Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obscure Signings of the Week

Lots of well known names signed this week. Most were to avoid arbitration. A weekly feature, the Obscure Signings of the Week celebrate those lesser known names who signed contracts in hope of keeping their fringe major league careers going. Among them:

Tim Byrdak - LHP - Houston Astros: One year contract

Timothy Christopher Byrdak is a 35 year old pitcher born in Oak Lawn, Illinois. After a career at Rice, he was drafted way back in 1994 by the Royals in the fifth round. He had brief stints for the club that drafted him in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and was pretty awful. In those three years, he was 0-4, giving up 30 runs in just 32+ innings. And then a funny thing happened. He disappeared for five years.

After not pitching in the majors at all in the 2001 to 2004 seasons, he shows up in Baltimore in 2005 and pitched in 41 games, all in relief. There are few more obscure players than lefty specialists out of the bullpen. Called upon to get one or two outs, Byrdak logged only 26+ innings in those 41 appearances. But he had more strikeouts than innings and finished respectably with an ERA of 4.09. Unfortunately, he crashed and burned the following year and posted an ERA over 12.00 and had injury problems. The Orioles released him.

He then hooks on with the Tigers in 2007 and by then had developed a forkball to go along with his fastball and curve. He was very good for the Tigers, posting a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings in relief. He even won three games. His most memorable moment that season was striking out five of six Red Sox batters, including the heart of their order.

Houston signed him last year and he finished with a 3.90 ERA in 59 appearances. Byrdak misses quite a few bats, but also walks a lot of people. He has 106 walks given in 166+ big league innings. Though 35 with a zigzag of a career, lefty relievers always seem to be able to find a job somewhere.

Casey Fossum - LHP - New York Mets: Minor League Contract

How come "Casey" names usually end with an "Umm" sound? Casey Kasem, Casey Fossum...oh nevermind. Fossum is a former Red Sox prospect that they had hoped would pitch in their rotation for years. Well, he did for a few years, but always without much success.

He was a star in college at Texas A & M, where he led that team to the College World Series and was an second team All American. The Red Sox selected him with the 48th overall pick in the June, 1999 draft and put him on the fast track for the majors.

He arrived in the bigs in 2001 and started seven games out of his total appearances. He won 3 of his 5 decisions, but walked a lot of batters and had a high ERA. 2002 was his best year. He appeared in 43 games and started 12 and finished with an ERA of 3.46 to go along with a 5-4 record and one save. He struck out more batters than innings pitched for the only time in his career.

It's been all downhill from there. He pitched one more year for Boston and had an ERA over five (in 2003). After that season and after shoulder surgery, he was part of the Curt Schilling trade and went to the Diamondbacks who made him a starter. It wasn't pretty. He finished with a 4-15 record with a 6.65 ERA. He then pitched three years in Tampa Bay and had season ERAs of 4.92, 5.33 and 7.07. Ugh.

Last year, he went to the Tigers and pitched 41 innings for them and finished with a 5.66 ERA. In his big league career, he has given up 1184 base runners in 782 innings. Yowza.

Jason Taschner - LHP - San Francisco Giants: Signed one year contract

Taschner, who finishes our triumvirate of lefty hurlers, proves as much as Fossum and Byrdak that if you are left handed, you don't have to be good to have an obscure MLB career on the fringes of rosters.

The lefty was drafted by the Giants in the second round in the 1999 draft after a college career at the University of Wisconsin-Oskosh. Starting in 2005, Taschner has appeared in MLB games each year for the last four years, the past two seeing over 60 appearances per year. A typical lefty situational pitcher, Taschner has only logged 98 total innings in 130 appearances in those two years.

Like many of these lefty specialists, he tries to get sweeping breaking balls over to left handed batters. In the process, many walk. 53 walks occurred during his 98 innings. The result is a 5.01 lifetime ERA. One has to wonder why managers stick with this strategy that only seems to work half the time.

But they do, and as a result, Taschner gets another year in the big leagues.

Fan Ramblings While Drinking Coffee on a Saturday Morning

Some things in baseball still continue to baffle a Fan, even after decades of watching and reading about the sport. Some are wrapped up in the rule book and others seem to make logical sense but don't. Here are some of them.

Why isn't there a rule about how many pitching changes you can make in an inning? Some of the Left/Right/Left parades are terrible for the game and add tens of minutes to the game's length. Why not limit a team to two pitching changes an inning and keep it at that. Two are still too many, but at least it's a start. Just in case you have the second pitching change leading to a ten run rally, the umpires could be given an out clause to not punish a team to protect the poor pitcher who just seems to have one of those bad days.

Why are pitchers allowed to make those fake moves to second or that fake throw to third and then whirl around to see if the guy at first is asleep? Don't balk rules state that you cannot try to deceive the runner? Aren't those fake moves...umm...attempted deceptions. Plus, they are time wasting and downright boring.

