Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holy Cow! Are the Red Sox Stacked or What?

Like the Pharaoh of Egypt, the Red Sox and Theo Epstein just keep accumulating treasures from abroad. Never has a post season seen a team collect a gallery of stars like this off season for the Red Sox. They are like kids in a candy store, but they keep coming up with sweetness in everything they do.

First they re-signed David Ortiz, then they got Adrian Gonzalez, a coup in itself since they didn't lose any of their brightest prospects or current players. Then they signed Carl Crawford, the second biggest prize on the free agent market. Then they signed Bobby Jenks and now it's Dan Wheeler. Their team is like a suitcase you have to sit on to get closed.

The bullpen is stacked with Papelbon, Bard, Wheeler and Jenks. Wow. Their rotation has two Cy Young candidates in Buchholz and Lester plus plus Beckett and Lackey. The line up does not let up until you get to the catcher. It's amazing. The Phillies are getting a lot of love for their rotation, but the Red Sox are more talented all over the field and in the bullpen.

All the Red Sox have lost is Mike Lowell (he was done anyway), Victor Martinez (a catching liability) and Bill Hall. No real ouchies there. Whatever was lost in those three in WAR was tripled and quadrupled in the players they picked up.  ***Update*** Forgot about Beltre. He was a loss, but his season was an outlier.

Of course the danger for the Red Sox is that they have built up this enormous expectation in the Red Sox Nation and if they still fail to dent the playoffs, it will be considered a colossal disappointment. They haven't won a single game yet in 2011, but they are sure sitting pretty in the season to come. Anyone that doesn't regard them as the clear cut favorite to represent the AL in the World Series, hasn't been paying attention.

What the Red Sox have done is amazing. They are as scary good as any team they have ever fielded including the 2004 and 2007 teams.

Before Rivera, Before Gossage, There Was Sparky Lyle

The New York Yankees did not invent the modern day idea of the closer, but few teams in history have relied on that ninth inning weapon to seal a win more than the Yankees. Now 41, Mariano Rivera has been indefatigable for the team for a decade. Before him there was two years of John Wetteland. Before Wetteland was Dave Righetti. Before Righetti was Hall of Fame pitcher, Goose Gossage. But the pitcher who started this long line of ninth inning excellent was Albert Walter ("Sparky") Lyle.

Sparky Lyle was probably the second worst trade the Red Sox ever made to the New York Yankees. Does the Fan have to insult you by telling you the worst trade? Nah. Anyway, Lyle was signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Orioles in 1964. They didn't protect him though and the Red Sox drafted him out of the Orioles organization three months later. He was pitching in the big leagues three years later, making his debut in 1967.

Sparky had five solid seasons for the Red Sox from 1967 to 1971. During that time, he invented his image as a tough guy with his flowing hair and facial hair. He was an imposing figure on the mound. He saved 69 games for the Red Sox during that time with a solid ERA for each season. He also won 22 games for the Red Sox. But they decided to trade him to the Yankees before the start of the 1972 season for Danny Cater. Cater had hit .300 for the Yankees in 1970 but he did nothing for the Red Sox and hit .237 in 1972. The trade was a complete bust.

Meanwhile, the Yankees got the beginning of a legend. In 1972, Lyle pitched in 59 games but closers then weren't one inning artists. He pitched a total of 107.2 innings that season and finished with a 1.92 ERA. He won nine games (against five losses) and saved 35 games. It would be his highest save total of his career. That season he came in seventh in Cy Young voting and third in the MVP ballot. The legend was born.

Lyle recorded 28 saves in 1973 in 82.1 innings and finished with a 2.51 ERA. He made the All Star team (he only made the team three times in his career). But that year was his best as far as K/BB ratio. Lyle was never a great strikeout pitcher. His out pitch was a devastating slider that was the predecessor of what Guidry, Righetti and Pettitte would later throw. Those pitchers can all trace their roots to Sparky Lyle's tenure with the Yankees.

1974 was perhaps Lyle's best year. He finished the season with a 1.66 ERA in 114 innings. But oddly, his Save total fell to 15 and he won nine games. 1975 was probably his worst year as a Yankee. His Saves fell to six, his hits per nine went over 9 and his ERA went up to 3.12 in 89 plus innings. But the Yankees, then owned by George Steinbrenner, were building toward their glory years. And when those years began in 1976, Sparky was right in the middle of it.

The 1976 Yankees made the playoffs for the first time since 1964 and Lyle had a magnificent season. His ERA was 2.26. He saved 23 games and pitched in 103.2 innings. He also picked up a save against the Royals in the playoffs in one appearance. He pitched twice in the World Series that the Yankees lost to the Reds, but he didn't give up a run and struck out three in two scoreless innings. 1976 was the precursor to when the legend came into full flower.

The 1977 Yankees became known as the Bronx Zoo and a book written about that team would give you more insight than anything written here. But as much as anything else, 1977 was Sparky Lyle's year. He pitched in 72 games and logged an amazing 137 innings. He won 13 games against five losses and saved 26 games. The big difference for Lyle that year was that his walk rate was the lowest of his career at 2.2 per nine innings. His strikeout total was the lowest of his Yankee career, but that didn't matter. There wasn't a big game the Yankees played all year that he didn't either win or save. He won two more games against the Royals in the playoffs and then won another game in the World Series. In that post season, he picked up another six appearances covering 14 innings. He gave up just nine hits and two runs. Lyle didn't walk a single batter the entire post season.

1977 was, when including the post season, one of the greatest performances by a relief pitcher. He won the Cy Young Award. He came in sixth in MVP voting. But it wasn't enough for George Steinbrenner. King George always had to have the best new toy on the market and in 1978, after one of the greatest relief efforts ever, Sparky Lyle was replaced as the closer by Goose Gossage. The development led to one of the greatest one liners in baseball history courtesy of Graig Nettles who said that Lyle went from Cy Young to syanora.

It's hard to imagine how Sparky Lyle felt at the development. Whatever it was, he handled it gamely, pitching in 59 games for another 111 plus innings. He won nine against three losses and finished with a 3.47 ERA. All the innings Lyle had pitched through the years started to wear him down and in 1978, he struck out only 2.7 batters per nine innings. He got by as much on guile as he did on anything else. Though he got a second World Series ring in 1978, he was not effective in the post season and the Yankees traded him afterward to Texas for multiple players, one of which was a young Dave Righetti, who would throw a no-hitter for the Yankees and later set team records for saves in a season. The Yankees got better value from Lyle's trade than the Red Sox did.

Lyle was finished as a premier closer. He would pitch four more seasons and pitched for the Rangers, the Phillies and the White Sox before retiring after the White Sox released him in 1982. But Lyle finished his career with a record of 99-76, all in relief (he never started a game in 899 appearances. He saved 238 games in his career and finished with a career ERA of 2.88. For those of us who got to see Sparky Lyle pitch, the memories linger. The crowd always went crazy and this very cool guy would toss slider after slider, paint the corners and get the game in the win column.  In his 899 appearances, he finished the game for his teams 634 times. He really is a story that has been forgotten as Gossage is remembered. But Lyle was great for a long time and deserves to be mentioned in the list of great all time relievers and closers.

