Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Do We Keep Score in Spring Training?

Spring Training is emotionally confusing. We get to see new acquisitions for teams in new uniforms. Fans of those teams get to see the great new hope in town. For example, Red Sox fans got their first look at Adrian Gonzalez today. Plus, we get to see the prospects. We get our first looks at Montero, Hosmer, Harper and others. We obsess over how these players do. Uh oh, Montero is batting .167. There is curiosity in how Jeter is going to hit and how Youkilis is going to look at third and if Bumgarner can keep rolling after his post season. We stress over the poor spring by John Johnson and Matt Latos. And we need the constant reminder that none of it means anything.

It's totally meaningless that Mayberry has four homers and that the Royals have won twice as many games as they've lost. Years ago, the Fan used to laugh when George Steinbrenner got so upset because the Yankees weren't winning Spring Training games. And no, it doesn't mean a cotton picking thing that the World Champions are 13-4 this spring. It doesn't mean the Giants continue to build on their World Series win. All it means is that their late inning replacements are doing better than another team's late inning replacements. Starters are only pitching four innings (or five at the most). Position starters rarely play together and only play for two at bats or so. The games are meaningless. The stats are meaningless and the standings are meaningless.

The big reason we all get caught up in this stuff is easy to determine. First, we are so desperate for baseball that we'll take anything, even if they are meaningless games and make them into more than they should be. Secondly, we are all fooled because for some reason, the games scores and the statistics are all kept religiously. Why? Will any of us care a year from now what Larvarnway batted for the Red Sox before he was sent to the minors? Nope. Will any of us care that the Mariners were 8-5 as of March 13, 2011? No. And yet, we are given the mirage that the games count. There are box scores and winners and losers and saves and holds for crying out loud. We're paying attention to holds in spring training? It matters that Noesi got a blown save?

This Fan thinks we should stop this foolishness. Stop keeping score! The players should go out, play their nine innings and go home. and and Yahoo and CBSSports and FoxSports and all the others need not put box scores in their sites. The Fan understands that teams need to evaluate prospects. And the Fan also understands that interested baseball fans want to know how they are doing. So this idea will never fly. How about a compromise? Go ahead and publish the box scores and keep the stats. People want to know and you can't stop that. But forget about the standings. How's that?

There is also something else that gets us completely fooled. Say the Yankees are playing and they start Bartolo Colon. Colon pitches three innings and gives up a run on four hits. He is replaced by everyone's favorite Yankee pitching prospect, Banuelos. Banuelos pitches two perfect innings and blows away four batters. Okay, so judging by that, Colon should be released and Banuelos should be the Yankees' fifth starter. Right? Don't we think that?

But those performances weren't apples to apples. They were apples to grapefruit. Colon faced the other team's regulars who then depart after an at bat or two. Banuelos faced the other team's equivalent to Melky Mesa. You can't compare the two performances. You can't. The job of each team is to judge how each pitcher is throwing. Do they hit their spots? Do they repeat their motions? What's the radar gun saying? All that has to be taken into account and the teams then have to keep the best 12 or 13 pitchers to take north. If the teams went by spring training stats, they might think that Bonifacio was a .320 hitter. Oh wait. The Marlins do think that. Sorry.

The Fan knows full well that nothing is going to change. Reporting baseball and the MLB selling baseball is just too big now. Too many people are trying to figure out who to add to their fantasy rosters. So the MLB will continue to keep score, keep stats and perpetuate the myth that it means something. The least this Fan could ever hope for is a disclaimer in bold letters at the bottom of the standings, the team stats and the box scores that believing in any of the data can be hazardous to your emotional health. And in big block, capitalized letters: "NONE OF THIS MATTERS.".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Could Erik Bedard Finally Stop the Jokes?

Five years ago, Erik Bedard was one of the hottest pitching commodities in Major League Baseball. In twenty-eight starts, the left-hander struck out 221 batters in 182 innings for a clip of 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He went 13-5 that season for an awful Orioles team with a very fine 3.16 ERA. And that season built on the year before to give Bedard $40 million of value to the Orioles for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. That's why it seemed inexplicable that the Orioles traded him to the Mariners in a multiple player deal that in part brought Chris Tillman, George Sherrill and Adam Jones to the Orioles.

Perhaps the Orioles knew something they didn't tell the Mariners and perhaps not. But whatever the case, the Mariners made Bedard their opening day starter and gave him $7 million to avoid arbitration. People have been laughing at the Mariners ever since. Bedard only made it to 15 starts in his first season with the Mariners and showed regression in all of his statistics. He gave up a bunch of homers in the first month of that season and wasn't the same pitcher he showed in Baltimore.

