Monday, June 30, 2008

American League All Star Selections

[Note that all statistics in this post are through June 29, 2008]

The All Star Game is just around the corner and that means that it is time to go to and stuff the virtual ballot box for your favorite players. On the other hand, if you want to vote for the players that have earned their spot on the All Star team, I'm going to give you a handy little guide. Today I'll go through the American League and tomorrow I'll look at the National League.

Before I get started though, I'd like to briefly discuss the qualifications for making the team. In my mind, there are two schools of thought, if you exclude the 'vote for every player on my favorite team' method. There is the 'half season of performance' method and the 'performance plus legacy' method. I think the 'performance plus legacy' method has a valid argument for legitimacy; that argument is that a guy who has never done anything before, but has a great three months at the beginning of the season, should not beat out an established star that has maintained a consistent level of performance over several years, even if the first guy is outperforming the second guy. There is merit to that argument, however, because things like Hall of Fame voting use the number of All Star appearances as a measuring stick, I think the selections should be made only on the merit of the current season. Otherwise, certain guys that get selected by reputation alone will receive unearned credit that they don't deserve (yes, I know this happens all the time - I am just giving my rationale for why selections shouldn't be made this way).

Anyway, my choices will be based on only the performance to this point in the 2008 season, but I will add comments regarding the players' past performance, if you choose to base your selections on other criteria. So, with no further ado, here are the selections:


The American League has several legitimate choices at catcher. Here is how I would rank them:

Joe Mauer - .321/.406/.442 - 3 homers, 32 rbi
Dioner Navarro - .317/.368/.444 - 4homers, 31 rbi
Gerald Laird - .306/.360/.437 - 4homers, 25 rbi
AJ Pierzynski - .296/.337/.423 - 5homers, 30 rbi

I am personally not a big fan of the rbi as a comparative statistic, but I am including it for all players because so many people put so much stock in it and some of the comparisons you'll see in these lists show exactly why I dislike it. Anyway, Joe Mauer seems to be the clear leader of this group. He's a hell of a hitter, an on-base machine and he's got solid pop in his bat (if not homerun power). He probably gets the nod from a 'legacy' standpoint over the others on the list, as he put up a near-MVP season in 2006 (he should have won) and has been a premier catcher for the last several years.

First Base

This one is really close and it comes down to (to the disappointment of the rest of the country) New York vs. Boston. Here are the contenders:

Jason Giambi - .262/.396/.542 - 17 homers, 46 rbi
Kevin Youkilis - .313/.382/.544 - 13 homers, 50 rbi
Justin Morneau - .306/.368/.483 - 12 homers, 63 rbi

Morneau is clearly third in this race (although this is the first example of how the rbi can be misleading). Giambi and Youkilis are basically even in slugging percentage and Giambi has a decent lead in OBP, while Youkilis has a solid lead in batting average (which is probably the least important of the "slash" statistics). But they are really close to each other offensively, but Youkilis is far superior to Giambi defensively. I think I would choose Giambi because of the homeruns and the OBP advantage, but I don't think that a vote for Youkilis would be a travesty. Giambi probably has the edge from the 'legacy' standpoint, as a former MVP, although that legacy now also includes a steroids tag.

Second Base

The most deserving second baseman in the American League is one of the most unknown and underrated players in the game. He's not in Chase Utley's league, but it might surprise many to find out that he's not that far behind Utley. Here is the list:

Ian Kinsler - .323/.377/.534 - 13 homers, 50 rbi, 20 sb
Brian Roberts - .293/.370/.478 - 5 homers, 30 rbi, 21 sb
Dustin Pedroia - .304/.348/.442 - 8 homers, 37 rbi, 9 sb

Many people thought that Pedroia was overrated and would come back to Earth this season, myself included, but he has continued to play at a level that not many expected from him. Brian Roberts is having one of his typically great seasons, which would probably give him the 'legacy' edge at this position, since he's been doing this for some time. Ian Kinsler, however, clearly gets the nod here. He was a 20/20 player last season and has raised his game this year and has an outside chance of being a 30/30 player.

