Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rickey and the Hall

I am coming out of my offseason seclusion to write a little about Rickey Henderson. The first baseball season I remember is 1981, although I have some vague memories of a pack of 1980 baseball cards. Anyway, my formative baseball years were the 1980's and my favorite player (non-Cardinals division) was Rickey Henderson.

I can't really explain my fascination with Rickey, but I think it had something to do with an SI article that came out during the summer of 1982, when he was chasing the all-time single season stolen base record. I read that article and Rickey became my favorite.

Despite his sometimes clownish public persona, Rickey was a pretty good player to have as a favorite. He dominated the game with his speed, his patience at the plate and his power. He reached the 3,000 hit plateau, scored more runs than any player in history and drew more walks than any player in history not named Barry Bonds.

He is eligible this year for the Hall of Fame for the first time and he is a no-doubter*.

*His acceptance speech should be one of the greatest moments in television history. The guy has lived his whole life just to get up on that stage and tell everyone how great he is. It should be pure entertainment, unintentional comedy at its greatest.

My favorite statistic in Rickey's career is the line he put up during the 1989 playoffs. The Yankees had traded him back to Oakland during the season and he put up spectacular numbers in leading them to the title. He won the ALCS MVP and he should have won the World Series MVP (although Dave Stewart, who won, was outstanding in his two starts). Here is his combined stat line for the two series:

.441/.568/.941 3 HR 8 RBI 11 SB 12 R 9 BB

He did all of that in 9 games and 34 at bats. In addition, he hit three triples and two doubles. That's 8 extra base hits in 9 games! There was no way to stop him. Throw him a strike and he was going to pummel it; walk him and he was going to steal second and maybe third. He was absolutely on fire.

It didn't end there, either. His best complete regular season was in 1990, when he won the AL MVP with a .325/.439/.577 line over the complete season (he also stole 65 bases and hit 28 home runs).

Rickey was an amazing player and a unique player. His combination of patience, power and speed has been unparalleled in baseball history and we are unlikely to see another player with his skillset. I look forward to seeing lots of Rickey highlights this summer in the build up to the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Watched: Game 5 of the World Series

The rain delay/game suspension was an odd twist to the World Series that took away some of the momentum and excitement of the event. The final three and a half innings of Game 5 were exciting, though, and it was fun to watch.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the way this series turned out. Jaime Moyer and Joe Blanton more than held their own and the Rays offense never really woke up in this series. Congratulations to the Phillies. If you had told me before the season started that the Phillies would win the World Series, I think I would have accepted that. They have built a solid team from top to bottom, and although I still think that their starting pitching is a little shallow, they certainly went into the season as one of a handful of favorites.

The Rays, on the other hand, were a bit of a surprise. A lot of people thought that they would be a much improved team, but most thought they were still a year or so away from really contending. Despite their loss, they should be positioned to be a contender for the foreseeable future - but how they handle their pre-free agency position players will be interesting to watch.

On another note, I love it when a World Series ends with a strikeout, as it did last night. Sure, a walk-off homer is more dramatic, but there is something classic about the strikeout-catcher/pitcher bearhug-team dogpile on the pitching mound. I don't have any particular fondness for the Phillies, but I enjoyed watching them celebrate last night. Fox (who deservedly gets a lot of flack for its coverage) did a great job of replaying the strikeout/initial celebration from every conceivable angle: from the CF camera, from the dugout camera, focused on Howard, focused on Utley, focused on the owner's box, focused on the players in the dugout, etc. I thought that was very well done - particularly that neither Joe Buck or Tim McCarver were pontificating over the replays.

Again, congrats to the Phillies and their fans.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Watched: 10/23/08 World Series Game Two

It almost seems like the World Series is unfolding like the first couple of rounds of a boxing match. The teams are feeling each other out and looking for weaknesses. We've had pretty solid pitching and sloppiness in the other facets of the game. They have been two entertaining games to watch, but I think we are still waiting for the compelling storyline to emerge. Perhaps a change in venue will help.

I think both teams can take away positives from the two games in Florida. The Phillies have to be happy that they were able to split the first two on the road and swing home field advantage in their favor. All they need to do is hold serve at home and the World Series is theirs. On the other hand, the Rays have to feel like they are in good shape mainly because they have faced the Phillies best two pitchers and came away with a split. As I said yesterday, the Phillies starting pitching quality really drops off after Cole Hamels, but even moreso after Hamels and Myers. Blanton is just a little better than league average and while Moyer's story is great, he is far from a shutdown pitcher at this point.

My prediction is that the Rays win two of the next three (probably losing Game 5 to Hamels) and then head back to Florida with a 3-2 series lead. Then the Phillies will come up big in Game 6, but the Rays will win it all in Game 7.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Watched: World Series Game One

It was a great game - a well pitched battle between two young lefthanders. Both Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels looked great and both bullpens were fired up and throwing smoke.

Here's the thing, though, Cole Hamels is by far the Phillies best pitcher while Scott Kazmir, while an excellent young pitcher, is only one of several good young pitchers with the Rays. I think the pitching matchups from here on out heavily favor the Rays. So, while it was a disappointing start for the Rays, I think the advantage is still theirs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Today the Cardinals announced that they would not be exercising the team option on Mark Mulder for next year. This was a no-brainer, as the team would have owed him $11M for 2009 and he hasn't been healthy since sometime in 2005.

The trade for Mulder was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. He never produced for St. Louis and Danny Haren, half of what they gave up for Mulder, became a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter for Oakland and Arizona and will probably get some Cy Young votes this year. The other player involved in the trade, Daric Barton, struggled this season when given Oakland's starting job at first base, but he is still only 22 years old and has a promising future.

The coda to this story is that there has been a lot of talk on blogs and in the St. Louis paper about the Cardinals perhaps making a similar trade this offseason for the Padres Jake Peavy. The proposed trade would have top prospect Colby Rasmus going to San Diego along with two young pitching prospects. There is no saying whether such a trade would turn out to be as big of a disaster as the Mulder trade, but it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will pay the price necessary to get Peavy with the risk that it could blow up in their face. Again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watched: 10/19/08 Game 7 Rays vs. Red Sox

What a fantastic game. Matt Garza was fired up from the start, pumping fastballs up there at 94-95 mph. When Pedroia jumped on one in the first inning for a homer, I thought the Red Sox were going to finish off their comeback from being down three games to one. But Garza didn't allow another hit until the seventh inning.

Garza's curveball (which actually looked a bit slurvy to me) was his putaway pitch as he typically got ahead throwing fastballs past the hitters and finished them off by dropping in the curve. When Wheeler relieved Garza I was again afraid that the Red Sox were going to stage another comeback, but rookie phenom David Price emphatically slammed the door shut. He looked like the #1 overall pick last night and I would be surprised if Tampa doesn't use him as their closer the rest of the way.

A lot of writers are talking about how the World Series will get crappy t.v. ratings, but I'm really looking forward to the matchup. The Rays seem to have the advantage in starting pitching, but the Phillies lineup is just about as deep as the Rays. It should be interesting. My pick: Rays in 7.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008 Playoffs

Ok, so I'm a terrible blogger - sue me. It has been exactly two weeks since I last posted, but don't think that this is an apology and a promise to start posting more regularly. It isn't. I have come to realize that there is far too much going on in my life to have decent posts on a daily basis, so I am going to revert to posting whenever I attend a game, watch a particularly interesting game or have a post idea that particularly interests me. It may be three times a week, once a week or once a month. I apologize for the inconsistency, but that's life. If you don't want to visit the blog every day just to see if something new is posted, send me an email (roarke49 at hotmail dot com) and I will send out a notice whenever I post something new.

So, the playoffs start today (really they started a couple of days ago with the White Sox make up game and the tie-breaker game). Even if your favorite team is not involved, there is a reason to watch each of these series. Playoff baseball is usually very intense and every pitch takes on more meaning. Here are your reasons to watch each series, a breakdown of who should win and who I would like to win.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

I picked the Brewers from the beginning of the season, believing that Ben Sheets would have a Cy Young caliber season and lead the team to the promised land. Sheets did pitch well, but got injured and now will miss the playoffs. No matter, the team picked up CC Sabathia and he led them to the playoffs. This is a fun team to watch with young sluggers like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart (whose second half swoon cost me in my wager) and savvy veterans like Mike Cameron and Ray Durham.

The Phillies are also a fun team with a balanced combination of speed (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino) and power (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell). They also have Cole Hamels as their ace pitcher to match up with Sabathia.

One weak point of both teams is starting pitching depth as Philly will send out Brett Myers (who re-discovered himself after being sent to the minors this season), Joe Blanton and Jaime Moyer while the Brewers have Yovani Gallardo (making his first start in a couple months today), Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush. In the bullpen the Phillies have the advantage, with Brad Lidge being one of the best closers in the game. The Brewers try and get by with Salomon Torres.