Bedard then made only 15 starts the following season too. When he pitched, he was effective. But he couldn't pitch enough in 2009 to be a factor for the Mariners. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and after hopes of being able to come back in 2010, he ended up missing the entire season. To that point, the Mariners had paid Bedard almost $16 million and had little to show for their investment. Bedard became the pitching equivalent to the Nick Johnson jokes about injuries. Nick Johnson was the Erik Bedard of position players and vice versa.

Well, spring always brings new hope and the 2011 version is no different. Bedard says he is pain free and his pitching so far in exhibition games show every indication that he is back to being dominant again. In three appearances covering 5.2 innings of work, Bedard has struck out eight batters while only giving up three hits. It would be a bit ironic if the Mariners, who are now only paying Bedard a million dollars to pitch in 2011, finally getting the pitcher they hoped they would get back in 2008.

The Fan can't help himself. Comebacks are always rooted for hard and the underdogs hold a special place of interest. And while this writer knows that a lot has to go perfectly for Bedard to have a full and healthy season, the Fan can't erase visions of glory returning for the Ontario native. For Bedard to put away the jokes, he has to stay healthy. For every obvious reason why baseball intrigues every season, it's hard to bet against or root against Erik Bedard.

Rebutting the Bryce Harper Argument

First off, it's a foregone conclusion that the Washington Nationals will send Bryce Harper to the minors before Spring Training ends. Everyone knows it and everyone expects it. His thirteen at bats have been mostly successful in the Nationals' exhibition games, but we all know those games don't count. Harper has made some gaffes in the field and is pretty new to playing the outfield. Those will be ironed out with more seasoning. But just in case the Nationals were about to lose their heads and keep Harper on the big league team when they head north, Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus wrote a terrific piece for listing the economic and professional reasons why the Nationals should stick to their plan. While not doubting the latter argument, there was one piece missing from Goldman's economic argument.

Again, it's hard to argue with Goldman's scholarly argument for the professional reasons stacked against Harper. Certainly, he is correct that Alex Rodriguez, Robin Yount and even Ty Cobb failed to play well at that young an age. Goldman mentions Phil Cavarretta who is the only 18 year-old in history to ever get 500 at bats (589 to be exact) but doesn't mention that Cavarretta also was under league average at that age and wouldn't be a really good player for several more years after his 1934 debut. All of that makes sense. History has no precedent for an 18 year-old having any kind of success in the major leagues. Except that it's always possible to have a first time, isn't it?

Goldman's first argument against Harper going north with the Nationals has no flaws. Baseball has never seen an 18 year-old succeed. It is Goldman's economic argument that leaves questions. And in fairness to Goldman, who is a heck of a lot smarter than this writer, the economic argument would make sense with just about every other young potential superstar. The clock starts ticking when a young player starts playing. Teams can only control a player for six years before that player can choose to play anywhere he wants. Starting the clock at 18 means that by the time Harper is 24, and in position to have his best years, he'll be too expensive at too young an age. Better to start the clock later, argues Goldman, so that the "control" years include really good years. Goldman's big finish:

If the Nats give in to premature Harper-mania, they may sell a few extra seats now, but they will pay for the privilege, and pay, and pay some more, and the main thing they will be accomplishing is fattening up a potential franchise player for another team.

The three points that need to be made in response are first, the Nationals are already paying. Next, we don't know the stipulations Scott Boras might have negotiated with the Nationals for how they handle his young star. And lastly is the notion that the Nationals wouldn't have just as good a chance to keep him when he's a "franchise" player.

Let's get the middle rebuttal out of the way because the Fan doesn't know what he's talking about there. Scott Boras might not have been able to negotiate any "need-to-play" Harper contingencies into the contract. The Fan doesn't know. But if you were the agent for the "next big thing," wouldn't you negotiate that? But who knows.

The last part of the rebuttal is also easy to talk about. The Nationals have no problem spending money. They spent a ton of money on Adam Dunn in the past. They spent a ton of money on Werth and they went WAY over slot on both Strasburg and Harper. To insist that the Nationals will only keep Harper for six years is underestimating the Nationals'  belief and willingness in spending money in their desire to become a legitimate team. To this observer, saying that the Nationals are only going to have Harper in the majors for six years underestimates what the Nationals will do to get where they want to go. They aren't the Marlins or the Royals with no chance of spending big money. Goldman's argument is sound in that you will start paying Harper big money sooner. That's basic economics and one of the most distasteful parts of the business of baseball. Fans are often deprived of seeing better players play instead of what they have at the major league level because of this economic fact.

But the one fly in the ointment of that argument is that the Nationals are already paying Harper. This situation is not like other situations where a team can pay pennies to keep a player in the minors for another season. Bryce Harper is making $10 million over the next five years ($9.9 to be exact). So where is the economic sense of paying a guy $10 million over five years only to have no chance to recoup that money to their benefit? It would seem that paying that much over the next five years would put more economic pressure on the Nationals to speed up the clock, not slow it down.

