Saturday, November 20, 2010

Afraid for Don Mattingly

Alan Trammell was a treasured icon in Detroit. An outstanding shortstop for over a decade, he was a link to a storied Tigers team that won a World Series. It seemed a natural fit when the Tigers tapped him as their manager in 2003. The year before, the Tigers had lost 106 games. They fired Phil Garner after only six games and an 0-6 start. His poor replacement was the little remembered Luis Pujols who finished the season at 55-100 himself. Trammell never had a chance. He was set up in situation he couldn't win and thus, an icon was trashed in the process. Is Don Mattingly in a similar situation?

There are differences in two situations. Trammell inherited a really bad team. Mattingly is just inheriting a slightly bad team. Trammell was hired to manage the team he starred for and was worshipped by. Mattingly is an entire continent away from where his glory days were in New York. But other than those differences, there is a similar danger for Mattingly.

This writer has to admit that Don Mattingly was one of the Fan's favorite players ever. He was, "Donny Baseball" and before Derek Jeter, he was the standard of what a Yankee should look like and act like. And so this post speaks a bit for all those who grew up rooting for the former first baseman who for a four or five year stretch was the best player in baseball.

The Dodgers fell flat last year. Caught in the crossfire of the divorce of its owners, the team's assets were pretty well frozen and the Dodgers were forced to go with the hand they had from 2009. Manny was no longer Manny and he got traded away. The pitching never gelled, Matt Kemp had a season-long fued with Joe Torre and Russell Martin again couldn't stay healthy enough to contribute. The Dodgers made some minor deals during the season and one somewhat significant one in acquiring Ted Lilly, but other than that, they couldn't do much and their final record was a result. They fell out of the NL West by the end of August.

And little has happened over the off season thus far. Ted Lilly was given a multi-year contract and that at least gives them a veteran pitcher who knows what he is doing. He should have a good season. Feel-good story, Jay Gibbons, was re-signed to add depth. But little else has changed.

The pitching staff is still led by Clayton Kershaw, he of the golden arm and mixed results. Clay Billingsley, another riddle will be back for another year. Kuroda is back for another season. But he is 36 and injury prone. John Ely failed to impress in his trial run last year. And that's the rotation.

The Dodgers have question marks at first base, second base, third base and left field. They have depth issues and uber-prospect, Xavier Paul, struggled to make an impact in his debut last year. And immediate help is not on the way from their system.

And, last but not least, the bullpen is a question mark after Jonathan Broxton lost his mojo midway through last year. As you can see, for a Fan of Don Mattingly, this isn't looking too rosy here. In our wildest dreams, Mattingly will turn the franchise around and do what the legend, Joe Torre, couldn't do. Torre skedaddled as he read the tea leaves. And Mattingly starts off under the gun because many believe he doesn't have the experience to be the manager. If Mattingly succeeds, it will be against long odds and completely unexpected.

Zach Duke - A Cautionary Tale

It's hard to believe Zach Duke is only 27 years old. It seems like he has been pitching for a decade. The past few seasons, his seasons seemed like decades. Duke went from phenom to bust quicker than just about any pitcher in recent memory. You could compare him to Dontrelle Willis without the walks. But Willis at least had a few seasons of success before it all fell apart. Duke had one glorious half season. But it was a mirage then and the Pirates kept reaching to get to that hazy oasis on the horizon and could never get there. The Pirates gave up on Duke yesterday and designated him for assignment, ending his Pirate career after six seasons.

Zach Duke was an 18 year old kid fresh out of high school when the Pirates drafted him in the 20th round in 2001. Against the odds, he started piling up stats for the Pirates, but that was part of the problem. He pitched 142 innings as a 20 year old and and 148 at the age of 21. His strikeout rate was healthy, topping out at 9.8 in 2004. Plus, he had great control, walking only 1.8 per nine. But the higher he rose in the Pirates' organization, the lower the strikeout rate went. Then came his debut year for the Pirates in 2005.

Duke had already pitched 108 innings in 2005 for their Triple A affiliate. The Pirates then called him up and he pitched 84 more innings for the big club. Remember that he was only 22 years old at the time. But they were 84 GREAT innings. Duke made 14 starts for the Pirates that year and went 8-2 with an ERA of 1.81. It wasn't lucky either as his BABIP was right where it should have been at .303. He gave up only three homers. It was an impressive debut and everyone thought he was going to be the next great pitcher. His K/9 rate was healthy enough at 6.2 and his K/BB ratio was 2.52, a nice total. He would never again come close to those kinds of numbers.

The very next year, Duke made 34 starts and pitched 214+ innings. He was 23. He ended up going 10-15 that season and gave up more hits than anyone else in the National League. His K/9 rate fell below five per nine. His WHIP went up to 1.50. It was all downhill from there. Since his rookie season, he has gone 37-68. He was the poster boy for everything that was wrong with the Pirates.

And now, at the age of 27, in what should be the peak of his career, he has washed out of Pittsburgh and his future is unclear. He could catch on with a minor league contract. Some club might have an idea they can reclaim him and find lightning in a bottle. But looking at his strikeout rates, his homer rates and his hit rates, it appears that there is little left in what was once a promising arm.