I'm going to give the edge to the Phillies because of I like their pitching staff better, but as a fan I'm pulling for the Brewers to win the series because I like their youngsters.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs

A lot of people are pulling for the Chicago Cubs because they have a chance to win for the first time in 100 years, but, beyond my St. Louis bias against the Cubs, there is a very valid reason to be interested in the Cubs losing this series: think about the Red Sox - ok, got 'em in your head? You don't like them very much do you? Their fans are smug, they seem to get an inordinate amount of attention in the media and they spend almost as much as the Yankees do on their payroll. Well, the 2008 Cubs are a lot like the 2004 Red Sox. Both teams inflated their payroll in order to overcome a decades-long World Series drought and both teams became the media darling during the season. The world will be a better place if the Cubs don't replicate the Red Sox success of 2004.

On paper the Cubs match up well against the Dodgers. The Cubs have Zambrano, Dempster, Harden and Lilly as starters who are quite a bit more fearsome than the Dodgers starters: Lowe, Billingsly, Kuroda, Maddux. The Cubs also have a balanced offense built around Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. They are surrounded by veterans like Mark DeRosa, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome and youngsters like probable ROY Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.

The Dodgers hopes rely on the hot bats of Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier and solid performances from Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and James Loney. One wild card is the health of Rafael Furcal, who will be playing for the first time in a long time (and trying to earn himself a pile of cash in free agency). Healthy and motivated, Furcal could be a huge difference maker in this series.

I think the Cubs will probably win the series - they just have an edge in talent, especially their pitching staff (and I didn't even talk about Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol in their bullpen), that will be difficult for the Dodgers to overcome. Of course, I will be rooting for the Dodgers to beat the snot out of the Cubs at every turn.

Anaheim Angels vs. Boston Red Sox

Despite what I wrote above about the Red Sox, they are becoming more likeable. How can you not root for cancer survivor Jon Lester? How can you not like the shrewd trade of Manny Ramirez (and other spare parts) for Jason Bay? [ok, Manny has been great for LA, but in the long run the Red Sox did very well for themselves in getting Bay to replace Manny. He's maybe 75% of Manny offensively, but he's a lot better defensively and from a money standpoint they are getting much more value per dollar with Bay than with Manny] While the Red Sox could not pull out the division title, they are very dangerous as a Wild Card team. They have excellent pitching with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and hopefully a healthy Josh Beckett. They have a good bullpen with Jonathon Papelbon closing out games. And they have a solid lineup with sparkplug Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi, Bay, Ellsbury, Youkilis and a hopefully healthy JD Drew and Mike Lowell.

The Angels have been on cruise control this season, blowing away the AL West. They grabbed Torii Hunter in the offseason and Mark Teixeira during the season to go with Vladimir Guerrero and they have the strongest pitching staff in baseball with John Lackey, Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Jon Garland starting and K-Rod closing games.

This should be a very interesting series and I think it may hinge on the health of several Boston players, most notably Josh Beckett. If Beckett can pitch and Lowell and Drew are at full strength, I think the Red Sox have a chance. Otherwise the Angels pitching will be too strong for them. I'm picking the Angels to win and that's who I'm rooting for, as well (yeah, yeah I know what I said about Lester and Bay, their fans are still too obnoxious to every root for that team).

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

The White Sox bring out conflicting feelings in me. On one hand I can't stand Ozzie Guillen's arrogant attitude (and his managing decisions are very Tony Pena-esque - just with better talent to employ). But on the other hand, it is difficult for me to root against good guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Thome trying to get their first World Series ring. The White Sox have a big hole in their lineup due to the injury to their team MVP, Carlos Quentin (.288/.394/.571 with 36HR in the 130 games before he broke his wrist) and Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko will have to step up to fill the void (the team went 11-14 in September after Quentin went down).

The Rays are one of the most exciting young teams in the majors with talented players like BJ Upton and Carl Crawford, who can do everything on the field and veteran Carlos Pena who crushes the ball. They also have a very talented pitching staff with James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza leading the staff. Possibly the two best players on the team, however, are rookies that started the season in the minor leagues. Third baseman Evan Longoria is a power-hitting, gold glove caliber fielding stud that will be in MVP discussions for years to come (and should win the ROY this year) and LHP David Price was the first pick overall in 2007 and has the chance to dominate the league.

I like the Rays offense in this series, but the White Sox pitching (Burle, Vazquez, Danks, and Floyd starting and Jenks closing). I usually take the pitching over the hitting, but I think the White Sox are really going to miss Quentin in this series and the Rays will take it. I really can't say who I'll root for because I like the Rays young players, but I would like to see Griffey and Thome get their rings. Tough.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Building for 2009: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are in disarray. No kidding, right? That statement has been true for quite some time. They have a .420 winning percentage, which puts them on pace to win 68 games this year. The good news is that they have a few talented young players; the bad news is that they don't nearly have enough.

The Pirates two highest paid players are arguably their worst everyday players. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez (scheduled to make $6.1M in 2009) and shortstop Jack Wilson (scheduled to make $7.5M in 2009) are being paid based on past performance and their present performance doesn't come close to those levels. Sanchez won the batting title in 2006 and was a valuable player that year, putting up a .344/.378/.473 line. He didn't walk a lot or hit a lot of home runs (6), but he hit a ton of singles and doubles. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they paid him based on that season and he has been progressively worse each year since then. In 2007 his line was .304/.343/.442 and this season it has been .267/.295/.368. He is only 30 years old this season, so it is possible that he could recoup some of the value that he's lost over the last two seasons, but it is unlikely that he will ever get back to his 2006 form, or provide enough value to be worth his contract.

Jack Wilson, on the other hand, has been bad for some time. In 2007 the Pirates benched him and tried to trade him (they couldn't find anyone willing to take on his contract) and it seemed to light a fire under Jack as he bounced back to put up a .296/.350/.440 line. It was good enough that the Pirates decided to stick with Jack and he started this season as the starting shortstop. Unfortunately, he reverted to his previous form and has put up a .274/.314/.351 line while playing only about half of the time.

The other half of their infield consists of the LaRoche brothers at the corners. The Pirates acquired Adam LaRoche after the 2006 season, when LaRoche had hit .285/.354/.561 with 32 homeruns. In a recurring theme, LaRoche hasn't repeated that performance since the trade. He has been solid, but not quite the intimidating middle-of-the-order threat that the Pirates had envisioned. They traded for Adam's younger brother Andy during this season. Andy has been a highly touted prospect for several years in the Dodgers organization. Andy crushed the ball at AAA, but never had the same performance at the big league level and many blamed his struggles on the Dodgers refusal to give him consistent playing time. He has struggled mightily since the trade (and he has been given consistent playing time for the Pirates), but he will begin 2009 as the everyday third baseman for the Pirates and most expect him to play well.

The Pirates best position player is playing center field for them this year. Nate McLouth didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but it was next to nowhere. McLouth was seen as a fourth outfielder type of guy that couldn't sustain his hitting as a full time player, but his at bats have increased in each of his four seasons and his numbers have gotten better as his playing time has increased. There was some hint of a breakout in his numbers last season (.258/.351/.459), but no one expected the season that he has had. McLouth has hit 26 home runs and stolen 20 bases while putting up a .280/.359/.515 line. I would expect that McLouth's numbers will regress towards his 2007 numbers, but he has earned himself a spot in the outfield next year.

The rest of the team is a mix of potential and potential gone wrong. Their catcher, Ryan Doumit has been excellent this year, putting up a .3185/.357/.495 line. He is a solid building block for the future. In addition to Andy LaRoche, the Pirates received outfielder Brandon Moss as part of the trade of Jason Bay. Moss has struggled a bit since coming over, and he doesn't look like a star, but he could be a solid major leaguer. The pitching staff has a lot of guys in their mid-20's that have had varied success in living up to their expectations. Starter Paul Maholm and closer Matt Capps have both pitched very well this season, while Zach Duke and Ian Snell have had their ups and downs. Jeff Karstens, who they received from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade, has pitched pretty well since becoming a Pirate.

So what should the Pirates do to build for 2009? Well, unfortunately, under even the sunniest of scenarios it is difficult to see the Pirates reaching .500 next year. Sure, they could back up a truck full of money and lure CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Mark Teixeira and several other free agents to the team and they'd be pretty good, but that isn't going to happen. The Pirates payroll was at $48.6M for 2008 and, except for getting Matt Morris' horrendous $9.5M off the books, the budget should be about the same for next year.

Help will be on its way from the minor leagues. Top prospect Andrew McCutcheon should be ready to start in center field for the Pirates next season. He is the proverbial 5 tool player and should be the guy that the Pirates build around for the future. Another guy to build around is Pedro Alvarez (assuming that the contract snafu with Scott Boras ever gets resolved). He was just drafted this past June and hasn't yet played any professional baseball, but he is expected to move very quickly through the farm system and might be ready for a major league role by 2010. The Pirates also have the enigmatic Jose Tabata, who they also received in the Xavier Nady trade. He has a lot of talent, but has never really lived up to the expectations placed on him. Perhaps he can blossom since he no longer has the pressure of being a Yankees prospect.

