Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflections of the Soriano Deal

The Yankees' surprise contract offer to Rafael Soriano has many heads being scratched. Most pundits have panned the deal while another has said it saved the Yankees' off season. While the latter is probably a stretch, the deal does give the Yankees options while also giving them quite a bit of risk.

Forget the fact that for many Yankee fans, the combination of the words, "Yankees and Soriano," bring back some bad memories of a certain second baseman who had a penchant for swinging at sliders outside the zone in key situations. This is a different Soriano; a big strapping, hard throwing, fearless dude who piled up 45 saves last year while posting Mo-like WHIP and ERA figures. The Yankees can throw zeroes at you from the sixth inning on with an array of darting arms from both sides of the plate. That part is good, especially when you have worries about half of your rotation getting you to the sixth inning. Perhaps the move will even allow the Yankees to reconsider Joba Chamberlain as a starter. That would be a positive thing in this writer's mind.

But what is troubling is the whispers from Buster Olney and others that this was an owner driven, non-baseball decision over the head of Brian Cashman. Cashman just a few days earlier had said the Yankees wouldn't trade their draft pick for any of the pitchers on the market. Either Cashman changed his mind (unlikely) or he was overruled. If he was overruled, then once again, his plan to develop the Yankees' system to allow talent to build up to the parent club has taken another hit. You have to wonder if Cashman's power base has eroded as a result of the Yankees' failure to land Cliff Lee, a non-sign that this writer still thinks was fortuitous.

The most troubling thing about this signing is that it appears the Yankees' hierarchy pushed the panic button during an off season when the Red Sox have (on paper) become monolithic. It seems again fueled by the over-arching need to win every year or else. Sure, there are high stakes for the Yankees. Their YES Network needs a winning team to stay as lucrative as it is. But the crazy desire to stay on top every year gets a little out of control some times. It was George Steinbrenner's biggest weakness as well as his biggest strength. The bottom line though is that MLB and New York will survive if the Yankees don't win the World Series every year. Just as long as they win one once in a while.

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the Yankees' front office. It will be viewed as important if Cashman shows up at Soriano's unveiling. It will be interesting to hear his first words after this event. From an outside perspective, he must be really mad and why wouldn't he be? As the Yankees general manager, he is supposed to be in charge of a plan that will make the Yankees viable for years to come. If his plan keeps getting undercut, then what future is there for him with the Yankees?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Market Thinning for Manny, Vlad and Damon

Now that Jim Thome has signed with the Twins, the market is getting extremely tight for guys like Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Russell Branyon. Unless the Rangers trade Michael Young (which seems unlikely), their DH position is taken. That leaves us with Tampa, perhaps Toronto and perhaps the Angels. How will this all shake out?

The Angels won't go back to Vlad. That would be an admission that they shouldn't have given up on him in the first place. They won't do that. They are already a somewhat old team and Vlad slows them down even more. Johnny Damon seems to make the most sense as he can switch off with Bobby Abreu at DH and left field and both stay fresh. They are both terrible left fielders anyway, so either one won't matter.

It seems ungainly for Manny to go to Toronto. Not that Toronto isn't a great place. It's just so far north for Manny. The Fan can see the Blue Jays adding someone like Branyon who will be cheaper. The Fan had to laugh at "TaoofStieb" one of Toronto's best bloggers. His tweet was a take off of how many players have been talked about as possibly going to Toronto. Tao has a new "meme" with such a statement where you simply fill in the blanks. Hilarious.

Manny's best fit seems to be the Bay Rays. Florida seems to be the only glamor state he hasn't played in yet. The team seems loose enough to take him on and they have a very smart manager there that can make the best use of him. If the Bay Rays don't sign Manny, they could opt for Vlad as he still has pop.

Either way, it seems that somebody isn't going to get signed. Teams have shown a hesitancy to go with lumbering DHs these days and are looking for the position to be more flexible. Vlad and Manny are pretty much one dimensional these days. Branyon can play first reasonably well, but who needs a first baseman? Branyon could head back to Seattle for Round Three. Though it would be cool, just for interest sake to see Branyon play for yet a different team so he can keep his streak of hitting homers for every team he's played for, no matter how short that has happened to be.

The Yankees need a right handed bat, but Manny seems like a stretch. They will probably opt for someone like Andruw Jones. But the market is tight and if some of these guys want to play in 2011, they better start scrambling.

Lindy McDaniel - Unsung Hero

Lindall Dale McDaniel pitched for twenty-two years in the major leagues from 1955 to 1975. His career spanned the golden era of the Fifties, the pitching era of the Sixties and into the disco days of the Seventies. He had a rubber arm and made 987 appearances in the majors spanning 2139+ innings for five different teams. One of the most memorable things about Lindy was that at the age of 37 and 38, he made eight starts mixed in with his 78 relief appearances and threw complete games in three of them!

There is nothing in Lindy McDaniel's composite stats that make you shiver with delight. His 3.45 ERA sounds pedestrian. His career 1.272 WHIP sounds ordinary. He gave up his share of hits. The only thing his stats show us is a long and reliable career where he consistently took the ball and threw for as long as you wanted him to throw the ball. For example, in 1973, one of the years mentioned in the first paragraph, Lindy pitched 47 times, 44 of them in relief. He finished the game as the team's last pitcher 32 times. And yet he threw 160.2 innings! His record that year was 12-6 with ten saves AND a complete game start.

Lindy McDaniel was signed as a "bonus baby" in 1955 by the St. Louis Cardinals. As such, he started right in the major leagues because the rules for such signings stipulated that the player had to stay on the big league club's roster for two years who be exposed to the waiver wire. He only got into four games in 1955 but a year later, he appeared in 39 games and started seven of them. He finished with a 7-6 record and a 3.40 ERA. The following year (1957), he started 26 games out of his 30 appearances and had a very good year. He went 15-6 with ten complete games and a shutout. He finished with a 3.49 ERA.

Looking back at that year, you have to wonder why McDaniel didn't stay in the starter position. Perhaps the key was that he struggled mightily the next season, perhaps the worst of his career. He only started 17 games and pitched ninety innings less than the year before. He got lit up to the tune of a 5.80 ERA. After 1958, he was mostly a reliever.

