Saturday, December 25, 2010

Where There Is Life, There is Hawpe

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. And it appears to be a happy holiday for Brad Hawpe, who not only caught on with a team but landed in a situation with the Padres that can propel him back into a starter's role. While playing first base for the Padres is a problem because in the Padre fans' minds, Adrian Gonzalez should still be over there, it's still an opportunity to recapture his professional career after a 2010 that is best forgotten and lost.

The Fan actually thinks this is a terrific gamble for the Padres. When first looking at Hawpe's major league stats, the fact that he played the first six and a half years of his career for the Rockies seemed like another player who benefited from playing half his games in Coors Field. But Hawpe is a happy departure from most Rockies players in that his home/road splits don't deviate that much. He's hit 60 career homers at home and 60 on the road. He has an .886 career OPS at home and .839 away. That's not that bad a split and closer to the major league norm than just about any long-time Rockies player.

But the big question for Hawpe is what the heck happened in 2010? How did he go from being an All Star to being released by the Rockies in August? How did he go from a guy who averaged an offensive WAR of 2.75 for the four years before 2010 to a 0.4 offensive WAR in 2010?

The answer seems to be in two telling statistics. His wOBA was good. His BABIP was over .300 (but not as high as the .337 for his career). His walk rates and strikeout rates were right in line with the rest of his career. His pitch selection at the plate seemed similar to the past. In other words, he swung at the same number of pitches in the strike zone and out of the strike zone as always. The big difference seems to be in his line drive percentage and the percentage of his fly balls that went out of the park.

Hawpe has a career line drive percentage of 22%. In other words, for his entire career, when he put the ball in play 100 times, 22 of them were line drives. Since he has a career BABIP of .771 on line drives, that is important. In 2010, his line drive percentage went down to 19.8 percent. The other stat that jumped out at the Fan is that for Hawpe's career, 16% of his fly balls landed in the cheap seats. In 2010, that figure dropped all the way to 10.5%. That's a significant decline in homer rates on fly balls. The one scary thing is that such a figure doesn't figure to improve much playing half your games in San Diego.

The other thing the Fan noticed about 2010 compared to the rest of his career was his BABIP on ground balls. For his career, Hawpe had a BABIP of .191 on ground balls. That figure plummeted to .138 in 2010. Whether the fly ball thing and his BABIP on ground balls is a luck thing or an indication of a lack of good contact is beyond this observer to tell.

There are two good things about this deal for the Padres. First, after such a lousy season, Hawpe comes cheaply and since he is trying to resurrect his career, it's a one year commitment, so there is not too much pain if Hawpe doesn't come back to his career numbers. If Hawpe can return to where he once was, then the Padres get a steal. Secondly, the Padres are going to play him at first base. The Rockies put him in the outfield and he's a lousy outfielder. Though the sample size is small, he appears to be a good first baseman with good range.

This is a good gamble for both the Padres and for Brad Hawpe. Hawpe gets to land into a starting situation at a position that suits him. There isn't much more you can ask for after getting released from your home team and not doing anything for the Bay Rays once he got there in September. The Padres get a hitter who produced in the past in a way that did not seem to be Coors induced. Will he be Adrian Gonzalez? No. But if he can get back to his career path, then he will at least pick up some of the WAR lost by Gonzalez.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Amazing Arthur Rhodes Joining Texas?

If reports are accurate, the Texas Rangers are going to have two left-handed relievers who are older than 40 years old in their bullpen. But those two left-handers aren't your typical, run of the mill LOOGYs you've come to expect. One may be the Amazing Arthur Rhodes. is reporting the Rangers have reached a deal with the 41 year old pitcher. He'll join the nearly-as-amazing Darren Oliver in the Rangers' pen.

Arthur Rhodes has long been a favorite here at the FanDome. Last year, he helped the Cincinnati Reds reach the playoffs for the first time in a long time with another stellar season. In 69 appearances, Rhodes posted a 2.29 ERA and a 175 ERA+. Even at his age, he still struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings, gave up only four homers all year and compiled a WHIP of 1.018. He only made one appearance in the post season and struck out his only batter. It was the third straight season that Rhodes had an ERA under 2.60 and for three straight seasons, his WHIP has gone down! Not bad for an old guy.

He joins another venerable lefty in Darren Oliver. Oliver is 40 years old and like Rhodes, just seems to get better and better. Oliver appeared in 64 games for the Rangers and posted a 2.48 ERA and a 175 ERA+ (matching Rhodes). It was Oliver's best ERA and ERA+ of his career! And it was the third straight year that his ERA was under 3.00. And another amazing statistic for Oliver was that he struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 2010, the highest rate of his career. His 4.33 K/BB ratio was also the best of his career. Oliver struggled against the Bay Rays and the Yankees in the post season, but pitched very well in the World Series against the Giants.

So now, if this report is accurate, you could have two of the most amazing lefty relievers of our time on the same team. That will be very cool indeed.

