Happy Birthday, Minnie, No Matter Your Age
Depending on the source, Minnie Miñoso either turns 83 or 86 years old today.
Miñoso's actual age may or may not matter at this point. What's most important is that he's alive and apparently doing well. However, as it relates to his baseball career, Miñoso's age is relevant. You see, it could be the difference as to whether he deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame or not. At worst, he is a borderline candidate. At best, he should have been voted in long ago.
Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Miñoso was born in Havana, Cuba on either November 29, 1922 or 1925. On page five in Just Call Me Minnie, Miñoso claims he was born in 1925, which would make him 83 today (and not 86 as has been widely reported).
People always want to know how old I really am. The official sources have me listed as being born on November 29, 1922. That would make me 71 years old, and I would not make excuses or apologies. I am actually just 68 years old. I was 19 years old when I arrived in the United States in 1945, but my papers said I was 22. I told a white lie in order to obtain a visa, so I could qualify for service in the Cuban army. My true date of birth is the 29th of November, 1925.
Miñoso (mean-YO-so, commonly pronounced minn-OH-so by media) was the first black Latino player to appear in the major leagues. He made his MLB debut on April 19, 1949 two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Depending on his date of birth, Miñoso was either 23 or 26 at that time. If the latter, it's fair to say that he lost at least a few years in the big leagues due to the fact that he was born with the wrong skin color.
Before joining the Cleveland Indians in 1949, Miñoso played with the New York Cubans from 1945 to 1948. He batted leadoff and played third base when the Cubans defeated the Cleveland Buckeyes for the Negro League World Series title in 1947. In addition, Miñoso was the starting third baseman in the 1947 and 1948 East-West All-Star games.
Other than his nickname, there was nothing Minnie about Miñoso. He should have been called Maxie Miñoso because he did everything well on a baseball field. Known as the Cuban Comet, Miñoso ran exceptionally well, played strong defense, and hit for both average and power.
Miñoso was one of the most outstanding players during the 1950s. A seven-time All-Star, he finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting four times. Miñoso was also a three-time Gold Glove winner as a left fielder. For his career, he batted .298 with 1,962 hits. Minnie would have hit .304 had he retired after the 1961 season and not hung around for another three years as a part-timer and pinch hitter. But even as is, Miñoso hit .298/.389/.459 with an OPS+ of 130.
The 5-10, 175-pound Miñoso was an on-base machine. He ranked in the top 10 in times on base for 10 consecutive seasons (1951-1960), including seven when he finished in the top five. Miñoso had 11 consecutive seasons with 10 or more hit by pitches, including back-to-back years with at least 20. Moreover, he led the league in HBP in 10 of those 11 campaigns. He retired as the all-time leader among 20th century players and still ranks ninth in career HBP with 192. But, who paid attention to HBP back then? Heck, who pays attention to them today? I mean, can you recall seeing a column with HBP on the back of a baseball card when you were growing up? Wasn't getting hit by a pitch a fluke, something caused by a wild pitcher?
Miñoso led the AL in stolen bases in each of his first three full seasons. Unfortunately, he also topped the league in caught stealing in two of those years and ranked first four other times. For his career, Miñoso stole 205 bases and was caught 130 times (for a success rate of 61%). Nonetheless, by all accounts, he was an electrifying force on the base paths.
As good as Miñoso was, it seemed as if he was held back or overlooked throughout most of his career. As the first black player from Cuba, his MLB career may have been delayed by as many as a few years. Secondly, on May 1, 1951, Miñoso homered in his first at-bat in a White Sox uniform when he became the first black to break the color barrier in Chicago but another rookie by the name of Mickey Mantle slugged his first big-league home run in the sixth inning of the same game. Miñoso (.324/.419/.498 and 24 Win Shares) finished second to Yankees infielder Gil McDougald (.306/.396/.488, 23 Win Shares) in the Rookie of the Year balloting (although he was honored as TSN's ROY) even though he outpolled him in the MVP vote (fourth place to ninth). He also had the misfortune of being
Miñoso was lauded in other ways. He had his jersey #9 retired by Bill Veeck and the White Sox in 1983. Furthermore, Miñoso was invited to present the White Sox lineup card to the umpires in the pregame ceremonies at home plate in the last game played at the old Comiskey Park on September 30, 1990. He also took part in the victory parade for the Chicago White Sox 2005 World Series Championship and his statue stands on the outfield concourse at U.S. Cellular Field.
We'll never know what kind of counting totals Miñoso may have been able to amass had he played in the majors from the get go. But, let's not forget, he had an exemplary career anyway.
Bill James, who listed Miñoso as the 10th-best left fielder and 85th-greatest player ever in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, put together a table of "the greatest players in history, based on Win Shares between ages 30 and 39, not including pitchers." Miñoso ranked 16th and was the only player in the top 20 who has yet to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Miñoso didn't get to play in the majors until he was 28 years old, but had a better career after age 28 than almost any Hall of Fame left/right fielder. Miñoso hit for power, drove in 100 runs like clockwork, was a Gold Glove outfielder and one of the best baserunners of his time. Had he gotten the chance to play in the Majors when he was 21 years old, I think he'd probably be rated among the top thirty players of all time.
In Nothing minor about Minnie, Alex Belth argued in a SI.com article in February 2006 that "Miñoso deserves more recognition as player, pioneer" rather than "his clownish pinch-hitting stunts in 1976 and 1981, which he did as much to qualify for a pension as for the giggles."
Paul Soglin, on his Waxing America blog, contends that Miñoso's split tenure between the Negro Leagues and MLB and the poor relations between the U.S. and Cuba unfairly penalize his case for the Hall of Fame.
Rob Neyer has also been one of Miñoso's biggest supporters when it comes to the HOF. It's just too bad that James, Belth, Soglin, and Neyer don't have a vote, either as part of the BBWAA or the Veteran's Committee, both of which have failed to elect Miñoso whenever he has been on the ballot.
Hall of Fame or no Hall of Fame, 83 or 86, we should all celebrate Miñoso's birthday. Happy Birthday, Minnie. You were one of the game's best and most unrecognized players.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory.]
The 2008 Rule 5 Draft: Previewing the Pitchers
There are only 15 more shopping days left. Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft will occur on at the end of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 11. The draft, which is explained here, has become extremely popular in the eyes of online fans, but participation amongst teams has been up and down in recent years.
The 2008 Rule 5 draft could be popular. The economic woes and uncertainty are impacting professional sports, just like the rest of the world. The draft is an opportunity for clubs to find cheap - and potentially talented - roster options. A club can pick up a 24th or 25th man pretty cheaply through this process.
As you can see above, the draft peaked in 2002 and dropped off sharply in 2004 - which is likely because teams started altering the way they protected prospects after almost 50 players were selected between 2002 and 2003. It is much harder to find a Johan Santana these days as all promising young pitchers - even those in Short Season ball or A-ball - are being protected on 40-man rosters.
The 2008 draft does not appear to have a raw, talented future star available, but then again, who knew Santana's name in 1999... aside from Minnesota and Houston? What this draft does have, though, is a ton of potential back-up infielders and left-handed relievers... as well as a few other interesting names. Let's take a look at some of the top options on the mound. Next week we'll look at some intriguing hitters.
Eduardo Morlan | Tampa Bay
Eduardo Morlan was traded to Tampa Bay from Minnesota last winter in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap. He can dial his fastball up into the mid-90s and he has a high-80s slider that acts as his strikeout pitch. His numbers were down in 2008 after switching organizations but you don't get the chance to nab a player with this skill set after a fabulous season. He still allowed just 44 hits in 47 innings with rates of 2.87 BB/9 and 8.62 K/9.
Chris Mason | Tampa Bay
Chris Mason has always been a Top-10 prospect, but he was also considered a step below the top two pitching prospects in the system: Jacob McGee and Wade Davis. Mason's horrendous 2008 season certainly did not help his cause. After going 15-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 2007 at Double-A, Mason regressed at Triple-A with a 6.21 ERA and 144 hits allowed in 108.2 innings. A former second-round amateur draft pick, he has the talent to succeed in the Majors and many scouts have felt he has always been better suited to pitching out of the bullpen. His slider is excellent, the change-up is very good, but the fastball is just OK at 87-91 mph.
Alan Horne | New York (AL)
Alan Horne spent the majority of the season battling a bicep strain and was not at his best when he made eight starts at the Triple-A level. He allowed 35 hits in 32 innings of work and posted rates of 6.19 BB/9 and 6.75 K/9. Teams that are comfortable with his medical report could grab him with the hopes of seeing a healthy Horne show up at spring training. In 2007 at Double-A, he struck out 165 batters in 153.1 innings. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
J. Brent Cox | New York (AL)
The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in the hopes that teams will be scared away from intriguing prospects by medical reports. J. Brent Cox was a top college reliever when he was selected in the second round of the 2005 draft. He was on the cusp of a Major League call-up after a solid 2006 season at Double-A but those hopes were derailed by Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2008 and allowed 30 hits in 36 Triple-A innings. His rates were poor at 4.25 BB/9 and 4.00 K/9 but command and control are the last things to return after the surgery. Based on his past performances, Cox is worth a look.
Erik Cordier | Atlanta
Of the players listed in this article, Erik Cordier is certainly the biggest reach, but he also has the most potential - if his stuff fully returns after Tommy John surgery after the 2006 season. Obtained from Kansas City for disappointing shortstop Tony Pena Jr. prior to the 2007 season, Cordier allowed 51 hits in 40 A-ball innings in 2008. He posted rates of 4.73 BB/9 and 6.98 K/9. Prior to the injury, the right-hander was touching 98 mph and sitting in the mid-90s. He was topping out in the low-90s in 2008, and needs to regain the feel for his plus change-up and average curveball.
Chris Nicoll | Kansas City
Chris Nicoll was originally selected by the Royals in the third round of the 2005 draft as a starter. After injury woes in 2007, he was converted to a reliever and thrived. Between the two minor league levels, Nicoll allowed 77 hits in 87 innings and struck out 104 batters. At Double-A, he posted rates of 1.65 BB/9 and 11.34 K/9. With an organization badly in need of pitching depth, it is a little surprising that Nicoll - even with just an average fastball and slider - was left unprotected.
Ryan Mullins | Minnesota
A third-round selection out of Vanderbilt University in 2005, Ryan Mullins is a 6'6'' lefty with a fringe fastball and a big-league curveball, which are just the right ingredients for a 2009 MLB LOOGY. His 2008 numbers at Double-A were nothing to write home about: 169 hits allowed in 148.1 innings, 3.58 BB/9, 6.01 K/9, but check out the splits:
Left-Handed Batters: .204 AVG, 0.88 WHIP, 1.45 BB/9, 12.8 LD%
Donald Veal | Chicago (NL)
A former top prospect, Donnie Veal has stagnated at Double-A. In two seasons at that level, he has allowed 276 hits in 275.2 innings of work. His rates in 2008 were not so good at 5.02 BB/9 and 7.62 K/9. Obviously, his control is lacking but he is a lefty that can consistently throw in the low 90s and he has two solid secondary pitchers: a curveball and change-up. He faced 142 left-handed batters in 2008 and did not allow a home run. His splits suggest he could also have some success as a LOOGY: Left-handed batters hit .221, while right-handed batters hit .290.
Yes, Chuck Lofgren's numbers, which included a 5.99 ERA and 93 hits allowed in 85.2 innings, were ugly in 2008. He carried those struggles over into the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 32.14 ERA in 10 games. But he is just 22 years old and two years removed from a breakout season in A-ball that saw him added to the Indians' top prospects list. A club that thinks it could fix his mechanical and/or mental woes could take a flyer on him.