This isn't a very hopeful offseason plan, but my suggestion would be to try and trade Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and one or two of their middling pitchers (Zach Duke or Phil Dumatrait might have some value) and try to get young middle infield talent and/or pitching. Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutcheon, Ryan Doumit, Andy LaRoche, Matt Capps and Paul Maholm are all young, inexpensive and under team control for the next several years. They should use those guys as the foundation for the team and continue to look for talent others have overlooked and fill around the core with inexpensive options. There would be no point in signing anyone to a big free agent contract at this point. The Pirates are playing for 2010-2011.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Desperation: The Milwaukee Brewers


Today the Brewers fired manager Ned Yost. Rob Neyer called the move unprecedented, in that no manager of a team in the running for the playoffs has been fired this late in the season. If the season ended today, the Brewers would be tied for the Wild Card. Of course, the Brewers have been in a big slide, having gone 3-11 so far this month.

So, has Yost been to blame for the slide? Well, Joe Sheehan points out that some questionable moves by Yost certainly haven't helped, but I don't think that you can reasonably place the blame on Yost for the Brewer's slide (mainly because managerial decisions don't really have that big of an impact on games).

But here's the thing: the Brewers had no other option. They went all in prior to the deadline by trading for CC Sabathia and that worked beautifully for them. Sabathia has been better than they could have ever hoped for. But Sabathia isn't enough and the Brewers can't make any more player moves. The playoffs are slowly slipping away from them and the team felt like it needed to make a move. Taking out Yost was really all that was left for them. The hope is that the move will serve as a wake up call over the next fifteen days and the team will catch fire heading into the playoffs. It is a move of desperation and probably the only move the team had left. The real question is why a talented team like this would need such a desperate measure to motivate them.

Daily Links - 9/16/08

A few days ago, when I posted about Mickey Mantle being the greatest switch-hitter of all time, a commenter asked about Pete Rose (and continued to argue for Rose in private correspondence). I still don't think it is close between Mantle and Rose, although Rose was a great ballplayer. Coincidentally, Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) posted a comparison between Derek Jeter and Rose that is very close, at least through their age 34 seasons. I think I prefer Rose in that comparison, but it is a close call - Jeter will have to keep up his pace for several more years, though, in order to be close at the end of his career.

Is the Diamondbacks fall from grace due to the decidedly "un-clutch" David Eckstein? [Note: I pray that some day some one will find this site by googling "Decidedly un-clutch & Eckstein." That would be fantastic.]

Here are the quotes from last week. The Ned Yost quotes are particularly interesting.

This is an interesting Q&A from Baseball America that goes back and re-thinks the 2006 draft using what we know now about the players.

This post lists the worst #9 hitters ever. Why? I'm not really sure, but it is strangely fascinating. The worst ever was so bad that a baseball term was coined based on how crappy he was with a bat in his hands.

Daily Links - 9/15/08

The Fire Joe Morgan guys are back with a nice, snarky little post about Ned Colletti.

Many people, me included, have complained about the selection process (and rationale) for the Hall of Fame - in this post, Chris Jaffe takes a look inside that process and explains why we shouldn't give up on it.

Carlos Zambrano pitched a no-hitter last night (and, of course, I wasn't watching - continuing my streak of missing no-hitters or turning the game on just as the first hit is allowed). His performance is broken down here.

And once again my internet connection is horribly slow this morning. I will try and update with more links later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The After-Effects of a Work Stoppage (v.2008)


I am going to poach an article that I wrote for my old website six years ago (I actually couldn't believe it when I saw the date on the article - it is amazing that I have been writing this drivel for that long). I am going back to this article because it is a topic that I find fascinating and because I think there is more to the story than I hit on back then.

I originally wrote this in August of 2002, as major league baseball was preparing for a work stoppage (which was averted before the deadline). What I wrote mainly concerns the fate of the Montreal Expos after the 1994 strike and then mentions a few other feats that were in progress in 1994 that were interrupted. Here is what I wrote then:

The Major League Player's Association has set a strike date for this Friday, September 30. I'm sure you already know this fact (if you don't then you've probably clicked on the wrong link). There are a multitude of articles being written lately about how the economics of baseball works (or doesn't work) and why there will or won't be a strike, depending on who is doing the writing. But I am going to take a different approach to this article, I am going to write about the effects of a work stoppage. No, I don't mean that fans will lose interest and that the economics will actually probably get worse before they ever get better. No, I am referring to the effects on the history of the game. Baseball is an inherently historical game. Players and teams do not just face their opponents of the day, but they also are challenging their historical predecessors. This is true because the game of baseball and its history is so very statistically oriented. The majority of baseball fans could tell you the signifigance of the numbers 755, 56, and 61. This article, then, will make a case study of the 1994 strike shortened season and its effects on the history and statistics of baseball.

In 1994 the player's union stuck in early August. Most teams had completed between 110 and 120 games of their schedule. The Montreal Expos had completed 114 games. Their record was 74-40, which is a winning percentage of .649, and they were six games ahead of Atlanta in the National League East. It is possible that Atlanta would have mounted a charge in the last 50 games to catch Montreal, but we will never know. Instead, let's look at the statistical projections based on the first 114 games of Montreal's season. They would have won the East by 9 games, winning a total of 105 games (which, by the way, would have projected to the best record in baseball). Here is their starting lineup and primary pitchers (with projected stats):

[Note: back in 2002 the level of sophistication that I used for statistics was really quite low. To project the stats I just took the prorated portion of the season and extended the statistics out as if they played 162 games. I am sure that BP and others have more sophisticated projection models that would take into account the remaining schedule and usage patterns in making a projection, but this is good enough for the purposes of this post]

C - Darrin Fletcher .260 14 hrs 81 rbi 0 sb
1B - Cliff Floyd .281 6 hrs 58 rbi 14 sb
2B - Mike Lansing .266 7 hrs 50 rbi 17 sb
3B - Sean Berry .278 16 hrs 58 rbi 20 sb
SS - Wil Cordero .294 21 hrs 90 rbi 23 sb
OF - Marquis Grissom .288 16 hrs 64 rbi 51 sb
OF - Moises Alou .339 31 hrs 111 rbi 10 sb
OF - Larry Walker .322 27 hrs 122 rbi 21 sb

SP - Ken Hill 23-7 3.32 era
SP - Pedro Martinez 16-7 3.42 era
SP - Jeff Fassero 11-9 2.99 era
SP - Kirk Rueter 10-4 5.17 era
SP - Butch Henry 11-4 2.43 era
RP - John Wetteland 6-9 2.83 era 36 saves
RP - Mel Rojas 4-3 3.32 era 23 saves
RP - Jeff Shaw 7-3 3.88 era

This team led the national league in ERA and SB, was tied for second in batting average, and was third in homeruns. The next year, though, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill, and John Wetteland were gone. By 1998 not a single player listed above still played for the Expos. Would this team have been able to win the World Series in 1994? No one can answer that, but it was certainly a possibility. Would the Expos have been able to keep this team together even without the financial strain caused by the strike? Impossible to say, but you have to believe that the strike had a direct correlation with Montreal's subsequent fire sale of players. We know that Larry Walker went on to have an MVP season and continues to be one of the top players in the game, Moises Alou put up all-star numbers until the last two years when he disappeared due to injury, John Wetteland was an all-star closer and won a World Series with the Yankees, Cliff Floyd is just now reaching his full potential after years of solid play, Jeff Shaw was a solid closer for the Dodgers for several years, and of course, Pedro Martinez has been one of the top four or five pitchers in all of baseball over the last five years.

It is obvious that, if Montreal could have kept the core of this team together, they would have been one of the elite teams in baseball throughout the late 1990's. Usually success breeds fan interest. If the Expos had that kind of success, would there have been enough fan interest to remove them from Bud Selig's contraction chopping block?

There were other things happening in 1994 at the time of the strike besides the Expos strong season. Tony Gwynn was batting .394. Once again, we can only speculate as to whether he would have been able to improve his batting average by .006 over his last 45 games (San Diego played 117 before the strike), but it is certainly possible. The last person to bat .400 for a season was Ted Williams, but for the 1994 strike that piece of history might have changed. Matt Williams hit 43 homeruns in 1994. That put him on pace to hit 60.57 homeruns through a full season. Would he have broken the single season homerun record then held by Roger Maris? Who knows, but it was well within the realm of possibilities. If he had hit 62 homeruns, would people have treated Mark McGwire's 70 homeruns in 1998 with the same "disinterest" (that term is used loosely here) as they did with Barry Bonds' 73 homeruns in 2001? Instead McGwire is seen as the hero breaking Maris' record and Bonds is seen as, well, still a jerk, regardless of what he does on the field.

What we can see from this look back at 1994 is that the 20/20 vision of hindsight will be the true judge of the effects on baseball of a strike. It is impossible to see now what far-reaching effects the strike could have on the game of baseball.

Ok, so that wasn't too bad - my writing hasn't really gotten better in the last six years, which is disappointing, but otherwise I think the point was adequately made (the one funny thing I found is how much I disliked Barry Bonds back then - I have mellowed on that quite a bit). I think the part about the strike leading to the downfall of the Expos is pretty good, actually.