Why do pitchers continue to throw fifteen times to first? All of us have experienced watching a game when suddenly, the pitcher gets obsessed and it starts to feel like Groundhog Day. It's boring to watch. The fans start booing, even when the pitcher is from the home team. Is there any statistical evidence that after five throws over there, the runner is less successful stealing? Doubtful. Cut it out already or create a rule against it.

Speaking of Groundhog Day, another instance of such an incident is when the pitcher is peering in for the sign, shakes a few off and then the batter steps out and asks for time. Then the catcher trots out to the pitcher, they talk, and the catcher still has to give a sign. Why? First of all, don't let the batter step out. That's ridiculous. Secondly, when a catcher goes to the mound, agree on a pitch and let's get to it. Why go back to giving a sign?

Why don't baseball teams have a cleanup guy that sweeps the dugout after every inning? Do fans really want to see 28 crumpled up paper cups and 42 pounds of spit out seed shells on the ground? Yuck. Clean it up, for crying out loud.

Why don't more teams take advantage of lazy outfielders who lolly pop throws to the infield after singles? When the Fan was playing as a kid (ancient history), as soon as the outfielder let one of those lazy lobs go, the Fan was on the way to second and never failed to get there. Punish the lazy guys and they won't be so lazy.

Why don't major league batters move closer in the batting box against slower pitchers and knuckleballers? I can see the back of the batting box being a good idea against a hard fastball, but not against a junkballer. Move up! Hit the ball before the late break.

Why aren't strikes called when a batter gets hit but his hands are actually over the plate? If a guy dives into the plate (Like Jeter does) and gets hit, first see if it's a strike or not before awarding the player first base.

It's tradition, but why should a foul bunt after two strikes be a strikeout? It doesn't make sense. It never made sense. It's been a rule forever, but why? A batter can foul back 14 pitches in a row, but he can't fail to bunt the ball fair more than three times?

The Fan's 400th Post

Woohoo! Let the world know. 400 blog entries! Where are the fireworks? Why didn't the President call to congratulate? Where is the AP story on the news wire? Come on! The Fan reaches 400 posts! That's a lot of words, people!

It's been fun. When this blog started, Clemens hadn't reached 300 wins yet. The Fan was still lauding Barry Bonds's career. Rickey Henderson was looking for a job. Oh yeah...he still is. The Fan was writing in the first person. Who WAS that guy?

Apparently, the Fan wrote 231 posts that first year. Life sorta got in the way after that and there were some lean years. Maybe those sports writers that the Fan envies should get more respect for doing it for so long and so consistently. Well, yeah, they get paid for it and us lowly bloggers have day jobs and type these things with bleary eyes when we should be sleeping. Maybe that's what happened during those lost years, the Fan just decided to sleep more.

But the itch came back regularly and a furtive startup would happen. The Fan would announce that he was back! He would let know he was back in business. But it would fizzle after a few posts. Well, this time the Fan is back for good, doggonit. There have been 33 posts this year in just 23 days. What? Is he nuts!? And that was after 24 posts in December. So these two months beat all of 2007's post count. Pitiful.

But it looks like the Fan has gone off the deep end. He checks his sitemeter everyday to see how many people showed up. He is giddy after someone leaves a comment, even if it is only his buddy, Josh, again. After all, the Fan didn't know Josh before this blog, so he counts, right? But it's true. The Fan has gone over the top. His single goal in life is to get to the first page on (there, they've been mentioned twice! Kickbacks are expected). Right now the Fan is consistently on the nine or tenth page of the list of blogs on that site (which is based on click throughs). Grrrr....I'll bury you, Sox Blog and Bleed Cubbie Blue. Enjoy your stay at the top, man, because the Fan is coming. Of course, the Fan could cheat. If you go to the list on Sports Blogs and continue to click the "View Blog" link on your own blog, it will open up from that link and your count will go up by one. The Fan is just Sicilian enough to not do that because surely, somebody is watching for that.

The dream has overtaken reality. The dream is to be mentioned in Neyer's "Wednesday Wangdoodles" or to be like Big League Stew and go from obscure blog to a Yahoo regular. That's the dream, Baby! For now, it's at least good that Josh likes to show up often and some gal named Goooood girl thinks this blog is very good. Small steps, my friend, small steps.

The thing is, the Fan loves to write. It's what Josh and the Fan share. And writers (or would be writers) are always encouraged to write about what they are passionate about. Baseball fits. So baseball it is. Of course, the Fan is also passionate about gas-guzzling SUVs and the terrible commercials that show them creaming the environment for the heck of it. But that blog only lasted five posts.

Baseball is different. It's in the blood. It's deep, man...really deep. Okay, you're getting scared and will never come back. Apologies. We'll try a little more tranquility. For those of you who have read more than one of the 400 posts, thanks. Hope you stick around. It will be fun. For those of you who are reading this post as your first time ever at the Fandome, please don't be scared away by this giddy little trifle. Read a few posts and see what you think.