His first big year as a reliever came the very next year. He finished 47 games in 62 appearances, won 14 and if the save was around back then, would have had 15 of them. He was even better in 1960, a year when he came in third in Cy Young voting and fifth in MVP voting. He went 12-4 with a 2.09 ERA in 65 appearances. If the save rule was in effect, he would have been credited with 26. And he found the time to start two games and pitched a complete game in one of them.

McDaniel had two sub par years in 1961 and 1962 but had another big year in 1963. Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals traded him to the Cubs after that season just as the Cardinals were about to launch on their post season run that included World Series titles. McDaniel was fated never to pitch in the post season.

He had a decent season and then a very good season for the Cubs before they traded him to the Giants in the deal that brought the Cubs Randy Hundley. He had a great season for the Giants in 1966 and a good one in 1967 and then they traded him to the Yankees, then the worst team in baseball.

With such a dearth of talent on those teams, a guy like McDaniel became a fan favorite toiling away for such bad teams. He had perhaps his best season as a pure reliever in 1970 (at age 34) when he won nine games, saved 29 more. He finished that season with a 2.01 ERA in 111+ innings.

1971 was a bad season, but in 1972 and 1973, he was below three in ERA again including the brilliant 1973 season already mentioned. But after that season, McDaniel was traded to the Royals in the deal that brought Chris Chambliss to the Yankees. Chambliss would go on to be a post season hero, so McDaniel brought value even at that advanced age. He gave the Royals two fairly effective seasons before he retired after the 1975 season.

Lindy McDaniel finished with 141 (against only 119 losses) wins and 172 saves. He managed to add in 18 complete game starts over his career and threw two shutouts. Perhaps his best stat was in pitching all those years and finishing with a 0.7 homers per nine inning rate. He was an effective and durable arm for 21 years and many of those were for bad teams. He is remembered fondly and his name alone brings many smiles to old time Cardinal, Yankee, Cubs, Giants and Royals' fans.

Come On, Andy! Quit Favre-ing Around

If Joe Girardi goes to personally pick you up, Andy Pettitte, at the airport if and when you finally decide to pitch one more year, then the comparison will be complete with the erstwhile Brett Favre. It's not that this writer is trying to sway you one way or the other. Just put us out of suspense already and decide what you are going to do. Need help, Andy? Let the Fan help you with that Pro/Con thing that is supposed to help you make a decision. First the reasons why you shouldn't come back.

  • You don't want to look like Brett Favre looked at the end of his season.
  • You don't want to be a distraction when the Roger Clemens trial begins this summer. You will be a star witness after all.
  • You will miss your family.
  • You have enough money.
  • You are sick of having to win the big games that the studs who make more money are supposed to win and don't.
  • One more 162 game schedule and all that travel.
  • You already have five rings.
  • You've won 240 games plus 19 post season games. What more do you have to do?
  • New York isn't your kind of town.
  • The left side of your infield is older than Methuselah.
  • The Red Sox are stacked this year.
  • Torn muscles hurt like heck.

Okay, those are the Cons, now for the Pros:
  • This is the best part of your life, the part you will always look back upon. You want to let it go already?
  • You showed last year you still have it.
  • 250 wins sounds better on the resume than 240.
  • Your left hand looks kind of empty with all those rings on the other hand.
  • $13 million. Duh!
  • Your kids will be fine. You're a good dad, they will survive this.
  • Wouldn't it feel good that you're still pitching and Roger isn't?
  • One last year with the Core Four?
  • If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, it will be your fault even if it isn't.
  • You sure look good in pinstripes.
  • You have the rest of your life to savor. One or two more years won't hurt. The Fan has to work until he is 69 or something.
  • The fans at home love you.
  • You have a great defensive outfield in a bad right-handed hitting park.
  • With all those relievers, you'll only have to pitch five innings...for $13 million...every fifth day. Gravy!
  • The Yankees didn't get Jeff Francis like the Fan told them to. The Fan hopes Francis wins 20 for the Royals.
  • Won't you get bored?

There are probably more on each of the pro and con sides of things. But honestly, decide what you will. But to retire that young just seems ridiculous to someone who has always dreamed about doing what you do. Obviously, you have gotten to the age and stage of your career where you call the shots. We get that. Just call them already an stop this almost daily speculation. It's tiresome. It's too much like Favre. Decide! Please.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Should Be the Tigers' Fifth Starter?

The addition of Brad Penny (at least on paper) gives the Tigers four starters set for their rotation: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Penny. So who is the fifth guy now? For most of the winter, we've heard that Phil Coke was going to be converted from a reliever to a starter (as he was in the minors). Does the presence of Penny change that plan or does Coke move into Armando Galarraga's spot?

The Fan is somewhat uncomfortable with the prospect of turning the spot over to Coke, who is now three years removed from his days as a starting pitcher. Coke only threw 60 innings in 2009 and 64 innings last year. Now he would be asked to move that up to 150 innings? The move is not without precedent. C. J. Wilson in Texas and Ryan Dempster for the Cubs are two examples of how well such a move can work. It is a plus that Phil Coke throws from the left side. And he was successful in the Yankees' farm system as a starter. It just seems like a risk.

Galarraga is a guy you root for after the way he handled the Jim Joyce thing last year on his almost-perfect game. But that game was one brief shining moment. His 4.49 ERA in 24 starts isn't bad and most teams would take that from their fifth starters. But consider how bad some of those games had to be to offset his almost-perfect game.

What really worries the Fan the most about Galaragga is his diminishing strikeout rate. For all of his career, Galarraga struck out over six batters per nine innings. Last year, that number plummeted to 4.6. Was that a one year fluke? Galarraga did pitch 44 innings in Triple A in 2010 and struck out over eight batters per nine innings, so many it was a fluke. But when there is so little separation from his K rate compared to his walk rate, it's a bit scary.

It would be great if Galaragga had a place with the 2011 Tigers. He became a local hero and was one of the best stories of 2011. Plus, he is another Venezuelan on a team full of them, which should mean a team that pulls for him when he pitches. But the Tigers can't make decisions based on what we fans want. They have to decide whether Galarraga or Coke will provide the most consistency and give the team the best chance to win. To be honest with you, the Fan has no idea which pitcher would be the best call.