This writer believes he pitched too many innings at too young an age and as a result, washed up early in life. Who knows, Duke could resurface and could somehow become an effective pitcher in the majors again. But those chances remain slim and he looks like a cautionary tale to all those who think babying pitchers is a stupid idea.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Yankees' Pitching Coach Comes With Scary Numbers

Larry Rothschild was named the new Yankees' pitching coach today replacing the departed Dave Eiland. Rothschild had been the Cubs' pitching coach from 2002-2010. "Domenic" over at Sliding Into Home: A Yankees Blog had a great observation that Rothschild's staffs in Chicago threw a ton of strikeouts and a ton of walks. The Fan took Domenic's observation and went to look at the numbers. He was spot on:

Year  - K's in League (NL) - BB's in League (NL)
2002 - 1 - 14  (remember that there are sixteen teams in the NL)
2003 - 1 - 16
2004 - 1 - 13
2005 - 1 - 13
2006 - 1 - 16
2007 - 1 - 13
2008 - 1 - 7
2009 - 2 - 11
2010 - 4 - 16

Now it is easy to say that a pitching coach can only do so much with the arms that he is given. And there has been a pitcher or two that have bucked this trend. Ted Lilly's walk rate came down during his time with the Cubs while maintaining his strikeout rate. It can also be said that Rothschild inherited pitchers that had already had instruction in the minor leagues. But, yeah, it's hard to argue with the numbers listed above.

Domenic contrasted Rothschild's numbers with that of Dave Duncan and Leo Mazzone who pitch to the corners and try to limit walks. Again, that's a good call. It also contrasts with what the Twins do on a yearly basis. The Fan has talked about how the Twins have a unified goal in their organization and all work toward the same goal. The pitching coach on the major league level would have a lot to do with setting those goals.

It's also a bit of a concern that Rothschild was the pitching coach when Dusty Baker is most famously cited for the damage done to Prior, Wood and Clement on the 2003 Cubs when all those pitchers had a major jump in innings pitched from the years before. If Baker is indeed guilty of that charge, then Rothschild was a co-conspirator.

Many believe that two of the few things that a pitcher can control is the strikeout and the walk. One is good and the other is bad. Rothschild's teams had an overriding series of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seasons under his watch. Do we credit him with one and fault him for the other? The Fan doesn't know.

The one positive on this is that Joe Girardi worked with Rothschild in Chicago. Girardi was still catching then and worked with Rothschild. That should be a smoother relationship than with Eiland.

The one other thing that is nagging at the Fan is Rothschild's reason for taking the job. The news reports indicated that he wanted to go to the Yankees because his home is right next to the Yankees' Spring Training complex. Thus, he called it a family move. Cubs' GM, Jim Hendry stated that this was a good move for Rothschild's family. The reason those thoughts nag the Fan is wondering if a pitching coach should be talking about everything other than helping the Yankees win. The Yankees number one goal this winter is to improve their pitching. Wouldn't it sound better if the guy they hired had at least talked about that?

The Fan prefers to defer judgement on this move until the season plays out. But the numbers are scary and the move doesn't exactly instill a great deal of confidence in the man leading the pitching staff.

No Service for Choo - Now Let's Give Him His Due

Shin-Soo Choo's Korea team took the Asian games and the series win means that the dark cloud of mandatory service over Choo's head has been lifted. As described in this linked post, the South Korean government promised an exemption for every player if they went on to win the Asian games. Can you imagine if they had lost!? No Choo can go back to being the most under appreciated player in Major League Baseball.

No only is Choo under appreciated, he's also been a doggone steal for the Indians. How Choo has played parts of six seasons and has been playing for just over minimum salary is beyond this Fan. Choo is finally eligible for arbitration this year so he can finally get paid what he is worth. It hasn't been a fun few years for the Indians, but when it comes to Choo, everything went right for the Indians. Consider how they got him in the first place.

The Seattle Mariners, in a blunder that sums up how they got to where they are now, traded Choo to the Indians for Ben Broussard. Broussard fizzled and Choo sizzled. The deal makes Mark Shapiro look like a genius. And consider that Choo's play has been valued the last three years at $13.5 million, $22.4 million and $22.3 million and you have yourself a steal.

There isn't a significant measure you can find that drags Choo valuation down. He's an excellent right fielder and if it wasn't for Ichiro, he could be a Gold Glove candidate. His lifetime slash line is: .297/.399/.488 and take into account that those figures include several cups of coffee between 2005 and 2007. To understand how understated Choo is as a player, he's finished the last two seasons (his first two qualifying for the batting title) with OPS+ figures of 136 and 148. And he hasn't even gotten a sniff for an All Star appearance.

What probably hurts him is that the traditional counting stats haven't been high. He has topped out the last two seasons with 86 and 90 runs batted in. There simply isn't enough consistent base runners from his Indians mates to knock in a lot of runs. He has a very high success rate in high leverage and with runners on base. So it's not his fault the counting stats aren't there. And considering he was on base nearly 260 times, he should have scored way more than 81 runs.

Two things can use improvement. First, he strikes out a lot. But that figure came down significantly in 2010. In 2009 he struck out 155 times. In 2010, he brought that down to 118. Choo is also a slightly lower than league average against left handed pitching. He's not terrible against southpaws, but he's not terribly good either. He is a little better against lefty starters than he is against lefty relievers.

Choo has been an excellent player the last couple of years. To this writer, he is one of the ten best players in the American League. But you would never know it. You couldn't tell by his paycheck either. But thankfully, now that the Korean military cloud has passed over, Choo can become a rich man. Arbitration looms, and whatever he gets, he deserves.

Jeter Post Validated

Way back on October 23, this writer posted a summation of what Derek Jeter needs to do as a batter to get by his last few years as a player. And you know, sometimes a writer has to toot his own horn. Heck, no one is going to toot it for the Fan, right? Well, that post has been validated as Keith Olbermann has pretty much written the same post but in (slightly) better prose.

The important thing is not that this writer can strut around feeling good about himself. The important thing is that Olbermann is a pretty smart guy (despite his politics) and just perhaps, Mr. Jeter should take heed. And while you are heeding, Mr. Jeter, please take the three year contract...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Cy Young for Felix Hernandez is a Special Case

The Cy Young Awards for the past two years have shown that there has been an evolution in the BBWAA. There is no way that even ten years ago, Felix Hernandez would have had a single vote. But old dogs are learning new tricks, younger dogs are replacing old dogs that die off and a season like that just pitched by King Felix would have gone nowhere ten years ago, gains the award this year. This award vote is the most astonishing. Last year, at least Greinke won more than 15 games and had a decent winning percentage. The same went for Lincecum in the National League. But Hernandez was only a  game over .500 and finished with a paltry 13 wins.

