Ready for The Show?
2006 first rounder Tim Lincecum is slowly becoming a household name, at least with MLB prospect watchers. The diminutive (5'11'' 160 lbs) but hard throwing righty is dominating Triple-A in his first full season.
Here is what Baseball America had to say about Lincecum before the draft:
[Lincecum's] fastball, already a plus pitch, improved a grade as he added nearly 15 pounds of muscle and has reached 98 mph this season, often sitting between 91-96. His power curveball already was one of the best in the country and has become more effective now that he also shows a slider he can throw for strikes... His unorthodox delivery has been described as resembling a pinwheel as he rocks back, makes his body do most of the work and seemingly brings his lightning-quick arm along for the ride... His delivery, resilient arm, size and stuff remind many scouts of Angels setup man Scot Shields, and most scouts think Lincecum will thrive in a relief role. His present stuff rivals any pitcher in the draft, and he should move quickly.
But based on his solid pro showing as a starter in 2006 and 2007, the Giants see Lincecum as a starter, and so they should. As of April 27, Lincecum had been very, very good for Fresno:
W-L ERA GP IP H BB-K BAA
Fresno 3-0 0.36 4 25.0 9 11-32 .113
Left-handed batters are hitting .083 against Lincecum. With runners in scoring position, he has yet to allow a hit in 5.1 innings. Although it is early in the season, it seems Lincecum is at least as ready to be in the majors as fellow 2006 first rounders: Seattle's Brandon Morrow and New York's Joe Smith.
The biggest problem is that the Giants don't have a spot for him in the rotation. The National League West club has a solid starting rotation and two other young pitchers in the bullpen that could be starting for most teams.
ERA IP H BB-SO
LHP Barry Zito 3.70 24.1 20 11-15
RHP Matt Cain 1.55 29.0 11 13-21
RHP Matt Morris 2.49 25.1 24 12-12
LHP Noah Lowry 3.38 26.2 22 13-13
RHP Russ Ortiz 4.50 26.0 33 7-14
RHP Brad Hennessey 3.24 8.1 8 1-3
LHP Jonathan Sanchez 5.14 7.0 7 5-7
So what do you do with Lincecum? Do you leave him where he is until an inevitable injury occurs? Do you bring him up and throw him in the pen as a long reliever and spot starter, while sending down Hennessey or Sanchez to get extra minor league seasoning? Or do you replace fifth starter Russ Ortiz, who appears to be rejuvenating his career?
Either way, it's a nice problem to have, especially for an aging team such as the Giants.
- Marc Hulet, 4/29/07, 10:30 a.m. EST
While on the subject of "Ready for The Show?," let's take a look at a number of other highly regarded arms in Triple-A who stand a reasonable chance of being called up before the All-Star break.
Pitcher AGE ORG LG IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
Homer Bailey 21 CIN INT 21.1 12 6 4 2 9 13 1.69
Yovani Gallardo 21 MIL PCL 23.0 14 6 6 0 7 33 2.35
Matt Garza 23 MIN INT 19.0 20 10 6 2 10 18 2.84
Adam Miller 22 CLE INT 25.0 23 9 8 0 8 23 2.88
Jeff Niemann 23 TB INT 25.0 23 10 10 4 9 30 3.60
Kevin Slowey 23 MIN INT 18.2 9 3 2 1 1 20 0.96
Andy Sonnanstine 24 TB INT 30.0 21 11 9 3 6 37 2.70
Check out Yovani Gallardo's stats: 12.9 K/9 and 5.5 H/9 without allowing a home run. Gallardo's numbers matched up well with those of Phil Hughes and Homer Bailey last year in the Florida State (A+) and Southern/Eastern (AA) Leagues, but the second-round pick in 2004 has never quite gotten the acclaim of his fellow first rounders from the same draft. He just may turn out to be the best of the three.
- Rich Lederer, 4/29/07, 9:45 a.m. PST
The above post serves as a nice segue to another first-round selection from the 2004 draft. Jered Weaver made his third start of the season yesterday, holding the Chicago White Sox scoreless for 5 2/3 innings. Weaver's outing was not only in sharp contrast to his previous start against the Detroit Tigers when he couldn't even get out of the second inning but it showed that he and his brother Jeff are not one and the same:
Pitcher OPP IP H R ER HR BB SO
Jered CWS 5.2 6 0 0 0 0 5
Jeff KC 0.1 7 6 6 0 1 0
Pitcher IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
Jered 13.1 17 11 8 2 4 11 5.40
Jeff 11.1 31 23 23 2 4 7 18.27
Pitcher IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
Jered 136.1 111 47 43 17 37 116 2.84
Jeff 1579.1 1703 877 821 194 432 1051 4.68
Although Jered has thrown less than 10% of Jeff's career innings in his one-plus seasons in the big leagues, it is pretty obvious that the brothers are not one and the same as so many have suggested.
The younger Weaver's velocity and command were acceptable yesterday. He was throwing 88-91 in the first inning and working mostly in the high-80s the rest of the game. The tall righthander had more than two times the number of strikes as balls and didn't walk a batter. However, he was a little too fine and threw too many pitches (107) for not completing six innings. What impressed me the most, however, was his changeup. Great arm action with the same arm speed as his fastball, yet the change of pace was clocked at 79-81 or about 8-10 MPH below his four seamer. He wasn't afraid to pull the string against RHB and, in fact, used it effectively vs. Jermaine Dye before blowing a fastball by him up and in for his fifth strikeout on his 107th and last pitch of the game.
- Rich Lederer, 4/29/07, 11:00 a.m. PST
I will keep the "Ready for The Show" theme alive and point out that it's about time the Astros found a place for Hunter Pence. At 10-13 and four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, one has to wonder what sort of difference Pence might have made had he been starting in place of Chris Burke all along.
AVG OBP SLG
Burke - 2007 .219 .329 .329
Burke - 2006 .276 .347 .418
Pence - 2007 (PCL) .341 .398 .588
Pence - 2006 (TEX) .283 .357 .533
Two notes; First, Corpus Christi, where Pence played in 2006, plays as one of the tougher hitting parks in the Minor Leagues. Second, Pence slugged a ridiculous 1.071 in 28 Grapefruit League at bats this season. There was plenty of evidence there to suggest Pence was ready to contribute at the Big League level. Tim Purpura disregarded the evidence and sent Pence to Round Rock to start the season.
So my question in a situation like this is "What has changed Tim Purpura's mind in a month?" Did it just dawn on him that Pence would be the superior option? If not, what's the excuse? Baseball teams are in the winning business and should put those players that will best help them achieve that end in the lineup. This is especially true for a team like Houston, who, even if they do qualify for the postseason will likely only do so by the skin of their teeth.
If the Astros end up just a few games out of the playoffs, you can think back to April when their offense couldn't get going and Hunter Pence was tearing up the Pacific Coast League.
- Patrick Sullivan, 4/29/07, 2:15 p.m. EDT
Outfielder Travis Snider was arguably the best high school hitter available in the 2006 draft and he was taken 16th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays. However, shortstop Billy Rowell was the first prep hitter taken at No. 14 by Baltimore.
Here is what Baseball America, the definitive voice on the baseball amateur draft, said about Snider before the draft:
Toronto was prepared to draft [Matt] Antonelli, but now they're hot and heavy for Snider, arguably the best hitter available in the draft. Concerns about his weight (the 6-footer checks in at 240) are outweighed by his impressive, polished bat.
Snider's powerful left-handed swing generates above-average bat speed and raw power, and he's become noted not just for hitting lots of home runs, but for hitting lots of long home runs. He does a good job of hanging in against left-handed pitchers and staying back on breaking balls, trusting his hands. His work ethic earns raves from scouts; he organizes practices three times a week for his Jackson High team, which was undefeated through 21 games, and gives hitting lessons to local children as a senior class project.
Snider's selection is noteworthy simply because the Jays had never seriously considered a high school player with the first overall pick since general manager J.P. Ricciardi's tenure began on Nov. 14, 2001.
college prep juco
2002 30 15 5
2003 33 7 10
2004 35 5 12
2005 29 12 8
2006 32 8 8
In those five years the Jays signed only seven of their 47 high school picks. Four of those came in 2006 (Snider, OF Mikal Garbarino, IF Luis Fernandez, and IF Jonathan Del Campo).
So far Snider is having a great season in the Midwest League:
AVG OBA SLG AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB-K
Lansing .362 .382 .623 69 25 7 4 1 13 4-11
He's also not having any trouble fitting in with his teammates - most of whom are three to four years older than he is (the average team age is 22).
"I feel like I can go out every day and not feel like the young guy or being the first rounder, or whatever. There is so many great personalities in [the clubhouse]," Snider said. "The biggest thing for this team this year is our camaraderie. Everyone sees eye-to-eye and I wouldn't say that we have one spoken leader. I would say that we have a lot of guys here who just go out and play the game the right way and we've got a great manager and a great staff below him and I think that we have some good pieces here. Hopefully we can just put them together and continue to win baseball games."
With Snider's solid start to his first full season, Jays fans are already beginning to ask when Snider will be promoted. But that is one of the furthest things from his mind.
"The personal success is something that I can't say that I don't care about, but to me it is not the No. 1 thing. I just want to go out there without putting the pressure on myself to get moved up to Dunedin or to make it to Double-A by the end of the year," Snider explained. "Obviously those thoughts are going to go through any guy's head because that is the name of the game, but for me - as it was in Pulaski [Rookie Ball] - it is just for me to go out there and have a good year and let the Blue Jays, [director of player development] Dick Scott and those guys make the decisions - when they feel I'm ready or if I'm ready."
"I feel comfortable with the staff and the organization that whenever they think that I'm ready, I'm going to go and that is all that I can ask for."
Perhaps in part due to Snider's success and maturity, Ricciardi has already gone on record in the local Toronto media stating that he is willing to have more prep players drafted this year, although he is still leery of high school pitchers due to their unpredictability. Toronto has seven picks in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft so scouting director Jon Lalonde will be busy.
A special thanks to Chad Hillman
- Marc Hulet, 4/29/07, 3:30 p.m. EST
To follow up a little on Rich's post about the Weavers, here's Jered's pitch chart from Saturday.
You can really see the difference in average speed between his fastball (91 MPH) and off-speed pitches, particularly his changeup (82 MPH) in this chart. The difference in speed might help to account for the nine swings-and-misses at his changeup. Weaver was also able to command his changeup effectively and of the 24 changeups he threw, 17 were strikes (71%), compared with 63% of his fastballs. However, of the six hits he gave up, two were off of his changeup. This could be somehow related to the pitch, but I'd want to look at more than two singles before I start damning his changeup.
One cool thing I learned over the weekend is that a negative horizontal break on a pitch means that the pitch moves away from left handed hitters, while a positive break means the pitch moves away from right handed hitters. Using this idea, which I'll look at more in-depth in the future, you can see that Weaver's fastball moves slightly in on a right hander, and his changeup breaks more towards a right hander.
- Joe Sheehan, 4/29/07, 11:30 p.m. EST
Snakebit Pitchers of the Deadball Era
It's all too easy for the casual fan to dismiss a pitcher with a losing record as a second-rate performer, but even a quick glance below the surface reveals that many hurlers have performed well with little run support.
Put a solid or better-than-average pitcher on a team with poor defense, shoddy fundamentals, a weak-hitting lineup or all of the above and bad things often happen in the win column. Who can rightfully blame the guy on the mound if he is victimized by inept fielding and a lack of offense?
The only fair measurement is to compare pitchers against their peers in earned run average, baserunners allowed and other statistics that rely less on the quality (or lack of same) of the position players in the lineup. So who are some of the least fortunate hurlers in major league history? A long list of guys spent one or more seasons cursing their sad fates, pulling their hair out or quietly suffering an undeserved blemish on their records.
Few remember the original Milwaukee Brewers, a team that finished last in the American League's inaugural season (1901). It was an omen of things to come, as the team became the perenially hapless St. Louis Browns the following year.
Ned Garvin's 3.46 ERA was 20 points better than the league average of 3.66, but that didn't prevent him from going 7-20. Things got even worse in 1904, when Garvin's 1.68 ERA was good for second place in the National League.
The right-hander went 5-15 for a weak-hitting Brooklyn Superbas squad that had three regulars with sub-.200 batting averages. A 12-inning, 0-1 stint with the New York Highlanders (2.25 ERA, three earned runs) after being picked up on waivers in September gave the hard-luck hurler an overall record of 5-16 despite his stingy 1.72 ERA. Garvin's ERA was more than a run below the NL's 2.73 average. Noodles Hahn of the Reds (16-18, 2.06 in 1904) almost looks like a magnet for good fortune when compared to the jinxed Garvin.
Could Cy Young have ended up with even more victories than his unbreakable record of 511 wins? His 1.82 ERA (third in the AL in 1905) was accompanied by an 18-19 record. Young was 0.83 run better than the league's 2.65 total, and a few more hits at key moments would have surely resulted in some extra wins.
Harry Howell of the last-place Browns didn't deserve to go 15-22, as his fine 1.98 ERA was sixth in the league.
Bob Ewing's 17-19 record with the sixth-place Reds in 1907 looks out of place next to a 1.73 ERA that was sixth best in the league. In the AL, George Winter's 12-15, 1.99 season with the seventh-place Red Sox and Cy Falkenberg's 6-17, 2.35 performance for the last-place Senators point to poor support.
Lew Richie's 7-10 record belies his 1.83 ERA (sixth in the NL) for the Phillies in 1908. Right behind Richie among the ERA leaders were Andy Coakley (8-18, 1.86) of the Reds and Kaiser Wilhelm (16-22, 1.87 ERA) of the Dodgers. Those pitchers should have filed a class-action lawsuit for nonsupport.
Nap Rucker didn't deserve a 13-19 record to go with his 2.24 ERA for the Dodgers in 1909. Catcher Bill Bergen's .139 average and three extra-base hits in 346 at-bats killed the team's run production. Walter Johnson got the worst breaks among major league pitchers that year, as he was 13-25 with a 2.21 ERA for the last-place Senators. George Mullin's virtually identical 2.22 ERA for the pennant-winning Tigers led to 29-8 record. Replace some of the Big Train's time in Washington with stints on winning teams, and he surely could have been a 450-game winner.
Ed Walsh put together one of the finest seasons of all time with his 1.27 ERA (or half the AL average of 2.53) in 369.2 innings pitched for the White Sox in 1910. So how did the Hall of Famer end up with an 18-20 record? The team's seven home runs, .211 batting average and .261 slugging percentage were dreadful even by the standards of the deadball era. Smoky Joe Wood's 1.68 ERA for the Red Sox was a more accurate indicator of his performance than a 12-13 record.
ERAs rose significantly in both league in 1911, and Phillies' starter Earl Moore (15-19) caught few breaks. He led the National League in losses despite a 2.63 ERA that was 0.76 below the league average of 3.39.
Red Sox lefty Ray Collins pitched far better than his 11-12 record might suggest. His 2.39 ERA was nearly a run better than the AL average of 3.34. It wasn't the first time Collins received less offensive support than he deserved, as he led the league with a 1.62 ERA in 1910 and had a 13-11 record to show for it.
Collins made hitters earn their way on base. He finished second through seventh in least walks per nine innings allowed among American League hurlers in five consecutive seasons (1910-14). In 1,336 career innings, the Vermont native gave up just 269 free passes, or 1.81 per nine innings.
Rucker was cursed again in 1912. Being third in the National League with a 2.21 ERA (NL average 3.40) should have led to a better result than 18-21. Brookyn finished the season in seventh place with a 58-95 record, well under its Pythagorean estimate of 66-87. Jack Warhop's 2.86 ERA was nearly half a run better than the AL standard of 3.34, but he went 10-19 for the last-place Yankees.
Another Brooklyn moundsman - lefty Frank Allen - was the Rodney Dangerfield of 1913. His 2.83 ERA (league average 3.20) looks like a typographical error next to a 4-18 record. The American League ERA of 2.93 was 0.27 lower than the competition. Red Sox rookie Dutch Leonard didn't deserve a losing record (14-16) to go with his 2.39 ERA. That performance was just a small taste of things to come, as Leonard's 19-5 season in 1914 was accompanied by an all-time best 0.96 ERA.
The Federal League debuted in 1914. Nick Cullop (14-17) of the Kansas City Packers may have regretted jumping to the new circuit, since his 2.34 ERA was 0.86 better than the 3.20 average for the Feds. Joe Benz of the White Sox (14-19, 2.26) didn't deserve to lead the AL in defeats, while Warhop (8-15, 2.37) endured another season of meager support.
Cubs' righty Bert Humphries went 8-13 with a 2.31 ERA (2.75 NL average) in 1915. He gave up just 23 walks in 171.2 inning pitched. Erv Kantlehner of the Pirates (5-12, 2.26) was one of the team's better hitters with a .288 average.
Jesse Barnes of the Boston Braves took it on the chin in 1916, as he went 6-14, 2.37. Pirates' righty Frank Miller was under .500 (7-10) even with a career-best 2.29 ERA. George Mogridge went 6-12, 2.31 for the fourth-place Yankees, and his ERA was exactly half a run better than the American League average. Joe Bush was the undeserving major league leader in losses (15-24, 2.57) for the pathetic 36-117 Philadelphia A's.
Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey endured one of his nine losing seasons in 1917 when he went 16-21 with a fine 2.27 ERA for the second-place Phillies. An ERA that was 0.43 under the NL average was quite a feat in the tiny, hitter-friendly Baker Bowl, but the left-hander still led the league in losses. Rixey's .515 career inning percentage (266-251) is the worst of any starting pitcher in Cooperstown. Jeff Pfeffer's 2.23 ERA was better than his 11-15 campaign for the seventh-place Dodgers. George Dumont's 2.55 ERA went with a 5-14 record for the Senators.
No team played more than 129 games in 1918, as the season was shortened because of the First World War. Brooklyn's Rube Marquard (9-18, 2.64) and White Sox knuckleballer Eddie Cicotte (12-19, 2.64) led their respective leagues in defeats despite having identical ERAs that were slightly better than league standards.
Bill Doak (9-15, 2.43) and Red Ames (9-14, 2.31) of the last-place Cardinals deserved a better fate. It's hard to believe today, but this was the era when the St. Louis Browns were the city's favorite club. Things didn't change for the Cardinals until they won the first 20th century pennant by a St. Louis team in 1926.
As for Ames, it wasn't the first time he got a raw deal. In 1914, the righty led the majors - Federal League included - in losses when he went 15-23 for the last-place Reds. Ames' 2.64 ERA was slightly better than the 2.78 National League total for the year.
Dick Rudolph didn't have many fond memories of 1919. His 2.17 ERA was an impressive 0.74 below the National League's cumulative 2.91, but the Braves ace finished at 13-18. Veteran Claude Hendrix of the Cubs went 10-14 with a 2.62 ERA. Ironically, Hendrix led the NL with a .731 winning percentage (19-7) in 1918 when his 2.78 ERA was just above the league's 2.76 total. In his case, the scales of baseball justice balanced quickly.
Why did a large number of pitchers end up with often terrible won-loss totals while performing well in the early 1900s? There were no early picks in annual drafts for losing teams, no revenue sharing, no building through the farm system. Scouting young talent was in its infancy, and the process was about as primitive as the Ford Model Ts that were a symbol of the era.
In such an environment, the difference between first place and the cellar was often light years apart. Even today's last-place squads almost always win 35 to 43 percent of the games played. Losers such as the 1904 Senators (38-113, .252), 1905 Superbas/Dodgers (48-104, .316), 1909 Braves (45-108, .294) and Senators (42-110, .276), 1911 Braves (44-107, .291) and Browns (45-107, .296) and the 1915 and 1916 A's (43-109, .283 and 36-117, .235) were utterly putrid.
With no free agency, top of the rotation starters for the worst teams were often stuck in hopeless situations for the bulk of their careers. In such circumstances, winning 20 games was a fantasy. Avoiding a 20-loss season became a modest goal.
That Sinking Feeling
This week I wanted to look more in-depth at the aerodynamic fingerprints of different pitches, particularly sinkers. A sinker is a two-seam fastball that drops as it approaches the batter and is frequently pounded into the ground by a hitter. Pitchers who throw good sinkers tend to rely heavily on the pitch and don't need to worry as much as a "normal" pitcher about changing speeds.
