Old Get Older, Thin Get Thinner
Omar Minaya is an early Christmas shopper, this much we know. On Black Friday, he officially announced the acquisiton of All-Star Carlos Delgado. Three days later, he did the same with Billy Wagner. Suddenly, the two largest items on Minaya's Christmas list were checked off. Many suggested the the team was close to checking off priorities three and four, as well, those being the catching and set-up positions.
It is not unlike the New York Mets to spend money. This is nothing new to a franchise that spent it's way into the 2000 World Series. However, this time around, it appears the Mets could pay a higher price in the end.
Consider the 2008 season. In this season, 2005 signees Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez will make a combined $21.5 million, at the ages of 31 and 36, respectively. New acquisitions Delgado and Wagner will make an estimated amount of $26 million in what will be their age 36 seasons. If the rumor mill is correct, than the team will also be giving $10-15 million on either Ramon Hernandez or Ben Molina, as well as a set-up man in the Tom Gordon mold. Nearly $60 million is already spent on veterans that will be past their primes.
Jim Duquette was nearly run out of New York after trading the farm system's prized jewel, Scott Kazmir, for the wild and volatile Victor Zambrano. Mets fans complained that their GM had no eye towards the future. Yusmeiro Petit is no Kazmir, and Zambrano no Delgado, but the evidence is clear: the new regime is not all that different from the old one.
The Carlos Delgado trade was an important one for this franchise. It was, in fact, a great trade, and one that any GM (with money) would make ten times out of ten. However, it's just another data point in a long list of the Mets dealing their future for the present. Sooner or later, these decisions will come back to haunt the Mets.
At this point, the farm system is made up of one player and a bunch of question marks. With Petit gone, Lastings Milledge no longer has to share the spotlight with anyone. In fact, at this point, Milledge is probably the one player closest to being untouchable, as only the likes of Manny Ramirez could lead to his exit. While Lastings plays the same defensive position as Beltran, you can only guess that one of the two good defenders could move, likely taking over for Cliff Floyd in left field.
So, we think the future has one homegrown player in it (oh, and that David Wright guy), but what's after that? Well, a whole bunch of questions, that's what. There is Gaby Hernandez, the only other player close to being legit in the system, though he suffered a serious second half breakdown. Can he compete in the higher levels? Can his G/F ratio continue to be so low, and Hernandez not allow any HR?
Following Hernandez is Phil Humber, their 2004 first-round pick. Humber missed the second half of 2005, and will likely miss most of 2006, with Tommy John surgery. Can Humber bounce back from the surgery like so many have? Was he, supposedly the safe choice then, the right pick considering the types of talent behind him?
Both Brian Bannister and Anderson Hernandez broke out last year, posting big numbers in AA and AAA. However, you have to wonder if Bannister's postseason numbers, pitching for the United States, is any indication that 2005 was a fluke. Or how about Hernandez, who had never hit well before last season. Is he just another in a long line of empty batting average players?
You have the international group, all under 20, and none having presented much more than tools: Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez and Emmanuel Garcia. There is the lone Cuban, Alay Soler, who has received so much hype, but has been away from competitive pitching for so long. There are the bad-defending bashers, Brett Harper, Mike Carp and Shawn Bowman.
Simply put, every player besides Milledge in the farm system has a large red mark on his resume. Milledge is the only lock for my upcoming top 75 list, though Hernandez will likely sneak in on the back end. Of course, all that could change if the Mets pony up, and sign Mike Pelfrey, who would rank ahead of Hernandez with his three plus pitches and considerable experience. Of course, it's hard to have a lot of faith in the scouting department, considering the lack of respect even their own organization gives them.
In three of the last four years, Mets signings have prevented them from having a second or third-round pick. The exception was 2004, in which the Mets were able to draft Gaby Hernandez in the third round. The Mets should also look at their 2001 draft as proof that more than one draft pick can be beneficial. While the team used their first pick on Aaron Heilman, a supplemental choice was what allowed them to draft David Wright.
The problem is one of philosophy. If the Mets can sign marquee free agents, they surely shouldn't hesitate because they will lose a draft pick. But there is no question that, after considering the evidence, that the front office has historically attacked the free agent market in a wrong, anti-Moneyball fashion. This season, Mike Piazza's exit will help make up for the draft pick lost for signing Billy Wagner. But, of course, there is the forthcoming catcher and set-up signings that should leave the Mets empty in the middle rounds...again.
The Amazins need to look no farther than across town to see the damage that their philosophies can cause. While the Yankees managed to win yet another division title last year, they did so with using anything left from their farm system. Old players continued to break down, contracts continued to pile up, and prospects continued to be traded. There is no question in my mind that had the Yankees traded Robinson Cano and/or Chien-Ming Wang before the 2005 season, the division title would have gone to a different team.
Rather than getting advice from their cross-town rivals, the Mets should be admiring the work of their division rivals. The Atlanta Braves are the perfect example of blending a farm system with Major League acquisitions. If the Mets could find a way to do this, and in a richer style at that, their success could undoubtedly be longer lasting than what they are currently looking at.
But that is going to take yet another front office upheaval, which few people see coming. Omar Minaya is spending money like a trust fund baby, the problem is that in the end, his signees will end up even more spoiled.
Dismantling Done Right
Ken Williams has set a deadline for the Winter Meetings. The Angels have apparently offered Paul Konerko a five-year, $60 million contract. The Orioles are talking about adding a sixth year onto their offer. The Red Sox remain interested.
The writing is on the wall. And Sox fans, don't worry, it's not bad. At this point, signing Konerko would be a bad mistake.
Many Sox fans will tell you that the key to the 2005 season was trading Carlos Lee. Yes, they lost one of their most powerful sluggers, who would move to Milwaukee and post an .811 OPS. But, in return, the White Sox landed sparkplug Scott Podsednik, a 65-game reliever in Luis Vizcaino and enough money to sign Tadahito Iguchi, Orlando Hernandez and Dustin Hermanson. At the time, we hated the trade. At the time, we undervalued the importance of money.
We learn history to avoid repeating our mistakes. To sign Paul Konerko, the White Sox will likely have to pay the slugger at least $13 million for the next five seasons. This is a price that is simply too high for a player with such a limited skillset.
Pardon me, I don't want to do Konerko any injustices. As a hitter, Konerko is well above-average. In 2005, he led the White Sox in both slugging percentage and on-base percentage, in both extra-base hits and walks. Since coming to the Sox in 1999, there has been only one season in which he did not post an OPS higher than .840.
However, when factoring in regression and age, it's not hard to see a decrease in Konerko's offensive skills. At that point, surely his bat will not be able to make up for the other facets of the game, in which Konerko is a burden on the White Sox.
Another 2005 key, as we have heard time and time again, was the Sox improvements on defense and the bases. In both of these areas, Konerko hurts the White Sox. First, we'll start with fielding. In the last five seasons, Baseball Prospectus has found PK to be above average just twice. In 2004, MGL's great UZR stat had Konerko at an abysmal, and league low -17. Without question, Konerko's defense improved in the 2005 season. Unfortunately, he will never possess good range, and as he ages, any improvements will likely be lost.
Onto the bases. Again, I don't really have 2005 numbers yet, as I couldn't find Konerko in the Bill James Handbook, and have not yet received the Hardball Times Baseball Annual, with Dan Fox's baserunning numbers (feel free to leave numbers from either in the comments). We do, however, have numbers from the past seasons. Fox's Incremental Runs stat has been compiled from 2000-2004, in which Konerko ranks low. His IR was just -3.73 in those seasons, and from the looks of things, 2005 could not have been much better.
Good on offense, bad in the field and on the bases. And in all cases, adding five years to a body that turns 30 in Spring Training will only hurt Konerko in all facets of the game.
So, assuming the Sox lose Konerko (as Will Carroll opines), what comes next? Surely, the Sox wouldn't dare use Jim Thome, the one player worse than Konerko in 2004 UZR (-21) at first, would they? Let's hope not. In fact, I would propose the White Sox look to solve their problems in the same way they did a year ago: from the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Sox need someone to play first base who will help both offset the damage done by losing Konerko in the lineup, and Aaron Rowand in the field. They need someone who will be solid offensively, but help the White Sox improve both defensively and from a baserunning perspective. They also don't want to overpay.
Lyle Overbay. The left-handed first baseman for the Brewers, soon to be pushed out by Prince Fielder, who has posted OPS numbers of .863 and .816 each of the last two seasons. The former Diamondback farmhand that will turn 29 in January, but will only enter arbitration this year. The player who was, by Bill James' measures, as good a baserunner as Aaron Rowand in 2005, and better than average (by Dan Fox's measures) in 2003 and 2004. The fielder that David Gassko mentioned fell second to Nick Johnson in his 2005 Gold Gloves, and who Baseball Prospectus has given positive remarks on in each of the last three seasons.
In 2005, Paul Konerko posted a VORP of 56.4, more than 20 points better than Overbay. In 2004, Overbay was about five points ahead. Going forward, you have to like Overbay's chances to compete, especially in a stadium in which James ranked the second easiest for left-handed home runs from 2003-2005. And remember, Overbay probably is about 10-20 runs better per season than Konerko in the field and on the bases.
So, what would I do in Williams shoes? Announce that Konerko has been priced out of your budget at the Winter Meetings, shortly before acquiring Overbay for Brandon McCarthy, Damaso Marte and a prospect (Jerry Owens? Robert Valido?). Then, sign Overbay through his arbitration years, a four-year, $25 million contract, with annual numbers of about $5M, $6, $7 and $7 million.
First, why would the Brewers not make this trade? In the trade, they likely free a bit of payroll by losing Overbay for Prince, and landing a $300,000 starting pitcher. Oh, and not just any starting pitcher, but Brandon McCarthy, who would look really good alongside Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano and Doug Davis in the Milwaukee rotation. They also get Damaso Marte, who appeared in 60+ games in 2005 for the fourth straight season. Last year, just one Brewer (Derrick Turnbow) appeared in more than 50 games. Finally, on top of all that, they land a B- offensive prospect, someone who could likely fill a bench role down the road.
For the White Sox, this would be a great trade. In 2005, the White Sox production from the first base and Designated Hitter spots combined was about .260/.335/.475. By making this trade, Ken Williams would be asking Lyle Overbay and Jim Thome to beat that line, which they probably could by adding almost thirty runs. And, as another reminder, don't forget what replacing Konerko and Frank Thomas on the basepaths will do.
Yes, in this proposed trade, Chicago would lose its penciled-in fifth starter, as well as a back-end reliever. However, this is where the dollars saved by acquiring Overbay pays off. Without including Marte, the Sox have ten returning members to their pitching staff next season. They could also choose to add Jeff Bajenaru, one of the International League's most dangerous relievers in 2005. For the twelfth spot, Williams would have the money to sign nearly anyone, who would likely (along with El Duque) straddle the fifth starter/seventh reliever spot next year.
Ken Williams had the audacity to trade Aaron Rowand, despite his presence on the World Championship roster. In that trade, Williams saw both the opportunity to acquire Thome, as well as giving Brian Anderson a shot at out-producing Rowand (offensively) in center. Williams must use the same methodology when considering Konerko, who at this point does not deserve to return to the South Side.
After winning the World Series, a front office must remember what got them there, not who; loyalty can only go so far. While it might not look as sexy to the sportswriters, Lyle Overbay is this offseason's answer, not Paul Konerko.
The 2006 Bill James Handbook
I always give thanks for The Bill James Handbook in November. The book, produced by Baseball Info Solutions, is usually not only the first to market with all the statistics from the previous season, but it invariably offers much, much more.
What with Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN, Baseball America, Baseball Cube, Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, Baseball Musings Day-By-Day Database, STATS, and Retrosheet, I get most of my data online nowadays. Ironically, it might be for that reason why I love getting my hands on a stat book (with the operative word being hands), especially so early in the offseason.
You can be sure that I go directly to anything that has a Bill James byline attached to it. As such, I found the sections on Team Efficiency, Baserunning, Hitter Projections, and 300-Win Candidates of utmost interest. In addition, I can never get enough of the 2005 Leader Boards, particularly those stats that aren't available elsewhere.
The book opens with the 2005 Team Statistics. Included in the more traditional tables for standings are such nuggets as days in first place, last day in first place, and the largest number of games that a team led their division. There were only four teams last year that never held a share of the lead for even just one day. Two of them were the. . .surprise, surprise. . .Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, possessors of the worst record in baseball and National League, respectively. The other two teams were the New York Mets (83-79) and, get this, the Cleveland Indians (93-69 and just two games removed from the Wild Card). We all know that the Chicago White Sox got off to a great start, but it's easy to forget that the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers both spent at least three days atop the AL Central back in April.
The Baltimore Orioles (74-88) were in first place for 69 days vs. just 20 for the New York Yankees (95-67). Only the division-winning White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres, as well as the Wild Card Boston Red Sox, picked up more lap money than the Orioles last year.
In the Team Efficiency Summary, James notes that the Indians "should have won their division by a whopping 13 games." The White Sox just so happened to be the "most efficient team" in baseball, while the Indians were the "least efficient" in the league. Cleveland was 22-36 in one-run games and 34-14 in games that ended with a margin of victory or defeat of five runs or more. The Tribe, in fact, was one of five teams with winning records in five-plus run differentials and losing records in one-run games. The other four? The Toronto Blue Jays in the AL, and the Philadelphia Phillies, Mets, and Cardinals in the NL. Does it make a little bit more sense why TOR, PHI, and the NYM are being so aggressive this winter?
The Career Register includes season-by-season and career stats for every major leaguer, as well as full minor league stats for those players who have appeared in fewer than three ML seasons. The Fielding Statistics in the following section are disappointing in that they only include the traditional defensive numbers (such as putouts, assists, errors, double plays, and fielding percentage) plus range factor (which is the number of successful chances times nine, divided by the number of Defensive Innings played) for all positions other than catchers. There is a special table for the latter that details stolen base attempts, caught stealing, and catcher's ERA. The book also includes SBA, CS, and pickoffs for pitchers.
James writes a short essay on Baserunning. This section captivated me more than any other because there is so little data publicly available in this facet of the game.
On April 14, 2002, Matt LeCroy hit a triple off of Steve Sparks of Detroit. Have you ever seen Matt LeCroy run? Neither has anybody else.
James points out that Frank Thomas (0-7 while being thrown out once) and Calvin Pickering (1-for-3 with an out), "who sort of looks as if he might have eaten Frank Thomas for breakfast with peanut butter and pancakes," were even worse than LeCroy. He also tells us that Aaron Guiel was 3-for-3 going first to third, 2-for-2 scoring from second on a single and 3-for-3 scoring from first on a double for an overall total of 8-for-8. Who does James think is the best baserunner in baseball? None other than Carlos Beltran, who was 32-for-47 (68%), second to Aaron Boone (31-for-44, 70%) in advances-to-opportunities.
Are these differences meaningful? Certainly. Let's suppose that a regular player has 40 chances a year to advance on a teammate's hit, and that the range of performance is from 15% to 70%. That's a difference of 22 bases between the players. If you figure that a run is four bases, that's five runs. That's a very meaningful difference.
Pat Burrell, Mark Loretta, and Rickie Weeks were thrown out five times each trying to take an extra base on a hit. Rich Aurilia, David Bell, Milton Bradley, and Luis Gonzalez got nailed four times. As James writes, "If you figure that the team is going to lose a little more than half a run for each runner thrown out. . .that's certainly significant." Hallelujah, Bill.
James has always been interested in managers and the Handbook provides stats on lineups, substitutions, pitcher usage, tactics, and results in a season-by-season and 162-game career average format for every field boss in the majors. Among veteran managers, Tony LaRussa (131 per 162 games) uses more lineups than anyone else, while Bobby Cox (98/162) uses the least. Substitutions are detailed by number of pinch hitters, pinch runners, and defensive replacements. Clint Hurdle, understandably so, and Jim Tracy like to PH the most. Pitcher Usage details quick and slow hooks, long outings (defined as the number of games in which the starter threw more than 120 pitches), and relief appearances. Dusty Baker and, surprisingly, Joe Torre have worked their starters the hardest over the years. Tactics shows stolen base attempts, sacrifice bunt attempts, intentional walks, and number of pitch outs called. Mike Hargrove and Mike Scioscia love to run, while Frank Robinson likes to sacrifice and call for IBB but doesn't believe much in pitch outs (with just 9/162 games).
My second favorite part of the book involves Park Indices. At-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, strikeouts, and errors are all broken down by park in absolute and relative terms. A park index of 100 is neutral and "can be said to have had no effect on that particular stat." What I like most of all is the fact that batting averages and home runs are also detailed by LHB and RHB. No longer should we rely on one park factor when this type of information is available to us. A case in point that I mentioned in my Friars Roast article discussing Vinny Castilla and his new home ballpark: Petco played to a 51 HR index for RHB last year and 59 for 2004-05, as compared to a 93 and 91 for LHB. This data is significant and should be used accordingly because it gives more color than just saying that Petco Park has a HR index of 66.
Speaking of LHB and RHB, the next section (Lefty/Righty Statistics) breaks down every player's stats vs. LHP and RHP. Suffice it to say, Bengie Molina, Richie Sexson, Gary Sheffield, and Vernon Wells mash southpaws; Vladimir Guerrero, Travis Hafner, Manny Ramirez, Brian Roberts, and Alex Rodriguez torch righties in the AL. Jason Bay, David Bell, Derrek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez hammer portsiders; and Carlos Delgado, Todd Helton, Lee, and Albert Pujols have their ways with right-handers.
The chapter on 2005 Leader Boards has 26 pages of top ten lists, the majority you never see anywhere else. There are 87 batting, 89 pitching, and 13 fielding categories for each league. The pitching data (such as fastest and slowest average fastballs; pitches over 95 and 100 mph; pitches less than 80 mph; and highest % of fastballs, curveballs, sliders, and changeups) alone is worth the price of the book ($19.95 cover, $13.57 at amazon.com). I am going to dig deeper into the Leader Boards in a follow-up article.
The Bill James Handbook also includes sections on Win Shares, Hitter and Pitcher Projections, Projected Career Totals for Active Players, Injury Projections, Career Assessments, 300-Win Candidates, and a Baseball Glossary in the back. The projections are basically how a player has performed in the past, modified by age, playing time, and park effects. James admits that they have no idea how the system worked in 2005 but says, "We are certainly obligated at some point to do a serious study of how well our system works and where and when it fails."
Projections involve both skill and luck but no matter how the system worked last year, I can honestly say The Bill James Handbook has always worked for me. It is a must-own for performance analysts, fantasy players, and serious fans alike. If you haven't bought your copy yet, be sure to ask Santa.
Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, once said he would rather have one athlete who could high jump seven feet than seven who could jump one. I've always subscribed to that theory as well. Give me quality over quantity any day of the week. I realize price is a factor, but I've learned over the years you generally get more value buying good merchandise than mediocre.
When it comes to baseball, I'll take an All-Star and a replacement player over two middle-of-the-road types. In other words, I would have no problem paying a "difference maker" $10 million per season even if it limited me to giving another guy the minimum ($316,000 in 2005). I believe using one's resources in this manner will generally beat the alternative of paying two average players $5 million each, especially when it involves free agents.
Let me be a bit more specific. I think the San Diego Padres are making a big mistake not signing free agent outfielder Brian Giles. The team had reportedly offered him a three-year deal worth $25.5 million earlier this month, then rejected a proposal from his agent for three years at an estimated $30 million. General Manager Kevin Towers said the Friars valued Giles at a lower price and made the ridiculous statement that they "(didn't) want to put all of (their) eggs in one basket."
According to Baseball-Reference.com, San Diego's payroll last year was over $63 million. I didn't major in math but $10 million divided by that sum works out to less than 16%. The average Padre made about $2.5M in 2005. Giving your best player a premium of $7.5M is not all that much in this day and age. And Giles is much more than just the MVP on the Padres. He is one of the most productive players in baseball.
As we pointed out in our free agent series, "the ten-year veteran has essentially been a .300/.400/.550 hitter over the course of his career while averaging 100 R/RBI/BB and 30 HR per 162 games." Aware that Giles' power totals have receded the past few years, we also drilled down and noticed that his road stats ranked 7th in AVG (.333), 1st in OBP (.463), and 20th in SLG (.545), "while placing 6th in OPS behind only Derrek Lee, Jason Bay, Travis Hafner, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. Put another way, Brian outproduced Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Manny Ramirez on the road." I forgot to mention last time around that these six players are averaging about $15M per year and $12M even if you exclude A-Rod. This information seems appropro now.
Sandy Alderson, San Diego's CEO, called the "San Diego discount" to which Giles' agent referred as a "bunch of baloney." Well, we'll see about that. I'd love to make a wager with ol' Sandy on this matter. I'll match dollar-for-dollar any amount below $30M if Alderson will just give me 50 cents for each dollar over $30M. Giles, an alum of Granite Hills High School in nearby El Cajon, resides in Poway and his parents live in San Diego County. He would like to finish his career with the Padres and is willing to sign for less to stay at home than he could get elsewhere.
The Padres are likely to turn their attention toward free agent outfielders Jacque Jones or Jeromy Burnitz. Jones, a graduate of San Diego High, is a good defensive right fielder and has above-average power and speed. However, he is worthless against LHP (career .227/.277/.339) and, as such, should be used almost exclusively vs. RHP. Burnitz, who also calls Poway home, could be an even cheaper option. He is 37 years old and apparently is eager to finish his career in San Diego. Alternatively, the Padres could go with rookie Ben Johnson, who was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, or land an outfielder via trade. Texas Rangers outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix have been mentioned, although neither projects as a replacement for Giles in RF.
A player like Jones would probably cost the Padres about $5 million per year. He and Johnson could make a good platoon combination, but neither is a viable full-time option. In the meantime, Towers traded for Vinny Castilla and his $3.2 million salary next year. The Padres are also on the hook for another $1 million because they agreed to offset most of Brian Lawrence's $550,000 buyout and pay an additional $300,000 to offset his salary. As a result, San Diego will pay in excess of $4 million for Castilla/Lawrence in 2006.
