The Morning After
There are more questions than answers on the morning after Frank and Jamie McCourt fired Paul DePodesta. (Note that I didn't say the Dodgers. The Dodgers didn't fire DePodesta, the McCourts did. Besides, aren't the McCourts the brand and the Dodgers the product?)
Here are 32 questions -- 32 seems like a good number when discussing the Dodgers -- that are on my mind:
1. Why did McCourt hire DePodesta in the first place?
2. Why did he give him a five-year deal and then fire him in less than two years?
3. Did he hire him because Moneyball was in?
4. With the White Sox the new World Series champs, is Moneyball now out and Smartball--or whatever the hell you call the newest, latest, and greatest way to win--in? Did that influence the McCourts?
5. Why wasn't leadership, now a "very important characteristic" in the search for the new GM, not valued 20 months ago when DePo was hired?
6. Ditto for being a "good communicator" and finding "someone with the experience to do the job?"
7. Why do executives go a complete 180 when they hire a replacement for the guy who failed previously?
8. If experience is so important, why do the McCourts think they know how to run a baseball team?
9. Why don't the standards they hold to others apply to themselves?
10. Just why is Jamie McCourt Vice Chairman and President?
11. Other than being married to Frank, what are her qualifications?
12. Who else interviewed for that job?
13. Was Drew McCourt really 23 years old when he was appointed Director of Marketing last April?
14. When did the Dodgers become Sly and the Family Stone?
15. If leadership, being a good communicator, someone with experience, and having a "keen eye for baseball talent" are so important, why didn't McCourt hire Pat Gillick rather than DePodesta?
16. What would Gillick bring to the table today that he didn't back when he interviewed for the same position in 2004?
17. If McCourt "wants Dodgers here," then how does Gillick fit into that goal?
18. What makes Bobby Valentine such a great choice?
19. Would Gillick or whoever becomes the new GM truly pick the next manager or will there be an understanding that Valentine is the manager in waiting?
20. Has anyone pointed out that it took Valentine more games (1,704) to reach the playoffs (in 1999 with the Mets) than any other manager since divisional play began in 1969?
21. If Tommy Lasorda is so fond of Valentine, why didn't he hire him as one of his coaches after Bobby retired in 1979 and before he became the manager of the Texas Rangers in 1985?
22. If Lasorda's comment that Orel Hershiser's "not qualified" for the GM position is correct "because he has never done it," then would any of us have ever gotten a promotion to a new position? Based on that logic, wouldn't we all still be cavemen?
23. Why would a "special advisor" be so widely quoted in the press? Aren't such confidantes supposed to be more behind the scenes types?
24. Has Lasorda ever done anything behind the scenes, other than snipe about guys like DePodesta, Fred Claire, and Bill Russell?
25. How did the Dodgers perform the year Lasorda was named special advisor?
26. Is he not to blame for the Dodgers' problems this year or is that Al Campanis' fault, too?
27. Has there ever been anyone who clamored the spotlight more than Tommy?
28. As long as Lasorda is in a position of power, why would anyone other than one of his cronies or a McCourt family member want to become the next GM or manager?
29. If McCourt is so fond of staying the course, why did he let DePodesta go?
30. When did that course begin? In 1955 when the Dodgers won their first championship? In 1958 when they moved to Los Angeles? In 1977 when Lasorda became manager? In 2004 when McCourt bought the team and hired DePodesta?
31. Is baseball the only business in the world in which a degree from Harvard is a negative?
32. Wasn't the late and great Branch Rickey the forefather of the use of baseball statistics in player evaluation?
Please help. I need to know the answers to all of the above questions.
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Sunday evening update: I highly recommend to all readers of Baseball Analysts that you head over to Dodger Thoughts, if you haven't already, and check out one of Jon Weisman's masterpieces (The Dodger Tradition).
As the (Dodgers) World Turns...
According to the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News, Frank McCourt is expected to fire Paul DePodesta this weekend.
This is a(nother) sad day for the Dodgers. The organization has been in disarray since FOX purchased the franchise from the O'Malley family.
The McCourts don't know what they're doing. Frank and Jamie own the team so I guess they can do anything they want. However, if the McCourts had a boss, they would have been fired for incompetency long before Jim Tracy and DePodesta.
DePodesta was never given a fair shake to prove his worth. He was at the helm for less than two years and only had one off-season to make trades and sign free agents. DePodesta inherited Tracy and was essentially forced to give him a new contract after the Dodgers won the NL West in 2004.
The Dodgers and Tracy parted ways after the 2005 season and DePodesta was several weeks into his search for the next manager. Six candidates had been pared to three finalists (Terry Collins, Orel Hershiser, and Alan Trammell) as of Friday.
When Hershiser interviewed for the job, he met with McCourt and Tommy Lasorda and not DePodesta. Let's label that Exhibit One that DePodesta was on shaky grounds. To be fair, DePodesta and Hershiser had a lengthy conversation on the telephone prior to the so-called interview. One could argue that Lasorda's title (special advisor to the chairman) and past relationship with Hershiser dictated that he sit in on the meeting, but it made no sense to exclude DePodesta. None.
A conference call DePodesta had scheduled with reporters to discuss the managerial search was canceled on Friday. We'll call that Exhibit Two.
Collins, thought by many to be the leading candidate, was scheduled to meet with McCourt on Friday night but their dinner was postponed to sometime next week because "something came up" according to the former Astros and Angels manager who currently is the player development director for the Dodgers. Can you say Exhibit Three?
Neither McCourt nor DePodesta would comment for the Steve Henson and Tim Brown article that appeared in this morning's Times. However, "Dodger spokeswoman Camille Johnston said she could not confirm that DePodesta, who has three years remaining on his contract, would be fired." That was the proverbial kiss of death and Exhibit Four. I found it ironic that her name was mentioned. Normally, such sources are anonymous. Furthermore, it doesn't take a psychologist to read between the lines here. Note that Johnston failed to say DePodesta would NOT be fired.
Suffice it to say, if and when McCourt and Collins meet again, it will not be about the Dodgers managerial vacancy. Collins has ZERO chance of getting the job if DePodesta is fired as expected. McCourt and the new GM will be forced to go in a different direction. Hey, it's human nature. Anybody who was labeled as a guy DePo favored will be nixed, no matter their qualifications or merits. Collins, in fact, will be lucky to keep his job in the front office because the next GM might want to start his reign free of any leftovers from the previous regime.
The timing is such that I can't help but think the McCourts pulled the plug on DePodesta because they decided to go in a completely different direction as far as hiring the next field boss. This is nothing more than conjecture on my part, but I think Lasorda has finally convinced Frank and Jamie that Bobby Valentine is the right man for the job. If Valentine is hired, DePodesta's firing will have Tommy Lasorda's fingerprints all over it.
Valentine is not only Lasorda's all-time favorite, but he is "saleable" to the fans and the Los Angeles media. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 1968, was managed by Lasorda in the minors, and played parts of three seasons with the big league club before being traded to the then California Angels in November 1972. Valentine can also be sold as a winner, given that his Chiba Lotte Marines just won the Japan Series. Collins, on the other hand, was fired by the Angels in 1999, and the local press has generally been critical of his candidacy from day one.
Will McCourt hire a manager before a general manager? If he does, it will be a mistake as well as a hypocritical move. When Tracy was fired, McCourt said "The relationship between a general manager and a manager is critical for the long-term success of a franchise. Given this, I fully support Paul DePodesta in his decision to make a change." Hmmm.
Look for Hershiser to get the GM job and Valentine to be the next manager. Orel thought he was interviewing to work in the dugout when, in fact, he was really under consideration to become DePodesta's replacement. I believe McCourt and Hershisher probably have an "orel" agreement already and Valentine's Day will be celebrated in November rather than February.
When O'Malley sold, I feared the team I grew up rooting for was no longer going to be my Dad's Dodgers anymore. Although the return of some traditional Dodger blood to the GM and manager posts might seem like a good idea to some diehards, I won't celebrate until the McCourts return to Boston.
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Check Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts and Rob McMillin's 6-4-2 for additional commentary.
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3:00 p.m. PST update: It's official.
Excerpts from an article by Ken Peters of the Associated Press:
LOS ANGELES - Paul DePodesta was fired as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.
Team owner Frank McCourt cited the team's lack of success as the reason DePodesta was let go.
"Our high expectations were not met," McCourt said.
"I met with Paul DePodesta this morning and let him know that the Los Angeles Dodgers were moving on," McCourt said at the afternoon news conference at Dodger Stadium. "I thanked him for his contributions."
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Comment: Too bad the McCourts aren't the ones moving on.
Can Baserunning Be the New Moneyball Approach?
Running the bases has almost always been seen as a side-dish. Even in the Bitgod (Back In The Good Old Days) view, a player who was in the 99+ percentile for baserunning had to have at least one more tool to get to the majors. A fellow like The Panamanian Express was only on the team because the owner, not the manager, insisted. BTW: I think "¿Who is The Panamanian Express?" is the question to the following Jeopardy answer: One of only two players in ML history with a season's worth of games to have created more outs than he had plate appearances.
The knowledge revealed by Sabermetric analysis, combined with the efflorescence of offense since the leagues juiced the ball in 1994, has relentlessly pushed the running game further into the background year-by-year, both for pragmatic reasons and for religious ones.
But this year, there's been a pick-up in interest about baserunning that transcends the easily measurable component of it (stealing). Two successful teams, the Los Angeles Angels of The O.C. and, to a lesser degree, the Chicago White Sox, have declared that part of their success is the ability to squeeze extra bases out of singles and doubles by taking the extra base. After interviewing Mike Scioscia, I wrote a couple of entries at my Management by Baseball weblog, here and here that talk primarily about hitting with runners in scoring position, but some about taking the extra base, as well (explaining how the two are inextricably linked in the Angel system's theory).
¿So what about taking the extra base? What can we learn, what do we know, what can we measure meaningfully?
I have a collection of 2005-through-August numbers from which I'll deliver some findings. The numbers are not as definitive, nor as granular, as the excellent opus Dan Fox of Dan Agonistes' blog has produced. Fox has some great work on his own blog, and a more recent three-part series at The Hardball Times that starts with this one. Fox suggested his numbers didn't match up well with what Scioscia talked about in my interview, and mine don't either. We both think the Angels do some slicing-and-dicing and are analyzing a sub-set of our data.
I don't intend this to usurp or compete with Fox' fine stuff. He has already analyzed what the numbers can deliver in terms of runs and win potential. Consider this more pattern-recognition, looking at the patterns that might provide more insight, a complement to his work, some brain candy delivered to your door to raise questions we should think about answering. I believe the utility of the math is ultimately going to stop short of what we want to know because there are too many environmental variables: individual park factors, outfielders' arms, game situation, base-out status, who the other runners on might be and team strategic theory, to name a few. But just because the math only gets us part of the way there doesn't mean it isn't juicy and valuable. And it doesn't mean we should stop asking questions and looking for answers.
In that spirit, let's set up the workbench with some numbers. These are from the 2005 through the end of August, a fair sample. First, Major League frequencies of opportunities, success and failure in three situations: 1st-to-3rd on a single, 2nd-to-Home on a single, and 1st-to-Home on a double.
Extra Base 1st-3rd 1st-3rd 1st-3rd 1st-3rd
Opps. Opps. Success % Success Out tryin'
12247 6203 1949 31% 60
Runners try for third on a single about a third of the time, and are only caught once for every thirty-two times they try.
2nd-Home 2nd-Home 2nd-Home 2nd-Home
Opps. Success % Success Out tryin'
3846 2590 67% 129
A lot higher frequency of attempts on 2nd-to-Home (clearly longer throws for the LF and CF), and runners get gunned down at a much higher rate (about half again as frequently), though still not very often.
1st-Home 1st-Home 1st-Home 1st-Home
Opps. Success % Success Out tryin'
1672 763 46% 62
The benefit/cost ratio of already-safe-at-third versus taking a chance on being out at home is dampening attempts. The failure rate goes up sharply again (out about two-thirds more frequently than 2nd-to-home and about two-and-a-half times more frequently than 1st-to-3rd), yet still only 7.5% of the attempts.
DISCUSSION TOPICS: ¿Are outfielders' arms so lackluster, is station-to-station baseball so popular now as a result of higher run production, have teams equipped with analytical systems been able to optimize who goes when?
Ron Fairly suggested to me (and I tend to agree) that the throwing "tool" isn't accentuated much in the minors or bigs. That would make sense, because if you are a one-tool player, it's the least likely to get you a career outside of pitching, and of any two-tool combo you could Lego together, it's the least advantageous second tool, too. So, he asserts, outfielders are more likely to throw to the cut-off man than attempt the assist. I believe there were more good outfield arms displayed during games in the 1965-1993 period, and I'm not a Bitgod, though we're all capable of little Bitgoddities, so it could be selective memory on my part. But if I was a manager, my logical response to less frequent throwing to the target base would be to ratchet up, in context of course, the frequency of attempts until defenses started to respond. ¿Would you do that?
Some Team Totals
Here's the MLB numbers restated on one crowded line, with a mean average team line following:
1-3 1-3 1-3 1-3 | 2-H 2-H 2-H 2-H | 1-H 1-H 1-H 1-H
opps safe safe out | opps safe safe out | opps safe safe out
MLB 6203 1949 31% 60 | 3846 2590 67% 129 | 2198 1010 46% 74
Mean 207 65 31% 2 | 128 86 67% 4 | 73 34 46% 2
Let's run some individual team totals against that Mean team.
1-3 1-3 1-3 1-3 | 2-H 2-H 2-H 2-H | 1-H 1-H 1-H 1-H
opps safe safe out | opps safe safe out | opps safe safe out
Mean 207 65 31% 2 | 128 86 67% 4 | 73 34 46% 2
LAA 228 75 33% 3 | 153 100 65% 5 | 62 33 53% 2
CWS 200 72 37% 1 | 114 85 75% 7 | 61 32 53% 4
HOU 160 55 34% 1 | 120 69 58% 5 | 77 35 45% 5
SEA 142 39 27% 1 | 106 73 69% 1 | 65 38 58% 2
NYM 188 65 35% 2 | 95 66 69% 0 | 57 24 42% 2
Keep in mind as Dan Fox already pointed out that these numbers are very context-sensitive (park effects, roster abilities, team strategies, coaching decisions). Seattle has a lot fewer opportunities than average, but they weren't experiencing many baserunners-on situations, and the Astros had about 9% fewer at-bats with runners on-base than the NL average. Compared to the ML average, the Angels have more opportunities, convert at about the same rate for higher gross yield and are thrown out at about the same rate. So they're not better quality, they are higher-input with higher-output and the same quality. Intuitively, one would assume that as you drive up quantity, your added increment would be lower-quality opportunities. That is, everyone is already sending Chone Figgins or Charles Gipson against Jeremy Reed or Judi Dench, so incremental chances would likely come with less-skilled runners or more-skilled outfielders. ¿What do you think?
There's a universal Truth, known to many as Angus' Eleventh Law, that whatever asset becomes debunked as overvalued will become undervalued before it finds its homeostatic set point. If that's in operation here, it may mean that there's a little edge in aggressive baserunning "the market" of MLB teams currently undervalues and, therefore, makes it some opportunity for others willing to pursue it. And if opponents aren't used to seeing such naked aggression, until they do, their immune response will be somewhat impaired. It may be that the alterations teams make to the Scamperball approach disadvantage them in minor ways we can't track through isolating baserunning: perhaps pitcher or infielder concentration, perhaps fielder positioning, or other things. ¿What do you think?
Some Individuals' Totals
Here are some individual players' numbers we can chew on. I consolidate all three situations (1-to-3, 2-to-Home and 1-to-Home) because breaking up individuals' segmented opportunities into three very small piles of data means a single additional opportunity or out radically changes the outcome. The ML average was 34% of opportunities converted into safe advances. Here are the baserunners who had the highest number of opportunities:
Opps Safe Safe Out
Johnny Damon Bos 66 38 58% 1
Manny Ramirez Bos 63 21 33% 1
Bobby Abreu Phi 63 32 51% 2
Derrek Lee ChC 61 31 51% 1
Brian Giles SD 61 28 46% 1
Miguel Tejada Bal 59 31 53% 1
Derek Jeter NYY 59 27 46% 2
Alex Rodriguez NYY 59 25 42% 2
Miguel Cabrera Fla 58 20 34% 0
Jason Bay Pit 58 32 55% 0
Ichiro Suzuki Sea 58 27 47% 2
Mark Teixeira Tex 57 30 53% 1
What earns you a place on the list is a (a) high OBP after subtracting homers and, concurrently, (b) players coming up after you who are likely to hit singles and doubles. Very, very context-sensitive, and one has to think that Damon and Ramirez are the poster-kids for this particular Jimmy Fund. There's a decent spread of high- and normal success percentage runners in this table. There is no bell curve distribution for percentage attempted (no surprise...there's almost nothing in nature that manifests as a bell curve outside the minds of the early-20th century researchers who invented the bell curve). The 90th percentile rank for safe% is 60% and the 10th percentile rank for safe is 29%.
Here are the top runners by percentage of opportunities converted into safe advances (minimum 25 opportunities).
Opps Safe Safe Out
Figgins LAA 50 34 68% 3
Miles Col 25 17 68% 0
Hardy Mil 25 17 68% 0
Sullivan Col 28 19 68% 1
Hairston ChC 31 21 68% 0
A Boone Cle 43 29 67% 2
Beltran NYM 45 30 67% 1
Barmes Col 30 20 67% 0
Crisp Cle 44 29 66% 0
Podsednik CWS 32 21 66% 0
Not too many catchers or over 40s on this list. Two words that should strike fear into right-fielders and recreational hoops players everywhere: Aaron Boone.
Boone looks as out of place on this list as Ted Nugent would at a Friends meeting. Here are the trailers by percentage of opportunities coverted into safe advances. The local commuter trains (minimum 25 opportunities):
Opps Safe Safe Out
Ortiz Bos 49 6 12% 1
B Molina LAA 32 4 13% 0
Berkman Hou 30 4 13% 2
Thome Phi 33 5 15% 3
T Martinez NYY 25 4 16% 2
Ward Pit 36 7 19% 2
Zaun Tor 45 9 20% 0
V Martinez Cle 44 9 20% 1
Too many catchers on this list. What ever happened to speedburners like Choo-Choo Coleman? I'll nominate Jim Thome as the least useful baserunner with his low percentage and extra outs. Who would you nominate?
There are a lot of questions to be answered. I haven't begun to ask them all. I ask you to view this as a first cut at a foundation for discussion. Of things we might find out based on the data we have access to, what are the most important ones we can discover; ergo, what are the next logical questions?
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Jeff Angus is a management consultant specializing in knowledge management and change management, and the stats columnist for The Seattle Times during the baseball season. He writes the Management by Baseball weblog. His current book is "Management by Baseball -- A Pocket Reader," and he has a book coming out in May from HarperCollins, called Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Field.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
From World to Farm
In case you forgot, neither the Red Sox or Yankees are in the World Series. In fact, neither team in the Fall Classic even possesses a large payroll. Because of this, much of the foundation for Houston and Chicago is the farm system. The White Sox great rotation is made of two Sox farmhands (Buerhle and Garland) as well as another that is a product of Sox prospects (Freddy Garcia). For Houston, look no further than Lance Berkman, Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for proof that they value the minors.
Today, I want to look at the farm systems of the Astros and the White Sox. Both, coincidentally, have been ranked tops in the Majors by Baseball America within the last ten years. However, the two came into rough times in about 2002-2003, in which the top prospects were Carlos Hernandez, John Buck and Joe Borchard. This season was a good one for both farm systems, one in which multiple top prospects identified themselves on both clubs.
First, I'd like to rehash the influence that rookies had on the club this season. During the postseason, we have seen strong contributions from rookies. For the White Sox, Bobby Jenks has become a household name, pitching in each game of the World Series, and dramatically closing out the first. On the other side, Phil Garner has received much help this October from Willy Taveras, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls and Wandy Rodriguez. Brandon McCarthy has watched from the Chicago dugout as well, while the Astros also have sparingly used Eric Bruntlett and Ezequiel Astacio. While both teams have received quite a bit from rookies, sheer quantity has to give the Astros the edge here.
Interestingly enough, two of the top prospects from each of these teams are of a similar mold. For purposes of this farm system comparison, let's first compare/contrast these two, then look at the rest of the top tier for each, and finish with comparing depth.
The Chicago White Sox had a lot of picks in the 2004 draft. With three selections before the second round, the club started by taking two collegiate products -- raw third baseman Josh Fields and less-raw Clemson hurler Tyler Lumsden. The third selection was of a different mold, a short high school southpaw from Florida named Giovany Gonzalez. For Houston, their 2004 high school southpaw story was a bit different, as they waited until the ninth round to select Texan Troy Patton.