And hey, to celebrate 400 posts, if someone comments on this very post (except for you, Josh, because you've already been mentioned), the Fan promises that your name will somehow be incorporated 400 times in the text of the 401st post.

Let's enjoy this ride together, shall we? And to see how this blog has evolved from the beginning, this post will end with a copy/paste job of one of the very first posts. Enjoy:

In one of the great headlines of all time that would make Mickey Spillane proud, crows: "Billionaire Broad confirms interest in buying Dodgers." Broad, of course, is referring to Eli Broad, the Los Angeles dynamo last heard from when he tried to bring an NFL franchise back to LA. I'm not sure that letting a Broad run things is going to restore this franchise to its former glory days of Alston and then Lasorda and the proud Dodger blue. The last great Dodger headline was a while back when a small article indicated that "Monday will be out Tuesday." Monday was Rick Monday, the centerfielder that played for the Dodgers in the late 70's and early to mid 80's. Another great thing about is that you can look at the statistics of former MLB players. A lot of sites offer that, but ESPN has a really cool feature where under each stat, the player is ranked in that stat all time. For example, you can find out that Rick Monday ranks 160th all time in home runs but only 407th in career RBI. Isn't that cool information? Okay, let's try a few of my personal favorites: Bobby Murcer hit 252 homers to place him 141st on the list or 19 in front of Rich Monday. But Murcer ended up with 1043 RBI which places him 188th all time and dozens ahead of Monday. The day Murcer was traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds was one of the most shocking and sad days of my life. To this day, I can still do Murcer's stance at the plate. I remember going to Yankee Stadium for opening day in 1969--Murcer's first full year. Murcer wore number 2 and a player named Jerry Kenney wore number 1. Since the Yanks were so bad, they needed a gimmick and Kenney (#1) batted first and Murcer (#2) batted second. In this memorable opening game, the visiting team didn't score and Kenney and Murcer hit back to back solo homers. Murcer went on to hit 25 more home runs that year but Kenney hit only one more. A year later, Kenney hit below the Mendoza line (.194) in 404 at bats and was out of baseball a few years later. Anyway...the day Murcer was traded was terrible. He was a victim of those horrible years when the Yanks had to play at Shea while Yankee Stadium was being rebuilt. At Yankee Stadium, Murcer averaged 27 homers a year. The first year at Shea, his numbers tumbled to 22 and the following year 11. He was then traded to the Giants and hit 34 homers in two years in the cold and wind of Candlestick Park. Murcer played two years for the Cubbies before coming back to the Yankees as a sentimental favorite in their glory years with Munson and Reggie Jackson. Murcer did have a decent career and in one nine year stretch averaged 90 RBI a year. Hmm...Bobby Bonds...72nd all time in homers with 332 and eighth all time in strikeouts with 1757 (in 14 years!). I bet you didn't know that! His son Barry Bonds has more runs scored in his sixteen years than his dad had strikeouts. In two more seasons, Barry has five hundred less strikeouts than his dad did. Okay, one more stat peek and I'll stop: Fritz Peterson. Fritz was a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees through their truly awful years of 1966 (two years after their last pennant of the 60's) and 1976 (two years before their first pennant since 1964!). They came in last or next to last for most of those years. Despite that, Fritz ended his career 133 - 131 with a 3.30 ERA. Not bad! Of course, he'll forever be known as one half of the famous Yankee scandal of wife swapping. He and a fellow pitcher named Mike Kekich (39-51 lifetime) decided to switch wives in mid-season. It must have been natural for Peterson's ex-wife to state that Kekich came in out of the bullpen. It was quite the fiasco at the time. I don't believe there was a happily-ever-after. I think the Kedich-Peterson duo worked out but the Peterson-Kekich pairing fizzled out faster than Fernando Valenzuela's fastball. Well, this column meandered all over the place. That's okay, if you discover's stat collection with the lifetime rankings, it will have been worth it.

Hey, the Fan was pretty good, even back then. A little rambly, but not bad. See you tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oldest Living Ballplayer Dies

Or is that headline an oxymoron? In any case, Bill Werber, a one-time teammate of Babe Ruth, has died at the age of 100. See the story here in a fascinating article by the Associated Press. For some reason, none of the articles about him included his birth (6/20/1908).