The whole point of changing speeds and throwing different pitches is to induce weak contact (or strike-outs), but when a sinker is thrown properly, a batter generally makes poor contact and hits it on the ground anyway. Armed with detailed information about each pitch, I looked at three sinkerballers and made some interesting observations about each of them.
Derek Lowe was the first pitcher I studied. Here's a graph showing the breaks of Lowe's three pitches, a sinker, slider and curveball over parts of two starts this season, on 4/13 and 4/24. Lowe pitched well in both these outings, allowing four runs over 16 innings of work.
One thing that immediately jumps out to me in the chart is the consistent horizontal break, compared to a non-spinning pitch, of his sinker. Most breaks that I have seen, both horizontal and vertical, have been much more spread out, similar to how the vertical break of his sinker appears. As I mentioned in my previous article with regard to release point, I'm not sure whether consistency is necessarily a good thing for pitchers. While having a consistent break on a pitch would seem to help the catcher receive the ball and give the pitcher confidence that he knows where he's throwing to, it would also help a hitter who could prepare for only one type of break on the sinker. If Lowe is always this consistent though, it hasn't really been a problem for him.
Another thing to notice on this chart is Lowe's curveball. He throws the pitch infrequently, but both the horizontal and vertical break (compared to a pitch with no spin) are around zero inches. According to the data his curve ends up almost exactly where a pitch with no spin would, and with a speed of 82 MPH, appears to be a meat-ball. Fortunately for Lowe, this isn't the case. The pitch has some movement, measured by the length of the break (defined as the measurement of the greatest distance between the trajectory of the pitch at any point between the release point and the front of home plate, and the straight line path from the release point and the front of home plate) which is 11.5 inches, the greatest of any of his pitches. The hump in Lowe's curveball creates enough deception to allow him to throw it on occasion without getting burned.
Colorado's Aaron Cook is another sinkerball artist. While I had 200 pitches over two starts for Lowe, I only had 103 pitches from Cook, all of them from his start on 4/8. This was a fantastic start for Cook, despite a no decision, as he pitched 9 innings and allowed only one run. Here's a chart showing the break on his pitches in that start.
Comparing the horizontal break on Cook's sinker to Lowe's reinforces how consistent Lowe was. The chart on the right shows Lowe's start on April 13, and even though Lowe had a more consistent break (a tighter bunching of clusters) for all of his pitches compared to Cook, the horizontal break of the sinker was especially consistent. Cook's curve has a break pattern that is typical of a curveball, with the pitch ending up lower than would be expected with a non-spinning pitch. Compared with Lowe's curve, the vertical break is on the left of the horizontal break in the chart, which I believe is a graphic indicator of a curveball. Despite these differences in the way their sinkers moved, Lowe and Cook both had excellent starts in the games I examined, so there are clearly multiple ways to skin a cat here.
I wanted to look at another NL West sinkerball, Brandon Webb, but Gameday has only tracked 83 pitches for Webb so far this season, leading to a much murkier chart than Lowe's or Cook's. There are three basic clusters of pitches, but there is also a collection of scattered points, which I'm unsure how to identify. Even the clusters I'm able to identify are much further apart than most pitchers I've examined. I have noticed some obvious inconsistencies in the data so far, mostly involving the speed and release point, so this break information could be wrong too. The pitches I was unable to identify could be another pitch that Webb throws, but I'd like to see another start worth of information from Webb before I form an opinion on his pitches or their movement.
Excluding Webb, the only other true sinkerball I had a reasonable amount of data for was Carlos Silva. I have information on 110 pitches that Silva threw over two different starts, 4/07 and 4/18, and when I created his chart, I found he has only thrown two pitches, a sinker and change up. Because of the inconsistent way Gameday collected data from those two starts, Silva could have thrown other pitches that weren't collected by Gameday. However, I think if he did have another pitch, he would have thrown it more than a couple of times over 110 random pitches.
The table below shows some interesting information about the three sinkers examined. The numbers measuring the pitches are all median values as opposed to mean values. Silva relies on his sinker more than Cook or Lowe, but his sinker has less of a downward break, measured by both the vertical break compared to a non-spinning ball and the length of the break, which is the number I used to describe the hump in Lowe's curveball. Silva's average sinker ended roughly nine inches higher than a non-spinning pitch would have, while Lowe's and Cook's pitches ended roughly four inches above the imaginary terminus. The backspin on a pitch is what causes it to end up higher than a non-spinning pitch would, so Silva's sinker must have more backspin than Lowe's or Cook's. When a hitter hits a sinker with too much backspin, he still hits a grounder, but as Dan Quisenberry famously put it, "in this case, the first bounce is 360 feet away."
An average sinker from Silva reached its high point roughly seven inches above an imaginary line from release point to home plate, compared to roughly nine inches for Lowe and Cook, leading to a smaller vertical drop for Silva. These observations seem to jive pretty well with reality, as Lowe and Cook are both thought to have better sinkers than Silva, and one thing that could lead to a more effective sinker is getting more downward movement on the pitch.
Name Sinker% Speed Horizontal Break Vertical Break Break Length
Lowe 65% 90 MPH -10.75" 3.68" 9.00"
Cook 68% 93 MPH -10.02" 4.60" 8.30"
Silva 77% 93 MPH -10.74" 9.39" 6.85"
For the sake of comparison, and to make sure I wasn't drawing conclusions about a trend that didn't exist, I wanted to get the average values for several four-seam fastballs and see how they compare to these sinkers. For this, I used Matt Morris and Jake Peavy. The table below shows the same information as above, but for Morris' and Peavy's fastballs.
Name Fastballs Speed Horizontal Break Vertical Break Break Length
Morris 79 89 MPH -9.01" 9.47" 6.70"
Peavy 104 95 MPH -10.32" 8.49" 6.60"
With all the usual warnings about a small sample size, the sinkers appear to be different from the four-seam fastballs, which is a great finding. The fastballs have different horizontal and vertical breaks and a much smaller break length relative to the sinkers. One interesting thing was the similarity of Silva's sinker to the four-seam fastballs. Silva struggled in spring training this year with controlling his sinker and maintaining the sink on the pitch, so perhaps this is numerical evidence of those struggles. Either that, or that's just how Silva's sinker typically behaves, and his normal sinker is different that Lowe's or Cook's.
I was very pleased to discover that pitches were able to be identified using just the horizontal and vertical break values from Gameday. In the future, I'd like to continue looking at different pitches and see the differences between say, Barry Zito and Rich Hill's curveballs, or Johan Santana and Cole Hamels' change up. The fact that there was a distinct difference between a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball gives me hope that sifting through the database to find the different types of pitches a pitcher throws is an attainable goal.
As the A-Rod Turns
I wrote a two-part piece on Alex Rodriguez last year when he was supposedly washed up, struggling, could not hit a thing. What a difference a year makes. Now A-Rod is rewriting the American League record book and is apparently a different person. I'm reading about how A-Rod is carrying the Yankees and how his Hall of Fame talent is allowing him to hit home runs at a blistering pace. Will he hit 80? 200 RBI? It's just hard to believe this whirlwind from 2005 MVP, to worthless in 2006, and back to mega-star in 2007. A-Rod is good; he's always been good and he will be good for a long time.
The point of last year's comparison was to point out that his swing was not quite right. It is not hard to figure out that he is back on track this year, but how much of a physical difference could there really be? Honestly, I was not expecting much and I ended up surprised at how big of an impact a few small changes can make.
My first search for some insight into what mechanical changes were being addressed turned up a simple comment that A-Rod's mechanics were "firmer" and that new hitting coach Kevin Long had helped right the ship that is A-Rod's leg kick. According to a recent NY Times article, Long believed that a lower leg kick and faster hip rotation would help A-Rod quicken up his swing. After looking at the upcoming side-by-side that I will show, I have to extend a pat on the back to Mr. Long. Nicely done and way to earn your welcome to the Bronx!
First, I want to provide the full comparison. I am going to focus primarily the first half, or the loading portion, of the swing but it's only fair to show the full clip:
The 2006 version is on the left and 2007 He-Man is on the right. The pitch location is slightly different because the 2007 shot is much lower, but I chose this comparison because of the similar camera angles and pitch types - 91 and 92 MPH fastballs, respectively. On top of that, my contention last year was that A-Rod's actions during the loading or preparatory phase of his swing were drastically influencing results, and I feel the same way now. So because the pitch type and speed is the same, it stands that A-Rod's timing should be very similar, and the near identical camera angle makes for more realistic comparisons.
Now this is the portion I would like to focus on:
This loading phase shows A-Rod's leg kick and shift into footplant. Clearly, A-Rod's leg kick is more subdued, but this is just a surface observation in my opinion. If the only change was the height of the leg kick, I am not so sure we would be witnessing this freakish home run display. I believe the real area of improvement is what is happening in the center of the body with the hips and how they move as A-Rod prepares to unload. His hips are now carrying more of his weight into footplant, much like in his MVP season of 2005 and his old "Texas" swing (remember, one of Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo's five keys is weight shift and transfer).
A 1995 study by Welch, et al. measured biomechanical aspects of the swing and they found that professional hitters landed on their front (stride) foot with 123% of their body weight. A quick turn to golf also shows the different in force distribution between the feet during the swing among amateurs versus professionals. Here is a photo from a recent Golf Digest. Why is this important? It is my basic contention that A-Rod very literally "stayed back" too much in 2006. The research shows that high level swingers have some kind of movement to establish weight against the front leg.
Now most of you that have played organized baseball have heard the coaching cue "stay back" barked endlessly at hitters. It has its value in the correct context, but can be dangerous if taken too literally, and it looks like A-Rod is a prime example. A good weight shift to the front foot is essential and does not come at the expense of staying back. This image is extracted from the comparison I used last year to show how A-Rod was staying back equally but still shifting forward more effectively in 2005 compared to 2006:
If the weight literally stays back on the back leg during the stride, then the hips are allowed to fly open and can not rotate as efficiently. I suppose this is what Long was referring to when he mentioned that A-Rod could rotate his hips faster. To go with golf again, a student in my golf class broke off a nasty slice despite a very strong grip and a closed club face. As he unloaded from the top of his swing, however, he failed to establish his weight on the front leg, which allowed his front shoulder to peel open. This forced the club around the ball (out to in) and a slice was born. A better weight shift, as seen in the golf photo linked above, would allow this individual to rotate the back side through the ball and square up the club face. So there is your golf tip of the day from a high-teens handicapper (I can't putt).
Getting back to A-Rod, I did some quick measurement in order to quantify the change in movement. From the start of the clip to footplant, I measured the distance traveled by the front hip and A-Rod is now shifting 12 more units (from +16 to +28):
I pointed out last year how keeping too much weight back cost A-Rod some of his prodigious opposite-field power and guess what A-Rod is doing thus far? That's right - he is launching homers to all parts of the field. A-Rod is again an equal opportunity home run hitter (perhaps a public relations effort to please fans in all areas of the bleacher seats?).
What I would like to ask A-Rod is if he specifically changed his setup in order to trigger these adjustments. For example, notice how A-Rod's shoulders are tilted more in 2007 and his head appears more centered between his feet:
This is something a player can change before even initiating the swing and it can assist an effortless weight shift that can transform the swing. I've seen it in person working with different players, and this is also what I would have recommended for Marcus Giles last year.
Lastly, I want to touch on the overall position A-Rod reaches at footplant. He is clearly in a more athletic position, which should allow him more versatility in handling various pitch types. I'm laying off the measurement of his head position (it's lower) because the pitch is lower, but A-Rod's renewed shift is going to allow him to rely on his body to create bat speed early in the swing.
In the kinetic link and according to the principle of summation, one segment speeds up when its preceding segments slows or stops, so now A-Rod's hands can follow along for a longer period of time because his rotation is more efficient in delivering the bat to the ball. This allows a later release of the bat head which not only affords a way to generate more bat speed with the larger segments, but also prevents him from committing his hands too early on off-speed pitches. What this all adds up to is obviously a record-breaking April.
A-Rod himself said, "I'm just trying to keep it simple," and this is really all a hitter wants to do. Thinking about all of those mechanical things is too overwhelming when you are preparing for a 95 MPH fastball while also trying to foul off that two-strike slider. It appears that Long has found some nice cues that allow A-Rod to execute his swing without having to think it. He just feels it, and what a feeling it must be.
While I am not so sure A-Rod will top 120 HR this season, I don't feel that this is simply a hot streak. What we are seeing is a great player making great adjustments and setting himself up for a great year. Of course that means we are in for a great post-season (if the Yanks can get out of last place) and possibly a drama-filled off-season which will only add to this on-going soap opera.
Best in Class
Every year we all place a little too much stock in early season results. Yet while it's too early to discern much of anything at this point, there is still more evidence than we had four weeks ago when we were all running around like we knew something predicting what would unfold this season.
With that in mind, I would like to take a look at the five teams that have looked to me like the best in the Bigs thus far. Some boast sterling records, all have impressive run differentials and in my opinion, at least four of the five will be playing October baseball. I will have a look at what has gone right thus far for each team, where the clubs might see some improvement, and offer up an overall forecast for where these teams stand.
1) New York Mets
Boy did I miss it with these guys badly. The Mets have been by far the most dominant team in baseball thanks to a lineup getting contributions from some surprising standouts and an unyielding 1-through-12 pitching staff.
Why they may be in for a slowdown:
Player AVG OBP SLG
Shawn Green .342 .415 .562
Moises Alou .382 .442 .529
Jose Valentin .283 .362 .500
K/9 WHIP ERA
Pitching Staff 6.75 1.22 2.46
None of the above is remotely sustainable. Green, Alou and Valentin will all regress significantly while there is no way this pitching staff will continue to dominate on an historic level, much less be even one of the better staffs in the league. I will concede that the bullpen figures to be tremendous all season long, but I question how well John Maine, El Duque, Tom Glavine and Oliver Perez can continue to hold up.
Why they may not slow down at all:
Player AVG OBP SLG
David Wright .274 .376 .342
Carlos Delgado .203 .273 .291
Wright and Delgado, career .304/.375/.518 and .281/.389/.554 hitters respectively, have the ability to offset the inevitable regression from those mentioned above.
All in all, I don't see this Mets team falling too far off but the pitching staff will begin to show its truer colors before long. I took the Phillies at the beginning of the season and though I am tempted to back off my prediction, I will hang in there given their four game win streak. The Mets win the Wild Card at worst, however.
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are 13-7, tied for the most wins in the Bigs and boast a 99-69 run differential. They have been excellent in the early going and better still for them, it has come mostly against division foes.
Why they may be in for a slowdown:
Player AVG OBP SLG
Luis Gonzalez .313 .397 .500
Player K/9 WHIP ERA
Mark Hendrickson 7.02 0.66 1.62
Brett Tomko 9.00 1.53 2.65
Brad Penny 3.08 1.33 1.37
While these players are all in for a fall from April grace, the real reason the Dodgers are going to come back to earth is that their offense has been getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Overall, the team has hit at a pedestrian .267/.333/.384 clip while with runners in scoring position, Los Angeles has hit .294/.378/.435. You say clutch, I say unsustainable.
Why they may not slow down at all:
AVG OBP SLG
Rafael Furcal 2007 .170 .235 .213
Furcal Career .285 .350 .412
AVG OBP SLG (Numbers yielded)
Derek Lowe 2007 .400 .486 .500
Lowe Career .262 .319 .378
Lowe and Furcal will be much, much better before it is all said and done. Of the teams on this list I think the Dodgers are the likeliest to miss out on post-season play. But you never know - the games count in April too and perhaps Los Angeles has staked themselves out far enough to stave off their NL West opponents over the long haul.
3) Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have gotten off to a great start thanks to a lights out starting staff and strong hitting. The Blue Jays tempered New England's enthusiasm a bit over the last couple of nights, offering Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez something of a reality check as they took two straight from Boston at the Fens and outscored them 17-6 in the process.
Why they may be in for a slowdown:
K/9 WHIP ERA
Josh Beckett 9.12 1.05 2.55
Tim Wakefield 5.54 1.12 2.08
The Bullpen 6.39 1.22 2.55
Josh Beckett may well be good but he is not this good. Tim Wakefield may well be dependable but he is not winning the Cy Young Award. The Bullpen may be better than people thought it would be but it will not continue like this.
Why they may not slow down at all:
Player AVG OBP SLG
Manny Ramirez .197 .296 .296
Kevin Youkilis .242 .342 .333
Julio Lugo .265 .359 .324
Dustin Pedroia .191 .309 .234
Coco Crisp .214 .250 .304
Jacoby Ellsbury .434 .483 .660 (in Portland of the Eastern League)
This offense will get going, and will easily offset any regression from the pitching staff. Boston is the real deal.
4) New York Yankees
The Yankees are 8-11 but only because they have been abysmal in close games. They have a +20 run differential and have been decimated by injuries. Like every other year, they will be heard from and until mathematically eliminated, should not be counted out.
Why they may be in for a slowdown:
AVG OBP SLG
Alex Rodriguez .385 .444 1.013
K/9 WHIP ERA
Andy Pettitte 4.62 1.30 1.78
Both A-Rod and Pettitte are super players but both are performing well above where they will settle into as the season wears on.
Why they may not slow down at all:
Player AVG OBP SLG
Derek Jeter .316 .389 .392
Bobby Abreu .293 .398 .360
Robinson Cano .307 .354 .387
Johnny Damon .250 .364 .375
All of these players figure to get better. Further, Hideki Matsui returned to the lineup and homered last night, while Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano will return soon. Also, Philip Hughes makes his debut against Toronto tomorrow. Between under-performance, an encouraging run differential, health that figures to improve and Hughes, the Yanks have a lot to be optimistic about.
5) San Diego Padres
The Padres are 12-8 and are sporting a +15 run differential while weathering some terrible output from players they were counting on to chip in quite a bit. The Padres look like they are in it for the long haul to me.
Why they may be in for a slowdown:
AVG OBP SLG
Khalil Greene .300 .333 .600
K/9 WHIP ERA
The Bullpen 6.81 0.91 1.98
Nothing against Greene, as he may very well make a nice leap this year but there is no way he slugs .600 in 2007. And again, as much as I love the Pads bullpen, this is just ridiculous. Only one Padres reliever has an ERA over 3.00 and just two have an ERA over 1.69! It's not sustainable.
Why they may not slow down at all:
Player AVG OBP SLG
Kevin Kouzmanoff .122 .204 .204
Mike Cameron .203 .289 .253
Brian Giles .318 .366 .412
K/9 WHIP ERA
Clay Hensley 3.60 2.25 9.45
As you can see, the Padres are getting very little from some of their key players, though one could argue Brian Giles does not belong on this list. I think what Kouz and Cameron have to offer with the sticks will make up for regression on the run prevention side and the Padres will stay in the thick of things out west.
Rule 5 Revisited
We are about 20 games into the season for most teams so it is time to take a quick look back at last winter's Rule 5 draft. The story of the draft class so far has been the unbelievable play of Josh Hamilton, which is just about as unbelievable as Alex Rodriguez being on pace for 112 homers and 272 RBI.
Aside from Hamilton, though, there are some other Rule 5 picks playing key roles on their clubs. For the most part, teams are throwing their picks into the fire and challenging them early in the season.
In a column about a month ago, I took a look at the player who were taken in the winter draft and made some predictions. Based on the analysis from the previous eight Rule 5 drafts, I found that 35% of picks chosen will last the year on average. Currently 13 of the 19 picks from the most recent draft are still with the teams that chose them, which works out to a whopping 68%.
However, four of those have been stashed away on the disabled list without playing a game for their new team. Even so, those players must spend 90 days on the active roster or be sent back to their original team. For more on the rules, visit here.
The Success Stories:
AB AVG OBP SLG HR SB BB% K%
NYM to WAS Jesus Flores 9 .222 .462 .444 0 0 30.8 22.2
TB to CIN Josh Hamilton 38 .289 .413 .737 5 1 17.4 26.3
BAL to NYY Josh Phelps 18 .278 .381 .444 1 0 14.3 22.2
CHC to TOR Jason Smith 32 .250 .314 .344 0 0 5.9 37.5
GP IP ERA K/9 BB/9 AVG WHIP
MIN to SD Kevin Cameron 6 10.0 0.00 9.0 4.5 .151 1.00
CWS to OAK Jay Marshall 10 9.0 6.00 3.0 3.0 .240 1.22
SD to KC Joakim Soria 8 9.1 2.89 12.5 3.9 .160 0.96
MIN to WAS Levale Speigner 7 9.1 3.86 1.9 5.8 .255 1.61
ATL to SEA Sean White 3 8.1 6.48 2.2 4.3 .299 1.68
I don't think anyone expected Hamilton to have the kind of start to the season that he did. He has pretty much played himself into a starting job with the Reds, which was unfathomable at the beginning of the spring considering he missed almost four full seasons due to suspensions and injuries.