And say the Nationals do slow that clock down for two years and three years from now Bryce Harper makes a splash. The current deal expires in five years and the likelihood remains that the Nationals will have to sign Harper to a lucrative extension at that point anyway. If Harper turns out as good as most people think he is, he's going to make his money one way or another.

In the Fan's perfect world, the only personnel decisions made should be based on who are the best 25 players in your organization. Harper should play when there is no other outfielder in their system that can out play him. Period. But the Fan understands the whole six years of control thing. It sucks, but it is what it is. In this case with Bryce Harper, those economic decisions might be moot because of the contract he already has and what will probably happen when it expires.

And the Fan will leave you with one unanswered question that nobody seems to ask: Did Robin Yount, Alex Rodriguez, Ty Cobb and Phil Cavarretta succeed despite the hard knocks they had at the age of 18, or because of them?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the Wild Side

People like to think that all organizations think the same about the type of baseball its teams should play. And indeed, the inclusion in front offices of statistical analysis on most teams now would seem to trend these teams in the same direction. Perhaps batting philosophies have become more similar, but not pitching. Some nice studies have lately shown that Dave Righetti, pitching coach in San Francisco, has really focused with great success on the ability to limit fly balls from leaving the park. Other teams stress ground balls and others strikeouts. And some, like the Twins and Cardinals hate giving up free passes. There were fourteen pitchers in 2010 that pitched 100 or more innings and gave up more than four walks per nine innings. These fourteen guys wouldn't last a week in Minnesota.

And yet, six of the fourteen had winning records. Five of them had ERAs under 4.00. Two of them pitched more than 200 innings. Two of them pitched for World Series teams. So obviously, the teams they play for live with the walks or they wouldn't run those pitchers out there for that many innings. As you can imagine, all but two of those fourteen have pretty high strikeout rates. And so the old image of the power pitcher without command is one of the constants of baseball down through the years. Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan both led their leagues in walks many times.

Frankly, it drives the Fan crazy when pitchers walk batters. The Fan believes in making a player earn his way on base. If you walk a batter, that batter has a 100 percent chance of getting on base. If you let the batter hit the ball, the batter only has a 30 percent chance of getting on base. The Fan would always take his chances on the latter. But hey, that's why the Fan sits and thinks about baseball in the basement and not in the dugout.

So who are these fourteen? Maybe you would guess the guy on the top of the list. Maybe you wouldn't. But here is the list:

  1. Carlos Zambrano - 4.79
  2. Scott Kazmir - 4.73
  3. Manny Parra - 4.65
  4. Bud Norris - 4.51
  5. Tom Gorzelanny - 4.49
  6. Jonathan Sanchez - 4.47
  7. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 4.33
  8. Jake Arrieta - 4.21
  9. Gio Gonzalez - 4.13
  10. C. J. Wilson - 4.10
  11. Jorge De La Rosa - 4.07
  12. Brandon Morrow - 4.06
  13. Tony Pena - 4.02
  14. Jhoulys Chacin - 4.00

Of those listed above, Zambrano, Wilson, Gonzalez, Chacin and Sanchez all finished with an ERA+ of over 120. Gorzelanny and De La Rosa both finished over 100. So at least half of the above pitchers were more of a benefit to their teams than detractions. Arrieta and Tony Pena are the two exceptions to the high strikeout members of this club. Both finished under 100 (under league average) in ERA+ though Pena had a winning record and Arrieta finished 6-6 despite pitching for the Orioles.

Zambrano was a surprise for this writer. But perhaps he shouldn't be. He's led the league in walks twice over his career and he's only had three years where his walks per nine were south of 4.0. His career average is 4.1 walks per nine. As mentioned here in another post, the Cubs have a ten or more year history under Larry Rothschild (now with the Yankees after years with the Cubs) with high strikeouts and high walk rates. Gorzelanny and Zambrano are just two in a long line of Cubs pitchers that strikeout a lot of guys and walk a lot too. Their closer, Carlos Marmol is another famous example.

Scott Kazmir is another pitcher who has always walked people at a high rate. He got away with it through 2008 when he was striking out ten guys per nine innings. But his strikeout rate has fallen in recent years and with it, his effectiveness has gone out the window. He may just be the least effective starting pitcher in baseball the last two years and his Spring Training this year has not shown any improvement. Don't be surprised if the Angels start the season without him.