Brad Kilby | Oakland
Brad Kilby is not a former top prospect like the other southpaws listed above, but he has quietly put up some solid career numbers as a former 29th round draft pick. Career-wise, he has compiled a 2.64 ERA, allowed 178 hits in 232.1 innings and posted rates of 3.41 BB/9 and 10.16 K/9. In 2008 at Triple-A, Kilby allowed 51 hits in 70 innings with rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.49 K/9. On the downside, his stuff is a little short and he is a flyball pitcher (27.2 GB%).
Pedro Viola | Cincinnati
Signed as a pitcher by the Reds at the age of 22 in 2005, Pedro Viola rocketed through the minors in his North American debut in 2007 and reached Double-A. He spent the entire 2008 season at that level while struggling with his command and control. Viola can hit the mid-90s, a rarity for southpaws, and also has a slider and change-up. After dominating left-handed batters in 2007, he struggled against them in 2008 and allowed a .292 batting average.
Robert Rohrbaugh | Seattle
Kei Igawa | New York (AL)
The Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate for Kei Igawa's rights prior to the 2007 season and he has been a disappointment, to say the least. Igawa has thrived at the Triple-A level but he has struggled to succeed in the Majors and under the intense scrutiny that comes with pitching in New York. At $4 million a year through 2010, he might be a worthwhile gamble for a National League club like the Padres. In 2008 at Triple-A, he allowed 141 hits in 156.1 innings, with rates of 2.59 BB/9 and 6.74 K/9.
Be sure to check back next week for a look at some of the position players that could be on the move during the MLB Rule 5 draft on Dec. 11.
The Bill James Handbook 2009 - Part Three
In the final segment of our three-part series on The Bill James Handbook 2009, we will focus on the 2008 Leader Boards. This section of the book has always been one of my favorites. Although many of the stats are now available online at Baseball-Reference, ESPN, Fangraphs, and The Hardball Times, I still enjoy looking at them in this format.
Milton Bradley and Kevin Youkilis were the only American League hitters who ranked in the top ten in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Bradley led the league in OBP and finished no lower than fourth in the other categories. Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and David Wright were the only National League hitters to finish in the top ten in all three rate stats. Jones led the league in AVG and OBP while finishing third in SLG. Pujols led in SLG and placed second in the other two.
Jack Cust led the AL in walks (111) and strikeouts (197). With two HBP, Cust failed to make contact 310 times out or 51.8% of his 598 plate appearances. Remarkably, he didn't lead the league in pitches per PA (4.38) as Nick Swisher (4.53) beat him out. Cust also tied for sixth with 33 HR. Jim Thome was the only other hitter in the league to place in the top ten in the three true outcomes. Adam Dunn led the NL in BB (122), ranked fifth in SO (164), and second in HR (40).
Mark Reynolds became the first player in history to whiff 200 or more times in a single season. Reynolds struck out 204 times, breaking the record Ryan Howard (199) set last year and tied this season. The top six seasons belong to four active players (Reynolds, Howard, Cust, and Dunn). Thome is the only other active player in the top 20. Interestingly, Howard, Cust, Dunn, and Thome ranked in the top five in HR/FB while Reynolds was 23rd. I think it is fair to say that these fellows are swinging for the downs and they are tremendously successful when they connect.
Not surprisingly, Reynolds had the highest swing and miss percentage in MLB at 37.7%. Howard (33.4%) and Dunn (28.3%) ranked in the top six in the NL. Kelly Shoppach (36.0%) led the AL while Cust (34.9%) and Thome (29.6%) placed in the top four.
Only four players in the National League (Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Yunel Escobar, and Cristian Guzman) and two in the American League (Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter) had groundball-to-flyball ratios over 2.00 with Schumaker leading the way at 2.88. If you wonder why Delmon Young (10 HR in 623 PA) didn't hit for power, look no further than the fact that he had the third-highest GB/FB ratio (1.98) in the AL. The former No. 1 draft pick needs to get a little more lift in his swing if he is going to slug home runs at the same rate as in the minors (59 HR in 1540 PA or once every 26 trips to the plate).
Young could also learn to become more selective as he tied Vladimir Guerrero for the highest first swing percentage in the majors at 47.4%. By contrast, Bobby Abreu and J.J. Hardy swung at the first pitch just 6.2% and 7.8%, respectively, of the time.
Manny Ramirez (1.232) and Mark Teixeira (1.081) led their new leagues in OPS during the second half. Along with C.C. Sabathia, Manny and Tex are two of the top three free agents available this offseason. It will be interesting to see where the Scott Boras clients wind up.
The Handbook's attempt to measure hitter performance against various pitch types by result pitch only has graduated to the point where hitters are rated for the first time on every pitch. As a result, "the hitters you'll now see in these leader boards are a much better representation of the guys who mastered each pitch type this past year."
Carlos Quentin is a beast, leading the AL in OPS vs. fastballs (1.101) and curveballs (1.063). Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Ian Kinsler, and Joey Votto were the only other hitters who ranked in the top ten on FB and CB. A-Rod also led the majors in OPS vs. sliders (1.168). I wonder if pitchers shouldn't be throwing him more changeups? A quick look at Fangraphs shows only 9.3% of the pitches thrown to Rodriguez were changes, placing him 87th out of 145 qualifiers.
Speaking of A-Rod's power, he led the AL with the longest average home run (413 feet) and had three of the top five, including the longest (467 feet) on 6/30 at home vs. Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers. Thome jacked the second and third longest homers and Hamilton (excluding the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game) cranked three of the ten longest dingers in the AL. The longest home run in the majors was ripped by Justin Upton, a 480-foot shot to left field off Josh Banks of the San Diego Padres at home on 7/6. Upton also led the majors with the longest average home run at 417 feet.
In the "Additional Bill James Leaders," Jeff Francoeur had the lowest offensive win percentage (.261), .032 lower than any other hitter (Michael Bourne). It might be time to re-think Francoeur's potential. Granted, he is only 24 but one can't help but notice that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound "veteran" of 3 1/2 seasons had the lowest AVG and SLG of his career while posting his second sub-.300 OBP and striking out nearly three times for every walk. He tied for the third-worst plus/minus total among all right fielders and was no more than an average baserunner last season.
Turning to pitching leaders, Roy Halladay led the American League in the following categories: baserunners per 9 IP (9.91), complete games (9), pitches per start (107.2), batters faced (987), innings pitched (246), most pitches in a game (130), opponent OBP (.276), opponent OPS (.621), K/BB (5.28), highest GB/FB ratio (2.00), and opponent OPS vs. curveballs (.480). The Toronto righthander also led the AL in component ERA (2.62) and highest average game score (60.48).
Tim Lincecum led the National League in winning percentage (.783), opponent AVG (.221), wild pitches (17), strikeouts (265), pitches per start (109.0), most pitches in a game (138), K/9 IP (10.51), opponent SLG (.316), opponent OPS (.612), HR/9 (0.44), opponent AVG w/ RISP (.167), and H/9 (7.22). The 2008 Cy Young Award winner also led the NL in pitchers win shares (25), component ERA (2.69), and highest average game score (62.06).
Gavin Floyd allowed the most stolen bases in the majors (37), nine more than anyone else (Jair Jurrjens). Greg Smith, on the other hand, tied for the MLB lead with a dozen runners caught stealing (with Edinson Volquez) while picking off 16 or six more than Andy Pettitte, who ranked second.
Grant Balfour led the majors in strikeout/hit ratio at 2.93, while Carlos Marmol topped the NL at 2.85. It was the second consecutive year that the Chicago reliever had more than two Ks for every hit allowed. Only six others have even accomplished this feat once during this period. I would have no hesitation making Marmol (who also led all NL relievers in opponent AVG, SLG, OBP vs. first batter faced, AVG with runners on, AVG vs. RHB, and OPS vs. sliders) the Cubs closer next season.
Interestingly, Lincecum and Rich Harden were the only starters who ranked in the top ten in K/H ratio (minimum of 50 IP). Harden actually ranked second in the NL (2.28) and eighth in the AL (1.61) while Lincecum was tenth in the senior circuit at 1.46. No starter placed in the top ten last year.
Matt Lindstrom (96.9) had the fastest average fastball in the majors (minimum of 50 IP). Jonathan Broxton's heater (96.3) ranked second. Manny Delcarmen led the AL at 95.5. Ubaldo Jimenez (94.9) led all starting pitchers while Felix Hernandez (94.6) was tops in the AL. Lincecum (94.1), Ervin Santana (94.4), Josh Beckett (94.3), and A.J. Burnett (94.3) were the only other starters with an average fastball over 94 mph.
Conversely, Tim Wakefield (72.9) and Jamie Moyer (81.2) not only had the slowest average fastballs but they also used this pitch less often than any other qualifying pitcher (13.1% and 40.4%, respectively). Maddux (83.7) and Barry Zito (84.9) were the only other pitchers under 85 mph.
Broxton (28) had the most pitches clocked at 100 or higher. Lindstrom (16) and Joel Zumaya (18) were the only other pitchers with more than ten pitches over 100 mph. Jimenez (1342) and Hernandez (1035) were the only pitchers who hit 95 on the radar over 1000 times.
Daniel Cabrera (81.3%) relied on his fastball more than anyone else. Aaron Cook (80.4%) and Mike Pelfrey (80.2%) were the only others who used it 72% or more. Burnett (28.9%) and Ben Sheets (32.2%) led their leagues in throwing curveballs, Volquez (31.5%) and James Shields (26.1%) in changeups, and Armando Galarraga (38.3%) and Randy Johnson 34.6%) in sliders. Ironically, Sheets had the best opponent OPS vs. fastballs in the majors at .599.
There is a lot more information in The Bill James Handbook. I'm confident that it will help you pass the long winter ahead.
The Bill James Handbook 2009 - Part Two
Last week, in Part One of The Bill James Handbook 2009, we reviewed four chapters: Team Efficiency Summary, Baserunners, 21st Century Bullpen, and Young Talent Inventory. We had previously covered the Fielding Bible Awards and Plus/Minus Leaders in a separate post.
In Part Two, we will examine Manufactured Runs, Manager's Record, Hitter and Pitcher Projections, and Career Targets (including Pitchers on Course for 300 Wins). Bill James wrote introductory comments or short essays for each of these sections.
Starting at the top, James tells us that the Minnesota Twins "manufactured 213 runs—the most of any major league team—while allowing only 139 manufactured runs, one of the lowest totals in the majors. The Twins outscored their opponents by only 28 runs on the season, but by 74 manufactured runs."
According to James, a manufactured run is: "Any run on which two or more of the bases come from something other than playing station-to-station baseball or a run that scores without a hit, or with only infield hits. If two or more of the four bases come from infield hits, moving up on a ground ball, moving up on a fly ball, stolen base, bunt, wild pitch, passed ball, anything like that . . . that's a manufactured run."
These are a few of the things we learn from studying these Manufactured Run charts:
James studies managers to identify tendencies or as he says: "We're trying to pollute the discussion of managers with actual facts." However, "the facts only become meaningful when there are standards, and the standards are slow to come into focus . . . We're trying to establish the standards. It's a slow process, but we think we're gaining a little traction."
In the hitter projections, James offers up that "we were inexplicably dense about Josh Hamilton and Carlos Quentin" although, in his defense, "both of these players were traded after we printed the projections." His biggest mistake was underestimating their playing time. "I don't know why in the world we project young studs to play 110 or 115 games," while citing Geovany Soto as another example. "We would have had a killer projection for Soto, except that we projected him to play in only 110 games."