Keppinger Odd Man Out in Houston?

When Bill Hall was announced yesterday as a signee of the Houston Astros, the story indicated the Astros wanted Hall to be the every day second baseman. Upon reading that news, this observer's first reaction was, "What about Keppinger?" Keppinger had a fine season last year and became one of this writer's favorite box score views. After seeming to come into his own last year, is Keppinger now the odd man out with the signing of Hall? And if so, should he be?

There are three negatives to Keppinger. One, his back acts up occasionally. He missed a few games here and there last year due to soreness. Second, he's only adequate at second base. He's worse anywhere else in the infield and second base is his best position. But no one will mistake him for Roberto Alomar over there. Lastly, he is arbitration eligible. Fangraphs rated his season last year at $9.6 million. After making a million and a half in 2010, Keppinger is in line for a nice raise. But even if he gets one, if he plays like he did last year, he'll be worth it.

To this Fan, Bill Hall isn't an upgrade to Keppinger. Hall signed for about $3.5 million which is right around what he is worth. But his true worth is as a utility player that can play five or six different positions. He is not an upgrade to Keppinger on an every day basis.

First of all, Hall doesn't make contact or get on base nearly as proficiently as Keppinger. Keppinger walked 51 times last year and only struck out 36 times. In today's game, that's a remarkable stat. Hall struck out 104 times in only 382 plate appearances (31%!) and walked only 34 times. Keppinger batted .288 and has a .281 lifetime batting average. Bill Hall hit .247 and has a .250 lifetime batting average. Keppinger had a .351 On Base Percentage with a .339 lifetime mark in that category. Bill Hall has a .316 On Base Percentage in 2010 and has a .310 lifetime mark.

So what does Hall have as a starter that Keppinger doesn't have? Power. Hall has a .447 lifetime slugging percentage and had 18 homers last year. Hall once hit 35 homers in a season for the Brewers. Granted, that season was an outlier for Hall as it was the best season of his life, but the point is, he has a career history of being able to put the ball out of the park. Keppinger will never be mistaken for a home run hitter. He hit six last year and has a lifetime slugging percentage of just .391. Because of his power, Hall has a .753 lifetime OPS compared to Keppinger's .729.

Hall isn't any better a second baseman than Keppinger and this Fan can't get past the fact that Hall was worth $3.8 million last year for the Red Sox while Keppinger was worth $9.6 million for the Astros. Keppinger seems like the type of player that fits the type of team Houston wants to be. They were a team of scrappy overachievers last year, particularly after losing Berkman and Oswalt. Yet they went on to have a fine second half last season.

There is something else about switching Hall in over Keppinger. With Johnson at third, Wallace at first and Lee in the outfield, the Astros already have three guys in the line up with power and the ability to strike out in prodigious amounts. Keppinger broke that up with consistent contact and made the pitcher work for the out. Hall just gives the Astros one more high strikeout guy which will make this line up look a lot like the Diamondbacks of a year ago. That doesn't seem to be the way to go.

There is no secret that the Fan is a big Fan of Jeff Keppinger. He just seems like the kind of player you want on the field every day. Hall had a couple of good seasons in Milwaukee and one great one. But he's been just so-so ever since. If you were going to make Hall your fourth infielder and fourth outfielder and use him in a rotation to give guys a break, that suits the Fan just fine. But if you use him to replace Jeff Keppinger, this Fan feels you are weakening the every day team the Astros put on the field.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hudson an Upgrade Over Eckstein

David Eckstein is said to be one of those "players." You know, one of those guys that are great for teams because they play the game right and are true blue professionals. But, you still have to score runs and limit runs from the other team. The San Diego Padres just signed Orlando Hudson and he is an upgrade on the former and a slight downgrade on the latter.

The difference in their bWAR really isn't all that different. Orlando Hudson scored a 2.0 WAR as the Twins' second baseman while David Eckstein came in at 1.4. B-R rated Eckstein's defense slightly higher than Hudson, but Hudson is no slouch with the glove. In fact, he's been known for years as a slick-fielding second baseman.

What Hudson does offer the Padres is better offense, something the Padres desperately need, especially since their first baseman now plays for the Red Sox. The Padres were supposed to get Jason Bartlett in a trade from the Bay Rays but for some reason, that trade has been snagged up. But if the Padres can get that done, they have a real nice double play combo in the middle of the diamond.

As for Eckstein, he's still a free agent and it seems that some team will pick him up on his reputation alone. He can be somebody's utility guy and play short, second and third in a pinch. But second base is definitely his best position.

Eckstein finished last year with an 83 OPS+ and sits at 87 for his career. Hudson should be a nice upgrade from those numbers as his OPS+ was 93 last year and 99 for his career. Hudson is more patient at the plate and has more pop in his bat. He also strikes out more than Eckstein.

As long as Hudson stays around the 2.0 mark for WAR, this is a nice upgrade for the Padres. The move spruces up their offense while not sacrificing very much on defense. Hudson can sometimes lose his mind on the bases and is plagued by inconsistency. But he should be more dynamic for the Padres than what they had in 2010.

Kerry Wood to Chicago With Love

Cliff Lee got paid oodles of money to go back "home" to Philadelphia. Kerry Wood is also going home to the Cubs, but for a heck of a lot less money. After rebuilding his reputation with his late season stint for the New York Yankees that included a minuscule 0.69 ERA in 24 appearances and a return to his over 10 K/9 mantra, it would seem that Wood could have picked up a good paycheck anywhere in the market that has developed this off season for relief pitchers. Three year contracts abound with numbers like $12 million and $15 million being bounced around. But Wood went home for just $1.5 million.

Rumors had been that Wood was asking for closer-type money to re-sign back with the Yankees or another club. Wood has made $10 in each of the last two seasons and has made $68.5 million in his career. But it appears that going back to the Cubs, a team whose fan base love him like no other and a place where Kerry Wood became a legend, is where he truly wanted to be. Why else would he consider so little money when he probably could have made millions more elsewhere.

And why wouldn't he want to go back to Chicago? He is unique to Cubs' history. It was for that team that he struck out 20 batters in a game to tie Roger Clemens' record. It was there that he won the Rookie of the Year Award with 233 strikeouts in 166.2 innings pitched. It was there that he came oh so close to leading the Cubs back to the World Series. It was mostly there that he compiled 1519 career strikeouts in only 1320.1 innings pitched.

Kerry Wood has a .550 career winning percentage and 83 wins. He now has 62 career saves. His stuff has always been electric. His health has always been fragile. But he is a Cub and he's going back where he belongs. Enjoy your home town hero, Chicago.

