Dee-Fense . . . Dee-Fense . . .
Last year, Justin Inaz popularized a new fielding stat, based on the freely available data from the Hardball Times. This year I decided to set up a spreadsheet (one that can automatically update!) and keep track of fielding performance, using Justin’s process. While there are plenty of advanced fielding metrics out there, such as MGL’s Ultimate Zone Rating, David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range, and John Dewan’s Plus/Minus, I figured, if anything, it wouldn’t hurt to have one more. It may not get as detailed as those listed above, but it’s pretty good and it’s available all the time (and for free).
The Hardball Times provides us with some great information to evaluate fielding performance. On their fielding stats page, they report, for each and every player, the number of balls hit into the player’s zone, the number of plays made on balls in their zone, and the number of plays made on balls hit outside of their zone. With these three numbers in hand, we can get a pretty solid grasp of a player’s fielding performance. But, before we get to that, we’ve got a few definitions to get out of the way:
Now, how do we go about turning three numbers into a decent fielding metric? Well, let’s take a look at Mariners’ shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, as an example. He’s had 244 balls hit into his zone, and of those 244 chances, he’s turned 200 of them into outs. The average shortstop turns about 83% of balls in zone into outs, so we would expect the average SS to make about 203 plays, if they had 244 chances. Betancourt is about -3 compared to average.
How do we handle out of zone performance? Betancourt’s made just 17 out of zone plays so far in 2008. The average shortstop makes about .13 out of zone plays per in zone chance*, so we’d expect the average SS to have about 32 out of zone plays, given Yuni’s in zone chances. This puts Betancourt at -15 on OOZ balls and about -18 plays overall.
*One major assumption is being taken here. That is that the number of in zone chances a player gets also reflects the number of out of zone chances he’ll have. Since we don’t know exactly how many OOZ chances anyone actually has, we have to estimate this number somehow. Some people believe innings or total balls in play or something else would be a better proxy, but I’m using in zone chances here.
We now have Betancourt at -18 plays, but we’re not quite done yet. It’s a lot easier to work in terms of runs because that’s generally how we measure things in baseball, so we have to make one final conversion. Using the numbers derived from Chris Dial, we can turn plays into runs, simply by multiplying plays by .753 for shortstops (it varies by position as saving a play in, say, the outfield, is, on average, more valuable than saving a play in the infield). Betancourt now ends up at about -13 runs, or the second-worst MLB shortstop, ahead of only Bobby Crosby (-14.6).
That is essentially what you do, with every player, at every position (of course, Excel makes that a little bit easier, or at least it’s supposed to, if you know what you’re doing).
The Good and the Bad
There are a number of reasons why this metric (stat, translation, conversion, whatever you want to call it) is pretty darn good, and there are also, of course, many limitations.
I think that, if we keep the limitations in mind, this can be a very useful number to look at. Of course, we can’t get carried away with two-thirds of a season’s stats, both because of the limitations mentioned above, and because of the relatively small amount of data we’re working with. With that said, let’s take a look at the best and worst teams and individual fielders so far in 2008.
Below are all 30 teams listed, in order of runs saved above average (through Monday, July 28):
STL 45.1 ATL 39.4 CHN 35.7 OAK 35.1 SD 31.0 HOU 28.3 PHI 28.0 LAN 27.5 MIL 22.4 TOR 18.5 LAA 15.4 NYN 10.3 TB 9.0 SF 4.7 CHA -2.8 SEA -5.5 COL -6.1 BOS -7.3 DET -7.6 ARI -8.6 WAS -10.8 CLE -12.9 BAL -17.0 CIN -19.2 PIT -24.3 TEX -26.4 FLA -38.1 NYA -48.9 MIN -49.2 KC -58.4
The Cardinals come out on top, at about 45 runs above average. The Cards are led by a great infield trio of Adam Kennedy ( 14.9), Albert Pujols ( 11.5), and Cezar Izturis ( 10.2). The Braves are also anchored by three great infielders in Yunel Escobar ( 17.4), Chipper Jones ( 16.5), and Mark Teixeira ( 10.6). The Cubs are led by rookie right fielder Kosuke Fukudome ( 15.5). Other standouts include Derrek Lee ( 7.2) and Mike Fontenot ( 6.8).
The Royals find themselves trailing the majors, at 58 runs below average. They have eight players that are at least 5 runs below average or worse. Minnesota’s been hurt badly by their infield defense: Justin Morneau (first, -10.7), Alexi Casilla (second, -6.1), Brendan Harris (short, -5.6), and Mike Lamb (third, -12.6). The Yankees can thank most of their poor rating to Bobby Abreu, who trails the majors at 27.5 runs below average.
Best and Worst Fielders
The subtitle there is a bit of a misnomer, as you’d like to have more than one year of data to truly determine the best and worst fielders. But here are the top 20 fielders so far in 2008, ranked in order of runs saved above average (these aren’t per 150 innings or anything, by the way – this is the player’s total so far):
Utley, Phi 25.0 Rolen, Tor 23.8 Beltre, Sea 21.8 Ellis, Oak 18.3 Hardy, Mil 17.5 Escobar, Atl 17.4 Giles, SD 16.9 Jones, Atl 16.5 Fukudome, Chi 15.5 Hannahan, Oak 14.9 Kennedy, Stl 14.9 Berkman, Hou 13.9 Winn, SF 13.2 Anderson, CHA 13.1 Votto, Cin 12.9 Rios, Tor 12.7 Gutierrez, Cle 11.5 Pujols, Stl 11.5 Helton, Col 11.3 Figgins, LAA 11.1
And how about the trailers:
Abreu, NYA -27.5 Wells, Tor -21.9 Jacobs, Fla -17.9 Encarnacion,Cin -15.9 Hawpe, Col -15.5 McLouth, Pit -15.3 Griffey Jr, Cin -15.1 Mora, Bal -14.8 Blake, Cle -14.6 Crosby, Oak -14.6 Ramirez, Bos -14.1 Betancourt, Sea -13.3 Ordonez, Det -13.3 Lamb, Min -12.6 Easley, NYN -12.5 Hermida, Fla -12.5 Quentin, CHA -12.1 Cantu, Tor -12.1 Castillo, NYM -12.0 Kinsler, Tex -11.8
Figuring you might be interested in, oh, say, the 800 some players in between the top and bottom 20, here’s the full spreadsheet.
There you’ve got ratings at every position, positional averages in some of the key stats, and team totals again. Feel free to use it however you’d like, of course, and let me know if you have any questions. And let me know if I’ve messed anything up, be it in the spreadsheet or in any of my rambling above. I am by no means any type of expert on fielding analysis, but I find it fascinating, and I hope you do too.
Myron Logan writes about the Padres and baseball at Friar Forecast.
All Aboard for Beijing
The 2008 United States Olympic Baseball Team is, not surprisingly, loaded with prospects. The team, which also has its fair share of talented Triple-A veterans, will be one of the favorites to win gold when the Olympic Games get underway in August although the squad did not even qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.
The winners of the 2004 Games were Cuba (Gold), Australia (Silver) and Japan (Bronze). The Cuban team featured Chicago White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez. The Australian team included Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith. The Japanese team had a number of familiar names, including Kosuke Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Masa Kobayashi.
Let's take a look at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Squad:
Brett Anderson, LHP | Oakland Athletics (Double-A) Jake Arrieta, RHP | Baltimore Orioles (High-A) Trevor Cahill, RHP | Oakland Athletics (Double-A) Brian Duensing, LHP | Minnesota Twins (Triple-A) Kevin Jepsen, RHP | Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A) Brandon Knight, RHP | New York Mets (Triple-A) Mike Koplove, RHP | Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A) Blaine Neal, RHP | Detroit Tigers (Triple-A) Jeremy Cummings, RHP | Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A) Jeff Stevens, RHP | Cleveland Indians (Triple-A) Stephen Strasburg, RHP | San Diego State University (entering junior year) Casey Weathers, RHP | Colorado Rockies (Double-A)
Jake Arrieta, 22, has been dealing in his first pro season after sitting out the second half of last season due to contract negotiations after being drafted out of Texas Christian in fifth round. He currently has allowed 77 hits in 106 innings with 48 walks and 112 strikeouts.
Oakland does not dip into the prep ranks as often as some other teams, but when it does the organization seems to make those picks count, with Trevor Cahill being a perfect example. The 20-year-old has been pitching at Double-A and has allowed 24 hits in 37 innings with 19 walks and 33 strikeouts. He also has a 3-1 ratio of ground ball outs to fly ball outs.
Other interesting players on the pitching staff include Colorado's 2007 No. 1 draft pick Casey Weathers, who will help solidify the bullpen and soon-to-be college junior Stephen Strasburg, the only non-professional player on the squad, who is in the mix to go No. 1 overall in the 2009 amateur baseball draft.
Lou Marson, C | Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A) Taylor Teagarden, C | Texas Rangers (Triple-A) Brian Barden, IF | St. Louis Cardinals (Triple-A) Matthew Brown, IF | Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A) Jason Donald, IF | Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A) Mike Hessman, IF | Detroit Tigers (Triple-A) Terry Tiffee, IF | Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A) Jayson Nix, IF | Colorado Rockies (Triple-A) Dexter Fowler, OF | Colorado Rockies (Double-A) John Gall, OF | Florida Marlins (Triple-A) Matt LaPorta, OF | Cleveland Indians (Double-A) Nate Schierholtz, OF | San Francisco (Triple-A)
The infield consists mostly of veteran players, including Mike Hessman, who currently leads the International League with 32 homers, four more than Brad Eldred. Terry Tiffee was a feel-good story in the first half as the vet batted more than .400 for much of the first two months of the season and currently sits at .375/.415/.559 and had a brief Major League cup of coffee with the Dodgers.
Jason Donald is the biggest prospect name in the infield and he has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors as of late. He is currently hitting .308/.388/.509 in 338 Double-A at-bats.
Matt LaPorta is probably the brightest star on the entire squad and many predict that he could hit 40 homers in the Majors one day. He was recently traded from Milwaukee to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal. LaPorta is really best-suited for first base or designated hitter but he won't embarrass himself too badly in the outfield for the U.S. squad. He has struggled since coming over in the trade with a .212 average and just one homer in 14 games, but he was hitting .288/.402/.576 with 20 homers in 302 at-bats for Huntsville (Milwaukee).
When the Rockies drafted Dexter Fowler, the organization had to lure the raw athlete away from a basketball scholarship at Harvard and it's a good thing as the outfielder has come into his own this season. At Double-A, Fowler is currently hitting .337/.430/.514 with nine homers and 20 stolen bases in 395 Double-A at-bats. He also has 61 walks and 82 strikeouts.
The U.S. team is certainly looking to put the disappoint of 2004 behind it and re-establish itself as one of the most talented countries in the world when it comes to stepping onto the baseball diamond.