The award for Hernandez has been accomplished not just by his great pitching but also the proliferation of information every day on the Web. Writers all over the country read centralized news stories instantly after a game. Highlight shows on sports networks give instant access to what a game looked like and how a pitcher pitched. Think of ESPN's "That's Nasty" feature that daily shows some of the "filthiest" pitches thrown on a particular day.

But it goes even deeper than that. There are more than half a dozen sites where you can instantly access statistics, several of them that update on the fly (someday B-F will...sigh). These sites allow you to sort leaders by various categories just by clicking the heading on that particular stat. This is a win for technology and information. Look, this Fan knows that it is highly debatable whether technology has helped or hindered the world.. But there is no debate that it's the best thing that ever happened to a baseball fan.

Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award because more people than ever know how to measure who the best pitcher in the league is. He won the award because everyone was instantly aware that the Mariners could not score to save themselves (or King Felix). Everyone had the data to know that the Mariners didn't catch or throw the ball very well. And despite it all, Hernandez kept throwing gems game after game. His final win-loss record wasn't his fault. Oh sure, you'll hear the same old song and dance that winning pitchers know how to win. This Fan stopped believing that in 1987 when Nolan Ryan led the National League in ERA and finished the season 9-16.

If we knew then what we know now, Ryan would have taken his 5.5 WAR and would have been rewarded for his great season. Though it will really be a marvel if some pitcher with a losing record ever won the Cy Young Award.

But this is a good day. The right thing happened to the right guy for the right reasons. There aren't too many times in life that you can say that.

John Buck Deal Is Ludicrous for Marlins

John Buck hit 20 homers for the Blue Jays in 2010 and finished with an OPS+ of 115 and to his credit, has parlayed that into a three year deal with the Marlins for $18 million. Frankly, the deal is ludicrous for the Marlins on several levels. Here are just a few:

  • But did hit .281 in 2010, but his BABIP was .335. His average will come down.
  • Buck had never before hit .260, never mind .281.
  • But walked only 16 times in 2010. That is Bengie Molina kind of plate patience.
  • Over his last 596 at bats, Buck has struck out 166 times. That is Adam LaRoche type numbers.
  • According to Fangraphs, 2010 was only the second year that Buck finished a season with a positive WAR figure.
  • Buck is only an average receiver. He will throw out  a quarter of the runners trying to steal.
  • The contract is a 300% raise for Buck over the $2 million he made last year.
  • Buck has a lifetime On Base Percentage of .301.

Those are just some of the highlights. The only way Buck is worth that kind of money is if he can repeat the numbers he compiled in 2010. Those numbers were higher than any other season Buck has ever played. So the chances of him being worth that contract are small. Plus, the Marlins had a nice catcher in house in Ronny Paulino who is a better defensive catcher. Paulino had a nice run for the Marlins last year but struggled after Edwin Rodriguez played him too many games in a row. Buck finished much higher in offensive categories but Paulino did have a higher OBP.

This deal doesn't make any sense. Buck hasn't proven anything with his season in 2010. If he does it again in 2011, then perhaps we'll talk. And even his 2010 season masks some ugliness that a bunch of homers can hide. No, this deal doesn't seem smart at all. But then again, this Fan has been wrong before.

Changing a Culture in Arizona

Kevin Towers now has the responsibility of rebuilding the Diamondbacks after what was by every measure a terrible season. The D-Backs have already parted company with Adam LaRoche and now there are rumors of Justin Upton being shopped. While it's clear that changes had to be made, is it necessary to tear this team down and start over? And if so, what prospects are there that it can happen quickly?

The Upton rumors make sense when you think about it from Tower's perspective. There are no quick fixes in house for the Diamondbacks. There isn't the kind of talent in their system to come up and make a difference in their level of play. If Towers can get four talented prospects for someone with Upton's upside, then you have to consider making such a deal. The problem is that Upton could still develop into a superstar. He's only 23 years old and though he hasn't made the impact that was expected, there is still plenty of time for him to do so. Trading the one player on the team with that much latent ability is risky, especially if the talent Towers acquires doesn't develop.

The Diamondbacks have two big problems. They strike out too much and set a record in that category in 2010. The other is pitching. There really is a weakness behind Kennedy and Hudson in the rotation and the bullpen was an utter mess. It would make sense for Towers to focus on pitching prospects if he is serious about trading Upton, particularly one or two players that can step up to the big league level right away. Enright is useful, but this observer just doesn't see him being a third or fourth starter in the big leagues. It seems imperative for Towers to go after one of the starters on the market such as Pavano or de la Rosa. The latter makes a lot of sense after pitching in Colorado, another franchise that seems to play in a more offensive setting. When you have a ball park and a franchise in an area that is conducive for balls carrying, you need power arms. That's why the Schilling/Johnson combo was so successful for the D-Backs in 2001.

And yes, the D-Backs need to do something about their volume of strikeouts. There has to be a quandry in the plans of the team when it comes to Mark Reynolds. He was useful he at least hit .250 with all that power. But when he has a Rob Deer-type season, what will he be able to do next? He isn't that great a fielder and there has to be concern that he's done as much as he is going to do as a hitter. They can't go through another season like the last one.

The D-Backs have already unloaded Adam LaRoche, another strikeout prone offensive player. Trading Upton would be ridding the team of another bunch of strikeouts. But LaRoche didn't really have that bad a season. But there are plenty of first basemen on the market. The Diamondbacks should be able to land one of them. Lance Berkman would be a great fit here. He gets on base and he can hit for as much power as LaRoche. They would want to stay away from guys like Carlos Pena. They already have enough trouble with high strikeout, low average types.

