The New-Look Angels
While I would have preferred a shorter and less expensive contract, anything under ten years and $250 million was not going to seal the deal. As such, the way to think about this signing from an Angels' perspective is to break it into two five-year periods. That's right, 5x30 and 5x20 for an average of 10x25. Sure, 5x25 and 5x15 might be closer to what Pujols is likely to produce in terms of value but an aggregate of $200 million was going to come up short of luring the three-time NL MVP to Orange County.
Pujols turns 32 in January so the Angels just signed him to a 10-year deal with a no trade clause for his age 32-41 year-old seasons. I think he will give the Angels five very good-to-great seasons for a 1B and five average-to-good seasons for a 1B/DH. If one thinks about it as I suggested above, the Angels can easily justify the first five seasons. I mean, wasn't the consensus calling for as much as an 8 x 25-30M deal as recently as last winter? Sure, Albert's numbers fell off a tad this year but he put together an outstanding second half and postseason. In other words, I believe he is basically the same player today as he was perceived a year ago. Pujols may not earn his keep during the second half of the contract unless baseball salaries inflate significantly between now and then. But that's the risk the Angels had to take to acquire the greatest right-handed hitter of the past 80 years, if not ever.
Ironically, after signing Pujols and C.J. Wilson (5/$77.5M), the Angels actually have more flexibility than they did yesterday. Therefore, it says here that Arte Moreno and Jerry DiPoto will pull off at least one more headline signing or trade before spring training. At a minimum, they have freed up Mark Trumbo and possibly Ervin Santana. In addition, the Halos can easily move Peter Bourjos, if need be, plus Bobby Abreu (if they agree to eat at least half of his contract) and either Alberto Callaspo or Maicer Izturis.
Where am I going with this? Well, I wouldn't rule out going after David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman. The Mets are reportedly interested in Bourjos. The Nats have been linked to him, too, and have indicated a desire to shore up center field and first base. Why not a Bourjos and Trumbo deal for Zimmerman? The Mets have Ike Davis and Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta aren't likely to be interested in Trumbo's low OBP. As such, the Angels might have to replace Trumbo with Hank Conger. Either way, I would only give up those packages for Wright or Zimmerman if I could sign them to a longer-term deal first as both are under team control for just two more years. Wright is owed $15M in 2012 with a team option at $16M for 2013 and Zimmerman is due $12M in 2012 and $14M in 2013.
Let's dream for a minute, Angels fans. Assuming the Halos trade Bourjos and either Conger or Trumbo for Wright or Zimmerman, here is a potential lineup for 2012:
While I realize that Mike Scioscia would never start the season with Trout as the lead-off hitter, he can flip Trout and Erick Aybar in April and May until he realizes how much better Trout is. After he makes that change, he can flip Chris Iannetta and Aybar if he's worried about having three RHB in the 6th through 8th slots.
If Kendrys Morales doesn't recover from his leg injury, then the Angels can slide Abreu into the role of DH, hit him first or second in the batting order, slide Howie Kendrick down to sixth or seventh, and not miss much of a beat.
Here is how the starting rotation stacks up:
That would be about as strong as any rotation this side of Philadelphia.
Here is how the bullpen shapes up at this moment in time:
Add Ryan Madson (hey, it's not my money) as the closer and you're looking at a team that would be favored to win the World Series.
You can read more about the Pujols and Wilson signings at Halos Heaven, which has several articles and links to other posts at SB Nation.
Money Isn't Everything
No Boston Red Sox. No New York Yankees. No Philadelphia Phillies. The three highest payrolls in Major League Baseball failed to make the final four. In fact, seven of the top ten teams didn't even make the postseason.
With the Yankees losing the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers yesterday and the Phillies falling short to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS this evening, none of the top nine payrolls are still alive and well.
As shown below, the 10th, 11th, 13th, and 17th highest payroll teams remain in the hunt to win the World Series. Congratulations to all four organizations, as well as the No. 25 Arizona Diamondbacks and No. 29 Tampa Bay Rays.
* The salary information is courtesy of USA Today.
I went to the Angels-White Sox game last night and sat in the first row behind the home team's dugout. If you had your choice of any seats in the stadium, the ones that my friend Glen, brother Tom, and son Joe occupied on Wednesday evening would rank right there with the best of them.
I wore a red Angels shirt to root on Jered Weaver, who was making his first start since signing a five-year, $85 million extension last weekend, and the Halos. As it turned out, Weaver shut down the Pale Hose, tossing seven scoreless innings as the Angels trounced the visitors, 8-0, for the club's sixth consecutive victory. The Angels are now 71-59 and just 2.5 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Manager Mike Scioscia pulled Weaver after the seventh inning even though Jered had only thrown 96 pitches. With the Angels heading to Texas for a three-game series beginning on Friday, the speculation is that Scioscia plans to start his ace on three days' rest this Sunday. If so, the Rangers will face the Angels Big Three in Dan Haren on Friday, Ervin Santana on Saturday, and Jered Weaver on Sunday. Depending on the outcome of tonight's Boston-Texas contest, a sweep would either put the Angels a half-game behind or a half-game ahead of the Rangers with one month to go in the regular season.
Mat Gleason, aka Rev Halofan in the baseball blogosphere, tipped me off to the adjoining photo by Chris Carlson of the Associated Press. He cropped the photo and embedded it in his recap of last night's game. ESPN also ran the photo as part of Mark Saxon's game report.
I can be found with hands cupped around my mouth saying "complete-game shutout" to Weaver as he took his first step into the dugout after the seventh inning. Little did I know that Jered had thrown his final pitch of the evening. The Angels scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning, highlighted by three doubles off the bats of Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, and Bobby Abreu. Bobby Cassevah and Fernando Rodney worked the eighth and ninth innings, combining with Weaver for a team shutout.
Weaver, who started the All-Star Game for the American League, leads the circuit in ERA (2.03); ranks second in CG (4), QS (23), QS% (0.89), and WHIP (0.97); third in W (15) and W-L% (.714); fourth in IP (195.1); and sixth in K (166) and K/BB (3.77). He also places third in BAA (.206) and second in OBP (.252), SLG (.310), and OPS (.562). Among advanced metrics, Weaver ranks first in ERA+ (185), Adjusted Pitching Runs (41), Adjusted Pitching Wins (4.6), Base-Out Runs Saved (46.6), Base-Out Wins Wins Saved (5.5), and Win Probability Added (5.1); and second in FIP (2.80), Component ERA (1.95), fWAR (5.5), brWAR (6.5), Situation Wins Saved (4.4), and Adjusted Game Score (64.6).
The 28-year-old righthander has been consistently excellent all season long. According to Saxon, "(Weaver) has pitched at least seven innings and given up one run or fewer 15 times this season, most in the majors." He set an Angels team record with 15 consecutive quality starts earlier this year, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that Dean Chance led the AL in W, ERA, CG, SHO, and IP in his MLB Cy Young Award-winning season in 1964; Bartolo Colon was named the AL CYA winner in 2005; and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan tossed four no-hitters and led the league in strikeouts in seven of his eight campaigns with the Angels. Weaver also bested, among others, Frank Tanana (14 consecutive complete games in 1977 when he led the league in ERA and shutouts), Chuck Finley, and Mark Langston.
While skeptics may point to Weaver's BABIP (.250), LOB% (83.7%), and HR/FB (4.6%) stats as indications that he has been "lucky" or benefited from strong defense and bullpen support, one could counter such an argument by pointing to the fact that he has been victimized by the second-worst run support (3.96) in the majors. Look, Weaver has been confounding the experts for years. Be it his pitcher-friendly home ballpark in college, his average velocity, throwing across his body, comparisons of looks and pitching style to brother Jeff, and his extreme flyball tendencies, the naysayers have had more than their share of reasons not to like the pitcher who nonetheless has succeeded at every stop along the way, from Long Beach State to Team USA to MiLB to MLB. The combination of his stuff, command, deception, competitiveness, and smarts places him among the elite pitchers in the game today.
As I introduced in May 2010, popups/pop flies/infield flies are "The Most Under Appreciated Batted Ball Type." Such outcomes had long been ignored or misunderstood. Of note, according to Baseball Prospectus, Weaver has generated 86 popups this season, 21 more than any other pitcher. He also ranks first in POP (15.8%) as a percentage of batted balls. Given that popups are converted into outs about 99% of the time, such outcomes are basically the equivalent of a strikeout. As such, in addition to favoring pitchers with high K and GB rates, look for hurlers who generate a ton of K and POP.
A veteran of six seasons, Weaver has a lifetime record of 79-45 with an ERA of 3.27. Over the course of his career, his numbers rank in the ballpark with the best and highest-paid pitchers in baseball, including Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Josh Beckett, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Johan Santana. Like the Angels, it's time to give Weaver his due.
There have been a number of articles and interviews published over the past two weeks about my efforts to help Bert Blyleven get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As much for my personal reference as anything else, I am linking to these stories below in chronological order.
"I think the internet helped me a lot. I feel like a guy like Rich Lederer with baseballanalysts.com brought out my numbers. Probably with Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez winning Cy-Youngs when they didn't have the most wins. Wins are hard to come by. It's hard to win a ballgame. It's easy to lose but it's hard to win."
10. Blyleven and Rich Lederer combined to defy recent trends
Consider Blyleven. I didn't vote for him for several years before finally seeing the light, thanks in large part to blogger Rich Lederer's insightful writings pleading his case. And eventually, 80 percent of writers agreed with Rich and decided Blyleven belonged in Cooperstown. But we nearly ran out of time before coming to that conclusion. We elected Blyleven in his next-to-last year of eligibility, and Jim Rice in his final year.
The thing about Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame case was that there was no precedent for leaving out a pitcher of his caliber. It just took baseball writers a long time to figure this out, thanks in no small part to the efforts of blogger Rich Lederer, who tirelessly campaigned for Blyleven's case (click here for Rich's writings on Blyleven).
From Vin Scully's lips to Rich Lederer's computer to Bert Blyleven's plaque in Cooperstown.
2004 – A California blogger, Rich Lederer, starts making a statistical case for Blyleven’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was named that year on slightly more than one-third of ballots; 75 percent is needed to get into Cooperstown.
What Blyleven didn't know yet was that he had an Angel in his corner. Or a former Angels publicist's son, anyway.
It will be heavily (and emotionally) SoCal when the baseball Hall of Fame inducts its new honorees this weekend. Former Angels pitcher Bert Blyleven goes in, and that means that Los Angeles blogger Rich Lederer will be on hand. His logical and unceasing case over seven years is the reason Blyleven was elected to the hall, and the pitcher invited the blogger to stand beside him in Cooperstown, N.Y. Forget the "Moneyball" movie, these guys could make a great baseball buddy flick — and they only met this year. Lederer's pre-flight post today:
I looked. You looked. Bill James looked. Rich Lederer looked. Rich Lederer really looked. We all saw a pitcher who belonged in the Hall of Fame.
His first year on the ballot, 1998, Blyleven received 17.5 percent of the vote. A player needs 75 percent to get into the Hall of Fame, but Blyleven wasn't too worried; he knew he wasn't a first-ballot player. Then in 1999, he dropped to 14.1 percent.
"The day we've all been waiting for," said Rich Lederer, a Long Beach, Calif., resident who spent years touting Blyleven's credentials on a website, baseballanalysts.com.
“I was just talking to Peter Gammons (of MLB Network),” Blyleven began. “He told me that he didn’t vote for me and then he asked me to do an interview with him.”
No Longer "Only the Lonely"
I wrote my first of more than 30 articles about Bert Blyleven nearly 91 months ago to the day. I titled it “Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven.” Only the Lonely was named after the 1960 song by Roy Orbison and was chosen because Blyleven was conspicuously missing from the Hall of Fame while all the pitchers ranked around him in several of the most important stats had already been inducted or were locks to be enshrined in their first year of eligibility.
Well, eight election cycles later and nobody can call Blyleven “Only the Lonely” any longer. His vote totals steadily rose from 145 (29%) in 2003 to 463 (80%) in 2011, ultimately piercing the 75 percent threshold needed for election last January. While Blyleven was on the ballot far too long, his date with destiny finally arrived last Sunday when he was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. My wife Barbara and I sat in the Blyleven family section during the ceremony as guests of Bert and his wife Gayle.
I can now say for the first time that the past seven-plus years have been worth every minute. I can also proclaim that the preceding seven-plus months have been joyous and memorable, highlighted by the telephone call I received from Bert informing me that he had been voted into the Hall of Fame 30 minutes before the official announcement was made to the public. He told me that I was his second call, directly after the one to his mother Jenny.
The excitement didn’t stop there though. In fact, it was a fun-tastic two weeks, culminating in a surprise trip to Fort Myers, Florida to meet Bert face-to-face for the first time at a tribute dinner in his honor. After giving each other a big, warm bear hug on stage, I recalled a story about a Saturday afternoon 38 years ago that found me umpiring behind home plate in a winter league scout’s game that the then 22-year-old veteran of four MLB seasons started.
I played catch with Bert and pitched in a fantasy camp game the next morning, followed by a round of golf with him at his club that afternoon. Our foursome tied for first place with a 65 in a scramble tournament. We played well and had a great time on the baseball field and the golf course.
While I may have been the ringleader, getting Blyleven elected to the Hall of Fame was truly a team effort and one that would have never gotten off the ground, if not for the Internet. Darren Viola (known to most of us as Repoz) of the Baseball Think Factory deserves credit for linking to and excerpting my articles, which did wonders for getting the message out in the early going. Alex Belth and Jon Weisman were also prominent linkers. Rob Neyer linked my articles and advocated on behalf of Blyleven. Even Bill James got behind Blyleven's candidacy in The Hardball Times Annual. Jay Jaffe continually endorsed him in his Hall of Fame evaluations at Baseball Prospectus. There were several other backers who chipped in over the years, too.
Importantly, dozens of high-profile writers, including Peter Gammons, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, and Jim Caple, changed their minds along the way and began to not only vote for Blyleven but helped spread the word and influenced their fellow BBWAA members.
Make no mistake about it, Bert did all the work on the field. Fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts, and top 20 since 1900 in wins. Two World Series championships coupled with a 5-1 record and 2.47 ERA in the postseason only added to his credentials. My job, if you will, was simply to make the voters aware of his accomplishments and qualifications. Lo and behold, Blyleven got his just reward in his 14th (and second-to-last) year on the ballot.
As one of 295 individuals with plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Blyleven is no longer "Only the Lonely."
Circling the Airport and Bert
All of us returned home on Tuesday afternoon. My wife, son-in-law, and I had so much fun that we decided to extend our trip by an extra day. Well, not exactly. We had a lot of fun, and we stayed an extra day. But not by choice.
Instead, our flight out of Albany International Airport on Monday was delayed to the point where we were going to miss the last connection out of Newark, where inclement weather was preventing departures and arrivals for most of the day. If we stayed overnight in Newark, the first available flight to LAX was at something like 5:45 p.m. ET, meaning we wouldn't have returned home until about 9:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday. By staying in Albany, we were able to book a flight at 7:00 a.m. We boarded the plane on schedule but sat on the tarmac for about 45 minutes before returning to the gate for another 45 minutes to refuel and get clearance for takeoff. While we arrived in Philadelphia nearly two hours behind schedule, we walked directly onto our connecting plane and arrived at LAX at roughly 12:45 p.m. PT.
All's well that ends well, especially when one can hold his beautiful granddaughter (the gift of my daughter and son-in-law) once again.
I plan to share more photos and stories of my trip to Cooperstown, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the private reception on Saturday night, and the induction ceremony on Sunday. Check back on Thursday and Friday for additional posts.
More Photos and Stories from the Hall of Fame
We attended the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field from 4:30-5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The new event featured Terry Cashman singing Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke), followed by Bill Conlin (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing), Dave Van Horne (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence), and Roland Hemond (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award).
Barbara, Joel, and I sat in the stands on the third base side between the pitcher's mound and home plate among guests of the inductees. Jerry Reinsdorf and Dennis Gilbert sat in the row below and just to the right of us. Dave Dombrowski was sitting one row in front of them. There were other front office executives and their family members in the immediate area.
The award winners and Hall of Famers sat on a stage behind second base. Going around the diamond in alphabetical and numerical order by scorekeeper positions, the following players, managers, and executives were on stage: Bert Blyleven (see how I worked that out?), Jim Bunning, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Roberto Alomar, Rod Carew, Bobby Doerr, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Red Schoendienst, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Whitey Herzog, Tom Lasorda, Earl Weaver, and Pat Gillick.
At the conclusion of the presentations, we were shuttled back to the front steps of the Museum to a VIP viewing area for the Parade of Legends. The Hall of Famers were driven from Doubleday Field down Main Street to the Hall of Fame individually in the back of Ford pickup trucks. We were invited to the Hall of Fame Private Reception inside the Museum afterwards. Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were served in the Plaque Gallery.
I met Bert and Gayle Blyleven as they walked into the Hall of Fame. Bert and I shook hands and hugged. I introduced both of them to Barbara and Joel. We talked for a few minutes and concluded the conversation with a big, firm high five. I wish I had a photo of that moment but the memory will stay with me forever.
Later that evening, Bert and I met up for a few photos. The first one is of the two of us pointing to the spot on the wall where his plaque will be installed Sunday evening.
The second is in front of Blyleven's exhibit.
Needless to say, my family and I had a great day, topped by the Hall of Fame Private Reception. Meeting up with Bert in that setting was a once in a lifetime experience.
Photos at the HOF Museum
I'm posting four photos for now. I will add more later.
My wife Barbara and me standing in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Saturday morning.
Here I am in the middle with my son-in-law Joel on the left and brother Tom on the right.
Jeannie, Tom, Barbara, me, and Joel in the Plaque Gallery.
I'm pointing to the spot where Blyleven will be enshrined in the Plaque Gallery forever.
After spending the morning and early afternoon at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, we're now heading to the Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field.
Check back for more photos and stories late this evening or early tomorrow morning.
Off to Cooperstown
My wife and I are leaving for Cooperstown this morning for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday. We will be joined by our son-in-law Joel and my brother Tom and his wife Jeannie this weekend. If not a baseball trip of a lifetime, it should prove to be an unforgettable memory for not only the honoree himself but all of us as well.
I plan on posting as many stories, links, and photos as time allows. So be sure to check back throughout the weekend to stay abreast of our trip.
That's all for now.
Highlights from SABR 41
The Society for American Baseball Research held its 41st annual convention at the Long Beach Hilton two weeks ago. I enjoyed SABR 41 as an attendee and panelist, as well as for the opportunity to meet many friends in the baseball community.
Scott Boras was the keynote speaker on Thursday morning. You can listen to his 90-minute speech, which focused on his rise from a minor league baseball player to law school to becoming an attorney and then starting his own firm, known today as the Scott Boras Corporation. He talked about the use of both data and psychology in dealing with players, arbitrators, and front office executives, as well as managing the media.
You can read about and listen to the various panels that took place throughout the convention, including the medical (Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Dr. Kevin Wilk, and Ned Bergert, and moderated by Will Carroll of Sports Illustrated), media (Dave Cameron, Sean Forman, Bill Squadron, and Russ Stanton, and moderated by SABR President Andy McCue), SABR era (John Thorn, John Dewan, Roland Hemond, Wes Parker, and Dennis Gilbert, and moderated by Tom Hufford, one of SABR's 16 founding members), general managers (Jed Hoyer, Fred Claire, and Dan Evans, and moderated by Rob Neyer, the national baseball editor for SB Nation), and player (Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara and moderated by Barry Mednick of SABR's Allan Roth Chapter).
During the SABR era panel, Dewan seconded my nomination of Bill James for the Hall of Fame (see excerpt below). At the end of that discussion, I introduced myself to Mr. Hemond, who was the scouting director for the California Angels when my Dad was the Director of Public Relations and Promotions. The longtime executive will be honored in Cooperstown tomorrow as the second recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. After exiting the room, I stopped and listened to Parker, who was outside entertaining a small crowd of SABR attendees (that's me in the middle and Wes on the far left) with stories about his days as a former ballplayer with the Dodgers. I waited patiently and introduced myself as "Rich Lederer, the son of George Lederer." He had nice things to say about Dad, who covered the Dodgers for Parker's first five years in the big leagues.
I was invited by Cameron to participate in FanGraphs Live in the main ballroom on Thursday night. I served on an Angels/Dodgers panel with Sam Miller of the Orange County Register and Baseball Prospectus, Jon Weisman of ESPN/Dodger Thoughts, and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that was hosted by Jonah Keri, who writes about baseball for ESPN and FanGraphs and stocks for Investor's Business Daily. Keri introduced me as “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame.” I also served on a national baseball panel with Cameron (second from the left in the adjoining photo), Vince Gennaro (middle), and Neyer (sitting on the far right) that was hosted by FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli (standing), who entertained us all.
The moderators and members of the audience asked me about the Angels and Dodgers, Bert Blyleven, the Hall of Fame, Jered Weaver, and Bryce Harper, among other topics. Cameron reminded me that I mentioned my disgust about the Vernon Wells signing more than once (or was it three times?). Of note, on the night before the Angels called up Mike Trout, I suggested that the team would have been better off locking him up for ten years rather than giving even more money to Wells for a shorter period. My son Joe, who attended the event along with my son-in-law Joel and brother Tom, informed me bright and early the following morning that the Angels promoted Trout from Double-A to the majors. I went to the Angels-Mariners game that evening and saw the 19-year-old prospect's MLB debut. He went 0-for-3 at the plate but made an outstanding running catch at the warning track in right-center field to record the final out in the top of the ninth inning.
I was interviewed by MLB Network at the convention the following morning. The half-hour segment was videotaped with the possibility of a portion of it being used on This Week in Baseball and/or for a documentary on the evolution of statistical analysis in baseball that will be narrated by Bob Costas and scheduled to air in the fall.
There were also numerous research presentations on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I listened to The Joe Morgan Trade by Mark Armour, a former Bob Davids Award winner and the most prolific guest columnist for Baseball Analysts. I had lunch at George's Greek Cafe with Mark and Dan Levitt prior to the former's afternoon presentation. Mark and Dan co-authored Paths to Glory and are working on a sequel.
Long Beach native Rich Lederer, whose late father George was a Dodgers beat writer for their first 10 years here, created his own Baseball Analysts website several years ago to write about statistical and historical aspects of the game and provide a vehicle for other writers and links to even more.
Aaron Gleeman, Jeff Polman, Chris Jaffe, Peter Iorizzo, Cecilia Tan, Geoff Young, Lisa Dillman, Eno Sarris, Sam Miller, Mike Leury posted recaps from SABR 41. You can read excerpts here. The site also links to their full stories, as well as to recaps from local media outlets. You can also read some of the top tweets from SABR 41, too.
I met Gleeman, Jaffe, Young, and Miller for the first time in person even though I have corresponded with the first three via email for years, including going all the way back to 2003 in the case of Aaron and Geoff.
SABR 42 will be held in Minneapolis next summer. In the meantime, if you're not a member of this great baseball organization, you should join now. Annual dues are reasonable and entitle you to many benefits, including discounted fees to the national conventions.
News and Views: Brandon Inge Redux
News: The Tigers designated 3B Brandon Inge for assignment. The 34-year-old Inge "hit" .177/.242/.242 in 239 plate appearances.
Views: How did the two-year contract Inge signed just nine months ago work out for the Tigers?
Joe Posnanski took a weeklong, cross-country trip that covered five cities and more than 10,000 miles in search of what baseball means in 2011. He traveled from Charlotte to Los Angeles and chatted with Vin Scully, from L.A. to New York to witness Derek Jeter's 3000th hit, from N.Y. to Kansas City to watch a game with Bill James in which Justin Verlander's 100-mph heat was topped by the temperature, from K.C. to Phoenix to catch Prince Fielder "uncoil his wonderfully violent swing" at the All-Star Game, and from Arizona to Cooperstown where a bat stored in the archives "down in the bowels of the Hall of Fame" that stuck with him the most. Yes, Wonderboy, the bat Roy Hobbs made from a tree split in half by lightning in the movie The Natural that reminded both Hobbs and Posnanski of their fathers.
THE BAT stays with me. Isn't that strange? I did so many amazing things on this crazy cross-country trip in search of what baseball means in 2011 ...
"Loving Baseball" is Joe at his best. In addition to Scully, Jeter, James, Verlander, Fielder, and Hobbs, Posnanski marvels at the artistry of Adrian Gonzalez's swing, and mentions, in order, Cy Young, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Andre Ethier, Kirk Gibson, Roger Clemens, Willie Mays, Andrew McCutchen, Lance Berkman, Roy Halladay, David Ortiz, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Brayan Pena, Gary Sheffield, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Ozzie Smith, Greg Maddux, Danny Jackson, Jose Bautista, Pete Rose, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn, Harmon Killebrew, Lew Burdette, Ralph Terry, and Bill Mazeroski.
So why is it that as I end this trip, I keep thinking about Wonderboy?
Baseball is fun indeed.
As the subtitle of the Sports Illustrated article dated July 25, 2011 asks and answers, "What keeps the grand game great? Everything old is new again."
Jered Weaver Catapults to the Forefront of Major League Pitchers
Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver have been named the starting pitchers for tonight's All-Star Game in Arizona, which will be televised by FOX at 8 p.m. ET. While the 34-year-old Halladay has participated in the mid-summer classic in eight of the past 10 years, the 28-year-old Weaver earned his first trip in 2010 but did not play because he pitched on the Sunday preceding the game.
Halladay and Weaver are leading their respective leagues in Fielding Independent Pitching Earned Run Average with FIPs of 2.16 and 2.39. Of note, Weaver also leads Major League Baseball in ERA (1.86), Adjusted Pitching Runs (31), and Adjusted Pitching Wins (3.6). He ranks first in the AL and second in MLB in not only FIP but Fangraphs (4.7) and Baseball-Reference (4.9) Wins Above Replacement among pitchers, ERA+ (199), and Win Probability Added (3.4).
If Weaver is not the best pitcher in baseball, he is certainly one of the top ten, along with Halladay and, in alphabetical order, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander. A healthy Josh Johnson, Stephen Strasburg, or Adam Wainwright would fill out my list of the best starting pitchers in the game. Cases for inclusion could also be made for Zack Greinke, Tommy Hanson, Dan Haren, Jon Lester, and David Price.
Importantly, Weaver is not a small-sample-size phenomenon. Over the past year, Weaver ranks second in MLB in ERA (2.38), third in FIP (2.59), and 4th in fWAR (7.4). According to Baseball-Reference.com, he ranks sixth among all active pitchers in career ERA (3.32) and ERA+ (128).
It's taken a long time for Weaver to overcome the naysayers in the prospect and stathead community as more than his brother or an innings eater. He is undoubtedly much greater than both. Jered is not only the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game but a leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award this year.
Tonight's recognition will do little for Halladay's reputation but should do wonders for the under appreciated Weaver.
Society for American Baseball Research Annual Convention
The Society for American Baseball Research is convening in my hometown of Long Beach this week for its 41st annual convention. The event, which takes place at the Long Beach Hilton, kicks off today (July 6) and lasts through Sunday (July 10). The convention marks SABR's first in Southern California since 1993 when it was held in San Diego and the first in the Los Angeles area since 1980.
SABR 41 includes five full days of activities and excursions, featuring approximately 30 research presentations, panel discussions, and trips to the Angels and Dodgers games this weekend. The full schedule can be found here. Members and non-members are welcome. On-site registration is $59 for a day, $93 for two days, and $159 for the full conference.
Scott Boras is the keynote speaker at the Annual Business Meeting on Thursday morning. Dennis Gilbert is the featured speaker at the Awards Luncheon on Friday. San Diego Padres general manager Jed Hoyer will join former Dodgers GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans on Saturday afternoon for a panel discussion ("The Changing Role of the General Manager") moderated by SABR member and SB Nation baseball editor Rob Neyer. Former White Sox and Orioles GM Roland Hemond, a three-time winner of MLB’s Executive of the Year Award and 2011 recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, will participate in "The Evolution of Baseball Over SABR's Four Decades" discussion on Friday. Other notable panelists from the sabermetric community include Dave Cameron, John Dewan, Sean Forman, and John Thorn.
Courtesy of Cameron, the managing editor of FanGraphs, the agenda is as follows:
7 p.m. to 8 p.m. - Dodgers/Angels discussion with Jon Weisman, Eric Stephen, Rich Lederer, and Sam Miller. Jonah Keri will be moderating this panel, and it will likely be split near 50/50 into questions and discussions originated by Jonah and questions from the audience.
8 p.m. to 9 p.m. - National baseball and statistical analysis discussion with Rob Neyer, Vince Gennaro, Rich Lederer, and Dave Cameron. Carson Cistulli will be moderating this panel, and likeways, it will be approximately half questions from Carson and half from the audience.
9 p.m. to 10 p.m. - FanGraphs Q&A with David Appelman, Jonah Keri, Carson Cistulli, Eno Sarris, and Dave Cameron. We'll take questions from the audience with whatever time is left over after the two panels.
Weisman operates Dodger Thoughts and is a writer/editor at Variety. Stephen is an author at True Blue L.A., the Dodgers arm of the of the SB Nation network. Miller is a sports writer for the Orange County Register. Keri writes for FanGraphs and is the author of The Extra 2%. Gennaro is the author of Diamond Dollars and professor at Columbia University. Cistulli is the editor for FanGraphs and host of FanGraphs Audio. Appleman is the president of FanGraphs. Sarris is a writer for FanGraphs, NotGraphs, and RotoGraphs.
I would welcome meeting any attendees before or after the panel discussions or even on one of the subsequent days of the convention. I plan on posting highlights and photos throughout SABR 41.
The Declaration of Independents
Thanks to Google Alerts, I was made aware of an interview conducted by David Mark, a senior editor at POLITICO, with Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, the co-authors of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America in Arena Chat.
My Hall of Fame "campaign" for Bert Blyleven was the subject of part of their conversation. Check out the 10-minute video and accompanying article. If you're pressed for time, fast forward to 3:30 and play it through the 7:00 mark.
Baseball fans, for example, may recall Bert Blyleven, a solid and durable major league pitcher from 1970 to 1992. Hall of Fame baseball writers shunned Blyleven for years, never giving him more than 30 percent of their votes (75 percent are needed for entry to the baseball shrine.)
Welch, who is the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, a leading libertarian publication, is perhaps better known around these parts as a diehard Angels fan, astute sabermetrician, and part-time baseball writer. It's hard to believe that his outstanding guest column at Baseball Analysts on Dave Hansen is now more than six years old. Be sure to check out the accompanying photo of Welch singing and Hansen jamming on guitar.
Matt and I grew up on the same block in the Lakewood Village area of Long Beach. While an age difference separated us, our brothers played on the same Little League team, which was coached by Mr. Welch. Unaware that I was the Rich Lederer from his childhood years, Matt linked to my website in 2004, then interviewed me for his inaugural "Infrequently Asked Questions" series in 2005 after discovering that we were not only neighbors but fellow bloggers with a passion for baseball and the Bill James Baseball Abstracts. Most recently, Welch wrote "How a Part-Time Blogger Changed the Face of Baseball's Hall of Fame."
Fred Eckhardt is living proof that the American tradition of impactful pamphleteer activism is more than alive and well. Four decades after publication of the Treatise, it has never been easier for self-publishers and other outsiders to build their own seats at the table and elbow the deadweight aside, forcing the top-down cultures of industrial media (and politics and music and beer and a thousand other sectors) to confront their own banal inadequacies and acknowledge (only after kicking and screaming) the newcomers' contributions. Forget Bill James and pollster Nate Silver—consider the case of Rich Lederer, an investment manager by day and sabermetrics dabbler by night at his Baseball Analysts website.
Irrespective of your political interests or leanings, I believe you will enjoy The Declaration of Independents. The book is as much about decentralization and democratization taking market share from "the forces of control and centralization" as anything else, and it has applications beyond politics.
All in the Family
The Los Angeles Angels drafted Matt Scioscia, the son of manager Mike Scioscia, in the 45th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday. The younger Scioscia, listed in the press release as a 6-2/220 catcher from Notre Dame, was the 1,365th pick overall.
Scioscia started six times and played in a total of 16 games in his senior season. He went 6-for-30 with no extra-base hits and no walks. It appears as if Scioscia did not play in the field as he had no putouts, assists, or errors. Over his four-year career at Notre Dame, Matt hit .267/.323/.335 in 88 games and 195 plate appearances.
The Angels also drafted Scioscia out of Crespi Carmelite HS (Encino, CA) in the 41st round in 2007, but he opted to attend college. His bio on the Fighting Irish website claims he "would have been drafted much higher if not for his strong commitment to Notre Dame." Perhaps. But it's important to note that he wasn't selected after his junior season last year and has only been taken by the Angels twice and no other team in three separate drafts.
The father expects his son to sign with the Angels today. "He's excited just for the fact to get out there and play professional baseball. He's going to work hard on the defensive side. He can swing the bat. He is definitely excited for the opportunity."
I wonder how many college players with just six hits all season were drafted this year?
Nonetheless, there's hope for Matt, Mike, and the Angels. After all, Mike Piazza was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft, apparently as a favor to his godfather, who was none other than manager Tommy Lasorda. Piazza was the National League Rookie of the Year five years later en route to becoming the best-hitting catcher of all time in a Hall of Fame career that produced a .308 AVG/.377 OBP/.545 SLG, including 2,127 hits, 427 home runs, and 1,335 RBI.
My friend Jeff Wimbish called yesterday late afternoon while both of us were driving home from our respective offices, rhetorically asking me if Placido Polanco was "clutch." Jeff was listening to the Dodgers-Phillies game and L.A. play-by-play radio broadcaster Charlie Steiner said, "Polanco has always been a great clutch hitter."
Off the cuff, I told Jeff, "I doubt it." I proceeded to say that Polanco was the type who announcers love to call a "professional hitter." How does one become a professional hitter, you ask? That's simple. You have to be a (1) veteran, (2) make good contact, and (3) hit for a high average. As it relates to Polanco, he is 35 years old. Check. Secondly, he has struck out in only 6.6% of his plate appearances over the course of his career (vs. a league average of 17.1%). Check. Lastly, he has a lifetime average of .303. Check mate.
Circling back to the question at hand, I concluded that Steiner would have served his listening audience better had he backed up his claim that Polanco was clutch. Thanks to all the public resources available to us, I was able to check Polanco's splits to determine if he was indeed clutch when I returned home. I'm not sure how one qualifies, but I suspect Polanco doesn't quite make the grade. I put together the following table to satisfy my curiosity.
Oh... Polanco went 0-for-3 with a BB and an RBI. In the bottom of the first inning, no score, and a runner on second base with nobody out, he grounded into a fielder's choice (1-5). In the home half of the second, the Dodgers up 1-0, bases loaded with two outs, he walked on four pitches and was credited with an RBI. In the fourth, the Dodgers leading 4-1, nobody on with two outs, he lined out to third. In the seventh, the Dodgers still on top 4-1, a runner on first with one out, he flied out to right. It was Polanco's final at-bat of the game as he was on-deck when Shane Victorino flied out to center to end the contest. The Dodgers beat the Phillies, 6-2.
The outcome may have turned out differently if only there had been a clutch opportunity or two for Polanco.
Letter to Tony Reagins
May 29, 2011
Mr. Tony Reagins
At the one-third point in the season, I thought it would be instructive to check how you and your team are doing.
The Angels are 27-27 thus far. That's right, your $142 million payroll has produced mediocrity for the second year in a row.
Looking forward to next season, I see where you have already committed $80M to seven players. This group includes two starting pitchers, two relievers, two outfielders, and a utility infielder. Unfortunately, you still need to come to terms with three members of your core roster: Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, and Kendrys Morales. These arbitration-eligible players will probably cost $10-12M, $6-8M, and perhaps $5M, respectively, next year. Add 'em all up and you've topped $100M for just 10 players, three of whom will do little other than pitch the middle innings out of the bullpen and provide insurance at 3B, SS, and 2B.
I understand Vernon Wells has an opt out after 2011. As such, you may be able to reduce your payroll by more than $21M should he exercise it. Do you think the left fielder who is "hitting" .183 and will turn 33 in December will seek greener pastures? I didn't think so. Enough said!
What were you thinking when you guaranteed Bobby Abreu's option for 2012 at a cost of $9M in the event he accumulated 1,100 plate appearances in 2010-2011? With just 200 to go to qualify, I suggest you order Mike Scioscia to use him sparingly the rest of the way. You're already on the hook for $39M for two aging outfielders next season. No reason to make it $48M by adding Abreu to the mix unless you're happy with a combined 12 HR in 609 PA this season from these free agent signings of yours.
How's that Hisanori Takahashi contract working out? Only 1 2/3 years to go at an average of $4M per! While the 36-year-old reliever with an ERA over 5.00 is neither the worst contract (that honor would go to Vernon Wells), reliever (tie between Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney), or lefty (hello, Scott Kazmir) you have signed or acquired, can we agree that it made no sense to ink *two* aging southpaws in Takahashi and Scott Downs to multi-year deals last off-season?
Turning to your contract, the Angels signed you to a long-term extension in November 2009. While no terms of the agreement were reported, would you care to at least divulge the length of this arrangement? If not, can you give us a hint? I mean, is it shorter or longer than Wells' contract (through 2014)?
Maybe you're just in a slump like Wells, Abreu, Hunter, Takahashi, Rodney, and Kazmir, and will work your way out of it like ... umm ... let me think about that and get back to you.
Understanding the Standings
Two-and-a-half weeks into the season and the standings are pretty much in-line with the consensus viewpoint prior to Opening Day. While this observation is no solace for Red Sox fans, who is all that surprised that the Yankees, Rangers, Phillies, Reds, and Rockies are atop their divisions? Or that the Mariners, Mets, Astros, and Diamondbacks are in the basement?
Among teams in first or last place, only the Red Sox, Indians, and Twins would cause those in the know to scratch their head. As it relates to clubs in the middle of the pack, maybe the Royals are outperforming as much as the Braves are underperforming but there is really very little to quibble about as far as the rest of the W-L records are concerned. Oh, there might be a few fans out there who were hoping that their favorite team got off to a better start, but I don't see how anyone outside Boston or Minnesota could argue for more than one win or perhaps two at this juncture.
With respect to the Red Sox, absent some permanent change in the fundamental outlook, I would simply lower their projected win total for the year by the difference between the actual (5) and expected (9) wins to date. In other words, if 95 wins was a good estimate before the season, then I would be inclined to go with 91 today. Going 86-61 (.585) the rest of the way doesn't seem so unreasonable to me.
Same thing with the Twins. Instead of winning, say, 85 games, perhaps the team ends up with 82 or 83. As for Cleveland, maybe the Indians win 75 to 80 games rather than 70 to 75. I know this is a simplistic way of looking at today's standings — especially without taking into consideration strength of schedules — but I believe it is more rational than making some sweeping conclusions about this team or that team 14 to 17 games into the season.
Will there be surprises this year? Most definitely. No season ever goes according to plan. Injuries, breakouts/breakdowns, and good luck/bad luck all come into play each and every campaign. There is no reason why this year will be different. But don't give up on the Red Sox or Twins, or raise that 2011 AL Central Championship banner in Cleveland quite yet.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Yankees 9 5 .643 - Rays 7 9 .438 3 Blue Jays 7 9 .438 3 Orioles 6 9 .400 3.5 Red Sox 5 10 .333 4.5
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Indians 12 4 .750 - Royals 10 6 .625 2 Tigers 8 9 .471 4.5 White Sox 7 9 .438 5 Twins 6 10 .375 6
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Rangers 11 5 .688 - Angels 10 6 .625 1 A's 8 8 .500 3 Mariners 5 12 .294 6.5
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Phillies 10 5 .667 - Marlins 8 6 .571 1.5 Nationals 8 7 .533 2 Braves 7 10 .412 4 Mets 5 11 .313 5.5
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Reds 9 7 .563 - Pirates 8 8 .500 1 Cardinals 8 8 .500 1 Cubs 8 8 .500 1 Brewers 8 8 .500 1 Astros 5 11 .313 4
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Rockies 12 4 .750 - Giants 9 7 .563 3 Dodgers 8 9 .471 4.5 Padres 7 9 .438 5 Diamondbacks 6 8 .429 5
Back in January, I thought the A's, Brewers, and Rockies were the best bets to exceed their projected win totals. I lowered my expectations for Milwaukee after learning about Zack Greinke's injury but still thought the NL Central would be a wide-open affair with the Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers fighting it out for most of the summer. I have little or no reason to change my outlook for the A's or Rockies and wouldn't be totally surprised if one or both ended up in the World Series.
News and Views: The Most Valuable Player in Baseball
News: Troy Tulowitzki hit his sixth and seventh home runs of the season as the Colorado Rockies swept a doubleheader and the four-game series from the New York Mets on Thursday. He was a combined 5-for-8 on the day. The 26-year-old shortstop leads Major League Baseball in HR (7), XBH (10), TB (40), RC (19), SLG (.909), and OPS (1.400).
Views: Move over Albert Pujols, Tulowitzki is now the best player in the game. The seventh overall draft pick out of Long Beach State in 2005 is nearly five years younger than the three-time National League MVP, plays a much more important defensive position (and as well as any shortstop in baseball), and, get this, has actually outhit him over the past 365 days. That's right, Tulo has a higher AVG (.324 to .300), SLG (.614 to .560), OPS (1.011 to .961), wOBA (.431 to .401), and wRC+ (161 to 153) than Pujols during this period. Moreover, the player who is now just approaching his prime has generated 7.7 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) vs. 6.5 for his 31-year-old counterpart.
You can have Pujols or, for that matter, Hanley Ramirez if you're into shortstops. I'll take Tulowitzki.
Looking for Breakout Players Based on Spring Training Stats
How many analysts, writers, and fans predicted Jose Bautista's breakout season last year? Well, I know of one. That's right, John Dewan, the owner of Baseball Info Solutions, cited Bautista as the No. 1 potential breakout player based on his 2010 spring training slugging percentage near .900, which was almost .500 higher than his career norm.
How did Bautista, who sported a career line of .238/.329/.400 with 59 HR in 2038 plate appearances prior to last season, hit in 2010? Try .260/.378/.617 while leading the majors in home runs with 54 and total bases with 351.
While Dewan admits that a player's spring stats, for the most part, are "not predictive of regular season success," a study he performed a few years ago found that "extremely good spring training numbers often indicated that a breakout season was on the way. In the study, about two-thirds of hitters who had spring slugging percentages at least .200 higher than their career total went on to best their career average that season."
Who could follow in Bautista's footsteps in 2011? My guess is that nobody will come close to matching what he did last year. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a relative unknown to break out this year, you might consider the following ten candidates based on their spring training slugging percentages.
Note: Used with permission from John Dewan's Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.
Patrick Sullivan covered Kila Ka'aihue for Baseball Analysts last month. Ka'aihue, who turns 27 on Tuesday, has hit .429 and gone yard five times this spring. He hit .319/.463/.598 in Triple-A last year prior to being called up to the Kansas City Royals. He struggled in August but finished strongly by hitting .274/.361/.548 with six HR in 84 AB in September. He is slated to alternate with Billy Butler at first base and DH this season.
Center fielders Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Carlos Gomez, and shortstop Alcides Escobar are more known for their speed and defense than their slugging. However, it should be pointed out that Crisp hit 15 HR in 2004 and 16 in 2005 when he was an up and coming star for the Cleveland Indians. After four disappointing seasons in which Crisp managed to hit just 24 HR, the switch hitter found his power stroke again last year when he produced eight four baggers in 75 games for the Oakland A's.
Chris Davis, Travis Buck, George Kottaras, and Melky Cabrera have all been highly regarded prospects at one time or another. Davis slugged a combined 38 homers in 736 plate appearances as a 22-year-old rookie and 23-year-old sophomore in 2008 and 2009. The lefthanded power hitter slumped badly for the Texas Rangers at the outset of the 2010 season and was sent to Oklahoma City (Triple-A) where he generated a line of .327/.383/.520 with 31 doubles and 14 home runs in fewer than 400 AB.
Buck was selected by the A's with the 36th overall pick in the 2005 draft and proceeded to hit .288/.377/.474 during his rookie season in 2007. However, the 27-year-old outfielder never came close to duplicating those results in 2008-2010 and was non-tendered last December. He signed a minor-league deal with the Indians with an invitation to spring training and has made the most of it by hitting .420/.453/.760 with five doubles and four home runs in 50 at-bats.
Kottaras has bounced around from the San Diego Padres organization (2003-2006) to the Boston Red Sox (2006-2009) to the Milwaukee Brewers (2010). He received more playing time than ever last year and cranked nine homers in 250 plate appearances. Kottaras and Wil Nieves are in a battle to serve as catcher Jonathan Lucroy's primary backup.
While it seems as if Cabrera has been around forever, he is only 26 years old despite amassing more than 2,600 plate appearances over the past five seasons. He reportedly dropped 15 pounds during the offseason and the six-footer is now down to 200. The slim and trim center fielder has raked to the tune of .490 with five doubles and two home runs in 51 at-bats this spring.
News and Views: New York Yankees Starting Rotation
The New York Yankees reportedly signed Kevin Millwood to a minor league deal on Friday. The 36-year-old righthander will compete with the 37-year-old Bartolo Colon and the 34-year-old Freddy Garcia for the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation. And let's not forget Mark Prior who hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2006!
These candidates would make for a nice staff if this were 2003 rather than 2011. I mean, this foursome might even give the Philadelphia Phillies' quartet a run for their money. You see, eight years ago, Colon, Garcia, Millwood, and Prior combined to post a 59-45 record with a 3.71 ERA and 733 SO/256 BB in 876.2 IP when all four starters were in their 20s.
Hey, if it's not 2003, then maybe it is the 1960s as we shouldn't forget that the club is also counting on a first-generation Nova.
Scouting the G-Men (Gaviglio and Gagnon) and More
Living within walking distance of Blair Field, the home ballpark of the Long Beach State Dirtbags and the venue for many area high school teams, allows me the opportunity to witness a number of prospects every year. I have attended almost every Friday night home game that Long Beach State has played since Jered Weaver's sophomore year in 2003. Along the way, I have seen Weaver, Troy Tulowitzki, and Evan Longoria countless times plus several other notable first-round draft picks, including a matchup of Tim Lincecum vs. Ian Kennedy at USC in 2006, Bryce Harper at the Area Code Games in 2008, and Stephen Strasburg at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy's Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Compton.
Last night, I was at Blair Field once again to see one of the best college pitching performances in the history of the park. While Oregon State's Sam Gaviglio is not a prospect in the class of Weaver, Lincecum, or Strasburg, the junior righthander nonetheless pitched one of the most impeccable games in the 50-plus years of this facility as the Beavers (14-3) defeated the Dirtbags (9-8), 4-0, in the opener of a three-game series between these two West Coast schools. Gaviglio (Guh-VEE-leo) threw seven perfect innings and allowed just one baserunner (a lead-off single in the eighth) in a complete-game shutout. He struck out the first four, nine of the first ten, and a career-high 14 overall while facing just 28 batters and throwing only 99 pitches.
Gaviglio (4-0, 0.00 ERA) has now pitched 38 consecutive scoreless innings, just nine short of the single-season record of 47 by Todd Helton of Tennessee in 1994. Vermont's George Plender holds the NCAA record with 63 innings, accomplished over the 1954 and 1955 seasons. Gaviglio gave up two unearned runs in the first inning in a season-opening win over Gonzaga while outdueling the highly regarded Ryan Carpenter, threw a CG SHO against Connecticut (holding likely first rounder George Springer to an 0-for-3 with a SO) in his second start, held Hartford scoreless for six innings in his third outing, and whitewashed New Mexico State for eight prior to shutting out Long Beach State. He has allowed 14 hits and four walks while striking out 40 in 38 2/3 IP.
At 6-1 and 195 pounds, Gaviglio is the same listed height and weight as Kennedy when the latter was pitching for the Trojans from 2004-2006. The two RHP also share the fact that both rely on pitchability more than pure stuff. Gaviglio's fastball is a little light (mostly 86-88 with a high of 90) as compared to Kennedy's (89-91 when I scouted him during his college days), but his command and ability to throw strikes to both sides of the plate with all three pitches (FB-CB-CH) and at any time in the count rivals the pitcher who was recently named to start on opening day for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gaviglio's breaking ball ranged from 78-82 and his changeup 77-81.
Gaviglio, who turns 21 in May, was a 40th-round selection in 2008 by Tampa Bay after being named the 5A Pitcher of the Year in Oregon while leading Ashland to the state championship. He chose the Beavers over the Rays and went 10-1 with a 2.73 ERA and 55 SO/9 BB in 62 2/3 IP during his freshman season. He regressed as a sophomore, going 3-4 with a 5.60 ERA and 45 SO/23 BB in an identical number of innings.
The dozen or so professional scouts (plus ESPN's Keith Law) sitting behind home plate a few rows in front of my brother and me were seemingly more interested in the opposing pitcher on Friday night. Andrew Gagnon, a 6-4/195 righthanded junior, had his first rough outing of the year, giving up six hits, four walks, and four runs in five innings. However, Gagnon (GAN-yawn) has faced much stiffer competition than Gaviglio thus far, with all five starts against ranked teams (Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, Oregon, Rice, and Oregon State). He retired Owls third baseman Anthony Rendon, a potential first pick in the 2011 draft, all three times (fly out to RF, groundout to 2B, and a line out to SS) when they hooked up a week ago Friday at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Gagnon, who gave up back-to-back home runs to OSU's Andrew Susac and Danny Hayes in the top of the first inning, saw his ERA rise from 1.30 to 1.91. He has allowed 25 hits and 13 walks while striking out 31 in 37 2/3 innings in 2011. Gagnon took over the role of the Friday night starter as a sophomore and moved up draft boards when he led the Cape Cod league with five wins while posting a 2.10 ERA and 43 K's in 38 2/3 IP. He was the Eastern Division starting pitcher for the Cape All-Star Game at Fenway Park and got the side out in order in his only inning of work. Gagnon throws an 89-92 mph fastball (with it comfortably sitting at 91), an 84-87 slider, and a low-80s change. His fastball is a bit straight and prone to getting turned around when left up in the zone. (Here is a video of Gagnon vs. Oregon on 3/4/11).
Susac (Suu-SACK) is a draft-eligible sophomore. At 6-1/205, the catcher has a pro body with a strong arm, quick pop times, and raw power at the plate. The home run he slugged cleared the wall in left-center field with lots of room to spare, a blast that was easily over 400 feet. He hit a hard groundball single between short and third in his next at-bat and drew a walk in the ninth. Susac (.453/.563/.811), riding a 13-game hitting streak, is 24-for-53 on the season with 7 2B, 4 HR, 14 BB, and 11 SO.
Baseball America ranked Susac, who turns 21 on Tuesday, as its No. 5 prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer when he hit .290 with five homers and the 23rd top college prospect for the 2011 draft. He was selected in the 16th round of the 2009 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies but did not sign. I wouldn't be surprised at all if a team took him in the first round in June.
Two weeks ago, I was on hand to see Oregon's Tyler Anderson also strike out 14 Dirtbags. The 21-year-old lefthander worked eight scoreless innings, throwing 77 strikes out of 112 pitches. After beating San Diego today, Anderson is now 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA and 52 SO/14 BB in 37 1/3 IP.
The 6-4, 215 pounder, who was drafted in the 50th round by the Minnesota Twins in 2008, was rated the 16th-best college prospect by Baseball America prior to the season. His fastball, which sat at 89-92 the night I saw him pitch against the Dirtbags, plays up due to a deceptive motion that includes a little quirk with the ball behind his back. The combination of a slightly across-the-body delivery and a slider with reasonable tilt wreaks havoc on LHB. Anderson can also handle RHB owing to a plus changeup with fade that ranks as his best pitch. Lastly, he displayed a strong move to first base, picking off two runners that evening. (Here is a video of Anderson vs. Long Beach State on 3/4/11.)
Graphing the Pitchers: LOB% and BABIP
Thanks to the work of Voros McCracken and later Tom Tango, Defense Independent Pitching and Fielding Independent Pitching have become widely accepted in the baseball community as better measurements of pitching effectiveness (and predictability of future results) than earned run average (ERA). DIPS and FIP focus on strikeouts, walks, and home runs — the three primary outcomes that a pitcher controls. Except for perhaps catchers, fielders have no impact on these events.
While SO, BB, and HR play a large part in determining ERA, the latter is also a function of defensive and bullpen support, as well as performance with bases empty vs. runners in scoring position. As a result, the difference between ERA and FIP is almost entirely accounted by strand rate (LOB%*) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Each variable has a coefficient correlation of nearly 80 percent with the delta between ERA and FIP.
* Based on the formula, the strand rate is an estimator of LOB% rather than an actual tally.
When you put the two together (LOB% divided by BABIP), the coefficient correlation jumps to 90 percent. Accordingly, the coefficient of determination or R² is 81 percent. In other words, more than four-fifths of the difference between ERA and FIP is due to LOB% and BABIP. As such, in addition to SO, BB, and HR rates, it makes sense to study LOB% and BABIP to understand why a pitcher's ERA may be better or worse than his FIP.
The MLB averages for LOB% and BABIP have been running at almost exactly 72 percent and .300, respectively, for several years. These percentages held true once again in 2010.