Who would you rather have, Giles at $10 million and a replacement level 3B near the minimum salary or Jones and Castilla at a combined pay of more than $9 million?
RCAA VORP WS WSAB Giles 49 65.1 35 23 Jones -7 17.7 15 4 Castilla -8 14.2 12 1
RCAA = Runs Created Above Average VORP = Value Over Replacement Player WS = Win Shares WSAB = Win Shares Above Bench
Nonetheless, Towers believes Castilla's right-handed, pull-hitting power will prove suitable to Petco Park, where Vinny hit three home runs in a three-game series in September 2004. By comparison, Joe Randa and Sean Burroughs -- San Diego's two primary third basemen in 2005 -- hit just three HR at home all year. It will be hard for Castilla not to hit more dingers than Randa and Burroughs, but I have my doubts about him beyond that.
First of all, Castilla's three HR at Petco followed a three-game series in San Francisco in which he went deep twice, so I would argue that Vinny just happened to be on a hot streak more than anything else. Secondly, at the risk of small-sample size, Castilla is just 10-for-42 at Petco (.238/.256/.524). Thirdly, and most importantly, the 38-year-old third sacker has never been much of anything when not donning Colorado pinstripes.
TEAM G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 1991 Atl 12 5 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400 11 1992 Atl 9 16 1 4 1 0 0 1 1 4 .250 .333 .313 .646 80 2000 TB 85 331 22 73 9 1 6 42 14 41 .221 .254 .308 .562 42 2001 TB 24 93 7 20 6 0 2 9 3 22 .215 .247 .344 .591 54 2001 Hou 122 445 62 120 28 1 23 82 32 86 .270 .320 .492 .812 102 2002 Atl 143 543 56 126 23 2 12 61 22 69 .232 .268 .348 .616 61 2003 Atl 147 542 65 150 28 3 22 76 26 86 .277 .310 .461 .771 101 2005 Was 142 494 53 125 36 1 12 66 43 82 .253 .319 .403 .722 94 Totals 684 2469 267 619 131 8 77 337 141 392 .251 .295 .404 .699 81
OPS = On-Base Plus Slugging OPS+ = Adjusted OPS (An OPS+ > 100 is above average, < 100 is below average)
Those totals leave a lot to be desired. But they are even worse than one might initially think. Castilla played for the Houston Astros in 2001, the second year that Enron Park (now Minute Maid) was open. Enron/Minute Maid is known as a hitter-friendly ballpark. The Park Factor for batters was 105 that year. Furthermore, Houston's home field has always been much more favorable to RHB than LHB, and this discrepancy shows up the most in HR totals.
Here is Castilla's career record when he played for teams other than Colorado and Houston:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 562 2024 205 499 103 7 54 255 109 306 .247 .289 .384 .674 76
Castilla's .247/.289/.384 production is well below the average 3B (approximately .260/.330/.420) during these years. As a result, I believe it is fair to say that he is a liability offensively and roughly 20-25% worse than the average hitter outside of Colorado. Castilla was never really any good even when he was good. His numbers just happened to be inflated by Coors Field in the years he was fortunate to play in Colorado.
I would like to go on record predicting that Castilla will not exceed .250/.300/.400 in 2006. Aside from slugging average, those rate stats are not materially different than Vinny's career road totals (.256/.303/.436). Despite what Towers claims, Castilla is not a "middle-of-the-lineup hitter." Or, at least he shouldn't be. In fact, any lineup that features Castilla in the fourth or fifth spot is doomed for failure. As shown, the guy is a stiff outside the Rocky Mountains. Moving to Petco Park, the toughest hitter's ballpark in the majors, is certainly not going to help his numbers. Granted, RFK Stadium is no hitter's paradise, but San Diego's home field suppresses runs -- especially HR -- even more than Washington's.
According to the Bill James Handbook, Petco had a runs index of 77 (meaning it was 23% below the league norm) last year, which was the lowest in either circuit. At 66, San Diego also had the lowest home run index. Moreover, it played to a 51 for right-handed batters. Yes, Petco reduced HR nearly in half for RHB. There isn't a ballpark in MLB that is as harsh on RHB when it comes to going yard.
Unless the Padres are going to punt the next couple of seasons, it seems to me that Giles should be a part of their plans. I'll take a Faberge egg in one basket over a bunch of broken ones anytime. That said, I think Alderson and Towers are going to try and serve the latter sunny-side up. I mean, you might as well be positive about what you're doing -- even if it means be a little wet.
For more on the business of baseball, be sure to read Nate Silver's Lies, Damned Lies: Defending Jeffrey at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) and Dave Studemund's Avoiding Arbitration and Locking up Free Agents at The Hardball Times. The baseball world has made great strides in analyzing on-field performance. Articles like Nate's and Dave's offer insights into the economics of the game, a nascent area begging for more review, analysis, and discussion.
Between the Lines
Sometimes, it is the moves a General Manager does not make that tells us the most about him. For the Texas Rangers, Hank Blalock was not the problem. He was, and will continue to be, shopped on the open market. However, it was the other Marlin demand that prevented the Rangers from adding potential ace Josh Beckett. Simply put, new GM Jon Daniels would not tear apart the Texas trio.
For about as long as the Colorado Rockies, Texas has struggled to find good pitching to match their powerful offense. Adding arms to the mix has been the focal point of the scouting department since before Grady Fuson. After years of failing, and after years of compiling, the current crop looks to be the most dangerous yet. When push came to shove, there was just no way that Daniels could break up D(anks)-V(olquez)-D(iamond).
John Danks was the first of the three to make noise in the organization after they drafted the southpaw with the ninth overall choice in the 2003 draft. Danks had a big fastball, a left arm, and Texas ties, making him attractive (despite his status as a high school pitcher) to Fuson in his first draft. He was then selected to play in the 2004 Futures Game, after which I wrote, "Danks pitched slower than some reports had him, throwing between 89-92, and showcasing a curveball he left up quite often."
That Futures Game interrupted an up-and-down first full season for Danks. Before the midseason All-Star Game, Danks had rummaged through the Midwest League. At 19, Danks had a 2.17 ERA in 14 appearances, combining a 1.05 WHIP with a better 11.6 K/9. He had everything. Well, except the moxie to succeed in the California League. Finishing the season at high-A, Danks saw his numbers universally rise, including (most significantly) his ERA of 5.24.
This season was the same story, just within different contexts. This time around, Danks was a cut above the Cal League, while failing to turn the corner in AA. This consistency should tell us one or two things about Danks: poor endurance yields late season collapses, and/or he has trouble adjusting his game after promotions. Either way, his combined pre-promotion ERA is now 2.35, which has worsened to 5.40 after moving up.
This season was more of a test for Diamond, who pitched in two tough environments in his first full year as a pro. His stuff was certainly enough for the Cal League, as his classic pitcher's body created a mid-nineties fastball and sharp, late-breaking curve. As a result, Diamond struck out 101 in 81.1 innings, and also showed his college-learned pitchability with a 1.99 ERA.
However, as often happens, things began to fall apart once Diamond reached the Double-A level. Diamond's 4.96 BB/9 was his highest since his sophomore year of college, and his 1.04 HR/9 was a career-high. Combine those two factors, and it isn't surprising that his ERA of 5.35 was his highest since pitching as a teenager. Rangers fans should hang their hats on the fact that despite this lack of success, Diamond's H/9 and K/9 peripherals were fine, coming in at 8.61 and 8.87, respectively.
One player with traditionally good peripherals, and lacking ERAs has been Edison Volquez. The first to enter the system, signing out of the Dominican in 2001, Volquez put his name on the map with a good 2005 season. The newest Ranger to draw comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Volquez' stuff is often talked about before his numbers are cited. We hear about a heavy fastball, a Pedro-esque change, and a developing slider. We also see a player that in 279.2 career minor league innings has an ERA of just 3.99.
Volquez' presence in America began in 2003, with a short stint in the Arizona Summer League. In 27 innings, the best that can be said about Edison was his 24 hits allowed, 28 strikeouts, and one home run. Of course, he walked 11, threw 4 wild pitches, and had an ERA of 4.00 as well. In 2004, Volquez had a decent season in low-A, putting up a 4.21 ERA in 87.2 innings, only striking out 74 batters. His year finished well in high-A, when he put up a 2.95 ERA, and improved his K/9 to 7.71.
This season, as mentioned, things began to improve for Volquez. Despite a 4.18 ERA in high-A, Volquez turned a lot of heads with 77 strikeouts in 66.2 innings. I saw him pitch in the Futures Game, where I came away impressed with a heavy 94-96 mph fastball, but disappointed with no emergence of a great secondary pitch. His struggled mounted after leaving Bakersfield, as all of his peripherals (except HR/9) worsened after reaching AA, if not his ERA (4.14). Volquez was the only one of the three who finished with the Rangers, pitching disastrously, allowing 20 earned runs in just 12.2 innings of work.
Trying to rank the trio is no easy task, as all look to be future mainstays in a Major League rotation. But I know the question will pop up, so I'll give it my go. First, looking elsewhere, we see that Calleaguers.com's Seam Geaney ranked them in the order of Volquez - Danks - Diamond, ranking Edison as fourth in the entire Cal League. Certainly, he saw more than I did at the Futures Game, citing Volquez' "mid to high 90s fastball while showcasing a plus plus change up and a developing breaking ball." In one Baseball America Daily Dish, they talked to two unimpressed scouts, who split their top choices between Danks and Volquez. Finally, at midseason, guru Jamey Newberg assured me that Volquez was for real, ranking him #1b.
Despite these reports, I still value performance first, with potential coming a close second. That methodology creates a pretty clear order of Danks first, and Diamond narrowly coming ahead of Volquez. If stuff was everything, even Blalock and DVD wouldn't have yielded Josh Beckett.
In the end, it is a good sign that Daniels was slow to dip into the farm system that could shape the Rangers future. It would have been one thing to trade Eric Hurley, the fourth pitcher in the system that pitched well in the Midwest League, but another to swap one of their high potential, AA hurlers. Good first non-move for Daniels, while Red Sox fans are witnessing Theo Epstein's pride and joy (a rebuilt farm system) get torn apart quickly.
Hope Springs Eternal on Thanksgiving
Bob Hope's signature song, "Thanks For The Memory," was written by composer Ralph Rainger and lyricist Leo Robin for the actor's first feature film, "The Big Broadcast of 1938." The tune was an instant hit and won the pair the Academy Award for Best Song.
Over the years, Bob would sing "Thanks For The Memory" when signing off The Bob Hope Special variety show. Bob and his writers would change the words to fit the occasion, and it always proved to be a big hit with guests and viewers alike. Bob's last special was in 1996. He died on July 27, 2003, a few months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
As a tribute to the part owner of the Cleveland Indians in the early 1950s, as well as a way to thank all of our readers and baseball friends, I hereby bring you the Baseball Analysts' version of "Thanks for the Memory."
On key. . .
Thanks for the memory
And thanks for the memory
Thanks for the memory
I know it's a fallacy
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Red Sox-Marlins Trade Analysis
News: Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell have reportedly been traded by the Florida Marlins to the Boston Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and a player to be named later. The deal should become official once physicals are satisfactorily completed for all five players involved in the transaction.
Although the Marlins and Red Sox have not confirmed or denied the trade, the Texas Rangers held a conference call with reporters on Monday night to report that Florida was moving in a different direction. In other words, the rumored trade talks between the Marlins and Rangers are dead. Beckett will be heading north to New England rather than westbound to his home state of Texas.
The first-round draft pick (second overall) in 1999 out of Spring High School (Spring, TX) has been one of the most highly touted pitchers in baseball for years. The 6-foot-5 RHP blew through the minors in 2000 and 2001, pitching a total of 26 games and 133 2/3 innings of A and AA ball before making his MLB debut on 9/4/01. He was an instant success, hurling 24 innings while striking out a batter per frame and allowing just 14 hits. His 1.50 ERA, however, was a bit misleading as he gave up five unearned runs in those four games. That said, the youngster's 3.38 RA was impressive and a sign of things to come.
Beckett became famous at the age of 23 when he shut out the New York Yankees in the sixth and final game of the 2003 World Series on only three days' rest. He pitched a total of 42 2/3 IP in the postseason, giving up 21 hits, 12 walks, and 10 runs while whiffing 47 batters. His 0.77 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, and 2.11 ERA made him an untouchable and elevated him to first- or second-round status in many fantasy leagues the following spring.
Unfortunately, Beckett did not live up to the hype in 2004 and, despite setting career highs in GS, CG, IP, K, and W, was more of a disappointment than not in 2005. Josh served two stints on the disabled list last year, marking the eighth and ninth times he has been placed on the DL during the past four seasons.
What Beckett offers is a ceiling that ranks among the highest when it comes to starting pitchers. His numbers don't put him in the league of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, or Johan Santana, but his stuff rates alongside these pitchers, as well as A.J. Burnett, Roy Halladay, Rich Harden, Felix Hernandez, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano, as one of the dozen or so best. Beckett had the third-highest average fastball (93.5 mph) among all MLB pitchers with at least 162 IP last year and hit triple-digits on the radar gun on three occasions, based on information provided in The Bill James Handbook. His 12-to-6 curveball is, at a minimum, a plus pitch and arguably one of the better breaking balls around when he is on top of his game.
But for all of Beckett's strengths and potential, his record is somewhat flawed. He has never come close to throwing 200 innings in a single season and his home/road splits leave performance analysts scratching their heads a bit, wondering how much of his success is attributable to pitching home games at pitcher-friendly Pro Player Stadium.
Beckett's Career Record:
G GS W L IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA WHIP BAA Home 57 56 26 14 326.2 264 128 114 26 130 342 3.14 1.21 .222 Away 49 47 15 20 282.1 265 138 120 29 93 265 3.83 1.27 .248 Total 106 103 41 34 609.0 529 266 234 55 223 607 3.46 1.23 .234
Beckett's career ERA of 3.46 compares to a park- and league-adjusted norm of 4.04, according to Baseball-Reference.com. His ERA+ is 117, which puts him in the same group as Bartolo Colon, Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, and Kerry Wood. Of these pitchers, Beckett is more like Wood than the others -- two of the most promising, yet underachieving pitchers in the big leagues.
Beckett and Wood are both from Texas and are pretty good comps. However, Josh is three years younger than Kerry and won't be coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery when he reports to camp next spring. He will also make a lot less money than Wood in 2006 and 2007. Beckett agreed to a $2.4 million salary last January and is arbitration-eligible this year and next. My best guess is that he will make five or six million next season. If all goes well, I suspect the Red Sox will try to lock him up to a longer-term deal by buying out his last arb year at a premium with the hopes of getting a small discount in the out years of the contract.
As to whether it is prudent for Boston to take on Lowell's bloated contract, I think the answer is clearly "yes." Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the soon-to-be 32-year-old third baseman (.236/.298/.360) is worth $9 million over each of the next two years. He's not. But I don't think he is a lost cause either. The Gold Glove third baseman had the second-lowest BABIP (.253) among qualifiers in the majors last season and his strikeout rate (.116) was the lowest of his career. The multi-million question is whether he has completely lost his power. Lowell's Isolated Power (.124) was a personal low and his HR/FB ratio (.04) was near the bottom among all hitters.
When acquiring a talent like Beckett, you sometimes have to take the bad with the good, so to speak. Here's how you have to think about this one: pretend Beckett is making $9M and Lowell is making $5-$6M. It basically all works out the same because the former is making less than market and the latter is making more.
I asked Jim Callis of Baseball America last night for his perspective on the trade. Jim follows the Red Sox closely and is an expert when it comes to evaluating young players. "Ramirez and Sanchez are two of Boston's four best prospects, along with Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester. There probably wasn't another team out there willing to give up a shortstop prospect and a starting pitching prospect combo as good as Ramirez and Sanchez."
Well, how about the Dodgers -- could they offer Joel Guzman and Chuck Tiffany or Greg Miller? "Guzman isn't a shortstop, Tiffany might be a reliever, and Miller is hurt," Callis responded.
Despite parting with two of its best prospects, Jim thinks the trade is a good one for Boston. He has heard that Jesus Delgado might be the third minor leaguer in the deal. "Delgado is an interesting guy. He had Tommy John surgery and missed 2002-03. Works at 95 and hit 97-98 last year out of the 'pen in low-A. Good curve at times, not much of a changeup yet. Promising arm but far away. Not a bad third player if he's the guy."
Callis also told me that Sanchez never had TJ in contrast to the MLB.com article reporting the trade, saying "he had a nerve moved in his elbow." What Sanchez has though is one impressive record last year in high-A and AA.
Anibal Sanchez's 2005 Season:
Team Lg IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BAA OBP SLG G/F Wilmington A+ 78.2 53 25 21 7 24 95 2.40 .187 .253 .278 0.89 Portland AA 57.1 53 28 22 5 16 63 3.45 .244 .308 .355 1.14 Totals 136.0 106 53 43 12 40 158 2.85 .212 .277 .311 0.99
Callis, who says Ramirez has "great tools" and can "definitely play SS," points out that he "keeps hitting .275 with 8 HR."
Hanley Ramirez's 2005:
Team Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG Portland AA 122 465 66 126 21 7 6 52 39 62 26 13 .271 .335 .385
I believe more teams should be making these types of trades. Every club can't make a legitimate run at the World Series. Some need to retool for the future. If nothing else, transactions like this allow for lots of discussion and analysis. As for me, I think the Red Sox-Marlins trade can be summarized as follows: a Beckett and Lowell in hand beats three players in the bushes.
They know the refrain all too well. Given just how soon the team had won the World Series since starting, fans were able to forgive their organization after stripping apart the 1997 team. Even the 2003 club faced significant changes after coming through October on top.
But never before have the Marlins been as willing to pull out as many of the stops as we've been hearing. The team is very close to trading Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to the Rangers. Carlos Delgado and Juan Pierre have also been on the block, possibly going to the Mets and Cubs, respectively. There have been other names mentioned, as well, such as Luis Castillo, Guillermo Mota and even Paul Lo Duca.
Or, according to reports, pretty much anyone on the club except Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Jeremy Hermida. Oh, and by the way, they have 12 free agents preparing to leave town as well. It's safe to say that Jack McKeon picked a good time to skip town. At this point, I'm not convinced that Joe Girardi will be able to field a team of 25 men.
First, let's look at the rotation that has had the potential to be so good since drafting Josh Beckett out of high school. But suddenly, Carl Pavano is gone, A.J. Burnett is leaving and Beckett looks to be on his way out now. A new regime is in place, led by Dontrelle Willis. From a marketing standpoint, there might be no one better in the Majors to become the focus of the team.
Beyond Willis, we can't be sure of who will be pitching every fifth day, as Burnett, Valdez and Brian Moehler are all free agents. Jason Vargas finished the season on a high, and will be given a job a year after going from the South Atlantic League to the Majors in Pujols-esque speed. His young southpaw counterpart, Scott Olsen, could also be given a job, as he'll be more healthy and well-rested.
Rumors have the Marlins soon-to-be acquiring John Danks, Texas' talented young lefty hurler. If so, Florida will soon have a rotation of left-handed heat, as Danks is probably a half season away (at least) from contributing at the Major League level. He's a great prospect, but one that has proven to be able to handle only one season per year. The same can be said about Josh Johnson, who finished the year in Florida, but whose control proved to be not ready for the Major League level.
So, the team has three starters that are ready for the Majors. As of now, things look better in the field, where the Marlins are yet to really start losing players. Paul Lo Duca is still signed to catch, and even if he's traded, Josh Willingham is waiting in the wings. Expect one of those two, but not both, to be gone in February. Carlos Delgado remains signed as the first baseman, though with a salary that is set to triple from where it was in 2005. Luis Castillo will make more, as well, but his popularity in Miami makes me think he'll stay.
The shortstop position is anyone's guess, as Alex Gonzalez is just not worth re-signing. Instead, it appears the club is dedicated to giving Robert Andino the shortstop job, despite his career of zero Major League at-bats. This is to soon for the club to throw Andino in to the fire, so they really should consider a cheap, Pokey Reese/Royce Clayton-type option here.
It's anyone's guess where Juan Pierre will be next season. The club has been shopping him around like crazy, as the idea of paying Pierre and Castillo so much money to man the top of the lineup has just lost its luster. As of now, I think the best option for the fish is to in fact send him to Chicago, acquiring Corey Patterson and a young starter in the Sergio Mitre mold. Patterson could then be forced to contend with Chris Aguila for the centerfield job, while Hermida coasts through the season in right.
As of now, a trade of Delgado would make Jeff Conine the starter at first base. The drop off here is pretty significant, however, and Conine provides much more value as a bat coming off the bench. There, he could join the versatile Aguila, Joe Dillon, and Matt Treanor. Simply put, holding onto Delgado is extremely important.
What scares me most about the 2006 team is the bullpen that Girardi will be forced to call to. At this point, only one veteran is signed, that being Ron Villone. Guillermo Mota is arbitration-eligible, which in this organization means he will be shopped, and if no one is interested in a trade, he'll be non-tendered. Beyond that, Nate Bump is the only other player I would have any confidence in. Pardon me, but the names Randy Messenger, Chris Resop, Logan Kensing or Ben Howard don't sound particularly inviting.
But, since they don't want to spend money, this is the bullpen they will be given. At least one free agent signing will be mandatory, as someone with a name is going to have to take over for the departing Todd Jones. After that, the club should be creative, looking into the system, the minor league free agent market and the Rule 5 Draft for arms. If the Royal bullpen can show so much promise, why not the Florida one? For example, if Josh Johnson starts the 2005 season slow, convert his big frame to the bullpen, and you might just have your next closer.
So, who should Larry Beinfest be looking to trade, and who should he be lobbying to keep? As I've said, I think the ones to go should be Lo Duca, Lowell, Pierre, Beckett and Mota. This will shave quite a bit off the payroll, while maintaining an off chance that this team could contend in the 2006 season.
