Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Non-Baseball Post About the Colts

The Fan has been irked all week by a team that he hates anyway. Okay, let the Fan paint this picture for you. Say C. C. Sabathia is pitching for the Yankees on the fourth to last game of the season. The Yankees have already won the division and the best record in the American League is in the bag. Sabathia is your big stud for the playoffs. So he starts this game and your plan as a manager is to let him pitch five innings to get his work in and then get him out of there. But Sabathia does the unthinkable and pitches five perfect innings. Perhaps he has even struck out fourteen of the fifteen batters he's faced. He has a perfect game going and a chance to break the all time strikeout record in a game. Do you still take him out after five innings?

Heck no! It's history! He goes for the perfect game and stays in there to see if he can get history. Taking him out of there is what the Colts did to Peyton Manning and his team. The guys had thrown a perfect game to that point. They were 14-0. Do you think the Patriots would rest Tom Brady? Heck no. History is on the line here.

If a player is going to lose history, you let him do it himself with his own effort. If Manning went on to lose the game. Fine. At least he had his own shot at it and came up short. Everyone would have patted him on the back and said, "Nice try." But to take his shot at history away from him was criminal.

The Fan has always....ALWAYS rooted against Peyton Manning. Not because the guy isn't likable. All of his commercials seem like he is a fun guy. His work with his brother with young kids in Louisiana in the off season seems admirable. But the guy is a thorn in the Fan's favorite team's side. You just know the Colts are going to be there at the end and that they have to be beaten to get where a team wants to go. That's how good he is. That's how good he has been.

But Manning has been like Greg Maddux on the Braves. As good as he was, they only won the big prize once. The Colts have only won the big prize once during Manning's amazing career. But this year was a chance for magic. For history. This year was an opportunity for Manning to put a rubber stamp on the title of best quarterback ever. This year was his chance to shine brighter than Brady or Unitis or all the other great quarterbacks in history. And it was taken away from him. For what exactly? To keep him safe?

Please. The guy gets sacked and hit fewer times than any quarterback in history. He consistently has the best offensive line in football. There is a reason for that. If you give the best quarterback in the world time to go to work, he will kill you.

And there is a mind game at work here as well. The Fan used to be a really good bowler. Don't laugh, it was a lot of fun and very profitable. The Fan made enough money bowling to buy his first computer and a washer and dryer. The Fan had several runs at a perfect game (300 or twelve straight strikes). The Fan had started the game several times with ten straight strikes and was within two of getting there. By then the match is over, right? The other guy is just shaking his head knowing he is beat, so that isn't the issue. Since the match is over, should the Fan just throw the thing in the gutter?

Man, no way, the Fan felt like he could do no wrong. He felt on top of the universe. He felt like all the planets were aligned and all the practice and hard work had led to this. The Fan went for it. Never got there. Had several 279s which means that one pin didn't go down on the eleventh shot. But there was no way anyone was going to take that moment away.

The Colts took that moment away from their players. They took it away from their fans. They took it away from their opponents who saw them as unbeatable before the loss. The bottom line is that every participant in sports wants to control their own destiny and have a chance to make history. If things fall short, well that's sports. But Manning and company were denied destiny and it's terrible. For a team the Fan loves to root against, the Fan sure feels awful for them. It's not just a shame. It's a crime against sports.

Baseball is a Sport of Names

Football is king right now. The sport is at the epicenter of its season and it deservedly has our attention and our devotion. It's a great sport. There is nothing better than flipping on the television on a Sunday and watching a couple of great games. But again, football is a game of now. Its past does not resonate like baseball's past. Think that statement is wrong? Go to or and count how many baseball blogs there are compared to football blogs. Perhaps that will change in the future. Baseball has always been a passed down love. Fathers and sons (and daughters too). The popularity of football may overtake that passing down effect. But for now, it is baseball's past that resonates with fans just as much as the present: much more so than football. One test of that theory is to think about names. Where is the Babe Ruth of football? The Lou Gehrig? Sure there is Johnny Unitis (isn't it telling that this writer isn't sure how his name is spelled?). Other than Bronco Nogorski (if even that is spelled right), the names of the football past don't bring smiles of recognition like baseball's past names.

That incredibly long and irksome opening paragraph was supposed to lead into a fond look at some old baseball names. Perhaps if you made it beyond that paragraph, you'll still enjoy this little journey. The Fan loves the game of baseball and this off season has already been fun to watch and the new season is out there beckoning like a spring basket for Easter. But let's take a little trip through some names that come to mind in stream of conscious fashion.

One of the all-time favorites is Harmon Killebrew. First, those of you who enjoy a brew now and then would love to kill a few here and there. But the guy was this big burly bruiser who could crush a baseball. So the guy could Harm you or Kill you or both. He was a killer. On the other end of the scale was Mike Pagliarulo. Of course, you just called him, "Pags." Pags had a couple of decent years, but his career was just like his name sounds--workman-like. Born in Medford, Massachusetts, Pags was just an every day joe who made us proud once in a while.

Who could forget the tandom of Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek? It was Kirby and Herby, remember? Puckett is remembered more because of his flamboyance, but Hrbek was a good player with a career 128 OPS+ and a career fielder with 15.7 runs above average. They were great and their team won the World Series.

How about Sandy Koufax? Sandy didn't seem to fit, but it came from his, "Sanford," first name. But what a name and what memories! And the legend goes on and on. How many Hall of Famers finished their careers with their best season?

All this writer needs to type is: "Dave Henderson," and many of you can picture him, right? That slouchy kind of run? That walk-off homer to win the playoff series? The way he flipped the ball after the last out of an inning? Ah yes.

Nothing else needs to be said after typing, "Yogi Berra," or "The Splendid Splinter," or "Ducky Medwick," or "Dizzy Dean," but how about Jerry Koosman or Ron Kittle or La Marr Hoyt? You can still picture them if you are over 35 years of age, right? If you are little older, the lights will go on if the names Jimmy Wynn, Denis Menke and John Mayberry are mentioned too.

The Fan knows you'll remember Dan Quisenberry and his submarine pitching. He used to pitch 140 innings a season when he was a closer. A career 140 ERA+ isn't shabby either. And all the Fan had to say was, "Quiz," and you would have known.

Of course, if you are as old as the Fan, you'll have a smile of a memory with the names of Manny Mota or Bob Veale. And all the Fan would have to say would be, "Jesus, Felipe and Matty," and you would know those three brothers, right? Isn't it great remembering they all played in the same outfield for the Giants?

If you are a little younger, you'll remember the great Brewers' team with Pete Vuckovich, Randy Lerch and Cecil Cooper along with Robin Yount of course. You might even remember Rollie Fingers as their closer. You might even remember the Toronto team of 1989 that came within a whisker of glory with Ernie Whitt, Fred McGriff (the Crime Dog), Tony Fernandez, Kelly Gruber, Dave Stieb and George Bell. And if you do, you'll also remember John Cerutti!

The Fan could go on and on. The point is that the past is alive for those of us who love this game. The present is a gas, but looking back is full of smiles and recognition. Yeah, the Fan can remember Bullet Bob Hayes and Raymond Berry and other football names. But they don't strike a chord quite like Mookie Wilson can.

Happy New Year everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday "Wishes"

It's probably too late to be making this list since it is Christmas Eve. You've got to give Santa a little more time than this. So let's instead make this a New Years wish list which better suits those of my readers that do not celebrate Christmas anyway. What follows then is a list of wishes for the new year.

The Fan wishes:

  • That Bobby Cox can finish out his Atlanta career with a playoff appearance.
  • The Cubs would make a managerial and general manager change because they are way off course.
  • The Blue Jays have a breakout season from one of their new prospects to take the sting away from Halladay.
  • The Royals make a leadership change because what they have isn't working.
  • Zack Greinke has another outstanding year.
  • Derek Jeter would get 200 more hits.
  • Matt Holliday stays with the Cardinals so Pujols get something to hit once in a while.
  • Hideki Matsui has a very good year. Thanks again, Godzilla.
  • The Bay Rays finish higher in the standings than the Red Sox.
  • Junior Griffey hits higher than .270
  • Adrian Beltre has a terrific year. He played gamely with no shoulder for half a season and deserves it.
  • David Wright would have a bounce back season power-wise.
  • The Rangers or Mariners win the AL West.
  • The Pirates or someone like them has a breakout season with more than 81 wins.
  • Barry Zito would win 20 games and put an end to the miserable sniping about his contract.
  • Someone would hit 75 homers in the post-PED era (supposedly).
  • Strasberg would turn out to be the real deal for the Nationals.
  • Kerry Wood has a good season.
  • Matt Wieters becomes the player the hype predicted.
  • Francisco Cervelli gets a chance to be the next Posada at the plate (he's already better behind it).
  • Some old veteran would come out of the woodwork and put up an amazing season. Dontrelle?
  • Joe Torre would get to one more World Series.
  • Jason Marquis wins 15 or more games with the Nats.
  • Scott Feldman would prove that 2009 wasn't a fluke.
  • Josh Hamilton would come back strong professionally and personally.
  • Burt Blyleven would get elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Mark McGwire would get elected to the Hall of Fame
  • Fred McGriff would get elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Tim Raines would get elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Roberto Alomar would get elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • Grady Sizemore has a strong comeback season.
  • Mariano Rivera has one more good year. Couldn't bear to see him finally show his age.
  • Peter Gammons is more accessible on MLB than he was on ESPN.
  • The Brewers would have a monster year so we could see Fielder and Braun on national television more often.
  • Dan Uggla is traded and forced to move off of second base.
  • Joey Votto has another good year with no emotional issues.
  • Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto can finally figure out how to be consistently awesome.
  • Ozzie Guillen would have one meltdown too many.
  • Adam Lind would has another great season.
  • Wandy Rodriguez wins 20 games this coming season.
  • Both Joba and Phil Hughes have good seasons.
  • All of New York falls in love with Granderson's smile.
  • Roy Halladay wins 25 games.

Here's hoping all of your wishes come true this holiday season. Enjoy and be safe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Catching Up to the Hot Stove

A loyal reader told the Fan he was disappointed not to get a FanDome opinion of the latest moves in the Hot Stove season. Well...the Fan did point out that posts would be a bit sporadic until after Christmas due to company concerns. But, the statement is a bit flattering just the same. After all, when someone cares about what a writer says about anything is a good thing. So, okay, let's catch up a bit with some of the moves we've seen, starting with most recent to those further back.