Plotting LOB% on the y-axis and BABIP on the x-axis for all 147 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2010, I created the following graph. As has become customary around these parts, I broke the graph into quadrants via the intersection of the LOB% and BABIP means. The pitchers in the northwest quadrant had high LOB% and low BABIP. Moving clockwise, the pitchers in the northeast quadrant had high LOB% and high BABIP, the hurlers in the southeast quadrant had low LOB% and high BABIP, and those in the southwest quadrant had low LOB% and low BABIP.
The numbers were lifted from FanGraphs in January. The BABIP data was subsequently recalculated, perhaps due to FanGraphs using an incorrect formula initially. While directionally correct, the BABIP used for this graph are generally about .005-.010 higher than those listed on the site now. The LOB% data matches exactly. You can download the spreadsheet with the applicable data here.
Starting with LOB%, I highlighted the six pitchers with strand rates over 80 percent and compared 2010 with their career marks. All but Madison Bumgarner (who pitched just 10 innings prior to last season) have career LOB% that are well below their results in 2010. That said, I found it interesting that the career rates were all above the MLB norm of 72 percent.
In addition to sharing high LOB%, the common thread among these pitchers is that they fared better with RISP than with the bases empty.
Nate Robertson, Tim Wakefield, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jeff Francis, and Paul Maholm all posted career low LOB%. Scott Feldman, Jeremy Bonderman, and Tony Pena produced the second-lowest LOB% while Jamie Moyer had the third-lowest since he broke into the majors in 1986.
In addition to sharing low LOB%, the common thread among these pitchers is that they fared worse with RISP than with the bases empty.
Matt Cain has never had a league-average BABIP and, in fact, has not exceeded the .278 he allowed in 2007.
Hudson and Hunter appear on the most favorable LOB% and BABIP lists. Moyer, on the other hand, was the only pitcher to appear on a leader and laggard board.
Maholm and Feldman appear on the least favorable LOB% and BABIP lists.
There are several takeaways embedded in this study, some of which are more obvious than others:
There are also a few questions: Is the discrepancy in performance between RISP and bases empty due to a pitcher's ability to work from the windup as opposed to the stretch? Do certain pitchers have an extra gear that they can employ when the going gets tough? Is there a self-fulfilling prophecy at play here, a Yogi-ism where pitchers perform well until they don't perform well? The answers to these questions could go a long way toward understanding how much skill or luck is involved in the year-to-year fluctuations in LOB%.
The Duke of Hazard
Edwin "Duke" Snider died last Sunday at the age of 84. We're talkin' baseball here. Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. Three Hall of Famers who patrolled center field in New York during the 1950s.
There have been countless tributes written about Snider during the past week, including one titled simply "The Duke" by the prolific Joe Posnanski. In addition, Duke's death has been a topic of conversation on the Society of American Baseball Research's SABR-L message board. The latter has focused on the time when Snider hurt his arm trying to throw a baseball out of the Los Angeles Coliseum in April 1958.
Posnanski mentioned that Snider "had a powerful arm when he was young but hurt it and was never quite the same after he turned 30" but doesn't provide any details. SABR members Bob Timmermann and Lloyd Davis provided excerpts from articles in the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. I also found one from The Milwaukee Sentinel.
This story got me thinking about what my Dad, who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958-1968 for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram, had to say about the matter. I pulled out his scrapbooks and found three separate stories on this subject.
The first was published in the morning newspaper (then known as the Independent) in a separate boxed insert on Thursday, April 24, 1958 as part of the Dodgers-Cubs game coverage from the previous night.
Clowns, Hurts Arm
The second was the lead to a longer story with the headline spanning the entire newspaper of that evening's newspaper (known as the Press-Telegram).
Snider in Dodger Doghouse
The third article appeared in the newspaper the following day.
There you have it ... the real story behind how the Duke of Hazard hurt his arm in 1958.
While I'm not a fan of leaders by the decade*, I found it interesting that Snider led MLB in home runs (326) and RBI (1,031) during the 1950s. You know, the decade that featured Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Eddie Mathews. Williams missed virtually all of the 1952 and 1953 seasons to the Korean War. Mays and Mantle were rookies in 1951, and Mays missed a large portion of '52 and all of '53 to the military as well. Mathews slugged 299 HR despite debuting in 1952. Many other superstars like Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, AL Kaline, and Frank Robinson didn't make it to the majors until the mid-1950s. By the way, Snider's teammate Gil Hodges was No. 2 in HR that decade with 310. Mathews was third, followed by Mantle (280), Musial (266), Yogi Berra (256), Mays (250), Ted Kluszewski (239), Gus Zernial (232), and Banks (228).
*Jack Morris led the majors in wins during the 1980s and Mark Grace led in hits during the 1990s.
Adam Wainwright and Bert Blyleven
Adam Wainwright tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery today. The normal rehabilitation time for pitchers following this reconstructive surgery is approximately one year, although many pitchers don't fully recover for two years. As a result, if everything goes well, Wainwright could return for the opening of the 2012 season.
The St. Louis Cardinals righthander skipped his final start in 2010 due to what the team described in a press release last September as a "right forearm muscle strain." He had experienced a tightening sensation in his elbow during his previous two starts after sleeping awkwardly on it the night before his 19th victory. Wainwright suffered a partial tear of the same ligament in 2004, missing a large portion of that season only a handful of months after the Redbirds had acquired the former first-round draft pick from the Atlanta Braves in a trade involving J.D. Drew.
Today's operation will be performed in St. Louis by team physician Dr. George Paletta, who has also repaired the elbows of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan. Ironically, the latter pitcher is the most likely internal candidate to replace Wainwright in the rotation this year. Meanwhile, Carpenter, who won the National League Cy Young Award in 2005, will regain his status as the club's ace. Garcia placed third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting last season after posting a 13-8 record with a 2.70 ERA in 163 1/3 innings.
Wainwright, 29, who may possess the best curveball in baseball, might be following in the path of none other than Bert Blyleven. The Hall of Famer was 31 when he hurt his elbow early in the 1982 season. He appeared in only four games that spring and had an uneven campaign in 1983, missing time in July, August, and September. Blyleven bounced back in 1984 and enjoyed what Bert believes was the best year of his career. He won 19 games for the sixth-place Cleveland Indians despite missing four starts in May and June due to a freak foot injury. Blyleven finished third behind two relievers (Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry) in the AL Cy Young voting.
In Jeremy Greenhouse's final article for Baseball Analysts, he pointed out the similarities between Blyleven and Wainwright.
When you think of big curveballs nowadays, you think of Adam Wainwright. Over the last two years, Wainwright’s curveball has been worth 45.7 runs according to FanGraphs, 20 runs better than the runner-up. Wainwright doesn’t shy away from the pitch, throwing it a quarter of the time, the third-highest rate in the Majors. However, nobody can match the 40% rate Blyleven estimated that he threw in 1978. Blyleven was known for freezing batters with his curve, and Wainwright had at least one such famous moment. Both Wainwright and Blyleven threw their curveballs in unusual fashions. According to pitch grip expert Mike Fast, Wainwright's curve "is not quite a standard curveball grip in that his index finger is completely off the ball. Most pitchers lay it down alongside the middle finger on the ball." Blyleven, on the other hand, said that he "holds both his fastball and curveball across the seams." Blyleven recalled Sandy Koufax and Bob Feller pitching the same way, but at the time knew of no one else who did. I asked Mike Fast, and he is unaware of any current pitcher who exhibits this trait. Here's an image of a potential Blyleven curve.
As shown below, Blyleven amassed about 1,750 more innings than Wainwright through their 28-year-old seasons. Nonetheless, the rate stats are nearly identical.
Buster Olney spotlighted Wainwright's usage of his breaking ball in a recent column (Insider subscription required). He threw 1,471 breaking balls in 2010, ranking fourth behind Brett Myers (1,619), Carpenter (1,589), and Dan Haren (1,482). At 44% of his total pitches, Wainwright placed third behind Myers (47%) and Carpenter (45%) among hurlers who threw over 1,500 pitches. According to Olney, the league-average mark was 24.8%. Buster also reported that the league batted .183 against Wainwright's breaking stuff.
Although Blyleven avoided surgery on his UCL, he may serve as a proxy for Wainwright's future performance. If so, look for Wainwright to struggle next season, put up one of his best years in 2013, and perhaps lead the league in innings pitched in 2014 and 2015.
As the saying goes, short-term pain, long-term gain.
Graphing the Hitters: Plate Discipline
Last week, I published Graphing the Hitters: Productivity with a focus on OBP and SLG. Today's version of Graphing the Hitters is on Plate Discipline, which I introduced in this format just over a year ago.
The graph below plots walk rate (BB/PA) on the x-axis and strikeout rate (SO/PA) on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2010. The intersection of the MLB averages for BB% (8.50%) and SO% (18.49%) created quadrants that classify players as better-than-average in both (lower right), worse-than-average in both (upper left), or better-than-average in one and worse-than-average in the other (lower left and upper right).
Unlike Fangraphs, I believe the denominator for strikeout percentage should be plate appearances (rather than at-bats). For whatever reason, Fangraphs defines walk percentage as BB/PA but strikeout percentage as SO/AB. As a result, while the raw numbers were downloaded from Fangraphs, the BB% and SO% were calculated separately.
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the BB, SO, BB%, SO%, and BB/SO of the 151 qualified hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 124 players not labeled in the graph below.
Pujols had the fourth-highest BB% (14.71%) and the 20th-lowest SO% (10.86%). No one else comes close to matching that combination of BB% and SO%. Joe Mauer was 36th in BB% (11.13%) and 7th in SO% (9.08%).
Daric Barton (16.03%), whose name is situated between Bautista and Pujols on the graph above, edged out Prince Fielder (15.97%) for the highest BB% in the majors. A.J. Pierzynski (2.98%) had the lowest BB%.
Mark Reynolds (35.40%) had the highest SO% by a wide margin, beating out Adam Dunn by nearly five percentage points. Reynolds struck out over 200 times for the third straight season. He now holds the top three spots on the all-time single-season list for strikeouts. No other player has ever whiffed 200 times in a campaign. The top nine in SO have all occurred since 2004 with Reynolds (3), Dunn (3), and Ryan Howard (2) manning eight of the nine places. As it relates to Reynolds, if one wants to look for hope and change, he has increased his walks and BB% every year since his rookie season in 2007.
Jeff Keppinger (6.26%) had the lowest SO%, squeezing past Juan Pierre (6.40%) for top honors. He also generated the No. 1 BB/SO ratio with an impressive 1.42. Adam Jones (0.19) had the worst BB/SO. The toolsy center fielder is far from a finished product. By the same token, Carlos Gonzalez, firmly in the top left quadrant with a 6.29% BB and 21.23% SO, may not be the superstar-in-making unless he improves his dismal BB/SO ratio of 0.30. With or without better plate discipline, the 25-year-old outfielder is unlikely to ever approach the rate stats (.363/.412/.679) he put up in the second half last year.
Just five qualified hitters had a BB/SO ratio of 1.0 or better (vs. 13 in 2009). Pujols and Mauer were the only players to repeat.
Combining the features of the Productivity and Plate Discipline graphs allows us to determine the players who had above-average BB% (> 8.50%), SO% (< 18.49%), OBP (> .325), and SLG (> .403). The 29 hitters in the table below are ranked by OPS.
As I concluded last year with no particular revelation, "Pujols is the most disciplined and productive hitter in the game today." Albert may still be the "most disciplined" hitter but might not be the "most productive" anymore. You see, there is another guy out there who is a lot more like Pujols than not. In fact, this impostor had a higher AVG (.328 vs. .312), OBP (.420 vs. .414), SLG (.622 vs. 596), OPS (1.042 vs. 1.011), OPS+ (179 vs. 173), wOBA (.429 vs. .420), and wRC+ (170 vs. 165) than the three-time NL MVP (who, by the way, also has FOUR second-place finishes). No, it's not Joey Votto. It's none other than Miguel Cabrera, who sits atop the list above.
Graphing the Hitters: Productivity
While I have been graphing pitchers for a number of years, I only started doing the same for hitters twelve months ago. It was a simple exercise of measuring productivity by plotting on-base percentages on the x-axis and slugging averages on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2009.
With the foregoing in mind, I decided to create a graph using the data for 2010. As I noted a year ago, "there is nothing groundbreaking" here. Instead, my goal is just to present the information in a format that is not only visual but easier to absorb more quickly than via a spreadsheet. It is designed to be simple and straightforward. Two axis, four quadrants, and player names identifying outliers.
The quadrants were determined by the intersection of the MLB averages for OBP (.325) and SLG (.403). [The averages last year were .333 and .418. Call 2010 the Year of the Pitcher if you want to put a positive spin on it or the Year of the Worsening Hitter if you prefer to be a cynic.] The northeast quadrant is the home of hitters with above-average OBP and SLG. The southwest quadrant is made up of "hitters" with below-average OBP and SLG. The northwest and southeast quadrants identify hitters who were above average in one and below average in the other.
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the OBP, SLG, and OPS of the 151 qualified hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 125 players not labeled in the graph below.
The only other player besides these four to receive a first-place vote for MVP was Jose Bautista, who seemingly came out of nowhere to put up a .378 OBP and .617 SLG. He ranked fifth in the majors in OPS (.995). Bautista slugged 54 HR (12 more than any other hitter) and drew 100 BB. He led MLB in HR plus TB (tied for first with 351) and XBH (92). The Toronto Blue Jay right fielder/third baseman produced an OPS+ of 166, the first time he had ever reached the MLB average of 100. Bautista was in the 90s in his prior four seasons.
In addition to the five aforementioned players, there were three others who exceeded an OBP of .375 and a SLG of .550. Paul Konerko (.977), Carlos Gonzalez (.974), and Troy Tulowitzki (.949) ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth in the majors in OPS. Konerko (3 years/$37.5M), Gonzalez (7/$80M), and Tulowitzki (10/$157.75M) were rewarded with big contracts during the off-season.
CarGo and Tulo benefited greatly by playing their home games at Coors Field, which had a park factor of 118 in 2010. Gonzalez hit .380/.425/.737 at home and .289/.322/.453 on the road. Tulowitzki hit .339/.403/.631 in Colorado and .291/.358/.504 in away games. Nevertheless, their OPS+ of 143 and 138, respectively, ranked sixth and eighth in the NL last season. Konerko generated a career-high OPS+ of 158 at the age of 34. He finished in the top eight in the AL in AVG (.312), OBP (.393), SLG (.584), OPS (.977), OPS+, HR (39), XBH (70), TB (320), and RBI (111).
Two other outliers in the northeast quadrant include Matt Holliday (.390/.532) and Jayson Werth (.388/.532), whose diamond in the above graph touches Holliday's. Interestingly, Holliday signed a 7/$120M contract (or $17M per year with a $1M buyout) with the St. Louis Cardinals in January 2010 and Werth inked a 7/$126M deal (an average of $18M annually including a $4M signing bonus) with the Washington Nationals in December 2010. The latter's salary escalates from $10M in 2011 to $21M in 2015-17. Holliday was 30 and Werth 31 at the time of their signings.
We should also give a shout out to Yo Adrian as Beltre (.365/.553) and Gonzalez (.393/.511) had terrific seasons, placing 11th and 13th in the majors in OPS. Who finished 12th? Robinson Cano (.381/.534), whose diamond sits directly below Tulowitzki's.
By the way, is it just me or does Shin-Soo Choo remind anyone else of Bobby Abreu? Both play right field, hit lefthanded, and put up .300/.400/.500 type rate stats. Through their age 27 seasons, Choo had a 138 OPS+ and Abreu had a 137. Abreu (.308/.413/.521, 151 OPS+) had his best offensive season at age 28. Just sayin'.
At the opposite end of the graph, we see a bunch of futility infielders as Jay Jaffe would be inclined to call them. Ranked from lowest to highest OPS, Cesar Izturis (.545) takes the cake, followed by Jose Lopez (.609), Alcides Escobar (.614), Ryan Theriot (.633), Erick Aybar (.636), Orlando Cabrera (.657), Aaron Hill (.665), Jason Bartlett (.674), Ronny Cedeno (.675), Alberto Callaspo (.676), Kevin Kouzmanoff (.679), Cliff Pennington (.687), Miguel Tejada (.693), Ian Desmond (.700), Jhonny Peralta (.703), and Brandon Inge (.718). Any player residing in this quadrant had better be a "plus" fielder or had an off year.
My best bet for a comeback candidate is Aaron Hill, who had a batting average on balls in play of ONE-NINETY-SIX (.196)! His BABIP is not only remarkable in an absolute sense but also relative to his previous five campaigns when he averaged .307 on balls in play with a range of .288 to .324. The source of the problem can be found in Hill's batted ball stats. According to Fangraphs, 54% were fly balls (vs. 41% career mark and a MLB average of 38%), 35% were ground balls (vs. 40% career and MLB of 44%), and 11% were line drives (vs. 19% career and MLB of 18%). Per The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011, 83% of fly balls turned into outs whereas only 74% of ground balls and 27% of line drives were converted into outs last year. Given the increase in FB and the decrease in GB and LD, one would expect Hill's batting average to decline but not necessarily from a previous career mark of .285 to .205. If the second baseman can keep his strikeout rate below 15% (which he has accomplished in five of his six seasons to date), I would expect his AVG/OBP/SLG to improve materially this year.
The Fun Never Stops
I didn't intend to write about Bert Blyleven for my Monday entry until I received the following email from a Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp player yesterday evening.
Rich - it was great to meet you at the camp and love the story.
The email from Paul Bennett made my Sunday. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least, as I had not seen a video from the night I met Bert. I had no idea that I would be asked to speak that evening so my comments were unrehearsed. I just went with the flow. My wife, who wasn't able to join me for the trip, enjoyed watching the video as well. It made her feel as if she was back there with me.
Blyleven opens by talking about fellow Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell. Stan Dickman, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp, then asks Bert about the Internet just beyond the two-minute mark on the video. Check out the following YouTube to see how it all unfolded from there.
Thank you, Paul. I will see you in Cooperstown six months from today.
On a related note, Stan added a news story to his website yesterday. Here is an excerpt from 2011 Camp — In the Books and One for the Ages!
But perhaps the highlight of the night came when Bert was surprised with a visit by Rich Lederer, the Southern California Blogger that had taken up the cause for Bert's inclusion into the Hall of Fame eight years prior. In his press conference on the day of the vote announcement and again at the Tuesday night banquet, Bert had singled Rich out for his tireless efforts on the internet in making the case for Bert's body of work being Hall of Fame worthy. The look on Bert's face when Rich was introduced was priceless and will long stand as one of the most exciting moments in our camp's history.
What I thought was a fun-tastic two weeks has now turned into a great three weeks.
Thanks everyone for sharing this adventure with me.
Meeting Up and Hanging Out with Bert
Make no mistake about it, I've had a fun-tastic two weeks. It all started with the phone call from Bert Blyleven on Wednesday, January 5 when he informed me 30 minutes prior to the actual announcement that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. After 14 long years, the wait was finally over. Bert Blyleven, Hall of Famer.
I congratulated him and then he congratulated me. I told him, "Thank you." He said, "No, thank you." Bert could not have been more appreciative or gracious in sharing baseball's ultimate honor with me. I'm not naive though. He did all the work on the field. Fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts, and top 20 in wins since 1900. Two World Series Championships with a 5-1 postseason record and a 2.47 ERA. And much, much more. My only contribution was making voters aware of his qualifications. It all seemed so obvious to me when I wrote my first article about Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven in December 2003. Everybody around him in the major statistical categories was in the HOF except Blyleven. How could that be? Well, seven years and more than 30 articles later, we no longer have to answer the naysayers.
In that same phone conversation, I told Bert that I was going to be in Cooperstown on July 24 when he is officially inducted into the Hall of Fame. He responded in typical Blyleven fashion, "You can stand next to me if you'd like." Bert and his wife Gayle have since invited me to sit with the family on that momentous day this summer.
But, as it turned out, I won't have to wait six months to meet Bert for the first time in person. While I umpired one of his scout's league games 37 years ago, I never got closer than about 60 feet, 6 inches to him. You see, on the afternoon of Blyleven's election, I was invited to surprise Bert at a tribute dinner for him at the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp in Ft. Myers, Florida the following Tuesday. I didn't have to think too long or too hard on the offer proposed by Jay Harris, one of of the organizers of this event.
I made plans the next day to fly out of Los Angeles to Ft. Myers (via Miami) a week ago Tuesday and fly back to L.A. last Thursday. Suffice it to say, that trip was one of the most fun-filled of my life. Nearly one week after returning and I still haven't quite come all the way down from cloud nine.
Tuesday, January 11
In anticipation of playing catch with Bert, I packed my baseball glove firmly inside my carry-on bag. My son Joe took me to LAX bright and early that morning. I caught a 7:10 a.m. PT flight and landed in MIA as scheduled at 2:55 p.m. ET. My connecting flight to Ft. Myers (RSW) was at 3:35. I called Jay, who had offered to pick me up at the airport, to let him know that I would be there on time. Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. Less than five minutes later, a voice was heard over the public address system telling us that there was a change in the aircraft and that the flight was now scheduled to leave at 4:30. Well, 4:30 soon became almost 5:00 as the passengers literally stood on a bus on the tarmac waiting to be called onto the American Eagle puddle jumper. I called Jay to let him know that I wouldn't arrive until at least 5:30. He told me not to worry about it even though the dinner festivities were expected to begin at 6:00 at the Holiday Inn Ft. Myers Airport-Town Center.
We actually arrived at the hotel in the nick of time. The program began minutes later with the honorable Bert Blyleven decked out in a white wig and green robe presiding over Kangaroo Court. He fined campers and former teammates-turned instructors a total of $1,600 with all the proceeds going to Lee County Children’s Hospital. Bert had no idea I was there as I sat in the back corner of the room at a table with Jay and a half dozen campers.
Dinner was served, a FOXSports North video of Blyleven was shown on a big screen, Bert was asked to address the audience, a toast was conducted, and songwriter/storyteller Warren Nelson sang a couple of original songs about Bert and the Twins while playing his guitar. Stan Dickman, the evening's host who is also the Executive Director of Ultimate Sports Adventures (which is the licensed provider of the Twins Fantasy Baseball Camp), called Bert back up to the stage. He asked him if there was anybody not in the room that he wanted to thank. Blyleven proceeded to talk about former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who was unable to attend after learning that he had esophageal cancer.
Stan then asked Blyleven about the Internet and Bert once again mentioned my name and talked about my efforts on his behalf. Stan asked Bert if he had ever met me. The latest Hall of Famer said no but indicated that he was hopeful of doing so in Cooperstown in July. Stan responded, "Would you like to meet him tonight?" After Bert panned the room, I stood up and walked to the stage amid a warm reception by the audience. Bert and I shook hands, smiled, and gave each other a big hug. The look in his eyes was a combination of surprise and gratitude.
I also met Gayle for the first time in person. She presented me with a big basket of decorative cookies wrapped in cellophane as a thank you. The sugar cookies were customized with the Twins logo and Bert Blyleven HOF 2011. It was a thoughtful gesture on her part. I suggested that we take the basket to the locker room the next morning and let the campers enjoy them.
John Gordon, the radio play-by-play announcer, stopped by to introduce himself and say hello. Two days later, I was able to hook up with a fully uniformed Dick Bremer, who is Bert's partner on the telecasts, at one of the camp games. Outstanding broadcasters and men both.
Wednesday, January 12
I arrived at the Lee County Sports Complex – Spring Training Headquarters of the Twins – at about 8:00 a.m. I was given a locker and a uniform. After I got dressed, David Dorsey of the Ft. Myers News-Press interviewed me for an article that appeared on the front page of the sports section the next day. Jay then showed me around the clubhouse and took me to the cafeteria where we served ourselves breakfast. Bert sat down directly across from me. We talked about baseball and golf before meeting up on the field and having a catch.
Bert went out of his way to accommodate me as he had hip replacement surgery in October. Believe me, he can still zing it. Not shy, I told Bert that I wanted to compare curveballs. I threw him a spinner and he mocked me. "That's your curveball?" Hey, it was the first one I had thrown in years and only then at a family picnic. He raised his arm and hand to a 12 o'clock position and said, "You've got to get it up here." As someone who had a good curve through high school, I knew I was supposed to throw the ball over the barrel and shake hands with the center fielder (a visual that worked wonders for me). Nevertheless, at age 55, my shoulder wasn't as cooperative as it once was. Bert, who is four years older than me, broke off a couple of tight ones. Impressive indeed.
My manager, Lee Stange, asked me what position I played. I told him pitcher but said I could also play first base. He kidded, "Everyone out here is a first baseman/DH." Lee sent me to the bullpen to warm up. He liked what he saw enough to give me the start. The first two batters hit line-drive singles. Standing just outside our dugout on the third base side, Blyleven shouted, "Hey Rich! Try to get an out, why don't you!" I smiled at him, took a deep breath, and got back to the task at hand. The next batter hit a slow roller to my right. I was thinking two but, then again, I thought I was 30-something rather than 50-something. My brain made the play with no problem, but my body failed me. The ball passed me and the shortstop had no play. A couple of runs later and Bert was now needling me again. "You've got an 18.00 ERA!" It was actually higher at that moment in time because I had not yet completed the inning. Thankfully, I did with no further damage.
Down 2-0 after the first inning, the Stingers (see lineup card signed by Stange and our coach Rick Aguilera) battled back and scored four runs in the top of the second. I got a chance to hit and landed on second base after the infielder overthrew first. It was the last thing I wanted to happen. Not only did I run hard (not fast, mind you) to first, now I had to hustle to second to beat the throw from the right fielder who did a great job in backing up the play. Believe me, sprinting from home to second was the furthest thought on my mind when I walked to the plate. But, hey, I did it for the team and eventually scored a run. Man, was I winded when I high fived Bert on my way back to the dugout.
Teammate Bob Garvin threw several innings, limiting the New Years team managed by Phil Roof and Juan Berenguer to a run or two as we went on to a 14-4 victory. The official scorekeeper credited me with the win in a judgment call that was highly favorable to me. Stange was as generous when he told me that I earned the "W" and went 1-for-1 in my debut. I'll take 'em both, as well as the congratulations from Bert after the game.
Steve Dickman, who is Stan's older brother, took me back to the hotel to change into my golf attire and then to Bert's country club where he hosted a round of golf that afternoon for ten foursomes, generally made up of one former player and three campers. I not only played in Bert's group but rode in the same cart in an 18-hole scramble format that called for playing the best ball after each shot.
Bert posed for a photo with me next to the carts prior to teeing off. Ever the prankster, he suggested we take out our drivers. I reached into my bag of rental clubs for the 12.5° squared driver while he grabbed his ball retriever. I joined in on the fun when we gave each other bunny ears, returning the favor that Bert had given me on the baseball field earlier that day. Needless to say, we had a good time playing golf.
Our group also played well. We tied for first place with a 65. Bert, who plays to a five index, hit a lot of long drives. I was pleasantly surprised how well I hit the golf ball after not playing since July 4th. We didn't hit any balls on the range so my first swing in six months was on the first hole. Although I once played to a five myself, I was a little bit nervous when I stepped to the No. 1 tee. I hit a good drive (which we didn't use), then stuck a nine-iron about four feet from the hole, which led to our first birdie of the day. I contributed a few drives, several approach shots on the greens, and one birdie putt from the No. 3 position in the group. Dick Washburn, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round in 1966 and was the camp's over-the-age of 50 Cy Young Award winner, and Joe Repya, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and combat veteran of three wars, also helped our cause.
During our round of golf, I presented Bert with a couple of personalized, tour-quality golf towels that my son Joe, who is a Regional Sales Manager for Club Glove, had designed for me. The Twins logo, Bert's name, and 2011 Hall of Fame were all embroidered onto the towels. These gifts meant a lot to him.
We finished the day's activities with drinks and hors d' oeuvres in the clubhouse. Ron Gardenhire, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Tim Laudner, and Bill Campbell (standing next to me in this photo) were some of the players who joined us for golf and refreshments. Campbell, who won the first two Rolaids Relief Man Awards in 1976-77, shared a bunch of great stories with me in the locker room and on the golf course. He was an old-school reliever, combining to pitch 307.2 innings (an average of more than two per outing) in those two seasons. He went 30-14 while leading the league in games finished both years and saves in 1977. Soup, as he was and is still known, placed in the top ten in the CYA and MVP voting in '76 for the Twins and '77 for the Red Sox.
I returned to the hotel that evening not knowing it was possible to be as sore as I was and still have so much fun. Due to the fact that I had no intention of playing the next day, you might say that I retired early for the night and late for my "career." One and done although, as a starting pitcher, I had a built-in excuse for not pitching for another five days. Bert Blyleven or Bill Campbell, I am not.
Thursday, January 13
I woke up at 6:45 in anticipation of packing for my return flight that afternoon and a half day of camp. I met Jay in the lobby of the hotel at 7:50 and we arrived at the spring training complex at around 8:00. I wore black jeans and my Twins undershirt, jersey, and cap but no baseball pants, belt, or tube socks for me on this day.
My teammate Bob Zuckerman, as nice a guy as you could meet, took the photo of Bert and me at the top of this page on Wednesday morning. He went to Target that evening and ordered an 8x10 that he placed in my locker prior to my arrival on Thursday. I asked Bert to sign that photo and a Rawlings Major League Baseball. He personalized both, thanking me again in writing and signing "Your friend, Bert Blyleven."
We looked at the article that appeared in the Ft. Myers News-Press that morning. The photo of me pitching above was on page three. Bert ribbed me. "We need to work on your leg kick." I said, "Are you kidding me? That's major league quality right there." When I returned home, I looked for photos to check his leg kick from his playing days. Oh well, my leg kick certainly wasn't as big as Blyleven's. But it got me thinking, "Maybe the photographer snapped the photo of me pitching with a runner on base?" OK, runners on base. Either way, it may have been too short for a windup and too long for a slide step. That's why I haven't quit my day job.
I hung out with Bert and Frank Viola in the locker room. The three of us swapped baseball stories, reminiscing more about the past than the present. Bert and Frank, of course, were the go-to guys for the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series championship team. Viola won the AL Cy Young Award the following year when he led the league with 24 wins and a .774 W-L percentage while ranking third in ERA (2.64) and ERA+ (154). As I learned from his son, Frank Viola III, the man known as Sweet Music and possessor of the best changeup in the game never missed a start from 1983-1992. He started a remarkable 354 games and completed 2,451 innings during that ten-year stretch.
Viola's son, a minor-league pitcher, worked out with Blyleven that day. After undergoing Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, he now throws harder than ever, touching 90 with a live fastball. He also throws a nice changeup. However, he doesn't have much of a breaking ball. In steps Bert to teach him the grip and the arm action of a cutter. I witnessed much of his bullpen session, and it was a pretty good one. At 26, he just might get one last chance.
The clock struck noon and it was time for me to say my final goodbyes to Bert. We shook hands and chatted for a few moments. It ended like it started with that phone call just over a week ago with both of us congratulating and thanking one another. As a friend told me in an email, "It's nice to know that the guy you helped so much is personally worthy of your efforts." Well, let me tell you, Bert is as great a man as he was a pitcher.
My return flight was at 1:35 p.m. Jay, who couldn't have treated me any better, drove me to the Ft. Myers Airport. He dropped me off by 12:30 and handed me a sandwich that camp chef George Serra made for me and a Killebrew Root Beer in a handsome bottle. I sat on a bench outside the terminal and ate my lunch. With my boarding pass already printed, I walked directly to the gate. Unlike Tuesday, my two flights departed and arrived on time. Joe picked me up at LAX shortly after 6 p.m. PT and took me to the Claim Jumper in Long Beach where I met my wife Barbara, daughter Macy, and son-in-law Joel for dinner. Macy is expecting in March, and Barbara and I will become grandparents for the first time.
Life is more than good.
Friday, January 14
Upon my return home, I was greeted with a wonderful article by Dave Studeman at The Hardball Times.
Bert meets Rich
In his Friday Filberts, Rob Neyer linked to the Ft. Myers News-Press article and added, "My favorite story of the week? Rich Lederer and Bert Blyleven having a catch."
I was also interviewed that morning by Bob Sansevere, a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is a member of the BBWAA and is a Hall of Fame voter. To Bob's credit, he has voted for Blyleven since the get go. The Q&A appeared online that evening and in the newspaper the following day.
Buster Olney linked to the interview on his blog last Saturday (subscription required). "Rich Lederer had a lot to do with Bert Blyleven's induction into the Hall of Fame, Bob Sansevere writes."
Stan Dickman, the owner of the baseball camp, made my day on Sunday with the following note within his email. "The highlight of the week was your surprise appearance at our Tuesday evening banquet."
The pleasure was mine. Thanks to Bert and everyone involved for making the past two weeks so memorable.
Photo credits (in order): Bob Zuckerman (standing with Blyleven), Brian Hirten/Ft. Myers News-Press (pitching), and Al Schuth, Twins Camp photographer (action sequence above).
The Bill James Handbook 2011
Reviewing the Bill James Handbook has become an annual tradition for me since late 2003 when I spotlighted the 2004 edition. The Handbook, which was in its second year of publication back then, has now been around for nine years. Produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, The Bill James Handbook 2010 offers readers more than 500 pages of stats, projections, and leader boards, as well as nine short essays by Bill James and The Fielding Bible Awards by John Dewan.
This year's Handbook features National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto on the cover. He follows Barry Zito in 2003, Albert Pujols in 2004, Jorge Posada in 2005, Miguel Cabrera in 2006, Ryan Howard in 2007, Grady Sizemore in 2008, Brandon Webb in 2009, and Evan Longoria in 2010. The cover boys have alternated from AL to NL every year with the exception of 2006 and 2007 when Cabrera (then of the Florida Marlins) and Howard appeared in back-to-back years. Four of the nine players call first base home. No middle infielders or corner outfielders yet.
Upon opening the book, one notices the Table of Contents, which lists 26 sections, beginning with the Introduction and ending with Acknowledgements. The heart of the book includes up-to-date statistics on every major league player and manager plus team statistics and efficiency summary, baserunning, bullpens, pinch hitting, manufactured runs, park indices, lefty/righty stats, leader boards, Win Shares, hitter and pitcher projections, and career targets. The Hall of Fame Monitor and plus/minus and runs saved fielding data for every player are new additions to the Handbook this year.
I rarely miss anything with a Bill James byline. James authors 40 pages, although many are explanations, definitions, or accompanied by lists or tables. As a result, I'm left wanting more of James. Nonetheless, he provides some compelling facts and commentary in a few sections.
In 2010 Team Efficiency Summary, James writes:
As long as we have been measuring efficiency, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, Disneyland and Mike Scioscia have been the most efficient team in the American League, if not all of baseball. They still were, in 2010; they weren't good, but they were still efficient. In previous years their efficiency helped them to win. In 2010 it helped to disguise how bad they really were.
His second piece of writing in this book may be the juiciest in terms of information. The title of the section is "38 Facts about Major League Baserunning in 2010." If you're into baserunning as much as I am, then you need to buy the book for these facts and the six-plus pages of tables. While you can find much of this information on the individual player pages of Baseball-Reference.com, it's not available in a alpha sort like it is in the Bill James Handbook.
I will tease you with fact 38 below:
The three best baserunners in the major leagues—Juan Pierre, Carl Crawford, and Brett Gardner—were all left fielders. Historically, left field is interesting because that is where the greatest baserunners have played (Brock, Henderson, Raines, Coleman), but there have also been many left fielders who were absolutely terrible baserunners.
In The Bullpens of 2010, James informs us that "Fourteen major league pitchers had (Leverage) Indexes over 2.00—all of them closers except Jim Johnson of Baltimore, who was over 2.00 as a setup man." Bill shows his humor when he says David Riske ranked last because "his managers thought that to use him in critical situations was Too Riske."
James gives a shout out to Chris Jaffe, author of Evaluating Baseball's Managers, in The Manager's Record. Baseball Analysts ran the introductory essay to Chapter 5 of Jaffe's book almost a year ago. James doesn't mince words at the end of his section.
I don't know Jaffe from a hole in the wall; he's not like a friend of mine or something, and also, I have to warn you that he is not a compelling writer. He does really good research. He develops a wide range of metrics by which to compare managers, like "Ballpark Adjusted Bullpen ERA" and "Leverage Points Average" and "Average Opponent Winning Percentage" (for pitchers), and I learned a great deal from reading his book. I hope you learn something from this data.
In The Hall of Fame Monitor, James tweaks the 32 rules from the old system (which was first published almost 30 years ago) and adds a new system based on Win Shares "with a caveat for relievers and one for catchers."
For a season of 30 or more Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, times 10, converted to the nearest integer. For a season of 10 to 29 Win Shares, the formula is Win Shares, divided by 30, SQUARED, times 10, converted into the nearest integer. For a season of less than 10 Win Shares, no points.
Here is a table of active players with 100 or more points:
James, in The Player Projections Section, opens with the following. "As Fantasy Baseball is now America's fourth-largest business, this section of the book could be considered business consulting. Got a hot tip for you, boss: This Albert Pujols, he's pretty good. Albert's gold brick is easy to project, because he does the same thing every year."
The ten best predictions are ranked in order (from first to tenth): Raj Davis, Matt Holliday, Stephen Drew, Russell Branyan, Torii Hunter, Alexei Ramirez, David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, Emilio Bonifacio, and David Ortiz.
To his credit, he also points out his biggest mistakes, which generally fell into three categories: "(a) we projected that a player would play, and he didn't, (b) we didn't project that a player would play much, but he did, and (c) we just missed on the numbers. Re the latter, James admits "the champion of those in 2010, of course, was Jose Bautista. I don't know how that happened; everybody else knew he would hit 54 homers. Why didn't we?"
Bill's wit shines through when he boasts about how close he was on Todd Coffey and Phil Coke. "We regret that there were no pitchers named Milk or Juice." He follows that line with "There was a Sipp" and shows his actual and projected stats.
In Pitchers on Course For 300 Wins, which is the final section aside from the Glossary, James writes:
The two pitchers in baseball today who have the best chance to win 300 games are Roy Halladay and the artist formerly known as Carsten Charles Sabathia. This statement was true a year ago; however, the situation is very different now than it was a year ago. A year ago, the no-hit pitcher and the Big Lefty were first and second on a list of contenders. Now they have separated themselves from the field.
I'm into online stats and recognize that a lot of the information in The Bill James Handbook can be found at Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, but there is still something magical about this book. I believe it will broaden your baseball knowledge and help bridge the gap between now and the beginning of spring training next month or your upcoming fantasy baseball draft.
J.P. Morosi, FOXSports: Aficionado Heavily Invested in Blyleven
If you hurry on over to that link as fast as members of my family did, the following screenshot can be viewed live by waiting for or clicking on the number 5 on the right-hand side of the window. Or you can go to the MLB page and wait for it to scroll to the number 1, which corresponds to the title "No. 1 Fan: Investing guru turned blogger is out to save Blyleven from HOF snub."
The headline that is attached to the article is "Aficionado heavily invested in Blyleven," a play on words owing to my profession as an investment manager. I'll take aficionado over internet zealot any day.
Rich Lederer is an investment manager. Stock and bond portfolios are his thing. He is the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, Calif.
Morosi then highlights Blyleven's achievements, discusses Bert's voting trends, the "grassroots campaign," how he is polling this year, my father (including a photo of him showing off the first foul ball that he caught in the press box at Dodger Stadium in 1962), and concludes with the following:
“The Internet flattens the world a little and allows someone like me to have a say, an audience, and indirectly participate in the discussion,” Rich Lederer said. “I enjoy that. If not for the Internet, it would be next to impossible for me to have an impact on those types of things. It’s been a great vehicle. People say there have been more words written about Bert’s candidacy than anyone else in the history of the Hall of Fame.”
I have someone in mind, but it will remain a secret until Blyleven earns his just reward.
Here are four links on the same subject:
...and one on Jeff Bagwell:
In August, Richard Lederer of the Baseball Analyst's Web site stacked the career numbers for Bagwell and Chipper Jones side-by-side and said the two players should be "slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famers." Bagwell ranks 37th all-time among position players with a WAR (wins above replacement) rating of 80. He's ahead of Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, Reggie Jackson and several other baseball greats in WAR, which combines offense, defense, baserunning and a player's position to determine how many added wins he gives a team when compared to a baseline "replacement level" substitute.
Thanks to Jon, Craig, Anthony, Joe, Glenn, and Jerry, as well as all the tweeters out there.
Latest Update on Bert Blyleven's Chances for the Hall of Fame in 2011
ESPN.com released the ballots from the ESPN writers who are voting members of the BBWAA this morning. Fourteen of the 18 writers (77.8%) voted for Bert Blyleven.
Here are the 14 that voted for Blyleven: Howard Bryant, Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Gordon Edes, Pedro Gomez, Tony Jackson, Tim Kurkjian, Ian O'Connor, Peter Pascarelli, Brendan Roberts, Adam Rubin, Mark Saxon, Claire Smith, and Jayson Stark.
Barry Stanton, news editor for ESPN, did *not* vote for Blyleven (or Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Larkin, or Tim Raines), yet he voted for B.J. Surhoff plus Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, and Edgar Martinez. It looks like if your last name started with "M" you had a better shot at getting Stanton's vote than if you were fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts, and in the top 20 all-time in wins since 1900. Why someone like Stanton has a vote is beyond me.
In any event, Blyleven has now received 82 of the 105 full ballots (78.1%) that Darren Viola (aka Repoz), the editor-in-chief of the Baseball Think Factory, has gathered from voters who have either posted their selections publicly or confessed to him privately. If this sample size is indicative of the overall total, then Blyleven should narrowly gain admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame when the results are released tomorrow.
In the meantime, here's hoping that Bert Be Home Blyleven (as in 2011). Those of us who have supported him can help the cause by keeping our fingers crossed for the next 24 hours.
The Internet Zealot Responds
One Blyleven Internet supporter is such a zealot that he has guessed as to the motives for the non-support, and even on occasion taken to outing non-supporters or ridiculing them, perhaps in an attempt at persuasion. Let me just say that I have nothing against Blyleven, and have been consistent in my non-support of him. My "no'' vote has nothing to do with the Internet campaign, which has only become apparent in Blyleven's final few years on the ballot, and appears to be effective, as Blyleven's totals have risen precipitously.
- Jon Heyman
Heyman released his Hall of Fame ballot on Twitter several days ago but devoted his entire column on Monday (sans his picks on the second page) to "Why I didn't cast a Hall of Fame vote for Bert Blyleven, again." Incredible. He mentions Blyleven specifically or refers to him in 24 of the 26 paragraphs that comprise nearly 2,000 words. By comparison, he writes one paragraph on Roberto Alomar, his top candidate; four paragraphs defending his selection of Jack Morris over Blyleven; and a few sentences on a separate page on each of his five other picks (Barry Larkin, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy).
I'd like to respond to the following excerpts from Heyman's column:
Heyman tries to use the fact that Blyleven has received "less than half the votes" against him, yet he himself is voting for Mattingly, Murphy, and Parker, none of whom has even sniffed 50 percent of the vote in a single year. In fact, the individual high among these three is 28.2% (Mattingly in his first year of eligibility in 2001). All three players were greats at their respective peaks but the truth of the matter is that the trio has been polling about 10-20 percent of the vote every year they have been on the ballot.
Here we go with "impact" and being "around as long as every player on the ballot" again. I tackled these obsessions two years ago.
"I saw him play his entire career."
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
There you go again with impact. You see, it's difficult to argue against impact. There are no numbers. Instead, it's all about feelings and beliefs and all those other intangible goodies that only certain people possess. Just close your eyes and relive the memories, however tainted they may be, of these, ahem, human beings!
Fame. I always love that one. Another touchy-feely qualification. Alomar, Larkin, and Parker. Now those guys were famous. Even though Blyleven won two World Championships, struck out more batters than all but four pitchers and threw more shutouts than all but eight in the history of baseball, completed the third-most 1-0 shutout victories ever and the highest total in 75 years, pitched a no-hitter, and had the greatest curveball of his era and one of the best of all-time, he wasn't famous. Or at least not in Jon Heyman's world.
Sheesh. I have shown otherwise numerous times. Just because Blyleven didn't win the American League Cy Young Award in 1973 doesn't mean he wasn't the best pitcher in the league. He led the AL in WAR (9.2), ERA+ (158), K/BB (3.85), and SHO (9). He ranked second in ERA (2.52), SO (258), BB/9 (1.86), and WHIP (1.12), third in K/9 (7.15) and CG (25), and fourth in IP (325) and HR/9 (0.44). That's one heck of a résumé, no? Nonetheless, he received one point and finished seventh in the Cy Young balloting that season. As I reported six years ago, "One voter out of 24 saw fit to pencil Bert's name into the third slot on the ballot. The other 23 writers ignored him completely. Instead, they voted for Jim Palmer #1, Nolan Ryan #2, Catfish Hunter (and his 3.34 ERA in a pitcher's ballpark) #3, John Hiller #4, Wilbur Wood #5, and Jim Colborn #6. Palmer had two more wins than Blyleven and an ERA that was 0.12 lower. Otherwise, Palmer had inferior stats across the board, including WAR (6.1), ERA+ (156), K/BB (1.40), SHO (6), SO (158), BB/9 (3.4), WHIP (1.14), K/9 (4.8), CG (19), IP (296.1), and HR/9 (0.49), yet he received 88 points, including 14 first-place votes. Go figure.
Did I mention that Palmer also received much better run and defensive support than Blyleven? The Baltimore Orioles scored 4.7 runs per game for Palmer while the Minnesota Twins scored 4.2 for Blyleven. The Orioles led the AL in Defensive Efficiency (.731) while the Twins (.696) ranked eighth out of 12 teams. Looked at it another way, Baltimore (119 FRAA) was 137 fielding runs better than Minnesota (-18). These fielding differences showed up in Palmer's and Blyleven's batting average on balls in play. Palmer had a .234 BABIP and Blyleven had a .292 BABIP. With an infield that included Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson, the O's (184) also turned a lot more double plays than the Rod Carew-Danny Thompson-Steve Braun Twinkies (147).
Look, if you're into performance, you take Blyleven. On the other hand, if you're like Heyman and care more about impact, you take Palmer because he was selected as the Cy Young Award winner.
As for "a series of seasons," Blyleven led the major leagues in Runs Saved Against the Average (RSAA) over four-consecutive, five-year rolling periods (1971-75, 1972-76, 1973-77, and 1974-78). As I highlighted last January, "Over the past 50 years, the five-year leaders have included Don Drysdale (1x), Sandy Koufax (3x), Juan Marichal (2x), Bob Gibson (2x), Tom Seaver (2x), Bert Blyleven (4x), Jim Palmer (1x), Steve Carlton (3x), Dave Stieb (5x), Roger Clemens (7x), Greg Maddux (5x), Pedro Martinez (4x), Randy Johnson (2x), Johan Santana (3x), and Roy Halladay (1x). While it may be too early to judge Santana and Halladay, 11 of the other 12 pitchers are either enshrined or will be enshrined (including several "inner circle" Hall of Famers). The only exception is Stieb, whose HOF case was derailed by a relatively short career."
The operative word here is "considered." While Blyleven "was never considered among the two best pitchers in the his league," he was one of the two best pitchers in his league three times as measured by WAR (including twice leading the league in that all-encompassing counting stat) and four times as measured by the rate stat ERA+. He was as overlooked and underappreciated during his playing career as he has been over the first 13 years of being on the Hall of Fame ballot.
There's that word "considered" again. Heyman can side with opinions and I'll side with the facts, thank you. The facts in this case tell us that Blyleven was one of the game's best pitchers during his career. I've given multiple examples of the facts already. As for "simply outlasting almost everyone else and pitching effectively into his 40s," that's not entirely accurate. Blyleven pitched only one season in his 40s and it wasn't very effective (8-12, 4.74 ERA, 84 ERA+ in 133 IP) if the truth be told.
This is not only misleading, but it's clearly a low blow. Blyleven led the league in home runs in 1986 and 1987 when he was 35 and 36 years old. He led the league in earned runs in 1988 when he was 37. Of note, Morris, whose HOF candidacy Heyman supports, gave up the second-most number of HR in 1986 and 1987 and was sixth in earned runs allowed in 1988. For what it's worth, Morris led the league in ER and BB, as well as wild pitches six times. All I'm asking for is some consistency in judging players.
Once again, Heyman looks for a reason *not* to vote for Blyleven. Morris ranks 770th all-time in MVP shares at 0.18. No on the guy at 936th. Yes on the guy at 770th. Yup, I get it.
Morris never finished in the top ten in MVP voting. If it doesn't apply to Morris, why should it apply to Blyleven? My goodness. Besides, Blyleven dominated in several seasons and was regularly among the very best. I didn't even know who Heyman was six years ago but this article could have been written just for him.
Now that is one strange compound sentence. While I'm glad that Heyman promoted Felix for the CYA, this point proves how illogical or biased he is when it comes to evaluating Blyleven. Hernandez was 13-12 in 2010. He won one more game than he lost, yet Heyman supported him as the best pitcher in the league whereas he won't vote for Blyleven because he only won 37 more games than he lost during his career. Bert's career W-L percentage? .534. Felix's 2010 W-L percentage? .520.
Heyman admits Morris' career totals aren't as good as Blyleven's. But, you see, with Morris, you just had to be there. I don't get it. You had to be where? If you were there, I was there. Maybe not literally. But I was paying close attention all along. Unlike you, I don't think that means all that much. I mean, did you see every game he pitched? If so, what did you think about this one? Or are you just referring to that one? How much better was that Game Seven performance than Mickey Lolich's 8 2/3 scoreless innings and 4-1 complete-game victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the 1968 World Series? By the way, Morris and Lolich, both of whom were World Series heroes, had career ERA+ of 105 in a comparable number of innings. Did you ever vote for Lolich for the Hall of Fame? His impact was historic. But maybe you weren't there.
Who cares if he was the ace in those particular years? Blyleven "pitched very well in the postseason" by your admission. It doesn't matter what you call him. You think it's all about impact and human beings and fame and having to be there and being called an ace. I say performance trumps them all. And, in this regard, Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason, including 4-2, 2.96 in the World Series. Blyleven was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason with better peripherals and 2-1, 2.35 ERA in the World Series.
Nice try. If you exclude Morris' last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.73 (with a ERA+ of 109). By the same token, if you exclude Blyleven's last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.22 (with a ERA+ of 122). No matter how you cut it, so to speak, Blyleven had a much better ERA and ERA+ than Morris.
As for "pitching to the scoreboard," Jay Jaffe, who was just elected to the Baseball Writers Association of America, debunked that nonsense in his recent annual review of the Hall of Fame cases of starting pitchers, linking to research by Greg Spira and Joe Sheehan that "has long since put the lie to this claim." Sheehan's conclusion? "I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score—and I don't doubt that he changed his approach—the practice didn't show up in his performance record."
Gosh, shame on me. I thought being consistently good and pitching for a long time were huge positives. In fact, in Blyleven's case, he ranks 13th all-time among pitchers in Baseball-Reference WAR with 90.1 because he combined quantity and quality like so few others. By comparison, Morris ranks 140th with 39.3. This stat would suggest that Blyleven was worth 50 more wins above replacement than Morris. Not that WAR is the be all and end all to performance measurement, but that gap is so wide that it would be virtually impossible to bridge via impact alone.
By the way, the four pitchers in front of and behind Blyleven in WAR? Greg Maddux Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton. The four pitchers in front of and behind Morris in WAR? Ed Reulbach, Dizzy Dean, Noodles Hahn, Carl Mays, Ted Breitenstein, Murry Dickson, Harry Brecheen, and Al Leiter.
Wow. That's really something. Blyleven finished with 287 wins and 242 complete games while leading the league at various times in shutouts (3x), strikeouts-to-walks (3x), innings pitched (2x), games started, complete games, and strikeouts, as well as WHIP and ERA+. Seems pretty straightforward to me. If Morris is a Hall of Famer, he needs to wait until after Blyleven has been inducted to be taken seriously. As Craig Calcaterra has said repeatedly, "You can vote for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame. You can vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. You can also keep both of them out if you’re a small-Hall kind of guy. You cannot, however, vote for Jack Morris and not vote for Bert Blyleven."
I agree with Craig, which is another way of saying that if Heyman were intellectually honest and consistent, I wouldn't have a problem with him voting for Morris or not voting for Blyleven. To quote Craig, "There are no right and wrong Hall of Fame votes. There are right and wrong approaches to voting however." Well said, my friend.
Blyleven fell five votes shy of the Hall of Fame last year. If everybody who voted for him does so again, this should be the year as it appears that there may be enough voters who are reconsidering his candidacy to finally make it happen.
And Then There Were Three
Phil Cavaretta (1916-2010) died of complications from a stroke on Saturday. Based on an Associated Press story that appeared on ESPN Chicago, Cavaretta also had been battling leukemia for several years but that disease was in remission according to his son Phil Jr. The elder Cavaretta was 94.
Cavaretta was signed by the Chicago Cubs at the age of 17 in 1934 and made his major-league debut that same year, playing seven games in September and going 8-for-21, including a homer in his first start to account for the only run of the contest. He broke his ankle in 1939 and 1940 but bounced back and was named the National League MVP in 1945 when he topped the league in AVG (.355) and OBP (.449) while leading the Cubs to the World Series.
The first baseman/outfielder served as the team's player-manager from 1951-53. After being fired by his hometown Cubs, he signed with the White Sox in May 1954 and played parts of two seasons on the South Side of Chicago before being released in May 1955. After his playing career was over, Cavaretta managed in the minors, coached and scouted for the Detroit Tigers, and wound up his baseball career as a batting instructor for the New York Mets' organization.