Whether they can get his new Miami stadium or not, the Marlins owe their fan base something. And that is to stop leaving the same song on repeat.
Weekend at Colletti's
Fridays are normally known as the day of the week in which the new movies hit the big screen. And November, many times, features some of the biggest films of the year. This year is no exception. Hitting the theatres today is none other than Weekend at Colletti's, a parody of the 1989 comedy by a similar name.
I was able to catch a sneak preview of this farce and snag one of the movie posters. The latter is sure to become a collectible for fans of the Dodgers, Frank and Jamie McCourt, and/or Ned Colletti.
Here is an excerpt of an exchange between Jon and me in Dodger Squaretable with Jaffe, Lederer and McMillin.
Jon: Well, while we resolve to be thoroughly guarded in our predictions for Colletti, let's try to set his agenda. Among other things, there is true mystery about who the Dodgers' third baseman and No. 5 (if not No. 4) starter will be, and true mystery about whether two statistically qualified players, Milton Bradley and Hee Seop Choi, will still be Dodgers by February.
Rich: It all comes down to time horizon. If you want to win next year, you upgrade the starting rotation, the corner infield spots, and left field via free agency or by trading prospects (like LaRoche or Guzman, Russ Martin or Dioneer Navarro, Chad Billingsley or Chuck Tiffany, and Jonathan Broxton) plus Choi, Perez, Aybar, and Jayson Werth. If you're not so worried about 2006, you might even do the opposite - you know, trade Eric Gagne and Jeff Kent for younger players who can help you in 2007 and beyond when the Dodgers could field one of the best teams in all of baseball.
Jon: I think the division still looks too weak, and that there is too much evidence of teams rising from the dead (like the phantom contender in Arizona this past year) for the Dodgers to give up on 2006. Certainly, the Dodgers didn't flip GMs to sit back on 2006. I think Colletti will pick and choose - go with kids in one place, sign a free agent for another position, trade a prospect to get a name vet in a third position.
Rich: I'm not saying the Dodgers will sit back on 2006. I have no doubt that Colletti is going to try and deliver a winner for the McCourts this year. The weak division will seduce them into thinking they can have their cake and eat it, too. That's too bad because anything they do this offseason at the expense of the future will come back to bite them in the butt.
Hurry on over to read the entire chat and to see what Jay and Rob also have to say. I think the consensus view leans more toward pessimism than optimism but cynicism is what probably rules the day.
Otis Redding Was Right
I've begun to see that the pleasure men take in being with each other -- playing cards together, being in a bar together -- isn't actively anti-female. It isn't against women; it just has nothing to do with them. It seems to come from some point in their lives before they were aware that there were women. They have so much fun together. I really have become much more sympathetic to men because of my job.
One of the primary reasons why I'm a baseball fan is that it is a way for me to connect with other men. Some dudes like to talk about cars or hunting or books or records. We generally need something to bring us together, to connect us. Women get together all the time and can actually talk about their feelings. While men aren't excluded from this kind of discourse, it sure isn't the norm. Then again, men can also sit together and watch a ballgame without saying anything to one another for more than an hour and be utterly content, whereas I defy you to put a group of women in a room and have more than 30 seconds pass without someone saying something.
But while male-bonding is an intrinsic part of baseball's appeal for me, I've always shared the game with women as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. Some of my earliest (and fondest) memories of the game are playing with Vera Plummer, a close friend of the family's whose daughter was my age. Vera grew up in Brooklyn but was a Yankee fan and to this day she'll show you Gil McDougald's batting stance and talk about Raschi and Reynolds with little prompting. While my father was impatient and often irritable when it came to playing ball, Vera never seemed to get tired of pitching me that whiffle ball. More than any specific detail, I recall the feeling of her enthusiasm and enjoyment.
One the greatest women fans I've ever known is my friend Marylou Ledden who grew up in Fitchburg, a small town about fifty miles west of Boston. Marylou had just turned 18 during The Summer of Love, also known as The Impossible Dream season in Boston, and I'm sure she knew as much about baseball as she did about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Her father, a burly Irish drinking man, would take her to the bleachers at Fenway Park, and although she was quite beautiful, she was also surely no pushover.
I first met Marylou around 1984 when I was about 13 at a party that my father took my sister, brother and me to during our weekend visit with him in New York. The gathering was at the apartment of a woman whose brother-in-law was Lorne Michaels and I distinctly recall Marylou, in jeans, wearing combat boots, and sporting a Lulu haircut like the one Melanie Griffith would make fashionable again in "Something Wild" a few years later. Like that character, Marylou lived down in the lower east side. She was bright and funny and attentive (we were the only kids at the party).
Over the next few years, she was around often and soon we developed a close friendship. She was like a big sister or a second mother to me. She thought I was a great kid and believed in me, and was very much of a mentor.
Not only was she funny and unpretentiously hip, but she was probably the most analytical and intelligent woman that I had ever met. She thought like men did, though she was anything but. She taught me about women and sexuality during my adolescence (taking me to see "A Room with a View" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," neither of which I understood at the time) and turned me onto literature and movies. We went to see Buster Keaton movies together and she would clue me in to the subtleties of the sexual dynamics in his movies. I took my cues from her laughter as we watched, and then later by discussing those moments at length.
She was also an avid sports fan, and someone who could appreciate the way men perceived and followed sports as well. At the same time, she was true to her own feminine instincts toward the game. She appreciated the beauty of the baseball, watching elite athletes perform, the strategies and history of the game, while she could also step back and salivate over them as sexual objects as well. I don't recall watching "Bull Durham" with her or what she thought about it, but she was as close to the Susan Sarandon character as anyone I have ever known. She wasn't a groupie, but she was a feminist who did not hate men.
Marylou moved to New York in the 1970s, and for years she remained loyal to the Red Sox -- she never let me forget the cruel messages I left on her answering machine after the Bill Buckner game. But by the mid-nineties there was no doubt that not only was she softening her stance towards the Yankees, she was even beginning to like them, too. After the Yankees dominated the league in 1998, she had been won over by Joe Torre's team. We went to any number of games together, including Pedro's first as a member of the Sox at Yankee Stadium, and talked on the phone during many more.
In February of 1999, Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Marylou had recently gotten married to a nice Jewish guy from New York -- she always had a thing for Jewish guys. Shortly thereafter, she began complaining of dizziness and, after a series of visits to the doctor, on May 7th, she was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. As it turned out, she was suffering from brain cancer as well.
She immediately began chemotherapy treatments, but before long it was clear that she did not have long to live. The last several months of her life were spent in the hospice ward of Beth Israel in downtown Manhattan. It was the first experience I'd ever had with anyone close to me dying. During the days, I worked on a forgettable Cameron Diaz movie, and during the evenings I watched the Yankees and visited Marylou. Often, while I was in her room, the Yanks would be on the small TV, and, at moments, it was easy to slip into the rhythms of the game, temporarily forgetting the gravity of her situation.
I remember being very worried one evening about the pending labor issues on the horizon, and Marylou dismissed my concerns by saying, "Baseball will survive." She said it quietly but it was as if she had never been more certain of anything in her life. "No, but, you don't understand," I protested. She gave me a look that said, "You just don't get it." "Honey, no matter what happens, baseball will go on."
About the only good thing I can say about cancer is that it allows you to say goodbye, it allows you to tell somebody how much you love them. Marylou had worked her ass off to get where she was in the world and though she was now slowly deteriorating she did not succumb to self-pity readily, though for a while there, she was plenty pissed off. Somebody recommended Mitch Albom's best-seller "Tuesdays with Morrie" to me, which I promptly devoured. When I told Marylou about it, she said, "I don't want to be anybody's fucking Morrie." She had just gotten married and would never get to be a mother, and was not ready to be anybody's wise old sage. But her rage didn't last long. "Why you?" her therapist told her one day when she was particularly upset, "Well, why the hell not you? What makes you so special?"
Just because she was dying didn't mean she was suddenly going to be accorded special treatment. I have a fuzzy memory of the summer. (One day I came home from seeing her and, alone in my apartment, watched David Cone pitch a perfect game.) Mostly, I remember the intensity of the emotions. And she continued to teach me. On another day, I was sitting by her bedside with her sister Lisa, and Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect" came up in conversation. "You know Otis Redding wrote that," I said. "No he didn't," she replied. "Oh yes, he did." But even before I could get going, she touched my forearm and looked me directly in the eyes and said, "You don't need to be right here. I still love you." This cut right through me. She knew me so well, understood my neurotic need to be validated by being correct all of the time.
I left the hospital that day, wandering back to Brooklyn in the heat of the New York summer, humbled by the fact that here I was really revved up about making her see that I was right about something trivial, when here she was withering away before my eyes. Later that night, I was relaying this story to a record-nerd friend of mine and he said, "Otis Redding did write 'Respect'." My first instinct was to run back to that hospice and shake her, "See, I told you I was right!"
But being right was irrelevant. Whether I was right or not did not affect the way she felt about me. If I learned one thing that summer it is when it comes down to it, and you don't have your looks or your health, when you have to be carried to the bathroom, when you start to lose your mind, nothing, and I mean nothing in this world matters but love. That's all you get, and if you are lucky enough, it will envelop you and make the existential fear of dying a bit easier.
Three months after she was diagnosed, Marylou died. I had stopped going to see her weeks earlier. It had become too painful to say goodbye again and again, not knowing when she would actually be ready to leave. That season, I wanted the Yanks to win more than ever -- to confirm the greatness of 98 -- but also felt that if there was ever a time that I wouldn't mind the Sox beating the Yanks, this would be it. For Marylou's sake. Life isn't that accommodating though and the Yanks whipped the Red Sox in the playoffs and went on to win the World Serious.
Death and illness followed the Yankees that year, drawing me even closer to them. Late in the season, Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius' father passed away after a long battle with colon cancer; soon after, Luis Sojo's father died of a liver infection following surgery for an aortal aneurysm. Then, before Game 4 of the Serious, Paul O'Neill's father passed away after a long battle with heart disease. In the victory pile after the game, I'll never forget the image of the massive O'Neill collapsing into Torre's arms like a child. I wished I was him and had a guy like Torre to console me.
I miss my old friend dearly because I still have so many questions to ask her, so many more games to watch with her. I doubt I'll ever know anyone like her again. In the last years of her life, when we'd go out to dinner, she'd make me order for the two of us because that's what a guy is supposed to do. It's not often that a woman teaches you how to be a man but, in the purest of ways, that's exactly what she did for me. Who says baseball is just about fathers and sons?
Alex Belth is the founder and co-author of Bronx Banter. His first book, Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights will be released next spring.
One More Year
If it wasn't for Kevin Towers, we might have forgotten that the offseason has begun. First, the Arizona Diamondbacks asked permission to talk to Towers, and things did not work out there. He then was among the first names being discussed for the Red Sox GM opening. Now, after re-committing with the Padres, Towers has made the first two trades of the winter, with rumors that a third is right around the corner.
The minute that free agent lists were released, it was evident that the Padres would be active during the hot stove season. Two of the clubs most powerful hitters -- Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez -- are among the top free agents in the game, and joined by Mark Sweeney and Joe Randa on offense. Pedro Astacio is the lone starter who could go elsewhere, but the pitching staff is also in danger of losing three of their five best relievers: Trevor Hoffman, Chris Hammond and Rudy Seanez.
Needless to stay, Kevin Towers has been forced into rebuilding a good portion of the NL West champions. He has already started to rebuild, first trading steady starter Brian Lawrence to the Washington Nationals for Vinny Castilla. Today it was announced that, pending a physical, the Padres were trading young Xavier Nady for Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron. Finally, rumors around the Majors indicate that David Wells could soon return to southern California, in exchange for New England icon Dave Roberts and the underachieving Sean Burroughs.
What jumps off the page is that Towers seems willing to take on extra salary in 2006 to have one last hurrah. After the 2006 season, the team stands to lose Mark Loretta, Castilla, Chan Ho Park, Woody Williams, possibly David Wells, and holds expensive options for Ryan Klesko and Cameron. Towers has obviously decided that acquiring aging veterans to make a run at the NL West title next year will also allow him to make a splash in the 2007 free agent class, when he will have nearly $30 million to spend.
This is a plan that I support when considering how weak this winter's crop is. Towers must find a way to get one final year out of many of these veterans, while also slowly deciding upon the future of many of his young players. It seems as though Josh Barfield, Paul McAnulty and George Kottaras all have one season to prove their worth to the front office contingent of Towers, Grady Fuson and Sandy Alderson. Ben Johnson, Miguel Olivo and Tim Stauffer will all be significant roles, and their performance will dictate their future in the organization. However, the 2006 season will be about how much performance Bruce Bochy can get from Klesko, Loretta, Castilla, Williams, Wells and other aging veterans.
First and foremost, Towers must find a way to get the David Wells deal done. If any of the older players mentioned above have a good chance at success in PETCO Park in 2006, it's the flyball-friendly Wells. And while Dave Roberts presence in left field could form an outfield of three center fielders (Roberts, Cameron, Johnson), his value is undoubtedly overrated in the minds of Bostonians. While I would prefer Sean Burroughs is not included, and given the same chance in AAA as Barfield or McAnulty, his exit from the organization wouldn't be awful. In my mind, he's probably nothing more than Mike Cuddyer will ever be.
A bad idea, however, is trading Akinori Otsuka. With three good relievers poised to leave the organization, Otsuka is in the position to become a set-up man for future closer Scott Linebrink. While the team would be smart to add another reliever, Otsuka will surely be one of Bochy's most dependable arms. That's because other than Linebrink, the San Diego bullpen currently has plans to give innings to Craig Breslow, Clay Hensley, and the loser of the Chan Ho Park v. Tim Stauffer rotation spot. Those names don't invoke a lot of confidence.
With the acquisition of Wells, however, Park or Stauffer will be the fifth arm in the rotation. Jake Peavy obviously sits on top, and will be followed by Wells, Adam Eaton and Woody Williams. As a group, this foursome averaged 168.7 innings in 2005 with an ERA of 4.04. And given the breakout potential that Eaton has, and Wells forthcoming move to a pitcher's park, that number should all but decrease in 2006.
However, the pressing need for next season is finding a way to score more runs. The San Diego offense ranked just 13th in the National League, and as mentioned, is now losing Giles and Hernandez. However, one should expect improvements up the middle, as Loretta and Greene both underachieved in 2005, and Cameron represents an offensive improvement in center. Hopefully, these improvements will offset the decrease in production from right field. Giles was one of the National League's ten most productive players in 2005, and it's hard to expect rookie Ben Johnson to be among the top 50 next year.
So, the team needs to improve at catcher, first, third and left. One of those spots will be filled by Ryan Klesko, who should at least match his production from this season. Even considering age regression, Vinny Castilla should improve upon the .254/.318/.366 line that Padres' third basemen hit in 2005. So, how do you fill the catching and 1B/LF situation without going away from Towers' plan?
Mike Piazza. Yes, the same Piazza that many think belongs nowhere near the playing field ever again. In 2005, Piazza played 113 games. This is about how many the organization that signs him in this winter should expect him to play in 2006. This is fine with the Padres, who would like to give time to see what they have in Miguel Olivo. Neither the prospect of playing Olivo 130 games behind the plate, or giving the likes of Ben Molina or Kenji Jojima long contracts are inviting. So, why not give an expensive, one-year deal to Mike Piazza, with an option for 2007?
To give Piazza time off from catching duties, the club should start Miguel Olivo against southpaws. Olivo has always hit left-handers very well, and would produce from such a role next year. However, they also don't want to lose Piazza's bat against southpaws, so they simply will play Piazza at first, and move Klesko to left. Against right-handers? Drop Olivo from the lineup (occassionally giving him a start to rest Piazza), and re-sign Mark Sweeney, who performed admirably in 2005.
My suggested 2006 lineup:
Position Vs. RHP Vs. LHP C Piazza Olivo 1B Klesko Piazza 2B Loretta Loretta SS Greene Greene 3B Castilla Castilla LF Sweeney Klesko CF Cameron Cameron RF Johnson Johnson
For those interested, I suspect these nine players would cost the Padres about $35 million next season. Six of the players (including Piazza and Sweeney) could be in the position to be free agents again in one year. With a rotation that will add about $30 million in costs, the Padres wouldn't have a ton to spend on the bullpen, though it's almost complete, anyway.
One season. That's all Kevin Towers is asking of many of his veterans, before allowing himself some fun in a year. With the NL West in shambles, with no evidence that it will improve soon, this is a fantastic plan. If you ask me, Mike Piazza would only add to it.
There was no Huston Street this season. No pitcher that dazzled on both the stat sheets and scouting reports. The Arizona Fall League is rarely a haven for pitchers, who have come to avoid the hitter-friendly league. Last year Street created noise all over the league, as both his numbers and fastball impressed everyone that saw him. This year, we have seen none of that.
However, ten pitching performances from the AFL stand out, even if nearly all of them had flaws. I have grouped them into four categories, based on their statistics, and in many instances, their future roles on a pitching staff.
Group One: Glen Perkins and Jamie Shields
Undoubtedly the two Cy Youngs of the AFL season. The two were first and second respectively in innings pitched, and both were in the top five in both ERA and strikeouts. Furthermore, control is a problem for neither, as the two combined for a 68/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Perkins is the more well-known of the two, a first round pick by the Twins in the 2004 draft. He had a history of success before the AFL, pitching great at the University of Minnesota, as well as in both low and high-A. However, after a good first half performance in the Florida State League, Perkins struggled mightily in AA. Every ratio, including his historically great control went out the window, and his ERA neared 5.00.
The AFL, in this instance, should be a reminder that Glen Perkins is a legit pitching prospect, and will likely be a preview of what we might see from him next year in AA.
On the other hand, we have Jamie Shields. Older than Perkins by sixteen months, Shields was chosen in the sixteenth round of the 2000 draft out of high school. He lost his 2002 season to injury, struggling in the California League during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. However, when moving to a more pitcher-friendly environment this season, Shields thrived, lowering his ERA to 2.80 in 109.1 innings.
Shields great pitching in the AFL should come as evidence that his 2005 campaign was not a fluke. Instead, he deserves a spot on the Devil Rays 40-man roster, and if not, a spot in some organization's camp as a Rule 5 selection. Sure, his stuff might never impress a scout, but his control and newfound durability could yield a moderately successful Major League career.
Group Two: Adam Loewen, Humberto Sanchez and Clint Nageotte
While both Perkins and Shields belong in the back end of a rotation, our next three pitchers are tweeners. All have succeeded in the past -- and at the AFL -- as starters, but their performance has indicated a move to the bullpen could provide more consistency.
The most obvious name on this list is Adam Loewen, a former top five selection that has not been able to turn the corner as a starter. After a rough 2004, Loewen's 2005 looked fantastic with a 9.25 K/9 and 2.58 G/F ratio. His AFL obviously followed suit, as he continued to keep the ball on the ground and struggle with control. It seems that one way to harness Loewen's stuff, while maintaining his good strikeout, hit and groundball ratios would be to convert him to relief. However, expect the Orioles to give him at least one more season to prove his worth.
It seems that a bullpen that already has Franklyn German and Fernando Rodney just is begging to add Humberto Sanchez. Like the other two, Sanchez has a huge frame and fantastic, hard stuff. He has a career 8.62 K/9 ratio, and if you exclude the 2002 and 2003 seasons, he has struck out 195 men in his last 182.2 innings. However, he also walked 84 during that time, the cause for an ERA that has been above 5.00 during the time. His latest struggles were in Erie, one of the minor's best parks for hitters, though he has yet to dominate regardless of the environment. Given his stuff and ability to keep the ball in the stadium, Sanchez should move to relief as early as next season, where he could truly succeed.
Finally, we have a name that has already spent time at the heart of this debate: Clint Nageotte. Formerly a top Mariners pitching prospect, the team converted him, and his vicious slider, to relief this season. However, in an effort to extract more starting pitching from their farm system, they tried him in starting again this fall. The results: complete success. His control was fantastic, his stuff kept the ball in the park, and he continued to miss bats. Now, Nageotte finds himself right where he started, back in the relief vs. starting debate. Look for the former to win out.
In my opinion, of this group, only Loewen holds the potential to stay in the starting role. However, that hardly means that all three will not be successful, in whichever role suits them best.
Jered Weaver, Bill Murphy and Scott Mathieson
Unlike the first two groups, the pitchers in this group do not all profile to have similar future roles. However, all have relatively similar skillsets, and as a result, had similar performances in the AFL. All three had high ERAs in Arizona, likely the result of high HR/9 ratios. However, along with high hit rates, all three struck batters out at impressive rates, while not giving up very many free passes.
The most famous example of this type of player was Jered Weaver, who was inconsistent in his seven-start AFL stint. He gave up 30 hits -- four of which were home runs -- in 24.2 innings, leading to a 5.47 ERA. However, impressively he struck out 35 batters, while walking only five. This is a skill that Weaver has had since college, though his problem of being too hittable is a new one. I still believe Weaver has a future in the rotation, but he must find an ability to give up less fly balls, and as a result, less home runs.
One player with eerily similar statistics was Bill Murphy, southpaw in the Arizona system. Murphy gave up four home runs and 36 hits, while striking out 36 and giving up four walks in his 27 innings on the mound. I've never been a fan of Murphy, who I watched pitch in the 2004 Futures Game. Murphy has been too hittable for awhile now, though his strikeout numbers do indicate a future could be had in a relief role. It wouldn't hurt the Diamondbacks to send Murphy back to the PCL in 2006, but this time in much shorter stints.
Staying with the theme of ex-Futures Game pitchers, we have Scott Mathieson, who snuck into the 2005 All-Star contest. His stuff was impressive in his short stint in Detroit, as well as his 26 innings in Arizona. Mathieson struck out 36 batters during that time, but unlike the names that preceded him, did not show great control (11 walks). He also struggled with opponents making too much contact, as he surrendered 34 hits (and four home runs). However, Mathieson's strikeout numbers and impressive fastball indicate he could follow Ryan Madson in moving to the Philly bullpen.
