Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Did it Take So Long?

A story published by indicates that Felipe Lopez has signed a one year contract. Why did it take so long? Lopez is a steal for the Cardinals and if they were smart, they would install him at second base full time and let him play.

Lopez is as good an offensive player as Skip Schumaker and can field second base in circles around last year's Cardinal second baseman. Neither have much for power, but Lopez is a far superior glove man and he has learned some patience at the plate shown by his 71 walks of a year ago.

It's still hard to figure. Lopez is only 30 years old and is far superior than anything the Mets are going to employ. He's probably better than the current second baseman for about eight or nine teams. It's true that Lopez is not a good shortstop, but he doesn't have to be.

The Cardinals are simply great at these kinds of personnel moves and it's no wonder that other teams in their division will have difficulty catching them.

Another Year, the Same Hope

Some players are simply more fun to watch than others. Granderson, Rollins, Reyes and others are just flat out fun to watch play baseball (when they are healthy and productive). Not too many pitchers over the years are the same kind of entertaining. Pedro comes to mind. Juan Marichal (for you older folks) and Luis Tiant are a couple of others. Ron Guidry, Oil Can Boyd and Fernando Valenzuela were fun to watch. But few pitchers in history were more fun to watch than Dontrelle Willis.

Boy doesn't just reading his name bring up a ton of conflicting emotions? There isn't anybody that has watched Willis pitch that can dislike him. He is infectious and his smile is simply magical. And when he was good, what a fun ride to watch him work against major league hitters. Add to the mix his sometimes good hitting (what other pitcher legs out a triple?), his athletic fielding of his position and it's simply a gas.

Well, we all know the sad story of the past three years. Willis couldn't throw strikes, he lost it. He had anxiety. The Tigers were ridiculed for the contract they gave him, and rightly so. Dontrelle Willis would probably be a footnote already to history if not for that contract.

But last year, he tried to come back. He had some good outings in May and then the wheels fell off with an eight walk performance that finished his season. Those of us that were rooting for him sighed sadly and figured that was that.

But the old cliche is that Spring Training brings eternal hope, and those of us who have been on the Dontrelle train over the years have one last gasp of hope. The reports are good so far and the reality is that this is probably his last shot. Willis is in the last year of his big contract and as such, the Tigers are in the position to give him every opportunity to grasp that brass ring one more time.

The Fan understands that he has written this same type of post for three straight years, but what the heck, sometimes you have to go against the stats and logic and hope we get to smile and appreciate the joy of Dontrelle Willis pitching effectively and smiling and nodding through it all. It's what we do. It's why we are Fans of the game.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chewing on SIERA

Much good work has been done in recent years to quantify the value of baseball players. There has been a lot of discussion just in this space concerning the new stats and what they mean to the game and to the average fan. One major benefit touted by these new statistics is the ability to project a player's performance based on detailed analysis. Baseball Prospectus has developed a strong following for doing just that. Their PECOTA projections are the most respected in the game. As such, the Fan spends a lot of time looking at their data. One article (the site is a subscription site so you can't read it if you aren't a member) based on their projections talks about pitchers who should do better than expected this coming year or worse than expected based on their projections. Their criteria is a new stat they have created called SIERA, which tries to only measure ERA based on issues the pitcher can control. It's very interesting, but one thing seems to nag at the Fan.

The writer uses Randy Wells of the Cubs as an example of a pitcher who should not be as successful this year as he was last year. Here is what the writer says:

Wells and Happ found themselves intertwined for much of the 2009 seasons as NL Rookie of the Year candidates and also in that the controllable numbers indicated both would regress in 2010. Wells barely touches 90 mph with his fastball and he doesn’t miss many bats, but he is
stingy with walks and keeps the ball on the ground. All of that is well and good, but what one would expect from a third or fourth starter, which is what his
SIERA indicates.

Again, there is a nagging feeling that the numbers don't tells us everything here. How do you measure a pitcher that is just darn good at getting a batter to hit the ball where the pitcher wants him to hit the ball? Can you measure such a thing?

