Friday, March 30, 2012

So Juan Pierre has made the Phillies

Juan Pierre evokes a lot of strong opinions from people. In an age of statistical data and the prominence of those who interpret that data, Pierre has often been the fodder of conversation. And thus, when he signed a minor league contract before the season with the Philadelphia Phillies, that conversation intensified. Now, he has made the team's opening day roster. Whoo boy. Let the fun begin. 

As has been written in this space before, Juan Pierre is a statistical toy. Nobody in baseball has struck out less than Juan Pierre. Nobody in the game has had more bunt base hits. Nobody else in the game has stolen more bases while not being particularly good at it than Juan Pierre. Pierre has racked up over 700 plate appearances the last two seasons. For all that playing time, has given him the grand total of 1.8 rWAR over the past two seasons combined (1.8 rWAR in 2010 and 0 in 2011). Fangraphs rated him higher in 2010 at 2.9 but lower last year at -0.4 fWAR.

It is obvious in the linked piece from that his new manager loves Juan Pierre. But how will he use him? Pierre played every game of every season from 2003 to 2007, three years with the Marlins, a year with the Cubs and then a year with the Dodgers. In 2008 with the Dodgers, he ran into the Manny Ramirez euphoria and lost some playing team to that phenomenon for 2008 and 2009. The stories at the time indicated he wasn't happy about it. Then he played nearly every game for the White Sox for the past two seasons. Will he be content to be a role player?

As a role player, Pierre is probably a better choice than Scott Podsednik who was his chief rival this spring for a job. While the Phillies wait for the return of Ryan Howard, Pierre can take some turns in left if John Mayberry, Jr. plays first. But Ty Wigginton also plays first and will get some playing time. That forces the Phillies to use Mayberry in left if they want him in the lineup. And then what happens when Ryan comes back?

In the grand scheme of things, will Juan Pierre get more than 200 plate appearances? This will be fascinating to watch, won't it? If Pierre does get more than 200 plate appearances, how effective will he be? What if he gets 400 plate appearances? Would that be a bad thing for the Phillies?

The thought here is that Juan Pierre is a useful player. He is a good base runner (base stealing aside), puts the ball in play and other than a terrible throwing arm, can't hurt you too much in left where he should be adequate when he plays. But the thought is also here that Pierre's best usage would be as a part-time player with a limited role. If he gets significant playing time, that won't bode well for the Phillies' offense as a whole. His $800,000 contract with incentives is a far cry from what he's been paid in the past and makes this an attractive equation for the Phillies. The real question is whether Juan Pierre can accept his new status when he has four or five more years left in his career.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

BBA Linkfest - General Anticipation

Real baseball has started. And stopped. Our odd two-game series in Japan is over and done with and we are back to fluff baseball for another week. The anticipation for the regular season is driving our writers in the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Let's get this show on the road, baseball! Like every Thursday, here are links from around the Chapter. Give a click, would you? And thanks for the support you show our writers.

Let's start with our newest chapter member, Full Spectrum Baseball. The site is new and terrific but the founders have been long-time BBA members for other incarnations and most of the writers too. Terrific site! Dennis Lawson is impressed with the Detroit Tigers' offense.

Griffin Phelps of The Golden Sombrero is as unimpressed as the Fan with baseball starting its season in Japan.

The Grubby Glove site has moved. You definitely need to follow this writer because the writing is terrific. So once you click this link about the Tom Seaver 1977 Topps baseball card, bookmark the site!

The Hall of Very Good has a great post this week about all the milestones Alex Rodriguez could surpass this season. 

Hot Corner Harbor has another great quiz for us this week. Click the link and then click the link.

Left Field has started a new project and like Brian Cashman on Michael Pineda, the site's author is already trying to lower our expectations. You WILL finish this and you WILL dazzle us. Got it?

Michael Schwartze is taking us on a tour of each division and the rookies on each team to watch. Cool stuff on MLB Dirt.

Chuck Booth of MLB Reports is looking for the Detroit Tigers to bring home a World Series trophy this season.

Nik of Niktig's Baseball Blog has a review this week of Out of the Park Baseball 13. Must read for you gamers.

MTD has a scouting report for the Lake Elsinore Storm minor league baseball team. Knowing MTD, you might guess the famous athlete's name. Off Base Percentage.

