Friday, December 31, 2010

Just Your Typical Year End Post

Happy New Year everyone. Since it is the last day of 2010, it seems obligatory to write one of those recaps of 2010. The Fan has already mentioned that it seems a challenge simply to remember the events that happened yesterday. So how can you remember the moments of 2010? Sure, the Fan could cheat and find someone else's time line, but we'll leave the plagiarism to ESPN. Oops. Sorry. That was low. The guy did apologize. Not wanting to risk another scandal, this Fan will rely on his shoddy memory and warped sense of what was important to recap 2010 in Fan style.

The things the Fan can remember about 2010 are:

  • The Texas Rangers ending a long strangle hold the Angels held on the American League West. From Josh Hamilton's MVP season through the ownership issues and finally, the addition of Cliff Lee and a series win over the Yankees, it was exciting to see a new team crowned in a division.
  • The rebuilding of Dusty Baker's managerial image as the Reds surprisingly won the NL Central. Joey Votto won the MVP but there was a large cast of characters nobody expected to excel enough to win a division. The pitching was just good enough, but not good enough for the playoffs. Still, it was a fun ride for 2010 in Cincinnati.
  • The hex someone put on the Boston Red Sox. Despite a heroic effort from their manager and a very good season for David Ortiz, the Red Sox stayed relevant up until two weeks were left in the season even though a bunch of their stars were injured for good chunks of the season.
  • The collapse of the St. Louis Cardinals. They swept a series from the Reds to regain the top spot and everyone thought they would then go on to win the division again. Then they folded faster than a sheet in a hotel laundry room. Carpenter faded during the stretch, King Albert was only Duke-like and their centerfielder became an outcast.
  • The agony of watching Jeter strike out or ground out weakly in just about every big moment of the season. It was painful.
  • Mark McGwire returning to baseball. He fessed up so that he could rejoin the game he loves. That's a good story, not a bad one. McGwire's healing magic won't be forgotten despite the PED haze that followed.
  • The White Sox having such a weird season. They started poorly and looked like a complete mishmash of square players in round holes. Then they got hot and caught the Twins. Then they sunk like a Mafia hit. Ozzie and Kenny feuded. Yet both survived. What a soap opera!
  • The Astros and their never-say-die team. They cronked the first two months so much that their two star players wanted out and got their wish. Then the team took off. It was a fun box score season for them in the second half. Now if the moralists could get off of Bagwell so he could rightfully take his place in the HOF...
  • Watching David Price while on vacation in Florida. That guy is so cool. He's fun in the dugout when not pitching and masterful when he is.
  • Enjoying the Bay Rays' broadcasts while in North Palm Beach. They do have one of the best television crews in baseball.
  • Not enjoying the Marlins' broadcasts while in North Palm Beach. They have one of the worst television crews in baseball.
  • Watching Andy Pettitte pitch before he hurt his leg. He was dominant and this Fan will never forget that stare over his globe. Come on, more season?
  • The enjoyment brought by watching Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson play the field and run the bases. Truly special.
  • Watching the Braves overachieve knowing how hard the team was trying for Bobby Cox.
  • Hearing about the find of the 1960 World Series game. How cool is that?
  • Learning how to use's play index. How cool is THAT?
  • Reading Buster Olney every day. Love him or hate him, he is the only big time writer that nearly writes every day and on weekends. God bless his fortitude.
  • All those no-hitters and perfect games. All topped, of course, by the perfect game that wasn't and the nice story of Tim Joyce and Galarraga.
  • The San Diego Padres. They almost pulled it off. Every week we expected them to fold. They didn't until the last week of the season. Well done!
  • Still in awe on how the Giants became World Champs without an offense.
  • The big seasons for old men like Jim Thome, Mariano Rivera and Omar Vizquel.
  • The thrill ride of the Fighting Showalters the last third of the season.
  • Bautista's mammoth homers and fantastic season. Shush you conspiracy theorists and simply enjoy it for what it was. This Fan hopes he repeats it.
  • Following Josh Borenstein's Jewish ball players everyday. The Fan still maintains that we Sicilians are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. But more likely, it is because of Josh that these guys are now must sees in the boxscores each day.
  • Reading the Satchel Paige book. What a great read. A book should make you long to have actually seen a player play and that book succeeded.
  • Learning more about Bob Feller and coming to appreciate him. The Fan spent a lot of life thinking he was a jerk like Jack Dempsey.
  • Watching Roy Halladay dominate the National League. The guy is a man's man. Or is that a Fan's man?
  • The pure joy of watching Stephen Strasburg pitch his first big league game. What a thrill! The dismay at him getting hurt.
  • Watching Ubaldo Jiminez pitch and the agony of watching the Rockies squander every change to get him to 20 wins.
  • All those strikeouts in the All Star game. If you love pitching, that was a treat.

Those are just a few of the joys and agonies of 2010 the Fan can remember. On the personal side:

  • This is the Fan's 760th post of the year or an average of 2.08 a day for the year. Judging by word count, that's close to 1,140,000 words or almost six million taps on the keyboard. Some was very good. Some was schlock. But it was all enjoyable.
  • The Fan didn't miss a single day since before the season started.
  • The Fan's son moved to Florida. Will never forget the tears that day, but the Fan is so proud that he is on his own and making his way in the world in a new place. And somewhat jealous of his new digs...
  • The Fan's publishing business survived another year. This was perhaps the hardest and perhaps now that this year was survived, the new Alexander of the publishing world can finally fight his way out of Greece.
  • The Fan's daughter started high school. How did that happen? She is beautiful and a wonderful girl.
  • The Fan joined the Baseball Bloggers Association (BBA) and Yardbarker. Both associations have been wonderful and there is much hope for this blog in the coming year.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 1984 Detroit Tigers

People remember great teams. The 1927 and 1998 Yankees, the 1948 Indians, the 1996 Boston Red Sox, the Big Red Machine and the Cardinals of the mid-60s. But the 1984 Tigers seem to have passed into oblivion. And it's a sad thing really. Kirk Gibson is more known for the homer he hit for the Dodgers against Eckersley than he is for crushing two homers against the Padres in the 1984 World Series. Sparky Anderson's role as that team's manager is overshadowed by his years with the Reds. The simple fact is that something special happened in 1984 and it should never be forgotten.

A lot of this post was inspired by the news story that the architect of that team, Bill Lajoie, just passed away this week. Some will say that Lajoie inherited a great team to start with since 1984 was his first year as general manager. But it was his move to bring in Willie Hernandez at the last minute before the season began that might have sealed the whole deal (more about Hernandez later). All of those sentiments would be true except that as a long time scout, he had a hand in landing players like Gibson, Parrish, Petry, Trammell and Whitaker for the Tigers organization. It was this great home grown core that were the rock of the 1984 season.

But a lot of teams have had talent. There was just something special about this team and it manifested itself right out of the gate. The team won it's first nine games. In those nine games, they outscored their opponents 60-23. They lost to the great Saberhagen but then won seven more in a row and their record stood at 16-1. That is a start that had never happened before and hasn't happened since. By the end of April, they were 18-2 and Jack Morris was 5-0. By May 24, the Tigers were 35-5. No team has ever won more in the first 40 games. Jack Morris was 9-1, his only lost being a 1-0 loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox. By the end of May they were 37-9, a two month clip at an .803 winning percentage.

Sure enough, there was no way to sustain that kind of winning percentage. But despite slowing down a bit, the Tigers never had a sub-.500 month that season, had two more months over .600 and owned first place in the American League East (there were only two divisions back then) from the first game to the last. The team won 104 games total that season, swept the Royals in the playoffs and beat the Padres four games to one in the World Series. Their final tally for the year was 111-59. The Tigers were 25-11 in one-run games. They were 11-2 in extra inning games and 30-12 in blowout games. They were simply dominant.

And it wasn't just one facet of the game that brought them such success. They weren't just a pitching team or a hitting team. They had perfect symmetry. They led the majors in OPS+ as a team at 113 and they led the majors in ERA+ at 113. They came in third in the majors in fielding percentage.  In the American League, the Tigers were first in runs scored and home runs and On Base Percentage. They were second in walks, slugging and OPS. On the pitching side they were first in ERA, saves, hits and runs and earned runs allowed. They gave up the second fewest homers. Or to put it more simply, they were a great team.

And they were a very good mix of the old and the young. Darrell Evans, Larry Herndon and Dave Bergman were on the plus side of their 30s (Evans was way plus) and all contributed. Several key home grown Tigers like Gibson, Trammell and Whitaker were all entering their prime years. And youngster like 23 year old, Howard Johnson, were just beginning to grow into good major league players.

The defense was particularly excellent up the middle. Trammell and Whitaker were entering their peak years, years that should have made them Hall of Fame players, but just like the 1984 Tigers themselves, those two have been overlooked in the Hall. And Chet Lemon was a superb center fielder. Rupert Jones, when he played, which was often, was an excellent outfielder. Bergman wasn't your typical first baseman with pop, but he was excellent with the glove and still contributed a 113 OPS+. Gibson was just average in right as was Herndon in left. HoJo was a little below average at third. And behind the plate, Lance Parrish threw out 46% of potential base steal attempts. It was a great defense that aided a very good pitching staff.

It seems weird that this team didn't have a twenty game winner. Morris, who was 9-1 after 40 games ended up at 19-11 with an ERA+ of 109. He wasn't spectacular, but he was very good. Dan Petry was 25 but already had excellent control. He went 18-8 that year with an ERA+ of 124. This was a year after he went 19-11 for the Tigers in 1983. By the time Petry was 26, he had already won 93 games in his career. He would only pitch six more seasons and win 32 more games.

Milt Wilcox was the third starter and he went 17-8 with a 4.00 ERA. The lefty was 34 at the time and two years later was out of baseball. Juan Berenguer was the fourth starter and went a hard luck 11-10 despite an ERA+ of 113. Even so, it was the only year he won more than ten games in a season. He became primarily a reliever after that season and had some very good seasons with the Twins and Braves. He pitched 15 seasons in the majors.

The rotation was rounded out by Glenn Abbott at first and finally by Dave Rozema. Abbott started the year in the rotation but was ineffective. Rozema went 7-6 and was just barely above league average. But he was good enough for the fifth spot on that team. It was Abbott's last season in the big leagues and Rozema was out of the majors after 1986.

Probably what most Tigers' fans will remember about that season was the duel relief tandem of Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez. Hernandez was an abosolute steal from the Phillies in a big trade before the season. Hernandez and Bergman went to the Tigers for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss. Wilson and Wockenfuss were somewhat useful major league players, but Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 1984 AND the MVP. And he was unhittable.

