Saturday, December 04, 2010

Berkman Great Pick Up for Cards...But Wait...

When this Fan first heard that the Cardinals had signed Lance Berkman, the first thought was, "Hey, the Cardinals got the Fan's sleeper pick for 2011." Then there was the thought that the Cardinals now had a good first baseman. But...wait...DOH! They already have a pretty good first baseman. So where is Pujols going to play?

According to the article reporting the signing, Berkman will be slated to play right field. Seriously? Berkman hasn't played the outfield since 2007. He has bad wheels. Even when he was an outfielder, he was good in left but terrible in right. Why would they play him in right? Oh yeah, they have another clunky fielder in left named Matt Holliday. Mr. Rasmus better get some new track shoes playing between those two guys.

Even so, the Cardinals could get a monster bounce back season from Berkman. And if that happens, then defense be darned. If Berkman hits like he is capable of hitting, he will easily earn his $8 million salary. But the Fan can't help wincing about that outfield defense. Berkman will not want to be a role player. He wants to play every day. He's used to being a star...the star. Perhaps his short time in New York gave him a dose of what it's like not being the big man anymore.

A while back, this writer included Lance Berkman as one of the sleeper hits of the 2010/2011 off season. But the Fan's thinking there was as a first baseman or a DH. It's just hard picturing him as an every day outfielder at this point in his career. Again, we'll see how it all turns out.

What the Padres Get

Many baseball fans are gnashing their teeth that the powerful Boston Red Sox snatched away the Padres best young player. While we can debate whether the Padres should have kept him for another season to see if they could again compete, let's for now at least concentrate on what they received. According to reports, they get: Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and a player to be named later. Here is a run down of these new Padres:

Casey Kelly: Boston's first round draft pick in the 2008 draft, Kelly is the best prospect in the Red Sox system, rated a five start prospect. Kelly is a shortstop who is also a pitcher, more likely the other way around. In his first year in the Red Sox system, he hit more homers than he gave up as a pitcher. He has three pitches that he can throw for strikes with a fastball currently at 89-93. His future appears to be as a pitcher. He pitched at Double A, Portland this past year and he gave up a lot of hits, but his strikeout and walk rates looked good and he was fairly stingy with homers allowed. The hits are a bit of a concern. With the Padres history of developing pitchers, Kelly should be a good major league pitcher. Kelly is 21 and at 6'3" he is a little slighty at 195 pounds.

Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo was not drafted until the 7th Round in 2007, but he is only 21 and has already been named one of the Red Sox best prospects. He bats left and throws left and he's a big kid at six foot, three and 220 pounds. Rizzo has slugged nearly .500 his last two years in the minors with 25 homers and 100 RBI in both seasons. He strikes out a lot and could be a bit more patient at the plate. He bats left and throws left and as a first baseman, he's not going to remind a lot of people of Gonzalez with the glove. Baseball Prospectus rates him as a three star prospect but says he could develop into a top notch power hitter in the majors.

Reymond Fuentes: Fuentes was the best player in Puerto Rico in 2008 and was the Red Sox Number 1 draft pick in 2009. According to BP: "Multiple scouts use the word "explosive" when describing Fuentes. He has fantastic bat speed with a lot of plate coverage, and consistently centers balls on the bat while using all fields. Scouts think he'll develop gap power with double-digit home-run production once his skinny frame fills out. He's a 70 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, which helps him wreak havoc both in center field and on the basepaths." He is raw though and it will take some time to develop into a major league player. In Class A in 2010, Fuentes put up the following slash line: .270/.328/.377. Not overly exciting numbers, but he did steal 42 bases. His strikeouts weren't too bad, but he wasn't very patient at the plate. But he's only 19 years old and has his future in front of him.

The old player to be named later: You know how that goes...

Again, we could spend this time debating if the Padres should have or should not have traded Adrian Gonzalez. Personally, this Fan thinks it's a sad development. But the Padres got what are considered three of the top six prospects in the Red Sox system including two former Number 1 picks. It would have been nicer if the Padres could have gotten talent they could use right now. Prospects are always a fighting against the odds proposition. But if all develop the way the scouts and the experts predict, the Padres got a haul. It's just too bad they had to lose such a class act and local hero.

Considering the A. J. Pierzynski Deal

At the same time it was announced that the Adam Dunn deal had been reached with the White Sox, it was also announced that catcher, A. J. Pierzynski had re-upped with the team for two more years. The Fan's immediate thought was, "Well, one out of two ain't bad." However, since this writer endeavors to have somewhat of an open mind, a search was made on the deal and on Pierzynski's value to the White Sox. Surprisingly, the deal makes sense from just about every angle.