What is most amazing about these two players is just how similar they are. Born only sixteen days apart, both are smaller left-handers with similar (small) builds. Oh, and if you hadn't guessed it, their stuff is similar too. Here is a condensed version of the report on Patton that I filed after the Futures Game:
...the southpaw started the inning with a 93 mph fastball, the only velocity the pitch hit in four throws. He also showed an impressive change in the dirt, and forced a ground out from Bergolla on a mid 70s, loopy curve.
Later, I also went on to further detail Patton's good curve. Our second report comes from Baseball America, specifically their September 2 Daily Dish, in which Gio Gonzalez' playoff performance is described. To quote, "[Gonzalez] showed off an explosive 93 mph fastball, hammer curve and a late-diving changeup." Other than a few miles per hour on the curveball, sound familiar?
Statistically, the two are also very alike. Both started the season in the South Atlantic League, and as you can see, the league posed a problem for neither:
Name ERA IP H K BB HR
GG 1.87 57.2 36 84 22 3
TP 1.94 78.2 59 94 20 3
Gonzalez would have likely matched Patton in innings pitched, had he not missed a few starts due to injury. While nearly the same in ERA and home runs, Gonzalez has better "stuff" indicators (H/9, K/9), while Patton betters Gio in the "polish" peripherals (BB/9, K/BB). Next, let's look at what happened when the two moved up a level, this time to the Carolina League:
Name ERA IP H K BB HR
GG 3.56 73.1 61 79 25 5
TP 2.63 41 34 38 8 2
This time, it's Gonzalez with the innings pitched advantage. Again, the numbers tell a story of Gonzalez having the stuff advantage, while Patton seems to be less raw. We also might be seeing Gonzalez' inning advantage hurt him, as we have since heard of shoulder soreness for the Floridian. If the shoulder is a problem, than Patton has a clear advantage. Without it, this argument is literally six in one, half dozen in the other.
Next, we move from the mound to behind it, to less similar players that share only the centerfield position and a Texas background. In one hand, you have Chris Young, a 2001 16th round choice out of high school. Young struggled his first year out of the gate, in 2003 playing in the Arizona League (.217/.308/.380) and then improved the next season in the Appy League (.290/.357/.479). Hunter Pence, born five months before Young in 1983, was drafted in 2004 from Texas-Arlington. Pence then moved from dominating the NCAA level to making a big short-season debut (.296/.369/.518).
One other similarity between these two players was a similar spot to their full-season debut (Young in 2004, Pence in 2005): the South Atlantic League. The results, on the other hand, were a bit different:
Name AVG OBP SLG AB BB SO
HP 0.338 0.413 0.652 302 38 53
CY 0.262 0.365 0.505 465 66 145
Basically, Pence's season was his breakout one as a prospect. Young, however, just looked like a breakout might be on the way. The two both showed solid power and discipline, though Pence was better in the latter, while Young had the walk advantage. The knock on Young, of course, was a strikeout problem that Pence couldn't imagine. However, I believed in Young enough to put him on my breakout list before the season began.
This, of course, proved correct as Young has vaulted himself up the prospect ladder with a great 2005 season. His season in AA (.277/.375/.545) was complemented by great defense and 32 stolen bases. Pence's promotion didn't go so well, as he did not skip high-A like Young, but still solid (.305/.382/.490). However, Pence does not have the defense and speed that Young does, likely because he stands 6-4.
Considering how advanced Pence is, and how raw Young's contact skills are, these players are on similar ETAs. However, there is no question Chris Young is the better prospect, looking better than Pence from the standpoints of age, defense, speed, discipline, and quite possibly power. So, through these two prospects, the White Sox have an advantage.
And like the World Series, the advantage will only widen the further we look. While Patton and Pence are likely the Astros two best prospects, we have yet to mention a top 30 prospect in the White Sox organization -- Brian Anderson. The former first-round pick has done nothing but impress across the board since being drafted, and surely impressed White Sox brass by hitting two home runs in September off Felix Hernandez. Anderson's presence is the predominant reason I have previously called for the White Sox to trade Scott Podsednik.
The depth advantage is another to surely go to the White Sox, as the Astros really only have three other prospects -- all pitchers -- worth mentioning. While I don't think the White Sox can match that, they might be able to when considering the Astros have nothing to match Brian Anderson. For the Astros, the three pitchers are Fernando Nieve, Jason Hirsh and Jimmy Barthmaier. Nieve we have known about for awhile, but he really took a step forward this year, pitching great in the Texas League before not doing great in the PCL. Hirsh was the Texas League pitcher of the year, though at 24 years of age. Barthmaier was another to really step up, with a 2.27 ERA in 134.2 Sally League innings at 21.
To compare, the White Sox have two other solid pitching prospects in their system. Going against Barthmaier is fellow SAL pitcher Ray Liotta, another 2004 draftee, and one that beat Barthmaier's ERA by one-hundredth of a point. Liotta is definitely more polished than Barthmaier, and this argument looks similar to that of Gonzalez-Patton. Another good pitching prospect was Lance Broadway, the Sox' 2005 first-round pick, in his age 21 season, he hung in there in the Carolina League. He'll head back there in 2006, and will still hit AA younger than Hirsh did. Broadway is in a similar mold to Brandon McCarthy, pitchers that throw off great curveballs and not fantastic fastballs.
As I have previously said, after this bunch, the edge goes to the White Sox. They had a better showing in the short-season leagues than Houston, despite the latter looking like they had the better draft. The Sox also have players like Francisco Hernandez, Robert Valido, Ryan Sweeney, Kris Honel and others playing in full-season baseball.
Looking forward, the White Sox currently have a better farm system than the Astros. However, with Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio on the roster, and the likes of Patton, Nieve, Barthmaier and Hirsh in the minors, the Astros will get some rotation help in the near future. As for the White Sox, look for the club to get help in the outfield, the rotation and the trade block soon.
Petty Opinions on the Series
The postseason has been a series of heartbreakers for the likes of the Yankees, Angels, Braves, Cardinals, and Astros. Oh well, even the losers had a shot. But the White Sox seem to be runnin' down a dream.
You Got Lucky. The ChiSox have benefited from more bad calls than any team in memory. I'm usually not one to be overly critical of umpires and referees, but this postseason takes the cake in terms of poor officiating. There's an old saying that says you make your own breaks, but I don't know if that is the case here. Instead, the South Siders have simply made the most of these poor calls, winning three games that all could easily have gone the other way.
Free Fallin'. Donnie Moore, Byung-Hyun Kim, Brad Lidge? The Houston Astros ace reliever has now given up walk-off home runs in each of his last two appearances. Albert Pujols is one thing, but Scott Podsednik? As has been well documented, the White Sox lead-off man has now hit two homers in the playoffs after failing to go deep during the regular season in more than 500 at-bats. Here's hoping that Lidge, who has been a standup guy answering questions in the clubhouse after each game, bounces back and earns a save and/or a win before the Series is out.
I Need to Know. Why do the White Sox get so much credit for their style of offense when just last year the World Series featured the two highest-scoring teams in baseball? You can have whatever it is the White Sox do so well. I'll take Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen or Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, thank you.
The Waiting. Why did the Los Angeles Angels lose? Look no further than the fact that they had NINE walks in TEN postseason games, including four vs. the White Sox in the ALCS. On the other hand, the Halos allowed 40 bases on balls. You can't win ballgames giving up more than four walks for each free pass earned on the offensive side. Period.
Help is on the way, you say? I don't think so. The Angels top two minor-league hitters -- Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick -- have drawn 3 BB in 120 AB in the AFL. Surprisingly, Kendry Morales, who walked only 23 times in 400 plate appearances in High-A and AA this past summer, has 9 BB in 53 AB in the AFL. So perhaps there is hope after all. Stay tuned.
Echo. I'm always amused when I hear Joe Buck and others calling someone like Jose Vizcaino a "professional hitter." You wanna know what a professional hitter is? It's what baseball types call a veteran who doesn't hit all that well AFTER he gets a line-drive single that knocks in a run or two.
I Won't Back Down. Joe Crede has played a flawless third base in the World Series. However, the balls hit to him have been makeable plays. He's made them and should get credit for doing so. But Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles he's not. I don't think he is in their league defensively. Crede can handle the hot corner with today's best. Let's leave it at that for now.
Breakdown. Who would you rather have on your roster, Josh Paul or Bobby Jenks? Well, the Angels GM Bill Stoneman actually had to decide between those two players last year and, believe it or not, chose Paul. Stoneman kept FIVE catchers on the 40-man roster, including Paul, the Molina brothers, Jeff Mathis, and Wil Nieves.
"We came to where we needed 40-man roster space. We needed the space, and he was the guy we decided to remove."
Look, you don't need "space" to keep a guy like Paul or Nieves. Paul is a journeyman catcher who will never be anything more than a third stringer. Nieves is a career minor leaguer who has hit .171/.212/.237 in 76 big-league at-bats. Guys like Paul and Nieves are a dime a dozen. Pitchers with power arms like Jenks are one in a million. The 6-foot-3, 270-pounder throws gas. You don't drop prospects who can hit triple digits on the radar gun to make room for a warm body. In case you weren't watching Saturday night, here are the speeds Jenks reached when pitching to Jeff Bagwell. 99-99-100-100-99-100.
How can a young pitcher with the upside of Jenks be dismissed so easily? Sure, he has had more than his share of problems off the field. But Jenks wouldn't be the first player in need of special handling, would he? Did Stoneman ever consider making Jenks a relief pitcher? The answer is "no." In 80 minor-league games with the Angels organization, the hard-throwing right-hander started 77 times. That's right, he was used in relief just three times in five years. The White Sox claimed Jenks last December, converted him to a reliever in the spring, and used him exclusively out of the bullpen all year (35 times at Birmingham "AAA" and 32 appearances with Chicago).
"He's always had the potential to do what he's done toward the end of this season," Stoneman said. "It's nice to see him do well."
Very nice indeed.
Oh, did I mention that Stoneman also let Derrick Turnbow go? He of the high-90s heater who is now the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers? You know, the guy who had a 1.74 ERA with 39 saves. Well, the Angels didn't have room for him either. But Stoneman made sure the Angels protected Tim Bittner, a pitcher who was later traded for a player they released. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
In a town known for losing, the White Sox have left Chicagoans pinching themselves. They have left Chicago with an icon. They have left Chicago two games away from breaking one of sport's most embarrassing streaks.
The buzz in Chicago is like nothing I have ever seen. It is amazing how quick it has become a baseball town. Even more amazing how quick it has become a White Sox town. And no, I'm not bitter. This is the White Sox moment, and it's a crime for any Cub fan to root against them.
Some will call me a traitor. Others will say I didn't belong. Either way, I was in U.S. Cellular Field for Game One, rooting loud and proud for the Pale Hose. And I found myself in the loudest baseball stadium in recent Chicago memory, including that old park on the north side.
This White Sox team is reminiscent of the 2002 Angels, in the sense that it's a team America is falling in love with, despite a lack of face. Well, other than the manager. Ozzie has taken control of this team, while becoming the "Ditka" of the 21st century. "Who would have thought Ozzie Guillen could control a pitching staff," was overheard during Game One. And how true it is, when considering both his big mouth and weak playing career. However, Guillen is a master, pushing all the right buttons in Game One, and stopping the bleeding in Game Two. Also, in a town so used to watching starters become a manager's torture victims, Ozzie rarely pushes his starters too hard.
But as much influence Guillen has, he has received too much attention during the playoffs. The face of the team, maybe. Occasionally unrecognizable when standing next to King Midas? Yes. But he is not the driving force behind the Sox; in fact, far from it. Today I want to take a more in-depth look at the White sox that we know so little about, and show that this team is just too much fun to have half their home city rooting against them.
Despite yesterday's antics from both Paul Konerko and Scott Podsednik, this postseason still belongs to Joe Crede from where I'm standing. This was a player that entered Chicago with the highest of expectations, after winning minor league MVP awards in both 1998 and 2000. Furthermore, he finished his 2002 season with a .285 average and 12 home runs (after hitting 24 in AAA) in 200 Major League at-bats. However, in the three years since, Crede's batting average hasn't broken .265, his OBP has been shy of .310, and just this year did his slugging eclipse .450.
With Major League performances that have turned jeers to cheers, Crede was the last on anyone's postseason picks to click list. Only a good September (.379/.419/.759) came as foreshadowing for what October would bring. In all but three postseason games in 2005, Joe Crede has had an RBI. He's hit three playoff home runs, including a game-tying shot in Game 5 of the ALCS, and the go-ahead home run on Saturday. But more important than his bat has been his glove, one that deserves a Gold Glove this season. In fact, Crede's lack of pre-October exposure will likely be the reason that he does not win, likely falling short to Alex Rodriguez.
Instead, the team's Gold Glove winner might be Paul Konerko, king of the (flawed) fielding percentage statistic. While Konerko doesn't quite deserve that recognition, he is without question the best hitter on the team. Many argue his MVP merits are non-existent, but considering the trophy's dependence on team player (either right or wrong), he deserves to garner a top five vote.
Paulie also deserves a raise at the end of the season, when he will become the key White Sox free agent. With a heightened fan base, as well as extra money coming from the MLB, Ken Williams should have some extra money to play with this winter. Look for him to go after Paul hard, and probably sign him, despite the best efforts of teams like the Red Sox, Mets and Giants. Outside of Konerko, I should mention, much of this team will be back in 2006.
While Konerko and Crede have managed to steal the postseason spotlight, the unsung hero has been the only White Sox hitter with a .300+ average in October: Juan Uribe. The shortstop has been freakishly consistent in the last ten games, collecting hits in nine of them. He has, without doubt, one of the more dangerous players on the field in Game Two. This should have been expected, of course, considering Uribe tattooed southpaws in 2005, continuing a career-long trend.
Uribe is also an Ozzie Guillen favorite, and considering his newfound popularity, that is the right place to be. While Uribe was probably no better than the 7th or 8th best AL shortstop, his power and defense should keep him on the South Side for a long time.
One player that should not be kept is Scott Podsednik. There, I said it, even after yesterday. Because what will be lost in the hysteria created by his homer is his outfield play in the top half of the inning. Jose Vizcaino's single was well-hit enough that Podsednik should have thrown out Chris Burke with ease. Or, as the Cheat said after the game at South Side Sox, "Timo Perez' arm has the ball to Pierzynski with enough time for AJ to sign it as a parting gift to Burke." This play also should have left Houston kicking themselves for not sending Wily Taveras home on a Lance Berkman single in Game One.
Podsednik's arm, mixed with his lack of power, mixed with his stolen base percentage, mixed with his average OBP should leave Ken Williams selling high. The Red Sox didn't even have a chance to trade Dave Roberts after the World Series last year, but you have a feeling they would have. Podsednik is a similar case, but one in which the White Sox are giving WAY too many at-bats to. The answer to this equation is to trade Podsednik to someone who thinks he can play center, and to allow Brian Anderson 500 at-bats in 2006.
It is that confidence in the farm system that we have seen pay dividends during this series. The player that comes to mind is Bobby Jenks, Game One's savior. When on his game, Jenks throws one of the three 'heaviest' fastballs in the game. However, his endurance is not that of a Billy Wagner yet, as his velocity slipped to 95-97 mph in Game Two. Furthermore, he does not trust his power curve, a fantastic pitch that garnered one strikeout on Saturday.
Jenks will likely be the unquestioned closer next year, jumping right into the 40 saves category. His October has not brought Francisco Rodriguez-like attention, but no longer is he a fantasy sleeper. People have quickly come to know his big frame and big fastball, and he should become a fan favorite in short order. Moving players like Jenks and Neal Cotts to the bullpen is proving a genius move, and eventually, you have to figure all this adds up to a raise for Don Cooper.
Cooper has remained in the background for most of the postseason, but he deserves quite a bit of credit for turning this staff into what it has become. Cooper was behind Jose Contreras learning to trust all of his pitches, making the splitter become more effective. Cooper helped turn around Jon Garland, as the big right-hander better pitches down and in now than he used to. The Sox pitching coach should be given a pat on the back for his work with Brandon McCarthy (improved change up) and Freddy Garcia. While Ozzie is a magnificent director, there is no better teacher in this organization than Cooper.
I still believe the White Sox will win the World Series in six games. Look for losses in Games Three and Five, and for a Mark Buerhle masterpiece in the clincher. And with that, Chicago will have a World Series winner for the first time in nearly ninety years. And for once, I hope all of Chicago can appreciate it.
Baseball Playoffs: Take Three
World Series Preview: Astros vs. White Sox
After nearly seven months of regular season and postseason play, Major League Baseball has eliminated 28 of its 30 teams from the chance to win the World Serious. The defending champs are out. The team with the most championships and the highest payroll is out, too. So is the only ballclub to win 100 games during the regular season. Gone also are 17 other franchises that have won it all since either of the two finalists this year enjoyed the fruits of victory.
Take a bow (and send us the link) if you thought the White Sox and the Astros were going to face each other in October. Heck, give yourself a pat on the back if you thought just one of these two teams would make its way to the Fall Classic. It may not be Kansas City-Colorado, but you would be a rich man or woman had you laid a grand on the White Sox and Astros outlasting everyone else.
We're now down to the nitty gritty. The first pitch is only hours away. Weather permitting, it looks like we will have a winner before Halloween. Read on for our latest tricks or treats.
**The Limbo Series: How Low Can We Go?**
In a nutshell - Big Three vs. Fab Four
Bryan's Take: So, this is what it all comes down to. The ninth-ranked American League offense against the NL's number eleven? A battle of two clubs with aggregate OBPs of .322? Um, isn't this supposed to be the World Series?
However, what the series lacks in offense, it makes up in pitching and defense -- the two things that are supposed to win come playoff time. And you would be hard-pressed to find two better teams in these areas, both two of the Majors top four clubs in ERA and defensive efficiency. In this regard, the Astros are little different than the White Sox's last opponent, however better in both categories. For Houston, the White Sox are a worse team than the Cardinals, albeit a hotter one.
In winning twelve of their last thirteen games, dating back to September 28 of the regular season, the White Sox have allowed more than three runs just once. They have not allowed more than four runs since losing to Cleveland on September 21. Nineteen games, 41 runs allowed, 2.18 RA. For one-eighth of the season, the White Sox have been unstoppable.
This is, of course, almost all due to great starting pitching. By now, we all know the story. Four straight complete games, the first time (in the postseason) since 1928. Credit this to Ozzie Guillen and Don Cooper, a pair to both trust their starters as well as the fact that this bullpen will not implode due to over-rest. Also credit the White Sox foursome, a group that truly saved their best stuff for the right time.
This just in: Astros pitching is pretty good, too. While more apt to allow runs lately, the Astros will put their four best pitchers (and yes, I know that this keeps getting repeated) up against anyone in the game. Brad Lidge along with the three best Astros starters had a 2.46 ERA during the regular season. The White Sox four starters, their key pitchers in this series, were more than a full run higher at 3.52.
So, from a pitching standpoint, it's all about which White Sox staff will show up. It's also about whether Andy Pettitte can begin pitching in the postseason like he did all year. Whether the Rocket is just too beat-up to lead his team to their first ever World Series win. Whether the White Sox bullpen can withstand any semblance of a workload.
Shocking news, I know, but this series is less about runs scored than we could have imagined in this new era of baseball.
Rich's Take: Winning baseball games is all about scoring runs and preventing runs. The White Sox and Astros are mediocre at the former and superb at the latter. You don't have to score a lot of runs if you don't give up many. Runs are going to be scarce this coming week. The 2005 World Series is a throwback to 1960s when pitchers like Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Jim Lonborg, Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, and Tom Seaver were mowing down the opposition.
If the Series plays out as expected, the oldtimers are going to have a field day. No, I don't mean Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Orlando Hernandez, and Frank Thomas. I'm talking about the fans of yesteryear. You know, the guys who romanticize about pitching, defense, sacrificing, hitting behind runners, and timely hitting. This Series should be right up their alley.
Speaking of Bags and the Big Hurt, how ironic is it that these two future Hall of Famers with the same birthday, parallel careers, and similar achievements and career totals would be non-factors when their teams finally made it to World Series? Bagwell might see some action as a right-handed DH/PH but Thomas was left off the postseason roster with a broken foot.
If FOX advertises Reunion, will it be about six high school friends or four pitchers who teamed up with the Yankees earlier this decade? (I'm stretching things here a bit as Clemens, Pettitte, Jose Contreras, and El Duque never all pitched in the same season for NY but, hey, it makes for a good story.)
Besides rich, I wonder how Carlos Beltran is feeling these days?
Bryan's Outtake: With the pitching and defense so close between these two teams, it might just be the offenses that dictate the winner. Who can score four runs or more?
Since manufacturing runs is going to be so difficult against these staffs, the longball will likely be the key to scoring. And given the seven upcoming games in pro-offensive environments, home runs could be hit far more often than people think. And this is definitely one area where the White Sox have a clear edge over Houston, having slugged 39 more bombs than Houston during the regular season.
As we said in the Astros-Cardinals preview, the key to beating the Houston offense is to take out Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman. While Biggio and Jason Lane are both threats, no other key player has a .750+ OPS. The White Sox are far more balanced, though shutting down Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye -- accounting for 36% of the Sox homers -- would be a good idea.