Anyway, we now have even more perspective on the costs of the work stoppage, as some of the stars of that era have retired or are wrapping up their careers. I want to look especially at a player who wasn't mentioned in the original piece because he wasn't chasing any records, but who had a significant part of his prime cut down by the strike (there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 65-70 games per team lost due to the strike between 1994 and 1995 and if you assume a player has a three year "prime" then we are talking about close to 15% of their prime that was lost).

Greg Maddux

I once wrote an ill-conceived article for my old website about the twenty greatest pitching seasons ever. It was ill-conceived because my method for ranking the seasons was irretreivably flawed. Nonetheless, the two seasons that jumped out at me when making the list were Maddux' 1994 and 1995 seasons. Maddux clearly had other great seasons - '94 and '95 were #3-4 of a four year Cy Young streak for Maddux, and he is a no doubt first ballot Hall of Famer, but these two seasons were his absolute best.

In 1994 Maddux had an ERA+ of 271 (on an ERA of 1.56), which means that he was 171% better than league average. He went 16-6 with 10 complete games and three shutouts. He struck out 156 batters in 202 innings (people don't think of him as a strikeout pitcher, but his strikeout numbers are actually quite good) and walked an amazingly low 31 batters (as it turns out this wasn't his lowest BB/IP of his career, neither was 1995, but it is still incredible).

In 1995 Maddux had an ERA of 1.62, which made for an ERA+ of 262 (which, by the way, make Maddux' 1994 and 1995 the fourth and fifth best single season ERA+ ever). He went 19-2 and again had 10 complete games and 3 shutouts. He struck out 181 batters over 209.2 innings and only walked 23 batters (three of which were intentional - same as in 1994).

So what did Maddux lose in the strike? In 1994 he probably lost nine or ten starts and probably another four at the start of 1995. So baseball fans missed out on fourteen starts from one of the top two or three pitchers of the last twenty-five years at the very apex of his career. Statistically, Maddux probably would have two more 20 win seasons on his resume and 10 or 11 wins to add to his already-gaudy total, not to mention all of the peripheral counting stats he would have compiled. It may not seem like much because Maddux has had such a long and distinguished career that his accomplishments are still Hall of Fame worthy. But think about other superstar players and what their careers would look like if you cut out 15% of their prime. Just imagine what Maddux' career would look like if he had that 15% back.


Daily Links - 9/11/08

This is a great post by Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) about Carlos Beltran, but the best part was when he listed the most absurd mishaps of the Royals over the last decade. What a team!

Buster Olney likes the Blue Jays going forward.

Here is a convincing argument that Todd Helton may be underrated and an attractive trade target this offseason.

Every year Tom Tango solicits opinions from fans on the fielding abilities of players they watch on a regular basis - a "wisdom of crowds" study. Here, Tom breaks down how fans viewed one team compared with how a (pseudo) expert viewed the same players.

Daily Links - 9/10/08

In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing each other and Roger Maris, I was living in Virginia. Both of my roommates were huge baseball fans, although not Cardinals fans, and so we saw a lot of games. I remember that at the time that I would argue with people about McGwire being on steroids. I would argue that just because they found creatine in his locker, which wasn't illegal, it didn't mean that he took steroids. That seems pretty naive now and I think that I knew better even back then. But I wanted to believe. I wanted McGwire to break the record and become a national hero because he played for my hometown team (which is sort of silly when you think about it, but next to winning championships, holding all time records comes in second in bragging rights for a franchise).

It's funny, I don't think that the home run chase saved baseball for me - mid to late 1990's baseball was exciting enough to keep my interest (the emergence of the Yankees dynasty, the exploits of Griffey Jr., my hometown team becoming relevant again after a few lean years, etc.), but I think that the chase brought back a lot of the casual fans. A lot of people point to Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record, but, while that was made out to be an epic event, it wasn't as dramatic and engrossing as the home run chase. The home run chase was easy for the casual fan to follow and understand and it made for great summer theater. The steroids scandal has tainted the chase, but it was one of the greatest baseball events of this generation and the memory of that summer is still fond for me. The Jerks agree with me on this, too.

Kevin Goldstein is one of the best in the business when it comes to writing about baseball prospects. In this article (subscription only) he writes about a player from each major league team that took a big step forward in the minor leagues this year. (Prediction: Daryl Jones will be the player Kevin writes about for the Cardinals when he does the NL teams).

And here's a non-subscription Baseball Prospectus item: I don't agree with Joe Sheehan a lot of the time, but he covers a lot of ground in this chat and covers it well.

Here's a quick note about the surprising leaders in the category of infield hits.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Greatest Switch Hitter of All Time


I have one of those page-a-day calendars on my desk that has sports trivia on each day. It is a little odd because the trivia doesn't have anything to do with what day it is, like most do, they are just random facts. Last week one of the facts started out like this: "Arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time, Mickey Mantle..."

Reading that, I wondered what the argument would be - who could possibly be argued to be a better switch hitter than the Mick? So I did a little digging and I don't think there is much of an argument. Here are the Mick's credentials:

18 season career: .298/.421/.557 536 home runs, 1,509 rbi (if you like that kind of thing), 153 stolen bases, 344 doubles, 2,415 hits, 172 OPS+. He also hit 50 or more homers twice, 40 or more homers four times, and 30 or more homers nine times. He also had more than 100 rbi four times and batted over .300 nine times. He won three MVP's, went to 20 all star games (early in his career there were two per year), won a triple crown and won a gold glove.

No other switch hitter really comes close to matching those numbers, but for fun here are the two closest competitors. First, their credentials:

Player #1 - 15 season career: .310/.406/.547 406 home runs, 1,366 rbi, 137 stolen bases, 445 doubles, 2,258 hits, 144 OPS+. He hit 40 or more homers once, and 30 or more six times. He had more than 100 rbi nine times and batted over .300 ten times. He won one MVP and went to five all star games.

Player #2 - 21 season career: .287/.359/.476 504 home runs, 1,917 rbi, 110 stolen bases, 560 doubles, 3,255 hits, 129 OPS+. He hit 30 or more homers five times, had 100 or more rbi six times and batted over .300 seven times. He also won rookie of the year, three gold gloves and went to eight all star games.

Can you guess who they are? Clearly, Player #2 is inferior to Player #1 (and certainly to Mantle). He doesn't get on base as much and didn't hit for as much power, although the length of his career allowed him to accumulate good numbers in the counting statistics. Player #2 is Eddie Murray. Quality ballplayer, not on same level as Mickey Mantle, but probably the third best switch hitter of all time.

Player #1 isn't much below Mantle in on base percentage or slugging percentage, but he does lag behind a bit. He is also behind in the counting stats, but, since this is an active player, he can still add to those totals. Player #1 is Chipper Jones. Jones is having a great season this year, although it has been marred by nagging injuries. Jones is only 36, so it isn't out of the question that he could play another three years to match Mantle's 18 seasons. If he does, it is likely that he would pass the Mick in rbi and hits, although it is unlikely that he will hit 130 home runs over that period. It is possible, however that he could get to 500 home runs in that time (although it might be a stretch considering his health issues).

So, in conclusion, I don't really think it is arguable that anyone has been a better switch hitter than Mickey Mantle. For that matter, there isn't really anyone currently active that could challenge him for that title: Chipper will fall short and guys like Lance Berkman and Mark Teixeira aren't really on pace to do it, either.

Daily Links - 9/9/08

Here is a credible argument that Curtis Granderson is as good or better than Grady Sizemore.

Also from Fangraphs is a two part argument for Max Scherzer being in the Arizona starting rotation. Here is part one and here is part two.

Here is a pitching workload study on CC Sabathia from Josh Kalk.

A seemingly disinterested AL team has a tangential reason to watch the NL playoff race.

Daily Links - 9/8/08

I live in Kansas City and in 2004 I bought a partial season ticket package for the Royals. I didn't do this because I am a huge Royals fan (my allegiance was and always will be with the Cardinals), but because I love baseball and the 2004 Royals seemed like an interesting team. They were coming off of a 2003 in which they were over .500 for the first time in 75 years (or it seemed that way, at least) and the team went out and spent some money on big name free agents (Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago are the two I remember off the top of my head). They had Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney and the reigning ROY: Angel Berroa. They also had some interesting pitching: Zach Greinke was a rookie that year and Mike McDougal and Jeremy Affeldt were nasty in the bullpen.

But things went horribly wrong for that Royals team. Gonzalez was hurt early in the season and played a total of 33 games for the Royals. Santiago was old and really bad. Greinke was magical at times, but the other pitchers were pretty disappointing. Tony Pena had managed in 2003 by the seat of his pants and all of his crazy manuevering somehow worked in his favor, against all odds. In 2004 every crazy move worked out the way it statistically should have: horribly.* And (here is the part where I actually get to the point and give you a link) Angel Berroa turned out to be a really poor baseball player. Joe Posnanski, TBSWIA, provides his account of Berroa's Royals career here. The next season I did not renew my season tickets but instead took the money and bought the Extra Inning package and several sets of Royals tickets to games that I actually cared about - a tradition that carries on to this day.