The Strange Season of Ichiro Suzuki

Nothing illustrates the futile offensive season of the Seattle Mariners more than the strange season by Ichiro Suzuki. It wasn't a strange season by what Ichiro did. He did what he always does. For the fifth season in a row and for the seventh time in his ten year big league career, Ichiro led the league in hits. It's what he didn't do that seems so crazy. He didn't score many runs. His run total came to 74. He scored that few runs despite being on base 259 times. That's unbelievable.

June was the most amazing month. In June, Ichiro hit .322. He walked 11 times (his highest month for walks) and so he was on base 47 times that month. He scored seven times. Seven! And two of those hits were homers. So that means that he scored 5 times in the 45 times he got on base without hitting a homer. That seems bad enough, but of those 45 times, he hit 8 doubles. Plus he had 8 stolen bases. So of those 45 times on base in June without a homer, he was on second base at least 16 times and scored only 5 runs.

When Ichiro led off an inning, he got on base 105 times. He hit three homers, so we'll throw those out. So he was on base 102 times leading off an inning. He hit 13 doubles leading off an inning and two triples. He scored 38 runs in those situations.

This Fan finds all of that remarkable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blind Spots - Sean Burnett

Did you ever have one of those moments when a story is announced (concerning baseball that is) and you have no idea who the player is the story talked about? This writer can't be the only one, can he? Well, Sean Burnett is one of the blind spots. The news wire lit up today that Sean Burnett signed a multi-year deal with the Washington Nationals. When the Fan saw the item, the first reaction was, "Who the heck is Sean Burnett?"

It's been that kind of week. Yesterday, the Fan was thinking about writing a post as a recap of 2010. You know the kind of post the Fan is talking about. Every year at the end of the year, writers (for the lack of anything else to talk about) will create a story that talks about The Best Moments of 2010. That kind of thing. Well, when considering such a post, the Fan quickly realized it was hopeless because, at this point, remembering what happened yesterday is beyond this writer's grasp. And then today, the Fan wrote this erudite post on the Atlanta Braves and tried to sum up how their 2011 season was going to shape up and mentioned that it was a mystery where Omar Infante was going to play. Fortunately, a loyal reader cleared his throat and mentioned Infante would be playing second base...for the Marlins. He got traded to the Marlins in the Uggla deal. DOH!

So all of that didn't help this Fan feel any better when this story about Sean Burnett popped up. Look, it's understandable if a casual fan doesn't know who Burnett is. But baseball is like a profession to the Fan and knowing who Sean Burnett is seems like an understandable expectation. Maybe it was a memory block since a certain other Burnett gives the Fan heartburn whenever THAT pitcher crosses the brain. But there he is, this Sean Burnett signing with the Nationals for nearly $4 million (avoiding arbitration). The deal is for two years. So, feeling stupid, the Fan decided to get to know Mr. Burnett.

The first thought when looking Mr. Burnett up was that today had to feel really good. Burnett was a first round draft pick...TEN YEARS AGO! The Pirates picked him in the first round. So what happened? It looked like his progression was right where it needed to be early on. He did well as he moved from the Rookie league (2000) to A ball in 2001 and then A+ in 2002 and on to Double A in 2003. He succeeded at every level and moved up. Just like he was supposed to.

And then something happened. He moved up to Nashville, the Pirates' Triple A affiliate in 2004 and struggled. Even so, he was called up to the big club at the end of May and made his first big league start for Pittsburgh on May 30. He did okay and gave up only one run in five innings. His next two starts were losses but he had six scoreless innings against the Cardinals and got his first big league win. He won again on July 4 with a complete game shutout against the Brewers. He won again on July 9. He won again on July 20 and again on July 25. He had won five in a row! How is it the Fan doesn't remember ANY of this? Anyway, the wheels fell off after that. He lost twice, then had two no decisions and then lost his final start of that year. He ended up with a record of 5-5 and his ERA was over 5.

But you could tell something was wrong from looking at his stats. His K/9 fell off a cliff. Even in his Triple A starts, it was a non-existent 3.24 per nine. In the majors it was 3.8. That just wasn't him. Sure enough, he missed all of 2005 to injury.

He came back in 2006 and the Pirates had him pitch in Indianapolis (Triple A). He struggled*. He struggled again in 2007. Every single appearance in his career to that point had been as a starter. In 2008 they converted him into a relief pitcher and something clicked. He split time between Triple A and the big leagues and was terrific in Triple A but just decent in Pittsburgh in 58 relief appearances. He got into 71 games for  in 2009 and did very well but the Pirates traded him to the Nationals in the middle of the year. His ERA was a combined 3.12 for the two clubs. He then pitched all year with the Nationals in 2010. Darned if the Fan ever noticed.

* (Posnanski asterisk ripoff) It's fairly true that "Struggled" is a polite euphemism for "Stunk."

And the Fan should have noticed. Yeah, his record was 1-7. But we all know that win-loss records are meaningless stats. His ERA was 2.15, his K/9 rate jumped to 8.9 and his walk rate came way down too. Burnett had officially made the transition from starter to a LOOGY-type lefty with the ability to get a right-handed batter out occasionally.

So now you know all about Sean Burnett, the baseball player. And so does the Fan. There no longer will be any reason or excuse to hear his name and not have a clue who he is. One blind spot closed.

