Friday, September 18, 2009


So, great news (for me)--this blog is moving! I'm joining a couple Friends of the Blog, and a whole bunch of great sports bloggers I don't know yet, over at the Bloguin Network. Very excited about the move--they've designed a much prettier new site for me, and the network is growing really fast with all kinds of quality sports blogs (mostly sports, anyway, as far as I know). It's exciting stuff.

In related news, I've finally shelled out the ten bucks for my own domain name:

So while you'll have to update your RSS feeds, bookmarks, etc., and that will be annoying, and I'm sorry, at least the new addy will be easy to remember!

Please join me over there, take a look around, leave a comment, etc. There's nothing new up there right now, but as of tomorrow (or at least by Monday--headed to Wisconsin and a Brewers game this weekend), the baseball-related ramblings will be popping up over there, just like they used to over here, just about every single day.

And this one will be dead. Still here, but dead. So remember: See you there!

Should Vada Pinson be in the Hall of Fame?

Friend of the Blog Brad from Baseball In-Depth doesn't say it in so many words, but seems to think so. As (understandably, I suppose) do the folks at Reds Nation.

Brad does what he does often and very well, which is compile really interesting (if kind of arbitrary) sets of statistical benchmarks a player reached in his [career/season/series of seasons] and show you in whose select company the player put himself by putting up those numbers. It's good stuff. Here, Brad comes up with critera that puts Pinson up there with the likes of Bonds, A-Rod, Mays, and Aaron. And those lists are great fun, and the accomplishments are pretty impressive.

But here's another list Pinson will end up on, should he ever make it into the Hall:
Harry Hooper
Sam Rice
Richie Ashburn
Vada Pinson
Billy Southworth
Lou Brock
Max Carey
Tommy McCarthy
Ned Hanlon
Lloyd Waner

That is the complete list of current Hall of Famers (plus Pinson, placed where he would fall in the order) who had significant Major League careers as players, were primarily outfielders, and put up an OPS+ of 115 or less.

With the exception of Brock, every one of these guys was elected by the Veterans' Committee, in whose fickle (and brittle) hands Pinson's hopes now rest. Brock is frankly a pretty questionable selection himself, but he did have 3000 hits and hold the all-time stolen base record for quite a while, so we'll leave him out of it.

Hooper is a virtual unknown today, but it just so happens that he was inducted five years after the wonderful book The Glory of Their Times, in which he was prominently interviewed, was published. I'm willing to bet that that had more to do with his place in the Hall than his 2466 hits or .281 batting average.

Rice hit .322 and is currently the player who has come the closest to 3,000 hits without actually getting there (and will probably be so forever, since nowadays a player who needed fewer than 13 hits to get there would almost certainly be able to find somebody to put him on the field for a few final weeks). I'd still argue he was a very poor selection, as his gaudy batting average was almost entirely a product of the live ball era.

Ashburn is one of the greatest defensive center fielders ever to play the game, and led his league in OBP four times. When is a 110 OPS+ more than a 110 OPS+? When you're a leadoff hitter with a career .396 OBP and can cover ground like Mays or Speaker.

Southworth was inducted as a manager.

Carey is probably the best comp for Pinson currently in the Hall. Mostly a center fielder but probably not a great one, OK but not great hitter. Carey has going for him a vastly superior OBP and a huge string of years leading the league in stolen bases; Pinson probably had a better peak. It's hard to see what it is that caught the VetCom's eye with Carey.

McCarthy was a giant collective brain fart by the VetCom. All but one of his good years were in the old American Association, and even giving him credit for those, he shows up as an average hitter with a way-too-short career.

Hanlon is another manager.

Waner is famously one of the worst selections the VetCom has ever made -- it almost seems like some of them just confused Lloyd with his very-good-at-baseball brother.

So you can see where I come out on this. Pinson did have a very nice start to his career; from ages 20-24, he played virtually every game his team did and posted a 128 OPS+. But that's all that is, a nice start--once it became clear that that was his peak (just one that hit much earlier than normal), that didn't look very impressive at all. And from age 25 through the end of his career, he was basically an average hitter.

I understand that OPS+ isn't everything. Not even close. But the thing is, that fact actually hurts Pinson more than it helps him, since a hitter's most important job by far is to get on base, and Pinson's OPS came mostly from his power. OPS+ certainly wasn't what the voting writers were looking at when they rejected him in the 1980s, but they were nonetheless able to gather that he simply wasn't that good.

And there's something to be said for star power, flash, leading the league in various categories, and so on...but I just don't think that two top-ten MVP finishes, one gold glove, two all-star appearances, and a couple years leading the league in hits, doubles or triples comes anywhere close to getting Pinson there. The likes of Brady Anderson and Steve Finley (did anyone else know those two were brothers-in-law until just now?!) have most of those things.

Another number: 55.7. That represents Pinson's Adjusted Wins Above Replacement Player according to Baseball Prospectus, another thing I'm quite sure the voters in the '80s weren't looking at. If Jim Rice (55.1) is your idea of a qualified Hall of Famer, maybe Pinson is your guy. It's also worth noting that he finishes ahead of Brock (54.4) Lloyd Waner (38.6!!), and Sam Rice (50.6), and comes within spitting distance of Hooper (57.7) and Carey (59.1). He beats a few more atrocious selections like Chick Hafey (31.1!!!) and Chuck Klein (44.4), and comes fairly close to Billy Williams (59.3).

But he's well behind guys generally considered (or considered by me, at least) to be deserving-but-low-end Hall of Famers, like Ashburn (76.2), Puckett (66.5), Stargell (82.2), and Slaughter (72.1). He's also pretty indistinguishable from non-Hallers Fred Lynn (56.2), Darryl Strawberry (60.0), and Dave Parker (58.5), and he's way behind Dwight Evans (70.2).

Again, not by any means a decisive factor on its own, but I think that if you take everything together, the inescapable conclusion is that Pinson is deserving only if you're in favor of a really big Hall--one that has room for not only both Rices and Carey and Hooper and Brock, but also Lynn and Strawberry and Parker and Evans and probably Dale Murphy and Harold Baines and a couple dozen other guys.

I think Pinson has a good chance to get in. It's the Veterans' Committee, and he's a Red, and Joe Morgan's on the Veterans' Committee. And if he does get in, he'll be very far from the worst selection they've ever made. But in this day and age it would be tough for them to top the likes of Hafey and McCarthy in terrible selection terms. And I think that at the end of the day, Pinson just wasn't even that good, let alone great, and there's really no reason to put him in the Hall.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Best One-Link Links Post Ever

I don't have time today, but luckily, junior from the brilliant but now long-departed FJM blog put up one of the greatest things I've ever read in my whole sadly long history of reading stuff on the internet:

Jesus Is The Derek Jeter Of Christianity

In which the author basically goes all FJM on the ass of Allen Barra, normally a pretty solid dude as baseball writers go, who (about two weeks ago now on made a truly pitiful attempt to make a case for Derek Jeter to win the MVP award. I mean, no serious case can be made, for Jeter or for anyone other than Mauer, but Barra did a noteworthily execrable job of trying to make one. And junior points out exactly how and why that is like no one else (except those other FJM guys) can.

Junior is hilarious, and it's great when he gets really great material (that is, really awful writing) to work with. If you haven't happened to read this yet, go do it. And if you saw it but didn't make it all the way to the last paragraph, you missed the best part...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Somethingiest Something of the Aughts: The Hitters

Funny thing about writing a daily blog with no remuneration and no one to hold you accountable: sometimes life gets in the way and you don't really feel like writing anything. Sorry about my absence on Tuesday, but real-life Monday sucked like you wouldn't believe. Things now are...not okay, but they're not getting any worse, so here's your new thing.

As he often does, Rob Neyer made me think of something today. He pointed out (via some link to somebody else) that there's something of a race for the batting champion of the decade, with Ichiro! and Pujols running pretty much neck-and-neck. Which left me wondering who led in all the various other categories, and by how much. And as long as I was wondering, I thought I might as well write about it. Verducci, the "somebody else" in Neyer's post, did much the same thing, but I don't care about that, and I'm going to look at some different categories and in a different way. So away we go, stats through Monday night:

Home Runs: Alex Rodriguez, 430
No surprise here. A-Rod led his league in homers five times this decade, and this is the first year he's likely to finish out of the top eight (and he's only four out of the top ten, with at least two of the dudes in front of him out for the rest of the season). What's a little surprising is by how much A-Rod leads: he's up by 62 over Jim Thome's 368, meaning he's hit about 17% more homers than anybody else this decade. The 1990s' leader was Mark McGwire, with 405. The 1980s? Mike Schmidt, with 313. Eight players have hit more than 313 homers from 2000 through 2009, and I suppose Andruw Jones or Lance Berkman could make it nine or ten with a couple hot weeks.