Like everyone else, James also came up well short on projecting Ryan Ludwick's breakout year. "I don't suppose anyone saw that one coming . . . if anyone did see it coming, he doesn't work for us." As far as Andruw Jones goes, James says, "man, that has to be the worst projection we have ever published. From now on, we will refer to the inexplicable loss of all ability in mid-career as 'pulling an Andruw on us.' He was one of my favorite players, too."
One of the interesting things about doing projections is that we're actually more accurate in projecting young players than we are in projecting older players. One might think, intuitively, that it would be the opposite: that after players had been around a few years, we would have enough information to project them more accurately. But actually, while there is a problem with young players because it's hard to guess how much playing time they're going to get, there is a bigger problem with older players because they get hurt more and their production becomes unreliable.
James lists 25 rookies and first-year regulars (Rick Ankiel, Erick Aybar, Jeff Baker, Brian Buscher, Asdrubal Cabrera, Alberto Callaspo, Alexi Casilla, Jeff Clement, Elijah Dukes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Yunel Escobar, Jesus Flores, Chris Iannetta, Adam Jones, Fred Lewis, Evan Longoria, Lastings Milledge, Nyjer Morgan, David Murphy, Skip Schumaker, Soto, Ian Stewart, Kurt Suzuki, Justin Upton, and Joey Votto) that he didn't miss "too badly on." He was too optimistic on Jay Bruce (.308 AVG, .602 SLG with 36 HR projected vs. .254/.453/21 actual), Chase Headley (.310/.522/18 vs. .269/.420/9), and Daric Barton (.274/.423/10 vs. .226/.348/9).
Lastly, with respect to Brandon Wood falling short of the projected playing time: "We weren't really trying to say that Brandon Wood would play 122 games and bat almost 400 times, because we don't have any control of that, and we don't really have any way of knowing how much he will play. What we are really trying to say is that if he gets a chance to play, that's what we expect him to hit. If he doesn't get a chance to play, well . . . that's not my department."
We are not seers, psychics, prophets or geniuses; we just predict that players will mostly continue to do what they have done in the past. And we're pretty much right most of the time.
Regarding pitcher projections, James admits missing badly on Cliff Lee (didn't we all?), Gavin Floyd (17-8, 3.84 actual vs. 4-9, 5.87 projected), Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41 vs. 8-9, 4.05), and Mike Mussina (20-9, 3.37 vs. 11-7, 3.74). He also missed in the other direction on Barry Zito (10-17, 5.15 vs. 12-12, 3.74) "but at least we didn't pay him $100 million." His best projections involved Scott Olsen (nailed the 8-11 won-loss mark) and the counting stats for Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe, Roy Oswalt, David Bush, Sean Green, Paul Byrd, Jose Valverde, and Tim Wakefield.
We had very good projections for Mike Hampton, Yusmeiro Petit, Tyler Yates, Renyel Pinto, Saul Rivera, Jack Taschner, LaTroy Hawkins, and others too humorous to mention. A blind pig will find an acorn if he hangs out under the oak tree. Our strategy is to hang out under the oak tree and see what falls on our heads.
In a section entitled "Career Targets," James gives Derek Jeter a 93% chance of getting 3,000 hits. He puts Alex Rodriguez's likelihood at 89%. Vladimir Guerrero (53%) is the only other player with a greater than 50% possibility. I was surprised to learn that Albert Pujols, with 1,531 hits at the conclusion of his age 28 season, has just a 38% shot. The 2003 NL batting champion has averaged 191 hits for his first eight seasons and had fewer than 185 only once. I realize that Pujols could get hurt, but he seems like a good bet to age well. As such, I would be inclined to wager 3:2 on him reaching 3,000.
With 295 wins, Randy Johnson has an 86% chance of notching 300 according to James' system, which focuses on a pitcher's age, what he calls "established win level" and momentum. James believes that the Big Unit is "poised to reach 300 in 2009." Prior to his retirement, Mussina was given a 47% shot at winning 300. The Yankees righthander "stunned the baseball world with his first 20-win season" at the age of 39 but has decided to hang 'em up 30 victories short of the magic mark. Jamie Moyer, "who is too old to be taken seriously as a 300-win candidate but doesn't seem to know it," has been given a 25% chance while Johan Santana (24%) and Brandon Webb (23%) are the only other pitchers with a better than one-in-five shot at 300.
We will cover the 2008 Leader Boards with a focus on some of the more esoteric categories tomorrow in the third of our three-part series on The Bill James Handbook.
Manuel Aristides Ramirez was all of 15 months old on Aug. 23, 1973, when Jan Erik Olsson walked into Kreditbanken, a Stockholm bank on Normalmstorg square, shot a member of the Swedish police and took four people hostage.
The hostage crisis continued for five days as Olsson and his alleged accomplice, Clark Olofsson, negotiated with police and even the Swedish prime minister. During the ordeal, the four hostages were said to express more fear of the police than their captors. A criminologist working with police noted the attitude and coined a phrase that provided Olsson and Olofsson some measure of infamy long after the robbery was forgotten: “Stockholm syndrome.”
The aforementioned Ramirez left the Boston Red Sox – all but forced his departure, if reports are to be believed – at the end of July, nearly four months ago. Yet stories continue to leak about the tumultuous final month between Ramirez and the team that paid him handsomely for nearly eight years, and none of them portrays the clearly mercurial slugger as the nice guy.
On the field, the situation seems to have turned out as well for everyone as could be expected: the Red Sox received a left fielder that essentially replaced Ramirez’s pre-trade production, the Los Angeles Dodgers got an otherworldly performance from Ramirez that pushed them into the playoffs, and Ramirez and his agent, Scott Boras, will make a killing in free agency.
Everyone wins but me.
I don’t need your pity – at least not anymore. As a Red Sox fan, I’ve seen two world championships and witnessed more playoff appearances since 2002 than in the previous 13 years combined. Dealing with the drama of Manny Ramirez was easily worth those rings.
But it’s becoming clearer that for much of the seven-plus years Ramirez was in Boston, we as fans were Manny’s hostages. He pouted, lied to the press (and consequently to us), showed up late – or not at all – to All-Star Games and managerial meetings alike, refused to pinch hit when asked or even refused to play.
He did this before the current ownership bought the team in 2001. He did it during the 2002 transition year before Theo Epstein was named general manager. And he did it nearly every season since Epstein took the reins in 2003. The incidents all became part of “Manny being Manny.”
And while the Red Sox made some efforts to rid themselves of his shtick – placing him on waivers and nearly engineering his trade to the baseball wilderness of Texas being the most notorious – we as fans never seemed to fully believe the import of these stories.
Moreso than even David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez was the face of the Red Sox, and we were happy with this scenario. At least I certainly was. Heck, there’s an orange-and-white feline with an attitude that stalks my house and answers – when he feels like it – to “Manny.”
How did we let this man fool us so?
The evidence was there, even before 2008, that Ramirez cared little for the Red Sox and their fans, none at all for Boston and its culture. When John Henry met Ramirez in 2002, the first thing he heard was a trade request. When Grady Little, a man whose surname speaks to his accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform, benched Ramirez for refusing to pinch hit during a ninth-inning rally in 2003, Henry and Larry Lucchino were approached a second time about a trade.
It all happened again in 2005, and it seemed the fans had enough. Ramirez was booed at the plate that July, as his trade demands and lollygagging to first reached team-distraction proportions. But when the trade deadline expired – a three-team deal having fallen through – Ramirez seemed to renew himself to Boston, receiving a standing ovation in his first at-bat back and telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to win another World Series with the Red Sox.
Frustration turned to rejoicing, and we took Ramirez at his word. When he sat the final month of the lost 2006 season and stories began to crop up alleging he had quit on the team, I rejected these rumors. No proof, I said. No evidence.
Things seemed rosier than ever after the second championship in 2007. Ramirez began talking to the press again after his tremendous ALDS walk-off home run off Francisco Rodriguez, he began reading “The Secret,” he told the sportswriters he wanted to stay in Boston, and he expressed ambivalence about when or whether the Sox picked up his two options after the season.
With Ramirez still productive, his $20 million options no longer seemed excessive. It seemed impossible to imagine a future without the suddenly happy, suddenly affordable Manny Ramirez. He still had his moments, but there were those other moments, too – the mid-double-play high-five with a fan, the trips into the Green Monster. They were goofy. They weren’t always appreciated, but they were the kind of antics that make the game fun, that make you believe some guys aren’t out there thinking only about the money.
Perhaps that was why it was so easy for some of us to accept the mythos of Manny being Manny. The talented hitter who wanted to do nothing more than hit. Not an idiot – I always rejected that slur – but simply happy and secure in his own world. One could understand why he didn’t like the microscope of Boston, and his brilliance with the bat couldn’t help but smooth over the rough patches over the years.
Then he hired Scott Boras.
I don’t know whether Boras put Ramirez up to the things he did once the 2008 season began. For that matter, I don’t even know what exactly Ramirez did and what he’s merely suspected of doing. All I know is what’s been said, but that it fits closely with what we know has actually occurred.
We know Ramirez shoved traveling secretary Jack McCormick. We know he got into an in-game dugout scuffle with fan- and organization-favorite Kevin Youkilis. We know he suddenly demanded the Red Sox pick up his first option, and that he considered any sign of caution or prudence on Boston’s part to be disrespectful.
I watched these goings-on with dismay. What happened? Ramirez was having the as-expected rebound season from his subpar 2007. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he changed his mind, but it did nonetheless. For some reason, I kept hoping that this time he meant it. This time would be different. This time Ramirez cared. Turns out it wasn’t. Turns out he didn’t.
July was the worst yet. He sat in back-to-back games against the Yankees, complaining of a sore knee. When the Red Sox sent him to get an MRI, he couldn’t remember which one was sore. When he pinch-hit against Mariano Rivera on what was supposed to be a day off, he never swung the bat in taking three straight strikes.
It might have been the most controversial single plate appearance of 2008 in Red Sox Nation. Was Ramirez fooled by three devastating cutters from a Hall-of-Fame pitcher – two of which were borderline strikes? Or was he making a statement about his intentions if the Red Sox failed to trade him by the July 31 deadline? The maddening thing is we’ll never know. Again, I found myself defending Ramirez.
But the end was coming. Apparently, the Red Sox threatened a suspension – a threat made more believable by Boras’ inability to deny it. He made comments too ridiculous to laugh off, alleging the Red Sox lied to their players, telling the press he was “tired” of the team. He wanted out. He was clearly doing everything possible to ensure that would happen.
At the time, I wrote:
I may be tired of him. I may not love him anymore. I don't think I even particularly like him after the events of this weekend. But he's still our Manny. For better or worse, he's wearing the laundry, and that means we root for him. Just like we'd root for Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez if they wound up in red and white.
That was three days before Ramirez was sent to LA in a three-way trade with the Pirates for Jason Bay. The Red Sox turned around their flatlining season and played baseball in October after all. Ramirez got what he wanted. The Red Sox, after their seemingly annual attempts to be rid of him, finally got what they wanted.
So why do I feel so unhappy?
Much ink has been spilled, many megabytes filled about the Manny Ramirez saga – his time in Boston, the trade that sent him west, his resurgence at Chavez Ravine. I have no interest in further repeating the many words said on the matter, many by his own teammates. I can only offer one fan’s perspective – one that renders me incapable of seeing things in the stark rhetoric many have employed to vilify Ramirez or, alternately, the Red Sox organization.
It seems clear that Ramirez through his actions was the aggressor here, for reasons perhaps only he knows. Yet it’s difficult to harbor resentment for what certainly appears to be a clear case of a player attempting to hold a team hostage – and receiving all that he demanded.