It's a Braves New World

The view from most baseball observers is that the Philadelphia Phillies have already won the 2011 World Series. Adding Cliff Lee certainly makes the Phillies formidable on paper. The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, have added Dan Uggla to a team that was at times offensively challenged last year. Bobby Cox is gone and the Braves will be doing the Freddi. After what seemed like an improbable playoff run last year, do the Braves have any shot at staying up with the Phillies?

There is reason for optimism. Chipper Jones should be back at third base after working hard this off season to rehab his rebuilt knee. If he can hit .280 with his typical .400 OBP, the front side of the batting order with Prado, Heyward, Jones, Uggla and McCann looks pretty strong. Prado was in new territory last year and he broke down and faded a bit at the end. Plus there is the question of where he will play. But we'll get to that later because where everyone will play is a huge question. The point here is that the Braves will improve offensively after finishing fifth in the National League in runs scored in 2010.

Jones is an important piece. If he can't go at third, then Prado slides in that spot and while Prado is a nice player, he has no where near the line up presence that Jones has. Prado is best as a support piece and not a cornerstone. Jones has been a cornerstone for so long that you have to believe the outcome might have been different in those three one-run games the Braves lost to the Giants in the playoffs.

You also have to believe that Jason Heyward is ready for a monster year. You never quite got the feeling that Heyward fully recovered from the injury he suffered before the All Star Game last year. His power certainly didn't recover. Even so, he hit 18 homers and should hit 30 this coming season. Heyward will be a huge star and this Fan can't wait to see what he can do.

Uggla, for all the Fan's needling of him over the years, is a great pick up for the Braves. They would be somewhat foolish to sign him long term, but that is their problem and won't be a problem for 2011 where Uggla should continue to be a solid pop in the Braves' line up. He'll hit his 30 homers and probably drive in over 100 once again this coming season.

Prado is the real thing at the plate. Last year seemed like a surprise, but that was only because he played full time for the first time in his career. But he has batted over .300 every year with an OPS over .800 every year for the last three. There is no doubt he can repeat those kinds of numbers. The big question is where he will play. Uggla is now the second baseman. Jones will be back at third. The Braves really would like Freddie Freeman to take over first base, especially after he hit well over .300 with 18 homers in Triple A last year. So where does that leave Prado? If this Fan ran the Braves, Uggla would learn how to play left field and Prado would slot into second base, his best position. As this Fan has stated many times, Uggla is terrible at second and couldn't be much worse in left field.

The real odd man out is Omar Infante. Infante hit .321 in  in 506 plate appearances last year. If Prado moves to left or second with Uggla in left, where does Infante play? He doesn't. Heyward will play right and McLouth (for lack of a better option) will probably play center. One supposes that Infante could play center. He's played there 32 times in his career. But you would think that would be a defensive liability. Infante's best position is at shorstop, where he is terrific (a little known fact it seems) Where the Braves put people will be one of the more interesting story lines of the 2011 Spring Training. Though Alex Gonzalez is penciled in as the 2011 shortstop, it wouldn't hurt the Braves to put Infante there and let Gonzalez, who is now 33 and slowing down, be the utility guy.  **UPDATE**  Well duh. Infante was traded to the Marlins in the Uggla deal.

McCann, of course, is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. Long overlooked and considered not to be a great defensive catcher, McCann is a great cog in the Braves' wheel. He has been their version of Jorge Posada. McCann had an off year by his standards in 2010 and still put up a 124 OPS+.

The Braves have a nice offense on paper and if the pieces all fall into place, they should finish as one of the top three teams in the NL in scoring. Which would be great because they still have a strong pitching staff.

The Braves were fourth in the majors last year in Runs Allowed and third in the National League. There is no reason to suggest that should change this year. Lowe really found something heading down the stretch, Hudson is back after various maladies and was terrific last year and of course, Hanson should continue to get better and better. That's a top flight top three with plenty of experience. If Jair Jurrjens can forget all about his lost 2010 and return to his 2009 status, that would give the Braves a rotation not that far behind the Phillies.

The fifth starter will be up for grabs between Brian Beachie, who looked good in three starts last year, and Kris Medlen, who also looked good at times last year. Mike Minor probably pitched his way out of contention last year and Kawakami is as welcome in the rotation as a thaw on Christmas Day.

The loss of Billy Wagner will hurt. Wagner had about as good a swan song season as you could possibly write up. But Venters was fabulous and the Braves are counting on Craig Kimbrell to step into an important role in 2011 after a successful debut in September. Moylan and O'Flaherty were very good and Michael Dunn seems to be a strikeout machine. The bullpen should be fine.

As you can see, the Braves have a strong team. There are some questions such as whether Freeman can produce in the majors and what the Braves will do with centerfield. But other than that, this team can hold their own and there is no reason to doubt that the Braves can again contend in 2011. They will at least make it interesting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Luxury Tax Is a Weird Thing

The story came out today that the Yankees and Red Sox were the only two clubs that had to pay the Luxury Tax. The Yankees were hit with a tax of $18 million while the Red Sox have to pay about a mil and a half. Of course, the tax is an instrument that rewards less successful teams to create a bit of parity. Supposedly, that money is to be used for player development to help even the playing field. The whole thing seems patently un-American.