Cavaretta was the last surviving player from his debut season in 1934. Buddy Lewis of the Senators is now the only survivor from the 1935 season. As reported by Peter Ridges on SABR-L, Cavaretta was the only man alive who had appeared in a World Series in the 1930s. According to Who's Alive and Who's Dead, he was the 13th-oldest former major leaguer when he passed away.
In addition, Cavaretta was one of the last four living players mentioned in David Frishberg's 1969 classic Van Lingle Mungo. He is survived by Eddie Joost (born 1916), Johnny Pesky (1919), and Eddie Basinski (1922). A photo in the music video linked in the opening sentence of the paragraph would suggest that John Antonelli, a major-league pitcher from 1948-61, is also a survivor. I don't mean to imply that the lefthander is not alive today, but he was generally known as Johnny. The John Antonelli referred to in the song is more likely the infielder who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies in 1944-45.
Joost turned 94 last June. With Cavaretta's death, he becomes the 13th-oldest living player. He also is the only surviving member of the Cincinnati Reds team that won the 1940 World Series. Eddie had a fascinating career. The Baseball Library carries the following biography:
Joost became the Reds' regular shortstop in 1941 and committed 45 errors. After his 45 errors in '42 led the league, he was traded to the Braves. There, Joost suffered further ignominy in 1943, setting a record by hitting just .185, the lowest batting average ever for a player with 400 or more at-bats. He then retired voluntarily but gained a second life with the Athletics beginning in 1947. Though his hitting improved, he found a better way to reach base: walking. From 1947 through 1952, he walked more than 100 times a season, twice gaining more walks than hits. He was an All-Star in 1949 (reaching highs of 23 HR and 81 RBI), and again in '52, after having led AL shortstops in putouts four times to tie the league record. Joost was the A's manager in 1954 but led his untalented crew to a last-place finish.
Frishberg, an American composer, jazz pianist, and vocalist, will turn 78 next March. He immortalized 37 different ballplayers in his baseball hit, including Van Lingle Mungo four times (plus an extra Van Lingle for good measure) and five others twice.
Here are the lyrics to Van Lingle Mungo, a three-time All-Star pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s.
Following Johnny Sain's death in November 2006, Maxwell Kates wrote a guest column for Baseball Analysts, simply titled "Van Lingle Mungo." It highlights Sain, Van Lingle Mungo, and the other 35 players mentioned in the song.
Rest in peace, Phil Cavaretta. Long live Eddie Joost, Johnny Pesky, Eddie Basinski, Dave Frishberg, and the song Van Lingle Mungo.
Another Historical Perspective of the Phillies New Big Four
With the announcement that the Philadelphia Phillies had signed Cliff Lee late Monday night, the baseball world began to contemplate whether a starting rotation consisting of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt was perhaps the greatest in the history of the game.
When most of us think about the best pitching rotations, we tend to point to the Oakland A's of 2001-2003, the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, the New York Mets of the 1970s, the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s, the Cleveland Indians of the 1950s, or maybe the 1971 Baltimore Orioles if you're into wins.
In the Greatest Starting Rotations of All-Time, Andrew Johnson of Fanhouse writes, "Only 25 pitching staffs since 1901 have ever boasted four or more pitchers who qualified for the ERA title with an ERA+ equal to or greater than 120, according to Baseball-Reference.com." He highlights six rotations and includes a link to his Play Index findings.
At the Baseball Reference blog, Steve Lombardi ups the ante a bit, creating a post on teams with four starting pitchers with at least 30 GS and ERA+ of 130 or above. It's happened just once: the 1997 Atlanta Braves with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle, and John Smoltz. He includes a link to his Play Index results as well.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs uses Wins Above Replacement (WAR) totals for the past three years to determine where the Phillies Big Four stacks up in Best. Rotation. Ever? Halladay (21.5) ranks No. 1, Lee (20.9) No. 2, Hamels (11.9) No. 16, and Oswalt (11.2) No. 21 for a cumulative total of 65.5. The 1993 to 1995 and 1996 to 1998 Braves featuring Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Steve Avery/Neagle totaled 56 and 66.8, respectively. Maddux's three-year totals exceeded Halladay's, Smoltz's '96-'98 run fell just shy of Lee's, Glavine's '93-'95 is slightly worse than and his '96-'98 is superior to Hamels', and the fourth starter of Avery or Neagle is worse than Oswalt's totals.
With respect to Avery and Neagle, Cameron adds, "That was part of what made that Braves run so spectacular. They kept swapping out guys behind The Big Three and getting high-level performances even with all the changes. There were times where they got equivalent production to what we might expect from Philly’s rotation in 2011, but they never had four guys who had established themselves at this level going into a season."
In conclusion, Cameron says:
If there’s a four-man rotation that has ever looked this dominant heading into a new year, I can’t find it. It is almost certainly in the discussion for the greatest four-man rotation of all time.
Taking a slightly different approach, my brother Tom forwarded to me the following table from Baseball-Reference's Play Index. It is a list of all the teams with four starting pitchers in the rotation generating at least four WAR while qualifying for the league ERA title. Seven teams made the cut, including the Braves in 1991 (without Maddux) and 1997. Aside from those Atlanta staffs and the 1967 Cincinnati Reds, you have to go back almost 100 years to find a 4x4 rotation.
Wanting to drill down deeper to look at the individual and cumulative totals produced the next table.
1. The 1912 Pittsburgh Pirates had four pitchers with at least four WAR but none with five. A very solid 1-4 but no real ace.
2. The 1909 Philadelphia A's had four pitchers with at least four WAR but none with more than five. These four starters, including Hall of Famers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, had ERAs of 1.76 or below. It wasn't known as the Deadball Era for nothing. The league average ERA was 2.47. The league-wide run average was 3.44. Lots of errors back then. Despite the smaller gloves, the official scorekeepers held the fielders to a high standard.
3. The other five staffs all had at least one starter with a WAR of six or more. Of those five, two had three pitchers with at least five WAR.
4. The Braves, in a couple of different renditions, had the best starting four as measured by B-R WAR since the early part of the last century.
5. Led by Joe Wood, the 1912 Boston Red Sox had the most productive staff among those teams with 4x4 since 1900. With 9.6 WAR, Wood had the highest single-season total among all the pitchers on this list. Furthermore, the Red Sox had the highest four-man, single-season cumulative WAR at 24.1.
How does the Phillies staff compare to these all-time great rotations? Last year, the foursome produced 21 WAR (although not on the same team). Halladay had 6.9, Oswalt 5.1, Hamels 4.7, and Lee 4.3. Oswalt split his WAR among the Houston Astros (2.3) and the Phillies (2.8) while Lee split his among the Seattle Mariners (2.6) and Texas Rangers (1.7).
If these Philadelphia starters can repeat their 2010 performance, the Phillies could surpass the Braves and become the greatest four-man rotation since Smoky Joe and the 1912 Red Sox, at least as measured by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement.
News and Views: The Adrian Gonzalez Trade
News: The Red Sox and Padres have reportedly agreed to a deal in principle that will send first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in exchange for three prospects — pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes — plus a minor league player to be named later.
Views: While it's difficult to not like the trade from the perspective of the Red Sox, this agreement may be one of those deals that truly benefits both teams. There was no way that the Padres were going to re-sign Gonzalez before, during, or after the 2011 season. Therefore, it makes sense that San Diego GM Jed Hoyer would try to move him sooner rather than later. Hoyer and AGM Jason McLeod worked under Boston GM Theo Epstein for years and know the Red Sox talent as well as anyone.
Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes were ranked as the first-, third-, and sixth-best Red Sox prospects by Baseball America last month. All three were projected to be part of Boston's starting lineup in 2014 (with Kelly and Rizzo reaching the majors no later than 2012 by most estimates). According to Baseball America, Kelly had the best curveball, Rizzo the best power, and Fuentes the best athlete in the system.
As touted as this threesome may be, I would have expected San Diego to hold out for either Jose Iglesias or Ryan Kalish as the fourth player in the puzzle. Instead, it appears as if the PTBNL is not on the 40-man roster and is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next week. Look for this player to be nothing more than a throw-in, perhaps a mid-level minor league pitcher whose upside might be as a major league reliever.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez is a monster. The lefthanded-hitting slugger ranked fifth in on-base percentage (.393) and times on base (271), sixth in total bases (302) and runs created (119), seventh in on-base plus slugging (.904), and ninth in slugging average (.511) in the National League while playing in the least-friendly home ballpark for hitters in the majors. His ballpark-adjusted OPS (or OPS+) ranked third in the league at 152, trailing only 2010 MVP Joey Votto and three-time MVP Albert Pujols.
For proof as to how much Petco Park has damaged Gonzalez's stats, look no further than his career record at Petco and on the road.
Check out Gonzalez's 2010 spray chart at Petco Park, then take a look at Fenway's dimensions. He pulls the vast majority of his ground balls but hits the bulk of his fly balls to the opposite field, which should be just what the doctor ordered in Boston.
We can also view Gonzalez's home *and* road taters via HitTracker. Thirteen of his 31 HR were hit to left field, a phenomenal rate for a lefthanded batter. The image on the right displays the location of all home runs at Fenway Park last year.
In addition to the exam, the Red Sox have been given a negotiating window by MLB to work out an extension with Gonzalez. If it's true that he wants a Ryan Howard-like, 5-year/$125M contract, I would combine the last year of his current deal that pays him $6.2M into a new 6-year/$132M pact that allows him to earn an average of $22M right off the bat.
Should the Red Sox not sign Gonzalez and proceed with the deal anyway, the organization gets his services at a discount of $15M-$20M in 2011 plus two valuable picks in the 2012 draft for the loss of a Type A free agent. As a result, short of Gonzalez suffering a major injury after signing a long-term contract, I don't see how Boston can lose.
San Diego might win, too. Maybe in a big way. Only time will tell. But the Padres could lose if the three prospects don't pan out.
What's a Free Agent Worth?
I have been troubled for a couple of years with the consensus belief in the sabermetric community that free agents are worth between four to five million dollars per Win Above Replacement (WAR). For the ESPN Stats and Info blog, Tom Tango of Inside the Book stated that "the value of a win on the free-agent market is between $4 million and $5 million dollars." In a recent New York Times piece, Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com wrote, "2009 free agents received nearly $4.5 million per win added." Led by Dave Cameron's input, Fangraphs has based its dollars per win value at approximately $4M for 2007, $4.5M for 2008 and 2009, and $4M for 2010.
I respect all three of these esteemed analysts. However, I believe there is a flaw in applying $4 million, $4.5 million, or $5 million to estimate the value of all free agents. To see if I could set the record straight, I began by using ESPN's Free Agent Tracker to create a database for the 2009-2010 crop. Of the 201 free agents last year, 121 signed MLB contracts, 66 inked MiLB deals, and 14 retired. For the purposes of my study, I excluded free agents who signed for less than $3 million per season. Most of these players were part-timers, backups, pinch hitters, or injured. In hindsight, the best of this lot included Alex Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, Miguel Olivo, Kelly Johnson, John Buck, Jim Thome, and Jonny Gomes. In addition, I eliminated foreign players Aroldis Chapman, Noel Arguelles, and Ryota Igarashi, as well as Colby Lewis, who played in Japan in 2008 and 2009.
All in all, there were 53 free agents who qualified, a sampling that captured the most significant signees between the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The players in the table below are ranked by their total compensation. I also included the number of years, the average annual salary, the average Fangraphs WAR for the 2007-09 period, and the average annual dollars per WAR.
Based on $/WAR, the major outliers were relievers John Grabow ($37.5M), Mike Gonzalez ($13.95M), Fernando Rodney ($11M), Rafael Soriano ($9.06M), Jose Valverde ($7.78M), and Billy Wagner ($7M), all of whom had a higher $/WAR than Jason Bay ($6.88M), the highest-paid position player based on the average WAR for 2007-09. It's pretty obvious to me that there is virtually no correlation between the salaries of relief pitchers (be it closers or setup men) and WAR. As a result, I believe it makes sense to exclude them when trying to determine what a free agent is worth. Nonetheless, I have calculated the arithmetic mean, weighted average, and median $/WAR including and excluding relief pitchers.
Here are my findings:
I realize this study is based on one year only. In addition, the salaries may have been negatively influenced by the overall economy. That said, no matter how you slice and dice it, excluding relief pitchers, the average free agent signed for about $2.7-$2.9M/WAR last offseason. I believe this finding is significant in that most analysts have routinely used $4.5M per win added.
Based on their performance in 2010, the biggest bargains from the list above were Marlon Byrd ($1.22M/WAR), Adrian Beltre ($1.41M), Orlando Hudson ($1.61M), and Placido Polanco ($1.62M). Beltre and Hudson are free agents once again. The biggest busts were Chone Figgins ($15M/WAR), Randy Wolf ($14.17M), and Jason Bay ($11.79M). Figgins and Bay have three years left on their contracts and Wolf has two years to go. Due to injuries, Mike Cameron (-0.3 WAR), Nick Johnson (0.1), and Rich Harden (-0.7) didn't pan out as their new employers expected.
Let's check out how this year's free agents are doing:
With seven precincts reporting, the sample size is small. Nevertheless, the results are as follows:
While it may be too early to get a definitive read for this year's class, excluding relief pitchers, the average free agent has signed for about $3.4-$3.6M/WAR this offseason.
There are several big-name players who haven't signed yet. The crop is headlined by Cliff Lee (6.97 average WAR from 2008-2010), Carl Crawford (5.0), Jayson Werth (5.0), Beltre (4.53), and Derek Jeter (4.43). Rounding up last year's $/WAR to $3M and using the mid-point of $3.5M/WAR this year produces the following average annual salaries: Lee ($20.9M-$24.4M), Crawford and Werth ($15M-$17.5M), Beltre ($13.6M-$15.9M), and Jeter ($13.3M-$15.5M). Unless the Yankees cave in to their captain, I would be surprised if any of these players sign for an average annual salary outside of these ranges. If so, it would help confirm my belief that free agents (sans relievers) are worth about $3M-$3.5M per WAR rather than the $4.5M that seems to be universally accepted.
Of note, one can reach slightly different conclusions by using Baseball-Reference WAR instead of Fangraphs WAR. I'm not necessarily more partial to one over the other. One can also weight the WAR differently. I used a simple average of the past three years, tweaking a few players based on injuries and playing time. There might be merits in going with a weighted system, such as a 3-2-1, in certain situations. In reality, teams are trying to project WAR but most estimates are going to be heavily influenced by observed WAR.
Furthermore, there are many other factors that teams consider when making offers to free agents, including a player's age, his position, current health status and history of injuries, the consistency and arc of his career, the supply and demand for that type of player, the length of contract, and whether he is a Type A or B free agent. Put it all together and shake it up, and it is my contention that the going rate for starting pitchers and position players who are free agents is somewhere in the range of $3,000,000 to $3,500,000 per the three-year trailing average WAR.
The Morning After
Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on winning the 2010 World Series. The team won the NL West by two games and then sailed through the postseason by winning 11 of 15 games in capturing the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series titles.
I have to admit, I never saw it coming. Not before the season. Nor during the season. Nor before the World Series. While I picked the Giants to beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, I thought San Francisco would fall to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS and to the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Rather than the Giants winning it in five, I had the Rangers winning in five. On second thought, maybe I got it half right. Just kidding.
Where did I go wrong? Let me count the ways:
1. Small sample size. (Rule No. 1 of forecasting: When you make a mistake, blame the sample size.)
2. Three games in the NLCS were decided by one run. The Giants won all three.
3. The Phillies outscored the Giants, 20-19, but won only two of the six games.
3. I had no idea that the Phillies would "hit" .216/.314/.321 in the NLCS.
4. I didn't foresee Cody Ross slugging three doubles and three home runs in the NLCS.
5. The Giants outscored the Rangers, 29-12. What can I say?
6. I had no idea that the Rangers would "hit" .190/.259/.288 in the World Series.
8. I failed to anticipate that Edgar Renteria would go 7-for-17 with two HR in the World Series. He went deep three times during the regular season.
9. Although I was never a fan of Texas' bullpen aside from Neftali Feliz, I would not have guessed that the set-up relievers would implode to the tune of of a 10.97 ERA over 10.2 innings.
11. Don't forget Rule No. 1.
Look, San Francisco won the World Series fair and square. The Giants are worthy champions. The fact that I got it wrong is neither here nor there. As they say, flags fly forever. Conversely, predictions aren't worth the paper they're written on (or the pixels on your computer screen), especially those involving ... yes, small sample sizes. The staff at Baseball Analysts make such forecasts for fun and are not afraid of being wrong. To Patrick Sullivan's credit, he picked the Giants to win it in six. Not too bad.
How We See the 2010 World Series
The 2010 World Series is upon us. Every baseball fan knows the main storyline: The Texas Rangers will appear in the World Series for the first time while the San Francisco Giants will be looking to win their first World Series since moving to the west coast in 1958.
If anyone had the Texas-San Francisco exacta at any point during the regular season, much less before the season, then you're either delusional, lucky, or in the wrong business. Send me your ticket from Las Vegas as proof. Copies not allowed.
The staff at Baseball Analysts weigh in below with our comments and predictions.
Rich: I believe Texas has the edge. The Rangers beat Tampa Bay and New York, the two best teams in baseball in the Division and Championship Series. The Rangers also have the best starting pitcher (Cliff Lee) and the best hitter (Josh Hamilton). San Francisco has strong pitching depth and home-field advantage, but the offense leaves a lot to be desired. I don't see Cody Ross, as an example, hitting three home runs in the World Series, like he did in the NLCS. While most World Series go six or seven games, I'll go out on a limb and say Texas in five with Lee winning the first game and the finale.
Jeremy: I think the difference between the American League and National League is understated. The Rangers are the better team. However, the Giants have home-field advantage. In my opinion, the National League has a natural edge in the World Series, given the difference in quality of pitcher hitting. I worry that Ron Washington will badly mismanage games in a National League park, for example failing to understand that C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter should not pitch past the fifth or sixth innings. Still, the difference in talent between the two clubs appears overwhelming, so I'll take the Rangers in six.
Dave: I have to agree with Rich and Jeremy: the Rangers have the clear advantage in the lineup, and probably an advantage in starting pitching (mostly thanks to Lee), but the Giants have the advantage in bullpen (and Bruce Bochy seems more adept at playoff-bullpen management) and home-field advantage. The pluses for the Rangers outweigh those for the Giants, and so the Rangers are, rightly, slight favorites for the series (the betting line suggest they win it about 55% of the time). I will go with the Rangers in seven.
Rich: Do I hear Rangers in eight? What will it be, Sully?
Sully: I don't see the talent discrepancy between the two clubs as "overwhelming" as Jeremy. I think Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey are only a bit worse in aggregate than Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler, the core position players for each team. I can't see much difference between the rotations and, like Dave, I think the Giants have a bullpen edge.
I'll go out on my own here and take the Giants. First, the home crowds at AT&T Park have been amazing and I think San Francisco really feeds off of it. Home field will be key, and I think particularly so this evening. The Phillies came into the NLCS with an air of infallibility thanks in large part to Roy Halladay's Division Series heroics. The Rangers are a complete team, but there's a similar dynamic at play with Lee. If the Giants take Game One like they did against Philadelphia, and then have Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner lined up for Wilson, Lewis and Hunter, there's a clear path to victory for them. So I say Tim Lincecum carries the Giants tonight, and San Francisco goes on to win in six.
News and Views: Brandon Inge
News: The Tigers re-signed 3B Brandon Inge to a 2-year, $11.5 million contract, with an option for 2013. Inge would have been a free agent.
Views: What am I missing here? Most of Inge's value is tied to his defensive prowess at third base. However, his advanced fielding metrics have been in a steady decline since 2006 when he led the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating at 19.0. It fell to 11.2 in 2007, 4.1 in 2008 (when he also played C and CF), 6.6 in 2009, and 3.1 in 2010. While Inge is still above average, the trend is not your friend here. Nor is his age. He turns 34 next May.
Over the past five years, Inge has hit .236/.313/.405 with an OPS+ of 88. His OPS+ has only exceeded 100 one time — 109 in 2004 during his age-27 season. He strikes out at an alarmingly high rate at about once every four trips to the plate. The righthanded hitter has never hit for a high average on balls in play (career rate of .285 with a peak of .316 in 2004). His baserunning is nothing to write home about. To wit, he made 10 outs on the bases last year, excluding the three times he was caught stealing in seven attempts.
Shake it all up and it's difficult for me to see why Inge is worthy of such a contract. At best, Inge may add two wins above a replacement player. At $3M per win, he could be worth $6M (vs. an average annual salary of $5.75M). If you want to ascribe a higher value per win, be my guest. Either way, I believe the downside risk is greater than the upside reward. If Inge continues to lose range in the field, he could actually become a liability at the hot corner. In that case, Inge would be nothing more than a platoon player and pinch hitter (career .267/.342/.465 vs. LHP) and perhaps a positive influence on the bench and in the clubhouse.
The contract is not a disaster, but it's one that leaves me nonplussed.
For Joe Pawlikowski's take, be sure to read his analysis of Inge's contract at FanGraphs.
You're the Manager
OK, you're Joe Girardi. I'd say you're Joe Girardi for a day but, if it was for a day only, you might think differently. So let's just say you're Joe Girardi, the manager of the New York Yankees. You know, the team that is down two games to one in the best-of-four American League Championship Series.
Your club beat the Texas Rangers in the first game by coming back from a 5-0 deficit to score six unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings to win 6-5 on the road. You got trounced in the second game of the series, 7-2.
No problem. You did what you had to do. Your team split on the road. Two games down, a maximum of five to go with three of them at home. You've got the AL West champions right where you want them. Except for one thing. You now have to face Cliff Lee. Yes, that Cliff Lee. The guy who knows his way around New York in terms of both the city and your lineup. The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner throws eight scoreless innings on Monday night, allowing only two hits and one walk while striking out 13 batters in an 8-0 shutout.
Lee improved his postseason record to 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight starts. The southpaw has now beaten the Yankees three times in October, including twice as the ace of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series. He is on one of the best runs in the history of the postseason. Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Lee is the first pitcher to whiff 10 or more batters three consecutive times in the same postseason and is now tied for the lead with Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson with five career postseason games of at least 10 Ks.
With Lee perfectly positioned to start the finale of this series, "the Yankees probably need to win this series in six games and avoid a Game 7" or so says Andrew Marchand. I can't say that I disagree.
As a result, one could argue that the Yankees cannot afford to lose another game in this series. It's not that Lee can't be beaten. It's just that you don't want to go into Game 7 having to beat Lee. To the credit of the Rangers, this is exactly why management traded for him in July. It's hard to believe that someone who has gone 48-25 with a 2.98 ERA and a 5.6 K/BB in the past three regular seasons and 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 9.6 K/BB in the past two postseasons has played for four teams (CLE, PHI, SEA, and TEX) during this stretch.
That brings us to Game 4. Your team is now down two games to one. Do you go with AJ Burnett as previously announced or do you pitch CC Sabathia on three days' rest? If you opt for Sabathia, that means you either have to ask both Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte to pitch on short rest or stick AJ in there for Game 5 on Wednesday or Game 6 on Friday. Should you decide on Burnett for Tuesday night, then you won't be able to start CC three times or in the final game vs. Lee in what would be an epic battle of two of the best lefthanders in baseball.
Here are the facts with respect to Burnett:
Remember, you're Joe Girardi. It's your call. Do you stick with Burnett in Game 4 or do you change it up? Sabathia threw just 93 pitches in Game 1. He is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA and extraordinarily strong peripherals working on three days' rest during the regular season throughout his career. Moreover, don't forget the fact that you asked CC to pitch on short rest against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS last year and it worked out pretty darn well. He won both games, fashioning a line of 16-9-2-2-3-12. The big guy started Game 1 on Friday and Game 4 on Tuesday. Sound familiar?
What will it be, Joe?
Pitching in on the Division Championship Series
With a no-hitter and four shutouts in the League Division Series and no team scoring more than seven runs in any single game, it seems as if pitching has dominated the postseason thus far. Perhaps it has but not to the extent that I thought before checking the numbers.
Through the first 14 games, the eight teams have combined to score 89 runs, an average of 6.36 per game. Don't get me wrong. Run prevention is down from the regular season. Way down. As in 38 percent down. But runs per game are off just 19 percent vs. the 2009 LDS and only 11 percent excluding the two contests in Colorado. Meaningful but not off the charts.
Like this year, no team scored more than seven runs in any LDS last fall. John Lackey and Darren Oliver combined to throw the lone shutout in Game One against Boston. In 2010, Oliver once again was part of a combined shutout, completing the final 2 1/3 innings to preserve the 6-0 whitewash for C.J. Wilson and Darren O'Day in Game Two against Tampa Bay.
Roy Halladay threw the most talked-about game of all, tossing only the second no-hitter in the history of the postseason. Halladay walked one and struck out eight while facing only one batter over the minimum as Philadelphia beat Cincinnati to set the tone in Game One in what became a three-game sweep. Teammate Cole Hamels closed out the series with another shutout, allowing just five hits and no walks while fanning nine Reds.
As impressive as those shutouts were, Tim Lincecum pitched the most dominating game of them all in terms of Game Score. The Freak pitched a complete-game shutout, striking out 14 while giving up only two hits and one walk.
Both Halladay and Lincecum will be well rested when they square off in Game One of the NLCS on Saturday. Neither starter will have thrown a pitch in competition in at least nine days. At first blush, it would seem as if the long rest may benefit the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Lincecum slightly more than the 6-6, 230-pound Halladay. However, it should be noted that the latter threw his no-no nine days after his final regular season start, which incidentally was a two-hit, no-walk, complete-game shutout on longer than normal rest.
Over in the ALCS, the New York Yankees have to be loving the fact that Cliff Lee and David Price will be facing one another tonight, meaning neither starter is likely to face the Bronx Bombers until Game Three on Monday. That said, the winner of tonight's rubber match will have their ace ready to go in the finale on four days' rest should the ALCS go the distance.
But first things first as there will be no ALCS for the losing team tonight. Only golf clubs and fishing rods.
Long Beach State Produced the Most MLB Players in 2010
According to Press-Telegram columnist Bob Keisser, 17 former Long Beach State baseball players performed in the major leagues this year. "No other college team can boast of having that many players in the majors in 2010."
Known as Dirtbags during their college years, the group is headlined by three All-Stars, namely American League Most Valuable Player candidate Evan Longoria, National League Player of the Month for September Troy Tulowitzki, and MLB strikeout leader Jered Weaver. There isn't a university in the country that came close to duplicating the feats of this trio.
Tulowitzki and Weaver were college teammates in 2003 and 2004. Tulo and Longoria played side-by-side in the infield on the 2005 club. All three players were drafted in the first round by their respective teams: Weaver in 2004 by the Los Angeles Angels, Tulowitzki in 2005 by the Colorado Rockies, and Longoria in 2006 by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Longoria hit .294/.372/.507 with 46 2B, 5 3B, 22 HR, 72 BB, 96 R, 104 RBI, and 15 SB in 20 attempts for the Rays this season. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2008 and has been named to the All-Star team in each of his first three MLB seasons while being the recipient of a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger in 2009. Longoria, who turned 25 last week, led the AL and NL with 7.7 Wins Above Replacement (brWAR) in 2010.
Tulowitzki posted career highs in AVG (.315), OBP (.381), and SLG (.568) this season. He hit 15 HR during the final month, including 14 in a 15-game stretch when the Colorado Rockies won 13 times to climb within one game of the NL West lead. The slick-fielding shortstop missed 33 games with a fractured wrist in June and July but still managed to jack 27 HR in only 122 G and 529 PA. He turned 26 yesterday.
In addition to leading the majors in Ks, Weaver topped the AL in GS (34); finished second in K/BB (4.315); third in IP (224.1), K/9 (9.35), and WHIP (1.07); fifth in ERA (3.01), ERA+ (135), and FIP (3.06); seventh in H/9 (7.50); and ninth in BB/9 (2.17). The 6-foot-7 righthander ranked second among pitchers in brWAR (5.4) and fifth in fgWAR (5.9). He pitched six or more innings in 31 of his 34 starts, ranking second in quality starts with 27. Unfortunately, Weave had the 10th-worst run support among 43 qualified starters, which negatively affected his W-L record (13-12). The five-year veteran turned 28 last week. Unsigned beyond 2010, he will be entering the second of his three arbitration seasons in 2011.
Longoria and Tulowitzki have two of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. It's hard to believe but Longo made only $950,000 this year and will earn just $2 million in 2011, $4.5M in 2012, and $6M in 2013. The Rays have a $7.5M team option with a $3M buyout in 2014, an $11M option in 2015, and an $11.5M option in 2016. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the latter option may increase to $14M based on rankings in the MVP voting. Tulo, meanwhile, will earn $5.5M in 2011, $8.25M in 2012, and $10M in 2013. The Rockies have a $15M team option with a $2M buyout in 2014. At signing, Troy's deal was the largest ever for a player with less than two years of MLB service.
In alphabetical order, the following ex-Dirtbags also competed in the big leagues this year (with years at Long Beach State in parentheses): John Bowker (2002-04), Andrew Carpenter (2006), Bobby Cramer (2000-01), Bobby Crosby (1999-2001), Brad Davis 2002-04), Greg Dobbs (1999), Danny Espinosa (2006-08), Marco Estrada (2005), Jason Giambi (1990-92), Paul McAnulty (2002), Cesar Ramos (2003-05), Jeremy Reed (2000-02), Jason Vargas (2004), and Vance Worley (2006-08).
Crosby was a first-round draft pick (25th overall) by the Oakland A's in 2001. The shortstop was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2004 when he hit .239/.319/.426 with 34 2B and 22 HR in 151 games and 623 plate appearances. Giambi, a second-round pick by the A's in 1992, won the AL MVP in 2000 when he hit .333/.476/.647 with 43 HR, 137 BB, and 137 RBI. The lefthanded slugger led the league in OBP, BB, and OPS+ (187). He placed second in the MVP voting the following season after topping the circuit in OBP (.477), SLG (.660), OPS (1.137), OPS+ (198), 2B (47), and BB (129).
After Longoria, Tulowitzki, and Weaver, the next most valuable player in 2010 as measured by WAR was Vargas. The Seattle Mariners southpaw started 31 games, tossed 192.2 innings, and produced a 2.15 K/BB ratio, 1.25 WHIP, and a 3.78 ERA. The 27-year old succeeded by throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park. Nearly 90 percent of his pitches were either fastballs or changeups.
Look for Espinosa and Worley to make a bigger splash in the NL East in 2011. Espinosa played shortstop at Long Beach State and in his three years in the minors but was primarily a second baseman after the Washington Nationals called him up when rosters were expanded on September 1. He belted three homers in his first 15 plate appearances and slugged six for the month. The combination of striking out too often (30 times in 112 PA) and hitting only .239 on balls in play reduced his batting average to .214 but a slugging average of .447 was more in-line with his MiLB production (.455). Espinosa, a member of the U.S. team in the Futures Game in 2009 and 2010, figures to compete for the second base job for the Nats next spring. At worst, he should make the team as a backup middle infielder.
Worley was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round out of McClatchy HS (Sacramento, CA) in 2005 and the third round after his junior year at Long Beach State in 2008. He signed and combined to go 3-2 with a 7.57 K/BB ratio, 1.07 WHIP, and a 2.66 ERA in 11 GS and 61 IP in the New York Penn League (Short-Season A) and South Atlantic League (Low Class A) that summer. Worley struggled in 2009 at Double A Reading (7-12, 2.04 K/BB, 1.38 WHIP, and 5.34 ERA) but bounced back in 2010 (10-7, 2.59 K/BB, 1.30 WHIP, and 3.36 ERA) while earning a trip to the big leagues this summer before making his Triple A debut for Lehigh Valley. The bespectacled righthander went 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Phillies, highlighted by five scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves one week after his 23rd birthday in the second-to-last game of the season. He should get a good look next spring.
Since former Long Beach head coach Dave Snow's arrival in 1989, at least two players from every Dirtbags team reached the major leagues. I'll let Keisser, who also serves as the Press-Telegram's beat writer for Long Beach State, take it from here.
The 1989 team sent Kyle Abbott, Darrell Sherman and Tom Urbani to the majors.
Mike Weathers succeeded Snow in 2001 and resigned after the 2010 season. He turned the program over to Troy Buckley, who served as the school's pitching coach from 2001-2007 and associate head coach in 2010. He was the minor league pitching coordinator with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 and 2009. Buckley worked with Carpenter, Cramer, Estrada, Ramos, Vargas, Weaver, and Worley in his previous stint at Long Beach State. It will be interesting to see if he can be as successful at producing position players as the two previous head coaches.
As Keisser concludes, "It's about the foundation that's been built, one that includes a ramp to the majors."
Six Months Down, One to Go
The staff of the Baseball Analysts made predictions before the season began and, as it turns out, did very well. Our consensus picked five of the eight teams that qualified for the postseason, missing only on Tampa Bay in the American League and Cincinnati and San Francisco in the National League.
The Giants befuddled us the most as no one placed the NL West champions higher than third in the division. We narrowly missed on the Rays with three staffers choosing Boston as the AL Wild Card entry and two going with Tampa Bay. The Rays, of course, won the AL East, edging the Yankees by one game. Four of five analysts tabbed the Reds to finish second in the NL Central with all five of us incorrectly projecting St. Louis to take the division.
All eight postseason teams had run differentials of +100 or more. No other club in the majors had a differential that high. The Yankees led in runs scored (859) and in run differential (166). The San Diego Padres allowed the fewest runs (581).
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Rays 96 66 .593 - Yankees 95 67 .586 1 Red Sox 89 73 .549 7 Blue Jays 85 77 .525 11 Orioles 66 96 .407 30
Toronto was clearly the biggest positive surprise in the AL East, if not the entire league, in manager Cito Gaston's final season. Forget the fact that the Blue Jays finished in fourth place. Winning 85 games in a tough division and finishing much closer to first than last place made for a highly successful season for MLB's lone club north of the border. Led by Jose Bautista's major league-leading 54 HR, Toronto tied the 1996 Baltimore Orioles with 257 homers, the third-most in the history of baseball.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Twins 94 68 .580 - White Sox 88 74 .543 6 Tigers 81 81 .500 13 Indians 69 93 .426 25 Royals 67 95 .414 27
The AL Central played pretty much to form with Minnesota winning its second consecutive division title. The Twins have now won six of the last nine division crowns. Unfortunately, Minnesota has been bumped in four straight League Division Series, never winning more than one game in any of these match-ups.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Rangers 90 72 .556 - A's 81 81 .500 9 Angels 80 82 .494 10 Mariners 61 101 .377 29
Texas finished atop the AL West for the first time this century. The Rangers have increased their win total from 75 in Ron Washington's first season in 2007 to 79 in 2008 to 87 in 2009 and 90 in 2010. Pitching and defense have been the key with Texas allowing 280 fewer runs this year vs. two seasons ago. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners may have been the most disappointing team in baseball, losing more games than any team not named the Pittsburgh Pirates.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST TEAM W L PCT GB Phillies 97 65 .599 - Braves 91 71 .562 6 Marlins 80 82 .494 17 Mets 79 83 .488 18 Nationals 69 93 .426 28
Philadelphia captured its fourth consecutive NL East title, winning the most games in the majors. The 2008 World Series champions have increased the number of regular season wins in each of the past four campaigns. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, perhaps the most formidable Big Three in the postseason, will be seeking to take the Phillies to the World Series for the third straight October.
In his final season at the helm, Bobby Cox is leading Atlanta into the postseason for the 15th time in the past 20 years but the first since 2005. However, it has been nine years since the Braves won a postseason series. The Hall of Fame-bound manager will be looking to win his second World Series and the first since 1995. He is 1-4 in his previous five attempts.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL TEAM W L PCT GB Reds 91 71 .562 - Cardinals 86 76 .531 5 Brewers 77 85 .475 14 Astros 76 86 .469 15 Cubs 75 87 .463 16 Pirates 57 105 .352 34
Joey Votto, the favorite to win the NL MVP, and Jay Bruce (.388/.474/.925 with 12 HR in his final 22 games) combined to lead Cincinnati into the postseason for the first time since 1995. A healthy Edinson Volquez (27.2-17-6-6-8-31, 1.95 ERA in September) will be the key to a pitching staff that lacks a proven stopper.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST TEAM W L PCT GB Giants 92 70 .568 - Padres 90 72 .556 2 Rockies 83 79 .512 9 Dodgers 80 82 .494 12 Diamondbacks 65 97 .401 27
If you knew Pablo Sandoval was going to hit .268 with 13 HR, would you have believed that San Francisco would have won the NL West? Instead, rookie Buster Posey (.305/.357/.505) and newcomers Aubrey Huff (.290/.385/.506) and Pat Burrell (.266/.364/.509) combined with a stellar starting rotation and bullpen to beat back San Diego on the final day of the season.
Paying Attention to the Other Races in the Final Week
Although interest in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in has waned over the past decade as more advanced metrics have emerged, these statistics are far from obsolete. Not only are AVG, HR, and RBI still the three most commonly cited stats involving hitters on radio/TV and in newsprint, but they were even played up in the new media in late August and early September as so-called statheads wrote about the possibilities of a Triple Crown winner this year.
While not as prestigious as winning the Triple Crown, there are a couple of players who are on the verge of setting "records" with respect to these stats. Specifically, if Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds wind up hitting under .200, one or both will have the dubious distinction of hitting the most home runs or driving in the most runs in a season with a batting average below the Mendoza Line.
Going into tonight's play, Pena is hitting .198 with 27 HR and 81 RBI. Reynolds has outdone Pena slightly, hitting .199 with 32 HR and 84 RBI. Prior to this year, no player has ever accumulated more than 29 HR or 64 RBI while "hitting" under .200.
Let's take a look at where Pena and Reynolds stand in HR and RBI among those failing to crack the .200 mark.
Here are the leaders, if you will, in HR:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
HOMERUNS YEAR HR AVG 1 Mark Reynolds 2010 32 .199 2 Mark McGwire 2001 29 .187 3 Carlos Pena 2010 27 .198 4 Rob Deer 1991 25 .179 5 Ruben Rivera 1999 23 .195 6 Mike Schmidt 1973 18 .196 7 Steve Balboni 1990 17 .192 T8 Gorman Thomas 1986 16 .187 T8 Shane Andrews 1999 16 .195 T8 Tim Laudner 1987 16 .191
HOMERUNS YEAR HR AVG 1 Carlos Pena 2010 27 .198 2 Rob Deer 1991 25 .179 3 Steve Balboni 1990 17 .192 T4 Tim Laudner 1987 16 .191 T4 Gorman Thomas 1986 16 .187 6 Dean Palmer 1991 15 .187 T7 Reggie Jackson 1983 14 .194 T7 Harmon Killebrew 1975 14 .199 T9 Eric Soderholm 1972 13 .188 T9 Roger Repoz 1971 13 .199 T9 Deron Johnson 1974 13 .171
HOMERUNS YEAR HR AVG 1 Mark Reynolds 2010 32 .199 2 Mark McGwire 2001 29 .187 3 Ruben Rivera 1999 23 .195 4 Mike Schmidt 1973 18 .196 5 Shane Andrews 1999 16 .195 6 Dave Kingman 1983 13 .198 T7 Darren Daulton 1991 12 .196 T7 Todd Hundley 2001 12 .187 T7 Bob Tillman 1969 12 .195 T7 Bob Robertson 1972 12 .193
And now RBI:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
RBI YEAR RBI AVG 1 Mark Reynolds 2010 84 .199 2 Carlos Pena 2010 81 .198 T3 Mark McGwire 2001 64 .187 T3 Rob Deer 1991 64 .179 5 Harry Lyons 1888 63 .194 6 Pedro Garcia 1974 54 .199 7 Coco Laboy 1970 53 .199 T8 Tom Tresh 1968 52 .195 T8 Mike Schmidt 1973 52 .196 10 Shane Andrews 1999 51 .195
RBI YEAR RBI AVG 1 Carlos Pena 2010 81 .198 2 Rob Deer 1991 64 .179 3 Pedro Garcia 1974 54 .199 4 Tom Tresh 1968 52 .195 5 Reggie Jackson 1983 49 .194 T6 John Gochnauer 1903 48 .185 T6 Todd Cruz 1983 48 .199 T8 Ed Kirkpatrick 1966 44 .192 T8 Harmon Killebrew 1975 44 .199 T10 Deron Johnson 1974 43 .171 T10 Tim Laudner 1987 43 .191
RBI YEAR RBI AVG 1 Mark Reynolds 2010 84 .199 2 Mark McGwire 2001 64 .187 3 Coco Laboy 1970 53 .199 4 Mike Schmidt 1973 52 .196 5 Shane Andrews 1999 51 .195 6 Ruben Rivera 1999 48 .195 7 Germany Smith 1890 47 .191 8 Nick Esasky 1984 45 .193 9 Monte Cross 1901 44 .197 10 Darren Daulton 1991 42 .196
Three Hall of Famers grace these lists: Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, and Mike Schmidt. Jackson was on his way down, Schmidt was on his way up, and Killebrew accomplished this feat in his last season. Mark McGwire knew it was time to go when he hit .187 while clubbing 29 HR in his farewell campaign in 2001. Dave Kingman, he of 442 career home runs (the fifth-most of any hitter on these lists), hit .198 with 13 HR in 1983 before jacking at least 30 dingers in each of his final three seasons.
While far short of Jackson (139 OPS+), Killebrew (143), Schmidt (147), and McGwire (162), the 32-year-old Pena (123) is producing at a higher clip than all of the other hitters listed above, including Kingman (115) and Gorman Thomas (114).
Reynolds (108), on the other hand, appears to be heading down the path of Rob Deer (109) and fellow third baseman Dean Palmer (107), who flamed out after his age-31 season. The 27-year old may not be long for a starting assignment in the majors if he continues to strike out over 200 times per season without Gold Glove-caliber fielding or a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) that rivals his 2007-2009 mark of .343 (vs. .255 in 2010). Meanwhile, Reynolds is a cinch to become "the first regular player to strike out more times in a season than his batting average." In his defense, you have to be pretty good — or perhaps have been good — to even set such records.
While your friends are paying attention to the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays or the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres, make sure you don't forget about the triumphs of Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds.
Note: Thanks to Lee Sinins and his Complete Baseball Encyclopedia for the lists.
Hall of Fame Sportswriter and Dad
George Lederer, affectionately known to me as Dad, was one of seven members inducted into the Long Beach Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday. The city's HOF was created in 2004 and the inaugural class included a couple of Cooperstown selections in Bob Lemon and Tony Gwynn as well as Bob Bailey, Jeff Burroughs, Ron Fairly, Bobby Grich, Vern Stephens, and several coaches and scouts.
Including the class of 2010, there are now 57 honorees, 31 of whom have played in the major leagues. The list excludes such notables as Long Beach Poly's Chase Utley and former Long Beach State All-Americans, first-round draft picks, and MLB stars Bobby Crosby, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jered Weaver. This quintet will no doubt be elected shortly after their playing days are over.
Five members were added to the Long Beach Softball Hall of Fame, a group that now totals 53, many of whom have also been inducted into the International Softball Congress HOF. The Long Beach Nitehawks won ten men's World Championships during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the heyday of men's fast-pitch softball.
The ceremony was held at Blair Field and across the way at what is now known as Red Meairs Field at Joe Rodgers Stadium. There were a number of previous inductees in attendance, including former major leaguers Joe Amalfitano and Dave Frost, scouts Bob Harrison and Harry Minor, coach Bob Myers, and umpire Joe Reed.
Dad is the third journalist to be named to the Long Beach Hall of Fame. The first two were Ross Newhan (class of 2006), a former sportswriter for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Los Angeles Times, and Frank Blair (class of 2007), the first sports editor of the Press-Telegram from 1921 until his death in 1953. Newhan was the recipient of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. Four of Dad's colleagues, including former sports editors John Dixon and Jim McCormack, who also serves on the selection committee, plus Jack Teele, an NFL executive for over 30 years, and Al Larson, were on hand to honor him.
Amalfitano, who prepped at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, told me that Peter O'Malley and his family planned to be at the ceremony and sent their well wishes to our family through him. The former player, coach, and manager also said he spoke to Sandy Koufax, who sent his regards as well.
My father was the sports editor of the Wilson High School and Long Beach City College newspapers. He joined the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram in 1948 and mostly covered local prep and college sports for the next ten years. Dad was assigned the Dodgers beat at the tender age of 29 when the team moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. One of our favorite photos is of Dad walking outside the P-T in downtown Long Beach on his way to the airport for his first spring training in Vero Beach in 1958.
Dad covered the Dodgers for 11 years, including the World Series championships in 1959, 1963, and 1965. He also served as the Dodgers statistician in the post Allan Roth days and was one of four MLB official scorekeepers for the team's home games, including Koufax's perfect game in 1965. Amalfitano reminded me that he was the 26th out in that game. Dad was the president of the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and a member of the Board of Directors on a national level.
After more than a decade traveling around the country every year from late February through early October, Dad decided to accept new Angels GM Dick Walsh's (standing on the right next to my father) offer to become the club's Director of Public Relations and Promotions in early 1969. He served in that capacity until passing away in 1978 from a misdiagnosed case of malignant melanoma.
Bob Keisser featured Dad in a recent article on the front page of the Press-Telegram's sports section. In The Lederer Tree, Keisser tells the story of the family's sports legacy in Long Beach. My Mom was recognized in a follow-up column a couple of days later.
In the course of covering the Family Tree of the Lederers - the late George Lederer, the former P-T baseball writer who will be inducted into the Long Beach Baseball Hall of Fame next Saturday - the contributions of Pat Lederer, George's wife, were overlooked.
My mother, who just turned 82 last month, joined my brother Tom, sister Janet, and me for the ceremony on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, our younger brother Gary, who lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children, was unable to join us due to a major conflict in his schedule. Our three spouses, four of George's seven grandchildren, several members of the extended family, and numerous friends (one of whom traveled from out of the state and another drove over 100 miles) were also in attendance. Needless to say, it was a very special day.
There was only one person who was missing that we all wanted to be there with us. The Hall of Famer himself. George Lederer. My Dad.
Tracking Home Runs
Joey Votto slugged his 34th home run last night as the Cincinnati Reds pummeled Barry Enright and the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-2. His dinger was overshadowed by the fact that Jay Bruce jacked two homers in his first two trips to the plate after missing a dozen games. Nonetheless, Votto's four bagger was his Major League Baseball-leading 17th HR to the opposite field according to play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman.
I happened to be watching the game at that moment and made a note to check Votto's scatter plot on Hit Tracker, which logs and calculates the trajectory and distance of every home run in Major League Baseball. As it turns out, Greg Rybarczyk's site indicates that Votto has produced 19 homers to the left of straightaway center field (including yesterday's big fly, which isn't part of the following graph).
As shown, Votto has clubbed a couple of home runs just to the left of the 90° mark. My guess is that these bombs (one of which traveled 457 feet, the 24th-longest HR in 2010) were not deemed to be opposite field by MLB. The monster blast was deposited onto the party deck in center field at Great American Park, a first for Brewers' color analyst Bill Shroeder.
After looking at the distribution of Votto's home runs, I began to think about the pitch locations, especially those that were hit to the opposite field. Without the ability to create graphs like our own Dave Allen, I resorted to Joe Lefkowitz's PitchF/X Tool. Interestingly, all but four of Votto's long balls were turned around on pitches in the middle 60% of the strike zone. Yesterday's homer was on the pitch designated as a sinker on the outer 20% of the chart. Gameday described it as an 88-mph sinker.
By the way, Joe's site allows you to screen Votto's home runs for velocity (he has slugged three HR on 95-mph fast balls and two on 78-mph sliders at the other end of the spectrum), horizontal and vertical movements, and release points. If you have a cool boss or time on the weekend, click on the PitchF/X link in the banner at the top and play around with all the variables, including choosing a pitcher, batter, team, stadium, home plate umpire, plate discipline, pitch type, result, batted balls, count, pitch count, velocity, runners on base, and much more. It's a treasure chest full of information and fun.
Combining video with sites such as Hit Tracker and Joe Lefkowitz's PitchF/X Tool (among others) can help turn you into a baseball analyst or perhaps even an amateur scout in no time. Want to contemplate how to position fielders and pitch to Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols, the respective home run leaders in the AL and NL? Check out their scatter plots.
The pull hitter on the left is Bautista. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger has yet to hit a home run to the right of center field. In fact, he has only slugged about a half dozen to the middle third of the field. The other 40 or so homers have been launched to left field with more than half of those sailing over the fence between the left fielder and the foul line. Pujols, on the other hand, has tremendous power to center field, as exhibited by the fact that nearly half of his home runs have been hit to the middle third of the field. Interestingly, the three-time MVP has failed to slug a home run to the right third of the field.
Sometimes you just let the picture speak for itself.
Have fun and make sure that you don't miss lunch today.
The Top 100 K/100P Leaders
While strikeouts per pitch hasn't caught on as hoped when I introduced the idea in February 2006, there is no disputing the fact that this metric explains runs better than strikeouts per inning or strikeouts per batter faced.
As detailed in Strikeout Proficiency (Part Two), K/P has the highest correlation in each of the five run measures (ERA, R/G, ERC, FIP, and DIPS). K/BF has the second-highest correlation and K/IP has the lowest correlation. In any other words, K/P > K/BF > K/IP.
To give K/P more utility, I multiply this decimal by 100. Not only do we now get a real number out of this exercise but the standard of measurement is almost exactly the average number of pitches per start during recent years. In an era of pitch counts, it seems more instructive to me to measure starters by the number of K/100 pitches than K/9 IP.
(For context, among those who are currently qualified for the ERA title, the average pitcher has thrown 100 pitches per start and completed 6 1/3 innings. The average number of K/100P is 4.88.)
With the foregoing in mind, let's take a look at this year's leaders. Interestingly, there are 100 pitchers who have averaged at least one inning per team game, which is the minimum to qualify for the ERA title. (The stats were compiled yesterday evening in real time and may not include the entire results for late games.)
As shown, Brandon Morrow is leading the majors with 7.06 K/100P. He is averaging 97 pitches and 6.85 Ks per start. While Morrow leads MLB in K/100P, K/9, and K/BF, the 26-year-old righthander is 13th in strikeouts due to the fact that he is only averaging 5 2/3 innings per start. Aside from Morrow's dominating one-hit, 17-strikeout, complete-game shutout last month vs. Tampa Bay when he was allowed to throw 137 pitches, his starts, innings, and pitch counts have been managed closely by Cito Gaston and the Toronto front office. Along these lines, he was shut down for the season after making his last start on Friday against the New York Yankees. Although the former first round draft pick out of Cal will fall short of the required 162 innings to qualify for the ERA title, it makes little or no difference given that his 4.49 mark currently ranks 36th in the American League (out of 46 pitchers). However, it is worth noting that he has a bigger gap (1.31) between his ERA and FIP (3.18) than any starter in the big leagues.
Francisco Liriano ranks second with 6.87 K/100P. Like Morrow, Liriano's ERA (3.27), while excellent, understates his defense-independent pitching prowess this year as the lefthander tops the majors in FIP at 2.31 due to a strong strikeout rate, a better-than-average walk rate, and a home run rate (0.16 per 9) that is more than twice as low as the closest challenger (Josh Johnson, 0.34). While Liriano's HR/FB of 2.6% is probably unsustainable longer term, his xFIP (3.01), which normalizes the home run/fly ball rate to league average, still places him first in the AL and second in MLB (behind only Roy Halladay, 2.93).
Jon Lester ranks in the top five in the majors in strikeouts, K/100P, K/9, and K/BF. He is tenth in the AL in ERA and fourth in FIP and xFIP. The 26-year-old southpaw has produced three consecutive superb seasons and must now be regarded as one of the top five pitching properties in baseball.
With Stephen Strasburg sidelined through 2011, is there a better 22-year-old (or younger) pitcher than Mat Latos? The San Diego righthander is two months older than Brett Anderson and three months older than Clayton Kershaw, the other contenders for this mythical title. Latos (6.54) and Kershaw (6.39) rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in K/100P. Both starters play for teams in the NL West so they generally face similar competition. Although Latos' home ballpark is more friendly toward pitchers than Kershaw's, the former (.188/.247/.310, 2.36 ERA) has outperformed the latter (.241/.325/.350, 2.86 ERA) on the road this year. In the department of be careful when analyzing (over analyzing?) the effects of home ballparks, please note that Latos has pitched 99.1 IP on the road and just 56.1 IP at home this year. In other words, he has only thrown 36 percent of his innings at Petco Park, which means he hasn't benefited from the 87 park factor as much as one might believe without examining the facts. Oh, and it just so happens that Latos and Kershaw are the scheduled starting pitchers tonight when the Padres host the Dodgers.
At 6.41 K/100P, Jered Weaver is sandwiched between Latos and Kershaw. Weaver ranks among the top five pitchers in the majors in Ks, K/100P, K/9, K/BF, and K/BB. He is 8th in ERA, 6th in FIP, and 5th in xFIP among AL pitchers. The 6-foot-7 righthander also ranks 5th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 3rd in Win Probability Added (WPA) in the junior circuit. While the Angels' ace lacks the gaudy win totals and winning percentages of CC Sabathia and David Price (and others), he has clearly been one of the five most effective starting pitchers in the league this season. Weaver can take the next step by pitching deeper into games as he is without a complete game and has only worked more than seven innings three times, primarily due to the fact that he leads the majors in pitches per plate appearance (4.17).