Shane Komine and Taylor Buchholz
Finally, we finish with two pitchers that might not have the potential of the previous eight, but without question, have the numbers. First, there is Shane Komine, the small A's right-hander that has become known as "Hawaiian Punch-Out." This comes from Komine's noted strikeout history, which included four straight seasons with a K/9 over 9.00 at Nebraska. The ninth-round pick sat out of most of 2005 with injury, but also struck out 44 in 40 innings before the AFL. While his strikeout numbers might have been lacking in the AFL, Komine had great success in his five appearances.
Komine has a career 3.85 ERA in the minors, and pitched well in the Texas League in 2005. If a 5-8 pitcher is going to succeed anywhere, it might be the Oakland A's, who are thought to love the type of players that scouts hate. And make no mistake about it, Komine is just that. However, his numbers continue to be great, and if he can keep the ball in the park, there is no reason Shane can't pitch some with the Oakland A's.
One organization that has never valued height is the Houston Astros, as Roy Oswalt would be happy to tell you. And while Taylor Buchholz might actually fit the frame that scouts love, his fastball isn't great. However, a good curveball has led to success in the minors up until the Pacific Coast League, in which he has struggled each of the last two seasons. Buchholz has been unable to turn the corner in the K/9 department, striking out just 119 in 174.2 AAA innings. I don't see Buchholz succeeding in the Majors unless some of the velocity he once showed in the Philly system magically returns.
While these ten might not have been the best ten pitching prospects in the AFL, they are the ten stat lines that stood out the most. But in the end, there was no Huston Street. And there will be no Rookie of the Year coming from the 2005 AFL mound, that much I can guarantee you.
The 2005 QUAD Leaders
With the Most Valuable Players scheduled to be announced this week, I thought it would be timely to unveil "The Quad" honorees in each league. I introduced the concept of the Quad in a three-part series in July 2003 (Part I, II, III) and subsequently listed the year-end leaders in October 2003 (AL, NL) and November 2004.
The Quad, which is short for quadruple, is comprised of the most important offensive statistics -- on-base percentage, slugging average, times on base, and total bases. By combining the best rate and counting stats, the Quad delivers both qualitative and quantitative measurements of performance analysis. In a nutshell, it evaluates the two most important components of run production -- the ability to get on base and the ability to drive baserunners home. Players who rank among the league leaders in both areas on a per at-bat or plate appearance basis and an absolute basis are, without a doubt, the most productive hitters in the game.
The Quad is superior to the more widely quoted Triple Crown categories (AVG, HR, and RBI) for two reasons. Number one, batting average is not as highly correlated with runs scored as OBP and SLG. Number two, RBI is team and lineup dependent. The beauty of the Quad is not only in filtering out the noise inherent in many traditional stats but its ease of understanding and use. Granted, the Quad may not be as sophisticated as some of the more advanced summary stats, but the numbers employed are actual counting and rate stats rather than derivatives of such. Call me a simpleton, but I like quoting numbers and percentages that can be tracked with each and every plate appearance by everyone from the most casual fan to the more sophisticated stathead.
In the 1979 Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote the following:
A hitter should be measured by his success in that which he is trying to do, and that which he is trying to do is create runs. It is startling, when you think about it, how much confusion there is about this. I find it remarkable that, in listing offenses, the league offices will list first--meaning best--not the team which has scored the most runs, but the team with the highest team batting average. It should be obvious that the purpose of an offense is not to compile a high batting average.
If you're a proponent of Runs Created, a stat James developed more than 25 years ago, then the Quad is right up your alley. Think about it. The Quad is nothing more than the factors that determine Runs Created. To wit, OBP x TB = Runs Created in its original and most basic definition. Similarly, Advancement Percentage (which is akin to SLG but uses plate appearances as the denominator rather than at-bats) x TOB = the same RC number as above.
The only fly in the Quad ointment is that the stats used are not adjusted for ballpark effects. Adding Adjusted OPS or what is known as OPS+ (which is OBP plus SLG, normalized for the player's park and league) as a fifth category provides what I call Quad+, and it serves as a good tool to verify the efficacy of the Quad results.
With the whys and wherefores out of the way, let's take a look at the National and American League players who did the best job of getting on base and accumulating bases (both in terms of the number of times as well as the percentage of times).
TIMES ON BASE (N.L.)
1 Albert Pujols 301 2 Bobby Abreu 291 3 Derrek Lee 289 4 Brian Giles 285 5 Jason Bay 284 6 Todd Helton 278 7 Miguel Cabrera 264 T8 Pat Burrell 260 T8 Adam Dunn 260 10 David Eckstein 256
Albert Pujols led the NL in times on base and was the only player who reached first 300 times. He has now ranked in the top 10 every year since he broke into the league in 2001. His teammate, David Eckstein, shows the value he brought atop the Cardinals' lineup. The X Factor was the only non-corner OF or 1B in the top 10.
ON BASE PERCENTAGE (N.L.)
1 Todd Helton .445 2 Albert Pujols .430 3 Brian Giles .423 4 Derrek Lee .418 5 Lance Berkman .411 6 Nick Johnson .408 7 Bobby Abreu .405 8 Jason Bay .402 9 Carlos Delgado .399 10 Luis Castillo .391
With Barry Bonds on the disabled list most of the year, Todd Helton seized the opportunity to lead the NL in OBP. The Colorado first baseman also led the league in 2000 and has finished no worse than fourth every year since, a period in which his OBP has never dipped below .429. Pujols placed first in TOB and second in OBP. Luis Castillo, like Eckstein above, was the only non-corner OF or 1B to rank in the top 10. Pujols, Helton, Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay, Brian Giles, and Derrek Lee were the only players to make the top 10 in both of the on-base categories. It should also be noted that David Wright, given his position (3B) and age (22), was 11th in TOB and 12th in OBP.
TOTAL BASES (N.L.)
1 Derrek Lee 393 2 Albert Pujols 360 3 Miguel Cabrera 344 4 Andruw Jones 337 5 Jason Bay 335 6 Carlos Delgado 303 T7 Carlos Lee 301 T7 David Wright 301 T9 Adam Dunn 293 T9 Morgan Ensberg 293 T9 Chase Utley 293
Derrek Lee led the NL in total bases with 393 or nearly 10% more than the runner-up Pujols. It was the first time that Lee placed among the top 10 in the league. Andruw Jones and Chase Utley were the only up-the-middle defensive players in the top 10. Wright and Morgan Ensberg also receive mention as non-corner OF or 1B.
SLUGGING AVERAGE (N.L.)
1 Derrek Lee .662 2 Albert Pujols .609 3 Carlos Delgado .582 4 Ken Griffey Jr. .576 5 Andruw Jones .575 6 Aramis Ramirez .568 7 Miguel Cabrera .561 8 Jason Bay .559 9 Morgan Ensberg .557 10 Chad Tracy .553
Lee beat out his arch-nemesis Pujols in SLG as well. It was the first time he placed in the top 10. Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. are the only up-the-middle defenders on the list, while Ensberg and Aramis Ramirez get special attention as non-corner OF/1B. Lee, Pujols, Bay, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, Ensberg, and Jones all finished in the top 10 in both slugging departments.
TIMES ON BASE (A.L.)
1 Alex Rodriguez 301 2 Derek Jeter 290 3 David Ortiz 283 4 Michael Young 282 5 Mark Teixeira 277 T6 Ichiro Suzuki 258 T6 Hideki Matsui 258 8 Gary Sheffield 256 T9 Manny Ramirez 252 T9 Johnny Damon 252
Alex Rodriguez led the AL in times on base with 301, 11 more than his teammate Derek Jeter. It was the first time that A-Rod led the league in this category. However, he has placed in the top 10 for six consecutive seasons and seven overall. Jeter, Michael Young, and Johnny Damon were the only up-the-middle defensive players on the list. Rodriguez joins them as the other non-corner OF/1B.
ON BASE PERCENTAGE (A.L.)
1 Jason Giambi .440 2 Alex Rodriguez .421 3 Travis Hafner .408 4 David Ortiz .397 5 Vladimir Guerrero .394 6 Derek Jeter .389 7 Manny Ramirez .388 8 Brian Roberts .387 9 Michael Young .385 10 Mark Teixeira .379
Jason Giambi bounced back from a dismal 2004 to lead the AL in OBP. The Yankees first baseman added nearly 100 basis points to his OBP from last year, the only time he dropped below the vaunted .400 level since 1998. It was the third time that Giambi has led the league and the fifth time he has placed among the top three since 2000. A-Rod ranked first in TOB and second in OBP. Jeter, Young, and Brian Roberts receive special mention as the up-the-middle players, and A-Rod joins them as the only other non-corner OF/1B. Rodriguez, Jeter, Young, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mark Teixeira were the only players to make the top 10 in both of the on-base categories.
TOTAL BASES (A.L.)
1 Mark Teixeira 370 2 Alex Rodriguez 369 3 David Ortiz 363 4 Michael Young 343 5 Miguel Tejada 337 6 Manny Ramirez 329 7 Alfonso Soriano 326 8 Hideki Matsui 312 9 Grady Sizemore 310 10 Paul Konerko 307
Mark Teixeira edged out Rodriguez in total bases, the first time he has ranked among the top ten in his career. Young, Miguel Tejada, Alfonso Soriano, and Grady Sizemore were the only up-the-middle fielders and were joined by A-Rod as the non-corner OF/1B.
SLUGGING AVERAGE (A.L.)
1 Alex Rodriguez .610 2 David Ortiz .604 3 Travis Hafner .595 4 Manny Ramirez .594 5 Mark Teixeira .575 6 Vladimir Guerrero .565 7 Richie Sexson .541 8 Jason Giambi .535 9 Paul Konerko .534 10 Jhonny Peralta .520
Rodriguez led the AL in SLG. It was the second time that he finished atop the league in this category and the seventh being in the top six. Like Lee and Pujols in the NL, A-Rod and Ortiz were the only players who reached the magical .600 mark in 2005. Jhonny Peralta gets special merit as the only up-the-middle defensive player and A-Rod joins him as a non-corner OF/1B. Rodriguez, Ortiz, Teixeira, Ramirez, and Paul Konerko all finished in the top 10 in both slugging departments.
The following matrix provides a way to quantify the results of the Quad in a manner similar to the MVP voting (14 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, etc.).
TOB OBP TB SLG TOT Derrek Lee 8 7 14 14 43 Albert Pujols 14 9 9 9 41 Todd Helton 5 14 19 Jason Bay 6 3 6 3 18 Miguel Cabrera 4 8 4 16 Brian Giles 7 8 15 Carlos Delgado 2 5 8 15 Bobby Abreu 9 4 13 Andruw Jones 7 6 13 Ken Griffey 7 7 Lance Berkman 6 6 Aramis Ramirez 5 5 Nick Johnson 5 5 Adam Dunn 2.5 1 3.5 Carlos Lee 3.5 3.5 David Wright 3.5 3.5 Morgan Ensberg 1 2 3 Pat Burrell 2.5 2.5 David Eckstein 1 1 Chad Tracy 1 1 Chase Utley 1 1 Luis Castillo 1 1
Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols are head-and-shoulders above the rest. Lee is the only player in the NL to lead in two of the four Quad categories. He also ranked first in OPS+.
TOB OBP TB SLG TOT Alex Rodriguez 14 9 9 14 46 David Ortiz 8 7 8 9 32 Mark Teixeira 6 1 14 6 27 Manny Ramirez 1.5 4 5 7 17.5 Jason Giambi 14 3 17 Michael Young 7 2 7 16 Travis Hafner 8 8 16 Derek Jeter 9 5 14 Vlad Guerrero 6 5 11 Hideki Matsui 4.5 3 7.5 Miguel Tejada 6 6 Ichiro Suzuki 4.5 4.5 Alfonso Soriano 4 4 Richie Sexson 4 4 Gary Sheffield 3 3 Brian Roberts 3 3 Paul Konerko 1 2 3 Grady Sizemore 2 2 Johnny Damon 1.5 1.5 Jhonny Peralta 1 1
Alex Rodriguez is a runaway leader in the AL Quad. He led the league in two departments and finished second in the other two, as well as OPS+ (behind Travis Hafner). No other player led the AL more than once.
In determining worthy MVP candidates, I favor players who ranked first in these categories and/or in the top ten multiple times. I give bonus points to catchers, middle infielders, center fielders, and even third basemen, especially when they are "plus" defensive types. I also discount designated hitters, poor-fielding left fielders and first basemen, and those candidates who had the good fortune of playing home games in extreme hitter-friendly ballparks, such as Colorado and Texas.
With the above in mind, I believe Derrek Lee and Alex Rodriguez deserve to win the MVP awards. Lee's margin of victory in the NL voting should be about as tight as it was in the Quad totals. A-Rod is an absolute no-brainer in the AL. He not only beat out Ortiz in the four most important offensive categories but played third base well while Ortiz served as a DH. Make no mistake about it, Big Papi had a terrific season. However, he wasn't as valuable as A-Rod this year.
Like the Quad itself, it just isn't all that complicated.
Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com.
No, basketball fans, this column isn't about Walt Bellamy, Gus Johnson, Earl the Pearl Monroe, Wes Unseld, or Elvin Hayes. It's simply a hodge podge of ideas separated by small, bold, round symbols.
How did the writers do? Well, how about if we take a look at eight key pitching stats in the AL:
ERA ERA+ H/IP WHIP SO K/9 K/BB HR/9 Colon 3.48 120 0.96 1.16 157 6.35 3.65 1.05 Santana 2.88 153 0.77 0.97 238 9.25 5.29 0.85
What am I missing here? Ohhhhhhh. Wins. Dummy me. Colon, 21. Santana, 16. Man, how could I have missed that? Now I understand why the writers gave (and I mean gave) the award to Colon. Sheesh, I thought the honor was supposed to go to the "best pitcher." If it's designed to go to the pitcher with the most wins, why jerk everyone around and vote?
I realize that the pitcher with the most wins (Dontrelle Willis, 22) didn't win the CYA in the NL. That's because the winner was close enough (21) for BBWAA work while fashioning a much better W-L % (.808 vs. .688), the other team-dependent criterion that gets way too much attention. Although Clemens got aced out of the award this year, he beat out Randy Johnson in 2005 for the same reasons. He won more games (18 to 16) and had a much better W-L % (.818 vs. .533) than the Big Unit, yet the latter had superior K-BB stats, such as K/9 (10.62 to 9.15), K/BB (6.59 to 2.76), similar HR/9 (0.66 to 0.63), and a lower ERA (2.60 to 2.98) and ERA+ (171 to 145).
Carpenter was a much better selection than Colon. But guess what? Bartolo won by a substantially wider margin than the St. Louis right-hander. Don't pay attention to me though. My choices finished third in both leagues. Five writers didn't even see fit to include Santana on their ballots and one voter thought Chad Cordero was more deserving than Clemens. I'm serious. The writer in question must have thought that ol' Roger didn't have enough victories or a good-enough winning percentage for his tastes so he chose the relief pitcher who went 2-4 with a .333 W-L % while recording 411 fewer outs than the man who led MLB with a 1.87 ERA.
Hmmm. Didn't Paul DePodesta trade for Bradley? Gosh, maybe the former GM did have a "keen eye for talent," despite Frank McCourt's claims to the contrary.
Didn't Bradley cause chemistry problems? Or was that Jeff Kent (.289/.377/.512), the All-Star second baseman who DePo forced upon his poor manager?
Besides, I thought Tracy liked to keep his teams intact? If that is the case, it seems to me the Pirates would be better off fielding a lineup of Humberto Cota, Daryle Ward, Jose Castillo, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Tike Redman, and Craig Wilson, don't ya think? Speaking of Ward, I wonder how he is feeling these days? He played for Tracy in 2003 and hit .183/.211/.193 with 3 BB, 19 SO, 1 XBH, and 0 HR in 52 games and 109 AB. D'oh!
Let's see how Sammy has been doing of late. Anyone notice a trend?
YEAR G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS+ 2001 160 577 146 189 34 5 64 160 116 153 .328 .437 .737 201 2002 150 556 122 160 19 2 49 108 103 144 .288 .399 .594 160 2003 137 517 99 144 22 0 40 103 62 143 .279 .358 .553 135 2004 126 478 69 121 21 0 35 80 56 133 .253 .332 .517 110 2005 102 380 39 84 15 1 14 45 39 84 .221 .295 .376 82
Yeah, me neither (cough, cough). The number of games, at-bats, runs, hits, home runs, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average, and OPS+ have declined for four years in a row. Sosa went from superstar to great to good to average to poor or from the proverbial penthouse to the outhouse in four years.
You know, Sosa's trend kinda looks like Westley Sissel Unseld's coaching record.
YEAR W-L WPct 1988 30-25 .545 1989 40-42 .488 1990 31-51 .378 1991 30-52 .366 1992 25-57 .305 1993 22-60 .268 1994 24-58 .293
Just think, if Sosa can bounce back in 2006 the way Wes turned things around in 1994. . .
Quiz: The franchise that is now known as the Washington Wizards was previously the Baltimore Bullets (1964-73) and the Washington Bullets (1975-97). What was the full name of the team in 1974?
Long Live the King
The city of Seattle has a litany of important historical dates:
November 4, 1861: Founding of the University of Washington
To this list, we may one day add August 4th, 2005. The occasion? Felix Hernandez makes his major league debut, taking the hill in Detroit on a game that was only seen through a closed-circuit broadcoast on MLB.tv. Though the Mariners lost the game, it signaled the beginning of an era. The reign of King Felix has begun.
In the past two seasons, the Mariners have won 132 games while losing 192, a nifty .407 winning percentage. The team has spent two years losing, and doing so while being nearly unwatchable. It is one thing to lose with young players trying to earn their way to the major leagues. It is another thing entirely to lose with Rich Aurilia, Scott Spiezio, Pat Borders, Aaron Sele, and Ryan Franklin. Following the team on a daily basis became something of a burden. They were a bad team that was hard to watch and made up of players who were planning their post-career travels. The team's slogan, "You gotta love these guys," was eerily similar to your Mom telling you to eat your broccoli as a child. "Do I have to?" Unfortunately, there was no way to sweep Bret Boone under the table.
What's the old saying, though, it's always darkest before the dawn? Well, on August 4th, after having his every twitch in the minor leagues micro-analyzed by people grasping for hope (read: me), the dawn arrived in Seattle. We had seen the future, and the future was Venezuelan, baby-faced, and a little thick in the middle.
Five days later, Felix stepped on the mound at Safeco Field for the first time. The Minnesota Twins were the opponents, though they weren't so much a challenge as they were witnesses to the coronation. 8 innings, 5 hits, no runs, no walks, 6 strikeouts, and 14 groundballs on just 94 pitches. The Mariner offense managed just one run against the immortal Kyle Lohse and, on any other night, the crowd would have gone home railing on the team's inability to hit ball with stick. Instead, the fans watched the King take his throne.
The results were impressive. This 19-year-old was completely dominating, not just in performance, but in ability. The weapons at his disposal were numerous and debilitating. There are players whose domination is a marvel. Then, there are players whose domination is expected, because they're just playing a different game. Felix was clearly the latter.
Let's start with his four-seam fastball. At 96-98 mph, his velocity alone makes it extaordinarily hard to hit. This isn't a Matt Anderson "Hit Me" fastball. Throwing it with movement, it draws stares more often than not. It's the easiest strike one in baseball.
If he bores of peppering the zone in the high-90s, he can easily switch to his two-seam fastball, the sinker that caused worms and gophers to leave the grounds of Safeco Field en masse. This pitch is nearly always thrown at the knees and, with late downward movement, it is a groundball machine. This pitch was the key to Felix's groundball rate. He faced 328 batters in his 12 starts and induced 149 ground balls. Only 45 hitters managed to get the ball in the air. This two-seam fastball is why.
As good as his two high-velocity options can be, neither is his best pitch. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a better pitch in baseball than the Royal Curveball. Thrown as a classic 12-to-6 over-the-top curve and coming in at 82-86 miles per hour, Felix's curve is the kind of breaking ball that makes batters wobble. Starting at your eyes and ending in the dirt, trying to calculate the plane that the ball will be on as it crosses the plate is, for all practical purposes, impossible. To top things off, he has more command of his curve than any other pitch. Down 3-0, you are more likely to see the Royal Curve than you are a fastball. It's his go-to pitch, not only when he needs a strikeout, but when he just wants to get the ball over the plate. Try hitting this thing when you're sitting dead red.
And, just for fun, Felix also has a change-up that, on its own merits, is one of the best in the American League. A true straight change, he drops it in at around 84 mph, usually just below the knees of a batter who has already completed his swing by the time the ball actually gets to the plate. The famous Roger Rabbit cartoon, where three swings are completed in the time it takes for the ball to get to the catcher's mitt, isn't that far off base.
When Felix is on the hill, it isn't just surprising when someone gets a hit. It's surprising when they don't look foolish. He uses four pitches that, judged on their own merits, are among the very best in the game individually. Trying to find a comparison for a guy with Felix's repertoire of pitches just isn't possible. If you put Billy Wagner's velocity, Brandon Webb's movement, Kerry Wood's curveball, and Johan Santana's change-up in a blender, then put it on high, you would have something like what the Mariners have. Only what the Mariners have is 19-years-old.
Scouts aren't the only ones drooling over Hernandez. Let's take a look at some of the markers that get performance analysts excited, shall we?
Most people agree that strikeout rate is the best predictor of future success in a young pitcher. If you can miss bats in the major leagues before you're allowed to drink, good things are probably in store. Well, Felix Hernandez struck out 23.4 percent of the batters he faced as a Mariner. Roger Clemens has a career rate of striking out 23.2 percent of batters he has faced. Strikeout rate? Check.
Okay, so, Felix makes guys miss. But, you have to be able to get the ball over the plate, too. All the stuff in the world doesn't make a difference if the batter can stare at four pitches out of the strike zone and stroll down to first base. Felix walked just 7 percent of the batters he faced in the majors while throwing just 14.4 pitches per inning. Command? Check.