Willie Hernandez wasn't a one inning closer. He led the league in appearances with 80 and he pitched 140.1 innings! He gave up only 96 hits and 36 walks. He saved 32 games and won 9 more against only three losses. After the Tigers had such a rapid start, their attendance heated up and they ended up leading the AL in attendance that season. Whenever Hernandez entered the game, it became a huge event and the excitement in the crowd was amazing. For better or worse, it may also be where the "Wave" became a popular major sporting event in the stands. Words alone can't describe what it was like when Hernadez came into a game. It was legend.

Willie had one more very good year, another good one and was out of baseball after the 1989 season.

Aurelio Lopez was about as opposite a pitcher to Hernandez as there could be. But the Tigers wouldn't have been as good without him just as much as Hernandez. Lopez, a Mexican pitcher didn't get a full time job in the majors until he was thirty when the Cardinals traded him to the Tigers in 1978. He was a very good reliever for the Tigers for five seasons leading into the 1984 season, a season in which he was 35 years old. Lopez got into 71 games in 1984 and pitched 137.2 innings in relief. He picked up 14 saves and went 10-1 while giving up only 109 hits en route to a 2.84 ERA. It was the fourth time in six years that Lopez pitched more than 110 innings for the Tigers and he won ten or more games three times.

It was the last gasp for Lopez as he was not effective the following year and Lopez had two lackluster years in Houston before retiring in 1988. He finished with a 62-36 record in the majors, mostly in relief to go with 93 saves.

The 1984 Tigers finished 15 games in front of the second place Toronto Blue Jays. They then went on to face the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. The Royals barely finished 1984 with a winning record and won a very weak American League West division. The first game of the playoff featured a 8-1 blowout as Morris and Hernandez combined on a five-hitter. Trammell, Herndon and Parrish all hit homers. The second game provided a lot more drama.

The Tigers jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on Saberhagen, then at the height of his career. Kirk Gibson hit a homer of the great Royals' pitcher. But the Royals pecked away at Petry and despite Hernanez coming into the game in the eighth, tied the score 3-3. Dan Quisenberry and Aurelio Lopez both came in and pitched the ninth and tenth and the score was still knotted at 3-3 going into the top of the 11th. Quisenberry, a great relief pitcher who doesn't often get his due, gamely went out to pitch the 11th, but he had little left. Two straight sacrifice flies pushed across two runs and Lopez pitched a scoreless bottom half to get the win.

The third game featured sterling performances from Charlie Leibrandt and Milt Wilcox. Leibrandt gave up a run early but then shut the Tigers down in a complete game gem. But Wilcox was even better and pitched eight scoreless innings. Hernandez came in the ninth and shut the game down giving the Tigers a 1-0 thriller of a win and the Tigers went to the World Series. Kirk Gibson was series MVP.

The Tigers faced the Padres in the World Series. It was the Padres first World Series and the Tigers couldn't have had a better situation. The Tigers won the first game, 3-2, on a complete game by Morris and a homer by Herndon. The Tiges played a sloppy game in Game Two and made three errors on the way to a 5-3 loss. Petry got the loss.

The rest of the way, it was all Tigers. Milt Wilcox pitched six shutout innings in game three and Willie Hernandez rescued the Tigers in the 7th and pitched the rest of the way for a save. Marty Castillo, who got the nod over HoJo in the post season by Sparky Anderson hit a big homer for the Tigers. Jack Morris pitched another complete game to win the fourth game, 4-2. Alan Trammell hit two homers to seal his World Series MVP. Petry started Game Five and was again not effective. But Hernandez and Lopez pitched from the fifth inning on and shut the Padres down. Kirk Gibson hit two homers and Parrish added another and the Tigers were World Series Champs.

The series capped a remarkable season and finished the storybook season. That the Tigers couldn't hold on to the magic is probably what has kept this team from the heights of attention that it deserves. The Tigers would come in third place in their division the next couple of seasons, contend one more season after that and fall into mediocrity. But for one glorious season, the Tigers were on top of the world and it sure was fun to watch.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dotel a Mild Risk for Blue Jays

Octavio Dotel has agreed to be the Toronto Blue Jays' closer in 2011. The good news is that Dotel has been a strikeout machine his entire career, including the past three years. So even though he will be 37 in 2011, there should be no reason he should not continue to be a strikeout machine. Plus the Blue Jays didn't need to extend another silly three year deal to get the reliever they wanted. A one year deal mitigates the risk if Dotel doesn't have a good season.

And there is a risk that he won't have a good season. Octavio Dotel has been all over the map in his career as a reliever. He's had some very good seasons and he's had some that weren't so great. You probably wouldn't want to ask Yankee fans or Atlanta Braves fans about him. There have been two basic flaws in Dotel's numbers his entire career: Homers and walks.

Dotel has a 1.2 homer per nine innings rate for his career. He hasn't had a season since 2003 where that rate wasn't over 1 per nine. Thrown in the mix was the 1.6 he put up for the White Sox and the same figure he put up for the Athletics. His walk rate has also typically been high. His career mark for walks is 4.1 per nine innings. The last three years, that figure has been closer to five walks per nine.

But there are all those strikeouts. His career rate is 10.9 and he's been well over 10 in each of the last five seasons. Plus, Dotel has always been stingy with hits. He's allowed only 7.2 of them per nine innings for his career.

Dotel has never been known as a pure closer. He had one season where he saved 36 (in 2004 for two teams) and he has two seasons where he saved 22 (including last year when he pitched for three different teams. And that is part of the problem with Dotel. He's like a hired gun. He's pitched for ten different teams in his 12 seasons in the big leagues. It's like a team starts the year with him, tires of him and some other team in contention salivates over all his strikeouts and picks him up.

But again, this is a one year risk at relatively few dollars, which makes this a good pick up by the Blue Jays. If Dotel is at his best, he will certainly help them. If he's not, some team will panic at the trade deadline and want him.

The Beatles and Baseball

Last night my wife and I watched the Kennedy Center Honors on television. The special is a yearly event that honors great American contributors to the arts. As such, it was a bit strange that an Englishman named Paul McCartney was one of the honorees. While watching Sir Paul get honored, which has to be a little lower on the list of getting knighted by the Queen of England, once again the thought occurred to me that the two great constants in my life have been the Beatles and baseball. My entire life has been woven in and among the threads of those two great institutions.

I was born the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown. Of course, I don't remember his great exploits that year, though I was born in the midst of his great season. I have no recollection of the 1961 Yankees and the chase of the Babe by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. I would have been five at the time and it seems weird that I remember other events of my life from those times but not the Yankees. Perhaps it was because my father was not a Yankee fan. I don't think we even owned a television at that point, but we might have.

My earliest baseball memories are from the Mets who began life when I was six or seven. My father adopted the Mets like all fans of that area who would not be Yankee fans. His father was also a Met fan and would have the games on television when we visited. I believe Lindsey Nelson was the play by play man. He had a nasally voice.  My first live ball game was in Shea Stadium and I remember how beautiful it all looked back then since the site was the same as the World's Fair, held there shortly before (we went to that too).

Children's television was different back then. The shows were corny, but a lot less dark than they are now. There were shows like Wonderama and Bozo's Big Top. Wonderama was hosted by Sandy Becker. It was on his show that I first heard about the Beatles. It was 1964 and the Beatles were going to appear that night (Wonderama was on Sunday mornings) on the Ed Sullivan Show. Becker was going around to the kids in his studio audience asking them what they thought of the Beatles. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was eight years old.

But our curiosity was piqued and we begged our mother to stay up to watch. She relented and the whole family gathered around to watch Ed Sullivan. The rest, to use the old cliche, was history. I was hooked on the Beatles' charisma, their smiles and their music. That Christmas, my brother and I got Tiger Guitars as a present. They weren't real guitars of course, but we could act like we played them while listening to Beatles records.

The world was turning upside down then. President Kennedy had been shot. Grass roots music was softly echoing change. But it was the last little bit of innocence in my life. My father was still alive and my parents were not yet fighting every day. We had a comfortable life full of play and romping around. The Beatles music reflected that innocence. Their early music was more joyful and boyish than profound and deep like it would become. Their movies, Hard Days Night and HELP! came out and cemented them in our consciousness. Baseball was still a game of day games on weekends and double-headers. There was no hint of a player's private life or talks about contracts and money was never mentioned at all.

1965 began the dark years. The Beatles released Rubber Soul, which was less innocent. The Yankees began their long decline during the CBS years. My parents started fighting every day. Ugly words were thrown around and divorce proceedings were begun. The years after are all filled with confusion. My dad was killed in a car accident under dubious circumstances. The Beatles went psychedelic. We still loved them. We were just trying to figure out what it was all about. We got to see our share of games at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees stunk. There were more assassinations. The world got scarier and the news got bolder.

I assume that the years between 1963 and 1970 shaped my character. Not knowing if I have a clue about what I am talking about, those years seemed to shape my insecurities, my longing for simpler times, my ache for innocence that have never left me. The Beatles, especially their early years, and my baseball memories are the constants in my life that bring me comfort and peace through all the turbulence. My consciousness went from Leave it to Beaver to Woodstock in the span of five years. I went from upper middle class to low middle class and from a traditional family to the anti-Brady Bunch.

It is impossible to describe the angst that living through such change can do to a soul. No days were ever truly innocent, but the darkness was simply hidden better. Now it is plain to see wherever you go and whenever you turn on any media. Baseball has become a battleground of contracts and drug prevention. Playoff and World Series games start ridiculously late and have lost a lot of the magic it used to hold. But the game itself, the wonderful slow moving intricacies that are so familiar still occur during every game. Seasons still unfold and youngsters become new stars and old stars fade. That is the baseball I hold onto.

The Beatles' career feels eerily familiar to my own life. From joy and innocence to complication and black times. Baseball has gone from innocence to every wart being revealed a thousand times over every day on every outlet imaginable. But like my life, there is still enough to savor and to remember and to continue to enjoy each and every day. You can wrap life and my music and my sport in the truth. But at the core of it all comes joy and it can't be killed and it can't be washed away. That joy is the thread of a life...a life still worth living.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

There is no joy at writing another post about the steroid situation in baseball. Of all the buzz kill conversations concerning baseball of the last decade, the steroid conversation has to be the most debilitating. Nothing has sucked the juice out of being a fan more. And yet, the topic completely overshadows the entire Hall of Fame vote this year. To this point, the only "known" user trying to gain entrance to the HOF was Mark McGwire. His candidacy hasn't gone well. But this year the issue stains Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and still Mark McGwire. Fingers have pointed to Jeff Bagwell, though those closest to him have vehemently denied he ever used. The entire voting process has become not about the player's performance, but about what the steroid accusations say about the players' character. It is a debate which will rage for years.