Runs Batted In: Rodriguez, 1227
That's right, the unclutchiest choker ever leads the decade in the lazy man's ultimate clutchy stat, by a comfy 125 over Pujols (approximately one season's worth, which is appropriate since Pujols didn't start playing until 2001). Your 1990s leader was Albert Belle (really?) with 1099, and 1980s was Eddie Murray with 996. Murray's total would place 10th in the 2000s, right between Big Papi and Bobby Abreu.

Runs Scored: Rodriguez, 1181
That A-Rod guy? He's a good player. And one who stayed pretty healthy for an entire numerological decade, which has at least as much to do with it. This is a closer contest than the ones above, with Johnny Damon close behind at 1110. Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu mean that four of the top five have spent at least some of the decade as Yankees. 1990s: Barry Bonds, 1091. 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 1122. Hey, score one for the eighties, almost!

On-Base Percentage (min. 3000 PA): Barry Bonds, .517
What what what? Bonds OBP'ed over .500 for the whole decade? Somehow that shocks me. But I guess OBPing .559 in 2001-2004, four of his five full years in the decade, will do that. Todd Helton is a distant second with a Coors-aided .439, with only three other players within 100 points of Bonds. Frank Thomas led the nineties at .440 (Bonds just behind at a merely fantastic .434); 1980s, Wade Boggs at an equal but more dominant .440.

Slugging Percentage: Bonds, .724
Naturally, and well ahead of Pujols at .630 (though Pujols will end up with nearly 2000 more plate appearances in the decade). 1990s: McGwire, .615 (Bonds right behind again at .602); in the 1980s, Schmidt at .540. In the aughts, you'd have to go to #19 before you drop below .540; Schmidt slots between Teixeira at .542 and Bagwell at .534.

OPS+: Bonds, 221
Well, duh. Pujols second at 173, then Manny at 160. Theoretically, this should be pretty constant across the decades, and it almost works that way, but doesn't. Bonds paces the nineties again at 179, Schmidt the 80's at 153.

Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, 455
That surprised me a little, but Pierre has played since 2000 and was a regular from 2001 until late 2008, while Carl Crawford (#2 but way behind at 359) didn't play full time until 2003 and missed about a third of 2008. 1990s: Otis Nixon, 478; 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 838. Rickey led that decade by a whopping 255 (over Tim Raines) and missed leading the 1990s by 15, coming in second place. He was #105 in the 2000s.

Hit By Pitch: Jason Kendall, 155.
Up by 17 on Jason Giambi. I never thought of A-Rod or Jeter as guys who get plunked a lot, but they're both in the top ten; lots of plate appearances -> lots of stray inside fastballs, I guess. Chase Utley has been hit 104 times despite not becoming a regular until 2005. Craig Biggio was hit 147 times in the 90s (and was fourth in the 2000s at 132). Don Baylor crushed everyone else in the eighties with 160, 52 more than Chet Lemon and more than three times as many as #8 Lloyd Moseby.

Sacrifice Flies: Mike Lowell, 76.
Now that's a surprise. One leadoff triple by Denard Span could mean that Lowell gets tied by the even more surprising Orlando Cabrera, now at 75, and don't count out the less surprising Carlos Lee (74). After that, you hit Abreu at 66, and I don't think he's getting ten sac flies in three weeks. Frank Thomas had 82 in the nineties, Andre Dawson 74 in the eighties.

Double Play Groundouts: Miguel Tejada, 222.
Again, the identity of the leader is surprising, but even more surprising is the margin; Miggy is crushing Paul Konerko and his 193. Belle led the 1990s at 172, and Jim Rice predictably dominated the 1980s with 224. Rice's 224 trumps Tejada's 222 by more than it looks like, considering that (a) Julio Franco was second in the eighties at 166, which would've been seventh in the aughts, and (b) Tejada took over a thousand more plate appearances than Rice did to arrive at his total.

Plate Appearances: Bobby Abreu, 6864
This one could very easily change hands before the end of the decade, as Derek Jeter is only six behind Abreu and is batting leadoff for the best offense in the majors. Next is Tejada, a hundred behind Jeter. Biggio had 6794 in the nineties and Dale Murphy had 6540 in the eighties.

Hits: Ichiro!, 2005
He's 85 ahead of Jeter or anyone else for the decade, which is especially impressive when you consider that he was in Japan for the year 2000. Going down the rest of the list, Pujols is the next one you'll see that did not play at least a little big-league ball in both 2000 and 2009 (he's ninth at 1697), and to find the next such player, you'd have to go all the way down to #33 and Jeff Kent, who retired after last season and may end up 600 hits behind Ichiro for the decade.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just a Day: April 15, 1968

I've finally broken the twin streaks of posting these on the 10th of the month and writing about the 10th of a month. This time around, the randomizer gave us Tax Day in the Year of the Pitcher, April 15, 1968.

1968 was a fascinating year, but April 15 was a Monday, which, like now, was probably the slowest baseball day of the week. Only six games were played, and five of them were kind of unspectacular. Let's get to that one huge, glaring exception right away, huh?
  • The Astros beat the Mets 1-0 in 24 innings. About 35% of the innings played in all of MLB on this day are played between the two relatively recent expansion squads. 23 year old Tom Seaver starts and goes 10 for the Metropolitans, permitting only two hits and no walks, and at one point retiring 25 batters in a row, but I guess he didn't pitch well enough to win, as Don Wilson gives up five hits and three walks but holds the Mets scoreless through nine.

    The Mets threaten in a few innings, but can't get anything through; the Astros get a man on third with one out in the second (on a double and a Seaver wild pitch), but then see him erased on a fielder's choice groundout and don't get another baserunner until the 10th. There's a lot of back and forth in extras, but nobody can get a run across until the 24th. In the bottom of that inning, with Les Rohr pitching, Norm Miller singles. Rohr then balks with Jimmy Wynn batting, so Wynn is then intentionally walked. After a weak Rusty Staub groundout advances both runners, pinch hitter John Bateman is also intentionally walked, bringing up Bob Aspromonte, who blew the Astros' previous best chance in the 2nd. Here, he hits a grounder to short. Utilityman Al Weis boots it, and the longest shutout win in history is over. Some contemporary accounts reprinted here.

  • Just a couple more things about that amazing game--Tommie Agee and Ron Swaboda both go 0-f0r-10. Both teams finish an identical 11-for-79, a .139 batting average. Pitchers issue a total of twelve walks, six of them intentional. One of the only hitters to have what you might call a good day is Hector Torres, a career .218/.260/.281 hitter, who had three singles in eight at-bats. There are 35 strikeouts, and Seaver records only three of them.

  • The Twins beat the Orioles 6-3. Carew and Oliva collect two hits apiece, and Bob Allison has two doubles and a triple. Dick Boswell goes the distance to get the win, permitting four hits and six walks while striking out seven (too bad they don't have pitch counts available). The Twins go to 5-0 on the year, but go 74-83 the rest of the way and finish 24 games behind Detroit. One telling sign of the times: Bob Allison, a fading star in his last full year at just 33, had a productive season batting 5th in a pretty powerful lineup in front of three pretty great hitters (though they were rarely all healthy at the same time this season), cracks out 22 home runs...and ends up with 52 RBI.

  • Bob Gibson has arguably the "worst" game of his incredible season, permitting three earned on five hits and three walks (striking out five) in seven innings of work. The Cards come back to win it in 10 innings, 4-3, Joe Hoerner facing one batter to earn credit for the "win." Gibson gives up 3 or more earned seven times in 1968, but after this, his second start of the season, doesn't go less than 8 innings in any other start all season (he'd also gone 7 in his first start on April 10).

  • The A's beat the Yankees, 6-3. I mention this only because a 22 year old named Reggie Jackson, who hits his second home run of the season, was batting second in the A's order. He batted second for the first 32 games, 8th (!) for a while, then 5th or 6th for a while, then moved back to second for most of the rest of the season, starting a total of 69 games there. Almost nobody these days (or then, I would think) would bat a guy who strikes out as often as Reggie in the #2 slot, but it's a pretty good spot to put him. Of course, the following year, 1969, is the one in which Reggie had 37 homers at the break, and 47 for the year. He started that year batting second too, but was very quickly moved to the third slot, and spent the next 18 years or so batting third or fourth somewhere.

