A Chat with Red Sox Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer
Jed Hoyer is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where he played shortstop and still holds the school record for career saves. After stints as a college coach and a few years working for a tech start-up and a management consultancy, he joined the Red Sox in 2002 after Boston's new ownership bought the team. Until 2005 he worked as Assistant to the General Manager and now has the title of Assistant General Manager. We are grateful that he took some time to chat with us.
Pat: Jed, thanks so much for taking time to answer some questions. It would be fun to start out by hearing a little about your playing days at Wesleyan. What position did you play? Were you any good?
Jed: When you spend most of your time around the best players in the world - and in our case, we've had two of the best of all-time in Pedro and Manny - your own playing talent gets put in perspective very quickly. I think the best thing that I can say for myself is that I was versatile. I started in LF as a sophomore because our captain was the starting shortstop. As a junior and senior, I played shortstop and I acted as our closer. In Division III, you see a lot of things you don't see in pro ball - and having someone jog in from SS to close a game is certainly one of them.
Pat: Sounds like we can finally squash the Julio Lugo as closer rumors. Playing ball really sounded like a positive force in your life.
Jed: Playing in college was a great experience for me. We had a terrific manager, Pete Kostacopoulos, who was at Wesleyan for more than 30 years. I played for him for four years and coached with him for three more (I coached at Wesleyan while I was working there) and he taught me so much about the game. Also, my sophomore year we had a really good team. We won the New England title and then went to the Division III World Series. We lost in the National Championship game to Wisconsin-Oshkosh and their fairly good Division III pitcher, Jarrod Washburn. The camaraderie of those three weeks of tournament games is something that I will never forget. Wesleyan treated us so well when we returned from the World Series. Our seniors had missed graduation and the school had all the professors come out for a "private" graduation ceremony at the President's House. The President announced everyone's name, academic major, and relevant baseball stats from the season.
Rich: It sounds as if you had a terrific time at Wesleyan. When - and in what capacity - did you make the move from the college ranks to professional baseball?
Jed: I worked and coached at Wesleyan for three years and then moved to Boston to work for a start-up company called Darwin Networks in the fall of 2000. I worked at Darwin until it went out of business and then worked at a management consulting firm called Seurat. I learned a ton working in the business world, but I quickly realized that I wasn't particularly passionate about it. About that time, I found out from a friend that Ben Cherington was looking to hire an intern with the Red Sox. Ben and I had played against each other in college and we had a bunch of mutual friends. I called him right away and he told me about the position. I think he was a bit reluctant to hire a 28-year old intern at first, but I guess I wore him down. I was officially hired the day the new ownership took over.
Pat: From intern to Assistant General Manager, how have your duties evolved over the years?
Jed: My timing was really good. When I started, Theo needed someone with good quantitative skills to help him out with some of his duties. Coming from consulting, where I used Excel and PowerPoint and did business models everyday, I was able to assist him pretty often. We really got along well and he basically grabbed me away from the scouting department and took up all of my time. From 2003 through the 2005 season, my job was to help Theo and Josh Byrnes with all of their duties. Over the course of those three seasons, both of them taught me a ton and gradually increased my managerial and negotiating responsibilities each year. Now, as Assistant GM, I still look at my job the same way - help Theo with anything and everything - but now I handle many of the negotiations and help oversee the office staff and professional scouting department.
Pat: So from the day you were hired until now, can you share the most mundane task ever assigned to you and the best, most impactful and high-profile work you have done?
Jed: The other night Brian O'Halloran, our Director of Baseball Operations, and I were at a Kinkos in Phoenix putting together arbitration binders until 4:30 in the morning. It doesn't get more mundane than sticking each individual number on a divider while the guy behind the counter is listening to a sci-fi book on tape - and somehow trying to stay awake. That task is up there on the list - and is certainly the most recent. As an intern, I spent a lot of time making "name" magnets for the draft room. That's pretty monotonous. I have had a ton of great projects too - heading out to Arizona to try to sign Schilling and spending two days in NYC with ARod in December 2003 were great experiences because it is so rare to negotiate without the filter of an agent. I think the most fun I have ever had working for the Red Sox has been preparing for the post-season advance scouting meetings. Every single time I wind up nearly pulling an all-nighter to get all the materials and video ready for the meeting - and it never feels like work. Preparing for a playoff series - and watching how Varitek devours the information and asks incredible questions - is an amazing experience.
Rich: Speaking of the playoffs, Boston missed out last year for the first time since 2002. What went wrong last season and what gives you hope for the coming year?
Jed: I guess the simple answer is that we weren't good enough in 2006. When we were relatively injury-free through July, we played well. But once we started getting banged up, we fell quickly. That's not an excuse at all, because the mark of a good team is one that is deep enough to overcome injuries. In 2005, we made the playoffs without Schilling or Foulke for most of the season. In 2004, we didn't have Nomar or Trot for long stretches. Last year, we weren't deep enough in the rotation or the lineup to sustain injuries. This off-season we tried to add more bats, with Drew and Lugo, to take some of the pressure off Ortiz and Manny. We were last in baseball in OPS out of the #5 hole in the lineup (.683) and we felt that we couldn't endure that again. Also, we added Matsuzaka and Papelbon to the rotation, and we have a number of solid options behind our top 5. Our team is deeper offensively and deeper in starting pitching and I think that will allow us to endure the bumps in the road that inevitably crop up during a six-month season.
Rich: There has been speculation that Papelbon's role will once again be as a closer this year. Is there any truth to that rumor? If not, are you prepared to go into the season with Joel Pineiro as your closer?
Jed: That speculation is simply people parsing words and over-thinking Theo and Tito's comments. We aren't ready to name a closer yet. We have a number of internal options and will spend our time in Florida , and possibly even into the regular season, making that decision. If a Wagner or Ryan had been available this winter, we certainly would have attempted to land such a proven closer. But since that type of pitcher wasn't available, we tried to acquire as many good relievers as possible and we are confident one of them will emerge as a solid closer.
Pat: OK Jed, let's do a quick case study. In 2002 as a 31-year-old, Bill Mueller hit .262/.350/.393 in 111 games between San Francisco and Chicago . In 2005 with similar playing time as a 29-year-old, Jason Michaels hit .304/.399/.415 for the Phillies. Prior to these seasons, they were virtually indistinguishable from a qualitative standpoint. The two important differences to point out is that Mueller was a switch-hitter and played more as a regular when healthy. Here is how they fared in 2003 and 2006 respectively:
Mueller '03: .326/.398/.540
Michaels '06: .267/.326/.391
What made Mueller such a good move and Michaels such a bad one (at least in his first season)? Scouting? Superior performance analytics? Use of spray charts? Dumb luck? Explain the anatomy of both a good and bad acquisition against the backdrop of these two guys.
Jed: While it's inappropriate for me to comment on other team's players, I will say that I certainly don't think that Jason Michaels was a bad acquisition. He played far more in 2006 than he ever had in his career and the Indians thought enough of him to sign him to a multi-year deal this winter. Comparing anyone's stats to Bill Mueller's 2003 season is pretty unfair. We had very good scouting reports on Bill Mueller and we loved the fact that he had always controlled the strike-zone so well. In Mueller's case, he was a pull hitter from the right-side and had a good opposite field approach from the left-side. That's pretty much ideal for Fenway Park.
As boring as it sounds, I believe that the most important thing is to have a well-constructed, well-thought out process to player acquisitions. As long as you have a plan, which the Red Sox certainly have, and you try to turn over every rock to find answers, you give yourself the best possible chance to be right more than you're wrong. For every Ortiz or Mueller or Schilling there are other guys that we have brought in who didn't succeed in Boston . Every time that happens we try to figure out if there was anything we could have done to avoid it.
Rich: Obviously Boston is different than most baseball cities. To what extent do you take this into consideration when evaluating a player's make-up?
Jed: That is definitely an important consideration for us. There are players who thrive in this environment and players who don't enjoy this kind of scrutiny at all. We gather as much information about a player's character as possible when we are considering an acquisition. We have been right a number of times, but we have also made some key mistakes in this regard. This is an area that we continue to study and learn about and hopefully we will continue to get better and better at making that evaluation.
Pat: How do you strike the right balance between scouting and statistical analysis? And perhaps more interestingly, have you been integrating statistical analysis into your scouting work to measure empirically what works and what doesn't, as well as which scouts are more successful than others?
Jed: As we see it, we want every piece of information possible before making a decision. We have spent a lot of time and energy in developing our quantitative methods and we certainly use them in making player personnel decisions. But we also have a lot of great scouts and we read their reports and have lengthy conversations with all of them before making decisions. The idea that teams are either "Moneyball" teams or "scouting" teams is an incredible over-simplification. You need to have both of those components - as well as medical and contractual - to make an educated decision on a player.
Pat: Allard Baird, Bill James, Tom Tippett. Explain their respective duties and how have they helped?
Jed: All three have had a tremendously positive impact on the organization. They each have an impact beyond what I could say in this chat, but to give people a sense of their daily activities, here goes:
Bill: Bill has such an incredible historical knowledge of the game and of the trends of baseball over time. He is always working on macro-level projects for us that generally begin with a question over lunch or something. Next thing you know, Bill is working on finding a real answer to the philosophical question that was asked. His reports on those questions have had a big influence on many of our decisions since 2002.
Allard: Allard is primarily focused on our professional scouting department. He runs that department and is a constant resource for Theo and me on major league transactions. He is a great scout who has worked in almost every capacity in baseball and knows almost everyone in the game.
Tom: Tom was hired to help streamline all of our information. We found that over our first 4-5 years we had come up with a lot of information but it was in different locations or databases and wasn't always easy accessible. Tom has been working for us for about 18 months and has made a huge difference in our efficiency.
Rich: We recently ran a series on Baseball Analysts categorizing pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates. Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz, both of whom played for Greenville in the Low Class A South Atlantic League, showed up as among the best with the former inducing a few more worm burners and the latter doing a little better job at missing bats. Do you favor these metrics over more traditional stats such as ERA and BAA? If so, are you making a concerted effort to focus on power arms, both in terms of quality as well as quantity in the belief that it's somewhat of a numbers game when it comes to developing pitchers?
Jed: I can't get into which metrics we use to evaluate pitchers, but I will say that quantity is essential. We have devoted a ton of time to studying work loads for young pitchers and we have an excellent medical staff here. But no matter how careful or scientific you are with pitchers, there is a natural attrition rate. You have to draft a lot of pitchers with the size, delivery, and arm action to succeed in professional baseball in order to get a few that can help you in the big leagues.
Rich: Bowden, Buchholz, and Daniel Bard. Are we looking at the Killer Bees reincarnated here? Am I going to get a chance to see this threesome do their thing at Lancaster in the High A California League this year?
Jed: We like all three of those guys a great deal, but we are going to be careful not to overheat the hype machine. All three have a ton of ability, but all three will also have to continue to develop in order to have major league success. As for Lancaster, we haven't made final decisions on where our minor league players will be when the season starts. It is safe to say, however, that there will be a fun pitching staff to watch in Lancaster this season.
Pat: OK, Jed, let's move to the lightning round. Is Jon Lester going to be healthy enough to contribute this year?
Jed: Given what he has been through over the past six months, I am extremely reluctant to put any expectations on him. I will say that he showed up in camp in great shape and he has looked very good thus far in Ft. Myers.
Pat: Do you have any regrets about trading Hanley Ramirez?
Jed: Do I wish that Hanley was still in our organization? Absolutely. But I don't have any regrets about trading him for Josh Beckett. While Josh didn't have the kind of year he had hoped for in 2006, that certainly hasn't changed the way we look at him as a pitcher. Pitching in the AL East is a challenge and the fact that Josh was eager to sign a long-term deal in Boston tells us that he is excited about meeting that challenge head-on. You can't acquire extremely talented 25-year old starting pitchers cheaply. We don't have Josh Beckett without trading Hanley Ramirez. And we are very excited to have Josh Beckett.
Rich: Who has the best fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup in the system?
Jed: I guess my evaluation would be - Fastball (Bard), Curveball (Bowden), Slider and Changeup (Buchholz).
Pat: Jed, thanks so much for taking the time. Rich and I wish you and the Boston Red Sox the best of luck in the coming season.
Jed: Thanks guys.
Prospects or Suspects: Players Out of Options
Spring training is no doubt a tumultuous time for Major League Baseball players. It is likely an even more confusing time for a minor league player on the cusp of securing a major league gig. Chartered flights with all the amenities are a lot more appealing than a 400-mile bus trip from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A catered post-game meal is a lot more tantalizing than peanut butter sandwiches thrown together by a minor league clubhouse staff. Oh, and there is the 'minor' difference of the salary.
In Major League Baseball, teams control a player's movements between the majors and minors - with some exceptions, of course - for three years with what are called option years. A more complex explanation of options can be found be reading Thomas Gorman's article at Baseball Prospectus (for subscribers) or an expanded version by Keith Law, which was published here at Baseball Analysts last year. In short, though, what you need to know is that once a team has exhausted a player's option years, they must then designate said player for assignment to be able to assign him to the minor leagues. That means every team in the majors has a chance to claim him.
The spring is generally the busiest time of the year for players out of options to be shifted off of the 40-man roster, often to clear room for non-roster players who have out-played them. This year stands to be no exception and I have compiled a list of five intriguing players who are out of options to keep an eye on this spring.
1. Andrew Brown, San Diego, RHP
10.0 IP | 5.40 H/9 | 7.20 K/9 | 6.30 BB/9 | 2.7 VORP
Brown was obtained this past off-season from the Cleveland Indians in the Kevin Kouzmanoff deal. Cleveland had no problems with dealing the enigmatic Brown because A) he is out of options, B) he continues to struggle with his control and C) they have numerous other bullpen options. Brown's repertoire consists of a 92-97 mph fastball and power slider.
One knock against Brown, 26, aside from his control problems, is that he has had trouble staying healthy. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander had Tommy John surgery in 2000 as a member of the Atlanta Braves' system, after being drafted by them in the sixth round out of high school in 1999. Brown was then traded to the Dodgers in the 2002 Gary Sheffield trade. He pitched in only one game in 2003 after elbow problems cropped up again. In 2004, Brown was part of the loot for Milton Bradley deal.
The bullpen competition:
Trevor Hoffman (LOCK)
Scott Linebrink (LOCK)
Cla Meredith (LOCK)
Kevin Cameron (Rule 5)
Frank Brooks (non-roster)
Adrian Burnside (non-roster)
Basically, if San Diego goes with a 12-man pitching staff, Brown is looking at competing with 11 other pitchers for four spots. Ring, Hampson, Burnside, Brooks and Ketchner figure to battle for two left-handed reliever roles, which then leaves two more spots.
Adams is battling injuries so we can assume he'll probably start the year on the disabled list or rehabbing in the minors. That leaves Bell, Cassidy, Brocail, Cameron and Strickland. A sentimental favorite, I'm not sure Brocail, who will be 40 in May, has enough left after two angioplasties. As such, I'll take him out of the mix.
Stickland was solid in Triple-A last year (2.09 ERA, 7.73 H/9, 1.84 BB/0, 8.59 K/9 in 73.1 innings) in the Pirates' organization after returning from 2005 Tommy John surgery. The 31-year-old will probably win a spot this spring and narrow the choice down to one. I don't see Cameron showing enough in a month to stick with so many other players around (he had an 8.59 ERA in the Arizona Fall League), so he heads back to Minnesota.
Cassidy, 31, did not impress the Padres enough to remain in San Diego for the entire year last year - despite OK numbers - so we'll designate him for assignment due to his limited upside. Bell, 29, had a 5.11 ERA for the Mets last year in 22 games and allowed 51 hits in 37 innings. Not good enough for this pen - at least to start the season. We, therefore, end up with a spot for Brown.
San Diego has a reputation for getting the most possible out of middle relievers (hello, Cla Meredith) so Brown will have every opportunity to realize his potential before facing the dreaded DFA. My prediction is that Brown will make the team and he'll be one of the better relievers on the Padres for the first half of the season and then struggle again with his control.
IP H BB-K ERA
2007 Prediction: 55.1 57 33-52 4.40
2. Francisco Rosario, Toronto, RHP
23.0 IP | 9.39 H/9 | 8.22 K/9 | 6.26 BB/9 | -0.1 VORP
Rosario's numbers don't look overly great, but he had a solid start to his debut season before fading late in the year - and struggling with concentration (one of the reasons he was shifted to the 'pen in the first place).
Rosario, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Jays in 1999, has all the makings of a dominating reliever - 93-96 mph fastball, above-average change and slider. Unfortunately, he has not been the same since Tommy John surgery in early 2003. Before the injury, Rosario had a breakout campaign as a starter in 2002 at the age of 21:
ERA IP H BB-K AVG
Charleston 2.56 67.0 50 14-78 .206
Dunedin 1.29 63.0 33 25-65 .151
With three years under his belt since the surgery, Rosario - now 26 - is out of options and facing a make-or-break year. There is likely a spot available for him on the team, but he needs to buckle down in spring training.
B.J. Ryan (LOCK)
Brandon League (LOCK - if healthy)
Jason Frasor (LOCK)
Scott Downs (LOCK)
Ryan, Frasor and Downs should be locks along with League, although he's battling a stiff shoulder. Accardo was not good at all after coming over from San Francisco in the Shea Hillenbrand trade. Romero is also battling some early spring soreness. Tallet should have a spot after spending most of 2006 in Toronto, but he needs better command. Roney, Machi, Taubenheim and Houston should all begin the season in Triple-A, although Houston had a lights-out winter league with his mid-90s fastball.
I saw Rosario pitch a fair bit last year and I have been following his career closely since 2002, but I just can't endorse him at this point. Like too many young pitchers, he looks absolutely brilliant one day and absolutely horrendous the next day.
If the Jays' pitchers are relatively healthy by the end of spring training, I see Rosario being shipped off in a trade for a reliable fourth outfielder - or perhaps another young player on the bubble - before the season begins. Even if he doesn't make the Jays, he (and his mid-90s fastball) won't make it through waivers.
IP H BB-K ERA
2007 Prediction: 36.2 41 19-22 5.60
3. Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore, RHP
19.3 IP | 11.17 H/9 | 6.52 K/9 | 6.98 BB/9 | -2.2 VORP
What the heck happened to Guthrie? The Indians drafted him 22nd overall (he dropped due to contract demands) during the 2002 draft. Guthrie ended his 2002 college season by being named the PAC-10 Pitcher of the Year, Stanford Regional MVP, First Team College All-American and a PAC-10 Conference All-Star.
The Indians rewarded him with a four-year, $4.5 million major league contract (yes, his agent was Scott Boras). Keep in mind, Guthrie was a senior in college, having turned down the Pirates and a $1.7 million offer the previous year as a junior.
Due to lengthy negotiations, Guthrie did not make his pro debut until the following year, at the age of 24. Not surprisingly, the Indians started Guthrie out in Double-A Akron and he dominated by allowing 44 hits in 62.2 innings (6.32 H/9), along with an ERA of 1.44. However, the first red flag was raised when he recorded only 35 strikeouts (5.03 K/9) to go along with his 14 walks (2.01 BB/9).
Later that year, Guthrie was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo and he struggled. The first-year pro allowed 129 hits in 96.2 innings (12.01 H/9). He walked 30 batters and struck out 62. Not good news, but even worse news would be coming: Guthrie would spend three more years at Triple-A and even revisit Double-A.