Here's what it is like. The Fan lives in northern Maine. This is the home of lumber and potato farms. Let's say you have a group of 30 farmers. Two of the farmers are perhaps on the best land or perhaps they make the most of the land. Or just perhaps, they inherited more money from their parents and can afford better equipment. So those two farmers make more money than the other twenty-eight. The other twenty-eight say it's not fair that two farmers have more of an advantage and can make more money. So the thirty farmers decide to tax the amount of money those two uber-farmers make or not make, but spend to make yield so many profitable potatoes. Those two farmers are taxed and that money is distributed to the other farmers.

That wouldn't happen, would it? And what would those other farmers do? Put the extra money in their pockets just like the baseball owners do. No matter how hard the Fan tries to be open minded and consider all points of view, there are no parity opinions that make any sense to this observer. As long a team is operating under the rules, then all is fair in a free economy. But of course, that's the crux of some of the arguments isn't it? Major League Baseball doesn't operate in a free economy. It is is protected by act of congress with an exemption that allows them to operate as a monopoly. As long as Congress feels that baseball is behaving itself, the exemption is safe.

Okay, the Fan gets that. But still, inside that monopoly are 30 independent entities that plot their own courses, make their own decisions, fly by their own philosophies and either fail or succeed on their own. But they don't have to have great success. The money that all teams make from the marketing of the MLB license nets them all millions of dollars. Any team that isn't making money, simply isn't running their businesses very well. Well, Oakland and Tampa may be exceptions to that with their stadium issues. But still. The point is that inside the monopoly is a free market, which is still the American way.

So why do we add this communistic element of the luxury tax? The Fan is always surprised that the Yankees and the Red Sox never rebel against this system and simply pay their tax every year. If this Fan owned those franchises, there would be some bloody screaming. Those two teams built their brand, took advantage of media deals and built themselves into the most profitable businesses in baseball. So why should they voluntarily give some of that money away to the Pirates, for example, who have been run like they were owned by a twelve year old?

But there it is. The Yankees did cut down their dole out by some $7 million over the previous year, so perhaps the gap is closing and the Yankees, by all accounts seem to have been more fiscally sensitive since the old man stepped aside and then died. It's just weird is all. To make a team pay other teams that aren't successful because they are successful just seems odious to this writer.

The Cost of WAR

Yesterday was a slow day in the mall. Everyone went shopping nuts on the weekend and the last minute folks know it's not the last minute yet. So with time on hand while sitting in this Fan's store, a spreadsheet was put together with each team's 2010 salary (which may or may not be accurate) and the team's accumulated Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The purpose was to see how well teams did at paying for each win above replacement. While this Fan isn't smart enough to interpret the numbers with any degree of intelligence. You can make your own conclusions.

Even so, the data does seem to show us a few obvious things. First, the Pirates were bloody awful. Perhaps any fan of the Pirates could have told us that without so much heavy lifting. But with a lousy salary total of only $18 million, they didn't even come close to paying a fair price for each Win Above Replacement. In fact, their payroll payed for hardly any wins at all. This Fan was incredulous at how low their accumulated WAR was.

Typically, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies all overpaid for each unit of WAR. But at least they were all in contention for their overspending. The Cubs and Mets both overspent by quite a lot and never had an inkling of being in contention. Houston and Seattle overpaid but their WAR totals were so low that the results are understandable. If you would have asked each team where their WAR should have been, it would have been closer to reality.

Minnesota, San Diego and San Francisco did a terrific job of maximizing their payrolls. The Twins made the playoffs, the Padres just missed and the Giants, of course, won the World Series. The Fan is suspicious of the payroll figures (all culled from as Tampa's seemed quite high at $70. But they also did a nice job with their payroll culling WAR.

What this all means is somewhat missing to this writer. For example, the Nationals and White Sox seemed to be very close to paying exactly what they got. But of course, neither team made the playoffs. The White Sox overpaid if you measure the cost of each win instead of WAR.

It was a fun exercise. What it all means, this Fan supposes, is up to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chill Out Yankee Fans

A couple of months ago, this space featured a post defending Yankee fans. It's not as easy as it seems to be one. The expectations are so high and only George Bush was more hated around the country. But this off season has made it doubly difficult to defend the feisty creatures as the Yankees failed to land Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Zack Greinke, etc. The hue and cry by Yankee fans has become deafening and sort of erratic.

This Fan has a daily ritual of sorts each morning and evening by going around the Web and reading as many blogs as possible. The ritual includes: Buster Olney--who love him or hate him--at least writes every day and gives you something to think about; Rob Neyer for insight about what other people are writing; Joe Posnanski, the best baseball writer since Peter Gammons' prime, Josh Borenstein, because his place is different and he's a cool guy; Navin over at Sports and the City and now Notgraphs because he's one of the best young writers around and many others. There are simply amazing talents out there cranking the keyboard on a regular basis. Part of the ritual includes checking out several Yankee sites. They have been amazing this off season.

