WTNYFebruary 28, 2006
Top 20 2006 Sophomores
By Bryan Smith

With a graduation to the Major Leagues, prospects escape the realm of subjective opinion rankings. They then enter a world of objectivity, when rankings are based far more on numbers than eyes.

Today, I'd like to take a select few Major Leaguers back to prospect lists. My first article for this site, one year ago, was ranking the top 20 sophomores of 2005. Data from the previous year, and PECOTA projections for the next five made it easier than my January rankings, but still far from perfect. As good as the top choice of David Wright looks good now, but the inclusions of Edwin Jackson, Alexis Rios and Chin-Hui Tsao do not.

Twenty-nine players from my 2005 WTNY Top 100 (including honorable mention) - my real prospect list - were rookies last season. Far more other players, not on the list, were classified as first-year players. The point of today's piece is to gather together all these players and find the best twenty in terms of perceived career value. The list...

1. Felix Hernandez - SP - Seattle Mariners

Everyone familiar with King Felix has a mancrush on him. Everyone. But no one has been as outward with their feelings as Dave Cameron, and deservingly so, as Cameron brought Felix to our attention when he was pitching in the Northwest League. Within a guest column for this site, Cameron glowingly went through Hernandez' arsenal:

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...

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...

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...

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.

Felix has had success at every stop, including his stint in the Majors last year. Rich points out to me that Felix was sixth in the league last year in K/100P, a fantastic number for a player of his age. Really the only downside Hernandez possesses is a lot of potential for injury, which would certainly validate the Doc Gooden comparisons. More likely than not, he exceeds them, and should go toe-to-toe with Johan Santana for Cy Young contention for the next ten years.

2. Rickie Weeks - 2B - Milwaukee Brewers

The problems are fairly obvious with Weeks. First of all, it's likely that Weeks will never be a good second baseman, perhaps always providing negative value in the field. At the plate, Weeks also has serious contact problems, and PECOTA sees an average that, by 2010, will never top .280. His strikeout numbers should usually be over 100. But PECOTA also sees a 30-40% chance that, in each of the next five years, Weeks is a superstar. Rickie has great power for a player up the middle, and his speed on the basepaths should make fantasy owners consistently happy. When accepting his faults, we should look at Weeks as the NL second base starter in the All-Star Game for years to come.

3. Ryan Howard - 1B - Philadelphia Phillies

PECOTA is a pessimistic forecasting system, which should come as no secret to many of you. What is shocking, on the other hand, is Ryan Howard's ninety-percentile projection: .331/.429/.750 with 61 home runs. Wow. His top ten comparables include accomplished sluggers Mo Vaughn, Cecil Fielder and Willie Stargell, among others. Howard might be the best bet to have success in 2006 at the plate, but he also provides very little value in the field or on the bases, and his ceiling isn't much higher. The Phillies will be glad they traded Jim Thome, but I will say right now that when Howard's arbitration time runs out in Philadelphia, he should not be brought back. Now that is looking into the future, ladies and gents.

4. Brian McCann - C - Atlanta Braves

When Johnny Estrada went down with injury last year, the Braves were very bold to bring McCann up to the majors. Brian performed very admirably during that time, handling the pitching staff well and peforming well at the plate. In fact, he may remind some (old) Braves fans of Joe Torre, who at the age of 21, hit a very similar .282/.355/.395. In the next four years, Torre built towards his peak, culminating in an age 25 season with a .943 OPS. McCann has better power than he showed last year, and if your fantasy league hasn't drafted yet, take my advice: make McCann (at the very least) your #2 catcher.

5. Scott Kazmir - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays

There are two schools of thought in regard to Kazmir. The first side, the cynical one, thinks that Kazmir is a wild pitcher that will always be just that. His career can be good, but will not progress much further, as 70-80 walks per season prevents great success. Others think that control can be learned, and focus on numbers like Kazmir's 5.28 K/100P. Scott is a hot-and-cold pitcher that is very fun to watch, and his development is one thing that the new Tampa regime is banking on. If all they expect is a #2 starter, than there are far worse bets out there.

6. Zach Duke - SP - Pittsburgh Pirates

Another weird PECOTA player. While the projection system likes the Bucs southpaw more than Kazmir for the next five years, it doesn't see a lot of upside: just a 5% breakout rate is given for the 2006 season. This seems about right, as Duke's solid start simply indicated that of a player with a low ceiling. He is a very smart pitcher who I was really impressed with after he carved through the Cubs, but his strikeout numbers will never be sensational. Look for this to always hold Duke back, who is just the player the Pirates covet for their ideal team. Good things are ahead in Zach's future, even despite an organization that lacks a great reputation.

7. Edwin Encarnacion - 3B - Cincinnati Reds

After using just two third baseman from 1996-2003 (Willie Greene, Aaron Boone), the Reds hoped Brandon Larson might take the job in 2004. When it became apparent that Larson was a bust, Edwin Encarnacion started to be hyped. For years, I thought he was undeserving of so much praise, a future solid player with limited upside. However, in each year, Encarnacion has improved, and he played very well in a Major League stint last season. While Andy Marte still is perceived to have more upside than Edwin, the gap has closed, and Encarnacion is on the cusp of providing the Reds with another long-term solution (and the best one of the group) at the hot corner.

8. Huston Street - RP - Oakland Athletics

We can sit here and penalize Street for being a closer, talking about how relievers simply don't stack up against players at other positions. Or we could sit here and say that, for a closer, Street's stuff doesn't exactly match up. We could say that he is a one-year wonder, a case of the fungibility of the reliever. But that would simply not give Street enough credit. A true competitor, Street has found a way to be successful in the most difficult baseball atmosphere in the world. His stuff is good enough, because his guts are unparalleled. He will go through some tough weeks, without a doubt, but Street is one fantastic player.

9. Jeff Francoeur - OF - Atlanta Braves

No one is more variable on the list than Francoeur. If I went by PECOTA, he wouldn't be this high, as the system doesn't see the Braves outfielder breaking the 4.0 WARP mark in any of the next five years. However, I'm also intrigued by his PECOTA comparables, which have Juan Gonzalez, Cal Ripken (?) and Sammy Sosa in the top five. In fact, there are even more All-Stars making up his top 20. Like Weeks, Francoeur has issues, and my guess is that he will be one of the Majors most hot-and-cold players in baseball for some time. But few people have a feel for the game than this kid, as evidenced by just how quick he became used to Major League pitching. His power still profiles to be prodigious, and when he's done, I think we will all have learned something about how to play right field.

10. Brandon McCarthy - SP - Chicago White Sox

McCarthy was simply a tale of two seasons. He struggled in his first trip to the Majors, in which I wrote, "Brandon will need to gain confidence in a third pitch, as his fastball doesn't seem to be fast enough, and his curveball has the tendency to hang early in the count." The club then sent him to the International League to work on his change, and when he returned with the pitch improved, the results were fantastic. Just eight earned runs in his final 42.2 innings for a sparkling 1.69 ERA, and oddly enough, a spot in the White Sox bullpen. However, as we talked about recently in our AL Central Preview, there is every expectation that McCarthy will get his starts this season, and by 2007, a full-time slot. Consistency in the change will determine how high his career can go.

11. J.J. Hardy - SS - Milwaukee Brewers

The offensive Daniel Cabrera, few players are gaining more pre-2006 breakout support than J.J. Hardy. One of those boosters is Analysts' own Rich Lederer, who wrote this long-term prognostication on the Brewers middle infielder:

Longer term, Hardy profiles a bit like Chris Speier. He has a similar body type with medium speed, a good knowledge of the strike zone, and above-average power for a SS. Speier had better range than Hardy showed in his rookie year but was eventually hampered by a bad back despite enjoying a 19-year career in the majors. For what it's worth, the former Giant was one of the best players in the league during his second season.

The cynical view of Hardy would be to say he is this year's Adam LaRoche, simply on the list because of a big second half. However, Rich has that angle covered, too:

There are four points of interest [in Hardy's bad first half].

1. Hardy walked more often than he struck out.

2. He was putting the ball in play at a pretty good clip.

3. His Batting Average on Balls In Play was a meager .211 (vs. a MLB norm of about .300). Give him a more normal BABIP and he would have hit .262 before the All-Star game rather than .187.

4. The number of doubles-to-home runs was unusually high.

I was never high on Hardy when ranking him as a prospect, going as far to compare him to Royce Clayton. I will gladly admit to being wrong, as Hardy is a fun player to watch that does everything right. Look for a solid 2006 to be the start of a wonderfully solid Major League career.

12. Curtis Granderson - OF - Detroit Tigers

Do the Tigers really appreciate what they have in Granderson? Are they really considering starting Nook Logan at centerfield this season? In 2004, Granderson broke out at one of the minors easiest stadiums to hit a home run in. His numbers were helped by an August that was disproportionate to the rest of his career. He was an anomaly, but this year, showed that his breakout was for real. Granderson might not be the next great Tiger, or even a consistent All-Star. But for a team like Detroit, that has been "rebuilding" for so long, he's the long-term answer at one position. PECOTA loves him, but I don't see enough power developing for a superstar to shine through.

13. Casey Kotchman - 1B - Los Angeles Angels

Talk about a player PECOTA doesn't like. Thanks to a few years littered with injuries, Major League ineffectiveness, and a lack of opportunity, Kotchman is not a player that is projected well. His top ten comparables are a sorry group, and his high for the next five years -- in terms of WARP -- is 2.6. However, it's a prediction system far from perfect, and in Kotchman's case, numbers don't tell the whole story. For years, Casey has drawn the same comparison: Mark Grace. His fielding has always been lauded, as have his contact skills. Some would say that Kotchman's power would eventually develop, and his offense at first would be way above-average. Others, not so much. At this point, I think Kotchman is -- for his career -- a 15-25 home run player. To be successful, he'll need an average upwards of .300. He can do it.

14. Jeremy Reed - OF - Seattle Mariners

If you think the White Sox defense is good now, try imagining a team with Chris Young in left, Aaron Rowand in center, and Jeremy Reed in right. Instead, Chicago was just too deep up the middle, and all three of these players will be in greener pastures in 2006. Reed will be the one of the group who plays in a drastic pitching park, so his play will be the hardest to judge. The one consensus coming from Seattle is that Reed is a great defender, which given their huge outfield is a big plus. But, he does play next to Ichiro, which must be taken into consideration. Offensively, he's probably got Mark Kotsay potential, which has become a compliment, if not a fantastic one. The star potential isn't there, but he can probably be everything that Granderson can, and like Curtis, is the right cog for the Mariners rebuild.

15. Ervin Santana - SP - Los Angeles Angels

I'm not sure we really appreciate what Santana has done here. Sure, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey all had good 2005 seasons, and were more responsible for the Angels performance than Santana's. However, does anyone really believe that without Ervin, the Angels would have made the playoffs? For an October run, every team needs a player that steps up at the right time and replaces someone injured. That is what Santana did, and in effect, made Washburn's high price tag expendable this winter. Santana was on and off with his game last year, but had flashes of the lightning stuff that gained him notoriety in the minors. He's got a lot more bust potential than the names on this list, but he also could be really successful atop the Angel rotation.

16. Robinson Cano - 2B - New York Yankees

Both at Baseball Prospectus and BTF, Cano was given about a 10% chance to turn into Hall of Fame baseball player. This is because what he did last year was remarkable, stepping into baseball's largest stage and taking the spotlight off a position that has caused the Yanks so much grief. Cano is another player that I obviously underrated too much as a prospect, not taking his 100 RBI+ season into enough consideration. But, really, is Cano's ceiling much above his performance in 2005? Do we really see a player that even has the possibility to be better than Weeks? Not for me, at least, as I believe Cano will teeter-totter among being an average second baseman for as long as the Yanks let him.

17. Joe Blanton - SP - Oakland Athletics

I can say that, with certainty, Joe Blanton will be pitching in the Majors for a long time. He's just that type of player, a solid starter with good durability and good enough stuff to have lasting value to Major League organizations. However, he isn't the type of player that will cause other starters to skip outings to get to. Blanton has succeeded in going after hitters, taking an approach similar to that of Street's, above. He had nice results in 2005, and should continue to do so this year without really being a factor in fantasy baseball. He is a good player with a lot of WARP in his future, but when it's all said and done, it could be remarkable how anti-climatic his career was.

18. Matt Murton - LF - Chicago Cubs

As a Cub fan, this was a difficult ranking. I, in a way, wanted to give Murton something back after he had such a good 2005. This was a player that forced his way into Dusty Baker's offense, a trait we should all respect in a player. He came out strong and kept going, having a remarkable season in left field. However, he didn't show any power. Barely any trace of it. In fact, besides home run contests, Murton's career is full of seasons without power. This just isn't acceptable for a Major League corner outfielder. While Murton could survive on becoming a 40-50 doubles guy, even that would be a step up. It will be his power that determines whether this ranking was too low, or drastically too high.

19. Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson - OF/1B - Oakland Athletics

On a list that features Ryan Howard in the third spot, it's difficult to drop a few players' rankings thanks to lack of athleticism. In that regard, Howard takes the cake. However, Howard's power is enough to overcome that fault, which is something that neither of these A's can say. In fact, Swisher and Johnson don't have any traits that are fantastic, but enough tools needed for success. This is very similar to my comment on Blanton, and in fact, could be considered a bit on Oakland A's players in general. This team is filled with solid players, top to bottom, that will make them a competitive team on an annual basis. But a World Series team? I don't see it, as there aren't very many players that could have fantastic career years. This holds true for Swisher and Johnson, neither of whom will be taking a large step in 2006.

20. Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos - RP - Kansas City Royals
These two names should not be surprising choices for long-time readers. As I have pointed out a few times, I predicted Burgos to breakout before the season. And that he did, going from the Midwest League to the Majors in admirable fashion, with a fantastic 6.05 K/100P peripheral. And as I have also pointed out, I did not think the Cubs decision to expose Sisco to the Rule 5 draft was a good decision. It wasn't, as Sisco started out strong on Opening Day and never looked back. PECOTA is not confident at all with its predictions of these two, as neither garners a similarity score over 15. However, I see the future of the Kansas City bullpen, which at this point, could be their one strength in the next few seasons.

WTNYFebruary 27, 2006
College Baseball Revisited
By Bryan Smith

In college baseball, rankings are obsolete nearly the minute they are compiled. Since the season is so short, with pitchers only having a limited number of outings each season, scouting directors don't have long to evaluate players. As a result, every weekend, draft boards are changed to reflect the weekend's happenings.

With that being said, I was thrilled when Sports Illustrated approached me with the opportunity to write an article for their On Campus College Baseball Preview. My top 20 draft prospects article ran Friday, preceding yet another weekend that would go far in making me look dated. However, my heart and soul is poured into this article, as I researched, interviewed, and read in detail to prepare. My top 20:

1. Andrew Miller - LH SP - North Carolina
2. Max Scherzer - RH SP - Missouri
3. Ian Kennedy - RH SP - USC
4. Drew Stubbs - OF - Texas
5. Daniel Bard - RH SP - North Carolina
6. Matt LaPorta - 1B - Florida
7. Dallas Buck - RH SP - Oregon State
8. Wes Hodges - 3B - Georgia Tech
9. Evan Longoria - IF - Long Beach State
10. Joba Chamberlain - RH SP - Nebraska
11. Jared Hughes - RH SP - Long Beach State
12. Kyle McCulloch - RH SP - Texas
13. Brandon Morrow - RH SP - California
14. Blair Erickson - RH RP - UC Irvine
15. Mark Hamilton - 1B - Tulane
16. Brad Lincoln - P - Houston
17. Mark Melancon - RH RP - Arizona
18. Chad Tracy - C - Pepperdine
19. Brennan Boesch - OF - California
20. Matt Antonelli - 3B - Wake Forest

This final ranking was decided on weeks ago, and even since, my draft board has been changed. Of note, Evan Longoria, Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow are the largest climbers. Longoria has continued to show the power he displayed over the summer, making him one of the top two hitters in the country. Chamberlain has zoomed right past Dallas Buck, especially since Baseball America reported his fastball hit 96 mph against NC State. Finally, Morrow is continuing to strike out batters at a torrid pace, though his six walks in six innings this past weekend are a cause for concern.

I mentioned Buck as someone who has dropped, as even against Brigham Young on Thursday he has not turned the corner with a great outing. His 2005 was built on a great non-conference record, so Dallas really can't afford to start slow out of the gates. I have also been disappointed with Mark Hamilton, who has not shown the power out of the gate that I expected. It will come, and I still think my Ryan Klesko comp applies, but he has slipped a bit. And finally, in talks with Rich Lederer, I realized that Jared Hughes and Brad Lincoln should really swap places.

Andrew Miller has not shifted at all, instead, he has only helped his status as the 'player to beat' atop draft boards. Miller has shown much improved control this season, walking only two batters through his first two starts. It also should be mentioned that in his Sunday start yesterday, there was only one out that Miller recorded that was not a groundball or strikeout. Yes, you should be drooling.

In fact, North Carolina is a team worth talking about. My pick for the 2006 College World Series title has stormed out of the gates to an undefeated record, albeit to a fairly weak schedule. Yes, they started hot last year, coming out 9-0 to begin the year. However, during that 2005 spree, the offense was averaging just 6.4 runs per game. Flash forward to 2006, and UNC is 7-0, but has scored 84 runs for an average of 12 runs per game. While most of my focus is on juniors at this site, it should be noted that Josh Horton makes quite a strong case for being the first shortstop drafted in 2007.

Speaking of 2007 hitters -- as offensive players will obviously be back on the map by then -- there has been no bigger story this year than NC State third baseman Matt Mangini. While the sample size police are surely on their way to arrest me, it is safe to say the best hitter in the country thus far (through 50 AB) has been Mangini. In a lineup that already features insane firepower from the likes of Aaron Bates and Jon Still, Mangini is hitting an insane .680/.730/1.080 this season. Not the most athletic player in the nation, Mangini will go as high in the draft as his bat takes him. Right now, that is pretty damn high.

Another ACC team that impressed me this weekend was Wake Forest, where Mr. Irrelevant (number 20, above) Matt Antonelli plays third base. The Demon Deacons, in the past plagued by a lack of pitching, threw well enough to get upsets of Missouri and Florida en route to an undefeated weekend. Antonelli wasn't fantastic, but continues to impress me with his discipline-upside combination.

Getting away from the top twenty, another noteworthy team -- and a surprising one at that -- has been Hawaii. The Rainbows entered the weekend 9-2, winning series over San Diego State, UC Irvine and Loyola Maramount before hosting USC this past weekend. The Trojans stumbled in Honolulu, dropping the first two games of the series before saving themselves from the sweep on Sunday. Hawaii is led by (a bit of a sleeper) in Friday night starter Steven Wright, another solid contributor from the Cape Cod League. In four starts already, Wright has pitched 29.2 innings, giving up just 15 hits and five walks while striking out 27 batters. He bears watching.

While Wright didn't garner a lot of consideration for the top twenty, there are a lot of other players who did. As I generally do with rankings, below are my eleven honorable mentions (displayed alphabetically) for the top 2006 draft-eligible prospects:

Chris Coghlan - 3B - Mississippi - Saber-friendly third baseman with limited upside.
Colin Curtis - OF - Arizona State - Future leadoff hitter with every tool but power.
Jason Donald - SS - Arizona - Good power, bad contact skills, shortstop. Decent package.
Chris Errecart - 1B/OF - Cal - Started in Cape Cod League, continuing to show power.
David Huff - LHP - UCLA - I fell in love with Huff last summer. I know why.
Brian Jeroloman - C - Florida - Best pure college catcher in junior class.
Tim Lincecum - SP - Washington - Do numbers speak louder than scouts?
Chris Perez - RP - Miami - A step below other closers, but second round arm.
Shane Robinson - OF - FSU - '05 Golden Spikes finalist does everything well.
Josh Rodriguez - SS - Rice - Very good power, no patience up the middle.
Brett Sinkbeil - SP - Missouri State - Cape Cod League guy with good live arm.

Again, rankings are only as good as the date in which they are compiled. With each weekend as we inch closer to June, performances become more and more important. As was the case with Lance Broadway last year, a few dynamite starts in May can go a long way towards turning someone into a first round pick.

This spring I will try to update my personal draft board often, trying to reflect the times when breakthrough performances happen. Thanks go out to Sports Illustrated for making me stick out my neck for the first time.

Baseball Beat/WTNYFebruary 24, 2006
Two on Two: 2006 AL Central Preview
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

It's that time of the year again, folks. Time for us to dust off the ol' crystal ball and share our secrets of the upcoming baseball season with you. Our motto is that it's better to be early than late. Well, it's actually better to be right than early but anybody can pick 'em in October. I mean, why wait around when we've got the answers for you in February?

Like last year, we will discuss the divisions by starting in the Central, then moving to the West, and finishing with the East. In week number one, we break down the AL Central--home of the defending World Series champs, the Chicago White Sox.

Our Two on Two format consists of Rich and Bryan and two guests each week expert in that particular division. Today, we meet up with Aaron Gleeman and Chris aka The Cheat to discuss all things AL Central. Aaron writes about his hometown Minnesota Twins through Aaron Gleeman.com, while Chris covers the Chicago White Sox at South Side Sox.

Grab a Venti, pull up a chair, and enjoy.

Bryan: A year ago, we began our AL Central preview with a discussion about the division's weak reputation. A World Series championship and wild-card contender later, such criticism has disappeared. Do you guys think the AL Central has begun a climb up the rankings and, if so, how does it compare to the other divisions?

Aaron: I still think the AL East is usually a good bet to be the best division every year, but the AL Central is definitely in the conversation now. Given how horrible Kansas City is, the Central could have four teams seriously going for 80+ wins.

Cheat: The AL Central absolutely has climbed the rankings. They may have the best pitching of any division in baseball.

Rich: As much as I like the division, I like the league even more. The American League is much stronger than the National League. The team that finishes third in the AL Central could probably win the NL West and challenge for the senior circuit's wild-card berth.

Bryan: Yes, the White Sox, Indians, and Twins form the makings of a strong division.

Cheat: I think you need to include Detroit in the discussions also. They're no pushover.

Aaron: Yeah, I agree. I'm not sure Detroit has enough pitching, but their lineup could lead to 80-85 wins.

Cheat: You could even argue that because there are four solid teams, the Central may beat up on each other just enough to only get one team in the playoffs yet again.

Bryan: Frankly, I think the reasoning for this improvement are the front offices. Is there a better group -- besides KC -- of executives in baseball?

Aaron: It's an interesting mix. I think Terry Ryan and Kenny Williams each have their flaws, and I'm not sure Dave Dombrowski can really be considered good. Mark Shapiro is somewhat untested comparatively, but he's doing a nice job.

Cheat: I'm not sold on Dombrowski, but Williams has certainly improved. Ryan and Shapiro have proved that they can win with a small budget.

Rich: Ryan and Shapiro are well respected and deservingly so. But I've been impressed with Williams, too. Not because the Sox won the World Series so much, but in the fact that Kenny was bold enough to make changes this offseason after winning it all.

Aaron: The division is so dependent on money, in relation to the rest of the AL, it's hard to judge everything properly. I mean, Minnesota has done well on a small budget, but they're competing with KC, Cleveland, and Detroit, with somewhat small budgets. And Chicago did well on a medium-sized budget, but they are outspending everyone else in the division.

Bryan: What's interesting is how volatile a few of the ownerships seem to be with money. Both the ownership groups in Cleveland and Detroit are willing to spend money on winners, which puts their GMs in a weird situation: right in the gray area of the buyers/sellers market.

Aaron: Right. The advantage they have is that once a rebuilding effort is nearly complete, the checkbooks can open up. Whereas Minnesota never has that.

Cheat: The White Sox are in the process of making themselves into a large-market club, one that spends $100+M each year. And Detroit has vowed to spend money. I'll be interested to see how Minnesota continues to compete with Cleveland looking like they may be able to add payroll in the future, too.

Aaron: If a team in the Central consistently spends $100 million, I think they'll win it most years. That extra $25-30 mill is just tough to overcome long term.

Rich: I don't know about "most years," but, yes, the team that spends the most money should win it more often than any other club.

Bryan: It's tough to consistently have player development success stories like the Twins have had recently.

