Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rickey Henderson's Acceptance Speech

The Fan has to appreciate a ball player who always speaks in the third person. Anyone who has ever interviewed Rickey Henderson got an earful and probably laughed for a few days after. The man was and is hysterical. See here for an example.

Now that's all fine and dandy, but interviews are spur of the moment, at least for the player if not the person conducting the interview. A speech for the Hall of Fame is another thing altogether. That being the case, the Fan would like a crack at writing Rickey's speech for him. Feel free, Mr. Henderson, to use the following:

Rickey would like to thank Major League Baseball for admitting that Rickey was as good as Rickey always knew he was by putting Rickey in the Hall of Fame. It's a great honor for Rickey and Rickey will never forget this moment.

In times like these, it is customary to thank anybody who helped Rickey along the way to being Rickey even though Rickey has been Rickey since Rickey came out of the womb. So Rickey might as well thank Rickey's mother for that because she had to get Rickey out of her womb so he could be Rickey.

Rickey would like to thank Rickey's high school coach because when the high school coach saw what Rickey could do, he said, "Whoah, that Rickey can play." He was right and he just let Rickey play. So Rickey thanks the high school coach.

Rickey would also like to thank Mr. Finley, who owned the Oakland A's. Mr. Finley listened to his scouts who had come to watch Rickey play and they told him, "Whoah, that Rickey can play." Mr. Finley also brought a lot of other good players to play with Rickey and that was nice too. One thing Rickey couldn't figure out though was how those big fellas got to be such big fellas. When Rickey first knew them, they were skinny little guys. Rickey doesn't know how they got to be such big fellas, but Rickey is thankful that they helped Rickey run around the bases so much.

One thing Rickey doesn't want to thank Mr. Finley for was what Mr. Finley wanted to pay Rickey. Rickey was the best, you know? But Mr. Finley didn't want to hear anything about that. "Look at that nice used car, I got you, Rickey. Isn't that nice?" But Rickey didn't want no used car. Rickey is a Cadillac and wanted to be priced like a Cadillac. But Mr. Finley wanted to pay Rickey like some Chevy or something.

Rickey would like to also thank those nice umpires who let Rickey crouch down so Rickey had no strike zone to pitch to. If the umpires had followed the rules, then Rickey wouldn't have walked so much and Rickey liked to walk before he would run and then Rickey would run and run and run.

Rickey would like to take a moment to thank all those guys who batted second behind Rickey. If they hadn't laid off of all of those fat fastballs, then Rickey wouldn't be running free, so Rickey appreciates all those guys who let Rickey run around so much.

And Rickey would certainly like to thank all those pitchers who made it so easy to figure out when they were going to throw to first or to home. Without that, Rickey would be the one confused instead of the pitcher. But those pitchers never learned to change their routines and Rickey would like to thank them for the stolen bases and also for the laughs they provided by sweating and stuff on the mound because Rickey got into their heads cuz they knew what Rickey was going to do but they didn't know how to stop Rickey. Rickey would especially like to thank the knuckleball pitchers and those others who threw junk because then, their catchers had no chance to catch Rickey. Even when those knuckleball guys wanted to stop Rickey, they would throw those fastballs at 65 miles an hour and Rickey would be at second base before the fool behind the plate even caught the ball.

Rickey is also thankful for those pitchers that just let him hit their lazy fastballs out of the park in the first inning. Those guys just wanted to get Rickey out of the way so they could get on with the rest of their day. They knew Rickey was going to score anyway, so they figured they might as well get it over with. So Rickey thanks them too.

Rickey would like to thank Billy Martin because Billy was Rickey's kind of manager. Shoot. When Rickey would get on first base, Billy would start drooling and this icky liquid would start slobbering down his chin because he knew Rickey was going to steal second and then third and Billy would look like some kind of genius when all he was doing was watching Rickey do what Rickey does.