However, at this point, the best offensive player on the White Sox might be Joe Crede. Despite losing the Playoff MVP award to Konerko, Crede has been lights-out this postseason. Furthermore, he has been great since returning from the DL in early September, in which he apparently changed his swing. Since then, against some of baseball's toughest competition, Crede has been the player he was supposed to be coming out of the minors: .344/.375/.677. Eight home runs in ninety at-bats. Big Frank would be proud.
Finally, we should highlight momentum as the other key factor in the Series. Problem is, I'm not sure who has more at this point. I'm inclined to say the White Sox, playing within the crazy Chicago environment, off what might have been the four best games they played in 2005. However, the Astros -- playing in their first World Series in franchise history -- surely are on their own emotional high after overcoming the brutal Game 5 loss. This seems to be a push, a recurring theme in this preview.
Rich's Outtake: Anything can happen in a short series and, if this postseason is any guide, the World Series will probably turn on an umpire's decision, a fielding miscue, or a late-inning home run. With two evenly matched teams, it's as much a crapshoot as anything else.
Since the advent of the Wild Card, the team that wins it all is usually the hottest rather than the best. A second-place team has won the World Series in each of the past three seasons, and the club with the lesser record has poured the champagne in five of the last six years. Both of those tidbits point to the Astros.
The White Sox may be hotter, having won 12 of their last 13 games -- against outstanding competition, I might add (with 10 of those victories at the expense of the Indians, Red Sox, and Angels). But, as Yogi Berra might say, the Astros aren't so cool themselves. Consider this: since May 24, Houston is 81-46 (.638) and Chicago is 74-50 (.597). I bet you didn't know that!
One other thing -- the White Sox were the best team on the road this year while the Astros tied for the second-best home record. The team that wins it will be the one that takes at least two of three in Houston.
Bryan's Pick: These teams are just so similar that home field advantage (thank God for the All-Star Game) might just be the key component. So, I'll go with the White Sox in six games, as I think Chicago is playing a bit better across the board at this moment.
Rich's Pick: The pressure is on me to see if I can go 7-for-7 with my picks. Yes, I chose the Astros and Cardinals in the NLDS, the White Sox and Angels in the ALDS, the Astros in the NLCS, and the White Sox in the ALCS. If I select the World Series winner, too, I might just have to go into the tout business. You know, the one in which you tell half of your customers Team X will win and the other half Team Y. Fifty percent of your clients think you're a genius.
But I'm not willing to settle for being half right. No hedging here, folks. Houston is going to win it all. The Astros in seven.
* * * * *
Play On or Play Off?
After the World Series is over, the baseball world will turn its attention to the year-end awards and the current crop of free agents. Some of these players will be retained and many others will be let go.
In a two-part series, we start with the four playoff teams from the American League. These players have all had an extra audition to play their way on or off the rosters of their respective ballclubs.
Los Angeles Angels
Paul Byrd, RHP
Jason Christiansen, LHP (x)
Bengie Molina, C
Tim Salmon, OF
Jarrod Washburn, LHP
Paul Byrd, Bengie Molina, and Jarrod Washburn are the only three free agents who matter. The Angels are unlikely to exercise their club option on Jason Christiansen, a journeyman left-handed reliever, while Tim Salmon will undoubtedly be extended an invitation to attend spring training as a non-roster player.
The Angels have Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar coming back. They can either sign Byrd, Washburn, or another free agent, or make a trade for their fifth starter. Chris Bootcheck, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver give the team insurance in the event of an injury. Weaver has the most upside of the three and could be a factor in the second half of 2006.
Byrd will be a cheaper option than Washburn and is also more likely to accept a shorter deal. The soon-to-be 35-year-old right-hander is coming off the second-best season of his career and could be offered a one- or two-year deal for $5-$6 million per. I would let him go if it turns out he wants more security or dollars.
Washburn is represented by Scott Boras and will probably command a three- or four-year contract at an average salary of at least $8M. I would pass. Although he was fourth in the AL in ERA in 2005, it is a misleading indicator of his performance. Wash gave up more hits than innings and his K/BB ratio was under 2.0. In fact, his 4.77 K/9 was the lowest of his eight-year career. Jarrod had the highest DIPS/ERA ratio in the league, suggesting that he benefited last year from strong defense and luck more than anything else.
Molina presents a more difficult situation. The Angels would love to bring him back but not at his asking price, which might be in the neighborhood of $20-$25M for three years. I might give him $7.5M for one year or an average of $6.5M for two, but I wouldn't go beyond that. Bengie is not the power hitter that he appeared to be in the ALDS when he slugged three HR in the first three games nor as worthless as he was in the ALCS. He is at best a .280/.320/.440 type who has more downside than upside at this point in his career.
Given the fact that Molina is perhaps the slowest runner in baseball, putting the ball in play as often as he does isn't necessarily a virtue. The 31-year-old, heavyset catcher has grounded into a double play once every 25 AB over the past four years. He is one of the top defensive catchers in baseball but certainly no better than his brother Jose, who I believe has one of the quickest releases around. The highly touted Jeff Mathis is also a viable option. He will be 23 on opening day and is coming off a .276/.340/.499 season with 21 HR in 427 AB at Salt Lake City (AAA).
Boston Red Sox
Johnny Damon, OF
Tony Graffanino, 2B
Matt Mantei, RHP
Kevin Millar, 1B
Bill Mueller, 3B
Mike Timlin, RHP
John Olerud, 1B
Mike Myers, RHP
Mike Stanton, LHP
Johnny Damon is obviously the biggest name among the Red Sox free agents. He has star power and will be hotly pursued by multiple teams during the offseason, most notably the rival Yankees. Johnny D. (3-for-13 with a double and a walk in the ALDS) will garner a three- or four-year deal at an average annual salary of at least $10M. That's a tough one in my mind. I would probably offer 3x10, but if it takes 4x12 or something along those lines, I'd shake his hand and wish him luck.
The 11-year veteran will be 32 in November and his numbers -- while still outstanding -- raise a few questions. The lead-off hitter's walk rate (.077) dropped to a level not seen since 1996 and his isolated power (.123) and secondary average (.236) were well below his career norms. I also can't help but wonder if Damon's poor arm will require a switch to LF or DH before his next contract expires. A change in positions coupled with any further slippage in his offensive production could make Damon more of a liability than an asset at anything exceeding $10M per.
Damon would like Boston to re-sign Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller, too. The Red Sox have no business asking Millar (1-for-3 in just one start out of three) to come back unless he can be had on the cheap and as nothing more than the 25th man on the roster -- a pinch hitter who could start occasionally at Fenway Park. As to Mueller (0-for-11), well, I would offer him a one-year deal at or near the $2.5M he made in 2005. If that works, great. If not, c'est la vie.
Chicago White Sox
Carl Everett, OF
Paul Konerko, 1B
Cliff Politte, RHP (x)
Frank Thomas, dh
Paul Konerko (9-for-33 with 4 HR and 11 RBI), in my judgment, is going to get more than he should due to his high-profile postseason (Carlos Beltran, anyone?) combined with a weak free-agent class. I see Konerko receiving one or more offers similar to the four-year, $50 million deal Richie Sexson inked last year. Too rich for my blood. We're talking about a 1B/DH who has hit 60% of his dingers at home-run friendly U.S. Cellular Field over the past five years. Put him in a more neutral environment and I'd expect him to hit closer to 30 HR than 40.
Nonetheless, I have no doubt that the White Sox will pay up for him, especially if they wind up winning the World Series. Let's face it, Chicago wouldn't be the first ballclub to show loyalty to a star player in such a situation by rewarding him with a rich contract.
Frank Thomas may get a one-year deal at a greatly reduced salary. The traditionalist in me hopes the future Hall of Famer will take it and finish his career as a White Sox.
New York Yankees
Kevin Brown, RHP
John Flaherty, C
Tom Gordon, RHP
Tino Martinez, 1B (x)
Felix Rodriguez, RHP
Rey Sanchez, 2B
Ruben Sierra, OF
Bernie Williams, OF
Al Leiter, LHP
Hideki Matsui, OF
Alan Embree, LHP
Eleven free agents. Other than Hideki Matsui, is there anyone on that list worth keeping? The Yankees will surely bid good riddance to Kevin Brown, redirecting part of his $15.7M annual salary to Matsui and the remainder to another free agent signing.
Just as I would like to see the Big Hurt return to the ChiSox, I'm hoping that the Yankees and Bernie Williams (4-for-19 with a couple of doubles and a walk) can work out a mutually agreeable deal and relationship. The 37-year-old onetime star center fielder will probably have to accept a $10M paycut if he wants to continue playing in the Bronx.
Matsui deserves something north of $10M per year. I'd be agreeable to a 3x12 deal. Despite a disappointing playoff performance in which he went 0-for-9 in games four and five while stranding eight runners on base in the finale, Matsui gives the Yankees solid, consistent production and is a drawing card to boot. I don't think Hideki has much upside, but he seems a good bet to hit close to .300 with 20-25 HR and 70-80 BB.
I shouldn't dismiss Tom Gordon, who is still an effective set-up man. However, he will turn 38 in November and his K/9 rate (7.70) in 2005 was his lowest since becoming a full-time reliever in 1998. A one-year deal at or near $4M would seem ideal for New York, whereas a two-year contract at $5M per and a chance to be a closer might be more to Gordon's liking.
(x) = club option for 2006
Forget, for one second, the numbers that follow the "Born" part of his resume. Forget his past, the good and the bad. Instead, imagine him differently, as a 2004 draft pick from an accredited university, where he had played two-ways up until his last College World Series game. Scouts differed on whether he should hit or pitch, ultimately deciding on his powerful bat over his erratic left arm. The kid took a long time to sign, missing all of the 2004 season, and electing not to play in the AFL.
The polish once shown in college did not transfer as quickly as the Cardinals had hoped, making their first assignment (AA - Springfield) look foolish. After beginning the season a month late due to a back sprain, he collected just one hit in his first 20 at-bats and then returned to the DL (back, again). Ironically, his largest splash was made with his arm, as he had two outfield assists in just five games.
Rather than moving up like a few Springfield teammates, our collegiate outfielder was demoted to the Midwest League. It was there when things began to click and the move to the batter's box began to pay dividends. We began to see the power -- in addition to the big arm and outfield versatility -- that had been expected. In fact, he was probably the lost month in AA away from gaining a spot on the league's All-Star team.
Shortly after reaching 100% again on the health meter, however, things began to hurt again. It was not the back this time, but worse, the knee. He was limited to DH duties for much of his stay, as well as rarely being allowed to play on back-to-back days. Frustrations mounted, but at the same pace as his home run total, and eventually, the Cardinals trusted his groove enough to warrant a promotion back to Springfield.
His second stint in Double-A went beautifully, as his power continued to be a strength. No longer did the advanced environment intimidate him, and all his peripherals were sound. Despite a frustrating knee limiting his work in the outfield, his first full season at the plate was considered a success. So much so, in fact, that the Cardinals put him on their 40-man roster, promising a look in February.
However, as we know, truth is so often stranger than fiction. And few stories are as strange as Rick Ankiel, hardly a player with the background mentioned above.
The phenom-turned-ace-turned-Blass-turned-outfielder (who really needs a more detailed biography?) truly began his second career this year. In this, his age 25 season, Ankiel split time between the DL, the Midwest League, and Double-A. His stock plummeted early, but took an upswing following his demotion, and yet another following his promotion. Rick's season line:
Level AB AVG OBP SLG BB K
A- 185 0.270 0.368 0.514 27 37
AA 136 0.243 0.295 0.515 10 29
We now find ourselves at the end of year one, knowing little more than we did in April. Other than, of course, that this position change just might work.
To be fair, I should start analyzing by giving the sample size caveat, as Ankiel amassed only a little more than a half-season's worth of plate appearances. However, this is a bat that has been hyped since 2000, when Rick hit .250 in 68 Major League ABs. It was hyped when Ankiel's pitching career was in shambles, and he hit 10 home runs on off-days in the Rookie League. If Rick was the college player I described above, sample size would be something to worry about. With a 26-year-old that has been on the radar -- and hit with wooden bats -- for at least eight years, not so much.
Therefore, we can simply turn to the numbers. This is where the project starts to impress, particularly in the power department. If Ankiel had qualified, his .244 ISO would have ranked second in the Midwest League. As would his AB/HR ratio, as Rick was averaging one home run in every 17 at-bats. Simply put, there was only one more player in the Midwest League (of those that qualified) that showcased more power than Ankiel.
Critics will be quick to mention that the southpaw's batting average was far less than spectacular at .270. However, part of this can be blamed on luck, as his .273 BABIP is below average. Normalize the BABIP to .300, and the average jumps twenty-one points. However, even with the "low" average, Ankiel's .882 OPS would have ranked sixth in the Midwest League. Moreover, the five players ahead of him all had BABIPs over .313. Quite frankly, I would say that Rick was one of the three most dangerous hitters in the league.
Different numbers, same story after his promotion back to Double-A. In those 116 at-bats before his season ended, Ankiel hit 10 home runs, slugging .595 in the process. Only two other Texas League hitters -- prospects Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli -- belted as many home runs from August 1 on.
Throw out the first 20 at-bats of his season, as well as his age, and Rick Ankiel is a Major League prospect. This must be the Cardinals thinking, as they purchased Ankiel's contract hours before he would have become a free agent. As a result, the former pitcher is once again on the 40-man roster and will be invited to Spring Training with the Cardinals.
Guessing the next step in a career with so many wrong turns is a fool's game. That said, Ankiel should gain experience with the bat and glove during the winter once his knee properly heals. The time is passing for that place to be Arizona, though Ankiel may be better suited to play out of the spotlight in one of the foreign leagues anyway. According to the Cardinals, he will also be given an opportunity to win a job in Spring Training. With So Taguchi and John Mabry aging and not particularly useful, youth could be a welcome change in St. Louis. But this move would be a great disservice to Ankiel, who deserves the opportunity to succeed beyond the confines of a bench role, rather than discarded as a prospect due to age.
Because, in this case, few numbers are less telling than the date of his birth.
Breaking 'Em In (Part Four)
In the fourth series of Breaking 'Em In, I will complete the National League teams, and then below, I have my NL ballot up. This was a fun feature to do, looking at how rookies were implemented on every team in baseball. The next time you will be seeing many of these names is in February or so, when I do my second annual Top Sophomores List.
To recap, here is a look at the other parts of the Breaking 'Em In series:
Part One -- First Half of AL Teams
Part Two -- Second half and AL ballot
Part Three -- First half of NL teams
And finally, here is the last half of the National League teams, in order of their record...
It seems like it was yesterday that the Nationals were winning the NL East, and the NL Rookie of the Year was all-but-guaranteed to a certain Nat. However, things change drastically from June to October, thanks to slumps and injuries, and suddenly, a player's resume hardly even looks impressive.
This is the case of Ryan Church. In May, Church hit .377/.406/.508, and followed that up with an even better .368/.439/.737 June. However, Church's at-bat total for the rest of the season would not match even May+June, and his production dropped considerably. For example, in the second half, Church hit just .231/.315/.352. Good rookie season for Church, but a far cry from being a top candidate for RoY.
Other than Church, not a lot of help from rookies in Washington this year. Always been a city of incumbents anyway, huh? The only two other offensive rookies were draft picks, one from the 2004 Rule 5, and the other from the 2005 June Amateur Draft. Both Tony Blanco and Ryan Zimmerman were brought into the organization as third baseman, and neither played much of the hot corner in 2005. Trust me, you will be seeing quite a bit more on Zimmerman soon, when I get to my prospect list.
Finally, moving to the pitching staff, we have Gary Majewski. Despite a low strikeout rate (50 in 86 IP), Majewski was one of Frank Robinson's most dependable relievers this season, appearing in 79 games. He probably isn't a great bet for continued success, but the Nats will most definitely give him a chance next year.
Every Cubs fan in the world will look to a scapegoat for the 2005 season, and for most, it will either be Dusty Baker or the Injury Bug. For some, those will be connected, as the Cubs injury problems on their pitching staff continued this season. Because of numerous injuries, the Cubs turned to a few rookies to handle quite a bit of innings, specifically in relief.
The two best that fit this profile are Will Ohman and Mike Wuertz, a few mid-twenties players that capitalized on what might have been their last real opportunity. Ohman is your typical LOOGY, but one of the better ones in the game, if you can stomach the walks. This season, pitching to left-handers in 81 at-bats, Ohman held them to a .173 average. Wuertz is a bit of the opposite, shutting down right-handers to a .197 average in 178 chances. Both of these players struck out hitters at a solid rate, and proved to be good middle relievers.
Rounding out the solid relief core is Roberto Novoa, who appeared in 'just' 49 games this season. Like Ohman, Novoa is prone to give up the walk, but he also strikes out hitters at a good rate. Having both Novoa and Wuertz in the same 'pen might not be needed, but you get the feeling a lot of teams could use an arm like this. Similarly, Rich Hill may have dropped his first and last chance in Chicago. The minor league strikeout leader did not do well in 10 Cubs appearances, giving up 24 runs and 17 walks in 23.2 innings.
In the field, it might surprise Cub fans that the rookie with the most playing time was Jason Dubois. But the perceived big bat did not make the most of his opportunity, hitting rather lightly, and playing some of the worst defense ever seen in Chicago. Dubois was replaced by Matt Murton on the roster, who unlike Dubois, came into Chicago with a bat hardly perceived to have any power. He left as one of the Cubs best prospects, hitting 12 extra-base hits in 140 at-bats. Finally, I should mention Ronny Cedeno, who should be at the top of every Cub fans wish list for Neifi replacements.
Following the worst season in franchise history, it looked as if 2005 would be a rebuilding year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Then, over the course of last winter, they kept stockpiling more and more veterans, until eventually, only the catching position and a few innings on the staff had room for rookies.
There is no doubt that the D-Backs rookie catchers had their share of opportunities in '05, but they most definitely did not make the best of it. However, those that thought either Chris Snyder or Koyie Hill had big league potential anyway were flawed. Snyder hit a dismal .202/.297/.301, while Hill countered with a smaller .590 OPS. Also, neither balanced it out with great play behind the plate, as the two caught about 26% of basestealers behind the dish.
At one point in the season, when it looked as if Arizona might be able to win the division, Bob Melvin made some dramatic changes. The beneficiary of this move? Conor Jackson, who was brought up from AAA, and given the first base job in Arizona. Again, like the catchers, Jackson did not make the most of this chance. In 85 at-bats this year, Jackson hit an un-Jackson like .200, with just five extra-base hits. And you can also bet that Jackson was not the beneficiary of a different Arizona move: Tony Clark's extension.
The one Diamondback to make it through most of the season was Brad Halsey, the most surprising member of the rookie class. A throw-in with Javier Vazquez in the Randy Johnson deal, Halsey was a dependable starter at the back end of Melvin's rotation. He started off the season spectacularly, with an ERA right around 3.00 after two months of the season. However, save a good July, Halsey would fall apart after this, especially in the second half, when his ERA was 5.30. Look for Arizona to work on his stamina quite a bit this winter.
San Francisco Giants
Back in April, the Giants could not go a sentence without being described as aging. Bonds, Matheny, Vizquel, Snow, Alou. Wherever we looked, the Giants had someone over 35 staring back. So, it actually came to my surprise when I found a decent number of rookies that had an impact on the G-men.
One of the spots that demanded a lot of rookie attention was the outfield, with Barry Bonds out. Early in the season the team turned very often to Jason Ellison, a good fourth outfielder because of his good defense and gap power. The club also brought Todd Linden up at some point, as AAA had not been posing much of a threat at that point. However, Linden then hit just .216 in 171 at-bats, confirming many suspicions that Linden might be a AAAA All-Star.
The other spot on the diamond in need of help was at first base when J.T. Snow missed time. The team turned to Lance Niekro out of necessity, but the 26-year-old impressed with a solid season. However, the Giants would be best suited to find a left-handed hitting first baseman this winter, as Niekro makes the perfect platoon partner. In 108 at-bats, Niekro hit .324/.361/.657 against southpaws, but just .206/.251/.335 against right-handers. If only Jacque Jones played first, right?
A final area that was constantly in need of help this season was the san Francisco bullpen. In their quest to find an arm to handle late-game innings, the Giants stumbled across Scott Munter, who would pitch in 45 games for the Giants. And despite a very, VERY low strikeout rate, Munter's good season probably bought him another. Besides Munter, both Jeremy Accardo and Jack Taschner were aked to pitch quite a bit this season.
Finally, I want to mention that Matt Cain's big September will leave him as a borderline case for my prospect list this winter. If he misses due to too many innings, it's a good thing for Giants fans, as they probably wish that Cain had pitched every inning in 2005.
Does it seem to anyone else like the Cincinnati Reds have been treading water for years? The team seems both immune to rebuilding or reloading, either of which could help this team compete. But instead, they stay afloat, a few games below .500, with an exciting base of players.