Another Thought on the Trade Deadline
One of the items that I have not seen discussed regarding trade value calculus that I think is having major impact is compensation draft picks that come with impending free agents, particularly those of the Type A variety. This may seem like an obvious value component to readers of this site but remember, it was just four years ago that Brian Sabean intentionally signed Michael Tucker in the free agent market one day before the arbitration deadline.
It was well known at the time that the Kansas City Royals would not be offering Tucker arbitration so if Sabean had waited another two days, he could have had Tucker without surrendering his first round draft pick. Sabean's motives for such a move are more easily understood after reading the following excerpt from a 2004 San Francisco Chronicle article:
"Quite frankly, we're very reluctant to overspend in the draft. We're cautious in that regard because it's so fallible. Our focus is spending as much as we can and being as wise as we can at the major-league level and using the minor leagues as a supplement and not necessarily leaning on it totally. Teams that are allowed to have a three-to- five-year plan and allowed to lose or explain to their fans they're in a rebuilding mode have a greater latitude than we do. We always have to be in a reloading mode"
In the same piece he also says:
"Their [Baseball America's] credibility isn't worth a damn to me," he said. "I don't know what they use for a formula to decide what's a good organization and what isn't. Detroit was their No. 1 organization for three straight years, and obviously Detroit was getting an opportunity to draft at an excellent spot. However, none of those people have helped them win any games. So how do you feel about that organization being No. 1 now?"
This was in August of 2004. Detroit would win 95 games in 2006, making it to their first World Series in 22 years.
I highlight this in part because I like to have fun with Brian Sabean. Sorry, I just do. But in Sabean's defense not as much emphasis was being placed on the draft and player development three, four, five seasons ago. He took it to an absurd extreme but the point still stands. Now, however, teams seem to recognize the value of a high draft pick.
Last season the Red Sox felt like they insulated some of their risk in acquiring Eric Gagne by recognizing that a compensatory draft pick would come their way if Gagne walked in free agency. Sure enough, they had the 45th pick in June's draft as the result of an otherwise disastrous transaction.
Now perhaps I am selling the Texas Rangers short but I am hearing more about draft picks this year than in years past. Flags do fly forever but a short-term rental is a risky proposition given that just about any Major Leaguer is capable of thriving or failing miserably for a 60-game stretch. Draft picks had served to mitigate some of that risk, but this season it seems acquiring teams can no longer merely take heart in the draft pick(s) they receive along with the two month rental, but they now must pay up. The result has been that a sellers market has become an even juicier one.
Seriously, what is Adam Dunn and two first round picks worth to a team with a legitimate World Series chance? How about Mark Teixeira? And how do compensation picks alter the landscape for Manny Ramirez? Everyone talks about how hard it is to move Manny but what if the Sox pay the freight and the other team gets two draft picks after they decline his option and he turns around and declines arbitration?
Changes the game some, doesn't it?
Where We At?
So have you checked the Major League standings recently? Leaving aside the American League West, which the Angels seem to have wrapped up, 11 teams are within two games of first place in their division, 12 teams are within three games and 13 teams are within four. It is going to be a remarkable stretch run here, folks, and I have a feeling we are in for a whirlwind couple of days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
Speaking of the deadline, it sure seems to be shaping up as a seller's market. Thirteen teams all have a realistic shot at the post-season and you cannot limit your analysis simply to assessing whether or not a need exists for a given team. If you are the Red Sox and you determine that Colorado is crazy for asking what they are for Brian Fuentes, in a normal market you could pass and hope for the best with what you have (a reasonable approach given that their 'pen was one of the best in baseball last year). But what if the Rays add Jason Bay? And the Yanks add Justin Duchscherer? If Boston were to stand pat, even though they would have the same formidable collection of talent, their chances of qualifying for October baseball would be diminished by Tampa and New York taking steps forward.
This isn't rocket science but it does serve to drive the price up for some seriously interesting commodities that figure to be available. If you think I am kidding on this "seller's market" thing, look no further than the Casey Blake deal the Los Angeles Dodgers struck with the Cleveland Indians. Jonathan Meloan has 335 strike outs in 263 Minor League innings. Carlos Santana is a catcher with a .279/.382/.456 career Minor League line and widely regarded as one of the very best catching prospects in baseball. Does that sound like the sort of booty a 35-year old outfielder with a career 106 OPS+ should fetch?
Anyway, stay tuned over the next few days. Some excellent players will be changing locales, while some teams without much of a prayer in 2008 have an excellent opportunity to set themselves up nicely for the future.
A few weeks back when I wrote up the Rich Harden deal I managed not to mention Chad Gaudin. A commenter took me to task for this and rightfully so, as Gaudin was not some extra throw-in but rather a guy that Lou Piniella would be looking to in key situations in big games down the stretch.
Since joining the Cubbies, here is what Gaudin has chipped in:
IP H BB SO ERA Gaudin 10.7 8 2 12 1.69
Last night in a critical NL Central showdown in Milwaukee, Gaudin was called upon to face the middle of the potent Brewer lineup in a tie-game in the eighth inning. Keeping in mind that J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun had each homered earlier in the game, have a look at what went down:
J.J. Hardy: Ball, Strike looking, Strike swinging, Hardy struck out swinging.
Gaudin made the heart of one of the very best lineups in the National League look foolish. If his excellent relief work is to continue, the timing could not be any better for Chicago. Bobby Howry has scuffled badly of late (7.15 July ERA) and Kerry Wood is reportedly not even close to returning. Gaudin will be the guy to get the ball to Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija
Not a bad throw-in, huh?
All the Right Stuff
Which major league pitcher do you suppose has the following rankings among all starters this year?
No, it's not Felix Hernandez. But I can understand why you would think that. King Felix ranks 1st in fastball velocity (94.9), 13th in GB rate (50.9%), 28th in LD rate (18.8%), and 15th in HR/9 (0.65).
In any event, this pitcher's last name also ends in a "z." OK, suspense time is over. It's none other than Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez and Hernandez have the same basic repertoire of pitches: fastball, slider, curve, and changeup. Both of them throw extremely hard. Jimenez relies on his heater a little bit more than Hernandez (71.0% of total pitches to 66.1%) but that could be a function of their home ballparks as the former's heavy fastball works relatively well at Coors Field.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander leapt onto the national scene last fall when his Colorado Rockies beat virtually everybody down the stretch and in the postseason except the Boston Red Sox. He started three times in the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, fashioning a 2.25 ERA over 16 innings. That said, it feels as if the 24-year-old fireballer has flown under the radar screen for much of this season.
Jimenez's numbers are actually a mixed bag. I guess that's what is so intriguing to me. He is tied for the MLB lead in starts (22) and has produced an ERA of less than 4.00 with an ERA+ of 116. But he has also allowed more walks (65) and wild pitches (14) than any pitcher in baseball.
Strangely, the Dominican native has produced better results at home than on the road:
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA AVG OBP SLG Home 73.1 53 23 21 5 27 43 2.58 .204 .284 .300 Road 55.2 69 41 36 3 38 59 5.82 .305 .410 .420
As shown, his ERA at Coors Field is less than half of his ERA on the road. By slicing and dicing the numbers a bit more, we learn that Jimenez has a BABIP at home of .224 and away of .402. Both are unsustainable. The former is too low and the latter is too high. A narrowing of the gap will result in less divergence in the home and road ERAs. Jimenez has actually struck out a much higher percentage of batters on the road (21.85%) than at home (14.68%). His away stats have been hurt by poor outings in Los Angeles on April 25 and Philadelphia on May 27.
Of note, Jimenez has improved each and every month this season. All of his metrics have gotten progressively better as the year has unfolded.
ERA AVG OBP SLG OPS April 5.90 .291 .411 .393 .805 May 4.85 .282 .341 .376 .717 June 3.60 .237 .327 .351 .678 July 2.04 .198 .297 .306 .603
While I hesitate to put too much stock into monthly trends, I'm more inclined to place some value on such progressions if the player in question is unusually young or old. In the case of Jimenez, the 2008 season is his first full year in the big leagues. As such, I believe there may be something said about paying closer attention to these trends as it is quite possible that he is learning on the job.
Is his lack of control simply a function of his age? Well, that's the $64,000 question. Or, more personal to Jimenez, the tens of millions question. In his last 14 starts, Jimenez has "only" walked 37 in 88 1/3 innings pitched.
It says here that if Jimenez can continue to harness his wildness and improve his command, he will become one of the best pitchers in the game. If not, he may end up as the second coming of Daniel Cabrera, another pitcher I had high hopes for just a few years back.
A Look at the Triple-A Leader Boards
With the Minor League Baseball season about two-thirds of the way done (already!), there are some interesting names at the top of the leader boards. I thought it might be fun to take a look at the offensive players at the top of each league in Triple-A baseball, in terms of the triple-slash stats: average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Leaders for Average:
As you probably know, the majority of players at the Triple-A level are fringe Major Leaguers and usually minor league veterans. Such is the case with the above three players, although Joe Thurston was once considered a pretty good prospect with the Los Angeles Dodgers, circa 2002 when he hit .334/.372/.506 as a 22-year-old at Triple-A. Well, it's six seasons later and Thurston has appeared in a total of 56 games. He is still talented and athletic enough to carve out a utility player role for a big league club. Thurston just needs a break.
At the age of 30, Randy Ruiz has yet to have an official at-bat at the Major League level. Mike Cervenak, at the age of 31, made his Major League debut this season for the Phillies and had one at-bat before he was sent back down to the minors. In 360 minor league at-bats this season, Cervenak has walked just nine times. Neither player projects as anything beyond a possible pinch hitter at the Major League level.
Brett Gardner is easily the best prospect of the three, especially considering Dan Johnson has expired his rookie eligibility. Gardner has made good use of his patience by stealing 34 bases. He has, though, looked over-matched at the Major League level. Johnson and Matt Watson are both 'tweeners' with not quite enough power to play everyday at their positions but they also lack positional flexibility, which keeps them off a Major League bench.
Brad Eldred was a nice little off-season pick-up for the White Sox out of the Pirates organization. Unfortunately, there are already two guys named Paul Konerko and Jim Thome clogging up the first base/designated hitter roles in the Windy City. He's 28, but Eldred hits well against both right-handers and southpaws and he has performed well with runners in scoring position (.280/.378/.598).
With 75 or so more at-bats, Mike Hessman is ahead of Eldred in both homers (by four) and strikeouts (by 42). The 30-year old has now topped 20 homers in a minor league season nine times but he has a career .230 average in more than 1,400 games. Jeff Bailey briefly sniffed the Major Leagues earlier this season but he struggles with off-speed pitches and looks like a 4-A player.
Leaders for Average:
You have to give Terry Tiffee credit for even being in Triple-A, as a former 26th round pick by Minnesota. As a career .296 hitter in the minor leagues, Tiffee certainly knows how to swing the bat but his Major League career has been stalled by his lack of power at the hot corner: 84 homers in 3,647 at-bats.