  • Billy Brewer is born. Lefty reliever in the mid to late nineties, and one of the great baseball names of all time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Jeter Is Just Alright with Me

So Derek Jeter has been in the news quite a bit lately. He is, after all, the most recent proud owner of a Viagra Milestone Moment. Yesterday, Craig was excoriated by legions of barely literate Yankee fans* in the comments to the NBC blog for suggesting that maybe seven separate stories by one newspaper surrounding the tying (not even setting, tying) of a single franchise record by a single player was overkill.

* I'm not making a generalization about Yankee fans at all, just talking about those particular Yankee fans, and I'm not exaggerating. Go read those comments and discover for yourself.

Also yesterday, Jason at IIATMS put up what I think is a really nice piece on what Jeter means to him as a fan. And I think that's great. Jason expresses exactly what one should feel about a great player that's played for your own team for 14 years.

I've been a pretty harsh Jeter-basher over the years (only mentioned him once on this blog, but it wasn't friendly), but none of that has anything to do with how Yankee fans feel about him. And really, none of it has anything to do with Jeter himself; while I feel he's showboated and behaved overtly selfishly more than the greatest leader in baseball history should, guys who play hard are fun, and he seems like a pretty solid character overall.

Rather, my problem has been with how the national media has taken all that love and all that character and rolled it together into this larger-than-life, iconic hero for the whole baseball nation. It obscures his weaknesses--which have been real and numerous--and takes a lot of attention away from other players who (if only momentarily) have been better. Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn were heroes to their own fans, and that's a wonderful thing. And they were great players. But they weren't the kind of players who should have dominated all coverage of the sport. I believe that essentially, Jeter is basically what would've happened if Puckett or Gwynn or Cal Ripken, Jr. had played his entire career with the Yankees instead. And that can get awfully annoying to the rest of us.

But let me change gears completely: I think it's time for us -- and by "us" I mean sabermetric types who are fans of teams other than the Yankees -- to back the hell off and give Jeter his due. No, to this point, he arguably hasn't been markedly greater than Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, both of whom will have a hard time getting into the Hall, while Jeter will waltz in on the first ballot if he retires tomorrow. But those guys should be in the Hall, and the unfortunate fact that they haven't gotten the attention they deserve isn't a great reason to deprive Jeter of the credit he has earned.

Furthermore, you can't really look at Jeter and compare him to those other guys and say "and he hasn't even had his decline phase yet!" anymore. Yes, the decline phase is coming eventually, but Jeter is 35 years old. At 35, Trammell was no longer a full-time player, and immediately became a very bad half-time player for his final three seasons starting with age 36. Larkin had already declined significantly and was in his last year as a useful player. Jeter, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career.

And then there's that defense. I remain thoroughly convinced that Jeter has never been even an average shortstop, and I think Bill James was probably more or less right when he wrote that he was one of the worst regular shortstops we've ever seen who was allowed to stay at the position for more than a year or so. Moreover, it still kind of pisses me off that they moved A-Rod to third for him, when A-Rod was obviously the superior shortstop. But. UZR and plus/minus aren't available before 2002, and I don't trust any other defensive stats. Even the new measures are subject to wild fluctuations from year to year that can't just be explained away by players having good years or bad years. But by UZR, Jeter has had two awful years, one bad year, and four more or less average years since 2002, and now this year he's been above zero, and actually very good (+5.1). I'm not prepared to believe that a guy who can look that good at age 35, and average so many other times, is as awful as we once thought.

Another common stathead criticism of Jeter is that (in a given year) he's not even the best player on his own team, and I guess I get that when you're trying to combat all the Jeter love, but it also strikes me as a little silly--the fact that Bernie Williams is having a great year or A-Rod is A-Rod shouldn't take away from Jeter's greatness any more than Nick Punto and Delmon Young being bad at baseball should take away from Mauer's MVP candidacy. And at any rate, now -- at an age when most middle infielders, even the best of them, are in serious decline or retired -- Jeter unquestionably is the best player on his team, and that team is the best team in the game right now. So that doesn't work anymore either.

Finally, there's his consistency. Jeter has been one of the two or three best shortstops in the American League every single year for at least the last twelve and possibly more, and that's really something when you're playing at the same time as A-Rod and Nomah and Miggy. That's more than one can say for Trammell or Larkin, both of whom fluctuated quite a bit over their careers (and Larkin was always hurt). Jeter could justifiably have won two MVPs, and would be in line for a third deserving MVP this season if not for Mauer.

No, Jeter is not one of the three or four best Yankees of all time. It's profoundly silly to compare him favorably to Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig or DiMaggio. But he's a great, great player, certainly among the greatest of our current time, and it's time to stop begrudging Yankee fans their right to enjoy that. And maybe to start enjoying it just a little bit ourselves? I can't believe I just said that.

Totally cool to keep ripping on ESPN and Tim McCarver, though. I mean, everybody has a breaking point.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Three Comparisons

One: Half-Season MVP Division
Through their first 42 games with their new, National League teams:
Manny Ramirez, 2008: .395/.478/.743 (1.222 OPS), 29 R, 14 HR, 43 RBI
Matt Holliday, 2009: .379/.437/.702 (1.139 OPS), 33 R, 12 HR, 41 RBI
(thanks to the StL P-D for that one.)

Two: I Told You So Division
Orlando Cabrera, since August 1: .256/.283/.353 (.636 OPS), -6.2 UZR (yes, -6.2 runs in 34 games. I mean, what?)
Nick Punto, season: .220/.320/.275 (.595 OPS), +1.4 UZR

Three: Obviously, They're Just Being Cheap Again Division
Since June 3:
Nate McLouth: .264/.353/.439 (.792 OPS), -5.2 UZR
Andrew McCutchen: .278/.355/.470 (.826 OPS), +2.4 UZR

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Better Luck Next Year: Chicago Cubs

Hey, happy 09/09/09 (at 9 a.m.)!

So, theirs is the one failure that has surprised me most in 2009. At 70-67, the Cubs haven't been awful, but I (and almost everyone else) thought they'd run away with the NL Central, and instead they've let the Cardinals run away with it. The Cubbies are now about 11 games behind in the division and eight games (and five teams) out of the Wildcard, with just 28 to play. So the streak without a championship will certainly run to 101 seasons; any chance it ends there?

2010 Cubs now under contract, with 2009 WAR
C: Geovany Soto (1.1)
1B: Derrek Lee (4.0)
2B: Mike Fontenot (0.2)
3B: Aramis Ramirez (1.7)
SS: Ryan Theriot (2.3)
LF: Alfonso Soriano (-0.7)
CF: Kosuke Fukudome (2.5)
RF: Milton Bradley (1.7)

Pitchers, with 2009 FIPs:
Ryan Dempster (4.02)
Ted Lilly (3.88)
Randy Wells (3.85)
Carlos Zambrano (3.90)
Sean Marshall (4.35)
Bullpen: Carlos Marmol (4.01), Aaron Heilman (4.43), Angel Guzman (4.34)

It would be kind of gratifying to blame this season on GM Jim Hendry's predictably terrible offseason moves -- chief among them his baffling decision to pick up mediocre "closer" Kevin Gregg and his severe overpayment of problem child Milton Bradley -- but take a look at this. This is the difference between the following players' 2008 and 2009 WARs:
Soriano: 3.9
Soto: 3.5
Fontenot: 2.9
Ramirez: 2.3
TOTAL: 12.6

Add those 13 wins to the Cubs' total right now and they're 83-54, about two games ahead of the Cards (and that's assuming, probably falsely, that none of those extra wins come against the Cards).

Now, that oversimplifies things. Rookie Jake Fox came in and relieved some of the pressure from losing Ramirez to injury with a solid bat (though WAR says he's given most of it back on defense), and Lee has been much better than expected. And it's not like Gregg hasn't cost them a win or so, and Marmol's complete loss of the strike zone, and Dempster and Harden not being quite as good as they would've hoped...but really, make whatever little adjustments you want, and still, if you give those four guys listed above their 2008 numbers back (and none of them were outlandish numbers, really), you've got a real race for the division.