The third true outcome, home run rate, has been preliminarily tied mostly to flyball rate. The more balls in the air a pitcher allows, the more often one will likely leave the yard. Felix allows fewer fly balls than any starting pitcher in the major league besides Brandon Webb. On the season, he allowed just 5 home runs in 84 innings, projecting out to 12 or 13 for an entire season. That total would be the best in the league just about every single year. Ability to keep the ball in the yard? Check.
Then, there are just the ridiculous numbers. Opposing batters hit .203/.263/.283 against him last season. That's a little bit worse than the season line Cristian Guzman just finished putting up.
Or, there's this little gem. Felix Hernandez's average game score was 63.1. Roger Clemens was the only guy in the majors with a higher average game score. The Rocket's was 63.5.
So, we admit, after watching his continual displays of brilliance, we went nuts. When it came to Felix, I gladly put down my objective analyst card and became a screaming fanboy. No one in Seattle would have objected if he had come riding in from the bullpen on a donkey with palm trees littering the outfield. The city was starved for a hero, a leader, a king. In King Felix, we found a phenom.
Long Live the King.
David Cameron is a member of the team of writers who author ussmariner.com. He has also written for Baseball Prospectus and his newest article will be published in the upcoming Hardball Times 2006 Annual. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We went on record with our top 30 free agents in a three-part series on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We gave you our rankings and projections as far as contract terms. However, you didn't think we were going to end there, did you? Right you are. It's time for us to match the players with the teams. And we mix in some other Hot Stove stuffing and gravy as well. Let's serve it up.
Bryan: Well, Rich, now that we've dissected and ranked the players, let's talk about where they might end up. I want to start with Paul Konerko, who seems to becoming the 'sexy' name of the offseason, even if he wasn't our number one player. Who do you see coming out of this bidding war on top?
Rich: If it's not the White Sox, then it will be either the Angels or that other Sox team.
Bryan: Let's talk about the White Sox commitment to him. Besides being the power hitter on the club, there is also a public relations side that must sign him.
Rich: Yes, teams that win the World Series often times feel compelled to please their fan base by locking up their star players. Other than Ozzie, Konerko is the most popular guy on the South Side of Chicago. You can bet the Sox will do their damnedest to keep him.
Bryan: The Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday that Ken Williams is preparing a 4-year, $52 million contract. I'd say that's their damnedest, wouldn't you?
Rich: That is a very full offer and just about what you and I predicted. The floor has now been set. The only question is whether or not Konerko holds out for a fifth year.
Bryan: Let's hope that no one would put a burden on their payroll like that. But, as you said, there are some high-profile teams contending for him. The only team I think that has a chance, honestly, is one you didn't mention, the Mets.
Rich: I'm quite certain that the Angels and Red Sox will be tendering offers. You might be right about the Mets though. Omar Minaya seems to have more money at his disposal than Bill Gates. Boy, Konerko's numbers would take a dive going from U.S. Cellular to Shea Stadium, don't ya think?
Bryan: Most definitely. I really don't think that Konerko is a direction that the Mets should go. In fact, today we heard reports that Minaya has been talking about acquiring Aubrey Huff. Now that's more like it.
Rich: Kudos to Gerry Hunsicker and Andrew Friedman down in Tampa Bay. They are trying to unload Huff while they can and at the same time take care of one of their own in Rocco Baldelli. The Devil Rays, if managed properly, could become the Cleveland Indians of the late-'90s.
Bryan: Without question. Now if they could only use their offensive depth to acquire some pitching, and find a spot for B.J. Upton, I'd be happy. Let's just be glad the Devil Rays aren't like the Royals, who seem to be committed to spending too much money on a veteran that might help them win 65 games instead of just 60.
Rich: I gotta tell you, Bryan, I am concerned for Royals fans. This free agent crop is right up their alley. A bunch of second-tier guys who they can throw some money at in the hopes that the uninitiated will think they are making a concerted effort to get better. Guys like Kevin Mench, rumored to be heading to KC, and Matt Morris aren't going to turn things around anytime soon.
Bryan: Yes, can't you just imagine a press conference in which they give Morris something like 3 years at $8M per season? Yuck! I don't really have a problem with the Mench-for-Affeldt rumors (Jeremy just isn't turning the corner in K.C.), but they must show their fan base the right mentality. They should be focusing on nurturing and improving Billy Butler, Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Justin Huber, and in time, Andrew Miller.
Rich: Patience is the watchword here. Well, at least in terms of how long it's going to take to turn this mess around. But I bet the fans wish they would hurry up and sell the team, hire a new GM, and put a five-year plan in place. I mean, the Royals could have one of the top picks in the draft for the next few years. How can they NOT get better?
Bryan: No kidding. Let's move within the division to a team whose five-year plan actually looks to be succeeding: the Cleveland Indians. Mark Shapiro is in a tough place, forced into decisions regarding Kevin Millwood and Bob Wickman. Sure, both have regressions coming, but both are also top 30 free agents. Is simply bringing back the 2005 team the direction he should go?
Rich: I normally don't advocate sitting tight but, in the case of the Indians, I think that just might be the way to go. Building your team with young and talented players like Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore up the middle is a sure sign that management knows what it is doing. The Indians were one of the best teams in baseball last year. Heck, they might have been the second best for all we know. Winning 93 games with a $41 million payroll is a tribute to Shapiro and his staff.
Bryan: Yes, and you can bet that Shapiro will now be given some extra money to add to his payroll. However, I disgaree with you. This team has the foundation for success, yes, but they also can't just sit tight. Re-signing Wickman is a bad idea, and I wouldn't advise to meet Millwood's demands, either. Instead, let the front office continue to be creative, filling these holes, and trying to find a way to eliminate Aaron Boone and/or Casey Blake from that lineup.
Rich: When I said "sit tight," I didn't mean holding on to Millwood and Wickman per se. I just think they should stay the course while tweaking their roster on the margin in the most cost-effective manner. I'm certainly not married to Wickman. There's no reason to suspect that an even cheaper option like Bob Howry couldn't do as good a job as him. Let's face it, there are a lot of decent closers out there to choose from.
Bryan: Definitely not. The consensus top two are, as we ranked them, Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan. And I don't see either of those players touching Cleveland with a ten-foot pole. Instead, Wagner will probably choose between the Phillies and the Mets (are they in on every big free agent these days, or what?), while Ryan is going to hear from all the big teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, etc.
Rich: I guess it depends if you like to shop at Bloomingdale's or Target. Todd Jones would be just fine by me -- as would Howry -- and I wouldn't be against giving Kyle Farnsworth a shot. The Wagners and Ryans out there are going to come at a big price. No thanks. I would rather see the Indians give Brian Giles the same money or even slightly more, for that matter, in order to get one more big bat in the lineup.
Bryan: I agree, though Giles might get priced-out of their budget pretty fast. I see him ending up with the Chicago Cubs, who will also get Rafael Furcal. But Giles, like the closers discussed above, will get interest from everyone. While he might not even make a ton of sense for the Yankees or Red Sox (unless they trade Manny), you can bet even they will be in on the calls.
Rich: For sure, as well as they should be. What were the Padres thinking, offering him a 3 x 7 deal? C'mon, that is downright insulting. Sheesh, that's not even in the ballpark -- and Petco is a huuuuuuuuge park. If Kevin Towers & Co. believe they can replace him with Jacque Jones, on top of trading for Vinny Castilla, I have a bridge to sell them and it's not heading to Coronado.
Bryan: The Dodgers would have to fall flat on their face to not be the favorites in March. After all the 2005 injuries returning, and the money spent this winter, they should be much improved.
Rich: The only money the Dodgers have spent so far is in severance pay. I'm not at all convinced the McCourts are going to pay up for anyone. That said, I don't think the Dodgers can get much worse and in such a weak division, I guess they have as good a shot at winning as anyone else. But the real story here is 2007 and beyond, provided the McCourts and the new GM don't panic first. Oops, silly me. I forgot, the panic button has already been pushed.
Bryan: The Dodgers are the definition of mismanaged, but still should be the favorites in the NL West. Says a lot about that division, huh? Really, the Dodgers concern should be to avoid becoming the number two team in Los Angeles. The Angels have shown an interest in getting rid of Darin Erstad this winter, which is a sign their winning ways just might continue.
Rich: That is a very good sign. But for the life of me, I don't understand why they have so much interest in Konerko. It's not like Erstad is their only option at first base. Bill Stoneman, I'd like you to meet Casey Kotchman. Oh, and Kendry Morales is sitting in the lobby waiting to see you, too.
Bryan: It's funny that the team was so quick to implement Dallas McPherson, but approach Kotchman with such apprehension. They have the chance in 2007 to have Jeff Mathis behind the plate, with an infield of Kotchman-Kendrick-Wood-McPherson and Kendry at DH. I'm not sure Billy Beane could make 1,000 trades to top that future.
Rich: Excuse me, I was salivating. Gotta wipe my shirt off. Not only are those guys up-and-coming players with high ceilings, they will be cheap for years to come. Arte Moreno will be able to add a real center fielder one of these years and put even more money into an already top-notch pitching rotation.
Bryan: Alright, Rich, let's give the readers what they want with a quick lightning round. Do the Burnett-to-Toronto rumors make sense, and where will he end up?
Rich: Toronto has the money as well as Brad Arnsberg. If Burnett is OK with Canada, then Toronto it is. While on the subject of the AL East -- Johnny Damon?
Bryan: Stays in Boston for too much money. Am I right with Furcal to Chicago?
Rich: If not the Braves, then the Cubs. Speaking of which, Nomar?
Bryan: Heads out west to the Dodgers. How about the three catchers, Hernandez, Molina and Jojima?
Rich: Arizona, NYM, and Seattle. Let's turn to those ace relievers. Wagner, Ryan, and Gordon?
Bryan: The Mets, Red Sox and Yankees. Now please Rich, tell me Hoffman and Thomas stay in the right uniforms?
Rich: Maybe Hoffman although they are far apart. Thomas is Oakland's next DH. Sad but true.
Rich: Speaking of has beens, where will Piazza wind up?
Bryan: If it's not Thomas in Oakland, it's Piazza. Otherwise, he'll replace Raffy in Baltimore. Let's end on the two bashers, Konerko and Giles. Who lands 'em?
Free Agency Preview (Part Three)
UPDATE: Rich will be a guest on The Mighty 1090 AM radio show this evening at approximately 5:30 PST. The host is Ted Leitner, the voice of the San Diego Padres. The topics of discussion include the GM meetings, free agents, trade rumors, and, of course, the Padres.
For those who will be away from the radio or are out of the area, the show can be heard via streaming audio. Click on the blinking "1090AM LISTEN LIVE" button.
We wind down our free agent series with the #21-30 players available this winter. Today's list includes a first-ballot Hall of Famer, three crack relief pitchers, a couple of former All-Star starting pitchers, three outfielders who have been around the block, and a Japanese import. (Part One and Part Two)
21. Esteban Loaiza - 33 - SP - 2005: Washington Nationals
W-L 12-10 | SV 0 | ERA 3.77 | WHIP 1.30 | 173 K/55 BB
With the exception of 2003 when Loaiza finished second in the AL Cy Young voting, he has always been the type of pitcher who was more of an innings-eater than anything else. The question has usually been whether that was a good or a bad thing. The native of Tijuana, Mexico relies heavily on his cut fastball while mixing in a four-seamer with average velocity, a mediocre slider, and a change-up.
Aside from his superb season, which two years later looks to be more and more of an aberration, Loaiza's ERA going into 2005 ranged from 4.13-5.71. The 11-year veteran then bounced back last season and posted the second-best ERA of his career. He was undoubtedly helped by RFK Stadium, one of the more friendly pitcher's ballparks last year. Loaiza fashioned an ERA of 2.86 at home and 4.71 on the road.
Projection: 2 years, $9-11 million. He is what he is, a guy who can throw 200+ IP with an ERA between 4.00-5.00 in a neutral environment.
22. Reggie Sanders - 37 - OF - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals
.271 AVG/.340 OBP/.546 SLG | HR 21 | RBI 54 | 28 BB/75 SO
Sanders only played in 93 games last year, but he sure looked good doing it. If he had survived a full season, his numbers would have projected to 37 home runs, 94 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. Of course, Sanders has never played a full season, as his career-high is 140 games. Counting on him to play more than 120 games would be a risk.
However, there is a high likelihood that he will play quite well in those 120 games. Sanders showed the same plus-power in 2005 that has always made him an attractive option, while also walking at the highest rate of his career. He will, of course, strike out a lot, but that is now one of his only flaws. He runs the bases well, plays good outfield defense, and can hit even the league's best fastball.
Given the right fourth outfielder, there is no reason to believe that Sanders' late-career success will not continue. Oh, and he's got that "winner" label, too.
Projection: 2 years, $10 million. An injury-filled past and old age will force teams to stay conservative with their offers. Whoever signs him should be pleased given the right expectations.
23. Preston Wilson - 30 - OF - 2005: Rockies/Nationals
.260 AVG/.325 OBP/.467 SLG | HR 25 | RBI 90 | 45 BB/148 SO
Wilson is unique among this year's free agent class in that he can play all three outfield positions. The former All-Star has a lot of pop in his bat, too. He has a big swing and always ranks among the league leaders in strikeouts. Owing to a knee injury, Wilson's days of stealing 20-plus bases are behind him. But he is only two years removed from leading the NL in RBI, a plus for those GMs who believe they need a "run producer."
The 6-foot-2, 213-pound former Met, Marlin, Rockie, and Nat has a career OPS+ of 106 so we wouldn't get carried away with his offensive abilities, especially for an OF. His counting stats are enticing at first blush, but they overstate his actual production.
Projection: 2 years, $10-12 million, as long as the Yankees don't get involved. A small- to mid-size market team will think his 25 HR and 90 RBI are a bargain at that price.
24. Trevor Hoffman - 37 - RP - 2005: San Diego Padres
W-L 1-6 | SV 43 | ERA 2.97 | WHIP 1.11 | 54 K/12 BB
Like Frank Thomas (who just missed our top 30), the prospect of Trevor Hoffman leaving San Diego is a sad one. Although Hoffman hasn't spent his entire career with one organization in the manner of Thomas, imagining Trevor in a different uniform is a strange thought. The right-hander has saved 434 games as a Padre, including 53 in his sparkling 1998 season.
Those days are long gone, however, as Hoffman really is not a threat to post a 1.98 ERA anymore. His K/9, which once lived in double-digits, has been below 9.00 for two seasons. In 2005, his .235 batting average against was the lowest since 1995. Hoffman's game is now a different one, as he is walking batters at David Wells-like rates. He still has one of the game's best change-ups, though his fastball is down to around 90-MPH.
Given his age, past injuries, and the declining K/9 rate, Hoffman isn't the safest bet for an eight-figure contract. However, he provides a sort of ninth-inning comfort that few other pitchers in the Majors could. Let's just hope that's with the Padres.
Projection: 2 years, $14 million. He deserves to be overpaid a bit, but no one should make the mistake of giving him a third year.
25. Todd Jones - 37 - RP - 2005: Florida Marlins
W-L 1-5 | SV 40 | ERA 2.10 | WHIP 1.03 | 62 K/14 BB
Jones throws four pitches for strikes, including a fastball that was consistently hitting 95-MPH on the gun last year. The 13-year veteran challenges hitters and was equally tough on LHB and RHB, as well as at home and away. Jones claims that he didn't shake catcher Paul LoDuca off once all year. Whether the author of "The Closer" column for The Sporting News can maintain his excellence without LoDuca remains to be seen, but the change of scenery won't be anything new as he has been with Boston, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Florida the past three years.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder allowed only two HR in 73 IP last season. Todd's ERA was almost two runs below his career norm. He also ranked fourth in the NL in saves despite not registering his first until the end of April. His ERA was under 2.00 every month except September (4.91) when he gave up four hits and five runs (four earned) without getting an out in a forgettable appearance vs. Philadelphia.
Projection: 2 years, $7-8 million. A cheap closer option for a small- or middle-market team.
26. Bob Wickman - 36 - RP - 2005: Cleveland Indians
W-L 0-4 | SV 45 | ERA 2.47 | WHIP 1.26 | 41 K/21 BB
Wickman throws a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a change-up. His fastball sits in the low-90s and doubles as a heavy sinker. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, Wickman isn't light on his feet. He is a poor fielder and not adept at holding baserunners (11 SB and 0 CS last year and 21-for-21 the past three seasons).
A closer since 1998, Wickman has a bulldog mentality on the mound. He wants the ball and thrives in pressure situations. His 45 saves ranked second in the AL although his peripheral stats were less than spectacular. He had arm surgery two years ago and is a health risk.
Projection: A Jones-like 2 years and $7-8 million. They don't allow month-to-month deals, do they?
27. Kenji Jojima - 29 - C - 2005: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
.309 AVG/.381 OBP/.557 SLG | HR 24 | RBI 57 |
An unknown commodity if there ever was one. Most Japanese products are, although players like Ichiro, Hideki and Kaz Matsui came with fantastic reviews. Tadahito Iguchi, however, slipped through the free agent process last year, signing a small deal with the World Champion White Sox. Jojima lies somewhere in the middle, as he isn't well-known as one of Japan's most dangerous hitters but is garnering more interest than Iguchi.
Jojima wasn't much entering the 2003 season, following a 2002 in which his OBP was below .310. The last three seasons, however, Jojima has averaged something like .320/.405/.600. His 2004 season was fantastic, where Jojima showed good discipline, power, and a solid throwing arm. This past season, Jojima broke his shin at the end of a year in which he hit 24 homers and had a .381 OBP. However, traditionalists might worry that he only had 57 RBI. Don't let that concern you.
Because as unknown commodities go, he might just be worth the risk.
Projection: 2 years, $13 million. Teams will only guarantee two, but you can bet they will have some options on the back end just in case.
28. Kenny Rogers - 40 - SP - 2005: Texas Rangers
W-L 14-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.46 | WHIP 1.32 | 87 K/53 BB
If only age and make-up didn't matter, Rogers would be ranked much higher. He is the definition of crafty lefty, throwing 90-MPH only on occasion, while mixing a good curve and solid change. His control has never been a forte, but an ability to pitch with runners on base and keep the ball in the park has made him a 16-year veteran.
However, his status as a veteran comes at a cost: age. Rogers will turn 41 tomorrow, and his days are getting more and more numbered. Only eight southpaws have ever thrown 180 or more innings at his age. Only five pitched decently. The numbers are simply against Rogers succeeding, against his ERA staying below 5.00. Throw in a certain camera man incident from the regular season and a second half ERA of 4.72, and you can see why Rogers might not be the winter's hottest commodity.
Projection: 1 year, $6 million. He'll get a $1.5 million raise on his 2004 salary, plus some team will throw in an option for a second year, with a nice seven-figure buyout.
29. Mike Piazza - 36 - C/DH - 2005: New York Mets
.251 AVG/.326 OBP/.452 | HR 19 | RBI 62 | 41 BB/67 SO
Piazza can still hit reasonably well. Too bad we can't say the same for his defense. Oh, Mike is good enough to spell a starter here and there, but no team can -- or should -- count on him to be their number one catcher. Whether he wants to admit it or not, those days are simply behind him. However, Piazza's agent says the former Dodger and Met great isn't interested in being reduced to a part-time role -- and therein lies the problem. They are still of the belief that Mike can play for "two or three more years" and maintain that he will have the option to catch in either league. We say "good luck" to that and expect AL teams to be much more involved in bidding for his services as a designated hitter and backup catcher than NL teams.
The future Hall of Famer still has above-average power to all fields, but he no longer has what it takes to hit .300. In fact, we think it would be a mistake to expect anything more than a .265 AVG with 20 HR (with little or nothing else behind those numbers) over the course of a 400-450 AB season. Like it or not, at this point in his career, he is more of a name than anything else.
Projection: 1 year, $5 million. Piazza will be hard pressed to earn his keep on the field, but he just might be enough of a box-office hit for the right AL team to justify the price tag.
30. Juan Encarnacion - 29 - OF - 2005: Florida Marlins
.287 AVG/.349 OBP/.447 SLG | HR 16 | RBI 76 | 41 BB/104 SO
For four seasons, Juan Encarnacion has been the same player. He has played the same good outfield defense, while staying the same poor baserunner. You can expect about 140-150 games, 40 or so walks, and about 45-55 extra-base hits (the smaller the park, the less doubles and more HR). The only thing that changes on a year-to-year basis is batting average.
Lucky enough for Encarnacion, his batting average rose 50 points during the 2005 season. Interestingly, his BABIP on the season was .334, far above the league average. This followed a season in which he had the opposite luck. In the middle lies a player who should hit about .270/.330/.430 over the duration of his contract. It's nothing great, but he's a sure bet for those willing to settle for mediocrity.
Projection: 2 years, $8.5-9.5 million, basically repeating his previous salary. Encarnacion is young, consistent, and coming off perhaps his best year. You can rest assured that some General Manager will bite at that.
Check back tomorrow when we get together and chat about our predictions for the winter.
We also would like to point out two new additions to our sidebar. The first is the "Hot Off the Stove" feature near the top, in which we will be commenting on the day's hottest topic. Second, our list of the top 30 free agents is at the bottom and will be updated as these players sign throughout the offseason. As for now, feel free to list your own thoughts in the comments section.
Free Agency Preview (Part Two)
With the Hot Stove League about to begin, we are previewing this year's top 30 free agents in a three-part series. We covered #s 1-10 yesterday and continue with our second ten today. We start off with a certain former Boston Red Sox All-Star shortstop:
11. Nomar Garciaparra - 31 - SS - 2005: Chicago Cubs
.283 AVG/.320 OBP/.452 SLG | HR 9 | RBI 30 | 12 BB/24 SO
This was not supposed to happen. In fact, Nomar was never supposed to reach free agency. After hitting .372 in 2000, Nomar was a hero in New England to a Tom Brady degree. He was supposed to stay a Bostonian for life. And then, his wrist hurt. And it stayed hurt, and he was never the same. His days in Chicago were mediocre at best, and Garciaparra's health prevented North Siders from seeing his true colors, whatever they might be.
