Saturday, November 27, 2010

Adjusted WHIP?

Whenever this writer ventures into talking about numbers, there is a huge potential for problems. After all, compared to the Dave Camerons of the world, this Fan isn't exactly a heavyweight when it comes to figuring out how statistics work. But something in struck a nerve this morning. The little story on B-R's front page mentioned that Mark Buehrle became only the second pitcher since 1954 to induce six double plays in a game. In fact the entire front page was full of DP stories including how often Ivan Rodriguez has hit into more double plays than he has had walks in a season. Cool stuff. But the little nugget about Buehrle caught this Fan's fancy.

And important statistic for pitchers is WHIP. It's not the be all and end all statistic, but it's important. Base runners mean runs, so preventing them is important. Perhaps it is as important as K/9 and K/BB. But what about double plays? To be sure the two outs get added into the innings pitched statistic. But double plays erase one of the base runners that got on via a walk or a hit (or an error which we'll have to talk about). So shouldn't the pitcher get some credit for erasing some of those base runners he put on?

Let's take Buehrle for example. The guy has a no-hitter to his credit, which is doubly ironic considering he has led the league in hits allowed at least four times in his career. In 2010, Buehrle (whose name is really a pain in the neck to type) induced 19 double plays. His WHIP for the season was 1.43. If you subtract his double plays induced (19) from his walks plus hits, his "Adjusted WHIP" goes down to 1.31.

For another example, the Fan tried to think of a "sinkerball" pitcher. For some reason Cien-Ming Wang came to mind (wonder if he'll ever pitcher again?). He too gave up a lot of hits in his career. In 2007, for example, he had a WHIP of 1.294. But he induced 32 double plays. If you take 32 off of his walk plus hit total, his "Adjusted WHIP" goes all the way down to 1.114. That looks a lot tidier, does it not?

Take an inning by inning look at it. Say a pitcher allows two base runners in an inning. If he closes out the inning without allowing either to score, he's still going to have an ugly WHIP for that inning of 2.0. If he got out of the inning with a double play, then his "Adjusted WHIP" goes down to 1.0, a lot prettier.

The Fan thinks about this because pitchers that pitch to contact don't get a lot of love in this new age of baseball analysis. Those that strikeout a lot of batters and have a positive K/BB ratios get the most love, especially if their WHIPs are in good shape. But if we adjusted a "sinkerball" pitcher's WHIP to take double plays into account, maybe they would get more love.

Let's take one more example to see if we can prove a point. Let's look at Derek Lowe versus Tommy Hanson on the Braves. Hanson finished the season with a 2.5 WAR while Lowe finished with a 1.7. This is despite the fact that Lowe won 16 games and Hanson only 10. But that's because Hanson has a much better K/BB ratio and a better WHIP. In double plays, Lowe induced 22 compared to Hanson's 12. Hanson still has the better stats, but if Lowe's WHIP of 1.368 is translated to an "Adjusted WHIP" then it comes down to 1.258 and  thus closer to Hanson than before. Hanson still comes out on top, but not by nearly as much.

It's something to think about at least.

Jon Garland's Deal Wise for Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers do not have a lot of money to throw around. So what resources they do have need to be spent wisely. Signing Jon Garland for a year at $5 million is a very wise move. Garland has been as reliable as they come and depending on whose WAR you look at these days, Garland has consistently been worth between $8.5 million and $12 million every year since 2004. He gives you 200 innings every year and though he is far from spectacular, he will be worth his paycheck.

Pitching in good pitching parks is in Jon Garland's best interest. After departing the American League, where he was starting to get knocked around a bit, Garland had a decent season for the Padres last season and was a cog in the rotation that almost took them to the division title. He pitched the season before that for the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers. For that low an asking price, you have to wonder why the Padres didn't try harder to sign him. Maybe they did and we don't know it. But at that kind of money, it seems that Garland could have been had. It's also a possibility that Garland, who has pitched in Los Angeles before simply likes it there and wanted to return.

Garland has a 131-114 record in eleven big league seasons. He is 31 years old and has a career ERA of 4.32 ERA. His career ERA+ is 104 but he's only had two seasons in the last nine that were under the league average of 100. He is what he is: A solid pitcher that is just a tick above league average who will give you 33 starts a year. That's a valuable commodity.

Some teams build to get through the long season to get to the playoffs. The thinking is that if a team can just make it to the playoffs, then anything can happen. The Twins come to mind as do the Dodgers. The other method is to build a team that can dominate the playoffs and let the chips fall where they may during the seasons. The Yankees and the Phillies are the latter kind of team. They have collected "shut down" types of pitchers that can dominate a post season series. The Dodgers aren't building that kind of staff.

What they are doing is compiling a rotation that gives the team solid outings every day. With Ted Lilly and Kuroda already signed and now Garland, they have three similar pitchers that are reliable, keep the team in the game and give the Dodgers a chance to win. Kershaw is the only power arm of the kind that can dominate a post series game.