Walks are a pet peeve of this writer. And yet many as shown here on this list, have success despite the high walk rates. But how much better could these pitchers be if they attacked the strike zone more vigorously? A young guy like Jonathan Sanchez always finds himself at 100 pitches by the fifth inning. That is a strain on his arm and his team's bullpen. And Sanchez's velocity took a dip toward the end of 2010, so maybe it's catching up with him. Carlos Marmol's monster season in 2010 was due largely to his decrease in his walk rate. All these pitchers walk a fine line between success and failure. And sometimes, as in Kazmir's case, that fine line has a cliff on the other side.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The One and Only Mark Belanger

There is only one player in the history of Major League Baseball that played two thousand or more games and finished his career with a slugging percentage of .300 or lower. His name was Mark Belanger. And not only did Mark Belanger play 2,016 major and finish his career with a slugging percentage of .300 or lower, he obliterated it, finishing at .280. You would have to set the bar down to 1,800 games to even come close. Eddie Brinkman, who has gotten a lot of mentions here in the Fandome lately, played 1,846 games and finished with a slugging percentage of .300 on the nose. More on him later. Donie Bush, who played in the tail end of the dead ball era, played 1,945 games and also finished with a .300 slugging percentage.

But that's not all that makes Mark Belanger unique. He is also the only batter in major league history that played more than two thousand games and batted below .230 for his career. Belanger finished with a career .228 batting average. If you bring the threshold down to 1800 games again, he is joined by one other player. Do you want to guess who that is? Why, of course, it's Eddie Brinkman who finished with a .224 batting average.

To backtrack just a minute, you may not know who Mark Belanger is. Once upon a time, the Baltimore Orioles were one the best teams in the American League. Mark Belanger was the shortstop of that great team and he played from 1965 to 1982. During that span, the Orioles went to the World Series six times and won it three times. Two other times, the Orioles lost the American League Championship Series. It was the Orioles who were the other half of the great story of the 1969 Miracle Mets. They were the Baltimore Colts to the Joe Namath-led New York Jets. There was no way the Mets were supposed to beat the Orioles, but they did and a large part of that win was beating the Orioles at their own game: Pitching and Defense.

Getting back to Mark Belanger, he was signed by the Orioles right out of high school (Pittsfield, MA) in 1962. He only got brief looks in 1965 and 1966 because the Orioles had a Hall of Fame shortstop named Luis Aparicio. With Aparicio at shorstop and Belanger only getting brief appearances, the Orioles swept the Dodgers in the World Series four games to nothing in 1966. Many people think Earl Weaver was the manager then. But he wasn't. Hank Bauer managed the team until 1968 when he was replaced mid-season by Weaver. Weaver's ascension as manager coincided with the beginning of the Mark Belanger era as the Orioles' starting shortstop.

Brooks Robinson preceded Belanger to the Orioles and of course, Robinson became known as the best fielding third baseman of all time. Belanger would also make a strong claim to be the best fielding shortstop of all time. Both men have the highest fielding WAR according to for their respective positions. That has to be the best left side of the infield that ever played defense. But at least Brooks Robinson could hit a little bit, especially early in his career. Belanger never could hit.

Belanger did have three or four half-way decent seasons with the bat. He actually reached 100 in OPS+ once in 1976. He came close to that number in 1969 and 1971. But other than those years, he was awful. If you broke his career down in 162 game intervals (like B-R does), his average season would be 106 hits, 14 of which would be doubles, three triples and two homers. His final career slash line was .228/.300/.280. Notice that his on base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage. Belanger was so bad at the plate that he averaged two less sacrifice bunts a year than doubles. He led the league twice in that category.

Mark Belanger played his entire career with the Orioles until his last season in 1982 when he played for the Dodgers. Despite his weak hitting, he made the All Star Team once and was in the top 30 in voting for the MVP three times. He won eight Gold Glove Awards and probably should have won more. You may have noticed that the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rotation is being compared a lot to those Baltimore Orioles' rotations that featured guys like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and others. A large part of the success of those rotations was the defense of Belanger and Robinson. Belanger topped 500 assists in a season for four straight seasons and topped 400 six other times.

Belanger died in 1998 in New York City. Many of the current generation do not know anything about him and his passing at the age of 54 was largely missed. But Belanger made a mark and is unique among all major league players. He made history. He was probably the greatest fielding shortstop of all time. And he was probably the mamby-pambiest hitter that ever graced a baseball diamond.

Comparing Carl Crawford to Shannon Stewart

While looking for a player this morning, the name Shannon Stewart, came into focus. Shannon Stewart? Remember him? Stewart was a good young player for the Toronto Blue Jays who, after playing five full seasons with that team, was traded to the Twins in 2003. His contribution to the Twins that season helped Minnesota to the playoffs. Stewart then had injury trouble to his feet and missed some chunks of time for the Twins. He had one last hurrah for the Oakland A's in 2007 and then sunk out of site with a poor 2008 and is now out of baseball. The question that immediately popped into the Fan's head when seeing Stewart's name was: "Wasn't he sort of the Carl Crawford of his day?"

The comparison makes sense in a lot of ways and also parts company in other ways. Let's look at both sides starting with the similar. Their offensive stats are startlingly similar. Stewart's career slash line: .297/.360/.430. Carl Crawford's career slash line: .296/.337/.444. Stewart had a career OPS+ of 105. Crawford sits at 107. Crawford has a little more pop in his bat but Stewart was better at getting on base.