So here's where I normally do the three things they need to MAKE happen and the three things they need to HAVE happen...but I don't think that works here, for a few reasons:

First, there aren't a lot of moves to be made for this team. They might bring Harden back and kick Marshall back out of the rotation, or they might sign another starter, and they could certainly stand to improve that bullpen, but outside the pen, everyone on the list above has been a quality full-time major league starter at his listed position sometime in the last two seasons. That's not to say that you can't improve one of those positions, but it's just hard to see how it would go down. Most of these guys are well paid, few would be terribly attractive targets to teams looking to dump talent, and the Cubs' prospect list is pretty thin at the top. I'm sure Hendry wants to do something anyway, but I'm not convinced that anything he might do is likely to actually help this squad.

Second, and maybe more importantly, I'm not sure they'll be permitted to make any moves at this point. Assuming the sale of the team is even finalized by the time for moves to be made, who knows how much the owners will want to spend? They've already got more than $10 million each (and in some cases, much more) committed to Lee, Bradley, Dempster, Fukudome, Soriano, Ramirez and Zambrano for 2010. Now, the Cubs and Wrigley Field may look to you and me like bottomless bowls of money (in the sense of the bottomless cup of coffee you might get at a diner), but we also know that millionaires and billionaires get to be millionaires and billionaires by not looking at the world that way. There's definitely a limit to what the Cubs will (and in a business sense should) spend, and I think there's a good chance they're already pretty close to that limit for 2010. Also, a lot of these guys' contracts are expiring in 2010 or '11, and while that may mean that 2010 is when you really go for it, it also means that it might be a bad time to sign a big free agent to a long-term contract; it's hard to believe with a team like the Cubs, but you might be looking at a rebuilding situation in a year or two.

Of course there are still potential trades out there. Josh proposes that the Cubs trade Soriano and Bradley for Vernon Wells, which would trade two bad contracts for one and free up some payroll in the short term. Even if the Jays would do that, though (and I can't think of a reason they would), if I'm the Cubs, I'm saying no to that one. In all likelihood, the Jays are getting the two best players in a three-player deal, and Bradley's contract isn't that bad (he's still a valuable player despite all the bad press, and has a chance to be a very valuable one again in 2010).

So I'd pretty much stand pat and hope for the best. With four starters with FIPs right around 4.00, they've got one of the best rotations in baseball (Randy Wells' minor league record suggests he's not really that guy, but even if not, Sean Marshall isn't that much of a dropoff). Bring Harden back (4.30 FIP in 2008, but 3.58 career), and it gets even better. I don't see much else for them to do right now than to count on some combination of bouncebacks by A-Ram, Soriano, Soto and Fontenot, improvements by Fukudome and Bradley, or another big step forward by Jake Fox to provide offense behind that pitching staff. And improve the bullpen, naturally, but scoring runs is the big thing.

One idea, though: trade Milton Bradley to some AL team for prospects. He's okay in the field, but he arguably has more value to a team that can DH him to keep his bat in the lineup. Then, move Fukudome back to RF and pick up a good one-year center fielder...someone like free-agent-to-be Mike Cameron. Fukudome is a plus defender in the corners and an average defender in center, while Bradley is merely an average defender in the corner. Cameron will be 37, but has long been one of the best outfield defenders in teh game and can still cover plenty of ground out there. He's still got a pretty solid bat, and has the kind of gap power that Wrigley could turn into homer power (small sample, but he has a career .577 SLG there). It would improve their defense without sacrificing much, or possibly any, offense (unless Bradley bounces back into 2008 form).

I'd be reluctant to do that, because the bad press and low power output have made Bradley pretty undesirable right now. They'd get very little for him, and may end up having to pay a large portion of his salary (which, depending on the team's budget, might put even Cameron out of their range). It's a lot of work and a lot of risk for a pretty marginal improvement.

The Cardinals are almost guaranteed to come back to earth in 2010, barring a big surprise move or two in the offseason (more on that at some point, I'm sure); there's no reason to think A-Ram will get hurt again; and Soriano and Soto almost couldn't help but get better. So while the bad news is that I don't see a lot of ways for them to get better for 2010, the good news is that I think the team as currently constituted (plus some cheap bullpen help and maybe Harden) has a very good chance to compete.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Unexcused absence ends tomorrow

I'd like to say I'm working on something big for tomorrow, but while I'm hoping to have something big for tomorrow, the truth is I haven't started it yet, having spent the last three days in (or driving to and from) Minnesota. Back to it on Wednesday morning....

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Mike Piazza!

Mike, who sure seems like he should have a more Italian middle name than "Joseph," is 41 today.

I don't really have anything new to tell you about a guy like Piazza, but lookit (also just seeing how/if this new BBREF feature works):

[There we go! Took a few tries.]
So...yeah. A lot of people are saying Mauer's having the best year by a catcher ever, and maybe he is when you factor in defense and such, but it's pretty hard to compete with that.

Piazza outhit Larry Walker by OPS+, had only four points less of batting average and six fewer RBI...and Larry Walker was a RF who played in the best hitters' environment in history, Piazza a catcher (technically) in a pitcher's park (which doesn't factor into the OPS+, of course, but the HR and RBI). The Dodgers even finished ahead of the Rockies in the standings. Where does this rank among the worst MVP snubs of all time? Would Mauer 2009 be worse?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The All-Metrodome Team Revisited

I meant to do this weeks ago, but of course, just as they said they would, the Twins released the combined fans-and-experts' All-Metrodome Team selections about a month ago.

In four posts this spring, I named my own All-Metrodome Team. So how'd I do?

Here's the "real" All-Metrodome Team, with asterisks next to selections that were also mine:

C Joe Mauer*
1B Kent Hrbek* AND Justin Morneau*^
2B Chuck Knoblauch*
3B Gary Gaetti*
SS Greg Gagne*
OF Tom Brunansky
OF Dan Gladden
OF Torii Hunter*
OF Kirby Puckett*
DH Paul Molitor

SP Bert Blyleven
SP Johan Santana*
SP Frank Viola*
SP Brad Radke*

RP Joe Nathan*
RP Rick Aguilera*

MGR Tom Kelly*

^ I cheated and put Morneau at DH; they cheated and put Morneau as a second 1B.

Not bad, right? 18 names, and the super-awesome panel of Twins experts and I agree on 14 of them (78%).

But: I only picked 15 names. Because the ballot only allowed for 15 names, so I went ahead and stayed within the rules (except Morneau, and only because the DH picks were ridiculous). Our panel did not; they added for PR reasons, I have to assume, Morneau, Blyleven, and Gladden, because all three currently have roles with the team and they didn't want to offend them or the viewers/listeners (given that, though, it's a shock that they didn't pick both Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire).

So here's where they were dumb:

1. Leaving Shane Mack off. It's not any kind of surprise--I acknowledged when I made my pick that most people wouldn't agree with me--but just take a look at it, and he's a no-brainer. He played just five seasons with the Twins, but was an integral part of the 1991 World Series team, and played phenomenal defense at all three outfield positions while putting up a 130 OPS+. I knew they'd leave him off, but to name four outfielders, out of twelve on the ballot, and still leave him off? Terrible.

2. Dan Gladden. What? I mean, I know he's a radio broadcaster now (a terrible one, by the way), I know he's a World Series hero and one of the few to play in both Series, and I know...well, that's all I know. Gladden played five seasons with the Twins (hey, the same number as Mack, and with a whopping 300 more plate appearances!) and posted a 90 OPS+. Great outfield defense, but no better than Mack's--his defense simply made him about an average player, while Mack's made him one of the better players in the league. There's no contest. Not only that, but Jacque Jones, Michael Cuddyer and Matt Lawton were all better choices than Gladden as well.

3. Tom Brunansky. He was fine--and my first runner-up, so I guess if I'm gonna pick four he's in--but not even close to Mack.

4. Paul Molitor. I get it--Hall of Famer, St. Paul native, was a coach for a while, and the other choices were David Ortiz, Chili Davis, Roy Smalley and Dave Winfield. But he played only three seasons with the Twins, and only in the first was he actually a competent DH. If you're going to cheat and throw Morneau in anyway, why not do what I did and throw him in at DH?

5. Bert Blyleven. Obviously one of the Twins' two greatest pitchers of all time. His Metrodome-era career, though? Three and a half seasons with approximately a 100 ERA+ and the (at the time) two highest HR-allowed seasons in history. If he's not in your employ, there's no need to expand the team to add him at all.