Perhaps with Brad Penny's health history, it will be a moot point. If Penny's season follows the path of his last few, Galarraga and Coke could both get over 20 starts.

Why Frank Howard Belongs In the Hall of Fame

There is a lot of discussion these days on how to evaluate current players eligible for the Hall of Fame. Guys like Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell are finding that being offensive players in an offensive age doesn't guarantee instant Hall of Fame access. And this isn't the first time for that scenario. The late 1920s to the mid-1930s was an offensive era. For example, the average batting average in baseball in 1930 was .296! And the Hall of Fame is flooded with players from that era. But what about other eras in baseball when offenses were way down? For example, the famous "Year of the Pitcher" in 1968 produced an average offensive slash line of: 237/.299/.340. From 1963 to 1972, the average MLB batting average rose to .250 or higher twice. It was during that time that Frank Howard played the bulk of his career.

Let's start with the "Year of the Pitcher." You've already seen the ugly slash line across baseball. That year, Frank Howard's slash line was: .274/.338/.552. If you want to look at those numbers another way, let's put them as how much they were above league average: +37/+39/+212. He hit 44 homers that year, ten more than the next highest guy. Howard drove in 106 and added 28 doubles. And he had NO protection in his batting order as the Senators finished in last place that year. No other teammate hit more than 13 doubles or 20 homers.

Okay, one year doesn't a career make. Let's go to the next year, 1969. League offense was a little better that year. They lowered the mounds to generate more offense. But the league slash line was still: .248/.320/.369. Howard produced the following slash line that year: .296/.402/.574. He hit 48 homers, drove in 111 and scored 111. Howard also walked 102 times that season. This was a great season, especially in light of the times. He came in fourth in MVP voting. Harmon Killebrew had his best season that season, Reggie Jackson was outstanding and the also overlooked Boog Powell had his best season.

Then there was 1970. In 1970, Howard walked 132 times, the most in his career. He hit 44 more homers, drove in 126 and had a .962 OPS when the league average was .711. He came in fifth in MVP voting that year despite playing on another lousy team. Boog Powell won it that year. Carl Yaztremski should have though.

From 1963 to 1972, in perhaps one of the modern era's toughest offensive period, Howard hit 299 homers or 29.9 per year. From 1967 through 1969, perhaps the toughest years of all, Howard hit 137 homers. Plus, Howard played the bulk of his career at R.F.K. Stadium in Washington, not an easy park to hit homers. His 382 homers seem larger because of the times he played through. His power was legendary and his best years went under appreciated because of how badly the Senators usually played.

And Howard was huge not just in his numbers. The guy was six foot, seven inches tall and built like a bulldozer. He towered over everyone. We were in awe of him as kids and whenever he was on the field, you could pick him out easier than any other player. Hondo Howard was a lousy fielder. The Fan will grant you that. But he also gets style points as being one of the nicest guys who has ever played the game. Frank Howard is a Hall of Fame player.

If you want to get an idea of how big the guy was, watch this old commercial from YouTube.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Still Grappling With the Meaning of a Save

Yesterday in this space, Trevor Hoffman's career was pondered concerning his place in baseball history. Since that post, many other writers have written of Hoffman's career. Many believe he is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. Others are in this writer's boat in not knowing how to quantify what 601 saves are worth. It's frustrating to only have Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to go by. Yeah, there are other stats similar to WAR to measure a player's worth over the course of his career, but they all do similar things. Hoffman's 30.7 accumulative WAR doesn't get the pitcher far in the valuation question. Are there other ways to look at it?

One method comes to mind but the Fan isn't sure it makes sense. But here goes. Hoffman pitched just slightly above one inning per appearance for his career. It's close enough to call it a one to one equation. He saved 601 games. Another way to look at that figure is to say he had a hand in one-ninth of the win. one-ninth of 601 equals 66.77 wins (601 divided by 9). Hoffman also won 61 games in his career. Again, crediting him for one-ninth of those wins gives him 6.77 (61 divided by nine) more wins bringing his total to 73.54 wins.

Now let's compare that total to what Jake Peavy has done for his career, most of which was with Padres. Peavy has won 102 games, but you can't credit him for the entire game because he averaged 6.77 innings (why is that number coming up so much?) pitched for those wins. So if you divide the 6.77 by 9 for the percentage of the game Peavy pitched, it comes to 75.185185 percent. Multiply that with the 102 wins and you get 76.68 wins.

Granted, this doesn't take anything into account on when Peavy pitched and didn't get a win and Hoffman when he pitched without getting a save or a win, but it does seem to give us the value of Hoffman's saves plus wins against Peavy's wins and Peavy's wins come out ahead. If Peavy finished his career tomorrow, nobody would talk about him being a Hall of Fame player despite his one Cy Young Award.

Just to be fair to Hoffman, let's do the same exercise for Mariano Rivera and A. J. Burnett. What? Bear with the Fan. Rivera's innings per appearance are enough over one-to-one to do more math. Rivera has averaged 1.176 innings pitched per appearance for his career. That comes to 13.1 percent of each game he pitched (rounding off the games to nine innings). If you multiply Rivera's 559 saves by that 13.1 percent, you get Mo 73 wins. You can then give Rivera credit for his 74 wins at a value of 1.75 innings pitched per win or 19.4 percent of a nine inning game. Multiply Rivera's 74 wins by 19.4 percent and you get 14.37 more wins for his total or 87.37 wins. That credited win total is higher than Peavy's (76.68) or Hoffman's (73.54).

Without boring you with the math again, A. J. Burnett's "adjusted" win total (ahem) comes to 85.77, a virtual tie with Rivera. NOBODY will ever argue that Burnett is a Hall of Fame player, but everyone will insist that Rivera is one.

The Fan doesn't know if this way at looking at the value of a closer's saves and wins holds any water. Frankly, the Fan's head hurts from doing all that math that may or may not make any sense. But even if you take the wins at face value and add it to one ninth of a win for each save, Hoffman would end up with a little over 127 career wins and Rivera would have won 158. Not too many pitchers have been voted to the Hall of Fame with that low a win total. Now where is that bottle of Ibuprofen?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Torn on Trevor Hoffman's Legacy

Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement today and leaves the game as the all time saves leader with 601. With the announcement comes relief that the pitcher won't attempt another year after struggling so badly last year. The difficulty now is to figure out how Hoffman fits into the history of baseball. He is certainly revered by many and nobody else has ever done what he has done. But how important is that? That's the million dollar question.