During the next three years, Guthrie posted ERAs of 7.91, 5.08 and (finally) 3.14 while playing for Buffalo. Overall in his minor league career, to that point, Guthrie allowed 597 hits in 568.2 innings (9.46 H/9). As well, over his minor league career, Guthrie struck out only 6.16 per nine innings.
In short MLB stints over the course of three seasons, Guthrie allowed 42 hits in 37 innings (10.22 H/9). He posted a 6.08 ERA and allowed 23 walks and 24 strikeouts. Cleveland finally decided to cut their losses after the 2006 season and designated Guthrie for assignment. He was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles and will now fight for a rotation spot on the veteran-ladened team.
The bad news for Guthrie is that Baltimore spent a ridiculous amount of money on aging middle relievers: Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, Danys Baez and Scott Williamson. They also added Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel to the starting rotation. The news that Kris Benson has a torn labrum could have helped Guthrie's chances, but Benson will now try a strengthening program rather than undergo surgery.
Based on his previous numbers, I can't see Guthrie competing for a spot in the starting rotation so his competition for a spot on the 25-man roster includes relievers:
Chris Ray (LOCK)
Danys Baez (LOCK)
Scott Williamson (LOCK)
Jamie Walker (LOCK)
Chad Bradford (LOCK)
Paul Shuey (non-roster)
The first five spots in the bullpen are locks, with second-year closer Chris Ray leading the way. If the Orioles go with a 12-man rotation, that leaves two spots for eight guys, including Guthrie.
The biggest threat is probably Williams, who has spent the past two years in the Baltimore bullpen. However, Williams was allowed to walk this past off-season - after posting ratios of 3.00 BB/9, 3.79 K/9, 12.00 H/9 and an ERA of 4.74 - only to be re-signed to a contract. Given Baltimore's infatuation with 30-something pitchers, I'll give him a spot on the 25-man roster.
So, can Guthrie beat out six other guys? Based on his showings from previous spring trainings (10.24 H/9, 4.66 BB/9, 5.59 K/9, 5.12 ERA), he has a chance if he comes out throwing well at the beginning of camp. However, Rleal has better stuff and pitched in 42 games for Baltimore in 2006. That said, Rleal has his own issues: 9.26 H/9, 4.44 BB/9, 3.66 K/9.
Hoey had a 10.24 ERA in 9.2 innings for Baltimore in 2006, after playing at four levels and starting the year in A-ball. He probably needs more work. Burres pitched OK during a brief MLB stint but he still has options left. Both Birkins and Parrish are returning from elbow injuries and should not be counted on early in 2007. Shuey probably does not have much left in the tank.
As a result, Guthrie barely squeaks out a bullpen spot as a long reliever and possible spot starter. He may make the team, but his inclusion is tenuous at best. Again I ask: What the heck happened to Guthrie?
IP H BB-K ERA
2007 Prediction: 67.0 77 39-39 5.14
4. Sergio Mitre, Florida, RHP
41.0 IP | 9.66 H/9 | 6.80 K/9 | 4.39 BB/9 | -1.5 VORP
The Florida Marlins received some solid pitching from rookie hurlers Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen in 2006, but Mitre was not really one of them. He was obtained from the Chicago Cubs in the winter of 2005 along with fellow rookies Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre.
The 26-year-old was originally drafted out of San Diego City College by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. After a solid pro debut in the Northwest League, Mitre was pitching for the Cubs by the end of his second full season. However, in parts of his four MLB seasons, Mitre's lowest ERA in any one year was 5.37.
IP H H/9 BB/9 K/9 WHIP
Minors 579.2 582 9.04 2.30 6.91 1.26
Majors 161.2 192 10.69 3.73 6.01 1.60
It's pretty clear to see what Mitre's problems have been at the major league level. He's allowing about three more runners on base per nine innings. Last season in Florida, Mitre also struggled with his command and walked 20 batters in 41 innings (4.39 BB/9).
Mitre's not overpowering with a sinker that has touched 94 mph and he also throws a curveball and change. He is probably best-suited for the bullpen, although he could be a pretty good No. 5 starter. With question marks surrounding the health of Sanchez and especially Johnson, Mitre will get a long look in spring training and should make the team. He will face competition from:
Dontrelle Willis (LOCK)
Scott Olsen (LOCK)
Josh Johnson (injured)
Kevin Gregg (LOCK)
Taylor Tankersley (LOCK)
Nate Field (non-roster)
Mike Koplove (non-roster)
Wes Obermueller (non-roster)
If Johnson continues to have arm problems, Mitre should be able to beat Petit out for the No. 5 spot behind Willis, Olsen, Sanchez, and Nolasco (originally considered for the closer's position). If by some miracle Johnson is healthy, Mitre should also have a good shot in the pen, with only two players a lock to make the team.
Field, Koplove and Obermueller should all begin the year in Triple-A, unless they absolutely dominate in the spring. Bowyer is not expected to be healthy for the start of the year so he's out of the equation.
Tyler walked more than six batters per nine innings in Double-A, so his control still needs serious work. Garcia has a nice ceiling and shouldn't be limited to the bullpen at this point in his career, so he should head to Triple-A for a little more experience.
As a result, the Marlins would be looking at a bullpen consisting of Gregg, Tankersley, Pinto, Messenger, Owens, Lindstrom and Mitre. I would fully expect Mitre to also see some spot starts.
IP H BB-K ERA
2007 Prediction: 110.2 126 47-78 4.84
5. Scott Hairston, Arizona, OF
15 ABs | .400 AVG | .438 OBP | .533 SLG | 2.0 VORP
Hairston, who turns 27 in May, has Travis Hafner disease. He is an aging prospect with tons of potential but lacks A) a position to play and B) an opportunity despite solid minor league numbers. Now, I'll readily admit his ceiling is nowhere near Hafner's but he could still win my most-underrated minor leaguer of the year award.
The biggest problem for Hairston is that Arizona has a pretty darn amazing outfield without him: Chris Young, Carlos Quentin and Eric Byrnes. Byrnes is one of those guys who will do anything in his power to win - including running through walls - and both Quentin and Young could be All-Stars within three to five years.
Hairston - the younger brother of Jerry Hairston Jr., son of Jerry Hairston Sr., nephew of Johnny Hairston and grandson of Sammy Hairston - has amazing bloodlines and was a third round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2001 and was the Junior College Player of the Year.
In 2002, Hairston was named a Midwest League All-Star, Baseball America First Team All-Star, and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Minor League Player of the Year. He batted .332/.426/.563 a year after making his pro debut (where he hit .347/.432/.588 in Rookie ball). Hairston wasn't done in 2002, though, as he received a late promotion to Lancaster and hit .405/.442/.797.
His numbers took a bit of a tumble in 2003 at Double-A El Paso when he hit .276/.345/.469 in 88 games. But he recovered in Triple-A the next season when he hit .313/.375/.565 and earned a promotion to the majors after only 28 games.
Hairston struggled in the majors, although he appeared in 101 games. He hit .248/.293/.442 and walked only 21 times in 338 at-bats. After that season, Hairston was shifted to the outfield and began to battle injuries. He was also passed by other prospects and watched as Arizona made trades for Young, Byrnes and even Orlando Hudson. Hairston still has a good bat, but it was far more valuable as a second baseman than a corner outfielder.
There are seven outfielders, including Hairston, currently looking to secure five spots on the Diamondbacks' opening day roster:
Eric Byrnes (LOCK)
Carlos Quentin (LOCK)
Chris Young (LOCK)
Krynzel was acquired from Milwaukee and has trouble making consistent contact (107 strikeouts in 359 2006 Triple-A at-bats). He needs more seasoning. Romero is only 23 and probably needs a little more time at Triple-A. Those two quick-and-easy eliminations make it pretty clear that Hairston has a spot on the roster.
C Chris Snyder
IF Albert Callaspo
1B Tony Clark
OF Jeff DaVanon
OF Scott Hairston
However, he deserves the opportunity to prove he is more than a fifth outfielder. One trade that makes sense to me is Hairston to Toronto for reliever Francisco Rosario. Arizona needs pitching (and Rosario has a mid-90s fastball and plus change) and Toronto really needs a fourth outfielder (sorry, Matt Stairs doesn't cut it) and some pop off the bench.
AVG OBP SLG AB
2007 Prediction: .267 .323 .427 276
* * * * *
Others to Watch:
Edwin Jackson, Tampa Bay, RHP
Jackson, 23, has fallen a long way since being declared a phenom in 2003 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After three disappointing seasons, Jackson was shipped to Tampa Bay, along with fellow rookie Chuck Tiffany for Danys Baez and Lance Carter.
In parts of four major league seasons, Jackson has pitched 111.2 innings and allowed 121 hits (9.75 BB/9). As well, he has walked 5.16 per nine innings and struck out 6.04 batters per nine innings. He may have lost his shot at starting, but you never know with the Rays. His best chance to make the club in 2007 is probably the pen where there really aren't any locks to make the team.
Jason Davis, Cleveland, RHP
Davis was helped out by the surprise retirement by Keith Foulke early in spring training. Davis has the potential, but he needs to finally show some results. A change of scenery may benefit this career Cleveland Indian. In 2006, he had a 3.74 ERA in 55 innings - as well as ratios of 10.90 H/9, 2.28 BB/9 and 6.02 K/9 - but Cleveland still appeared to lack confidence in him.
Wil Ledezma, Detroit, RHP
The battle for spots on the Detroit Tigers will be a lot tougher this season than it has been for a number of years. Ledezma, a former Rule 5 pick, is oozing with potential but he needs to finally put it all together.
He could be a valuable long man in the Tigers' rotation, which should also feature Todd Jones, Jose Mesa, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya. Ledezma posted a 3.58 ERA in 60 innings between the bullpen and rotation in 2006.
J.D. Durbin, Minnesota, RHP
The Minnesota Twins need pitching in 2007 as witnessed by the fact they are all but guaranteeing spots to Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz. Durbin has some of the best stuff amongst Twins' rookies, but he has health issues. He had a bicep problem last year and has experienced "forearm tingling" early in spring training. When healthy last season, Durbin had a 2.33 ERA in Triple-A, but he also posted a 5.06 BB/9 ratio.
Dan Johnson, Oakland, 1B
Despite posting excellent minor league numbers, it looked like Johnson would never get his shot. But he finally did in 2005 and generated encouraging numbers. He secured himself another gig in 2006 but struggled mightily by hitting .234/.323/.381, which were terrible numbers for someone being counted on to drive in runs. This spring, Johnson revealed that he had been dealing with double vision. He said that it has been corrected. If so, he should have a good chance to make the A's, although Shannon Stewart will give him a run for his money.
*A special thanks to Jeff Euston at Cot's Baseball Contracts for confirming the contract status of certain players.
Some Things Are Better Left Alone
In his latest Lies, Damned Lies article (subscription required), Nate Silver attempts to improve upon the Defensive Spectrum that Bill James created nearly 30 years ago. As much as I normally like Nate's work, his three-demensional version adds little or no value to the original spectrum. Worse yet, it is much more convoluted than James' KISS approach.
James introduced the Defensive Spectrum (shown below) in the 1979 Baseball Abstract and elaborated on it in more detail than ever before in the 1982 Baseball Abstract.
DH | 1B | LF | RF | 3B | CF | 2B | SS
As a player grows older, and in certain other cases, he tends to be shifted leftward along this spectrum. Sometimes he moves in dramatic leaps, like Ernie Banks, a shortstop one year and a first baseman the next, or Rod Carew, from second to first. Sometimes he crawls unevenly along the spectrum, like Pete Rose. Sometimes, like Willie Mays, the only movement in a player's career is within the area covered by one position; that is, the player moves gradually from being a center fielder who has outstanding range to being a center fielder with very little range. But always he moves leftward, never right. Can you name one aging first baseman who has been shifted to second base or shortstop to keep his bat in the lineup?
James conceded that certain young players whose position-specific skills are either undeveloped or under-utilized can move rightward but noted these shifts are always dangerous and often disastrous. He also pointed out the implications of the leftward drift in building a ballclub, including the need "to allow the talent at the left end of the spectrum to take care of itself, as it will, and to worry first about the right end."
Silver states, "...while it's nice to dream of a day when every college will teach a Sabermetrics 101 course, and this poster will be hanging prominently on the wall, I know that probably won't be the case." Let's hope not. James' poster will more than suffice, thank you.
- Rich Lederer, 2/24/07, 11:25 a.m. PST
Jason Varitek... Manny Ramirez... Dustin Pedroia... David Ortiz... Julio Lugo...
One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Thanks to our good pals at Sesame Street, we see that Pedroia is the odd man out in the Boston Red Sox' lineup. The 2004 World Series champions have a veteran-ladened lineup, which does not often feature a raw rookie in its midst.
The 5'9'' second baseman has only 89 at-bats in the majors and he struggled during his debut in the fall of 2006 by hitting .191/.258/.303. Even so, the Red Sox have seen enough to feel comfortable with Pedroia in the starting lineup.
On the plus side, the 23-year-old walked seven times and also struck out only seven times in the majors. In fact, Pedroia has never struck out more than he has walked. Based on his minor league numbers, he has all the makings of a solid No. 2 hitter on a very powerful team.
His career minor league numbers are .303/.392/.454 and Pedroia has the pedigree as a former second round pick in 2004, drafted 64th overall. In their 2004 draft preview, Baseball America stated:
Pedroia's tools are below-average across the board, but people have learned not to sell him short. Scouts expect him to be a big leaguer, and probably an everyday player. He's not physically gifted at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but Pedroia is a classic overachiever and possibly the best player in college baseball. He has a great work ethic and exceptional sense of the game. He's hard-nosed and competitive, and without peer as a team leader. He's a blood-and-guts player who thrives under pressure and makes everyone around him better.
The only real threats to Pedroia's playing time are utility player Alex Cora and non-roster invitee Joe McEwing. It appears safe to say that Pedroia (barring injury or a complete collapse) will play a key role in the successes of the Red Sox this season. My guess is that he'll be in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting.
- Marc Hulet, 2/24/07, 9:36 p.m. EST
There have been a number of questionable moves this past off-season, but the one team that continues to puzzle me the most is the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles went into the off-season looking to make some noise in an effort to convince fans that they were serious about competing with Boston, New York and Toronto. But what they ended up with was a bunch of middle relievers past their prime and a couple of back-of-the-rotation starters.
RHP Jamie Walker, 35, three years/$12 million
RHP Chad Bradford, 32, three years/$10.5 million
RHP Scott Williamson, 31, one year/$0.9 million
RHP Danys Baez, 29, three years/$19 million
RHP Jaret Wright, 31, $7 million in 2007
RHP Steve Trachsel, 36, $3.1 million in 2007
RHP Jeremy Guthrie (waivers), C Adam Donachie (Rule 5) and OF/IF Freddie Bynum (minor trade)
The funny thing is that Baltimore traded young reliever Chris Britton away (for Wright), who may be a better option than any of the four veteran relievers they brought in.
As well, they did nothing to address their offence, which placed (in the American League):
10th in Doubles
12th in Triples
11th in Homers
11th in Total Bases
8th in On-Base Percentage
10th in Slugging Percentage
7th in Average
Another puzzling thing is that one of Baltimore's better power threats, Jay Gibbons, is feeling ignored by the Orioles. Instead of giving Gibbons a shot to prove himself defensively, they continue to trot out the declining Kevin Millar to first base.
"It doesn't appear that I will get a fair shot, and that is all I am looking for," Gibbons said. "I don't know what the reasoning is. I am not going to pout about it. I am here, and what I really want is to win. But do I think I should be given a shot to win a job? Absolutely. Why not?"
AVG OBP SLG VORP
Gibbons .277 .341 .458 11.8
Millar .272 .374 .437 15.5
The stats are similar, but Gibbons' ceiling is arguably much higher... especially with the power numbers.
For a team that is already struggling to convince players to come to Baltimore (even for above-market offerings), the player grumblings do not help.
- Marc Hulet, 2/25/07, 5:22 p.m. EST
If you listen to this mp3 from Baseball Prospectus, you will be treated to Will Carroll and Kevin Goldstein conversing about Goldstein's Top 100 prospects list. And you will hear Goldstein say the following:
"There's only two prospect lists that matter, Baseball America's and mine"
I'll steer clear of offering further commentary regarding my thoughts on either Carroll or Goldstein but let me just say that I urge everyone to check out the work of Bryan Smith and John Sickels and then decide for yourself if you agree with Goldstein.
- Patrick Sullivan, 2/25/2007, 9:24 p.m. EST
At the request of my friend Alex Belth, I wrote a guest column for Bronx Banter. The article is entitled "Bernie and the Yanks (From the Outside Looking In)." I make the case that Williams could still be a useful member of the team and wonder why the situation has deteriorated to its current standstill after a successful partnership that began on Bernie's 17th birthday in 1985. Check it out.
- Rich Lederer, 2/26/07, 6:59 a.m. PST
The Real Home Run Champion of 1967
Statistical analysis has done much to correct misguided perceptions and accurately adjust the performance of players in heavily favorable or unfavorable conditions. Even with continual advances in the field, one slugger has never received full credit for an impressive season in hostile territory.
Jimmy Wynn's career-high 37 home runs in 1967 may not seem like a big deal 40 years later, but the 5'9", 160-pound "Toy Cannon" put on one of the great power shows of the decade. That's because Wynn played half of his games in the Astrodome, which featured an unappealing (to sluggers) combination of spacious dimensions with the heavy, humid atmosphere of Houston.
It was more than the Dome that held Wynn's power numbers down. Pitching dominated the game in 1967, and road trips often provided Wynn with little relief from warning track fly outs. Shea Stadium, Forbes Field, Busch Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park were unfriendly to power hitters, and Wrigley Field could be a challenge when the wind was blowing in from nearby Lake Michigan.
Wynn finished a close second to Hank Aaron, who passed the Cannon late in the season and finished with 39 home runs. Not to take anything away from one of baseball's all-time greats, but Aaron was operating at a big advantage to his rival that season.
"The Hammer" was in his second season at Atlanta Stadium, later renamed Fulton County Stadium. Known as "The Launching Pad," the southern park was the Coors Field of its time, as flyballs cleared the fences with relative ease. While Atlanta's altitude of 1057 feet is hardly thin air territory, it was the highest park of its time and far above Houston's barely sea level terrain.
Home and road statistics prove that Wynn was operating at a distinct disadvantage. By slugging 22 homers on the road versus 15 at home, the congenial centerfielder isn't boasting when he says, "I could have hit 44 or 45 that year if I wasn't playing in the Dome." Meanwhile, Aaron came through with 23 dingers in Atlanta and added another 16 on the road.
Atlanta may have helped Aaron's batting average more than his home run total, as he hit a sizzling .350 at home versus but .268 elsewhere. Wynn actually had a higher average at the Astrodome, hitting .261 indoors versus .237 on the road for a .249 season. He had 53 RBI at home and 54 RBI outdoors.
"Judge [Roy] Hofheinz built the Dome because people wouldn't come to support the Astros if they had to be outside. It's too hot in Houston," Wynn said during a February 22 phone interview. "They should have made it smaller. The Dome was a real pitcher's park." Despite the disadvantages of playing in "The Eighth Wonder of the World," Wynn didn't change his swing-from-the-heels approach at home.
"I kept my original swing and mindset in the Dome," he insists. "The only thing I might do differently was to try and get the ball up in the air a little more on the road. Guys like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey would say they couldn't hit it over the fence in the Dome even during batting practice. A lot of the balls I hit really well were caught on the warning track there."