No longer is Nomar an asset at shortstop. Instead, he's better suited moving down the defensive spectrum to third base or left field. No longer is he a good bet to have a .360 OBP or even the .342 OBP that had been his career low before the 2005 season. No longer is Nomar a threat to slug over .500. But, he still has the potential to hit .280/.330/.470. Look for a team to give him one last shot to handle SS with the knowledge that he could be switched to 3B, if necessary. An infielder who can post an .800 OPS has value, although teams shouldn't expect him to play a full season.
And yes, he's a public relations department's dream. Or, at least has the potential to be.
Projection: 2 years, $15 million. However, you can bet there will be enough incentives and options in the contract to drive its potential value through the roof. We're just not optimistic he'll meet any team's demands.
12. Jeff Weaver - 29 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Dodgers
W-L 14-11 | SV 0 | ERA 4.22 | WHIP 1.17 | 157 K/43 BB
Weaver throws two fastballs (a low-90s four-seamer as well as a high-80s two-seamer that runs and sinks), a hard slider, a slurve, and a mediocre change-up. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, the lanky right-hander is long and comes at hitters with a low angle of delivery. Jeff's make-up is questionable and his body language on the mound when things go against him leaves a lot to be desired.
Weaver's splits show he is tough on RHB (.208/.241/.345) and at home (.237/.290/.385). On the other hand, he is less than ordinary against LHB (.297/.356/.511) and on the road (.277/.320/.489). After a rough April and May, Jeff settled down and posted a 3.60 ERA in the final four months of the season. Weaver is durable (224 IP in 2005 and has never been on the DL during his seven-year career) and has nearly impeccable control (one walk per five innings). However, he needs to drastically reduce the number of gopher balls (35, tied for the second most in MLB) to become anything more than a 4.00 ERA, middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Projection: 3 or 4 years @ $8-9M per. Seems like a lot of money but isn't that what these guys are now commanding?
13. Jarrod Washburn - 31 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
W-L 8-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.20 | WHIP 1.33 | 94 K/51 BB
Washburn is the best southpaw in a thin market for starting pitchers. Jarrod throws the standard pitches but no longer relies on his heater the way he once did. He works the outside corner, throwing sliders to LHB and change-ups to RHB in addition to his two fastballs. Washburn has become less of a flyball pitcher in 2004-05 than he was in his first six seasons. The lefty is quick to home and rarely allows runners to steal bases (0-for-6 in 2005 and 37 SB with 38 CS since 2000). He consistently pitches better on the road than at home.
Jarrod's won-loss record and ERA were both misleading last year. He deserved to win more than eight games for a division champ but didn't pitch as well as his fourth-ranked ERA might indicate. Washburn, in fact, had the highest DIPS/ERA ratio in the league last year, suggesting that he benefited from strong defense and luck more than anything else. Wash also gave up more hits than innings, had a K/BB ratio under 2.0, and his 4.77 K/9 was the lowest of his eight-year career.
Projection: 3 years, $25+ million. Teach your kids to pitch left-handed.
14. Tom Gordon - 37 - RP - 2005: New York Yankees
W-L 5-4 | SV 2 | ERA 2.57 | WHIP 1.09 | 69 K/29 BB
It looked like at the age of 28, Tom Gordon was washed up. Fresh off signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox, Gordon had a 5.59 ERA in 1996. In 215.2 innings, Gordon allowed 249 hits, 105 walks and 28 home runs. He looked finished. The next season, the Red Sox converted Gordon in midseason to the bullpen. He has yet to look back.
For the last three seasons, Gordon has been one of the best relievers in baseball. In each, he has appeared in more than 60 games, with an ERA never higher than 3.16. Some worry that his K/9, which dropped to 7.70 this year, is a sign for future failure. However, Flash still shows the stuff that put him at the top: the mid-90s fastball, the devastating hammer curve, and the solid slider.
Projection: 3 years, $18 million. Likes Giles yesterday, he's a great bet for two seasons. However, some team will likely add a third year in order to secure their next closer.
15. Ramon Hernandez - 29 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres
.290 AVG/.322 OBP/.450 SLG | HR 12 | RBI 58 | 18 BB/40 SO
There was one change in the style of Ramon Hernandez at the plate in 2005: he stopped walking. Instead, Hernandez increased his batting average, this time to a career high .290. We can partially attribute this to Ramon showing the best contact skills of his career: 40 strikeouts in 369 at-bats. His on-base percentage was right near his career average, even if his tiny walk rate was his worst ever.
Hernandez has the potential to be a very good investment. If he could continue to show the same contact skills, while reverting to his past walk and power rates, he has .290/.350/.450 potential. He is also serviceable behind the plate, although few catchers were run on as much as Ramon last season. However, there is no question that Hernandez has a few obstacles to overcome before he reaches his ceiling, if that time has not already passed.
Projection: 4 years, $22 million. His position and youth will be enough to convince a team this contract is worth it. We don't advise a four-year deal with very many catchers, but the price should be low enough to make him a worthwhile bet.
16. Bengie Molina - 31 - C - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
Molina had a career year at the plate in 2005, setting personal highs in AVG/OBP/SLG, as well as HR and BB. He slugged three HR in the first three games of the ALDS, fell back to Earth in the ALCS (2-for-17 with no extra-base hits), and ended up with overall numbers in the postseason that weren't distinctly different than his seasonal averages. Bengie rakes against lefties (.393/.430/.648) but has never been platooned despite his shortcomings vs. righties (.253/.294/.361). He is a contact hitter first and foremost, but his lack of speed causes him to hit into an inordinate number of double plays.
The oldest Molina brother is no longer the catcher he was in 2002-03 when he earned Gold Gloves by throwing out nearly 45% of base stealers. After a poor season in 2004, Bengie threw out an acceptable 31% last year. He is still an asset behind the plate and pitchers like working with him. However, Molina is a risky proposition for any team because of his age, weight, and poor conditioning.
Projection: 3 years, $20 million. An extra year or a few million more than prudence dictates.
17. Paul Byrd - 35 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
Every rotation could use a guy like Byrd. Although not a hard thrower, the veteran right-hander is effective because he throws strikes and changes speed. Paul is an old-fashioned pitcher in terms of his over-the-head windup and his style of painting the black with nothing more than average stuff. He is a nibbler and is much more comfortable working the outside, rather than the inside, part of the plate.
Byrd is much tougher on RHB (.234/.257/.382) than LHB (.306/.339/.473). The OPS differential has been about .200 over the past three years and his strikeout and walk rates are like night and day. To wit, Byrd's K/BB ratio over the past three seasons has been 9.05 vs. RHB and 1.58 vs. LHB. If Paul's not careful, he may end up being a ROOGY before his career is over.
18. Matt Morris - 31 - SP - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals
Morris is a fastball/curveball pitcher who throws strikes. His fastball topped out in the low-90s during the first half of the season and the high-80s in the second half. His overhand curve was once among the best in the game and his heavy sinker is primarily responsible for his above-average G/F ratio (1.60). Matt can be guilty of being around the plate too much and his HR rate has jumped to 1.22 per 9 the past three years vs. 0.58 from 1997-2002.
The big right-hander, who has had a history of struggling as the season progresses, posted an ERA of 3.10 prior to the All-Star break and 5.32 after. He gave up 113 hits (including 16 gopher balls) in just 88 innings and his K/9 plunged to 4.50. Morris is no longer the elite pitcher from 2001 when he was striking out nearly eight batters per nine and getting 2x the number of groundballs vs. flyballs.
19. Jacque Jones - 30 - OF - 2005: Minnesota Twins
.249 AVG/.319 OBP/.438 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 73 | 51 BB/120 SO
There is no question that other outfielders on the free agent list had better 2005 seasons or have had superior careers. None, however, are as young as Jones or play the outfield as well as he does.
Terry Ryan and the Twins have always been very stubborn regarding Jones. They should have realized a long time ago that Jones could not hit left-handers. In a continuing tradition, Jones hit poorly (.201/.247/.370) against southpaws. However, he continued to hit right-handers well, to the tune of an .814 OPS. He also is historically better away from the Metrodome (.822 OPS vs. .742).
Given the right context, Jacque Jones could succeed. He needs to stay away from Minnesota, preferably in a hitter's park. He also needs a good platoon partner, so he can avoid ever facing a southpaw again.
Projection: Last year, Jermaine Dye signed a 2-year, $10.15 million contract with the White Sox. The last $1.15 million is the buyout for a potential third season. Look for Jones to sign a very similar contract this winter.
20. Kyle Farnsworth - 29 - RP - 2005: Tigers/Braves
W-L 1-1 | SV 16 | ERA 2.19 | WHIP 1.01 | 87 K/27 BB
Few players are more frustrating to watch than Kyle Farnsworth. At times, he is as dominating as anyone. He mixes a fastball that can hit triple digits with an inconsistent slider and splitter. When Kyle gets the latter two over the plate, he is fantastic. However, he often falls into the trap of throwing these pitches too much, even when they aren't under control.
We have seen in the past what type of influence Leo Mazzone has on a pitcher. Mazzone had only a half-season with Farnsworth, but the results were sparkling: a 1.98 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 27.1 innings, and just 22 baserunners. Basically, we saw Mazzone bring out Farnsworth's ceiling. Kyle has always been close to breaking out, and there should be some closer openings that are willing to risk that he already has.
Projection: 3 years, $15 million. There is a lot of risk involved with Farnsworth, which will keep his next contract low. However, if he pitches like 2001 or 2005, this could be one of the winter's best deals.
Check back tomorrow for part three of this series, the final ten players on our list, as well as several honorable mentions. As for now, feel free to list your own projections -- and problems with our rankings -- in the comments section.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Free Agency Preview (Part One)
The regular season gets underway in April, the playoffs in October, and free agency in November. Yes, baseball is about to embark on its third season this month. Thursday marks the last day in which players can file for free agency. Teams will no longer have exclusive negotiating rights. On Friday, about 200 players will be available to all 30 ballclubs, and the hot stove will be turned up to high.
To be nice, this free agent class is a weak one. Really weak. Excluding Roger Clemens, there are no superstars on the market. In fact, we believe there are fewer than ten players to get hot and bothered about. However, thanks to a recent XM Satellite radio deal, every Major League team has some extra money in the bank. And while the talent might not be up to par with past winters, you can bet the spending will be.
On a day in which the General Managers meet in Indian Wells, we have decided to begin to unveil our list of the top 30 free agents available this winter. There will be other players out there who can be acquired via trades or after non-tenders hit the market, but these 30 should represent the cream of the free agent crop. In a perfect winter, there would be a strong correlation between ranking and dollars spent. However, some teams will reach based on need and others will sit out altogether, making the process less efficient than one might expect.
We can only show you what we think of the players today, before you find out soon what your team thinks. We start with the best ten free agents in baseball, with the Major League ERA leader atop the list:
1. Roger Clemens - 43 - SP - 2005: Houston Astros
W-L 13-8 | SV 0 | ERA 1.87 | WHIP 1.01 | 185 K/62 BB
Clemens couples a riding fastball in the low-to-mid 90s with arguably the most effective splitter in the game today. The latter looks like his fastball until the bottom drops out at the end. Roger has the unique ability to work batters up and down the zone as well as both sides of the plate. He is without peer in terms of his physical and mental preparation and is as good as his health allows.
Which Clemens would the Astros get in 2006? The Rocket pitched as well as ever from April through August but was closer to replacement level in September and October. Roger averaged just five innings in eight starts down the stretch and in the postseason. His WHIP and ERA skyrocketed to an un-Clemens-like 1.53 and 4.81, respectively, while his strikeout rate plummeted to 5.44 per 9. Is Father Time catching up with the 43-year-old all-time great or was his poor performance a function of a nagging hamstring injury that could befell any pitcher? That's the $18 million question.
Projection: Either Clemens signs with the Astros or he retires. Only Roger knows. It all depends on whether he still has the fire in his belly. If he comes back at a reduced salary, the money saved could be redirected toward a third quality bat to go along with Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg -- giving Houston perhaps one last opportunity to make another postseason run before retooling for the future.
2. A.J. Burnett - 28 - SP - 2005: Florida Marlins
W-L 12-12 | SV 0 | ERA 3.44 | WHIP 1.26 | 198 K/79 BB
Burnett is the best starting pitcher among this year's free agent class, given the likelihood that Clemens won't sign with any team other than the Astros. The former Marlin is highly coveted and will be a big catch for whichever team lands him.
A.J. works in the mid- to upper-90s and has been known to hit triple digits on the radar gun. His repetoire includes an overpowering four-seam fastball, a two-seamer with lots of action, and a hump-backed curve that can flat out freeze hitters. He delivers the ball across his body at a 3/4 arm angle and is as deceptive as he is fast. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander has the stuff to contend for a Cy Young Award in either league.
Although Burnett was 0-6 with a 5.87 ERA in his last seven starts, he finished the season ranked sixth in MLB in G/F ratio (2.42), eighth in K/9 (8.53), and fourth in HR/9 (0.52). His ability to induce groundballs and whiff batters is a rare combination. A.J., who can go deep into games when he keeps his pitch count down, was tied for fourth in CG (4) and eighth in quality starts (23).
Projection: 4 years, $48 million. An expensive gamble given the number of times he has been on the DL throughout his career but one many teams won't hesitate to take.
3. Rafael Furcal - 27 - SS - 2005: Atlanta Braves
.284 AVG/.348 OBP/.429 SLG | HR 12 | SB 46 | 62 BB/78 SO
High on our list because of his blend of age, position, speed and defense in addition to what he provides with the bat. After watching Juan Uribe change the course of Game 4 in the World Series, you can bet General Managers will be salivating with the option of signing the one shortstop with a stronger arm. Furcal also fits great atop a lineup, as his baserunning (82% SB success rate) and patience (averaged 60 walks from 2003-2005) are both assets. This, not his DUI, should be the focus of GMs during evaluations.
2005 was Furcal's second best season ever, despite ending June with a .652 OPS. However, in each of the final three months his OPS was over .800, and his OBP was over .370. There is talk that Furcal was playing injured in the early going, explaining his struggles. His final two months, which were nearly identical -- .286/.377/.439 in August, .320/.383/.437 in September -- indicate when he stands as a player now. Rafael is a better bet to succeed over a four-year contract than Edgar Renteria, who might have made GMs wary of those deals with his mediocre season.
Projection: 4 years, $40 million. Edgar Renteria went from a .728 OPS in 2004 to this exact contract during the winter. Furcal will draw the same deal, and people will again cite that he's a "winner." Both sides will win at this rate.
4. Paul Konerko - 29 - 1B - 2005: Chicago White Sox
.283 AVG/.375 OBP/.534 SLG | HR 40 | RBI 100 | 81 BB/109 SO
Konerko is certainly the top slugger, if not the best hitter, among this year's crop of free agents. Paul hit 40 HR during the regular season and raised his profile by going yard five times in the postseason. However, a full 60% of Konerko's dingers the past five years have come at home-run friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Like many sluggers, Konerko is a dead-red fastball hitter. Although hard throwers can pound him inside and get him to chase pitches up and out of the zone, he will sit on average fastballs down the middle and deposit them into the bleachers as well as anyone in the game. The veteran has improved his strike zone judgment over the years and drew a career-high number of walks (81) and BB per plate appearance (.122) while seeing more pitches/PA (4.15) than ever before.
Konerko is already at or near the far end of the defensive spectrum and, as a 1B, has nowhere to go other than to become a DH. Smart teams don't overpay for 1B/DH, especially those who will be 30 years old on Opening Day. Konerko already has the skill-set of an older player (a first baseman with strong power and little or no speed) and one has to wonder how well he will age.
Projection: At least a Richie Sexson-like 4 years, $50 million and a 5-year, $65 million deal isn't out of the question. Good luck.
5. Kevin Millwood - 30 - SP - 2005: Cleveland Indians
W-L 9-11 | SV 0 | ERA 2.86 | WHIP 1.22 | 146 K/52 BB
Pursuing Kevin Millwood with the expectation that he'll pitch like he did in 2005 is wrong. Much of what led to Millwood's 2.86 ERA was luck, as his 3.77 FIP might suggest. Millwood, a nine-year veteran, went from being an established flyball pitcher, to setting a career high with a 1.34 G/F ratio. He was then helped by having the AL's 3rd ranked defense (by DER) playing behind him. Add one of the better second halves of any pitcher in the Majors, and you have the AL ERA leader.
Paying the big right-hander ace money will be a mistake as Millwood's regression should leave him as a solid second or third pitcher. His stuff is above average, but the problem has been control for his entire career. Racking up high pitch counts has always been an issue, often preventing Millwood from going deep into games. The problem was hid well in 2005, however, in which Millwood went eight or more innings in one-fifth of his starts.
The expectations for Millwood going forward should be to pitch 190+ innings per year (in line with his average since 1998) with an ERA of about 3.50-4.00, depending upon the home ballpark and defense.
Projection: 4 years, $36 million. Again, expectations will dictate whether this contract is a success or failure.
6. Billy Wagner - 34 - RP - 2005: Philadelphia Phillies
W-L 4-3 | SV 38 | ERA 1.51 | WHIP .84 | 87 K/20 BB
Wagner is without a doubt the most sought after closer on the free agent market. His signature pitch is a four-seam fastball that touches 100-MPH. Wagner's heater is so unhittable, he went with it 87% of the time on the first pitch last year. The 10-year veteran reliever also throws a hard slider that he tries to bust-in on the hands of RHB and down-and-away to LHB.
Skeptics question Wagner's elbow, but the truth of the matter is that the little lefty pitched the second-most games (75) and innings (77.2) of his career while posting his lowest ERA (1.51) ever. With 284 saves, Billy is 40 away from ranking in the top 10 all-time. Moreover, he has the highest K/9 (12.0) among pitchers with at least 500 innings and is the only one who has struck out two batters for each hit allowed in the history of baseball.
Projection: 3 years, $30 million. That's more than $128,000 per inning based on last year's totals. By comparison, Clemens earned just $85,000 per inning despite making a record $18M for a pitcher.
7. Brian Giles - 34 - OF - 2005: San Diego Padres
.301 AVG/.423 OBP/.483 SLG | HR 15 | RBI 83 | 119 BB/64 SO
If you want offensive production, Giles is your man. The 10-year veteran has essentially been a .300/.400/.550 hitter over the course of his career while averaging 100 R/RBI/BB and 30 HR per 162 games. Although Giles may be past his prime slugging years, he is still an on-base machine as evidenced by ranking first in MLB in BB (119) and fourth in OBP (.423) while playing half his games in Petco Park, unquestionably the most difficult hitter's ballpark in baseball.
Giles hit .267/.378/.417 at home and .333/.463/.545 on the road. His away stats ranked 7th in AVG, 1st in OBP, and 20th in SLG, while placing 6th in OPS behind only Derrek Lee, Jason Bay, Travis Hafner, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. Put another way, Brian outproduced Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Manny Ramirez on the road. His 148 OPS+ last year was the fifth-best in the NL and his 146 career OPS+ puts him 11th among all active players.
Projection: 3 years, $30 million. Well worth it, at least for the next two seasons.
8. Hideki Matsui - 31 - LF - 2005: New York Yankees
.305 AVG/.367 OBP/.496 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 116 | 63 BB/78 SO
In 1996, Hideki Matsui broke through. After beginning his career modestly with the Yomiuri Giants, Matsui hit 38 home runs, 16 more than his previous career high. Over the next six seasons, Matsui never hit fewer than 34 home runs in a single season. He has yet to hit that many in the Major Leagues, playing in almost 25 more games per season. Hideki looked headed in that direction in 2004, hitting 31, but dropped again in 2005.
Despite not hitting the ball out of the park consistently, Matsui has been one of the most dangerous Yankees at the plate for three years. He is a fantastic gap hitter, and uses the whole field because of great bat control. He struck out less than ever this year, leading to his best average since coming to the States. Hideki also has the "clutch" label attached to him -- until the 2005 postseason -- thanks to good career numbers in October and with runners in scoring position.
Along with his pluses on the baseball diamond, Matsui is sure to be a positive from a business perspective. He comes with a substantial fan base, one that helped make the Yankees (along with Seattle) one of Japan's teams. This cannot be ignored, as Matsui will likely help the bottom line more than any other player on the current market.
Projection: 3 years, $36 million. The Yankees won't lose him, nor care if they overpay by a couple million. Expect more of the same for all three years of this deal.
9. Johnny Damon - 31 - CF - 2005: Boston Red Sox
.316 AVG/.366 OBP/.439 SLG | HR 10 | RBI 75 | 53 BB/69 SO
If Matsui is considered consistent, Damon is a rock. Since his first full year in 1998, his numbers down the line look extremely similar, minus (of course) batting average. As a leadoff hitter, his game is very batting average dependent, making his 2005 season appear that much better. It must be considered, however, that Johnny's BABIP this year was .343. Because of this, there is a good chance that after he signs, Damon begins looking much more like 2002-03 than 2004-05.
Damon's value is atop the order, which means his slide in walks per plate appearance this season must stop. His baserunning is still good, although Boston asked him to attempt just 19 steals in 2005, despite being caught only once. If he leaves Boston, look for Damon to steal 25 bases again. His speed also helps in the outfield, where he takes very good routes to the ball. His throwing arm, however, rivals Jeff Bagwell's. Atrocious, and you can bet every third base coach in the Majors knows this much.
Projection: 3 years, $33 million. In four seasons with the Red Sox, Damon became one of New England's most recognizable faces. Loyalty pays a steep price.
10. B.J. Ryan - 29 - RP - 2005: Baltimore Orioles
W-L 1-4 | SV 36 | ERA 3.54 | WHIP 1.14 | 100 K/26 BB
You can bet that if the 1998 draft was held again, Ryan would not slip until the 17th round. Since that draft, collegiate closers have become more respected, and his promise to rise quickly to the Majors would have interested teams more. One ideological change that did help Ryan, however, was because of Eddie Guardado: southpaws can be more than situational.