This Fan is not thrilled with the recent Yankee deal netting Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera and prospects. It's not losing Cabrera that is a problem here. He became expendable ("fungable" in Rob Neyer's words) with the addition of Curtis Granderson. What is disappointing here is that the Yankees are back to trading good prospects for old players. Vazquez is 34. His best years have been in the National League. He already pitched unsuccessfully for the Yankees. He has a 12+ ERA in the post season. He just doesn't seem to fare well in high pressure situations. And, did the Fan mention that he is 34? This seems more like a 2003 Yankee move and we all know how those turned out.

The Cubs traded troublesome Milton Bradley to the Mariners for Carlos Silva. As usual, the Cubs got the worst end of this deal. Don't they always? Bradley at least has some recent history of success. Silva has been Illva for a long, long time. Way to go, Cubbies.

The big winner in the big trade was the Phillies. The Blue Jays lost an icon, and not a false one. He was a true hero and much loved in Toronto. Plus, by the way, he's been the best pitcher in baseball for eight years now. The Fan isn't a big fan of Cliff Lee. He has some dazzling moments and he has some clunkers. That goes for games during a season and for years in his career. Yeah, he was great in the post season. Yeah, he's a lefty. But if the Fan is a captain on CBS's Survivor, the Fan would always choose Halladay over Lee. Always. Let's hope for Toronto's fans' sake that the prospects turn out great.

The Yankees spurn Damon and sign Nick Johnson. Can Johnson play any outfield? Damon has never been a player to feel all gooey about. He swings and a girl. Apologies, but he does. But he's been an effective player for a long time. Johnson can't be depended upon. Then again, Damon seems to come up with a lame calf every other week these days, so maybe he was near done anyway.

Not since the Yankees traded for Goose Gossage the year after Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young has a situation occurred where a guy who wins the World Series MVP is allowed to walk away so easily. Where Greg Nettles once said that Lyle went from Cy Young to Syonara has a player gone from MVP (most valuable player) to MVP (moving van player). Hideki? Thanks for the World Series. Maybe you can get a better hairstyle in Los Angeles. Golly, you sure need one.

Speaking of the Angels, Bobby Abreu was worth only $5 million to them last year and is now worth $10 million per season for two more seasons? Good luck with that one.

Jason Marquis signed with the Nationals for two seasons. Say what!? Why would he do that? Didn't any contender want him? The guy has been solid for a long time. What gives there? Maybe the Nationals are on the rise. Who knows. Maybe Marquis knows something we don't.

The Braves signed Billy Wagner? Wasn't he retiring after last season? That's what all the stories about him said. Guess he went all Favre on us. Wagner might not be better than Soriano, who the Braves traded to Tampa Bay. At least not the Wagner in this stage of his career.

Meanwhile, the Mets have done diddly.

The Red Sox got Lackey. Is it okay of the Fan isn't overly impressed with that one? Lackey is decent, but he can be had and they way overpaid for him for way too long a period.

Coco Crisp signed a good contract with the Oakland A's. Why? The A's already have a good outfield. Crisp always seemed better than his results. Maybe this is the year he breaks

Jason Bay hasn't signed yet. Is it the Fan or does it seem that most fans are hoping their own team doesn't sign him? The Fan thinks Bay is the Richie Sexson/Ron Kittle of this generation. The Cardinals, however, would be real disappointed if they can't get the Holliday deal done.

Oops. Got a customer. Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One More Pitch for Burt Blyleven

Every year, Burt Blyleven is overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris gets more buzz, but Blyleven was the better pitcher. The only knock on the guy seems to be that he didn't win any Cy Young Awards and he didn't get to 300 wins. But here is how Blyleven stacks up to some of the pitchers from the recent era who are in the Hall of Fame:

Don Sutton 324 wins, .539 WP, 3.26 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1 20-win season, 58 shutouts, 178 CG 1.142 WHIP 2.66 K/BB 6.1 K/9 2.3 BB/9 Led league in ERA once, Led in WHIP 4 times

Phil Neikro 318 wins, .537 WP, 3.35 ERA, 115 ERA+, 3 20-win seasons, 45 shoutouts, 245 CG, 1.268 WHIP, 1.85 K/BB, 5.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, Led league strikeouts once, ERA+ once, cg 4 times

Fergie Jenkins 284 wins, .557 WP, 3.34 ERA, 115 ERA+, 7 20-win seasons 49 Shutouts, 267 Cg, 1.142 WHIP, 3.20 K/bb, 6.4 k/9, 2.0 BB/9, Led league in victories twice CG 4 times WHIP once K/bb 5 times Cy Young 197

Gaylord Perry 314 wins, .542 WP, 3.11 ERA, 117 ERA+, 5 20-win seasons, 53 Shutouts, 303 Cg, 1.181 WHIP, 2.56 K/bb, 5.9 k/9, 2.3 bb/9, led league in wins three times, ERA+ once cg 2, IP 2, 2 Cy young

Burt Blyleven 287 wins, .534 WP, 3.31 ERA, 118 ERA+, 1 20-win season, 60 shutouts, 242 cg 1.198 WHIP, 2.80 k/bb, 6.7 k/9, 2.4 bb/9, Led league in WHIP once, Cg once, ERA+ once, K's once

Analysis: Blyleven is in the ball park in Winning Percentage with all of them. His ERA+ is higher than all of them. His Strikeouts Per Nine Innings is higher than all of them. He had more shutouts then all of them. His Walks per Nine Innings and WHIP are right there with them. Only Jenkins had a better Strikeout to Walk Ratio. Fergie Jenkins had a superior stretch of dominance, but less total wins. His Complete Games are in the same ballpark.

Some would say that Sutton and those would be marginal Hall of Famers. This writer says that they are in the Hall of Fame and as such are benchmarks. Blyleven deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. If those guys are in there, he should be in there.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Twenty Best Seasons of the Past Ten Years

It's funny how us humans view time. Since it is 2009 and we are twelve days from the calendar turning to 2010, many writers across the land are creating lists covering the past decade. You'll see the Top 100 Plays, the Top 100 Athletes, the Top 100 Movies, etc, etc. We seem to be a decadal people who think in terms of tens. You won't see a list of the Top 100 Plays in 2013, for example. But you will again in 2019. Strange. But, as a writer, you go with the flow. So, in honor of the weird human race that goes for such lists at the end of each decade, here are Major League Baseball's twenty best individual seasons for the decade of 2000-2009.


1. Barry Bonds - 2001: Obviously, Bonds is going to be on this list at least five times. It's still a sad fact that Bonds entered the decade with eight straight seasons with an OPS over 1.000 and still felt he needed to do what he did. If he had just stayed the course of his already magnificent career, he wouldn't be the pariah he is now. Between 2000 and 2004, Bonds put together five of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball. Color them how you will. Deflate them how you want. But the numbers speak for themselves. The real tragedy of the entire run? That National League managers were allowed to walk Bonds intentionally 284 times in those five seasons. That act of cowardice is almost as big a blight on the game of baseball as what Bonds allegedly did to get the numbers he put together. Of the five season run, 2001 was the record breaking home run year. His OPS and OPS+ were higher other years, but 2001 was the year he was allowed to do the most damage, and damage he did.

2. Barry Bonds - 2004: He led the league in batting at .362. His OBP was over .600 (Egads!) and his slugging percentage was over .800. The numbers are unbelievable.

3. Barry Bonds - 2002: Led the league in batting at .370. His 268 OPS+ was the highest of his career.

4. Barry Bonds - 2003: Limited to only 130 games with injuries, Bonds still finished with an OPS+ of 231.

5. Albert Pujols - 2008: We interrupt this Barry Bonds run to give you the other great player of the decade. Pujols was unbelievable the entire time, but 2008 was the best when he finished with a 190 OPS+ as he went an incredible: .357/.462/.653. It might be the best untainted season since Ted Williams.

6. Barry Bonds - 2000: The first year of the great run started with 49 homers. Was it his last clean year or his first dirty one?

7. Albert Pujols - 2009: As good a year as Bonds in 2000.

8. Albert Pujols - 2003: Pujols had 212 hits (before he started getting walked a lot), hit over .350.

9. Travis Hafner - 2006: Many today forget what an offensive force Hafner was in the middle of the decade. He is an afterthought now, but in 2006, his numbers were huge: .308/.439/.659 all adding up to a 181 OPS+. Remarkable season.

10. Alex Rodriguez - 2007: A-Rod was sick for the Yankees that year. He hit 54 homers, drove in 156 while scoring 143. He hit .314 and had an unbelievable .645 slugging percentage.


1. Pedro Martinez - 2000: Looking back at Pedro's best season, it seems impossible that he lost six games. The numbers are eye-popping. His strikeout to walk ratio was 8.88/1. His WHIP was .737. He walked 32 batters in 29 starts. In an offensive era, it might be the best pitching performance ever.

2. Roger Clemens - 2005: Pitching in Houston, Clemens had a season that is totally incongruous with his Win/Loss record. He finished at 13-8 but led the majors in ERA and ERA+. How good was Clemens that year? He gave up only 151 hits in 211 innings and gave up only 11 homers the entire season.

3. Pedro Martinez - 2003: He was much better than his 14-4 record. He led the league in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings, WHIP and Hits per Nine Innings. His most unbelievable stat that season? He gave up only seven homers the entire season.

4. Zack Greinke - 2009: If ever a pitcher deserved a Cy Young, it was Greinke in 2009. He led the league in ERA, WHIP and Home Runs per Nine Innings. It was a phenomenal season.

5. Pedro Martinez - 2002: Yeah, it's hard to argue with a record of 20-4. He led the league in WHIP, Strikeouts, Hits per Nine innings and Strikeout to Walk Ratio. He also had the league's best ERA that season. Naturally.

6. Randy Johnson - 2002: Johnson was amazing in 2002. his 24-5 record is only the starting point. He pitched more innings, struck out more batters and faced more batters than anyone else in the decade that season. His run from 1999 to 2002 rivals only Pedro as one of the greatest pitching runs in history.

7. Randy Johnson - 2001: The Diamondbacks owe a large part of their World Championship on Johnson's shoulders. Only Nolan Ryan struck out more batters than Johnson's 374 that season. He also led the league that season in ERA and WHIP.

