known to act hastily, so this article may be deemed moot if the Boss gets mad tonight and makes insane offers to both Pettite and Sheffield. In fact, I believe the Yankees will still sign Sheffield, but that's not the point. Whether the 2004 standings indicate this or not, the last two months have been a sign that the tide is changing in the Northeast. While John Henry's pocketbook hardly matches Steinbrenner's, that may be the only thing New York has superior to their arch rivals. Much has been made of the Yankees future problems because of long-term contracts, most notably in the 2006 season, but it's the 2004 team that should be the largest worry.
The Alex Rodriguez deal is going to fall through. Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, both blackballed in the organization, may be clubhouse cancers next season. Gary Sheffield will be wearing pinstripes, and Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras will be in the AL Cy Young top ten. Despite all the problems that may surface on the Atlantic shores, Boston has both heart and level-headedness. While veteran leadership is a mocked term across the Internet, David Ortiz brings much more to the Red Sox than a great left-handed bat. Boston fans make a difference in every home game, and the front office has the creativity and cunningness to improve the team at any time. I'm not sure the Yankees have this. Boston was the better than New York in 2003, much in the same way that I will argue my Cubs were better than Florida. Curses don't exist, and Babe Ruth's shadow will not cast over Fenway any longer.
I am not predicting the Red Sox to win the World Series, or even the division next year. I would bet that the Red Sox win more divisional championships in the next five years, but that is losing focus from the point of this article. While much has been made of baseball's changing markets, the Yankees are no longer the de facto choice of every free agent. If the agentless Sheffield will test Steinbrenner on a contract, what will Boras or Hendricks do? The nation is taking Larry Lucchino's claim of an "evil empire" into their views, and 'Damn Yankees' is more of a prayer than a musical nowadays. New York will have to show renewed direction in the next week to prove to me that the 1980s aren't returning. If not, I'll be forecasting some long years ahead in the Bronx...
OK, after that rant, a few thoughts on the day's transactions...
Vinny Castilla to the Rockies for $2.1M- Why? Doesn't Dan O'Dowd have better things to do than this? Garret Atkins is fine at third, and if the team signs a shortstop, I'll argue Mark Bellhorn is fine there. Second base? Aaron Miles. Left Field? Rene Reyes. O'Dowd: SPEND THE MONEY ON PITCHING! And please, not Antonio Alfonseca like the rumors are currently stating. Note to Rockie ownership: fire O'Dowd! When you look at Castilla's numbers below, it's possible he'll break a .500 slugging percentage in Coors. But, the point is, you don't spend money on hitting in Colorado. Castilla's splits:
Fernando Vina to the Tigers for 2 years, $6M- Why? For more money than Mark Grudzilanek? For a platoonable, 35-year-old second basemen? Vina will add the infamous veteran presence for the Tigers, along with a second name that Detroit fans can recognize. There are a lot of holes on this team, but they should never sign any player under twenty-eight, unless needed to fill a roster. Trading for one of the Baltimore second basemens would have been much smarter, but hey, the Tigers don't think like this. Note to Tiger ownership: fire Dambrowski! Vina's splits:
Fullmer to the Rangers for $1M- Finally, a good signing. Texas has filled the DH hole for one season as Adrian Gonzalez prepares in the minors, and have almost completely finished their 2004 offense. If Nix, Nivar, and Mench make up the outfield next season, they are finished. Fullmer brings a good left-handed bat to a team, and has an outside chance of being the David Ortiz story of 2004. Most likely, he'll quietly hit .290/.380/.500, and few people will notice. Fullmer's splits, excluding the second half in which he was injured:
Finally, let me mention that the Pirates made a nice minor league signing in Daryle Ward, as he probably will figure it out somewhere, someday. But, hopefully this won't deter them from playing Criag Wilson everyday. The Brewers already gave Ned Yost an extension, which seems a little haste. I think Yost did a fantastic job last year, but the team hasn't won enough games to start giving him more money.
I'll be back tomorrow with less cynicism, and more rumors and analysis...
The Handiest Reference Book of 'Em All
As promised last Sunday, I am posting a mid-week special regarding the 2004 edition of The Bill James Handbook. The Handbook is unlike The Bill James Abstracts from 1977-1988, the Bill James Baseball Books from 1990-1992, and The Bill James Player Ratings Books from 1993-1995. The major difference between this book and the others is the amount of commentary from Bill James. The Handbook has a grand total of five pages written by James whereas the others are full of his comments, evaluations, and stories.
Despite a dearth of writing on the part of James, I found the Handbook to be full of interesting statistics and facts about the 2003 season and the career records of every active major league player. The book also features fielding statistics, park factors, left/right splits for all batters and pitchers, and year-by-year and career Win Shares for all active players. I wouldn't recommend the book for those who are numerically challenged but would encourage fans who are sabermetrically inclined to add it to your baseball library.
The Angels free agent signings of Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar give the team the second and third hardest-throwing starters in the American League based on the average speed of their fastballs in 2003. C.C. Sabathia ranked first at 93.9 mph with Colon (93.4) and Escobar (93.3) right behind. All three trail National Leaguers Kerry Wood (95.3) and Jason Schmidt (95.0), who ranked one-two in the majors.
Although Escobar was the third hardest thrower among starters last year in the A.L., he threw the fifth lowest number of fastballs (52.6%)--the only pitcher in the league to rank in the top ten in average speed and the bottom ten in terms of the percentage of fastballs thrown. In the N.L., Curt Schilling, at 92.3 mph and 50.0%, was the only SP to rank in the top ten in speed and bottom ten in the usage of his FB.
If You've Got It, Flaunt It
Colon (93.4 mph and 75.4%), Jeremy Bonderman (93.3 and 66.1%), Jason Davis (92.6 and 72.9%), and John Thomson (92.0 and 71.2%) ranked in the top ten in the A.L. in the average speed of their fastballs and highest percentage of fastballs thrown. Schmidt (95.0 and 71.1%), Carlos Zambrano (92.7 abd 76.5%), and Vicente Padilla (91.9 and 79.3%) ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in both departments.
Slow Down, Cowboy
On the other hand, Tim Wakefield (75.9 mph and 9.0%), Jamie Moyer (82.9 and 49.5%), Kenny Rogers (85.3 and 48.9%), and Mike Maroth (85.3 and 54.2%) were in the top ten in the A.L. for the slowest average fastball and the lowest percentage of fastballs. The latter three are all lefty "thumbers" who rely on pinpoint control and changing speeds. In fact, Moyer (32.2%) and Rogers (24.1%) ranked 1-2 in the A.L. in the percentage of changeups thrown. Maroth (17.9%) was eighth.
Brian Lawrence (83.6 mph and 55.0%), Garrett Stephenson (86.7 and 51.1%), Hideo Nomo (87.1 and 54.1%), and Jeff D'Amico (87.2 and 51.7%) were in the top ten in the N.L. for the slowest average fastball and the lowest percentage of fastballs.
Turning Up The Heat
Billy Wagner led the major leagues with 159 pitches thrown at 100+ mph. The next highest was Colon with 12. Kyle Farnsworth (8), Jorge Julio (4), Josh Beckett (3), Jesus Colome (3), Francisco Cordero (2), Tom Gordon (2), and Braden Looper (2) were the only other pitchers in the majors to throw more than one pitch at 100 mph. Wagner also placed third in the majors in the number of pitches thrown at 95+ mph, a remarkable achievement for a reliever. Wood was number one in the latter category with 1,138.
Odalis Perez threw the lowest number of fastballs (48.3%) and the third highest number of changeups (22.7%) in the N.L. He also ranked eighth in the percentage of sliders thrown (17.6%). Interestingly, Perez was third in the number of stolen bases allowed (25), yet tied for fourth in caught stealing (9) and tied for first in pickoffs (7).
Strange But True
Joe Kennedy tied for the highest game score in the A.L. with a 90, and he had the worst game score with a minus 5. Amazingly, these games were in back-to-back outings as follows:
Date IP H R ER BB SO vs. DET 2-May 9 1 0 0 1 6 vs. MIN 7-May 4 13 10 10 2 1By the way, Randy Johnson had the highest game score of the year in the majors with a 96.
Date IP H R ER BB SO vs. COL 14-Sep 9 1 0 0 1 12Pedro Martinez gave up 10 earned runs in one outing and only 36 in his other 28 starts. Excluding that one performance in April, Pedro's ERA for the year was a microscopic 1.78--a testament to just how truly dominating Martinez was last year.
If Pedro's ERAs over the years haven't convinced you of his greatness, consider that his Component ERA (ERC)--a statistic that estimates what a pitcher's ERA should have been based on his pitching performance--has been equal to or even lower than his actual ERA every year from 1994-on. Pedro has had five years with ERCs under 2.00 with a career average of 2.27.
Still not sure? The Boston righthander is number one among all active pitchers in career ERA (2.58), W-L % (.712), OBA (.206), OBP (.268), SLG (.315), OPS (.583), BR/9 (9.55), H/9 (6.72), and K/BB (4.38).
The Best Of The Rest
While we're on the subject of Pedro, he was one of only seven pitchers in the A.L. who ranked in the top ten in opponent on-base percentage and slugging average in 2003. Martinez was #1 in OPS at .586. Pedro nearly turned all batters into the status of Ramon Santiago (.576), the least productive offensive player in the A.L. Mark Mussina, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Esteban Loaiza, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder comprised the other six hurlers.
Schmidt, Schilling, Mark Prior, Kevin Brown, and Brandon Webb were the only National League pitchers who made the top ten in the lowest OBP and SLG. Schmidt was #1 in OPS at .566. In other words, the Giants ace reduced all hitters to less than Brad Ausmus (.594) and Cesar Izturis (.597), the two lowest-ranking hitters in the N.L.
Oh What A Relief It Is
Eric Gagne led all National League relievers in OBA (.133), OBP (.199), and SLG (.176) and was number two in ERA (1.20). Likewise, Rafael Soriano placed first among all American League relievers in OBA (.162), OBP (.224), and SLG (.238), and number two in ERA (1.53). I don't know if Soriano is the next Gagne, a closer in waiting, or Johan Santana, a setup man serving his apprenticeship before becoming a starter. Either way, look for the hard-throwing Soriano to be one of the most valuable pitchers in the league over the next several seasons.
The Fab Four
Only Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, and Gary Sheffield finished in the top ten in SLG vs. LHP and RHP in the N.L. Not surprisingly, Bonds (1.278), Pujols (1.106), Helton (1.088), and Sheffield (1.023) ranked one through four, respectively, in OPS.
Helton was the only player in the major leagues to place among the top ten in his league in OPS vs. fastballs (1.108), curveballs (1.057), sliders (1.090), and changeups (1.053). Moreover, Helton actually ranked in the top ten in all four pitch categories in both leagues combined.
Helton, Pujols, and Sheffield were the only players in the N.L. to rank in the top ten in OPS in the first and second half of the season. (Bonds did not have enough PA to qualify in the 2H or he would have placed otherwise).
Ramirez and A-Rod were also the only RHB to place in the top ten in SLG vs. RHP in the A.L. Rafael Palmeiro was the only LHB in the top ten vs. LHP.
Ramirez and Carlos Delgado were the only players in the A.L. to rank in the top ten in OPS in the first and second half of the season.
Helton and Ramirez were the only two hitters in the majors to finish in the top ten in their league in hits and walks. The Rockies first baseman had 209 H and 111 BB, becoming just the fifth player in history to record two 200-hit, 100-walk seasons in a career.
How About Triples?
Vernon Wells led the A.L. in hits (215) and total bases (373) and was in the top ten in singles (128), doubles (49), and home runs (33). Wells also placed among the top ten in BA (.317) and SLG (.550). Importantly, the Blue Jays center fielder increased the number of walks by 15 and reduced the number of strikeouts by 5. If he can continue to improve his BB/SO rate over the course of his career, Wells could go from All-Star to MVP to HOF.
Can't Touch This
Jason Giambi led the A.L. in BB (129), SO (140), and HBP (21), the first time any player has ever reached all three of those heights in a single season. Giambi failed to make contact 290 times (the seventh highest in history according to my research) or in 42% of his plate appearances. Delgado was second in BB (109), tied for second in SO (137), and third in HBP (19). A-Rod finished in the top ten in all three.
