Designated Hitter November 30, 2006
The Best Minor League Defenders

Prospect analysis has always been one of the most contentious issues in the "stats vs. scouts" debates. However, for all the breakthroughs in statistical techniques, analysts have almost always had to rely on scouting to assign a value to the defensive contribution of a young player.

No longer. Through its website, Minor League Baseball has made available a play-by-play log of every game played in the affiliated minors, complete with some batted-ball information. A person with enough time, desire, and misdirected energy can track every ball that was pitched, hit, or caught by a bush leaguer in 2006.

For pitching and hitting, there's MinorLeagueSplits.com. We can turn our attention, then, to fielding. Using a statistic called Range, I came up with plus/minus ratings for every 2B, 3B, SS, and OF in the minors. (For more information on how Range is calculated, here's David Gassko's introduction to his creation.)

I haven't yet calculated the run values of plays at various positions for each league, but you can estimate them if you wish. A single is worth about half a run, so if you figure every extra play that an infielder makes saves a single, divide the number of plays by 2 and you've got runs above average. (Odds are the infielder--particularly if he's a third basemen--saved a few doubles too, so actual runs saved is somewhat higher.) Outfielders save more runs per play; a higher percentage of the plays they make would otherwise turn into doubles and triples, which are worth about 0.72 and 1.04 runs, respectively.

Before looking at some of the best fielding performances in the minors, I feel obligated to spend a couple of paragraphs hedging. Note I used the word "performance." There's plenty of luck in just about every baseball stat, and that goes double for defensive stats. A good fielding performance means that a defender made more plays than you'd expect him to. It doesn't mean he's the next Adam Everett (though he could be!), or that he'll even be above average next year, just that he had a great year.

Another lacking--and this is something I'm working on--is that all of these stats are relative to league average. It seems like a reasonable assumption that an "average" shortstop in Triple-A is much better than his "average" counterpart in Single-A. Along the same lines, an average fielder in Triple-A would be below average in the majors. Many players improve in their first few years in organized ball, and more importantly, those who aren't good enough either get cut or move to a less demanding position.

Finally, these numbers aren't park-adjusted. With only one complete year of data to go on, defensive park factors would be almost as unreliable as the numbers they would adjust. Keep that in mind when you see some of the staggeringly high play totals for corner outfielders.

What follows is a top-ten list for the minor leagues at every position I've done so far. Each list shows the number of innings played at the position (IP), the number of plays made above average (PAA), and the number of plays above average per 150 games (PAA/150). The cutoff for inclusion is 600 innings played at that position; in most cases, the stats you see reflect the player's entire season, regardless of whether they were promoted or traded at some point. With all of that out of the way, let's see some numbers!

Second Base

```Player            Level   Org      IP      PAA    PAA/150
Mario Holmann     A/A+    Nyy      727.7    49      91
Brian Cleveland   A+/AA   Flo      674      33      66
Fernando Cortez   AAA     Kan/Tam  699.3    29      56
Joshua Johnson    A       Kan      865.7    35      55
Eric Patterson    AA/AAA  Chc     1147      41      48
Drew Sutton       A+      Hou     1016.7    36      48
Luis Cruz         AA      Sdp      701      24      46
Jayson Nix        AAA     Col      867.7    29      44
Brooks Badeaux    AA/AAA  Bal      649.3    21      44
James Guerrero    A       Flo      608.3    19      41
```

After Eric Patterson and maybe Jayson Nix, this is not a list of attention-getting names. Indeed, there aren't a whole lot of big-name 2B prospects in the minors; many future second basemen still consider themselves shortstops. That said, Dodger farmhands Blake Dewitt and Tony Abreu both look solid: each are in the top 20 of all minor leaguers, with 20 and 22 PAA/150, respectively.

Third Base

```Player            Level   Org      IP      PAA    PAA/150
Jonathan Malo     SS/A+   Nym      707.7    37      71
Edward Lucas      A+      Kan     1036.7    46      59
Patrick Cottrell  A+      Tam      898      37      55
Kevin Kouzmanoff  AA/AAA  Cle      633.7    24      51
Brennan King      AAA     Phi      821.7    30      49
Vince Rooi        A+      Pit      929.7    34      49
Ian Stewart       AA      Col     1006.3    34      46
Nick Petrucci     A       Cle      752.3    24      44
Pat Osborn        AA      Cle      614.3    20      43
```

Even after trading Kevin Kouzmanoff, the Indians are stacked. Five more spots down the list is Andy Marte at 36 PAA/150. However, in the neighborhood are also some names that may lead you to question how valuable an above-average AAA defender is: Earl Snyder, Mike Hessman, and Fernando Tatis are among the top 30, above 20 PAA/150. Either Snyder and Hessman have gotten bad raps that relegate them to the Quad-A all-star team, or the difference between MLB-quality and AAA-quality hot corner defense is huge.

Shortstop

```Player            Level   Org      IP      PAA    PAA/150
Ramiro Pena       A+/AA   Nyy      673.3    36      72
Kevin Hooper      AAA     Det      669.7    35      71
Agustin Septimo   A       Flo      631      33      70
Jonathan Diaz     SS      Tor      625      32      70
Agustin Septimo   A       Flo      644.3    32      67
Leonardo Acosta   Rk/A    Chw      693.7    32      62
Brent Lillibridge A       Pit      624.3    28      60
Brian Bixler      A+      Pit      623.7    27      57
Andy Cannizaro    AAA     Nyy      879.3    36      55
Oswaldo Navarro   AA      Sea      694.3    26      50
Jesus Gonzalez    A       Tor      796.7    28      48
```

Meet your future utilitymen. If any of these guys can consistently play shortstop at this level, there ought to be a roster spot for them someday. (Though Andy Cannizaro might be best off finding a new organization.) Of the big-time SS prospects in the minors, Reid Brignac, Brandon Wood, and Dustin Pedroia had the best defensive seasons in 2006, each in the neighborhood of 10 PAA/150. On the basis of their performance this year, Troy Tulowitzki, Erick Aybar, Chin-lung Hu, Stephen Drew, and (surprise) B.J. Upton will need to improve substantially to play a decent big-league shortstop.

Center Field

```Player            Level   Org      IP      PAA    PAA/150
Jacoby Ellsbury   A+/AA   Bos      914      44      65
Justin Upton      A       Ari      918.3    32      47
Brent Johnson     A+      Sea      847.3    28      45
Dustin Majewski   A+/AA   Tor      856      28      44
Tony Gwynn Jr.    AAA     Mil      812.7    26      44
Antoan Richardson A       Sfg     1000.7    29      39
Chris Amador      A+/AA   Chw      805.7    23      39
Sam Fuld          A+      Chc      734      21      38
Yordany Ramirez   A+      Sdp      638.7    17      37
Matt Young        A+      Atl      747      20      36
```

I can't wait to work out MLB equivalents for these; if Ellsbury's true talent level is even half of his 2006 PAA/150, he could be one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball right now. It's tough to get quite so excited about Justin Upton just yet, but Diamondbacks fans who would like to see him stick in center have to be encouraged by his ranking here. Just out of the top 10 is another major prospect, Carlos Gomez of the Mets, who put together 32 PAA/150.

Other prospects who seem to deserve their reputations are Chris Young (28 PAA/150), Michael Bourn (26), Cameron Maybin (21), Felix Pie (19), Adam Jones (18), and Fernando Perez (16).

Left Field/Right Field

```Player            Level   Org      IP      PAA    PAA/150
Tim Battle        A/A+    Nyy      899.3    56      84
Drew Anderson     AA/AAA  Mil      953.7    55      78
Quentin Davis     A       Atl      736.3    42      77
Charlton Jimerson AAA     Hou      685.7    34      67
Jonel Pacheco     A       Nym      889.3    33      50
Travis Buck       A+/AA   Oak      749.7    27      49
Leyson Septimo    A       Ari     1111.3    38      46
Brian Gordon      AAA     Hou      672      22      44
Cody Strait       A+      Cin     1144.7    37      44
Doug Clark        AAA     Oak      750.3    23      41
```

Since so many minor leaguers bounce around the outfield, especially when they switch teams, there are lot more qualifying corner outfielders if I put the innings totals together. As I mentioned above, some of these numbers are ridiculously high for corner guys--do you really think Tim Battle was worth 3 or 4 wins with the glove? It's always possible: in 233 innings in center, Battle racked up another 12 plays above average.

Of the familiar names who had good defensive seasons, Adam Lind sticks out; there seem to be plenty of questions about his glovework, but he put up 28 PAA/150 in 2006. Also respectable were Nelson Cruz (38, good for a spot in the top 20), Luke Scott (22), and Hunter Pence (18).

By Way of Conclusion...

There's a lot of work left to be done to know just how much these numbers mean, but if nothing else, it's nice to have some statistical corroboration for some common scouting reports. It will probably take another season or two of data to come up with accurate park adjustments and comparisons between each level and the major leagues. For now, we can already spot some potentially undervalued players, and raise our eyebrows at the raves granted to others. Standing at the edge of a new frontier is always exciting, even if you can see nothing but clouds.

Jeff Sackmann is a weekly columnist for The Hardball Times and the creator of MinorLeagueSplits.com, the only source for comprehensive split and situational stats for every active Minor Leaguer. He is a long-time Brewers fan and blogs about them at BrewCrewBall.com. He also contributes to the fantasy magazine Heater and the football site PackerBackerBlog.com. Jeff lives in New York City, where he earns his keep helping people get into business school.

 Baseball Beat November 28, 2006
2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part Three)

Our free agent series concludes today with The Best of the Rest, a smorgasbord of mid-level and second-tier hitters and pitchers not featured in the first two parts. Teams should be looking to fill specific needs and round out rosters by giving such players one- and two-year deals, yet market forces will bestow three- and four-year contracts on many of these fortunate souls.

The following free agents are presented in alphabetical order as we believe the average annual salaries will prove to be virtually indistinguishable when it's all said and done.

Moises Alou - 40 - OF - 2006: San Francisco Giants

.301 AVG/.352 OBP/.571 SLG | HR 22 | RBI 74 | 28 BB/31 SO

Alou signed a one-year, \$8.5M deal with the New York Mets more than a week ago. He seems like a perfect fit for the NL East champs. The 15-year veteran should be able to give his club 120 quality starts in left field, sitting out against certain righthanders and in day games following night contests. Endy Chavez can also replace Alou for defensive purposes when the Mets have late-inning leads.

How good is Alou? Well, Felipe's son slugged 22 HR in fewer than 100 games last year. He has over 2,000 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .301. Moises has tattooed lefties to the tune of .330/.395/.556 over the years. Still not convinced of his place in baseball history? OK, try this on for size: Alou's OPS+ of 128 is the same as Jim Rice, the man who garnered the second-highest vote total in the 2006 Hall of Fame balloting.

Ray Durham - 35 - 2B - 2006: San Francisco Giants

.293 AVG/.360 OBP/.538 SLG | HR 26 | RBI 93 | 51 BB/61 SO

Durham set career highs in HR and RBI last year. His SLG was more than .050 better than his previous single-season best. You would think he could really cash in on his numbers, but the problem is that nobody knows how much an aging second baseman with limited defensive skills should be paid.

Projection: If Durham is willing to settle for a one-year deal, he could probably command upwards of \$10 million. But no GM is going to pay him that kind of money for anything beyond a year. Grab the money, Ray, and worry about next year next year.

Adam Eaton - 29 - SP - 2006: Texas Rangers

W-L 7-4 | ERA 5.12 | WHIP 1.57 | 65 IP | 43 K/24 BB

What goes around comes around. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Eaton in the first round of the 1996 amateur draft, then re-signed him as a free agent ten years later. The two sides reached a three-year, \$24 million deal yesterday, including a mutual option for a fourth season that could bring the overall package to more than \$33 million.

Long on potential and short on results, a healthy Eaton will be counted on to give the Phillies 30 starts next year. Just don't look for him to beat his career 4.65 road ERA pitching half of his games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

Kei Igawa - 27 - SP - 2006: Hanshin Tigers

W-L 14-9 | ERA 2.97 | WHIP 1.10 | 209 IP | 194 K/49 BB

Igawa, who has a career mark of 86-60 in Japan, had his finest season in 2003 when he went 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA, leading the Central League in wins and ERA. He won the Sawamura Award, given to the top pitcher in Nippon, and was selected as the Central League's MVP. The fifth-fastest pitcher in Nippon history to strike out at least 1,000 batters, Igawa led the league in Ks in 2002, 2004, and 2006.

According to ESPN's Keith Law, Igawa has a "below-average fastball in the 84-88 mph range with a little run, and a plus 74-79 mph curveball with a late two-plane break." He is likely to be placed at the back-end of the rotation but could wind up as a LOOGY if righthanded batters feast on his soft offerings.