Cheat: The one thing the White Sox have done, and I know Bryan has something to say about this, is deplete their farm system of top-level talent on their way to a big budget. That could hurt down the line.

Aaron: Right, but if you suddenly add $25 million to the payroll, prospects suddenly aren't as important.

Bryan: It certainly creates the risk of getting old, but the White Sox don't seem to be there--unlike maybe the Mets--quite yet. They can stay with this team for maybe two to three years before a huge decline sets in.

Aaron: Yeah, aside from Jim Thome they don't have a ton of really old guys.

Cheat: Agreed. The key will be letting go of the right guys each trading deadline and offseason.

Bryan: Well, Cheat, one real question entering the season is if they are letting the right guy into the rotation. Brandon McCarthy will likely start the year in the bullpen, despite the fact that he was probably the #2 starter in the second half. Mistake?

Cheat: The one thing I'm worried about with McCarthy is how he'll react to throwing from the 'pen. I don't know what the stress of throwing every day will do to his long and lean frame. I would rather he threw every five-to-six days.

Rich: The one thing I'm worried about with McCarthy is the number of home runs he allowed last year (13 in 67 IP).

Aaron: I was surprised that they added Javier Vazquez and then also kept Jon Garland and Jose Contreras. Vazquez doesn't seem like much of an upgrade, if any, over McCarthy.

Rich: It's a cliche, but you can never have too much pitching.

Bryan: Well, I guess it depends whether Ozzie can still have the Midas touch in regards to the pitching staff. There was no better manager at that trait in 2005 than Guillen.

Cheat: The Sox also seem to think that McCarthy will get anywhere between 10-20 starts. They seem abnormally worried about their pitchers' workload from the playoff run and the upcoming WBC.

Aaron: Well, the odds of making it through a whole year with five starters is pretty slim. So I bet he'll get more than a dozen starts.

Cheat: I think the Sox have done a good job of targeting workhorses who don't go on the DL. I think only Vazquez and Freddy Garcia have ever been on the DL, and both for very limited time.

Aaron: That's the strength, and then that makes the bullpen even stronger.

Cheat: Well, I'm not as confident about the bullpen.

Bryan: The bullpen lost a few arms last year, and again enters the year dependent on some volatile players, like Dustin Hermanson.

Aaron: I think Bobby Jenks will have some rough patches, but I like Jeff Bajenaru as a potential new guy.

Cheat: Cliff Politte and Hermanson are very unlikely to repeat their performances, and Neal Cotts and Jenks are still young guys who walk a lot of batters.

Aaron: Right, but Jenks, Politte, McCarthy, Hermanson, Cotts, and maybe Bajenaru is a strong group.

Cheat: The White Sox don't have as much faith in Bajenaru as you do, Aaron. He'll be lucky to be the 12th man in the pen.

Aaron: Really? He seems like he's earned a shot.

Bryan: Thinking Baj isn't as good as the horrendous group of LOOGYs they brought to camp is foolish. Although I agree the White Sox might be in that school of thought.

Cheat: I agree with that sentiment, but it appears that he'll be competing with Sean Tracey and Tim Redding for the 12th spot. He should earn that spot though.

Aaron: Also, on the pitching in general, it may look a little worse this year simply because the defense might not be as good.

Cheat: Paul Konerko had a great year (for him) defensively, and Brian Anderson replaces Aaron Rowand. But aside from that, they should be about equal there.

Bryan: You would have to think there would be regression to the mean in that regard. The difference between Rowand and Anderson might be a problem, too.

Aaron: Right, that's mostly what I'm thinking. And it'll be even bigger if Rob Mackowiak plays a lot out there. But they'll still be good defense, just maybe not insanely good like they were last year.

Bryan: With the Anderson-Rowand swap, and Thome replacing Carl Everett, the team seems to have been willing to sacrifice a bit of defense for offense. How much better is this group than the April 2005 offense?

Rich: Not much, if at all. Other than the likely improvement at DH, I wouldn't expect the Sox to get more production anywhere else.

Aaron: I think Thome will have a pretty big year, but I'm not sure their offense in center field will be any better.

Cheat: Brian Anderson is Eric Byrnes long-lost twin. They look alike, play alike, and even have the same humor in interviews.

Bryan: Is playing like Eric Byrnes a compliment anymore, or no?

Cheat: It's not an indictment. It's passable for a rookie, I suppose. One who's not being counted on to carry the team.

Rich: If Anderson is Byrnes, it had better be the 2004 version or else the Sox are in trouble.

Aaron: Also, everyone seems to be talking up Mackowiak as a really good player, but he's not a good hitter. If Chicago loses a key guy for a while to an injury, their depth is somewhat thin.

Bryan: Definitely, though Williams has never been slow to make a trade in that regard.

Cheat: Mackowiak is one of the streakiest hitters in the game. So is Joe Crede, however, so it may be a good fit.

Rich: Or a bad fit. I hope Guillen doesn't try to play the so-called "hot hand" until it turns cold because that is a heckuva lot harder to do in practice than in theory. You end up "shooting behind the ducks" and the end result is usually worse than if you just left the cold guy in and play his way out of any slump.

Bryan: The key to the offense, for me at least, seems to be Joe Crede. Is this guy going to continue the step he made after some work in September, or will he continue to be as inconsistent as we all have seen in the past?

Cheat: Yeah, I agree. I think the key is the whole left side of the infield. Uribe will bat in the #2 hole in spring training, to see if it's something he can handle. I'm expecting big things from both Crede and Juan Uribe.

Aaron: I think he's more or less proven that he's a pretty mediocre hitter. I don't know that a good few weeks at the right time changes that.

Cheat: Crede did change his swing late last year. If he carries that over, he will be a different hitter.

Aaron: I'm curious to see if Tadahito Iguchi improves in his second year, but beyond that any offensive gains will probably come from Thome. A bigger key will be Konerko maintaining his production.

Bryan: Well, as much as this offense may have improved, it's pretty much a given that they will fall short of the group in Cleveland. If the Indians can avoid an offensive slump in April, they could outslug this division by a lot.

Aaron: Actually, I wouldn't bet on Cleveland's offense being much better than last year's. Where is an improvement coming from, aside from young guys potentially developing a little more?

Cheat: I might take a Chi vs. Cle HR vs. HR bet, but I'll concede that they have a better offense overall.

Aaron: The Indians are weak at the corners and very strong up the middle, which is an odd sort of arrangement. By the end of the year I could see Ryan Garko starting over Ben Broussard at first base, Andy Marte starting over Aaron Boone at third base, and Casey Blake and/or Jason Michaels being on the bench.

Rich: While it may be odd, it certainly is a lot easier to replace players on the left side of the defensive spectrum than the right.

Aaron: Yeah, having such strength up the middle, especially with young building blocks, will make it a lot easier for Cleveland to improve via trade during the year. It's not too difficult to find a solid first baseman or left fielder at midseason, but it's almost impossible to get your hands on a good-hitting shortstop or catcher.

Cheat: I will be really interested to see what they do with Marte.

Bryan: I guess I'm not the believer in Cleveland that some are, however. Aaron hit it on the head. They are just too weak at about three key positions to have an elite offense, and there is no elite part of the team.

Cheat: I think Grady Sizemore can continue to improve. I love the way that kid plays.

Bryan: Sizemore is fantastic. In two or three years, I could see him being one of the two or three best players in the division. And what's surprising is that it might not even be bold to say that anymore.

Aaron: I like Sizemore too, but it'd be asking a lot for him to do much better than he did last season. Same with Jhonny Peralta. It's dangerous to just assume young guys will be better every year.

Cheat: Yeah, I'm not that high on Peralta. He was amazing last year, but I just don't see him matching that output again.

Rich: I don't think the Indians need to improve their hitting or pitching. They just need to distribute their runs a bit better. To wit, 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.

Cheat: Yeah, they have that AL Central Pythagorean Championship banner to raise, right?

Aaron: The White Sox had that one for a while, I think. A few years running.

Cheat: Those are hollow titles to hold. It sure does feel better with the real thing.

Bryan: Cleveland's pitching staff is questionable, especially the bullpen. I don't see a way in which Bob Wickman is the same pitcher as last year, and they lost key arms in David Riske, Bobby Howry and Arthur Rhodes.

Cheat: I did like what I saw of Fernando Cabrera at the end of last season.

Aaron: They still have Rafael Betancourt, who is underrated. And Guillermo Mota's health is probably a pretty big key. But yeah, I wouldn't bet on them giving up under 650 runs again, either, I guess.

Bryan: While we all might agree Kevin Millwood was overpaid this winter, we have to recognize they lost the AL leader in ERA. And as valuable as Jason Johnson and Paul Byrd might be on the dollar, they lost an ace.

Aaron: Yep. Although I like Jeremy Sowers as a midseason fill-in.

Cheat: As a White Sox fan, I'm upset that Byrd is in the division. They always seem befuddled by him. Johnson is another story, however. At least he didn't cost much, and may have some upside.

Aaron: I don't think Johnson will be very good, but I liked the Byrd signing.

Cheat: The only solid defense I've seen of the Johnson signing was his DIPS numbers stacked beside Garland's.

Bryan: As much as the White Sox and Indians did this winter, the Twins did very, very little. Rondell White and Tony Batista?

Aaron: Don't forget Luis Castillo. He's the big one. Or non-small one, I guess. They've had such horrible second basemen that Castillo represents a pretty huge improvement.

Cheat: Castillo was a great addition, especially for what they gave up.

Aaron: I liked that move a lot. White, I'm sort of lukewarm on, and I think the whole Batista thing is a disaster. They essentially promised him the third-base job, which later kept them from going after Corey Koskie at a discount price.

Bryan: Of the contenders in the majors, no one has a worse left side than the Twins. The lack of any attempt to improve this group is quite damning.

Cheat: Jason Bartlett looked like a young Cal Ripken when he played the White Sox last season. He must have been pretty bad when I wasn't watching, because I really liked what I saw.

Aaron: If they play any large part of the season with Batista at 3B and Juan Castro at SS, it's a pretty big mark against Terry Ryan's understanding of offense building. I like Bartlett, but he looked rough at times last year. But I think he's a good defender and can get on base.

Cheat: If only Jason Kubel could play infield, right?

Bryan: We talked about the Indians depending upon improvement from youngsters, which is also exactly what the Twins are doing. However, for as difficult as it will be for Peralta to improve on his numbers, Justin Morneau almost has to.

Rich: Justin needs to be More Yes this year than More No.

Aaron: Right. Morneau is a big key. But they also need comebacks from Shannon Stewart, and health from Torii Hunter and Kubel. The Twins have a ton of question marks throughout the lineup, so they could go either way.

Bryan: But what's the upside? Third in the division offensively?

Aaron: It'll never be a great offense, but they really only need it to be an average one.

Cheat: They probably have the fourth best offense, but even a passable offense can get by with their pitching.

Bryan: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Terry Ryan essentially put the pressure on the staff to be as good as the White Sox to succeed. But I think they could conceivably do it.

Aaron: Here's what bothered me. They are spending $4 mill on Kyle Lohse and giving Batista the third-base job. Why not spend $4 mill on a decent 3B and give Francisco Liriano Lohse's spot?

Rich: Free Francisco Liriano, huh?

Aaron: I might have to start one up, but I have some patience. If he's still at Triple-A in July I might have a new cause. I started complaining about them keeping Johan Santana in the bullpen after a few years.

Rich: Yes, we all remember your pleas, Aaron. You were right, of course, but maybe Ryan believes Johan benefited by not being rushed.

Aaron: There's a difference between not being rushed and what the Twins did. I'm not clamoring for every young pitcher to be given a rotation spot immediately. Santana was in the bullpen for the bulk of four seasons. I'm willing to wait three months for Liriano.

Bryan: The Twins seem hesitant to depend too much on young players, which is odd because it runs counter to the philosophy that won them division championships.

Cheat: There's definitely been some questionable decisions by the front office, but they still have the pitching that will keep them in the division until September.

Aaron: Right. I always say that the Twins are good at the big picture of team-building, like developing young talent, but then they are sub par at the little stuff, like utilizing it. Their track record of helping young hitters develop is also very questionable.

Bryan: Dave Dombrowski was brought to Detroit because he was supposedly good at "the big picture of team building." However, in his time with Detroit, we haven't seen that. Many point to this year as the season they begin to contend. Do you guys see it?

Aaron: Dombrowski confuses me, because he always seems to be halfway between two plans. But I do think they have a chance to be surprisingly decent this year. Their pitching still stinks though.

Cheat: They're a mirror image of the Twins. The offense will be good, but they have to hope for some improvement in the pitching staff.

Aaron: I don't see it unless Justin Verlander immediately becomes an ace. I mean, who are they counting on improvements from? Kenny Rogers? Mike Maroth? Nate Robertson?

Bryan: Well, it's that time of the year for the inevitable Jeremy Bonderman breakout talk. It's also the time of the year for me to believe it.

Cheat: If Bonderman was a stock, I'd be buying right about now.

Aaron: He's yet to post a league-average ERA in three seasons, but of course he's only 23. I really like Bonderman, Verlander, and Joel Zumaya long term, but I doubt they'll be ready this year.

Bryan: Yeah, it seems like Dombrowski needs to start planning for 2008. Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez won't be the guys to see good teams in Detroit.

Rich: I don't know what or even if Pudge was seeing last year. Did I mention that he struck out 93 times while drawing 11 walks? He had a .270 OBP in the second half. C'mon, the guy is D-O-N-E.

Bryan: I certainly wouldn't want an offense dependent upon Carlos Guillen, Pudge and Maggs. Talk about declines on the horizon?

Cheat: A full year of Maggs, Placido Polanco, and Curtis Granderson over Nook Logan, and they'll have a fine offense. Pudge was so much fun to watch last year when he got to two strikes. He swung at everything.

Bryan: My question is this: is Carlos Pena as bad as people think this year? Chris Shelton is certainly better, but Pena could give a good 300-400 ABs if he had the right platoon partner.

Aaron: I don't think Pena is bad at all. He's an average first baseman, all things considered. The expectations for Shelton might be a little high at this point.

Cheat: Pena would be a good fit for a team like the Royals. Shelton was a bit of a surprise to me last season. I wouldn't look for him to improve too much this season.

Bryan: I agree, and I'll throw Brandon Inge into that same fire. The two are solid players but have very little star power.

Aaron: Right. Detroit doesn't have any real stars, but I could see them being average or better at every position.

Bryan: Seems to me the Twins and Tigers will be battling for having the third and fourth offenses in the division, but the Twins strength in pitching puts them way ahead.

Cheat: I'd rate the Tigers offense ahead of the Twins, but your point still stands. The difference in pitching is too much to overcome.

Bryan: It seems funny to say that in the AL Central that a good offense and mediocre pitching staff doesn't have a ton of hope for third. That's new.

Aaron: Yeah. This Tigers team could have competed for the division title a couple years ago.

Bryan: One certainty has not changed in the AL Central: the Kansas City Royals will finish fifth. Again, we have to talk about them, so let me ask: is there value in a veteran movement like they've made?

Aaron: I don't really see much value. It always struck me that if you're going to stink like KC will and the fans are going to hate it anyway, why not bank some of that money for the future? You know, instead of spending it on guys who might help the team go from 65 to 70 wins.

Cheat: There might be some economic value in it. I mean if you can draw 2M fans because you might reach 70 wins, then I suppose it's worth it.

Rich: The Royals would need the Million-Man March to go through Kauffman Stadium to get their attendance that high.

Aaron: Adding someone like Reggie Sanders might be helpful in three or four years, but it does nothing now.

Bryan: And blocks Chip Ambres from showing that he can be a pretty decent player.

Aaron: Right. I think they rushed quite a few guys too quickly last year, and now they're going to block quite a few other guys in 2006. It makes no sense. Why is Justin Huber at Triple-A? And what does having Doug Mientkiewicz instead of him accomplish, exactly?

Bryan: Well, we all know how important the Royals defense is to their success this year. C'mon, Aaron.

Cheat: The Royals off-season is emblematic of a larger problem that's facing baseball. The small market teams don't have much incentive to win when they can make a hefty profit via revenue sharing. It seems like MLB clamped down and made them spend the money this year, but all that did was drive up the market for middling veteran talent.

Rich: It's pretty sad when a team goes out and signs Elmer Dessens, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, and thinks they are doing something to improve their pitching. I mean, these guys were found on the rack at Filene's Basement this winter.

Aaron: They have a nice bullpen, though. Sort of like having "a nice personality," but still.

Bryan: That's definitely the strength. Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, Leo Nunez even, these are the guys the Royals should be marketing rather than a bunch of meaningless vowels.

Rich: Well, with their rotation, the relievers might throw more innings than the starters this year.

Bryan: Zack Greinke, Andrew Miller, J.P. Howell, Denny Bautista. This is the future of the KC rotation.

Cheat: It doesn't look intimidating by any means. They need to be in full rebuilding mode, like the Marlins. Though at least the Marlins have a few top guys to build around.

Rich: I heard you, Bryan. Andrew Miller. Nice.

Aaron: They really need to see some big strides from young guys like Greinke, and then decide who to keep around when the next wave (Huber, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, etc.) arrive, but I don't have confidence in Baird making the right choices.

Cheat: If Greinke was a stock, I wouldn't be buying, but I'd probably miss the boat. They've got a few young guys with potential. I think the season should just be about finding out who can play and who can't.

Aaron: They could have four good hitters in a year or so, with David DeJesus being #4, but the pitching looks brutal.

Rich: Patience, my friends. So they've lost 100 or more games in three of the last four years and have had only one winning season since the strike in 1994. These things take tiiiiiiiiiiiiime.

Bryan: Not trading Mike Sweeney this winter was just such an odd choice. Fine, if the Angels won't trade Howie Kendrick, take Erick Aybar. They aren't in the position to hold out for blue chippers.

Cheat: Again that comes down to economics. Trading Sweeney would have been a terrible PR move by the Royals. They would have trouble drawing 10K on the weekends without Sweeney.

Aaron: Nah, I don't buy that for a second. How much worse can their PR get? A diehard fan like Rob Neyer has basically disowned the franchise.

Cheat: It's not because of Mike Sweeney. It's because Sweeney is the one good player who the common fan can identify. If they trade him, after a 56 win season, it's interpreted as giving up before the next season even starts.

Aaron: Right, but I don't think Royals fans are even optimistic enough to care about that.

Bryan: Alright guys, enough Royals before I get sick. Let's close this out. What is your projected order of the division in 2006?

Aaron: It's a tough division to predict. I'd say probably Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Kansas City, but I'd give the first three at least a 25% chance of each winning.

Cheat: Chicago: 92 wins. Cleveland: 91. Minnesota: 87. Detroit: 82. KC: 63.

Rich: I'm not sure the division is good enough to average 83 wins. That seems a bit much to me. No way the Tigers and Royals combine for 18 more victories.

Cheat: Like you, Rich, I think the AL is clearly superior to the NL once again. The AL Central plays the NL Central in interleague this year. They'd have to beat up on the NL Central the way they did the NL West to post those records, but I don't think it's impossible.

Bryan: I agree with the same order as Aaron and Cheat, but I say Chicago wins the division by five games, at least.

Cheat: I'd like to agree, Bryan, but the Sox fan in me has trouble being that optimistic.

Rich: Well, I hate to be the party pooper here, but I'm going with Cleveland, followed by Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, and Kansas City.

Designated HitterFebruary 23, 2006
Swinging, Taking, Fouling, and Other Baseball Trivia
By Dan Fox

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

- A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former commissioner of Major League Baseball

Last weekend the four greatest words in the English language were uttered across our great land - "pitchers and catchers reported." And with those words those of us who know that the phrase "baseball trivia" is an oxymoron, have once again come to life.

For those who don't know me, I'm the author of the blog Dan Agonistes and I also contribute to The Hardball Times. I've long admired the writing of Rich and Bryan and so was thrilled when Rich was kind enough to invite me to pen this guest article. Hopefully, this will be the first of several this season.

But on to today's topic, and that topic is pitches, pitches, and more pitches.

Making My Pitch

While the information revolution may have far-reaching impacts on the economy and speed, as well as the process of democratization across the globe, all that pales next to what it's done for the accessibility and ability to quickly analyze baseball statistics.

And so it is that we can analyze the 191,824 plays from the 2005 baseball season and take an in-depth look at pitches. Today I'll simply lay out some of the leaders and trailers in a few of the categories related to pitch-by-pitch data and then make a few observations. You can think of this as an update to the article "Here's the Pitch..." published on The Hardball Times back in September.

For this article, I looked at the 341 players in 2005 with 200 or more plate appearances which totaled just shy of 600,000 pitches. In order to set a baseline, the average among these players for each of the categories we'll look at are as follows.

Pitches Per Plate Appearance (P/PA):    3.75
Swinging at the First Pitch (1stP/PA): 27.6%
Swinging and Missing (Miss/P):          8.0%
Fouling off the Pitch (Foul/P):        17.2%
Taking the Pitch for a Ball (B/P):     36.7%
Taking the Pitch for a Strike (C/P):   17.1%
Put the Ball in Play (X/P):            20.1%

It should also be noted that for the third through seventh categories intentional balls thrown to the batter have been excluded from the analysis on the basis that those pitches are not in any sense under the control of the hitter.

I should also note that these statistics correlate very well from year to year. In other words, in some sense, these rates reflect a strategy adopted by a hitter either consciously or unconsciously in response to his physical skills coupled with how pitchers work against those skills, but more on that later.

So buckle up because here we go...

Pitches Per Plate Appearance

We'll start off with a category that gets a lot of mainstream press and for which you can get data readily available on MLB.com, and that is pitches per plate appearance. The top 10 in that category are:

                        PA    P/PA
Jayson Werth           395    4.62
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39
Casey Blake            583    4.28
Pat Burrell            669    4.27
Chris Shelton          431    4.26
Gregg Zaun             512    4.25
Adam Dunn              671    4.24
David Dellucci         518    4.22
Mark Bellhorn          355    4.21
Brad Wilkerson         661    4.21

You'll notice that Jayson Werth has a healthy lead over Bobby Abreu mostly due to his 114 strikeouts in 337 at bats. He did also have a decent walk rate and did so 48 times. Werth recorded 4.35 P/PA in 2004. This, and the inclusion of Mark Bellhorn point out that a player needn't have a great season in order to make this list and that the leaders are usually guys who also strikeout a lot which allows them to see more pitches. In looking at the data, however, I found the correlation much stronger with taking called balls (a correlation coefficient of .63 which can range from -1 to 1 and indicates the strength of the linear relationship between two variables) than for taking called strikes (.39) or swinging and missing (.03). In other words, inclusion on this list is more related to good pitch recognition than to simply being a free swinger.

Data from 2000-2004 confirmed that a higher P/PA correlates strongly with OPS as you would imagine, and since OPS is a good proxy for run production, players who see more pitches are on average better contributors.

Interestingly, I also found that there was a weak correlation between P/PA and hitting fly balls and line drives, and a negative one for hitting ground balls and popups. Players who see more pitches are often more feared by pitchers because of their power and so this certainly plays a role.

And that brings us to those who saw the fewest pitches...

                        PA    P/PA
Robinson Cano          551    3.05
Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16
Juan Castro            292    3.16
Alex Cintron           348    3.18
Yuniesky Betancour     228    3.18
Cristian Guzman        492    3.19
Nomar Garciaparra      247    3.19
Carl Crawford          687    3.23
Neifi Perez            609    3.23
Yadier Molina          421    3.24

Yankee rookie Robinson Cano walked just 16 times in his 551 plate appearances to take the top spot. It's no surprise that Nomar Garciapara and Neifi Perez made the list. Cristian Guzman, for whom nothing went right in 2005, also made the list although historically he's a guy who sees few pitches and recorded a 3.35 P/PA in 2004.

Just missing the list are three players who had fairly good production in 2005; Vladimir Guerrero (3.25), Garret Anderson (3.28), and Jorge Cantu (3.29). Guerrero saw even fewer pitches in 2004 (3.17) and yet performed slightly better and so it isn't necessarily the case that having a low P/PA means you can't have a good season. However, since these players aren't drawing very many walks they must compensate by putting up high batting averages like Guerrero or high slugging percentages like Cantu in order to be productive. That is a difficult thing to do.

Although it at first surprised me, players who see fewer pitches tend also to foul off a greater percentage of the pitches they do see. After a moment's thought though, this is clearly because they take so many fewer pitches.