The Fan has gone on record several times. Frankly, the Fan doesn't give a crap who used, for how long and when. The entire mess was a forfeiture of responsibility from teams, their managers, their owners, the league, Bud Selig, the players union, team doctors and team trainers. It was a mess in which we can never and will never know the scope and depth. Some estimates are that seventy percent of players used. Other estimates say fifty percent. We have a supposed list somewhere that's top secret that has over 100 names listed of those who tested positive. That's a lot of names. And yet, only a small handful of those names have been "leaked." The Fan doesn't care because we can never know the depth of the problem. All baseball can do is go on from where George Mitchell left them and make baseball as clean as possible from here on out.

The Fan's personal guess is that those that were called to Congress that fateful week that Mark McGwire refused to talk about the past and Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at the camera and said he didn't use, were all players that were on that imfamous and unknown list of those who tested positive. Why else would they be called to testify? Congress had to have stacked its deck with some of the biggest stars in the game because that would make the most impact. But what about all the players that didn't testify? What about all the players that used and were never caught or outed? They get a pass. When their names come up for election to the Hall of Fame, only their stats will be considered. Some think that a steroid user is already in the Hall of Fame. So how fair is it, then to make examples of only those that have been outed? It isn't.

This Fan understands that the question is polarizing. Blog buddy, Josh Borenstein, will never cut the "users" any slack. Understandable. But the Fan's question for Josh and for all the writers who have declared they will NEVER vote for McGwire or Palmeiro or Clemens or Bonds is this: How do you know who the others are and how do you know those that get your vote weren't just as "dirty?" People have actually pointed fingers at Bagwell. Do they understand that such claims are libelous without proof? Most have avoided the libel problem by stating someone is "suspicious." But isn't that guilt by association anyway? If this writer ever ran for Congress, a paper could write its suspicion that the Fan was a communist. Would that be any less of an attack of character?

Which again leads us back to the question of the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro has a failed test. He says that he didn't know there were steroid derivatives in the B-12 shot Miguel Tejada gave him. Do we give him a lie detector? Will we believe the results anyway? In this entire issue, we have allowed evidence to become the verdict. There is no "shadow of a doubt." These players have already been judged in the court of public opinion. Very few, namely Bonds and Clemens will actually have a legal case involving their public stances on whether they used or not. So again, Palmeiro tested positive. We now know that the evidence against him has become the verdict. So that discounts everything he ever did in baseball? Does it?

Can anyone give the Fan any scientific percentage boost steroids gave these players? Could they hit the ball five feet further? Ten? Two? If you say that the steroids that Palmeiro supposedly took improved his performance by ten percent, then he would still have 524 homers instead of 583. The Fan has heard people say that McGwire only did one thing well in baseball (homers) and the steroids helped him with that one thing. Forgetting all those walks he also took and his on base percentage, is that kind of "cheating" much different than Gaylord Perry who only did one thing well and used Vaseline or whatever to help him do that one thing much better?

The question leaves us only two options. Either we vote for nobody from this era or we vote based on statistics relative to the era the player played. You can't cherry pick. Roberto Alomar will get elected this year. Does anyone know he never used? Can you say that for sure? We can think or believe he didn't. But is that any more fair or accurate? We just don't know. And because we don't know, then all players from Alomar's era are suspect and shouldn't get in. Or, we can reverse that same thought. Since we can't be sure, then we will have to vote for a player only based on the criteria of if the player was one of the best of his era. You can't have it both ways. For another view of the same type of dilemma in thinking, click here.

You know of course, where the Fan stands. Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall of Fame player and so is Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and whomever else is whispered about. Juan Gonzalez is not a Hall of Fame player; not because he used steroids (and it is alleged that he did) but because he did not sustain his statistics long enough.

We have to get past this issue. We can't let it sit and fester here forever. It robs and shames those who grew up becoming fans during this era of their favorite players. It colors all players in a suspicious light no matter how clean that player might be. There was a hole in baseball's armor and that was a lack of commitment to testing and investigation. That hole should be smaller now and the MLB should do everything possible to make that hole as small as possible. The game goes on, but it needs to throw all this stuff up. We can't be having this debate forever.

2011 HOF Tracker Showing Us What We Expected

On a blog with the whimsical name of The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte, the facilitator of that blog has been running a "Hall of Fame Tracker" for a couple of years. It's a really neat idea and quite handy and interesting as long as you take into account that the list is based on here say from the voters themselves who will post in their own writings who they voted for. In some cases, the voters will only mention one person they voted for and not others. In some cases, they could be fibbing. But otherwise, the list gives us a pretty good idea of who is going to get in and who isn't.

Roberto Alomar seems to be an easy glide. Of the 42 ballots compiled on the site, 40 have Alomar's name listed. Former players need 75% to get elected. It also appears that Burt Blyleven will finally get in. He is polling just above 80%.  It is expected that someone as wrong-headed as Jon Heyman would not vote for Blyleven. But when Buster Olney doesn't, that's really disappointing.

Jack Morris is polling around 69% so he looks to fall short this year again. What really surprises is the lack of support for Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell is currently getting around 46% of the votes. That's just sick. The guy has every argument for why he should be in the Hall of Fame and none against.

Barry Larkin is polling well and is at 66%. It apears that his case is warming up and he will get in eventually. Edgar Martinez is getting no love with only 35%. Tim Raines and Alan Trammell again appear to be totally unappreciated and are gaining no traction from a year ago. The voters are also speaking clearly about the candidacy of guys like Olerud, Mattingly, McGriff, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy. All of those only have a handful of votes each.

This year's vote appears to be a statement vote against users of PEDs as McGwire, Juan Gonzales and Rafael Palmeiro are getting very little support. Perhaps these caped crusaders of American morality will die off soon.

And so it looks like the Hall will have two new members this year. Those two deserve the vote big time and this Fan will be happy for them. But the votes against Trammell, Raines, Bagwell and the dual PED guys, McGwire and Palmeiro simply are misguided and an injustice to baseball. But a big tip of the cap goes to The Girl Who Loved Andy Pettitte for her work on this useful and interesting tool.

J. C. Romero - Why We Hate LOOGYs

The Philadelphia Phillies and J. C. Romero apparently can't get enough of each other. Even though the team declined Romero's option earlier in the off season, Romero--who will be 35 in 2011-- has signed on for his fifth season with the club. Romero is a LOOGY. What's a LOOGY? He's a "Lefty-One-Out-Guy." In other words, he's one of the human rain delays that comes into a game in relief for one guy, a left-handed batter. And Romero has been at this for twelve seasons. He'll get one more.

So why is the Fan's ire reserved only for Romero. It isn't. He's just a prime example. This is the kind of game a guy like Romero pitches:

Joe Blanton pitches six effective innings facing the Washington Nationals. But he starts to labor in the seventh. He gives up a hit to Nyger Morgan and then a sacrifice bunt to Adam Kennedy. Blanton then walks Zimmerman and Adam Dunn is coming up (yeah, this is a 2010 scenario). Out pops the manager and points with his left arm and taps it to signal he wants his LOOGY. The people in the stands sit around for several minutes while those watching at home must endure another commercial with the middle aged couple sitting in separate bathtubs. Romero comes in and tries without success to get Dunn to fish after his Frisbee-like slurves that end up a foot or two outside. Dunn walks. Out pops the manager and taps his right arm this time since Willingham is a right-handed batter and the folks in the stands wait another few minutes while the folks at home watch a dumb beer commercial that again makes men look like the dumbest creatures on earth.

THAT, folks, was a LOOGY moment. And if you think this Fan is fooling about Romero being the prime example, consider that he pitched in sixty games and logged a grand total of 36.2 innings. Consider that Romero walked 7.1 batters per nine innings, his second year in a row over the seven mark. Consider that Romero was over the 1.5 mark in WHIP for the sixth time in his twelve year career. All that adds up to what makes him a LOOGY extraordinaire.

In Romero's defense, seven of his walks were intentional passes. He would be the guy walking Zimmerman to get to Dunn. That will inflate your walk total some. Nearly 1/7 of his career walks have been intentional. And he did register a .217 batting average by left-handed batters with a .277 slugging percentage. But the point stands that he will still put three out of every ten left-handed batters on base.

If there was one rule this Fan would make it would be to only allow one pitching change per half inning. The entire match up game just kills fans with terminal boredom. It's the only baseball equivalent to the NFL's extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial snooze-fest. And it is a completely lazy event for a manager. They will make that move 999 times out of a thousand. It's tedious and unnecessary. If you didn't like that rule, then the other rule would be that the second and third (and fourth and fifth) relievers in an inning don't get warm up pitches. Why do relief pitcher need warm up pitches anyway? They just warmed up in the bullpen right?

No offense to Romero. He's just a lucky schmuck who was born to throw with his left hand trying to ride his wave as long as he can. More power to him. It's simply a case where the news of his signing set off this wave of ennui for this writer. LOOGYs are a bane to baseball. But one-and-done is the standard operating system for lefty relievers. It has been for a long time and will be for a long time to come.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ricky Nolasco Needs to Miss More Bats

When you look at Ricky Nolasco's statistics, you have to wonder why his ERA remains so consistently high. The pitcher has a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio of the last three years (4.43, 4.43, 4.45) and that should lead to dominating pitching. And yet in those three seasons, his ERA tallies have come in at 3.52, 5.06 and 4.51. That is the puzzle that needs to be figured out after Nolasco was signed to a three year contract extension that will keep him in a Marlins uniform for quite some time.

Nolasco is 28 years old and should be coming into his best years. He missed five or six starts in 2010, but otherwise has been quite durable. He pounds the strike zone and is excellent at limiting walks. When most pitchers average around three walks per nine innings, Nolasco has put up figures of 1.8, 2.1 and 1.9 the last three years. And he strikes out eight to nine batters per nine innings. Those are all great numbers. But he has to figure out how to pound the strike zone and not allow so many hits and homers. We'll see if the hits are aided a bit by poor defense, but you can't defense a homer.

Nolasco's homer per nine rate sits at 1.2 for his career. Last year it jumped to 1.4. A full 12% of his fly balls land over the fence. Since he pitches in a home park that isn't conducive to homers, that number stands out even more. And it appears that his fastball is a culprit. Fangraphs has consistently rated his fastball in the negative value territory. He either needs to locate it better or find a way to get more movement on the pitch. His slider is rated highly.

Ricky Nolasco has a high hit rate per nine innings which also doesn't make sense for someone with his K/BB rates. He sits at 9.2 for his career and was at 9.6 last year. Part of that comes from his team's defense. Let's just say that it hasn't been stellar. The Marlins ranked 13th out of 16 teams in defensive efficiency in 2010 and next to last in fielding percentage. That certainly helps balls land safely when other teams would turn them into outs. His xFIP, which takes fielding and other factors out of his ERA was almost a full run less than his ERA last year and that figure has been lower than his actual ERA for several years.