First, the deal is for peanuts. Pierzynski will earn $2 million in 2011 and $6 million in 2012. It seems odd that those numbers aren't reversed, but it really doesn't matter. Just average it out to $4 million a year and go by that. According to Fangraphs, Pierzynski was worth $7 million in 2010 and Baseball Prospectus projects Pierzynski to be worth $11 million over the next two years. How can that be, you ask?

It all has to do with positional value. Each position on the diamond is given a positional value. The catcher has the highest positional value followed by the shortstop and so on. The positional value for catchers is 12.5 for 162 games. Catchers who catch a percentage of those 162 games are given that percentage of the positional value. Hopefully, the Fan hasn't lost you yet because this is hard enough for this old brain to understand. Anyway, since Pierzynski always catches a high percentage of the White Sox's games, he gets a 9.4 positional value. Got that? Okay....moving on...

Okay, next is replacement value. The Fan doesn't get this one at all, but the way it works is that there are 20 points (runs) of value for every 600 plate appearances. If you take Pierzynski's plate appearances (503) that works out to a percentage of 83.83833333% (503 divided by 600). If you multiply the 20 times the percentage just listed, you get 16.77777 of the 20 replacement points. Round that up to 16.8 and that's what Pierzynski was assigned for replacement points. Now we can do the math on his value.

Add 16.8 (replacement value) plus 9.4 (positional value) plus 2 (fielding value - he had a good year) and then subract 11.2 (his negative offensive  value) and you come up with 16.9 Runs Above Replacement which boils down to a 1.8 WAR and a value of $7 million. Whew. This brain hurts.

Again, Baseball Prospectus projects Pierzynski to be worth around $5.7 million in 2011. Bill James just came out with his projections and he is even more high on the catcher for 2011 and thinks his offensive numbers will be better than in 2010. That has to be based on the fact that his walk rate was the lowest he's had since 2002 and that his BABIP was .278 and should bounce back to at least .290. If James is right, then Pierzynski should be worth at least the $7 million he was worth in 2010. The only question is if Pierzynski will get the playing time he's always had before.

The answer seems to be yes. The other White Sox catcher is Ramon Castro, a twelve year veteran who is the same age as Pierzynski. Castro actually seems to hit better and his percentage of base runners caught is just a bit higher, but there is no doubt that Castro is the back up catcher. His salary is a true indicator of how the White Sox feel about the two.

Most of what you read about Pierzynski is that the pitching staff loves throwing to the guy. So if you add that to the fact that his salary will be a bargain to the White Sox, blunts a bit the observation that he was the 20th most valuable catcher in baseball last year despite catching more games than just about everybody. The White Sox need to have enough offense to cover for Pierzynski's offensive weakness, but that is what Dunn was hired to do. If they bring Konerko back, scoring runs won't be an issue with or without Pierzynski.

The Fan's gut reaction to the announcement of the Pierzynski deal was wrong and maybe it wanted to be right because Pierzynski is such an unlikeable guy (for anyone who isn't a fan of the White Sox). But even so, the gut reaction was wrong. This deal makes fiscal sense for the White Sox and it's a good move for the team as a whole.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Forget the (John) Maine

Forgive this Fan for being a bit dense on the latest course of Mets decision making. From what Terry Collins is saying, they are in deep talks with 31 year old, broken pitcher, Chris Young, formerly of the Padres, whose best season included a 128 ERA+ but has a 105 career ERA+ and yet have non-tendered their own broken 29 year old pitcher, John Maine, whose best season was a 122 ERA+ and has a career ERA+ of 98. The most games Young has ever won was 12. The most games Maine has won is 15. Granted, that's basically it for both pitchers as far as glory goes.

But it goes beyond that. Maine was non-tendered because it was feared that he would possibly make $4 million in arbitration. Young made nearly $7 million last year and will not be signed for much less than what Maine would have made.

Maine's most famous recent memory was getting mad at Jerry Manuel for taking him out of a game when he was obviously hurt. Maine didn't want to leave the game. Many viewed Maine as a trouble maker from that incident. But to this Fan's perspective, that made Maine look like a fighter and a competitor. Yeah, such antics would have gotten Maine hurt worse because he didn't know how to listen to his doctors and take care of himself. But at least he had fire in his belly. That made an impact on this observer.

