Saturday, January 08, 2011

Evan Longoria Versus Ryan Zimmerman

There have always been great debates in baseball. There was actually a pop song a decade or so ago that featured Willie, Mick and the Duke. Then it was Jeter against Nomar. We love these kinds of comparisons. A new one hasn't really gotten rolling yet because in many ways, the two participants are overlooked. Well, they win awards and finish high up on MVP votes, but you don't see much about them in the mainstream press. They are Ryan Zimmerman versus Evan Longoria. The questions are: 1. Which is better? and 2. Which would you rather have?

Let's look at the comparisons:

Age: Zimmerman - 26 (until September), Longoria: 25 (until October).
Both bat and throw right-handed. Longoria is 6'2" and 210 pounds. Zimmerman is 6'3" and 228 pounds.

WAR the last three years (according to Fangraphs): Longoria: 5.4, 7.3, 6.9 (total 19.6). Zimmerman: 2.6, 6.7, 7.2 (total 16.5). The last two years: Longoria (14.2) versus Zimmerman (13.9). You can't get much closer than that.

Zimmerman (2010) Range Runs Above Average = 15.0, UZR = 13.9, Fielding Percentage = .961, Hands = 89, Arm Strength/Accuracy = 78/61. Fangraphs final score = 13.9.
Longoria (2010) Range Runs Above Average = 8.7, UZR = 11.1, Fielding Percentage = .967, Hands = 90, Arm Strength/Accuracy = 84/91. Fangraphs final score = 11.1

Really too close to call, right?

Walk Percentage: Zimmerman - 11.4%, Longoria - 10.9%
Strikeout Percentage: Zimmerman - 18.6%, Longoria - 21.6%
wOBA: Zimmerman - .389, Longoria - .376
OPS (2010): Zimmernan - .898, Longoria - .879
ISO (2010): Zimmerman - .204, Longoria - .213
Total Bases (2010) Zimmerman - 268, Longoria - 291
Line Drive Perc (2010): Zimmerman - 17.6, Longoria - 19.7
Infield Fly Ball Out (2010): Zimmernan - 7.3%, Longoria - 6.3%
Clutch Rating (2010): Zimmerman - 0.49, Longoria - 0.19

From everything the Fan sees here, these guys could be identitcal twins. And it seems way too close to call. Longoria has had the benefit of being on two post season teams versus Zimmerman with none. Longoria has had little value batting behind him to protect him. Zimmerman had Dunn behind him. Longoria steals more bases and has a home advantage on ground balls with the turf. Even so, the Fan would be hard pressed to pick one over the other. Who would you pick?

Tell the Fan your own scorecard and how you would rate the two. It would be fascinating.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Negotiating the Garza Strip

The Chicago Cubs have watched the Milwaukee Brewers jump into the limelight when they landed Greinke from the Royals and Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. They also watched the Cardinals improve their offense (if not their defense) with the addition of Lance Berkman. Now the Cubs have made (apparently) a strike of their own and have unloaded a pile of prospects to land Matt Garza from the Bay Rays. The move makes the NL West look like a real scrum with an improved Brewers and Cubs battling last year's winning Reds and the perennial favorite Cardinals.

The best way to look at trades like this is to look at what each team gets. And we'll start with the Cubs. They get an at times dominating starting pitcher who is only 27 years old who has made consistent progress over three solid, dependable and worry free years for the Bay Rays. He hasn't missed any starts in those three years and you have always gotten the feeling that if he ever put it together, he could have front of the rotation stuff. He has no split difficulties with right-handed or left-handed batters, he consistently gets batters to make more outs than hits (.278 BABIP in 2010) and has nothing in his home/road splits to worry anybody.

The two things about Garza are that he is homer prone (not good if the wind is blowing out at Wrigley) and when things aren't going well, he gets rattled and the game can get out of hand quickly. He has some A. J. Burnett in him at times, though he should over the life of his career be better than Burnett. His homer rate has been consistently in the 1.1 to 1.2 range and you would like to see that at 1.0 or lower. But overall, Garza is a great land for the Cubs and instantly makes their rotation that much better.

The Cubs also got a marginal prospect in Fernando Perez, an outfielder with some major league experience. The Cubs were also said to get a minor league pitcher, but he wasn't named.

The Bay Rays are trying to divest some payroll and this move fits right into that interest. They are stacked with pitching prospects and from the Cubs, they get a bunch more. Included with the deal were two former Cubs Minor League Players of the Year. One is a prospect rated sixth in the Cubs' system by Baseball Propectus, Chris Archer. Archer was 15-3 in Single A ball in 2010. He projects as a third or fourth starter but could go higher. The only knock on him is that his control needs to be better and he needs a third pitch.

The other Cubs Minor League Player of the Year in the deal is outfielder, Brandon Guyer. Guyer wasn't even in the BP rankings going into 2010, but he exploded this season. Guyer was drafted way back in 2007 but as mentioned, he had a terrific season in Double A and finished 2010 with a .986 OPS that included 39 doubles, 6 triples and 13 homers. He also stole 30 bases while only getting thrown out three times. He is 24 years old, which is getting a bit old for a prospect, but perhaps he is one of those guys where the light bulb went off. It's hard to argue with the results. In another year or two, Guyer might allow the Bay Rays to think about using him as their next center fielder.

Another prospect in the deal is the shortstop that the Bay Rays wanted in Korean, Hak-Ju Lee. Lee was the third rated prospect in the Cubs organization just after Castro and another player (this Fan is getting senile). Lee can be spectacular in the field but can just as easily boot an easy grounder. Lee steals a lot of bases, gets on base well but has little or no power. With Castro making a splash with the Cubs, Lee would have been blocked at the major league level anyway.

The Bay Rays also got one of this Fan's favorite players (thanks to Josh Borenstein), Sam Fuld. Fuld has done nothing but produce for the Cubs in the limited time they ever played him. Fuld was born and grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, near where this Fan lived for many years. He's 29 years old and never really got a chance with the Cubs. He's been a sold on-base guy in the Cubs system and when he got some playing time in 2009 with the Cubs. He has no power to speak of, but is an excellent center fielder. Unfortunately for Fuld, his way will again be blocked with the Bay Rays and they will not likely give him a chance either.