Hanley Ramirez needs to have a better year in the field and Infante should be a clear fielding upgrade over Dan Uggla. That will help. But the questions of moving Coghlan to center along with other inexperienced outfielders on the corners may offset some of that improvement. Nolasco is more of a ground ball pitcher though and his infield defense will be key.

The Fan likes that the Marlins have tied up Nolasco. He really should be an elite pitcher with his stuff and durability. He still went 14-9 in 2010, but he really could put up superior numbers with better defense and if he can find a way to keep more of his fly balls landing inside the fences instead of over them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

More Than 200 Hits, Less Than 81 Runs - Ichiro's Season in Perspective

A couple of days ago, this space featured a post about how Ichiro Suzuki scored only 74 runs even though he had 214 hits and was on base 262 times (not including the times he hit into a force out and was on base). This remarkable feat of having that many hits and scoring that few runs has happened only ten times in major league history. Jayson Stark put Ichiro's season in perspective by noting that Ichiro scored 74 runs on 214 hits and was outscored by Mark Reynolds (79 runs) even though Reynolds had 115 fewer hits. To further put this feat in perceptive, or simply just to celebrate its silliness, here are the ten times a batter got 200 or more hits and scored 80 or fewer runs:

  1. Michael Young - Texas Rangers (2007). Young had 201 hits that season and walked 47 times. He was hit by the pitch 5 times. He stole 13 bases, hit nine homers, a triple and had 37 doubles. Yet he only scored 80 times. Ian Kinsler scored 16 more runs on that team than Young despite getting on base 55 times less that season and playing 26 less games. The Rangers scored 816 runs that season and Young only scored 9.8% of them.
  2. Garrett Anderson - California Angels (2003). 2003 was a bad season for the Angels. But it was a good year for Anderson. He had 201 hits, walked 31 times and remarkably, never got hit by a pitch. But for his 231 times on base, he only scored 80 runs. What makes Anderson's season all the more remarkable is that he hit 29 homers, led the league with 45 doubles and had 4 triples. Yet, he only scored 51 times in the 202 times he was on base and didn't hit a homer. How can you be on third or second 49 times and only score 51 non-homer times!?
  3. Steve Garvey - Los Angeles Dodgers (1980). Garvey played 163 games in 1980 (every game) and had 200 hits. He had 26 homers and 27 doubles (and a triple) and was on base 239 times and only scored 78 runs. Take away the homers and he scored 52 times in 213 times on base. Crazy. The Dodgers only scored 663 runs that season but still finished in second place. Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and one other player on that team outscored Garvey.
  4. Joe Sewell - Cleveland Indians (1925). Sewell had 204 hits that season, 64 walks and was hit by four pitches. He had 37 doubles and a triple to go along with one homer. That's 272 times on base and he scored 78 runs. That wasn't a bad hitting team either. They had four guys in the line up that hit over .300 including Tris Speaker who hit .389. Sewell's teammate, Charlie Jamieson was on base 242 times that season and scored 109 runs. Sewell still made it to the Hall of Fame just like Ichiro will. If you want a stat to pull out at a party, try Sewell. He stuck out only 114 times in his 14 year career. One of the most amazing stats of all time.
  5. Kirby Puckett - Minnesota Twins (1989). Puckett had a great season in 1989. He hit .339 with 215 hits. He was on base a total  of 268 times. Puckett hit 45 doubles, 4 triples and 9 homers and stole 11 bases. Still, he managed to score only 75 runs. In what must have been a frustrating season, the 1989 Twins were second in the Americna League in batting, on base percentage and slugging and Puckett STILL led the team in scoring with those measly 75.
  6. Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners (2010). You already know the gory details here. The Mariners scored only 513 runs all season. At least Ichiro scored a higher percentage of his team's runs than Young did.
  7. Willie Montanez - Giants and Braves (1976). Montanez played 163 games that season in what was hit best campaign. He had 206 hits, 36 walks and was hit by a pitch once. That's 243 times he was on base and he scored only 74 times. He hit 26 doubles, 2 triples and had 11 homers that season. Montanez played 14 seasons with nine different teams. He led the league in grounding into double plays twice with 26 (including this year in question). He did one other triva worthy feat. In 1975, he drove in 101 runs despite hitting only ten homers.
  8. Felipe Alou - Atlanta Braves (1968). 210 hits, 48 walks, 37 doubles, 5 triples, 11 homers and 4 HBP and he only scored 72 runs despite 262 times on base. He stole 11 bases so he was in scoring position a lot! 1968 was the famous year of the pitcher with makes Alou's season all that much more remarkable. The Braves scored only 514 runs that season despite Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, Felix Millan and Alou all having solid seasons.
  9. Eddie Brown - Boston Braves (1926). 201 hits, 23 walks, 2 HBP, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 2 homers. 226 times on base and he scored only 71 times. "Glass Arm Eddie" only played seven seasons and 1926 was his best though he did hit over .300 in four of his seven seasons. The Braves were a bad team and scored only 624 runs in 1926 despite three batters hitting over .300.
  10. George Sisler - Boston Braves (1929). Gorgeous George Sisler spent his entire Hall of Fame career with bad teams. The 1929 Braves were a terrible team. They did manage to score 684 runs. As for Sisler, that season, at the age of 36, he had 205 hits and walked 33 times. He hit 40 doubles and 8 triples and he was hit by 4 pitches. Despite all those times on base, he scored 67 runs that season despite three .300+ hitters in the line up. The funny thing is that earlier in his career, Sisler, who hit .406 and .420 in his two greatest seasons, scored over 120 runs several times. But not in 1929.

As you can see from the above list, what Ichiro Suzuki did in 2010 is not unique, but it's certainly rare. He joins a pretty cool collection of players that bore the frustration of what it was like to be stranded on base over and over again.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Where There Is Life, There is Hawpe

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. And it appears to be a happy holiday for Brad Hawpe, who not only caught on with a team but landed in a situation with the Padres that can propel him back into a starter's role. While playing first base for the Padres is a problem because in the Padre fans' minds, Adrian Gonzalez should still be over there, it's still an opportunity to recapture his professional career after a 2010 that is best forgotten and lost.

The Fan actually thinks this is a terrific gamble for the Padres. When first looking at Hawpe's major league stats, the fact that he played the first six and a half years of his career for the Rockies seemed like another player who benefited from playing half his games in Coors Field. But Hawpe is a happy departure from most Rockies players in that his home/road splits don't deviate that much. He's hit 60 career homers at home and 60 on the road. He has an .886 career OPS at home and .839 away. That's not that bad a split and closer to the major league norm than just about any long-time Rockies player.

But the big question for Hawpe is what the heck happened in 2010? How did he go from being an All Star to being released by the Rockies in August? How did he go from a guy who averaged an offensive WAR of 2.75 for the four years before 2010 to a 0.4 offensive WAR in 2010?

The answer seems to be in two telling statistics. His wOBA was good. His BABIP was over .300 (but not as high as the .337 for his career). His walk rates and strikeout rates were right in line with the rest of his career. His pitch selection at the plate seemed similar to the past. In other words, he swung at the same number of pitches in the strike zone and out of the strike zone as always. The big difference seems to be in his line drive percentage and the percentage of his fly balls that went out of the park.

Hawpe has a career line drive percentage of 22%. In other words, for his entire career, when he put the ball in play 100 times, 22 of them were line drives. Since he has a career BABIP of .771 on line drives, that is important. In 2010, his line drive percentage went down to 19.8 percent. The other stat that jumped out at the Fan is that for Hawpe's career, 16% of his fly balls landed in the cheap seats. In 2010, that figure dropped all the way to 10.5%. That's a significant decline in homer rates on fly balls. The one scary thing is that such a figure doesn't figure to improve much playing half your games in San Diego.

The other thing the Fan noticed about 2010 compared to the rest of his career was his BABIP on ground balls. For his career, Hawpe had a BABIP of .191 on ground balls. That figure plummeted to .138 in 2010. Whether the fly ball thing and his BABIP on ground balls is a luck thing or an indication of a lack of good contact is beyond this observer to tell.

There are two good things about this deal for the Padres. First, after such a lousy season, Hawpe comes cheaply and since he is trying to resurrect his career, it's a one year commitment, so there is not too much pain if Hawpe doesn't come back to his career numbers. If Hawpe can return to where he once was, then the Padres get a steal. Secondly, the Padres are going to play him at first base. The Rockies put him in the outfield and he's a lousy outfielder. Though the sample size is small, he appears to be a good first baseman with good range.

This is a good gamble for both the Padres and for Brad Hawpe. Hawpe gets to land into a starting situation at a position that suits him. There isn't much more you can ask for after getting released from your home team and not doing anything for the Bay Rays once he got there in September. The Padres get a hitter who produced in the past in a way that did not seem to be Coors induced. Will he be Adrian Gonzalez? No. But if he can get back to his career path, then he will at least pick up some of the WAR lost by Gonzalez.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Amazing Arthur Rhodes Joining Texas?

If reports are accurate, the Texas Rangers are going to have two left-handed relievers who are older than 40 years old in their bullpen. But those two left-handers aren't your typical, run of the mill LOOGYs you've come to expect. One may be the Amazing Arthur Rhodes. is reporting the Rangers have reached a deal with the 41 year old pitcher. He'll join the nearly-as-amazing Darren Oliver in the Rangers' pen.

Arthur Rhodes has long been a favorite here at the FanDome. Last year, he helped the Cincinnati Reds reach the playoffs for the first time in a long time with another stellar season. In 69 appearances, Rhodes posted a 2.29 ERA and a 175 ERA+. Even at his age, he still struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings, gave up only four homers all year and compiled a WHIP of 1.018. He only made one appearance in the post season and struck out his only batter. It was the third straight season that Rhodes had an ERA under 2.60 and for three straight seasons, his WHIP has gone down! Not bad for an old guy.

He joins another venerable lefty in Darren Oliver. Oliver is 40 years old and like Rhodes, just seems to get better and better. Oliver appeared in 64 games for the Rangers and posted a 2.48 ERA and a 175 ERA+ (matching Rhodes). It was Oliver's best ERA and ERA+ of his career! And it was the third straight year that his ERA was under 3.00. And another amazing statistic for Oliver was that he struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 2010, the highest rate of his career. His 4.33 K/BB ratio was also the best of his career. Oliver struggled against the Bay Rays and the Yankees in the post season, but pitched very well in the World Series against the Giants.