Projection: Igawa became the third Japanese player posted this offseason. Bids were due by 5 p.m. ET on Monday. The Yankees, Mets, and Cubs were rumored to have shown an interest in the lefthanded starter.

Update (11/28) - Yanks win Igawa rights with \$25M bid

Akinori Iwamura - 28 - 3B or LF - 2006: Yakult Swallows

.311 AVG/.389 OBP/.544 SLG | HR 32 | RBI 77 | 70 BB/128 SO

Iwamura, an eight-year veteran of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Central League and a member of Japan's World Baseball Classic championship team, has been known to slug home runs and strike out a lot. The soon-to-be 28-year-old throws right and bats left. He has won five Gold Gloves at third base in Japan, yet may find himself playing left field for the Devil Rays (who have B.J. Upton and minor league sensation Evan Longoria waiting in the wings to man the hot corner).

If you're looking for some predictions as to how Iwamura might do here in the States, then check out Jeff Sackmann's recent article for The Hardball Times.

Projection: Tampa Bay paid \$4.5 million to win the right to negotiate with Iwamura. I have no idea what the terms of any contract will look like. Just put me in the skeptical camp.

Julio Lugo - 31 - SS - 2006: Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Los Angeles Dodgers

.278 AVG/.341 OBP/.421 SLG | HR 12 | SB 24 | 39 BB/76 SO

Will the real Julio Lugo please step forward? The TB version hit .308/.373/.498 with 12 HR in 289 AB while stealing 18 bases in 22 attempts. Meanwhile, the imposter who played for the LAD hit (so to speak) .219/.278/.267 with 0 HR (yes, ZERO) in 146 AB and 6 SB/5 CS.

Maybe the Devil (Rays) made him do it. If Lugo had performed at that level all year, he might be looking at something approaching Rafael Furcal's 3x13 contract in a market as lucrative as this year's. On the other hand, the guy who played for the Dodgers should be thankful if a team offers him an Alex Gonzalez three-year, \$14M deal.

Projection: The truth of the matter will fall somewhere between what Furcal and Gonzalez are making. Call it 4x8 with Boston but not until Theo & Co. unloads Manny Ramirez to free up the needed cash to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and finally Lugo.

Greg Maddux - 41 - SP - 2006: Chicago Cubs/Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L 15-14 | ERA 4.20 | WHIP 1.22 | 210 IP | 117 K/37 BB

Maddux had a much lower ERA (3.30) and WHIP (1.09) with the Dodgers than the Cubs, but his strikeout rate dipped to less than 1 K per 2 IP while pitching for LA. The 4-time Cy Young Award winner still throws strikes but now needs a big ballpark and a strong defense in order to succeed. The San Diego Padres fit the bill although I suspect that Kevin Kouzmanoff could become a minor problem at third base should he win that job.

Projection: One or two years, at or near \$8M per season.

Gil Meche - 28 - SP - 2006: Seattle Mariners

W-L 11-8 | ERA 4.48 | WHIP 1.43 | 186.2 IP | 156 K/84 BB

A first-round draft pick in 1996, Meche has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him in the early years of his career. A victim of two shoulder surgeries, he missed the entire 2001 and 2002 seasons and has only been a shadow of what was once expected of him.

From 2003-2006, Meche has posted single-season ERAs ranging from 4.48 to 5.09 despite starting nearly half his games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. His road ERA during this period has been 5.41. Don't say you weren't forewarned.

Projection: 4 x 8. The Cubs seem to have the inside track on Meche. Blame Lou Piniella for hanging onto yesteryear's hopes and dreams rather than paying attention to his actual performance the past four years.

Jeff Weaver - 30 - SP - 2006: St. Louis Cardinals

W-L 8-14 | ERA 5.76 | WHIP 1.51 | 172 IP | 107 K/47 BB

My, how things change. Weaver turned down a multi-year offer from the Dodgers a yaer ago, then signed a one-year contract with the Angels last spring, only to find himself DFA'd in late June to make room for his younger brother Jered, traded to the Cardinals by the ASG, and finally becoming one of the most unlikely postseason heroes for the World Series champs.

Projection: Weaver is likely to sign the biggest contract in the history of the game for a pitcher coming off a season with a 5.76 ERA. If he pitches like he did in the playoffs (when he won a game in each of the three series), Weaver will be a bargain at a 3x8-type deal. On the other hand, if Jeff reverts to his in-season form, he won't be worth the piece of paper he signs.

Randy Wolf - 30 - SP - 2006: Philadelphia Phillies

W-L 4-0 | ERA 5.56 | WHIP 1.69 | 56.2 IP | 44 K/33 BB

A native of Southern California, Wolf has reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the Dodgers that guarantees him a minimum of \$8 million (\$7.5M salary plus a \$500K buyout if the \$9M team option for 2008 isn't exercised).

Wolf threw a total of 136.2 innings in 2005-2006 and hasn't pitched a full season since 2003. Apparently fully recovered from Tommy John surgery on July 1, 2005, the southpaw figures to earn a spot in the rotation next spring. A gamble for sure but a relatively low-risk one, given the short-term nature of the contract.

*****

Other Position Players

C: Rod Barajas, Mike Lieberthal, Bengie Molina, Mike Piazza, Gregg Zaun (TOR, 2/7.25)
1B: Sean Casey (DET, 1x4), Shea Hillenbrand, Craig Wilson
2B: Ronnie Belliard, Mark DeRosa (CHC, 3/13), Adam Kennedy, Mark Loretta, Jose Valentin (NYM, 1x3.8)
3B: David Bell, Pedro Feliz, Wes Helms (PHI, 2/5.45), Aubrey Huff, Scott Spiezio (STL, 2/4.5)
SS: Alex Gonzalez (CIN, 3/14)
UT: Craig Counsell
OF: Frank Catalanotto (TEX, 3/13), Cliff Floyd, David Dellucci (CLE, 3/11.5), Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen, Kenny Lofton, Trot Nixon, Jay Payton, Dave Roberts, Preston Wilson

Other Pitchers

SP: Tony Armas, Miguel Batista, Bruce Chen, Orlando Hernandez (NYM, 2x6), Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Marquis, Mark Mulder, Tomo Ohka, Chan Ho Park, Mark Redman, Steve Trachsel, Woody Williams (HOU, 2/12.5)
RP: Danys Baez (BAL, 3/19), Joe Borowski, Chad Bradford, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, LaTroy Hawkins, Dustin Hermanson, Roberto Hernandez, Dan Kolb, Arthur Rhodes, David Riske, Justin Speier (LAA, 4/18), Mike Stanton (CIN, 2/5.5), Jamie Walker (BAL, 3x4), Kerry Wood

The above lists are not meant to be all inclusive. For a full report, be sure to visit ESPN's Free Agent Tracker.

 Baseball Beat November 27, 2006
2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part Two)

Part One: Top Ten Hitters

Our free agency preview continues with a focus on the Top Ten Pitchers. As with the hitters, the pitchers are ranked based on their average annual projected salary. Unlike last year, there are no high-end relievers to speak of among the current crop of free agents.

1. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 26 - SP - 2006: Seibu Lions

W-L 17-5 | ERA 2.13 | WHIP 0.92 | 186.1 IP | 200 K/34 BB

Fifty-one point one million dollars. No, that's not how much Matsuzaka got; that's how much the Seibu Lions stand to make if the free agent pitcher agrees to terms with the Boston Red Sox. As the story goes, the Red Sox decided to submit a bid for \$50M, then bumped it up a million in case another team had the same number in mind, and finally tagged on a bunch of 1s at the end just to be sure. Well, at an exchange rate of approximately 117-118 Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar, a bid of \$51,111,111.11 also equals 6 billion yen.

Matsuzaka was the #1 pick of the 1998 draft, Rookie of the Year in 1999, ERA leader in 2003, Olympian in 2004, and the MVP of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. He has thrown 1402.2 innings in his eight-year career in the Japanese Leagues. His total through age 25 has been exceeded by only eight pitchers in MLB's expansion era. It's a who's who of elite young hurlers but most of them had a difficult time maintaining a similar level of success over the ensuing years.

```                             IP
1  Bert Blyleven            1909
2  Larry Dierker            1625
3  Catfish Hunter           1587
4  Fernando Valenzuela      1554.2
5  Dwight Gooden            1523.2
6  Denny McLain             1501
7  Joe Coleman              1417
8  Frank Tanana             1411.1
9  Vida Blue                1367.2
10  Dennis Eckersley         1346
```

Projection: 3 x \$15M. Total cost? \$96.1M or over \$32M per year. Boston has until December 15 to ink the Japanese star to a contract. The deal will get done. Everybody has too much at stake not to make it happen. The Seibu Lions pick up a cool \$51M, Matsuzaka's annual salary quintuples, agent Scott Boras gets his usual 6%, and the Red Sox add a premier starting pitcher to its rotation. If there is a hitch, it is on the number of years. The Red Sox would like to amortize the \$51M over a longer contract whereas Boras will be seeking as short a deal as possible in the hopes of hitting an even bigger jackpot when his client becomes an unrestricted free agent and can negotiate with all 30 teams.

2. Roger Clemens - 44 - SP - 2006: Houston Astros

W-L 7-6 | ERA 2.30 | WHIP 1.04 | 113.1 IP | 102 K/29 BB

Clemens left no doubt last year that he can still pitch. His rate stats were every bit as good as the prior two years when he finished first and third in the NL Cy Young balloting. His monthly splits point to a pitcher who is as good as anyone in the game.

```              BAA    OBP    SLG     ERA
June         .225   .295   .275    2.38
July         .215   .254   .333    2.00
August       .239   .283   .394    2.54
Sept/Oct     .179   .278   .221    2.33
```

Projection: Clemens either retires or signs a contract worth about \$3M-\$4M per month. If not Houston, then Boston.

3. Barry Zito - 28 - SP - 2006: Oakland A's

W-L 16-10 | ERA 3.83 | WHIP 1.40 | 221 IP | 151 K/99 BB

Zito has been a solid pitcher over the years. He has a terrific career win-loss record of 102-63 and a Cy Young Award to boot. However, his reputation may actually exceed his performance at this point. Barry's strikeout rate in 2006 was his lowest in three years and his walk rate was the highest since his rookie season. Furthermore, he is prone to giving up gopher balls, allowing 1.1 HR/9 IP over the past three campaigns. An ace, he's not. A reliable starter who will take the ball every fifth day, he is.

The Mets seem like the most likely suitor, especially if Tom Glavine ends up in Atlanta. New York has the money, the need, and a pitching coach (Rick Peterson) who enjoyed success working with Zito for four years in Oakland, including Barry's Cy Young season in 2002. The Angels, Dodgers, and Padres are probably in the hunt as well but unlikely competitive at the upper end of the range.

Projection: Minimum 5 x \$15M. Given what we have seen thus far, I wouldn't be surprised if Zito ended up signing for something like 6/\$100M unless he chooses to give up a few bucks for the comfort of playing in his home state of California.

4. Jason Schmidt - 34 - SP - 2006: San Francisco Giants

W-L 11-9 | ERA 3.59 | WHIP 1.26 | 213.1 IP | 180 K/80 BB

Schmidt is no longer as dominant as he was in 2003-2004, yet still ranks among the top 20 starters in baseball. He is a power pitcher who can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s on occasion and has one of the more effective changeups in the game. Given his age and injury history, Schmidt is a risky bet for the back half of his next contract. He has a higher ceiling than Zito but isn't nearly as dependable.

Projection: Widely rumored to be heading to Seattle, look for Schmidt to ink a four-year contract at about \$13M per season. However, don't be surprised if Ned Colletti jumps into the mix and pays up for the veteran righthander with the idea of trading Chad Billingsley or Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton for the bat he covets.

5. Andy Pettitte - 34 - SP - 2006: Houston Astros

W-L 14-13 | ERA 4.20 | WHIP 1.44 | 214.1 IP | 178 K/70 BB

Pettitte had an up and down season last year. You might say he was a Tale of Two Pitchers.

```               IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP  K/BB
1st Half    121.0  150  78  71  18  43  92  5.28  1.60  2.14
2nd Half     93.1   88  36  29   9  27  86  2.80  1.23  3.19
```

Based on how Pettitte pitched in the second half, you might also say he is the best lefthanded pitcher on the market.

Projection: Depending on what Andy would like to do, I could see him signing anything from a one-year, \$15M deal to a three-year, \$36M contract.