8. Johan Santana - 2004: In his only twenty win season, Santana led the league in ERA, Strikeouts and WHIP.

9. Chris Carpenter - 2009: After not pitching for two years due to injury, Carpenter came back and put together an incredible season. He went 17-4 and gave up only seven homers all season. He also led the league in ERA and ERA+. He should have won the Cy Young award.

10. Randy Johnson - 2000: Johnson struck out 347 batters while compiling a 19-7 record. He pitched eight complete games and led the league in ERA+.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grabbing a Tiger By the Tale

The other day, the Fan's beautiful and sweet daughter told her daddy, "I'm sorry about Tiger. I know he's your favorite." After she was given a hug for her concern, she was told that it was the Fan's own fault. Our American penchant for setting up heroes is our downfall. People are people. They are unfailingly and unflinchingly imperfect. And yet, if you are like this writer, you buy the Nike Sumo driver and the Nike irons and a Tiger lob wedge and a Nike bag and shoes (the same ones Tiger wears) because you buy into the hero worship that goes along with our obsession with sports and movies and politics.

And really, the Fan should know better. It's not like there isn't a lot of history that has come before this little fiasco. Growing up, some of the most exciting sport events in history were the exploits of O. J. Simpson. The Fan idolized the guy and watched every game and bit of footage available. The man was the most beautiful and dynamic runner ever witnessed in the game of football. Then one day, the television was turned on and the police were in this odd, slow-motion chase with this white Ford Bronco. And we all found out that O. J. Simpson was the best running back in history, but not the best person.

The Fan spent nearly twenty years idolizing Roger Clemens and watching him grunt and grind his way into being the most dominant pitcher of his era. Pedro was better for a few years, but over the long haul, it was Rocket Roger. But he ultimately fell too with the PEDs and infidelity and the lies and everything else.

And those were not isolated incidents. Early hero, Mickey Mantle was very flawed as was John F. Kennedy and Wade Boggs and Joe Namath and Joe Pepitone and Rock Hudson and Rickey Nelson and a host of others.

Our problem is that we go beyond appreciating these people for their particular talents. We go beyond appreciating Tiger as the best golfer we've ever seen. We set them up as paragons of what we would like to be ourselves. That's the gist of it, isn't it? Wouldn't we have all wanted to be Tiger? Or Jeter? Or Simpson? Or Mantle? Or Marilyn Monroe? Or anyone else we have built up beyond their own humanity?

Instead, we buy into the pictures we are painted by a similarly rose-colored media and see an image that appeals to our senses of self-dreaming. The trouble is, nobody can live up to that except a few saints each generation that seem to overcome their troubled humanity. Mother Theresa comes to mind. But other than those few saints, we go beyond what we appreciate about the subject's skill level and we take it up to a hero worship.

And then our heroes turn out to be flawed, chipped and well...human. The media that spent so much effort making these people our darlings, suddenly turns into this snarling, self-righteous mass of buzzards swirling to take the very skin off of our fallen idols. And we read it all up in horror and yet fascination and our hearts sink on one level, but on another level glory in the fact that these people that we thought were so much better than us were really not.

And so we end up being wrong on both ends. First, our need to idolize a symbol of what we want to be sets us up for the disappointment. And then when the inevitable disappointment comes, we get all indignant about what has happened. Look, obviously what Tiger has done is wrong on many levels of our society. You don't get married, have kids and act like you are all gooey-family oriented and then run around with every woman you can afford. But how many of us, if we had that kind of opportunity and money and the lack of restraints would do the same thing?

But there is another funny thing that happens. Say you're Michael Jackson and you reach idol status and your nose falls off and you get caught (allegedly) playing with little boys. Then you fall from your pedestal and are reviled and ridiculed...until you die. Then, once you die, the Elvis, Michael Jackson, Mickey Mantle hero machine starts back up and the humans become idols again, this time dead ones. All Tiger has to do to beat this thing is to die, right? Let's hope and pray that he doesn't, but isn't the Fan right on this?

It's not like we need to by cynical. We just need to be practical. We can and should appreciate the skills our favorite players play with. We should admire the looks of our models along with the skills of our actors. But we need to keep in mind that they are mortals just like the rest of us. We don't need to be skeptical and think the worst of everyone. We just need to reign in our hero-building engines and simply be awed by what we see and watch without transferring that awesome ability to the person him/herself.

And when the media gets a hold of a story like this and glories in the feast of the ashes of our fallen hero's life, turn the other way. Turn it off. It serves no purpose but to make us all a little bit smaller, a little more petty and at worst, a people of hypocrites. After all, deep down, we knew they were human. Admit it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Post Number 1000

Today, the FanDome celebrates its 1000th post. While that number has no significance in the world at large, it's still a milestone of sorts for this here Fan. In honor of the milestone, here are some facts concerning Major League Baseball that center around the 1000 number. Enjoy.

OPS and OPS+ seem to be the new benchmarks for stat-oriented people. While OPS+ has its detractors, OPS is pretty straightforward and it's simply a combination of On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. It's funny how baseball stats get into language. For example, a person's batting average, if at .310, is always spoken as, "Three-ten." Nobody says that the batter is hitting 31% or, "Point three one zero." We say "Three-ten." The same goes for OPS. Barry Bonds has the highest OPS ever recorded when he posted a 1.4217 in 2004. Say what you want about how he got there, but that's a pretty incredible number. But we don't say that Bonds posted an OPS of, "One point four two one seven." We say that his OPS was "one thousand four two one seven." And so the stat fits the Fan's purposes and will work. There have been 389 seasons for players who finished with an OPS higher than 1.0000. Gary Sheffield is the only player ever to finish with an OPS of exactly 1.0000. He pulled off that rare feat in 2001. Of the top twelve OPS seasons ever, all of them belong to Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Bonds had four of the top twelve. Ruth had six of the top twelve and Ted Williams had the other two. The interesting thing about Ted Williams' two best OPS seasons? The first one was at age 22 and the second at age 38.

Okay, here is quiz #1: Which two players had a season in the top 20 OPS seasons of all time: Mark McGwire, Mickey Mantle and Jeff Bagwell? Answer at the bottom of the post.

There have been 220 players in MLB who have walked a thousand or more times in their career. Bonds holds the record followed by Rickey Henderson. Eddie Stanky just missed with 996.

Quiz #2: Which current player (defined as active in 2009) is in the top ten in career walks? Answer below.

254 players in major league history have struck out more than 1000 times. Shawon Dunston and Jeffrey Leonard ended their careers with exactly 1000. Four players have topped the 2000 strikeout mark: Reggie Jackson (2597), Jim Thome (2313), Sammy Sosa and Andres Galaragga (2003). If Mike Cameron plays regularly for two more years, he'll get there as will Manny Ramirez if he keeps playing. Alex Rodriguez is currently 18th on the list and sits at 1736. If he plays seven or eight more seasons, he has an outside shot of setting this record.

Quiz #3: Of the Top Ten in all time strikeouts, how many of the ten were true first basemen? How many of the others in the Top Ten played significant time at first base? Answers below.

Thirty-five players in MLB history have totaled 1000 or more extra base hits with Hank Aaron on top of the list with 1477. Jim Thome goes into the 2010 season with exactly 1000 extra base hits.

Quiz #4: What Hall of Famer is Ken Griffey Jr. currently tied with for extra base hits (seventh on the all time list)? Answer below.

Only one player in history has stolen more than 1000 bases. Of course it's Rickey Henderson. His 1406 stolen bases is a record that may stand forever.

Only four players in history have a career total of Adjusted Batting Runs over 1000: Babe Ruth (1388), Barry Bonds (1301), Ted Williams (1137) and Ty Cobb (1037). The only current MLB ball player capable of beating Ruth is Albert Pujols, who sits at 580 at the age of 29.

Only fourteen pitchers have made over 1000 appearances. Jesse Orosco is the record holder with 1252. Of these 14, only one, Hoyt Wilhelm, was not from the recent era. Just goes to show how the bullpen usage has changed over the years. Trevor Hoffman should hit the 1000 mark this coming season with David Weathers a good bet to get there as well.

Quz #5: The top three pitchers in appearances for all time are lefties. Of the following eleven on the list, how many pitched left-handed? Answer below.

121 pitchers compiled a thousand or more walks in their career with Nolan Ryan the all time leader with 2795. That's another record that may never be broken. Jim Bunning finished with exactly 1000 walks. No current pitcher has even the remotest chance of finishing in the Top Ten. Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson are 12th and 13th respectively, but don't figure to crack the Top Ten in the little time (if any) they have left.

Well, that's our celebratory list. And below you will find the quiz answers.

Quiz #1: Bagwell and McGwire
Quiz #2: Jim Thome (tenth place)
Quiz #3: Three - Five.
Quiz #4: Lou Gehrig.
Quiz #5: One. The rest were all right-handed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Robert Leo Sheppard

[[switching to first person]] As many long-time readers may know, the Yankees were a big part of my childhood. From the dark years of the 1960s until I left New Jersey for New England in 1975, I spent many happy days at Yankee Stadium or watching the Yankees on WPIX Channel 11 on television or listening to the team on my transistor radio. The radio was a gift from one of my sister's boyfriends, a mechanic named Guy Grease (no lie, is that an ironic name or what?). The radio had the logo of the gas station and was shaped like their gas pump. I took that thing everywhere and loved listening to Phil Rizzuto, the wonderful Yankee announcer, and also gloried in the Knicks' championship years with Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and company. I loved that radio.

One of the constants through all those years, whether at the stadium, watching the game or listening to the radio was the imperious tones of the Yankees' PA announcer, Bob Sheppard. The guy did his job from 1951 to just a few years ago. That era spanned 4500 MLB games, 22 Yankee pennants and 13 World Series titles. Reggie Jackson once dubbed him, "The Voice of God," and it was an apt moniker. He was in a class of his own.

The thing about Sheppard is that he wasn't like many of the PA announcers over the years who gave an extra padding of excitement when they announced the home team players. Who can ever forget the way Kirby Puckett was announced in Minnesota? But Sheppard was imperious and mono-tonal and announced each player on each team the same. He truly was in a class by himself.

I could go in more detail about the man's life, but you can always find that here. The main point in writing this post was to just tip a Fan's cap at the life and career of a guy who never played a game, but who was as much a Yankee as any other legend that ever played in New York. We loved the guy, absolutely loved him. And what made him so grand was that once he started speaking, you just knew you were observing or listening to a Yankee game. Personally, Derek Jeter is the soul of the Yankees and their fans. He gets the heritage he is involved in and he gets the mystique of his uniform. It says volumes that whenever Jeter comes to bat, he insists on being announced by a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing his name. You've got that right, Jeter. Absolutely.

