Cleveland's Promising Left Side
Jhonny Peralta and Andy Marte make up the young and talented left side of Cleveland's infield. Peralta started off with a bang in 2005, and it has been noted this spring that he revived his physical condition and also corrected a vision problem. Marte has been followed by the hype associated with a top prospect, and now is the time for him to show if he can live up to the expectations.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned to Rich that Peralta was a guy who I immediately liked in terms of his swing. Short and powerful, it looked like the type of stoke that would support the type of numbers he was putting up as a rookie. In 2006, however, Peralta hit a bump in the road, but as I monitored his swing, there did not seem to be a significant physical difference. Here is a look:
Both of these clips are home run swings that are synched to contact, with the 2005 version on the left and 2006 on the right. Being rather picky, Peralta appears to carry his hands a little higher in the clip from 2005 and perhaps this allows him to get to the ball slightly quicker. Toe touch and foot plant occur at about the same time, which indicate that his overall swing timing is very similar, but it does look like his hands start a little earlier in 2006. It is a very small difference, costing maybe a slight amount of power. It is not a major red flag, in my opinion.
As part of one of my winter classes, I did research on vision and timing during the baseball swing and this made me think coincidentally of Peralta. Was it possible that he was just not seeing the ball the same way? Apparently, this was the case . Peralta went through with a Lasik surgery procedure this off-season to correct myopia (near sightedness). Now that his vision has been restored, I will be looking for Peralta to bounce back for some solid numbers at the plate. Indians GM Mark Shapiro recently said, "He [Peralta] just needs to be closer to the guy he was in '05," and I agree with the boss here that this can be done.
In Marte's case, reaching his potential with the bat might be more of a painstaking process. Bryan Smith gave me a heads up on this one by sending me an email from Florida after watching the Indians during spring training. He commented that Marte's swing looked long and dominated by the action of his arms. I happened to have a shot of J.D. Drew, whose swing looks quite similar and shows which adjustments might allow Marte to become the power bat that Cleveland is hoping for:
Both swings are home runs to the pull gap, again synchronized to contact. Let's look at images from each segment (launch, middle and contact) to see a bit of cause and effect, and hopefully how some adjustments at the beginning of Marte's swing might translate into more consistent, powerful contact. Here is the launch of the swing at the time where the stride foot is landing:
Of interest here is that Marte has more external rotation of his rear arm going into footplant. Both players are rather quiet in terms of loading the hands (shoulder-scapula region, really), but Drew stays quieter for longer, which I think it a good thing. In other words, Marte is starting to unload his shoulders-hands-bat earlier than Drew and this may be costing him efficiency and power. Moving forward a few frames, this still image gives an idea of the developing problem in the swing:
Although the angle is slightly different, Marte's hands appear further behind his back shoulder. I think Drew is in a better position that is more indicative of his ability to transfer rotational momentum from his hips and torso into contact, where it really counts. Now we come to the moment of truth:
The early disconnection in Marte's swing shows up here as he pushes his hands forward in more of a linear move than what Drew is showing. A graphic in Robert Adair's The Physics of Baseball explains this concept most simply: the idea is that the knob slows and changes direction which transfers energy to the bat head for maximum bat speed. Drew is essentially showing a more effective release of the bat head into contact.
Because the duration of a player's swing time (actual time he is unloading) is so short, roughly .2 seconds, it is virtually impossible to recover from any early breakdowns in the swing. Many hitters talk about getting into good positions to hit, and this is time factor is why those good positions are so important. A possible step 1 for Marte would be attempting to tighten up the load-unload that launches his swing and see how that affects the release of his bat into contact (easier said than done).
If nothing else, this would allow him to be a bit quicker to the ball and perhaps improve plate discipline and batting average. Consistent power could very well develop if Marte is able to finish off his swing in a more Drew-like manner.
In an effort to foster Marte's development at the big league level, Cleveland will be batting him in the 9-hole to reduce expectations. This might very well pay off if the message gets through that Marte does not have to be the man, but can focus on making necessary adjusments. Often times, players need opportunities to "fail" (take one step back before taking two steps forward) and this appears to be Marte's chance. He can now focus on the day to day process of refining his swing, and hopefully for Indians fans, the results will fall into place.
Two on Two: NL Central
Another Friday, another Two on Two. Today it's the NL Central and we have two of the best on these here internets accompanying us for the preview. Jeff Sackmann, most famously of Brew Crew Ball and the invaluable Minor League Splits, joins us. Also contributing is Larry Borowsky of Viva El Birdos, a tremendous site devoted to coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals. The previous installments can be viewed via the following links.
Sully: Thanks guys for joining us as we preview the NL Central. It promises to be one of the tougher divisions in baseball to call this season. What are your introductory thoughts on the division? What's exciting about the NL Central in 2007?
Sully: Looks like a pretty comprehensive list to me, Larry. I am most excited about the Milwaukee Brewers. They seem to have been going about team-building "the right way" for a market of Milwaukee's size but people have been saying that for a while now. Is this finally the year that they put it together and contend? That to me will be the most fun storyline to watch in the NL Central.
Sully: What's everyone thinking about the defending World Series Champs this season?
Sully: I am sensitive to the lack of depth point, Jeff, but I think the rotation is fine and agree with Larry that the defense remains very strong. I am really high on Wainwright and think he is poised to build off of his ridiculous post-season relief run and become a very good starter. Of course the rotation's gain is the bullpen's loss and that's where I question St. Louis's run prevention unit.
Rich: As I mentioned, there isn't much relief when it comes to the bullpens in the NL Central and the Cardinals are going to be in big trouble if Jason Isringhausen doesn't come through for them. The Redbirds have a bunch of arms down there, some of whom are decent situational guys, but they might come up a bit light in the eighth and ninth innings with the uncertainty surrounding Izzy and Looper and Wainwright now in the rotation.
Sully: I have some real concerns about this Cards offense. I don't see Rolen and Edmonds staying consistently healthy and when you take a look at that offense after the main triumverate, I mean wow. It's gonna really suck wind.
Jeff: It's hard to be too negative about an offense anchored by Pujols and Rolen, but there aren't a lot of other bright spots. Especially for as long as Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion are out (or in the lineup, and hurting), there are only two real threats in the lineup. The Cards scored more runs than anybody else in the division last year, and may do so again on the strength of Prince Albert's contribution, but it would take Braden-Looper-is-my-5th-starter style optimism to figure on an improvement from last year's 4.85 runs per game.
Rich: The offense should be about the same as last year, maybe a tad better. Pujols went on the DL for the first time in his career and missed 18 games. Edmonds and David Eckstein both went down for more than a month in the second half. Duncan didn't join the club until late May and only appeared in 90 contests. Other than Rafael Belliard, who will be replaced by Adam Kennedy, everybody is back. It seems to me that the offense should be just fine.
Sully: Are we as mixed on Houston's offense as we are with St. Louis?
Jeff: I am with you guys here, and actually see Houston's offense much like I do St. Louis's. Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman aren't quite the equals of Pujols and Rolen, but they're darn good. Unfortunately, the catcher, shortstop, and second baseman have to bat, too. I love Craig Biggio, but at the moment, what I love most about him is his ability to keep the Astros far out of the race; most painful for Houston is that there are at least two guys in the lineup likely to contribute less than Biggio.
Jeff: It doesn't matter how many Jason Jennings's you add, you're going to get worse if you lose Andy Pettitte and, most likely, Roger Clemens. The bullpen remains strong, and may even be better than last year's version, but the rotation is weak as is, and is completely unprepared for a single injury. Sure, there are warm bodies to take the mound, but none of them are going to make the fans in Houston very happy. Troy Patton may get an audition, but he's no Yovani Gallardo or Homer Bailey; he probably won't contribute until '08.
Jeff: It's easy to get excited about a near-future triumverate of Arroyo, Harang, and Bailey, but in the meantime, there'll be a triumverate of Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse, and someone else equally uninspiring. The back end of the rotation may be better than it was last year (if only because it's hard to be worse), but Arroyo may find it hard to replicate last year's success against a league more familiar with his offerings. In deference to my many friends who inexplicably root for the Reds, I'm not going to bring up the bullpen.
Rich: Adjusted for Cincinnati's ballpark, the Reds (106 ERA+) actually had one of the best pitching staffs in the league last year. Other than throwing lots of strikes, I'm not quite sure how they pulled that off. But Arroyo is unlikely to repeat and Harang can't get too much better than what he showed last year. And who are all these relief pitchers Wayne Krivsky acquired? Quantity, yes. Quality...uhh, no.
Larry: When he added Arroyo last spring, it looked like Krivsky had a plan: convert surplus bats into stable arms. And at midseason, when "The Trade" went down, it seemed like part of a larger pattern of transactions; I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was the acquisitions after The Trade - the 87 DFA'd pitchers Krivsky picked up - that changed my opinion of him. Now it looks like he's just throwing darts at the wall. I think it's the worst pitching staff in the division; Arroyo and Harang can pitch for anyone, but beyond them I don't see anybody I'd want on my team. The atrocious defense obviously doesn't help.
Sully: Is the team any better offensively though? I love Adam Dunn and all, and I guess Edwin Encarnacion is ok if the low-obp/decent slug type is your thing but I don't see this club putting up a whole lot of runs. It's never good when the loss of Rich Aurilia represents a genuine hit to your productivity outlook.
Jeff: I am so underwhelmed by Krivsky. His stopgap approach to first base makes sense with Joey Votto on the way, but is there some shortstop uberprospect I'm not aware of? How about an outfielder who they're willing to grant some playing time? Griffey in right field could be league-average or worse; Ryan Freel in center every day is almost a contradiction in terms: Cinci will always be one spectacular catch/injury away from Josh Hamilton, starter. Or something else equally unappealing.
Rich: Home runs and walks. Walks and home runs. The Reds were second in the league in both categories in 2006. Sounds like a bunch of Adam Dunns in that lineup. But the truth of the matter is that there isn't a whole lot beyond Dunn. You can stick a fork in Griffey. He was a great player but is now in the decline phase of his career. I think he may fall hard, and I wonder if Jerry Narron will have the guts to bench him. David Ross will not come close to matching his output last year. He murdered lefties, yet it says here that opposing teams will figure him out and his production will plummet in '07. On the positive side of the ledger, I happen to like Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips, two youngsters who provide some upside.
Larry: Jeff Conine, Bubba Crosby, Alex Gonzalez . . . 'nuff said. I'd rather talk about the Milwaukee Brewers, a far more interesting club than the Reds. They boast an impressive starting staff with Ben Sheets, Dave Bush and Chris Capuano being the best frontline trio in the division, and maybe the league. I don't know why Carlos Villanueva isn't in the rotation - he'd be a #3 on a lot of staffs. Claudio Vargas and Jeff Suppan aren't very good, but they're considerably better than the average team's #4/#5 starters. Assuming the bullpen holds it together this year and Sheets remains healthy, the Brewers staff should be the class of the Central.
Rich: Boy, Sully, you're really hot to trot for Arizona's starters. Unless Randy Johnson miraculously turns into the Big Unit of old, I don't see all that much to get excited about beyond Brandon Webb. If Sheets is healthy and throws 200 innings, I believe Milwaukee's rotation will be among the best in the league. Sheets, Capuano, Bush, and Suppan form a solid foursome, and I would be pretty comfortable with Vargas or Villanueva as my fifth starter, especially knowing that Yovani Gallardo might be good to go this summer.
Jeff: Especially after this week's acquisition of Elmer Dessens, no team in baseball has a deeper group of ready-now starting pitchers. That's necessary with Sheets's injury history, but even with the possibility that Sheets doesn't make 30 starts, it gives the Crew a layer of insurance it didn't have in 2006. The defense is still probably below average, but a full season from J.J. Hardy at short and Bill Hall in center ought to improve those two important spots.
Rich: Did you say Elmer Dessens? He's 35 now and hasn't started more than 10 games since 2003. I think he is nothing more than a mediocre middle reliever. Elmer might be more valuable to the team than Brady Clark but that's not saying much.
Larry: I think this offense looks plenty good on paper; lotta balance, no serious holes. They appear primed for a major step forward, but I thought the same thing last April and the Crew only improved by 4 runs over the previous season.
Jeff: Their offense depends on the continued development of Hardy and Hart, but Milwaukee has a good chance of having above-average hitters at seven of eight defensive positions. If Braun convinces the club he can pick it at third base (or, as is more likely, that he'll hit so well it doesn't matter), that could be eight of eight. Unlike most of the other teams in the division, the Brewers don't have one main offensive stud, but they aren't hamstrung by the likes of Brad Ausmus or Jack Wilson, either.
Sully: It really is amazing how simply eliminating terrible offensive players really goes a long way.
Rich: Like its pitching, Milwaukee's offense is more solid than anything else. I'm not crazy about the third basemen the Brewers are going to throw out there, but every team has a weakness or two. Speaking of weaknesses, how do we see Pittsburgh this year?
Larry: Call me crazy, but I like their staff a lot. When Zach Duke is only the third-best pre-arb pitcher on your staff, you've got some talent to work with. Too bad Dave Littlefield is what he is . . . there's material to be excited about here.
Sully: Yeah, I think I am more with Larry here than Jeff. Duke is solid, and Snell, Tom Gorzellany and Paul Maholm all figure to keep the Bucs in a lot of games. Jeff is dead on with respect to the bullpen concerns, however. Damaso Marte and Matt Capps have live arms, but there is little to get excited about after that. All in all, I think this Pirates pitching staff will hold up ok though.
Rich: Other than Snell, this staff doesn't miss a lot of bats. The lefties all pitch to contact and can be effective if they throw strikes and keep the ball in the yard. Snell could be a sleeper this year. How many people realize that he struck out more than one batter per inning in the second half? I like him and wouldn't be at all surprised if he lopped off at least half a run off his ERA in 2007.
Jeff: The Pirates have yet another top-heavy offense, only theirs isn't as good as St. Louis's or Houston's. Jason Bay can hang with the best of them, but it would take a best-case scenario from Freddy Sanchez or Adam LaRoche to create a 1-2 bunch as good as, say, Berkman and El Caballo. Like the rotation, some of the other position players are very productive relative to their cost, but the Pirates have one too many holes filled with average or worse guys making the minimum. Those players are important for any team, but Dave Littlefield is going to find his group of former C+ prospects taking him all the way to 70 wins again this year.
Sully: Onto the Cubbies. We waited this long to get to them because they finished in dead last in 2006 but many have them as the NL Central faves going into 2007. Did Jim Hendry simply do the drunken sailor thing in the last year of his contract or did he make some real improvements? The truth probably lies somewhere in between but what of these Cubs in 2007?
Jeff: The Cubs are certainly going to be the most improved team in the division this year, and that will in large part be due to the changes in their rotation. On the other hand, they're likely to get 30 starts from Jason Marquis. Marquis, Lilly, and Carlos Zambrano are known quantities; what will make or break the Cubs comes from the other two spots in the rotation. Rich Hill could become a solid #2 or #3, but it's foolish to raise expectations too high for a guy with only 20 major league starts under his belt. And, of course, there's always the Mark Prior factor: the range of plausible outcomes for him ranges from Cy Young contention down to zero innings for the big-league squad.
Rich: Yes, Marquis is a known quantity. That's the good news, I guess. But I suspect that we will never again see the pitcher who put together back-to-back ERAs of 3.71 and 4.13 in 2004 and 2005. Sure, Marquis is unlikely to be as bad as he was in 2006 (6.02) - I mean, if he is, he won't remain in the rotation all year - but his peripherals lead me to believe that he will be more of a liability than an asset. With respect to Prior, I'm betting on the "don'ts." As a USC grad, I'm rooting for him. However, other than his name, I just can't see any reason for optimism at this point.
Sully: I think the Rich Hill factor that Larry points out really will make or break this team's chances. If he pitches like he did in his first bunch of Big Club starts, the Cubs will plod. If he is average, the Cubs will have a shot at the division. If he does his September 2006 Randy-Johnson-circa-1997 routine, the Central is all Cubbies.
Jeff: The Cubs offense is the exact opposite of Pittsburgh's: where the Pirates have a bad offense that is nonetheless productive relative to its cost, the Cubs ought to have a good offense that is too expensive. Soriano, of course, will be a huge improvement, even if the Cubs will be paying him too much in 2012. A full season from Derrek Lee may be even more important to Chicago's chances than the addition of Soriano. There's no doubt that the offense will drastically outperform last year's; the concern is that, somehow, the Cubs will need to gain about 20 wins to give themselves a shot at the title. If Soriano, Lee, and Aramis Ramirez all live up to reasonable projections, that puts 20 wins in sight, but it's a tall order no matter how many changes you make.
Sully: All good points, Jeff, and I just have one additional item to add. Michael Barrett has very quietly been a top-flight catcher for multiple seasons now. Outside of Brian McCann and maybe Josh Bard, there is not another catcher in the NL I would prefer.
Rich: I'll take Russ Martin, thank you. But your main point is well taken. Barrett is underrated offensively, and he helps elongate Chicago's top-heavy lineup. I'll take the unders on Jacque Jones hitting .285 and 27 HR this year. The former Trojan does have one advantage though: the Cubs are going to overdose on right-handed pitchers, and ol' Jacque has been known to hit them pretty well.
Larry: They're gonna score a lot of runs, obviously - best offense in the division. Their on-base skills are still a little thin, but it could be a 215-HR offense. Lou Piniella seems likely (more so than Dusty Baker) to find enough at-bats for Matt Murton.
Sully: What will be the biggest surprise in the NL Central in 2007?
Jeff: It's perfectly correct to forecast a three-team race among the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs, all hovering around 85 wins, but that won't happen. Something will go massively wrong for one of those three teams (as with the Brewers or Red Sox last year), and one of those teams is going to finish below .500.
Rich: Craig Biggio won't get his 3,000 hit until September. Management will grow tired of Biggio's lack of production, call up Hunter Pence, and switch Burke to second base before the All-Star game. Biggio will ride the pine for a couple of months, then get one last shot in September after the Astros have been given up for dead.
Sully: I say Ronny Paulino joins the MLB elite catcher ranks. He's 26, coming off a decent year last season and raking this Spring.
Larry: The Pirates will stay on the fringes of the race for most of the year.
Rich: Who do you guys see as the main MVP, CYA and ROY candidates in the Central? I see Albert Pujols as the odds-on favorite to win the MVP, but I can see the writers going Justin Morneau on us and voting for Alfonso Soriano if the Cubs win the division. There are a number of quality Cy Young candidates in this division, headed by Carpenter, Oswalt, Sheets, and Zambrano. Forced to choose among this foursome, I will go with Carpenter. There are a number of prospects who are on the verge of the big leagues but nobody who is likely to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. With that in mind, put me down for my man Pence.
Larry: The usual suspects: Pujols, Berkman, and Derrek Lee for MVP, with Soriano, Rolen, Aramis Ramirez and maybe El Caballo on a second tier. For the Cy Young: Carpenter, Oswalt, Zambrano, Harang, Sheets. Rookie of the Year . . . I don't see any strong contenders for this season, to be honest. Ask me again in 2008, I might have a different answer.
MLB.com's Gameday application is a blessing for people trying to follow out of market games. It's easy to use and clearly presents play-by-play information about the game. That's why I was excited when Enhanced Gameday debuted during the 2006 playoffs. Enhanced Gameday keeps the basic aspects of Gameday and adds detailed Type/Location/Velocity information about each pitch. I'm not entirely sure how the application works, but the basic idea is that high-speed cameras and motion-capture software track every pitch and determine various data points for each pitch.
If you're motivated to sift through the XML, you can do tons of neat things with this data. Joel Zumaya was my motivation to sift through the XML. Like many other people during the playoffs, I was captivated by Zumaya's ability to throw baseballs harder than anyone I had ever seen. According to Gameday, there were 23 pitches thrown faster than 100 MPH in the playoffs, and Zumaya threw 15 of them. (Amazingly, Justin Verlander threw the other eight.) The Guitar Hero's fastest pitch left his hand at almost 105 MPH and his average velocity during the playoffs was 96.6 MPH.
Obviously Zumaya can throw hard, but where were those pitches going? This graph shows where he threw all of his pitches, with each pitch colored by speed, along with an estimated strike-zone. The angle for this graph is from the catcher's perspective, similar to here. From this graph you can clearly see Zumaya's reliance on his fastball and that he struggled to consistently throw it for strikes.
Zumaya appeared to have a one pitch plan when he was attacking hitters, but what about someone who can't just rely on speed to retire hitters? How did Kenny Rogers go after batters? Here are velocity graphs for Rogers, split up by batter handedness. Rogers threw 87 pitches to left-handed batters and 162 to righties. He appeared to pound the outside part of the plate when facing both types of hitters and seemed focused on not coming inside and over the plate to righties. He also threw different off-speed pitches on the outside part of the plate, depending on the handedness of the batter. Lefties got a slower off-speed pitch, which consistently missed the strike-zone, as if he were tantalizing the hitter to chase a ball. Righties faced an off-speed pitch that was closer to the strike-zone. While these graphs are interesting, they aren't showing anything new.
Information pinpointing the release points of pitchers is also included in the XML files. To my knowledge, accurate information regarding release points has never been available to the public. This graph shows the release point for Barry Zito, compared with all other pitchers who appeared in the 2006 playoffs. Zito's bizarre BABIP patterns have been discussed at Inside the Book and Catfish Stew. Perhaps one reason for these weird splits is Zito's release point, which is closer to that of a right-hander than a left-hander. Chad Bradford's inclusion on the graph emphasizes how different he is from a "normal" pitcher. Even Cla Meredith, who has the second lowest release point, is more than two feet higher than Bradford.
Here are the release points for four individual pitchers. Besides Zito, another interesting thing on this graph is the two distinct release points for Mike Mussina. Rogers and Chris Carpenter both had pitches where they changed their release point, but Mussina appears to have two deliberate release points. The release points for Mussina changed depending on the type of pitch that he threw.
In order to classify what pitches Mussina threw, you need the horizontal and vertical "break" values given for every pitch. According to the Enhanced Gameday blog, break is defined as "the measurement of the distance between the location of the actual pitch thrown over the plate, and the calculated location of a ball thrown by the pitcher in the same way, with no spin." No measurement scale is given, but every pitch has a "fingerprint" consisting of its speed and two breaks, which identifies how the pitch spun through the air en-route to home plate. These fingerprints can be used to identify pitch types. Not every fastball will be exactly 89 MPH, with exact breaks, but all fastballs from a pitcher are going to have similar speeds and breaks, which are different compared to the speed and breaks for a curveball from that pitcher.
This graph shows the horizontal and vertical breaks vs. speed. The blue dots show the horizontal break for every pitch, while the red dots represent the vertical break. Each pitch has two dots, and from the graph, you can pick out clusters of Mussina's pitches.
Here's the same graph, but with each type of pitch colored differently. Mussina has four pitches, two of which, B and C, he threw exclusively from his higher arm slot. The second graph is a close up of Mussina's release points, colored by the pitch type.
Once the pitches are classified, you can examine the "stuff" of a pitcher, and how he uses each pitch. I only have data for 75 pitches from Mussina, so I'm going to use Kenny Rogers again. I have data about 249 pitches for Rogers and he threw four types of pitches, shown in the graph.
Rogers threw pitch A 68 times, and was able to have the batter swing and miss 11 times (16%), the highest percent of any of his pitches. Granted this is too small a sample to really mean anything, but pitch A could be Rogers' strikeout pitch. With a full season of data, you could establish not only which pitcher is the best at creating swings and misses (or ground balls or poorly hit balls or whatever), but which pitch they are using to get those results.
The biggest problem with the data currently is that it is incomplete. For whatever reason, Gameday didn't have data for every playoff game, either missing the game completely or just missing certain innings in the game. The recording of data did get more reliable as the playoffs progressed. Hopefully that is fixed for the 2007 season.
