Friday, January 29, 2010

First Projections Are Out

Baseball Prospectus (PECOTA) has released its preliminary projections for 2010 and wow, are they interesting in some pretty weird ways. Some examples? The Nationals are projected for 82 wins. Really? The Rays are projected at 96 wins while the Yankees come in at 93. Really? The Yankees come in third place. Really? The Twins are the only AL Central team to win ore than half their games. Wow. The A's win the AL West and the Angels come in last? hmm...

In case you can't get the link, here is each division, projected wins and standings:

AL East

Rays (96), Red Sox (95), Yankees (93), Orioles (79), Blue Jays (71).

AL Central

Twins (82), White Sox (79), Tigers (79), Indians (77), Royals (66).

AL West

Oakland (87), Mariners (86), Rangers (85), Angels (76).

NL East

Phillies (88), Braves (85), Nationals (82), Mets (77), Marlins (76).

NL Central

Cardinals (89), Reds (82), Cubs (77), Astros (75), Brewers (75), Pirates (70).

NL West

Dodgers (87), Diamondbacks (85), Giants (81), Rockies (80), Padres (74).

There are some things that seem incredible in those projections (besides the Nats winning 82 games). The Fan can't imagine the Marlins finishing under .500. Can't imagine the Astros winning 75 games. 65 seems more like it. According to these, there won't be a 100 loss team nor a 100 win team. The Cardinals should win more than 89 times. The Pirates won't reach 70 wins. In addition, that AL Central always has a surprise in store. One of the pick of Tigers, White Sox or Cleveland will make a move this year nobody expects.

For sure, these projections are early. Rosters aren't even set yet. If Damon goes to the Blue Jays, give them two or three more wins, etc.

For the next post, the Fan will discuss a few of the surprising player projections we are seeing so far. Here's one tease, Dustin Pedroia will have a much higher VORP than Kevin Youkilis and Lackey will have a higher VORP than Beckett. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Winn Lose or Draw?

So the Yankees are reportedly going to sign Randy Winn for a few million. Winn, a right-handed batter, brings a couple of possibilities to the Yankees. He either puts a right-handed bat (he is a switch hitter) in the line up instead of Gardner or Granderson (more likely the former) and it effectively closes the door on Johnny Damon's Yankee career. The other possibility is that he replaces Gardner completely.

One of the questions the signing brings is how much Randy Winn has left to offer. A career .762 OPS and Winn finished last year at .671. At the age of 35, does he have anything left, or was last year what you are going to get from now on? His BABIP was .308 which is right about where it should have been. In other words, he wasn't lucky or unlucky. So he fully deserved the low level he finished up with.

Now here is the devastating part. He is being brought in primarily to bat right handed and balance out the lefties, Granderson and Gardner. BUT, his batting line against lefties last year? Ugh, try .158/.184/.200. Now that's ugly. Even Gardner could do that with one hand, right?

So how does this move make sense? To add a bit of fairness to this evaluation, while Winn's over all BABIP was .308, his BABIP was under .200 batting from the right side. That's pretty unlucky. Winn's career numbers against lefties are .280/.332/.426. Not great, but better than last year (understatement alert!). To continue the fairness end of things, Winn posted an .812 OPS as a right-handed batter in 2008. So maybe last year was just a fluke.

Let's take a minute to talk about the other ramifications. Damon's Yankee career is dead. Scott Boras really didn't gauge this one correctly. The Yankees would have welcomed Damon back, but not for $10 million a year. Damon has been a popular player, but his wheels are falling off (lots of calf problems) and it will be nice for Yankee fans to see a throw actually make it to the infield once in a while. Damon was fun. But he is done.

Brett Gardner can't get a break can he? The Yankees get rid of his main competition in Melky Cabrera and then along comes Winn. Let's face it, the Yankees do not believe in Brett Gardner. And as much as the Fan wanted to see what happened if he got 500 at bats, it's not to be. First the Fuld dream in Chicago dies and now Gardner. The Fan could be wrong, but there is no way that Gardner gets 300 at bats now, never mind 500. The kid was simply fun to watch. Yeah, we doesn't equal stats and Gardner didn't excite anyone with his OPS or even his OBP. But he sure was a lot of fun.

Okay, bottom line: If Winn can prove that last year was a fluke (on all fronts) and can continue to bring superior defense from the corner outfield spots (he's much less effective in center), then a platoon role makes a lot of sense for the chump change the Yankees spent on him. The Yankees might miss Matsui and Damon in the post season. Or they may not. Who knows. But if last year wasn't a fluke for Winn...If the guy has simply gotten too old to be effective, then this is a bad deal. Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lessens From Little League

[[switching to first person]]

When my son was young and in little league, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to coach a team. It was a blast. Well, at least most of the time it was. There was nothing like taking the Bad News Bears (let's face it, all little league teams are that when the season starts) and win or lose, turn them into good sports who tried hard and learned some skill along the way. That was the good stuff.