There is also plenty of bullpen arms on the market. The big unknown is how much the Diamondbacks can spend. They had fiscal problems a few years ago and they have been losing attendance at a steady clip. How much resources will Towers have to go out and get help? But as the Giants showed in 2010, a few under-the-radar, low budget types can make a huge difference if you get lucky enough.

It would seem that a core of Young, Drew and Johnson are all set. Gerardo Parra did not have a good season and has put together two lackluster seasons in row. That has to be disappointing in that he was successful in the minors. He has no power and has never shown any at any level. But he used to steal bases in the minors and then stopped. So though he is a good fielder (especially as a corner outfielder), what else does Parra offer? The D-Backs should probably consider going in a different direction.

Brandon Allen could be an effective big league hitter if given the chance, but again, he is a high strikeout guy. If the D-Backs are trying to get away from that, Allen won't help the program. There really isn't any other up and coming options that will help the D-Backs on offense.

Finally, this Fan is concerned about Kirk Gibson as the leader on the field. Someone like Gibson seemed like a good idea last year when A. J. Hinch was fired. But the team did not show any spark under Gibson and their record over the rest of the season did not improve at all. Gibson really didn't have the experience to take over a team full time but now this is his team. The Fan isn't sold on that fact. Again, you would have thought the D-Backs would have fared better after Hinch was fired. Is Gibson the right guy for this club? Time will tell.

After losing 95 games, the Arizona Diamondbacks don't appear to be an easy fix. They don't have an abundance of internal options and they don't have an abundance of money. Towers has his work cut out for him. But again, the team has no where to go but up. Personally, this Fan thinks they should hold on to Upton for one more season. There is reason to believe that his problems last year were at least partially due to his health. Towers may feel like he has no choice. The new GM has his work cut out for him.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming to Terms With Dusty Baker

No, this isn't a post about how much money Dusty Baker is going to make this year. This is a post about long-term perceptions about a man and his managerial record. Those perceptions were smug and happy when Baker's teams were not performing well. But then we are confronted with a Reds team in 2010 that defied all the projections and won their division over the almighty St. Louis Cardinals. The season left Baker just one vote shy of winning this year's Manager of the Year Award that went to Bud Black (a man who Baker once managed). After such a season, it's time to confront the stereotypes about Baker and take a closer look.

One place to start is his record. Johnnie B. Baker has now managed a total of seventeen years in the majors. Four of those seasons (or nearly 25%) resulted in his team leading the division. Six other times, his teams finished in second place. In one of those seasons (1993, his first) his team won 103 games and did not make the playoffs (no wild card then). The team that won the NL West that year was the east coast team. Yeah, it was weird. Another time his team came in second, his team won the NL pennant after getting into the playoffs via the wild card. He has won the Manager of the Year Award three times (1993, 1997 and 2000). He has a .522 career winning percentage. That's a pretty good resume.

Baker managed the Giants for ten years. Only two of those years were not competitive. Every other year, the Giants came in first or second. He then moved on to the Cubs where they won their division the first year he arrived. That was the Cubs team that came within a Bartman of going to the World Series. Up until that season and during it, the perception of Baker was all good. But unlike San Francisco, where he had sustained success, after the Bartman series, the Cubs went downhill and every remaining year that Baker was there was worse than the year before. The Cubs won 89 games in 2004 and then 79 and then 66. When things go sour at Wrigley, things go sour. Just ask Lou Piniella.

It was those last two years in Chicago that the perception turned sour. And to be frank, the Fan is mostly talking about himself, but the Fan isn't alone. Baker became reviled in Chicago. The fall from grace after his initial season led to his reputation that he ruined young pitchers. The reputation is at least partly earned. Prior, Wood and Clement all pitched over 200 innings as young men in 2003. None of the three would ever be the same. It may be argued that he did the same thing to Shawn Estes in 1997 and Bill Swift in 1993.

Estes is a particularly gruesome story. Estes only logged 70 major league innings in 1996. He was really young at the time. In 1997, he pitched over 200 innings despite walking 100 batters. Think about that for a second. Estes had never pitched that many innings before and despite pitching behind most of that year, he won 19 games with a 3.19 ERA. If you look at his game log, almost every single game featured him throwing 110 or more or 120 or more pitches. Estes never again had a year as good as 1997.

Bill Swift pitched mostly in relief up until 1992. He saved 17 games in 1991. He was converted to a starter in 1992 and pitched 164 innings, a jump of 70 innings from the year before, but still reasonable. 1993 was Baker's first year with the Giants and as mentioned, they won 103 games and fought for the pennant down until the final day of the season only to fall one short. Swift jumped to 232 innings that season. He was never the same pitcher again.

All that said, Baker didn't manage in a vacuum. He had bosses who could have made him take care of his pitchers. The whole idea of gradually breaking pitchers in was just beginning in the late 1990s. Baker came from another era. His GMs didn't stop him from giving young pitchers so many innings. His pitching coaches didn't. But the damage was done. What happened to Prior, Wood and Clement combined with the Cubs slide permanently scarred Baker.

That's why it was surprising to this observer when the Reds hired him in 2008. Unlike the Cubs experience, each year has gone a little better for the Reds since Baker's been there culminating of course with the division title. He hasn't overused anybody. He handled Leake just right in this writer's humble opinion. The same with Wood.

There are other good things to say about Baker's run with the Reds. He's put Votto, Bruce and Stubbs out there every day and let them develop into great ball players. He handled his bullpen really well including changing Arthur Rhodes from a one batter specialist to a set up man when it warranted the big left hander. Rhodes had another incredible season.