With Garland, the rotation seems to be set. You have Kershaw at Number One, then Lilly, Kuroda, Garland and then Billingsley. Making Billingsley the fifth starter takes the pressure off of him and since he has spent some time as a Number 2 or Number 3, the Dodgers are in good shape one through five. Will the rotation scare anyone? Probably not (with the exception of Kershaw). But will it be solid in a pitcher's park? Certainly.

It's encouraging for the Dodgers that in these uncertain times, they have made such a smart and wise signing with a good bottom line, lots of upside and only one year of risk. Well done.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jeter And The Trouble With Blogs

Perhaps the Fan is simply grouchy after sitting in a now empty mall after thirteen hours in his store. Thank goodness Black Friday only happens once a year. To relieve the tedium of a long day, occasionally this blogger will desperately search for any fresh baseball news. Instead there are another dozen empty stories about the Jeter situation. This Fan challenges all bloggers to try to go three days without mentioning his name. The Fan dares you.

You see the trouble with blogging is that when there is nothing to write about, we writers will grab a hold of any scrap of rumor, innuendo and hype that comes down the pike. And it's not just amateur bloggers either. Major writers in major news outlets publish every "he said, she said," they can find. It's bordering on insanity. It's not the "Boss" anymore. Now it's "Hank." Well, according to this source, Hank said this. And according to this source, Cashman said this. And according to another source, this is what Jeter is asking for. How about giving the keyboard a rest until you have a fact or two?

Negotiations between two business entities can get messy. Both parties draw lines in the sand and then erase them closer until a deal is made. That's how it works. It's a game of high stakes chicken. This Fan is beyond caring. Don't tell this writer anything until either a deal is struck or once Jeter signs with another club. Until then, it's simply a bunch of blowing bubbles to see who can get the most colors of the rainbow in their soapy blow ring.

No doubt clubs and agents use the media to try to nudge the process along. Scott Boras has been doing that for years. And despite a commissioner's edict about not doing that any more, there is no doubt that the Yankee brass and Jeter's agent have been doing the same sort of thing. But for Pete's sake, do we have to buy into it? Do we have to keep chewing on non-news like it's some sort of suet?

The bottom line is that we don't know diddly about what is going on between this particular player and his former (and hopefully) future employer. Unless a deal is announced or an impasse or a severing of the negotiations happen or Jeter signs with another club, shut up already.

Look, the trouble with blogs, or most blogs anyway, is that most of us lack access to the direct sources of information. The Fan isn't talking about Bill Maddon or Joel Sherman. Those are indirect sources that we read and believe. No, we bloggers don't have inside knowledge of what Jeter is doing or what the Yankees' brain trust is doing. And seriously, to be totally frank, we have little knowledge about ANYTHING other than what we read.

Without trying to sound too self-righteous, this Fan tries very hard to only report hard facts that are official statistics or transaction reports and then comment on those. Any thought about what a team should do is commentary. So it's either facts for this guy, or it's commentary and opinion about what a team or a player should do. Speculation or reporting news that is rehashed rumor from nebulous sources is okay for tabloid magazines in the grocery aisle, but it's hardly what we bloggers should be doing.

Just like a kid plugging his or her ears when he or she doesn't want to hear something, this Fan refuses to read another Jeter post by anyone unless it's a report about an official announcement.

Enough already.

Wild Man Tommy Byrne

Have you ever been perusing statistics and suddenly have a player just grab your attention? Maybe you have to be a baseball geek to do that. Guilty! Tommy Byrne pitched in the American League from 1943 to 1957. He wasn't a Hall of Fame pitcher, though he did win a World Series game and made an All Star team. But he fascinates because he had the weirdest career of any pitcher in the Twentieth Century.

Think of Tommy Byrne as an Oliver Perez who won more games than he lost. That's not even a fair comparison because he was effective much longer than one season and started a ton of games. Let's take one two year stretch where he pitched for the Yankees in 1949 and 1950. He made 63 starts in those two seasons and won 30 games against 16 losses. Heck, it was the Yankees, right? They had a great team. He should have had .652 winning percentage on teams that won that many games. But it was the way he did it that is so remarkable.

He pitched 399.1 innings in those two seasons and completed 22 games despite walking 339 batters! Byrne averaged 7.6 walks per nine innings in those two seasons. He led the league in walks and in Hit By Pitches. In fact, he led the league in walks three times and HBPs five times. During those two seasons he walked a batter every 5.5 plate appearances. Add in the people he hit with a pitch those two seasons and he either walked or hit a guy every 4.9 plate appearances. His 179 walks in 1949 is the eighth highest total since 1900. Five of those spots ahead of him are occupied by Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan. Is it any wonder that his nickname was, "Wild Man"?

If you take his entire career into account, he either hit a batter or walked them every 5.5 plate appearances. He pitched 1362 major league innings and gave up 1037 walks for a total of 6.9 walks per nine innings. He only struck out 766 batters. To put that in perspective, Nolan Ryan, the most prodigious walker of the 20th Century, finished his career with 4.7 walks per nine innings. The aforementioned Oliver Perez currently sits at 5.1 walks per nine innings for his career. And yet Byrne had a better winning percentage in his career than Ryan and is certainly way ahead of Oliver Perez. Somehow, Bryne completed 65 of his major league starts and threw 12 shutouts in his career.