Some of the big things SIERA looks at is strikeouts per nine innings, walks per innings, strikeouts to walk ratios and home runs allowed. So the argument against Randy Wells continuing to have the kind of success he had last year is that he didn't strike out that many batters and he was "lucky" with a low BABIP. In other words, most of the balls the hitters put in play were turned into outs. BABIP is a favorite stat here in the FanDome. But again, something nags at the Fan when he uses it. The general consensus is that the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) should be around .300. Get over that and the pitcher is unlucky. Get under that and the pitcher is lucky. Mostly it makes sense. But not completely.

Take for example a guy like Jim Kaat. Kaat won 283 games in his career despite striking out only 4.9 batters per nine innings. And Kaat's career BABIP was .283. So was his 283 wins and great success a matter of 25 years of good luck? The Fan guesses that's possible. But perhaps Kaat was really, really good at getting batters to hit the ball where he wanted them to hit it.

The Fan has watched Mariano Rivera pitch for fourteen years now. Yes, the man does strike out guys, but not as much as some closers. Yes, he is stingy with walks. So he is everything a SIERA stat would ask for. But one thing about Rivera that the Fan has consistently noted is his ability to get guys to ground out weakly to the pitcher, the second baseman and the first baseman. So his career BABIP is .266. Is he just lucky when they hit the ball? No, the Fan contends that he is awesome at getting the batter to hit the ball the way Rivera wants them to hit the ball.

Greg Maddux had a career BABIP of .286. Lucky? Hardly. He too was unbelievable in controlling where the batter hit the ball. Luis Tiant won over 200 games. His career BABIP was an amazing .264. Lucky? At this point, the Fan will let you decide. Want more? Okay, here are a few more examples of low strikeout, successful pitchers and their career BABIPs:

Mel Stottlemyer - .264
Jake Peavy - .287
Chien-Ming Wang - .295
Tommy John - .285

Some pitchers won't blow you away with stuff. Some will not blow you away with K/9 or K/BB ratios. But they were just really good at locating their pitches in a way where the batter hit the ball with predictable results. So SIERA and many of the new stats are good things. The Fan likes them. But they don't account for baseball smarts and the ability to duplicate strategy over a long period of time to force batters into hitting the ball in such a way that damage would be negligible.

SIERA may or may not be right about Randy Wells. Time will tell. But in 2009, it simply looked like Randy Wells was just great at getting batters to hit the ball where he wanted them to hit it.

Toyota, the Weather and Baseball

There is a saying in northern Maine that if you don't like the weather today, just wait until tomorrow. This Fan isn't complaining about the weather. While there has not been an appearance by the sun in a while, we've had ten straight days peaking over 30 degrees, which is unheard of in February. While the rest of the country has had unexpected snow, we've had very little and I heard of some reports that daffodils have poked their heads out of the ground and quickly looked around and said, "What the heck?" You just never know what's going to happen with the weather. It pops up and down. Toyota has to be feeling the same way. The little company that could started out as a maker of cheap automobiles, much like Hyundai is now. Then they became the biggest in the world and were the gold standard for quality that everyone wanted to emulate. Now look what's happened. They appear to be back where they were thirty years ago thanks to all their problems.

The Astros and Mets have to know what that feels like. Both started as expansion teams in the early 1960s. Both had cheap little teams that couldn't. Both had serious runs of euphoria and success. And both have fallen on hard times. The history of both teams is sprinkled with failure and success, failure and success and then failure. It seems difficult for them to stay on some kind of even ground.

There have been other teams that were once good but have been bad for a long time now like the Royals and the Pirates. There have been teams that were mostly bad but poked their heads up above the tree line for a brief look like the Brewers and the Padres. There are other teams that always remain competitive like the Cardinals, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Twins, the Braves and the Dodgers.

For those latter six teams, the weather is mostly good like the weather in San Diego. But most of the rest seem to have histories like northern Maine weather. They are all over the place. Is it all about the money? The Cardinals and the Twins seem to disprove that. The Cardinals are always in the upper middle level of the salary world. The Twins were once always at the bottom of that world but now are solidly in the middle. Both just have good organizations. The Yankees and the Red Sox can either be smart or use their financial resources to cover up moments of stupidity.

But then you have all those other organizations that can't seem to consistently produce over the years. It can be about the money, but it's also about smarts and good management.