Old Time Family Baseball gives us four signs that baseball is back.

The Platoon Advantage bounced on a Rob Neyer question about ground ball pitchers and gave us cool graphs and stuff. 

Replacement Level Baseball Blog beats ESPN to the punch to list its Top 100 baseball players. Great post.

Sully of Sully Baseball riffs on the magical new happenings to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In anticipation of the 2012 draft, Dan Kirby of Through the Fence Baseball previews five college baseball players on the rise.

The post of the week and the post of the month goes to Mike Damergis of the X-Log as he interviewed Sparky Lyle. Now how extra cool is THAT!?

Eugene Tierney's output on 85% Sports has been amazing of late as he previews teams. His latest is on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sooze of Babes Love Baseball will miss Chipper Jones. Same here.

In a post that is generous in spirit and in content, Stevo-Sama gives us his top favorite 11 baseball podcasts so far this spring. Super stuff at The Baseball Enthusiast. 

Baseball Unrated has its own take on the purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Aaron Somers has had a great week of content at his Blogging From the Bleachers site. Check out his preview of the AL West.

Speaking of tons of content, Call to the Pen never disappoints. Here Justin Hunter previews the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mario Salvini of Che Palle! rhapsodizes about a Jayson Werth home run.

Matt Whitener is optimistic for the Dodgers in his piece at Cheap.Seats.Please. Also check out his division previews. 

This must be the week for glorious old relievers. First Sparky Lyle and now Dizzy Valance of Crum-Bum Beat has his picture taken with Rollie Fingers.

Continuing a great series, TheNaturalMevs makes another bold prediction for 2012. This one concerns the Cincinnati Reds. Diamond Hoggers.

For Dugout 24, the magic is back at Dodgers Stadium.

The OCP delivers a terrific and meaty primer at For Baseball Junkies on his approach to drafting a fantasy baseball team.

And last, but not least, The Baseball Index leaves us with a post about the key players for each team in the NL West.

Have a great week everyone.

What Two Billion Dollars Will Buy

Los Angeles Dodgers fans and all baseball fans are sighing with relief that the team has new owners (subject to league approval which is still pending). No one will be sad to see the Frank McCourt era come to an end. Unfortunately, that dandy dandelion will still end up smelling like a rose as Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC won the ownership sweepstakes with a whopping sale price of two billion dollars. The words do not emphasize this price enough. How about if it is typed out this way: $2,000,000,000? Holy smokes.

The price tag has the same jaw-dropping effect as that HGTV show, "Million Dollar Rooms." On the one hand, such extravagant spending seems like an elitist and selfish thing when so many people in this country have to choose between gas in their vehicles and food on the table. But on the other hand, these ultra-rich folks put people to work and buy from businesses that benefit from such extravagance. Even so, the amount of money this represents is beyond comprehension. Two. Billion. Dollars.

To aid in an understanding of how much money this is, let's do a little exercise called, "What two billion dollars could buy." In other words, if you had $2 billion to spend, you could buy:

  • 31,661 Cadillac Escalades
  • 63,201 Chevy Volts
  • 2,072,539 full 250 gallon tanks of fuel oil or 522,193,211 gallons of fuel oil. That would keep you warm for a while.
  • 133,333 71-inch plasma televisions at $15,000 a pop.
  • 57,133 wind turbine systems. That might be enough to take a tenth of the Maine households off the electric grid.
  • 500 million loaves of bread.
  • 33,333 employees at $60,000 a year.
  • 25,000 average priced homes in Aroostook County, Maine.
  • 25,000,000 pairs of designer blue jeans.
  • 123,992,560 copies of Dirk Heyhurst's latest book.
  • 113,122 premium-seat Yankee season tickets.
  • 1,666,667 top of the line refrigerators.
  • 33,333,333 dozen roses - red.
  • 501,253,132 songs on iTunes.
  • 714,541 John Deere D170 riding mowers.
  • 80 seasons of Albert Pujols at $25 million a season.
  • 3 Houston Astros teams.
  • 4,273,504 Acer 17.3 inch laptop computers at Walmart.
  • 41,666,667 cases of paper at Staples.
  • 1 southern California-based baseball team.