This season was not one for adding to that base, as no great rookies came up for the Reds. Their de facto top prospect of late, Edwin Encarnacion, did play a bit. Edwin showed both plus patience and power, but was dismal in the contact category. His average of .232, combined with 60 strikeouts in 211 at-bats, means that Edwin must hit the ball on the bat more in 2006.
On the mound, as usual, was the problem for the Reds this year. However, as usual, not a lot was done to fix the problem. The club used a few rookie arms in the bullpen, with Brian Shackleford, Matt Belisle and Todd Correy three of the larger contributors. None of these players would come up in the top ten, or even top thirty rookies in baseball during 2005.
Los Angeles Dodgers
As you know, not a good year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a fan base that expects to belong in the category of teams that win and lose with money, not rookies. Instead, injuries decimated the weak lineup that Paul DePodesta had created. He was then forced to turn to numerous options at the farm, and will likely have to do more of the same in 2006.
Specifically, there were two offensive positions that the Dodgers could not find an answer for this year: third base and catcher. The former was supposed to be manned by Jose Valentin, who battled injuries and bad play this season. In his spot, at various times this season, were Oscar Robles, Mike Edwards and Wily Aybar. The latter was the best of the group, with the smallest sample size, but all of these players are simply holding onto the position for the future.
DePo tried and failed to find a catcher this offseason, and the hole was clearly noticeable throughout the season. The closest person to impressing was Dioner Navarro, formerly an acquisition from the New York Yankees. In 176 at-bats, Navarro hit .273/.354/.375. Not great be any stretch of the imagination, but serviceable, and probably worth a few more at-bats before Russ Martin shows up.
Our last offensive rookie was an unknown before the season, but yet another case of a big Spring Training. Jason Repko earned a job in Spring Training, and kept it, appearing in 129 games this season. I'm sure the team could do worse on the bench, given Repko's pop, but a .281 OBP? 80 strikeouts in 276 at-bats? This kid better make a few adjustments in 2006, or his first opportunity will quickly become his last.
Like Repko, on the pitching staff, there were a couple Dodger hurlers that pitched most of the season with the big league club, without fantastic results. Previously unheard of Steve Schmoll appeared in 48 games for the Dodgers, saving three games, but not pitching well. Dodger fans can only hope his 81 ERA+ does not return next season. The same could be said for Rule 5 pick D.J. Houlton, a good pick with less than fantastic results. 5.16 ERA, 145 hits in 129 innings, 21 home runs allowed.
Finally, I'd like to quickly mention a few other arms that received chances in the bullpen, but didn't pitch enough to warrant mention: Derek Thompson, Franquelis Osoria, and of course, Jonathan Broxton.
Another not-so-hot season at high altitude for the Rockies, as this team just does not appear like they will figure out how to win in this environment. What they have figured out, however, is how to implement rookies into what they do.
We'll have to quickly move through the rookies on this team, simply because there were so many. Specifically, there were three in the infield, and two in the outfield that received a lot of time. In the infield, Garrett Atkins would lead the team in at-bats from third base, hitting .287/.347/.426 in 519 at-bats. A decent performance, and one that surely would have been topped had Clint Barmes remained healthy. Like Ryan Church, Barmes was another RoY-lock when he went down, as he finished the season hitting .289/.330/.434. Finally, we have J.D. Closser, a catcher for whom the Rockies wasted 237 at-bats, at a .219 average, on.
In the outfield, it's hard to not start with Cory Sullivan. What Matt Holliday brought to the 2004 season, Sullivan brought to 2005, breaking onto the scene and hitting a solid .294/.343/.386. Not as good as Holliday, but he'll make a good bench player. Brad Hawpe is another on the starting/pinch-hitting bubble, as he hit for a .754 OPS this season. He's less athletic than Sullivan, to be sure, but definitely has a higher offensive ceiling.
Rounding out the offensive rookies, the club also gave at least 80 at-bats to Danny Ardoin, Omar Quintanilla, Jorge Piedra, Ryan Shealy and Eddy Garabito. Shealy was the most impressive of the bunch, and has been named as a potential trade target of the Boston Red Sox. In that scenario, they would have to hope that .143 ISO goes up, not down, when leaving Mile High.
Something has to be said for 14 wins and 183.2 innings during your rookie caimpaign. However, Jeff Francis struggled in quite a bit of other areas this season, being hit too easily, and not posting the good K/BB ratio he was known for. The Rockies won't give up on him, so that 83 ERA+ should improve next season. Besides Francis, the Rockies really only used two other rookie relievers from their staff. One, a Rule 5 pick, Marcos Carvajal received a rude awakening to Major League life. However, his peripherals are solid, so I look for improvement in 2006. The same cannot be said for Ryan Speier, who to truly impress me, must strike out more than 10 hitters in 24.2 innings.
The story of the sedason for the Pittsburgh Pirates was their destruction in the second half, going from a run at .500 to a battle for last place in the NL. The team won, kind of, and will receive the NL's first pick in the 2006 draft. However, despite the losses mounting in the second half, the team had quite a bit of optimism come through in the rookie department.
There is, of course, no better example of this than Zach Duke. The 2004 minor league ERA leader was fantastic this season, with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts. He pitched over his head, yes, but Duke showed poise that few Pirate pitchers in recent memory have had. Another with a great career start was fellow southpaw Paul Maholm, a former first-rounder that allowed just ten earned runs in his six trial starts. Besides those two, the only other pitcher was Ian Snell, who was more up and down than the two left-handers, despite posting the best strikeout rate of the bunch.
Moving to the offense, Brad Eldred is sort of the offensive version of Zach Duke. In just 190 at-bats this season, Eldred hit 12 home runs, needing to improve only on contact skills. The Pirates hoped Ryan Doumit would do for them what former-Buc Chris Shelton was doing for Detroit, but no dice. The other rookie I'd like to mention is Chris Duffy, one of many centerfield speedsters, but one who hit .341 in 126 at-bats before a hamstring injury decimated his season.
At the very least, the end of this season provided a glimmer of hope to the Bucs future. That is, to say, there is one now.
Update: Below is my National League Rookie of the Year ballot. There are some notable omissions on this list, and I would love to hear some debate in the comments. If you argue with my pick, please, post your own list as well.
1. Jeff Francoeur -- Like AL MVP race, defense sets winner above
2. Ryan Howard -- Very good chance to be better player, home run king
3. Zach Duke -- Amazing half-season will get him years in Steel City
4. Wily Taveras -- Extra credit for full season, good team
5. Garrett Atkins -- Not best hitter, but few had .750+ OPS with 500 AB
6. Ryan Church -- Would have won award if he stayed healthy and got PT
7. Brad Halsey -- Season Jeff Francis wish he had
8. Clint Barmes -- Church was RoY of May, Barmes was RoY of April
9. Rickie Weeks -- Certainly had his own month of dominance
10. Robinson Tejeda -- Few rookies pitched in 86 bigger innings
Breaking 'Em In (Part Three)
A few weeks ago, I looked in detail at the American League Rookie of the Year race. I went through every team and analyzed how they broke their rookies in, and then went through my ballot of the league's best. As awards will begin to come out soon, I wanted to get my National League ballot out there as well.
Over the next two days, we will go over the 16 teams in the National League (in order of record), and look at what rookies had an effect on their season. Tomorrow, I will finish the piece with a look at the ten best National League rookies of 2005.
As we know, the best teams often don't have to use a lot of rookies (with the exception being the second team on this list), so the top 8 teams listed today aren't really chock-full-o-rooks. However, we often consider team record when evaluating awards, and playing a role on a contender is often much more impressive than playing a role on a bottom feeder. So, we will begin today with the National League's top half, starting with the league's lone 100-win club...
St. Louis Cardinals
With a machine like St. Louis, youngsters are not needed in large roles. The Cardinals are a team that fill veterans in every major spot, and fix holes with experience. However, injuries are a funny thing, opening up holes even a great GM like Walt Jocketty could not have planned for.
This year had a few of those instances with the Cards. Reggie Sanders had a hobbled season in the outfield, only playing half of St. Louis' games in left. Second in innings logged in left was John Rodriguez, a 27-year-old that had been an undrafted free agent in 1997. After a dominant start to the season in Memphis (his OPS was over 1.200), Rodriguez would play 56 games for the Cardinals. During that time the left-hander gave Tony La Russa a solid .295/.382/.436 line, spanning 149 at-bats.
Second in rookie at-bats to Rodriguez was another veteran minor leaguer, Scott Seabol. The 30-year-old split time all over the diamond, mostly replacing Scott Rolen at the hot corner. Seabol had some heroics with the Cards, but in the end, provided little in way of production. with Rolen returning to the lineup in 2006, you can bet the Cards won't be giving Seabol another 105 at-bats.
Moving to the mound, the only other place the Cardinals needed anything near full-time help was in the bullpen. After beginning the 2004 season with a professional baseball record of 56.2 consecutive scoreless innings, Brad Thompson's season ended with a rash of injuries. This year, however, the St. Louis front office moved Thompson to the bullpen, where he would pitch in 40 games. Despite less-than-stellar peripherals, Thompson's 2.40 GB/FB ratio shows his sinker is a powerful weapon.
Rounding out the rookies, the Cardinals gave a bit of time to John Gall in the field, and Anthony Reyes in the rotation. Both could have more significant roles next season, which is more than you can say of Seabol.
The opposite of the Cardinals. As you know, every year it looks as if the Braves will not make the playoffs. And every year, they do. What made this year special was that the foundation from past years was gone, forcing Bobby Cox into his most difficult position yet. And with the help of rookies, the Braves won it again.
Before the season, everyone thought the one area that John Schuerholz did a bad job designing was the outfield corners. The team had Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi penciled in, with very little to offer in way of replacements. Unsurprisingly, the two veterans did not take long to be both injured and ineffective, forcing Cox to improvise on the fly. His first fix was the combination of Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson.
Both of these two performed admirably; Langerhans' .267/.348/.426 and versatility should make for a good fourth outfielder, and Kelly Johnson sandwiched a bad start and bad finish with very nice play. However, during a slump from both players, the Braves needed another answer, and aggressively turned to one of their top prospects: Jeff Francoeur. At this point, the rest is history. Fantastic play in right field, clutch hitting, the spark this team needed to propel forward. In the end, a .300/.336/.549 line at the age of 21.
Smaller injuries in the infield would also demand rookies attention, as Chipper Jones, Johnny Estrada and Marcus Giles all went down at some point. Giles would have been replaced by Nick Green if the club hadn't spun him into Leo Mazzone's newest reclimation project: Jorge Sosa. Instead, they one-upped Green, finding Pete Orr, who in 150 at-bats hit a solid .300/.331/.387. Estrada was replaced by Brian McCann, who played so well, that he continued to earn starts when Estrada returned. In his 180 at-bats, McCann hit .275/.348/.451, and likely convinced the Braves to deal/non-tender Estrada over the winter.
At third, two options were tried. One failed miserably, the other succeeded. If I had asked you before the season to guess which one was Andy Marte, and which was Wilson Betemit, you would have been wrong. Marte struggled badly in his call-up, and finished the season with a .140 average in 57 at-bats. Former top prospect Betemit, on the other hand, may be looked at to replace Rafael Furcal next year after a .305/.359/.435 season. And remember, this was just his age 24 season.
The pitching side of things goes quicker, as Mazzone managed to keep his staff a little more in tact than the position players. Still, with a hole in the rotation early in the season, the Braves looked to Kyle Davies to fill the role. Like Marte, he wasn't ready. His ERA finished the season at 4.93, which is very good considering his WHIP: 1.68. Look for Davies to get a little more seasoning before thrust into the rotation in 2006.
Finally, we have the bullpen, where Blaine Boyer gave the Braves more than 40 games. Not really considered a prospect before the season, a move to relieving (and Mazzone) did Boyer well, as he posted a 3.11 ERA. In the end of the season, the team also used Macay McBride in the bullpen, with solid results. 14 innings, 22 strikeouts, and a likely spot in the 2006 pen.
At least next year Cox' problem will be avoiding sophomore slumps, not dealing with rookies, right?
Before the season, the Astros were on the short list of teams that could house the NL Rookie of the Year. For after a fantastic 2004 season at AAA, Chris Burke looked poised to step right into the Houston lineup. He didn't. Postseason heroics aside, Burke's role was largely a bench one, and his line of .248/.309/.368. We could bash the Astros for playing Biggio in Burke's spot, but it looks like a good decision in hindsight.
While Burke had been unable to claim a spot in Spring Training, Willy Taveras impressed enough to become the team's leadoff hitter. Acquired from the Indians for scraps, Taveras' speed and contact abilities impressed Phil Garner. These are, however, Taveras' only strengths, as neither his discipline or power is anything to be proud of. Still, leading a Wild Card team in at-bats, hitting .291 in 152 games and stealing 34 bases in a pennant race will make anyone a RoY contender.
We all know the situation at the top of the Houston rotation, which is one of the best of all-time. Pettite, Oswalt and Clemens. However, what Tim Purpura forgot to do after that was build any depth. And before you knew it, the club was looking into the minors and calling for Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio. Given the rush and the environment, it should not be surprising both players had ERAs over 5.50. However, both showed promise, and the pair will likely battle it out between each other in Spring Training.
Looking at the team's smaller roles, we next focus on Eric Bruntlett and Chad Qualls. The latter was one of Garner's most dependable relievers, coming into 77 games with a 3.28 ERA. The former was his utility infielder, showing quality defense, enough patience, and quality pop. Unfortunately, this all came with a .220 batting average. But, like Burke, Bruntlett's postseason (turning a fantastic double play in Game 4) might be enough to keep him in his role next year.
Ed Wade built a deep team this season. The Phillies looked poised to make the playoffs, and steal the NL East from the Braves. He had a good lineup with big bats, and a rotation with six arms.
However, when that sixth arm was needed, he didn't perform. Before the season, we all figured Gavin Floyd was ready for the Major Leagues, that the Phillies were just babying him. Six months later, we all wonder why we liked this guy so much. His ERA was over 10.00 in 26 innings of work, as his control wasn't there, and the curve wasn't enough. So, instead, the club had to go with an unknown commodity, Robinson Tejeda. Once a semi-promising prospect, Tejeda's 2004 had been a bad one, with a 5.15 ERA in Double-A. His 2005 was better, as his Major League ERA was 3.57. If he improves his control, which he will have the opportunity to do in 2006.
The only other hole that opened on this team was at first base, as Wade had not been planning on Jim Thome to get hurt. He did, however, have a nice back-up plan in stud prospect Ryan Howard. The minor league home run leader in 2004 did not disappoint fans or his team, helping to keep them in the Wild Card race until the last weekend. He was the Phillies answer to Francoeur, hitting .288/.356/.567 in 312 at-bats. 312 at-bats, 22 home runs, as a rookie. Hard to get better than that.
New York Mets
New York's payroll makes the depth built by Wade and Jocketty look silly. If the Mets have a hole, they fix it by throwing money at it. No problem. Never would they have the crazy thought of actually building from the inside to out, would they?
Only one player on the Mets this year was needed for any decent length of time: Victor Diaz. With Mike Cameron spending much of the season on the DL, they turned to Diaz, who has always had the bat, but never played the defense. Same story this year, however Diaz looks much more geared to right field than second base. And his bat? Still looking great after spending 280 at-bats hitting .257/.329/.468.
The bullpen needed a bit of help, and from the early going, MetsGeek was calling for Heath Bell. The Mets eventually listened, and the veteran minor leaguer would appear in 46.2 innings. His ERA of 5.59 was higher than expected, however, and while his K/BB remained solid, he proved to be just too hittable.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the September breakout on the Mets, even if he didn't exhaust his rookie status. After staring at Doug Mientkiewicz try to hit for much of the season, the play of Mike Jacobs has been enough to excite Mets fans. The former catcher starred in the 100 at-bats he was given at the end of the season, hitting a fantastic .310/.375/.710, and becoming one of the favorites for the 2006 award.
Oddly enough, it seems as the farther we get down from the top, the less rookies we have to talk about. The Marlins gave just one rookie substantial time this season, while about seven others were given smaller roles. While Matt Treanor, Chris Aguila, Jeremy Hermida, Robert Andino, Joe Dillon, Chris Resop and Scott Olsen probably didn't lose their rookie status, many made enough of an impression to gain a spot on the 2006 depth chart.
It's clear the Marlins did not know what they had in Jason Vargas before the season. A 2004 second-round pick from Long Beach State, Vargas began the season in the low-A South Atlantic League. Vargas then moved to the FSL, and then again to the Southern League before finding a home in Miami. But don't expect Vargas to move much more, as his 4.03 ERA in 73.2 innings looks like a sign of things to come.
Next year there should be more rookies to talk about in Miami, as many of the seven above try to break the lineup a second time around.
San Diego Padres
The Padres depth chart was a hard one to break this season, as many of the spots were filled by inexpensive veterans. This group led the Padres to an 83-81 record, but also to the playoffs, where they were quickly exhausted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Playing the Cardinals left San Diego with very little room for error, which is what left people criticizing Bruce Bochy's decision to finally implement a rookie.
He had only appeared in 31 games, only had 75 at-bats, only hit .213. Still, the peripherals spoke highly of 24-year-old Ben Johnson. A .310 on-base percentage, and a .467 slugging thanks to twelve of his sixteen hits being extra-base hits. This bit of pop landed Johnson a starting role in the NLDS, and the rest is history. Despite his poor play in the playoffs, look for Johnson to get more of a role (platoon-guy?) in 2006.
One rookie we thought might play a lot for the Padres this year was Tim Stauffer. But like Floyd, we were wrong with Stauffer, or right, depending on how you look at it. We knew his ceiling was not a high one, destined for a career at the back of a rotation. What we didn't think was that if Stauffer (a flyball pitcher) was given 14 starts on a team that played half their games in PETCO, that his ERA would finish at 5.33. Let's hope the Pads give him more of a chance next year, as he could very well shade a whole point off that ERA.
Finally, a team with a lot of rookies! The rebuilding movement is in full effect in Milwaukee, and worked very well this season, as the Brewers finally made it back to .500. This is, without doubt, partly due to a rookie middle infield, and a bullpen that Mike Maddux contructed out of rookies and no-names.
Coming out of Spring Training, J.J. Hardy had a job at shortstop. That job did not appear so safe after a first half in which Hardy hit .183/.293/.267, only showing patience as a skill. But after a talk with Prince Fielder, who informed Hardy his swing had changed, things began to click in the head of the 23-year-old. In the second half, Hardy showed promise, hitting .308/.363/.503 in 185 at-bats. You can bet the Brewers will gamble that the second version was the real Hardy next year.
The opposite of Hardy was true with Rickie Weeks, who began the season in AAA, but was called up to the Brewers relatively early in the year. At first glance, his .239/.333/.394 line in 360 at-bats does not look very impressive from the former second overall choice. However, his numbers significantly slumped late in the year, as Weeks had a thumb injury (torn ligament) that he played through. If Weeks can make better contact in 2006, look for him to finally become the star we have been waiting for.
In the bullpen, four names got a decent amount of playing time with the Big League squad: Dana Eveland, Justin Lehr, Jose Capellan and Jorge De La Rosa. The last was the first to be pitching in the pen, and his 38 appearances was the most of the group. And despite his 4.46 ERA being the third highest of the foursome, no one impressed me more. However, I was very influenced by an April outing against the Cubs: 2 innings, one hit, no runs, five strikeouts. His 2.03 WHIP? Less impressive.
The other three were just part time fixes for the club. Eveland was the worst of the group, now in the AFL looking to get back into starting. Lehr was acquired for Keith Ginter, and outplayed him at the Major League level, as 23 appearances with a sub-4.00 ERA does that. And finally, we have Capellan, converted to relief in June, and paying the Brewers dividends in September, with his 2.87 ERA across 15.2 innings.
Next year, expect even more rookies to play, as Prince Fielder and Corey Hart will stop being found on prospect lists. But give Doug Melvin some credit, because this thing is really starting to work.
What Was Josh Paul To Do?
After watching the instant replay, in game two of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night of A.J. Pierzynski striking out, I thought, as I'm sure a lot of viewers did, that it was the third out of the inning and the Angels and the White Sox were headed into extra innings.
Then one of the strangest things happened that I have ever seen. Home plate umpire, Doug Eddings, who made the out call by raising his right hand and making the fist sign, allowed Pierzynski to be safe at first. As long as I pitched in the Major Leagues, I too would have thought that when Eddings raised his right hand that that meant that it was a strikeout and my catcher caught the ball in the air without having to touch the batter to guarantee the final out of the inning. But I guess not?
Give Pierzynski a lot of credit though because, as he said, he thought the ball hit the dirt. He crossed home plate heading back to the dugout and then spun around and ran to first base as the Angels catcher, Josh Paul, rolled the ball toward the mound. By the time the Angels players could react to the NOW live ball Pierzynski was safe at first. And wouldn't you know it, Pablo Ozuna, pinch running for Pierzynski, stole second and scored the winning run on Joe Crede's single off the left field fence. Wow, what a finish!