Third Base

The answer here is pretty obvious, but a darkhorse candidate seems to gain ground with every game played:

Alex Rodriguez - .322/.404/.591 - 15 homers, 43 rbi, 10 sb
Evan Longoria - .270/.342/.529 - 15 homers, 47 rbi, 4 sb
Joe Crede - .271/.343/.506 - 15 homers, 46 rbi
Mike Lowell - .296/.359/.519 - 12 homers, 46 rbi

I did a preliminary list last week for this post and Longoria didn't make the cut, but he's gaining momentum and is now neck-and-neck with Joe Crede for the backup spot on the team. As a rookie, he certainly doesn't have the 'legacy' vote, but that's only a matter of time. He's going to be a special player. Alex Rodriguez is having another MVP-quality season. He hasn't hit as many homers as he has in the past, but I would expect him to finish with around 40 anyway.


This position used to be a strength for the American League with the 'holy trinity' of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. Then Miguel Tejada was added to the mix and throw in Omar Vizquel and someone is going to get snubbed every year. This year, though, I had a difficult time coming up with qualified candidates. Here is my list:

Michael Young - .280/.333/.408 - 7 homers, 43 rbi, 5 sb
Derek Jeter - .284/.344/.393 - 4 homers, 35 rbi, 5 sb

That's it. In most years these guys wouldn't sniff consideration (at least from me - Jeter will always get a lot of votes). Both of these guys have been quality players in the past, but Jeter obviously would win the 'legacy' battle here.


I've never understood why outfielders are lumped together - the positions are similar, but you clearly need different skills to play the different outfield positions. Regardless, the votes are for three outfielders, indpendent of position, so that is the way I have them listed as well.

JD Drew - .304/.417/.570 - 15 homers, 48 rbi, 2 sb
Josh Hamilton - .312/.362/565 - 19 homers, 79 rbi, 3 sb
Carlos Quentin - .288/.396/.544 - 19 homers, 61 rbi, 5 sb
Grady Sizemore - .268/.372/.525 - 19 homers, 45 rbi, 19 sb
Manny Ramirez - .289/.378/.519 - 16 homers, 52 rbi
Nick Markakis - .288/.394/.474 - 12 homers, 39 rbi, 8 sb
Magglio Ordonez - .307/.376/.490 - 12 homers, 50 rbi
David DeJesus - .316/.377/.480 - 8 homers, 41 rbi, 6 sb

This is clearly the position of strength for the American League. Any of the first five would be valid selections to start the game and the other three aren't that far behind. Take a close look at the numbers and especially the rbi. Does the difference in rbi between Josh Hamilton and JD Drew (or Grady Sizemore) really tell us anything about the relative abilities of those players? I submit that it does not (to steal a phrase from the hysterical Jeff Kay of the West Virginia Surf Report).

Also, take a look at David DeJesus' season so far. Those are some outstanding numbers that are getting lost in another wasted season for the Royals. DeJesus doesn't fit the mold of the speedy leadoff hitter (his stolen base success rate is barely over 50%), but if he remains at the top of the order and Alex Gordon and Billy Butler continue to develop as hitters, he will score a lot of runs for the Royals in the future.

There is a look at your American League All Stars, check in tomorrow for the National League.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Watched: Smorgasbord Live - 6/25/08

6:02 (Central Time) - I'm going to try something a little different tonight and live blog the various games. There are some interesting pitchers starting tonight, so I'll be flipping around to get a glimpse of as much as I can.

6:06 - Skip Schumaker led off with a homerun on the first pitch of the game from Armando Galarraga. Galarraga is 7-2 with a 3.03 ERA so far on the season and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Tigers. Oops, Rick Ankiel just crushed another Galarraga offering and the Cardinals are up 2-0.

6:15 - Roy Halliday is impressive - he's got filthy stuff that he locates well. He struck out the first two batters of the game before walking Brandon Phillips and then giving up a homerun to Ken Griffey, Jr. on a good pitch - a low changeup that Halliday might have left a little bit too far inside. I'm off to a good start on this live blog: as soon as I start praising a pitcher he gives up a homerun before I finish typing the sentence.