That, friends, is a lot of clams.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Game Picks - Thursday: March 29, 2012

The Game Picks season started with a win and though it took three cups of coffee and a couple of aspirin, that 6:10 in the morning game start was worth the early wake up time. For a first game of the season, that was pretty exciting, was it not? Ichiro got all down with his home self. Dustin Ackley was the run producer. Yoenis Cespedes got his first major league hit and Felix Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy did themselves proud. 

The second game of this unusual series starts at five o'clock in the morning eastern time. There's no way that's going to happen no matter how much coffee is available. Which is too bad because then we are back to only exhibition baseball until next Friday. Mr. Selig, this is a bit stupid. Whatever, there is still a game to pick. And it won't be easy.

The pick:

  • The Mariners over the Athletics: How can you pick this game? Bartolo Colon pitches for the A's and yes, he had a surprising season last year as he went to Dr. Frankenstein and somehow had his arm rebuilt. But the guy has only pitched six innings all spring. Six. What will he last? Four innings? Five? He will throw strikes and probably all fastballs. And that may be a bad thing against a young hitting team like Seattle. But what about Seattle's starter? Jason Vargas has been creamed this spring. How bad has he been? How about 1.85 WHIP bad. The final breakdown works like this: You can't trust Colon and you can't trust Vargas. But, believe it or not, the Mariners have one or two weapons more on offense than the A's have. After Weeks and Cespedes, what is there? This is Ichiro's series. He is the rock star here. So that is the pick.

Yesterday: 1-0
Season: 1-0

Working on a change-up

There was great glee and mirth this spring when Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk took an oft-heard phrase heard every spring ("In the best shape of his life") and made it legendary. The reason his series was so hysterical is because it played off of one of those cliches that are so common in baseball. After watching a couple of dozen spring baseball games, another cliche kept popping up. It was the old, "Pitcher X is working on a change-up." The interesting thing about all of this is that most pitchers go through several years in the minor leagues before making it to the big leagues. Either the pitchers didn't learn much in the minors or baseball writers really need something to write about every day. The latter is probably the closest to the truth.

To test this theory, a Google search was performed and sure enough, there are quite a few stories about pitchers working on their change-ups this spring. The search also pointed out that people have no idea of how to type the pitch. There are, "change ups," and "changeups," and "change-ups." The correct spelling is one of those mysteries in life like, "e-mail/email," and "interleague/inter-league/Interleague/Inter-league. But anyway, back to the search. These were just the ones that the search found. For every city paper, there must be dozens more. Here they are:

By now you've gotten the idea. And if you haven't had enough, there's always the movie, The Change-Up that was just released for home viewing. So you can work on your change-up too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Game Picks - Wednesday: March 28, 2012

Wow! This crept up all of the sudden! Real baseball gets played tomorrow: Honest to goodness, Major League Baseball. As such, it's time to fire up the old Game Picks feature that has been dormant since the end of the Cardinals' victory in Game Seven of the World Series. For those of you new to the site, every single day of the MLB season features a Game Picks post predicting the outcome of each game. Your host has not missed a single game in two and a half years. Just to be clear, this isn't a gambling feature. There is no over/under, no odds. Just a prediction of the outcome of each game. The game picker's score will be tallied daily, weekly, monthly and for the season. Tomorrow's game between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners will take place at 6:10 AM eastern time (in Japan!) and thus the pick has to be logged tonight. Normally they appear first thing in the morning.

And the first game pick of the 2012 MLB season is:

  • The Mariners over the Athletics: Yes, everyone is going to want to see what Yeonis Cespedes does. Yes, Brandon McCarthy is a magazine cover boy and a student of the game. Yes, McCarthy throws a lot of ground balls. Yes, his wife is pretty. Yes, Moneyball was nominated for an Oscar. Buuuutttt. Felix Hernandez didn't lose to the Athletics all last season. That has to be the pick. Now Thursday's game might be a different story.

Of course, this will be a lot more fun when there are fifteen games to pick and not just one. But we work with what we have. So there it is! The first Game Pick of the 2012 season. How cool is that? 