Trevor Hoffman never started a single game in his career. All of his 1035 appearances were in relief. He not only holds the saves record but also the record for most games "finished" in a career with 856. Mariano Rivera may break the Saves record this year with a big season. That's great and all. But the Fan has heard so often about how little a save actually means. So then, what does Hoffman's career mean?

Not only did Hoffman never start a game, he never finished a season with more than 90 innings pitched. He averaged 72 innings pitched per season in his career. But for his last eight full seasons (not counting 2003 when he was hurt) his average was closer to 57 innings per year. If you take his total innings pitched and divide it by seven (a starting pitcher's game), it boils down to the equivalent of 155 starts, or five full seasons for that average starter.

Hoffman finished with a grand total of 30.7 in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Roy Halladay has accumulated 29.1 WAR in the last five years. How can you compare the two? Is the save an oddball stat? Would it be akin to holding the record for the most hit by pitches or sacrifice bunts? Or is saving a game more important than that? The Fan is still torn by the question. But both the gut and the brain seem to think that saving a game isn't much different than pitching a career of seventh innings just as well. Statistics show that any team over time will win 95.5% of its games when leading going into the ninth inning.  But there are just as many others who believe that Mariano Rivera is the single most important figure in the Yankees run since 1996. The Fan doesn't.

Precedent has been set by the Hall of Fame .Sutter is in there and so are Eckersley, Gossage and Fingers. So the odds are certainly favorable that Hoffman will be elected to that grand body five or six years from now (or soon after). This Fan just can't quite justify it. Hoffman DID finish in the top five for Cy Young voting  four times. He does finish with a career 9.4 K/9 rate and a 1.058 WHIP to go along with his 2.87 and career 141 ERA+. He did have eight seasons with 40 or more saves and one season where he hit 53. His three-year run from 1996 to 1998 was about as good as it will ever get for a closer.

Again, the Fan is simply confused by what it all means. At this point in time, Hoffman will be considered the second best closer ever (with Rivera everyone's favorite). But Billy Wagner might have been better. Then again, does that mean anything in the grand scheme of things with five seasons worth of innings pitched? Perhaps we just don't know yet. Perhaps someday some sabermetrician will figure out how to properly value closers. And that will be a godsend because as of right now, Hoffman's exploits were either overrated or under appreciated.

In either case, thanks for the memories, Mr. Hoffman. You are a class act.

Top 20 Year Old Seasons Of All Time

Buster Olney over at wrote in his blog today that baseball is getting younger. Indeed. A half dozen players played in the majors last year at the age of 20, the youngest of which, Starlin Castro, became the first MLB player born in the 1990s. Ugh! Now doesn't THAT make you feel old? Olney's post got this writer to thinking about young players and set out to find the greatest seasons ever by a player at the age of 20. Here's what the Fan found:


This is based on OPS, not a perfect stat, but it seems to do the job here. The following three are the only players in history to have an OPS over 1.000 at the age of twenty (and qualified for the batting title):

Mel Ott - New York Giants (1929). You would think that Ott had help from the short porch in right field at the Polo Grounds, but he hit more homers on the road and had a higher OPS while away from his home park.. It was fourth season in the big leagues and his second full season. He started when he was 17! At the age of 20, Mel Ott walked 123 times against only 36 strikeouts. His slash line that year was .328/.449/.635. He hit 42 homers, knocked in 151, scored 138 and added 37 doubles. And his fielding percentage at first base was right in line with the league average. His final WAR ( that season was 8.0. Ott had even better seasons (if you can believe that) as he got older, but remarkably, the Hall of Fame player who finished with 511 homers and over 1600 RBI never won an MVP award. His 1.084 OPS in 1929 is the highest ever for a 20 year old.

Ted Williams - Boston Red Sox (1939). This Fan still can't fathom what Ted Williams' career totals would look like if he didn't miss two stretches to fight in wars. Consider if you will that in the 19 seasons he did play, he only had ONE YEAR where his OPS was less than 1. Can you imagine that? Albert Pujols already has two seasons under 1. 1939 was Williams' rookie year and he started with a bang. He batted .327, had on OBP of .429 (he holds the record for career OBP) and slugged .609. He hit 31 homers and drove in 145 runs (to lead the league). He added 44 doubles and 11 triples and scored 131 times. The only knock on his was his fielding. He made 18 errors in the outfield. 18!? In the outfield? But he still finished with a WAR of 6.8 and an OPS of 1.045, tied for second all time with...

Alex Rodriguez - Seattle Mariners (1996). The Mariners sure cold mash. Rodriguez, Griffey Jr. and Edgar all finished above 1.000 in OPS and Jay Buhner added 44 homers and a .938 OPS. But all A-Rod did at the age of 20 was lead the league in batting, runs scored and doubles. His slash line was .358/.414/.631. He hit 54 doubles and 36 homers as part of his 215 hits. That's a lot of hitting for such a young guy. It was his first full season but he did play parts of the two seasons prior and started at the age of 18. Let's hope his career doesn't parallel Ott's. Ott started young and was finished being productive at 35 and was out of baseball at 38.


Went with ERA+ on this one and the pitcher had to qualify with enough innings for the ERA title.

Dwight Gooden - New York Mets (1985). Gooden had the best pitching season of a 20 year old in all of history. His ERA+ was 229 (!), the only 20 year old ever to have a season over 200. What didn't he do well that season? He went 24-4 with an ERA of 1.53. The slash line against him that season was .201/.254/.270. In other words, the entire league was worse than Emilio Bonifacio! He struck out 276 batters against just 68 walks. was his second amazing season in a row. He won 17 the year before and he had 41 wins before he turned 21. There were no Joba Rules back then. He pitched 276+ innings. Unfortunately, we all know the rest of the story.