Ryan was in danger of falling into that role, averaging well less than an inning per appearance from 2001-2003. However, the improvement of his fastball -- a pitch that now runs from the low-to-mid 90s and has quite a bit of movement -- convinced Oriole brass that he was late-inning material. Oh, and you can bet his slider, ranking among the game's best, didn't hurt.
B.J. didn't disappoint in his first year as closer, blowing only five saves -- three of which came in two weeks during July. The only split worth noting is his 1.19 ERA in Baltimore, as opposed to 3.86 on the road. However, Ryan's age, stuff, and numbers all promise for good things going forward.
Projection: 4 years, $32 million. Bidding war will run high considering his number of suitors. His value should remain solid.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this series, the next ten players on our list. As for now, feel free to list your own projections in the comments section.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
What Went Right
Say what you will about the Chicago White Sox -- but they are the World Champions. They are definitely the most unlikely Champs in recent memory, coming out of baseball's most mocked division to rise above one of the deepest fields in years.
Before, we chronicled this field (with the help of our friends) in the What Went Wrong series, which dealt with more than half of baseball's teams. All these teams were perceived as contenders as late as September. But it was the White Sox, who jumped out of the gate quickly and never looked back (well, maybe a little bit) that won their first World Series title in almost 90 years.
We thought a great way to follow the What Went Wrong series would be to look at what was different about the White Sox -- about what went right. So, we've asked the Cheat from South Side Sox to share some insight about baseball's newest champs.
1) Congrats, Cheat. Tell us, how do you think this team was able to rise to the top in October?
It's tough to pin it down to one thing. If I was forced to classify it, I would say it was pitching, defense, and the timely HR. -- The Sox obviously had the deepest pitching staff in baseball. I mean they were able to leave Brandon McCarthy (1.69 ERA in his final 42 IP) off of the playoff roster for crissakes.
2) How did their playoff performance parallel the regular season? Was this the Sox playing their best ball of the year, or showing the nation what you saw since April?
I would say that their October run was very similar to how they started the regular season. The Sox had a lead in their first 38 regular season games to set a major league record. During that streak, they seemed to score first in probably 80% of their games. I've never seen a team be able to do that.
When they reached the playoffs, I was listing some keys to each game on my site. Invariably, I would list "score first" as one of the keys. Not only were they very good at getting a lead, the Sox were the best team I have ever seen at taking a 1-0 lead in the first, and making it hold up all game long. They just carried over what they had been doing all year long into the playoffs.
3) What misconception about the White Sox has come out since the World Series that you would like to correct?
Smallball. Smartball. Ozzieball. Whatever you want to call it. It certainly wasn't the reason that the Sox had the best record in the AL.
I will concede that Ozzie's predisposition to playing for one run in the first inning probably helped the Sox score first in more games than they would have without the smallball approach. And as I mentioned before, I've never seen a team that played better with a slim lead, so smartball may have had a positive effect on the team, just not in the way you hear most talking heads and columnists fawn over it.
4) After a team wins, the competition suddenly wants to follow their model. Tell us, Cheat, if you had to explain the White Sox model to another GM, what would you tell them?
You need a starting rotation full of above average, historically healthy, arms. You need strong defense up the middle, SS and CF being most important. You need above average defense from everyone on your club. You need above average power throughout the lineup. You need 6 good arms in the bullpen, no dead weight. -- Then, you need a little luck.
If you build the team that I highlighted above, you're probably not going to win the World Series, but you're almost assured of making the playoffs. And that's really the goal, right Billy Beane?
5) What is your opinion on the influence a manager can have on a team, particularly in the playoffs?
In the playoffs, not very much. The manager's job, more than anything, is to manage the bullpen. There was a stark contrast between Ozzie Guillen and Phil Garner after the first two games of the series though. Garner seemed dejected, and focused too much of his time on complaining about the roof situation. Guillen was busy being the clown prince of baseball. I suppose that had something to do with the Sox being up 2-0, but I suspect that Guillen would have been the same down 0-2.
Over a whole season, however, a manager can have a great effect on the club. Ozzie was particularly good at handling the bullpen. For the most part, he had his best pitcher from the 'pen pitching in the highest leverage situation. It sounds like a simple plan, but most managers are too busy sticking with the "closer pitches the last 3 outs" philosophy.
6) When did it become apparent to you that this team was World Championship caliber?
During their games lead streak to start the season, it was clear to me that this team was special, but when we talked at the time I couldn't predict anything more than a trip to the ALCS. The Sox fan in me wouldn't let the rational side of my brain realize that they could win the World Series until Juan Uribe went diving into the stands in game 4.
It was really coming down to the wire there at the end with Cleveland breathing down their necks. I was more interested in the Wild Card standings for about a week before they clinched.
So I guess there were two points. The first was early in the year when they were steamrolling everyone, and the second was the day they clinched the Central. At that point, Jose Contreras had been the 2nd best pitcher in the AL (to Johan Santana) for the last two months, and I felt like the Sox had an ace in the hole that nobody really knew about.
7) When were you most worried? What was the season lowlight?
The whole month of August was a pain, but the Sox still had a sizable lead on Cleveland that I was sure they couldn't lose. The one stat that I kept harping on during that time goes back to the score first mantra. They went from July 30th until September 20th without winning a game when facing a multi-run deficit at any point in the game. -- I was sure they couldn't compete in the playoffs during that stretch of games.
The absolute low though was a few games in September. They lost 5 of 6 games, and held a multi-run lead in each of the losses. I think I may have reached my lowest, and started focusing exclusively on the Wild Card, after Brandon McCarthy lost a pitcher's duel to Johan Santana.
8) What was the club's major weakness during the season?
The #3 spot. It was Kryptonite to anyone who batted there except Frank Thomas. In general, you like to have a high average guy who can also hit for power in the #3 spot. The White Sox #3 hitters combined for a .234/.296/.419 line. Only the bay area teams had a worse combined OPS from their #3 hitters.
9) Briefly, how do you hope Ken Williams corrects this and other weaknesses this winter?
It looks like he's addressed part of it already. Carl Everett, who received a majority of the at-bats in the #3 spot, didn't have his option picked up and was bought out by the Sox. Who he gets to replace Everett remains to be seen.
I would say the needs are a left-handed hitter with a good batting eye, preferably on the cheap. Erubial Durazo (if healthy) and Matt Lawton (before the juice) were two guys who I had my eye on. Aside from those two, I don't really see a free agent on the market who really fits what the Sox need. -- I suspect Williams will have to get creative on the trade front to really be proactive.
10) Who would you label as the team MVP and LVP?
The MVP has got to be Konerko. He was the only consistent threat in the lineup. His free agency puts the Sox in a really tough spot. He's going to command a 6-year deal on the open market, and that's going to be an albatross of a contract in just a couple of years.
For LVP I'd have to go with Jurassic Carl again. He was one of the easiest outs in baseball for most of the second half.
11) Finally, what expectations should people have for this team to repeat in 2006?
They're certainly not the '98 Yankees, so there's no reason to start engraving their name on the '06 trophy just yet. They do, however, return everyone from the deepest pitching staff in baseball, so I wouldn't count them out either.
2006 will come down to whether the pitching was a fluke -- I think Garland and Contreras can repeat, but some of the members of the bullpen like Cotts, Hermanson, Politte should regress -- and what Kenny Williams does to the offense this winter.
What Went Wrong in the Playoffs (AL Edition)
With both a World Series and All-Star Game victory in hand, we know one thing: the American League is currently baseball's dominant conference. It appeared before the playoffs that it would be a crapshoot which AL team won, as all were legitimate title contenders. In the NL, this really could have only been said about two teams.
When it was all said and done, the White Sox prevailed, beating out the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels. Today, we want to look at the three losers, remembering their seasons through some of the best team writers in the blogosphere.
We start with the American League runner-up, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Even the name change couldn't put the team over the hump, though some would argue the Angels were one good umpire away from moving to the World Series. No matter what, it had to be a great season in LA, as the team was in first for much of the season and also fought off the rival A's run in the second half. In to talk about the season is Rob McMillin, from 6-4-2:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
Without a doubt, offense. In the ALDS, the bottom of the order carried the Angels, the top four going 16-77 (.207) and accounting for only nine RBIs. Alleged catalyst Chone Figgins disappeared (4-21). Though Vlad went 6-18, he didn't collect a single RBI, and Figgins' failure to get on base was a main culprit. These problems only got worse in the ALCS, with the top of the order going a mind-numbing 10-73 (.137) and collecting a grand total of four RBIs. As Joe Sheehan has said, this is an offense that works when everyone's hitting .280, but falls apart when everyone's hitting .265.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
The Angels have three major problems with their offense.
1. A reluctance to take playing time away from veterans. Steve Finley, and to a lesser degree, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad all absorbed at bats at times when their performance could have been outmatched by someone on the bench. Respectively, that would have been Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera, and Casey Kotchman. Kotchman in particular has proven himself as earning the starting job next year; the team simply can't afford to let Erstad, who has become a slap-hitting singles hitter, continue to play first. It's too much to hope that Stoneman releases Finley, by far the most useless regular hitter on the squad, but in the absence of that scenario, it's hard to see how Scioscia doesn't play him in 2006. That is, veteran hitters, no matter how bad, are a temptation Mike can't let pass.
2. A failure to get a real leadoff hitter. Chone Figgins plays one on TV, but he's not really capable of working a walk, and as a result, Garret Anderson and Vlad don't often have a guy to drive in by the time they get to the plate. David Eckstein used to be able to get walks and the odd hit-by-pitch to get on base, but there isn't really anyone on this team -- save for bench player Jeff DaVanon -- willing to shake hands with ball four. This is as much an organizational failing as it is a player issue, so the Angels will have to find someone out of the organization to fix it. One answer might be to put Kotchman, who has a very good eye, at leadoff, but that presumes that (a) they won't play Erstad regularly, and (b) you would want a guy with 20-25 HR production and not necessarily a lot of speed at that slot. Going outside the organization means finding a middle infielder or another centerfielder.
3. An absence of power. This one's actually the easiest problem to solve, and what it means is playing Kotchman as a regular, and Dallas McPherson to get healthy. McPherson will be 26 next year, which means he doesn't exactly have a lot of time, and so will have to prove himself next year or risk becoming an intermediate solution until Brandon Wood can replace him.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
Shooting from the hip:
4) Season Highlight:
Certainly, being the first team in the AL to clinch a postseason spot, finishing with the second-best record in franchise history.
5) Season Lowlight:
1-4 in the ALCS. This team beat the Chisox in the regular season series, and should have done so in the postseason. Some of that was luck and a remarkable string of terrible calls by the umpiring crew, but a good bit of it was lousy offensive strategy, and giving away at bats.
We move from the team the White Sox beat in the ALCS to their ALDS opponents. Despite all the current drama that has taken over the Boston Red Sox, it really wasn't too bad of a season for the defending World Champs. The club showed a lot of guts winning the Wild Card over the Indians and A's but, in the end, the pitching staff could not match Chicago's in the first round. Randy Booth from Over the Monster has agreed to share his views on the season:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
If you watched the Boston Red Sox for just one game in the 2005 season, you immediately became aware of their largest problem: pitching. Whether it be starting, middle relief, long relief, or the closer situation, it was all atrocious and entirely evident in the post-season.
It all started when Curt Schilling couldn't hit his spots, Keith Foulke was hitting his spots too well, and Terry Francona making bad bullpen decisions. From there it just escalated to a point of no return. The Boston offense was the best in the majors, but if your starter can't go seven innings with solid relief, you'll still lose.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
General manager? At this moment in time, we have no general manager. That's a different story, though. Still, I'll toss out a few ideas. Let's just pretend I'm the GM for a day.
A reliable starter needs to be added. Whether it's a #1 or #3 type, we need to fill that specific hole. Jonathan Papelbon will be a huge help if he's added to the rotation (which he should), but we'll still need someone if the Sox trade David Wells. I hope the Sox also trade Manny Ramirez and Keith Foulke. Not for nothing, but both are deteriorating the clubhouse chemistry. That brings me to another thing: forget the chemistry. Dump Kevin Millar and the loyalty. We need to add players that play the game well, not wear Tom Brady jerseys to practice.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
The team's MVP is most definitely David Ortiz. .300 batting average, .397 on-base percentage, 47 home runs and 148 runs batted in. Don't forget numerous game winning hits and the fact he is the glue that holds together the team and the lineup.
The LVP is a little harder to decide. Many would say Edgar Renteria is the LVP, but I won't go that far. He was too good to be the LVP. For the LVP, we must head to the pitching staff where all the problems were. I am torn to pick some of the short-term relief pitchers, but I'm going to stick with someone who lasted the whole year as a Red Sox and was a huge disappointment: Foulke. 5.91 ERA and five losses in 45.2 IP before he landed on the disabled list for the rest of the season. If we had Foulke at the top of his game, we may be holding the World Series trophy in Boston once again.
4) Season Highlight:
The season highlight is debatable, but I don't think I'll forget when Curt Schilling made his walk from the bullpen to the mound in his first appearance as a closer for the Boston Red Sox on July 14. The crowd roared and a feeling was sent through many fans' bodies. I can honestly say I never re-felt that feeling for the rest of the season.
5) Season Lowlight:
The lowlight has to come on September 1 when the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, and once again allows the Yankees to clinch the American League East. The Red Sox led the East for the majority of the season, yet we lose it in the final weeks.
Wait 'til next year, I guess.
It was a heartbreaking season for New York relative to expectations. The acquisition of Randy Johnson was supposed to be the one that put them back in the World Series. As it turned out, Johnson, who failed to live up to his standards, had a difficult time carrying an injury-depleted and underperforming staff. Before this team reloads for the 2006 campaign, Cliff Corcoran from Bronx Banter has agreed to share his feelings about what happened in 2005:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
Despite what you might read elsewhere, the Yankees lost the ALDS to the Angels not because the Angels pitched around Alex Rodriguez (which they did), but because Randy Johnson punted Game 3. One could argue that the Yankees came from behind to take a lead in Game 3 after Johnson was removed, but had Johnson pitched at the level he had established during the September surge that put the Bombers in the playoffs to begin with, that would not have been necessary. Of course, despite his struggles, Johnson was the Yankees' most valuable pitcher (well, Johnson or Mariano Rivera), so the fact that he wasn't the dominant pitcher the Yankees thought they had traded for cannot be called an "overarching problem." Nor can the team's Game 5 struggles with runners in scoring position, as the Yankees were second in the majors (to the Red Sox) in runs scored during the regular season.
With the spectacular exceptions of Rivera and Tom Gordon, the Yankees' relief corps was an overarching problem in 2005, but that didn't really hurt them in the playoffs. It was the 10-0 Aaron Small who took the loss in Game 3, and Johnson himself filled the middle relief role with great success in Game 5. Rather, the one overarching problem that contributed most to the Yankees' ALDS loss was their awful team defense. Chien-Ming Wang should have won Game 2, but errors and misplays by Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Wang himself handed the game to the Angels. Meanwhile, the decisive play of Game 5, and thus the series, came when Gary Sheffield collided with Bubba Crosby while attempting to catch Adam Kennedy's fly ball in the second inning and the ball dropped for a two-run triple.
There's nothing that could have been done about Giambi, Rodriguez or Wang. The latter two are generally good to excellent fielders and Giambi has, consistently throughout his career, been a far superior hitter when playing first base as opposed to DHing, and is thus able to out-hit his poor defense at first (indeed, he was the Yankees most productive hitter in the ALDS). But the Yankees could have done something about their centerfield situation, which remained unresolved even in the postseason. The Yankees' failure to sign Carlos Beltran, despite his disappointing performance with the Mets, remains the biggest mistake in one of the worst, if not the worst, winters in franchise history. Following that failure, their inability to settle the centerfield situation during the season, be it via trade or the decision to give the defensively superior but offensively questionable Crosby the job for better or worse, led directly to that misplay in Game 5. If Sheffield and Crosby are used to playing next to one another the odds are that Sheffield would have looked for Crosby or Crosby would have called off Sheffield (which the replays showed neither did) and Crosby would have caught Kennedy's "triple" unencumbered. Instead, it was clear that neither expected the other to be there, which could only be the result of a lack of familiarity with the one another's range.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
As I said, there's nothing to be done about the infield defense, but the Yankees have to find someone who can play centerfield on an everyday basis. Unfortunately, there's not much out there. Perusing the free agent market, it boils down to Kenny Lofton -- who was dumped by the Yanks for Felix Rodriguez last winter, presumably in anticipation of the arrival of Beltran, only to go to Philadelphia and see spikes in both his hitting and fielding numbers -- and Johnny Damon. Lofton will be 39 in May and Damon is sure to be overvalued due to the dearth of alternative options, the Championship ring on his finger, his flowing locks, and in spite of his age and lack of a throwing arm. That leaves a trade or a Cano-like rookie-cum-savior. Neither of which is a particularly attractive option as the latter is as unlikely as the former would be costly.
The player the Yankees could most afford to deal is Gary Sheffield, as they could sign Brian Giles, who is two years Sheffield's junior and outperformed him in 2005, to play right and swap Sheffield for a centerfielder with perhaps a middle-relief throw in (Sheffield to Minnesota for Hunter and Rincon or Romero?), but Sheffield's comments around the trading deadline last year, advancing age (he'll soon be 37), declining production (it's subtle but it's there), and likely demands for a contract extension wherever he ends up are likely to put the kibosh on such a deal. Meanwhile, the Yankees hole in centerfield is so glaring that other teams are sure to attempt to fleece the New Yorkers, asking for top prospects such as Phillip Hughes and Eric Duncan or the established rookies Wang or Cano in exchange for, say, Juan Pierre (for whom I foresee a Womackian future) or the rapidly aging and currently damaged Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron. I'm not sure I have an answer here.
Brian Cashman's other important tasks are re-signing Hideki Matsui, but for no more than three years, rebuilding the bullpen from scratch (save Mo, of course -- it appears Gordon is headed somewhere he can close), and finding a back-up catcher who can hit, thus extending what's left of Jorge Posada's usefulness.
And, just to be greedy, I'd sign Giles anyway, sticking the aging and perpetually hurt Sheffield at DH (where he's an even more frightening hitter) and forcing Giambi into the field where his bat is most potent.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera were clearly the team's best hitter, pitcher and reliever respectively, a status they've enjoyed no matter what uniform they've worn throughout their careers. Rodriguez (.321/.421/.610), however, was clearly the most valuable player on the Yankees this year. After all, he is one of the game's true greats and he had one of the best seasons of his career. As such, he was not only the Yankees' MVP, but the obvious choice for MVP of the American League.
You might expect me to list Tony Womack (.249/.276/.280 in 351 plate appearances) as the Yankees' Least Valuable Player, but Womack, though a detriment as a whole, did things of value during the season, including stealing 27 bases in 32 attempts (84 percent), playing uncharacteristically outstanding defense during his one month as the Yankee second baseman, seeing 3.89 pitches per at-bat (even if he only watch ball four go by twelve times all year), picking up a couple of game-winning hits, and playing multiple positions. Indeed, Womack was a virtual world-beater compared to the Yankees' true LVP, John Flaherty (.165/.206/.252 in 138 PA). Despite having less than 40 percent as many plate appearances, Flaherty's VORP was -9.6 to Womack's -8.9. Honorable mention to the starters whose performances set those of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon into such sharp relief: Jaret Wright (-9.8 VORP), Kevin Brown (-9.5 VORP), and Darrell May and the unfairly rushed Sean Henn, who combined to be 17.2 runs below replacement in a mere 18 1/3 innings pitched.
4) Season Highlight:
Sunday, September 11, with my girlfriend and me cheering them on from the right field bleachers, the Yankees win the rubber game of their final home series against the Red Sox 1-0, a stirring pitchers duel between Randy Johnson and Tim Wakefield that was decided by a short-porch Giambi homer in the first on a Wakefield curveball. That game kicked off an 11-1 run that catapulted the Yankees to their eighth straight AL East title.
5) Season Lowlight:
After a dismal 11-19 start the Yankees appeared to have salvaged their season with a ten-game winning streak in early May that kicked off a 16-2 stretch that pushed them eight games over .500. That stretch was halted by a pair of home loses to the Red Sox at the end of May in which Boston outscored the Yankees 24-3. But that wasn't the worst of it. No, the worst was the three game sweep at the hands of the AL-worst Kansas City Royals that followed in which the Yankees scored a total of six runs. That sweep dropped the Yankees to 27-26 on June 2. They would lose the next day in Minnesota to drop back to .500 and wouldn't shake the .500 mark for good until early July.
Thanks again to our wonderful guests for providing their insights. We move out of the pessimistic world tomorrow as we take a look at What Went Right with the World Champion Chicago White Sox, before turning our attention toward the Hot Stove.
What Went Wrong in the Playoffs (NL Edition)
No one remembers the losers. In the past, we used our What Went Wrong feature to provide coverage to teams that failed to make the playoffs. Here's a look at previous editions:
Now, with the baseball season over, all the talk is focused on the champion White Sox and off-the-field job openings. Suddenly, the teams that were so close have been discarded for the hotter issues. So while some outlets spend time worrying about the Dodgers GM opening or Mets offseason concerns, we thought now would be a good time to talk about the teams that barely missed.
Today, we have interviewed bloggers from each of the four National League playoff representatives. We will deal with the American League tomorrow, and the multi-part series will conclude with a What Went Right version on the World Champion Chicago White Sox.
We begin with the last National League team standing, the Houston Astros. There is no doubt had the Astros caught a few breaks -- and balls found the right holes -- they would be atop the baseball universe. This team had such an impressive run after some early struggles, and their great playoff play should not be forgotten because of their World Series sweep. In to talk about the Astros' season is Darrell Pittman from AstrosDaily.com. His answers:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
Inability to drive in runs with men in scoring position. For example, in the four World Series games, the Astros stranded 35 baserunners, 22 of whom were in scoring position.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
All the off-season moves hinge on whether Roger Clemens comes back for '06. He made $18M in '05. Owner Drayton McLane has set the 2006 payroll limit at $85M, a large portion of which goes for Clemens, Bagwell, Berkman, and Biggio. Other players are going FA or are arbitration-eligible. If Clemens retires, it frees up a huge chunk of change for GM Tim Purpura to play with. The scuttlebutt in Houston is that Clemens will come back after the All-Star break to make a run for the pennant while healthy, and to play with his son Koby in September. He would thus take a reduced salary.