Honestly, though? It's a lot better than I thought they would do. Hrbek's on the team, Gaetti over Morneau Koskie [EDIT: heh, all you Canadians look the same to me] [EDIT AGAIN: I actually picked Koskie over Gaetti, but noted that it was basically a toss-up, so whatever], and they got all three of the correct pitchers along with Blyleven. I was pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Should Hitters be Platooned More Often?

Ryan Howard is a good hitter. A very, very good hitter. He has a .921 2009 OPS and a .961 career OPS (142 OPS+). Howard's splits look like this:

vs. RHP, career: .307/.409/.561 (1.071)
vs. LHP, career: .224/.308/.446 (.754)

Against righties, Howard is every bit the monster he's reputed to be. Against lefties, he's a well below-average first baseman. But wait, there's more:

vs. LHP, 2008-09: .212/.290/.406 (.696)
vs. LHP, 2009: .198/.284/.348 (.632)

Every club's AAA squad has a right-handed hitter who could probably play a passable first base and put up a .700 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Of course, you can't platoon Howard. You should, but you can't. His overall numbers and his resultant reputation are just too good. He's not going to lead the NL in homers and RBIs every year by platooning. Also, in his (almost deserved) MVP year of 2006, he did put up a .923 OPS against lefties (which is pretty much the whole difference between MVP-quality Howard and the last couple years' pretty-decent-first-baseman Howard).

But consider another case. Tonight, the Twins were facing White Sox southpaw John Danks. They started Jason Kubel at DH and in his customary #5 slot in the order, and they started Delmon Young in left field and in the #8 slot. Forget for a moment that it's crazy to play either of these guys in the field, and just consider this (vs.LHP/vs.RHP):

Kubel's splits, career: .667/.844, 2009: .622/1.010
Young's splits, career: .805/.697, 2009: .861/.578.

Kubel, looking at his total line, has always been a good hitter, and has been one of the 15 or so best hitters in the league in 2009, with a 140 OPS+ and .387 wOBA. Young, on the other hand, has been as disastrous as ever, with a 78 OPS+ and .288 wOBA. Yet: Kubel is just as helpless against lefties now as he's always been, or even more so--the only difference is that he's crushing righties rather than just holding his own against them. No matter how lovely his overall numbers are (and add a .300 average, 22 homers and 77 RBI to that OPS), Kubel has no business ever serving as the designated hitter against a left-handed pitcher. Ever. Delmon Young is Kubel's perfect platoon partner, and DH vs. LHP may be the only role for which Young is actually suited.

There's another great reason to platoon, too. Say you're playing a team with a southpaw starter but a shortage of lefties in the 'pen, or a right-handed closer that you know they're going to use in the ninth. How awesome is it to have the luxury of using Ryan Howard or Jason Kubel (or your righty thumper if the situation is reversed) at exactly the right time, rather than just hoping his turn in the order comes up when you need it to?

So here's my idea, for some future really, really ballsy manager and/or GM:

We need to stop thinking of "hitting" as a skill. Rather, there's hitting vs. LHP and there's hitting vs. RHP, and they're totally separate skills, and your ability to do one doesn't make it a whole lot more or less likely that you can do the other.

So Ryan Howard has been awesome, and has put up some awesome stats, but he hasn't somehow earned the right to keep sucking against LHP by virtue of being awesome against RHP, any more than Tim Lincecum has earned the right to start in center field by virtue of being an awesome pitcher.

This kind of thinking would lead to a lot more platoons in more extreme situations (and there are a lot of them), and teams would properly value right-handed hitters whose numbers look bad because they hit against RHP 70% of the time, but who are highly valuable as the less-used half of a lefty/righty platoon. But even more commonly, it would change the way managers set batting orders and rest players. Almost every player (as we all know, but which I don't think people pay enough attention to) has a significant split in favor of opposite-handed pitchers. For instance, Mauer is a Hall of Fame .951 career vs. LHP and a merely pretty-good-for-a-catcher .762 vs. LHP, and while he deserves to start most games against both, he's probably not a #3 hitter against lefties, and he should never get a day of rest when a righty is on the mound unless the team has faced six righties in a row. Even Roberto Alomar, a switch-hitter and future Hall of Famer, probably batted high in the order far too often against LHP, against whom he had an OBP 50 points lower than he had against RHP (.337/.386).

It's not a big deal on a case-by-case basis (except in extreme cases like Howard and Kubel), but a manager who really looked at these things, roster spot by roster spot, and utilized significant platoon advantages whenever possible -- in setting the lineup and order and actually using platoons where appropriate, not merely pinch-hitting at the end of the game -- might pick up an extra win or two over the course of the season. And DHing Kubel against lefties just has to stop.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fun with RBI Opportunities

I'm a big fan of the RBI Opportunities Report over at Baseball Prospectus. Sort by OBI% (and enter a minimum number of PA), and it shows you the percentage of runners on base during each hitter's PA that that hitter has driven in. If you want to impress on somebody how completely context-dependent players' RBI totals are, it's really nice to be able to head over there and point out how David DeJesus is doing a considerably better job driving in the runners that have gotten on base for him than Mark Teixeira is, or that Yunel Escobar comes out ahead of Ryan Howard.

But that's not totally fair to the sluggers, is it? I mean, really, a player has one RBI opportunity in each plate appearance that's not accounted for here, because he could always drive himself in, and of course Tex does a much better job of that than DeJesus does. So to get the true percentage of potential RsBI converted, counting the hitter himself as one such potential RBI, we'd have to do this (where "ROB" is the total number of runners on base for the hitter's times at bat, according to the BP report linked above):
RBI / (PA + ROB)
Right? I'm sure this isn't by any means a new idea, but I haven't seen it. I don't have the kind of database I'd need to really do this for everybody (I'm pretty sure I could do something like that, but haven't got around to figuring it out yet), so let's take a look at just a few.

First, the leaders in RBI total in each league (all stats through Sunday):


First of all, note that this is a terrible way to measure the value of anything. It gives a huge advantage to guys who get the most opportunities with runners on base (much less of an advantage than just counting up RBI totals gives them, but still) and punishes guys who get lots of PA without runners on, since your odds of hitting a solo HR are a lot worse than your odds of getting a runner home from third. But anyway, it was just for fun. And as I said, the Baseball Prospectus OBI% method has the opposite problem, so I thought I'd give the HR hitters a bit of a bump.

So. Teixeira is not the best in the American League at driving in runs on a per-opportunity basis. Fielder may be the best in the NL; he's at least the best out of the top 11 in total RBI (note that he also leads the NL in plate appearances, so his dominance of this made-up statistic is especially impressive).

But you know, all those big guys at the top still do a pretty good job by this method. Still, though, to lead the league in RBI seems to take a healthy amount of ability and luck: of the four guys with over 100 RBI as of Sunday, three of them have seen the first (Tex), second (Howard) and sixth (Prince) most runners on base during their PAs. The fourth, of course, is Pujols, who is just 15th in ROB.

Your luckiest, most opportunity-dependent RBI leaders are the guys you'd actually expect...especially Aaron Hill. A lot has been written lately about how Aaron Hill is suddenly this big surprise run producer, and yeah, it's pretty shocking that he's cracked out 31 homers. But with a .322 OBP, he's just a slightly above average hitter (.350 wOBA). He's acquired all those RBI (and to some extent all those HR) by having the most plate appearances in the majors. He's also 8th in the AL in ROB.

Of the 10 RBI leaders in the AL, 6 are in the top 10 in the league in ROB. 8 are in the top 14. Morales and V-Mart are the oddballs (-slash-impressive run producers) at #24 and 48, respectively.

Of the 11 RBI leaders in the NL, 7 are in the top 10 in ROB, and 10 are in the top 17.
Hanley Ramirez is your real Mr. RBI (well, after Fielder), way down at #26.

So, yeah. Next time someone starts talking about a Good RBI Guy, you can correct them--about 90% of the time, he's more of a Lots of RBI Opportunities Guy.

A few more, just for fun:
Mauer.....464.....268.....79...... .1079 (better than all of the above AL guys except Morales).
Jeter.....582.....296.....60.... .0683 (all those leadoff PA make this a useless stat for him).
Utley.....556.....338.....84..... .0939 (if only he could be hitting behind Utley every day).

Okay, that was pointless but fun. Next time, something poignant but mind-explodingly dull.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Better Luck Next Year: Cincinnati Reds

You could say that a deficit of 19.5 games (that's how far the Reds are behind the Cardinals as of this morning) isn't likely to be made up in a year--especially not when there are three more teams between you and first place--and you'd be right. But the Reds have some intriguing young players and have been dragged down by some pretty devastating injuries, so it's worth taking a look.