Dusty Baker cannot be denied his 2010 season. There is nothing to point at to say he didn't manage it well. The big thing now is how the team will do in the coming seasons. Baker had a lot go right in 2010. Scott Rolen had his best year in a long time. His two catchers had career years. Votto blossomed. Bruce blossomed. The team just seemed to gel. It would be difficult to imagine some of those players doing as well in 2011 as they did in 2010.

But it really doesn't matter. This writer needed to come to terms with Dusty Baker as a manager. As usual, a manager gets too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they go bad. But Baker and the Reds didn't win the division in a fluky way. They did it the old fashioned way. They earned it.

Westbrook Deal a Bargain for Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals locked up Jake Westbrook for two years at a guaranteed $16.6 million. The deal includes a no-trade clause and mutual options for the third year. That sounds like a lot of money, but the deal is actually a bargain for the Cardinals. Westbrook traded some value for a guaranteed paycheck and with his recent injury problems, that makes sense for him too. But he probably sold himself short.

According to Fangraphs, Westbrook was worth $9 million in 2010, his first year back from major surgery. His 33 starts and 202 innings of work in 2010 bode well that he is completely back and should get even stronger a second year off of the operation. Westbrook is a ground ball pitcher with a heavy sinker. He doesn't walk that many batters and that figure should go down even more as the Cardinals insist on throwing strikes. Westbrook doesn't blow people away, never has, never will. But he gives you quality games and consistency. There really isn't any reason working with Dave Duncan that Westbrook can't win 15 to 18 games for the Cardinals in 2011.

And Westbrook seemed to like the National League. All of his peripherals came down once he joined the Cardinals late last season. Thanks to pitchers hitting in the senior league, Westbrook struck out a full batter more per nine innings in the NL with the Cardinals than he did in the AL.

Westbrook is 33, but as Carpenter has shown over the past couple of years, some of the surgeries they are performing now give new life to pitching arms and prolong careers. Westbrook has been a solid pitcher most of his career. He isn't spectacular, but he is capable of giving the Cardinals two quality years of consistent starting for a reasonable cost.

The Problem of James Loney

There have been low power first basemen before. Mark Grace and Bill Buckner come to mind. But the thing about those guys is that they consistently hit above .300 and were pretty good run producers. James Loney was projected to be like those guys but it hasn't worked out that way. Loney's OPS+ the last three years have been: 103, 103, 99. While those numbers are pretty good for a second baseman or a shortstop, they are below par for a first baseman.

Fangraphs lists Loney as the 19th most valuable first baseman (with enough qualifying plate appearances) in baseball for 2010. The only first baseman behind him were, Carlos Pena; Michael Cuddyer, Ty Wigginton, Garrett Jones and Jorge Cantu. Not exactly ringing company. Fangraphs pegged his 2010 value at $4.2 million. Loney made $3.1 million, so at least the Dodgers didn't over pay for his services. But that will no longer be the case once Loney goes up the arbitration ladder.

Loney is only 26 years old and he still hasn't reached his prime as a player. But if you look at the four full seasons he has played, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. At some point, the question has to be asked if this is all he is capable of producing. Add to that picture is his minor league numbers which don't vary greatly from where he is now. So, again, you have to ask if he has shown that this is the player he is and any expectation for more is setting one's hopes up too high.

There is a myth that has been created that Loney is a clutch player. The numbers don't bear that out. Over his career, his OPS is 20 points lower than his career average with two outs and runners in scoring position. He OPS is 60 points lower in late and close games and his OPS is about 30 points higher in tie games. He is at least 80 points higher for his career with Runners in Scoring Position and less than two outs, but that isn't highly unusual. It's not like his knocking in over a hundred runs a year and since he's batted third, fourth and fifth in the order for most of his career, you would think the production would be higher than that.

The trouble for the Dodgers is that they have nobody coming up in their system that's any better. All of their best prospects are either pitchers or shortstops. So the only way to improve production at first base is to trade Loney and a prospect for someone else, or, to sign one of the free agents on the market. Dunn and Berkman come time mind. But the Dodgers are still in their post-divorce haze and it's unlikely that they will be spending that kind of money.

James Loney doesn't really hurt anybody at first base. He plays league average defense and he bats league average. That makes him a decent player. It just doesn't make him a good or productive player. Perhaps a couple of years ago, that was enough. But last year showed it isn't good enough anymore.

Marlins Deal Uggla to the Braves - Buck Almost Signed?

The Florida Marlins acted very quickly once they could not secure a deal with Dan Uggla. As soon as negotiations broke down, apparently they were on the phone shopping him around. On Tuesday, the deal was completed with the Braves. Atlanta gets Uggla for a year at a decent salary and a shot at signing him for longer (if they so choose). The Marlins get flame thrower (and walk giver) Mike Dunn (25) and Omar Infante, the super sub who made the All Star team last year.

This writer applauds the deal for both sides. The Marlins lose some power but gain a slicker fielding second baseman with some flexibility. Infante is also a year younger than Uggla and is inexpensive (always a plus for the Marlins). The Marlins also get a big arm in Mike Dunn. Dunn, a former 33rd round draft pick by the Yankees, struck out 27 batters in 19 innings for the Braves and pitched well in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he also walked 14 batters. If the Marlins can cut down the latter and still get the former, Dunn could be a big arm for them in the pen.

The Braves get what they needed too. The Braves struggled several times in 2010 on offense and Uggla should greatly help them in that category. The scary thought though is Uggla and Chipper Jones (if he can make it back) in the same infield. Ugh. But Uggla is a solid producer and with McCann and Heyward, will make quite the middle of the line up for the Braves.

The Fan still thinks the Marlins offered Uggla a fair deal and they did the right thing in getting some value for him when they couldn't reach an agreement. The Marlins showed some forthrightness in moving on this so quickly. This appears to be a good deal for both teams.