Harry Krause - Philadelphia Athletics (1909). Here's a guy you never heard of. He had this one brief shining season and could never repeat it and was out of baseball by the age of 24. But when he was 20, he went 18-8 with a 1.39 ERA (leading the league). He had a WHIP of 0.939 and is given a league leading 172 ERA+. This ranks him second all time as a 20 year old pitcher.

Don Drysdale, Bob Feller and Smokey Joe Wood all had 20 year old campaigns with an ERA+ in the 150s.

And those, folks, are the best performances ever by players at the age of 20.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mishandling of Joba Chamberlain

On Monday over at Sliding Into Home (a Yankees blog), Domenic suggested that if the Yankees are looking for another starter, they need to look no further than Joba Chamberlain. This Fan commented that it will never happen because the Yankees' brass has said so publicly. The usual reasons are that when they tried that before, Chamberlain had a mysterious drop in velocity (especially at the start of the game) and a lack of command. Domenic was having no part of that and still believes Chamberlain could still be an effective starter. He could be right. But the Yankees have so screwed up Chamberlain's situation, that it would be a miracle if they could ever get things right with him. From this Fan's perspective, it doesn't seem like a former #1 pick could have been handled worse.

Chamberlain was the 41st overall pick of the 2006 draft. A year later, he was a late call up and dazzled, quickly becoming a cult hero in New York. 12.8 K/9 and an 0.38 ERA in 24 innings stamped his image across the land. In 2008, Chamberlain started in the bullpen and pitched twenty times in the late innings and he was very good. Then, without any build up of his innings, and without any time in the minors to air things out, they put him in the rotation and he made twelve straight starts. He was rough in the beginning, great in the middle and his last start was a rough one. He went 3-1 in those starts, struck out seven or more batters in five of those twelve starts. The Yankees as a team won eight and lost four of those starts. Then he made ten more relief appearances to close out the season.

Joba finished 2008 with a 2.60 ERA in 100.1 innings and had 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In his first two seasons as a pitcher for the Yankees, he gave up just 0.4 homers per nine. It was announced that Chamberlain would be a starter in 2009.

And so he was in 2009. The year started with the announcement of the "Joba Rules." Chamberlain would only be allowed to accumulate so many innings and they stuck to it. He made 31 starts and only pitched 157.1 innings for the season. He did finish 9-6 but his ERA ballooned up to 4.75, his K/9 sank to 7.6 and his walk rate went up significantly. Plus, he gave up 1.2 homers per nine.

The Fan watched a lot of those games and in the first inning, Joba would be throwing 89 to 90 MPH. By the second or third inning, he would be up again to his normal 92-95. He looked tentative as if pacing himself too much and his command faltered. He hit 12 batters and threw five wild pitches. It appears that his coaches did little to prepare him properly.

The Fan has a theory that the Joba Rules messed with the pitcher's head. The expectations were so high, but he wasn't allowed to grow into those expectations. He would just be getting started and with a pitch count ballooning, he would be out of the game by the fourth or fifth inning. Plus, the Fan doesn't think it helped that 20 of his appearances were caught by Jorge Posada. In those 20 starts, his ERA was over five and his K/BB ratio plummeted to 1.57 (it was 3.0 with Molina and 2.0 with Cervelli).

The Yankees lost confidence in him and announced that in 2010, he would have to fight Phil Hughes for the fifth rotation spot. Hughes came out smoking and Joba never had a chance. He pitched the entire year in the bullpen and had an uneven but generally successful season.

The result was that the Yankees built him up via the Joba Rules in 2009 and then wasted that entire process by never using him as a starter in 2010. And now the Yankees' brass has concluded that Joba is done as a starter. He is a back end of the bullpen guy and that's that. He's back to square one after five years.

Personally, that constitutes a jerking around. The fact that Chamberlain succeeded in the past in the bullpen led to his starting demise because it was too easy to put him back out there. Frankly, it's a waste of his talent. Hughes had a nice season and it was nice to see that develop. He now inherits the rotation spot that he earned. It wasn't a perfect season and at times, he struggled just like Joba did. But that won't end up with the same results because the Yankees need starters and Hughes has the job. Joba will get his 70 innings again and when both pitchers come up for arbitration, Hughes will make more money because his job is more important.

When this observer watches both Hughes and Chamberlain, it is apparent that neither have a forceful personality. Neither takes things by the nads and run with it. They both seem to allow themselves to be steered in whatever direction their catcher and their bosses want them to go. Chamberlain may be a smart guy, but he gives off the appearance of not being the sharpest tool in the shed. If that appearance is correct, then what would he know about sticking up for himself and putting pressure on his bosses to force any issue?

After mulling through all of this, Domenic is right. Joba Chamberlain will be 26 in 2011. There is still plenty of time to build him back up and put him back in the rotation. He was a first round draft pick for goodness sake! Shouldn't he get a second chance? Shouldn't he have a chance to be the kind of star they thought he was going to be? He would have to start all over and go through another year of Joba Rules. It would be hoped it would be handled better this time. Martin might be a better fit and if it's Montero, than even better because Joba and Hughes would be the elders then and throw what they want.

Sometimes the "win-now-or-else" persona of the Yankees forces them to make bold decisions that come at the expense of their young players. Nowhere is this more apparent than with their pitchers. Phil Coke is another example of a starter who was forced to be a relief pitcher for two years and now that the Tigers want him to start, he has to build up all over again. Their frantic need to win makes them take young talent like Hughes and Joba and Coke and put them in the bullpen to hold the fort until Mo can come in. This comes at the expense of starting experience and muscle memory needed to start long term.

In these eyes, the Yankees have done a disservice to Joba Chamberlain but he is still young enough to turn it around and become the kind of pitcher his talent seems to dictate he can be. Except this time, he should get a real chance. Maybe that chance will have to come on another team. His own team doesn't believe in him, so it might be best to trade him for a starter. If he is too valuable to trade, then by golly, put him in the rotation.

It Is Time, Cleveland featured a story by Jerry Crasnick on the current state of the Cleveland Indians. While Crasnick's article did list some reason for optimism, the overall feel of the piece was that the team has lost a bit of the market there in Cleveland. Attendance was down again and was near the bottom of the American League pile last year as the team had its second 90+ loss season in a row. While the loss total may be part of the attendance issue and the economy the rest of it, it's time for the team to enter a brand new day. How can they do that? Change the team's name.

