With apologies to Boz Scaggs (but not Barry Zito), the former Cy Young Award winner has left that shack in Oakland and shuffled across the bay to the San Francisco Giants. Zito may have missed the boat on his way but that was all he missed because he ain't coming back.
Brian Sabean put the money down and let her roll. If it doesn't work out, he will be heading for the borderline, having gone broke.
What can I say? Here's the lowdown on the signing:
Here are a couple of Zito's pitching lines. Which one do you suppose produced the better ERA?
G GS IP H HR BB SO 34 34 213 216 28 81 163 34 34 221 211 27 99 151
The seasons are so close statistically that it would be difficult to favor one over the other. One could argue the top because of the lower BB and higher SO totals. Another person could make a case for the bottom due to the slightly lower hit and home run per 9 IP rate. Well, guess what? The first set of numbers produced an ERA of 4.48 in 2004, the second 3.83 in 2006.
Maybe Zito was a bit unlucky in 2004 or a bit lucky in 2006. OK, average the two and you get an ERA of 4.16. For what it's worth, Zito's Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP) last year was 4.94, his Defense Independent Pitching Run Average (DIPS 3.0) was 4.65 (which equates to an ERA of about 4.40-4.45), and his Component ERA (ERC) was 4.47. In other words, he looks more like a guy who should have an ERA in the 4s than the 3s.
In addition, the number of baserunners Zito allowed last year (13.15 BR/9) and his ERA (3.83) are not consistent with one another - at least not based on the results of other pitchers with a similar penchant for giving up hits, walks, and hit by pitches.
BASERUNNERS/9 BETWEEN 12.80 AND 13.50
ERA BR/9 IP 1 Barry Zito 3.83 13.15 2 Jeff Suppan 4.12 13.45 3 Jake Westbrook 4.17 13.03 4 Andy Pettitte 4.20 13.02 5 Mark Hendrickson 4.21 13.06 6 Aaron Cook 4.23 12.87 7 Ted Lilly 4.31 13.08 8 Brad Penny 4.33 12.81 9 Cliff Lee 4.40 13.01 10 Gil Meche 4.48 13.26 11 Vicente Padilla 4.50 13.19 12 Aaron Sele 4.53 13.24 13 Ian Snell 4.74 13.26 14 Noah Lowry 4.74 12.88 15 Chan Ho Park 4.81 13.17 16 Kris Benson 4.82 12.98 17 Ricky Nolasco 4.82 13.37 18 Claudio Vargas 4.83 13.15 19 Jamie Shields 4.84 13.28 20 Cory Lidle 4.85 13.18 21 Tim Hudson 4.86 13.31 22 Esteban Loaiza 4.89 13.03 23 Mark Buehrle 4.99 13.28 24 Luke Hudson 5.12 13.32 25 Enrique Gonzalez 5.67 12.87 Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia
The average ERA and BR/9 of the above 25 pitchers was 4.61 and 13.13, respectively. Importantly, the average BR/9 was essentially the same as Zito's but the ERA was 0.78 higher (or a not insignificant 20%).
To Zito's credit, his actual ERA has consistently defied his FIP and DIPS calculations, as well as his PECOTA projections. He is obviously doing something well that isn't being captured in these systems. The most obvious abnormality is Zito's outstanding career Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .269 (vs. a more normal league-wide rate of about .300). It should be noted that the one year (2004) in which Barry had a BABIP of .300, his ERA was 4.48.
Looking at his batted ball data adds some insight to the lefty's proficiency. A fly ball pitcher, Zito gets more than his share of infield popups and gives up fewer HR/FB than the average pitcher. Zito unquestionably has been a beneficiary of a big ballpark with a large foul territory, both of which help convert batted balls in the air into outs. The combination of Oakland's Defensive Efficiency, friendly pitching environment at home, and strong bullpen support have undoubtedly helped Zito over the years.
We are about to find out just how much. AT&T Park has shifted from one that heavily favored pitchers to a much more neutral site the past few years. It is prone to doubles and triples but suppresses home runs about as much as any big league stadium. He will certainly benefit by changing leagues, which (among other pluses) means facing the opposing pitcher a couple of times per game rather than a designated hitter.
Don't be surprised if Zito's K/9 and HR/9 rates improve next year, offset at least partially by a higher BABIP. Netting it all out suggests to me that his ERA should be around 4.00, plus or minus 0.25. An ERA better than the league average coupled with a minimum of 210 IP means he will be a valuable pitcher in 2007. I'm just not sure he will be so valuable as to dictate $18M per year nor am I confident that he will be producing at this level in the back-end of his contract.
A Larger Step for Blyleven
E-mails. There are some that are more enjoyable to get than others. Take this one for instance. About a week before Christmas, I received an unsolicited email from veteran baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby. The message stated, "I voted for Blyleven this year. You won me over."
Not knowing if Tracy was planning on going public with that pronouncement in a future column, I sent him a return email, asking if it would be permissable to write an entry at Baseball Analysts regarding his change of heart. He wrote back:
Between the information you provided and the constant conversations I have had with Blyleven's contemporaries, I became convinced that I had slighted him in the past. He is the first guy I can remember that I have ever failed to vote for on the first time and then added later. I'm a believer, in general, that a player is either worthy or isn't, and put little credence in the first ballot issue. That's a dead issue, in my opinion. It stems from the days when the Hall was in its infancy and there were just so many qualified players that all of them couldn't be voted in at the same time.
Like many other converts, I give Tracy credit for being open minded and man enough to admit his mistake in not voting for Blyleven the first nine years. Like an umpire, the important thing is getting the call right - even if it means reversing your original stance.
Ringolsby is an influential baseball writer. As the 2005 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, Tracy was inducted into the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame last July. He has covered the game since 1976, including the last 15 years for the Rocky Mountain News. A co-founder of Baseball America and former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Tracy has been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research for 27 years.
I first got to know Tracy when he covered the California Angels for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from 1977-1980. I was born and raised in Long Beach and remember reading his articles every day. My Dad's career as Director of Public Relations and Promotions for the Angels also overlapped the first couple of years of Tracy's stint as a beat writer for the Press-Telegram.
Tracy and I met up at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim in December 2004, and he agreed to a hard-hitting interview, mostly about his Hall of Fame selections that year. Although we disagreed on a couple of exclusions (Blyleven and Wade Boggs) and inclusions (Dave Concepcion and Jack Morris), Ringolsby concluded the chat by noting, "It's always nice to exchange ideas with people who realize you can disagree with dignity and respect."
Absolutely, but it's even nicer when you can agree with dignity and respect.
What's Up With Upton? Predicting and Fine-Tuning a First Rounder
Yesterday's article focused mainly on identifying a long swing, but what is the opposite of a long swing? Justin Upton. "Quick" was what came to mind while watching swings from his 2005 draft video. But is there such a thing as too quick? Since quickness and bat speed have an inverse relationship, perhaps there is an optimal blend. A closer look at Upton's swing might just reveal an area that determines his level of super-stardom.
Here is a look at one of Upton's pre-draft batting practice swings:
He's quick and baseballs are disappearing over the fence - this is too good to be true! I thought nothing of it until I slowed down some swings and noticed this possible area of concern:
The issue here is that Upton shows signs of taking the swing over with his arms/hands. This is both similar and opposite from what Johnson/Harvey showed. Similar in that the hands/arms take over the swing, but opposite because Johnson/Harvey created an extra swing segment, whereas Upton may be eliminating a more optimal swing segmentation. In simplest terms, when Upton begins pushing with the arms/hands, he does not allow rotational forces produced by the body to be completely transferred to the bat.
Upton, to me, resembles a Rickie Weeks type of player - chosen as "5-tool" middle infielders at the top of the draft. And I am going to skip a step here and add in what I consider to be a good blend quickness and power, Alfonso Soriano, who transfers momentum efficiently from hips to shoulders to bat.
Weeks is on the left and Soriano on the right, along with a game swing of Upton in the middle. Each clip is synchronized to contact. Weeks and Soriano are hitting home runs to left field, and Upton appears to have hit a foul-ball home run down the left field line.
Remember the trouble sign from Upton's bp swing? Here is how it shows up during game action:
Given Upton's athleticism and ability, projecting him as a "Rickie Weeks type" is not far fetched. Weeks is showing progress at the highest level and gives plenty of reason for optimism. Upton does not show much reason to warrant different expectations of himself.
My question is this: what type of hitters can these players really become? Check out Soriano - another good athlete who came up through the middle infield - whose swing is quite different. In the 2-frame segment above, look how much further Soriano is able to move his bat in the same period of time. Moving the bat head over longer distance during the same period of time equals more power (with no loss of quickness). Soriano accomplishes this by keeping the arms/bat segment connected to the rotation of the torso, rather than pushing the bat to contact.
If Upton and Weeks stack up athletically to Soriano, basic swing mechanics may be the only thing holding them back from 35-40 home run power. Of course, this is a sticky subject, because you do not want the player to feel that a major overhaul is necessary. You want to work with what he has and make the most of the existing talent - see which simple, small adjustments can create the greatest benefit.
Getting back to the draft, investing in quickness (Upton-style) over bat speed (Johnson-style) is most likely to provide the most immediate return. Quickness provides more opportunities for solid contact and plate discipline, which provide productivity outside of simply home runs. "Power comes last" is a common statement, and perhaps this is a good example to keep an eye on. If power truly does come last for the likes of Upton and Weeks, will it be a product of their current swings, or courtesy of some Soriano-esque improvements? Again, time will tell.
Selection by Swing
The draft is a crapshoot, right? Maybe so. Honestly, I don't know, because I've never been in position to make decisions on drafting players. There are countless things to consider, all with the purpose of determining which players are most likely to make it to the big leagues.
Looking at the draft videos from 2006, I took a pair of contrasting swings: one which looks fairly advanced already, and another which looks like more significant adjustments will be necessary. Emphasis goes on the word swings because the swing is just one factor in determining the overall value of a player. Who is the better player? I don't know and that is not the point. The point is trying to find out what the player's swing might be able to tell us about future performance.
My choices were Hank Conger (left) and Cody Johnson (right), who is mirrored to appear right-handed. David Wright is in the middle for comparison purposes because he is one of the best young hitters at the major league level. Although I do not have any amateur video of him, I am going on the assumption that he had a pretty good swing which allowed him to quickly reach the majors.
With apologies to Chris Parmalee, who appears to also have developed a high-level swing, Conger just jumped right out in terms of comparison to a guy like David Wright. In any case, the issue is how the player uses his body to swing the bat. Conger looks quick and efficient, producing both bat speed and quickness, similar to Wright. In order to demonstrate the red-flags of Johnson's swing, I thought it best to make a couple more comparisons. Stephen Drew is a guy who progressed rapidly to Arizona, and his swing is remarkably similar to when he was at Florida State.
Here is Johnson along with a shot from Stephen Drew's draft video:
Very specifically, this is the area that would concern me about Johnson's swing:
What I am trying to show here is how they move into footplant. Johnson is the definition of "opening up" the hips too early (at least on this swing). Drew is starting to rotate, but the segments of his hips, shoulders and hands/bat are moving together. Look again at Drew's hands and check how they progress towards contact. The situation with Johnson is quite different, which may allow for great bat speed and power but is a big problem when it comes to quickness. Successful big leaguers have both, finding a way to use the large muscles of the body to produce power in a short period of time.