The Fan thought he had a bigger point to make here, but it fizzled faster than Toyota and Tiger Woods' reputations. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Message to

The last post led to one more thought. The Fan is in love with After all, isn't it wonderful to be able to watch games on the computer over the Internet for just a few dollars a month? Sure it is. It's great. But now that they are hiring big time writers, it's time to change a few things over there.

When Peter Gammons was with, you could bookmark his home page and blogs like this one could have automatic links to that page. But try to find Gammons on's site, the Fan dares you. It's impossible. But once you do find him, it's only a link to one of his articles. If you want more, then there is a little drop down box under the heading for his archive.

Well how about this idea. Put his archive on its own site page so we can link to it. Well duh. That's hardly a new idea. And forget about it if you want to figure out what Hal Bodley's latest piece is. Isn't it funny how some site can be so progressively cool in some areas and so utterly stupid in others? is far from perfect either. Have you ever tried to comment on one of the articles or posts and were not signed in? Yeesh. What a nightmare that turns into.

But to have Peter Gammons as an invisible ghost or a needle in a haystack is a sad waste of whatever it is is paying him (and the Fan is sure he isn't cheap). So ...pssst ... FIX IT. Please.

Marvin Miller - Hall of Fame?

The great Peter Gammons, now toiling for, wrote a great piece on why Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame. The Fan has to admit that it makes a lot of sense and thaws a few of the hard feelings brought up by the mere mention of Miller's name.

After all, it was Miller who stopped baseball. It was Miller who so united the players that the 1981 season and the 1984 season will forever be a blot on fandom everywhere. Let's face it, this blog is written from a fan's perspective. We didn't care about what was right and what was wrong. All we cared about was that our passion and our joy was being pulled apart by this upstart, Marvin Miller.

Deep down we knew that the owners of baseball had it made when it came to ruling their fiefdoms. Holdouts such as the one pulled in tandem by Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax were rare. And we knew it was rare because the owners had all the chips on the table. They owned the players and could do whatever they wanted.

But most of us fans were willing to keep a blind eye to that sort of thing as long as our games and seasons rolled on uninterrupted and unchallenged. We incorrectly perceived Miller to be the bad guy because it if wasn't for him, none of that unpleasantness might have happened.

Of course, this perspective might be different in union towns such as Detroit or Pittsburgh. Those communities had long union histories and already knew the perils of company owners who had unfair advantages over the workers they employed. It's quite possible in those places that Marvin Miller was a hero.

It is only in hindsight that we understand that players being "owned" forever by their teams is wrong. It is only fair in looking back that players get a bigger slice of the revenue their services generate. It's only fair that after a few years of service to their teams that they have a right to seek out alternate paths for their careers.

Fairly or not, unions and their officials are viewed in many places of our country as mafia fronts or in other unflattering ways. When the Fan worked in factories (early in his manhood), it seemed better that the guy who owned the company telling us what to do than some unseen union head in another city far away. So those thoughts all lingered and added to the perception that Marvin Miller was the creep that ruined baseball.

In retrospect, the battle between Miller, his players and the owners was epic. And Miller was so successful in what he did that the entire financial face of baseball changed as a result. Of course, there are some negatives that came about. The free agency system made it easier for rich teams to stay rich and poor teams to lose their talent. But it's a far better system than ball players only being commodities with no rights. Millers epic work also made it possible for those retired from the game to be cared for and remembered. The first work stoppage was about pension benefits for those who don't know or remember.

So yeah, thanks Mr. Gammons. It seems time to soften on Miller. Sometimes the most gifted men on the planet are the most hated. The Fan always had some healthy dislike for the man. But it's time to acknowledge that his cause was right and his success at achieving victory in those causes was nothing short of brilliant.

Americans Can Be Snobs

Several years ago, MLB decided it would be a good idea to have a couple of teams in Canada. It seemed weird at the time, but the Toronto Blue Jays were born in 1977 and Montreal Expos were born in 1969. Predictably, as expansion teams. there were a few dismal years in the beginning. The Blue Jays lost over 100 games their first three seasons. They played at Exhibition Stadium, which had been built in 1879. Yes, that's right. 1879. Quick! Name the Blue Jays' first manager. Oh, forget it. His name was Roy Hartsfield. Who?