6. Mike Mussina - 38 - SP - 2006: New York Yankees

W-L 15-7 | ERA 3.51 | WHIP 1.11 | 197.1 IP | 172 K/35 BB

Despite little acclaim, Mussina enjoyed a fabulous season last year. To wit, he ranked third in the AL in WHIP, H/9 (8.39), BB/9 (1.60), and K/BB (4.91); and fourth in ERA and ERA+ (125).

Moose recently re-upped with the New York Yankees for two years and \$23 million. His new contract will look like a bargain in six weeks.

7. Tom Glavine - 41 - SP - 2006: New York Mets

W-L 15-7 | ERA 3.82 | WHIP 1.33 | 198 IP | 131 K/62 BB

In a game of cat and mouse, Glavine declined his \$7.5M player option and the Mets rejected a \$14M team option. One thing we all know for certain, the crafty lefthander will play somewhere next season. More than the money, Glavine's biggest motivating factor for coming back is the desire to win 10 more games to reach the magic 300 mark.

Long removed from being a contender for his league's Cy Young Award, the two-time recipient is still a capable starter. His ERA has only exceeded the 4.00 level twice in the last 16 years. Relying on a changeup for more than one-third of his pitches, Glavine is good for 32-33 starts and 200 innings.

Projection: Look for the future Hall of Famer to work out a two-year deal with either the Mets or the Braves at an average annual salary north of \$7.5M and south of \$14M. Let's round it to an even \$10M per year. The Braves will get the nod if they cough up the dough.

8. Jeff Suppan - 32 - SP - 2006: St. Louis Cardinals

W-L 12-7 | ERA 4.12 | WHIP 1.45 | 190 IP | 104 K/69 BB

More than anything else, Suppan is an innings eater. You can put him down for 31-32 GS and 190-200 IP. The results will be no better than average. He will allow more hits than innings, one walk every three frames, and one HR per nine. Shake it all up and the guy will give you what looks like a quality start every outing. Six innings, three runs.

Projection: Nothing short of 4 x \$10M. Mark my words, this is the contract that is going to make people sit up and take notice. Yes, Jeff Suppan is going to sign a new contract for at least \$40 million. It won't be with the Cardinals at that price.

9. Vicente Padilla - 29 - SP - 2006: Texas Rangers

W-L 15-10 | ERA 4.50 | WHIP 1.38 | 200 IP | 156 K/70 BB

A strong case can be made "for" or "against" Padilla. He has a live arm and quality stuff. But he also has a poor reputation when it comes to makeup. A lack of consistent focus on the mound has produced a number of good and bad outings over the years. When Padilla's good, he can be really good. When Padilla's bad, he can be really bad.

Projection: Speaking of 4 x 10, the first team that comes up with Padilla's rumored asking price will sign him. The Rangers and Cubs have apparently shown the most interest thus far. Padilla could also wind up being an option for those teams shut out of the higher-priced talent. Drinking problems and all, don't be surprised if he gets it.

10. Ted Lilly - 31 - SP - 2006: Toronto Blue Jays

W-L 15-13 | ERA 4.31 | WHIP 1.43 | 182.2 IP | 160 K/81 BB

Lilly is a lot like Zito in terms of stuff but not necessarily performance. In his defense, Lilly has pitched in more difficult home ballparks than his fellow lefty but has never thrown 200 innings in a single season or had an ERA below 4.00 in over 100 IP.

Despite a less than stellar track record, Lilly will undoubtedly cash in on the fact that he is southpaw who is alive and kicking.

Projection: The Blue Jays or Yankees will sign him for four years at about \$9M per season. Raise your son to be a lefty, tell him to hang in there for six years, and then team up with Scott Boras. Heck, Larry O'Brien might even due.

 Baseball Beat November 22, 2006
RBI, RBI, RBI . . .

The 2006 Most Valuable Player voting results have been tabulated...and the winners are Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau!

NATIONAL LEAGUE

```
Player            Team  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Pts
Ryan Howard       PHI   20  12  -   -   -   -   -   -   -    -   388
Albert Pujols     STL   12  19  1   -   -   -   -   -   -    -   347
Lance Berkman     HOU   -   -   21  4   3   2   1   -   1    -   230
Carlos Beltran    NYM   -   1   5   15  6   2   2   1   -    -   211
Miguel Cabrera    FLA   -   -   2   6   10  5   5   1   2    -   170
Alfonso Soriano   WAS   -   -   1   2   4   6   1   7   2    1   106
Jose Reyes        NYM   -   -   1   1   5   5   3   4   1    2    98
Chase Utley       PHI   -   -   -   1   -   6   7   10  1    1    98
David Wright      NYM   -   -   1   1   2   2   5   2   3    1    70
Trevor Hoffman    SD    -   -   -   2   1   1   1   2   2    7    46
Andruw Jones      ATL   -   -   -   -   -   1   2   1   5    3    29
Carlos Delgado    NYM   -   -   -   -   1   1   1   -   2    4    23
Nomar Garciaparra LA    -   -   -   -   -   -   2   -   3    4    18
Rafael Furcal     LA    -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   3    1    11
Garrett Atkins    COL   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   1   -    2    10
Matt Holliday     COL   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   2    3    10
Aramis Ramirez    CHC   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   1    -     5
Freddy Sanchez    PIT   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   2    1     5
Chris Carpenter   STL   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   -    -     4
Chipper Jones     ATL   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -    -     3
Mike Cameron      SD    -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Jimmy Rollins     PHI   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Bronson Arroyo    CIN   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
Jason Bay         PIT   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
```

AMERICAN LEAGUE

```
Player            Team  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Pts
Justin Morneau    MIN   15  8   3   2   -   -   -   -   -    -   320
Derek Jeter       NYY   12  14  -   1   -   1   -   -   -    -   306
David Ortiz       BOS   -   1   11  5   7   3   1   -   -    -   193
Frank Thomas      OAK   -   3   4   7   7   4   1   -   -    -   174
Jermaine Dye      CWS   -   1   2   6   5   7   4   2   1    -   156
Joe Mauer         MIN   -   -   3   6   1   2   5   3   2    1   116
Johan Santana     MIN   1   -   5   1   3   3   3   1   1    3   114
Travis Hafner     CLE   -   1   -   -   -   2   4   7   3    2    64
Vladimir Guerrero LAA   -   -   -   -   -   2   3   4   6    -    46
Carlos Guillen    DET   -   -   -   -   1   -   3   3   2    3    34
Grady Sizemore    CLE   -   -   -   -   1   -   1   1   2    7    24
Jim Thome         CWS   -   -   -   -   -   1   3   -   -    -    17
Alex Rodriguez    NYY   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   2   -    1    13
Jason Giambi      NYY   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   1    -     9
Johnny Damon      NYY   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   -   -    1     7
Justin Verlander  DET   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   -   -    1     7
Ichiro Suzuki     SEA   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   1    -     7
Joe Nathan        MIN   -   -   -   -   -   1   -   -   -    1     6
Manny Ramirez     BOS   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   1    1     6
Miguel Tejada     BAL   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   2    1     5
Raul Ibanez       SEA   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -    1     4
Robinson Cano     NYY   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -    -     3
Paul Konerko      CWS   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -    -     3
Magglio Ordonez   DET   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1   -    -     3
Vernon Wells      TOR   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    1     3
Carl Crawford     TB    -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Mariano Rivera    NYY   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Kenny Rogers      DET   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Chien-Ming Wang   NYY   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   1    -     2
Troy Glaus        TOR   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
Gary Matthews Jr. TEX   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
A.J. Pierzynski   CWS   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
Michael Young     TEX   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -    1     1
```

There were 32 voters in the NL and 28 in the AL. Two writers per team. The results left me scratching my head on Monday and Tuesday.

Howard picked up 20 of the 32 first place votes. Morneau received 15 of the 28. The NL MVP placed first or second on every ballot. The AL MVP finished no lower than fourth.

I "voted" for Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter. I still feel good about both. But what do I know? I had Howard fourth and Morneau seventh!

Pujols and Howard were close, but it's much easier to make an argument for the former than the latter. Pujols (.331/.431/.671) beat Howard (.313/.425/.659) across the board in AVG/OBP/SLG. He led the league in OPS (1102). They both play first base - Pujols like the Gold Glove winner he was; Howard like a DH. In short, Pujols, not Howard, was the best player in the league.

I realize that Howard (58) hit more HR than Pujols (49). He also had more RBI (149 to 137). Good for him on both fronts. But if we are going to make a big deal about RBI, what about runs scored? Pujols had 119. Howard had 104. Albert had more RBI plus R than Howard. Subtract the double counting from the roundtrippers and the gap widens to 12. Yes, Pujols produced a dozen more runs than Howard.

Now I don't want to overstate the importance of runs batted in or runs scored, particularly as standalone stats. Instead, my purpose is to point out the foolishness of paying so much attention to RBI, especially at the expense of R. I recognize that voters have valued this stat highly now for a number of years but that doesn't make it right.

Moving on to the AL, Morneau's selection is even more difficult to comprehend. He was second in the league in RBI (130) behind David Ortiz (137). Ortiz, in fact, had more RBI and R (115 to 97) than Morneau, yet finished third in the voting. Ortiz also had a much higher OBP (.413 to .375) and SLG (.636 to .559) than Morneau. Other than the differences in positions, it is hard for me to even understand how one could vote for the Minnesota first baseman over the Boston designated hitter.

Mind you, I'm not trying to make a case for Ortiz per se. I'm only pointing out that he was at least as worthy as Morneau. Writers apparently got behind their MVP choice based on what he did from June 7 through the end of the season. Look, I don't want to dismiss his contributions and how they coincided with the fortunes of the Twins, but don't the first two months count, too? Justin was as responsible for the team's shortcomings in April and May as he was for the club's surge in June through September.

I believe Morneau was no better than the third most valuable player on his own team. Yes, I have no doubt that Joe Mauer and Johan Santana were more deserving than their teammate. Mauer led the league in batting average (.347) and had a significantly higher OBP (.429) while playing a more important and demanding position at or near the highest level in the game.

Santana led the majors in ERA (2.77), wins (19), and strikeouts (245) - the Triple Crown of Pitching. Although a starting pitcher only takes the mound every fifth game, they have just as much impact as hitters. To wit, Santana faced 923 batters last year and was partly or wholly responsible for 701 outs. Morneau had 661 plate appearances.

Morneau was 10th in the league in Runs Created Above Average. I know this much for sure: if a 1B who adds little or no value in the field or on the base paths is 10th in an all encompassing hitting stat like RCAA, he ain't the MVP.

ESPN's Keith Law wrote an excellent diatribe on the MVP selections (subscription required):

I think all carping about the NL MVP voters getting their choice wrong must immediately cease. The AL's voters couldn't even correctly identify the most valuable Twin, never mind wrapping their heads around a whole league.

The reality of baseball is that a great offensive player at an up-the-middle position is substantially more valuable than a slightly better hitter at a corner position. And when that up-the-middle player is one of the best fielders at his position in baseball, there's absolutely no comparison. Joe Mauer was more valuable than Justin Morneau this past season. If you don't understand that, you don't understand the first thing about baseball.

Dayn Perry of FOX Sports wrote an equally profound piece:

The fact that Howard had more RBI is a result of the fact that he had more RBI opportunities - period. As well, consider how their 2006 numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG) compare in certain RBI situations:
```Player    w/RISP           w/Runners on base    w/RISP and two outs
Howard   .256/.423/.518    .287/.436/.644       .247/.468/.480
Pujols   .397/.535/.802    .343/.475/.729       .435/.581/.826
```

There's just no comparison. Pujols, quite plainly, was better than Howard in RBI situations, and it's not a particularly close call. Again, Howard had more RBI because he had more opportunities. This is say nothing of the fact that Howard played his home games in a park that's much more accommodating toward hitters.

Law and Perry got it right. Kudos to them. I wish I could say the same for the writers who voted for these awards.

 Baseball Beat November 21, 2006
Making Ned Resign

Today's regularly scheduled programming has been changed. It was my intention to rank the Top Ten Free Agent Pitchers. However, I couldn't resist discussing the free agent signing of Juan Pierre and what it might foretell for the future of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I'm quite certain that General Manager Ned Colletti believes he just found the perfect fit for his ball club. With Pierre now in the fold, the Dodgers don't have to worry about a center fielder or a lead-off hitter for five years. Yes, five years. Wait a minute. . .Come to think of it, this signing means the Dodgers do have to worry about center field and the man at the top of their lineup for five years. And that, my Dodgers friends, is the problem.

As I see it, this acquisition says more about Colletti and his "old school" philosophy than any move he has made thus far. If he believes tying up \$45 million over the next five years on a player such as Pierre is a good use of the organization's resources, well, what can I say that I haven't said already?

