A Viable Plan B?
Both the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox lost out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes and are now left to figure out which roster tweaks remain both available and viable this off-season. In itself, not going to $180 million, $190 million, $200 million for Tex's services is perfectly defensible but that does not change the notion that if you are not improving while teams around you are, you're effectively getting worse. For both teams to maintain the competitive advantages they have enjoyed for the last handful of seasons, they would be wise to consider other options.
One player that both teams might consider is Adam Dunn. He is the same age as Teixeira and has experience at first base. This piece will go into some depth comparing the two to see if the Angels or Red Sox should consider Dunn, who will be available at a fraction of Teixeira's cost. Dunn has indicated he would like to play right field for the Cubs and the Dodgers have now reportedly turned their attention from Manny Ramirez to Dunn, but perhaps those teams that were so hot for Teixeira should hop into the bidding for Dunn's services as well.
There is one item to get out of the way before we dive in. Dunn has been an absolutely awful outfielder. Interestingly, four of the remaining corner outfield free agents this off-season are four of the worst fielders in all of baseball. Dunn, Ramirez, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu are all terrible with the glove. Thanks to Fangraphs, here are their average UZR/150 figures for the past three seasons.
UZR/150 is defined on the site as follows:
UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.
That Dunn has been so terrible in the field is an important point because it dramatically hampers his overall value as a player when you consider him for an outfield position. This is why, if you want to compare Tex (a terrific defensive first baseman) and Dunn in terms of, say, Baseball Prospectus' WARP or Fangraphs' Value Wins, you see that the numbers pretty drastically favor Tex. So for the purposes of this exercise, or at least initially, we are going to stick to offense (we will circle back to Dunn's first base defense in a little bit).
Let's start with a look at each player's career batting numbers.
AVG OBP SLG OPS+ OWP
Dunn .247 .381 .518 130 .670
Tex .290 .378 .541 134 .673
Readers of this site do not need a tutorial on OPS+ but some may not be familiar with Offensive Win Percentage which, most simply, means the percentage of games your team would win if it consisted of nine of that given player, assuming average run prevention on the same team.
As you can see, there is not much difference here. But let's dig in a little more. Pictured below is a comparison of Tex and Dunn by wOBA (weighted on base average), a number created by Tom Tango to improve upon OPS by appropriately weighting on-base and then scaling it to league average on-base (like how EQA does the same with batting average). After the graph, I list each of their figures starting in 2003, because that was Tex's rookie season:
2003 .353 .345
2004 .403 .389
2005 .391 .405
2006 .365 .374
2007 .399 .406
2008 .383 .410
And how about the last three seasons, an arguably more reliable indicator of future performance?
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Dunn .244 .379 .518 126
Tex .298 .393 .541 141
Teixeira clearly outperforms Dunn when you look at their three-year numbers, but just as we did with the wOBA numbers, let's once again have a look at their numbers since 2003:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Dunn .245 .379 .525 131
Tex .290 .378 .541 134
The narrowing is attributable to a few factors. For one, Dunn was terrific in 2004 (146 OPS+) and not so great in 2006 (114 OPS+). Adding his 2004 numbers is worthwhile because a 24 year-old who puts up such a great season is in all likelihood capable of doing it again at 29. This should be taken into consideration by incorporating more data; three-year splits omit Dunn's best work. And just so readers are clear that I am not cherry-picking, Dunn had a mediocre 2003 as well, which is accounted for. For Teixeira's part, his three-year numbers favor him because he has been consistent for much of the three years, and then went nuts as an Angel. If you run his numbers from Opening Day 2006 through his last game as an Atlanta Brave, his line is .286/.373/.536. Add in his Angels stretch of .358/.449/.632 and you get the three-year numbers above, .298/.393/.541. We don't want to eliminate these numbers. They happened, after all. What we want to do is bring in more data, so we note the numbers going back to 2003 and observe that there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two players offensively.
To be sure, there are stylistic differences between the two players. For one, Teixeira hits for more average and therefore will be a better RBI-man. Dunn walks more, and will therefore see more pitches per plate appearance. And here are their differences versus lefties and righties:
vs. RHP vs. LHP
Dunn .252/.398/.539 .235/.359/.474
Tex .281/.371/.541 .309/.393/.541
Tex is a switch hitter and remarkably consistent from both sides. This will offer the Yankees tactical advantages, as opposing managers will not be able to use their bullpen to match-up against Tex in later innings. On the other hand, though his productivity is still respectable, Dunn falls off against lefties. But most pitchers are right-handed, and Dunn enjoys a considerable advantage over Tex in this department.
There exists, relative to Tex, limited data on Dunn's ability to play first base.
Fielding as 1B
Games Innings UZR/150
Dunn 127 891.2 -12.5
Tex 853 7,345.2 3.5
Clearly Tex has been better, say a full win per season better, but what if Dunn were to play there more regularly? Isn't it conceivable that he could improve his first base glove work with more consistent play at the position? I don't think that he would ever catch Teixeira, but I think he could be within a win of him over the course of a season.
The case for Dunn hinges on four different points. First, as shown above, Teixeira and Dunn are very much comparable hitters. Tex was unreal down the stretch in 2008 and Dunn was mediocre in 2006 but if you go even further back - their numbers since 2003, their career numbers - you can see that there isn't much difference in productivity between them.
Second, while Dunn is a notoriously bad defensive player, he has earned the lion share of that reputation while toiling in the outfield. He is not a very good first baseman either but a couple of points warrant mentioning regarding his first base defense. There is a much narrower band between the worst and the best first baseman than there is for, say, the worst and best shortstop or even the worst and best right fielder. Relatively speaking, first base defense is of marginal importance. Moreover, it's likely that Dunn would improve at first if he got more regular time there.
Third, Dunn is known to be a laid back guy with a questionable work-ethic and desire to be the best he can be. This is important because he is currently a free agent, and teams need to perform their diligence in order to determine if he would be a worthwhile hire. So if I am the Red Sox, I say "We understand that you have been in Cincinnati for all of these years. Maybe you let your weight slip at times, maybe you didn't dig it out all the time on the base paths, maybe you lolligagged for a blooper or two here and there. But we still think you have the ability to be special. Will you join the reining AL MVP and Kevin Youkilis during the off-season at Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe? Because if you do, or if you make a similar commitment off the field, you will be a hero here in Boston."
And then just sit back. See what he has to say and make a judgment call. Corporations, Law Firms, Medical Facilities and just about any other entity that competes in some form or another has to make judgment calls on their talent. If Dunn lost 25 pounds and took 1,000 ground balls a day in the off-season, I think many would agree that he could be a top-tier MLB performer. Dunn's natural athleticism cannot be questioned; he was once recruited to be a quarterback at The University of Texas. He can become a decent first baseman. But I do think that signing Dunn would have to hinge on the belief that he would commit to being the best he could be.
Finally, teams need to take value into consideration. It's likely that the team that nets Dunn this off-season will do so for half as many years as Tex demanded and at an annual salary that is also half of what Tex signed for. From what I can see, when you take all of these components together, maybe Dunn would be a viable Plan B.
How does Dunn fit in with the contending teams that missed out on Teixeira? Rich Lederer emailed me regarding how it might play out with the Angels and had the following to say:
Dunn Could DH for the Angels and play occasionally in left or at first. Vladimir Guerrero in RF, Juan Rivera in LF, Kendry Morales at 1B, and Dunn at DH would be the way to go but Dunn could also play LF (allowing Rivera to DH or give Vlad a day off in RF) or 1B (with Morales serving as the DH). Gary Matthews could back all of them up, playing a corner outfield spot or DH'ing.
All that said, my sense is that Dunn is not a Mike Scioscia type. As such, I don't see the Angels signing him.
I think that all sounds about right. But how about the Red Sox? They were ready to trade Mike Lowell when they were in the running for Tex and there is no reason to believe that still wouldn't be the case with Dunn. Lowell is fragile, and has had all of one productive season in the last four or so. Dunn could play first with Youkilis at third. What makes this option even more interesting is that if Boston decides they do not want to re-sign Youkilis or pick up David Ortiz's option after the 2010 season, they have a new 1B/DH combo ready to go. Lars Anderson, who hit .316/.436/.526 finishing up the season in AA Portland last season, would be ready to assume first base duties. Dunn could move to DH. If Boston wanted to re-up Youkilis, he could still play third. Given personnel choices coming down the pike, adding Dunn would seem to make sense for Boston.
Make no mistake, Adam Dunn is not Mark Teixeira. He is not quite the hitter and he is most definitely not the defensive asset that Tex is. But the decision comes down to this. If you were willing to go more or less all-in on Tex, if he was your guy this off-season and you were ready to pony up nearly $200 million for eight years (and trade the 2007 World Series MVP in the process), how can you be uninterested in even kicking the tires on Dunn at a quarter of the total financial outlay, half the contract duration and half the annual salary? Make me Boston's GM and this is an option that I would be pursuing aggressively.
1968: Reviving the Dead Ball Era
1968 is known as "the year of the pitcher" for good reason. The American League hit a combined .230 with a .297 on-base percentage, and even the world champion Tigers finished with a .235 team batting average.
Denny McLain's 31-6 record is still remembered 40 years later, but the right-hander's 1.96 ERA was only good for fourth place in the AL behind Luis Tiant (1.60), Sam McDowell (1.81) and Dave McNally (1.95). Add in Tommy John's 1.98 ERA, and there were five starters with sub-2.00 seasons.
This was the season when Carl Yastrzemski's .301 average was good enough to lead the American League. Besides being the only AL regular to finish above .300, the season was a dominating offensive performance by Yaz. His 119 walks put the Hall of Famer well above the rest of the pack. Toss out Mickey Mantle's 106 BB as he was pitched around because of little protection from a weak Yankees lineup, and no one else in the AL walked more than 84 times. Red Sox third baseman Joe Foy took the bronze medal for bases on balls in '68.
Yaz's .426 on-base percentage was 36 points higher than runner-up Frank Robinson (.390). Combine Yastrzemski's OBP, league-leading .922 OPS, 32 doubles and 23 home runs (impressive numbers in 1968), and what might appear to be merely decent offense by current standards is an exceptional effort. The Boston left fielder's 283 times on base put him miles ahead of second-place Bert Campaneris (231).
League-leading offensive stats in various categories look like something from 1907. Tigers second baseman Dick McAuliffe's 95 runs scored topped the AL. Hawk Harrelson (109) and Frank Howard (106) were the only players to pass the century mark in RBI.
Campaneris led the league with 177 hits, and it took him 707 plate appearances to get there. Cesar Tovar came in second with 167 knocks. Reggie Smith's 37 doubles wouldn't even be noticed in the 21st century, but it was enough to top the American League in '68.
A's first baseman Danny Cater came in second with a .290 average, while Tony Oliva took third with a (by his standards) subpar .289 season. The top 10 was rounded out by Vic Davalillo (.277), Campaneris (.276), Harrelson (.275) and Howard (.274).
Howard's major-league best 44 home runs in Washington's RFK Stadium during this offensively meager season is a slugging feat that has never gotten the recognition it deserves. Tigers left fielder Willie Horton was a distant second with 36.
When it comes to studying 1968, it's the lowlights and bottom of the barrel that makes the season fascinating. The White Sox were in the 1967 pennant race until the last weekend of the season despite a .225 team batting average. Even though the team average rose to .228 in 1968, the rest of the offensive stats were dreadful.
Just 397 walks led to an AL-low .286 OBP. The south siders also brought up the rear in homers (71) and runs scored (just 463, or 2.86 per game). Pete Ward and Tommy Davis tied for the team lead in RBI with 50, and Davis had just 16 extra base hits (5 doubles, 3 triples, 8 HR) in 456 middle of the order ABs.
Combine that with a slight dropoff among the team's capable pitching staff, and it's no surprise that the White Sox finished in an eighth-place tie with the Angels during the last season of a 10-team league. The Yankees set a live ball era record low with a .214 team average, but middle of the pack power and OBP combined with decent pitching was enough for an 83-79 record. That was a nice rebound after a three-season tumble that included ninth and tenth (last) place finishes.
In the "How low can you go?" department, 20 AL position players with at least 150 ABs finished 1968 with sub-.200 averages. George Scott was the biggest decliner by far. The Red Sox first baseman regressed from a 19 HR, 82 RBI season with a career-best .303 average in 1967 to just 3 HR, 25 RBI, and a .171 campaign in '68.
The 132-point plunge in batting average is an all-time record. Those kind of numbers would be unacceptable for a middle infielder, let alone someone playing at a position reserved for sluggers. Scott's performance easily ranks among the worst offensive efforts by a first baseman, but he earned a Gold Glove for his skill around the bag.
Tigers shortstop Ray Oyler is often described as the worst hitter of the live ball era. A .175 career average (221 for 1166) includes a .135 (29 for 215, 59 Ks) campaign in '68. An even 20 walks gave Oyler a .213 OBP, which was 27 points above his .186 slugging percentage. Given that he appeared in 111 games during the season, it's obvious that Detroit manager Mayo Smith valued Oyler's ability with the glove. Johnny Sain served as the team's pitching coach in 1968, and he described Oyler as one of the best defensive players he had ever seen in his long baseball career.
Smith's other options at short were Dick Tracewski (.156, 4 HR, 15 RBI in 213 AB) or Tom Matchick (.203, 3 HR, 14 RBI and just 10 BB in 227 AB). This trio of hitless wonders combined for a .165 batting average.
The rest of the roster was sensational by '60s standards. With 185 home runs, the Tigers led the majors by a huge margin, as the Orioles were next best with 133 bombs. Horton's 36 HRs were a career best. Add in Bill Freehan (25), Norm Cash (25) and Jim Northrup (21), and Detroit could and did go deep when a big hit was needed.
Al Kaline (10 HR, 53 RBI, .287) missed 60 games with a broken hand from a hit by pitch, but the Tigers didn't skip a beat. Gold Glove centerfielder Mickey Stanley put up decent numbers (11 HR, 60 RBI, .248) by 1968 standards. When Kaline returned to the lineup in the second half of the season, Smith had the pleasant problem of choosing between four talented outfielders.
The surplus became a real dilemma when making a World Series lineup. Even though Kaline had the least ABs among the starting outfielders during the season, Smith didn't want to bench "Mr. Tiger" during the team's first postseason appearance since 1945. Then there was the complete lack of offense at short. . .
Normally a traditional baseball man, Smith turned riverboat gambler when he put Stanley - who had almost no major league experience as an infielder - at SS when the Tigers faced the Cardinals in the Series.
Even though '68 Tigers alumni have declared their confidence in Stanley and his ability to play any position in interviews over the years, it was still a gutsy, high-stakes move. The novice was tested immediately when speedy Lou Brock led off for the Cardinals with a grounder to short in Game 1.
Stanley handled the chance cleanly and ended up making two inconsequential errors in the seven-game Series while Oyler saw action in four games as a late-inning defensive replacement. Down 3 to 1 against St. Louis, Detroit came back to become world champions thanks to Mickey Lolich's three complete-game victories.
One other stat was also low in addition to the runs scored and offensive numbers. Fans were less than thrilled with the glut of 2-1 games, as five of the 10 AL teams failed to draw 1 million paying customers. Even the second-place Orioles (943,977) and third-place Indians (857,996) generated little enthusiasm, while the A's had a season attendance of just 837,466 during their first year in Oakland.
The scarcity of runs was cured not just by lowering the mound from 15 to 10 inches in 1969. Adding four new expansion teams (Seattle, Kansas City, San Diego and Montreal) in both leagues created jobs for dozens of second-rate hurlers and fading veterans, and the pitching-dominated era of the '60s came to an end.
Obit: Nick Willhite, 1941-2008
Nick Willhite, a left-handed pitcher from the 1960s, died of cancer two weeks ago today at the age of 67. He made an impact on me as a member of the 1963 and 1965 Dodgers World Series championship teams when my Dad was covering the club for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
In a brief career that spanned parts of only five seasons, Willhite's biggest achievement was tossing a five-hit, complete-game shutout against the Chicago Cubs in his major-league debut on June 16, 1963.
Here is the article as it appeared in the P-T after Willhite's debut.
Willhite Dazzles Cubs, Dodgers in SF Tonight
By GEORGE LEDERER
Memo to Bo Belinsky:
You don't know what you're missing by refusing to go to Hawaii. Nick Willhite says he found some sharp curves on the Islands without visiting the beach at Waikiki.
Willhite, a 22-year-old left-hander, is the Dodgers' lastest pitching discovery and a good bet to remain in the starting rotation after breaking in Sunday with a five-hit shutout.
To the delight of 54,108 Father's Day patrons, including 45,239 paid, Willhite salvaged a split for the Dodgers by taming the Cubs 2-0 after Johnny Podres was routed in the first inning of the opener and lost 8-3.
As the Dodgers take off to start a nine-game trip in San Francisco, they are one game behind the Giants with a chance to take the league lead tonight. Sandy Koufax (9-3) will be facing Billy O'Dell (9-2) in the first of three televised games.
What promises to be the most challenging journey of the season also includes three games with the second-place Cardinals and three with the fourth-place Reds.
Off Sunday's performance, Willhite will be given serious consideration to start the St. Louis series Friday in place of Podres, who has a sore elbow. Podres retired only two Cubs and was given an injection of hydro-cortisone after leaving a 5-0 deficit to the bullpen mop-up crew.
"I was thrilled by the kid's performance," said pitching coach Joe Becker in evaluating Willhite's dominating debut. "He showed us so much improvement in his fast curve that it was hard to believe. He's certainly changed since spring training."
Willhite said he discovered the secret of throwing the fast curve "one night in Hawaii. It was in the third inning and from then on, I knew what I was doing." For proof, he went on to win his next six decisions to warrant his purchase from Spokane last Wednesday.
"I couldn't believe it when I was called up," said Willhite, "and I still can't believe that I won a shutout. No, the big crowd didn't bother me particularly. I was a little nervous, yes, but I was thinking mostly about the folks back home."
Back home is Denver, where Willhite was signed in the summer of 1959 by part-time Dodger scout Manuel Boody, who also signed Stan Williams. Coincidentally, Willhite is the first Dodger to pitch a shutout in his first start since Williams blanked the Cubs 1-0, June 1, 1958.
Boody is a sports writer for the Rocky Mountain News, which also must prove something in behalf of baseball writers.
Willhite only faced 32 Cubs, registered five of his six strikeouts in the first three innings, walked one and finished his work in one hour and 54 minutes.
"I always work fast," reported Willhite. "Last year I pitched a nine-inning game in an hour and a half. Doug (catcher Camilli) told me to slow down after the first five innings. He was afraid I might run out of steam."
Willhite earned a spot in the rotation with that sparkling performance and was 2-2 with a 1.93 ERA after his first five starts. However, the young southpaw got hit hard in his next three outings and was sent back down to Spokane. He didn't pitch another inning for the Dodgers that season, yet earned a World Series paycheck and ring for his contributions in June and July.