Tony Batista had the fifth lowest ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (0.70) in the A.L., yet was sixth in grounded into DP (20). Similarly, Aramis Ramirez was ninth in GB/FB ratio (0.79) and tied for sixth in GIDP (21).
Under The Radar Screen
Craig Biggio was #1 in HBP (27) and in the top ten in the lowest GIDP rate in the N.L., two stats that don't show up on the back of baseball cards. Biggio ranks first in HBP among active players and is within 26 of the all-time lead.
Mike Cameron had the largest differential between first and second place in range factor in both absolute and relative terms among all major leaguers. However, it should be noted that Seattle had three of the highest ten pitchers in the A.L. in FB/GB ratios. As a result, Cameron had more opportunities to run down flyballs than anyone else.
No such thing as a "clutch" hitter? Well, Scott Podsednik ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in batting average in late and close games (.398), batting average with runners in scoring position (.381), and batting average with the bases loaded (.556). I realize there may be some double counting here but only three other players in the N.L. even placed among the top ten in two of these three areas. Delgado was the only hitter in the A.L. to rank in the top ten in all three measures with just two others placing among the top ten in two of these categories.
Six players in each league finished in the top ten in stolen bases and stolen base percentage.
NL AL Pierre, J. Crawford, C. Podsednik, S. Beltran, C. Renteria, E. Soriano, A. Lofton, K. Suzuki, I. Furcal, R. Damon, J. Cabrera, O. Winn, R.In trying to determine the fastest baserunners in the majors, I checked to see which players ranked among the top ten in their league in SB%, GIDP%, and triples. There were only three players who fit the bill--Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, and Rafael Furcal. The Atlanta shortstop actually placed first in all three. Crawford and Suzuki also showed their speed by finishing atop their position range factor rankings among fielders with 100 or more games. Carlos Beltran, Eric Byrnes, and Christian Guzman ranked in the top ten in the A.L. in two of the three components. Likewise, Kenny Lofton, Corey Patterson, Juan Pierre, and Podsednik ranked in the top ten in the N.L. in two of the three areas.
Guzman, in fact, led the league in triples for the third time in four years. However, he had his lowest SLG since his rookie season. Moreover, he had 40 fewer total bases than he had in 2001 despite having 41 more at bats. Yikes!
Good News and Bad News
Derek Jeter's OBP (.393) and SLG (.450) reversed yearly slides that began after he reached career highs of .438 and .552, respectively, in 1999 through 2002. The only disturbing fact is that the Yankees shortstop had more than two times the number of strikeouts as walks, the worst rate since his rookie year in 1996.
The Trend Is Your Friend
Would you take a chance on this player?
BA OBP SLG BB/SO 2001 .194 .308 .313 0.47 2002 .243 .347 .402 0.49 2003 .284 .422 .472 1.23He's 6'3", 224 and 25 years old. And, oh yes, he had an OBP of .454 in "AA" when he was 20 years old. His name? You guessed it. Nick Johnson, the newly acquired first baseman of the Montreal Expos. Health permitting, Johnson should be one of the best "values" over the next few years--a perfect fit for the budget-conscious Expos.
For those of you who are still hungry for even more tidbits of information from The Bill James Handbook, I recommend you head over to Aaron's Baseball Blog now to read his review. Aaron will be the subject of my next interview in two weekends.
Regarding interviews, I urge readers to check out Alex Belth's excellent exchange with Tom Verducci, the head baseball writer at Sports Illustrated, over at Bronx Banter. As always, this is a must read for the true baseball fan.
Trapped in Transactions
Too many transactions to ignore today, so I'm going to play the role of Ruzich, and spend about 2,500 words analyzing the day's events. Alex Belth has another amazing interview at Bronx Banter, this time with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. Also, Baseball America gave their top ten list of GM prospects, although I'm a little bitter my name didn't appear anywhere. On to the writing...
To start I send you to the O.C. (not the Fox TV show which I highly reccommend watching), where Arte Moreno has made his second huge signing as owner. California loved Gene Autry, and while you won't see Moreno's face on the silver screen, I have a feeling he'll be well-liked by Angels' fans. So will the fattest pitcher West of David Wells...
Colon Overall- 15-13 3.87 223/242 173/67
Colon is the true essence of a power pitcher, finishing snugly in second of most pitches thrown over 100 mph last season. Many were worried of Colon's diminishing K/9 rate before the season, but he raised it up to an acceptable level, and dropped his BAA and BB/9 numbers for the third straight season. Colon is learning how to pitch, and should thrive under the tutelage that Bud Black will provide. He is great for a bullpen, as it's hard to find anyone else in the Majors whom has approached 700 IP in the last three seasons (697.2). Many worry his husky frame will lead to injuries down the road, a la David Wells, but a good motion and thick legs should provide health during this contract.
The deal will carry Colon through the latter half of his "prime years", and will finish when Colon is at the age of 34. $12M will turn out to be a good barometer of the market, as similar pitchers Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, and Javier Vazquez are all seeking contracts in that range. Colon wasn't helped by Cleveland and Detroit as much as teammate Esteban Loaiza, actually allowing a 5.94ERA to the Tigers in three starts. The AL West is known for spacious ballparks, so I wouldn't be surprised if Colon turns in his best season to date next year, then slowly falling off the map as his fastball decreases in velocity. Between Colon and Ramon Ortiz, there will be a lot of home runs given up in Anaheim next year, but Arte Moreno did a nice job signing the best pitcher available on the market.
Whether this move necessitates a Jarrod Washburn trade/non-tender will be a story for another date, but if not, the Angels will have a fantastic rotation next year. If Washburn leaves than Aaron Sele has a spot, but expect Bobby Jenks and Ervin Santana to fly through the system. I see this team building towards 2006, when their great farm system will begin yielding their best results, and players like Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon will be seeing their final days under contract. Anaheim still will sign a 1B (Palmiero or Travis Lee), and they are in the market for a shortstop, whether it be Nomar Garciaparra by trade or Miguel Tejada in a signing. The Winter Meetings will really dictate who becomes the favorite in the AL West, as no team looks too fearful as of yet.
Bill Bavasi has tried to put the Mariners in front for 2004, and made a very bold move signing Eddie Guardado to a contract Tuesday, days after locking up Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Here are some splits:
Guardado: 2.89 50/65.1 60/14 41Sv
Everyday Eddie is an interesting case, a seemingly consistent player whom shows drastic split differences. Guardado, like ex-Twins LaTroy Hawkins and Eric Milton, showed a large affinity for pitching in the Metrodome, a statistic that has held true much of his career. Seattle hardly plays in a small stadium though, so I don't anticipate any negative effects from that move. Guardado became a better pitcher in the second half, showing better stuff and a slightly higher walk rate as a result. Right-handers have always been known to hit with more power against him, but he negates both types well.
Guardado isn't the typical great reliever that has one dominant pitch, but fits more in the Joe Borowski variety of hard-nosed pitchers. He has excellent control, and uses as many as five pitches to disrupt hitters. 1995 was the last season Eddie threw in less than 60 games, although 2001 was the last time he was primarily used in the set-up role. But, Kaz Sasaki is old and injury-prone, so Guardado's as good a bet to finish with 20 saves as anyone. It will also move Shigetoshi Hasegawa to solely pitching in middle relief, a role he was familiar with until being tried as closer during parts of the 2003 season. A look at Hasegawa's numbers:
Hasegawa: 1.48 62/73 32/18 16 Sv
Shiggy is the rare type of pitcher that could care less about strikeout numbers, yet is still extremely effective. He was the best reliever in baseball during the first half, but finished the year fifth on Baseball Prospectus' reliever rankings. Hasegawa is much better in Safeco, a figure that likely drove up his value this offseason. In the end, Shiggy signed a contract very comparable to that of Paul Quantrill, another of the game's best right-handed middle relievers. Shiggy's 2003 will likely finish as his career season, but don't be surprised if he doesn't top a 3.00 ERA during this contract.
Like it or not, the Mariners will be paying Guardado and Hasegawa a combined $7.5M next year, before these players even think about reaching incentives. Sasaki is set to bring in $8M, meaning the team's top three relievers could easily haul in $20M next season. Kaz will begin the year as closer, with Guardado mainly working in set-up. Hasegawa and Julio Mateo are next out of the bullpen, and the team is one left-handed pitcher short. I like this deal because it means Bob Melvin must use stud Rafael Soriano out of the rotation, and likely pushes Freddy Garcia into free agency. But, Arthur Rhodes would have come a lot cheaper, plus Seattle is strapping for cash after a bad left fielder signing. Speaking of...
Player A: .294/.345/.454 .268 EqA $4.3M 2004 salary
This example shows how horrendous the Raul Ibanez signing truely was, as Allan Baird signed Matt Stairs to a one-year, $1M deal yesterday. And oh yeah, Baird will get a second-round choice next June courtesy of Bavasi's error. Here's a look at the rest of Stairs' stats:
Home: .350/.424/.669 Road: .230/.356/.446
I won't bother to show the LH/RH splits, as Stairs only had thirty-two at-bats against left-handers last season. Anyways, Stairs, a former second basemen, has really changed the course of his career, becoming one of the best platoonable players in the game during recent seasons. The team is said to be courting Raul Mondesi, and the trio of Stairs, Mondesi, and Ken Harvey would alternate in the LF/DH roles next season. Allan Baird is really starting to understand baseball better, and I hear tomorrow he will add Benito Santiago as well.
But he wasn't finished yesterday, also picking up valuable reliever Scott Sullivan at the bargain basement price of $2.1M next season. Here's a look at Sullivan:
Sullivan: 3.66 48/66 56/32
The main reason I love Sullivan is durability, the man has pitched in 373 games in the last five years, with a 6.06 ERA in 2002 the only blemish on his chart. Sullivan pitches in every role, able to pitch from three innings to one batter, and right-handers have always struggled against him. Walks are a little bit of a problem, but Sullivan has been notoriously a great reliever during his career. Playing in Kauffman Stadium may push his ERA above 4.00, but he'll be valuable in a very deep bullpen that includes Sullivan, Curt Leskanic, Mike MacDougal, Jeremy Affeldt, and D.J. Carrasco already. The Royals are doing a great job, and with Santiago and Mondesi would become the favorites in the weak AL Central.
Moving to the National League, the Braves have quickly signed their replacement to Greg Maddux, as the team signed John Thomson. You laugh, but Thomson wasn't a whole lot worse when throwing ERA out of the equation last season:
Maddux: 9.27 H/9, 1.36 BB/9, 5.11 K/9, 3.4 SNWAR
While I recognize that Maddux is and was the better pitcher, he also comes with a price tag that sits about $10M higher than the $3.5M that Atlanta will pay Thomson. John pitched very well after the break, going 7-5, 4.17ERA, allowing 98 hits in 99.1IP with 63K and 25BB. Teams were hot on his trail, and Turner Field should go a long way into helping his 2004 statistics. He'll be the third pitcher for the Braves, pitching behind Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton, while in front of Horacio Ramirez.
By signing a starter the Braves have indicated all their money will go toward offense, likely freeing up enough money to go after Vladimir Guerrero during the Winter Meetings. This does mean their hot and cold interest in Andy Pettite and Kevin Millwood will subside, although both those pitchers will likely stay with their current teams.
Millwood has said it is "likely" that he will accept arbitration from the Phillies, likely commanding a salary in the $12M range for 2004. Philadelphia is trying so hard to do the Jacobs' Field Indian effect of the 90s, timing success with a new stadium perfectly. The Phillies made another move yesterday, signing reliever Tim Worrell to a two-year, $5.5M contract. This is a solid move by the Phillies, considering Worrell's 2003...
Worrell: 2.87 74/78.1 65/28 38 Sv
I'm not particularly bullish on Worrell next season, although I think he is one of the better set-up men that is left available on the market. This will put a lot less pressure on Rheal Cormier, which has to be considered a good thing, and Billy Wagner makes games eight innings with his amazing arm.