Isn't it amazing that we can go on-line at any time and see the lifetime statistics for a player such as Werber? What a cool time we live in! Here are some of Werber's career highlights:

  • Werber played for 12 years after his All American collegiate career at Duke. His career began in 1930 and concluded in 1942.
  • Werber played for the Yankees, Red Sox, Philadelphia Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants.
  • Werber had a lifetime Batting Average of .271 and an On Base Percentage of .359 (not bad!).
  • Werber stole 215 bases and led the league in that category three times.
  • Werber scored over 100 runs three times in his career and more than 80, seven times (in a 154 game schedule).
  • His best year came in 1934 for the Red Sox when he batted .321, with 200 hits and 129 runs scored. He hit 41 doubles, 10 triples and 11 homers that year and added 77 walks for a .388 On Base Average.
  • He didn't appear to be a very good fielder (primarily a third baseman) with a lifetime .940 fielding percentage.

Werber lived a long and wonderful life. He became a millionaire after his stint in baseball by selling insurance. We salute you, Mr. Werber.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let's Have Some Pun

Brad signed with the Dodgers but he didn't get Ausmus as he did when with the Astros.

The Brewers signed a Prince for two years at $18 million, but didn't get much of a Fielder at first base.

Jayson signed for two years at $10.4 million with the Phillies, but the Fan didn't know he was Werth that much.

The Cubs got a new owner but won't sell as many Ricketts because of the economy.

The Cardinals Glaused their third baseman for three months due to injury.

Gary Fraley had this one: "The Nationals Need to Get This Deal Dunn."

The Cubs signed Michael, but they could have done Wuertz.

The Tigers signed relief pitcher, Joel, and his family started singing that African spiritial, "Zumaya" and opposition batters moaned in unison, "Oh Lord, Zumaya."

Jorge of the Marlins was going to go to arbitration, but the Marlins started singing, "You Cantu That" and signed him to a contract.

Houston avoided arbitration and got Brandon Backe.

The Royals', Jimmy, Gobbled up his contract, thus avoiding arbitration.

The Brewers', Seth, McClung to his contract with glee thus avoiding arbitration.

The White Sox signed their closer to avoid arbitration and hope he is up to his old hiJenks against American League hitters.

Huston signed with the Rockies and thus is on easy Street.

The Phillies' pitcher, Ryan, signed and his headed to Madson bounty.

The Cardinals signed pitcher, Todd, and hope that he remains a Wellemeyer as apposed to an injured meyer.

The Mariners signed a pitcher they hope will be much Bedard than last year's injury plagued season.

Second baseman, Tadahito, went back to Japan, so Charo will have to travel there to keep saying, "Iguchi, Iguchi, Iguchi!" Alternative: The Phillies waved Tata a hito, to Iguchi.

The Mets signing Sanchez was a no-Duaner.

If catcher, John Buck, signed with the Royals, shouldn't his last name be plural?

Jeff Kent play anymore so he retired.

Seay, did you hear that Bobby signed with the Tigers?

If the Rockies' relief pitcher, Jason, has another good year like last year, he'll avoid getting Grilli-ed by the Press.

The Orioles', Nick, will Markakis money and run.

And with that, our punning is done...or Dunn.

The Fan's Take on Sunday Night Baseball

The Duk over on Yahoo Sports reports that Steve Phillips, the former general manager of the Mets, and Baseball Tonight analyst is joining the Sunday Night Baseball team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. The post and the comments to the post bring up a lot of emotion about that long time team. Here's the Fan's take:

Jon Miller is an entertaining play by play man. He broadcasts as a fan and that perspective comes through clearly and brings you into his games. The comments seem to poke fun at his pride in pronouncing Hispanic names correctly, but that seems genuine and it's about time that respect is given the Hispanic players. Why not pronounce their names correctly? Names are important and a source of pride and respect. Butchering them on air is disrespectful. A better man in the booth doing the play by play could not be found. Besides, by now, he seems like an old friend that we've known for so long.

Joe Morgan has his faults and his benefits. His tone and carriage are a tad imperious. He is obviously proud of what he has accomplished in life and very protective of the Hall of Fame and his buddies there. He is not a humble man by any stretch of imagination. But he does know the game and he often points out subtleties that would be missed by many. He doesn't seem to miss much and is respectful of the game.

Obviously, Morgan isn't a man of great humor and a more colorful, analyst might be more entertaining, but there is humor that passes back and forth from Miller to Morgan that has come with a long time being together and it does come out and is entertaining.

Peter Gammons has been wasted in his SNB appearances and if Phillips frees him from that activity, then that's a good thing. Phillips doing Gammons old job would be fine. He has some insight into the game and can make a good point or two. But if ESPN is adding him to the game booth, that would be a huge mistake. First, it takes away from a long-time and comfortable relationship the duo of Miller-Morgan has built. Secondly, it adds a level of tension to make sure all three have airtime. Less is more in a broadcast booth and having three guys in there rarely ever works.

Since Steve Phillips worked on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, then naturally, comments included his work there. Let's face it, the glory days of Baseball Tonight were three guys: Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds. Reynolds was fired and will never be coming back. It's not for us to speculate about what happened there. ESPN made accusations, Reynolds denied them, end of story. John Kruk has been an amiable replacement. But again, Baseball Tonight went awry by thinking more was better. They started trotting four guys out there and then five. Less is more people!