6:20 - The Yankees spotted Joba Chamberlain a 2 run lead before he'd thrown a pitch. Reports from New York are that the Yankees are removing any pitch restrictions for Joba for the rest of the season. I am interested to see if he can reign in his pitch count to stay effective later into games. He certainly has electric stuff - getting his fastball up to 96 in the first inning. Joba is not cursed by this blog - he puts the Pirates down 1-2-3 in the first.

6:30 - Has Barry Zito returned from the edge of oblivion? He struck out the first two batters of the game against the Indians and got the third on a groundout to thirdbase. He has looked terrible this season (and last season) and his statistics seemed to indicate that he was over-valued a bit before he signed his big contract in free agency, but he went from being an overrated, but still above average pitcher to being one of the worst pitchers in the major leagues awfully quickly. I think he may be in for a bit of a bounceback in the second half of this season.

6:38 - There are currently eight games available to me to watch and at seven o'clock there will be another three. The Extra Innings package is the best investment of the year for me every year. Currently pitching: Joba Chamberlain, Roy Halliday, James Shields, Barry Zito, and Aaron Harang, among others.

6:43 - Well, in my last entry I missed Randy Johnson pitching for the Diamondbacks at Fenway Park. Johnson is not nearly the pitcher he was a few years ago, but he still looks deadly against lefthanded hitters. I am really surprised at Johnson's longevity - I never thought that he would be the type of pitcher that would be effective into his 40's. His injuries haven't been surprising with his size and high-effort delivery, but his ability to come back from those injuries has surpassed my expectations.

6:45 - David Wright just hit his second homerun of the night - in only the second inning against Seattle.

6:55 - The Tigers tied the Cardinals at two, going into the third inning and then Galarraga gave up a single and then a two-base error on Marcus Thames put runners on second and third with none out and Rick Ankiel coming to the plate. I was surprised that the Tigers did not walk Ankiel to load the bases in that situation, especially since Galarraga is more effective against righthanders (and Troy Glaus was on deck). Galarraga threw a 92 mph fastball over the outside portion of the plate and Ankiel just missed his second homer of the night - driving Curtis Granderson to the warning track and driving in a run with a Sac Fly.

7:05 - Joba just threw a really nice sequence of pitches to get the final out of the third inning: a 95 mph fastball on the inside corner, a 78 mph curveball that froze the hitter, a 96 mph fastball outside for a ball, and an 85 mph slider that broke the hitter's bat causing a groundout to shortstop. The hitter really had no chance.

7:12 - David Wright is coming up for his third at bat in the first three innings. Seattle's Miguel Batista will leave to go take a shower first, though. Jose Reyes just hit a three-run homer and Batista then walked Jose Castillo to bring up Wright. The Mariners are already down 8-0 and relief pitcher Roy Corcoran's job is just to keep this game respectable. He gets off to a good start by walking David Wright (hey, it's better than a homer, right?).

7:28 - Detroit traded Denny Bautista to Pittsburgh today for a minor league pitcher. I remember when Bautista came up with the Royals a few years ago - I watched him pitch a masterful game at Kaufman Stadium his rookie year and I thought for sure that he was going to be a star. He has great stuff, throwing in the mid-90's with his fastball and his slider is virtually unhittable. But Bautista could never harness his stuff and be consistent with his location. The Royals, Rockies, Tigers and now Pirates have all been seduced by the potential, but at this point it is clear that Bautista will never live up to what he could have been.

7:33 - In one of the games that started at 7:00, the Cubs are all over Baltimore in the first inning. They've already got one run across and the bases are loaded with one out and Geovany Soto at the plate. Matt Albers got the start for the Orioles, but only lasted a third of an inning and now Lance Cormier just gave up a two run single to Soto and a one run single from Mark DeRosa and the Cubs are up 4-0 with runners on the corners and still only one out. This one is getting ugly quick.

7:42 - Joba Chamberlain has now gone five scoreless innings, giving up three hits and a walk. His pitch count is in the upper 80's, which means that he probably has no more than one more inning in him. He qualifies for the win, but I'm sure the Yankees would love to see him get a little deeper into the game to reduce the stress on the bullpen.