Happy baseball.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Baffled by Boston's pitching

There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox will put runs on the board. The question at this point is if they can prevent enough runs to go along with that offense. The defense will do their part of that equation with terrific fielding at first, second, center and catching. But can this pitching staff get enough outs? The rotation is unsettled at this point and the bullpen was seriously weakened by the loss of Jonathan Papelbon. Can the Red Sox pull all this together in 2012? Let's take a look.

How this Red Sox staff finished last September is hard to erase and equally hard to temper perceptions the terrible ending left in our minds. It hasn't helped that those pitchers who have returned this spring are struggling during Spring Training. Your two rocks at the top of this pitching rotation are supposed to be Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The two were horrid down the final stretch and had to endure the unfortunate backlash and soap opera that followed. 

But Josh Beckett is doing just fine this spring and despite a difficult finish, seems every bit the pitcher he was during his 2007 and 2008 seasons. His peripherals last season were very close to those seasons except for slightly elevated walk and home run rates. But the home run rates were so much better than 2009 and 2010, that they shouldn't be considered a problem. Beckett almost got back to 200 innings last season and there seems no hindrance to him reaching that plateau this season. Beckett seems to be the least of the worries here.

Jon Lester, on the other hand, not only had a terrible September but is struggling this spring. Last season showed his highest FIP of his young career, a slightly elevated home run rate and he struck out one less batter per nine innings than he had the two seasons prior. His fastball dipped one MPH last season below the two seasons before. Lester apparently throws less true fastballs these days and more cutters. Has that made a difference? Pitch/FX also shows that his curve and change were not nearly as effective as in previous seasons.

Those latter two pitches are "feel" pitches and could be improved upon in 2012. But perhaps if Lester has lost a little arm speed, then those pitches do not play as well off his fastball as they did before. Jon Lester is a terrific talent and there is no reason to believe he can't have a good season. But the trends are worrisome.

A large key for the Red Sox and their rotation is how well Clay Buchholz returns after an injury-filled season in 2011. The Red Sox have to hope that Buchholz can get back to where he was in 2010 and that the 1.5 MPH loss in velocity last season were the result of his back problems. His home run rate became more elevated last season and he's continued that trend into Spring Training. Buchholz at his best, is a ground ball pitcher. If he can return to the pitcher the Red Sox had in 2010, then that would go a long way into easing their minds this coming season. 

At their best, that's a great top three. But what comes next? The Red Sox have to decide if the Daniel Bard experiment goes forward, or if Alfredo Aceves gets a rotation spot, and if they want to commit a fifth spot to young Felix Doubront who has been terrific this spring. Doubront has done nothing but earn one of those spots. But will he hold up once the season starts?

Daniel Bard isn't trending well. He collapsed in the bullpen in September. And that trend has continued this spring. To put it mildly, his starts have not gone well. He has walked thirteen batters in 18.2 innings this spring and his WHIP sits at 1.61. Apparently, his spot in the rotation is a bit of a disagreement between his manager, Bobby Valentine and the general manager. Bard has an amazing arm and you've gone this far with the experiment. But at some point, you have to decide which way it is going to go. From this perspective, you have to at least give him the beginning of the season to give it a go. It would not be fair to the pitcher to do otherwise.

The other side of the disagreement is Alfredo Aceves. After having watched Aceves most of his career, the observation here is that he is better off in the bullpen. Aceves is a "touch" pitcher who can be brilliant when he is on and extremely ugly when he is not. The ugly side has reared its head most of the spring. The best use of Aceves is for him to be the swing guy who can do it all, just like last season. Heck, Aceves might not be happy with that outcome, but hey, what can you do. 

Aaron Cook is a wild card in these discussions. Cook is an experienced pitcher who has lost most of his fastball, but has looked good this spring. He's an extreme ground ball pitcher which plays well with this defense and at Fenway Park. Cook would have to be a real long shot at this point despite how well he's pitched this spring. But in the long run, it might not be bad for the Red Sox to put Bard and Aceves in the bullpen and give a spot to Cook. It won't happen, but it's a thought.

Say what you will about Jonathan Papelbon, but the guy was darned effective and probably the second best closer in baseball since 2007. Replacing him will not be easy and the observation here is that Andrew Bailey is not that guy. Bailey can be fragile and his stuff is not overpowering in the same way as Papelbon's was. Frankly, Papelbon put more fear into you than Bailey ever will. Mark Melancon was a nice addition, but he's not what Bard was when Bard was at the top of his game. The bullpen gets questionable after that.