It may not seem that impressive that Brian Myrow has just 33 Major League at-bats at the age of 31, but he was undrafted out of college and was signed out of independent baseball in 2001. Myrow could potential have a Mark Sweeney-type of career if given the chance, but he does not have enough usable power to play first base every day.
Nelson Cruz has long teased organizations with his power potential but consistency has eluded him, much like his Major League career. With 31 homers, 21 stolen bases and an on-base average more than .400, though, Cruz is making a statement that he deserves another chance at the age of 28. Seth Smith lacks the power needed to play the corner outfield on a regular basis. He had a great fall in 2007 and showed talent off the bench by going 5-for-8 in seven games.
Cruz and D'Antona were both touched upon under the above two categories and it's obvious that they are both having excellent seasons. Both players have been hurt in the past by questions about their work ethics.
Former top prospect Dallas McPherson has also breathed new life into his career with an excellent season that has seen him hit 32 homers in 314 at-bats. He has, though, also struck out 112 times. Finally healthy after struggling with a variety of injuries for the past three seasons, McPherson deserves another Major League shot at the age of 28. It will be interesting to see how much his numbers were inflated by his favorable minor league hitting environment.
Clayton Kershaw goes for the Dodgers tonight. Here is what he has done thus far in 2008:
IP ERA H R ER BB SO MLB 38.7 4.42 39 19 19 24 33 MiLB (total) 61.1 1.91 39 19 13 19 59 (Since demotion) 18.0 1.00 7 2 2 4 12
He was a tad unlucky on balls in play and he walked too many batters when he was up with the Big club. He seems to have straightened out the control issues back with Jacksonville but then, Jacksonville is not Coors Field, is it? One could reasonably question the decision to bring Kershaw back for his first start since his demotion in Denver but either way it appears he may be up for good. Stay tuned.
Last night Miguel Cairo, hitting .225/.298/.284, started at Designated Hitter for the Seattle Mariners. When the obit is drafted for the hapless 2008 Mariners, their disregard for the defensive spectrum, for the opportunity to gain offensive punch from the 1st Base and Designated Hitter positions, should be pointed to as the primary cause of death. Maybe this is too harsh in that Richie Sexson's rapid decline could not have been foreseen, but the Mariners have moved on from Sexson with a 1B/DH combo of Cairo and Jose Vidro.
Some numbers to take in below:
AVG OBP SLG Cairo .225 .298 .284 Vidro .222 .266 .319 AL 1B .260 .344 .421 AL DH .246 .333 .416 SEA 1B .221 .312 .354 SEA DH .197 .249 .280 NL P .148 .182 .178
Seattle's Designated Hitter output approximates that of a National League pitcher about as closely as it does an American League DH's.
Going into last night's game against the Seattle Mariners, the Boston Red Sox sported a road record of 21-32, "good" for the American League's fourth worst mark. Here are some of their road numbers, and how they stack up against their American League peers. Maybe this will help to clarify why it is they have struggled away from Fenway Park.
OPS BOS .763 CHW .742 TEX .739 NYY .732 TBR .727
OPS Against BOS .696 LAA .706 OAK .719 TOR .729 CHW .730
Oops, doesn't really clarify much at all, does it? On Sunday night's national telecast in Anaheim, Joe Morgan went on and on about how the Red Sox road woes represent their Achilles Heel. Jon Miller said that their poor body of work away from Boston precludes one from saying Boston is a great team.
But the numbers above tell a different story. They have been situationally bad on the road, allowing a disproportionately large number of runners on base to score while failing to drive their own players in. But Boston boasts Major League Baseball's second best run differential and their best hitter hasn't played for the last 45 games or so. And while many seem to think that their troubles on the road will hold them back (they might), the numbers above suggest that Boston will be just fine.
All-Star Recognition is da Honor for Navarro
On Tuesday, Rob Neyer asked Who are this year's short-lived All-Stars?
What about Dioner Navarro? Like Ludwick, Navarro's an All-Star in his first season as an everyday player … but he's not really an everyday player, having played only 69 games so far. Last year he batted .227/.286/.356, and wasn't even an afterthought in everybody's rotisserie drafts this spring. What's more, when you make a list of obscure All-Stars over the years, you're going to wind up with a bunch of catchers. So maybe Navarro's our man … except he's only 24, and was highly regarded as a prospect, and catchers often take a while to develop as hitters. Anybody want to bet he doesn't enjoy a productive major league career?
My two cents is that Dioner Navarro is far from a fluke and instead a legitimate All-Star. His full-year stats last year don't do him any justice as the Tampa Bay catcher had a horrendous first half (.177/.238/.254) but rebounded in a big way in the second half (.285/.340/.475). Navarro has continued to hit well through the All-Star game this season (.310/.361/.424) and his production for the past year places him among the top-ten hitting catchers in the game.
Among catchers with 400 or more plate appearances during this time frame, Navarro ranks fifth (out of 22 eligibles) in AVG (.301) and SLG (.451), seventh in OPS (.805) and RC/27 (5.36), and eighth in OBP (.354). The six catchers who rank ahead of him in OPS and RC/27? Jorge Posada, Geovany Soto, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Chris Snyder, and Russell Martin.
Posada's inclusion is based on a career year in 2007 while Soto, McCann, Mauer, and Martin – All-Stars all – are probably the four most highly regarded catchers at the present time. All of these receivers are older than Navarro except for McCann, who was born 11 days later. Put it all together and the Rays have one of the youngest and most productive backstops in the majors.
Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2000, Navarro has already played for three different teams in the big leagues even though he is just 24. To Paul DePodesta's credit, he acquired the youngster in a three-way trade (along with three others while dumping veteran Shawn Green's salary) in January 2005 when he was the Dodgers GM. The switch-hitting catcher split time between Las Vegas (PCL, AAA) and Los Angeles that summer. He hit .273/.354/.375 in the majors while displaying excellent plate discipline (20 BB, 21 SO) for a 21-year-old rookie.
Navarro was traded (along with two other players) to Tampa Bay in June 2006 by Ned Colletti, who had replaced DePodesta the previous fall. Who did Colletti receive for this up-and-coming prospect? Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson. Two journeymen who did little or nothing for the Dodgers before leaving as uncompensated free agents within the next year or two.
With the arrival of Russell Martin in 2006, perhaps Navarro was no longer needed in L.A. A two-time All-Star, Martin won the Silver Slugger as the best-hitting catcher in the National League in 2007. He can hit, catch, and run with the best. Nobody inside or outside the game doubts Martin's ability or future.
But how much better has Martin been than Navarro over the past year? Let's take a look at their numbers:
AVG OBP SLG OPS Martin .281 .378 .434 .811 Navarro .301 .354 .451 .805
The above comparison points to the fact that Navarro has essentially matched Martin's rate stats over the trailing 12 months, which I believe is a reasonable way to measure the performance of players in the midst of any particular season. Now I'm not suggesting that Navarro is Martin's equal. If given the choice, I would take the latter all day and twice on Sunday. But maybe – just maybe – the gap between the two is much narrower than generally believed.
Defensively, after throwing out only 9 of 58 base stealers with the Dodgers in 2005-2006, Navarro has gunned down 67 of 198 as a Ray, including 17 of 45 (or 38%) in 2008. Furthermore, the native of Caracas, Venezuela has only committed one error this season after making 14 miscues last year. He has also become a highly respected member of Tampa Bay's clubhouse and a take charge guy with the pitching staff.
Although Navarro will be eligible for arbitration after this season, he is the third-youngest player on the team (after Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton) and makes just $22,500 above the MLB minimum of $390,000. Don't be surprised if the Rays lock up their young catcher to a longer-term deal and fans outside of Tampa Bay begin to appreciate him for what he is: one of the top catching talents in the bigs.
The Future of Major League Baseball
The World roster won 3-0 over the U.S. roster on Sunday during the Futures Game. The annual prospects showcase featured some of the most impressive and talented prospects in professional baseball. Many of the names were familiar to fans of minor league baseball but there were also some lesser-known players to make an appearance on the big stage, which is the group we are going to look at this week.
Wilkin Ramirez, 3B
The Tigers do not have an overly impressive minor league system but Ramirez is one bright spot. He is currently hitting .303/.372/.545 in 297 at-bats with 14 homers and 19 stolen bases. Ramirez briefly saw some Triple-A action earlier this season but hit just .083 in 36 at-bats. With a career .310 on-base average, Ramirez needs to continue to improve his patience at the plate.
Gerardo Parra, OF
With the off-season trade of Carlos Gonzalez, Parra became the No. 1 outfield prospect in the system and has taken that status to heart. He doesn't offer as much power as Gonzalez, but Parra has a little more speed and may be a better defensive player. He is currently hitting .252/.314/.358 with two homers and six stolen bases in 123 Double-A at-bats, after beginning the season in High-A ball with a line of .301/.381/.413 with two homers and 12 stolen bases in 196 at-bats.
Scott Campbell, 2B
Campbell has the chance to become the first New Zealander to play in the Major Leagues. Currently at Double-A, he is hitting .332/.422/.451 with five homers and two stolen bases in 304 at-bats. Impressively, Campbell skipped over High-A ball at the beginning of the season. He currently has 46 walks and 47 stolen bases. The second baseman is just an OK fielder and cannot hit southpaws (.194), so he is likely a future bench or platoon player.
Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
Although just 19, Lin made the World roster based on his potential. The Taiwan outfielder, who was signed in early 2007, has hit below .250 in his two-year career so far. Currently at Low A-ball, Lin is hitting .248/.344/.368 with five homers and 27 stolen bases in 323 at-bats.
Welington Castillo, C
Castillo is no doubt looking to follow in Geovany Soto's footsteps. Split between High-A and Double-A ball in 2008, Castillo is hitting .291/.346/.422 overall with four homers in 199 at-bats. With the promotion of Soto to the Major Leagues and the recent trade of Josh Donaldson to Oakland, Castillo is now the No. 1 catching prospect in the system after beginning the season third on the depth chart. At the very least, his defensive abilities should ensure he will make the majors as a back-up catcher.
Hector Rondon, RHP
Rondon was a little-known prospect last season, although he combined on a no-hitter with a teammate in Low A-ball. He has solid control for his age, to go along with a low-90s fastball, curveball and fringe change-up. So far this season the right-hander has had no issues with High-A ball and has allowed 88 hits in 93 innings. He has walked 32 batters and struck out 101.
Shairon Martis, RHP
Martis was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants and later traded to the Nationals for aging reliever Mike Stanton. Martis won 14 games in 2007 but struck out just 108 batters in 151 innings. His sinker and plus change-up induce grounders but he will need to improve his breaking balls to succeed at the Major League level, especially since he has been allowing more fly balls this season. After 14 Double-A starts in 2008, Martis was promoted to Triple-A where he has made four starts.