Bob Sheppard will turn 100 in 2010. He's lived a full and wonderful life and for an a guy who is a little more than half Sheppard's age, the "Voice of God" will forever be ingrained in the memory bank. He was first rate and pure class. And no matter what kind of team the Yankees threw out there and no matter what ugliness may have been in the clubhouse or in the front office, Sheppard made it inconsequential. Once he spoke, it was the Yankees and it was official.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pettitte Gets a New Deal

Andy Pettitte will wear the pinstripes for one more season at least. He and the Yankees agreed on a one year contract worth $11.75 million. That's a raise over last year when he proved this writer and others wrong by having a great season and a great post season. Pettitte set the all time record for post season wins and won the clinching game in all three of the Yankees' post season series. Not bad for a pitcher this writer called mediocre a year ago. He was so mediocre that he saved the Yankees high paid buttocks.

The Fan is also warming up to the Granderson idea. He is a tremendous guy and should fit right in with a winning team. Last year could have been a one-fer and he could bounce back to the outstanding player he was three seasons ago. It still doesn't seem like a good idea to give up a top prospect like Austin Jackson (isn't that a great baseball name too?). And you have to feel bad for guys like Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner who will not ever get the chance to work centerfield for the Yankees. Gardner still seems to have promise, though he is not aggressive enough on fastballs in the strike zone. But man, can that guy run and play centerfield!

In the Fan's perfect world, Granderson would play left and Gardner would play center, but that will never happen. Gardner doesn't have enough buzz and probably not enough upside for the Yankees to give him 500 at bats.

Yankee fans should feel good about Pettitte coming back to their team and providing those 200 or so solid innings as the third guy in the rotation. It's a comforting thing, you know?

Brewers Get a Wolf in Sheets Clothing

The Brewers found out the hard way last year that losing your two best starters (Sabathia and Sheets) at the same time is a good way to kill a season. Determined to do better this time around in that department, the Brewers are said to have signed Randy Wolf (recently of the Dodgers) to a three year contract. For those of you who think this may be another Suppan-type boondoggle, the two pitchers (those similar in age) are nothing alike.

Wolf has a 108 career ERA+. He averages 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings good for a 2.29 K/BB ratio. Suppon has a 98 career ERA+, a 5.2 strikeouts per nine rate and a 1.62 K/BB ratio. Plus, Wolf seems to be getting better while Suppan has been regressing year by year. Of course, Wolf could get hurt or he could fall apart, but for now, this deal looks good on paper.

Plus, if you think Wolf had a great season because he pitched half his games in Dodger Stadium, he also pitched great in the little bandbox in Houston the year before. Wolf is an underrated performer and the Brewers did the right thing.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Does McGwire Really Need to Talk?

Whitey Herzog became the latest public figure to state that if Mark McGwire is going to be a coach of the Cardinals, he needs to be open about the past about McGwire's involvement with performance enhancing drugs. Jeff Passan wrote a column a couple of weeks ago about the same topic as have others. But does McGwire owe us anything? Heck no.

Look, we all know that McGwire was a part of that story. We also know that McGwire was using an at-that-time legal supplement during his historic home run year. The story was all over the place at the time. That substance has since been banned. We also know that McGwire refused to "talk about the past" when summoned to Congress during that body's hearings on the subject. All of those things are established facts. The much (and deservedly so) maligned Jose Canseco states unequivocally that McGwire was a user and we now know that Canseco was right about nearly everything he said. But does McGwire have to come clean to be a coach?

Why? What good would it do? He's already paid the price for his past by his Hall of Fame snub the past few years. He's already got a black mark next to his name. What will change by talking about what he did and why? He can't change the past. He can't change how he is perceived. He can't change his standing among the HOF voters. He can't change the minds of fans that are forever not in his corner. So, tell this writer what could be accomplished by him facing all that scrutiny? Nothing.

McGwire will be a coach if he is willing and he will probably be a pretty darn good one. Hey, at least he didn't perjure himself like Tejada, Clemens and Palmeiro did. He didn't lie. He just refused to incriminate himself. Last the Fan looked, that's a fifth amendment right in this country.

Look, Mark McGwire was one of this Fan's favorite players of all time. He personally helped this writer through a tough personal tragedy that historic year. That year is now suspect like all of the accomplishments of Barry Bonds in subsequent years. Those stains are hard to take and they are hard to forget. Baseball has moved on with tougher testing and more stringent investigating. We don't know if things are cleaner now, but they seem to be. Let's leave it all alone. Baseball seems to have learned its lesson. Isn't that enough?

When Whitey Herzog, Jeff Passan, Tim Brown and others have a press conference and admit to the affairs they may have had or the times they cheated on their taxes, then maybe McGwire can have a press conference to admit his sins. McGwire doesn't owe anybody anything just like Tiger Woods doesn't. Hey, people pay for their "sins" in many ways. Nothing comes for free and there are consequences for every decision. McGwire's career was cut short by his own enhanced muscles giving up under the extra strain. Isn't that a consequence? His usage maybe made him millions, but in the end cost him millions too.

All this talk about what national figures owe us as for explanations is frivolous. It is a public rubbernecking that we all need to look in the mirror about. This Fan doesn't care whether McGwire ever says anything. The Fan doesn't care if Barry Bonds ever says anything. The Fan doesn't care if Sammy Sosa ever says anything. The Fan only cares about making sure the sport is cleaner from here on out. That's it in a nutshell.

Granderson Going to the Yankees?

In what would seem to be a step in a backwards progression, a three-way deal has been rumored between the Yankees, Tigers and Diamondbacks. If the deal comes to fruition, the Tigers would get Austin Jackson from the Yankees and Matt Scherzer from the Diamondbacks The Diamondbacks would get Ian Kennedy from the Yankees along with Phil Coke and Michael Dunn. They would also get Edwin Jackson from the Tigers. The Yankees would get Curtis Granderson and prospects. While Granderson's stock has come down some from a pretty sub-standard 2009, Austin Jackson seems too high a loss for the deal. It would also break away from the Yankees' plan to build more from within. Jackson is by far their most prized prospect.

The Yankees refused to deal Jackson last year when they were looking for pitching help. Why change the mindset now to basically trade him even up for Granderson? Granderson is a fine young man and has had some really good seasons. But Jackson is a five-tool prospect and could be a star for years to come. Plus, for a good chunk of years to come, Jackson would be cheaper than Granderson.

And if you are the Tigers, why would you trade Edwin Jackson for Matt Scherzer? Granted, Jackson is expensive and the team could be cutting costs. But Edwin Jackson is a proven pitcher with an excellent arm. Scherzer had a good debut season with the Diamondbacks but is not a power pitcher and relies on control to stay in the game.

Austin Jackson hit over .300 last year in the minors and appears ready for a big league assignment. Again, the guy has five tools and could be great. Granderson shows occasional flashes of brilliance in between a bunch of so-so-ness. He can't hit left-handers.

The deal would make sense if Austin Jackson were not part of it. The Yankees feel they need a center fielder. Though this Fan believes that either Jackson, Gardner or Melky could get the job done. It would seem that any option of one of those three would be cheaper over the long run than Granderson and could potentially be more useful than the Tigers' center fielder for the past few seasons. Granderson would be a nice fit in a Yankee uniform, but that's not the point.

The point is that the Yankees said they wanted to develop their own talent and that their gutting of prospects for veterans was over. But not so fast. It's Deja Vu all over again. If Austin Jackson projects to be a star, why not put him out there in centerfold and see if he can make it as a major leaguer?

Post Script: The Fan was really wrong about Scherzer. Looked up his stats and he struck out more than nine batters per nine innings. That's a whole different kettle of fish and now the Fan knows that the Tigers got a steal and the Diamondbacks are nuts.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Polanco Not a Significant Upgrade for Phillies

Sometimes a player has a reputation that translates into a contract that is out of balance with his value. Such is the case with Polanco. Baseball Prospectus rates Polanco somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million but the Phillies will pay him over $5 million to replace Pedro Feliz at third base. While the Feliz non-tender was a good decision as he would have made a poor financial decision for 2009 under his old contract, the Phillies went ahead and replaced him over value.

Polanco is going to be 35 in 2010. The Fan is a bit hesitant to write this deal off after being so wrong about Ibanez's contribution last year. But this doesn't seem like a good idea for the Phillies. They may have been better served by waiting out the Adrian Beltre situation in Seattle. Beltre would have been a better fit.

Polanco showed signs of slowing down last year. His OPS+ was 88 or well south of league average. His batting average at .285 was his worst since 2003 and his OBP was his worst since 2002. He doesn't strike out very much, in fact, he is one of the hardest players to strike out in the league. The trouble is, he's also one of the hardest players to walk. He walked only 36 times in 675 plate appearances last year with translates to a puny 5.3 percent. Plus, he is shifting from second base, where he was one of the better fielders of that position, to third, which he hasn't played significantly for a decade.

Raul Ibanez made a lot of writers look silly this past year as he (particularly early in the season) gave the Phillies a spark after coming over from the American League. Perhaps this is a formula that can work for the Phillies to get an older player from the American League and find one more golden season out of that player before the inevitable slide into retirement. Perhaps the Polanco deal will prove out in the same mold as he is coming over from the Tigers. Lightening can strike twice. We'll see. But overall, this deal seems like a real gamble and the odds are against the Phillies getting their money's worth.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Brad Penny Takes A Risk

Maybe Brad Penny knows what he is doing. Maybe he'll get a multi-year offer from somebody for more than he's worth. But it seemed like he was in a good spot in San Francisco after a disastrous stay in Boston which followed a disastrous 2008 in Los Angeles. The Giants offered Penny a one year deal with incentives (according to this story), but he turned them down. It seems to this writer that having a good year with the Giants following his successful stint with them down the stretch would have re-established his value and would set him up for a better offer in 2011.

But that's not the way Penny played it. He turned the Giants' offer down which means he must feel there are greener pastures out there. Of course it is conceivable that desperate teams like the Astros, Brewers and others might get jiggy with it and offer him above-market value money and time. But that's a big hope. It didn't work out so well for Bobby Abreu last year. But Penny is a pitcher with some life left in his arm and that puts him in a different situation than just another corner outfielder.