There's little left for the Phillies to do, they want to sign Dan Plesac, and they will want to sign one more right-handed middle relief arm. But for now, this is one Helluva team:
Lineup: Lieberthal, Thome, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Burrell, Byrd, Abreu
Wow, all Ed Wade has to do now is listen to the hype build, and prepare to fire Larry Bowa when the team struggles out of the gate. Bowa is the only thing holding back this team, although de facto manager Joe Kerrigan wasn't exactly a miracle worker in Boston.
Finally, touching on the St. Louis Cardinals, who announced non-guaranteed deals with Brent Butler and Steve Cox yesterday. Butler is an infielder who has been entrenched in the Rockie system for years, never producing awe-inspiring results. Cox is an ex-Devil Rays first basemen that had tons of potential, lost it, went to Japan, and has come back.
Butler has amassed 553 at-bats the last three seasons in Colorado, finishing with an average of .248/.285/.380 across the board. His road OPS during this time hasn't topped .550, but he's known mainly for his infield glove. Also, Butler has a reverse-platoon split, as his OPS against right-handers (.698), is much better than that against southpaws (.567). Bo Hart is currently seen as the Cardinals' 2B, although I think the team felt they needed to bring a veteran in to compete with. Hart was very effective against left-handers last year, and may end up with just a platoon role. In the end, expect the popular Hart to win the job, but here's a little credit to Walt Jocketty for at least building some competition.
I'll also keep that credit going with the low-risk signing of Steve Cox, the 2000 #9 prospect in the Tampa Bay organization. In 1999, Cox hit .341 in AAA, also hitting 25 home runs, while walking only 67 times. Then, he went on to put these lines up in the Majors:
Cox looked like a very promising player after the 2000 season, during which he homered 11 times in 318AB, with a BB/K ratio that GMs love (45/47). But his numbers deteriorated the following seasons, as his batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS all spent three years on the decline. An injury prevented Cox from playing in Japan, and St. Louis was definitely the right place to come for a job.
I've written numerous times on this site I believe John Gall will play first base for the Cardinals in 2004, while Albert Pujols will remain in left field. Cox will play a similar role to the aforementioned Brent Butler, providing Spring Training competition for the youngster, Gall. If Cox has a great Spring Training the team can give him a chance, or they can see if he'll recreate those 1999 numbers in Memphis. Cox never hit lefties in the Majors, and Gall struggles with them currently, so expect the team to sign a LF that can hit southpaws, and Pujols will move to first on those days. Overall, I like these moves by Jocketty, as I support veteran competition before giving jobs to youngsters, unless you tempt Dusty Baker with Randall Simon.
That's it, I think I nailed every transaction. San Diego signed the Japanese veteran they've long sought after, and while I didn't touch on Shannon Stewart, I'll just refer you to Aaron Gleeman's great piece from yesterday. Have a good one, and I hear Benito is a Royal, Vinny Castilla a Rockie, and Carl Everett has an offer from the D-Rays. So is life Carl, so is life.
There is so much going on in the sports world that I will spend today's column discussing a lot of things. Let me start by suggesting my readers to go read the roundtable discussion some of the Internet's finest have had over at Netshrine. First, on a few baseball-related items...
- The Mets sign Kaz Matsui- I wrote an article on the stud shortstop back in November, concluding he would finish the season with a .295/.325/.445 line, which I will stand by today. I hate the idea of moving Reyes to second, it just reminds me of the horrible time the Cleveland Indians have had with Brandon Phillips the last two seasons. And if this team was so willing to pay a question-filled shortstop $7M per season, why not top the Marlins' bid for Luis Castillo? Luis would have fit much better than Matsui, matching Kaz in every category but home runs.
- Angels to sign Bartolo Colon- 4 years, $48M. Wow. Arte Moreno really wants to make his presence felt after seeing the kind of treatment that Anaheim gave their last great owner, Gene Autry. Moreno has already bought Escobar and Colon, with hitting next on the agenda. I think this team will bring in Rafeal Palmiero, and I think going after Rich Aurilia might be a good idea as well. Non-tender Adam Kennedy, move Eckstein to second, and you have one Helluva team. Colon is great on a bullpen, and really a joy to watch pitch. This is a very good signing for the Angels that suddenly will have the second best rotation in the AL West in 2004.
- Quickly, I think the Blue Jays overpaid big on Kerry Ligtenberg, who is nice at $1M per season, not $2.25. The Devil Rays make a nice move by landing Eduardo Perez for cheap, he's used to platooning with Mr. Tino Martinez. The D-Rays are going to land a right fielder (Everett?) by the end of the week, and my Arthur Rhodes prediction stands. David Wells is close to signing with the Yankees, and I think Kenny Lofton will be a Padre before Steinbrenner realizes what he lost.
- College football suffered a travesty this weekend when the undisputed #1 team, USC, was snubbed from the championship game. The BCS is hardly the best system out there, and this season has ensured its exit from college football after 2005. Oklahoma obviously should have been left out, seeing that they didn't even win their conference championship! For more on this, visit a great site over at mcclusky.com.
In the end, I think USC will lose to Michigan, and I think Oklahoma beats the piss out of LSU, and gets handed the national championship trophy. Call it Midwest bias, but I would take Michigan against any team in the country and guarantee victory at this point. Here's a look at my Jan. 1 bowl predictions:
Outback (Iowa v. Florida)- Florida
And, finally I'd like to say I support Eli Manning for the Heisman Trophy. Jason White is a fine choice, although I think Oklahoma's late fall, and the talent White is surrounded with will lead to his demise. Larry Fitzgerald is the best player in the country, but needs someone a little better than Rod Rutherford. Chris Perry was well on his way early on, but I believe didn't even top 50 yds. in one game. So, my default, give it to Eli. Ole Miss isn't a good team, but Manning has built a ferocious passing attack, and a bowl victory.
- Moving to the other college sport, does anyone notice the craziness that early season college basketball has provided? Duke, UConn, Kansas, MSU are all teams that have failed early on. I've watched a few North Carolina games, and I would take the Tar Heels vs. anyone. But Missouri's Ricky Paulding is the best wing player in the country. And next time Duke is on TV, do yourself a favor and watch Luol Deng play. I can't wait til March!
- Well, the Magic finally broke their 19-game losing streak in basketball, and the Detroit Tigers get time off as the laughingstock of professional sports. Don't worry Dambrowski, McGrady will get to 15 wins and you'll still be the worst.
- Playoff predictions:
NFC: Philly, Carolina, St. Louis, Seattle, Dallas, Green Bay
Super Bowl: Indy over Philly
I'll be back tomorrow.
Pre-Meetings Forecasting (NL West)
While I won't digress into analysis on every deal signed yesterday, I'm going to spend this week looking into where every Major League team currently stands, and looking into where the GMs will have their focus during the Winter Meetings. I start with the NL West...
San Francisco Giants
Despite housing the best attendance numbers in the game last season, Giants' GM Brian Sabean was told his 2004 payroll would have to be substantially smaller than the 2003 figure. Sabean has found mid-level veterans to fill every hole, and is almost completely finished heading into the Winter Meetings.
Yesterday the Giants re-signed J.T. Snow to split the first base job with Pedro Feliz. Snow hit well vs. right-handers last season (.284/.387/.450) and displayed Gold Glove-caliber defense, leading to a one-year, $1.75M contract. Feliz has hit seven home runs off left-handers in the last three seasons, spanning only about 150 at-bats.
San Francisco also tied up outfielder Michael Tucker to a two-year contract yesterday, spending $3.5M in the process. He will platoon with Jeffrey Hammonds, as Tucker showed an affinity to right-handers last season (.274/.342/.474), while Hammonds hit left-handers very well. Tucker did hit considerably better in Kauffman Stadium (.297/.391/.518), and didn't even hit .230 away from home. The team has also decided not to extend an arbitration offer to Rich Aurilia, deciding that Neifi Perez and Cody Ransom will split duties next season. Pathetic.
In a trade earlier this offseason Sabean brought in A.J. Pierzynski, and the team will be using Yorvit Torrealba against southpaws. Overall, this is my projected 2004 Giants lineup...
Giants vs. RHP
Giants vs. LHP
Not a horrible lineup, as Durham and Alfonzo should both build from mediocre 2003 seasons. The pitching staff still has one open hole, which is Sabean's only order of business the rest of the winter. Jason Schmidt currently heads the pack, after what was a sensational Cy Young-type season. Kirk Rueter and Jerome Williams will back up Schmidt, and I fully expect Williams to leapfrog Rueter on the depth chart this season. The fifth slot will be a battle between Dustin Hermanson ,Kevin Correia, and Ryan Jensen, with no one being a clear favorite.
It will be the fourth slot in the rotation that Sabean must fill, with about $5M to spend. Sidney Ponson will not be back next season, although that's best with rumors of a partially torn labrum. I've always rumored Greg Maddux would be a good fit in San Francisco, and I will maintain with that philosophy. Maddux will get little interest elsewhere, and signing him to a two-year, $10M offer would greatly strengthen this team.
Despite losing closer Tim Worrell, the Giants bullpen looks to be very formidable in 2004. Robb Nen will return as closer, with longtime set-up man Felix Rodriguez waiting in the wings. Matt Herges signed a two-year, $2.5M deal last week to be the primary right-handed middle reliever. Jim Brower succeeded in a long relief role last season, and should resume those duties next season. The team will hand two left-handed spots to either Scott Eyre, Chad Zerbe, or Jason Christenson, with Zerbe likely the odd man out. If Felipe Alou decides to carry 12 pitchers, one of the losers of the 5th starter slot will be kept on the roster.
Giants To-Do List= Only to sign one SP, with Greg Maddux my suggestion
The 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks have been busy this winter, already trading Curt Schilling while acquiring a powerful bat in Richie Sexson. The team gave up negotiation rights for Miguel Batista yesterday, severing ties with their #3 starter.
By acquiring Sexson and dealing Junior Spivey and Criag Counsell, the Diamondbacks have already designed their 2004 offense, barring any substantial changes:
The team may pursue a bat to compete with Bautista in right field, just as they had Raul Mondesi playing the position in the second half. The pitching staff remains the largest question now that Schilling and Batista are out of the picture. Randy Johnson and Rookie of the Year winner Brandon Webb appear to be locks, although everything else remains cloudy. Garagiola may feel obliged to give spots to Elmer Dessens and Casey Fossum, both big name acquisitions in past trades. I would question these moves, although it's likely the course they will follow.
The team has discussed moving Oscar Villareal to the starting rotation, but he's likely to stay in the bullpen. The team has John Patterson, Andy Good, Edgar Gonzalez, and Mike Gosling all battling for one spot, as the team hopes to find a diamond in the rough, as they did with Webb last season.
Matt Mantei will be an expensive closer next season unless Garagiola's efforts to deal the expensive right-hander ever come to fruitition. Jose Valverde had a good season, and will be the set-up man unless Mantei is dealt. Villareal and Mike Koplove are both very good middle relief options, and Steve Randolph emerged as a fine LOOGY last season. Newly acquired southpaw Shane Nance also will make the team, serving as both the second leftie and long reliever.
Arizona could very well be finished for the offseason, although Garagiola will use any extra money possible to acquire a RF and one more starter, while trying as hard as possible to deal Matt Mantei.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles has struggled with direction this offseason, as their long fight to find ownership seems endless. Dan Evans is still working as the General Manager, and has a lot ahead of him to fix an ailing offense. The team will be in the news quite often during the next week connected with Nomar Garciaparra, who will get dealt if Alex Rodriguez agrees to join the Boston Red Sox.