Swinging at the First Pitch

The second category is one that you see from time to time and certainly reflects a strong preference amongst hitters - offering at the first pitch. The leaders are...

                        PA    P/PA  1st/PA
John Mabry             274    3.48   50.0%
Corey Patterson        483    3.37   49.1%
Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16   47.9%
Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   47.4%
Nomar Garciaparra      247    3.19   46.2%
Jason Dubois           202    3.82   45.0%
Victor Diaz            313    3.67   45.0%
Brad Eldred            208    3.60   44.7%
Alex Cintron           348    3.18   44.5%
Wily Mo Pena           335    3.77   44.5%

Corey Patterson had a horrible final season in Chicago and is a case where the numbers weren't that consistent and therefore are revealing. When he performed better in 2004 he swung at the first pitch 36.4% of the time (making him, of course, one of the last guys you want to leadoff), indicating that as his numbers dropped in 2005 he began pressing and becoming even more aggressive. As a result, he saw fewer pitches, missed more of those he swung at, and ended up hitting fewer line drives. All of which adds up to a trade to Baltimore.

It'll also be interesting to see if Braves rookie Jeff Francoeur continues his aggressive strategy which failed to yield a walk in his first 130 plate appearances and just 8 non-intentional walks in 274 plate appearances.

And those who are reluctant to swing at the first pitch...

                        PA    P/PA  1st/PA
Jason Kendall          676    3.93    6.4%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02    7.0%
Chris Shelton          431    4.26    9.0%
David Eckstein         713    4.01    9.5%
Chad Tracy             553    3.83    9.8%
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39   10.3%
Mark Ellis             486    3.99   10.9%
Juan Pierre            719    3.71   11.4%
Darin Erstad           667    3.84   12.0%
JJ Hardy               427    3.57   12.2%

Interestingly, three 2005 rookies (Oscar Robles of the Dodgers, Chris Shelton of the Tigers, and J.J. Hardy of the Brewers) made the list, all of whom appear to have taken the opposite approach of Francoeur. However, as I found when looking at 2000-2004 data there is no correlation between OPS and swinging at the first pitch and it appears that players simply choose the strategy that works best for them. This also revealed in that players who swing at the first pitch are neither more nor less likely to be fly ball hitters.

However, swinging at the first pitch was strongly correlated with swinging and missing (.63) and very strongly negatively correlated with taking pitches for balls (-.84). Both of these associations make sense since players who swing more often at the first pitch are, therefore, less likely to get good pitches to hit and if you're swinging at the first pitch almost half the time you're obviously not being the most patient.

Swinging and Missing

Chicks dig the long ball and you have to take big swings to hit the big fly. Of course, you're also at greater risk to miss entirely and here are the players that did so frequently in 2005.

                        PA    P/PA  Miss/P
Brad Eldred            208    3.60   24.4%
Russell Branyan        242    4.15   19.1%
Wily Mo Pena           335    3.77   19.0%
Jason Dubois           202    3.82   18.7%
Carlos Pena            295    3.93   17.9%
Dallas McPherson       220    3.83   17.7%
Miguel Olivo           281    3.67   17.1%
Humberto Cota          320    3.60   16.3%
Dustan Mohr            293    3.80   16.2%
Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   15.9%

Brad Eldred takes the top spot by a whopping margin on the strength of striking out 77 times in 190 at bats, a rate that even Rob Deer would appreciate. He also saw fewer pitches per plate appearance than league average, which is not good when you swing and miss as much as he did resulting in just 13 walks and a .221/.279/.458 line.

As you might guess, players who swing and miss a lot tend to be fly ball hitters and also swing at the first pitch. All is not lost however, as these players can also put up decent numbers as Russell Branyan (.257/.378/.490) and Francoeur did last season. Overall, I found a weak positive correlation between avoiding swinging and missing and OPS.

And who are the contact hitters you might ask?

                        PA    P/PA  Miss/P
David Eckstein         713    4.01    1.9%
Luis Castillo          524    3.94    2.1%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02    2.1%
Juan Pierre            719    3.71    2.5%
Kenny Lofton           406    3.58    2.6%
Chris Gomez            254    3.71    2.7%
Jason Kendall          676    3.93    2.7%
Brian Giles            674    3.92    2.8%
Orlando Palmeiro       231    3.76    2.8%
Marco Scutaro          423    3.77    2.9%

Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, and David Eckstein all were in the top five for the 2000-2004 period as well and the list is populated with contact hitters. When these guys swing, they usually hit the ball.

What I would not have guessed is that there is a weak but clear negative correlation between making contact and hitting foul balls (-.29). Players who swing and miss more often also hit more foul balls.

Which brings us to...

Fouling off Pitches

Players who foul off lots of pitches are said to be scrappy battlers who wear down the pitcher who finally succumbs to their persistence and throws a meaty fastball that the battler lashes into the corner.

Actually, no.

In looking at who does and doesn't foul off a lot of pitches, the common wisdom doesn't seem that strong.

                        PA    P/PA     F/P
AJ Pierzynski          497    3.56   24.5%
Johnny Estrada         383    3.29   24.2%
Toby Hall              463    3.30   24.1%
Joe Crede              471    3.61   23.6%
So Taguchi             424    3.55   22.6%
Rod Barajas            450    3.80   22.6%
Jose Lopez             203    3.76   22.4%
Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33   22.2%
Humberto Cota          320    3.60   22.2%
Alex Cintron           348    3.18   22.2%

As mentioned previously players who foul off a lot of pitches tend to also be players who swing and miss but more strongly players who offer at the first pitch. That's probably not a good combination as a quick look at almost any of these players batting lines will tell you. As a group, they stunk in 2005.

The exception to this rule is Francoeur who just missed the list at 21.9%. Somehow he still managed to hit .300/.336/.549. The fact that his name keeps coming up indicates to me anyway, that there was something a bit odd about his short season that may not bode well for the future.

On the other hand, those players who swung and missed the least include:

                        PA    P/PA     F/P
Dave Roberts           480    3.85   11.3%
JJ Hardy               427    3.57   11.3%
Oscar Robles           399    4.02   12.0%
Luis Castillo          524    3.94   12.4%
Bernie Williams        546    3.57   12.5%
Bobby Abreu            719    4.39   12.6%
Scott Hatteberg        523    3.86   12.7%
Brian Giles            674    3.92   12.9%
Chris Snyder           373    4.01   12.9%
Robert Fick            260    3.71   13.0%

Here we see players who perform better (with the exceptions of Bernie Williams, Chris Snyder, and J.J. Hardy) and generally see more pitches per plate appearance.

Speaking of fouling off pitches, there were five plate appearances in 2005 that featured 10 foul balls. They were:

  • J.T. Snow vs. Jeff Weaver on April 7th where Snow's 14 pitch at bat went like this: BFBFFFFFFBFFFX resulting in a fly out to centerfield.
  • Adrian Gonzales vs. John Lackey the same day with the 15 pitch at bat FSBFBFFBFFFFFFB ending in a walk.
  • Jacque Jones vs. Derrick Turnbow on May 22nd, 13 pitches (FBFFFFFFBFFFX) ending in a ground ball single up the middle.
  • Jayson Werth vs. Ervin Santana on June 25th, 13 pitches (CFBFFFFFFFFFX) ending in a ground out to short.
  • Ichiro Suzuki vs. Chris Young on August 23rd, 15 pitches (BCFFFFBFFFFBFFB) ending with a walk.
  • I told you that the words baseball and trivia don't belong together.

    Taking Pitches

    Next, let's take a quick look at those players who tend to take pitches.

                            PA    P/PA     B/P
    Chipper Jones          432    4.02   46.9%
    Brian Giles            674    3.92   45.9%
    Jason Giambi           545    4.21   43.7%
    Lance Berkman          565    3.86   43.5%
    JD Drew                311    3.88   43.4%
    Ryan Klesko            520    3.77   42.7%
    Jeff DaVanon           271    4.06   42.6%
    Mark Sweeney           267    4.09   42.6%
    David Ortiz            713    4.00   42.5%
    Adam Dunn              671    4.24   42.5%

    Obviously, these are also players who see more than your average number of pitches per plate appearance and are certainly better than average hitters. Ryan Klesko makes the list but has only a slightly higher-than-average P/PA since he also offers at 34.2% of first pitches.

    As mentioned previously, players who take a lot of pitches also happen to be fly ball hitters and hit slightly more line drives than average.

    And here are those who hack away...

                            PA    P/PA     B/P
    Angel Berroa           652    3.35   26.3%
    Aaron Miles            347    3.31   27.4%
    Juan Castro            292    3.16   27.8%
    Pablo Ozuna            217    3.16   28.1%
    Carl Crawford          687    3.23   29.0%
    Deivi Cruz             275    3.30   29.0%
    Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33   29.0%
    Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41   29.2%
    Jorge Cantu            631    3.29   29.3%
    Johnny Estrada         383    3.29   29.3%

    We've seen some of these players before since taking pitches has a strong negative correlation with pitches per plate appearance and less so with swinging at the first pitch.

    As I showed in the article on THT, this is the category where those in the first list and those in the second exhibit the biggest differences in OPS - a difference of over 130 points between the top and bottom 20%. Much of that difference is, of course, accounted for by the fact that on base percentage is a component of OPS and players who are always swinging simply aren't walking.

    Certainly over-aggressiveness at the plate is a major contributor to these low percentages of taking pitches as those of us who saw Aaron Miles play (and bat second during much of the time I might add) last year can attest. However, it's important to keep in mind that pitchers also challenge hitters who are perceived to be weak and so in some at-bats the hitter has little opportunity to take a ball.

    Plate Discipline

    Finally, we'll look at a derived statistic I call Plate Discipline or PD. Simply put, this statistic is a measure of the ratio of pitches taken for balls to pitches swung and missed at or fouled off where 100 is league average.

    The rationale for calculating it like this is that those players who display plate discipline avoid swinging at bad pitches. To an extent then this skill can be measured by the percentage of balls they take as opposed to the percentage they swing at with an unsuccessful outcome (miss or foul ball). The underlying assumption, of course, is that many of the pitches they miss entirely or foul off are ones that in actuality are out of the strike zone. Now obviously nowhere near all pitches swung and missed at or fouled off are out of the strike zone. Many of them are "pitcher's pitches" and others are right down broadway that the batter misses. Like I said, this measures plate discipline to an extent. Now if I had pitch location data from Baseball Info Solutions like David Appleman at FanGraphs does, then we'd really be in business.

    But be that as it may, here are the leaders in PD.

                            PA    P/PA      PD
    Brian Giles            674    3.92     202
    Luis Castillo          524    3.94     187
    Oscar Robles           399    4.02     186
    Dave Roberts           480    3.85     183
    Scott Hatteberg        523    3.86     169
    Chipper Jones          432    4.02     168
    Chris Gomez            254    3.71     166
    Craig Counsell         670    4.08     163
    Kenny Lofton           406    3.58     160
    Scott Podsednik        568    3.89     160

    This is an interesting list and is populated with players who have high walk-to-strikeout ratios as in Brian Giles (119/64), Luis Castillo (65/32), and Chipper Jones (72/56). However, it contains other players whose BB/K ratio is right around 1.0 such as Oscar Robles (31/33). The difference is that players like Robles also took a greater percentage of pitches for strikes.

    And those who don't exhibit that discipline include:

                            PA    P/PA      PD
    Brad Eldred            208    3.60      51
    Jeff Francoeur         274    3.41      53
    Angel Berroa           652    3.35      54
    Humberto Cota          320    3.60      55
    Ivan Rodriguez         525    3.33      58
    Miguel Olivo           281    3.67      59
    Jason Dubois           202    3.82      60
    Corey Patterson        483    3.37      61
    AJ Pierzynski          497    3.56      62
    Johnny Estrada         383    3.29      62

    No strangers on this list as it contains lots of impatient and free swingers. Although Jorge Cantu didn't quite make the list (PD of 65), David Appleman has a nice piece on him at THT that reveals that by the end of the season he was swinging at 37% of the pitches out of the strike zone.

    Boiling it Down

    So what does it all mean?

    I find these lists interesting because they illuminate a part of the game that isn't readily accessible to our limited senses. Even fans who watch their team religiously have a hard time spotting these trends because of the sheer number of observations involved and our bias for remembering dramatic events along with those that occurred most recently.

    They also reveal that in some sense hitters can succeed at the plate with a variety of different strategies akin to the notion that pitchers can be successful in variety of ways that include:

    1. Strikeout a lot of batters in order to minimize the number of balls put into play and, therefore, balls that will be hits (Nolan Ryan).

    2. Walk very few batters and give up very few homeruns to minimize the effect of the hits you do give up (Greg Maddux).

    3. Walk fewer batters than average but strikeout more than average to minimize base runners and balls hit into play (Fergie Jenkins).

    4. Rely on deception to decrease the number of hard hit balls, thereby decreasing the percentage of balls put into play that turn into hits (Charlie Hough).

    5. Walk very few batters but rely on keeping hitters off balance to minimize base runners and the number of line drives (Jamie Moyer).

    But probably what I like most about these statistics is that you can use them to help understand how a hitter might have changed his approach in a given year. For example, below are three players whose performance changed from 2004 to 2005. You'll notice that I also included ground ball, fly ball, pop out, and line drive percentage along with the percentage of fly balls that are homeruns.

                        PA P/PA 1st/PA  GB%   FB%    P%   LD% HR/FB% Miss/P  F/P   B/P   PD
    Derrek Lee   2004  688 3.94 32.7% 41.0% 36.4%  5.4% 17.4%  16.5% 10.1% 14.9% 40.0%  111
                 2005  691 4.03 29.2% 39.6% 33.9%  6.3% 20.1%  23.4%  8.4% 16.4% 40.3%  112

    Andruw Jones 2004 646 3.88 32.4% 47.1% 28.2% 7.5% 17.2% 23.3% 13.8% 15.1% 38.5% 105 2005 672 3.82 34.1% 41.8% 33.7% 9.6% 15.0% 29.6% 12.9% 16.7% 36.8% 86

    Sammy Sosa 2004 539 4.00 29.7% 43.8% 30.3% 8.4% 17.9% 30.0% 15.0% 16.1% 40.0% 118 2005 424 3.64 37.5% 44.5% 28.4% 10.4% 16.7% 13.0% 14.5% 16.7% 37.2% 82

    Derrek Lee had a monster year in 2005, leading the league in hitting at .335 while smacking 46 home runs. As you can see in 2005, he was a bit more patient seeing more pitches per plate appearance and reducing the number of first pitches he offered at. As a result, his line drive percentage increased as did his fly ball percentage. Since roughly three quarters of line drives end up as hits and three quarters of fly balls end up as outs, you would think his batting average wouldn't change. But notice that his percentage of fly balls that went out of the park increased from in 2005 (23.4%) over 2004 (16.5%). When you put this together with the increased line drives his average goes up over 40 points as it did in 2005.

    Andruw Jones hit 51 home runs in 2005 and was more aggressive at the plate as can be seen in the table. This resulted in 42 more fly balls which means more home runs as his percentage of home runs on fly balls also increased from 23.3% to 29.6%. However, hitting fewer line drives and more popups served to keep his average basically the same from year to year.

    And with the retirement of Sammy Sosa, I thought it appropriate to look at the difference between his 2004 campaign--when he was already well below his peak performance of 2001--and his last season with the Orioles. As you can see, he dropped a third of a pitch per plate appearance to below league average while offering at the first pitch 8% more often. He hit fewer fly balls and line drives and more popups which, along with a plummeting rate at which his fly balls left the park (30% to 13%), caused his batting average to crash and his power to diminish. His overall plate discipline decreased dramatically as well. As a Cubs fan, that's not the way I wanted Slammin' Sammy to go out, but that's a topic for another day.

    Baseball Beat/WTNYFebruary 22, 2006
    Analysts Paper Anniversary
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    Today marks the first anniversary of the birth of Baseball Analysts. Although the origins of Baseball Beat and Wait 'Til Next Year date back to 2003, the merged entity began on February 22, 2005.

    When we started this site, we promised to "examine the past, present and future" of baseball. Our partnership was no coincidence either. As colleagues, we realized our interests and expertise covered a wide array of baseball, ranging from college to the minor leagues to the majors. For example, during the past year, we covered the College World Series and the amateur draft like few other websites. We also covered the MLB postseason, the Rule 5 Draft, and the top 30 free agents.

    While Rich is well-known for making a Hall of Fame case for Bert Blyleven, Bryan's focus was his top prospect list in January. Whether arguing on behalf of new or ignored statistics, or taking an in-depth look at baseball's scouting directors, we have tried to cover a little bit of everything in a year.

    We promised to have daily articles, up to six times a week. With few exceptions, this goal has been achieved. Although it's difficult for the two of us to keep up with the volume of some other terrific baseball sites out there, our focus has been on emphasizing quality in the single article that we post each day.

    Fittingly, our website started with Rich's wonderful "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" series. This was the start of Baseball Analysts being home to dozens of voices in different styles. In this particular feature, Rich was able to garner memories from 38 well-known writers on their past as a fan. Rich then followed this series up with one of his most high-profile interviews, Breakfast With Bill James -- a three-part series which was the culmination of his Abstracts From The Abstracts series in 2004 through early 2005.

    Baseball Analysts has allowed us to provide some of the most unique features of any site on the Internet. Our "Designated Hitter" series has proven to be among the most popular and has become a must read. We have been fortunate to garner guest articles from 47 different writers in the past year, covering a wide array of topics. Kevin Kernan forged the path for mainstream media to partner up with us, volunteering to write a guest column when the DH was in its infancy. J.C. Bradbury authored one of the most widely quoted sabermetric studies, while Alex Belth made us cry with a personal tribute to a dear friend. Eric Neel shared his touching Growing Up With Vin Scully column, Matt Welch wrote a fun story about fellow band member and journeyman Dave Hansen, and Bob Klapisch delivered some of the year's best prose in From the Press Box to the Pitcher's Mound.

    We owe a hearty thanks to each participant of this series who has poured his or her heart and soul into writing, for free, at our site. You are all a part of this site's success, and we tip our caps to you for doing your part in raising the bar of baseball journalism.

    Contributors have also had their voices heard in a couple of other features, such as the Two on Two or What Went Wrong series. Last year, the free-flowing Two on Two series allowed us to have 12 different writers help in previewing the upcoming season. In the What Went Wrong series, several more writers assisted us in reviewing the regular season and postseason. Look for Baseball Analysts to continue running these informative and entertaining discussions in 2006, starting with the AL Central preview this Friday. We believe in the strength in numbers and have tried to utilize the expertise of dozens of knowledgeable and generous writers/analysts.

    We would also like to extend a thanks to the dozens of individuals all over baseball's blogosphere to write about or simply link work that has been published on this site. In today's Internet world, traffic is built through links and partnering with other writers. We have been lucky enough to have so many of you -- too many to name, in fact -- direct your readers to this site. We appreciate each and every referral.

    Most of all, however, we owe a thanks to you, the reader. Your daily visits, comments, and e-mail provide our motivation, while your dissents broaden our horizons. We feel the Baseball Analysts readership is as intelligent as any on the Internet, and we appreciate each response we receive. In the coming year, we sincerely hope to meet and exceed your expectations.

    For both of us, the last year has been a dream from which we can't wake up. We would never have imagined to be on Peter Gammons' reading list, linked in the New York Times, or mentioned in a number of other mainstream newspaper articles. There was no way we could have envisioned this success a year ago.

    In Year Two, our goal is to simply push forward. Thank you for your loyalty and support.

    Baseball BeatFebruary 21, 2006
    Strikeout Proficiency (Part Two)
    By Rich Lederer

    In A New Way to Measure Strikeout Proficiency yesterday, I introduced the concept of strikeouts per pitch (or 100 pitches) and proclaimed that "this stat just might be the best way to measure pitcher dominance, if not overall performance."

    Well, as it turns out, strikeouts per pitch (K/P) explains runs allowed better than strikeouts per inning or strikeouts per batter faced. The stat measures dominance and efficiency, and I strongly believe that it is "the single greatest Defense Independent Pitching Stat out there."

    Today's article is focused on the technical aspects of this argument. I refrained from getting overly technical yesterday because I wanted to share the idea without overburdening the reader with statistical terms such as correlation coefficients.

    Among pitchers with 162 or more innings, I compared the correlations of three strikeout measures (by inning, batters faced, and pitches) against Earned Run Average (ERA), Runs Per Game (R/G), Component ERA (ERC), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS).

    ERC, FIP, and DIPS are metrics that estimate what a pitcher's ERA should have been, based on variables within his control (such as K, BB, HBP, and HR).

    In addition to ERA, R/G, ERC, FIP, and DIPS, I am also going to use K/IP for strikeouts per inning, K/BF for strikeouts per batter faced, and K/P for strikeouts per pitch.

    The correlation coefficient measures the strength of a linear relationship between two variables. The correlation coefficient is always between -1 and +1. The closer the correlation is to +/-1, the closer to a perfect linear relationship.

    All of the correlations in the tables below are negative. A negative correlation is evidence of a general tendency that large values of "X" are associated with small values of "Y" and small values of "X" are associated with large values of "Y". Think of "X" as strikeouts and "Y" as runs.

    Correlation Coefficients Matrix For 2005

                ERA       R/G       ERC       FIP      DIPS
    K/IP     -0.414    -0.436    -0.516    -0.615    -0.659
    K/BF     -0.503    -0.528    -0.614    -0.681    -0.720
    K/P      -0.534    -0.557    -0.656    -0.717    -0.755

    As detailed above, K/P has the highest correlation in each of the five run measures. K/BF has the second-highest correlation and K/IP has the lowest correlation. In any other words, K/P > K/BF > K/IP.

    Conversely, DIPS has the highest correlation to each of the three strikeout measures. FIP has the second highest, ERC the third highest, R/G fourth highest, and ERA the lowest correlation. That is, DIPS > FIP > ERC > R/G > ERA.

    Correlation Coefficients Matrix For 2004

                ERA       R/G       FIP       ERC      DIPS
    K/IP     -0.520    -0.527    -0.621    -0.637    -0.655
    K/BF     -0.581    -0.587    -0.673    -0.701    -0.704
    K/P      -0.592    -0.595    -0.703    -0.718    -0.736
    Once again, K/P has the highest correlation in each of the five run measures. K/BF has the second-highest correlation and K/IP has the lowest correlation. Just like in 2005, K/P > K/BF > K/IP. Conversely, DIPS has the highest correlation to each of the three strikeout measures. ERC and FIP switch spots with the former having the second-strongest correlation and the latter the third. R/G ranks fourth and ERA has the lowest correlation. That is, DIPS > ERC > FIP > R/G > ERA.

    Despite claims to the contrary by some readers around the baseball blogosphere (including our site), the evidence is indisputable. K/P is not only a better measure of strikeout proficiency than K/IP and K/BF, but it has a stronger correlation to runs allowed than these other measures.

    For whatever reason, many people are slow to accept new ideas. No matter how much proof one provides, there will always be naysayers who don't want to embrace the truth. But that is OK with me. You see, I'm not a member of the Flat Earth Society.

    Baseball BeatFebruary 20, 2006
    A New Way to Measure Strikeout Proficiency
    By Rich Lederer

    Strikeouts. The out of choice. You don't have to be a stathead or a scout to know that pitchers who record a lot of strikeouts are generally preferred over those who don't. But the $64,000 question is: How do we best measure strikeout proficiency?

    Once upon a time, we simply looked at the number of strikeouts. This method is certainly simple, and it has proven to be a good indicator of pitching prowess over the years.

    Johan Santana led the majors in strikeouts last year with 238. Jake Peavy led the National League with 216. In the 1960s, mugshots of pitchers like Santana and Peavy would appear on Topps baseball cards honoring the league leaders in Ks.


    Johan Santana     Min     238
    Jake Peavy         SD     216
    Chris Carpenter   StL     213
    Randy Johnson     NYY     211
    Doug Davis        Mil     208
    Pedro Martinez    NYM     208
    Brett Myers       Phi     208
    Carlos Zambrano   ChC     202
    John Lackey       LAA     199
    A.J. Burnett      Tor     198

    With the proliferation of computers, we began to crunch numbers and value the rate of strikeouts in addition to the sheer quantity. The stat of choice soon became strikeouts per nine innings (or K/9).