The same sourced article linked above indicates that the Marlins are close to signing John Buck as their catcher. Buck had a very good year for the Blue Jays last year and can replace a little of the power the Marlins are losing with Uggla. But caution should be shown here. The Marlins ball park isn't like the SkyDome when it comes to homers flying out of there.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Halladay: First Philly Starter Since John

To no one's surprise, Roy Halladay was unanimously chosen as this year's Cy Young Award winner. Halladay certainly deserved the honor and easily was the best pitcher in the National League. The AL winner is announced tomorrow and that one will get some discussion. Reading through some of the articles listing Halladay's achievements, it was stated that Halladay is the first Philly starter since John Denny to win the award. Denny won the award in 1983. This Fan can't remember him or that season at all. The only Denny this Fan can recall is Izzy's sick boyfriend on Grey's Anatomy.

It's funny how selective the memory is. If the eyes are closed, an image of Frank Howard, Elston Howard, Phil Rizzuto, Ron Bloomberg and a host of others are easily recalled. Yet a player from this writer's lifetime died the other day. His name was Ed Krkpatrick. Don't remember him at all and he played quite a few years. The same goes for John Denny. So just for kicks, this Fan figured to go look at his B-R page and see what he was all about. It didn't help much.

Denny's season in 1983 can be best summed up as a fluke. He had had only two other very good seasons before 1983 and that was way before for the Cardinals in 1976 and 1978. After 1978--a year in which he pitched eleven complete games and pitched the most innings of his career at that point--Denny struggled and missed chunks of the next bunch of seasons due to various ailments. He wandered up to Cleveland, where he toiled for two years, one being quite good. The Indians traded Denny to the Phillies in 1982 for which he got into four unspectacular games and lost two of them. With that lead in, there was no hint that Denny could explode on the scene like he did in 1983.

"Explode" isn't the right word because Denny was never an explosive pitcher. He averaged 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings for his career and never strayed much higher than that in any of his years. But it was like he ran into Dave Duncan or something in 1983 (Claude Osteen was his pitching coach there). His walks per nine had been over four for the five previous seasons up to that one and in 1983 he only walked 2.0 batters per nine. Combine that with a good luck BABIP of .284 and an exciting pennant race team like the Phillies that year and it all clicked for Denny. He ended up winning 19 games against seven losses with an ERA of 2.37. He only gave up nine homers for a league leading rate of 0.3 per nine. He won thirteen of his last fifteen decisions.

Denny got the loss in his one playoff appearance on three unearned runs but was 1-1 in the World Series the Phillies eventually lost to the Orioles. His win was the only win the Phillies had in that World Series. It was just one of those years and he won the Cy Young Award.

The following season, Denny pitched even better. His WHIP went all the way down to .0978 and his BB/9 rate went down further to 1.7. But Denny only got fourteen decisions out of his 22 starts and half of them were losses. He started to have arm problems and missed eleven starts. The year after that, he was again up to 33 starts, but the magic was gone. His walk rate was back over three, his WHIP was 1.452 and he went 11-14.

He only pitched one more year after that for the Cincinnati Reds. He was better than he was in 1985 and he went 11-10. But he retired the following year, just three years after his Cy Young season. Denny was later a pitching coach with the Diamondbacks, few of whose games this writer ever gets to watch.

So Denny wasn't like Doc. Doc has had an entire career of success. Doc's season was expected after moving over from the tough AL East to the National League and that's just how it turned out. Denny's season was so out of the blue that it had to be a shock at the time. But if it was a shock this Fan missed it or wasn't paying attention. Halladay was a Number One pick, Denny was selected in the 29th Round.

In any case, much to the Fan's surprise, there was a guy who pitched for the Phillies and once won a Cy Young Award and rode a magical season into the World Series. Just as quickly as he jumped to that kind of success, it melted away. Just because it isn't remembered, doesn't mean it didn't happen. Congrats, Mr. Halladay, on a fantastic season.

Some Free Agent Sleeper Picks

We have all heard the big names of this 2010 free agent class. Everybody knows about Cliff Lee, Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Victor Martinez. Jorge de la Rosa's name has been bandied about. Carl Pavano is a free agent. Those two might get some buzz. But who are the sleepers? Who are the free agents that will surprise us with good seasons to help someone in a pennant run? Who will be 2011's Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, Adrian Beltre and Colby Lews that out of nowhere gets picked up and helps a team drive toward the playoffs? You know they're out there. Huff and Mora are free agents again. Here are a few who could have an impact:

Lance Berkman: Berkman has been slowed a lot by injuries the past few seasons. His body seems to be brittle at times which has made him age faster than some. But this writer still believes he can really help someone. Berkman would prefer not to be a full time DH, which limits him to the National League. But there are plenty of teams he can help. If Adam Dunn goes elsewhere, Washington is a possibility. The Bay Rays need a first baseman and a DH. This Fan thinks Berkman is going to have a very good season.

Lyle Overbay: The Fan has picked on Overbay in the past. He was over paid with the Blue Jays, but he has some nice qualifications. He gets his fair share of walks, still has pop in his bat and plays a pretty decent first base. He is an excellent option for the Bay Rays to replace Pena. He would easily be an upgrade over what Pena has done the past couple of years. Overbay can help somebody at the right price.

Magglio Ordonez: This Fan isn't sure most people know how good this guy's career line is. His career slash line: .312/.371/.511. A lot will depend on the health of his ankle and how much he is willing to take a pay cut from his far out contract of recent years. But he could help the Padres, the Pirates and the Athletics. He might have one more good year left in him if he is in the right situation.

Manny Ramirez: Yes, the Fan knows. He really does. But what if his down season last year really was due to injury? What if he could land in the right place and hit somewhere near three quarters of his lifetime averages? Couldn't that help somebody? Who knows if anyone wants the potential headaches, but Manny just might not be done.

