Saturday, March 07, 2009

This Week on the Transaction Wire

A fairly slow week on the transaction wire this week. A few familiar names Manny, Nomar and Orlando. Besides those well known names, there were only a few others. But undaunted, here we go:

- After the A's brought in two of those infielders listed above, A's infielder, Yung-Chi took it on the Chen and had to go to AAA since there was Nomar room for him.

- To the relief of Manny, the long and drawn out negotiations between the Dodgers and Ramirez are finally over.

- The Giants' pitching staff lost some K's as Kelvin Pichardo and Keiichi Yabu were sent down to Fresno. The latter reminds the Fan of Fred Flinstone selling Brylcreem as only a little Yabu dab'll do ya.

- In other Giants news, outfielder Dave was released. Maybe Mr. Roberts can go to Washington after all. It's really cheap to use the same line two weeks in a row, but what can the Fan do on a slow week?

- A pitcher named Gallardo needed a translator to help finalize his one year contract. Finally, after listening to the two speaking in a foreign language, a frustrated General Manager yelled in frustration: "Yovani sign a contract?"

- Speaking of GMs, in Washington, one had his head Bowdened down and resigned.

- Apparently his head has stopped spinning long enough, so Mr. Koskie will Corey his luggage to the Cubs camp as he signed a minor league deal.

- The Cardinals signed a pitcher named Harris to a minor league contract. This deal might not mean much because if you haven't seen Harris pitch, you did not Mitch much.

That's it! It's good that we were able to Cruz through that so quickly as the Fan Juans to get to some other stuff.

Eric Gagne Has a Bum Shoulder

According to a story found on, Eric Gagne is going to get a second opinion on the MRI performed on his right shoulder. The Brewers' physician noted damage to the labrum and rotator cuff. The physician wanted to give Gagne a cortisone shot (which is like giving a guy with a concussion a lobotomy). Good grief. Gagne wants this other doctor to tell him if he needs surgery or not.

It's too bad about the career path Gagne has fallen to after his brilliant years with the Dodgers. Of course, most fans will say that those years were drug aided and it's hard to argue. But for us in northern Maine, Gagne is a bit of a hero. He was born just an hour from here in Montreal and many of our neighbors bear his last name. Except up here, it's pronounced sort of like: "Gongyah" or "Gonyer." Face it, not too many baseball stars come from this part of the world. Heck, you have to play baseball underground for most of the year. So when we do have a star, we all take pride.

Many up here were thrilled when Gagne joined Boston, the team most people around here follow (thanks to its New England ties, good marketing and NESN). But he was so bad in his brief time with Boston that many around here wore black for weeks.

The saddest part of this story is that Gagne was starting to put it together last year and finished the season with eleven straight scoreless appearances, reminding folks of his once and mighty streak. The Brewers only signed him to a minor league contract and it is unlikely they will wait around for him to get fixed up. Their stance, according to the story linked above was that Gagne will either pitch in the majors or hit the road.

Sad. Sad for all the Quebequa up here who root for him.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Who Will Play Third for the Yankees?

Uh oh. The Yankees reign as the favorites in the American League East just took a hip. It was announced today that Alex Rodriguez, who has had a quiet spring thus far (tongue in cheek please), will miss at least ten weeks after having surgery on his hip. If the Fan is looking at his calendar correctly, that takes us until at least the second week of May. If Utley is any indication, the absence could be much longer. In the meantime, who will play third?

It might be the answer to the trivia question: Who had the last putout in Yankee Stadium? Yup, that would be Cody Ransom. It is certainly another bizarre twist in the long baseball journey of the kid from Arizona.

You see, Ransom isn't some young fresh-faced phenom from the minor leagues after a stellar college career. This is a guy who is thirty-two years old who has played in parts of six big league seasons in total anonymity after a long and improbable career in the minor leagues. He has played in 166 games in those six season and yet only has 183 at bats.

Ransom was once a 43rd round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians way back in 1995. But he didn't join the Indians. Instead he went to college. But he wasn't content to just play for one college. He played for three different colleges. While at the first one, he survived a van rollover that killed four of his teammates.

After college, he was again drafted, this time by the Giants and he moved all the way up to the ninth round. He played several years in the Giant's organization including several cameos with the big league club, usually as a defensive replacement. He hit his first major league homer in 2003.

After the 2004 season, the Giants cut him loose and he signed with the Cubs. But before he had a chance to play for them, he was traded to the Rangers. He played AAA ball for the Rangers for 24 games, batting .261 and he was released. The Cubs took him back and he played for their AAA club the rest of the year. They non-tendered him at the end of the year.