The bad? One example sums it up. As the team coach, I took the usual position at the third base coaching box when our team was up to bat. There was one game where we were getting smoked. The score was something like 17 to 3 after two innings. There wasn't any set standard for which bleacher a parent would sit on. The one closest to the road was the most popular no matter if the son or daughter was in the opposite dugout or not.

This particular and disastrous game, one highly vocal parent (female I might add) rooting for the other team did not seem to notice the score. Despite the whoopin' we were taking, this parent kept up a violent diatribe that went something like this: "Strike this kid out, he ain't nothin'." or "This pitcher is terrible, knock the ball out of the park." It was endless, and it was all the worst kind of cheering.

Finally, seeing that my kids were already down, I walked over to this woman and asked politely, "Ma'am, the score is 17 to 3, do you think it would be okay to tone it down a little bit? Our kids are already feeling bad enough." Now any reasonable parent would listen to this polite request and maybe respond in kind. But not this woman. Her response was to hurl some highly blue language in my direction telling me to go back to whatever egg I came from.

Now obviously, in the position I was in, there was little I could do. To this day, I know that woman should be ashamed of herself. It is doubtful that she is. But I had some measure of revenge after my little league coaching career ended. I became an umpire. My first real test was the town's championship game.

Before the game started, I asked the two coaches and their captains to meet me behind the plate. I told them two things. First, I told them that this was the two best teams in town and they better swing at anything close because I wasn't going to be an umpire of a championship game of walk after walk. You can argue the validity of that and I will understand. The second thing I told them was that as the town's best, they had a responsibility to project the highest standard of decency. I would not allow the teams or their fans the ability to put down any player on the other team. I told them I didn't even want to hear a, "He's no batter, he's no batter." I told them to cheer for their teammates but not to cheer against the other team. To back it up, I would throw out any player, coach or fan that would go against that directive.

Needless to say the coaches had very wide eyes looking back at me. But when they saw I was serious, they nodded. After the game, many parents and players said the game was the best little league game they ever watched. The final score was 3-1.

And the lessen in all of this? Perhaps I was too strong in forcing my beliefs on those teams and their fans, but listen, there is too much negativity in the world. It seems to get worse every year. And what brought this all up, you ask? Umm...err...would you believe the State of the Union address?

Uh oh, we're talking politics here? No, not really. I'm not going to espouse my political agenda, though I do have one. I'm talking about the urgent need both political parties have to obfuscate and deride any thought the opposite party has expressed or tried to put into motion. I'm pretty old at this point and have probably watched forty State of the Union addresses. Isn't it pretty sickening that no matter what party is in the White House, the other party members stoically sit in their seats to make sure the world knows that they are superior?

The President talked about how sick Americans are of partisanship. Aren't we? And yet, before he delivered that part of his speech, he blamed the previous administration for the problems he inherited. I don't know if he is wrong or right. He probably is. But did he have to say it? After his speech, the Republicans got their chance to respond. Was it any surprise that the new Virginia governor (who looks like a Republican presidential candidate) used such a soundbite of negativism such as, "top down politics"? It's stupid.

The President is right. Should it take 60 votes to get anything done in this country? Does every bill have to be about how each party can use the thing to either strengthen their party's chances in the next election or damage the other party? Should every idea expressed by the opposing party be slammed by the party that didn't state the idea?

Right now, politics in America are like that lady in the bleachers. It is vicious and it is winner take all. That isn't what we want. It's not even close.

What Washington needs is an umpire like me. If you're going to be nasty and negative, you're not going to play. Of course, that will never happen. But if those in office were truly serious about wanting to do what the people of this country want, then they should all take a pledge and put it in writing that they will cheer on their own teammates and not cheer against the other side. Imagine that, will you?

It's no wonder so many of us in this country are fed up and yes, cynical. The job in Washington is not much different than a little league game. It is a chance to teach our children about a higher vision of decency and competition. Sure, one team is going to win. But decency uplifts the winners and the losers every time. Wouldn't it be a life-changing moment if we could all, you know, root for our leaders and be proud of them?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sheets and Nady - Big Risks, Potential Rewards

Two players who saw little or no action in 2009 signed today for a combined $13.3 million. That's a lot of scratch for two players with a history of health problems and a couple of elbow surgeries between them. The Oakland A's, no strangers to the risk/reward signings (Holliday, Giambi, et al), signed Sheets for $10 million for a one year deal. The Cubs were looking for a fourth outfielder and signed Xavier Nady for $3.3 million plus incentives.

Let's start with Nady. A couple of years ago, he had a big year for the Pirates and the Yankees. It was really his only full and big season in the majors. He was pegged to be the Yankees' starting right fielder in 2009 but blew out his elbow for the second time. He proceeded to have his second Tommy John procedure.

If Nady can play, he's a decent big league hitter, especially against right-handed pitching. But he's limited on defense (to be kind) and after two elbow blowouts, seems to be a time bomb waiting to happen. All in all, $3.3 million is not that big a risk, but it's still real money that they will probably not be able to insure. Working it through, the Fan's not real big on this signing. It's a bit expensive for a fourth outfielder, especially one who is coming back from major surgery. And if he takes at bats away from Sam Fuld, this Fan won't be happy.