The other problem is that there is only one month worth of data. There just isn't enough information from this trial run to make any definitive statements. Mussina made only one start in the playoffs, so the dual release points could have just been a coincidence. Barry Zito could have been struggling with his delivery in his starts, so his release point might actually resemble that of a typical lefthander. This analysis is just scratching the surface of what Gameday has to offer. With more than a month of data, you could better visualize how pitchers approach left-handed hitters compared to right-handed hitters, see which pitcher has the most movement on his pitches, see which pitch is the hardest to make contact with or hit hard or hit in the air, and possibly even expand the analysis to hitters as well.
Here's the link to the XML from Kenny Rogers' start vs. the Yankees in the ALDS. The web directory is organized intuitively, and with a little poking around, you can find the XML files for any playoff game. There's a lot more information contained in these XML files that I didn't use in any of the graphs in this article because I wasn't able to figure out what it meant. If you have any ideas about what parts of this information may mean, I'd love to hear from you.
On Valentine's Day I asked readers "Who Do You Love" by going through the odds for each team to win the World Series. I chimed in on who I thought looked cheap and who looked expensive, and then readers contributed their two cents as well. Well World Series odds are fun and all but not as fun as the Over/Under win total figures.
Many would argue that the crux of Sabermetrics is that you can predict a team's win total by analyzing a team's ability to score and prevent runs. Virtually all other research aimed at determining what contributes to a baseball club's winning efforts, on both an individual and team-wide level, is derived from this finding. Sabermetric projection mechanisms with these principles at their core offer a neat opportunity for the enterprising individual to take advantage of Vegas over/under win totals.
Now, projections are never fool-proof and are often downright inaccurate. Just ask Tigers fans from last season. But I happen to believe that the astute fan has the opportunity to stick one to Vegas on these (hey, it makes up for football season). So without further ado, let me try my hand at each MLB team. I will offer up my prediction (over or under) and then briefly account for why I believe the arbitrage opportunity exists. And yeah, I will be on the record here so just as I stated back on Valentine's Day, feel free to check back and ridicule me if it turns out I am just dead wrong on a lot of these.
Arizona - Over 77.5 (-120) Under 77.5 (-110)
What is Vegas missing here?
That the Snakes are by and large average or better at every position on the field and boast one of the very strongest pitching staffs in all of baseball. They still might be a year away from championship contention but this is easily a .500 club. I mean they were an 80-win team last year based on their Pythag total. This might be the easiest money on the board.
Atlanta - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Probably not a whole lot but we are talking about a club that led the NL in OPS+ last season and played more like an 85-win team based on their run differential. 81.5 is in the ballpark but I like them for a few more wins than that.
Chicago Cubs - Over 85.5 (-115) Under 85.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Again, probably not a whole lot. I don't have a lot of conviction in this one. 85.5 may be the exact appropriate figure for the Cubbies.
Cincinnati - Over 76.5 (-115) Under 76.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
That Cincinnati's back of the rotation is brutal. That their infield can't hit at all. That the Reds are too dependent on Ken Griffey Jr. I don't know, I think the Reds win more like 70-75 games.
Colorado - Over 74.5 (-130) Under 74.5 (Even)
What is Vegas missing here?
That Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Garret Atkins, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta constitute a nice offensive core. That Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Rodrigo Lopez are all reasonably decent. That Brian Fuentes and other live arms like Ramon Ramirez and Manuel Corpas make their bullpen pretty darn good. They're not great, but they'll win north of 75 games.
Florida - Over 78.5 (-125) Under 78.5 (-105)
What is Vegas missing here?
Probably not a whole lot - 78.5 sounds fine. I don't feel too strongly about this one but my thinking goes like this: they were an 80-win Pythag team in 2006 and got some stellar play from guys that I think are pretty decent candidates to take a little step back this year. Namely, Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez.
Houston - Over 78.5 (-115) Under 78.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Here's another team I don't feel like I have a great grasp on. But only once since 1995 have they won fewer than 80 games and something tells me they will scrap another competitive club together this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers - Over 88.5 (-130) Under 88.5 (Even)
What is Vegas missing here?
Milwaukee - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)
This is a perception number. The Brewers are the Brewers - how could they win more than 81 games? Well look at their roster. Star power at the top, plenty of solid filler and some truly promising youngsters. This looks more like an 85-win team to me than an 81-win one.
New York Mets - Over 88 (-115) Under 88 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Philadelphia - Over 88.5 (-115) Under 88.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
88.5 actually sounds about right to me. I am going over just because I happen to really like the makeup of the team. The lineup will rake, the rotation is rock solid and I think one way or another they will piece together a solid enough bullpen.
Pittsburgh - Over 71.5 (Even) Under 71.5 (-130)
What is Vegas missing here?
They are pretty close to average or above at just about every position and their rotation, with guys like Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm, has a shot at being average in its own right. Average or just below average equals 75-80 wins, not 71.
San Diego - Over 84 (-125) Under 84 (-105)
What is Vegas missing here?
I think 84 would sound just about right if you didn't know just how good Kevin Kouzmanoff was. In Akron and Buffalo respectively last season Kouzmanoff posted OPS's of 1.109 and 1.022 as a member of the Indians organization. Now he comes over in the Josh Barfield deal and I think he is ready to contribute in a big way right off the bat. I am calling 88 wins for the Pads.
San Francisco - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
St. Louis - Over 84.5 (-110) Under 84.5 (-120)
What is Vegas missing here?
That the Cards are relying on a lineup that is both injury-prone and thin even when healthy.
Washington - Over 66.5 (-110) Under 66.5 (-120)
What is Vegas missing here?
Baltimore - Over 73.5 (-115) Under 73.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Not much - that figure looks just about right. My problem with the O's is that I think this may be the year where some of their middling supporting cast like Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar all fall off the table and contribute next to nothing. They do have some exciting arms in their rotation, however.
Boston - Over 90.5 (-115) Under 90.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
This is the 2003 Sox all over again and that squad won 95 games. Boston has a lineup that won't quit, superb starting pitching and a bullpen that will keep the opposition in plenty of games they have no business winning. It's a volatile combo, but one that I think gets them over the 90-win hump.
Chicago White Sox - Over 86.5 (-115) Under 86.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
A lot. In fact, along with Arizona, this may be the easiest money on the board. Their left field, center field and shortstop offensive output will be a joke and the starting pitching is not good enough to win with only Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko carrying the offensive load.
Cleveland - Over 84.5 (-115) Under 84.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Probably just the concept of Pythagorean Win-Loss records. Cleveland was a lot better than their record indicated last season and I don't see much reason to expect them to regress.
Detroit - Over 87.5 (-130) Under 87.5 (Even)
What is Vegas missing here?
That a lot of things went really right for Detroit last season. They are a good team, but 87.5 looks a little to lofty for my blood. A tough one, but I call it under by a smidge.
Kansas City - Over 67.5 (-125) Under 67.5 (-105)
What is Vegas missing here?
Nothing. I like the line and wouldn't touch it. But only slightly better-than-expected performance from Alex Gordon could push them by a win or two over the 67-win mark.
Los Angeles Angels - Over 89.5 (-125) Under 89.5 (-105)
What is Vegas missing here?
That the Halos can't hit. At all. But they're pitching is so good that the 89.5 is not out of the picture. Call it 87.
Minnesota - Over 83.5 (-115) Under 83.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
That this bullpen is so good that the starters won't need to do all that much and that this team can actually hit a little bit now. 86 wins.
New York Yankees - Over 97 (-115) Under 97 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
The Yanks are excellent, but 97 wins is a whole lot of wins. With Chien-Ming Wang banged up and taking into account their reliance on Carl Pavano, I see New York's starting pitching as enough of a question to feel confident about an under-97 call.
Oakland - Over 84.5 (-110) Under 84.5 (-120)
What is Vegas missing here?
That Oakland lost its best hitter and best pitcher from last season and is depending on too many unproven or injury-prone players to get to the 85-win mark.
Seattle - Over 75.5 (-115) Under 75.5 (-115)
What is Vegas missing here?
Tampa Bay - Over 67 (-130) Under 67 (Even)
What is Vegas missing here?
That Tampa Bay has a bunch of really good baseball players in their system and that this is the year they start to make some legitimate noise. The starting pitching leaves plenty to be desired but there is enough punch in that lineup to push their win total to around 75.
Texas - Over 81.5 (Even) Under 81.5 (-130)
What is Vegas missing here?
That Texas was an 86-win Pythag team last season, Oakland got worse and there is not much reason to think Texas will regress. Yes they lose Gary Matthews, Jr. and Mark DeRosa, but Brandon McCarthy helps and more can be expected from the likes of Mark Teixeira, Ian Kinsler and Gerald Laird.
Toronto - Over 86.5 (-110) Under 86.5 (-120)
What is Vegas missing here?
OK, I went through what I think Vegas is missing with these lines and told you who I like and dislike in relation to the odds this season.
Now you tell me what I am missing.
Florida's Rookie Hitters: Can They Avoid the Sophomore Slump?
Although the Marlins' young pitching received the bulk of the attention in 2006, they received some solid (and not-so-solid) performances from a collection of rookie players, led by Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla, who was stolen from Arizona, and Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez. Other players to see significant playing time in Florida in 2006 included Reggie Abercrombie, Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida.
If the Marlins hope to contend again in 2007, they will need repeat performances from Ramirez, Uggla and Willingham. They will also need Abercrombie, Jacobs and Hermida - arguably the most talented of all the young hitters - to improve significantly.
AVG OBA SLG BB% K% GB% BABIP HR/AB Dan Uggla .282 .339 .480 7.3 20.1 41.0 .315 27/611 Hanley Ramirez .292 .353 .480 8.1 20.2 43.8 .344 17/633 Mike Jacobs .262 .325 .473 8.8 22.4 39.6 .299 20/469 Josh Willingham .277 .356 .496 9.7 21.7 42.9 .308 26/502 Jeremy Hermida .251 .332 .368 9.7 22.8 44.8 .310 5/307 Reggie Abercrombie .212 .271 .333 6.6 30.6 54.1 .285 5/255
R/R | 5'11'' 200 | Born: 3/80 | Drafted: 11th - 2001 - college
Teams knew Uggla had offensive potential. But teams, such as his former employer in Arizona, did not think Uggla had the defensive skills to be a regular in the major leagues. Oops. Uggla proved to not only be an above-average offensive second baseman, but he was adequate at his position as well. Was Uggla's rookie season a fluke? Well, he hit .307/.365/.510 in the first half and .256/.311/.449 in the second half. He should be an above-average offensive force at second base during his career but I sense a sophomore slump.
2007 Forecast: .255/.322/.450
R/R | 6'3'' 195 | Born: 12/83 | Drafted: NDF - 2000 - NA
Ramirez has always been oozing with potential. While in the minors with the Red Sox, he would flash tools that screamed "Star!" but never on a consistent basis. As such, Boston saw fit to include him in the deal for starter Josh Beckett. Ramirez had one of those odd debuts where his major league numbers far exceeded his best minor league season:
AVG OBA SLG R SB BB/9 K/9 2006: .292 .353 .480 119 51 8.1% 20.2% 2005: .310 .364 .389 33 12 6.5% 14.8% (A+) 2005: .310 .360 .512 26 12 7.2% 18.7% (AA)
There have been questions in the past about Ramirez' attitude and he may end up being one of those players who plays better in the spotlight with all the perks that come from being a big leaguer.
2007 Forecast: .302/.346/.477
R/R | 6'3'' 220 | Born: 7/80 | Drafted: 23rd - 1999 - high school
Abercrombie saw significant time in the outfield for the Marlins in 2006, but the team wishes he had not. The Marlins spent this past off-season scouring for an inexperienced, veteran center-fielder, which is no surprise considering Abercrombie's less-than-stellar numbers. He hit .285 when he managed to put the ball in play, but he has shown little aptitude for making consistent contact. The team was so desperate that they signed Alex Sanchez (feel free to Google his checkered past) to a minor league deal. Eric Reed was another player the Marlins had hopes for in center field, but he has struggled with injuries and was left to rot on the bench early in the season and never got on track with the bat. Abercrombie should spend a good portion of the season in Triple-A.
2007 Forecast: .188/.235/.310
L/R | 6'2'' 200 | Born: 10/80 | Drafted: 38th - 1999 - junior college
Jacobs bust onto the scene in 2005 for the Mets by slugging 11 homers in 100 at-bats (9.8 HR%). Not surprisingly (hello Kevin Maas, Mitch Einertson), he was unable to duplicate those numbers in 2006 (3.8 HR%). One thing Jacobs needs to do is hit left-handers, especially if he wants to avoid the dreaded platoon.
Vs Right: .281 .345 .514 Vs Left: .182 .234 .295
The former catcher has the potential to be an average first baseman and his 2006 numbers were encouraging, but he will need to take another step forward in 2007. He has the potential to turn some of his 37 doubles into homers.
2007 Forecast: .248/.315/.455
L/R | 6'4'' 200 | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 1st - 2002 - high school
As mentioned above, of all rookies on the team in 2006, Hermida appeared to be the one player poised to have an impact season. He was originally a first round pick in 2002 out of high school and flew through the minor leagues. Hermida displayed an outstanding eye in the minors, walking 111 times in 118 games in 2005. That skill did not show up nearly as consistently in the majors in 2006 but there is no reason to think it won't develop at that level. Hermida committed eight errors in 86 games in right field. I expect him to be significantly more successful in 2007 than Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur, whom he grew up playing against.
2007 Forecast: .282/.360/.477
R/R | 6'1'' 200 | Born: 2/79 | Drafted: 17th - 2000 - college
This former catcher has been knocking on the major league door for a few seasons and finally got the chance to prove himself last season. Willingham's versatility is a big plus, although he patrolled the outfield for most of last season. He has the potential to be a solid No. 5 hitter and was third on the team in homers last year. Willingham is also the oldest of the Marlins' youthful hitters and recently turned 28 despite his inexperience. As such, his ceiling probably isn't much higher than it was in 2006.
2007 Forecast: .265/.336/.470
*Career comps courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Nephews and Sun
PEORIA - My nephew Brett and I drove from Long Beach to Arizona on Thursday afternoon. The purpose was twofold: to visit my brother Gary and his family in Phoenix and attend a few spring training games in and around the area.
We were fortunate in that Gary's son Troy was playing in an ice hockey tournament over the weekend at a rink that was next door to the spring training complex of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners in Peoria. The schedules were such that we were able to watch hockey, baseball, and hockey without missing a beat (or even a two-minute minor).
On Friday afternoon, we attended the Angels-Mariners game. Gary arrived in Peoria about an hour before us and was able to buy tickets on the morning of the game in the fifth row behind Seattle's on-deck circle. We could not have asked for a better location to watch a dream matchup between John Lackey and Felix Hernandez. The home team Mariners took the field first and the most startling observation was seeing the slimmed-down Hernandez loosening up on the mound.
King Felix, who was named Seattle's Opening Day starter by manager Mike Hargrove after his outing, reported to camp at 226 pounds (down from 246 last season). It's quite an honor for a pitcher who won't turn 21 until after the season starts. Hernandez, in fact, will join Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela as the only 20-year-olds to start an opener in the last 26 years.
Hernandez and Lackey were both getting their work in that afternoon against their division rivals, throwing mostly fastballs and concentrating more on mechanics and command than the results (which, in the case of the latter, were not good). Felix spun a few curves that he left up in the zone but struck out Vladimir Guerrero looking on a nice bender to end the first inning. He punched out four Angels and induced nine groundouts (including five comebackers), three flyouts, and an infield pop fly, and catcher Rene Rivera threw out Casey Kotchman trying to steal on what appeared to be a broken hit and run play. I timed Rivera's throw from home to second in 1.89 seconds, which is right about where he needs to be.
Lackey, who was working noticeably faster, has a compact, fluid motion that is among the best in the game. He was basically throwing batting practice and his line showed it: 10 hits and 9 earned runs in just four innings. He mixed in a few changeups but rarely threw any breaking balls and the Mariners jacked a couple of his low-90s fastballs out of the yard. Jose Guillen hit a two-run shot in the first inning and Adrian Beltre launched a two-run blast in the fourth. We also saw Angels rookie Nick Gorneault take Aaron Small deep to lead off the top of the ninth inning.
Brandon Morrow, Seattle's first-round pick out of the University of California in 2006, retired the Angels in order in the seventh on eight pitches. The 22-year-old righthander, sporting the number 85 on the back of his jersey, is trying to earn a spot in the bullpen with only 16 innings of professional experience under his belt. Morrow threw strikes and got Mike Napoli, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar to loft easy flyball outs that were handled by Jeremy Reed in center and Mike Morse in left.
Ichiro handled DH duties and led off. He ran a 4.19 to first on a fielder's choice, pulling up the last couple of steps. Reggie Willits had the fastest time of the day, running a 4.08 on a 6-3 groundout. Box Score.
SURPRISE - On the heels of the afternoon baseball game and a second hockey match, Brett and I drove to Surprise to catch an evening tilt between the Brewers and the home team Rangers, who share the beautiful ballpark with the Kansas City Royals. Tip of the day: Don't make the same mistake as us by logically assuming that the most direct route between the two sites would also be the fastest. We crawled along the eight-mile drive on Bell Road for 45 minutes and got to the ballpark just in time to hear (and not see) Sammy Sosa's grand slam in the home half of the first inning. Oh well, I'm glad it wasn't HR #600 (although, if that were the case, I would at least have the ticket stub as a souvenir).
Our tardiness also caused us to miss Eric Gagne, who started and pitched the top of the first only. The former Cy Young Award winner allowed a hit and a walk while striking out two. Despite arriving late, we were able to secure two tickets between home and third in the top row of the field boxes. We sat next to four guys from California who were paying more attention to their Blackberrys tracking the Sweet Sixteen games that were in progress, including USC's loss to North Carolina in which the Trojans apparently ran out of gas late in the second half.
In between Sosa's home run in the first and Tony Graffanino's bomb in the ninth (which took place as we were sloshing across the wet soccer fields that had been turned into overflow parking lots for the night), we witnessed four baggers by Damian Miller, Rickie Weeks, and Johnny Estrada off Bruce Chen. But Chen wasn't the worst southpaw that evening. Zach Jackson, a first-round draft choice by Toronto in 2004 and later part of a package (along with Dave Bush and Gabe Gross) that sent Lyle Overbay from the Brewers to the Blue Jays, looked like he couldn't get anybody out that game or any other game. The 6-5, 220-pound lefty was far from impressive, and it looks as if he will spend the majority of 2007 in Triple-A Nashville once again.
Bill Hall played center field and struck out three times. It will be interesting to see if Hall can duplicate his 35-HR season while switching positions. A good athlete, the 27-year-old should have no problem handling the defensive chores, but I can't help but wonder whether 2006 was a career year for him at the plate. Hall and Prince Fielder will need to supply the power if the Brewers are hopeful of supplanting the Cardinals as the NL Central champs.
Hank Blalock, who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and two walks, was taking his usual rips on every swing, seemingly going for the downs on every pitch. A lot has been said and written about his inability to hit on the road and his second half woes going back to the 2003 All-Star game when he took his now teammate Gagne deep for a two-out, two-run HR to lead the American League to a 7-6 victory in the midsummer classic. I believe part of his problem is his approach at the plate and maintain Hank would be better served if he didn't try to pull everything and jack every pitch out of the park.
PHOENIX - Our third and final spring training game was a Saturday afternoon clash between the Colorado Rockies and the Angels. Our luck for picking up great tickets continued as we bought a pair in the second row behind the Angels dugout from a scalper an hour-and-a-half before the sold-out event. It wasn't much of a game, but the seats made it all quite bearable.
Jeff Francis outdueled Kelvim Escobar, who left in the third inning after straining his back reaching for a groundball single off the bat of Steve Finley. Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher visited the mound and, after watching Escobar throw a couple of warmups, took the big righthander out as much for precautionary reasons as anything else. He is not expected to miss a regular season start.
The most impressive player was Ryan Spilborghs, who slugged a home run well beyond the wall in left-center field and made a long, running catch in right center and a strong throw to first base trying to double up Shea Hillenbrand. Spilborghs is competing with John Mabry and Alexis Gomez for the final spot on the Rockies bench. Spilborghs wasn't the only player who hit a home run in Phoenix that day. My nephew Casey hit a "don't stop running until you make it around the bases" home run in his T-ball game that morning. He plays for the Yankees and wears #7 on his back. Funny, I thought they retired that number.
Angels relievers Chris Resop and Kevin Jepsen got ripped, allowing a combined 8 hits, 4 walks, 1 HBP, and 9 runs in 2 innings. Several fans around us, apparently thinking they were attending the World Series finale, booed Resop and Jepsen to the point that I wanted to turn around and tell them to zip it up. If anything, I felt embarrassed for the pitchers who were obviously struggling to throw strikes and get batters out. Jepsen has never pitched beyond Single-A and is probably heading to Double-A Arkansas in a couple of weeks. Box Score.
LONG BEACH - I recently learned that Norm Larker died on March 12 at the age of 76. Larker became the third member of the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers World Series Championship club to pass away during the off-season. Relief pitchers Larry Sherry (December 17) and Clem Labine (March 2) predeceased Larker.
Larker was one of several Dodgers who lived in Long Beach or Lakewood. The Larkers built a new house in Lakewood Country Club, adjacent to Lakewood Village in Long Beach (which is where I was born and raised). Times were different in the late-1950s and 1960s. Dad would carpool with many of the local players such as Larker, Ed Roebuck, and Gino Cimoli, as well as the late trainer Bill Buhler, to and from the airport. My parents would also invite players and their wives to the house for a game of bridge.
The Larkers had four sons - Duane, Wayne, Blaine and Shane - who played baseball at about the same time as my brothers and me. My younger brother Gary and Blaine were Pony League teammates, and it wasn't unusual to see Norm at Heartwell Park watching their games back in the mid-1970s. Blaine was on the Cal State Fullerton team that won the College World Series in 1984. Larker was joined on the All-Tournament team by Barry Bonds.
Norm was second in the National League in batting average in 1960. He missed out on the batting title by one hit. The lefthanded-hitting Larker need to go 2-for-3 in the final game to surpass Dick Groat, who had finished the year at .325. Larker walked in the first inning, grounded out to second in the third, beat out a higher bouncer to first in the fifth on a play that was ruled a hit by the official scorekeeper, and flied out to left in the seventh. He was in the on-deck circle when Maury Wills hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to score Bob Lillis (my favorite player at the time) with the winning run in a 4-3 victory over the visiting Cubs.
Larker was named the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram Most Valuable Player in 1960. He was chosen as Dodger of the Day by my Dad 13 times, one more than fellow Lakewood resident Stan Williams and two more than Don Drysdale and Wills. The photo of Larker and Dad is from The 1961 Dodger Family pamphlet by Union Oil Company of California.
Larker played six years in the majors, including four with the Dodgers. He was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the expansion draft in October 1961 and was traded to the Milwaukee Braves in 1962 and sold to the San Francisco Giants in 1963. Larker finished his career as a professional ballplayer with the Toei Flyers in Japan. He will be missed by all of us in the Dodger Family.
Two on Two: NL East Preview
It's time to move on to the National League now and we kick things off in the East. Kind enough to have joined us for the chat are Dave Studeman of The Hardball Times and Chris Needham, who writes the Washington Nationals blog, aptly named for 2007 at least, Capitol Punishment. Dave had some personal matters to tend to during our chat so he did not finish up with us. Listed below are our American League Two on Two chats.
Dave: The great young players in the division. You've got three third basemen (Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright and Miguel Cabrera) who could have careers that rank among the ten or twenty best all-time at their position; three great young shortstops (Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez - the three R's) who have all the tools. Plus the best young slugger in the game (Ryan Howard), the best all-around young second baseman (Chase Utley) and the best all-around player, period (Carlos Beltran). Brian McCann could have a tremendous catching career. I've probably missed a few (don't the Marlins have some good young kids?). So it will be fun to watch each one of these guys in 2007, seeing which ones step forward, which ones continue apace and/or which ones lose some career momentum.