Comebacks to Root For

Every baseball season is a clean slate full of unwritten stories waiting to unfold. We've all been fascinated by the off season market as teams jostle for position to compete in the unwritten season. Some teams have made moves that already have pundits placing them in the 2011 World Series. But even with all kinds of new talent in place, a lot has to go right for these few blessed teams. One small story among all the other off season stories caught the Fan's interest. The story stated that the Yankees signed Mark Prior to a minor league contract. As soon as the eyes read the name, an emotion was palpable: "Golly, I hope he can make it back to the majors." That sentiment led to thought on others that are out there we could root for to make it all the way back to the majors. Here are a few the Fan could come up with:

Mark Prior - The name alone speaks of unfinished work. He was like Stephen Crane, who died at the age of 26 and a genius was lost. Mark Prior was a pitching genius. Through his one big season and the sputtering of other partial seasons, Prior still ended up with a lifetime mark of over ten strikeouts per nine innings as a starter. By the time he last pitched in the majors (2006), he went 1-6 and still finished with a lifetime mark of 42-29. Prior pitched an inning in Triple A in 2010, the first inning of any kind in organized professional baseball in four years. It was a scoreless inning and he struck out two batters. Is the talent still there? Can he ever make it all the way back? The Yankees must think so because they signed him to a minor league deal. He's only 30 years old. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Brandon Webb - In the four years between 2005 and 2008, Brandon Webb won 70 games and lost only 37. During that span, he won a Cy Young Award and came in second twice. 2008 ended a five year run of never missing a start. He led the league in starts in two of those years, innings pitched once, batters faced once. He had a two year run where he was over 150 in ERA+ and in 2008, it was 141. And just as suddenly as could be, it was over. He pitched six innings in 2009 and none in 2010. Now he's ready to return and news outlets are reporting that he is near to picking a team to play for. Several are interested. Let's hope he can find the right home and resume was was turning out to be a beautiful career.

Jake Peavy - Last the Fan heard, Peavy will not pitch until at least June. Let's hope that is optimistic. Peavy won 19 games in 2007 and won the Cy Young Award. He was again very good in 2008 but his record did not reflect his excellence. He was traded to the White Sox in 2009 for the stretch run and went 3-0 before again coming up injured. He pitched 17 games in 2010, but we hardly noticed. He showed an excellent K/BB ratio despite mixed results and then he was shut down for the season. He makes a lot of money, so he's all set there. But we'd love to see him come all the way back to the front line pitcher he once was.

Dontrelle Willis - This, besides Mark Prior, is probably the most pie-in-the-sky wish of them all. The trevails of Dontrelle Willis are well known and don't need to be repeated here. He has signed with the Cincinnati Reds and maybe the National League and some miracle can happen and we can all see Willis smile that wonderful smile again.

Pedro Martinez - Talk about your long shots. Pedro pitched for the Phillies down the stretch in 2009 and was destroyed by the Yankees in the World Series. He hasn't pitched since except for the WBC last year. We'd love to see him come back and twirl those whiffle ball sliders just a few more times.

Magglio Ordonez - Had to get a non-pitcher in here. Mags was having a great season last season when he was lost for the remainder of the season with a major injury. The Tigers have signed him to a $10 million deal, so you would think they expect to play him regularly for that kind of money. It would be nice to see him pick up where he left off. He is 36 and if he can have another productive three years, he becomes a marginal Hall of Fame candidate. Great career numbers we'd love to see added upon.

Chris Capuano - He was really a great comeback story last year. But he's a free agent now and it would be great to see him continue his comeback and get a full year in with someone. Excellent peripherals in his 60+ innings last year.

Manny Ramirez - Can the Fan write a piece like this without including Manny? A large percentage of baseball fandom would be happy if Manny went away like Barry Bonds, but this Fan would love to see one more big season from the goon.

***UPDATE***  Just thought of another one: Chien-Ming Wang

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Encarnacion's Strange Trip Home

Edwin Encarnacion doubled his career transaction total in just two months. And the sum total of those strange trips through the transaction wire is a return ticket home to Toronto for almost half the money he made last year.

First, he was put on waivers by the Blue Jays after a semi-productive year for the Toronto team in 2010. The Oakland Athletics picked him up off of waivers on November 12. The A's then non-tendered him and he became a free agent on December 2. Exactly two weeks later, the Blue Jays signed him and brought him back to the ball club. That's quite a road trip.

Encarnacio, who made $5,170,000 last year as the Blue Jays' semi-regular third baseman dashed off 21 homers in 2010, a goodly sum in 332 at bats and added to the Blue Jays' record breaking team home run total. He seemed to fit right into the Blue Jays all or nothing style. He hit for a low average (.244) and a low On Base Percentage (.305) but his power numbers brought his OPS up to .787, good for a 111 OPS+, a figure that is considered well above average.

But he's barely an adequate third baseman and B-R rated him there with a negative figure of -0.2. That's not terrrible in the grand scheme of things and better than some of his results from years past. Fangraphs rates his defense lower, but his WAR at about the same as B-R. All told, according to Fangraphs, he was worth $7.3 million last year, meaning the Blue Jays got a bargain.

Now that Encarnacion is going to make half of that in 2011, he could be a semi-steal. But you get the sense that the Blue Jays aren't really sold on Encanacion as their third baseman and if they had their druthers, they would put someone else over there. We'll have to see what they end up doing with him and the position. The guess here is that he will get as much playing time as last year.

As for Encarnacion, he'll have to make do with less money and continue his career with the team he is intimately familiar with. Again, this is just a guess, but his market must have been bleak to settle on a contract that is a little more than half of what he made last year and less than 30% of his value as a player. But, that's the way it goes on the fringe and two and a half million is still a nice chunk of change to do something as wonderful as playing baseball at the sport's highest level.

Tenacious Like Bull - Bob Feller

Have you seen that great commercial with some guy with a Russian accent manning a one-man call center? A guy looking for customer service says he's been waiting for twenty minutes. "Peggy," the guy with the accent, says, "You are tenacious like bull. I like." It's hysterical. But for some reason, when this writer found out that Bob Feller has passed away, that was the first thing that came to mind. Bob Feller was tenacious like bull.

And it wasn't just Feller's baseball career that was tenacious. He was a tenacious fighter in WWII. He was a tenacious self-promoter on barnstorming tours with Satchel Paige and All Stars of both all colors. Feller was tenacious with selling his image with books and autograph signings all over the country. He was also tenacious with his legacy, keeping his career alive for his blazing fastball and legendary triumphs.

There is nothing wrong with those things, of course. Feller was uniquely able to forge an entire lifelong career on Bob Feller. While he was the fastest pitcher on earth, he "raced" his fastball against race horses and sprinters. He made huge amounts of money capitalizing on the drawing power of black players like Satchel Paige, who Feller would pay to barnstorm around the country. Paige made good coin on those exhibitions. His black teammates made less and Feller made tons.

So there is no one way to remember Bob Feller. His tenacity at life built up his legend and capitalized on it. But it was a tenacity that was well earned. His exploits lived up to the hype and self-promotion. He had the goods to back it up. He joined the big leagues at 17 and he was already a legend with giant hands and an even larger right arm. He won 107 games by the time he was 21. And then at the peak of his career, he tossed it aside after hearing that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Not content with playing baseball for the armed forces and having an easy time of it like many other ball players, Feller wanted in on the thick of it and served as a gunner on a Navy battleship and lost three and a half years to the war. Thankfully he lived through it.