I wrote the following in my 2006-2007 Free Agency Preview on Monday:

Pierre has led the league in hits in two of the past three seasons, but he has also finished in the top two in outs in each of the last four campaigns. The hits are nice. The outs are painful. As a lead-off hitter who plays everyday and doesn't walk or strike out much, he gets plenty of both.

The bottom line is that Pierre is one of the most overrated players in the game. He was first-team All-OOPs in 2006 and second-team All-OOPs in 2005. Pierre can still run and, in fact, has finished first or second in stolen bases in every full season of his career. He can chase down fly balls but his arm is well below average, making him nothing more than a passable center fielder.

In order to be defamed as an All-OOPs honoree, a player, by definition, is a singles hitter who only walks on occasion and rarely slugs home runs. In other words, batting average makes up the lion's share of his value.

I mean, I just don't get it. Here is what I wrote in the comments section attached to yesterday's article.

Why the Dodgers would ink Pierre to a long-term deal is beyond me. Not only do they have Matt Kemp in waiting but re-signing Kenny Lofton for one year could give the team almost everything Pierre can (albeit in 25 or so fewer games) for a lot less money - and I'm not even a Lofton fan!

In the grand opening of Weekend at Colletti's last year, the movie poster stated, "Ned Colletti would be the perfect General Manager except for one small thing. . .He's working for Frank and Jamie McCourt."

Well, it's no longer on the McCourts. You see, the Pierre signing is on Colletti and nobody else. No blaming Frank and Jamie here. No blaming Paul DePodesta. Heck, you can't even blame Al Campanis for this one.

As a public service for all Dodgers fans, I am hereby releasing the sequel to last year's blockbuster. The name of the movie? Making Ned Resign. Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Who knows? Maybe it will be a (Logan) White Christmas after all. If not this year, then perhaps next.

 Baseball Beat November 20, 2006
2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part One)

The free agent class this year will be the most handsomely rewarded of them all. Baseball teams are swimming in cash and will be looking to put the money to bad. . .err, good. . .use in order to improve their competitive positions. In a nutshell, we will see players getting more money, more years, and a lot more total dollars.

Oh, I don't expect anybody to challenge Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, \$252 million jackpot but that was a special situation unlikely to be seen anytime soon. A-Rod was a 25-year-old shortstop who was already regarded as one of the best players in the history of the game. Nonetheless, hit for hit and strikeout for strikeout, players will be as amply rewarded this offseason as ever.

As to what free agents will end up getting, my suggested rule of thumb is to add one to two years and anywhere from one to four million per season over the numbers one might have expected a year ago. These agreements may not make sense on the surface, but there's no use trying to be overly analytical about such matters at this point.

The free agents are broken down by hitters and pitchers and ranked by projected average annual salary. Part One starts with the top ten hitters (I use that term loosely when including Juan Pierre).

1. Alfonso Soriano - 31 - OF - 2006: Washington Nationals

.277 AVG/.351 OBP/.560 SLG | HR 46 | SB 41 | 67 BB/160 SO

Soriano is coming off a career year with single-season highs in HR, BB, and OPS+ (132). The athletic Soriano became the fourth player in major league history to join the 40-40 HR/SB club. His numbers, however, were not all that different than 2002-03 when he played for the Yankees and hit for a slightly higher average with fewer walks. That said, Alfonso surprised those who were of the belief that his stats in RFK Stadium (with a park factor of 93 in 2005) wouldn't come close to matching the ones he put up in hitter friendly Ameriquest Field (PF of 111 in 2004 and 104 in 2005) the past two years. Well, Soriano not only matched 'em, he bested 'em.

OK, so we know the guy can still put up the numbers. What is he worth in today's market?

Career Totals:

```Player      G    AB    H   2B  3B  HR   BB   SO  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+
Soriano   961  3902 1091  240  18 208  224  836 .280 .325 .510  115
Ramirez  1047  3897 1089  224  11 196  279  596 .279 .332 .493  109
```

Do you see any similarities between the two? Aramis Ramirez just re-signed with the Chicago Cubs for five years and \$75 million. Soriano is 2 1/2 years older than Ramirez. As a left fielder, he plays a less demanding position (yet has the arm strength to play CF or RF). The bottom line is that Ramirez is at least as valuable as Soriano. Given the choice between the two, I would actually take Ramirez.

If Soriano gets the number of years and dollars that has been rumored, then it would be fair to say that he was either overpaid or Ramirez left a lot of money on the table.

Projection: 7 years, \$120M. Most likely sucker acquirer? Chicago Cubs (with the Angels, Dodgers, Astros, and Phillies thanking their lucky stars five years from now).

Update: Soriano and the Cubs reportedly agreed to an eight-year contract worth approximately \$136 million. Like most deals, it is apparently contingent on Soriano passing a physical.

2. Aramis Ramirez - 28 - 3B - 2006: Chicago Cubs

.291 AVG/.352 OBP/.561 SLG | HR 38 | RBI 119 | 50 BB/63

Ramirez opted out of his old contract and filed for free agency at the end of October, then re-signed with the Cubs for five years and \$75 million. As explained in The Art of a Bad Deal Revisited, "his total salary increases by \$7.5M over the next two seasons and he has gained an extra three years of security at \$15M per. The 28-year-old third baseman has a full no-trade clause through 2010 and the right to void his contract after four years."

3. Carlos Lee - 30 - LF - 2006: Milwaukee Brewers/Texas Rangers

.300 AVG/.355 OBP/.540 SLG | HR 37 | RBI 116 | 58 BB/65 SO

Lee is one of the best run producers in this year's crop of free agents. Carlos set career highs in HR and SLG last year while playing 161 games, the sixth time in the past seven years in which he has participated in 150 or more contests. Bad body and all, Lee has been relatively injury-free over the years. However, he is unlikely to age as well as Soriano and may need to become a DH before his next contract expires.

Like fellow free agents Nomar Garciaparra, Aramis Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, and Ray Durham, Lee has the rare ability to jack the ball out of the park without whiffing much. Carlos ranked fourth last year in the majors in the number of home runs per strikeout. Only Albert Pujols slugged more homers and struck out fewer times.

TOP TEN HOME RUN/STRIKEOUTS

```Player               HR    SO    HR/SO
Albert Pujols        49    50     0.98
Nomar Garciaparra    20    30     0.67
Aramis Ramirez       38    63     0.60
Carlos Lee           37    65     0.57
Joe Crede            30    58     0.52
Barry Bonds          26    51     0.51
Frank Thomas         39    81     0.48
David Ortiz          54   117     0.46
Ray Durham           26    61     0.43
```

Projection: Four or five years at \$14-15 million per season. The Astros appear to be the most intent on signing Lee. Peter Gammons reports that Baltimore, San Francisco, and San Diego have also expressed keen interest in the slugging outfielder.

4. J.D. Drew - 31 - RF/CF - 2006: Los Angeles Dodgers

.283 AVG/.393 OBP/.498 SLG | HR 20 | RBI 100 | 89 BB/101 SO

Drew's ability to put up .300/.400/.500-type rate stats won't go unnoticed in this year's free agent frenzy. Five-tool players with a disciplined approach at the plate don't grow on trees. If Drew can handle the defensive demands of center field, his offensive contributions become that much more valuable.

Some teams may hesitate to fork out the big bucks for a guy who has only exceeded 135 games twice in his career and has drawn the wrath of managers and teammates alike. There is no mistaking the fact that Drew is a gamble - a high reward, high risk type investment for his next employer.

Projection: 4 x \$14M. Tracy Ringolsby recently reported that the Red Sox were set to sign Drew for two years and \$30 million. If that were the case, it seems unlikely in the aftermath of Soriano's contract. Agent Scott Boras should be able to double the number of years and perhaps the total dollars in a market with fewer options than teams that are looking for the type of production Drew can offer.

5. Barry Bonds - 42 - LF/DH - 2006: San Francisco Giants

.270 AVG/.454 OBP/.545 SLG | HR 26 | RBI 77 | 115 BB/51 SO

They don't come any more controversial than Bonds. He can still hit and even played left field reasonably well toward the end of the year. How many people realize that Bonds produced at a .319/.437/.652 pace from the beginning of August through the end of the season?

Bonds is 22 home runs short of Hank Aaron's all-time MLB record of 755. If healthy, Barry should have a decent chance of surpassing Aaron in the second half of the year. Whoever signs Bonds will have to put up with him, the media blitz (not likely to be quite as big as once thought), and the steroid allegations for at least a year.

Projection: Not sure. Bonds doesn't want to take a pay cut from the \$18M club option he received last year. On the other hand, the Giants are unlikely to step up again and make that type of financial commitment. The A's are a possible backup option but only on the cheap. A third club could enter the fray with a bid north of the Giants and A's if they get shut out elsewhere.

6. Gary Matthews, Jr. - 32 - CF - 2006: Texas Rangers

.313 AVG/.371 OBP/.495 SLG | HR 19 | RBI 79 | 58 BB/99 SO

Coming off a career year at the age of 31, Matthews is an enigma. Is he as good as he showed last year? Was that a breakout or a fluke season? Is Gary overrated defensively based on a handful of web gem plays or is he a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder?

Digging deeper into the splits provides a little bit of insight as to his offensive capabilities. Matthews was pretty consistent across the board. Not surprisingly, Matthews hit slightly better at home (.324/.396/.512) than on the road (.303/.347/.480). Little Sarge was a tad more productive in the first half (.328/.374/.539) than the second half (.296/.368/.448). He hit with more power vs. LHP as a RHB (.314/.374/.577) than RHP as a LHB (.312/.370/.473). RISP? .302/.383/.575. Nobody on? .312/.370/.474. Leading off an inning? .302/.352/.465.

Take his worst splits and you wind up with .296/.347/.448. The Angels, Dodgers, and Giants, among others, would take those numbers in a heartbeat. Let's not forget, there are several teams looking for a center fielder (including the Rangers). There are just as many seeking a lead-off hitter. Here's a guy who can do both.

Projection: Three years, \$30 million. Don't laugh, it only takes one team. Is he worth it? We'll soon find out.

7. Juan Pierre - 29 - CF - 2006: Chicago Cubs

.292 AVG/.330 OBP/.388 SLG | HR 3 | SB 58 | 32 BB/38 SO

Pierre has led the league in hits in two of the past three seasons, but he has also finished in the top two in outs in each of the last four campaigns. The hits are nice. The outs are painful. As a lead-off hitter who plays everyday and doesn't walk or strike out much, he gets plenty of both.

The bottom line is that Pierre is one of the most overrated players in the game. He was first-team All-OOPs in 2006 and second-team All-OOPs in 2005. Pierre can still run and, in fact, has finished first or second in stolen bases in every full season of his career. He can chase down fly balls but his arm is well below average, making him nothing more than a passable center fielder.

Projection: Three years totaling \$27-30M. Hard to believe but it just goes to show how much money is floating around.

8. Jim Edmonds - 36 - CF - 2006: St. Louis Cardinals

.257 AVG/.350 OBP/.471 SLG | HR 19 | RBI 70 | 53 BB/101 SO

Edmonds showed the Cardinals in October that he can still play and was rewarded with a new two-year contract that will pay him \$8M in 2007 and 2008 plus \$3M deferred, paid in equal installments from 2010-2019. The Redbirds basically spread out the \$3M buyout that was due him over 10 years while keeping him at what looks like a below-average salary compared to what his fellow free agent center fielders are likely to command.

No longer of the age and health that enabled him to put up the best numbers of any center fielder in baseball from 2000-2005, Edmonds can still hit for power and play more than adequate defense. He also gives STL a lefthanded bat in the middle of the order to sandwich between Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.

9. Frank Thomas - 38 - DH - 2006: Oakland A's

.270 AVG/.381 OBP/.545 SLG | HR 39 | RBI 114 | 81 BB/81 SO

Thomas proved last year that he still has his mojo. Billy Beane signed him on the cheap (\$500k plus \$2.6M in bonuses and incentives) in January 2006 when nobody else was willing to give the future Hall of Famer a chance. The A's were rewarded with a big season out of their full-time DH.

The Big Hurt signed a new contract with the Toronto Blue Jays last week. He got a \$9.12M signing bonus and will earn \$1M in '07 and \$8M in '08. Thomas also has an option in '09 for \$10M that automatically vests if he attains 1,000 PAs in 2007-08 or 525 PAs 2008.

10. Nomar Garciaparra - 33 - 1B - 2006: Los Angeles Dodgers

.303 AVG/.367 OBP/.505 SLG | HR 20 | RBI 93 | 42 BB/30 SO

Garciaparra made \$8.5M last year, including \$6M in salary and \$2.5M in incentives. After starting the season on the DL, Nomar returned and had a fantastic first half (.358/.426/.578) but struggled mightily in the second half (.229/.286/.408). However, he hit several clutch home runs down the stretch, helping the Dodgers reach the postseason for only the third time since their World Series championship in 1988.