No stadium could have contained the bomb Wynn smacked on June 10, 1967. Playing in his hometown of Cincinnati, Wynn crushed a pitch from Mel Queen. It sailed over Crosley Field's 58-foot high scoreboard in left-centerfield and landed on adjoining Interstate 75.
"I usually didn't play that well in Cincinnati, since I was trying too hard to impress my family and friends," Wynn said, "but that one was one of the greatest home runs of all time." He followed that up with a three-homer performance in the Dome on June 15.
How did the compact Wynn hit with such power? The right-handed hitter was one of the first players to work with weights despite 1960s stereotypes that claimed such exercise was detrimental to baseball players.
"It wasn't heavy lifting," he said. "I did some curls with my hands, arms and wrists. Most players didn't do weights then. My father taught me how to hit and use my legs."
Both Wynn and Aaron lost their power stroke at the end of the season, which may have lessened the drama of the National League home run race. Wynn's last homer came in Game 146 off Bill Hands of the Cubs on September 11. Aaron hit his 38th bomb in Game 152 at home against the Reds on September 20. His 39th home run came in Game 157 on September 26 in Cincinnati. Milt Pappas served up the long balls that gave Aaron the margin of victory over Wynn.
"Hank said, 'Jimmy Wynn should be the home run champion because he had to play in the Astrodome,'" Wynn remarked. "The title never crossed my mind until after the season when people started saying, 'Jimmy, you could have led the league.' I got some publicity that year, but Houston wasn't a media capitol. Being number two to Hank Aaron - the greatest home run hitter of all time - is truly an honor."
Wynn is a player who looks far better to the serious baseball devotee than the casual fan. A .250 lifetime average may not be an eye grabber, but Wynn's 1224 career walks combined with 1665 hits gives him a career .366 on-base percentage, which is well above the combined league .323 OBP during his time in the majors.
Add 293 career home runs, dependable defense in centerfield and nine seasons played at the death to hitters Astrodome, and Wynn's value as a player quickly becomes apparent. His stat line includes six seasons with 100 or more walks topped by a National League record-tying 148 walks in 1969. The Toy Cannon had three seasons with more walks than hits.
Hitting 37 homers in the worst power stadium in the majors during a pitching-dominated era raises an obvious question: What could a young Jimmy Wynn do at Minute Maid Park in the 21st century?
"I look at Minute Maid and just visualize myself tearing those walls down," Wynn said with a smile. "The fans want home runs, and that's what they're getting with the new stadiums."
Bat Out of Helton
Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton made some headlines this winter during trade talks with Boston. Helton's production has certainly fallen off from a couple of years ago, but is it really that far fetched to think that he can still be a power bat during his mid-30s at Coors Field? I don't think so.
Helton has always been a studious hitter, going as far as personally logging each of his at-bats during the season. The infamous humidor and apparent sickness last year might be initial reasons for a power outage, but I took a look to see if there was anything else physically different in Helton's swing that might explain this downward trend.
Going back to Helton's last 1.000+ OPS season, here is a full look at 2004 Todd Helton (left side) versus the 2006 version (right side). While all pitches shown are fastballs, the swings on top are hit toward the left-center gap and the pitches shown on the bottom are pulled into right field:
At first glance, there is not much apparent difference. The overall rhythm and timing are almost identical, which is a good thing. Helton's maintenance of a high batting average may be indicative that he is still getting the barrel to the ball and the slip in power just means the ball is not going as far. Why? It's the humidor. Well, checking the splits from 2004 and 2006, Helton's numbers away from Coors suffered just as much, so maybe the humidor was not the main culprit.
Helton's health is a more logical reason from the standpoint that he could have been doing everything the same mechanically, but was just not physically able to produce the same amount of force. For example, Helton's percentage of home runs to fly balls has nearly been cut in half - from 13.8% in 2004 to 6.2% in 2006. Colorado has already indicated that they will rest Helton more throughout the 2007 season, which seems like a wise approach. On top of that, physical weakness could have effects on a player's mental approach as well. It's much easier to think strong and confidently when you actually feel strong.
With all that in mind, here is how these mental and physical factors show up in Helton's spray chart at Coors Field:
Not only is the number of home runs down, but the direction is dramatically different. Maybe those long drives to left field turned into doubles or fly outs, or perhaps Helton changed his approach to try to pull more. Either way, it is clear that Helton is at his best when he can use the entire field and that he has no problem dropping opposite field bombs when he is at full strength.
The main difference in Helton's actual swing mechanics can be seen in this excerpt of the above clip:
If you haven't already, focus on the hands. The 2004 Helton has a more pronounced "hitch," which in this case is not such a bad thing. Plenty of power hitters use this type of move to load the upper body in an effort to create more power (think Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and David Ortiz), and as long as the hitter gets to a good position at the right time, this can be quite beneficial. Of course, adding extra movement opens the door for more timing problems, but the tradeoff is creating more elastic energy that can be converted into increased bat speed through the rapid load/unload of the shoulder area (where the arms are connected to the torso). Add the fact that this move is not new to Helton - he has pulled it off VERY successfully in the past - and recommending a return to this technique becomes that much easier.
Revisit the isolation shot of Helton's hands and you will also notice his bat angle is more vertical in 2004. This makes sense in that the bat feels a bit lighter when it is more vertical, so the extra movement with the hands does not feel like that much more work. On each side of the comparison, Helton is getting the bat to the same position at footplant, so it appears the extra load is not costing anything in the quickness department.
An extra move or load with the hands and arms is something I would consider to be "icing on the cake" - something to be added if and when the player has the basics down. Like I mentioned earlier, Helton's timing looks good, body appears to be working in a very similar manner . . . so on that note, maybe it's time to add the icing back to this swing. I realize this loading move with the hands may seem small, but small adjustments are the name of the game at such a high level. When the rest of the major parts are working well, I'm all for focusing on the hands, and perhaps a healthy Helton can do just that. Then we will see if he can put the fear of Helton back in those opposing pitchers.
From the Rockies point of view, I understand why the team would consider trading him (as management attempted during the off-season). Age, injuries and over $90 million owed over the next 5 years seems like a steep mountain to climb. But let's not forget that Helton bounced back from bone spurs in his back for a monster year in 2004, and he is still only 33 years old. If Colorado could have reduced payroll while acquiring some good, young pitching, great, but retaining Helton does not mean the Rockies failed. CEO Charlie Monfort already indicated that they believe they can win the NL West as is, so now they have they chance to go out and prove it.
Time to Get Their Phil
The Mets blew away the National League East last season and aside from having to survive part of this year without Pedro Martinez, look every bit as formidable. So the NL East is theirs, right? Jimmy Rollins disagrees, and I do too.
I stumbled across an ESPN.com article by Jayson Stark wherein he mentions a Rollins quote from January 23rd and then delves into the Starkisms we have come to expect - quotes from anonymous GM's, lighthearted hyperbole taking jabs at the sorry state of Philly sports and clubhouse chemistry type lines having to do with "bulletin board material." According to Stark, here is what Rollins said:
"I think we are the team to beat in the NL East -- finally."
Since the dreary Terry Francona era came to an end in Philadelphia, the Phillies have been a consistently above average club, coming in second place in four of the six seasons while averaging 85 wins. The bulk of the National League East media focus coming into each season seems to center either on the perpetually contending Atlanta Braves or the big-spending New York Mets, and this season is no different. The Mets feature a young nucleus and are coming off their first Division Championship since the Reagan administration while the Braves boast young emerging stars of their own and are hungry to return to post-season play.
So what of the Phillies in 2007? Should they be considered the team to beat like their shortstop asserts or will this be another blah, barely above .500, semi-contending season those in and around the City of Brotherly Love have come to expect? To answer this, let's first compare the 2006 Phillies to this season's and then take a look at how they stack up to the rest of their division.
In 2006, the Phils led the National League in runs scored with 865. There is some good news and bad news with respect to how the bats stand to fare in relation to last year's club. Most notably, Philadelphia will lose out on 438 plate appearances of 120 OPS+ hitting from Bobby Abreu. In addition, David Dellucci's defection, and more specifically his 301 plate appearances of 125 OPS+, will be missed. Without question, getting to 865 runs without Abreu or Dellucci will be a tall order.
There is one significant change that will help the offense. The bulk of at-bats that went to David Bell and Abraham Nunez in 2006 will be Wes Helms's in 2007. Now Philly fans will not be confusing Helms for Mike Schmidt but he will represent an upgrade over what the Phillies received from their third basemen in 2006. And if by some chance he can come close to his 2006 AVG/OBP/SLG line of .329/.390/.575 then the Phills will have pulled off one of the real steals of the off-season. Even if he does not, it was a nice deal. Check out some of the scenarios below compared to what Philly got from the Hot Corner in 2006.
AVG OBP SLG
Wes Helms (Career) .254 .337 .447
Wes Helms (2007 PECOTA Projection) .287 .355 .477
Phillies 3rd Basemen in 2006 .254 .337 .347
As you can see, to the extent that Charlie Manuel has the good sense to keep Abraham Nunez in the dugout, the Phils stand to get a serious uptick at third this season. Where Philly may have some offensive trouble is in the outfield. Pat Burrell is a dependable slugger but neither Aaron Rowand nor Shane Victorino stand to light the league on fire. What they lack in pop they will hope to make up in depth, as Jayson Werth and perhaps even youngster Michael Bourn offer insurance should Rowand or Victorino falter badly.
Overall, I see the offense taking some small steps back. The losses of Abreu and Dellucci will hurt badly but Helms will alleviate the net downgrade. Further, the two best players on the Phillies are both at a point in their career where improvement is not out of the question. Ryan Howard is just 27 and Chase Utley 28 and although they both have already ascended to superstardom, there is still the possibility that they reach even more impressive heights.
Where the Phillies really stand to make their hay is in the starting pitching department. Brett Myers has emerged as a legitimate ace, Cole Hamels appears to be on the verge himself and the newly acquired Freddy Garcia is one of the most dependable horses in the game. At the back end of the rotation, some combination of Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber should be able to provide reliable output. On its own the rotation looks formidable but what is so tantalizing about this staff is the incremental upgrade it figures to provide over and above the 2006 version. Freddy Garcia alone will provide a multi-win upgrade over and above the 200.1 innings of 6.47 ERA pitching that Gavin Floyd, Randy Wolf and Ryan Madson contributed in 40 combined 2006 starts. Factor in continued development from the 26-year-old Myers and 23-year-old Hamels and it is hard to forecast anything but remarkable improvement on the run-prevention side of the Phillies ledger.
In the bullpen, the Phils figure to be no better or worse than last season. Tom Gordon, Madson and Geoff Geary constitute a decent trio and from there it will be up to Manuel to cobble something together. Another option not to be ruled out is the possibility of General Manager Pat Gillick taking advantage of his newfound starting pitching depth and shipping Jon Lieber off for some bullpen help. Heck maybe Lieber himself will join the 'pen. I ought to note that there is one factor working in the relievers' favor; their starters figure to hand the ball off to them less frequently and in cleaner situations, thereby lightening the overall burden they will have to bear.
So what does the aggregate look like? From my vantage point I see the Phils giving back some runs on the offensive side but saving a whole bunch more thanks to the phenomenal front three of Myers, Hamels and Garcia. Philadelphia's starting staff has a good chance of going from one of the very worst in the National League in 2006 to one of the very best this season. With Pedro Martinez injured and the Mets having played over their heads in 2006 according to their Pythag record, New York looks to me more like an 88-90 win team than a runaway favorite. The Marlins still are not quite there, Atlanta's starting pitching is too thin and the Nationals are just abominable. With a bolstered starting staff that is the class of the division, I see the Phillies just the way Rollins does - as the team to beat in the National League East.
Is Brandon Ready to Dominate the League?
In the ultra-competitive American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays are relying heavily on a relative unknown in 2007. The hard-throwing Brandon League is expected to replace Justin Speier as the primary set-up man for closer B.J. Ryan. Speier signed a four-year, $18 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this past off-season. League - who possesses a fastball that touches 100 mph but sits around 94-96 mph, an 88-90 mph slider and an 86-90 mph changeup - has the potential to be a dominating pitcher, but he has only pitched 83 major league innings.
League, a high school pitcher in Hawaii, was considered the 53rd best prospect before the June draft in 2001, according to Baseball America. The Blue Jays took him in the second round (after Auburn University's Gabe Gross, now with Milwaukee, in the first round) with the 59th pick. He had committed to Pepperdine University but the Jays convinced him to give pro ball a try with a cheque for $660,000. The buzz in the draft certainly surrounded the first round with such names as Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Mark Teixeira and even Colt Griffin available.
The second round was a lot quieter and began with Minnesota taking right-handed pitcher (now with Florida) Scott Tyler with the 45th pick. Other interesting names taken before League in the second round included catcher Kelly Shoppach (Boston, now with Cleveland) at 48, football star Roscoe Crosby (Kansas City) at 53, shortstop J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee) at 56, third baseman Dallas McPherson (LA Angels) at 57 and right-handed pitcher Matt Harrington (San Diego) at 58. The three players taken after League included pitchers Garrett Berger (Florida), Matt Chico (Boston) and outfielder Shelley Duncan (New York AL). Arguably the best player taken in the second round after League was right-handed pitcher Dan Haren (St. Louis) at 72.
In his pro debut, League traveled a few thousand miles from Hawaii to Medicine Hat, Alberta (also known as the middle of nowhere). Despite the obvious culture shock, League held his own and posted a 4.62 ERA in 39 innings of work in the starting rotation. He allowed 36 hits, 11 walks and struck out 38 batters. After the season, Baseball America ranked him as Toronto's seventh best prospect, after Josh Phelps, Gross, Jayson Werth, Dustin McGowan, Orlando Hudson and future Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske.
The next year, 2002, League stayed in extended spring training and then reported to Auburn in the New York Penn League as a 19-year-old. His overall numbers improved as he started 16 games and pitched 85 innings. He allowed only 80 hits and 23 walks. He struck out 72 batters. League moved up one spot on Baseball America's Top 10 list to No. 6.
In 2003, League finally made his full-season, A-ball debut in Charleston. He pitched 70 innings and allowed 58 hits and 18 walks. However, his strikeout totals continued to be lower (61) than one might expect from a power pitcher who can touch triple digits. Regardless, League posted a 1.91 ERA and the Jays jumped him up to the Florida State League around mid-season and he pitched another 66 innings for Dunedin. League allowed more hits than innings pitched for the first time (76) and walked 20 batters, while striking out 34. His ERA rose to 4.75. Baseball America dropped him to No. 10 after the season and reported that he was having trouble repeating his delivery and staying on top of his slider.
Despite his issues in half a season in Dunedin, the Jays jumped League to Double-A New Hampshire to start the 2004 season, which was also the year he would have to be protected on the 40-man roster. League was shifted to the bullpen for the first time, although he also made 10 starts and pitched a total of 104 innings. He allowed only 92 hits but walked 41 and struck out 91. League posted a 3.38 ERA and his season was good enough to earn him cup of coffee in the majors for the first time. He appeared in three games and pitched 4.2 innings, allowing three hits, no runs, one walk and two strikeouts. League posted a groundball-to-flyball ratio of 3.00. His first appearance came on Sept. 21 against the New York Yankees with the bases loaded and Gary Sheffield at the plate. He proceeded to get Sheffield to ground out weakly and League went on to pitch 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. After the season he was ranked the No. 1 Blue Jays' prospect by Baseball America.
2005 would not be kind to League. He made the Jays' opening day roster with a solid spring and pitched 20 games in the majors and threw 35.2 innings. He posted a 6.56 ERA by allowing 42 hits and 20 walks. League struck out only 17 batters and posted a groundball-to-flyball ratio of 2.10. At Triple-A Syracuse, he posted a 5.71 ERA in 63 innings of work. He allowed 78 hits, 18 walks and struck out only 35 batters. The Jays bounced League between the bullpen and the starting rotation and back again to the pen. He fell back to the No. 7 prospect slot on Baseball America's Top 10 Jays' prospect list.
At the start of 2006 nobody knew what to expect from League - not the Blue Jays' management or the fans. Toronto decided to stick League back in Triple-A in the bullpen and leave him there...in hopes of building his confidence back up. In 54.2 innings of work, League allowed 57 hits, 15 walks and struck out 43 batters. He posted a 2.14 ERA. More importantly, League posted a groundball-to-flyball ratio of 5.78 as he finally began to master working down in the strike zone. When injuries and ineffectiveness took their toll on the big club, however, the Jays finally recalled League and held their breath. But a finally thing happened. The League everyone was waiting for finally arrived. He threw 42.2 innings of work and allowed 34 hits and only nine walks. The one downside to his season was that he continued to struggle with the strikeout, managing only 29. His groundball-to-flyball ratio was 4.53 and his WHIP was 1.01. League struggled against left-handed batters, who hit .323 against him, while righties hit only .239.
As we saw in Rich Lederer's entertaining groundball percentage versus strikeout per batter faced analysis here at Baseball Analysts, League was head and shoulders above other triple-A pitchers in 2006 as far as inducing groundballs (76 per cent). Baltimore's Andy Mitchell (64.55) and Scott Rice (64.49) were second and third, respectively. League also led major league relievers in inducing groundballs with a percentage of 72.87. Texas reliever Wes Littleton was second with a percentage of 70.75. However, League's strikeout ratios remain below average at only 16.76 percent. On one hand, League is keeping his pitch counts down by pitching to contact and trusting his defence. On the other hand, late-inning relievers often find themselves in situations where they really need a strikeout.
By looking at Rich's research, it is clear that the most dominating relievers in the majors have above-average strikeout rates. Those with strikeout rates above 30 percent included Pat Neshek, Joe Nathan, Takashi Saito, Francisco Rodriguez, B.J. Ryan, J.J. Putz and Billy Wagner. Players with high groundball ratios but low strikeout rates, like League, included the aforementioned Littleton, Chad Bradford, Ryan Wagner, Rick White, Chad Qualls and Fausto Carmona. There is a pretty big gap between those two groups of pitchers in terms of dominance in 2006.
Although League, 23, had an encouraging season in 2006, he still has a ways to go to become a dominating, reliable reliever year-in and year-out. Increased strikeout rates, while maintaining his groundball ratios, would go a long way in accomplishing just that. League could be one of those rare players who is actually better in the major leagues than his minor league numbers would indicate for the simple reason that he has better infield defense behind him, as well as improved field conditions. For the Jays to be successful in 2007, they need League - who has arguably the best arm on the staff - to prove that his minor league days are behind him once and for all.
State of the Site
This week marks the second anniversary of Baseball Analysts. Thanks to our many friends around the 'net and, of course, our readers, the site has grown in traffic and stature since Bryan Smith and I merged the Baseball Beat and Wait 'Til Next Year blogs (both of which started in 2003) on February 22, 2005.
We have held true to our promise of "examining the past, present, and future" while covering college baseball, the minor leagues, and the majors to the best of our ability. From scouting reports, prospect lists, live blogging the draft, the College World Series, and the Cape Cod League, we have followed amateur baseball with a passion that exceeds the man hours available to do so on a full-time basis. We have also tracked minor and major leaguers with unique angles, statistics, and analysis - all in the name of adding value in a competitive market for our readers' time and attention.
Our weekly Designated Hitter series has proven to be a popular feature - a must read, if you will. We thank all of our guest columnists, including those of you from the mainstream media who have generously submitted articles pro bono. To all the professionals and hobbyists alike, Baseball Analysts would not be the same without you and your contributions.