While Byrne was wild, he was stingy with the hits. he led the league in hits per nine innings with 5.7 in 1949 and he finished his career with a 7.5 mark. The Fan guesses you could call that effectively wild.

But the gift keeps giving with Byrne. He was not only the most unusual pitcher, but he could also hit. He had 80 hits in his career as a pinch hitter and batted .238 for his career with 14 homers and 98 RBIs in 655 plate appearances. Unlike his pitching though, he didn't walk very much.

If you want to know more about the life of Tommy Byrne, check out his wikipedia page linked above or click here for his major league totals.

No (Adam) Dunn Deals Yet - Who Should Sign Him?

Adam Dunn is one of the most consistent ball players on the planet. He will hit 38 to 40 homers, drive in 100 runs, bat between .250 and .260, walk 80 to 100 times and strike out 190 times. He's like clockwork. He's also a free agent. Several teams have been interested in him including the Tigers until they signed Victor Martinez. But where should Dunn go?

Anyone who signs Adam Dunn and gives him a glove is crazy. He's had a negative "dWAR" according to for years. He wasn't as bad last year at first base as he was the year before in left field. But it's not what he does best. Any National League team that signs him will need to have a first base position open because you don't want to put him anywhere else. That would make him a fit for: Los Angeles, (which probably doesn't have the money to sign him), the Diamondbacks (who had LaRoche last year), the Pirates (why would they sign him?), the Braves and of course, the Nationals.

But if ever there was a perfect Designated Hitter, it would be Adam Dunn, who apparently doesn't want to do that. $12 to $15 million a year for four years might change his mind. He would be a nice fit for the Rangers as he is much more productive than Vladimir Guerrero. In fact, if Dunn's season was as a DH, he would have had the most value. His 3.6 WAR was even higher than David Ortiz. He'd be a nice fit for the Angels who have cut ties with Matsui (though Matsui was more valuable last year than you think). He would be an excellent fit for the Yankees with their right field porch. Yeah, Jorge Posada is supposed to DH. But which would you rather have?

Teams which would seem to be all set at DH are the Red Sox, the Orioles, the Blue Jays, the Twins, the Indians (if you still believe in Hafner), the Royals (if Ka'ahue gets the shot), and the Mariners (they are stuck with Milton Bradley for another season). Every other team could use a big bat like Dunn's.

The two teams with the biggest need would be the Bay Rays, who will likely look for a cheaper option and the Athletics (ditto).

The Orioles are an interesting team for Dunn in that they have a great DH in Luke Scott. But they don't have a viable first baseman. Baltimore isn't far from Washington so Dunn wouldn't have to upset his life too much.

But if the Fan was a betting man, money would be bet that the Angels or the Rangers will make Dunn the most attractive offers. Dunn is worth a good solid $15 million a year for his bat (subtract a bit if he puts a glove on). So any deal for around three years at $15 million a year would sound just about right. Dunn, unlike a lot of other DH/1B types will end up somewhere. Count on that.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Papi Had a Better Year than Vlad

The Commissioner's Office announced that Vladimir Guerroro won the Edgar Martinez Outstanding DH Award. While it remains a puzzle to this writer on who votes for such an award that apparently has been around since 1973 and was renamed for the guy who won it five times, they got it wrong. The only criteria that you can vote on for such an award is offensive production. There is, of course, no fielding. And by the only criteria available to us (offense), Ortiz had a better year.

Here are some comparisons:

OBP - Ortiz (.370), Guerrero (.345)
SLG - Ortiz (.529), Guerrero (.496)
OPS - Ortiz (.899), Guerrero (.841)
OPS+ - Ortiz (137), Guerrero (122)
WAR - Ortiz (3.3), Guerrero (2.4)
Runs - Ortiz (86), Guerrero (83)

The only areas that Vlad beat the Big Papi on were batting average (.300 vs .270) and RBI (115 vs 102). Ortiz struck out more but hit into ten less double plays.

This is purely an offensive award and David Ortiz had the more valuable offensive season. This Fan isn't a big fan of Ortiz, but facts are facts and Ortiz should have won this award.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Day Rocky Colavito Pitched For the Yankees

Groping around on the Web for any nugget of MLB news on the day before Thanksgiving is like searching for water in the Mojave Desert. In other words, it's not exactly a big day for breaking news. Even agents celebrate Thanksgiving. Since baseball is a sport that (more than any other) lends itself to nostalgia as baseball has bridged generations, this writer has taken a step back from the non-news, rumor-hungry world of the off season to share a memory.