Projection: 2 x \$8.5M (with perhaps some minor incentives that could bring the annual compensation to as much as \$10M). Owing to the loss of J.D. Drew, look for the Dodgers to ink Garciaparra sooner rather than later.

Update: Dodgers to bring back Garciaparra for two more years.

Tomorrow: Part Two. The Top Ten Pitchers.

 The Batter's Eye November 17, 2006
Restoring the Balance of Tim Hudson

A quick stats check confirms that 2006 was not the best year for Tim Hudson. What is interesting, of course, is to ask why. Random variation? Or was there something else going on?

I am always interested to read or hear what a player has to say about his performance, and luckily, a few different articles cite Hudson as he mentions working on subtle adjustments to his mechanics. The questions are: are these the best adjustments, and are they working?

Here are a couple of excerpts from articles referring to Hudson's mechanics:

From Access North Georgia:

The bullpen's problems aside, Hudson returned the next day to working with pitching coach Roger McDowell on a drill that's attempting to restore his balance on the mound.

McDowell recognized a flaw in Hudson's delivery that begins any time his right foot leaves the rubber too soon. The balancing drill helps Hudson keep his shoulders horizontal and corrects the poor mechanics that caused him to give the ball an uneven release.

From the USA Today on 5/2/06:

"I'm getting a lot more downward movement instead of side to side. That side-to-side stuff gets hit a long way," said Hudson, who is throwing with more of an overhand motion. "It's not rocket science. It was just a little bitty adjustment, but that's all it took."

The quotes are ordered this way because the first one refers to a cause (balance and shoulder angle) that leads to an effect (movement on the ball). The presumed effect that Hudson and McDowell are looking for is more downward movement (sink), which is perhaps one of the reasons for Hudson's success in Oakland. So let's look at video of Hudson when he pitched in Oakland compared to his 2006 season in Atlanta.

The video I have for comparison comes from July 2002 and September 2006. I ended up using pitches from both the windup and the stretch (each taken from the same game), combining the four pitches into one comparison. In an effort to avoid speculation as much as possible, the main topics I will address are balance and arm angle, because these are the things specifically mentioned by Hudson.

For those of you playing at home, here is the full version (in slo-mo) of the comparison:

Which one has better balance? Which is in better position to create the desired downward movement on the ball? Let's see.

Starting from the top, the following picture shows Hudson as he prepares to begin his movement towards home plate:

The yellow vertical line just shows where the head is positioned relative to the foot. What I thought to be more interesting is the angle of the shin on the post (rear) leg. The measurement of the angle is not exact (different camera angles in different stadiums, etc., which is beyond my control), but there is a noticeable difference. The smaller angle on the left may indicate more muscle activation in the upper leg and lower torso region that play a role in balance and stabilization. In other words, the large muscles on the middle of the body may be utilized more on the left, which would help stabilize Hudson as he moves toward home plate.

The picture above is a few frames later where the 2006 Hudson appears to be "reaching" (extending) more with his front leg, perhaps in order to create static balance over the rubber. This deemphasizes the need for active muscle stabilization which seems more apparent in 2002. This difference between static and dynamic balance ("staying back") is rather similar to the difference I noted in Alex Rodriguez's rotation this year compared to years past. In short, weight back and reaching with the stride opens the door for problems with subsequent rotation. We'll touch on that again momentarily.

Now here is a look at the resulting shoulder angle:

Hudson had said he was trying to achieve a more horizontal shoulder angle - mission accomplished. But will this really create more sink? Think of a sidearm pitcher throwing a 'frisbee slider,' nicknamed because the horizontal arm angle creates more horizontal plane for the pitch. This compared to a more vertically arm angled pitcher, whose slider may be referred to as having more 'tilt.'

Hudson also credits the downward motion to throwing with a more overhand motion, but we have to look at how he gets there.

Here is the shot of release point:

The release point for these pitches does appear to be remarkably different, so let me know if you can measure any differences in that picture.

Earlier, I mentioned some potential rotation problems that might result from trying to literally 'stay back' on the rubber, and I was mainly referring to the dreaded opening up too soon. I will not spend much time addressing it, primarily because a good side view would make for better analysis. I have, however, been made aware of a conversation between two individuals who are personally familiar with Hudson in which notice was made of Hudson's rotation causing him to open up too soon (aka pull off, or any other baseball speak you have for it). One indicator from this center-field camera angle is this:

Of course the camera angles are different, but it is interesting that the glove of 2006 Hudson basically disappears. You can decide how much you want to make of that.

I will leave you with a final picture:

This was a bit of an accident in that I dropped a line from the head of each side and just let the clip play through. By the end of the clip, I noticed that 2002 Hudson's head was ending up on the original line that had been drawn. 2006 Hudson was very obviously off to the left. The significance is that it is one more indicator that 2006 Hudson does not have the same balance of 2002. Decide for yourself which one is better, but they are clearly not the same.

Back to those of you playing along at home - do all these pieces match up to what you saw in the initial full version of the clip?

*******

Here is a quick summary:

2002: Earlier muscle activation allows improved dynamic balance in order to set up a better foundation for rotation. Slightly more vertical shoulder angle creates more opportunity direct the rotational momentum towards home plate via forwards flexion of the spine, and improves ability to 'get on top' of the ball for more downwards movement (sink).

2006: Weight back and reaching front foot leaves static balance over the rubber, possibly leads to opening up during rotation. This combined with the horizontal shoulder angle decreases opportunity to transfer rotational momentum into delivery towards home plate. Arm comes across the ball in a more horizontal plane, creating more lateral movement.

There is no way for me to know for certain which drills Hudson is actually doing, why he may choose the particular drills, or if they are producing the results he desires. But now that you have an idea of the general adjustments he is trying to make, what is your answer to the original questions: are these the best adjustments and are they working?

Lastly, it is only fair that I offer my suggestions. Hudson, just like any other player, tries to keep his mechanics simple, and there is no need to get elaborate with drills and solutions. A little more 'sit' as he begins towards the plate rather than trying to 'stay back,' and allow the front arm to work up a little more. That's it from me. If you were pitching coach what would you do?

 Baseball Beat November 15, 2006
The Art of a Bad Deal Revisited

Score one for J.D. Drew and Aramis Ramirez. The players signed contracts two years ago allowing them to opt out after their second season. Guess what? They both did. The players won and their teams lost. No ifs, ands, ors, or buts about it.

Drew exercised his option last Thursday and is now a free agent. He left three years and \$33 million on the table. Ramirez filed for free agency on October 30, turning his back on \$11M in 2007 and \$11.5M in 2008, before agreeing to a new five-year, \$75 million deal with the Cubs.

Ramirez's windfall is highly transparent. His total salary increases by \$7.5M over the next two seasons and he has gained an extra three years of security at \$15M per. The 28-year-old third baseman has a full no-trade clause through 2010 and the right to void his contract after four years.

We won't know how much Drew stands to gain until he comes to terms with his new team. But one thing is certain: J.D. will sign a more lucrative deal than the one he just forfeited. You can take that to the bank.

First of all, it was not an accident that Scott Boras negotiated the escape clause to coincide with the arrival of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Secondly, Boras sized up the market, determined that Drew would be one of the most highly prized free agents this offseason, and realized his client would have no problem securing a better contract than what remained on the old arrangement.

Based on Ned Colletti's comments, the Dodgers are not going to bid on Drew. According to the Los Angeles Times, the general manager, who hadn't spoken to his star right fielder since October 6, was "surprised" and "disappointed" in Drew's decision to test the free agent waters. Colletti was also blunt in his assessment of the situation. "I'm done. He wants out. He can have out."

I recognize that it was Paul DePodesta--and not Colletti--who signed Drew to that one-sided deal in December 2004. But Ned inherited the contract and could have negotiated a new one if he wanted to keep Drew in Dodger Blue. It might be a painful lesson but the door swings both ways. The Dodgers exercised their right not to pick up Eric Gagne's \$12M option for 2007 and J.D. Drew exercised his right not to return to the Dodgers. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Drew was a polarizing figure in L.A. He was generally supported by the sabermetric crowd but never embraced by the casual fan or the mainstream media. In fact, there are many who see Drew's exit and say good riddance, others who view his departure as a blessing, and those who seem relieved by it all. The more objective, even-handed take on the matter seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Whether one likes or dislikes Drew is not the point here. Players who hit close to .300/.400/.500 don't grow on trees. Lost on the critics is the fact that Drew was the #1 right fielder in the NL last year and the sixth-best in the majors (behind Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cuddyer, and Bobby Abreu).

The point is that the Dodgers are worse off without Drew than with him. His production cannot be easily replaced in today's market for \$11 million per year. The Dodgers--and the Cubs in the case of Ramirez--made a costly mistake in agreeing to the escape clause. As I pointed out in The Art of a Bad Deal in January 2005, "you don't give the other side the right to put (the contract) back or call it away unless you get something in return."

A year later, I included the following comments on Drew in High Risk, High Reward:

The risk to the Dodgers is twofold: (1) if J.D. plays well, he has the ability to opt out of his contract; (2) on the other hand, if Drew gets hurt and/or plays poorly, he sticks around for the last three years of his contract and collects the remaining \$33 million owed to him.

Heads Drew wins, tails the Dodgers lose. One way or the other, the outcome was not going to work out in L.A.'s favor. Mind you, between the two risks, losing a productive Drew earlier than expected beats the heck out of keeping an unproductive Drew for three additional years.

Nonetheless, the Dodgers now face the prospect of having to replace Drew in an environment in which comparable players will cost them more dollars and years. Welcome to the laws of supply and demand. Economics 101. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise. In the case of MLB, the supply of talent is more or less fixed while the amount of money chasing these goods has generally been on the rise.

Baseball teams are awash with cash and the bidding for top-tier talent will be fast and furious. The Dodgers will either be forced to pay up for Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, or settle for someone like Moises Alou, Frank Catalanotto, Cliff Floyd, Luis Gonzalez, Aubrey Huff, or Trot Nixon. Besides Nixon, none of these players have the tools to play right field. Andre Ethier could be switched from one corner to the other, freeing up a spot in left for one of the above or perhaps even James Loney (should the Dodgers bring back Nomar Garciaparra).

Given Colletti's reluctance to hand the center field job to Matt Kemp, the Dodgers will also need to re-sign Kenny Lofton, pursue Juan Pierre or Gary Matthews Jr., or make a trade for someone like Chone Figgins.

No matter what, the Dodgers are going to spend more money or wind up with lesser players than Drew at all three outfield spots. There's just no opting out of that.

 Designated Hitter November 13, 2006
Van Lingle Mungo

"Pray for Sain" proclaimed the headlines following the recent passing of the former Boston Braves righthander. Johnny Sain died on November 7, 2006, at a nursing home located in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. He was 89.

Although most famous by his inclusion in a poem about the 1948 Boston Braves' pitching rotation alongside portsider Warren Spahn, Sain's career made him a veritable Forrest Gump in baseball history. On April 15, 1947, he became the first to face Jackie Robinson in a major league contest. A year later, he defeated the legendary Bob Feller in the opening game of the World Series. Although the Indians triumphed in 1948, Sain won three World Championships as a member of the New York Yankees. He served his country as a Navy test pilot in the Second World War. As a pitching coach, Sain oversaw the emergence of Minnesota's Jim Kaat, Detroit's Mickey Lolich, and Chicago's Wilbur Wood. The M&M Boys. McLain's record of 31-and-6. Ted Turner's experiment in the dugout. Sain, a native of Havana, Arkansas, saw 'em all.

With Sain's passing, there are only six living members of the original 38-man roster to be immortalized in Dave Frishberg's novelty hit "Van Lingle Mungo."

According to Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris, authors of "The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book," Van Lingle Mungo is perhaps the only major league player best known as a song title, "...with the possible exception of Blue Moon Odom and Sonny Siebert." Mungo, a fireballer and strikeout artist born in Pageland, South Carolina in 1911, pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants from 1931 to 1945. Mungo averaged 16 wins from 1932 to 1936 pitching for the perennial second division dwelling Dodgers.

"Mungo and I got along just fine," reported Casey Stengel, his manager on the Dodgers. "I won't stand for no nonesense, and then I duck." Frustrated that an inept supporting cast prevented him from achieving a win-loss percentage to match his latent, he frequently allowed his wildness and his mercurial temper to get the better of him. Mungo led the senior circuit with 238 strikeouts, but his career began to unravel after sustaining an arm injury in 1937. Over the next four seasons, the righthander yielded nine wins and one bizarre spring training injury, prompting his release from Brooklyn in 1941. Purchased by the Giants a year later, Mungo amassed a comeback as a junkballer, posting a 14-7 record in his finale season of 1945. Tommy Lasorda, although a lefthander, earned the childhood nickname of 'Mungo' to his resemblance to Van Lingle on the pitcher's mound.