Josh Phelps appears to be resurrecting his career in the most stressful city to play in, especially for such a soft-spoken person. Platooning with defensive specialist Doug Mientkiewicz, Phelps is thriving in New York and could be earning himself even more playing time in the coming days.
Jason Smith, like Phelps, is not your typical Rule 5 pick because of the amount of MLB experience he has. Even so, he has never really had the opportunity to play regularly in the majors but he is now thanks to the injury to Toronto's starting third baseman Troy Glaus. Smith will probably be overexposed as a starting player (He has a line of .230/.270/.385 in 166 career MLB games), but time will tell.
Of the four hitters who made their clubs, raw Jesus Flores figures to see the least amount of time on the field. As the back-up catcher to Brian Schneider, Flores will have to be content with late-game appearances and the odd start. Robert Fick is also on the Nationals' 25-man roster as the third catcher. Flores received his first two major league hits on Sunday against the Marlins. Oddly, he has shown much better patience in the majors than he did in the minors.
Does anybody else think the Twins would like to have Kevin Cameron back right about now? He was a bit of an under-the-radar pick as a right-handed reliever who has put up modest minor league numbers. Credit the Padres' scouting department, which found Cameron and persuaded management to take a flyer on him. He is playing himself into a key role on a team in the playoff hunt.
Every team is baseball needs reliable left-handed relievers and the A's seem to have found one in Jay Marshall. The career reliever is thriving in his role. In games where he appears strictly as a LOOGY, he has yet to allow a hit. Unfortunately, the long-term future of successful Rule 5 left-handed relievers is not encouraging, regardless of first-year success. His ERA is misleading as he was roughed up on Saturday and allowed five runs (four earned).
Joakim Soria has been a godsend to the Royals' bullpen, which is currently ranked 13th out of 14 American League teams in ERA and worst overall in walks allowed. The three runs Soria has allowed so far this season came in one game against Detroit. He saved his second game on Sunday against, while allowing one hit and striking out two.
The beginning of Levale Speigner's MLB journey was a rocky one. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a wild ride. Speigner walked six batters in his first three appearances (4.2 innings) but has walked only one in the last four games. He also allowed seven hits in those first three games and just two since then. The Nationals desperately need some success out of the bullpen and Speigner could be turning things around.
Meet your prototypical Rule 5 pick: Sean White. White has made only three appearances this season and all three came in blowout games after Seattle's "big" off-season signings Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver (twice) were knocked out of the game early.
The Injured (Decision Pending):
LAA to PHI Ryan Budde (strained oblique)
WAS to MIN Alejandro Machado (torn right labrum)
OAK to CIN Jared Burton (hamstring - on rehab assignment)
CHC to DET Edward Campusano (Tommy John surgery)
Neither shortstop Alejandro Machado nor left-handed reliever Edward Campusano are expected back this season, meaning their Rule 5 status will carry over until 2008, when they will have to spend at least 90 days on the active roster each. Catcher Ryan Budde is a future back-up catcher in the majors, at best, and with Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas entrenched in Philly, he'll probably be offered back to the Angels by mid-season unless a trade can be worked out. Jared Burton's rehab in Triple-A is going OK (2.25 ERA in four innings) but he will have a difficult time finding a spot on the Reds' roster.
AVG OBP SLG AB HR BB-K
KC to BAL Adam Donachie (AA) .067 .176 .067 30 0 3-12
CLE to OAK Ryan Goleski (AA) .250 .388 .250 40 0 8-8
ERA IP H BB-K AVG
TB to BOS Nick DeBarr (AA) 5.19 8.2 13 7-5 .351
CHC to HOU Lincoln Holdzkom (AA) 0.00 2.0 0 1-2 .000
TEX to PHI Alfredo Simon (AAA) 3.10 20.1 10 8-14 .145
CLE to PHI Jim Ed Warden (AAA) 2.35 7.2 7 0-6 .241
None of the returned players are setting the world on fire, aside from Alfredo Simon, who will no doubt get a shot in Texas if he continues to pitch successfully. Jim Ed Warden is pitching OK, but Cleveland has a number of other pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart and he is hurt by the fact he's not on the 40-man roster.
Here is a question for the readers: Do you think Hamilton's success will last? And if so, how good will he be?
The Mariners Ship is Taking on Water
I went to the Mariners-Angels game on Sunday afternoon and watched Ervin Santana dominate Seattle for seven innings en route to a 6-1 victory to complete a three-game sweep. Los Angeles, which outscored the M's 21-11 in the series, improved its record to 9-9, good for a first-place tie with Oakland. Seattle lost its sixth consecutive game and is now at the bottom of the AL West with a 5-9 record.
Santana and the Angels have decisive home and road splits. The Halos are 8-2 in Anaheim and 1-7 in away games in the early going. For his career, Santana is 21-5 with a 3.01 ERA at home and 9-13, 6.73 on the road. The 24-year-old righthander has been one of the league's best hurlers at home and one of the worst on the road. Angel Stadium favors pitchers but not nearly to that extent. To Mike Scioscia's credit, Santana has thrown 52% more innings at home than on the road. As a result, Ervin's career ERA of 4.50 is much better than a simple average of his splits.
Mike Hargrove, on the other hand, doesn't deserve much credit for anything. Seattle sports a record of 152-186 (.450) since Hargrove took the reins in 2005. The Mariners finished last in each of the past two seasons and find themselves in familiar territory three weeks into the 2007 campaign.
After winning five straight division titles in Cleveland from 1995-1999, Hargrove's teams (including Baltimore in 2000-2003) have placed fourth with a winning percentage below .500 every year. I would be surprised if 2007 turns out any differently.
In short, the Mariners are a mess. Maybe I caught Seattle on a bad day. Perhaps the club's bats are just cold and will come to life soon. It's also possible that Jeff Weaver is not representative of the other starters and that I am being unfair in condemning the M's so early in the season.
More than anything else, I don't understand how Hargrove has failed to impart his approach at the plate as a player on the Mariners. Hargrove had 965 BB and 550 SO in approximately 7,000 at-bats during a 12-year career in the 1970s and 1980s. He drew over 100 walks in four separate seasons and compiled a .396 OBP in a park-adjusted league environment of .328. Oh, The Human Relay Delay was painful to watch but his plate discipline proved effective (121 OPS+).
I thought it would be instructive to look at Seattle's offensive numbers, which stand in stark contrast to Hargrove's approach. Here is the lineup that Mark created on Sunday, along with two everyday players who did not see action.
Lineup AVG OBP SLG | PA BB
Suzuki CF .298 .333 .474 60 2
Bloomquist 2B .100 .182 .100 11 1
Vidro DH .276 .323 .379 62 4
Ibanez LF .259 .288 .389 59 3
Sexson 1B .170 .264 .468 53 6
Guillen RF .217 .265 .326 49 1
Beltre 3B .241 .323 .444 62 7
Betancourt SS .222 .217 .400 46 0
Burke C .429 .556 .714 9 1
Lopez 2B .250 .267 .318 45 1
Johjima C .368 .415 .526 41 1
Other than the catchers, there isn't a player with an OBP better than .333. Ichiro's ability to get on base is highly influenced by his batting average, which is unlikely to remain below .300. However, two walks in 60 plate appearances is unacceptable for a lead-off hitter. I'm left wondering whether the free agent-to-be is more interested in accumulating 200 or more hits for the seventh year in a row than anything else.
The team has drawn 27 walks (or fewer than two per game) in 510 plate appearances. This pace works out to 312 free passes over a 162-game season - or 33 below the lowest team total in a non-strike-shortened season since WWII.
1 Cardinals 1966 345
2 Mets 1964 353
3 Angels 1972 358
4 Mets 1967 362
5 Tigers 2002 363
6 A's 1957 363
7 Reds 1967 372
8 Pirates 1957 374
9 Cardinals 1968 378
10 Mets 1968 379
Seattle might be able to fix its woes if the problems were limited to an inept offense. Let's take a look at the club's starting pitchers.
GS W-L ERA
Hernandez 3 2-1 1.56
Batista 3 1-2 8.83
Ramirez 2 1-1 6.30
Washburn 3 0-2 4.42
Weaver 3 0-3 13.91
Other than Felix Hernandez, every starter has given up at least one hit per inning. The four starters over the age of 21 have also allowed 22 walks while striking out just 32 in 56 2/3 IP. Horacio Ramirez has walked nine and struck out only two in 10 IP.
Seattle's bullpen isn't much better. In 48 innings, the relievers have put together an ERA of 4.31 (vs. an AL average of 4.14) with 19 BB and 20 SO.
I realize it doesn't help that King Felix is hurt. But these things happen and it is incumbent on management to prepare for such unfortunate developments. Seattle's opening day payroll was north of $106 million, essentially on par with the Angels and well above the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers. As a result, I don't believe it would be fair to blame owner Hiroshi Yamauchi for pinching pennies. Instead, I think it makes sense to question where the money has been spent.
Bill Bavasi replaced Pat Gillick in November 2003. After the 2004 season, he signed free agents Adrian Beltre (5 years/$64M) and Richie Sexson (4 years/$50M) to huge contracts. A year later, he inked Jarrod Washburn (4 years/$37.5M) and Kenji Johjima (3 years/$16.5M). Most recently, Bavasi signed Miguel Batista (3 years/$25M), Jeff Weaver (1 year/$8.325M), and Jose Guillen (1 year/$5.5M). He also acquired Jose Vidro in trade from Washington, adding a vesting option in 2009 in exchange for the 32-year-old designated hitter waiving his no-trade clause.
The GM overpaid for Beltre and Sexson and these corner infielders are now absorbing 25% of the club's payroll. Washburn, Batista, and Weaver are making $8-10M per year, seemingly outrageous but perhaps defensible in a high-priced market for pitchers. The operative word is "perhaps" because this trio and Ramirez are incapable of missing many bats.
Why Weaver chose to accept a one-year deal with Seattle when he could have signed a longer-term contract with the Cardinals to keep working with pitching coach Dave Duncan is another question. But Weaver's baffling decision doesn't excuse the fact that Bavasi stepped up - even if just for a year - when it is an indisputable fact that the 30-year-old righthander was a disaster in 2006 with the Angels and 2003 with the Yankees in his last two attempts in the American League.
Weaver's stuff is below average and his body language is about as bad as I have ever seen, especially when things turn against him. He never sniffed the 90s on the radar gun Sunday, mostly working in the low-80s. Weaver's command is nothing special at this point and his breaking ball lacks the necessary bite to act as an out pitch. Furthermore, it looks as if he doesn't even want to be on the mound. His slow gait, slumping shoulders, and staring at fielders in disbelief combined with a silent "F-bomb" while backing up home plate after giving up a run do nothing to inspire the confidence of his manager, teammates, or M's fans.
The two players most likely to be around after Hargrove and Bavasi are Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez, both of whom were recently locked up to four-year deals with a club option for a fifth. However, these middle infielders epitomize Seattle's problems at the plate. Betancourt and Lopez have drawn a total of one walk combined in 91 plate appearances this season. Lopez, in fact, has averaged only 2.87 pitches per PA.
With respect to Betancourt and Lopez, put me in charge and I would have shown more patience in signing them to longer-term deals than what they have shown at the plate. Neither player projects to be a superstar, and I just don't see the need to commit to them so early in their careers. Shake a fruit or nut tree in Seattle and a dozen second basemen fall out.
The M's minor league system has a dearth of talent, ranking 24th in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook. Adam Jones, Jeff Clement, and Brandon Morrow are the organization's three highest-profile prospects. Jones, 21, played 32 games in the big leagues in 2006 and may be the heir to center field if Suzuki opts for greener (or more winning) pastures after the season. Clement, a 23-year-old catcher, was taken with the third overall pick in 2005 out of USC and signed to a team-record $3.4 million bonus. With only 45 professional games under his belt, Clement was promoted to Triple-A after undergoing operations on his knee and left elbow last May. He hit only .257 with 4 HR in 257 AB while striking out 53 times vs. just 16 BB.
Morrow, 22, was selected fifth in the 2006 amateur draft, ahead of Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, and Seattle's own Tim Lincecum. He broke camp with the Mariners and has pitched five innings in relief thus far. Morrow appears to be another M's prospect who has been rushed to the majors in an era in which the club has become more dependent on signing international players than developing its own.
The M's season is far from sunk, but it is going to take a lot more than just rearranging the deck chairs to keep this vessel afloat.
Is Alex Rodriguez any good? After last night's game against the Red Sox, it looks as if I should bump up the over/under on his home run total to 52. Man oh man. 12 HR in 15 games. Let's see now, that projects to 130 dingers for a full year. I don't think he will slug 100 but how 'bout 62?
ARod is in pretty good company when it comes to Yankees home run hitters. Let's take a look at the top 10 single-season HR leaders for the Bronx Bombers:
1 Roger Maris 1961 61
2 Babe Ruth 1927 60
3 Babe Ruth 1921 59
T4 Mickey Mantle 1961 54
T4 Babe Ruth 1928 54
T4 Babe Ruth 1920 54
7 Mickey Mantle 1956 52
T8 Lou Gehrig 1936 49
T8 Lou Gehrig 1934 49
T8 Babe Ruth 1930 49
Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Gehrig. ARod's name would fit in there just fine. In fact, he happens to sit in 11th place now (with 48 in his MVP season in 2005). How about Joe DiMaggio, you ask? Tied for 14th with 46 in 1937, his second year in the majors. Take a second look at that list and you'll notice that Rodriguez is already number one among all right-handed batters. After DiMaggio, you have to go all the way down to 28th to find the next RHB (Alfonso Soriano, 2002, and the Yankee Clipper, 1948, with 39).
In the meantime, Rodriguez passed Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 25th on the all-time home run list with 476. He is a shoo-in to become the youngest player to hit 500 (beating out Jimmie Foxx) and could rank among the top 20 before the year is out.
For those of you who get worked up about Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron, relax. Alex Rodriguez is going to pass them both by the time he hangs 'em up.
- Rich Lederer, 4/21/07, 8:15 a.m. PST
Speaking of all-time greats, which spot in the batting order did Jackie Robinson hit more often than any other? Would you believe fourth?
According to Dave Smith, the creator of Retrosheet, Robinson had more at-bats hitting cleanup than all of the other positions in the batting order combined. Smith created the following table, which details Jackie's batting performance by each spot in the lineup.
Position AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI HP BB SO SF AVG OBP SLG
First 80 15 25 6 1 1 14 0 10 7 0 .313 .389 .450
Second 999 205 288 55 12 22 110 18 120 66 0 .288 .375 .433
Third 645 130 207 32 4 20 90 12 110 41 0 .321 .429 .476
Fourth 2483 496 818 157 32 79 439 35 382 139 2 .329 .426 .514
Fifth 112 18 31 5 0 1 12 2 18 9 0 .277 .386 .348
Sixth 290 47 84 12 5 7 45 3 58 12 5 .290 .407 .438
Seventh 191 26 48 3 0 6 17 2 34 10 1 .251 .368 .361
Eighth 49 7 12 1 0 1 5 0 6 2 1 .245 .321 .327
Ninth 28 3 5 2 0 0 2 0 4 4 0 .179 .281 .250
Despite never accumulating 20 home runs in a season, Robinson was a highly productive hitter in the four hole. He could do it all. Hit for a high average with decent power, walk, and run the bases as well as anyone from his era.
Interestingly, Jackie scored 13% more runs than he drove in while batting fourth. I wonder if anyone else has ever had such a ratio of R/RBI from the cleanup spot?
- Rich Lederer, 4/21/07, 4:30 p.m. PST
Open Chat: Overs and Unders
In honor of my favorite baseball manager, I've put together a Baker's Dozen of over/under lines for player and team events. Your job is to pick out one or two or all of them if you'd like and let us know the correct answers in the comments section below. Please include the biggest lock of 'em all while you're at it.
Powered by a toothpick, here goes...
Alex Rodriguez: over or under 50 HR?
Josh Hamilton: over or under 25 HR?
Barry Bonds: over or under August 15 for HR #756?
Sammy Sosa: over or under June 30 for HR #600?
Tom Glavine: over or under July 31 for Win #300?
Charlie Manuel: over or under Memorial Day as the date of his firing?
Felix Hernandez: over or under May 8 for his next start?
Roger Clemens: over or under June 22 for his next start?
Tim Lincecum: over or under May 15 for his first big league start?
Phil Hughes: over or under July 1 for his first big league start?
Max Scherzer: over or under May 31 to sign and turn pro?
Joe Mauer: over or under .333 batting average?
Washington Nationals: over or under 108 losses?
More Fun With Enhanced Gameday
Enhanced Gameday is back for the 2007 season. The information presented in the XML files remain very similar from last year's playoffs, with a couple of additions. Two fields have been added: (1) break length, which is used to quantify the break of a pitch in a different way than the vector sum that was used in the playoffs and (2) break angle, which is used to indicate how the ball appears to the hitter as it approaches the plate. I'm still trying to figure those fields out and incorporate them into my analysis. Although the enhanced system is currently running in only eight stadiums, there are still a bunch of interesting things to study.
One thing I didn't have time to include in my first article was a look at how consistent pitchers are from start to start, in terms of movement on their pitches, their release point and pitch location. Ideally, I could look at many starts from a pitcher and find common features for good outings and bad ones. However, the season is only two weeks old, so I don't have more than a couple of starts from most pitchers, but two starts is better than no starts.
When a pitcher has an unusually good (or bad) outing, occasionally the reason given is that his pitches were "on" (or "off") that day. Part of a pitch being "on" is locating it for a strike, but the movement of a pitch is also important. The adjoining graph shows all the pitches that John Lackey made over his first two starts this season, colored by pitch type. Each pitch thrown is represented by two points. The solid circle is the break in the horizontal direction and the hollow circle is the vertical break. Looking quickly at the graph, you can tell that he threw pitches 'A' and 'B' much more than pitch 'C.' You can also see the different basic movement for each pitch. Pitch 'A' and 'C' both had the same relative movement, breaking 10 units vertically and less than 0 units horizontally.
Lackey's first two starts this season were good. On April 2, he pitched 5.0 innings, allowing four hits and giving up an unearned run. He also walked four batters and struck out five. On April 7, he went 7.0 innings and allowed seven hits and one run, while striking out six and not walking anyone. One thing I noticed from these graphs was that the movement on his fastball was very consistent in both starts. The vertical break was virtually identical, while the horizontal break was very close as well. Pitch 'C' was not as consistent however. He threw more of pitch 'C' in his first start than in his second one, and the horizontal break was also bigger by several units in the first start. The patterns of the clusters for pitch 'B' changed as well. I'm not sure what to make of the differences for pitch 'B,' but the biggest difference between Lackey's two starts was his ability to avoid walks in his second start, so maybe it impacted that somehow.
I'm also interested in how consistent the release point of a pitcher is. A visual of Lackey's release point for his two starts, colored by start, is presented below. This graph is a close-up of the release point graphs from my previous article, and shows how consistent a Major League pitcher can be with his release point. In his second start, he threw all but three pitches from a roughly 4.2x5.9" window. However, in his first start, the window was roughly 4.2x10.1". I haven't looked in-depth at other pitcher's release points over different starts, but releasing every pitch from an area the size of an index card would seem to be pretty consistent for a release point. My first thought on seeing the difference in release points was that it could have caused Lackey's wildness in his first start. However, of the 26 pitches in the first start that were thrown outside the smaller window, 12 were strikes and 11 were balls, with three put into play, so the difference in release point doesn't seem to impact balls and strikes.
I read another analysis on release points at Lookout Landing, which measured the release point of Felix Hernandez as 1.6x3". I have release point data from Hernandez' season opening start versus the A's, so I can measure his release point too. Here's a visual of Hernandez' release points (below left), which shows he released his pitches in a roughly 11.3x7.1" box. While I found Hernandez to have a bigger release point window, I'd still say that releasing every pitch from a window the size of a piece of paper is consistent. The study from Lookout Landing only looked at when Hernandez threw a fastball and a curve, but even when I just look at fastballs, I still get an 8.6x5.6" window.
