Friday, December 23, 2011

The Boring Yankees

Being the son of this Fan wasn't easy. Face it, every father has a ready-made list of platitudes that are drawn upon for every situation. Since being trite was always an irrational fear for this writer, those fatherly platitudes were a bit different. For example, every kid will start a sentence with some form of, "I just..." like I just wanted to see what would happen or I just wanted to see what it tasted like. Whenever this father heard the "just" word, the platitude was, "'Just' is short for justification and you are simply trying to justify your actions." Boy, he hated that one. The other equally-hated platitude came whenever he said, "I can't." Such as, "I can't make my bed, I don't have time." Or, "I can't split wood." The platitude on those occasions was, "Don't tell me you can't, just say you won't because that is what you really mean." Yeah, poor kid. How does this relate to the Yankees? The overriding story line this off season has been they can't spend money. Don't tell this Fan you can't, just say you won't.

The Yankees have gotten boring. They didn't sign C.J. Wilson. They weren't the high bidder on Yu Darvish. They didn't sign Mark Buehrle. They didn't sign...well...anybody. Brien of It's About the Money Stupid has been all over this story so this Fan isn't really breaking new ground here. Check out his posts on the subject here, here and here. Whatever the conclusions as to why the Yankees are not serious bidders, the bottom line is that after years of splash, they are the sea of tranquility.

Somewhere, George Steinbrenner has to be screaming. His team has become a non-story. Well, sure, they are one of only two teams to still face a luxury tax (the Red Sox being the other). Sure, they have All Stars all over their roster and seem poised to make another run at 90 wins at least. But remember a few years ago when they signed C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett within weeks of each other? Now that was splashy. Of course, Burnett has turned splashy into trashy, but that's another story. With a second consecutive year of rotation uncertainty, the Yankees won't make a splash. They re-signed Freddie Garcia. They hope Phil Hughes will somehow reach his potential. They are good with that it seems. It's boring.

And who's to say they are wrong? They have minor league options if the aforementioned pitchers don't work out. They can still bludgeon you to death with their line up. Jesus Montero at DH looks mighty tasty. This Fan isn't questioning their sanity, just their showmanship. Frankly, its fans are stunned and disappointed. This isn't what Yankee fans are used to. They aren't used to a team sitting and spinning while the Rangers, Angels and good golly, the Nationals make headlines. We'll have to see if this strategy works in 2012. It almost worked in 2011. Well, it did work during the regular season.

Whether it's the provisions of the new collective bargaining agreement or that the young sons of George are more interested in the bottom line than the old man or whatever, the Yankees' fat wallet has been closed for business this off season. In the long run, that might be the smartest option, who's to tell. But it sure is boring.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BBA Link Fest - Holidays in General

Happy holidays, everyone, and welcome to a holiday edition of the BBA Link Fest, bringing you the best from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance General Chapter. While the only thing hot is the stove this off season, our writers have kept plugging along bringing great content to their sites. Please click a link and leave a comment on our friendly sites and thanks as always for tuning in each Thursday. May you and yours have a wonderful week.

The links!

Mike Cardano over at the X-Log emptied his caviar or something this week over Yu Darvish. And congrats to Mike and his staff as the X-Log made the list of this year's best baseball sites over at Way to go!

The ever interesting Through the Fence Baseball included a post by Jackie Micucci on the Yankees top prospects.

This Fan doesn't always agree with Sully about things. But his videos are top notch and always supremely entertaining. Check out his latest linked over at his Sully Baseball.

The Sports Banter has lots of content each week. But this Fan can't help but look forward the most to the Monday Mullet. Love it!

A lot of our folks are weighing in on this year's Hall of Fame entrants. Your own Fan will come up with one soon perhaps. But in the meantime, a great job by Replacement Level Baseball Blog on their thoughts.

Remember when The Platoon Advantage was having that be nice week? Well, forget about that. The gents there have been extra feisty this week. Loved this piece by Bill on closers.

Have money to burn? Old Time Family Baseball has an idea how to spend it. You've got to read this.

Erik Eitel takes us back to the beginning over at Number One Baseball.

In honor of Hanukkah, Jonathan Hacohen of MLB Reports re-introduces us to The Baseball Talmud by Howard Megdal. Perfect timing. Perfect delivery.