Trying to go one step further, I came across Ryan Harvey's draft video. This seems to be an interesting comparison because both had been 6'5", athletic, power-hitting outfielders. Might Harvey's first few seasons in the minors give an indication of what is to come for Johnson? Time will tell.
Here is the comparison (Johnson again mirrored to be right-handed):
The Harvey video is not great (missing frames, etc.) but it serves the purpose. From what I gather reading prospect reviews, both of these players opened eyes with their towering home run power. Again, the issue is how this power is generated and how will it transfer to higher levels. Were Johnson and Harvey lighting it up in batting practice and preying on inferior pitching during games?
Suppose, however, that they did have success against other top high school pitchers - why are those pitchers dominant in high school? Likely because they throw fastballs that most high school players can't catch up to. Even with a "long" swing, players like Johnson and Harvey could catch up to mid-90s fastballs, assuming they are looking for the pitch (see Jeff Francoeur). Of course, this would make their power look even more impressive.
But are they really showing signs of a high-level swing? I will leave with one more picture that tells much of the story:
Conger - Wright - Johnson - Harvey all at 2 frames before contact. The angle shows their back elbow, which can often identify bat drag or other forms of disconnection from the arms and the body. In this case, with the elbow leading at a point so close to contact, it appears that Johnson and Harvey relied most on the arms to create a long powerful swing, which may be impressive on the surface, but probably won't provide for smooth progress toward the majors. Conger and Wright are more indicative of swings with quickness and power.
While the bright side of Johnson and Harvey may be their athletic ability, the question becomes the skill of their swing. Skills depend on practice and experience, and while not impossible, it will be quite a challenge for young players to progress through pro baseball while at the same time skillfully developing better swing patterns.
Bill James Handbook (Part Three)
Today marks the third and final day of reviewing The Bill James Handbook. On Tuesday, I covered mostly fielding and baserunning. On Wednesday, I concentrated on hitting. That leaves pitching, easily my favorite area when it comes to analyzing stats.
As I wrote last year, "Good hitters usually put up good numbers and are generally easy to spot. Good pitchers, on the other hand, don't always put up numbers that are so easily recognizable."
That said, let's start off with an easily recognizable name so as not to omit his greatness when looking at the more esoteric stats of others. Johan Santana. Have you ever heard of him? The two-time Cy Young Award winner led the AL (and in many cases MLB) in ERA (2.77), BAA (.216), baserunners per 9 IP (9.13), wins (19), strikeouts (245), quality starts (24), innings (233.2), K/9 (9.44), opponent OBP (.258) and SLG (.360), H/9 (7.16), opponent AVG w/ RISP (.174), and opponent batting average + slugging or what the BJH calls BPS vs. changeups (.352). Santana also topped the majors in component ERA (2.36) and had the highest average game score (62.21). It only follows that the southpaw was number one in Win Shares (24), too. Not bad for a year's worth of work, huh?
Over in the NL, a lesser-known name nearly dominated to the same degree - at least among his reliever peers. Cla Meredith was #1 in relief opponent AVG (.170), OBP (.207) and SLG (.244), as well as relief opponent AVG vs. RHP (.107), relief opponent OBP vs. 1st batter faced (.178), and relief opponent AVG w/ runners on (.114). Was he really traded to San Diego with Josh Bard and cash for Doug Mirabelli last May? Boy, I wonder how he would look in a Red Sox uniform this year?
Jonathan Papelbon wasn't too bad either. Among AL relievers, Paps led in opponent OBP (.211), AVG w/ runners on (.112) and RISP (.082), and AVG vs. RHB (.128). He was second in relief BAA (.167) and ERA (.0.92). It will be interesting to see how he performs as a starter next year.
Chien-Ming Wang had the lowest HR/9 rate (0.50) among all pitchers with 162 or more IP. John Lackey (0.58) was second in the AL. Brandon Webb (0.57) and Derek Lowe (0.58), extreme groundball types, were first and second in the NL. Of note, Colorado had three starters - Aaron Cook (0.72), Jason Jennings (0.72), and Jeff Francis (0.81) in the top ten in the senior circut. Although not the rocket pad as in past years, Coors Field still played to an index of 114 (meaning it enhances HR by 14% over a neutral park).
Josh Beckett and Ervin Santana hit the trifecta by ranking in the top ten in the AL in BB, WP, and HBP. Neither pitcher is as wild as their counting stats might otherwise indicate because they both threw over 200 innings. On the plus side, Beckett (8.40) and Santana (7.99) were in the top five in the league in H/9. Beckett, in fact, was #1 in the majors in OBP vs. leadoff hitters (.231). Santana placed eighth (.276) in that category. The similarities don't end there. The hard-throwing righthanders ranked among the AL's top ten starters in average fastball speed (Beckett, 3rd, 94.7; Santana, 8th, 93.1). The main difference is that Beckett throws a curve (and an outstanding one at that, ranking third in the AL in Opp BPS) and Santana a slider. The latter's fastball produced the sixth-lowest Opp BPS in the league.
While on the subject of pitches, Felix Hernandez (95.2) had the highest average fastball in the AL while Brad Penny (93.9) was #1 in the NL. Joe Morgan might be happy to know that Joel Zumaya (98.6) ranked first among relievers, followed by Billy Wagner and Kyle Farnsworth (both at 96.2). Zumaya led the majors with 233 pitches over 100 mph. Farnsworth (26) was second, and Justin Verlander (19) third.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greg Maddux (83.4), Livan Hernandez (83.9), and Mark Redman (84.1) had the slowest fastballs among pitchers with 162 or more IP. Tim Wakefield, in 140 innings, threw 1,598 pitches under 80 mph - the most in baseball.
Mark Buehrle (44.4%) relied on his fastball less than anyone else while Cook (81.0%) went with his more than four out of five pitches. Matt Morris (28.6%) was #1 in curveballs, Jon Lieber (35.4%) tops in sliders, and Tom Glavine (37.5%) the king of changeups.
Daniel Cabrera led the majors in wild pitches (17) and the AL in BB (104) even though he only threw 148 innings. Frank Bertaina (17 WP in 127 IP in 1968) and Scott Williamson (21, 112, 2000) are the only two who have ever thrown as many wild pitches in fewer innings than Cabrera. I thought the Baltimore righthander profiled like Carlos Zambrano but so far he looks to be imitating Victor Zambrano. I wouldn't give up hope just yet but would like to see the 6-foot-7 strikeout artist take a step in the right direction in 2007.
There is a treasure trove of information in the 458 pages of The Bill James Handbook. I know it will help me get through the winter and will be a useful reference source at my fantasy draft next spring. I am confident that you will enjoy this book, provided you can live with the mistakes in the park indices (which ACTA has rectified by making the corrected tables available online).
Bill James Handbook (Part Two)
In reviewing The Bill James Handbook yesterday, I spent most of time covering fielding and baserunning. Today's article is going to concentrate on hitting in one of my favorite sections of the book - The 2006 Leader Boards.
Maybe it's just me but I like to look for players who show up among the best and/or worst in a combination of related stats. In this regard, there were five players in the majors who placed in the top ten in their respective leagues in HR, BB, and SO. Troy Glaus and Jim Thome accomplished this feat in the AL, while Jason Bay, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Howard performed this trick in the NL. Dunn was the sole repeater from last year. He has now finished in the top ten in HR, BB, and SO for three consecutive seasons. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound lefthanded-hitting slugger might be working on a four-year streak, if not for an injury to his left thumb on 8/15/03 that sidelined him for the remainder of that campaign.
Speaking of Thome, he led the majors in SLG vs. RHP (.749), beating out his closest challenger in the AL (David Ortiz) by .100. Ortiz was one of four sluggers who ranked in the top ten in SLG vs. RHP and LHP. The other three? Jermaine Dye, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez. Pujols and Ramirez also finished in the top ten in OBP vs. RHP and LHP, as did Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Nick Johnson.
Kevin Youkilis led the majors in pitches per plate appearance (4.43) and was second in the AL in percentage of pitches taken (63.8). Jason Giambi, Travis Hafner, and Thome ranked in the top ten in the AL in both. Pat Burrell led the NL in pitches per PA (4.32). Carlos Beltran, Johnson, and Felipe Lopez finished in the top ten in the NL in both stats. Based on the information supplied in the book, one can deduce that Youkilis led all batters in number of pitches taken per PA (2.83). Giambi (2.80), Johnson (2.79), and Burrell (2.78) followed closely behind. Of the eight players mentioned above, all but Lopez can be found among the top ten in BB in their league.
Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter in the majors on pitches outside the strike zone (OutZ). Nick Markakis was tops in the AL. The worst? Jhonny Peralta and Geoff Jenkins. Peralta and Jenkins were also in the top ten in their league in highest strikeout per plate appearance. I would argue that hitters who whiff a lot and fare poorly on OutZ have a difficult time recognizing pitches and/or long swings. In addition to Peralta and Jenkins, players who were among the leaders in both areas include Mike Cameron, Dunn, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, Richie Sexson, Nick Swisher, and Preston Wilson. Dunn, Peralta, Sexson, and Swisher also had some of the highest swing and miss % of anyone (with the Seattle first baseman topping the league for the second year in a row). On the other hand, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, and Pujols ranked among the best on OutZ and lowest strikeout per PA.
Prince Albert, by the way, was the only hitter who was in the top ten in at-bats per HR and lowest strikeout per PA - a pretty remarkable combo. With respect to roundtrippers, Howard launched the longest one of 'em all (496'). Wily Mo Pena had the longest average HR (411'), including two of the top eight rockets in the AL (475' and 451'). Prince Fielder (475' and 471') and Matt Holliday (481' and 478') had two of the longest eight in the NL. The shortest average HR (with a minimum of 10 or more)? Craig Biggio (358'). He lost three feet from his average last year. Hey, where else are you going to get this info?
Hackers with the highest first swing % were Vladimir Guerrero (50.2%) and Jeff Francoeur (49.9%). Two free swinging, powerful, athletic right fielders with strong arms. However, there is one big difference between them - Guerrero K'd 68 times in 608 AB while Francoeur whiffed 132 times in 651 AB. As a result, Vlad hit .329 and Jeff hit .260. Patient hitters with the lowest first swing % were Jamey Carroll (8.8%) and Jason Kendall (9.2%).
With respect to pitch data, Howard and Ramirez were the best hitters in the NL and AL, respectively, vs. fastballs. Guerrero and Lance Berkman were #1 in their leagues vs. curveballs, Thome and Nomar Garciaparra tops vs. changeups, and Josh Bard and Giambi (for the second year in a row) the kings of sliders.
Ichiro Suzuki had a strange year on the basepaths in 2006. One might say it was the best and worst of times. He was the only player in baseball who ranked in the top ten in the league in SB, SB%, GIDP%, and triples. He pulled this quadruple the previous year as well. As noted yesterday, Ichiro also led the majors in Bases Taken (bases gained via wild pitch, passed ball, balk, sacrifice fly, or defensive indifference) with 33. However, he was thrown out trying to advance an extra base on a hit three times and doubled off base on a ball hit in the air five times. His total of eight baserunning outs topped everyone in the majors.
Carl Crawford, Corey Patterson, Dave Roberts, and Jimmy Rollins were in the top ten in three of the four speed categories (SB, SB%, GIDP%, and triples). Crawford (16 of 18 chances) and Patterson (18 of 19) were also two of the best at scoring from second on a single. Roberts, on the other hand, was surprisingly one of the worst at going from first to third on a single (2 of 18 times).