A lot has been written and said about Tim Lincecum's up-and-down 2010 but the fact remains that the two-time Cy Young Award winner is seventh in the majors and third in the NL in K/100P. His fastball velocity and movement have declined this season, yet he is getting more batters to swing at pitches outside the zone than ever before. In the aftermath of a poor August, the 26-year-old righthander beat the Colorado Rockies with a strong performance (8-5-1-1-1-9) on September 1. I would be slow to give up on this extraordinary talent.
Felix Hernandez leads the majors in strikeouts and ranks eighth in K/100P. He deserves to win the AL Cy Young Award as much as anybody, yet may be hurt if voters hold his mediocre win total (11) and W-L % (.524) against him. Both can be easily explained by the fact that Felix has received the lowest run support (3.90) in the AL this season. According to Lee Sinins, Hernandez would be 15-6 if he had received average run support. Sure, Sabathia is 19-5 but he has been supported by an average of 7.59 runs from his Yankees teammates. Similarly, Price (16-6) has received an average of 6.72 runs. Even Clay Buchholz, whose 15-6 record and league-leading 2.25 ERA will draw considerable attention, has been backed by 7.06 runs per nine. The truth of the matter is that Hernandez is 2nd in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 3rd in xFIP, 3rd in WAR, and 1st in WPA. No other pitcher matches those rankings.
Cole Hamels has also pitched much better than his 9-10 W-L record would suggest. He has received the fifth-lowest run support (4.92) in the NL. Teammates Roy Oswalt (3.72) and Roy Halladay (4.68) rank first and fourth, respectively. Meanwhile, the 26-year-old lefthander ranks 4th in the NL in K/100P, 7th in K/9, and 8th in K/BB and xFIP. No team wants to face the Phillies' Big Three in the postseason.
Yovani Gallardo ranks 10th in the majors in K/100P. While the Milwaukee ace can frustrate writers, analysts, and fans at times, it is hard to argue against the following NL rankings: 1st in K/9, 4th in FIP, and 6th in xFIP and HR/9. While Gallardo needs to improve his control to reach his potential, he has been victimized by the fourth-highest BABIP (.337) and the eighth-lowest LOB% (69.2%). I mean, let's give the guy a break — he's only 24 years old.
There are a number of other pitchers having superb seasons, including the next four on the list: Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, and the previously mentioned Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson. Along with Ubaldo Jimenez, Wainwright, Halladay, and Johnson are probably the leading favorites to win the NL Cy Young Award in 2010. An argument could be made for all four at this point. Although Lee and Halladay aren't thought of as strikeout types, both have posted strong K/100P marks in part due to their pitch-count efficiency. Lee is 3rd among qualified MLB pitchers in P/PA (3.49) and 2nd in P/IP (14.0), while Halladay ranks 6th (3.58) and 3rd (14.2) in these two measures.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Strasburg (92 Ks and 1,073 pitches) averaged 8.57 K/100 pitches in 12 starts spread over 68 innings. That, my friends, is 1.51 K/100P more than the leader among all qualified pitchers!
A Good Story (Even If It May Not Be True)
Let me preface today's post by stating that I love a good baseball story as much as the next fan. But I've developed a pretty good b.s. detector over the past 50-plus years. I can usually separate the fiction from the facts. My antennae tend to go up when I hear a former player recall an incident from long ago.
On Friday, August 27, the Cincinnati Reds were hosting the Chicago Cubs. I was watching the game via MLB Extra Innings. I'm not sure why I even had the game on other than to keep tallies on Joey Votto, who is on my fantasy baseball team.
With the Reds beating the Cubs 6-1 in the bottom of the sixth and Thomas Diamond facing Ramon Hernandez, play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman asks color analyst Jeff Brantley a question out of the blue. "Cowboy, do you remember the first home you gave up as a major league pitcher? Do you remember who hit it? Do you remember the year?"
Brantley laughs, "Oh, yeah," but doesn't answer quickly. Brennaman interjects, "Let's start off with the easy part: the year." Brantley says, "The year was '88." Brennaman responds, "You're one for one." He offers Brantley a hint by saying "the guy at the time was playing for the Montreal Expos." Brantley guesses Delino DeShields. Brennaman gives him a hard time and basically hands him the answer by telling Brantley it was a slugging first baseman. Brantley asks, "Andres Galarraga?" Brennaman then chimes in, "You got it."
That discussion was all fine and dandy. No reason to question the truth here. I figured Brennaman or a staff member looked up that piece of trivia before the game. The good stuff immediately followed when Brantley proceeded to spin a tale about another home run he allowed.
Brantley: The one that I remember the most was the home run by Eddie Murray and the reason I remember it the most is because I had thrown him a split-finger on the first pitch and he swung and missed it by a mile. I mean, he looked like a clown, and I thought this guy was, like, really good.
Brennaman: (Laughing) He was pretty good.
Brantley: Yeah, and I'm thinking to myself, 'This guy just missed my pitch by a mile.' Terry Kennedy, our catcher at the time, came to the mound and he said, 'Don't throw him that pitch again.' I said, 'Why not?' I said, 'He just missed it by a mile.' He goes, 'He's going to be sitting on it.' So I threw him a bunch of fastballs and he kept fouling them off, fouling them off. Kennedy kept calling fastball. I was like, 'Forget that. This guy's not gonna hit another split-finger.' I threw it and he hit it in the upper deck in Candlestick. The upper deck.
Brennaman: That's a long home run.
Brantley: Oh my gosh.
Brennaman: Was that in '88 as well?
Brantley: No, that was in '89. I learned that one. But I learned a very valuable lesson that day.
Here is the two-and-a-half-minute clip of the foregoing conversation:
How do I know, you ask? Well, thanks to Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com, we can look up exactly what took place on that Saturday afternoon. A fact-finding mission moments after Brantley finished his tall tale detailed the real story. It's not quite as interesting as the one Brantley told.
Brantley indeed got ahead in the count. However, the first pitch wasn't a split-finger that Murray missed by a mile. Rather, it was a *called* strike. It's pretty tough to look like a clown when you don't even swing at the pitch. But, hey, it makes for a nice story 21 years later.
Murray fouled off the second pitch. Score one for Brantley. That said, Brantley didn't throw him "a bunch of fastballs," nor did Murray keep "fouling them off, fouling them off." Heck, Brantley only threw him three pitches. A called strike, a foul ball, and the offering that Murray presumably hit into the upper deck. Murray did slug a home run. That's not being questioned. And, for all I know, he may have hit one of Brantley's split-finger pitches. And it may have landed in the upper deck. Who knows at this point?
Just a matter of not recounting the type and number of pitches? Well, not really. Terry Kennedy didn't even play that day. Kirt Manwaring started and played the entire game at catcher. As a result, there is no way that Kennedy "came out to the mound" and told Brantley not to throw that split-finger again. If the truth be told, it was this bit of information that led me to question what happened. Look, why in the world would Kennedy (or Manwaring, for that matter) take a trip to the mound to tell his pitcher not to throw the same pitch that the batter had just swung and missed by a mile while looking like a clown? It doesn't make sense. In other words, it didn't pass the "smell test."
I don't know if anybody else caught this gaffe. More than anything, it reminds me just how valuable it is to access old box scores, as well as play-by-play and pitch summaries. Thank you, Retrosheet. Thank you, Baseball-Reference.com.
And thank you, Jeff Brantley. Nothing like some good ol' Cowboy folklore.
A Trio in Line for Triple Crown
I went to the Reds-Dodgers game yesterday afternoon and watched Joey Votto walk and score a run in the first inning, slug a solo home run in the sixth, and line a two-run single in the ninth as Cincinnati beat Los Angeles 5-2 to stay atop the NL Central by 3 1/2 games.
Votto is leading the National League in batting average (.323), on-base percentage (.422), and slugging average (.592). He also ranks third in HR (29) and second in RBI (86) and has an outside chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski turned the trick for the Boston Red Sox.
For the most part, only Albert Pujols, who is in the hunt for the Triple Crown himself, stands in Votto's way. Pujols ranks first in the NL in HR (32) and RBI (89), fourth in AVG (.316), and second in OBP (.411) and SLG (.592). He has never led the league in RBI despite reaching 120 or more in six of his nine campaigns and never having fewer than 103. Albert has ranked first in HR, AVG, and OBP once each and SLG three times.
Over in the American League, Miguel Cabrera is second in AVG (.341), and first in OBP (.435) and SLG (.645). He also leads the league in RBI (102) and is in second place in HR (31). While it would appear that Miggy could win the AL Triple Crown, it must be noted that he trails Jose Bautista by seven home runs. If the latter returns to earth or gets hurt or traded to an NL club, then perhaps Cabrera would have a shot at winning the Triple Crown. Otherwise, he might have to settle with capturing the Triple Crown of rate stats. Joe Mauer (.365/.444/.587) accomplished the latter feat last year, joining Barry Bonds (2002 and 2004) and Todd Helton (2000) as the fourth player to do so in the past ten years.
While it is unlikely that either Votto or Pujols *and* Cabrera will win the Triple Crown this year, there is a reasonable chance that one or two of these first basemen could win the Triple Crown of rate stats. If either Votto, Pujols, or Cabrera had a monster finish and won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown, he would become only the ninth player to produce this double since 1900. (Tip O'Neill — no, not this one — was the first in 1887.)
Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby — perhaps the greatest left- and right-handed hitters, respectively, in the history of the game — won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown in the same season twice each.
Only three Triple Crown winners failed to lead their leagues in OBP or SLG. As it turns out, the culprit was OBP every time. In 1956, Mickey Mantle had the misfortune of playing in the same league at the same time as Williams and fell short in OBP (.464 to .479). In 1937, Joe Medwick finished fourth in OBP, trailing leader Dolph Camilli (.446), Johnny Mize (.427), and Gabby Hartnett (.424). In 1933, Jimmie Foxx was edged in OBP by Mickey Cochrane (.459). (In 1878, Paul Hines led the NL in AVG, HR, RBI, and SLG while placing fifth in OBP.)
While all the hitters who won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown in the same season are in the Hall of Fame, only three were named Most Valuable Player in that year: Yaz, Robby, and Hornsby (1925). Williams lost the MVP to Joe DiMaggio in 1947 and Joe Gordon in 1942. Gehrig succumbed to Cochrane in 1934 and Klein to Carl Hubbell in 1933. There was no NL MVP in 1922 and no award winners in 1909 and 1901. Mantle, Medwick, and Foxx, the other three Triple Crown winners, all won their league MVPs.
Only Yastrzemski, Robinson, and Mantle won Triple Crowns and played for a pennant-winning team. All three were named MVPs that season.
Meanwhile, Votto or Pujols could become the first NL Triple Crown winner since Medwick in 1937. As noted above, Cabrera could become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Yaz in 1967. Votto or Pujols could win the Triple Crown on a team that just might win the NLCS. If so, history would suggest that whoever pulls it off would be a lock to win the NL MVP this year. Cabrera, on the other hand, will be fighting history, as well as a number of other worthy candidates, including Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton, both of whom are enjoying career years and playing for division-leading teams.
Note: Rob Neyer points out that Omar Infante could pose a problem for Votto (or Pujols) in batting average. It is my belief that Infante will cool down the stretch owing to a combination of reverting toward his career average, playing every day, and the toll of the long season for a utility player who hasn't appeared in 100 games in a single season since 2005. Nonetheless, it adds an interesting wrinkle to the NL Triple Crown this year.
Update: Dan Szymborski of The Baseball Think Factory quantifies the likelihood of Votto, Pujols, and Cabrera winning the Triple Crown with Albert given a 16.7% chance, Miggy 1.8%, and Joey 0.8%. Insider subscription required. I might be inclined to take the better than 100:1 odds on Votto.
Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell: Two Peas in a Pod
Aside from their difference in positions, the careers of Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell have been almost identical. The National League rivals each won a Most Valuable Player Award and produced statistics that are almost indistinguishable from one another.
While Bagwell and Frank Thomas may have been separated at birth — both players were born on the same day (May 27, 1968), played first base, arrived in the majors within a year, won the MVP Award in 1994 (Bags in the NL, the Big Hurt in the AL), and produced career totals that were more alike than not — the similarities between Bags and Chipper are nearly as astonishing.
Jones and Bagwell have both been in the news recently. Chipper underwent surgery for a torn ACL this past week, and Bags was named the hitting coach for the Houston Astros last month. The offseason should be an interesting time for these superstars. Speculation will surround whether Jones can fully recover from his knee injury and return in time for the 2011 season, while Bagwell will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
Meanwhile, let's take a look at how closely Jones' and Bagwell's career counting and rate stats line up:
It's pretty difficult to separate the two, no? I don't think you can really make a strong case for one and not the other based on the counting or rate stats. Given that Jones has played in 111 more games with 223 additional plate appearances, perhaps we can agree that Bagwell edges Jones by the slimmest of margins on the offensive side of the ledger by virtue of his .003 and .004 advantages in OBP and SLG, respectively, as well as his favorable ballpark-adjusted OPS (aka OPS+).
Bagwell was actually a better defensive player at his position (1B) than Jones was at his (3B). However, Jones played the more difficult corner infield spot and the difference in positional scarcity is estimated to be worth about 140 runs according to Sean Smith of BaseballProjection.com, whose work on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has become the industry standard.
Based on WAR — which factors hitting, baserunning, fielding, and position — the difference between Bagwell (79.9) and Jones (80.0) works out to 0.1 win. One-tenth of one win over the course of their 15- and 16-year careers. They rank 56th and 57th all time in WAR among all players and 36th and 37th among non-pitchers.
As far as peak value goes, the nod goes to Bagwell, who produced three seasons (8.9, 8.3, and 8.1) that exceeded Jones' best (7.9). On the other hand, Bagwell had two seasons that were worse than anything Jones has put up to date.*
* I'm skeptical of the -19 Total Zone assigned to Bagwell's fielding in 2003, which is the primary reason for his abnormally low 1.7 WAR total that season. His basic stats (games, innings, putouts, assists, errors, double plays) are not all that different than 2002 and 2004. Moreover, his Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150) was 4.1, which is almost exactly halfway between his 2002 (3.1) and 2004 (5.0) marks. The net effect of this potential glitch is that it reduces Bagwell's value by about two wins in 2003 and, by extension, two wins for his career.
The bottom line is that Jones and Bagwell are two of the greatest players of the past two decades. One can make a case that both rank among the top five players at their position since 1900 (with only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, George Brett, and Wade Boggs possibly exceeding Jones at 3B and Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Albert Pujols outdoing Bagwell at 1B). As a result, Jones and Bagwell should be slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famers. Here's hoping that Bagwell gets his due when the results are announced in January and Jones follows up five years after his retirement, which may or may not be in 2010.
Scouting Reports from the 2010 Area Code Games
The 24th annual Area Code Games were held at Blair Field during the past week. The summer showcase has been one of the premier national events for high school baseball prospects since it was moved to Long Beach in 1994. The wood bat tournament consists of eight teams and over 200 players invited from around the country, the vast majority of which will be offered major college scholarships and/or drafted in June 2011 or 2012 as the case may be for about 10 percent of the participants.
Unlike many showcase events, the players don't pay to play. Instead, several hundred professional scouts, scores of college coaches, and dozens of agents are charged a fee for attending these games. One of the scouts in attendance (Scott Boras) is also the father of a prospect (Trent Boras, who preps at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, CA). There was an even more famous father-son combo with Wayne and Trevor Gretzky (Oaks Christian, Westlake Village, CA) prominent in the stands and on the field, respectively.
In addition, there were six sons of former MLB players and a brother of an active big-league pitcher: Alec Bankhead (Greensboro, NC), son of Scott; Brandon Bonilla (IMG Academy, Bradenton, FL), son of Bobby; Shawon Dunston Jr. (Valley Christian, San Jose, CA), son of the father by the same name; Brett Geren (San Ramon Valley, Danville, CA), son of current A’s manager Bob; C.J. McElroy (Clear Creek, League City, TX), son of Chuck; Drew Stankiewicz (Gilbert, AZ), son of Andy; and Joe Ross (Bishop O'Dowd, Oakland, CA), brother of A's pitcher Tyson.
The tournament featured eight teams: Milwaukee Brewers (California) sported Blue and White entries, Texas Rangers (Texas and Louisiana), Chicago White Sox (Midwest), Washington Nationals (Pacific Northwest), Oakland Athletics (Southeast), New York Yankees (Northeast), and the Cincinnati Reds (Southwest and Rocky Mountains). As noted, the geography of the big-league clubs and their Area Code teams don't necessarily match. Nonetheless, the players wore the colors of their MLB teams with "Area Code" in script across the front of all jerseys.
Each team played five games over six days (Thursday, August 5-Tuesday, August 10) with most contests scheduled for seven innings and a few for nine.
Day One (Thursday, August 5)
In the opening game on Thursday, Henry Owens (Edison, Huntington Beach, CA) of the Milwaukee Brewers (Blue) pitched the first two innings and struck out six of the seven batters faced. He walked the other one. The lefthander threw 31 pitches, 21 for strikes. He was throwing 87-89 mph. At 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds (with size 17 shoes), his fastball plays up a bit due to the fact that he throws on a downhill plane. Moreover, his body offers lots of projection although a scout I spoke to noted that Owens' velocity is down a couple of ticks from his sophomore season in 2009. Nonetheless, he may be the most highly regarded prep pitcher in the country and could be drafted in the top half of the first round next June.
A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team, Owens has had a busy summer. He was 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA in five appearances and four starts, whiffing 31 batters and walking nine in 19.1 innings. He was also named to the Aflac All American Baseball Classic, which will be held on Sunday, August 15 at 5 p.m. PDT in PETCO Park. The game will feature the nation’s top 38 high school players heading into their senior year.
Baseball America offered the following report in its Aflac Classic player capsules:
Scouts love Owens' frame, which has plenty of room to fill out, and he adds to the package by showing a good arsenal—and all from the left side. His fastball sits 88-91 mph from the left side, and he also works with a sharp, two-plane curveball and mixes in a changeup.
Area Code and Aflac teammates Travis Harrison (Tustin, CA) and Christian Lopes (Edison, Huntington Beach, CA) each went 2-for-4. Harrison is a 6-2, 220-pound outfielder with big-time power, as evidenced by the 504-foot home run he jacked at the Power Showcase in January, breaking Bryce Harper's record from the previous year by two feet. Lopes, a 6-0, 185-pound shortstop, has been well known in prospect circles for several years. He and his younger brother Timmy Lopes (class of 2012) transferred from Valencia to Edison last January, joining Owens and Eric Snyder, who has committed to UCLA. All four players are on the same team in the Area Code Games, too. Their high school club promises to be one of the best in the nation next year.
In the second game, Owens' 18U teammate Derek “Bubba” Starling (Edgerton, Gardner, KN) led the Chicago White Sox to a victory, pitching two innings (2-1-1-1-1-2) and knocking in the first run with a ground-rule double that the left fielder lost in the sun and bounced near the warning track and over the outfield wall that measures 348 feet down the lines, 387 to the power alleys, and 400 to center. His fastball sat in the high 80s and touched 90. The righthander has reportedly thrown in the low 90s but hasn't pitched much this summer. He hit .339/.474/.532 with three HR and 16 BB and 12 SO in 78 PA and tossed 4.1 scoreless innings with 7 SO and only 1 BB for Team USA last month. The tall and lanky Starling (6-5, 195) is an outstanding two-sport athlete who has verbally committed to play baseball and quarterback at Nebraska. The five-tool player ran a 6.56 in the 60-yard dash, tied for the fifth-fastest time in the SPARQ testing on the first day of the Area Code Games. I like the Matt Holliday (who was also one of the top high school QB in the country) comp that New York Yankees Director of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer made to ESPN Rise, a part owner and sponsor of the event.
White Sox center fielder Charles Tilson (New Trier, Winnetka, IL) showed off his athleticism on Thursday by running the fourth-fastest 60 (6.54) and stealing three bases that evening. On Saturday, a scout sitting in my row clocked the lefthanded-hitting center fielder at 3.98 while an area supervisor in front of me had him at 4.0 exactly on an infield single that didn't even draw a throw. So as not to be labeled a one-trick pony, Tilson opened Sunday's game by slugging the first home run of the tournament. It was an impressive blast to right field into a slight breeze coming off the ocean. He singled and stole two more bases later in the game and threw out a runner at third to top it all off.
Teammate Johnny Eierman (Warsaw, MO) is another speedster who had the second-fastest time in the 60 at 6.41. The 6-foot-1 shortstop and quarterback is coming off a junior year in which he was an all-state selection in baseball and football. The LSU commit slugged three home runs during batting practice on Thursday but struck out in five of six plate appearances after going 2-for-3 with a triple in the first game. While Eierman doesn't lack for load or bat speed, he may need to alter his swing plane in order to make more contact at the next level.
Nicholas Burdi (Downers Grove, IL) threw three innings in relief, striking out five without allowing a walk. The 6-5, 215-pound righthander was dialing his fastball up to 90-91 while flashing a hard slider at 84-85 and a changeup with good arm action at 81-82.
Lefty Cody Kukuk (Lawrence, KS) and righty Michael Fulmer (Deer Creek, Edmond, OK) both touched 90 on the radar guns in the later innings.
The opposing starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals, Dylan Davis (Redmond, WA), threw 92-94 in his only inning of work. His heater was the fastest of the evening. It appeared as if he only threw one other pitch, a short slider that Baseball America tabs at 83-84. The smallish righthander, generously listed at 6-0, 200 pounds, gave up two runs (one earned) on Thursday but bounced back to toss two scoreless innings on Sunday. An Aflac selection, Davis has committed to Oregon State.
Cole Wiper (Newport, Bellevue, WA) topped out at 91 with his fastball, 83-85 with what a scout told me was a cutter, and a 78 mph curve he left up in the zone that was pulled for a triple down the right-field line. He has thrown three innings overall, struggling with his control on Sunday when he walked three of the seven batters faced.
Porter Clayton (Bonneville, Idaho Falls, ID), a southpaw with a pronounced leg kick, struck out three batters around a hit and walk in his only inning of work. He was 88-89 with a good breaking ball. Kevin Moriarty (Shorewood, WA) K'd five out of six batters, showing excellent command of an 84-87 mph fastball and a slow curve.
Spencer O'Neil (Southridge, Kennewick, WA) stood out in the pre-game infield, displaying a strong, accurate arm in right field with all four throws to third base and home arriving on a clothes line with no hops. However, O'Neil, one of three returning players from the 2009 Area Code Games, has taken the collar at the plate, going 0-for-10 in the tournament.
Day Two (Friday, August 6)
Jordan Ramsey (North Davidson, Lexington, NC), Chris McCue (Ardrey Kell, Charlotte, NC), and John Hayman (Ware County, Waycross, GA) of the Oakland Athletics threw a combined, seven-inning shutout over Washington, which was forced to play the last game the previous evening and the first contest the following morning. McCue, an undersized righthander who has committed to North Carolina, had the most impressive arsenal of the trio, with an 89-92 mph fastball and a solid-average curveball and changeup.
Alex Blandino (St. Francis, Mountain View, CA) went 3-for-3 in the opener but competed for playing time throughout the tournament with several middle infielders on Oakland despite a solid swing that produced six hits in 10 trips to the plate.
Washington's Tyler Gonzales (Madison, San Antonio, TX), class of 2012, struck out the side in his lone inning of work. Teammate Dylan LaVelle (Lake Stevens, WA), another junior-to-be, hammered a triple that one-hopped the wall in center field to lead off the game for the Nats. Although LaVelle made a couple of errors at shortstop during the tournament, he was involved in three double plays and appears to have the glove, footwork, and arm to handle the position. His keystone partner, Erik Forgione (W.F. West, Chehalis, WA), was equally adept defensively, making at least one highlight reel play at second. He also doubled to right center on Saturday, one of the few hard hit balls that day.
Michael Conforto (Redmond, WA), who is playing in his second Area Code Games, stroked two hits. A lefthanded-hitting right fielder, Conforto has a powerful swing and a strong arm. Before knowing that TrackMan had measured his max exit speed at a tournament-best 105, I had written down "plus bat speed" next to his name on my roster. Keep an eye on this 6-0, 200-pounder with good bloodlines. His mother won two gold medals in synchronized swimming in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and added a silver in the 1988 Games in Seoul, while his father played linebacker at Penn State for Coach Paterno in the 1970s.
In the game between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Bryan Brickhouse (Woodlands, TX), a 6-2, 190-pound righthander, was throwing 92-94 mph gas in the first inning, striking out the side around one walk. He allowed another free pass in the second as well as a single and triple off the bat of Rio Ruiz (Bishop Amat, La Puente, CA), a third baseman and pitcher from the class of 2012, who knocked in two runs and closed out the final inning for the Yankees, lighting up the radar guns with a low-90s fastball.
Fernelys Sanchez (Washington, Bronx, NY), another junior-to-be, ran the best 60 (6.35) on Thursday and stole two bases. Matt Dean (The Colony, TX), an Aflac selection, had a tough time at the plate, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was 3-for-17 with no XBH or BB and five SO for the tournament. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound third baseman is a two-sport athlete who has committed to Texas to play baseball but is expected to be a high draft pick next June. Teammate Daniel Mengden (Westside, Houston, TX) will also be at the Aflac game next week.
In the final game of the day, Robert Stephenson (Alhambra, Martinez, CA) led the Brewers White to a 6-1 victory over the Reds. The 6-2, 185-pound righthander struck out six batters without allowing a walk or run in three innings. The Aflac All-American was popping his fastball in the low 90s in one of the more impressive outings of the day. Teammate Billy Flamion (Central Catholic, Modesto, CA) was the offensive star of the game, banging out two hits (including a double) and stealing a base. The 6-1, 195-pound, high-energy outfielder went 5-for-17 for the tournament and his big, powerful swing will be on display next Sunday in the Aflac game.
On the other side of the diamond, Blake Swihart (Cleveland, Rio Rancho, NM), a 6-1, 175-pound switch-hitting catcher, had two hits and drew rave reviews from many talent evaluators for his offensive and defensive prowess. He is another Aflac selection who hit a team-leading .448 AVG (26-for-58) and .845 SLG (6 2B, 1 3B, and 5 HR) for the USA 18U club. He has also committed to play for the Texas Longhorns. Swihart caught Bonilla, a lefthanded pitcher whose line (2-3-3-3-3-4) left a lot to be desired. However, the University of Southern California commit, who works out of the stretch, flashed good stuff with a fastball that sat in the upper 80s and reached 90 as well as a curve that showed some promise. Interestingly, he walked Dunston, a lefthanded-hitting, fleet-footed outfielder, on four pitches. The latter drew four free passes in 19 plate appearances while stealing two bases and scoring five runs, including a jaw dropper from second base on a dropped third strike and throw to first.
Day Three (Saturday, August 7)
With all of the teams having played at least once heading into the weekend, the biggest names were generally covered in the recap of the first two days. Nonetheless, there were new pitchers who stood out and a few hitters who jumped to the forefront such as Aaron Brown (Chatsworth, CA), who went 4-for-4 in the morning game on his way to a tourney-leading eight hits in 15 at-bats. The L/L outfielder-pitcher has excellent bat and foot speed and flashed a strong arm on Monday when he struck out five batters over just two innings. Milwaukee White teammate Tyler Goeddel (St. Francis, Mountain View, CA), a 6-4, 170-pound third baseman, jacked a stand-up triple into the gap in right center, showing both power and speed on the same play. He has also displayed a great approach at the plate, drawing seven walks while striking out just once. Desmond Henry (Centennial, Compton, CA) sparkled in the 60-yard dash on Thursday with the third-fastest time of 6.47 before transferring his athleticism to the baseball field on Saturday with two doubles. He went 5-for-13 with two BB and two SO overall.
Lots of radar guns went up in the second game when Jerrick Suiter (Valparaiso, IN), a 6-3, 210-pound righthander with a smooth delivery, entered the contest in the fifth. He worked two innings on Saturday and came back and tossed two more on Monday. The three-sport star allowed only one hit, one walk, and no runs while punching out seven of the 14 batters faced in his two outings. Suiter coupled an 88-92 mph fastball with a 73-74 plus curveball. Patrick Hope (Broken Arrow, OK), a 6-3, 185-pound righthander, was 90-91 with a 72-73 hammer curve that was without question the best breaking ball I saw all week. Fellow righty teammate Clayton Blackburn (Santa Fe, Edmond, OK) was 89-90 with a sweeping breaking ball.
In the third game, Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood, CA), class of 2012, just turned 16 in July, yet matched the best fastball of the tournament by consistently hitting 91-93 and touching 94 on at least one occasion according to the scoreboard display facing the press box. (Note: TrackMan registered his average fastball velocity at 95.8, or 3-4 mph faster than the consensus of the dozens of handheld Stalker Sport radar guns employed by scouts. TrackMan may measure the velocity at the pitcher's release point whereas radar guns and PITCHf/x estimate velocity at about 50 feet from home plate. There may be an additional explanation as well, which I would enjoy receiving from any expert in this area. In the meantime, the TrackMan leaders can be viewed here.) Giolito was wild with his entire repetoire of pitches (which included a 76-80 mph slurve and what appeared to be either a hard change or a two-seamer with more than decent arm-side run). With additional experience, the 6-5, 215-pound righthander may be able to improve upon his command, which was lacking on Saturday as evidenced by the 24 balls against 23 strikes and four free passes in only two innings. If so, he projects to go early in the 2012 draft.
Teammate Adam McCreary (Bonita, La Verne, CA) entered the game in the sixth inning and was announced as Henry Owens due to the lefty's handedness, similar number (38 vs. 36) and size (6-8 vs. 6-7). The PA announcer corrected his mistake, noting the "even taller" McCreary, who pitched a scoreless inning by exhibiting a mid-80s fastball, a 78 mph slider, a 72 mph curve, a 75 mph change, and a good pickoff move to first base. The combination of his polish and projection makes him an intriguing prospect.
Three Yankees pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts in the nightcap with Aflac All-Star Tyler Beede (Lawrence Academy, Groton, MA) and Karl Keglovitz (Nazareth, PA) leading the way with six each. John Magliozzi (Dexter, Brookline, MA), another Aflac selection, chipped in with five Ks. The Florida commit worked in the low 90s. Keith Law, whom I chatted with in between games on Saturday, noted that Magliozzi might be more suited for a relief role due to his arm slot. I agree and believe his lack of height (5'11") may also work against him at the professional level although I overheard one scout liken him to Tim Hudson. Beede (3-2-0-0-0-6) exhibited outstanding command of a low-90s fastball and solid secondary pitches. The 6-4, 200-pound righthander has committed to Vanderbilt.
Day Four (Sunday, August 8)
The two early games were low-scoring affairs with Phillip Evans (La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad, CA) the only player to produce two hits in the opener. He plays hard but is not the best-bodied or most toolsy athlete in the tournament. However, he did make an over-the-shoulder catch that turned heads earlier in the week.
Although he gave up two runs, righthander Mathew Troupe (Chaminade, West Hills, CA) fanned seven batters without allowing a walk in three innings. The Oregon State commit, who is now up to 6-1, 185 pounds, consistently pounded the strike zone (41 strikes and 14 balls) and may turn out to be an effective, if unspectacular pitcher.
In the third game, the White Sox's Mason Snyder (Marquette, Ottawa, IL) followed Tilson's aforementioned dinger with a double high off the 348-foot mark on the left-field wall. Dylan Delso (Broken Arrow, OK) went 2-for-2 en route to a 6-for-9 tourney with three BB and no SO. He topped all hitters in the Triple Crown of rate stats, putting up a line of .667/.750/1.000. Kyle Shaw and Ty Hensley (both from Santa Fe, Edmond, OK) touched 90 but generally worked in the mid- to high-80s. Kevin Comer (Seneca, Tabernacle, NJ) of the Yankees was the most impressive pitcher of the game as he whiffed nine in four innings while allowing only one hit, one walk, and one run. The righty's fastball sat at 87-89 and peaked at 90 but it was his secondary pitches that caught my eye, including a 76-78 mph slider with good tilt, a changeup with fade, and a two-seamer with tailing action that he used primarily against LHB.
In the finale, Elliot Richoux (The Woodlands, TX), a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, bombed a double off the top of the wall in right field (although it should be noted that the pitch was an 80-mph "fastball" from someone who will most likely stick at his more natural first base position). McElroy picked up a couple hits en route to a 4-for-7 tourney with two stolen bases. The righthanded lead-off hitter and a bunt single and ran a 4.39 to first base on a broken bat groundout to the second baseman. Nick Williams (Ball, Galveston, TX), a 6-2, 185-pound outfielder, deserves mention for recording the best SPARQ test results on Thursday despite being a member of the 2012 class. Only 16, his baseball skills are still a bit raw but his athleticism coupled with his tall, projectable body suggest he could be one of the top players in the Area Code Games next summer.
Zac Freeman (Lowndes, Valdosta, GA) was, for me, the most impressive player on Oakland's squad. He went 3-for-10 with a double and a triple plus three walks and made an outstanding diving catch going to his left in shallow center field. Disregarding his poor pitching performance on Monday, the only criticism is perhaps an overly aggressive swing that led to six whiffs in 13 plate appearances.
Parker French (Dripping Springs, TX), a big righthander, started for Texas and pitched two shutout innings with four Ks. He was popping the catcher's glove with a 90-93 mph fastball and threw several 76-78 slurves, as well as at least one plus changeup. Hayman was 90-91 but lacked consistent command in his second appearance and Darren Whatley (Bibb County, Centerville, AL) was 88-90 with his four-seamer and generally 85 with his two-seamer.
Day Five (Monday, August 9)
I didn't make it out to Blair Field on Monday in what was the final full-day schedule of the six-day tournament. The primary attraction was the all-California matchup between the Milwaukee Brewers Blue and White teams. Of note, all of the players on the Blue side are from Southern California while the majority of the players on the White are from Northern California. As it turns out, the Blue beat the White, 5-1.
Owens made his second start of the Area Code Games, hurling two hitless, scoreless innings while striking out and walking two. With four innings of no-hit, no-run ball and eight Ks, Owens was probably the star of the showcase event. Assuming good health, the sky is the limit for this special talent.
Aflac All-American Daniel Camarena (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego, CA) knocked in the first run for the Blue with a long double to straightaway center. The 6-2, 200-pound L/L is a two-way threat who has committed to University of San Diego. Baseball America sees him as a "high average, low strikeout, gap-to-gap, line drive hitter." Teammate Austin Hedges (JSerra, San Juan Capistrano, CA), also an Aflac selection, had two hits and was 4-for-10 overall. He is an outstanding defensive catcher with a strong arm that was obvious to anyone paying attention before and during the games. Flamion just missed jacking a home run down the RF line for the White, a blast that TrackMan recorded at 385 feet or what would have been the longest hit of the tournament had it gone fair.
The Brewers White team played back-to-back games, coming off a 10-1 win over the A's before facing their Blue rivals. Dante Flores (St. John Bosco, Bellflower, CA), Blake Grant-Parks (Yuba City, CA), and Kevin Kramer (Turlock, CA) each contributed two hits in the victory. The 5-10, 160-pound Flores (5-for-10 with three 2B, two BB, and only one SO) is a highly skilled SS/2B, a local favorite who is likely to honor his commitment to USC.
Cincinnati's Kavin Keyes (Alta, Sandy, UT), a switch-hitting infielder, led the offense, going 2-for-3 with a double and finishing the tourney with a .500 AVG (7-for-14). Stankiewicz, meanwhile, sparked the defense with two web gems at second base. The switch hitter has committed to Cal State Fullerton. The Nats' Clint Coulter (Union, Camas, WA) and Austin Diemer (Rocklin, CA), a late add to Washington's roster, produced all five of their team's hits in 2-0 victory over the Yankees. Seven pitchers threw one inning each with only Blake Snell (Shorewood, Shoreline, MA) striking out two.
Day Six (Tuesday, August 10)
On the final day of the Area Code Games, the manager of the A's let McCue stretch out his arm by throwing 69 pitches over the first four innings (4-4-1-1-1-4). He led all pitchers with six innings of work.
Cameron Gallagher (Manheim Township, Lancaster, PA), an Aflac All-American catcher, went 2-for-3 with a double, raising his overall average to .273 with three hits in 11 AB. The 6-3, 215-pounder has committed to East Carolina.
Although hope and change has been a popular phrase the past two years, it's really Hope and his curveball. The Chicago righthander threw two scoreless innings, once again using his put-away breaking ball to strike out five batters to give him a total of eight in just four frames. Kukuk, Fulmer, lefty Brett Lilek (Marian Catholic, Chicago Heights, IL), and Shaw followed Hope to the mound, combining to pitch six innings while allowing just one hit two walks, and one run. Lilek struck out the side in the seventh. It was a bit of redemption for the junior-to-be as he allowed three runs (two earned) in his only other outing of the tourney. Eierman was the offensive star, going 3-for-4 and lifting him into the top ten for H, AVG, SLG, and RBI.
The following players were the most notable in my judgment:
Top 5 Hitters
Top 5 Pitchers
For those of you who are interested in following high school prospects, be sure to tune in to the 2010 Aflac All-American Baseball Classic on Sunday, August 15 at 5 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live nationally by Fox Sports Net.
Tonight is the First Day of the Rest of Morrow's (Potentially Great) Life
Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays is scheduled to face the New York Yankees tonight in the first of a three-game series. The 26-year-old righthander, who is coming off two consecutive victories over the lowly Baltimore Orioles, will find the going more difficult on the road this evening against the team with the best record in the majors. That said, while it is only one game, I wouldn't bet against him.
Although Morrow's back of the baseball card stats (7-6, 4.62 ERA) are rather pedestrian, there are signs that the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft could be on the verge of becoming one of the elite starters in the game. Call it hyperbole if you'd like but digging deeper into the stats indicates that Morrow has the makings of a top-shelf pitcher. Let me count the ways:
1. Throws gas. Morrow's fastball has averaged 93.7 mph this year, ranking eighth among all qualified starters and ahead of hard throwers such as Francisco Liriano, Mat Latos, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Matt Garza, Tommy Hanson, A.J. Burnett, and Max Scherzer.
3. Exceptional strikeout rate. He leads the majors with a 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings.
4. Stingy home run rate. At 0.64 HR/9, he ranks 27th among 106 qualified starters.
5. Superb advanced metrics. He is 21st in SIERA and tied for 22nd in Fielding Independent Pitching ERA. He also ranks sixth in BP's Stuff, "a rough indicator of the pitcher's overall dominance, based on normalized strikeout rates, walk rates, home run rates, runs allowed, and innings per game." He trails five of the best pitchers in the game: Francisco Liriano, Jered Weaver, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, and Cliff Lee.
6. Swinging strikes. Morrow (11.0%) is sixth among all qualified starters in the percentage of swinging strikes. Only the aforementioned Liriano (12.6%), Johnson (11.8%), Weaver (11.2%), plus Cole Hamels (11.7%) and Tim Lincecum (11.2%) have induced higher percentages.
So what's holding Morrow back? He has the second-highest BB/9 (4.22), the sixth-highest BABIP (.343), and the 17th-lowest LOB% (68.4%). While the walk rate is clearly his own doing, the BABIP and LOB% may be a combination of poor defense, a lack of bullpen support, and being on the wrong side of the luck factor this season. The good news is that Morrow's propensity of allowing free passes has been diminishing throughout the season. He allowed four or more walks in five of his first ten starts but has only given up a similar number in just one of his last ten outings, a stretch in which he has surrendered two or fewer bases on balls seven times.
With respect to tonight's game, Morrow is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in four career starts against New York. He has faced the Yankees twice in the past two months, completing 13 innings while allowing 13 hits, two walks, six runs, and punching out 15 batters.
If you get the chance, you might want to tune in. If nothing else, it will put you one step ahead of Jack Zduriencik, the Seattle GM who traded Morrow last December for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez. The latter, who was ranked by Baseball America as Toronto's 21st-best prospect, holds the key to the deal for the Mariners as a one-for-one transaction involving the two Brandons would have been highly advantageous in favor of the Blue Jays. Signed as a 16-year old out of Venezuela, Chavez, 21, is hitting .314/.383/.586 at High Desert, a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark in the California League. A corner outfielder with limited range, Chavez will have to hit his way to the big leagues.
Meanwhile, Toronto doesn't need to wait until tomorrow for its payoff as the now-ready Morrow is only hours away from facing the Yankees once again and a few more supporters from being recognized as one of the better starting pitchers in the league.
An EvenLee Match for the Texas Lefty?
Cliff Lee pitched another great game last night. He has rightfully received a lot of accolades for his pitching prowess this year and was the prize target when the Seattle Mariners were auctioning him off to the highest bidders earlier this month.
Let's face it, Lee is having a pretty good season, no?
Oops, that game log actually belongs to Carl Pavano. Yes, the pitcher no Yankees fan likes. Boston fans adore him because New Yorkers don't, as well as the fact that he brought them Pedro Martinez in a trade with the Montreal Expos in November 1997. I'm sure the Minnesota faithful is appreciative, too. You see, the 34-year-old righthander is 12-6 with a 3.26 ERA this year. After last night's victory, he has now won his last seven decisions, including four complete games and two shutouts.
Pavano leads the American League in shutouts (2) and ranks second in wins (12), complete games (5), BB/9 (1.19), and WHIP (1.01); third in innings (143.2); fifth in K/BB (4.26); 11th in W-L % (.667); and 12th in ERA (3.26).
How is Pavano putting up such heady stats? In a nutshell, there are two major reasons for his success.
1. Pavano ranks first in the AL in O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) at 36.1%. The league average is 28.8%.
2. Pavano ranks second in F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage) at 68.3%. The league average is 58.8%.
The comparison to Lee is appropriate in that the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner is fourth in O-Swing% (33.7%) and first in F-Strike% (70.2%).
The bottom line is that pitchers who get ahead in the count, widen the strike zone, and get batters to swing at their pitches are usually successful. In addition to Pavano and Lee, there are three pitchers who also rank in the top 10 in MLB in both of these categories: Scott Baker (35.3%, 65.4%), Dan Haren (36.3%, 66.9%), and Phil Hughes (33.6%, 65.7%). Roy Halladay (32.0%, 67.9%) and Ricky Nolasco (32.7%, 64.8%) are among the top 15 in O-Swing% and F-Strike%.
I would take those seven pitchers on my team. Don't be misled by Baker's 5.15 ERA. His Fielding Independent Pitching ERA is 4.00. The difference between his ERA and FIP is 1.15, which is the fourth-highest in the majors. Only Brandon Morrow (1.40), Francisco Liriano (1.36), and Justin Masterson (1.27) have bigger deltas. Unlike Baker (whose success is based on his strong K and BB rates), the latter three are benefiting from their low HR/9 rates with Liriano at a league-leading 0.15 (2 HR in 122 IP).
As it relates to Pavano, his .255 BABIP and 74.4% LOB are significantly better than his career averages of .306 and 69.9%, respectively, which may suggest that he could be prone for reversion to the mean over the balance of the season. However, I am not nearly as pessimistic as ZIPS (Szymborski Projection System), which forecasts Pavano to go 3-5 with a 4.88 ERA from here on out.
With outstanding control and three plus pitches (fastball, slider, and changeup) in terms of run value, Pavano should continue to have his way with hitters, albeit at a pace perhaps closer to his FIP (3.85) or xFIP (3.88) than his ERA (3.26). Working on a one-year deal for $7 million, the 12-year veteran has been a bargain for the Minnesota Twins.
A free agent at the end of the year, don't be surprised if Pavano signs a new contract that pays him more per season than the one he inked with the Yankees (4/$39.95M) in December 2004. Just don't look for him to return to the Big Apple unless, of course, it's to face the Bronx Bombers in the postseason in October.
[Thanks to ESPN for the game log and Fangraphs for the stats and rankings.]
Home Run Derby
The Home Run Derby is a made-for-TV event, one that can be enjoyed from your couch at home as much or more than almost any seat in the stadium. Nonetheless, when you get the opportunity to take two out-of-town nephews to your home ballpark to witness the festivities in person, you jump at the chance. After all, life is about relationships and shared experiences create more memories than flying solo at home.
My older brother and I took our younger brother's sons (Casey and Troy) to the Home Run Derby on Monday. Forty years ago, Tom's high school baseball team won the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section 4-A (highest division) championship at what was then known as Anaheim Stadium. A lefthander, Tom (far left) was the winning pitcher in the final game. He was also First Team All-CIF with a 10-0 record and an ERA of 1.53. For perspective, Fred Lynn (El Monte High School) was on the second team. In the preliminary game that same evening, George Brett and Scott McGregor of El Segundo HS lost to Lompoc 8-5.
I snapped a photo of David Ortiz (bottom right) slamming one of his 32 home runs. Note the ball leaving the bat. Not bad on a less than high-speed camera without much of a telephoto lens from the field boxes well down the left-field line. Big Papi beat Hanley Ramirez, 11-5, in the final round. In his fourth appearance in the derby, Ortiz jacked the third-most number of homers in the event's history, trailing only Bobby Abreu (41 in 2005) and Josh Hamilton (35, 2008). Unfortunately, nobody "Hit It Here" (bottom left), a sign placed more than 500 feet from home plate, and won $1,000,000.
My favorite photo of the evening was a rather simple one but it captured the imaginations of a 15-year-old boy watching the flight of a long home run. Accompanied by their parents, Troy and Casey returned to Angel Stadium for the All-Star Game the following evening and Heath Bell tossed the latter a ball during batting practice.
Casey, 10, threw out the first ball at a Cubs-Padres spring training game in March. He made the PONY League (Mustang Division) All-Star Team in Phoenix.
Photographs and memories.
Yesterday and the Futures
I spent the weekend before the All-Star Game attending two baseball games. On Saturday, Jon Weisman hosted Dave Cameron, his brother Jeremy, Bryan Smith, and me at Dodger Stadium for the Dodgers-Cubs game. On Sunday, my son Joe and I met up with Dave and Bryan at the All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium. We skipped the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game yesterday evening, choosing to eat dinner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, one of many restaurants at the Shops at Anaheim GardenWalk. All of us enjoyed our fish but there was a Trout that made an even greater impression earlier in the day.
The United States beat the World team, 9-1, in the 12th annual Futures Game. It was the most lopsided score on record, outdoing the World's 7-0 whitewashing in the inaugural game in Boston in 1999. The contest was a mismatch from the moment the 25-man rosters, selected by Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America, and the 30 clubs, were released late last month. The current format, pitting the U.S. vs. the World, has run its useful course and many, including Bryan, would like to change the competition to the American League vs. the National League.
While Hank Conger (Angels, Salt Lake, Triple-A), a first-round draft pick out of Huntington Beach High School (Orange County, CA) in 2006 who Joe referred to as a switch-hitting Mike Napoli, slugged a three-run home run in the fifth inning to earn Most Valuable Player honors, future teammate Mike Trout stole the show in the eyes of the scouts yesterday afternoon. Trout, who won't turn 19 until next month, was not only the youngest player on the field but the most impressive. The 25th overall pick in the 2009 draft, who put on a display before the game in batting practice when he jacked a ball off the center field wall on his first swing and proceeded to launch several more over the fence, hit the ball hard all four times to the plate, resulting in two infield errors, an infield single, and a double that highlighted his speed and hustle. The slowest fastball he faced was 93 and his line-drive double was on a 98-mph heater thrown by 6-foot-3 righthander Jeurys Familia (Mets, St. Lucie, High Class A).
Trout entered the game in the bottom of the first inning as a pinch runner for über prospect Domonic Brown (Phillies, Lehigh Valley, Triple-A), who reached base on an infield single, advanced to second on one of four hits by Eric Hosmer (Royals, Wilmington, High Class A), and took third on a wild pitch by losing pitcher Simon Castro (Padres, San Antonio, Double-A). Brown (.326/.391/.608 with 19 HR in 330 combined plate appearances at "AA" and "AAA"), who felt tightness in his right hamstring when running down the first-base line and was nearly picked off first and second, left the game for "precautionary" measures and expects to play when minor league action resumes on Thursday.
Interestingly, Brown and Trout were ranked 1 and 2 in Baseball America's Top 25 Midseason Prospects last week.
1. Domonic Brown, of, Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley): The power has come through as the Phillies predicted, as Brown has started to fill out at age 22 and surpassed his career home runs total in his first 65 games at Double-A Reading. Then he went out and hit four in his first 13 games after a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He ranks 10th in the minors in OPS, and he's doing it with big tools at upper levels. His still-raw defensive skills (his defensive tools are fine) are his only major flaw.
Brown (6-5, 200) and Trout (6-1, 217) have different body types. The lanky Brown reminds me of Darryl Strawberry while the thick Trout has drawn comparisons to NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher for his aggressiveness and physicality. Amazingly, Trout has legitimate 80 speed (on the 20-80 scale) and was clocked at 3.9 to first on his infield single, a time that Keith Law tweeted was the "fastest I've ever gotten from a right handed hitter." His plus-plus speed was also evident in center field as he recorded five putouts, including a nice running catch.
I first saw Trout in the 2008 Area Code Games, highlighting his name in yellow in my program. He generated the second highest SPARQ Rating at the event, with a 83.07 (3.64 30-yard dash, 4.47 shuttle, 60-foot power ball toss and 33.5 vertical jump). I was pleased when the Angels selected him in the draft last year as the club was in need of outfielders and athleticism. Although Trout, who was promoted to High Class A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League over the weekend, has not played above Low Class A yet, there has been talk that the teenager could reach the majors next year.
Trout has a big supporter in Angels manager Mike Scioscia:
He's not like one of these real gazelle center fielder types. This guy's a strong kid. He runs hard. He runs heavy, and he can fly. He drives the ball well to right field. He's got the makeup; he's focused. He's just a player with as much upside as any player that has put on the uniform.
Given Torii Hunter's presence in center field, there is no need to rush Trout. However, rest assured that the Angels will call him up to the big leagues when he is ready, perhaps moving Hunter to right field and Bobby Abreu to left field or designated hitter to make room for the youngster if indeed he returns to Angel Stadium sometime next year.
It's just too bad the Angels still don't have Tim Salmon to play alongside Trout.
Lefties in the News
No, today's article is not about President Obama or Elena Kagan. Instead, the title is meant to honor two southpaws who made news this week.
They just mentioned this on Baseball Tonight, which I thought would be of interest to you:
Lee has made a habit of bypassing the team bus in favor of alternative transportation to Yankee Stadium. Taking a taxi to Game One of the 2009 World Series at rush hour, Lee got stuck in traffic and asked the driver to take him to the nearest subway station. He took the local 6 train and changed to the express 4 train, exited at the 161st Ave./Yankee Stadium stop, and walked down the stairs and across the street to the ballpark, just as he did two years ago.
The lefthander is 43-19 with a 2.81 ERA (151 ERA+) and a 7.0 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, and 0.6 HR/9 since the beginning of his 2008 Cy Young Award campaign. A free agent at the end of this season, Lee is likely to be traded to a contender within the next month. The 31-year-old veteran could give the acquiring team a big boost down the stretch and into October as he was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA covering five starts and 40.1 IP in the postseason last year.
Here are the career leaders:
1 Jamie Moyer 506 2 Robin Roberts 505 3 Ferguson Jenkins 484 4 Phil Niekro 482 5 Don Sutton 472 6 Frank Tanana 448 7 Warren Spahn 434 8 Bert Blyleven 430 9 Steve Carlton 414 10 Randy Johnson 411
The top three all pitched for the Phillies, as did Steve Carlton, who ranks ninth. Six of the ten pitchers are in the Hall of Fame and Bert Blyleven should make it seven in 2011 and Randy Johnson eight when his name appears on the ballot five years from now, leaving Moyer and Frank Tanana as the only non-HOFers to comprise this list. Moyer and Tanana are distinguished for much more than their proclivity of giving up long balls. They have combined for 507 wins and 5,166 strikeouts over 8,243 innings with an ERA+ of 105 and 106, respectively. For more on Moyer, check out the tribute Patrick Sullivan wrote last month.
As Lee Sinins noted in his ATM Report on Monday, "Even though they are in the top 10 for most HR allowed, Spahn, Blyleven, Carlton and Johnson all allowed less than their league averages. Moyer is only tied for 36th in most HR above the league average."
HOMERUNS DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Ferguson Jenkins -111 484 373 T2 Pedro Ramos -83 315 232 T2 Catfish Hunter -83 374 291 4 Scott Sanderson -77 297 220 5 Jose Lima -76 267 191 6 Denny McLain -75 242 167 7 Brian Anderson -74 264 190 8 Tom Browning -73 236 163 9 Eric Milton -71 267 196 10 George Blaeholder -62 173 111 ... T36 Jamie Moyer -43 506 463 T36 Jim Deshaies -43 179 136 T36 Pedro Astacio -43 291 248
Funny how some writers will use Blyleven's home runs against him when casting their Hall of Fame votes (despite the fact that he gave up fewer than the league average), yet Catfish Hunter and Fergie Jenkins were elected in 1987 and 1991, respectively, in their third year on the ballot.
In addition, Jay Jaffe has everything you would ever want to know about pitchers giving up home runs in a Baseball Prospectus article (subscription required) he titled Jacktastic!