8:09 - Barry Zito has continued his (one-night?) revival. He has gone 6.2 scoreless innings while giving up four hits (including a double to the Indians catcher moments ago) and striking out four. And, in fact, Zito is being pulled from the game with a three run lead after throwing 108 pitches.

8:15 - A game I haven't been keeping a very close eye on has gotten out of hand: the Rays are beating the Marlins 14-0 in the sixth inning after putting up a ten spot in the fifth inning. James Shields has gone the whole way for Tampa, giving up three hits and striking out four. And, of course, just as I type that last sentence, Mike Jacobs takes Shields deep for the Marlins first run. Make that four hits and four strikeouts. Shields gets the next hitter to ground out easily to short to end the sixth.

8:26 - And Joba comes out to start the seventh after throwing 98 pitches, proving me wrong as always. He gets the first two Pirates in the seventh and then gives up consecutive hits before getting pulled for a reliever. His final line is 6.2 innings pitched, six hits and one walk allowed, and seven strikeouts. He was so close to finishing the seventh, but he clearly started to tire. He threw 114 pitches on the night.

8:43 - And that's about it. It's time for me to start working on my other blog post of the evening, the Daily Farm Report for Future Redbirds.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Watched: Cincinnati @ New York Yankees - 6/22/08

[click on pictures for a larger view]

My East Coast tour continued - after leaving Boston and Fenway Park on Friday the 20th of June, I made my way to New York and Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees play the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday June 22. This was, actually, the reason for my trip - I wanted to see a game at historic Yankee Stadium in its last season. The Stadium doesn't have the charm of Wrigley or Fenway, but there is still a lot of history at the park that makes it impressive to visit.

One of the things that I really wanted to visit was Monument Park in Centerfield, but unfortunately, we didn't make it to the park in time and this is as close as I got to it:

As for the game, we got to see a matchup of Andy Pettitte and Johnny Cueto (who I've written about before). Pettitte was riding a scoreless streak, which continued to nineteen innings before he was taken out of the game. He was extremely sharp. Here is a sequence that shows his pitching motion:

Cueto has struggled some since his first two starts that I so glowingly wrote about, but I was still very interested to see him pitch in person. He was credited with the loss, but he pitched five very strong innings before the rains came, striking out seven while giving up one run on four hits. Here is Johnny's pitching motion:

Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a homerun late in the game that I missed, but I did get a nice picture of his beautiful follow through.

The Yankees prevailed in this game mainly due to Pettitte's dominance. The Reds lineup leans heavily to the left with Griffey, Bruce, Votto and Adam Dunn (who did not start) as their big power bats and Griffey, Bruce and Votto were a combined 1-7 against Pettitte. By the time Pettitte came out after the sixth inning the Yankees were ahead 4-0 and both teams wanted to get the game over with after a fifty-five minute rain delay.

I am left to wonder what might have been without the rain. Cueto had only thrown 75 pitches and was down 1-0 when the rain came and washed out the rest of his afternoon. Meanwhile Pettitte had thrown 97 pitches through six innings when the rain came. It is certainly plausible that Cueto could have remained in the game another couple of innings and held the Yankees at bay while the Reds tried to mount a comeback, only down a run. Instead, the relief corps for the Reds immediately surrendered three runs after the rain delay and the Yankees cruised to victory.
BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Watched: St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox - 6/20/08

[as always, click on pictures for a larger view]

The Boston Celtics won the NBA title on Tuesday June 17, 2008. I attended a Red Sox game at Fenway on Friday, June 20th. It was the first game at Fenway since the Celtics won the title and there were plenty of pre-game festivities. The truth of the matter is that my seats weren't really all that great for watching the game (we had one of the notoriously terrible Fenway sightlines from the rightfield corner), but they were perfect for watching the Celtics circle the field in duckboats.

I am not a huge NBA fan, but I have always been a fan of Kevin Garnett. I took a lot of pictures of Garnett at Fenway and there isn't a single one where he isn't beaming. The whole team was happy, but there seemed to be more with Garnett - joy, relief, validation, whatever - it was a lot of fun to watch.