Greg Golson, OF
Golson, a former 2004 No. 1 draft pick, is having a career year even though he is still showing no patience at the plate. The athletic outfielder is currently hitting .299/.333/.455 with eight homers and 17 stolen bases in 264 at-bats. However, he has just 14 walks and 80 strikeouts, which suggest his success will not last.
Cliff Pennington, SS
Pennington is another former No. 1 pick (2005, 21st overall) who is finally having some success. He fell off the prospect charts in 2006 and 2007 but started off 2008 by hitting .260/.379/.314 with 20 stolen bases in 204 Double-A at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A, Pennington is currently hitting .277/.408/.394 with two homers and five stolen bases in 155 at-bats. Impressively, he has walked 74 times and struck out 59 times. With his combination of patience and speed, Pennington should spend time in the Majors as a utility player.
Chris Getz, 2B
Getz also projects as a big league utility player. The hard-nosed infielder has significantly improved his stock this season with a Triple-A line of .303/.361/.452 with eight homers and seven stolen bases in 310 at-bats. The former fourth round pick out of the University of Michigan has a strong arm but limited range, which hurts his utility player prospects a bit.
Dexter Fowler, OF
Fowler was originally drafted in the 14th round of the 2004 draft as a raw project. He has finally taken that next step on his way to a solid big league career. Fowler is currently hitting .325/.412/.510 with nine homers and 16 stolen bases in 351 Double-A at-bats. The switch hitter is currently batting .438/.500/.671 from the left side. His 73 strikeouts, though, are on the high side.
Taylor Teagarden, C
While playing at the University of Texas, Teagarden was considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in all of college baseball. His bat, though, was a question. Not long after signing his first pro contract, Teagarden underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow and spent much of the next season at designated hitter. His bat improved and in 2007, split between High-A ball and Double-A, Teagarden hit .310 and slugged 27 homers. He is struggling a bit offensively this season with a line of .220/.333/.381 in 164 at-bats split between Double-A and Triple-A but his glove will ensure that he sees time at the Major League level before long.
Casey Weathers, RHP
It may be a little surprising that you haven't heard more about the eighth overall selection of the 2007 draft, but Weathers' popularity is hurt by the fact he is a reliever and has pitched just 50 innings since signing his first pro contract. Regardless, he has put up solid numbers and so far this season has allowed just 23 hits in 35.1 innings. He has walked 19 batters, which is high, but he has also struck out 40 hitters. His ground ball outs to fly ball outs ratio is also about 2-1, which should help him in Colorado. Right-handed batters are hitting just .168 against him.
The future is certainly bright in Major League baseball, especially considering the above group of players were not even considered the cream of the crop at the showcase. You can read more about this week's Futures Game here.
Checking in on the Troy Glaus / Scott Rolen Deal
This past off-season featured one of the more interesting "challenge trades' in recent years. The St. Louis Cardinals sent along their third baseman, Scott Rolen, to the Toronto Blue Jays for theirs, Troy Glaus. This was not surplus-for-need or a salary dump; just one GM saying to the other, "I think I have the better of you here."
Rolen is a year older than Glaus but has also had the better career thanks in no small part to his defense. Some have even put forth the possibility that he is the very best defensive third baseman ever.
I thought the midway point, or rather the All-Star Break, would be an interesting point in time to have a look back to see who is "winning" this trade.
G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Glaus 94 390 .276 .377 .486 128 Rolen 70 293 .267 .358 .431 112
It's no secret that it has been a rough year for JP Ricciardi, and it looks like this trade will not help him when it comes time for him to make his case as to why he deserves to hang onto his job.
Required Reading Alert
Joe Posnanski is no stranger to this site, and he is one of the best
Isn't it interesting how two people can become linked forever? How fleeting can life's successes be? Isn't it strange how decisions made at a given point in time can alter the course of one's life forever, even if the implications are not understood realtime? Anyway, it is all in here.
Well, trade talks began for what had a chance to be one of the most overwhelming one-for-one deal in baseball history — a swap of two $100,000 players — Murcer for Bonds. On a level, it too made sense. Here was a chance to get Murcer away from New York, away from the shadow of Mantle, away from the fans who could not love him unconditionally. Here was a chance to send him to the other side of the country, to San Francisco, where he could see more fastballs, where the fans might appreciate his talents, his hard-charging style, his Oklahoma charm. Sure. Made sense.
If you only read one full-length baseball article this week, it should be this one by Poz.
On Josh Hamilton
I did not tune into last night's Home Run Derby but for a half hour or 45 minutes, but I sure seemed to pick the right time. Josh Hamilton put on one of the all-time great shows at Yankee Stadium, racking up 28 home runs in the first round. A left-handed hitter, you might think that Hamilton took advantage of Yankee Stadium's short right field. You would be dead wrong. Hamilton hit balls 25 rows into the third deck, 20 rows back into the right-center field bleachers, 30 feet onto whatever the hell that black area in Yankee Stadium is and, most impressively, he hit a ball square off the wall that sits behind the right-center field bleachers.
I am no Chris Berman defender. In fact I think he is on the very short list of most annoying sports commentators going. "Back...back...back...oh, wow...this one's headed to STATEN ISLAND!" Please.
But Berman was quite good during Hamilton's show. He mentioned Hamilton's personal history (how could you not?). He made it clear that this is a great story but that it is important to keep in mind that Hamilton's problems were his own doing; an excellent point to make on a night when countless youngsters are watching, mesmerized as this guy hits 500-footer after 500-footer. He wondered aloud if Hamilton's Batting Practice coach was "on a pitch count." I thought that was pretty funny.
And then Joe Morgan, feeling the need to chime in on Hamilton's travails and all that he has overcome, said the following (and I paraphrase). "You can talk about all that other stuff and it is all well and good but what impresses me most is that he has been able to adjust to Big League pitching after three years out of baseball."
Now, I think I know what Joe was getting at. He was trying to rein the discussion back in and focus on baseball, a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, the way he introduced his line of thinking, casting aside all Hamilton had overcome in such nonchalant fashion, made his comment come off petty and insensitive. No, Joe, the most amazing thing about Hamilton is not that he can hit Big League pitching after three years away. It's that he's alive, sober and successful at all, whether it be in baseball, plumbing or any other field. His life is on the right track.
As for Hamilton the ballplayer, does anyone have any clue what to make of this guy? Without much of a Minor League track record and with the prospect of relapse hovering (he admits that he does not "trust himself" and has a personal advisor/sponsor to help him stay sober), how do you project him? There can be no doubt about his physical capabilities, especially after last night. The ball jumped off of his bat like none of the other participants.
He is a 27 year-old with a 138 OPS+ in his first 183 Big League games. I would love to know what you make of Hamilton, his potential and what the future might hold for the guy.
They Were All-Stars – Believe It or Not!
With baseball's annual All-Star Game just around the corner, many fans are thinking about great names of the past and present. Each midseason contest includes a heavy dose of talented young players, perennial stars and future Hall of Famers.
Does that mean every All-Star is a big name with a glittering stat sheet? Not exactly.
The rules of All-Star selection - at least one representative from each team, no matter how inept (insert the 1939 Browns, '42 Phillies, '52 Pirates, '62 Mets and 2003 Tigers here) - plus last-minute replacements for injured players means a few journeymen sneak into All-Star status. In some cases, a first-half hot streak turns a mediocre player into the baseball equivalent of Cinderella, and the humble roster filler gets an invitation to the All-Star ball.
So who are some of the least deserving honorees? Here are the accidential All-Stars.
Bobo Newsom's 20-16 record for the hapless 1938 Browns (59-95) looks good enough for All-Star consideration, but it came with a 5.08 ERA that was 29 points above the American League average of 4.79. Newsom's 226 strikeouts and 192 walks were second in the AL.
Max West's 1940 numbers - a .261 average with 7 home runs and 72 RBI in 524 at-bats - are hardly the stuff of legend. Despite that, the Boston Bees (the name of the Braves from 1936 to 1941) outfielder made a big impact on that year's 4-0 victory for the National League. West hit a three-run homer in his only All-Star plate appearance. He left the game in the second inning after bruising his hip while crashing into the wall during an unsuccessful attempt to catch a Luke Appling double.
Phillies pitcher Cy Blanton was selected in 1941. He finished the season at 6-13 with a 4.51 ERA for the perennial cellar dwellers. The Philadelphia A's also offered little to choose from during that time. Catcher Hal Wagner hit .236 in 288 ABs with 1 HR and 30 RBI in 1942 but still made the All-Star roster.
Eddie Miller was a slick fielder, so it wasn't his .209 average that turned the Reds shortstop into a 1944 All-Star. Miller's 357 putouts, 544 assists and .971 fielding percentage led the league. Miller sat the game out due to injury, and he was replaced by Pirates infielder Frank Zak. How did the slap-hitting backup (just four extra-base hits in 160 ABs) become an All-Star? The game was played at Forbes Filed, and having a hometown player meant the National League needed to find one less train ticket in a time of scarcity and rationing.
Browns pitcher Jack Kramer made the squad in 1947. He finished the season 11-16 with a 4.97 ERA. While that might be decent by the lowly standard of the Brownies, it definitely wasn't All-Star quality. Tigers hurler Ted Gray was 10-7 in 1950, but a 4.40 ERA was nothing to brag about.
Browns shortstop Billy Hunter pinch-ran in the 1953 game. The rookie hit .219 (also his career average) with 1 HR and 37 RBI in 567 ABs during the franchise's final season in St. Louis. Teammate Satchel Paige joined Hunter and pitched in relief just days after his 47th birthday. On the NL side, lefty Murry Dickson finished 10-19 with a 4.53 ERA for the 50-104 Pirates.
Dick Stigman sat on the bench in both 1961 All-Star Games, as two July exhibitions were played each year from 1958 to 1962. The Indians lefty finished the season 5-11 with nine saves and a 4.51 ERA. Red Sox reliever Mike Fornieles (9-8, 4.68, 15 saves) gave up a run in a third of an inning in Game 1.
Senators catcher Don Leppert didn't appear in the 1963 contest. His stats for the season include 211 ABs, 6 HR, 24 RBI and a .237 average. Defensive and pitch-calling skills can put a poor-hitting catcher on the All-Star roster, and Andy Etchebarren pulled off that feat two years in a row. The Orioles reciever hit .221 with career highs in HR (11) and RBI (50) in 1966. Etchebarren followed with a .215, 7, 35 stat line in 1967. He did nothing more than warm up pitchers as an All-Star.
Slim pickings from expansion teams led to the inclusion a pair of journeyman catchers on the 1969 rosters. Chris Cannizzaro of the Padres (4 HR, 33 RBI, .220) and Royals backstop Ellie Rodriguez (2 HR, 20 RBI, .236 in 267 ABs) made the trip to RFK Stadium in Washington, but neither player appeared in the game.