In the next week I expect the Dodgers to be heavily associated with Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero, and Nomar, although who they get I don't know. Tejada may be a Mariner early next week, and I've all but accepted the fact Vlad will reunite with Jim Beattie in Baltimore. If the Nomar trade goes down it will be with the Dodgers, but I'd be lying if I said I expected the A-Rod, Nomar, Manny switch to happen. That would leave Dan Evans to a lot of second-tier players, and a lot of options. Wanna get confused? Here's the course of action I would take if I were Evans:
- Hope Mike Cameron signs with the A's, and then trade Paul Lo Duca to the A's for Mark Kotsay
That's the best I can forecast. In reality, the team will battle with the Angels for the services for Rafeal Palmiero, as well as trying to get a good bat for Odalis Perez. Trading him in-division, to the Padres for Phil Nevin may be a good choice. The team re-signed Robin Ventura yesterday, although I think Ventura's skill set has diminished to that of a bench player. I also think the Dodgers will start flirting heavily with Rich Aurilia, as Cesar Itzuris sucks more than anything in the world. Whew! In conclusion, I expect the Dodgers to be after every hitter available, losing out on most. Odalis Perez is a powerful weapon, but in the end he may just bring in a player like J.D. Drew or Paul Konerko.
The pitching staff will be Nomo, Brown, Edwin Jackson, Kaz Ishii, and Darren Dreifort, with Joel Hanrahan waiting in the wings if anyone fails. Wilson Alvarez may be brought back, although I think the team should spend every penny available on hitting. The bullpen will have Gagne, Shuey, and Mota from the right side, with Tom Martin and Victor Alvarez from the left. And the Dodgers will be in 4th place next season, sitting snug between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the...
The Rockies will be in financial troubles the next few seasons as Charles Johnson, Todd Helton, Preston Wilson, Larry Walker, and Denny Neagle are tying up lots of money on this team. Dan O'Dowd has failed time and time again at making them a winner, and stands second to Chuck LaMar as GMs who need to move on.
I was in favor of the Uribe for Aaron Miles trade last week, and I write before you as the same man today. If you asked me what the Rockies 2004 lineup should be, I would give you this:
1. Mark Bellhorn- SS
The team will listen to my plea to non-tender Jay Payton, although it's doubtful they'll go to Spring Training with Bellhorn and Atkins penciled in on the left side. The rumors that are currently the most popular are Vinny Castilla and Deivi Cruz, who would likely cost about $3M next season. Any hitter can perform in Coors, and Atkins is just as likely to win the Rookie of the Year as Castilla is to reverting to the stats he posted in the 1990s.
For a club with such bad starting rotation, I've yet to hear the Rockies in any rumor for a starter this offseason. The team has Denny Neagle, Jason Jennings, Shawn Chacon, Chin-Hui Tsao, and Scott Elarton penciled in so far, with Jason Young, Aaron Cook, and Adam Bernero waiting in the wings. That's a pretty bad group, and I think the team would be better without Neagle or Elarton pitching every fifth day. But, the team is content with that group, and instead appear to be in the market for a closer.
After losing out on Rod Beck, the newest rumors are that the Rockies are considering Armando Benitez and Antonio Alfonseca in the closer's role. And to that, I ask why? The team is just as likely to succeed with Justin Speier in the role than Alfonseca, and it wouldn't cost the extra $1M that should be spent on starters. I really like the pair of Brian Fuentes and Javy Lopez on the left side, and I think Speier and Steve Reed is a nice combo as well. Adam Bernero will probably become the team's long reliever, and in the end, O'Dowd will spend money towards a bad reliever.
Names you'll hear associated with the Rockies in the coming weeks: Vinny Castilla, Jeff Cirillo, Deivi Cruz, Rich Aurilia, Antonio Alfonseca, and Armando Benitez.
San Diego Padres
Despite winning only 64 games last season, Kevin Towers has managed to put the Padres on the list of favorites next season, thanks to key acquisitions like Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez. The team has unfinished business for the rest of the offseason, but appear to be heading in the right direction.
San Diego already has the offense to win this division next season, although their current team would lack a lot defensively. Going to Spring Training with an estimated outfield of Ryan Klesko, Brian Giles, and Xavier Nady could result in disaster, precisely the reason the team is interested in Kenny Lofton and Mike Cameron. Lofton would be the leadoff bat the team desperately needs, as well as providing enough centerfield defense to get by. They could then trade Phil Nevin to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez, although that likely won't happen. Instead Nady will become the team's 4th outfielder, and the Padres will use this lineup:
1. Lofton- CF
That is a very impressive team. I would still worry about their defense, but Towers is currently assessing that problem. To acquire Hernandez the team had to take on Terrence Long, and Long's name has been hot in rumors in the past weeks. The New York Mets are looking to rid themselves of Roger Cedeno, so Towers has presented a Long and Kevin Jarvis offer for Cedeno. While I hate Roger more than any other Major Leaguer, his limited skill set might do well in San Diego, coming in as a pinch runner and defensive replacement on the corners.
Also, the Padres' pitching staff still needs tweaking. Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy, and Adam Eaton are a fantastic threesome, although the team wants a left-hander to go with these youngsters. David Wells, Chuck Finley, and Wilson Alvarez are the most popular rumors, and Wells makes the most sense. Neither the Yankees or Padres appear to be ready to offer Wells a guaranteed contract, but he's much more likely to catch on in San Diego. The team would then give their last spot to Ben Howard, a 24-year-old whom succeeded in September.
Trevor Hoffman will be back as closer next season, although Rod Beck re-signed to push Hoffman. The team also has negotiating rights to a Japanese right-hander, who will team with Scott Linebrink and Jay Witasick in middle relief. The team has Mike Mathews and Kevin Walker to pitch against left-handers currently, those Peter Gammons is reporting the team is looking to trade for a LOOGY.
With these moves, I would guarantee victory for the Padres in 2004:
1. Sign Kenny Lofton and David Wells to guaranteed contracts
Peace. I'll be back with the NL Central tomorrow.
Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part Two)
I divided my interview with Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants into two sections. Part One covered Mike's opinions on topics ranging from his beloved Phillies to sabermetrics to his favorite players and baseball heroes. Part Two is exclusively devoted to Mike's views on the merits of certain Hall of Fame candidates.
RWBB: You recently posted an article, listing the players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot along with a few of those tables that tend to frequent your site. Let's go over several of the leading candidates and then we will discuss some of the omissions from the past.
Mike: Let me say that I have looked at the percentage of active players at any given time who eventually end up in the Hall, and the average is about 6% with a normal range around 4-8%. There have been three periods since the early 1880s in which the percentage went out of that range. When the National League contracted to eight teams in 1900--one year before the American League became a major league--the percentage skyrocketed to about 13%. In the late Twenties and early Thirties, the percentage sometimes reached about 12%. This is due to the bloated offensive numbers of the day and the disproportionate power given the players of that era when they were on the Hall's Veterans' Committee. The third period is since the early Seventies. The percentage has not been over 4%--the nominal low--since then, and it shrank rapidly thereafter. I know that there are still a number of players from the period who are eligible for the Hall vote, but we're not talking about an odd Bert Blyleven here. We're talking about one half to one quarter the number of people being admitted as compared to the previous 80-90 years. The players from the expansion era are getting screwed.
Mike: I want to answer this question three ways. Will he get in? Should he get in given the de facto Hall standards? And would I put him in? The first is just handicapping. The second is estimating what the Hall standards are and if he matches them. The third is simply my opinion. Molitor will go in on the first ballot. He should go in according to the established standards. And I would put him in.
Mike: Eck will go in, hopefully, on the first ballot. He should go in, and I would put him in.
Mike: Goose may go in via the writers. However, he has been treading water lately. He should go in. It's hard to say what the Hall standards are for closers, but I think Gossage would have made it more easily if his career had not gone on so long after he had stopped being a closer. Fingers got in so easily. Gossage was more qualified, but in the intervening years between their careers and becoming eligible, the number of saves for closers went through the roof. Then everyone forgot how good Gossage was and focused on the save totals. I would put him in.
Mike: I thought Sandberg would go on the first ballot. I get the feeling that he was a victim of the bloated numbers of the past decade and of writers who wanted to ensure that he was not a first-ballot inductee. He could go as early as next year, but he will be voted in by the writers at some point. He definitely should go in. I would put him in.
Mike: Rice's votes are going down though they are still high. I think that he'll eventually go in but I'm not sure when or how. I think that he is an extremely borderline case. I wouldn't single him out. I would rather put his old teammate, Dwight Evans, in first.
Murphy is an interesting case. He's facing attacks on two fronts. First, he went from great to average to sub-par in a very short time and at an early age. He had his last great season in 1987 at 31, was an average ballplayer for a couple of years, and then fell off the face of the earth. Being washed up at 35 hurts your Hall of Fame chances. It puts all the pressure on your peak value. Your peak had better be Koufaxian.
That's the second front he's facing. His peak went through a reevaluation after the offensive explosion of the Nineties. He's only been eligible for the Hall for about 5 years. .300 with 35 homers and 100 RBI just wasn't as impressive as it once had been. There were also feelings in the sabermetric world and in the baseball writer cognoscenti that he had been overvalued during his peak. People pointed to his relatively low adjusted OPS especially in 1982. They felt that his MVP candidacy was helped greatly by his being a Gold Glove center fielder. Also, there was a reevaluation of his defense and the feeling was it wasn't all that and a bag of chips.
I don't think he'll be voted in by the writers. His numbers are flagging. I think he'll be reassessed by whatever replaces the VC and given the distance of years and the abating offenses, he'll go in. I think that he definitely meets the criteria of the Hall. I would probably put him in, but he wouldn't be my first choice among outfielders.
Mike: First, let me say that Steve Garvey is not my Padre--sorry a little paternity suit humor. All three are borderline cases. They're three slick fielding first basemen who started to lose it around 33, 34 years old. Hernandez barely stayed on the ballot and may drop off after this year. Mattingly's vote numbers are dropping like a stone. Garvey is treading water among the second-tier candidates. I think that they are the types of candidates that in the past the Vets have jumped all over for the Hall. I could see them all going probably in this order: Mattingly, Garvey, and then Hernandez.
Do they qualify? Hernandez may have the best case from this point of view and is aided by the longest career of the group. Mattingly has the best peak but was a totally different ballplayer after 28. A lot of that is due to injuries but, if "woulda, shoulda" counted, Mark Fidrych and Lyman Bostock would be Hall of Famers. Garvey's defensive rep hit a bump after Total Baseball pronounced him a sub-par first baseman and then was revitalized by Bill James Win Shares. Like Derek Smalls, he is the lukewarm water of the group.
I don't know if I would put any of them in. Hernandez is the most likely.
RWBB: Now that Gary Carter finally made it in, I believe Bert Blyleven has become the most overlooked, multi-year candidate of all.
Mike: Blyleven's numbers are starting to grow, but they're still low. I'm thinking Veterans' Committee. Should Blyleven go in? A definite yes. He's the second best candidate on the list after Molitor. Would I put him in? Oh, yeah.
Mike: Well, Kaat ran out of options and now has to wait for the veterans to get their act together. I think once they have a viable solution to the Vets' Committee, he will go in. Does he meet the standards? He's borderline. Would I put him in? Probably not, though I remember him fondly from his Phillies days.
Mike: Given that Santo is a broadcaster in Chicago and given the publicity over his health, I could see his candidacy gathering steam. If the VC elects anyone, it will be him. Given the dearth of third basemen, he exceeds the standards and I believe I would put him in.
RWBB: It's hard to believe that Grich and Whitaker couldn't even get 5% of the votes in their first and only year on the ballot.
Mike: Yeah, add Dan Quisenberry to that list. I could see them having problems because of their era and their positions, but no support whatsoever? I don't think that they'll ever be elected unless in some posthumous George Davis-type move. Grich and Whitaker don't have the strongest cases going by numbers solely, but when you consider that they were second basemen and are probably in the top dozen or so at that position, that really meets the Hall criteria. Grich is a particularly odd case because he was a Gold Glove winner and a power-hitting second baseman, which you'd think would garner him some votes. Maybe playing during Joe Morgan's hegemonic second base career wasn't the greatest idea. He's also hurt by having his best season during the 1981 strike, when he was arguably the best player in the AL but got no MVP support.
As far as Quisenberry, his career as a closer was too short and his numbers were hurt by the glut of saves in the Nineties, but his peak was pretty impressive. It was better than Smith's and Myers' and probably better than Gossage's. I don't think he should get in given the scant standards for closers nor would I put him in, but his candidacy merited more than a cursory, one-year review.