Rickey would like to thank Vince Coleman for being such a lousy player. That fella could run and if he was any kind of player at all, Rickey might have had to steal 150 bases to get his records back. So thanks Vince Coleman. You stunk and that saved Rickey a lot of trouble.

Rickey would like to thank all the cut off men Rickey played with for coming out a few extra steps to catch Rickey's throws. That was mighty nice of those guys.

So in closing, Rickey wants to thank everybody for saying what Rickey knew all along. Rickey was the best and now you nice people have showed everybody what Rickey has always known. And thank you for voting Rickey in the Hall of Fame because now Rickey can finally sign with another team and steal another forty bases. Barry Bonds isn't the only one who hasn't retired. Hey, that's another guy who was awful skinny when Rickey first saw him. How did he get to be such a big fella? Anyway, Rickey thanks you all. Okay. Who's next?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ugh! ESPN Writers Publish Their HOF Vote

How disappointing! See here. And the hero...Peter Gammons...picks Jack Morris but not Tim Raines or Burt Blyleven. Ouch! The only writer whose votes matched the Fan's (if he had a vote) was Brendan Roberts. Who the heck is Brendan Roberts?? Never heard of him. But if he is this smart, he will be worth investigating.

Many of the ballots listed are embarrassing. Truly embarrassing.

Is John Smoltz a Hall of Famer?

Nearly all the news stories concerning the recent signing of John Smoltz by the Boston Red Sox have featured the tag, "Future Hall of Fame Pitcher." Is the tag accurate and deserving?

Many writers have recently reiterated that there are no "benchmarks" for getting into the Hall of Fame. Despite the reiterations, most still consider 300 wins, 3000 hits and 500 home runs as benchmarks. While there are exceptions (Koufax, Feller and others), many career starting pitchers begin and end their candidacy by how many wins they compiled in their career. As one writer described it, either a player is rewarded for longevity and statistics compiled (such as Don Sutton) or for a brilliant, but sometimes brief flash of excellence (Koufax).

For those who say the benchmarks are meaningless, why else is Burt Blyleven not in the Hall of Fame? Tom Glavine has reached the benchmark and has 305 career wins. He'll get in no problem. But will Smoltz?

The easiest comparisons for Smoltz are with his two teammates that made up such a strong rotation for the Braves for all those years. We can easily eliminate Greg Maddux as he was clearly the superior pitcher. How does Smoltz compare with Glavine?

First, they each had 8 years as starters with an ERA of 3.20 or better. Glavine pitched 56 complete games in 682 starts (8%). Smoltz pitched 53 complete games in 466 career starts (11%). Glavine's career ERA is 3.54. Smoltz comes in at 3.26. Glavine has a lifetime WHIP of 1.31. Smoltz comes in at 1.17. Glavine has given up .79 homers per nine innings, Smoltz, .72.

It appears that in head to head pitching statistics, Smoltz was a superior pitcher to Glavine, though Glavine had more big years win wise.

The one problem with Smoltz is his years as a closer. There is only one pitcher to compare him to with a similar career and that is Dennis Eckersly. Eckersley pitched his first twelve years as a starter and his last eleven as a closer. The Eck compiled 197 wins along with 390 saves. If you elect Eckersley to the Hall of Fame (oh yeah, they already did), you have to do so as a closer. Eckersley was an effective starter for the first six years of his career only. He had an ERA well over 4 in four of his final six years as a starter. Hardly Hall-worthy. And Smoltz followed his four years as a closer back in the rotation where he was again, very effective. One can't imagine Eckersley having done that.

Smoltz has a better career ERA than Eckersley and has started 14 years out of his 18. Of those 14 years as a starter, only two were below par in terms of ERA and WHIP. So Smoltz has superior statistics to Eckersley. But what do we do with those "lost" four years as a closer?

If you assign him 14 wins a year for each of those four years, you can add 56 career wins to his lifetime total of 266. That puts him in the category of Mike Mussina. Okay then, how does Smoltz compare with the Moose?