It seems that the Cubs lost some strength in their farm system, but one (Lee) was redundant. They pick up a workhorse pitcher who could anchor their rotation for quite a while. The Bay Rays get a nice haul of prospects, especially in Lee, Archer and Guyer. They also get outfield insurance from Fuld in case they decide to trade Upton. The Cubs get ammunition in an increasingly competitive division and the Bay Rays retool with more of what they do best--pile up prospects.

The "D" in DH stands for Dinosaur

Vladamir Guerrero had to take a hit to the midsection when the Rangers told him they were going with Beltre and would no longer need Vlad's services. The Rangers, like a growing number of teams are moving away from the DH as a one-guy-with-bad-wheels-swinging-the-bat kind of thing. The Yankees haven't had a prototypical DH since Giambi left. Last year, the Yankees used the DH position as a way to rest starting fielders on a rotation basis. This year, the Yankees seem committed to using Posada as their DH, but don't be fooled by that. Posada might see action in about 110 to 120 games while they continue to use the DH as a rest stop.

The Bay Rays of Tampa didn't get anything from the DH last year and still won the American League East. The Twins rotated the postion based on need. The most telling signal of the times is that Vlad, Giambi, Thome, Branyon, Manny and others are still unemployed. Teams are not overly excited about clogging up the position with guys who can't do anything else. Branyon might be the exception because he can still play first. But how many teams need a first baseman? Not many. Johnny Damon is another exception because he can also play left and first base. But Damon isn't your typical DH nor is he much willing to take a big pay cut and partial playing time.

The only DH types signed so far this winter have been David Ortiz and Hideki Matsui. Matsui can play an occasional game in left, but he is a pretty true DH. There isn't a much truer DH than Ortiz. But the Fan fully expects 2011 to be Ortiz's last hurrah with the Red Sox. The Red Sox, like other teams, would prefer the position become a flexible one giving the team line up options depending on the opposition and the pitcher.

The DH is dying and the "D" probably stands for "Dinosaur" when it comes to that position being held down by an aging, no-field veteran.

Easy to Overlook David Murphy

When casually thinking about David Murphy it seems easy to lump him in with the Justin Smoaks and Chris Davises of the world. He's just another young guy that hasn't lived up to his potential right? After all, he was a first round draft pick for the Red Sox way back in 2003. He failed to flourish in the Red Sox system so the Red Sox traded him away along with two other prospects for the erstwhile Eric Gagne. But Murphy isn't like Smoak and Davis and Gabbard and Saltalamacchia and a half dozen other young players that didn't pan out for the Rangers. Murphy has produced for the Rangers and was rewarded with his first decent contract at the age of 29.

Murphy is no longer a youngster or a prospect. He's become a grinder and that is a telling thing about a guy that was once so highly prized coming out of Baylor University that the Red Sox drafted him in the first round. Murphy has hung in there and after 1552 plate appearances in parts of five big league seasons, Murphy has an .803 career OPS and a 109 OPS+. Last year showed his most prolonged playing time and he responded with a slash line of: .291/.358/.449 in 467 plate appearances over 138 games.

Murphy was a life saver for the Rangers in their 2010 pennant run in a year when both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz missed significant playing time due to injuries. Murphy doesn't have those two player's pop and therein lies some of his problem. He doesn't ever have a true place to play. Hamilton is slated for left and Cruz for right and that leaves only center field open. And center field is Murphy's worst position. Murphy is best in right, but Cruz can't play center, not with his fragile wheels anyway. The Rangers want to avoid putting Hamilton back there because of his injury risk.

And because center isn't Murphy's best position, the Rangers would prefer that Julio Borbon grow into the every day center fielder because of his superior defensive skills there. The problem for the Rangers is that Borbon shows absolutely no patience at the plate (19 walks in over 400 plate appearances) and the rest of Borbon's offense doesn't make up for his lack of ability to get on base.

Moreland has first base sown up, so that leaves Murphy without a position except as the fourth outfielder unless the Rangers decide to weaken their defense for the sake of the offense. It's possible that with a lot of work, Murphy could be a better center fielder. He's not slow. He stole 14 bases in 16 attempts last year. This Fan simply doesn't believe Borbon will develop into anything resembling an offensive player, so the Rangers should work hard with Murphy on his defense and for the sake of the offense, try to make him a better center fielder so he can play there every day. But as of now, the fans scouting report shows that he only has average instincts in the outfield and an average first step. Can you teach those sort of things?

Murphy is a nice player for the Rangers. He provides insurance in the outfield in case of injury. He adds to the Rangers' offense with average pop and good gap power. He runs the bases well and if his career shows anything, he is a grinder. He's a productive player and let's hope he continues to contribute on a regular basis.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

One Last Hall of Fame Rant

A long time wrong was finally righted when Bert Blyleven was voted into the Hall of Fame. A short term wrong was righted when Robby Alomar entered his rightful place in the Hall. The rest of it is just messed up. The whole thing is simply bogus. It became clear yesterday that not one single player who was ever suspected of or confirmed as using PEDs will ever be elected. Even Joe Posnanski, the forever optimist who had believed that the steroid stance would soften now says that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will never be elected. If that's so, then A-Rod will never be elected either. What a crock.

As far as the Fan can tell, this is the ONLY moral issue that's ever prevented players from entering the Hall (besides the betting of Rose and the Black Sox thing). Guys can have used cocaine (they are in the Hall). Guys can have used greenies (they are in the Hall). Guys can have abused alcohol and run around on their wives (they are in the Hall), but you are forever damned if you even look like you used PEDs. The entire clause that these writers stand on is a bogus premise to begin with. Tyrants, jerks, alcoholics, cheaters, womanizers and worse populate the Hall in great numbers. And yet, this character clause can be used like a cloak for these writers who are the judges and jury on the best players of the 80s and 90s (and after). It's all bogus. Can the Fan repeat that? It's ALL bogus.

The Fan will grant you that PEDs were against the rules and against the law. But there was no enforcement and no testing until 2003. The commissioner, team owners, managers and team trainers looked the other way if it meant an increase in popularity for the game after several devastating strikes. Those officials are just as responsible for the things that happened as were those who used. Add in the complicity of the writers who did not dig into this topic despite rumors and innuendos. The writers looked the other way and now those same writers are judge and jury over who gets in the Hall of Fame. It's all bogus.