Alfonso Soriano led all players in steals of third with 14. He also had the lowest GB/FB ratio (0.63) in the NL. There's no way to verify my gut instinct, but I would venture to say that the $136 million dollar man is the first player in the history of the game to pull off that combo. Only Frank Thomas had a lower GB/FB ratio (0.47). On the other end of the spectrum, Jeter had the highest GB/FB ratio (4.07).
I will wrap up the series tomorrow with a focus on pitchers and pitch data.
The Bill James Handbook 2007
I don't know what I like more: the baseball season itself or the off-season when I can devour The Bill James Handbook, The Hardball Times Annual, and Baseball Prospectus. The Handbook, produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, is highly regarded for its statistics and being the first baseball annual available after the season ends. It has taken the place of the Baseball Register as my player career reference book of choice.
Reviewing the Bill James Handbook has become an annual tradition for me. I started in 2003 and built it up over the years to a more comprehensive three-part series last winter. I am planning on running another three-parter this time around, beginning today and concluding on Thursday.
This year's Handbook contains all of the normal features, such as player and manager career records, team statistics and efficiency summaries, park indices, lefty/righty splits, leader boards, fielding statistics, baserunning analysis, hitter and pitcher projections, and season-by-season and career Win Shares totals. This year's book also includes The Fielding Bible Awards (along with the plus/minus leaders at each position) and a new section called Manufactured Runs (with a detailed, seven-page explanation by Bill James).
As in prior editions, the book opens with a compilation of team statistics, highlighted by the information within the tables for the 2006 standings. The number of days in first place, the last day in first place, and the largest number of games that a team led its division are presented with the standard wins and losses, winning percentage, and games back. The New York Mets, in stark contrast to the previous year when the club was one of only four never to be in first place, were atop the NL East for 181 of the 183 days. The Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's, and St. Louis Cardinals were the only other teams to spend at least 100 days in first place. Among the division winners, the Minnesota Twins occupied the top spot the fewest number of days (4).
For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals were two of five teams with winning records in five-plus run differentials and losing records in one-run games. Speaking of STL, the two World Series participants both had losing records in the second half of the season. So much for the hot team having an edge in October.
The following players won Fielding Bible Awards:
1B: Albert Pujols, STL 2B: Orlando Hudson, ARI 3B: Adrian Beltre, SEA SS: Adam Everett, HOU LF: Carl Crawford, TB CF: Carlos Beltran, NYM RF: Ichiro Suzuki, SEA C: Ivan Rodriguez, DET P: Greg Maddux, CHI/LAD
Adam Everett was a runaway winner, landing eight first place and two second place votes from the ten panelists (James, John Dewan, Nate Birtwell, Mike Murphy, Rob Neyer, Mat Olkin, Joe Posnanski, Hal Richman, the BIS Video Scouts, and the Tom Tango Fan Poll). Ichiro Suzuki received seven first place votes, two seconds, and a fourth (from James, who gave the nod to J.D. Drew - prior to the Red Sox agreeing to terms with the free agent right fielder). Ivan Rodriguez garnered six first place votes and four seconds.
The Plus/Minus Leaders were as follows:
2006 2004-06 1B: Albert Pujols, +19 Albert Pujols, +37 2B: Jose Valentin, +22 Orlando Hudson, +66 3B: Brandon Inge, +27 Adrian Beltre, +64 SS: Adam Everett, +43 Adam Everett, +98 LF: Dave Roberts, +16 Carl Crawford, +56 CF: Corey Patterson, +34 Andruw Jones, +48 RF: Randy Winn, +22 Ichiro Suzuki, +59 P: Johan Santana, +8 Kenny Rogers, +22
Fielding Statistics (putouts, assists, errors, double plays, fielding percentage, and range factor) are provided in a separate section of the book. There is also a "Catchers Special" table that details stolen base numbers and catcher ERA. Mike Piazza led all regulars in CERA (3.52) in 718 innings. Josh Bard, San Diego's #2 catcher, had a CERA of 4.28 working 494.2 innings. Neither catcher was adept at throwing runners out with Piazza successful on just 13 of 110 attempts and Bard 10 of 51 with SD and 11 of 64 overall (including BOS).
The Career Register includes complete career stats for every major leaguer who played in 2006 (from David Aardsma to Joel Zumaya), plus 21 bonus players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka. Full minor league stats are listed for those with fewer than three major league seasons. In addition to traditional statistics, the Register features Runs Created for hitters and Component ERA for pitchers. This section comprises 256 of the 459 pages in the book.
James wrote a five-page analysis of Baserunning, asking "Who is the best baserunner in the major leagues? Who is the worst? Who is on the list? Who isn't as good as the public thinks? Who is better than the announcers say?" The six factors evaluated were: (1) runners going from first to third on a single, (2) scoring from second on a single, (3) scoring from first on a double, (4) bases taken, (5) baserunning outs, and (6) runs scored as a percentage of times on base.
Bases Taken was a new category in this year's book. As James describes, "A player is credited with a Base Taken whenever he moves up a base on a wild pitch, passed ball, balk, sacrifice fly, or defensive indifference. Ichiro led the majors in Bases Taken with 33 and Orlando Cabrera was #1 in Bases Taken per time on base. As detailed in Net Stolen Bases: Leaders and Laggards, Suzuki was also the most efficient base stealer last year. On the other hand, Garrett Atkins, Jason Giambi, and Adam Dunn were the least likely players to take a base in these situations.
Based on the formula derived by James, the top and bottom two dozen baserunners in the majors were:
BEST WORST 1. Chone Figgins 1. Josh Willingham 2. Chase Utley 2. Adrian Gonzalez 3. Mark Ellis 3. Mike Piazza 4. Orlando Cabrera 4. Frank Thomas 5. David DeJesus 5. Jason Giambi 6. Jose Reyes 6. Ryan Howard 7. Mark Teahen 7. Pat Burrell 8. Willy Taveras 8. Travis Hafner 9. Carlos Beltran 9. Victor Martinez 10. Hanley Ramirez 10. Juan Rivera 11. Johnny Damon 11. Joe Crede 12. Grady Sizemore 12. Kenji Johjima 13. Juan Pierre 13. Richie Sexson 14. Corey Patterson 14. Javy Lopez 15. Scott Podsednik 15. Jorge Posada 16. Marcus Giles 16. Willy Aybar 17. Jason Michaels 17. Jermaine Dye 18. Mark Grudzielanek 18. Bengie Molina 19. Felipe Lopez 19. Mike Jacobs 20. Carlos Guillen 20. Jacque Jones 21. Melky Cabrera 21. Kevin Millar 22. Brandon Fahey 22. Mike Lowell 23. Steve Finley 23. Brian McCann 24. Shane Victorino 24. Paul Konerko
Moving forward, we learn that the Twins manufactured the most runs (224) and the Tigers the fewest (124) in the AL, while the Rockies were #1 (198) and the Reds dead last (135) in the NL.
In The Manager's Record, James proclaims, "Whereas fielding stats now are about where batting stats were in 1940, managerial stats are closer to where batting stats were in 1878." He says "we have a long ditch ahead of us" in terms of asking and answering the right questions, as well as compiling and studying the data. In the spirit of "It's like pulling teeth, but we keep pulling," James asks the following 16 questions:
Season-by-season and career records are provided for 31 managers (ranging from Felipe Alou to Ned Yost and including Billy Doran, who managed the Royals for 10 games last year), broken down by lineups, substitutions, pitcher usage, tactics, and results. It is interesting to compare one manager to another using their 162-game career averages to reduce the context-driven numbers from any given year.
As much as I like the BJH, I was disappointed to learn this past weekend that the park indices for LHB/RHB home runs and batting average were incorrect. Unfortunately, I relied on this information in challenging an Unfiltered post at Baseball Prospectus by Nate Silver regarding J.D. Drew's home run projection for 2007. Most frustrating of all is that I had to uncover the errors myself (at the bottom of the promotional page for the book under Errata).
I give ACTA credit for owning up to its mistakes but still feel let down by this misinformation. I sent Nate an email this past weekend, notifying him that my retort was based on faulty data. He is one of the best analysts in the business and his PECOTA projections have become the standard of the industry.
The review of the Handbook will continue the next two days. The 2006 Leader Boards will be analyzed closely with a focus on the proprietary pitch data collected by Baseball Info Solutions.
Answering the Naysayers (Part Two)
Two years ago, I wrote a column Answering the Naysayers that was designed to counter three general beliefs held by the dissenting crowd as to why Bert Blyleven wasn't a worthy Hall of Fame selection. The notions that Blyleven (1) didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough, (2) wasn't a "dominant" pitcher in his era, and/or (3) was no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat were pretty much dispelled with facts rather than opinions in that particular article.
Today, I'm responding to two more arguments against Blyleven that come up from time to time when discussing his candidacy. Many naysayers contend that Blyleven made only two All-Star teams and found a way to lose too many close games. The first point is true - Blyleven was named to All-Star teams in 1973 and 1985 - but it is hardly valid. And I will show you why. The second point has been researched by a few analysts, including most recently by Bill James in The Hardball Times Annual 2006. My goal in this matter is to add a different perspective, suggesting that he was really no different than most of his peers.
As it relates to the number of All-Star Game appearances, Blyleven generally pitched better in the second half of the season than in the first half. Unfortunately, All-Star selections are based on how players perform during April, May, and June rather than July, August, and September.
W L PCT ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO 1st Half 150 140 .517 3.47 2738 2620 1167 1056 258 726 2046 2nd Half 137 110 .555 3.12 2232 2012 862 774 172 596 1655
Given that W-L records and ERAs are the stats most heavily considered by managers when it comes to picking All-Star starting pitchers, it follows that Blyleven would have been viewed more favorably had this honor taken place at the end of the season rather than in the middle.
If anything, Blyleven's splits should be viewed in a positive light. He did his best work in August and September (and in the postseason).
W L ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO April/Mar. 30 36 3.61 680.2 661 301 273 69 199 487 May 50 41 3.40 858.1 800 360 324 72 220 689 June 49 46 3.37 803 773 337 301 78 212 596 July 48 44 3.70 873 831 390 359 88 240 613 August 59 36 2.89 863 770 313 277 62 222 645 Sept./Oct. 51 47 2.99 892 797 328 296 61 229 671 Postseason 5 1 2.47 47.1 43 15 13 5 8 36
Blyleven performed like an All-Star in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. For example, in his first full season in 1971, Bert led the league in strikeouts-to-walks (3.80), ranked third in Runs Saved Against Average (26), fourth in strikeouts (224) and adjusted ERA+ (127), fifth in ERA (2.81) and shutouts (5), eighth in complete games (17), and ninth in innings pitched (278 1/3), yet he wasn't an All-Star. Blyleven rightfully made the team in 1973 when he was arguably the best pitcher in the AL.
In 1974, Blyleven was 2nd in K (249), K/BB (3.23), and ERA+ (142); 4th in ERA (2.66), WHIP (1.14), and RSAA (32); and 10th in CG (19), yet failed to earn All-Star honors once again.
One year later, Bert ended up 2nd in K (233), 3rd in WHIP (1.10) and RSAA (34), 4th in K/BB (2.77), 5th in CG (20) and ERA+ (129), 6th in ERA (3.00), 7th in IP (275 2/3), and 9th in SHO (3) and, lo and behold, didn't make the All-Star team.
In 1976, Blyleven was 2nd in SHO (6), 3rd in K (219), 4th in IP (297 2/3), 5th in K/BB (2.70), 7th in RSAA (23), 8th in ERA+ (125), and 9th in ERA (2.87) and CG (18) but took another mini-vacation in July.