For newer readers, I'd like to point you to the links in the sidebar on the left-hand side of the site. Reading and understanding The Abstracts From The Abstracts is the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science in Sabermetrics. Be sure to also check out Breakfast With Bill James, a three-part interview that took place at the Winter Meetings in Anaheim in December 2004. Bill's influence pervades this site like no other as evidenced by the following search results, including our first guest column (written by John Sickels nearly two years ago).
After partnering with me for a year-and-a-half, Bryan decided to move on last summer. He returned last month and posted the final leg of his popular Top 75 Prospects at Baseball Analysts. Bryan knows there is an open invitation for him to contribute articles in the future as well.
Jeff Albert and Al Doyle filled the void in the early going and remain ongoing contributors to Baseball Analysts. Jeff wrote two guest columns that were linked all over the web and The Batter's Eye has become a semi-regular feature on our site. Al is a veteran freelance writer who made his debut at Baseball Analysts as a guest columnist.
Patrick Sullivan joined the team in January and has already written six weekly columns. We have also added another voice in Marc Hulet, a professional journalist from Ontario, Canada. Marc's first article will appear tomorrow.
Although Baseball Analysts was designed as an online magazine, we added the Weekend Blog to our lineup yesterday to allow us to make shorter, more spontaneous posts as a diversion from our daily articles. Going forward, our schedule will generally look like this:
Mon: Rich (Baseball Beat)
Tues: Marc (Around the Minors)
Wed: Sully (Change-Up)
Thur: Guest (Designated Hitter)
Fri: Misc. (Jeff, Al, Foto Fridays, Open Chats, or Roundtables)
Sat: Weekend Blog
Sun: Weekend Blog
All of us at Baseball Analysts look forward to the year ahead, and we hope to earn your readership by doing our best to keep you as entertained and informed as possible. In the meantime, we thank you for your loyalty and support.
Spring Has Sprung
The Weekend Blog is a new feature that will run on Saturdays and Sundays. Be sure to check back throughout the weekend to stay abreast of our latest posts.
Miguel Cabrera won his arbitration case, the first time a player has gotten the better of his team this year. The 24-year-old third baseman, who hit .339/.430/.568 last season, will earn $7.4 million in 2007 (vs. $472,000 in 2006). Cabrera received the third-highest payout ever awarded in arbitration, trailing only Alfonso Soriano ($10M) and Andruw Jones ($8.2M).
It's too bad the Marlins and Cabrera seem to be at odds with each other. Cabrera is an Albert Pujols-type talent and should be taken care of in a similar manner. Pujols and the Cardinals avoided arbitration by agreeing to a seven-year extension after the slugger's third season. Pujols earned $7M in 2004, $11M in 2005, and $14M in 2006, and he will receive $15M in 2007, and $16M in 2008-2010 with a club option for $16M in 2011 (or a $5M buyout if not exercised).
I wonder what Pujols would be worth in today's market? Can you say "partner?"
It's funny how the off-season plays out sometimes. Players like Jason Marquis and Jeff Weaver obtain what some might call ridiculous contracts, while others settle for much less than they're worth. One example of this would be Ronnie Belliard, who just signed a one-year, minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, according to a press release I received from the Nats' media department this morning.
- Rich Lederer, 2/18/07, 12:20 a.m. PST
In 2006, Belliard hit a combined .272/.322/.403 with 30 doubles, 13 homers and 67 RBI in 147 games with Cleveland and St. Louis. Acquired by St. Louis on July 30 in exchange for Hector Luna, Belliard earned a World Series ring as he started 14 of the Cardinals' 16 post-season games at second base.
Those numbers certainly appear good enough for a two or three-year deal at about $3 or $4 million per year. So what happened? Well, Belliard isn't a pitcher. While the market for pitchers exploded (again) this off-season, the market for position players - outside of Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells - did not take a huge jump.
The 31-year-old second baseman does not find himself in an enviable position (pun not intended). The Nationals already have Cristian Guzman (returning from injury) at shortstop with two years remaining on a four-year, $16.8 million contract. They also have former shortstop Felipe Lopez at second base. In an ideal world, the Nationals would simply eliminate Guzman, the weakest of the three players, but he still has $8.4 million on his contract and zero trade value.
The leaves Belliard to battle for a back-up position and hope for an injury to Guzman or Lopez. But he also has a fight on his hands for two backup infield spots with Bernie Castro, Joe Thurston, Jose Macias, D'Angelo Jimenez, Tony Womack, Josh Wilson, Tony Batista and Kory Castro.
It should be an interesting (ugly?) spring for the Nationals.
Carlos Zambrano's arbitration case is scheduled for this Tuesday. The Cubs are looking to compensate the fiery righty $11.025 million for his 2007 services while Zambrano would like $15.5 million. To the extent that one must look after their own monetary self-interest, I understand where each side is coming from but it is hard to understand Chicago's longer-range strategy here. How did it get to this point? You do the drunken sailor thing all off-season with the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis and then when it comes time to address your 25-year old horse, you tighten the purse strings?
- Marc Hulet, 2/18/07, 11:29 a.m. EST
Since 2003, Zambrano has been one of the very best in baseball. He's the type of player you want to lock up pre-arbitration, the way the Cards did with Pujols, the Indians did with Grady Sizemore and the Twins did with Johan Santana. Offering a young player a lucrative pre-arb contract, financial security for life, in exchange for a below open-market pricetag is a great way to stockpile talent affordably while forging goodwill with your players. The Cubs are either blind to this phenomenon or they drastically undervalue the great Zambrano.
Save for four years in Philadelphia for college, I am a lifelong metropolitan Boston resident and a longtime sports fan. As such, I am no stranger to the Dan Shaughnessy mail-in. Put simply, Dan's a lazy jerk. He deliberately insults readers, players and anything else you can think of with regularity. He seldom has any insight to share. Dan's also probably the wealthiest and most well-known Boston sportswriter, a sad commentary indeed on the state of sports journalism. Dan gets a rise out of people, which gets him airtime on local sports radio and television, which theoretically sells papers for the Boston Globe. Although given the paucity of papers the Globe sells these days, maybe it turns out Dan is as dilutive to the Globe's brand as The Globe is to the New York Times's brand.
- Patrick Sullivan, 2/18/07, 12:47 p.m. EST
Today's offering from The Curly Haired Boyfriend (Carl Everett's name for Dan and probably his greatest contribution as a Red Sox) has Shaughnessy on display in all his hacktastic glory. There's an introductory, elitist shot at Ft. Myers.
Position players are scheduled to "report" Tuesday, and their first workout is supposed to be Thursday at the minor league complex at the dead end of Edison Road in this godforsaken town.
And far be it from me to defend Curt Schilling and his love of microphones, but the irony of Dan Shaughnessy calling another a "Blowhard" is just too rich to ignore.
We have rejoiced in the retirement of Keith Foulke and we won't sleep until the Sox make a decision on the 2008 contract extension for the Big Blowhard himself, the inimitable Schill.
And then there's the old CHB standby, the reader alienation jab.
This Sox talk is enough to fill the sports hole for the nightly news at 6 and 11 and keeps the fan-boy bloggers breathlessly e-mailing one another 24/7. Our local baseball team is finally filling the void left in the wake of the Patriots' stunning loss at Indianapolis four weeks ago today.
All of this, mind you, is just a lead-in for Shaughnessy's favorite target, Manny Ramirez. There are almost too many displays of unprofessionalism and personal contempt to display here but I will lay out a few of the highlights below.
There's been no word from Camp Manny since he curiously quit in the middle of the crucial Yankees series at Fenway in late August.
In case you are wondering, Dan is referring to the five-game sweep the Yanks laid on Boston when the AL East was still a race in 2006. The funny part about Shaughnessy's mentioning of this series is that Ramirez was the only guy on the team to show up for the "crucial series" in question, hitting .727/.850/1.455 over the five games.
Nothing from Manny's teammates who loathe his attitude but bite their tongues and say nothing in the hope that Manny will return and post his customary .320, 35, 110.
Just trust Dan. He knows Manny's teammates "loathe his attitude" and there is no evidence required and Dan would appreciate it if you would kindly stop asking questions. Back to Dan-O's fan alienization routine.
But he also has a propensity to shut it down, and we never know why. And please, don't be a stooge and attempt to perpetuate the farcical theory that Manny was too wounded to play last September. Every man in the Sox clubhouse knows what went down; teammates simply wouldn't say anything on the record, lest they risk "losing" Manny.
The amazing part of the Manny-fan relationship is that most Boston baseball customers, who are normally critical and discerning, have lost their minds when it comes to Mr. Ramirez. The timeless rules and standards don't apply. Manny can hit. It's a joy to watch him hit. And it's pretty clear that he's incapable of offending the sensibilities of most Sox fans.
Said another way, "I have a press-pass and you don't and I know things that you can't and Manny is lazy and that's just how it is."
And then there's the grand finale, a jab with a tinge of racism mocking Manny's intelligence.
Can't wait for that Manny Moment when he sees Daisuke Matsuzaka for the first time and asks teammates, "Hey, who is that Japanese guy and why is he wearing Johnny Damon's number?"
Well Dan, you've altogether parted with any sense of professionalism or even civility. But hey, maybe Around the Horn will ask you to be a regular next season.
Keith Foulke's retirement announcement took just about everybody by surprise, including his new team the Cleveland Indians. The Indians signed Foulke this past off-season, despite his declining numbers and injuries, to a one year, $5 million contract (with an option for 2008 at $5 million). In all honesty, the last time he was effective was 2004, when he saved 32 games for Boston and posted a 2.17 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 83 innings. Knee injuries sapped him of his effectiveness the previous two years.
- Patrick Sullivan, 2/18/07, 4:52 p.m. EST
What this does now to Cleveland is it thrusts Joe Borowski into the closer's role. Borowski, for those of you who are not overly familiar with him, is somewhat similar to former Cleveland Indians closer Bob Wickman (now with Atlanta). Borowski does not throw hard - he works in the upper 80s with his fastball and also features a splitter and a slider - but he has solid command.
The former 32nd round draft pick has experience as a closer and he saved 33 games for the 2003 Cubs and 36 games with the surprising Marlins of 2006. However, last season Borowski walked 33 batters in just under 70 innings, which is not a good sign. He is headed over to the American League where there is one more powerful hitter to worry about in the lineup.
The other affect Foulke's retirement has on Cleveland is that the team has one more spot available for the glut of bullpen hopefuls. Jason Davis, who is out of options, is more likely to stay in Cleveland now as a long man. Veteran Roberto Hernandez will likely slide into the setup role vacated by Borowski. Newcomer Aaron Fultz should secure the LOOGY role on The Tribe. When healthy the last three years, Matt Miller has put up solid numbers and should have the inside track on a spot. Rafael Betancourt, a rare mainstay in the Cleveland bullpen the past three years is almost assured of a spot as well.
That leaves one spot, should Cleveland go with a 12-man rotation, for Tom Mastny (three options remaining), Fausto Carmona (one), Rafael Perez (two) or Fernando Cabrera (one). Perez could have the inside track if the Indians want a second lefty in the pen. Veteran Cliff Politte was also recently signed to a minor league deal.
The 2007 spring bullpen battle may not be quite as cutthroat as we expected, but Cleveland should still have a relatively successful staff even without Foulke.
Speaking of the Washington Nationals, as Marc Hulet discussed in the second bullet point above, has anyone - including GM Jim Bowden or manager Manny Acta - taken a close look at their starting rotation?
- Marc Hulet, 2/18/07, 6:42 p.m. EST
John Patterson, at $850,000, is the highest-paid pitcher on the staff. He has thrown more than 100 innings in a season once yet has already been named as the Opening Day starter. The candidates for the other four spots include such notables as Jason Bergmann, Matt Chico, Joel Hanrahan, Shawn Hill, Mike Hinckley, Mike O'Connor, Beltran Perez, Tim Redding, Billy Traber, and Jerome Williams (who had one of the lowest K/BF rates of any pitcher in the minors last year).
As Tim Kurkjian detailed a few days ago in an article for ESPN The Magazine, "the top nine potential starters won 11 major league games among them last year." Good luck Nats fans. There is almost zero chance that your team will lose fewer than 100 games this year.
- Rich Lederer, 2/18/07, 10:28 p.m. PST
Everything I Know About Baseball I Learned From Strat-O-Matic
All right, so that title there is a modest exaggeration. Truth be told, my first introduction to baseball came in my eighth summer, when a Rodent Napoleon named Don Zimmer mismanaged the '78 Red Sox into infamy. Despite that cruel indoctrination, baseball's grip on me was secure, and it wasn't long before a certain simple but fundamentally sound board game helped me adore the game even more.
So it was that before fantasy baseball became a national pastime unto itself . . . before Rob Neyer was even a twinkle in Bill James's Texas Instrument . . . before the advent of Baseball Prospectus and On-Base Plus Slugging and Value Over Replacement Player and so many other modern numerical and analytical enhancements to the ol' ballgame, Strat-O-Matic taught me the value of statistics beyond the basics listed in the Sunday sports section.
I learned about the value of WHIP, K-Rate and the lies-and-damn-lies nature of a pitcher's won-lost record from Nolan Ryan in 1987. In games played in the National League, Ryan pitched 211.7 innings, allowing just 154 hits, walking 87, and striking out 270. Dazzling numbers by any measure, yet his won-lost record for the offensively limp Astros was a wretched 8-16. But in games played at my family's kitchen table, Ryan, armed with one hellacious Strat card and a considerably more supportive offense, rolled to a 24-5 record and struck out 349. (I know this because I still keep my stat book tucked away in the desk in my home office. And somewhere, my wife mutters: "Nerd.")
I learned that home runs per at-bat could foreshadow a power hitter's potential, thanks to a large (and largely anonymous) Toronto Blue Jay who clubbed 14 homers in 175 at-bats in '87. When Cecil Fielder, after a rejuvenating detour to Japan, returned stateside and promptly walloped his way to cult-hero status, blasting 51 homers for the 1990 Tigers, I considered it little more than a case of life imitating Strat. After all, he had totaled 44 homers in our league three years previous.
I learned about the tremendous value of bases on balls and on-base percentage to an offense from . . . well, my dad, who as a Strat manager played Earl Weaver to my tragicomically inept Maury Wills. Some of my earliest memories are of dad playing the game with my uncle, and after incessant pleading, badgering and whining on my part, I was permitted to make my Strat debut at age 10. Let's just say I might have been rushed to the majors. When dad and the dice would conspire to deal me a particularly galling loss, I could throw a hissy fit that would make Kevin Brown blush. Let the record show I never took a Louisville Slugger to the light fixtures, however, and a few stints of solitary confinement in my bedroom taught me to handle defeat with the appropriate grace.
Now, I assume my recollections of Strat heroes past aren't terribly different from yours. It seems to me that just about every baseball-mad kid of any pre-PlayStation generation dabbled in one baseball board game or another, be it Strat, APBA, Ethan Allen (the game with the spinning dial mom got you from the Sears catalogue), or perhaps some homemade concoction made from, say, Topps baseball stickers, index cards, and dice. But for the uninitiated, I should explain how Strat is played. I'll spare you the complexities and stick with the fundamentals: Each batter has an individual card composed of three columns (numbered 1 through 3), with 12 numbers representing potential outcomes in each column. Each pitcher has a card with columns numbered 4 through 6. You roll three dice - one of which determines the column and the other two combining to determine the number within that column. So, say, 1-7 would be a home run on Jim Rice 1978 card for example, or 4-11 might be a grounder to short on Luis Tiant's card. Basestealers earned ratings from AAA (think Rickey Henderson in '82) down to E (think Steve Balboni since birth), while fielders were graded from 1 (think Ozzie Smith in his backflipping heyday) to a 4 (think Butch Hobson in his 44-error breakdown for the '78 Red Sox). To this day, I catch myself judging defensive players by the Strat system. Alex Gonzalez? The Reds shortstop is a 1 for sure. Derek Jeter? Ask me, he's a 3. Okay, maybe a 2.
The Strat formula is as flawless as David Wells's delivery. In fact, the game is so user-friendly that it achieved significance in pop culture, and occasionally, the ratings would become a source of humor within a big-league clubhouse. Steve Wulf, the esteemed sports writer, confirmed Strat Geek, and ironically, one of the forefathers of rotisserie baseball, wrote a stellar feature for ESPN the Magazine a few years back on Strat creator Hal Richman. Wulf relayed the story of how several Phillies fans once berated the leather-challenged Gregg Jefferies by hollering, "You're a 5, Jefferies. You're a 5!" As Jefferies looked on quizzically, Phillies center fielder Doug Glanville convulsed in laughter. Turns out Glanville was an avid Strat player.
Given a proper introduction to the game, who wouldn't be? It was just. . . fun, for reasons both statistical and sentimental. The anticipation of sorting through each season's new cards, discovering whose defensive ratings went up or down and which sluggers had the coveted 1-7 and 1-8 home run numbers, was the closest thing I knew to Christmas morning. And there was much satisfaction to be found in the whims of the dice, for while the game was remarkably accurate in replicating the players' real-life accomplishments (or failures, Mario Mendoza), there were always a fortunate few mediocrities that always seemed to get the benefit of the roll.
You could be excused for having long since forgotten Terry Harper, a nondescript reserve outfielder for Atlanta in the mid-'80s. But I fondly remember him as someone whose good outfield glove, decent speed, and adequate home run rate inexplicably translated to Strat superstardom. A good friend and fellow boyhood Strat junkie reverentially speaks of a season played three decades ago, when a second baseman named Rodney "Cool Breeze" Scott, he of exactly zero home runs the previous season, inexplicably began going deep like he was a BALCO client. And marginal big-leaguers who put up distorted numbers in a small sample size were fair game in our game, which occasionally meant the less-than-legendary likes of Broderick Perkins (.370 in 100 at-bats for the '80 Padres) would achieve the stardom in our world that eluded them in real life.
Our greatest delight, however, was the annual rookie draft. One summer dad and I played a grueling 130 games per team in our 12-team, All-Star format; in other distracted years, we played as few as 25 or 30 games per team. But it would have taken an act of Congress - or of my mom, I suppose - for us to miss our yearly draft. That was the Event, capital E. I did more draft prep than Mel Kiper Jr., often at the expense of a homework assignment or three. The diligence wasn't always rewarded. My old man still needles me about the time I snapped up a young Red Sox outfielder named Todd Benzinger with the No. 1 overall selection. Benzinger was a player of some promise, though I'm not sure he would have gone No. 1 overall in his own family. In retrospect, I may have overestimated his skills for the fact that he once genially tossed my cousin his hat after minor-league game. I'm presuming Theo Epstein isn't so easily coerced.
For all of these indulgent flashbacks and anecdotes, though, the truest value I found in the game was both personal and palpable: it brought me closer to my dad. In darker times for my family, when maybe I didn't see him as much as I'd have liked and my teen angst prevented me from telling him so, the game always seemed to be there as a catalyst for repairing our bond. It is not an exaggeration to say the game made my young life easier.
Dad and I retired unceremoniously from Strat a dozen years or so ago, in part because my first real job and real responsibility took me to another state, in part because the old man was finally hooked by the lure of fantasy sports, but mostly because I was wary of immediately revealing the female-repelling depths of my baseball dorkdom to my girlfriend, who would someday become my wife. You might say one true love was swapped straight up for another. But damned if Strat is not still part of my fiber as a fan today. When a player submits a transcendent statistical season, I'm still in the pleasant habit of pondering what his Strat card might look like. McGwire in '98, Pedro in '00, Bonds in '01 . . . man, those must have been cards to behold.