Regarding release points, being consistent isn't necessarily a good thing. Consistent mechanics would seem to lead to a consistent release point, but pitching machines have totally consistent release points and are designed to get hit hard by batters. Having a little variety is definitely a good thing, as it keeps the hitter guessing and prevents him from always looking for the pitch in a specific spot. Jeff Weaver might not be the best example of a good pitcher, but he has a release point that looks like the blast pattern of a shotgun. His release points from the 2006 playoffs are shown in the above graph on the right. Weaver had a successful run during the playoffs, so I would be interested in comparing this to his release points during a similar run of failure.
The consistency of pitch location is another feature of a pitcher's start that I want to analyze. The following two graphs illustrate the location of all of Lackey's pitches in his two starts, colored by the speed of the pitch. Both graphs are from the perspective of the catcher, and show the same basic pattern for pitches outside the strike zone. In both starts, he primarily threw pitches outside the strike zone to two places, what would be up and in for right-handed batters and low and away for right-handed batters. I imagine that these results suggest patterns that Lackey has with setting up hitters and how his pitches break. There are green dots, pitches that were 80-84 mph, in the lower right of each graph, while his fastball, which was in the 90-95 mph range, was never thrown below the strike zone. Both graphs also show a lack of pitches thrown at the top of the strike zone as well as inside to a lefty. These patterns could be chance events, but they also could be real decisions that Lackey made during his start. I would suspect that the handedness of the batter impacts the pitch selection and location, but Lackey hasn't thrown enough pitches to lefties to notice any change.
These next two graphs are more for fun than anything else right now. They are the same as the two above, except that they quantify the pitch density in different areas. The strike zone is the red square in the middle, and the numbers show the percentage of pitches thrown in each region of the strike zone by Lackey for that start. These graphs reinforce what the above graphs show, but are pretty cool to look at. With more data, the patterns in these graphs will become more statistically meaningful and could even be expanded to show BABIP for pitches in different sections of the strike zone.
Joe P. Sheehan played baseball at Oberlin College and graduated in May 2006.
The Early Season Injury Bug
Injuries - sure they happen, but who can withstand them? Weathering the health ups and downs that invariably come with a long season is an essential component to most any winning team. When we interviewed Red Sox Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer back in February, one of the most interesting tidbits that Hoyer offered up was the following:
When we were relatively injury-free through July, we played well. But once we started getting banged up, we fell quickly. That's not an excuse at all, because the mark of a good team is one that is deep enough to overcome injuries. In 2005, we made the playoffs without Schilling or Foulke for most of the season. In 2004, we didn't have Nomar or Trot for long stretches. Last year, we weren't deep enough in the rotation or the lineup to sustain injuries.
No excuses for Boston's play in 2006. Injuries happen and everyone should anticipate them going into the season and construct their rosters and organizations accordingly.
There has been a ridiculous spate of high-profile injuries to kick the 2007 season. Some teams are better positioned than others to fill in for their fallen. What follows is a look, from AL East to NL West, at the key injured players around Major League Baseball, who their replacements might be and what it means for the respective teams.
You're not going to believe this, but Jaret Wright is injured. Jeremy Guthrie filled in with one shaky start in which he got the win and figures to continue to do so until Wright is back from his sore shoulder. Guthrie figures to be able to provide output in Wright's neighborhood, which is much more of a commentary on Wright's mediocrity than Guthrie's promise.
*edit* As Ben noted in the comments section, Guthrie did not fill in for Wright and is not necessarily taking his place. Due to the weather and scheduling, the O's have not had to name a replacement starter for Wright.
New York Yankees
Yankee regulars Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano have joined Chien-Ming Wang on the Disabled List, though all figure to return before the end of April. Melky Cabrera will bridge the gap just fine until Matsui returns while I think the Yanks could toss out any number of Minor League warm bodies and continue to win thanks to their lineup. Last night offered a glimpse at what the Bomber formula for victory will in all likelihood look like for a few weeks. A crappy, 5-inning effort from their starter (Chase Wright last night) and a hitting clinic by their offense. They'll be fine.
Toronto has been absolutely decimated by the injury bug, but might be in better shape than you think. Jason Frasor is a high strikeout guy with a track record of Major League success who should do an acceptable job while B.J. Ryan recovers. Adam Lind is a promising outfield prospect who, I contended, should have had a job ahead of Reed Johnson all along. With Johnson now down, Lind gets a shot. The Troy Glaus injury probably hurts the most because Toronto does not have a comparable replacement, but Glaus's injury is the least severe of Toronto's key injuries.
Cliff Lee threw three innings in an extended Spring Training game and appears to be on his way back from his abdominal strain. It's a good thing for Cleveland too, as Fausto Carmona is not the answer. Even more fortunately for Cleveland, the horrible weather rolling through the midwest lately has forced a number of post-ponements so Carmona has only seen the mound for one start. On the plus side for the Tribe, Victor Martinez is back.
Los Angeles Angels
Vladimir Guerrero was hit by a pitch in Boston Monday but is expected to return on Friday. Exhale, Halo fans.
Milton Bradley is expected to hit the shelf soon with an achy hamstring. Bobby Kielty is a clear step down from Bradley, but should be an acceptable holdover given Bradley returns within a few weeks.
Mark Prior and Kerry Wood have taken up residence on the all too familiar DL and now Alfonso Soriano is expected to miss the rest of this week with a sore hamstring. An MRI showed nothing wrong with it, which is great news for Cubs fans. In the interim, the promising Felix Pie takes over. In his first game yesterday, he doubled off of Greg Maddux and had an outfield assist.
Free Agent pick up Jason Jennings is on the 15-day DL with shoulder tendinitis. Matt Albers takes his spot in the rotation, and although Albers has been a solid Minor League pitcher, he does not appear to have the stuff to succeed in the Bigs - at least not at this point. 'Stros fans should be hoping that Jennings recovers and returns in good form.
The loss of Chris Carpenter is just devastating for the Cards. They are holding their breath as the plan right now has rest as the formula to heal Carpenter's elbow. If rest does not work, Carpenter will undergo surgery that will sideline him for an extended period of time. It's hard to imagine that St. Louis would be able to withstand a downgrade from Carpenter to Randy Keisler. Juan Encarnacion's wrist is reportedly healing up but I don't see the free-swinger making much of a difference even when he does return.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Thanks to the strong start from Luis Gonzalez and their overall outfield depth, the Dodgers have not felt the loss of Matt Kemp in any real significant way. Still, Kemp took batting practice yesterday and appears to be on pace to return when he comes off the DL. Something tells me Juan Pierre and his .242 on-base will still be manning center field when he does.
More concerning for Dodger fans is the Jason Schmidt situation. Word is he hasn't even sniffed 90 MPH with his fastball in 2007, and some scouts have said he is more in the low-to-mid 80's. So even though the loss of Schmidt hurts, you do not want him taking the mound anyway in his current form. Mark Hendrickson takes his spot in the rotation and should represent an upgrade from Schmidt's pitiful output thus far in 2007. The best case scenario for Dodgers fans is that Schmidt somehow fixes himself and returns as the effective power pitcher he has been over the years.
Josh Bard is on the 15-day Disabled List in order to nurse a groin strain. Provided he returns on time the injury should not hurt the Pads too badly but Rob Bowen is no long term solution.
Driving in Runs Through the Rain and Snow
It has been a miserable few weeks weather-wise for Minor League Baseball. I'd hate to actually add up exactly how many games have been postponed, but needless to say it wouldn't be pretty - nor will it be pretty later this year when the plethora of double-headers strike.
Despite the cold, miserable weather there are some hot minor league players and this week I would like to take a look at those who are having a particularly successful time driving in runs in Triple-A and Double-A baseball.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games
1. Shelley Duncan Scranton (NYY) 11 .375 .464 .917 7
2. John-Ford Griffin Syracuse (TOR) 10 .361 .425 .778 10
3. J.R. House Norfolk (BAL) 10 .367 .394 .633 8
OF/1B Shelley Duncan was a second round pick out of the University of Arizona by the Yankees in 2001 but has yet to live up to that lofty draft position as a career .251 hitter with an OPS of .786. Duncan did hit 34 homers and 92 RBI in 2005 in Double-A so the 27-year-old does have a history of driving in runs. Yesterday, he was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league. Scranton is currently 6-4 and in second place in the North Division.
OF John-Ford Griffin is another former Yankee draft pick and he was taken in the first round before Duncan in 2001. The former Florida State University standout looked poised to break into the majors in 2006 with the Jays - after a brief cup of coffee in 2005 - but injuries derailed his career. He looks healthy this season but his poor defense and age (27) are two big strikes against him. Syracuse is 4-6 on the young season and is in fifth place in the North Division.
Another former top prospect and fifth round pick out of high school, J.R. House was destined for stardom with the Pirates but injuries took their toll. Now 27, he showed some promise in 2006 in the Houston system by hitting .412/.445/.675 in 31 Triple-A games but continued his MLB struggles (.105/.105/.158 in 19 career at-bats). He is a former catcher who spends more time at first base now. Norfolk is 3-4 and in last place in the South Division.
Pacific Coast League
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games
1. Micah Hoffpauir Iowa (CHC) 18 .425 .455 .650 11
2. Mitch Jones Las Vegas (LAD) 12 .364 .417 .818 9
3. James Loney Las Vegas (LAD) 11 .261 .265 .391 10
Dan Ortmeier Fresno (SF) 11 .455 .525 .636 8
Micah Hoffpauir is a former 13th round pick by the Cubs. At the age of 27, the first baseman is no longer considered a prospect. He has below-average power for his position but that hasn't stopped him from leading all of Triple-A and Double-A in RBI. Teammate Felix Pie leads the Pacific Coast League in runs scored with 16. Iowa is 6-5 and half a game behind Nashville in the American North Division.
Mitch Jones is a former slugging Yankee farmhand. The .245/.334/.478 career hitter drilled 110 home runs in the last four seasons (two Double-A, two Triple-A seasons). Jones was a seventh round pick in 2000 out of Arizona State University, having previously been drafted three times (including twice by Baltimore).
James Loney is a fairly well-known prospect and a former first round draft pick out of high school. As a first baseman, Loney has below-average power at this point in his career, although he is a threat to hit .300. However, this season he is struggling to maintain his usual average despite driving in 11 runs in 10 games. Las Vegas is second in the Pacific South Division, half a game behind Sacramento.
Dan Ortmeier was a third round pick out of Texas-Arlington by San Francisco in 2002. The 25-year-old outfielder has an interesting mix of power and speed but has never been a true run producer. Fresno is 7-5, also in the Pacific South Division, and half a game out.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games
1. Rodney Choy Foo Akron (CLE) 9 .524 .583 .952 6
2. Wayne Lydon Manchester (TOR) 8 .333 .429 .625 6
3. Jeff Larish Erie (DET) 8 .320 .414 .640 6
Nolan Reimold Bowie (BAL) 8 .367 .387 .767 8
Utility player Rodney Choy Foo is a former 26th round pick by Cleveland out of Hawaii. He is not a player you expect to see at the top of the run producing categories at the end of the season. Regardless, Choy Foo was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league yesterday. Akron is 3-3 on the season and third in the Southern Division.
Similarly, Wayne Lydon is playing above his head early this season. The slap-hitting speedster, a former ninth round pick out of high school by the Mets, hit a career high nine homers last year. His 46 RBI were also a career high during his first season in the Jays' system. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester are 4-2 on the season and in second place in the Northern Division.
Both 1B Jeff Larish and OF Nolan Reimold are considered prospects, unlike Choy Foo and Lydon. Larish was a top college player who fell in the draft due to injures but the Tigers are happy with what they have after signing him as a senior in 2005. He drove in 65 runs last season in A-Ball and also showed good patience with 81 walks. Reimold was a second round pick by Baltimore in 2005. He had a similar season to Larish last year by hitting 19 homers and walking 77 times in A-Ball. Erie is 3-3 and tied for third place. Bowie is 5-4 and in second place. Both teams play in the Southern Division.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games
1. Matt Esquivel Mississippi (ATL) 10 .308 .341 .538 10
2. Cody Strait Chattanooga (CIN) 9 .282 .349 .538 10
3. Thomas Collaro Birmingham (CWS) 9 .300 .333 .625 10
Matt Esquivel, 24, is leading the Southern League in RBI. The former fifth round pick is also playing in his second Double-A season after missing a portion of 2006 due to injuries. He had a career high 81 RBI in 2005 in A-Ball. Mississippi is 7-3 and in second place behind Birmingham in the South Division.
Cody Strait, 23, was drafted out of the University of Evansville in 2004 as a 12th round pick. His homers increased from 14 to 17 the last two years and his RBI increased from 60 to 75. Baseball America rated Strait as the Reds 11th best prospect coming into 2007, but stated his speed and outfield defense were ahead of his bat. Chattanooga leads the North Division despite a 5-5 record.
1B/OF Thomas Collaro is your typical swing-from-the-heels slugger who prays for contact. If he does connect with the ball, it's going to go a long way. However, Collaro has 15 strikeouts and only two walks this season in 40 at-bats. He drove in 100 runs in 2005 in A-Ball. Can you say Russell Branyan? Collaro's runs have helped to place Birmingham at the top of the South Division with an 8-2 record.
Team RBI AVG OBA SLG Games
1. Tim Olson Tulsa (COL) 8 .318 .318 .545 7
2. Ray Sadler Corpus Christi (HOU) 8 .258 .351 .516 10
3. Kevin Mahar Frisco (TEX) 8 .265 .405 .500 10
Travis Metcalf Frisco (TEX) 8 .267 .342 .400 9
Tim Olson, 28, is a former utility player with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies who has found employment at the Double-A level. He is not a prototypical run producer. Tulsa is struggling on the season with a 4-6 record but are hanging onto second place in the South Division.
Ray Sadler is the brother of former Red Sox player Donnie Sadler. Ray has had trouble deciding if he is a power hitter (he's hit 20 homers) or a table setter (he's stolen 32 bases). Corpus Christi is in last place in the South Division with a 4-6 record.
Both OF Kevin Mahar and 3B Travis Metcalf are organizational players. Mahar was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Rangers out of Indiana University in 2004. The 25-year-old slugger hit a career high 20 homers and 82 RBI in Frisco in 2006. Metcalf was an 11th round pick by the Rangers in 2004. He struggled mightily last season in his first attempt in Double-A and hit .221/.298/.325. Teammate Steven Murphy leads the league in runs scored. Frisco is one game out of first in the South Division with a 6-4 record.
Overall, there are not a lot of top prospects driving in runs early in the season in either Triple-A or Double-A. Perhaps the grizzled veterans adapt to the weather easier than the younger players. But as the weather warms up, so too should the prospects' bats. Out of all the players discussed above, Reimold should have the best chance to duplicate his run producing abilities at the major league level, if he can make consistent contact.
Prior and Wood: Dusty Track Records
Mark Prior experienced discomfort in his right shoulder and left his first extended spring training start after two innings last Thursday in Mesa, Arizona. He was scheduled to throw no more than 45 pitches or three innings.
After visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum in California over the weekend, Prior has decided to get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews of Alabama. Andrews diagnosed the 26-year-old righthander with looseness in his shoulder capsule last winter. Rather than undergoing surgery, Mark attempted to strengthen his shoulder through an exercise and throwing program.
Prior, who signed a one-year deal worth $3.575M in January to avoid arbitration, made four appearances this spring before he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa and placed on the minor league team's disabled list. He wanted to break camp with the Cubs and was disappointed in the organization's decision to go with Wade Miller as its fifth starter. However, Prior never approached his old velocity and was ineffective in 10 1/3 innings, allowing 14 hits, 11 runs, and 9 walks while striking out only 6 batters.
Once thought to have perfect mechanics, Prior has begun each of the past three years on the DL with an assortment of injuries, ranging from his Achilles heel to his elbow and now his shoulder. Where did the youngster who finished third in the Cy Young voting in his first full season go wrong? Well, I can't help but point a finger toward the end of that 2003 campaign when then manager Dusty Baker rode Prior and his teammate Kerry Wood hard during the stretch run in September and in the playoffs in October.
Let's have a look at Prior's and Wood's late 2003 game logs:
DATE OPP IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB PIT
Sep. 1 STL 8.0 5 0 0 0 3 8 6 10 131
Sep. 6 @MIL 7.0 10 3 3 1 1 7 9 8 129
Sep. 11 @WAS 5.2 10 3 3 0 3 8 6 6 110
Sep. 16 NYM 9.2 8 2 2 1 1 13 7 8 124
Sep. 21 @PIT 8.2 6 1 1 0 2 14 6 5 131
Sep. 27 PIT 7.2 7 2 2 1 2 10 10 6 133
Oct. 3 ATL 9.0 2 1 1 0 4 7 11 8 133
Oct. 8 FLA 7.0 8 3 2 2 2 5 9 7 116
Oct. 14 FLA 7.1 6 5 3 0 3 6 5 11 119
DATE OPP IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB PIT
Sep. 2 STL 7.0 4 2 1 1 2 9 6 7 120
Sep. 7 @MIL 7.0 8 2 2 1 2 6 7 11 122
Sep. 12 CIN 6.0 5 1 1 0 4 9 5 8 114
Sep. 17 NYM 9.0 4 0 0 0 1 11 7 6 125
Sep. 23 @CIN 7.0 1 0 0 0 4 12 10 1 122
Sep. 30 @ATL 7.1 2 2 2 1 5 11 5 6 124
Oct. 5 @ATL 8.0 5 1 1 0 2 7 10 4 117
Oct. 10 @FLA 7.2 7 3 3 0 3 7 10 5 109
Oct. 15 FLA 6.2 7 7 7 1 4 6 4 3 112
After returning from a three-week stint on the DL with a shoulder contusion in July and August, Prior tossed 71 innings in a month-and-a-half, never throwing fewer than 110 pitches in a game while reaching 124 or more on six occasions. He made at least 130 pitches in three consecutive games (his last two starts of the regular season and his first start in the post-season) and was in a great position for a shortened effort in Game 2 of the NLCS vs. the Florida Marlins when the Cubs staked him to an 11-0 lead after five innings.
I remember watching the game on TV and was flabbergasted when Baker sent his ace out to the mound to start the sixth inning. It was the perfect opportunity to go to the bullpen and give the then 23-year-old a much-needed breather. Whether Prior was tiring or just lacking concentration, he allowed back-to-back home runs to Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera to open the sixth. Baker never flinched and let Prior go all the way into the eighth before pulling him with two on, no outs, and 116 pitches under his belt.
Working on five days rest, Prior started Game 6 and held the Marlins scoreless through seven innings on just three hits. With a 3-0 lead, Prior got Mike Mordecai to pop out to left field for the first out of the eighth. The Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series berth since 1945 when things began to unravel. After Juan Pierre doubled, Luis Castillo hit a high foul ball toward the left field wall that bounced off Cubs fan Steve Bartman's hands, then drew a walk on Prior's next offering - a wild pitch that allowed Pierre to reach third. Ivan Rodriguez lined a single to left to knock home Florida's first run of the game.
Cubs shortstop Alex S. Gonzalez misplayed what appeared to be a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. With the bases loaded, Lee promptly drilled a double to left to score two and tie the game at three apiece. Prior exited and was charged with the loss when Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger allowed five more runners to cross home plate. The Marlins beat Wood in Game 7 and went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.
Here is how Prior and Wood, who threw 120 or more pitches in five out of six starts that September, have fared since the fateful series in October 2003.
MARK PRIOR, 2003-2006
Year G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
2003 30 30 211.3 183 67 57 15 50 245 2.43
2004 21 21 118.7 112 53 53 14 48 139 4.02
2005 27 27 166.7 143 73 68 25 59 188 3.67
2006 9 9 43.7 46 39 35 9 28 38 7.21
KERRY WOOD, 2003-2006
Year G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA
2003 32 32 211.0 152 77 75 24 100 266 3.20
2004 22 22 140.3 127 62 58 16 51 144 3.72
2005 21 10 66.0 52 32 31 14 26 77 4.23
2006 4 4 19.7 19 13 9 5 8 13 4.12
Coincidence? I think not. As shown, Prior and Wood have never been the same, pitching fewer and fewer innings and with less effectiveness than ever. The franchise pitchers have been battling one injury after another the past three-and-a-half years.