Ransom then signed with the Mariners. He had a miserable Spring Training with them in 2006 and they shipped him to Houston. He played two years of AAA ball for Houston and led that team in homers and RBI. He was rewarded with a September call up in 2007, his first big league action since 2004. He hit one homer was was generally unspectacular.

He was a free agent again in 2008 and the Yankees signed him and he played for their top minor league team until he was called up in August. He hit a home run in his first two at bats for the big club and ended up with four for the season. It was just 43 at bats, but a 1.051 OPS was kind of pretty.

So he comes to camp in 2009 hoping to make the club and now finds himself as the favorite to open the year as the Yankees' starting third baseman. Sometimes it is an amazing journey for some players who hang in there and grind it out. He is in his tenth professional season and is with his sixth organization after playing for three colleges and surviving a fatal bus crash. Life is a strange thing sometimes.

The Yankees will hope that Ransom can hit a little bit and play a decent third base and hold the position down until A-Rod comes back. Will Ransom's strange journey end with a World Series ring? Time will tell. Stranger things have happened in Ransom's life.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Millwood - Rangers' Ace or Millstone?

It's probably not a good thing when articles written about what is supposed to be your best pitcher mention "Health" at least eight to ten times, including a quote from your manager. But Texas Ranger pitching has not been very good and Millwood is supposed to be the team's best pitcher and he has been bloody awful the past two years.

Kevin Millwood has been either very good or very bad in his career. He has had seasons where he compiled WHIP statistics like 0.996 and 1.157. But he has also had seasons where his WHIP was 1.461 and 1.622. And though his headlines talk about his health being an issue, he hasn't missed a whole lot of starts in his career. He missed ten starts in 2001, ten in 2004, five in 2005 and five last year. We are not exactly talking Kerry Wood here.

The Fan perceives that the "health" issues have been used as a cover for some pretty bad seasons where he just didn't pitch very well. The last two have been particularly poor. With the Rangers the past two seasons, he has gone 19-24 with 549 baserunners in 341 innings. That's almost Adam Eaton territory.

In fairness, his FIP last year was 4.08 which means that his fielders didn't help him a whole lot so perhaps he was somewhat unlucky last year. But his Line Drive Percentage was quite a bit higher than his career average of around 21%. Last year it was 25%, meaning the batters were squaring the ball up a lot more often. It's kind of hard to always catch laser beams.

The Rangers have always been a team that can hit. But they need good pitching to take the next step and compete in the American League West. The Oakland A's have improved while the Angels have regressed. If the Rangers could just field a staff of league average pitchers, they would have a chance. Millwood is a big part of that. He's had some really good seasons and one this year would be welcome. Spring Training doesn't mean much, but he's started so far with five scoreless innings. That's a good sign. Of course, he has to remain healthy...which translates to: "He's got to get people out."

The Manny Saga Is Finally Over

After months of negotiations, Public Relations ploys, missteps by both agent and owner and no real interest from other teams, the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez came to terms today. Ramirez certainly didn't get what he thought he was going to get, but he did get to miss much of the drudgery of Spring Training, so that's a bonus.

Ramirez is a player the Dodgers had to have. The fans there loved him. His teammates enjoyed his broad shoulders and sense of fun. And those broad shoulders took a weak team to within a hair of the World Series. The signing could signal a fourteenth straight playoff appearance for one Mr. Torre.

And it was fitting that Manny Ramirez finally had a deal on one of the few days that Buster Olney of didn't write a blog entry. Perhaps Mr. Olney can now get on with his life and find another rash to scratch.

The deal will seal a career that will end Manny in Cooperstown some day as he should have two decent years left in him. Ramirez is by no means perfect and his fielding can be a nightmare, but the game needs him. He's fun to watch when he succeeds and when he does not. He is entertaining and in a world of athlete-businessmen that now make up most of the majors these days, entertainment is always a plus.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What Ever Happened to Nomar?

There was a time when the era of Cal Ripken Jr. and Alan Trammell gave way to one of the most hotly debated arguments in baseball: Jeter, Garciaparra or Tejada? It seems that the first two took turns starting the All Star Game and they were the brightest stars of the game. Was that really only a decade ago?

This reminiscence comes about after seeing that Nomar Garciaparra has apparently signed a deal with Oakland. It's a pretty sad question the news brings after all these years: Where is he going to play?

There was a time when there would be no question where Garciaparra would play. He was the star of the Boston Red Sox. He was one of the premier shortstops in all of baseball. From 1998 to 2000, he put together a string of seasons where his OPS was .946, 1.021 and 1.033. In those three years, he batted .323, .357 and a staggering .372. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting in all three of those years, topping at second in 1998. He hit over fifty doubles twice.