*Ok, so I am stealing the Posterisk thing from Joe, which I figure is fair since I am linking to his blog. The highlight of the 2004 season had to be opening day, which I attended with a friend. The Royals were behind big going into the ninth inning and somehow got the tying run to the plate in the form of Matt Stairs, one of the few true power threats that the Royals possessed. To counter Stairs, a lefty, the White Sox brought in Damaso Marte at which time Tony Pena made one of his absolutely insane moves and burned Matt Stairs for... wait for it... Mendy Lopez. I mean, sure, he was playing the lefty/righty matchup, but I think that 99 out of 100 times you would rather have Stairs face a lefty in that situation than have Mendy Lopez in the game at all. Luckily for Pena this was the 1 out of 100 time that it worked out: Mendy Lopez hit a game tying homer, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Carlos Beltran followed with a walk-off home run, making the game perfect. By the way, Mendy Lopez batted .105/.209/.184 on the season with exactly one home run.

I agree with this post that finds the recent Dustin Pedroia-for-MVP movement a little bit over the top.

And actually, the links are going to be light today because my computer is running extremely slow and I need to get going. I will try and update this post later in the day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Daily Links - 9/5/08

What is the deal with Dustin Pedroia? That dude has been white hot recently and has carried the Red Sox offensively. Who would have thought that would happen?

Here is more evidence that K-Rod shouldn't be the Cy Young winner in the AL - this is the worst season of his career.

Aubrey Huff is a dark horse MVP candidate. Seriously. If Baltimore was anywhere near the playoff hunt he'd have an outside shot at it. This post discusses Huff's great season.

Here is Keith Law's early look at the 2009 MLB draft.

I missed this because it didn't show up on his blog (it's on SI), but here's Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA)'s take on the Tampa Bay Rays and hope.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Postseason Awards - American League

As promised yesterday, here is the breakdown for the American League postseason awards.


Despite all the negative things said and written about Alex Rodriguez, he is still one of the front-runners for the MVP award. He is ninth in the league in batting average, fifth in the league in on base percentage and first in slugging percentage. He has hit 30 home runs, which ties him for sixth in the league. He has also stolen 16 bases. My guess, though, is that he won't win the award this year. The decision this year is not as clear in years past and the Yankees disappointing season, combined with the negative press A-Rod receives will work against him this year.

Maybe he doesn't deserve it anyway. Grady Sizemore has put up a .273/.385/.525 line and has 31 home runs and 35 stolen bases. The problem for Grady is that the Indians are currently under .500 (although they are surging) and voters don't usually like candidates that play for teams that are out of the playoff hunt. Carlos Quentin plays for a contender and has a .288/.394/.571 line and leads the league with 36 home runs. An argument could be made for Josh Hamilton because he leads the league with 121 RBI, but I'm not even going to dignify that. Joe Mauer has a very good line, but his power numbers are a bit too low and his high batting average and on base percentage can't make up the difference between him and other candidates.

I really think that a vote for A-Rod or Grady Sizemore would be a rational pick, but that the BWAA will probably not be rational and will choose Quentin.

My pick: Alex Rodriguez
My preseason pick: Alex Rodriguez

Cy Young

By almost any metric, the answer here is Cliff Lee. He leads the league in wins (20-2) and ERA (2.32) and is second in innings pitched. The only starter that is close is Roy Halliday, who is tied for second in wins (17-9), third in ERA (2.69) and is third in the league in strikeouts with 178. The only problem with these two candidates is that their teams are not in contention, which is important to the voters. Ervin Santana pitches for the Angels, who will win the AL West, and he has a 14-5 record with a 3.31 ERA and 183 strikeouts. Those are great numbers, but I don't think the contention of his team is enough to overcome almost a full run in ERA.

The complicating factor this year is that Francisco Rodriguez will almost certainly break the single season record for saves this year. He already has 54 and those kinds of things really impress the voters. The problem is that, while he has piled up the saves, he hasn't really even been the best closer in the American League, much less the best pitcher. Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) made the argument that K-Rod is undeserving of the Cy Young better than I could in a digression in this post, so just go there and read Joe's take - I'll wait. Ok, are you back? I can understand if you just stayed over there and read all of Joe's stuff, but then you would miss my picks:

My pick: Cliff Lee
My preseason pick: Daisuke Matsuzaka - he would have been a great pick if he hadn't missed some time this season: 16-2 with a 2.88 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 146.2 innings.


Evan Longoria was called up a month into the season and has missed about a month since then due to a hand injury, so he only has 381 at bats. In that time, however, he put up a .278/.352/.533 line with 22 home runs, seven stolen bases and outstanding third base defense. His competition is, uh, hmmm... Alexei Ramirez? With a .306/.324/.491 line and 16 home runs, he's had a solid season, but I'd put him short of Longoria. David Murphy? Ben Francisco? How about Armando Galarraga and his 12-4 record with a 3.17 ERA and 108 strikeouts? Nice, but...

My pick: Evan Longoria
My preseason pick: Adam Jones, who has had a good year, but apparently isn't eligible for the ROY (yup, I'm an idiot). I did mention Longoria would win if given enough at bats, so I get partial credit, right?


Daily Links - 9/4/08

TBSWIA, Joe Posnanski, weighs in on some Hall of Fame comparisons. This is another one of those classic topic to argue in baseball, just like postseason awards.

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus takes a look at some interesting September call ups.

Buster Olney has the details of a great story from last night's games that will make any true baseball fan smile.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Post Season Awards - National League

This is such a typical topic - everyone that writes about baseball has a column like this every year. But I can't help it, these are the arguments that make baseball fun.

National League MVP

Call me biased, but I think the choice here is clear cut. Albert Pujols currently leads the National League in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. He is in the top ten in hits, doubles, home runs and walks. Of course, unless a miracle occurs the Cardinals won't make the playoffs and a lot of voters put a lot of weight into a candidate's team success.

Albert's closest competitor also suffers from the same problem, however. Lance Berkman is third in batting average, third in on base percentage and second in slugging percentage. But he is a clear second to Pujols and since the Astros aren't going to make the playoffs either, it is unlikely that he will win the award over Albert.

So who is on a contending team that could win the award? Well, Ryan Braun has put up a .304/.344/.597 line with 34 homers and 11 stolen bases for the Brewers, Chase Utley has put up a .293/.382/.550 line with 31 home runs and 12 stolen bases for the Phillies and David Wright has put up a .292/.383/.521 line with 27 homers and 14 stolen bases for the Mets. Each of these candidates are inferior to Lance Berkman and, especially, Albert Pujols, but it wouldn't surprise me if one of them won the award, considering past voting of the BWAA.

My choice: Pujols.
My preseason choice: David Wright, who still has a shot.

Cy Young Award

This award isn't quite so clear. The question is muddied by the fact that Brandon Webb has three more wins than any other NL starter. He will likely be the league's only 20 game winner and the BWAA puts a lot of emphasis on wins, which is ridiculous. Webb has had a bad couple of starts lately, which has brought his peripheral stats back to the pack - three weeks ago it was inconceivable that anyone else could win this award. Now the matter is not so certain.

Webb is currently 19-6 with a 3.19 ERA and 160 strikeouts. The league leader in strikeouts and ERA is Tim Lincecum, who is 15-3 with a 2.43 ERA and 210 strikeouts. Lincecum has put up these numbers while pitching for a terrible Giants team, which you would think would make his numbers all that much more impressive, but voters, as with the MVP, often vote for a guy on a winning team.

Other candidates are Johan Santana, who is 12-7 with a 2.67 ERA and 169 strikeouts for the Mets, Ryan Dempster, who is 15-5 with a 2.95 ERA and 160 strikeouts for the Cubs, and Edinson Volquez, who is 16-5 with a 3.04 ERA and 161 strikeouts. Some are arguing for CC Sabathia, who is 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 11 starts since being traded to the Brewers, but I don't like the idea of giving the award to a guy that only played in the NL for half the year.

My choice: Lincecum.
My preseason pick: Ben Sheets (12-7 with a 2.97 ERA and 144 strikeouts - not a bad choice, probably in the top ten).

Rookie of the Year

This has become a runaway race since Kosuke Fukudome has slumped badly in the second half. His departure from the race leaves his teammate Geovany Soto as the clear front runner. He has put up an excellent .292/.371/.508 line with 20 home runs. Coming in a distant second would be Joey Votto, who has put up a .294/.361/.458 line with 15 homers, which are decent numbers, but clearly second to Soto. Immediately after he was called up, Jay Bruce looked like he was going to take over this race, but he has fallen off quite a bit after a hot first couple of weeks.

My pick: Geovany Soto.
My preseason pick: Soto.

Tomorrow: the American League

Daily Links - 9/3/08

Tom Verducci agrees with me about CC Sabathia and the Cy Young and then lists the five most impactful mid-season trades of the last twenty-five years.

Here is a breakdown of the AL Central race by Baseball Musings.