The network hasn't hit the right buttons with its hiring selections. The newcomers lack charisma and any man who has a high voice is a mistake. The other mistake that has crept in over the years is forgetting why we tune in. We tune in to watch highlights. We don't tune in to listen to after game interviews. We don't tune in to see features. We don't tune in for gimmicks. We tune in to watch the highlights. the highlights!

Okay, to circle the wagons back around to the original intent of this post, leave the team of Miller and Morgan intact and leave them alone. If you want meaningless fluff by adding Phillips, put him in the stands replacing Gammons.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Old Dog's....errr...Fan's New Tricks

Some of us have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present. Like the Fan's mom, who won't be bothered learning the computer, the Fan spent much negative energy fighting modern baseball statistics. But old dogs--or Fans--can learn new tricks when motivated. Let's start with Win Shares.

Let's leave the explaining about how Win Shares are calculated to the more educated. Well, that's the problem right there in a nutshell. Growing up, the statistics that we've talked about for a hundred years were cut and dried. What was the player's batting average, ERA, RBI, HR, etc.? And Batting Average was acceptable because it was all in the multiplication and division tables. If you liked stats and had a reasonable grasp on math, then 1 hit in 7 at bats was a .143 batting average. 1 for 6 was .166, etc. It was like learning the tables.

After doing that an entire lifetime (or two of David Wright's lifetimes), WOIP, OPS+, Win Shares, etc., were not easy to figure out. You couldn't just use a simple table to calculate them. And thus, in a busy world with heavy responsibilities (I.E., not a paid baseball writer), it was too much trouble to try and sort it all out.

The Internet has come to the rescue and proven once again that you do not have to be intelligent to get your hands on the information you need. It's out there with the correct key words plugged into Google. If someone else wants to do the work, then we benefit from seeing the results on-line without having to think about it or learn where the numbers come from.

Okay, back to Win Shares. Clearly the Fan doesn't understand where the numbers come from. But simply put, the Win Shares show the value of the player relative to the rest of the league in fielding, batting and pitching. That sentence doesn't come close to conveying anything that will help you know what a Win Share is. Don't be alarmed. Simply go to Wikipedia and look it up. It's there.

The Fan has found a great tool that gives the needed information in a sortable format so it makes sense. The tool is here. From this site, courtesy of The Hardball Times, you can sort the players by position and see the Win Shares for that player compared to others that played his position.

By doing this, you get a nice synopsis of what Win Shares is saying about players relative to position. Cool. By using the nice sort features on the site, we learn that Lance Berkman led Albert Pujols in Win Shares by first basemen. Berkman had more batting Win Shares and Pujols has more fielding Win Shares. We also learn that Alex Rodriguez tied for second among third basemen (tied with Aramis Ramirez) and trailed only David Wright. But who would have guessed that A-Rod also came in second for fielding Win Shares for his position?

Win Shares also tell us that Mariano Rivera was the best reliever in baseball last year even though K-Rod broke the save record (K-Rod was tied for fourth on the list, five Win Shares behind Rivera). They also tell us that Carlos Beltran (Really?) let all outfielders in Win Shares last year. Oh! But there is a catch there. Manny Ramirez's Win Shares are split up between his time in Los Angeles and in Boston. So you have to watch for that. The same thing happened with Teixeira at first base.

Okay. Using this tool, the Fan can live with this new stat and start using it in evaluations. Next up is OPS+ and Egads! WOIP.

Uggla and Ludwick to Get Richer

Doug Miller of has put together an excellent article and list of arbitration eligible players. While reading such a fine piece, two names stuck out: Dan Uggla and Ryan Ludwick. Both will end up in an entirely new world of money no matter if they go to arbitration, win or lose or sign before the hearings.

According to Miller, Dan Uggla will go from making $417,000 to at least $4 million in his worst case scenerio. Welcome to high finance, Mr. Uggla!

Uggla, who has one of the weirdest last names in baseball history, has also had a weird career. Uggla has averaged 30 homers a year for the three years he's been in the big leagues. He added 49 doubles in 2007 and yet hit only .245. This past year, he raised his average to .260 while also raising his OBP to a career high of .360.

One of the most interesting aspects of Uggla's career is that for the past two years, more than 50% of his base hits were for extra bases. He truly is an all or nothing kind of player. He struck out a career high 171 times. This weird mix of all or nothing led to Uggla coming in fourth for second baseman in Win Shares behind Utley, Pedroia and Kinsler. See the list for second basemen here. According to, Uggla is slightly better than league average as a fielder.

Ryan Ludwick burst out of nowhere last year to put up impressive numbers for the Cardinals. He too will get a big raise from somewhere in the $450,000 range to at least $2.8 million.