The memory is of a twelve year old boy who was spending a summer Sunday at a man-made lake in Montvale, New Jersey. This twelve year old never went anywhere without a transistor radio, especially during baseball season. This particular Sunday was absolutely perfect because not only was his family at this gigantic concrete lake (later to become the site of condos) on a beautiful summer's day, but the Yankees were playing a double header. The day would consist of swimming, sun bathing, barbecued hamburgers and Phil Ruzzuto. Perfection!

Well, except the Yankees stunk that year. 1968 was the year of the pitcher. The Yankees had a few of those. But they never had a worse year at the plate. Guys like Horace Clarke, Bobby Cox (yeah, that was him), Andy Kosco and Jake Gibbs couldn't hit their way out of the infield. A beat up, broken Mickey Mantle was in his last year and despite his lowest batting average of his career, he still was productive. But that was it. The Yankees needed help so they obtained Rocky Colavito from the Dodgers. Without the information we have at our fingertips today, they might not have known that Colavito was just about finished as a player. 1968 would be his last year too.

The twelve year old boy was excited about Colavito because he was somewhat of a legend AND he was Italian. Bonus! Colavito had some superb years with the Indians and Tigers and finished his career with 374 homers and a 132 career OPS+. He is one of the few players that ever hit four homers in one game. That made him a perfect candidate for the Hall of Very Good, but he didn't get enough counting stats for the Hall of Fame. But it wasn't just the homers that made him a legend. It was also his throwing arm from right field. In fourteen seasons, he threw out 123 base runners. Colavito hit five homers for the Yankees in 1968 but he only batted .220, which wasn't much different than anyone else on the team.

But the twelve year old didn't care. He was Italian, he was a Yankee, thus he was gold. So the first game of the double header started right after 1:00 P.M. on August 25, 1968 against the Detroit Tigers, one of Colavito's former teams. The boy was disappointed because Colavito wasn't in the starting line up. Steve Barber was the starting pitcher for the Yankees against Pat Dobson of the Tigers. Barber was a gangly left-hander who had some good seasons for the Orioles in the 60s including a 20-win season in 1963. But by the time the Orioles sent him to the Yankees, he was finished as an effective pitcher. He did hang around for another half a decade and was a part of the Seattle Pilots inaugural season.

Barber had nothing that day and the Tigers jumped on him for two runs in the first, two runs in the third and a run in the top of the fourth. He gave up ten base runners in three and a third innings while only striking out one batter. The Yankees had seen enough and Barber was taken out of the game. Back in those days, the Yankees had a little cart that would bring relief pitchers from the bullpen to the dugout. Who would step out of the cart to be the next Yankee pitcher? Rocky Colavito!

Phil Rizzuto went wild. The twelve year old went wild and called his little brother over. Rizzuto was calling Colavito a huckleberry and saying, "Holy Cow" (Bronx, got that right this time) a few dozen times because he couldn't believe that Colavito was actually going to pitch. Neither could we.

But there he was. The Yankees were down 5-0 without a team that could hit their way back into a game. They had another game to play after that one and they must have figured, what the heck. But Colavito succeeded. He held the Tigers in check for two and two thirds innings. He gave up a hit and walked two against one strikeout and he did not give up a run.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, the team that couldn't hit, actually climbed back into the game. They scored a run in the bottom of the fourth to make it 5-1 and then erupted for five runs in the sixth to knock Dobson out. Bobby Cox (hitting .226) hit a homer and Bill Robinson (batting .223) hit a three-run job. Rocky Colavito contributed a walk and a run scored. Since Colavito completed the top of the sixth, he became the pitcher of record. Could he actually get the win!?

The one, the only, the legend...Dooley Womack pitched a scoreless seventh (though he made  it interesting with two base runners) and Lindy McDaniel pitched the eighth and ninth without giving up a run and Colavito did get the win. All this Fan can remember about that day is laughing and smiling that something so unique was happening and so unexpected. Those barbecued hamburgers never tasted so good.

One other note: The only hit the Tigers got off of Colavito was a double by Al Kaline, Colavito's old teammate who was a very similar player to Rocky except that he hung around longer and got the numbers needed for the Hall of Fame.

As for Colavito, it wasn't his first pitching assignment. He had pitched in a game in 1958 (August 13), ten years before the game we are talking about. In that game, he pitched three scoreless innings and again, it was against the Tigers. Al Kaline didn't get a hit off of Rocky that day. Nobody did. And so this Hall of Very Good outfielder pitched twice in his career, then years apart, finished with a perfect 0.00 ERA in five and two thirds inning with a perfect 1-0 record. Holy Cow indeed.

Will the Red Sox Recover?

Victor Martinez is reportedly going to the Tigers. The odds are not favorable that Adrian Beltre will return to the Red Sox and even if he does, there is no guarantee he can repeat what looks like an outlier of a season. Injuries wrecked the team last year and Youkilis, J. D. Drew and David Ortiz are all another year older. Sounds like reason to be singing the blues if you are a Red Sox fan, But consider that Francona coaxed 89 wins out of that banged up team last year even though it couldn't pitch and couldn't field. The Red Sox will find a way.