2010 Reds now under contract, with 2009 WAR
C Ryan Hanigan (0.9)
1B Joey Votto (2.7)
2B Brandon Phillips (2.3)
3B Scott Rolen (3.0)
SS Paul Janish (0.6)
LF Chris Dickerson (1.8)
CF Drew Stubbs (Rookie)
RF Jay Bruce (1.0)

Pitchers, with 2009 FIPs:
Aaron Harang (4.18)
Bronson Arroyo (5.10)
Johnny Cueto (4.75)
Homer Bailey (5.23)
Micah Owings (5.75)
Bullpen: Francisco Cordero (3.18), Nick Masset (3.84), Danny Herrera (4.05)

Bad, but filled with promise. Stubbs should be a hell of a player. Bruce is having a nightmare of a season, but was the top prospect in the game not two years ago, and he's been terrific in right field. Phillips plays good D and can hit better than the league-average line he's put up so far. Votto is a stud who missed a bunch of games this year, and his defense (by UZR) looks pretty bad for 2009, but was +10 runs (roughly +1 win) in 2008; a rebound by him should be expected and will make a huge difference.

Harang has taken a bit of a step back from his "unheralded ace" status of a couple years ago, but is still a solid pitcher, and all of the other four starters have shown signs that they can be very good pitchers (some more likely to be than others, but it's all possible). This is a team, however, that will badly miss Edinson Volquez, who is expected to miss most of the 2010 season. Their bullpen is full of guys with pretty ERAs; most bullpen ERAs can't be trusted, but given the sheer number of them, you have to figure they can find three or four talents in there that can anchor their 2010 'pen in front of Cordero.

Then again, they could just decide to blow the whole thing up any day now. Their odds are long, and Harang, Arroyo and Cordero are all pretty expensive. But let's just say they decide to go for it. And anyway, why would they have picked up the last year and a half of Rolen's contract if they weren't going to go for it?

What They Need to MAKE Happen
1. Get an impact player at catcher or shortstop. Impact catchers are hard (okay, impossible) to find on the open market. Bengie Molina wouldn't be a bad gamble at the right price (decent defensive skills and an OPS close to average qualifies as "impact" by catcher standards), but I'm sure someone (very likely his current club, the Giants) will overvalue his veteran leadership and RBIs and drive him well out of reasonable range.
At shortstop, I'm sure they can get the recently departed Alex Gonzalez back for a song, but that's approximately one song more than he's worth at this point. His defense has been good, but his bat has completely vanished, and comebacks by middling shortstops at age 33 aren't good bets (even if the bat comes back, the defense slips--see Guzman, Cristian).
So unless someone like Molina falls into their laps or they can swing an improbable trade for an underutilized catcher on someone else's team (I'm looking at you, Chris Iannetta), the focus should be on getting a better shortstop. The best of the free agent class is likely to be Marco Scutaro, though Miguel Tejada is out there too, and there are several likely to be available in fairly minor trades who could give you a +2.5-win-or-so performance.

2. Separate Dusty Baker from Willy Taveras and Everyone Like Him. I'd be all for firing Dusty Baker--the man just doesn't know what he's doing--but if you can't do that, you've got to purge your team of all possible gutsy, toolsy players so that Dusty can't be tempted to actually use them. Taveras is a blindingly fast runner, an excellent defensive center fielder, and an overall crap player because he can't hit to save his life. He'd be a fine pinch runner/defensive replacement, but Dusty would use him way more than that. Drew Stubbs needs to be the center fielder of both the future and the present for this team. No more Taverases and Corey Pattersons, anywhere, ever. Unfortunately, Taveras is owed $4 million for 2010 for some reason, so if he's healthy, he'll likely be given every opportunity to win a spot on the team. So come to think of it, just fire Dusty already.

3. Find a platoon partner for Chris Dickerson. The Reds have two reasonable options for left field: Dickerson and Laynce Nix. Nix has shown some nice power and both have played good D, but Dickerson is the better player, and both are lefties who can't hit lefties. It would be ideal if the Reds could move Nix for a similar bit player who bats right-handed. Dickerson is a career .289/.388/.460 hitter against righties. If they were able to pair someone like the Tigers' Ryan Raburn (.242/.355/.516 vs. LHP this season) with that, they could have the equivalent of something like a $10-12 million player for the cost of essentially two minimum salaries. (I have no particular reason to believe that Raburn would be available, but guys like him certainly will be--many are likely hidden away in AAA because of their inability to hit righty pitching.)

What They Need to HAVE Happen
1. Jay Bruce needs to get good fast. This was a guy that was projected as something like a .300/.350/.550, 40-HR hitter with good D in the outfield corners, and quickly. The defense has been there in '09, but the offense has been offensive, with 18 homers but a .207 batting average and a .287 OBP through Saturday. On one hand, there are all kinds of reasons to expect him to bounce back; he's very young, he's walking more and striking out less than in 2008, and he's been victimized by an almost unbelievably low .202 BABIP, so there's no question that a lot of it is bad luck. On the other hand, though, his line drive and ground ball rates have plummeted while his fly ball rate has shot through the roof (35.2% in 2008, 49.6% in 2009), which isn't conducive to getting a lot of hits. He's very likely to be a productive player in 2010 regardless, but getting back to hitting the top half of the ball every now and then would probably help a lot.

2. Scott Rolen needs to stay healthy. It's hard to believe Rolen will be just 35 years old in 2010; in some ways, he's seemed old since pretty much the day he arrived with the Phillies 13 years ago. From 2004-2008 he played 142, 56, 142, 112 and 115 games, and if he plays every remaining game in 2009 he'll still end up in only 132 for the year. But when he's on the field, he's still a star. He plays excellent defense -- if not as excellent as five or six years ago when he was the best-fielding 3B anyone who missed Mike Schmidt's prime had ever seen -- and is currently hitting .312/.368/.466. Much of that was in the tougher American League, and there aren't a lot of markers to suggest that he's benefiting from a lot of luck, so .300/.370/.480 or so would be a reasonable expectation from a healthy Rolen in 2010. This is a team, as I've said, whose status as a contender kind of on the brink as it is, so they badly need every game they can possibly squeeze out of Rolen.

3. Either Johnny Cueto or Homer Bailey needs to fulfill his potential. A year or two ago, they were two of the better pitching prospects in the game, and while Cueto has been much better than Bailey in the majors, neither one has come close to doing what people thought he could do. One of those two guys needs to take the leap and form a strong 1-2 with Harang. The good news is that in his last two starts, Bailey is 2-0 with 11 hits, 5 walks, 11 strikeouts and an 0.60 ERA in 15 innings; the bad newses are that (a) Cueto has seemed to get worse every month he's been in the majors, and (b) those performances dropped Bailey's ERA all the way from 7.53 to 6.04.

The Reds are going to have a tough time avoiding the 90-loss mark this year, and they're not going to emerge from Spring Training '10 as anything like favorites. But if all these things happen and they get a couple more little breaks here and there, I can see them winning something between 85 and 90. And is it really that hard to see 87 wins or so being enough to win the Central?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hanley being Hanley

I know you've probably all seen this, but Rob Neyer thinks Albert Pujols might not be the MVP.

And I'm going to go one further: right now, right this very second, Pujols is not the MVP. Hanley Ramirez is.

It was barely two weeks ago when I said this: "it's impossible to make an argument against Albert." And it was. But since I wrote those words, late on the evening of August 11, here's what's happened:

Pujols: .261/.404/.522
Hanley: .481/.542/.731
and just for fun, Utley: .296/.500/.729

Well, that changes things, doesn't it? I don't think Albert's getting that triple crown after all (sorry, lar).

As I write this, Fangraphs has the three top NL WARs as 6.9 for Ramirez, 6.8 for Utley, and 6.4 for Pujols. That half-win difference isn't big, but it isn't too close to call, either. Say you don't think they've got defense right at all, and you want to go with plus-minus instead of UZR? That bumps them about four runs closer together. Narrows the gap a lot, but doesn't close it. Hanley still wins.