When he returned to the Indians, he was as good or better than ever. His 1946 season was unbelievable. He went 26-15 with an ERA of 2.18 (ERA+ of 151). He pitched in 48 games and accumulated a total of 371,1 innings. Can you imagine!? He struck out 348 batters while only giving up 277 hits, only 11 of them homers. He completed 36 of this games and had ten shutouts. estimates his WAR for that season at 10.1, an almost unthinkable total. Just to put that in a frame of reference, Roy Halladay's season in 2010 came in at a 6.9 WAR.

But the following season, he hurt his knee and lost his fastball. He still won 20 games, but his strikeout total went from 348 to 196 and it would fall every year thereafter. He spent the last eight years of his career recording 4.6 K's per nine or less. But he still had some solid seasons without the big fastball and even won 22 games in 1951 at the age of 32 with only 111 strikeouts for the year. The guy with the biggest fastball on earth learned quickly how to pitch without one.

Feller won 266 games in his career and researchers have estimated that he might have won over 100 more in the time he missed. Plus, he pitched countless innings touring the country on his barnstorm tours. In today's ball game, it's hard to imagine someone throwing that many pitches. He led the league in innings pitched five times. He lead the league in strikeouts seven times.

The Fan would give anything to go back in time to see him pitch. He would have been like Strasburg without the elbow injury. He would have faced Yankee greats from Gehrig to Mantle. He saw it all and his boasts and recollections weren't fables. They weren't because Bob Feller was bigger than life. He was Rapid Robert, the fastest throwing arm of them all. The word, "Legend," is overused. But in Feller, the title seemed too small.

White Sox, Tigers Gaining - Twins Draining

While the White Sox and Tigers continue to improve their ball clubs, the Twins seem to be losing talent and not gaining any. The Twins finished six games in front of the White Sox in 2010 and thirteen games ahead of the Tigers. But (at least on paper) the White Sox have made up those six wins with off season moves while the Tigers have gained ground as well. The Twins strategy so far this off season has been somewhat baffling.

To recap, the Twins have lost Hardy, Crain...Jesse Crain, maybe Pavano and maybe Thome. All they have picked up is perhaps an untested Japanese batting champion. Meanwhile, the White Sox have picked up Adam Dunn, resigned Paul Konerko and the aforementioned Crain. Their only significant loss has been Jenks.

The Tigers meanwhile, have picked up Joaquin Benoit, Victor Martinez and are rumored to have a desire to resign Ordonez. Their only significant loss might be Johnny Damon. The Tigers and White Sox seem committed to spend money to get better and both team's payrolls might hit team records this season.

At the same time, the Twins seem stuck in neutral. They have a burgeoning fan base and attendance, but perhaps because of the money tied up in Joe Mauer, seem less committed to spending any money. They stole Thome last year and will not get the same discount this year, especially after the season he had last year. Carl Pavano is looking for one last paycheck and won't come cheaply. If the Twins were committed to spending what they needed, you would think that Pavano would be signed by now. Their inactivity seems to indicate a lack of desire to meet whatever demands Pavano is making. Plus, there has been no news on Thome.

In fact there has been no Twins' news on anything other than the negotiations with the Japanese infielder they covet. All their eggs are in that basket now that Hardy was dispatched. They have little choice but to sign the guy. And again, they are taking a huge risk with that being their only big off season play. Many scouts aren't very high on this kid from Japan. But the Twins have always been smart on personnel issues and have remained competitive without ever making many off season moves.

History begs us to trust the Twins with what they are doing. Their track record is just too strong. But as an outside observer, it may appear as if the Twins are this year's Angels and could be passed by more aggressive pursuers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Still Quiet on the Adrian Beltre Front

As the only high ceiling free agent left on the market (with all due respect for Mr. Pavano), things have been oddly quiet concerning Adrian Beltre. After making yet another run on all of the big sports sites, there is nary a rumor to be found. You would think that his agent would at least be planting news out there once in a while.

We know that Beltre turned down a four year deal from the Red Sox (or at least that's what we've been told). So perhaps Beltre has misunderstood his market value. Earlier news entries indicated he wanted to play for the Red Sox, but his refusal to sign that deal ended that route for him. That might have been a miscalculation. So now the question is whether or not there are any teams out there that are willing to go anywhere near what the Red Sox were offering.

Of course everyone thinks of the Angels. The Angels lost out on Carl Crawford. Everyone seems to think they need to make a statement signing. Statement signings are fictional creatures. Teams make moves based on what they think will best help their teams win. That's why all this baloney about Brian Cashman in panic mode is so obsurd. Cashman has never been in panic mode. But the Yankees don't need Beltre. They already have their third baseman for another fifty or so years, right?

So where else could he land? There are a couple of things we can assume. The first is that Beltre will not want to sign with any team that has an unfriendly hitting park. He had enough of that in Seattle. Therefore, it is doubtful he would want to go to the Giants or the Padres. Secondly, he would most likely want to go with a team he thought had a chance to win. Beltre already jilted the A's, so you get the opinion that he doesn't think the A's will be competitive.

So where does that leave us?

NL West

Dodgers - Have an aging Casey Blake. But not much money to spend. Plus, that's a tough ballpark for a hitter. Beltre's already played there.
Giants - Pablo has to lose weight, but he's their third baseman.
Padres - All set at the moment at third.
Rockies - They will stick with Ian Stewart because he is young and cheap. If he fails to come on, they have other alternatives.
Diamondbacks - They just signed Melvin Mora, but Mora can go to utility. Imagine Beltre and Drew in the same infield. Slick... But Beltre will probably not want to go to a team in transition.

NL Central

Cubs - The Cubs are stuck with Aramis Ramirez for a gazillion dollars.
Reds - Scott Rolen
Cardinals - Hoping that Freese comes back. Saving all their money for Pujols.
Astros - Good hitters park for a right-handed batter. But they will go with Chris Johnson.
Pirates - Pedro Alvarez

NL East

Mets - David Wright
Phillies - Placido Polanco. But Polanco is best as a utility guy. Great hitters' park. But do the Phillies have any money left?
Braves - Will hold the spot for Chipper Jones.
Nationals - Some guy named Zimmerman plays there.
Marlins - No. Beltre would never sign with the Marlins. Cheap. Bad hitter's ballpark.

AL East

Red Sox - Already out
Yankees - A-Rod
Orioles - They've already signed Mark Reynolds.
Tampa - Doesn't have the money.
Blue Jays - Nice ballpark to hit. But can't picture Beltre going there. They could use him though.

AL Central

White Sox - They would be a good fit. They could certainly use a third baseman.
Indians - No way. No money.
Tigers - They signed Inge. Have no idea what they see in him. But however...
Royals - Beltre wouldn't go there.
Twins - They have a great young kid who will play there for years.

AL West

Athletics - He already turned them down.
Rangers - They have Young
Angels - Great fit.
Mariners - You can't go home again.

As you can see, it's a smaller market than you'd think. That being the case, Beltre's bargaining position can't be perfect. He might end up settling for less than what the Red Sox offered him. Perhaps the quiet is his hoping for a better offer. Perhaps the Fan is all wet and a deal is being hammered out as we speak. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

A Non-Voter's Hall of Fame Vote

The closest this writer gets to having a Hall of Fame vote is to participate in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance "recommendation" vote. But, since the ballots are due to be turned in by December 31, and since this Fan has a fifty year vested interest in MLB, you get the Fan's vote anyway. In many ways, this Fan feels just as competent to make such a vote as some of the "baseball writers" that make up the privileged who get to send in their official ballot.