Brandon Webb: Webb has missed a lot of time due to various injuries. But if he can come back near to his form, he could really help someone. The Twins, with their spacious ball park (somewhat like San Diego) would be an ideal place for him. The Cardinals could probably figure out how to make him effective again. It just seems like Webb will end up someplace and do well.

Kevin Millwood: Yeah, he's scary, eh? But put him in the right situation like maybe St. Louis or Minnesota and Millwood could have a very good season. He'll never be lights out, but he can get you some innings and keep you in the game.

Chirs Capuano: Capuano finally looked healthy last year after several years on the shelf. He was rusty after such a prolonged absence, but looked better as the season went along. In the right situation, Capuano could have a very nice season for somebody.

Geoff Blum Just the Lastest Old Guy to Sign

The venerable Geoff Blum signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is among a growing group of baseball geezers that have signed in recent days. Jose Contreras, the 39 year old Cuban refuge just signed with the Phillies to again man their bullpen, a job he did real well last year. Omar Vizquel signed with the White Sox. He is 44. Huroki Karoda, 36, just signed back with the Dodgers. And 35 year old Ramon Hernandez signed with the Reds again. Is signing an old guy like Geoff Blum to play in his twelfth season worth it for the Diamondbacks?

On one hand, a guy like Blum is nice to have around because he can play anywhere. He played short, first, second and third in 2010. He has played the outfield a few times in seasons before last. But he only plays third well. His fielding there at his natural position is quite good. But he's a terrible shortstop, a less than adequate first baseman and has negative fielding metrics for any position he's played except third. He must be a talented hitter then?

The good news is that Blum doesn't strike out that much. That is really good news for the Diamondbacks in particular. He gets his share of walks. He has hit as many as 14 homers in a season. But the bad news is that his lifetime slash line is: .251/.311/.385. In other words, nothing to write home about. There are worse hitters in baseball, particularly with utility guys. But is Blum a utility guy for the Diamondbacks?

It seems obvious that the Diamondbacks have fouled on Mark Reynolds. Rumors that they are trying to trade him have surfaced repeatedly. But Blue really shouldn't be an every day player and he certainly isn't the type of player to replace Reynolds. This Fan can see replacing Reynolds with Adrian Beltre, but not Blum.

On the other hand, the Diamondbacks' best young talent at third were drafted in 2009 and are 20 years old. They won't be ready for a while. While Blum isn't exciting as a free agent sign, he wouldn't be a terrible place holder. He wouldn't be a great one either. But until he is traded, Reynolds is the every day third baseman.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rookie of the Year Award - One Out of Two Ain't Bad

The Rookie of the Year Award was announced today and this writer can't quibble with the Posey selection in the National League. Posey and Heyward both would have been solid choices. Heyward played more and showed great patience at the plate, but injuries sapped him of some of his power during the season and left the door open for Posey to win. But, for the second year in a row, a relief pitcher (Neftali Feliz) won the American League award and you all know how the Fan feels about that. There is no way that 69 innings of relief can equate to the every day quality of Austin Jackson's year.

This Fan is nothing if not consistent in this belief. This space has been devoted a number of times to how no relief pitcher should be eligible for a post season award. Mariano Rivera, as great as he's been should never have won a Cy Young Award and he hasn't. Starting pitchers who win the award pitch from 200 to 230 innings a season. Rivera averages around 60 to 65. There is no comparison to the value. What Andrew Bailey contributed to the Oakland A's last year was no way near as valuable as what his teammate, Anderson, did as a starter.

The Fan has already run the numbers and presented the WAR of all the rookie candidates and won't rehash them again now. Youz guyz can go ahead and search the blog and you'll find it. Feliz came in third or fourth according to the Fan's research. You can argue until you are blue in the face and this Fan will never agree that a relief pitcher is as valuable as a good every day player.

The writers who make these selections have a majority of old school kind of guys. And for many of them, the value of a golden armed relief pitcher is just too glitzy to ignore. On the other hand, the young whippersnappers who make up the core of those great baseball analysts that have rocked our baseball world, tend to undervalue closers. The Fan falls exactly in the middle. Teams are devastated when a closer can't get the job done. But again, there is no comparison between getting three outs compared to 18 to 27 of them.

One group says that the closer is indispensable and the other says they are fungible. They are neither. This Fan truly believes that any great arm in a team's farm system can become a great closer. The difference between most of them is that Mariano Rivera has never faltered. But they aren't fungible either for the same Rivera argument. Very few closers keep their mojo beyond a few years...not Papelbon, not Nathan, not Fuentes, etc.

Neftali Feliz had a fantastic year. He saved forty games. He pitched 69, mostly great innings. But that intrinsic value just doesn't add up to what Austin Jackson did over the course of an entire season as an excellent outfielder and slightly above league average batting. But thank goodness for these post season awards. At least it gives us something to write and argue about.

Twins Should Bid For Cliff Lee

These are heady times for the Minnesota Twins. It wasn't long ago that the Twins were part of conversations about contracting Major League Baseball. Attendance was poor, Ownership wouldn't spend the money (or contended he didn't have it to spend) and the Twins seemed to be in terrible shape. But the last ten years have shown a rebirth of Minnesota baseball and the team now draws 3.2 million fans, good for third place in the American League. And the payroll, once the joke of baseball, rose to $107.5 million in 2010. The Twins have won their division six of their last nine years. The one dark cloud in this silver lining is their inability to take the team to the next level. Each of those six playoff teams have died before the World Series, five of them in the very first round of the playoffs. To this observer, their glaring weakness is obvious.

The Twins spent $84 million on their on-the-field players last year but only $22 million for their pitching staff. Their highest paid pitcher in 2010 was Carl Pavano at $7 million which took up nearly one third of their pitching budget. Reliever, Matt Guerrier, was second at just over $3 million. In contrast, the Twins had seven position players who made more than $5 million.