Smoltz has a better career ERA than Mussina (3.20 to 3.64) but they have nearly identical WHIP stats. Mussina pitched with a DH for his career and in the strong American League East. That would seem to make the two pitchers about the same.

What seems to push Smoltz over the top is his post season performances. Smoltz dominated in the post season and has a 15-4 career record plus 4 saves to go with a 2.57 post season ERA.

The conclusions after all this analysis are that either Smoltz is as much of a Hall of Famer as Glavine or Eckersley or none of them were really good enough to get in. Eckersley is rightfully a HOFer for his unique career. Glavine will be for a long and successful career. If those two statements are true, then John Smoltz is a HOFer too.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

John Smoltz to the Red Sox?

Buster Olney reports here that John Smoltz is close to a deal with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox, who have been busy lately (landing Baldelli yesterday, which is a great move), have recently liked the idea of stockpiling starting pitchers and, according to Olney's sources (which we discussed in the previous post), will continue that trend this year by signing Brad Penny and now Smoltz.

Why would Smoltz do this at the age of 41? He has pitched his entire career with the Braves. He has won a championship and been a part of a dozen playoff teams. Why uproot your entire life for one season hundreds of miles from where you have spent the last twenty years?

One reason could be the money. Perhaps the pitcher wanted to keep his career alive and the Braves figured they were going to be a year or more away from contending anyway and didn't want to throw a lot of money his direction. Then Boston would make sense.

Another reason could be for one last chance at another championship. Boston will always contend in this era of their organization because it is well run and intelligent with their personnel handling. Tampa would have been closer and probably could have swung the $5 million he will reportedly get with Boston. But he may know what many of us suspect in that Tampa will have a hard time repeating what was a Cinderella story. The Red Sox are no Cinderella. More like a Sherman that keeps marching. Oops. That's not a reference the Fan should have made with a story Atlanta fans might read. Apologies in advance.

The one problem with Smoltz choosing Boston (if he has indeed done so): He will be facing much tougher lineups in the American League with the DH and no letup at the bottom of the order. He could be setting himself up to fail at the tail end of his career, which is not a good idea this close to those who will be deciding his HOF status in the next decade.

One thing is true if this story is indeed reality, the Red Sox have clearly given up on Clay Buchholz. It would not be a surprise to see him traded in the near future.

Sources Schmorces

One of the most difficult tasks of this off-season is to figure out rumors that are true or planted by an agent. The Fan apparently fell for one of them yesterday when a "source" indicated that Trevor Hoffman was close to a deal with the Dodgers. Today, another "source" says he is close to a deal with the Brewers.

It has gotten to the point where you have to gauge the "source" by the writer's track record. For example, as shrill as he has sounded lately, Buster Olney has been dead on recently on his reporting of deals that are expected or close. It seems that he correctly reports a story just before it happens.

The "source" reporting that Hoffman was close to signing with the Brewers in today's news happens to be a news wire service. In today's arena of misinformation, current training would seem to put this story at the feet of an agent and not legitimate. Of course, if Hoffman does sign with the Brewers, it will be back to school to again figure out where the misinformation is coming from.

This seems to be a modern phenomenon since the Internet made all news information in terms of minutes and hours instead of days like you had in newspapers. Don't think for a second that general managers and team owners don't pour over the same sports information centers that we average fans do. They would need to read constantly to stay up on what is going on in their business.

The agents have figured this out and use misinformation to get a negotiation moving or motivated. It would appear that Scott Boras, who has single-handedly put Manny Ramirez in a box he might not get out of, is a master of such misinformation, but he is not the only one. The "reports" about the Giants having interest in Manny could very well be a plant by Boras to motivate the Dodgers, the only team that seems to have an interest in Ramirez.