    TOP TEN K/9

    Mark Prior        ChC    10.15   
    Jake Peavy         SD     9.58
    Johan Santana     Min     9.25
    Brett Myers       Phi     8.69
    Pedro Martinez    NYM     8.63
    Jason Schmidt      SF     8.63
    John Lackey       LAA     8.57
    A.J. Burnett      Tor     8.53
    Randy Johnson     NYY     8.42
    Scott Kazmir       TB     8.42

    Mark Prior, who ranked 12th with 188 Ks in 166.2 IP, led MLB with 10.15 K/9. Interestingly, Prior, Peavy, and Santana were the only pitchers who punched out more than one batter per inning. (For perspective, among pitchers with 162 or more innings, the average number of K/9 was 6.21 last year.)

    Strikeouts per nine innings is very effective but strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced is even better. Why? Well, K/9 favors pitchers who face more batters and penalizes those who don't allow a lot of hits, walks, and hit by pitches. To wit, if a hurler strikes out the side but allows a couple of hits and a walk along the way, is he as effective in whiffing batters as someone who strikes out the side in order? The answer is clearly no.

    Not surprisingly, strikeouts per batter faced (also known as K/BF, K/TBF or K/BFP) has become an increasingly popular metric among performance analysts the past few years.


    Mark Prior        ChC     .268
    Jake Peavy         SD     .266
    Johan Santana     Min     .262
    Pedro Martinez    NYM     .247
    Brett Myers       Phi     .230
    Randy Johnson     NYY     .229
    Josh Beckett      Bos     .228
    A.J. Burnett      Tor     .227
    John Patterson    Was     .226
    Chris Carpenter   StL     .224

    Prior, Peavy, and Santana--the only starters who averaged more than a strikeout per inning--also whiffed over 25% of the total batters faced. Prior led the majors in K/BF, striking out almost 27% of the hitters. However, his margin over Peavy narrows considerably because the latter, by not allowing as many hits and walks per 9, faced fewer batters per out than Prior. (Among pitchers with 162 or more innings, the average number of K/BF was .163 last year.)

    Chris Carpenter climbs from 16th in K/9 to 10th in K/BF. The Cy Young Award winner allowed only 1.9 BB/9 last year and was 6th in baserunners per 9. Josh Beckett (13th in K/9) and John Patterson (12th in K/9) also make the top ten in K/BF due to the fact that they had considerably better BR/9 than those they replaced (Jason Schmidt, John Lackey, and Scott Kazmir).

    Now, just as K/BF is a better gauge than K/9, strikeouts per total pitches is even better yet. In fact, it is the best one of 'em all. Yes, strikeouts divided by total pitches is the single greatest Defense Independent Pitching Stat out there. It measures dominance and efficiency.

    Just as striking out the side in order is preferred over getting all three outs via the K regardless of the number of batters faced, a pitcher who strikes out hitters on three pitches is more effective than those who take five or six to get the job done. By definition, he is missing bats a higher percentage of the time and is also more likely to pitch deeper into games and record a greater number of outs than his counterparts.


    Johan Santana     Min    .0714
    Jake Peavy         SD    .0684
    Pedro Martinez    NYM    .0683
    Mark Prior        ChC    .0665
    Chris Carpenter   StL    .0627
    Randy Johnson     NYY    .0616
    A.J. Burnett      Tor    .0600
    Brett Myers       Phi    .0599
    Josh Beckett      Bos    .0592
    John Patterson    Was    .0582

    Although the top ten in K/pitches (or K/#PIT) is the same as K/BF, the order is slightly different. Santana moves up from 3rd to 1st and Prior drops from 1st to 4th because Johan (3.66) averaged 10% fewer pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) than Mark (4.03).

    What does .0714 K/#PIT really mean? That's a good question. In and of itself, that percentage is rather awkward. However, the decimal comes to life if we multiply it by 100. You see, Santana struck out 7.14 batters per 100 pitches last year. Not only do we now get a real number out of this exercise but the standard of measurement is almost exactly the average number of pitches per start during recent years.

    The only difference in the list below vs. the one above is that the number shown represents how many strikeouts per 100 pitches. In an era of pitch counts, it may be more instructive to measure starters by the number of K/100 pitches than K/9 IP.

    (For context, among those who qualified for the ERA title, the average starter last year threw approximately 98 pitches and completed 6 1/3 innings. The average number of K/100 pitches was 4.44.)


    Johan Santana     Min     7.14
    Jake Peavy         SD     6.84
    Pedro Martinez    NYM     6.83
    Mark Prior        ChC     6.65
    Chris Carpenter   StL     6.27
    Randy Johnson     NYY     6.16
    A.J. Burnett      Tor     6.00
    Brett Myers       Phi     5.99
    Josh Beckett      Bos     5.92
    John Patterson    Was     5.82

    I thought it might also be fun to take a look at the worst pitchers in terms of K/100.


    Horacio Ramirez   Atl     2.62
    Jose Lima         NYM     2.79
    Kenny Rogers      Det     2.89
    Kyle Lohse        Min     2.99
    Bronson Arroyo    Bos     3.03
    Jason Marquis     StL     3.09
    Carlos Silva      Min     3.10
    Jason Johnson     Cle     3.10
    Jamie Moyer       Sea     3.12
    Josh Fogg         Pit     3.14

    All of the pitchers on the above list are more renowned for throwing strikes than getting outs via strikes. Carlos Silva is the best example. The man who led the majors in fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.06) was successful because he only walked a MLB-low 0.43/9 IP last year.

    Pitchers who strike out a lot of batters tend to be much more effective than those who don't because they allow fewer balls in play (BIP). As a general rule, the more BIP, the more hits and errors. Hits and errors lead to runs, and runs lead to losses.

    We have known for some time that strikeouts are the out of choice. The more Ks, the better. We also know that the fewer pitches, the better. Combining high strikeout and low pitch totals is a recipe for success. The best way to measure such effectiveness is via K/100 pitches. This stat can be improved upon by adjusting for ballpark effects.

    Unfortunately, I don't have pitch totals for home and road splits. When this information becomes more readily available, we could rank pitchers by ballpark-adjusted K/100 (or K/100+). I believe this stat just might be the best way to measure pitcher dominance, if not overall performance.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer and Scout.com.]

    Baseball BeatFebruary 18, 2006
    A Blast From My Past
    By Rich Lederer

    Rev Halofan of Halo's Heaven has been counting down The 100 Greatest Angels of all time during the offseason. I turned in a ballot, ranked the top 25, and contributed a short write-up on Bert Blyleven (who placed 79th) in December.

    I also volunteered to cover Frank Tanana, the 14th-best Angel according to this informal survey among a select group of bloggers, writers, and fans. With Mat's permission, I am republishing my article on Tanana, who was one of my favorite Angels ever. Frank made his debut the year I graduated from high school, and I followed him closely during my college years and into my young adulthood.

    I don't know where the time has gone, but it's hard to believe that more than 30 years have passed since I took the photo which accompanies my article below. How many of today's pitchers get as much power from their legs as Tanana did? You've also gotta love the dirt on the upper left thigh. Oh, and it was a lot easier to get good seats back then!

    * * * * *

    Frank Tanana Photo.jpgFrank Daryl Tanana pitched for six teams--California Angels (1973-1980), Boston Red Sox (1981), Texas Rangers (1982-1985), Detroit Tigers (1985-1992), New York Mets (1993), and New York Yankees (1993)--over the course of his 21-year major league career.

    Since 1900, Tanana ranks 14th in games started (616), 22nd in innings pitched (4188.1), 18th in strikeouts (2733), and 37th in wins (240). Among left-handers, Tanana places 5th in GS, 7th in IP, 4th in K, and 11th in W. He has started more games than any other southpaw in the history of the American League.

    Tanana enjoyed his best years when he pitched for the Angels. Drafted in the first round (13th pick) of the 1971 amateur draft, Tanana blew through the minor leagues in less than two years, compiling a 24-8 record with a 2.71 ERA. In 1973, at El Paso ("AA"), he led the Texas League in CG (15), IP (206), and K (197), pitched two games for Salt Lake City ("AAA"), and made his major league debut on September 9 at Kansas City. Tanana started four games that month, going 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA. All told, the lefty pitched 246 innings in a year in which he turned 20 halfway through the season.

    Replacing Clyde Wright, who was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers after the previous season, in the rotation in 1974, Tanana started 35 games and was named The Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year when he went 14-19 with a 3.12 ERA. He won his last two decisions to keep from losing 20 games for the last place Halos (68-94).

    Frank Tanana "Daquiri," as he was known by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, notched the first of three straight 200-strikeout seasons in 1975, while leading the league in K (269), K/9 (9.41), and K/BB (3.68). It was the only year from 1972-1979 in which teammate Nolan Ryan did not lead the AL in whiffs. The co-number-1 starter in the Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin' rotation fashioned a remarkable 16-9 (.640) record for a team that once again finished dead last (72-89, .447). He was recognized for his outstanding accomplishments by finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting that year.

    On June 21, 1975, in the first game of a twi-nite doubleheader against the Rangers in Anaheim, Tanana struck out a career-high 17 batters without recording a single K in the 9th in a 4-2 victory. He whiffed 15 Minnesota Twins nine days later. Tanana also punched out 14 batters in a game and had two 13s and a 12 that same year.

    The young, brash strikeout artist returned more confident than ever in 1976 and earned the first of three consecutive All-Star appearances. Tanana had career bests of 19 wins and a 2.43 ERA. He led the league in WHIP (0.99) and K/BB (3.58) and placed 3rd for the CYA and 15th for MVP.

    Firmly entrenched as the best left-hander in the league, Tanana led the AL in ERA (2.54), ERA+ (154), and shutouts (7) in 1977. He was 10-2 on June 10th and on pace to win 30 games. Two starts later, Tanana recorded his sixth shutout of the young season to win his 11th game to along with his 1.81 ERA. From April 29th through July 3rd (his 24th birthday), the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder completed 14 straight games, an all-time Angels record.

    Working every fourth day, the complete-game streak finally took its toll. Tanana pitched just 10 innings over his next three starts, yielding 17 hits and 11 runs. Pitching with an inflamed triceps tendon in his left arm, Tanana started only nine more games that year, making his last appearance on September 5th.

    Manager Norm Sherry had overworked his young star and the more than 1300 innings compiled from 1973-1977 reduced the hard-throwing southpaw to a pitcher who relied on a looping curveball and finesse the rest of his career. Nonetheless, Frank remained one of the most effective hurlers in the game through the All-Star break in 1978 when he was 12-5 with a 3.09 ERA. Despite tiring down the stretch once again (6-7, 4.41 in the second half), Tanana still managed to win 18 games. However, his strikeout rate plunged from a career average 7.79 per 9 IP to 5.16/9 IP in 1978.

    Tanana was never the same pitcher. He spent almost three months on the disabled list the following season but returned in time to throw a complete-game in a 4-1 victory over the Royals to clinch the first-ever American League West title for the Angels. The image of Tanana completing the 3-1 (first base to pitcher) play for the final out and jumping into the air with his hands held high remains one of the greatest memories for any Angels fan.

    The 26-year-old veteran of six-plus seasons started one game in the AL Championship series against the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched five rather undistinguished innings, allowing six hits, two walks, and two runs while striking out three batters in a no decision. It was the first of two postseason outings for Tanana and the only one with the Angels.

    After pitching his final season as a Halo in 1980, Tanana was traded to the Boston Red Sox along with Joe Rudi for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko the following January. At the time of the trade, Tanana was second to Ryan among the team's all-time leaders in starts, complete games, innings, shutouts, strikeouts, and wins. Twenty-five years later, the man who wore #40 on the back of his jersey ranks in the top four in every important pitching statistic: GS 4th (218), CG 2nd (92), IP 4th (1615.1), SHO 2nd (24), K 4th (1233), W 4th (102), and ERA 4th (3.08).

    Although Tanana was at his best with the Angels, he went on to pitch 13 more years in the big leagues, including 7 1/2 seasons with his hometown Detroit Tigers. The highlight of Tanana's post-Angels tenure occurred in 1987 when the native son shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on the last day of the season to win the AL East title.

    During his career, Tanana threw a one-hitter and five two-hitters, including four with the Angels--three of which were shutouts. As an indication of his lack of run support with the Angels, Tanana had two 13-inning outings in which he allowed no runs, yet failed to get a decision in either game. The hardluck pitcher set a major-league record for the most victories without racking up a 20-win season.

    Tanana's success was a function of his great stuff in the early years and outstanding command throughout his career. "My best pitch has always been control. I lost some velocity, but at the same time, thank God, I didn't lose my control. That's 90% of pitching, keeping the hitter off balance."

    Whitey Herzog, manager of the Kansas City Royals during Tanana's heyday with the Angels, is quoted in the Angels' 1978 media guide, "I haven't seen Tom Seaver in a few years, but Tanana has to be the best pitcher in baseball."

    Milwaukee Brewers manager Alex Grammas concurred. "Tanana is the best pitcher, not only in the American League, but in the National League, too."

    The brash Tanana didn't disagree with his admirers. "When people talk about the number one pitcher in baseball, I want Frank Tanana's name to come to mind first."

    After signing a five-year, multi-million dollar contract in 1977, the always quotable Tanana emphasized, "I play the game because I love it and want to be the best at it. Sure, I make a lot of money, but that's only because they are passing it around."

    A resident of Corona del Mar during his stay with the Angels, Tanana was voted Southern California's most eligible bachelor one year. He was known as a playboy until he got married in January 1978. With age and maturity, Tanana settled down and became a family man. Frank and his wife, Cathy, and their four children, Lauren, Jill, Kari and Erin, now reside in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Tanana serve on the Pro Athletes Outreach Board of Directors and are also involved in the Home Plate and Career Impact ministries.

    * * * * *

    Here are Halo's Heaven top 20 Angels:

    20. Wally Joyner
    19. Reggie Jackson
    18. Doug DeCinces
    17. Mike Witt
    16. Vlad Guerrero
    15. Dean Chance
    14. Frank Tanana
    13. Mike Scioscia
    12. Rod Carew
    11. Don Baylor

    The top ten, which have yet to be unveiled, are presented in alphabetical order:

    Garret Anderson
    Brian Downing
    Darin Erstad
    Chuck Finley
    Jim Fregosi
    Troy Glaus
    Bobby Grich
    Troy Percival
    Nolan Ryan
    Tim Salmon

    Who would you vote for as the #1 Angel of all time?

    Designated HitterFebruary 16, 2006
    A WARPed Study of Yankee CF and Red Sox LF
    By Patrick Sullivan

    USC has long been known as "Tailback U" and Penn State "Linebacker U." Notre Dame has produced some remarkable quarterbacks over the years. For one reason or another, a number of college football teams are famous for being able to fill a certain position with premium talent, year after year. Well, have you ever given some thought to which professional baseball clubs are best known for a particular position? I thought I might take a look at the topic and narrow my focus to the two greatest runs at one position by a franchise in baseball history, and then see whose was better.

    Now, if someone were to bring to my attention a similar run of greatness by one team at one position like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have had at center field and left field, respectively, I would probably have to admit to some sort of east-coast bias. I am, after all, a lifelong Red Sox fan and, as such, more familiar with the Sox and Yanks than any other two franchises in baseball. Besides, we northeasterners are nothing if not provincial, right? Sure, off the top of my head, I can say the Cards have had their share of excellent first basemen (Bottomley, Mize, Musial, Hernandez, McGwire) and the Pirates some great shortstops (Wagner, Vaughan, Bell). And, in addition to a legacy of great center field play, the Yanks have had some remarkable right fielders (Ruth, Maris, Jackson, O'Neill) and catchers (Dickey, Berra, Munson, Posada). You could total up the production for some of these cases and probably find better overall totals than what the Red Sox have to show for left field. But there are also a number of mediocre seasons amidst the legends and stars in those other examples. What separates center field and left field for the Yanks and Sox, respectively, is that the two franchises have more or less been able to trot out one productive player after another for a span of seventy years. I can't seem to identify a similar phenomenon, one that has had another franchise, essentially uninterrupted, employ players ranging from very good to legendary over seven decades at a given position.

    The method I chose to analyze this is admittedly rough. Although mindful of Yankees center fielder Earl Combs, a Hall of Famer, and a Boston Red Sox left fielder by the name of Babe Ruth, I am starting in 1936 with Joe DiMaggio's rookie season. The date is somewhat arbitrary but, let's be honest, center field in Yankee Stadium and left field at Fenway Park were not exactly hallowed grounds before Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Since DiMaggio's inaugural season was three years before Williams broke in with the Sox, it should be noted that the start date benefits the Yanks.

    Here's how I compiled the data: I took the player that played the most games in a season at center field for the Yanks and left field for the Sox and found their WARP3 (Wins Above Replacement Player) number, a figure featured on Baseball Prospectus' website that seeks to determine how many wins a player contributes in a given season above a replacement player of the same position, and then adjusts the figure for all-time. Some people question the reliability of BP's defensive numbers but, for the purposes of this exercise, I am confident that WARP3 will prove instructive. The results have a familiar ring to them. Sorry Sox fans (and I am a diehard), but once again Boston comes up short of their neighbors 200 miles to the southwest.

    First, here is the table. Remember, the player listed for each season is the one that played the most games for their team at the position.

    Year Yanks CF WARP3 Sox LF WARP3
    1936 Joe Dimaggio 7.4 Heinie Manush -0.5
    1937 Joe Dimaggio 12.9 Buster Mills 2.1
    1938 Joe Dimaggio 10.1 Joe Vosmik 6.1
    1939* Joe Dimaggio 11.7 Joe Vosmik 2.7
    1940 Joe Dimaggio 10.9 Ted Williams 10.7
    1941 Joe Dimaggio 13.3 Ted Williams 13.8
    1942 Joe Dimaggio 8.7 Ted Williams 14.9
    1943 Roy Weatherly 2.1 Johnny Lazor 1.0
    1944 Johnny Lindell 7.8 Bob Johnson 8.9
    1945 Tuck Stainback 0.9 Bob Johnson 5.4
    1946 Joe Dimaggio 8.2 Ted Williams 14.7
    1947 Joe Dimaggio 7.1 Ted Williams 12.8
    1948 Joe Dimaggio 9.6 Ted Williams 11.1
    1949 Joe Dimaggio 6.2 Ted Williams 12.2
    1950 Joe Dimaggio 7.5 Ted Williams 5.7
    1951** Joe Dimaggio 5.0 Ted Williams 11.1
    1952 Mickey Mantle 9.3 Hoot Evers 2.9
    1953 Mickey Mantle 7.3 Hoot Evers 0.3
    1954 Mickey Mantle 9.0 Ted Williams 9.4
    1955 Mickey Mantle 11.0 Ted Williams 7.5
    1956 Mickey Mantle 14.6 Ted Williams 7.1
    1957 Mickey Mantle 14.4 Ted Williams 11.1
    1958 Mickey Mantle 11.3 Ted Williams 7.1
    1959 Mickey Mantle 10.8 Ted Williams 2.2
    1960 Mickey Mantle 9.3 Ted Williams 6.2
    1961 Mickey Mantle 12.7 Carl Yastrzemski 2.0
    1962 Mickey Mantle 8.6 Carl Yastrzemski 6.7
    1963 Tom Tresh 6.9 Carl Yastrzemski 8.3
    1964*** Mickey Mantle 9.0 Tony Conigliaro 3.8
    1965 Tom Tresh 7.4 Carl Yastrzemski 5.9
    1966 Mickey Mantle 6.1 Carl Yastrzemski 7.3
    1967 Joe Pepitone 4.2 Carl Yastrzemski 11.6
    1968 Joe Pepitone 3.4 Carl Yastrzemski 11.3
    1969 Ron Woods 0.9 Carl Yastrzemski 8.1
    1970**** Bobby Murcer 6.8 Billy Conigliaro 2.2
    1971 Bobby Murcer 10.0 Carl Yastrzemski 6.3
    1972 Bobby Murcer 10.4 Carl Yastrzemski 4.4
    1973 Bobby Murcer 8.1 Tommy Harper 6.0
    1974 Elliott Maddox 6.3 Carl Yastrzemski 7.1
    1975 Elliott Maddox 2.9 Jim Rice 4.7
    1976 Mickey Rivers 6.6 Jim Rice 3.9
    1977 Mickey Rivers 6.4 Carl Yastrzemski 8.1
    1978 Mickey Rivers 5.5 Jim Rice 10.5
    1979 Mickey Rivers 1.5 Jim Rice 8.3
    1980 Rupert Jones 2.6 Jim Rice 4.7
    1981 Jerry Mumphrey 5.5 Jim Rice 5.8
    1982 Jerry Mumphrey 5.5 Jim Rice 7.0
    1983 Jerry Mumphrey 3.3 Jim Rice 8.9
    1984 Omar Moreno 2.3 Jim Rice 7.4
    1985 Rickey Henderson 11.4 Jim Rice 5.6
    1986 Rickey Henderson 9.4 Jim Rice 9.4
    1987 Claudell Washington 2.9 Jim Rice 3.0
    1988 Claudell Washington 5.4 Mike Greenwell 10.4
    1989 Roberto Kelly 4.8 Mike Greenwell 5.8
    1990 Roberto Kelly 6.6 Mike Greenwell 6.2
    1991 Bernie Williams 2.3 Mike Greenwell 6.2
    1992 Roberto Kelly 6.4 Billy Hatcher 0.2
    1993 Bernie Williams 6.8 Mike Greenwell 6.7
    1994 Bernie Williams 7.5 Mike Greenwell 3.5
    1995 Bernie Williams 8.6 Mike Greenwell 3.0
    1996 Bernie Williams 8.9 Mike Greenwell 2.3
    1997 Bernie Williams 8.6 Wil Cordero 3.7
    1998 Bernie Williams 9.2 Troy O'Leary 4.5
    1999 Bernie Williams 10.9 Troy O'Leary 5.8
    2000 Bernie Williams 8.2 Troy O'Leary 2.8
    2001 Bernie Williams 9.0 Manny Ramirez 8.7
    2002 Bernie Williams 8.0 Manny Ramirez 8.2
    2003 Bernie Williams 4.5 Manny Ramirez 9.0
    2004 Bernie Williams 5.0 Manny Ramirez 7.8
    2005 Bernie Williams 3.1 Manny Ramirez 8.1
    Total 516.8 Total 467.7
    Ave/Season 7.4 Ave/Season 6.7

    * Ted Williams played RF in 1939, and had a WARP3 of 10.0
    ** Mickey Mantle played 85 games in RF, posting a 2.4 WARP3
    *** Yaz played CF that year, and posted a 6.9 WARP3
    **** Yaz mostly played 1B, posting a 9.2 WARP3

    Interestingly, if you compare the top-five players for each team, they are basically in a dead heat. Ted Williams, the best player in the study, combines with Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell and Manny Ramirez to provide almost 410 wins. Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Bernie Williams rank directly behind Williams and are joined by Rickey Henderson and Bobby Murcer to give the Yankees nearly 409 wins.

    Ted Williams 157.6
    Carl Yastrzemski 87.1
    Jim Rice 79.2
    Mike Greenwell 44.1
    Manny Ramirez 41.8
    Total 409.8

    Mickey Mantle 133.4
    Joe Dimaggio 118.6
    Bernie Williams 100.6
    Bobby Murcer 35.3
    Rickey Henderson 20.8
    Total 408.7

    Of course, the Sox top-five would have even more of an edge if Ted Williams had not served in both World War II and the Korean War. Williams missed out on his 24, 25 and 26 year-old seasons after going off on American League pitching to the tune of a .356/.499/.648 line at the age of 23 and .406/.553/.735 in 1941 at the age of 22. He had established himself as a player of historic significance, was just entering his prime and then went off to war. He also missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons. Two factors, however, mitigate the effect of Williams' missed time. One, he was ably replaced by Indian Bob Johnson (of Designated Hitter fame) in a couple of these seasons. Two, Joe DiMaggio also defended his country and so it would be inconsistent to gripe about Williams without mentioning DiMaggio's service time. But the fact remains that Williams missed more time than DiMaggio. He was also a better player than Joe D. When you net out what Williams could reasonably have been expected to contribute minus what the Red Sox got from guys like Indian Bob (some good work) and Hoot Evers (not so much), the Red Sox lost out on about 50 wins. The Yanks lost out on about 20.