I'd never dare suggest an imaginary game could properly replicate the nostalgia of an idyllic summer Sunday spent at, say, Chavez Ravine. But sitting at kitchen table with dad, hoping Ryan or Fielder or - god bless them - Terry Harper or Broderick Perkins have just a little bit more magic in the cards. . . well, those fictional baseball memories are tucked away neatly in my mental scrapbook, right there alongside the cherished recollections of the real thing.
I have a little boy of my own now, six months old, a genuine bonus baby. This won't come as breaking news to my wife - she long ago realized the truth, yet stays the course in spite of it all - but I'm already daydreaming of the day when I can share with my son the baseball lessons my dad, and a certain board game, taught me. One roll of the dice at a time.
Chad Finn is the founder of Touching All The Bases, a blog that takes an irreverent but passionate look at Boston sports. In real life, he is a sports copy editor at The Boston Globe. He lives in Wells, Maine, with his wife Jennifer, their children Leah and Alex, and a cat named after Otis Nixon.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Think Factory.]
Who Do You Love?
Can one really gain an edge over the sports books? I find it hard to believe that there is anything I can consider that the Vegas folks have not when it comes to football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf or boxing. On the other hand, I always look forward to when the pre-season baseball odds come out.
Vegas lines are initially set and subsequently moved based on public opinion. Baseball, more than any of the sports mentioned above, lends itself to empirical analysis and therefore in my opinion, also affords the analytical type a few opportunities to get in on some bargains. (Note: feel free to bookmark this, return at the end of the season and then mock me mercilessly if I am just dead wrong on some of these.)
Posted below are this season's odds to win the World Series according to bodog.com:
Immediately jumping off the page as bargains to me are the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League and the Texas Rangers in the Junior Circuit. The D-Backs are coming off of a Pythag Record of 80-82 in 2006 and although they have lost contributors Miguel Batista, Johnny Estrada and Luis Gonzalez, they have added Doug Davis and Randy Johnson. Further, an abysmal offense that posted just a 93 OPS+ as a team in 2006 figures to receive a boost from maturing youngsters Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew. With the National League's best starting pitcher still anchoring their staff, I give the Snakes a good shot at pushing their win total into the high-80's, which may just be good enough to qualify for the post-season in the mediocre NL West. And with Brandon Webb and the Unit at the front of the rotation, I give them a much better than 50/1 shot to win a title.
As for the Rangers, they are coming off a 2006 in which they posted an 86-win Pythag campaign despite crummy seasons out of some good players. Brad Wilkerson and Hank Blalock are just not even close to as bad as they played in 2006 and although he did not exactly struggle last year, Mark Teixeira stands to improve upon his 2006 season. Gerald Laird figures to be an uptick over Rod Barajas behind the plate. In fairness, all of this may serve merely to make up the production lost from the defections of Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa, as both had fantastic 2006's. But the pitching figures to improve too, as Brandon McCarthy comes south and into the rotation from the Chicago White Sox. Finally, even though he may not be in 2003 form, Eric Gagne figures to help the Texas bullpen. At 40/1, I will take my chances with this squad.
The Cleveland Indians, at 20/1, look like a fantastic buy. Despite winning only 78 games in 2006, The Tribe underperformed their Pythag by 11 games. So when you start with a baseline of 89 wins, and consider the changes the Tribe made in the off-season, it's hard not to consider them to be right in the thick of things in the AL Central. The young infield of Ryan Garko, Josh Barfield, Andy Marte and Jhonny Peralta figure to improve on the 2006 version, if for no other reason than Aaron F. Boone will no longer be sucking up AB's. The most significant upgrade will come in left field, where David Dellucci will replace Jason Michaels as the everyday starter. Dellucci has posted consecutive outstanding seasons and offers considerable upside to the offensive black hole that was left field for the 2006 Indians. Cleveland boasts considerable insurance for the outfield to boot, with Michaels, Trot Nixon and Shin-Soo Choo ready to step in for any of the starters.
On the flip side, there are a number of teams who figure to regress in 2007. The ones that come to mind in my book are teams that made over-hyped off-season acquisitions, outperformed their Pythag in 2006 and/or lost key personnel. The Oakland Athletics immediately jump out. Despite their 93 wins in 2006, Oakland's run differential suggested they were more on the order of an 85-win team. Further, the A's lost their best hitter, Frank Thomas, and best pitcher, Barry Zito, to free agency. Mike Piazza will be able to make up some of Thomas's production and Oakland is fortunate otherwise to be relying heavily on youth but I see 2007 as a step-back season for the A's. Oakland is only at 20/1 but that still seems like it overvalues their chances.
Not to pick on the Bay Area but the San Francisco Giants at 10/1 is a joke. They won 76 games in 2006 (also their Pythag total) and added Barry Zito, Ryan Klesko, Rich Aurilia, Steve Kline and Dave Roberts. What am I missing here? I like Zito as much as the next guy and think he will help San Francisco quite a bit. I also happen to believe that Matt Cain is going to make some major strides this season. That all said, this team is too old and too mediocre at too many positions to be considered any sort of serious contender. If you can get any of your buddies to wager the Giants to win it all at 10/1, take all the action you can.
Some others off the cuff: I think the two Chicago squads at 9/1 look way too pricey while Atlanta and Philadelphia look cheap at 30/1 and 15/1 respectively.
So, baseball fans, today is Valentine's Day. Based on the above odds, who do you love?
Open Chat: Fantasy Baseball Draft
OK, you joined a 5x5 fantasy baseball pool. The league drafts entirely new teams every year. In other words, it is not a keeper league.
You pull draft slot #2 out of the hat. Albert Pujols was just taken with the first pick. It's your turn. Who do you take? And why?
Have at it in the comments section below.
An Unfiltered Interview with Nate Silver
I met Nate Silver in the summer of 2003 at a Baseball Prospectus Pizza Feed in Anaheim. We sat together and discussed nothing but baseball for a couple of hours, developing a mutual respect that continues to this day.
After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Nate "took one of those consulting jobs that an economics grad from the U of C might be expected to take." He started working on PECOTA in 2002 and found a couple of advocates for it in Gary Huckabay and Keith Woolner. Baseball Prospectus was looking for a new projection system in anticipation of launching its premium service and purchased PECOTA from Nate in 2003. A year later, Gary left BP to pursue a series of consulting opportunities both inside and outside baseball and Nate took over as Executive Vice President of the company.
I caught up with Nate over the weekend to discuss all things PECOTA. Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy.
Rich: PECOTA - Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. My goodness, that is a mouthful. How did you come up with that?
Nate: The original version of PECOTA was just for pitchers - I felt at the time like there was much more room for improvement in the realm of pitcher forecasts. It was only after I'd pitched the idea to Gary Huckabay, who was running BP at the time, that he said "hey kid, you'd better come up with a hitter version too." So the 'P' in the garbled acronym that you see above originally stood for 'Pitcher,' and from there it was just a matter of stringing together various words and letters that seemed relevant enough to come up with a catchy acronym. I think the finalists were PECOTA and PETRY - you can see the influence of American League Baseball circa 1987. But I couldn't come up anything to match the 'Y' in PETRY.
RL: Bill Pecota and Dan Petry. I like that Pecota won out. He seems more comparable to Mario Mendoza, the player behind - or right on top of - the Mendoza Line.
NS: Sure, but when I was growing up in Michigan and listening to Ernie Harwell, I didn't think of him that way - it seemed like Bill Pecota was always a real thorn in the side of the Tigers. And now, thanks to the magic of Retrosheet and Baseball Reference, we can look back and see that this wasn't entirely my imagination - Pecota was a .303 lifetime hitter against Detroit.
RL: Did Bill James and his similarity scores have any influence on your work?
NS: The basic idea behind PECOTA is really a fusion of two different things - James's work on similarity scores and Gary Huckabay's work on Vlad, BP's previous projection system, which tried to assign players to a number of different career paths. I think Gary used something like thirteen or fifteen separate career paths, and all that PECOTA is really doing is carrying that to the logical extreme, where there is a essentially a separate career path for every player in major league history. The comparability scores are the mechanism by which it picks and chooses from among those career paths.
RL: Go on.
NS: There are some differences, though, between backward-looking similarity scores and forward-looking scores like the ones that PECOTA apply. James, I don't think, really intended for his similarity scores to be used for projection purposes; instead they were introduced in The Politics of Glory as a way to assess a player's fitness for the Hall of Fame. If you're trying to determine whether Tim Raines should be in Cooperstown, the fact that he was 5'8" shouldn't really matter. But if you're trying to figure out how Dustin Pedroia is going to develop, the fact that he's 5'8" does matter.
RL: OK...so tell me, in addition to body type, how many factors do you take into account and which ones have the most impact universally?
NS: There are currently 13 different comparability factors in place for position players and 12 for pitchers, one of which changes depending on whether we're looking at a major league or minor league player. We use MLB career length for major leaguers but since this isn't relevant for a prospect we use the level he played at instead (that is, PECOTA prefers to compare a Double-A player to other Double-A players).
The most important variables for hitters are batting average, walk rate, isolated power, strikeout rate, speed score, and position. The most important for pitchers are strikeout rate, walk rate, isolated power allowed, and usage pattern. But the weights are really fairly flat - there's not any one factor that dwarfs the others in importance.
RL: Why have you chosen to keep the detailed formulas proprietary?
NS: The short answer is that we're trying to make a living off this stuff, and we're reluctant to give away trade secrets. I know that there's a strong tradition of 'open source' in the sabermetric community, which goes all the way back to Bill James, and I recognize and appreciate that. BP at times has been guilty of being too aloof from the sabermetric community, which is something that we're trying to reverse. We've debuted the Unfiltered blog, and we hope to add some community and forum features within the next couple of months. I think we've gotten a lot better about citing other good work in the field, whether it's work that you've done or the Hardball Times does or John Dewan does or what we might read at Baseball Think Factory or on Sons of Sam Horn. We're talking to people like Ron Shandler and Bill James on our radio program. We're running excerpts from 'The Book' on our website and telling everyone within earshot that they needed to buy it six months ago. But we are trying to run a business - for many of us, Baseball Prospectus is all that we do.
RL: As an owner and operator of a business myself, I can appreciate that.
NS: I would also argue that, although we haven't literally given away the formulas and algorithms, PECOTA is perhaps the best-explained projection system in history. There were long essays about PECOTA's methodology in the 2003, 2004 and 2006 annuals, and another in the Kevin Maas chapter of Baseball Between the Numbers. There's a comprehensive glossary up on the website and there have been numerous questions we've fielded about it in chats and articles over the years. The largest barrier to reverse engineering PECOTA, frankly, is not the ingeniousness of the formulas or anything like that but really just the amount of work that it has required in terms of fitting all the puzzle pieces together. I've personally put well over one thousand man hours into PECOTA, and that's before accounting for things like the Davenport Translations or VORP that feed into the system.
RL: How often do you tweak the system? Can you isolate how much these revisions have improved the overall projections from one year to the next?
NS: I'm a perfectionist about this stuff, and so we're making improvements pretty much constantly. A lot of this is accomplished through trial and error. For example, the forecast that we ran for Homer Bailey based on the previous version of the system looked unduly pessimistic to me, so I went back and said "hmm, are there any assumptions that we're making about Bailey that might not be treating him fairly." It turned out that there was one such assumption. Bailey improved a lot from 2005 to 2006 and if a veteran pitcher had experienced that sort of improvement, you'd want to regress it back to the mean fairly heavily. But we found out that a 21-year-old pitcher shouldn't be treated the same way a 31-year-old pitcher - if a 21-year-old improves markedly from year to year, there's a much better chance of most of that improvement sticking. So we made this fix, ran the pitcher projections again, and I think Bailey ended up with something like 30 points shaved off his ERA. PECOTA still thinks that there's a much bigger difference between Bailey and say Phil Hughes than most people give credit for, but they're closer than they were before.
So in some sense, there's as much art in PECOTA as there is science - you need to be able to ask questions and test assumptions based on watching baseball games, watching players develop, and talking to people both inside and outside BP. If you outsourced PECOTA to a bunch of tech geeks in Bangalore who didn't have the horse sense to say "Homer Bailey's forecast looks wrong to me," you wouldn't have the same system.
RL: I would agree. You need to know the ins and outs of your business to know if something passes the smell test.
NS: Probably the most challenging part of running an independent business like BP is that you necessarily need to be a jack of all trades. It seems to me the only way to get anything done is to be willing to trust your intuition.
RL: What have been the best improvements since the original formula was introduced in 2003?
NS: Some of the improvements are simply a matter of gaining access to new types of data. Being able to look at groundball/flyball numbers for pitchers, for example, which we didn't do originally, is greatly helpful. Or, we can look at play-by-play data to develop a better version of speed scores, since we know exactly how many opportunities a guy had to ground into a double play instead of just approximating.
Still, the improvements that I'm proudest of are things related to long-term player valuation, such as MORP and the detailed five-year forecasts and the Upside score. There are a lot of systems that can put together a pretty reasonable forecast for a player but fewer that can give you a sound idea of what that forecast really means in the bigger scheme of things. And besides, it's kind of cool to know how many triples Howie Kendrick is going to hit in 2010.
RL: What's the current over/under?
RL: Are you taking any futures bets on this one?
NS: No, but I'd take the over. I remember seeing a game at Comiskey Park last year where Kendrick went 0-for-5. And even in that performance, he looked like a future star; I loved his stroke, his plate coverage, the way that he got out of the box. But now I'm starting to sound like a scout.
RL: If I understand correctly, your database goes back to 1946. Is that a matter of availability or is there another reason why you have chosen to use post-World War II players only?
NS: There are some kinds of data, like the groundball-flyball stuff, that just aren't available for the years before 1957 that Retrosheet hasn't covered yet. Still, you can always guesstimate this data where you don't have it, as we do for the 1946-1956 players in our system.
Really, the decision not to look at the pre-WWII data has mostly to do with the feeling that baseball after WWII is more similar to modern baseball than it is different, and that baseball before WWII was more different than it is similar. If you look at World War II and maybe the ten or fifteen years that followed it, you have a huge number of different things that are happening. The integration of the game, both to black players and to Latin America. Night baseball. Relief pitching. Expansion. The evolution of the farm system. Increased consistency in ballpark architecture. The improvements in nutrition and the standard of living made possible by the prosperity boom of the '50s. The professionalization of baseball. The very earliest work in sabermetrics that people like Allan Roth were doing. All of these things were happening more or less at the same time, and World War II is as convenient a cutoff point as anything.
RL: You incorporate both minor league and international baseball statistics into your forecasts. Have you given consideration to using college stats, adjusted for level of competition, strength of schedule, ballparks, and pitchers/batters faced, in your projections for younger players?
NS: I'd love to look at college stats, but thus far, neither Clay nor I have put in the work to build credible translations. I also worry a bit about the aluminum bat thing. I know that Kevin Goldstein is convinced that there are a lot of good aluminum bat hitters that just won't make the transition to wood. It also perhaps changes pitching philosophy, requiring you to work around hitters a bit more. Someone like Justin Verlander, for example, had some pretty high walk rates in college, but that control got much better once he was pitching to wood bats and with a professional defense behind him.
RL: Comparing college and professional baseball may not be apples to apples but it's not fruits to vegetables either. Scouting is obviously important when it comes to evaluating amateur talent. But I wouldn't dismiss performance analysis, especially when play-by-play data becomes standard. Put me in charge and I would place a lot of weight on strikeout, walk, and groundball rates at the college level and even in high school, for that matter. Combining this information with the 20-80 scouting reports would be very helpful in my mind.
NS: We could do some incredibly interesting things if we had a complete set of 20-80 scouting reports to look at. As long as you're able to quantify something, we should be able to incorporate in PECOTA, and we're already emphasizing things like speed score and body type and age relative to league that were once considered more in the scouting domain. But I'm not keeping my fingers crossed waiting for some team to gift their scouting database to us.
RL: How do splits come into play when it comes to PECOTA? Aside from using a pinpoint ballpark factor, is the system sophisticated enough to differentiate between RHB vs. LHB and RHP vs. LHP when analyzing player performance at home and on the road?
NS: Our park factors are very detailed, but we could probably do a bit more with LH/RH splits. If you look at someone like Jason Michaels, about half his at-bats while he was with the Phillies were against left-handed pitchers. That percentage went way down in Cleveland since he was being used as more of an everyday player and - surprise, surprise - his numbers got a lot worse. I was hoping to get around to this for this year and didn't, but it's high on the agenda for 2008.
RL: Drilling down even deeper, can PECOTA take into account spray charts to determine if a player is a pull hitter vs. an opposite-field type as a factor in determining how a player might perform at one home ballpark vs. another, especially in the event of a trade?
NS: What we're going to see over the next three or five years is a whole revolution in the way that data on the baseball field is described and quantified - we'll go beyond simply recording the outcome of every play into literally tracking the movement of every object on the baseball field from start to finish. I'd certainly hope to incorporate as much of that stuff as possible into PECOTA, but it's a lot of work, and I'd probably like to wait a year or two for the data to standardize before we do so.
RL: Switching gears here a bit, explain the idea behind upside, as well as the percentages assigned to breakout, improvement, collapse, and attrition.
NS: Upside is explained at great length in this article. The basic idea is to look at the probability of a player being an above-average performer at the major league level in the years during which he's still under club control (that is, before he becomes a free agent). This is really what you're hoping for when you're investing in scouting and development - that a player will be both very good and comparatively cheap. Upside doesn't give you any credit just for "being there," like Luis Rivas or somebody.
What the breakout, collapse and improvement numbers do is look at how a player's performance is likely to change relative to his 'baseline.' This can be confusing because 'baseline' implies looking at his last three years of performance, rather than just what he did in 2006. So Hanley Ramirez, for example, has a breakout rate of 31%, which is very high, even though PECOTA actually expects his performance to be a bit worse than last year. His 'breakout' is not in achieving a new level of performance (although this is possible) so much as it is sustaining a performance that might seem unlikely based on his longer track record. We've experimented with a lot of different definitions of breakout rates and I'm convinced that this is the most helpful version, even though it can sometimes be counter-intuitive.
'Attrition' is really in a different family than breakout, improve and collapse, in that it measures prospective changes in playing time rather than performance. Specifically, it's attempting to estimate the probability of a radical decrease in playing time. This could be because of injury, but it could also be because the player gets benched, retires, suspended, starts spending too much time hanging out with Jeff Juden, and so forth.
RL: Does it make sense for the percentages to exceed 100?
NS: Yes, because breakout rate is a subset of improvement rate. Improvement rate is the chance that a player's performance improves at all relative to his baseline; breakout rate is the chance that it improves a lot.
RL: Which competitive projection systems do you value the most?
NS: I'm reluctant to name too many names because I feel like I'll unwittingly leave someone out, but if the PECOTAs weren't around, the first system I'd look at are probably the projections that Tom Tippett does for Diamond Mind.
RL: Last year, PECOTA outperformed the other methodologies in predicting hitting (using OPS as the gauge) but it fell a bit short on the pitching side of the ledger. Is that a one-year aberration or is there something in the former or latter that makes PECOTA better or worse than the others in forecasting hitting and pitching results?
NS: We were pleased with the results that we saw in the study you're referencing - PECOTA had a large lead for position players and was a very close second for pitchers. With that said, it wasn't our study, and if you change the assumptions, you might have gotten a different result. In particular, that study looked only at pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, which creates a pretty substantial selection bias and tends to favor systems that err on the optimistic side. The one system that did better in that study on the pitching side was ZiPS. While I like the work that Dan has done a great deal, if there's one criticism I have of ZiPS it's that it seems systematically to be too optimistic for pitchers. I know that when we've done our own studies on forecast accuracy, PECOTA seems to have a larger comparative advantage for pitchers than it does for position players.