Kevin Youkils and Dustin Pedroia will be back and they are two great players. This Fan would no fool around and move Youkilis over to third if Beltre leaves. He is a terrific first baseman and there is less chance of injury over there. Ortiz should finish with an OPS+ of 120 or so, which is just fine for a DH in the American League. The DH position has really sagged in recent years and Ortiz will remain one of the best at least for another year.

Marco Scutaro is just average, but on this team, average is okay for its shortstop after so many sub-average seasons there. So what about third base? May this Fan suggest Jed Lowrie? Lowrie got into 55 games last year and finished with a 139 OPS+. It seemed like he really found his stride as a player. He's a shortstop by trade, but if he can at least repeat what he did in the minors with a career .825 OPS, he should do well at third defensively and replace most of Beltre's offense. If Beltre does come back, then Lowrie should play short over Scutaro.

If the outfield includes Kalish in center, Ellsbury in left and Drew in right, you have the makings of a very good outfield. This Fan really likes Kalish and he is a better fielder than Ellsbury who should thus be moved to left permanently. If Ellsbury returns to his form after a lost year, he is one of the most exciting players in baseball. The Sox would then have a terrific bench of Cameron, Nava and others.

The biggest question mark for the Red Sox is at catcher. Martinez is gone. Varitek is old (if they even sign him) and they seem to have a crush on Jarrod Saltalamacchia (ye gads, that name is way too long). This is a concern because the Rangers had a long crush on him too and it never panned out. But, he is only 25 and if any team can turn him around, it's the Red Sox.

Signing Curt Young as their pitching coach was brilliant and this writer has no doubts about the Red Sox pitching staff. Beckett will come back and be useful. Lester will get even better. Lackey will be slightly better than average and Buchholz might end up better than Lester. And this Fan also thinks that Young can turn Adrew Miller around too. It's unclear at this point what they will have in Matsuzaka or if he will still be with the team on opening day.

The bullpen will be fine. If Papelbon is back, he should rebound from a off year. Bard is terrific and there are enough other pieces for Francona to work with.

There has been a lot of speculation about the Red Sox going after Adrian Gonzalez and/or Justin Upton. Upton could be a potential upgrade for Drew, who should be included in the deal if it comes to that. This Fan doesn't see a need for Gonzalez as Youkilis is first rate and as mentioned, Lowrie could be a terrific third baseman. The Red Sox have some good talent in the minors at first and if Lowrie didn't work out, Youkilis could still move to third to make room. This Fan is not on board for trading talent for players that may or may not be better than what they currently have.

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you probably know this Fan's opinion of Terry Francona. He is probably the best manager on the planet and given enough pieces, he will make it work. He is a master and his 89 wins in 2010 should have earned him Manager of the Year. This Fan doesn't see the Red Sox situation as dire at all. They can still have a terrific team if the pitching comes together and if Kalish and Lawrie can live up to their promise. Anyone who counts the Red Sox out is due for a grand disappointment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

V-Mart Doesn't Stand for "Value Mart"

It may be a mistake to talk about this until the deal is finalized (reportedly after Martinez takes a physical) but reports are that the Tigers have reached an agreement with Victor Martinez and have pried him away from the Red Sox. According to most reports, the Red Sox offered him a deal of $43 million over four years. The Tigers' deal is reportedly at $50 million over those same four years.

There are a couple of ways to look at this deal. First, the Red Sox's offer was slightly under his projected worth over the next four years ($46 according to BP). The Tigers' offer is slightly over. But if you look at it that the Tigers chipped in a few million to get Martinez to leave the Red Sox, then it seems to make more sense. But the Tigers and the Red Sox were both betting on Martinez being the kind of player he has been for the foreseeable future and that's a risky proposition for any team to make.

There is one other reason why this deal bothers this writer. Comerica Park is a beast. And when you have a beast of a ball park, the last thing it seems you should do is to bring in a bunch of big, slow guys with just over marginal power. The ball park is going to cost Martinez some homers which is a contributor to his current valuation. It seems more logical to get a guy like Carl Crawford who can use more facets to his game to get you a win.

The Tigers have apparently also agreed to forget about defense behind the plate for offense. There is really no blame to make there. It's a choice that many teams make. Laird and Avila just couldn't hit even though they were terrific receivers. So do you loose a lot of value messing with that defense and does it offset the offensive value that Martinez brings? No. The offense Martinez brings is worth much more than the difference of his defense to Avila's and Laird's.

But the Tigers also need a DH and with Cabrera not being exactly Keith Hernandez over there at first base, you can rotate the two players in and out of the DH and first base. That should keep them both happy and productive.

You have to give the Tigers credit. They are active and heavily trying to get back to the playoffs and their aggressiveness has to be gratifying to their fans. If V-Mart hits the way he has in the past, this will be a good deal for the Tigers. They will slightly over pay for it AND they will lose a first round draft pick, which hurts, but they thought this deal was worth it. Time will tell as it usually does.