He gave us so much, after all. Ask any group of Red Sox fans for their favorite Manny moments, and you’re not likely to leave any time soon. There’s the simple magnitude of the numbers he posted – statistics that likely will ensure his induction into the Hall of Fame with a “B” on his cap. There’s the two rings, the World Series MVP, his place as half the greatest 3/4 combination of our generation.
Others may be able to push all that aside and demonize the slugger, dismiss his time in Boston and turn away without glancing back as he heads toward mega dollars this offseason. I cannot. He was our Manny. We were his hostages.
Paul Anthony is a native Connecticutian transplanted to Texas, where he covers politics for a daily newspaper. His (unpaid) night job is as a co-blogger at YFSF, which has provided a peaceful coexistence for Red Sox and Yankee fans since 2003. While there, he has compiled a list of the Top 50 individual Red Sox seasons of all time.
How D'Ya Like Me Now?
The 2007 draft had an interesting mix of college and prep players selected in the first round. The first-overall selection of David Price, who had a significant impact in the Rays' 2008 late-season success, was a no-brainer at the time and still looks like the overwhelming correct choice. That pick was followed up with a few prep bats, which included Mike Moustakas (Royals) and Josh Vitters (Cubs). All the draftees now have a full season of experience under their collective belts so it is a perfect time to look back and see how the prospects are progressing.
As mentioned above, Price had an excellent Major League debut and was even better in the playoffs. He has likely secured himself a spot in the Tampa Bay starting rotation in 2009 and is an early Rookie of the Year candidate. He allowed nine hits and four walks in 14 regular season innings in 2008. Moustakas was taken second overall and had a solid season in A-ball, where he hit .272/.330/.468 with 22 home runs in a league where long balls are hard to come by. Third overall pick Vitters has been slower to develop and battled some injuries but he still hit .328/.360/.498, although he scuffled in a brief A-ball trial. Fifth overall pick Matt Wieters (Orioles) has played like a first-overall talent with a line at Double-A of .365/.463/.625 and an ISO of 260. He could probably hold his own at the Major League level now, but should get a little bit of Triple-A seasoning in 2009. The universe always has to find a balance and as good as Wieters has been, fourth overall pick Daniel Moskos (Pirates) has been as equally bad. The lefty had a 5.95 ERA in High-A ball and allowed 124 hits in 110.1 innings. His rates were disappointing at 3.51 BB/9 and 6.36 K/9.
The Giants win the award for the best pick of the next 10 players, which was high school pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The left-hander spent the year in A-ball and had a 1.46 ERA with 111 hits allowed in 141.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 1.33 BB/9 and 10.42 K/9. Sixth and seventh overall picks Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Matt LaPorta (Brewers) had impressive debuts but regressed in 2008. Casey Weathers (Rockies) will miss all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. Fourteenth overall pick Jason Heyward (Braves) has massive potential but spent the season in A-ball where he hit .323/.390/.483 with an ISO of .160 as a 6'4'', 220 lbs 18-year-old.
J.P. Arencibia (Jays) was called an overdraft by some, but he had a solid pro debut and reached Double-A, where he hit .282/.301/.496. He significantly improved his defence and slugged 27 homers and drove in 105 runs between two levels. Tim Alderson (Giants) was another excellent selection by the Giants and the high school pick spent the entire year pitching in High-A ball where he allowed 125 hits in 145.1 innings and posted rates of 2.11 BB/9 and 7.68 K/9. He'll be in Double-A in 2009 at the age of 20. The club had less success with the second last pick in the round, Wendell Fairley, who struggled to hit for average (.258) at Rookie Ball in 2008 at the age of 20. Pitcher Rick Porcello (Tigers) also spent his first season in High-A ball with success. He allowed 116 hits in 125 innings and posted rates of 2.38 BB/9 and 5.18 K/9. Ben Revere (Twins) was a surprise first-round selection but he flirted with .400 for the first half of the season in A-ball and showed talent in every aspect of the game (except power). Joe Savery (Phillies), who battled injuries in college, had a disappointing season in High-A ball after allowing 171 hits in 150 innings.
In essence, with 34 picks, the supplemental round was the second round of the draft. The best selections of the round, to this point, included Nick Noonan (Giants), Todd Frazier (Reds), Julio Borbon (Rangers), Brett Cecil (Jays), Sean Doolittle (A's), Tommy Hunter (Rangers), and Nick Hagadone (Red Sox), who missed most of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Borbon split the year between High-A and Double-A and hit .337/.372/.459 at his second stop. Overall, he stole 53 bases but needs to show more patience at the plate. Hunter, 22, blew through three minor league levels and made three big league starts (with a 16.36 ERA). Noonan showed advanced skills for a prep pick but spent the year in A-ball where he hit .279/.310/.415. In his brief career, Frazier has hit for power, average and has also shown good patience at the plate. Cecil began 2008 on the disabled list and came back with a strict pitch count, but he made it to Triple-A in his first full season. Overall, the southpaw allowed 100 hits in 118.2 innings. The most disappointing picks of the round included Jackson Williams (Giants), Nathan Vineyard (Mets), Charlie Culberson (Giants), Matt Mangini (Mariners), and Trystan Magnuson (Jays).
The Nationals scored with Jordan Zimmermann, who was the third pick of the second round. He reached Double-A where he allowed 89 hits in 106.2 innings. He could be in the big league rotation by the end of 2009. Prep pick Michael Stanton (Marlins) showed massive power in 2008 by slamming 39 home runs in 468 A-ball at-bats. He took a respectable number of walks but needs to trim the strikeouts (32.7 K%). Freddie Freeman (Braves) was another impressive young slugger who hit .316/.374/.521 with an ISO of .206 in 491 A-ball at-bats. Pitcher Jess Todd (Cardinals) was a solid college reliever who was thrown into the starting rotation in pro ball and has more than held his own. He spent the majority of the season in Double-A but made four Triple-A starts. Catcher Austin Romine (Yankees) split time behind the plate in A-ball with the highly-touted Jesus Montero. Romine showed solid defensive skills and hit .300/.340/.437 in 407 at-bats. Selections Josh Fields (Braves) and Hunter Morris (Red Sox) failed to come to terms. Morris headed off to Auburn University, while Fields returned to college for his senior year and was drafted by Seattle in the first round. He has failed to come terms yet again... The first selection in the second round Will Kline (Rays) missed the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Rays organization may have lost its second round pick to injury, but the club scored with its first round pick (Price) and may have also grabbed a winner in the third round with prep pitcher Nick Barnese. In short season ball in 2008, he allowed 52 hits in 66 innings with rates of 3.28 BB/9 and 11.45 K/9. The 19-year-old should begin 2009 in full-season A-ball. The second pick of the round, Danny Duffy (Royals), had an excellent year in A-ball by allowing 56 hits in 81.2 innings and posting rates of 2.76 BB/9 and 11.24 K/9. He has impressive breaking pitches and can touch 95 mph with his fastball. Puerto Rican picks Reynaldo Navarro (Diamondbacks), Neftali Soto (Reds), and Angel Morales (Twins) have massive potentials. Soto had the best statistical season in 2008 with a line of .326/.347/.500 in 218 A-ball at-bats. Austin Gallagher was promoted aggressively to High-A ball as a 19-year-old third baseman but he held his own and hit .293/.354/.456 with a .163 ISO in 307 at-bats. Brandon Hicks (Braves) has shown surprising power at the shortstop position but may not hit for average at the Major League level. Alan Farina (Jays) has a plus fastball as a reliever but has had trouble staying healthy. Starter John Ely (White Sox) is now one of the system's best prospects after a solid season in High-A ball where he posted rates of 2.85 BB/9 and 8.30 K/9 in 145.1 innings.
The teams with the largest number of early picks in 2007 - which include the Giants (6 picks), Rangers, Padres (9) and Jays (8) - definitely made the most of their selections in the first three rounds.
The Giants had three first round picks (which included Bumgarner and Alderson) and three supplemental first round picks but lost the second and third round selections due to free agency compensation. The first two selections, though, should impact San Francisco for years to come.
For Texas, the club's first selection, Blake Beavan has been a bit of a disappointment, but Borbon and Hunter have been awesome. Prep pitcher Michael Main (selected 24th overall) also has massive potential. Neil Ramirez (44th overall) is another intriguing former prep pitcher.
For the Jays organization, which delved into drafting prep players for the first time in years, the young players who were selected held their own but did not take a huge step forward in 2008. First round pick Kevin Ahrens, supplemental pick Justin Jackson and second round selections John Tolisano and Eric Eiland all struggled during the second halves of their first full seasons in pro ball.
The biggest names to come out of the 2007 draft definitely include David Price, Matt Wieters, and Madison Bumgarner. There are also a ton of names that could be added to the list by the middle of the 2009 season.
Pujols Wins Second MVP
Albert Pujols won his second National League Most Valuable Player Award yesterday, capturing 18 of the 32 first-place votes. Ryan Howard was the recipient of 12 first-place votes and finished second. Brad Lidge received the other two first-place votes.
While not surprised by the results, it seems to me that the race between Pujols and Howard was much closer than it should have been. Let's take a look at their rate stats:
AVG OBP SLG Pujols .357 .462 .653 Howard .251 .339 .543
As shown, Pujols smoked Howard across the board, beating his fellow first baseman by more than 100 points in AVG, OBP, and SLG. If you want a single stat to compare the two, look no further than Pujols' 233 margin of superiority in OPS.
Given that Pujols is also a much better fielder and baserunner, it is incomprehensible to me how any voter could cast a ballot in favor of Howard over him. I understand that Howard played for a team that won its division whereas Pujols' club failed to make the postseason. The fact that the Phillies went on to win the World Series is irrelevant in that the votes were due before the playoffs began. Not for nothing, I would argue that Pujols did more for his team than Howard as St. Louis arguably overachieved its preseason forecasts to a greater degree than Philadelphia.
Let's face it, the only way a voter could reach the conclusion that Howard was more valuable than Pujols is by overemphasizing the importance of home runs and RBI at the expense of all of the other evidence, including how well they hit with runners in scoring position (h/t to Rob Neyer).
AVG OBP SLG Pujols .339 .523 .678 Howard .320 .439 .589
But, goodness gracious, if you're into league rankings, let's at least be fair in considering more than just HR and RBI.
• 1st in NL in SLG (.653)
• 1st in NL in HR (48)
Think about it, Howard, who is a net negative when not at the plate, ranked FOURTEENTH in the NL in OPS, yet "earned" nearly 40% of the first-place votes!
Interestingly, the only other time in the division era (1995-on) that a player led his league in HR and RBI *and* his team finished in first place yet failed to win the MVP Award was in 2005 when Pujols picked up his first MVP by edging out Andruw Jones (51 HR, 128 RBI) in a similar vote.
Lastly, I found it hard to believe that Hanley Ramirez (.301/.400/.540) and Chase Utley (.292/.380/.535) wound up outside the top ten in the voting. Did I mention that they played shortstop and second base? And that Utley was not only a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player but ranked first in plus/minus leaders at all positions?
Ramirez, for his part, led the NL in runs scored (125) and placed in the top ten in OBP, SLG, OPS, BB, HR, and SB. If not for Ramirez, where do you suppose the Florida Marlins would have ended up in the NL East? By the same token, Utley had a higher AVG and OBP than Howard and trailed his teammate by a whopping eight points in SLG, yet tied for 14th in the voting (or 12 spots behind Howard).
I'm pleased that the writers got it right with respect to the winner but am disappointed in the overall results.
Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total Albert Pujols 18 10 2 369 Ryan Howard 12 8 6 308 Ryan Braun -- 2 3 139
4. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers, 138
Others receiving votes: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins, 55; Chipper Jones, Braves, 44; Geovany Soto, Cubs 41; Johan Santana, Mets, 30; Chase Utley, Phillies, 30; Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals 17; Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, 14; Adrian Gonzalez, Padres, 13; Matt Holliday, Rockies, 13; Prince Fielder, Brewers, 11; Derrek Lee, Cubs, 10; Carlos Beltran, Mets, 10; Tim Lincecum, Giants, 9; Jose Reyes, Mets, 3; Jose Valverde, Astros, 3; Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks 2; Nate McLouth, Pirates, 1.
The Bill James Handbook 2009 - Part One
One of the beauties of November is the arrival of The Bill James Handbook, the most stat-filled annual baseball guide available. The book, produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, is always the first one to hit the market following the just-completed season.
Key features include career data for every 2008 major leaguer, fielding (including plus/minus leaders and The Fielding Bible Awards, which we covered on the last day in October), baserunning analysis, pitcher and hitter projections, team statistics and efficiency summaries, manager records, manufactured runs, win shares, a new section on relief pitching, and much more.
I always read in full anything with a Bill James byline and this year is no exception. Bill tackles Team Efficiency Summary, The Baserunners, The 21st Century Bullpen, Manufactured Runs, The Manager's Record, Young Inventory Talent, Another One Bites the Dust, Introduction to the Pitcher Projections, and Pitchers on Course for 300 Wins. In all, there are more than 20 pages devoted to James' commentary.
In the section on team efficiency – which measures: (1) how many runs did the team score compared to the number we would expect them to score based on their hitting stats? (2) how many runs did the team allow compared to the number we would have expected them to allow? and (3) how many games did the team win based on the number of runs they scored and allowed? – James writes:
If you have a homer, double, single and a walk in an inning, but you only score one run, that's very inefficient. If you have two walks and a single but you turn it into two runs, that's very efficient.
In The Baserunners, James writes, "We are not essentially in the business of rating or ranking ballplayers. We are in the world of keeping track of the facts, and making those available to you. It would, however, be somewhat absurd to report each player's hits and at bats, and not bother to figure the batting average, or the slugging percentage, or the on base percentage. A certain amount of primitive analysis is essential to record-keeping."
Hence, the baserunning data that follows. Let us compare Curtis Granderson, who is a really good baserunner, with Magglio Ordonez, who is a great hitter but, at 34, not quite what he used to be on the bases.
Here are the top and bottom ten baserunners of 2008, as determined by James' formula:
1. Willy Taveras +70 1. Dioner Navarro -39 2. Ichiro Suzuki +56 2. Magglio Ordonez -35 3. Matt Holliday +52 3. Edgar Gonzalez -27 4. Grady Sizemore +50 4. Yorvit Torrealba -26 5. Jimmy Rollins +46 5. Yunel Escobar -25 6. Nate McLouth +44 6. Mike Lowell -23 7. Ian Kinsler +41 7. Ramon Hernandez -22 Randy Winn +41 Prince Fielder -22 9. Jacoby Ellsbury +40 Billy Butler -22 10. Carlos Beltran +35 10. Long List of Guys -21
I believe the aforementioned system does an excellent job of identifying the best and worst baserunners but am of the opinion that it could be strengthened by adjusting for ballpark effects, the number of outs in an inning, and whether there is a full count on the batter at the time of opportunity for advancement. James Click and Dan Fox have tackled these variables as well as the nearly indistinguishable impact from hitters and fielders. Nonetheless, as evidenced by the top and bottom tens, James' methodology is a reasonable proxy for determining baserunning skills. The book devotes more than six pages to tables, breaking down the results for almost 400 baserunners.
In The 21st Century Bullpen, James writes, "The modern bullpen is still evolving very rapidly...leaving stat books in their wake. We evaluate relievers by ERA, but a modern reliever can do a lot of damage with runs charged to somebody else. In the 1950s and 60s we developed the concept of the "Save," and since then have added the derivative concepts of "Blown Saves" and "Holds," but the modern bullpen contains one pitcher who is assigned to save the game and six or seven whose job is something else entirely—something not measured by Saves or anything in their line."
The modern bullpen is staffed by two or three lefties whose job it is to get out lefties, by an eighth-inning guy whose job it is to be a bridge to the closer, by a seventh-inning guy, and by two or three pudknockers whose job is to pitch in where they can. You have a lot of different guys, doing a lot of different jobs, whose records all look pretty much the same.
James assigns all major league relievers to one of six "positions" in the bullpen: closer, set-up man, lefty, long man, utility reliever, or emergency reliever. He says, "Think about what this means. There have been "field positions" in record books for a hundred years. But, just in the last generation, (a) positions have evolved within the bullpen, and (b) nobody has officially categorized them. That's what we're doing: we're adding "positions" to the bullpen. It's an obvious step, and I don't really know why we didn't do it before now."
The categories include relief games ("no explanation needed"), early entry (sixth inning or earlier), consecutive days, long outings (more than 25 pitches), leverage index (the amount of swing in the possible change in win probability compared to the average swing in all situations), inherited runners, inherited runners scored, percentage, easy saves (three outs remaining and the first batter he faces does not represent the potential tying or winning run), easy save opportunities, regular saves (any save which does not meet the definition of an easy or tough save), regular save opportunities, tough saves (potential tying or winning run on base), tough save opportunities, clean outing (not charged with a run *and* does not allow an inherited runner to score), blown save win, saves ("don't make me explain the Save Rule...I know people"), holds, save opportunities, save/hold percentage, opposition OPS, and ERA.
For the second straight year, James ranks the top 25 individual young players under the age of 29. The rankings are based on "proven major league talents, not prospects or young players who are not yet proven as major league players."
The following list of the top 25 young MLB players includes teams, positions, and 2008 ages:
1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, age 24
James also lists the teams in order of overall young talent currently on the big league squad:
1. Minnesota Twins
According to James, "2008 really was not a great year for young talent, except pitchers." Bill believes Evan Longoria was the "only really huge talent to emerge," claiming that he "probably would rank as the number one guy on our list, were it not for an injury, but the system relies on major league production."
I have been reviewing The Bill James Handbook since 2003. The previous reviews can be accessed at the following links:
Swish, Splash...White Sox Take a Bath on Trade With Yankees
News: The White Sox and Yankees completed a trade with Chicago sending first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and minor league relief pitcher Kanekoa Texeira to New York for infielder Wilson Betemit and minor league pitchers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.
Comments: I have to admit that I don't understand this trade from the vantage point of the Sox unless it is mostly about dumping salary.
With respect to the two major leaguers in the deal, Swisher is clearly better than Betemit. While the former had the worst season of his four-year career in 2008, he was still more productive than the latter. Swisher ranked last in batting average among players with at least 502 plate appearances, yet walked 82 times and slugged 24 home runs. His decline in AVG is solely attributable to a career-low BABIP of .251, which looks like an aberration given the fact that his batted ball data were, more or less, in-line with his career marks. If anything, his better-than-ever line-drive rate (20.9%) should have produced a somewhat higher – rather than lower – BABIP and AVG.
Betemit drew six bases on balls while whiffing 56 times (or once every 3.5 trips to the plate) last year. Since joining the Yankees during the 2007 season, the utility infielder has drawn 12 walks against 89 strikeouts for a horrific BB/SO rate of .135, perhaps suggesting that he has been overmatched in the AL East.
Only a year separates the two switch hitters in age. While Betemit may be slightly more valuable as an infielder than Swisher is as a corner outfielder and first baseman, his size realistically limits him to third and first and his bat just doesn't play all that well at either position. As such, he is basically nothing more than a backup, a fungible spot on a big-league roster. Eligible for arbitration, Betemit will probably "earn" $1.5-2.0M this season.
Swisher has three years remaining on a five-year, $26.75 million contract. He will make $5.3M in 2009, $6.75M in 2010, and $9M in 2011. His deal also includes a $10.25 million club option for 2012, with a $1 million buyout. At an average of $7.35M per season, Swisher is reasonably priced and a bargain if he can return to his 2006-2007 production.
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 2008 153 497 86 109 21 1 24 69 82 135 3 3 .219 .332 .410 .742 92 Career 611 2114 353 515 117 5 104 324 342 539 7 8 .244 .354 .451 .805 112
Wilson Betemit | INF | B/R | 6-3, 230 | 27 | MLB
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 2008 87 189 24 50 13 0 6 25 6 56 5 6 .265 .289 .429 .718 86 Career 496 1098 145 286 60 4 42 151 108 314 5 6 .260 .325 .437 .762 95
If we can agree that Swisher is much more valuable than Betemit, then that means the White Sox had to make up the difference with the three minor leaguers that were included in this transaction. Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see it, whether one relies on the stats, the scouting reports, or a combination of the two.
I'll let John Manuel of Baseball America provide commentary and insights on the three prospects.
Jeff Marquez | SP | RHP | 6-2, 190 | 24 | AAA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 80.2 93 51 42 12 24 33 4.69 2.68 3.68 1.34
Marquez endured a difficult season, getting knocked around in Triple-A before being sent back to Trenton in the second half. A 2004 supplemental first-round pick, he entered 2008 as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect but would have ranked in the 21-30 range this season had he remained a Yankee. Marquez made progress with his changeup and curve in 2007 but was back to relying almost exclusively on his 88-92 mph sinker (which can reach a bit higher) and adding a slider in '08. He's a defense-dependent, early-contact kind of pitcher who lacks a strikeout pitch. Overall, he was 8-8, 4.47 with just 51 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings. He finished strong, pitching well during Trenton's Eastern League title run, and is pitching for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League (1-2, 4.50).
Jhonny Nunez | RP | RHP | 6-3, 185 | 23 | A+/AA/AAA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 116.1 122 58 53 13 39 124 4.10 3.02 9.59 1.01
Nunez has the best arm and upside of any prospect in the deal. The Yankees landed him earlier this year from the Nationals in the Alberto Gonzalez deal, and moved him from the rotation to the bullpen. He originally signed with the Dodgers in 2003 out of the Dominican Republic and came to the Nationals in a 2006 trade for Marlon Anderson. Nunez has a live arm and shows two plus pitches at times—a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph, touching 95, and a slider that he throws with some power that has inconsistent tilt. He throws from a low arm slot and was outstanding after the Yankees made what one club official termed "mechanical bad habits . . . he has much better balance now." He was 2-8, 5.22 as a starter at high Class A Potomac, but as a reliever in the Double-A Eastern League, with Harrisburg and then Trenton, he went 1-0, 1.65 in 27 innings, striking out 34, and had 116 whiffs in 108 innings overall. He had three saves and seven strikeouts in five scoreless innings in the EL playoffs.
Kanekoa Texeira | RP | RHP | 6-0, 210 | 23 | A+/AA
IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 61.0 46 15 9 2 21 60 1.33 3.10 8.85 0.30
Texeira was a Carolina League all-star for high Class A Winston-Salem this season and had the best slider in the White Sox's system. The 22-year-old Hawaii native was the No. 19 prospect in the CL this season. He's just 6-foot, 210 pounds and went 6-3, 1.33 combined between Winston and Double-A Birmingham in 2008, with 60 strikeouts and 21 walks allowed in 61 innings overall. He spots his 90-91 mph fastball to both sides of the plate to set up his plus slider, which is both a groundball pitch and strikeout offering.
In order to like the White Sox half of the trade, one would have to place a pretty high value on Marquez and Nunez or very little value on Texeira. It seems to me that Nunez and Texeira are more alike than not, suggesting a difference of opinion on those two relievers and/or much more optimism over Marquez than I am willing to concede. Peter Abraham points out a side benefit for the Yankees: Marquez and Nunez require 40-man protection while Texeira does not, meaning that the deal gives New York some roster flexibility as well.