The two were similar in that early in his career, Stewart was a prolific base runner. In Stewart's first full season, he stole 51 bases. But again, foot trouble plagued him and he really had only two seasons as a big time base stealing threat. Crawford, of course, has always been a stolen base threat and remains so even after nine seasons in the big leagues.

Both guys were left fielders who dabbled a little in center. Crawford is the superior fielder with fantastic fielding metrics. Stewart was just average out there. Both players had weak throwing arms from the outfield. But the bulk of Crawford's advantage over Stewart in WAR comes from fielding, not from offense.

Both players grew up in warm weather climates, Crawford in Houston and Stewart in Miami. As this Fan thinks about both player's careers, they seem very similar. Stewart was right-handed and Crawford is a lefty all the way. But Crawford's fielding and base running sets him apart. If Stewart hadn't hurt his feet, that might have been different.

* Please click on pics to see their sources.

Yankees - Too Many Rotation Choices?

Yes, yet another post about the Yankees' rotation. But this one has a twist. Whereas the story heading into Spring Training was the dire straits the Yankees were in for not signing Cliff Lee and having Andy Pettitte retire, the spring has unexpectedly taken a new turn for the pinstripers: They have too many rotation choices! Everyone the Yankees have thrown out there has performed well...even excellent so far. The candidates for the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation is now seven deep. How did THAT happen?

Well, for one, the Yankees took two fliers on Freddie Garcia and Bertolo Colon. Both had success in their careers but fell on hard times. Garcia rebounded a bit with the White Sox last year but Colon didn't pitch in the majors at all. Colon has pitched five innings in his starts this spring, has shown a surprisingly zippy fastball and has only given up one run on four hits. He has five strikeouts against one walk. Garcia also has five innings in two starts and hasn't given up a run. He looks sharp and hits his spots with relative ease. In his five innings, Garcia has not given up a run, struck out three, has allowed only three hits and no walks.

Then there is Ivan Nova, the pitcher most assumed would get the fourth spot by default. He's pitched five innings too and he hit a batter, but otherwise has given up three hits, walked none, struck out two and has not given up a run. Sergio Mitre, the pitcher no Yankee fan wants to see in the rotation has also not given up a run in his three appearances. "Meat Tray," as he is unaffectionately called by Yankee fans, has given up five hits with no walks in five scoreless innings.

And then you have the kids. Everyone is raving about Manny Banuelos and Dellon Betances. Betances impressed especially in his first outing. The good news is that he has struck out seven in his 4.2 innings of work. That bad news is the five walks and four hits. Despite all those base runners, he's only allowed two runners to score. Banuelos is being compared to a young Johan Santana. He has pitched three innings while allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out five. He might just be the nastiest pitcher the Yankees have in camp.

Want more? Andrew Brackman missed the early part of the spring with leg muscle problems, but he got into his first game yesterday and pitched a scoreless inning. Manager, Joe Girardi, said yesterday that Brackman's late start did not hurt his chances because there is plenty of time left. More? How about Adam Warren and Steve Garrison, who between them have pitched 8.2 innings and allowed only two runs.

Suddenly, the team that most observers felt were in big trouble because of lack of rotation depth have such riches that they will have to make some hard decisions. These next couple of weeks will go a long way to sorting out what this rotation will ultimately look like. If the Fan was a betting man, the guess here would be that Nova, Colon and Garcia all make the team out of spring training. Nova will be given the fourth slot followed by Colon. Garcia will be the swing man.

The Yankees will most like send all three of the "B's" to Trenton and whoever is throwing the best will be the first call up should something go wrong. Of course, this will be frustrating to those of us that love watching young prospects get their first crack in the majors. But it's probably for the best.

The big thing is that for a team that didn't seem to have a Plan B, they now seem to have Plans C, D, E, F, G, H and I all lined up. A weakness now seems like a strength and the next two weeks could be very instructive on how far the Yankees could go this upcoming season.

The Greatest Fielding Season Ever By A Shortstop?

Fielding metrics are still looked at by the lay analyst with a heavy dose of skepticism. There are different systems and they don't agree. In many cases, they seem to contradict the naked eye. For example, during a cursory look at last year's fielding stats in both Fangraphs and, Pat Burrell received positive fielding metrics for his play in left field for the Giants. Hasn't it been a long-standing thing that Burrell is NOT a good left fielder? So how at his age did he suddenly have such a good year? There is hope and new metrics are on the horizon. So take with a HUGE grain of salt the entire subject of this post. And what's the subject? Adam Everett and his fielding season in 2006, which according to was the best fielding season for a shortstop...EVER.