Wood, who like Prior decided against surgery last winter on his frayed rotator cuff, has been unable to throw from a mound since late March when recurring pain in his right shoulder ended his bid to earn a job in the bullpen. GM Jim Hendry has described Wood's case as a "real good dose of tendinitis."
The fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 1,000 strikeouts as measured in games and innings, Wood has now been on the disabled list ten times in his career. While it's unfair to blame Baker for all of Wood's and Prior's problems, I believe Dusty should have refrained from riding his stars as hard as he did in what can now be described not only as the early fall of 2003 but of their careers as well.
Pitching Duel - Doc Throws 10
When a pitcher throws nine innings, allows six hits and only one run, he expects to win the ball game. However, that was not the case when Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman faced off last night against Toronto's ace Roy Halladay.
Halladay responded by throwing a 10-inning complete game victory. He allowed six hits and only one run. He also struck out two and did not allow a walk. Both pitchers allowed one home run (Halladay to Magglio Ordonez and Bonderman to Alex Rios).
This was the first 10-inning performance by a starting pitcher in the major leagues since St. Louis' Mark Mulder threw a shutout against the Houston Astros on April 23, 2005. Interestingly enough, Halladay also threw one other 10-inning win in his career and it was against the Tigers on Sept. 6, 2003. He threw 99 pitches and allowed only three hits. His opponent, Nate Cornejo, threw the game of his life and allowed no runs and only five hits in nine innings of work. In both 2003 and 2006, snake-bitten reliever Fernando Rodney lost the game in the 10th inning.
Yesterday, Halladay - known as 'Doc' to Toronto fans - put on a pitching clinic. The 29-year-old right-hander topped out at 92 mph and threw 107 pitches (70 strikes). Halladay survived with only two pitches - his fastball and curveball, although he threw three versions of his fastball: a two-seamer, cutter and an occasional four-seamer. Halladay also has a change-up, but rarely utilizes it in games.
In his early days, Halladay would dial his four-seam fastball up to 95-97 mph but it lost a lot of movement. In his second season, in 2000, Halladay was hit hard and posted a 10.67 ERA in 19 games (13 starts).
The former No. 1 pick and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball was demoted all the way to A-Ball to work with Mel Queen, the pitching coach he first found success with early in his pro career. Two years later Halladay won 19 games in the majors and had a new-found philosophy on pitching, which has continued to evolve over time. He now focuses on inducing groundballs and pitching to contact to keep his pitch counts down, as he has suffered through various forearm ailments in recent years.
On Friday night, Halladay was in fine form. Despite an average fastball speed, he got 22 of his 29 outs on the fastball, with the other seven coming on the curve. Both his strikeouts were a result of the knee-buckler. With eight exceptions, Halladay started each batter with a fastball.
He "struggled" early in the game against the free-swinging Tigers and threw 16 pitches in the first inning, followed by 13 and then 15. Halladay then got the heart of the order, Gary Sheffield, Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, 1-2-3 in the fourth. He threw another 15 pitches in the fifth and 10 in the sixth. After that, perhaps smelling victory or simply rising to the occasion, Halladay did not throw double-digit pitches again in an inning. He retired Ordonez, Guillen and Sean Casey on eight pitches in the seventh and then finished the game with six pitches in the eighth, nine in the ninth and nine in the 10th.
This game was a great lesson for every pitcher or fan out there who believes you have to throw 95 or 100 mph to be a successful hurler. Smarts, command, control and changing speeds can help you go a long, long way. Just ask Halladay about it while he's polishing his 2003 Cy Young Award.
- Marc Hulet, 4/14/2007, 5:00 p.m. EST
Win, Place, and Show. Cole Hamels had his worst outing of the young season yesterday, yet recorded his first win. The 23-year-old hurler was removed from the game for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning with the score tied 5-5. The Phillies scored two runs in the inning and held on for an 8-5 victory over the Astros.
DATE OPP RESULT IP H R ER HR BB SO DEC
4-4 ATL L, 3-2 7.0 4 0 0 0 1 8 -
4-9 @NYM L,11-5 6.0 6 3 2 0 3 7 -
4-14 HOU W, 8-5 6.0 8 5 5 1 0 3 W
Hamels gave up two earned runs in 13 innings in his first couple of starts, but the bullpen blew both wins. On April 4, Tom Gordon cost the southpaw his first by allowing two runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game and the Braves scored the game winner in the 11th to beat the Phillies 3-2. Hamels exited his second start on April 9 with a 5-3 lead but Geoff Geary and Jon Lieber surrendered seven runs in the eighth to the Mets to strip him of another win.
For the season, Hamels is 1-0 with a 3.32 ERA. He has struck out 18 batters and allowed only four walks in 19 innings. Cole didn't give up his first home run until Houston's Jason Lane took him deep in the fourth inning on Saturday despite facing the powerful Atlanta and New York lineups in his first two starts. Last year, Hamels allowed 19 long balls in 132 1/3 IP. If the former first round pick can continue to cut down on his home runs and walks, he could rapidly become one of the best starters in the league as I predicted last year after his major league debut to the consternation of a few readers.
- Rich Lederer, 4/15/07, 9:15 a.m. PST
As everyone reading this site knows, today is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League Baseball debut. More than 80 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Robinson broke the color barrier when he took the field on April 15, 1947. The event was unquestionably one of the most significant in the history of the game and the world of professional sports.
Major League Baseball will honor Robinson in a nationally televised game this evening between the Dodgers and Padres. All of the Dodgers will wear Jackie's No. 42 - retired league-wide in 1997 - on the back of their jerseys tonight. Appropriately, Chris Young, who wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on Robinson (as reported by ESPN The Magazine's Jeff Bradley), will be on the mound for San Diego. The game features a half-hour pre-game ceremony attended by Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's widow Rachel, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson, among others.
As we honor Robinson, let's not forget Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League two-and-a-half months later. At a minimum, the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers should hold Larry Doby Day on July 5 when the two teams meet for an afternoon tilt in the finale of a three-game series. It would only be fitting for the Indians to wear Doby's No. 14 on their backs that day.
Robinson and Doby were not only pioneers but great players and even better men.
- Rich Lederer, 4/15/07, 4:40 p.m. PST
Foto Friday #5
Foto Friday #1 (with Follow-Up)
Foto Friday #2
Foto Friday #3
Foto Friday #4
As in the first four contests, name the date, location, and subjects in the wire photo below, which was part of my Dad's collection. The players should be the easiest part. Bonus points for the umpire.
Unlike the first four, I'm not sure about the date and location but am wondering if readers, through knowledge or research, can help me out here.
An Ode to Sport
My problem began about ten or twelve years ago, while doing research for a story on Luis Tiant. Employing SABR's invaluable Baseball Index, I learned that Tiant had been profiled in the September 1968 issue of Sport. Being in no particular hurry, I spent a few weeks tracking down a used magazine supplier, forked out five or ten dollars, and soon got a big envelope in the mail.
When this issue was on the newsstands I was just entering the third grade; nonetheless, my baseball obsession was in full bloom. I might have seen this magazine in someone's house, admired the beautiful picture of Don Drysdale in mid-motion on the cover, and perhaps flipped through its pages. Years later, the excellent Tiant story ("The Most Popular Indian") helped me write the story I needed to write.
As an added bonus, I got the rest of the issue, which included profiles of Drysdale, Alex Johnson, and Ron Reed, and several stories on the current pitching domination, including one by pitcher-author Jim Brosnan. The Johnson profile (Earl Lawson's "A. J. of the Reds") was a fascinating early-career look at a troubled personality, and kindled an interest that led to my own story later on. Baseball articles carried the day, but there were a few football items (Lance Rentzel!), and stories centered around golf and billiards as well. And what sports magazine would be complete without the inevitable article on Jay Silvester ("A Discus Champ's Secrets")? The dense issue contained 16 features and several columns. This all cost 50 cents in 1968.
In the Sport Special, an acclaimed monthly feature, John Devaney wrote 6000 words (!) on Frank Howard, taking us through his childhood, his years in high school and at Ohio State, his days with the Dodgers, his current life with the Senators on and off the field, talks with various batting coaches about his evolution as a hitter, and insight from teammates, rival pitchers and managers, his family, and Howard himself. A fascinating story, wonderfully told.
Oh, and the pictures. From its very early days in the late 1940s, Sport always included several full page color photographs, very unusual even twenty years into its run, and they often found themselves carefully removed and placed in scrapbooks or on bedroom walls. The Luis Tiant photo is like one you would see on a baseball card of the era, a posed shot from the waist up on a sunny spring day, frankly as beautiful a picture I have ever seen of this well-photographed man, and I have seen plenty. If you are buying an old copy of Sport, know that there are plenty of issues out there with the pictures razor-bladed out.
So that, for me, was the start. A short time later, my Vern Stephens research led me to a couple of issues of Sport from the late 1940s. August 1949 was tough to find, as it included an outstanding Jackie Robinson cover story by Tom Meany, "Jackie's One of the Gang," and collectors love Robinson. The Stephens story (by Al Hirshberg) was the Sport Special, and provided a bountiful supply of first-hand perspective that I was looking for. Again, though, I spent just as much time with the rest of the magazine, especially a lengthy Grantland Rice piece called "What Makes A Young Ballplayer Great?" that profiled Larry Doby, Billy Goodman, Mike Garcia, and several others. Dan Parker's story on Yogi Berra ("He's a 'Character'") included a full-color shirtless shot of the young and (please forgive me) extremely buff Yankee backstop.
Although at first I had legitimate (ahem) research needs that required I track down these old magazines, I eventually learned to liberalize my rationale. If the September 1968 issue was so helpful, I wondered what treasures July would hold. Plenty, it turned out. That one included stories on Henry Aaron ("neglected superstar"), Hector Torres (former star of the Little League World Series, now an infielder with the Astros), the come-backing Tommy Davis, and Tony Conigliaro ("Don't Feel Sorry for Me," discussing his retirement from the game due to his eye injury). The AL managers participated in an exclusive poll to rank the players in the league at each position, one through ten. The best centerfielders, in order: Paul Blair, Reggie Smith, Joe Pepitone. That is worth knowing. The typically epic Sport Special explored the day-to-day life of the St. Louis Cardinals. And on and on.
Ebay has not only made buying easier, the free market has driven prices lower. Cutting to the chase, I now have more than 250 issues, including a complete run from 1956 to 1973, with magazines still showing up when I get a hankering for an early birthday present or two. Just today, in fact, I received the March 1954 issue with a gorgeous photo of Casey Stengel ("Man of the Year") staring at me. After reading it, I place it in its own plastic sleeve affixed with a sticker detailing the baseball articles contained within, and update my own spreadsheet catalog. If I want to read more on Alex Johnson - and who doesn't? - I can check out October 1969 or October 1970. Dave Johnson? July 1966. Lou Johnson? March 1966. Walter Johnson? November 1961.
Sport debuted in September 1946, its cover featuring Joe DiMaggio and four-year-old Joe Jr. sitting atop the Yankee dugout, its inside pages including the work of Grantland Rice, Tom Meany, and Jack Sher, a good start that would be bested many times. The book had four editors during its first thirty years: Ernest Heyn, Ed Fitzgerald, Al Silverman, and Dick Schaap, the latter three cutting their teeth as Sport writers for many years before taking over. Each editor had at his disposal a virtual Who's Who of the greatest sportswriters of the time, or of any time. In the June 1956 issue, pulling one out at random, Roger Kahn wrote a 10,000 word Sport Special on Willie Mays, and was joined in the issue by Red Smith, Al Silverman, Ed Linn, Frank Graham, and Frank Graham, Jr.
These men were not newspaper guys who were tossing off a story to Sport to get extra money. Many fine writers, including Kahn, Linn, Silverman, Schaap, Al Hirschberg, Arnold Hano, Lenny Shecter, and Al Stump, at times made their primary living writing as freelance feature writers, mainly for Sport and occasionally for general interest magazines like Saturday Evening Post or Look. Many of these articles, especially the Sport Specials, would take several weeks or months to put together.
Sport did not shy away from the biggest issues of the day. Furman Bisher wrote "What About The Negro Athlete In The South?" in May 1956, and the magazine regularly covered the uneasy integration of our country's fields and courts. Bill Veeck wrote several stories about various baseball ills and how to fix them, before and after his two wonderful books covering some of the same ground. Howard Cosell wrote a column for many years before he became a TV star. So did Joe Garagiola. Allan Roth contributed regular statistical pieces, decades ahead of his time. There were notes, letters, cartoons, a monthly quiz, book reviews, fashion profiles.
Better yet, there was a long-running monthly feature called "Campus Queen" highlighting a buxom young co-ed with a picture and a paragraph or two about her likes and dislikes. What else do you need? OK, fine, in September 1957 Gussie Moran, more or less the Anna Kournikova of the 1940s, contributed "Baseball's Ten Handsomest Men," a full-length feature with a full page color photo of the author with Jerry Coleman. The other nine, since you are dying to know, just got head shots: Bob Friend, Eddie Mathews ("the Tyrone Power of baseball"), Jimmie Piersall ("great depth in his face"), Gino Cimoli, Gus Bell, Bobby Avila ("he makes you think of moonlit nights south of the border," Vinegar Bend Mizell, Ray Boone, and Robin Roberts. My vote: Gussie, in a walk.
Most Sport articles focused on people, either strict profiles or stories that brought the reader closer to the lives of the performers. In the early years, baseball, boxing, and college football made up the bulk of the magazine, with professional football and basketball coming along later. There were usually two or three baseball stories in the winter, and six to ten in the summer months. By the late 1970s the magazine had fewer stories, and baseball's prominence in the magazine had dampened considerably. In December 1973 Sport published its first baseball-free issue.
I subscribed to Sport through my teen years in the 1970s, my first venture into a lifetime of magazine reading. Alas, during this period Sport gradually became less focused on telling stories and profiling people, and more interested in flash and glamour - part of a natural literary degradation that leads ultimately to ESPN The Magazine. Granted, the classic July 1977 Jan Stephenson cover was well received, but the magazine was no longer must-reading, and certainly holds little value to a researcher today. Sport hung around another couple of decades, finally expiring in 2000 without anyone much noticing.
We are supposed to believe that this kind of thing is inevitable, that a monthly sports magazine can not keep up with this new fast-paced world we live in. This view is unsatisfying. Sure the internet has a lot of high quality baseball writing if you know where to look, but the kind of story Sport specialized in has vanished. An internet writer can replace a newspaper columnist well enough, because the latter's press credentials afford little advantage when discussing whether a manager should be fired, or who belongs in the Hall of Fame, or the latest steroid scandal. But real feature reporting, writing 8,000 words with quotes from 20 players, managers, family members and friends, is not so easily done from the comfort of an office. No one is doing it any more because it is too hard. Sport delivered high-quality stories like this for 30 years.
There have been at least four Sport anthologies, and I suppose I could satisfy some of my hankering by just reading those. Al Silverman's "The Best of Sport, 1946-1971" (Viking, 1971) is over 600 pages of small print, and is packed with great writers and great writing. But really, the 46 articles contained there, many of them several thousand words long, add up to about three or four issues worth. More to the point, it is not a magazine.
As you can likely tell, I like magazines - I like holding them, looking at the pictures, skipping articles, returning to them later. I read them on airplanes, on hotel beds, in tents, at the beach, but mostly these days in my big green chair. Although I now get most of my news (baseball and otherwise) from the internet, I get my real cultural insight from the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. But what I wouldn't do for the return of Sport, 12 issues a year.
Mark Armour is a software developer and baseball writer in Corvallis, Oregon. Among other projects, he is working on a biography of Joe Cronin.
Lock 'Em Up
The San Diego Padres announced yesterday
that they had signed starting pitcher and former two-sport Princeton star Chris Young
to a 4-year, $14.5 million contract that could go up to five years and $23 million should the Pads decide to exercise a club option.
My first reaction had me scratching my head as to why Young, who is emerging as something of an elite starter, would take such a heavily discounted deal in such a spend-happy environment on starting pitching. But upon further review, the deal makes sense for both sides. Young has essentially locked in his arbitration figures up through 2010, when he would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. He now gets the security to buy himself and his family a nice place in one of the most pleasant places to live in the world and he has guaranteed himself a large chunk of change - something playing year to year would not have afforded him. As Rich Lederer said to me last night, it's not the last $10 million you make, it's the first.
In return for this security, the Padres have a club option to lock Young up for what otherwise would have been his first free agent season for what will in all likelihood turn out to be a significantly discounted price. And in the interim, the Padres get Young's considerable output (he was 6th in the NL in ERA last season) at a mere fraction of the cost of what division rivals will pay hurlers of Young's quality like Barry Zito
or Jason Schmidt
For teams in non-premium markets - heck for all teams - these deals make sense. The player gives up some portion of his unrestricted free agent seasons in exchange for financial security. The club gives up the temptation to optimize return on investment and nickel-and-dime a quality player in exchange for locking him up at what still amounts to a below market rate, all the while harboring goodwill for when the next rounds of negotiations set to kick off at the contract's expiration. All around, pre-arbitration contracts tend to be equitable.
And finally, these contracts are good for baseball in that they are the only real antidote for combating the inequality that a non-salary cap league fosters. If small market teams would hand out more deals like this, the Yankees and Red Sox would lose some of their edge and be forced to build more from within. Teams could lock their best up through their primes, and then extend them again if it is in the budget and worthwhile, or let the Yanks or Sox or Dodgers or Cubs have at 'em through their mid-to-late 30's.
This is by no means a novel concept, but just an under-utilized one. Billy Beane and John Hart understood this concept through the '90s, while Beane continues to employ it. So too do GM's like Mark Shapiro, Terry Ryan, Theo Epstein, Omar Minaya, John Schuerholz, Walt Jocketty and of course, Kevin Towers. Mind you there have been some bad pre-arb lock-ups too, but what follows is a list of young players offering up some serious bang for their buck.
Name POS Annualized Salary 2006 OPS+/ERA+
Albert Pujols 1B $14.29 Million 180
Johan Santana SP $10 Million 151
Joe Mauer C $8.25 Million 144
Grady Sizemore CF $4.39 Million 135
Victor Martinez C $4.57 Million 124
Dan Haren SP $3.16 Million 108
David Dejesus CF $2.70 Million 103
Jose Reyes SS $5.81 Million 118
David Wright 3B $9.17 Million 136
Chase Utley 2B $12.14 Million 127
Brian McCann C $4.47 Million 146
Jason Bay LF $4.56 Million 136
Brandon Webb SP $4.88 Million 154
Jeff Francis SP $3.31 Million 116
Jake Peavy SP $3.63 Million 103
Adrian Gonzalez 1B $2.38 Million 125
And here is a list of who I believe to be the best candidates to lock up right now. If their respective clubs are not thinking about how to extend these guys, they should be.
Name POS 2006 OPS+/ERA+
Nick Markakis RF 106 (.896 2nd Half OPS)
Jonathan Papelbon RP 500
Bobby Jenks RP 113
Jeremy Sowers SP 125
Curtis Granderson CF 99
Joel Zumaya RP 232
Mark Teahen 3B/OF 114
Jered Weaver SP 171
Nick Swisher OF 126
Felix Hernandez SP 96
Ryan Howard 1B 170
Hanley Ramirez SS 116
Ryan Zimmerman 3B 111
Prince Fielder 1B 111
Adam Wainwright SP 141 (as RP)
Stephen Drew SS 115
Garret Atkins 3B 138
So there you have it, GM's. Get to work on these guys and you will have some bargain output for years to come.
In the comments section, I would love to know who readers think I missed, and also those players I listed that you feel teams are better suited to wait out and continue to harvest production at the near-minimum.
Salary info courtesy of the invaluable site, Hardball Dollars
The Brighter Side of Elijah Dukes
Just what does Tampa Bay have in prospect Elijah Dukes? That is a question that the Rays' management is likely asking. The club is blessed with outfield depth, including Dukes (3rd round pick 2002), Rocco Baldelli (6th overall pick 2000), Carl Crawford (2nd round 1999), and Delmon Young (1st overall 2003).
Both Baldelli and Crawford have secured themselves as mainstays in the Tampa Bay outfield. Young's future as an elite player is often a foregone conclusion by many, as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. So again I ask the question: What does Tampa Bay have in Dukes?