It's time. The whole "Indians" thing along with the Chief Wahoo logo is insulting on several levels. Several will say that the argument for keeping the name is continuity. This Fan would agree with that for just about every team except this one. The problem with the team name is that it is not politically correct and it hurts a portion of our society. Seriously, what if the team's name was the Italians and the logo was a Don WOPPO? Wouldn't that be insulting? Because of this misfortune, loyal fans who want to hang on to their loyalty are forced to be defensive. And all of that put together makes the "Indians" impossible to sell and market correctly.

Bob Feller is dead and can't get mad at anyone. A portion of the city will be upset by the change. But, there can be a major marketing and PR event to rename the team and have contests for the name and logo. This is sure to drum up interest and put the team in the news at a time when fiscal sanity is forcing the team to lie low in acquiring talent. There are lots of creative ways to turn this brand around and make it alive again.

This is a moribund team in a highly depressed area struggling to keep a muddy brand alive and viable. That isn't ever going to happen with that team name. Sure, it's easy for this outsider to push these ideas. The Fan hasn't spent his life living and dying with the Indians. That's a fair point. But the Fan is a realist and the marketing and image aspects of teams are of interest to this observer. More than one post has been devoted here to improving team images and branding. It's important.

In this day and age, all media has to be put in play to sell anything. In order to do that, a clean brand needs to be presented that everyone can rally around. The "Indians" no longer cuts it and its mascot and logo is not marketable or even humane. Sure, this Fan rebels against our PC world too. But sometimes, right is simply right. And removing this stench from Cleveland is the right thing to do. It's time, Cleveland. In fact, it's long overdue.

Type A - The New Scarlet Letter

In the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations between MLB and the players union, one sticking point for the players should be the Type A designation attached to free agents. It has come to the point where performing well and becoming a free agent has become a Scarlet Letter for some players and that is counter-productive. No where is this more profoundly felt than by relief pitchers.

The Fan admits that he's not ultra-conversant with how these free agent categories work, but it seems that if you are in a category of player (by position/role), your free agent ranking is based on how well you perform against your peers. If you are a shortstop or a catcher, this probably doesn't affect you much because everyone wants those. But say you are a relief pitcher like Grant Balfour or a closer like Rafael Soriano, then the system ends up punishing you for your success.

The problem for the relief pitchers mentioned above and others like them is that they have inherited specialized positions through no fault of their own. Baseball has evolved to the point where there are seventh inning specialists, set up men and closers. We can debate the merits of the system itself with the idea that anyone can close, set up or pitch the seventh, but that's not our point here (perhaps in another post). But that's the system that has created guys like Balfour and Soriano. And in those roles, those two pitchers excelled in 2010, which happened to be their "walk" year for free agency. Pitchers like that should have the ability to build off their good years or series of good years to have a free marketplace to peddle themselves. But that's not how it works.

MLB teams that created these specialties rightly don't want to spend a lot of money on them. Not only do they not want to spend a lot of money on those specialized pitchers, but they don't want to lose a draft pick to sign them. For contending teams, signing a Type A player means losing a first round draft pick. Teams that didn't compete last year lose a second round pick. That's a double whammy for guys like Balfour and Soriano.

The rules were put in place, in part, to help with parity. In theory, if a good player develops from a bad team, the bad team will eventually lose them to free agency. The bad team can now get a draft pick when losing that free agent to another team. Again, that somewhat works if you lose a shortstop, catcher or starting pticher. Those cats can always find a job and a paycheck because they are coveted. But though teams may covet a seventh inning pitcher or a set up man or a closer, nobody wants to lose a draft pick to get one.

And so Spring Training begins in another month and Balfour and Soriano still don't have jobs. Their best bets are to sign on with underachieving teams because those teams only lose second round picks (though those picks are still valuable). First of all, will many bad teams want to spend money on a specialist who may or may not make any appreciable difference on their win/loss total? And if they do want guys like Balfour and Soriano, then those pitchers are stuck having to choose which losing situation they want to join.

What seems fair to this Fan at least is that relief pitchers should not be given a "Type." Let them all compete for jobs on a level playing field. This may also apply to first baseman/DH types that are similarly "fungible." In other words, if you lose a Giambi, you can get a Thome and vice-versa.

The intent is honorable. Any way you can aid parity in baseball is worth trying. Fixing the draft would be one way. The Type system is not bad in itself as a tool of parity. But it shouldn't punish certain types of players who succeed. You never want to punish success. That's counter-productive and should be an issue on the union's agenda.

The Most Intriguing Starters Left on the Board

There are 27 free agent starting pitchers left on the market. Andy Pettitte is one of them but we won't include him. He will either pitch for the Yankees or retire. We also won't include Carl Pavano who should sign any day now with the Twins (now that he's seen he won't get three years anywhere). Brian Bannister has signed to play in Japan. Ben Sheets will miss the season with injury. That leaves 23 pitchers still on the market. Most of them aren't worth considering besides a minor league deal. But there are still a couple of intriguing picks out there. Here's the Fan's list:

Chris Young - Young is 31 and coming off of two injury plagued seasons. But he showed promise last year when he got into some games down the stretch for the Padres. The first thing you think about with Young is his health. The second is wondering if his past success was because he pitched in San Diego. His health will have to be checked carefully, but as for as his home/road splits over his career, they are not bad at all. His K/BB ratio improved dramatically at home, but his OPS against on the road and home are remarkably similar. His career splits are also very similar against right-handed batters and those that bat from the left side (Young is right-handed). Young would be a worthwhile flyer with lots of upside. You probably wouldn't want him if you played in a smaller ballpark.

Jeff Francis - The Fan has been on this bandwagon for a while. Francis throws from the left side and is only 29 years old. He's a big guy at 6'5" and is very imposing on the mound. And he's had success in the past. This Fan doesn't think he was very healthy the past couple of years and Coors probably beat him down. He'd be a really nice fit in New York, especially for the Mets, but the Yankees could use him as a lefty arm against the Red Sox. Why has Francis been out there for this long?

John Maine - The one thing Maine's on field spat with his manager showed was that the guy had heart. And when he is healthy, he can pitch. The question is his health. If his medicals show any hope, he would be high on the Fan's list of long shots.