The easiest way to do this is to give a brief listing of each of the 33 names on the ballot to at least give each of the 33 players a day in the sun. For some, this will be as good as it gets as they will vanish from future consideration after a year. For others, this may be the year they get in. And for still others, this will be one more year or the first year of multi-year consideration that may or may not lead to a final accumulation of enough votes to get into the cherished Hall of Fame.

First, there has to be a bit of discussion on the PED issues involved with some of the players. The Fan's feeling is that there is some bump in performance for those who used. But in an era that featured such wide-spread abuse, some of these players were still among the best of their era. And since it is already impossible to compare players from differing eras, all you can do is vote for the best players of their particular time they played. Did Mark McGwire use? Well, yeah, he said he did. But did any other users hit 70 homers? Of course, this is still a lightning rod conversation that will be years in discussion. But the Fan has already made a stand here. The Fan can't use a crystal ball to know who used and who didn't. Palmeiro did. He got caught. But did Jeff Bagwell? Who knows. And how can you know? So the speculation is ignored. The vote is based on whether the players on the ballot were worthy due to performance in the day and age they played.

Whew! All that said, here is is the Fan's 2010 Hall of Fame ballot:

Roberto Alomar - Yes! Absolutely no question in this Fan's mind that Alomar was the class second baseman of his era. A career .300 hitter with a career .371 OBP, 474 stolen bases with an 81% success rate, over 1500 runs scored and over 1100 RBIs, over 2700 hits. Plus, he was the most fun second baseman to watch ever. Despite some off the field problems (to say the least) and the spitting thing, Alomar is a slam dunk. Plus, he batted over .300 in post season games with 33 RBI in just 58 post season games.

Carlos Baerga - No. Will fall off the ballot after one year. Baerga had two spectacular years early in his career with Cleveland, but thereafter, settled into a useful, if not spectacular career.

Jeff Bagwell - Yes. Though short of some famous counting stats like 3000 hits and 500 homers, Bagwell had a great career with an accumulation of 79.9 WAR. He drove in over 1500 runs and scored over 1500 runs. His career slash line: .297/.408/.540 speak of marvelous consistency despite playing several years with a bad wing. He had 969 extra base hits plus 202 stolen bases. He was a good fielding first baseman too. Bagwell deserves to be included.

Harold Baines - No. Baines is in the Hall of Very Good. Baines had 2866 hits spread out over a 22 year career, but they all added up to a total accumulation of WAR to 37. He was a very good hitter for a very long time, accumulating a 120 lifetime OPS+. He just wasn't special enough to get into the Hall of Fame.

Bert Blyleven - Yes! Please! The Fan has already written about this ad nauseum. 287 wins, 3.31 ERA, 3701 strikeouts. 1.198 career WHIP, 242 complete games and 60 career shutouts. His 90.1 career WAR says enough to end the conversation. Enough is enough. Get him in there!

Bret Boone - No. One magical season isn't enough to put him into consideration. Only 21.4 WAR accumulated. Just not enough to even consider. Falls off ballot after one year.

Kevin Brown - No. Brown is an interesting discussion. With 211 wins and a .594 lifetime winning percentage, Brown finished in the top ten in Cy Young Award voting six times. He led the league in WHIP twice, led the league in ERA twice and had a lifetime 2.64 K/BB ratio. He is marginal. Put him in the same category as Ron Guidry. If one gets in, the other should. Stays on the ballot a while.

John Franco - No. Franco is definitely in the Hall of Very Good. 1119 appearances, all in relief. Pitched 21 effective seasons and ended up with 424 Saves. His 2.89 career ERA is very good, but a 138 career ERA+ is just not high enough for a relief pitcher. His 25.8 career WAR is half of Mariano Rivera's for example.

Juan Gonzalez - No. Gonzales might be the only two time MVP who does not make it ot the Hall of Fame. Only posted a career WAR of 33.5 despite some monster years. Gonzalez was the king of the undependable. He would show up for some years and simply tear the cover off the ball. They he would disappear. He had the hitting talent of A-Rod, but not the discipline.

Marquis Grissom - No. Played 17 seasons and stole 429 bases with a very good success rate. But he just wasn't good enough at getting on base. His .318 career OBP is disappointing considering what he could have done with his career with a better knack for getting on base. Over 2200 hits but no, he's not getting in. Probably off the ballot after one year.

Lenny Harris - No. If you opened the dictionary to find the definition of utility player, Lenny Harris would have his picture in there. Played eight different positions and despite playing 18 seasons, only accumulated 1055 hits. His WAR for his career is a negative number. He'll have to be content with the over $11 million he made in his career because Lenny Harris is the anti-Hall of Fame player.

Bobby Higginson - No. This Detroit favorite had three very good years for the Tigers early in his brief 11 year career. But he couldn't sustain it. A good and useful player. Will fall off the ballot after one year.

Charles Johnson - No. This catcher from Fort Pierce, Florida always seemed like he would become an All Star catcher. But despite a few good years, never could put it together for any length of time. Bounced around from team to team, he didn't even accumulate 1000 hits despite playing 12 seasons. Off the ballot after one year.

Barry Larkin - Yes. Some players you have to consider the position they played. Most of Larkin's numbers fall short of most Hall of Fame players, but he was a shortstop and for his era, was one of the best. His 68.9 WAR speaks highly of his productivity both at the plate and at short. He was a 12 time All Star and won an MVP award. Lost a lot of playing time due to injury.

Al Leiter - No. Another Hall of Very Good player. Won 162 games in his 19 year career. But doesn't have the counting stats in any category to be considered at all for the Hall of Fame. The only thing he ever led the league in was walks and wild pitches. Good guy. Fun guy. No on the Hall of Fame. Did you know that his given name is Alois?

Edgar Martinez - Yes. If they name a post season award after a guy, you have to put him in the Hall of Fame, right? The Edgar Martinez Award goes to the top DH each year. Named after the best DH of all time, Edgar Martinez should be a shoo in. Played in 18 seasons but only 13 of them were full seasons. Career slash line: .312/.418/.515. Amazing. 67.6 WAR accumulated. Martinez is short in all the counting stats that everybody llikes, but he should be in the Hall of Fame.

Tino Martinez - No. Hall of Very Good, but not the HOF. Bamtino played 16 seasons and had one great one and 15 productive ones. He was a good player and a beloved teammate. But he just isn't good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Don Mattingly - No. It kills the Fan to say no on Donnie Baseball. He was fantastic for four or five years and then after back troubles, was just ordinary. He just wasn't good enough for long enough to get consideration here. Maybe he'll have a long and successful managing career and get in that way.

Fred McGriff - No. One of the worst trades ever for the Yankees as they traded this young prospect to the Blue Jays for the immortal Tom Dodd and Dale Murray. He helped the Blue Jays to two World Series titles. McGriff is just on the cusp of being good enough to get in. 493 career homers and a 134 OPS+ show that he was a very good hitter for a very long time. He drove in over 1500 runs in his career. The problem the Fan has is that his career WAR only comes to 50.5. It's right on the edge. If  McGriff did get in the HOF, the Fan wouldn't complain. But he is marginal. The "Crime Dog" though is a Hall of Fame caliber nickname.