Since Rose is forever banned (and that's another story that's bogus), this means that the guy with the most hits ever, the guy with the most homers ever and one of the best pitchers of our generation will not be in the Hall of Fame. Well, let the Fan tell you then that the Hall of Fame is then bogus. If the best of the best are not in there, then it is no longer a viable entity. You might as well put the whole thing in the Mormon Tabernacle and put Donny Osmond in charge.

This would be akin to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame banning the Beatles because they were busted for drugs. In place of Heyman, some writer would be saying that the Beatles never would have written Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band if they weren't tripping. Therefore, since the tripping aided their music, it doesn't count. What poppycock.

The Hall of Fame is for the best players. Period. End of story. Bottom line. Get over your moralistic crap and look at your own tax returns and your own speedometer when you're driving on the highway. Yeah, you are all so perfect, each and every darn one of you. What crap. The Hall of Fame should only be for pure players? Oh Geez, then you better get Molitor out of there and old Gaylord. Better kick the Mick out and Hank because he said he once tried greenies. Give it a rest.

And let's take a step back and look at what steroids do. They allow you to build bigger muscles while you work out. Did you get the last part...WORK OUT. In other words,  you couldn't just take a pill or get a shot and lie on your couch and get muscles. You had to work. And these guys worked their butts off to be the best players they could be. History is littered with those who have gotten ahead because they have worked harder than anybody else. Did everyone in that history lead a perfect life? That's not the point. We aren't talking about who is going to heaven or hell. We are talking about who is going to the Hall of Fame because they are the BEST PLAYERS.

Rafael Palmiero did things that only four other players in history have done. A product of his time? Well, yeah. But not everyone of his time put up those numbers, did they? Where is Ozzie Canseco in the pantheon of performance? Nowhere. Where is Jeremy Giambi? Nowhere. Steroids couldn't make them great players because they never were. So yeah, the Fan will be with you if you discount Bonds homer total and concede that it was inflated. But the guy still had to hit them. None of the other steroid guys hit that many.

Oh, what's the use. The Fan knows he is spitting into the wind. The writers have all the power and they have decided they are the arbiters of history. They don't care that an entire generation of fans will never get to go to Cooperstown and see their favorite players. Nobody in the world likes Barry Bonds, but people in San Francisco loved him. But now they have to feel bad about that joy they had watching him play. This Fan will NEVER forget watching the game where Roger Clemens struck out twenty batters. But all that is moot because Roger is a pariah.

This Fan would support anyone who rises up and leads a revolt of the current Hall of Fame. It's time to overthrow the whole thing and build a new one. We'll build a better one where WAR is king and the best players at their positions and of their eras will be celebrated and featured. We won't have the artifacts. They can keep those dusty old things up in upper New York. That place has become null and void and is no longer meaningful. It's pathetic and we all can thank those glorified Puritan judges that fill the rank and file of the writers organization that has botched the hell out of this whole mess.

Cooperstown was once on this writer's list of places that had to be seen before life is over. It was right up there with Tahiti, England and the Grand Canyon. It's off the list now. The Fan doesn't care if he ever sees it now. This will be the last rant on this subject. The Fan has wasted enough energy on those pathetic Hall of Fame voters. Screw 'em.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

96 Million Clams is a LOT of Clams

Once again Scott Boras worked his magic and got his player a sum nobody thought possible. The Athletics offered $65 million to free agent, Adrian Beltre. He turned it down. The Angels offered $70 million. Beltre turned it down. "He's over played his market," said this great northern Maine sage. Ehhhhhnnnnttttt. Wrong again moron. The Rangers, who were broke a year ago have signed Beltre to a six year deal worth $96 million. That's a lot of money and that's a long time. Granted, it's not as much money as Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. But it's a lot.

In 2010, Adrian Beltre had a $28 million season. In 2004 he had a $31 million season for the Dodgers. In between, his seasons have come in at: $8.4, $18.1, $12.4, $17.9 and $11.2. Those are hard numbers to get a fix on, no? So yeah, one early projection says he'll be worth $23 million this season. If he is, then the Rangers are good as gold. But what if he comes in at $12.4 again? What is he going to look like in three years?

And one thing the Fan doesn't understand at all is how contracts are constructed for these 30-something players. For example, Beltre starts this year at $14 million and increases about $2 million a year. All the experts agree that ball players are worth less every year as they get into their thirties. Why aren't these contracts front loaded? For example, it's a reasonable risk for Beltre to be worth $20 million this year. So why not start him out at that and then gradually decrease it so that when he is worth less, he'll be getting paid less? Is it some kind of psychological thing where a person feels less appreciated if he makes less money?

If that's the case, shouldn't millions of dollars make those silly feelings go away? The only important figure for the player is the total value of the deal over six years. Who cares how the money is split up as long as it all adds up to $96 million.

But that's the way these things go and that's why these long term deals become albatrosses at the end. And as Derek Jeter's situation proved, once those long term deals are done, a player has a big problem taking a big pay cut that's really cosmetic because the money Jeter made last year was based on his play in 2003. Again, it doesn't matter how the years are structured as long as the bottom (and total) line are the same.

But in any case, the Beltre signing should make the Rangers prohibitive favorites in the AL West (which they were already). The Rangers were all about preventing runs this off season. Keeping Cliff Lee was their number one goal to achieve that goal. But since they lost out on Lee, they will prevent runs a different way by putting together a dream team of a left side of the infield. Beltre and Andrus will be awesome to watch together.

But again, long term? This deal looks scary. The short term gains will make the Rangers' fans pretty darn happy.

Uggla Was the Smart One

It's time to eat a little crow. A while back, this writer observed that Uggla was an idiot for turning the Marlins down for a guaranteed four year deal worth $48 million. With Uggla turning 31 in March, the Marlins offer seemed more than fair and was above dollar projections for Uggla over the next four years. This writer ridiculed Uggla for turning that down. The Fan assumed nobody else would go that high. Well, Uggla was right and this Fan is an idiot as the Braves have given Uggla $62 million over five years. So not only did Uggla get the extra year he wanted, he also got $400,000 more a year than the Marlins' deal would have paid him.