RL: Speaking of pitchers, PECOTA missed Jered Weaver so badly (6-9, 5.03 ERA with less than a 2:1 K/BB ratio vs. actuals of 11-2, 2.56, and better than 3:1 K/BB), perhaps that deviation alone caused it to perform not as well as others in the pitching department? [laughs]
NS: Yeah, that's not one of the projections we were prouder of.
RL: With respect to Weaver, why do you suppose the system broke down as it did?
NS: Weaver is a hard pitcher to find comparables for. He's extremely tall, and usually pitchers who are very tall tend to generate a lot of downward break and post strong groundball numbers. Instead Weaver is one of the more extreme flyball pitchers in recent memory. Since PECOTA is a comparables-driven system, its results always need to be interrupted carefully when this kind of thing comes up.
RL: I mentioned Chris Young was a good comp for Weaver a couple of years back. Both are very tall righthanded pitchers with outstanding control and high flyball rates.
NS: There seems to be a whole generation of Very Tall Pitchers these days. You've got Weaver and Young and Andy Sisco and Jon Rauch, and a whole host of guys in the minor leagues. I think that shows you how much a single success story like Randy Johnson can influence the conventional wisdom on this sort of subject.
RL: There is an old saying, "If you have to forecast, forecast often." Is there something inherently wrong when your five-year forecasts vary as widely from one year to the next as in the case of Weaver (who went from not winning more than six games in any one season with an average ERA over 5 to winning 11-13 games per year with ERAs ranging from 3.62-3.82 over the next five campaigns)?
NS: Well, I'm a big believer in the fact that a pitcher has a very large wall to climb between the minors and the majors. So to see that Weaver held up so well in the majors - that his flyball tendencies didn't translate into significant problems with the longball, for example - was very important. PECOTA doesn't give a lot of credit to any minor league pitchers unless they're Philip Hughes or Felix Hernandez good, since the attrition rates are pretty damn high. It's much less stubborn once they've made the leap to the majors.
RL: For Jered's sake, I hope he doesn't follow the same course as Don Wilson, one of his four comps this year.
NS: Yeah, that's one of those things that's hard to wrestle with. What happens when a player draws Don Wilson or J.R. Richard or Lyman Bostock as a comparable? What happens when a player whose primary vice is Yoo Hoo! gets comped to one of the 1980s players who ruined his career because of cocaine? In other words, should there be some sort of exception for tragic circumstances? Right now, the only exception we make are for players that served in the Korean War, who are treated as 'missing' in the dataset rather than zeroes. There's an argument that we should expand that definition. On the other hand, tragic circumstances are a part of life, and there's probably that residual 1% or 2% chance that a player's career gets ruined for circumstances having nothing to do with what takes place on the field.
RL: Alrighty. I'll get off my Weaver bandwagon here. The variability in forecasting is obviously huge, especially among younger players. Let's take a look at Elvis Andrus as an example. How in the world can you list Luis Rivas and Miguel Cabrera as two of his four best comps? Isn't that like saying a college co-ed might wind up looking like either Rosie O'Donnell or, then again, Jessica Alba?
NS: Rich, I don't know if you've been to your high school reunions - I've managed to skip mine - but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the prom queen had put on 70 pounds of weight, or the awkward, bookish-looking girl had turned into a hottie. A lot of things can happen between the time a person is 17 or 18 and the time they reach their mid-20s.
RL: I like your idea of attaching a beta to help explain the variability in the comps. But you've got Garrett Atkins as either the next coming of Cal Ripken or Ken McMullen with a beta of just 0.93. What am I missing here?
NS: A lot of it is simply that extreme variation is really the norm. Even for a relatively established player like Atkins, you're going to have some Cal Ripken scenarios (at least on the offensive side - Atkins leaves a lot to be desired with his glove) and some Ken McMullen scenarios. It's good that this is the case, because otherwise baseball wouldn't be much fun.
RL: I think I can speak for most readers and say it has been a pleasure reading you more often via the Unfiltered blog.
NS: Thanks, Rich. As I've said, this was something that was long overdue.
RL: In your latest post, you wrote about the limitations of major league equivalencies (MLE) and discussed the term Major League Pace or MLP for short. I like the latter approach because I maintain that the MLE PECOTA forecasts are overly optimistic for younger players and believe the MLP is a better way of thinking about them.
NS: Yeah, I have some trouble with the notion that Clayton Kershaw, say, could post a 3.91 ERA in Dodger Stadium *next year*. I have less trouble with the notion that he could post a 3.51 ERA in Dodger Stadium in 2011.
RL: Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with those notions. Would it be worthwhile to attach a 'confidence' factor to the PECOTA projections?
NS: We do have something called the 'Similarity Index' that serves to accomplish this function. An unremarkable major league pitcher like Ted Lilly or Matt Morris will usually have a similarity score in the mid-50s. Kershaw's similarity score is a big, whopping ZERO. You just don't see a lot of 18-year-old kids that post a 54/5 strikeout-to-walk in their first professional season.
RL: Well, Nate, I'm confident that we have covered the ins and outs of PECOTA. Thank you for sharing your projection system with us.
NS: Thanks, Rich.
Foto Friday #4
Foto Friday #1 (with Follow-Up)
Foto Friday #2
Foto Friday #3
As in the first three contests, name the date, location, and subject in the photo.
Hint: "__________ blanks Giants" is written on the back of the wire photo below.
UPDATE (2/10/07 AT NOON PST)
Number 53 is none other than Don Drysdale.
Drysdale shut out the Giants seven times during his career (1956-1969). Five of them were at home, including one with Brooklyn at Ebbetts Field (8/30/57), three with Los Angeles at the Coliseum (9/2/58, 9/6/60, and 9/4/61), and one with L.A. at Dodger Stadium (5/31/68). The two SHO on the road took place at the Polo Grounds (7/1/57) and Candlestick Park (5/8/65). You can actually search for this information using the highly valuable Baseball-Reference's Player Index (PI) tool, which parses the data supplied by Retrosheet.
OK, so how do we know for sure which of the above shutouts is the right one? There are a few clues: the uniform, the ballpark, the sparse crowd, and the time of day.
With respect to the uniform, Drysdale is wearing home white flannels. In case you couldn't tell if the uni was white or gray, the road jerseys read "Dodgers" on the front through 1958 (the first year of playing in the L.A. Coliseum) but with no numbers on the front. The road jerseys displayed "Los Angeles" on the front beginning in 1959 and with the red numbers on the front.
The location is the Los Angeles Coliseum. The background with the high retaining wall and bench seating are the two keys here.
The game was clearly played in the daytime as evidenced by the shadows as well as the sunshades worn by many spectators in the stands. Of the three shutouts Drysdale had vs. the Giants at the Coliseum, only one was during the day and that date was September 6, 1960.
As my Dad noted in his article in the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram the following day, "Only 9,753 fans, the smallest home audience since Aug. 27, 1958, watched the Dodgers pull four games in front of the fifth place Giants." Drysdale's two other SHO at the Coliseum vs. the Giants were attended by 22,681 in the 1958 contest and 32,109 in the 1961 tilt.
Other facts gathered from Dad's account of the game:
Drysdale's win was his seventh in a row and the fourth shutout of the season.
Big D hit a 400-foot, two-run triple in the third when the Dodgers scored five runs while batting around the lineup.
Willie Mays made a rare error, dropping a fly ball near the fence in center field off the bat of Wally Moon, opening the door to three unearned runs during that third inning.
Maury Wills, who stole his 41st base of the season, was the first National Leaguer to swipe more than 40 bases since Kiki Cuyler stole 43 as a member of the 1929 Chicago Cubs.
The Dodgers and Giants played each other six straight: the first three at Candlestick and the final three at the Coliseum, including a twi-night doubleheader on Labor Day Monday and a matinee on Tuesday (which explains the poor attendance in the game in question).
Two Decades of Bringing the Crazy
This April will mark the 20th anniversary of my descent into madness, I mean, my foray into that wild and crazy world of rotisserie baseball.
I write this column with some trepidation. Because, frankly, I know full well that there are few things more boring than listening to someone else talk about their rotisserie league team. So I promise right off the bat that this will not be a litany of recollections like "and then I traded Joe Schlabotnik for Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujols."
It was spring training 1987 when a sportswriter friend of mine happened to mention that the fledgling National League-only Rotisserie League being started up by the commissioner of his AL league was short one team and did I know anyone who might be interested in giving it a shot.
I'd recently read an article about the phenomenon, had been intrigued, and had nothing to do that following Sunday so I said, "what the hell." If I'd known then what I know now. . .well, I suspect I still would have done it.
I spent the next few nights copying down the names and 1986 stats for pretty much every single player on a National League roster that had not yet been sent down from spring training into one of those accounting ledger books. This was, of course, way before the days when you could download all of this from the internet. In fact, I think it may have been before the days of the internet.
When Draft Day (MUST be capitalized) dawned, I was stoked. I was geeked. And I had to buy Cincinnati Reds phenom shortstop Barry Larkin.
To some, there's nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning. To me, there's nothing like the smell of Bobby Valentine's restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, at 1 p.m. on the first Sunday of the regular season. That first sip of a pungent Bloody Mary, the first (and probably only) bite of a barely-nibbled cheeseburger (I was too nervous to eat because I might get burger juice on my intricately-written stat sheets).
I was ready to be savvy, to be wary, to take my time and not jump into any stupid purchases. Which is why I spent $41, the highest salary in that year's draft, on the very first player whose name was brought up, Darryl Strawberry (full disclosure: the Dinner Table rules I mention below were not yet in effect).
Oh right, Barry Larkin. I bought him for $22, and on our first break ran to the restaurant payphone (remember those?) to call my husband and share the good news. Before I had gotten a word out, he said "Oh God, please tell me you didn't get Barry Larkin!" Turns out he had injured his knee probably at the exact same moment the auctioneer was saying "Sold for $22!"
Because I apparently had nothing better to do with my free time (this was pre-motherhood), I am going to make a really embarrassing confession here. I actually made a poster of my team by scrounging up baseball cards of all of my players and displayed them on a big piece of black oaktag. Well, all of them except Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bob Patterson.
I couldn't find a card of him and had no idea what he looked like (remember, pre-internet) so I drew a cartoon of what I thought he would look like, in a generic "Topps Woody" card format. And it actually turned out to look a lot like him.
I'm told, though, that what I thought was a complete descent into lunacy was mild in comparison to some people. . .at least I don't scour eBay to complete an entire lineup of bobblehead dolls of all of my players.
20 years of keeping this league intact has not come easy. Our original commissioner was just crazy enough to run not just our National League-only circuit but also a brother American League one, and finally he'd just had enough.
Rather than opening up the commissionership to a vote by the remaining members, he simply handed it over to a league member nicknamed "The Pitbull." In a nutshell: the majority of the league money mysteriously disappeared. (Doesn't it figure that it would have been the year I won???)
No surprise, the league came close to disbanding before some stupid schmuck (who will remain unnamed but is writing this column) took over the commissionership to save the league. "The Pitbull" actually thought he should be allowed to remain in the league as an active team. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
The league went through its share of growing pains in other ways, most notably geographic. Initially made up of team owners local to the Westchester-Connecticut area, members started moving and yet the league still remained intact.
The Bobby Valentine draft era ended when the restaurant staff decided to give our regular space to a Little League party, and we were stuck crowded in a back corner, three or four teams to a table. Well, you can imagine the dilemma that caused, since it meant the enemy could see your super-secret draft notes.
After that, the drafts moved to different owners' conference rooms, with beautiful views of the New York skylines and comfy office chairs, but no Bloody Mary's. I draft much better with Bloody Mary's. Or at least I think I do.
And finally, when that blasted internet thing finally got going thanks to Al Gore, we made the big leap to online drafts.
Thanks to that latter technological advancement, we currently have league members stretching from Las Vegas to Kansas City to Washington D.C. to the entire northeast corridor. Finding a draft time that spans three time zones is sometimes a little tricky, but so far it's managed to work out okay.
The worst thing about online drafts, though, is the elimination of what I call "the 'who?' factor."
To me, always the Minor League/sleeper prospect fan, a draft was not a success for me if I didn't bring up at least one player's name where the response was a resounding "who???"
Of course, I don't think the possibility of a "who factor" exists anymore, not with the existence of at least ONE ABSOLUTELY STELLAR WEBSITE WHERE YOU CAN FIND ANYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANY MINOR LEAGUE PROSPECT SO THERE ARE NO SECRETS ANYMORE (gratuitous plug).
One of my concerns, once I started writing baseball on a full-time basis, was that eventually I might get totally burnt out and not enjoy "roto" as my hobby anymore. And in fact I did drop out of the league for a few years.
But I rejoined the league last year, when the owners kicked out a delinquent owner (as in payment, not as in sending him to juvie hall). I took over his team and spent the 2006 season rebuilding with - what else? - rookies.
I guess that everyone has certain little "draft idiosyncrasies" . . . you know which guys are going to pay big bucks for Mets, or Dodgers, or whoever their favorite teams are. I, for some strange reason, have a reputation for overpaying for rookies. My eternal motto has been "Wait 'til next year!"
I also have one important rule I abide by: The Dinner Table Rule. Being a sportswriter, I have the advantage (or disadvantage) of actually knowing a lot of the players I'm bidding on. And frankly, I will not bid on a guy I think is a jerk. My rule is if I wouldn't want to share a dinner table with him, I do not want him on my team. On the other hand, there are certain players who will always have a place on my team or at my dinner table.
For example, not only do I always try to get Eric Young, this year I also picked up Eric Young Jr. in our ultra/minor league phase. (I think I may be the first person in the league's 20-year history to have a father-son pair on my team).
Hey, I didn't name my team Puff Mommy for nothing.
By the way, did I mention that I traded for Anibal Sanchez, Homer Bailey, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for a handful of high-priced injury-prone veterans?
I think I may change the name of my team to: This IS next year!
Lisa Winston writes for MiLB.com, where you can read about any Minor League player she would ever consider getting for her roto team.
Blocked and Loaded
What if Miller Huggins hadn't opted for a shake-up of his starting nine on June 2, 1925 and what if Wally Pipp had not suffered a skull fracture a month later? Is it conceivable that the Yankees would have missed out on Lou Gehrig's .295/.365/.531 partial seaon in 1925? Would his .313/.420/.549 never have come to be in 1926 and can you imagine having a guy riding the pine who is capable of the .373/.474/.765 line Gehrig put up in 1927?!?
It's an extreme example but one that manifests the opportunity cost of letting a younger, more talented player take a backseat to an "established" veteran. The phenomenon is often referred to as "blocking"; when a player who is younger, in all likelihood better and most likely cheaper takes a back seat to a veteran whose performance fails to live up to his reputation. Heading into 2007, there are a number of players that slot outside their clubs' current starting nine depth charts who almost certainly would be a better option than the guy in front of him. I will try and highlight some of the coming season's most egregious block candidates around the Bigs and point to a couple of projection systems, PECOTA and ZIPS, to help evidence my choices.
Matt Diaz, Atlanta Braves
PECOTA (AVG/OBP/SLG) ZIPS (AVG/OBP/SLG)
Matt Diaz .302/.345/.486 .311/.348/.483
Jeff Francoeur .288/.330/.506 .268/.303/.469
Jeff Francoeur is the local kid who burst onto the scene in the Summer of 2005 but has cooled ever since. His raw athleticism and strength make scouts drool while his 2006 season of 29 home runs and 103 RBI's serve to cloak just how big of an offensive liability he is. His .293 on-base and 23 walks versus 132 strike outs in 686 plate appearances last year tell you all you need to know about him. For his part Matt Diaz is a dependable item. He has hit respectably whenever given regular time and plays a solid enough corner outfield. Atlanta's left field job should be his.
Josh Fields, Chicago White Sox
Josh Fields .260/.328/.459 .262/.336/.445
Scott Podsednik .264/.329/.371 .261/.331/.354
Darin Erstad .241/.295/.321 .273/.326/.379
Josh Fields has played third base for most of his career but has also played some outfield and almost certainly is athletic enough to make the switch fulltime. The White Sox even list him on their depth chart as an outfielder. Unfortunately, there is a gaggle of mediocre outfielders crowding the outfield scene on the South Side. In addition to Scott Podsednik and Darrin Erstad, there is also Ryan Sweeney, a couple of years younger than Fields who may develop into the better player but for now is more or less the same hitter with significantly less pop. The Pale Hose hopes for 2007 in part rest on Ozzie Guillen realizing Fields is his best option for left field.
Matt Murton, Chicago Cubs
Matt Murton .304/.365/.476 .299/.361/.446
Jacque Jones .284/.343/.473 .263/.320/.456
I am willing to concede that in this instance maybe the defensive gap more than makes up the offensive difference but I don't know. Murton has the much more sound approach at the plate, is six years Jones's junior and much cheaper. In other words, Murton looks like the superior option, particularly if the Cubbies could find someone to take Jones off of their hands.
Chris Ianetta, Colorado Rockies
Chris Ianetta .291/.379/.481 .269/.358/.465
Javy Lopez .287/.339/.472 .260/.312/.399
There is a major tenet of team-building that Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies seem to be violating heading into 2007. When it is time to give a youngster a job, when the evidence suggests that he has demonstraded the ability to handle everyday duties, you give him a job. Insuring yourself by tacking a Javy Lopez on cheaply for one year is all well and good but the signs I have seen this off-season point to the Rox planning on Lopez being the starter. It's too bad. The 24 year-old Ianetta has the potential to be one of the better hitting catchers in baseball right now, which is reason alone to play him. When you consider the potential to stunt his development by burying him behind Lopez, then the decision to start him on the bench drifts from stupidity towards lunacy.
Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals
Billy Butler .295/.347/.455 .292/.339/.447
Reggie Sanders .259/.323/.466 .252/.312/.438
I understand that Billy Butler is only 21 and you need to balance long-term and short-term interests for your club. But I also understand that a downtrodden franchise needs to demonstrate to its fanbase that it is serious about winning. Trotting the 39 year old Sanders out there everyday for production guaranteed to be well below acceptable levels for a Major League corner outfielder messages that the status quo is perfectly acceptable in Kansas City. Alternatively, handing the left field reins over to Butler, who would join quality players David DeJesus and Emil Brown in the outfield and fellow stand-out rookie Alex Gordon in the lineup, delivers an altogether different message. Give Butler the job.
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp .295/.346/.507 .292/.342/.478
Juan Pierre .290/.337/.371 .296/.341/.380
Signing crummy players to long, expensive contracts is bad. Overlooking good, young, cheap players is bad. Signing a crummy player to a long, expensive contract that will serve to block the good, young, cheap player is downright criminal. Now I understand that Kemp has his defensive shortcomings as a center-fielder but for one season he would have been passable and definitely netted out superior than Pierre. I say one season because if the Dodgers were serious about opening their pocketbook for a center-fielder, two that are genuinely good players are free agents after the 2007 season (Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones). Andruw Jones flanked by Kemp and Andre Ethier would have looked pretty nice in 2008, don't you think Dodger fans? Instead it's four more years of Pierre and who knows when Kemp will get his regular shot?
Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
Adam Lind .296/.349/.493 .296/.350/.466
Reed Johnson .275/.329/.420 .286/.346/.423
This one is not too egregious given that Johnson is a pretty good player and coming off a career season. But the numbers above give you a pretty good indication that Adam Lind figures to be the better option if just given the job outright. And in the ultra-competitive AL East, can the Blue Jays afford to give away runs and wins? If the Jays want to optimize their chances of qualifying for their first post-season berth since they won the World Series in 1993, they will give Lind the nod.