Mark McGwire - Yes. Have gone on record a number of times on this one. 63.1 career WAR. 583 homers and despite the PED case, he was a product of his times and saved baseball after the strike years.

Raul Mondesi - No. Oh please. There is a strong temptation to grind him on moral issues, but the Fan swore off of those kinds of things. The thing that seems evident here is that he was the Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers, made the All Star game his second full year along with a Gold Glove but as soon as he started big money, his career tanked. One of the standard bearers for the Yankee years when they overpaid anyone who seemed to have a big name. Less than 25 career WAR despite such a strong start.

Jack Morris - No. Hall of Very Good. 254 career wins. A workhorse. World Series hero. No doubts there. But his 39.3 career WAR leaves this voter cold.

Dale Murphy - No. In the same category as Don Mattingly. For a while, Murphy was one of the best players in the game. But he didn't sustain it long enough and his career fell off a cliff at a young age. A real downer because he's one of the best people to ever play the game. 44.2 career WAR just isn't high enough to merit consideration. Another two time MVP who will not be in the HOF.

John Olerud - No. Olerud had two super, fantastic seasons and the rest were all productive. Great on base guy. One of the best fielding first baseman ever. But, unfortunately, he's in the Hall of Very Good and not going to be in the Hall of Fame. 56.8 career WAR though makes him a better player than McGriff. One of the Fan's all time favorite players. A real winner who helped the Blue Jays and the Mets to titles.

Rafael Palmeiro - Yes. Will not get in because he is a PED poster boy, but how can you argue with 3000 hits and 1800+ RBIs?

Dave Parker - No. The Cobra won an MVP and two batting titles, but due to injuries and other reasons, just didn't have enough productive seasons. A 37.8 career WAR just isn't good enough. A very good player for several years. It just isn't enough.

Tim Raines - Yes. Lost a couple of his best years to strikes but next to Rickey Henderson, was the best lead off batter of his time. .385 career OBP, over 800 steals with a phenomenal success rate, 64.6 career WAR all add up to give Raines the counting stats he needs to get into the Hall of Fame. Yeah, there was the cocaine thing. But Raines is a Hall of Fame player.

Kirk Rueter - No. Rueter was a useful pitcher that went 130-92 in his big league career. A contact pitcher, he just was good enough to be helpful to the Giants for many years, but not good enough to ever be considered one of the top 20 pitchers in the league. Drops off after one year.

Benito Santiago - No. Santiago caught for parts of 20 seasons and in all that time, accumulated only 23.8 WAR. Enough said.

Lee Smith - No. 478 Saves and left as the career leader when he retired. But his 132 ERA+ is not good enough, nor is is 30.3 career WAR. Hall of Very Good perhaps.

B. J. Surhoff - No. If you just thought of his as a catcher, you might consider his career numbers. But he played more games in the outfield than he did behind the plate. A good player for an awfully long time, Surhoff was just not good enough to get into the Hall of Fame.

Alan Trammell - Yes. For the same reasons that Barry Larkin deserves to go into the HOF. Trammell was a shortstop who compiled a career WAR of 66.9 despite not having the counting stats most people want for a Hall of Fame player. He was one of the best of his times and he was very good for a long, long time. 7.5 career WAR for his fielding too. Slick. Professional. HOF.

Larry Walker - No. [[sigh]] Walker won three batting titles. He finished with a career OPS+ of 140. His WAR built up to 67.3. He was a great outfielder with 48 career assists. But the Fan just can't get away from Coors Field and the career splits. He hit .340 at home but .270 on the road. His OPS was 1.068 at home versus .865 on the road. If you add this up to his somewhat short career and lack of counting stats, it just isn't enough to make a HOF case. Alas. He sure was fun to watch.

Matt Diaz Another Solid Addition for Pirates

Yesterday was a good day for the Pirates. They picked up Lyle Overbay to upgrade their first base position and then signed Matt Diaz to a two year, low-pay, low-risk contract. Diaz, 32, has played the last several seasons for the Braves with mixed results. However, his lifetime results in mostly part time duty, show a solid player who does a nice job in the outfield.

Diaz, whose career slash line read solidly at: .301/.350/.456, had an off year in 2010, which can partly be explained by a low average on balls hit in play. He will likely platoon with Garrett Jones (the former first baseman) in right field and play against left-handers. Jones has better power numbers, but this Fan believes Diaz would be more valuable with more playing time than Jones. But with there being more right-handed pitchers in baseball than lefties, Jones will get more playing time. If Jones gets off to a slow start, Diaz can be inserted more frequently.

Diaz is a solid outfielder but has a minus arm and is better suited for left field than right, where his arm will be a liability. Jose Tabata, who had a nice debut season last year is penciled in to play left, but he played right field in the minors and it might behoove the Pirates to move Tabata to right and have the platoon of Diaz and Jones in left. Left field is Diaz's best position anyway.

In any case, it is encouraging to see the Pirates hire some solid ball players. Are they the best or most expensive? No and no. But they are solid major league players that should help them instead of hurt them. That alone would be a nice change in direction.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overbay a Nice Choice By the Pirates

Lyle Overbay was picked up by the Pirates today and he's a fine choice for where that team is right now. He is easily a three to four win upgrade over Garrett Jones both at the plate and at first base. Overbay has been a consistent doubles hitter with good patience at the plate and will give the Pirates 18 to 25 homers as well. The terms hadn't been announced last this Fan heard, but considering the market for first baseman, it couldn't have been that high.

Overbay will be a great veteran presence on a team full of youngsters. And his glove work at first should save Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno some errors that Jones couldn't give them. Overbay had sort of a down year for the Blue Jays and was still worth $6.1 million to that team. Some of his peripherals are a concern. His line drive percentage was the lowest of his career in 2010 (by a pretty good percentage too) and thus his BABIP was a low .285. He hit more ground balls than usual. He is much less successful against lefties than right-handed pitchers and he had a pretty circumspect road/home split with much more success at home.

But he's far better than Jones or Clement or anyone else the Pirates could have put out there. A good glove man at first is vastly underrated and even if Overbay has his average year, that will be a huge upgrade. To be sure, this space has knocked Overbay quite a bit on occasion. And in hindsight, the Fan was short sighted on his value because of his fielding. Overbay isn't going to be the best first baseman in the National League, but he's going to be better than many and he improves the Pirates immediately.

Godzilla Dragging His Tail Around

It has been a sad sight the last two years watching Hideki Matsui shop himself around for a major league gig. After almost single-handedly destroying the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, the Yankees declined to offer him a contract. Matsui eventually signed with the Angels, had a decent year and found himself without a job again. Now it is being reported by that Matsui has reached an agreement to play for the Oakland Athletics.

The Fan promised himself that he wouldn't make value statements based on a player's personality because of lack of information. This writer doesn't have first hand access to the people written about. But simply observing Matsui over the years, he comports himself with almost a regal yet humble air. He carries himself with a lot of pride. And why shouldn't he? He was one of the biggest heroes in Japan before he came over to play for the Yankees. And by all accounts, the Yankees were a dream come true to the Japanese slugger. From what this Fan can remember, the Yankees were the only American team that Matsui wanted to play for.