Unfortunately, Willhite's career never got back on track. He was sold to the Washington Senators after the 1964 season and repurchased by the Dodgers in May 1965. Willhite flirted with success for a brief moment when he combined with Ron Perranoski for a shutout of the Phillies in his second start with Los Angeles on June 19 (which just so happened to be Dad's 37th birthday). He started four more games but pitched mostly out of the bullpen the rest of the way, picking up a "save" in the final game of the regular season.
The adjoining photo of Willhite (left) and Jim Brewer is from Dad's archives and was taken after the Dodgers clinched the 1965 National League pennant on the second-to-last day of the year. Like Willhite, Brewer died a young man, one day before his 50th birthday in 1987. (In the department of it's a small world, Dad passed away in 1978 at the age of 50.)
Willhite only pitched six more games for the Dodgers after that, finishing up his big-league career in 1967 with the Angels and Mets. His last appearance in the majors was exactly four years and a week after he threw a shutout in his first game. Sadly, he was washed up at 26, perhaps due to a drinking problem that led to three divorces and life on the streets of Salt Lake City as a drug and alcohol addict.
When Willhite was 48 and with "no money, no car, no nothing," he reached out to his former teammate Stan Williams, who put him in touch with the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which helps former baseball players in need. As New York Times columnist Dave Anderson tells the story, "Two days later, Willhite was on his way to entering an alcohol-abuse rehabilitation center in Fort Collins, Colo."
Willhite became a drug-addiction counselor and reunited with his six children and six grandchildren. He died at one of his son's homes in Alpine, Utah. Willhite was buried at the Alpine City Cemetery in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
All I Want for Christmas
While rummaging around our respective living rooms and getting ready for Christmas morning, we found some gifts for the following under the tree...
Bert Blyleven: A phone call from the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America on January 12th
Bobby Grich and Dwight Evans: More Rob Neyers in the BBWAA
Ron Santo: A rookie year before 1943
The Steinbrenners: More taxpayer money
Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles: A chance to play in another division
Scott Boras: A one-year deal with the St. Paul Saints for Jason Varitek
Alan Trammell: Back-flips and cartwheels
Tim Raines: Mandatory BBWAA continuing education reading containing http://raines30.com/ on the syllabus
Jim Rice: Fear Strikes Out
BBWAA: More objectivity in voting for the Hall of Fame and fewer moral judgments
Mark McGwire: See above
Marty Brenneman: A grip
C.C. Sabathia: Continued post-season excellence from your Red Sox admirers
Los Angeles Angels: That Boston might be satisfied with football and basketball championships
Matt Holliday: A one-way airplane ticket to the city of your choice on July 31, 2009
Manny Ramirez: A third year
Paul DePodesta: A second chance in a town sans Bill Plaschke and TJ Simers
Phil Hughes: An invitation to Andy Pettitte's retirement party
Mark Teixeira: A Central Park West high rise (in lieu of an oceanfront view in Newport Beach)
Bud Black: A better managerial situation in your next life
Boston Red Sox: Better money market rates for all that unused cash
The Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies: A care package from the Dodgers for being worse than they were
Roger Clemens: A do-over
Chicago Cubs: No more Blago dealings
Frank Wren and John Schuerholz: No more Arn Tellem dealings
Rickey Henderson: A Hall of Fame speech in the first person
Theo Epstein: A Will Clark impersonation by Lars Anderson sooner rather than later
Bud Selig: A Farmer's Almanac
Marvin Miller: R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the very players he turned into multi-millionaires
Ryan Howard: More Tom Boswells
Joe Mauer: More Joe Posnanskis
Baseball Fans Everywhere: More Joe Posnanskis
Baseball Analysts Readers: Our sincerest gratitude for checking in with us over the past year
Q&A with Dave Studenmund: The Hardball Times Baseball Annual
Dave Studenmund and I broke into the baseball blogosphere at about the same time in 2003. We became fast friends and have provided guest columns for each other's sites or books. As destiny would have it, I've actually known Dave's older brother Woody for much longer than six years. You see, Woody, my older brother Tom, and I first met in 1975. The three of us had teams in the Greater Los Angeles APBA Association, meeting in face-to-face competition once or twice annually from the mid-1970s through the early- to mid-1980s.
If not for the roll of the dice (so to speak), I may not have met Woody, who is also a charter member of the Northeast League, the longest-running baseball table-game league, way back when. But I'm glad I did. I learned a lot about APBA through my association with him and have continued to add to my knowledge of baseball via my friendship with Dave. While growing up, the Studenmunds spent their summers in Cooperstown. Dave and Woody both have bricks with dedications inscribed at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, and I was able to take photographs (here and here) of them during my trip to the Hall of Fame last spring.
Dave has been involved with The Hardball Times site since its formation in 2004 and has been producing The Hardball Times Baseball Annuals for the past five years. These books have become an indispensable part of my baseball library, and I eagerly await the newest edition each year just as I once did with the Baseball Abstracts.
Well, I received the 2009 version a couple weeks ago and have enjoyed it immensely. I've read most of the articles and leafed through the multitude of statistics contained in the book. I plan on spending more time this winter digesting the stats in even greater detail. In the meantime, I had the good fortune of chatting with Dave about the latest Annual. Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair.
Rich: Congratulations, Dave. The Hardball Times Baseball Annual has become the 21st-century version of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts of the 1970s and 1980s, combining timeless commentary with insightful analysis and innovative stats. You know that I'm a big fan of the Baseball Abstracts so comparing THT Annuals to the Abstracts is big praise indeed.
Dave: Wow, Rich. Thank you. Yes, that is high praise. And, since we're in the online world now, you won't have to abstract the Annuals in the future. Good thing, huh?
Dave: Obviously, the Abstracts were our model. The biggest difference in what we're doing is that we don't have Bill's voice in the Annual -- in fact, we don't have one consistent voice in the Annual. I like to think that we've turned that into a positive by recruiting the best baseball writers we know, from the general media and from the Internet and blogging world.
There may not be a new Bill James, but there are a lot of terrific writers out there, and we've made the Annual a showcase for them. At least, that's our goal.
Rich: You've called this year's THT Annual the best ever. What compels you to make that claim?
Dave: Over the summer, we ran an online survey to get feedback from readers of the Annual, and we made some specific changes to the Annual in response. Obviously, the articles are the biggest reason people buy the Annual, so we increased the content from 32 articles to 40. We changed the format of the Division Reviews (we call them Division Views now) to allow more commentary from the writer, and less need to "cover" events. We also focused our statistics section better than in the past. Got rid of the leaderboards and some extra stuff, and focused on our unique batted ball stats.
Rich: Tell us about some of the writers you recruited this year.
Dave: I think the lineup of writers for this Annual was the best yet. We had two tremendous articles from Craig Wright, for instance. Craig is a well-known sabermetrician and a great writer, and the Annual really benefited from his two pieces. Joe Posnanski and Tim Marchman also contributed to the Annual for the first time. And I'll stop there because I think we had a lot of great essays from fantastic writers, and I don't want to be accused of singling anyone else out.
Rich: One of the staples of the Annual is your "Ten Things I Learned This Year." Let's talk about a couple of them. Thanks to you, I learned that the change from 2007 to 2008 was the biggest one-year age decrease in major league history. What's at work here?
Dave: The biggest factor was the resignation, forced or otherwise, of some great older players like Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens. The Giants got over three years younger last year by jettisoning Bonds and having Tim Lincecum post a dominant season.
The success of the Rays and other young teams, such as the Twins, was another factor in the youth movement. The Twins, by the way, also got much younger because of the Johan Santana trade. Just about every team got younger. It was amazing, really. This trend has been building for a couple of years, but it exploded in 2008.
Rich: While Major League Baseball players are getting younger, teams that boast lots of young players don't get the respect that perhaps they should. Do you think Tampa Bay's success last year will help change things?
Dave: Well, I would like to think so, but who knows? There is a deep, steadfast belief in the value of veteran talent. It's understandable, but it's overdone.
When you read that the Yankees "lived or died" with young pitching last year, you see that the emphasis on veterans will continue. I wonder, really, is young pitching really that much more variable than old pitching? Injuries did the Yankees in last year, but somehow their young pitchers got blamed, at least in some columns I read.
Rich: Speaking of Bonds, Piazza and Clemens, Joe Posnanski wrote about the Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Controversies or not, this class, which also includes Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling, is one of the best ever. Maybe the most talent since the inaugural class of 1936 when Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson were elected.
Dave: Yes. Bill Chuck, who writes the daily Billy-Ball column, was the first person who mentioned this, that I know of. It seemed like an obvious subject to tackle in the Annual, and Joe seemed like the perfect person to cover it.
It's amazing when you think about it. If not for the pall of steroids, you would see a fantastic Hall of Fame class in 2013. On the other hand, if not for steroids, I don't think all of these players would have retired at the same time.
Rich: Poz also added Pete Rose as a bonus seventh inductee. Rose was mentioned two other times in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual. Do you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame?
Dave: No. It seems like a pretty straightforward judgment to me, clearer than any judgment related to steroids.
Rich: As it relates to Piazza, Craig Wright contributed "Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher" as one of his two fine articles.
Dave: Yeah, I love that article. Craig actually originally wrote it for his subscribers (you can get a regular article from Craig during the year from his website, the Diamond Appraised...I recommend it highly), but he added the extra bit about Piazza's defense for the Annual. I thought he delivered a good argument that Piazza really made his pitchers better, even though he hurt them with his throwing arm (a topic that was well-covered by Tom Tango in last year's Annual).
Rich: Rob Neyer wrote a well-researched piece about "Trades of the Midseason," comparing the CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez deals to those of yesteryear (including Carlos Beltran in 2004, Fred McGriff in 1993, and Rickey Henderson in 1989, to name three during the past 20 years). A fourth, Rick Sutcliffe in 1984, went on to win the NL Cy Young Award with the Chicago Cubs. There were also a couple involving the Alexanders: Grover Cleveland in 1926 and Doyle in 1987. Both of these midseason acquisitions carried their new teams into the World Series. Although many of the big midseason trades took place before the advent of free agency, I can't help but think we will see more of the CC and Manny (and even Mark Teixeira) type deals in the years ahead.
Dave: You're probably right, Rich. This also seemed like a natural subject to cover, given what an impact CC and Manny had on their teams, and Rob seemed like the natural guy to cover it. Sometimes, when I ask someone to write for us, I'll just say "write whatever you want." Other times I'll ask them to cover a specific subject. I hadn't asked Rob to write about a specific subject before, but this seemed right up his alley.
The insight that Rob brought is that these two trades weren't quite as unique as they seemed during the year. Given baseball's rich history, I should have expected that.
Rich: I always enjoy Steve Treder's stat facts that are attached to each of the team sections. Heck, those 360 tidbits are almost worth the price of the book.
Dave: We've always had a lot of stats in the back of the book, and I've worried that most readers won't plow through them and understand what they say. To me, they're full of gold. So I sent an email out to THT's writers last year, asking if they'd be willing to write stat facts for a team or two. Steve stepped up and said he'd be willing to do them for all teams! You could have knocked me over with a feather, because that's a time-consuming task.
He did so well, that I asked him to repeat them for this year's Annual, and he did it happily (and well!). Steve and I are the only two people who have been involved with THT continuously from the very beginning. It's a joy to work with him.
Rich: Let's discuss some of the advanced stats used in the Annual. You claim that Base Runs is the best run estimation formula, better than Bill James' Runs Created. It seems to me that there is a tradeoff between the simplicity of the original RC formula and the accuracy and complexity of something like Base Runs. Call it fast food vs. fine dining, if you will.
Dave: Yes, I struggle with the "simple vs. correct" issue all the time. I loved the original Runs Created formula. (In my head, it's simply OBP times total bases. I used to use it all the time when the best stats in the world were the Tuesday and Wednesday stats in USA Today.) But James hasn't used the original Runs Created formula in years. If you're going to run with a complicated formula, Base Runs is better.
Rich: Win Probability Added (WPA) is gaining more acceptance, partly due to the fact that Fangraphs is publishing this information in real time. It is my feeling that WPA does a great job in measuring a player's contribution to his team's probability of winning and that more emphasis should be placed on this metric in voting for individual awards at the end of the season.
Dave: As you know, I'm a huge WPA fan. But I'm more of a fan because of its unique perspective, and the way it tells a "story." WPA is the quantification of the game story. I actually invented those WPA game graphs that Fangraphs runs, and I'm pretty proud of them. I think they're the perfect use for WPA.
Rich: Wow, I knew you were Mr. Baseball Graphs but hadn't realized that you invented those WPA game graphs. Good job.
Dave: Thanks, Rich. When it comes to individual awards, I'd consider WPA as well, primarily because of their "story" value. Many MVP writers want to reward the "story" of the season and WPA is one of the best stats for capturing that.
By the way, I owe a big thanks to David Appelman of Fangraphs for contributing his WPA stats to the Annual.
Rich: With James in mind, he created Win Shares a half dozen years or so ago. You have taken Bill's creation a step or two further with Win Shares Above Bench. Please explain these differences.
Dave: You know, Bill has updated Win Shares, though he hasn't published anything about it yet. In particular, he's added Loss Shares to the system, a very important change. If you think about Win Shares, you realize that you've got to know Loss Shares too, to really get the full picture of a player's value. It's related to playing time -- a player who racks up more Win Shares in less time played has been more valuable. Loss Shares fill in the playing time picture.
That's the same thing Win Shares Above Bench does. I take the total plate appearances, innings in the field and innings pitched by each player and translate those into "games" (from a Win Shares perspective). Loss Shares is simply my games calculation minus Win Shares.
Win Shares Above Bench is the number of Win Shares above a certain winning percentage (usually around .350, though it varies for starting pitchers). So WSAB achieves the same thing that James' Loss Shares achieve.
Bill has posted a couple of Win Shares and Loss Shares totals in articles on his site. For one player (Alan Trammell, I think), he had the exact same figures I had. For another player (Ozzie Smith?), we differed a bit, but we were close. That made me feel good about WSAB.
Rich: John Burnson's Playing Time Constellations made another appearance this year. The book devotes ten pages to graphs for every major league team. With 30 seconds of reading and understanding how these constellations work, one can easily see who played what position throughout the season for each team in the majors.
Dave: Yeah, that's another one of my favorites. John does great things with graphs, and I think the Playing Time Constellations are a perfect use of graphics. We list games played at each position in the Annual, but John's constellations graph who played where and WHEN. It's a dynamic chart, capturing the dynamics of the season. I don't follow every team as well as I'd like to, and things like John's constellations fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. I really appreciate John's contributing those graphs to the Annual.
Rich: The Batted Ball Results may be my favorite. I don't need to know much more than the batted ball hitting and pitching stats, especially in conjunction with strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances. Give us a couple of good examples of how this information can enlighten the masses.
Dave: I'm pretty proud of the batted ball stats -- though I don't really know how well they're read or understood. I appreciate your feedback.
They're a whole 'nother way of looking at baseball stats, but I think they're simple to read and understand. As you know, the hitters' lines and pitchers' lines are formatted exactly the same way, so the format consistency should help a lot, I think.
Just using the Cubs as an example, I see that Aramis Ramirez was 31 runs above average creating runs, but 11 of those were the result of plate discipline and only 10 were the result of flyballs. That's a big turnaround for the guy, and I don't know if it bodes well for his future, particularly because he's an extreme flyball pitcher (48% of batted balls were flies).
Another example: Carlos Marmol had a great year, 26 runs "allowed" less than average. That's primarily because only 10% of his batted balls were line drives -- the major league average is 20%. That's a remarkable record. He was -16 in line drives alone. I wouldn't expect him to repeat that next year, though he'll still probably be better than average at "not allowing" line drives. In 2007, 16% of his batted balls were line drives.
Rich: I noticed that Sisyphus received a couple of shout outs, which gave me an opportunity to brush up on my Greek mythology. Is there anything Sisyphean about The Hardball Times Baseball Annual?
Dave: Every year, when I send the final PDF out to ACTA for publication, I swear I'll never do it again. Creating the THT Annual is a huge process. It begins during the season and pretty much consumes me from mid-September to mid-November. For the first month, I pore over the stats and graphs. I think there are over 250 tables of stats and over 40 graphs. I create each one and typeset them.
The second month is spent working with the writers and editors, then typesetting the articles. It's a mess, but I've got a lot of people helping push that rock up the hill. I've got to specifically mention the book's editors: Bryan Tsao, Joe Distelheim, Carolina Bolado and Ben Jacobs. I think you know that THT edits all its online articles too, and that doesn't stop while we create the book. Those guys are doing double time.
Rich: I know it is a matter of economics but perhaps you can explain why readers should order THT Annual from ACTA Sports rather than Amazon or other online booksellers.
Dave: The publishing business is not a high-margin business. We create the book mostly for the thrill of it, but we also hope to raise some money to support the site. And we don't make much money at all when people buy the book through Amazon. The difference between the Amazon price and the ACTA price goes almost exclusively to THT, to pay our costs and our writers. So buying from ACTA is a way of supporting THT. This is only true, by the way, if you use the link on our home page -- not if you go directly to the ACTA site yourself.
I know that not everyone can afford to support THT in this way, but please think about it.
Rich: As a contributor, one can call me biased. But I truly believe THT Annual offers all baseball fans -- from the casual to the most advanced -- an informative and entertaining book that will provide countless hours of enjoyable reading this winter and beyond. Do you have any final thing to add?
Dave: You said it well, Rich! One thing I've noticed is that we haven't gotten a lot of coverage on the Internet, at least not compared to previous years. Perhaps we've gone overboard and recruited too many Internet writers to the book -- so they can't blog about it because that would be a conflict of interest! Ah, the price of success.
AL East SWOT
We conclude the SWOT series today with a look at the AL East. To my eye it's the best division in baseball but NL East, NL Central or AL Central fans might disagree. The Rays are coming off a breakout year, the Yanks are reloading, Boston looks strong again and who knows? Maybe this off-season's prize will end up in Baltimore?
Tampa Bay Rays
Strengths: The Rays starting pitching looks remarkable. James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza all made names for themselves last post-season, while uber-talent David Price steps in for the 2009 season. Their least promising starter is 26 and threw 193 innings at a 102 ERA+ clip in 2008.
Weaknesses: Jonny Gomes is currently penciled in as the Rays designated hitter. He is a career .235/.329/.455 hitter who has been declining ever since a strong 2005 season. Tampa Bay would be well served to take a long look at Milton Bradley or Jason Giambi for the position.
Opportunities: The Rays have a number of guys who are on the verge of stardom. To highlight just one, B.J. Upton walked 97 times last season but didn't find his power stroke until the post-season, when he hit seven home runs and slugged .652. Look for him to put it together this season.
Threats: While the Rays offensive core of Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Upton is capable of shouldering the load for a championship level offense, there is a chance that the Rays get nothing from DH, their corner outfielders, shortstop and catcher (Dioner Navarro had OPS+ seasons of 70 and 79 before last year).
Boston Red Sox
Strengths: Each Boston infielder currently set to start in 2009 will probably be, at worst, a top-5 producer at their respective positions. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis each had MVP-caliber seasons in 2008, while Jed Lowrie and Mike Lowell stand out thanks to a thin crop of AL players at their positions as much as their own ability. Adding Mark Teixeira would enhance this strength of course.