Michael Schwartze of MLB Dirt gives us all the fun facts of the great Jose Bautista.

The Fan's good buddy over at Left Field presents his top music picks of 2011 with a baseball twist. Great stuff.

Love baseball? Love baseball trivia? Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor will tickle your fancy.

The Hall of Very Good has a terrific five days of Christmas. Honest! Check it out here.

This long-time baseball Fan just loves historical pieces. Grubby Glove his the spot with his piece on Jim Northrup. 

Daniel "Dee" Clark's top fifty prospects series has been terrific and if you have a few days and haven't been there, check them all out. Or you can just check out the latest one on Drew Pomeranz over at The Golden Sombrero.

The Baseball Index has some sad news on a Mets' minor league franchise. Agree in spades.

Who were the best players in the National League in the 1980s? For Baseball Junkies has the skinny.

Dugout 24 presents a unique baseball workshop from across the globe.

A Reds fan over at Diamond Hoggers is less than thrilled by the Mat Latos trade. Why? You'll have to check it out.

Matt Whitener of Cheap. Seats. Please. thinks pitching will be the Cardinals' strength in his post this week.

Mario Salvini of our Italian affiliate, Che Palle! offers smile aplenty from a gem of a video of two teams enjoying a rain delay. Fun!

Way behind on your holiday shopping? It's kind of too late, but Lew Freedman over at Call to the Pen gives us great info we can use with the money Mom sent us.

Did you know that baseball has a baseball solstice? Yeah, neither did the Fan. But have no fear, The Ball Caps Blog educates us.

Prince Fielder is still homeless. At least that's what Sooze calls him over at Babes Love Baseball.

If the Fan's brain worked like Ryan Sendek's does, it would spin right out of this noggin. Sendek is amazing! Check out his mock draft extravaganza going on over at Analysis Around the Horn.

Over at 85% Sports, Eugene and Russ have a great discussion on Prince Fielder. Love how they do these give and take posts., our French affiliate, gives us some words from the Marlins' former manager on how to deal with Hanley Ramirez.

In this Fan's favorite post of the week, Stevo-sama takes us back to a glorious David Cone moment in time. Fantastic stuff. Loved it at The Baseball Enthusiast

Thanks for stopping by and please check out these great sites. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Projecting Mike Stanton

Quick quiz: Who had the higher home run to fly ball ratio in 2011 between Mike Stanton and Jose Bautista? Why yes, that would be Mike Stanton, who led the majors in that category among all qualified batters. In fact, Stanton's home run to fly ball ratio was higher than Bautista's in 2010 too. The problem (if you want to call it that) is Bautista hits a lot more fly balls than Mike Stanton. Among all power hitters in the game in 2011, only Prince Fielder and Michael Morse had lower fly ball rates than Stanton. All of that plus a brand new ballpark makes projecting Mike Stanton in 2012 very difficult.

Let's start with the new ballpark. The Marlins' new stadium has larger dimensions than Sun Life Stadium. The left field line is ten feet further. Left center is thirteen feet further and dead center is eight feet further. But as most of us know, when Mike Stanton hits a homer, dimensions don't matter. Mike Stanton does not hit cheap homers. What we don't know is how balls in the air will react in the new stadium when the roof is closed. So again, projections are a bit difficult.

Stanton's plate discipline is confusing as well. He certainly walked more in 2011 than he did in 2012. His walk rate rose to 11.6 percent from 8.6 percent the previous season (his first). But Stanton swung at more pitches out of the strike zone in 2011, 33.6 percent compared to 32.1 percent the year before. Not surprisingly, that increase also meant Stanton swung and missed at a higher rate in 2011 than he did in 2010 (15.2 percent compared to 12.8 percent). Stanton's 166 strikeouts in 2011 are a bit alarming.

Perhaps part of his problem in 2011 was that he spent the early part of the season batting sixth in the line up. When you only have weakness batting behind you for 58 games, you're not going to get pitched the same when you are further up in the line up. His strikeouts decreased somewhat when he moved up to third and fourth in the line up, but his average slumped. He hasn't yet learned to succeed in high leverage situations and times when runners are in scoring position. His numbers in both were poor. He will need to improve in those areas to justify staying that in those prime positions in the line up.