And play for them he did. His steady presence and timely hitting have lead to a career 123 OPS+. He was never very good as a left fielder but once he blew out his knee, he was a very good Designated Hitter. In that capacity, he had a higher WAR than David Ortiz in 2009 with the Yankees. He quietly put up another solid season with the Angels last year. His 124 OPS+ was dead on for his career numbers. And he won that World Series game. Which brings the Fan to another point.

Most of the baseball world now measures players by wins. Even the W in WAR stands for "Wins." But for the Yankees, Wins Above Replacement really should be called World Series Wins Above Replacement (or WWWAR). Because as everyone knows, if the Yankees don't win a World Series, the season was a failure. So basically, the Yankees paid $200 million for four World Series wins in 2009. If that is the case and Matsui won the last game with his heroics, then you could say his game against the Phillies was worth $50 or one quarter of the payroll. Well, of course you'd have to whittle that down a bit for pitching and playing the field and all that, but if you boil it all down, Matsui's game may have been worth the $13 million the Yankees paid for him in 2009.

But the Yankees wouldn't pay for him in 2010. And the reality is that the move made sense based on Matsui's age and health. But his season for the Angels last year was worth far more than anything the Yankees put out there as a DH. But again, the Angels, a team that didn't hit last year except for Hunter and Matsui, did the same thing the Yankees did and let him walk. As a DH, Matsui should have one more good year in him. But he had to skulk around for a job which has to be hard for a once proud Japanese player who represented the best of that country's baseball.

It's sad really. But if Matsui can make it work and be productive, then more power to him and the Athletics hope he will stabilize their line up a little bit after playing DH tiddly winks last year. Matsui should enjoy playing for a city that has a large oriental population who will no doubt adopt Matsui as oof their own. But it just won't seem right seeing him in an Oakland uniform. When Matsui takes his baseball hat off and lets his jet black hair spill down, that  cap should be a Yankee cap. But the world moves on and not everyone can be Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Rangers and Yankees Dodge Major Bullet

And so the Cliff Lee saga is over and in a surprise ending, the Phillies offered him less time but landed the pitcher to add to their collection. Lee joins Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels as baseball's version of the Dream Team. Most are writing about how the Rangers and Yankees have lost out. Yankee writers are calling this the worst off season ever. That's not the opinion here. The Fan has said all along that whichever team signs Lee, they will live to regret it. The terms were simply too long and the money too high for a 32 year old pitcher who has too many down sides to consider for that length of time. Now the Yankees and Rangers can commit that money to younger players that can help thm in the short term and long term.

The Phillies are taking a gigantic gamble. Hamels is the only one of their fab four that is under 30. The rest are signed for a long time (well, not Oswalt) and the risk is what those pitchers will look like on the back end of these deals. Their big three were supposed to push them into the World Series last year and that didn't quite work out as anything can happen in a seven game series. The Giants went on to defeat the Phillies and win the World Series. The Phillies are already favorites in the NL East and Lee will no doubt help solidify their odds. Lee is certainly going to help them short term. It was always the long term consequences that bothered this observer.

The Rangers are just coming out of a bankruptcy sale with new owners and new optimism. They did not get a gigantic contribution from Lee down the stretch who was only a .500 pitcher for Texas. There is no reason the Rangers can't continue to build themselves as the new AL West power without Lee. And now they won't have the heavy burden of Lee's contract around their necks. Anyone who thought the A-Rod deal was a killer for Texas would have thought the same thing in spades in a few years with Lee. A team like the Rangers needs financial flexibility and now they will have it.

The Yankees are having trouble signing free agents all of the sudden. One has to wonder if their strategy is different now that George Steinbrenner isn't running the team. Perhaps his sons are not as gifted in the art of persuasion as the old man. Perhaps the Yankees have too many people making too many public statements. Whatever the case, this will make Brian Cashman look bad, but the reality is that he dodged a major bullet. Think Barry Zito and Kevin Brown. The Yankees' past is littered with the signing of old free agents to long term deals that didn't work out. That was what killed them in the early part of the 2000s. This writer likes the way they have been developing from below. That's the smartest way to go along with signing or trading for short term help and fixes. Besides, if the Yankees signed Lee, there would have been just one more backlash about how they can buy whatever they want and there would be more blogs out there about salary caps.

Lee is going to help the Phillies this year and next and perhaps into a third year just like he would have helped the Yankees and the Rangers. Now the Yankees should pursue another lefty like Buehrle or someone like that. The only thing that hurts about this deal is that an extra lefty in the rotation against the lefty-heavy Red Sox would have been great. But there are others out there if the Yankees are creative.

The Rangers will survive. They are on the right path and the Angels, Athletics and Mariners have not improved significantly enough to rival what the Rangers already have. The Rangers should still win the AL West and the Yankees are still a 90 to 95 win team. As for the Phillies? Perhaps now someone will point to them as the big, bad money team on the East Coast and point to them as the team that is trying to buy the pennant.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Outliers On Parade

Merrium-Webster gives the following definition of "outlier": a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample. In baseball lingo, an outlier is a season by a player that defies that player's norms by a wide margin. The one that stands out the most in peoples' minds is Brady Anderson and his 50 homer season. But outliers happen often and they have led to a lot of general managers making fools of themselves thinking a player is going to have a season like that again. What follows isn't by any means a comprehensive list of outliers over the years, but just a few that have caught this Fan's imagination.

Darrell Porter (1979 - Royals): Darrell Porter was a number one pick for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. He made his major league debut a year later and then played parts of 17 seasons in MLB. He was a very good offensive catcher, prone to passed balls and fair at throwing out runners. He finished his career with a 113 OPS+, so he was above average in every way. But he was never considered an elite catcher. But 1979 was different. In that year, he became one of only a handful of players to walk over 100 times, drive in over 100 runs with 20 homers or less. His walk total was the only year he finished over 100 and with 121 free passes, his year total was 32 walks higher than any other year. He drove in 112 runs or 32 more than his high in any other season. His batting average was 17 points higher than any other year. His OBP was 21 points higher than any other year. He had his best slugging percentage for any of his full seasons that year and he even scored a triple double on extra base hits with 23 doubles, ten triples and 20 homers. Ten triples for a catcher!? It was the only year he scored 100 runs and he even led the league in sacrifice flies. That's an outlier. It makes sense that he became a free agent in 1980 and signed with the Cardinals. They released him five years later.

Darrell Evans (1973 - Braves): Darrell Evans was a good player for a long, long time. But he never had a season like 1973. The year before, he had hit only 19 homers for the Braves and so it was a huge surprise when he hit 41 in 1973. He only hit 25 the year after and only topped 40 again eleven years later for the Tigers. But it wasn't just the homers. His OBP that year was over .400, the only time that happened in his career. His batting average was .281, the only time he ever batted that high (his career average was .246). He posted career highs in slugging, OPS and OPS+. He even had arguably his best year in the field as a third baseman.