Here is a look at the very nice crop of free agent pitchers that will be available this offseason.

This entry takes a look at what should be looked at when considering choices for MVP and Cy Young.

Daily Links - 9/2/08

Well, we've made it to September. I hope everyone had a great Labor Day - I did, mainly because I didn't do much but lay around. Perfect. Anyway, as we head down the home stretch I'm going to do a few more posts about building for 2009, a few posts about season performance vs. playoff performance and definitely a recap of my preseason predictions, so look for all that over the next few weeks. Now, on to the links:

Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) was way more productive than I was over the holiday weekend, posting three times. This post is a breakdown of good managing as exemplified by Ron Gardenshire. Personally, I think managers are overrated: they neither help nor hurt their teams as much as most people suggest.

This post from Hef at Major League Jerks is also a few days old, but I love stuff like this. He breaks down the performance of the Dodgers and D-Backs since the respective trades for Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn.

Quotes, quotes and more quotes.

Here is a detailed breakdown of Josh Beckett, whose health and success is essential for the Red Sox's chances in October.

I completely agree with this take on the Brewers protest of the scorer's decision during CC Sabathia's one-hitter that if overruled would make it a no-hitter.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Daily Links - 8/29/08

I'm really not sure what to think about the Pedro Alvarez situation with Pittsburgh. On one hand, it appears as if Scott Boras is (again) trying to game the system, but on the other hand it is his job to advocate for his client to the best of his abilities. I think I'm going to have to go against Alvarez on this one because he is going back on his agreement with the team. This article is subscription only at Baseball Prospectus, but it does a really good job of going over all the details and possibilities of the situation (and besides, why don't you have a subscription to BP - don't you like baseball?).

Here is Tangotiger's take on rule changes. I don't exactly agree with him here (some of his hypothetical rule changes would not sit well with me, and not from a "watched Field of Dreams too many times" standpoint, but from the standpoint that they seem arbitrary and would not advance the purpose of finding a clear winner on the field), but he makes some interesting points, especially regarding HR review (which I do agree with).

Here is an interesting use of fielding metrics to analyze players over the last five years.

John Heyman gives his opinion on what teams will do this offseason with several high priced players that have team options for next year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Daily Links - 8/28/08

First, a post from Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) regarding how to determine good pitching performance. Then, a post from the Fire Joe Morgan guys about judging pitching performances against standards set long ago. These posts don't exactly disagree, but Joe comes close to saying some things that the FJM guys would throw a fit about.

Joe and FJM definitely agree on the value of a 'Win' as a pitching statistic.

The Hardball Times continues its excellent series of breaking down players from the most recent draft.

This is one of the cooler things on baseball on the internet: using the wisdom of crowds to scout baseball players. If you've watched some games and have opinions on players - go fill out a form.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Building the 2009 Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are really bad. They are on pace to win only 57 games this season after winning 73 last season. The interesting thing about the team, though, is that they really aren't in bad shape. Ok, that's an overstatement - they are in bad shape, but things could be a lot worse - they have no players that are making more than $10M a year and they have no contractual obligations that extend past 2010 (and there are only a couple that go past 2009). So, while the roster is pretty bad right now, the team is in a position to make moves and turn over as much of the roster as they desire.

The Nationals best player is Ryan Zimmerman, who is a fantastic defensive third baseman and has been a terrific hitter in the past, although he has slumped this season to a line of .268/.315/.403. The team has surrounded him with a group of talented hitters that, either through injury or attitude problems, have failed to live up to their billing. Imagine what this lineup could do if they could all stay healthy for a full season:

Christian Guzman
Lastings Milledge
Ryan Zimmerman
Nick Johnson (or Dmitri Young)
Austin Kearns
Wily Mo Pena (or Elijah Dukes)
Ronnie Belliard
Jesus Flores
Pitcher Spot

So, while the Nationals have done a good job of accumulating unrealized talent, it has been their misfortune that none of these guys have had a breakthough. You would think that at some point one of these "projects" would end up working out and turn into a very good major league ballplayer.

The pitching staff, unfortunately, doesn't even have the upside that is present in the offense. John Lannan is the only starter they have that has value going forward and he is probably best suited to be a #3 starter. To add insult to injury, the Nationals have taken polished college starters with thier first pick in each of the last two drafts and the 2007 pick, Ross Detwiler has struggled in the minors and the 2008 pick Aaron Crow did not sign and will go back into the draft pool next season.

As opposed to their hitting, however, the Nationals didn't fill out their pitching staff with high potential offcasts, instead they signed no-upside retreads like Odalis Perez and Tim Redding. They, predictably, received mediocrity in return which would have been a decent temprorary fix if their offense had broken through, but instead they have become the worst team in baseball.

The Nationals 2008 team salary is about $55M. After offsetting some salaries that are coming off the books with some built-in increases, it looks like the Nationals will have about $20M to spend in free agency this offseason (while keeping their budget the same as in 2008). I think they should continue the strategy of investing in high potential players that can be acquired cheaply - eventually one of these guys will be an impact player. They should extend that strategy to pitchers as well and try and accumulate talent for the pitching staff.

But the best way to spend the money they have available would be on a free agent starting pitcher. They have a lot of holes in their pitching staff, many of which can be filled by dumpster diving, but you usually cannot get a staff ace that way. The Nationals will almost certainly never attract Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia or anyone at that level, but if they can get one or two solid pitchers that can be quality major league starting pitchers- similar to the way the Royals grabbed Gil Meche in 2007 - they will take a big step towards respectability. I think the Nationals should spend what it takes to get Kyle Lohse and Oliver Perez. Combined with John Lannan, they would have three solid major league pitchers. If they dumpster dive for some other young pitchers, they would have a respectable starting rotation.

Then, whatever money is left should be spent on the medical staff so they can try and keep their talented young hitters healthy and on the field. The road to respectability isn't as long as it may seem.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Building the 2009 Royals

With most of the focus turned to the playoff race, I thought now might be an intersting time to look at some teams that are far out of the race in an effort to see what they can do to be in the race next year (or, in the near future). First up is the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals began the season with as much hope as they have had since 2004, when they were coming off a 2003 season in which they were over .500 for the first time in a long time. The reasons for hope this year were different: they had a GM in Dayton Moore who seemed like he knew what he was doing, the team had spent big bucks on a free agent acquisition for the second off season in a row and fans were expecting some of the promise of the minor league system to finally turn into production.

As it turns out, the team has not quite lived up to the preseason hope of the fans. They are on pace to win 70 games, one more than they won last season. There are signs of long term hope, however. Zach Greinke has matured into a solid major league starting pitcher, Gil Meche continues to be worth the big free agent deal that he was signed to in 2007 and Joakim Soria has turned into one of the best young closers in all of baseball.

On offense all of the positives carry caveats: David DeJesus will never be a superstar, but he is a solid major league ballplayer; Alex Gordon has not yet lived up to the hype (and has paled in comparison to Ryan Braun, who was selected after him in the draft), but he has become solid and shows signs of the talent that made him the first overall draft pick; and Billy Butler has shown a lot more power since he was recalled at mid-season.

The negatives are numerous. First is that they still owe $24M over two years to Jose Guillen, who, aside from one scorching hot month, has been one of the worst outfielders in baseball. I didn't like the signing at the time and it looks worse now. Additionally, Brian Bannister has regressed, as many thought he would (to his credit, he foresaw this also and tried to adjust his game this season to compensate - he just hasn't found the right adjustment). So, while Bannister was thought to be a credible #4 starter at the beginning of the season, he has turned out to be a disaster more often than not. Finally, Mark Teahen has never regained his form from the last half of 2006, when it looked like he would become a quality power bat as a right fielder. Now, with Guillen on board he has shifted to left field and has batted like an "all glove" middle infielder.

From the looks of things, the Royals might have about $20M to spend this offseason. So what can they do to contend in the future? They are set at 3B, DH, CF, closer and 40% of their pitching staff. Anywhere else on the field that they can get better, they need to.

Between Bannister, Kyle Davies and Luke Hochever, they should be able to cobble together a decent back end of the rotation, but none of those guys should be counted on as a top 3 starting pitcher. One place they should be looking to improve is the starting rotation. Of course, without upgrade in other positions, spending a lot of money on a high dollar free agent pitcher would be pointless, so guys like CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and even Jon Garland are out of the question (if they would even consider Kansas City in the first place). The Royals should be looking at guys like Anthony Reyes, who was acquired on the cheap by Cleveland because he'd worn out his welcome in St. Louis. Young scrap heap pitchers with upside is they way to go for the Royals until they can solidify the rest of the team (then spend big on pitchers).

As for the offense, the Royals have holes at 1B, 2B, and Shortstop. For first base, they have a 24 year old minor leaguer named Kila Kaaihue who should be given every opportunity to win the starting job next year. He tore up AA this year and has continued his success at AAA since his promotion. He hits for power and has good plate discipline, but he doesn't exactly have a long track record of success in the minors, so this season could be a mirage, but the Royals need to find out. At shortstop, the Royals have been playing Mike Aviles, a 27-year-old rookie that is having his best season of his career. Even if he can't duplicate his .332/.357/.500 line (and I wouldn't expect him to), playing him for a full season would be a huge upgrade over giving 201 shortstop at bats to the worst everyday player in baseball (Tony Pena, Jr.).