A return to form for Hanley Ramirez and the addition of Jose Reyes should help as pitchers would have much more to think about than just Stanton. Logan Morrison also had a disappointing season and if he comes back with a better season, than much more protection is afforded Stanton. Stanton is a lot like Bautista in that both players have a similar lack in line drive percentage. Both players are well below league average in hitting ropes. But again, Bautista is much more adept at hitting the ball in the air. Stanton could dramatically increase his home run total if he could improve his fly ball rate. It's hard, however, to increase a batting average stuck in the .250 to .262 range when you only hit 16 percent of your balls in play on a line.

As can be expected by now from Bill James projections, the projections are bullish for Stanton in 2012. James has Stanton hitting 39 homers and raising his average by twelve points. Fans projections are equally bullish. This Fan hates to be a wet blanket, but Stanton has to hit more balls in the air to hit more homers and he has to hit less ground balls and more line drives to raise his batting average (if his BABIP remains static).

Mike Stanton will only be 22 in 2012 and will continually have to adjust as pitchers adjust to him. He didn't have a whole lot of growing time in the minors as you can well imagine. He is getting his training at the major league level. How will Mike Stanton do in 2012 and in his new ballpark? We are all excited to find out because the guy is intriguing as heck.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Frank Francisco Hurt by Home Ballparks

The Toronto Blue Jays have some of the best bloggers on the Web and this writer loves checking them out. Writers like Tao of Stieb, Navin Vaswani and others provide priceless entertainment. And after reading them religiously for the past season, when it was announced that the Mets had signed Frank Francisco, the Fan's first reaction was to scoff. After all, "Fat Frankie" as he was called north of the border was often the cause of derision and scorn. But if this observer has learned one lesson over the years, it's, "check your facts." Francisco isn't half as bad as perceived.

When looking at a deal, the first thing this writer does is check Fangraphs' valuation of a player over the last several seasons. Judging by that, the Mets overpaid Francisco. According to the reports, Francisco is due to receive $12 million over the next two seasons or an average of $6 million per. But WAR might not be the best way to value closers. You also have to look at the pay scale top closers are getting around baseball and it's also helpful to check Win Probability. Francisco's deal is relatively cheap compared to other established closers and he's posted solid WPA scores his entire career.

Francisco has played his entire career with his home parks in Texas and Toronto. Both places are hitters' paradises. And the numbers bear out that Francisco has been hurt by pitching at home in his career, particularly the last two seasons when his fastball has fallen off by a MPH or two. In 2011, Francisco's OPS against was .793. His OPS against was .598 on the road. Six of the seven homers he allowed last year were in Toronto and fifteen of his nineteen extra base hits allowed came at home.

His season in Texas in 2010 was similar. That season, Francisco's OPS against was .743 at home and .603 on the road. Four of the five homers he allowed in 2010 were hit when Francisco pitched in Texas.

So perhaps we shouldn't pooh-pooh this deal made by the Mets. Francisco should fare well in Citi Field even if they do bring the fences in. If he is as successful at home in Citi Field as he's been on the road the past couple of seasons, the Mets should have themselves a fine relief pitcher.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alex Gordon - Sudden Superstar

Long before there was Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, there was Alex Gordon. And while the former two along with Lorenzo Cain (and others) form the core of the hopes of Kansas City fans, Alex Gordon finally took his rightful place as a star in Major League Baseball. And Gordon did so far out of the spotlight accorded the two young phenoms. And it was totally unexpected. The only real recognition his season begat was that he somehow upset everyone's favorite to win the Gold Glove in left field (Brett Gardner of the Yankees). Would most casual fans know that Alex Gordon had the ninth highest fWAR in the majors last season (not counting pitchers)? Doubtful.

This writer remembers when Gordon was getting the prospect hype currently garnered by Hosmer and Moustakas. He was the first round pick of the Royals and second overall of the 2005. Justin Upton was selected ahead of him and rightly so. But Gordon was going to be the next big thing. Except it didn't happen.  Just two years after finishing his college career at Nebraska, Gordon was the starting third baseman for the Royals in 2007. He had had only one full season in the minors in 2006 and was rushed to the majors. Understandably after being rushed to the majors, he was underwhelming. While he was a better third baseman than written about, it was his bat that didn't spark much admiration. He hit .247 his first season and only collected a .314 on-base percentage.