Dukes started off his major league career with fireworks - fitting considering the troubled outfielder has a history of on and off-field eruptions. This season, Dukes began the year by hitting homers in both of his first two games - and in Yankee Stadium no less. The dingers came against Carl Pavano and Scott Proctor.
Obviously he has talent but Dukes' lack of discipline has been well-documented since he was signed out of a Florida high school in 2002. According to prospect expert Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, Dukes attended the same high school as Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and Gary Sheffield. His personality certainly fits in with those three players (as well as Milton Bradley, who attended high school in California), all of whom have had run-ins with the law, umpires, teammates and/or Major League Baseball. But, in my opinion, the media has spent enough time dwelling on Dukes' failures or shortcomings.
Dukes could very well have just as much talent as Sheffield. However, whereas Sheffield dominated immediately in pro ball as a 17-year-old, Dukes had to work at translating his raw athletic ability (he was a top high school football player) into baseball skills.
After signing late in 2002, he made his debut as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League (A-Ball), and struggled by hitting .245/.338/.366. Dukes also walked 45 times and struck out 130 times. On the positive side, he swiped 33 bases in 44 attempts.
Dukes began the next season back in the South Atlantic League and improved significantly. In his return engagement, he hit .288/.368/.423 in half a season before a promotion to High A-Ball in the California League. Dukes showed that he was indeed a superior athlete and dedicated to his craft as he improved to .332/.416/.540.
The following year, in 2005, Dukes made what many consider to be the toughest jump in baseball as he went from A-ball to Double-A ball in the Southern League. Dukes did not struggle, though, and hit .287/.355/.478. It was good enough to earn him the 5th best prospect ranking in the Rays' system by Baseball America.
The supposedly cantankerous Dukes landed in the International League (Triple-A) in 2006, one step away from realizing his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. In 80 games, he hit .293/.401/.488 and walked 44 times while striking out only 47 times.
Someone forgot to tell Dukes that baseball was supposed to get harder - not easier - the further he advanced through the ranks. In all, Dukes has shown remarkable improvements since beginning his pro baseball career as a promising, but raw, prep athlete.
One part of Dukes' game that has not improved is his base stealing, which has regressed in each of his four minor league seasons from 33 to 30 to 19 to nine. His weight also increased from 220 in 2004 to a reported 240 in 2007 and he was noticeably thick around the middle in the Rays' second series of 2007 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Despite that, Dukes has had a solid beginning to his major league career, although he is not guaranteed a starting role with Crawford, Baldelli and Young ahead of him. Slugger Jonny Gomes is also in the crowded outfield mix.
Game breakdown (through April 8):
April 2 1-for-3 w/ HR, BB, SO
April 5 1-for-3 w/ HR, BB, SO
April 6 2-for-4
April 7 0-for-1
April 8 0-for-2 w/ 2 BB and a SO
Dukes' two homers came to left field and right-center at Yankee stadium. As a right-handed hitter, Dukes showed good pull power against Pavano but he shown the ability to hit for power the other way against Proctor. He hit a third flyball in the series to the edge of the warning track in right field. In his second series against Toronto at home in The Trop, Dukes hit his two singles to left field.
In a very small sample it appears Dukes has more power against right-handers but his Triple-A numbers do not bear that out. In fact, based on his 2006 numbers he is equally talented from both sides of the plate:
Vs Left - .295/.433/.487
Vs Right - .293/.388/.488
The issue that sets Dukes aside from his talented Rays teammates is his patience and knowledge of the strike zone. Although he has no problems with swinging at the first pitch, Dukes appears comfortable working the count and waiting for "his pitch."
In a game against Toronto on April 8, Dukes faced former CY Young award winner Roy Halladay and did not look out of place facing one of the elite pitchers in the game.
In his first at-bat, Dukes coaxed a walk out of a pitcher who walked 1.39 batter per game in 2006.
Pitch 1 - Foul, center of zone
Pitch 2 - Ball, low
Pitch 3 - Called strike
Pitch 4 - Ball, outside
Pitch 5 - Ball, outside
Pitch 6 - Ball, outside
All four balls were just barely out of the strike zone, according to the MLB Gameday Tracker. Usually those types of calls go to the veteran pitcher but umpire Derryl Cousins did not see it that way. I think it is fair to say most young hitters (in their fifth MLB game) would not have had the confidence to lay off those pitches.
In his second at-bat, Dukes saw another four pitches from Halladay but grounded into a double-play.
Pitch 1 - Ball, high
Pitch 2 - Foul, center of zone
Pitch 3 - Swinging strike, center of zone
Pitch 4 - Ground ball, center of zone
In the sixth inning, Dukes saw another six pitches from Halladay (after Ty Wigginton, Young and Akinori Iwamura each swung and connected with the first pitch thrown), which resulted in another free pass:
Pitch 1 - Ball, inside
Pitch 2 - Ball, inside
Pitch 3 - Called strike, away
Pitch 4 - Ball, down and away
Pitch 5 - Called strike, at the knees
Pitch 6 - Ball, down and away
In the ninth inning, Dukes faced reliever Casey Janssen, who was in his second inning of work. Janssen has yet to allow a run in 5.2 innings this season (and has allowed only one hit and zero walks):
Pitch 1 - Swinging strike, center of zone
Pitch 2 - Ball low
Pitch 3 - Ball low
Pitch 4 - Called strike, high center
Pitch 5 - Swinging strike, far center
In total, Dukes saw 21 pitches in the game and swung at the first pitch twice but failed to put it in play. The two Jays' pitchers threw a total of 139 pitches, which means Dukes saw 15 percent of the total pitches thrown, while his other eight teammates saw the other 85 percent (or an average of 14.8 pitches each). Therefore Dukes saw about 6.2 more pitches than his teammates averaged in the game. In his first five games, including four starts, Dukes saw an average of just over three pitches per at-bat.
On thing that struck me while watching the game was that it felt like I was watching the New York Yankees bat when the Rays' heart of the lineup was at the plate. It was the same feeling that these guys were going to get a hit each time up to the plate and that it was going to take a miracle to get them out. Dukes played a big part in that with his more patient approach. They aren't there yet but Baldelli, Crawford, Young, Dukes and even B.J. Upton and Iwamura could one day strike fear in pitchers like Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu.
Another big question surrounding the talent group of young players in Tampa Bay is whether or not the team can afford to keep them all together AND find some pitching. The Rays have done a solid job of locking their young players up so far:
2009:$6.00M club option ($4M buyout)
2010:$8.00M club option,
2011:$9.00M club option ($2M buyout)
2009:$8.25M club option ($2.5M buyout)
2010:$10.0M club option ($1.25M buyout)
2010:$4.25M club option ($0.25M buyout)
The Rays have both Crawford and Baldelli locked up long-term for below market value and Iwamura could also turn out to be a smart investment. If Tampa Bay can lock up Young, Dukes and Upton to similar contracts (assuming they prove worthy in the next year or two), the club should have the money needed to secure some much-needed veteran pitching - assuming the ownership group is willing to invest in a winning ball club.
Although you cannot tell much from a five-game sample, if Dukes can avoid self-destructing on and/or off the field due to his volatile nature, he could be a very special player and a key cog in a talented young lineup. And Rays fans could see a winning season or two before 2010.
A special thanks to: Cot's Baseball Contracts for salary information as well as The Baseball Cube and MLB.com for statistical information.
Honoring a Special Man
On Saturday, March 31, I was fortunate to serve as Master of Ceremonies for a tribute to my high school baseball coach, John Herbold. The event was held at the Long Beach Petroleum Club and was attended by approximately 150 former players, coaches, scouts, and umpires. Players traveled from places as far away as Kansas, Texas, Arizona, and Northern California to pay their respects to a man who touched us all in a special way.
Mr. Herbold retired three years ago after serving 49 years as a high school baseball coach at Long Beach Poly (1955-1968) and Lakewood (1969-1983) and college head coach at Cal State Los Angeles (1984-2004). He won a total of 938 games, including more than any baseball coach at CSULA, as well as 18 Moore League titles, three California Interscholastic Federation championships, and two California Collegiate Athletic Association Conference crowns. Many consider him to be one of the best baseball coaches in the country and perhaps the single greatest high school coach in the history of Southern California. As a prep coach, Herbold compiled a record of 438-176, winning 73% of his games in one of the nation's toughest leagues and regions.
Herbold, who also served as a scout for the Dodgers, Angels, and Padres during his coaching career, sent more than 300 players to the professional ranks, including 13 who played in the major leagues. Tommie Sisk, Brian McCall, Ollie Brown, Oscar Brown, Randy Moffitt, and Willie Norwood of Poly, and John Flannery, Floyd Chiffer, Mike Fitzgerald, Craig Grebeck, and Larry Casian of Lakewood all made it to The Show. [Photo of Fitzgerald, second from the left, and Chiffer, far right, with Shawn Arnold and Dan Gausepohl.] Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons and pitcher Mike Burns of CSULA also played for Coach Herbold. He also managed two number one draft picks who never made it to the majors: George Ambrow (Poly, 1970) and Bill Simpson (Lakewood, 1976). In addition, the list of MLB players from Poly includes Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Chase Utley, and Milton Bradley, as well as attendee Chuck Stevens, who played for the St. Louis Browns before and after World War II. The 88-year-old Stevens prepped at Poly HS during the 1930s, nearly 20 years before Coach Herbold arrived.
A recipient of the Lefty Gomez Award, presented annually by the American Baseball Coaches Association to an individual who has distinguished himself amongst his peers and has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally, and internationally, Coach Herbold is in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame plus the Hollywood High School, Cal State Los Angeles, and the Long Beach Century Club Halls of Fame.
We had a great group of speakers, including longtime family friend Jack Teele, a former sportswriter with the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram and executive with the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers, as well as the Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football. Teele served in the Korean War with Herbold and was partly responsible for him getting his first job at Poly High School in 1955.
Other guest speakers included Bob Myers, a former coach at rival Millikan High School and the state coach of the year at Long Beach City College in 1976; Jerry Jaso, an All-CIF baseball player at Poly in 1968 who later coached his alma mater to five CIF football titles during his 21 seasons as an assistant or head coach and sent over 100 players to Division I universities and 16 to the NFL; Bill Powell, a graduate of Poly, won two Connie Mack World Series championships while the manager of the Long Beach Cardinals and served as a high school coach in the greater Los Angeles area (including Poly) for more than 20 years; my brother Tom Lederer, an All-CIF selection at Lakewood and the winning pitcher in the CIF Finals at Anaheim Stadium in 1970, and one of the organizers of the event; Russ McQueen, All-CIF at LHS in 1970, won four consecutive NCAA championships at USC and was the MVP of the College World Series in 1972; Mike Ruddell, an All-CIF selection for LHS in 1969, pitched two no-hitters in a single minor league season for the Cincinnati Reds; and John Flannery, a two-time All-CIF selection at LHS, the seventh youngest player in the American League when he made his major league debut in September 1977, and a scout with the Atlanta Braves for the past 19 years. [Photo of Flannery at the podium.]
Brad Peasley, a bridge between the Poly and Lakewood programs and another organizer of the event, presented Coach Herbold with a framed photo of him during a game in 1972, which all of the attendees autographed. Brad's wife also made up centerpieces for each table, using sod to create baseball diamonds with pennants of Poly, Lakewood, and CSULA hanging from the foul poles. Special thanks also go to Jim George (Poly, 1968, and USC, 1971) and Tom Patterson for their help in putting this evening together.
After a couple of hours of thank yous and stories, I had the distinct privilege of introducing our guest of honor. Coach Herbold, more mellow than ever, spoke for about 15 minutes, sharing memories with a sold-out room of his former players, opposing coaches, and other distinguished guests. He was the last person to leave, generously talking individually to players and autographing programs and baseballs upon request.
To this day, I can't watch a baseball game without thinking about what I learned from Coach Herbold - be it fundamental or strategy. Don't make the first or third out at third. Throw the curve around and under the barrel, then shake hands with the center fielder. Pull down on the shade when throwing a changeup. More than anything, Coach Herbold taught his players how to think, how to carry themselves, and how to play the game the right way.
No detail escaped Herbold. Every practice was organized to the minute. He mimeographed and handed out practice sheets to all of the players everyday. We folded and carried them with us in our back pockets, checking every so often to learn if you were throwing a bullpen session or batting practice, running sprints in the outfield, doing pickups, shagging balls, etc.
Coach Herbold would write in the margins comments such as:
- The road to the top starts here - now!
- DON'T, DON'T, DON'T LET UP.
- You must believe winning & you must pay the price.
- Talk's cheap, runs are expensive.
- Throw strikes, hit strikes...you'll win.
- Perfection is not that point at which nothing may be added but rather that point at which nothing can be taken AWAY!!
- IF = the biggest word in the English language.
- It's not can he run but does he??
- Get your uniform dirty - like Sudakis.
- We must improve our hit & run.
- First place belongs to us. We can run on them. Now, let's out field, out hustle, out pitch, and out hit them.
- Who was 0 for 5?? Why?
- There is no weapon against the walk and no defense!
- Take care of the easy plays, and the hard ones will take care of themselves.
- What hurts are not the games you lose but those you give away.
- Games at Blair Field are won by walks and errors - not hits.
- Tommyhawk up the middle.
- Little things make big things in baseball.
- It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.
- Why be a good loser when you can be a good winner?
We used verbal signs when a batter or runner missed a physical sign.
- "OK, Buddy...OK, Bomber...OK, break it open...OK, bear down" = Bunt.
- "OK, sock it...OK, send 'em home...OK, Slugger" = Steal.
- "OK, Tiger...OK, tag one...OK, touch 'em all" = Take.
- "OK, here we go...OK, hit one...OK, hot shot" = Hit and run.
Coach Herbold was innovative. He maintained performance charts for hitters and pitchers, and they were posted in the locker room for everyone to see (including students not on the baseball team). As an example, pitchers would get one point for throwing a strike on the first pitch, getting the first batter in the inning to make an out, preventing a runner from advancing from second with no outs, forcing a hitter to hit a ground ball in a double play situation, getting the batter out after falling behind 3-and-0 in the count, and for a strike out. Pitchers would be credited two points for keeping a runner on second and/or third from scoring with 0-1 outs, keeping the ball in the infield with a runner on third and 0-1 outs, and walking less than three batters in a complete game. Pitchers would earn three points for not allowing a run to score from third with 0-1 outs.
On the other hand, one point was subtracted for not throwing the first pitch for a strike; two points were subtracted for walking any hitter unintentionally, allowing a fly ball with a runner on third and 0-1 outs, giving up a base hit off an 0-and-2 pitch, balking, hitting a batter, and not getting to first in time on a ball hit to the right side; and three points were subtracted for allowing a man on second or third to score with two outs.
More than just a coach, Mr. Herbold was a teacher, an educator, and a mentor. A smart man, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Journalism and earned a Master's in Education from Stanford University, and was a high school English teacher for nearly three decades.
If you have had a special coach or teacher in your life, be sure to tell them thanks. Better yet, organize a tribute. It will mean a lot to the honoree as well as to you and your teammates or classmates.
Thank you, Coach Herbold. You made a difference in my life.
* * * * *
Additional photos by Mr. Herbold's son-in-law, Don Tamaki, can be viewed here.
Now that we are four and five games into teams' seasons, things can go one of two ways as far as pitching goes. The number fours and fives in starting rotations either get lit up or turn heads with some excellent performances. Last night was definitely more the latter. St. Louis, the Cubbies, Kansas City, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, the Mets and Cincinnati all rode strong outings from down-rotation starters en route to victory.
Starter IP SO H BB R ER Team Result
Adam Wainwright 7 4 5 3 1 1 Win, 4-2
Rich Hill 7 6 1 0 1 1 Win, 9-3
Jorge De La Rosa 7 5 4 3 1 1 Win, 3-1
Jason Hirsh 6.2 8 6 0 1 1 Win, 4-3
Robinson Tejeda 7 1 2 3 0 0 Win, 2-0
Micah Owings 5 6 1 3 0 0 Win, 7-1
Oliver Perez 7 6 5 0 1 1 Win, 11-1
Matt Belisle 6 6 4 1 1 1 Win, 6-1
Rotation depth is hard to come by, and yet critical to any team's hopes. If yesterday was any indication, there are some teams whose outlook might be considerably sunnier than many had thought.
- Patrick Sullivan, 4/7/2007, 10:46 EST
On the less than sunny side of the street, Francisco Rodriguez is not pitching nearly as well as his major league-leading three saves might suggest. His latest came last night in a 5-2 victory over the Oakland A's. All three of his saves were recorded after entering the contest with a three-run lead, the maximum allowable to earn a save when entering the game at the beginning of an inning.
K-Rod's first save on Opening Day against the Texas Rangers was his best performance. He pitched one inning and retired the side in order. It was a cheap save in that he had a three-run lead but at least the man who led the American League in saves in each of the past two seasons pitched well.
Frankie's second save took place on Wednesday in a day game that I attended. He was brought into the ninth inning once again with a three-run lead over the Rangers. It should have been an easy save but it was everything but. Rodriguez allowed one run on two hits and a walk. He ended the game by striking out Nelson Cruz with the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate. A little bit too exciting for Mike Scioscia's wishes.
Scioscia went to his main man the following evening vs. the A's in another game I attended. Rodriguez probably felt out of place as the score was tied 3-3 when he jogged in from the bullpen in left field to start the ninth. He struck out Shannon Stewart and got Milton Bradley to pop out. Up to the plate stepped Mike Piazza who deposited a 1-1 fastball over the wall in right-center field for his 420th career home run. Huston Street shut down the Angels in the bottom half of the inning and Rodriguez was charged with his first loss of the season.
With two saves and a loss, K-Rod was asked to nail down Friday night's victory with another commanding three-run lead. He made it interesting, allowing a one-out single to Todd Walker followed by a double to Travis Buck. Walker may have tried to score under normal circumstances but had no reason to head home down by three runs in Exhibit 37 as to why ERA is a less than desirable indicator of a reliever's performance. Rodriguez then got Marco Scutaro to line out to right before whiffing Bobby Kielty to end the game.
Frankie has pitched well one time in four games, yet has a MLB-leading three saves to show for his efforts. He is throwing 93-96 MPH but doesn't seem to have a clue where his fastball is going and his slider hasn't had the type of bite that we have become accustomed to seeing in the past. Is it the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end for K-Rod? I don't know, it might be neither. After all, the season is less than a week old. But he looks more like Don Stanhouse than his old self in the early going.
- Rich Lederer, 4/7/07, 8:20 a.m. PST
The season is less than a week old, yet the standings are already beginning to take shape in a manner that probably leaves few surprised.
In the American League, Baltimore has won one game out of five and sits in last place in the East. Three of our four panelists picked the O's to finish at the bottom of the division. The 5-1 Angels have the best record in baseball. In our AL West Preview, I wrote, "I'm more confident predicting the Angels to win than I am any other team in any other division." The Halos are off to a fast start without the likes of Jered Weaver, Bartolo Colon, Chone Figgins, and Juan Rivera. I see this team getting stronger over the course of the season although its winning percentage will obviously regress from the current .833 mark toward a more normalized level of .550-.575 for a first place club.
Over in the National League, was anybody - I mean ANYBODY - caught flat footed by Washington's start? The Nationals are 1-5 and looking more like the 1962 Mets than not. I can't fathom the team losing fewer than 100 games. This is, by far, the worst club in all of baseball. The Nats are averaging less than three runs per game while allowing seven. The pitching staff, if you can call it that, promises to be one of the worst in the post-expansion era. In our NL East Preview, I said, "The Nats are a lock to give up more than 900 runs and could conceivably allow 1,000 or more." Well, they are on pace to give up 1,134 and their ace John Patterson has started two of the team's six games.
In the meantime, kudos to the Mets for their outstanding start. They beat the Cardinals up and down and around in the opening series and have now scored 34 runs while allowing only 8. I'm not at all surprised by the team's offensive firepower but perhaps underestimated its pitching. The Redbirds, on the other hand, are 1-4 and have scored just 7 runs while giving up 27. This team is highly dependent on Albert Pujols (which is a good thing), Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and, to a lesser degree, Jim Edmonds and Jason Isringhausen. I still think St. Louis is the class of the NL Central but the margin of error is razor thin.