Brad Penny - Penny has been jettisoned from two of the best organizations in baseball (the Red Sox and Dodgers). Both questioned his heart and his desire to be as good as he can be. That may be fair and it may not. Joe Torre does have a doghouse and it's hard to get out of it. Larry Bowa is even worse. But the Fan believes the Cardinals and Dave Duncan gave Penny some tools he can use to rebuild a good career. He's only in his low thirties and he can still get people out. As only the Cardinals can do, they got him to lower his walk total and if he can repeat that for another team, he's very much worth a shot.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Now THAT's Turnover - Arizona Pitchers

There was a story this morning about the task ahead for the Diamondbacks as they try to rebuild their team. The story talked about trading away and not re-signing strikeout kings and rebuilding the bullpen. But one line stood out. In a throwaway line, the writer mentioned that of the 2008 Diamondbacks' pitching staff, not one pitcher remained that pitched that season. The Diamondbacks used twenty pitchers in 2008. Twenty! And they are all gone. Of course, little tidbits of facts like that get this Fan's mind wandering. And so this post is about those twenty pitchers.

It wasn't that the 2008 Diamondbacks couldn't pitch. They finished fifth out of sixteen National League teams in team ERA. They were third in strikeouts, third in hits allowed (fewest that is) and first in the entire National League in preventing walks. That's not a bad pitching staff. The bullpen wasn't very good. But the rotation was very good. So who were those twenty? And where did they all go? Here is a rundown in total:

  • Brandon Webb - Ah! Brandon Webb. What a good pitcher he was back then. He went 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA and 141 ERA+ in 2008. He made 34 starts and that was the fifth straight season he had made 33 or more starts. He came in second in Cy Young voting. But after that season (or during it), something broke and he pitched four innings in 2009 and none in 2010. He will try to resurrect his career in 2010 with the Texas Rangers.
  • Dan Haran - Haren went 16-8 in 2008 with a 3.33 ERA and a 139 ERA+. But he was even better than those numbers indicate. His Strikeout to Walk ratio was 5.15 and he walked fewer than two batters per nine (1.5) struck out 8.8 batters per nine. Haren had just as good a season in 2009 when he led the National League with a WHIP of 1.007 and in K/BB ratio of 5.87, the best of his career and easily the best in the NL. Strangely, he didn't even make the top 20 in Cy Young voting in 2008 and finished 5th in 2009. He started roughly in 2010 and the D-Backs traded him to the Angels, where he will toil in 2011. His numbers in 2010 were masked by a abnormally high homer rate. Otherwise, he was nearly as good as ever.
  • Randy Johnson - Johnson was 44 years old in 2008 but still went 11-10 with a great ERA and great K/BB ratio. There weren't too many better No.3 starters in the NL than Randy Johnson, 44 years of age or not. He is now retired and will soon be in the Hall of Fame.
  • Micah Owings - Owings made 18 ineffective starts for the D-Backs in 2008. His ERA was just under six. The Fan wished for so much better as he is a pitcher that can really hit. He has the highest slugging percentage in a season in history of any pitcher who's pitched 50 innings. Unfortunately, his OPS+ was higher than his ERA+. After the 2008 season, he was the player to be named later (ugh) in the Adam Dunn deal. He continued to pitched without success for the Reds in 2009 and 2010. He's now a free agent without a job.
  • Doug Davis - Davis was actually above league average in 2008. His 1.8 WAR was a decent showing for his $7 million in salary. Davis made 26 starts in 2008 and went 6-8 with a 4.32 ERA. He did a good job in keeping the ball in the yard that year but gave up a lot of hits and walked too many batters. He had an even better season in 2009 despite going 9-14 in 34 starts. But after the 2009 season, he signed with the Brewers as a free agent and was a total bust there. His ERA was over 7 and he missed a lot of time. It was $5 million wasted by the Brewers. Davis is a free agent again this year and is so far, unemployed.
  • Yusmeiro Petit - This Venezuelan pitcher was 23 in 2008 and the Diamondbacks had high hopes for him. He pitched 56 innings in 2008 and made eight starts and eleven relief appearances. His ERA was above league average at 4.31. Petit was thrust in the D-Backs' rotation in 2009 and bombed. He went 3-10 with an ERA near six. After that season, the D-Backs waived him and the Mariners picked him up, released him, signed him, released him and signed him again as a free agent. He didn't pitch at all in the majors in 2010 and pitched in the minors for the Mariners. Petit's problem was homers, which he gave up in super abundances.
  • Max Scherzer - Maxwell was also 23 in 2008 and was a late season call up making his major league debut. He had absolutely no luck in seven starts and nine relief appearances as he finished with an 0-4 record despite an ERA of 3.05 with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Scherzer made 30 starts for Arizona in 2009 and had a decent season for his first full season. His 9-11 record was again unlucky as his stats were decent across the board. After the 2009 season, he was part of that huge, three-team trade that sent players all over the place. Scherzer headed to the Tigers and had a solid season there with a record of 12-11 with a 120 ERA+. Personally, the Fan never would have swapped Scherzer with Ian Kennedy.
  • Edgar Gonzalez - This Mexican pitcher was signed by the Diamonbacks way back in 2000 as a 17 year old. They had high hopes for him and kept trying him on the major league level. His season in 2004 is legendary in Arizona for all the wrong reasons. He made ten starts, lost nine of them, gave up 2.9 homers per nine and had an ERA of 9.32! They tried him again in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Gonzales actually went 8-4 in 2007 despite and ERA of 5.03. But the D-Backs were optimistic enough with Edgar's 104 innings enough to try him again in 2008. It didn't work. He went 1-3 with an ERA of 6.00 in 48 innings. He was granted free agency after the 2009 season, signed with Oakland and went 0-4 for them in 2009 with an ERA of 5.51. He was signed by the Dodgers and is again a free agent. Gonzalez didn't pitch in the majors in 2010 and hopes that his 14-25 major league record with a career 5.51 ERA and 1.6 homers per nine lands him a job in 2011. That's a rundown of all the guys that started in 2008. And now the pure relievers.
  • Brandon Lyon - Lyon was a 14th Round draft pick for the Blue Jays way back in 1999. He signed just after New Years in 2000 and just a year later was pitching for the Blue Jays at the big league level. That seems a bit rushed to this Fan. Lyon made 11 decent starts for the Jays in 2001 and several bad ones in 2002 and the Blue Jays waived him. The Red Sox picked him off waivers and he was traded to Pittsburgh but then back to Boston. He had a good season for Boston in 2003 all as a reliever. Lyon was then part of the big Curt Schilling deal and pitched several years for the Diamondbacks though he didn't pitch at all in the majors in 2004. The D-Backs tried to make him the closer in 2005 and despite reaching 14 saves, was not very good. They forgot about the closing thing after that and Lyon responded with two great years in a row in 2006 and 2007. He again became the closer in 2008. He did reach 26 saves in 2008 but he was WAY too hittable and gave up 11.6 hits per nine innings. Lyon then signed as a free agent with the Tigers and had a very good year for them in 2009 (not in the closer's role). He signed with Houston for 2010 and became the closer there midway through the season and finished with 20 saves. He will toil again for the Astros in 2011.
  • Chad Qualls - Qualls has 460 appearances in the majors all in relief. A former second round pick by the Astros, he was part of the trade after 2007 that send Valverde to the Astros and Qualls to the D-Backs. Qualls had some very good years in Arizona and was superb in 2008. He became the D-Backs closer in 2009 and had another super season and finished with 24 saves. Qualls blew up in 2010 though (among many others) and was shipped to the Bay Rays for their stretch run. He's a free agent now and still hasn't signed anywhere.
  • Tony Pena - Pena was 20 years old when the Diamondbacks signed him out of the Dominican Republic. He made his debut and was somewhat unsuccessful in 25 outings in his rookie season of 2006. He made 75 appearances in 2007 and was a real work horse and he pitched very well. He didn't do as well in 2008, though he did get into a whopping 72 games. His hits per nine went up but he was still pretty effective. He started the 2009 season with Arizona and got into 35 games and still gave up a lot of hits. On July 7, 2009, the team traded him to the White Sox for Brandon Allen. He got into 32 more games with the White Sox with mixed results. Pena did not have a good year in 2010 for the White Sox, though he pitched in a lot of games (including his first three starts of his career). His K/9 rate has gone down consistently the last four years while his walk rate has steadily gained. Not a good combination.
  • Juan Cruz - Cruz has been around a long time. He was signed by the Cubs way back in 1997 and has kicked around a lot. But in 2008, he was unbelievable with 71 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. It was his second season in a row for the Diamondbacks with a K/9 rate over 12!. He became a free agent after 2008 and the Royals gave him $2.25 million in 2009 and $3.5 million in 2010. But his K/9 rate plummeted in 2009 with the Royals and he struggled. He struggled again in 2010 and the Royals released him. He is currently unemployed.
  • Doug Slaten - Slaten was the D-Backs LOOGY in 2008 and it didn't go well. His peripherals were all bad. He was even worse in 2009 and Arizona waived him. The Nationals picked him up and he had a very good year for the Nationals in 2010. It looks like he has resurrected his career nicely.
  • Leo Rosales - Rosales might actually pitch for the D-Backs again. He is a free agent without a home, but he's pitched off and on for three years with the Diamondbacks. 2008 was his debut season and he got into 27 games and was decent.
  • Jon Rauch - Rauch is one of those guys that surprise you. He's pitched for five different teams and led the league in appearances for the Nationals in 2007 (173 appearances in two years for that club!). Despite all that moving around and change in roles, he holds a 117 ERA+ for his career in 415 appearances. In 2008, the Nationals traded him to Arizna for Emilio Bonifacio (no loss there). Unfortunately, that was his only bad stretch in his career. He was awful for the D-Backs going 0-6 with an ERA of 6.56. They traded him to the Twins in 2009 and he's pitched well for the Twins ever since. He is a free agent now and has yet to sign.
  • Brandon Medders - Medders was drafted very late in the draft back in 2001. Since then, he can't seem to get a full time major league job despite not pitching that badly in his efforts. His trouble is walks as he gives up too many of them. He has 258 appearances in the minors and 210 in the majors. He got into only 19 innings for Arizona in 2008 and gave up 11 walks. The Giants signed him as a free agent and he had a good season in for them in 2009. He pitched mostly in the minors in 2010, but pitched enough for the Giants that he'll get a World Series ring.
  • Billy Buckner - Buckner was a second round draft pick for the Royals who eventually traded him to the Diamondbacks for Alberto Gallaspo. He showed promise in 2008 in fifteen innings, so much so that they put him in their rotation in 2009. That was a disaster. Buckner can't seem to stop giving up gopher balls which derails otherwise good peripherals. After his bad 2009 season, he was part of the equally disastrous Dontrelle Willis trade. The Tigers released him soon after. The Rockies have signed him as a free agent with hopes of turning him around.
  • Jailen Peguero - A true journeyman pitcher, Peguero has been signed as a free agent five times and released three times. Despite all the moving around, he only has 24 big league innings, all of them with the Diamondbacks in 2007 and 2008. He was recently signed by Houston as a free agent as he continues to plug away.
  • Connor Robertson - Robertson was drafted in the 30th Round in 2004 by the Oakland A's. The fact that he got two cups of coffee in the majors already beat those odds. He pitched in seven innings spanning six appearances for the Diamondbacks in 2008. His ERA was 5.14 and he picked up one loss. After the season, he was traded to the Mets for Scott Schoeneweis and pitched for the Mets' farm system in 2009. He is now out of baseball.
  • Wil Ledezma - This pitcher shows that if you throw with your left arm, your career can go on forever. Ledezma has pitched for five different teams, the most recent being the Tigers in 2010. He was just picked up by the Pirates on waivers from the Blue Jays who had signed him as a free agent. He pitched only four innings for the 2008 Diamondbacks and didn't give up a run.

There you are, your twenty Diamondback pitchers of 2008. All of them gone, many forgotten and some wished to be forgotten. They made up the 162 game season of the Diamondbacks and are scattered like the wind. It's really extraordinary that not one remains with the team. It's an amazing turnover. But the Fan is too tired after this exercise to see if any other teams share the same fate.