While the Fan is enjoying his roasted crow, let this writer at least say that the Braves are out of their freakin' minds. Again, Uggla will be 31 in 2010. He has no glove and all of his value has to come on offense. Baseball Prospectus doesn't believe he will be with 75% of that over the life of the contract. The Fan agrees.

Look, the Fan isn't ragging on Uggla as a player. Right now, he is worth the $12 to $15 million he will make a year. He's been a constant power source for five years now. That should continue another couple of years. But when he's 34? 35? No, he won't be anything near the type of player he is now.

But you have to hand it to Dan Uggla. He held out for what he wanted. He played the market just right and got the figures and time he was looking for. Good on him. Dan Uggla was right. This writers was way wrong.

And now the Fan is getting ready for his second crow dinner as soon as Beltre's deal is announced...

The Ten Best Years A Pitcher Had When Batting

This Fan has always been fascinated by pitchers that could hit. It always seemed that a good hitting pitcher at the bottom of a batting order was a tremendous advantage for a team against its opponent. But it isn't just that. Good hitting pitchers are just fun because they aren't supposed to hit. So when they do, it's exciting. Carlos Zambrano is known for his pitching. But you don't necessarily want to go to the concession stand when he is due at the plate. Of course the National League is the only league now where the pitchers hit. And there are a few good hitters out there. Narveson, Zambrano and Gallardo come to mind. But there are others.

For some kind of context and for the fun of it, let's list the top ten seasons all time for pitchers at the plate. The criteria is at least 50 plate appearances in a season. The list goes mostly by OPS, but you could probably refine it by using OPS+. The list covers 1901 to the present. Without further ado, here is the Fan's list:

  1. Carl Scheb - Philadelphia Athletics (1951). Who? Never heard of the guy. But he had the best offensive season for a pitcher with an OPS 1.041. His season slash line was .396/.419/.623. That really was Scheb's only big year at the plate. He finished with a .264 average and a 66 OPS+. But the funny thing about him is that he had a higher accumulated WAR as a batter than he did as a pitcher. Which only goes to show you that he wasn't much of a pitcher. His record as a pitcher in 1951?  1-12
  2. Walter Johnson - Washington Senators (1925). Johnson, of course, is in the Hall of Fame with over 400 wins as a pitcher. The Big Train might have been the best of all time. But he could hit too. His 1925 season at the plate might be the best ever for a pitcher because of the volume of at bats. Johnson went to the plate 107 times that season and had 42 hits including 9 extra base hits. His slash line was: .433/.455/.577 making his OPS 1.033 (rounded up from decimals). That's quite a season. The thing about it was that Johnson was 37 years old at the time. It was his last 20-win season (20-7) and he would retire after two more seasons. Johnson had 547 hits in his career and accumulated 12.5 Wins Above Replacement with his bat for his career. Johnson's batting average in 1925 was the highest ever recorded by a pitcher with more than 50 at bats.
  3. Micah Owings - Arizona Diamondbacks (2007). Owings who is known more as a good hitting pitcher than a good pitching pitcher, had a great season at the plate in 2007. His 1.033 in OPS ties Johnson but he had about half the at bats. Owings finished with 20 hits in only 64 plate appearances and 12 of those 20 hits were for extra bases including four homers. Owings .683 slugging percentage that season is the highest ever recorded by a pitcher since 1901. Owings is a .293 career hitter with 2.9 accumulated WAR at the plate. His pitching WAR is in the negative numbers.
  4. Don Newcombe - Brooklyn Dodgers (1955). Newcombe would go on to accumulate 9.0 of WAR as a career batter. 1955 was his best year at the plate (even though he did hit .361 in 1958). In 1955, Newcombe slugged 7 homers, had nine doubles and a triple in 125 plate appearances. His slash line that year: .359/.395/.632.  Newcombe was very patient at the plate and four times had an OBP over .400. Oh! By the way, he also went 20-5 as a pitcher that season. Now THAT is a good year.
  5. Jack Bentley - New York Giants (1923). Bentley had 89 at bats in 1923 and finished with 38 hits. His OPS of 1.019 featured a slash line of .427/.446/.573. Bentley went 13-8 as a pitcher that season with a rather high ERA. He would later go play 59 games for the Phillies in 1926. But in 1923, he was strictly a pitcher. He had a .293 career batting average.
  6. Wes Farrell - Cleveland Indians (1931). Farrell hit 9 homers in 1931 and had a slash line of: .319/.373/.621. His 30 runs driven in that season is the third highest total for a pitcher since 1901. He also holds the #2 spot. Farrell added 10 walks that season. Add in his 22-12 record as a pitcher that season and that's some kind of year.
  7. Bob Lemon - Cleveland Indians (1947). Lemon only got 56 at bats that season coming close to our cut off point, but he did bat .321 with a .387 OBP and he slugged .607. Lemon was just in his second year back from WWII which had delayed his career. He went 11-5 that season as a pitcher on his way to his Hall of Fame career. Lemon finished with a .288 career batting average and a respectable 88 OPS+. Too bad he couldn't hit in the World Series. He went 0-14 in his World Series at bats.
  8. Red Ruffing - Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees (1930). The three worst trades the Red Sox ever made to the Yankees were Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing and Sparky Lyle. Ruffing was 0-3 for the Red Sox in 1930 with an ERA over six when they traded him to the Yankees. He went 15-5 the rest of the season and won 234 games with the Yankees. On top of that, he batted .364/.402/582 in 110 at bats. He was a spotty hitter. Some years he was fantastic, others not so much. Ruffing finished his career with a batting average in the .260s.
  9. Wes Farrell - Cleveland Indians (1935). Farrell's batting season might have been more impressive than his 1931 season. He batted .347 in 1935 in 150 at bats. Plus, he walked 21 times, had 7 homers and drove in 32 runs! Farrell ended his career with a 12.0 career WAR at the plate with a career OPS+ of 100. Farrell won 25 games in 1935 and 193 for his career. His pitching WAR came in at 47.5 which is just under the Hall of Fame threshold of 50. But if you add in his batting exploits, Farrell should be in the Hall of Fame. Farrell played in the outfield for 13 games in 1933 and didn't make an error in 32 chances. It was the only season he played any in the field.
  10. Elam Vangilder - St. Louis Browns (1922). This obscure pitcher batted .344 in 93 at bats in 1922. He had 32 hits including 10 doubles, 2 triples and 2 homers. He won 19 games as a pitcher that year which was his best year. His year at the plate was also his only great year there.
The Fan should have gone eleven spots because Babe Ruth would have occupied the 11th spot for his 1915 season when he was still only a pitcher. He batted .315 that season with a .376 OBP and .576 slugging percentage.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Winds of Change in Washington

Many of us thought the presidential election would blow in sweeping change in Washington a couple of years ago. That isn't exactly what happened. Now, many believe the gains of the Republicans in Congress will be the breath of fresh air so badly needed. But they won't be the story that stirs the breezes over the nation's capital in 2011. The winds of change are Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche!