RWBB: Bill James believes Darrell Evans is the most underrated player in baseball history.
Mike: That sounds about right. Reggie Smith is another good one. So is the other Mr. D. Evans. I think Evans is hurt by never really having a peak. He had many good years but never had one of those headline-grabbing ones. He was overshadowed by Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Ron Cey at third in the NL in those days. It's hard to play in the same league as the greatest player in baseball history at your position. Ask Brian Giles.
Evans just happened to play the most overlooked position in the Hall and even though he was a power hitter, he did a lot of little things, defense, taking a walk, getting on base, that get overlooked. And he batted around .250. Santo and Graig Nettles suffer from similar biases. Maybe when Wade Boggs goes in, they will remember that third basemen can go in the Hall, too.
RWBB: OK, you brought up his name. Pete Rose. In or out?
Mike: Who? Oh yeah. I am probably the only person in America who thinks Rose probably bet on baseball but that his ban should be ended without an apology and he should go in the Hall. However, he cannot and should not go into the Hall until the ban is lifted. Who cares if Rose bet on baseball anyway? It carries a one-year suspension that he has served 14 times over. Did he bet on the Reds? I'm not sure, but I have not seen one credible shred of evidence in the Dowd witch hunt. If Rose apologizes, it would be the first credible piece of evidence. Moreover, if he did ever bet on the Reds, he should be banned permanently.
Check back on Wednesday for a mid-week special on tidbits gathered from the 2004 edition of The Bill James Handbook.
Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part One)
Mike Carminati is one of the "old timers" when it comes to baseball blogging. He started Mike's Baseball Rants in July 2002, and it has become one of the most widely read in the blogosphere. Mike recently switched from Blogger to Christian Ruzich's All-Baseball.com, a loose affiliation of several baseball blogs (including Ruz's The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy, Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, and Will Carroll's Weblog). Mike is also the lead baseball analyst at Baseball Interactive.com.
Mike was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1965. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Computer Math and minors in English, Philosophy, and Physics. Mike claims that he wanted to be a Renaissance man but missed it by a few centuries. He is making a living as an IT professional instead.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike by email and talking with him over the telephone during the past week to find out his latest opinions on his beloved Phillies, Joe Morgan, baseball statistics, general managers, sabermetricians, and a few other rants.
RWBB: Mike, you seemed a little hesitant about doing this interview.
Mike: I have to admit that I feel a bit self-conscious doing this. I mean, I'm just a guy who has lots of opinions and gets very little sleep. I purposely keep my blog and my "about me" impersonal to keep the focus on baseball (and to assuage my wife's fears that some clod would stumble upon my site and be able to track me down). I don't even mention my last name. I think it was mentioned in a link once and other people picked it up.
I still memorize numbers--at the deli, for takeout food, etc.--based on mid-Seventies Phillies jersey numbers (Number 23? Downtown Ollie Brown. Number 38? Larry Christenson. Number 40? Warren Brusstar.)
RWBB: Who was your favorite player as a kid growing up in Philly?
Mike: Greg "The Bull" Luzinski. Number 19. He was a big fan favorite with the Phils in the mid-Seventies, maybe because he looked like most of the fans at the game. Philly's that kind of town: John Kruk and little Lenny Dykstra became working-class heroes there. The Schmidts and Carltons seemed a little too esoteric or inaccessible though they merited respect.
RWBB: Speaking of numbers, what kind of impression did the man wearing #20 have on you?
Mike: Impression? My ultimate job would be to play third base for the Phillies but, as Austin Powers said, that train has sailed. Everyone growing up in Philly in the Seventies or Eighties wanted to be a third baseman. We would practice his bare-handed grabs and throws all the time. I remember doing that in the field, the Luzinski stance at bat (or Richie "The Hack" Hebner's when I attempted to switch-hit), and a combination of Steve Carlton's nervous tic on the mound into Gene Garber's corkscrew delivery.
RWBB: Those Philly fans are as tough as they get. They even booed Santa Claus once.
Mike: It goes back to Philly's basic inferiority complex because of its proximity and inherent inferiority to New York. It's a problem for Boston as well, but it at least has its own identity, which Philly lacks. I've lived in NYC, Philly, and Boston, so I've witnessed it.
RWBB: Eighteen years of Mike Schmidt and a few years of Rick Schu, Steve Jeltz, and now David Bell is like going from one extreme to the other.
Mike: I like what Bill James said about him, that if he hit .320 instead of .270 he could have been the greatest ballplayer of all time. At .270, he was just the greatest third baseman of all time. People remember the homers, but he was a very good base runner before his knees went, hit well to all fields, and, I believe, was the best defensive third baseman of his era--better than Brooks Robinson. Another thing people forget is how much he developed as a hitter throughout his career. He was a better hitter after the age of 30 than before. He dropped the strikeouts.
RWBB: Speaking of swinging and missing, let's talk about your Joe Morgan Chat Day reviews.
Mike: They're fun. They're something that my college friend Mike and I started doing, just sending emails back and forth with the outrageous comments that Morgan said. It was before I had even heard of blogs and blogging. He just says the most gloriously, blatantly ludicrous statements. I wish Morgan no ill will. He seems like a nice guy after all. He is just sort of a symbol for poor baseball analysis. He beats the pants off of Steve Lyons though.
Mike: I guess it's just human nature. Why aren't there more great players who become great managers? Joe Morgan was a player who knew that working the count and, therefore, increasing the possibility of getting on base was an important way to help your team win. Yet, as an analyst, Joe downplays on-base percentage and overrates batting average and runs batted in. Go figure.
RWBB: What is the most outrageous comment that Li'l Joe has ever made?
Mike: There are so many, but I think the worst was his "I'm a baseball analyst, I see things that the average fan doesn't in a game" comment during the playoffs. I mean, c'mon.
RWBB: I don't think Joe is one to let facts get in the way of his opinions. My goodness, he still thinks Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.
Mike: Yeah, that was another good one. He said for two or three weeks straight that Beane wrote "Moneyball". He's commenting on something that he obviously did not read nor did he even have passing knowledge of. Someone at ESPN must have told him because the statements just stopped. Maybe they read my comments on Joe's Moneyball gaffe? Doubtful.
RWBB: How do you make it through the off-season without these chats?
Mike: My cousin asked me what I would do last year when there was a players' strike looming. I told him that sometimes the actual, pesky games get in the way. That I have all sorts of things that I want to hit that I never have time to get to because of all the damn games pulling me away. It's the same thing with the chat sessions: they're fun but exhausting and they monopolize my time. There's only so much sleep I can forego for the sake of baseball.
RWBB: Let's switch over to Joe's favorite topic--sabermetrics. (Laughs.) When did you begin analyzing baseball statistics?
Mike: I charted pitchers' performances on bar-graph paper starting in the 1976 season. I remember writing up stats-based team histories in junior high. It impressed the ladies.
RWBB: What are the most important metrics you use to evaluate hitters?
Mike: Hitting Win Shares is probably the best though it fails the Occam's Razor test. And somehow Albert Pujols was about 3 Win Shares ahead of Barry Bonds last year, so it's far from perfect. OPS+ and Runs Created are good, too.
RWBB: What are your favorite tools for comparing pitchers?
Mike: I think Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement Level is one of the best for starters and Adjusted Runs Prevented for relievers. Pitching Win Shares, league-adjusted ERA, WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, strikeouts per nine innings. DIPS, Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, is a very interesting tool, but it is problematic in comparing pitchers and there is still some debate over its usefulness.
Mike: Today it is superior. I ran a study some time ago that looked at every team since the advent of major-league ball and tried to find the stat that correlated to runs scored the best. I think that batting average was the best tool in the 19th Century and then OBP took over. Of course, OPS eclipsed OBP, I think, in the Twenties, but OBP has consistently been a better indicator of runs than slugging.
RWBB: Which GM "gets it" the most?
Mike: I guess this is where I invoke the name of Billy Beane. I think he really did revolutionize the GM position by coming up with a statistics-based approach to optimize performance. I think it's very interesting that it was borne of necessity. He needed to save money because of the financial limitations of the team. He developed an approach.
RWBB: Which ones don't get it at all?
Mike: If you mean among GMs, well, they've cleaned up their ranks pretty well in the last few years. Gone are Cam Bonifay , Dan Duquette, Steve Phillips, Jim Bowden, Randy Smith--did I forget anybody? The idea that you are going to turn over the reigns to some guy that most roto GMs could swindle the pants off of is obsolete or becoming so. Teams are starting to turn to men who have an approach based on factual information: Beane, Theo Epstein, J.P. Ricciardi, and their ilk. And you still have the traditionalists who do a decent job: Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Pat Gillick (until he forgot how to make a mid-season trade), and John Schuerholz.
RWBB: I feel humbled.
RWBB: All right, Mike. It's time to make you GM for a day. You've got a budget of $60 million and $10 million is reserved for backup players. Based on last year's salaries, put together the best team possible for 2004 at each of the eight positions along with five starting pitchers and one bullpen ace.
Mike: $50 million for eight position players, a starting rotation, and a closer? What about the team mascot?
RWBB: Take the Rally Monkey, please.
RWBB: I see where this is leading.
RWBB: That's an awesome team. You might be able to afford the players on that budget. But how about your scouts? Man, those guys deserve huge raises.
RWBB: Switching gears here. In reviewing your "About Me" page, I noticed you listed Cal Ripken as one of the most overrated players of all time, yet you have included him on your all-time all-star team among players you have seen.
Mike: Ripken was a great ballplayer and he started a revolution in the way people view the shortstop position. That said, Ripken didn't save baseball. Jimmy Stewart plunged into those icy waters and saved baseball all those years ago before baseball showed him what life would be like without him and in turn saved him. Ripken had a lot of up and down years and he was just about an average hitter after turning 30. I think if he hadn't been a slave to The Streak, he would have been a more productive ballplayer all around. But then again, it's what made him such a big name.
Mike: John Montgomery Ward was just a larger than life personality that somehow got forgotten. He was a great pitcher and then when his arm gave out he became a great shortstop. That was just the start for him. He was a highly successful, Columbia-educated lawyer. He started the players' brotherhood that would eventually split from major league baseball and create its own league, the Players' National League, in 1890. He challenged the reserve clause decades before Curt Flood. He eventually bought an interest in the Braves and became their president. He almost became the NL president but lost by one vote due to old enmities. How bizarre is that? Imagine Marvin Miller being named commissioner now.
RWBB: Thanks, Mike. You are truly a baseball historian extraordinnaire.
Check back on Sunday for Part Two of the interview. Mike is going to tell us which players should and shouldn't go into the Hall of Fame.
[Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Cubs Organizational Meeting
Although it has been awhile since the last Organizational Meeting, the fantastic Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich agreed to answer my questions about our Cubbies. In case you missed it, I wrote about my 2004 Cubs Thursday.
I have two posts today, this one you're reading, and my thoughts on the Javier Vazquez to the Yankees trade. Christian has been working on a new site, entitled The Transaction Guy, and it's a must-read for any signing, trade, or release. The movie-scene piece he wrote on the Javier Vazquez trade was one of the funniest pieces of work I've ever read about baseball, so check that out. But for now, here is the Cubs Organizational Meeting with the Cub Reporter:
Wait 'Til Next Year: 1. Is Derrek Lee enough to supply the offense, and was it right for Hendry to key in on first base? Specifically, what else should be done to boost an offense that was oftentimes enemic in 2003?
The Cub Reporter: I don't know if he's "enough," but he's a nice addition. Slotting him in the middle of the lineup along with Sammy, Moises and Aramis gives the Cubs a nice, if righty-heavy, 3-6.
Asking whether it was "right" for Hendry to key in on first base isn't the question that interests me, though. The question that interests me is, should Hendry try to fix specific holes in the team, or should he try to get the best value available on the market? I think the answer is the latter, and that's what Hendry did. I think he did the right thing by trading for Lee rather than passing up the opportunity because he was solely focused on getting a second baseman or upgrading at catcher or #5 starter.