Look, Pujols is going to win the MVP. No question about it. And that's certainly not any kind of a tragedy; he's still having an incredible season. But imagine you're at the beginning of the 2009 season and building a brand-new team. You can get an average defensive shortstop (and Hanley is that, despite his bad reputation) who you know is going to hit .365/.428/.575, or you can get an average defensive first baseman (and Pujols has been that in '09, despite his good reputation) who you know is going to hit .313/.441/.666. Knowing what you do about what most shortstops are like and what most first basemen are like, don't you grab the SS and hope to pick up a 1B who can hit a little later on? I know I do. And that (well, the stats, but that in a nutshell), to me, is why Hanley Ramirez is the NL MVP right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Jim Thome!

I can't think of a hitter in the last 10 or so years that has been more fun for me to watch than Thome, #1 on my now-two-man list of tolerable White Sox. He turns 39 today, and is in his nineteenth season in the major leagues. (Incidentally, his 20th seems at least somewhat likely to come with his fourth different ballclub. Maybe the Mariners?)

Three quick things about Thome:

(1) If he wants to, he's now almost a lock to top 600 homers. He's not the hitter he once was, with a 124 OPS+ in 2008-09 after a 154 OPS+ from 1995-2007, and he has to rest or miss games to injury a lot more than he used to, but there has got to be at least one AL team (like, say, the Mariners) who can use 120 games of a .250/.370/.500 DH. He'll come close to 30 homers again this year, but even if he doesn't hit another one this year and falls off precipitously after that, all he needs is 18 homers a year for two more years. If he's healthy and wants to play, it's almost impossible to see him not managing that. Maybe once he's the eighth to hit #600 (only six right now, but A-Rod will almost certainly get there first), people will start noticing him a little.

(2) He's got close to the most extreme splits of any Hall of Fame hitter ever. He's hit a Bondsian .294/.430/.616 (1.046 OPS) vs. RHP, and a Todd Zeilean .239/.342/.423 vs. LHP. In fact, there's little doubt that, just as is the case with Ryan Howard (more on that in the coming weeks, probably), for most of his career it would've made sense to platoon him, if not for the fact that his performance against righties (who are, after all, something like 70% of MLB pitchers) is so great that his overall line gives him a reputation that prohibits it.

Thome's OPS against lefties is just 60% of his overall OPS. That's kind of amazing (though since I brought him up, Howard's is 58%). Obviously most lefties have a hard time hitting lefties, but consider some of the other all-time elite lefty hitters of the retrosheet era: McCovey, 75%; Reggie, 83%; Helton, 75%; Mathews, 70%; Bonds, 87%; Yastrzemski, 65%; Griffey, 85%; Mauer (couldn't resist), 72%. Yaz was actually pretty dreadful against lefties, too, but even he had less extreme splits than Thome, and none of these other guys is anywhere close. Which kind of draws attention to how incredibly awesome he's been in those other 70% of his PAs.

(3) He's really quite funny in fictional, all-caps chatroom form.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Better Luck Next Year: Seattle Mariners

Today begins a series that will be in an unspecified number of parts over an indeterminate number of weeks in which I look at a team that is out of the 2009 playoff picture, but that might have designs on 2010.

I've been planning for a couple days now to do this starting with the Mariners, a team I already know pretty well, but then yesterday Rob Neyer had to come in and rain all over my parade, concluding that the Ms' "long-term prognosis doesn't look so bad. But the growing pains might be a bit ugly. Perhaps the only bright note at the moment is that there's nowhere to go but up."

First of all, what? Did he write that last year (when the Mariners were 61-101) and forget to post it until this year? Because right now the Mariners are better than a .500 team, and when you're a .500 team there's about as far to go down as there is up. I know what he meant, though: most of the article was about hitting, and the Mariners' offense has been truly dreadful. And it's true that you have to score runs to win baseball games.

But here's the thing: you don't have to score a lot of runs as long as you give up even fewer runs. And that's been the Mariners' mantra this year, due mostly to the most vastly improved defense in the entire history of sports that use the term "defense." I think they're in a pretty good position to keep doing it next year, too...with a few tweaks here and there.

Here are the Mariners' best position players currently under contract for 2010, with their current 2009 WAR in parentheses:
C: Johnson(0.5)/Johjima (0.3)
1B: Brad Nelson? (rookie)
2B: Jose Lopez (1.7)
3B: Jack Hannahan (1.1)/Bill Hall (0.2)
SS: Jack Wilson (1.9)
LF: Michael Saunders (rookie)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez (4.2)
RF: Ichiro! (4.2)
DH: Mike Carp (rookie)

Pitchers, with 2009 FIPs:
Felix Hernandez (3.11)
Carlos Silva? (5.91)
Ryan Rowland-Smith? (5.27)
Brandon Morrow (5.70)
Jason Vargas? (5.26)
Bullpen: Aardsma (3.14), Lowe (3.56), White (3.86)

It looks bad, but it's not, at least for a starting point. Ichiro seems to go from overrated to underrated and back again just about every other year, and currently he's underrated again, and having what might be his finest offensive season while still playing great D. Gutierrez has continued to be the best defensive outfielder in the game while blossoming into an average-hitting outfielder, which makes him on balance one of the better players in the league. King Felix will be my recurring pre-season pick for Cy Young every year from 2010 until further notice (perhaps 2019 or so). The bullpen is good.

What they need to MAKE happen:
1. Re-sign Russ Branyan. He won't be as cheap as he was this year ($1.4 million), but it shouldn't be all that tough to convince him to stay, either. The Mariners will have ended up giving him something like 100 more PA in a season than any of his seven other teams ever have, and Safeco Field--a pitcher's park in general but a friendly place for lefty home run hitters--is a great place for him. Brad Nelson is 26 and has put up just an .811 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League; that's not going to do it for this team. Branyan provides badly needed power, can get on base, and actually holds his own at first. Unless somebody wants to go crazy and give him a ridiculous contract based on one surprising performance, he's a no-brainer for them.

2. Sign one pretty good starting pitcher. Erik Bedard and the Mariners were a match made in that place that also brought you Ike and Tina Turner. He's gone. That starting rotation after Felix looks awful, but remember, they're a better-than-.500 team with a rotation that's no better than that right now, plus a fluky performance by Jarrod Washburn. One good pitcher would make a big difference. No telling who will really be available at this point (Rich Harden? John Lackey? Bring back Joel Pineiro? Randy Wolf? The reanimated Ben Sheets?), but they'll be out there.

3. Re-sign Adrian Beltre. Among the many brilliant things he's done, rookie GM Jack Zduriencik actually did a fantastic job making arrangements in the event of a Beltre departure in free agency. Bill Hall hits lefties well, Jack Hannahan hits righties...well enough to spell Hall when he's flailing, and they both play very good defense while costing relatively little. But put them together, and they're no better than an average player. As Dave Cameron wrote on USS Mariner yesterday (bad day for me to try to talk M's, come to think of it), they badly need another core player, and as awesome as the Gutierrez trade was for them, they had to give up real major-league value for that--value that they can't afford to part with this year. A healthy Beltre is that kind of player. He might be a hard sign--he's a Boras client, and a lot of teams understand how huge his defense is now--but then again he's coming off a horrible, injury-plagued season, and maybe he likes Seattle. Who knows? If not that, they need another core player. But who? They should have a ton of money--pretty much everyone save Ichiro is pretty cheap right now--but there just aren't that many free-agents-to-be out there who would fit, and they don't have the kind of prospects that would being in a superstar.

What they need to HAVE happen:
1. Those few core players they do have--Ichiro, Felix, Gutierrez, and hopefully Beltre or a reasonable facsimile--need to stay healthy. You always hear that, but this is an especially thin team at the top, making it especially true.

2. Brandon Morrow needs to make a big comeback. No, he'll never be the guy who was drafted five picks later, but he's still got basically unhittable stuff. A little control would go along way.

3. One of those rookies, Saunders or Carp, needs to show something. I'm sure Zduriencik can (and will) replace one of those guys, but not both, and there's really nothing else on the way up.

I don't know. Maybe it's because I like the team and really want this to be true, but seeing how they're doing this year, I think with a few tweaks and a little luck, this team could win 90-93 games in 2010 and make a really good run at the division.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Figuring Out the AL Central, or: I Have Hope Again

About a week ago, everybody was writing off the 2009 Twins. I certainly did. Most Twins bloggers did. The folks on the wrong side of the MVP debate were arguing that Joe Mauer couldn't win it because he was playing for a team that wasn't going to make the playoffs, and the argument against them wasn't that the Twins were a contender after all (they weren't), but that the whole idea that the MVP and the playoffs were somehow linked was absurd (it is). And yeah, the 2006 team overcame a bigger deficit in a short amount of time, but as Aaron Gleeman reminded everybody, that team was good; this one is not. The Twins had the easiest schedule of any contender post-All-Star Break, and they came out looking terrible.