Adam Everett? That's what the site says. What this Fan did was use the play index search to find all seasons by a shortstop (defined as playing 90 percent of his games at short) with at least 20 fielding runs above average since 1901. The search was sorted by the total of fielding runs for that season. Seventy-nine shortstops have had a season with at least 20 runs above average while playing most of their games at shortstop. There sitting on top of the list was Adam Everett, the Houston Astros' shortstop in the 2006 season. His score was 40. That gave him a fWAR for that season of 4.

According to B-R, there have been six players that have had seasons of 30 or more runs above average. They are: Everett; Mark Belanger (1975 - Orioles) with 35; Terry Turner (1906 - Indians) with 34; Rey Ordonez (1999 - Mets) with 33; Ozzie Smith (1989 - Cardinals) with 32 and Art Fletcher (1917 - Giants) with 30. Please don't ask this fan how you can rate guys from 1906 and 1917, The answer would be a "Don't Know."

Belanger and Smith are, of course, considered two of the best fielding shortstops of all time. Belanger is the career leader on B-R for fielding runs and accounts for seven of those 79 seasons we talked about. Ozzie Smith made the list three times. Rey Ordonez is forgotten by except by Mets fans. For a while there, at the turn of the century. Ordonez had some of the best fielding seasons in baseball history. He had multiple seasons over 20. Other guys with multiple seasons over 20 include Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Brinkman, Rey Sanchez, Phil Rizzuto, Greg Gagne, Joe Tinker, Ozzie Guillen and Travis Jackson.

But not Adam Everett. It was the only season he appears on the list. In fact, his highest seasons other than that 40 monster were seasons of 11 and 10 the two seasons before his monster season. He was the starting shortstop in 2006, but he also played more games in 2005. Those were the only two seasons where he really played almost all of his team's games. Everett's problem in part is that he has always been a terrible offensive player. Everett has a career OPS+ of 66. Mark Belanger had a career OPS+ of 68 but he started eleven seasons for the Orioles. Everett has been a starter in two seasons. As we speak, he is trying to win a job with the Cleveland Indians.

So what made Everett's season so special? Well, he only made seven errors in 688 chances which is pretty remarkable. He participated in 105 double plays, which tied Belanger's best season in that category. Everett had 479 assists that season, by far the most of his career. But Belanger had four straight seasons with more than 500 assists.

But other than those cut and dried stats, this Fan couldn't tell you why Everett got a score that was better than any other shortstop in any season in history. Of course he didn't win the Gold Glove that season. But there it is. According to what this Fan thinks he's looking at, Adam Everett's 2006 season was tops of all time.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Why I'll Never Be a Sabermetrician

I set to write a post today based on the idea that the shortstop position has really changed over the years. I had often heard that shortstops, starting with Cal Ripken Jr., are bigger and have more power then those that played in the days before Ripken. And indeed, I began a little search using slugging percentage for shortstops that qualified for the batting title and played at least 50% of their games at short and slugged over .300. Here's what I found:

2001 - 2010: 209 seasons
1991 - 2000: 167 seasons
1981 - 1990: 141 seasons
1971 - 1980: 120 seasons
1961 - 1970: 117 seasons

So yes, those increase of seasons for shortstops over .300 in slugging percentage seems to indicate today's shortstops are slugging at a higher rate. But I didn't know how to account for expansion (one reason I stopped at 1961). Plus, I don't know if that's the best search to use. But that's not the real reason why I'll never be good with analytics. The real reason is that my curiosity won't stay in one place.

For example, I got caught up seeing the names: Rico Petrocelli, Jim Fregosi and Dick McAuliffe on the list. Those guys were basically known for other positions. Petrocelli and Fregosi at third and McAuliffe at second. But all three of those players played the majority of their games at short for several seasons. I didn't know that. And all of those guys preceded Ripken, had good pop in their bats and hit their shares of homers. Perhaps they were where the power game at short started and not with Ripken.

Then I saw in that same list that Leo Cardinas led the lead twice in a row in intentional walks. He had middling power and I was curious anyway because he was one of my favorite Strat-O-Matic players. But the fact that he led his league in intentional walks for two straight years amazed me. Why would that be? He was pretty good in those two years for the Reds, but he wasn't THAT good. I, like most folks, associate intentional walks with fearsome hitters who don't have a lot of help behind them in the line up. The fact that Jim Rice didn't receive a lot of intentional walks was one of the arguments that deflated the "feared" hitter debate during Rice's Hall of Fame bid.

So why would Leo Cardinas lead the league for two straight years in intentional walks? As you can see, I am now further and further away from my original search. And so I went digging in his game logs for those two years and I got my answer. He led the league in intentional walks because he always batted eighth in front of the pitcher. Cardinas was pretty good with the bat and if the pitcher was coming up behind it, he wasn't going to get to hit. Leo Cardinas might have been the best eighth place hitter of all time.