Although the White Sox may hope that pitching coach Don Cooper can fix Marquez's problems, I am always skeptical of any pitcher that can't whiff at least 10% of the batters faced. With 33 SO out of 349 TBF in AAA, Marquez will need to develop a new swing-and-miss pitch or get back to being a groundball machine a la Chien-Ming Wang if he is ever going to succeed in the majors.
Sure, the White Sox will save money on this deal, but it seems as if Kenny Williams got shortchanged nonetheless. In a matter of 10 1/2 months, the Chicago GM has effectively traded Texeira and fellow pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos plus outfielder Ryan Sweeney (as Swisher was acquired for the latter three prospects on January 3, 2008) for Betemit, Marquez, and Nunez. Yikes!
The Rookies of 2008... and Those Who Came Before Them
The 2008 Rookie of the Year awards were handed out recently and the winners came as no surprise. Evan Longoria, of the Tampa Bay Rays, was the unanimous choice in the American League, while Geovany Soto, of the Chicago Cubs, received all but one first-place vote in the National League.
In reality, there was not a ton of competition for the awards - both winners stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the candidates. That said, it was an interesting group that made up the top five vote-getters in each league. The lists include a Cuban import, a Japanese import, a player who was not on many top prospect lists when the season began, a few recently-traded pitchers, and a highly-touted prospect who had a modest debut.
The American League:
The National League
Let's take a closer look at each player's season.
Evan Longoria produced a solid line of .272/.343/.531 and displayed massive power with a .259 ISO. He slugged 27 homers and 31 doubles in 448 at-bats. Bill James projects Longoria to hit 37 homers in 2009, which would be a very impressive number in this post-steroids age. The young third baseman still needs to work on making contact a little more often after striking out 127 times in 2008 (27.2 K%).
Alexei Ramirez had a very solid rookie season, but his numbers suggest that he may not have prolonged success unless he revamps his approach. His walk rate was just 3.6 BB%. Ramirez also swung at pitches outside the strike zone almost 50 percent more often (42.71%) than the league norm. On the plus side, he makes contact at a league-average rate, both on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. Overall, he batted .290/.317/.475 with 21 home runs in 280 at-bats for Chicago in 2008.
The bar was set very high for Jacoby Ellsbury after he hit .353 in 116 regular season at-bats in 2007, and followed that up by hitting .360 in the playoffs. His 2008 season was solid, but he did not catapult into stardom as many in Boston had hoped. Ellsbury hit .280/.336/.394 with just 38 extra base hits in 554 at-bats. That said, the speedy outfielder swiped 50 stolen bases in 61 attempts. To take full advantage of that speed in 2009, Ellsbury should focus on improving his 6.9 BB%.
Mike Aviles deserves a lot of credit for making it onto this list. He played just 102 games at the Major League level in 2008, after spending his first 50 games in Triple-A. Aviles made up for lost time, though, and hit .325/.354/.480 with an ISO of .155 in 419 at-bats. Bill James projects Aviles' triple-slash numbers to take a .030-.040 point hit in each category for 2009. Like many young players, Aviles needs to be more patient (4.1 BB%).
The Tigers organization can give itself a collective kick for tossing away Jair Jurrjens in the Edgar Renteria trade, but it made up for the gaff by stealing Armando Galarraga away from the Rangers - a club that also traded away another promising young pitcher prior to the 2008 season in Edinson Volquez. Galarraga likely will not rise above the fourth or fifth slot in a team's rotation, but he's solid. In 2008, he allowed 152 hits in 178.2 innings of work and posted rates of 3.07 BB/9 and 6.35 K/9.
Not only did Geovany Soto have an excellent offensive season for a catcher, but he also helped guide a pitching rotation to a playoff berth in his rookie season. Soto hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 home runs and an ISO of .219 in 494 at-bats. The Cubs may want to give the portly catcher a few more days off in 2009, if they want him to remain healthy and productive for a prolonged period of time.
Canadian Joey Votto displayed the rare ability to hit for both average and power in 2008 with a line of .297/.368/.506 and an ISO of .209. Bill James was also impressed and his numbers project a significant increase in each category for Votto in 2009. The left-handed batter also took a healthy number of walks (10.1 BB%) and kept the strikeouts under control (19.4 K%).
Jair Jurrjens had a promising debut season in the National League. He was hittable by allowing 188 hits in 188.1 innings, but he battled and posted respectable rates: 3.35 BB% and 6.64 K%. Of the batted balls Jurrjens allowed, 51.5 were hit on the ground. To improve upon his 2008 success in 2009, the right-hander may want to rely more on his slider, which he went to just 11.8 percent of the time.
Jay Bruce was considered by many to be the top prospect in baseball coming into the 2008 season. He began the year in Triple-A but surfaced in the Majors before long and hit .254/.314/.453 in 413 at-bats. Bruce's season also included an ISO of .199 and rates of 7.4 BB% and 26.6 K%. Bruce will be only 22 years old in 2009 so he has lots of time to improve and reach the lofty expectations that have been heaped upon him.
Kosuke Fukudome exploded onto the Major League Baseball scene in April of 2008, only to fizzle in the second half of the year. Overall, the Japanese veteran hit .257/.359/.379 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. His .122 ISO was well below average for a corner outfielder but he posted solid rates at 13.9 BB% and 20.8 K%. Fukudome needs a big 2009 season to help justify his contract - and playing time.
2007: Dustin Pedroia, Boston | Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Both Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun followed up their 2007 rookie campaigns by avoiding the dreaded sophomore jinx and built upon their impressive numbers. Both players were highly regarded when they were drafted, but they are both exceeding those expectations at the Major League level. The runners up to the award were Delmon Young and Troy Tulowitzki.
2006: Justin Verlander, Detroit | Hanley Ramirez, Florida
Justin Verlander took a step back in 2008, while Hanley Ramirez continues to be a dominating force, which means he is likely to be traded out of Florida any day now. Verlander has lost one mile-per-hour off his fastball in each of the last three seasons. The runners up to the award were Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Zimmerman.
2005: Huston Street, Oakland | Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
Huston Street has had a solid career as a second-tier closer, but he was traded to Colorado this week and is likely headed to a third team in the not-too-distant future. Ryan Howard continues to mash as a one-dimensional slugger, with a .311 career ISO and a 33.4 percent career K%. The runners up to the award were Robinson Cano and Willy Taveras.
2004: Bobby Crosby, Oakland | Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
Bobby Crosby's potential has been derailed by injury after injury, although he managed a career high in at-bats in 2008. Canadian Jason Bay has flourished - and a trade to Boston in 2008 will help get him the attention he deserves as one of the better offensive outfielders in baseball. The runners up to the award were Shingo Takatsu and Khalil Greene.
2003: Angel Berroa, Kansas City | Dontrelle Willis, Florida
What can we say about Angel Berroa? His rookie season was a fluke, with a capital 'F.' In fact, the remainder of his career also deserves an 'F.' Dontrelle Willis has completely imploded. The runners up to the award were Hideki Matsui and Scott Podsednik. Brandon Webb was third overall in the National League, followed by Miguel Cabrera and Brad Lidge tied at fifth overall.
2002: Eric Hinske, Toronto | Jason Jennings, Colorado
Like Berroa, Eric Hinske's rookie season was a fluke, but he has managed to carve out a career as a solid role player, and he had a significant impact on the Rays' magical 2008 season. Jason Jennings' career has been ruined by injuries. The runners up to the award were Rodrigo Lopez and Brad Wilkerson.
2001: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle | Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Japanese veterans received the American League Rookie of the Year awards for two straight seasons in 2000 and 2001, which was disappointing to say the least. That said, Ichiro has had an awesome Major League career. That Albert Pujols fellow has also been pretty good. The runners up to the award were C.C. Sabathia and Roy Oswalt.
2000: Kazuhiro Sasaki, Seattle | Rafael Furcal, Atlanta
Kazuhiro Sasaki was a solid closer for Seattle for three seasons before suffering through an injury-filled 2003 season. He then walked away from baseball in North America to spend more time with his family. It's hard to believe Rafael Furcal is still only 31 years old. It feels like he's been around forever... and he is still one of the best shortstops in the game. The runners up for the award were Terrence Long and Rick Ankiel - as a pitcher.
Billy-Holliday Hook Up in Oakland
Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane has pulled off another big trade by acquiring slugger Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez. The transaction is expected to be officially announced today.
The trade is interesting from several aspects. Holliday will earn $13.5 million next season as part of a two-year contract he signed last January to avoid arbitration. With six years under his belt, Holliday will become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign. It is highly unlikely that Oakland will sign him to a long-term deal. Instead, he is almost all but guaranteed to be a one-year rental who will bring two compensatory draft picks when he leaves for greener pastures a year from now.
Last winter, Holliday, who is represented by Scott Boras, reportedly turned down a four-year, $72 million offer from Colorado that included a club option for a fifth year. Boras will most likely seek a nine-figure deal when his client tests the free agent market prior to the 2010 season.
Beane has generally traded – rather than acquired – Holliday types prior to becoming free agents. However, Holliday is an outfielder and not a pitcher as was the case with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, and Joe Blanton. The latter three were under Oakland's control for more than a year when they were sent packing.
Is Holliday worth giving up three players for one year and two draft picks? Sure. First of all, he gives Oakland a chance to compete next season. Secondly, if the A's are not in the hunt at the trading deadline, look for Beane to entertain offers from contending teams. At worse, Holliday plays out the year and Oakland receives a couple of high draft choices that may be as good as or better than Street, Smith, and Gonzalez, all of whom have their shortcomings.
Street, 25, saved 18 games last season but lost his job as the closer to rookie Brad Ziegler (who was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 11 saves in 13 opportunities) in August. A supplemental first-round pick (40th overall) out of the University of Texas in 2004, Street was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and saved 98 games in his four seasons, including a career-high 37 in 2006. However, the smallish righthander has had a history of elbow problems and his 90-mph fastball puts him in a vulnerable position should his slider lose its effectiveness. A flyball pitcher, he may not be a good fit in the thin air of Colorado and could be flipped to any number of teams looking for an experienced closer.
Smith and Gonzalez were acquired from Arizona in the Haren trade. Smith, who started 32 games for Oakland last season, possesses one of the best pick-off moves in the game but little else. An extreme flyball pitcher with fringy stuff, Smith, who had minor elbow surgery last month, will find the going much more difficult at Coors Park than McAfee Coliseum. Gonzalez, on the other hand, should find Colorado to his liking. A toolsy outfielder, he has the highest ceiling of the bunch. However, he struggled as a 22-year-old in his rookie season, "hitting" .242/.273/.361 with 81 SO and 13 BB in 316 PA. Like many young players, he needs to improve his pitch recognition – especially vs. LHP (.188/.207/.247) – to reach his potential.
Holliday broke into the big leagues in 2004 and has played five seasons with the Colorado Rockies. As shown below, his home and road splits are too pronounced to dismiss. He hits like Lou Gehrig (.340/.447/.632) at Coors Park and Mike Lowell (.279/.343/.467) on the road. You can either call him Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or you can call Dan O'Dowd and hide his road stats.
AVG OBP SLG Home .357 .423 .645 Road .280 .348 .455
In fairness to Holliday, I believe his age 26-28 seasons are more representative of his true performance level.
AVG OBP SLG Home .361 .430 .669 Road .296 .370 .486
Although the gap in the splits are still eye opening, Holliday's numbers away from Coors Park are noticeably better. I would use them as a baseline in trying to project what he might do for the A's in 2009.