Sheets is a whole other story. He brings a measure of dread and hope at the same time. He could blow out again or he could win 18 games. The hope is worth $10 million, but the dread is not. When Sheets can pitch, he's outstanding. But his career has been a series of times when he wasn't able to pitch mixed in with some breathtaking pitching. Nady at his best is marginally worth what the Cubs will pay him. But if Sheets is healthy and has his best, he's worth much more than $10 million.

Say that he is healthy. Say that Justin Duchscherer is healthy too--and granted, that's two gigantic if statements. Add in Brian Anderson, who could have and should have won the Rookie of the Year award last year and the A's rotation could be scary good. Tack on the best new closer to come along in a while, and things could be fun in Oakland this year. If all those stars align, you could be looking at 88 to 90 wins, which could be close enough to win the A.L. West.

But again, that's a lot that has to go right. And it's a lot that has to go right for $10 million dollars. That's about as risk/reward as there is. The Fan hopes that Sheets is healthy. It's tough to see that kind of talent not able to use it. The Fan is all about fulfilling one's purpose on earth and Sheets was born to throw a baseball.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Can't Help Rooting for Ankiel

There is so much for Royals' sympathizers to gnash their teeth about. Knowing their team just picked up another in a large collection of low OBP hitters, can't help their pain very much. But unlike some of the other low OBP guys they have picked up in the last two to three years, at least Ankiel is someone to root for. He's the classic underdog.

Most of us know Ankiel's story. A highly prized pitching phenom, he blazed a glorious path in his heady Cardinal debut season. He was awesome (to use an overly used hyperbole). Then we all watched with horror as he developed an inability to even hit the catcher's mitt, never mind the strike zone. Instead of quitting baseball (a la Knobloch, Kline), he grunted it back to the minors and started over as an outfielder.

Tony LaRussa, who is as loyal to those he likes as much as he is nasty to those he doesn't, gave him his second big league wind for the Cardinals and he had flashes of fun. Of course, the PED thing bit him a bit in the butt, but he wasn't the only one there, was he?

Ankiel went from phenom to Joe Everyman. He went from the spoiled, can't miss kid to the grunt. And it was a story we all took to heart and cheered for. Last year took the bloom off the rose for the story though. Ankiel just couldn't get it done last year and despite the most at bats as a Cardinal, he tanked at the plate. The Cardinals, who owed him nothing for their good-hearted, feel-good reclamation of his career, did the right thing and cut him loose.

Now he gets a fresh start with the Royals, who as Joe Posnanski pointed out today in his blog, already have an abundance of outfielders who are similarly challenged at the plate and in the field (Ankiel is no Torii Hunter in center). But maybe...just maybe, last year was a disaster because of a crashed wall and a broken body. Maybe he never recovered. Maybe he just couldn't get it together.

Maybe, just maybe, we can get another taste of a feel-good story and another chance for Joe Everyman to make us all smile. This Fan will be rooting for just that to happen.

Tejada back in Baltimore

Miguel Tejada, the 35-year old (plus or minus a few years) who played shortstop for the Orioles for four years, has returned to the Orioles for $6 million to play third for the team that did not keep Melvin Mora. Tejada is most certainly a step up from Mora who declined dramatically in the past year. He will be cheaper than Mora too. Plus, even if his age catches up with him, the one year deal carries little risk.

Tejada was not a very good shortstop. His RTOT of -20 last year for Houston tells a pretty ugly story, though his range remained above average. Third base seems like a real good move for him at this stage of his career.

He also had a good year at the plate last year with 199 hits and a 109 OPS+. There are two things that raise some flags though. First, Tejada was never very patient at the plate. But he had averaged 44 walks per 162 games for his career. His usual high batting average kept his OBP in the decent range. But the last two years, despite not missing any time in the field at all (he played 158 games both seasons), his walk total has dipped. He walked 24 times in 2008 and only 19 times last year. That's in Molina territory.

The other red flag was his home/away splits last year. His line at home was, .343/.367/.512. On the road he went, .283/.313/.395. That's a Coors Field-like difference, is it not? Translated, that's an OPS+ at home of 127 and 93 on the road. That's a big swing. Just for reference, the Fan looked up his career splits in this category and for his career, the split is much closer. The Fan also looked at 2008 since it was the same ballpark and again, the splits were much closer. So either last year was an anomaly or as he gets older, he uses a home friendly park more to his advantage.

Since he is (for all we know) off the steroids now, his home run power is not what it used to be, but he does have gap power and he hit 46 doubles last year. Oh, one more thing for Orioles' fans to look out for: He led the league in each of the last two years in grounding into double plays.

The Orioles will be thrilled if Tejada plays decent defense at third, bats around .300 and comes in around 100 for OPS+. For six million bucks, that's not a bad deal to hold down the position for 2010.