Rich: I agree. There is a lot of star power in the division. As Dave pointed out, many of the best players in all of baseball are congregated in the NL East. The Phillies, Braves, and Mets can flat out hit. These teams finished 1-2-3 in the league in runs scored last year. All three clubs slugged at least 200 home runs. Even though four of the five ballparks favor pitchers, this division seems like it is right up the alley for those who like offense.
Sully: Remarkably, according to their park-adjusted OPS+ figures, every team in the division was above average offensively. The Nats pulled up the rear with a 101 figure while Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia and Florida ranked 1 through 4 in the NL.
Chris: The Nats are just taking stathead orthodoxy to its illogical extreme. Why spend $55 million on Gil Meche when you can get Joel Hanrahan for $2.99? At least they'll have a solid pen (at least until they trade Chad Cordero to Boston).
Rich: Speaking of money, the Mets have been known to thrown some coin in the direction of free agents. However, this year's additions don't measure up to the past couple of years. Moises Alou seems like a good fit to me but did Omar Minaya do enough in the off-season to enable New York to defend its NL East title?
Sully: We know New York's offensive core will be fantastic. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Moises Alou are all known quantities. I do have some concerns after these five, however. I question whether Jose Valentin can replicate his 2006. Valentin is very good when things are going well for him but being a low-obp type, he can also be just terribly debilitating for an offense when he is off. Paul Lo Duca is another player that appears to be in for some regression. He is 35 now and coming off one of his best seasons. Also, the sooner Lastings Millesge supplants Shawn Green, the better for the Mets and their faithful.
Sully: I will be honest, I think the Mets are in for a real step back this season. Like Rich, I just don't think a chamionship aspirant club can come with a rotation as thin as this one. The offense is formidable, and will be called upon to carry this team on its shoulders but I don't see it being enough to repeat as division champs. What am I missing with this club, Dave?
It has the potential, too, to be a dominant rotation. The few times I saw Cole Hamels last year, I came away impressed. Brett Myers is probably underrated because of how much a hitter's park that is -- an ERA under 4 there isn't half bad. If those two emerge and Garcia does what he does every year, it's likely one of the two or three best rotations in the league, even if the park will disguise much of that.
Rich: One of the things I really like about the Phillies is that the team's three best players are all right at their peak. During the off-season, Howard turned 27 and Rollins and Utley both turned 28. Although all three are coming off outstanding years, I wouldn't look for any of them to regress much, if at all, in 2007. The oldest starter is Rod Barajas and he is only 31. This team is primed to win right now.
Dave: The biggest question mark for the Phillies is their bullpen, particularly with Tom Gordon showing some injury concerns. I also don't see Geoff Geary having the same kind of year. Maybe Ryan Madson is a partial answer, but who knows? How do you guys think the Philly pen will fall out?
I think the more interesting case is Madson. He's been disastrous as a starter, but a pretty valuable arm in the pen, even last year. It looks like the shorter outings, as you'd suspect, give him just a little more juice on his pitches, upping his effectiveness.
They've got a lot of arms at the back of the rotation. It's going to be up to Charlie Manuel to sort through them to round out the staff - something I don't think he's particularly known for.
Sully: Atlanta has been thought of as a pitching-first ballclub during the last 16 years or so but they led the National League with a 110 OPS+ last season. Will the lineup continue to mash, and what do you guys think of Atlanta's strategy to prioritize bullpen quality this off-season?
Rich: As you noted, Sully, the Braves had the best OPS+ but also the second-lowest ERA+ in the NL last year. The offense looks good once again. However, there are a few question marks. Chipper Jones turns 35 next month and hasn't played more than 110 games since 2004. First base and left field are OK but nothing special. Kelly Johnson should provide decent offense as a second baseman, provided he can handle the job defensively. Andruw Jones is Andruw Jones. Brian McCann is the real deal. Jeff Francoeur could be a superstar if . . .
Chris: ... I guess the answer I'm supposed to say is "he walks more," but if he hits .300 like he did in his first crack at the league (a huge if), it won't much matter. At the very least, he needs to improve his pitch recognition. Even Vlad Guerrero walks 50 times a year.
OPS+ in their 22-year old season Brian McCann 146 Johnny Bench 145 Bill Dickey 118 Ivan Rodriguez 117 Yogi Berra 115 Mickey Cochrane 108 Joe Mauer 108 Gabby Hartnett 107
Rich: While on the subject of young players, let's turn our attention to the Florida Marlins. The team was still in the hunt for the playoffs as late as early September last year, winning 78 games or five to ten more than most pundits predicted before the season began. This franchise has been known to get good, really good, in a hurry then trading players off and rebuilding. What does the future have in store for the Marlins?
Chris: It's amazing how many of those filler guys had great years last year. Willingham slugged .500. Wes Helms (Wes Helms!?) slugged .575. They picked Joe Borchard off the waiver wire and he put up an OPS over .800 against righties. They're going to need to get a bit lucky again with the fringes of their roster to duplicate the success they've had. And that's even before we consider the arm problems cropping up on their pitching staff.
Dave: The Marlins have some great young players, and they do have some holes, as Chris says. To me, the biggest hole is in their bullpen. Of course, some of their young arms could help fill in that hole, but their weaknesses are serious enough to keep them listed behind the Braves, in my eyes.
Sully: What about the Nats? To me, this team looks just awful. With Nick Johnson looking like he is out for a while and the pitching staff being just brutal, I don't see much hope for these guys.
Chris: Earlier, someone said that the Nats pitching could be historically bad. I guess that that's possible, but it's also ignoring how pitiful last year's rotation was. Ramon Ortiz (he of the 5.57 ERA in a pitcher's park) was the team's "ace". Only one regular starter (Mike O'Connor) had an ERA under 5. So as bad as things could be this year, they probably can't get much worse, especially if John Patterson stays healthy and if Shawn Hill and his sinker live up to their modest PECOTA projections. The bullpen, with Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch anchoring, should be solid. Some pitching improvement should come from the defense. The decision to start Nook Logan in center is a mistake, but it's one that should help the pitchers' bottom lines. When surrounded by Ryan Church, Austin Kearns and Chris Snelling at the corners, lots of flyballs will die in the gaps. Felipe Lopez should be a big improvement over Jose Vidro at second base, as long as the shorter throw keeps some of the yips away.
Rich: With apologies to John Patterson, this pitching staff might be worse than the Tigers in 2003, the Reds in 2004, or the Devil Rays and Royals in 2005 - four of the worst in the post-expansion era on a park-adjusted basis. The Nats are a lock to give up more than 900 runs and could conceivably allow 1,000 or more. Let's not kid ourselves here. Aside from Patterson and closer Chad Cordero, this is, at best, a bunch of "AAAA" quality arms. Opposing hitters will be chomping at the bit to face these pitchers.
Sully: Yeah I am with Rich on this one. And it's never a good thing when you are depending on Nook Logan to rescue your team's hopes. But you make some good points, Chris. Maybe the defense can save some runs here and there on the margins. Offensively, I like some of the parts, like Zimmerman, Kearns, Lopez, Church and if he comes back, Johnson. But it still just doesn't quite fit together.
Chris: With Alfonso Soriano gone and Nick Johnson out, it's going to be a long summer. How many runs they score is going to depend on how long they tolerate automatic outs like Nook Logan and Cristian Guzman when alternatives are in place (Ron Belliard and Ryan Church). It's going to be a terrible team, but I'm not sold that it will be historically awful. Then again, come talk to me in October...if I make it that long.
Rich: By default, offense is the team's strength. Nick Johnson is a superb hitter but is recovering from a broken right leg and may miss the first two months of the season. As such, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Zimmerman will be forced to carry the load. The bottom three hitters (Cristian Guzman, Nook Logan, and the pitcher) will be the worst in all of baseball. I'm sorry, there isn't much to like here.
What do you guys see as the biggest surprise coming out of the NL East this season?
Sully: I'll take Atlanta to finish ahead of the Mets (but behind the Phillies). The bullpen will be lights out and these guys are going to mash again. And as I mentioned earlier, I think the Mets took some steps back this off-season.
Rich: No way, Sully. Pedro Martinez returns in August and is the difference maker down the stretch, lifting the Mets to a division title over the Phillies.
Chris: Does the Nats not being "historically awful" count? And isn't it always a surprise, regardless of how many have them as the division favorite, to pick Philly to win their division?
Sully: What about awards candidates? I would count Beltran, Wright, Reyes, Utley, Howard, McCann and Cabrera amongst the MVP hopefuls. I think Myers and Hamels could contend for a Cy, and I wouldn't count Smoltz out. As for Rookie of the Year, I don't see a real candidate in the East.
Rich: With respect to MVP, there are so many players in this division who could win the award. But given the voters preference for players with high RBI totals on winning teams, I would give the nod to Ryan Howard once again. If the Cy Young comes from the NL East, I would go with John Smoltz or maybe Brett Myers if he benefits from strong run support and wins 20 games. As to the Rookie of the Year, a long, long shot would be Michael Bourn. The reality is that there is little chance the #1 rookie comes out of this division. But I could see a scenario in which Aaron Rowand gets hurt or traded and Bourn steps up and hits .280-.300 with a decent number of walks and a bunch of triples and stolen bases while giving his club a plus defender in center field.
Chris: With the number of individual stars in the division, lots of players could contend for MVP, but the safe money is on Carlos Beltran and Ryan Howard. Jose Reyes and Chase Utley should certainly be in the conversation. I'm not sure if I really see any Cy Young contenders in the division, even if there are some quality pitchers. The Phillies guys are good, but the park hides much of that. If I had to pick, I'd take Old Man Smoltz. Maybe with some better bullpen support, he'd be closer to that "magical" 20-win mark. The tough thing about picking rookies is that the pre-season favorite (see: Hermida, Jeremy) rarely is the post-season one. Scott Thorman will likely have enough ABs to make some noise, but I'm not sure there are any other rookies who've won starting jobs yet. On the other side of the ball, Mike Pelfry has a chance if he cracks the Mets' rotation. And for the Nats, Matt Chico, who came over in the Livan Hernandez deal, looks like he's going to be given every chance to head north.
Sully: OK, prediction time. I have Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Florida, Washington.
Rich: I see the Phillies winning their first division crown since 1993, followed by the Mets, Braves, Marlins, and Nationals. I would be shocked if Florida and Washington don't finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Sully: I like the hedge after your "surprise" call, Rich.
Chris: Phillies, Mets, Braves, BIG GAP, Marlins, Nats. But dumb luck might have a say in the order of those first three.
Sully: Thanks for participating, everyone.
When Titans Clash
On May 28, 1968, the Giants and Cardinals squared off on a Tuesday evening in St. Louis, with a future Hall of Famer starting for each club: Bob Gibson for the Cardinals and Gaylord Perry for the Giants. Despite the early-season date, this matchup could have been considered key: the Giants were sitting atop the NL standings by a single game, with the Cardinals right behind them. The Giants had finished in second place three years running and were looking to take the pennant, for a change. The Cardinals were coming off a World Series Championship in 1967 and looking to repeat.
Gibson, of course, had his epic year in 1968, posting an ERA of 1.12 while throwing an amazing 13 shutouts. The tall right-hander was probably the most impressive figure on the field that day, but let's not forget about the Giants' elder statesman, a guy by the name of Willie Mays. Mays, at the age of 37, had a fine season himself in that Year of the Pitcher, finishing 3rd or 4th in the NL in OBP, SLG, OPS and OPS+. He was also selected to the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. He was still a force to be reckoned with, let there be no doubt about that.
The game was tied at 1-1 in the seventh inning, when Mays strode to the plate to face Gibson. Gibson had retired the first 15 Giants he faced, including Mays on a groundout and called strikeout. A home run by Giants catcher Dick Dietz had tied it in the sixth inning, though, and now there was a runner on first and nobody out. This was a classic confrontation: two future Hall of Famers, the power pitcher versus the slugger. They say good pitching beats good hitting, but not this time: Mays deposited a Gibson fastball into the bleachers, giving the Giants a 3-1 lead, which ended up being the final score.
So, this time Mays got the better of Gibson, but aren't you curious about how these two immortals fared against each other over the course of their careers? Well, thanks to Retrosheet, we know what happened in Mays v. Gibson. Not to mention Aaron against Koufax, Schmidt versus Seaver, and all the greats who faced off during the Retrosheet years.
I looked at the results of all batter/pitcher matchups for all players who were voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA since 1972. This puts us squarely in the Retrosheet era, which goes back to 1957 (Retrosheet also has data for NL games of 1954). For players who played most of their careers in one league, there are enough plate appearances in individual matchups to make this exercise interesting. For example, Hank Aaron batted against Don Drysdale 246 times in his career. If I require at least 50 PAs, I find 174 Hall-of-Fame batter/pitcher pairs. Let's have a look at a few of those, shall we?
Willie versus Hoot
We know that Mays got the best of Gibson in the game described above. But what happened when these two Inner-Circle Hall of Famers faced off during the rest of their careers? The Retrosheet period covers all of Bob Gibson's big league career (1959-1975). So, (except for a possible missing game here and there), we have a record of all the Gibson-Mays matchups: from their first encounter on September 7, 1959, when the rookie Gibson sent the superstar Mays down on strikes; to their final meeting in August 1971 with Gibson again getting the best of Mays, who flied out to center field.
Here's the career line for these two Titans:
Mays vs. Gibson, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 92 | 18 | 3 | 9 | 30 | 17 | 0.196 | 0.321 | 0.304 | 0.625 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+Looks like Gibson really had Willie's number over the years. This was Mays' worse performance against the Hall of Fame pitchers in my sample. It's not Gibson's best performance though: he held Tony Perez to just 7 hits and 2 walks with 28 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances. That translates to line of .121/.141/.190 for the Hall of Fame first baseman. Owie!
Tom Terrific faces Michael Jack
Tom Seaver is five years older than Mike Schmidt and the Hall of Fame pitcher reached the big leagues five years before the greatest third baseman who ever lived. Still, their time in the National League together lasted 12 seasons and they faced off many times. Things did not start off well for Schmidt against Seaver. In their first game together, on September 4, 1973, the established star Seaver struck out the rookie Schmidt three times. When the two squared off again nine days later, Schmidt's woes with Seaver continued: in five trips to the plate, he only managed a sacrifice bunt. Schmidt whiffed his other four trips to the plate.
Things did not improve all that much over the years, as Seaver handled the Phillies third baseman fairly easily over their career meetings:
Schmidt vs. Seaver, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 85 | 16 | 2 | 5 | 35 | 15 | 0.188 | 0.301 | 0.294 | 0.605 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+Does this mean that the old saw is true, that good pitching really does beat good hitting? Before making any hasty pronouncements, let's look at our next Hall of Fame couple.
Johnny Bench vs. Steve Carlton
On September 15, 1967, nineteen-year-old Johnny Bench singled off Steve Carlton, a youngster himself at 22 years, despite pitching in his third major league season. Lefty did not let that first meeting rattle him, though, and he retired the young Reds catcher 15 of the next 17 times they met. But Bench would turn things around against Carlton and had a pretty good game against the southpaw on July 26, 1970, when he hit three home runs off the four-time Cy Young Award winner.
Bench continued his successful ways against Carlton, ending up with this very nice line against the first ballot Hall-of-Famer:
Bench vs. Carlton, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 124 | 37 | 12 | 30 | 20 | 26 | 0.298 | 0.412 | 0.645 | 1.057 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+
Willie, again, vs. Spahnie
Everybody knows how Willie Mays struggled when he was first called up to the big leagues. Mays was destroying Triple-A pitching in Minneapolis, as his .477 batting average attests, when he was called to New York. He struggled at the start, though, going 0 for his first eleven at bats and 1-for-27. I knew about Willie's initial struggles at the plate early in my life because whenever I was down about my (it must be admitted) feeble Little League hitting, my dad would remind me about Willie's 1-for-27 at the start of his career.
What Dad never mentioned, though, was that the hit was a home run, and off a future Hall-of-Famer, to boot. Warren Spahn remembers the blow in Vincent Fay's The Only Game in Town.
Willie Mays got his first base hit off me. Willie Mays got his first home run off me. Same pitch. So I realized before the rest of the league that he was going to be a good hitter. And over the years I think Willie hit more home runs off me than anybody.Mays ended up with a pretty nice line against Spahn:
Mays vs. Spahn, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 158 | 43 | 13 | 32 | 12 | 15 | 0.272 | 0.328 | 0.551 | 0.878 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+Not as good as his career numbers (.302/.384/.557), but not bad considering the opposing pitcher. Of course, the main period of overlap (1957-1965) falls more in Mays' prime than in Spahn's. By the way, those 13 home runs are the second most by anybody in my sample. Hank Aaron hit 17 home runs off Don Drysdale, although it took him 218 plate appearances to do so. I'll have more on Hammerin' Hank in a bit.
Ernie Banks vs. Sandy Koufax
Both Banks and Koufax had ups and downs in their great careers and I was curious to see how they matched up. Koufax, as everybody knows, was plagued by wildness for roughly the first half of his career, but became one of history's best pitchers in the period 1961-1966. He retired at age 30 while still at the top of his game. Ernie Banks, one of the few players in history to win back-to-back MVP awards, did that in 1958-1959, when Koufax was still a league-average pitcher. Mr. Cub's decline phase started around 1962 or so (he moved from shortstop to first base that year), just when Koufax was becoming the best pitcher in the game.
Their first meeting (as recorded by Retrosheet) occurred on April 30, 1957, when the 21-year-old left-hander, pitching in relief, faced the Cubs slugger in the ninth inning with a runner on first, one out and the Dodgers down by a run. Banks went down on strikes and Koufax ended up throwing two innings of scoreless relief, allowing the Dodgers to come back and win the game in 10 innings. The winning blow? A home run by shortstop(!) Don Zimmer.
Another memorable matchup between these two first ballot Hall-Of-Famers occured on September 9, 1965. Koufax faced Banks three times that game and each time he struck out the Cubs first baseman. Ron Santo also had a tough time against Sandy that day, as did Billy Williams and all the rest of the Chicago hitters, none of whom reached base against the Dodger pitcher. This was, of course, Koufax's celebrated perfect game.
Overall Koufax dominated Banks in their matchups:
Banks vs. Koufax, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 127 | 21 | 7 | 18 | 31 | 10 | 0.165 | 0.226 | 0.362 | 0.588 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+
I think the best performance by a hitter in these HoF batter-pitcher matchups has to go to Hank Aaron against Koufax:
Aaron vs. Koufax, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 113 | 42 | 7 | 16 | 12 | 13 | 0.372 | 0.437 | 0.664 | 1.100 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+To me, this is an amazing batting line, considering the lower run scoring environments typical when Aaron and Koufax were facing each other. Of course, the most impressive thing about Aaron's line is the quality of the opposing pitcher, Sandy Koufax.
My award for the best pitching performance in a HoF matchup goes to Catfish Hunter versus Frank Robinson.
Frank Robinson vs. Catfish Hunter, career +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | AB | H | HR | RBI | SO | BB | AVG | OBP | SLG | OPS | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+ | 98 | 15 | 2 | 7 | 17 | 10 | 0.153 | 0.231 | 0.265 | 0.497 | +------+------+------+------+------+------+-------+-------+-------+-------+Hunter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987 (his third year on the ballot) and many consider him to be a marginal candidate at best. I don't want to get into that discussion here, but rather just note that he really handled first ballot HoFer Frank Robinson pretty easily, didn't he? The amazing thing about the above line is the number of home runs. Robinson hit 586 home runs in his career and Hunter seemingly surrendered as many (the actual number is 374). Yet, incredibly, Hunter surrended just two round trippers to Robinson in over a hundred plate appearances. And he didn't give up much else either, as you can see from the line above.
Good pitching beats good hitting?
I didn't really set out to answer this question, but after looking at these Hall-of-Fame matchups, I think I have to agree with Casey Stengel, who said, "Good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa."
More Game than Name
A few weeks back I listed out the players whose name recognition and reputation, in my view, outstrip their actual value on the field. I thought I would follow it up by flipping things around. The following players, while not without flaws of their own, have more game than name.
Catcher: Josh Bard
I know. It was only 263 plate appearances with the Padres but he was just so good. Bard hit .333/.404/.522...as a catcher...in one of the most challenging hitting environments in all of baseball. Bard's utter inability to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler proved to be the best thing that could have happened to his career. After acquiring Bard along with Coco Crisp and David Riske for Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota and Kelly Shoppach, Boston quickly flipped Bard and reliever Cla Meredith for Doug Mirabelli in one of the most lopsided deals in recent memory. The Pads pantsed Boston. Now the Padres have decided to part ways with future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza so that they can hand the full time reins over to Bard. This season will prove a real test for the backstop.
First Base: - Nick Johnson
I struggle with this one just as I do with a few of my other choices because health is in fact a contributor to one's overall ability to contribute to a winning team's efforts. That said, a guy that is able to get it done when he is on the field is deserving of recognition. Nick Johnson falls into this category. Johnson blossomed in 2003 with the Yanks, posting a 141 OPS+, but only appeared in 96 games due to a hand injury. Since, he has continued to battle injuries and post tremendous numbers, only he has done so toiling in relative obscurity with the Expos/Nationals. But in 2005 Johnson posted a .289/.408/.479 line and followed it up with an impressive .290/.428/.520. When healthy, there are few other first basemen you would want on your club more than Johnson.
Second Base - Ray Durham
Durham did have something of a career year last season so I am reluctant to focus too much on it but it warrants mentioning that he hit .293/.360/.538 while playing 2nd Base in another one of baseball's most challenging parks for offensive production. But go back over Durham's resume. For nine seasons now he has consistently ranked in the upper third-to-quartile of MLB 2nd Basemen. Over the course of his career he has amassed a WARP3 total of 81.1, precisely 8.1 wins shy of everyone's favorite misguided Hall snub, Jim Rice. Durham is still very good, has been for a long time and I don't get the sense fans realize it.
Third Base - Chipper Jones
I understand that many realize Chipper Jones has been an excellent player over the course of his career. But sheesh, take a look at his career numbers. He currrently ranks 14th on the active list with a 142 OPS+ and those ahead of him are largely outfielders, 1st Basemen and designated hitters. Only Mike Piazza and Alex Rodriguez have a more impressive OPS+ number amongst those who did not play those positions. Chipper has struggled to stay on the field consistently over the last few seasons but when he is out there he continues to produce at superstar levels. Barring a late career free-fall, Chipper will be heading to the Hall of Fame.
Shortstop - Carlos Guillen
Since Guillen was dealt for..wait for it...wait for it...Ramon Santiago after the 2003 season, he has had two MVP caliber seasons and an injury-plagued solid one.
AVG OBP SLG 2004: .318 .379 .542 2005: .320 .368 .434 (just 87 games) 2006: .320 .400 .519
Like Bard and Durham, Guillen is another playing a traditionally defensive-oriented position posting impressive figures in a pitcher's park. At 31, Guillen may be headed for the backside of his career but he is still one of the ten best position players in the American League and should be a key component to a hopeful 2007 Tigers bunch.
Outfield - Jason Bay
Since the second he stepped out into the bright lights of the Big League stage, Jason Bay has performed like nothing short of a superstar. It seems almost scary that he is just 28-years old. Here are his numbers since he came onto the scene in 2003:
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ 2003: 107 .287 .421 .529 148 2004: 472 .282 .358 .550 135 2005: 707 .306 .402 .559 148 2006: 689 .286 .396 .532 136
There is no reason to believe that Bay will slow down. He is a bona fide star and should continue to produce accordingly.
Outfield - Grady Sizemore
You can take Andruw Jones and Carlos Beltran. Take Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Johnny Damon too. Sizemore is my guy, the best center fielder in baseball and well on his way to a career of superstardom. I know readers of this site are most likely fully aware of just how good he has been now for two seasons but being only 24-years old and having never appeared in the post-season, Sizemore still has not received his due from the mainstream press. A Division championship and another MVP'ish season should change that this year.