So now, if this report is accurate, you could have two of the most amazing lefty relievers of our time on the same team. That will be very cool indeed.

The Strange Season of Ichiro Suzuki

Nothing illustrates the futile offensive season of the Seattle Mariners more than the strange season by Ichiro Suzuki. It wasn't a strange season by what Ichiro did. He did what he always does. For the fifth season in a row and for the seventh time in his ten year big league career, Ichiro led the league in hits. It's what he didn't do that seems so crazy. He didn't score many runs. His run total came to 74. He scored that few runs despite being on base 259 times. That's unbelievable.

June was the most amazing month. In June, Ichiro hit .322. He walked 11 times (his highest month for walks) and so he was on base 47 times that month. He scored seven times. Seven! And two of those hits were homers. So that means that he scored 5 times in the 45 times he got on base without hitting a homer. That seems bad enough, but of those 45 times, he hit 8 doubles. Plus he had 8 stolen bases. So of those 45 times on base in June without a homer, he was on second base at least 16 times and scored only 5 runs.

When Ichiro led off an inning, he got on base 105 times. He hit three homers, so we'll throw those out. So he was on base 102 times leading off an inning. He hit 13 doubles leading off an inning and two triples. He scored 38 runs in those situations.

This Fan finds all of that remarkable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blind Spots - Sean Burnett

Did you ever have one of those moments when a story is announced (concerning baseball that is) and you have no idea who the player is the story talked about? This writer can't be the only one, can he? Well, Sean Burnett is one of the blind spots. The news wire lit up today that Sean Burnett signed a multi-year deal with the Washington Nationals. When the Fan saw the item, the first reaction was, "Who the heck is Sean Burnett?"

It's been that kind of week. Yesterday, the Fan was thinking about writing a post as a recap of 2010. You know the kind of post the Fan is talking about. Every year at the end of the year, writers (for the lack of anything else to talk about) will create a story that talks about The Best Moments of 2010. That kind of thing. Well, when considering such a post, the Fan quickly realized it was hopeless because, at this point, remembering what happened yesterday is beyond this writer's grasp. And then today, the Fan wrote this erudite post on the Atlanta Braves and tried to sum up how their 2011 season was going to shape up and mentioned that it was a mystery where Omar Infante was going to play. Fortunately, a loyal reader cleared his throat and mentioned Infante would be playing second base...for the Marlins. He got traded to the Marlins in the Uggla deal. DOH!

So all of that didn't help this Fan feel any better when this story about Sean Burnett popped up. Look, it's understandable if a casual fan doesn't know who Burnett is. But baseball is like a profession to the Fan and knowing who Sean Burnett is seems like an understandable expectation. Maybe it was a memory block since a certain other Burnett gives the Fan heartburn whenever THAT pitcher crosses the brain. But there he is, this Sean Burnett signing with the Nationals for nearly $4 million (avoiding arbitration). The deal is for two years. So, feeling stupid, the Fan decided to get to know Mr. Burnett.

The first thought when looking Mr. Burnett up was that today had to feel really good. Burnett was a first round draft pick...TEN YEARS AGO! The Pirates picked him in the first round. So what happened? It looked like his progression was right where it needed to be early on. He did well as he moved from the Rookie league (2000) to A ball in 2001 and then A+ in 2002 and on to Double A in 2003. He succeeded at every level and moved up. Just like he was supposed to.

And then something happened. He moved up to Nashville, the Pirates' Triple A affiliate in 2004 and struggled. Even so, he was called up to the big club at the end of May and made his first big league start for Pittsburgh on May 30. He did okay and gave up only one run in five innings. His next two starts were losses but he had six scoreless innings against the Cardinals and got his first big league win. He won again on July 4 with a complete game shutout against the Brewers. He won again on July 9. He won again on July 20 and again on July 25. He had won five in a row! How is it the Fan doesn't remember ANY of this? Anyway, the wheels fell off after that. He lost twice, then had two no decisions and then lost his final start of that year. He ended up with a record of 5-5 and his ERA was over 5.

But you could tell something was wrong from looking at his stats. His K/9 fell off a cliff. Even in his Triple A starts, it was a non-existent 3.24 per nine. In the majors it was 3.8. That just wasn't him. Sure enough, he missed all of 2005 to injury.

He came back in 2006 and the Pirates had him pitch in Indianapolis (Triple A). He struggled*. He struggled again in 2007. Every single appearance in his career to that point had been as a starter. In 2008 they converted him into a relief pitcher and something clicked. He split time between Triple A and the big leagues and was terrific in Triple A but just decent in Pittsburgh in 58 relief appearances. He got into 71 games for  in 2009 and did very well but the Pirates traded him to the Nationals in the middle of the year. His ERA was a combined 3.12 for the two clubs. He then pitched all year with the Nationals in 2010. Darned if the Fan ever noticed.

* (Posnanski asterisk ripoff) It's fairly true that "Struggled" is a polite euphemism for "Stunk."

And the Fan should have noticed. Yeah, his record was 1-7. But we all know that win-loss records are meaningless stats. His ERA was 2.15, his K/9 rate jumped to 8.9 and his walk rate came way down too. Burnett had officially made the transition from starter to a LOOGY-type lefty with the ability to get a right-handed batter out occasionally.

So now you know all about Sean Burnett, the baseball player. And so does the Fan. There no longer will be any reason or excuse to hear his name and not have a clue who he is. One blind spot closed.

It's a Braves New World

The view from most baseball observers is that the Philadelphia Phillies have already won the 2011 World Series. Adding Cliff Lee certainly makes the Phillies formidable on paper. The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, have added Dan Uggla to a team that was at times offensively challenged last year. Bobby Cox is gone and the Braves will be doing the Freddi. After what seemed like an improbable playoff run last year, do the Braves have any shot at staying up with the Phillies?

There is reason for optimism. Chipper Jones should be back at third base after working hard this off season to rehab his rebuilt knee. If he can hit .280 with his typical .400 OBP, the front side of the batting order with Prado, Heyward, Jones, Uggla and McCann looks pretty strong. Prado was in new territory last year and he broke down and faded a bit at the end. Plus there is the question of where he will play. But we'll get to that later because where everyone will play is a huge question. The point here is that the Braves will improve offensively after finishing fifth in the National League in runs scored in 2010.

Jones is an important piece. If he can't go at third, then Prado slides in that spot and while Prado is a nice player, he has no where near the line up presence that Jones has. Prado is best as a support piece and not a cornerstone. Jones has been a cornerstone for so long that you have to believe the outcome might have been different in those three one-run games the Braves lost to the Giants in the playoffs.

You also have to believe that Jason Heyward is ready for a monster year. You never quite got the feeling that Heyward fully recovered from the injury he suffered before the All Star Game last year. His power certainly didn't recover. Even so, he hit 18 homers and should hit 30 this coming season. Heyward will be a huge star and this Fan can't wait to see what he can do.

Uggla, for all the Fan's needling of him over the years, is a great pick up for the Braves. They would be somewhat foolish to sign him long term, but that is their problem and won't be a problem for 2011 where Uggla should continue to be a solid pop in the Braves' line up. He'll hit his 30 homers and probably drive in over 100 once again this coming season.

Prado is the real thing at the plate. Last year seemed like a surprise, but that was only because he played full time for the first time in his career. But he has batted over .300 every year with an OPS over .800 every year for the last three. There is no doubt he can repeat those kinds of numbers. The big question is where he will play. Uggla is now the second baseman. Jones will be back at third. The Braves really would like Freddie Freeman to take over first base, especially after he hit well over .300 with 18 homers in Triple A last year. So where does that leave Prado? If this Fan ran the Braves, Uggla would learn how to play left field and Prado would slot into second base, his best position. As this Fan has stated many times, Uggla is terrible at second and couldn't be much worse in left field.

The real odd man out is Omar Infante. Infante hit .321 in  in 506 plate appearances last year. If Prado moves to left or second with Uggla in left, where does Infante play? He doesn't. Heyward will play right and McLouth (for lack of a better option) will probably play center. One supposes that Infante could play center. He's played there 32 times in his career. But you would think that would be a defensive liability. Infante's best position is at shorstop, where he is terrific (a little known fact it seems) Where the Braves put people will be one of the more interesting story lines of the 2011 Spring Training. Though Alex Gonzalez is penciled in as the 2011 shortstop, it wouldn't hurt the Braves to put Infante there and let Gonzalez, who is now 33 and slowing down, be the utility guy.  **UPDATE**  Well duh. Infante was traded to the Marlins in the Uggla deal.

McCann, of course, is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. Long overlooked and considered not to be a great defensive catcher, McCann is a great cog in the Braves' wheel. He has been their version of Jorge Posada. McCann had an off year by his standards in 2010 and still put up a 124 OPS+.

The Braves have a nice offense on paper and if the pieces all fall into place, they should finish as one of the top three teams in the NL in scoring. Which would be great because they still have a strong pitching staff.

The Braves were fourth in the majors last year in Runs Allowed and third in the National League. There is no reason to suggest that should change this year. Lowe really found something heading down the stretch, Hudson is back after various maladies and was terrific last year and of course, Hanson should continue to get better and better. That's a top flight top three with plenty of experience. If Jair Jurrjens can forget all about his lost 2010 and return to his 2009 status, that would give the Braves a rotation not that far behind the Phillies.

The fifth starter will be up for grabs between Brian Beachie, who looked good in three starts last year, and Kris Medlen, who also looked good at times last year. Mike Minor probably pitched his way out of contention last year and Kawakami is as welcome in the rotation as a thaw on Christmas Day.

The loss of Billy Wagner will hurt. Wagner had about as good a swan song season as you could possibly write up. But Venters was fabulous and the Braves are counting on Craig Kimbrell to step into an important role in 2011 after a successful debut in September. Moylan and O'Flaherty were very good and Michael Dunn seems to be a strikeout machine. The bullpen should be fine.

As you can see, the Braves have a strong team. There are some questions such as whether Freeman can produce in the majors and what the Braves will do with centerfield. But other than that, this team can hold their own and there is no reason to doubt that the Braves can again contend in 2011. They will at least make it interesting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Luxury Tax Is a Weird Thing

The story came out today that the Yankees and Red Sox were the only two clubs that had to pay the Luxury Tax. The Yankees were hit with a tax of $18 million while the Red Sox have to pay about a mil and a half. Of course, the tax is an instrument that rewards less successful teams to create a bit of parity. Supposedly, that money is to be used for player development to help even the playing field. The whole thing seems patently un-American.