My Trip to Chicago and Wrigley Field in Words, Links, and Photos
I traveled to Chicago on Wednesday for business and attended the Angels-Cubs games on Friday and Saturday at Wrigley Field. It was my first trip to the Windy City in five years. I returned home on Sunday and watched the final round of the U.S. Open before celebrating Father's Day dinner with my family.
Here were the highlights of my trip:
The Angels beat the Cubs, 7-6, in a game that wasn't really as close as the final score suggests. After George Wendt sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the clouds and umbrellas opened up, and the majority of Chicago fans had left, the Cubs rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth on a pair of home runs by Tyler Colvin and Derrek Lee, but it was too little, too late. Although the temperatures hovered in the high-80s early on, a thunderstorm struck immediately after the game and the grounds crew rolled out the tarp before the Angels could get off the field. Steven drove us to his home afterwards and his wife Patti outdid herself in preparing a delicious dinner for all of us. Never underestimate the value of friendships that persist for decades despite geographical obstacles.
Howie Kendrick jump started the Halos' offense with a lead-off home run and Jered Weaver combined with Scot Shields to shut out the Cubs, 12-0. Weaver, who leads the American League in strikeouts (107), K/9 (10.17), and K/BB ratio (4.65), is making a strong case for earning the starting nod for the All-Star game in Anaheim next month. That said, there is always room for improvement. Jered tops the league in pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), which has contributed to the fact that he has only worked into the eighth inning twice this season, and has allowed the seventh-highest number of stolen bases (14 SB and only 3 CS) in the junior circuit.
Weaver has confounded skeptics by dominating LHB to the tune of .210/.249/.280 (with 2 HR, 10 BB, and 51 SO in 197 PA) this season. His opponent OPS vs. LHB ranks fourth in the majors among RHP. His big turn and length, outstanding command, and curve ball/slider combo "makes his fastball play up a bit" according to Mike Scioscia. Weaver's improved two-seamer now gives him five quality pitches and his ability to induce popups year-in and year-out adds to his effectiveness.
A Smorgasbord Monday
News, notes, and stats from around the major leagues while doing my best to avoid the buzzing sound of the vuvuzelas at the World Cup games over the weekend.
AVG OBP SLG OPS BC .316 .379 .645 1.024 AC .243 .304 .395 .700
Coincidence? Small sample sizes? Hurt feelings? Or a combination? You pick your poison.
While Kemp didn't deserve the Gold Glove he "won" last year, the center fielder wasn't nearly as bad as he has been this campaign. According to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Kemp ranks last among all CF with -15.7, which works out to -42.3 per 150 games (or about four losses more than an average fielder at that position). His baserunning has also been dismal with 9 SB, 9 CS, 2 PO (pick-offs), and 3 other outs on the bases.
Kemp will almost assuredly be moved to a corner outfield position after Manny Ramirez exits Los Angeles, but it is also possible that he could be traded during the offseason.
For his part, the 36-year-old Blake is hitting .258/.333/.442 while making $6 million (compared to the pro rated minimum that Santana will earn this year and not much more than the $500,000 he will be paid over each of the next three seasons — unless, of course, he agrees to a longer-term deal that buys out a year to two of free agency at a discounted price).
The most remarkable stat of all might be that the injury-plagued Glaus leads the league in games played with 64. With each passing day, he looks more and more like one of the best free-agent signings last offseason. He inked a contract for $1.75 million with bonuses that equal an additional $2.25 million for a maximum payout of $4M. Although Glaus ranks as the worst-fielding first baseman in the majors according to UZR, he has been worth over $5 million thus far using Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement (WAR) converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would make in free agency.
Gregerson, who combines a 91-mph fastball with one of the best sliders in baseball (an MLB-best 10.4 runs above average among RP), may be the best-kept secret in the game and one of the main reasons why the Padres sit atop the NL West with a 37-26 record.
While Rodriguez's major league stats are in stark contrast to his minor league results (5.03 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, and 4.4 BB/9 in 499 IP), he has pitched much better since being converted to a full-time reliever in 2008. Nonetheless, his performance in the majors has defied all reasonable expectations. Small sample size for sure but take a look at his stuff for yourself if and when you get the chance. He throws a heavy 94-95 mph fastball, an 89-mph cutter, and an occasional curveball that has generated a lot of swinging strikes (18.9%) and 11 groundballs out of the 15 batted balls in play.
The 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft Has Arrived
This has been and continues to be a big week for sports fans. The French Open. The Memorial Tournament. The Stanley Cup Finals. The NBA Championship. The NCAA Baseball Regionals. The MLB First-Year Player Draft. And the Major League debuts for Stephen Strasburg and Mike Stanton.
The main focus today is on the draft, which starts at 7 p.m. ET. It will be televised live by MLB Network and MLB.com.
Bryce Harper, the 17-year-old catcher who we highlighted two years ago, is expected to be taken by the Washington Nationals with the No. 1 pick. He hit .442/.524/.986 with 29 HR in 254 plate appearances with a wood bat for the College of Southern Nevada this year. Look for the Nats to move Harper's power bat and strong arm to right field where he can advance through the minor league system more rapidly than at catcher. Harper, who was ejected in his final junior college game last week, is lacking in maturity but not talent.
Once Washington pops for Harper, the next question will be the amount of the signing bonus. Harper is advised by Scott Boras, who will try to persuade the Nats ownership into a Strasburg-type bonus. Look for the Nats to shell out at least $10 million but not $15 million despite threats along the way of Harper playing another year at CSN and re-entering the draft in 2011.
The Los Angeles Angels, who have three first-round selections (18th, 29th and 30th overall), possess five of the first 40 picks overall. The Houston Astros (8th and 19th), the Texas Rangers (15th and 22nd), and the Tampa Bay Rays (17th and 31st) also hold multiple first-round choices.
Here are the projections of Baseball America (Jim Callis), ESPN (Keith Law), and Baseball Prospectus (Kevin Goldstein). Callis' predictions were updated within the past couple hours while Law's and Goldstein's were made a couple days ago and are subject to last-minute revisions.
We will have more analysis of the draft in the days to come. In the meantime, enjoy the festivities at MLB Network and MLB.com this evening. The draft will continue on Tuesday and conclude Wednesday.
1. Harper was indeed announced as an outfielder. ETA: June 2013 as a 20-year RF along the lines of Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton.
2. Kansas City pulls the first surprise and nabs Christian Colon, a shortstop out of Cal State Fullerton, with the fourth overall pick. Colon (.352/.439/.621 with 16 HR and 32 BB/17 SO) can handle the bat but lacks the range to play shortstop at the highest level. In a game against Long Beach State last month (in which he went 3-for-6 with a HR at Blair Field), I clocked him to first base at 4.64. While it may not have been an all-out sprint to first, I would be surprised if he can get down the line under 4.50. Look for Colon, who broke his leg last summer, to play SS in the minors but his ticket to the big leagues may be as an offensive-oriented second baseman.
3. While I've never seen Delino DeShields Jr. play in person, I'm skeptical that he merits the eighth overall selection of the draft. But nothing Houston does surprises me. Taken as a center fielder, his speed may rank as a legitimate 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. However, with a below-average arm, DeShields may be better suited for left field or second base. At 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, it will be interesting to see if he can hit for more power than his father (80 HR in 6652 plate appearances), who was leaner but stood four inches taller.
4. The only way to explain the Hayden Simpson pick is that the Cubs either have insight that nobody else had or are looking to save money with their first-round selection. Simpson (6-0, 175) is a smallish righthander from Southern Arkansas University (Division II). He posted a 13-1 record with a 1.81 ERA while striking out 131 and walking 35 in 99.1 innings. The school's website reported that "Simpson was listed by various sources as expected to be taken anywhere from the second through eighth rounds. None may have been more surprised than Simpson."
“I’m just blown away,” Simpson stated. “I had no idea I’d be picked then. A bunch of friends came over just to watch the draft. I was waiting for tomorrow’s rounds.”
5. The Angels drafted three high school players from Georgia with their first round picks. It will take a lot of money to sign this trio. Kaleb Cowart (3B/RHP, Cook County HS) has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Florida State. Cam Bedrosian (RHP, East Coweta HS), the son of the 1987 NL Cy Young Award winner, has committed to LSU. Chevez "Chevy" Clarke (CF, Marietta HS) has signed to play at Georgia Tech.
John Wooden, 1910-2010
John Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He would have turned 100 on October 14.
While Wooden is generally recognized as the greatest basketball coach ever, he was much more than a coach. He transcended the sporting world and was nearly as legendary for serving as a role model and teaching his midwestern values as the 10 national championships his UCLA teams won in 12 years (including seven straight from 1967 to 1973). Wooden amassed a record of 885-203 (.813) as a college coach, winning 88 consecutive games and 38 NCAA tournament games in a row.
Wooden is one of only three members elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach and as a player. (The other two are Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkens.) He went to Purdue, winning All-America honors three times and leading the Boilermakers to the 1932 national championship. Wooden coached at the high school level and at Indiana State before being hired by UCLA in 1948, where he remained until retiring after winning his last championship in 1975.
Although I went to USC, Wooden's influence was so far reaching that I grew up rooting for UCLA during the 1960s and early 1970s. My first college basketball memories were watching Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, and Keith Erickson lead the Bruins to an undefeated season and the school's first NCAA basketball title in 1964. I was hooked and followed Wooden's teams, which included All-Americans Lew Alcindor, Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton, Henry Bibby, Keith Wilkes, and Dave Meyers, closely thereafter.
UCLA only lost 19 games spanning a dozen years from Wooden's first championship in 1964 to his last championship in 1975. These losses were so infrequent that many of them (such as the loss to Houston in the first nationally televised college basketball game in 1968, USC's dramatic upset using a slow-down offense in 1969 at Pauley Pavilion, Notre Dame ending UCLA's 88-game winning streak in 1974, and North Carolina State defeating the Bruins in the semi-finals in 1974) stand out in my mind four decades later. But I'll never forget the big wins, including many net-cutting ceremonies that are indelibly etched in my memory.
Wooden was active in retirement, writing books, giving speeches, and attending as many UCLA home games as possible. Nell, his wife of 53 years, died in 1985. He was a devoted father, grandfather, and husband, writing love letters to his deceased wife right up until the very end. A religious man who read the Bible daily, Wooden didn't smoke, drink, or curse (although he was known to berate referees using words like "dadburn it" or "goodness gracious sakes alive"). He admired his father Joshua, regularly quoting his "two sets of three: (1) never lie, never cheat, never steal and (2) don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses."
Upon graduation from grammar school, his dad gave him the following Seven-Point Creed:
Wooden later developed his "Pyramid of Success," consisting of philosophical building blocks for winning at basketball and in life. I had the privilege of attending a breakfast featuring Wooden as the keynote speaker at the Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State University about 15 years ago. Coast Federal Bank, the sponsor of the event, handed out "John Wooden's Pyramid of Success" (shown above), which he generously autographed afterwards. In his mid-80s, Wooden spoke for nearly an hour without the benefit of a TelePrompter or any notes or cards. He explained his Pyramid, shared his wisdom, and recited many poems off the top of his head. The morning was educational, inspirational, and unforgettable.
Coach taught his players fundamentals, teamwork, and sportsmanship. He was more pleased by his players’ success in life than on the basketball court. Almost all of his players graduated, with dozens becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors, or ministers.
Wooden impressed upon the rest many lessons of life, including some of my favorite Wooden maxims (from Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court):
Oh... and Wooden's favorite sport? Baseball. He coached baseball in college and was offered the job to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960s.
Farewell, Mr. Wooden. You will be missed but never forgotten.
[There are videos and links to numerous articles at ESPN Los Angeles.]
They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore
Happy 80th Birthday to Bob Lillis. My favorite player growing up was signed by Brooklyn in 1951 and played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Colt .45s/Astros. He was the expansion team's MVP in its inaugural season in 1962.
Born in Altadena, California, during the first year of the Great Depression, Robert Perry Lillis attended Pasadena High School, Pasadena City College, and the University of Southern California. He was on PCC's national championship team in 1949 and was nominated for the College World Series Legends Team based on his performance for USC in the 1951 tournament. Lillis made his MLB debut with his hometown Dodgers in August 1958 during the club's first year in Los Angeles. He wore jersey No. 30 a year before Maury Wills was called up to the big leagues. Both shortstops were previously buried in the team's minor league system behind future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.
Lillis was traded to the Redbirds in 1961 and was drafted by the Colt .45s as the fifth pick in the 1961 expansion draft. He played ten years in the majors and was a scout, coach, or manager of the Astros from 1967-1985 and a bench coach with the San Francisco Giants from 1986-1996.
Even though Lillis hit only .236/.270/.277 with just three home runs in nearly 2,500 plate appearances, a young kid could not have had a better favorite player. He was the friendliest athlete I met, sending me autographed photos with hand-written inscriptions three times.
The first photo that Lillis sent to me was almost 49 years ago to the day when he thanked me for sending him a card on his 31st birthday. I was a month short of my 6th birthday. On the verso, he wrote "Dear Richard, That was a very nice picture you sent me. Thank you for the thoughtful birthday card. Sincerely, Bob Lillis."
Over the years, I lost contact with the player I called "Bobby" but he's always occupied a special place in my heart and the photos have been a treasured part of my collection now for nearly 50 years.
Happy Birthday, Bobby. If you happen to read this, please feel free to contact me via email. I would enjoy hearing from you. Thank you.
The Most Under Appreciated Batted Ball Type
Call them pop-ups, pop flies, or infield flies. While these batted balls are one and the same, they are not outfield fly balls despite getting lumped together by many baseball sites and analysts. Like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect.
Infield fly balls are converted into outs about 99% of the time. In other words, only 1% of all pop-ups become hits. By comparison, roughly 75% of all line drives, 25% of ground balls, and 20% of fly balls result in hits (including home runs). Line drives also have the highest run value, followed by fly balls and ground balls.
If pop-ups are routinely turned into outs with no advancement by base runners, then they should be treated more like strikeouts for the purpose of performance analysis than anything else. Unlike line drives, fly balls and ground balls, pop-ups and strikeouts have no (or negative) run value.
When it comes to breaking out batted balls, I favor Baseball Prospectus over Fangraphs. My preference is not due to the source (BP uses Gameday/MLB Advanced Media and FG uses Baseball Info Solutions) but rather that the former categorizes pop-ups as a separate batted ball event (POP) whereas the latter includes infield fly balls (IFFB) as a subset of fly balls (FB). (You can read Colin Wyers' article, David Appelman's rebuttal, and a thorough discussion at The Book if you are interested in how this data is collected.)
Using BP's custom statistic reports, let's take a look at the four different batted ball types as a percentage of all batted balls for 2009 and 2010.
As shown, pop-ups account for approximately 7%-8% of all batted balls. While this rate is a fraction of the other batted ball events, it is worth knowing because pop flies are almost always converted into outs.
Batted balls represent about 72% of all plate appearances with walks (9%), hit by pitches (1%), and strikeouts (18%) accounting for the balance.
While there is a lot of interesting information in the table above, I would like to focus on POP and SO rates as it seems to me that these "automatic outs" could be combined when analyzing pitchers (and hitters, for that matter). Importantly, inducing infield flies appears to be a repeatable skill, much like strikeouts and ground balls, although perhaps not to the same extent.
As shown, SO and POP total about 23.5% of all plate appearances. All else equal, I believe that pitchers with higher POP rates — particularly as a percentage of non-SO and GB — should be preferred over those with lower rates. If nothing else, it is my hope that such pitchers may gain greater respect from those who overlook them now.
While I want to like SIERA for many of its innovations, I'm not convinced that "pop-ups represent a potential problem for the pitcher in the future."
Pop-up rate was allowed to negatively affect SIERA because it is a symptom of the pitcher throwing the ball that generates an upward trajectory, which could lead to an increase in home runs. A pitcher’s skills are throwing strikes, making hitters miss, and throwing with angles and spins such that the trajectory of the ball is downward when it hits the bat. A popup almost always represents an out, but it also represents a potential problem for the pitcher in the future.
Moving forward, here are the 2009 rankings of all pitchers with 100 or more innings with an above-average SO + POP rates (SO plus POP divided by PA).
Of these pitchers, Jered Weaver (15.5%), Scott Baker (14.8%), Tim Wakefield (14.1%), Johan Santana (14.0%), David Hernandez (13.3%), Clayton Kershaw (12.9%), Micah Owings (11.6%), Rich Harden (11.4%), David Huff (11.1%), and Todd Wellemeyer (11.1%) induced the greatest number of pop-ups as a percentage of batted balls. Weaver (11.2%), Baker (11.0%), Wakefield (10.8%), Santana (10.1%), Hernandez (10.0%), Huff (9.1%), Owings (8.7%), Wellemeyer (8.4%), Jamie Moyer (8.3%), and Jeremy Guthrie (8.0%) produced the most infield flies as a percentage of plate appearances.
Importantly, the rankings of pitchers by SO + POP and POP rates are not meant to identify the most valuable pitchers as neither takes into consideration BB, HBP, or HR rates. However, I wonder if Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) couldn't be improved by combining SO and POP in its formula, which is typically defined as (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to create an equivalent ERA number.
The formula for FIP would need to be tinkered to account for the effect of POP as simply adding POP to SO wouldn't work. The multipliers or the league-specific factor would need to be changed to equate the newly constructed FIP with ERA.
Here are the top ten leaders for 2010 (among pitchers with 40 or more IP):
Tim Lincecum, Kershaw, Jered Weaver, and Justin Verlander are the only pitchers who ranked in the top ten in 2009 and 2010. Tommy Hanson (14th in 2009 and 5th in 2010), Yovani Gallardo (13th and 8th), and Jonathan Sanchez (12th and 10th) rank in the top 15 both years.
The greatest influence on SO + POP is clearly due to the former, yet the latter exerts value on the margin. The ability to induce pop-ups should not be dismissed when evaluating pitchers. Furthermore, it is my belief that certain pitchers have a knack for allowing fewer home runs as a percentage of outfield fly balls than the league average. Saying a pitcher is "lucky" because he has a lower HR/FB rate than the league average is simplistic, as is resorting to xFIP as a standalone measure (especially when a pitcher has a sufficiently large sample size to evaluate). By the same token, labeling a pitcher with a below-average BABIP "lucky" may not be totally accurate either.
The analytical community has come a long way on batted ball info. Paying more attention to pop-ups would be instructive in my opinion. Digging deeper into pitcher-batter results as they relate to pitch types, pitch sequencing, ball-strike counts, and bases occupied could lead us to solve some of the mysteries previously ascribed to luck and randomness. For example, pitchers with "plus" changeups may induce more than their fair share of pop-ups and lazy fly balls.
More than anything, I hope this article leads to additional discussion and research with respect to analyzing pitchers.
* * *
Update: Tom Tango sent me an email with a link to Tango's Lab: Batted Ball FIP. He pointed me to posts #8 and #9. Leave it to Tangotiger to have developed a formula for batted ball FIP (bbFIP). The formula is as follows:
ERA = 11*[(BB+LD)-(SO+iFB)]/PA + 3*(oFB-GB)/PA + 4.2
Note: the league-specific factor may differ depending on the data source
A line drive is like a walk, an infield fly is like a strikeout, and the gap between an outfly and a groundball is about one-fourth the gap between BB and SO.
In post #16, Tangotiger lists the results by root mean square error (RMSE) of bbFIP (1.05), SIERA (1.05), and FIP (1.11) and concludes "I’d say that bbFIP is a worthy addition here. Not to mention that it’s in the same spirit as FIP (linear and simple coefficients)."
If you have the time and interest, go ahead and read the entire discussion. Brian Cartwright goes into even more detail with numerous tables listing the predictive value of run estimators. As Brian notes, it is important to distinguish between "describing the past vs. predicting the future." I agree. Some skills are more repeatable than others. Guy cautions, "The farther forward you look, the more the skills change/deteriorate." He also warns against "survivor bias" in these studies. Excellent points all.
Which Pitcher is King?
OK, class. While finals are still a week or two away for many colleges, we're going to hit you up with a pop quiz.
While there is no right or wrong answer, the stat lines are virtually indistinguishable in my view. Without more information, I would have a tough time choosing between the two. Feel free to dismiss the W-L records if you'd like. With the foregoing in mind, the main difference is that Pitcher A has thrown over 200 additional innings. Pitcher A also has superior strikeout and home run rates while Pitcher B has lower walk and hit rates.
After you pass your answers to the end of the row, we will reveal the names of the two pitchers. [pause] Thank you for your participation.
Are you surprised? Well, you're not the Lone Ranger. I was surprised, too. But perhaps no one is — or should be — as befuddled as Dave Cameron, the co-founder of the U.S.S. Mariner and managing editor of Fangraphs who has labeled Hernandez as a "franchise player" and Weaver as an "innings eater." I like Dave personally and respect his work greatly, but he and I have seen Weaver differently for years.
In fairness to Dave, he actually labeled Weaver "more innings eater than ace" in a Two on Two AL West preview two years ago. He expanded upon his comments in a Baseball Think Factory comments thread last summer (emphasis is mine).
In case anyone is wondering, this misquote comes from an article at Baseball Analysts last year, where I stated Weaver was "more of an innings eater than an ace", which is entirely true. Really, if we're going to talk about the Jered Weaver debate, I think it's pretty obvious that my stance on his abilities is closer to reality than Rich's. He's the exact same guy he's always been, just with varying degrees of luck - he's never been a frontline starter, and he never will be. That doesn't mean he sucks - I even put him in my list of the 50 most valuable trade chips in baseball. He's a solid mid-rotation starter. He's just not more than that, and the only people who thought he was were ones who put way too much stock into the value of BABIP-driven ERA.
Cameron then downgraded Weaver to a "mid-rotation starter" and "innings eater" in a discussion with Patrick Sullivan in our Stakeholders series three months ago.
Look, the purpose of this article is not to make Dave look bad as much as it is to bring clarity to the subject. Either Weaver is not an "innings eater" or Hernandez is not a "franchise player." Or either Weaver and Hernandez are both more innings eaters than aces, both more aces than innings eaters, or perhaps both are more franchise players than not. (Note: I have never called Weaver an innings eater, an ace, or a franchise player. Instead, I started writing about him when he was a junior at Long Beach State and compared his collegiate record to Mark Prior's.)
Cameron is far from the only baseball analyst who has underestimated Weaver. Four years ago, Kevin Goldstein cautioned Baseball Prospectus readers "Don’t Believe The Hype." The hype was directed at me. Goldstein concluded:
In the end, if he hits his ceiling, he's basically his brother.
Did Goldstein mean "ceiling" or "floor?" To wit, older brother Jeff has a career ERA+ of 94 (with a seasonal high and low of 134 and 71, respectively) while younger brother Jered has a career ERA+ of 123 (with a seasonal high and low of 179 and 103).
Importantly, the above table is designed to compare actual performance. One can look at other variables (such as age, velocity, and batted ball info) to make projections.
As it relates to Hernandez and Weaver, Felix (24) is younger than Jered (27). While most would give the edge to Felix, even Cameron believes young starting pitchers "defy conventional growth curves" and notes that the normal career trajectory "heads downward" as opposed to an "arc-shaped career path" for hitters. Let's call the age factor a push.
Hernandez (94-95 mph) throws harder than Weaver (89-90), although the latter can dial it up to the mid-90s on occasion in the early innings. Edge to Felix. Mike Fast has studied the correlation between fastball velocity and run average and concluded that "starting pitchers improve by about one run allowed per nine innings for every gain of 4 mph" (or 0.25 R/9 per 1 mph).
With respect to batted ball types, Hernandez induces more groundballs than Weaver. Over the course of their careers, Felix has generated a GB rate of 57% vs. 33% for Jered. As I and others have noted, "pitchers with above-average GB rates outperform those with below-average GB rates" due to the fact that they tend to give up fewer home runs than their counterparts.
Based on age, velocity, and batted ball info, maybe Hernandez projects as a better pitcher than Weaver. But the reality is that Felix has not outpitched Jered to this point. Or, if he has, the difference between the two has been miniscule.
Interestingly, Hernandez and Weaver squared off last Friday night. While one game does not a season or career make, Felix was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning having allowed five hits, four walks, and eight runs while Jered tossed a no-hitter for 6 2/3 innings and combined with Scot Shields for a shutout.
Rotowire added the following comment on Saturday:
Weaver continued his impressive 2010, allowing just two hits over 7.1 scoreless innings Friday against the Mariners.
After Weaver's last outing, ESPN posted the following rankings on his player card:
• Ranks 2nd in AL in W (4)
The 2010 season is less than a quarter completed. Weaver may regress toward his career stats (and rankings) before the year is out. In the meantime, he is the ace of the Angels' staff and has been one of the best 30 starting pitchers as measured by ERA and FIP over the past two and three calendar years.
No matter how you slice it, Weaver is much more than an innings eater, a mid-rotation starter, or his brother Jeff. Heck, he just may be King Jered.
To bridge the gap between our stat-based articles, I present to you Wiffleball '79, an entertaining and nostalgic short film directed by Perry Jenkins and Travis Kurtz. The five-minute movie made its YouTube debut yesterday. Travis notified me via email this morning. It's a good one for any baseball fan, especially those who have played wiffleball. You can be one of the first 100 people to watch it. Enjoy.
Has Alex Gonzalez really hit 10 2B and 8 HR thus far? It looks like the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop is on his way to putting up a season like he did in 1999, 2003, and 2004 with the Marlins or 2007 with the Reds when the native of Venezuela hit at least 27 doubles and 14 home runs. While Gonzalez's OBP stands at a below-average .319, his .617 SLG ranks seventh in the American League. Put it together and Alex has produced an OPS of .935, good for tenth-best in the league. Amazingly, Gonzalez's OPS+ is at 151, despite never producing an OPS+ of 100 in 11 seasons.
How is Gonzalez doing it? He's hitting more flyballs than ever and his HR/FB rate (18.6%) is more than 10 percentage points above his 2002-2010 average. Meanwhile, his LD% (19.0%) is virtually identical to his "career" mark (18.9%).
Gonzalez is seeing far fewer fastballs (46.4%) than at any other point in the pitch type data era (2002 to present). In fact, he has seen fewer fastballs and more sliders than any other hitter in the AL. In the past, Gonzalez has been fed 60% fastballs with the yearly rates ranging from 59-63%.
Why the change? Well, let's take a look at the Fangraphs Pitch Type Values table for a possible answer.
Gonzalez, who is jacking fastballs like never before, ranks third in the league in wFB (runs above average) and second in wFB/C (runs above average per 100 fastballs) while ranking in the bottom 10 in wSL and bottom 30 in wSL/C.
Of note, Gonzalez's plate discipline — as bad as it has been in the past — is worse than ever. His O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) of 47.1% ranks second in the AL, behind only Vladimir Guerrero (47.8%). With 5 BB (4.4%) and 28 SO (24.8%) in 113 plate appearances, Gonzalez's BB/SO rate of 0.18 is the fifth-worst in the AL. Alexei Ramirez (0.07), Jack Wilson (0.08), Yuniesky Betancourt (0.09), and Adam Jones (0.12) are the only "hitters" in the junior circuit with an inferior BB/SO rate. Importantly, their OPS's range from .587 to .664.
Interestingly, Gonzalez's F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage) not only ranks higher than ever before but tops in the league, which suggests pitchers are challenging him from the moment he steps into the batter's box. While I'll defer to the advance scouts to determine whether Gonzalez should be thrown more or fewer fastballs in the future, I believe teams would be better served to make him chase as many pitches as possible.
The bottom line is that Gonzalez has hit like never before in the early going but his ability to control the plate remains as deficient as ever. There is little question that he can — and should — be had.
Breaking News: Andy Pettitte Is Better Than Bert Blyleven
A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America who has written extensively on why he has never voted for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame now believes Andy Pettitte is going to Cooperstown.
That's right, long-time Blyleven dissenter Jon Heyman appears to have endorsed Pettitte's candidacy for the HoF in a Twitter post over the weekend.
i think pettitte's going to cooperstown for his great 1) consistency, 2) durability, 3) octobers, 4) explanation.
Speaking of "consistency," while Heyman is entitled to his opinion on both Blyleven and Pettitte, it would be nice if he could be consistent in his evaluation of these two pitchers. You see, three months ago, Heyman wrote the following (emphasis mine):
I look at numbers, too, and while my numbers may be slightly more simplistic than WHIP, WAR or VORP, I think they tell a story of a pitcher who was extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy. Blyleven was dominant in a lot of at-bats (thus, the 3,701 strikeouts) and even a lot of games (60 shutouts). But he was never dominant for a decade, a half decade or even a full season.
"...extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy."
Heyman admits in his own words that Blyleven has two of the four things he loves about Pettitte.
OK, so we know that Blyleven has the "consistency" and "durability" down. What's missing? Ahh... "octobers" and "explanation" (whatever the heck that is).
Let's take a look at those Octobers. Blyleven pitched in an era before the Division Series so let's focus on League Championship Series and World Series. He was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 4.50 K/BB ratio covering five different series, eight games, and 47.1 innings pitched. Pettitte is 12-6 with a 3.99 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 2.15 K/BB ratio covering 16 different series, 26 games, and 162.1 innings. I know that WHIP thing may be a bit difficult to calculate (hits plus walks divided by innings), but it looks to me like Blyleven gets the vote for quality and Pettitte for quantity.
Alrighty, then the big difference between these two pitchers must come down to Heyman's fourth building block: explanation. Explanation? What the heck is explanation? Seriously. Jon, please explain. You can devote an entire guest column right here at Baseball Analysts to explain what "explanation" means and/or why Pettitte deserves to be enshrined and Blyleven does not. Have at it.
In the meantime, here is a quick and dirty summary of Pettitte's and Blyleven's regular season career:
ERA+ IP Pettitte 116 2946 Blyleven 118 4970
Blyleven edges Pettitte in ERA+ while pitching two thousand more innings! That's right, Pettitte would have to pitch about ten more years at a slightly better clip to equal Blyleven's career. Did I mention that Pettitte will be 38 years old in June?
But, hey(man), "it's called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Numbers." Silly me, I was led to believe that great numbers led to fame but, then again, Eddie Gaedel didn't have have great numbers (although a 1.000 OBP isn't bad) but is certainly famous. Maybe Heyman can take up the "Eddie Gaedel for Hall of Fame" cause. If that's stretching things too far (or if you want to argue that Gaedel is infamous rather than famous), how about Johnny Vander Meer? Don Larsen? Roger Maris? Maury Wills? Fernando Valenzuela? Joe Carter? I'm sure there are many, many other famous players who should be considered for the Hall in Heyman's mind.
Speaking of which, did Heyman vote for Mark McGwire? I mean, he's pretty famous, no? Well, Heyman put McGwire on his "Disqualified List."
Disqualified List (own personal list*)
That's right, McGwire is disqualified for taking steroids (and admitting to taking them) while taking steroids and admitting to such just may be Pettitte's key to Cooperstown.
Yes, consistency. Heyman's arguments aren't very consistent but, boy, they are sure durable. It must be nice.
My 2010 Fantasy Baseball Team
I thought I would share my fantasy baseball team with readers once again. As I noted last year, "our league is one of the longest, continuous fantasy pools in the country. The Lakewood Players League, as it is known, has been in existence, in one form or fashion, for over 30 years."
The LPL is a 16-team, non-keeper league. We draft new teams each year. We do not allow trades or waiver wire pickups. Instead, we allow owners to select 28 players and offer three replacement drafts at each of the quarter poles in the season.
It's a family affair with my brother serving as commissioner and an original team owner, my son and nephew co-owning a franchise, and a cousin and another cousin's husband also sharing a team. A few of the other 12 owners are friends dating back to junior and senior high school in the dark ages of the 1960s and 1970s.
While our fantasy pool is guilty of including a few team-dependent stats, we have made a few rule changes over the years to minimize stolen bases and saves. Unlike most fantasy/rotisserie pools, stolen bases are not one of four or five offensive categories. Instead, we take net stolen bases (defined as SB - 2*CS), multiply that by .5 and add it to walks plus hit by pitches. In other words, we treat (net) stolen bases as "extra" bases, if you will. As a result, you won't find Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford being drafted in the first round of our pool. We have also reduced the value of closers by making saves worth half as much as the other pitching categories (IP, ERA, WHIP, and K minus BB).
I had the good fortune of winning our fantasy pool last year for the seventh time since 1989. I have finished third or better in all but one year since 2001. I am hopeful that I can repeat like I did in 1989 and 1990 or put together a three-peat a la 1995-1997. But the competition is tough with the team to beat owning three of my players from last year (Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Tommy Hanson) plus Adam Lind and Brian McCann at the turn in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Here are my draft picks:
1. Ryan Braun: Drafting in the fifth spot, I was pleased to get Braun as I had him ranked as my No. 1 outfielder and No. 3 overall hitter. In less than three full seasons, the 26-year-old slugger has averaged 40 doubles, 7 triples, and 39 home runs (along with 113 runs and 121 RBI) per 162 games. Knock off 10% for minor injuries and rest and it seems reasonable to expect Braun to hit over .300 with at least 35 doubles and 35 home runs and a minimum of 100 runs and 110 RBI. Those stats will work just fine for me.
2. Justin Upton: My decision came down to Upton or Matt Holliday. I went with Upton based on his age and upside. I have him hitting .300 with 30 HR and 90-100 runs and RBI this year. Whether those projected numbers turn out to be better than what Holliday puts up remains to be seen.
3. Ricky Nolasco: I love Nolasco. I had him last year, too. His 5.06 ERA last year masked a 3.35 FIP and his 4.43 K/BB ratio was the fifth-best in baseball. An ace in the making, he commands his 91-92 mph fastball and uses his tight slider and 12-to-6 curve as swing and miss pitches. Is as good a bet as anyone not named Tim Lincecum or Roy Halladay to win the NL Cy Young Award.
4. Joey Votto: He was my seventh-ranked first baseman. The Big 5 were all gone after the first 18 selections and Adrian Gonzalez was taken with the 29th pick. In addition, Mark Reynolds (eligible at 3B and 1B), Kevin Youkilis (also 3B/1B), Justin Morneau, Kendry Morales, Adam Dunn (OF/1B), and Pablo Sandoval (3B/1B) were off the board as well, making Votto an easy choice for me with the 60th overall pick.
5. Gordon Beckham: I liked Beckham here because, as a 2B/3B, he gave me the flexibility to go in either direction later in the draft. Pro rating his rookie stats over 150 games yields 41 2B, 20 HR, 84 R, 92 RBI, and 60 BB. I can live with those numbers at either position.
6. Manny Ramirez: Going into the draft, I had no designs on taking Manny. However, I was amazed that he was still available this late in the draft. Ramirez was the No. 12 pick in 2009 and No. 92 in 2010. That's called value. I mean, is Manny not going to hit .290 with at least 25 HR and 90 RBI, even if he only plays 130-140 games?
7. Jose Reyes: This pick was similar to my previous one in that Reyes was our pool's fourth overall pick last year and 101st this year. Sure, he missed over 100 games in 2009 with a hamstring injury and sat out most of the spring but the latter was due to a a hyperactive thyroid, which seems rather minor to this non-medical expert. Now in his eighth season, Reyes doesn't turn 27 until June.
8. Ryan Dempster: After putting together the nucleus of one of the best offenses in our league, I needed to add a couple starters with my eighth- and ninth-round picks. Dempster was not only the best pitcher on the board but also the most reliable in my judgment. He was 6-4 with a 3.15 ERA and a 4:1 K/BB ratio in 14 GS after returning from the disabled list with a broken toe in late July.
9. Jonathan Sanchez: Everyone knows that Sanchez threw a no-hitter last year, but did you realize that he was 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA and a MLB-best 10.5 K/9 the rest of the way? Like most young pitchers, he needs to become more efficient with his pitch count in order to work deeper into games. The stuff is there. Here's hoping for 180 innings with an improved walk rate.
10. Chipper Jones: Less than a week into the season and I'm already second guessing myself for this pick. But, injury risk or no, has his star fallen so far that he goes from a third rounder to a tenth rounder from one year to the next? Remember, walks are a full category in our league. Chipper had 101 free passes last year and walked more often than he struck out (89). The projection systems have him hitting at least .285 with 20 HR and producing 70-plus R and RBI. No way I can get those numbers at a non-1B or OF position this late in the draft.
11. Colby Rasmus: Now this is a guy I wanted to get. I'm quite sure I had him ranked higher than any of my competitors. A former No. 1 draft pick, top five overall prospect by Baseball America in 2008 and 2009, coming off a fantastic spring (.362/.500/.707 with 5 HR and 16 BB/18 SO), and batting fifth behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday gave me confidence to step up on this 23-year-old center fielder. If I'm wrong on Rasmus, it will be due to the fact that he fails to solve LHP (.160/.219/.255 in 115 career plate appearances).
12. Stephen Strasburg: I believe Strasburg is more valuable in fantasy drafts than generally perceived. You park the kid for two months, activate him when he is called up to the majors, and bank his stats for the final four months when he figures to be a top-20 pitcher in any league that counts strikeouts. I'm prepared for the fact that the Nationals will certainly limit his starts, pitch counts, and innings, which means he could be shut down by early- to mid-September. That's fine. I can plug in one of my other starting pitchers in April, May, and late September. But I'll take the best pitching prospect in decades during June, July, August, and early September.
13. Carl Pavano: Not a popular choice among many fellow participants, I took Pavano because his control is valuable in our league as we double count walks via WHIP and SO minus BB. He is an injury risk for sure, but one that I can manage around if necessary.
14. Matt Thornton: While others were paying up for closers, I sat back and drafted the reliever with the fifth-highest SO-BB total last year. The lefty whiffed 29.3% and walked 7.0% of the batters faced. He is basically a "here it is" type, pumping 95-96 mph fastballs 90 percent of the time. The combination of his velocity and location make him virtually unhittable. A good get in my mind.
15. Mat Latos: Great arm plus big ballpark means the potential is there for the youngster to shut down opponents at home this year. Only 22, Latos will be handled carefully by Bud Black and the Padres. He pitched a combined total of 123 innings in the minors and majors in 2009 and will likely be limited to about 150 IP in 2010. I plan on using Latos selectively.
16. Fausto Carmona: Who knows what I'm getting with this pick? Is Carmona the pitcher who placed fourth in the AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2007 or the wild man who posted a 13-19 record with a 5.89 ERA while allowing more walks than strikeouts in 2008 and 2009? His first start last week (6 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 6 BB, 1 SO) suggests he may be a bit of both. If the 26-year-old righthander can throw bowling balls for strikes like he did three years ago, then this pick just may be the steal of the draft.
17. Chris Perez: I was hopeful that Perez would seize the opportunity to serve as Cleveland's closer in Kerry Wood's absence and keep the job all year long. Well, the early returns are mixed. I loved his first two games and loathed his third.
18. Gio Gonzalez: This pick is all about upside. I moved Gonzalez up on my draft board when he was named the A's 5th SP as I was keenly aware of his stuff and witnessed him striking out 10 Angels without allowing a walk in his final start in 2009. Gio drew the Halos in his first assignment on Friday and was 92-93 with one of the biggest yakkers this side of Erik Bedard. He could be Jonathan Sanchez nine rounds cheaper.
19. John Baker: By far, my worst position player. I was going to take Matt Wieters but my son nabbed him in the sixth round four picks in front of me. I clearly preferred Manny, Reyes, Dempster, et al to the remaining catchers so I resigned myself to taking somebody like Baker. I'm not happy about it but am hopeful that he can reproduce his 2009 season and give me a .270 AVG with 25 2B, 10 HR, and 50-60 R and RBI.
20. David Freese: His time may have finally arrived this season. Freese hit well in the minors (.308/.384/.532) and held his own this spring (.293/.372/.453) with surprisingly decent BB (10) and SO (15) totals. The projection systems have him hitting .265-.280 with 12-15 HR. Not bad for a backup third baseman.
21. Matt LaPorta: Although LaPorta has started five out of six games at first base, he may end up in left field once Russell Branyan (herniated disc) returns from the DL. However, it's a crowded situation with three lefthanded hitters (Branyan, Michael Brantley, and Travis Hafner) competing with LaPorta at 1B, LF, and DH, which could reduce him to a platoon player if he doesn't get off to a good start.
22. Luke Gregerson: The San Diego Padres setup man had the seventh-highest SO-BB total among relievers in 2009. He possesses a wicked slider and could become the team's closer if Heath Bell is traded this summer.
23. Cameron Maybin: My fifth outfielder. While the just-turned 23-year-old center fielder is playing in his fourth MLB season, he has yet to accumulate 200 plate appearances in a single year. He can run like the wind and is a star in the making. Hitting in the two hole between Chris Coghlan and Hanley Ramirez won't hurt his numbers.
24. Mike Aviles: It was slim pickings at this point and I still needed a backup SS, 2B, and C. This selection could come back to haunt me as the Royals optioned him to Triple-A Omaha over the weekend to free up a roster spot for Gil Meche. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Aviles won me over with an outstanding rookie season in 2008 (.325/.354/.480) and a huge spring (.471/.517/.725 with 6 BB and 2 SO). Unfortunately, I don't decide who gets to play in Kansas City.
25. Blake DeWitt: He won the second base job in the spring and should put up respectable numbers two years after hitting .264 with 9 HR in just over 400 plate appearances as a 22-year-old rookie. Good sign: DeWitt has walked five times while striking out only once in his first five games.
26. Miguel Olivo: Did you know that Joe Mauer (28) was the only catcher who slugged more home runs than Olivo (23) last year? Olivo ranked 8th in RBI (65) and 13th in R (51). Hey, he's Bengie Molina with a few more strikeouts.
27. Pedro Alvarez: With a 28-man roster, I have the ability to sit on Alvarez while awaiting his likely recall around Memorial Day.
28. Dan Hudson: The White Sox optioned Hudson to Triple-A Charlotte prior to the season. The 23-year-old righthander, who went a combined 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA at four levels in the minors, was named MLB.com's 2009 Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year. He was brought up to the majors in September and pitched six games, posting a 1-1 record with a 3.38 ERA. Hudson should get another shot this year if Freddy Garcia gets hurt or implodes.
Although I like my team, I'm not looking too swift after the first week. I'm in 13th place, lagging in troubles (doubles plus triples), runs, RBI, and innings pitched. The poor showing in the offensive categories is a function of Jones and Reyes missing a combined seven games while the lack of innings is due to not having any starting pitchers going twice last week. I should be able to make up these innings this week as Nolasco, Dempster, Pavano, and Carmona are each scheduled to start twice.
If nothing else, it should be a fun season.
Get 'Em While You Can
If Pedro Alvarez and Carlos Santana are still available in your fantasy baseball pool, you might not want to wait much longer to pull the trigger on them. Facing each other, the two highly touted prospects homered in their minor-league debuts and both have already jacked three home runs in only two games.
From CBS Sportsline:
News: Pirates 3B prospect Pedro Alvarez is wasting little time making a huge impact for Triple-A Indianapolis of the International Leauge. In just his second game on Friday, Alvarez hit two homers and drove in five runs. He has already gone deep three times and driven in seven runs. He is also hitting .333.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's third baseman Andy LaRoche is 1-for-13 with no extra-base hits and four strikeouts. Manager John Russell has placed LaRoche in a tough spot by batting him seventh, one spot in front of the pitcher. He walked three times on Wednesday and has already seen 76 pitches in 17 plate appearances. LaRoche's 4.47 P/PA is tied for 12th in the National League.
Look for Alvarez, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, to be playing in Pittsburgh no later than June 1 when teams are basically free to call up players and retain them for an additional three years before these so-called "Super Two" prospects become eligible for arbitration. It's possible, however, that Alvarez could force himself on the Pirates sooner if he continues to rake and LaRoche doesn't greatly improve upon his .227/.314/.348 career line.
News: Carlos Santana went 4 for 5 with two home runs and four RBI as the Columbus Clippers (Triple-A) smashed the Indianapolis Indians, 17-4, Thursday night.
Santana performed his magic on his 24th birthday. After two games, he is 6-for-10 with three HR and two doubles. He was the MVP of the Eastern League (Double-A) in 2009 and California League (High-A) in 2008. The only catcher standing between the switch-hitting Santana and the majors is Lou Marson (0-for-8 with 0 BB and 2 SO). A former third baseman, Santana has the arm to work behind the plate. However, he still needs to enhance his receiving and game-calling skills and is unlikely to be rushed to the big leagues despite a bat that could hit in the middle of the Cleveland order right now.
Lastly, for anybody who has been living on Mars, Stephen Strasburg will make his professional debut on Sunday. The No. 1 draft choice in 2010 will start for the Harrisburg Senators, the Washington Nationals' Double-A affiliate. He will face the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates). The game will be streamed online via ESPN3 and broadcast on MiLB Gameday Audio at 2 p.m. ET. (Aroldis Chapman will begin his professional career at the same time as Strasburg, starting for Cincinnati's Triple-A Louisville Bats against Detroit's Toledo Mud Hens. This game will also be available via ESPN3.)
Strasburg, who pitched nine innings and allowed two runs while striking out 12 batters and walking one this spring, is expected to throw 85-90 pitches. According to Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin, money will trump talent and performance in determining when Strasburg gets called up by the Nats.
"Beyond just the baseball factors -- even the greatest prospects can benefit from some time in the minors -- the Nationals have a strong financial incentive to hold off on Strasburg's big league debut until at least late May, in order to delay his reaching free agency and arbitration eligibility.
I recommend reading the article in full as it is an excellent primer on arbitration and free agent eligibility, including the Super Two status I referred to above.
* * *
Update (4/11/10): Strasburg pitched five innings and allowed four hits, two walks, and four runs (one earned) while striking out eight batters. He was credited with the win as Harrisburg beat Altoona 6-4. Strasburg survived a wobbly opening inning, giving up a double, single, and walk after retiring the first two hitters. The righthander retired the side in order in the second and third innings, striking out the final two batters in both frames. He was a victim of poor fielding in the fourth when Altoona scored three unearned runs, then worked a 1-2-3 fifth to finish his assignment for the afternoon.
Overall, the fireballer threw 82 pitches with his fastball sitting at 97-99 through the first three innings and touching 100 a few times (according to the stadium gun as reported by the play-by-play announcer). His 83-mph hammer curve was generally effective and he flashed an 89/90-mph changeup with diving, tailing action that resembled a two-seam fastball. With three "plus to plus-plus" offerings, Strasburg's stuff is unrivaled in both the minors and majors. While money considerations will dictate the timing of Strasburg's MLB debut, his command will determine whether he is just the best pitcher on the Nationals or one of the best hurlers in the National League this year.
While I didn't watch Chapman, his pitching line (4.2-5-1-0-1-9) suggests that he dominated Toledo batters at times. According to an MLB.com article, the Cuban defector "fired 10 pitches that read 99 mph or faster and five that traveled at least 100 mph." Mud Hens outfielder Brennan Boesch struck out twice on 101- and 100-mph heaters.
Louisville manager Rick Sweet said, "No debut compares to that at this level. As soon as the radar gun hit 100, you could hear the buzz in the ballpark."
Toledo manager Larry Parrish, who spent 15 years in the majors, was impressed with the 6-foot-4, 185-pound southpaw's arm strength but noticed mechanical flaws in his delivery. "He wasn't J.R. Richard or Nolan Ryan out there. Today, he walked one. In the big leagues, he would've walked eight. Would you like to have him? Heck yeah, but he's just not a finished project yet."
Well, the kid is only 22 with one professional game under his belt. Give him some time. As Sweet opined, "He could probably pitch in the big leagues right now and have success. The timetable is nothing more than him getting his whole game together. He's got some things to work on other than pitching."
Stakeholders - Los Angeles Dodgers
We turn to Jon Weisman, the proprietor of Dodger Thoughts, to discuss the Los Angeles Dodgers in our Stakeholders series that has featured writers, analysts, and team executives giving us the inside scoop on each of the 30 teams in the Major Leagues. Jon and I met in 2003 and became colleagues at All-Baseball.com in 2004. His blog was subsequently hosted at Baseball Toaster and the Los Angeles Times, and it was moved to the ESPN Los Angeles earlier this year. He has been a regular member of our roundtables previewing division races and also served as a guest columnist in 2005.
Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair as we discuss all things Dodgers.
Rich Lederer: Let's give our readers an executive summary at the outset of our discussion. The Dodgers won 95 games, captured the NL West, and competed in the NLCS in 2009. Do you expect the team to be better, worse, or about the same this year?
Jon Weisman: I can't go enough out on a limb to say they'll be better, but I think they'll be closer to last year's level than a lot of people think. They have to replace Randy Wolf's production, but I think they can with a strong full season from Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw pitching deeper into games, Hiroki Kuroda avoiding line drives, and perhaps more help from the farm system in the rotation this year. I do think Vicente Padilla is a mirage waiting to be exposed, though. Charlie Haeger is an interesting wild card - he may be banished by April, but he might turn out to be a real boon. And then of course the lineup figures to be as solid as last year, if not more so with growth from Matt Kemp and James Loney and a potential comeback from Russell Martin. I'm not saying everything couldn't go wrong to leave us with another 2005, but I'm not betting that'll happen.
Rich: I think it is safe to say that the Dodgers will win more than 71 games this year. After opening the season with a 16-8 record, that team went into the tank and was victorious in only 55 of its final 138 games. Jim Tracy was fired by the Dodgers, then hired and fired once again by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but caught on with the Colorado Rockies early last summer and was named NL Manager of the Year. Do you anticipate that the Rockies will be the Dodgers' main source of competition within the division this year?
Jon: Yep. I don't think it's a flawless team, but they have a nice collection of players. The Giants still lack the bats to be considered a preseason favorite, and even though the Diamondbacks will be improved, I think they have a long way to climb. But there are always surprises.
Rich: Peter Gammons reported that the Dodgers have an $83 million payroll for 2010. He also said that the team spent the least amount of money on the MLB Draft and international signings the past two years. While it's clear that the Dodgers have been retrenching, I believe that payroll figure is a result of some Bernie Madoff-type accounting as the club has deferred salary to Manny Ramirez and obligations to many former players that may not be fully reflected in this reported total.
Jon: Nothing personal against Peter, since he's far from the only one doing it, but it's pretty disengenuous to ignore the deferred money or the money going to people like Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones when calculating what the Dodgers are spending, which is what that $83 million figure does. Isn't the big complaint against the Dodgers that they didn't go after a big-ticket free agent? Well, you don't often get those unless you take some risk or defer some money. The Dodger payroll is much closer to $100 million, which isn't sky-high but it's competitive enough. Furthermore, unless you believed the Dodgers should have handed John Lackey a guaranteed five-year, $80 million contract - the kind of contract that would typically blow up in their faces - there really wasn't a payroll issue to the offseason other than the non-arbitration offers to Wolf and Orlando Hudson.
Rich: Just who did the Dodgers add this year? How will the 2010 version differ from 2009?
Jon: They added very little - it's more about who they retained (i.e., the young core plus Manny) and their potential for growth. But there won't be a ton of difference - this is probably the most stable lineup the team has had in years.
Jon: It's speculation, but I do think there's room for the Dodgers even in the current climate to make a decent midseason acquisition. But I'm not expecting Albert Pujols.
Rich: While every team could use an Albert Pujols, this Dodgers club should score a lot of runs. If Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez hit like they have in the past, the Dodgers are set with one of the most dangerous 2-3-4 hitters in the game. That said, when it comes to Ramirez, should we expect him to be the Manny of August and September 2008, the post-drug suspension Manny of 2009, or somewhere in between?
Jon: I'm more worried about Rafael Furcal than Ramirez. Furcal may or may not be healthy; either way, I think his skills are aging and I don't know how much effectiveness he has left. I don't have any idea what Ramirez will do this year, but I do think it's very relevant that he was hitting after the suspension but before his injury, and I think one might take his media silence this spring as an indication of his determination.
Rich: Moving down the lineup, is there reason to expect James Loney to fulfill his potential or is the Loney we've seen the past few years who he is?
Jon: I expect Loney to improve - maybe even reach his potential - but of course I don't think many people define his potential as that of a serious power hitter.
Rich: What's going on with Russell Martin? He added muscle and gained a bunch of weight during the offseason but strained his groin in early March and has been working his way back into shape. Do you see him bouncing back from his worst season ever and returning to his 2006-2008 form or is it possible that he could surprise us all by putting up career numbers in his age-27 season?
Jon: I expect a bit of a rebound from Martin, because it's hard to imagine him doing much worse, but it would be something if he had career numbers. Right now, if he can just maintain the good on-base percentage he has typically had, even as his power and speed have declined, I'd be happy. Even if he's in the Opening Day lineup, though, this might be the first year that Martin goes on the disabled list.
Rich: On the run prevention side, can a rotation with Vicente Padilla as its Opening Day starter and Charlie Haeger as its fifth compete for the NL West title?
Jon: Certainly. First of all, whether Padilla pitches in the first or fourth game of the season is pretty irrelevant. As for the fifth spot, the other NL West teams certainly have question marks there as well - most teams rotate guys through that slot no matter what. In no way does the Dodger starting rotation disqualify them from competing. It might simply come down to health across the board - does Brandon Webb recover it, does Jeff Francis maintain it, does Tim Lincecum keep it? And so on...
Rich: Let's talk about the bullpen. It was one of the best in the majors last year, yet Joe Torre will be without Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo for most of April. Belisario finally made it to camp after missing the first five weeks of spring due to visa problems. He was a huge positive surprise last year as a rookie but will begin the season on the restricted list. Kuo, who was the Belisario of 2008, is on the DL. Do you think Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, and Ramon Troncoso can nail down the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings with little or no help from what otherwise looks to be a mediocre group of relievers?