Outfield - Moises Alou
After the 2001 season, Alou signed a three-year deal with the Cubs that looked like it would pay off nicely for Chicago. Alou was a major bust in his first two seasons with the Cubbies, however.
Games AVG OBP SLG OPS+ 2002 132 .275 .337 .419 100 2003 151 .280 .357 .462 113
He came through in his contract year at the age of 37, however, posting a .293/.361/.557 line for a 128 OPS+. Obviously, the Giants were there with open arms to snatch up the aging Alou and equally obviously, the statheads were out in force to pan the deal. Although Alou battled injury with the Giants, look at these rate stats he put up. Maybe the Giants had the last laugh.
Games AVG OBP SLG OPS+ 2005 123 .321 .400 .518 141 2006 98 .301 .352 .571 132
If the Mets can keep Alou on the field, they will have a nice addition to an already potent lineup. And if not, in Shawn Green and Lastings Milledge, they have decent enough depth so as not to have to rely to heavily on the 40-year old.
Right Handed Pitcher - Aaron Harang
The numbers were tremendous for Harang in 2006. 234.3 innings of 128 ERA+ pitching is really getting it done. Lest you think he was a one year wonder, the peripherals portend more success for Harang going forward. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was a very high .326 and his K/BB ratio of 3.86 was 4th in the National League. This guy misses bats and doesn't put too many men on base via the free pass. With any luck at all on balls in play in 2007, Harang could find himself competing for a Cy Young Award.
Left Handed Pitcher - Erik Bedard
Bedard has frustrated some by not quite fulfilling his tantalizing potential. Whether battling injury problems or shaky control, Bedard has been unable (to date) to mature into the pitcher the O's hoped they might have. I think that changes this year. Bedard has steadily been cutting back on his walks and tossed a career high 196.3 innings last season. His strikeout numbers have always been impressive. Look for Bedard to be one of the better pitchers in the American League in 2007.
So this is my list of faves based on little more than my perception that these guys are better than most think. I would love to know who readers think are the players that do not quite get their due.
Florida's Rookie Hurlers: Can They Avoid the Sophomore Curse?
The Florida Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball in 2006 and knew they would have to rely heavily on rookies. Expectations were low once the season began and no one in baseball expected the Marlins would actually sniff the Wild Card (on Sept. 12 they were two games out of the lead), let alone avoid a 100-loss season.
Poor pitching is usually the No. 1 symptom of a bad season ahead. Florida entered the season with a lot of unknowns in the rotation, but by the end of the year the team had a rotation that was second-to-none (or very few) in the National League: Willis, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. All the starters were under the age of 24 and all are loaded with potential.
But the big question is: How good will Johnson, Olsen, Sanchez and Nolasco be in the future? Will the ugly sophomore slump rear its ugly head? How many of these players will end up back in the minors by June? Some of the answers came swiftly and before any spring games officially got underway.
GB% K/9 BB/9 IP H WHIP ERA AVG Scott Olsen 44.8 8.27 3.74 180.2 160 1.30 4.04 .239 Josh Johnson 35.7 7.62 3.90 157.0 136 1.30 3.10 .235 Anibal Sanchez 44.6 5.67 3.62 114.1 90 1.19 2.83 .218 Ricky Nolasco 38.8 6.36 2.64 140.0 157 1.41 4.82 .285
Yusmeiro Petit 29.3 6.84 3.08 26.1 46 2.09 9.57 .383 Sergio Mitre 51.9 6.80 4.39 41.0 44 1.56 5.71 .276 Renyel Pinto 44.9 10.92 8.19 29.2 20 1.58 3.03 .193
Taylor Tankersley 44.0 10.10 5.71 41.0 33 1.44 2.85 .222 Randy Messenger 38.4 6.71 3.58 60.1 72 1.59 5.67 .297
RHP | 6'7'' 240lbs | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 4th - 2002 - high school
Johnson showed all the makings of a rotation workhorse in 2006 with his 6'7'' 240lbs frame but he entered spring training in 2007 with elbow pain. Unable to work through 'the usual aches and pains of spring training,' Johnson had his elbow examined and the latest suspicion is nerve damage. If he has nerve transposition surgery, the young righty would likely miss a good portion of the upcoming season, which could deal a huge blow to the Marlins' staff. As a result of the injury, Johnson's future prospects are cloudy. However, Seattle's Chris Reitsma, Atlanta's Oscar Villarreal, Arizona's Brandon Lyon, and San Francisco's Jack Taschner are among those who have successfully returned from the surgery. Johnson was also shutdown late last year with a forearm strain.
2007 Season Forecast: 55 innings
RHP | 6'0'' 180lbs | Born: 2/84 | Drafted: NDF - 2001 - NA
Sanchez also began spring training with bells and whistles going off as he complained of discomfort in his shoulder. The news on Sanchez appears more promising than with Johnson as the team diagnosed tendinitis and inflammation. Sanchez is currently reported to be about five days behind schedule. Interestingly enough, in 2003, Sanchez had the same surgery Johnson is facing. In total, Sanchez pitched 200 innings, so he was a little overworked in 2006. His previous high for innings pitched was 146 in 2005. Unfortunately, the recent history of rookie pitchers throwing 200 innings is not good. Sanchez has good stuff - as witnessed by his no-hitter against Arizona this past season - but you have to be worried about that shoulder. As well, he had the lowest K/9 of the four rookie hurlers but batters managed only a .218 average against. If batters start taking better swings against him, he could be in trouble. Regardless, he was a nice consolation prize after the Marlins were rebuffed in their efforts to get Jon Lester in the Josh Beckett trade.
2007 Season Forecast: 140 innings
LHP | 6'4'' 200lbs | Born: 1/84 | Drafted: 6th - 2002 - high school
Knock on wood, Olsen appears to be the healthiest out of these first three pitchers. The promising lefty won 12 games in 2006 and solidified himself as one of the best young left-handed pitchers in the game. The team was able to keep Olsen's innings pitched under 200 (187). There is some bad news in his history, though, as Olsen missed a chunk of time in 2005 with elbow irritation. A bone spur was found, but he elected to forgo surgery and work through the problem. Regardless, that pointy projectile is still in there. The Marlins are no doubt happy they did not trade Olsen for Joey Gathright last spring. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, a solid slider and a bulldog mentality, Olsen could be a star.
2007 Season Forecast: 195 innings
RHP | 6'2'' 220lbs | Born: 12/82 | Drafted: 4th - 2001 - high school
Obtained from the Cubs in the Juan Pierre deal prior to the 2006 season, Nolasco had a solid, albeit inconsistent rookie season. This past winter he was tabbed him as the favorite to fill the Marlins' vacated closer's role (Joe Borowski signed with Cleveland as a free agent). However, the injury to Johnson means that Nolasco's services may be needed in the rotation. Nolasco allowed more than 10 hits per nine innings, but he kept his walks at 2.64/9. He survives more on guile than with overpowering stuff and is probably at his best as a No. 4 pitcher. Nolasco may be a little overexposed if he is asked to jump up to the No. 3 slot.
2007 Season Forecast: 160 innings
With the injury to Johnson - and the inconsistency of young pitchers - Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto and Yusmeiro Petit figure to play prominent roles in 2007, whether in the rotation of in the bullpen. Aside from Willis, none of Florida's starting pitchers project to throw 200-plus innings.
RHP | 6'4'' 210lbs | Born: 2/81 | Drafted: 7th - 2001 - college
Mitre has OK stuff, especially if he can keep the ball on the ground. His biggest issue in 2006 was his control as he walked far too many batters. When he gets into trouble, Mitre lacks the ability to strike batters out on a consistent basis. He could potentially succeed in the No. 4 spot in the rotation with better control, although he is probably best-suited for the bullpen.
2007 Season Forecast: 112 innings
LHP | 6'4'' 195lbs | Born: 7/82 | Drafted: NDF - 1999 - NA
Of the three "replacement pitchers," Pinto has the best pure stuff. However, he does not always know where his pitches are going, as witnessed by his BB/9 ratio of 8.19 in the majors in 2006. Until Pinto can harness his control, he should be left in the bullpen. Pinto does well against left-handers, having limited them to a .171 average in 2006. That said, he walked 9.9 lefties per nine innings despite allowing only 5.4 H/9.
2007 Season Forecast: 57 innings
RHP | 6'0'' 180lbs | Born: 11/84 | Drafted: NDF - 2001 - NA
Petit is one of those pitchers that puts up excellent numbers despite average stuff. And that average stuff inevitably catches up with pitchers once they hit the major leagues, which is exactly what happened to Petit in 2006. His ceiling is probably that of a No. 5 starter and middle reliever and should see swing duty in the Marlins' bullpen in 2007.
2007 Season Forecast: 87 innings
The Marlins also received some solid pitching from a pair of young relievers: Randy Messenger and Taylor Tankersley. Tankersley came to the majors with a little more fanfare as a former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins in 2004 out of the University of Alabama. Messenger was a lesser known 11th round pick out of high school and it took him seven years to navigate through the minor leagues.
LHP | 6'1'' 220lbs | Born: 3/83 | Drafted: 1st - 2004 - college
Tankersley had a solid rookie season and became one of the Marlins' most dependable relievers. One number that stands out is that he walked 7.66 right-handed batters per nine innings pitched, but that also included four intentional walks. Although his delivery is said to be tough on lefties, his 2006 splits do not display any major differences.
AVG/OBA/SLG GO/AO BB/9 K/9 BB/9 Right .222/.368/.300 1.10 7.66 11.31 7.30 Left .236/.295/.400 1.83 2.76 8.27 7.16
2007 Season Forecast: 67.1 innings
RHP | 6'6'' 245lbs | Born: 8/81 | Drafted: 11th - 1999 - high school
Messenger has a big, strong pitcher's body. But the usual rookie inconsistencies were present in 2006 and he walks far too many batters (4.99 BB/9 in his career). Add in the fact he allows about 10 hits per nine innings and Messenger allows far too many batters on base, especially if he hopes to pitch in the eight or ninth innings. His ERA is a little misleading considering Messenger allowed three or more runs in an outing six times. If you take out those six games, he had a pretty good season.
IP H K/BB ER ERA Six Games 4.0 21 04/06 22 49.50 Altered Season 56.1 51 41/18 16 2.56
2007 Season Forecast: 68.0 innings
Next week I'll take a look at the Marlins' crop of second year hitters.
*Career comps courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Winks and Links
I have been fortunate to join up with some of the best publications of late and wanted to share these contributions with you. The quantity and quality of information is better today than ever.
Editor Dave Studeman asked me to write the team commentary for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the style of the "Team in a Box" format from the Bill James Baseball Books from the early 1990s. My article can be found here.
Spearheaded by the foursome of Liriano, Papelbon, Verlander, and Weaver, this class of first-year pitchers could be the best since 1984 when Rookies of the Year Dwight Gooden (17-9, 2.60) and Mark Langston (17-10, 3.40) were joined by Roger Clemens (9-4, 4.32), Orel Hershiser (11-8, 2.66), Ron Darling (12-9, 3.81), and Mark Gubicza (10-14, 4.05). Given the unpredictable nature of pitchers, this year's Fab Four could be caught or surpassed in due time by any number of their fellow rookies, including Chad Billingsley, Boof Bonser, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Rich Hill, Chuck James, Josh Johnson, Adam Loewen, John Maine, Scott Olsen, Anthony Reyes, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields, and/or Jeremy Sowers.
The pitching staff is tops in the American League. Last year, the team had the third-best ERA (4.04) while tying for first in strikeouts and allowing the fewest home runs in the league. It doesn't take much imagination to envision the Halos surpassing the Twins (especially given the absence of Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke, and the possible inclusion of Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson in this year's Minnesota rotation), and one can make the case that they were better than Detroit in 2006. Sure, the Tigers had a lower ERA, but the Angels put up superior K/9 (7.2 vs. 6.2), BB/9 (2.9 vs. 3.0) and H/9 (8.7 vs. 8.8).
Brad Wochomurka and I also talked about the Angels' chances on Baseball Prospectus Radio. You can listen to the 10-minute discussion here.
In the meantime, don't forget to pick up Baseball Prospectus 2007 if you haven't already. I have all of the editions going back to 2001.
I believe Bill James is the most influential person in baseball with respect to how insiders and serious fans think about the game of baseball since Branch Rickey. He challenged long-held consensus viewpoints by researching such issues and presenting indisputable evidence to the contrary in many cases.
The book, edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce and published by ACTA Sports, is a breezy, 136-page read. I recommend picking up a copy as it promises to be a worthwhile addition to your library of Bill James books.
I hooked up with Joe last week to discuss the NL West. He asked me 21 questions, mostly about the Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants (in no particular order...all right, that is how I see the division ending up) but also plays word association on a totally separate topic:
OK, let's play a word association game. I'll say a word, and you say the first thing that comes to mind. The word is, hmm, let me think of a good one ... BLYLEVEN.
Is Opening Day really just two weeks away?
Spring Training Report: Live in Arizona Days 4-6
I attended my fourth spring training game in Peoria, Arizona to watch the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers after spending the previous three games in Surprise. It was the first and last time I will set foot in Peoria's ballpark.
First off, when I ordered the ticket a week ahead of time, I asked for a seat in the shade (we fair-skinned Canadians have to be careful) only to find that my seat was in fact very much in the sun and the narrow roof did not even cover the row I was in. Although there is a small roof on the third base side, the position of the sun during the afternoon ensures that few, if any, seats on that side are in the sun until about 4 p.m. I was able to exchange my ticket for the third base side under the roof (after some grumbling by the ticket window employee who insisted I already had "shade seating"), but I was left wondering why I had not received this in the first place.
Another problem - perhaps a small one - was the fact that the scoreboard did not post the speeds of the pitches. In this day and age of fan interest, I find it hard to understand why all stadiums and baseball broadcasts do not post the speeds.
Speaking of speeding balls, an elderly woman was hit in the side of her face by a foul ball and it looked pretty bad for a few minutes. But paramedics were on the scene within a matter of seconds and the woman was able to walk out with some minor assistance.
The final straw that broke the camel's back was trying to get out of the stadium after the game. The Peoria stadium, unlike most, does not employ traffic coordinators or police officers after the game to direct traffic through the stop lights and onto the busy highway. That is left up to the drivers and it was a mess.
Anyway, back to the game. It was a pitchers' duel for the most part: Ben Sheets versus Jarrod Washburn. Sheets was in mid-season form. He pitched five innings and allowed only two hits. He walked none and struck out two. Of his outs, seven were via the groundball and three were flyballs and two were line drives.
Washburn struggled early for Seattle, giving up two hits and a run to the first two batters he faced (Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy). After that, though, he settled down and ended up allowing only three hits in total over four innings of work. He did not allow a walk and he struck out one. The flyball pitcher recorded five outs via the groundball and five outs via the flyball.
Relievers Julio Mateo, Arthur Rhodes and Jon Huber each worked an inning and did not allow a run. Eric O'Flaherty pitched the final two innings in the game for Seattle and allowed two hits and one run. He recorded three groundball outs, two fly outs and one line drive out.
Offensively for Milwaukee, Weeks went 2-for-3 with a double and a single. His wrist, which has caused him to miss a significant amount of time, looked healthy. Other players who had hits included Hardy (1-for-3), Tony Graffanino (1-for-3), Ryan Braun (1-for-4) and Tony Gwynn (1-for-2). Gwynn also popped out to the pitcher on a horrible bunt attempt. He is going to have to get better at bunting to utilize his speed and detract from his lack of power.
Defensively, Braun's arm looked OK but not great and his range to his left was not that great. Prince Fielder, unfortunately, did not play.
For Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki went 1-for-3 and his defensive replacement Adam Jones went 1-for-1 in centerfield. Jose Vidro, playing DH, was 1-for-3 with an RBI single. His replacement, top catching prospect Jeff Clement, was 1-for-1 and also drove in a run. Kenji Johjima was 1-for-3 with a single. Non-roster player Gookie (Travis) Dawkins came off the bench to replace shortstop Rey Ordonez (1-for-2) and hit a two-run homer.
Overall, Seattle did not instill a lot of confidence in me. Washburn was pretty good but the Milwaukee batters really teed off in the first inning and every ball hit was struck hard. Their depth is also lacking when you look at the likes of Brian LaHair, Tony Torcato and Dawkins. The bullpen was also average at best. Adrian Beltre looked better throwing the ball around warming up between innings than he did during actual game play.
Sheets should be very good for Milwaukee this year if he can stay healthy. Again, though, their bullpen was average at best and their depth is also questionable (Mat Gamel, Michael Rivera, Chris Errecart, etc.). However, I think Milwaukee may surprise some people in the National League Central this season. Seattle will probably disappoint.
My fifth spring training game was an interesting one for the simple fact that I got to see one of the top 2007/07 free agents: Barry Zito. The bonus was that I also got to see Barry Bonds play for the first time live.
Facing the Kansas City Royals, Zito pitched four innings and did not look particularly sharp. His fastball topped out at 88 mph and he lacked pinpoint command of his off-speed pitches. Zito threw 71 pitches in four innings and only 41 for strikes (58%). That said, the Royals' batters managed only four hits and two runs off Zito and the game ended 7-6 in Kansas City's favor.
Zito's 12 Outs:
Right vs Left:
Dave Roberts: single, reached on error by shortstop, groundball to first, strikeout.
Offensively, top prospect Alex Gordon led the way and should be at third base to start the season, if he continues playing even half as well as he did on this day. Gordon looks like a big leaguer and there is definitely something "different" about him. He went 3-for-4, although one of those hits should have been an error (the fourth questionable scoring play in five games at the Surprise stadium).
Ryan Shealy was 1-for-3 with a double off the wall, which just missed going out. Billy Butler pinch hit for Shealy and grounded into a double play. Mark Teahen was 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He played right field, paving the way for Gordon to start at third base.
There have been some rumblings in the media that Angel Berroa is close to playing himself out of the starting shortstop position. You could see why on this night. He looked disinterested in the field and showed little at the plate. He struck out looking and grounded to third while batting ninth. He was relieved by Alex Gonzalez in the sixth inning. Gonzalez, the former Jays and Cubs shortstop, looks to be in great shape despite retiring early in 2006. Both Berroa and Gonzalez made errors in the field, although Gonzalez' was relatively difficult as he was racing back and try to make an over-the-shoulder play in shallow left field.
The San Diego Padres visited the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Arizona on March 16 and came away on the short end of a 4-3 game. Starter Clay Hensley of San Diego out-dueled Jamey Wright, who is looking to make the Rangers as a non-roster player.
Hensley pitched three innings and allowed three hits but no runs. He struggled with his control, walking three and hitting a batter. He also struck out three. Of his other six outs recorded, Hensley induced three groundballs and three fly balls.
He was relieved by Doug Brocail, who also struggled with his control. In two innings of work, Brocail allowed two hits, two runs, walked one and struck out three. His most impressive match-up came when he struck out Sammy Sosa on a 92 mph fastball, after sitting at between 86-88 mph the previous inning.
Cla Meredith, a surprise success in 2006, took over for Brocail and struggled. In one inning, he allowed three hits and two runs. Meredith walked one, struck out none and induced two groundballs and one strikeout. Scott Cassidy had a mixed outing and allowed two hits in one inning but struck out the side and touched 93 mph. Scott Strickland finished the game for San Diego with a perfect inning and struck out one, while inducing two fly outs.
Wright pitched 3.1 innings and allowed four hits, as well as two runs. He walked one and struck out three. The groundball pitcher induced five groundballs and only two fly balls.
Following Wright were Willie Eyre, Frank Francisco, Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Feldman and Ron Mahay. Francisco, returning from Tommy John surgery, touched 96 mph and threw five straight pitches at 95 mph or greater at one point. However, he allowed two hits and one run. Feldman struck out one and induced two groundballs.
Offensively, San Diego started its 'A' lineup for the most part:
It was interesting to see the Giles brothers bat back-to-back. Brian had some definite juice in his bat, despite his declining power numbers. Gonzalez is relatively slow on the bases but has solid hands at first base. Branyan is one of those players who always looks like he's having fun. He was joking and laughing with all his teammates before the game and signed a number of autographs. Greene is one of those players that just doesn't stand out because he does everything well but is not flashy about it.
Texas also started many of its regulars:
With Mark DeRosa leaving Texas for Chicago in the off-season, the Rangers have a need for a utility player and have been giving a long look to former Diamonback Kata, who has looked solid in the two games I have seen him play. He played a flawless shortstop, arguably his weakest infield position. Stewart looks like a solid emergency catcher to have at Triple-A, having been obtained from the White Sox earlier this year. During my six games in Arizona, the Texas players appeared to be the least receptive to signing autographs.
The two could not have taken more different paths to get to where they are now. Papelbon was Boston's closer all of last season, dominating virtually everytime he was handed the ball until hurting his shoulder on September 1. For his part, Wainwright toiled in relative obscurity (otherwise known as "middle relief") for a club fighting to stay above .500. Still, they were both very effective in 2006.
G IP ER H BB SO WHIP Papelbon 59 68.3 7 40 13 75 0.77 Wainwright 61 75.0 26 64 22 72 1.15
Just as Papelbon's season crumbled, Wainwright's became interesting. Jason Isringhausen, the longtime St. Louis closer, finally shut it down after his September 6th appearance in Washington. He had battled injuries and ineffectiveness all season long. So for the stretch run, as St. Louis was looking to wrap up a Division crown, it was Wainwright who would be seeing St. Louis's higher leverage innings. He performed well enough to earn Tony LaRussa's confidence and would be entrusted as St. Louis's closer for the postseason.
So while Papelbon's future hung in the balance and many wondered if his shoulder would heal in time for him to start the 2007 season, Wainwright emerged as one of the game's fiercest and most dominant relievers. No matter what happens the rest of the way, Wainwright's place in St. Louis baseball lore is secure. Wainwright threw just under 10 innings for St. Louis in the postseason, allowing no runs, just 9 baserunners while striking out 15. He notched four saves.
This season both Wainwright and Papelbon come to Spring Training ready to take on broader responsibilities for their respective clubs. Neither has started regularly before in the Big Leagues, but something tells me both will acquit themselves just fine in their new roles.
Looper has now started four times this spring. His stats are as follows:
IP H R ER BB SO ERA 14 17 5 5 3 6 3.21
St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan believes the 32-year-old Looper, who has appeared in 572 contests without a GS, can be an effective starter. Drafted by the Cardinals in the first round with the third overall pick of the 1996 amateur draft, Looper pitched four games for the Redbirds in 1998 before getting traded (along with Armando Almanza and Pablo Ozuna) to the Florida Marlins for Edgar Renteria. He tossed more than 70 games for the Fish every year from 1999-2003, then signed as a free agent with the New York Mets in January 2004. Braden served as the Mets closer for two years before reuniting with Duncan and Tony LaRussa.
Looper has a career ERA of 3.57 and has never had a year where his ERA+ was worse than the league average. The eight-year veteran relies on a hard sinker and a split-fingered fastball to get more than his fair share of grounders. He tends to give up a lot of hits (617 in 607 1/3 career IP) and will need to keep the ball down to succeed in his new role. The cousin of Aaron Looper, who pitched six games for the Seattle Mariners in 2003, would do well to develop a changeup to improve his effectiveness vs. LHB:
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR PA vs. RHB .234 .297 .306 .603 16 1506 vs. LHB .306 .372 .464 .836 30 1107
How Wainwright and Looper fare as starters will go a long way in determing the fate of the defending champs in 2007.
Two on Two: AL West Preview
Sully: While it seems the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels separated themselves in the American League West in 2006, a closer look at some of the Adjusted Standings indicates that this division may be a lot more tightly bunched than meets the eye. What are your thoughts on the competitive dynamics in the AL West as we head into 2007?