But still, Penny went 4-1 with the Giants pitching in a pitchers' ballpark and finished his stint there with a 2.56 ERA. Those are great numbers. If he found a home there and a comfort level, there is no reason why he couldn't have built on that success and won sixteen games for the Giants. There would be no pressure on him as there are two great pitchers there ahead of him on the depth chart. If Penny could have won those 16 games building on his San Fran stint of 2009, then he would have been perfectly set up for a 2011 free agency run.

Penny is probably right that somebody will sign him for a couple of years with a hope and a prayer. Maybe Penny has parlayed this correctly. But the Fan doubts it will work out as well as it could have in the city by the bay.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Mariners Ink Chone Figgins

In a development that could seriously weaken the California Angels, Chone Figgins has apparently decided to sign with the Seattle Mariners in a deal worth about $9 million per year. The Mariners have not yet announced there intentions concerning Adrian Beltre who is in his option year with that team. The Mariners could still pick up Beltre's option, decline it or Beltre can also do either. Both Beltre and Figgins are fine fielding third baseman. Beltre is the more spectacular of the two. Figgins has some flexibility so if Beltre stays, Figgins can play elsewhere.

If in fact the Mariners are "replacing" Beltre with Figgins, the trade off isn't as positive as you would think. Would you guess, for example, that Beltre has the higher career OPS+? Would you also guess that Beltre is younger than Figgins? But Figgins is an excellent lead off man. But wait, the Mariners already have one of those. His name is Ichiro Suzuki. What are the chances that Suzuki will not bat lead off? Uh. None. So that takes away one of Figgins' strengths. He then becomes a powerless Number 2 hitter who will have Ichiro on base in front of him. The two can create havoc of course with the stolen base threat. But until 2009 when Beltre suffered from a painful shoulder injury that eventually required surgery, Beltre produced good power numbers over his career which the Mariners will miss.

The Fan thinks that Beltre is poised for a bounce back year, especially if he signs in the National League where he had some great years. Figgins is useful as on on base threat with good speed (his caught stealing rate did increase this past year) and can play a handful of positions. But there is a strong possibility that Beltran could be the more valuable player overall this coming year, especially if his shoulder is healed and he is again healthy.

The biggest thing this signing does is weaken what the Angels do. They rely on aggressive base running and good defense to keep them in the hunt in the AL West. Figgins provided both of those things the past few years for the Angels and was a big part of their success. Of course, it cannot be forgotten that he utterly tanked in the past few post seasons, but you have to get to the post season before you can think about who does well once they get there.

The Fan isn't sure if this is a good deal for the Mariners or not. Beltre is a good player, much better than he's given credit for. But he was expensive and he's had some injury in his history. Figgins should help clog the bases along with Ichiro. But what will the Mariners have behind them to drive the pair in?

Desmond DeChone Figgins is a fun player that can really spark a team. He is also 31 and should see his speed diminish over the length of this contract. Once his speed is gone, what else does he have to offer? Well, he should get on base his share of times, and that is always a good thing.

Scutaro to Sign with Red Sox?

According to the Boston Herald, the Red Sox have agreed to a two year deal with former Blue Jays' shortstop, Marco Scutaro, with an option for a third year. The cost of the deal hasn't been announced. Of course, with the Red Sox, the cost is irreverent as they have the money to spend. But this is a good deal for the right amount of length for the Boston team.

Scutaro might have had a career year in 2009. He had the most At Bats of his career. The Blue Jays put Scutaro at the top of the lineup and he responded with 90 walks, good for a .379 OBP. He scored 100 runs and played exceptional shortstop. He played so good at short, that he probably should have won the gold glove, with only ten errors and a RTOT well above league average. Scutaro also brings some flexibility as he can play the outfield and third. In fact, he's probably even more exceptional at third than he is at short (see his 39 RTOT at third in 2008).

There are two troubling things about the deal. Well, make that three. First, he is 34 and it seems unlikely that he is going to get better than he is. Secondly, he DID have a career year. His .282 batting average was far over his career .265 mark. Was 2009 an anomaly or can he repeat it this coming year. It certainly appears that he made a vast improvement in his pitch selection and it seems unlikely that this new found skill would diminish.

The third troubling part of this deal is that he couldn't have been terribly expensive, which makes one wonder why the Blue Jays wouldn't have wanted to sign him for a couple more years anyway. But you also have to wonder if the Blue Jays had any chance at signing him to begin with. First, Scutaro gets to go to one of the blue chip teams. Secondly, he gets a much better chance to participate in the post season. Lastly, he goes to a proven organization that just seems to be smarter than their counterparts. And also consider that if the money was about the same, the U. S. dollars are worth more (at least for the moment anyway).

The deal also brings up two other debates. First, Scutaro is a better player than any of the Red Sox' current shortstops, so forget the first debate. Forget the Fan mentioned it. But the other debate is where in the order Scutaro bats. The signing will bring up the age-old debate of if you'd rather have a high on base guy at the top of the batting order despite whether he has speed or not (Scutaro had 14 stolen bases in nineteen attempts). Scutaro isn't a catcher, and runs decently, but Jacobe Ellsbury stole 70 bases, but had an OBP 24 points lower than Scutaro. In the Fan's opinion, Wade Boggs was the second best lead off man in history behind Henderson and Henderson could run faster going backwards than Boggs could going forward. But, man, Boggs scored a lot of runs.

A player who gets on base is today's baseball nirvana. Everyone wants that and covets it. But it's hard to break out of the thinking that the lead off guy has to run like a deer. Ellsbury figures to get better plate discipline as he gets more experienced, but his walk rate did not increase dramatically this past year (7.0 percent compared to 2008's 6.7), so it does not appear that he grew any more likely to take a walk in his third full year. The Fan would start Scutaro at lead off and bat Ellsbury second.

This deal will give Blue Jay fans more reason to believe that the rich get richer in the AL East and it would be hard to blame them. But the Fan isn't convinced that Scutaro (not counting defense, where he is superb) will be able to duplicate his 2009 stats. History is not on his side.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crispy Fried

[[Switching to first person]] By my count, I've written 600 or so posts here since the middle or late in Spring Training. By tagging a few posts, I believe my average word count is around 500 words. That comes out to about 300,000 words. I averaged about 20 posts every seven days for four months. I'm not complaining. I've enjoyed every solitary minute of it. There are few things I would rather do than write about baseball. But the Fan...I...feel a little crispy fried.

It doesn't help that business has picked way up. I'm not complaining about that either. The purpose of starting a company is to make it grow, right? Things are falling into place and the company is starting to go. That's a great thing. But I'm at that awkward stage in my business where there is too much for one person to do and not quite enough income yet to hire somebody to help.

I had to laugh the other day. I was sitting at my booth in the mall (yes, it's that time of year) and this wonderful fellow from Mars Hill, Maine, came in to contract with me to print a book about Mars Hill's history. It's a great project. But remember, it was at the time, November 17. So I asked him when he was expecting delivery (he is ordering 200 books). He says that he wants them for Christmas. What!? It's November 17th!

But one thing a new business never does is say no. So yes, I can do that for you. That's on top of the 200 cookbooks a local library wants printed and 1000 books a children's book maven wants and the 600 calendars a local business wants and the 3 calendars some grammy wants for her adorable grandson. Plus, I am fighting like crazy to get three of our own titles out in time for the season. So yeah, I am crispy fried at the moment.

A blogger who is a paid baseball writer has the luxury of just doing this for a living. An average schmo like me is only paid by the good friends my readers become over time. No complaints. I told you. I love doing this. But I'm also half Sicilian, and so I have an immense amount of guilt that I've only written three posts this week. Or was it four? Anyway. You get the idea.

So, this half-baked Sicilian, nearly over-the-hill, new business owner feels the need to apologize if you've come by and haven't seen a new post in a while. I guess in fairness to you, I'll have to express the obvious, that things will slow down here a bit until after Christmas. I'm not giving in totally to the obvious. Maybe I'll surprise you (and me) and after a little blip, continue the torrid pace that you've become accustomed to. Heck, if I get caught up, what else am I going to do at the mall, right?

So anyway, hang in there. I appreciate your patronage, except you don't buy anything. Hey, you know we do (funny how I always say, "we," when referring about the company when it's just an "I") great personalized calendars. Just send me 13 pictures and you too could give the gift sure to produce all the "AHs" this season. But you do invest your time. And time is money so they say. And I'm happy you do. This isn't a curtain call. This isn't even an intermission. This is just a blip in real time. Hang in there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AL Cy Young Award - Zack Greinke

The voters for the Cy Young Award in the American League got it right. Zack Greinke was baseball's best pitcher last year. He didn't win 20. He didn't win 19 or 18 or even 17. He won 16. And the big fear in this corner was that his win total would keep Greinke out of the running for the only pitcher who should have been considered. Those fears were ungrounded as the right guy won.

Greinke was unbelievable in 2009. He led the league in ERA, ERA+, WHIP and a whole bunch of other statistics. He gave up only 11 homers all season. He struck out 242 in 229+ innings of work. His strikeout to walk ratio was 4.75. His Pythagorean won/loss record was 21-6. His FIP was 2.42. Just about every way you look at his season, he comes out a winner.

Felix Hernandez also had a wonderful season that would have garnered the award in many other seasons besides this one. But for this season, he was the second best pitcher

The only problem with the results are what it will mean for the attention that Greinke gets for winning the award. Some of his words after winning show the extent of his anxiety at the new found attention he will be receiving. He seemed more anxious about winning the award than thrilled at that's a bit worrisome. But hopefully, so day down the road, he can look back at this time in his life and really enjoy his accomplishments.

Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in baseball in 2009. And he won the Cy Young. How cool is that?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another Award Gone Bad

A while back in this space, this writer did a complete analysis of the rookie candidates for Rookie of the year. After looking over that piece, this writer is still convinced the conclusions were correct. But those choices were not the players who won the Rookie of the Year honors: Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey. Both had excellent freshman campaigns. But they weren't the best rookies in their league. In Bailey's case, he wasn't even the best rookie on his team.

Let's start with Coghlan. His offensive year was brilliant, no doubt about it. He just kept getting better and better as the year progressed. But his defense was awful which is understandable considering he was playing a position out of his experiences. Left field is usually where you put your worst outfielder. Left fielders never get Gold Glove awards. And to be rated a poor fielder for a position that is rife with poor fielders should have been given more consideration in this vote. The award should have gone to a pitcher.