But this is what this Fan doesn't understand. Everybody in the world is looking for pitching. At least 25 of the 30 teams will be searching around for pitching when their big Winter Meetings commence on Sunday. Why give up on a guy like Maine over $4 million? That's chump change in the MLB. Maine was once an effective pitcher. The Mets have to feel strongly that those days are behind Maine.

That is what this all looks like. The Mets didn't believe Maine can ever be an effective pitcher again. Yet they do believe Chris Young can be. Good luck with that. Broken pitchers are tough to put a lot of faith in. But in this day and age when everyone is looking for pitching, it would have seemed worth the Mets while to hold on to Maine at least one more year to see if there is anything left there. When he was healthy, he was a pretty darned good pitcher.

But then again, maybe this writer just likes his last name and feels defensive that nobody wants it...whoops...him.

Mariano Rivera's Deal: Conflicting Emotions

The news last night that the Yankees had agreed to a two year deal worth $30 million was received with both glee and gloom. On the one hand, the thought of the regal Rivera hunching over the mound as he starts his delivery has become one of the true joys of baseball life. On the other hand, the pitcher is over 40 and no matter how automatic he has appeared, he has to fall victim to age sooner or later. The thoughts of an ineffective Rivera getting boxed around repeatedly is nightmarish and scary.

We want all of our heroes to ride into the sunset like Gary Cooper. Unbeaten, unchallenged, we want heroes to go out on top after one more defining moment. For many of us, that moment was the 2009 World Series when Rivera was again the King of the Closers sealing his fifth ring in a triumphant career. That would have been a good moment to get on the horse, say goodbye to the kid and ride off. But that didn't happen. The hero stayed another season and it was another good one. Five hundred notches were written from his gun. A milestone like that would have been another good time to ride away.

But Rivera won't ride away. And why should he as long as people are willing to pay him $15 million a year to pitch 60 to 70 innings? Some sources indicated that he was offered a three year deal for more money by another team and that's why the Yankees closed the deal so fast. That's possible. But that would have been like Rivera joining forces with the miners instead of the ranchers. So he took less money and two years from the Yankees and for an aging hero, there is risk ahead.

We already know that closers are vastly overrated. Oh, Rivera is worth his salary based on his performance. But there is the lingering thought that another good arm could do nearly as well. But Rivera has gone beyond what we all know intrinsically and has become a legend. His legend will live on for many years to come and it is perfectly likely that he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. But no one who loves the legend and the hero behind it wants the legend to gain some bullet holes in it.

Sure, some say that the 2001 World Series was his fault. Geez, a bloop, broken-bat single over a drawn in infield? Please. Some say the legend was dinged again by the 2004 Red Sox. On the contrary, the legend made the Red Sox story that much more compelling and dramatic. The legend is intact. For now.

But Rivera is moving into Trevor Hoffman territory. It was painful to watch Hoffman's struggles last year for the Brewers. Hoffman actually had a good second half, so the story was at least palatable by the end, but Hoffman throws more than one pitch. Mariano Rivera throws one pitch. That one pitch combined with Rivera's uncanny ability to repeat his delivery, hit his spots and break bats has carried him all these years. If the pitch fails him, what does he turn to?

There was sadness in the boy's face when Gary Cooper rode away. The boy didn't want Cooper to leave. But Cooper leaving when he did was what kept him a legend in that boy's mind forever. The same would have happened if Rivera had ridden away after never faltering through all these years. This boy doesn't want him to leave. His grace, carriage and class teaches us each time he takes the mound. But so help this Fan, this writer won't be able to watch if Rivera stops being effective and can no longer dominate. That would be much too painful.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Bobby Jenks Was Better Than He Looked

The White Sox have non-tendered Bobby Jenks, thus avoiding having to pay him upwards of $9 million if they kept the pitcher through arbitration. Jenks has battled injuries the past year and the White Sox and particularly Ozzie Guillen soured on the closer. But was Jenks as bad as it looked? This Fan doesn't think so.

Jenks' walks were up slightly per nine, but he struck out a healthy 10.4 batters per nine innings and had an impressive 3.39 K/BB ratio, the second best of his career. His hits per nine innings were the highest of his career, at 9.2, but that seemed to be bad luck. His BABIP was very high at .344. He only gave up three homers for an excellent 0.5 per nine. So the only difference really between Jenks of two years ago and in 2011 was a few more walks and a lot of batted balls that fell in somewhere.