That leaves scond base, which is where I think the Royals should spend their money this offseason. I would target Orlando Hudson as priority #1 for the Royals in their free agent quest. Hudson is a very underrated hitter, .305/.367/.450 before getting injured this season, and is one of the best (if not the best) defensive second basemen in all of baseball. Having him on the team would not only give them a bat in the top 3 of the lineup, but he would make all of their pitchers better with his fielding.

The Royals have the makings of a decent team. Greinke and Meche give them the beginnings of a respectable rotation; Soria and Ron Mahay provide the foundation for a solid bullpen; and DeJesus, Gordon and Butler have the ability to be part of a good offense. Adding Orlando Hudson will not allow them to contend, but I think his acquisition would be the best way for the Royals to spend their money this offseason (getting lucky with a couple of low cost upgrades to the rotation and having some of their young players take full strides forward would be helpful, too).

8/25/08 Daily Links

I didn't post at all last week because an illness that kept me isolated in an oxygen bubble all week (not really, but close). I did read a little about baseball during that time, though, including this article by Tom Verducci that I found fascinating. I am really interested in pitchers' health and proper mechanics, so I will be curious to see how Lincecum's career continues.

Also from last week is this post by TBSWIA, Joe Posnanski - his final from Beijing - as he ponders the meaning of a Tony Pena, Jr. bobblehead.

This article discusses poor starts to outstanding seasons.

Here is yet another example of a team getting bitten by trading prospects for a 'proven veteran'.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Daily Links - 8/15/08

Here is an update on the unsigned first round draft picks. The Aaron Crow thing is a mess - it's too bad that he signed with an agent or else he could have gone back to Mizzou for his senior year. Instead he's signed with an independent league, should negotiations fail to result in a deal.

Should Tampa fans be worried now that Longoria and Crawford are hurt? Here's a look at some simulations to predict the Rays future.

The Hardball Times 'Remains of the Season' series hits the New York Yankees.

Here is a quick look at the top five picks in the last five drafts and what they are doing today.

A scary thought from Rob Neyer: the Yankees payroll will be increasing next year.

That's all I've got for this week. Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pitch f/x: Randy Johnson

I really wish that Pitch f/x had been around in the late 90's and early 2000's so we could look at what Johnson did back when he was absolutely dominant, but it has only been around since 2005. Still, it is interesting to take a brief look at his pitch selection since he turned 40 years old.

The first thing that I noticed is that there is a clear delineation between the first two years, when Johnson was with the Yankees, and the second two years since he re-joined the Diamondbacks. With the Yankees he was very consistent: 56% fastballs both years, similar slider numbers and asmall percentage shift from a curveball to a splitter between the first and second season.

Then, when he moved to Arizona and the National League, the number of fastballs dropped to 51.5% (which he has maintained over both seasons) and the number of splitters jumped from 6.7% to 11.7%.

The second thing that jumps right out at you is the decrease in velocity. Even through last season he was still averaging 92.3mph on his fastball, but this season it has dropped to 90.8mph.

So the shift is clear: as Johnson has gotten older and his fastball has lost a tick or two he has had to become more of a crafty veteran, throwing more splitters. Where he used to overpower hitters, now he has to decieve them.

Daily Links - 8/14/08

This blog post by Will Carroll is the second reference I've heard to CC Sabbathia winning the NL Cy Young in the past couple of days. He has certainly been amazing since getting picked up by the Brewers, but something doesn't seem quite right about it. I can't really put my finger on it, because the award goes to the best pitcher in the league that season, and if Sabbathia only requires 60% of the season to prove that, then why not? But it seems a bit fortuitous that Sabbathia's sub-par start to the season gets to be disregarded because the best part of his season came after the trade.

The famous Fetch, from Major League Jerk, writes about the rough start for Team USA in Beijing. I didn't see the game, but I agree with Fetch: when I looked at the box score and saw that John Gall had led off for the US, I did a double-take. What was that all about?

The results are in on the poll presented last week on the Hardball Times regarding ethics and baseball.

Here is a first hand account of the crazy game played at Fenway on Tuesday night.

This is a quick look at closers vs. set up men in terms of which are used in more important situations. The standard pattern of 'closer' usage in baseball has been one of my pet peeves for a while now. Interestingly, the Cardinals have used rookie closer Chris Perez in a save situation in the eighth inning twice this week and allowed him to finish the game.

Daily Links - 8/13/08

Joe Posnanski: even with the room spinning he's TBSWIA.

Dak seems to be a little tired of writing for Fire Joe Morgan (which must seem like banging your head against a wall at times when the same crappy articles keep coming up), but it is entertaining nonetheless.

The Major League Jerks weigh in on the Adam Dunn trade. I'm not sure I agree with the comment towards the bottom of the article from a reader - Dunn is a 29 year old outfielder that is in the prime of his pitcher-bashing career, I can't imagine that he would accept arbitration and forego the opportunity to test the free agent market. Hef's response, though, that Arizona would probably take him on a one-year, arbitration determined salary, is right on the mark.

mgl at Inside the Book does not like the Red Sox acquisition of Paul Byrd. Emphatically.

JP Ricciardi in Toronto is proud that he has stocked his team with "character guys", but they don't have much of a winning character, do they?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Daily Links - 8/12/08

Ken Tremendous at Fire Joe Morgan checks in with a JoeChat.

Christina Kahrl breaks down the Adam Dunn trade and provides an interesting nugget that I hadn't seen (or maybe 'noticed' is the right word): Cincinnati also paid Arizona $2M to take Dunn. I thought Arizona was getting a great deal before I realized that fact and that just seems like piling on.

Baseball America answers a question about the unsigned draft picks as we come up on three days left before the signing deadline.

Here is a look at Randy Johnson's peak of dominance. I would have never thought that Johnson would continue to be successful this long. He clearly isn't dominant, or even a #1 or #2 pitcher anymore, but he is still effective as a #3 for Arizona, which is amazing at age 44 for a guy that always was high effort in his delivery.

An interesting roundtable discussion here with Paul DePodesta.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trade: Adam Dunn to Arizona

I'm more than a little befuddled by this. Mainly I can't believe that Adam Dunn made it all the way through waivers to Arizona. Every other team in the National League with a worse record than Arizona had a chance to claim him. Dunn was playing this year on a $13M extention and he will be a free agent after the season. So, pretend you are the Washington Nationals (I know, it's painful). You could have claimed Adam Dunn on waivers and then either the Reds would try and work out a trade with you (which you probably wouldn't have tried too hard to pull off), the Reds would have pulled Dunn back off waivers (which costs you nothing) or the Reds could have just let you assume his salary for the rest of the year. In the first two cases you are out nothing and in the third case you get Adam Dunn for two months of the season at a prorated cost of his salary (which is pretty reasonable for his production) and then he leaves at the end of the year and you get two draft picks as compensation. Why wouldn't they take the chance?

But no one claimed Dunn until the Diamondbacks (meaning eight teams passed on him). So then, the question becomes whether the package of prospects that Cincinnati received were more valuable than the two compensation picks that they would have received if they had held onto Dunn. The primary player the Reds received was Dallas Buck, who was a third round draft pick in 2006 and was currently pitching at single A after having Tommy John surgery. They will also receive two players to be named later, which could mean that they have either been drafted too recently to be traded at this point or that they compensation will depend on Arizona's results (i.e. if they make the playoffs they get two guys out of group A, if they miss the playoff they get three maple bats and a dozen balls). It will be impossible to evaluate the cache the Reds received until we know who the players to be named later are, but if Buck is the centerpiece, I'd be a little disappointed.

As for the D-Backs, Adam Dunn gives them a huge lift in the middle of their order. Dunn is a monster: he gets on base at a great clip (.373 on the season) and hits for immense power (.528 slugging percentage, 32 home runs on the season). He is undervalued by some that focus on traditional statistics because he strikes out a lot and never hits for a high average (only .233 on the season), but Dunn will immediately step into the cleanup role for the Diamondbacks and will provide a big veteran bat down the stretch to go along with all the talented youngsters already in the lineup.

The cost for Arizona is clearly worth it. They have answered their rival Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez and given themselves a great chance to make the playoffs. When the cost is three low level prospects, which will be partially replenished by the two compensatory draft picks they should receive when Dunn signs elsewhere in the offseason, it seems clear that they got a great deal.

Daily Links - 8/11/08

There is more from Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) on Albert Pujols after someone irrationally accused him of padding stats by only coming up big when it didn't matter. Apparently said person doesn't watch Albert regularly. I think Joe's method of calculating his new stat is a bit flawed, but give him a break, he's watching synchronized swimming in Beijing.

Here's another article, this one from John Perrotto at Baseball Prospectus, that lists out some players that might move this month before the waiver trading deadline.

Baseball America has a roundup from the Aflac high school all american game.