So, fellow fans, don't believe everything you read. Being gullible, the Fan is learning the hard way. Perhaps those of you who are cynical by nature or circumstance are better off in this atmosphere.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Four Deals to Talk About Today

The Indians Sign Carl Pavano for one year at $1.5 million.
You can actually hear Yankee fans cackling in the background. But this may be a great deal for the Indians. And it has to be because the Fan has listed the Indians as the projected winner of the American League Central division. Seriously, though, the Indians could be getting Pavano at just the right time.

The Yankees history with Pavano is well documented. Everyone knows what happened and how Pavano came to become the lightening rod for derision from the Yankee Stadium faithful. But even if Pavano is a .500 pitcher this year with say a 13-13 record and posts an ERA in the low 4 area, the Indians will have a bargain. If Pavano can somehow get back to the form that made him 18-8 for the Florida Marlins in 2004, then the Indians will have made a major coup.

And there is little or no risk involved for the Indians. If Pavano succeeds, then incentives in his contract will still be below market price. If he fails, then it's only $1.5 million for one year. This seems like a stroke of genius for the Indians and in the tradition of all underdogs, one can't help but root for Pavano to put his Yankee (self-inflicted) nightmare behind him.

The A's are reportedly close to a deal with Giambi.
If the reports are accurate, the A's would get Giambi for about $4 million with an option for 2010 at $6 million. Giambi is going home to where he started as a player, and he is going at the end of his career for a lot less money than he is used to making. But Oakland is where Giambi had the most fun in his career and really enjoyed his years playing there. Stories seem to indicate that he was never comfortable in New York and its business-like atmosphere made it hard for his personality.

All this points to Giambi having a productive year and having fun like he did in the past. Though the saying goes that you can never go home again, it is possible that Giambi will revert back to his "hit to all fields" approach he maintained while with Oakland and forget about pulling everything like he did in New York. If he manages to pull that off, the A's could get a steal of a deal here.

The only problem with the signing is what becomes of Jack Cust and former uber-phenom, Daric Barton, who played 140 games with Oakland last year and showed little of the promise the franchise had for him. Is his playing time done? Will Cust DH or will Giambi? If it's Cust, will Giambi cost the A's too much in the field? It will be interesting. But at least Oakland's offense should be much improved.

The Rockies receive Jason Marquis from the Cubs for Jose Vizcaino.
This straight up deal does not make any sense for the Cubs. Perhaps Lou Piniella could not take another year of Marquis playing around with the corners of the strike zone and walking 70 batters a year, but Marquis is a decent and durable starter who has been fairly consistent over his career. Not only that, but he has improved on his ability to keep the ball in the park. To trade that straight up for Jose Vizcaino, a relief pitcher who wants and always demands an important role though his statistics have never shown his ability to own those roles, seems ludicrous.

The Cubs save about $4 or $5 million on the deal, but at what cost? Where are the 200 solid innings coming from to replace Marquis? It doesn't appear to this point that Jim Hendry is having a very good off season. First, he loses the productive, versatile and dynamic Mark DeRosa and replaces him with Aaron Miles, then he signs Milton Bradley instead of the cheaper and safer Pat Burrell (or Bobby Abreu). No. Not a good off season for Mr. Hendry. But, time will tell. Rob Neyer still thinks they are good enough to maintain most of their 97 wins and still win a weak division. We'll see.

The Dodgers are close to a deal with Trevor Hoffman
Reports are citing that the Dodgers have made an offer to Trevor Hoffman, the all time Save leader. The Dodgers currently do not have a closer and Hoffman should fill that vacancy. But will it be the Hoffman of the first half of last season (where he got killed), or the Hoffman of the second half where he posted a 1.59 ERA after the All Star game?

Hoffman is now 41 and while that age is not out of reach for someone like Hoffman, each year brings him closer to the end of the road and a team can't ever know when the road leads off a cliff. Hoffman is one of the good guys and so is manager, Joe Torre. It's difficult not to hope that this deal works out for both of them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

J. C. Romero is Getting Jobbed

Read Peter Gammons' piece concerning the suspension of J. C. Romero here and try to tell the Fan that there is fairness in what is happening to the pitcher. The Fan has a snarky feeling that MLB is so afraid of government interference that they are willing to throw any Arab off the plane just to keep the feds happy.