To recap the season, there was the overload on Jeter's contract. Every day, these Yankee sites would post several times a day with rumors and rehashes about the contract war between Jeter and the Yankees. It was certainly a relief when Jeter signed. Then there was the Lee speculation and when the Phillies signed him, there was outrage, disbelief and shock. It was almost as if it was unbelievable that anyone dared to win a free agent away from the Yankees.

Then the Red Sox went on a buying spree and signed Crawford and many others. The fact that Brian Cashman allowed the Red Sox to obtain such a coup was more than Yankee writers could take. Then the Royals sent Greinke to the Brewers and ugly out lashes about Greinke being a nut case emerged, which is awful and hurtful. And finally, there is disbelief settling in that the Yankees might have to go into 2011 with the hand they have.

The calls for Brian Cashman's head have come loud and clear like a clarion call. How dare he fail us!? What is he DOING? Why isn't anything happening! Yankee fandom has gotten fat and spoiled by another championship and by the recent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Texeira. The belief is that all superstars belong in Yankee pinstripes. It has become surreal.

Wasn't it just a few years ago when the Yankees were criticized for going out and getting the Sheffields and Browns and other fading superstars and tying them up to long term contracts that led nowhere? And now that the Yankees aren't making a big splash this off season, the same people are upset because the Yankees did not get to lavish a seven year contract on a 32 year old pitcher. Can you have it both ways?

The original complaint was that the Yankees didn't ever keep their own talent and instead went out and copped proven talent (albeit old talent). Now the Yankees would prefer not to gut their minor league system and the complaint is just the opposite. You wouldn't trade Montero for Greinke?? What are you crazy?

Sometimes, Yankee fans, you simply have to trust those running the Yankees. Sometimes, Yankee fans, you have to have a little faith. One Yankee blog went on to recently announce that the Yankees are officially in a transition year (translation: aren't making the playoffs). Transition year? They haven't even played a game yet. Personally, transition years should be mentioned in hindsight and not foresight.

The reality is that the Yankees are not going to win it all evey single season. They've won 27 championships in 90 years. That's not exactly a 100% proposition. That's a pretty good track record though. The Red Sox are off their long drought and have won it all twice. The Giants are this year's improbable champs. Other teams are going to win. But that doesn't mean the Yankees are finished before they even play the season. Championships can be just as much about luck as about skills. Burnett could win 20 games. It's doubtful, but it could happen. How do you know it won't?

The Fan thinks it's great that the Yankees want to develop their own talent. The Fan loves rookies. Phil Hughes was fun to watch on his uneasy glide to 17 wins. Bring on two kid pitchers. Why not? The Yankees are trying to be more fiscally rational. That's not a bad thing. It will be the Red Sox regretting the back end of Crawford's deal and not the Yankees. It will be the Phillies in a Barry Zito situation a few years from now and not the Yankees.

The Yankees may not win it all this year. Or they just may. That's why they play the season. To bury them before a single game is played would be a mistake. Sure, the Yankees could pick up a couple of high risk guys like Webb and Young. Couldn't hurt. Might not help. Might. The point is that Cashman will be judged in hindsight. It's way too soon to being going this nuts. On paper, the Yankees are still a 90 to 95 win team. Relax. Take a deep breath. Life will go on. And maybe...just will be Brachman winning a World Series game instead of Bumgarner. Hey, it could happen. Or it may not.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 1945 Chicago Cubs

The recent passing of Phil Cavarretta caught this writer's attention. First, the guy was Italian and anything that has to do with Italians in baseball interests this observer (who is half Sicilian on his mother's side). Secondly, the story mentioned that he was a star on the last Cubs team to make it to the World Series. As everybody in the world knows, not only have the Cubs not won a title in over 100 years, but they haven't even had a chance in the fall classic in 65 years. As such, a story about the death of a 94 year old, last link to that 1945 team sparked a lot of personal interest.

The Cubs really came close to winning it all in 1945. They lost the World Series four games to three. You can't get any closer to ending a long drought than that. But those were weird years in baseball. World War II had robbed baseball of much of its great talent via the draft and enlistments. Standings fluctuated from tradition and the 1945 Cubs were no exception. Since their last appearance in the World Series in 1938 (they were swept), the Cubs had foundered under managers, Gabby Harnett and Jimmy Wilson, and finished all those years in between in the bottom half of the standings. In 1945, the team turned again to Charlie Grimm, who has managed the 1938 club. It would be easy to say that Grimm was the difference, but after the glory year of 1945, the Cubs fell hard with him as its manager, so it's hard to give him all the credit.

It seems that much more credit could go to the war that created an unusual parity in baseball and it was just one of those magical seasons that just seemed to happen out of the blue. Let's take a closer look at this menagerie that made up the 1945 Cubs and you'll see what the Fan means.

Phil Cvaretta is just as good a place to start as any. He did win the MVP that year. Cavarretta started playing with the Cubs when he was 17 years old. But from 1934 until the start of the war, he was a fourth outfielder/first baseman. Well, that's not exactly accurate. He did start the majority of Cubs' games in 1935 and 1936, but after that, he never played in more than 107 games nor had more than 350 at bats. The war forced the Cubs to play him more often starting in 1942. It is not a coincidence that Cavarretta had his most prolific and productive seasons between 1942 and 1947.