2008 was better. Gordon increased his walk percentage and despite his .260 batting average, he finished that season with .351 on-base percentage. And yet, he was falling out of favor with Trey Hillman, his KC manager at the time. Then came 2009.

By April 15 of 2009, Alex Gordon was batting .095. He had injured himself sliding into second on April 11 but still played two more games. But there was obviously something wrong and he underwent surgery on his hip on April 17. The operation laid him up for twelve weeks. After a brief rehab, he was back with the Royals  in mid-July and slowly raises his batting average to a high of .224. But Gordon slumped again and after a game on August 17, then batting .198, Gordon was optioned to the minors where he remained until the minor league season was over. He was added back to the Royals when the rosters expanded and he hit upon his return. But it was too late and his final slash line for 2009 was: .232/.325/.378. His line drive percentage fell that season to under fifteen percent.

By the spring of 2010, there were whispers that Alex Gordon was a bust. His first two seasons weren't as bad as they seemed and understandable for a guy with no experience thrust into the majors full time. But 2009 seriously damaged his standing. To make matters worse, he then broke his thumb in Spring Training in 2010. After starting that season on the disabled list, he was activated and saw his first action on April 17. He obviously wasn't right and by May 1, he was batting .194 with only one homer and one double to his credit. He was sent to the minors.

Gordon might have remained in the minors the rest of that season, but David DeJesus got hurt in late July (another thumb) and Gordon got the call. He had been converted to the outfield by that time in the minors as by that time, the Royals had this Moustakas kid who was going to be the future at third base. So Gordon returned in late July and stayed the rest of the season. Gordon played every day the rest of the season but it never jelled for him and his final slash line after 281 plate appearances was: .211/.315/.355. The whispers grew deafening.

By the spring of 2011, Gordon was an afterthought. Nobody expected anything from him and nobody even talked about him. But as the season broke, Gordon was the starting left fielder. His first game of the season didn't bode well. He went 0-5 with three strikeouts. The home fans weren't happy with their opening day left fielder. But in his fourth game, an extra-inning affair against the Angels, Gordon went 4-6. The following day against the White Sox, he went 3-5 and hit his first homer. He went 2-5 his next game and never looked back. By the end of April, Gordon was batting .339!

Gordon slumped in May and his batting average fell to .275 by May 19. But he finished May well and was consistently good at the plate through the rest of the season. His final slash line for 2011 was .303/.376/.509. That was good for a 140 OPS+ which easily led the team. He hit 23 homers and added four triples and a terrific 45 doubles. Plus, he was terrific in left with twenty assists and was excellent on the base paths. A star was born. Or was he reborn? His wOBA, which has been a woeful .294 in 2010, finished at .382 for the 2011 season.

After being left for dead after 2010, Alex Gordon became a star in 2011. His season in many ways mirrors the season that Jacoby Ellsbury had for the Red Sox. Both resurrected from injuries and lost time and whispers to become young stars. But what does the future hold? Bill James and Fans projections have him falling off again in 2011. Their projections still show him to have a valuable season, but they both expect him to be far less impressive than he was in 2011. His BABIP of .358 in 2011 might lead to those tame projections. But Gordon hit the ball hard in 2011. His line drive percentage was 22 percent. If he keeps hitting bee-bees all over the field, there's no reason to think he can't duplicate the success he had in 2011.

Kansas City fans have a lot to look forward to in 2012. They have an exciting young team. Hosmer and Moustakas and Cain rightly inspire hope for a long-moribund franchise. But their best player is Alex Gordon, the Hosmer of 2007. Gordon became one of the best players in the majors in 2011. The sky is now the limit for him going forward.

Posnanski Closes Comment Section

Your host on this site follows a lot of baseball writers. To be widely read is one of the truly best ways to get wiser in life. But it's not just that. Many writers are inspiring. To live an artistic life--and writing is art, friends--other artists are not competitors. Artists are drawn together by the love of what they do. And yeah, to be honest, we want affirmation by our peers. Twitter serves that need very well. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. For some writers, the goal is to dominate public thought and opinion. That's fine, if that's how they want to play it. But after a while, the same machine that brings you to the top, brings you down just as quickly if hubris is the foundation. All of these thoughts are brought about by Joe Posnanski's decision to shut down comments on his site. Wait. That came off wrong. That is not to say that Mr. Posnanski is one of those hubris-driven writers. It's just his decision has brought out all these conflicting emotions that are spilling out now.