The pair of former Arizona Diamondbacks have descended in and around the capital city and will bring 370 whiffs of moving air to Washington and its neighbor, Baltimore. Residents of those two cities should save on air conditioning bills this coming sweltering summer. In places known for high humidity and stagnant air, the air will become turbulent and the breezes should whip all over.

Mark Reynolds will bring his 600+ strikeouts of the last three years to his new team, the Baltimore Orioles and Adam LaRoche has just signed with the Nationals and will bring his 450+ strikeouts over the last three years to that city. That's a lot of moving air. From now on, whenever residents in those two hubs hear a whoosh sound, it won't be Air Force One or the president's helicopter. It will be the mighty (and futile) swings of these two famous air swingers.

Imagine what it will be like when both teams are home! Imagine you are lying in bed in Annapolis on a steamy night in mid-summer and both windows of your bedroom are open. First, a mighty breeze will come from the west as LaRoche swings and misses at three pitches. And then through the other window a few minutes later, another large gust will pour through as Reynolds hacks in vain. Won't that feel good?

The only negative for the city's residents will be the disturbing groan that emanates from those two stadiums when another rally is snuffed out with yet another empty swing.

But things have a way of disappointing us from the nation's capital. Perhaps LaRoche will have wording in his contract that he will have to choke up on the bat with two strikes. Perhaps after a few icy stares from Buck Showalter, Mark Reynolds will just try to meet the ball and put it in play. ....Nah. Will never happen. Both teams know what they got themselves into. They will live and die by whatever these two players do whenever they do actually manage to hit the ball.

But they won't hit the ball often enough so that air traffic controllers in Reagan airport will have to take the wind currents in account while directing airport traffic around its air space. Local meteorologists will have to learn about wind advisories and shifting weather patterns.

Heck, it will be the first time in what seems like forever that the only air that blows around Washington isn't just hot air. Bring chin straps for your bonnets ladies and tighten those ball caps gents. The winds will be blowing around Washington this summer like never before.

CarGo's Contract Is a Risk

The new $80 million deal the Rockies bestowed upon Carlos Gonzalez could end up being a real steal for the Rockies if CarGo continues to put seasons together like he did in 2010. But there are strong reasons to believe that 2010 was a fluky year for the outfielder which makes this risky business for a guy who just completed his first full big league season.

Yes, Carlos Gonzalez led the National League in batting. Yes, he slugged nearly .600 with 36 homers and yes he added 26 steals with a good percentage. But call the Fan a skeptic if you will. This long term deal is based on some extenuating circumstances.

For one, CarGo's BABIP was an insane .384. In two of his last three months, his BABIP was over .400! There doesn't seem to be any reason why that can be sustained for any length of time. His line drive percentage at a little over 20% is good, but not high enough to jump on a bandwagon. Add his insane splits at Coors Field and you have to be a bit hesitant to name him the next big thing. His OPS at home was 1.161 and his OPS away was .775. That said, he's going to continue playing at Coors for the next seven years, so he can look forward to a cozy home split for a long time.

The Fan is perhaps digging a bit too deep to look for flaws. Gonzalez only had one big season in the minors and that was his last one, where he Colorado...for Colorado Springs. Otherwise, Gonzalez put up a good, but not superman OPS of .832 for his minor league career. The Fan also doesn't like the fact that he only walks 6.5% of the time and had 135 strikeouts.

In short, there just doesn't seem to be any long term indication that 2010 was more than a fluke for Gonzalez. Hopefully this writer is wrong because CarGo is a cool guy and a lot of fun to watch. If this Fan is wrong and CarGo continues to excite the home fans for years to come, this deal will look pretty sweet as it wraps up the player through all his prime years and only extends to his 32 birthday. The Fan is simply afraid that CarGo will fall back to earth.

While thinking about this, it once again brings up the point about how sad it is that Coors Field steals so much of a player's cred. Larry Walker may never get elected to the Hall of Fame because of his long tenure with the Rockies. It's probably unfair to Walker because he probably would have been a superstar anywhere. But we'll never know. The same can be said for Todd Helton. Helton has compiled over 2200 hits and has a career 137 OPS+. He has a healthy career OPS of .873 on the road. But those who look at Helton's stats closely five years after he retires will see that his OPS at home was more than 200 points higher. This post is just another in a long line of posts that tear down a Rockies player's accomplishments because his home field happens to be in Colorado.

Anyway, the Rockies think they've tied down a good young player for a long time and along with Tulo, believe they have a nice core they can build around for years to come. If they are right about both, then they are very smart and we will be singing their praises. If they aren't? Well, that's what we do best, right?

The Under-Appreciated Michael Young

Lots of sources are indicating that the Rangers are close to signing Adrian Beltre. The news must be accurate because Buster Olney wrote today in his blog about Young changing positions if Beltre signs. Who knows, the Angels or somebody might come in with a last minute offer and all of this conversation would be moot. But say Beltre does sign with the Rangers, Michael Young would again be pushed out of his position. He was the Rangers' second baseman when Alex Rodriguez played in Texas. He moved to short when A-Rod was traded to the Yankees. Then he was moved to third to make room for Elvis Andrus. Beltre will get third base if he signs. Then what for Young?