True, that is a strong statement. But does it seem a coincidence that the suspension announcement was made the same week that this story was published? Of course, there are knee-jerk sportswriters out there blathering that Romero deserves his punishment. Leave it to Gammons to at least paint an accurate and fair picture.

We all want a cleaner game and we all want the emphasis on drugs and supplements to go away and leave our game alone...just like we all want our nation to be safe from terrorists. But we cannot as a nation of enlightenment (or supposedly so) throw innocent Arabs off of planes or make young men cover up unpopular messages on t-shirts and we can't let an innocent Romero get busted for something that wasn't his fault to get what we want.

If it were the Fan's $1.25 million they were taking away in such a manner, the Fan would fight the thing all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Fan's Opinion on a Couple of Debates

Andy Pettitte is being "squeezed" by the Yankees after they "only" offered him a one year contract at $10 million, or $6 million less than they paid him last year. Pettitte has turned down the offer according to recent reports.

Are the Yankees squeezing Pettitte because of their recent free agent acquisitions? The Fan doesn't think so. $10 million is a lot of money--in this economy especially--for a lower to bottom of the rotation starter. The Yankees paid him generously last year for what they received in return. Pettitte was just average in every way...a .500 pitcher with a mid 4 ERA. Pettitte isn't the same pitcher he was six years ago and won't be again as he is in the later stages of his career.

The Yankees owe him some love and loyalty after all he's done for them. Oh really? It seems that Pettitte is the one who broke that loyalty first by going to Houston as a free agent. It was a total shock at the time to the Yankees. Despite that, the team brought him back, paid him well and when the HGH allegation and his admission followed, the team supported him. Seems like a squared deal from this perch.

The Yankees/Pettitte relationship is not dead yet, and perhaps the Yankees will sweeten the deal a little and perhaps Pettitte will reconsider, retire or sign with another team (the Dodgers perhaps?). But based on performance, the Yankees offer is fair and Pettitte should take it.

Lee Smith does not belong in the Hall of Fame because Saves are an overrated statistic? Let's debate the save issue first. Is the Save a valid or stupid statistic? While it remains too easy to get a save (a three run lead or less, etc.), and others maintain that the odds of winning the game regardless of who is pitching when a team leads in the ninth inning, those who argue against the merit of a Save statistic have never been Mets fans. It may be "easy" to get a Save and it may be easy to compile Saves, but not everyone can do it and when it can't be done successfully, it sure hurts a team.

Did you know that Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage blew more saves in their career than Lee Smith? Did you know that Lee Smith averaged over 30 saves for fifteen years? Did you know that there are only four pitchers who have more than 400 career saves and Smith is one of them? Did you know that Lee Smith gave up less career homers than Trevor Hoffman yet pitched three more years than Hoffman currently has? Did you know that Smith's lifetime ERA compares favorably with Gossage (3.03 compared to 3.01)?

Lee Smith should be in the Hall of Fame and though Bruce Sutter made it in the Hall of Fame and shouldn't have, that is no reason to punish Lee Smith, who, by numbers alone, deserves a place next to Gossage. And the argument will be the same for Rivera, Hoffman and John Franco when their times comes.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Logjam is Starting to Ease

New reports were released today that the Rays have signed Pat Burrell and the Cubs have signed Milton Bradley.

The Pat Burrell signing was not only cheap (two years at $8 million per) but it significantly improves the Rays at the plate. Last year, their combined DH statistics were rather ordinary: .246 Batting Average, .322 On Base Percentage, .428 Slugging for an OPS of .751. The Bay Rays Designated Hitters only managed 24 homers and 78 Runs Batted In to go with 56 walks and 131 strikeouts.