While the Fan could go on all day about how Randy Wells only got one vote from all the writers for this award, the analysis shows that it should have been a horse race between J. A. Happ and Tommy Hanson. The Fan gave a slight edge to Hanson who finished the season stronger.

In the American League, the award went to a closer. We have gone round and around in this space about the value of closers. It's been stated clearly here that there is no way the Yankees win five championships since 1996 without Mariano Rivera (four with him as closer and one as a setup guy). But just as clearly stated in this space is that Rivera should never win a Cy Young award because the innings he pitches just don't add up in value as much as a starter's innings.

Andrew Bailey certainly had a remarkable first year in the majors. His stats were lights out across the board. They were better than Rivera, better than Nathan, better than Jonathan Papelbum. But he saved 26 games for a low ranked team and his save total wasn't anywhere close to the leaders. Meanwhile, his teammate, Brett Anderson came in sixth place for the award despite having the 8th best FIP for starting pitchers in the American League.

This is another case where baseball writers look at a guy's record of 11-11 and think that tells the whole story. If Brett Anderson had better luck, or better guys playing offense behind him, he might have gone 16-6 or something and would have been given the award. But instead, the writers took the easy way out and overvalued a closer, granted, a superior closer, at the expense of a really good starting pitcher.

This award season is not shaping up very well. We've had Gold Gloves made out of tin, Silver Sluggers made out of aluminum and now the ROYs look pretty cheap as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dan Uggla - The New Soriano?

Tim Brown wrote a piece for Yahoo Sports concerning Dan Uggla's agent stating Dan Uggla wants to stay at second base. The agent is quoted as saying: "...he’s performed remarkably over these four years at second base and there should be no reason to consider a position change at this time.” In the words of modern philosophers: "What pipe has he been smoking from?"

All this sounds vaguely familiar. Not too long ago another second baseman, adept at hitting homers on a regular basis, but one who struggled in the field, insisted on staying at that position despite being asked to change. His name is Alphonso Soriano who now plays quite infrequently for the Cubs. Soriano eventually did become a left fielder and had a couple of good seasons there.

Well, we know agents are supposed to paint their clients in the best possible light. But shouldn't there be some truth or at least a hint of it in the babble that comes out of an agent's mouth? Dan Uggla has not been remarkable at second base. He was decent in 2008 and finished with a UZR slightly ahead of average with a score of 1.6. But in 2009, Uggla's UZR plummeted to new depths to -10.1. That low score tops his previous low of two years ago when he finished at -9.3. Plus, his range factor has dropped from his career marks around the 4.8 level to 4.4.

It's hard not to feel for Uggla's situation. Because of his bat, he's been worth $61 million in his four years with the Marlins while only making a fraction of that. The Marlins have had a steal for those four years. Now Uggla is reaching his arbitration years where he can finally cash in a bit and the Marlins won't be able to afford it and, since his career got a late start, he's going into 2010 at 30 years old and his abilities will only diminish from here.

And there is a economic advantage to being a good offensive player as a second baseman. The positional worth of a second baseman is higher than a first baseman or an outfielder. And as such, his WAR (Wins over replacement) value is higher as a second baseman. That all makes perfect economic sense for an agent and his player. But the reality is that he just isn't good enough to play that position. So any front office and fan of fielding stats can scoff at the "remarkably" comment as first degree hyperbole.

It's hard to know what kind of third baseman Uggla can be. But at least the value there is higher than an outfielder. Heck, he couldn't do any worse than Bonifacio did there last year. And his offensive worth is only marginal as a corner outfielder. That is the dilemma for Uggla.

Uggla is still a value at the plate. His 97 walks were a career high. He has hit over 30 homers for four straight years. He will get his dollars at arbitration this year. And there is no doubt he will be playing for somebody for the next couple of years. But any team that values defense will have to think twice about weakening their infield defense to play him at second. And if that's where he insists on playing, he will have a problem and be a problem.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gold Gloves Not the Only Flawed Award

Anyone who has been reading the major sites and the most popular baseball writers knows the current outcry of scorn concerning the Rawlings Gold Glove Award. And while that award's results this year are again severely flawed, it isn't the only flawed award out there. This week we also had the announcements for the Silver Slugger Award which awards the best hitters at each position in the American and National leagues. This award is just as flawed but doesn't get as much ink.

There is no denying that the Gold Glove Awards are a joke. Several of this year's choices are puzzling and not anywhere close to being reality to who the best fielders are at each position. By the Fan's estimation, only six of the eighteen choices are defensible. That qualifies as a joke by a wide margin. And the scorn of writers and bloggers is justified. But hardly anyone talks much about the Silver Slugger Awards. Perhaps they are not as "big" as the Gold Glove Awards, but they are visible enough to be reported.

But whether the Silver Slugger is as "big" as the Gold Glove or not, shouldn't the process be correct? The award considers batting average and on base percentage among other things. But from this perspective, it does not consider slugging. To this writer, the awards should be based on OPS+. That considers all aspects of a batter's game. While it is true that this statistic has a few basic flaws, it is a truer valuation of a player's results than just batting average and on base percentage. Let's look at results per position.

American League

Catcher: Joe Mauer. Well yeah...

First base: Teixeira. They got this one right. Youkilis had a better OPS+ (he was second in the league behind Mauer), but the Red Sox screwed this one all up because they split Youkilis between first and third base, making him ineligible for either.

Second base: Aaron Hill. While Aaron Hill had a wonderful season and while the Fan is thrilled for him for his success, Ben Zobrist had a better OPS+ by quite a bit.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter. Jeter had the highest OPS+ among shortstops.

Third base: Evan Longoria. Longoria had a great season, but A-Rod had a much higher OPS+.

Outfield: Jason Bay, Ichiro Suzuki, Torii Hunter. The correct choices should have been Bay, Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Kubel. But if you want to rule Kubel out because he was a DH for 80 games, then next up would be J. D. Drew. Ichiro is a singles machine. He's also a prime outfielder and a good base runner. But his OPS+ was lower than Johnny Damon's for Pete's Sake.

DH: Adam Lind. This one was dead on.

National League

Catcher: Brian McCann. This one is correct. Montero for Arizona just missed with an OPS just points lower.

First base: Albert Pujols. Duh.

Second base: Chase Utley. Yes.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez. Another Yes.

Third base: Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had a break out year and also deserved the Gold Glove, but Pablo Sandoval had a higher OPS+ by nine points.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp. Bruan is correct as is Ethier, but Kemp was a mistake. It should have been Raul Ibanez who has Kemp by six points in OPS+.

DH: Oh yeah, the National League doesn't have one. Zambrano won it as a pitcher.

So the final tally is 12 correct out of 18 positions. Not quite as bad as the Gold Glove Awards, but still flawed nonetheless. The obvious point here is that the managers and coaches should not be picking either award. As long as they do, the awards will be flawed and we won't have a viable award that means anything.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ugh. They Should Have Retired

Ken Griffey Jr. has always been a Fan favorite. And it was fine for him to have a swan song season in Seattle. But it should have ended there. Instead, the Kid has signed on for another year and once again, all an admiring and thankful Fan can do is hope that the latest off-season surgery will help.

The same with Jason Varitek. Other than leading the league in blocking balls in the dirt, Varitek no longer has anything to offer. His offense is gone and his throwing is gone too. But the Red Sox foolishing offered Varitek an option year and he took it. Now the Red Sox will have to endure another season of awkwardness with Victor Martinez playing first at times to keep him in the lineup.

Washington Nationals - 2009 Debrief

Our nation's capital hasn't seen a good team in a good long while. Going back and including the Washington Senators who left for Minnesota in 1961, Washington baseball teams have come in last place seven out of nine seasons and one of those seasons was a next-to-last-place team. Not only were the 2009 Nationals a bad team, but they were very efficient at being inefficient. Maybe it's the curse of Congress being so close. But the Nationals shouldn't use our senators and congresspersons as their role models. Perhaps they should try the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (There! The name is correctly typed).

What is meant by the last two statements in the previous paragraph is that according to the Pythagorean Over/Under, the Nationals should have won 70 games but only won 59. The semi-good news there is that most of those were in the first half under Manny Acta. The team responded much better to Jim Riggleman after Acta was fired (good luck Cleveland).

The further good news is that five of the eight regulars in the lineup are pretty darn good thumpers. They get nothing at the plate from their middle infielders and their catchers however. And they have a bonafide star in Ryan Zimmerman, who not only had a great year at the plate and should continue to get better there, but was also recently rated as the best fielding third baseman in the National League, if not in all of baseball.

Adam Dunn is who he is. He'll walk a hundred times, strike out 170 times, clunk out nearly 40 homers and rumble around the field like some kind of tank. He's not a good fielder at any position and really should be a DH, but the NL doesn't have the DH, so he has to play somewhere. After trading Nick Johnson, the Nationals have decided that Dunn can do the least amount of harm at first.

Josh Willingham had a good season with a 127 OPS+ and Nyjer Morgan was great until he got hurt. But the Nationals seem to have a knack for being the collecting zone for once promising prospects that washed up in the majors. There was Lastings Milledge, Alex Cintron, Corey Patterson, Austin Kearns and Elijah Dukes. The Nationals need to get off that particular train. Those guys just didn't have what it takes to be effective major leaguers. Stop it already.

But what really is troubling for this team is the pitching and the defense. They were dead last in the majors for pitching VORP and 22nd out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency AND fielding percentage. Their regular catchers couldn't throw anybody out. Defense you can fix somewhat. It helps to get Dunn out of left field. Make Jesus Flores your starting catcher and you've already got some improvement. Get a shortstop that can either hit or field instead of one that can do neither.

But how to fix the pitching is the tough one. Apart from Jordan Zimmermann and Joel Hanrahan (in a few disastrous starts), none of their starting pitchers struck out more than six batters per nine innings. And this Fan is definitely off the Lannan bandwagon. Yeah, his ERA was good. But his 3.91 strikeouts per nine innings just isn't going to cut it long term in the majors. Add that to the fact that the five guys who got the most innings in the bullpen averaged five walks per nine innings. Ugh!

The Nationals should sign every decent arm on the market. That's their only hope, really. They can hope that Detwiler is as good as projected and that their uber-prospect, Stephen Strosburg is the real deal and comes along quickly.