Ludwick was drafted in the second round of the 1999 draft by the Oakland Athletics. He made his major league debut in 2002 and had cups of coffee in every year from then until 2006 with Texas, Toronto and Cleveland (including all three teams in 2004!).

In 2007, Tony LaRussa stuck him in 120 games and he was pretty good, but nothing spectacular. Then this past year, he exploded in every part of his batting game. He hit 37 homers, drove in 113 and raised his Batting Average and OBP (.299 and .375). Ludwick also seems to be a decent fielder with above league average range factor. He also came in fifth of all major league outfielders in Win Shares.

Ludwick certainly had a superstar year. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain that production. Either way, he will be doing so in an entirely new financial reality.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Diamondbacks Use Variation of Fan Strategy

A few posts back, it was suggested that a poor team should pony up $5 million for each of the nine quality free agents that remain unemployed. The suggestion was to instantly build a fairly cheap and respectable team instead of sending out untested, unready young players or giving Jay Payton one more chance to prove he is not a major league player. Well, it seems the Diamondbacks, though not really a poor team, have adopted a variation of this strategy. See here,

The Diamondbacks' variation is to have the $5 million they have left in available payroll and line up the free agents. The first one who takes it gets the money. Hey Wolf, do you want it? No? Next? Garland, do you want it? No? Next? Pedro? Looper?

Brilliant! Apparently, these remaining free agents are playing chicken with the present market and you know what happens with a game of chicken? Someone is going to hit the dashboard. Arizona seems to be a nice place. Kurt Warner is currently enjoying the place. Randy Johnson lives there. Wouldn't $5 million in this economy be a worthwhile stopping point in the stream of life.

The Diamondbacks are not pioneers in this area. The Mets went through the same process with their search for a closer. Their message: "Hey, we're in the market. You guys are the market. We're sending out three offers. The first one we hear back from, it's yours." K-Rod heard the bells tolling and took less than he anticipated. Smart guy that.

But you can understand the remaining free agent bewilderment. It's like the Jews being led out of Egypt by Moses (played in reverse by Boras) and wondering what in the heck were they doing out in the desert. Like those lost souls, the remaining free agents might have to understand that drinking water that comes out of a rock and eating manna might be what keeps them alive until the time when you can talk about milk and honey. Take what you can get, people. It's better than watching your millions slip away in the stock market.

On the other hand, what is Pat Burrell thinking when he has to sign with the Bay Rays for $5 million while Adam LaRoche signs with Pittsburgh for a little over $7 million. Whuh? But Burrell is no dummy. This is the hand that is dealt. Take what you can get. Tampa at least has a fun young team and, gosh, the beaches are right there too.

This has been the weirdest Hot Stove League ever and interesting as all get out. Well, interesting as long as your name isn't Abreu, Sheets or Randy Wolf.

Pujols Vs. A-Rod

A recent story indicating that Albert Pujols is doing fine after elbow surgery gave the Fan a chance to look at his amazing statistics through his first eight years. After viewing those statistics, the Fan wondered how they compared with Alex Rodriguez's first full eight years in the majors. The comparisons are interesting.

Through eight years:
  • Albert Pujols has 319 homers compared to A-Rod's 340.
  • Albert Pujols has 342 doubles compared to A-Rod's 279
  • Albert Pujols has 2856 Total Bases compared to A-Rod's 2830
  • Albert Pujols has an OPS of 1.049 compared to A-Rod's .976 (A-Rod didn't start walking a lot until his fourth year)
  • Albert Pujols has 1531 hits compared to A-Rod's 1491
  • Pujols averages around 63 strike outs a year. A-Rod, well over a hundred.
  • Albert Pujols has stolen 45 bases. A-Rod had 170
  • Albert Pujols has a .334 batting average through eight years, A-Rod was around .318.
  • Albert Pujols has made 79 errors thus far in his career, A-Rod had 117.

Both players have truly amazing numbers. Pujols has him on Batting Average, OPS and strike outs. A-Rod is better on the bases and played shortstop all those years, which according to most, is a more important position than first base or outfield.

It is fun to compare the two and to debate which player has been better through eight years. When looking at some of the new statistics, Win Shares gives a slight edge to Pujols with 184 compared to A-Rod's 176. The edge also goes to Pujols with OPS+. Pujols has averaged an OPS+ of 170 compared to A-Rod's 146 over his first eight full years.

It's an interesting debate that appears to give Pujols the edge. The Fan would take either one of them on his team any day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Take 'Em All for $5 Million Each

Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson, Ben Sheets, Jon Garland, Randy Wolf, Braden Looper, Oliver Perez and Joe Crede are among free agents that still don't have a deal. Spring Training is getting closer all the time. The list also includes Andy Pettitte, Tom Glavine, Garrett Anderson and other. See here for a full list.