Rich: The AL West is generally thought of as the weakest division in the league. But how many people know that all four teams outplayed the East last year and all but the Mariners were .500 or better against the Central? This division is deceiving. It's not overly strong at the top but there aren't any pushovers like last year's Devil Rays or Royals either. The West is the only division of the three where every club goes into the season believing it could sit atop the standings at the end of the year. There's a lot to be said about that.
Jamey: And while most people who feel the need to handicap the division in mid-March like Anaheim and Oakland, those also happen to be the two clubs hit hardest by injury so far. The West has more of an up-for-grabs feel to it than any division.
Jeff: I think I've written "the Mariners are the worst team in a weak division" a million times this winter, but it seems like every time I do, I come away even less impressed with the best than I was before. Put simply, neither Oakland nor Anaheim are very good, and there might only be a five- or six-win separation between the top and bottom rosters in the group. That's a tiny, tiny gap, and the sort of thing that makes for a wild September.
Sully: I think I am on the same wavelength as everyone here. What the AL West lacks in quality at the front-end, it makes up for with a complete absence of bad clubs and general competitiveness. The Oakland Athletics are coming off a 93-win season and a trip to the ALCS. But there are some real warning signs with this club. For one, their best pitcher (Barry Zito) and hitter (Frank Thomas) from the 2006 club are gone. Further, their pythagorean record in 2006 suggested they were not as good as their record. To me, this looks like a .500-ish club. How do others feel about Oakland?
Rich: I wouldn't want to under estimate the A's. Like Atlanta, Oakland seems to always defy the naysayers. The franchise has finished first or second for eight years in a row (including four division titles), and it hasn't won fewer than 87 games during this period. Yes, the team loses Zito and Thomas, but a healthy Rich Harden - knock on wood - can make up some of the difference and Mike Piazza hit .283/.342/.501 while wearing the tools of ignorance for San Diego. Net-net, I think the A's are not quite as formidable as they were in 2006, but I don't see them dropping 12 games in the win column either.
Jeff: Every year the A's lose a critical player or two, every year they bounce back, and every year I don't think they'll be able to do it again. So maybe I just suck at pattern recognition, but I think they're going to have a whale of a time replacing everything that got from Thomas and Zito. A hypothetical full season from Harden makes up for some of the Zito loss, but the same doesn't go for the lineup. Piazza just won't be able to approach Thomas's power or on-base ability. He hasn't been that kind of player for a few years, and there's no reason to think he'll suddenly rejuvenate his career at 38. The A's will be relying on a group of players to make up for the loss of one, and that's a difficult situation to be in.
Jamey: We're of course banking down here on the loss of Ron Washington killing Oakland, the addition of Washington gilding Texas, and the departure of Buck Showalter being worth a few games. Can those three things mean a 10-game swing between the A's and Rangers? Nah. But that's the sort of thing Rangers fans - and i'm one of them - hang onto this time each year. Never know.
Sully: Isn't it all about health with these guys? To me the Oakland season comes down to three players; Bobby Crosby, Dan Johnson and Rich Harden. Crosby, even when healthy, was miserable last season, hitting .229/.298/.338. Johnson hit .234/.323/.381, just abominable figures for a first baseman. Harden managed just nine starts. These guys were to be the foundation of Oakland's latest wave of talent that would carry them just as so many others who had come up through the A's system had before them. But at this point, it's hard to believe they can be counted upon for the output Oakland needs them to produce.
Rich: Eric Chavez is another player whose health is an important element here. He played through a number of nagging injuries (forearms, elbows, wrists, and hamstring) last year and his offensive production (.241/.351/.435) suffered despite making only five errors in the field and winning his sixth consecutive Gold Glove. He claims to be healthy this spring and could be primed for a bounce back year at the plate. A .270 batting average with 30 HR is certainly within the parameters of his career norms.
Jeff: I can't foresee any situation where the A's get better this year. In theory that sets the upper limit around 93 wins, but considering they beat their Pythagorean win total by eight, in reality it should be lower than that. It's a decent team, but it's not a great one, or even a particularly good one.
Sully: What about the Angels, Rich? The pitching once again looks fantastic, but is it good enough to carry what appears to be a very weak offense?
Rich: The Angels scored the fourth-lowest number of runs in the AL last year. Only the Mariners and the lowly Devil Rays and Royals plated fewer runners. The good news is that the offense should be a little bit better this year. Mind you, not a lot better. I know Gary Matthews is coming off of a career year, but he could regress and still provide an upgrade over what really amounts to Maicer Izturis. In addition, Howie Kendrick figures to put up considerably better numbers than Adam Kennedy at second base. There is no reason to suspect that Vladimir Guerrero won't be healthy, but the Angels cannot afford to lose him for any length of time. He needs to do his thing and hit .320 with 30 HR for the Angels to be respectable offensively.
Sully: So the Angels were in the market for a Designated Hitter, evaluated their available options, and decided that offering Shea Hillenbrand $6.5 million to handle the role was the right course of action. Shea has always been a low-obp / high-slug type of hitter but what will Angels Stadium do to his power? I don't think .275/.315/.430 is anywhwere out of the question. If Shea logs the majority of the Halos' DH at-bats this season, he has a good chance at being one of the very worst regulars in baseball.
Rich: I'm not going to defend that signing other than to say it was a one-year deal, mostly in response to Juan Rivera breaking his leg in a winter league game. Hey, the guy fits right in with Mickey Hacker's approach. Like most Angels, Hillenbrand has never met a pitch he didn't like. His single-season high in walks is 26. TWENTY-SIX! But who knows, maybe they acquired him for his team chemistry.
Sully: At least they no longer employ Darin Erstad!
Jeff: They might as well. I've had a sneaking suspicion for a little while that Reggie Willits has a lot of Erstad in his blood.
Jamey: The bigger question, to me, is how much Darren Dreifort it is that Jered Weaver's got in him. The health of the Angels' rotation is obviously what gives the rest of the division hope in '07, but that bully is going to keep them around no matter how many days of service Weaver and Colon and Co. rack up on the DL.
Rich: Now, now . . . I don't see any reason to lump Weaver in with Dreifort. Sure, he is dealing with tendinitis in his arm and is behind schedule. But both Weaver and Colon had "encouraging" bullpen sessions on Monday and Thursday and are expected to face hitters soon. Weaver may not make his April 6 start, but he should be starting every fifth game shortly thereafter. Colon is rehabbing his shoulder and is on a different timetable than Weaver. If everything goes according to plan, the Angels are hopeful that he could return to the rotation by late April or early May. However, Joe Saunders is a capable fifth starter so I don't think Bartolo's health figures prominently in the fortunes of the Halos this year. I see him as a potential bonus more than anything else.
Jeff: We know the Angels have the pitching; it's been like that for years. The question, as always, is whether or not they'll get enough offense to contend, and the issue, as always, is that going into the season they don't seem to have very much behind Vlad Guerrero. It sounds silly to say, but I think the Angels are going to depend an awful lot on whatever they can get from first base. If this is the year that Casey Kotchman finally breaks out (and he's having a hell of a spring), he might be enough to put them over the top in this division. If not, though, we could see an awful lot of intentional walks, and in that event they're just not going to score enough runs.
Rich: The AL West is unique in that three of the four home ballparks are known to suppress runs. Ameriquest Field in Arlington is the only park that favors hitters. When adjusted for these factors, the Rangers were actually more adept at preventing runs (102 ERA+) than scoring runs (99 OPS+). Is the pitching underrated or is the offense overrated? Or is it a bit of both?
Jeff: It's both, and it's one of those things that goes hand in hand with playing half your games in an extreme environment. This ballpark has murdered some pitchers while helping some hitters, most notably Mike Young (career OPS 134 points worse on the road), Mark Teixeira (112), and Hank Blalock (194). In one season so far, Ian Kinsler's at 254. Such artificial inflation masks problems at the plate while creating illusions of problems on the mound, and that can make it incredibly difficult to build a solid, balanced roster.
Rich: There's gotta be something else besides health that is at the core of Blalock's problems. The guy is a complete enigma to me. He has regressed every year since his first full season in 2003. I don't know if the heat wears Blalock down in the summer but his first half stats have consistently been vastly superior to his second half numbers:
First Half | Second Half AVG OBP SLG OPS AVG OBP SLG OPS 2003 .323 .375 .524 .899 .272 .319 .520 .839 2004 .303 .369 .572 .941 .240 .338 .406 .744 2005 .285 .346 .479 .825 .236 .283 .375 .658 2006 .287 .352 .443 .795 .237 .289 .346 .635
As Jeff pointed out, Blalock has been a huge beneficiary of playing home games in a hitter friendly ballpark. His road stats are well-below average. Health or no health, he just may be one of the most overrated players in the game.
Sully: The thing I like about the Rangers is that their Pythag suggests they were about an 86-win team in 2006 and I don't think they figure to regress. I understand they lost Gary Matthews and Mark DeRosa, but Blalock cannot get worse, Teixeira did not exactly light the world on fire in 2006, Kinsler is young and improving, I have to think they get something out of Brad Wilkerson this season. And on the run prevention side, they add Brandon McCarthy and Eric Gagne. I think these guys will be in the thick of it.
Jeff: I like the Rangers as a .500 team with upside, but if their season comes down to how much slack Brandon McCarthy's able to pick up as the rotation's #3, then that's a cause for concern. Awesome talent or no, a right-handed extreme fly ball pitcher in a park that rolls over for lefties is a recipe for disaster.
Jamey: One of the things that was lost in the instant analysis of the McCarthy trade was that he was actually less homer-prone in the minor leagues than Danks has been. But there is, as has been pointed out, the righty-lefty difference to take into account. And the way Danks has been dealing in camp, we may be able to measure the deal sooner than a lot of us thought.
Jeff: That makes two of us. From their steady lineup without any great individual threat to their rotation of a should-be ace and four #5's, the Mariners might be the most average of the league's average teams. An offseason of hope completely went to waste, and the result is a wholly unimpressive roster that hardly resembles that of a competitive team.
And yet, there is reason for optimism, as the team's missing something that dragged it down a year ago: black holes. They got nothing from their DH, nothing from center until Ichiro moved, and worse than nothing from Joel Pineiro. All of those issues have been addressed, and while Jose Vidro and Jeff Weaver have their question marks, there's absolutely zero chance that they're as bad as the people they're replacing. The Mariners got better by dumping their trash, and now they look like a half-decent team capable of playing meaningful September baseball.
Rich: Well, Ichiro is pretty exciting and there are worse hitters than Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, and Richie Sexson. But the overall offense looks about average. I might like it a bit more if the team would learn to take a walk once in a while. In the meantime, the pitching staff looks worse than average to me. Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez walked almost as many batters as they struck out. Weaver pitched well in October with the Cardinals but got rocked in the first half as a member of a rival AL West club. Seattle improved nine games last year and won about as many as its run differential would suggest. Bottom line, I just don't see much room for optimism beyond a .500 season.
Jamey: Speaking of Ramirez, I was thrilled to see the M's trade Raffy Soriano. Ramirez doesn't scare me a ton.
Sully: Ramirez may not scare you but he is a 27 year-old with a career 104 ERA+. If he is healthy, he is a guy the M's can feel confident handing the ball to every fifth day. He won't be a world-beater but he will be averag-ish with respect to performance and to the extent he can eat innings, he could very well be useful.
Rich: By the way, nobody was talking about J.J. Putz a year ago. Is there anyone on the horizon who could make a quantum leap in 2007?
Jeff: Nobody was talking about J.J. Putz a year ago because a year ago J.J. Putz didn't have a 90-mph splitter to go with his high-90s fastball. Ask Barry Bonds what it's like to face that repertoire - that one additional pitch turned him from a decent setup guy into a dynamite fireman.
As far as quantum leaps in 2007 are concerned, uh, no, none. At least not on the Mariners. Mark Lowe had a chance before his elbow went on the fritz, and Eric O'Flaherty might blow up (in a good way) if and when he gets the call, but there's no one who even comes close to matching Putz's potential in that regard.
Sully: Who might make the leap in the West? I think Kendrick and Kinsler will be two of the better 2nd Basemen in baseball. I think Felix Hernandez will challenge for a Cy Young Award. And although I would not call it a surprise, one of the most interesting AL West subplots of the season will be to see who gets less out of the DH slot, Shea Hillenbrand and the Halos or Jose Vidro and the M's.
Jeff: At least Vidro doesn't try to hack his way off a sinking ship. I, too, think Kendrick has a lot of Leap potential, and if he has a breakthrough campaign, the division race could be over pretty quick. In addition, I wouldn't be too surprised to see Gerald Laird hovering around a .900 OPS most of the year, while John Lackey finally flirts with a sub-3 ERA. Neither of these improvements would really count as a Putz-type jump, but then, few do.
What about Backwards Leaps? Jered Weaver, anyone? Anyone?
Rich: Boy, I thought we were going to talk about the AL West. But that's OK. I don't mind defending Jered. Heck, I've been doing it for more than three years . . .why stop now? No, the good Weaver is not going to win his first seven starts or rank second in the major leagues in run average again. So, from that standpoint, I guess he is going to take a backwards step in 2007.
Jamey: Texas is in some trouble if some of the young bullpen arms that they're counting on (Littleton, Wilson, maybe Rupe if he doesn't land a rotation spot) if their Cactus League struggles follow them to Arlington. The biggest backward leap concern, though, is Vicente Padilla, with his first taste of real financial security behind him.
Rich: Which players would you attach to the MVP, CYA, or ROY should any of those awards come out of the West this year?
Sully: Vlad is a top-5 MVP candidate from my vantage point, and I think John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez will all be top-10 AL starters and therefore somewhere in the Cy Young discussion. It's hard to pick out a ROY candidate from this division, though.
Jeff: The most obvious choice for MVP would be Vlad Guerrero. Ichiro's a slight possibility, and Mark Teixeira has a non-zero chance if he really breaks out. In order of odds from greatest to least, the Cy Young could go to Felix, Lackey, Harden, or (really distant) Kelvim Escobar. As for rookies, I really don't see a single one in the division having a significant impact. There's a lot of youth, but pretty much all of it is already established. Wild guess: Jarrod Washburn will not win any hardware.
Jamey: We're not giving Brandon Wood a shot at ROY?
Rich: Well, Wood has only played four games above Double-A. He's had a pretty good spring but is almost certain to start this season at Salt Lake. Wood is a tremendous talent and I can see him joining the Angels in the summer and perhaps having an impact during the stretch run. But the odds are stacked against him and any other rookie from the AL West. Outside of Wood, if there was a surprise choice, I'd look to someone like Adam Jones of Seattle, but he is just 21 years old and is still a pretty raw talent.
Jeff: I don't think Wood's going to have a real pleasant adjustment period. He could and should be pretty good, but I doubt success comes real quick. As for West, there are two issues - one, I don't think he's quite MLB-ready yet, and two, there's no room for him to break into the lineup, which does a number to his ROY chances. If the M's are competing and an outfielder gets hurt, I think they sooner go with Jeremy Reed, so Jones's only real hope for winning the award is that the team stumbles out of the gate, deals Ichiro by May, and immediately sets its focus on the future. And even in that event, I still have trouble seeing him post an OPS too far over .700.
Rich: As far as MVP and Cy Young candidates, I would go with Vladimir Guerrero and Felix Hernandez.
Jamey: Vlad and Haren for me.
Sully: OK, prediction time and I will kick off. I like the Angels over Texas in a close race, and then Oakland a smidge over .500 and Seattle somewhere in the mid-to-high 70's win range.
Jeff: Gun to my head, I'd go Anaheim/Oakland/Texas/Seattle, but it could very easily wind up in the opposite order. There's not much separating any of these teams.
Jamey: Agree with Jeff. Could go any way. I'll say ANA / TEX / OAK / SEA.
Rich: I believe the Angels are the most likely division winner of the four. It's not that they have a great team or anything, but I'm more confident predicting the Angels to win than I am any other team in any other division. I think Oakland and Texas will battle it out for second with neither prevailing as the Wild Card. Seattle will have by far the best record of any last place team in the AL and probably in all of baseball.
Sully: Thanks everybody.
Quantifying Coachers, Part II
"The main quality a great third base coach must have is a fast runner." - Rocky Bridges, California Angels coach
"It's frustrating. Your job is not to get in the way of a rally." - Rich Donnelly, Dodgers third base coach after Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS
After the game Dodgers third base coach Rich Donnelly noted that he didn't want to send Kent but saw that with Drew close behind, he'd likely end up with two runners on third and at that point he was hoping for a botched throw. And for some reason, perhaps their proximity or his attention focused on the lead runner, Donnelly did not or was unable to give the stop sign to Drew.
As you'll recall, in part I we laid the groundwork for measuring the contribution of third base coaches (or "coachers" as they were originally termed in the 1870s) in the dimension of waving runners around. This time we'll revisit that framework to make an adjustment for team quality and then attempt to answer the question of whether there is a repeatable skill involved in this aspect of the game.
We left off with the question of whether it is really fair to assign all of a team's baserunning (even the subset of plays discussed in part I) to the third base coach's influence? Keep in mind that failing to advance as frequently as the average runner in various situations, as well as getting thrown out, will both depress EqHAR with the latter being much more costly than the former. Even so, it could be the case that Joey Cora of the White Sox was saddled with extremely slow runners who didn't advance as often as they should or runners who don't take direction very well and run through his signs or even who simply don't hustle. And Dino Ebel of the Angels may be, and in fact is, blessed with a Chone Figgins who regularly scoots home on singles and doubles and never gets caught (Figgins was not thrown out in 56 opportunities and recorded the highest individual EqHAR at 4.93 in 2006).
Because this metric is dependant on the personnel a coach has to work with, an additional step is warranted that acknowledges that dependency. This step involves comparing the opportunities that coaches can be said to have some control over with ones that they do not. If a team is populated with poor baserunners who have trouble advancing or regularly get thrown out in situations where the coach is a spectator, one might argue that those opportunities should serve as the baseline with which we judge the coach. Table 2 shows the results of this recalculation by including the "non-coach" EqHAR opportunities and then including a final column that is the ratio of the Rate for opportunities the coach has influence over to the Rate for the opportunities for which they do not.
Table 2: Third Base Coaches in 2006 Ordered by Ratio
Coach Non-Coach Team Name Opp Rate Opp OA EqHAR Rate Ratio TBA Tom Foley 163 1.15 313 12 -6.6 0.80 1.44 PHI Bill Dancy 262 1.15 329 5 -1.2 0.96 1.20 BAL Tom Trebelhorn 296 1.01 400 8 -6.1 0.84 1.20 SFN Gene Glynn 220 0.95 346 6 -4.7 0.84 1.13 CLE Jeff Datz 274 0.99 400 7 -3.4 0.91 1.09 SDN Glenn Hoffman 231 1.00 348 7 -3.2 0.91 1.09 TOR Brian Butterfield 237 0.99 387 9 -2.9 0.92 1.08 NYN Manny Acta 228 1.05 293 4 -0.6 0.98 1.07 MIL Dale Sveum 214 1.01 329 11 -1.7 0.95 1.06 ANA Dino Ebel 238 1.19 373 9 5.2 1.13 1.06 CHA Joey Cora 234 0.86 404 9 -7.5 0.81 1.05 COL Mike Gallego 247 1.03 359 12 -0.8 0.98 1.05 OAK Ron Washington 245 0.89 372 10 -6.0 0.85 1.04 WAS Tony Beasley 239 1.03 314 9 -0.3 0.99 1.04 KCA Luis Silverio 237 1.04 400 13 0.7 1.02 1.02 BOS DeMarlo Hale 248 0.86 424 8 -7.6 0.85 1.01 SEA Carlos Garcia 226 0.97 377 13 -0.2 1.00 0.97 SLN Jose Oquendo 230 0.98 375 9 1.0 1.03 0.95 ARI Carlos Tosca 275 1.01 332 5 2.0 1.07 0.95 DET Gene Lamont 240 1.10 362 3 5.5 1.16 0.95 NYA Larry Bowa 289 0.93 410 3 -0.2 1.00 0.94 PIT Jeff Cox 230 0.98 399 2 1.8 1.04 0.93 LAN Rich Donnelly 260 0.90 370 10 -1.0 0.97 0.92 CIN Mark Berry 217 0.98 315 4 2.4 1.08 0.91 HOU Doug Mansolino 214 1.11 344 1 7.6 1.23 0.91 TEX Steve Smith 234 0.95 410 9 2.5 1.06 0.90 ATL Fredi Gonzalez 231 0.94 362 6 2.5 1.06 0.89 MIN Scott Ullger 222 1.01 452 8 6.6 1.14 0.88 FLO Bobby Meacham 199 1.05 359 5 8.3 1.24 0.84 CHN Chris Speier 199 0.94 350 3 7.2 1.22 0.77
Under this second measure Cora moves from 30th to 11th by virtue of his team racking up a very poor EqHAR of -7.5 and rate of 0.81 in opportunities that Cora had little or no influence over. When comparing the 0.81 rate in his coach-influenced opportunities to 0.86, Cora comes out at 1.05 thereby slightly outperforming his team.
In Table 2 Washington and Gonzalez both look a little better while Speier and Florida's Bobby Meacham fall by virtue of their respective teams performing quite well in non-coach opportunities at 1.24 for the Marlins and 1.22 for the Cubs. And what of the Angels Ebel who came out on top in Table 1 in part I? He slides to 10th since the Angels recorded a very respectable 1.13 rate in non-coach opportunities while Tom Foley of the Devil Rays takes the top spot since his team performed so poorly in other opportunities (-6.6, 0.80) and so well when he was likely involved (5.3, 1.15).
This metric can be expanded to encompass multiple seasons and therefore a larger view. Table 3 shows these metrics for each of the 74 third base coaches employed from the beginning of the 2000 season through 2006.