The Expos started quicker out of the gate. They only lost 100 games their first year (1969) and they started their existence with a big name manager in Gene Mauch. They played in a quickly little park called Jarry Park. The place is now a tennis stadium of all things. At least it's still around. Exhibition Stadium was demolished in 1999, 120 years after it was first erected.

Neither team did well at the box office to begin with. The Expos had an old time manager and Rusty Staub (Le Grand Orange) became a real hero. After the Mauch years, Dick Williams took over and he was one of the great all time managers. Mauch had longevity, but Williams had results. And the Expos did quite well at the gate from 1979 to around 1984. It is easy to wonder what it would have been like in Montreal if the strike hadn't shortened the 1981 season which was probably the best team the Expos ever assembled. But as we all know, it all went down hill after those years until the team was taken over by the MLB and moved to Washington, D. C.

The Blue Jays had to deal with the strike in only their fourth year of operation. That was awful timing for them. But after the strike (when the team was lousy anyway), the team steadily improved under several good managers like Bobby Cox, Jimy Williams and then Cito Gaston. The team exploded in attendance from the late 80s to about the mid 90s. Skydome was the wonder of the world and fans went their in droves.

Since those heady days, the Blue Jays have slowly declined and have become an afterthought in the American League East. They wouldn't be mentioned much at all if it weren't for all that Roy Halladay business for the last thirteen months. SkyDome isn't the buzzing place to go anymore and unfortunately, it isn't even called SkyDome anymore.

The teams north of the border always had a couple of obstacles to begin with. First, every road trip takes them through customs, which has to be a major drag. Next, salaries are not the same since the Canadian dollar and the U. S. dollar are rarely the same. Signing free agents is difficult because of the dollar obstacles.

The Fan lives right next door to Quebec. Montreal is only six hours from here. But the Expos were never buzz worthy. The Canadians of hockey, now that was the passion of sports fans in Quebec. But Toronto fans are avid and passionate. There just isn't as many as their used to be. The Fan has gotten acquainted with some of the bloggers that write up there and has come to appreciate just how good they are at covering their teams. Sites like Sports And the City and TaoofStieb are well written and show the same kind of savvy and passion as any city in MLB.

All of which is great to learn about. The Fan has always believed that when it comes to Canada, U.S. citizens are snobs. School kids in Canada could name off every U. S. state and their capital cities. Ask any kid in the U. S. to name two Canadian provinces and you'll get a blank stare. People in this country make jokes about mounties and moose and the word, "eh." Canadians are considered American wannabes (as if). Canada is the home of many proud families that fled the colonies during the Revolution if they wanted to stay loyal to the kind. That should be a source of pride, but instead is scorned over here and those people are labeled as Tories.

Living so close to Canada, the Fan has really had his eyes opened about that country. For example, if you want to be a teacher over there, you have to obtain a degree in some four year subject and THEN take a year of teaching courses. Imagine how much better our teachers would be if we did that? The coastline of New Brunswick is absolutely gorgeous. The Bay of Fundy is fascinating. Prince Edward Island is totally different than anywhere else on the east coast.

Personally, it would be thrilling to go to Toronto. It seems like a really cool city. Quebec City is probably the most romantic city in North America. But Toronto seems like one of the coolest. Perhaps some day the Fan will get a chance to visit there.

Oh. One last story about this meandering post that doesn't seem to have any point or substance (oh well). The Fan's wife is one of the U. S. snobs. No offense, dear, but you are. Back in 2000, the Fan went to Illinois to help his wife to be move from that state to Maine. The best route was to go through Canada instead of across the states, so that is what we did.

Well, the Fan's wife only drinks one thing from the minute she wakes up until the moment she goes to bed and that is Diet Mountain Dew. She loves the stuff and it's of utmost importance to always have it on hand. Well, it took us parts of three days to travel across Canada going from Illinois to here. We stopped at just about every convenience and grocery store along our route and for some reason, none of them sold Diet Mountain Dew. By the time we made it to Maine, the Fan's wife was pretty much a raving maniac.

Because of that, she still believes that Canada is the most backwards country on the planet and has absolutely nothing but bad thoughts about the country. Unfortunately, she is more the norm than the exception.