Okay, these players must all be getting pretty fidgety. Maybe even desperate. If the Fan was a GM of a really lousy team like the Pirates or the Mariners, here's a thought: Offer them all $5 million for one year. That's right, take them all. Nine quality players for $45 million is a good deal.

They would have to be better than what you already have, right? Why not? You have four starting pitchers, a second baseman, a third baseman, two outfielders/1B /DH guys and a relief pitcher. Heck, the fans would have to like that a lot better than throwing kids out there that aren't ready yet or throwing out a bunch of cheap guys like Bobby Ayala or Jay Payton out there.

For another $1 million each, sign Ivan Rodriguez and Pedro Martinez. Why not? Now you have 11 guys for $47 million. Out of the eleven, if they all come within 80% of their career averages, you win.

This is the equivalent to going to the local dollar store to buy all of next year's Christmas decorations on the cheap. You could make a big promotion out of the whole thing. Make them the Cleveland Indians with Charlie Sheen. It's the Unwanted against the world. Go get 'em, boy, nobody else wanted you.

If the Fan was a GM, that's what he would do. In a heartbeat. All these guys would be better than what you have now, Pittsburgh/Seattle/San Diego. Instant respectability for $47 million. You have to like that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin Luther King Day

{{The Fan presents a semi-off-topic post and hopes regular sports fans will understand}}

America is entering a historic week as Barack Obama will be sworn into office on Tuesday, fittingly, the day after Martin Luther King Day. For this Caucasian writer, it's a week to bring reflection and admiration. Though the Fan voted for Obama's opponent in the election, Obama is our president and will be prayed for and supported. The significance of the election is not lost to one of the Fan's generation.

The Fan grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey and had close friends that included a Jewish kid and an African American kid. For most of our young lives, it didn't matter as we shared a love of sports and would play hours of basketball, or whatever, on the Jewish kid's home court.

Things changed quickly as the early 1960s featured race related items on the news that our parents watched. During those years of strife, racial rioting occurred right in the next town to us, its epicenter just six miles away. It became clear to a youngster that there was a problem and it seemed bigger than we could solve in our three on three basketball games.

It's difficult to explain to today's younger generation what it was like to go through the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The world seemed to develop an off-kilter feel and the American optimism was tempered with fear and mistrust. Vietnam polarized us and racial upheaval seemed to throw the entire country in an uproar.

Let's face it, most of our parents in those days were racist. It was all they had known, which, in and of itself, is understandable, but not an excuse. What troubled us young people was that, for the most part, our parents were religious (The Fan's were not). How could we figure out that Jesus died for all people, but some were better than others? He still did, by the way...

It seemed that every week, we watched the news and some Klu Klux Klan rally or some abuse by that group were reported. The counter rallies and marches, led by King and other groups that were more radical, erupted into horrific battlegrounds and brutality, usually by the police. While our parents nodded in agreement with the harsh crackdowns, we young people were troubled deep inside by the images we witnessed.

It was impossible to grow up in the Fan's generation and not have some racist inclinations. The Fan was always for equality and wanted us all to get along. But, fear was always close by when walking by a black man alone on an empty street. The fear wasn't rational, but it was racist ingrained. Anyone who truly says they are enlightened is not. Only those who admit they are not have a chance of getting somewhat close to it.

The Fan lives in an area of few minorities. Interestingly enough, where there are no minorities, new ones are created. Here, the Acadians who were dispersed from Acadie (now Nova Scotia) by the British settled largely in the Saint John Valley in towns like Madawaska, Maine and trickled down to all the other towns in our area. "They" became the minority and the lesser race.

It seems human to see difference in appearances and social customs as defining pecking orders in the dance to see who comes out on top. How ultimately sad it is to spend so much energy working not to get along with a people instead of the other way around.

Add to this lifetime of observation, unexpectedly, and somewhat miraculously, we had a woman as a major candidate and an African American and an African American won the national election. Who could have predicted that ten years ago?

To people of the Fan's generation, Martin Luther King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial is the most amazing, stirring and impassioned bit of rhetoric ever uttered. The Fan urges everyone to find an archival tape and watch it. He must be smiling down at where his speech helped bring us.
And now, 41 years after King's assassination, 80 years after his birth, 62 years after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke baseball's "color" barrier, 101 years after Jack Johnson became the heavyweight champion of the world, 73 years after Jesse Owens foiled Hitler's Olympics, and a day after Martin Luther King Day, America will have its first African American President.

Only time will tell if Obama turns out to be an effective leader. But at this commencement of his presidency, the Fan wonders in a sense of awe how we have been able to come to this point. While we are far from being a healed and united nation, we have made up some distance and it is a new day and a new step for us as a people.