    Where the Yanks make up much of the difference is with a bevy of quality, lesser-known players. Despite not having someone emerge as the sort of long-term solution to which the Yanks had grown accustomed, they were constantly in pursuit of just that, and therefore, able to admirably fill center field during the time between Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams. Players like Mickey Rivers, Roberto Kelly, Jerry Mumphrey, Tom Tresh and Claudell Washington blow Boston's middle-of-the-road types out of the water.

    Mickey Rivers 20.0
    Roberto Kelly 17.8
    Jerry Mumphrey 14.3
    Tom Tresh 14.3
    Elliott Maddox 9.2
    Total 75.6

    Bob Johnson 14.3
    Troy O'Leary 13.1
    Joe Vosmik 8.8
    Tommy Harper 6.0
    Tony Conigliaro 3.8
    Total 46.0

    The consistently solid performances the Bombers received out of center field despite periods of frequent turnover leads me to believe that quality play at the position is not something incidental to Yankee tradition but very much a focal point of their architects past and present. Consider this succession. The Yanks traded Bobby Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds in October of 1974. With Chris Chambliss, Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles already in the fold and Elliott Maddox having emerged as a superior defender in center field, new owner George Steinbrenner wanted to make sure he had the right mix to surround his promising core and it was determined that Murcer was expendable. And so despite his enormous popularity with Yanks fans and being hailed as the "next Mickey Mantle" (and sometimes even looking the part), Murcer was shipped out. The Yanks netted Bonds, who performed well in 1975, putting up a line of .270/.375/.512. The problem was that Maddox, in the midst of another productive season in 1975 and in a scene reminiscent of Mantle's injury in the 1951 World Series, injured his right knee on a wet June afternoon at Shea Stadium, where the Yanks were playing home games that season. He would never be the same.

    After the 1975 season, the Yanks determined that the way they would fill the hole left in center field would be to take advantage of Bonds' big season by flipping him. Bonds was able to fetch them "Mick the Quick" Rivers from the California Angels. Rivers, who would be instrumental on New York's late 1970's championship clubs, became expendable when the Yanks reacquired Murcer in June of 1979. They traded Rivers to Texas along with a few others for Oscar Gamble and some filler.

    Next in line for the Yanks in center field was Ruppert Jones, but he too experienced injury troubles in 1980. The Yanks would trade Jones at the end of Spring Training in 1981 to the San Diego Padres for Jerry Mumphrey. Mumphrey had two-and-a-half solid seasons before the Yanks flipped him for Omar Moreno in the summer of 1983. This was the first of the center field trades to quibble with. Mumphrey had been a solid player for the Yanks and still had some good years in him. For his part, Moreno stunk as a Yankee, just as he had as an Astro and a Pirate. It was a baffling move. The silver lining of Moreno's poor play was that it made Steinbrenner determined once again to find someone capable of carrying on the tradition of great center field play for the Yankees. He had his man in Rickey Henderson, whom the Yankees acquired in December of 1984 from the Oakland Athletics. In 1985 and 1986, Henderson would give the Yanks their best consecutive seasons in center field since Mantle in '56 and '57. Claudell Washington pushed Henderson over to left in '87, and he and Roberto Kelly would hold the position over until Bernie took the reins full time in 1993.

    The Red Sox story is less complex. Except for war years and injury seasons, the Sox really only had four left fielders from 1939 to 1996. Ted Williams gave way to Yaz, who was replaced by Rice, who yielded to Greenwell. There was a period in between Greenwell and Manny Ramirez where the Sox struggled to find a worthy successor but even in that span they were able to turn to Troy O'Leary for a stretch. O'Leary provided the Sox with a few solid years, not to mention Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, a favorite memory for any Sox fan. One major reason the Sox don't stack up, however, is that their stars put up a number of pedestrian seasons. Teddy Ballgame, Yaz and Rice combined for seven sub-5 WARP3 seasons while the great Bomber trio of DiMaggio, Mantle and Williams combined for just 3 (all Bernie's).

    It has been a lot of fun plowing through various resources to compile the information necessary to write this bit. The real intrigue for me, however, comes from the tangential anecdotes that arise from such an analysis. Ted and Joe D, '46 and '49, Mantle's perennial World Series heroics, Williams' late-career surge, Yaz in '67, the Yankees post-Mick centerfield turnstile, Murcer's promise, Rice in '78 - hell '78 period, Rickey, the Gator and Bernie and Manny's postseason square-offs. Stay tuned, too, because this story is far from over. Damn near a Boston folk hero for his heroics against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, Johnny Damon now heads to the Bronx.

    This topic is worthy of a novel, a narrative that could weave through the principals, capturing the eras, the cities and the traditions in the process. The Yankees and Red Sox owe so much of their storied pasts to their center fielders and left fielders, respectively, that it would be a most worthwhile undertaking. Like so many other baseball themes, simply scratching away at the surface of this topic has uncovered endless material, capable of captivating a true fan for more time than he or she would probably care to admit. The subject matter has been fascinating but when it comes to the qualitative comparison, like so many other Yanks-Sox tilts, the results remain the same. The Yanks best us again.

    Patrick Sullivan is in his 26th season of a lifelong love-affair with both baseball and the Boston Red Sox. In the small-world department, his fiancée, Johanna, grew up just blocks from Rich. Sully, as he is known to readers of The House that Dewey Built, and Johanna will be married in California this December.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYFebruary 15, 2006
    Second in Line
    By Bryan Smith

    Shortstop prospects are held on a pedestal. Thanks to their high place on the defensive spectrum, good SS prospects are constantly being given the benefit of the doubt. Oftentimes, this creates an excess of hype, and ultimately, a bust.

    But, at the very least, these shortstops are given a shot. Their double play partners, however, are not always given the same star treatment. Second base prospects are never as sexy as those at short, and despite a year in which Howie Kendrick and Dustin Pedroia rank so highly on my prospect list, it's fair to say that second basemen are runs in the prospect world.

    In perusing the prospect battles that will open with Spring Training soon, one fact struck me as obvious: young second basemen are just not given the opportunity that shortstops are. While Hanley Ramirez, a volatile player with a questionable past has been all-but-handed the shortstop job in Florida, prospects from all over -- accomplished at AAA -- are not being given opportunities. Instead, organizations are making these prospects battle veterans that are often favored.

    No fantasy position enters spring with as many question marks as second base. Today we will look at the five Major League organizations that are being hesitant to lean towards talented youth in the face of poor veterans. We'll go in descending order given the amount of sense that I believe the team is using...

    Florida Marlins

    Competition: Pokey Reese v. Dan Uggla v. Alfredo Amezaga v. Robert Andino

    Not only do we start with the most reasonable organization of the five, but the most confusing as well. While the Florida firesale has been widely lauded for Larry Beinfest's ability to stockpile pitching, the Marlins go to camp with major question marks. We have addressed the shortstop (Ramirez) and second base issues, but there are also question marks at catcher and in the outfield. Joe Girardi stepped into a real "fix-me-upper" in Miami.

    It's arguable that Reese was one of the Marlins most substantial free agent signings this winter, a fact that might speak more to the Marlins chances in 2006 than anything I have heard before. Pokey is coming off a stint in Seattle during which he was oft-injured -- the story of his career -- and brought nothing to the table. While the Marlins could surely handle an injury to Reese, they certainly could use his presence this spring.

    The best of the four, in terms of talent, is Andino. There is a chance that Andino will start the year at shortstop while Hanley gets more seasoning, and in fact, a chance that Andino isn't moved to second at all. If not, the next youngest competitor is Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla. While Uggla might look good from the statistic side, it's hard to ask Rule 5 picks to start out of Spring Training. Finally, Amezaga is a minor league veteran that has never maximized on Major League opportunities.

    If Ramirez secures the shortstop job, I'd like the Marlins to see what they have in Andino and keep Reese on the bench. Besides that scenario, however, this might be one instance when older is better.

    New York Mets

    Competition: Kaz Matsui v. Anderson Hernandez v. Jeff Keppinger v. Chris Woodward

    Simply put, Matsui is not going to go down as a Japanese success story. For whatever reason, he is one player that simply couldn't make the conversion, and will likely be a drain on any roster he plays. Even the Mets know this, I think, but Omar Minaya's re-haul just did not make it's way to second base this winter. In the end, the decision will come down to Willie Randolph, who for the Mets sake, has to believe Matsui has nothing left in the tank.

    Since Matsui has never been a favorite among Mets brass, look for Hernandez to get a long look in Spring Training. Known only for his defense before 2005, Hernandez broke out with the bat between AA and AAA last year. Skeptics think he'll revert back to his weak-hitting ways, but he's certainly a better bet to succeed than Matsui.

    I'm not a fan of the other two players. Keppinger is a blue-collar player that everyone can like, and makes contact at a pretty insane rate. However, that's the only plus he offers, and an empty .280 average won't do a lot. Finally, the Chris Woodward ship has sailed, and he should really be in camp to try and motivate Jose Valentin, who has the chance to be a great bench pick-up.

    Unless Minaya gets creative with a trade, I think the Mets would be crazy not to start the season with Hernandez up the middle. However, if the season started today, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Matsui in the eight spot.

    Cincinnati Reds

    Competition: Tony Womack v. Rich Aurilia v. Ryan Freel

    Dan O'Brien's tenure of this team took a real left turn this winter when he gave up multiple players for the carcass of Tony Womack. Not only is Womack a player with a pathetic career, but the Reds were relatively loaded at second. Most people would put together a lineup with Womack on the bench, where there are dozens (Uggla, for one) of inexperienced players who are better suited for the role.

    The job should be going to Ryan Freel. With the outfield settled -- Chris Denorfia is even waiting in the wings -- and the hot corner curse presumably over, one would think this could be the season Freel focuses on second. His OBP is among the team's best and his speed is absolutely fantastic. He has little to no pop, sure, but that hardly separates him from the other players on this list.

    Aurilia wasn't a bad re-sign, a player that I might bring to camp to compete with a player like Freel. However, it's one thing to do it with the agenda of motivating a young player, it's another to give the veteran a leg-up on the job. Rich has become very volatile at this point in his career, and while he's a smarter bet than Womack to succeed, he's looking to be just another failure.

    If Cincinnati wants to maximize their offensive output, Ryan Freel must be the Opening Day second baseman, plain and simple.

    San Diego Padres

    Competition: Josh Barfield v. Mark Bellhorn v. Geoff Blum v. Eric Young

    If not for 2004, this wouldn't be a competition. As far as second baseman go, few prospects were more revered after the 2003 season than Barfield, who topped the century RBI mark in high-A. He was the future up the middle for the Padres. This all changed in 2004, however, when the Southern League brought realization to Barfield's potential. His contact skills were bound to create problems. Last year, however, Barfield succeeded in the hitter friendly PCL, putting confidence back in the minds of the Padres front office.

    Not enough, however, as the club plans to make Barfield earn his spot. His main competition up the middle will come from Bellhorn, a player that is hoping San Diego tends to ignore 2005 numbers. I'm not sure Bellhorn is suited for a place like PTCO, given the fact that his power (which would be reduced at home) is one of his few assets. I'm not sure if there is a lot left in Bellhorn, and I also don't think I'd want to be the one to try and figure it out.

    The other two players on the list are depth chart filler, bench players at best. While Blum made headlines for himself last year in October, no team thinks he is more than an accomplished bench player. Young has not been a good second baseman for years, and shouldn't be in baseball too much longer.

    Barfield is the best player on this list, and by 2005 terms, it isn't particularly close. A revert back to 2004, however, and we'll find ourselves looking at Mark Bellhorn as a starter again.

    Texas Rangers

    Competition: Ian Kinsler v. D'Angelo Jimenez v. Mark Derosa

    It seems as if I've been advocating a Alfonso Soriano trade for so long that I'm still in shock that new Rangers brass actually pulled the trigger. One subplot behind Daniels great haul was that it opened a door for Ian Kinsler, one of the great success stories of 2004. Anyway, I was very impressed with Kinsler in Spring Training last year, and after a slow start, he got things going at AAA> He's no star by any imagination, but contrary to popular belief, either was Soriano.

    Jimenez is merely a good minor league pick-up these days for teams hoping he'll go back to posting OBPs above .350. Considering how bad he has played lately, however, that is not going to happen. The book has been written on D'Angelo Jimenez, and at this point, Buck Showalter would be silly to open it. As for Derosa, he's simply not starting material. He has value as a three-position bench player, but should not be given more than 200 ABs per year.

    Kinsler has become a favorite of mine in the last two years, and I think the Rangers must start Kinsler should they want to get the most out of this club.

    Baseball BeatFebruary 13, 2006
    A Look at Unearned Runs by Pitcher Type
    By Rich Lederer

    I have thought for quite some time that groundball pitchers were more likely to experience defensive errors behind them for the simple reason that most fielding miscues occur on grounders rather than flyballs. As my high school baseball coach liked to say, "There are no bad hops in the air."

    There are three primary reasons why groundballs lead to more errors than flyballs.

    1. Groundballs are more difficult to field cleanly than flyballs.
    2. Infielders are more likely to make throwing errors on groundballs than outfielders on flyballs.
    3. Infielders are also held to a higher standard by scorekeepers than their counterparts.

    With respect to point number three, when an infielder throws a ball low, high, or wide of the first baseman, he most likely will be charged with an error if the batter-runner is safe. On the other hand, if an outfielder throws a ball off line while attempting to nail a runner, he won't be charged with an error unless the ball gets away and the errant throw results in the runner advancing an extra base.

    If my longheld belief is correct, groundball pitchers should give up more unearned runs than flyball pitchers. I decided to test my hypothesis to see if it is true by analyzing last year's data.

    According to ESPN's stats, pitchers allowed 54,981 groundballs and 44,528 flyballs last year. The ratio of groundballs-to-flyballs was 1.23.

    By the same token, pitchers allowed 19,760 runs and 18,202 earned runs. The ratio of runs to earned runs was 1.086. Conversely, the ratio of earned runs to runs was .921. In other words, .079 or 7.9% of the runs scored last year were unearned.


    Graph courtesy of Dave Studeman, Baseball Graphs and The Hardball Times.

    Derek Lowe led the major leagues in unearned runs as a percentage of total runs with .212. That's right, more than one out of every five runs Lowe allowed was unearned. Lowe's high number of unearned runs is partly a function of the number of groundballs he induces. A secondary cause could well be the Dodgers' infield defense, which The Hardball Times Baseball Annual rated as below average in 2005. There is also the potential for scorekeeper bias, as well as a certain amount of randomness, especially when dealing with smaller sample sizes.

    Let's take a look at the top and bottom 20 pitchers in terms of allowing unearned runs as a percentage of total runs.

    TOP 20 PITCHERS, 2005

    Pitcher          Team         %UER     G/F
    Derek Lowe        LAD	   .212    2.92
    A.J. Burnett      Fla	   .175    2.42
    Jeff Suppan       StL	   .172    1.43
    Mark Buehrle      CWS	   .172    1.40
    Kevin Millwood    Cle	   .153    1.34
    Josh Towers       Tor	   .149    1.23
    Roger Clemens     Hou	   .137    1.41
    Jason Marquis     StL	   .136    1.59
    Scott Kazmir       TB	   .133    1.05
    Nate Robertson    Det	   .133    1.59
    Carlos Silva      Min	   .133    1.55
    Jake Westbrook    Cle	   .132    3.13
    Matt Morris       StL	   .129    1.60
    Kenny Rogers      Tex	   .128    1.33
    Do. Willis        Fla	   .127    1.40
    Jamey Wright      Col	   .126    2.06
    Br. Claussen      Cin	   .124    0.77
    Cory Lidle        Phi	   .114    1.79
    Bronson Arroyo    Bos	   .112    0.85
    Kip Wells         Pit	   .112    1.29

    The top 20 pitchers have a weighted-average G/F ratio of 1.51, or 22.8% higher than the league average (1.23). This would suggest that groundball pitchers are indeed more prone to giving up unearned runs than flyball types.

    BOTTOM 20 PITCHERS, 2005

    Pitcher          Team         %UER     G/F 
    Joel Pineiro      Sea	   .000    1.29
    Brian Lawrence     SD	   .009    1.46
    Pedro Martinez    NYM	   .014    0.85
    Ryan Franklin     Sea	   .018    0.95
    Esteban Loaiza    Was	   .022    1.21
    Kyle Lohse        Min	   .024    1.25
    Jeff Francis      Col	   .025    1.00
    Brad Penny        LAD	   .026    1.32
    John Patterson    Was	   .028    0.61
    Mark Redman       Pit	   .030    1.64
    Aaron Harang      Cin	   .032    0.95
    Horacio Ramirez   Atl	   .037    1.60
    Johan Santana     Min	   .039    0.91
    Freddy Garcia     CWS	   .039    1.60
    Jamie Moyer       Sea	   .040    0.87
    Brett Tomko        SF	   .040    0.95
    David Wells       Bos	   .042    1.51
    C.C. Sabathia     Cle	   .043    1.55
    Jarrod Washburn   LAA	   .045    0.97
    Jon Lieber        Phi	   .047    1.29

    The bottom 20 pitchers in terms of allowing unearned runs as a percentage of total runs have a weighted-average G/F ratio of 1.15, or 6.5% below the league average. This data once again confirms that groundball pitchers are more apt to give up unearned runs than flyball types.

    I could also present the data by listing the top and bottom 20 in G/F ratio and showing the percentage of unearned runs to total runs. However, for the sake of brevity, I have chosen not to run what amounts to a duplicate effort. Besides, batted ball types have been analyzed more than unearned runs/total runs. Ergo, I thought these lists would generate more new information than the other way around.

    Everyone knows that Lowe is an extreme groundball pitcher. But how widely known is it that he also gives up more unearned runs than the average pitcher? Over the duration of Lowe's career, 13.2% of his runs allowed have been unearned vs. a league average of 7.9%.

    What can we do with this knowledge? I'll be the first to recognize that I'm not trying to break any new ground here. Voros McCracken, who developed Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) five years ago; Tom Tippett and Mitchel Lichtman have already beaten me to the punch.

    David Gassko wrote an excellent article on Batted Balls and DIPS for The Hardball Times last August in which he concluded that "a pitcher's ground ball rate has a weak, but nonetheless significant, correlation with unearned runs allowed."

    Gassko added:

    The idea of earned runs, originally, was almost somewhat ingenious; it was the first attempt to separate pitching and fielding. But once we can characterize each outcome independent of defense, the need to separate earned and unearned runs disappears.

    I would agree with David and recommend that we pay more attention to total runs than earned runs. Oh, you'll still find me giving an ERA here and there, but recognize that run average (RA) is an even better gauge of a pitcher's performance than earned run average.

    Secondly, as it relates to ERA, be aware that a pitcher with a high percentage of unearned runs is more likely to regress than a pitcher with a low percentage of unearned runs. Not surprisingly, pitchers in the top 20 table above have a higher DIPS ERA relative to actual ERA than those in the bottom 20.

    Lastly, do not make the mistake of discounting groundball pitchers. All else being equal, a groundballer is preferable to one who gives up flyballs. Yes, groundballs turn into more hits and errors than flyballs, but the latter are more harmful because they result in a greater number of extra base hits and home runs.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYFebruary 10, 2006
    Revisiting Hendry
    By Bryan Smith

    Eighteen months ago, I hypothesized that Jim Hendry was one of the five best General Managers in baseball. This breakdown came a couple weeks after the Nomar Garciaparra trade, the 2004 deadline deal supposed to put the Cubs over the Wild Card hump. At this point in time, Hendry (with help from Andy McPhail) had built a club that was a few outs from the 2003 World Series, and in good position to make runs in 2004 and 2005. My high regard of Hendry was no unique thought at this time.

    However, like Cub fans have become so used to, the 2004 team wittled during the last two months, missing the Wild Card by three games. Hendry stayed creative during the ensuing winter, and went to Spring Training that many heralded as a club capable of winning the NL Central, and even, the World Series. Again, thanks to injuries, underachieving and Neifi, the 2005 team failed to meet expectations.

    Like his manager, Hendry enters the 2006 season in a place where no one would have thought just a year and a half ago: on the hot seat. Recently, I had a reader e-mail me asking for updated thoughts on Jim Hendry. "My question is, do you still feel the same about him? He's not looking that smart anymore," the reader questioned. Today we'll breakdown the last two winters to see if Hendry has indeed taken a step back as a General Manager.

    After the 2004 season, Hendry's first order of business was declining options to Moises Alou and Mark Grudzielanek. Given Alou's presumably declining skillset, few questioned the thought of letting the 39-year-old Alou sign elsewhere. And with Todd Walker still on the Cub roster, retaining Grudzi would have simply been a lost cause. Curiously, two weeks later, the Cubs then gave Neifi Perez a one-year deal to stay in Chicago. It is impossible to know, of course, what role Dusty Baker played in this decision, but this is certainly one of the worst decisions the Cub front office made in 2004.

    Knowing little about the direction the market was headed, especially in regards to starting pitching, the Cubs acted quickly in signing Glendon Rusch to a two-year deal. It was a very cheap contract for the team to sign, and Rusch was one of the most versatile players on the team. Again, this is a "win." In the next few weeks, the team would also choose to retain the likes of Todd Walker, Jose Macias, Todd Hollanswroth and Nomar Garciaparra. Henry Blanco was given a two-year, guaranteed deal to take over the back-up catching spot. No great shakes, but hardly a damning move.

    Besides trying to find a solution to the Nomar situation (which was solved with a low-risk one year deal), the key to Hendry's 2004-2005 winter was finding a home for Sammy Sosa. With about a week before pitchers and catchers reporting, the Cubs traded Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles for Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers. The Cubs were criticized for not maximizing value, but retrospectively, acquiring more than a bag of baseball's for Sosa is a positive. Hairston would, at the very least, play his part in keeping the Cubs team OBP afloat in 2004. He would also sign Jeremy Burnitz that day to fill Sosa's spot, and while Burnitz outplayed Sosa during the 2006 season, Hendry didn't show the creativity here that Cub fans love.

    The last order of business before the 2005 season was to create a bit of depth within the bullpen. Hendry started with a few creative acquisitions, signing veteran Chad Fox to a minor league deal, and signing a Scott Williamson who was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Seeing as though the Cubs got some (mediocre) contributions from both players, Hendry should be given a thumbs up. He then traded disgruntled right-hander Kyle Farnsworth during Spring Training to the Tigers, receiving Roberto Novoa, Scott Moore and Bo Flowers. Novoa has a good, wild young arm and Moore has about a 10% chance of making the Bigs. This is one of the few times Hendry might regret a trade he made.

    Two minor trades also made to shore up the bullpen were acquiring Stephen Randolph and then Cliff Bartosh in hopes to fill a LOOGY role. The Cubs spent too much focus on this, and even trading Bear Bay is too much. The real problem is that just months before, the Cubs had undervalued a southpaw in their own system, exposing Andy Sisco to the Rule 5 Draft. Many of the reasons for this decision, Cubs' brass says, is related to an undefined off-the-field incident. But when the difference between two talents is that of Sisco and John Koronka, it shouldn't matter. Simply put, I believe this to be the big, red mark on Hendry's resume as Cubs GM, which is why I'm so hard on him for it.

    All in all, this was just about as mediocre an offseason as it gets. The Cubs did little to really improve their offense, and entered the 2005 season with an outfield of Jason Dubois, Corey Patterson and Burnitz. With the offensive production that comes from those players, and the fact that the pitching staff quickly was injured, it's no surprise the Cubs ship sunk quickly.

    As usual, during the '05 year, Hendry was as busy as any General Manager. When LaTroy Hawkins became a scapegoat for the team's struggles in May, Jim traded him to the San Francisco Giants for Jerome Williams and David Aardsma. I cannot stress how good of a trade this is. However, his other big trades were a weird triangle of going from Dubois to Jody Gerut to Matt Lawton to nothing in the matter of weeks. While Matt Murton seems to be the best player of the bunch, safely secured on the Cubs roster, it's very confusing to understand why Hendry did this.

    And then, with a few more August trade dumps, the Cubs season ended. Hendry entered this current offseason needing a plan to: improve the outfield, middle infield, top of the order and bullpen. As is the case with every Cubs winter, expectations were high, and rumors of Hendry's firing even existed.