Weaknesses: It is quite possible that Justin Masterson or Clay Buchholz develop into perfectly acceptable options in the rotation for the championship-aspirant Red Sox. But when you look now and see Tim Wakefield and Masterson rounding out their starting staff, it does pose concerns, particularly when you consider Josh Beckett's injury history and Daisuke Matsuzaka's imminent return to earth.
Opportunities: Getting Lowrie a full season under his belt will finally, for the first time since 2004 or so, give the Red Sox a very good option at shortstop. Also, the set-up trio of Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and the newly acquired Ramon Ramirez will stabilize the bullpen from the outset.
Threats: Aren't the following all possible? J.D. Drew misses 50 games. Jacoby Ellsbury still isn't what Boston hoped he would be. Pedroia and Youkilis each bat .290. Mike Lowell battles injuries all season long. David Ortiz just isn't what he used to be. Jason Varitek is back as Boston's catcher.
The point is, Boston's depth is a problem right now. Fortunately for them, we have a long way to go this off-season.
New York Yankees
Strengths: Look at this rotation. If C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett combine for 440 innings, if Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain are healthy and Phil Hughes finds his form, then the Yankees might find themselves back on top in the East.
Weaknesses: Those slugging Yanks we have come to know over the years are taking on a different look. And by "taking on a different look" I mean considering going into 2008 with Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner both manning starting outfield spots. New York is losing its second and third best hitters from 2008 (Giambi and Bobby Abreu) to free agency. Maybe Manny Ramirez can save what was an average offense last year.
Opportunities: Moving into a new stadium and with a lot of payroll coming off the books, New York has taken advantage of even more financial flexibility than they have enjoyed over the last few years.
Threats: There are health concerns in this rotation that could quickly sink the Yanks' hopes in a competitive AL East. All of the current starters except for Sabathia have missed significant time over the last few seasons.
Toronto Blue Jays
Strengths: With a team ERA+ of 122, the Jays featured one of the best pitching staffs they have ever fielded in 2008. A.J. Burnett and Shaun Marcum are gone, but Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond and Dustin McGowan form a nice core in the rotation. The bullpen returns more or less in place from last season.
Weaknesses: It is difficult to see where any productivity will come from in the infield. Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen are not really an acceptable corner infield combo, while there are even more questions concerning the likes of Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill and Joe Inglett. And don't get me started on John McDonald.
Opportunities: Toronto has an open rotation slot and it will be interesting to see how they fill it. Both Casey Janssen and David Purcey have a chance to be quality MLB starters. They will compete for the spot in Spring Training next March.
Threats: With financial problems plaguing the Jays, an aging offensive core not getting any better and free agent defections hampering the pitching staff, threats abound for this club. It seems like their window is closing.
Strengths: Baltimore has a top-heavy offense with a number of good players. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis are both terrific, while Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora and Luke Scott figure once again to be productive. There is an offensive core there.
Weaknesses: The pitching is just so bad. Let me list out their current depth chart as ESPN presents it:
Starting Pitcher:: Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Waters, Matt Albers, Radhames Liz, Garrett Olson
Relief Pitcher: George Sherrill, Jamie Walker, Jim Johnson, Kam Mickolio, Dennis Sarfate, Jim Miller
Opportunities: Matt Wieters is a career .365/.460/.625 Minor Leaguer. Just give him the catcher job already. And man, if they sign Teixeira, the average Orioles game might be five hours long in 2009.
Threats: Huff, Mora and Roberts are all on the wrong side of thirty and will be counted upon to anchor Baltimore's only hope, their offense. Should these three fall short of expectations due to age or injury, Baltimore could be truly awful.
'Twas the Week Before Christmas...
...when all through the baseball world
Not a deal was stirring, not even a minor one;
Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez hung out by the bank with care,
In hopes that the Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers soon would be there;
Scott Boras was nestled all snug in his bed,
While visions of money danced in his head.
Without much to report, I point you to an interview I granted Joseph Decaro, owner/site manager of Mets Merized Online. The second-most famous Joe D. in New York asked me a half dozen questions.
Here is my long-winded answer as to whether the current system is fixed:
Q: The Yankees just spent almost $250 million in two days by signing C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. There are several reports that they will secure either Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez as well. Is it time to fix the system?
A: The Yankees fixed the system a long time ago. Just kidding. Look, as a capitalist, I'm totally fine with a team like the Yankees paying a gazillion dollars for guys like Sabathia and Burnett. However, baseball isn't a true free market. It's a closed economy. A private country club, if you will. For example, if you and I wanted to put a new team in New York, Major League Baseball wouldn't allow it. Therefore, it's not a free market at all. The truth is, there should be more than just two teams in the New York City area. At least three. Maybe four or even five. Think about it for a minute. If there were several teams in New York dividing up the fan base, corporate market, and broadcasting revenues, the Yankees' and Mets' competitive advantage would dissipate in a hurry.
On the one hand, the baseball fan in me doesn't want more teams in New York and fewer franchises in smaller markets around the country. On the other hand, I don't like the fact that the large-market clubs have more resources than everyone else. The solution to this dilemma is that the playing field needs to be leveled one way or the other. Major League Baseball can accomplish this via a free market approach or by capping payrolls at a much lower level and/or re-distributing revenues to a much greater degree. Unfortunately, the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago teams are never going to allow the first or third ideas, and the MLBPA won't even hear of the second. Therefore, like it or not, we're just going to have to learn to live with the way things are now (or at least something close to it).
You can read the entire Q&A here.
Happy weekend to all, and to all a good night.
AL Central SWOT
2008 was supposed to be a two-team battle between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. Cleveland had been to the 2007 ALCS and Detroit, already a strong club, added Miguel Cabrera, one of the most productive young hitters in baseball history. It was a two-team race all right, but it ended up being the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins dueling it out. Let's see how everyone is looking at this point.
Chicago White Sox
Strengths: The Sox have a trio of both starters and relievers who anchored their excellent pitching staff in 2008 and will be counted upon to do so once again in 2009. Here is how these six pitchers performed last year.
IP H BB SO ERA+
Buehrle 218.7 240 52 140 121
Danks 195.0 182 57 159 138
Floyd 206.3 190 70 145 119
Jenks 61.7 51 17 38 174
Thornton 67.3 48 19 77 171
Dotel 67.0 52 29 92 122
A 7.18 K/9 would be acceptable as a team figure but when it is the top six pitchers on a staff that post that number, it gives me a little pause. Still, these six are a clear strength for Chicago.
Weaknesses: It's hard to see how this offense will muster a passable attack in 2009 barring a free agent pick-up or two. Paul Konerko and Jim Thome are not getting any younger and Jermaine Dye, the one other good hitter on the team not named Carlos Quentin, has been the subject of trade rumors (Dye himself is 35). Outside of these four names, it is hard to see where the productivity will come from.
Opportunities: With the core of his team aging, Kenny Williams would be wise to consider trading some of these pieces to get younger. Having already dealt Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez, there are indications he is thinking this way.
Threats: Age and drop-off from the pitching staff could hamper Chicago's chances this season. It's a fascinating roster, one that might be able to compete for the division if all goes well this year. It is also a roster with a very small window. Either they win with this team this season, lose with this team this season (and thus their assets lose value) or they take what they have now and get younger. It will be fun to watch.
Strengths: For the first time since 1997, Minnesota had a better OPS+ than ERA+. Joe Mauer's .399 OBP ranks third in the history of baseball among catchers with 2,000 career plate appearances. He's 26 and seems to be coming into his own after a hiccup 2007 campaign.
Weaknesses: Minnesota's biggest weakness is uncertainty in the starting rotation. The range of potential performance outcomes with this staff is probably wider than any other in baseball. They are all young and well regarded, but some combo of inconsistency and injuries have slowed them all down so far in each of their careers.
Opportunities: Man, if Francisco Liriano could ever return to his 2006 form (207 ERA+ at the age of 22!), Minnesota starts to look more like a front-runner than a team that could win the AL Central if things go right.
Threats: The Twins gave Nick Punto a 2-year, $8.5 million contract. This indicates to me that he will be playing everyday for them over the next two years. Punto had a nice season in 2008, but he is also one year removed from a 52 OPS+ year in 2007.
Strengths: You want to see the list of center fielders with a career OPS+ at 125 or better through their age-25 season (min 2,500 plate appearances)?
Cesar Cedeno aside, that's some baseball royalty right there. So yeah, Grady Sizemore is a strength for the Indians.
Weaknesses: Outside of Cliff Lee, a most deserving Cy Young candidate, Cleveland's starting pitching was terrible last season. Trading C.C. Sabathia did not help, of course.
Opportunities: If Ryan Garko, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner can perform anything like they did at their peaks, then man, this team will be right back in the thick of things. On the pitching side, Scott Lewis will be a compelling addition to the rotation.
Threats: Garko, Martinez and Hafner may not bounce back. Martinez and Hafner are battling injuries and Garko's sub-.400 slugging percentage is a real red flag.
Kansas City Royals
Strengths: The lineup was bad in 2008, with a couple of holes and inadequate production from some of their stars. They have addressed the holes; not necessarily with stars but they will no longer have a 79 OPS+ guy at first base or a 59 OPS+ guy in center field. Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp are not superstars but they are both perfectly adequate performers on an aspirant club.
Also, check out the year Joakim Soria had last season.
Weaknesses: Oh, let's just pick a few. Jose Guillen, his bloated salary, his .300 OBP and his bad attitude would all be good places to start. Brian Bannister unfortunately coming back down to earth would be another. That the organization lacked the good sense to steer clear of handing Brett Tomko the baseball was a weakness.
Opportunities: Gil Meche, Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar have the ability to anchor a capable staff. If the three can perform consistently in 2009, the Royals may have a chance at pushing for .500.
Threats: Kyle Davies and Bannister probably don't belong in a Major League rotation. Shortstop Mike Aviles had a terrific season in 2008 but will be hard-pressed to bat .325 again.
Strengths: Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen combine to constitute a dependable outfield. Ordonez is a prolific slugger, Guillen consistent and Granderson has emerged as one of the game's best all around players.
Weaknesses: Somehow this pitching staff just won't come together. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman were both great disappointments in 2008 and finally, Kenny Rogers just sucked. Nate Robertson's 6.38 ERA (70 ERA+) didn't help.
Opportunities: Verlander and Bonderman still have terrific stuff and could just as easily turn in terrific seasons in 2009 as they did disappointing ones last year. I think getting Zach Miner a season's worth of starts and Edwin Jackson should provide an upgrade over Rogers and some of the other starters they tried to cobble together last year.
Threats: While the lineup looks solid and it's not difficult to come up with a scenario in which Detroit's starters are once again good, the bullpen looks terrible. Losing Todd Jones may amount to addition by subtraction but the two anchors of their relief staff, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, have battled too many injuries to be considered dependable. Still, the off-season is young and the Tigers may yet address this issue.
Jim Rice, the Hall of Fame, and the Numbers
Of all the personal testimonials honoring Jim Rice, my favorite is that of the much-beloved late commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, who once wrote that Rice was “the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees.” That alone, in the minds of many baseball fans (outside of New York), should be enough to let Rice through the gates of the game’s Valhalla, Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.
But, alas, Jim has stuck out 14 times with the Baseball Writers Association of America, and a debate rages over whether this final time will be the charm. Of course, even if he fails – or, rather, if the writers who vote on such matters fail him – his case will be shuffled off to the Veteran’s Committee where he may yet attain immortality. However, opinion across the land seems to be that there is something slightly dodgy and even undignified about entering the Hall in this manner, as though one has come through an inadvertently unlatched back door.
A lot the debate over Rice’s fate has been carried on at the level of “I saw him hit a home run against the [fill in a team name here] when I was [fill in an age under 10 here] and it was the most awesome sight I ever witnessed. [Therefore he should go to the Hall.]” We also see fierce, dramatic but intensely subjective judgments of the stature Rice had when he played. Pitchers, it is said by some, feared him, perhaps more than any other batter in baseball at that time.
SABR members and their intellectual brethren have debated Rice’s qualifications at a somewhat more sophisticated level (mostly), examining Rice’s statistics and awards while comparing his record to those of others who have (and haven’t) had their images inscribed on Cooperstown plaques. Consider, for instance, the claim that Rice was feared by opposing pitchers. Perhaps so, but then what are we to make of the fact that he never received more than 10 intentional base on balls in any one season? By this measure of “feared hitter,” Rice falls behind not only contemporaries Dale Murphy, Garry Templeton, Dave Winfield, and Dave Parker, but also Ted Simmons and Warren Cromartie (each of whom had two or three seasons with 20 or more IBB. With 77 career IBB, Rice is tied for 179th all time, along with players such as Jerry Grote, Ken Henderson, Claudell Washington, and Rice’s one-time teammate Fred Lynn.
In 16 seasons, Rice had a batting average of .298 with 2452 hits and 382 HR – each just a little short of the lifetime statistics that (used to?) assure one a ticket to the Hall. Still, Rice was an All-Star eight times and an MVP once (and he finished 3rd in MVP voting two other times, once in his rookie year, in which he lost to fellow rookie teammate Lynn). If the basic statistics fail to provide a clear answer, one can bring in second-generation statistics to help elucidate matters. For instance, Rice’s OBP was.352 and his SLG was .502, for an OPS of .854. This is just ahead of Hall-of-Famers Eddie Collins and Billy Williams, but behind non-Hall-of-Famers such as Reggie Smith and Jack Clark. So there is nothing decisive here for Rice’s case either. He remains precariously balanced on the cusp of greatness, like a star that is visible in the night sky only if you look slightly to one side of it.
The real statheads among us indulge in even more exotic stuff, like Bill James’ quantitative estimates of similarity among players. Perhaps not surprisingly, Rice scores most similar to another legendary “tough case” for the Hall: Orlando Cepeda. In 17 seasons, Cepeda had 2351 hits (101 fewer than Rice), 379 HR (3 fewer), a .297 career BA (.001 lower), and a .849 career OPS (.005 lower). He was an All-Star 7 times (one fewer), a Rookie of the Year (one more), and an MVP once (tied). Rice fans will note that their man was just slightly better in nearly every case, and that Cepeda ultimately made it into the Hall. But Cepeda hit in an era of tougher pitching (lgOPS of .724 vs. .744 in Rice’s era) and, as a result, Cepeda has a slightly higher park-adjusted league-normalized *OPS+ (133 vs. Rice 128). Again, nothing decisive here. Let us move on. James has also developed some estimates of the likelihood of players entering the Hall. Naturally, Rice is low on one (HoF Standard = 44, where the avg. HoFer scores about 50) and high on the other (HoF Monitor = 144.5, where 100 represents a likely HoFer).
And so, finally, we come to James’ most recent, most influential, and perhaps most complicated estimate of player value: win shares. I won’t go into the calculations here (you can find it on the internet if you are interested), but win shares is supposed to tell us how many additional wins a given player was responsible for with his bat, his fielding, and (if applicable) his pitching. It is well-tested and well-known. It has its quirks, to be sure, but it is generally accepted to do a good job at measuring player performance.
How many win shares did Jim Rice have over the course of his career? 282. How good is that? It is tied with Boog Powell, the one-time MVP, mostly-Oriole LF-1B of the 1960s and 1970s. Powell is not, it should be noted, in the Hall. Fred Lynn is two win shares below Rice. He is not in the Hall. Minnie Minoso and Sal Bando are one win share ahead of Rice. They are not in the Hall. Amos Otis and Toby Harrah are a little further ahead (+4 and +5, respectively). George Sisler is 10 ahead and Dale Murphy (another notoriously tough HoF case) is 12 ahead, tied with Shoeless Joe Jackson. Then Cesar Cedeno (+14), Frank Howard (+15), Home Run Baker (+19), Ken Singleton (+20), Bobby Bonds (+20), Harold Baines (+25), and finally Orlando Cepeda at 310 win shares, a full 28 ahead of Rice. At last, we have some solid evidence that Rice’s career contribution was, in cold reality, just a little below that usually needed to make it into the Hall; that perhaps his presence in Boston made him more visible nationally than Cepeda, who labored mostly in San Francisco and Atlanta (where he worked in the shadows of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron), but not actually quite as good a player.
A number of people have made exactly this case in the debate currently swirling around the vote for the 2009 Hall of Fame induction class. Of course, the win shares numbers are just evidence. They do not constitute definitive “proof.” One can continue to debate, among other things, the relative weaknesses of the various measures used, the importance of “peak” years, and a variety of “intangibles” that are not captured by any of the numbers. Fair enough. But this is how this sort of debate productively proceeds – from impressions, to statistics, to comparative statistics, to better comparative statistics, and so on. For instance, on 14 December 2008, David Kaiser posted an analysis of this kind to the SABR-L list, using win shares (among various other measures) to answer a number of questions about whether Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Kaiser concluded:
The answers to this quiz are interesting because they show Rice as an almost classic case of a player writers tend to overrate: coming up with the Red Sox in one of their glory eras, he put up some spectacular home run and RBI numbers in his first few years and had one truly fantastic season. As a result he did quite well in MVP voting and was picked for a lot of All-Star games but his actual value was only once (1978) as large as it seemed, his secondary numbers were very poor, and he faded out quickly.
But then comes along Gabriel Schechter, a Research Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, who wrote in a posting to the SABR-L list on 15 December 2008:
I simply want to register a strong protest over David [Kaiser]'s use of win shares as the primary tool of his analysis…. Rice played in the 1970s and 1980s, so how is it fitting to apply a sabermetrical measure that wasn't even created until 2001? Aren't those questions supposed to reflect how the player was regarded AT THE TIME he was playing? To say that Fred Lynn or Carlton Fisk had more win shares than Rice in a given season and equate that with considering Lynn or Fisk as more highly regarded than Rice is ridiculous.
And so we come to the real point of this column, which was not, it may surprise you to learn, to contribute to the Jim Rice HoF debate but, rather, to discuss the justice of using modern statistical tools (like win shares) to decide historical questions (like whether Jim Rice was so great a ballplayer that he belongs in the Hall of Fame).
I do not know Mr. Schechter’s views of statistical analysis generally. There are some fans (and players and managers) who believe they see plainly with their eyes (and with their memories), and that statistics, with all their fussy formulas, only confuse the issue. Without further ado, I commend to them the cognitive psychological work of people such as Paul Meehl, Gerd Gigerenzer, and Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman to disabuse them of their misapprehension. I will assume that Mr. Schechter, instead, is only objecting to the casting back of modern statistics into historical eras. I suspect, however, that he has confused two superficially similar, though, in point of fact, quite distinct complaints. The one, to which many object, has to do with creating leader boards and records for statistics that did not exist when a particular season was played. So, for instance, claiming that Three-Finger Brown led the NL in saves four years running, from 1908-1911 (5, 7, 7, 13), seems a little silly not just because there was no such statistic for Brown to lead the league in then, but also because the conception of the relief pitcher as a kind of “specialist” with a particular “function” (such as “saving”) was not yet in place in Brown’s time. It is a little like claiming that Hannibal had more “tanks” than the Romans on account of his use of elephants. I have some sympathy with this objection.