Would anyone now guess that his lifetime batting average is still .314? What ever happened to Nomar Garciaparra? Well, it started with a bum wrist that cost him nearly all of the 2001 season. When he came back in 2002, he was still an effective player but his defense suffered and his OPS fell to .880 (still a very good number!). It fell again to .869 the following year (2003) but he ended that season badly and played really poorly in the 2003 post season.

His contract was up at the end of 2004 and before that season, he wanted to negotiate a new deal that would pay him similar to what Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were making. The new management team in Boston, a numbers-savvy group, didn't feel that he was worth that much and ugly rumors arose that Nomar was pouting. There were rumors that he was a buzz kill in the clubhouse, especially after that crazy bunch in 2004 shaved their heads and Nomar wouldn't do it (neither did Johnny Damon, but apparently that was a medical condition).

The Red Sox tried to trade him and he was actually a part of that mega-deal that was supposed to bring Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. When that fell apart, the team traded its star shortstop to the Cubs in a deal that brought Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox. Cabrera brought energy and great play at short and the Red Sox went on to history.

So how did one of the best players in baseball end up becoming one of those addition by subtraction issues for the Red Sox where it seemed that they finally got over the hump and won a World Series BECAUSE they traded Garciaparra?

Garciaparra had two lackluster, injury riddled seasons with the Cubs and eventually ended up in Los Angeles, where he rebounded with a decent season at the bat in 2006, but was horribly miscast as the Dodgers' first baseman. He slipped badly in 2007 and didn't play very much last year.

Stories circulated this off-season that he wasn't sure if he wanted to play another season or not. How much does that say about how far Nomar Garciaparra has fallen from his star days of the late 1990s? He's not that old, only thirty-six, but basically he is a bit afterthought. All this seems strange for a man we all thought was going to be a Hall of Famer when his days were over.

Now, he won't reach 2000 hits, he won't reach 1000 RBI in a career that once seemed like it was going to be one of the greatest ever.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Some Quick Hits Around the Majors

Here is a quick look at a few developments around the majors:

The Bobby Crosby era has seemingly come to an end in Oakland. The once highly touted prospect has been replaced by the signing of Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera, one of the last of the remaining free agents not named Manny, took a large pay cut over his $9 million last year as the market just wasn't there. Rumors had been swirling that the shortstop was headed to Toronto, but Oakland, who has been negotiating with Cabrera for a while, got him for $4 million.

Crosby has had injury problems over the years and never could increase his plate discipline and has a disappointing .239 lifetime batting average with a low OBP. He seemed to make some progress last year when he had 39 doubles in playing the whole year for a change, but the batting average and OBP did not improve. The A's love patience at the plate and have lost patience with Crosby. Cabrera should be a huge upgrade and inches the A's that much closer to contention in a somewhat weak division.

Remember Bruce Chen? The oriental left-handed pitcher from Panama, who has been around for quite a while now and has played for nine teams over his major league career, signed a minor league contract with the Rangers.

Chen had that one good year with the Orioles in 2005 when he went 13-10. But he was awful the year after, going without a win in seven decisions with a gaggle of baserunners. The Orioles dumped him after that and Chen did not make it at all to the majors last year. The Rangers really need pitching and took a flier on Chen.

As the Fan stated earlier in a recent post, guys like Adam Eaton will always find a job. The Phillies recently dumped the oft-injured pitcher after another in a series of terrible years even though they will still have to pay him $9 million this year. Once he cleared waivers, any team could sign him for the major league minimum and the Orioles couldn't resist and once again, Eaton has a job. Amazing.

A recent headline proclaimed that the World Baseball Classic is eagerly anticipated. Uh. Not here in the FanDome. Although it is cute that A-Rod is playing for the Dominican Republic and all, the WBC is a dud for this Fan who can't wait for it to be over. The Fan likes the WBC about as much as teams starting their year over in Japan.

Wang, the Yankees pitcher, threw two scoreless innings in his first Spring Training outing yesterday. That has to please the Yankees who were really upset that their pre-Sabathia ace was hurt (after a great start) running the bases in interleague play last year. Losing Wang did mean a lot of starts for guys named Rasner which couldn't have helped the team's first year missing the playoffs since before the Torre era. If Wang can stay healthy and effective, the Yankees will be a tough team.

The Tigers got good news when Jeremy Bonderman's shoulder showed no damage after an examination. Detroit needs pitchers like Bonderman if they are to have any chance at all in their division.