There is no real easy fix for this team. Constant mismanagement has forced them into a period of futility that will take time to crawl out of. Heck, the D.C. fans haven't seen a World Series team since 1932 and it will take a while to have any hope of getting there any time soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bouncing off of Posnanski

Many of you know that Joe Posnanski is a favorite writer of this blog. His excellence is beyond pretty much anything out there. He is consistently entertaining and consistently on point. As a result, he has earned his new gig as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

One of the things that good writers do is make you think. When arguments and statements from that writer make the reader ponder their own point of view, that's good writing. Rob Neyer over at ESPN does that too, though he's more of a commentator on other writers than he is a writer himself these days. But he makes you think and again, that's what good writers do.

Mr. Posnanski wrote a fairly scathing (in his words) screed the other day about the big bucks the Yankees have and their competitive advantage. As a Fan of both that team and of Mr. Posnanski (and of Sports in the City, another great blog with the same opinion), it is a bit bothersome that this opinion exists. And, on the surface, the point is true. The Yankees do have a competitive advantage. But what is also true is that hardly anyone with that opinion puts things in a historical perspective.

The opinion doesn't take into account what the Yankees have built. The Fan was there when it started. And believe this writer when he tells you, the Yankees did not always have this advantage. They built it the good old American way.

The lowly Marlins and Pirates and Royals and all the other "poor" teams in terms of payroll all have higher attendance figures than the Yankees did for at least half of the 1960s. The lowest attendance figure in the sport this past year was 1.4 million seats sold. All of these seats cost much more than they did back in the 1960s. From 1966 to 1970, the Yankees averaged about 1.25 million seats sold in attendance. That attendance was uniformly bad in those days must be stated here for fairness. But even saying that, the Yankees usually finished those years in the middle of the pack in attendance in the majors.

The team was such a financial mess that George Steinbrenner could buy the team at $10 million from CBS. From that lowly state, Steinbrenner built an empire. He used a bit of P. T. Barnum bluster, a knack for finding the back page of the New York Daily News, he correctly gauged the minds of New York fans and he built a television monster. He really has been the Vanderbilt of baseball.

Ted Turner nearly equaled what Steinbrenner did with the Braves. His TBS, which was far ahead of its time, took a poor team and made them a financial success, which like the Yankees, allowed them to be competitive for a long, long time.

The point is that these men succeeded with smarts and business acumen to take moribund franchises and built them into monsters. John Henry, et al, have done the same thing with the Red Sox. As a business owner, this Fan admires their success and dreams of that sort of end story. And yet, their success has become some sort of evil. It's become a bad thing and shouts are made across the land of lack of parity and lack of opportunity. Well, that's disturbing.

It is disturbing on a couple of fronts. First, it says that if a team is not very good at PR or not very good at building their brands and their businesses, the Yankees should be punished because they are. Heck, the Yankees are already "taxed" for their success with some of their hard earned money being given to those poor business people. Plus, with revenue sharing, all profits from national television rights and MLB products are divided evenly among all teams despite the fact that the Yankees drive in more money to those accounts than anyone else. And the Fan is okay with that on some level. But on another level, it seems a bit communistic to have the rich (again derived from smarts) support the poor (who haven't been as smart).

The basic unfairness the Yankees have is their location. It is considered the best market in sports. But that hasn't helped the Knicks has it? Or the Rangers? Artie Moreno is another example of an owner who took a franchise that wasn't exactly succeeding in their market and making it a success. He also has a prime market. But he had to make that market work for him. The Yankees have been successful at making their market work. But that is evil?

Let's look at another team in sports that has become nearly as "evil" as the Yankees. Let's talk about the New England Patriots. Before Robert Kraft bought that team, the Patriots were an absolute mess. They played at a dreadful stadium which was a traffic nightmare. The team was more awful than it was good. They had a couple of good seasons, but basically, they were an also-ran. Kraft has made that franchise a jewel through good business sense and smart management. But success breeds evil in this country nowadays. It's like we've become a country of anarchists. We want to tear down all these success stories because not everyone is a success.

The dirty little secret in baseball is that success for the Yankees means more revenue for the other owners despite whether they are good at what they do or not. The Yankees are the biggest draw whenever they visit other venues. That television revenue and marketing revenue sharing along with the "tax" the Yankees pay for their payroll means more money for these other owners. Some of them may cry foul for the success the Yankees have and the advantage they have built, but the Fan would believe that most of them think of the Yankees like some creepy, but rich uncle that lines their pockets with more money.

The Fan will take all of this one point further. Any team currently in a mess, any team with a small payroll and in a hole when it comes to competing can turn it around just like the Yankees did. If they had the same flair, the same acumen and the same brand-building machine, the Royals could be a big success as could the Marlins, the Twins and any other team you mention out there. The Yankees started from a lower point than all of them. Look it up. Granted, they have a good market. But that didn't stop Sam Walton did it?

Bottom line: The Yankees have earned their success. They are an American success story. And it is a story that anyone can repeat. That's not evil. It truly isn't.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flordia Marlins - 2009 Debrief

The Marlins came in second place in the National League East, six games behind the Phillies and a game ahead of the Braves. Here is a quick quiz: The Marlins won 87 games and came in second because: A) Great young pitching or B) Batting. Most people would answer "A." But really, the answer is "B." There is no doubt that the Marlins have great arms and have a reputation for developing such arms. But 2009 was no different than the years before. Those arms failed to come together significantly and it was the hitting that carried them.

Some day, the Marlins, who always have to go on the cheap, will gel at the pitching position. Every year it seems they have the best young arms in baseball. But every year, those arms fail to materialize in a dominant staff. Maybe 2010 will be the year. They certainly have the talent. But two things seem to get in the way. First, they walk way too many batters. They finished 12th in the National League in that category out of 16 teams. Secondly, their defense is awful. Their defensive efficiency ranked 22nd in the majors out of 26 teams. They were weak in fielding at second, first, third, left and right.

On the Positive Side

They have the second best player in baseball in Hanley Ramirez. With his glove, he may be even with Albert Pujols because he plays shortstop. The guy's talent is unlimited and he is still only 25 years old, meaning his best years should still be ahead of him. He had an OPS+ of 148. He has a VORP of 79.9. Wow! They also had a break out year for Chris Coghlan who mercifully took over the lead off position from Bonafacio (more on him later) and ended up with 565 plate appearances. Coghlan's line ended up: .321/.390/.460. That's a line that's not too far behind Derek Jeter from the lead off spot. He played out of position in left, but with his age, there is no reason why he can't develop into a top flight outfielder.

The Marlins also got productive years from Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross and Dan Uggla, all who finished well above the league average in OPS+. They are solid at catcher with a nice platoon split of Paulino and Baker. Both finished league average at the plate but Paulino is more solid as a defender. Baker had too many passed balls and wasn't nearly as good as Paulino in throwing out runners. Nick Johnson was a nice addition at the end of the year. It is doubtful they keep him, but he was well worth the time he spent there.

The Marlins also have one of the best starting pitchers in the league in Josh Johnson. Johnson finished the season with some eye popping numbers. He went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA. His WHIP was 1.158 and he had an excellent 3.29 strikeout to walk ratio. Johnson is the real deal and barring injury, should be a big time pitcher for quite some time. Ricky Nolasco also had a better year than his 5.06 ERA would indicate. His strikeout to walk ratio is off the charts at 4.43 and he struck out more than 9 batters per nine innings. He gave up too many homers, but other than that, he was a good pitcher. A little different luck and he would have been fabulous. The 1-2 punch of Johnson and Nolasco is an exciting one.

Out of the bullpen, Brian Sanchez and Kiko Colero (one of the great names in baseball) are big time arms and had much success. Wheeler was decent and the Marlins got great efforts at the end of the year from Brenden Donnelly and Tim Wood.

The Ugh Factors

It is truly unforgivable that the Marlins gave Emilio Bonifacio over 500 plate appearances. His 61 OPS+ is enough proof that they had to be out of their minds to do so. Plus, he was terrible in the field, giving the team fits for an entire season. And yet, they kept running him out there.

It is also clear that the Marlins can't keep Dan Uggla at second base. He's just not very good there, which is probably a charitable statement. If the Fan were in charge down there, it might be considered worth the risk to switch Uggla and Coghlan and put Coghlan at second. Uggla, despite a consistently low batting average, is productive at the plate with good power and lots of walks. But man, he just can't play second. Those memorable errors in the All Star game was NOT a fluke.

The Marlins need to decide what to do about right field. Brett Carroll might be the best outfielder in baseball. But he doesn't hit. Hermida has already been traded to the Red Sox. It would probably be a good idea to move Cody Ross to right and install Cameron Maybin in center. Maybin hasn't proved he can hit in the majors but he is a big time talent. If he can put it together, the Marlins could be on to something. But that's a big if.

The Marlins need a closer they can rely on. Wheeler is better as a setup guy and Nunez gave up 13 homers in just 68.1 innings of work. That's not what you want from a closer. They have a lot of good arms. One of them should be able to get that job done.

What happened to Chris Volstad is a bit of a mystery. He was great in 2008 but was really not very good in 2009. He gave up a whopping 29 homers and his WHIP ballooned up to 1.434. He is a talented pitcher though and perhaps he will bounce back. This Fan has little regard for Sean West. He has talent, but he seems so immature (check out the web for some of his nightlife adventures). Plus, his body language on the mound is weak. He lacks the confidence you need to have to make his obvious talent work for him.

2010 Projection

As always with the Marlins, it's a question of whether the pitching can come together. A rotation made up of of Johnson, Nolasco, Volstad, West, Annibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller (the young phenom who showed flashes, but ultimately walked too many) could be dominant if they can put it together. They have some good arms in the bullpen and if they can develop a closer out of one of them, that could be a strength as well.

It's also obvious the Marlins can hit, but perhaps a few of the tweaks outlined above can make them a better fielding team, which is much needed. Hopefully, we won't have to endure another season of Bonifacio.

If the Marlins can get the pitching their talent indicates, continue hitting and improve their defense, they could be scary. There isn't much reason why they can't win 90 games. The Fan doesn't see them winning more than that, but stranger things have happened.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

New York Mets - 2009 Debrief

The New York Mets and their fans have to be gnashing their teeth. Not only did they have their arch rival Phillies in the World Series, but also their cross town rivals, the Yankees. All that occurred while the Mets had one of the highest payrolls, the highest of expectations and it all evaporated in a New York minute. The team couldn't hit, they couldn't pitch and their front office was back pedaling after a myriad of scandals. It was a tough year for the New York Mets in their brand new stadium.