As for the baseball game, it was quirky, which fits since Tim Wakefield started the game for the Red Sox. There are so few knuckleball pitchers around that it is really a unique experience to watch one pitch. Wakefield had the knuckler working for the most part - he gave up three runs on seven hits in seven innings. The funny thing about the knuckler is that Wakefield looks as awkward throwing it as the hitters do trying to make contact:

The game was marked by bad defense and power coming from unlikely sources. Julio Lugo made two throwing errors from shortstop for the Red Sox, Cesar Izturis made a fielding error at short for the Cardinals, and a blooper fell between four Cardinals, causing Brendan Ryan to flip over Rick Ankiel just prior to this picture being taken:

In the end, power from unlikely sources for the Cardinals (homers by Jason LaRue - .228/.337/.329, Skip Schumaker - .305/.363/.435, and Yadier Molina - .290/.347/.382) trumped power from unlikely sources for the Red Sox (homerun by Julio Lugo - .275/.364/.346 - first homer of the season) and the Cardinals won 5-4.

By the way, you may have noticed that both Jason LaRue and Yadier Molina were in the game for the Cardinals. Molina was the DH and LaRue started at catcher, presumably because Molina was coming off of a concussion. While the move worked to the Cardinals advantage, I really couldn't understand the thought process. The Red Sox had Wakefield, a soft-throwing righty, on the mound and the Cardinals had Brian Barton, Aaron Miles, Brendan Ryan and Molina to choose from for the DH (assuming that LaRue was starting at catcher because of Molina's concussion). But between those four guys, I'm not sure how Molina was the correct choice. If LaRue had gotten hurt, then the DH position is burned when you move Molina to catcher and I don't think that the upgrade in ability from Barton to Molina, Ryan to Molina or Miles to Molina (if there is any), is worth that risk. If any other player had gotten hurt (and Izturis actually did get hurt, bringing Ryan into the game), the other bench players could be shuffled to cover the position so as not to have to burn the DH, but not catcher.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Matt Holliday Update

A few weeks ago I posted about the Colorado Rockies and Pitch f/x. The conclusion of that post was that Rockies pitchers react to pitching at altitude differently than visiting team pitchers. In essence, visiting team pitchers throw fewer breaking balls and more fastballs, while Rockies pitchers throw fewer breaking balls, but more changeups.

That differetial was exemplified in Matt Holliday's pitch f/x data showing that last season over 70% of the pitches he faced were fastballs, compared to a league average of just over 60%. Holliday's differential is the biggest on the Rockies, but all of their hitters (besides Yorvit Torrealba) had higher than average rates.

This season there has been a lot of talk about the Rockies considering a trade of Holliday while his value is high and before he hits free agency. The problem that is often mentioned is Holliday's home/away splits, which are drastic. This puts Holliday's value in question - it likely means that he is far more valuable to Colorado than he is to anyone else.

As usual, the explanation for Hollidays splits is that the ball carries farther at altitude making it easier to hit there. While this is certainly a measure of the reason for his splits, I again turn to his pitch f/x numbers and point out that, once again, Holliday is seeing far more fastballs than the rest of the league. This season he is seeing fastballs, sinkers and splitters at a rate of 68.13%, while the rest of the league averages 59.75%.

I would not be willing to give up a package of prospects worthy of an MVP candidate for Holliday. Away from Coors Field, where he won't see quite so many fastballs, he is a solid, but unspectacular player.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Watched: Memphis Redbirds at Iowa Cubs - 5/30/08

I attended the Memphis Redbirds at Iowa Cubs game in Des Moines, Iowa on May 30th. A full breakdown of the game will be posted on Future Redbirds next Monday, but I wanted to share a photo sequence I took at the game that didn't make the cut for the FR post. The Iowa Cubs have multiple players (Felix Pie, Eric Patterson and Matt Murton are the first that come to mind) that could start for about half of the teams in the major leagues. Those players dominated the game that I watched. This picture sequence is of Felix Pie sliding headfirst into third base after hitting a triple [as always, you can see a larger version by clicking on the picture]:

BallHype: hype it up!