Here's what it is like. The Fan lives in northern Maine. This is the home of lumber and potato farms. Let's say you have a group of 30 farmers. Two of the farmers are perhaps on the best land or perhaps they make the most of the land. Or just perhaps, they inherited more money from their parents and can afford better equipment. So those two farmers make more money than the other twenty-eight. The other twenty-eight say it's not fair that two farmers have more of an advantage and can make more money. So the thirty farmers decide to tax the amount of money those two uber-farmers make or not make, but spend to make yield so many profitable potatoes. Those two farmers are taxed and that money is distributed to the other farmers.

That wouldn't happen, would it? And what would those other farmers do? Put the extra money in their pockets just like the baseball owners do. No matter how hard the Fan tries to be open minded and consider all points of view, there are no parity opinions that make any sense to this observer. As long a team is operating under the rules, then all is fair in a free economy. But of course, that's the crux of some of the arguments isn't it? Major League Baseball doesn't operate in a free economy. It is is protected by act of congress with an exemption that allows them to operate as a monopoly. As long as Congress feels that baseball is behaving itself, the exemption is safe.

Okay, the Fan gets that. But still, inside that monopoly are 30 independent entities that plot their own courses, make their own decisions, fly by their own philosophies and either fail or succeed on their own. But they don't have to have great success. The money that all teams make from the marketing of the MLB license nets them all millions of dollars. Any team that isn't making money, simply isn't running their businesses very well. Well, Oakland and Tampa may be exceptions to that with their stadium issues. But still. The point is that inside the monopoly is a free market, which is still the American way.

So why do we add this communistic element of the luxury tax? The Fan is always surprised that the Yankees and the Red Sox never rebel against this system and simply pay their tax every year. If this Fan owned those franchises, there would be some bloody screaming. Those two teams built their brand, took advantage of media deals and built themselves into the most profitable businesses in baseball. So why should they voluntarily give some of that money away to the Pirates, for example, who have been run like they were owned by a twelve year old?

But there it is. The Yankees did cut down their dole out by some $7 million over the previous year, so perhaps the gap is closing and the Yankees, by all accounts seem to have been more fiscally sensitive since the old man stepped aside and then died. It's just weird is all. To make a team pay other teams that aren't successful because they are successful just seems odious to this writer.

The Cost of WAR

Yesterday was a slow day in the mall. Everyone went shopping nuts on the weekend and the last minute folks know it's not the last minute yet. So with time on hand while sitting in this Fan's store, a spreadsheet was put together with each team's 2010 salary (which may or may not be accurate) and the team's accumulated Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The purpose was to see how well teams did at paying for each win above replacement. While this Fan isn't smart enough to interpret the numbers with any degree of intelligence. You can make your own conclusions.

Even so, the data does seem to show us a few obvious things. First, the Pirates were bloody awful. Perhaps any fan of the Pirates could have told us that without so much heavy lifting. But with a lousy salary total of only $18 million, they didn't even come close to paying a fair price for each Win Above Replacement. In fact, their payroll payed for hardly any wins at all. This Fan was incredulous at how low their accumulated WAR was.

Typically, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies all overpaid for each unit of WAR. But at least they were all in contention for their overspending. The Cubs and Mets both overspent by quite a lot and never had an inkling of being in contention. Houston and Seattle overpaid but their WAR totals were so low that the results are understandable. If you would have asked each team where their WAR should have been, it would have been closer to reality.

Minnesota, San Diego and San Francisco did a terrific job of maximizing their payrolls. The Twins made the playoffs, the Padres just missed and the Giants, of course, won the World Series. The Fan is suspicious of the payroll figures (all culled from as Tampa's seemed quite high at $70. But they also did a nice job with their payroll culling WAR.

What this all means is somewhat missing to this writer. For example, the Nationals and White Sox seemed to be very close to paying exactly what they got. But of course, neither team made the playoffs. The White Sox overpaid if you measure the cost of each win instead of WAR.

It was a fun exercise. What it all means, this Fan supposes, is up to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chill Out Yankee Fans

A couple of months ago, this space featured a post defending Yankee fans. It's not as easy as it seems to be one. The expectations are so high and only George Bush was more hated around the country. But this off season has made it doubly difficult to defend the feisty creatures as the Yankees failed to land Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Zack Greinke, etc. The hue and cry by Yankee fans has become deafening and sort of erratic.

This Fan has a daily ritual of sorts each morning and evening by going around the Web and reading as many blogs as possible. The ritual includes: Buster Olney--who love him or hate him--at least writes every day and gives you something to think about; Rob Neyer for insight about what other people are writing; Joe Posnanski, the best baseball writer since Peter Gammons' prime, Josh Borenstein, because his place is different and he's a cool guy; Navin over at Sports and the City and now Notgraphs because he's one of the best young writers around and many others. There are simply amazing talents out there cranking the keyboard on a regular basis. Part of the ritual includes checking out several Yankee sites. They have been amazing this off season.

To recap the season, there was the overload on Jeter's contract. Every day, these Yankee sites would post several times a day with rumors and rehashes about the contract war between Jeter and the Yankees. It was certainly a relief when Jeter signed. Then there was the Lee speculation and when the Phillies signed him, there was outrage, disbelief and shock. It was almost as if it was unbelievable that anyone dared to win a free agent away from the Yankees.

Then the Red Sox went on a buying spree and signed Crawford and many others. The fact that Brian Cashman allowed the Red Sox to obtain such a coup was more than Yankee writers could take. Then the Royals sent Greinke to the Brewers and ugly out lashes about Greinke being a nut case emerged, which is awful and hurtful. And finally, there is disbelief settling in that the Yankees might have to go into 2011 with the hand they have.

The calls for Brian Cashman's head have come loud and clear like a clarion call. How dare he fail us!? What is he DOING? Why isn't anything happening! Yankee fandom has gotten fat and spoiled by another championship and by the recent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Texeira. The belief is that all superstars belong in Yankee pinstripes. It has become surreal.

Wasn't it just a few years ago when the Yankees were criticized for going out and getting the Sheffields and Browns and other fading superstars and tying them up to long term contracts that led nowhere? And now that the Yankees aren't making a big splash this off season, the same people are upset because the Yankees did not get to lavish a seven year contract on a 32 year old pitcher. Can you have it both ways?

The original complaint was that the Yankees didn't ever keep their own talent and instead went out and copped proven talent (albeit old talent). Now the Yankees would prefer not to gut their minor league system and the complaint is just the opposite. You wouldn't trade Montero for Greinke?? What are you crazy?

Sometimes, Yankee fans, you simply have to trust those running the Yankees. Sometimes, Yankee fans, you have to have a little faith. One Yankee blog went on to recently announce that the Yankees are officially in a transition year (translation: aren't making the playoffs). Transition year? They haven't even played a game yet. Personally, transition years should be mentioned in hindsight and not foresight.

The reality is that the Yankees are not going to win it all evey single season. They've won 27 championships in 90 years. That's not exactly a 100% proposition. That's a pretty good track record though. The Red Sox are off their long drought and have won it all twice. The Giants are this year's improbable champs. Other teams are going to win. But that doesn't mean the Yankees are finished before they even play the season. Championships can be just as much about luck as about skills. Burnett could win 20 games. It's doubtful, but it could happen. How do you know it won't?

The Fan thinks it's great that the Yankees want to develop their own talent. The Fan loves rookies. Phil Hughes was fun to watch on his uneasy glide to 17 wins. Bring on two kid pitchers. Why not? The Yankees are trying to be more fiscally rational. That's not a bad thing. It will be the Red Sox regretting the back end of Crawford's deal and not the Yankees. It will be the Phillies in a Barry Zito situation a few years from now and not the Yankees.

The Yankees may not win it all this year. Or they just may. That's why they play the season. To bury them before a single game is played would be a mistake. Sure, the Yankees could pick up a couple of high risk guys like Webb and Young. Couldn't hurt. Might not help. Might. The point is that Cashman will be judged in hindsight. It's way too soon to being going this nuts. On paper, the Yankees are still a 90 to 95 win team. Relax. Take a deep breath. Life will go on. And maybe...just will be Brachman winning a World Series game instead of Bumgarner. Hey, it could happen. Or it may not.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 1945 Chicago Cubs

The recent passing of Phil Cavarretta caught this writer's attention. First, the guy was Italian and anything that has to do with Italians in baseball interests this observer (who is half Sicilian on his mother's side). Secondly, the story mentioned that he was a star on the last Cubs team to make it to the World Series. As everybody in the world knows, not only have the Cubs not won a title in over 100 years, but they haven't even had a chance in the fall classic in 65 years. As such, a story about the death of a 94 year old, last link to that 1945 team sparked a lot of personal interest.

The Cubs really came close to winning it all in 1945. They lost the World Series four games to three. You can't get any closer to ending a long drought than that. But those were weird years in baseball. World War II had robbed baseball of much of its great talent via the draft and enlistments. Standings fluctuated from tradition and the 1945 Cubs were no exception. Since their last appearance in the World Series in 1938 (they were swept), the Cubs had foundered under managers, Gabby Harnett and Jimmy Wilson, and finished all those years in between in the bottom half of the standings. In 1945, the team turned again to Charlie Grimm, who has managed the 1938 club. It would be easy to say that Grimm was the difference, but after the glory year of 1945, the Cubs fell hard with him as its manager, so it's hard to give him all the credit.

It seems that much more credit could go to the war that created an unusual parity in baseball and it was just one of those magical seasons that just seemed to happen out of the blue. Let's take a closer look at this menagerie that made up the 1945 Cubs and you'll see what the Fan means.

Phil Cvaretta is just as good a place to start as any. He did win the MVP that year. Cavarretta started playing with the Cubs when he was 17 years old. But from 1934 until the start of the war, he was a fourth outfielder/first baseman. Well, that's not exactly accurate. He did start the majority of Cubs' games in 1935 and 1936, but after that, he never played in more than 107 games nor had more than 350 at bats. The war forced the Cubs to play him more often starting in 1942. It is not a coincidence that Cavarretta had his most prolific and productive seasons between 1942 and 1947.

Even so, 1945 was so much an outlier for Cavarretta that it cannot be overstated. His emergence began the year before when he hit .328. But prior to 1944, he had never hit above .286. But in 1945, he hit .355! His OBP had never been above .400, but that year it was .449. It was his one and only year over .500 in slugging (he never came close any other year). His 6.6 WAR that season made up 19.5% of his lifetime total and he played for 22 years. So you get the idea. 1945 was just one big fun ride for Calvaretta. And he was just one piece to the puzzle.

Another was Smiling Stan Hack. Hack had a long and productive career and finished with over 2100 hits and a .301 lifetime batting average. He also had the best year of his career in 1945. He was 35 at the time and two years later, he was out of baseball. Hack actually tied Cavarretta in WAR on the 1945 Cubs (though nobody would know what the heck WAR was back then). Hack batted .328 with an OBP of .420. He walked 99 times. He finished 11th in MVP voting.