This was a play that would probably go unnoticed during the regular season BUT this is for the American League Championship! I feel that Eddings blew the call which allowed the White Sox to win. But it was a must win for the White Sox because now the series is tied at one apiece as the two teams head to Anaheim or Los Angeles, or wherever the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim call home.
The same can be said about the Houston Astros beating the St. Louis Cardinals last night in the must win. Now their series is tied at one apiece and they continue the National League Championship Series in Houston. Great pitching performance by Houston's Roy Oswalt helped the Astros win game two.
I had the opportunity to pitch in three League Championship series and it's where every player who ever wore a Major League uniform wants to be in October.
My prediction is that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be facing the Houston Astros to determine the 2005 World Series Championship and the Houston Astros will win their first ever pennant. They will win because of their outstanding pitching staff and timely hitting.
Let's see how smart I am. Whatever happens, let's just all enjoy the games and remember how many strange things have to happen to allow a team to be World Champions.
Not a Prospect List
Opening disclaimer: I love Baseball America. I've been a subscriber for years; I read it cover to cover when it comes in (OK, not really cover-to-cover, since the old media guys in the front put me to sleep, but you know what I mean); I've built a small shrine to it in my basement.
Nonetheless, Baseball America has been the source of one of the great evils of our time -- the prospect list. We all know why they do it, of course; people like lists, and they like feeling like insiders, so prospect lists move copies. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but these lists need to be kept out of the hands of people who make actual decisions, because they're reversing the process. It's the result of what I've heard called The Halo Effect.
Let's look at a couple of players:
Now, there is an age factor here, as A was a year older than B in the years represented (although they're the same age in real life), but it's interesting how these tracks went, especially since they were both seasoned college players and not teenagers when they turned pro. A is Jon Knott, and Year 1 for him is 2002. Player B is
Xavier Nady, and Year 1 for him was 2001. There is no reason in what's shown here that Nady should have been moved faster (or, since this isn't really about Nady, that Knott should have been moved slower). However, Nady was a second round draft choice who had been on every prospect list on the planet, while Knott was an undrafted free agent no one had ever heard of, so not only did Nady move faster up the ladder, he spent another year in San Diego in 2005 while Knott wandered in the wilderness of the PCL again. The Halo Effect does its damage, and prospect lists are one of the root
causes of that.
All of this is a long prelude to what could, if you don't look closely, be mistaken for a prospect list. There is a difference, but feel free to laugh at my inconsistency for a moment if you wish. What follows is actually what the decision makers should be looking at, or at least a variant of it; it's a performance list. What follows is the list of the top performances by my favorite evaluation measures for college players by last year's sophomore class. The difference in this and a prospect list is that I haven't talked to anyone, much less a scout, I've never seen most of these guys, and the next time I use the word "toolsy" will be the first.
First, the hitters. These guys are ranked by AOPS
(adjusted OPS), a stat of mine which takes traditional OPS and adjusts them for park factor and
strength of schedule faced.
||C. J. Ketchum
|Cal State Fullerton
||J. J. Owen
|College of Charleston
Now, you heard what I said earlier about talking to scouts, right? There's a temptation here to push the word count up by trying to offer a pithy comment about each of these guys, but that's not what we're doing here. These are the guys who have performed, and no one should care if they're strapping young hunks of manhood or guys who look up to Quasimodo, or would if they could keep up with him.
So, on to the pitchers. These guys are ranked by another creation of mine that I call RBOA (Runs
Below Opponent Average), which is exactly what it sounds like. Because
RBOA is a counting stat, it is affected by playing time issues, so
sophomores who make their way into the rotation at midseason will suffer in this list. On the other hand, the college season is short enough that a pitcher who's only been in the rotation for half a season hasn't really provided enough of a sample size to be judged, so I think I'm OK with that.
|Middle Tennessee State
||P. J. Walters
|San Diego State
These, therefore, are the guys you want to start your watch list for next year with, although in this case there is a caveat. College pitchers often carry a tremendous workload, especially when measured with pitch
counts. If that's something that concerns you, either professionally through your organization's stance or personally through your fantasy philosophy, do your homework on that front as well.
See, two perfectly good lists of players to watch, and I didn't use the word "gamer" once.
Boyd Nation is chief cook and bottlewasher at Boyd's World, a college baseball stats and analysis site, and provides college baseball data consulting to an undisclosed number of major league teams. In real life, he's an information security guy with a beautiful wife and three great kids in Birmingham, Alabama.
"Y'er Out" or . . . Not
Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 asked me if I saw the call in the Angels-White Sox game on Wednesday night, and here is what I told him...
The umpire clearly called "strike three" by signaling with his right arm in an outstretched manner. He also clenched his fist, which normally means "y'er out." What we don't know is if he said anything. I get the impression that he didn't. Not that he has to, but if he said "y'er out" in addition to the hand signals, then the batter is out. Plain and simple.
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As a former umpire, my opinion is as follows: if he didn't say "y'er out," then it is much more ambiguous as to whether the ump thought he was out. I would like to see a replay of the game so I could re-evaluate how he called strikes and strike-three outs the rest of the game. That would be very telling.
Catcher Josh Paul made a huge mistake by rolling the ball back to the mound if he didn't hear the ump say "y'er out." Instead, he should have either:
turned around and showed the ump the ball and gotten confirmation if it was ruled an out or not ...
tagged out A.J. Pierzynksi right then and there, just to be sure ...
thrown the ball to first to complete the 2-3 putout.
Pierzynski gets kudos for his heads-up play. It was the first time all series that a Chicago White Sox baserunner did something right.
In a postgame interview, Doug Eddings, the home plate umpire, said "I'm watching Josh Paul, I'm seeing what he's going to do. Sometimes you go off the reaction of the player."
Well, if he Eddings was going off the "reaction of the player," he should have called Pierzynksi out. Paul didn't hesitate one bit. He caught the ball and immediately rolled it back to the mound. That shouldn't, in and of itself, mean the batter is out, but it makes no sense for the umpire to determine that the pitch hit the dirt if he was basing his call off Paul's reaction.
Solution to the problem: Major League Baseball needs to develop uniform and distinct signals for "strike" and "out" calls that would be required of all umpires. There should be no ambiguity like there was Wednesday night. Substance should always win out over style. We don't go to the ballgame to watch an umpire make a call.
Umpires, in such situations, also need to commit to a call right then and there. Either call the batter out by giving the out sign and yelling "y'er out" or signal bobble/no catch and yell "no catch, no catch."
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I was also asked by Rob and another writer why manager Mike Scoscia didn't protest. The short answer is that such a call is one of judgment and, therefore, not something that can be protested.
From Major League Baseball Official Rules:
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(a) Any umpire's decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.
Let me be clear here: The call or non-call wasn't the reason the Angels lost. But it was the reason why they didn't have a chance to win.
Baseball Playoffs: Take Two (Part Two)
NLCS Preview: Astros vs. Cardinals
**Second Verse, Same as the First?**
In a nutshell - Team Built for 162 Games vs. Team Built for October
Rich's Take: The Cardinals and Astros just might be the two best teams in baseball. It just so happens that they not only play in the same league but the same division. I believe the winner of the NLCS will be favored to win the World Series so there is a lot at stake here. Both teams are hungry with something to prove.
It's hard to believe but the state of Texas has never hosted a World Series game. Houston took St. Louis to the brink of defeat last year, but the Cardinals earned the right to get swept by Boston by beating Roger Clemens in Game Seven. Interestingly, the stars are aligned in such a way that Clemens just may start the final game once again.
If you go by the numbers, I think you have to like St. Louis. The Astros really aren't better than the Cardinals at anything. The Redbirds hit better, field better, and have the home-field advantage. The Astros? They have one of the top three pitchers of all time, the Killer B's, and perhaps the mojo this year.
The Cardinals won 11 more games than the Astros while playing in the same division. St. Louis beat up on Houston when they played each other, taking 11 of the 16 games. They swept the Padres in the NLDS and have won more regular season and postseason games than any team in baseball the past two years. The Astros, on the other hand, have won only two playoff series out of ten in the franchise's history. But they were victorious last week in perhaps the greatest one of 'em all.
Bryan's Take: Yes, the numbers definitely support a St. Louis sweep. The emotions, however (and we saw what a difference that can make last night), favor the Astros. That's what 18-inning game wins do, they put clubs on emotional highs, and provoke the media to call them a team of destiny.
However, while we are probably going to hear some David v. Goliath references, don't believe them. David isn't going to win because he has heart. This series will be about more than that. And as Rich pointed out, other than emotions, the Cards have everything else.
What little the Astros have in offense, the Cards can match it. Both offenses are predicated around four hitters, but you have to think those four will balance each other out in this series. Or at least that's the Astros goal. Can Biggio, Ensberg, Berkman and Lane balance Walker, Edmonds, Pujols and Sanders? If so, the series becomes about the other four offensive starters, and about the pitching.
This is what Houston wants, not because it's better in those areas, but because those two things are more volatile.
Rich's Outtake: At number one and two in the NL, the team ERAs were almost identical this year. Houston's pitchers had better peripheral stats than St. Louis. The Astros have more star power at the top of their rotation in Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt, but the Cardinals have more depth. To wit, Tony La Russa can turn to Jason Marquis or Jeff Suppan in Game Four. Phil Garner has no choice other than to go with Brandon Backe. Marquis was 4-0 with a 3.22 ERA against the Astros, while Backe had a 10.32 ERA with 21 hits and 7 walks in 11 1/3 IP vs. the Cardinals.
Chris Carpenter also fared well against Houston this year, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA. The Cardinals didn't have Carpenter in the postseason last year, while the Astros had both Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent. Seems hard to believe that St. Louis with a healthy Carpenter could lose to Houston team sans Beltran and Kent.
Bryan's Outtake: Other than emotions, Houston has one thing in their favor: the Fab Four. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge. If these four can get in about 50 innings during the series, you have to figure the Astros win. I mean, how much better are they than Carpenter, Mulder, Morris and Isringhausen. Not exactly a murderer's row, there. In fact, the Astros have an ERA edge greater than half a run there.
One area not getting a lot of mention in this series is Yadier Molina. Before the season, I compared Molina to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, and now I think the comparison is as true as ever. This season, Molina has thrown out 64.1% of baserunners. Yes, you read that right, 25 of 39 have been thrown out. In an age where Mike Piazza and Jason Kendall can each catch more than 800 innings behind the plate with rates below 20%, that is astounding. So basically, do not expect Wily Taveras to have a big series.
Rich's Pick: The left side of my brain tells me the Cardinals, while the right side says Astros. The right side wins out. Houston in seven.
Bryan's Pick: In the playoffs, they tell you to throw out the numbers and look at the intangibles. But if Rich is going with the right side, I'll be happy to hedge his bet. We know the Cardinals will win Game Five, and they have four other games at home. I'll go with Cardinals in six.
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For more information on the NLCS, please be sure to visit the following sites...
Astros: Astros Daily and The Dugout
Cardinals: Viva El Birdos and Cardnilly
Baseball Playoffs: Take Two
ALCS Preview: Angels vs. White Sox
**Two of a Kind**
In a nutshell - Pitching vs. Pitching
Rich's Take: Rather than pitching vs. pitching, it should read Rested and Relaxed vs. Road Weary and Tired. C'mon, this is the most unfair schedule I have ever seen. Is it the Angels fault that Game Four of the ALDS was rained out? Blame it on the New Yorkers. It was their rain. But no way should it be held against the Angels.
The White Sox should get credit for sweeping the Red Sox and for having a better regular-season record than the Angels, but you may as well hand them Game One. They will have had three days off. The Angels get no time off. Worse yet, the Halos played in New York on Sunday night, then fly coast-to-coast in the wee hours of the morning, play the rubber match of the series Monday night, then turn around and take another red eye more than halfway across the country. Now that is downright silly! Moreover, it is blatantly biased in favor of the White Sox and against the Angels.
OK, I feel a little bit better now. . .but not much. Take a deep breath, hold it, hold it. . .now let it out slowly, Rich. Whew! OK, OK. I'm making some progress. I should be good to go by Game Three. The first two games don't really matter anyway, do they? I mean, the White Sox had best be up 2-0 by Wednesday night or they are going to be in a real hurt, let me tell you. The Pale Hose have home field advantage in this series, and they had better sweep in Chicago. If they don't, the Angels are going to beat them. It's that simple. I know the White Sox have a great record on the road and all, but I think they need to take advantage of the gift in the schedule in order to beat the Angels.
Absent the schedule, these two teams are about as equal as can be. Second and third best team ERA in the AL. Top two for starting pitchers only. The White Sox have the edge in bullpen ERA though. However, I wouldn't take the Angels relievers lightly. Led by Frankie Rodriguez, the Halos have a higher K/9 than the White Sox, plus LA's 'pen has been bolstered by the addition of Kelvim Escobar the past few weeks.
I'm inclined to throw the above stats out the window because what you've seen is not what you're going to get. Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn are questionable. Colon's shoulder will be re-evaluated on Tuesday and Washburn, scratched from his Game Four start due to a throat infection and high fever, has strep throat. John Lackey and Ervin Santana both pitched more than five innings on Sunday and Monday, respectively, so neither will be available until this weekend. That leaves Paul Byrd to go in Game One and anybody and everybody in Game Two.
Bryan's Take: Oh pipe down, Rich. I thought you California folk were supposed to be laid-back? I'm kidding of course, but in seriousness, there is no reason to bring up the anti-West Coast bias already. I mean, can't we at least wait for the White Sox to win the first two games before accusing baseball of conspiracy?
Also, I think you are selling the Angels short here, I mean c'mon, these guys are professional athletes. On 18 different occasions this year, the Angels traveled out of state between games on consecutive days. Oftentimes, this meant little more rest than the 20 hours given between Game Five and Game One. The Halos record in these games? 12-6, with the average scoring 6 runs per game, significantly more than their seasonal average (4.7).
It isn't the schedule that is going to do the Angels in, but the pitching we highlighed at the top. Oh, or are you going to blame Bud Selig for Colon and Washburn's injuries? While Rich looked at just how similar these staffs have been, Los Angeles could hardly enter a series more vulnerable. Their three healthy starters had an aggregate ERA of 3.73, while the Sox Game 1-4 starters were at 3.52. And for once, it looks like the Angels might be out-manned in the bullpen, as the White Sox four best relievers (Cotts, Jenks, Hermanson, Politte) had a 2.12 ERA in over 220 innings this season).
Also, despite the numbers, I like the Chicago offense more in this series. The Angels had just one player hit more than 17 home runs this season, as the White Sox had five. Neither team walks very much, and both are fairly active on the basepaths. The difference? The Angels are a contact-first team, striking out 154 less times than the White Sox this year, while being out-homered by 53. So who gets the advantage in this series then, the team that puts pressure on the defense, or the one that depends on the long ball? Go for the latter, as the White Sox have one of the Majors best defenses, while playing in one of the Majors smallest parks.
At the top, we mentioned this series was about pitching against pitching. Problem for the Angels is, they enter the series with an issue of too little, while the White Sox come in with problems of too much.
Rich's Outtake: The Angels and White Sox are a bit more challenged offensively. They ranked seventh and ninth, respectively, in the AL in runs scored. Even though Ozzie Guillen and Scott Podsednik would like you to think these are the Go-Go Sox, I'm going to let you in on a secret. They are anything but. The White Sox hit 97 home runs in 1959 and 199 in 2005. I know, I know. . .there are more HR being hit today than back then, but double the amount? I don't think so. Today's Sox have some sock. Chicago ranked fourth in the league in dingers. Paul Konerko slugged 40, Jermaine Dye 31, Carl Everett 23, Joe Crede 22, and on and on. Every starter other than Podsednik hit 13 or more HR.
By comparison, the Angels only had four players hit 13 or more homers. Heck, the team's starting infield of Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, Orlando Cabrera, and Chone Figgins went yard a total of 25 times COMBINED! Their corner infielders muscled out 15 in 1,251 at-bats during the regular season. Did I mention that they both struck out over 100 times to boot? I mean, what's not to like? You either get home runs or you get the unshaven look with eye black and dirty pants.
Bryan's Outtake: One thing I ignored when evaluating the Angels-Yankees series was that L.A. simply had the Yanks number. It seems as if everytime the two teams had played since the Angels won the World Series, Los Angeles came out on top. The Angels also have an advantage over the White Sox from the beginning of 2004, albeit a narrow one at that.
The postseason is also when stars shine brighter, and the Angels are aided by the two best players in this series. Vladimir Guerrero is tops, by far, with his blend of fantastic contact and power skills at the plate. In the bullpen, the team also has Francisco Rodriguez, one of the American League's best closers. When on, K-Rod's stuff would have made Mariano Rivera a preferable choice. Expect these two to not go down without a fight.
Finally, in the last preview for the White Sox, of the ALDS, I mentioned Chicago's troubles against right-handed pitching. While the club had no such problems against the Red Sox right-handers, this could change as the White Sox are set to play a better group. In fact, besides Jarrod Washburn, it's unlikely the Angels will have another southpaw on their ALCS roster.
And believe me, the White Sox lineup looks a lot less frightening when the largest concern is A.J. Pierzynski.
Rich's Pick: The schedule favors Chicago. The home field advantage goes to Chicago. With the status of Colon and Washburn up in the air, Chicago gets the nod for starting pitching, too. Throw in the decided edge in power and what does that spell? Chicago in six.
Bryan's Pick: Starting out strong is important to the White Sox. They need to get ahead early in games to avoid facing Scot Shields and K-Rod, while also handing the ball over to their own bullpen to protect the lead. They also need to start strong in the series, to avoid Washburn returning to a tied (or close) series. Expect them to do both. White Sox in five.
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For more information on the ALCS, please be sure to visit the following sites...
Angels: 6-4-2 and Pearly Gates
White Sox: South Side Sox and Exile in Wrigleyville
The Greatest Game Ever Played
I may be guilty of spewing hyperbole here but yesterday's Atlanta Braves-Houston Astros game ranks among the greatest ever played in the postseason.
Was it better than Bill Mazeroski's or Joe Carter's World Series-winning, walk-off home runs? Or Carlton Fisk's or Kirk Gibson's dramatic game-winning homers? How 'bout Don Larsen's perfect game? What about Babe Ruth's "called shot" against the Cubs? Have I forgotten Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch or Bill Buckner's non-catch?
Well, I know one thing--if it wasn't the best, it was certainly the longest. Since the first World Series in 1903, no postseason game had ever lasted 17 innings until the Braves and Astros did the record one better on Sunday by battling for 18 frames in a five-hour and fifty-minute marathon that featured 553 pitches. But it wasn't the length in and of itself that made this game so special.
This contest was one for the books because of what took place between the chalk lines. We're talking quantity and quality of play here.
Tim Hudson and the visiting Braves were a slight favorite over Brandon Backe and the Astros to even up the series and take it back to Atlanta for a fifth and decisive game. Behind Adam LaRoche's third-inning grand slam, the Braves had what appeared to be an almost insurmountable 6-1 lead as the game headed into the home half of the eighth.
With the bases loaded and relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth now on the mound, Lance Berkman poked a fastball on the outside edge of the plate over the left-field wall to cut the deficit to just one. The opposite-field homer marked the first time in the history of baseball that two grand slams were hit in the same postseason game. Pretty special, huh? If nothing else, it sure got my attention. I put down my remote control and decided right then and there that I was going to forget about the pro football games and watch every pitch from that point on.
My willpower paid off an inning later when Brad Ausmus, of all people, smoked another Farnsworth heater over the outstretched glove of the leaping Andruw Jones and the yellow-painted line on the wall in left-center field with two outs in the ninth to tie the game 6-6.
The pitching dominated the extra innings as neither side scored a run through 17. The Braves and Astros, in fact, mustered just five hits. It felt as if the game was being played inside the Astrodome rather than Minute Maid Park. Houston's relief pitchers--Chad Qualls, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Roger Clemens. . .yes, that Roger Clemens--struck out 12 batters after the ninth inning. Clemens was going on two days' rest and just so happened to be the last available pitcher for the Astros unless one wanted to count Andy Pettitte, who apparently wasn't even at the ballpark; Roy Oswalt, who went 7 1/3 innings the day before; or Jason Lane, the team's right-fielder who was the winning pitcher for USC in the NCAA championship game against Arizona State in 1998.
Clemens, making just the second relief appearance of his career and the first since his rookie year in 1984, retired nine of the 11 batters he faced. The Rocket was pitching on fumes--and rather effectively I might add. He had entered the game as a pinch hitter for Wheeler in the bottom of the 15th and promptly advanced Craig Biggio to second with a sacrifice bunt. Chris Burke, who made his way into the game as a pinch runner for Berkman in the tenth (a move that I would not have made had I been in manager Phil Garner's shoes, which would be impossible given that I wear a size 13), walked. With runners on first and second, Morgan Ensberg, Lane's college teammate at USC, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end what was the best opportunity for either team to score in the extra innings--if you exclude Luke Scott's blast down the left-field line that sliced just left of the foul pole by inches in the tenth inning.