These are the players that I see catching the short end of the stick in 2007. Maybe I have too little faith and some of the teams will make the right personnel decisions. Or perhaps I will even look sillier. Maybe Reggie Sanders will have a huge year?
In the comments section, I would love to know which position players readers think will be deserving of a more prominent role than they will be given.
Baseball in February
You gotta love it. Baseball in February. Early February. And I'm not talking Little League tryouts. Division I College Baseball has arrived. And not a day too soon.
I drove two miles to Blair Field to watch USC, my alma mater, play Long Beach State, my hometown team, on the day before the Super Bowl. Given the sub-zero temperatures in many parts of the midwest and northeast, I almost felt guilty going to the game and sitting outside in the sun (with the operative word being "almost"). Look, we live in Southern California for the great weather, not to support a pro football team. Maybe we take the sunshine for granted out here, but I'll take my baseball anyway I can get it - and in any month.
The game I attended was the second of three in a weekend series that has become an early-season tradition for two of the finest baseball schools in the country. After losing the opener on Friday night, Long Beach bounced back and won the Saturday and Sunday tilts.
While USC has captured twice as many NCAA titles (12) as any other university, Long Beach State didn't arrive on the national scene until former coach Dave Snow took over the program in 1989. The Dirtbags made four College World Series appearances (1989, 1991, 1993, and 1998) in the next decade but have been shut out of Omaha the past eight years despite producing 18 big leaguers and the fourth-most first round picks (Bobby Crosby, Jered Weaver, Troy Tulowitzki, and Evan Longoria) since 1999 (based on the research of Baseball America, the most authoritative voice in the land when it comes to college and minor league baseball).
USC and LBSU disappointed their faithful last year with neither school making it to the Regionals for the first time since 1987. Mike Gillespie, who guided USC to the 1998 CWS championship and five Pac-10 titles in his 20 years as head coach, retired and his son-in-law Chad Kreuter, the former major league catcher, took over the program. Kreuter had been USC's director of baseball operations in 2005 and manager of the Colorado Rockies High-A affiliate in 2006.
Looking to bounce back from their down years, Long Beach State and USC will face the two toughest schedules in the country according to Boyd's World. The Trojans and Dirtbags ranked 25th and 30th, respectively, in Collegiate Baseball's pre-season poll. USC reloaded with the third-best recruiting class in the nation (including Baseball America's 2005 Youth Player of the Year Robert Stock, who skipped his senior year of high school, and shortstop Grant Green, a 2005 AFLAC All-American and member of the U.S. Junior National Team). Long Beach, skippered by Mike Weathers since 2002, also features a young club, led by sophomores Danny Espinosa, the Big West Freshman of the Year, and Vance Worley, one of the top-30 prospects in the Cape Cod League last summer.
Although I got a taste of baseball the prior weekend at the Long Beach State-Pro Alumni game, I had anxiously awaited the Dirtbags' home opener on Saturday. Shortly after I settled into my customary location behind home plate, Long Beach's Jason Corder, a transfer from Cal, jumped on a Brad Boxberger fastball and deposited it over the left field fence to give the Dirtbags an early 2-1 lead.
Boxberger, a freshman out of Foothill High School in Tustin (CA), was making his debut at the college level. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righthander was the Player of the Year in Orange County last season when he went 12-0 with a 1.17 ERA while leading his team to the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship.
His father, Rod, was the College World Series Most Outstanding Player in 1978. The elder Boxberger (12-1, 2.00 ERA) was drafted in the first round (11th overall) by the Houston Astros - ahead of future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Ryne Sandberg, as well as Steve Bedrosian, Mike Boddicker, Tom Brunansky, Kirk Gibson, Kent Hrbek, Steve Sax, and Dave Stieb. Rod began his career in Double-A, yet never pitched a single inning beyond that classification in a professional career that ended in 1983.
The younger Boxberger, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round last June, completed five innings on Saturday, allowing four runs (all unearned) on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts. With three throwing errors - two of them on pickoff attempts at first base - Boxberger would have fit in well with the Detroit Tigers staff last October. He hit 94 on the radar gun a couple of times in the early going but dropped down about 5 mph and was throwing mostly at 89 after the first few innings.
USC's Hector Estrella, a senior third baseman, slugged a solo home run off Manny McElroy in the top of the second to knot the score at two. McElroy, a junior college transfer, was pitching in his first game for the Beach. The 6-6, 220-pound righthander posted a 10-1 record with a 1.97 ERA while earning All-American honors for Bakersfield Community College last year. He showed good command of three pitches but needs to add some pop to his 85-87 mph fastball to become more than a fringe prospect.
Long Beach scored two more runs in the second to take a 4-2 lead that was never relinquished. Adam Wilk, a freshman lefthander from nearby Cypress HS (13-1, 1.17 ERA, with 118 SO and 11 BB in 84 IP), and sophomore Bryan Shaw, the team's new closer, pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to seal the victory for the Dirtbags. Wilk changes speeds well and throws a sweeping curve from a 3/4-arm slot, saving an occasional sidearm delivery for LHB. He works at 84-86 and has the frame (6-2, 165) to add a couple more mph to his fastball before he becomes draft eligible in 2009. Shaw was consistently hitting 92 and 93 on the gun after touching 94 the week before in the Pro Alumni exhibition.
I have no doubt that there were a few first- and second-round draft picks on display this weekend although no one from either side will go particularly high in this June's draft. As such, it was no surprise that there were fewer scouts in attendance than normal.
Paul Koss, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound righthanded reliever, returned for his senior year at USC after struggling as a junior (0-8, 6.28). He resurrected his prospect status in the Cape Cod League last summer, going 2-0 with 4 SV in 11 appearances without allowing a run. Matt Cusick was All-Pac 10 as a sophomore and a Cape Cod All-Star, hitting .304 with the highest OBP (.425) in the league while striking out only 12 times in 172 PA. I compared the Trojan 3B/2B to Bill Mueller last April. An overachieving type, Cusick has neither the body (5-10, 190) nor the tools to attract as much attention as his performance would otherwise suggest.
I haven't seen Corder enough to evaluate him properly but am intrigued with the 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior's power potential. I will have more on Espinosa and Worley as the season progresses but have no doubt that they will be highly ranked next year. The former displayed his defensive wizardry at shortstop on Saturday, ranging into the hole and showing off his strong arm on more than a couple of occasions. Known as a line-drive hitter, Espinosa went yard for the first time in his collegiate career to help lead the Dirtbags to a victory in the rubber match of the series on Sunday.
Long Beach State hosts Texas this weekend in a three-game set. I'll be there to bring you the action along with more scouting reports.
Notes: Senior Robert Perry, named to the initial list of candidates for the Wallace Award as the nation's top player, led the Dirtbags with 6 hits in 11 AB. I timed the 5-9, 183-pound lefthanded-hitting OF from home to first in 4.09 on a groundball to second base in which he was out on a bang-bang call...The fastest player on the field was Long Beach freshman T.J. Mittlestaedt, a LHB who ran a 3.86 on a drag bunt and 11.47 from home to third on a head-first triple...Had USC's Stock stayed in high school and made himself available for the draft this June, most experts figure he would have gone in the top 15. The lefthanded-hitting catcher and part-time relief pitcher will not be draft eligible until 2009. He went 1-for-4 on Saturday, hitting the ball to the opposite field every time (including a popout to short on a 3-0 fastball that earned the 17-year-old an earful from Kreuter when he returned to the dugout)...Green, Stock's freshman teammate, reminds me of Tulowitzki, the former Dirtbag who played 25 games for the Colorado Rockies in September. The 6-3, 180-pound shortstop has added about 15 pounds of muscle since being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round last June. He runs well, as evidenced by his 4.23 speed to first, a time that scouts would rate as a 55 or 60 for a RHB on their 20-80 scale.
Photo credit: Rob McMillin, 6-4-2.
On College Baseball, Broadening Horizons, the Cape Cod League and the ACC
All I really wrote about at Dewey's House was the Red Sox. I kept an eye on the rest of the league, played fantasy baseball and all that but did not take a very keen interest in even Minor League Baseball, much less amateur ball.
I knew that would have to change when I accepted Rich's invitation to contribute regularly at Baseball Analysts. Rich and Bryan's site has become known for its dependability and insight not just on Major League baseball past and present, but Minor League and College baseball as well.
Brushing up on College baseball in order to produce this piece in February...in Boston...has not come naturally. Whereas Rich, situated in Long Beach, California, is surrounded by baseball powerhouses and even attended Saturday's USC-Long Beach State tilt, I am here battling the cold in a region where the top baseball program's field is better known for hosting raucous football tailgates than it is for playing host to any sort of quality amateur baseball.
To be fair, I make it sound worse than it is. In fact, Massachusetts is something of an amateur baseball hotbed. The obvious reason for this is that the state hosts the finest summer amateur league in the country: the Cape Cod League. Its alums read like a who's who of the best Major Leaguers that played college ball. Each summer many of the nation's most promising underclassmen descend on the Cape, ditch aluminum for wood, and suit up for teams in places like Cotuit instead of Corvallis or Coral Gables, or Chatham in lieu of Chapel Hill or Charlottesville.
My grandparents always had a place in Cape Cod, and my grandfather and I used to attend a number of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox games (incidentally Y-D won the 2006 CCL title). Anyone with even an inkling of baseball interest who spends some of his or her summers on Cape Cod possesses warm memories of Cape League baseball.
The second reason that amateur baseball is better than one might suspect around here is that Boston College is now competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The biggest conference games on BC's slate used to be Notre Dame, St. John's and UCONN. Now local fans of amateur baseball no longer have to wait until their summer vacations for quality play. No, the Eagles will play host to two top-10 teams in North Carolina and Virginia, and also to national players Wake Forest and North Carolina State as well.
All of this is a longwinded way of saying that because I am on board with Baseball Analysts and determined to expand my baseball knoweledge base into the Minor League and College games, where I am situated geographically offers me no excuses. All Summer long I will be able to take in the best amateurs in baseball on Cape Cod and in the interim, I will have national powers coming in and out of Chestnut Hill. To top it all off, my high school alma mater, the tiny Roxbury Latin School (280 boys or so in grades 7-12), boasts Baseball America's 5th rated high school prospect. Jack McGeary is a 6'3", 200-pound southpaw who has already committed to Stanford. You can be sure I will be making my way over to watch him pitch this Spring.
With the College season kicking into full gear this weekend, I am going to try my hand at offering up something of a preview. Below are the nation's top 10 teams according to the latest coaches poll, and to tie the piece together, I will identify the respective teams' Cape League participants. In addition, I will note each program's 2007 Team USA selections because these players tend to plan on playing in the Cape League before deciding to suit up for the national team.
This will by no means be your catch-all preview for the college season. It's simply a way of offering a glimpse at some of the top teams and their CCL participants. At the end, I will provide a list of links where you can find more comprehensive college coverage.
#1 - Rice
The Owls are coming off a 57-13 campaign in 2006, one in which they fell short in Omaha but ended up ranked third in the nation. They started this season off in fine fashion Saturday, with a 5-0 win over Central Missouri State. Tyler Henley, Rice's leadoff man and center fielder, was an integral part of Yarmouth Dennis's championship team this past summer, hitting .286/.397/.552. Southpaw Cole St. Clair played for Team USA.
#2 - Clemson
Coming off an ACC regular season title, an ACC Tournament championship and an appearance in Omaha, you could say hopes are high this Spring for the Tigers. Clemson may boast the nation's best right side of the infield, with Taylor Harbin manning second base and Andrew D'Alessio at first. Harbin struggled at the plate in the Cape League last summer for the Falmouth Commodores but was fantastic in his sophomore college season, batting .319/.361/.520. For his part D'Alessio capped his .312/.380/.648 Clemson campaign with a .344/.438/.443 summer for the Harwich Mariners. Both are considered fantastic glovesmen. Left-handed reliever Daniel Moskos had been slated to play for the Cotuit Kettleers before being selected for Team USA.
#3 - Miami FL
The Hurricanes are also coming off of an Omaha appearance and looking to contend for both a conference and national title. They may want to narrow their focus for the time being and simply try and stack up against the likes of the Mercer Bears. The 'Canes dropped their first two games of the season to Mercer this weekend. Miami boasts a strong weekend rotation that includes Manny Miguelez, who pitched respectably last summer for the Orleans Cardinals. Jemile Weeks, Miami's star sophomore second baseman, was earmarked for the Brewster Whitecaps before deciding to compete for Team USA. With an unbelievable recruiting class to boot, the 'Canes should turn things around and make noise in 2007.
#4 - University of South Carolina
Like Miami, the Gamecocks will be unveiling a phenomenal recruiting class and are the SEC favorites in 2007. Coming off of a 2006 year in which they went 41-25 and lost to conference rivals Georgia in the Super Regionals, South Carolina should come out hungry for a trip to Omaha, where they have not been since 2004 (a drought as far as the Gamecocks are concerned). Two sophomores who were two of the very best the Cape League had to offer this past summer will lead the way in 2007 for USC. Justin Smoak is a switch hitting first baseman with a great glove who may very well be the first pick in 2008's amateur draft. He was the CCL MVP, hitting .286/.382/.565 for the Cotuit Kettleers. Reese Havens, the Gamecocks shortstop, joined Smoak in Cotuit and impressed scouts with his solid approach from the left side of the plate and strong arm at shortstop.
#5 - North Carolina
After losing last year's decisive third game of the College World Series Championship set to Oregon State in heartbreaking fashion, the 'Heels will be a team on a mission in 2007. Six North Carolina players participated in the 2006 Cape Cod League and while hard-throwing closer Andrew Carignan and right-handed starter Robert Woodard both looked strong, position players Josh Horton, Chad Flack, Reid Fronk and Matt Spencer all struggled. The Tarheels will need significant contributions from all of these players in order to reach their lofty goals for this season. Sophomore catcher Tim Federowicz played for Team USA in lieu of joining the Chatham Athletics.
#6 - Texas
Augie Garrido's club went 41-21 last year but finished in disappointing fashion as their season ended abruptly at home in the regionals. This year they are the Big 12 favorites once again and will be depending on their five Cape Cod League participants to help fulfill their aspirations. Southpaws Kyle Walker and Austin Wood struggled on the Cape this past year, as did outfielder Kyle Russell. On the other hand the two Wareham Gatemen, left-handed pitcher Riley Boening and third baseman Bradley Suttle both looked strong. Boening's highlight was a 5-0 shutout of Justin Smoak and the heavy hitting Kettleers in the CCL playoffs, a game in which he struck out 14 batters. Another sophomore catcher, Preston Clark, pleayed for Team USA over the summer. The Longhorns split their first two contests in Round Rock against the University of San Diego to start the season this weekend, and then dropped the rubber match yesterday.
#7 - Arkansas
Like Texas, Arkansas's season ended in 2006 after losing at home in the regionals. Arkansas started the 2007 season this weekend by dropping Lousiana Tech in the opener Friday night, then the Razorbacks lost on Saturday only to take yesterday's game to close out the weekend series. Shaun Seibert, a Brewster Whitecap last summer who posted a CCL best 0.39 ERA and compiled a 6-0 W-L record, will be key to any success the Hogs have in 2007. Junior lefty Nick Schmidt spurned the Harwich Mariners for Team USA.
#8 - CS Fullerton
The Titans have started strong by sweeping this weekend's set from Stanford to kick the season off. Fullerton had a phenomenal 2006 season, going 50-15 and losing only to eventual runner-ups North Carolina in the CWS semi-finals. Neither Matt Wallach, Evan McArthur nor Jared Clark really impressed in Cape League action last summer but make no mistake, this Titans team is once again loaded. One of baseball's most promising prospects, right-handed pitcher Wes Roemer, played for the national team over last summer.
#9 - Virginia
The Cavaliers met the same fate as Texas and Arkansas in 2006, losing on their home turf in the Regionals. This year, UVA will look to live up to expectations unprecedented in the history of the school's baseball program. Their #9 ranking is their highest ever. Now they have to show they belong in the top-10. Their best player, everyone's all-world Sean Doolittle, does it all. He plays first, hits a ton, is on base all the time and in his spare time pitches well enough to be on the Roger Clemens Award watch list heading into 2007. He was slated to play for the Harwich Mariners in 2006 but opted to play for Team USA. Jeremy Farrell, David Adams and Brandon Guyer are all highly regarded but struggled over the summer in the CCL. Patrick Wingfield saw very limited action for Yarmouth-Dennis.
#10 - Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt had a solid 2006 campaign, going 38-27 and losing in Atlanta to Georgia Tech in the regionals. Vandy has high hopes for 2007 and rightfully so. In addition to their two best players, who did not make their way to the Cape (David Price and Pedro Alvarez, who played for Team USA), Vanderbilt boasts several quality CCL participants. Right-handed starter Ty Davis and SS/OF Dominic de la Osa looked best amongst the Commodores on the Cape last summer, while Diallo Fon, Ryan Flaherty and David Macias also took part.
For some of the most comprehensive coverage of amateur baseball on the web, be sure to visit the following sites:
The Official Site of The Cape Cod Baseball League
NCAA's Official Baseball Site
College Baseball Insider
Baseball America's College Baseball Coverage (lots of premium content)
Boyd's World (the most comprehensive and sophisticated statisitcal coverage of College Baseball)
Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part Five - Triple-A
Part One: The Starters
Part Two: Low-A
Part Three: High-A
Part Four: Double-A
Today marks the final installment of our five-part series on categorizing minor league pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates. We end on a high note - or at least at the highest level in the minors - Triple-A (also known as AAA). The Triple-A classification comprises just two leagues: International (IL) and Pacific Coast (PCL).
Although there is a meaningful difference in league ERAs, the other "defense independent" numbers are more in-line with one another. Studying K/BF and GB% focuses on strikeout and home run rates rather than ERAs, allowing for a better "apples to apples" comparison among pitchers performing at the same level but in different leagues. The PCL is clearly the more friendly circuit for hitters but the impact on K, BB, and HR rates is minimal.
ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 | ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
IL 4.03 6.46 3.03 0.82 3.53 7.71 3.40 0.67
PCL 4.46 6.62 3.25 0.95 4.27 7.72 3.81 0.87
Triple-A is somewhat unique in that most pitchers are working their way up to the big leagues while many others are either on their way down or are nothing more than what are known as AAAA caliber players (i.e., better than AAA but not quite good enough to cut it in MLB). Rule of thumb: pitchers under the age of 25 have a chance to make it big in the majors; hurlers in the 26-28 camp may have success but are even better candidates for AAAA; and those who are approaching their 30th birthdays are normally on their way back down or are minor league lifers.
The graph below includes strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in Triple-A with 50 or more innings. The x-axis is strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) and the y-axis is groundball percentage (GB%). The graph is divided into four quadrants with the mid-point equal to the average K/BF of 17.91% and the average GB% of 44.61%.
Sixty-two pitchers out of a total of 308 (or 20%) placed in the northeast quadrant. The following list includes the top half, ranked by K/BF.
NORTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Pat Neshek MIN IL 37.18% 48.48%
Colter Bean NYY IL 31.96% 46.00%
Shaun Marcum TOR IL 28.85% 48.23%
Hong-Chih Kuo LAD PCL 28.38% 44.93%
Jamie Shields TB IL 27.23% 50.89%
Josh Kinney STL PCL 27.05% 53.41%
Chad Billingsley LAD PCL 26.99% 45.65%
Dana Eveland MIL PCL 26.42% 53.05%
Tom Gorzelanny PIT IL 25.20% 45.88%
Scott Dunn TB IL 25.18% 49.45%
Brian Falkenborg STL PCL 25.00% 45.03%
Jason Windsor OAK PCL 24.50% 45.61%
Hayden Penn BAL IL 24.36% 45.61%
Renyel Pinto FLA PCL 23.94% 47.71%
Kevin Cameron MIN IL 23.81% 52.97%
Dustin McGowan TOR IL 23.76% 53.94%
Brian Slocum CLE IL 23.48% 50.20%
Erick Burke SD PCL 22.83% 45.85%
Ryan Houston TOR IL 22.52% 45.45%
J. P. Howell TB IL 22.48% 46.20%
C. J. Nitkowski PIT IL 22.44% 60.23%
Kason Gabbard BOS IL 22.22% 58.90%
Jason Hammel TB IL 22.08% 46.25%
Jake Robbins CIN IL 22.03% 49.36%
Nick Masset TEX PCL 21.81% 50.71%
Brad Clontz FLA PCL 21.69% 48.55%
Dustin Nippert ARI PCL 21.42% 45.52%
Jonathan Johnson ATL IL 21.40% 50.65%
Dennis Sarfate MIL PCL 21.31% 46.98%
Jose Rodriguez TB IL 20.53% 52.73%
Pat Neshek, who had the highest strikeout rate (37.18%) among all Triple-A pitchers, was called up to the majors by the Twins last summer and put up the highest K/BF (38.41%) among big-league hurlers as well. Increasing one's K rate after jumping any level, much less from AAA to the majors, is an impressive feat. The reliever with the funky sidearm delivery saw his groundball rate plummet from 48.48% to 31.58% once he reached Minnesota. His ability to get LHB out and keep the ball in the park will determine whether he can sustain his success at the highest level.
There were a number of other pitchers in the NE quadrant who made a positive impact for their parent clubs in the majors last year, including (among starters) Shaun Marcum (TOR), Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley (LAD), Jamie Shields and J.P. Howell (TB), and Tom Gorzelanny (PIT). Several others got pounded upon their promotion, most notably Hayden Penn, who went 0-4 with a 15.10 ERA, lowlighted by 38 hits and 8 HR, 13 BB, and 8 SO in 19.2 IP.
Although not shown in the table above, another relief pitcher - Brandon League - was an outlier in terms of K/GB at AAA and MLB. Like Neshek, League was featured last month when I covered major-league starters and relievers. An extreme groundball pitcher, the 24-year-old set-up man for the Blue Jays saw his K (19.20% AAA/16.76% MLB) and GB (76.65%/72.87%) rates hold up rather well in Toronto.
Eighty-nine pitchers (or 29%) placed in the southeast quadrant. The top third are listed below.
SOUTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND BELOW-AVG GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Rich Hill CHC PCL 36.78% 43.84%
Brad Salmon CIN IL 32.43% 35.88%
Jered Weaver LAA PCL 31.85% 30.89%
Julio Manon BAL IL 30.50% 35.00%
Winston Abreu BAL IL 28.78% 35.26%
Craig Breslow BOS IL 28.62% 42.77%
Travis Hughes WAS PCL 28.52% 43.02%
Jose Veras NYY IL 28.33% 42.77%
Jonah Bayliss PIT IL 27.59% 36.43%
Francisco Cruceta SEA PCL 26.97% 39.95%
Matt Roney OAK PCL 26.75% 41.10%
Marty McLeary PIT IL 26.68% 43.51%
Edinson Volquez TEX PCL 26.05% 42.90%
Aquilino Lopez SD PCL 25.99% 32.40%
Jason Bergmann WAS PCL 25.51% 26.67%
Mike Meyers MIL PCL 25.29% 38.55%
Eric Hull LAD PCL 25.23% 43.63%
Anthony Reyes STL PCL 25.08% 39.50%
Angel Guzman CHC PCL 24.92% 38.25%
Scott Strickland PIT IL 24.91% 32.68%
John Wasdin TEX PCL 24.90% 41.04%
Carlos Villanueva MIL PCL 24.68% 35.26%
Andy Cavazos STL PCL 24.66% 35.85%
Wayne Franklin ATL IL 24.53% 38.89%
John Danks CWS PCL 24.11% 37.63%
Robinson Tejeda TEX PCL 23.80% 41.51%
Mike Burns CIN IL 23.74% 41.51%
Kazuhito Tadano OAK PCL 23.62% 40.23%
Wilfredo Ledezma DET IL 23.57% 34.85%
Hyang-Nam Choi CLE IL 23.57% 39.33%
Rich Hill and Jered Weaver stand out not only for their performance in Triple-A, but both pitchers showed they could get big-league hitters out as well. Hill was featured on Monday when I looked at all starting pitchers in the minors with 90 or more innings. Weaver fell short of qualifying by 13 frames but thoroughly dominated AAA hitters in a tough league and ballpark for pitchers when he posted a 6-1 record with a 2.10 ERA and a 9.3 K/BB ratio. The 6-foot-7 righthander, who also placed in the southeast quadrant in the majors, went 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 GS covering 123 IP for the Angels.
Anthony Reyes was called up to the Cardinals and struggled during the regular season (5-8, 5.06) but redeemed himself by winning Game One of the World Series when he held the Tigers to only two runs in eight-plus innings.
Eighty-two pitchers (27%) landed in the northwest quadrant. The following table includes the top quartile.
NORTHWEST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG GB AND BELOW-AVG K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Andy Mitchell BAL IL 16.67% 64.55%
Scott Rice BAL IL 13.67% 64.49%
Zach McClellan COL PCL 16.90% 63.38%
Jack Cassel SD PCL 12.83% 60.29%
Jake Dittler CLE IL 9.44% 59.58%
Jamie Vermilyea TOR IL 13.47% 59.39%
Kevin Gryboski WAS PCL 16.23% 59.30%
Shane Loux KC PCL 9.47% 59.22%
Danny Graves CLE IL 12.74% 58.72%
Terry Adams PIT IL 17.14% 57.82%
Beau Kemp MIN IL 9.51% 57.10%
Lance Cormier ATL IL 11.74% 56.99%
Chris Sampson HOU PCL 13.99% 56.97%
Clint Nageotte SEA PCL 12.72% 56.62%
Sun-Woo Kim COL PCL 13.45% 56.22%
Tim LaVigne NYM IL 14.94% 55.98%
Jason Scobie TOR IL 14.94% 55.79%
Joe Mays CIN IL 14.98% 55.45%
Franquelis Osoria LAD PCL 11.24% 55.00%
Brian O'Connor ATL IL 12.07% 54.80%
None of the starters in the above table strike my fancy as pitchers to watch. A number of them are older or perhaps back-of-the-bullpen types. However, there is one pitcher - Jeremy Sowers (14.29%/49.83%) - who fell into the northwest quadrant, although not shown, who has had success at every stop along the way, including his foray in the bigs last season. The crafty lefthander, who was the #1 pitching prospect in the International League (9-1, 1.39), went 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA for Cleveland. His K/9 rate has declined from 9.46 in A+ to 7.65 in AA to 4.99 in AAA to 3.57 in MLB. The good news is that it can't go down much more from that level.
Seventy-five pitchers (24%) found themselves in the southwest quadrant. The bottom six are listed below.
SOUTHWEST QUADRANT (BELOW-AVG GB AND K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Sean Burnett PIT IL 9.00% 43.48%
Jerome Williams WAS PCL 10.77% 42.44%
Chris Michalak CIN IL 11.34% 40.97%
R. A. Dickey TEX PCL 11.34% 44.34%
Matt Wilhite LAA PCL 11.36% 43.17%
Randy Leek STL PCL 11.86% 36.36%
I'm not going to pan Sean Burnett and Jerome Williams again. They both received my wrath on Monday. In the spirit of double jeopardy, I will withhold any additional comments.
Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part Four - Double-A
Part One: The Starters
Part Two: Low-A
Part Three: High-A
The series on categorizing minor league pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates makes its way to Double-A (also known as AA) today. Double-A comprises three leagues: Eastern, Southern, and Texas.
Based on the 2006 pitching means for the three circuits, the Southern League would appear to be the most pitcher friendly and the Texas League the most hitter friendly. However, the numbers are skewed by the fact that the Southern and Eastern Leagues had a number of quality arms, while the Texas League experienced a down year in terms of top-tier pitching prospects.
ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 | ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
EL 3.97 6.94 3.08 0.82 3.60 8.18 3.53 0.67
SL 3.45 7.26 3.11 0.65 3.51 8.16 3.83 0.67
TEX 4.54 6.49 3.37 0.98 4.16 7.91 3.93 0.85
The graph below includes strikeout and groundball data for every pitcher in Double-A with 50 or more innings. The x-axis is strikeouts per batter faced (K/BF) and the y-axis is groundball percentage (GB%). The graph is divided into four quadrants with the mid-point equal to the average K/BF of 19.13% and the average GB% of 45.32%.
Sixty-three pitchers out of a total of 316 (or approximately 20%) placed in the northeast quadrant. The following list includes the top half, ranked by K/BF.
NORTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Paul Estrada HOU TEX 37.33% 54.01%
Jorge Vasquez PIT EL 33.46% 47.68%
Philip Hughes NYY EL 31.44% 50.72%
Humberto Sanchez NYY EL 31.39% 50.00%
Connor Robertson OAK TEX 30.31% 47.29%
Carmen Pignatiello CHC SL 29.84% 56.13%
Mark Worrell Jr. STL TEX 29.76% 46.30%
Homer Bailey CIN SL 28.73% 46.78%
Mike Pelfrey NYM EL 28.31% 48.28%
T. J. Nall LAD SL 28.17% 46.61%
Carlos Vasquez CHC SL 27.52% 55.38%
John Hudgins SD SL 26.96% 46.32%
Chris Hernandez PIT EL 26.79% 46.15%
Joe Bateman SF EL 25.84% 50.25%
Adam Miller CLE EL 25.61% 53.92%
Anibal Sanchez FLA SL 25.48% 46.94%
Jeff Kennard NYY EL 25.00% 53.25%
Sean Gallagher CHC SL 24.86% 48.90%
Travis Foley CLE EL 24.71% 48.26%
Mitch Talbot TB SL 24.41% 50.68%
Davis Romero TOR EL 24.39% 52.74%
Ron Chiavacci PIT EL 24.26% 47.89%
Charlie Manning NYY EL 24.25% 46.49%
Jack Cassel SD SL 24.04% 64.25%
Jason Pearson BAL EL 23.83% 51.63%
Kason Gabbard BOS EL 23.45% 59.30%
Justin Pope NYY EL 23.33% 46.10%
Carlos Villanueva MIL SL 23.05% 47.57%
Jentry Beckstead COL TEX 22.96% 52.22%
Jean Machi TB SL 22.37% 51.50%
Matthew Wilkinson ARI SL 22.35% 50.82%
Philip Hughes, who was profiled on Monday, and Humberto Sanchez dominated Eastern League opponents. Both righthanders struck out over 30% of the batters they faced and kept half of the batted balls on the ground. Thanks to a trade with the Tigers, Sanchez is now employed by the same team as Hughes. The former was the starting pitcher for the World in the Futures Game. He didn't fare too badly in his only inning of work, striking out Stephen Drew and Alex Gordon and getting Howie Kendrick to ground out to short.
As I pointed out in yesterday's article, Homer Bailey actually improved his K and GB rates when he went from High-A Sarasota of the FSL (27.92%/43.48%) to Double-A Chattanooga of the Southern League (28.73%/46.78%). Like Bailey, Adam Miller is a hard-throwing RHP - another in a long line of fireballers from Texas. He added a two-seamer last summer and was virtually unhittable in the second half of the season, going 7-1 with a 1.09 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a 4:1 K/BB ratio.
Anibal Sanchez made the leap from the Southern League to the Florida Marlins last summer and wound up pitching a no-hitter in his rookie season while fashioning a 10-3 record with a 2.83 ERA. Not surprisingly, the soon-to-be 23-year-old's strikeout and groundball rates declined once he reached the Show but his MiL tendencies did an excellent job of foretelling his potential at the highest level.
Mike Pelfrey, 23, pitched at four different levels in 2006. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound righthander started the season at A+ (2-1, 1.64), jumped to AA (4-2, 2.71), then AAA (4-2, 2.71), and even started four games with the New York Mets (2-1, 5.48). The ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, who was 33-7 with a 2.18 ERA during his three-year career at Wichita State, relies on a plus fastball in terms of speed and command but needs to develop his secondary pitches to realize his full potential.
The Devil Rays stole Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist from the Astros for Aubrey Huff and cash considerations last July. Talbot pitched in AA all year, first with Corpus Christi of the Texas League (6-4, 3.39 w/ a 25.40% K/BF and 50.58% GB), then with Montgomery of the Southern League (4-3, 1.90 w/ 22.96% K and 50.82% GB). The 23-year-old RHP also struck out 24 over 18 scoreless innings in two postseason starts, earning MiLB's Double-A Playoff Performer of the Year Award.
Ninety-five pitchers (equal to 30%) landed in the southeast quadrant. The top third can be found below.
SOUTHEAST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG K AND BELOW-AVG GB RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Dan Smith ATL SL 35.39% 30.53%
Tony Sipp CLE EL 33.47% 38.89%
Brandon Knight PIT EL 32.82% 35.90%
William Lamura CWS SL 31.75% 26.72%
Matt Garza MIN EL 30.36% 38.46%
Scott Elbert LAD SL 29.57% 29.45%
Carlos Marmol CHC SL 29.39% 43.26%
Ubaldo Jimenez COL TEX 29.35% 41.42%
Marcus McBeth OAK TEX 29.02% 38.19%
Yovani Gallardo MIL SL 28.81% 39.68%
Bill White ARI SL 28.25% 42.77%
Cory Doyne STL TEX 28.06% 42.50%
John Danks CWS TEX 27.99% 34.58%
Jesse Chavez TEX TEX 27.89% 42.95%
Brian Rogers DET EL 27.82% 45.18%
Judd Songster COL TEX 27.76% 32.74%
Scott Mathieson PHI EL 27.50% 38.75%
Jeff Niemann TB SL 27.45% 42.00%
Tracy Thorpe TOR EL 27.31% 30.66%
Carlos Guevara CIN SL 27.30% 43.93%
Tyler Clippard NYY EL 27.09% 42.35%
James Happ PHI EL 27.00% 38.66%
Glen Perkins MIN EL 26.91% 37.38%
Justin Olson MIN EL 26.42% 34.40%
Thomas Diamond TEX TEX 26.27% 38.32%
Calvin Medlock CIN SL 26.02% 44.07%
Michael Bumstead TEX TEX 25.81% 41.67%
Joshua Newman COL TEX 25.75% 38.69%
Francisley Bueno ATL SL 25.69% 32.61%
Dan Kolb WAS EL 25.63% 38.57%
Joel Hanrahan LAD SL 25.28% 42.17%
Ian Ostlund DET EL 25.27% 42.25%
After being converted to a starting pitcher late in the season, Dan Smith put up a 2.27 ERA over eight starts with a 12.0 K/9. The 23-year-old lefthander, who stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 250 pounds, could earn a spot in Atlanta's bullpen next season if he continues to progress as he did last summer.
Like Pelfrey, Matt Garza was a first-round draft pick in 2005 who jumped from High-A (5-1, 1.42) to Double-A (6-2, 2.51) to Triple-A (3-1, 1.85) and to the majors (3-6, 5.76) in 2006. The 23-year-old righthander was USA TODAY's Minor League Player of the Year last season when he posted a combined record of 14-4 with a 1.99 ERA and a 4.8 K/BB. Mature beyond his years, Garza has developed a four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that sits in the low-90s and a curve and slider that he needs to learn to trust at the highest level.
Although Scott Elbert, Yovani Gallardo, and J.A. Happ were covered in parts one and three, other prized prospects such as Ubaldo Jimenez, John Danks, Jeff Niemann, Tyler Clippard, Glen Perkins, and Thomas Diamond deserve a nod.
Eighty-four pitchers fell in the northwest quadrant. The top quartile is presented in the table below.
NORTHWEST QUADRANT (ABOVE-AVG GB AND BELOW-AVG K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Julio DePaula MIN EL 15.41% 65.09%
Shawn Hill WAS EL 16.08% 62.35%
Chris Russ STL TEX 16.08% 59.58%
Brock Till CIN SL 15.69% 58.95%
Brian Henderson TB SL 14.07% 58.90%
Aaron Laffey CLE EL 13.32% 58.56%
Preston Larrison DET EL 10.93% 58.45%
Kevin Ool STL TEX 12.61% 57.95%
Shane Youman PIT EL 17.30% 57.93%
Kevin Cave FLA SL 17.62% 57.83%
Adam Harben MIN EL 13.94% 57.14%
Chris Begg SF EL 13.84% 56.94%
JR Mathes CHC SL 17.48% 56.61%
Tyler Lumsden KC SL 14.60% 56.04%
Billy Buckner KC TEX 18.92% 55.27%
Matt Childers NYY EL 18.55% 55.15%
Cody Smith KC TEX 16.71% 54.98%
Levale Speigner MIN EL 15.16% 54.55%
Bryan Edwards NYM EL 14.52% 54.36%
Rich Rundles STL TEX 12.74% 54.33%
Marc Kaiser COL TEX 10.88% 54.23%
Aaron Laffey is a typical finesse-type lefty who competes by throwing strikes and inducing groundballs. He went 12-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 153.2 combined innings in the CAR (A+) and EL (AA). The 6'0", 180-pounder, who doesn't turn 22 until April, is one of many highly regarded pitching prospects in the Cleveland organization.
A highly touted southpaw out of Clemson, Tyler Lumsden was taken by the White Sox in the supplemental round as the 34th overall pick in 2004. He underwent elbow surgery the following January and missed the entire 2005 season. Lumsden bounced back and pitched 159 innings in 2006 (split between the Sox and Kansas City AA teams as a result of a late summer trade between the two clubs), recording an 11-5 mark with a 2.77 ERA. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Lumsden has a good pitcher's build plus quality stuff and enough polish to compete for a spot in Kansas City's rotation this spring.
Seventy-four pitchers (or roughly 23%) wound up in the southwest quadrant. The bottom half dozen as measured by K/BF rates are listed below.
SOUTHWEST QUADRANT (BELOW-AVG GB AND K RATES)
PITCHER TEAM LG K/BF GB%
Chris Hunter LAA TEX 8.38% 43.58%
R.D. Spiehs SF EL 9.82% 44.26%
Steven Register COL TEX 11.54% 44.58%
Daniel Davidson LAA TEX 12.35% 41.85%
David Maust WAS EL 12.35% 37.35%
Miguel Pinango NYM EL 12.64% 40.27%
Let's take a look at Chris Hunter. He is a poster boy for why looking at K and GB rates works so well. I will admit that I had never heard of the guy before I dove into this project and only became aware of him because he had the absolute lowest K/BF rate of any minor league pitcher last year. Well, suffice it to say that I wasn't surprised in the least when I learned that the 26-year-old righthander had a 4-14 record with a 7.45 ERA. He allowed 168 hits and walked 69 batters while striking out only 49 in 125.2 innings for a WHIP of 1.89 and a K/BB ratio of 0.71. Good grief!
The five-part series will conclude tomorrow with a focus on Triple-A pitchers.