Another contributor was Don "Pep" Johnson. Johnson was your prototypical war time player. He never played in the major leagues until 1943 and was a 31 year old rookie that year. His career was over after 1947. He was truly a war time player. Johnson, the son of former major league player, Ernie Johnson, was the Cubs' second baseman. At that position he made 47 errors (a frightening total) in his first year as a starter in 1944. But he cut that number down to 19 in 1945. 1945 was also Johnson's best year. He batted .301, 24 points higher than his best average before that. The year after (1946), Johnson hit .242. Yeah, you can see how charmed the Cubs were in 1945, can't you?

The 1945 Cubs were loaded with nicknames. Their third baseman was Peanuts Lowrey, a long-time Cub, but his only years as a starter were 1943, 1945, 1946...the war years. he hit .286 in 1945, his second best season. Another was Handy Andy Pafko, who was just starting his long career with the Cubs. Pafko led the Cubs that season with 110 RBI and would only compile more than 100 one other time in his career. Pafko played 16 seasons, but 1945 made up over 12% of his career RBI total.

The team leader in homers was Bill "Swish" Nicholson. He hit 13 that year. Yes, that's right. 13. The Cubs hit only 57 homers all year and Pafko and Nicholson combined to hit 24 of the 57. The funny thing here is that Nicholson had hit 62 homers combined the previous two seasons (1943 and 1944). The wind must have been blowing in at Wrigley all season. Nicholson's best years were 1943 and 1944. He played 16 seasons but was never as good as those two seasons. He was one of the few batters that didn't have career seasons in 1945.

The weakest link in the Cubs offense that season was shortstop, Lenny Merullo of Boston, Massachusetts. Merullo finished the season with an OPS of .597. He was another war time player as his career spanned 1942 - 1947. He finished with a career OPS+ of 69. To prove that apples don't fall far from the tree, Merullo was the grandfather of Matt Merullo, who finished his big league career with a lifetime OPS+ of 67! Merullo also made 172 errors at short in only 601 career games.

That was the offense. The 1945 Cubs finished first in the league in batting average and first in On Base Percentage. Their pitching also had a charmed season and it finished first in ERA, complete games, homers allowed, and threw the least amount of walks that season. Let's take a quick look at the pitching staff.

The Cubs' best pitcher in 1945 was Hank "Hooks" Wyse. His best years in the majors were 1944, 1945 and 1946 (naturally). But 1945 was by far his best year. He finished the season at 22-10. After that season he would go 14-12, 6-9 and 9-14.

Another Cubs' starter that had a great year was Claude Passeau who went 17-9 with a 2.46 ERA. It was his lowest ERA in his thirteen year career. Passeau was 36 years old in 1945. Between 1942 and 1945, when most pitchers his age should have been declining, he went 66-44. His record in 1944 and 1945 was 32-18. He would be out of baseball two years later.

Another stud in the rotation that year was Paul "Duke" Derringer. Derringer and a fascinating career. He had a year (1933) where he went 7-27 despite a 3.30 ERA. That .206 winning percentage was one of the lowest in the modern era. Derringer also had a year when he went 25-7 (1939). As you can tell from this paragraph, Derringer was an old 38 in 1945. The season before he went 7-13 for the Cubs with 4.15 ERA. In 1945, he went 16-11 in 30 starts and pitched five times in relief besides. If Save rules were in effect at that time, he would have been credited with four that season. 1945 was his last season. He was out of baseball the following season.

Passeau and Derringer weren't the only two old guys. Ray "Pops" Prim came out of the woodwork to give the Cubs a 13-8 record at the age of 38. He finished the season with a 2.40 ERA in 19 starts and 15 relief appearances. Prim pitched in the majors from 1933 to 1935 with little success. He sunk from the majors and pitched in the PCL on the West Coast from 1935 to 1944. He surfaced with the Cubs in 1943 and got into 29 games that season and then pitched in the PCL in 1944. In 1945, the Cubs called on him again and he turned out to be a major force for them that season. He pitched 14 times for the Cubs in 1946 and was terrible. He went back out to the West Coast and pitched another couple of seasons out there.

The last cog in the Cubs' pitching wheel that season was Hank Borowy. Borowy was another war time pick up, this time for the Yankees. He was a 26 year old rookie in 1942 and between that season and half of 1945, he went 56-30 for the New York club during that time. In July of 1945, the Cubs purchased him from the Yankees for $97,000. That was a lot of money in those days! But he was worth every penny as he made fourteen starts for the Cubs down the stretch and went 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA. He even had a save in one relief appearance. Borowy would go on to pitch until 1951, but the years following 1945 saw his record go from 12-10 to 8-12 and finally to 5-10 before they shipped him to the Phillies.

As the Fan has hoped to show you, 1945 was a magical and mystical season for the Cubs. Everything seemed to fall into place. Between the war and players having career years, the Cubs simply rolled.  They went on to face the Tigers in one of the most memorable World Series ever. It was a seesaw affair that went the full seven games. Here are a few of the highlights.

The Tigers had Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks and others and were a very good team. But the Cubs took the first game 9-0. Calvarretta--who had a fantastic World Series--hit a homer and Borowy pitched a complete-game, six-hitter.

The Tigers took the second game. Hank Greenberg was the difference and he homered. Virgil Trucks gave up one run and went the distance. Wyse pitched the whole game too, but those four runs were too many.

The third game was won by the Cubs with Claude Passeau throwing a one-hit shutout. The Cubs led the series 2-1 but lost Games 4 and 5. In Game 4, Prim put up zeroes in the first three innings, but the Tigers got to him in the fourth for four runs. That was all Trout needed and he won in a complete game. In Game 5, Borowy was great until the sixth inning when the Tigers scored four and went on to win 8-4.

The Cubs were down 3-2 and one more loss would send them home for the season. But in Game 6, the Cubs jumped out to a five run lead and led 5-1 going into the seventh. Passeau ran out of gas and between him and Wyse, the Tigers scored two runs. The Tigers scored four more off of Prim in the eighth. Greenberg hit another homer that game. But the Cubs had scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and the game went into the ninth inning tied 7-7. Borowy came in to pitch in the ninth and the Tigers never scored another run. Borowy pitched four scoreless innings and the Cubs scored a run in the bottom of the 12th to tie the series.

That left a game seven and the Cubs had home field advantage for the game. In one of the true mysteries of World Series history, the Cubs decided to start Borowy. He had just pitched two days earlier for four innings. But Borowy started and didn't make it out of the first inning. The Cubs got into a 5-0 hole after the first and could never climb out. They lost the series and would never get back.

The Cubs were a team of destiny in 1945. They came within a game of winning the World Series. Here it is 65 years later and they haven't been back to the Fall Classic since. And 65 years after that series, Phil Cavarretta passed away and we have come full circle.

Cheer Up Texas Rangers Fans - Ten Reasons Why

So the news hasn't been fun so far for the Texas Rangers this off season. They lost out on the Cliff Lee bidding. They didn't sign Crawford. They didn't get the trade for Zack Greinke (who was traded to the Brewers). It looks like they are going to stick some more duct tape around Vlad for another year. There is all this gloom and doom going on about the Rangers. Cheer up. It's not as bad as it seems.

1. First, remember how pleasant it is to be worrying about holding onto the status of division champs. Before 2010, all you were holding onto was, "Wait Until Next Year."  Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the feeling of everyone trying to dethrone YOU. Nice, eh?

2. Your Rangers won the division by nine games. Let's repeat that. Your Rangers won the division by NINE games. In losing Lee, you may lose three games. You're still up six, right? You could have whatever pitcher replaces Cliff Lee end up with zero WAR and still be three games up on the rest of the division.

3. Your Rangers had a Run Differential last year of +100. Your nearest rivals, the Athletics, were +34. Lee wasn't ALL that great down the stretch, so his impact on the run differential was negligible. So you're still up 66 runs on the A's. For what that means, see #4.

4. The only significant upgrade to the A's has been Hideki Matsui. He finished 2010 at 20 runs above replacement. Since the A's were basically at zero last year at DH, they've added 20 runs. Even if their pitching stays phenomenal in 2011 (no easy feat), your Rangers are still ahead by 46 runs.

5. The Angels, your arch rivals and the hated spectre of years past, have not improved at all. Last year they were -24 in Run Differential. That's 124 runs worse than your Rangers. Even if they sign Beltre (no guarantee the way their off season has gone), considering their third basemen offered them little in 2010, Beltre, IF he repeats his fantastic 2010 provides 63 runs above replacement. That's still 61 runs behind your Rangers.

6. You still have the best player on the planet. There is no reason to believe that Josh Hamilton cannot repeat his 2010 season. He is that good.

7. Even without Lee you have a solid core of starting pitchers in Hunter, Wilson and Lewis. Feliz may become a superstar as a starter still and there is plenty of young talent your team can look at in the spring to fill out the rotation. The farm system is chock full of young arms that can provide excellence in the coming years. Gaining Greinke would have compromised that depth of talent.

8. If Cruz and Kinsler can stay healthy all year, your Texas Rangers should score even more runs adding to what was already a good offense.

9. If Elvis Andrus can raise his line drive percentage above 17.8% and if Moreland and other can improve, your team should score more runs.

10. Now with stable ownership and a strong and competent leadership team in place, any needs that arise during the season can be leveraged in trade deadline deals.