Rangers first baseman Jim Spencer was known as a slick fielder (.999 fielding percentage and just one error in 1973), but his 4 HR, 43 RBI and .267 average are hardly the norm for a heavy-hitting position. Spencer went 0 for 1 as pinch-hitter in the '73 summer classic.
Angels infielder Dave Chalk hit .252 with 5 HR and 31 RBI in 465 AB in 1975, but that didn't keep him off the All-Star roster. Just nine doubles and three triples further illustrates Chalk's lack of punch. It wasn't defense that turned Chalk into an All-Star. He led AL shortstops in errors (29, .938 fielding percentage) despite playing just 99 games at the position. Chalk was more dependable at third base, and he repeated as an All-Star in 1976 at that position.
Steve Swisher lived up to his name with a .216 lifetime average. A solid defensive catcher, he represented the Cubs in 1976, but didn't appear in the game. Swisher's .236 average with 5 HR and 43 RBI in 377 AB was the high point of his career. Swisher's son Nick has made a reputation for himself as a slugging OF/1B for the A's and White Sox.
Dick Ruthven made two NL All-Star squads with less than impressive numbers. The right-hander was 14-17 with a 4.20 ERA for the Braves in 1976. Ruthven led the NL in losses that year.
A 12-7 record in strike-shortened 1981 looks good, but it was accompanied by a 5.14 ERA. Ironically, Ruthven wasn't an All-Star during his best season - a 17-10, 3.55 performance for the Phillies in 1980.
Biff Pocoroba is known by those who like unusual baseball names. The Braves catcher hit .242 with 6 HR and 34 RBI in 289 AB when he made his only All-Star team in 1978.
Ongoing expansion led to more eligible players and fewer desperation picks. The usual problem in recent years had been a lack of roster spots for every deserving candidate, something that usually wasn't an issue when the major leagues had just 16 teams.
Rangers pitcher Roger Pavlik was a 1994 All-Star. The 15-8 record looks fine, but the 5.19 ERA is another story. Paul Byrd's 4.60 ERA was paired with a 15-11 record for the Phillies in 1999. The control specialist gave up an unusually high (for him) 70 walks in 199.2 IP.
Rays closer Lance Carter had a strong first half in 2003 before fading after the All-Star Game. He finished the season with a 7-5 record, 26 saves and a 4.33 ERA.
Former Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow was cruising along with an ERA in the 3.00 range when he was named to the NL squad in 2006. That number rose to the 4.50 level by the time the All-Star Game was played. Bad turned to horrendous in the second half. When he wasn't giving up walks, Turnbow was getting hit hard. One of baseball's best closers in 2005, Turnbow ended 2006 with a 4-9 record, 24 saves and a 6.87 ERA, and he has never recaptured the magic of a few years ago.
The lesson? Being an All-Star is a great honor, but it says nothing about a player's long-term prospects.
Great Moments in Frivolity, Part II
Yesterday we looked at March's monkeyshines and April's assininity. Today we wrap up with May, June, and July. What? July's not over yet? No worries. I'm sure no one will do anything stupid or noteworthy for the rest of the month.
Multiple news outlets profile the Royals' dynamic duo of Zach Greinke and Brian Bannister. They make for a great story. One guy is a much better story, however. I mean, when you consider all of the adversity he has overcome and the affliction with which he has struggled, man, you just get misty. I'm talking, of course, about Brian Bannister and his ability to hold a job without possessing a Major League fastball.
Sticking with the Royals, on May 2nd, reliever John Bale, frustrated at yet another poor performance, breaks his hand after punching a door. At the time he has a 7.63 ERA, which means that he was probably doing his team a favor by putting himself on the DL. Inspired, the Giants put pictures of one of the guys Barry Zito's ex-girlfriends hooked up with on every door in the clubhouse, hoping for a similar miracle.
Paul DePodesta, the Padres Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, starts his own blog. Team President Sandy Alderson is generally supportive, but hopes that DePodesta is strongly considered for the Mariners' vacant GM position so that he can get the use of his basement back.
Hall of Famer-elect Rich Gossage rants about how it takes three pitchers today to do the job that he and his bullpen brethren did back in the dark ages of the 1970s and 80s. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax roll their eyes. Cy Young, Pud Galvin, and Tim Keefe inquire from beyond about what, exactly, a "bullpen" is.
Giants' GM Brian Sabean announces that he thinks his team can yet contend in 2008, lauding his players for overcoming all of the "challenges" and "question marks" they faced coming out of spring training. Sabean fails to mention, however, that all of the challenges and question marks were the result of his own failure to draft and develop a position player during virtually his entire tenure as General Manager.
Jon Lester throws a no-hitter against the Royals. Unfortunately, this is the only Red Sox game in weeks not featured on ESPN, so no one outside of Kansas City or New England gets to see it.
It is revealed that Roger Clemens routinely dispenses pitching advice to Joba Chamberlain via text message. While some express concern, cooler heads prevail when it's pointed out that Chamberlain is 22 years-old, and as such is much too old to hold Clemens' interest for long.
Officials from the State of Maryland hold a ceremony renaming a portion of I-395 outside of Camden Yards "Cal Ripken Way." Best thing about it: it's a very durable road, and thus resurfacing will not be necessary until 2024.
There's a lot of talk about Chase Utley for MVP. It rages throughout most of the month, but eventually subsides when someone points out that he's not even the best-hitting second baseman in the NL East whose last name starts with the letter "U".
Joba Chamberlain makes his much anticipated debut as a starting pitcher. He only lasts three innings. The short outing has nothing to do with his lack of effectiveness, however. Rather, there are so many reporters assembled for the game that the Yankees' media relations people thought it would be a good idea to make Chamberlain available for interviews beginning in the bottom of the fourth.
To hype the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball creates the "Statues on Parade" promotion, in which replicas of Lady Liberty are painted with the logos of all 30 Major League teams and placed in strategic locations around New York City. Many clever wags make jokes at what might happen to a statue painted with a Red Sox logo sitting on a street corner in the Bronx. No one seems to worry, however, about plastering the racist image of Chief Wahoo over one of our nation's greatest symbols of liberty.
Ozzie Guillen goes on an expletive-laced tirade following a bad White Sox loss, going so far as to call out Sox GM Kenny Williams, who fires back at Ozzie the following day. A few days later, Mariners manager John McLaren goes on a tirade of his own, and he is immediately defended and supported by Mariners' management as "having a right to be upset." Weeks later, McLaren is fired and Ozzie has the White Sox in first place. The lesson here: chemistry is overrated.
The Rangers and Indians play a midweek, four-game series in which 78 runs were scored, all of the games exceeded three hours in length – in fact three of the four pushed four hours – and sloppy play prevailed. Box scores documenting these crimes against baseball humanity are sent to the International Court of Justice in the Hague for further investigation, and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee is formed. Experts believe that the mental wounds inflicted by this atrocity of a series can one day heal, but it will take time.
Geddy Lee, the lead singer and bassist for Canadian progressive rock band Rush, makes one of the largest ever single donations of memorabilia to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. After he leaves, the entire staff of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum runs to the nearest computer to try and figure out just who the hell Geddy Lee is.
In a USA Today story, experts are quoted as saying that, in order to limit arm and shoulder injuries, an 11- or 12-year-old pitcher should be limited to 85 pitches in one outing, players 10 or younger should be limited to 75 pitches, and 22 year-old New York Yankees' pitchers from Nebraska should be limited to 65.
In the latest of what seems to be a never-ending string of embarrassing stories about Roger Clemens, the New York tabloids report that, in addition to steroids, Clemens used Viagra as a performance enhancer. While many have alleged that "roid rage" was the cause of the tension between Clemens and Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series, these new revelations shed a whole new light on things.
The Sporting News, the one-time Baseball Bible that has since fallen into near-obscurity, relaunches. Middle-aged men all over America are overjoyed that they will soon again be receiving week-old box scores in the mail every Tuesday afternoon.
David Ortiz becomes a U.S. citizen. Due to a series of complex treaties, however, it is still the case that any children he and his wife have during the baseball season will be subjects of Red Sox Nation.
The Mets fire Willie Randolph one day into a west coast road trip. Many commentators take issue with the late-night timing of the termination. Underreported is the fact that the Mets refuse to give their former manager a plane ticket back home. Randolph is last seen near the ride board at the UCLA student union.
The Yankees announce plans to put a Hard Rock Café in New Yankee Stadium. In explaining the reasons behind the move, Hank Steinbrenner says "we wanted the quality of the food we serve to the fans at New Yankee Stadium to reflect the quality of play they can expect to see on the field. It made perfect sense, therefore, to go with the overpriced and overrated fare of the Hard Rock Café!"
Good News: Cito Gaston is rehired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Bad news: Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, and John Olerud are nowhere to be seen.
Bad news: Major shoulder surgery likely puts an end to Curt Schilling's baseball career. Worse news: major shoulder surgery likely marks the beginning of Curt Schilling's television career.
A story out of San Diego reveals that the Padres are looking to dump Greg Maddux. This story appears mere days after the Padres sign Brett Tomko. While Padres management continues to try and identify the reasons for the team's considerable struggles, experts note that doing things like keeping guys like Brett Tomko and dumping guys like Greg Maddux may be part of the problem.
It is announced that a Bon Jovi concert will be held in Central Park in connection with the All-Star Game. In related news, it is announced that the first 10,000 fans in Yankee Stadium on the night of the game will receive Swatch Watches, Cabbage Patch Kids, and jelly shoes.
C.C. Sabathia is traded to the Brewers. Extra beer, bratwurst, and large pants are immediately dispatched via convoy to Milwaukee.
In a reaction to the Sabathia trade, the Cubs pick up Rich Harden, and the Cardinals rush Mark Mulder back into the rotation. The Astros, Pirates, and Reds stand by slackjawed, unaware that teams can actually be buyers at the trade deadline.
Alex Rodriguez's marriage falls apart amid allegations of infidelity with Madonna and drunken dalliances with strippers. A-Rod is understandably confused by the fallout in the tabloids. For years he has been criticized for not being Mickey Mantle, and the moment he finally does something the Mick would do, he's attacked for it.
The wrecking balls come to Tiger Stadium. I wish I had a joke for this one, but I just don't.
Enjoy the All-Star Break. I think we all need it.
Craig Calcaterra is an attorney from Columbus, Ohio. When he's not defending the innocent and preserving democracy, he writes the baseball blog ShysterBall.
Great Moments in Frivolity, Part I
On Monday, Rich took a look back at the important business of the 2008 season to date: who's winning, who's losing, and why. Unimportant business is important too, however, so over the next two days I’ll be providing a rundown of the ephemeral, the trivial, and the pathetic events of the season's first half. Today: March and April.
Following a poorly-played spring training game, Royals' manager Trey Hillman delivers a verbal reprimand of his entire team on the field in front of over 5,000 fans at Surprise Stadium. Sources in the crowd report that Hillman was particularly displeased with the way that the Royals lollygagged the ball around the infield, lollygagged their way down to first, and lollygagged in and out of the dugout. This, according to pitching coach Bob McClure, made the Royals "lollygaggers."