And Jenks was nails in 2011 in June and really struggled right after that. The eternal question is whether his ERA was 0.75 in June because his BABIP for the month was .259, or was his BABIP .259 because he pitched really well. The same in July. Was his ERA 7.56 because his BABIP in July was .445? Or was his BABIP .445 really high because he didn't pitch well? So confusing, eh?

The Fan guesses that the real question is Jenks' long term health potential? If he is going to be prone to injuries from here on out because of the violence of his delivery or can he get back to an even keel with his health. If he can be healthy, there is no reason why he can't reestablish his reputation and standing with another team and then continue on to a productive career. His numbers were far worse than he pitched last year. At least, that's the way this Fan sees it..

Surprise! Adam Dunn Lands in Chicago

Sources are reporting that Adam Dunn has agreed to a four year deal with the Chicago White Sox for a reported $56 million a year. The White Sox had little production last year from the DH position and Dunn should give them an honest to goodness slugger for the next few years. The deal is probably one year too long, but the money (if averaged to $14 a year) is very close to his projected worth according to Baseball Prospectus. Since the White Sox will not put a glove on Dunn, the deal is even sweeter for Chicago's American League team.

The White Sox made a mistake last year when they allowed Jim Thome to walk and it probably cost them the division. That's probably too easy to say at face value, but Thome mashed for the Twins who did win the division while the White Sox languished all year in that spot. Manny Ramirez was acquired late in the season because of their lack of production, but Ramirez couldn't drive the ball and wasn't much help.

As written in this spot last week, Dunn is about as consistent a producer as there is. He should give the White Sox 35 to 40 homers, drive in 100 runs and walk nearly 100 times. If the White Sox keep Konerko too, the team will certainly score more runs in 2011. With their rotation, that could be enough to give them the edge over the Twins, a team where a lot has to go right next year, particularly if they stand pat.

There are only two concerns this Fan can think of. First, Dunn has never played in the American League. It is unknown if he will be able to maintain his numbers facing different pitchers in a different league. He hit his share of homers in last year's interleague match ups, but only batted .222 in a small sample size. The other concern is facing left handed pitching. He only had a .719 OPS against lefties last year and his batting average against them was under .200.

Kenny Williams did well on this one. He probably went a year too long, but again, according to BP, his numbers should hold up for the duration of the deal. Ozzie might be only a tad disappointed that his new DH doesn't steal bases.

The Puzzle of J. J. Hardy

When the Twins acquired J. J. Hardy from the Brewers before the start of the 2010 season, this Fan was excited for the Twins. After years of Mr. Gardenhire's man-crush on Nick Punto, the Twins actually seemed to make the right deal for a shortstop who was as good in the field as Punto (well, nearly so) and could actually be a big league hitter. But Hardy was pretty much a non-factor for the Twins' successful season and for the second straight year, played 115 games or less and offered little on offense. In 2007 and 2008, this guy appeared to be on the cusp of being a star. Was that who he still is? Or were we fooled?

One clue is to look at his minor league statistics. He was never an offensive powerhouse in the minors. He finished his minor league career with a slugging percentage of just over .400 and an OPS of .735. Those are adequate numbers for a slick-fielding shortstop, but that's why it was such a surprise when he posted slugging percentages of .463 and .478 respectively in 2007 and 2008. And in 2008, he developed more patience at the plate and garnered a career high On Base Percentage of .343.

But he has sunk since then. 2009 was dismal and got so bad that at one point, the Brewers shipped him down to the minors. he finished that season with a slash line of .229/.302/.357. Last year wasn't much better and he was injured several times during the year. But he still brought it with the glove and his 93 OPS+ was better than anything Punto could muster. But he seemed like he was going to be a much better player than this.

Perhaps Hardy was discouraged from his home park, which is definitely a pitchers' park. His OPS on the road was a good 108 points higher than at home. He seems to have trouble with finesse pitchers and his numbers against power pitchers and pitchers with medium speed are just fine. So maybe his troubles relate to his approach with breaking balls. His other approaches seemed okay as most of his batted balls went up the middle. But there really aren't any solid answers there either.

Perhaps the bottom line is that he wasn't feeling well. Hardy was much better in the second half last season. He had an .863 OPS in July and almost .800 in September/October. He seemed to fare well in high leverage situations. Maybe he'll still come around and be a fine shortstop in the league.