Bert may have been the best pitcher in the AL once again in 1977. He led the league in WHIP (1.07) and RSAA (39); was 2nd in ERA (2.72), ERA+ (151), and shutouts (5); 7th in K (182); 8th in K/BB (2.64); and 10th in CG (15), yet had nothing to show for it in terms of being an All-Star.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Blyleven ranked 3rd in K (107) and K/BB (2.67); 8th in WHIP (1.16) and ERA (2.88); 9th in ERA+ (126) and CG (9); and 10th in W (11). He watched the ASG from home.
In 1984, Bert led the league in RSAA (40); placed 2nd in W (19), WHIP (1.13), and ERA+ (142); 3rd in ERA (2.87) and SHO (4); 4th in K (170) and CG (12); and 8th in K/BB (2.30) despite playing for a team with a 75-87 record that ended up sixth in a seven-team division. He must have been an All-Star that year, right? Nope, he was left off the team again.
Blyleven made the All-Star team in 1985 for the second time in his career. However, he was ignored the following year when he led the league in IP (271 2/3) as well as in K/BB (3.71); placed 2nd in CG (16), 4th in K (215) and SHO (3), 6th in W (17), 7th in WHIP (1.18), and 10th in RSAA (19).
In 1989, the 38-year-old led the league in SHO (5); ranked 3rd in WHIP (1.12) and RSAA (28); 4th in ERA (2.73), ERA+ (140), and CG (8); 5th in K/BB (2.98); 6th in W (17); and 7th in IP (241), yet missed out on being an All-Star. Go figure.
As demonstrated, the fact that Blyleven was only named an All-Star twice is more a function of the system than a reflection on how well he pitched.
With regards to point number two ("Blyleven found a way to lose too many close games"), an examination of how he pitched when earning a "W" or "L" is instructive as well as his so-called clutch stats.
First things first. Blyleven had an ERA of 1.60 in games he won. He had an ERA of 5.40 in games he lost. Although the disparity between the two results seems wide, it is in-line with Blyleven's ten most comparable pitchers as determined by Bill James' similarity scores.
WERA LERA Bert Blyleven 1.60 5.40 Don Sutton 1.66 5.70 Gaylord Perry 1.54 5.26 Fergie Jenkins 1.85 5.27 Tommy John 1.57 5.72 Robin Roberts* 1.93 5.35 Tom Seaver 1.61 4.92 Jim Kaat 1.87 5.40 Early Wynn* 1.62 6.27 Phil Niekro 1.77 5.37 Steve Carlton 1.73 5.28 * 1957-on
The average WERA is 1.72 and the average LERA is 5.45. The spread between the two is about the same for Blyleven and his peers. Bert actually outperformed the group in both winning and losing efforts, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that he fared materially better or worse than the others in either case.
If Blyleven didn't pitch well when the game was on the line, wouldn't this fact show up in his situational stats?
AVG OBP SLG OPS 2 outs, RISP .236 .325 .350 .675 Late & Close .260 .320 .368 .688 Tie Game .246 .304 .362 .666 Within 1 R .248 .304 .363 .667 Within 2 R .251 .306 .368 .674 Within 3 R .249 .304 .366 .670 Within 4 R .250 .304 .368 .672 Margin > 4 R .225 .269 .352 .621 Career .248 .301 .367 .668
Sure, Blyleven was at his best when the margin was over four runs but that is basically the case with all pitchers. In fact, nine of his top ten comps also pitched better in such situations (with only Kaat doing worse). Like Blyleven, seven of them were at their best when the margin was over four runs. It is simply the norm rather than the exception.
Perhaps the most damning evidence against those who claim Blyleven didn't win the close ones is the following fact:
Over the course of his career, Bert was 15-10 (.600) in 1-0 games. His 15 1-0 victories rank third on the all-time list behind Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.
None of these points alone should put Blyleven in the Hall of Fame. By the same token, none should keep him out. The bottom line is that his stats speak for themselves. To wit. . .
Let's face it, Blyleven is more than qualified for the Hall of Fame. He is not a "borderline candidate" as Buster Olney called him last year. Based on career value, one could easily make the case that he is one of the top 20 most productive pitchers in the history of modern baseball, yet 2007 marks the 10th year he has been on the ballot.
Sutton (1998) and Ryan (1999) are the only starting pitchers who have received 75% of the vote since Blyleven became eligible. That's right, no starter has been inducted in Cooperstown in the last seven years - a period in which the voters have seen fit to honor ten position players and two relievers. Amazingly, only four starting pitchers - Sutton, Ryan, Phil Niekro (1997), and Carlton (1994) - have been enshrined since Blyleven retired 14 years ago.
For whatever reason, voters seem to have a hard time pulling the trigger not just for Blyleven but starting pitchers in general. The fact that Bert won "only" 287 seems to be holding him back even though he ranks 18th in victories since 1900. EIGHTEENTH! I don't know what the equivalent stat is for hitters but Rod Carew ranks 18th in hits, Charlie Gehringer ranks 18th in runs, Cal Ripken Jr. ranks 18th in RBI, Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks are tied for 17th in HR (Mel Ott is 19th), Reggie Jackson is 18th in extra-base hits, Wade Boggs is 18th in times on base, and Jimmie Foxx 18th in total bases since 1900.
Still not convinced? No problem. Blyleven ranks eighth in career shutouts. Hitters who also rank eighth in the categories above include Eddie Collins, Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Tris Speaker, and Carl Yastrzemski.
Anyone who still needs more convincing shouldn't have a vote. But let's finish this little exercise anyway. Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts. Hitters who rank fifth in the categories above include Speaker and Yaz, as well as Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth.
The hitting equivalents of Blyleven are all inner circle Hall of Famers. It follows that he is also a Hall of Famer. No more excuses. Vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. Now.
The Big Heist
The Boston Red Sox and Diasuke Matsuzaka reached agreement Wednesday on a six-year contract that will pay the Japanese star $52 million plus the potential for an additional $8 million in escalators based on awards. Matsuzaka will also receive a "litany of personal comforts" as described by his agent Scott Boras, including an interpreter, personal assistant, therapists, special housing and transportation arrangements and accommodations for his wife, and 80-90 flights over the course of the deal.
The deal calls for Matsuzaka to receive a $2 million signing bonus, a $6 million salary in 2007, followed by $8 million in each of the following three seasons, and $10 million in each of the final two years. Aside from the personal services side of the equation, the Red Sox will spend a minimum of $103.1M and a maximum of $111.1M (including the $51.1M posting fee) to secure the 26-year-old righthander for the next six years. In other words, Boston winds up paying Barry Zito-money for Matsuzaka, and the MVP of the World Baseball Classic last spring makes less dough than Gil Meche. Go figure.
Matsuzaka will actually cost the Red Sox less than what Zito is likely to command because the $51.1M posting fee is not subject to luxury taxes. At a rate of 40% for clubs over the threshold three or more times, John Henry & Co. could save more than $20M over the life of the D-Mat contract. Credit Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein for waiting Boras and Matsuzaka out and getting their man on the cheap at the eleventh hour.
The man whose first name is pronounced "Dice-K" joins fellow 26-year-olds Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon, plus Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield in a rotation that potentially becomes one of the most powerful in the game. Boston also has Jon Lester as its "sixth man" and Clay Buchholz waiting in the wings. The only piece of the puzzle still missing is a top-shelf closer to shut down the opposition in the late innings. Could the Red Sox sign Roger Clemens and ask Papelbon to gut it out for one more year in the 'pen? Paps may not be too happy about that but Sox fans sure would be.
What kind of numbers do you expect Matsuzaka to post? I'm going to set the range at 14-16 wins, 3.50-4.00 ERA, and 150-180 strikeouts. You can take the unders, the middle, or the overs.
Another Small Step for Blyleven
I was preparing to write an editorial about the controversy surrounding this year's Hall of Fame ballot when none other than Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News beat me to the punch late last week.
Yes, the same Bill Conlin who basically accused me of being a "cybergeek" three years ago when we exchanged emails over the merits of Bert Blyelven's HOF candidacy. Conlin had just voted for Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, and Ryne Sandberg but not for Blyleven. In addition to making three points about Blyleven ranking fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and 24th in wins, I mentioned that he was also among the top 20 in Neutral Wins, Runs Saved Above Average, and ERA vs. the League Average.
Conlin quickly shot back a second email:
I find strikeouts to be the most overrated pitching stat. An out is an out. . .Just as 1-0 and 4-3 are both wins. I don't do cybergeek stuff, so you lost me after point 3.
A year later, I exchanged emails with Bill but to no avail.
I don't plan to vote for Blyleven. He was not a dominant pitcher of his era, merely a very good one. Take away the final 7 hanging-around years of Jim Kaat and you have a record very close to Blyleven's and I have never voted for Kaat.
Scratching my head over the term "dominant pitcher," I asked Bill if he had ever voted for Don Sutton.
I voted for Sutton every year he was eligible. He won the same number of games as Ryan in three fewer seasons and had 36 fewer losses. That was the crux of my NOT voting for Ryan his first year of eligibilty.
With the conversation shifting from Blyleven to Sutton to Ryan, I wrote back, "Re Ryan...so, you were the guy, ehh? 98.79% of the voters saw fit to write his name on their ballots and only about five saw fit not to...That puts you in some pretty unique company, I must say."
Bill fired back:
7 and that's an old story which I addressed in two widely distributed columns and I'm not going to re-open it with the likes of you. . .
As I wrote in It's That Time of the Year (Again), "Last year, our email exchange ended with Bill telling me that he didn't do 'cybergeek stuff.' This year, it came to a halt because of who I am or who I'm not. However, I'm not deterred in the least and am hopeful that one day it will conclude with, 'You know, Rich, I think you've made a good case for Blyleven. 5th in career strikeouts, 9th in shutouts, 24th in wins, and 19th in ERA vs. the league average. That's one heckuva record. He's got my vote this year.'" I concluded my article with, "A man can dream, can't he?"
Well, guess what, folks? The dream has become a reality. You see, Conlin last week admitted to voting for Blyleven.
For those reasons, I have just checked the box next to McGwire's name on my Hall of Fame ballot. I have also checked the names of Bert Blyleven (all you campaigners finally won me over), Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken Jr., and Lee Smith.
"I have also checked the names of Bert Blyleven (all you campaigners finally won me over)..." Hallelujah! Score one for the cybergeeks. Blyleven hasn't won a game in more than 14 years, yet is finding a growing legion of supporters among the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Better late than never, right?
Year Votes Pct 1998 83 17.6 1999 70 14.1 2000 87 17.4 2001 121 23.5 2002 124 26.3 2003 145 29.2 2004 179 35.4 2005 211 40.9 2006 277 53.3
After an inauspicious first three years, Blyleven's vote total jumped 39% in 2001, then stagnated the following year before accelerating in 2003 and beyond to the point where he crossed the magical 50% barrier for the first time in 2006. Other than Gil Hodges, every candidate who has received half of the vote has eventually been enshrined in Cooperstown.
Will Blyleven make the quantum leap from 53% to the required 75% this year? Probably not. But if Bert can continue to pick up votes from "the likes of guys like Bill" in the manner he has the past few years, his induction should only be a matter of time.
Attention Teams Interested in Vernon Wells. . .
Vernon Wells turns 28 years old today. The Blue Jays center fielder has been the subject of speculation as to whether Toronto should hang onto him for the final year of his contract or trade him prior to his free agent season.