Nearly a quarter century later had passed. In 1969, Van Lingle Mungo's notoriety on a baseball diamond was about to be eclipsed by his celebrity in sheet music. Jazz pianist Dave Frishberg was about to pen his first vocal album. The 36-year-old's resume already boasted accompaniments for Carmen McRae, Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims. After two series of lyrics were rejected by record companies, he turned his lonely eyes to his childhood passion of baseball. After buying an original edition copy of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, Frishberg sorted through the pages when he glanced across Mungo's name. Inspired, he began to compose lyrics to a song consisting almost exclusively of the names of baseball players from his youth. Only 'big' and 'and,' as in "Big Johnny Mize and Barney McCosky," elude the pages of Big Mac or Total Baseball. The result was an accidental hit single, which for Frishberg, became his signature tune for decades.

As homage to his own youth, Frishberg's composition was designed to create a sense of nostalgia in the listener. "Van Lingle Mungo" harkens back to a time when ordinary men became superheroes for the youth of America simply by assuming a baseball uniform. It was an age when legendary voices of radio transmitted their colossal achievements on the diamond while baseball cards provided them with a human face. Perhaps a listener will remember an achievement, a footnote, or a personal connection:

• Heinie Majeski: An original member of the modern Baltimore Orioles
• Johnny Gee: Before Randy, no baseball player was taller than him
• Eddie Joost: He was the last manager in Philadelphia Athletics history
• Johnny Pesky: He was a neighbour of my cousins in Swampscott
• Thornton Lee: He surrendered a home run to Ted, as did his son Don

The song opens with a mellifluous instrumental on the piano, evoking the pastoral imagery of Rockwellian America - possibly of an autumn day in Frishberg's native Minnesota. As Frishberg begins to sing the names of the players, the mind is transferred to the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema. The softly sung recital on a bossa nova background would blend in splendidly with a soundtrack of hits by Sergio Mendes or Astrud Gilberto. Some listeners even assumed that the lyrics to "Van Lingle Mungo" were written in Portuguese!

Mungo and Frishberg met on the Dick Cavett Show in 1969. Backstage, according to Frishberg, "[Mungo] asked me when he would see some remuneration for the song. When he heard my explanation about how there was unlikely to be any remuneration for anyone connected with the song, least of all him, he was genuinely downcast. 'But it's my name,' he said. I told him, 'The only way you can get even is to go home and write a song called 'Dave Frishberg.''"

Each of the players in "Van Lingle Mungo" tells his own story. Five of the players made their way onto bronze plaques in Cooperstown. Besides Mize, the Hall of Famers include Brooklyn catching legend Roy Campanella, 300 game winner Early Wynn, his Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau, and Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi. Two other players, George McQuinn and Sigmund Jakucki, represented the St. Louis Browns in their only World Series appearance in 1944. The Brownies lost to the crosstown Cardinals, featuring Augie Bergamo, Harry Brecheen, and Whitey Kurowski (Howard Pollet was serving in the military at the time). There was the Dutch Master, Johnny Vander Meer, who pitched two consecutive no-hitters in 1938. And there was Frank Crosetti, a Yankees infielder and coach who earned the most World Series rings in baseball history. Eddie Waitkus was shot in a hotel room by a deranged fan after he was traded from the Cubs. Included among his Chicago teammates were Phil Cavaretta, Augie Galan, Stan Hack, and Claude Passeau. There were All-Stars (Frank Gustine) and Daffiness Boys (Frenchy Bordagaray). Batting champs (Ferris Fain) and Losing Pitchers (Hugh Mulcahy). Fathers (Pinky May and Hal Trosky) and grandfathers (Bob Estalella) of future big leaguers. All were immortalized by Frishberg in "Van Lingle Mungo."

"Van Lingle Mungo" was one of Danny Gardella's favourite songs. The Giants' outfielder canted a few stanzas during a 1997 interview with Douglas and Jeffrey Lyons for their trivia book, "Out of Left Field." Gardella was even depicted on the cover conducting unusual calisthenics involving a baseball bat and the defiance of gravity. After two seasons for the Gothams, he was one of several players who jumped to the Mexican League in 1946. Gardella drew a five-year suspension from baseball, prompting a lawsuit challenging the sport's antitrust exemption. A Federal appellate court ruled in his favour, prompting the Lords of the Realm to settle with him rather than obliterate the only legal monopoly in the United States.

As cited early, only six players named by Frishberg remain living today. Like Harry Brecheen, Max Lanier pitched for the Cardinals in the 1944 World Series, and like Danny Gardella, he was suspended for defecting to Mexico two years later. Now 91 years old, the father of infielder Hal Lanier lives in Dunnellon, Florida. Eddie Joost and Phil Cavaretta both celebrated their 90th birthdays in 2006. Joost, who worked as a sporting goods representative after hanging up his spikes, lives in Santa Rosa, California. Cavaretta managed both Chicago teams and later served the Mets as a batting instructor. He lives in Villa Rica, Georgia. Johnny Pesky is 87 and still works for the Red Sox. John Antonelli, at 76, is the youngest of the living players. He is retired from the tire business and still lives in the Rochester area.

As for Dave Frishberg, his career as a singer-songwriter blossomed after "Van Lingle Mungo." In addition to performing his own tunes, including "Dodger Blue," he has written songs for Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Diana Krall, and Mel Torme. Frishberg, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, calls Portland, Oregon home - as does 84-year-old ex-Dodger and fiddler Eddie Basinski. Mungo died in 1985, and along with his demise probably sealed the fate of the song "Dave Frishberg."

To paraphrase Toronto music historian Roger Ashby, that is the story behind the hit "Van Lingle Mungo."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Baseball Library.
2. Baseball-Reference.com.
3. Atteberry, Phillip D. "A Conversation with Dave Frishberg," in The Mississippi Rag. Minneapolis: April 1996.
4. Boyd, Brendan C, and Fred C. Harris. The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1973.
5. Canter, Andrea. "Getting Some Fun Out of Life: Back in St. Paul with David Frishberg," in Jazz Police: March 13, 2006.
6. Fusselle, Warner. "Baseball's Greatest Hits." Santa Monica, CA: Rhino Records, 1989.
7. Lasorda, Tommy, and David Fisher. The Artful Dodger. New York: William Morrow, 1985.
Lyons, Jeffrey and Douglas B. Out of Left Field. New York: Times Books, 1998.
8. Marazzi, Rich, and Len Fiorito. Aaron to Zuverink. New York: Avon Books, 1984.
9. Pave, Marvin. "Johnny Sain, 89, Star Pitcher in Rhyme About '48 Braves," in The Boston Globe: November 9, 2006.

Maxwell Kates tried his hand at radio broadcasting and standup comedy before deciding to become an accountant. He has lectured on baseball at York University, Seneca College, and at the 2006 SABR Convention in Seattle. His work has appeared in The National Pastime, Elysian Fields Quarterly, and on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. An Ottawa native now living in Toronto, he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He also serves as director of marketing for that organization's Hanlan's Point Chapter.

 Baseball Beat November 10, 2006
2006 All-Anti-OOPs Team

In the comments section of the 2006 All-OOPs Team, Brian Gunn asked "Who's on the All-Anti-OOPs Team?" I thought it was a worthwhile project and have come up with the the most underrated offensive players in the game. We could affectionately call this squad the All-UPs for Underrated Players (rather than All-UOPs) so as not to compete with the University of Pacific.

The criteria for identifying underrated offensive players would be the flip side of OOPs.

1. Batting Average < League Norm
2. On Base Percentage and Slugging Average > League Norm

By definition, the players who meet the above criteria are sluggers who hit for power and walk frequently. In other words, batting average accounts for a minor share of their value. Put another way, the qualifying hitters have high Isolated Discipline (IsoD) and Isolated Power (IsoP). IsoD equals OBP minus AVG, and IsoP equals SLG minus AVG. These isolated stats tell you what's not a part of batting average.
In order to make the All-UPs team this year, an American League player had to hit lower than .275 with an OBP and SLG higher than than .342 and .437, respectively, while a National Leaguer had to hit lower than .264 with an OBP higher than .334 and SLG above .427. No second basemen or shortstops qualified. As such, we picked the players who were the closest.

Ideally, the standards for making the All-UPs team would be adjusted position-by-position. Nonetheless, as with our All-OOPs team, it's not our goal to get overly technical with something that is intended to be both informative and fun.

The 2006 All-UPs or Anti-OOPs team is as follows:

```                           AVG    OBP    SLG
C: Mike Napoli           .228   .360   .455
1B: Jason Giambi          .253   .413   .558
2B: Jose Valentin         .271   .330   .490
3B: Morgan Ensberg        .235   .396   .463
SS: Bill Hall             .270   .345   .553
LF: Adam Dunn             .234   .365   .490
CF: Andruw Jones          .262   .363   .531
RF: Austin Kearns         .264   .363   .467
DH: Frank Thomas          .270   .381   .545
```

Mike Napoli tied for seventh among all catchers in home runs with 16 while accumulating the fifth-highest walk total (51) despite only 268 at-bats. Jason Giambi placed dead last in batting average among all qualified first basemen, but the former MVP tied for first in BB (110) and ranked fifth in HR (37). Put it all together and he had the fourth-best OPS (.971), finishing behind only Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Ryan Howard. Morgan Ensberg led all third basemen in BB with 101 while cranking 23 HR. Bill Hall hit 10 more HR than any other shortstop and had the highest SLG.

Although Adam Dunn had the lowest batting average among all qualifed left fielders, the lefthanded-hitting slugger ranked second in HR (40) and first in BB (112). Andruw Jones had the second-worst AVG among 18 center fielders with 502 or more plate appearances, yet he had the sixth-best OBP and the fourth-highest SLG. Only Carlos Beltran, Vernon Wells, and Grady Sizemore had a better OPS than Jones. Austin Kearns went yard 24 times while working pitchers for 76 walks. Am curious, how did those relievers work out for the Reds?

Harmon Killebrew is the only player who has ever slugged as many homers as Frank Thomas did last year with as few doubles. In 1964, Killer yanked 49 HR and only 11 2B. Thomas had the same number of two-base hits with 39 long balls.

Honorable mentions for the All-UPs team go out to catcher Gregg Zaun (.272/.363/.437), first baseman Carlos Delgado (.265/.361/.548), third basemen Aubrey Huff (.267/.344/.469) and Troy Glaus (.252/.355/.513), and outfielders Pat Burrell (.258/.388/.502) and Nick Swisher (.254/.372/.493). Although Jim Edmonds came up shy of 502 PA, he put up a lower-than-norm AVG (.257) and a higher-than-average OBP (.350) and SLG (.471).

If Mark Grudzielanek was named the Most Overrated Offensive Player based on having the highest batting average among the All-OOPs recipients, then Adam Dunn would be the rightful Most Underrated Offensive Player honoree. (Mike Napoli had a lower AVG but failed to qualify for the batting title.)

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Dunn turned 27 yesterday, suggesting that his peak offensive season may be at hand. However, he experienced a miserable August and September (.174/.309/.348), putting into question whether he has seen his best days. His body type and tools are such that I would be inclined to bet "against" rather than "for" much, if any, improvement.

 Baseball Beat November 09, 2006

News: The San Diego Padres traded second baseman Josh Barfield to the Cleveland Indians for corner infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff and righthander Andrew Brown. [ESPN story]

Questions: Who got the better of whom? What are your projections for Barfield, Kouzmanoff, and Brown next year? Who will the Padres acquire to play 2B?

I wrote the following on Kouzmanoff in mid-September when discussing Late Season Call-Ups:

Kevin Kouzmanoff | CLE | 3B | 25 | 6-1, 210 | B/T: R/R

High School: Evergreen (CO)
College: University of Arkansas-Little Rock
Drafted: Selected by CLE in 6th Round (168th overall) in 2003

Pros: Has always hit in the minors, including .379/.437/.656 with 22 homers in 94 games between AA and AAA this season. On 9/2/06, belted a grand slam on the first pitch he faced in the majors. Slugged three HR in 20 AB in the MLB.

Comp: Robb Quinlan. Kouzmanoff and Quinlan are both RHB and corner INF with similar builds. Xlnt track records vs. LHP.

Outlook: Part-time 1B/3B/DH. Stuck behind Ryan Garko, Andy Marte, and Travis Hafner. Valuable player off the bench.