Billy Crystal signed with the Yankees and faced Pirates' pitcher Paul Maholm in his only at bat. He struck out, but looked pretty good doing it, especially for a sixty year-old man. Since it was a one-day contract, the Yankees released him that afternoon. Brian Cashman regrets the decision, however, after watching Robinson Cano post a .151/.211/.236 line in April.
Tensions flare between the Yankees and Rays after a hard slide which broke the wrist of New York's backup catcher Francisco Cervelli leads to a spiking/beanball war. This marks the last point of the season in which the Yankees would compete with Tampa Bay in any meaningful way.
In the greatest display of labor solidarity since the 1994-95 strike, the Boston Red Sox announce that they're boycotting their season-opening series against the A's in Tokyo unless coaches and staff are given a promised $40,000 bonus. Reporters, bloggers, and the professionally outraged are deeply disappointed when the strike ends approximately seventeen minutes after it begins.
Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers agree to an eight-year, $153M extension. When asked to comment, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski notes that such a large and long deal may be foolish when talking about a slow first basemen or DH, but it's an absolute steal for a third baseman.
An advance copy of Vindicated, Jose Canseco's new book is released, and once again Canseco is trashed as a liar and sleazeball. Among the crazy, outlandish things claimed by Canseco this time is the allegation that Alex Rodriguez was known to make advances towards women who were not his wife. How dare he besmirch the integrity and fidelity of a class act like Alex Rodriguez in such a fashion!
Spring training ends with a series in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the regular season begins with a series in the Tokyo Dome. Ah, tradition!
Moises Alou admits to Associated Press columnist Jim Litke that he wouldn't have caught that foul ball in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS even if Steve Bartman hadn't reached for it. He later recants and returns to claiming that Bartman interfered. Somewhere Steve Bartman is living under an assumed name and not finding any of this funny in the least.
Bill Buckner makes an emotional return to Fenway Park, where he is greeted warmly twenty-two years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series. This is not to be mistaken with the emotional return he made to Fenway Park as a player in 1990, where he was greeted warmly four years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series. It should likewise not later be mistaken with the emotional return he will make to Fenway Park in 2016, thirty years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series.
Miguel Cabrera is moved from third base to first base. When asked for comment, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski notes that such a move makes perfect sense given the contract extension to which the Tigers signed Cabrera a month before. Such a large and long deal would be foolish when talking about a player at an injury-susceptible position like third, Dombrowski says, but it's an absolute steal for a guy at a safe position like first base.
A book reveals that Mickey Mantle had an affair with Doris Day during the filming of "That Touch of Mink" back in 1962. Day denied the reports at the time, but Mantle's wife fled to Paris to be with pop singer Frankie Avalon and then immediately filed divorce papers. The whole thing was splashed all over the New York tabloids.
Former Blue Jays' third baseman Ed Sprague admits that, over the course of his Major League Career, he took amphetamines and Androstenedione and once hit a home run with a corked bat. As a result, Game 2 of the 1992 World Series is retroactively awarded to the Atlanta Braves. The teams are currently scheduled to meet at the end of the 2008 season to play a deciding Game 7. Jack Morris is set to start for the Jays, assuming someone can wake him up from his afternoon nap.
A Red Sox fan/construction worker at New Yankee Stadium secretly buries a David Ortiz jersey in concrete in an effort to jinx the Yankees. Someone talks, however, and his plan is disrupted. The jersey is removed, but not before an excavation subcontract is put out for bid and awarded, raising the price of the stadium an additional 296 million dollars.
The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports releases its annual report on diversity in baseball. Its findings: that the percentage of Blacks in baseball is lower than it has ever been. This is similar to the study's findings for the previous two decades, and will continue to be the case until generations of interbreeding renders the entire human race a sort of tannish color. When that happens, The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports will issue a report noting that the percentage of non-tan players in baseball is lower than it ever has been.
CC Sabathia goes 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, rendering him an untradable pariah.
The Tampa Bay Rays sign Evan Longoria to a multi-year, multi-million dollar extension after six days of Major League service time. Realizing that they missed the window to obtain that kind of contract security, old timers Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder take factory jobs to make ends meet.
Elijah Dukes completes his community service for misdemeanor drug charges by cleaning out cages at a zoo. His lawyer is immediately disbarred for failing to argue at Dukes' sentencing hearing that playing for the Washington Nationals was already more than enough punishment.
In what is just one of many skeletons released from Roger Clemens's closet as a result of his defamation lawsuit against Brian McNamee, it is revealed that the Rocket had a longstanding affair with country singer Mindy McCready that began when she was still a teenager. Meanwhile, the eighty some-odd guys named in the Mitchell Report who didn't make a federal case out of it go on with their mostly rich, mostly happy, and mostly uneventful lives.
On April 29th, the Rays meet the Orioles in a battle for first place in the AL East. I don’t have a joke for that one as over two months later, I’m still trying to process it.
Craig Calcaterra is an attorney from Columbus, Ohio. When he's not defending the innocent and preserving democracy, he writes the baseball blog ShysterBall.
2008 Draft First Round Update
The August deadline to sign 2008 draft picks will be here before you know it. To date, only one-third of the first round selections have signed on the dotted line with their respective clubs. First overall pick and high school shortstop Tim Beckham (Tampa Bay) is the highest pick to have signed, followed by prep catcher Kyle Shipworth (Florida) sixth overall.
Here is a breakdown of all the confirmed signees thus far:
Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay, SS
Beckham is currently playing with his brother - and double play partner - Jeremy Beckham in Rookie Ball. The higher drafted Beckham is off to a slow start and is hitting .200/.293/.200 through 10 games and 35 at-bats. Jeremy, who was taken in the 17th round out of Georgia Southern University, is hitting .273/.368/.364 in 13 games and 33 at-bats. He has already played three positions - third base, second base and shortstop - and has yet to make an error. Tim, who has two errors in four games at shortstop, is ahead of recent first overall picks in the fact that he signed quickly and will have more experience under his belt than most after the inaugural pro season.
Kyle Skipworth, Florida Marlins, C
Not surprisingly, Skipworth is also struggling early on with the bat. Through eight games, he is hitting .185/.214/.185 with one walk and 11 strikeouts in 27 at-bats. Interestingly, the left-handed hitting is 3-for-3 (1.000) against southpaws. He has caught two of five base runners who have tried to steal against him.
Brett Wallace, St. Louis Cardinals, 3B/1B
The highest drafted college player to sign so far, Wallace was fast-tracked to the Midwest League where he is hitting .350/.480/.650 through six games and 20 at-bats. He has one homer and five RBI. Although he played third base in his junior season of college, Wallace is expected to be a Major League first baseman due to an exceptionally thick lower half. Regardless, he has been playing the hot corner so far this season.
Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins, CF
In the grand tradition of raw Minnesota prep draft picks (ala Ben Revere), Hicks is off to a fast start in Rookie Ball. He is hitting .327/.407/.462 in 52 at-bats. The strikeouts are piling up, as he currently has 14. The switch hitter is batting just .111 against southpaws.
David Cooper, Toronto Blue Jays, 1B
Cooper was the initial first round pick to sign a pro contract so he has the most at-bats so far in 2008. In 21 games (85 at-bats), Cooper is hitting .341/.411/.553 with two homers and 21 RBI. The left-handed hitter is batting .412 against southpaws and the Jays plan to promote Cooper to High-A Ball at the end of July.
Ike Davis, New York Mets, OF/1B
Davis is off to a modest start in the New York Penn League with a line of .283/.283/.396 through 12 games and 53 at-bats. He has yet to hit a homer, but six of his 15 hits have been doubles. Davis has struck out 10 times and has yet to take a walk. So far, he has played all his games at first base.
Reese Havens, New York Mets, SS
Havens is off to a faster start offensively than teammate Davis. The former college shortstop is currently hitting .281/.410/.531 in 32 at-bats. He also has two homers and has walked six times, while striking out in nine at-bats. Havens has spent his time at designated hitter and could be headed behind the plate towards the end of the year.
Anthony Hewitt, Philadelphia Phillies, SS
Hewitt has yet to appear in a minor league game since signing, but he is likely headed to the Gulf Coast League Phillies (Rookie Ball). Hewitt is expected to be a long-term project.
Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies, RHP
Friedrich, who fell a bit in the draft, also has yet to appear in a minor league game and could be headed to A-ball with the Asheville Tourists.
Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians, 3B
Chisenhall, 19, is holding his own in the New York Penn League and is currently hitting .282/.356/.462 with seven doubles, two triples and a homer in 78 at-bats. He has walked and struck out eight times each, and has three stolen bases in as many attempts.
It was also reported shortly before this article went to print that the Oakland Athletics signed first round pick Jemile Weeks (12th overall) and the Cubs locked up Andrew Cashner (19th overall).
Check back after the signing deadline on Aug. 15 for another update, after the dust has settled.
Cubs Land Harden
"Wow, Hendry got the better of Beane." "This is a deal that seems to make sense for everyone." "Wait, maybe the A's got the better of this thing." That has been my thinking, in chronological order. Now let me explain.
Folks who knock the A's will in all likelihood underestimate the market for Harden's services. There are three components to this deal that conspire to bode badly for Chicago when I think about it.
1) Beane's track record trading pitchers; Oakland seems to have a good sense for their own pitchers' health and where they are in their career trajectory path. Beane picking up the phone and offering an Oakland pitcher in all likelihood strikes fear around MLB.
2) Jim Hendry can claim that Sabathia had nothing to do with this, but we all know that not to be the case. Right? Don't we?
3) This gave Beane the perfect opportunity. That this deal just feels below value, that my initial reaction makes me think the Cubs got the better of it, gives me even more pause. Why now for such a dominating performer like Harden? Why not drive the bidding up as July 31st draws closer? I am guessing because Beane knows that the next Harden injury could come on any given pitch and wipe out all of his value.
That said, the rationale from Hendry's standpoint is pretty straightforward. The Cubs give up a remarkable young talent in Sean Gallagher; there can be no downplaying his potential. He's excellent. They give up a 4th outfielder, a 25 year-old Minor League infielder who shows some promise but the clock is running on him and a catcher struggling mightily in AA. It's a modest haul for someone with Harden's dominant track record.
If he stays healthy, the Cubs have a club option and all in all are in for a maximum of $9 million. Again, not much commitment on the financial side either for a club with deep pockets like the Cubs have.
But the calculus in determining Harden's value must include his injury history. He has pitched 149 innings since the beginning of 2006. 149. So from Oakland's side, it goes like this.
This is a guy we have barely relied upon for a few seasons running now, a time period in which we have averaged 84.5 wins per season. We have a nice team this season, too. We now have four players for a guy who has meant very little to us during a stretch in which we were an above average club. This is a lot of addition, and not much subtraction.