Toronto has earned an outstanding return on its investment in Wells over the years. As the fifth overall pick in the 1997 amateur draft, Wells earned a $1.8M signing bonus, then minor league and major league miniumums through 2002 before inking an extension in March 2003 that called for a $850,000 bonus and salaries of $350K, $700K, $2.9M, $4.3M, and $5.6M over the ensuing five years.
Wells is on the verge of tripling or quadrupling his salary once his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Not wanting to pay up, the Blue Jays are now faced with the decision of what to do with their star player.
There is a lot to like about Wells. He has played in 154 or more games in four of the past five seasons, slugged 23 to 33 home runs each year, and earned three consecutive Gold Gloves for his defense. As a result, it is no surprise that there are a number of suitors looking closely at Wells. MLB Rumor Central lists the Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, and White Sox as having an interest in the soon-to-be free agent.
The Dodgers and Angels just entered into five-year commitments with Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Pierre so it would seem implausible that one of these two teams would now go after Wells. The Phillies could upgrade from Aaron Rowand to Wells, but it just may be that Kenny Williams is in the best position to make such a deal work. The White Sox clearly need a quality CF and have excess starting pitching to deal plus the revenues to support Wells' likely new contract.
Wells is from Louisiana and could be interested in playing closer to home, making the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers a distinct possibility for his services. The Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners also have reportedly held preliminary discussions with the Blue Jays.
But let me offer an alternative for those teams who may be hot to trot for Wells. Rocco Baldelli. He is three years younger than Wells, has a much more team-friendly contract, and may be every bit as good. Stay with me.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Baldelli signed an extension in November 2005 to avoid arbitration. His base salary will be $750K in 2007 (yes, $750,000) and $2.25M in 2008. Rocco can earn performance bonuses based on plate appearances that could lift his pay to $2.5M in 2007 and perhaps $4.5M in 2008. Furthermore, the club has a $6M option in 2009, $8M in 2010, and $9M in 2011. At most, Baldelli will cost $30M over the next five years.
Beginning in 2008, Wells will make $30M over the course of 1 1/2 seasons and will probably cost his new employer $160M over the 2008-2015 period. Carlos Beltran signed a seven-year, $119M contract with the New York Mets in January 2005. J.D. Drew signed a five-year, $55M deal that same month. He opted out and agreed to a new five-year, $70M offer from the Boston Red Sox this week. Using Drew's increase as an indication of wage inflation, one could argue that salaries have grown 27% since Beltran inked his contract with the Mets.
In other words, Carlos would now be worth about $21.5M per year. If we assume that Wells is not quite at Beltran's level, we can back that figure off a bit and come up with $20M. The fact that Alfonso Soriano signed an 8/$136M contract with the Chicago Cubs this offseason also suggests to me that Wells won't be far off that $20M mark for a similar number of years.
OK, so who would you rather have - Wells for an average annual salary of $20M or Baldelli for $6M? The difference in pay alone should allow the team with Baldelli (rather than Wells) to acquire another premium player.
Let's take a look at how Baldelli compared to Wells last year.
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS Baldelli 92 364 59 110 24 6 16 57 14 70 10 1 .302 .339 .533 .872 Wells 154 611 91 185 40 5 32 106 54 90 17 4 .303 .357 .542 .899
Wells had superior counting stats because he played in 62 more games. However, Baldelli's rate stats are nearly the same. Wells' home ballpark is slightly more friendly for RHB than Baldelli's. According to The Bill James Handbook, Rogers Centre played to a park index for RHB of 101 AVG and 131 HR in 2006, whereas Tropicana Field played to a 102 and 119, respectively.
If we dig down a bit deeper and compare their performances on the road, one can't help but come to the conclusion that Baldelli may be every bit as good as Wells. Both center fielders call the AL East their home so the level of competition has been essentially the same. Batters hit .254/.330/.404 vs. the pitchers Baldelli faced and .257/.338/.410 vs. the pitchers Wells faced last year.
2006 Road Stats
AVG OBP SLG Baldelli .298 .323 .534 Wells .276 .340 .422
Career Road Stats
AVG OBP SLG Baldelli .286 .313 .467 Wells .276 .323 .455
This analysis may be moot if not for the fact that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays seem open to the idea of trading Baldelli. TB has a surplus of young outfielders, including Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes, B.J. Upton, and Delmon Young. Last time I checked, teams only need three starting outfielders. Put Crawford in LF, Young in RF, and one of Baldelli, Dukes, or Upton in CF. That means two of the latter three could conceivably be traded for much-needed pitching help.
Tampa Bay will certainly require equal value in return for a player such as Baldelli. Although signing Wells as a free agent will only cost a first or second round draft pick, the winning team will need to outbid all the others - not something that can be counted upon. But the reality is that Wells will cost a lot more than a draft choice. About 160 million more dollars than just a draft pick.
You can have Wells. I'll take Baldelli.
Expanding the Strike Zone
About a year ago, I wrote an article entitled Pitchers, Pitch by Pitch. Using pitch location data from Baseball Info Solutions, I looked at how often individual pitchers get batters to chase pitches outside the strike zone, or in other words, swing at pitches they shouldn't be swinging at. I called this stat Outside Swing Percentage or OSwing, for short.
To recap: OSwing correlated with a pitcher's strikeout-to-walk ratio and just for fun, let's look at the starting pitchers and relievers who had the highest OSwing the past two seasons.
Name 2005 Name 2006 Brad Radke 31.76% John Smoltz 33.00% Johan Santana 30.21% C.C. Sabathia 31.47% Curt Schilling 29.60% Jeremy Bonderman 31.01% Felix Hernandez 28.43% Roger Clemens 30.88% John Smoltz 27.53% Curt Schilling 30.76% Odalis Perez 27.47% Johan Santana 30.72% Jon Lieber 26.44% Jake Peavy 30.61% Rich Harden 26.00% Roy Halladay 29.55% Andy Pettite 25.97% Odalis Perez 29.16% Paul Wilson 25.33% Aaron Harang 28.91%
Name 2005 Name 2006 Brad Lidge 32.41% Cla Meredith 37.88% Rudy Seanez 30.93% Patrick Neshek 35.92% Mike Wuertz 28.67% Mariano Rivera 34.13% Derrick Turnbow 28.40% Mike Wuertz 32.57% Jonathan Papelbon 28.27% J.J. Putz 32.18% Julio Santana 28.01% Brian Sikorski 32.00% Bobby Jenks 27.68% Francisco Rodriguez 31.65% Kyle Snyder 27.06% Dennys Reyes 31.56% Tyler Walker 26.71% Scott Proctor 31.54% Eddie Guardado 26.69% Ramon Ramirez 31.31%
All in all, some fairly prestigious lists, especially the 2006 list of starting pitchers, but OSwing is hardly a "magic bullet stat" since there are some players on these lists I'm sure you're scratching your head at. Let's take a step back for a moment and think about the relationship between batters and pitchers.
Ideally, a pitcher is going to try and get ahead in the count and when this happens the pitcher has effectively "expanded the strike zone" since the batter is now on the defensive and will be more prone to chase pitches outside the strike zone. Conversely, when a pitcher is behind in the count, a batter will be less prone to chasing bad pitches. Looking at OSwing by count this becomes fairly evident.
Count OSwing ZRatio 0-0 11.33% 1.15 0-1 22.54% 0.83 0-2 31.57% 0.51 1-0 18.61% 1.31 1-1 26.78% 1.05 1-2 37.37% 0.70 2-0 16.38% 1.61 2-1 28.58% 1.41 2-2 41.40% 0.98 3-0 2.69% 1.73 3-1 23.37% 1.67 3-2 44.86% 1.57
Furthermore, if you look at the ratio of balls thrown in the strike zone to those outside the strike zone (ZRatio), you can see that when a pitcher is ahead in the count, he's much less likely to pitch in the strike zone. So, is how often a pitcher gets a batter to chase a ball outside the strike zone merely a matter of his skill at managing the count?
Not exactly. While the two are hardly mutually exclusive, some pitchers do seem to be able to make batters chase pitches outside the strike zone more than others in the various counts. Here are the 15 starting pitchers who get ahead in the count the most and their OSwing above (or below) the MLB average when ahead in the count.
Starter OSwing(Above Average) Ahead% Johan Santana 22.89% 33.91% Curt Schilling 19.34% 33.74% John Smoltz 27.29% 33.55% Mike Mussina -4.35% 33.27% Roy Oswalt 6.43% 33.21% Elizardo Ramirez -1.56% 32.84% C.C. Sabathia 37.21% 32.81% Brad Radke 4.99% 32.35% Paul Byrd 3.93% 31.97% Jon Lieber 1.01% 31.68% Francisco Liriano 20.35% 31.37% Randy Johnson 19.13% 30.73% Pedro Martinez 3.40% 30.72% John Lackey 17.62% 30.64% Cliff Lee 1.93% 30.55%
As you can see, many of the top pitchers in baseball get ahead in the count, but they don't always have the same success getting batters to swing at their pitches outside the strike zone. Let's have a look at the relievers:
Starter OSwing(Above Average) Ahead% Patrick Neshek 30.22% 39.82% Rafael Betancourt -1.81% 39.64% Chad Bradford -3.44% 36.69% Jose Valverde -12.64% 36.26% Mike Timlin 9.34% 35.78% Trever Miller 14.74% 34.99% J.J. Putz 18.50% 34.93% B.J. Ryan 10.92% 34.92% Todd Jones 8.87% 34.75% Justin Duchscherer 5.01% 34.62% Rafael Soriano 25.02% 34.49% Mariano Rivera 30.22% 33.73% Matt Capps 4.88% 33.60% Jonathan Papelbon 22.20% 32.78% Cla Meredith 71.75% 32.78%
Once again, pretty much the same deal with the relievers. It's worth noting that Cla Meredith's 71.75% above average OSwing was by far the highest in baseball when ahead in the count. Batters swung at just over half the pitches he threw out of the strike zone.
Just looking at these two lists, I'd venture to say that the pitchers who more often than not get ahead in the count, and those who were also able to get batters to chase pitches more than the MLB average would probably be the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Let's look at one final list where the pitchers are at least 15% above the MLB average in OSwing and percent ahead in the count.
Name OSwing(Above AVG) Ahead%(Above AVG) ERA K9 BB9 Patrick Neshek 30.22% 46.24% 2.18 12.89 1.45 J.J. Putz 18.50% 28.26% 2.29 11.94 1.49 Rafael Soriano 25.02% 26.65% 2.25 9.75 3.15 Johan Santana 22.89% 24.54% 2.77 9.43 1.81 Curt Schilling 19.34% 23.92% 3.97 8.07 1.23 Mariano Rivera 30.22% 23.88% 1.80 6.60 1.32 John Smoltz 27.29% 23.22% 3.49 8.18 2.13 C.C. Sabathia 37.21% 20.48% 3.22 8.03 2.05 Jonathan Papelbon 22.20% 20.38% 0.92 9.87 1.71 Cla Meredith 71.75% 20.37% 1.06 6.57 1.06 Matt Thornton 15.10% 18.31% 3.33 8.16 3.50 Scott Proctor 25.63% 17.25% 3.51 7.82 2.90 Bill Bray 29.43% 17.08% 4.08 6.92 3.19 Brian Sikorski 27.47% 16.14% 5.02 10.05 1.85 Alan Embree 36.32% 15.81% 3.26 9.11 2.57 Joe Nathan 20.58% 15.48% 1.58 12.51 2.10 Francisco Liriano 20.35% 15.20% 2.15 10.71 2.38 Brandon League 23.21% 15.09% 2.53 6.11 1.89
A pitcher's ability to expand the strike zone is something that is widely talked about, but rarely quantified. What I find most fascinating about all this is that by using location data, it should be possible to see exactly how far and where the strike zone expands/contracts for individual pitchers and batters depending on the count. It sounds like the type of information that could really make a difference in statistical scouting reports. But that's another project for another day.