But there is something else here. He seems to be the kind of player managers give up on. He quickly grew out of favor in Milwaukee and they couldn't wait to trade him. Gardenhire didn't seem to trust him last year and he batted most of the year at the bottom of the line up and was often a pinch hit target. What is it about his game and or his make up that doesn't inspire his managers? Any guess would be speculation by this writer.

The bottom line is that in 2007 and 2008, Hardy appeared headed for stardom. Now his future is cloudy after two sub-par years. This Fan still believes he has the talent to be a very good player. But this Fan has often been wrong too. We'll just have to see how it goes.

World Champ Giants Off to a Rough Post Season Start

To this point, the Giants' post season has consisted of losing their World Series hero, then another hero to the Dodgers and in return have signed a trio of baseball geezers. With all due respect to Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell for their contributions to the Giants' World Series season, the two can't be counted on to provide that much production again. Then, when Juan Uribe was lost to the Dodgers, the Giants replaced him with the aging Miquel Tejada. What's next? Are they going to trade for Ivan Rodriguez?

Aubrey Huff had a wonderful year in 2010 and with his $3 million salary was the steal of the year. His ..891 OPS made him one of the most productive hitters in the National League. But it's not hard to forget that his OPS the year before was .694. Huff did have a great year in 2008, but he was basically league average for the four years prior to that. There is simply no guarantee that he can produce like he did on a  regular basis. And this year, after his Series swoon contract was signed, he won't be a bargain this year either.

The terms of Burrell's deal haven't been announced. Fortunately, it appears to be a one year deal. So there isn't much risk involved there. Burrell can be helpful as he takes a lot of pitches, gives you good on base numbers and he still has some pop in his bat when the ball accidentally hits there. But he's a drag in left field and he wears down when he plays every day. He's a role player at best and should get 300 at bats.

The Miguel Tejada deal was just depressing. Tejada has bounced around now for several years. Again, the deal is for only a year, and his salary will be earned just playing shortstop because of the positional bump. But the guy is long past his prime, is not close to being the player Uribe is and his fielding will affect guys like Matt Cain whose strong suit is pitching to contact.

Thus, the Giants are centering itself with a core of old guys that may or may not be helpful this year. Huff will likely hit. Burrell will likely struggle and Tejada will offer little. If it wasn't for Buster Posey, this story would seem to suffer from a lack of Geritol.

Look, we all get that the Giants live and die with their pitching. They throw the ball from the mound as good as anybody. But the team can't always count on only pitching to carry the day. The line up and the fielding has to have some dynamic talent, not a bunch of old guys. Cody Ross is a nice player and all, but when he's your second or third best position player, that's kind of scary.

Who knows. It's easy to speculate in November and to question a team's strategy. The proof will be in the season the Giants have while defending their title. This Fan just isn't getting it though.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

So You Need A Starting Pitcher...

De La Rosa is off the market. Westbrook is signed. Kuroda signed. It's a pretty good bet that Pavano will stay with the Twins. Who is left? Well, there's Cliff Lee and Kevin Millwood. Yeesh. That's like choosing between a Mercedes and a Yugo. That's like shopping for a house and only having a mansion and a shack to choose from. Yikes.

So if a team needs starting pitching, what can they do? With a dearth of free agent pitchers, some will need to get creative. There are broken but supposedly near fixed pitchers like Jarrod Washburn and Webb. You can coax Pedro Martinez out of the Dominican. You can find out how Messina is liking retirement. Or...what?

Trading for pitching seems to be the only option left, especially if you don't have anybody ready in the minors. Supposedly Greinke is available. But the Royals will want bucket loads in return. Say so long to your best prospects and at least one every day player. Tampa is a possibility. The Bay Rays might part with Shields and/or Garza if the price is right. Anyone wanting to trade with the Bay Rays will have a little more leverage than the KC/Greinke avenue because the Bay Rays want to clear money from their budget. The Blue Jays might be willing to part with one of their starters for the right price.

But good luck with all of that. Most teams are hording pitching if they have it. The Red Sox stockpile it like rabid survivalists. It's easier to get a gallon of water in Walmart the day before a hurricane than it is to find starting pitchers these days. Perhaps it is time for teams to take a chance with their minor league talent. How many Double and Triple A pitchers are deemed, "not ready," when in reality, they can't be any worse in a rotation than Brian Moehler.