Michael Bowden has all the tools but is unproven. Franklin Morales can be the best lefty the Red Sox have had in years if he stays healthy, but the track record for that is iffy. Matt Albers was a mirage for most of last season until luck caught up with him. Andrew Miller gives no long-term comfort. His health has always been a question as we have seen again this spring. Junichi Tazawa has opened a few eyes and might be useful as the season progresses.

So where are we here? Best case scenario is that the trio of Beckett, Lester and Buchholz pitch like they can all season. One of the next two rotation slots have to work out and at this point, that seems muddy at best. The bullpen is weakened without Papelbon at the back end and without either Bard and Aceves to get to Bailey. Pitching will be the difference between whether this is a playoff team or if they miss out like last year. Mr. Valentine will have to make the right decisions and they are the most important ones he makes all season.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Queasy about Cleveland's pitching

The Cleveland Indians made a nice early run in 2011. After flying out of the gate with an 18-8 record in April, the team sat on a 32-20 record by the end of May. The team was in first place until June 10 and stayed among the division leaders and even grabbed it by a game as late as July 22. Their big play at the trade deadline for Ubaldo Jimenez did not pan out as they hoped and the team played sub-.500 baseball from June through the end of the season. The Tigers zoomed past them and never looked back. Given Ubaldo's track record, you could perhaps think that his 2011 season was a blip. But a poor spring and rumors of his attitude and diminished radar gun readings make you wonder. And he isn't the only pitcher suspect this spring. Of course, spring baseball doesn't count and we can't read too much into it. Plus, the team plays its spring games in Arizona where the balls fly without much hindrance. How much concern should there be?

The Indians' best pitcher this spring has been newcomer, Derek Lowe. Lowe is trying himself to overcome one of his worst seasons ever last season with the Braves. So his spring success is encouraging. But every other projected starter has struggled this spring. Well, check that. Jeanmar Gomez has had a terrific spring. But is he really their fifth starter? Perhaps. Gomez has only started once this spring in his four appearances while guys like Josh Tomlin, Kevin Slowey, Jimenez and David Huff have started four or five games each. Lowe has had success in his career and Jimenez is still considered a great arm. But do the rest of those rotation options give us any kind of optimism. Not really.

After looking at the Baseball Prospectus depth chart for the team, the projections are not appetizing. Justin Masterson should be better than the 3.99 ERA BP projects for him and better than the 1.7 WARP that sight predicts. Take the upside there. But BP's projection for Ubaldo Jimenez comes in with an ERA of 3.47 and a WARP of 2.8. Judging on the last year, you'd have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. The Indians would be thrilled with that Ubaldo. Don't count on them.

Derek Lowe is projected poorly, most likely based on last season and moving from the National League to the American League. His projection of a 4.62 ERA and a measly 0.2 WARP are very pessimistic. Lowe should have a decent season left in him and beat those numbers.

Josh Tomlin is projected for a 4.17 ERA with a WARP of 1.1. The former seems optimistic and the latter perhaps a bit pessimistic. His sinker is a good one but it all depends on his balls in play. The expectation here is an ERA closer to the 4.50 mark. He'll have his fair share of good outings though. 

BP's projections for Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff are gruesome to look at. Both are projected with negative WARPs. It's hard to argue with either projection. BP rates Kevin Slowey higher, but that's hard to justify after seeing what happened to him last season.

What we are seeing here is an experiment. The Indians are going almost entirely with extreme ground ball pitchers. Such pitchers can get "hot" depending on where their ground balls are hit. But this rotation's success will likely revolve around the type of season Ubaldo Jimenez has. If the 2010 version shows up, then some of the other weaker links are less exposed. But if the 2011 version is what they get, then this rotation blows up.

Baseball Prospectus predicts the Indians will win 80 games just like last season. But this rotation leaves much of a feeling of queasiness. If Lowe bounces back and Masterson continues to grow and Jimenez can get his stuff together, this team could win 85 games pretty easily. But if two of the three of those scenarios do not develop, this team could struggle to win 75 games in 2012.