    First, let me start with the worst. Despite the fact that the Cubs 40-man roster is filled with serviceable young arms, the front office made a point of going after relievers with familiar names. First, Hendry quickly re-signed Ryan Dempster to an expensive three-year, $15.5 million contract. I never thought this to be horrible, but the general consensus was that Hendry was overpaying based on about two months of data. The other big spots that needed to be filled were the set-up and LOOGY roles, and this is when the Cubs fell flat on their faces. In the course of two weeks, before the winter meetings, the Cubs signed Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry to three year contracts. Three years, to two very mediocre relievers! Look at it this way: in 2008, the Cubs will still be paying Dempster, Eyre and Howry about $13 million. Yuck.

    As far as the rest of the winter, let's just say the Cubs entered free agency with a plan: Rafael Furcal. As usual, the team also believed they had the money to match any offer, and quickly offered Furcal a five-year, $55 million contract. The team looked like the favorites for weeks until the Dodgers swooped in and signed Furcal to a more expensive three year contract. Simply put, this was devastating to the Cubs, who then were willing to accept Ronny Cedeno as an everyday player. Oh, and they are bringing back Neifi as well, just in case Dusty needs his veteran fix during the season.

    Needing to fill the leadoff spot, Hendry then quickly jumped at Marlins CF Juan Pierre, trading three pitchers for him. The Cubs are one of the few organizations that can trade three B-/C+ talents and get away with it, so I won't criticize the deal too much. If Pierre falters in 2005, however, this deal has the potential to look very bad.

    Like at shortstop, the Cubs didn't take long in accepting Matt Murton as their everyday 2006 left fielder. That left only right field on the shopping list, for which Hendry filled with Jacque Jones. I was a backer of this trade, where most other people I have spoken to hate the deal. While Jones is a clear improvement over Burnitz, it is true the Cubs will enter Spring Training all-but-accepting a below-average outfield.

    One last order of business in the outfield was trading Corey Patterson. Again, we aren't privy to the negotiations for Patterson, so it makes little sense to do anything but criticize the final trade. "But he once had better offers on the table," is simply not fair game unless it's common knowledge. In the end, the fact that Chicago received even two players for Patterson is worth trading him. For Padres fans out there, Corey was the Cubs Sean Burroughs.

    This was basically the Cubs winter. The team also struggled with 40-man roster management again, trading the likes of Jon Leicester and Jermaine Van Buren to make room for people, and then still losing Juan Mateo in the draft. This seems to be the most substantial weakness that the current front office regime has.

    Jim Hendry has never traded away a prospect worthy of any real value in the end. In fact, in almost every trade he has made, he gets the better end of the bargain. Eighteen months later, I still think that Hendry is one of the five best GMs in the game at making trades.

    However, I'm no longer willing to unequivocally say he's one of the game's best GMs. It has been awhile -- in fact, since my article was written following the Nomar trade -- that we have seen the creative version of Jim Hendry at the helm. As the Cubs report to Spring Training in about a week, expectations are the lowest they have been since 2002. I've always been the first person to blame Dusty Baker, but this time, Hendry needs to prove to me that I'm pointing my finger at the right scapegoat.

    Designated HitterFebruary 09, 2006
    A New Way To Look At Baseball Journalism
    By Will Leitch

    Like probably most of the people who read this site, I spend way too much time reading about baseball online. These days, my job requires it, but even before that, back in the angry, scary, dead-fluorescent-light of office life, the vast majority of my time was spent ignoring spreadsheets and pouring through this site, and Baseball Prospectus, and Hardball Times, and Baseball Think Factory, and even, if I was feeling frisky, Tommy Lasorda's MLB Blog. I can't get enough, and I suspect you can't either.

    I liked to imagine little personalities for all my favorite online writers. Jim Baker seemed like the overeducated grad student who was smarter than everyone else in the room but also was cool enough to tell me what I'd missed on Conan the night before; I envisioned him wearing tweed. Joe Sheehan, inexplicably, seemed like a leather-jacket wearing badass, a guy who would either break down Torii Hunter's flaws or crack some guy's skull in a bar fight, doesn't matter which, bring it on, whaddya rebelling against, whaddya got? It was quite the shock to see him talking to Brian Kenny on ESPN News and learn that he's the bearded, scholarly type. People always look different on television, I guess.

    Well, at least Neyer was the way I thought he'd be.

    Anyway, watching the world of traditional media slowly transmogrify - if I might use a word I learned in an Ingmar Bergman class - itself into the world of blogs. More and more newspapers are finally catching on to what the rest of us have always known; it is impossible to overstate how bored people are at work. You're seeing beat reporters starting little online tidbits on their paper's Web sites, and you're even seeing columnists trolling around message boards. (Bernie Miklasz at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is particularly good at this, though deep down, you know he'd still rather be following Springsteen.)

    And here's the thing: The blogs and online tidbits are, without fail, more fun to read (and more informative) than the game stories they're purportedly paid to produce.

    If we may go away from baseball for a moment, since it has been so dreadfully long since a blasted game has been played, I would like to submit Mark Tupper, sports editor of the Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review as an example. Tupper has been covering the Illinois men's basketball and football teams for nearly two decades, but he doesn't have the stodgy, turgid, curmudgeon style that longtimers are often prone toward. He understands what fans care about, and he writes in a conversational, intelligent and lively style. No one knows more about Illinois basketball, and he's a joy to read.

    Well, he is on his blog, anyway. His game stories aren't boring, exactly, but they fall prey to the same verse-chorus-verse, inverted pyramid, statement-playerquote-statement-playerquote formula that has made anyone with a modem switch to blogs. Tupper seems to recognize this, quoting the imminently quotable Bruce Weber speak for him most of the time. Game stories by beat reporters never fail to remind us that most athletes, no matter how much we might like to be, are not inherently interesting people and rarely have much of note to say. Sorry. Don't kill the messenger.

    But in the blog, Tupper tells you what's really going on. Take a story last month, from when Illinois lost at Indiana in what the kids like to call a "heartbreaker." Tupper's game story had the usual clichés and mealy-mouthed prattle about "falling just short" and "moral victories." In the blog, written quickly and from the gut (Tupper usually files blog entries directly after the game is over), Tupper gets to the point: "the sad truth is that Illinois missed a great chance." This was absolutely true, and not something Tupper could write in a straight game story. The difference was palpable: One story gave you factual details that anyone watching the game could have figured out on their own; the other told you what happened.

    So, to baseball. In a long season, much of a beat reporters' coverage is nothing but game stories. But the inertia of the process leads to the same bland story structure:

    A: Team won/lost
    B: Manager muses on victory/loss
    C: Key player comments on his play(s)
    D: Dictation of events surrounding key plays in game.
    E: Manager/player points out that the game is just one of many and will, in fact, be repeated tomorrow.

    This is not to say that beat reporters are lazy; far from it. It's just that the world of newspapers, when compared to blogs, does not give them the freedom (or, more accurately, the space), to delve into what actually mattered in the game, accounting for context, complexity and ultimate impact. Baseball blogs are the most fun sports blogs to read because great ones have multiple entries every day, and they provide perspective and talking points; they are great because they assume you have already seen the game. We are no longer in the days of radio; if you have MLB.TV, or even freaking cable, you can watch every game. We do not need reporters to tell us the facts; we need people to tell us what it means. Or, more specific, to ask us what we think it means.

    Where am I going with this? I envision a world with two different kinds of beat reporters covering each team. (Except for the Devil Rays; nobody covers the Devil Rays.) One is involved in fact gathering; who's hurt, who's dealing with contract problems, who's tussling with Tony LaRussa because they have a disagreement about the relative value of cute puppies. And another to actually watch the games, without knowing the players personally, without dealing with sports information, without having to jump through all the demoralizing hoops required of those who cover our games.

    Newspapers have a chance to take the power back; they can cover their teams without access, without having to suffer through the now-obviously-broken relationship between reporters and the players they cover. And they can provide their readers much better coverage. It's a matter of breaking loose of the chains and embracing the way this is all inevitably going.

    We online sports fans have been enjoying this forever. We have no problem with everyone else joining the party.

    Will Leitch is the editor of Deadspin.com and author of the young adult novel Catch.

    Baseball Beat/WTNYFebruary 08, 2006
    Breakouts and Breakdowns
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    As spring training approaches, one of the most fun things to do as a fan is to project which players are the likeliest to breakout or regress in the coming season.

    Let's face it, you can write down what Albert Pujols is going to do now. When it's all said and done, he's going to be right around .330/.420/.620 with 40 HR and 125 R and RBI.

    If you have the first pick in your fantasy pool, take Pujols. Heck, that's a no brainer. But who should you take when rounds 11-20 roll around? Anybody can identify Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, and Mark Teixeira as the best, young hitting studs in the game. But which lesser-known players have the potential of stepping up and making a difference for their big league club or your fantasy league team in 2006?

    Conversely, which well-known players have the potential of imploding, causing anguish for the owners of those teams--real or make believe?

    Well, we've decided to take the plunge. Each of us is going on record by naming two players who have it in them to take it up a couple of notches plus two more who could fall off the cliff.

    Rich: I'm going to stick to two players who I have already identified in the past as players I believe are going to make the greatest advances from one year to the next. My first pick is a pitcher. He's a big pitcher in stature, and I think he is going to put up big numbers as well. His name? Daniel Cabrera.

    I've extolled Cabrera's virtues a few times since last summer when he began to give us a glimpse of the pitcher he is capable of becoming. If there is one combination of pitching stats I like more than any other, it is strikeouts and groundballs. Show me a guy who can whiff batters and induce grounders and I will tell you about Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett, Carlos Zambrano, Roy Halladay, and...Daniel Cabrera.

    There is no doubting the Baltimore right-hander's stuff. His fastball sits in the mid- to high-90s and has been known to reach the triple digits. In fact, Cabrera threw more pitches that hit 100 or more on the Stalker Sport radar guns than anyone else. He was second in the majors when it came to hitting 95+. Number one? Mr. Burnett, the $55 million man. Just for fun, I'll tell you who was #2 in the NL -- Carlos Zambrano.

    Have you noticed a pattern here? Big, strong pitchers who can throw heavy gas tend to get their fair share of strikeouts and groundballs. And when pitchers do that, they generally don't give up very many home runs. Carpenter and Halladay have won Cy Young awards. Don't bet against either Burnett, Zambrano, or Cabrera taking home the hardware this year.

    My second pick is a hitter. He just happens to play on the same team as Cabrera. Call me an Orioles fan if you'd like, just be sure not to take these two players ahead of me in my fantasy league draft.

    As I wrote in Digging Deeper Into The Handbook in December, "If you're looking for someone who might take it up a notch or two next year, consider Jay Gibbons. He was the only [player other than Vladimir Guerrero] who hit more than 15 HR (26) and ranked in the top ten in lowest strikeout rate per plate appearance (.108). The Baltimore OF/1B/DH doesn't field or run all that well, but he still has further upside when it comes to mashing the ball. Consider this: Gibbons was 31st in the AL in RC/G with just a .268 batting average on balls in play. You have to go all the way down to the 63rd batter (Nick Swisher) to find someone with a lower BABIP."

    Look for Gibbons to hit .280-.290 with about 40 doubles and 30-35 home runs. He'll make a nifty mid- to late-round draft selection in your fantasy draft. You can thank me after he puts up those numbers.

    Bryan: Good picks, Rich. If you're right, and the Orioles have two big players break out, the AL East could be (again?) the most difficult division in baseball. And, of course, you forgot to mention that Cabrera has another plus on his resume: Leo Mazzone. As J.C. Bradbury showed on our site, the great pitching coach tends to have a positive effect on pitchers. With a little bit of the fastball control that Mazzone teaches so well, I think you're right, Cabrera should have a big 2006.

    One other problem that Mazzone has to deal with is finding a closer amidst a group containing Chris Ray and LaTroy Hawkins. And they will be one of many teams shuffling between ninth-inning pitchers during Spring Training. Given the importance of saves on a fantasy team, finding a sleeper closer is much like having drafted Willie Parker in fantasy football this year. Therefore, my break out choice is Blaine Boyer of the Mazzone's old team, the Atlanta Braves.

    Last year, Bobby Cox was forced to shuffle between the likes of Danny Kolb, Chris Reitsma and Kyle Farnsworth to close out games. Don't expect him to take long to make a decision this year. The candidates? Reitsma, again, Joey Devine and Boyer. Given Reitsma's lack of success in the role, Davine's lack of success in any role, and Boyer's good stuff, he should get the job. Then, watch as his 95+ mph fastball and hammer curve gains a lot of saves and a good enough ERA, WHIP and K/9. Even if he doesn't repeat a 3.11 ERA, his fantasy profile will improve that much more when he adds 25 saves.

    My second pick should be a very good bench choice for keeper leaguers this year. The Padres outfield situation is very clouded this coming year, but they have shown confidence in Ben Johnson in the past. While Johnson is infamous within Padre crowds for a bad playoff performance last year, the focus should really be on Bruce Bochy's confidence to play the then 24-year-old. This season Johnson currently stands behind Dave Roberts and alongside Terrmel Sledge, but with a trade of Roberts, it isn't hard to conceive the idea of Johnson getting 500 AB.

    Before the playoffs last year, Johnson had just 88 plate appearances. His .213/.310/.467 line wasn't exactly awe-inspiring, but beneath the surface, there is certainly reason for optimism. For one, Johnson's line drive percentage was an astounding 26.4% in his cup of coffee last year. The Hardball Times has done loads of research on line drives, but the general conclusion is that the more lines drives, the better. And to put Johnson's number in context, had he qualified for the NL, his mark would have ranked second overall.

    Conversely, Johnson's BABIP last year was just .267. When considering his line drive percentage, it's shocking to have a BABIP rate that low, especially given Johnson's plus speed. In fact, only 37 players in the National League had LD% over twenty last year, and just seven had BABIP rates below .300. Of those seven, just two (David Bell, Mike Lowell) were under .270. So not only does Johnson's hit rates mean he should hit for increased power, but his average should go up as well.

    If your league uses OBP as a statistic, Johnson is an even better selection, given his high walk rate. As is, I think Johnson is very (optimistically) capable of a batting average around .280 and 20 home runs given the opportunity. The question remains, however, will Johnson have an opportunity? Those are my far out choices, Rich. Who do you think might regress in 2006?

    Rich: On the downside, I'm going to once again pick one pitcher and one hitter. Both players are changing teams this year. One is going to a more favorable ballpark and the other is going to a less favorable environment. My first choice is Jarrod Washburn. He is the opposite of Cabrera. Washburn is a lefty, Cabrera is a righty. Jarrod doesn't strike out many hitters nor induce a lot of groundballs, whereas Daniel makes a habit of doing both.

    One would think that Washburn, coming off a year in which he had a 3.20 ERA and moving to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, would be a good bet to become one of the top hurlers in the game. Wrong. His stats last year were very deceiving. His DIPS ERA was 4.55. The ratio of DIPS ERA/actual ERA (1.42) was the highest in the AL. I wouldn't be surprised if he won more games this year--it would be hard not to exceed his eight victories with the Angels--but his ERA is going to top 4.00 in 2006.

    I feel guilty choosing Alfonso Soriano as my hitter. It's no secret that the second baseman (outfielder?) is going from one of the best to one of the worst ballparks for hitters. But, hey, I'll take a lay-up when I can get it. No use trying to tomahawk a slam dunk just to get on ESPN when I can kiss it off the glass and into the net nice and easy.

    Besides, anybody making $10M-$12M per year who hits just .260/.300/.450 with 15-18 HR (as I predict) deserves to be recognized for his ineptness as much as the general manager who traded for him. You know, the same guy who acquired Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman last year and the 36-year-old Royce Clayton a few days ago because he wants to be sure he's got a backup in case his starting shortstop goes .219/.260/.314 again.

    Bryan: I'm going to stick in the middle infield with the first of my selections: Carlos Guillen. After leaving Seattle for Detroit before the 2004 season, Guillen broke out in a big way: .326/.391/.562. Last year, I was pretty sure Guillen would take a big step backwards and fall apart. I was wrong. While Guillen was injury plagued for much of the season, he did manage to hit .320/.368/.434 in 334 at-bats.

    Next year, Guillen will be 30 years old. He will be coming off a second half in which he hit .255/.317/.364. He will have to deal with the rigors of not having a BABIP of .360. The signs are there: Carlos is going to regress. PECOTA, the genius prediction system of Baseball Prospectus, doesn't see a lot of optimism for Guillen next year. BP sees Guillen hitting .286 next year with nine home runs and 50 RBI in 438 plate appearances. More importantly, the Tiger is given only a 6% chance to "breakout" of those numbers against a 36% chance to "collapse." Without going into detail on what those percentages mean, I can tell you that it isn't good. Despite his shortstop eligibility, stay away from Guillen in your fantasy draft.

    By signing Billy Wagner this winter, the Mets not only made themselves better, but they also worsened a division rival in the Philadelphia Phillies. With Wagner heading off to greener pastures, the Phillies looked to the next-best option available, and thus signed Tom Gordon. This move is certainly seen as a step backwards already, but I predict that in three years, it will be an atrocious trade off. After years of being among the best set-up men in baseball, I'm predicting Gordon falls apart in his first year back in the closer role.

    Before joining the Yankees in 2004, Gordon was hardly a staple of health. In the five years prior, he had just two full seasons in relief, two seasons in which he pitched under 45 innings, and one more in which he was under 20 IP. With the Yankees the last two seasons, Joe Torre rode Gordon as hard as any reliever in baseball. The writing is on the wall: Gordon is not a dependable closer. Furthermore, Gordon has three straight years with a falling K/9 rate. He's moving to a smaller stadium. He has a worse team behind him. His FIP last year was 3.72. Again, don't be the one caught in drafting Tom Gordon, the results can't be good.

    Do you agree or disagree with our choices? If the latter, who would you pick?

    WTNYFebruary 07, 2006
    ACC Preview
    By Bryan Smith

    I have to admit my East Coast bias up front. While I'm Midwestern through and through, when it comes to college baseball, my preference lies with the Atlantic Coast Conference. After the ACC expansion, the conference features three of the best programs in the history of college baseball (Miami, FSU, GTech) as well as many great other programs like Clemson and North Carolina.

    Not only does the depth within the conference race pique my interest, but the level of play as well. Many of the players in this conference are some of the nation's best, stemming from great prep programs in Florida, Georgia or Virginia. This season is no exception as it features the projected top choice in the 2006 draft (Andrew Miller) and one of the top in the 2007 draft.

    No conference in college baseball will be as fun to watch this year as the ACC. Here's my preview of what you can be looking for in 2006...

    Players to Watch

    Note: This list is derived from players who appeared on first, second or third All-American teams by either Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball or the NCBWA.

    Wes Hodges - 3B - Georgia Tech
    Shane Robinson - OF - Florida State
    Daniel Bard - SP - North Carolina
    Andrew Miller - SP - North Carolina
    Matt Antonelli - 3B - Wake Forest
    Jon Jay - OF - Miami
    Matt Wieters - C/P - Georgia Tech
    Andrew Brackman - SP - NC State
    Aaron Bates - 1B - NC State
    Sean Doolittle - 1B/P - Virginia
    Taylor Harbin - 2B - Clemson
    Blake Wood - P - Georgia Tech
    Tyler Chambliss - RP - Florida State

    A fantastic list of players, as half of these players will be first round draft picks. Notably, of course, the two North Carolina aces will be top ten picks in the draft, with Miller possibly going at the top. I also love the likes of Wes Hodges, Shane Robinson and Matt Antonelli, all of whom should be top-two round selections.

    Hodges is an extremely consistent player with the potential to be one of the conference's most dangerous offensive talents, along with the less athletic talents like Jon Jay and Aaron Bates. Robinson and Antonelli are the opposites, two players more well-known for their athleticism than polish. Robinson was up for the Golden Spikes last year, and Antonelli is my favorite player in the conference.

    The top players in the conference for the 2007 draft will be battling for tops in their respective positions. Brackman is a super-athletic player with fantastic stuff that should be among the first of the pitchers drafted. Doolittle was a great high school talent that opted for college, and now remains just behind Joe Savery in the best utility talent race. And finally, Wieters is pretty much as good of a catcher as you will find.

    Two very good players not on the above list are Chris Perez from Miami, a first-round talent relief pitcher from Miami, and Josh Horton, North Carolina's #3 sophomore hitter.

    News Kids on the Block - Best Freshman

    Note: This list is derived from players in the SEC that were in Perfect Game USA's top 100 high school players last June. If interested, e-mail me and I'll send you the top 1000.

    Drew Taylor - LHP - NC State
    Marcus Jones - OF - Nc State
    Jemile Weeks - 2B - Miami
    Dennis Raben - 1B - Miami
    David Adams - 2B/3B - Virginia
    Nate Frieman - LHP - Duke
    Luke Murton - OF - Georgia Tech
    Buster Posey - SS/RHP - Florida State

    Depending on who you talk to, the class of the conference is either Adams or Posey. Adams should do wonders in replacing Ryan Zimmermann, while Posey is the type of raw talent that could become a #1 overall pick in a few years. In case you were wondering, there are ties to Major League players in Jemile Weeks (Rickie) and Luke Murton (Matt). Neither player is better than there brother was, but both have the potential to be great players by 2008.

    Three At the Top

    My pick to win the ACC, while not the consensus among most polls, is the NORTH CAROLINA Tar Heels. The team had high expectations last year following good freshman seasons from Miller and Bard. However, with five freshman getting significant time in the field, the product yielded a lot of errors and inconsistent hitting. Miller and Bard were solid, but they saw Robert Woodard pass both of them. This year, however, the team is a year older and should be tighter all around. To go along with the best weekend rotation in baseball, the Tar Heels have a lot of good sophomore offensive talent led by the consistent Horton and the powerful Seth Williams. If all the five-star talents on this team play well, a trip to Omaha is in the cards.

    College baseball is essentially a three-year sport. The first season is an introduction, the second season gets a player acclimated, and the third year is his send off. Some coaches get lucky to have a few good seniors lead his team. The GEORGIA TECH baseball team will have a host of them this season, making them among the favorites in the division. While Wieters and Hodges anchor this team, it will be the likes of Steven Blackwood, Mike Trapani and Jeff Kindel that lead this team into the postseason. Throw in a pair of good starters in Blake Wood and Tim Gustafson and you have a solid team.

    Solid is the way to define the CLEMSON baseball team. While the team doesn't have any real stars, it will be a mix of a lot of good players that give them team legs. Taylor Harbin is the best player on a good offense, and should be among the best second baseman in the NCAA. The pitching staff is the strength, however, led behind returnee Jason Berken. If this weekend rotation performs like it can, then Clemson has a chance to go far. I don't like them enough to put them at the top of any rankings, but this team does have outside Omaha potential.

    Other Postseason Possibilities

    My favorite team outside the big three is the NC STATE WOLFPACK, mostly due to the high-end talent of the top. Such discourse obviously starts with Andrew Brackman, the Wolfpack basketball player and 6-10 ace. The other great player on the team is Aaron Bates, one of the three most powerful hitters in college baseball. Possibly joining Bates in DH duties will be the nation's best transfer, Jon Still of Stetson University. This team has high-end talent all over the place, and while they don't have the depth of a team like Florida State, they could be one of the ACC's best surprises.

    This is a down year for the FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES. Much of last year's team is gone except Robinson, who started the year off in a big way, and should again be among the Golden Spikes finalists. Robinson will be helped by an extremely young team featuring the likes of Posey heavily. I don't think much of this team to make a postseason splash, but given the right junior leadership (Robinson, Chambliss, Henry), then they could certainly make a run.

    The other three teams in the division aren't quite at the caliber of NC or Florida State. Virginia was sort of the surprise last year, led by top five selection Ryan Zimmermann. The team will be a year early in 2006, led by the likes of David Adams and Sean Doolittle. The same is true for Miami, which aren't offering Jay or Perez a great supporting cast. Finally, I do like Wake Forest to surprise some people, but that may be more a result of my liking for Matt Antonelli than anything else.

    Bottom of the Barrel

    Like usual, it's foolish to expect much from Duke or Virginia Tech, two teams far from competing in such a deep conference. For Duke fans, I really just suggest you go out and support the recruitment of Frieman. Maryland is another traditionally poor program, and they could battle the rest for 12th place honors in 2006. The number nine team is Boston College, coming off the school's best year ever. BC graduated much of their talent, however, and as a result will struggle in their first year in the ACC.