Felix Pie Moves All the Orioles Around

The Baltimore Orioles traded ineffective starting pitcher, Garrett Olson, to the Chicago Cubs for Felix Pie (see story here). Clearly, Lou Piniella prefers veterans and lost patience with Pie, who has yet to make the transition from Minor League Player of the Year (2005, 2006) to major league hitting. The Cubs received a couple more arms and the Orioles have what could be a good player if Pie can figure out MLB pitching.

The acquisition also moves a bunch of Orioles around. Luke Scott, last year's left fielder, will move to designated hitter. Last year's designated hitter, Aubrey Huff, will move to first base. Last year's starting center fielder, Ryan Freel, moves to a platoon in left with Pie.

The Scott to DH move is best for both the player and the team as Scott is not that fleet a fielder. The addition to Pie to an outfield that already includes the burner, Adam Jones, in center field, and star-in-the-making, Nick Markakis, in right. In theory, this gives the Orioles a terrific fielding outfield.

Many feel that Pie just needs to play regularly to get a chance to show he has star potential. Piniella was never going to give him that chance. If the platoon comes to fruition for the Orioles, Pie should get plenty of at bats as he would be the lefty end of the platoon, and there are many more right handed pitchers than the other way around. Freel is a decent bat, but lacks pop, and will only get occasional time in the platoon.

It's hard to know what the Cubs will get out of Olson (see bio here). The lefthander had great stats in the minor leagues but has been terrible in parts of two seasons with the Orioles. Olson has started 33 games for the Orioles over those two years and is 10-13 with an ERA of 6.87 {{shiver}}. He has averaged exactly five innings per start. Olson has been a bullpen exhauster for the Orioles since his debut in 2007. Just to give an indication of his ineffectiveness, he has allowed 300 base runners to reach safely in 165 big league innings {{shudder}}.

Perhaps Olson will fare better in Chicago. Henry Williamson (not to be confused with the English author), is a 23 year old right hander who stands six foot, five inches. The news stories didn't mention much about him, but after doing some digging, he is a former 14th round draft pick who has done pretty well in his minor league assignments to date (see here). He seems to miss a lot of bats and after making a few starts his first year in the minor leagues, seems to be grooming for a career in relief.

By all accounts, Pie is a good kid and a hard worker. Hopefully, he will get his chance with the Orioles and make the most of it.

Varitek's Bad Timing and Bad Advice

Jason Varitek has been the Boston Red Sox captain. He's been an All Star. He's been on two world championship teams. He's received a lot of credit for the team's pitching success over the course of his career. And he's fighting for his life to get a contract this year.

How did he get in this mess? Five things have contributed to his current situation:

  1. He had a terrible year at the plate in 2008.
  2. His offense and defense have declined for the last five years.
  3. He refused salary arbitration meaning teams would have to give up a first round pick to sign him.
  4. He became a free agent in a dramatically different year than the previous dozen years.
  5. He is a 36 year-old catcher.
How terrible was he at the plate last year? He had 29 more strike outs than he had hits. He batted .220, the lowest number of his career. He had an OPS of .672. He had only 43 RBI in a season where the Red Sox had runners on base all the time.

His refusal to accept salary arbitration was on the advice of agent, Scott Boras. It was the worst advice anyone has ever been given in the history of agent/player dealings. First, he gave up a guaranteed $10 million. Based on his previous salary, even his sub par year and an arbitration loss would have given him that much money. But refusing arbitration, Varitek also closed the door on many teams wanting to sign him. Would you want to sign a 36 year-old catcher who had a terrible year and give up a first round draft pick? At any price? No, and no team has even made an offer.

This year has been dramatically different than past years. All teams have been tighter with their money and very few have made contracts that made one scratch heads as in past years. With the markets down, Madoff's ponzi scheme, season ticket sales off and the overall doom and gloom even the president-elect is talking about, then you aren't going to see a team give up even one year at what Varitek would have made in arbitration, especially if it means giving up a draft pick.

Catchers Varitek's age rarely get better. All those years in the squat position, getting nicked by foul balls and running like a madman towards first on every infield ground ball, take a toll on catchers. Pudge Rodriguez has hit the age speed bump as has Jorge Posada. It is likely that neither will play anything near to their prime. Varitek's OPS has gradually declined in the last five years. His slugging percentage has taken a noticeable dip. In his "salad days," Varitek threw out 27% of base stealers. That figure is down to 22%. Any team has to know that the Varitek they would be getting would not be the same catcher he was in 2002.

Clearly, Varitek must be looking at his agent the same way Fred Wilpon is looking at his financial advisers who invested with Madoff. Both Varitek and Wilpon must be saying, "What have you done to me!?"

Varitek recently met with John Henry, the principle owner of the Red Sox. If he was smart, he would have gone with his hat in his hand and begged for any kind of contract at all. Varitek has listened to terrible advice and hit the market at precisely the wrong time, not only in its present climate, but at this stage of his career. The Red Sox hold all the marbles, and they are the only marbles in play.