Table 3: All Third Base Coaches 2000-2006
Name Opp OA EqHAR Rate Opp OA EqHAR Rate Ratio Billy Hatcher 387 6 5.1 1.06 573 21 -12.3 0.78 1.35 Bill Dancy 527 15 3.4 1.04 737 17 -11.3 0.84 1.23 Michael Cubbage 494 12 4.7 1.05 706 15 -11.1 0.85 1.23 Lance Parish 189 5 0.9 1.02 243 8 -3.7 0.84 1.22 Cookie Rojas 221 5 -0.2 1.00 268 9 -4.6 0.83 1.20 Terry Bevington 439 12 -3.4 0.96 544 11 -9.2 0.82 1.17 Bobby Floyd 173 5 -2.7 0.93 316 8 -6.0 0.81 1.15 Jack Lind 211 2 4.7 1.10 273 10 -0.9 0.96 1.14 Tom Foley 1056 20 14.0 1.07 1609 43 -8.5 0.95 1.13 Dave Myers 986 16 7.7 1.04 1463 35 -10.7 0.92 1.12 Al Pedrique 223 2 5.3 1.11 308 4 -0.3 0.99 1.12 Juan Samuel 626 11 7.3 1.05 976 23 -3.9 0.95 1.11 Wendell Kim 624 20 -14.7 0.88 980 34 -19.5 0.80 1.10 Jeff Datz 274 5 -0.7 0.99 400 7 -3.4 0.91 1.09 John Russell 672 19 -1.5 0.99 1096 24 -10.0 0.91 1.09 Mike Cubbage 244 7 -1.3 0.97 310 8 -2.8 0.91 1.08 Jim Riggleamn 270 7 -2.0 0.96 308 11 -3.5 0.90 1.07 Tom Trebelhorn 1323 32 6.6 1.03 2101 51 -5.9 0.97 1.06 Gene Lamont 1103 28 1.8 1.01 1730 49 -9.2 0.95 1.06 Eddie Rodriquez 475 11 -5.9 0.94 614 16 -6.7 0.89 1.06 Dino Ebel 238 3 10.3 1.19 373 9 5.2 1.13 1.06 Joey Cora 234 9 -7.7 0.86 404 9 -7.5 0.81 1.05 Joel Skinner 1087 27 15.5 1.07 1650 41 2.6 1.01 1.05 Ozzie Guillen 345 10 1.3 1.01 632 19 -2.1 0.97 1.05 John Vukovich 1130 33 -7.4 0.97 1491 41 -11.4 0.93 1.04 Tony Beasley 239 6 1.5 1.03 314 9 -0.3 0.99 1.04 Brian Butterfield 1195 24 6.1 1.03 1827 45 -1.9 0.99 1.04 Tim Flannery 683 18 6.5 1.05 710 20 0.7 1.01 1.04 Manny Acta 1032 17 15.3 1.07 1495 37 4.3 1.03 1.04 Ron Oester 407 11 -1.0 0.99 571 20 -2.4 0.96 1.03 Willie Randolph 976 20 7.4 1.04 1189 33 1.2 1.01 1.03 Ron Washington 1730 45 2.0 1.00 2272 40 -5.0 0.97 1.03 Carlos Tosca 712 13 0.6 1.00 969 17 -1.2 0.99 1.02 Dale Sveum 789 18 -20.9 0.87 1201 26 -18.6 0.85 1.01 Gene Glynn 1594 40 -20.0 0.94 2198 40 -15.1 0.93 1.01 Gary Pettis 379 14 -3.1 0.96 509 14 -2.5 0.95 1.01 DeMarlo Hale 248 5 -7.6 0.86 424 8 -7.6 0.85 1.01 Sonny Jackson 601 20 -16.6 0.86 896 24 -11.8 0.86 1.00 Al Newman 889 24 1.5 1.01 1384 28 1.1 1.01 1.00 Bryan Little 264 4 7.5 1.14 298 5 4.6 1.14 1.00 Luis Silverio 449 9 5.7 1.06 787 19 4.6 1.06 1.00 Mike Gallego 488 8 1.3 1.01 728 19 1.5 1.02 0.99 Dave Huppert 240 4 -0.7 0.99 318 7 -0.2 1.00 0.99 Pete MacKanin 201 5 0.4 1.01 228 8 0.5 1.02 0.99 Steve Smith 1082 21 1.7 1.01 1697 34 6.0 1.03 0.98 Doug Mansolino 867 18 7.6 1.05 1260 20 9.6 1.07 0.97 Jose Oquendo 1616 33 25.9 1.08 2267 49 23.1 1.11 0.97 Carlos Garcia 226 6 -1.5 0.97 377 13 -0.2 1.00 0.97 Tim Raines 204 9 2.9 1.06 335 7 3.2 1.10 0.97 Rob Picciolo 704 11 3.9 1.03 1163 24 6.7 1.07 0.97 Jerry Narron 494 8 7.7 1.06 611 12 6.5 1.10 0.97 Glenn Hoffman 1541 42 -13.5 0.95 2019 47 -2.8 0.99 0.96 Sandy Alomar 487 11 11.7 1.11 683 15 12.6 1.16 0.96 Fredi Gonzalez 1249 25 3.7 1.02 2005 32 14.0 1.06 0.95 Rich Donnelly 1594 48 -4.8 0.99 2176 52 7.4 1.04 0.95 Gary Allenson 366 18 -12.7 0.81 510 19 -8.0 0.85 0.95 Rafael Santana 408 8 0.7 1.01 717 12 6.0 1.08 0.94 Tim Foli 387 13 -1.2 0.99 502 15 2.9 1.05 0.94 Ned Yost 590 21 -8.4 0.93 797 24 0.0 1.00 0.93 Jeff Cox 847 23 -10.1 0.94 1384 22 1.2 1.01 0.93 Ron Roenicke 1538 40 2.9 1.01 1977 34 18.2 1.10 0.92 Ron Gardenhire 511 16 -0.4 1.00 479 13 4.3 1.09 0.92 John Mizerock 478 10 -1.0 0.99 790 13 6.4 1.08 0.91 Jeff Newman 207 4 2.7 1.07 359 3 6.1 1.17 0.91 Trent Jewett 354 10 2.5 1.04 454 10 6.2 1.14 0.91 Larry Bowa 495 10 -8.6 0.91 699 9 2.1 1.03 0.89 Mark Berry 684 18 -10.9 0.92 911 17 3.1 1.03 0.89 Scott Ullger 222 3 0.5 1.01 452 8 6.6 1.14 0.88 Rich Dauer 710 20 0.2 1.00 861 16 12.7 1.15 0.87 Matt Galante 592 19 -8.8 0.93 853 26 7.3 1.08 0.87 Luis Sojo 558 16 -6.3 0.94 718 12 5.8 1.09 0.86 John Sterns 206 10 -7.0 0.85 253 10 -0.4 0.98 0.86 Bobby Meacham 199 4 2.3 1.05 359 5 8.3 1.24 0.84 Chris Speier 860 22 -4.7 0.98 1158 15 24.0 1.22 0.80 Sam Perlozzo 254 5 -4.0 0.92 275 3 6.3 1.22 0.75
From an absolute perspective Dale Sveum registered the lowest EqHAR at -20.9 during his time with the Red Sox in 2004-2005 and Brewers in 2006 while Gary Allenson with Milwaukee in 2001-2002 had the lowest absolute rate at 0.81. In both cases, however, the poor performance of their teams buoyed their ratings. Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo had the highest absolute EqHAR of 25.9 in his seven years with Tony LaRussa while Ebel recorded the highest rate at 1.19 in his single season with the Angels. These absolute numbers indicate that over the course of seven seasons the range in terms of EqHAR is around 55 runs.
In answer to the first question we posed in part I, the act of waving runners around is quantifiable, albeit imperfectly with the limitations already discussed. The quantification in the above analysis passes the test of reasonableness and takes the following form. Third base coaches in the absolute sense seem at most to be able to contribute to just over one additional win or one loss (Sveum with the 2005 Red Sox recorded an EqHAR of -12.6 and Jerry Narron with the Rangers in 2000 was at +10.9) in the course of a season over what would be expected. Over the course of seven seasons that contribution grows to around two and half wins indicating there is a large degree of variability in play. However, judging a coach by that absolute metric is not necessarily equitable since it doesn't take into consideration the personnel the coach is working with. To correct for this a ratio that uses a baseline can be calculated and when that ratio is converted to runs, the range becomes -1.5 to +1.5 wins per season and -3 to +3 wins over the course of seven seasons.
While we've answered the first question in the affirmative, does the difference we see between third base coaches in a single season indicate that there is a disparity in skill between these coaches?
The standard way performance analysts have approached a question like this is to perform year to year comparisons in an effort to see if the effect being measured persists. As it turns out, roughly two-thirds of third base coaches remain in the role the following season with a high of 24 in being retained from during the winter 2003-2004. Using the ratio calculated in the previous section, a correlation coefficient (denoted as r where a value of -1 indicates a perfectly negative linear correlation and a value of 1 indicates a perfectly linear one) can be calculated for each pair of seasons as shown in Table 4.
Table 4: Year to Year Correlations in Ratio for Third Base Coaches
Year Pair Coaches r 2000-2001 19 0.34 2001-2002 20 -0.16 2002-2003 21 -0.10 2003-2004 24 -0.09 2004-2005 21 -0.02 2005-2006 19 0.31
From an overall perspective those 124 pairs can be graphed as shown in Figure 1.
There may be several reasons for this negative result. Reminiscent of the ongoing debate over clutch hitting, the skill this metric is trying to measure may be much more subtle than the metric can deliver. Instead of a coach being "responsible" for up to +1.5 wins per season, his actual contribution to those wins may be a fractional part of that value and hence the variability component in the numbers we use for correlation swamps the skill component to a large degree. So there may indeed be a skill involved in waving runners around, but that skill is for all intents and purposes unimportant in the big scheme of things. The obvious dependence on his personnel would seem to support this.
Additionally, perhaps the metric is poorly designed and may not capture the skill at all though it exists. It could even be the case that there really is no skill involved in holding and sending runners (or if you prefer, there is no skill difference between coaches at the major league level) and the differential results we see can be chalked up to a combination of personnel (try as we might to disentangle it or due to turnover of the roster) and simple luck driven by anything and everything from the opponents defense to the weather.
Our quest for knowledge about the game is just as often informed by studies that show no effect as those that confirm our intuition. As for the influence of third base coaches in determining when to send and when to hold runners, the most we can say from this study (assuming our metric is relevant) is that if there is a skill involved, it is hard to measure and although the judgment exercised on the field can often make the difference in individual plays, it doesn't manifest itself on the larger scale of seasons.
Neal Williams is the president of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.
Quantifying Coachers, Part I
"The employment of one of the side who are in to watch the movements of the field and advice the runner accordingly is a quaint device of American acuteness." - quote from an English newspaper during an 1874 tour by American ballplayers as recorded in Sporting News, February 25, 1909
Unlike today, however, it seems the primary job of the coaches was to "disconcert the opposing players - generally the pitcher - not to 'coach' or assist the base-runner" as Sporting News put it in 1893. As a result, the primary qualifications for a coach of that time was a megaphone like voice (yes megaphones were tried in college games in the early 1900s but fortunately never found a foothold in professional baseball) and a cruel disposition. In fact, it was the abusiveness of coachers like Charles Comiskey and Bill Gleason, who would stand on either side of the catcher commenting on everything from his skill as a catcher to his breeding and personal habits, which precipitated a move to first ban coaching altogether but then to restrict coaches to boxes down the line beginning in 1886. In addition to their primary job as unsettlers of the opposition, third base coaches would also attempt to get opposing fielders to mistake them for a runners, a ploy was which was severely hampered following the 1886 rule change.
Be that as it may coaching did eventually come to be taken more seriously with Arlie Latham the first full time coach hired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1900. And Latham was apparently performing the modern function since in July of that season Sporting Life reported that "Manager [Bob] Allen says he is delighted with the coaching of Latham. He says the baserunning of the team has improved 100% after the veteran got on the lines". As is true for advances in other fields Cincinnati's experiment proved to be an early, if successful, trial balloon and it would another decade before the idea took hold. In between there were still calls to ban coaching leading non other than Henry Chadwick in 1904 to denounce coaching as it had "degenerated into a dirty-ball method of annoying the pitcher". Other innovations in the game including increased managerial strategy and signaling finally drove the need to move beyond the "old school of clowns" as Christy Matthewson famously said of this earlier period in Pitching in a Pinch. Not surprisingly it was John McGraw who hired Latham and Duke Farrell as full-time coaches in 1909. By 1912 Sporting Life noted that Latham "does get a percentage of runs across - runs that might not otherwise be made". From there it was generally recognized that coaches paid dividends and although for some time there was apparently a subset of coaches who seemed more preoccupied with rattling the opposition, coaching as a profession gained strength and was here to stay by the early 1920s. Their duties have expanded over time as well. As just one example the first base coach now routinely times the pitcher's delivery to the plate relaying that information to the runner.
It's now been almost 100 years since full time coaches were employed and their performance is routinely scrutinized although not very often quantified. The question then (first suggested to Dan by Rich Lederer of all people) from an analyst's viewpoint is two-fold. First, is the job of coaching quantifiable? In other words, can we create a metric or metrics that measure the success and failure of this component in a reasonable way? And second, if it is measurable, can some coaches be said to be more skilled at this half of their job than their peers? In this article and the one to follow we'll take a crack at answering both questions for third base coaches related to their secondary job (relaying signs being the primary) of directing traffic on the bases.
When totaled, these give us a fairly complete picture of the contribution made by a player on the bases beyond what would have been expected given their opportunities. And therein lies the rub. The methodology that underlies these metrics isn't a simple totaling of the number of bases gained in these situations but rather an application of changes in the expected number of runs across several dimensions including the base/out situation (the Run Expectancy matrix), handedness of the batter, and the position of the fielder who fielded the ball.
By calculating how often runners typically advance in a whole host of scenarios (for example with a runner on second and nobody out a runner will advance from second to third 43% of the time when the ball is fielded by the shortstop but 97% of the time when handled by the second baseman) and translating those percentages to runs using the Run Expectancy matrix we can credit or debit a runner for each and every opportunity they have on the bases.
Totaling the credit assigned to each opportunity (and not crediting the runner for advancing the minimum number of bases) for players allows us to assign a number of theoretical runs above and beyond what a typical player would have contributed given the same opportunities. Yes, theoretical since these metrics, being based on models like the RE matrix, don't actually measure the precise number of runs contributed by a runner but rather can be thought of as an accounting of the decisions made by runners and coaches, that put their teams in more or less advantageous situations throughout the course of a season. That accounting is performed in terms of runs. As mentioned above we then adjust for park effects where necessary. For example the spacious Coors Field outfield allows for easier advancement than the smaller Fenway Park.
Already many of you can see where this is going. EqHAR, by measuring runner advancement on hits, may be an appropriate methodology to apply to third base coaches since it measures an aspect of the game in which third base coaches are directly involved. Looking more closely, EqHAR is composed of three basic scenarios.
A third base coach may be active in each of these scenarios but as will be obvious it typically depends on where the ball is hit. When a batter singles or doubles with a runner on first base, the runner typically makes his own decision about whether to advance if the ball is hit to left field or within his field of view in center field. On the other hand he'll usually pick up his third base coach if the ball lands in right field. Likewise when on second base ball hit to the outfield typically results in the runner typically taking matters into his own hands only if the ball is hit to left, but rely on the coach if the ball is hit to center or right. By using these general rules as a guide the analysis can be restricted in this sense to plays that fall only into these categories but also include scenarios when multiple baserunners are on base.
One might argue that these categories are either too restrictive or not restrictive enough and we have sympathy with both arguments.
For example, with the runner on first on a single fielded by the centerfielder there are certainly occasions when the runner picks up the coach. Conversely, with a runner on second and the batter singling to left there are definitely times when the runner knows the ball will be difficult to handle or is running with the pitch and so heads home without consulting the coach. This analysis will not include those events. And these events of course do not include runners attempting to advance on ground ball and fly ball outs nor does it include runners attempting to stretch doubles into triples or triples into inside the park homeruns. The thought was to error on the side of caution and include only those events where it seems the third base coach would be most likely to have influence. Further, these scenarios will include times when runners run right through the stop sign given by their frantic coach only to get thrown out. Through no fault of his own, the coach will be still be debited for plays like these.
Surely this is far from a perfect system but given the granularity of the play by play data available and absent video inspection of each play, this seems like a reasonable approach for a first pass at creating this kind of metric.
The primary advantage to using the methodology described above as opposed to simply counting the number of runners that were thrown out on each coach's watch is that this system also gives appropriate credit when a runner advances successfully. The system also takes into consideration how difficult the advancement event was and gives more credit when a runner takes a base in a higher reward situation. While keeping runners from getting thrown out is clearly a major component of the job, knowing when to take risks based on game situation is a secondary component and one that this metric captures.
Given the above caveats we ran the EqHAR framework for third base coaches for 2006 with the following results.
Team Name Opp OA EqHAR Rate ANA Dino Ebel 238 3 10.3 1.19 PHI Bill Dancy 262 5 7.8 1.15 HOU Doug Mansolino 214 1 5.6 1.11 TBA Tom Foley 163 1 5.3 1.15 DET Gene Lamont 240 5 5.0 1.10 FLO Bobby Meacham 199 4 2.3 1.05 NYN Manny Acta 228 3 2.3 1.05 KCA Luis Silverio 237 4 2.0 1.04 WAS Tony Beasley 239 6 1.5 1.03 COL Mike Gallego 247 3 1.5 1.03 ARI Carlos Tosca 275 6 0.5 1.01 MIN Scott Ullger 222 3 0.5 1.01 BAL Tom Trebelhorn 296 3 0.3 1.01 MIL Dale Sveum 214 5 0.3 1.01 SDN Glenn Hoffman 231 4 -0.2 1.00 TOR Brian Butterfield 237 6 -0.4 0.99 CLE Jeff Datz 274 5 -0.7 0.99 CIN Mark Berry 217 5 -0.8 0.98 SLN Jose Oquendo 230 5 -1.1 0.98 PIT Jeff Cox 230 3 -1.2 0.98 SEA Carlos Garcia 226 6 -1.5 0.97 SFN Gene Glynn 220 3 -2.2 0.95 TEX Steve Smith 234 5 -2.5 0.95 CHN Chris Speier 199 6 -2.9 0.94 ATL Fredi Gonzalez 231 6 -3.3 0.94 NYA Larry Bowa 289 5 -4.1 0.93 OAK Ron Washington 245 7 -4.9 0.89 LAN Rich Donnelly 260 9 -6.0 0.90 BOS DeMarlo Hale 248 5 -7.6 0.86 CHA Joey Cora 234 9 -7.7 0.86
This table includes the number of hit advancement opportunities (Opp), the number of times runners were thrown out advancing (OA), the EqHAR for those opportunities, and a Rate statistic that is the ratio of EqHAR to the expected number of advancement runs given both the quantity and the quality of opportunities along the axes mentioned above. This is important since you'll notice that while Baltimore and Tom Trebelhorn had 296 opportunities, Tom Foley in Tampa Bay had just 163 and all other things being equal, more opportunities means a higher EqHAR.
It should be noted that the coach was assigned all plays for the 2006 season for his team since there is no easily accessible record of when a third base coach was not on the field for his team. For example, although Chris Speier took a several day leave of absence beginning July 20th after being arrested for DUI earlier that week, the opportunities during that time are credited to Speier. Through this analysis the coaches were assigned opportunities based on their team's media guides for the respective seasons.
So under this measure Dino Ebel of the Angels played a part in helping his runners to the tune of just over 10 additional theoretical runs (the second highest of any single season from 2000 through 2006) while Joey Cora was complicit in costing the White Sox the equivalent of almost 8 runs. Intuitively, this range seems to be within the bounds of believability. Interestingly, newly minted managers Ron Washington (-4.9) and Fredi Gonzalez (-3.3) don't come out very well although Manny Acta (+2.3) does.
But is this really a fair gauge of a third base coach's influence? We'll answer that question along with the two we started this article tomorrow.
Neal Williams is the president of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.
Schrodinger's Bat: Hit the Ground Running
Spring Training Report: Live in Arizona (Continued)
I attended my second spring training baseball game on March 10 in Surprise, Arizona. Two teams looking to improve upon recent disappointing seasons - the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals - met head-to-head. The Royals came out on top by the score of 6-5, although the Cubs had the tying run in scoring position in the ninth inning with two out. However, 2006 surprise No. 1 draft pick Tyler Colvin bounced back to the pitcher Gabe DeHoyos to end the game.
Interestingly enough, before the game began, one of the ushers at the game actually thought I was a professional scout. "You look just like a scout," she said. That made me feel pretty good. Now, if only the Cubs or Royals agreed...
Anyway, I decided to chart the entire game, including each type of pitch thrown and its speed. The starting pitchers were two lefties: Jorge De la Rosa for Kansas City, who is out of options, and Ted Lilly for Chicago, a major free agent acquisition.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 9 5 56 1.0 23 13 57 1.0 20 12 60 3.0 52 30 58 (TOTALS)
De la Rosa's fastball ranged between 89-92 mph and he touched 94 mph twice, so it's easy to see why the Royals really want him to win a starting gig. In total, he threw 33 fastballs, good for 64 percent. Seven of his 13 first pitches to batters were strikes (54%).
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 8 6 75 1.0 10 7 70 2.0 18 13 72 (TOTALS)
Rosa, a relief prospect, looked solid. His fastball ranged between 89-94 mph and he had solid command of his pitches. He threw a total of 10 fastballs (56%). All six of his first pitches to batters were for strikes. Obviously, getting ahead of batters is always a good sign with young pitchers.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 6 5 83 1.0 6 5 83 (TOTALs)Another relief prospect, Cromer had good command of his 89-94 mph fastball when he relieved Rosa in the fifth inning. Rosa threw four fastballs, or 67 percent. Both of his first pitches were strikes.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 11 8 73 1.0 11 7 64 1.0 15 10 67 3.0 37 25 68 (TOTALS)
Duckworth lost his 40-man rotation spot this past season. The right-hander had an excellent game against the Cubs and 62 percent of his pitches thrown were fastballs (23). Nine of his 12 first pitches were for strikes (75%). Duckworth's fastball was between 86-92 mph and he hit 96 with one pitch.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 0.1 10 7 70 0.1 10 7 70 (TOTALS)
Left-hander Bale, back after two seasons in Japan, faced three batters and allowed a single on a 0-2 pitch and a two-run homer on the first pitch (an 87 mph fastball) to catching prospect Jake Fox. He then induced a groundball out of uber-prospect Felix Pie on a 3-1 pitch. Bale fielded the ball and threw Pie out. However, after the play, Bale called the trainer out and was removed from the game. While on the mound, the trainer appeared to be focusing on Bale's throwing hand. But once in the dugout, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported that the focus shifted to his shoulder. All three of Bale's first pitches were for strikes and 80 percent of his pitches were fastballs. His fastball ranged from 84-91 mph.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 0.2 10 5 50 0.2 10 5 50 (TOTALS)
DeHoyos was an emergency replacement for Bale with one out in the ninth inning. The minor leaguer had a fastball between 85-91 mph. Of his 10 pitches, nine were fastballs (90%). Two of his three first pitches were for strikes (75%).
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 23 14 61 1.0 23 14 61 1.0 7 6 86 3.0 53 34 64 (TOTALS)
Former Blue Jay Lilly started off very slowly in the game. He faced 10 batters in the first two innings, before turning it around in the third inning when he faced only three batters. Lilly only threw 31 fastballs (58%). Ten of his 13 first pitches were for strikes and six of those were fastballs, while the other four were curveballs. In one at-bat against Emil Brown, an extreme fastball hitter, Lilly threw only one heater out of five pitches. Lilly's fastball was between 84-88 mph.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 17 9 53 1.0 23 11 48 2.0 40 20 50 (TOTALS)Prior was terrible. His fastball was between 84-89 mph, a far cry from the days of old. The oft-injured starter threw 70 percent of his pitches for strikes (28). Only six of his 13 first pitches were for strikes and he was consistently behind in the count. Prior paid no attention to the runners on base and he looked stiff and uncomfortable on the mound.
IP Pitches Strikes K% 1.0 15 9 60 1.0 11 8 73 1.0 16 11 69 3.0 42 28 67 (TOTALS)
Guzman was easily the most impressive pitcher on this day and his fastball ranged from 87-95 mph. He also touched 99 mph on one occasion. He threw 64 percent of his pitches for strikes (27). Guzman struggled to make a good first pitch to batters. Only six on the 14 batters he faced saw a first-pitch strike 43%).
On the hitting side of things, Chicago did not bring a lot of its regulars down the highway from Mesa, Arizona. Only Mark DeRosa and Jacques Jones figure to see regular play at the beginning of the season. On the other hand, the Royals started seven of their projected starters.
Chicago (Select hitters):
Pitch Count, Result
2-1 LD to 1B
0-1 single up middle
0-1 infield single to SS
1-0 GB to SS
2-for-4, two singles
1-1 GB to SS
0-1 GB to 3B (hit and run, runners advanced)
0-1 double to CF, RBI
1-0 GB to 2B
0-for-3, two strikeouts
1-2 pop to CF
0-for-4, three strikeouts
2-0 double to CF, RBI
1-1 GB to 3B
0-0 pop to SS
3-2 GB to 1B
0-0 pop to RF
0-for-3, two strikeouts
1-2 GB to 1B
0-0 GB to 1B, runner to third
3-1 GB to pitcher
0-0 LD to LF
1-1 GB to pitcher
0-0 GB to 1B
0-1 double to LF
0-0 two-run homer, 450 feet
2-for-2, two-run homer
Kansas City (Select hitters):
3-2 GB to 2B
0-0 GB to 3B
1-0 one-run home run
1-1 LD to SS, reached on error
0-0 LD to RF
1-2 GB to 3B, reached on error
0-0 single to CF
1-2 double down third base line
0-1 pop to catcher
3-1 LD to SS
1-1 pop to 2B, over-the-shoulder catch by DeRosa
1-2 GB to 2B
0-0 GB to 3B
1-0 pop to CF
3-1 single through 3B/SS
3-1 GB to 3B
1-1 single to CF, RBI
2-0 blooper single to CF
3-for-4, two singles, RBI
0-1 single to CF
0-0 double off CF wall, two RBI
2-for-3, single, double, two RBI
1-1 GB to SS, moved runner to third base
1-1 foul pop to 1B
3-2 single to CF, broken bat RBI
1-0 pop to CF
1-1 GB to 2B
1-for-3, single, RBI
1-1 GB to 2B
2-0 single to RF
2-0 GB to 3B
2-2 hit by pitch
1-2 fly to LF
Gonzalez, looking to make the Royals after retiring early in the 2006 season, was in good baseball shape and had a solid swing. He looked further along than most hitters at this point in the spring. If he continues to play well, don't be surprised if he makes the roster as a bench player.