Monday, March 02, 2009

ERA as a Case for Sabermetrics

Statistics have always been one large draw of the game. They have been faithfully kept, poured over from the backs of baseball cards and in the back of the Sporting News in the old days to fantastic databases on-line. The traditional way of looking at statistics has always been static. In other words, the numbers are compared the same over generations as if the game has been played in a vacuum. The only exception to this has been the "Dead Ball Era" and the "Live Ball Era" as a breaking point in relative statistics. This, of course, has changed dramatically with the advent of what we generally call, "Sabermetrics." The basic underlying principle in all of these new statistics is that the game is not static nor has it been played in a vacuum. Stadiums vary, years vary, rules change, wars interfere, expansion happens and so forth. While there are a million things to talk about here, let's just use one statistic, ERA, as an example why these numbers are important.

In one generation, a pitcher might toil for sixteen years or so and compile a 3.80 ERA over that career. In the traditional way of looking at statistics, this pitcher is compared to another pitcher of a different generation who compiled a lifetime ERA of 2.80. The natural and traditional assumption is that the first pitcher wasn't nearly as good as the second. But what if the league ERA for the years the first pitcher toiled was 3.95 and the second pitcher pitched in a generation that averaged a 2.70 ERA? Doesn't that change things?

The traditional way of looking at things assumes that the game has always been played the same way under the same conditions and that the two ERAs of the two pitchers are apples and apples. That would assume that ERA has always been around the same. But it hasn't. As the charts below indicate, the league ERA figures have varied greatly over the years. For example, the average National League team scored 4.04 runs per game in 1968. But in 1970, that figure increased to 4.52 runs per game. In 2000, that figure was all the way up to 5.0 runs per game.

That may not seem like a whole lot of difference, but over the course of 162 games for each team, the difference is huge. It is just as huge as going from the Dead Ball Era to the Live Ball Era when 96 total home runs were hit in the American League for the entire year compared to 240 in 1919 and 525 in 1922.

The two leagues have also had very few years where the league ERA was in the same ballpark. So, for example, how can you compare Greg Maddux to Roger Clemens over their careers without taking into account the differences in the league ERA figures? And the same has to hold true for the different ballparks they pitched in. In order to come close to any kind of comparison, you have to have a way to factor in differences in league ERA, ballpark factors, rules differences (DH for example).

Okay, say you have a pitcher who pitched for a long time for the Houston Astros. During the first half of his career, he pitched in the Astrodome which was a huge disadvantage for hitters and then pitched the second half of his career in the Astros' new park which is much more favorable to the hitter. Don't you have to factor in the ballpark differences to evaluate the pitcher's effectiveness over his entire career. If you simply look at ERA as a static number, then the pitcher might have had an ERA of 3.30 in the Astrodome years and 3.75 in the new park. In actuality, those two figures might be similar in effectiveness if you take the park into account.

The Fan isn't going to get into the math because he is still trying to figure it out. But the logic makes sense that in the mid to late 1960s when an average team batting average was .235, a player like Yaz who led the league in batting one year by hitting .298 or something had just as good a year as a Tony Gwynn who batted .332 in a year when the average team batting average was .270. So these new numbers are very important to evaluate players not only today, but in retrospect to the past. That's why you have so many debates about the Hall of Fame now. We now have ways of putting careers into their proper perspective that we have never had before.

The ERA is just one stat that has fluctuated greatly over the years and from league to league. There is no way that the traditional way of looking at statistics can remain valid when comparing the value of players from year to year, from stadium to stadium, from league to league when they change so dramatically over time.