Well, there's another difference from 2006, too: Detroit and Chicago were good back then, too, and now they're fundamentally no better than the Twins are. Coming into play yesterday, all three of those teams had Pythagorean records of within a game of each other (right around 63-61). And the actual standings, the Twins having won six of their last seven games while the other two have scuffled a bit, now look like this:
Tigers 66 58 --
Wh.Sox 63 62 3.5
Twins 62 63 4.5

The Tigers are still in control, but it's far from decided. Now take a look at the teams' remaining games against opponents that aren't each other:
Det (24): LAA-2, TB-6, CLE-6, KC-6, TOR-4
Chi (25): BOS-7, NYY-3, OAK-2, LAA-3, SEA-3, KC-3, CLE-3, CHC-1
Min (23): BAL-2, TEX-3, CLE-6, TOR-3, OAK-3, KC-6

The Tigers have 8 games against very good teams, the Twins just 3. The White Sox have 13, and then 4 more against the M's and Cubs, against whom they're about equally matched. The Twins' five opponents other than Texas (who they handled pretty well on the road last week) are the five teams with the most losses in the American League. I think it's fair to expect the Twins to pick up 1 game on the Tigers and 2 on the White Sox based on that schedule, and if they don't, either they're tanking or one of those two teams is playing out of its head. That would leave the Tigers 3.5 up on the Twins and 5.5 up on the White Sox. Then you've got this:

Det vs. Min: 7 games
Det vs. Chi: 6 games
Min vs. Chi: 6 games

It's easy to say it'll all come down to that, but realistically, it'll all come down to Detroit. If the Tigers can win 3 of those games against the Twins and 3 of those games against the White Sox, it's hard to see them falling apart so badly in their other games that they give up the lead. But if the Tigers drop 4 or 5 games against either or both, it should be a pretty good fight.

More interestingly, all six of those games between the Tigers and White Sox come in Detroit's last 10 games, and the other four of the last ten are all against the Twins. As I said, the Tigers are still in control: the various playoff odds sites seem generally to have the Tigers at about 50-55% and the Twins and Sox at 20-25% each, and that seems about right (though I'd put the Twins closer to 25% and Sox closer to 20% based on the remaining schedules). What that means, though, is that there's almost a 50% chance that the Tigers won't win the Central. Which, if nothing else, should once again make for some very exciting baseball in those last ten games in the least exciting division in baseball.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How is this possible?

I mean, how is THIS possible?

I mean, from a job performance standpoint, I'd be one of Minaya's strongest defenders. He fleeced the Twins in the Santana deal. He's spent a ton of money without wasting a ton of money. Sure, he gave $13 million a year to a highly overrated and declining 70-innings-a-year pitcher, but everybody makes mistakes, and in New York that's hardly the kind of thing that ruins seasons. Their season was ruined by injuries, not any failure of Minaya's.

At the same time, though, is he irreplaceable? Consider for a moment how many brilliant baseball people would love to take the Mets' GM job tomorrow. If you put all of those people in a line, would Minaya stand out? And if you put all those people in a line and knew that one of them had waited way too long to fire a good friend who totally messed up and then tried to blame it all a reporter who was just doing his job, wouldn't you eliminate that one from consideration?

I don't know. I just don't get it. I mean, Minaya is under contract for at least three more years, but even to the cash-strapped Wilpons, Minaya's salary isn't the kind of thing that will be missed (he's making about 1/3 of what they're paying J.J. Putz. I gotta think Kim Ng and Paul DePodesta are wondering what a body has to do to lose a job around there about now...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Frivolous Friday

Bit of a cop-out today. Again. But a fun one this time, I think.

First things first, though: it's 2009, and ya gots ta do what ya gots ta do.

Ergo, you can now become a fan of the blog on Facebook or follow the blog (-slash-me) on Twitter. I hope you'll do both. Not much going on in either place yet, but stuff will happen eventually.

Also, this blog now has an e-mail: BillDailySomething (at) gmail dot com. So if you've got something to say that you don't want to share with (a tiny, tiny portion of) the world, send it there. Sometime soon I'll have a box where you can access all that stuff. In the meantime, join the FB page and follow me on Twitter anyway.

Second: so I've been a fan of The Onion for something like thirteen years now. Just brilliant, funny stuff. And they were all over the baseball today.

First: I actually think their written stuff has declined a bit in the last few years, but this little number is pretty perfect. That's baseball.

And where they've fallen behind in the written content, they've made up for with their marvelous fake-tv stuff. At least as amusing as the bit itself is how perfectly they've mimicked the ludicrous excess of Sportscenter:

Baseball Superstar Accused of Performance-Enhancing Genie Use

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Few Observations on Andruw

When will this guy stop talking about the Rangers? It's all Rangers all the time at this blog allasudden!

I don't have a ton to say today, but I've been thinking about Andruw Jones.

First, the Dave Cameron article
Away back on May 1, I linked to an article that Cameron, one of my favorite baseball writers, wrote on April 28 called Welcome Back, Andruw (and then responded to criticism over that, Cameron did, with this piece on the usefulness of small sample sizes). My feelings on it were only insinuated in this space, but you could pretty much tell (or tell for sure if you read my comments below the initial article) that I was really skeptical about basing anything on 35 plate appearances by anybody, no matter how great those 35 were.

Since April 28? Jones has gone on being a part-time player, batting .204/.312/.463 in 253 PA to drive his season batting average from .370 to .222, his OBP from .514 to .337. He's still got tons of HR power (a rate of 39 per 162 starts). but not a lot else.

I doubt Dave will say it--after all, Jones is better than he was in 2008 (it would be hard to be worse), and, for the year as a whole, better than 2007--but he got one wrong for once. Not just with Andruw--a guy with a .300ish OBP (as he's been since the 28th) who is mostly a DH and LF just isn't a particularly useful player--but with his ruminations on small sample sizes. Line drive rates and contact rates and all that fun FanGraphs stuff are approximately as susceptible to sample size fluctuations as batting average and homers. As I pointed out in the comments to Dave's initial article, Andruw Jones had almost the exact same stretch in 2007 as he did to start 2009--but in July, not April, so nobody even noticed. Small samples are interesting, not useful. A great month should adjust our expectations for what we expect a guy's final line to look like (as I tried to do a few times very early on), but we should wait a bit more than 35 PA before we start adjusting our expectations for the rest of the season.

Second, on defense
This is just a passing thought, because I've watched Andruw just twice this year and have no idea what I'm talking about. But: he's just 32 years old. I know he's gained some weight, but has he really fallen so far in two years that he's gone from a (deserving) Gold Glover in 2007 to a DH in 2009?

I just can't believe that. First, even in 2008 when he looked completely lost and useless with the Dodgers, UZR had him as approximately an average center fielder. Second, in his limited time this year (5 games in RF and 12 in LF), his UZR has been great (doesn't mean much, but it doesn't mean nothing, either). Third, he's tried five steals in what was, let's face it, not very many times on first base, and he's only been caught once. I have to believe that he'd at least hold his own if given a chance in left, and, I mean, he's Andruw Jones. How do you not even try him in center, even once?

Now, the Rangers' D has been great (and is probably the biggest part of their success). Consider: UZR thinks Michael Young is as bad at 3B as he used to be at SS, but no one else on the team has been more than 1 run below average at any position. With Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus, they've got two of the best at their positions in the game, and even Josh Hamilton (who looked horrible last year) has put up a good number. But anyway, Hamilton has been hurt, and guys need rest now and then. How has Andruw gotten a total of 17 innings in the OF? Has he really lost that much at 32?

Third, a weird observation about his splits
Putting those crazy first 35 PA back into play, so for the whole season: .224/.302/.552 vs.R, .220/.380/.420 vs.L. 13 of his 17 HR have come against righties, but 20 of his 30 walks have come against lefties.

That's two totally different players. You might think a lot of guys are two different players based on their splits, but all that usually means is that one is a good player and one is a bad player. Andruw is two totally different players--of roughly equal value, but just about as different as they can be. Against righties, he's Dave Kingman; against lefties, Max Bishop.

I'm sure that's not that unusual, especially with less than a full season's worth of PA. But I thought it was kind of funny.