Sanders' swing looked very slow, which is not surprising considering he is 39.
Shealy looked impressive but has a very thick lower half and could age poorly. Two of his singles were solid line drives, while the third was a blooper over first base. He also displayed solid patience at the plate.
Butler looked like a player who needs a little more minor league seasoning. Nothing about his play stood out.
It was clear that pitchers were avoiding throwing Brown fastballs and he struggled to take good swings on breaking balls.
Ward did not look interested in the game whatsoever. He struck out three times and looked foolish on both fastballs and breaking balls.
Pie definitely carries himself like a big leaguer and "hotdogs" a bit. He looks a lot like Alfonso Soriano with his wiry frame and high socks in centerfield. Pie bumbled an easy bouncing ball in center. He did not hit a ball out of the infield in four at-bats.
Colvin hit one ball on the button, but right at the left-fielder. His second at-bat resulted in a weak bouncer back to the pitcher.
Fox performed well at the plate and could be ready for a back-up gig by 2007. After relieving Blanco, he went 2-for-2 with two very well hit balls for a double and homer.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim traveled to Surprise, Arizona on March 11 and defeated Texas by the score of 2-0 during spring training action. Non-roster pitcher Jamey Wright received the start for Texas and was opposed by pitcher Dustin Moseley.
Wright, a groundball pitcher, threw three perfect innings, induced three groundballs and struck out two. His fastball touched 93 mph. Prospect Eric Hurley pitched the fourth inning and was wild. His fastball touched 91 mph. Hurley walked two and struck out two. Mike Wood pitched the fifth and sixth inning and his fastball topped out around 88 mph. LHP A.J. Murray and RHP Scott Feldman pitched the final three innings of the game. Murray faced three batters and induced two pop-outs and a groundball. Feldman did not fare as well, allowing the game-winning two-run homer to Angels prospect Erick Aybar. In the ninth inning, he hit a batter, allowed an infield hit (which should have been an error) and a walk.
Moseley was economical with his pitches and worked through the fifth inning. He induced five flyball outs and seven groundball outs. Moseley also struck out one and walked one. His fastball ranged between 86-92 mph. He also showed a good pick-off move. Chris Bootcheck relieved Moseley and pitched the sixth and seventh innings. He allowed one hit, one walk and struck out two. His fastball was 86-93 mph. Minor leaguer Alex Serrano pitched the final two innings of the game. He induced four groundball outs and one flyball out. Serrano allowed one hit, which was erased by a double play, and walked a batter.
As the road team, the Angels fielded few regulars, although catcher Jeff Mathis and infielder Maicer Izturis both started the game in the field. Mathis was 0-for-3 and gave way to Bobby Wilson, while Izturis went 0-for-3 at second base. He showed very quick hands and reactions. His bat also plays better at second base, rather than third base. First base prospect Kendry Morales looked slow and out-of-shape. He struck out, popped out to first base and hit a weak fly ball to center. His only well-hit ball was a line drive to third base in the second inning. Top power prospect Brandon Wood received the start at third base. He went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. Aybar played a solid shortstop and went 1-for-3 with the game-winning homer and a walk. He also stole a base. Reggie Willits, hoping to win the job as the fourth outfielder, went 1-for-2 with a walk. Prospect Mark Trumbo received one at-bat and was hit by a pitch.
Veteran Kenny Lofton led the offensive attack for Texas but went 0-for-4. Free agent signee Frank Catalanotto also went hitless (0-for-3) as the designated hitter. Michael Young had a good day at the plate and went 3-for-3 with two singles and a double. Non-roster outfielder Sammy Sosa continued his solid play and went 1-for3 with a single. Catcher Gerald Laird hit a single in the third after spending three or four minutes in the dirt when he hit a ball off his foot. He was removed from the game after the inning and was replaced by Guillermo Quiroz, a former top prospect with Toronto who is hoping to win a bench role after his career was waylaid by injuries. He went 1-for-3 and turned around a 93-mph Bootcheck fastball for a double.
Who Needs High Batting Averages?
Confession time: Tony Gwynn is my favorite player of all time. With that said, a roster full of guys with lifetime averages nearly 90 points below Gwynn's gaudy .338 career total could be a serious contender.
Manager: At 5'6" and 140 pounds, shortstop Donie Bush (.250, .356 OBP) was definitely a slap hitter during his dead ball era career (1908-23). With just 186 doubles, 74 triples and nine home runs in 7210 at-bats for a measly .300 slugging percentage, Bush's stats look anemic at first glance, but he excelled in making it to first base.
Does anyone do computer simulations of games between teams from different eras? If so, I would welcome hearing from you. To round out the roster, I could put together a pitching staff with a .500 or so cumulative winning percentage to go with the .250 All-Stars and then perhaps you could report your findings back to us.
Spring Training Report: Live in Arizona
I attended my first spring training game on March 7 in Surprise, Arizona. Frankly, I was just happy to be in the warm weather after driving through a blizzard (with zero visibility) to make my flight out of Toronto. Yesterday, there was a 60 degree difference between Arizona and Ontario, thanks to a late winter cold snap. After only three days in Arizona (and 11 to go), I have to say I am in love with the state. If anyone out there is from Arizona and in need of a newspaper editor/reporter or someone in public relations, drop me a line. I will work for baseball tickets.
The game was an entertaining affair between the "home team" Texas Rangers and crowd-favorite Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rangers held off a late surge by the D-backs to win 9-8. Arizona had the winning run at second base with one out, but Texas pitcher Mike Wood induced a fielder's choice from minor league outfielder Rich Thompson and then Wood struck out top outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez (on three breaking balls in the dirt) to end the game.
Livan Hernandez received the start for the D-backs and was terrible. He dismissed his struggles after the game, saying he was concerned only about getting his work in. However, his wheels completely fell off in the third inning when he allowed six runs and appeared to be laboring. It was evident that Hernandez, who always carries around some extra weight, was not in very good game shape. His fastball was only between 81-85 mph, which is not going to cut it for a big league right-hander. After nine batters came to the plate, Hernandez finally escaped the inning after Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler flew out to left field.
Strangely enough, manager Bob Melvin (possibly the skinniest manager in the majors) let Hernandez come back out in the fourth inning. The veteran pitcher then proceeded to allow the first three runners on base before striking out left fielder Brad Wilkerson on back-to-back change-ups at 50 and 57 mph. The crowd had a good laugh at how far out in front Wilkerson was. He could have swung twice.
Brandon Medders then came in for the D-backs and hit 94 mph with his violent delivery. Bill Murphy was the next hurler and he pitched the fifth and sixth innings and looked excellent. The former Oakland Athletic lefty looks fully recovered from injuries that knocked him off track the past two years. He pitched between 88-91 mph with his fastball and had good movement.
Jeff Bajenaru, a former White Sox prospect, came in to pitch the seventh and struck out three batters, while allowing one base runner. He could have had a perfect inning if not for a double on a lazy flyball by Drew Meyer, which was lost in the sun by former No. 1 overall draft pick Justin Upton.
Former Kansas City Royal D.J. Carrasco pitched the final inning for the D-backs and looked better than he did before heading over to Japan for the 2006 season. He touched 94 mph. Arizona could have great bullpen depth this season if Murphy, Bajenaru and Carrasco begin the year in Triple-A. Worse players will begin the year in the majors with some clubs.
On the Texas side, left-handed John Koronka received the start and is battling for a spot in the rotation. He looked solid and was one of the few pitchers who was able to get breaking balls over for strikes. He did not allow a hit in his three innings of work.
Kameron Loe replaced Koronka in the fourth and pitched OK, but not great. He topped out at 90 mph, but only hit it twice. Francisco Cruceta started the seventh but was not sharp at all, managing to touch 91 mph only once or twice. He quickly lost faith in the fastball after he was torched by the D-back batters but he could not throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. He allowed four runs.
Mexican League pitcher Jose Vargas relieved Cruceta and got the final out in the inning. He then pitched the eighth inning as well and was not overly sharp. He hit 90 mph a couple times and had questionable control. The Dominican had a 1.36 ERA in the Mexican League last year and I'm guessing that's where he'll end up again in 2007.
The aforementioned Wood relieved Vargas in the eighth and also pitched the ninth, where he got into trouble. He worked between 84-89 mph with his fastball.
On the offensive side of things, D-back prospect Chris Carter had a good game, going 2-for-2 with a walk. He hit a pinch-hit triple in the seventh and added an RBI single in the ninth. Upton redeemed himself after his outfield blunder by running out an infield hit in the eighth inning.
For Texas, catcher Gerald Laird absolutely crushed a pitch from Hernandez in the third inning, which sailed over the 400-foot sign in center field.
If spring training were to end today, right-fielder Sammy Sosa would have a starting gig on the Rangers. The comeback player hit a mammoth homer in the third inning for three RBI. The ball traveled over the 375-foot sign and cleared the entire park! He also added a double (which should have been an error on the second baseman) and struck out. Wilkerson went 2-for-3 and looks to have recovered from shoulder problems.
I am looking at attending a game on Saturday (Kansas City vs. the Cubs, I believe) and on Sunday (Texas vs. the Angels). I hope to post my observations on both games. If people have questions on specific players, feel free to ask.
Two on Two: AL Central Preview
Last week we kicked off the Two on Two Series with the AL East. This week it's the Central. Joining us are Seth Stohs of the popular Twins blog, Seth Speaks, and Brian Borawski, proprietor of Tiger Blog.
Sully: Thank you Seth and Brian for participating as we preview the ultra-competitive AL Central. We started the series last week with the AL East, a good division for sure but also a division whose reputation can be fueled by the northeast hype machine. Is the Central the best division in baseball?
Seth: The AL Central is head-and-shoulders the best division in baseball. Last year, the division had three teams over 90 wins. The Tigers were one of the feel-good stories of the year last year, and there is no reason that they can't duplicate it this year with the addition of Gary Sheffield. The White Sox had ups and downs but were still over 90 wins. They made a few moves which will likely pay off in the long run. And the Twins overcame so many obstacles to finally win the division on the final day of the season. They have the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young Award winner, the AL Batting Champ, the Minor League Player of the Year, the Executive of the Year, the best bullpen in baseball and a manager that, even with his faults, has the respect of all of his teammates. The Cleveland Indians offense and potentially improved bullpen should put them right in contention. Travis Hafner is as good a hitter as there is in the league. And although the Royals likely won't compete, the addition of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to the lineup and the continued development of some other players, they could be a little better.
Brian: I think in 2006, you could definitely say that the AL Central was the best division in baseball but once again, I think the AL East may have surpassed the Central. I think the White Sox are probably the favorites in the Central but you could argue that both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are better with the Blue Jays being a solid team as well. I will agree that the AL Central is probably the most wide open. I think any of four teams (Sorry Royals fans) could walk away with the division and it may very well come down to which team stays the healthiest (which could concern White Sox fans).
Seth: I can't really argue with you on the concerns at 3B and LF. Nick Punto surprised a lot of people last year with how well he actually played once he became the regular 3B. Yet, it resulted in an OPS+ of just 90. He played terrific defense at the hot corner, but he has almost zero power. I can't see him even performing to his 2006 level again. Fortunately, the Twins make up for the deficiency at 3B with above average performance at Catcher and CF. Bringing in Jeff Cirillo, who mashed lefties last year, could get plenty of action at 3B too. As for White, he got off to such a horrific start last year. Maybe it was the shoulder, but it was so far below what White has been throughout his career. What gets lost is that after the All-Star break, White actually hit .321/.354/.538. He had 19 extra base hits in 156 at bats. He really just needs to find a way to walk more this year. Defensively, injuries have definitely made him a subpar outfielder. I expect to see plenty of Jason Kubel in left field as well this year.
Sully: Without a doubt, baseball is back in the Motor City. Still, the Tigers limped to the finish line before heating up again in the post-season and I think that has some people questioning if they ought to be considered legitimate contenders in 2007. Can the Tigers get back to the World Series?
Brian: I guess I like the pitching staff a bit better than you guys do. Mark Buehrle is playing for a contract so I think we'll see him revert to at least his 2004 form. Jon Garland will ride his solid second half in 2006 into another solid season in 2007 and I've always been a big Javier Vazquez fan. I do agree that trading Brandon McCarthy after dealing Freddy Garcia to the Phillies was a bit odd but he would have been almost as much of a question mark as anyone else the White Sox throw out there. And I'd hardly say that the rest of the lineup is problematic. Tad Iguchi provides a nice table setter for the big bats in the middle and A.J. Pierzynski is a solid hitting catcher. You might also see some more Rob Mackowiak (.365 OBP) if Ryan Anderson can't get it done in centerfield and Darin Erstad has lost a step.
Rich: I don't think it matters at all that Buehrle is in a contract year. I mean, let's be real now. The Cubs will give him a 5 x 11 contract no matter what he does this year.
Seth: I definitely think that the Sox took a step backwards this offseason, although I do think that the moves Ken Williams made will make them strong again in 2008. Getting Gio Gonzalez and John Danks was good, but I agree that the Sox rotation in 2006 takes another step backwards. The offense will be fine though, particularly if they can get Josh Fields and Ryan Sweeney in the lineup quickly. I think that the shortstop situation is another big question mark.
Sully: I think you bring up a great point, Seth. The sooner Fields and Sweeney cut into Erstad's, Anderson's and Podsednik's playing time, the better for the Pale Hose and their fans. Transitioning from a team I am really down on to one I think could turn some heads this year, let's talk about the Cleveland Indians. With a punishing offense, some nice off-season tinkering and better health and development from the starting staff, this could be the Tribe's year in the AL Central.
Rich: I like the Indians. Most sabermetric types know they underperformed their Pythagorean record by 11 games last year. But I also like the fact that the Tribe finished #1 in the majors in Rob Neyer's BeaneCount. As an example of its relevancy, the Yankees, Tigers, and Red Sox placed second, third, and fourth in the AL. This is a good team. Cleveland just needs to learn to play better on the road and win more than its fair share of one-run games. The latter has now been a bugaboo for a couple of years. Despite the changes, I'm not sure if that bullpen is ready for prime time yet. I'm also concerned that the pitchers don't miss more bats. The Indians finished second from the bottom in Ks in 2006. I don't see where this issue was addressed at all, which means the defense needs to come up big this year if Cleveland is going to reach its potential.
AVG OBP SLG Dellucci: .271 .359 .468 Nixon: .292 .379 .513
AVG OBP SLG Michaels: .303 .387 .464 Blake: .253 .335 .487All four hit significantly better with the platoon advantage. Wedge's resourcefulness will go a long way in determining Cleveland's hopes this season.
Seth: Sully, that makes a lot of sense to you and I, but Casey Blake is slotted in as the team's 1B. Could he play 1B against righties and RF against lefties? Ryan Garko really deserves an opportunity to get some at bats as well. And, will we see more of Victor Martinez at 1B with Kelly Shoppach behind the plate?
Rich: Garko had a boatload of RBI last year (45 in 50 games) so my sense is that the casual fan may overrate him a bit this year. He's already 26. I don't really know what to make of him, but I would be surprised if he is special as a first baseman. Shoppach rusted away a bit on the bench last year, but he didn't really earn more playing time either. I mean, 8 walks and 45 strikeouts in 110 at-bats makes me wonder if he can make the proper adjustments and hit big-league pitchers.
Seth: I don't disagree with you at all on the White Sox. I don't want to sound like a homer, but I think that the Twins will be wise and go with the young pitchers earlier than we think. I think Jason Kubel will become a star. And although I think most will predict that the Tigers, the White Sox or even the Indians to win the division, I think that the Twins will find a way to win their fifth division title in six years. Secondly, despite the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka has already been given the AL Rookie of the Year, I think that Kevin Slowey will actually win it.
Sully: Just so we have this on the record - and please, no homer apologies. I am a Red Sox fan for crissakes. We have a Kevin Slowey for AL Rookie of the Year call - right here, and on the record.
Seth: You read it here first!! Kevin Slowey, AL Rookie of the Year!
Sully: I don't know if I would call Cleveland challenging for the division a real surprise but Martinez outshining Hafner sure would be.
Rich: Mine is a bit of a stretch, but I'm going to say that Ozzie Guillen gets canned before the All-Star break. His style works great when you're winning, but it wears mighty thin when you're losing. I know it's a longshot, but I think it's within the realm of possibility.
Seth: I am going to stand by my Kevin Slowey pick for AL Rookie of the year despite so many great choices in the AL Central alone. I think that Mauer and Hafner are definitely top MVP choices, but I don't think that the reigning AL MVP should be lost in the discussion either. I would say the darkhorse is Carlos Guillen. And yes, Johan Santana should win his third Cy Young Award this year!
Sully: Thanks guys.
After a stellar 2004 season, Seattle 3B Adrian Beltre has somehow lost his belt. Unfortunately, the belt I am referring to has to do with producing long hits instead of holding up long pants. What's intriguing is not that Beltre's production fell off after a career year, but the degree to which his numbers have declined. After what seemed to be an MVP-type season where Beltre put it all together showing his tremendous ability, it seems that 2005 resulted in a return right back to square one - do not pass go, do not collect your $200 (uh, rather collect your $64 million, but I suppose that
Age is often a reason for decreased production, but Beltre will turn 28 next month as he enters his ninth full season. With his experience and youth, Beltre should be primed to enter the most productive stretch of his career, so what gives?
Here is a look at Beltre in 2004 and 2006:
2004 uber-Beltre is on the left and a more human 2006 Beltre is on the right. I picked the two clips with the most similarity in regard to camera angle, pitch type/location and result. Again, these are synchronized to contact.
There are a lot of similarities when looking at setup and body position throughout the swings, but there is one major difference that caught my attention. Here is a more directed look:
Beltre's 2006 swing clearly shows that his hands are more visible behind his head as he prepares to unload his swing. The significance of this deals with Beltre's "swing time" - the time it takes him to unload once he has decided to go ahead with his swing.
In all honesty, I could argue that I like his 2006 swing better. If I had to guess which swing would produce more raw power, I would pick the one on the right. The reason is because the actual swing quickness between the two looks very similar, so if the 2006 swing shows the hands traveling a longer distance in the same time, it stands that the 2006 swing should be creating more bat speed.
The 2004 swing, however, shows that Beltre was initiating his shoulder rotation slightly earlier. This coincides with his hands and bat moving sooner to the ball, which indicates a quicker swing. Additionally, Beltre's arms look slightly more extended at contact on the left, which supports the concept that he is starting his swing earlier because the extra time from the quicker swing happens to be filled by the extra extension. If contact was made with the arms in exactly the same position, the difference in quickness would be more apparent.
Here is the best side view I could manage:
This angle also makes it clear that Beltre has to move his barrel a longer distance in 2006. If he could pull this off with all else remaining equal, I do think it could be a big plus, but that does not appear to be the case.
More bat speed does not always equal more power. The small matter of making consistent, hard contact comes into play. Looking at the stride foot of each swing, 2004 Beltre looks to begin his swing slightly later, which may mean that he is getting a better, longer look at the ball. This would allow him to process more information about the oncoming pitch, and the stats say he was producing enough bat speed to put up great power numbers.
Mariners hitting coach Jeff Pentland also seems to agree that a shorter swing correlates to better results from Beltre:
"Instead of swinging harder, we pulled him back and concentrated more on squaring the ball up and hitting it solid," Pentland said.
I have heard some arguments about players performing well in their "walk" year only to see performance decline after signing a lucrative contract, but is this the case with Beltre?
Considering these video clips, it appears that Beltre may actually be trying to do too much after signing that 5-year, $64 million free agent deal with Seattle. Perhaps the departure from his successful ways of 2004 results from dealing with higher expectations by attempting to do more, more, more. If so, Beltre might just need to realize how talented he is, stay within himself and just go about his business.
This realization may have begun during the second half of last season, when Beltre's batting average jumped 31 points and he hit 18 of his 25 home runs.
"You get frustrated (through the struggles)," Beltre said. "You know you can do better. It gets to be too much. Finally I got to the point where you say, 'whatever.' Then you just go out, see the ball and hit the ball."
Sometimes a slight change in mentality, mechanics (like changing the position of the hands in order to shorten the swing) or a good combination of the two is all it takes to recreate a comfort level of past success. Beltre is a good, young athlete with loads of experience which leads me to believe an explanation is out there and that there is hope that he can produce more closely to what his ability suggests.
More Name than Game
All over the world and in all lines of work superior performers are passed up for inferior ones. Despite best efforts to establish meritocratic workplaces - be they companies, restaurants or sports teams - employers often fail in this endeavor for any number of reasons. Chief among them is the employee who time and again is recognized for his or her efforts based on name recognition and reputation alone. After a productive stretch, that employee's reputation is cemented and therefore becomes bullet proof.
The list that follows seeks to compile those players in Major League Baseball whose names far outstrip their games. Bear in mind it is not necessarily a "most over-rated" list but rather an assemblage of those players at each position who seem to have attained perpetual kid glove treatment and permanent employment.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge hit .300/.332/.437 last season, good for a 98 OPS+. Amazingly, this was a bounceback season for the backstop. In 2005, he put up a .276/.290/.444 line and over the last two seasons, Rodriguez has walked a total of just 37 times. For some context, Manny Ramirez had notched his 37th walk of just the 2006 season alone before Memorial Day last year. Still in good shape and a solid defensive catcher at the age of 35, I expect Pudge to have a gig for years to come despite his offensive woes.
First Base: Nomar Garciaparra
The same guy, who, as a shortstop, one season hit .357/.418/.603 and seemed a lock to be a future Hall-of-Famer now struggles to put up a mid .800's OPS as a first baseman. Still, anyone capable of showing the promise Nomar did at the end of the 20th century will be afforded opportunity that others will not. So I see Nomar playing 1st Base well into his 30s, his numbers declining steadily as he just tries to stay healthy. In his current form, Nomar is an average first baseman. There is value in that, but not the kind of value Nomar figures to extract from teams on the basis of his name alone.
Second Base: Marcus Giles
Although he is only 29, Giles still made his way onto my list by virtue of the notion that he not only seems to be living off of his performance levels from 2003, but with his acquisition by the San Diego Padres, one gets the sense he is also living off of his brother's name. Giles's 262/.341/.387 line, a 90 OPS+ in 2006, suggests he is not the player many think him to be.
Shortstop: Cesar Izturis
I know there really aren't many informed fans out there that still believe Cesar Izturis is any sort of decent player but the fact that he has a full-time Big League job alone merits his inclusion on this list. The guy with the 68 OPS+ still manages to swindle his way into lineups with alarming regularity, all because of the good name he established for himself early on in his career when he hit at an acceptable enough level to justify regular playing time. At this point, is it not evident that he is a drain on any team?
Third Base: Hank Blalock
It's hard to believe that the once promising third baseman could have fallen so hard but Blalock's .266/.325/.401 season in 2006 made him one of the very worst regulars in all of baseball. Blalock is only 26, but his declining output is real cause for concern. Consider the following trend:
Season OPS+ 2003 118 2004 111 2005 94 2006 84
Blalock still seems to have job security, however, because he showed so much promise at a young age. Still, it's hard to see how Blalock merits such treatment.