Young has stated that he will play anywhere for the Rangers, he just wants to play and he wants to remain a Ranger. But where? Moreland looks to have inherited first base. Hamilton is in left so Young can't go there. Kinsler is terrific at second, so Young can't go there. And while Andrus still hasn't proven he can be an effective offensive player, the Rangers will not give up defense for Young's offense. That leaves Young as a DH. But what about Vlad? The Rangers haven't signed him yet, but appeared close according to the reports. Is Vlad going to be allowed to walk so Young could DH? Vlad had a 122 OPS+ last year compared to Young's 105, so Vlad seems to be a better impact guy than Young. It will be interesting to see what the Rangers do here.

But while the answers to the above questions will not be answered overnight, the Fan thought this an appropriate time to appreciate Michael Young for a few paragraphs. Young has been a good player for the Rangers and a good teammate. He deserves his due. If he does end up as the Rangers' DH instead of Vlad, Young will do a good job. Young's career slash line in high leverage situations stands at: .309/.353/.455. That's pretty darn good.

Here is a list of some of Young's other accomplishments:

  • Young has compiled 200 hits or more five times in his ten years as a starter.
  • Young has led the league in batting (2005).
  • Young has hit more than 20 homers four times and has averaged 37 doubles a year for his career.
  • Young is a career .300 hitter.
  • Young has averaged 87 RBI a year and 99 runs scored.
  • Young batted .322 as recently as 2009.

There are certainly knocks on Young. He wasn't a good shortstop and he wasn't a good third baseman. He doesn't walk enough. His high batting average doesn't lead to a high OPS+ though a 105 career average is above league average. His ten year average is about 2.49 Wins Above Replacement a year. That means that according to his current salary, he is overpaid. He has abnormal splits over his career for home/away. He's about 120 points higher in OPS at home than he is away.

But there is something to be said for a guy who gets on base 250 times a year and is, based on what we hear, a good teammate who unselfishly worked with Elvis Andrus as the young shortstop transitioned to the majors. If Young has a peak season, he can be as good as an older Vlad season can be as a DH. Plus, he can play all four infield positions and is not a stranger to the outfield if needed. Young makes a lot of money to be a utility guy and probably too much to be a DH, but Michael Young has been a good player for a long time and nobody should forget his contributions to the Texas Rangers.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Alfredo Simon's Plight Should Lead to These Rules

Alfredo Simon has had a tough few days, but not nearly as tough as the family of the person who died as a result of Simon's gunshots. At first, Orioles' Dominican Republic rep, Felipe Alou, Jr., told the Orioles that he was told that Simon didn't fire the shots. Now reports are stating that Simon did fire the shots, but he shot in the air, which, it seems, happens often in the DR. The police seem to be buying that story so the charge has been changed from murder to involuntary manslaughter. In either case, Simon has bought himself some trouble and is yet one more cautionary tale for well paid athletes getting themselves into trouble.

The Fan was pondering Simon, who isn't rich by American standards, but even at the MLB minimum, he's plenty rich for the Dominican Republic. Simon follows a bunch of other athletes who have run afoul of the law for a variety of reasons over the past few years. There was that New York football player who shot himself in the leg and ended up in jail on gun charges. There was recently a college player who was arrested for having pot. There is the college baseball player who enters 2011 with a 56 game hitting streak and is now charged with raping two women. Oy.

On the eve of such events, the Fan will provide a service to all athletes who are currently in the professional ranks or in college with a high expectation of joining the professional ranks. The Fan proposes a set of rules to live by that should help the young and dumb with lots of money to consider. The big thing is that these athletes have a relatively short period of time to obtain a lifetime of earnings. Jeopardizing that income for ANY reason is just plain stupid. If you really insist on fouling your life up, at least do it like Phil Spector and wait until you are old and have enjoyed your money first.

Here are some simple rules to live by to continue earning lucrative paychecks:

1. Stay away from guns! Duh! You want to be a tough guy? Then bowl over a catcher or something. Guns get you into trouble. And if you insist on going hunting with one, make sure you have a license and don't hunt with former Vice President Cheney. Even if you have a permit for a gun, put it away. Lock it up. Put it in a safe place away from children and girlfriends, friends and wives.

2. Stay out of strip clubs. How many of these incidents seem to occur in a strip club? Geez Louise. Watch Cinemax late at night or something. Strip clubs are like speed dating. You get to heavy breathing and then get to go home by yourself in much quicker time that's all. You want to be a big man? Build kids a playground and stay out of those adult playgrounds.

3. Marijuana is still illegal. You and the Fan can argue until the cows come home on whether it should be legalized or not. But that's not the point. Right now at this moment, I-T  I-S  I-L-L-E-G-A-L! You get caught and you are going to be suspended. Is a high worth that kind of hassle? Nope.

4. Don't let any of your friends shoot anything into your butt. Yeah, that seems to be a no brain instruction. But look at what Rafael Palmeiro is saying. He is saying that he didn't know there was anything in that B-12 shot Miguel Tejada was shooting into his butt. First of all, doesn't Flinstones vitamins have B-12 in them? Why do you need to get a shot in your butt? Secondly, the Fan has had very few shots in his lifetime and none were administered by a friend. What the heck, right? The Fan's wife is a nurse, so that would be a maybe. But, hey Jim, can you come over and give me a shot in the butt?

5. Do background checks on people in your entourage. Seriously. You are going to risk your entire career because some dude in your limo is a crazy man who is going to shoot someone in an adjacent car? Put airport screeners on your limo. Anyone packing will not be able to enter the limo. Right? You hire bouncers or body guards? Then screen them for felonies for crying out loud. It only takes a few hours.

6. Break up with a girl like a man, not a monster. Things don't work out? Then you go your way and she'll go hers. Why throw a career away over someone you are not going to be with anyway? Just because you are a star doesn't mean you are every woman's dreamboat. Get over it. You've got money, buy an inflatable doll. No man should ever hit a woman and just because you are life's gift to baseball, doesn't mean you get to go Rambo on her. Again, you want to be aggressive, slide hard into second.

7. put this delicately...keep your private parts out of a camera's lens. No filming the nasty, no texting your "personal" photos. Just keep your thing to yourself and everything will be fine. Why do so many men with money take short cuts on sex? Geez, work at it already like most men have to. If she says no, then try somebody else. Better yet, find a great woman you can marry and have a great time every single day.

8. Stay out of bars. This is similar to the strip club thing but it can get you into just as much trouble. If you must drink to have a good time, then get some Corona on the way home.