In the meantime, the Red Sox face the prospect of losing Beltre and Martinez, two major cogs in their offense last year. To be sure, the Sox have a plan, but it's sure looking scary at the moment for their fans.

The Day Mickey Mantle Played Shortstop

Imagine if you will that the year is 1954. It is the last game of the regular season and your dad has taken you to see your Yankees for one last time that season. Unlike most seasons, these Yankees are not going to the World Series because they came in second place. Oh, it's not as bad as you think. The team won 103 games that year and still finished eight full games behind a juggernaut Cleveland Indians team that featured Larry Doby, Early Winn, Al Rosen and Bob Feller among others. It is a Sunday afternoon and you settle into your seats. The crowd is sparse with only 11,670 souls to witness the game. Nevertheless, this is Yankee Stadium and the organ is playing. Suddenly, the imperious voice of Bob Sheppard appears from the clouds to announce the starting line ups. You dutifully take the names down of the visiting Philadelphia Athletics on your scorecard and then he gets to the Yankees' line up. You mark down on your scorecard that Hank Bauer is leading off and playing right field. Next is Eddie Robinson, which you think is kind of different because he hardly ever played. And then the next two players are announced:

"Playing shortstop, Number 7...Mickey Mantle...Number 7
"Playing third base, Number 8...Yogi Berra...Number 8..."

Those two announcements have you so flubbed up and flabbergasted that you miss the rest of the line up. Did that voice from God just say that Mickey was playing short and Yogi was playing third? You look to your dad and he shrugs and grins. Well, holy cow, as Mel Allen would say.

And so it was. On the last game of the 1954 season, September 26, the Yankees' brilliant center fielder started at short and their fiery little catcher started at third. Irv Noren, a pretty good part-time player in his career, played center. Moose Skowron, long known as a first baseman was in his rookie year and he started the game at second base, one of only two times in his career that he would play there. The immortal Lou Berberet was the starting catcher. It was his only start of the year and only his fifth appearance. The starting pitcher was Tommy Byrne, one of the most unpredictable pitchers of all time. Byrne somehow had a major league record of 85-69 with an ERA of 4.11 despite walking 6.9 batters per nine innings. He walked more batters in his career than he had strikeouts. The next year, in 1955, at the age of 35, Byrne would win 16 games for the Yankees with three shutouts and two saves.

The game, of course, was meaningless. The Yankees lost it to the Athletics, that year's worst team who had as many losses as the Yankees had wins. Yogi had two chances at third and handled them both without a problem. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many balls whizzed right by him. Mickey Mantle had several chances and did not make an error. He had two putouts and four assists He was even a part of a double play (Byrnes to Mantle to Robinson). Skowron had six chances at second and booted one of them.

Mickey went one for two at the plate with three walks (one of them intentional) and he struck out once. The hit left him with a .300 average for the season. Yogi went 0-5 and grounded into two double plays. He finished at .307. Yogi never played third again. Mickey Mantle actually played shortstop four times in 1954, but only started there once. He logged a total of 14 innings there. He played short once in 1953 and twice in 1955. He never made an error there. But before you think this writer is doing too much to glorify the man, he also played third once in 1952 and had four chances and booted two of them. He also played second once in 1954 and had two chances with no problems.

The Fan just thought this was a neat story and an oddity in the careers of two Hall of Fame players.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Does Joba Need Fixing?

When Larry Rothschild was hired by the Yankees as their new pitching coach, a slew of articles appeared outlining Rothschild's tasks ahead. Many of them mentioned the two guys that needed "fixing" the most as A. J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. It was always those two. While few of us would disagree that A. J. Burnett needs an engine overhaul, it simply doesn't seem fair to lump Joba Chamberlain in that same category. The two are considered the Yankees' head cases. Well, this Fan isn't a psychiatrist, so let's stick to baseball facts. Joba Chamberlain will be fine.

It's easy to get lost in a relief pitcher's ERA. And it works both ways. A closer will pitch one inning really well for 30 odd appearances and everyone talks about their "amazing" ERA. Yet one bad appearances (or two or three) can balloon a relief pitcher's ERA in the flick of an eye. Let's say that a relief pitcher has pitched twenty inning and has given up two earned runs. The relief pitcher has an ERA of 0.90. Isn't he a great reliever? The next outing, he doesn't have anything and he gives up three runs in a third of an inning. Now his ERA is up to 1.76. His next outing is again rocky and he gives up two runs in a third of an inning. Now his ERA is up to 2.61 and so it goes. Two thirds of an inning added 1.7 to the pitcher's ERA. And in some of those outings, the pitcher behind him is actually the one who gave up those runs with a homer or something.

That's why you have to go beyond the ERA to judge relief pitchers. Two of the biggest criteria are the K/9 and the K/BB ratio. Joba Chamberlain's were just fine at 9.7 and 3.54 respectively. His hits per nine innings were rather high at 8.9 and his WHIP reflected that at 1.298. But his homer rate was just fine too at 0.8.