Left Field: Luis Gonzalez:
Gonzalez will be 40 by the time the 2007 season ends and he is coming off of a .271/.352/.444 season, good enough for merely a 97 OPS+ playing home games at the hitter friendly Chase Field. Well not only was Gonzalez handed a job by Grady Little and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was at the expense of younger, better, cheaper talent. Put differently, with one signing the Dodgers got older, worse and more expensive. Not a good combo.
Center Field: Torii Hunter
There is a lot to like about Torii Hunter. He plays a very good center field and seems like a great teammate. He goes all out after every ball. That said, his offensive contributions are badly over blown. Hunter is just OK as a hitter, as evidenced by his career 102 OPS+. Still, the way you hear many talk about him, you would think he is some sort of supreme talent. Hunter is a good player, probably one of his position's 10 best but just you wait until this off-season. Hunter is about to get paid like a superstar, something he is not.
Right Field: Gary Sheffield
The case on Sheff is pretty straightforward. He is 38 years old and two full seasons removed from being anything resembling a superstar contributor. He has endured shoulder problems to boot. Still, the defending American League champs saw fit to acquire Sheffield. Far be it from me to criticize the great Dave Dombroski, but Sheffield is going to disappoint badly in 2007.
Left Handed Pitcher: Jarrod Washburn
Still living off of his reputation forged as a member of the World Series winning Angels, Washburn hasn't been very good at all for some years now. Still, the Mariners saw fit to award Washburn a lucrative deal and subsequently paid for it dearly as Jarrod struggled through his first season in Seattle. Having struck out just 4.96 batters every nine innings in 2006, I don't see much reason to believe the 32 year-old will improve significantly.
Right Handed Pitcher: Jaret Wright
In many ways, Jaret Wright is still living off of his post-season performance from 1997. Save a renaissance of sorts in 2004 with Atlanta, and when he has even been able to make it on the field, Wright has labored anywhere in between mediocre and downright awful. The New York Yankees awarded Wright a lucrative deal after his 2004 season, one of their worst signings of the Cashman era. Now it is on to Baltimore for Wright, where he hopes to recapture some of his 2004 magic with Leo Mazzone. In ten mediocre, injury-plagued seasons, Wright has earned over $23 million.
A big name can earn a player a nice payday. But a big game can earn a team a playoff spot. You can have the names, I'll take the games.
Russian Roulette: The Rule 5 Draft
With the implementation of new rules allowing teams an extra year of development for their prospects, December's Rule 5 draft was expected to be quiet, to say the least. However, 19 players were chosen - the third most in nine years. Under the previous rules, prospects had to be added to their clubs' major league 40-man roster after either three (if 19 or older when signed) or four years (if under the age of 19 when signed) in the minor leagues or they would be subjected to the winter draft. The new rules added another year of leeway for clubs to decide if players were 'worthy' of those coveted spots. As a result, many players that were expected to be available in the Rule 5 draft this past winter were not. Players chosen in the draft must remain on the 25-man major league roster for the entire season or be offered back to their original club for $25,000.
Below is a chart outlining the previous eight Rule 5 drafts, not including the 2006 draft. After that, you will find a more detailed analysis of those drafts in the hopes we can better understand what to expect from the recent 2006 Rule 5 draft class as we approach the 2007 season.
The History (1998-2005): 2005: 12 picks, 3 stuck (25%), Best pick: Dan Uggla 2004: 12 picks, 5 stuck (42%), Best pick: Andy Sisco 2003: 20 picks, 6 stuck (30%), Best pick: Chris Shelton 2002: 28 picks, 11 stuck (39%), Best pick: Luis Ayala 2001: 12 picks, 6 stuck (50%), Best pick: Jorge Sosa 2000: 10 picks, 3 stuck (30%), Best pick: Jay Gibbons 1999: 17 picks, 5 stuck (29%), Best pick: Johan Santana 1998: 13 picks, 4 stuck (21%), Best pick: Scott Sauerbeck Overall: 35% of picks last the year
Most Common Positions Picked: C 2 2.0% 1B 1 0.8% 2B 7 6.0% 3B 7 6.0% SS 5 4.0% OF 23 18.5% RHP 52 41.9% LHP 27 21.8%Not surprisingly, pitching is the position of interest. Almost 64 per cent of all Rule 5 picks in the last eight years were pitchers. Right-handers made up almost half of all those picked. Catchers and first basemen are not very popular.
Most Successful Positions to Stick: C 1/2 50% 1B 1/1 100% 2B 4/7 57% 3B 4/7 57% SS 3/5 60% OF 5/23 22% RHP 15/52 29% LHP 10/27 37%Position players are not chosen as often as pitchers, but teams have a much better success rate with them, albeit on a much smaller scale. A 37% success rate for left-handers is not bad at all.
Likelihood Players Will Stick (By Level Pick From): MLB 1/4 25% AAA 7/33 21% AA 15/45 33% A+ 12/25 48% A 8/16 50% R 0/1 0%A-Ball, surprisingly, is the best place to find value for your dollar, with Double-A the next best options. I'm a little surprised Triple-A players don't stick more often, but I guess they would be protected by that point if they were perceived to be any good.
How Originally Acquired: College: 13 (30%) High School: 9 (21%) International: 16 (37%) Junior College: 5 (11%)I thought there might be some more division here, with high schoolers being drafted more often in the Rule 5, simply because they take longer to develop.
Chance for a Successful Next Season: Good: 9 (21%) OK: 17 (39%) Poor: 17 (39%)As seen by the numbers above, Rule 5 picks rarely go on to have successful careers. Even those who succeed in their first MLB season tend to flame out the next year. In most cases, players are returned to the minors for extra seasoning and never return. Admittedly, the Good/OK/Poor ratings are somewhat subjective on my part. Overall, the Rule 5 draft looks like a reasonable way to fill a hole on your bench or in your bullpen for the league minimum.
Warning Signs - Injuries to Pitchers Who Stuck (1998-2004): RHP - 7/14 (50%) LHP - 5/9 (55%)Yikes. If I were a pitcher I don't think I'd like to get taken in the Rule 5 draft. More than 50 per cent of the pitchers taken have suffered a serious arm or shoulder injury within six years of being drafted and usually within two or three. A lot of those pitchers were starters in the minors who were shifted to the 'pen in the majors. How does that compare to the major league average? That I don't know, but it would be an interesting study.
Top 5 Teams to Make Pick: 1. Detroit (9) 2. San Diego (8) 3. Washington/Montreal (8) 4. Colorado (7) 5. Tampa Bay (7)If I were Washington or Tampa Bay, I'd be gambling with the draft too. It's probably a good way for Colorado to find pitchers, because the certainly don't entice a lot of attractive free agent hurlers. San Diego is gaining a reputation as a reclamation center and finder of hidden talent, so the Rule 5 makes sense for them.
Top 5 Teams to Lose Picks: 1. Cleveland (11) 2. Pittsburgh (10) 3. Los Angeles NL (10) 4. Toronto (8) 5. Seattle (7)As far as Cleveland and Toronto go, they are two teams that heavily draft college players, which therefore means they only had three years (two-and-a-half really) to decide if a prospect deserves a 40-man roster spot. Drafting college players also tends to develop depth quickly within those systems. Pittsburgh, as a small market team, really should do a better job of identifying their own talent. Seattle, historically, has not been eager to give young players a chance to break into the majors, although that appears to be changing. Los Angeles is simply a gold mine for prospects.
The 2006 Rule 5 Draft:
ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 H/9 IP Joakim Soria 2.31 | 0.63 | 8.5% | 1.5% | 3.86 | 11.2 Sean White 4.40 | 1.64 | 6.4% | 3.8% | 10.91 | 102.1 Alfredo Simon 6.75 | 1.83 | 6.1% | 3.3% | 13.15 | 52.0 Edward Campusano 1.75 | 1.19 | 11.9% | 2.8% | 7.71 | 25.2 Jared Burton 4.14 | 1.32 | 8.0% | 3.3% | 8.64 | 74.0 Lincoln Holdzkom 1.87 | 1.08 | 8.0% | 2.9% | 6.68 | 33.2 Nick DeBarr 2.74 | 1.13 | 8.0% | 2.2% | 8.00 | 69.0 Kevin Cameron 2.99 | 1.20 | 8.8% | 3.5% | 7.19 | 66.1 Jay Marshall 1.02 | 0.87 | 6.4% | 1.2% | 6.68 | 62.0 Levale Speigner 3.26 | 1.29 | 5.7% | 2.2% | 9.47 | 58.0 Jim Ed Warden 2.90 | 1.08 | 7.2% | 4.4% | 5.34 | 59.0
AVG/OBA/SLG BB% K% HR% BABIP Ryan Goleski .296/.370/.528 | 9.7% | 23.5% | 4.6% | .359 Josh Hamilton .269/.333/.365 | 8.8% | 21.1% | 0.0% | .350 Jesus Flores .266/.331/.487 | 5.8% | 26.5% | 4.4% | .331 Adam Donachie .191/.325/.309 | 16.7% | 17.5% | 1.8% | .222 Jason Smith .263/.318/.424 | 6.5% | 26.9% | 4.6% | .323 Alejandro Machado .260/.352/.346 | 12.0% | 11.7% | 0.9% | .292 Josh Phelps .308/.366/.532 | 7.3% | 23.8% | 4.6% | .377 Ryan Budde .233/.312/.414 | 9.1% | 22.8% | 3.3% | .276
As we know from the above analysis, about one-third of all players picked in the Rule 5 draft will stick with their new teams throughout the entire season. As such, I will look at the seven (37%) most likely 2006 picks to remain in the majors in 2007.
1. Jason Smith (AAA)
It is a pretty lousy bench - especially for the American League East - but the Jays have chosen to spend their money on a handful of players, rather than spread it around. That, in turn, leads to players like Smith making the roster (and a 39-year-old fourth outfielder who has played only 18 games in the outfield the past two years). Smith is probably the least likely of the seven players to have an impact career, or even be playing in the majors in 2008. He is a stopgap.
CL - Todd Jones
CL - Brad Lidge
The bullpen will probably not strike fear in the hearts of many batters but there is some upside finally, with Soria perhaps possessing the most (raw) talent.
OK... that is one hard bench to predict, especially given that Washington has 19 batters on their spring invitee list and they could all conceivably win a spot on the roster. I do, however, expect the team to carry three catchers and Fick is the most versatile of the bunch (that also includes Danny Ardoin, Juan Brito and Brandon Harper).
Justin Duchscherer's injury problems open the door for Marshall to perhaps make the opening day roster if Oakland wants to carry three lefties. Witasick also had problems in 2006 with injuries. Street and Calero should be the two key players in the pen for Oakland. Embree adds stability from a veteran standpoint. If having three lefties is not desirable, then Flores could be on the hot seat after an inconsistent 2006.
Open Chat: 2007 Predictions
I have two questions for our readers today.
1. Which team is the most likely to win 10 more games than it did last year? Why?
2. Conversely, which club is the most likely to lose 10 more games than it did last year? Why?
OK, I guess that is four questions. Double your pleasure, double your fun. No, that is not a subliminal endorsement of the Cubs. (I guess I'm showing my age as it has been 26 years since the Wrigley family sold the Cubs to the Tribune Company.)
Bonus Question: Would Mark Cuban make a good owner for the Cubs?
For reference purposes, here is how it all shook out last year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
TEAM W L PCT GB Yankees 97 65 .599 - Blue Jays 87 75 .537 10 Red Sox 86 76 .531 11 Orioles 70 92 .432 27 Devil Rays 61 101 .377 36
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
TEAM W L PCT GB Twins 96 66 .593 - Tigers 95 67 .586 1 White Sox 90 72 .556 6 Indians 78 84 .481 18 Royals 62 100 .383 34
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
TEAM W L PCT GB A's 93 69 .574 - Angels 89 73 .549 4 Rangers 80 82 .494 13 Mariners 78 84 .481 15
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
TEAM W L PCT GB Mets 97 65 .599 - Phillies 85 77 .525 12 Braves 79 83 .488 18 Marlins 78 84 .481 19 Nationals 71 91 .438 26
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
TEAM W L PCT GB Cardinals 83 78 .516 - Astros 82 80 .506 1.5 Reds 80 82 .494 3.5 Brewers 75 87 .463 8.5 Pirates 67 95 .414 16.5 Cubs 66 96 .407 17.5
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
TEAM W L PCT GB Padres 88 74 .543 0 Dodgers 88 74 .543 0 Giants 76 85 .472 11.5 Diamondbacks 76 86 .469 12 Rockies 76 86 .469 12
Santo Swindled Again
In what can only be described as a rerun of gross injustice, Ron Santo was again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
For the Record
At one point, Labine retired future Hall of Famer Stan Musial 49 consecutive times.
Even though Tom Lasorda called Labine "one of the finest pitchers to ever play the game," I didn't think Gurnick's statement passed the smell test. As such, I checked Labine's pitching vs. batting record at Baseball-Reference.com. I scrolled down and learned that Musial was 1-for-13 with 4 BB vs. Labine. I clicked on Stan the Man's name and was directed to a more detailed page. I was reminded that the data only covered 1957-on (which is as far back as Retrosheet, the provider of this information, goes - at least at this point in time).
Given that Labine made his major-league debut in 1950, it was clear that the pitching vs. batting record was incomplete. I sent my friend Dave Smith, the creator of Retrosheet, an email with "Hyperbole?" in the subject title, asking if he could shed some light on this subject. Dave wrote back, "Hyperbole is way too polite a word. I first prepared this report in 1999 when I saw the story for the first time. Here are the numbers. I will contact the MLB site to explain how incorrect the claim is - he didn't even face him 49 times!"
Career results of Stan Musial vs Clem Labine:AB H 2B 3B HR BB HP SO SF RBI AVG OBP SLG 42 10 1 1 1 6 0 2 0 3 .238 .333 .381
A little investigative work later and the fable was removed from Gurnick's article.
Update: As it turns out, there are a number of sites guilty of perpetuating this myth.
- Rich Lederer, 3/2/07, 8:00 p.m. PST
- Rich Lederer, 3/2/07, 9:50 p.m. PST
Los Angeles Angels
- Rich Lederer, 3/3/07, 9:15 a.m. PST
- Jeff Albert, 3/3/07, 2:55 p.m. CST
When all else is equal, striking out infrequently is better than the alternative, but rarely is everything equal. I mention all of this in light of Mike Schmidt's recent comments about Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell, during which he referred to the pair as "mediocre" and cited their high number of strikeouts as the reason why.
Pat Burrell is not "mediocre." Adam Dunn is sure as hell not "mediocre." Both strike out a lot, but both also make outs of any kind more rarely than most of their peers. And yet here is what Dunn had to say regarding Schmidt's criticism. From a piece by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com:
"Well, that's a Hall of Fame opinion. I'm not proud of it, either. But I don't need somebody going around saying it when I already know it. I don't need to hear it from people. I think some of these guys forget how hard the game was."
It's nice that Dunn processes criticism and wants to get better but I am surprised that he does not seem to recognize just how good of a hitter he is. And I bet he is not alone in this regard. Perception becomes reality, even to the most accomplished players. I wonder if, say, Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans realize how good they were. Dunn may have struggled in 2006 for Cincinnati but still is a career .245/.380/.513 hitter, Hall of Fame neighborhood numbers if he can sustain them over a long career. There is a tendency by baseball fans, players and media - heck, by humans - to dwell on what an individual cannot do instead of appreciating all of the things a given person does well.
Dunn may strike out a lot and he arguably is falling a bit short of his potential, but he is a very good player. It would be nice if the next time someone points out all of the strikeouts Dunn racks up, that the critic would give equal play to Dunn's ability to draw bases on balls and his impressive yearly HR per AB numbers.
Two on Two: AL East Preview
We kick off the 2007 Two on Two series today with the American League East. Peter Abraham is the Yankees beat writer for The Journal News and The LoHud Yankees Blog. His blog has become indispensable reading for Yankees fans. He is currently in Tampa covering the team, mixing play-by-play coverage of spring games with insightful behind-the-scenes reports, audio interviews with Joe Torre, and humorous comments. Mike Green writes for one the most popular baseball blogs out there, Batter's Box, which is largely devoted to analysis and coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Rich: Thank you, Pete and Mike, for joining Sully and me today to kick off our baseball previews. We decided to come out of the blocks with the AL East. Given the fact that the AL Central sent two teams into the playoffs and one club to the World Series last year, is it still fair to say that the East is the best division in the American League?
Pete: Losing Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield sounds bad from afar but in reality it could be little more than a blip. The Yankees won 97 games with only small contributions from Sheffield. Johnson was more effective than he is often given credit for but the Yankees have enough inventory among their starters to make up for his loss and it will come far, far cheaper. Johnson also taxed the bullpen more than the Yankees expected. This was a case of Brian Cashman selling while he could still get a good return. Cashman added seven players during the winter via trades and six of them were pitchers. It's hard to argue with that. In terms of what I disliked, I'm not sure the money invested in Kei Igawa was wise. For $46 million (including the bid) they could have signed an established MLB pitcher, not a fringy lefty from Japan. But obviously it's hard to judge a pitcher none of us has seen.
Pete: They cannot be factors in terms of winning the division or even contending. But they can be annoying to the contenders. Tampa Bay is doing the right things to be good in 2010 or so. Baltimore I just don't understand. They should have made that trade with Anaheim involving Miguel Tejada. Spending so much on the bullpen is also fraught with risk.
Rich: OK, let's drill down and take a closer look at each of the five teams. We'll start with the defending champs. Except for whoever is going to play first base, that lineup looks like it's better than what most of us could put together in a ten-team fantasy baseball league.
Mike: Not at the start of the season. The club has made it pretty clear that he will start the season in Syracuse. But, in the event of injury to any of the outfielders or to Thomas, Lind will be up in a flash (although Lind can only play leftfield, Johnson can play all three positions and Alexis Rios could play a very fine defensive centerfield if required). Lind has a sweet swing, and I expect him in Toronto for good by July at the latest.
Sully: There are just too many problems with Toronto for me to be a real believer. While Troy Glaus, Thomas and Vernon Wells constitute a nice offensive backbone, the rest of the lineup is filled with mediocrity and really, the shortstop situation is downright inexcusable. The bullpen is excellent but the starting pitching is as thin as the lineup. Halladay and Burnett are an excellent 1-2 but 3 through 5 gets ugly quick for Toronto. So I see Toronto as a little too top heavy to be a real threat.
Rich: In some ways, I feel sorry for Toronto fans. Competing in the AL East is not easy. The Blue Jays boosted payroll by more than 50% last year and just signed Wells to one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, yet the club still trails the Yankees by over $100 million and the Red Sox by tens of millions in annual compensation. The franchise is betwixt and between. The Jays are not quite good enough to make the playoffs nor so awful as to get one of the top couple of draft picks every year like Tampa Bay.
Sully: Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jay Payton, Aubrey Huff and Steve Trachsel. That's a lot of change and some of it positive but we are talking about a 70-win team in 2006. The wheels are spinning, but are the O's moving at all?
Rich: Absolutely. I'll give the new ownership and management some of the credit but most of it is simply due to the fact that the team has consistently had one of the first picks in the amateur draft and many of these players are now at the point where they should begin to pay dividends. The outfield of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Delmon Young is oozing with talent and athleticism while two of the future infielders in Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac are within a year or two of making their impact felt in Tampa. The Rays also have a a top-of-the-rotation starter in Scott Kazmir plus a number of quality arms in the farm system, but I wouldn't expect pitching to be an area of strength until 2009, at the earliest.
Sully: A house of cards, huh Pete? I would say it is quite a leap to suggest that Manny "could quit at any time." He played less than 150 games for the first time in four seasons in 2006. And Drew's personality could very well be perfect for Boston. He seems more or less emotionless and has never cared about fan pressure. He is a career .333/.474/.600 hitter at Citizens Bank Park and I am pretty sure he has heard a "boo" or two there. Crisp and Varitek may need bounce-back seasons for the Sox offense to click, but they are both tremendous candidates to do just that. And the notion that what we saw late in the season from Boston is what they are now is preposterous. Lugo replaces Alex Gonzalez. Drew replaces Trot Nixon, who was just awful late last season. Manny replaces Kevin Youkilis in left field, who replaces Eric Hinske at first. Crisp and Varitek should be healthy. Think Dustin Pedroia will be a career .191/.258/.303 hitter? Do I need to go on?
Rich: Ahh, just for fun, I'll say either A-Rod or Manny gets traded at the deadline.
Pete: Until somebody beats them, you have to go with the Yankees. Plus they have what looks like the best team. New York, Toronto, Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore.
The Bull Durham Rant
How often do you find yourself quoting great lines from baseball movies during the course of a typical day?
I do it all the time.
For instance, when a family outing is canceled on account of the weather:
At a barbecue when the cook is serving me a burger:
The Jesus people try to hand me literature on my way to SI's Midtown offices:
One of our writers gets contentious about an edit:
Upon the delivery of some decidedly untoward news:
Hearing a banal remark:
Using my American Express card:
Dragging at work and it's not even lunchtime yet:
My daughter doesn't want to go to school:
Baseball fans are lucky in that we have the widest array of excellent films with rich dialogue to choose from compared to the other sports. Hoops fans have, what, Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams? He Got Game? Does Teen Wolf count? Football has come on in recent years with Remember The Titans and Friday Night Lights, but the pigskin, as well-suited as it is to the tube, falls flat on the silver screen when compared to the horsehide. (Bang the Drum Slowly wins over Brian's Song, and Bad News Bears rocks The Longest Yard.)
Perhaps my single favorite moment from any of the baseball classics is the Crash Davis rant to Annie Savoy in Bull Durham. Just as the sexual tension between the two is about to boil over, Crash's words leave her more vulnerable than she ever thought possible:
"I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, long foreplay, show tunes, and that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, I believe that there oughtta be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astro-turf and the designated hitter, I believe in the 'sweet spot,' voting every election, soft core pornography, chocolate chip cookies, opening your presents on Christmas morning rather than Christmas eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for seven days."
Let's take a closer look at Crash's speech, phrase by phrase:
The small doesn't do much for me. I'm more of a nape guy myself. And belly buttons. Definitely belly buttons.
Because the alternative is no fun.
Overrated. Do you want to spend all day on the can?
Just gimme a brewski.
From what I hear, most ballplayers would disagree. (As would most people belonging to the Phylum Marrydus Boredasallhellus.)
Horribly addictive. Better to stay away.
Can't say I ever came across her during the course of my public school education.
Costner should know better. He was in JFK.
Astro-Turf is five minutes ago. Hello, Field-Turf!. As for the DH, it's grown on me over the years. There is something to be said for a manager having to make the call on pulling his starting pitcher regardless of when the ninth spot is due up next. The same goes for the use of bench players; managers can't just automatically go to them when a double-switch is needed.
It's only the best sound in the world.
I try. I really do.
Isn't it nice to leave something to the imagination?
I prefer eve but my wife has final say on the matter and she's with Crash.
Seven days? It'll have to be during the offseason.
I think, deep down, everybody should have their own Bull Durham rant, a coat of arms for where you stand on divisive issues of your day. Here's mine:
"I believe the Reds should be the first team to play on Opening Day, that Opening Day should be a national holiday and that every MLB team should indeed play on said day. I believe radio is the perfect medium for baseball and love nothing more than a day at the park or the beach with the call of the game humming softly in the background. I believe the game is fine the way it is and tinkering with the rules only makes it worse. I believe I didn't know my head from my ass when I was pulling for the Mets in the '86 Series. I believe I agreed with this guy when he said, "In my day, ballplayers were for shit." I believe RUSH, not Bert Blyleven, is the biggest Hall of Fame snub of all time (sorry, Rich). I believe the last thing MLB needs is a salary cap, that college teams should be provided wooden bats and college football should never institute a playoff. I believe the media need to report the truth about the steroids era without getting on a soap box in the process. I believe Babe Ruth was right when he said, 'The only real game -- I think -- in the world is baseball.'"
Jacob Luft is a baseball editor/writer for SI.com.