The thoughts here aren't concrete and already they are off on the wrong foot. Since the nexus of this particular post is to come to grips with Mr. Posnanski's decision, the emotions are torn and thus the hesitation you might already be feeling. This writer also feels the hesitation. So pretend this is a flow of consciousness post and maybe we'll get through it together.

The two conflicting emotions with Mr. Posnanski's decision are one, a profound respect for his career and his craft and second, that reaching the heights he has risen, such decisions must be difficult even when they don't feel right to this observer. The respect for Mr. Posnanski as a writer is not just about how good he is at what he does. And obviously, he has few peers in that regard. But it has also been that his writing has drawn us in to his narrative for so long, it always felt like he was speaking to us personally. In the song world, Amy Grant and more recently, Taylor Swift, have that ability. Certain actors make you believe in whatever character they paint and make us root for them. It's a gift really. Joe Posnanski made us look at the fan-writer differently. Everyone knows and loves (and has adopted) his "Posnanski asterisk" which makes him the heir of Peter Gammons who gave us the word, "Arguably." That's the sort of thing great writers do.

Part of Joe Posnanski's art is in intelligently crafted narratives that carry us along. But just as importantly, he carried us along as co-conspirators in the dialogue. Many of his posts have come from those "brilliant readers" that commented on his posts. His use of polls have been done far better than anyone else because it echoes and adds to the shared experience his writing already fosters. Now he has decided--for at least the time being--that he is going to shut a part of that off.

This writer's previous career was building a software company's customer service division from the bottom up. As a new start-up, the company went through many bumps along the way. Many of those bumps were truly saved by terrific and personal customer service. Your Fan's goal was to try as best as possible to treat people the way we wanted to be treated ourselves. Sometimes that meant allowing them to vent when necessary and at times to agree with their assessments.

In one of the few times this Fan was ahead of the technological world, early on in the growth process, blogging to customers and creating an open forum for customers (which this writer moderated) was implemented. This was before most people had ever heard of the word, "Blogging," and, "Chat." Our customers loved it. First, they found fellow customers they could bounce ideas with and secondly, they found the head of customer service interacting with them, listening to their problems and working with them to get through them. This really was something that set us apart from other software companies in our industry.

But as we continued to grow, so did the leadership. We got more and more managers, vice presidents, directors and so forth. As we got to be a big company, many of these leaders felt that these platforms exposed us to our competitors so they would know our struggles and use them against us. Others felt that we were too big by then to care what individual customers thought and found the sometime negativity to be threatening. The bigger we got as a company, the more this was debated. Until finally, this Fan lost and the thing was shut down.

It was one of the worst decisions the company could have made at the time as we had just been purchased by a major company in our industry. But that's life. What they didn't understand was that these components we offered customers was part of our charm. The fact that we shared the stress of tough software times together made it a collective more than just a customer/vender relationship. We retained a lot of our customers through the tough times, through the bugs, and the late deliveries, because of our openness in talking to them.

Once we shut the chat and blog down, we were just another big shot that didn't care about the little guy. That's what this feels like in what Mr. Posnanski has done. And what makes this difficult to say is that it's very possible that has nothing to do with his decision. He could very well be concerned that unfair comments could occur and with no time to look after them, they could ruin the experience with others. But even that is something with which we disagree.

This writer totally believes that if we call ourselves a democracy, then people have a right to bitch and be jerks. Many times our company learned from those complainers, even if they were totally unfair in how they presented themselves. The customer service manager turned a lot of those naysayers into product endorsements over the years. Letting free speech reign, even when it hurts, is cool. Limiting it is not cool. And many times, your customer-supporters will defend you quite well without you even having to say anything. That happened with our company and it happened over at Joe's Blog. Self-policing can be even more effective than riot-policing.