Speaking of the Central, the Astros are not doing themselves any favors in trying to lure Roger Clemens back in June. Houston won't be interested in him or the Rocket won't be interested in them if the club isn't playing at least .500 ball and looking as if it has a legitimate shot at winning the division.
Lastly, the San Francisco Giants, a team all four of our panelists picked to finish dead last in the NL West, looks like a club in a heap of trouble. The starting pitchers aren't all that bad - Barry Zito is Barry Zito and Matt Cain is one of the most valuable pitching properties in all of baseball - but the offense is in need of a Barry Bonds circa 2001-2004 season in order to avoid scoring fewer runs than any team in the majors.
- Rich Lederer, 4/8/07, 9:40 a.m. PST
Two on Two: NL West Preview
We conclude 2007's Two on Two Preview series with the NL West. With us for this one is Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts, who also has published a collection of his best postings over there. Geoff Young of the popular Padres blog, Ducksnorts, has also joined us to preview things out west. Geoff's book, Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual, is a thorough review of recent Padres history and would make an excellent addition to any Padres (or baseball for that matter) fan's library.
Previous Two on Two's are listed below:
Sully: In 2006 the NL West was a two-tiered division. San Diego and Los Angeles each finished with 88 wins, while San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado all finished with 76. It seems like Colorado and Arizona may be looking to break into that upper tier - if not this year, then soon. I think anything goes in this division in 2007. The standings could look exactly the same or the Snakes and Rox could make some real noise and tip the balance of power. What do you guys look forward to from the West this season?
Geoff: The division figures to be extremely competitive. The Dodgers and Padres each won 88 games in 2006, and neither should slip much this year. Arizona and Colorado both have some dynamic young players, with the Diamondbacks being more well rounded and ready to contend. Even the Giants, about whom I'm not terribly enthusiastic, could be tough if Barry Bonds can stay healthy and a few other things go their way.
Jon: I think the NL West is an interesting division, top to bottom. And I am with Geoff on the Giants, perhaps the last-place consensus pick. But they have a starting rotation you can't dismiss, plus Bonds in his drive for history. I'm not sure there's an elite team in the division, but I think it could be the best overall division in the league.
Geoff: One of the more interesting stories to me this year is player/manager movement within the division. Bruce Bochy, Jose Cruz Jr., Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Klesko, Greg Maddux, Dave Roberts, and Jason Schmidt all moved to rival teams in the NL West this past off-season. Congratulations to Finley for becoming the first player to complete the NL West circuit in its current configuration.
Rich: This is our sixth and final preview and what I find interesting is that each division in the NL seems to have three teams that have a legitimate chance of winning. The Phillies, Mets, and Braves should dominate the NL East; the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs appear to have separated themselves from the others in the NL Central; and the Dodgers, Padres, and Diamondbacks are the cream of the crop in the NL West. San Diego won the West last year. Is the pitching as good as advertised?
Geoff: Chris Young looks legitimate; he doesn't throw particularly hard, but his pitches are very difficult to pick up and he's pitching in the right park for an extreme flyball pitcher. Jake Peavy's production dipped in 2006, but his peripheral numbers remained strong and he's a good bet to rebound. Both of those guys need to increase their efficiency, though, to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the bullpen. Clay Hensley finished 10th in the league in ERA and nobody knows who he is. Strike throwers Maddux and David Wells anchor the back end of the rotation, and should provide an upgrade over Woody Williams and Chan Ho Park. This is probably the best starting five in the division, if not the league.
Jon: I agree with Geoff. Putting aside the fact that the ballpark itself suppresses offense, they have a lovely pitching staff in my opinion. This team won't get routed.
Geoff: The San Diego bullpen also figures to be strong, as the big three of Trevor Hoffman, Scott Linebrink, and Cla Meredith return, while Kevin Towers generally manages to string together cheap and effective arms for the lower-leverage roles. Heath Bell is the intriguing name this season.
Sully: It's a very solid rotation, and that Peavy was in fact very good last season cannot be stressed enough. He struck out more than a batter an inning and was by no means liberal with the free pass. That will translate into better traditional stats like W-L and ERA in 2007. As for the bullpen, I think it remains strong but I wouldn't be holding my breath expecting similar output from Meredith in 2007.
Rich: San Diego led the NL in ERA last year and, as Geoff notes, the pitching staff should be even better in 2007. Sure, they benefited from Petco but the Padres were second in the league in ERA+ (which adjusts for ballpark effects). One of the hallmarks of a Kevin Towers team is throwing strikes. The Padres do that as well as any team in the majors. In the meantime, San Diego's defense was the best in the NL. Having Mike Cameron in center means the outfield will do just fine in chasing down flyballs. If Kevin Kouzmanoff and Marcus Giles can hold their own at third and second, respectively, this team will likely lead the league in run prevention this year, too.
Sully: These guys aren't so bad offensively either. I am really excited to see Kouzmanoff with the bat and I also want to see what the Pads offense can do with full seasons from Cameron and Josh Bard. Marcus Giles coming over and staying healthy could also be a nice boost.
Geoff: Scoring runs was a problem for the Padres in 2006, especially at home. Now entering their fourth season at Petco Park, Padres batters really need to figure out ways to make it work to their advantage. A fully healthy Terrmel Sledge should represent a slight upgrade in left field from the popular but aging Dave Roberts. I also expect Brian Giles to rebound somewhat (nothing spectacular, maybe .280/.390/.450) from a career-worst season; he's in the decline phase of his career, but his batting eye hasn't deteriorated at all and he actually could be a pretty decent #2 hitter. If Khalil Greene can stay off the disabled list, he's still got a little upside.
Jon: It's not a dynamic offense, but I really like the look of Adrian Gonzalez, whom San Diego recently rewarded with a contract extension. And I need to make a special mention of Rob Bowen, whose plus/minus rating - based on purely anecdotal recollection on my part - must be sky high!
Rich: San Diego's offense is a bit underrated in my mind. Not great by any means but not all that bad either. I don't think Kouzmanoff will be a superstar, yet I salute management for recognizing the glut of second basemen on the market and getting someone who can hit to play third base because the Padres haven't gotten much production out of that spot in years. Whatever the team lost in going from Josh Barfield to Marcus Giles will be more than overcome by inserting Kouz in the lineup rather than Vinny Castilla and friends.
Sully: The Dodgers are a tough team to handicap. On the one hand, they have all of this young talent and yet they seem a little clumsy in melding their free agent strategy with their efforts to promote from within their own system. Offensively they look solid if they can get the right guys in there. But Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre have the ability to quickly submarine even the most potent offense.
Jon: No 1.000 OPSers here, but they have enough options that if they're reactive, they should at least be middle-of-the-road for the league and near the top in the division. Memo to Ned Colletti: Change can be good.
Geoff: The Dodgers have some very nice young hitters, and I'm not sure why they're not using more of them. Russell Martin looks like he could be one of the better catchers in baseball before long. I'm not as excited about Andre Ethier as some are -- too much of his value is tied into batting average for my taste -- but he's a decent young player in the Garret Anderson mold. James Loney and Matt Kemp showed flashes of brilliance last year but are blocked by veterans Nomar Garciaparra and Gonzalez. And of course, the Dodgers didn't do themselves any favors by overpaying for the services of Pierre. If he hits .320 or better, as in 2004, then he'll have value; but if he's down in the .290s, like last year, then not so much.
Rich: We've mentioned everyone but the team's best player: Rafael Furcal. Although the 29-year-old shortstop and lead-off hitter starts the season on the DL, I think he may be the best everyday player in the division. Furcal hit .300 with 73 BB and 15 HR while stealing 37 bases at a 74% clip. He is supposed to miss the first week with an ankle sprain but should be good to go soon.
Geoff: Honestly, this is a tough offense to figure. If Garciaparra and Jeff Kent stay healthy, if Ethier and Martin avoid a sophomore slump, and if Wilson Betemit develops into the hitter some folks think he can become, then the Dodgers should score some runs. That's a lot of if's, though.
Jon: On the pitching side, I've had nagging concerns about the health of the Dodgers' otherwise deep starting rotation, and I'm certainly not alone in my reservations about the defense. I think the Dodger bullpen is underrated, though. They have a lot of live arms.
Geoff: The Dodgers have a fascinating rotation. Their signing of Jason Schmidt, in light of other deals being thrown around for pitchers this winter, could be one of the steals of the off-season. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny remain talented but erratic. Penny completely disappeared after the All-Star break last year, and the Dodgers can't afford to have that happen again. Randy Wolf doesn't do much for me, but if he's healthy, there are worse guys to stash at the back of your rotation. Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton return to anchor the 'pen. Bringing Saito over from Japan was a brilliant move, and Broxton is one of my favorite pitchers to watch -- he's the NL version of Bobby Jenks. Actually, he's probably got a little better command than Jenks.
Rich: Oh, I like Broxton more than Jenks. He would be the closer on most teams and will one day be asked to pitch nothing but the ninth inning for the Dodgers. In fact, I would take Broxton over any closer in the division and that's not a knock on Hoffman. He's just that good. Chad Billingsley gives the Dodgers another power arm in the bullpen. He should be starting but Ned Colletti and Grady Little haven't shown much confidence in their youngsters, other than as in-season replacements. He'll get a chance to start at some point and will undoubtedly wind up in what could be a very good rotation. More than anyone else, Penny is the key to how well the Dodgers pitching staff performs this year.
Sully: The Giants continued full steam ahead with their organizational philosophy of being as old as possible this off-season. Only this season they just so happen to have some young talent entering into the Big League mix from within. For the money the Barry Zito signing was awful but with the youngsters (Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum) in the mix the rotation looks formidable.
Jon: Like I indicated earlier, a rotation with Cain, Zito, Lowry and, say, Lincecum will keep them in most games. I'm not enamored of the Giants' bullpen or defense.
Sully: The bullpen does leave quite a bit to be desired. Kevin Correia, Steve Kline, Armando Benitez. Blech.
Rich: If we set aside for a minute how much the Giants paid Zito, then I think one can make the case that he's not a bad fit unless, of course, you consider the team's outfield defense. This staff gives up a ton of flyballs, and I just don't think an outfield anchored by Dave Roberts in center is up to the task of chasing down all these balls in that park. And let's not forget Russ Ortiz. He reportedly has lost a bunch of weight and added several MPH to his fastball. But I reserve the right to remain (highly) skeptical until he proves me wrong.
Geoff: The addition of Zito should help take some of the pressure off future ace Cain. Zito is being marketed as a "sure thing" but I have my concerns -- his most comparable pitcher at Baseball-Reference through age 27 is Mike Hampton. Acknowledging that every case is different, this is kind of a terrifying precedent. Cain, meanwhile, is a stud who doesn't turn 23 until October. If there's a guy the Giants should be building around, it's him. Beyond those two, San Francisco really needs Noah Lowry to return to his 2005 form. His drop in strikeouts (7.56 K/9 in 2005 to 4.75 last year) is more than a little disconcerting. Matt Morris is pretty much an innings eater at this point, nothing too exciting, and like Jon and Sully mentioned, the bullpen is very suspect.
Sully: As for the offense, it wasn't very good last year and barring 145 games of 2005'ish Bonds, I don't see it being very good this season. The aging mediocrities added in the off-season will do little to catapult this offense to where it needs to be in order to contend.
Jon: At age 42, Bonds is still perhaps the hugest threat in the division, and Ray Durham is still productive - though, as with the Dodgers' Jeff Kent, you'd rather that your aging, 20-homers-with-a-little-luck second baseman weren't your cleanup hitter. I think basically, you can pitch around Bonds and let the rest of the offense sink itself.
Geoff: This is an unbelievably old lineup. I like the Bengie Molina signing. He's not great, but he'll give the Giants better offense out of the catcher position than they've gotten in recent years. Durham won't repeat his fine 2006 season, and Pedro Feliz still makes way too many outs to be a big-league regular. As for Bonds, he'll be productive if healthy.
Sully: I hate to be glib but it just astounds me how awful Feliz is and that he holds down an everyday MLB job.
Rich: I concur with Geoff. The team was old last year and is even older this year. I mean, what was Brian Sabean thinking when he signed Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, and Roberts during the off-season? I know, I know. The Giants are of the opinion that they have to win now but that's the problem. They abandoned their player development program years and years ago, diverting money that should have gone to draftees in favor of free agents. The gig is finally up. I believe the Giants could be one of the worst teams in the NL, if not the majors, over the next half dozen years.
Sully: What do we think about the Rockies this year? They were a .500 Pythag team in 2006 and now add two exciting youngsters in Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta. Are they there yet or no?
Geoff: Well I'm pretty excited about the Rockies' offense. Todd Helton appears to be following the Brian Giles decline path, but he still gets on base and can do occasional damage. Helton, though, is no longer the focus of this lineup. Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and Matt Holliday all made their mark in 2006, and all are just entering their prime. Even acknowledging that Helton is on his way down, the Rockies have assembled a nice little collection of offensive talent that only figures to improve. Overall, this is probably a more well-rounded group than the heralded Blake Street Bombers from a decade ago.
Rich: I'm pretty sure that Kaz Matsui won't hit .345 again but he and Taveras give the team some speed to go along with the big bats that Geoff pointed out. It's probably too much to ask but this lineup could be really dangerous if Matsui and Taveras would learn to take a walk now and then. Atkins, Helton, Holliday, and Hawpe form a terrific three though six. Tulo and Iannetta are the future of the Rockies and should be at least league average in their first full seasons.
Jon: As I wrote this week at SI.com, it's the best heart of the order in the NL West. If Colorado can get production out of Tulowitzki and Iannetta, they will be a lot harder to beat than people may be expecting.
Sully: Colorado's starting pitching is very suspect. Nobody strikes anyone out on this staff, which is not a good thing when you are playing home games at altitude. I hold out some hope for Rodrigo Lopez, Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook but it's not a very good 1-5. The relief corps, on the other hand, is a different story. Brian Fuentes, Ramon Ramirez, Taylor Buchholz and Byung-Hyun Kim all miss bats with regularity. As long as they are not too taxed, the bullpen should help the Rox win a lot of games.
Geoff: Humidor or not, preventing runs at Coors Field will always be a challenge. Losing Jason Jennings hurts, and I have concerns about his replacement, Jason Hirsh, who gave up a ton of home runs in limited big-league innings with the Astros. Who else is in the rotation -- Josh Fogg? Kim? Lopez? Not a lot to get excited about here. The bullpen has potenial. Fuentes deserves a medal for consistently getting the job done for the Rockies. Outside of Steve Reed, I can't think of another reliever who's enjoyed so much success with Colorado. Manny Corpas and Ramirez give the Rockies a couple nice young right-handers with some upside. The guy I can't figure out is Jeremy Affeldt. Whenever I see him pitch, he looks like he should be pretty good, but the numbers just aren't there.
Rich: I like Lopez more than Geoff. He had decent strikeout, walk, and groundball rates last year while pitching for Baltimore in the much tougher AL East. The NL West should look like Triple-A to him except, of course, when he has to pitch at home. But, hey, somebody has to start those 81 games. Cook and Francis are solid. Although Hirsh might be a year away, I think O'Dowd made a great move trading Jennings for him. Colorado was bound to lose the free agent-to-be so turning him into a prized prospect and a center fielder (Willy Taveras) who can flag down balls at Coors Field seemed like a brilliant move to me.
Sully: And now onto the most compelling team in the division (in my opinion), the Arizona Diamondbacks. The projection systems love these guys, far more so than the mainstream press. I think the Snakes are ready to contend for the division. Their starting pitching is phenomenal, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Randy Johnson, a workhorse in Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and any number of capable youngsters in the fifth spot. Jose Valverde, Brandon Medders, Tony Pena and Juan Cruz should all be excellent relievers. These guys are going to be tough.
Jon: After Brandon Webb, I'm not in love with the combined durability or talent of the others. Johnson, Hernandez and Davis will have their fair share of moments, perhaps more than their fair share, but I'm not intimidated by this staff. I feel this is a team that you can wear down.
Rich: I'm more with Jon than Sully with respect to Arizona's starting pitching. Webb was great last year but is unlikely to get much better. Johnson is more of a name than not at this point in his career. Hernandez should eat innings among other things and Davis is another guy who should give the club 200+ innings. But I wouldn't call this group "phenomenal" by any means.
Geoff: Arizona's biggest weakness last year was its starting pitching. The Diamondbacks moved aggressively this winter to address that problem, and now they're in surprisingly good shape. However, I disagree with Sully and think the bullpen is a little dicey. Valverde is capable of much better than what he did last year, and the Brandons (Lyon and Medders) are decent support guys if healthy. Cruz is one of those perennial breakout candidates. His stuff is electric, and he's still just 28 years old. Basically there's potential with this bullpen, but very little margin for error. If Valverde doesn't rebound or Lyon gets hurt again, the Snakes could have trouble late in games.
Sully: This should be a strong offense. It was just average last year (99 OPS+) but with additional development and improvement from Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Connor Jackson, and the addition of Chris Young should all make this offense formidable.
Jon: It's exciting to think of what the kids can do. There's always the risk of a collective slump from unproven hitters, but it's a risk I'd be willing to take. With their talent, they don't need to feel intimidated by any division rival's pitching.
Geoff: You know what kills me about the Diamondbacks? They traded away a pretty good catcher in Johnny Estrada and don't figure to lose any ground at that position with rookie Miguel Montero. Oh, and they picked up a pretty decent starting pitcher in the process. That's making use of your resources. Anyway, I love this offense. The Diamondbacks have good, young hitters at almost every position.
Rich: Yes, I would concur with that assessment, yet there is some risk that Quentin's torn labrum zaps him of his power this season. I really like the talent the Diamondbacks have assembled but am inclined to think that players are still a year away from doing their thing.
Geoff: Seriously, this has the potential to be a real sick lineup for many years to come. The danger with guys like Montero, Drew, Quentin, and Young is that they haven't done it yet, so you never know if they're ready; that said, I don't see anything in their statistical records to indicate that they aren't. Maybe they'll just tread water in the short term, as Jackson did last year, but this is a tremendous foundation around which to build.
Rich: Let's talk about some potential surprises that may develop in the NL West in 2007.
Sully: I'll jump in and say that Rich's call for best player in the division, Rafael Furcal, will be surpassed by Stephen Drew. Drew will outplay Furcal in 2007 and be the best SS in the division.
Jon: Colorado's competitiveness. My surprise hunches, I'm sorry to say for the Rockies, rarely pan out, but I just feel there's a chance for things to break right for them.
On another level, I think the Padres have the potential to win and allow Bud Black to bust the stigma against pitchers becoming managers.
Geoff: A couple months ago, I would've said the Diamondbacks, but everyone seems to be jumping on their bandwagon, so I'll say the Colorado pitching staff. Jeff Francis will finish in the top 10 in the NL in ERA.
Rich: My surprise is that Lincecum will be forced into the closer's role for the Giants before the All-Star break and will strike out more than one-and-a-half batters per inning.
Sully: How about the three major awards? Who do we like as MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates? I don't think I see any real MVP potentials coming out of the division. Maybe one of those guys in the middle of Colorado's offense. As for Cy Young candidates, I like Peavy and Webb, with Matt Cain having an outside shot as well. Chris Young is my guy, and I am sure others' as well, for ROY.
Jon: MVP: How about a little Garrett Atkins? Cy Young: Brandon Webb, of course. ROY: I'll follow others in picking Chris Young.
Geoff: I'm not sure there are any serious MVP candidates in the NL West. Maybe Matt Holliday or a healthy Barry Bonds, but both of those are a stretch. In alphabetical order, the main Cy Young candidates are Cain, Peavy, Schmidt, Webb and Young. Rookie of the Year? I'll go with Iannetta, Kouzmanoff, Montero, Tulowitzki and Chris B. Young.
Rich: Rather than rattling off a bunch of names, I am going to cut to the chase and say if the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year come from the West, players attached to those awards will be Holliday, Peavy, and Lincecum.
Sully: And finally, please predict the order of finish in the division. I will take San Diego to repeat, and then I have Arizona, Los Angeles, Colorado, a big gap, then the Giants.
Rich: I'm on record going with the Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Jon: I don't know if I'd make this pick if I didn't live in Los Angeles, but I think the Dodgers will get their act together in time to win the division, narrowly over the Padres. I think the Rockies will be a factor and edge out a disappointing Arizona team for third, with the Giants coming in last. But my dissing Arizona is probably the best thing that could happen to them.