Jon: It's similar to the rotation question. Say what you will about the Dodger bullpen, I don't see a whole lot of teams that have great fourth and fifth relievers. At least in the case of the Dodgers, they might have them by the end of April. And the team has a great number of candidates to try to help things out. Relief pitching is very volatile and unpredictable - just look at Brad Lidge, for example. But I don't see the Dodgers at a disadvantage on April 5 compared to other teams. For one thing, their top divisional rival will start the season without its closer.
Rich: How do you feel about the team's defense?
Jon: I'd like to feel better. The infield to the left of Loney is shaky, and I include Furcal in that. And Kemp is really going to be worked in center field covering for Ramirez and Ethier. One of the more interesting decisions the Dodgers might face this year is, for example, if Blake DeWitt slumps, do they call up a defensive-minded infielder like Chin-Lung Hu to plug that hole and at least improve the defense, rather than resort to Ronnie Belliard or Jamey Carroll.
Rich: Are there any minor leaguers who may contribute this year?
Jon: Among others, I expect we'll see Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom, and since James McDonald again qualifies as a minor-leaguer, him too. Don't know that we'll see as much from the farmhands in the lineup, which looks more stable. But if the team loses an outfielder for any length of time, Xavier Paul is in line to help.
Rich: Do you think Joe Torre and Vin Scully will both be back in 2011?
Jon: You know, I have no idea. I'll admit I was a tiny bit surprised (and relieved, of course) Vin returned for this season - and I took that as a sign that he might want to do it until he physically can't anymore. Torre might simply come down to dollars, but I think he generally has liked managing the Dodgers.
Rich: Thanks, Jon. I know that I can speak for millions of Dodgers fan in hoping that Vin stays around forever. He *is* the Dodgers to most of us. It's hard to fathom following the team without him.
A native of Los Angeles, Jon Weisman has been writing about the Dodgers at Dodger Thoughts since 2002. He is the author of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Weisman began covering sports professionally in 1985, complemented by adventures in writing for and about the screen that have culminated in his current position as a features editor at Variety. Any downtime he can muster will be happily spent with his wife and three young children.
Up (Hey)Ward and On (Hey)Ward
The Atlanta Braves announced on Friday that Jason Heyward, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, will be the team's right fielder on Opening Day. Bobby Cox, in his last season as the club's manager, told the 20-year old in a three-minute meeting in the clubhouse, "I'm delighted to tell you you're on the team, Jason, simply because you make us a better team."
Cox told the media, "He's as good a player as I've seen all spring—our team, any other team."
What should we expect from the superstar-in-the-making in his rookie season in the majors? To get a better handle on that question, I turned to some of the most well-known projection systems as shown below:
On average, the projection systems believe Heyward will hit .278/.345/.443. For perspective, that line is virtually identical to the following seven players over the past three years:
While Heyward's projected stats may be impressive for a young man who was playing high school baseball in Georgia three years ago, they look rather pedestrian from the standpoint of comparable players. However, if he were to match Bill James' projections or BP's 70th percentile (.290/.362/.497), then you would have something a bit more special as comps such as Andre Ethier, Nick Markakis, Andrew McCutchen, Victor Martinez, and Troy Tulowitzki come into play.
In the real world, Heyward hit a combined .323/.408/.555 at three minor-league levels (A+/AA/AAA) last year. He hit for average and power while drawing 51 walks and striking out only 51 times. His plate discipline is unusual for someone his age. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefthanded hitter is 17-for-49 (.347/.467/.490) with four doubles and one home run in 18 games and 58 plate appearances this spring. He has walked and struck out nine times each. Heyward has stolen four bases in five attempts, which is in line with his MiLB rate (26 SB and 5 CS).
Heyward was scratched from Sunday's game against the Nationals with left shin splints. He is expected to sit out the next few days but should be good to go when the Braves open the season at home on Monday, April 5 vs. the Chicago Cubs. The game is scheduled to be televised on ESPN.
Checking in on Bryce Harper
After watching Bryce Harper in the Area Code Games following his freshman year in high school, I wrote an article titled Remember This Name in August 2008 whereby I boldly proclaimed that the then 15-year old would be the No. 1 draft pick in 2011.
Well, as it turns out, I am going to miss with my prediction. No, not because Harper didn't pan out. And not due to any injury. You see, Harper skipped his junior and senior years in high school, earned his GED, and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada last fall at the age of 17. As a result, Harper will be eligible for the 2010 MLB Draft and is likely to be the No. 1 choice a year earlier than I forecasted.
How is Harper faring in his college debut, you ask? Just fine, thank you. He has put up a .420/.514/.864 line with 8 HR and 27 RBI through his first 27 games. In addition, the lefthanded-hitting catcher/third baseman/outfielder has drawn 18 walks and struck out only 19 times. He is leading the No. 3-ranked junior college team in the country (23-5) in AVG, OBP, SLG, H (37), R (32), RBI, 2B (13), HR, and TB (76) and is second in BB and SB (6 of 8). [Complete stats here.]
I revisited Harper in January 2009 after he pulled a Josh Hamilton at the third annual International Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. I displayed his sophomore year stats (.626/.723/1.339) in a follow-up last May, linked to Tom Verducci's Sports Illustrated article a month later, and reported that he left high school early and registered for college last June.
For the Washington Nationals (16-45), possessors of the worst record in baseball this year, it now means having the opportunity to draft the top two amateur prospects in the first 11 years of the 21st century. The franchise won the Stephen Strasburg lottery this year and appears destined to win the Bryce Harper lottery next year. Strasburg and Harper could be the most hyped pitcher-catcher duo in decades, if not ever, should they wind up playing for the Nats. If nothing else, the two Scott Boras-advised players will be the richest signees in the history of the game.
MLB's Jonathan Mayo, a former guest columnist for Baseball Analysts, has the latest goods on Harper. In an extensive interview with the confident teenager, Harper says "I could care less about the Draft. If I could come back next year and play here, I'd come back next year and play here." Bryce is probably right. Given how important playing professional baseball has always been to him, he probably "could" care less about the draft. However, I doubt if he "couldn't" care less, which is the point he was trying to make with Mayo.
With only 2 1/2 months to go before the draft, Harper's wait won't be long. In the meantime, you can watch Harper hitting his second and third home runs this season, as well as a third round tripper that also includes a slow-motion clip of his swing. In all cases, Harper is using a wood bat as College of Southern Nevada plays in a wood bat conference.
Believe the hype and be sure to remember this name.
Categorizing Starting Pitchers By K, BB, and GB Rates: 2007-2009
More than a decade ago, Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) introduced the idea that pitchers are mostly responsible for their strikeout, walk, and home run rates but have little or no control over batted balls in play. By focusing on K, BB, and HR rates only, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) has become increasingly accepted as a better tool than more traditional methods such as ERA to evaluate the effectiveness (and predictability of future results) of pitchers.
Playing off DIPS and FIP, I began to categorize and graph pitchers by strikeout and groundball rates in 2007 (based on 2006 stats). I broke pitchers into quadrants with the Northeast Quadrant home for those with above-average K and GB rates and the Southwest Quadrant the opposite. I have continued to publish this series annually, adding walks and even Z-scores last year.
By substituting groundballs for home runs, my methodology is more analogous to xFIP than FIP. The bottom line is that the best pitchers miss bats (K), throw strikes (BB), and keep batted balls in the park (GB).
As I demonstrated last year, strikeouts have the greatest impact on ERA and RA, followed by walks, and groundballs. As a result, K+ BB+ GB+ > K+ BB+ GB- > K+ BB- GB+ > K+ BB- GB- > K- BB+ GB+ > K- BB+ GB- > K- BB- GB+ > K- BB- GB-.
I have combined the strikeout and walk components this year by using (K-BB)/BF. In the past, I had graphed K/BF on the x-axis and GB% on the y-axis. This year, I am using (K-BB)/BF on the x-axis and GB% on the y-axis. While not three dimensional, the graph below includes the three most important variables whereas it had only focused on K and GB rates previously.
In addition, I've added a new wrinkle by using the past three years combined stats rather than the prior year only. This change has increased the number of pitchers as well as the size of the data points. I could have weighted the numbers in a 3-2-1 format to place additional emphasis on the more recent results but chose not to for simplicity. I could have added HBP to BB given the fact that the former is generally as much in the control of the pitcher as the latter. That said, I don't believe excluding HBP had much of an effect on the outcomes.
There were 173 active starting pitchers who met my requirements of 120 or more innings during the 2007-2009 period. Among these qualifiers, the average (K-BB)/BF rate was 9.87% and the average GB rate was 43.56%. The mean K-BB and GB rates are highlighted in red in the graph below. These averages separate the starting pitchers into four quadrants.
Tim Lincecum, coming off two consecutive Cy Young Award seasons, has compiled the highest K-BB rate in the majors over the past three years among those pitchers who induce more groundballs than the league average. After signing a two-year, $23 million contract in February, Lincecum has struggled this spring but threw 5 2/3 shutout innings against San Francisco's minor leaguers on Sunday. According to Fangraphs, his fastball velocity dropped 1.7 mph last year, and it has reportedly been sitting mostly at 89-91 in March. If his heater continues to recede, he may rely increasingly on his breaking balls and outstanding changeup for his "out" pitches.
The Northeast Quadrant also features former Cy Young winners CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, and Brandon Webb. The latter, working his way back from shoulder surgery after pitching just one game in 2009, is aiming to return to the rotation in late April. Meanwhile, Halladay will be pitching for a National League club for the first time in his 11-year career.
Javier Vazquez, not Lincecum, has produced the No. 1 K-BB rate in the majors over the past three seasons. He missed out on the Northeast Quadrant due to a lower-than-average groundball rate. The 33-year-old righthander will once again be pitching for the New York Yankees. Vazquez was 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA in his lone season with the Bronx Bombers in 2004. His career ERA is half a run higher in the AL (4.52) than the NL (4.02).
The Southeast Quadrant has its share of former Cy Young Award winners as well. Jake Peavy, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana (2x), Cliff Lee, and Pedro Martinez (3x) have won a combined eight CYA. Greinke (16-8 with a MLB-leading 2.16 ERA and 242 Ks and 51 BB in 229.1 IP) is coming off his best season ever. Among active pitchers, only Martinez (1997, 1999, 2000, and 2003), has bested his ERA+ of 205. Pedro, who signed with the Phillies last summer and went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA and started three times during the postseason, is currently a free agent.
While the Northwest Quadrant doesn't sport any former CYA winners, it finds Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Andy Pettitte, Carlos Zambrano, and Mark Buehrle among its worm-burning residents. Lowe's (K-BB)/BF missed the Northeast Quadrant by less than 0.50%. As shown, he is one of only four starters with a groundball rate over 60 percent. The other three are Northwest inhabitants Hudson and Fausto Carmona plus Webb.
Hudson sat out the first five months in 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008. He started seven games and compiled a 2-1 record with a 3.61 ERA, then signed a three-year, $28 million contract with the Atlanta Braves last November. Carmona had a 19-8 record with an ERA of 3.06 in 2007 but has gone 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA while allowing more BB (140) than SO (137) over the past two campaigns. The 26-year-old righthander is owed $11 million for 2010 and 2011 so he is likely to get another shot with the Indians this season.
Although the Southwest Quadrant consists of several young arms that have potential, it has an even greater number of veterans and journeymen who have settled into nothing more than mediocrity. I wouldn't expect much success from those in the bottom half with groundball rates below 40 percent.
Jeremy Sowers (1.96%) had the lowest K-BB rate in the majors over the past three years. He and fellow soft-tossing lefty teammates David Huff (4.18%) and Aaron Laffey (2.34%) own three of the twelve-worst K-BB rates among the 173 qualified starting pitchers. I don't like Cleveland's chances this year if these three southpaws wind up starting half of the team's games, especially if Carmona pitches more like he did in 2008 and 2009 than 2007.
Remembering Willie Davis and Merlin Olsen
While I was out of the country last week, two Los Angeles sports stars of my youth — Dodgers center fielder Willie Davis and Rams defensive tackle Merlin Olsen — passed away. Both were 69.
Growing up in Long Beach, I have fond memories of Davis and Olsen. If not for their age and overlapping athletic careers in L.A., these two men would have little, if anything, in common.
The following photos were taken by Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times. He donated them to the Dodgers and Mark Langill, team historian and publications editor, was kind enough to share them with me a few years ago.
Davis (above left, standing next to Ron Fairly at a batting cage in spring training) was born in Mineral Springs, Arkansas on April 15, 1940, seven years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was a youngster. Tall and slender, Davis lettered in baseball, basketball and track & field at Roosevelt High School. He ran a 9.5-second 100-yard dash and set a city record in the long jump of 25 feet, 5 inches. Dodgers scout Kenny Myers signed Willie after he graduated from Roosevelt HS in 1958.
Myers converted Davis into a left-handed hitter to take advantage of his speed. The scout and his protege starred in "The Willie Davis Story," a black and white made-for-television movie that I remember airing back in the early 1960s. John Herbold, a legendary high school baseball coach at Long Beach Poly and Lakewood and former scout with the Dodgers and Angels, wrote a terrific column about Myers for the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper several years ago. I had the privilege of playing for Herbold and he taught us several fundamentals that he learned from Myers, whom he called "the greatest baseball teacher and thinker I ever met."
Davis played 18 seasons in the majors (plus two years in Japan) and was a member of two World Series championship teams in Los Angeles in 1963 and 1965. He produced 2,561 hits (82nd all time) and stole 398 bases (68th). Davis also won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1971-73 although Dodgers fans may remember him more for the record three errors on two consecutive plays in the fifth inning of Game Two of the 1966 Fall Classic against the Baltimore Orioles (which happened to be the last game that Sandy Koufax pitched). Willie's nickname was "Three Dog," not for the errors or what sometimes appeared to be his lackadaisical play in the field but rather for the number he wore on the back of his uniform. His 31-game hitting streak in 1969 broke Zack Wheat's franchise record of 29 in 1916.
The three-time All-Star fell upon hard times during the 1990s. He abused alcohol and drugs and was arrested at his parents' home in Gardena for allegedly threatening to kill them and burn down their house unless they gave him $5,000. The Dodgers subsequently reached out to Davis and hired him to work in their speakers bureau. I last saw and spoke to him at a game three years ago and am thankful for that opportunity. He recalled my Dad, who covered the Dodgers from 1958-1968. Davis looked frail to me, but he seemed to be in good spirits. I will always remember him for his positive contributions to my favorite team while growing up.
Olsen (in the photo on the right, standing near the tunnel of the Coliseum prior to the 1964 Pro Bowl game) was born in Logan, Utah on September 15, 1940. He was exactly five months younger than Davis. Olsen was the oldest son in a large Mormon family. He attended Utah State University and graduated summa cum laude and Sigma Chi with a degree in finance in 1962. Merlin was a three-time academic All-American and an All-American defensive tackle, winning the outland Trophy in his senior season.
Drafted by the Rams in the first round in 1962, Olsen played his entire 15-year career with the the team and was elected to the Pro Bowl a record-tying 14 times. He was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Pro in 1964 and from 1966-1970. Olsen is a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Although Olsen is wearing 76 in the photo above, he may be the most famous player associated with the number 74 in the history of pro football. He was a member of "The Fearsome Foursome," the Rams' defensive line that consisted of Olsen and Rosey Grier at the tackle positions and Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy on the ends. Olsen and Jones may have been the best defensive tackle and defensive end in the game for several years during the 1960s.
A gentle giant off the field, Olsen was smart and articulate. After his playing days were over, he was a noted broadcaster, actor, and businessman. Olsen starred in Little House on the Prairie, Father Murphy, and Aaron's Way. He teamed with Dick Enberg on NBC's coverage of the AFC throughout the 1980s and was one of my favorite color commentators. Olsen also served as a pitchman for FTD Florists for a number of years.
Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and underwent three courses of chemotherapy. He died on March 11, 2010 at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, California, two days after Davis passed away at his home in Burbank.
Davis and Olsen will be missed by their families, friends, teammates, and fans. Rest in peace.
Long Beach State's Thompson Shines on Rainy Opening Night
The NCAA college baseball season got underway on Friday night. I was fortunate to be on hand for an opener once again as Long Beach State upended the visiting Pepperdine Waves, 2-1, behind Jake Thompson's first complete game of his career.
Six years ago, I saw Jered Weaver strike out the first ten USC batters, including four in the third inning, in Long Beach State's home opener. I was also in attendance when Stephen Strasburg ushered in the 2009 season by striking out 11 while fashioning an electric fastball that registered at 100 mph on the radar guns.
While Thompson is not in the same class as Weaver or Strasburg, the junior righthander is a legitimate prospect. His fastball sat at 92-93 all game and hit 95 with an adrenaline rush on the last pitch when he struck out Ryan Heroy on a high heater to end it. The Friday night ace was efficient, throwing 105 pitches (including just one that was called a ball in the first three innings) while whiffing six and allowing only a half dozen batters to reach base.
At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Thompson has a thick body with strong legs. Only 20 years old, he is young for a junior. Jake passed his GED and skipped his senior season at Wilson HS to enroll at Long Beach State a year early. Thompson is also short on experience due to the fact that he sat out his junior year in high school after transferring from Mayfair HS where he went 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA as a sophomore.
Recruited by the highly regarded Troy Buckley three years ago, Thompson didn't receive his new pitching coach's tutelage in his freshman and sophomore years owing to the fact that his mentor left the program to become the minor league pitching coordinator with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Buckley returned to Long Beach as an assistant head coach prior to this season and Thompson appears to be back on track after not living up to expectations the past two years.
Buckley has an outstanding track record in handling college pitchers. In order, Abe Alvarez, Jered Weaver, Jason Vargas, Cesar Ramos, Andrew Carpenter, and Brian Shaw were all selected in the first two rounds of the MLB draft after working under Buckley. All but Shaw, the most recent draftee of the six, have reached the majors.
Thompson outdueled Cole Cook, a draft-eligible sophomore who posted a 7-3 record with a 3.69 ERA as a freshman in 2009. The 6-6, 220-pound righthander's favorite player is none other than Jered Weaver. Cook's fastball was mostly 93 with a high of 96. He also flashed an excellent curveball and induced two inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth. Cook threw 96 pitches, including 66 strikes, over seven innings while allowing seven hits, a walk, two runs, and striking out seven. Look for Thompson and Cook to get taken in the early rounds in the MLB Draft this June.
In a weekend tournament that featured Long Beach, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, and Oregon, the Dirtbags fell to the Ducks, 6-2, on Saturday and to the No. 4-ranked Titans, 8-1, on Sunday. CSF's Christian Colon, a potential first-round draft pick, went 2-for-4 with a solo home run in the latter contest.
Oregon is led by two-time National Coach of the Year George Horton, who spent 11 seasons at Cal State Fullerton and led the Titans to the 2004 National Championship. He is one of nine men to have appeared in Omaha as a player (1975) and a head coach. Horton's club beat his alma mater, 7-3, on Friday and lost to Pepperdine, 11-7, on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Gerrit Cole of No. 23 UCLA threw a dandy in an MLB Urban Invitational contest on Friday evening at UCLA's Steele Field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. He allowed two runs but only one hit and no walks over six innings en route to a 16-2 victory over Southern in which the Bruins belted four home runs. Cole is one of the early candidates to go No. 1 in the 2011 draft. The Yankees took him in the first round in 2008 but the 6-4, 220-pound righthander opted to attend UCLA instead.
Top-ranked Texas dropped two out of three to New Mexico over the weekend. No. 2 LSU swept Centenary with the Tigers outscoring the Gentlemen 34-12. The 6-7, 230-pound Anthony Ranaudo, who could make a strong case as the best college pitcher in the country, allowed one unearned run over five innings on Friday. Paul Mainieri won his 1,000th career game on Saturday.
No. 3 Virginia took two out of three from East Carolina, No. 5 Rice lost all three games to No. 30 Stanford, and No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 UC Irvine, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 9 Georgia Tech, and No. 10 Florida all swept their opponents over the weekend. The Seminoles outscored Georgia State 37-12. However, the Rambling Wreck did them one better, crushing Missouri State 37-3, including a 4-0 whitewash in Bryan Smith's featured opener that saw Deck McGuire, a 6-6, 218 junior righthander, toss seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. If Ranaudo isn't the top college pitching prospect in this year's class, then it is probably McGuire.
PECOTA and History on the Angels Side of Not Being 21 Games Worse in 2010
My short post on Friday seemed to create quite a stir in the comments section so I promised to deliver a follow-up piece that would expand upon my initial take on Baseball Prospectus' prediction whereby the Los Angeles Angels would go 76-86 and finish last in the AL West in 2010.
If the truth be told, PECOTA has been consistent, if not accurate, when it comes to the Angels. It has underestimated the number of Angels wins by a minimum of eight games every season since 2004. On average, the system has shortchanged the Angels by 11 games per annum over the past half dozen years.
After reviewing these results, I have more confidence than ever in PECOTA, at least as it relates to the Angels. Here is the formula: Take the number of wins that the system forecasts for the Halos and add a minimum of eight and a maximum of 13 victories to determine the range of the team's expected win total.
With respect to 2010, PECOTA believes the Angels will win 76 games. Add 8-13 wins and... bingo, you get the range of victories (84-89) for the coming season. If you desire a more pinpoint total, then take PECOTA + 11 = 87.
While I admit to hindsight bias, my point of contention is not based on a sample size of one or two, nor selectively choosing this year or that year. Instead, it is based on each of the past six seasons. (PECOTA actually overestimated the number of Angels wins by five in the system's first year of existence in 2003. For the 2003-2009 period, PECOTA missed by an average of approximately 8 1/2 wins per season.)
If PECOTA is right and the Angels win 76 (or fewer) games in 2010, it will mark only the 36th time since Major League Baseball went to a 162 game schedule in 1961 (AL) and 1962 (NL) that a team's win total fell by at least 21 games year over year. In other words, such a collapse happens twice every three seasons or about one in 40 times when you factor in the total number of seasons involved during this period.
Granted, the higher the wins in the base year, the higher the odds of achieving infamy in the following year. Excluding 2009, teams have won 90 or more games 377 times since 1961. Twenty-one of those clubs (or 5.6%) won at least 21 fewer games the next season. Similarly, teams have matched or exceeded the Angels win total of 97 games last year 100 times since 1961. Nine of those clubs (9.0%) won at least 21 fewer games the following campaign. As a result, if history is any guide, there is less than a 1-in-10 chance of the Angels being 21 games worse in 2010 than 2009.
Here is a list of all the teams whose win totals have fallen by 21 or more games since the schedule was expanded to 162 games.
As it relates to the Angels, it would be one thing if the team's payroll had been slashed or its roster dismantled via trades or free agency this fall and winter. However, the reality is that the Halos personnel has not changed materially since last October. Sure, the Angels may give up a little by losing Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, and John Lackey and replacing them with the untested Brandon Wood, the aging Hideki Matsui, and Joel Pineiro, who is coming off a career year. Maybe 2009 is as good as it gets for Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales even though both players are just 26 years old. Perhaps Bobby Abreu, 36, and Torii Hunter, 34, fall off the cliff at the same time despite providing relatively steady production over the past several years.
On the other hand, is it unreasonable to expect Scott Kazmir to contribute more to the Angels cause over the course of a full season in 2010 than he did in his only month of service in 2009? The 26-year-old lefthander has averaged nearly 29 starts during his first five campaigns. Pop in 23 additional starts for Kazmir and take away a like number from your choice of Matt Palmer (13 GS in 2009), 21-year-old rookie Sean O'Sullivan (10), Shane Loux (6), 22-year-old rookie Trevor Bell (4), Dustin Moseley (3), and 23-year-old rookie Anthony Ortega (3) and tell me what that's worth?
Speaking of starting pitchers, have we forgotten just how good Ervin Santana was in 2008 when he ranked in the top ten in MLB in FIP, xFIP, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, and WAR? Well, the 27-year-old righthander opened up 2009 on the DL, racked up a 7.81 ERA in the first half, and settled down to a 3.09 ERA with two complete game shutouts in the final two months.
Could Howie Kendrick, who hit .358/.391/.558 in the second half after returning from a stint in the minors, add more value in 2010 than 2009 when he played in only 105 games? How about Kevin Jepsen, the strikeout/groundball specialist with one of the hardest and best fastballs as well as cutters and sliders in the game?
Look, the Angels are likely to suffer their share of injuries this year. One or two youngsters won't pan out. One or two veterans will disappoint. But, maybe... just maybe a few things will go their way that could serve to offset some of the negative surprises that are bound to occur in the season ahead.
Put it all together and it seems difficult to comprehend how the Angels could go from 97 wins in 2009 to 76 wins in 2010.
This Just In: Angels Will Be 21 Games Worse in 2010 Than 2009
I opened up the inbox of my emails this morning and was notified via the Baseball Prospectus Premium Newsletter that "a changing of the guard sees the Angels drop to the bottom behind a Rangers/Mariners battle" in its AL West preview. With my curiosity piqued, I clicked on the attendant link and scrolled down to the following excerpt:
Los Angeles Angels
Hmmm... According to PECOTA, the Angels are going to win 21 fewer games in 2010 than 2009 and finish last in the AL West.
Let me see if I can reconcile that difference. Rely on last year's actual or this year's projected PECOTA or WAR if you must, but I'm just going to spell out the major differences in personnel between the 2010 and 2009 Angels.
Joel Pineiro vs. John Lackey, Brandon Wood vs. Chone Figgins, Hideki Matsui vs. Vladimir Guerrero, and Fernando Rodney vs. Darren Oliver. I guess each one of these pairings is going to amount to a loss of five wins. Oops, I forgot to mention that if Scott Kazmir can stay healthy, the Angels will get a full season out of him rather than one month. We'll keep it simple and call six months vs. one month a push. With respect to the rest of the team, which is made up mostly of young players getting better rather than old players getting worse, they will be responsible for losing one more game this year than last year.
You see, last year, the Angels were apparently talented and lucky. This year, the Angels apparently lack talent and are going to be unlucky. Nice.
I just wish BP would put its money where its mouth is and book that 76 as an over/under. I would be the first one in line.
Pitchers with the Highest Three True Outcomes (SO-BB-HBP)
Last week, I wrote about The Curious Case of Carlos Marmol. The Chicago Cubs closer had an unusual season in 2009, ranking among the best relievers in strikeout, hit, and home run rates while finishing with the worst walk and hit by pitch rates.
Marmol's propensity to strike out, walk, and hit batters last year ranked seventh ever and the highest since 2004 among pitchers with 50 or more games. Thanks to Lee Sinins and his Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, here's a list of all the pitchers with at least a 50 percent rate (expressed in decimal terms below).
YEAR % SO BB HBP BFP G 1 Armando Benitez 1999 .542 128 41 0 312 77 2 Brad Lidge 2004 .523 157 30 6 369 80 3 Eric Gagne 2003 .523 137 20 3 306 77 4 Matt Mantei 1999 .521 99 44 5 284 65 5 Byung-Hyun Kim 2000 .519 111 46 9 320 61 6 Billy Wagner 1999 .517 124 23 1 286 66 7 Carlos Marmol 2009 .507 93 65 12 335 79 8 John Rocker 2000 .506 77 48 2 251 59 9 Jeff Nelson 2001 .505 88 44 6 273 69 10 Billy Wagner 1997 .502 106 30 3 277 62 11 Rob Dibble 1992 .500 110 31 2 286 63
For what it is worth, here are the single-season leaders for ERA qualifiers (defined as the modern-day requirement of 1 IP/team game).
YEAR % SO BB HBP BFP 1 Kerry Wood 1998 .471 233 85 11 699 2 Randy Johnson 2001 .464 372 71 18 994 3 Randy Johnson 1997 .445 291 77 10 850 4 Randy Johnson 1991 .441 228 152 12 889 5 Randy Johnson 1992 .437 241 144 18 922 6 Kerry Wood 2003 .436 266 100 21 887 7 Nolan Ryan 1977 .436 341 204 9 1272 8 Kerry Wood 2001 .431 217 92 10 740 9 Nolan Ryan 1976 .431 327 183 5 1196 10 Pedro Martinez 1999 .430 313 37 9 835
Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson comprise the top six and seven of the top ten seasons of all time. Nolan Ryan appears twice and Pedro Martinez, mostly owing to his 37.5 percent strikeout rate (which edges out the Big Unit's K rate in 2001 by less than a tenth of a point), ranks tenth. No pitcher prior to 1976 made the list.
Lastly, here are the career leaders (with a minimum of 2000 IP).
% SO BB HBP BFP 1 Randy Johnson .384 4875 1497 190 17067 2 Nolan Ryan .384 5714 2795 158 22575 3 Sam McDowell .361 2453 1312 59 10587 4 Pedro Martinez .356 3154 760 141 11394 5 Sandy Koufax .340 2396 817 18 9497 6 Tom Gordon .325 1928 977 38 9058 7 David Cone .321 2668 1137 106 12184 8 Roger Clemens .317 4672 1580 159 20240 9 Al Leiter .315 1974 1163 117 10334 10 Bobby Witt .306 1955 1375 39 11003
Johnson, Ryan, and Martinez are joined by Sam McDowell, Sandy Koufax, Tom Gordon, David Cone, Roger Clemens, Al Leiter, and Bobby Witt. Johnson's career rate (38.448 percent) tops Ryan's (38.392) by a tiny fraction.
McDowell, who was known as Sudden Sam for his heat, led the American League in strikeouts and walks five times each from 1965-1971. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May 1966 and the recipient of an outstanding SI article by Pat Jordan in August 1970.
Witt had the highest walk rate (12.5 percent) in the group. A hard-throwing righthander, Witt was drafted out of the University of Oklahoma by the Texas Rangers in the first round with the third overall pick of the 1985 amateur draft. After pitching just 35 innings with an 0-6 record and a 6.43 ERA in Double-A that summer, he earned a spot in the starting rotation the following spring. Witt led the AL in walks (143) and wild pitches (22) in 157.2 innings. He led the league in BB three times and WP twice in his first four seasons in the big leagues. While Bobby never topped the circuit in strikeouts, he whiffed 221 batters in 222 innings when he fashioned a 17-10 record and a 3.36 ERA (118 ERA+) during his best campaign in 1990.
Generally speaking, the pitchers on the lists above possess some of the best stuff in the past half century. A handful became legends while many others never quite lived up to their promise.
The Curious Case of Carlos Marmol
After watching my nephew Brett make his PGA Tour debut in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club last Thursday, my wife and I headed to Palm Desert to hang out for a couple of days while our house was being fumigated for termites.
I woke up on Friday morning, checked my emails, and read the following news in Lee Sinins' daily ATM Report.
The Cubs re-signed P Carlos Marmol to a 1 year, $2.125 million contract, to avoid salary arbitration.YEAR AGE RSAA ERA G GS IP SO SO/9 BR/9 W L SV NW NL TEAM 2007 24 26 1.43 59 0 69.1 96 12.46 10.38 5 1 1 5 1 Cubs 2008 25 17 2.68 82 0 87.1 114 11.75 8.97 2 4 7 4 2 Cubs 2009 26 9 3.41 79 0 74 93 11.31 14.59 2 4 15 4 2 Cubs CAREER 40 3.42 239 13 307.2 362 10.59 12.34 14 16 23 18 12 LG AVG 0 4.35 307.2 235 6.88 12.90 17 17
I glanced at Marmol's three-year stat line and noticed that he struck out 11.31 batters per nine innings last season. Not too shabby, I thought. I had been under the impression that he didn't have a particularly good year. Despite his stellar SO/9 rate (or more commonly referred to as K/9), Marmol did indeed struggle as noted in the column next to it on the right. BR/9 stands for "base runners per 9," which is essentially WHIP expressed over nine innings rather than one (although HBP are included in the former and not the latter).
In Marmol's case, hit by pitch is not a trivial statistic. He hit 12 batters last season,
A BR/9 of 14.59 means Marmol allowed 1.62 base runners per inning. That's a horrific rate for any pitcher, much less a closer/setup man. Marmol got there in a strange manner. Carlos allowed 43 hits, 65 walks, and 12 hit batters in 74 innings.
Nolan Ryan, one of the most famous high walks/low hits pitchers of all time, only had two seasons when he allowed more walks than hits. Unlike Marmol, Ryan never approached a BB/H ratio of 1.5:1. His worst ratio was 1.13 in 1970 when he was a 23-year-old part-time starter for the New York Mets. Marmol's BB/H ratio was 1.51 last year. Ryan's career ratio was 0.71. Marmol's ratio over his first four seasons? A stunning 1.03.
Among pitchers with 50 or more games, Marmol had the second-best batting average against (.171 vs. .170 for Jonathan Broxton) and the third-best HR/9 (0.24) and HR/TBF (0.60%) even though he is an extreme flyball pitcher. However, Marmol also had the worst BB/9 (7.91), BB/TBF (19.40%), HBP/9 (0.16), and HBP/TBF (3.58%).
You might say that Marmol missed the strike zone and a lot of bats. If so, you would be right. He struck out, walked, or hit a batter more than half the time! Yup, Carlos had a combined 170 SO, BB, and HBP while facing 335 batters in 2009.
What should we make of Marmol? His K/9, BAA, and HR/9 suggest he is one of the best relievers in the game. On the other hand, his BB and HBP rates indicate that he is a wild man and far from a polished product. Like my house, you can throw a tent over Marmol. While I wouldn't want to exterminate him if I were Jim Hendry or Lou Piniella, I might be inclined to sell tickets to his circus act if I were new Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts.
By the way, Brett and former major winners Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Vijay Singh, and Mike Weir all missed the cut last week as Steve Stricker won his fourth tournament in less than a year to pass Phil Mickelson as the No. 2 player in the World Golf Rankings.
Graphing the Hitters: Plate Discipline
I introduced Graphing the Hitters earlier this month. The focus was on Productivity, defined as OBP and SLG.
In this week's edition of Graphing the Hitters, I'm going to concentrate on Plate Discipline. The graph below plots walk rate (BB/PA) on the x-axis and strikeout rate (SO/PA) on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2009. The intersection of the MLB averages for BB% (8.88%) and SO% (17.96%) created quadrants that classify players as better-than-average in both (lower right), worse-than-average in both (upper left), or better-than-average in one and worse-than-average in the other (lower left and upper right).
Unlike Fangraphs, I believe the denominator for strikeout percentage should be plate appearances (rather than at-bats). For whatever reason, Fangraphs defines walk percentage as BB/PA but strikeout percentage as SO/AB. As a result, while the raw numbers were downloaded from Fangraphs, the BB% and SO% were calculated separately.
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the PA, BB, SO, BB%, and SO% of the 155 hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 134 players not labeled in the graph below.
My first question following the Productivity graph was "Is Albert Pujols any good?" Well, after looking at the Plate Discipline graph, I've got to ask the same question once again. This time around, I'm going to shout out my question.
OK, I think I've made my point now. Not that it was really necessary. Everybody already knows that Pujols is better than good. I mean, this guy is great. In fact, he is on pace to become one of the greatest hitters of all time and perhaps the best or second-best righthanded hitter ever.
Pujols has played nine seasons in the major leagues. He has ranked in the top ten in batting average, slugging average, on-base plus slugging, total bases, and times on base every year. What is less known is that Albert has improved his walk rate every single season while reducing his strikeout rate by a third since his rookie campaign in 2001.
In 2009, Pujols had the sixth-highest BB% (16.43%) and the ninth-lowest SO% (9.14%). That is a remarkable combination. He was the only player in the top 50 in walk rate with a strikeout rate below 10.0%. You have to go all the way down to No. 57 in the walk rankings to find someone with a lower strikeout percentage (Dustin Pedroia). The Red Sox second baseman had the lowest SO% (6.30%) in the majors.
Pujols and Pedroia are two of only 13 qualified hitters with more walks than strikeouts.
Adrian Gonzalez led MLB in walk rate and walks (119) last year. He was one of five first basemen with more walks than strikeouts. Three second basemen, three catchers, one shortstop, and one third baseman also accomplished this feat, including three projected starters for the Boston Red Sox in 2010 (Marco Scutaro, Victor Martinez, and Pedroia). The St. Louis Cardinals are the only other team with more than one representative (Pujols and Yadier Molina).
At the other end of the spectrum, Yadier's older brother, Bengie Molina, had the lowest BB% (2.50%) in baseball. Bengie struck out in 13.08% of his plate appearances, which means he whiffed more than 5x as often as he walked.
Mark Reynolds had the highest SO% (33.69%). He set a single-season record with 223 strikeouts in 2009. The 26-year-old third baseman has played three seasons in the majors and owns the top two strikeout totals in the game's history. His SO and BB rates have increased each year. The good news is that his BB% has risen 29.2% while his SO% has advanced just 8.0% since his rookie campaign in 2007.
Russell Branyan (29.50%), Jack Cust (30.23%), Adam Dunn (26.50%), Ryan Howard (26.46%), Brandon Inge (26.69%), and Carlos Pena (28.60%) stand out for their high strikeout rates. However, Inge was the only one with a walk rate (8.48%) below the league average.
Lastly, there were 13 qualified hitters with walk rates over 15%. Other than Pujols, every player in this baker's dozen bats lefthanded or both. Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that the three-time MVP is truly unique. As the graphs have shown, Pujols is the most disciplined and productive hitter in the game today.
Big Mac's Attacks
The big news on Monday was the admission from Mark McGwire that he used steroids on and off for a decade, including the 1998 season when he slugged 70 home runs and broke the then single-season record of 61 by Roger Maris in 1961.
Everybody seems to have his or her take on the subject (check the sidebar for news, analysis, video, and audio). As a general rule, we don't feel the need to weigh in with our opinions on such matters. But, in this case, I have a few thoughts that I'd like to share.
My first is a tongue-in-cheek question. Based on the photo at left, which one of us do you suppose was on steroids when this photo was taken in October 1998? It wasn't I. But, then again, I never had the God-given talent and hand-eye coordination that he spoke about yesterday. Nevertheless, how many people other than Kerry Robinson can say they pinch hit for Big Mac?
On a more serious note, McGwire, in a statement prior to his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network, said: "I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989/1990 off season and then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season. I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."
McGwire finally admitted that he used steroids. Great, it's over and all is forgiven, right? Apparently not. You see, the same critics who begged him to come clean are now upset that he didn't say something like the following: "By taking steroids, I hit 15 to 20 more home runs per season than I would have otherwise. I never would have broken the single-season record nor hit 500 for my career had I not been juiced."
I mean, get real folks. The truth of the matter is that nobody really knows for certain how much steroids helped, if at all. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. The whole subject is nothing more than just speculation at this point. It is what it is.
Look, I'm not naive. Steroids added muscles and bulk to McGwire's frame. The added strength probably allowed McGwire to hit a baseball farther. Hitting a baseball farther meant McGwire's long fly balls were more likely to clear outfield walls. Ergo, steroids probably resulted in McGwire slugging more home runs than he would have hit otherwise. Do we really need Mark to spell that out for us in that manner?
I'm also not here to apologize for McGwire. But goodness gracious. The guy admitted that he used steroids. He apologized. He said it was a mistake. He apologized again (and again). But, as Joe Posnanski tweeted: "People SAY they're forgiving but apologies never seem to go far enough for them." Or, as Rob Neyer noted of Big Mac's accusers: "Before Admission: 'I won't vote for McGwire until he admits it.' After: 'I won't vote for McGwire because he didn't admit it RIGHT.' Sheesh."
Rob, in fact, has had the single-greatest take on the record books for a long time: "In the vain hope of forestalling a ridiculous discussion, may I mention (again) that 'record books' simply 'record' what happened on field?" As it relates to the steroids era, McGwire (and others) hit those home runs and the record books simply recorded them. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Barry Bonds hit more home runs in a MLB single season and career than anybody else. That is a fact. It doesn't mean that you have to accept that Bonds is the greatest home-run hitter of all time. A judgment like that is subjective.
Babe Ruth held the single-season and career record for decades. However, he never competed against black players. Maris broke his single-season record in an expansion year when the American League diluted itself by adding two new teams. It took Hank Aaron 2,000 additional plate appearances to break Ruth's lifetime record. McGwire and Bonds broke home-run records during the steroids era.
Travel conditions have changed over the years. The same thing goes for equipment. Training and nutrition have improved. Ballpark dimensions have never been universal. Games are played in various cities with different altitudes, weather, and wind patterns. Strike zones and the height of the mound have been altered to fit the times. Day games. Night games. Doubleheaders. No doubleheaders. Designated hitters. Four-man rotations. Five-man rotations. Bullpen usage. Left-handed relief specialists.
The game of baseball has evolved over the past century-and-a-half. Some might think for the better. Some might think for the worse. Color barriers. Betting scandals. Spitballs. Expansion. Free agents. Corked bats. Amphetamines. Cocaine. Steroids.
OK, that was more than a few thoughts. But I just couldn't sit back and take the lectures any longer. If these gatekeepers are going to block McGwire and Bonds and Roger Clemens (and others) from the Hall of Fame for partaking in steroids, are they now going to kick out previously enshrined players who used amphetamines, the performance-enhancing drugs of the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s? There's no need to mention names here but c'mon. These greenies were readily available in all locker rooms and players could reach into a jar or bowl and take a handful of these uppers before, during, or after a game, apparently endorsed by management and ownership alike.
Let's hear it from the level-headed Rob Neyer on the subject of the steroids era and the Hall of Fame:
It's not at all clear that McGwire will someday be elected to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, it's fairly clear that the Hall of Fame will not be much of a Hall of Fame if, 20 years from now, many of the best players of the 1990s have been left out. It's fairly clear that someone will eventually realize that the players of the 1990s were a product of their times. And once someone realizes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame, it won't be easy to maintain the position that Mark McGwire does not belong.
Other than perhaps trying to minimize the effects of steroids (including emphasizing the "low dosage," which was unnecessary), most everything else McGwire said seemed not only reasonable but genuine to me. I hope we can get past the self righteousness and, with new regulations and testing in place, move on to the post-steroids era.
Recapping a Joyous Week
Last Wednesday was a big day for Bert Blyleven and me. Blyleven was named on 74.2% of the 539 ballots cast, a gain of 62 votes and 11.5 percentage points. Within 0.8% of the 75% threshold, Rik Aalbert is now on the cusp of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day was made all the more memorable for me when Bert and Peter Gammons mentioned my name on the MLB Network. I was watching the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 live with my son Joe when Blyleven thanked me for my efforts shortly after the results were announced. It was also a nice surprise when Gammons, who had cited my work in his MLB.com article that morning, gave me a shout out later in the segment.
As much fun as it was for me personally, I think Blyleven's surge in the Hall of Fame voting and likelihood of getting elected next year is an even bigger day for the sabermetric movement. You might say, "That's one small step for a sabermetrician, one giant leap for sabermetrics."
While I took up the cause over six years ago to drum up support for a player whose candidacy had been grossly overlooked to that point, I was also motivated to move the discussion for awards and honors from the basic hitting/pitching stats and the "I saw him play and I know a Hall of Famer when I see one" to a more comprehensive and objective approach. With the help of others, I am confident that we are well on our way. We're not finished by any means, but there's no looking back either.
Bill James is the conductor of the sabermetric train, one that has been growing in numbers and gaining influence since he started to self-publish the Baseball Abstracts in 1977. Rob Neyer, who began his career working for James, joined ESPNet SportsZone in 1996 and was perhaps the first baseball writer to post sabermetric-oriented articles on a near-daily basis. The creation of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference.com, The Baseball Think Factory, The Hardball Times, Baseball Analysts, Fangraphs, Beyond the Box Score, Inside the Book, and other sites has made stats (both basic and advanced) more accessible than ever and generated an onslaught of sabermetric research, studies, and analysis that most of us now take for granted.
If not for the Internet, where would we be? I know the Internet has allowed me to have a voice that wouldn't be possible otherwise. It gave me the opportunity to form the predecessor to Baseball Analysts in 2003, review the Baseball Abstracts in 2004, interview Bert later that year, and meet in person and become friends with Bill and Rob (and countless other writers, analysts, and front office executives, many of whom I now correspond with on a regular basis).
In the spirit of sharing the "fame," I would like to link to the MLB Network video when Blyleven responded to a question posed by Gammons:
Peter Gammons: Bert, do you think the work of some of the guys that have been for you the past five years has really helped your case and helped players around the game that are now active understand exactly what you did as a pitcher?
While I don't have a link to the closing comments when Gammons mentioned me as part of his summation of the day's events, I was able to transcribe his words:
I thought Bert Blyleven's comments were terrific. He thoroughly understands the process now and I think the light that has been shone on him now has actually made people appreciate how good he was even more, and he knows he's going in. I think the next couple of years will do the same for Alomar and Larkin. I think the fact that people care so much about this now...Rich Lederer has campaigned for Blyleven we've understood. I think we'll see the same thing for Alomar and the same thing for Larkin. I just wonder if sabermetrics had been great 10-15 years ago when Ted Simmons didn't even get 4% of the vote and was only on the ballot one time whether Ted Simmons wouldn't now be a Hall of Famer?
Amen to that, Peter.
In Seven Earn Gammons' Hall Vote, Peter wrote the following with respect to Blyleven:
After the results were announced, Rob Neyer put up a "Hall adds one ... but not the one we thought" post on his Sweet Spot blog, which included this excerpt:
Also falling just short -- just five votes short -- was Bert Blyleven, in his 13th try. Consider the progress that he's made, though. In his first three tries, he couldn't clear 20 percent. Five years ago, he cleared 50 percent for the first time. And now he's at 74.2 percent, and will almost certainly join Alomar on the podium next year. And when he's up there, I suspect that Blyleven will have a word of thanks for Rich Lederer.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times called Wednesday afternoon and interviewed me for an article that was in the newspaper's print edition the next day.
Bert Blyleven gets closer to the Hall of Fame with an assist
Several other writers, including MLB.com's Kelly Thesier, SI.com's Joe Lemire, and a certain pitcher-turned-writer over at NBC Sports, highlighted my efforts in raising the awareness of Blyleven's Hall of Fame credentials. Former guest columnists Chad Finn and Jonah Keri reached out as well. And even the SunSentinel's Dave Hyde mentioned me in conjunction with Tim Raines.
Blyleven (and Alomar next), then Larkin, Raines, Alan Trammell, and maybe, just maybe Peter Gammons and I will get our wish on Ted Simmons, and many of us on Ron Santo, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and ...
The Battle Cry of the Sabermetric Revolution marches on.
400 Down and 5 to Go...
Well, the results of the Hall of Fame balloting were revealed on Wednesday, and it appears as if Bert will be Cooperstown bound Blyleven (as in 2011). The best eligible player not in the Hall received 400 votes, good for 74.2% of the 539 ballots cast. He missed out by 0.8% of the 75% threshold needed for induction.
I first learned that Blyleven fell five votes short of election in an email from Bert minutes before Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, announced in "one of the closest votes in history" that Andre Dawson would join Veterans Committee selections Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey as the Hall of Fame class of 2010 on July 25 in Cooperstown, New York.
From: Blyleven Bert Subject: Re: One More Update Date: January 6, 2010 11:00:50 AM PST To: Lederer Richard Reply-To: Blyleven Bert
Missed by 5 votes
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
In a subsequent telephone conversation, Bert told me that he received a phone call from Brad Horn, director of communications of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, five minutes before the results were announced. Thinking this may have been the call that every Hall of Fame candidate dreams of, Bert was holding hands with his wife Gayle when Horn told him that he missed out by five votes. Blyleven laughingly said, "You've got to be kidding me, right?" Turns out it wasn't a joke or one of his friends pulling a prank on him.
I initiated the email thread that morning when I sent Bert the latest update on the Hall of Fame balloting as compiled by Repoz, the editor-in-chief of the Baseball Think Factory. Based on 125 full ballots, Blyleven was at 80.0%. I told him: "I thought it was a 1-in-3 shot this year but am now thinking 50-50 with 99.9% certainty next year (if not this year). It's gonna happen, either this time around or next time around. You deserve it, and I'm very happy for you. It's been too long of a wait already. I hope it's just a matter of an hour or so now."
As it turned out, it looks as if it will be at least 8,760 more hours before Bert is rightfully elected to the Hall of Fame. The good news is that his election is no longer a matter of if but when. We only need to round up five more votes.
These needed votes could come from Carrie Muskat, Mark Newman, and Marty Noble at MLB.com and Pedro Gomez, Tony Jackson, and Michael Knisley at ESPN.com. Or from any of the other 133 writers who voted "no."
Maybe Jay Mariotti, assuming he is still a member of the BBWAA next year, will vote for Blyleven once again rather than turning in a blank ballot. Perhaps Murray Chass will reconsider his position, putting into proper perspective Bert's 10-17 record at the age of 38 when he "pitched with a sore shoulder all season long." Heck, maybe Buster Olney and Jon Heyman, both of whom have never voted for Blyleven based on their belief (here and here, respectively) that he wasn't a "dominant" pitcher, will check out the following table and recognize that he was indeed the dominant pitcher during a large portion of the 1970s.
Bert led the majors in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) for FOUR CONSECUTIVE FIVE-YEAR PERIODS beginning in 1971-1975 and ending in 1974-1978. RSAA was created by Lee Sinins of the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. It measures the number of runs that a pitcher saves his team relative to the number of runs that an average pitcher in the league would allow over the same number of innings, adjusted for ballpark effects. The beauty of RSAA is that it combines quality (runs saved per inning vs. the league average) and quantity (innings pitched).
Over the past 50 years, the five-year leaders have included Don Drysdale (1x), Sandy Koufax (3x), Juan Marichal (2x), Bob Gibson (2x), Tom Seaver (2x), Bert Blyleven (4x), Jim Palmer (1x), Steve Carlton (3x), Dave Stieb (5x), Roger Clemens (7x), Greg Maddux (5x), Pedro Martinez (4x), Randy Johnson (2x), Johan Santana (3x), and Roy Halladay (1x). While it may be too early to judge Santana and Halladay, 11 of the other 12 pitchers are either enshrined or will be enshrined (including several "inner circle" Hall of Famers). The only exception is Stieb, whose HOF case was derailed by a relatively short career.
Note: You can access the complete list of leaders since 1900 here.
Should Runs Saved Above Average be too abstract for your tastes, how about if we just dumb Blyleven's Hall of Fame case down to the following four sentences:
Bert Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in career shutouts, and in the top 20 since 1900 in wins. Every eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 3,701. Every eligible pitcher with 50 shutouts is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven, who has 60. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 in wins since 1900 is in the Hall of Fame except Blyleven and Tommy John.
For those who might wonder why Blyleven and not John, please be aware that Bert struck out 1,456 more batters, pitched 14 more shutouts, and had a superior K/BB (2.80 vs. 1.78), WHIP (1.20 vs. 1.28), and ERA+ (118 vs. 110).
Be it RSAA, strikeouts, shutouts, or the fact that he completed fifteen 1-0 shutout victories (the third-most ever and the highest total in 75 years), Blyleven was clearly a dominant pitcher. He should have been voted into Cooperstown a long, long time ago. It would defame the Hall if Blyleven weren't elected in one of his two final years of eligibility. Meanwhile, here's hoping that the same 400 writers who voted for him this year mark an "X" next to his name again *and* at least five additional writers step up and support his candidacy in 2011.
With the help of long-time advocates such as Jim Caple, Jay Jaffe, Rob Neyer, Dayn Perry, Joe Posnanski, and Joe Sheehan, I believe we can convince a number of voters who have either been on the fence in the past or may not have taken the time to understand and appreciate Blyleven's qualifications. These newbies can join the ranks of converts like Caple himself, Bill Conlin, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Bob Klapisch, Jeff Peek, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, T.R. Sullivan (and many, many others), all of whom began to vote for Blyleven at some point during the past seven years.
As they say, "If you can't beat them, join them." For added measure, you'll be on the winning side next time around.
Graphing the Hitters
Thanks to Fangraphs and Jeremy Greenhouse, I now have access to the 2009 stats in three spreadsheets covering 706 hitters, 664 pitchers, and 1,877 rows for fielders (including seven for Ben Zobrist). While combing through these numbers, it occurred to me that I had graphed pitchers and payroll efficiency over the years but never hitters. Well, that's about to change.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a graph is worth at least as many. Tables are nice to peruse but graphs are clearly more visual than columns and rows of stats. Although there is nothing groundbreaking as it relates to the graphs that I have chosen to present, I believe they tell their own stories. They are designed to be simple and straightforward. Two axis, four quadrants, and player names identifying outliers.
The first graph, which I call Productivity, plots on-base percentages on the x-axis and slugging averages on the y-axis for every qualified batter in 2009. The intersection of the MLB averages for OBP (.333) and SLG (.418) created quadrants that classify players as above average in both (upper right), below average in both (lower left), or above average in one and below average in the other (upper left and lower right).
Note: You can download a spreadsheet containing the AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS of the 155 hitters here. This information can also be used to locate the 135 players not labeled in the graph below.
I've got two questions:
OK, I've got one more:
3. Did Royals GM Dayton Moore just sign Jason Kendall to a two-year contract for $6 million?
4. Is it true that Moore signed a four-year extension with the Royals through 2014 more than a year before his current deal expired?
The answer to all four questions is ... drum roll, please ... YES!