Even so, 1945 was so much an outlier for Cavarretta that it cannot be overstated. His emergence began the year before when he hit .328. But prior to 1944, he had never hit above .286. But in 1945, he hit .355! His OBP had never been above .400, but that year it was .449. It was his one and only year over .500 in slugging (he never came close any other year). His 6.6 WAR that season made up 19.5% of his lifetime total and he played for 22 years. So you get the idea. 1945 was just one big fun ride for Calvaretta. And he was just one piece to the puzzle.

Another was Smiling Stan Hack. Hack had a long and productive career and finished with over 2100 hits and a .301 lifetime batting average. He also had the best year of his career in 1945. He was 35 at the time and two years later, he was out of baseball. Hack actually tied Cavarretta in WAR on the 1945 Cubs (though nobody would know what the heck WAR was back then). Hack batted .328 with an OBP of .420. He walked 99 times. He finished 11th in MVP voting.

Another contributor was Don "Pep" Johnson. Johnson was your prototypical war time player. He never played in the major leagues until 1943 and was a 31 year old rookie that year. His career was over after 1947. He was truly a war time player. Johnson, the son of former major league player, Ernie Johnson, was the Cubs' second baseman. At that position he made 47 errors (a frightening total) in his first year as a starter in 1944. But he cut that number down to 19 in 1945. 1945 was also Johnson's best year. He batted .301, 24 points higher than his best average before that. The year after (1946), Johnson hit .242. Yeah, you can see how charmed the Cubs were in 1945, can't you?

The 1945 Cubs were loaded with nicknames. Their third baseman was Peanuts Lowrey, a long-time Cub, but his only years as a starter were 1943, 1945, 1946...the war years. he hit .286 in 1945, his second best season. Another was Handy Andy Pafko, who was just starting his long career with the Cubs. Pafko led the Cubs that season with 110 RBI and would only compile more than 100 one other time in his career. Pafko played 16 seasons, but 1945 made up over 12% of his career RBI total.

The team leader in homers was Bill "Swish" Nicholson. He hit 13 that year. Yes, that's right. 13. The Cubs hit only 57 homers all year and Pafko and Nicholson combined to hit 24 of the 57. The funny thing here is that Nicholson had hit 62 homers combined the previous two seasons (1943 and 1944). The wind must have been blowing in at Wrigley all season. Nicholson's best years were 1943 and 1944. He played 16 seasons but was never as good as those two seasons. He was one of the few batters that didn't have career seasons in 1945.

The weakest link in the Cubs offense that season was shortstop, Lenny Merullo of Boston, Massachusetts. Merullo finished the season with an OPS of .597. He was another war time player as his career spanned 1942 - 1947. He finished with a career OPS+ of 69. To prove that apples don't fall far from the tree, Merullo was the grandfather of Matt Merullo, who finished his big league career with a lifetime OPS+ of 67! Merullo also made 172 errors at short in only 601 career games.

That was the offense. The 1945 Cubs finished first in the league in batting average and first in On Base Percentage. Their pitching also had a charmed season and it finished first in ERA, complete games, homers allowed, and threw the least amount of walks that season. Let's take a quick look at the pitching staff.

The Cubs' best pitcher in 1945 was Hank "Hooks" Wyse. His best years in the majors were 1944, 1945 and 1946 (naturally). But 1945 was by far his best year. He finished the season at 22-10. After that season he would go 14-12, 6-9 and 9-14.

Another Cubs' starter that had a great year was Claude Passeau who went 17-9 with a 2.46 ERA. It was his lowest ERA in his thirteen year career. Passeau was 36 years old in 1945. Between 1942 and 1945, when most pitchers his age should have been declining, he went 66-44. His record in 1944 and 1945 was 32-18. He would be out of baseball two years later.

Another stud in the rotation that year was Paul "Duke" Derringer. Derringer and a fascinating career. He had a year (1933) where he went 7-27 despite a 3.30 ERA. That .206 winning percentage was one of the lowest in the modern era. Derringer also had a year when he went 25-7 (1939). As you can tell from this paragraph, Derringer was an old 38 in 1945. The season before he went 7-13 for the Cubs with 4.15 ERA. In 1945, he went 16-11 in 30 starts and pitched five times in relief besides. If Save rules were in effect at that time, he would have been credited with four that season. 1945 was his last season. He was out of baseball the following season.

Passeau and Derringer weren't the only two old guys. Ray "Pops" Prim came out of the woodwork to give the Cubs a 13-8 record at the age of 38. He finished the season with a 2.40 ERA in 19 starts and 15 relief appearances. Prim pitched in the majors from 1933 to 1935 with little success. He sunk from the majors and pitched in the PCL on the West Coast from 1935 to 1944. He surfaced with the Cubs in 1943 and got into 29 games that season and then pitched in the PCL in 1944. In 1945, the Cubs called on him again and he turned out to be a major force for them that season. He pitched 14 times for the Cubs in 1946 and was terrible. He went back out to the West Coast and pitched another couple of seasons out there.