Given the fact that most players produce at about a 4% better clip at home than on the road, it might be fair to adjust his 2006-2008 road stats to .308/.385/.505. However, it is important to recognize that Holliday will be moving to a more difficult hitting environment in terms of the league and home ballpark. In fact, McAfee Coliseum is particularly tough on righthanded batters, playing to a 94 park factor for AVG and a 78 for HR over the past three seasons. As such, those adjusted rate stats, while outstanding, are probably his upside.
Of the 95 home runs that Holliday has slugged the past three seasons, 62 have come at home and only 33 have been on the road. It says here that Holliday will hit closer to 20 HR than his three-year average of 32. In other words, I'll take the unders if the over/under line is 25.
Nonetheless, Holliday is a big-time talent and immediately makes Oakland a better team. The 6-4, 235-pound high school All-America quarterback not only hits for average and power but runs well and possesses a better-than-average arm for a left fielder. He stole 28 bases in 30 attempts and ranked as the third-best baserunner in the majors according to The Bill James Handbook. Holliday advanced from first to third on 15 of 26 singles, from second to home on 17 of 24 opportunities, and from first to home on 5 of 6 doubles while being thrown out only twice on the base paths. Among left fielders, he was third in John Dewan's plus/minus ratings and finished third in The Fielding Bible Awards.
If Holliday has any upside left in him, it may rest in his improving plate discipline. The five-year veteran's walk rate last season increased to a career-best 12.1% and his 0.71 BB/SO ratio was more than 40% above his previous high. I'm quite sure that Beane is fully aware of these facts.
I don't think the Billy-Holliday combo will be singing the blues over this deal.
Awards and More Awards
On the day before Veterans' Day, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced its Rookie of the Year Awards. Third baseman Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and catcher Geovany Soto of the Chicago Cubs were named the American League and National League Rookies of the Year for the 2008 season.
Longoria and Soto received 59 of the 60 first place votes with the former becoming the AL's first unanimous winner since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997. Longoria and Garciaparra both prepped at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California. Longoria is also the second Long Beach State Dirtbag (the other being Bobby Crosby in 2004) to earn AL ROY honors in the past five years. Longoria's college teammate, Troy Tulowitzki, finished second in the NL ROY balloting last year.
This year's AL Rookie of the Year played in the All-Star Game and the World Series, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he began the season in the minors and spent more than a month on the disabled list. Longoria (.272/.343/.531) had 60 extra-base hits, including 27 HR, in just 122 games and 508 plate appearances. He also slugged six homers in the postseason but struck out 20 times in 62 at-bats while going 1-for-20 with no BB or XBH in the World Series.
Soto (.285/.364/.504) was the first rookie catcher to start an All-Star Game for the National League. He also played in the postseason, going 2-for-11 in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers. The native of San Juan, Puerto Rico gave a glimpse of what was to become when he hit .389/.433/.667 in 18 games and 60 plate appearances in 2007.
The AL and NL Cy Young Awards will be announced this week. Rob Neyer goes into detail breaking down the candidates in both leagues, while providing a link to the Cy Young Predictor as developed by Bill James. Neyer sees Cliff Lee narrowly beating Francisco Rodriguez in the AL and looks for Tim Lincecum to edge out Brandon Webb and Johan Santana in the NL.
Like Neyer, I would go with Lee and either Lincecum or Santana with a slight preference for the Giants righthander. In addition to Webb, look for Brad Lidge and C.C. Sabathia to round out the top five in the NL. Roy Halladay is a lock to finish in the top three in the AL (although, for my money, he should place a solid second and much closer to first than third).
Update (11/11/08): NL Cy Young Award goes to Lincecum
Update (11/13/08): Lee wins 2008 AL Cy Young Award
Adding Perspective to the Jacobs Deal
News: The Texas Rangers exercised their $6.2 million option on Hank Blalock for the 2009 season.
Rangers pick up first baseman Blalock's $6.2M option for '09
While the headline in the above ESPN article calls Blalock a first baseman, the lefthanded hitter is returning as the club's designated hitter. According to mlb.com, general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington made that clear to Blalock when speaking with him on Friday. The following quote was attributed to Washington: "Hank made it known that he still feels he's an everyday player, but he's willing to do whatever he can to help the ballclub. In our situation right now, he'll have to be the DH. That could change depending on what else we do this winter."
No longer able to handle the duties of third base due to a damaged right shoulder, how valuable is Blalock as a DH or even as a first baseman? Are there any comps that could shed light on this question? By golly, there is at least one that I know of, and it's none other than Mike Jacobs, the 1B/DH acquired by the Kansas City Royals ten days ago.
Before we take a look at the stats, be aware that Blalock will cost the Rangers $6.2M next season while Jacobs is likely to earn no more than half of that amount, be it mutually agreed upon or awarded in arbitration during the offseason.
Conveniently, these two players are about as easy to compare as possible. Both hail from San Diego and were born three weeks apart. Both players throw right and bat left. And both are nothing more than first basemen and/or designated hitters.
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .274 .337 .465 .802 Jacobs .262 .318 .498 .816
Blalock tops Jacobs in OBP by .019 while the latter beats the former in SLG by .033. Adding OBP and SLG, Jacobs' OPS is higher than Blalock's by .014. OPS works well for a quick and dirty calculation, but, point-for-point, it tends to favor power hitters who don't walk over those who walk with little power. Accordingly, if we adjust OPS by weighting OBP in proportion to its relative importance vs. SLG (or OBP*1.8+SLG), then we learn that the two hitters have been virtually equal in terms of production.
Gross Production Average (or GPA) divides the above formula by 4 to put it on a scale that is more comparable to batting average, making it easier to interpret. In both cases, the career GPA is .268.
These career totals are unadjusted for ballpark factors* and the difference in the pitching superiority of the American League over the National League. The first factor clearly favors Blalock. Hank has played his home games at Arlington while Mike played at Shea Stadium for a partial season in his rookie year and Dolphin Stadium for the past three campaigns. Arlington's park factor has ranged from 98-125 with an average of nearly 114. Shea Stadium and Dolphin Stadium have ranged from 90-107 with a mean of 97. As such, Blalock's home parks have helped him by approximately 17 percentage points more than Jacobs' home fields.
* PF = ((homeRS + homeRA)/(homeG)) / ((roadRS + roadRA)/(roadG))
You can use other methodologies for computing park factors, but the conclusion is one and the same. Blalock has been helped tremendously by his home ballparks and Jacobs has been hurt by his.
At the same time, Blalock's numbers have been harmed by facing tougher pitching than Jacobs. According to an email exchange with Tom Tango, the adjustment for the difference in quality of leagues is about five runs or 0.5 wins per 162 games. "To that end, an OPS+ of 106 in the NL would roughly match 100 in the AL." That's an interesting example because Jacobs has a career OPS+ of 110 and Blalock has a 104, which means they are roughly even when viewed in the proper context of the two leagues.
Let's drill down and examine the splits more closely.
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .306 .375 .531 .906 Jacobs .252 .299 .501 .800
On the Road
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .244 .299 .402 .701 Jacobs .271 .337 .495 .832
Using the weighted formula detailed above, Blalock has been 16.1% more productive than Jacobs at home, and Jacobs has been 17.2% more productive than Blalock on the road.
While Blalock deserves credit for adapting to the advantages of his home ballpark more than one would expect, it's plainly obvious that Jacobs has been a much better hitter in more neutral environments.
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .292 .356 .502 .858 Jacobs .269 .329 .521 .850
AVG OBP SLG OPS Blalock .231 .285 .371 .656 Jacobs .235 .275 .414 .689
Blalock and Jacobs have significant platoon splits. Both are relatively effective vs. RHP and ineffective vs. LHP. The difference in handedness is even more pronounced for Blalock than Jacobs.
Cutting to the chase, who would you rather have strictly from the standpoint of hitting prowess? I believe the evidence points to Jacobs being no worse than Blalock.
As for fielding and baserunning, neither Jacobs nor Blalock shine in these areas. Both are below-average first basemen, probably on a similar magnitude. While the sample size is small for Blalock at first base, he was a poor defensive third baseman and there is little reason to suspect he will turn into a plus first baseman. In the meantime, Jacobs' Revised Zone Rating and Rate (fielding runs per 100 games), while poor, are actually better than Blalock's.
According to The Bill James Handbook, Jacobs was a better baserunner than Blalock last year by a wide margin, and the latter was better than the former by a slimmer margin in 2006 and 2007. While they each stole one base without being caught in 2008, Blalock was credited with five bases taken while recording four outs as compared to seven and two, respectively, for Jacobs. Neither was particularly adept at advancing extra bases, as Blalock was 0-for-10 going from first to third on singles and Jacobs was 0-for-6 moving from first to home on doubles.
To sum it up, I wouldn't give either one an edge over the other when it comes to hitting, fielding, or baserunning. Therefore, it seems to me that Jacobs and Blalock are about the same, perhaps about as similar as any two players can be.
If my conclusion is correct, why would there be such an uproar over the Jacobs trade and little or nothing said about the Rangers exercising their option on Blalock? Could Leo Nunez really be worth the difference between their two salaries (which is likely to be at least $3 million)?
In order to like Blalock more than Jacobs, one would have to think their career stats were not indicative of their future performance. In other words, one would have to believe that Blalock is either better or Jacobs worse than what they have shown thus far. Is that possible? Sure. But it doesn't seem too likely from my vantage point.
Given how well Blalock has hit at home, I realize that he may be worth more to Texas than any other team in baseball. That's fine. However, it also reduces or eliminates any idea that the Rangers may try to trade him for pitching during the offseason because the acquiring club would have to give up a player *and* pay him $6.2 million. Signing Blalock on the hope of the Greater Fool Theory would suggest that Texas is the greatest fool of them all.
I have no axe to grind here. I have no reason to favor one over the other. I have never met or spoken to them, nor am I a fan of either player or of their teams. Instead, I am simply doing my best to be objective in analyzing the pros and cons of each so as to make an informed judgment on their merits as players and contract values.
My bottom line? It says here that Jacobs is either a cheaper version of Blalock or Blalock is a more expensive alternative to Jacobs.
Even Small Trades Can Have Big Impacts: A Review of 2007-08
The 2008-09 Major League Baseball off-season is in full swing with the General Managers Meeting underway and with MLB free agents busy declaring their freedom. Last week I took a look back at some of the larger trades that were made during the 2007-08 off-season. This week I am going to continue the theme and take a look at some of the smaller trades made during that same time frame, which had larger-than-expected impacts on one or more teams.
To Chicago (AL):
Even with 1B/DH-types Jim Thome and Paul Konerko already on the roster, the White Sox management went out and nabbed 1B-OF Nick Swisher with a plan of having him spend the majority of the time in the outfield. Swisher, though, ended up playing 71 games at first base, while filling for an injured - and ineffective - Konerko. Carlos Quentin (see below) also made Swisher expendable from the outfield rotation. Swisher had his worst offensive season in 2008 by posting a line of .219/.332/.410 with a .191 ISO in 497 at-bats. On the plus side, his rates remained around his career-norm (14.2 BB%, 27.2 K%) so a return to his old ways is not out of the question for 2009.