And then the brain went off on another tangent. How could you prove who the greatest eighth place batter in history was? I tried a couple of searches and quickly gave up. The answer is probably out there if you have the time to compile every season and every eighth place batter on every team. Now what was my original thought and search again? Oh yeah! Shortstops and slugging percentage over the years. Let's get back to that.

Except I can't. Because I see the names of my history floating off the screen. Was Eddie Brinkman as bad a hitter as I remembered? Yes. Was Burt Campanaris as overrated as I thought he was? Yep.  Rich Aurilia! Was he as good as I remembered? Not really. He had one great season in 2001. And so I killed an hour looking at players I remembered fondly. There was Jerry Adair, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell and so many others.

And by then I lost all interest and ambition to find out if Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies were truly a sign of a different age. I guess that's why Tangotiger and Dave Cameron get paid to do what they do.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Long Journey of Gregg Zaun

Gregg Zaun retired today. He was going to be 40 years-old in April and had logged parts of sixteen seasons in Major League Baseball. He caught in 1,067 games, played second base twice and first base twice. That was after playing five years in the minors, mostly as a catcher, though he did play some second and third base in the minors and he even pitched in one game. He was a professional baseball player for 21 years. That's a long, long time.

Drafted right out of high school way back in 1989 by the Orioles in the 17th Round, Zaun beat a lot of odds just to make it to the majors. Granted, it's a little bit easier if you are a catcher, but still. The thing about Gregg Zaun is that he was only a starting catcher for five of those sixteen years in the big leagues. He was never an All Star. He never won a Gold Glove. He was just a catcher that grunted it out year after year. His best batting average came in 2001 in Kansas City when he hit .320. He also hit .301 for the Marlins in 1997. But he hit .188 for the Marlins the following year. Such was the career of Gregg Zaun.

Like most catchers that aren't among the elite, Zaun has been everywhere. He played for nine different teams. He was released twice, traded five times and was a free agent nine times. How's that for a transaction wire junkie? His longest tenure was in Toronto, where he played for five years, He started four of those seasons and was in a platoon situation his fifth. It would be the most stable time in his career.

Zaun finished with a 91 career OPS+. He finished a season above 100 only seven times. He was a pretty good at taking a walk and showed occasional power, especially during the Toronto years. He wasn't particularly adept at throwing out base steal attempts and finished at only a 24 percent success rate. He was better early in his career. But early in his career was a long time ago. But he rarely gave up passed balls. Fielding metrics never showed him a whole lot of love and he finished in the negative numbers, but not terribly negative. He was better behind the plate than a lot of catchers around today.

But of course, none of these stone cold facts can ever tell the story of all those back fields, bullpen sessions, Spring Training drills, bruised hands, black and blues and smothered balls in the dirt that tally up in the course of catching 21 professional seasons. Being a catcher is hardly glamorous and it's often painful. Zaun has seen it all. And for his troubles, he made $18 million in salaries over the years. That seems like a pretty good trade off to this Fan.

Gregg Zaun was never great. He was never among the best at his position. He never got to stay around too long in one place. He often had to earn his job in Spring Training. He always found a way to do it. And he would have done it again in 2011 if his shoulder wasn't killing him. Odds were that he would have made the Padres this season. But it was time for Zaun to put it away. After playing for nine different major league teams and thirteen different minor league teams, Zaun has had a run he probably wouldn't trade for anything. He's earned every penny.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Revisiting the Beckett - Ramirez Trade

On November 24, 2005, the Red Sox and Marlins completed a blockbuster trade that sent Josh Becket, Guillermo Mota and Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox in return for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Harvey Garcia and Jesus Delgado. In the first year of the deal, 2006, Beckett was a disappointment. He won 16 games but posted an ERA of 5.01. Ramirez, meanwhile, stole 51 bases for the Marlins and hit .292 en route to a Rookie of the Year Award. Lowell went on to have some good years for the Red Sox and Anibal Sanchez has shown flashes of brilliance including a no-hitter. A lot of time has passed under the bridge since then and it seems like a good time to catch up on that deal.

Both Beckett and Ramirez exploded in 2007. Ramirez hit .332 and finished with a 145 OPS+. Josh Beckett came in second in Cy Young voting and won 20 games. Oh yeah, the Red Sox won the World Series. Both are coming off of disappointing 2010 seasons and both are hoping to get back to dominance in 2011. Beckett will be 31 in May and Ramirez is 27. Lowell has retired and Sanchez is thought to be an anchor in the Marlins' rotation. Let's do some math (Heaven help us!) and see how this deal has shaken out over the years.