*******

Here are Barfield's and Kouzmanoff's stats last year:

Kouzmanoff

```     G  AB  R  H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG   OPS
AA  67 244 46 95  19   1  15   55  23  34   2  3 .389 .449 .660 1.109
AAA 27 102 22 36   9   0   7   20  10  12   2  1 .353 .409 .647 1.056
CLE 16  56  4 12   2   0   3   11   5  12   0  0 .214 .279 .411  .690
```

Barfield

```     G  AB  R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
SD 150 539 72 151  32   3  13   58  30  81  21  5 .280 .318 .423 .741
```
 Baseball Beat November 08, 2006
2006 All-OOPs Team

OOPs, here it is! The sequel. The most Overrated Offensive Players in the game.

Last December, we introduced criteria for identifying overrated offensive players (or OOPs). It is simple and straightforward:

1. Batting Average > League Norm
2. On Base Percentage and Slugging Average < League Norm

By definition, the players who meet the above criteria are singles hitters who only walk on occasion and rarely slug home runs. In other words, batting average makes up the lion's share of their value. Put another way, the qualifying hitters have low Isolated Discipline (IsoD) and Isolated Power (IsoP). IsoD equals OBP minus AVG, and IsoP equals SLG minus AVG. These isolated stats tell you what's not a part of batting average.

In order to make the all-OOPs team this year, an American League player had to hit higher than .275 with an OBP less than .342 and a SLG below .437, while a National Leaguer had to hit higher than .264 with an OBP less than .334 and a SLG below .427. No first basemen or third basemen qualified. As such, we picked the players who were the closest.

Ideally, the standards for making the all-OOPs team would be adjusted position-by-position. However, it was never our goal to get overly technical with what was intended to be both informative and fun.

The 2006 All-OOPs team is as follows:

```                           AVG    OBP    SLG
C: A.J. Pierzynski       .295   .333   .436
1B: Shea Hillenbrand      .277   .313   .451
2B: Mark Grudzielanek     .297   .331   .409
3B: Melvin Mora           .274   .342   .391
SS: Yuniesky Betancourt   .289   .310   .403
LF: Garret Anderson       .280   .323   .433
CF: Juan Pierre           .292   .330   .388
RF: Jay Payton            .296   .325   .418
```

A.J. Pierzynski walked a grand total of 22 times in 509 at-bats. Shea Hillenbrand drew 21 BB in 530 AB. Mark Grudzielanek had 28 BB and 7 HR in 548 AB. Yuniesky Betancourt walked 17 times and hit 8 HR in 558 AB. Garret Anderson had 38 BB and 17 HR in 543 AB, Juan Pierre, 32 BB and 3 HR in 699 AB, and Jay Payton, 22 BB, 10 HR, 557 AB.

Melvin Mora was 19th in OPS among 22 qualified third basemen. He will be 35 in February. His three-year, \$25 million extension that includes a no-trade clause isn't looking too swift for the Orioles at this point. Similarly, the Angels are still choking on a \$48 million, four-year contract extension given to Anderson during the 2004 season that lasts through 2008. The deal also includes a team option for 2009 with a \$3 million buyout. Pierre led the NL with 204 hits, but he also topped the circuit in outs with a career-high 532 (the 11th most ever and the second-highest total since 1982).

Based on the precedent set last year, Grudzielanek has earned the Baseball Analysts' OOPs Player of the Year award by virtue of having the highest batting average among those who qualify. Congrats, Mark! He was deemed to be the Most Overrated Offensive Player among all active players last year.

Grudzielanek is also the only LOGGY (Low Offense, Gold Glove Yokel) on the 2006 team. Orlando Hudson was the lone LOGGY on last year's OOPs squad.

Honorable mentions for the all-OOPs team go out to second basemen Josh Barfield (.280/.318/.423), Ronnie Belliard (.272/.322/.403), Jose Lopez (.282/.319/.405), Placido Polanco (.295/.329/.364), and Brandon Phillips (.276/.324/.427); shortstops Orlando Cabrera (.282/.335/.404) and Jack Wilson (.273/.316/.370); and outfielders Mark Kotsay (.275/.332/.386) and Willy Taveras (.278/.333/.338).

Well, to steal last year's closing statement, that'll about rap it up. OOPs, there it is!

 Baseball Beat November 06, 2006
Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Selections

I made my MVP picks over a month ago but never followed through as promised with my Cy Young and Rookie of the Year selections. The National and American League Rookies of the Year will be announced on November 13, while the NL and AL Cy Young Awards will be revealed on November 14 and 16, respectively. (The MVP winners are scheduled for November 20 and 21.)

CY YOUNG AWARD

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Johan Santana is a no brainer. He led the majors in wins, ERA, and strikeouts - the Triple Crown of Pitching. If Santana doesn't win the Cy Young Award unanimously, they should hold an investigation. He is simply the most deserving honoree of them all. The gap between Santana and the next best pitcher is much wider than the top two candidates for the NL CYA, the AL/NL ROY, or the AL/NL MVP.

I realize that the Cy Young isn't a lifetime achievement award, but I still found the following research from Lee Sinins of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia of interest:

Santana became the 10th pitcher to lead the league in Runs Saved Above Average for at least three consecutive years:

```1901-03 Cy Young
1910-16 Walter Johnson
1911-13 Christy Mathewson
1915-17 Grover Cleveland Alexander
1928-32 Lefty Grove
1945-47 Hal Newhouser
1990-92 Roger Clemens
1999-02 Randy Johnson
2004-06 Johan Santana
```

Roy Halladay, who was heads and shoulders above everyone except Santana, would get my second-place vote. A number of pitchers can stake a claim for third but my choice would go to C.C. Sabathia. The Cleveland lefty was third in ERA (3.22), ERA+ (139), and FIP (3.37). He also finished in the top five in RA (3.88), WHIP (1.17), and K/BB (3.91).

I don't quite understand the support for Chien-Ming Wang. Although he tied for the league lead in wins (19), his numbers were generally no better than teammate's Mike Mussina, who doesn't seem to have garnered any attention at all.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Over in the NL, like most people, I believe the award comes down to choosing among last year's winner Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt, or Brandon Webb. After slicing and dicing all the numbers, I would go with either Oswalt or Webb, although I wouldn't be terribly disappointed if Carpenter won again.

Oswalt led the league in ERA (2.98) and RA (3.10) while placing second in ERA+ (152) and FIP (3.32). Webb led the league in ERA+ (154), FIP (3.20), and RSAA (45). Make me pick between the two and I would lean ever so slightly toward Webb.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

AMERICAN LEAGUE

I wrote an article for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007 (have you ordered your copy yet?) entitled "The Year of the Rookie." I covered the Fab Four of Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, and Jered Weaver in depth, and spotlighted Joel Zumaya as well.

Fully aware that a case could be made for any of the top three, I would tend to vote just as they are listed above. Yes, alphabetical order seems to be as persuasive as Win Shares, WARP, or any of a number of other measures. Kenji Johjima was clearly the best position player, but I would have a hard time elevating him above Liriano, Papelbon, Verlander, or Weaver.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Just as with the NL CYA, I believe there is a trio of players worthy of consideration. While the AL was led mostly by pitchers, the NL was paced by three position players. My vote would go to shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.292/.353/.480), followed by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.287/.351/.471) and second baseman Dan Uggla (.282/.339/.480). Ramirez ranked in the top 10 in the NL in games (158), at-bats (633), runs (119), hits (185), doubles (46), triples (11), and stolen bases (51).

Josh Johnson, Matt Cain, and Takashi Saito deserve recognition as the best rookie pitchers. There were several other hitters and pitchers who put up good numbers but none were in the league of those mentioned above.

How would you have voted?

 Baseball Beat November 03, 2006
Foto Friday #3

Foto Friday #1 (with Follow-Up)

Foto Friday #2

As in the first two contests, name the date, location, and subjects in the photo.

Good luck!

DATE: July 9, 1974.

LOCATION: Anaheim Stadium. Baltimore Orioles at California Angels.

SUBJECTS: (left to right) Earl Weaver, Bill Haller, Bobby Valentine, and Bill Kunkel. Weaver and Valentine were exchanging the lineup cards with home plate umpire Haller before the game. Third base ump Kunkel is enjoying the prank.

OCCASION: As Bob Timmermann correctly noted in the comments section below, "The Angels had lost 9 straight games and hoped that Valentine (wearing 13 and carrying a black cat) would change their luck. It didn't. They lost to the Orioles 3-1."

SPECIAL NOTES: Haller is the brother of former major league catcher Tom Haller. Bill umpired his first big league game when he was 26. He retired in 1982 after a 21-year career at the age of 47. Kunkel pitched for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961-63. Here is his 1962 Topps baseball card. He is the father of former Texas Rangers infielder Jeff Kunkel. Bill had just celebrated his 38th birthday two days before that photo was taken. He died 11 years later.

BONUS PHOTO: Not only was Valentine, in his #13 jersey, carrying a black cat but he walked underneath a ladder on his way to home plate. Ellie Rodriguez and Bob Oliver (right-hand side) and my Dad (far left) look on from the dugout.

 Designated Hitter November 02, 2006
Generalities in Pitch Location

How often have you heard a player attribute his success to "throwing more pitches inside," or heard a manager say a pitcher was "hitting his spots?" Pretty much everyone talks about pitch location, but how often is it actually quantified? Thankfully, our pals over at Baseball Info Solutions tracked the x-y coordinates of nearly all 1.5 million pitches thrown the past two seasons. Let's start by looking at the average major league pitch locations broken down by batter/pitcher handedness.

Excluding pitches outside the strike zone, about 14% of the pitches are thrown to the inside third of the plate, while about 25% of the pitches are thrown to the outside third of the plate. If you include the pitches outside the strike zone, 30% are thrown "inside" while over 50% are thrown "outside."

Then of course you can break down the strike zone by upper and lower thirds. Once again, excluding pitches from outside the strike zone, 10% are thrown to the upper-third, while 15% are thrown to the lower-third. Including the pitches outside the strike zone, 24% are thrown to the "high" and 40% are thrown "low."

While the league averages are good to know, each player will have his own pitching style. Let's see if we can learn anything about how a pitcher performs by where he throws the ball. Let's take a look at three things for each pair of pitch locations.

• Do pitchers tend to throw the ball to the same location year after year?
• Which pitchers throw the ball to a particular location the most?
• What does throwing to that location generally mean for pitchers?

For the purpose of this study, the strike zone coordinates has been mirrored for left-handed batters in order to lump inner or outer pitches into a single metric.

The Inner and Outer Pitch

First of all, the ability or choice to throw strikes on the inner or outer third of the plate is something that an individual pitcher will tend to repeat from year to year.

So who are the starting pitchers that use the inside-third or outside-third of the plate the most?

```Starter            Inside-%      Starter         Outside-%
Randy Johnson        21.69%      Greg Maddux        32.11%
Jon Lester           20.59%      Mike Mussina       31.18%
Matt Clement         20.49%      Rodrigo Lopez      31.05%
Johan Santana        19.46%      Eric Milton        30.61%
Francisco Liriano    18.77%      Kyle Lohse         30.43%
Cliff Lee            18.60%      Kevin Millwood     30.24%
Tim Wakefield        18.17%      Roger Clemens      29.79%
Mark Buehrle         18.12%      Livan Hernandez    29.71%
C.C. Sabathia        18.02%      Brett Myers        29.55%
```

It's a pretty interesting group of starters who have the highest percentage of pitches over inner-third of the plate. Most of them are left-handers with Clement and Wakefield being the exceptions. Obviously Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano are considered two of the best pitchers in baseball and interestingly Chris Carpenter, a right-hander, was one shy of making the top ten.

The starters with the highest outside pitch percentage are all right-handers with Eric Milton being the lone exception. Jeff Francis and David Wells are also a few of the left-handers who really utilize the outer-third of the plate.

Let's move on to the relievers:

```Reliever           Inside-%      Reliever        Outside-%
Mariano Rivera       30.07%      Scott Cassidy      34.43%
Billy Wagner         23.20%      Bob Howry          32.32%
Todd Jones           23.20%      Justin Speier      31.89%
Matt Thornton        22.58%      Brandon Lyon       31.64%
Darren Oliver        22.00%      Joe Beimel         31.64%
Mike Gonzalez        19.83%      Chris Britton      31.58%
Hong Chih Kuo        19.21%      Rafael Betancourt  31.40%
Matt Capps           18.44%      Takashi Saito      31.33%
```

There's definitely more of a mix of right-handed and left-handed pitchers from the inner-third list of relievers, most notably Mariano Rivera who uses that portion of the plate more than any other pitcher in baseball. Jonathan Papelbon was also a few spots shy of making the list.