The big story for the Mets in 2009 was injuries. At various times, they lost Beltran, Jose Reyes, John Maine, Johan Santana, Carlos Delgado and J. J. Putz. And these stars weren't lost for just a week or two, but huge chunks of time. Reyes, their once promising building block at shortstop, has tremendous damage to his wheels. Santana had elbow surgery and will be lost for an extensive period of time. Putz, who was expected (along with Francisco Rodriguez) to shore up the bullpen, which led to catastrophic results in 2007 and 2008, was a huge disappointment and then went down to season-ending injury. The Mets have declined to pick up his option, so he is history.

Beltran came back at the end of the season and produced like he always has. He is one of the most underrated performers in the majors. So he'll be fine. Delgado is a free agent and probably won't be resigned. He is going to be 38 after all. Maine came back at the end of the season to mixed results. And nobody seems to know what will happen with Jose Reyes. Cora is a free agent as his backup, but it seems that the Mets should plan on a one-year fill in for Reyes as he tries to rebuild his body.

The other big story for the Mets was their new ballpark. Despite the Mets 92 losses and the fact they were out of the race by June, the fans came out in droves to the tune of 3.3 million. That's encouraging and should continue the stream of income. But the new ball park seemed to make Shea look like the Polo Grounds. Daniel Murphy (of all people) led the Mets in homers with 12. Yes, you heard that right. 12. David Wright, who hit 130 homers his first five seasons with the Mets hit 10 in 2009. And he apparently was so discouraged by the ballpark that he changed his entire hitting philosophy. That has to be discouraging for the Mets when they are used to him popping 30+ homers a year like he did in 2007 and 2008.

So you would think that the Mets would have a good pitching chance in such a ballpark. But in fact, the pitching was bloody awful. Santana pitched great despite his arm being all messed up until he had his surgery. Nelson Figueroa was decent and Fernando Nieve showed promise (plus, he can hit!), but too many starts went to Livan and then his replacement, Tim Redding, with predictable results. But perhaps the Mets' biggest mistake was resigning Oliver Perez. And that's a huge understatement. He was brutal. And many of us who write about baseball predicted this and yet, the Mets went ahead and did it anyway.

The Mets do have some hope for a decent rotation in 2010. Maine, Figueroa, Nieve, Pelfrey and young Jonathan Niese could hold their own. Pelfrey is a disappointment of sorts. His K/BB ratio shows he will never be more than a fourth starter, which is a lot lower than expectations. But if he is fourth or fifth, it's a lot better than at the top of the rotation where he was forced to be in 2009. The Mets also need to figure out if Bobby Parnell is a relief pitcher or a starter. He shows promise but seems to be in the same limbo land that faces the Yankees' Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

The Mets' relief core wasn't all that bad. Francisco Rodriguez was perfect early and then stumbled quite a bit at the end. He ended up with 35 saves but finished with a 3.71 ERA and blew a lot of saves late in the season. Dessens (who is probably gone as a free agent), Feliciano and Ken Takahashi did some nice work. But Sean Green and Brian Stokes got way too many innings that didn't work out too well. It seems the Mets will need to pick up some arms in the off season.

As for the regulars, nearly all (with the exception of Delgado) are signed for 2010, so the cast will remain about the same. It will be interesting to see if they bring back free agent, Fernando Tatis, who was useful. Angel Pagan did surprisingly well while filling in for Beltran. But Beltran is one of the best centerfielders in baseball. Daniel Murphy is very questionable as Delgado's replacement at first. He doesn't hit enough for the position and he is a lousy fielder. The Mets seem to like the guy, but it doesn't make sense.

Their are questions at catcher. Schneider can't hit and is a free agent. Santos hit okay, but isn't wonderful. So it will be interesting to see if the Mets do something there. Other than that, the Mets will have Castillo, who had a decent 2009, at second. Wright will still be one of the elite third basemen (though he did make 18 errors and can be erratic in the field). Beltran will do his thing in center. That leaves left field (Pagan?), right field (is Francoeur staying?), first base and catcher as question marks.

The Mets certainly should be better in 2010 than they were in 2009. A lot will depend on the rotation and what the Mets do in the off season. But no matter how you look at it, this team does not look like an elite team and will do well to play around .500 ball and finish in the middle of the pack in 2010.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Philadelphia Phillies - 2009 Debrief

Right after the regular season ended, a series of posts began to debrief all the major league teams to look at the 2009 season and to look ahead to 2010. The series has already concluded the National League West and one post covered the Atlanta Braves for the National League East before the playoffs and World Series began and left little thought to anything else. Well, it's time to get back to business and restart the process. Since the National League East is our current target and since they just finished a World Series that is fresh in our minds, it seems fitting to start back up again with the Phillies.

It seems to be an obvious statement that the Phillies had a very good year. They had the second best record in the National League. They easily beat the Rockies and the Dodgers in the playoffs and handed a powerful Yankee team two losses in the World Series. They drew 3.6 million fans meaning the money has been good. But some of their weaknesses were exposed against the Yankees. This off season will be a critical one for the Phillies and toeing the line does not seem to be what's needed to repeat again next year as National League champs.

What Went Right

Again, it isn't difficult to pick the Phillies' strengths in 2009: Utley, Victorino, Werth, Ibanez and Howard. Those five players accounted for 228.3 of VORP or Value Over Replacement Players. That's a staggering number. Werth in particular, seems to be getting better and better every year. Howard and Utley figure to continue putting up the numbers. Ibanez doesn't figure to match this year's numbers next year as he is getting up there in age. Victorino is a little harder to figure.

One thing the Phillies have going for them is that Utley, Victorino, Werth and Howard are all in the 29 to 30 year old range meaning they should be at the peak of their baseball prowess. So they should all be able to at least replicate their statistics this coming year. The Fan isn't all gellin' with Victorino. The guy seems like a decent player. His OPS+ is just a little over league average the past two seasons after three seasons below league average. He has more pop in his bat from the left side (he's a switch hitter), but he's a better hitter from the right side. His range in centerfield is about league average and he only had one assist all year, meaning his arm seems to be below standard.

What seems to be the best case for the Phillies would be to move Victorino to left (the Fan insists that Ibanez was a one year hit and that's it) and then sign Marlon Byrd, who is a free agent this year. Byrd has more range, is growing as a hitter and has a better arm. Plus, Byrd hits right handed, which would seem to even things out more for the Phillies (more on that later).

Another thing that went right for the Phillies was trading for Cliff Lee. 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA and money in the post season. You can't ask for much more than that. Just ask the Angels about their Kazmir deal. The other pitching highlight for the Phillies was J. A. Happ. The question that has to be asked is: How can your most valuable pitcher during 2009 not get a post season start? The guy had a 46.7 VORP. He finished with a 2.93 ERA. What!? If the Fan was in charge of the Phillies, the post season rotation would have been: Lee, Happ, Hamels and then whomever.

Happ is only 27 and figures to continue improving if he stays healthy. Hamels had an off year, but if you look deep into the numbers, he wasn't much worse statistically than in 2008 when he was "great." It seems to this Fan that Hamels had an unlucky year and should bounce back just fine next year. So you already have Lee, Happ and Hamels in your rotation. Blanton is a decent fourth guy and the free agent list includes useful pitchers like Harden, Duchscherer (who has more consonants in his name than should be allowed) and Doug Davis if you want to round out your five. Pedro won't be back and it is doubtful that Moyer will be anything more than a swing man. The Phillies should let Brett Myers leave via free agency.

The Question Marks

Let's start with Jimmy Rollins. Despite a late surge, Rollins finished with his lowest batting average since 2002, his lowest OBP ever, his lowest stolen base total in five years and the lowest number of triples in his career. His 85 OPS+ was astounding. He's only 31, so the age thing shouldn't be a factor yet. Perhaps it was just a bad year. Perhaps he had an injury no one knows about. But if he doesn't bounce back, he can't bat lead off. You have to move him down in the batting order. His fielding seemed okay. Maybe it was just a bad year.

Pedro Feliz is a liability at the plate. He hasn't been above 85 in OPS+ since 2004. On the other hand, he's a very good third baseman. So do you sacrifice the offense for a slick fielder? It seems the Phillies have enough offense to warrant it. The Fan really thinks Adrian Beltre is going to have a bounce back year, especially if he goes back to the National League. He might be an intriguing possibility for the Phillies. He's just as good with the glove as Feliz and has more potential upside at the plate.

Ruiz is a good catcher. Granted, he doesn't throw many runners out. But he had only one passed ball all season. Plus, he's money in the post season. The Phillies are all set there, but they have no catching depth. Bako and Coste didn't cut it.

Sooner or later, you all knew the Fan was going to get to the bullpen. Frankly, it was a real liability in 2009. But Madsen has the potential to be a really good closer. He doesn't seem to get rattled and he did his job in the World Series. Just as frankly, what are the Phillies to make of Brad Lidge? From the Fan's observation, he can no longer blow you away with his fastball and has to rely on his slider, a pitch that can be an angel or a devil depending on the game. One thing the Phillies can't do is take too long to figure it out in the spring. They can't keep waffling when it comes to the closer. If Lidge doesn't light it up early, then they have to go with Madson or bring somebody else in. There are a ton of free agent relief pitchers on the market. Bring in a few of the top arms and see what happens.

The other weakness that the Yankees seemed to exploit was left handed pitchers versus the Phillies left handed batters and right handed pitchers throwing inside to those same Phillies lefties. As a team, the Phillies struck out 22% of the time against left-handed pitching versus 20% versus right-handed. And strikeouts are a problem. Werth and Howard struck out 342 times combined. Utley added 110 more. Werth needs more help from the right side of the plate and the Phillies could use a guy who puts the ball in play more often. Their team batting average was ninth in the sixteen team league.

2010 Prognosis

Again, the Phillies had a great year. They benefited nicely from the Mets falling apart due to injuries and a weak Washington team. They have horses and they know how to win. A few tweaks here and there and they should be right in the mix for their third straight NL pennant. The Braves figure to be stronger and you have to figure the Mets will be better. The Marlins' young pitching could always put it together some day. But it would be surprising if the Phillies weren't on top of the NL East again next year.