  • Year NL AL
    1901 3.32 3.66
    1902 2.78 3.57
    1903 3.26 2.96
    1904 2.73 2.60
    1905 2.99 2.65
    1906 2.62 2.69
    1907 2.46 2.54
    1908 2.34 2.39
    1909 2.59 2.47
    1910 3.02 2.52
    1911 3.39 3.34
    1912 3.40 3.34
    1913 3.19 2.93
    1914 2.79 2.73
    1915 2.75 2.93
    1916 2.61 2.82
    1917 2.71 2.66
    1918 2.76 2.77
    1919 2.91 3.22
    1920 3.13 3.79
    1921 3.78 4.28
    1922 4.10 4.03
    1923 3.99 3.98
    1924 3.87 4.23
    1925 4.26 4.39
    1926 3.83 4.02
    1927 3.91 4.14
    1928 3.99 4.04
    1929 4.71 4.24
    1930 4.97 4.64
    1931 3.86 4.38
    1932 3.88 4.48
    1933 3.33 4.28
    1934 4.06 4.50
    1935 4.02 4.46
    1936 4.02 5.04
    1937 3.91 4.62
    1938 3.78 4.79
    1939 3.92 4.62
    1940 3.85 4.38
    1941 3.63 4.15
    1942 3.31 3.66
    1943 3.38 3.30
    1944 3.61 3.43
    1945 3.80 3.36
    1946 3.41 3.50
    1947 4.06 3.71
    1948 3.95 4.29
    1949 4.04 4.20
    1950 4.14 4.58
    1951 3.96 4.12
    1952 3.73 3.67
    1953 4.29 3.99
    1954 4.06 3.72
    1955 4.04 3.96
    1956 3.77 4.16
    1957 3.88 3.79
    1958 3.95 3.77
    1959 3.95 3.86
    1960 3.76 3.87
    1961 4.03 4.02
    1962 3.94 3.97
    1963 3.29 3.63
    1964 3.53 3.63
    1965 3.54 3.46
    1966 3.60 3.43
    1967 3.37 3.23
    1968 2.99 2.98
    1969 3.60 3.62
    1970 4.05 3.71
    1971 3.46 3.46
    1972 3.45 3.06
    1973 3.66 3.82
    1974 3.62 3.62
    1975 3.62 3.78
    1976 3.50 3.52
    1977 3.91 4.06
    1978 3.57 3.76
    1979 3.73 4.21
    1980 3.60 4.03
    1981 3.49 3.66
    1982 3.60 4.07
    1983 3.63 4.06
    1984 3.59 3.99
    1985 3.59 4.15
    1986 3.72 4.17
    1987 4.08 4.46
    1988 3.45 3.97
    1989 3.49 3.88
    1990 3.79 3.90
    1991 3.68 4.09
    1992 3.50 3.94
    1993 4.04 4.32
    1994 4.22 4.80
    1995 4.18 4.71
    1996 4.22 5.00
    1997 4.21 4.57
    1998 4.24 4.65
    1999 4.56 4.86
    2000 4.63 4.91
    2001 4.36 4.47
    2002 4.11 4.46
    2003 4.28 4.52
    2004 4.30 4.63
    2005 4.22 4.35
    2006 4.49 4.56
    2007 4.43 4.50
    2008 4.30 4.36

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Musty Old Stats

The Fan will once again state plainly that is the greatest gift to baseball fans in history. Not only can you find any kind of stat you are looking for there for any year ever, but you can get lost in stories from long ago. The deep history of baseball and its statistics are one of the major links from generation to generation. And not only does have them all, they are free to look at any time night or day.

Josh Borenstein is a generation younger than this blogger and yet his blog is filled with stats from eons past. It's just something that ties baseball fans together. His recent blog on Hank Greenberg led to a pleasant romp through the archives for Greenberg's stats. One click led to another and somehow the Fan ended up looking at the stats for Mickey Cochrane in 1930. Don't know how the Fan got there. It was probably wondering how Greenberg did not win the MVP that year. Cochrane did. (He gave his first name to Mickey Mantle by the way. The Mick's father was a big Cochrane fan.)

From there, it wasn't a big leap to looking at the league leaders for 1930. One stat caught the Fan's eye. There was a listing of pitchers with the most losses in 1930. Three of the top five were from the Boston Red Sox. Man! That must have been a really bad team. And those three pitchers? Jack Russell (9-20), Milt Gaston (13-20) and Horace Lisenbee (10-17).

From there it was another click to look at the Red Sox that year. They went 52-102. Yup, that was a bad year. In the honorable mention category, they also had a pitcher named Ed Durham that went 4-15. To show you how times have changed: As bad as that team was, they used thirteen pitchers all year. That's it. Thirteen.

1930 was just one year in a really bad stretch for the Red Sox as a franchise. The post Ruth years, after they traded their biggest star to the Yankees, were brutal. Here is a particularly tough run year by year:

  • 1926 - 46-107
  • 1927 - 51-103
  • 1928 - 57-96
  • 1929 - 58-96
  • 1930 - 52-102
  • 1931 - 62-90
  • 1932 - 43-111

Every year during that run, the team gave up over 800 runs and their run differential was -175 or worse. Yup. That's a bad stretch. And those three pitchers mentioned earlier? They weren't with the team for that entire period, but when they were, here is how they fared:

  • Jack Russell - 46-98 (he finished 85-141 over a 14 year career)
  • Milt Gaston - 27-52 (he finished 97-164 for his career). He also lived to be 100 years old so he didn't lose much sleep over his years in baseball.
  • Horace "Hod" Lisenbee - 15-33

Now where else but baseball can you have this much fun looking at statistics? And how much fun is it that we have there for us to romp around in their playground for free?