The Astros need to get at least one bona fide hitter (perhaps two) to protect Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg, preferably a left-handed or switch-hitting outfielder. Even if Clemens returns, we need a decent #5 starting pitcher. Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio just don't cut it.
3) Who would you label the regular season team MVP and LVP?
MVP: Morgan Ensberg had a breakout year (.283/36/101), postseason hampered by HBP hand injury in September.
LVP: Much as I hate to say it, Jeff Bagwell -- understandably poor production after return from shoulder surgery.
4) Season Highlight:
When the Astros won NLCS Game 6 to advance to their first-ever World Series.
5) Season Lowlight:
Being 15-30 on May 28. The Houston Chronicle published an article on June 1 showing a gravestone with "Astros 2005 Season" on it.
From April to September, the NL Central belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals. Their players made it obvious that nothing would be acceptable besides a World Series victory. However, in the end, the Cardinals were done by one of their own -- division rivals that they had spent a season dominating. In to discuss the season that was in St. Louis is Larry Borowsky of Viva El Birdos fame. His thoughts to the What Went Wrong questions:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
The old farts in the outfield. By October, 38-year-old Larry Walker was in tatters -- herniated disk in his neck, bad knee, and unspecified other complaints -- and not even a late-season cortisone injection (his fourth of 2005) could hold him together. He went 3 for 28 in the postseason. Another OF geezer, Jimmy Edmonds (35), had a sore right shoulder that wouldn't heal and couldn't turn on a fastball; his only two meaningful hits in the postseason both went to the opposite field, one of them on a hit-and-run. The killing blow came when the Cards' third Methuselean outfielder, 37-year-old Reggie Sanders, wiped out on the warning track in NLCS Game 2; he got only 1 hit in 12 at-bats after that while striking out 7 times, and his inability to bring home the tying run from third with nobody out in the 9th inning of Game 4 was very costly.
It's only fair to point out that Houston's excellent pitchers had a lot to do with shutting down the Cardinal bats. But I am not willing to give them all the credit. Clemens was beatable, as both the Braves and White Sox showed. So was Brandon Backe, whom the Cards dented for just 2 hits in Game 4, their only respite from the Big Three. With the offense unable to provide much margin for error, the rest of the Cardinals' game wilted. They made 5 errors in the series while turning just 3 double plays, the reverse of their regular-season proportions. The bullpen was unmasked as inadequate. Worst of all, the team's composure got called into question during Game 4 of the NLCS, when their frustration over Phil Cuzzi's amorphous strike zone led to two late-inning ejections.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
The Cardinals need to get some youth into the lineup, even if only in a part-time capacity. The organization possesses no everyday talent at the higher minor-league levels, but it has some surplus pitchers who are already in the majors or close to being there. Jason Marquis, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright are all young and have upside, and I'd like to see the Cardinals convert some or all of them into either a) a position player who's still in his 20s and has some growing room (Austin Kearns comes to mind), or b) position-player prospects who are no more than a year away from the majors. Jocketty isn't offering blue-chippers and won't get blue-chippers back, but it's a numbers game - he might get lucky. At the very least he might land one or more useful platoon players, or an everyday guy who can deliver league-average performance at bargain rates.
With the window of opportunity open now, however, the Cards may not be able to resist the temptation to pay full retail for off-the-rack-veterans and try to take another run at a title in 2006. Jocketty loves Brian Giles (35 years old next season) and will surely try to sign him as a replacement for the retired Larry Walker. He may also bring back affordable free agents Mark Grudzielanek (35) at second and Sanders in left. St. Louis might be able to get away with that approach for one more year, and might even be able to combine it with a pitching-for-prospects swap as described above. But if the Cardinals don't get younger soon they're going to wind up where the Giants are.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
Regular season: MVP Pujols, LVP . . . . sadly Ray King. I say "sadly" because he spent most of the summer watching his father die slowly of cancer; it affected his pitching, and by the end of the year La Russa had no confidence in him (nor did King merit any). After failing to get called into a single postseason game, King angrily requested a trade. He really wasn't that bad in 2005, but standards are high on a 100-win team and Ray came up short.
Postseason: MVP Pujols again, although you could make a case for Reggie Sanders, who drove in 12 runs in St. Louis's first four playoff games, all of them wins; once he stopped hitting, the offense was never the same and the team went 1-4. The postseason LVP goes to Edmonds, whose failures came in many forms. His lax pursuit of a ball in the gap early in Game 2 enabled Chris Burke to stretch a double into a triple, setting up Houston's first run. In the same game Edmonds twice stranded the tying and lead runs on base (5th and 7th innings). In the 8th inning of Game 4 he stupidly took arbiter Cuzzi's bait -- an egregiously bad called strike on what was clearly ball 4 -- and got himself ejected at a critical point in a critical game. And in Game 6 his 6th-inning error enabled the Astros to score an important insurance run.
4) Season Highlight:
Without question the most exhilarating moment was Pujols' season-extending homer off Brad Lidge in Game 5; sadly, the high was ephemeral. In a broader sense, Chris Carpenter's emergence as a Cy Young candidate was very satisfying, and it was a kick to see the team keep winning -- as if from sheer force of habit -- no matter how many everyday starters went on the DL. Scrubs like Abe Nunez and John Rodriguez got a chance to make real contributions, and they came through; fun to see.
But for me, the highlight was getting familiar with David Eckstein. After the signing, Cardinal fans were told we'd love his hustle and dedication and all that other bullshit, and I was fully prepared to reject the guy along with the l'il-scrapper storyline. I gradually learned from watching him play that he wasn't just some souped-up version of Rex Hudler, using "hustle" cynically to grandstand and create a reputation (and a market) for himself. This guy could actually play, and the vaunted "hustle" was really a misnomer for intelligence and composure. In late July he executed a walkoff squeeze to beat the Cubs; about a week later he hit a walkoff grand slam to beat the Braves. A real winner; a champ.
5) Season Lowlight:
The Cubs owned the Cardinals this year, which is always painful. But the aforementioned Game 4 of the NLCS was absolutely brutal. The umpiring was maddening enough, ditto the Cardinals' mystifying impotence (for the second straight year) against the nondescript Backe and their failure to execute simple plays -- a muffed bunt in the 7th inning set up Houston's winning run. But despite of all that, and despite the two ejections, the Cardinals still managed to nudge their win expectancy over 50 percent in the top of the 9th inning -- 1st and 3d with nobody out, down a run, against a suddenly hittable Lidge. We would learn just how hittable the following night, and during the World Series -- but here, in a game they had to have, they couldn't get the ball out of the infield. The game-ending double play on John Mabry's slow roller to second pretty much summed up Cardinals in that series: a quarter-step slow.
The Astros also eliminated the Atlanta Braves from the playoffs. Like the Cardinals, this season was the same story for Braves fans, who watched a dominant regular season precede a postseason belly-flop. We have to respect the Braves for overcoming the odds to win yet another division championship, but the first-round defeat in the postseason has an all too familiar ring to it. Here to share his pain is Mac Thomason from Braves Journal. His responses:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
The easy answer is probably what was the problem all season long, "the bullpen". But that's only a part truth; the bullpen lost only one game in the Division Series and that in seventeen innings. Certainly, the Braves would have extended the series to five games had they gotten a decent relief performance out of Farnsworth in Game Four, and poor relief in the other two games (when the bullpen came in with small deficits and let the Astros blow it open) was a big problem. But that was only part of it.
I would say that the real Achilles heel was that the Braves weren't able to score many runs except via the longball, especially later in the season. The real reason they lost Game Four is that they couldn't get a run in without a homer despite numerous chances in extra innings.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
For the bullpen, I'd like them to get a couple of non-closer, "good reliever" types and hope one of them takes over the main job and the other the eighth innings. Hope that Joey Devine and Blaine Boyer are healthy. Don't overpay for Billy Wagner, tempting as he might be.
As for the other, replace Adam LaRoche with a real first baseman, or move Chipper to first and get Andy Marte into the lineup every day. Resign Furcal, one of the few players on the team who can produce runs without a homer.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
Andruw Jones is the easy pick for MVP, though a lot of sabermetrical types are a little down on him. Second place Marcus Giles, third probably Furcal. Arguably, though, the one man that the Braves could least have afforded to lose was John Smoltz, who kept the staff afloat in the first half when the 2-4 starters all went down.
4) Season Highlight:
For me, Andruw Jones' walkoff walk against the Natspos in the tenth inning, July 16. The Braves took over first place for good that day, starting a three-game sweep of the Natspos, who never looked like a contending team again.
Alternatively for those who think that a walk is a silly highlight, Andruw breaking Aaron's and Mathews' team single-season home run record.
5) Season Lowlight:
Last, and certainly least, we are left with the San Diego Padres. After a very lackluster regular season resulting in a win in baseball's worst division, the Padres' season ended just as we expected: a sweep. It's unfair to say the Padres were a bad ballclub, though they certainly weren't the caliber of the other three NL playoff teams. Longtime blogger Geoff Young, of the great Ducksnorts blog, shares his thoughts on the Friars:
1) What overarching problem proved to be this team's Achilles heel in the postseason?
In the postseason? Not playing as well as the Cardinals, I suppose. Basically, it was the same problem that plagued the Padres throughout the regular season: inability to execute with any kind of consistency. Specifically they didn't hit in the clutch, they didn't play good defense, and they didn't run the bases very well.
The Padres were actually competitive in every game of the NLDS. It's just exceedingly difficult to beat good teams when you spot them eight runs. Obviously Jake Peavy's broken rib didn't help matters.
During the regular season, in addition to the above, injuries were a big problem. But the same could be said of any NL West team. Beyond that, there were too many games in months other than May.
2) How do you hope your team's GM deals with this problem and others over the winter?
First, we need to figure out who our GM is. We think it is Kevin Towers, but with two pretty high-profile vacancies, and Towers already having interviewed with the Diamondbacks, anything is possible.
I think the Padres already have addressed a couple of things by moving Phil Nevin and not renewing the contract of first base coach Davey Lopes. Getting a legitimate center fielder and first baseman, along with some guys who can make throws from the outfield, would be a good start. I'd like to see youngsters such as Ben Johnson and Xavier Nady (and maybe even Freddy Guzman and Josh Barfield) get a shot at regular playing time.
If the Padres can find takers for any of Brian Lawrence, Chan Ho Park, or Woody Williams, that would help. There's some pretty good (not great) young talent in the organization, and I'd like to see some of those kids get a chance to show what they can do. But with veterans clogging up the rotation, spots will be limited.
3) Who would you label the team MVP and LVP?
MVP: Three-way tie among Brian Giles, Jake Peavy, and Scott Linebrink. Giles very quietly put together a tremendous season, while Peavy is one of the best young pitchers in the game. As for Linebrink, nobody outside of San Diego knows who he is, but among pitchers who have worked 150 or more innings over the past two seasons, only Mariano Rivera has a lower ERA. Linebrink is lights out, and I have no doubt that he could close for most teams in either league.
4) Season Highlight:
September 17: The Padres are down 5-0 at home with two out in the ninth. They score a run, and then the Nationals bring in Chad Cordero, who walks a guy before giving up a game-tying grand slam to Khalil Greene. Ramon Hernandez ends it in the 12th with a three-run homer. Unreal.
Okay, so I guess sometimes they hit in the clutch.
5) Season Lowlight:
The Redding start in St. Louis May 8, when the Cardinals scored 11 runs in the first inning, was pretty brutal. Any of a number of baserunning blunders throughout the year; Mark Sweeney getting picked off third base in Houston immediately leaps to mind.
But if I had to pick just one, I'd say it was learning that Peavy pitched Game 1 of the NLDS with a broken rib. The Padres had a legitimate chance against the Cardinals. Peavy hurting himself during the division championship victory celebration was a killer. Maybe his being healthy wouldn't have made a difference in the end, but it's hard not to think "what if..."
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In three short seasons on the job, Theo Epstein became a legend in New England, but for all the wrong reasons.
When given credit for building a world Champion, people like at some of Theo's notable additions: David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke. However, his ability to bring in these players is not what made Epstein one of the game's better General Managers.
Yes, Epstein signed Bill Mueller the season before he won a batting title. Yes, he inked Ortiz before he was Big Papi, hovering annually around a .600 slugging percentage. He traded for Curt Schilling (even spent Thanksgiving with him, people are quick to point out) before the bloody sock and a second place finish in the Cy Young voting. Yes, he won a bidding war for a closer before Foulke registered the last of Boston's championship outs.
These acquisitions will be seen as Theo's best, the foundations for the legacy he will leave behind. This is unfortunate, because it sells the former youngest GM short.
Most qualified executives would have considered Mueller as a cheap corner option. And let's not pretend Theo saw the .200 point OPS upswing when he made the signing. Most qualified execs would have seen David Ortiz as an answer to their left-handed sock need. Most wanted Curt Schilling, Theo just put together what Joe Garagiola Jr. thought was the best package. Most wanted Foulke, the Red Sox just offered the most.
Let's not hoist Theo on our shoulders for simply beating others to the punch, or having more to offer. Creativity is what turns an average GM into a great one, as fans in Atlanta or Oakland could tell you. Add Boston to the list, as in his short tenure, Epstein was very creative, in addition to being well-rounded.
In late January, 2003, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Jeff Suppan to a one-year deal, with an option for a second. In need of a 40-man roster spot, they were forced into taking someone off. They opted to designate a former third-round pick for assignment, as they had given the 25-year-old eight years since being drafted. This player, Bronson Arroyo, had shown much promise in the minors, but could not turn the corner at the Major League level.
Arroyo waited ten days, and found himself on the waiver wire. To reach the Red Sox, he was passed on quite a bit, before Boston decided to replace Juan Pena with Arroyo. Bronson had a good 2003 season in Pawtucket, and left the Red Sox with a good impression towards the end of the season. Fittingly enough, he ended the season the same roster as Jeff Suppan, who Theo went on to acquire. A year later, he found himself in the Boston rotation, and in the end, with a World Series ring.
After the 2004 championship, the face of the Red Sox was David Ortiz, the sock was Curt Schilling. Before Theo had come to town, the Red Sox image was personified by Nomar Garciaparra. However, not only did Epstein see in Nomar a declining skill set with numerous health concerns, but he had the guts to do something about it.
On the 2004 trade deadline, the Red Sox were part of a four-team trade that shockingly included Garciaparra's name. Out went one of the AL's more powerful shortstops, and in came defense: Orlando Cabrera at short, Doug Mientkiewicz at first. The team also had enough money to acquire Dave Roberts, who went on to have a profound effect on the Red Sox during the postseason.
There are many examples of this, in which Epstein saw under or overvalued commodities. Players like Mark Bellhorn, Tony Graffanino, or Ryan Rupe. Theo also went where the Red Sox had previously never gone before -- the Rule 5 draft, even if there were never Johan-like success stories. There were also signings that some GMs would not have made, such as Wade Miller despite injury, and Roberto Petagine despite a long stint in Japan.
These are just a few of the reasons that make Epstein a good GM. Another, of course, is what he did for the Boston farm system. Generally considered one of the worst during the Dan Duquette era, Epstein will now leave the Red Sox with one of the ten best systems in baseball.
It is unclear how much success Epstein deserves for those that came ahead of him. Hanley Ramirez, despite being a holdover from Duquette, has required extremely tender care and delicate promoting for the last three seasons. Surely, Epstein and staff deserve some credit for Hanley's maturation and steady improvement. They should also be recognized when considering the breakouts we have seen from Jon Lester, Brandon Moss and Anibal Sanchez. Finally, moving Manny Delcarmen to a different role may have salvaged his status as a prospect.
However, these are just five members of the suddenly-deep farm system. Here's a look at the three drafts in which Epstein anchored:
2003 Draft: Theo's first pick was spent on, unsurprisingly, a college hitter, specifically Baylor's David Murphy. He has been just OK since being drafted, but had a solid year, and may end up as a good fourth outfielder given his left-handed bat. The team kept in the safe, college ranks in the second round by selecting Long Beach State ace Abe Alvarez. The southpaw has reached the Major League level, and may have a career starting at the back end of rotations. Finally, in the fourth round, the team took Mississippi State closer Jon Papelbon, and then converted him back to the starting ranks. After great seasons in 2004 and 2005, the team put Papelbon back in relief to help the Major League club in the second half, in which he thrived. Papelbon has a chance at becoming the Boston closer as early as 2006 if things bounce the right way.
2004 Draft: This draft lacked a first round pick, so the expectations go down immediately. However, the team jumped right into the thick of things in the second round, taking All-American Dustin Pedroia. Deemed the "Moneyball" selection of the draft, the undersized Pedroia has performed very well since being drafted. He should be the Boston second baseman by 2007, and will be a fan favorite shortly thereafter. In the sixth round the team paid six figures for Cla Meredith out of Virginia Commonwealth University. Meredith had a great 2005 season, and will join Papelbon in the Boston bullpen soon. Finally, the team set a record when they gave their 12th round choice, Mike Rozier, over $1.5 million to not attend college. Rozier is still raw, so the verdict is still out on this move.
2005 Draft: This time around, the Red Sox had quite a few choices, with six selections among the top 57 overall picks. The team balanced college and high school like they hadn't before. The first pick was Johnny Damon-like Jacoby Ellsbury, and went back to the college closing ranks with Craig Hansen. Epstein leaves the Red Sox with a upcoming decision regarding Hansen, whether to keep him in the bullpen (near Major League ready) or have him begin starting again (destined for A-ball). Three of the next four picks were "risky" choices by sabermetric standards -- Junior College selection Clay Buchholz, high school flamethrower Mike Bowden, and high school catcher Jon Egan. Sandwiched by those selections was Jed Lowrie, another All-American in the mold of Dustin Pedroia.
In conclusion, Epstein has done very good things with each of his drafts. It looks as if the selections of Papelbon, Pedroia and Hansen could make each of those drafts successful, with the other players mentioned just providing icing on the cake.
How much of this rebuilding is Theo responsible for? How much will the farm system suffer as a result of his exit? These are questions that we simply can't know the answer for, but we have to give Epstein the benefit of the doubt that this is more than coincidence.
Theo Epstein leaves the Red Sox a New England hero, quite possibly more respected at 30 than Barry Bonds was. His placement within the inner circle of GMs is well deserved, but not because of the players that dominate the Win Shares column. Bronson Arroyo speaks far more about Epstein's genius than Curt Schilling ever will.
Looking Through the Classifieds
Headlines: Paul DePodesta Fired. Theo Epstein Resigns.
So you want to be a general manager, huh? Well, there are four openings at the moment. The Dodgers, Red Sox, Phillies, and Devil Rays are all looking to hire a GM. The list of candidates includes Jim Bowden, Pat Gillick, Gerry Hunsicker, and all the other unemployed former GMs. Kevin Malone, are you listening?
The qualifications for the various jobs are detailed below.
Dodgers: Must be a good friend of Tommy Lasorda. Mutual admiration society preferred. Ability to work side-by-side with Bobby Valentine, our next manager. Knowing what it means to be a Dodger will please carpetbagging Chairman and President. So will getting on the good side of Plaschke. No computer experience necessary.
Red Sox: Working knowledge of sabermetrics is indispensable. Strong aptitude desired. Knowing your place in the hierarchy of organizations required. Call a plumber if leaks bother you. Bonus points awarded for being a former college baseball or basketball player.
Phillies: Must have been fired at least once by another MLB team. Any suggestions on how to void Jim Thome's contract a huge plus. Contractor's license preferred to coordinate movement of outfield wall back to more normal distances.
Devil Rays: If you've ever heard of the Rule 5 draft, you're our man. Ability to think outside the box to create something different than a traditional general manager's role secondary consideration. Manager interviews have already taken place. Having little or no say in who that person might be a fact of life.
By the way, don't jump to any conclusions about DePodesta's and Epstein's departures having anything to do with the decline or demise of Moneyball. Even though a lot of old school types would love nothing more than that, the use of statistical analysis in player evaluation, taking advantage of inefficient markets, and using one's limited resources as wisely as possible are all here to stay, so help me Joe Morgan. No? For proof, look no further than Arizona and Texas where Josh Byrnes, 35, and Jon Daniels, 28, now have corner offices. Both were schooled in combining the best that stats and scouting have to offer.
Tom Timmermann, sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, makes a great point about this very matter.
For those who think that the Los Angeles Dodgers' firing of general manager/whiz kid Paul DePodesta is an indictment of the "moneyball" methodology of baseball, a defeat for those who puts statistics over flesh-and-blood analysis, I would say that only applies if you agree that the firing of every other general manager in the history of baseball is an indictment of the old-school method.
Timmermann is the older brother of Bob, longtime SABR member and known in the baseball blogosphere as a respected Dodger Thoughts reader/commenter.
OK, here is how I see this game of musical chairs playing out. Gillick or Bowden will wind up in L.A. If pressed to name one or the other, I would say Bowden. Gillick (60%) or Hunsicker (40%) will end up in Philly. Hunsicker or Andrew Friedman will get the nod in Tampa Bay. Either Kevin Towers will land in Boston to be reunited with Larry Lucchino, his old boss in San Diego (see photo below of pending press conference), or look for Hunsicker -- if he hasn't been gobbled up elsewhere -- to be the one to worry about what to do with Manny. Sandy Alderson will appreciate Epstein's talents and offer him the Padres job should Towers bolt for greener pastures.
Longshot: Epstein remains the Red Sox GM. He never resigned from Boston. He simply re-signed with the Sox. John Henry intercedes, sits down Lucchino and Epstein, and lays down the law. Hey, it happened in Oakland.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]