As far as what else should be done, a left-handed hitter would be nice, and if that lefty could get on base, all the better. The Cubs are pretty set at every position around the diamond except second base, and the pickings of left-handed hitting second basemen is pretty slim. Todd Walker, Brian Roberts, and Adam Kennedy are all basically league-average offensively. Forced to pick from among those guys, I'd go for Kennedy -- it was nice to see him take more walks this year so that his OBP stayed constant even though his average dipped over 40 points. If the Cubs go into the 2004 season with a no-name player at second, though (a minor league call-up or someone who wins the job off an NRI in Spring Training), it wouldn't be such a bad thing.
WTNY: 2. Obviously, starting pitching isn't a worry for the Cubs, although there is a small debate over the 5th starter spot. Some say Cruz. Others like Sterling Hitchcock. Andy Pettite, Eric Milton, Jarrod Washburn, even Shawn Estes are the different names I've heard attached to the final slot. Who should get it, and why?
TCR: Starting pitching is always a worry. Pitchers get hurt; that's just the way it is. One of the reasons the Cubs won the division last year is how few starts their 1-4 starters missed. I don't think there's any way that's going to happen again -- chances are someone's going to get hurt and miss some time.
As far as who should be the #5, out of the guys on your list I'd say Cruz, if he's still on the team come Opening Day. I mean, I'd love to see the Cubs sign Greg Maddux, because then everyone slides down a notch and you have Carlos Zambrano as your #5. But unless TribCo really is letting the Cubs spend Yankee money, I don't see that happening. So, you look on the market for low- to mid-range starters, and there's nothing too enticing. Fifth starter is not a position that you want to lay out multiple millions of dollars to fill. This is a situation where someone may come into camp on a non-guaranteed or incentive-laden contract and find themselves in the rotation. The Cardinals are hoping it works with Chris Carpenter, and that's a model I'd like to see the Cubs follow. There are plenty of guys who will be non-tendered in a few days, and I'm certain one of them will make a passable fifth starter.
WTNY: 3. Between 2002 and 2003, Jim Hendry worked hard to fix the bullpen, how'd he do? Who should fill the shoes left open from Veres and Alfonseca? Was it the right decision to decline Guthrie's option and who fills his slot? Finally, is JoeBo a real 9th inning pitcher, or should he be in a different role?
TCR: He didn't do too bad. It's easy to focus on blown opportunities, but look at the final numbers for the guys who got the bulk of the work in the pen:
Borowski: 68 1/3 IP, 53 H, 19 BB, 66 K
That's not the whole picture, of course, because it leaves off Alfonseca, who did not pitch well. As a group, they gave up too many home runs, too, but overall they were good.
Of course, they better have been good, because they were expensive. The question of who should replace Alfonseca has been answered, and answered well, by LaTroy Hawkins, who will be cheaper and most likely better than Pulpo. As far as who should replace Veres, well, 3rd righty out of the 'pen is another position I don't think Hendry should give that much thought to. It might be good to get Todd Wellemeyer some more major-league experience, or once again there should be some decent pitchers on the bone pile later this winter.
WTNY: 4. Dusty Baker came with great reviews before last season, although he caught significant flak from Cub fans. Explain Baker's strengths and weaknesses as a manager?
TCR: Because I'm lazy, I'll point to a column I wrote on The Cub Reporter when Baker was hired:
The short version:
PRO: Good motivator, Good at managing difficult egos, trusts his veterans
I stand by all of those except the last one, though it's possible that he's still enjoying a honeymoon from the Chicago press. Winning will do that for a guy.
WTNY: 5. How did Jim Hendry do for midseason acquisitions? Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon, Jose Hernandez, Tony Womack, Doug Glanville are all names he acquired at various points. Given such a weak free agent market for 3B, how big was the Ramirez deal, and what do you foresee in 2004?
TCR: He did very well, but I'm not sure I'd give him too much credit. Lofton and Ramirez played very well, and were available because Pittsburgh needed to dump salary. I will say that it appears we were all wrong, and Hendry was right, about Bobby Hill. He may still turn out to be a decent player, but I don't think there's any way he's going to live up to the hype he received as a minor-leaguer. If that turns out to be the case, then kudos to Hendry for turning him into Aramis Ramirez, who has a very high ceiling and not a very big contract. The rest of the guys that were acquired were a mix of good (Simon), bad (Hernandez), and ugly (Womack), with the Sausage King of Chicago alternately thrilling and frustrating us as he swung at every pitch he saw. Luckily for the Cubs, he hit a lot of them, but I wouldn't bank on that happening again.
I have a theory that Hendry is learning Dusty's strengths and weaknesses and filling up the roster in such a way that accentuates the former and minimizes the latter. Dusty won't play young kids, so it's up to Hendry to find the right kind of veterans so that when Dusty reaches for them, they don't hurt the team. The Choi-for-Lee trade is a perfect example of that.
WTNY: 6. The bench was a big problem for the Cubs in 2003, as Lenny Harris and Troy O'Leary got way too many at-bats. Any ideas of how to use those slots next year?
TCR: I have lots of ideas, but none of them are going to come to fruition. What we're going to see, I think, is the same result with a different cast. Baker has never used his bench well, and unless Hendry convinces people like Kenny Lofton or Jose Cruz to accept bench roles, we're going to see more Harris/O'Leary types. Ideally, I'd like to see those spots filled with cheap guys out of the Cubs system, like Dave Kelton and Phil Hiatt, but I think we're much more likely to see Tom Goodwin or Chris Singleton. I guess because they're Proven Veterans, they're the kind of guys Dusty is comfortable with.
WTNY: 7. Give readers an idea of the Cubs farm system, and the Major League ready youngsters, like Wellemeyer, Mitre, and Juan Cruz.
TCR: I'd say it's good on the pitching side and weak-to-average on the hitting side. I'm not an expert on minor-league players -- for that info, I go to BaseballAmerica.com, TheProspectReport.com, and guys like Bryan Stroh. He put up a Cubs Top 30 list last year and I'm hoping to have this year's installment on The Cub Reporter within the next few weeks.
The three guys you mention might not actually be in the top 10 Cubs prospects. In fact, according to Baseball America, they aren't. Baseball America says the top 10 are Angel Guzman, Justin Jones, Ryan Harvey, Andy Sisco, Felix Pie, Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko, Brendan Harris, David Kelton, and Jae-Kuk Ryu. It's got to be a nice feeling for Hendry to know that he's got that many potentially good arms in the minors -- some of these guys will definitely be traded away for players who can help the team right now, and it's exciting to think that the Cubs could trade 2 or 3 top-10 pitching prospects and still have 4 or 5 left.
WTNY: 8. Give a step-by-step offseason to-do list for Jim Hendry.
TCR: That's tough. There are so many factors that fans, even ones who pay as much attention as we do, aren't privvy to. It's presumptuous of me to think that I know what options are available to him. I'm much more comfortable examining specific situations and reacting to them, since without all the information the "big picture" I see is incomplete. Forced to make a list, I guess I'd say:
1. Settle the second base situation, either by signing someone or deciding to let it be a Spring Training decision.
WTNY: I'd like to thank Christian Ruzich for his time, and to remind every of the Wait 'Til Next Year Cub-approved acquisitions:
Javy Lopez- C
Have a good weekend, and be sure to check out the Javier Vazquez trade breakdown right below this piece.
Yankees counter Schilling
I hope everyone enjoyed the Cubs Organizational Meeting above, but I wanted to address the Vazquez trade for the weekend as well. Officially, the Yankees sent Montreal 1B Nick Johnson, OF Juan Rivera, and LHP Randy Choate in exchange for their ace. First, here are a few of Javier's 2003 splits:
Overall: 13-12 3.24 198/230.2 241/57
Vazquez was sensational last season, especially during the second half of the season. He pitched better on the road, despite a .333 winning percentage, largely due to the Expos' enemic road offense. Vazquez did see his strikeout rate plummet a bit in the second halh, although his K/BB, BB/9, and H/9 rates all improved. He's a workhorse, similar to Curt Schilling, and it wouldn't suprise me for Vazquez to out pitch Schilling from Boston. As it stands, this is the 2004 New York Yankees starting lineup, assuming Andy Pettite remains a Yankee...
1. Mike Mussina- RHP
Pettite along with one more hitter is basically everything the Yankees have left this offseason, and I expect both to be finished within a week. Kenny Lofton should soon accept a full-time job as the Yankees center fielder, giving the team this lineup:
1. Kenny Lofton- CF- LH
The Yankees will have amazing balance, and should benefit from having Lofton and Jeter at the top, rather than Soriano and Jeter. Luis Castillo was probably the Boss' first choice, but Sheffield and Vazquez were simply higher on the priority list. This team is very compareable to Boston's lineup, if not superior. And the Bronx Bombers' have already completed their 2004 bullpen, which looks like this:
CL- Mariano Rivera
Enough about the Yankees already. For moving so much money, I really like how the Expos did in this deal, adding a lot of offense in Johnson, along with a former #1 prospect and possible replacement for Guerrero in Juan Rivera. Randy Choate may allow the team to non-tender Scott Stewart, becoming the team's second leftie out of the bullpen. First, here are a few numbers of the three:
Choate in 54 AAA appearances: 3-5 3.91 75/71.1 56/24
Johnson has already become a fantastic hitter, and his power numbers may have been higher if not for injury. He has no real platoon split, and I would ignore his slightly lesser road and post-break numebrs. He is also a former top prospect of the Yankees, and should immedietly become the Expos' clean-up hitter, assuming Vladimir Guerrero leaves the team.
Rivera had a somewhat disappointing seson, although he hit well in AAA. He rakes left-handed pitchers well, and hopefully he'll adjust from not playing in Yankee Stadium anymore. Rivera will battle with Terrmel Sledge for the right-field spot, although Sledge is also competing for CF with Endy Chavez. Brad Wilkerson is in left, and should be primed for a big 2004. The infield will contain Johnson, Jose Vidro, and Orlando Cabrera, and the third base and catching positions are still up in the air.
Losing Guerrero and Vazquez gives Omar Minaya a little economic wiggle room, as he will be able to keep the majority of the other players from that 2003 team. Don't be suprised to see El Duque, Tomo Ohka, and Scott Stewart non-tendered, although that may be it. This Expos team will finish fourth next season, although their future just got brighter with Johnson and Rivera. I would offer Jose Vidro a long-term deal now, as he has suddenly become the team's best player.
That's it for the weekend, I'll be back Monday, during which we should have some big news to talk about. Until then, keep your eye on Pudge Rodriguez and the Marlins.
Phils Philling Roster
I expect the Ruzich Meeting to be up tomorrow now, so today I thought I'd put my two sense into every transaction I could get my hands on. I got a lot of mixed response from the Cubs post yesterday, which is always appreciated.
In their quest to ensure themselves the 2004 NL East crown, the Phillies traded for Eric Milton yesterday, officially ending their quest for Kevin Millwood. Here's a look at some Milton splits:
Milton 2003: 1-0 2.65 15/17 7/1
Eric had limited time in 2003, so I thought it would be more valubale to show some 3-year numbers. Milton preferred the Metrodome, but did pretty well in the Majors last season. I wouldn't be suprised to see him match 3-year ERA mark of 4.47ERA with the Phillies, which would definitely put him fourth in the rotation. One interesting Spring Training battle will be that between Amaury Telemaco and Ryan Madson for the fifth spot. This was purely a salary dump for the Twins, as they only got Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, and a future minor leaguer in the deal. Here are stats for Silva and Pinto...
Silva: 4.43 92/87.1 48/37
Punto MLB: .217/.273/.272
Silva should be used primarily against right-handers, but I think he could still be pretty useful as a reliever. He's not a bad middle reliever, and the Metrodome is quite similar to what Veterans Stadium provided him. I'm worried his second half numbers might be indicative of 2004, but at least Jesse Crain will be ready by then. Punto sucks, but the team may let him replace the Denny Hocking officially worthless bench spot. If not, he'll be a regular in Rochester.
The Twins now have a lot more money to spend this offseason, and it will go at Shannon Stewart, Eddie Guardado, and one veteran starter. Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz are both rumored to be on the trade block, and I think the Braves would make a perfect fit for them. Minnesota could easily land their fifth starter from the Braves, along with some more depth for the farm system. With Stewart I like their lineup, and with Guardado I would like their bullpen. Romero should bounce back next season, and Nathan was one of the best relievers in baseball against right-handers. We'll see...