    Baseball BeatFebruary 06, 2006
    Super Weekend
    By Rich Lederer

    How many people can say that they went to three baseball games last weekend? To pull this off, you would have to live in one of the Sunbelt states, love baseball, and not care all that much about the Super Bowl. Well, folks, let me introduce you to this week's college baseball correspondent.

    Twelve of Baseball America's top 25 teams played on Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday. However, there was only matchup--#17 USC vs. #22 Long Beach State--involving two ranked teams. I had the privilege of attending all three games: Friday and Sunday at Blair Field in Long Beach and Saturday at Dedeaux Field on the campus of the University of Southern California.

    After getting swept by SC last year (in the traditional three-game series in February plus once more in the Regional in June), the Dirtbags returned the favor and beat the Trojans 4-2 on Friday, 9-6 on Saturday, and 8-6 on Sunday. Long Beach State was behind in all three games but battled back to beat Ian Kennedy in the fog in the opener and ace reliever Paul Koss in the daylight twice.

    On a damp, chilly night for Southern California, Kennedy was dominating the Beach through five innings when the fog began to hover in the outfield. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the 49ers mounted a two-out rally against USC's first team All-American and Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. Freshman shortstop Danny Espinosa singled to center and advanced to third on a ball that preseason All-American Evan Longoria fisted into shallow right field. Roberto Lopez got a late break on the ball and instead of making a routine catch for the third out, dove and trapped it.

    With runners on first and third, cleanup hitter Sean Boatright lifted a fly ball to medium right field. Lopez lost the ball in the fog and both runners scored, tying the game at two each. Brandon Godfrey was polite enough to hit a similar ball to right for those who didn't see the first one and once again it fell untouched for a double that put the Beach ahead, 3-2. The Dirtbags, who held the Trojans scoreless after the first inning, added an insurance run in the seventh and won, 4-2.

    Kennedy, who should be 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, had the following pitching lines:

                 IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO
    Pre-Fog       5   1   0    0    1    7
    In Fog        1   4   3    3    0    0
    Total         6   5   3    3    1    7

    Jared Hughes picked up the victory for Long Beach. The junior right-hander overcame a shaky first inning, allowing three walks and a single before getting an out. He settled down, retired 12 batters in a row, and escaped a jam in the fifth when he got leadoff hitter Matt Cusick to hit into an inning-ending double play. The preseason All-American posted a respectable 6-3-2-2-3-3 line with two HBP. He got two GIDP, eight other groundball outs, and a pickoff.

    Longoria and Boatright were the heroes in game two. Long Beach's third and fourth hitters each slugged two-run homers, with Longoria's blast off the scoreboard in right-center field giving the 49ers the upper hand in the first and Boatright's poke off the top of the wall in center providing the go-ahead lead in the eighth. USC sophomore first baseman Lucas Duda lined a two-run home run that hooked over the wall in right field in the bottom of the third to give his team a temporary 5-3 lead, but it wasn't enough as the 49ers outscored the Trojans 6-1 the rest of the way.

    On Sunday, USC jumped on top to a 5-0 advantage after four innings, knocking out the highly touted freshman starter Vance Worley in the process. The Dirtbags clawed back to tie the score at six in the seventh, then Espinosa ripped a two-run triple off Koss in the eighth inning to give Long Beach a lead that Brett Andrade saved for the second time in two appearances over the weekend.

    Espinosa went 6-for-13 with two doubles and a triple during the series. He scored three runs and drove in five. The switch-hitter could have picked up a couple more hits on Sunday but was twice robbed by left fielder Cyle Hankerd, who made a diving catch in the first and a running grab in the fourth.

    Longoria went 4-for-10 with a home run, triple, two walks, and two HBP, while scoring five times and knocking in two. Boatright also went 4-for-10 with a home run, two doubles, a walk, HBP, three runs, and five RBI.

    * * * * *

    There were more than 20 radar guns in action Friday night. Scouts from the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and Toronto Blue Jays were visible. Bill "Chief" Gayton, the scouting director for the San Diego Padres, was in attendance on Saturday.

    Here are my scouting reports on the players most likely to be taken high in the amateur draft in June:

    Ian Kennedy - 6-0, 195 - Jr. - SP

    W-L 12-3 | ERA 2.54 | 158 K/38 BB in 117 IP

    Following in the footsteps of fellow Trojans Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, and Mark Prior...Consensus All-American...Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year...Two-time pitcher for Team USA...Although stuff is no better than average for a major league hurler, the right-hander exhibits outstanding command of four pitches...Fastball ranged from 89-91 all night...Throws strikes and changes speed...His stretch position is similar to Mike Mussina...Top ten draft pick unless his advisor and soon-to-be agent Scott Boras scares off potential suitors.

    Paul Koss - 6-4, 215 - Jr. - RP

    W-L 4-1 | ERA 2.81 | 42 K/21 BB in 51 IP

    Right-handed closer...Came of age last year...Recorded three saves with 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the Regional...Didn't get any gun readings on him although I would be surprised if he was throwing harder than 90 or 91...Failed to record a strikeout despite facing 12 batters on Saturday and Sunday...Composite line (1.2-4-4-4-3-0 with 2 HBP and two Ls) unlikely to earn Coach Gillespie's early-season confidence.

    Cyle Hankerd - 6-2, 205 - Jr. - OF

    .298 AVG/.378 OBP/.404 SLG | HR 1 | SB 0 | 24 BB/42 SO

    Drafted in the 45th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2003...Broke out last summer in the New England Collegiate League, hitting .383 with nine HR and 36 RBI (two short of winning a triple crown)...Big, strong kid...Keeps weight back with left heel off the ground...Lifts front foot straight up...Slight uppercut swing...Hits the ball hard and usually in the air...Outfield defense is plenty good enough...Made three spectacular catches, including diving grabs to his left and right plus a running catch going back and toward the line in left field...Also threw out a runner trying to score on a single from second base with two outs with a one-hop strike to the catcher...Should be moving up draft boards as the spring progresses.

    Jared Hughes - 6-7, 235 - Jr. - SP

    W-L 8-3 | ERA 2.83 | 87 K/23 BB in 89 IP

    Drafted in the 16th round by the Tampa Bay Devils Rays in 2003...Transfer from Santa Clara University...Named a second team Summer All-American by Baseball America following a 7-0, 1.62 ERA in the Cape Cod League...Fastball sits at 90-91 and touched 92 on several occasions...Good curveball...Can induce groundballs...Needs to develop more consistency with his command...Hit a single-season school record 19 batters in 2005 and plunked two more back-to-back in the sixth inning Friday night...Projected to be a late first or supplemental round draft pick.

    Evan Longoria - 6-2, 213 - Jr. - 3B/SS

    .320 AVG/.368 OBP/.421 SLG | HR 5 | SB 10 | 15 BB/41 SO

    Second-year transfer from Rio Hondo JC...Named the Cape Cod MVP after leading the league in homers (8), RBI (35), and SLG (.500) and a first team Summer All-American by Baseball America...Can play 3B, SS, or 2B...Adequate defensively...Slightly open stance with left heel off the ground...Steps into ball as it is pitched...Drives ball to all fields...Hit a long flyout that was held up by the thick air in the first inning on Friday against Kennedy...Tattooed a line drive past a diving CF for a triple in the fourth inning vs. the USC ace...Runs well for his size and is a good baserunner...Rated as the 10th-best prospect by Baseball America and is a lock to be one of the first position players drafted in June.

    Sean Boatright (6-0, 190, Sr. OF), a 36th-round selection by the Florida Marlins in 2005, opted to return to Long Beach State to improve his draft status. The oft-injured outfielder, who appears to be healthy, is a good athlete. He should move up in the draft but is unlikely to go in the top several rounds.

    Shawn Olsen (6-1, 200, Jr. SP/DH) is USC's Saturday pitcher and will also see action as a DH. He was the conference player of the year at College of Southern Nevada last year, primarily as an outfielder.

    Players to keep an eye on for the 2007 and 2008 drafts include Danny Espinosa (6-0, 185, Fr. SS) and Vance Worley (6-2, 215, Fr. SP) from Long Beach State and Lucas Duda (6-4, 220, So. 1B) from USC.

    * * * * *

    In other Top 25 action, San Diego swept the #1-ranked Texas Longhorns 4-2, 6-0, and 12-8. Host Stanford also surprised #5-ranked Cal State Fullerton. By winning all three games, the Cardinal will surely jump back into the Top 25 when Baseball America releases its rankings on Monday.

    Florida State (#15), Arizona State (#16), and North Carolina State (#24) also got the broom out, beating Charleston Southern, Northern Illinois, and Delaware State, respectively. Tennessee (#9), Pepperdine (#11), and Fresno State (#21) took two of three over their unranked opponents, while UC Irvine pulled a mild upset by doing the same vs. the 25th-ranked Cal Bears.

    In the only other action involving a ranked team, Rice shut out Central Missouri, 9-0, on Saturday. Joe Savery pitched four shutout innings, then pinch hit for the DH and went 2-for-3 with a double. As a two-way player, Savery could be one of the most valuable players in college baseball this year. He earned Freshman of the Year honors in 2005 while being named player and pitcher of the year in his conference.

    Baseball Beat/WTNYFebruary 05, 2006
    College Baseball Preview: A-A Squad
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    In the past week during our College Baseball Preview, we have mentioned hundreds of names that will affect the outcome of the 2006 baseball season. Today, it's time to find the best of the best and honor those players with selections among the Baseball Analysts All-American team.

    Unlike most All-American squads, our polling was not extensive to get names, as we just used the five people that contributed to the preview this week. While this means we won't have second and third teams like Baseball America or Collegiate Baseball, it's unlikely you'll find our list to be much different than the norm.

    Without further ado, here's a look at the 2006 Baseball Analysts All-American squad:

    C - Chad Tracy - Pepperdine
    1B - Matt LaPorta - Florida
    2B - Jim Negrych - Pittsburgh
    SS - Evan Longoria - Long Beach State
    3B - Wes Hodges - Georgia Tech
    OF - Shane Robinson - Florida State
    OF - Drew Stubbs - Texas
    OF - Brennan Boesch - California
    DH - Mark Hamilton - Tulane

    And a look at the pitching staff:

    SP - Andrew Miller - North Carolina
    SP - Max Scherzer - Missouri
    SP - Ian Kennedy - Southern California
    RP - Blair Erickson - UC Irvine

    And a look at the honorable mention squad, which includes players who received votes but were not in the majority:

    C - J.P. Arencibia - Tennessee
    1B - Joe Savery - Rice
    2B - Taylor Harbin - Clemson
    2B - Adam Davis - Florida
    SS - Jason Donald - Arizona
    OF - Colin Curtis - Arizona State
    OF - Nathan Southard - Tulane
    SP - Kyle McCulloch - Texas
    RP - Derrik Lutz - George Washington
    RP - Brett Jensen - Nebraska

    And finally, we asked all our participants to pick the outcome of the College World Series. Unsurprisingly, each person polled selected Texas as the team to become repeat winners of the National Championship. However, opinions varied on the team that Texas would close it out against.

    However, majority rules, and in this polling, Baseball Analysts will select North Carolina as the team that falls short to the Texas Longhorns in the CWS finals. However, don't be surprised if a traditionally great program like Cal State Fullerton, or a darkhorse like the Pepperdine Waves make a splash and reach the finals.

    Formally, the College Baseball Preview will end on Tuesday as we finish our preview of the ACC. If you disagree with any of our choices for the All-American squad, please, drop a comment below.

    Baseball Beat/WTNYFebruary 04, 2006
    College Baseball Preview: Best of the Rest
    By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

    The College Baseball Preview sticks to its regularly scheduled programming with the Best of the Rest. We take a look at 11 of the top teams outside the Pac-10, Big West, Big 12, SEC, and ACC.

    We set out to cover all of the baseball programs that have a legitimate shot at hosting a Regional and/or playing in a Super Regional. Although mindful of missing a team or two along the way, we hope that our series winds up capturing the vast majority of the Regional hosts and Super Regional participants, as well as all of the College World Series teams.

    With the addition of Rice this year, Conference USA is without a doubt one of the top half dozen leagues in college baseball. Our series, in fact, would have been incomplete had we not covered Rice, Tulane, and Southern Mississippi. It would have also been lacking had we bypassed many of the other teams below.

    RICE had a 45-19 record last year in the Western Athletic Conference, ranking 13th in Baseball America's final poll and 14th in RPI. The Owls, coached by Wayne Graham, are among the top ten in all the preseason rankings. The move to the stronger C-USA may make it more difficult to save a weekend starter for weeknight games vs. the likes of Texas and Texas A&M. Freshman of the Year Joe Savery, a two-way player, is a first-team preseason All-American. Savery went 8-5 last year with a 2.43 ERA and a league-leading 129 strikeouts in 119 innings. A 1B/DH on days he's not pitching, the left-handed Savery hit .382 with a .471 OBP and .559 SLG. Rice also returns Josh Rodriguez, a junior shortstop who has been named to Baseball America's third-team preseason All-America team. Rodriguez (.345/.411/.555) led the Owls in HR (11) and RBI (54) last year. [Posted by Rich Lederer]

    TULANE finished the 2005 season with a 56-12 record and a trip to Omaha. Following the tragic hurricane hit to New Orleans, the Green Wave will be playing their home games at Zephyr Field (AAA home of the Nationals). The team was displaced to Lubbock with Texas Tech in the fall. Certainly they'll feel the feel the loss of All-Americans Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings at the plate but not as much as one would think. They return three preseason All-Americans in CF Nathan Southard (.341/.429/.563, 12 HRs, 3B Brad Emaus (.321/.424/.542, 13 HRs), and 1B Mark Hamilton (.318/.452/.599, 11 HRs). They will feel the loss of their big two draft picks more on the mound as their lone returning starter is Brandon Gomes (4.42 ERA, 89.2 IP, .278 BAA, 82/17 SO/BB). They would have had senior J.R. Crowel returning to the rotation but he will have to take a medical redshirt following mid-January surgery on his throwing shoulder (labrum). Luckily, they pickup sophomore John Michael Vidic (3.24/8.1/.188/5/3) as another transfer from Georgia Tech (Owings being the first) who might be able to fill that void. [Posted by Ryan Levy]

    SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI heads into this season off the heels of a school record third-straight NCAA Regionals appearance. Coach Corky Palmer will have his hands full though with perennial baseball powerhouse Rice joining Conference USA for the first time. The Golden Eagles had a record of 41-21 last year, their third-straight season with 40+ wins, also a school record. Southern Miss' best player is senior 1B Marc Maddox (.359-14-59), who was a first-team All-Conference USA selection last season. Sophomore shortstop Trey Sutton will look to build on his impressive freshman season in which he hit .346 with 6 homeruns and 41 RBI. The pitching will be held down by closer Daniel Best. In 2005, Best tallied 11 saves and a 3-0 record to go with his 0.46 ERA. The senior submariner is on the Roger Clemens Award watch list. [Posted by Joe Lederer]

    The TEXAS CHRISTIAN Horned Frogs are making a leap from C-USA into the Mountain West Conference this season. TCU finished the '05 campaign with a 41-20 record and a trip to a very difficult Regional in Waco (vs. Stanford and Baylor). The Horned Frogs will be led by utility man Chad Huffman (.353/.437/.573, 12 HRs), who was named to NCBWA's preseason All-American squad. On the mound they lost a ton of talent (mainly, Lance Broadway) and return only three pitchers with a sub-5.00 ERA, although none were below 4.00. Sophomore Sam Demel was a big name from Spring HS (Josh Beckett's alma mater). His ERA was 4.64 but the righty struck out 100 batters in 95 innings in what was only his freshman season. [Ryan Levy]

    NOTRE DAME (Big East) went 38-24-1 enroute to their 4th consecutive Big East Tournament Championship and a Regional berth falling at the hands of national runner-up Florida. The Fightin' Irish return 10 of their top 11 hitters (losing only their top hitter, Matt Edwards), including their corner infielders Craig Cooper (.325/.446/.502), and Brett Lilley (.355/.502/.379). On the mound they return six of their top eight pitchers, including their entire starting rotation--most famous of the group being All-American wide out, Jeff Samardzija (3.89/78.2/.272/56/30). Things should certainly be looking up for the Golden Domers. [Ryan Levy]

    FLORIDA ATLANTIC will look to close out its Atlantic Sun Conference history in style, as the team will move into the Sun Belt Conference next season. The Owls finished 37-24 last year (19-11 in conference play) and advanced to its sixth NCAA Regional in the past seven seasons. Coach Kevin Cooney, who will notch his 800th career victory this season, will rely on sophomore RHP Mickey Storey and junior RHP/OF Mike McBryde. Storey recorded seven saves before being moved into the rotation in April. At the end of the season, he was named to Baseball America's All-Freshman Team after posting a 10-1 record and 1.70 ERA. Closing for FAU will be two-way stud McBryde, who went 2-2 last year with a 3.11 ERA to go along with 11 saves and 49 strikeouts in 35 innings. As an outfielder, McBryde hit .370 with 5 homeruns and 35 stolen bases. Transfer Ovy Ramirez (.350-13-62 at St. Petersburg JC) will play second and add pop to the middle of the Owls' lineup. [Joe Lederer]

    In 2006, WICHITA STATE (Missouri Valley Conference) returns all but three starters and a starting pitcher. Of course, that pitcher was All-American Mike Pelfrey, regarded by some as the best pitching prospect in the 2005 draft. Gene Stephenson, who pulled a Shocker in the offseason when he accepted the Oklahoma job but changed his mind hours later, returns for his 29th season and is seeking to extend a streak of never winning fewer than 40 games. Junior 3B Derek Schermerhorn (.329-2-60, 34 SB) had a 34-game hitting streak last year and will lead the Shockers' offense. Wichita State's strength is its pitching, where the team was 9th in the nation in team ERA (3.16) last season. The team's best pitcher is junior LHP Kris Johnson, who will be out until March as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. As a freshman, Johnson went 7-0 and started last season 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Sophomore RHP Travis Banwart (8-1, 2.09) and senior RHP Jereme Foster (7-5, 3.63) will anchor the rotation and freshman Aaron Shafer, a 16th round selection last year by Cleveland, will also pitch meaningful innings. [Joe Lederer]

    We turn westward...

    FRESNO STATE baseball history can be broken down in two eras: Before Rice and After Rice. The Bulldogs made 15 straight NCAA appearances from 1979 to 1995, including 12 Western Athletic Conference titles. Then Rice joined the WAC and won the title every year from 1996-2005. During Rice's reign, Fresno State made only four NCAA appearances. Now with Rice leaving the Western Athletic Conference, Fresno State again becomes the best program. Coach Mike Batesole's team was ranked #21 in Baseball America's preseason poll. Fresno State will look to improve on its 30-29 record last year behind the bat of sophomore 3B Beau Mills, son of Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills. Mills (.319/.424/.699) earned Freshman All-American honors after leading all freshmen with 22 home runs. Senior RHP Doug Fister was drafted in the 6th round last year by the Yankees but chose to return to school and will fill the shoes of last year's ace, first-round pick Matt Garza. Fister (7-6, 4.32 ERA) features an 88-to-91 MPH fastball but scouts believe he'll add velocity once he fills out his frame (6-foot-8, 195). The Bulldogs also return junior outfielder Nick Moresi, an All-WAC selection after hitting .352-11-54 and 13 SB in 13 attempts. [Joe Lederer]

    PEPPERDINE (West Coast) went 41-23, 32nd in RPI, and ranked #24 in Baseball America's final poll last season. The Waves came within one win of advancing to the Super Regional round. They enter this season with most key players back, and their highest pre-season ranking in years - #11 in Baseball America. Those players will include senior LHP Paul Coleman (9-3, 3.35), WCC Pitcher of the Year, despite his 9th round selection by the Tigers. RHP Kea Kometani (10-5, 3.17) is gone, but sophomore RHP Barry Enright (10-1, 4.62) returns. Enright was WCC Freshman of the Year. To complete the trifecta, junior catcher Chad Tracy (.367/.428/.609, 22 doubles, 12 HR), the son of Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Jim Tracy, comes back after his WCC Player of the Year season. Last season Head Coach Steve Rodriguez' Waves hit .295/.366/.409 as a team, and posted a 3.84 team ERA. They outscored opponents 368-290. With another year of experience, Pepperdine has a great shot at playing in Omaha in June. [Posted by Jeff Agnew]

    SAN FRANCISCO (West Coast) was 38-18 in 2005, coming in 58th in RPI. The Dons return one of the best two-way players in the country in junior outfielder/LHP Scott Cousins (.309/.398/.457; 8-5, 2.64, .229 OBA, 76K, 30 BB, 95.1 IP). Senior RHP Patrick McGuigan (5-2, 1.66, 7 saves, .206, 50K, 13 BB, 54.1 IP, 25 appearances, 1 start) moves from the closer role to starter. Senior outfielder/catcher Stefan Gartrell (.364/.409/.552) is back, but infielder/DH Cy Donald's (.368/.419/.412) bat will be missed. Now in his 8th year, Head Coach Nino Giarratano's team set a school record with 38 wins last year. But it wasn't enough to get the Dons into the post-season. But it was close. Will this be the year the WCC sends 3 teams to Regionals? [Jeff Agnew]

    SAN DIEGO (West Coast) was 30-27-1 last season, coming in 130th in RPI. 8th year Head Coach Rich Hill's Toreros go in ranked 36th pre-season by Collegiate Baseball. USD returns two of three starters in junior RHP Josh Butler (7-7, 3.42) and sophomore RHP Matt Couch (5-3, 3.65), with LHP Justin Blaine (8-5, 3.55) going in the 6th round to the Phillies. Most of the key position players are back, led by junior outfielder Shane Buschini (.352/.450/.538) and junior infielder Keoni Ruth (.338/.380/.431). But the big story with the Toreros is the recruiting class, ranked 12th in Division I by Baseball America. Freshman LHP Brian Matusz passed on signing after his 4th round selection by the Angels. Freshman LHP Josh Romanski did the same, despite being picked in the 15th by the Padres. These guys aren't "crafty lefties," each throws in the low 90s. Depending upon how quickly this crop of HS and JUCO recruits adjusts to the D-I level, San Diego may land its first bid since 2003. Any way you look at it, the future looks bright. [Jeff Agnew]

    While we're in San Diego, let's take a look at SAN DIEGO STATE's (Mountain West; 26-35, #170 RPI) progress in the Head Coach Tony Gwynn era (90-96 in his 1st 3 years). Although the Aztecs don't make the "Best of the Rest" list, there are signs that the future Hall of Famer's team is making progress. Junior outfielder Quintin Berry (.419/.569/.550) returns. More importantly, recruiting - including the most important part, getting them to enroll - seems to be getting better. Freshman 2B Nick Romero passed on his 40th round pick by the Royals. And junior RHP Justin Masterson makes the transfer from independent Bethel College, where he was 20-8, 1.85, over 2 years. In the Northwoods League last summer, Masterson was 3-1, 1.15, and posted 10 saves. Skeptics have questioned Gwynn's commitment to college baseball. Each passing year, he quiets a few more. [Jeff Agnew]

    Gwynn and bear it.

    * * * * *

    Be sure to return on Sunday to catch our Baseball Analysts' Preseason All-American team and who we believe will make it to the finals of the College World Series in June.

    WTNYFebruary 03, 2006
    Computer Problems
    By Bryan Smith

    In my years of reading Aaron Gleeman, I've read of him losing about two or three computers to unknown reasons. I was always surprised that I never had to deal with it.

    Now I know how it feels.

    My computer will not turn on this morning, which means I presumably lost the ACC Preview that was set to run today. Unfortunately, I'll have to re-write the preview in my normal Tuesday slot next week. The College Preview will have to take a Friday off, and will resume tomorrow as we go over the best teams not covered by the 5 conferences we chose.

    Sunday, we will have the Baseball Analysts All-American team. The College Baseball Preview will then have to conclude Tuesday with my ACC Preview.

    Have a good weekend, and be sure to check back for the rest of the College Baseball Preview!