This writer submits that Joba's problems weren't so much being messed up as a pitcher as it was a combination of bad luck and lack of support, particularly from his infielders. His BABIP for the season was .327, but that doesn't tell the full story either. It was his BABIP for ground balls that really stand out. Now this writer has to admit to not doing a full study on this, but it seems that ground balls lead to an out about 75% of the time. Whenever the Fan looks at a pitcher's splits, the BABIP on ground balls is anywhere from .220 to .260. Batters make their living on line drives, which tend to lead to hits upwards of 60% of the time. But Joba's BABIP on ground balls was .309.

This isn't to say that Joba Chamberlain can't get better. He is far less effective against right-handed batters than he is against lefties, which you would think would be the opposite. So he needs an out pitch he can throw to right-handed batters. His walks are still a bit too high. When a right-handed batter was able to pull the ball off of Joba, they had a .522 batting average! He is sloppy with his first pitch. When apposing batters swung on the first pitch and put the ball in play, they had a 1.056 OPS against him.

It is the opinion of this writer that Joba Chamberlain had a decent year as a relief pitcher. He had two tough stretches, one in May and one in August. But the rest of the year he was just fine. All his peripheral numbers are right in line with where you want them to be except his ERA of 4.40. His xFIP, a truer way of looking at a pitcher's effectiveness, was 3.34 and his FIP was 2.98.

So why the bad perception about Joba? Well, for one, he kind of looks like a goober. With his unbent cap and blank expression, he can be mistaken for a rube. Plus, people don't forget the fist pumps and all that stuff he used to pull on the mound. He caught people's attention and thus, he is under a deeper microscope. But the bottom line is that Joba Chamberlain shouldn't be high on Rothschild's to do list. He's just fine.

Can Joey Votto Repeat His 2010 Success?

While the baseball world awaits the biggest question of the day concerning Joey Votto (the MVP vote), another question lingers just behind it: Can Votto stay this good? A player like Albert Pujols doesn't offer such a question as he has proven his consistency over the last ten years. But this is Votto's first big year. Don't get the Fan wrong, he had nice numbers building up to this big year, but this was his first big year. Can he get even better? Is this the best he will be? What do the numbers say?

The numbers don't show anything but Wow! Did Votto fade as last season went along? No, on the contrary, he excelled every month he played and was better in the second half after a spectacular first half. Was he better at home than on the road? Nope. He was actually better on the road, posting a .951 OPS at home and a 1.093 on the road. Does he have a weakness against a particular skill set of a pitcher? Nope. His OPS against power pitchers was 1.007, 1.057 against medium velocity pitchers and 1.008 against finesse pitchers.

Does Votto fare worse against left-handers? Well, yes, somewhat. But his OPS against lefties was still .863 and you can live with that far better than what say Ryan Howard did against lefties. About the only way you can get Votto out consistently is to get him either 0-2, 1-2 or 2-2 in the count. But that's pretty much the same story for every hitter in baseball.

But everywhere else you look at Joey Votto's statistics for 2010, you see gold. He batted .354 in high leverage situations. He batted .369 with runners in scoring position. His OPS was great no matter whether there were no outs in the inning (.966), one out (.994) or two outs (an amazing 1.094). He hit over .300 no matter how many times he had faced a starter in the game.

About the only wrinkle in an otherwise rosy picture is his 2010 BABIP which came in at a remarkable .371. But for some superstars, that's more the norm than the exception. If you consider that Votto's career BABIP is .353, you can't use the .371 and say that Votto is going to come back more to the mean. He's beaten the mean consistently and there is no reason to believe he won't keep doing it.

Pujols has maintained his excellence despite some years where he did not have a whole lot of protection behind him in the line up. Votto won't seem to have that problem. With the emergence of Jay Bruce, Jonny Gomes and Drew Stubbs, Votto should get plenty of fear behind him even if Scott Rolen regresses. The only questions the future holds is whether the Reds will be able to afford Votto in the years ahead considering their attendance issues.

Joey Votto's OPS+ rose 97 points from 2008 to 2009. It raised another 43 points from 2009 to 2010. Votto can get better which is a scary thought. He's already risen from great to the sublime. If he improves any further, it will raise again from the sublime to the ridiculous.

**UPDATE**  Question answered: Votto is the MVP.

Mets Go With Collins

The Mets apparently have hired Terry Collins to be their new manager. Collins has been away from the major league dugout as a skipper for eleven years. He has six years major league experience and five of those years included winning records. It was his last year in 1999 that was the only clunker in the bunch. But if you look at that California Angels team, you can't really pin the blame on Collins. It was an awful team. Before that, every team he managed (three years with the Astros and two others with the Angels) came in second place.

The Mets have to hope that managing is like riding a bike and that you can simply pick it back up again. Collins was a young 45 when he picked up his first opportunity managing the Astros. He'll be 61 when he manages the Mets this year. But you have to wonder why he's been away for so long. Did that last year in California burn his chances for a long time? His Angels team that season was 51-82 when he was fired. His replacement, a young man by the name of Joe Maddon replaced him for the remainder of the season and went 19-10. But it was a brutal team. How bad was it?