Clemens struck out to lead off the home half of the 18th. Without sifting through Retrosheet, I think it is pretty safe to say that Roger has never batted in the 18th inning before Sunday. Clemens, in fact, hasn't pitched more than 10 innings in a game and when he was used in relief it was for the fifth and sixth innings when the Oakland A's were beating the Red Sox 6-0.
Up to the plate stepped Burke, a highly regarded player out of the University of Tennessee and in the Astros minor league system but a disappointment in his rookie season with Houston. Burke deposited a 2-0 pitch from Joey Devine, four months removed from North Carolina State University, into the left-field stands to give the Astros the 7-6 victory and the right to meet the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, which starts Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. It will be the first NLCS rematch since Pittsburgh and Atlanta played in 1991-92.
The Redbirds beat Clemens in Game Seven last October, denying the Astros their first World Series appearance. Will St. Louis beat their divisional rivals once again or is this the year that Houston finally goes all the way? I know I am conflicted. I picked the Cardinals to win the World Series before the year began, then hedged my bet a week ago by suggesting that the Astros were a good choice behind the three-headed monster of Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte to win it all.
Bryan and I will offer our insights into the NLDS and the ALDS on Tuesday. But first things first. The Chicago White Sox and the rest of the baseball world will be watching the New York Yankees take on the Los Angeles Angels tonight in Game Five of the ALDS in the greatest game ever played.
What Went Wrong to the Rest
Media coverage is a funny thing.
One day, you're on top of the world, leading off Sportscenter, and making the front page. The lead story to every sports report on the local and national news. The next day, however, you're gone -- over and done with -- and worthless to them. They forget about you for months, until the playing field is level again, and we can begin to argue who will do it next season.
This sudden lack of coverage comes at different times for different teams. For some it's lost in early September, when many teams often go from contender to pretender. Sometimes it's lost slowly, during the season, when divisional mates prove to be too much. For some it goes, comes back, and goes again. This series is about covering those teams.
In previous editions, we looked at those failed September teams, and yesterday, looked at the losers of the NL East. Today, we finish up the regular season edition of "What Went Wrong" at a look at three teams that had the oddest of seasons. At various times during the middle of the year, Oakland, Cleveland, and San Francisco were all considered to be done with. However, the clubs played well when needed, and slowly climbed up the rankings, and began to make some noise in September.
Problem is, the teams simply couldn't capitalize when needed. All three teams saw their season slip away in the September series against the would-be divisional winner. Had the A's beat the Angels, or the Giants top the Padres, or the Indians upset the White Sox, this article could feature a completely different group.
Let's start with the Indians, probably the most interesting of the group, considering their September collapse. In May, no one would have imagined this team had a shot to make the playoffs. In mid-September, few would have believed they had a chance at missing it. But this was a team to constantly defy the odds, whether it be a ridiculous second half run or a final week belly-flop.
In to discuss the Indians is the SportsBlogs' Cleveland affiliate, proprietor of "Let's Go Tribe," Ryan Richards. He answers the usual five questions...
What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?
Well, the last week of the season it was the offense. The team couldn't string together two hits together the last week of the season, never mind three or four. While the offense overall was very good over the course of the season, there were some really bad stretches at times. So I guess the short answer is the lack of consistency on offense.
How do you hope Mark Shapiro attacks this problem over the winter?
The biggest hole this early in the process seems to be in right field and/or first base. Casey Blake is not an everyday outfielder, and Ben Broussard is eligible for arbitration for the first time. The Indians need some production from their corners, and while I don't know if there's an answer on the free agent market, the Indians have to make an upgrade somehow. There are issues to address as well: If the Indians lose Kevin Millwood, they're going to need another starter. And they'll have to remake the bullpen; three important pitchers (Wickman, Howry, Sauerbeck) are free agents.
Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?
MVP could go to a number of players, from Kevin Millwood to Victor Martinez to the bullpen as a whole. But I'll go with Travis Hafner; Pronk carried the team during several stretches over the course of the season. He missed 2.5 weeks during the season, but still finished the year with 75 extra-base hits. One stat that amazes me about Hafner is that he hit .286/.316/.516 after falling behind 0-2, indicating how good he is at pitch recognition.
LVP has to go to Casey Blake. I don't like to look at RISP numbers as a measure of a player's worth, but posting a .491 OPS with runners in scoring position is so bad that you can't help noticing it.
There's a lot to choose from, but for me the highlight of the season was Travis Hafner's grand slam in Fenway on June 28th. The Indians had been down three runs in the eighth, but tied the game in the ninth; Hafner's grand slam off Keith Foulke put the game away.
The last week of the season. Six losses in seven games, five of them by one run. An agonizing seven days considering the Indians had control of their own destiny.
The Billy Beane bashers came out loud and proud in May, when the A's were in last place in the NL West, and Beane's rebuilding job was looking like just that. How dare we had thought this team had a chance to win, no matter how young and promising they looked, right? Wrong. The A's season took a drastic 180 on June 1, when the club caught fire, and quickly rose up the AL West standings, all the way to first place. However, injuries and inconsistency allowed the Angels to eventually take the division, and Oakland simply couldn't stick with Cleveland and the AL East in the Wild Card standings.
Baseball Toaster writer and webmaster Ken Arneson answers a few questions about his favorite team...
What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?
Bobby Crosby's ribs, Rich Harden's oblique, Erubiel Durazo's elbow, Octavio Dotel's elbow, Rich Harden's lat, and Bobby Crosby's ankle. And possibly Eric Chavez' shoulder.
The injuries to Crosby and Durazo were the most damaging. They led to far too many at bats by Marco Scutaro and Scott Hatteberg, as well as by Durazo himself, before they figured out how badly he was hurt. The offense, not among the best to begin with, lost a lot of power.
The injuries made for a really schizophrenic season. The A's were really, really bad; then they were really, really good; and finally, they were mediocre.
How do you hope Beane attacks this problem over the winter?
Health and maturity should improve the team quite a bit, so Billy Beane doesn't need to do much. The future looks bright. The question marks for 2006 are at LF and DH. However Beane fills those two positions, I'd like to see some more power, hopefully with at least one right-handed bat.
I hope Hatteberg retires. I wouldn't mind the default choice: re-signing a recovering Durazo on the cheap, and picking up Jay Payton's option. But Beane might have some money to burn this offseason for a change ($7-10 million), so he has some room to be creative.
What Beane does depends a lot on how close they think Daric Barton is. The A's might want to give him a little more time to mature and work on his defense. Otherwise, they could just use Barton right now in the Hatteberg role of DH/backup 1B/emergency catcher, and focus their dollars on the best left fielder their money can buy.
Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?
The A's didn't have a clearcut MVP this year. Rich Harden is the team's best player, but he was hurt too much. Zito and Blanton both had long stretches of great pitching, but a few bumps, too. Huston Street was a godsend, but he wasn't the closer all year. Eric Chavez had the biggest offensive numbers, but he sucked so bad at the beginning of the year, I don't want to pick him.
So I'll do the non-stathead thing, and pick the best story: Mark Ellis. He came back from missing a year with a horrible shoulder injury, played excellent defense, and hit .316/.384/.477. He had the most out-of-the-blue offensive season in Oakland since Terry Steinbach hit 35 homers in 1996.
LVP is easy: Keith Ginter. If he had hit anything like what he hit in 2004, he could have taken some of Scutaro's at-bats, and given the A's some more power. But he forgot how to hit, for some reason.
The two most memorable plays were by Jason Kendall: diving at the plate to tag out Michael Young to end the game in Texas, and then dashing home to win the game when K-Rod dropped the throw back from the catcher.
The game to remember was on September 7, when theyscored five runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Mariners, 8-7.
But the best part of the season was just that stretch in late June through early August, where most of the team was healthy, and every day just seemed to bring another victory.
The most painful play to watch was on August 21, when Mark Kotsay lost a ball in the sun, helping the Royals win their second straight game in Oakland, after they had just lost 19 in a row. The most costly play of the year was the one where Bobby Crosby broke his ankle against Baltimore.
The lowlight game of the season was the Michael Cuddyer game, when it became clear the A's would not make the playoffs.
The lowlight stretch of the year was in May, when the A's had a ton of injuries, and had to play the Yankees and Red Sox for two straight weeks. That stretch buried the A's; it was amazing that they managed to dig themselves out of it to even be competitive at the end.
Few sub-.500 teams have taken up our airwaves more in recent memory than the 2005 Giants, for two reasons. First and most obviously, Barry Bonds. The game's best slugger nearly missed the entire season with injury, coming back just early enough to create a media frenzy. The second reason is that the Giants played in baseball's worst division, one of the worst ever, one that even sub-.500 play could contend in. So when September rolled around, and Bonds came back, hope was restored in San Francisco. It shouldn't have been.
Moving across the bay, we being in Grant, from McCovey Chronicles, to discuss his memories and complaints from the latest edition of the G-men...
What turned out to be the team's Achilles Heel?
While the starting pitching fell far short of expectations, the biggest weakness of the Giants was a dearth of reliable hitters. No one, save Moises Alou and Ray Durham, could get on base. It's almost as if the team was counting on Barry Bonds a bit too much, but I wouldn't want to speculate.
How do you hope Brian Sabean attacks this problem over the winter?
I want a big, thumping first baseman, and that's what the team needs. There are no big, thumping first basemen available with the exception of Paul Konerko, who I don't really want roaming around at the end of a 4-year deal, and possibly Jim Thome, who is still due the GDP of Peru. If the Giants threw money at Konerko for a short-term fix, and pretended like 2010 didn't exist, I wouldn't be too bitter.
Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?
The MVP would have been Moises Alou if he had stayed healthy, but Noah Lowry is a fine choice. The start of the season for Lowry was scary, but he was fantastic the second-half. Even more impressive, in a roundabout way, was how he did it. Last year, Lowry threw an amazing changeup consistently. The change was flakier in 2005, but an improved curveball proved good enough to be an out pitch.
The LVP goes to Armando Benitez. Overpaid, ineffective, and injuried. He'll be fine, and his struggles when he returned were likely due to his being rushed, but the Giants would have won the division if he even came close to a repeat of 2004.
Bonds hitting a double in his first at-bat back was nice, but Randy Winn tying a critical game against Trevor Hoffman was the best moment of the season. That game left Giants fans as if the team had a shot; a ridiculous scenario to contemplate for a team as flawed as this one.
Getting one-hit by the A's in a 16-0 rout. Oof. Maybe the worst Giants game ever, from a purely aesthetic point of view.
As always, this article would have been impossible without the help of our fine guests. Hopefully we can continue this series going forward, as the playoffs cut the playing field down in half with each round. We'll be back tomorrow with new content, so please check back.
What Went Wrong in the NL East
In the last edition of "What Went Wrong," we looked at four organizations that fell apart in September's first two weeks. Still, even when the article ran on September 16, many other teams were still in the race. Over the next two days, we will look at the six clubs that teased their fan bases up to the season's last week.
We begin today with the most interesting division in baseball. No, not the NL West, the loathsome group that sent the 82-80 Padres into the playoffs. Instead, we look at three clubs that missed in the NL East, a division in which San Diego would have finished just one game from last place. While the Braves had all-but-assured themselves of a playoff spot in August, we may forget that this division was up for grabs well into July.
Last time, we looked at the New York Mets, the first team that really fell apart in the division. Metsgeek.com's Ricardo Gonzalez told us about the club's numerous issues, including, "The back-end of the bullpen gave us some problems, Willie Randolph had a rough rookie year, and Jose Reyes was seemingly unable to take ball four [and] ... the production of the right side of the infield." However, he also relived the season highlight with us, the club's first win of the season under Pedro Martinez and over John Smoltz.
The Mets ended up finishing tied for third in the division thanks to a solid finish, bringing their record up to 83-79. Behind the Amazins in the standings were the Washington Nationals, in their first season in the District of Columbia. The Nats, formerly the Expos, started off the season like has become a ritual: extremely well. They were leading the division well into June, and appeared to be a contender for the Wild Card well into September.
To profile the Nats many ups and downs, we asked the Ball Wonk, proprietor of the fantastic ball-wonk.com. The Wonk gives us a look at MLB's team, who we can expect to have some semblance of stability in 2006, when the organization should gain an owner.
What turned out to be this team's Achilles heel?
Ah, but we only remember Achiles's heel because it was his one vulnerability. A team that just barely misses the playoffs because it couldn't win that 101st game to pass the Cardinals, that team has an Achilles heel. The Nats? Not so much. Imagine, if you will, that Achilles was dipped into the Olympian water of invulnerability by a god who dangled him from not from his heel but from his elbow and knee, which had been hog-tied together for the purpose. In that version of the story, Achilles would have been about two-thirds invulnerable. "Nigh-invulnerable," and the Tick would say. But one whole arm and shoulder, one whole leg and hip, a hand, a foot, and a couple of his abs would have remained the mortalest of flesh. That would be the Nationals this year.
Actually, "knee" is probably the right answer here. The Nats had like ten guys go down with knee injuries, or play hobbled through excruciating knee ailments. Jose Vidro and Vinny Castilla stand out among knee injuries that hurt the Nationals, but only because Livan Hernandez was so good at faking his way through the pain. Knee problems were so endemic you'd have thought we had stolen money from the Irish Republican Army or something.
More generally, having the least productive offense in the big leagues probably wasn't as helpful as GM "Trader Jim" Bowden thought it might be. Nor was unreliable middle relief. And manager Frank Robinson driving every Asian pitcher off the team in fits of petty rage? Again, not as helpful as Frank probably thought at the time.
How do you hope Jim Bowden attacks this problem in the winter?
The first priority must be convincing George Steinbrenner that he is only one fat, underachieving, surly Dominican shortstop away from the 2006 pennant. Short of that, the Nationals are in a "do no harm" mode until the team gets permanent owners who can assess long-term revenue and the like. We need more prospects in the minors a lot more than we need pennant races in 2006 or 2007. But we have two whole outfields worth of league-average or better outfielders. Any two of them could bring us real value, perhaps an infield bat and some minor-league talent, that would have a fast impact. So could the right free-agent signing, even in this anemic free-agent year, but that depends on an owner's decision to raise payroll from the current $50 mil to the $80 mil or so that a team in this market can easily afford.
Who would you label as team MVP and LVP?
MVP is a tough call. The one player who would probably have cost us the most wins if he had performed at any level less than what he gave us is Chad Cordero, but it's just unseemly to rate a closer as a team's MVP. Esteban Loaiza is really the unsung hero of the 2005 Nationals season; he pitched better and more consistently over the season than anyone else on a generally excellent staff, but wound up with nothing to show for it but a whole lot of 1-0 losses and 1-1 no-decisions.
You kidding? Opening day at home, first big-league game in DC since before a lot of fans were born. Seeing baseball-starved fans at a bar, none of whom were keeping score or could hear the broadcasters because the jukebox was on instead of the game audio, realize on their own, with no prompting, that Vinny Castilla needed only a single to hit for the cycle and then get hushed and start cheering for a single in his last at-bat. That was a pretty special moment.
Or maybe the highlight was Frank's confrontation with Mike Scioscia over the gunk on that cheating pitcher's glove, and how it took seven guys -- no exaggeration; you can check the Tivo -- to stop Guillen the Barbarian from rushing the field to defend his manager, and then the Nats went on to tear through the next few weeks like Sherman marching through Georgia. Or the final game, where the Nationals got blown out by the Phillies but the fans kept right in it the whole way and finally managed to shut up the 10,000 or so Phillies fans who'd been making RFK feel more like the Vet.
Every time the Phillies came to town and their lowlife fans turned up in massive numbers to make DC feel like a home game for the Phils. Are all Philles fans vulgar boors who behave more like European soccer hooligans than American sports fans? Surely not, but a shocking number of the ones who show up at RFK when the Phillies are in town would fit right in at a French soccer stadium. I started the season expecting to regard the Phillies the same way I do the Indians: the other team in my favorite team's division I wouldn't mind getting the pennant if my team can't win it themselves. Now, after a season of getting to know the Phillies fans who come to RFK? I wouldn't mind so much if the Nationals went 3-159 next year, just so long as those three wins were a sweep at Philadelphia that cost the Phillies the Wild Card.
Two games ahead of the Nationals, and tied with the Mets, were the Florida Marlins. Probably the NL East's most top-heavy team, the club packed quite a bit of punch for the whole season. Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado at the plate, Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett in the rotation, and a suddenly-for-no-reason-dynamite Todd Jones in the bullpen all fueled this team for 162 games. However, the team that Bryan chose to make the Wild Card weeks into September proved to not have enough depth to overtake the Houston Astros.
In to provide the answers to the Marlins' woes is Mike Hunssinger, one of the co-writers at Fish Stripes, SportsBlogs' Marlins affiliate. His answers...
What turned out to be this team's Achilles heel?
This has to be either one of two things. The conventional answer is the bullpen, which--other than Todd Jones--was disappointing all around. The Marlins tried to plug holes throughout the year with minor leaguers and re-treads, but it just didn't work. The biggest disappointment of all has to be Guillermo Mota, who was counted on in the spring to be the closer. He proved incapable of that and luckily Todd Jones stepped up.
Other than that, Jack McKeon's curious managerial style and grating personality in the clubhouse may have made the difference. There was talk around the All-Star break that the Marlins might shake things up. They didn't and the dirty laundry started to come out at the end of the year. It almost seems that clubhouse dissension played as large of a role in the team's struggles as the poor bullpen and the struggles of Lowell and Pierre.
How do you hope Larry Beinfest attacks this problem in the winter?
Unfortunately, the Marlins offseason problems will be much larger than just repairing the bullpen. If that was all they were faced with, I'm confident that Beinfest could patch things up. But there are long term deals to be made for Willis and Cabrera. Beinfest may also be tasked with trading Carlos Delgado and trimming payroll. He'll have to either resign or replace a total of thirteen free agents. There are a lot of holes to fill on the Marlins' roster and there's talk that it might have to be done for less money than it was this year.
Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?
Carlos Delgado and Miguel Cabrera had strong campaigns at the plate and deserve team MVP consideration. But realistically, this team wouldn't have been anywhere near wild card contention without the heroics of Dontrelle Willis. Willis won a major league leading 22-games and posted an ERA well below 3.00. He's among the ML leaders in VORP for pitchers and Win Shares. Willis also set a franchise record for hits by a pitcher and was used fairly frequently as a pinch-hitter. All of this from a guy who started out the year 4th in the rotation.
The LVP could easily be one of the guys (Al Leiter) who started out ahead of Willis in the rotation. But the Fish sent Leiter to New York in July. While Leiter's $7 million salary was a tremendous waste, Mike Lowell's lack of production hurt the team more than anything. It's hard to get down on Lowell because he's such a great guy, has overcome cancer, and has been huge for the Marlins over the years. But the reality of it is that he didn't produce and was relegated to the bench late in the year for the Marlins. This came from a guy who was supposed to hit somewhere between third and fifth in the lineup, providing punch and protection for Delgado/Cabrera. There were some flashes of brilliance, but they were few and far between. Fortunately his defense stayed Gold Glove-caliber. The Marlins just needed a lot more than that this year (especially for a financially limited team, which had invested over $8 million in Lowell this season).
Two moments immediately come to mind: Dontrelle Willis' 20th win and Jeremy Hermida's debut grand slam. While the Marlins are still a relatively young franchise, Willis' 20th win marked the first time in franchise history that any Marlin had won 20 games. Willis notched the win in an important September 7th matchup against the then wild card contending Nationals.
Hermida debuted on 8/31 and hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the 7th inning. Realistically the shot was meaningless (the Marlins lost 10-5), but to see Hermida deliver in his debut was exciting. Hermida is probably the mostly highly anticipated prospect the Marlins have had in a long time - bigger than even Cabrera and Willis, who spent such a short amount of time in the minors that folks didn't have a chance to get anxious about their arrivals. Hermida's debut grand slam is even more impressive when you consider that he was only the second major leaguer to hit a grand slam in his first at bat. The other was William "Frosty Bill" Duggleby (a pitcher) who accomplished the feat in April of 1898.
The lowlight is unquestionably the 10-2 loss to the Phillies on September 17th. Going into that game, hopes were still high for the wild card. The Marlins had a 2-0 lead going into the 9th. Willis was on the hill and Todd Jones was ready in the pen. It seemed like a sure win. Then the unthinkable happened. Then the unthinkable happened again. And again. They ended up losing 10-2 and never really recovered after that.
However, both of those two teams fell short to the Philadelphia Phillies, who brought hope to the city of Brotherly Love until the regular season's final Sunday. The team eventually fell as the Cubs could not play spoiler in Houston, and the Phillies late season surge fell just a little short. We asked Mike Carminati, from Mike's Baseball Rants of Baseball Toaster, to give insight on his favorite club.
What turned out to be this team's Achilles heel?