    WTNYFebruary 02, 2006
    SEC Preview
    By Bryan Smith

    For years, the SEC has had to deal with the claim that the conference is overrated. Some criticize the RPI, others the selection committee. However, the conference has a history of success in the College World Series, thanks especially to an LSU dynasty about a decade ago.

    Nowadays the conference has even more parity, as teams just beat up on each other within conference play. Last year, the SEC offered strong teams, strong players and strong fan bases. The best prospects from the south continually stay within the SEC, and there isn't an easy win within the conference. Overrated? Not so much.

    Enjoy the preview...

    Players to Watch

    Note: This list is derived from players who appeared on first, second or third All-American teams by either Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball or the NCBWA.

    James Adkins - LHP - Tennessee
    J.P. Arencibia - C - Tennessee
    Chris Coghlan - 3B - Mississippi
    Adam Davis - 2B/SS - Florida
    Clay Dirks - LHP - LSU
    Brian Jeroloman - C - Florida
    Matt LaPorta - 1B - Florida
    Wade LeBlanc - LHP - Alabama
    Darren O'Day - RP - Florida
    David Price - LHP - Vanderbilt
    John Shelby - 2B - Kentucky
    Jon Willard - - South Carolina
    Mark Wright - - Mississippi

    Of this group, LaPorta is assured to be a first round pick this June, and Arencibia and Price will be the same in 2007. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see all three become top ten overall picks. After LaPorta, the 2007 class has a lot of fringe first rounders that should be off the board at the end of the third: Coghlan, Davis, Jeroloman, LeBlanc, Shelby. Of the group, I like Coghlan the best, though a catching-starved system (maybe the Cubs?) would love a defender and patient hitter like Jeroloman.

    One player not on this list to watch is Brooks Brown, one of the many closers that looked very good in the Cape Cod League. He'll be closing games for the Georgia Bulldogs this season, and should be the Georgia player attracting the most scouts. Finally, my favorite player on this list is James Adkins, who excelled in the CWS last year as the Saturday starter behind Luke Hochevar. While the Golden Spikes finalist is gone, Adkins should go to the next level with his great curveball. He'll be a good first round pick in 2007, I guarantee it.

    News Kids on the Block - Best Freshman

    Note: This list is derived from players in the SEC that were in Perfect Game USA's top 100 high school players last June. If interested, e-mail me and I'll send you the top 1000.

    Jarred Bogany - OF - LSU
    Justin Bristow - SS/RHP - Auburn
    Diallo Fon - OF - Vanderbilt
    Reese Havens - SS - South Carolina
    Robert Lara - RHP - LSU
    Matt Lea - RHP/IF - Mississippi State
    Josh Lindblom - RHP - Tennessee
    Miers Quigley - LHP - Alabama
    Cody Satterwhite - RHP - Mississippi
    Iain Sebastian - RHP - Georgia
    Justin Smoak - 1B - South Carolina
    Josh Zeid - RHP - Vanderbilt

    The highest ranked player on this list is Justin Bristow, who was the 15th ranked prep player a year ago. A weak Auburn team will be ready to have Bristow play two ways, though word is he has more potential up the middle. My two picks for success are Justin Smoak and Miers Quigley. Smoak had as much power as any high school player, and Quigley will thrive when learning a few southpaw nuances from Wade LeBlanc.

    According to Baseball America, Vanderbilt had the best recruiting class in the nation a year ago. Diallo Fon will start in the outfield this season, and you can expect Pedro Alvarez to be on the hot corner. With David Price as a sophomore and a bunch of good, young Freshman, the Commodores should be the SEC team to watch in 2007. However, this year they will likely remain on the fringe of postseason play or not: much like last season.

    Class of the SEC - Florida

    Depending on the source, it's pretty consensus that Florida enters the season as a top five overall team, and the team to beat in the SEC. The Gators earned this tough label last June, when the team lost to Texas in the finals at Omaha. Much of the offense from that team is back, with only place-setter Jeff Corsaletti moving onto the next level.

    If anything, the Gator offense will be full of star power in 2006. LaPorta obviously is the team's best player, and is the most dangerous hitter in the country. While his strikeout rates are among the highest of any projected first round pick, no one has an Isolated Slugging near LaPorta, who was over .300 last season. After a good summer with Team USA, where he continued to show prodigious power, a .700 slugging percentage is not out of the question.

    Joining LaPorta in the heart of the order will be second baseman Adam Davis and catcher Brian Jeroloman. Davis is one of the most fun players to watch in college baseball, because he literally does everything well. In a battle with Josh Rodriguez (Rice) and Jason Donald (Arizona) for the number two middle infielder in the country (behind Evan Longoria) should give Davis some added incentive this season. At the plate, Jeroloman succeeds most at one thing: drawing walks. As a result, he's almost a lock for a .400 OBP this season. His defense behind the plate has been lauded since he was a freshman, which helps make up for any lack of power he has.

    Other than Corsaletti, the Gators only other position player lost is shortstop Justin Tordi. In his spot could be Clayton Pisani, one of the club's best recruits last year. Pisani plays great defense up the middle, and is probably a better bet to succeed than the likes of Bryson Barber. However, the club has enough offensive depth to deal with shortstop becoming a black hole. Brian Leclerc is the other name that will help give the Gators four of the best hitters in the country.

    Florida's weakness, however, will be their pitching staff, putting much more pressure on the offense to succeed. The club lost their top two starters from 2005 in Bryan Bass and Alan Horne. This year, it will be up to Bryan Ball and Stephen Locke to lead this pitching staff. A sleeper is Christian Madson, a player who has struggled with injuries for two seasons now after looking great as a freshman. Speaking of freshman, the staff could get very positive contributions from Chas Spottswood (#126 by PG) and 6-8 Mark McClure, who could be college baseball's next Ryan Doherty.

    With Connor Falkenbach having left, the closing duties are all up to Darren O'Day now. He's the right man for the job, though I really question whoever put him on an All-American team ahead of the likes of Brown. Besides O'Day, look for good bullpen work from Steven Porter, Michael Branham and Josh Edmondson.

    The Gators are in danger of losing much of their offense in 2007, and are thus putting an emphasis on this season to be the year. However, while their offense might take them as far as Omaha, it will be the pitching staff that leads to the club's inevitable loss.

    Southern Depth - Others in top 25

    Note: These are the other 6 teams that are commonly ranked by the sources I've already hit on. Their placement below is my subjective opinion.

    Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost their best player from last season to the draft in Brad Corley. Very little else is gone from a team that went 42-22 last year. The team returns every other starting player this season, including the likes of Thomas Berkery and Brad Jones. After a great job in a small role last season, look for big things from senior Joseph Hunter. The pitching staff should be much improved in 2006, despite the losses of Todd Doolittle and Alan Johnson from the rotation. One of the spots will be filled by sophomore John Lalor, who pitched well in the Cape after an admirable Freshman season. The final starting spot should be a battle between Josh Johnson and star recruit Matt Lea. With success on the pitching staff, this club undoubtedly has Omaha potential.

    LSU: This club is the opposite of experienced teams like Florida and MSU. Gone from the 2005 version of this club are its top four hitters: Nick Stavinoha, Ryan Patterson, Clay Harris and Blake Gill. This puts a considerable onus on Chris Jackson and Jordan Mayer, the two sophomores on the infield corners. Not surprisingly, given the success this program has perenially on the recruiting front, much of the offense will be made of some of the nation's better freshman. Jarred Bogany and Jason Ogata are assured full-time positions, while you'll also see the likes of J.T. Wise and Robert Lara compete for spots. I'm also a bit confused how the Tigers plan to prevent runs in 2006 with everyone but Clay Dirks seemingly gone from the staff. This team is simply a year away from contention, just like we'll be saying about Florida in another year or two.

    Arkansas: A very young team in 2005, patient Razorback fans will be rewarded in 2006 with a very good season. After a pretty lackluster recruiting class -- no one in the PG top 500 -- the club has no real holes that can't be replaced in 2006. The losses of Scott Hode and Clay Goodwin will be managed by what was a very deep bench last year. The rotation returns all four of its starters, most noteworthy being sophomore ace Nick Schmidt. On offense, look for another big season from first baseman Danny Hamblin, who had 30 extra-base hits in 220 at-bats last season. I like this team to surprise in 2006 after a merely mediocre conference performance last year.

    Tennessee: Gone is Luke Hochevar and his 2.26 ERA. Chase Headley and his .530 OBP have moved onto professional baseball. Eli Iorg was drafted after posting a .667 slugging. That's a lot right there. Still, somehow, star power remains in this program. In the 2007 draft, the Vols should have two of the top fifteen picks in Adkins and Arencibia, the latter could be a top five pick. Also remaining on the team are such players as Sean Watson and Kelly Edmundson, both of whom will have a great effect on the UT program. Finally, look out for Josh Lindblom to complete a good Volunteer weekend rotation that will lead this team pretty far. However, it seems to me that they are a bad pitching performance or a slump away from falling apart, and as a result, a year from contention.

    South Carolina: What jumps out when looking at the Carolina roster is the freshman set to make an impact. Smoak has double-digit home run potential, and Reese Havens has all the makings of a future first-rounder up the middle. Heck, I could see both Will Atwood and James Darnell making significant contributions. All these freshman will undoubtedly create quite the offense, giving senior Michael Campbell and junior Jon Willard some protection in the middle of the order. However, a lot of runs might not be enough in some games as the Gamecocks have a very inexperienced pitching staff with their top three starters all graduating. The weekend rotation will be featuring three guys who did not hit the 30 inning mark last year, which isn't a good sign. As a result, you can bet that South Carolina will go as far as their offense, and especially those stud freshman, take them.

    Mississippi: Brian Pettway and Stephen Head hit a lot of home runs last year, 39 to be exact. Both are now in farm systems. However, the Ole Miss offense will survive. Mark Wright remains after hitting 13 home runs as a sophomore, and of course, the club has Coghlan. Chris does it all at third base, and it would not be a surprise to see his OBP around .500 in 2006. The rotation also saw some big exits, as the top five starters and nearly 500 strikeouts leave the program. Therefore, it's likely that by the end of the season, freshman Cody Satterwhite (my SEC FOY pick) will be the club's Friday Night pitcher. It's hard to go far like that, but with this experienced offense, I wouldn't bet against it.

    A Trio of Potentials

    It wouldn't be a surprise to see Vanderbilt, Georgia or Alabama in the field of 64 at season's end. In fact, Baseball America thinks that both latter teams will be in postseason play. 'Bama is the opposite of a lot of the teams we've been looking at: most of their offense has graduated. However, the team has a pitching staff that could lead them to quite a few wins. After a great Cape performance, Wade LeBlanc leads the way, and as mentioned, should help in making a star out of Miers Quigley. Like South Carolina, Alabama will go as far as their recruiting class takes them.

    Georgia has a very experienced team with much of their offense back. This will be the strength of the Bulldogs team, and it will lead an inexperienced pitching staff. Besides Brooks Brown in the bullpen, the team is another depending on a lot of unproven starting pitchers. This should allow freshman Iain Sebastian to make a pretty big impact. Over in Vanderbilt, patience is the motto amongst their fans. After a super strong recruiting class, the team will be hot and cold in 2006, with just an outside chance at postseason play. In 2007, however, they will be among the top two or three programs in the SEC, with the foundation laid to continue to be a powerhouse.

    At the Bottom of the East and West

    It's going to be a rough year for Auburn fans, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like Vandy, the Tigers will be starting a few freshman this year, and their play dictates Auburn's future. Bristow has the potential to be a star, as do newcomers Luke Greinke (Zack's brother) and Mike Bianucci in the infield. Look out for this team in 2008.

    As for Kentucky, I suggest fans go out just to watch John Shelby. The end.

    Designated HitterFebruary 01, 2006
    Big West Preview
    By Jeff Agnew

    I'd like to start off by thanking Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith for running this series, and asking that I take on the Big West Conference. I'm Jeff Agnew and I publish a blog on the Long Beach State Dirtbags, Dirtbags Baseball, and wish there were more folks taking on college baseball in the blogging community (that's an invitation!). Without further adieu, here's my take on the Big West. The teams are presented in the projected order of finish in the Big West coaches preseason poll.

    1. Cal. State Fullerton.

    2005: 46-18 | Super Regional | 9th in final poll | 10th in RPI
    Coach: George Horton 402-172-1 (9 years)
    Preseason Rankings: (5th by Baseball America, 9th Collegiate Baseball, 8th by NCBWA and 5th by USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll)

    After winning the National Championship in 2004, the Titans looked like a strong contender to return to Omaha last season. They hosted a Regional that included the Arizona Wildcats, a CWS team from '04. Taking 2 of 3 from Arizona, and the Regional, Fullerton then played host to a Super Regional against Arizona State. After losing games 2 and 3, it was the Sun Devils that booked the trip to Nebraska.

    CS Fullerton looks very strong again this season. The Titans had 14 players selected in the 2005 draft, six on day one. But it was their great fortune that five of them did not sign, including four who form the core of a very strong infield. The unsigned draftees include junior Brett Pill at first (45th round, Yankees; .327, .384 OBP, .492 SLG%, 9 HR), senior Justin Turner at 2B (29th round, Yankees; .324, .391 OBP, .447 SLG%, 17 doubles), junior Blake Davis at shortstop (46th round, Indians; .325, .384 OBP, .481 SLG%, 8 triples) and top defensive catcher junior John Curtis behind the plate (29th round, Indians; .234, .332 OBP, .284 SLG%). Also unsigned, and returning, is senior outfielder Danny Dorn (23rd round, Devil Rays, .272, .421 OBP, .474 SLG%, 10 HR). With such abundant experience, and talent, the Titans will be very solid in the field and at the plate. The key losses on offense are Sergio Pedroza (3rd round, Dodgers; .324, .458 OBP, .616 SLG%, 16 HR) and 3B Ronnie Prettyman (10th round, Mariners; .327, .383 OBP, .518 SLG%, 18 doubles, 8 HR).

    On the mound, Fullerton returns projected 1st rounder sophomore RHP Wes Roemer (7-3, 3.80, 1 save, .259 OBA, 71K, 15 BB, 90 IP) and junior closer Vinnie Pestano (3-4, 2.68, 13 saves, .239 OBA, 49K, 16 BB, 50.1 IP, 34 appearances). Gone are starters LHP Ricky Romero (13-5, 2.89, .212 OBA, 139K, 34 BB, 134 IP), the 6th player taken overall, by the Blue Jays, and LHP Scott Sarver (9-3, 4.60, .295 OBA, 59K, 27 BB, 88 IP), selected in the 21st round by the Astros. Junior JUCO transfer LHP Ryan Paul (LA Pierce JC; in 2005: 5-2, 2.11, 77K 18 BB, 64 IP), was drafted in the 28th round by the Tigers, and figures to be one of the weekend starters.

    The bottom line on Fullerton is that this team didn't need an overhaul ...just a few new parts.

    2. Long Beach State.

    2005: 37-22 | Regional | 19th in final poll | 22nd in RPI
    Coach: Mike Weathers 157-84 (4 years)
    Preseason Rankings: (22nd by Baseball America, 16th Collegiate Baseball, 17th by NCBWA and 20th by USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll)

    Long Beach State will be younger, with substantially less Division I experience than last season. The 49ers adopted the Dirtbags moniker in 1989, the year Coach Dave Snow's team took Long Beach to the College World Series for the first time. The program has since been a perennial top 25 team. The 2006 roster will feature 23 new players, largest turnover in the Dirtbag era.

    Playing their home games in Blair Field, one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in college ball, Long Beach State is an easy sale to pitching prospects. Result: The 2005 Dirtbags led NCAA Division I in ERA at 2.53. But with the exception of starter RHP Jared Hughes, the core of the staff will not be back for '06. Friday starter LHP Cesar Ramos (10-7, 2.64, .227 OBA, 95K, 16 BB, 126 IP) was drafted by the Padres in the supplemental 1st round. Saturday starter RHP Marco Estrada (8-3, 2.43, .212 OBA, 104 K, 29 BB, 111.1 IP) went in the 6th to the Nationals. The '05 Dirtbags also had arguably the best setup/closer combination in Division I, in RHP Brian Anderson (3-0, 0.83, 2 saves, .151 OBA, 37 K, 9 BB, 43.1 IP, 30 appearances) and RHP Neil Jamison (4-0. 0.00, 11 saves, .158 OBA, 27 K, 5 BB, 29.2 IP, 27 appearances). Jamison was drafted by the Padres in the 6th, and Anderson by the Giants in the 14th. Two other pitchers were also drafted on day one, southpaw Steve Hammond in the 6th, and RHP Cody Evans in the 10th. All told, Long Beach State returns pitchers who accounted for only 25% (130 of 522) of innings pitched - 89 of them by Hughes.

    Hard throwing junior Jared Hughes (in '05: 8-3, 2.83, .212 OBA, 87 K, 23 BB, 89 IP), a projected 1st rounder who went 7-0, 1.62, in the Cape Cod League this summer, will anchor the staff. Junior JUCO transfer RHP Andrew Carpenter is likely to start Saturdays, with freshman Vance Worley taking the mound on Sundays. Last season Carpenter was 8-2, 3.15 for Sacramento CC. True freshman Worley (McClatchy HS, Sacramento) was the top pitching draft prospect in northern California in 2005 and would likely have been drafted in the first couple rounds had he not suffered an elbow strain his HS senior year. Now healthy, he may become the next dominate starter in the Dirtbags' string.

    The big question mark on the hill for Long Beach is the bullpen. They have no obvious choice to succeed Jamison and Anderson. The likely candidates include senior Brett Andrade (1-0, 4.66, .317 OBA, 3K, 3 BB, 9.2 IP), and whichever of a nice crop of freshman rise to the occasion.

    At the plate, the Beach ought to improve on their 3.25 runs per game. The most significant loss - and a big one - is SS Troy Tulowitzki, the 7th player taken overall in the draft (by the Rockies). Evan Longoria split time between third and short last season, replacing Tulowitzki for several weeks while he was out injured. Longoria broke out in the Cape Cod League this summer and was named MVP after leading the league in homers (8) and RBI (35). Like Hughes, he projects to be selected in the 1st round in June. Senior outfielder Sean Boatright may be a key. Often injured, if he can stay healthy his gap power will extend rallies. Slick fielding freshman shortstop Danny Espinoza looks to have a lot of playing time, provided he handles D-I pitching. He adds a dimension missing from the Dirtbags in recent years, excellent speed on the basepaths.

    3. UC Irvine.

    2005: 31-25 | 54th in RPI
    Coach: Dave Serano 31-25 (1 year)
    Preseason Rankings: (NR by Baseball America, 51st Collegiate Baseball)

    Together with Cal Poly SLO, UC Irvine appears to have the best shot at joining Fullerton and Long Beach in the Regional field. The Anteaters return one of the premier closers in the nation in junior RHP Blair Erickson (1-2, 1.80, 10 saves, .140 OBA, 52K, 22 BB, 35 IP, 28 appearances). Erickson projects as a first round pick. Like Blair Field in Long Beach, Anteater Ballpark is a pitcher's dream. Also returning is senior LHP Glenn Swanson, who comes off an injury shortened season, and looks to be a high pick as well. Junior RHP Justin Cassel (9-4, 3.54, .278 OBA, 86K, 21 BB, 117 IP) is an additional solid starter.

    Irvine lost a lot of offense to the draft in Brett Dalton (.376/.419/.471), Mark Wagner (.355/.398/.495) and Matt Anderson (.332/.402/.508). Senior Jaime Martinez (.339/.384/.475) returns. If they can produce the runs, the Anteaters have a shot at the post-season.

    4. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

    2005: 36-20 | 57th in RPI
    Coach: Larry Lee 101-71-2 (3 years)
    Preseason Rankings: (NR by Baseball America, 41st Collegiate Baseball, 41st by USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll, and also received votes in NCBWA)

    Cal. Poly has already gotten off to a great start, sweeping Baseball America ranked #21 Fresno State last weekend. Many thought the Mustangs should have been included in the field of 64 last season, but the selection committee apparently felt their #57 RPI wasn't enough, despite tying Long Beach State for 2nd in the Big West standings at 14-7.

    The 2006 Mustangs lose their #1 and #2 starters to the draft. LHP Garrett Olson (12-4, 2.71, .243 OBA, 128K, 47 BB, 136 IP) went to the Orioles in the supplemental 1st, and RHP Jimmy Shull (8-7, 4.61, .259 OBA, 85K, 33 BB, 111.1 IP) to Oakland in the 4th. The pitching staff will be anchored by returnee junior RHP Gary Daley (6-2, 4.74, .247 OBA, 59K, 39 BB, 89.1 IP). Junior RHP Bud Norris (5-0, 4.54, 1 save, .242 OBA, 38K, 30 BB, 33.2 IP, 17 appearances) also figures to play a big role. He started Saturday against Fresno and earned the win, going 7.0, and yielding 1 run (earned) on 6 hits. Both figure to go early on day 1 of the June draft.

    Gone is their top offensive player, catcher Kyle Blumenthal (.410/.511/.557), taken by the Rockies in the 14th round. Also gone is outfielder Brandon Roberts (.339/.409/.454), selected by the Reds in the 7th. Junior 1B/OF Jimmie Van Ostrand (.345/.425/.466) is back, as is junior 2B Brent Walker (.311/.405/.372). Seventeen new faces join the Mustangs, including JUCO transfer junior catcher Matt Canepa, who hit .343 his sophomore year at College of San Mateo, striking out just 9 times in 137 AB.

    5. UC Riverside.

    2005: 28-27 | 86th in RPI
    Coach: Doug Smith 28-27 (1 year)
    Preseason Rankings: None

    UCR returns fleet junior outfielder Brett Bigler (.322/.395/.386), who in '05 stole 14 of 17 attempted, and senior outfielder/top offensive player Aaron Grant (.357/.471/.469). Senior RHP Haley Winter (6-8, 3.44, .281 OBA, 68K 30 BB, 110 IP) anchors the staff. For the Highlanders to contend for an at large bid, they'll have to improve on their 4.82 team ERA from 2005.

    6. Pacific.

    2005: 30-28 | 113th in RPI
    Coach: Ed Sprague 50-62 (2 years)
    Preseason Rankings: None

    Though construction has slowed, Pacific inaugurates a new ballpark this season, Klein Family Field. Until it's completed, they'll play in another new park, Stockton Ballpark (home field for the Stockton Ports in the California League). On the field, the Tigers have sophomore 3B Justin Baum (.332/.389/.700, 17 HR) back. Gone is RHP Josh Schmidt (6-4, 1.79, 11 saves, .224 OBA, 89K, 25 BB, 60.1 IP, 36 appearances), selected by the Yankees in the 15th.

    7. UC Santa Barbara.

    2005: 26-30 | 99th in RPI
    Coach: Bob Brontsema 436-364-2 (12 years)
    Preseason Rankings: None

    The Gauchos had one of the great stories of tragedy and triumph in college baseball last season. 2005 Senior infielder Chris Malec (.316/.404/.477) was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and underwent surgery, in April. Amazingly, he returned to action against Long Beach State at Caesar Uyesaka stadium on Friday, May 6. I was in attendance, and the emotion in the stands was palpable. The next day, in a scene out of The Natural, Malec crushed a grand slam. The Gauchos swept the Beach. The story gets better, as Malec has moved on to the next level, signing with the Yankees after being selected in the 16th.

    UCSB returns junior infielder Chris Valaika, out for most of the 2005 season with an injury. If Valaika can return to '04 form when he was named Big West Freshman of the Year, while hitting .347, he could move up considerably in the draft.

    8. Cal. State Northridge.

    2005: 18-36 | 177th in RPI
    Coach: Steve Rousey 51-116-1 (3 Years)
    Preseason Rankings: None

    You've got to hand it to the Matadors. After a dismal 2005 season, they haven't avoided tough competition. According to SEBaseball.com, they have the 13th toughest intended non-conference strength of schedule in Division I, playing the likes of Arizona State (from whom they took 1 of 3 this past weekend).

    Northridge has a couple of good bats in junior infielder Chase McGuire (.318/.391/.459) and senior infielder Erik Hagstrom (.310/.400/.359), but there's just not enough pieces here to contend. Especially with the loss of outfielder Mike Paulk (.330/.414/.549).

    Big thanks to Jeff, and again, please be sure to visit his site: Dirtbags Baseball.