What Boston Got:

  • Josh Beckett: Total WAR with Red Sox: 13.1. Total Cost: $44.4 million.
  • Mike Lowell: Total WAR with Red Sox: 12.6. Total Cost: $55.5 million.
  • Guillermo Mota: Never played for the Red Sox. He was traded two months after the initial deal with several players to Cleveland for Coco Crisp, Josh Bard and David Riske. The Red Sox got three years from Crisp who earned 5.3 WAR for the cost of $11.7 million. Bard and Riske didn't play long for the Red Sox and didn't add any value. While difficult to break down the value the Red Sox received from Mota because several players were involved, let's, for the sake of ease, give Boston Crisp's full values straight up for Mota.

Red Sox Totals: 31 WAR at $111.6 million.

What the Marlins got:

  • Hanley Ramirez: Total WAR with Florida: 29. Total Cost: $13.7 million
  • Anibal Sanchez: Total WAR with Florida: 7.6. Total Cost: $2.4 million
  • Jesus Delgado: Pitched two innings for the Marlins and provided no value. The Marlins waived him in 2009.
  • Harvey Garcia: Also pitched only two major league innings with no value. Also waived in 2009.

Marlins Totals: 36.5 WAR at $16.1 million.

It's easy to see that the Marlins got more value from this deal at a heck of a lot less money than what the Red Sox received in Beckett, Lowell and Crisp. If we give the players their future value projections and assume they stay with their current teams, the list breaks down like this:

  • Josh Beckett: 19.5 projected WAR to the end of his career.
  • Mike Lowell: Retired.
  • Hanley Ramirez: 40.1 projected WAR to the end of his career.
  • Anibal Sanchez: 13.6 projected WAR to the end of his career.

Those numbers look obviously in the Marlins favor too. Many times trades for prospects are a crap shoot. But in this case, the Marlins made out like bandits. The trade looks pretty negative from the Red Sox perspective, but they won a world championship in 2007. And they have a shot at one or two more before Beckett is done. Beckett pitched brilliantly in the 2007 post season. All in all, it's hard to think that the Red Sox have any regrets. It's not like they traded Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson or anything.

WAR totals from
Projections from Baseball Prospectus.

How Good Is Kendry Morales?

A mighty blow was dealt to the Angels last year when Kendry Morales rounded third during his walk-off homer. He approached home plate to his exuberant teammates, jumped in the air to join the celebration and when he landed, his leg shattered. It was ironic, and it was brutal. Joy had turned into a nightmare and the first baseman's season was over after 51 games.

The season Kendry Morales had in 2009 was unexpected. It seemed he came out of nowhere to hit 34 homers to go with 43 doubles and two triples. He drove in over a hundred runs, scored 94 and batted .306 with a .569 slugging percentage. He fielded his position well at first base and the Angels went to the post season again. It was so impressive a season, the Angels felt they could let Vladimir Guerrero depart as a free agent.

But how good a season was it? And would 2010 have been as good if he hadn't broken his leg? The views are mixed. As good as his 2009 season was, he was still the tenth best first baseman in the majors that year. His power and his slugging are what you expect from a first baseman. His fielding was a nice bonus, no question.

It seems unfair to compare 2010 with 2009 when he only played one third of the games in the latter season due to his horrible injury. But in those 51 games, he had regressed in several areas. First, his batting average was down to .290, a drop of sixteen points. The drop in part can be explained in his batting average for balls in play. At .329 in 2009, which is somewhat lucky, it was down to .296, or pretty much what you would expect in an average season. His slugging percentage was also down.

Not everything was lower though. His line drive percentage was noticeably higher. And his homer to fly ball ratio was higher significantly. The problem was that he hit a lot less fly balls and a lot more ground balls. His fielding was still very good.

But there is a flaw to the game of Kendry Morales. He doesn't walk enough. In 2009, his 7.4 percent walk rate was 23rd in the majors for first basemen that qualified for the batting title. Only Jorge Cantu and Daniel Murphy were lower. Before his injury in 2010, his walk rate was down to 5.7 percent. At the age of 28, it seems unlikely that this skill will improve as the years go on from here.

It's probable that if Kendry Morales had a full season in 2010, he may have been able to come close to his 2009 numbers. But even that would have only added three or four wins to the Angels' total. So you really can't lay the Angels finishing out of the money on his injury. And now Morales has to come back from this wicked injury and revive his career. There are long odds against him as an injury like that has derailed better players than him.

The reports from the Angels camp indicate that Morales is on schedule to start competing two weeks from now. If that report is close to being what happens, Morales can make it to Opening Day. It will be interesting where he starts the season. Will his leg be fit enough for first base? His value at DH would be even less for the Angels.

Morales is a nice force in the middle of the Angels line up. His power and ability to hit the ball on the screws have to give opposing teams pause. But his lack of patience at the plate derails some of that benefit and we will have to see if he can come back from a terrible injury. Projections are somewhat pessimistic. Bill James and MARCEL put him around .850 in OPS and Fans project him nearer to .870. Again, that's a nice number in the middle of the Angels' line up. But in terms of other first baseman around the league, those numbers do not put him among the elite first baseman in the majors.