Pat Burrell's career averages beat all those numbers: .257/.367/.485/.852 along with career averages of 31 homers, 103 Runs Batted In and 97 walks. Okay, he does strike out 152 times a year. Plus, he appears to be a good teammate and an all around good guy in the community.

Burrell did suffer the drop off of the market and will make significantly less money than last year.

The Cubs got Milton Bradley at $2 million more per year more than what Burrell signed for and the deal is said to be for three years and not two. It seems to the Fan like the Rays got a better deal with a more reliable and proven entity. Yes, Bradley can sure hit and had an .OPS of .999 last year, but he again missed time with injuries and has only played 100 games in a season three times out of nine.

Pat Burrell's lifetime stats are much higher on average than Bradley's with more power and a higher OPS. Plus, the National League does not have the DH (maybe someday!) and that's all Bradley did last year with Texas. So Bradley will have to play the field, making him even closer to those injuries that have dogged his career.

The personalities of the two players are vastly different with Bradley being the more fiery and outspoken. Perhaps that is something the Cubs could harness to push them over the top. But overall, this looks like the Cubs (given that both players are the same age) got the riskier deal.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Curious Case of Andruw Jones

There are reports that Andruw Jones approached the Dodgers and wanted out. The Dodgers reportedly worked with Jones and his agent, Scott Boras, to rework his contract and grant his wish. No doubt the Dodgers are extremely pleased to end this relationship as well. What happened to Andruw Jones?

Jones burst into America's baseball conscience when he became the youngest player to hit a World Series home run. That series, along with his other post season heroics led to years of Gold Gloves and steadily increasing power stats at the plate. He was considered the elite center fielder in the game.

Then the whispers started about a dramatic decline. Jayson Stark turned those whispers into shouts with his book (excerpt here). Then in 2007, Jones finished the year with a paltry .222 Batting Average to go along with an OPS of .724. The Braves ended their relationship with him and Jones signed what has become the worst free agent contract of all time with the Dodgers.

Battling injuries and (from many sources) his weight, Jones his stunning lows last year. In 209 at bats, Jones batted .158. That is so far below the Mendoza Line that Antarctica is closer to the Equator.

The Fan won't cover the same territory already laid out by Jayson Stark. But it will be instructive to note that Jones wasn't the same center fielder that he had been. Looking closely, the decline really began in 2000 and was in full view by 2002.

From 1997 to 2000, Jones' Batting Average and On Base Average increased each year. In each year, he stole over twenty bases and made well over 400 put outs in center. In 2001, his BA and OBA sunk by over fifty percentage points and his base stealing total dropped to eleven. By 2003, he made fifty less put outs in center and never again topped 400.

According to Stark, even his big homer years were a sham and showed a player playing vastly under his abilities. So what happened?

There are a couple of possibilities. The first is the steroid issue, which has to be discounted as Andruw Jones' name has never appeared on any whisper list and he has never tested positive (that we know of). The second possibility is how Jones has handled his paycheck.

Jones is from Willemstad, Netherlands Antilles. He is only the second player ever to come from that area (Hensley Meulens is the other). To be sure, the prospect of making the Major Leagues had to be the biggest long shot of all for the young Jones. Then he burst on the scene in that World Series and became a featured star in the league.

Consider the salary history of Andrew Jones (see here). Jones started making big money in 2000. He went from making $330,000 to $3.7 million! In 2001, he went over $8 million and started making over $10 million annually every year after 2002. Is it a coincidence that his effectiveness in most categories declined and started that decline after he started making serious money? It certainly looks suspicious that he got fat and happy and took his career for granted.

So now, at the age of 31, he looks washed up. He has recently been playing in the winter leagues hoping to revive his career, but it hasn't looked promising. According to reports, he struck out there six times in his first 16 at bats. He is like a middle aged man who suddenly has a "git-along" in his stride when needing to rapidly cross the street.

Time will tell if Jones can ever again be a semblance of his former self. The lessen here seems to be that, for some players, no big contracts should ever be awarded without incentives built in to continue the motivation.