The playoffs have shown us the past few years that stud pitching gets the job done. The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have all had World Series runs that relied heavily on the likes of Sabathia, Pettitte, Beckett, Schilling and others. The Giants and Rangers this past season parlayed the same formula into the post season and the Giants' stud pitching won the day and the World Series. The Twins, in contrast, do not have a "stopper" type pitcher and haven't in any of their playoff runs. They have good pitchers. Pavano had a great season. Liriano lead the AL in WAR up until the last quarter of the season. But they aren't the kinds of pitchers you can get big performances from when it all comes down to winning or going home.

That's why this writer believes that no team needs to go after Cliff Lee more than the Twins. The Yankees can afford other options and have multiple ways to beat you. The Rangers need him as he deepens their rotation and makes them a viable playoff sizzler. But the Twins are destined to be a good enough team to make it to the playoffs but never good enough to get beyond. Let's face it, their rotation doesn't scare anybody. They win by playing smart and with a well balanced and talented line up. The Twins need Lee because they need someone who has more than a 50% chance of winning a playoff game.

While this is very easy for this Fan to write, the odds of it happening seem to be nil. The Twins simply don't make a splash in free agent waters. They always prefer to go after low valued talent like Jim Thome (and Carl Pavano in 2009) and building from within. The trouble is, they are superb at developing on-field players but not so brilliant at developing pitchers.. Signing Joe Mauer to a long term deal was the biggest splash ever for the Twins. Perhaps that speaks to a different day and a new reality based on burgeoning coffers due to the attendance boom.

If you can't develop your own stud, then signing one like Lee is the next best thing. Yes, he'll be expensive and yes, the Fan still thinks any long-term deal for the 33 year old Lee is future failure. By the end of Lee's big deal (which he is going to get from somebody), Lee will look a lot like Barry Zito looks now for the Giants. But at least the next two years will certainly improve a good team's chances of going deep into the post season.

There might be other options. The Fan still thinks De La Rosa has a big arm and can be that type of dominating pitcher. Perhaps the Twins could pry Greinke away from the Royals for a good package. But Greinke has no playoff experiences and there is no telling if he could be a stud in one.

The Twins are in a playoff rut because its rotation has simply not been up to the task of giving the Twins an advantage over another team's rotation. It is soft and can be had. Lee would change all that. He pushes everyone else that much deeper into the rotation and that's exactly where they need to be. Come on, Twins, pull the trigger!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not Thrilled With Pirates' Choice of Hurdle

It wasn't long ago that Clint Hurdle was fired from the Colorado Rockies. Right after he was dismissed, the Rockies, under Jim Tracy, took off on a 74-42 run and made the playoffs. That episode seemed to indicate a team that was all bound up and simply needed a breath of fresh air. Rarely, of course, are things as simple as they appear and there may have been much more to the story than Hurdle. But this writer doesn't believe in coincidences either. And now, that Clint Hurdle was just hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates as their next manager.

On one level, at least the Pirates hired an experienced manager. Russell was a shot in the dark as there was nothing to judge in his past concerning managing a major league baseball team. Unfortunately, that gamble did not pay off and the Pirates went with experience this time. Hurdle, from all accounts, is a driven individual, which may be what the Pirates need at this point in their history. But that same hard-nosed personality could have been what caused the Rockies not to respond to him after several years in Colorado.

Who knows. Joe Torre wasn't the right manager for the Mets but he was with the Yankees. Tracy himself had difficulties before he went to Colorado. It feels like this writer hasn't been charitable all week and oft to criticize. Perhaps the Pirates and Hurdle should be given the benefit of the doubt. One thing is easy to understand and that is things couldn't go worse in Pittsburgh from what's taken place there for the last several years. Hurdle has no where to go but up.

Hammerin' the Cameron Deal

Yesterday, the Marlins unloaded Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres for two relief pitchers. Maybin, the perennial phenom (that the Marlins always seem to have) was thought to be penciled in as 2011's starting center fielder for the Marlins. Now he will be the Padres starting center fielder. Does this move mean that Scott Cousins is the new Marlins center fielder?

The Fan isn't crazy about this deal and this is why: Maybin was one of the last value pieces the Marlins received in their big trade with Detroit that sent that team Miguel Cabrera (and Dontrelle Willis, but we'll forget about that). Andrew Miller was just traded to the Red Sox for another reliever (Dustin Richardson). So when all is said and done, the Marlins gave up all-world Miguel Cabrera for four relief pitchers (they still have Badenhop). If you believe most experts, relief pitchers are probably the easiest asset to acquire. It is not unreasonable to take any of your hard throwing minor league prospects and turn them into relief pitchers. The Padres have been doing that successfully for years, which gave them the ability to make this deal.

But it's not only that Maybin was the last value piece from the Cabrera deal, he still has a ton of upside. He's had four short term looks so far in the majors. None of them have come close to matching his very impressive success in the minors. But you would assume still that he has the talent to put it together and mirror his minor league career. He is, after all, only 23.  He certainly has more upside potential than Scott Cousins, who has shown just ordinary play thus far in his minor league career. He did just fine in a minor cup of coffee with the Marlins last year, but are you going to hand him the starting assignment based on that?

There is a nasty thought that just popped into the Fan's head. What if...uhh...what's hard to even speak it...What if the back up plan for center field is Emilio Bonifacio? Oh my! That would not be a good thing. Bonifacio is an exciting player. That's nice. The problem is that he isn't even close to being a good player.

So yes, the Marlins needed some relievers. Edward Mujica was terrific last year expect for the untidy total of 11 homers he yielded in 59 appearances. He's young and strikes a lot of people out. Ryan Webb doesn't strike as many people out, but he is a serviceable arm in the bullpen. Again, forgive the Fan for not being excited about these two fine gentleman. It seems too low a value to give up a potential star, albeit, one that hasn't shown anything yet in the majors.