However, that is not what is going on when Mr. Kaiser (and others) use win shares to analyze the performance of players past. First of all, there is nothing that goes into computing win shares that would have been foreign to Rice or his cohort: hits, at bats, bases on balls, total bases, outs, etc. Mr. James has just stirred a little differently a pot of wholly familiar ingredients. Second, the point of doing this kind of analysis is not (only) to create a retrospective leader board, but rather to use quantitative methods to analyze Rice’s performance relative to his peers (and to others throughout the history of major league baseball). With a modicum of judiciousness, there is nothing in the least ridiculous about this process. Indeed, we do it all the time.
To wit, which of these historical questions are ridiculous? How many people lived in the city of Rome in 44 bc? What proportion of them were slaves? What was the average life expectancy? What were the leading causes of death? Among the land owners? Among slaves? Across genders? All of them require quantitative answers. All of them were questions that went unasked (and unanswered) by the Romans themselves. That does not make them historically illegitimate. Consider more questions of the same type: What proportion of the US population spoke English as a mother tongue in 1776? What proportion of the American population approved of Abraham’s Lincoln’s actions in 1863? Would Woodrow Wilson have won the 1912 presidential election if either William Howard Taft or Theodore Roosevelt had dropped out of the race?
The people of these eras did not have either the data or the methods (or both) to answer such questions definitively, but certainly there is nothing to prevent us from using the methods we have since developed on the data that we still have from those times to develop answers that are in some ways better than the ones people of the time in question could have generated (for instance, computers make it possible for us to manipulate huge masses of data that would have been impracticable, if not strictly impossible, prior to their invention).
Far from being illegitimate, a statistic like win shares is precisely the kind of evidence to which members of the BBWAA should attend more fully when deciding questions like whether Jim Rice was as good a player as the others who are now in the Hall. It allows us to separate dispassionate consideration of the merits of the case from contentious but ultimately irrelevant stories of who thrilled us when we were young. Isn’t that exactly why the BBWAA waits five years after a player retires before considering his case for entering the Hall – to let passions cool and allow the facts to rise to the surface?
 Giamatti, A. Bartlett (1998). "The Green Fields of the Mind." In A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti. Algonquin. Available on-line at: http://mason.gmu.edu/~rmatz/giamatti.html.
 The source I used was baseball-reference.com.
 I have only picked a few familiar names between Rice and Cepeda. In fact there were 56 players separating the two on the all-time win shares list, as of 2002. (Players like Frank Thomas have since passed Cepeda. Others have, no doubt, crept between them from below Rice in the intervening years.)
Christopher D. Green teaches statistics in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto. His academic research is mostly concerned with the history of psychology.
AL West SWOT
The Los Angeles Angels ran away with the AL West in 2008 but are they far-and-away the best team again coming into this season? Hard to say. Losing Mark Teixeira, or at least failing to replace him with another top-notch offensive producer, may not be as tolerable as some might think. Despite winning 100 games, the Angels were just an 88-victory Pythag team. Perhaps recognizing a newly vulnerable division rival, the A's seem to be making moves to gear up for a division challenge.
Let's have a look at how things are shaking down in the division as of mid-December.
Los Angeles Angels
Strengths: Of all the catchers in Major League Baseball who notched at least 250 plate appearances in 2008, Mike Napoli led the majors with an OPS+ of 147. I am not sure he qualifies as "flying under the radar" at this point given his .250/.400/.750 ALDS against the Red Sox, but Mike Scioscia has a nice lever at his disposal in that he can make up for a lot of lost production simply by getting Napoli into the lineup more often.
Weaknesses: Age and health in the outfield and at DH may pose problems for the Angels. Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews, Jr and Torii Hunter all seem to be on the decline. This might be ok if there were a clear candidate in the infield to step up and carry more of the water. Minus Teixeira, it's hard to see who that could be.
Opportunities: Getting a full, healthy season from each of John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver should position the Angels to improve upon their 2008 starting pitching output, even if some drop-off from Joe Saunders can be expected.
Threats: The biggest threat to the Angels this off-season is that they fail to replenish the offense. Manny Ramirez could fit and they would love to bring back Teixeira. Short of one of these two, they would be wise to check out the middle market. Someone like Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell would help, too.
Strengths: Thanks to the hitter friendly confines of their home ballpark, the Texas Rangers almost always seem to be among the league leaders in runs scored. This has earned them the reputation as a good hitting team and a bad pitching one, a logical (if lazy) enough conclusion. Well in 2008, it really held true. The Rangers offense was their finest in recent memory, better even than the Pudge/Juan-Gone glory days offenses. Their team OPS+ of 115 comfortably led the American League.
Weaknesses: One would be hard pressed to overstate how awful their pitching was. Their starters had an ERA of 5.51 while their relievers only fared slightly better, at 5.15. Their team ERA of 5.26 on the road should dispel any notion that the staff was decent, but hampered by their home ballpark. No, they were just awful.
Opportunities: With depth at catcher, the Rangers have the potential to add some young arms. They have already dealt Gerald Laird for high-strikeout prospect Gullermo Moscoso. What would the Red Sox give up for Taylor Teagarden or Jarod Saltalamacchia?
Threats: Milton Bradley posted a .321/.436/.521 line in 2008 and was the biggest reason the Rangers offense was as potent as it was. He is a free agent but even if they bring him back, it is hard to see how Bradley would match that output in 2009.
Strengths: The A's biggest strength, and the reason they were able to pry away Matt Holliday, is their bullpen. Combined in 2008, Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler allowed 10 earned runs in over 105 innings of work. Anything that comes close to approximating that sort of performance for Oakland will once again position them to have a terrific bullpen, even without Huston Street.
Weaknesses: Oakland's offense was just terrible in 2008. Just one regular, Jack Cust, managed to slug over .400 for Oakland last season. Holliday will help, but he will need support from guys like Eric Chavez, Travis Buck and Daric Barton if the offense is to perform at a level that allows them to contend.
Opportunities: The A's have a chance at a good rotation if Gio Gonzalez and Sean Gallagher - uber-talents both - can begin to fulfill their potential.
Threats: Have Billy Beane's wheeling and dealing ways caught up with him? Having stockpiled the farm system last year after trading away guys like Dan Haren, Nick Swisher and Rich Harden, this season it looks like Beane would like to take aim at the Angels and complement his youngsters with more established talent. It works in the abstract, but when guys on the open market don't want to join your team, the strategy can be a problem.
Strengths: As David Cameron noted in this piece, trading J.J. Putz gave Seattle perhaps the best outfield defense of any team in baseball.
By acquiring Gutierrez and Chavez, the M’s just have given themselves the ability to run out one of the best outfield defenses in baseball on days where they send a contact pitcher to the hill. A Chavez/Gutierrez/Ichiro outfield will make Silva and Washburn look significantly better than they really are, and by investing in the defense, the M’s have made it possible that they could salvage some value from a pair of bad contracts.
bad pitch-to-contact pitching staff, the more defense the better. Jack Zduriencik's first major move reflected an ability to align team strengths and weaknesses with subsequent roster constructions strategy that M's fans have not seen in some time.
Weaknesses: This team is just so bad. Their one good hitter from 2008, Raul Ibanez, is now a Phillie. Not that they should have signed Ibanez but when your one truly productive hitter from an already bad offense takes off, the next season can look daunting. The Mariners will need step-up seasons from Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre, and Kenji Johjima. All are capable of better seasons than what they posted in 2008.
Opportunities: Wladimir Balentien has a history of Minor League productivity, so I think the Mariners can feel comfortable that he will be better than he was in 2008. Of non-catchers with more than 250 plate appearances, only Andy Marte posted a worse OPS+ in the American League. Another easy opportunity for the M's to improve would be for Erik Bedard to turn in a healthy season. Jeff Clement and a full season of Brandon Morrow in the rotation (if he is indeed given that shot) could provide additional upside. Clement and Morrow were Seattle's first-round picks in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Threats: Seattle had fewer wins than any other Mariners team in a non-strike shortened season since 1978. I would say that there is not much threatening a team that has nowhere to go but up.
We Shall Not Be Saved
Phil Wood, the co-host of Talkin' Baseball on Radio America, invited me to be a guest on the network's show last Sunday. The purpose of the interview was to discuss an article ("We Shall Not Be Saved") that I had contributed to The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009, which is available directly from ACTA today.
A replay of the interview is available via podcast for your listening pleasure. Wood, the host of the program Tim Donner, and I discussed relief pitchers, the whys and wherefores of saves, optimal usage of closers/firemen, and various metrics to evaluate bullpen performance. This segment is 15 minutes long and starts about halfway through the first hour of the show. You can pull the button to the midway point when Donner mentions the Mets adding two closers and the Indians signing Kerry Wood before introducing me.
The following excerpts from my article give you a flavor for the content of our discussion.
Before 1969, a save was either something Jesus did or a hockey statistic used to measure the value of goaltenders. In fact, the two were mixed in a famous bumper sticker that could be found on cars of Boston Bruins hockey fans of that era: “Jesus saves! And Esposito scores on the rebound!”
Phil Esposito, who led the NHL is scoring in five out of six seasons during the late 1960s and early 1970s, would plant himself in the slot near the net and score goals from all angles. The big center won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP of the league twice and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
Forty years ago, there was no mention of the word “save” in Major League Baseball’s rules book. That’s right, the save, which was the brainchild of sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, didn’t become an official statistic of MLB until 1969. It was the game’s first new statistic since the 1920 introduction of runs batted in (RBI).
I defined the save as detailed in 10.19 of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, excerpted a classic article written by Holtzman that appeared in Baseball Digest in May 2002, and quoted Roland Hemond, Steve Stone, and Bud Selig as to the legendary writer's importance on relievers. Interestingly, Holtzman later told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bill Gleason that he was "sorry he'd come up with the (save) concept" because "it wasn't necessary." Imagine that!
Another way to illustrate how the usage of top relievers has changed over the past four decades is to compare firemen of the past, such as Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and Gossage, all of whom pitched predominantly in the 1970s and 1980s, with Trevor Hoffman, the all-time career saves leader who made his mark in the 1990s and the first decade of the current century.
To wit, of Fingers' 341 career saves, 135 (or nearly 40 percent) entailed pitching two or more innings, including 36 of three or more innings. Sutter and Gossage recorded 130 and 125 saves (or 43 and 40 percent), respectively, of two or more innings. Hoffman, on the other hand, has earned just seven saves (or 1.2 percent) of two or more innings out of a total of 554. Only two of his saves have exceeded two innings and none have been as long as three innings.
[Gabriel] Schecter reported that Sutter, in a matter of 39 days (from May 27 through July 4, 1984), had “more saves (nine) where he pitched at least two innings than Hoffman has in his whole career. Gossage did the same thing from Aug. 15, 1980, through the end of that season, and Fingers accomplished it in a 53-day stretch in 1979.”
As Schecter pointed out, “The earlier pitchers acted as their own setup men. These firemen put out the fire and cleaned up after themselves.”
Similarly, Fingers was credited with 101 of his saves (30 percent) when he entered the game with either the winning or tying run on base, while Hoffman has pulled off this feat in only 36 of his saves (less than 7 percent) and only once in the past seven years.
The biggest difference between yesteryear’s firemen and the current crop of closers is the number of times they enter the game to start the ninth inning with no runners on base, “the easiest situation for a reliever to face,” according to Schecter, “even with just a one-run lead.” Thanks to Tom Ruane of Retrosheet, “if the home team starts the ninth inning with a one-run lead, it will win roughly 85 percent of the time ... Start the ninth inning with a two-run lead, and you’ll win about 93 percent of the time; with a three-run lead, it jumps to a 97 percent win rate.”
Hoffman has been used in the latter situation 142 times over the course of his career, while Fingers (11), Sutter (16) and Gossage (14) were rarely used in this manner.
I also covered optimal usage patterns, quoting Bill James from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract and Whitey Herzog in You’re Missin’ a Great Game.
James argued that “when you’re defining the most effective use of your closer, you should START with the tie games. That is when the impact of a run saved is the largest, when the game is tied. If the manager wants to win as many games as possible, he can get a lot bigger bang from his relief ace by pitching him in tie games than he can by pitching him with a three-run lead--eight times bigger. As percentage baseball goes, 800% is a big percentage.”
Herzog wrote, “It’s better to have your closer go two innings every other day than one inning every day.”
After discussing newer and better metrics to judge relievers, including Win Probability Added (WPA) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), I concluded my essay by stating, "When it comes to measuring relievers, there’s a lot more to consider than just the raw number of saves recorded. Even Jerome Holtzman, save his soul, would agree with me on that point."
Be sure to order The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009. While you're at it, pick up a second book for your dad or another baseball fan in your family. It will make an excellent holiday present for you and your loved ones.
NL West SWOT
With the NL Central and NL East in the books, it is now time to turn our attention to the NL West. It only took 84 wins to take the division last season, so a shrewd tweak here or there (read: not Edgar Renteria) could catapult just about anyone into contention.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Strengths: Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade, who combined contributed over 220 innings of top-notch relief, all return to anchor what was one of the very best bullpens in the National League. Los Angeles is taking on free agent losses all over their roster this off-season but one area Ned Colletti can feel comfortable leaving alone is his relief pitching.
Weaknesses: Manny Ramirez posted a 219 OPS+ with the Dodgers and was the chief reason their offense went from atrocious to one of the very best. There is a chance he may be back but his departure would leave a gaping hole int their offensive attack. Similarly on the pitching side, Derek Lowe's imminent signing with someone other than Los Angeles is going to be a real blow to their staff. Over the length of his contract with the Dodgers, Lowe averaged 212 innings and in his worst ERA+ year, he still managed 114. Despite his reputation as a solid innings eater, Lowe is much, much more. Last year's 211 innings of 131 ERA+ pitching will not be easy to replace.
Opportunities: The 2006 Jason Schmidt would do the trick in replacing Lowe and even though that may seem like an unlikely proposition, it also could be the Dodgers best hope.
Threats: As of today, Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones will start in the outfield for Los Angeles. It cannot be overstated just how much these two devastated their offensive attack in 2008. Pierre hit .283/.327/.328 last year, with 79% of his plate appearances coming before August 1. Jones hit .158/.256/.249 with all but 14 of his plate appearances taking place before the trade deadline. While Manny's arrival was doubtless the catalyst for the Dodgers late-season offensive improvement, replacing Pierre and Jones helped a whole lot as well.
Strengths: Anchored by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, the Snakes should once again feature terrific starting pitching. Despite throwing half their games in one of baseball's most hitter-friendly environments, Diamondbacks starters ended the season with the NL's third best starting pitching ERA. While Max Scherzer and Yusmeiro Petit are unproven at the Big League level, they should have no problem replicating the combined output of Randy Johnson and Micah Owings in 2008.
Weaknesses: A lineup that was supposed to all rise up as one and become Major League standouts in 2008 decided to put it off a year. Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Conor Jackson and Justin Upton - potential superstars all - did not hit the way the D-Backs needed them to in 2008 in order for them to repeat as division champs. Until a couple of them step up and show they can anchor a championship caliber offense, the offense will remain a weak spot.
Opportunities: I have already mentioned them. Scherzer, Petit and the young offensive core all have the ability to develop into terrific Major League contributors. Should a handful of these guys get there in 2009, Arizona will be contenders again.
Threats: Signing Felipe Lopez to take over for free agent Orlando Hudson was a savvy enough, under-the-radar move. Still, Lopez has put up some dud seasons (.245/.308/.352 in 2007) and asking him to fill in for one of baseball's most consistent second basemen in Hudson may be too tall an order.
Strengths: Guess who is the same age as, plays the same position as, and had better rate statistics than 2008's National League Rookie of the Year? Chris Iannetta of the Rockies, a 25-year old who seems like he might be one of the better catchers in baseball for years to come. A solid defender with great command at the plate, here is how he stacked up in 2008 amongst NL Catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.
Weaknesses: Colorado ranked 14th in National League Defensive Efficiency in 2008.
Opportunities: Bounce back from Troy Tulowitzki and Garrett Atkins, combined with more playing time for Ian Stewart, should make the infield offense (ex Todd Helton) much more productive. On the pitching side, Jeff Francis should be better, Greg Smith should add some depth and with a tick or two more command, Jorge de la Rosa (128 K's in 130 IP) should emerge.
Threats: Carlos Gonzalez replacing Matt Holliday could kill this offense, and I am afraid that Todd Helton will not be posting another 144 OPS+ season.
San Francisco Giants
Strengths: Tim Lincecum won the CYA in just his second MLB season. Matt Cain, who is even younger than Lincecum, also had a very nice 2008 campaign. Any hope the Giants have for 2008 rests with these two. Not Edgar Renteria; their hopes don't rest with him.
Weaknesses: Their offense was the weakest in the division and help does not appear to be imminent. Starters not named Cain or Lincecum took to the hill 95 times for the Giants in 2008 and posted a 5.32 ERA while playing home games in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks around.
Opportunities: If Aaron Rowand can return to form, with Fred Lewis and Randy Winn flanking him, the outfield offense might not be too bad.
Threats: If Lincecum or Cain falter at all, San Francisco's season is finished. To their credit they hung in there for much of 2008 but that was in large part due to their won-loss in games started by Lincecum.
San Diego Padres
Strengths: When you don't adjust for park, you might think that San Diego's offense is a big problem for them. This is just not the case. They are about average at the plate, thanks to standouts Adrian Gonzalez and Brian Giles, and some nice supporting parts as well.
Weaknesses: The starting pitching, especially if they end up dealing Jake Peavy, is scary bad. Chris Young would assume the number one role and after that, it is hard to see how they can cobble together anything even resembling a Big League staff. The rebuilding process for the Padres, especially given the confusing way their front office seems to operate, figures to be a long and painful one.
Opportunities: If Kevin Kouzmanoff can fulfill his potential and Young can toss 200 innings, that should help bump the Padres up from their 63-win total in 2008. Chase Headley starting from the outset should help, too.
Threats: I have a hard time seeing how Luis Rodriguez, a career .257/.316/.343 hitter, is a viable Major League option as an everyday shortstop, but maybe I am missing something. It's nice to help the bullpen and all, and however frustrating he may have been at times because he was not living up to expectations, the fact remains Khalil Greene was a pretty good player.
Shaughnessy At It Again
Every year as the Hall-of-Fame vote nears, the debates over certain players intensify. As part of this tradition over the last few years, you can set your watch to a Dan Shaughnessy mail-in supporting the candidacy of Jim Rice. Shaughnessy's case for Rice and, in fairness, almost any writer's case for Rice, invariably contains the same three components.
One, there is a baseless assertion that Rice was "feared."
Shaughnessy, from yesterday's Boston Globe:
Rice was dominant. Rice was feared.
From The Boston Globe, January 9, 2008
He was more feared than Tony Perez, who is in the Hall of Fame.
I doubt Dan took the time to actually look into it but Perez was intentionally walked almost twice as many times as Rice was in his career.