Meanwhile, the team that took the Twins out of the playoffs, the Bronx Bombers, continue to strengthen their bullpen. After adding Tom Gordon earlier in the week, Paul Quantrill and Felix Heredia were both signed yesterday. Here's a look at that pair:
Quantrill: 1.75 61/77.1 44/15
Heredia: 2.69 74/87 45/33
I like Quantrill a lot, and I expect his ERA to be in the 2.50 range next season. Steve Karsay really will be eased back into relieving, as Gordon and Quantrill take over in set-up and right-handed relief roles. I hate Heredia, and I truely hope that move blows up in their faces. My guess is in 2005 that Steinbrenner will really regret carrying lefties Chris Hammond and Felix Heredia on his roster. Both should have ERAs in the 4.00s next season. Dollars towards the 2005 team keep getting racked up, and they'll already have about $120M spent there when Sheffield signs. Jay Jaffe at the Futility Infielder has kept watch of this, and I frequently check his page for that info. I also hear the Yanks are close to signing Kenny Lofton in the outfield, which would probably trigger a Javier Vazquez deal when the Winter Meetings role around.
Onto lesser important moves, Brian Sabean re-signed a couple of free agent Giants before the December 7 arbitration deadline, keeping Dustin Hermanson and Jeffrey Hammonds for under one million. Hermanson will battle for a rotation slot with Kevin Correia, and Hammonds will likely be kept in a 4th OF role. Both showed some life in San Fran, as evident by these stats:
Hermanson: 3-3 4.06 70/68.2 39/24
What Sabean does the rest of the offseason is one of the more interesting cases to watch, as this team will need a 1B, SS, and RF at different points. I still think Greg Maddux ends up here, although I really have no evidence off which I base that. Yesterday I touched on a Rockies trade in which they dealt Juan Uribe for Aaron Miles, and I wanted to expand today, first with some stats:
Uribe Career: .258/.298/.408
2003 Miles AAA: .304/.351/.445
Uribe's career consists of about 1150 AB, or two full seasons. Ken Williams should learn Allan Baird's lesson not to acquire former Rockie middle infielders, and Uribe looks like a poor man's Neifi Perez. Ouch. If the White Sox fully intend to make him their shortstop next season, I will begin a countdown until Willie Harris moves Valentin back to short. I mean, god, Uribe's terrible.
But, maybe I'm slanted on this deal, as I love Aaron Miles. His last two minor league seasons have been fantastic. He's hit well over .300, smacked more than 30 doubles, 10 home runs, and walked 40 times. He runs the bases with instincts, and plays pretty good defense. I love the thought of what Coors Field may bring him, especially in his forthcoming peak seasons. If Miles gets the second base job in Colorado, he will be a nice $1 pick in fantasy leagues, a.k.a. a good last round choice.
Onto a few rumors...
- Kevin Brown will not end up a Yankee unless the Bombers add to that package. Nick Johnson and Jeff Weaver might get the deal done, and then I would really support the trade for Los Angeles. The team doesn't realize what Dodger Stadium can do for pitchers, and Weaver would immedietly become a breakout candidate. Johnson would hit a lot of doubles in Los Angeles, and provide some cheap, much needed offense for the team. They will not acquire Carlos Beltran, contrary to many rumors flying around the Internet. There's no fit for these two teams, and the Royals really are going to keep Beltran.
- Speaking of Kansas City, Peter Gammons reports the team could sign Raul Mondesi and Benito Santiago as early as today or next Monday. Mondesi would probably play right, moving Aaron Guiel to left field. Both are iffy additions, but after the Twins and White Sox decreases, the Royals may become the '04 favorite.
- Terry Francona will be named Red Sox manager this week, although that won't come as a suprise to many Red Sox fans. The real question floating Yawkey Way is if Keith Foulke will be joining his 2003 bench coach in Beantown. I'm guessing no, after which I'll make fun of Billy Beane for paying a closer.
- The only other story I advocate following this weekend is Pudge Rodriguez, as we know by Sunday whether or not he remains a Marlin. I would think yes, and the team will probably sign a two-year, $16M deal with him this weekend. That's going to be a pretty solid team, but the Phillies are still the favorites.
Check back tomorrow for the Cubs Meeting, and I'll be spending the day in the doctor's office. Ugh...
Bleeding Cubbie Blue
To all those that don't know...I'm a Cubs fan. There were days when I tried to keep this away from readers, when I swore I would keep a professional stance on my writing. But, I've discovered the blogging world is meant for being personal, so I've admitted my allegiance to Cubbie Blue. I'll have the great Christian Ruzich in for an Organizational Meeting as early as tomorrow, but I wanted to write my piece on the Cubs first. Enjoy.
While the pain of the Cubs losses still burns in the hearts of Cubs fans, Jim Hendry has moved on, already optimistic about next season. Hendry proved during the 2003 season he would be willing to acquire any player at any time to improve this team, shown by the Cubs six midseason acquisitions. Chicago traded for Derrek Lee last week, indicating they are willing to forego their future and go for it in 2004. While many criticized the Cubs for the move, no one can deny their urgency to win. Yesterday, the AP announced the Cubs have signed LaTroy Hawkins to a three-year, $11M deal. This will give Jim Hendry $15M to spend on free agents, which I will discuss in more detail in this article. First, a few of Hawkins' numbers:
Hawkins: 74G 1.86 69H/77.1IP 74K/15BB
Interesting numbers. Hawkins actually had a reverse-platoon split last season, pitching better against left-handers. He has always pitched very well in the Metrodome, so I would be suprised to see his ERA stay under 2.00 this season. But, his numbers after the break were fantastic, despite a K/9 rate that suffered a big drop from the first half. Anyway, here's a look at the rightie/leftie splits of those in the bullpen right now:
Borowski: .204/.272/.243 vs. RH .212/.243/.365 vs. LH
Surprisingly Farnsworth, Remlinger, and Hawkins all showed reverse-platoon splits last season, with Remlinger's being the largest. While his changeup works wonders against right-handers, lefties have an easier time picking it up. Last season's second LOOGY, Mark Guthrie, fared no better against left-handers (.280/.385/.480), which often posed a problem. The team will need a LOOGY able to stabilize left-handers this season, as Dusty Baker is more apt to go LH vs. LH than bringing in Farnsworth. Also, it appears Hawkins will work in the 8th, Remlinger in the 7th, and Farnsworth's role is up in the air. He'll likely stay in one-inning roles, and the Cubs will have a bullpen that doesn't force the starting rotation to pitch so much. The team's other bullpen need appears to be a multi-inning reliever, one that takes out right-handers very well. On to my choices...
Second LOOGY: Mike Myers
Myers will be the less popular of the choices, as he has come off a season with a 5.70ERA. Looking at his career numbers, he tends to bounce back quite often, and also looks like the product of managerial misuse. Myers, a side-armed southpaw, retired lefties well this season (.237/.314/.421), but was horrendous against right-handers (.290/.430/.377). The Cubs bullpen will be deep enough so that Dusty Baker could never allow him to face a right-hander, which should push Myers' ERA down to a more reasonable amount. Also, coming off such a bad season, Myers will be cheap, likely signing for under one million.
Sullivan should be a little more sought after, as he's pitched in at least 59 games in every season since 1997. He was a killer against right-handers last season (.187/.300/.313), and can pitch in every role imaginable. Sullivan is the quintessential middle reliever, so I expect his services to be courted more than Myers. If the Cubs end up paying Scott $2M per season, don't be alarmed, he's worth it.
The bullpen was only a minor concern last season, especially considering the struggles an often-enemic Cubs offense endured. Chicago finished 9th in the NL in runs scored, and that would have been worse if not for the deadline acquisitions of Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. Lee will help, adding another big bat to the lineup, although fans worry the team will be far too right-handed. Let's consider what they have now, leaving second base out of the equation:
D. Miller: .226/.300/.391 vs. RH .248/.333/.321 vs. LH
Well, that's quite the split. When adding cumulatively, the current Cub 7 has a .257 average against right-handers, and they bat .294 against lefties. But I must say Damian Miller and Alex Gonzalez drag that ranking down, and one should be removed from the starting lineup. Miller would make more sense, as Gonzalez provides Gold Glove defense, along with very timely hitting. But, first and foremost, the Cubs need a leadoff hitter.
We've already said that the team lacks a second basemen, and that the team is missing a true leadoff hitter. The best that was on the market, Luis Castillo, signed a three-year lucrative deal with the Marlins yesterday. That leaves little available through free agency, as Todd Walker and Fernando Vina aren't very exciting options. The trade market is the most logical place to find the right player, and many point to either Ray Durham, Jose Vidro, or a pair of Baltimore middle infielders.
Ray Durham and Jose Vidro are both expensive players, each commanding well over $5M next season. Both would be quite expensive through trades, with either Farnsworth or Juan Cruz likely being a necessary part of each deal. But, each has their flaws, which include Durham's non-productivity away from Pac Bell, and Vidro not fitting the role the Cubs need. I feel a very good option can be found in Baltimore, in which the Cubs would pay little monetarily and in trade value, but still find the right player to fill the void. Who is that? Jerry Hairston Jr.
Hairston finished the season with modest numbers (.271/.353/.372), although a broken bone in his right foot raise a lot of "What If" questions. Such as, what if Hairston hadn't gotten injured, and continued on his superb April (.298/.394/.452 9SB)? He's right-handed, although each of the last two seasons has shown a preference for right-handed pitching. He is a very good baserunner, likely good for 40SB if his foot doesn't bother him again. Furthermore, Hairston is the son of a ballplayer, grew up in Chicago's western suburbs, and played ball at Southern Illinois. While Hairston's name may not pop into your head when you think of prototypical leadoff men, for a small, replaceable cost like Dave Kelton and Sergio Mitre, why not give it a try?
If the team takes my advice at second base and to fill out the bullpen, we're looking at about $11M left for Jim Hendry to either add a better 5th starter, another bat, or God's bench. My choice? One more bat. As I showed earlier, Damian Miller was a hazard to our lineup, and Paul Bako (arbitration-eligible) should be non-tendered. The market for 2B is extremely small, as the Twins and A's traded their catchers for teams in need, just to go for players payed at the minimum. Florida will either go with Pudge or Ramon Castro, and the Orioles are much too worried about Vladimir Guerrero than their 2004 catcher. That puts Jim Hendry in the driver's seat, and all available catchers seeing their price decline.
Javy Lopez set the single-season home run record for catchers in 2003, but is likely frustrated by a lack of phone calls. I mean, he just turned 33, and catcher's can't hit into their thirties, right? Well, it's a hard theory to argue, but I propose we test it. Lopez would be a gamble, but with Miller at back-up and millions to spend, it's one Hendry can afford to lose. I mean, Javy didn't quite break down in the second half (.357/.411/.755), did he? And while some will roll their eyes that this is just another right-handed bat, I can fight that. It would be a worry if the Cubs were very susceptible to right-handed pitching, but by bringing in Hairston and Lopez, that strengthens our team...
Lopez vs. RH: .326/.379/.611
Barring even a small letdown, Lopez would be much better against right-handers than Miller, and we would be looking at a group of position players that looks like this:
C- Javy Lopez
That's a very solid lineup, and after throwing in the numbers we would bat an estimated .269 against right-handers, and .303 vs. southpaws. While that's an improvement, it would definitely call for a bench that favors right-handers, and one that is heavy with left-handed bats. I have said keep Damian Miller, and I advocate retaining Ramon Martinez as our main right-handed bat off the bench. But, I pressure Hendry to not give into temptation, and to non-tender Randall Simon if he can't be inserted in the Jerry Hairston deal. Assuming the bench has five members, we would need another versatile infielder, a corner player with a good left-handed bat, and an outfielder capable of all three positions. My choices:
Jeff Vander Wal
Coincidence that I choose three NL Central players? Well, kinda. Vander Wal is a nice fit, as I expect Matt Stairs to sign a lucrative deal to start somewhere else. Vander Wal could be had for a cool million, and he'd be an asset off the bench. He has experience with first, left, and right, and he's left-handed. Last season Vander Wal hit .270/.363/.502 against right-handers, compared to only .158/.256/.211 against southpaws. He has tons of experience pinch hitting, a World Series ring, and he could give Lee and Alou days off when the time calls.