Chuck Finley was the best pitcher and he went 12-11. Every other starter had a losing record. There was the knuckleballer, Steve Sparks. There was the immortal Ken Hill and the perennial loser, Tim Belcher. There was a young Jarrod Washburn, who did terrible and there was Jack McDowell, pitching his last season. McDowell lost all four of his starts. And that was just the rotation.

The 1999 Angels featured two shortstops who didn't reach 100 in OPS+ when you added them both together. Their starting catcher had a 59 OPS+. The back up catcher, a young kid named Bengie Molina, finished with a 74 OPS+. Darin Erstad, his body ruined, was a first baseman by then and contributed with a 74 OPS+. Tim Salmon was almost done. The only offensive threat they had was Mo Vaughan, who was also nearing the end of his offensive seasons. That team finished dead last in the AL in batting and On Base Percentage and next to last in slugging.

So you really can't hold that team against Collins except for that nagging fact that Maddon finished so strongly. But you can wonder about all those second place finishes. Collins was the perennial Avis which is sort of like the Mets have been up until the last two years. And you have to wonder about the choice because of that reality. After eleven years away from the head job, can Collins get the Mets over the hump or is he simply a guy who will get them through the transition as they retool the next couple of years?

Collins was the front runner from the beginning and won out over the likes of Bob Melvin (thank goodness) and Wally Bachman (who would have been colorful). Time will tell how it all works out. Fortunately, it can't be much worse than the Manuel seasons.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Houston Astros An Interesting Team

Brad Mills certainly had a tough time out of the gate last year. It got so bad early that long-time stars, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, both asked to be traded. They got their wish and both got the playoff experiences they were hoping for. The Astros, meanwhile, didn't exactly roll over and play dead. After their funked out start, they came on strong and played very competitive baseball before fading a bit at the home stretch. Despite the team for sale, there is cause for modest hope that this team is in okay shape to field a competitive team.

First off, Mills seems to be a very good manager. The team finished eight games above its Pythagorean win-loss total based on its run differential. Mills seems to that rare mix of leader whose positive outlook is indefatigable and he seems to get the most out of his young players. He let young guys like Michael Bourn, Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson, Hunter Pence and Brett Wallace go out there and play everyday and all seemed more poised to become viable major league players. To be sure, there is still questions about whether Wallace will find himself and another player he let play, Tommy Manzella, seemed lost at times. But still, it's a promising starting point.

Pence and Keppinger had very fine seasons. Keppinger is a solid little player who walks more than he strike out, puts the ball in play and found a home at second base. His defense needs to improve but he looks like a guy who can live in the number two hole for many years to come. Pence almost became a star in 2010. He strikes out too much and walks too few at bats, but he had a solid season at the plate and let the team in homers, ribbies and runs scored.

After a disastrous move to sign Pedro Feliz, a move panned by everyone including this writer, the Astros didn't dwell on their mistake. Instead they moved Chris Johnson into the line up at third and he became their best hitter. His 123 OPS+ is a result of his slugging percentage and his batting average. He strikes out too much and he is far from patient at the plate with less than 20 walks. If he could be more selective and improve that category, he can be a star. He also needs to improve his defense which was far from stellar.

Wallace, obtained from the Blue Jays, was handed the first base job after Berkman left. He had some nice moments, but he too is a strikeout machine and shows little patience at the plate. He was a surprise in the field though and played more than adequately around that bag.

Michael Bourn's numbers are confusing. He steals a lot of bases and he is better than average at drawing a walk. But his batting average never got near being good enough to lead off and he does not drive the ball on a regular basis. He's a fantastic center fielder though with great defensive numbers. But he does need to pick up his average if he is going to be a viable lead off guy. And it wasn't a question of bad luck as he had a high BABIP.

The Astros have a pair of promising catchers in Quintero and Castro. Both did well on defense and threw out a good percentage of base stealers. But both finished with identical 59s in OPS+. Castro is only 23 and is one of their most highly touted young players. He should develop better with the stick and will probably the team's number one catcher before too long.

The Astros do need to figure out how long the Carlos Lee era lasts in Houston. Lee seems like a really old 34, is a terrible outfielder and his production was way down this past season. As the last remaining "star" of this team, he is a problem the Astros have to deal with. His offense has been overblown and he just isn't as good a player as people have thought. He still hits homers, but offers little else.

We'll have to deal with the pitching in another post as this one is getting long in the tooth. But Wandy Rodriguez is one of the most solid starters in baseball. Brett Myers stunned everyone with his success last year. The Astros need to figure out the rest among Norris, Figueroa, Wright and Happ. But there is enough there to give the Astros a chance to win three out of every five games.

There is mild optimism for this team. They have a good manager. They have young players that could develop into very good ones and they have a lovely ball park. In two years, they will also have a local television network like NESN and YES and that will improve their viability as well. Don't count the Astros out in 2011. They have little minor league depth, but they seem to be making the most out of what they do have.