The last cog in the Cubs' pitching wheel that season was Hank Borowy. Borowy was another war time pick up, this time for the Yankees. He was a 26 year old rookie in 1942 and between that season and half of 1945, he went 56-30 for the New York club during that time. In July of 1945, the Cubs purchased him from the Yankees for $97,000. That was a lot of money in those days! But he was worth every penny as he made fourteen starts for the Cubs down the stretch and went 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA. He even had a save in one relief appearance. Borowy would go on to pitch until 1951, but the years following 1945 saw his record go from 12-10 to 8-12 and finally to 5-10 before they shipped him to the Phillies.

As the Fan has hoped to show you, 1945 was a magical and mystical season for the Cubs. Everything seemed to fall into place. Between the war and players having career years, the Cubs simply rolled.  They went on to face the Tigers in one of the most memorable World Series ever. It was a seesaw affair that went the full seven games. Here are a few of the highlights.

The Tigers had Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks and others and were a very good team. But the Cubs took the first game 9-0. Calvarretta--who had a fantastic World Series--hit a homer and Borowy pitched a complete-game, six-hitter.

The Tigers took the second game. Hank Greenberg was the difference and he homered. Virgil Trucks gave up one run and went the distance. Wyse pitched the whole game too, but those four runs were too many.

The third game was won by the Cubs with Claude Passeau throwing a one-hit shutout. The Cubs led the series 2-1 but lost Games 4 and 5. In Game 4, Prim put up zeroes in the first three innings, but the Tigers got to him in the fourth for four runs. That was all Trout needed and he won in a complete game. In Game 5, Borowy was great until the sixth inning when the Tigers scored four and went on to win 8-4.

The Cubs were down 3-2 and one more loss would send them home for the season. But in Game 6, the Cubs jumped out to a five run lead and led 5-1 going into the seventh. Passeau ran out of gas and between him and Wyse, the Tigers scored two runs. The Tigers scored four more off of Prim in the eighth. Greenberg hit another homer that game. But the Cubs had scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and the game went into the ninth inning tied 7-7. Borowy came in to pitch in the ninth and the Tigers never scored another run. Borowy pitched four scoreless innings and the Cubs scored a run in the bottom of the 12th to tie the series.

That left a game seven and the Cubs had home field advantage for the game. In one of the true mysteries of World Series history, the Cubs decided to start Borowy. He had just pitched two days earlier for four innings. But Borowy started and didn't make it out of the first inning. The Cubs got into a 5-0 hole after the first and could never climb out. They lost the series and would never get back.

The Cubs were a team of destiny in 1945. They came within a game of winning the World Series. Here it is 65 years later and they haven't been back to the Fall Classic since. And 65 years after that series, Phil Cavarretta passed away and we have come full circle.

Cheer Up Texas Rangers Fans - Ten Reasons Why

So the news hasn't been fun so far for the Texas Rangers this off season. They lost out on the Cliff Lee bidding. They didn't sign Crawford. They didn't get the trade for Zack Greinke (who was traded to the Brewers). It looks like they are going to stick some more duct tape around Vlad for another year. There is all this gloom and doom going on about the Rangers. Cheer up. It's not as bad as it seems.

1. First, remember how pleasant it is to be worrying about holding onto the status of division champs. Before 2010, all you were holding onto was, "Wait Until Next Year."  Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the feeling of everyone trying to dethrone YOU. Nice, eh?

2. Your Rangers won the division by nine games. Let's repeat that. Your Rangers won the division by NINE games. In losing Lee, you may lose three games. You're still up six, right? You could have whatever pitcher replaces Cliff Lee end up with zero WAR and still be three games up on the rest of the division.

3. Your Rangers had a Run Differential last year of +100. Your nearest rivals, the Athletics, were +34. Lee wasn't ALL that great down the stretch, so his impact on the run differential was negligible. So you're still up 66 runs on the A's. For what that means, see #4.

4. The only significant upgrade to the A's has been Hideki Matsui. He finished 2010 at 20 runs above replacement. Since the A's were basically at zero last year at DH, they've added 20 runs. Even if their pitching stays phenomenal in 2011 (no easy feat), your Rangers are still ahead by 46 runs.

5. The Angels, your arch rivals and the hated spectre of years past, have not improved at all. Last year they were -24 in Run Differential. That's 124 runs worse than your Rangers. Even if they sign Beltre (no guarantee the way their off season has gone), considering their third basemen offered them little in 2010, Beltre, IF he repeats his fantastic 2010 provides 63 runs above replacement. That's still 61 runs behind your Rangers.

6. You still have the best player on the planet. There is no reason to believe that Josh Hamilton cannot repeat his 2010 season. He is that good.

7. Even without Lee you have a solid core of starting pitchers in Hunter, Wilson and Lewis. Feliz may become a superstar as a starter still and there is plenty of young talent your team can look at in the spring to fill out the rotation. The farm system is chock full of young arms that can provide excellence in the coming years. Gaining Greinke would have compromised that depth of talent.

8. If Cruz and Kinsler can stay healthy all year, your Texas Rangers should score even more runs adding to what was already a good offense.