For the Phils, I think it was their reliance on aging players and their bloated contracts. Lieberthal, Bell, Thome, and Worrell hurt this team. It wasn't until some of the younger players got a shot that the team was buoyed. Certainly, not installing Utley as the second baseman out of spring training was a mistake though Polanco was no slouch either--it was just a bad situation, porrly conceived by team brass. Oh, and of course, Charlie Manuel is a big dummy.
How do you hope Ed Wade attacks the problem in the winter?
I hope he attacks the problems by committing sepuku this winter. Ed Wade, or more to the point the lollygagging brass, are the Phils' biggest problem.
Who would you label as the team's MVP and LVP?
LVP is hard. I guess Bell since he played the entire year, but Thome was horrible in his brief stint. Lieberthal was dreadful in the first half.
MVP would go to Utley. Howard would get it if you prorated by plate appearances. Burrell was very good. Abreu was excellent in the first half and slumped badly in the second. I got the sense that a day off here or there--he played all 162 games--would have helped. And Rollins was great in the second half.
I'll mention two: First, taking five of six from the Braves in mid-September, often in exciting fashion, to revive their dwidling playoff hopes.
For me though, the season finale in which they fought to sweep the Nationals to stay alive in the wild card hunt with their backs against the wall only to find out as the crowd was breaking up and the National players were coming on to the field to thank the fans that the Astros had won, thereby eliminating the Phils. I was at the game--very bittersweet.
Oh, and I'll name a third: Rollins' hitting streak. It was nice that it had something to do with their success very late in the season.
It had to be getting swept by the Astros in early September, twice by one run and once by two. Closer Billy Wagner lost the last two games, giving up ninth-inning homers both times. As a fan, one had the sense that these were perhaps the two teams that the wild card would come down to and the Phils were blowing it. It took most of the month for the fans to be distracted enough from the Eagles to notice that the Phils were in a playoff drive, just in time to be let down again. Welcome to Philadelphia.
Thanks to our guests for providing the answers and insights to the losers of the NL East. We can only hope the division provides the same depth and drama in 2006. Check back tomorrow, as we will bring in guest analysts to provide answers to the same questions about the Bay Area teams, and the season's largest choke-artists: the Cleveland Indians.
Let's jump right into it...
The Wednesday firing of Chuck Lamar can only mean good things for the Tampa Bay franchise. But more than anything else, it shows that new owner Stuart Sternberg has some dedication towards building a successful organization. Sternberg says he is in no rush to find a new GM or manager, and will not necessarily hire one before the other. This is fine, and even a good sign that the owner is dedicated, but I can't help but think the team should be selling these jobs to ex-Astros Gerry Hunsicker and Larry Dierker. Few teams offer the promise of a better turnover rate, which should help re-establish the combo at the combo they deserve: one of the best GM/manager tandems available.
However, whoever comes in for Tampa Bay has a few roster decisions to make before this team has any success. Quite a few roster decisions, actually. First on the plate will be choosing whether or not to tender Toby Hall a contract, the middle-of-the-road catcher that never stepped forward. Next this GM must explore a trade of Aubrey Huff, as he would have one of the bigger bats on the Who's Available List. Besides that, there is the B.J. Upton decision, sorting out the crowded outfield, and re-building one has consistently been one of the game's worst pitching staffs.
Still, don't feel too bad for whoever gets this job. Assuming Sternberg continues to show a winning attitude when the topic of payroll comes up, they will be fine. It is just too difficult to expect any GM to win in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox with the budget that Chuck Lamar had. Give the new GM another $20 million to play with, and this team does have a shot of contending in 2008-2010 like we always imagined.
The Arizona Fall League began without much coverage on Tuesday, as can be expected for the league with the collection of some of the minors best talent. While the league isn't quite as stacked as when I analyzed it earlier in the season -- players like J.J. Hardy have since dropped out -- it still profiles to be offense, offense, offense.
And as you may have expected, two players that are already succeeding in the league are Brandon Wood and Stephen Drew. Both shortstops started with two home runs in just as many games, including a game-winning hit for Drew on Wednesday. On the mound, the best performance thus far has to be Jered Weaver, with his two-inning, six strikeout performance to start the "season." Runner-ups are Adam Loewen and Scott Mathieson, both who dominated in three innings of work out of the gate.
However, my prediction for MVP is very similar to last year's winner Chris Shelton: Ryan Garko. In a league where offense rules, going with the most polished offensive player can never hurt. Garko has come out of the gate quick, and probably realizes he has a shot at a job with the Indians if his success (in hitting LHP) continues. Garko will do just that in the AFL, giving Mark Shapiro a nice 1B platoon of Ben Broussard and Garko.
Despite facing the league's most dominant pitcher from both 2005 and the rest of the last century, the Atlanta Braves inched towards shocking the world yesterday. While the Braves had a better record and home field advantage in this series, few game them a shot to win over a team like Houston -- built for a short series. However, Atlanta's resilience was on true display against Clemens, especially in the young bat of Brian McCann.
I will be breaking down the NL rookie class in more detail next week, so let's just say that McCann is one of the unsung heroes of the class. His 180 at-bats behind the plate will ruin any chance of garnering ROY votes, but McCann stepped in nicely when Johnny Estrada went down: .278/.345/.400. This leaves the Braves front office with a difficult decision, as Estrada continued to decline in putting up a .670 OPS this season. However, what Estrada lacks in offense he probably makes up in defense, as his 31% caught stealing rate was nearly double McCann's (18.5%).
One route would be to split up the pitching staff by catcher, with each pitcher having his preference man the plate that day. This probably would work better than a platoon, as both players (despite McCann's sample size numbers in the Majors) prefer right-handed pitchers. However, the most likely option is that Johnny Estrada is on his way out, and that Brian McCann will have 1-2 short years to prove what Estrada couldn't -- that he is a better option at backstop than the farm's best catcher.
And at that point, no one will bring up caught stealing numbers. Both will be too low.
Today, Eric Gagne has called for Dodger ownership to spend more money. My question is not which free agents will become a part of this organization, but how they will block the Majors most loaded farm system. Let's take a look at the Dodgers position-by-position:
Catcher - Do not expect the Dodgers to add a big-name bat at this position. If any Dodger fan was excited by Dioner Navarro, just wait until the team calls up Russ Martin. The latter is simply a rich man's Navarro, as both don't appear to have super-strengths, but are fantastic across the board. And then when you don't know it, Martin has dropped a .400 OBP on you. Given the ease in hitters adjusting to the PCL, expect Martin to be ready after the All-Star Break, at the latest.
First Base - One of the larger problems that Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta had was that Tracy just did not buy into DePo's theories. One of those was that Hee Seop Choi could be an everyday first baseman. Choi put up a .789 OPS this season, not playing everyday, and will almost surely have the chance to do that next year. If he falters, and James Loney continues to improve, we could see that change happen. If neither player brings any consistency to the table, look for DePo to look into the FA market in 2006-2007.
Second Base - Jeff Kent has one more year left with the Dodgers, and they might as well play him at second base. I'm not a huge fan of the options waiting below the surface -- Delwyn Young, Wily Aybar -- so there is no reason to move Kent to accomodate them. In 2007, the team will probably play one of those two players, as they either bridge the gap to Travis Denker, or bridge the gap to a free agent signing.
Shortstop - Cesar Izturis is their man, but he won't be able to contribute in the early going of the season. Don't expect anything too dramatic, like a Joel Guzman promotion, but instead a solid bench player. With Izturis making $7.25 million the next two seasons, there is no reason to sign any player that will dethrone Izturis. Instead, signing a Ramon Martinez-like player is probably best for the franchise. Izturis has this position for the near future.
Third Base - This is where the Dodgers face a dilemna. There is no question that they have to add a bat to this offense, but they also have a great player nearly-ready in the minors. Andy LaRoche has all the makings of a future All-Star, and will even bring great defense back to this position. Again, Guzman does not make sense at the position in the short or long-term. Instead, the team will be forced to go after Bill Mueller or Joe Randa to fill in for a year.
Outfield -- In one spot, there is J.D. Drew, who besides injuries, will not be going anywhere for awhile. In another, there could be Milton Bradley, who is up for arbitration again. Both of these players are definitely worth bringing back. The third position is another question mark, much like third base. The Dodgers know that their most talented young player, Joel Guzman, will be ready fairly soon. However, it's hard to stake a future on an unknown commodity, especially one that took so long to develop in the minors. At this point the best option is probably to sign someone like Jose Cruz Jr., and re-evaluate in another year.
Starting Rotation - Let me start by saying I think the Dodgers should re-sign Jeff Weaver. This should be, in my opinion, priority #1. When that deal is complete, the Dodgers have four solid starters in Weaver, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez. We know that Chad Billingsley and others (Edwin Jackson, Chuck Tiffany, Justin Orenduff, etc) are not far away, and one could even surprise the club in March and steal a spot. However, it's probably not intelligent to bank on that. So, my vote is this is the spot where the Dodgers spend money. Don't go for the top two guys, too overpaid, but someone in the next tier like Jarrod Washburn. A southpaw who will fit well in Dodger Stadium, and probably won't even be forced to move. It gives the Dodgers a veteran starting rotation for 2006, allowing them to give their prospects all the time needed.
What would you do if Paul DePodesta this winter?
Thanks to Kevin Goldstein, already loved in our hearts due to the Baseball America Player Reports, minor league statistics just took a step forward. With BA's new Player Finder, we can see groundball-to-flyball rates. This tool allows us to tell you things like Adam Loewen had a 2.58 GB/FB ratio, giving him one of the minors best K+GB rates in the game. This is, of course, why I think Loewen will continue to be one of the best pitchers in the AFL. On the other end of the spectrum is Matt Cain, with a 0.60 groundball rate, which is likely one of the reasons he gave up 22 home runs on the season. Although don't let this effect your opinion of Cain, his home games will be in San Fran -- he'll only be in Denver a couple times per year.
That's all for now. Expect more notes to be added as the day goes on, and check back this weekend as the Baseball Analysts will have new content on both Saturday and Sunday. Take care...
Extra Base Hits
Baserunning - actually running the bases as opposed to stolen bases - has long been one of the more ignored aspects of baseball performance analysis. There have been brief discussions of it here and there (Dan Fox's work comes to mind), but a comprehensive study of it was lacking. To that end, I made a stab at valuing baserunning in Baseball Prospectus 2005 in an article entitled "Station to Station: The Expensive Art of Baserunning." While any data on baserunning numbers is a welcome relief to the void that currently exists, when evaluating baserunning skill and decision it's important to remember that there are many factors at play when a baserunner decides to attempt the extra base.
In Baseball Prospectus 2005, I considered several factors and their impact on baserunning decisions: the ballpark, the number of outs, the fielders, and the batter at the plate. Before applying each of these factors to the baserunning numbers, it's important to confirm that each one has a consistent effect on baserunner performance. For example, baserunning park factors - for both attempt rate and success rate - are very consistent from year to year. Much like other aspects of offense, the ballpark affects baserunning performance, though in the case of baserunning, I assume the size of the outfield and irregularity of the dimensions has more to do with it than things like the hitters background, size of foul territory, altitude, and other more general differences. Regardless, because baserunning park factors are so consistent from year to year, we can say with confidence that the park has an effect on baserunning numbers.
An even stronger correlation was present with regards to the number of outs, but the other two aspects - the fielder and the batter - were found to be essentially random and thus were not considered. It's the latter of these two factors to which I want to return today.
It's difficult to imagine that the batter at the plate has no discernable effect on the ability of baserunners to advance extra bases. Slap hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Juan Pierre would seem unlikely to advance baserunners beyond the next bag on their high numbers of infield singles while power hitters like David Ortiz would seem likely to advance those runners on booming singles off the wall or cut off in the gap. There are some possible reasons for this - the same ball hit to the same place may be a single for some batters and a double for others or runners may be able to more quickly determine that a slap single is a single as opposed to a drive to the gap or wall - but on the whole, the absence of any ability to advance baserunners by batters was surprising.
With another year's perspective, let's dive back in and check this out again. To do so, three common baserunning situations will be considered: a single with a runner on first or second and a double with a runner on first. (If there are runners on first and second when a single is hit, only the lead runner is considered.) In each of these situations, any runner advancing more than the number of total bases of the hit will be considered to have taken the extra base. Additionally, runners thrown out at the extra base will also be considered to have attempted the extra base.
Next, each batter and runners totals will be adjusted for three factors: the park, the number of outs, and if there is a full count or not. The first two of these were used in the original analysis in Baseball Prospectus 2005, but the final one is a new twist. It's a well-known fact that runners get a head start when there is a full count on the batter and the difference between runners attempting the extra base with a full count and without is remarkably consistent from year to year. From 1990-2005, the attempt rate was between 43% and 47% without a full count and 58% and 68% with three balls and two strikes. (Interestingly, the lowest attempt rate with a full count prior to 2004 was 62%, but the numbers the last two years have been unusually low. Insert your chosen rant about "modern players not doing the little things to win" and "playing the game the right way" here.)
To determine if a batter truly has an effect on the runners on base, it's important to remember that specific batters and baserunners are often paired because lineup orders are often repeated. Sluggers in the middle of the lineup usually come to the plate with leadoff or #2 hitters on base, runners who are often the team's best baserunners. Thus, it may initially appear that middle-of-the-lineup hitters advance baserunners more than other hitters, but that conclusion would be based more on the quality of the baserunners than that of the hitter. Instead, for each batter and runner, an expected attempt rate (ATTr) is calculated by looking at the baserunning numbers excluding a particular runner.
Working with an example should make things clearer. Assume that Ortiz hit a single or a double in with Johnny Damon on first ten times and Damon took the extra base seven of those times. To determine who's more responsible for that advancement, we'll instead calculate Damon's baserunning in all situations except when Ortiz is batting. Assume then that Damon takes the extra base 60% of the time when other batters are hitting. In this case, then, Ortiz is credited with one of Damon's seven advances because Damon normally only takes six of ten extra bases.
Once those numbers are adjusted for the park, the count, and the number of outs, we can total the number of extra bases we would have expected each batter to advance the baserunners based on the ATTr of the runners when that batter was not up. We'll dub this rate - the ATTr above expected - netATTr. If batters show consistent netATTr from season to season, we can say with confidence that batters do have an influence on baserunning numbers.
Unfortunately, the correlation looks something like this:
Ugh. That may look more like a Rorschach test than a correlation, but it's simply an extremely definitive picture of complete randomness. If batters showed a strong tendency to advance baserunners more than expected from year to year, those dots would form more a line from the lower left quadrant to the upper right. Instead, a great, lifeless blob stares back at us from the center of the plot with no discernable trend.
Of course, the problem could be that the same sizes are too small. The set of data in use - singles or doubles hit with men on first or second - don't necessarily occur very often for most batters every season. Given that, we can employ a technique based on the one used by Keith Woolner in his rebuttal to Voros McCracken's research on Pitcher Control on Balls in Play. In that article, Woolner broke pitcher careers into two halves and compared them, but rather than breaking them up chronologically, he put all even-numbered seasons in one half and all odd-numbered seasons in another. This technique drastically increases sample size while still effectively choosing random data to avoid picking up other trends. (In the current case, we want to avoid batters who changed their hitting approach later in their careers, perhaps advancing more or fewer baserunners as a result.)
Comparing those two career halves and restricting it to batters who were involved in at least 100 baserunning instances in each half of their careers, the scatter plot now looks like this:
That may not look like much, but our correlation has jumped dramatically. In statistics, a tool called the coefficient of determination - commonly referred to as r-squared - reveals how much of the variance in one set of data can be explained by the other. R-squared is presented on a scale of 0 to 1 with 1 being a perfect correlation and 0 being complete randomness. In the first scatter plot, r-squared was 0.001, indicating nearly complete randomness. In the second plot, r-squared has jumped to .249, meaning 24.9% of the change in netATTr in one career half can be explained by the other half. Generally, r-squared needs to be a little higher before employing one variable to project the other. But for the purposes of establishing whether or not batters have some control over the runners on base in front of them, we can say that - contrary to the complete randomness seen in the first plot - there does appear to be some ability, albeit inconsistent, for hitters to advance baserunners more or less than league average.
This conclusion fits with what most of us have seen on the field. Batters show a huge degree of variance from season to season when it comes to advancing baserunners more than the runners would advance themselves, but over a career, there are some batters who will move runners around the bases a little more often than their lighter-hitting counterparts.
James Click is an author for Baseball Prospectus where he writes a weekly column, Crooked Numbers, and spends too much time looking up random baseball stats that he forgets as soon as the query is done running, a condition that has cost him more than a few bar bets. He lives in San Francisco, CA.
Ken Williams v. Baseball Public
Breaking News: On the heels of a 99-63 regular season and Game 1 destruction of the World Champions, Ken Williams shocked the baseball world yesterday by bringing suit against its followers. The fifth-year GM's claim is that the public has been too outspoken in their criticisms against him, and is demanding universal recognition of his skills. Williams has pointed to Moneyball, as well as other factors, as reasons behind the misconception. Below is a brief from the proceedings...
Issue Brought Before Court: Is Ken Williams one of baseball's most underrated General Managers?
Argument of the Defense: When Ron Scheuler retired from the Chicago White Sox after the 2000 season, he left an organization on the verge of success. The club Scheuler left behind had won 95 games during the regular season, only to be crushed in the playoffs at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. There was universal agreement for the reasoning behind the White Sox' ultimate downfall: pitching, or lack thereof.
The offense in 2000, led behind Frank Thomas, was one of the American League's best. Furthermore, much of it was in position to return the following season, leaving little on the plate of Scheuler's successor (Williams). Williams did not even have to worry about the bullpen, which had been great behind Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry. With the promise of good, young pitching going up the ladder, Williams was told to acquire a veteran ace, and find a way to make everything mesh.
Fans watched as good teams underachieved for four seasons (2001-2004), as the rotation never truly clicked. David Wells, Williams' first attempt, had a horrible season with the Sox, as many indicators should have signaled. Jim Parque also was injured during the season, which proved to be a devastating loss. Then in 2002, Williams tried to add Todd Ritchie, following a career year. However, the cost -- Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, Josh Fogg -- was disastrously higher than Ritchie's output. The next season was the Bartolo Colon expiriment, one that ended in one of Colon's worst seasons yet.
Another problem within the rotation was that of the fifth starter. While many in the sabermetric field have called for the return of the four-man rotation, someone forgot to completely explain it to Williams. Instead of constantly repeating the same four starters, Williams thought the idea gave him permission to bring a club to camp with only four viable starters. This led to a long winless streak from the #5 spot, as Dan Wright, Felix Diaz, Jason Grilli and others can attest to.
These issues just highlight a significant theme that Williams has issues with: replacement. Problems in the rotation are just one example where Williams has taken too long to put proper replacements in place. Another example is second base, which was vacated by Ray Durham when he was traded to the A's during the 2002 season. The club finished the year with Tony Graffanino gaining most of the playing time. The next season, however, Williams mixed D'Angelo Jimenez (a good acquisition that was poorly handled) and Roberto Alomar (a poor acquisition that was poorly handled). In 2004, the team let Willie Harris have the job, during which time Harris proved to be nothing more than a bench player.
While Tadahito Iguchi appears to be the answer to the White Sox 2B woes, it took Williams over two seasons to find the right fit. The same is true behind the plate, where after Charles Johnson, a bad mixture of players split time before A.J. Pierzynski arrived on the scene. Williams also chose to have a left side of Royce Clayton and Jose Valentin, despite being able to move Valentin over and play Joe Crede during his prime. We could also guess the same would still be true in center field, if Aaron Rowand hadn't taken a step forward in the 2004 season, and made himself a full-time player.
These issues could likely be resolved if Williams was active in the free agent market. However, seldom do the White Sox make a splash, as Jermaine Dye is pretty much the largest signing under Williams' tenure. This is a disastrous notion for a team in one of the largest markets in the country. Mix this with a trading career blemished with disasters -- Todd Ritchie, Koch/Foulke, Carlos Lee -- and you have a bad General Manager.
If time wasn't up, the issues raised in Moneyball could just add to the obvious facts.
Argument of the Plaintiff: First of all, the snide remarks from the defense are not appreciated. Nor are the lack of facts. In 2001, what held the White Sox back was not Williams' inability to bring in the right team, but injuries. Frank Thomas went down (prompting a genius PR move -- signing Jose Canseco), as well as Jim Parque, David Wells, Bill Simas, and ineffectiveness/injuries from James Baldwin and Kelly Wunsch. Even Branch Rickey would find such problems difficult to overcome.
We will concede the Todd Ritchie trade -- a disaster, and the lowpoint of Williams career. He more than made up for it in 2003, however, acquiring Bartolo Colon, in addition to finding Esteban Loaiza on the free agent market. The what? Yes, the free agent market that the defense claims scares Williams. This is not true, but instead, he is simply able to find bargains. A look at the mid-level free agents acquired by Williams in his tenure: Alan Embree, Kenny Lofton, Esteban Loaiza, Shingo Takatsu, Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson, Jermaine Dye, Tadahito Iguchi, A.J. Pierzynski.