From the A's perspective, the trade went fairly well. Ryan Sweeney had a solid, albeit unspectacular, season in the outfield with a line of .286/.350/.383 and rates of 9.0 BB% and 17.4 K%. He is probably not a long-term regular in the outfield, but he should be solid-average in 2009. Gio Gonzalez had a respectable Triple-A season at the age of 22. He allowed 106 hits in 123 innings and posted rates of 4.46 BB/9 and 9.37 K/9. He was roughed up in 10 big league appearances and posted an ERA of 7.68. Fautino de los Santos, who had a breakout 2007 on the mound, was found to be injured after making five minor league starts and underwent undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Winner before 2008: Draw
This trade was an absolute steal for Detroit, as teams continue to steal pitching away from Texas - a club that needs quality pitching about as badly as any team in baseball. Armando Galarraga is not a superstar, but he proved to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter in 2008. He won 13 games for Detroit by allowing 152 hits in 178.2 innings and posting rates of 3.07 BB/9 and 6.35 K/9. On the downside, Galarraga allowed 28 homers (1.41 HR/9) while playing half his games in a spacious ballpark. In the future, the right-hander might want to try and vary his speeds a little more as his fastball averaged out at 90.2 mph, while his slider was at 84.8 mph, and his change-up was at 84 mph. Michael Hernandez did not even play for Texas in 2008 and spent just 16 games in pro ball - all with the New York Mets' A-ball affiliates.
Winner before 2008: Detroit
It feels like Edgar Renteria has been around forever (and he has in fact played in 13 MLB seasons) but he was only 32 years old in 2008. Regardless, aspects of his game are beginning to slip and he has played with four teams in five seasons. Offensively, he hit .270/.317/.382 with just six stolen bases in 503 at-bats for Detroit. Renteria posted rates of 6.9 BB% and 12.7 K%. In Atlanta, Jair Jurrjens had a solid season and gives the rotation some much-needed hope for the future. He allowed 188 hits in 188 innings pitched and posted rates of 3.35 BB/9 and 6.64 K/9. He did a nice job of keeping the ball in the yard and allowed just 11 home runs all season. Jurrjens relied mainly on his fastball/change-up combo in 2008 and could stand to mix in his slider more often (11.8%) if he wants to continue to improve. Gorkys Hernandez took a step back in High-A ball with a line of .264/.348/.387, along with five homers and 20 stolen bases in 406 at-bats.
Winner before 2008: Detroit
You could say this trade worked out well for both teams... although Josh Hamilton deserves the nod for the best overall season - with an almost MVP-deserving year. But on the other hand, Texas yet again gave away some young, promising pitching to improve its already fairly-potent offence. Hamilton was a run-producing machine in the first half (60 runs, 95 RBI), before tailing off a bit in the second part of the season to finish at 98 runs scored and 130 RBI. He also had an excellent line of .304/.371/.530 with 35 doubles and 32 homers in 624 at-bats. Edinson Volquez had a solid first full season at the Major League level despite some inconsistencies. He won 17 games and allowed just 167 hits in 196 innings. He posted rates of 4.27 BB/9 and 9.46 K/9. Despite pitching in a homer-happy stadium much of the time, Volquez allowed just 14 home runs. Danny Herrera, who may be the shortest player in Major League Baseball at 5'6''-ish, made his MLB debut in 2008 at appears to have a future as a LOOGY.
Winner before 2008: Texas
Rarely do salary dumps favor the team doing the expelling. This trade, though, is the exception to the rule. Veteran Mark Kotsay had a solid season for Atlanta (and later Boston) with a line of .276/.329/.403 with six homers in 402 at-bats, but Oakland picked up a player who could be the heir apparent to closer Huston Street. Joey Devine finally showed some of the promise that made him one of the top relievers in college baseball when Atlanta selected him 27th overall during the 2005 draft. Control issues kept him from realizing his potential until 2008 (He has a career 5.10 BB/9 rate). This past season, Devine posted an eye-catching 0.59 ERA while allowing just 23 hits in 45.2 innings. His walk rate was down to 2.96 BB/9, with a strikeout rate of 9.66 K/9. As well, he did not allow a home run all season. The third player in the deal, Canadian minor league pitcher Jamie Richmond, regressed in A-ball.
Winner before 2008: Even
To Chicago (AL)
Carlos Quentin got a raw deal in Arizona and made the Diamondbacks pay for giving up on him too soon. The former first round pick (29th overall in 2003) - and star college player - has battled injuries throughout his career - and even missed a fair chunk of time in 2008 - but he was awesome when he was on the field for Chicago. He posted a line of .288/.394/.571 and slugged 36 homers and drove in 96 runs in 480 at-bats. Quentin's ISO was an impressive .283. For a power hitter, his rates were solid at 12.1 BB% and 16.7 K%. Chris Carter was not to be outdone. The 21-year-old first baseman slugged 39 homers and drove in 101 runs in High-A ball with rates of 13.2 BB% and 30.8 K%. Oh - and he did it for Oakland after being sent from Chicago to Arizona to Oakland (in the Danny Haren trade) during the off-season. The most impressive part about this whole trade, though, might be the fact that Kenny made the deal without having to trade even one already-injured pitcher...
Winner before 2008: Chicago
This is one of those trades that you can definitely look back on as a difference-maker in 2008. Brad Lidge, who had worn out his welcome in Houston, absolutely rejuvenated his career with the Phillies and won over a hardcore fan base, as well as city. The 31-year-old closer saved 41 games in the regular season and allowed 50 hits in 69.1 innings. He posted rates of 4.54 BB/9 and 11.94 K/9, while allowing just two homers. He saved another seven games in the post-season en route to a World Series title. Michael Bourn stole 41 bases for Houston, but posted a paltry line of .229/.288/.300 in 467 at-bats. Geoff Geary allowed just 45 hits in 64 innings, with rates of 3.94 BB/9 and 6.33 K/9. Mike Costanzo was shipped off to Baltimore in the Miguel Tejada trade.
Winner before 2008: Philadelphia
Not So Quick, My Friends
In the first trade since the end of the World Series, the Kansas City Royals acquired first baseman Mike Jacobs from the Florida Marlins in exchange for relief pitcher Leo Nunez. This transaction has been panned throughout most of the baseball blogosphere. Dave Cameron, Keith Law, and Rob Neyer – highly respected analysts all – strongly believe that Florida got the better of Kansas City in this deal.
I'm not so sure about that. While I don't think KC general manager Dayton Moore ripped off FLA president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest by any means, I believe that the Royals got at least equal value in this relatively simple one-for-one trade.
The strengths and weaknesses of Jacobs and Nunez are fairly well known and understood. Jacobs, who turned 28 last Thursday, is considered a one-dimensional player. He hits for power but not for average. He rarely walks and is slow afoot and a poor defensive first baseman. The 24-year-old Nunez possesses a power arm whose fastball touches the mid-90s but lacks the quality secondary pitches that would enable him to pitch in high-leverage situations.
I can't help but wonder if Jacobs is truly as pedestrian as his rate stats (.247/.299/.514 in 2008 and .262/.318/.498 over the course of his career) would suggest on the surface. Let's drill down and take a (much) closer look at the left-handed hitter's numbers. Thanks to Baseball Musings Day-By-Day Database, we can analyze splits like never before.
As shown, Jacobs struggled against lefties but fared well against righties. His OPS of .677 vs. LHP is below average, especially for a first baseman. However, his OPS of .857 is above average and slightly superior to the overall line put up by first basemen in the National League last year (.277/.359/.479).
Jacobs slugged nearly five times as many extra-base hits vs. righthanders as lefthanders in a little over three times as many plate appearances. He also walked more and struck out less often against RHP than LHP. Granted, his bases on balls were padded by the ten intentional walks he received, but I wouldn't discard this fact unless one were willing to do the same for all other players, including his peers at first base.
Now, let's examine his home and road splits . . .
Jacobs didn't hit too well at Dolphin Stadium last season. Florida's park factor was a 97, meaning it suppressed runs by three percent. Moreover, it reduced home runs by a whopping 22 percent for LHB, more than any other stadium outside of Petco Park. That said, Jacobs was downright putrid when facing southpaws at home.
Jacobs hit much, much better on the road than at home. Mike's overall results were solid and his production vs. righthanders was outstanding. He had more than six times as many XBH vs. RHP as LHP in approximately three times as many plate appearances. Furthermore, his BB/SO ratio was reasonable. Importantly, the .924 OPS would have been good enough to put him in a tie for seventh in the NL if viewed against the field's overall stats. Although such a comparison favors Jacobs, it is meant to shed light on just how well he tattooed righties when he wasn't hamstrung by Dolphin Stadium.
Based on the above analysis, it seems to me that Jacobs could be a very effective slugger if employed properly. However, so as not to give those who might think his splits last summer were an aberration, let's cross check 2008 against his career totals.
The bottom line is that Jacobs' career splits are essentially in-line with his 2008 production.
All else being equal, players usually perform better at home than away. In 2008, National Leaguers hit .265/.338/.421 at home and .256/.325/.405 on the road. The difference in production was about 4% as measured by AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS.
Adjusting Jacobs' career road rate stats by 4% would produce a line of .281/.350/.515 at a neutral home ballpark. Averaging his actual road and theoretical home stats would suggest an overall mark of .276/.343/.505. All of a sudden, Jacobs' numbers look like a fairly typical first baseman.
I recognize that Kauffman Stadium is unlikely to be anymore accommodating as Dolphin Stadium has been to him, especially as it relates to slugging home runs (as the Royals home field played to an 82 ballpark factor for HR by LHB in 2008 and an 88 for the past three years) . But it's possible that Jacobs' right-field pull power might work to his benefit at his new home stadium. The distance between home plate and the right-field line is 15 feet shorter at Kauffman (330') than Dolphin Stadium (345').
You can see for yourself if the change in ballparks may have made a difference the past three seasons.
Courtesy of Hit Tracker, we can view scatter plots of Jacobs' homers during the 2006-08 seasons, both at home and on the road. Nonetheless, it's the doubles that Mike hit toward the foul line at home that could very well be four baggers at Kauffman.
Jacobs' 32 HR and .514 SLG would have led the Royals in both categories by a wide margin. In fact, he had the 10th-best HR/AB mark (6.7 percent) in the majors. Among first basemen, only Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols had better ratios.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder adds a new dimension to a Kansas City lineup that has been void of lefthanded power the past couple years. The Royals ranked dead last in runs, home runs, total bases, and OPS vs. RHP in 2007 and 2008. By comparison, the Royals placed second in runs vs. LHP in 2008. The numbers are a bit skewed by the fact that KC had the fewest plate appearances in the AL vs. RHP and the most vs. LHP in 2008. Go figure, right? But the OPS ranking vs. RHP corroborates the counting stats in this case.
As Moore told MLB.com, "I think we had one of the best records in baseball against left-handed pitching [36-24] and one of the worst against right-handed pitching [39-63] last year."
While the skeptics believe Jacobs only adds to the logjam at first base (given the presence of Ross Gload, Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, and even Kila Ka'aihue), the truth of the matter is these existing options aren't all that inspiring. Gload (.273/.317/.348) is 33 and his lack of power is glaring. The 23-year-old Butler (.340/.398/.585 career vs. LHP) would make an excellent platoon partner with Jacobs. Shealy (.271/.335/.429) is 29 and not getting any younger or better. Ka'aihue will turn 25 next March and has only played 12 games in the big leagues. Big and unathletic, the lefthanded-hitting first sacker profiles as a Hee Seop Choi clone.
Jacobs can also be slotted into the DH role, which is where he is best suited. Either way, the Royals don't have to marry him. Arbitration eligible, he stands to make about $2.5-$3 million in 2009. If Mike performs well, Moore can offer him a two-year extension at roughly $5-6M per. He can seek free agency after the 2011 season at about the time last June's No. 3 overall draft pick Eric Hosmer, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, is set to arrive in Kansas City. If Jacobs flops, he can be non-tendered next fall. Should the newest Royal fall somewhere in between, it is my guess that he could be flipped for a mid-20s reliever on the order of Leo Nunez.
Put it all together and I just don't see where there is all that much risk in this trade from the standpoint of Moore and the Royals.