9. If Elvis Andrus can raise his line drive percentage above 17.8% and if Moreland and other can improve, your team should score more runs.

10. Now with stable ownership and a strong and competent leadership team in place, any needs that arise during the season can be leveraged in trade deadline deals.

It would have been nice to keep Lee, but his signing would have hamstrung the team for six years when there is no guarantee that Lee would have been worth that kind of money that long. It would have been nice to get Greinke, but not at the expense of your best young talent. The Rangers are already strong enough to defend their title and once you get in the post season (as proved in 2010), anything can happen. Cheer up, Rangers' fans. You are the reigning American League champs and until somebody knocks you off, with or without Cliff Lee, that's a pretty cool thing, no?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tigers Have Potent Potential in Line Up

The Detroit Tigers are making a run at the division title in 2011. They added a big bat in Victor Martinez, re-signed Magglio Ordonez and have quite a collection of Venezuelan players. Here is a look at a possible line up for the upcoming season:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF) - Jackson had a good rookie season though many experts doubt he can sustain his success due to a high average of his batted ball finding a spot where nobody could catch them. Part of his success is due to an excellent 24%+ line drive percentage. When he makes contact, he makes good contact. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and his minor league totals suggest he will. He also needs to walk more as his .345 On Base Percentage is a too low for a lead off guy. Stole 24 bases with a very high percentage. Had a terrific season in the field. (3.8 WAR in 2010). Bill James sees him progressing. Fans (102) sees him regressing.
  2. Ryan Raburn (LF) - Raburn gained more playing time last year and responded with a good season. He looks to get even more playing time this year and Bill James projects him to get even better. He has a rather low line drive percentage (17.5%) but his fly balls carry and he should improve upon his 15 homers of last year. Like Jackson, he needs better plate discipline with fewer strikeouts and more walks. (2.1 WAR in 2010).
  3. Miguel Cabrera (1B) - What can you say that hasn't been said about Cabrera? According to most, he changed his life in 2010 and had a monster year. No reason that shouldn't continue the next two or three years. (6.2 WAR in 2010).
  4. Victor Martinez (DH) - Martinez can flat out hit. He should catch his fair share of games, but his value is as a designated hitter. This Fan is somewhat concerned that his Line Drive Percentage was the lowest of his career last year despite continuing to hit .300. He should be good for 20 homers, 80 RBI, .300 batting average, .360 OBP. The usual for him with perhaps a cut in home run rate due to his new home field. But Martinez will hit. (4.0 WAR in 2010).
  5. Magglio Ordonez (RF) - The two questions with Ordonez are his health and how well he can still play the field. If he is healthy, he'll hit. If the Tigers want him to hit every day, he may have to take his share of games at DH pushing Martinez to catching. Few people realize how good a hitter Ordonez has been over his career. He'll hit .300 with 15 to 20 homers and have an OBP of .370. His presence in the line up protects Cabrera from getting pitched around every at bat. Ordonez has seen his ground ball rate rise as he gets older, but his line drive percentage has remained steady and very good. (2.5 WAR in 2010 in only 84 games).
  6. Carlos Guillen (2B) - It sure is hard to know what Guillen will do from year to year. His last three years have been abbreviated though he often shows flashes of good offense. Playing him at second has always sounded iffy, but that's where he is. Bill James thinks he will  get 470 at bats, bat in the .270s with a .350+ OBP. That sounds terribly optimistic. Guillen is 35 now. But this line up spot is fraught with doubt.
  7. Jhonny Peralta (SS) - What sours the Fan on the Tigers is their infield. Guillen, Peralta and Inge? At least Guillen can hit a little bit if he is healthy and Inge can field. But Peralta offers little on offense and less on defense. Yeah, he can hit in the .260s with an OBP in the .330s and that would be pretty good for shortstops in the majors these days, but his defense at short is just not where it needs to be. But the Tigers like him just like they like Inge. So go figure. (1.4 WAR in 2010).
  8. Brandon Inge (3B) - Inge rhymes with fringe. The Tigers like him and re-signed him, but he offers nothing on offense though he is still a very capable third baseman. Adrian Beltre really would have made this team, but Beltre wouldn't like hitting in the Tigers' home park. And so the Tigers are stuck with Inge. At least he will help on defense. Bill James offers no hope for improvement by Inge and predicts he will regress even further. (2.2 2010 WAR).
  9. Catcher or DH? - This depends on if Martinez is mostly a DH. If the Tigers need to rely on another catcher, this is likely where he will bat. The choices aren't inspiring. Alex Avila can improve into a serviceable big league hitter. His BABIP was only .278 showing room for better luck to raise his low batting average. His line drive percentage is healthy and over 20%, so that is promising at least.
One through six in the Tigers' pending line up is as potent as anyone in the division. After that, there is a problem. If Avila comes on (of the bottom three, he's the only unknown quantity and can improve), that will help, but Inge and Peralta are what they are. If the Tigers are going to do some damage, they better do it from the top six in the batting order.

This conclusion leads this Fan to think that the Tigers are just short of consideration for being the favorites for the division. The off season isn't over though and the Tigers are said to still be in the game. Perhaps they can address these weaknesses in time for the season.