All Things Boston
Drew and Lugo figure to be major upgrades over Trot Nixon and Alex Gonzalez. Whether using Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) or Win Shares, it appears as if the newly acquired duo could be worth as many as five or six additional wins next year. Although Drew and Lugo are on the wrong side of 30 (both turned 31 in November), they are actually ever so slightly younger on a combined basis than their predecessors.
Peter Gammons likened Drew to former Boston All-Star Fred Lynn in his ESPN Insider column last Saturday. I'm on board with that comparison. Lefthanded-hitting outfielders both, talented, laid back, and injury prone. While neither fulfilled the huge expectations placed upon them after their outstanding college careers and sizzling debuts in the majors, Lynn was one of the more valuable players in his day and Drew has been a productive force as well.
Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus, in an Unfiltered post, predicts Drew will hit 14 HR next year for his new employer.
Fourteen home runs? What gives? Park effects for one thing. Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher's park which is no longer really warranted. In fact, it's a downright good park for home runs, especially for left-handed hitters; I have its park factor for lefty home runs at 1045. Fenway, conversely, rates as a 903 for left-handed power; only AT&T Park has a lower score.
I beg to differ. The Bill James Handbook gave Dodger Stadium a LHB-HR index of 99 for 2006 and 100 for 2004-06, meaning the park is neutral. (It favors RHB with a HR index of 131 in 2006 and 114 in 2004-06.) The Handbook gave Fenway Park a LHB-HR index of 86 for 2006 and 2004-06, suggesting that it suppresses home runs by 14%.
If we use the 20 HR Drew slugged last year as a baseline and assume that he would normally hit about half at home and half on the road, then we could project about 18.5 HR next year based on the above park factors. The reality is that Drew went yard 12 times at Dodger Stadium and 8x on the road. Doubling his away total and adjusting for Fenway Park would result in roughly 15 HR next year.
As Silver points out, the move to the AL could also have a negative impact on Drew's homers in 2007. Perhaps, but it is important to point out that three of the four competitor ballparks in the AL East are friendly to LHB in terms of HR. Yankee Stadium had a LHB-HR park index of 118 from 2004-06, Rogers Centre (Toronto) 116, and Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay) 105. Only Oriole Park at Camden Yards (96) suppresses home runs for LHB. The NL West, on the other hand, is more balanced with Bank One Ballpark (Arizona) and Coors Field (Colorado) heavily favoring HR by LHB and AT&T Park (San Francisco) and Petco Park (San Diego) hurting LHB-HR by a similar degree.
Drew's HR/FB% may give us an indication of how much he was helped or hurt when it comes to longballs last year. Only 14.1% of the 142 flyballs he launched left the park vs. a five-year average of 17.1%. Normalizing his HR/FB% would result in an additional four HR. Shake it all up and I believe it is just as likely that Drew jacks 22 as 14. Of course, these forecasts will be rendered moot if J.D. doesn't play in at least 135 games, a level that he has only attained in four of his eight seasons to date.
[Correction (12/17/06): The park indices in The Bill James Handbook were wrong. Dodger Stadium played to a 120 index for LHB-HR in 2006 and a 109 in 2004-06. It was a 123 and 111, respectively, for RHB. Fenway Park played to a 69 for LHB-HR in 2006 and a 77 in 2004-06. As such, Dodger Stadium enhanced HR for LHB by 20% last year and 9% over the previous three seasons. Fenway, on the other hand, suppressed HR for LHB by 31% in 2006 and 23% in 2004-06. As a result, instead of hitting 12 HR at home (as he did last year), Drew might be expected to go yard about 7-8 times at Fenway.
For the 2004-06 seasons, Toronto's LHB-HR park index was 122, Tampa Bay was a 115, New York 114, and Baltimore 99. These AL East ballparks should help LHB by an average of about 12.5%. By the same token, Arizona was a 141, Colorado 111, San Diego 89, and San Francisco 73. These NL West parks are about 3.5% additive to HR totals for LHB. The difference between the remainder of the ballparks in both leagues would suggest that Drew's HR total on the road would be about 4% lower. If you apply a weighted average based on team schedules, Drew's HR on the road should be about the same. However, the stronger competition in the AL might be a small depressant on these numbers. Applying a more normalized HR/FB% gives Drew an additional four HR. Factoring in the corrected park indices and the other variables and my new HR projection for Drew in 2007 is 18. The wild cards are the number of games he plays and whether his power has been permanently reduced by a weakened shoulder.]
Fenway Park has been kind to Lugo over the years. He has a career line of .330/.384/.496 in 127 plate appearances in Boston. On a go forward basis, one could even argue that Lugo could benefit a tad by facing Tampa Bay's pitching rather than Boston's. He certainly knows the AL East well and has, in fact, hit .286/.358/.431 vs. the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles throughout his career.
Here is how Boston's lineup stacks up for now (with 2006 stats):
AVG OBP SLG Lugo, SS .278 .341 .421 Crisp, CF .264 .317 .385 Ortiz, DH .287 .413 .636 Ramirez, LF .321 .439 .619 Drew, RF .283 .393 .498 Youkilis, 1B .279 .381 .429 Varitek, C .238 .325 .400 Lowell, 3B .284 .339 .475 Pedroia, 2B .191 .258 .303
Should Coco Crisp not return to his 2004-05 form, the Sox could move Kevin Youkilis into the second slot and slide Coco down to as low as eighth in the order. Another option would be to give up a little bit of defense by playing Drew in CF and inserting Wily Mo Pena (.301/.349/.489) in RF. Pena, of course, may end up in LF if the Red Sox ditch Manny Ramirez for much-needed bullpen help.
I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Red Sox trading Pena rather than Ramirez. However, attention all rival GMs, don't say you weren't forewarned. Pena's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .411 last year was the highest in the majors among those with at least 300 plate appearances.
Pena has zero chance of hitting .300 next year. He barely reached that plateau in 2006 despite an unsustainably high BABIP in excess of .400. That's not gonna happen again. Ever. Secondly, Wily Mo whiffed 90 times in 276 AB. Players who strike out in a third of their at-bats don't hit .300. Lastly, Pena hit .322 at home and .276 on the road. If I was a GM, I'd pay more attention to the away stats than those at Fenway. For his career, Pena has put up a line of .243/.297/.455 on the road. He is still young (doesn't turn 25 until January) and will likely improve upon those career numbers but it's a r-e-a-c-h to expect him to hit .300 with Boston or any of the other 29 ball clubs.
Boston's next order of business is coming to terms with Daisuke Matsuzaka. The midnight December 14th deadline is fast approaching. The Red Sox submitted a winning bid of $51,111,111.11 last month to earn the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. That was the easy part. Working out a mutually acceptable deal with Matsuzaka and his agent Scott Boras will be the more difficult task.
Although Boston is not allowed to work out a side deal with the Seibu Lions, Boras told Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, "no rules exist that would prohibit Seibu from paying money to Matsuzaka to help him come to a decision where he would sign with the Red Sox and the Lions collect their $51.1 million." If that is the case, then this deal should get finalized rather easily. Here is how it gets done:
Everybody walks away happy. The deal will get done. And the numbers won't be too far off my proposal. The only matter to be resolved is my take. Let's do lunch. Soon.
The 2006 Quad Leaders
In the summer of 2003, I introduced the concept of the Quad in a three-part series (I, II, III) and subsequently listed the year-end leaders in the four categories (on-base percentage, slugging average, times on base, and total bases) at the conclusion of each season (2003: AL, NL; 2004; 2005).
The Quad is designed to pay tribute to those players who rank among the league leaders in the two most important components of run production - the ability to get on base and the ability to drive baserunners home. Players who rank among the league leaders in these counting and rate stats are unquestionably the most productive hitters in the game.
The beauty of the Quad is not only in filtering out the noise inherent in many traditional stats but its simplicity as compared to the more advanced metrics. At the risk of being a simpleton or caught up in a time warp, I like quoting numbers and percentages that can be tracked with each and every plate appearance by everyone from the most casual fan to the more sophisticated stathead.
If you're a proponent of Runs Created (or one of many derivative stats), a concept Bill James developed in the late-1970s, then the Quad is for you. Think about it. The Quad is nothing more than the factors that determine Runs Created. To wit, OBP x TB = Runs Created in its original and most basic definition. Similarly, Advancement Percentage (which is akin to SLG but uses plate appearances as the denominator rather than at-bats) x TOB = Runs Created.
With the introductions behind us, let's take a look at the players who did the best job of getting on base and accumulating bases (both in terms of the number of times as well as the percentage of times), starting with the National League.
TIMES ON BASE (N.L.)
1 Ryan Howard 299 2 Miguel Cabrera 291 3 Garrett Atkins 284 4 Chase Utley 280 5t Jason Bay 273 5t Albert Pujols 273 7 Lance Berkman 271 8 Rafael Furcal 270 9t Brian Giles 268 9t Nick Johnson 268
Ryan Howard led the NL in times on base, falling one short of the magical mark of 300. If 200 hits and 100 walks are meaningful, then reaching base 300 times should be considered quite an achievement. However, owing to a lack of publicity, there is little or no context for fans to understand or appreciate the virtues of a 300 TOB season. During the preceding 10 years, there have been a minimum of two and a maximum of six players per season who have pierced this level of success. Barry Bonds set the NL record with 376 in 2004. Babe Ruth holds the MLB record with 379 in 1923.
Chase Utley and Rafael Furcal deserve mention as the only up-the-middle defensive players among the top ten NLers. Miguel Cabrera and Garrett Atkins are the only other non-1B/corner OF on the above list.
ON BASE PERCENTAGE (N.L.)
1 Albert Pujols .431 2 Miguel Cabrera .430 3 Nick Johnson .428 4 Ryan Howard .425 5 Lance Berkman .420 6 Garrett Atkins .409 7 Todd Helton .404 8 Jason Bay .396 9 J.D. Drew .393 10 Scott Hatteberg .389
Albert Pujols topped the senior circuit in OBP for the first time in his career. However, one could make a case for Bonds, who had a .454 OBP but fell nine plate appearances short of qualifying. By giving Bonds nine additional outs, we can adjust his OBP down to .446 - a mark that would have been good enough to lead both the NL and AL.
Kudos to Cabrera and Atkins for being the only non-1B/corner OF in the top ten.
TOTAL BASES (N.L.)
1 Ryan Howard 383 2 Alfonso Soriano 362 3 Albert Pujols 359 4 Matt Holliday 353 5 Chase Utley 347 6 Garrett Atkins 335 7t Lance Berkman 333 7t Aramis Ramirez 333 9 Jimmy Rollins 329 10 Miguel Cabrera 327
Howard swept the two counting stat categories, leading the league in times on base and total bases. He is the first player in the NL to achieve this double since Todd Helton in 2000, a year in which the Colorado Rockie first baseman won the Quad Award by leading the league in all four categories. Helton also won the rate triple crown by topping the league in AVG, OBP, and SLG. However, as a reflection of how much Coors Park helped his cause, Helton finished eighth in OPS+.