In fact, when I look at this article from Shaughnessy from December of 2007, I know he didn't look into it.
People who played and watched major league baseball from 1975-86 know that Rice was the most feared hitter of his day. Managers thought about intentionally walking him when he came to the plate with the bases loaded.
What an insult to the managers of Rice's day. He was far too enticing of a double-play candidate to intentionally walk with the bases loaded. Even If there are no outs, the bases are full and you feel you have to give up a run, don't walk Rice. Just let him give you the two outs he probably will anyway. Rice ranks tied for 179th on the all-time intentional walk list. Included among the others with 77 career intentional walks are the likes of Geoff Jenkins and Clay Dalrymple (among others). On the other hand, Rice ranks sixth all-time in GIDP's, an exceptionally astounding tidbit when you consider that Rice had 9,058 plate appearances in his career. The five players ahead of him on the all-time list all had north of 12,300 plate appearances. Rice was an absolute out machine and if he had the longevity of most Hall of Famers, he would have been the Sadaharu Oh of double plays - so far in the clear of the next closest guy that his record would have been as safe as can be.
The second major component of a Shaughnessy Jim Rice Hall of Fame case contains statistical cherry picking that even the most hard headed flat-earthers would have to admire. Park factors don't matter, great on-base men that inflate your RBI totals don't matter. You just regurgitate numbers as though they have any meaning at all without context.
Also from yesterday...
...when Rice retired in 1989, he was one of only 13 players with eight or more seasons of 20 homers and 100 RBIs. The others were Ruth, Foxx, Gehrig, Aaron, Mays, DiMaggio, Killebrew, Musial, Ott, Schmidt, (Ted) Williams, and Banks.
Shaughnessy from 12/6/05
Of the 17 players (who've been on the ballot) boasting at least 350 homers and a .290 average, all are in Cooperstown -- except for Rice and Dick Allen. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. In the 12 seasons spanning 1975-86, Rice led the American League in games, at-bats, runs, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging, total bases, extra-base hits, multi-hit games, and outfield assists.
The case against Rice is simple.
1) Playing home games in Fenway drastically inflates the value of his production. Hitting in the same lineup as players like Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans (a much, much better Hall candidate btw) inflates his RBI total. Context matters.
2) He did not play for a very long time by Hall standards; did not play at a HOF level for enough seasons.
3) His defense or base running were not such that they make up for his batting statistics, which fall well short of HOF caliber.
The stats Shaughnessy reels off amount to noise in the presence of these items.
Finally, the Shaughnessy Rice defense will in all likelihood contain a jab at the rational among us who choose to devote some time to analyzing where players stack up against one another. Here is Shaughnessy yesterday:
On the other hand, we have members of Bill James Youth who've never been out of the house who believe Rice has no business being in the Hall.
For one, the "Bill James Youth" comment is a thinly veiled Adolf Hitler reference...in a sports column...about the Hall-of-Fame candidacy of Jim Rice. Stay classy, Dan.
Second, I mean, are we still doing the "blogger/stat geek lives in his or her parents' basement" thing? In 2008? Really? The web is here to stay, Dan. How's that NYT stock you've amassed over the years holding up?
Shaughnessy ends his piece yesterday with this:
Guess you had to be there. Or maybe talk to some of the players and managers who were there.
Now, it's possible that Shaughnessy means that you actually had to be physically "there". Let's say he doesn't, however. First, he was in Baltimore while Rice put up his best seasons so Shaughnessy himself wasn't really "there" but for fifteen or so nights a season. Second, such a stringent qualifier would discount the opinions of too many of his BBWAA brethren (I'm looking at you, Jenkins) who were not "there" to see Rice all that often.
So let's assume he means "you had to be paying close attention to baseball at the time when Jim Rice was playing." That's fair enough. Contemporary opinion should matter for something I suppose. I happen to believe that stats tell most, if not all, of the story if you know which numbers to look at and don't cut corners. But I don't think it's unreasonable to contend that contemporary opinion matters.
Well guess who started writing about baseball in earnest in 1977, Rice's first great season? None other than Bill James. And if you have read over Rich Lederer's Abstracts on the Abstracts series, you find that James devoted a lot of effort, smack in the middle of Rice's career, to analyzing what kind of player Rice was. Let's take a look.
Here is James from the 1978 Baseball Abstract:
"A number of numerical attacks on Reggie Jackson's status as a superstar have attempted to downgrade him by making statistical inferences which I think are misleading...He is described as a ballplayer who has never hit .300--but that is lilke describing Roberto Clemente as a guy who never hit 30 home runs, or Ty Cobb as a player who never hit 20. The fact remains, Jackson does an awful lot of things well, and most often does them well when his team needs them. His On-Base percentage last year was .378, better than most .300 hitters, and it's a more important statistic. His excellent SB% (.850), GIDP/AB ratio (1/175), and slugging percentage (.550) add up to a hell of a lot more than the eight singles by which he missed .300. But more to the point, Jackson has never played a season in a good hitting ballpark. His three home parks, in Oakland, Baltimore, and New York, are, except for Anaheim, the 3 toughest places to hit in the league. To compare his stats in Yankee (sic) to those of, say, Jim Rice in Fenway, is just ridiculous."
"It is difficult to say anything intelligent about the Red Sox without discussing the park they play in. The public perception of this team is that of a heavy hitting outfit with a suspect pitching staff. But the fact is that the heavy-hitting Boston offense, in 81 road games, scored only 365 runs, essentially an average total, while the 'mediocre' Boston pitching and defense limited their opponents to 305 runs on the road, the lowest total in the league. You might want to read that sentence again, because it is surely the most shocking contention in this book."
Here is James during Rice's awesome three-year peak, real-time offering up the goods on the extent to which Fenway Park would inflate any hitter's batting numbers. On the Orioles beat, think Shaughnessy was digging in with this level of analysis?
In the 1979 Baseball Abstract, James goes into great detail to run through the respective MVP cases of Rice and Ron Guidry. It's a fascinating read, well worth going back and checking out.
This is from Rich's piece on the 1979 Baseball Abstract:
Later, in "Guidry/Rice: A Post Script," James volunteers that "the purpose of this essay, of course, was not to put to rest the MVP debate as much as to introduce a variety of analytical theories and techniques that you might not be familiar with."
30 years later, there is at least one columnist who is all set with his own "analytical theories and techniques" thank you very much.
Oftentimes the mainstream will accuse the SABR-inclined of having it out for Rice. I can see why that may be the case - hell, here I am writing about Rice for what seems like the fiftieth time - but the reason he garners so much attention is that Rice provides the prototypical case for the need to consider context when statistically evaluating baseball players. In the 1980 Baseball Abstract, James dispels any notion that he personally has it out for Rice by claiming he "has virtually qualified for the Hall of Fame already." This was a reasonable assumption coming off his 1977-1979, three season Hall-worthy peak.
Just in case you thought that James was not getting it right when it comes to Rice, he unveiled in the 1986 Baseball Abstract a projection system that foresaw Rice retiring "in just a few more years with totals of 399 home runs, 1434 RBI and a .298 average, 2419 hits." James then concedes that his own methodology, in Rice's case, "probably is much too conservative." As Rich points out in his note, it wasn't conservative at all. Rice ended up with 382, 1451, .298, 2452. Bill's gut told him the projection was conservative but the projection, the data, ended up being right. Funny, that.
Here is the most amazing part about all of this. In Wednesday's column, Shaughnessy mentions James, acknowledging his now famous contention that Roy White was better than Rice. Shaughnessy also takes an excerpt from Rob Neyer, who himself responded to Shaughnessy's column yesterday. And yet, sticking to his guns in the face of well reasoned dissent, Shaughnessy simply asserts "Guess you had to be there", a statement so bankrupt, so lacking in creativity or thought that James was able to respond to it 23 years earlier.
I will end with Bill James, from his 1985 Baseball Abstract.
"Virtually all sportswriters, I suppose, believe that Jim Rice is an outstanding player. If you ask them how they know this, they'll tell you that they just know; I've seen him play. That's the difference in a nutshell between knowledge and bullshit; knowledge is something that can be objectively demonstrated to be true, and bullshit is something that you just 'know.' If someone can actually demonstrate that Jim Rice is a great ballplayer, I'd be most interested to see the evidence."
The 2008 Winter Meetings in Review
With the 2008 Winter Meetings concluding today, we thought it might be worthwhile to provide a recap of the week's activities with our comments added to each of the transactions and announcements.
Monday, December 8
Arbitration: Of the 24 players who were offered arbitration by their teams, only Cincinnati RHP Dave Weathers and the Angels LHP Darren Oliver accepted prior to Sunday night’s deadline.
Comments: Nine days ago, we called offering arbitration to the Type B Weathers "a low-risk move," noting that he made $2.75M last year. We added, "The 39-year old is unlikely to get more than $3M in 2009 unless the arbitrator focuses on his 3.25 ERA rather than the fact that he gave up more hits than innings pitched and had just a 2:1 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio (1.5:1 including IBB)." As a Type A, Oliver would have faced resistance from other teams not wishing to part with two draft picks for an aging lefthanded reliever.
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Retirement: Four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux held a press conference to announce his retirement.
Comments: Maddux was not only one of the top two pitchers of the past 20 years but one of the ten greatest of all time. He was at his best in the 1990s, fashioning back-to-back ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63 in 1994 and 1995, in the 2s in five of the other eight seasons, and a decade-high of 3.57 in 1999.
As Lee Sinins reported in his daily Around the Majors report, "Maddux is fourth on the career Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) list since 1900."
1 Roger Clemens 732
2 Lefty Grove 668
3 Walter Johnson 643
4 Greg Maddux 552
5 Randy Johnson 533
6 Grover C Alexander 524
7 Pedro Martinez 493
8 Christy Mathewson 405
9 Tom Seaver 404
10 Carl Hubbell 355
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Hall of Fame: Joe Gordon was named to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Comments: While Gordon may have been a deserving choice, there were many others – including Bill Dahlen and Sherry Magee from the pre-1943 era and Ron Santo from the post-1943 ballot – who were ignored despite having stronger cases and at least one under-the-radar star who wasn't even considered. More than anything, thank goodness that Allie Reynolds, who came up one vote shy of election, will not be included in the Hall of Fame class of 2009.
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Trade: The Rangers traded C Gerald Laird to the Tigers for minor league RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo.
Comments: Laird, who is two years from becoming a free agent, gives Detroit an inexpensive defensive catcher who can also hit for occasional power. At 25, one has to discount Moscoso's eye-opening strikeout and walk rates last season when he whiffed 122 while allowing only 21 free passes in 86 2/3 innings in High-A and Double-A. Meanwhile, Melo hasn't even turned 18 yet. He struck out 61 batters in 49 innings in the Dominican Summer League.
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Signing: The Tigers signed free agent SS Adam Everett to a one-year, $1 million contract plus incentives.
Comments: Everett may be the best defensive shortstop in baseball. He can't hit a lick but saves enough runs to be a decent option at a base salary that is only about a half million dollars above the minimum.
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Tuesday, December 9
Signing: The Mets signed RHP Francisco Rodriguez to what is essentially a four-year, $51 million contract (including the vesting option that is likely to be triggered).
Comments: This move was the biggest lock of the winter. K-Rod was the highest-profile name in an eclectic group of closers that includes Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and even John Smoltz. The Mets had the need and the money to step up on Frankie, who set the single-season record for saves (62) in 2008.
The Angels can replace Rodriguez with Jose Arredondo, who has the stuff, if not the experience, to step into the closer's role. Of importance, the Halos will receive New York's first-round draft slot plus a compensatory pick. These selections can be used to rebuild a farm system that is no longer one of the best in baseball.
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Trade: The Orioles traded C Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for utilityman Ryan Freel and minor league 2B Justin Turner and 3B Brandon Waring.
Comments: This trade makes sense for both clubs as the Reds are not giving up a lot for a veteran catcher who can still hit even though his defense is not what it once was. In the meantime, the Orioles are making room for Matt Wieters, who was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. However, don't be surprised if Baltimore picks up another catcher for April and a possible mentor for Wieters once the youngster is brought up to the majors (which likely won't be out of spring training as the club does its best to hold him back to delay his free agency by an extra year).
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Signing: The Dodgers re-signed 3B Casey Blake to a three-year, $17.5 million contract with a team option for 2012 and signed INF Mark Loretta to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
Comments: Blake is 35 years old and is unlikely to play a passable third base for all three years. Moreover, he doesn't hit well enough to warrant a full-time position at first base or as a corner outfielder. As a result, I couldn't be more confident that this signing will come back to haunt the Dodgers, perhaps as early as this season and certainly no later than next. Loretta, on the other hand, makes sense as a much cheaper solution to Nomar Garciaparra and as a backup in case Blake DeWitt doesn't pan out at second.
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Wednesday, December 10
Announcement: The Baseball Writers Association of America voted to include Internet-based writers Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl from Baseball Prospectus and ESPN's Keith Law and Rob Neyer.
Comments: Congratulations to Will, Christina, Keith, and Rob. I went to bat for Neyer last year and am extremely happy that he was admitted this time around. He makes the BBWAA a better organization. Now that the wall has been torn down, it's imperative that Baseball America's Jim Callis be included in the next group of web-based members.
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Signing: The Yankees signed LHP CC Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract. Sabathia has the right to opt out of the contract after the third year.
Comments: The Yankees got the big one in more ways than one. While there is no doubt that Sabathia is an outstanding pitcher and citizen, the number of years and total cost seem outlandish to me and apparently to the competition as it is uncertain as to whether any other club was even in the ballpark in terms of length and value.
Speaking of ballpark, the Steinbrenners can thank the New York taxpayers for chipping in with hundreds of millions of dollars to build the new Yankee Stadium in order to pony up nearly a couple hundred million to sign one player – and a 300-pound pitcher at that! And you wonder why I'm against public funding of stadiums? Unbelievable!
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Trade: The Rays traded RHP Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for OF Matt Joyce.
Comments: Both teams were dealing from strength and trying to shore up weaknesses. While the consensus appears to believe that Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman fleeced Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, I'm not so sure. Jackson, who throws a 94-mph fastball, has the potential of taking it up a notch or two as a starter if he can develop his secondary pitches. Otherwise, he's not the worst option in the world as a reliever who can come in and throw heat for an inning. Joyce (.252/.339/.492) can hit for power but strikes out at an alarming rate (23.5% rate in the majors and 27.3% in the International League last year). There are also questions as to whether he can hit lefthanders consistently. As such, the 24-year-old Joyce may be limited to a platoon role with the Rays.
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Trade: Seattle's GM Jack Zduriencik made his first trade last night, a three-team, 12-player transaction in which the Mariners obtained RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, LHP Jason Vargas, and minor league 1B Mike Carp, RHP Maikel Cleto, and OF Ezequiel Carrera from the New York Mets and OF Franklin Gutierrez from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Sean Green, CF Jeremy Reed (all NY bound) and Luis Valbuena (to CLE). Cleveland also received RHP Joe Smith from New York.
Comments: In acquiring Chavez and Gutierrez, it appears as if Zduriencik values outfield defense highly. Chavez and Gutierrez are among the best left and right fielders, respectively, in the game. In a big ballpark like Safeco, outfield defense is at a premium. According to Baseball Prospectus, Chavez has been 13 runs above average per 100 games in left field, while Gutierrez has been 10 runs above average per 100 games in right field over the course of their careers. Gutierrez, who won a Fielding Bible Award this past season, led all right fielders in Plus/Minus with +29 in 2008 in only 97 games and +20 in 2007 in 88 games.
With Rodriguez and Putz in the fold, the Mets have significantly improved their bullpen since learning that closer Billy Wagner will miss the 2009 season. However, it's also possible that Putz could be moved in another deal as he views himself as a closer and not a set-up man. In the meantime, Heilman wants to start and may get the chance in Seattle that wasn't coming in New York.
Green, a sinker/slider type, and the submarining Smith are interesting in that they are bullpen specialists who have a knack for inducing groundballs and getting righthanded batters out. They ranked seventh and eighth in GB% last year among pitchers with 60 or more innings.
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Thursday, December 11
What will the final day of the meetings bring? One source has the Yankees trading Melky Cabrera to the Brewers for Mike Cameron. While Cabrera (.268/.329/.374 in 415 career games) didn't turn 24 until August and has the potential of becoming a better player over time, the fact of the matter is that he has never slugged even .400 in any of his three seasons. It would be one thing if Melky were an on-base machine but he barely put up a .300 OBP last year. Cameron, on the other hand, gives the Yankees better on-base, slugging, and defensive skills in center field. The soon-to-be 36-year-old, who will make $10 million this season, hit .243/.331/.477 while slugging 25 home runs in 120 games in 2008. He is the perfect stopgap for Austin Jackson, a prospect I ranked as the eighth-best 21-year-old last February.
In the meantime, the Yankees are also confident they have the highest bid for A.J. Burnett and still in the mix to sign Derek Lowe. Andy Pettitte and Ben Sheets remain shorter-term options if New York is unable to sign Burnett and/or Lowe.
The Rule 5 Draft takes place today. You can check out Marc Hulet's sneak preview of the best hitters and pitchers available. Look for RHP Eduardo Morlan of the Tampa Bay Rays to be taken early. The former Twins prospect turns 23 in March and can be brought along slowly in the early going as he learns to adapt to the big leagues with a fastball that no longer touches the mid-90s. He has the stuff and the credentials (10.71 K/9 in 321 MiLB innings) to eventually pitch at the back end of games.
The Winter Meetings make for a great handful of days of baseball news. As Paul DePodesta wrote on his blog last weekend, "It's an intense time and probably the most unhealthy stretch of the year - no fresh air, very little sleep, lots of room service, and an emotional rollercoaster. It's the best. I'm going first thing in the morning."
You gotta love it.
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Update: Here are the complete results of the Rule 5 Draft (including MLB, Triple-A, and Double-A phases). The names of players are linked to their pages at MiLB.com.
SWOT Analysis - NL Central
Thanks to the Cubs dominance and the surprise Cardinals and Astros, the NL Central was one of baseball's best divisions in 2008. Here is how they appear to be shaping up this off-season.
Strengths: The Cubbies had the lowest starting pitching ERA in the National League last season and from the "rich get richer" department, are rumored to be far along in talks to acquire Jake Peavy. Peavy, Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, Lilly...wow.
This rumor gives me an opportunity to bring up one of the biggest threats facing the defending World Series champs that I omitted on Monday. Chase Utley will miss the first few months of the season while he recovers from hip surgery. Philly seems to recognize this threat, as they are in pursuit of Mark DeRosa, who would go to Philly as part of a three-team deal that would net the Cubs Peavy.
Weaknesses: Chicago's bullpen was just mediocre last season and they are about to lose Kerry Wood. The acquisition of Kevin Gregg at best allows them to tread water. Thanks to Japanese disappointment Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs ranked 14th in the NL in right field OPS. Fukodome may bounce back but at this point, it appears to be a weak spot in an otherwise deep lineup. Replacing Jim Edmonds' production will be no easy task. Quietly, the all-time great hit .256/.369/.568 in 2008.