9. Stay away from wild parties. Yeah, they seem fun, but then you have a few too many and act inappropriate around a woman and next thing you know, you are charged with rape. Stupid. Or, if you avoid the problem with the girl, you drive home and get stopped by the police and add an OUI on your record and get a nice form letter from the commissioner. If you want to have fun, play a video game or a game of ping pong or something.

10. If you have sex, wear a condom. For Pete sake, how much information do you need to keep yourself safe?

11. It's okay to buy a fancy car. Hey, your hard work earned it. But once you get it, drive the speed limit. Everyone likes the thrill of driving fast, but it's not worth it. It just isn't. Do the manly thing: Use cruise control.

12. If you are with a friend and that friend gets out of control and is confronted by a police officer, walk the other way. How many athletes got themselves in trouble because they get all uppity with a cop in this situation. Be smart man. You want to help that dumb guy you were with? Then use your wealth to bail his butt out of jail. Don't put yourself in there with him.

13. You spend four or five hours a day conditioning your body to make it a fine tuned machine. Why then put illegal drugs in your system? That's like taking a driving safety course and then piling your car into a light pole on purpose. Everyone knows your name, so don't think you can hide it and keep it a secret. Won't work. You will get caught.

14. Surround yourself with good people. If you had a tough life as a kid, what good is it going to do you to bring tough people with you when you fight your way out of that world? They will just bring you down and get you into trouble.

15. Pay your darn taxes. Get some money guy to check your money guy. Whatever you do, make sure your taxes get paid. The IRS doesn't care how many homers you hit last year.

16. Don't get married if you still want to play around. Or find a woman that wants to play around with you or something. Just don't make a mess.

17. Treat people with dignity and respect. Understand that you are blessed and fortunate and not god-like. You urinate like the rest of us and you will die someday just like all of us. Treat people well all the time and it's much harder to get into trouble.

18. Don't gamble. If you need more competition than your chosen sport, play Rook or Chess or something.

That's a pretty good list. And it should cover it. Perhaps the Fan forgot  two or three. But you get the idea. You have invested most of your life to get where you are. Don't throw it away now that you have reached your goal. Be smart. Have common sense. Surround yourself with solid, dependable people. Respect your body and other people. Whatever you do, don't join the long list of people who cut their careers short for a momentary high, orgasm, thrill or whatever. The craving will pass. Do like the rest of us do and pretend you don't have any money. Hard to get in trouble when you can't spend anything. Good luck!

Boston and Baseball: A New Standard in Homerism

If you like to follow Twitter, there was quite a buzz going around about this article from Eric Ortiz, the senior editor for NESN. For those of you who don't know, NESN stands for New England Sports Network and is the host of the Boston Red Sox. If you don't want to read the article linked above, the crux is that the 2011 Red Sox should win 112 games and could be a greater team than the 1927 Yankees. Yes, the article literally said that.

The flack Mr. Ortiz is experiencing is an interesting dilemma. Networks like NESN for the Red Sox, YES for the Yankees, TBS for the Braves and others represent and sell those team brands. A certain amount of "homerism" (a non-word that means rooting for the home team) is expected. Broadcasts of games root for the home team and live and die with the results on the field. That is to be expected. But you also expect a bit of reserve since these networks are, after all, news outlets as well. They all have sport shows that cover the wide range of sports alongside others that feature the home teams. So where is the line?

Most people think Eric Ortiz crossed the line. And this Fan can't argue. Any piece that optimistic written without a single game yet played in the 2011 season is a bit over the top. If Oritz was simply a staff writer for NESN and the piece was listed as an opinion piece (or propaganda if you will), then perhaps that can be acceptable. But Ortiz is the senior editor at NESN...that's what the piece tells us at the bottom. A senior editor should at least stick to some sort of editorial standards.

The comments to his post are hysterical and that's got to be an embarrassment to NESN. The fact that the post was put up on New Years Day led many to assume Ortiz was drunk when he wrote it. Ouch. Others mentioned that Ortiz gave locker room fodder for opposing teams. The Fan doesn't put much stock in that as players and managers pay attention to what other players and managers say and not so much what a writer will say.

The tone of writing seems different this off season. Most baseball fans understand that the off season is about making your home team as competitive as possible but also that the proof in the pudding will be when the games are actually played on the field. But many Yankee writers and blogs have already written off the Yankees this year while many other mainstream writers have already written the Red Sox and Phillies into the World Series. This Fan doesn't ever recall such nonsense before.

The proper take is that the Red Sox and Phillies have greatly improved their teams and their chances at competing in the coming season. The rest is up to chance and the eventual outcomes. A lot can happen between here and October. In much the same way, this Fan doesn't take much stock in projections that will begin to appear from organizations like CHONE and Baseball Prospectus. They are fun to contemplate, but again, the season is a long one and a lot can happen. Some time in March, the Fan will make his yearly predictions. Only about a third of them will come true, just like always. Derek Jeter might get to 3,000 hits by June says Buster Olney, but the truth is that Jeter could get hurt (God Forbid). One never knows.

Eric Ortiz crossed the line. If he is going to post such a "homeristic" piece, he should get his own blog and not use his lofty perch at such a large and influential media outlet to publish such...uhh...stuff. He made NESN a laughingstock and that's never a good thing. Rooting for the home team and building a team's brand is part of what a team-owned network should do. But if they insist on also being a news outlet, they need to be much more careful in what they put out there for the world to see.

Yankees Should Sign Capuano AND Francis

Andy Pettitte appears to be content to stay home in 2011, which may be the right move for him and his family, but it hurts the New York Yankees. And it hurts Pettitte's chances of earning a Hall of Fame nod. Another good year could have put him close enough to get consideration. But in either case, he just doesn't seem to be inclined to return. There are two big thoughts concerning Pettitte's decision: First, the Yankees have enough pitching prospects to round out the rotation. Secondly, the Yankees just won't do that. Thus, signing Chris Capuano AND Jeff Francis would be good moves.

The Yankees are in do or die mode every season. That mentality does not allow them to enjoy the risk of having two unproven pitchers in the rotation. With that in mind, Capuano and Francis make sense. Both pitchers are left-handed. Both should come fairly cheaply needing to prove they can be viable pitchers again after myriads of injury and adding both gives you the hope that one will work out and pitch close to Pettitte's numbers. If both worked out, then all the better.