Palmiero played a pretty significant role with the Cardinals last season, appearing in more than 140 games and finishing with 300+ AB. He also has World Series experience with the 2002 Angels, in which he also served as a fourth outfielder. Palmiero isn't particularly fast, but he plays center and right very well, and has a solid arm. He's also left-handed, and has a drastic affinity for right-handers, .290/.358/.378 vs. .182/.224/.200. Palmiero will never supply a lot of power, but he's a good defensive replacement, and won't embarass himself starting for Patterson if needed in April.
Finally, Geoff Blum has reportedly caught the eye of the Cubs, and I will advocate the signing if the dollar figure doesn't get out of hand. With Morgan Ensberg's emergence and Jose Vizcaino's fat paycheck, it's expected the Astros will non-tender Blum, who was platooning at third early in the season. While Blum is a switch-hitter, his .704 OPS vs. right-handers nearly doubles the pathetic .362 mark he posted against lefties. Blum can man the corners, and has experience at second base as well. In conclusion, a bench of Miller, Martinez, Vander Wal, Palmiero, and Blum would appeal to the Cubs' needs, and come very cheap.
In case your counting, that leaves the team 23 players if you give them four in the starting rotation. I've yet to address the 5th starter's slot, as my choice may not be as sexy as others. I also support a 7-man bullpen, so the last two spots will be going to the fifth starter and the long reliever. Juan Cruz is as solid a choice as any for the fith starter slot, considering he's all but dominated AAA, and could be a valuable trade option when Angel Guzman is ready. But, Cruz is not a reliever, as he's given up a HR every 7 innings in relief roles. So I propose Cruz battles for the fifth starter slot, but not the long relief option.
In contrast, I would argue Todd Wellemeyer should be the long reliever, but not the starter. I'm convinced Wellemeyer's two pitches are better suited for the bullpen, and low pressure situations would surely help Larry Rothschild work on his control. Wellemeyer has great stuff, as he broke the 10IP scoreless mark to start his career. But, he finished slowly, letting walks and home runs become a problem. With a good Spring Training I would hand him the long relief role, and groom him with mop up situations. But, who does Cruz and Wellemeyer compete with?
Glendon Rusch. Please, hold your laughter. No, seriously stop, let me explain myself. The Cubs are hoping for a left-hander for the fith spot, as they already are featuring four power right arms. But, spending millions for Rogers, Estes, Hitchcock, or Oliver doesn't make sense. So, why not give Rusch a non-guaranteed, 600k? He was fantastic after the break, going 0-1 with a 3.23ERA. But in that time he only allowed 42H in 39IP, along with 33 strikeouts and nine walks. Rusch did well in the bullpen, finishing with a 2.35ERA in 13 appearances. Three of his last four starts were very good, and he's entering his peak seasons. While it's laughable to pay seven figures for Rusch, why not give him a chance?
OK, meet my 2003-2004 WTNY Cub-advocated acquisitions...
Mike Myers- LHP
God, are there any Cub fans out there not excited about 2004? If so, consider moving to the South Side.
Finally, I wanted to finish my post today with a few notes. The White Sox traded Aaron Miles to the Colorado Rockies for Juan Uribe, in a deal I hate for the White Sox. The team will apparently go with Jose Valentin at second base, and keep Uribe in the starting slot. But Aaron Miles won the 2003 IL Rookie of the Year, and has hit at every level. If the Rockies give this kid a chance, he will reward them.
Also, many Cub fans have pointed our their desire for Kaz Matsui. Aaron Gleeman wrote a column yesterday predicting Matsui's numbers, very similar to the one I wrote November 3. Gleeman's prediction is .275/.325/.445, which is very close to my .295/.325/.445 choice. Anyway, check back for Christian Ruzich this week, and hopefully we'll have some more baseball news to discuss by the end of the week.
Tying Loose Ends
While I've gone to press with a few news items too early recently, much of my reporting was proven true yesterday. Friday, I wrote Luis Castillo would sign with the Marlins, apparently displaying more foresight that I had cared for. While Castillo didn't cross his T's and dot his I's on Friday, ESPN reports a deal has been reached. Florida will pay their Gold Glove second basemen $16M over three years, with a $5.25M option for a fourth season, and a $2M signing bonus. I've often argued for Castillo, citing a five-year streak of solid OBP numbers, along with good speed, and solid defense. Look for Castillo's SB percentage to improve next season, and for the Marlins to ultimately be pleased for locking up their number two hitter.
In Sunday's column, I reported on a possible deal for Richie Sexson that ESPN radio 1000 here in Chicago was reporting. The trade had the Diamondbacks sending Craig Counsell, Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay, and Chris Capuano in exchange for Sexson of the Brewers. Doug Melvin denied that rumor, and a subsequent rumor yesterday said the deal was Counsell, Overbay, and Jorge De La Rosa. But yesterday the deal was officially announced, with the Diamondbacks sending over six players. Counsell, Spivey, Overbay, Capuano, De La Rosa, and Chad Moeller are all Brewers, and the Diamondbacks landed Sexson, Shane Nance, and a future minor leaguer. Doug Melvin did very well, possibly landing half of his position players for next season, along with 40% of a rotation. There's a good chance the team will trade Spivey, but that will only yield more quantity for a team in desperate need of it.
Finally, yesterday I passed on the Peter Gammons report that the Yankees had signed Gary Sheffield for three seasons, and Flash Gordon for two. Parties from the Sheffield camp are denying the signing is finalized, although you won't find many people who think Sheffield won't be in pinstripes next season. The deal may not be announced today, tomorrow, or next week, but Lee Sinins summed it up best by saying, "expect the deal to be announced whenever George Steinbrenner decides it's the right time to do so."
On a seperate note, the Gordon deal looks to be completed, as Flash passed a physical Monday morning. The terms will in fact be $7.25M over two years, setting the market for set-up men and powerful right-handed relievers. Brian Cashman is also said to be close to landing former Dodger middle reliever Paul Quantill to a two-year, $6M deal, which would end the need for right-handers in the bullpen. Quantrill was a force last season, and the team could really baby Steve Karsay back into his former self this way. Bret Prinz, your chance of pitching in New York has just decreased substantially.
P.S. Does anyone find it hilarious the Yankees are going to sign Sheffield and Gordon, the two players the Tampa Bay Devil Rays announced they had their eyes on? It's a conspiracy...
While I'm on the topic of the AL East, a reader pointed out last week that I failed to post AL East OPS reports, which was completely ignorant of me, but I guess you can't accuse me of East Coast bias, huh? So, without further adeiu, here's the OPS reports of all East players, with three years of experience...
New York Yankees
Jorge Posada- 838, 838, 923
Boston Red Sox
Jason Varitek- 860, 724, 863
Toronto Blue Jays
Jerry Hairston Jr.- 649, 705, 725- Three up
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Toby Hall- 768, 669, 675
OK, so I've now gone through every division. Here are all the players, grouped by position, to show positive indicators, or improvements in OPS from 2001-2003 (those in italics aren't important because they lack fantasy value):
Brandon Inge- C- Tigers
Carlos Delgado- 1B- Blue Jays
Luis Castillo- 2B- Marlins
Rafael Furcal- SS- Braves
Mike Lowell- 3B- Marlins
Garret Anderson- OF- Angels
And now for a list of those players on a decline (those in bold are exempt for certain reasons)...
Paul Lo Duca- C- Dodgers
Jeff Bagwell- 1B- Astros
Robbie Alomar- 2B- Free Agent
Royce Clayton- SS- Free Agent
Bobby Abreu- OF- Phillies
I'm going to refer back to that list often during the offseason, and I will definitely have a copy available during my fantasy draft. It's the little things that win leagues, like realizing that in 2004, Brad Wilkerson is a better draft choice that Bernie Williams.
Finally, let me also state that Cris Carpenter has signed a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The base of the contract is only about $500,000, with about 300k in incentives. While choosing the next Esteban Loaiza isn't something to waste a lot of time thinking about, Carpenter's a nice bet. He's always had the pitches, but has also always had a glass arm.
I'm working on a new blog project on the side right now, and I'm hoping it will debut by the end of this week. Also, the Christian Ruzich organizational meeting should be either Wednesday or Thursday's column. The next five days are very important as baseball, since December 7 is the day teams can offer arbitration to free agents. One important situation to look for is Ivan Rodriguez and the Marlins, who are contractually not allowed to offer Pudge arbitration. Well, keep your eyes and ears open folks...
So while I misreported Luis Castillo signing with the Marlins on Friday, it turns out the ESPN radio report I heard on Sunday was false as well. Instead of Criag Counsell, Lyle Overbay, Junior Spivey and Chris Capuano, ESPN.com writes the trade will not include Spivey and Capuano, but rather Jorge De La Rosa, whom the D-Backs got for Schilling.
If this is true, I like this deal a lot less for the Brewers. I thought Spivey would be a nice way to keep Rickie Weeks in the minors for the first few months, and then Doug Melvin could deal him at the deadline. And while De La Rosa is easily the better pitching prospect compared to Capuano, I'm not convinced there's that kind of difference. This means Bill Hall will battle Weeks for the second base job in Spring Training, with Hall likely winning the battle for about 45 games.
Another big signing has caught my interest, and I'd like to begin with a statistical comparison:
Player A: .330/.419/.604 39HR 132RBI 126R 18SB
To me, despite the fact that Player B has an edge in home runs, the fact that Player A has advantages in every other category would make me think A is the more valuable player. Funny, because A is Gary Sheffield, and B is the 2003 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez. The New York Yankees will sign Gary Sheffield to a three-year contract between $36-38M this week, according to ESPN and Peter Gammons. The move will give the Yankees yet another bat, and give Mr. Rodriguez some company.
Here's a look at Sheffield's splits from last season:
Vs. RH: .327/.418/.585 Vs. LH: .341/.450/.675
Well, those look to be very promising numbers. Sheffield prefers left-handers, although he hits right-handers as well as anyone in the American League. He was better away from Turner Field last season, which is generally referred to as a pitcher's park. Yankee Stadium isn't, and those should improve Sheff's numbers as well. Furthermore, Sheffield's power numbers increased after the break last season, another key indicator. While Steinbrenner may not be finished with his offense, this is currently what the Yankees are sporting:
C- Jorge Posada- S
That's great balance, and definitely a World Championship-type lineup. It's very possible the Yankees sign a second basemen, move Soriano to center, Williams to DH, Giambi to first, and trade Johnson in a deal for Javier Vazquez. The team also will bolster their bullpen this week, as Peter Gammons reports the team has agreeed to sign Tom Gordon for two years, and $7M.
A look at Gordon's numbers (ERA, H/IP, K/BB):
Gordon: 3.16 57/74 91/31
Very interesting signing. Gordon is a fantastic reliever, deadly to right-handers, and pitches well against left-handers. He seemed to heavily prefer Comiskey Park last season, although I doubt Yankee Stadium will provide a lot of troubles. He was a better pitched after the break, although Gordon's strikeout numbers were better in the first half. As a set-up man to Rivera, Gordon is best in the business, and he'll take off a lot of pressure Steve Karsay would have shouldered returning from injury. $3.5M is a very good price, and Gordon was obviously the Yankees first choice before LaTroy Hawkins, whose market diminished to the Cubs.
Finally, here's another interesting statistical comparison, of another player who was recently acquired:
Player C: .230BAA 1.05WHIP 2.95ERA 10.39 K/9
C is Schilling, and D is AL Cy Young Roy Halladay. I'm not saying Schilling and Sheffield will take the AL awards by storm next season, just proving the importance of the two moves these rivals have made during the last week. It's a short post today, but if you missed what I wrote on Sunday, check that out. Also, look forward to a Cubs Organization Meeting with Christian Ruzich this week, along with more rumors and analysis. God, I can't Wait 'Til Next Year!