Pujols (.443 OBP, .658 SLG) is very, very good. He carried my fantasy baseball team to a championship in 2009. Thank goodness for pulling the piece of paper with "1" out of the hat prior to our draft. He won his third National League Most Valuable Player Award unanimously, leading the senior circuit in OBP, SLG, OPS (1.101), OPS+ (188), R (124), HR (47), XBH (93), TOB (310), TB (374), and several other advanced metrics. Prince Albert doesn't turn 30 until the middle of this month, yet he has already produced over 1,700 hits and 800 walks, slugged 387 doubles and 366 home runs, and surpassed 1,000 runs scored and 1,100 runs batted in over the first nine years of his career.
Betancourt, on the other hand, had the lowest OBP (.274) and the seventh-worst SLG (.351) in the majors. The distinction of ranking dead last in SLG went to Yuniesky's newest teammate, the 35-year-old Kendall, who has "hit" .261/.336/.321 (OPS+ of 76) with 8 HR in nearly 3,000 plate appearances since being traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates (or was it the "Stealers"?) after the 2004 season.
Joe Mauer (very good) and Emilio Bonifacio (very bad) also stood out last year. Mauer was named AL MVP, sweeping the Triple Crown in rate stats with a .365 AVG, .444 OBP, and .587 SLG while winning his third batting title in the past four seasons. He also led the league in OPS (1.031) and OPS+ (170). Did I mention that Kendall is Mauer's third-most similar player through age 26?
Speaking of Bonifacio, how many fantasy owners picked him up when he was hitting .583/.600/.833 after the first week of the season? He rewarded them by putting up a .233/.288/.279 line the rest of the way.
There are a number of other interesting observations from the Productivity graph. For example, check out the names of the high-OBP and high-SLG players in the northeast quadrant. In addition to Pujols, the list includes Prince Fielder (.412/.602), Joey Votto (.414/.567), Derrek Lee (.393/.579), Ryan Howard (.360/.571), and Kendry Morales (.355/.569). First basemen all. The diamond directly below Votto's is Kevin Youkilis (.413/.548). The one down and to the right of Lee's is Miguel Cabrera (.396/.547). The diamond that is between Youk and Miggy is Adrian Gonzalez (.407/.551). Lastly, the one down and to the left of Lee is Mark Teixeira (.383/.565).
The following graph is a duplicate of the one above but it also includes a trendline. I chose a linear trendline as it is virtually the same as the other choices. The equation for the dataset of all qualified hitters is y = 1.1493x + 0.051. Or, more specifically, SLG = 1.1493 x OBP + 0.051. Due to the lack of pitchers and bench players, the qualified group produced a simple average OBP of .354 and SLG of .458, or 6.3% and 9.6%, respectively, higher than the league norm.
The hitters below the trendline get more of their productivity from OBP while those above the line get more from SLG. While many of the players below the trendline are not particularly skilled at reaching base (wherefore art thou Bonifacio?), they are even more inept at hitting for power.
Nick Johnson, Chone Figgins, Luis Castillo, and Russell Martin derived most of their offensive value last year from getting on base. Jose Lopez and Bengie Molina hit for some power but made far too many outs. Todd Helton and Derek Jeter were two of the more productive hitters, combining on base with slugging but generating more value from the former than the latter.
Although Mauer and Pujols led their respective leagues in OBP, both players slugged at an even higher rate relative to the league average. Given that Mauer and Pujols are standout defensive players as well, it's not difficult to understand whey they were named the Most Valuable Players in 2009.
BBWAA 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot
Fifteen new candidates are among the 26 players listed on the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot mailed to more than 575 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America late last month. The newcomers include Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff, as well as Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile.
Among the 11 holdovers, Andre Dawson (67.0%) and Bert Blyleven (62.7%) were the only players named on more than half of the 539 ballots cast last year. Candidates need 75 percent to gain entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Among players not currently on the BBWAA ballot, Gil Hodges is the only candidate to receive over 60 percent and not eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The other returnees are Harold Baines, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell. Candidates remain under consideration for up to 15 years as long as they are named on at least five percent of the ballots cast.
The BBWAA election rules detail the authorization, electors, eligible candidates, method of election, voting, time of election, and certification of election results. The electors, consisting of active and honorary members of the BBWAA with 10 or more consecutive years' experience, may vote for up to 10 eligible candidates deemed worthy of election. Write-in votes are not permitted. Ballots must be postmarked no later than December 31. Results will be announced Wednesday, January 6, 2010, on the web sites of the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA. The Induction Ceremonies will take place in Cooperstown on Sunday, July 25, 2010.
The Hall of Fame features 291 members, including 2010 Veterans Committee electees Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog. Included are 202 former Major League players, 35 Negro Leaguers, 26 executives or pioneers, 19 managers and nine umpires. The BBWAA has elected 108 former players while the Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans has chosen 157 candidates. The defunct Committee on Negro Leagues selected nine members between 1971-1977 and the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues in 2006 elected 17 Negro Leaguers.
Here is a copy of the 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot that was mailed to the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
In addition to Blyleven, I believe Raines has been grossly overlooked. I supported 30 Rock's candidacy two years ago when he first appeared on the ballot. Raines is one of the greatest lead-off batters in the history of the game, ranking 41st all-time in getting on base (hits + walks + hit by pitch), 50th in runs scored, and 5th in stolen bases (with the second-highest success rate among those with 300 or more SB). He has more Win Shares (390) than any player up for election.
I believe Alomar, Larkin, and Trammell are more comparable than not. All three middle infielders belong in the Hall of Fame. In 2001, Bill James ranked each of them in the top ten of their positions in his New Historical Baseball Abstract. They were five-tool players who could hit for average, hit for power for their positions, run, field, and throw. In addition, Alomar (1,032 BB/1,140 SO), Larkin (939 BB/817 SO), and Trammell (850/874 SO) displayed terrific bat control and plate discipline.
Alomar (.300/.371/.443, 116 OPS+, 474 SB/81%) ranks in the top 80 all time in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, times on base, runs created, and stolen bases—remarkable achievements for a second baseman who won 10 Gold Gloves. Larkin (.295/.371/.444, 116 OPS+, 379 SB/83%), who was the first shortstop to hit 30 HR and steal 30 bases in the same season, has the 1995 NL MVP Award and three Gold Gloves in his trophy case. James called him "one of the ten most complete players in baseball history." Trammell (.285/.352/.415, 110 OPS+, 236 SB/68%) won four Gold Gloves and should have been named the AL MVP in 1987 when the shortstop hit .343/.402/.551 but lost out to left fielder George Bell (.308/.352/.605), a one-dimensional player, when voters were fixated on RBI rather than overall performance and value.
The main argument against Martinez is that he was a designated hitter and failed to get 3,000 hits or even 400 home runs. Well, Jim Rice DH'd for a quarter of his career and came up short of those two milestones, yet was voted into the HOF last year. The biggest difference between Martinez and Rice isn't in their counting stats but in their rate stats. Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 with an OPS+ of 147. Rice hit .298/.352/.502 with an OPS+ of 128. Edgar had a higher AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ than James Edward. Martinez played in an era more suited to hitters while Rice benefited from a more friendly home ballpark.
Martinez had an OPS+ of 132 or higher in every season in which he had 400 or more plate appearances, other than in his final year in 2004. The righthanded hitter was an on-base and doubles machine, leading the league three times in OBP and twice in 2B while ranking 22nd and 41st in these two categories all time. He also ranks in the top 50 in BB, OPS, and OPS+. Like Rice, Martinez wasn't much in the field or on the bases, but he was a more productive hitter and a superior offensive player.
By any objective standard, McGwire is a clear-cut Hall of Famer. Big Mac ranks 8th in HR (583), 9th in SLG (.588), 11th in OPS (.982), 12th in OPS+ (162), and FIRST in AB per HR (10.6). He led the league in HR four times, including a then single-season record of 70 in 1998. McGwire (.299/.470/.752 with 41 Win Shares) inexplicably wasn't voted NL MVP that season, receiving just two first-place votes vs. 30 for Sammy Sosa (.308/.377/.647, 35 Win Shares).
Importantly, McGwire wasn't suspended nor expelled from the game. He has never admitted to or been convicted of any steroid use and wasn't even named in The Mitchell Report. In 1998, Big Mac acknowledged taking androstenedione, an over-the-counter product that was legal at the time under U.S. law and for use in MLB. It wasn't considered an anabolic steroid until three years after his retirement. If enough revisionist historians want to exclude McGwire from the Hall of Fame, I guess they will sadly win out.
Although I'm not in favor of Dawson's candidacy, I can understand why writers would vote for him. He combined power, speed, and defense in a career that resulted in 438 home runs, 314 stolen bases, and eight Gold Gloves. My beef with Dawson is that he simply made too many outs for my tastes (and many others). That said, it wouldn't be the biggest injustice if the Hawk gained entry into the Hall of Fame (unless, of course, he makes it and Raines never does).
McGriff is a borderline candidate, perhaps more suited to the Hall of the Very Good than the Hall of Fame. At a minimum, I'm hopeful that he will get at least five percent of the vote and remain on the ballot for another year. Falling seven home runs short of 500 for his career, the Crime Dog might not resonate with voters who may have forgotten just how good he was in the late-1980s and early-1990s. To wit, from 1988-1994, McGriff ranked in the top five in HR and OPS every season. That's right, for seven straight years, he finished either first, second, third, fourth, or fifth in his league in those two slugging categories. He could get on base, too, placing in the top four in OBP for four consecutive campaigns.
If peak value was the sole criteria, I could get behind Mattingly, Murphy, and Parker. Donnie Baseball may have been the preeminent hitter in the game from 1984-1986 when he hit .340 and averaged 219 hits, 48 doubles, and 30 home runs while leading the majors in total bases in '85 and '86. He could also field, picking up nine Gold Gloves at first base along the way. Murphy, who didn't miss a game from 1982-1985 when he was one of the best position players in baseball, was named NL MVP in back-to-back seasons and was a five-time recipient of the Gold Glove Award. Parker broke out in 1975 and was the man from 1977-1979 when he won an MVP, two batting titles, and three Gold Gloves. He and Rice had parallel careers, and it is my belief that the Cobra was nearly the same hitter and a much better fielder and baserunner at the height of their careers. All three candidates have loyal backers and will likely remain on the ballot for their entire 15 years of eligibility, yet none has ever received as much as 30 percent of the vote.
Morris and Smith have their fans but both seem stuck in the low-40s in terms of their overall support. It's rare to stumble across an endorsement of Morris without reading about his postseason pitching prowess. While Jack's 10-inning, complete-game shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is undoubtedly one of the best pitching performances in the history of the Fall Classic, his overall postseason record (7-4, 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB) pales in comparison to Blyleven's (5-1, 2.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4.50 K/BB). As Joe Posnanski covered in detail earlier this week, Blyleven beat Morris head-to-head in the 1987 ALCS and returned on three days' rest to win the clincher before helping the Twins overtake the Cardinals in the World Series.
Meanwhile, Baines, who Buster Olney somehow likened to Blyleven, runs the risk of dropping off the ballot after three years of picking up more than five percent but less than six percent of the vote.
First timers Appier, Burks, and Ventura are worthy of some love but unlikely to secure five percent of the vote. Galarraga, Hentgen, and Lankford all had their moments but fall well short of consideration. I'm not sure how Jackson, Reynolds, Segui, and Zeile got past the screening committee and, along with Karros, will be surprised if any of these players receives a single vote.
Bert Be Home By Eleven?
I have been knocking on the doors of the Hall of Fame since December 2003. Blyleven's voting percentage has climbed from 29% that year to 41% in 2005, 48% in 2007, and 63% in 2009. He is trending well but still needs to get to the 75% threshold to receive his just due.
According to Sky Andrecheck, "No player in the last 25 years has seen his vote totals rise so sharply and not been enshrined in the Hall. I wouldn't bet on Blyleven being the first."
Let's hope Sky is right. In the meantime, the two most widely heard arguments against Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame involve his lack of All-Star Game appearances and poor showings in the Cy Young Award balloting. While I have refuted both of these concerns many times in the past (see multiple links to the Bert Blyleven Series in the sidebar to the left), I am going to take another shot at it today, asking questions and providing answers (including an excerpt from what I wrote in December 2006).
How many times did the All-Star Game manager pick nine or ten *starting* pitchers during Blyleven's career? I might be wrong, but I would be surprised if ten starters (without double counting injured and replacements) were ever selected for a single ASG during his career. A few nines but mostly six, seven, or eight by my count.
Of those six, seven, or eight, how many pitchers did those managers select from their own teams? Do you think that is an objective measure? How many times did they pick a starting pitcher as the lone representative from that player's team? When your teammates are named Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Stargell, and Parker, you're never going to be selected as the lone player from your club.
Was Blyleven ever passed over because he had pitched the weekend before the All-Star game? Moreover, don't you think managers were as "guilty" as the writers when making these selections by focusing on win-loss records as much or more than other stats that a pitcher has more control over? If so, can we agree that W-L records are not the best measure of a pitcher's performance?
For example, in 1972, Blyleven's ERA was 2.85 over, get this, 170.2 innings at the All-Star break. He wasn't selected because his W-L record was 9-12. He pitched like an All-Star but was penalized because his W-L record was under .500. Manager Earl Weaver went with Blyleven's teammate Jim Perry, who was 8-9 with a 3.21 ERA at the break, rather than with Bert. Think the fact that Perry was a 14-year veteran and Blyleven was in his second full season had anything to do with that injustice? How about Weaver choosing Marty Pattin (8-8, 3.75 ERA) over Blyleven?
In 1977, Blyleven had an ERA of 2.61 with outstanding peripherals at the All-Star break. Why do you suppose he wasn't named to the All-Star team? Do you think the fact that his W-L record was 8-9 had anything to do with it? Instead of selecting Blyleven as one of the seven starting pitchers, Billy Martin chose Bert Campaneris to represent the Texas Rangers. Campaneris was hitting .256/.317/.352 with 13 SB and 15 CS at the break.
In 1989, Blyleven was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA in 125.2 IP, yet once again was passed over as one of the six pitchers Tony La Russa chose, two of whom were from his own A's team, including Dave Stewart, who "earned" the right to start the game due to his 13-4 record despite posting an ERA of 3.24 (more than a full run higher than Blyleven) while allowing more hits than innings and producing a K/BB ratio of less than 2.
Re the All-Star Game, here is what I wrote (along with breaking out his first and second half career stats) in Answering the Naysayers (Part Two) in December 2006:
As it relates to the number of All-Star Game appearances, Blyleven generally pitched better in the second half of the season than in the first half. Unfortunately, All-Star selections are based on how players perform during April, May, and June rather than July, August, and September.W L PCT ERA IP H R ER HR BB SO 1st Half 150 140 .517 3.47 2738 2620 1167 1056 258 726 2046 2nd Half 137 110 .555 3.12 2232 2012 862 774 172 596 1655
Importantly, the above breakdown also works just as well, if not even better, with respect to how Blyleven should have ranked in the CYA voting.
Speaking of which, I can't help but wonder if Blyleven's candidacy wouldn't be viewed more favorably today had the Baseball Writers Association of America implemented its new policy by expanding the Cy Young ballot from three to five spots 40 years ago?
Moreover, if the voters back then evaluated pitching performance more like today, perhaps Blyleven would have won the Cy Young Award in 1973? While Blyleven may not have quite put up a season equal to the likes of Zack Greinke or Tim Lincecum in 2009, it was a lot closer than what he was given credit for in the balloting that year. With more emphasis on K/BB, WHIP, FIP, and other measures besides wins and losses, Blyleven's dominance would be more notable today than how it has been perceived by many naysayers in the past.
There's plenty of room inside the Hall of Fame for Blyleven's plaque. The writers only have 2010, 2011, and 2012 to get it right as Bert drops off the ballot in three years. I anticipate further progress this year with an enshrinement date set for July 2011.
A Recap of the Winter Meetings
We debut Baseball Analysts Radio today. While not technically radio, it is our attempt to provide audio content to supplement the daily articles written by analysts Dave Allen, Sky Andrecheck, Jeremy Greenhouse, Marc Hulet, Chris Moore, Patrick Sullivan, and me, as well as special guest columnists that have included many established and up-and-coming voices in the baseball world.
The first segment covers the just concluded Winter Meetings. I detail more than 15 trades and free agent signings, offering both news and views on these transactions. I'm planning to add more commentary on the three-way trade among the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks, plus the Chone Figgins signing in our next episodes.
We hope you enjoy this new feature at Baseball Analysts.
The Best Baseball Analysts in the Country
The Baseball Analysts, which Bryan Smith and I co-founded in early 2005, is fast approaching its five-year anniversary. The new site was the result of a merger between Bryan's Wait 'Til Next Year and my Baseball Beat, whose origins go back to the spring of 2003.
Over the ensuing years, Baseball Analysts has witnessed Bryan's departure in 2006, followed by the additions of Jeff Albert that fall; Patrick Sullivan, Marc Hulet, and Joe P. Sheehan the following spring; and Jeremy Greenhouse, Dave Allen, and Sky Andrecheck during spring training 2009. Albert, Sullivan, Sheehan, and Greenhouse all debuted as guest columnists and their Designated Hitter articles earned them permanent spots in our starting lineup.
We eventually lost Albert and Sheehan to Major League Baseball. Albert was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2008 season to serve as the hitting instructor for the Batavia Muckdogs, its Short-Season Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League. He was promoted to the Palm Beach Cardinals, the club's High-A affiliate in the Florida State League, prior to last season. Earlier this month, the Redbirds announced that Albert will be one of three minor-league hitting coaches returning to their positions for the 2010 campaign.
Sheehan received an internship with the San Diego Padres in 2008 and joined Dan Fox, a former writer for The Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus, with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the conclusion of that season. Fox, who wrote a few guest columns for Baseball Analysts, is the Director of Baseball Systems Development and the architect of the team's Managing, Information, Tools and Talent (MITT) system.
Along these same lines, I'm proud to report that Sky Andrecheck, in addition to filling his normal Tuesday spot at Baseball Analysts, will be writing a weekly column during the offseason for SI.com. His first two Behind the Scoreboard articles can be accessed here. It says here that the sky is the limit for the statistician by day and baseball analyst and writer by night.
Andrecheck was also chosen by Dave Studenmund to serve as a guest writer for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010. Sky wrote a piece on Championship Leverage Index. He introduced the concept last March in his second contribution at Baseball Analysts. Sky gives credit to Tom Tango for pioneering the concept of Leverage Index, which "puts a value on the importance of each moment in the game." Championship Leverage Index "takes the same idea and applies it in the context of an entire season. Like its in-game cousin, Champ LI quantifies each team's games in terms of the impact they are likely to have on winning a championship." Later in the article, he says Champ LI "essentially measures the probability that the outcome of one game will decide a playoff berth."
Dave Allen was also asked to write an article for THT Baseball Annual, which began shipping in the middle of November. Allen, who has contributed a weekly column for Baseball Analysts since last March and can also be found at Fangraphs, is one of the small number of PITCHf/x specialists. The title of his article is "Where Was That Pitch?" As with all of Dave's excellent studies, this piece is filled with graphs detailing the run values of two- and four-seam fastballs, curveballs, sliders, and changeups by pitch location.
The lowest run value is generally on pitches up and in, as these pitches have a low slugging rate on balls in play (many infield flies) and on pitches down-and-away, which have a low slugging average on balls in play (many ground balls) and a low contact rate. Pitches up-and-away and down-and-in tend to have intermediate run values and vary by pitch type.
Allen references five of his articles at Baseball Analysts and cites our own Joe Sheehan, one of the original PITCHf/x experts; Jeremy Greenhouse, who Mitchel Lichtman (also known as MGL) recently touted as a future front-office employee; and Chris Moore, author of the Best Fastballs in Baseball.
As an owner and connoisseur of the entire run of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts (1977-1988), I can tell you that The Hardball Times Baseball Annual is in that same league of annual baseball publications. You can trust its cover when it promises "timeless commentary, innovative stats, and great baseball writing."
James, in fact, is one of the contributors. He is the author of "Strong Seasons Leading Index," a system that seeks to produce "a list of the players who are most likely—and most unlikely—to sustain or improve on their 2009 seasons." Among players with 400 or more plate appearances last season, Dioner Navarro, Chris Young, and J.J. Hardy score the highest and Jorge Posada, Matt Diaz, and Craig Counsell the lowest. You might want to check out the full list when preparing for your fantasy baseball draft this winter.
Other guest columnists include Craig Wright, John Dewan, Tom Tango, Sean Smith, and Greg Rybarczyk. These highly regarded sabermetricians are joined by the stable of writers at The Hardball Times, including past Designated Hitters at Baseball Analysts Rybarczyk, Craig Calcaterra, David Gassko, Jeff Sackman, Dave Studenmund, Steve Treder, John Walsh, and Geoff Young.
For those readers who have purchased THT Baseball Annual in the past, this is a reminder that you need to get your order in now. For everyone else, I am confident that you will not be disappointed if you pick up a copy for the first time. You can help out the site and many of the best baseball analysts in the country by purchasing the book directly through this link. The small premium involved is a way of saying thanks for all the free stats, information, education, and entertainment you receive at The Hardball Times throughout the year.
Holiday Shopping Ideas
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring". — Rogers Hornsby
With the holiday season fast approaching, it's time to begin putting together your wish or gift list. You can do your part to stimulate the economy by purchasing an item or two in one of the many sports memorabilia auctions taking place in November and December.
In the 6th Annual Live Auction at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Hunt Auctions just sold Curt Flood's 1963 Rawlings Gold Glove Award for $13,200 (vs. an estimate of $5,000-$7,000) and his 1964 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring for $21,000 (vs. an estimate of $15,000-$20,000).
Do not despair if you missed out on those items last weekend. There's still three days left to bid on a Frank Chance 1911-12 Chicago Cubs Game Used Home Jersey in the Legendary Auctions. The current bid has risen from $10,000 to $42,500. With bidding increments at $2,500 and an 18.5 percent buyer's premium, you might be able to land this jersey for $53,325.
For those of you who like offense more than defense at first base, you can be the first to bid on a circa 1933 Lou Gehrig New York Yankees Game-Used Home Flannel Jersey in the Grey Flannel 2009 Holiday Auction (shown at left). The minimum bid is only $225,000.
If you can't afford to lay out a quarter of a million dollars or more for the Gehrig jersey, then perhaps consider a 1927-1930 Benny Bengough New York Yankees Gamer. The platoon/backup catcher was a member of four World Series championship teams (1923, 1927, 1928, and 1932). He hit .258/.305/.322 (60 OPS+) in 95 games and 308 plate appearances for a team that went 69-85, yet finished 24th for the 1925 AL MVP Award. Bengough was either one helluva defensive catcher or had a relative who voted for him.
Bengough beat out Babe Ruth, who failed to garner a single vote in the only season from 1918-1931 in which the Bambino didn't lead the league in slugging, OPS, and OPS+.
According to Wikipedia, Ruth fell ill during spring training in 1925 and "returned to New York for what was reported as stomach surgery."
Ruth's ailment was dubbed "the bellyache heard round the world," when one writer wrote that Ruth's illness was caused by binging on hot dogs and soda pop before a game. Venereal disease and alcohol poisoning (caused by tainted liquor, a major health problem during the Prohibition) have also been speculated to be the causes of his illness. However, the exact nature of his ailment has never been confirmed and remains a mystery. Playing just 98 games, Ruth had what would be his worst season as a Yankee as he finished the season with a .290 average and 25 home runs. The Yankees team finished next to last in the American League with a 69-85 mark, their last season with a losing record until 1965.
Should jerseys not be your thing, you can pick up a 1927 Yankees (Murderers Row) autographed baseball. The signatures are faint but, hey, the bidding only starts at $5,000.
Boston Red Sox fans can add a 1972 Carl Yastrzemski Game-Used Home Flannel Jersey or a 2004 World Championship Ring to their collection. The latter belonged to Pablo Lantigua, a scouting supervisor who was fired last year for his involvement in the Dominican kickback scandal. The current bid is $12,100.
Lou Brock fans can bid on the Hall of Famer's 1974 Game Used Jersey (the one he wore to set the single-season stolen base record of 105) to the Game Used Base Stolen by him to break Ty Cobb's record to his 1967 World Championship Ring (current bid of $24,000) to a Game Used Glove or pair of Cleats to one of the many awards he won over the years. (View lots 1-78 here.)
If these items are out of your price range, consider bidding on a 1967 Jose Tartabull Boston Red Sox Worn & Autographed World Series Jacket. Heck, even if you're not a fan, this jacket might keep you warm during the cold winter months while waiting for Spring Training 2010. Only 104 days until March 1.
The Bill James Handbook 2010
What a pleasant surprise it was to receive a review copy of The Bill James Handbook 2010 on Halloween Day before the third game of the 2009 World Series. The Handbook is not only the first baseball stats annual to hit the market each year but the most comprehensive as well.
The book, featuring Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria on the cover, combines many of the best features of The Sporting News Baseball Register and Baseball Guide—both of which are now defunct, thanks in no small part to Bill James and the team at Baseball Info Solutions and ACTA Sports. This is the eighth year of the Handbook, which I have been reviewing since the 2004 edition was released in November 2003.
Whereas The Bill James Abstracts from 1977-1988, the Bill James Baseball Books from 1990-1992, and The Bill James Player Ratings Books from 1993-1995 were full of commentary from James himself, the Handbook is devoted more to the presentation of stats. However, I'm happy to say that the number of pages penned by James has grown from five six years ago to over 30 this year.
In addition to staples like Team Statistics, the Player Career Register, Fielding Statistics, the Fielding Bible Awards, Park Indices (including the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field), and Win Shares, new features in this year's book include a history of Instant Replay and Pinch Hitting Analysis.
Major League Baseball introduced instant replay in late August 2008 to determine whether disputable home runs were fair, foul, or interfered with by a fan. In just over one full season, umpires have consulted instant replay 65 times and 22 calls have been overturned. The Handbook provides the details of each and every instant replay review in 2008 and 2009.
James attaches his byline to Team Efficiency Summary, The Baserunners, 2009 Relief Pitchers, Manufactured Runs, The Manager's Record, Young Talent Inventory, Hitter Projections, Pitcher Projections, and Pitchers on Course for 300 Wins.
The most efficient team in baseball is usually the Los Angeles Angels—anyway it was in 2009, and it was in 2008, and it has been in other years. The Angels do little things so well that they are consistently able to grind five or ten more wins a year out of their team than what one would think was available. We don't really understand how they do this, to be frank, but since they do it every year, we know it's not luck. Saying that they "do the little things well" is just a way of covering for the fact that we don't actually know how they do it.
The least efficient team? The Washington Nationals. Based on category performance such as team batting average and home runs (both offensively and defensively), James contends that the Nationals and the Houston Astros "could have been expected to win about 70 games." Nonetheless, the Astros won 74 games and the Nats were "dreadfully inefficient" with only 59 victories.
The Career Register includes career stats through the 2009 season for every major league player who participated in a game last year, as well as 32 bonus players, including those who missed the entire campaign due to injuries (such as Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets) and "potential foreign imports" (like Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi). With approximately four or five players per page, this section comprises nearly 270 of the 514 numbered pages.
The Handbook provides traditional and advanced fielding statistics (G, GS, Inn, PO, A, E, DP, Pct., and Range plus SBA, CS, CS%, CERA for catchers), Runs Saved and Plus/Minus leaders, and the Fielding Bible Award winners.
Here are the results of The 2009 Fielding Bible Awards, as determined by a panel of ten analysts, including James, John Dewan, Peter Gammons, Joe Posnanski, and Rob Neyer (with the following commentary provided by Dewan). A complete record of the voting can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2010.
1B: Albert Pujols, STL - Four Fielding Bible Awards in four years. What's left to say?
2B: Aaron Hill, TOR - Hill wins the tie-breaker on the strength of four first-place votes, as opposed to only one for runner-up Dustin Pedroia.
3B: Ryan Zimmerman, WAS - Third base is a strong, deep defensive position in baseball right now, but Zimmerman has set himself apart by becoming the leader in Defensive Runs Saved over the last three years.
SS: Jack Wilson, PIT/SEA - Even though he split time between leagues, Wilson was the best shorstop in baseball this year, leading all shorstops in Runs Saved by a wide margin (27 compared to Brendan Ryan's 19).
LF: Carl Crawford, TB - No player has ever won with a perfect record (10 first-place votes from 10 panelists), but Crawford came as close as possible, garnering nine out of ten possible first-place votes. His 99 total points is an all-time record.
CF: Franklin Gutierrez, SEA - Winner of the 2008 Fielding Bible Award for right field, Gutierrez moved over to center field in 2009. His 31 Runs Saved were tied with Chone Figgins for the most in baseball.
RF: Ichiro Suzuki, SEA - Hunter Pence gave Ichiro a run for his money, but Ichiro finished with 93 points to Pence's 84. This is Ichiro's second Fielding Bible Award.
C: Yadier Molina, STL - Everyone knows about Molina's incredible throwing arm (well, maybe not the eight guys he picked off this year), but Molina was also the third-best bad-pitch-blocking catcher in baseball behind Carlos Ruiz and Jason Varitek.
P: Mark Buehrle, CWS - Buerhle has defensive chops, but his ability to hold runners is legendary. In the last four years he's allowed a total of 15 stolen bases, picked off 14 baserunners, and thrown over to first—only to have the runner break for second and be thrown out—16 times.
The chapter on Baserunning is always one of my favorites, partly due to the hard-to-find numbers and the six pages of James' insights. While Baseball-Reference.com has advanced baserunning stats on each player page, I'm not aware of an alphabetized table that is as readable as those in the Handbook.
Before listing the best and worst baserunners by position, James compares Chone "Gone" Figgins (23-for-43 going from first-to-third on a single and 26-for-31 second-to-home on a single) with Prince Fielder (1-for-45 first-to-third on a single) and David Ortiz (2-for-16 second-to-home on a single), Emilio Bonafacio (10-for-10 first-to-home on a double) with Mike Lowell (0-for-10), and Denard Span (moved up a base 31 times on a WP, PB, Balk, SF, or Defensive Indifference) with Geoff Blum (never advanced a base on any of those plays).
Most people will tell you that we should have Carl Crawford in left field ahead of Ryan Braun, and people will tell you that Yadier Molina actually runs well for a catcher, or at least for a Molina. We don't base this on reputation. Carl Crawford was 8-for-27 going first-to-third on a single. Ryan Braun was 15-for-41, which is better. Crawford was 4-for-9 scoring from first on a double. Braun was 7-for-9. Crawford moved up 24 bases on Wild Pitches, Passed Balls, Balks, Sacrifice Flies and Defensive Indifference. Braun moved up 26 times. Crawford grounded into 7 double plays in 136 DP situations; Braun grounded into 7 in 172 situations. Braun was thrown out 5 times on the bases. Crawford was thrown out 10. Crawford is a very good baserunner—the second-best baserunner among major league left fielders in 2009, including his base stealing—but Braun was better. And Yadi Molina grounded into 27 frigging double plays, which is a record even for a Molina brother.
As James points out, "the difference between the best baserunner in the majors (Michael Bourn) and the worst (Juan Rivera) was 95 bases, or about 24 runs" [editor's note: equal to about 2 1/2 wins].
That's nowhere near as large as the difference between Ryan Howard's bat and Willie Bloomquist's. It is not as large as the difference between Tim Lincecum's arm and R.A. Dickey's, or the difference between Zach Greinke and Luke Hochevar. It is not as large as the difference between having Franklin Gutierrez in center field or Vernon Wells, nor even as large as the difference between Franklin Gutierrez and an average defensive center fielder.
In the section on Relief Pitchers, the Handbook details 22 categories (with attendant commentary by James), including Games Pitched, Early Entries, Pitching on ConsecutiveDays, Long Outings, Leverage Index, Inherited Runners, Inherited Runners Who Scored, Inherited Runners Allowed Percentage, Easy Save Opportunity, Clean Outing, Blown Save Win, Saves, Save Opportunities, Holds, Save/Hold Percentage, and Opposition OPS. The stats of every pitcher who appeared in relief are listed in a table sorted by team and by job (closer, setup man, lefty relief specialist, long man, utility reliever, and emergency reliever).
James defines Manufactured Runs "loosely as any run on which two of the four bases result from doing something other than playing station-to-station baseball)" and gives a more technical description encompassing six rules. He says "the most critical element to manufacturing runs, in modern baseball, is speed. . .the bunt, yes, but modern teams don't bunt that much, and it doesn't lead to a lot of runs even when they do."
The best teams in baseball at Manufacturing Runs, pretty much every year, are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Minnesota Twins of Bloomington. Those two teams were 1-3 in 2006, 1-2 in 2007, 1-4 in 2008, and 1-2 in 2009. They're good at that. The Angels led the majors in 2009 with 221 Manufactured Runs.
In The Manager's Record, James admits "there are many things that a manager does that are beyond the scope of our analysis." However, he points out that there are "certain things that one manager does differently than another manager that we can study" (likes to use a fixed lineup or experiment; propensity to platoon; use of pinch hitters, pinch runners, and defensive substitutions; quick hooks and slow hooks; tolerance for long outings by starting pitchers; number of relievers and those used on consecutive days; stolen base and sacrifice bunt attempts; hit and run; pitchouts; and intentional walks).
After two years of including Young Talent Inventory, James decided that this item "does not really belong in this book"—opting to move it to the Bill James Gold Mine—for three reasons:
First, this is a book about facts, as opposed to a book of analysis that is in any way speculative. We try to make a record of the season, and we try to include information that has never been seen before, and we try to pull that together as quickly as we can so that we can make it available to you while the breath of the season still hangs in the air.
The Bill James Handbook 2010 has much, much more to offer, including 2009 Leader Boards, mostly derived from the complex pitch data collected by Baseball Info Solutions. A lot of this information can be found at Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, but there is something magical about flipping through a book and stumbling across the ten longest home runs in the A.L. and N.L., the ten longest average home runs in each league, the lowest and highest first swing %, the best and worst batting average plus slugging on pitches outside the strike zone, and the most pitches thrown at 95 or 100 mph. Trust me, there's enough enjoyment here to get you through the long winter.
Los Angeles Angels: A Look Back and a Look Forward
The Yankees beat the Angels, 5-2, in Game 6 last night to win the AL pennant and advance to the World Series.
Darn. That lead-in was what I was hoping to write for today's Baseball Beat. However, it wasn't meant to be. Aside from the differences in payrolls, the Yankees won fair and square. The Bronx Bombers were the better team during the season and in the ALCS. They earned the home-field advantage and won all three games in New York. The Angels won two of three in Anaheim but it's impossible for a team in their position to win a best-of-seven series without taking at least one game on the road.
The Angels made a lot of mistakes in the field and on the basepaths during the series, but the idea that the team and its manager should be embarrassed is preposterous. Look, I'm as frustrated as the next fan, yet there's no shame in winning your division, beating the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, and losing to the Yankees in the ALCS. The last time I looked, only two teams go to the World Series and just one wins it all.
The bottom line is that the Angels played extremely well this year, although not quite up to the level of the Yankees. It's truly amazing what an extra 85 to 90 million dollars in payroll can do for your roster. Beating an All-Star team like that when it counts is no easy task.
Going forward, the Angels have a lot of decisions to make. Bobby Abreu, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, and John Lackey are all free agents. Furthermore, the farm system has little to offer for the immediate future.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Angels had an Opening Day payroll (salaries plus pro-rated signing bonuses) of $113,709,000. The team acquired Scott Kazmir in August and will be responsible for his $8 million contract in 2010 (as well as $12M in 2011 and a $13.5M club option or a $2.5M buyout in 2012). Kazmir's salary next year will be more than offset by the loss of Kelvim Escobar, who made $9.5M with little or nothing to show for it in 2009.
Abreu ($5M), Figgins ($5.775), Guerrero ($15M), and Lackey ($9M) totalled about $35 million in salary last season. Add in Darren Oliver ($3.665M) and Robb Quinlan ($1.1M) and the Angels could free up $40M next year.
Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver are all eligible for arbitration and will pull down more money in 2010 than 2009. By my estimations, these seven players could cost the team an additional $12 million next year. Juan Rivera and Ervin Santana have contracts that will jump their salaries by $1M and $2.2M, respectively, in 2010. These increases amount to approximately $13M (net of the Kazmir/Escobar commitments) and the run-offs $40M, meaning the Angels have roughly $27M to re-sign current players and/or pursue free agents without boosting payroll beyond the 2009 level.
If owner Arte Moreno is willing to get back to the 2008 total of nearly $120 million, then general manager Tony Reagins would have more than $32M to work with this off-season. Half of this available money will need to go to Lackey should the Angels wish to keep their ace starter. The other half could be split between Abreu and Figgins although both players are likely to seek more than $8M each.
Put me in charge and I would stick to the 2/$16M offer the Angels reportedly made Abreu earlier this month. Yes, he was a bargain this year but that was a function of the market and is neither here nor there as it relates to 2010. If that offer works, great. If not, I'm OK with letting him go. The Angels can redirect that money elsewhere.
Despite Figgy's value this past year, I'm not paying a soon-to-be 32-year old for peak offensive and defensive performance that is unlikely to hold up over a three- or four-year contract. I'd like to have him back but only at 3/$27M. If Figgins can get a better contract from, say, Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox (who may be re-thinking an aggressive offer after watching Chone implode during the postseason), then he should go for the riches. Anyway, I think it's high time that the Angels finally give Brandon Wood the opportunity to play everyday. Should Wood flop, then the Halos can turn to Maicer Izturis at the hot corner.
As for Guerrero, I would only be interested on a short-term deal and on the cheap. Call it a Bobby Abreu 1/$5M "take it or leave it" agreement. The fact that Vladdy can no longer run or play defense limits his options and it's my belief that the number of suitors will be few and far between.
If everybody agrees to these terms, that means the Angels would need to shell out about $38 million for their services in 2010. In the meantime, I would want to be in the hunt for Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, but I would not be willing to give the latter anywhere close to the Mark Teixeira-type contract that agent Scott Boras envisions. As was the case with Tex, Moreno is unlikely to get into a bidding war for Holliday and allow negotiations to drag on throughout the winter. I don't foresee the Angels offering Holliday more than a Torii Hunter 5/$90M type deal. Depending on the appetite of the St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, New York Mets, and perhaps the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, that may or may not work.
Lastly, I would go after Nick Johnson if Guerrero leaves. He could serve as the club's designated hitter and backup first baseman. Johnson would give the Angels a younger version of Abreu. He is basically the same guy without the speed. Sure, the 31-year old has a history of being injury prone, but he was relatively healthy this past year. However, I wouldn't be as aggressive as Dave Cameron so it's quite possible that the Seattle Mariners or some other team would top my offer.
With respect to the lineup, if Figgins returns, he leads off. If not, I believe Aybar can step into that role and give the Angels the same pre-2009 production as Figgy. With Kendrick stepping up, he would be my full-time second baseman and No. 2 hitter should Abreu leave for greener pastures.
Assuming the Angels lose Figgins, Abreu, and Guerrero, the lineup could look like the following if the team was fortunate enough to land Holliday and Johnson.
Manager Mike Scioscia could flip flop Johnson and Rivera vs. LHP in deference to the latter even though Johnson hits lefties just fine.
The bench would include Izturis as the super sub and possible third baseman if Wood doesn't live up to his promise. A combination of Gary Matthews Jr. (when does his contract run out?), Reggie Willits, and Chris Pettit would serve as the fourth and fifth outfielders. Freddy Sandoval could become the utility infielder. Pop in a cheap veteran who can pinch hit and cover for Johnson as a DH, if necessary.
With Lackey, the starting rotation would be about as formidable as any fivesome in the majors.
I believe the aforementioned roster would win the AL West once again and have an even better shot at the World Series in 2010, all at a cost of approximately $125 million.
* * *
Update (10/27/09): Gary Matthews Jr. has no desire to return to the Angels in 2010.
"I don't expect to be back; it's time to move on," outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said as he packed his belongings in the team's Angel Stadium clubhouse today. "I'm ready to play for an organization that wants me to play every day. This organization has other plans, and that's OK."
Matthews has two years and $23 million remaining on the five-year, $50-million contract he signed in November 2006. However, the reality is that the 35-year old outfielder is worth no more than about $1.5M-$2.5M on the open market right now, which means the Angels would have to eat roughly $10M in each of the next two seasons if Matthews were to be paid in full.
More realistically, I would expect GMJ and the Angels will wind up restructuring his contract in a manner similar to what the Dodgers and Andruw Jones agreed to last January. As part of the agreement, look for the Angels to trade or release him before the start of spring training. He'll wind up getting the $23M owed to him but it will be spread out over 5-10 years without interest. The new team will be responsible for paying him the MLB minimum of about $400,000 only. Meanwhile, the Angels will "save" approximately $7M-$9M over each of the next two years and this money could be applied toward Abreu, Figgins, Guerrero, Lackey, and possibly someone like Holliday. A win-win-win for everybody concerned.
Personal Thoughts on the League Championship Series
Going into the League Championship Series, I was hopeful that one of the three (out of four) possible outcomes would come to pass. As an Angels and Dodgers fan, I wanted to see a Freeway Series more than anything else but would have settled for an Angels-Phillies or Dodgers-Yankees World Series as well.
Three games into the NLCS and two into the ALCS and things aren't looking so good for this Southern California native. Perhaps today will be the beginning of a much-needed turnaround for the locals.
Sensing that my heart leaned more toward the Angels than the Dodgers, my friend Alex Belth asked me last week why that was the case. I responded via email with the following answer.
My Dad covered the Dodgers so I grew up a Dodgers fan. When he went to work for the Angels the year I turned 14, it was hard for me to change my allegiance. I never really did, although I started following the Angels much more closely over the years. I was fortunate to be a Dodgers fan during the Koufax years and an Angels fan during the Ryan years. The Dodgers were obviously much better but Ryan and Tanana (and great seats in the press box or behind home plate) were an offsetting inducement that was hard to pass up.
I'll be in those front row seats this afternoon, rooting for Jered Weaver and the Angels to win Game 3 of the ALCS. I'll be the guy wearing the red Angels shirt and hat. LOL.
Weaver could be the ace of this staff in that he has the best stuff overall. Good fastball which is pretty straight. Nice, big, sweeping ’slurve’-type breaking ball and a really good change. What makes him tough is that he really hides the ball so well. He throws across his body so much that he is real deceptive, especially for the righties. His numbers at home are fantastic and the only downside is that he gives up a lot of fly balls – which might be dangerous against the Yankee line up. I like him in that he is confident, almost cocky, out on the mound.
That is a very fair description (although a bit generous in suggesting that Weaver "has the best stuff overall"). Flaherty knows Weaver better than most and about as well as I know him.
Weaver has a much better record at home (9-3, 2.90) than on the road (7-5, 4.78) and has pitched better in day games (5-1, 3.23) than at night (11-7, 3.90), but the extreme flyball pitcher will need to keep the ball in the yard for the Angels to win this game. Unfortunately, the ball travels much better at Angel Stadium during the day than the evening. This fact alone could negate Weaver's favorable home and away splits against a powerful hitting team like the Yankees.
For Weaver to be successful, he will need to command both sides of the plate and change the eye level on occasion (as Jered did when he struck out Big Papi on a 93-mph heater up and in while taming the Red Sox last week). Look for Weaver to change speeds and use his "go to" changeup often against Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera, and perhaps even Alex Rodriguez. As Flaherty and the stats say, it's a "really good" one with excellent arm action and a 9-10 mph difference in speed from his fastball.
It's less than two hours to game time. Time to head to the ballpark.
Jim Gilliam and My Dad
Thanks to Lee Sinins' ATM Reports, I learned that last Saturday was Jim Gilliam's birthday. If the former Dodgers infielder were alive, he would be 81.
I did a double take when I saw his years of birth and death. Gilliam and my Dad were born in the same year (1928) and died in the same year (1978). Their careers overlapped in Los Angeles as Dad covered the Dodgers from 1958-1968 with Gilliam a prominent member of the team for nine of those years. The Dodgers won the World Series three times during that span (1959, 1963, and 1965). Gilliam was an unsung hero in Game 7 of the 1965 Word Series, making a spectacular backhanded catch on a sharp grounder down the third base line and forcing a runner at third and saving at least one run. As I opined in Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series nearly six years ago, Gilliam's fielding gem was one of the best defensive plays in the history of the fall classic.
Toward the end of his career, Gilliam gave Dad his game-used glove, a Rawlings Trapeze six-finger model. While I have no reason to suspect that it was the same Heart of the Hide as the one he used to make that play, it doesn't much matter today as it is long gone. You see, very few people thought in terms of collector's items in those days.
John Roseboro gave Dad his catcher's mitt at about that same time. Dad would use the Gilliam glove when he played catch with us or the Roseboro mitt when he got behind the plate and caught my older brother Tom and me. Gilliam's glove was passed on to me when I needed one (as I was the logical heir, seeing that Tom was a lefty and my younger brother Gary had yet to play Little League). That's me on the left in my Lakewood Colt League All-Star uniform with the Gilliam glove posing for the family camera in our front yard in the summer of 1970.
After reviewing that photo (check out those sanitary socks and stirrups), I now realize that I was more pigeon-toed than I thought. Heck, I may have pitched beyond high school had I not thrown across my front foot like that. As with so many things, if I only knew back then what I know today . . .
Take a look at the front toe of some of the best pitchers in baseball, past and present, be it Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, or Zack Greinke. The front toe is pointed toward home plate in every case.
Oh well, that's why they made — or are making — the big bucks while leaving me in the dust reminiscing about Junior Gilliam and my Dad.
Gary turned the above photo of me into a 1970 Topps Sporting News All-Star baseball card, did the same thing with a Lakewood Village Little League All-Star photo, and gave me those two cards along with a vintage Pete Rose card in a screw-down holder with plexiglas as a Christmas present several years ago. This item, which beats the heck out of another tie, sits on my bookshelf at home.
My brother is not only creative but he is a funny guy. Prompted by an email I sent to my Mom, two brothers, and sister on Saturday morning re the Gilliam-Dad connection, Gary shared the following story: "Twenty years ago today, I was driving to Dallas from Phoenix and I was in the middle of nowhere-ville, Texas, and was listening to the A's/Giants World Series game when the earthquake struck."
Gary immediately responded: "Regarding nitpick...remember, I was in Texas...so it was two hours later (which meant in Texas, the game was in the fourth inning)!" Ha.
On a more serious note, Saturday was also my Uncle Bill's birthday. He died of cancer earlier this year. He would have been 78. An Irish Catholic, he loved Notre Dame and any team that was playing USC (even though his nephew was a USC graduate). He would have been disappointed that the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish, 34-27, for the eighth consecutive year. As it turns out, the last time Notre Dame defeated USC was when we were all together celebrating his 70th birthday at his home in Glendale in 2001.
Tagged Big Bill Donovan in a newspaper photo showing him swinging the lumber 60 years ago, he was an All-City first baseman at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa in 1949. My three cousins gave me their Dad's first baseman's mitt as a keepsake upon his death. He may have been using it in this photo dated April 1948, although it's more likely that the MacGregor G154 three-fingered "Trapper" model endorsed by Earl Torgeson is from the 1950s.
Unlike the Gilliam glove, this mitt will never be used again or misplaced. Instead, it will stay in the Lederer or Donovan household forever and a day.
May Jim Gilliam, Dad, Uncle Bill, and their gloves rest in peace.
ALCS Smackdown: Angels vs. Yankees
The Los Angeles Angels, champions of the AL West, and the New York Yankees, champions of the AL East, are about ready to step into the ring to battle for the American League Championship, or what some refer to as the heavyweight championship of Major League Baseball.
We'll let Michael Buffer introduce the combatants in the ALCS Smackdown, a preview designed to be informative, entertaining, and edgy.
"In the home field corner . . . wearing the navy blue pinstriped trunks . . . with a record of 103-59 . . . from Pelham, New York . . . Jeremy 'Touching Bases' Greeeeeeeen-house." (Jeremy dances around the ring with his arms held high.)
"In the visitors corner . . . wearing the red and white trunks with dark blue trim . . . with a record of 97-65 . . . from Long Beach, California . . . Rich 'Baseball Beat' Lederer-er-er-er." (Rich stares down his opponent while shadow boxing, showing a quick left jab and a powerful right hook, which is not to be confused with A.J. Burnett's curveball.)
"Let's get ready to rumble®!"
The bell rings several times and Jeremy and Rich walk to the center of the ring to listen to the referee's instructions. They touch gloves and return to their respective corners for last-second words of advice from their handlers.
The bell rings and Jeremy and Rich come out fighting with the latter getting in the first jab of the bout.
Rich: Let's be honest, Jeremy, your Yankees can't be too happy that the Angels beat the Red Sox in the American League Division Series last week. I mean, I gotta think everyone was secretly rooting for ... gasp ... Boston to beat the team that absolutely owns the Yankees, no?
Jeremy: I don't think my body could have physically handled the stress of another Yankees vs. Red Sox ALCS. But my question is this: how long does a team's "ownership" of another team last? Under Mike Scioscia, the Angels have seemingly established the ability to outperform their Pythag and to dominate the Yankees. But I like to think this Yankees team is different from years past, and even if Scioscia is still employing his same old philosophy, his players have changed and his team relies on different strengths and weaknesses.
Rich: A club's ownership of another team lasts until they no longer own 'em. Under Scioscia, the Angels are 53-38 (including postseason) vs. the Yankees. The Yankees don't have a losing record against any other AL team during that same span. While many players have come and gone on both sides, there's no denying that Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera & Co. are tired of losing to the Angels.
Jeremy: And the Angels have a total of zero holdovers from their first year under Scioscia. I'm not here to talk about the past, or random samples of ten games a year, for that matter. Let's take a look at some recent history. Since June 24th, incidentally the date when Brian Cashman flew down to Atlanta to rally his team, the Bombers are 67-27. That's historic. Let me repeat that. 67-27, having scored 135 more runs than the opposition over that span. Looks like Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Mo & Co. are tired of losing, period.
Rich: I wouldn't want to talk about the past if I were in your shoes either. As for recent history, I didn't know the season started on June 24th. In honor of your GM, maybe we can date everything in that subsequent period with a BC next to it. This guy sounds more like General Sherman to me. It makes for a good story to say that the Yankees marched through Georgia and the opposition after that although it excludes the fact that the Angels still won four of seven games in head-to-head competition during this "historic" streak. Let me repeat that. Four and three, having scored 44 runs to the Yankees 34.
Jeremy: But you're not denying that the Yankees are the overall superior team. And the Angels aren't getting a pitching advantage until Jered Weaver starts Game 3. Might Scioscia be over managing in an effort to avoid throwing Weaver, a righty flyball pitcher, at the New Stadium? The Yankees actually hit lefties slightly better than righties this year. I think Scioscia might be out-thinking himself this time.
Rich: Well, if Scioscia is over managing or out-thinking himself as it relates to the starting pitchers, I believe it has more to do with not going with a three-man rotation like Joe Girardi. I'd like to see John Lackey pitch on short rest in Game 4 so he can start Game 7 on normal rest. Instead, it appears as if Big John will be pitching in Games 1 and 5 only. However, if there's a lesson to be learned from the Red Sox series (or the Dodgers-Cardinals NLDS), it's that we tend to overestimate the value of starting pitching on a game-by-game basis in the postseason. These match-ups are close enough that I'm not particularly worried about any of them.
Jeremy: You're not worried about Joe Saunders, the fifth best starter on the team, possibly pitching twice in a seven-game series?
Rich: Not really. Saunders was a much more effective pitcher when he returned from the disabled list in late August. In his final eight starts, Saunders was 7-0 with a 2.55 ERA while greatly improving his strikeout (5.3 K/9), walk (2.4 BB/9), and home run (0.9 HR/9) rates. The fact that you've labeled him as the Angels' fifth-best starter says more about the team's pitching depth than anything else.
Jeremy: Well if we're overestimating the importance of starting pitching, then what are we not valuing properly? I hope it's offense, because I know the Yankees have the Angels beat there, too.
Rich: The Angels. The sabermetric community has been undervaluing the Angels for years. As you noted, Scioscia's clubs have consistently outperformed their Pythag, yet this fact tends to be scoffed at or virtually ignored.
Jeremy: So how should we value the Angels? What, specifically, are we missing?
Rich: The Angels have a style, a brand of baseball that differentiates them from the masses. Dare I say they manufacture runs as well as anybody else? They apply pressure on the opposition by putting the ball in play and running the bases aggressively, including stealing bases at opportune times and going from first to third and second to home on a single more often and at a higher rate than any other team. I find it interesting that the Angels ranked 3rd in OBP and 21st in striking out but only 18th in GIDP. Moreover, they placed 17th in BB and 11th in HR, yet scored the second-most runs in MLB. How can that be? If you want to lay it all on luck or an unsustainably high BABIP, so be it.
Jeremy: I won't peg that all on their high BABIP. But I think the Yankees can do a good job of shutting down their manufacturing of runs. Chone Figgins, who represents a very significant share of those Angel advantages you're referring to, will have to face lefties in two-thirds of his plate appearances, and he's hit .246/.325/.305 against southpaws this year. As lefties, CC Sabathia and Pettitte also do good jobs shutting down the running game, and when A.J. Burnett is on the hill, hopefully Jose Molina will be back there to cut off Angel baserunners. And by the way, the Angels did lead the league in those extra base taken stats you cited, but they were also first in outs on bases. Baseball Prospectus' baserunning metric puts it all together and has them at only a run above average this year.