Only by entering opportunity cost into the equation can this thinking turn fallacious. I guess that's why I think Oakland might have won this deal. I just do not think there was much of a market for Harden. His extraordinarily high injury risk discounts his value to the point where most teams would laugh in Beane's face if he asked for a top-100 Baseball America prospect like Gallahger, much less one of those plus three other players.
And that's fine with Beane; he can take it. He knows it only takes one team to bite. On the whole, I think Oakland won this thing but I cannot necessarily fault Hendry because I sense that he might understand the risk/reward parameters here. And, as they say, "Flags fly forever."
So this is pretty fun.
In light of Hiroki Kuroda's masterpiece last night, I thought it might be fun to look at the best Game Score performances in each league thus far in 2008. Lucky for us, ESPN tracks such things. Note that Kuroda shows up twice in the National League, while James Shields does the same in the American League.
Date Opp Game Score J. Lester 5/19 KCR 94 J. Shields 5/9 LAA 93 M. Garza 6/26 FLA 90 C. Lee 4/24 KCR 90 J. Shields 4/27 BOS 89 (tie) K. Slowey 6/29 MIL 89 (tie)
Date Opp Game Score T. Hudson 5/2 CIN 91 H. Kuroda 7/7 ATL 91 H. Kuroda 6/6 CHC 90 J. Peavy 4/5 LAD 86 B. Sheets 4/6 SFG 85 (tie) B. Looper 6/11 CIN 85 (tie)
Here is the rundown on Game Score, courtesy of Wiki.
1. Start with 50 points.
Boston has recalled Clay Buchholz and is sending Justin Masterson back to Pawtucket to prepare for his return to the Big Leagues as a reliever. This is something of a double-edged sword as I see it. That Buchholz is back in the rotation is a fantastic thing for Red Sox fans. His peripheral numbers (3.34 FIP, 8.6 K/G) for Boston while he was up should do much to allay concerns that this may be a premature move back to the rotation. Also, check out his numbers in Pawtucket this year.
IP H BB SO ERA Buchholz 43.2 36 17 43 2.47
What should perhaps be more concerning to Sox fans is the prospect of Masterson returning as some sort of bullpen savior. Boston's relief pitching struggles are well known and given last year's Eric Gagne disaster, there could be some reluctance to aggressively pursue outside help. Would you want to give up Michael Bowden for Brian Fuentes or Damaso Marte? Neither would I.
Still, Masterson's peripherals leave a bit to be desired and his .832 OPS yielded to left-handed batters makes one wonder if he could be any more than a low-leverage guy or a ROOGY at this point. His performance out of the pen at AAA will be something to monitor, and will probably be the main determinant for whether or not (or how aggressively) Boston decides to pursue outside help.
Who's the Best Hitting Catcher in Baseball?
I just want to throw this out there because the people on my teevee love themselves some counting stats and intangibles. Last night, in discussing Evan Longoria's case for the last slot on the AL roster, Buck Showalter asserted that (paraphrasing) "even though his stats do not stack up, this is a guy the fans want to see." That's quite a statement given the individual in question. Longoria checks in with a 138 OPS+ as I write this.
Anyway, in a world where counting stats rule the day sometimes good players go unnoticed. Whether because of injury or team personnel reasons, some good players don't get the same opportunities their peers do to rack up the impressive counting stats. Consider the catcher position right now. Here are your All-Stars, featuring the Captain himself.
AVG OBP SLG Mauer .325 .416 .452 Navarro .317 .371 .436 Varitek .215 .297 .354 (wow) Soto .289 .375 .527 Martin .305 .402 .449 McCann .293 .362 .533
Ryan Doumit of the Pittsburgh Pirates is hitting .326/.372/.587 in 2008 and maybe my head has been buried in the sand somewhere, but I don't hear much of anything about the guy. Buried behind Ronny Paulino to start the year and then tabled with a concussion and shoulder injury for a few weeks, Doumit has only amassed 199 plate appearances. His .333 BABIP may portend some drop-off in the second half but keep in mind that he hits the daylights out of the ball. His Line Drive percentage has been north of 20% for two seasons running now.
A Look Back at the First Half
In a follow-up to last year's First Half Observations, we're going to take a look at the races in each of the six divisions.
With a combined record of 149-102, the American League has beaten up the National League in interleague play once again. Not surprisingly, the AL sports the top five teams in ESPN's MLB Relative Power Index. The basic formula of the index is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents' average winning percentage, and 25% opponents' opponents' average winning percentage.
AL East: Are the Rays for Real?
A year ago, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles were leading their divisions while Cleveland had the best record among the rest. The Red Sox and the Angels went on to win division titles, the Indians blew past the Tigers in the second half to capture the Central, and New York went to the whip and earned the wild card spot.
Boston had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break and won the 2007 World Series by beating the Angels, Indians, and the Colorado Rockies in the postseason. Tampa Bay owns the best win-loss mark this season. Can the Rays pull a repeat of what the Red Sox accomplished in 2007? By winning seven in a row and 11 of 12, the upstart Rays have now opened up a five-game lead in the East and are now the hottest – if not the best – team in baseball. A 200:1 shot to win it all before the season began, Tampa Bay's odds have dropped to about 11:1, behind only the Red Sox, Cubs, and Angels.
In just one year, the Rays have gone from worst to first in the AL. Get this, Tampa Bay's run differential has improved by almost 200 runs or nearly 2.5 per game. It's taken time – a long time – to build this franchise, but the average age of the major league team, the strength of the minor league system, and lots of flexibility in payroll suggest the turnaround is for real.
AL Central: Surprise, Surprise
The two Chicago teams are leading their leagues in run differentials. A Windy City World Series may not be what 28 other cities would like to see but would be pretty good for baseball (or so says this lifelong Californian). I'm not as surprised by the Cubs as I am by the White Sox. I figured them for third in the AL Central. But what do I know? I didn't see the Pale Hose winning its division in 2005 either, much less the ALDS, ALCS, and the World Series.
Minnesota caught me off guard as well. I picked them for fourth. With a five-game winning streak and an overall record of 50-38, the Twins are only one back of the White Sox. In what appeared to be a rebuilding year, Minnesota finds itself in the thick of things after the July 4th weekend. To think that the Twins would be contending without Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano means the pitching staff is performing at or better than most expectations.
Cleveland has lost eight games in a row and management appears to have called it a season with the reported trade of C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for 2007 first rounder Matt LaPorta, a former college home run champ at Florida, and two other minor league prospects. The Tribe's run differential is only minus six but when you are behind the Kansas City Royals in the standings and 14 games back of the division leader, it's time to reassess your club's chances. It's hard to fault Cleveland for trading Sabathia, who turned down a four-year, $72 million contract during the spring. Good luck to Milwaukee and/or the team that gives C.C. a five-year, $100 million deal.
AL West: Same Old
Six games in front of Oakland, the Angels have the biggest lead of any division leader and probably the clearest path to the postseason. However, the Halos may not be as good as their record indicates. The team has won six more games than what would be expected based on their runs scored and allowed. The pitching has been superb, while the hitting has been mediocre at best.
The A's have allowed the fewest runs (324) and the Texas Rangers have scored the most runs (511) in baseball. Each club benefits from favorable park environments but their success goes beyond that. Both teams are playing .500 on the road. Only the Angels and Yankees sport better than .500 records away from home.
Take heart if you're a fan of any team other than the division and wild card leaders. None of the four teams that were in this position a year ago made it to the postseason. That's right, New York, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Los Angeles were sitting pretty at the All-Star break, yet Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona, and Colorado passed them in the second half and represented the National League in the playoffs. Although the Rockies went on to the World Series, the club was only playing .500 and in fourth place at this time last year.
NL East: Philly's Stake Looks Promising
Playing in a hitter's ballpark and Brett Myers having pitched his way to the minor leagues, who would have thought the Phillies would be third in the NL in runs allowed? And Cole Hamels didn't make the All-Star team? Philadelphia is one of two teams (the other being STL) in the league with a winning record on the road.
Florida has been an even bigger surprise than Tampa Bay, at least to me. The Marlins have been hanging tough all year and are in second place and only 2.5 games back of the Phillies. In a year in which Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman, and Chase Utley have gotten most of the press, Hanley Ramirez is doing his best to win his first Most Valuable Player award. If nothing else, he is the MVP, as in most valuable property.
NL Central: Three Team Race
Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis own the three best records in the NL. That said, only two of these teams, at most, will reach the postseason. All three clubs have positive run differentials with the Cubs ranking first in the league in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed. As such, Chicago is actually two games below their Pythagorean record while the Brewers and Cardinals are four and three games over.
Cincinnati has won four in a row and would like nothing better than to work its way into this race. Whether the Reds are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline will most likely determine their fate.
NL West: Wide Open
Just as it looked as if this division was looking like a powerhouse, all five teams out west have records under .500 and rank among the bottom ten in the majors in the Power Index.
Arizona and Los Angeles, the first and second place teams, both have scored more runs than allowed. The Dodgers, in fact, have given up fewer runs than any defense in the NL. The problem is that LA ranks third-to-last in runs scored. Injuries have been a factor for sure but Rafael Furcal may not be back this season and Andruw Jones does not look like the $18 million man. Heck, based on his production, the latter would be doing well if he were making a tenth of that amount.
The Diamondbacks, all the rage in April, are 24-37 since the first month of the season. The good news for Arizona fans is that the D-Backs still sit atop the NL West. The bad news is that the club ranks 23rd in the Power Index. Nonetheless, one of these teams in the West will find itself playing in October and, remember, the Rockies were in fourth and clinging to a .500 record a year ago – so there is hope.
Expansion Time: The Hitters
Yesterday, beginning with the pitchers, I started compiling an expansion team consisting of the best, non top prospects at the Triple-A level. Finding hitters for a MLB expansion team is a lot easier than finding pitchers, given the lack of quality pitching depth at the Major League level. With that said, I present the offence and defence for my club:
Brayan Pena, C
Brayan Pena was never given a fair shot in Atlanta and he was productive in the minors. He does a nice job handling pitchers and he is a switch hitter.
Erik Kratz, C/1B
Perhaps the least recognizable player on the team, Erik Kratz is one of few (if any) Mennonites playing professional baseball. He also has a lot of raw power and is an excellent defensive catcher, whom pitchers love throwing to. His upside is Doug Mirabelli.
Brad Eldred, 1B
Sure, he has more homers than walks, but Brad Eldred is leading the International League in that category. He may hit just .240 or .250 and strike out 130 times, but he brings much-needed power to this expansion team.
Tug Hulett, 2B/3B
Yes we share the same last name (although the Canadian Hulets dropped a 'T' when they came over the border from Pennsylvania many moons ago). Tug Hulett can really hit and has been an on-base machine throughout his career. He had a terrible start to the season after being traded to the Mariners organization from Texas, but Hulett has turned things around. He has a career .394 OBP and just needs to curb the strikeouts.