Howard had two teammates who also placed in the top ten. Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the double play combo of the Phillies, were the only up-the-middle defensive players to make the list. Cabrera, Atkins, and Aramis Ramirez gets props for their appearances as non-1B/corner OF.
SLUGGING AVERAGE (N.L.)
1 Albert Pujols .671 2 Ryan Howard .659 3 Lance Berkman .621 4 Carlos Beltran .594 5 Matt Holliday .586 6 Miguel Cabrera .568 7 Adam LaRoche .561 8 Aramis Ramirez .561 9 Alfonso Soriano .560 10 Garrett Atkins .556
Pujols led the NL in SLG for the first time in his career. Just as Howard led in TOB and TB, Pujols was #1 in OBP and SLG. Howard had the edge in counting stats and Pujols in rate stats. The two first basemen were clearly the top two hitters in the league in 2006.
Carlos Beltran was the lone up-the-middle defender on the list, while Cabrera, Atkins, and Lance Berkman made their way into the top ten for the fourth time. Ramirez also gets a mention as a non-1B/corner OF.
TIMES ON BASE (A.L.)
1 Derek Jeter 295 2 David Ortiz 283 3 Grady Sizemore 281 4 Ichiro Suzuki 278 5 Mark Teixeira 270 6 Miguel Tejada 269 7 Michael Young 266 8 Alex Rodriguez 264 9 Joe Mauer 261 10 Kevin Youkilis 259
To his credit, Derek Jeter was the only non-1B/LF/DH to lead his league in one of the four Quad categories. Like Howard, he fell just short of the magical 300 mark. It was the second time that Jeter has led the league in TOB, the other being 1999 with 322. He hit in the .340s both years and had OBP over .400.
ON BASE PERCENTAGE (A.L.)
1 Manny Ramirez .439 2 Travis Hafner .439 3 Joe Mauer .429 4 Derek Jeter .417 5 Jim Thome .416 6 Jason Giambi .413 7 David Ortiz .413 8 Carlos Guillen .400 9 Alex Rodriguez .392 10 Victor Martinez .391
Manny Ramirez nosed out Travis Hafner by .000347 to take the honors in OBP. Both players missed quite a bit of action. Ramirez played in 130 games and Hafner 129. Manny has now led the league in OBP three times and has a career mark of .411, eighth best among active players and 35th in the all-time rankings.
TOTAL BASES (A.L.)
1 David Ortiz 355 2 Grady Sizemore 349 3t Jermaine Dye 335 3t Vladimir Guerrero 335 5t Justin Morneau 331 5t Vernon Wells 331 7t Raul Ibanez 323 7t Mark Teixeira 323 7t Miguel Tejada 323 10 Michael Young 317
David Ortiz topped the AL in total bases. It was the first time he led the league in any of the four Quad categories during his career. He had finished second several times before but had never been #1 until this season.
Center fielders Sizemore and Vernon Wells and shortstops Tejada and Young were the only up-the-middle position players in the top ten. Sizemore, in fact, ranked in the top three in both of the Quad counting stats.
SLUGGING AVERAGE (A.L.)
1 Travis Hafner .659 2 David Ortiz .636 3 Jermaine Dye .622 4 Manny Ramirez .619 5 Jim Thome .598 6 Justin Morneau .559 7 Jason Giambi .558 8 Vladimir Guerrero .552 9 Paul Konerko .551 10 Frank Thomas .545
Hafner led the AL in SLG and has now placed in the top four in OBP and SLG in each of the past three seasons. Moreover, Hafner has quietly topped the league in OPS+ in 2004, 2005, and 2006. He is the first player in the junior circuit since Mickey Mantle in 1960-62 to pull off that feat.
Every player in the top ten was a 1B/DH/corner OF. Ortiz deserves credit for being the only one who ranked among the league leaders in all four Quad categories.
The following matrix provides a way to quantify the results of the Quad in a manner similar to the MVP voting (14 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, etc.).
TOB OBP TB SLG TOT Ryan Howard 14 7 14 9 44 Albert Pujols 5.5 14 8 14 41.5 Miguel Cabrera 9 9 1 5 24 Lance Berkman 4 6 3.5 8 21.5 Garrett Atkins 8 5 5 1 19 Chase Utley 7 6 13 Matt Holliday 7 6 13 Alfonso Soriano 9 2 11 Nick Johnson 1.5 8 9.5 Jason Bay 5.5 3 8.5 Carlos Beltran 7 7 Aramis Ramirez 3.5 3 6.5 Todd Helton 4 4 Adam LaRoche 4 4 Rafael Furcal 3 3 J.D. Drew 2 2 Jimmy Rollins 2 2 Brian Giles 1.5 1.5 Scott Hatteberg 1 1
Howard and Pujols stand out among their peers in the National League. They were the top two offensive forces in the league last year. Howard won the Hank Aaron Award as the league's top hitter, as well as the Most Valuable Player Award as the top player. I don't have a problem with the former selection but believe Pujols' superior glovework and baserunning were enough to vault him over Howard as the MVP.
TOB OBP TB SLG TOT David Ortiz 9 4 14 9 36 Travis Hafner 9 14 23 Derek Jeter 14 7 21 Manny Ramirez 14 7 21 Grady Sizemore 8 9 17 Jermaine Dye 7.5 8 15.5 Jim Thome 6 6 12 Vladimir Guerrero 7.5 3 10.5 Justin Morneau 5.5 5 10.5 Joe Mauer 2 8 10 Mark Teixeira 6 3 9 Jason Giambi 5 4 9 Miguel Tejada 5 3 8 Ichiro Suzuki 7 7 Vernon Wells 5.5 5.5 Michael Young 4 1 5 Alex Rodriguez 3 2 5 Carlos Guillen 3 3 Raul Ibanez 3 3 Paul Konerko 2 2 Kevin Youkilis 1 1 Victor Martinez 1 1 Frank Thomas 1 1
Ortiz topped the American League in Quad points, amassing more than 50% above his closest challenger. Ortiz - and not Jeter - should have won the Hank Aaron Award. I would have voted for Jeter as the AL MVP but don't understand how he could have been selected as the top hitter in the league.
How did the Quad fare as it relates to Runs Created? Well, it got the top five right in the NL (with Cabrera and Berkman reversing positions) and the top two plus three of the top five in the AL.
Pre-Winter Meetings Update
The Winter Meetings begin on Monday with league officials, club executives, player agents, writers, exhibitors, and job seekers (including players) all gathering in Orlando to play baseball's version of "Let's Make a Deal."
There will be more rumors circulating Disney's Epcot Center this week than free agent signings, trades, and players selected in the Rule 5 draft. Yes, the action will be both real and imagined. More gossip will make the rounds than at a slumber party.
In the meantime, teams were required to offer salary arbitration to free agents no later than yesterday. Players offered arbitration have until December 7 to accept. Unlike in years past, those who were not offered arbitration may still sign with their old teams without having to wait until May 1.
Type A free agents, defined as those ranked in the top 30% of players at their positions, will cost the acquiring team a first-round pick (or a second-round choice in the case of clubs with one of the top 15 slots) in the Rule 4 draft next June. The "losing" club also receives a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Teams that sign Type B free agents (the next 20%) do not forfeit any picks although the "losing" club receives a "sandwich" round selection. There is no compensation for players who rank in the bottom half (formerly known as Type C free agents) under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Here is a list of the 25 free agents who were offered arbitration. (Note: The Rich Aurilia (2/$8M w/ SF), David Dellucci (3/$11.5M w/ CLE), Jose Guillen (1/$5M w/ SEA), Roberto Hernandez (2/$12M w/ CLE), Carlos Lee (6/$100M w/ HOU) and Dave Roberts (3/$18M w/ SF) signings had not been finalized as of the deadline.)
BOSTON: Keith Foulke, rhp.
NEW YORK: Ron Villone, lhp (Type B).
OAKLAND: Barry Zito, lhp (Type A).
SEATTLE: Gil Meche, rhp (B).
TEXAS: Carlos Lee, of (A); Vicente Padilla, rhp (B).
TORONTO: Ted Lilly, lhp (B).
ARIZONA: Miguel Batista, rhp (B).
CINCINNATI: Rich Aurilia, 3b (A); Scott Schoeneweis, lhp (B).
LOS ANGELES: Julio Lugo, ss (A).
MILWAUKEE: Tony Graffanino, 2b.
NEW YORK: Roberto Hernandez, rhp (A); Guillermo Mota, rhp (B).
PHILADELPHIA: David Dellucci, of (A).
ST. LOUIS: Mark Mulder, lhp (B); Jeff Suppan, rhp (A).
SAN DIEGO: Alan Embree, lhp (B); Ryan Klesko, 1b (B); Chan Ho Park, rhp (B); Dave Roberts, of (A); Todd Walker, 2b (A); David Wells, lhp (B).
SAN FRANCISCO: Jason Schmidt, rhp (A).
WASHINGTON: Jose Guillen, of (B).
Here is the list of the 114 free agents not offered arbitration:
BALTIMORE: Bruce Chen, lhp; Chris Gomez, ss; LaTroy Hawkins, rhp; Kevin Millar, 1b; Russ Ortiz, rhp; Fernando Tatis, 3b; Chris Widger, c.
BOSTON: Gabe Kapler, of; Mark Loretta, 2b; Doug Mirabelli, c; Trot Nixon, of.
CHICAGO: Sandy Alomar Jr., c; Dustin Hermanson, rhp; Jeff Nelson, rhp; David Riske, rhp.
CLEVELAND: Aaron Boone, 3b; Lou Merloni, 2b.
DETROIT: Troy Percival, rhp; Matt Stairs, of.
KANSAS CITY: Paul Bako, c; Doug Mientkiewicz, 1b; Mark Redman, lhp.
LOS ANGELES: Darin Erstad, of; J.C. Romero, lhp.
MINNESOTA: Phil Nevin, 1b; Brad Radke, rhp; Shannon Stewart, of; Rondell White, of.
NEW YORK: Miguel Cairo, 2b; Octavio Dotel, rhp; Tanyon Sturtze, rhp; Bernie Williams, of; Craig Wilson, of.
OAKLAND: Steve Karsay, rhp; Jay Payton, of.
SEATTLE: Eduardo Perez, 1b.
TAMPA BAY: Brian Meadows, rhp; Tomas Perez, ss.
TEXAS: Rod Barajas, c; Eric Young, 2b.
TORONTO: Bengie Molina, c.
ARIZONA: Luis Gonzalez, of.
ATLANTA: Brian Jordan, of; Todd Pratt, c; John Thomson, rhp; Daryle Ward, 1b.
CHICAGO: John Mabry, 1b.
CINCINNATI: Ryan Franklin, rhp; Eddie Guardado, lhp; Todd Hollandsworth, of; Jason Johnson, rhp; Kent Mercker, lhp; David Weathers, rhp; Paul Wilson, rhp.
COLORADO: Vinny Castilla, 3b; Mike DeJean, rhp; Ray King, lhp; Tom Martin, lhp; Jose Mesa, rhp.
FLORIDA: Joe Borowski, rhp; Matt Herges, rhp; Brian Moehler, rhp.
HOUSTON: Jeff Bagwell, 1b; Roger Clemens, rhp; Aubrey Huff, 3b; Andy Pettitte, lhp; Russ Springer, rhp.
LOS ANGELES: Einar Diaz, c; Eric Gagne, rhp; Kenny Lofton, of; Greg Maddux, rhp; Aaron Sele, rhp.