Opportunities: Adding Peavy, I mean, wow. Outside of acquiring Peavy, the Cubs should look to add outfield help. Reed Johnson, Felix Pie and Fukodome splitting time between center and right field sounds like a risky proposition. The Cubs should take a good look at the deep free agent outfield pool of talent.
Threats: If they do in fact deal DeRosa, hoping Mike Fontenot replicates his .305/.395/.514 season in 2009 seems like a trap.
Strengths: Milwaukee's young core of position players is championship caliber when hitting on all cylinders. Year over year, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Cory Hart and Bill Hall slipped badly in 2008 but I would expect bounce back from this group in 2009. I would expect the team OPS+ of 103 to tick up a decent amount this season.
Weaknesses: The Brewers ended 2008 with the second best starters' ERA in the National League but gone from that staff are 329 innings of 2.52 ERA pitching. C.C. Sabathia appears to be a Yankee and Ben Sheets will not be returning either.
Opportunities: 23-year old Yovani Gallardo gets a shot as the team's ace in 2008. I am not sure I would call that an "opportunity" for Milwaukee, but it sure is one for Gallardo.
With Sabathia now out of the picture, GM Doug Melvin will have to make sure he puts the $100 million or so he had allocated for him to good use. I am not sure re-signing Mike Lamb qualifies but let's see what else he has cooking.
Threats: The biggest threat to Milwaukee is that Melvin does not adequately address their starting pitching. With their pitching staff all but sure to take a few steps back, the threat of the offensive core not returning to their 2007 form looms as another threat.
Strengths: It doesn't get much better in the middle of any lineup than Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, who slugged .561 and .569 respectively in 2008.
Weaknesses: Acquiring Miguel Tejada has proven to be a disaster thus far. Amid, um, some confuision about his age that sparked controversy in 2008, Miggy was able to post just a .283/.314/.415 line last season. Tejada hurt but what killed the Astros more than anything was handing Michael Bourn (.229/.288/.300) their everyday center field and lead-off roles. Houston was dead last in the National League in OPS from both center and their lead-off hitter.
Opportunities: Houston is looking to dump Tejada but, surprise surprise, there doesn't seem to be much of a market for a rapidly aging shortstop with limited range who can no longer hit. If Hunter Pence could split the difference of his 2007 and 2008 batting average and on-base numbers, the Astros offense would be a lot better for it.
Threats: After Roy Oswalt, it is difficult to see how this rotation is going to function. Signing Mike Hampton doesn't seem to be the answer, either. Here's Ed Wade on the Hampton signing:
“A healthy Mike Hampton has always been a workhorse on the club. Mike just finished the season with Atlanta having not missed a start down the stretch in the second half of the season. ... I don’t think there’s any reason based on the performance at the end of the season, based on the medical information we gathered, for us to feel that he’s not going to be able to go out there every fifth day.”
You go, Ed Wade.
St. Louis Cardinals
Strengths: The Cards led the NL in OPS+ and were second in total bases last season, thanks in large part to another MVP campaign from Albert Pujols. That lineup more or less returns but with one notable tinker. Khalil Greene should represent an upgrade over what the Cards got at shortstop in 2008. Expect St. Louis to pound the ball again.
Weaknesses: Here are three St. Louis regulars against left handed pitching.
AVG OBP SLG
Kennedy .270 .299 .297
Schumaker .168 .238 .185
Ankiel .224 .268 .448
Opportunities: Adding Greene and lefty reliever Trever Miller were two nice under-the-radar early off-season moves for the Cards and indications from the Bellagio are that they are not done. Another dependable starter would round out the Cards' staff.
Threats: St. Louis boasted one of the National Legue's most productive outfields last season, but all three of their starters are late blooming late twenty-somethings without much of a track record of producing like they did in 2008.
Strengths: Anchored by Francisco Cordero, the Reds return (and in fairness, also lose) some of the key pieces from one of the league's best bullpens in 2008. Despite playing at the Great American Bandbox, Reds relievers posted the third best ERA in the NL last year.
Weaknesses: Their team OPS+ of 93 was pretty terrible and with Adam Dunn no longer in the fold, it's hard to see how they improve off of that figure. Offense will be hard to come by for Cinci in 2009.
Opportunities: In 2007, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo combined for 442.3 innings of 3.97 ERA pitching. Last year the pair turned in 384.3 innings at a 4.78 clip. If these two return to form in 2009, and youngsters Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto come back strong, this could be one of the better run prevention units in baseball.
Threats: The biggest threat is that, even with the addition of Ramon Hernandez, the Reds' offense is not even close to where it needs to be in order to field a competitive team. The pitching will have to come through in spades.
Strengths: Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit and perhaps even Andy LaRoche are all championship caliber regulars. Pittsburgh had more or less an average offense in 2008 and for better or worse, the offense will once again be the strength of this time.
Weaknesses: The Bucs pitching is astoundingly awful. Of their hurlers who started more than 10 games, just one, Paul Maholm, had an ERA+ north of 86. EIGHTY-SIX!?!? Four other Pirates pitchers combined for 20 starts and in those starts posted a 9.04 ERA in 85.6 innings.
Opportunities: Um, improved pitching? Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell just HAVE to get better, no?
Threats: If the start of Andy LaRoche's big league career (.184/.288/.272) is any indication of things to come, the Bucs offense will suffer greatly. Also, a full season without Jason Bay and Xavier Nady could unmask some deficiencies in their attack.
If Gordon, Then Why Not Grich?
If you're reading about baseball and come across the abbreviation "GG," what do you think of? Gold Glove, right? I mean, that's what would occur to me.
That said, there are two comparable second basemen in terms of hitting and fielding whose last names start with the letter "G," and, to be honest, I can't think of one without the other. The GGs in this case are Joe Gordon and Bobby Grich.
Gordon was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. He was named on 10 of 12 ballots by an odd Veterans Committee charged with the responsibility of reviewing ten candidates who began their careers prior to 1943.
I am happy for Gordon, who died in 1978, and his children. He was an outstanding player for the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians from 1938-1950. Gordon was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1942 and played in nine All-Star Games and for five World Series champions.
Gordon's induction should open up the doors to Cooperstown for Grich. Not to take anything away from Gordon but Grich was every bit as good as the Hall's newest member, both defensively and offensively. If you don't believe me, then stick around and take a look at the facts.
Let's start off with their basic counting stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO
Gordon 1566 5707 914 1530 264 52 253 975 89 60 759 702
Grich 2008 6890 1033 1833 320 47 224 864 104 83 1087 1278
Grich had 1684 more plate appearances than Gordon. The extra playing time should be viewed in a positive light but, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that Gordon missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. As such, he may have lost out on about 1275 plate appearances (his combined total in the previous two years).
Given the disparity in opportunities, it may be instructive to examine their career rate stats:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Gordon .268 .357 .466 120
Grich .266 .371 .424 125
As shown, Gordon and Grich had similar batting averages while the latter had a better on-base percentage and the former had a superior slugging average. However, it is important to note that Gordon played during an era of higher offense than Grich. For example, the league-wide, park-adjusted averages during Gordon's career were .271/.350/.395. The only major difference between Gordon and the league average was in SLG where he out-slugged his fellow players by .071. On the other hand, the league-wide, park-adjusted averages during Grich's career were .258/.324/.384. Grich outperformed his peers across the board with significant advantages in OBP and SLG.
While Gordon out-OPS'd Grich .823 to .795, Grich actually had a higher OPS+ (which adds context to OPS by adjusting for park factors and league averages) than Gordon (125 to 120). In other words, Grich was 25 percent and Gordon 20 percent better than average when normalized to the league.
Grich (164) also had a higher peak OPS+ than Gordon (155) and had more seasons in the 140s (two to none) and 130s (three to two). Grich, in fact, led the AL in OPS+ in 1981 in a 14-team league whereas Gordon's highest ranking was fourth in 1942 and 1947 in an 8-team environment.
The bottom line is that Grich had better counting and rate stats, as well as a higher peak, than Gordon.
Moving to the defensive side of the equation, Grich and Gordon were two of the best second basemen in the game's history. Using traditional fielding statistics, Gordon posted a .970 fielding percentage over the course of his career, leading the AL in assists four times and double plays three times. Grich had a .983 fielding percentage while leading the AL in assists, putouts, and double plays for three straight seasons. He committed only five errors and set a then major-league record with a .995 fielding percentage in 1973 when all 12 AL fields were grass.
Grich earned four consecutive Gold Gloves, tied for the seventh most among second sackers. Gordon may have also won multiple awards had he played in the Gold Glove era (1957-on). Although Boston's Bobby Doerr would have provided stiff competition, it doesn't take away from the fact that Gordon was one of the slickest fielders of his generation. In the book Win Shares, Bill James assigned Gordon and Grich with letter grades of "A" for their defensive work. It's hard to say with any authority that one was better than the other in the field. We'll say "too close to call" and rate them a push with the leather.
Speaking of Win Shares, this measure is as reliable as any other when combining offense and defense to compare two players such as Gordon and Grich. Let's take a look to see how they stack up in Win Shares:
Career WS Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Gordon 242 31-28-26 134 21.07
Grich 329 32-31-29 143 26.54
No matter how you slice it, Grich tops Gordon when it comes to Win Shares. He had 36% more career Win Shares with better peak seasons and a much higher rate per 162 games. Whether your preference is quantity or quality, Grich gets the nod here.
Grich also compares more favorably to Gordon using Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), a Baseball Prospectus stat designed to measure player value in terms of wins above a marginal big leaguer at the same position.
WARP3 Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Gordon 94.2 11.5-11.1-10.6 53.3 9.74
Grich 123.9 11.8-11.6-11.0 55.6 10.00
If Grich bests Gordon offensively and hangs with him defensively while generating more career and peak value, then why doesn't he get the same respect as his fellow second baseman? Well, I believe it comes down to two things:
1. Gordon won a Most Valuable Player award and Grich never won an MVP.
2. Gordon played for five World Series champions and Grich never played in the World Series.
Gordon won the AL MVP in 1942 even though he finished fourth in Win Shares. In fact, he had FIFTEEN fewer Win Shares than Ted Williams, who just happened to capture the Triple Crown that season. Gordon hit .322/.409/.491 with an OPS+ of 155, while Williams hit .356/.499/.648 with an OPS+ of 217. Although Gordon had a great year, two of his Yankees teammates – Charlie Keller (34) and Joe DiMaggio (32) – had more Win Shares than he did that season.
In Grich's best offensive season, he finished FOURTEENTH in the MVP voting even though, like Gordon, he was fourth in Win Shares. In 1981, Grich led the league in home runs, slugging average, and OPS+ (did I mention that he was a second baseman?), yet a relief pitcher (Rollie Fingers) was named MVP and 12 of the 13 players who received more points than Grich were either pitchers or played a corner defensive position. Only center fielder Dwayne Murphy (.251/.369/.408), who placed three spots ahead of Grich in the voting, played one of the four up-the-middle positions.
If the truth be told, voters did a better job of evaluating the merits of middle infielders and catchers during the 1930s through the early 1960s than in the more modern era when a fixation on RBI has overpowered defensive position and value. It says here that Grich would have had a better chance of winning the MVP had his 1981 season taken place during Gordon's era and Gordon would have had almost no chance of winning his MVP had it taken place in Grich's era. Think about it for a second . . . Can you imagine a second baseman who didn't lead his league in any category other than SO (95) and GIDP (22) being named MVP in the same year when another player won the Triple Crown? Unfathomable.
Gordon also had the good fortune of playing in a smaller league and on more dominant teams than Grich. Gordon's teams won five World Series championships, whereas the clubs Grich played for went 0-5 in the American League Championship Series. As such, while Grich may not be perceived as a "loser," it is safe to say that Gordon is thought of as a "winner."
Maybe Grich will also get his due one day. If so, let's just hope that it doesn't take 58 years after the time of his retirement or 30 years after his death for him to be honored in Cooperstown along with Gordon, a fellow second baseman who, at best, was no better than Grich.
Correction: Grich won a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles in 1970 even though he did not appear in a World Series game that year.
SWOT Analysis - NL East
As the Winter Meetings get underway, we decided we would roll out a series, division by division, on how each team shapes up at this juncture of the off-season. I hate to go all B-School on everyone but we thought we would structure it in the form of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis.
Today, we start with the National League East.
Strengths: The bullpen was just remarkable in 2008 and they come back with the major components more or less in place. Ryan Madson setting up Brad Lidge should make this unit as formidable as any in the National League regardless of any slippage from the rest of the 'pen.
Assuming they address left field, the offense should again be excellent. Defensively, the Phills ranked 6th in the NL in team Defensive Efficiency, a number that should improve assuming Pat Burrell moves on.
Weaknesses: There aren't many but the starting pitching looks a bit questionable heading into 2009. Cole Hamels should be terrific but it seems unlikely, given past health concerns and his previous high of 183 innings, that he would be able to turn in another 227. Brett Myers is something of an enigma, Joe Blanton's flyball tendencies could catch up to him and it's hard to know what to expect from J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick. Signing Derek Lowe, whom they reportedly covet, would really solidify this rotation.
Opportunities: The offense should improve if their three superstars return to form. Each under-performed their three-year splits in 2008.
Howard .251/.339/.543 .277/.385/.595
Rollins .277/.349/.437 .284/.342/.485
Utley .292/.380/.535 .310/.388/.542
Threats: Starting pitching implosion, failure to adequately address left field.
New York Mets
Strengths: Like Philadelphia, New York returns an excellent core. Johan Santana is probably the National League's best starting pitcher, while Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes three of the top ten position players in the Senior Circuit. There is no reason to think that they will not continue to shine.
Weaknesses: The Mets bullpen was a disaster in 2008 and with Billy Wagner out for all of 2009, things are not looking any rosier at this point in the off-season. Addressing his relief staff has to be a priority for Omar Minaya. Along with the bullpen, the back end of their starting rotation will need to be addressed as well. This is what makes the Aaron Heilman debate so interesting. There are those who believe he should be moved to the rotation, which is logical enough. But he is far and away their best reliever, so making him a starter amounts to addressing one problem by creating another.
Opportunities: Minaya has an abundance of free agent pitching talent from which he can hire new personnel to shore up holes in the bullpen and rotation.
Threats: Minaya cannot necessarily rest on his laurels when it comes to his offense. Two major contributors to his 2008 offensive attack might reasonably be expected to drop off some. Daniel Murphy does not have much of a track record producing like he did down the stretch last season, and Carlos Delgado will be hard-pressed to replicate last year's out put in this, his 37-year old season.
Strengths: Florida posted a team 105 OPS+ with their shortstop and second baseman chipping in with the two most productive seasons on the team. At the age of 24, Hanley Ramirez has emerged as a superstar in every sense. His defense leaves a bit to be desired but HanRam backed up his .332/.386/.562 2007 season with a .301/.400/.540 line in 2008. He joins Arky Vaughan and Alex Rodriguez as the only two shortstops since 1901 to turn in more than one OPS+ season of 145 before his 25th birthday. As for Dan Uggla, go ahead and try and list out the second basemen you would prefer ahead of him. It won't take you too long.
Weaknesses: For whatever reason, the Marlins struggle to hit left handers. In 2008 they hit .233/.314/.385 as a team against southpaws, and there does not appear to be any help imminent. More at-bats for Cameron Maybin may help but the guy he will be replacing in Florida's lineup, Josh Willingham, was one of their more productive hitters against lefties. Ramirez and Uggla both hit righties better than they do lefties.
Opportunities: Thanks to myriad injuries and some questionable personnel, the Marlins had one of the worst starting pitching units in the National League last season. While you won't see Florida making a play for Lowe or C.C. Sabathia, they do have internal options that should provide some hope. Andrew Miller, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez, talented pitchers all and 80% of the Fish rotation, pitched a combined 330 innings in 2008. A few developmental steps forward and good health from these four should push the Marlins rotation closer to league average.
Threats: Aside from continued injury problems in the starting rotation, the biggest issue threatening the 2009 Marlins is their ability to get productivity from positions other than second base and shortstop. There is plenty of reason to hope Jeremy Hermida, Dallas McPherson, Maybin and Cody Ross all chip in with productive campaigns. There is also cause for ample skepticism.
Strengths: Offense from the infield and catcher. The Braves have the luxury of penciling in well above average productivity from the catcher position and their infield. Improved pop from Casey Kotchman would be nice but Atlanta is solid with Chipper Jones, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann.
Weaknesses: Atlanta's starting pitching had the 11th ranked ERA in the NL in 2008. Their bullpen ranked 12th. Their left fielders ranked 15th in OPS. Their center fielders 10th. Their right fielders 16th. They couldn't pitch it in 2008 and their outfielders couldn't hit it. There's your recipe for the franchise's worst season in 18 years.
Opportunities: They have already begun to address their starting pitching woes by adding Javier Vazquez, whose peripherals indicate a far better pitcher than his bloated ERA might suggest. Atlanta is also aggressively pursuing A.J. Burnett.
Threats: If Chipper misses significant time and Jeff Francoeur does not somehow regain his form, it is hard to see how the Braves offense will function.
Strengths: Eh, in adding Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen, the Nats have tacked on two players who would have been among their very best in 2008. Nobody on their roster produced like Willingham last year and nobody in their rotation threw even close to as many innings as Olsen did.
Weaknesses: Everything. Their starting pitching looks dreadful, their bullpen just as bad and their offense looks worse than their pitching.
Opportunities: There is a little talent in this lineup. If Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman could stay healthy, if Elijah Dukes could stay sane, if Lastings Milledge could take a developmental step forward, if Austin Kearns could fulfill his potential, then the Nats might have a halfway decent offensive attack. Problem is, only if all of those things happen does this offense function.
Threats: They really cannot be worse than they were in 2008 so it is hard to pinpoint a "threat".
Check back for the next installment on Wednesday, when we look at the National League Central.
Another Addition to the Bert Blyleven Series
I received an email yesterday afternoon from my colleague Patrick Sullivan. The subject read: "Paging Mr. Lederer..." The body of the email had a link to a blog entry by T.R. Sullivan, the Texas Rangers beat writer for MLB.com. (Editor's note: the Sullivans are not related.)
After wringing my hands, I wrote back to Sully and said, "I'll tackle that one tonight for tomorrow. I can give T.R. Bert Blyleven's qualifications in one sentence."
However, before I do that for the umpteenth time, I believe it would be useful to provide excerpts from T.R.'s article. He has been covering the Rangers since 1989, first as a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for MLB.com since January 2006.
The Hall of Fame ballot is supposed to be in the mail. I haven't received it yet but should shortly. Not sure on who I will vote for but no doubt others have their opinion.
Really, you don't know for sure until you have the ballot in hand with pen at the ready and www.baseball-reference.com in front of you. Until then, you can only consider it in your mind. But it's not until you have the actual ability to check off somebody's name do you really know who you will vote for.
1. I prefer - but don't demand - to see ten "Hall of Fame" years. That being ten seasons that were truly excellent years.
2. I prefer that a player's Hall of Fame credentials be spelled out in three sentences or less. Guys who need a full page to have their credentials explained lose me.