Rich: Sabathia and Pettitte are 0-4 in five starts with a combined ERA of 7.06 against the Angels this year. As for shutting down the running game, the Angels stole five bases in seven attempts against these two lefties. Figgins is 10-for-34 with six walks in his career vs. CC and AP. As for Molina, you'll be giving up a lot more on offense than you'll be gaining on defense whenever he starts. You do realize that he was the Angels' third-string catcher for 6 1/2 years, right?
Jeremy: Did you see CC and Pettitte pitch last week? 15 strikeouts to one walk combined. I'd love it if the Halos tested the historic batter-pitcher matchups and batted Chone leadoff.
Rich: Oh, Figgy will lead off against CC and Pettitte, for sure, as well as vs. AJ. You can take that to the bank. He batted first in all 158 games he played. The splits haven't been quite as pronounced in years past, but you're correct in noticing that he's much more effective hitting from the left side than the right. That said, he's performed well against the two southpaws that matter most in this series and is 5-for-12 with two extra-base hits vs. your other starting pitcher. For those of you who are scoring at home, that's 15-for-46 with 6 BB vs. the Big Three. But, hey, everything but the Yankees' $200+ million payroll is just a small sample size. Out of curiosity, do you know if the Yankees are close to signing Jason Bay or Matt Holliday in time for the League Championship Series?
Jeremy: Don't need them. But I've heard John Lackey's wife has her heart set on New York.
Rich: No, that was Mark Teixeira's wife. The Teixeiras are from the east coast. Lackey, on the other hand, is from Texas. Moreover, he and his wife live in Newport Beach. I don't see them giving up that lifestyle for the Big Apple unless, of course, the difference in money is gargantuous. You know, like the Yankees' and Angels' payrolls. The Yanks pay Tex $20 million per season and the Halos pay Kendry Morales $600,000 for almost the same production. Go figure.
Jeremy: I wouldn't expect the same production from them this series. Like Figgins, Morales struggles hitting right-handed. Teixeira, on the other hand, if you found a hole in his game last year, I'd love to hear it. Only a .455 wOBA and 6.3 UZR in 54 games while with the Angels.
Rich: Teixeira can flat out rake. I would have loved it had he stayed with the Angels. But he didn't and we move on. Turning first base over to Morales hasn't been such a bad thing though and freeing up money to sign Bobby Abreu (1 x $5M) and Juan Rivera (3/$12.75M) on the cheap has worked out just fine. As for turning Morales and Figgins around, that brings Howie Kendrick (.351/.387/.532 since his recall on the Fourth of July) off the bench and leaves Torii Hunter (.336/.400/.578 vs. LHP) and Rivera (.333/.385/.645) licking their chops. Bring those lefties on.
Jeremy: I find Abreu and Rivera are a very interesting contrast of players. Rivera hits for power but can't get on base, while Abreu has lost his power but still finds his way to first. Rivera posts great defensive numbers. Abreu, not so much. But oddly, Rivera dogs plays non-stop and Abreu does nothing but hustle.
Rich: That fits. The Angels are a well-balanced ballclub. "What makes them tough is they hit, they pitch, they run, they steal, they play defense, good bullpen, good closer, good manager. I think that pretty much wraps it up." Hey, those aren't my words. Your captain said that. Not me.
Jeremy: I'm shocked, shocked to hear Derek Sanderson Jeter say something generic and diplomatic.
Rich: Yeah, he's a really swell guy. I can't wait to hear Tim McCarver slobber all over himself. Thank goodness, FOX only shows Timmy in the booth from the waist up.
Jeremy: But how about all those gritty Angels who play the Angels' brand of baseball? Thank goodness I mute my TV every time the Angels execute a sacrifice bunt. And the Rally Monkey. The horror.
Rich: Ahh, you're just jealous. However, I feel for you as I know it's tough to root for a slo-pitch softball team. Maybe the next New Yankee Stadium can be a real ballpark.
Jeremy: In slo-pitch softball, there's a limit on the amount of homers that can be hit. For this Yankees team, I don't know. And didn't Sky Andrecheck show that teams tend to benefit from playing their home games in quirky parks? I don't see why anybody should apologize for the Yankees taking advantage of their new digs.
Rich: Well, Jeremy, the smackdown is about to end and the showdown is about to begin. There's not much more I can say at this point other than the Angels and Yankees are not only playing for the right to represent the AL in the World Series but perhaps for the Team of the Decade. May the best team win.
Can't Sweep This Lesson Under the Rug
Five days into the postseason and only the Colorado Rockies-Philadelphia Phillies Division Championship Series remains in doubt. The other three series concluded on Saturday and Sunday with the Dodgers, Angels, and Yankees sweeping their opponents.
Major League Baseball and FOX must be thrilled, knowing that three of the four finalists are from the Los Angeles and New York markets. I guess it could be better if the Mets were still playing but this is about as good as it gets otherwise (with apologies to Red Sox and Cubs fans). If the Dodgers win the NLCS, it will mean either the first Freeway Series ever or the 12th World Series matchup between the team formerly from Brooklyn and the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have won eight of the previous 11 World Series clashes between these two titans.
While a Dodgers-Angels World Series may not optimize interest on the east coast, it would likely outdraw the Bay Bridge Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's in 1989. Twenty years ago, an earthquake before Game 3 caused a ten-day disruption in play. Despite the delay, the World Series ended on October 28 as the A's swept the Giants with San Francisco becoming the first team never to hold a lead at one point during the Series.
If everything goes swimmingly this year, the World Series won't end until November 1, at the earliest. It could last as late as November 5 should the Series go seven games. For weather's sake (and for other reasons), I'm rooting against a Yankees-Rockies duel that won't be decided until after Halloween.
In the meantime, there is at least one lesson to be learned from the Division Championship Series. The teams with the best starting pitchers don't necessarily win these things — even if they sport two Cy Young Award candidates (as St. Louis did with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright) or two No. 1s (like Boston's Jon Lester and Josh Beckett). Not only did the Cardinals and Red Sox lose their respective series, they didn't win a single game. Zero. Zilch. Nada. None. Instead, it was three and done for both of these clubs.
Look, I'm as guilty as the next guy in perhaps paying more attention to the top two starters than other factors, including home field advantage. I mean, I picked the Redbirds and Sox to beat the Dodgers and Angels, respectively, in five games. In our NLDS roundtable, I wrote, "My heart and even my mind says Dodgers, but I'm a sucker for the top-heavy Pujols/Holliday/Carpenter/Wainwright fearsome foursome." You might say I was overly enamored with the big names here. Shame on me.
I'll also plead guilty to choosing St. Louis and Boston partly as a hedge against my hometown teams losing. While I'm usually not the type to worry about sticking my neck out, I figured that I would be happier about the Dodgers and Angels winning than losing my predictions. That said, I still feel as if there is an important takeaway from these series. Do not overestimate (or underestimate) the strength of the starting pitchers in a Division or League Championship Series or, for that matter, a World Series. Especially based on names or reputations.
Over in the AL, Lester and Beckett finished with the fifth- and seventh-best FIPs but John Lackey and Jered Weaver placed ninth and 13th among the 30 qualified pitchers. The differences just weren't all that great. Lester's FIP for 2009 (3.15) was just over a half run better than Lackey's (3.73) while Beckett's (3.63) was slightly less than a half run lower than Weaver's (4.04).
Although beneficial, a half run per nine innings isn't insurmountable. Remember, FIP doesn't account for team defense, much less hitting and running the bases. If run prevention is 50% of the equation, pitching might be approximately 33% of the overall total. Put another way, a team can overcome a half run from pitching inferiority via hitting, baserunning, and team defense, not to mention the home field advantage that the Dodgers and Angels both held in the Division Championship Series.
I love pitching prowess. However, we shouldn't lose perspective on how tight the disparities may be as well as the other factors that impact run prevention and creation. Lastly, we should also be aware that a certain level of randomness always plays a part in such a short series.
NLDS Roundtable: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) and Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) matches two of the most storied franchises in the history of baseball. The NL Central titleist vs. the NL West champ.
The Redbirds, who lead the all-time series 1063-1030, won five out of seven this season and four of six last year. The Dodgers, in fact, have lost 14 of their last 17 games in St. Louis.
I grew up a Dodgers fan and was surprised to learn that the team's back-to-back division titles in 2008-09 were the first since 1977-78. The Bums lost the World Series both years to the Yankees but won it all in 1981 and 1988. The Cardinals, meanwhile, captured the World Series in 2006 and could tie the Red Sox for the most world championships this decade if they can prevail in 2009.
To preview the St. Louis-Los Angeles series, let's turn to Dave Allen, Sky Andrecheck, Jeremy Greenhouse, Chris Moore, Patrick Sullivan, and yours truly of the Baseball Analysts staff.
Rich: Similar to the other NLDS roundtable, let's analyze each team's hitting, pitching, and defense to determine which side should have the edge in this series. When it comes to hitting, the stats favor the Dodgers slightly. But, then again, LA doesn't have Albert Pujols on its side.
Dave: The two most important things to producing runs are not making outs and hitting for power. The Dodgers do the first really well (best OBP in the NL) and the second surprisingly poorly (in the bottom third of the NL). James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, and Russell Martin all experienced fairly signifcant drops in their power this year (as measured by ISO).
Jeremy: Loney and Martin have been humongous disappointments this year. But what Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier lack with their gloves, they more than make up for with their bats, leading the Dodgers to the top of the NL in OBP as Dave pointed out.
Sully: It's a good unit but also one that slugged .332 over the last two weeks of the season. They need to re-heat.
Rich: I think the key to the Dodgers offense is whether we see the Manny of old or an old Manny. There is a peretty big difference between the two. He may have matched up well with Albert last year but not so much this time around.
Jeremy: Yeah, that Pujols guy. He's good.
Sky: There's a lot to like about this offense and, of course, the big reason is Pujols. I think commentators have made too much of the addition of Matt Holliday. Yeah, he's been awesome, but how long can you expect that to continue? Meanwhile, Pujols is going to hit no matter who's behind him. Great pickup, but not the single reason that the Cardinals have excelled in the second half.
Sully: There is no more fearsome duo heading into the playoffs than Pujols and Holliday and beyond that pair, the Cards don't have a hole in their lineup. Don't let the pedestrian season-long totals fool you. The personnel has turned over, and the St. Louis offense is formidable.
Rich: Let's turn the discussion over to the prevention of outs with a focus on the starting pitchers, relievers, and the fielders.
Skyy: I think the postseason format favors the Cardinals, with two dominant starting pitchers. That said, I do think that Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter have pitched over their heads a bit as their numbers are quite a bit better than their career stats.
Chris: Wainwright and Carpenter will pitch three of the five games; that will be a lot of innings in the hands of Cy Young candidates. I think two of the three games will be dominated by Wainwright and Carpenter, but that it won’t be enough because St. Louis doesn’t have the offense to back it up.
Dave: Things went about as well as anyone could have hoped for St Louis' starting pitching. Carpenter returned to ace form after effectively two lost years. Wainwright continues to improve (adding more strikeouts and groundballs) as one of the game's top pitchers. And Joel Pineiro somehow found a way to stop issuing both walks and fly balls. As a whole, the Cardinals get the second most grounders of any starting rotation. Wainwright, Carpenter and Pinero lead the way, all north of 50% GB/BIP.
Sully: How about Pineiro in 2009? I know much of the talk will center on Carpenter and Wainwright, but Pineiro's 3.89 K/BB ratio leads the St. Louis starters this season.
Jeremy: I'm concerned with Pineiro's lack of ability to miss Dodger bats. However, the Dodgers do struggle against groundball pitchers.
Rich: The Dodgers didn't have any trouble missing bats this year.
Jeremy: That's right, Rich. For the first time since 2000, the Cubs did not lead the majors in strikeouts. That honor belonged to the Giants, but the Cubs and Dodgers tied for second. I think I'm in the minority, but I'd take Clayton Kershaw/Chad Billingsley over Chris Carpenter/Adam Wainwright. I love me the strikeouts.
Rich: Yes, Jeremy, that's a contrary position for sure. But who knows if Billingsley will even get a start this series? Joe Torre has decided to go with Vicente Padilla in Game 3. Boy, that would be awfully embarrassing if the ace of the staff heading into the season didn't get a call in the postseason.
Dave: Run prevention is the name of the game for the Dodgers. Their starters are second to only the Braves in ERA (3.58). They are strong one to four with Randy Wolf, Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and Billingsley all owning a FIP below 4.
Sky: I'd say LA's rotation goes six deep. Too bad for them it's only a five-game series. And Wolf is going twice. The Dodgers had a great regular season staff, but it's not necessarily going to translate in the playoffs.
Sully: It's as fascinating a mix as there is in the playoffs. Kershaw is a promising youngster who may be outpiching his peripherals. Padilla has been solid since joining the club. Game 1 starter Wolf has been way better than many realize, while Billingsley has struggled down the stretch. Stay tuned.
Rich: I think all of us would agree that the Dodgers have a fairly significant advantage as far as the bullpens are concerned, no?
Dave: The Dodgers lead the league in reliever ERA by a healthy margin (3.14 with the Giants the closest at 3.49). Jonathan Broxton leads the league in K/9 with 13.5 and is the first pitcher since Brad Lidge in 2005 to have greater than 13 K/9.
Jeremy: While the Dodgers paced the league by a fair margin in bullpen ERA, not one of their relievers has a decent walk rate. As such, that could get them in hot water when Broxton's not striking everybody out.
Chris: The one aspect I’m looking forward to most is watching LA's bullpen go to work. Ronald Belisario should line ‘em up and mow ‘em down.
Sully: Torre has no shortage of reliable options in his bullpen. How he deploys them will be something to watch.
Sky: I agree, Sully. Torre could put some of those leftover starters in the bullpen, too. I love Broxton closing and George Sherrill, Belisario & Co. setting up, the late innings advantage is going to LA big time.
Jeremy: The Cardinals have a lot of options, and Tony La Russa isn't afraid to seemingly use all of them at once. Ryan Franklin's a solid closer, Trever Miller's a great lefty, Jason Motte can get strikeouts, and Blake Hawksworth and Dennys Reyes can get grounders.
Sky: Franklin has been lights out this year. Unfortunately for the Cards, he too is in over his head. His FIP is 3.31, betraying his sub-2.00 ERA. I still do like the Cardinals pen though, as Kyle McClellan, Miller, and Reyes are serviceable relievers.
Dave: Franklin has succeded as a closer on the strength of low BABIP and HR/FB and in spite of a K/BB ratio below 2. It seems relief pitchers might have a little more control over these numbers than starters, and Franklin has had a low BABIP throughtout his career. But his 3.2% HR/FB is way out of line with his career total.
Sully: The Cards bullpen has to be a question mark heading into the post-season, especially given the way Franklin has faltered down the stretch. Will La Russa introduce America to Motte? He may have to in a big way for St. Louis to make a run.
Rich: Which team catches and throws the ball better?
Jeremy: What a disaster that would be if Torre plays Ronnie Belliard at second over Orlando Hudson. They have a terrific infield defense and ugly outfield defense but, fortunately for the Dodgers, the Cardinals as a team have a slight propensity to hit the ball on ground.
Sky: If the infield defense is a plus, outfield defense is a minus in my opinion.
Sully: Did you know that Rafael Furcal had another strong season? Yes, defense matters.
Dave: With so many ground ball pitchers, infield defense is espically important to the Cards. That makes it all the more rash that they moved Skip Schumaker from OF to 2B before the season. UZR says he has played below average, but not horribly so, -6 runs per 150 innings.
Jeremy: Schumacher's a liability at second base, but he's surrounded by plus fielders in Pujols and Brendan Ryan. Pineiro's a really solid fielder, and Yadier Molina's a good receiver too, and we too often neglect pitcher and catcher defense.
Sky: Not only can Pujols hit, but he's also a GG-caliber first baseman. Simply an amazing player.
Sully: It's a mixed bag for the Cards but as a unit they're pretty good. However, they fall short of the Dodgers defenders. Holliday and Schumaker may not win Gold Gloves anytime soon, but with standout youngsters like Ryan and Colby Rasmus, they more than hold their own.
Rich: OK, it's time to make our
Sky: The teams seem evenly matched on paper, but I think there are too many Cardinals playing over their heads this year....they've gotta come back to earth at some point. I predict it will happen this series. Dodgers in 5.
Jeremy: I agree with Sky. Dodgers in 5.
Dave: I'm going to go you one better. Dodgers in 4.
Rich: Wow, Dave's not afraid to make these bold calls. He picked the Rockies in 4 in the other NLDS.
Chris: I like the Dodgers in 4 as well.
Sully: I'll take the Dodgers over the Cardinals over the long haul but it's hard to bet against the Cardinals, who feature the two best starting pitchers in the National League post-season. St. Louis in 4.
Rich: This is a tough one for me. My heart and even my mind says Dodgers, but I'm a sucker for the top-heavy Pujols/Holliday/Carpenter/Wainwright fearsome foursome. I'll be different and say Cardinals in 5.
NLDS Roundtable: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
The National League Division Series between the Colorado Rockies (92-70) and Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) matches the wild card team against the club with the second-best record in the league. But this series is much more than that. It also pits the hottest team in the NL vs. the defending World Series champions.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in 2007 when the red-hot Rockies swept the NL East champs. Colorado tanked the following year while Philadelphia bounced back to win its first world title since 1980.
Who will prevail this year? The World Series representative from the NL in 2007 or 2008?
To preview the Colorado-Philadelphia series, let's turn to Dave Allen, Sky Andrecheck, Jeremy Greenhouse, Chris Moore, and yours truly of the Baseball Analysts staff.
Rich: All of us know that almost anything can happen in a short series, especially one between two quality teams like the Rockies and Phillies. With that caveat in mind, I'd like to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each team's hitting, pitching, and defense to determine which side should have the edge in this series. For starters, how do the offenses match up?
Dave: The Rockies are a three-true-outcomes offense, leading the majors in K/9 and BB/9 and ranking second to only the Phillies in number of HRs in the NL.
Jeremy: Yes, the Rockies lead the league in both walk percentage and strikeout percentage. They also have a decent amount of pop, ranking fifth in the Majors in ISO and HR/FB. It should be interesting because Philadelphia's pitchers have the league-worst groundball rate.
Dave: Good point, Jeremy. The GB per ball in play for the Phillies starters is under 40%. This could play a big role in a series played in two of the most HR friendly parks.
Sky: Well, Dave, with the humidor at Coors, we don't see the crackerjack numbers there anymore. They've got a decent offense with a great hitting outfield but it's largely lefty dominated, which may prove to be unfortunate given the matchup.
Dave: The Phillies haven't had any trouble scoring runs. They had four guys with more than 30 HRs, but what happened to Jimmy Rollins? He never took many walks and now that his BABIP fell out from under him he had a sub-.300 OBP this year.
Sky: Philadelphia's offense is star-laden, for sure. Like Dave, I wonder if Rollins can regain some of his form or will he continue to slump as he has all year? His offensive production has always been overrated, but he's probably better than he's shown this year.
Rich: Rollins has earned his offensive reputation more for his counting numbers than anything else. While the 2007 NL MVP has made over 500 outs in each of the past three seasons, his supporters point to the 100 runs he scored this year as well as the 43 doubles, 21 home runs, 31 stolen bases, and even the 77 runs batted in from the lead-off spot as measures of his so-called greatness. A player can put up a lot of big numbers when he gets 725 opportunities in a single season as Rollins did this year.
Jeremy: Speaking of steals, the Phillies, renowned for their power, have actually excelled on the bases with 119 SB to 28 CS and a MLB low 90 double plays.
Chris: I focus on pitching, and this series doesn’t do much for me. I don’t believe that the pitches J.A. Happ throws deserve a sub 3.0 ERA. If Charlie decides to start Pedro Martinez instead (not a bad idea in my mind), Phillies fans should start chanting “Pull him! Pull him!” well before pitch #100.
Sky: Will Manuel reveal his plan already? Happ's probably better than Martinez at this point. But he can also go out of the bullpen more easily and gives the club a much needed lefty reliever. If I'm managing the Phillies, Martinez starts Game 4.
Rich: With Brad Lidge struggling all year long, how would you describe Philadelphia's bullpen?
Sky: Shoddy. That's why they need Happ out there. How much confidence will they have in Lidge? It will take some stones to run him out there for saves in the playoffs. Reminds me of a certain 1993 closer....
Jeremy: I can't wait to see Lidge's projections for next year. This is the first year that he's had poor peripherals, which is scary, but he still is a useful part of the bullpen. I do think Ryan Madson is the better pitcher.
Dave: Over at FanGraphs, I wrote a little bit about Lidge's struggles. The whiff rate on both his fastball and slider has dropped each of the past three years, helping to explain the drop in strikeouts. The Phillies 'pen seems pretty shaky, particularly the back end.
Rich: The uniforms remain the same but the names on the backs have changed since these teams squared off in the NLDS in 2007. Just two years ago, Colorado went with Jeff Francis, Franklin Morales, and Ubaldo Jimenez, while Philadelphia countered with Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Jamie Moyer. Only two of these six pitchers are scheduled to start this year.
Jeremy: Jimenez is the most underrated elite pitcher going. Rockie starters led the league in groundball percentage, as the Rockies believe that's the solution to the Coors effect. That's possible, but having a starter in Jimenez who averages a league-leading 96 MPH on his fastball in that thin air doesn't hurt either.
Sky: Jorge de la Rosa is injured, but I don't think it hurts too much. After Jimenez, the Rockies starters are all pretty much interchangable. It's a solid staff.
Rich: I actually like de la Rosa quite a bit. He showed up well in my K/GB rankings last year. He struck out more than a batter per inning this season and was 10-2 with a 3.46 ERA in the second half. I think he will be missed.
Dave: Denver has very good starting pitching, with GBs playing a big role. They give up 51% ground balls per BIP, highest among starting rotations. This will be especially important in a series played in two home run friendly parks.
Jeremy: In case you haven't noticed, Rafael Betancourt has 29 strikeouts to five walks in 25.1 innings since joining the Rockies. He's back. Huston Street? 5.38 K/BB ratio. He's back. Alan Embree's not going to cut it as their lefty coming out of the pen, so they'd be better off sticking with exclusively righties.
Sky: Street and Betancourt are huge for Colorado.
Rich: My take is that the Rockies and Phillies may have the two worst bullpens of all the teams in the playoffs. But I would give Colorado the nod as, in addition to Street, relievers Betancourt, Joe Beimel, Matt Belisle, and even Jose Contreras were throwing much better down the stretch than their Philadelphia counterparts.
Dave: In contrast to the starters, Colorado's relievers give up the second fewest GBs of any relief staff. They offset that by minimizing walks and maximizing strikeouts and have a top three K/BB ratio as a group.
Rich: OK, we've covered hitting and pitching pretty thoroughly. Let's talk about team defense for a minute.
Dave: Over the past three years, Chase Utley has saved an average of 15 runs per 150 games on defense above the average second basemen, according to UZR. That is five runs per 150 games better than second place. He anchors a good Phillies defense.
Jeremy: Troy Tulowitzki is a pleasure to watch in the field, too.
Sky: I believe Colorado's defense is pretty average with the exception of Hawpe in RF, which UZR says is terrible. However, I'm not 100% confident in UZR assessment of defenders at Coors.
Jeremy: Hawpe has silently turned into a slightly lesser three-true-outcome version of Adam Dunn.
Sky: All that "Raul Ibanez' defense stinks" talk and he's got a UZR of 7.3. Go figure.
Jeremy: Have you taken a look at Jayson Werth's season recently? I mean UZR and +/- still rate him as a plus right fielder. He has 20 steals to 3 caught. A .382 wOBA for the second straight year. I wonder if Phillie fans know he's better than Ryan Howard.
Rich: How do you see this series playing out?
Sky: The Phillies are particularly suited to shut down Colorado's lefty lineup. Otherwise, the teams seem evenly matched. Phillies are home as well and you can't discount that - especially when the opponent is Colorado. Phillies in five.
Dave: Thanks to lots of power hitters and two of the most home run friendly parks, these two teams are far and away the two leaders in NL ISO (both above .180). Looks like it could be HR-fest. Rockies in four.
Rich: Dave is going for the upset. And in four games no less.
Jeremy: I think the series will go four games as well, but I have the Phillies winning this one.
Chris: Me, too. Philadelphia in five.
Rich: I guess I had better take a stand here. I think it could go either way but look for Jimenez to carry the Rockies to victories in Games 1 and 5. It will be quite an accomplishment if he and Colorado can pull it off as both contests will be played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
* * *
Be sure to check back later in the day to read our roundtable discussion on the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Blowing a Lead in the Last Week of the Season
According to a post by David Smith, the founder of Retrosheet, on the SABR-L message board yesterday, "If the Tigers lose to the Twins in their playoff game (today), they would become the first team to lead by 3 games with 4 to play and not win the division (or league). There have been five previous instances of a team having a lead greater than 2 games with 7 or fewer games to play and not being able to finish it off. They are:
Team Lead Date Games Left Winner Dodgers 2.5 9-24-1951 7 Giants Dodgers 3 9-24-1962 6 Giants Blue Jays 2.5 9-28-1987 5 Tigers Dodgers 2.5 9-25-1996 4 Padres Mets 2.5 9-23-2007 7 Phillies
A lifelong Dodgers fan, Smith notes that "you will hopefully excuse me for seeing a depressing pattern here."
While the Dodgers have been prone to blowing leads in the past, it's all on the Tigers this year. For the sake of avoiding infamy, I hope Detroit wins.
On the other hand, my fantasy baseball team is in first place by the slimmest of margins (0.25 points over second and 0.75 points over third), the closest finish in our league's 30+ year history. Our league uses CBS Sportsline and our commissioner was informed in an email exchange by an apparently ill-informed staffer last weekend that the site's fantasy season ended on Sunday, irrespective of makeup games and tiebreakers. I was proclaimed the winner after the final out was recorded in the last game of the "regular" season and received congratulatory emails from several competitors.
However, it all changed yesterday afternoon when CBS Sportsline posted the following missive on its message center.
As a result, I'm going to have to sweat it our for another day. There's good news and bad news for me. I have Scott Baker in my lineup. As such, I will pass the team directly ahead of me in innings and pick up a full point if he can complete three innings and jump ahead of the team two above me and record two points for 6 2/3 IP. However, my team's WHIP currently stands at 1.273, .001 ahead of the third-place club. As such, I could easily lose a point if Baker allows too many hits and walks in too few innings.
Stay with me here. Although the team in second place doesn't really have any skin in today's game (unless Justin Verlander or Nick Blackburn pitch in relief), the club in third place has Michael Cuddyer and is close enough in doubles/triples, home runs, runs scored, and RBI that he could gain enough points to leapfrog me if Cuddyer goes off.
Did I mention that even the fourth-place team in our standings is within striking distance and has Jason Kubel and Brandon Inge? He could pick up a point if they combine for two runs scored and perhaps catch me should Baker falter.
If you're not a Tigers or Twins fan, please root for me. I mean, I don't want to pull a Detroit and blow the lead.
The Playoffs Will Wait Another Day For Some (Literally)
The regular regular season is over. It's now time for the third straight year of a one-game tiebreaker to determine the eighth and final participant in the postseason.
After 162 games, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins are tied for first place in the American League Central with 86 wins and 76 losses. The teams head to the Metrodome for a title tilt on Tuesday. If the contest is like the tiebreakers in 2007 (Colorado Rockies edged the San Diego Padres, 9-8) and 2008 (Chicago White Sox shut out the Twins, 1-0), it means the game will be decided by one run. Heck, even the previous tiebreaker in 1999 (New York Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds, 5-4) was decided by one run.
Hard to believe but the Tigers are looking to win their first division title since 1987. When Detroit lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, the Jim Leyland-led club finished second to the Twins in the AL Central and advanced into the postseason as the wild card team. Minnesota, on the other hand, has won four division titles this decade but lost the tiebreaker last year and has gone 3-13 in its last four playoff series. Of course, Joe Mauer, who led the AL in AVG (.364), OBP (.442), and SLG (.586) this season, didn't perform in those postseason series in 2002, 2003, and 2004.
We're only talking about one game but Mauer could be the difference maker for the Twins this year. However, he struggled against Detroit's scheduled starter Rick Porcello during the season, going 1-for-9 with no extra base hits and only one walk. Tomorrow's start will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the 20-year-old Porcello's life. Look for the first round draft pick in 2007 to try and pound the lower half of the strike zone with his two-seam fastball in the hopes of keeping the ball on the ground as he has done so well throughout his rookie season, leading the AL in GB% at 54.4%.
Scott Baker will head to the mound for the Twins. He is an extreme flyball pitcher, ranking second (behind only Jered Weaver) in the AL in FB% at 46.6%. The righthander succeeds by throwing strikes (7th lowest BB/9 in the AL) and getting more than his fair share of punch outs (12th at 7.42 K/9). Porcello, on the other hand, had the second-lowest K/9 rate (4.42) in the league. The matchup should be an interesting contrast in styles, as colleague Dave Allen describes in the article below.
Meanwhile, not only are the Yankees in the dark about which team they will be facing in the ALDS, but the dates of the two series are yet to be determined. New York, by virtue of having the best record in the league, has the option of picking between a seven-day and eight-day schedule (Wed-Fri-Sun-Mon-Wed or Thu-Fri-Sun-Mon-Wed). The decision is due one hour after NY's playoff opponent has been determined. The Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox will default to the schedule that the Yankees don't pick.
It says here that the Yankees will opt for the longer format, which will force the winner of the Tigers and Twins tiebreaker to play back-to-back games in different cities while the home team rests up. That means the Angels and Red Sox will likely play Thursday and Friday in Anaheim, Sunday and Monday (if needed) in Boston, and Wednesday (if needed) back in Anaheim.
If the truth be known, the suspense seems a little bit silly.
"This Stuff's Harder Than It Looks"
Five years ago, I wrote an article after witnessing via MLB Extra Innings "two of the ten best pitchers in the history of baseball, one of the most underrated pitchers of the past 15 years, the favorite to win this year's American League Cy Young Award, and two of the most highly prized pitching arms in the game." In order, the six pitchers were Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Johan Santana, Zack Greinke, and Scott Kazmir.
Greinke was in the midst of his rookie season and Kazmir had been in the majors less than a month. In the comments section, my former partner Bryan Smith asked me, "Well Rich, we know you've now seen Zack and Kazmir pitch this year. You start a team, who do you want? And...let's throw in Ankiel."
I responded as follows:
I can't have all three? Boy, you're no fun.
I followed up my comments by inviting readers to "feel free to jump into the discussion." More than ten writers, analysts, and bloggers ranked Greinke, Kazmir, and Ankiel with a couple mentioning Felix Hernandez, who had yet to make his MLB debut, and Jose Capellan, who had just made his MLB debut. The rankings are well worth reviewing.
Prompted by an email from Jonah Keri, Rob Neyer revisited the post in a Monday Mendozas a year ago August:
• From the Department of Forecasting: From almost four years ago, this discussion of some of the most impressive young starting pitchers of 2004. The general consensus of the commenters, most of whom are among the more highly regarded analysts on the Web, had them ranked in this order:
At that moment in time, one could have easily argued that Kazmir was the most accomplished of the three and his lack of respect may likely have been what prompted Jonah and Rob to take a second look at our rankings.
A year later, there is no question that the consensus got it right, at least with respect to Greinke. And I'm happy to report that I was among those who ranked Greinke numero uno. In fact, I wouldn't change my order (Greinke, Kazmir, and Ankiel) at all, nor do I think anybody would dispute these rankings with the benefit of hindsight. However, I'm quite certain that a handful of participants would like to have a "do over."
While I got the order right, I missed on Greinke in the sense that I liked him more for his polish than his stuff. As I stated in the body of the article, "He is an artist in the mold of Greg Maddux. The youngster changes speeds, works both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down, and, most importantly, throws strikes." I did not foresee him increasing the average speed of his fastball by nearly five mph in a matter of a few years nor did I envision that his heater would become the most effective in the game. Add Greinke's filthy slider and changeup and his combination of pitches is perhaps the best among all pitchers today.
Kazmir has been pretty exceptional in his own right, fashioning a 3.85 career ERA while striking out 9.3 batters per nine over 865 innings. Meanwhile, Ankiel hasn't pitched since 2004, throwing a grand total of 10 innings since our discussion five years ago.
There are a few reminders here. Pitchers can get better, worse, or injured. Some like to point to the fact that "there's no such thing as a pitching prospect" (or TNSTAAPP for short). That's fine. While overly simplistic, it warns that there's no sure thing more than anything else. Put me in charge and I would change the meaning of TNSTAAPP to stand for: "There's no sure thing as a pitching prospect." In other words, there are pitching prospects out there. There are just no sure things. Greinke included.
For those with short memories, Greinke led the league in losses while posting a 5.80 ERA in 2005, underwent "social anxiety" and nearly quit baseball, spent almost all of 2006 in the minors and the better part of 2007 in the majors as a reliever, and didn't break through until last year. Zack tried the patience of those who saw great things in him, but he has delivered in a big way with one of the greatest single seasons ever.
Greinke Brings Back Memories of Blyleven's Forgotten Season in 1973
In his Monday Mendozas, Rob Neyer weighs in on Zack Greinke and the American League Cy Young Award on the heels of the 25-year-old righthander's back-to-back 15-strikeout and one-hit games last week.
• After yet another gem from Zack Greinke, Joe Posnanski tweeted thusly:
Well, Rob, while perhaps not quite Greinkesque, Bert Blyleven finished first in K/BB and SHO, second in ERA and SO, third in CG, and fourth in HR/9 in 1973, yet finished SEVENTH in the CYA voting. Blyleven was also first in ERA+ and second in WHIP. Despite a body of work that was similar to Greinke's this year, only one writer placed Blyleven on his ballot that season. Yes, you read that right. Only one writer voted for the guy who may have been "the best pitcher in the league." And that writer listed him third.
You see, on the same stats that are now being discussed to highlight Greinke's pitching prowess this season, Blyleven should have finished first in the CYA balloting in 1973.
Here is how Blyleven compared to the five starting pitchers who placed higher than him in the voting that season (John Hiller, a reliever, finished fourth):
This comparison isn't meant to take anything away from Greinke, who has had a fantastic season. Instead, it just goes to show what a great year Blyleven had in 1973. But he never got his due back then (nor in several other campaigns), and the failure on the part of the writers to properly acknowledge Bert's accomplishments during his playing days has continued to haunt him a dozen years into his Hall of Fame candidacy.
The writers only have three years to go to finally get it right.
Team of the Decade?
Tomorrow not only marks the last month of the current season but the final month of the decade (except, of course, for the postseason in October).
As we wind down the first ten years of the 21st century, which clubs have the best shot of being crowned the "Team of the Decade?" While looking at anything in terms of decades is heavily influenced by the start and stop dates, it can still be a fun exercise nonetheless.
Although there are, at most, only a handful of candidates that can lay claim to the Team of the Decade, there is no clear-cut winner at this time. Interestingly, six World Series champions during the decade of 2000-2009 are in line to make the playoffs this season. As a result, there are five teams that could win a second World Series title and a sixth team that could win its third world championship.
If the Red Sox (2004 and 2007) win a third World Series title this October, then there will be no debate as to the Team of the Decade. However, if the New York Yankees (2000) or St. Louis Cardinals (2006) win the championship this year, then it would be difficult not to anoint the Yanks or Cards as the Team of the Decade.
A case could possibly be made on behalf of the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (2002) should the current AL West leader capture its second World Series title of the decade. At best, the Angels' margin of victory would be ever so slim over the Red Sox if the Halos were to win it all this year.
Although the Philadelphia Phillies (2008) and Chicago White Sox (2005) could win a second championship this decade, it would be impossible for either club to leapfrog Boston for this honor as neither team would have as many wins or playoff appearances as the Red Sox.
Let's take a look at the pertinent facts involved in designating the Team of the Decade. We'll start off ranking clubs by wins (2009 totals through Sunday, August 30).
As shown, the Yankees lead by a fairly sizable margin over their division rivals. The gap works out to an average of more than four wins per season. In addition, the Bronx Bombers are the only team with three 100-win seasons thus far and the lone club projected to reach triple digits in victories in 2009.
The Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Oakland A's have each had two 100-win seasons this decade. Each of the top six clubs have had five 90-win seasons. It's easy for fans with short memories to forget the Braves and A's but take a look at how successful they were from 2000 through 2005 (ATL) or 2006 (OAK).
The San Francisco Giants are the only other team to win 90 games in a single season five times. Of note, the Giants performed their feat five years in a row (2000-2004) but have not won more than 76 since then (although the club is on pace to win 89 this year).
For what it's worth, the Seattle Mariners started the decade on fire, winning at least 90 games in each of the first four years (with a MLB decade-high of 116 in 2001).
At the other end of the spectrum, check out the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Baltimore Orioles. All three teams are fighting for the dubious honor of the "Worst Team of the Decade." None of these clubs have made the postseason and only the Royals have had a winning season (2003) during the opening decade of the century.
Next, we'll take a close look at the World Series, pennant, and division champs, as well as the wild card winners year-by-year.
As discussed in the opening, the Red Sox are the only team to have captured two World Series titles thus far. The Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Cardinals, and Phillies (and possibly the Florida Marlins if they qualify for the postseason this year) could win a second championship as well.
NYY (3), BOS and STL (2 each) are the only clubs to appear in more than one World Series this decade. The Red Sox are 2-for-2 while the Yankees and Cardinals have each lost at least one World Series.
The Yankees have won seven division titles, the Braves have six, the Cardinals five, and the Angels, A's, and the Minnesota Twins four each. Boston's four wild cards rank first this decade.
All in all, the Yankees lead the majors with eight postseason appearances during the first nine years of the century. New York is followed by the Cardinals and Braves (6 each) and the Red Sox, Angels, and A's (5 each).
Here is a summary of the qualifications of the leading candidates to become the Team of the Decade.
If Los Angeles wins it all this year, the case for the Angels will be as follows:
If St. Louis wins it all this year, the case for the Cardinals will be:
Thanks to Brian Gunn for providing the inspiration to this piece.
Some Like It Hot
There were two trades during the past ten months that involved three of the hottest hitters in professional baseball.
Netting Holliday out of the equation, the A's exchanged Gonzalez, Street, and Smith for Wallace, Mortensen, and Peterson. While Street has been a superb reliever for most of the five years he has spent in the big leagues, Gonzalez and Wallace were the keys to these two trades.
As it turns out, Holliday, Gonzalez, and Wallace have been tearing up their respective leagues. Since the All-Star break, Gonzalez and Holliday rank first and third in the majors in OPS.
Gonzalez and Wallace, on the other hand, are not household names. At least not yet.
Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks as an amateur free agent in August 2002 and traded to Oakland (along with Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith) for Dan Haren in December 2007, Gonzalez had a disappointing rookie year with the A's in 2008. He hit .242/.273/.361 and struck out 81 times in 316 plate appearances. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder struggled against southpaws (.188/.207/.247) more than anything else. The 2005 Midwest League MVP showed glimpses of power with 22 doubles in only half a season's work.
The Rockies acquired Gonzalez during the off-season in the hope that a change in home ballparks from pitcher-friendly McAfee Coliseum in Oakland to hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado would allow him to fulfill his vast potential. He began the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs and earned a promotion to the parent club after putting up a .339/.418/.630 line in April and May. However, Gonzalez failed to hit after being recalled in early June but his torrid second half has helped him elevate his overall rate stats to .287/.356/.539 in 191 plate appearances.
Wallace is more valuable to an American League team like the A's where he can play first base or DH than the Cardinals where he was blocked by Albert Pujols at 1B and forced to succeed at the hot corner, a position that isn't ideally suited for a 6-1, 245-pound body. Although Baseball America and MiLB.com list him at 6-2, 205, Baseball-Reference.com has him at 6-1, 245, the same as his college profile at Arizona State. I'm not sure about the loss of that inch, but there is no question about the added weight. In fact, Wallace admitted to weighing 245 in an interview last January. He is very thick through the middle, including massive thighs as evidenced by these videos.
Nonetheless, the youngster (he turns 23 on Wednesday) can flat out hit. He was a two-time Pac-10 Triple Crown winner and Player of the Year in 2007 and 2008. A former UCLA player told me that Wallace was the toughest hitter the Bruins faced in his four-year career, a span that included Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jed Lowrie (boy, the Red Sox sure love those Pac-10 guys), as well as Yonder Alonso in a non-conference series that I actually witnessed at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood a few years ago.
Interestingly, Wallace, who prepped at Justin-Siena HS in Napa, California, listed the Oakland A's as his favorite team and Eric Chavez as his favorite player when he was at ASU. If Wallace doesn't get the call in September when the MLB rosters are expanded, he will surely get the opportunity to play for his favorite team and perhaps replace his favorite player at third base next spring. Depending on how quickly Chris Carter (.335/.434/.570 at Double-A Midland) develops, Wallace could also earn the starting job at first base or as the designated hitter. One way or the other, look for him to make an impact in Oakland next season.
For the record, Holliday, Gonzalez, and Wallace have run into some difficulties the past week. Holliday is just 6-for-33 in his last nine games, including 3-for-19 since fouling a pitch off his leg a week ago today. Gonzalez missed Sunday's game after suffering a puncture wound to his left hand. He is hopeful of returning to the lineup during Colorado's three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday through Thursday. Wallace cooled off considerably this past weekend, going 2-for-12 with no extra-base hits and a strikeout in each of the three games.
Some like it hot. Or not.
This Week in Baseball
In honor of This Week In Baseball, the longest running sports anthology show in the history of television, we bring you news and highlights from around Major League Baseball.
Our "TWIB Notes" begin with the just concluded series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Whereas Boston swept New York in three games at home in April, two on the road in May, and three at home in June, the Yankees got the broom out this time and took four straight from the Red Sox at
The Yankees outscored their division rivals 25-8 en route to the four-game sweep. The victories included a 13-6 pounding in the opener, two shutouts (including a 15-inning, five-hour-and-33-minutes marathon on Friday night), and a come-from-behind 5-2 win on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in the finale.
New York (69-42), which has now won seven in a row, has opened up a 6.5 game lead over Boston (62-48), losers of six straight, in the American League East. With six more head-to-head games on the schedule, the division is far from settled. The Red Sox play 29 of their final 52 games at Fenway Park (where the club is 35-17), while the Yankees are slated to play 26 of their remaining 51 games on the road (30-25).
Boston, however, is no sure thing for the postseason as it is tied with Texas for the Wild Card berth (with Tampa Bay only 1.5 games back). The Rangers took two out of three from the Angels over the weekend and are now just 3.5 games behind in the AL West.
With a pair of home runs, Alex Rodriguez passed Harmon Killebrew into ninth place on the all-time list with 574. He has gone deep more often than any other righthanded hitter in the history of the AL.
Speaking of long balls, Mark Reynolds has slugged eight HR in the past nine games (including four consecutive) and is now tied for the MLB lead with Albert Pujols at 36. The Diamondbacks third baseman also ranks second in the NL in SLG (.613), third in OPS (.990), fourth in RBI (80), fifth in R (75), and eighth in SB (20).
Since the All-Star break, Reynolds has put up a rate line of .407/.480/.895. Over the course of the season, he has hit equally well at home (.289/.381/.598) and on the road (.290/.372/.628). Other than Mark's MLB-leading number of strikeouts (151, which is on pace to break the single-season record he set last year), there is little to find fault in his numbers. Sure, some people will point to his .371 BABIP as being unsustainable, but do these skeptics realize that he has hit .358 on balls in play throughout his career? Let's just say he's making it work with lots of whiffs.
While on the subject of home runs and strikeouts, Adam Dunn deserves recognition for reaching 30 HR for the sixth consecutive year. He is on pace to hit 44 in 2009, which would mark the sixth straight season of slugging 40 or more. Babe Ruth holds the record with seven (1926-1932).
Adam's team is far from done as Washington (40-72) has won eight games in a row. As such, we can no longer assume that the Nationals will have the first pick in next year's draft, at least not with Pittsburgh (45-66) on an eight-game losing streak and Kansas City (43-68, including 3-9 in its last dozen contests) and Baltimore (46-65, 2-8 in the last ten) stumbling down the stretch as well.
Depending on whether Washington comes to terms with Stephen Strasburg before the signing deadline a week from today, the Nats may wind up with the first two picks in the 2010 draft (No. 1 for having the worst record and the second overall choice as compensation for not signing Strasburg). In the meantime, the clock is ticking as more than half of the first-round draftees have not signed with their new clubs as yet. Look for discussions to pick up this week but don't hold your breath waiting for many announcements prior to the deadline at 12:01 a.m. on August 18.
Question for the Day
Do you believe Strasburg will sign with the Nationals? If so, how much do you think he will get?
Scott Boras is allegedly asking for $50 million while the Nationals reportedly are trying to keep the amount closer to the all-time record of $10.5M that Mark Prior received in 2001.
Talking Baseball Stats
We discussed counting stats with an emphasis on the pros and cons of RBI. I mentioned the importance of context, opportunities, and outs.
We should be counting the number of outs. There aren't very many people out there who know who's leading the league in outs or who's leading the league in the fewest outs created. We always count things — hits, doubles, triples, home runs — but we really should be counting how often a player makes an out because a team only has 27 outs; that's the currency of baseball and giving up an out is very costly to a team. I wish we all paid more attention not only to the positive side of counting stats but the negative side as well.
I was also asked about whether players such as Derek Jeter are "clutch" (which is one of my least favorite subjects) and OPS as it relates to positions. The final ten minutes were focused on pitching stats, including strikeouts, walks, and home runs (and groundball rates). Due to the location of the radio station as well as Dave Allen's insightful piece on Friday, we examined Joel Pineiro in depth and the difference between pitching to contact and missing bats.
I like guys who strike batters out because then you don't need any defensive players behind you. But, that said, a pitcher like Joel Pineiro can succeed if he throws strikes, which he throws strikes better than anybody else in baseball this year — he's walking fewer batters than anyone else — and if he also keeps the ball on the ground. He's keeping the ball on the ground about as well as anybody else in baseball this year. Both his walk and groundball rates are career bests right now and that's why he's doing so well this year. But his margin of error is really pretty small. If Pineiro doesn't have his pinpoint control and he gets that ball up a little bit, he's going to be more apt to give up home runs, which he hasn't been giving up at all this year. I believe he's only given up three home runs all season, which is just incredible. But, in years past, for example, he has walked more batters and given up more home runs. So, if he is a little bit off, he's going to get hit because he doesn't throw pitches that miss bats.
While Wiese enjoys and appreciates advanced metrics, his sidekick is a non-believer. After we exchanged thank yous at the end of the segment, Barrale concluded with the following diatribe.
I still say you get a better idea how a guy plays and how a team plays by just watching them. You don't need all these statistical numbers. The only reason why they have them is because people can't see the games and so they try to come up with their own conclusions by just adding and subtracting and dividing and multiplying numbers.
The audio file can be accessed through The Daily Rewind this weekend or by clicking on the play button directly below.
Analyzing the Last of the Deadline Deals
In a transaction that wasn't consummated until minutes before the trading deadline at 4 p.m. ET last Friday, the San Diego Padres sent Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox for Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, and Adam Russell.
Although the trade wasn't popular with the San Diego media, I actually understand this deal more from the perspective of the Padres than the White Sox for three reasons:
1. The Friars are rebuilding for the future and trying to load up on good, young arms that can help the club in 2010 and beyond.
2. At $52 million over the next three seasons, Peavy's contract ($15M in 2010, $16M in 2011, $17M in 2012, and a $22M club option in 2013 with a $4M buyout) was a liability for an ownership short on cash.
3. Peavy is currently on the disabled list with a strained tendon in his right ankle and not expected back until late August. The unanimous 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner threw a 50-pitch bullpen on Sunday but will need a few more such sessions and a couple of minor league starts before joining Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Jose Contreras in the White Sox rotation for the final five weeks or so.
Peavy is a fantastic pitcher when healthy but, like an overpriced stock, may not be a good value at this point. He is clearly worth more to a team like the White Sox than the Padres.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Richard has begun to pay dividends for his new team, allowing one run on two hits over 5 2/3 innings in his NL debut on Saturday. The former University of Michigan backup quarterback should benefit from a change in leagues and home ballparks. The soon-to-be 26-year-old lefthander throws a low-90s fastball with sinking action plus a slider and change, and figures to be a mainstay in San Diego's rotation for the next several years.
Poreda, however, was the key to this deal. A first-round draft pick out of the University of San Francisco in 2007, the 6-6, 240-pound southpaw is a hard-throwing, groundball-inducing machine. He won't turn 23 until October yet has succeeded at every level, including 10 games and 11 innings in relief for the White Sox earlier this season. Poreda has started 48 of his 52 games in the minors and will be given a long look at one of the five spots in the rotation next spring.
The most intriguing pitcher in the group may be Carter, a 6-6, 22-year-old righthander who leads the minors in strikeouts with 143 in 118 innings (10.9 K/9). A project coming out of Old Dominion as a 13th-round draftee in 2008, Carter has whiffed 232 batters in 176 2/3 IP thus far in the low minors. According to Paul DePodesta, his fastball "runs anywhere between 87 and 93 mph" and Baseball America credits him with "a swing-and-miss curveball." He is being brought along slowly and is unlikely to reach Petco Park until 2012.
Russell, 26, was converted into a reliever in 2008. At 6-8 with a mid-90s heater, he is another tall, hard-throwing pitcher. His secondary pitches and command aren't particularly special although his curveball "rates as a plus pitch at times" in the words of Baseball America. He reported to Triple-A Portland and could be brought up to the bigs for a look-see in September when the rosters are expanded.
The Padres have now made two trades during the past month that have landed them seven young power arms, including four that had pitched in the majors prior to their arrival in San Diego. In addition to Richard, Poreda, Carter, and Russell, San Diego added Sean Gallagher, Ryan Webb, and Craig Italiano in a July 5 deal that sent outfielder Scott Hairston to the Oakland A's. Although Gallagher was the PTBNL in that 3-for-1 trade, he is just 23 years old and has already pitched parts of three seasons in the majors. The righthander has a terrific minor-league record (39-17, 2.73 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 0.5 HR/9) but needs to improve his command and makeup to reach his potential.
In Peavy, the White Sox get an eight-year veteran who is only 28 years old. General manager Kenny Williams pursued him in May but was unable to convince Peavy to waive the no-trade provision in his contract. The righthander could be a difference maker down the stretch if he can get his legs back in shape and regain his arm strength. However, let's not forget that Peavy (whose career ERA is a full run lower at home than on the road) will be going from the NL to the AL and from a pitcher's park (Petco Park) to a hitter's park (U.S. Cellular Field). Think Matt Holliday when he went from the Colorado Rockies and Coors Field to the Oakland A's and McAfee Coliseum.
While it may take two or three years before the Padres are competing for division titles and wild card berths again, management is focused on building an organization with more athleticism, depth, and sustainability than before. With the foregoing in mind, look for the Padres to sign high school draft picks Donavan Tate, Everett Williams, and Keyvius Sampson in the next two weeks and possibly move Adrian Gonzalez, Heath Bell, and Chris Young during the off-season or next summer if the price is right. Fans will need to be as patient as the ownership and front office, but the change in direction is likely to pay off in due time.
A Tribute to the Society for American Baseball Research
The Society for American Baseball Research meets for its annual convention in Washington, D.C. this week (July 30-August 2).
Known as SABR 39, the schedule includes 42 research presentations by members, including incoming president Andy McCue (American League Expansion of 1961), Mike Emeigh (Bullpen Evolution, 1960-2008), Retrosheet founder David W. Smith (Does Running the Bases Harm Pitching Performance?), Steve Treder (The Value Production Standings, 1946-2008), Chris Jaffe (The Baseball Philosophy of Charles Comiskey), Phil Birnbaum (Do Players Try Harder When a Big Goal is in Sight?), and Mark Armour (A Tale of Two Umpires).
The schedule of events also includes MLB and Negro Leagues player panels, more than 20 committee meetings, a Library of Congress presentation, Retrosheet's annual meeting, an awards luncheon, and three ballgames (Red Sox @ Orioles on Friday night, the Potomac Nationals on Saturday evening, and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs on Sunday afternoon.
One of the many benefits of being a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (which I originally joined during the early 1980s and returned more than five years ago) is access to the organization's SABR-List Digest, a moderated research and information forum that is circulated via email to subscribers on a daily basis. In honor of SABR and its annual convention, I wanted to share highlights of the SABR-L for the past week.
1. September 6, 1995: Cal Ripken breaks Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record at Camden Yards
2 (tie). 1954: Major league baseball returns to Baltimore as the transplanted St. Louis Browns become the new Orioles
2 (tie). April 6, 1992: Camden Yards opens, the first of the nouveau-retro style ballpark copied by major- and minor-league teams since
4. October 15, 1970: Orioles win the World Series at Memorial Stadium; Brooks Robinson named Series MVP
5. October 9, 1966: Orioles first World Series championship at Memorial Stadium
6 (tie). February 6, 1895: Babe Ruth is born in Baltimore
6 (tie). 1971: The Orioles boast four 20-game winners in their starting rotation: Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson
8. December 9, 1965: Frank Robinson, an “old 30,” joins Baltimore in a trade with Cincinnati for Milt Pappas, and wins the Triple Crown in ‘66
9. 1988: The Orioles’ 21-game losing streak to start the season
10. 1901: Major league baseball returns to Baltimore as the Orioles join the American League