Miguel Cabrera for MVP? Before the season it would have been eminently reasonable, mid-season it would have seemed impossible and now Sky makes a credible argument for it playing out just that way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Profile: Vernon Wells

In the winter after the 2006 season Vernon Wells signed a seven year, $126M extension to stay with the Toronto Blue Jays. He turned 28 years old that same winter and was a year away from free agency. He was seen as a perennial fringe MVP candidate that was just entering the prime of his career. In 2006 he put up a .303/.357/.542 line with 32 homeruns and 17 stolen bases and he seemed to be on the verge of superstardom.

Since Wells signed that contract, however, he has played a season and a half of very mediocre baseball. Now the Blue Jays are looking at paying Wells and average of $18M a year for the next five years and he may be the most overpaid player in baseball. So what happened?

The first thing to note is that there were signs before 2006 that Wells might not be the superstar that many thought him to be. He had an MVP caliber season in 2003, putting up a .317/.359/.550 line, which was very similar to his 2006 season, but his other three full major league seasons (2002, 2004 and 2005) weren't nearly as good. He failed to hit better than .275, get on base better than .337 and slug better than .472 in any of those three seasons. Also, prior to 2006 he had never had double digits in steals. So, while he had flashes of brilliance, he had not been consistent in his performance throughout his career.

In fact, this season when he's been healthy (he's only played in 64 games on the year), his numbers have been very comparable to the rest of his career. His line this season is .287/.339/.449, which is right in line with his 'down' years. But his 2007 was an unmitigated disaster. His line was .245/.304/.402 with 16 home runs in 149 games.

Perhaps Wells got lazy because he was making the big bucks, or maybe the put too much pressure on himself to live up to the contract - or maybe he was just unlucky. Wells' BABIP was .265, well below league average and also the lowest of his career and his line drive rate was also the lowest of his career, while his home run per fly ball rate plummeted to 7.3% (his career rate is 12.3%). Regardless of the reason, all of those numbers point to one thing: 2007 is the anamoly in Wells' career.

So, while injuries have hidden it to a certain extent this season because the accumalated numbers aren't there, Wells has returned to his career averages. I am sure that the Blue Jays had hoped that Wells would take a step forward in his 28 year-old season instead of having the worst season of his career, but the truth is that Wells has not performed too far below his established level since signing his big contract. The answer, then, to the question posed above, what happened to Vernon Wells, is: nothing. He hasn't performed like an $18M ballplayer, but there wasn't a real good reason to bet that he would improve to that level in the first place.

My guess is that Wells will get healthy and have a nice season, perhaps even back to the 2006 level, sometime before his contract expires. Given his career to this point it should be expected that he will perform at that level again. He will almost certainly never live up to the huge contract that he signed prior to 2007, but you can't blame Wells for the Blue Jays' willingness to overpay him.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Daily Links - 8/7/08

Well, it was bound to happen and it has: Joe Posnanski (TBSWIA) wrote a post dedicated to the best player on my favorite team - Albert Pujols. It is a great post, as always. Today is my lucky day.

Here is a post (with scouting video) about a player that could be drafted three years from now. Wait until you read the superlatives about him before you decide that it is too early to be thinking about the 2011 draft.

Waiver wire intrigue - a mystery team claimed Brian Giles.

Here is a contrary opinion to the near-universal (at least by internet analysts) dislike for Juan Pierre batting leadoff for the Dodgers. As a bonus, the author takes a shot at Joe Sheehan's logic towards the end.

This is a really interesting study about ranking baseball's ethical transgressions and a link to allow you to rank them. Also, the Hardball Times continues its series of projecting the rest of the season by taking on the Cardinals.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Daily Links - 8/6/08

This is one of the best running bits around: Baseball Prospectus' transaction roundup. Christina Kahrl does a great job of providing analysis to all the moves made around the league.

The ongoing mess that was Jose Vidro's performance as Mariner's DH has finally come to an end. He has been terrible this season and it was borderline lunacy to continue to play him everyday as the DH.

Joba is going to see Dr. Andrews. That's not a good sign. It seems to me (and I haven't don't any research on this, so it's just a baseless impression) that shoulder woes are more difficult than elbow problems. If it's an elbow problem they just do Tommy John surgery and the pitcher comes back in 18 months, better than ever. But shoulder problems seem to linger and the pitcher is never quite the same again (see: Mark Mulder). Hopefully Joba doesn't have any serious issues with his shoulder.

I haven't delved into this too much, but if Sky says that there is a stat that is better than VORP for valuing a player in-season, then it is worth looking into. Note that the team rankings at the end have the Cardinals #1 (which makes me somewhat skeptical of the stat since they have given far too many at bats to guys like Cesar Izturis and Chris Duncan this year).

More speculation about Mark Cuban and the Cubs here. There is a valid point in this about the anti-trust exemption. If the exemption were repealed it would change the landscape of professional baseball. It would be a shrewd move for Cuban to threaten it as a way to strongarm the other owners into approving the sale of the Cubs to him.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Trade: 2005 Shortstop Carousel

Watching the Blue Jays game yesterday and seeing David Eckstein play second base for Toronto reminded me of one of the more intriguing player movements in recent history. After the 2004 season, three teams switched starting shortstops. The Red Sox signed Edgar Renteria, who had been with the Cardinals, to a four year/$40M contract. The Angels signed Orlando Cabrera, who had been with the Red Sox, to a four year/$32M contract. And, after the Angels waived him, the Cardinals signed David Eckstein to a three year/$10.25M contract.

It was a unique situation because all three played the same position, all three were the same age (30 years old at the time), and all signed brand new contracts. These factors make the comparisons pretty straightforward.

Renteria and Cabrera are now in the last year of their contracts, and Eckstein's expired after last season. One telling fact to start with is that neither Reteria or Cabrera stayed with the team that signed them through the life of the contract, while Eckstein did. Renteria lasted only one year in Boston before he was traded to Atlanta for two years and then traded to Detroit before this season. Cabrera lasted three full seasons with the Angels before getting traded to the White Sox before this season.

I am going to use WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, described here) as a way to compare these three players and determine which team got the best of their deals. I like WARP for this purpose because it takes fielding into account.

Here are the cumulative WARP totals for the 2005-2007 seasons:

Eckstein - 15.6
Cabrera - 17.4
Renteria - 15.8

Based on raw numbers, Cabrera was the best of the three, followed by Renteria and then Eckstein. But let's add the salary component. For Cabrera and Renteria we will just consider the pro-rated portion of their salary, since the contracts actually continue through 2008. With that in mind, here is how many dollars each of their teams paid for each win added (according to the WARP system):

Eckstein - $657,051
Cabrera - $1,379,310
Renteria - $1,898,734

From this perspective, Eckstein was clearly the better value. Of course, if the marginal difference between Eckstein and Cabrera or Renteria was the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs, the calculation of value might be different. But, in 2005 all three players made the playoffs with their teams, in 2006 Eckstein's team made the playoffs while Renteria's and Cabrera's did not (so clearly the extra expense was not worth it that year) and in 2007 Cabrera's team made the playoffs while Eckstein and Renteria's did not. The Angels won their division in 2007 by six games. Cabrera had a WARP that season of 7.3 while Eckstein's was 3.8, a difference of 3.5 games. So, if Eckstein had played for the Angels instead of Cabrera they still would have won their division by 2.5 games.

Of course, real life doesn't exactly work that way. You can't just take one player off of a team and swap statistics in from another player and assume that everything would have fallen exactly the way it did otherwise. But by almost any calculation you can come up with, David Eckstein was clearly the best value of the three shortstops that changed addresses before the 2005 season.

Daily Links - 8/5/08

Baseball Prospectus gives us the weekly quotes from around the league.

The esteemed Hef (not the guy with the mansion and all the half-naked women lying around - well, actually I've never seen his place, so he could have the same set up as Hugh Hefner, for all I know) breaks down the effect that the deadline trades will have on the playoff races.

Now that the Dodgers have Manny Ramirez, they have five outfielders that have been starters for most of their career (I had to write that carefully to avoid saying that they were all good enough to start). Joe Torre has said that Juan Pierre will continue to start and play center field while Andre Ethier sits - so just how bad is that decision?

This article argues that the Red Sox are better with Jason Bay than Manny Ramirez (and it also includes some nice scouting video of Bay's swing). This is an argument that resonates with me. I've always liked Jason Bay and I tend to think that playing in Feway and in a big media market like Boston, will make him a super star. Also, the Hardball Times continues its series by looking at the Brewers outlook for the rest of the year.

This article is an interesting look into the sale of the Chicago Cubs and the staggering price tag that will be attached. If my favorite team were for sale and it looked like Mark Cuban was the favorite to buy it, I would be excited. He can sometimes come off as a bit of a clown (like running on the court at NBA games and the whole Dairy Queen stunt), but the man is passionate about his team, is involved in team and league management and he puts his money where his mouth is (which takes quite a bit of money in his case). He would certainly bring a fresh face to the stogy 'old school' owners in the MLB, which is probably overdue.