The left-handed part is important because the Red Sox have an over dominance of left-handed batters. Both Crawford and Gonzalez bat from the left side and no matter how the Red Sox slice their line up, you will have Crawford, Gonzalez and Ortiz bunched in the middle. With Sabathia, the Yankees could then throw three lefties at them in a row if they chose to do so.

Capuano was a nice story last year. His velocity was back and he had a very nice K/9 and K/BB ratio stats. He is, of course, an injury risk, but in reality, so is every pitcher. Jeff Francis is a good example. He didn't miss a start for three straight years and then couldn't make them all the last two.

And Jeff Francis was much better than his 5.00 ERA indicated last year. First, he pitched in Colorado. Second, His BABIP was high (.322) and his K/BB ratio was 2.97. For the kicker in this argument, consider Francis' FIP and xFIP which came in at 3.88 and 3.94 respectively. That's over a run better than his actual ERA. Again, the big question for Francis is whether he can stay healthy. But an incentive-laden contract can be just the ticket for both of these pitchers. with a second year option that is worth fighting for.

This Fan was happy the Yankees didn't get Cliff Lee. Let the Phillies and the Red Sox take over some of that "buying the pennant" talk for a while. The Yankees have very strong pitching in the minors and it's time to start mining some of that talent. But having Francis and/or Capuano in the mix would be a nice luxury to have. This writer doesn't perceive the Yankees to be in as rough shape as other writers seem to indicate. Jeter should be better, A-Rod should be fine, Teixeira really had an off season last year and should be better and Cano is a blossoming superstar. Francis and Capuano simply add some leavening to the mix.

***UPDATE*** The Mets signed Capuano. So much for that...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Southern California Baseball in Flux

Two years ago, the Angels and the Dodgers were in the playoffs and last year, the Padres surprised the world with a strong summer campaign that died on the last day of the season. But all three teams face huge questions this season in both direction and on the field. The Dodgers, who have long been one of the best franchises in baseball are a soap opera. Arte Moreno gave much hope to Angels' fans with his positive attitude and free wallet but is now expressing shock at the cost of ball players and the team is stagnating. After a run for the Padres, they traded away their best player to the Red Sox and it is expected that its closer will be next. What's next for these teams?

The Dodgers are the most painful for baseball right now. Dodger Blue was a terrific brand and the selling of the Dodgers was so good that for the first time in baseball history, regular attendance figures over three million were routine. Guys like Tommy Lasorda created a perception that Dodger Blue was a mythical quality unique to Los Angeles. And occasionally, the team won the title, which helped.

Now the image of the Dodgers has gained a black eye as the circus of the owner's divorce proceedings became front page news and the fodder for tabloids. And the friction at the top has been made manifest on the field as the Dodgers were forced to go into lame duck mode last year and were easily passed by the Padres and Giants. It seems impossible to separate the results last year from the McCourts, but players ultimately determine how a season goes. Perhaps it was just a bad year and the divorce has nothing to do with it.

The one thing that makes it hard to just think 2010 was a fluke of performance was that Joe Torre walked away. One would have to feel that if the situation was stable and fluid there, Torre would have hung around. It seems very clear from big time writers that MLB is upset at the McCourts and wants them out of baseball. 2011 will be a very interesting season to watch unfold. Don Mattingley is a first time manager (anywhere!) and there is still a core of talent that could come around and challenge for the NL West. A winning season would cover a lot of bad press and bad feelings.

The Angels became one of the best stories in baseball under Arte Moreno. There seemed to be a fresh idea when he bought the team. They lucked into hiring one of the best managers and staff in baseball and spent a decade contending and for one glorious season, won it all. The team, despite its ridiculous name, seemed poised to dislodge the Dodgers for the hearts and minds of southern California baseball fans.

But the Angels made some ghastly mistakes last year. Allowing Chone Figgins to walk was huge (though he tanked in Seattle). The team's talent seemed to dry up overnight and they couldn't get anywhere last year. Everyone thought they would be big players this off season and absolutely nothing has happened. Despite rumors, the Angels added nobody. Buster Olney, among others, has written that Moreno is dismayed by the cost of talent. When did that happen? His early years were broad in his ability to sign a check. Has he fallen in worth during this recession? Or has he just gotten more conservative with age?

All we can say for sure is that they haven't improved their team at all so far. Beltre is still out there but Scott Boras has apparently done a disservice to his player and overvalued him so much that he can't find a job. If that wasn't the case, you would think the Angels would have signed him by now. The Angels certainly need Beltre as the third baseman could make a huge impact on their line up and their defense. But so far? Nothing. Silence. Nada.

As it stands now, the Angels might not even be the second best team in the AL West.

This Fan doesn't get the Padres. Was their season last year so much a surprise that it was unplanned and almost unwanted? That certainly seems to be the case as they have traded their fans' favorite player while he still had time left on a good contract. It's almost like they are saying, "Well, we hope you had fun last year because that's it for a while." How can a team in one of the most beautiful places on earth have one of the smallest payrolls? The military presence there is huge? You can't get any of those people to come to a ball game?

Adrian Gonzalez was certainly a cool deal for Red Sox fans, but what does it say to Padres' fans? The guy was absolutely beloved by the locals there. He was one of them. His story was their feel good story. He was active in that community and everything seemed perfect. He seemed more like a lifetime Padre than Tony Gwynn ever did. But the Padres couldn't get rid of him fast enough.

Perhaps the Fan should give the Padres some more slack. After all, they did really well in what they received for Jake Peavy and some of those guys were part of the division drive last year. Perhaps they have a plan that is bigger than the perception. The results last year seem to deserve some patience and some respect. It just seems more natural that the team would try to build on 2010 and not rebuild all over again. Their season in 2010 at least deserves a delay in judgment until the 2011 season shows what it will show.

Southern California should be the best place on earth for baseball. The large Hispanic population loves baseball and year round playing should allow for a constant influx of talent. But all three teams seem to be stuck a bit in the muck like they all stepped in the tar pits or something. The Dodgers in particular have gone from jewels to zirconium. 2011 will show a lot about where these franchises are going.