Dallas McPherson, 3B/1B
Dallas McPherson is a former top prospect from the Angels system, who is rebuilding his career with the Marlins. His power would combine nicely with Eldred's in the heart of the line-up, even though his 29 homers and .310 batting average are somewhat a product of his Triple-A hitting environment.
James D'Antona, 3B, 1B, LF, RF, C
James D'Antona has shown over the past three years that he can really rake (2008: .383/.423/.596)... and he also has some intriguing raw power that has never really been tapped in to. Add in his versatility, including the ability to serve as a third-string catcher, and you have a valuable part-time player.
Cody Ransom, SS, 3B, 2B
Finding a competent shortstop at the Triple-A level is challenging to say the least. Cody Ransom is not going to hit for average, but he has a little bit of power, versatility and he has a reputation of being a very good defensive shortstop.
Brian Barden, 3B, SS, 1B, 2B
Brian Barden has always hit well for average, but the knock on him was a lack of power. I have more than enough power on this team with Eldred, McPherson, etc. so Barden fits in nicely as a part-time infielder. Typically a third baseman, Barden has been holding his own at shortstop this season.
Brad Nelson, LF, 1B
Still only 25, it seems like Brad Nelson has been around forever, and he was even considered to be among Milwaukee's top prospects at one point. After struggling the past few years, Nelson is back on track this year and provides power and a solid approach at the plate that has allowed him to rack up more walks than strikeouts. He is currently hitting .326/.436/.540.
Mitch Maier, CF, LF, RF, C, 1B, 3B
I was a fan of Mitch Maier all the way back to his college career at the University of Toledo... when he has a full-time catcher. His relocation to the outfield has hurt his career and value, but his versatility could have a lot of value on my club. Maier also has just enough speed and just enough power to be interesting.
Buck Coats, CF, RF, LF
Buck Coats has a left-handed swing, solid defence and some speed, which makes him a valuable platoon player on my club. He can also play the infield in a pinch. He has a gamer reputation.
Wayne Lydon, CF, RF, LF
Wayne Lydon, a former prospect of the Mets, has always had a great set of wheels but he never embraced the 'small ball' approach and struck out too much, while not walking enough. A light bulb seems to have clicked on this season. His strikeout rate is down to 18.8 percent, compared to an average of about 22 percent over the previous three seasons. His walk rate is at 11.5 percent, compared to 9.2 percent last season. He is also second in the league with 34 stolen bases and has been caught just four times.
Fernando Perez, CF, RF, LF
Like Lydon, Fernando Perez brings a stolen base threat to the line-up of the expansion team. The Columbia University grad also has a great head on his shoulders. He hits for a solid average and is good for 30-40 stolen bases over the course of a full season. Perez strikes out too much (a running theme on this team) at about 25 percent, but he will also walk 12-15 percent of the time.
Expansion Time: The Pitchers
One of my favorite activities as a kid was to create Major League "expansion teams" with my baseball cards. My teams would not have been confused with any All-Star squads. I was never a fan of the super stars in sports, and always found myself gravitating to the Bill Pecotas, Mark McLemores and Randy Readys of the world. This activity occurred before my love of minor league baseball developed (thanks to the Internet) and the only prospects I knew of were the ones in my 1989 Score factory box set, which was ordered out of the back of a magazine.
When Junior Felix made his Major League debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 (taking everyone by surprise, including the baseball card manufacturers), I cut his picture out of a magazine and created my own baseball card, complete with biographical information and statistics on the back. Felix was one of the members of my first expansion team.
Today, I have access to thousands of baseball players on my computer. But let's narrow things down to about 600 players or so and create an expansion team with the best Triple-A players who are not considered among each organization's top 20 prospects and still have something to contribute at the Major League level.
SP - Charlie Zink, RHP
Who doesn't love a knuckleballer? Charlie Zink's value is at its highest since 2003, thanks to improved "command" of his knuckler. He currently has a 2.63 ERA and has allowed 78 hits in 102.2 innings of work. He is durable and still has some upside, which makes him a perfect fit for this expansion club.
SP - Tyler Clippard, RHP
Tyler Clippard has never been regarded as a top prospect because he has fringe-average stuff. The former Yankees prospect came over to the Nationals in a minor trade in the off-season and has continued to put up solid but unspectacular numbers. He currently sports a career 3.51 ERA and has struck out 699 batters in 670 innings. Clippard has also allowed just 7.83 H/9 in his career.
SP - Kei Igawa, LHP
Kei Igawa is a veteran of seven seasons in Japan's top league and really needs to get out of New York. He is not an overly expensive player, either, considering the Yankees have already paid out the $26 million to negotiate a contract with him. The expansion team would be on the hook for $4 million a year through 2011 but the marketing possibilities should outweigh that cost. Igawa has consistently put up solid Triple-A numbers, including 8.56 K/9.
SP - Billy Murphy, LHP
Bill Murphy has been around the block since being drafted in the third round of the 2002 draft by Oakland. He has always had pretty good stuff for a lefty but control issues have plagued him throughout his career. Regardless, Murphy is a smart pitcher, whom some have said will eventually make a very good pitching coach, which brings added value to my expansion team. If you take out three ugly starts in the last seven games (11 innings, 19 hits, 23 earned runs, 15 walks), Murphy is having a nice season: 81.2 innings, 71 hits, 38 walks, 72 strikeouts, and a 2.88 ERA.
SP - Matt DeSalvo, RHP
The former non-drafted pitcher has done well just to make the Major Leagues. Matt DeSalvo was a late addition to my team, as he takes the spot of John Parrish, who was just called up by the Toronto Blue Jays making him ineligible for this team. DeSalvo has put up OK minor league numbers despite fringy stuff but he needs to improve his control. He should serve as an OK fifth starter on this expansion team.
RP - Randy Wells, RHP
Randy Wells was originally drafted as a catcher but was converted to the mound after one minor league season. He was selected out of the Cubs' system in the winter of 2007 in the Rule 5 draft and actually made the Toronto Blue Jays' opening day roster. However, when the Jays faced a 40-man roster crunch, Wells was sent back to Chicago after making just one Major League appearance. He has OK stuff and gets his fair share of ground balls. Wells' ability to pitch as a starter or reliever is also of great value to an expansion team with some questionable starting pitching depth.
RP - Wes Whisler, LHP
A former two-way player at UCLA, a number of teams considered drafting Wes Whisler as a hitter due to his plus raw power. The White Sox, though, liked his left-handed arm on the mound. My expansion team wants a little bit of both, in the mold of Brooks Kieschnick. Whisler is probably never going to be an impact arm on the mound, despite being drafted in the second round. He currently has a career rate of 4.88 K/9 and has averaged more than 10 hits per nine innings. While being allowed to DH in his first pro season, Whisler hit .289/.308/.421 in 38 Low-A ball at-bats.
RP - Ron Flores, LHP
You can never have too much left-handed pitching, which is where Ron Flores comes in. Despite iffy control, Flores has always posted OK numbers and has a career rate of 8.36 H/9.
RP - Mark Difelice, RHP
Optioned to Triple-A just in time to make the team, Mark Difelice has been my radar for years, as a pitcher who can act a swing man and makes the most of his above-average command. In more than 1,200 minor league innings, Difelice has a rate of just 1.60 BB/9. In 13.2 Major League innings, he has yet to walk a batter and has 16 strikeouts.
RP - R.J. Swindle, LHP
R.J. Swindle is an interesting player who has been on my radar since his final college season at Charleston Southern University. The Canadian southpaw was drafted in the 14th round in 2004 by the Boston Red Sox. He is a soft tosser, but posted a 1.94 in his debut in the New-York Penn League and posted rates of 7.41 H/9, 0.71 BB/9 and 9.88 K/9 in 51 innings. Even so, he was released by Boston in the off-season and spent parts of the next two seasons in independent baseball before signing with the Yankees. He spent three-quarters of a season with the organization and posted an ERA below 1.00, as well as similar rates to those of his debut season. But again he began the next season in independent baseball before being signed by the Phillies organization in mid-2007. This season, he posted a 0.54 ERA in 11 Double-A games and was promoted to Triple-A where he currently has a 1.93 ERA in 18 games, along with just five walks and 32 strikeouts. Left-handers are hitting .129 against him.
RP - Sergio Santos, RHP
You may recognize Sergio Santos as the former top prospect (and former No. 1 draft pick) of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and later the Toronto Blue Jays... as a shortstop. Santos has one of the strongest infielder arms in the minor leagues but has proven for three straight seasons that he cannot hit Triple-A pitching. It's time to cut bait and move his powerful arm to the mound, where he features a mid-90s fastball, cutter and curve ball. The Jays organization took a look at Santos on the mound during side sessions at the end of last season.
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the hitters on my expansion team.
Changing Up "Change-Up"
I wanted to account for today's change in style; a departure from the longer work readers have become accustomed to here at Baseball Analysts. Rich, Marc, Al, and our Designated Hitters (and Bryan, Jeff, and Joe over the years as well) regularly write remarkable, in-depth analysis. Posts here are longer than posts on many other baseball blogs, the quality of the writing better, the level of editorial care more thorough. We take pride in all of that.
My interests and schedule have begun to make this sort of writing more challenging, however. Kindly, and to his credit, Rich has nonetheless decided to let me retain my voice here. In my Change-Up column, I will be contributing shorter, more frequent posts throughout one given day per week. Today's posts on Dusty Baker and Jason Varitek are pretty good indicators of the sort of work I plan to contribute here. The posts will be shorter, perhaps snarkier, but they will not deviate from the analytical principles upon which Rich built this place. Opinions will be evidenced, conjecture (I hope) absent. I will also link to other sites that we enjoy, and also post statistics that stand out to me presented without commentary from time to time. I will just be trying to have some fun writing about baseball one day per week and the plan is for you all to find it fun, too.
It will be a little different for this place, but it will be just one day a week. I am looking forward to it, I hope you all enjoy it and I definitely welcome any feedback.
How's That Contract Year Working Out?
The man that endeavors to be baseball's highest paid catcher in 2009 hasn't hit a lick this season. Not from the right side, the left side, at home or on the road. His .272 BABIP might portend improvement down the road but look a little closer. Applying THT's Line Drive percentage formula of LD% plus .120 of batting average, Varitek might actually be a little over his head on balls in play (his LD% is 12.2).
With a reputation for clutch play and leadership, it's particularly interesting to check out how Tek has performed in June with David Ortiz on the Disabled List. Heck if we want to discuss intangibles and evidence of doing the things teams need over and above what might be asked of you, let's compare him in June to the Unclutch Overlord himself,
AVG OBP SLG Varitek .122 .205 .176 Drew .337 .468 .848
I know the catcher position is thin in MLB these days, but the Sox better think long and hard before capitulating to the "but Posada got paid" line of crap the Boras camp throws at them this off-season.