3. I like 20-win seasons and Cy Young Awards. I prefer guys who win games.
4. I like Gold Gloves. I know the Gold Glove Award can be suspect at times but I like players who were outstanding on both offense and defense.
5. I like the No. 100. As in 100 runs scored and/or 100 RBI. Look, you have to have some kind of cutoff point. 90 is good too. So is 18 wins. But I like 20 wins and the No. 100.
By the way: Ron Santo should be in the Hall of Fame and anybody who disagrees is dead wrong.
That said...here is the roll call and my initial feeling. None of these are final!! I can be persuaded otherwise.
Sullivan discusses Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Jim Rice, and then . . . Bert Blyleven.
Bert Blyleven - I spend more time on him each year than any other player. Far more. Far, far, far more. I still don't see it and I really agonize over this. I see one 20-win season. I see no Cy Young Awards and just two All-Star appearances. Two? I see just four seasons where he was at least five games above .500. I don't buy the "bad teams" argument. Between 1977-80, his teams averaged 90 wins a season. Over that same period, he averaged 12 wins per season. He won 12 games for the Pirates in 1979 when they won 98 and the World Series.
Somebody explain to me what I'm missing?????
Well, T.R., here is what you are missing . . . And I'll follow the rule as set forth in No. 2 above. But I'll even make it simpler. Rather than using THREE sentences, I will reduce Blyleven's credentials to ONE.
*** Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 19th in wins. ***
That should do it, don't ya think?
Blyleven is 5th in career strikeouts. Every pitcher in the top 17 who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has already been enshrined in Cooperstown except Blyleven. The only four pitchers who have struck out more batters than Bert are Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Steve Carlton. The nine pitchers immediately behind Blyleven are Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez. That's keeping pretty good company, no?
Blyleven is 9th in career shutouts overall and 8th since 1900. The only pitchers with more white washes are Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Eddie Plank, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Hall of Famers all. In fact, one could make the case that these eight pitchers are inner circle Hall of Famers. The 13 pitchers immediately behind Blyleven are Don Sutton, Pud Galvin, Ed Walsh, Bob Gibson, Mordecai Brown, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Vic Willis, Don Drysdale, and Fergie Jenkins. Once again, each and every one of these pitchers is a member of the Hall of Fame. In fact, every pitcher who has 50 or more shutouts is in the HOF except Blyleven. And he has SIXTY!
Blyleven is 27th in career wins and 19th since 1900. Every pitcher above Blyleven who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been inducted into Cooperstown except Bobby Mathews, a 19th-century hurler with 297 wins, and Tommy John, who accumulated one more victory than Bert. Immediately behind Blyleven are Hall of Famers such as Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Red Ruffing, Burleigh Grimes, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, and Eppa Rixey. There are dozens of others behind this group who are also in the HOF, including such notables as Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax, as well as Catfish Hunter, a Blyleven contemporary who won 63 fewer games and trailed in shutouts by 18 and strikeouts by 1,689. Blyleven didn't just trounce Hunter in counting stats but he also trumped him in arguably the most important rate stat for pitchers. Hunter's adjusted ERA (ERA+) was 104 (or 4% better than the league average). By comparison, Blyleven's ERA+ was 118 (or 18% better than the league average).
Sullivan adds a final word . . .
My ballot is subject to change every year. I go over every player on the ballot and examine his record on www.baseball-reference.com every year. Blyleven especially. There may be a year when I vote for a player and then not vote for him the next year. There are a number of players who I go back and forth on. That's just the way it is.
Yes, www.baseball-reference.com is the final word.
You gotta give T.R. credit. He wants to be objective. I mean, if "www.baseball-reference.com is the final word," then Sullivan is a numbers guy. I like that. At least we can argue about facts rather than opinions.
I couldn't be more confident that the following screen shots taken directly from Sullivan's "final word" will do the trick when it comes to convincing him (and, hopefully, other voters) that Blyleven deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
+ Indicates Hall of Famer. Bold indicates active player. * Throws left-handed.
As shown, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts. Check out the pitchers directly above and below him.
As detailed, Blyleven is 9th in career shutouts overall and 8th since 1900. Once again, check out the pitchers ranked immediately above or below him. Not too shabby, huh?
If not for 19th-century pitchers Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Kid Nichols, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Charley Radbourn, Mickey Welch, and Bobby Mathews, Blyleven would rank 19th in career wins (rather than 27th).
Let me close by repeating the simple and straightforward case as to why Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame:
*** Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 19th in wins. ***
Baseball's Bear Market? Why 'Caution' is the Keyword This Winter
Free agents are just waiting for that first shoe to drop. Once one mega-contract is signed, others will surely follow. Or at least, that's the optimistic tone agents are trying to set, amidst all sorts of negative indicators.
The New York Times ran a piece last week that noted how slowly the free agent market was moving, relative to the past five offseasons. The obvious assumption is that the economy is forcing teams to be more cautious, and that the players could be in for a rough winter.
I touched on this a bit on Squawking Baseball on Monday. The Times' data, in itself, isn't overly convincing; the sample sizes are too small to have any real meaning, and these types of dead periods happen at some point in every offseason. But with that said, this is the behavior we would expect in this type of economic atmosphere.
To see how this dynamic plays out, it's important to consider how teams value players to begin with. If you remember back to Econ 101, companies will hire employees up until the point when marginal revenue equals marginal cost. So if the A's project that Rafael Furcal will bring them $15 million in additional revenue next season, they should be willing to pay him up to $15 million. This number is his marginal revenue product (MRP).
Sounds simple enough, but a player's MRP is tied to many different factors. The most obvious, of course, is the player's production. In our hypothetical, the A's could project that Furcal is worth five additional wins, and each of those wins is worth $3 million, making his MRP $15 million.
But what if the A's, worried about the economic climate, decided to do a whole new set of revenue forecasts for 2009, and found that ticket sales were likely to take a huge hit? Or that demand for playoff tickets (should the team get that far) would be much lighter than normal, resulting in lower prices? All of a sudden, the rewards of winning 5 more games and possibly reaching the playoffs are much smaller. This, in turn, means that Furcal's marginal value to the team is much less, so his MRP (or the salary the team would have been willing to pay him) goes down as well.
It's unlikely that MLB, as a whole, will see a decline in revenue next year (I've actually been very bullish on this front). But there is obviously a tremendous amount of uncertainty, which generally (and rightfully) should lead individual teams to set very conservative revenue projections, and therefore very conservative budgets.
Bud Selig has gone out of his way to make sure the owners and general managers realize all of this. During the last recession, which began in 2001, baseball revenues stagnated. The teams, used to double-digit growth, kept adding on expenses accordingly. The result was almost disastrous, with the Devil Rays and Tigers reportedly almost missing payroll.
Scott Boras has a different take, of course, citing teams' record profits and large cash positions. "I always look at baseball revenues, and in the last seven years they have gone from $3 billion to $6.5 billion," he said. "If baseball revenues drop off, that's something we'll look at, but if there is a drop-off, it is not going to be dramatic."
He continues, ""You can't say just because one sector is bad, all others are as well. Baseball is doing very, very well."
In a lot of ways, he's right. But it's also his job to be optimistic, and he's not taking into account the most fundamental aspect of the market: budgets are set based on next year's projections, not last year's performance. And there will be a tremendous amount of uncertainty, if not overt negativity, priced into teams' budgets.
That uncertainty lies in several areas of each team's operations. Taking a closer look, we can break it down by the major sources of revenue. Depending on the team's market, competitiveness, and brand loyalty, certain factors will be more pressing than others (i.e. the Pirates should be very concerned about almost all of them, while the Yankees just need to sell their last luxury suite):
1) Season ticket sales. This should be a pretty tough market for season tickets, relative to years past. The financial crisis hit in mid-September, and the economic news isn't likely to get better before Opening Day. That means teams will be facing constant headwinds, as consumers will be less likely to spend on expensive, discretionary goods such as season ticket packages. Teams will probably have to rely more on corporations, which will be much harder in certain places than others (think Detroit).
2) Individual game tickets / gameday-related sales (concessions, parking, etc.). These are linked, obviously, since the more tickets a team sells, the more concessions they will sell, as well. Teams often have a tipping point during the season, where fans either come in droves because the team is competitive, or stay away because the team is out of the race. In a good economy, a bad team may still be able to draw fans in August and September, since consumers have cash to spend. But in this current atmosphere, bad teams could set multi-year lows in attendance.
3) Luxury suite sales. Most of these should be sold by now. For those still left, it will no doubt be a tough atmosphere. But the supply is so small, teams should still be able to sell out, even if they have to lower prices a bit. This won't be a tremendous hit for a team's overall revenue intake.
4) Corporate sponsorships. Corporate sales vary tremendously, team to team. Some may have most of their inventory locked up in long term deals. Others may have several partners up for renewal, which isn't the best situation to be in right now (especially if one of those partners is General Motors). For those that have inventory available, most new deals are closed between January and Opening Day. There may have to be discounts in order, but, much like with luxury suites, most teams shouldn't see a huge year-over-year decline.
5) National media contracts. These are fixed for next season.
6) Local media contracts. Like the national media contracts, most (if not all) teams are already set with their local media contracts. Teams that own their RSN, or sell their own radio advertising, may see some declines. But cable, especially, is a pretty good place to be right now, since the networks are paid subscriber fees by the operators.
7) Merchandise. This is squarely in the consumer realm, so that's not good. If there's any way to efficiently boost merchandise sales in 2009, it's to do it virally through MLB.com. I've often advocated taking down MLB.com's pay-walls, opening up the video vault that sits in downtown Manhattan, and building an incredible online content collection. This would make MLB.com an even better destination site than it is today, and in the process create tons of new advertising inventory that MLB could either sell, or use to push its own products.
8) Revenue sharing. Imagine trying to set a budget for next year, when much of your income relies on the performance of others. For a big market team, this means possibly writing a larger check, even in the face of declining revenues. For a small market team, it means having no control over a huge chunk of earnings. Of all the unknowns going into 2009, this may be the biggest one.
Given all that, it's no wonder general managers are being cautious. In the past, when they could count on year-over-year growth, long-term contracts weren't quite as risky. Derek Lowe's four-year, $36 million deal seemed terribly expensive in January of '05. But after four years of massive industry-wide expansion, it looks downright cheap. (Don't think Paul DePodesta thought about that back then?)
On the flipside, long-term contracts that were signed in the late '90s and early '00s were considered albatrosses by 2003. When Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, few could have imagined that he would even consider opting out (let alone get an even bigger deal) just four years later.
In good times, multi-year deals are calculated risks. In bad times, they're fireable offenses. No GM wants to be stuck with bad contracts and a shrinking budget.
So what are the likely results? The teams with some breathing room, like the Yankees and Red Sox, will keep taking calculated risks. The top tier of players (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira) should get very nice deals. But the great majority of the small- and mid-market teams will be extremely conservative, and that will bring down overall demand (and salaries) for the rest of the players on the market.
In particular, look for long-term deals to be shorter than most people are expecting. No GM wants to be collared with bad contracts in this environment, and the smart ones (of which there are more now than ever before) will be extremely careful.
In all, not such a rosy outlook. But it's really more of a call for conservatism by Selig (and Paul Volcker, apparently), reminding teams of the legitimate pain many of them went through during the previous downturn. Given the magnitude of this recession compared to the last one, expect the teams to heed the advice.
Shawn Hoffman writes about business and baseball at Squawking Baseball. In real life, he is a principal in web startup Veritocracy.
A Note on the Champs
If I were an owner of a Major League Baseball team, I would want my Baseball Operations staff to draft well and then to develop those players so that they could become Major League assets quickly. I would want them to keep tabs on every professional baseball player, within and outside the organization, so that they could be prepared for any acquisition opportunity that might arise. I would want them to have conviction about which players are worth taking risks on, and which to avoid. I would want them to understand every last nuance of the MLB transaction system in order to position the club to strike deals that others are not even considering. Finally, I would want them to understand team composition; how a team comprised of players with complementary skills can often make that club greater than the sum of its parts.
Put all of these characteristics together and I think you can start to get an appreciation of how the 2008 World Champion Phillies came to be. Of any championship team in recent memory, they had the best homegrown core of talent. They were opportunistic and aggressive (if not always successful) on the trade and free agent markets. They plucked a dandy in the Rule 5 draft. And with the incredible core of talent that came up through the Phillies system in place, they rounded out the roster beautifully on the margins.
Pat Gillick deserves a whole lot of credit and so too does Ed Wade. Say what you will about the man - I certainly would not pick him to lead my franchise - but Wade was in charge when this team started to come of age. That's worth something. The two holdovers from Wade and Gillick's respective tenures, Mike Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro, Jr., might deserve the most credit of all. However you want to divvy up kudos, the architects of the last ten years made the Phillies of 2008 a veritable case study in Major League Baseball talent management and acquisition.
Arbuckle's departure might really hurt. He was responsible for scouting and drafting much of the Phillies' core. How much of the core? Well how about Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels? Indeed their four best position players and their best pitcher.
Player Pos NL Position Vorp Rank
Burrell LF 5
Rollins SS 3
Utley 2B 1
Howard 1B 6
As far as the pitchers go, you don't need me to spell out the World Series MVP's excellence. Hamels has emerged as a star. Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and Carlos Ruiz were all key contributors and Arbuckle draftees. There was a lot more that went into this roster, however.
How about Shane Victorino? Check out The Good Phight for a trip down memory lane on how the Phillies snagged him in the December 2004 Rule 5 Draft (and then subsequently mishandled Victorino during the 2005 campaign).
To further drive home Ed Wade's deficiencies with Victorino, Wade's handling of Victorino may have, among other things, cost the Phillies the playoffs in 2005. Remember, in 2005, the Phillies missed the playoffs by one game (one horrible horrible game). While Wade let Charlie Manuel give 107 at-bats in 2005 to inning-Endy Chavez and his .215/.243/.299 line, Victorino came into his own in Scranton, showing speed (17 stolen bases), power (18 home runs, .534 slugging), patience (51 walks, .377 on-base percentage), and defense (14 outfield assists), all the attributes he's showing now for the big-league club. Maybe the season would have gone differently if Chavez, along with his late-inning pinch-hit failings, had been replaced mid-season by Victorino.
Of course Victorino would not have had the chance to emerge as an everyday championship-caliber contributor had Pat Gillick not been disciplined enough to let Aaron Rowand walk after the 2007 season. The Philly fans loved Rowand, he played a terrific center field and in 2007, notched the highest slugging percentage of any Phillies center fielder in over 80 seasons. Problem was, he was 30 years old and in a position to command a long-term deal. Moreover, with the big club as stacked as it was with homegrown talent, understandably, Philadelphia's farm system had thinned. So Gillick offered Rowand arbitration and when he signed with the San Francisco Giants, the Phillies received two compensation picks, #34 and #51 in the 2008 draft, that they used on a pair of promising California high schoolers. Gillick simultaneously addressed the present and the future.
His plan was to let Victorino take over center and cover for some of Rowand's lost output by getting creative in right field. He signed what seemed to be the perfect platoon. Jayson Werth had a history of pounding southpaws, just as Geoff Jenkins had always tuned up right handers. Jenkins flopped in 2008, but Werth stepped up in a big way, posting a .273/.363/.498 line. The only other position left to address was the third base vacancy filled by Abraham Nunez's (merciful) departure. Gillick was panned by some saber-inclined fans for signing Pedro Feliz, who is just an awful on-base man. He is not, however, without attributes. He's a terrific fielder and Gillick knew that just about anyone would be an offensive upgrade over Nunez. Even Feliz. Philadelphia's offense suffered on a year-over-year basis, but that had as much to do with regression from Ruiz, Howard, Utley and Rollins as it did with Rowand's departure. Besides, Gillick's run prevention unit would more than make up for their offensive drop-off.
Philadelphia's starting pitching was just average in 2008. Hamels emerged as a stud and somehow Jamie Moyer turned in another productive campaign. Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton struggled, and Myers did not regain his form until the end of the season. Given their home ballpark and Joe Blanton's fly ball tendencies, it was hard to see how that would work out. But somehow the mid-season trade worked out just fine for "Stand" Pat. Blanton was more or less an average innings eater as a Philadelphia starter, which was more than they could say they were getting out of 60% of their rotation before he arrived from Oakland.
No matter how you cut it, the real story of the 2008 Phillies was their bullpen. Their team 3.19 ERA out of the pen was nothing short of remarkable (88% of their relief innings were tossed at a 2.83 ERA clip), particularly when you consider where they play their home games. Take a look at their bullpen ERA numbers since they moved into Citizens Bank Park.
Gillick went about assembling his pen the right way; humbly and with plenty of margin for error. He stockpiled arms every which way you could think to amass talent. He netted the big fish, Brad Lidge, in a deal with the Houston Astros. He told Madson (another Arbuckle draftee) he was his set up guy. He signed J.C. Romero in June of 2007. Why not? The shrewd Boston Red Sox saw fit to ink him to a deal in December of 2006, how awful could he be just six months later? Gillick also collected journeyman arms like Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and Rudy Seanez while also showing faith in youngster J.A. Happ. It was an approach that other teams could learn from. You don't really know what you are going to get in 50-90 innings from any one pitcher, so you had better cover your ass out there. The stars aligned for Philly in 2008 with regard to their bullpen, but it was also the result of Gillick's clever work assembling the pieces.
Amaro has an excellent team returning in 2009. Although he has stated that he would like to return, it is likely that Burrell will move on to greener pastures. Aside from also replacing Moyer's rotation spot, this is Amaro's only major personnel choice facing him this off-season. It is conceivable that he could hope for a bounce back campaign from Jenkins but given his injury propensity and that Matt Stairs is currently the team's fourth outfielder, adding to the outfield will in all likelihood be a priority either way. The outfield free agent class is deep this off-season, so Amaro will have plenty of options.
The major decision looming for Amaro concerns his first baseman. Ryan Howard has two more years of arbitration eligibility but given his reward last season, Philly can more or less count on paying him at least $25 million over then next two years. That's just fine, and the Phillies should not blink at such a number but there are other factors. One, there is a media infatuation with Howard's HR/RBI (et tu, Bos?) numbers and it trickles down to the fan base. They want Howard locked up. Two, there is the possibility that Howard becomes disgruntled or even a distraction without a long-term deal in place.
Amaro should not be swayed. With two cost-controlled years remaining, Howard's value will never be higher on the open market. Amaro should listen to offers. At worst, the right package is never presented, Philadelphia retains his services for two years and Amaro has more data on which to base his decision of whether or not to give Howard that long-term, big money deal. There really is not any upside to offering a longer-term contract at this point. Remember, Miguel Cabrera was just given $153 million guaranteed, Manny Ramirez is requesting $25 million per and A-Rod signed on for a $275 million deal last season. By contrast, the Phillies have managed to lock up their stars at more manageable figures. Utley, Rollins and Lidge in particular all play for reasonable money given their respective productivity levels. That's the Phillies way and Amaro should work to keep it as such. Howard's output declined precipitously in 2008 so Amaro should not feel any urgency on this matter. He should keep in mind the Rowand case. Sometimes it's ok when your stars walk.