The top 10 relievers who utilize the outer-third of the plate are all right-handed pitchers with the exception of Joe Beimel. Most of these pitchers had solid years, with Cassidy and Saito being the real bright spots.

Unfortunately, how a pitcher utilizes the inside or outside third of the plate doesn't really correlate well with anything. This was somewhat of a surprise to me, especially since the horizontal location of pitches is frequently addressed by many pitchers and scouts.

The Upper and Lower Pitch

Just like the inner and outer pitch locations, the percentage of pitches thrown to the upper/lower third of the strike zone also correlate well from year to year.

Let's see which starting pitchers utilize these sections of the strike zone the most:

```Starter             Upper-%      Starter           Lower-%
Scott Baker          18.42%      Brandon Webb       21.47%
Matt Cain            16.03%      Jake Westbrook     20.34%
Chris Young          15.47%      Mark Mulder        20.26%
Brad Penny           15.44%      Mike Maroth        20.22%
Rich Hill            15.41%      John Thomson       19.84%
Johan Santana        15.39%      Josh Fogg          19.72%
Jarrod Washburn      15.29%      Zach Duke          19.55%
Ben Sheets           15.22%      Jamie Moyer        18.76%
Kevin Millwood       14.59%      Roy Halladay       18.53%
Boof Bonser          14.18%      James Shields      18.50%
```

The starters who throw to the upper-third of the strike zone are mostly fly-ball pitchers, with a few exceptions like Millwood and Penny. While the players who throw to the lower-third of the strike zone are mostly groundball pitchers. In fact, Webb, Halladay and Mulder are three of the most extreme groundball pitchers around, not to mention Derek Lowe, another extreme groundball pitcher, just missed the cut.

Here are the relievers:

```Reliever              Top-%      Reliever          Lower-%
Rafael Soriano       18.42%      Todd Williams      19.87%
Rafael Betancourt    17.68%      Rick Bauer         19.35%
Alan Embree          16.65%      Joe Beimel         19.11%
Todd Jones           16.55%      Jorge Julio        18.94%
Joaquin Benoit       16.19%      Salomon Torres     18.48%
J.J. Putz            16.07%      B.J. Ryan          18.33%
Mike Timlin          15.98%      Scott Downs        17.74%
Mike Gonzalez        15.78%      Josh Hancock       17.67%
Julio Mateo          15.29%      Chad Paronto       17.43%
```

The relievers who throw to the upper third of the strike zone the most make up a fairly impressive list of pitchers; most notably Papelbon, Putz, and Soriano with the others being not too shabby. The relievers who utilize the lower-third of the strike zone are for the most part, groundball pitchers except for the best of them, B.J. Ryan.

Unlike the lack of correlation the inside/outside third of the plate showed with any mainstream stats, the upper/lower third of the strike zone showed some correlation with groundball and fly-ball percentages.

The Center of the Plate

Last but not least is the middle of the plate, a spot where pitchers should not be throwing the ball all that often. Batters easily do the most damage with pitches right over the heart of the plate.

Unlike the inside/outside/upper/lower thirds of strike zone, pitchers do not throw the ball to this location with the same consistency from year to year. Instead of listing which player threw it over the center of the plate most often and least often; I'll cut right to the chase.

Since throwing the ball in the center of the strike zone, on an aggregate level, is where batters do the most damage, I thought there might be a decent correlation with either batting average on balls in play (BABIP) or perhaps home runs. This is not the case.

There are plenty of players who throw the ball over the center of the plate more frequently than others and quite simply get away with it for reasons that can't be put under a general rule of thumb.

Conclusions

Besides the correlation that the upper/lower thirds of the plate had with groundball and fly-ball percentage, there's really not a lot of assumptions you can make about a player by where he pitches the ball on aggregate.

It's interesting to know that Mariano Rivera throws the most pitches over the inside-third of the plate, or that Brandon Webb throws the most balls in the lower-third of the strike zone, but that by itself is really just trivia.

There's a lot to be learned from pitch location and it's going to take some complex modeling to fully interpret it along with pitch-type and velocity. But as far as generalities go with pitch location? There pretty much aren't any.

David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.com. You can contact him via e-mail.

 Past Times November 01, 2006
Never Give Up (Part Two)

Part One

The 18-year playing career of Pete Rose Jr. has been the extreme opposite of his famous father. The younger Rose has played for 23 different affiliated, independent and Mexican League teams in that time. His only reprieve from the minors was a September cup of coffee with the Reds in 1997.

Despite the repeated setbacks, Rose continues to persevere. The lefty-swinging first baseman hit .299 with 7 HR and 33 RBI in 194 ABs for Bridgeport in 2006. At age 36, Rose owns a .262 career minor league average with 6455 ABs, 1688 hits and 130 homers.

Hometown guy Angel Echevarria also saw action for the Bluefish in 2006, hitting .275 in 171 ABs. The 35-year old Echevarria had a decent career (328 G, 543 ABs, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .280) as a pinch-hitter and reserve with the Rockies, Brewers and Cubs. He also played two seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan's Pacific League.

Former major league reliever T.J. Mathews put up a 12-7 record and 3.79 ERA with Bridgeport in 2006. The 35-year old righty went 32-26 with a 3.82 ERA in 362 games for the Cardinals, A's and Astros.

Pat Ahearne had a brief big league stint, going 0-2 with an 11.70 ERA in 10 IP for the Tigers in 1995. The slender right-hander has bounced around AA, AAA and indy ball since then.

Ahearne came through for the Long Island Ducks in 2006, going 12-4 with a 3.47 ERA. The 36-year old gave up just 28 walks in 155.1 IP, but 175 hits allowed means that Ahearne probably get won't beyond the Atlantic League next season. He owns a 114-107 career record in the minors.

Another Atlantic League hurler and former Tiger - 37-year old Denny Harriger - was one of the most successful minor league starters in 2006.

Harriger went 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA for the Lancaster Barnstormers. He led the league in wins and winning percentage (.810) while finishing second in ERA. Pitching in his home state clearly agreed with Harriger, as he surrendered just 29 walks in 181.1 IP. The 5'11" righty went 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA for Detroit in 1998, and he has a 163-119 lifetime record in the minors.

Powerful Ozzie Timmons had 20 HR and 60 RBI in 405 big league at-bats. The 35-year old hit .269 with 29 doubles, 19 HR and 63 RBI for the Atlantic City Surf.

The American Association had few older players in its inaugural season, but one veteran stood out.

Bubba Smith was productive as usual. In his 108 at-bats with the Sioux Falls Canaries, the big slugger had with 8 HR, 22 RBI and a .306 average.

His time in South Dakota made it 17 pro teams for the 36-year old Smith, who was drafted by the Mariners in 1991. The first baseman has 374 HR, 1242 RBI and 1673 hits in 5997 ABs for a career .279 average. In addition to a 27 HR/94 RBI effort for Oklahoma City in 1997, Smith has six seasons in the Mexican League and a year in Korea.

Greg Bicknell has been pitching in independent leagues since 1995. The 37-year lefty went 7-13 with a 4.10 ERA for the Kansas City (Kansas) T-Bones of the Northern League.

That was quite a comedown from 2005, when Bicknell went 16-5 and 2.96 for the T-Bones. He also serves as the team's pitching coach. Bicknell pitched in the Blue Jays, Mariners, Indians and Brewers organizations before beginning his long career with indy teams.

Jose Canseco's much-hyped comeback with the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League was a flop (4 HR, 9 RBI, .176), but another ex-big leaguer put up solid numbers in the California-based independent circuit.

Desi Wilson's .333 average in 333 ABs was third in the GBL. His 27 doubles led the league, and Wilson had 58 RBI while playing all 80 games.

Why has the 37-year old spent all but 41 games of his lengthy career in the minors and Japan? The 6'7", 230-pounder had never smacked more than seven home runs in a season, which is hardly what teams look for from such super-sized first baseman.

Wilson's .411 average for Surprise in 2005 led the GBL, and his 1875 lifetime hits outside the majors (.311 lifetime) places Wilson within striking distance of the 2000-hit mark. This baseball lifer hit .271 with 2 HR and 12 RBI for the Giants in 1996.

U.S.-born players in the Mexican League deal with language barriers, culture shock, unpredictable living conditions and very long odds in trying to rise to the majors. The "long odds" part changes to "all but zero" once a player hits 35, but that hasn't deterred several veterans.

What does a guy have to do to earn a brief shot in the majors? Darryl Brinkley deserves an answer.

The 37-year old outfielder hit .355 with 35 doubles, 6 HR, 60 RBI and 24 steals for the San Luis Potosi Tuneros (Tuna Pickers, with "tuna" being the Mexcian word for the large, edible leaves of the nopal cactus), and that performance wasn't especially unusual by his standards, as Brinkley was a .376 hitter for San Luis in 2005.

Brinkley hit .355 for Nashville in 1998 and followed that with a .323 season in the Music City in 1999. A combined .345 for Nashville and Rochester in 2000 still wasn't enough for Brinkley to get a chance at the Show. It couldn't have been the impressive talent on the Pirates and Orioles rosters that kept him in AAA.

Righty-swinging, 5'11" outfielders with gap power may not be a hot commodity, but it seems that some team (especially a losing one) would have given Brinkley a shot as a role player or reserve. No one can question his determination, as Brinkley has gone around the globe to play since 1991.

Undrafted out of college, Brinkley began his career in Holland and Italy before moving on to Canada (Winnipeg and Saskatoon). Since he has also played in Korea and for four teams in the Mexican League, Brinkley is a leading candidate for the Hall of Baseball Vagabonds. A career .330 average (1719 hits in 5210 ABs) with 322 doubles,133 HRs and 280 SBs is quite a stat line, but it hasn't earned Rodney Dangerfield Brinkley a chance at the big leagues.

Slap-hitting Darrell Sherman came up to the Padres in 1993. Since Tony Gwynn had already filled the team's quota of lefty-swinging, low-power outfielders, Sherman's time in San Diego ended after he hit .222 in 63 ABs (37 games).

The speedy Sherman didn't give up on baseball, and he has spent more than a decade in the Mexican League. His .349 batting average and .447 OBP for Vaqueros Laguna (the Union Laguna Cowboys) this season at age 38 is right in line with last year's .337/.457 performance for Puebla.

Former major leaguer Scott Bullett isn't ready to retire yet, as he hit .333 with 19 HR and 78 RBI for Yucatan and Tabasco.

It has been a decade since his last big league appearance with the Cubs in 1996, so it can't be optimism about a return to the majors that keeps Bullett in the game. Since that time, the 37-year old outfielder has played in AAA, the independent Northeast League, Taiwan, Japan and for five Mexican League teams.

A .407 hitter with power? That's what Derrick White did in 2006, as the Potros (Colts) de Tijuana outfielder led the Mexican League in batting average. White smashed 31 doubles, 19 HRs and 73 RBI in just 285 ABs at age 36.

Signed by the Expos out of the University of Oklahoma in 1992, White was in Montreal for a 17-game trial just a year later. That fast rise didn't turn out to be sign of things to come, as White struggled in cups of coffee with the Tigers, Cubs and Rockies. His major league totals include a .181 average with 3 HR, 8 RBI and just a pair of walks in 116 ABs.

The St. Paul Saints of the American Association picked up White for this year's playoffs, and he came through with a .364 average (12-for-33), four doubles, 3 HR and 9 RBI.

Even former All-Stars with successful major league careers sometimes can't resist the siren song of one more comeback. Kevin Appier has battled arm problems in recent years, but that didn't prevent the 38-year old from giving it a shot with the Tacoma Rainiers.

The right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.54 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched. Assuming he won't be back in 2007, Appier closed his big league career with a 169-137 record and 3.74 ERA. Appier led the American League with a 2.56 ERA in 1993 for the Royals, and he was among the A.L.'s top 10 in ERA in four other seasons.

Often-injured Juan Gonzalez saw action with independent Long Island in 2006. "Igor" hit .323 with 6 HR and 23 RBI in 130 ABs. A look at his stats, run production and regular trips to the disabled list makes "What if?" a popular question when it comes to Gonzalez's career.

With 434 career homers (that includes five 40-HR seasons), 1404 RBI and a .295 lifetime average, it's his lengthy medical history that keeps a team from taking a chance on the 36-year old slugger. It can be hard for a two-time MVP (1996 and 1998) to hang 'em up, but Gonzalez may be facing that fate.

It's easy to forget that life in the minors is usually a low-paying grind, but that doesn't prevent a number of older players from hanging on for one more chance. After all, a person can always punch a time clock later in life, but how many 50-year olds are driving in the winning run?