The other sticking point is that Mr. Posnanski feels he no longer (or at least currently) does not have the time to read his comments. That's a shame. We as writers can't be overly influenced by those who comment on our sites, but feedback is always good and sometimes, those comments add to a point given or correct facts erroneously stated.  Mr. Posnanski (a term of respect by the way and not written as a derogation) does not state why he no longer has the time. He could be in a family transition or crisis. He could be in the middle of writing deadlines. Or he could just be hung up with the many requirements of success that include book deals and sales and other things. We don't know and, frankly, it's none of our business.. But it's very easy to make the jump that he's gotten bigger than his readers. That's not fair, but that's the way the human brain works.

As much as success is sweet, it has its costs. Perhaps Joe Posnanski is paying some of them. We all want to be successful. Let's face it, we not only write because we like to, but because we want to be heard. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Sometimes it might mean that the very thing that helped us to be successful in the first place becomes one of the casualties.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

So the Same Day as a Reds' Snooze Fest Post....

Life isn't always kind to a writer. Yesterday morning dawned and the idea struck that the Cincinnati Reds had done absolutely zilch this off season. So that was the theme of yesterday's post. The  fortunate thing that happened after that  post was written was having to spend thirteen hours at the mall trying to peddle the company's books. Why was that fortunate? Because there is no Internet at our mall. And why is that fortunate? Because that way this writer didn't find out until much later how silly the morning post looked after the blockbuster deal between the Reds and the San Diego Padres.

One Twitter buddy said he preferred to think of yesterday's post as a catalyst (which was kind). Another asked that this writer come up with a post talking about his team's glaring needs (which was hysterical). But enough about the Fan. What about that deal, eh? The Reds turned three prospects into Mat Latos. Don't be fooled by Latos' 9-14 record in 2011. This guy is a stud.

Latos is the kind of pitcher every team covets for the top of their rotation. In Latos, the Reds get a pitcher who just turned 24 this month and has already logged 72 starts in his big league career. His FIP in the last two seasons were 3.00 and 3.16 respectively. Opponents have batted .216 and .228 off of him the last two seasons. Batters have trouble squaring up the bat to his pitches. His line drive rates the last two years have been off the charts: 14.9 and 16.1 percent respectively.

And Latos' success can't be pinned solely on his home park in San Diego. Yes, his home OPS against was lower than on the road. But not by much. His OPS against at home was .641 last season and only .688 on the road. You would take that, no? Plus, he is not an extreme fly ball pitcher (when batters manage to hit the ball). His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.03 for his career. So that isn't something that would overly concern you heading into the Reds' little ballpark.

In yesterday's lame duck post, Yonder Alonso was featured as an up and coming player for the Reds. Well, forget that idea because he was one of the three prospects the Reds sent to the Padres. The Reds were trying to convert Alonso from first base to left field since Votto is a fixture at first. But in Keith Law's take on the trade over at yesterday, Law mentions that the left field move was ill-advised and that Law prefers Anthony Rizzo, the Padres incumbent first baseman. Alonso could then be dealt by the Padres for another need they might have.

While it's hard to argue with Keith Law, this writer thinks that Alonso could have worked out in left field for the Reds and the Reds line up will miss the young player. But you have to give up quality to get quality and that's just what the Reds did. The Reds most glaring need was in the rotation (as mentioned yesterday) and the Reds took care of that need in glorious fashion. They also got rid of a thorn in the organization's side.

Part of the deal sent Edinson Volquez to the Padres. The erstwhile starter the Reds obtained from the Rangers in the Josh Hamilton deal had a brilliant debut season for the Reds but has gone down hill since. Last year was particularly trying for all as Volquez had to endure two stints in the minors due to his ineffectiveness in the Reds' rotation. This Fan bets that Volquez pulls it together for the Padres gaining a comfort level in a much more pitcher friendly environment.

This Fan wouldn't call Brad Boxberger a spare part like others have when discussing this deal. Boxberger has a big arm and could have helped the Reds in the bullpen this season. That's still a big need for the Reds. But then again, when you can get a guy like Mat Latos, geez, you have to give up some quality if you have the chance. Latos, if he stays healthy (knocking wood), can be a terrific pitcher for the Reds for years to come. He's a fiery personality which makes him a tough competitor. He is an ace and aces are hard to find.

Merry Christmas, Reds fans. You got something pretty exciting to talk about today.