The Phillies future continues to look bright. Their short-term farm system prospects may not look so hot but stability on the Major League roster should render this issue more or less moot. Longer term, with seven of the first 136 picks in last June's draft, it is likely that their system will once again begin to round into form. With Arbuckle gone, however, Amaro will have to pay particularly close attention to ensure that his player development staff continues its exemplary work. Amaro has the luxury of taking over a fantastic organization. He also has the burden of having to go nowhere but down.
It will be fun to keep an eye on how he goes about managing his roster in the coming years.
Thanks to Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors, we are able to present the list of players who were and weren't offered salary arbitration by their 2008 teams. In all, 24 players have until Sunday at midnight to accept or reject the offer of arbitration. This total compares to 17 last year.
There are 15 Type A and nine Type B players. Type A free agents are among the top 20 percent of players at their position, as defined by the formula created in the 1981 strike settlement. Type Bs are from 21-40 percent. Teams receive two extra draft picks in the First-Year Player Draft next June if they lose a Type A player (a first or second round spot from the team that signed him and a "sandwich" pick after the first round conferred by MLB) and a sandwich pick if they lose a Type B. The first 15 selections are protected, which means the compensation becomes a supplemental pick and the second-round choice that belonged to the other team. Clubs do not receive any compensation for losing unranked players.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, teams retain the right to negotiate and enter into a contract agreement with any of their free agents, regardless of whether arbitration was offered. There are no longer any deadlines for such negotiations.
Salaries can be cut by a maximum of 20% in arbitration. Many cases will not be heard until February, which limits the flexibility of teams when it comes to making other deals this winter. Furthermore, clubs do not want to be put in the position of having salaries determined by a third party, especially in a recessionary economic environment.
The "middle class" of free agents are looking at a buyer's market whereby procuring multi-year deals will prove to be more difficult than normal. The surprise may be that a few big-name players accept arbitration rather than face the uncertainty of free agency.
Look for the action to pick up at the winter meetings, which open next Monday in Las Vegas. In the meantime, only three of the 171 players who filed for free agency last month have agreed to contracts. Ryan Dempster agreed to a new four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs. Jeremy Affeldt left the Reds and inked a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants. Mike Hampton reached a preliminary agreement on a one-year, $2 million contract (plus $2M in performance bonuses) with the Astros.
Offered: Juan Cruz (Type A), Orlando Hudson (Type A) and Brandon Lyon (Type B)
Declined: Adam Dunn (Type A) and Randy Johnson (Type B)
Comments: The Dunn trade no longer looks favorable for the D-Backs. Losing Dallas Buck, Wilkin Castillo and Micah Owings for two months of Dunn seems silly in the face of not re-signing or offering arbitration to the slugger who has hit 40 or more homers and walked at least 100 times in each of the past five seasons.
Not Offered: John Smoltz (Type B)
Comments: The Braves didn't offer arbitration to Tom Glavine either. However, it would not be a surprise if Atlanta re-signed Smoltz should the veteran righthander be willing to take a meaningful pay cut from the $12M he made last year.
Not Offered: None
Boston Red Sox
Offered: Paul Byrd (Type B) and Jason Varitek (Type A)
Not Offered: None
Comments: The Red Sox really can't lose with Varitek. Either he agrees to arbitration and comes back for one year (which is the max Boston cares to go at this point in his career) or the Sox pick up a couple draft picks.
Not Offered: Bob Howry (Type A) and Kerry Wood (Type A)
Comments: Wood just became more attractive to other teams now that they won't have to give up a first-round draft pick.
Chicago White Sox
Offered: Orlando Cabrera (Type A)
Not Offered: Ken Griffey Jr. (Type B) and Juan Uribe (Type B)
Comments: If Cabrera accepts, he could be the bridge to Gordon Beckham, who isn't expected to arrive on the scene until 2010. Otherwise, look for Alexei Ramirez to move from second base to shortstop to fill the hole created by Cabrera's departure.
Offered: David Weathers (Type B)
Not Offered: None
Comments: A low-risk move on the part of the Reds. Weathers made $2.75M last year. The 39-year old is unlikely to get more than $3M in 2009 unless the arbitrator focuses on his 3.25 ERA rather than the fact that he gave up more hits than innings pitched and had just a 2:1 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio (1.5:1 including IBB).
Not Offered: None
Offered: Brian Fuentes (Type A)
Not Offered: None
Comments: Fuentes lost his arbitration case last year and is likely to take advantage of his free agency to seek the riches of a long-term deal with another club.
Not Offered: Edgar Renteria (Type A)
Comments: Detroit declined its $11M 2009 club option in October on the heels of the 33-year-old shortstop's disappointing season when he hit just .270/.317/.382 and was no better than mediocre in the field. Look for Renteria to sign a two-year deal with a National League team, possibly the Giants.
Not Offered: Paul Lo Duca, Luis Gonzalez and Arthur Rhodes (all Type Bs)
Comments: No real surprises here. Rhodes will hook up with another team as a LOOGY (35.1 IP in 61 games in 2008).
Not Offered: Doug Brocail (Type A), Mark Loretta (Type B) and Randy Wolf (Type B)
Comments: Houston declined its $3.25M 2009 option on the 41-year-old Brocail on October 1. He can eat up some innings in the bullpen for another club now that he won't cost a first-round draft pick. The decision not to offer Wolf arbitration is a bit puzzling.
Kansas City Royals
Offered: Mark Grudzielanek (Type B)
Comments: Grudzielanek made $4.5 million last season. He may not match that figure as a free agent but apparently the 38-year-old second baseman wants to play for a contender.
Los Angeles Angels
Offered: Jon Garland (Type B), Darren Oliver (Type A), Francisco Rodriguez (Type A) and Mark Teixeira (Type A)
Not Offered: Garret Anderson (Type B)
Comments: There is no chance that Teixeira or Rodriguez accept arbitration. On the other hand, the Angels will get a boatload of draft picks should Tex and K-Rod move on. Hard to believe that Oliver is a Type A free agent. That designation will limit interest from other clubs. Look for him and Garland (who would be assured of getting at least $9.6M if he returned) to take the Angels up on their arbitration offers. Anderson has already hired Scott Boras and apparently is looking for a multi-year deal. Good luck, GA.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Offered: Casey Blake (Type B), Derek Lowe (Type A) and Manny Ramirez (Type A)
Not Offered: Joe Beimel, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, and Brad Penny (all Type Bs)
Comments: The Dodgers also failed to offer arbitration to Rafael Furcal, who is neither a Type A or B free agent owing to missed playing time from injuries the past two seasons.
Offered: C.C. Sabathia (Type A), Ben Sheets (Type A) and Brian Shouse (Type B)
Not Offered: Eric Gagne (Type B)
Comments: Don't be surprised if Sheets accepts. Sure, he wants a long-term deal but the market may not be there given the combination of his questionable health and the slumping economy.
Offered: Dennys Reyes (Type B)
Not Offered: None
Comments: Reyes only made a million dollars in each of the past two seasons. He will either double his salary in arbitration (which poses little risk to the Twins) or take this opportunity to ink a two-year deal with another club.
New York Mets
Offered: Oliver Perez (Type A)
Not Offered: Moises Alou (Type B) and Luis Ayala (Type B)
Comments: The Mets chose not to offer arbitration to Pedro Martinez. It will be interesting to see not only where he ends up but what kind of a deal he will sign.
New York Yankees
Not Offered: Bobby Abreu (Type A), Mike Mussina (Type A), Andy Pettitte (Type A) and Ivan Rodriguez (Type B)
Comments: Brian Cashman claims to have interest in negotiating with Abreu and Pettitte if either is willing to sign for considerably less than the $16 million they made last year. Mussina announced his retirement last month. It's unlikely that he will pull a Roger Clemens and sign with another team.
Not Offered: Alan Embree (Type B) and Frank Thomas (Type B)
Comments: This could be the end of the line for the Big Hurt, who should but may not wind up in the Hall of Fame five years after his retirement.
Not Offered: Pat Burrell (Type A), Jamie Moyer (Type A) and Rudy Seanez (Type B)
Comments: Not as surprised about Burrell as others. He earned $14M last year and may have been awarded an even larger salary in arbitration. The Phillies are still hopeful of re-signing Moyer, who made $8.5 million in 2008.
Not Offered: None
San Diego Padres
Not Offered: Trevor Hoffman (Type A)
Comments: The Padres and Hoffman part ways after 16 seasons. The two sides are no longer a good fit. It's just too bad things ended the way they did.
San Francisco Giants
Not Offered: None
Offered: Raul Ibanez (Type A)
Not Offered: None
Comments: Ibanez has been one of the most underrated and underpaid players in baseball. He signed a two-year extension in March 2006 and earned just $5.5M in each of the past two seasons. The 36-year old outfielder is unlikely to accept arbitration but could re-sign with the Mariners if he is granted a two- or three-year deal at a much higher average annual salary.
St. Louis Cardinals
Not Offered: Jason Isringhausen (Type B), Braden Looper (Type B) and Russ Springer (Type A)
Comments: Looper was a relatively cheap signing (3 years/$13.5M) when he signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in December 2005. He is line to make a lot more than the $5.5M he earned last season and was too big of a risk to take in an arbitration setting.
Tampa Bay Rays
Not Offered: None
Offered: Milton Bradley (Type B)
Not Offered: None
Comments: Bradley, who led the AL in OBP and OPS, is unlikely to accept arbitration. He signed a one-year, $5M contract last year and is reportedly seeking a four-year deal for an average annual salary of at least $10M.
Toronto Blue Jays
Offered: A.J. Burnett (Type A)
Not Offered: Gregg Zaun (Type B)
Comments: Burnett opted out of the final two seasons of his five-year contract, forgoing the $24 million owed him to test the free-agent market once again. The Blue Jays would like to keep him but are in competition for his services with several other clubs, including the Red Sox and the Yankees.
* * *
Not Offered: None
GM for a day question: Which decisions do you disagree with and why?
The 2008 Rule 5 Draft: The Hitters
It is almost here. The 2008 Rule 5 Draft is 10 days away. Last week, we took a look at some of the pitchers that could be scooped up during the draft, as organizations look for cheap, talented options that will hopefully stick on the big league roster for the entire 2009 season. As always, if you need a refresher on the rules and history of the Rule 5 Draft, click here.
James Skelton | Detroit
Born: October 1985
2008 Level: High-A/Double-A
One of the more quizzical omissions from the 40-man rosters, James Skelton creates flashes of Jesus Flores, whom the Washington Nationals stole from the New York Mets with the sixth overall pick of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. Flores is now producing just as well for the Nationals as the Mets' big league catchers, and at a much lower cost. The Tigers organization is seriously lacking in prospects and the 40-man roster had room for Skelton. He was originally selected by the Tigers in the 14th round of the 2004 draft out of a California high school. Skelton has hit more than .300 in each of the past three seasons - a rarity for catchers. This past season, he hit .307/.467/.406 in 212 High-A at-bats and moved up to Double-A and posted a line of .294/.423/.388 in 85 at-bats. There are concerns about Skelton's defence. His is just 5'11'' and 165 lbs - small for a catcher. His arm also lacks strength, but he threw out 43% of base stealers in 2007, and 19 of 54 (35%) at High-A in 2008, followed by nine of 19 (47%) at Double-A. It will be shocking if no one takes a flyer on the left-handed hitting catcher with an excellent eye at the plate and the ability to hit for a high average. The list of clubs that could use catching depth include Toronto, San Diego, Cincinnati, Houston, Chicago (NL), Washington, Florida, Balitmore, Chicago AL, Tampa Bay and Boston.
Francisco Hernandez | Chicago (AL)
Born: February 1986
2008 Level: High-A
The list of available catchers is not overly deep and Francisco Hernandez sticks out as an interesting option. His bat regressed in 2008 - .245/.333/.382 with a .137 ISO in 241 at-bats - but he was the 21st best prospect in the organization prior to 2008, according to Baseball America. His rates were respectable at 11.7 BB% and 13.7 K%. Hernandez has an excellent arm and threw out 37 of 86 (43%) base stealers in 2008 and is at least average in all other defensive facets. If selected, he won't hit much but he should be at least average defensively as a back-up catcher.
The Corner Infielders
Jordan Brown | Cleveland
Position: First Base
Born: December 1983
2008 Level: Triple-A
Jordan Brown has something a lot of Rule 5 prospects don't: A MLB-ready bat (and he swings from the left side too). The first baseman, though, does not have much power. Brown would be an excellent option for a National League team looking for a pinch hitter. In 2008 at Triple-A, he hit .281/.336/.417 with an ISO of .136 in 420 at-bats. The former fourth-round draft pick is a career .300 hitter and traditionally walks almost as much as he strikes out, although his rates dipped in 2008 to 7.7 BB% and 16.0 K%. He would be a cheaper and possibly more effective option for a club looking at a free agent like Mark Sweeney, who has made a career out of coming off the bench.
Jesus Guzman | San Francisco
Position: Third Base
Born: June 1984
2008 Level: Double-A/Triple-A
Jesus Guzman was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners and then signed as a minor league free agent prior to the 2007 season by the Oakland Athletics. He became a free agent once again after the 2008 season and recently signed with the San Francisco Giants but was not placed on the 40-man roster, which makes him eligible for the draft. A number of teams expressed interest in him as a minor league free agent (including the A's) so one of those clubs that missed out in the bidding process could nab him on Dec. 11. This past season, Guzman hit .364/.420/.560 with a .196 ISO in Double-A. He was then promoted to Triple-A but struggled a bit and hit just .237/.286/.373 in 59 at-bats. The switch hitter also slugged 25 home runs and drove in 102 runs for Seattle's High-A club in 2007. Guzman has the ability to play third base, second base and the corner outfield, which could make him a valuable utility player for a Major League club.
Erik Lis | Minnesota
Position: First Base/Left Field
Born: March 1984
2008 Level: Double-A
Traditionally, first basemen are not overly popular in the Rule 5 draft, but Erik Lis might be of interest to a Major League club. He hit .277/.322/.462 with a .185 ISO in 405 Double-A at-bats in 2008. The former ninth round draft pick has seen his power output improve each season and he has above-average bat speed. Lis is not overly athletic and is a one-dimensional player with all his value wrapped up in his left-handed bat. He can play both first base and left field, which adds to his attractiveness as a pinch hitter and left fielder.
Adam Loewen | Toronto
Position: First Base/Left Field
Born: April 1984
2008 Level: Hawaii Winter Baseball
A club in search of the next Rick Ankiel or Brian Bogusevic may look to former Orioles hurler Adam Loewen, who recently signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a talented two-way player in high school and injuries ruined his pitching career. A number of teams (including Seattle) were interested in signing Loewen as a free agent hitter, but Toronto won out as the left-handed hitter is a native Canadian. In his first taste of professional hitting, Loewen hit .207/.368/.207 in 29 at-bats during the Hawaii Winter Baseball league this fall. He is definitely raw as a hitter but has a ton of power from the left side.
The Middle Infielders
Daniel Mayora | Colorado
Position: Second Base/Shortstop
Born: July 1985
2008 Level: High-A
Daniel Mayora's exclusion from the Rockies 40-man roster is more a testament to the organization's enviable middle infield depth than a comment on the infielder's ability or promise. As it was, the Rockies added three middle infielders to the roster this fall in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft: Chris Nelson, Eric Young Jr., and Hector Gomez, joining four other middle infielders already on the roster. Mayora lacks the athleticism of some of the other prospects but he hit .288/.347/.422 with an ISO of .134 in 486 High-A at-bats. He stolen just eight bases in 2008, but nabbed 26 the previous season. Mayora is solid defensively at both second base and shortstop.
Corey Wimberly | Colorado
Position: Utility Infielder/Outfielder
Born: October 1983
2008 Level: Double-A
Corey Wimberly, like Mayora above, was caught in the Big Roster Crunch of 2008. He has done nothing but hit and run in professional baseball after being selected in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He began his pro career by hitting .381 and compiling 107 hits in 67 games. In 2008, the speedster hit .291/.359/.345 with 59 stolen bases in 388 Double-A at-bats. He has no power (.054 ISO in 2008) but he can steal a base in his sleep and can play all over the diamond. Wimberly should definitely garner interest in the draft, although it would help if he walked a little more often (9.6 BB% in 2008).
Will Rhymes | Detroit
Position: Second Base
Born: April 1984
2008 Level: Double-A
Like Skelton, Will Rhymes' 40-man roster omission is a little surprising. At Double-A, he hit .306/.361/.391 in 516 at-bats. He has limited power (.085 ISO) but he has the potential to steal 15-20 bases. Rhymes also has respectable rates (although he could stand to walk a bit more) and does not strike out much: 7.9 BB% and 12.8 K%. He is average defensively at second base and his value is hurt by his lack of versatility. He held his own in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .287/.322/.324 in 108 at-bats, but managed just two extra base hits.
Jamie Romak | Pittsburgh
Born: September 1985
2008 Level: High-A/Double-A
The Rule 5 Draft's outfield depth is lacking, but Jamie Romak is an interesting name. The former Braves prospect was traded to Pittsburgh during the 2007 Adam LaRoche deal and was rated by Baseball America as the Pirates' seventh best prospect entering into 2008. He offers massive power potential but a low batting average. He is still very raw, but the Canadian has intriguing upside. In 2008, he hit .279/.351/.552 with 25 doubles and 18 homers (.272 ISO) in 290 High-A at-bats. Upon a promotion to Double-A, he hit .208/.307/.433 (.225 ISO) in 120 at-bats. He is a huge risk, but if he rebounds in 2009 a club will have a tough timing prying him from Pittsburgh. That said, he struggles with off-speed stuff and could easily become a Quad-A slugger.
Mitch Einertson, Eli Iorg and Jordan Parraz | Houston
Born: April 1986, March 1983, and October 1984
2008 Level: Double-A, Double-A, and High-A
The remainder of the outfield depth for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft is sponsored by the Houston Astros. Mitch Einertson, a former fifth round selection out of high school, caught the baseball world's attention when he made his pro debut and slammed 24 home runs in 63 games. But that was Rookie Ball and also 2004. Since then, Einertson has struggled to live up to those lofty numbers, especially considering he was never looked at as a power hitter while in high school. This past season he hit .262/.309/.427 in 382 Double-A at-bats. He is more of an interesting name, rather than a true threat to be nabbed in the draft.
Eli Iorg comes from a talented baseball family and is loaded with raw athletic ability but has had troubles translating his skills to the baseball diamond. At Double-A in 2008, he hit .268/.303/.407 with an ISO of .139 in 459 at-bats. He also stole 21 bases after nabbing 42 in 2006. Iorg walked just 4.4% of the time in 2008. His numbers were down a bit in 2008 because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery in late 2007.
Jordan Parraz is not quite as athletic as Iorg, but he has a better chance of hitting for average. He has moved slowly through the system and was old for High-A but he hit .289/.382/.419 with 21 stolen bases in 425 at-bats. Parraz also has a cannon for an arm and can hit the mid 90s off the mound.