Geoff: 1. Arizona 2. San Diego 3. Los Angeles 4. Colorado 5. San Francisco
I'll qualify this somewhat by saying that the battle for those top three spots will be fierce. I expect the wild card to come out of the NL West again this year.
Sully: Thanks for participating, guys.
Estimating Baseball's All-Time Worm Burners
We at the Hardball Times like to track a lot of new age stats. Line drives, zone rating, groundball percentage - all those numbers allow us to evaluate today's players more accurately and with a breadth of information at our disposal.
But often, it's tough to understand what those numbers really mean because they have only become available over the past few years. So Derek Lowe allows groundballs on two-thirds of all balls in play, but what does that really mean? Is he the greatest groundball pitcher of all-time, or have there been better worm burners?
Unfortunately, due to lack of data, this is not a question we can answer directly. But I think I have come up with a method to do so indirectly.
My first step was to run a regression using regular statistics that are available throughout history and groundball percentage, which we have for the past few years. Three variables turned out to be highly significant:
- Batting Average on Balls in Play. Groundballs become hits at a higher rate than fly balls, and so groundball pitchers allow more hits on balls in play.
- Home Runs. Kind of an obvious one; home runs come on fly balls, so pitchers who allow a lot of home runs also generally allow many fly balls.
- Strikeouts. Strikeouts are negatively correlated with groundballs. Frankly, I am a bit skeptical of this association because it seems to unfairly label very high-strikeout pitchers like Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez as fly ball pitchers, but it does make a lot of sense. Strikeout pitchers generally pitch up in the zone, resulting in a lot more whiffs, but also more fly balls.
The correlation between predicted groundball percentage and actual was very good, with an "r" of .47. With a weighted average of just 371 batters faced in the sample, what that means is that after four-to-five seasons, the correlation should be around .9, or almost perfect.
Again, I should point out that model is slightly biased towards pitchers who strikeout a lot of hitters, but beyond that, it is very solid. Among those for whom we do have data, the guys at the top of the predicted career groundball percentage list are indeed groundball pitchers, and the guys at the bottom indeed do allow a lot of fly balls.
So now for the fun: Who are the greatest groundball pitchers of all-time? To determine this, I first adjusted each statistic that goes into the predicted groundball formula for the league average. Because batters faced data is shoddy for the first 45 years of professional baseball, I only used data from 1916 on, so 19th and early-20th century guys are excluded. Actually, that's probably for the best, because I'm not sure how well the formula I devised would hold up in that time period.
In the chart that follows, I have listed two statistics: "Index," which is sort of like ERA+, except for groundballs, and "SD+," which measures how many standard deviations above average the player was for his career. I figure that the slightly more math-inclined may appreciate "SD+" a bit more than "Index."
First Last Debut Index SD+
Rube Foster 1913 1.14 4.01
Doug Sisk 1982 1.12 3.38
Ed Klepfer 1911 1.12 3.36
Aaron Cook 2002 1.10 2.96
Pat Clements 1985 1.09 2.59
Dale Murray 1974 1.09 2.50
Greg Minton 1975 1.08 2.45
Benny Frey 1929 1.08 2.41
Frank Linzy 1963 1.08 2.39
George Cunningham 1916 1.08 2.37
(Minimum 1,000 batted balls between 1916-2005.)
Ladies and gentlemen, Rube Foster is your winner! He allowed 14% more groundballs than the league average pitcher during his career (well, excluding its first three years, which actually means we're looking at just two years of data). In over 300 innings in 1916-17, Foster did not allow a home run, though admittedly, his team, the Boston Red Sox, allowed just 22 over those two years.
We actually do have some data for Doug Sisk, and it turns out that between 1980 and 1997, he was the fourth-most extreme groundball pitcher in baseball. That's a pretty big feather in our system's cap!
On the Ultimate Mets Database website, one commenter had this to say about Sisk: "The only man I know that would load the bases with no one on and one out just to throw a double play grounder." Reminds me of Derek Lowe...
We also have actual groundball data for Aaron Cook. Last year, Cook was third in the National League in groundball percentage; had he qualified, he would have been third in 2005 as well.
Let's now turn to the pitchers who have allowed the fewest groundballs in baseball history, on a percentage basis:
First Last Debut Index SD+
Jack Coombs 1906 0.87 -3.69
Bill Caudill 1979 0.88 -3.60
Wayne LaMaster 1937 0.88 -3.56
Al Jurisich 1944 0.88 -3.48
Allan Russell 1915 0.88 -3.47
Armando Benitez 1994 0.88 -3.35
Herb Score 1955 0.89 -3.22
Troy Percival 1995 0.89 -3.19
Luis DeLeon 1981 0.89 -3.18
Oliver Perez 2002 0.89 -3.18
(Minimum 1,000 batted balls between 1916-2005.)
Most of Jack Coombs' career came in years before our database starts, but in 1916-17, when Foster allowed a grand total of zero home runs, in fewer innings, Coombs allowed 10. Given that he played in a park that was neutral for home runs, Coombs seems like a pretty safe choice to be a fly ball pitcher.
For the guys for whom we have data, Perez posted a 30.1% groundball percentage last season, while Benitez allowed groundballs on 32.2% of all balls hit off him. Had they qualified, Perez and Benitez would have placed second and third from the bottom in groundball percentage last year, respectively.
If you're interested in seeing more new age statistics extended into the past, you can click here to download a spreadsheet with estimated groundball rates for all pitchers with 1,000 batted balls allowed between 1916 and 2005.
David Gassko is a writer for The Hardball Times and Heater Magazine. He welcomes comments via email.
2007 opened for every team in Major League Baseball between Sunday and Tuesday and there were plenty of storylines and subplots that accompanied the first days of what promises to be a fun season. I will bullet through some of the first impressions I came away with after reviewing much of the action.
Two old fogies I had penciled in for mediocre seasons came out of the gate hot on Sunday night. Tom Glavine was excellent over six innings while Carlos Delgado notched a double and a couple of RBI's as the Mets strolled to an easy win in St. Louis.
Like many other pitchers, Gil Meche is fantastic when he can spot his fastball. Meche has the ability to pump the zone with strike after strike, and is often effective when he does so. He also has the ability to get rocked when he misses in the strikezone. Well he was on Monday, starting 13 of 19 Red Sox batters off with strikes between the second and seventh innings after suffering through a rocky start in the first.
You never wish ill on anybody but if you are a Nats fan and Cristian Guzman and Nook Logan go down in the first game of the season, well, you really can't hope for a much better result than that, can you? Is a loss really a loss when you emerge having substituted sub-replacement level talent with guys that might be able to play a little?
Two guys roundly panned in pre-season work in this space made good in losing causes yesterday. Both Darin Erstad and Luke (the fluke) Scott homered.
If Casey Kotchman hits this season, this Angels team gets really interesting really quickly.
Tough start for the Cubbies but man, how about Adam Dunn? I DVR'd the game and to my great pleasure I caught the quote of the day from Steve Phillips, who was calling the game for ESPN. After Dunn's second home run in as many 2007 at bats, one that bounced off the center field scoreboard facade at Great American Ballpark, Phillips remarked "this is why the Reds need Dunn to make more contact."
Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and a shutdown performance by the bullpen. Sound like a familiar winning formula, Twins fans?
One power pitcher on the cusp of greatness and another who looks like he might be fading took the hill for their respective teams' openers. Felix Hernandez dazzled, striking out 12 in eight innings while Jose Contreras scuffled much like he did over the second half of 2006 when he posted a 5.40 ERA. On Monday he only lasted an inning against the Cleveland Indians, giving up 7 earned runs in the process. Conteras's ERA? 63.00.
As there always are on Opening Day, there were some heavyweight pitching matchups on the card. Some lived up and some didn't. Brett Myers and John Smoltz were both very good. Aaron Harang and Carlos Zambrano looked great on paper but only Harang lived up to his billing. Same with the Padres-Giants opener. Barry Zito struggled but Jake Peavy was magnificent.
Speaking of Peavy, missing bats and not issuing free passes, as it usually is, was a formula for success yesterday for Jake. Thing is, he did the same thing last year. He led the NL with 9.56 K/9 and had an impressive 3.47 K/BB ratio to boot and all it got him was a 4.09 ERA and an 11-14 record. Just one of those things I guess. Expect more outings like yesterday from Peavy in 2007.
The impressiveness of the Yanks' offense lies not necessarily in its raw power or explosiveness but rather in its ability to avoid making outs, extend innings and ultimately put runs up. At no point during Monday's game did the Bombers offense seem dominant, but a few walks and hits here and there, homers by Jorge Posada and A-Rod and all of a sudden at the end of the game they had nine runs. Expect many more games like that from New York this season.
As of this morning, here's your MLB top 10 in OPS:
Tony Pena Jr. 2.750
Adam Dunn 2.600
Brian McCann 2.500
Paul Konerko 2.417
Miguel Cabrera 2.247
Vladimir Guerrero 2.063
Edgar Renteria 2.000
John Buck 2.000
Casey Kotchman 1.950
Grady Sizemore 1.850
It's been a good couple of days to be a shortstop formerly in the Red Sox organization. Edgar Renteria hit a couple of bombs on opening day and I swear, one of these days Hanley Ramirez is going to come back to earth. Right? Isn't he?
Man, Miguel Cabrera is absolutely awesome.
That's what has jumped out at me thus far. What do you guys got?
The Rise of the Non-Roster Players
Opening day has come and gone. Each season 30 major league clubs set a roster of 25 of the best players in the world that will hopefully lead to a World Series championship.
Due to injuries and poor spring performances, each club always has at least one surprise addition to their roster, be it a raw rookie - such as Boone Logan last year with the Chicago White Sox - or a non-roster player who entered camp on the low rung of the organizational ladder.
This column takes a look at some of the more interesting non-roster players who made their clubs out of spring training. Some will be with their clubs this September, but others may not. Who do you think will have the greatest impact on the post-season race in 2007? Let us know your thoughts.
Joe Smith, New York Mets
When it comes to surprise 25-man roster inclusions, it does not get any more surprising than Smith's. The Mets added the 2006 third round draft pick to their major league roster despite his inexperience (only 12.2 innings above A-ball). Not only that, but Smith posted a 5.69 ERA and walked 11 batters. But the Mets saw enough of him this spring to feel he will be more effective than any of the other pitchers they had in camp who were healthy. This spring, Smith had a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings and allowed nine hits, three walks and struck out 17. He beat out other more experienced pitchers such as Chan Ho Park, Jon Adkins and Jorge Sosa, who will collect more than $1 million while pitching in Triple-A New Orleans. Injuries to Duaner Sanchez and Dave Williams as well as a 50-game suspension to Guillermo Mota also helped to create the spot for Smith. It will be interesting to see which Smith appears early on this season for New York and whether or not this quick promotion will have the same negative effect similar promotions had on top college pitchers Craig Hansen (Boston), Joey Devine (Atlanta) and Ryan Wagner (Washington).
Josh Phelps, New York Yankees
Rule 5 draft pick Phelps is a former top prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays and is expected to platoon with defensive whiz Doug Mientkiewicz. Phelps, a former catcher, has spent the past two seasons banished to the minors due to numerous holes in his powerful swing. The big question is whether or not he has improved enough to play on a contending team. The quiet natured Phelps may also have trouble adjusting to the New York lifestyle. He is a career .268/.336/.473 hitter in parts of six major league seasons. The 29-year-old has also spent time with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and in Detroit's minor league system where he hit .308/.370/.532 in 2006 at Toledo. Last season, Phelps walked 7.3 percent of the time, while striking out at a rate of 23.8 percent. He batted .377 when he put the ball in play. The right-handed batter hit .322 versus left-handers and .297 against right-handers. Former Yankees first baseman Andy Phillips will likely be hovering in Triple-A Scranton in case Phelps struggles.Sammy Sosa, Texas Rangers
I had the pleasure of watching Sosa play live this spring and came away with two thoughts: 1) Sosa can still play at the major league level and 2) Everyone still loves Sammy. He was greeted with an eruption of cheers from all fans before each and every at-bat. And almost every at-bat resulted in a hard-hit ball. You can't read too much into spring training statistics but the line of .408/.444/.816 is impressive for a 38-year-old player who did not play at all in 2006. Don't expect miracles in 2007 - Sosa is still in his declining years, but he could be a valuable platoon player in the outfield. If Sosa struggles early, it could be hard to find at-bats with Texas carrying six players who can play the outfield: Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, Nelson Cruz, Jerry Hairston and Frank Catalanotto. That said, Sosa possesses more power than of the other five players, followed by Wilkerson and Cruz.
Mark Redman, Atlanta Braves
Mike Hampton's continual bad luck is Redman's gain. Still searching for a job as of early March, Redman quickly signed with Atlanta after Hampton - who was returning from Tommy John surgery - pulled an oblique muscle. Redman it really nothing more than a stopgap and has a career ERA of 4.65. The 33-year-old left-hander should be good for about 180 innings and an ERA around 5.00 if he remains with the Braves for the entire season. Currently, Atlanta's roster consists of Redman, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chuck James and Lance Cormier. Atlanta's pitching dynasty is definitely over.
Victor Zambrano, Toronto Blue Jays
Nobody - not even the Blue Jays - expected to see Zambrano on their opening day roster. The now infamous Zambrano - thanks to the 2004 Scott Kazmir heist - had Tommy John surgery (his second such surgery in his career) in 2006 - about 10 months ago. The normal recovery timeline for the surgery is about 14 months. This spring, Zambrano posted a 2.29 ERA in 19.1 innings for a Toronto team desperate for pitching. The always wild and inconsistent Zambrano (382 career walks in 683.1 innings) did allow 10 walks and 16 hits but struck out 14. He was narrowly defeated by Josh Towers (who had a dismal 2006) in a battle for the fifth starter's spot. Zambrano will pitch in relief until A) he fully rebuilds his arm strength and fastball, B) Towers falters again, C) he pitches himself off the team or D) Toronto flips him to the Yankees for Philip Hughes.
Sidney Ponson, Minnesota Twins
It's not a good year to be a Twins' fan, at least based on the appearance of the starting rotation. After perennial Cy Young Award candidate Johan Santana, the rotation quickly drops off with the likes of Carlos Silva (5.94 ERA in 2006), Boof Bonser (4.22), Ramon Ortiz (5.57) and Ponson (6.25). Sir Sidney (Ponson, an Aruba native, was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2003) has battled his conditioning and engaged in questionable off-field behavior since he first appeared in the major leagues with Baltimore in 1998. Ponson will have to produce quickly if he is going to hold off the Twins' promising young arms, including Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins. Despite a respectable 4.29 spring ERA, all the statistical signs are there for an early season collapse including 32 hits allowed in 21 innings and only nine strikeouts.
Russ Ortiz, San Francisco Giants
Ortiz' conditioning has taken after Sidney Ponson's in recent years. However, Ortiz has rededicated himself to the game and is back with his original team, the Giants, after two dismal seasons (ERAs of 6.89 in 2005 and 8.14 in 2006). The 32-year-old is a former 20-game winner and rotation workhorse, including four straight seasons of 204 or more innings. He has looked good in spring training (a 3.00 ERA with only 13 hits and five walks in 18 innings) but can he really turn things around? The Giants certainly hope so and will be counting on Ortiz to help stabilize a rotation that also includes Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Matt Morris. If Ortiz can manage 150 innings and an ERA around 4.50, the Giants could have a very successful starting rotation.
Busiest Bee: The Washington Nationals and General Manager Jim Bowden added five non-roster players to their 25-man roster this spring, including: Jesus Colome, Dmitri Young, Ray King, Ronnie Belliard, Robert Fick. All five players have a good deal of experience and should help add experience to this motley crew in the nation's capital. Of the five, Belliard is probably the most likely to perform above replacement level, although he is miscast as a utility player given that he has deteriorating range at second base and an inability to play any other position with any deftness. Fick adds versatility and can act as the third catcher, with the Nationals carrying Rule 5 draft pick Jesus Flores as their backup catcher to veteran Brian Schneider. Young has serious makeup questions and Colome has never developed consistency despite having hit 100 mph with his fastball. King has had solid career as a LOOGY but lefties hit .300 against him last season. The question isn't: Will the Nationals lose 100 games? It is: Will the Nationals lose 120 games?
Honorable Mention: Former Blue Jays and Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez came out of retirement this spring to try out for the Kansas City Royals. I had the opportunity of seeing Gonzalez play in person this spring during my six-game tour of Arizona. I can also remember watching Gonzalez play his first major league game back in 1994. He never reached his offensive potential - mainly due to his inability to make consistent contact and maintain a decent on-base percentage - but he was an above-average defender with a cannon for an arm. This spring, Gonzalez failed to make the Royals as a utility player despite hitting .444/.531/.593 (12-for-27). He also walked five times and struck out only six times. However, the Royals felt his range at shortstop was no longer adequate (it looked OK to me the one day I saw him play shortstop) which limited him defensively to third base and second base. Gonzalez appeared to be in excellent shape and the year away from baseball actually seemed to have helped his approach at the plate (albeit in a small sample size). I have no doubt that Gonzalez - now a free agent - could help a major league ball club as a bench player.
It's that time of the year (again). Opening Day coincides with the Finals of the NCAA basketball tournament and precedes the Master's Golf Tournament by a few days. If you're a sports fan, it doesn't get much better than this week.
The New York Mets want the season to end now and the St. Louis Cardinals can't wait to get back on the field. But both teams will have to wait one more day. In the meantime, all of the other teams (with the exception of the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants) will play the first of 162 games today.
Devil Rays (Scott Kazmir) at Yankees (Carl Pavano), 1:05 ET
Blue Jays (Roy Halladay) at Tigers (Jeremy Bonderman), 1:05
Indians (C.C. Sabathia) at White Sox (Jose Contreras), 2:05
Red Sox (Curt Schilling) at Royals (Gil Meche), 4:05
A's (Dan Haren) at Mariners (Felix Hernandez), 6:35
Orioles (Erik Bedard) at Twins (Johan Santana), 7:10
Rangers (Kevin Millwood) at Angels (John Lackey), 10:05
Marlins (Dontrelle Willis) at Nationals (John Patterson), 1:05
Braves (John Smoltz) at Phillies (Brett Myers), 1:05
Dodgers (Derek Lowe) at Brewers (Ben Sheets), 2:05
Cubs (Carlos Zambrano) at Reds (Aaron Harang), 2:10
Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb) at Rockies (Aaron Cook), 4:05
Pirates (Zach Duke) at Astros (Roy Oswalt), 7:05
Let's take a quick look at each of the above matchups...
TB at NYY: Carl Pavano gets the start. From joker to ace in one season - alright, TWO seasons!
TOR at DET: Halladay vs. Bonderman. A classic pitcher's duel. If Santana stumbles or gets injured this year, these two pitchers are as good a bet as any to step up and win the AL Cy Young Award.
CLE at CWS: Aside from Pavano and Meche, Contreras is the weakest starter of today's bunch - and one of the reasons why I believe the White Sox will not win the AL Central this season.
BOS at KC: Time for the $55 million man to step up and earn his pay. He probably didn't choose this assignment. Good luck.
OAK at SEA: Felix joins Dwight Gooden and Fernando Valenzuela in becoming the third pitcher in the last 26 years to start an opener before reaching the age of 21. I wonder if his career will turn out like theirs?
BAL at MIN: The best southpaw in the AL (OK, the world) vs. the next best? I like Sabathia and Kazmir but am inclined to believe that Bedard may just be the best of the three this year.
TEX at LAA: Lackey is being asked to play Texas Hold 'Em today. I don't think he will flop.
FLA at WAS: The Nationals will have a decent shot in most games Patterson starts. I'm just concerned about the other 130 contests.
ATL at PHI: Two of the three best teams in the NL East battling one another in the opening series.
LAD at MIL: If Sheets stays healthy, he could just well be the best starting pitcher in the NL. He gets to face a Furcal-less Dodgers team that lacks power in the middle of its lineup. I like Big Ben here.
CHC at CIN: Zambrano is apparently close to signing a five-year, $80 million contract. For his sake, I hope he emerges from this game healthy (or at least with a Lloyd's of London policy in hand).
ARI at COL: Webb and Cook. I wonder if anybody will hit the ball in the air?
PIT at HOU: Without Andy Pettitte and perhaps Roger Clemens, Oswalt may have to shoulder the load all by himself this year. Can Brad Lidge help him by returning to form this year?