Jon Olerud (1993 - Blue Jays): Jon Olerud is one of the most overlooked players ever. He had a sensational career that fell short of Hall of Fame numbers only because he didn't play long enough. He was always one of the best fielding first baseman in baseball and may rank up there in the all time category. He finished with a career slash line of .295/.398/.465. He hit 500 doubles in his career and drove in over 1200. But Olerud had two outliers. In 1993, he was absolutely robbed of the MVP that year. He batted .362 (.284/..297 the year before and the year after). He had career highs in doubles (54), homers (24), RBIs, Runs, OBP, SLG, OPS and OPS+. It was an amazing season and the Fan watched nearly every one of his games that year. His season for the Mets in 1998 was a rare second outlier. Olerud was so good in 1993 that he was walked intentionally 33 times.

Bill Swift (1993 - Giants):  Swift is one of this Fan's all time favorite players because he was born in Maine. He was a first round draft pick for the Mariners in 1984 (the second overall pick of that draft). He had some middling seasons for them both starting and in relief. In 1990, the Mariners converted him exclusively to relief and he responded with two excellent seasons. He saved 17 games in 1991 with a 1.99 ERA. He was then part of a six player trade with the Giants and the Giants changed him back into a starter. He did very well in 1992 but didn't have the wins to show for how well he pitched. But in 1993, Swift exploded into a 21 game winner. It was his only season with more than 11 wins. It was his only season with more than 77 strikeouts (he had 157 that year). It was the only season his K/BB ratio was over 2.00 (2.85). It was a remarkable year and he came within a whisker of winning the Cy Young Award that season. He is Exhibit A of Dusty Baker's reputation for burning out pitchers.

Okay. The Fan had a bunch of these in mind at the start of this post, but perhaps working 80 hours a week in the mall during yet another Christmas season has simply turned this man's mind to mush. Add some more in the comments and we'll do some exploring together.

Cardinals Give Up On Brendan Ryan

Earlier this fall, there was a post here about Tulowitzki and Drew being the two best shortstops in baseball. A comment to that post pointed out that Brendan Ryan as a fielder danced blithely above those two other guys. After taking a look at the numbers, the comment was correct. Ryan is an amazing fielding shortstop. Unfortunately, he had a terrible season batting in 2010.

How bad was it? Ryan's On Base Percentage was .279 with a batting average of .222. Ryan's never had any power, so the low average on low OBP meant a batter that offered no value at all to the Cardinals' line up. If he could just hit like he did in 2009 when he batted .292 with an OBP of .340, then he would stil be the Cardinals' shortstop. Instead, he's been traded to the Seattle Mariners for a low-minors, 100 MPH-throwing, 6.23 ERA guy in the Mariners' system (Maikel Cleto). Or to put it another way: The Cardinals dumped their shortstop for a wing and a prayer.

Frankly, this deal doesn't make sense for either team. Ryan is too good a fielding shortstop to give up on in this day and age with very few quality shortstops in the game. Ryan's results in 2009 almost exactly duplicated his career line in the minor leagues. That would seem to be more of an indication of Ryan's ability than his 2010 debacle. Check that. 2010 batting debacle. Even with his low offense, Ryan's WAR was still in the positive numbers and bWAR was almost 1. That shows you just how good a shortstop he is. If his bat can come back just a little, he could be again the player that garnered a 3.4 WAR in 2009.

Instead, the Cardinals will turn to Ryan Theriot who is three years older and has NEVER had a year close to 3.4 WAR. Theriot won't add much more with the bat than Ryan did and he is no where near as good a fielder. Theriot finished 2010 with a negative WAR according to BR. Nothing about that move makes any sense for the Cardinals. The Cardinals rely on their big starting rotation to throw a bunch of grounders and those pitchers have a weaker infield now. There is nothing about Theriot's game that thrills this Fan other than his nickname, which is world class.

This move sort of smacks of another player that got afoul of Tony LaRussa. Normally a guy like Ryan would be a LaRussa favorite, but giving the shortstop job to an inferior player has to mean that Ryan wasn't on his manager's good side.

Perhaps Theriot is just considered a place holder until the Cardinals think that Pete Kozma is ready for prime time. Kosma is highly touted but to this point, strikes out too much, doesn't get on base enough and makes a ton of errors for the Cardinals' farm teams. He was drafted #1 by the Cardinals in 2007 and they might want to see if he can play at some point this season.

Meanwhile, it's hard to figure what the Mariners will be doing with Ryan. They already have Jack Wilson, the same sort of player that Ryan is who makes $5 million a year. Getting paid that kind of money means that Wilson has to play. Perhaps the Mariners will put Ryan at second and move Figgins back to third? That's possible, but Ryan's best position is shortstop. One thing is now true though: The Mariners have two of the slickest fielding shortstops in MLB. Too bad neither of them excites anyone with their bats.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where Will Russell Martin Land?

It is still hard to believe that at the tender age of 27, Russell Martin was left for dead by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure 2009 and 2010 were let downs for Martin after the splashy way he started his big league career. And sure, a torn ligament in his hip is a serious injury and perhaps not worth a $7 million arbitration risk for the Dodgers in their post divorce reality. But for three years, Martin was one of the best catchers in the game. Now, it seems that he will have to rebuild his career in the American League East.

At last report, three teams were interested in his services. All three are in the AL East and all three are interesting situations for Martin. The Boston Red Sox alternate between stating that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is their starting catcher and the stark reality of how scary that proposition is for them. The Yankees have kicked Jorge Posada to DH and have little faith in Cervelli. But they do have Jesus Montero, a young stud who will hit, but whose defense might make Posada look good. The Blue Jays have their own prospect in J.P. Arencibia but seem hesitant to take the plunge. Jose Molina is their back up. All three teams see to blithely state that they have a plan behind the plate, but Martin would hedge those bets.

But all three teams have to be careful because that status of Martin's health is a risk. According to reports, he is still rehabbing but is doing baseball related activities and that is a good sign. If Martin could be healthy, he is tantalizing. He's never had an OBP less than .347 and that was in 2010 when nothing else went well. He throws out over 30% of base steal attempts, something that none of these three teams can do currently. And, if he can get his health back, he was once a very good hitter and a fire brand type of player.

So that leaves two questions: Who should sign him and where should Martin go? From a personal level, Martin could choose the Yankees. He's spent years in one show business capital and has been linked with people like Alyssa Milano. New York is the other show business capital in the U.S. and that would seem to fit his lifestyle. One can't forget that his mother was in show business. But then again, Martin is from Ontario and playing for the Blue Jays would send him home. The Red Sox don't have either of those advantages, but are currently sporting the niftiest roster on the planet. That could be temptation alone for Martin to want to be a part of that Red Sox bonanza.

As far as who should sign him, the Yankees have the most to gain. Yes, Montero needs to be given a shot somewhere. But with the current splashes the Red Sox have made, an honest-to-goodness potential star in Martin might be too good to pass up. The Blue Jays should sign him because another home grown player would help the Blue Jays sell tickets.

Of course, this could all be weak speculation because at this point, until Martin proves he can be a good player again, he's a heavy risk for any team that signs him. But if you are a Fan of the game, you have to hope that Martin bounces back and goes back to being one of the most exciting catchers in the game.