It would have been nice to keep Lee, but his signing would have hamstrung the team for six years when there is no guarantee that Lee would have been worth that kind of money that long. It would have been nice to get Greinke, but not at the expense of your best young talent. The Rangers are already strong enough to defend their title and once you get in the post season (as proved in 2010), anything can happen. Cheer up, Rangers' fans. You are the reigning American League champs and until somebody knocks you off, with or without Cliff Lee, that's a pretty cool thing, no?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tigers Have Potent Potential in Line Up

The Detroit Tigers are making a run at the division title in 2011. They added a big bat in Victor Martinez, re-signed Magglio Ordonez and have quite a collection of Venezuelan players. Here is a look at a possible line up for the upcoming season:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF) - Jackson had a good rookie season though many experts doubt he can sustain his success due to a high average of his batted ball finding a spot where nobody could catch them. Part of his success is due to an excellent 24%+ line drive percentage. When he makes contact, he makes good contact. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and his minor league totals suggest he will. He also needs to walk more as his .345 On Base Percentage is a too low for a lead off guy. Stole 24 bases with a very high percentage. Had a terrific season in the field. (3.8 WAR in 2010). Bill James sees him progressing. Fans (102) sees him regressing.
  2. Ryan Raburn (LF) - Raburn gained more playing time last year and responded with a good season. He looks to get even more playing time this year and Bill James projects him to get even better. He has a rather low line drive percentage (17.5%) but his fly balls carry and he should improve upon his 15 homers of last year. Like Jackson, he needs better plate discipline with fewer strikeouts and more walks. (2.1 WAR in 2010).
  3. Miguel Cabrera (1B) - What can you say that hasn't been said about Cabrera? According to most, he changed his life in 2010 and had a monster year. No reason that shouldn't continue the next two or three years. (6.2 WAR in 2010).
  4. Victor Martinez (DH) - Martinez can flat out hit. He should catch his fair share of games, but his value is as a designated hitter. This Fan is somewhat concerned that his Line Drive Percentage was the lowest of his career last year despite continuing to hit .300. He should be good for 20 homers, 80 RBI, .300 batting average, .360 OBP. The usual for him with perhaps a cut in home run rate due to his new home field. But Martinez will hit. (4.0 WAR in 2010).
  5. Magglio Ordonez (RF) - The two questions with Ordonez are his health and how well he can still play the field. If he is healthy, he'll hit. If the Tigers want him to hit every day, he may have to take his share of games at DH pushing Martinez to catching. Few people realize how good a hitter Ordonez has been over his career. He'll hit .300 with 15 to 20 homers and have an OBP of .370. His presence in the line up protects Cabrera from getting pitched around every at bat. Ordonez has seen his ground ball rate rise as he gets older, but his line drive percentage has remained steady and very good. (2.5 WAR in 2010 in only 84 games).
  6. Carlos Guillen (2B) - It sure is hard to know what Guillen will do from year to year. His last three years have been abbreviated though he often shows flashes of good offense. Playing him at second has always sounded iffy, but that's where he is. Bill James thinks he will  get 470 at bats, bat in the .270s with a .350+ OBP. That sounds terribly optimistic. Guillen is 35 now. But this line up spot is fraught with doubt.
  7. Jhonny Peralta (SS) - What sours the Fan on the Tigers is their infield. Guillen, Peralta and Inge? At least Guillen can hit a little bit if he is healthy and Inge can field. But Peralta offers little on offense and less on defense. Yeah, he can hit in the .260s with an OBP in the .330s and that would be pretty good for shortstops in the majors these days, but his defense at short is just not where it needs to be. But the Tigers like him just like they like Inge. So go figure. (1.4 WAR in 2010).
  8. Brandon Inge (3B) - Inge rhymes with fringe. The Tigers like him and re-signed him, but he offers nothing on offense though he is still a very capable third baseman. Adrian Beltre really would have made this team, but Beltre wouldn't like hitting in the Tigers' home park. And so the Tigers are stuck with Inge. At least he will help on defense. Bill James offers no hope for improvement by Inge and predicts he will regress even further. (2.2 2010 WAR).
  9. Catcher or DH? - This depends on if Martinez is mostly a DH. If the Tigers need to rely on another catcher, this is likely where he will bat. The choices aren't inspiring. Alex Avila can improve into a serviceable big league hitter. His BABIP was only .278 showing room for better luck to raise his low batting average. His line drive percentage is healthy and over 20%, so that is promising at least.
One through six in the Tigers' pending line up is as potent as anyone in the division. After that, there is a problem. If Avila comes on (of the bottom three, he's the only unknown quantity and can improve), that will help, but Inge and Peralta are what they are. If the Tigers are going to do some damage, they better do it from the top six in the batting order.

This conclusion leads this Fan to think that the Tigers are just short of consideration for being the favorites for the division. The off season isn't over though and the Tigers are said to still be in the game. Perhaps they can address these weaknesses in time for the season.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holy Cow! Are the Red Sox Stacked or What?

Like the Pharaoh of Egypt, the Red Sox and Theo Epstein just keep accumulating treasures from abroad. Never has a post season seen a team collect a gallery of stars like this off season for the Red Sox. They are like kids in a candy store, but they keep coming up with sweetness in everything they do.

First they re-signed David Ortiz, then they got Adrian Gonzalez, a coup in itself since they didn't lose any of their brightest prospects or current players. Then they signed Carl Crawford, the second biggest prize on the free agent market. Then they signed Bobby Jenks and now it's Dan Wheeler. Their team is like a suitcase you have to sit on to get closed.

The bullpen is stacked with Papelbon, Bard, Wheeler and Jenks. Wow. Their rotation has two Cy Young candidates in Buchholz and Lester plus plus Beckett and Lackey. The line up does not let up until you get to the catcher. It's amazing. The Phillies are getting a lot of love for their rotation, but the Red Sox are more talented all over the field and in the bullpen.

All the Red Sox have lost is Mike Lowell (he was done anyway), Victor Martinez (a catching liability) and Bill Hall. No real ouchies there. Whatever was lost in those three in WAR was tripled and quadrupled in the players they picked up.  ***Update*** Forgot about Beltre. He was a loss, but his season was an outlier.

Of course the danger for the Red Sox is that they have built up this enormous expectation in the Red Sox Nation and if they still fail to dent the playoffs, it will be considered a colossal disappointment. They haven't won a single game yet in 2011, but they are sure sitting pretty in the season to come. Anyone that doesn't regard them as the clear cut favorite to represent the AL in the World Series, hasn't been paying attention.

What the Red Sox have done is amazing. They are as scary good as any team they have ever fielded including the 2004 and 2007 teams.

Before Rivera, Before Gossage, There Was Sparky Lyle

The New York Yankees did not invent the modern day idea of the closer, but few teams in history have relied on that ninth inning weapon to seal a win more than the Yankees. Now 41, Mariano Rivera has been indefatigable for the team for a decade. Before him there was two years of John Wetteland. Before Wetteland was Dave Righetti. Before Righetti was Hall of Fame pitcher, Goose Gossage. But the pitcher who started this long line of ninth inning excellent was Albert Walter ("Sparky") Lyle.

Sparky Lyle was probably the second worst trade the Red Sox ever made to the New York Yankees. Does the Fan have to insult you by telling you the worst trade? Nah. Anyway, Lyle was signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Orioles in 1964. They didn't protect him though and the Red Sox drafted him out of the Orioles organization three months later. He was pitching in the big leagues three years later, making his debut in 1967.

Sparky had five solid seasons for the Red Sox from 1967 to 1971. During that time, he invented his image as a tough guy with his flowing hair and facial hair. He was an imposing figure on the mound. He saved 69 games for the Red Sox during that time with a solid ERA for each season. He also won 22 games for the Red Sox. But they decided to trade him to the Yankees before the start of the 1972 season for Danny Cater. Cater had hit .300 for the Yankees in 1970 but he did nothing for the Red Sox and hit .237 in 1972. The trade was a complete bust.

Meanwhile, the Yankees got the beginning of a legend. In 1972, Lyle pitched in 59 games but closers then weren't one inning artists. He pitched a total of 107.2 innings that season and finished with a 1.92 ERA. He won nine games (against five losses) and saved 35 games. It would be his highest save total of his career. That season he came in seventh in Cy Young voting and third in the MVP ballot. The legend was born.

Lyle recorded 28 saves in 1973 in 82.1 innings and finished with a 2.51 ERA. He made the All Star team (he only made the team three times in his career). But that year was his best as far as K/BB ratio. Lyle was never a great strikeout pitcher. His out pitch was a devastating slider that was the predecessor of what Guidry, Righetti and Pettitte would later throw. Those pitchers can all trace their roots to Sparky Lyle's tenure with the Yankees.

1974 was perhaps Lyle's best year. He finished the season with a 1.66 ERA in 114 innings. But oddly, his Save total fell to 15 and he won nine games. 1975 was probably his worst year as a Yankee. His Saves fell to six, his hits per nine went over 9 and his ERA went up to 3.12 in 89 plus innings. But the Yankees, then owned by George Steinbrenner, were building toward their glory years. And when those years began in 1976, Sparky was right in the middle of it.

The 1976 Yankees made the playoffs for the first time since 1964 and Lyle had a magnificent season. His ERA was 2.26. He saved 23 games and pitched in 103.2 innings. He also picked up a save against the Royals in the playoffs in one appearance. He pitched twice in the World Series that the Yankees lost to the Reds, but he didn't give up a run and struck out three in two scoreless innings. 1976 was the precursor to when the legend came into full flower.

The 1977 Yankees became known as the Bronx Zoo and a book written about that team would give you more insight than anything written here. But as much as anything else, 1977 was Sparky Lyle's year. He pitched in 72 games and logged an amazing 137 innings. He won 13 games against five losses and saved 26 games. The big difference for Lyle that year was that his walk rate was the lowest of his career at 2.2 per nine innings. His strikeout total was the lowest of his Yankee career, but that didn't matter. There wasn't a big game the Yankees played all year that he didn't either win or save. He won two more games against the Royals in the playoffs and then won another game in the World Series. In that post season, he picked up another six appearances covering 14 innings. He gave up just nine hits and two runs. Lyle didn't walk a single batter the entire post season.

1977 was, when including the post season, one of the greatest performances by a relief pitcher. He won the Cy Young Award. He came in sixth in MVP voting. But it wasn't enough for George Steinbrenner. King George always had to have the best new toy on the market and in 1978, after one of the greatest relief efforts ever, Sparky Lyle was replaced as the closer by Goose Gossage. The development led to one of the greatest one liners in baseball history courtesy of Graig Nettles who said that Lyle went from Cy Young to syanora.

It's hard to imagine how Sparky Lyle felt at the development. Whatever it was, he handled it gamely, pitching in 59 games for another 111 plus innings. He won nine against three losses and finished with a 3.47 ERA. All the innings Lyle had pitched through the years started to wear him down and in 1978, he struck out only 2.7 batters per nine innings. He got by as much on guile as he did on anything else. Though he got a second World Series ring in 1978, he was not effective in the post season and the Yankees traded him afterward to Texas for multiple players, one of which was a young Dave Righetti, who would throw a no-hitter for the Yankees and later set team records for saves in a season. The Yankees got better value from Lyle's trade than the Red Sox did.

Lyle was finished as a premier closer. He would pitch four more seasons and pitched for the Rangers, the Phillies and the White Sox before retiring after the White Sox released him in 1982. But Lyle finished his career with a record of 99-76, all in relief (he never started a game in 899 appearances. He saved 238 games in his career and finished with a career ERA of 2.88. For those of us who got to see Sparky Lyle pitch, the memories linger. The crowd always went crazy and this very cool guy would toss slider after slider, paint the corners and get the game in the win column.  In his 899 appearances, he finished the game for his teams 634 times. He really is a story that has been forgotten as Gossage is remembered. But Lyle was great for a long time and deserves to be mentioned in the list of great all time relievers and closers.