None of these players made more than $6 mllion in the season that Williams signed them. They did, however, provide both veteran leadership and very good statistics at a low cost. This must be considered Williams best trait, as he deserves credit for many of their unexpected random career spikes.
Another strength is Williams increased ability to do well on the trade market. While a few of his larger trades are victim to scrutinization, Ken has been on the right side of the fence more often than not. Quick, defense, name the worst young player the White Sox have given up? Thinking, thinking, can't think of any? The closest is Jeremy Reed, a player blocked by players in front and behind him, and the necessary bounty for a Freddy Garcia acquisition. After Reed there is nothing, allowing a player like Aaron Miles to slip into the argument.
Williams also has acquired quite a bit of talent. The Bartolo Colon trade was a fantastic one that forced the White Sox to give up little more than Antonio Osuna and Rocky Biddle. His 2002 deadline deals, just short of the White Flag era, landed some impressive, if not fantastic, talent. The Garcia trade gave the White Sox a middle-of-the-rotation starter that they badly needed. Finally, both Carl Everett and Jose Contreras were good deals that helped Chicago both in the short and long-term.
And, if nothing else, Williams knows his market. He understood that Ozzie Guillen would become a Chicago icon, and made the very bold hiring after getting rid of Jerry Manuel. He also knew the Chicago fanbase would fall in love with blue-collar outfielder Scott Podsednik, even at the expense of Lee. The outcome? A big home run, and another swipe from second-to-third in the largest game of Podsednik's career: Game 1, yesterday.
It's unfair to blame the White Sox inability to make the playoffs from 2001-2004 on Ken Williams. It is not, however, a stretch to say that Williams provided the blueprint for this team in 2005. His ability to build the AL's best pitching staff, and a viable offense, is what landed the White Sox in the playoffs.
Opinion of the Court: Ken Williams is, without question, an underrated General Manager. However, this comes with a few stipulations, as one must understand Williams' flaws to rate him properly amongst his peers.
First of all, Williams constantly looks to fix holes from the trade market, rather than from free agents. Whether this is a mandate given to himself or from his owner, we don't know, but the Sox have never been able to land a big name during the Ken Williams Era. He also is guilty to overpay at times, when a certain player will help his team in the short term. The trades of Kip Wells, Carlos Lee and Jeremy Reed all prove that much.
Williams does, in fact, deserve fair recognition, though. He is great at finding cheap, mid-range talent, and has made a nice stab at rebuilding a declining fan base. Seldom does he waver from his original plan, as well, and has every hole accounted for in February.
The Court finds in favor of Ken Williams, and orders all readers to admit to Williams genius in the comments...
Baseball Playoffs: Take One
Ahh, October. The days are getting shorter. The leaves are about ready to turn colors. And baseball begins its second season. Yes, the National Pastime takes center stage in the sporting world. Octoberfest, here we come.
From the Baseball Analysts dictionary:
Oc·to·ber·fest n. - An autumn festival that usually emphasizes merrymaking for one baseball team and the consumption of beer for the other seven.
With the baseball playoffs upon us, we give you our takes and outtakes on each of the divisional series. Which team will be merry and which seven will be left drinking when it is all said and done? To find out, read on . . .
American League Divisional Series
Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox
**Who is going to knock your Sox off?**
In a nutshell - Chicago's pitching vs. Boston's hitting.
Rich's Take: Both teams outscored the opposition by about 100 runs. They just happened to get there in a completely different fashion. Chicago won the most games in the AL, swept the hottest team in baseball during the last weekend of the season, and enters the postseason with the longest winning streak of 'em all. Back in March, I would have bet Schillings to doughnuts that the Red Sox would beat the White Sox if they faced each other in the playoffs. In October, I'm Guillen with the Pale Hose. Chicago in five.
Bryan's Take: They started well, they finished well. Really, the only scary part of Chicago's season was the month of August. What was so different in that month? No, not the pitching that has garnered all the press, but the offense that was remarkably consistent in the months of June, July and September. In each, the club had an OPS in the .780s. In August? One hundred points lower. The pitching is always there with this team, with a great bullpen and a rotation fresh off a great month. If they hit, they will win. Lucky for them, the Red Sox don't have great pitching. Tim Wakefield enters October as the de facto ace. Never a good sign. White Sox in four.
Rich's Outtake: Boston's been there before, Chicago's not been there. I mean, the South Siders haven't won a postseason series since 1917. Call it the Curse of the B
amblack Sox. This series will be thrown by guys named Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, and Garcia. And Eight Men Out is what happens when Tony Graffanino comes to bat for the first time.
Bryan's Outtake: Chicago may just be losing it for themselves. Left off the first round roster will be Brandon McCarthy, the club's second-best starter in the month of September. After gaining trust in his change-up in Charlotte, McCarthy skyrocketed, even shutting out these Red Sox for seven innings. However, the postseason experience of Orlando Hernandez and an odd love affair with Luis Vizcaino keep McCarthy watching from home. The club also has an awful bench and is susceptible to good right-handed pitching (.736 OPS vs. RHP; .782 vs. LHP). These factors will help struggling Red Sox starters Matt Clement and Bronson Arroyo considerably.
New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Angels
**The Battle of the Hot Rods**
In a nutshell - L.A.'s pitching vs. New York's hitting.
Rich's Take: The Yankees could have won home field advantage by winning one more game but preferred belly-aching about Buck Showalter laying down for the Angels in Texas on Sunday. If the Yanks come to Anaheim feeling sorry for themselves, they will go home feeling even sorrier. New York is hot but the O.C. is even hotter. They are about to meet their match in the Angels. LAA in four.
Bryan's Take: Essentially, the Yankees and Angels will have a series with only seven inning games. Yes, the combinations of Gordon-Rivera and Shields-Rodriguez are that good. Then, understanding the Yankees will give up a few runs, the question becomes whether the Angel starters can stop these Yankees. Look for the answer to be no. The Yankees have a nice combination of being good, being hot, and being experienced. The Angels offense is, at best, one of those three. Despite Chone Figgins best efforts at becoming a media icon, the Yanks win in five.
Rich's Outtake: The Yankees are a professional team, and I don't mean to diss them or dismiss them. The Bronx Bombers can flat out hit. But I'm skeptical of the team's starting pitchers beyond the Big Unit. Is Aaron Small really 10-0? Conversely, can anyone on the Angels other than Vladimir Guerrero hit? For the Yankees to beat the Angels, Johnson has to win. For the Angels to beat the Yankees, Vladi has to hit.
Bryan's Outtake: Rich is skeptical of the post-Unit starters. This is a common theme among analysts this October, and a concern we should all be wary of. Both Jaret Wright and Mike Mussina are entering the playoffs pitching horribly. You also have to wonder when Shawn Chacon's deal with the devil will run out. His FIP with the Yankees is 1.72 points higher than his 2.85 ERA. Sooner or later, his awful K/BB rate will catch up with him. Whether it's the former or the latter will prove vital.
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National League Divisional Series
Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves
**Is That You Again?**
In a nutshell - Pitching vs. Pitching.
Rich's Take: Everybody seems to be jumping on the Houston bandwagon, myself included. I guess we've all noticed that a Wild Card team has won the World Series in each of the last three years. When it comes to the postseason, it's not about which team is best but which is the hottest and which is set up to win a short series. The Astros are built for October. Houston in four.
Bryan's Take: You have to love Houston in a short series, for all the reasons that Rich mentioned yesterday. Clemens, Pettite, Oswalt, Lidge. Need anybody say more? The Braves are a pretty deep team, but hardly a dependable one. Could you honestly say that you would stake your prediction in Jorge Sosa's right arm or Jeff Francoeur's cooling bat? Didn't think so. Houston in three.
Rich's Outtake: Have those of us who picked Houston overlooked the fact that the Braves beat the Astros five out of six times this year? Can Berkman and Ensberg keep up with the Joneses? We'll see.
Bryan's Outtake: Clemens, Pettite, Oswalt, Lidge. Is there anything more? And no, Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls don't count. Both Berkman and Ensberg do, but it's hard to think that they will be pitched to. The rest of the lineup, including an especially cold middle-three, will face plenty of responsibility. Atlanta's ability to exploit this may make my sweep prediction look stupid.
San Diego Padres vs. St. Louis Cardinals
**The Host With the Most in a Coast**
In a nutshell - Cardinals vs. themselves.
Rich's Take: The Cardinals had the most wins in baseball this year. The Padres, on the other hand, enter the postseason with the worst record of any team ever. Winning the NL West gets you a playoff spot, but it won't do much more than that. The Cardinals in three or four, depending on whether Peavy wins game one.
Bryan's Take: It's hard to bet against disparity here. Best team in the Majors against one of the worst playoff teams in 35 years? Pujols, Edmonds and a suddenly-hot Walker? Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and the hot duo of Suppan and Marquis? Not to mention one of the best bullpens in the playoffs. It seems like fish in a barrel. It will be. Cardinals in four.
Rich's Outtake: The Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday basketball schedule helps the underdog Padres. The Cardinals are stronger and have more depth, especially in their pitching corps. But the days off in between games one and two, and games two and three will minimize this advantage. Heck, San Diego could start Jake Peavy on Tuesday and let him come back on three days rest -- Sandy Koufax was known to pitch on two days rest in crunch time -- to try and sweep the Cards, if successful, or keep St. Louis from sweeping San Diego. I'm not saying they should but they truly could.
Bryan's Outtake: However good Carpenter has become, you have to worry about his endurance. A 5.73 ERA in September did little to calm those concerns. San Diego is also built for a short series with Peavy paired with hot pitchers Pedro Astacio and Adam Eaton. The Padres ability to shorten games could also help keep an early lead. Let's put it this way: you wouldn't be a fool to put money on the playoff's largest (and I mean +325 LARGEST) underdogs. Just don't tell 'em we sent ya.
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For a more detailed preview of the Yankees-Angels series, check out Rich's analysis over at Alex Belth's and Cliff Corcoran's fun, entertaining, and informative Bronx Banter.
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
OK, it's that time of the year when everyone is making postseason predictions. I'm not sure the Houston Astros have enough offense to win three consecutive series against the Atlanta Braves, presumably the St. Louis Cardinals, and the AL champs, but I like their odds of winning the whole thing. Why? One word: pitching.
The Astros have the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball. Roger Clemens (1.87) led the majors in ERA, Andy Pettitte (2.39) was second, and Roy Oswalt (2.94) was ninth. Three of the top nine pitchers in terms of ERA. There are only two other starters in the postseason -- Chris Carpenter (2.83) and Jake Peavy (2.94) -- with a better ERA than Oswalt.
Throw Brad Lidge (41 saves, 2.30 ERA, 103 Ks in 70 1/3 IP) and Dan Wheeler (2.21 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) into the mix, and you've got yourself the best top-of-the-rotation and arguably the strongest 1-2 bullpen punch in baseball.
The above discussion provides a nice segue into a question I have been meaning to ask. Can anyone explain to me why Andy Pettitte isn't part of the NL Cy Young Award discussion? As noted above, Pettitte finished the year second to his pal Clemens in ERA, plus he tied for the league lead with Carpenter in quality starts (27), placed third in WHIP (1.03) and OPS allowed (.616), fifth in K/BB (4.17) and wins (17), and sixth in winning percentage (.654).
Pettitte (.230/.268/.348) actually edged out Carpenter (.231/.273/.351) in the three major rate stats. Clemens (.198/.261/.284), in turn, beat Pettitte across the board, as did Pedro Martinez (.204/.252/.334). Andy's second in MLB in VORP and fourth in pitching Win Shares.
Consistent with leading the league in quality starts, Pettitte allowed more than three earned runs in a game only twice all year. After giving up seven tallies in five innings on May 18, the 33-year-old southpaw pitched 165 1/3 IP while allowing just 33 ER for an ERA of 1.80 the rest of the way. Pettitte didn't win 21 games like he did in 1996 and 2003, but he pitched better this year than ever before. When the ballots have been counted, 2005 should mark the fifth time that the 11-year veteran has finished in the top six in the Cy Young Award voting.
Over in the AL, Johan Santana should win the award if voters take into consideration statistics other than wins and saves. The defending Cy Young Award winner led the league in the Triple Crown of pitching rate stats (.212 BAA/.251 OBP/.348 SLG) and it follows in OPS by a wide margin (.600 to Barry Zito's .665).
Santana also topped the AL in Ks (238) and WHIP (0.97), placed second in ERA (2.87) and IP (231 2/3), and fifth in wins (16) and winning percentage (.682). He ranked first in VORP and second in pitching Win Shares behind Mark Buehrle. (Note: The VORP and WS data may be slightly different once they have been updated.)
Like last year, the 26-year-old lefty mowed down the opposition after the All-Star break (9-2, 1.59 ERA). Johan pitched better than Bartolo Colon and more often than Mariano Rivera. If you like wins, vote for Colon. Saves? Look no further than Rivera unless, of course, his name gets lost among the five relievers with 40 or more show-up-late-in-the-game, thank-you Jerome Holtzman saves. But if you value quality and quantity, then Santana is the unquestioned pick for the AL Cy Young Award.
This is not meant to be a knock against Rivera, who had an outstanding year. However, it must be noted that Mo gave up six unearned runs out of a total of 18. His RA was 2.07. Nothing to sneeze at but a far cry from his 1.38 ERA. By the same token, Kevin Millwood, the AL leader in ERA, allowed 11 unearned runs compared to just three for Santana. The latter beat Millwood handily in RA (2.99 to 3.38) and was just two scoreless innings short of leading the league in ERA.
Santana, by the way, became the first Minnesota pitcher to lead the majors in strikeouts this year. Bert Blyleven finished second in 1973 (258) and 1974 (249). Blyleven didn't lead the AL either year because he had the misfortune of pitching in the same league as Nolan Ryan, who set the all-time record for Ks in a single season with 383 in 1973 and then came back and whiffed 367 the following year. Bert had more strikeouts than the NL leader in 1973 (Tom Seaver, 251) and 1974 (Steve Carlton, 240). He led the AL in punchouts in 1985 when he split time with the Cleveland Indians and the Twins.
With 59 career wins, 3 shutouts, and 901 strikeouts, Santana is just 228 Ws, 57 SHO, and 2,800 Ks shy of not being good enough to make the Hall of Fame.
Should Tracy Stay Or Should He Go?
Darling you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be here 'til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
Stay Tuned for the Clash
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Jim Tracy and his agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks, met with owner Frank McCourt and general manager Paul DePodesta last month and reportedly asked for an extension that has little, if any, chance of being granted on his terms. Tracy has one year left on a two-year deal that was signed last winter. The contract has an escape clause that allows Tracy the right to opt out within seven days of Sunday's final game in San Diego.
Tracy is obviously going for the jugular here. Either the Dodgers agree to his request or he leaves to pursue a multi-year deal elsewhere. However, there is a third alternative, one that is likely to be exercised sooner rather than later. According to Steve Henson of the Los Angeles Times, "the club plans to let the manager know by Tuesday whether he's fired or is given a contract extension." DePodesta previously said that the Dodgers would not wait until after the opt-out period to fire Tracy "out of respect for what he's done here."
DePodesta inherited Tracy when he was hired by McCourt before the 2004 season. He had no choice other than to give him an extension after the Dodgers won the NL West last year, but there was never a reason to think that Tracy was DePo's man. If anything, the Dodgers GM made a statement by negotiating a two-year deal rather than a longer-term contract last winter.
Tracy has a penchant for taking responsibility only for wins and not losses as Jon Weisman so eloquently editorialized on his Dodger Thoughts blog this past week. Tracy's attitude in this regard reminds me of Tommy Lasorda's not so eloquent retort when asked about trading the homegrown Dave Stewart, who went on to win 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons for the Oakland A's. "Ain't my (bleeping) fault, Campanis is the (bleeping) guy!"
Nothing is ever Tracy's fault. He has cited missing components (obviously referring to the departures of Adrian Beltre, Alex Cora, Steve Finley, and Shawn Green), lack of familiarity, injuries (Milton Bradley, J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, and Cesar Izturis, among others), and too many rookies for the Dodgers' woes this year. Tracy said Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, in which Luis Gonzalez hit a go-ahead two-run HR off Yhency Brazoban in the eighth inning, was indicative of the team's season.
"It's games like that that make the difference between being mediocre and being very good. We have 14 rookies out of 32 active players in there. . .I can't remember a team that was playing in October that had that many rookies."
Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 reminded Tracy and what he called his defective memory, "Let me introduce you to this team called the Atlanta Braves, with a roster containing thirteen rookies." I would also add that the extra players in September are more likely than not going to be rookies, so it's a bit misleading to suggest that Tracy was handed a team with first-year players comprising nearly half the roster.
Tracy, in fact, was singing a different tune while the Dodgers were in the process of matching the best start (12-2) in the club's history. Here is what he had to say after the Dodgers scored eight consecutive runs to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 8-6 on April 19:
"If you look at what we've been able to do in one-run games over the past couple of years, it's indicative of a ballclub that understands what it has to do to win games like that. . .It's a tremendous team win. When you look at my lineup card and see the number of players involved, I think that would constitute a total team effort."
Hmmmph. Sounds like the components, familiarity, rookies, et al weren't a problem back then. Of course, knowing the way Tracy is, I'm sure he was as much patting himself on the back for winning those one-run games and working the roster in a masterful way as anything else.
Regarding the so-called components, does Tracy really believe that the Dodgers would be better off with the likes of Beltre (.257/.304/.415) and Finley (.220/.269/.373), players who cost their new employers $17.4M for this year alone? Would he prefer Cora (.275/.315/.402) over Jeff Kent (.289/.377/.512)? Who knows, maybe Tracy thinks these players would have magically played better had he managed them.
Rather than speculating about players who are no longer with the organization, let's concentrate on a fellow who is on the current roster. Hee-Seop Choi. The way Tracy has handled him is indefensible. To wit, Choi hit six home runs in a three-game set with the Minnesota Twins in June and slugged another vs. the Kansas City Royals in the team's next contest, giving the left-handed-hitting first baseman seven HR in a matter of four games. He went 1-for-7 over the following two games, sat out against Mark Buehrle, a southpaw, then was inexplicably benched against right-handers Woody Williams, Tim Stauffer, and Brian Lawrence after being reinserted in the starting lineup for all of two games.
Just as it appeared Choi (with 13 HR and a .540 SLG in 161 AB) was about to break out and become the offensive force both scouts and statheads have long predicted, Tracy saw fit to let him ride the pine in four of the team's ensuing nine games. His use (or misuse) of Choi just underscores the philosphical differences between the field manager and the general manager. DePodesta traded for Choi in July 2004, ostensibly to play--yet Tracy has seemingly defied his boss by going with Robin Ventura, Olmedo Saenz, or Jason Phillips more often than the 26-year-old who at least could be the longer-term answer at first base.
Let's face it, Tracy and Choi simply can't co-exist. One of them has to go. But this isn't about Tracy and Choi. It's about whether Tracy and DePodesta can co-exist. Choi is expendable. But whether he realizes it or not, Tracy is expendable, too. DePodesta is in charge here, and he needs to find a manager who can command the respect of the players as well as implement his vision. Tracy succeeded in the former requirement but failed in the latter.
Tracy has won the support of the local press and appears to be doing his best to leverage his current popularity into a longer-term deal. I recognize that it doesn't hurt to ask, but I think he has boxed himself into a corner here. He is forcing management to make a decision on his future from a position of weakness rather than strength. Yes, Tracy will be paid his 2006 base salary of $700,000 if the Dodgers fire him and he doesn't find another job, but the timing is less than ideal from his standpoint. Tracy is a full-time resident of Southern California and has two sons, Chad, a junior at Pepperdine, and Mark, a senior at Claremont High, who are highly-thought-of catchers.
If Tracy had laid low, he would have kept his job and had the chance to earn another extension at the conclusion of his contract next year. He could have seen his kids through their final year in college (Chad is a lock to be drafted next June) and high school. Instead, Tracy went all in with a short stack, and the soon-to-be former skipper is going to realize that he doesn't really have the cards to win at this table. Oh, he will surely be invited to play another game elsewhere, but his time in Los Angeles is all but up.
DePodesta, in the meantime, has three more years on his five-year deal. The next manager is on him. He won't get another shot at doing it right. So, who will he turn to when the moment arrives? Well, he could hire third-base coach Glenn Hoffman or director of player development Terry Collins, if he wanted to stay within the Dodger family and pick somebody with previous managerial experience. DePo could go outside the organization and get an Orel Hershisher or Bud Black, two highly respected pitching coaches, or perhaps Ron Roenicke, the third-base coach of the Angels who spent five years as a minor-league manager for the Dodgers during the 1990s. He could also go back to his roots in Oakland and choose Ron Washington, who is in his tenth season as a coach with the A's.
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What do you think? Should Tracy stay or should he go? If he goes, who would you hire to replace him?