MILWAUKEE: David Bell, 3b; Jeff Cirillo, 3b; Rick Helling, rhp; Dan Kolb, rhp; Tomo Ohka, rhp.
NEW YORK: Mike DiFelice, c; Cliff Floyd, of; Yusaku Iriki, rhp; Ricky Ledee, of; Darren Oliver, lhp; Steve Trachsel, rhp; Michael Tucker, rf; Chris Woodward, ss.
PHILADELPHIA: Aaron Fultz, lhp; Alex S. Gonzalez, ss; Jose Hernandez, ss; Mike Lieberthal, c; Arthur Rhodes, lhp; Rick White, rhp.
PITTSBURGH: Jeromy Burnitz, of; Joe Randa, 3b.
ST. LOUIS: Ronnie Belliard, 2b; Jason Marquis, rhp; Jose Vizcaino, ss; Jeff Weaver, rhp; Preston Wilson, of.
SAN DIEGO: Doug Brocail, rhp; Shawn Estes, lhp; Sterling Hitchcock, lhp; Mike Piazza, c; Rudy Seanez, rhp.
SAN FRANCISCO: Barry Bonds, lf; Pedro Feliz, 3b; Steve Finley, cf; Todd Greene, c; Shea Hillenbrand, 1b; Steve Kline, lhp; Jamey Wright, rhp.
WASHINGTON: Tony Armas Jr., rhp; Robert Fick, 1b; Ramon Ortiz, rhp.
Jeff Bagwell is effectively retired so it was no surprise that the Astros failed to offer him arbitration. An argument could be made for or against offering arbitration to teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Houston declined in both cases, apparently unsure as to what an arbitrator might award and not being particularly concerned about the compensation in the event either or both signs elsewhere.
Other big names who were not offered arbitration include Barry Bonds, Eric Gagne, Greg Maddux, Mike Piazza, and Bernie Williams. Without arbitration, Bonds will be hard-pressed to find a team willing to pay him more than $10M per year. Gagne will be lucky to do much better than Kerry Wood in terms of base salary, although I wouldn't be surprised if he was able to entice a club to give him incentives that could add up to over $5M. Given Glavine's deal, Maddux could easily ask for - and perhaps be granted - $10+M, a gamble the Dodgers were not interested in undertaking. The Padres had already declined an $8M option on Piazza and most likely didn't want to subject themselves to the whims and ways of an arbitrator. Williams will either sign with the Yankees or retire.
I thought it was interesting that the Cardinals offered Mark Mulder and Jeff Suppan arbitration but not Jeff Weaver. These moves may give us an indication of who Walt Jocketty would like to keep, but it is also defensible from a strategic point of view. Mulder is more likely to come cheaper than Weaver, whereas Suppan, as a Type A free agent, could bring a first-round pick in the next amateur draft.
Under the terms of J.D. Drew's contract, the Dodgers were not able to offer him arbitration. Although Drew would have been a Type A free agent, the Dodgers will not receive any compensation when he signs with his new club (rumored to be the Boston Red Sox any day).
Moises Alou, SF: Signed with the NYM (1/$8.5M).
Best: Mike Mussina and Aramis Ramirez. Two star players at salaries that don't look so outlandish relative to others. Hard to give the Cubs too much love, given the opt out clause that allowed Ramirez to negotiate a multi-million dollar per year raise.
Worst: Danys Baez. Oh my!
Craig Biggio, HOU: Re-signed with HOU (1/$5.15M).
Best: Adam Kennedy. Not exciting by any means but a reasonable value.
Worst: Juan Pierre and Jamie Walker. Hard to believe the Dodgers would marry Pierre when they could have dated Kenny Lofton for another year, especially with Matt Kemp in waiting. Makes you wonder if the latter might not be used as trade bait to get the bat Ned Colletti covets.
Gary Bennett, STL: Re-signed with STL (1/$900K).
Best: Kerry Wood. Lots of upside and very little downside.
Worst: Adam Eaton certainly stands out as one of the most ridiculous signings of the offseason, at least in terms of his place in the Elias rankings. His contract also sets the floor for many of the remaining free agent starters.
The Worst Minor League Defenders
When a prospect gets a reputation as a bad fielder, his chances of future success go down, fast. An infielder like Joel Guzman could be permanently moved to a less defensively-demanding position such as first base or a corner outfield spot. A poor outfielder such as Jack Cust becomes viewed as a DH, relegating him, in all likelihood, to DHing in Triple-A.
Some of those reputations are deserved; others aren't. However, the point is only that bad defenders in the minors are easy to overvalue: if, say, Elvis Andrus's future is in left field, his future isn't as bright as it is if he proves he can make the grade at shortstop.
It isn't yet clear how minor league defensive numbers translate to their equivalents at the big-league level, but it seems like a safe bet that the overall quality of defense goes up. Thus, a player who is below average in the minor leagues isn't likely to contribute with the glove when he earns a promotion to the show - that is, if he stays at that position at all.
Yesterday, we looked at the best minor league fielding performances of 2006. Today, let's turn to those guys whose gloves may keep them from advancing, or whose performance may send them spilling down the wrong side of the defensive spectrum. As I pointed out yesterday, these numbers aren't a final judgment on each player's defensive skill - they are simply a good estimation of how well he performed this past season. Young players can still improve, and lady luck can reverse itself.
The lists are generated by the same method as the "Best of" lists in yesterday's article. IP is the number of innings played at the position (there's a minimum of 600 for inclusion), PAA is the number of plays above an average fielder at that position in that league, and PAA/150 is plays above average per 150 games. Of course, for the worst fielders, PAA and PAA/150 will be negative. Once again, the numbers aren't adjusted for park, league, or level.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Edgar V Gonzalez AA/AAA Flo 697.3 -36 -70 Hector Pellot A Nym 803.3 -38 -64 Micah Furtado A+ Tex 629.3 -29 -63 Felix Molina AA Min 852 -31 -49 Corey Wimberly A+ Col 682.3 -23 -47 Isaac Omura A Oak 632 -20 -44 Nate Spears A+ Chc 711 -23 -44 Dan Dement AA Was 1064.7 -34 -43 William Bergolla AAA Cin 820.3 -25 -42 Jeff Natale A/A+ Bos 741 -23 -42
Few of the names at the top of this list have much of a future with their bats, so these fielding numbers may be the final nails in each coffin. Bergolla's defensive skills will probably keep him from having much value in a utility role, and Natale's - as has been predicted since he was drafted - will surely lead to a move away from second base. The notable prospects who are significantly below average are Kevin Melillo of the A's, Martin Prado of the Braves, and Hernan Iribarren of the Brewers.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Koby Clemens A Hou 705 -28 -54 Chase Headley A+ Sdp 1099 -32 -40 Bryan Bass A+/AA Bal 1000.3 -28 -38 Brian Snyder A+/AA Oak 846.3 -23 -37 Ryan Braun A+/AA Mil 1008.7 -27 -36 Ryan Barthelemy A+ St. 638.7 -16 -34 M. Vechionacci A/A+ Nyy 1112.3 -28 -34 Matthew Brown AA Laa 1123.3 -27 -33 Josh Fields AAA Chw 973.3 -24 -33 Mike Kinkade AAA Flo 615 -13 -31
Again, these numbers match up with conventional scouting analyses in a couple of big-name cases. Braun is a good bet for an eventual move to the outfield; Fields has already begun working on a possible transition. Braun's stats over the course of the year make a case for either the volatility of defensive stats or the difference between Single-A and Double-A. He was slightly above average in his half season in the Florida State League, but in fewer than 60 games at Double-A, he was 28 plays below average. Other prospects on the wrong side of average are Eric Campbell (-27 PAA/150) and Matt Tuiasosopo (-21).
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Diory Hernandez Rk/A+ Atl 664 -33 -67 Sergio Santos AAA Tor 1116 -53 -65 Matt Smith A Tex 1039 -47 -62 Ian Desmond A+ Was 768.3 -31 -56 Eduardo Nunez A/A+ Nyy 831.3 -34 -55 Alcides Escobar A+ Mil 689 -27 -55 Chris Nelson A Col 951.7 -35 -50 Jeffrey Dominguez A/A+ Sea 868.3 -31 -48 Chris McConnell Rk/A Kan 967.3 -31 -43 Matt Maniscalco AA Tam 887.3 -27 -41 Elvis Andrus A Atl 894 -26 -39
When the Blue Jays traded Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista for Troy Glaus and Sergio Santos, they couldn't have made a much more lopsided deal, at least so far as defensive performance is concerned. In addition to Alcides Escobar, there are a number of fielders whose gloves have gotten raves but did not score well with Range: Erick Aybar and Chin-Lung Hu are a bit below average, Asdrubal Cabrera came out at -36 PAA/150, and Ben Zobrist ended up at -30.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Jerry Gil AA/AAA Ari 800 -36 -61 Kevin Mahar AA Tex 609 -22 -49 Juan Senreiso A+ Kan 825.3 -25 -41 Clay Timpner AA/AAA Sfg 1079.7 -31 -39 Joe Holden SS/A Nym 841.7 -24 -38 Trevor Crowe A+/AA Cle 722.7 -20 -37 Austin Jackson A Nyy 1089 -28 -35 Jeff Salazar AAA Col 712.3 -18 -35 David Murphy AA/AAA Bos 891.3 -23 -35 Austin Jackson A Nyy 1097 -28 -34
Matt Kemp and Reggie Willits both scored just below average in this metric, but other than those two, there aren't a lot of discrepancies between conventional scouting wisdom and this year's center field numbers. Fernando Martinez made 7 fewer plays than average in just over 600 innings, but his future is probably in a corner. The only surprise on this list is that a center fielder could conceivably be bad enough to cost his team more than two wins with the glove - and keep getting starts in center.
Left Field/Right Field
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Mitch Jones AAA Nyy 735 -30 -55 Shin-Soo Choo AAA Sea 681.7 -27 -53 Brian Mc Fall A+ Kan 920.7 -36 -53 Daniel Carte A Col 954.7 -34 -48 Ryan Harvey A+ Chc 998.7 -34 -46 Delwyn Young AAA Lad 1088.3 -37 -46 Brian Pettway A Tor 872.7 -29 -45 Xavier Paul A+ Lad 993.3 -33 -45 Garrett Guzman A+/AA Min 905.7 -30 -45 Sergio Pedroza A Lad 760.3 -25 -44
Some of these players may well bounce back to be average, or slightly below-average defenders, but it's worth noting that these ten outfielders - plus Sergio Pedroza, Chris Lubanski, and a few others - were all worse with the glove than Jack Cust. More shocking than that is that Lubanski saw 225 innings in center field. I use the verb "saw" because it appears that's all he did: in that time, he was 17 plays below average, resulting in -104 PAA/150, a performance so bad I don't have an adjective for it. Other familiar names within spitting distance of the Cust line: Jeffrey Corsaletti, Ryan Patterson (who also, inexplicably, saw 141 innings in center, with Lubanski-like results), Nolan Reimold, and Billy Butler.
By Way of Conclusion...
If you're interested to see more, these numbers are now available for every 2006 minor league player at MinorLeagueSplits.com. In another year or two, with additional full seasons of play-by-play data, it will be easier to make confident claims about the defensive skill of minor leaguers. It also may be possible to analyze the effects of position switches, so when all of these players become corner outfielders, we can predict whether they'll give Chris Lubanski - or even Jack Cust - a run for his money.