There is a tendancy in baseball to rely on the experienced pitcher. There is a comfort factor with a lot of teams in a guy that's been around for a while. But the reality is that a lot of "experienced" pitchers are bloody awful. How long have the Moehlers and Millwoods been floating around? And yet, somebody will always pick them up and say to its fans: "Moehler is battle tested and has fought the wars for a long time." Yeah, okay, maybe so, but the guy is going into a high tech battle with a pea shooter.

There have to be guys in the high minors that can pitch just as well as Kevin Millwood. There just has to be. There has to be guys down there that have been career minor league players who simply know how to pitch but have never reached the majors. How bad can they do? Plus, they will be a heck of a lot cheaper than Kevin Millwood and might even pitch better.

There is only one Cliff Lee on the market. Just about everything else (besides Pavano, but the Twins will sign him) is Melba toast. Teams will have to scour the earth to find people that can pitch. But this Fan bets they are out there. And judging by the pitching going on for some teams, they can't do any worse.

All Nine Positions In A Game

There are a few standard trivia questions that get passed around concerning baseball. One of them is: What player has played all nine positions in a major league baseball game? The answer given is usually Cesar Tovar. It seems that Tovar's game has become famous as a unique adventure. But others have lived the odyssey as well. There are four players that have played all nine positions in a game: Tovar, Bert Campenaris, Shane Halter and Scott Sheldon. The latter two were the last and they did both did it in 2000. Bert Campenaris did it first (as far as we know) in 1965, three years before Tovar. But few remember anyone but Tovar. Though considered sort of an prankish sort of feat much like pitching with both arms, it does make for an interesting story.

It seems fair to start with Bert Camparis since he did it first. Campaneris was a Cuban player that began his career in 1964 with the Kansas City Athletics. He was one of the few players that spanned the A's history from the years in KC through the early years in Oakland and then to the powerhouse A's teams of 1970s. Campy, as he was nicknamed, was the A's shortstop for many years and their lead off batter. Known for his speed, he averaged 51 stolen bases for eight seasons between 1965 and 1972. But despite all the stolen bases, he wasn't much of an offensive player. He never scored 100 runs and he never had much of an OBP. He also wasn't that great a shortstop as he made a lot of errors. But he was Campy, and that team was great during his years and thus he seemed to have a better career than he actually did. The truth is, he was a lousy lead off batter other than three years of his career.

But in his second year, on September 8, 1965, Campaneris played all nine defensive positions. He started at shortstop and moved methodically around the diamond. He started at short, then moved to second, then third, then left, then center, then right, then first, then he pitched and finally he caught. Through all of that, he went 0-3 with a walk and a run scored and he stole his 49th base of the season. The Athletics were in last place, 35 1/2 games behind the leader. They played the Angels that day who weren't much better. The Angels were 23 games back and in seventh place. As we will see as we go along, this kind of thing doesn't happen on contending teams.

Campanaris played 39 games in the outfield that season, so that wasn't particularly novel. But the game featured the only time in his career that he played first, catcher, right field or pitched. The funny thing was that he got a chance at every position. He did make an error in right field though.

It was the eighth inning when Campy came in to pitch. The A's were leading at the time, 3-2. The second Angel run scored on Campy's error in right field. Campaneris got the first out on a Jose Cardinal pop up to second. But then Pearson walked and Fregosi walked. Adcock followed with a single to score Pearson but then, mercifully, Knoop hit into a double play. The inning pitched would today be known as a blown save in a game the A's lost in 13 innings. Perhaps the A's didn't care about losses at that point in the season, but starting pitcher, Dick Joyce couldn't have been too happy to lose out on a win. It was a memorable stunt, but the reality is that it cost the A's the game.

Tovar's game came in 1968 on September 22. Tovar was from Venezuela and was a contemporary of Campanaris as Tovar debuted a year after Campy did. But for a stretch between 1966 through 1972, Tovar was the much better player. Tovar was ahead of his time and was a super utility guy that happened to play every day. He played over 200 games in his career at several positions including third base, second base, left field, centerfield and right field. He also played 77 games at shortstop. But he only had one appearance as a catcher, a pitcher and a first baseman and that was on September 22, 1968.

The game was in Minnesota at Metropolitan Stadium and the Twins played the Athletics. Campaneris was on the other side watching someone else pull off his trick this time. But unlike Campanaris, Tovar was the starting pitcher so at least he couldn't blow somebody else's game. But he wouldn't have as his inning on the mound went really well. Campenaris popped out foul to third, Reggie Jackson struck out. Danny Cater walked and then Tovar balked him to second. But Cater died there as Tovar got Sal Bando to foul out. That's a good inning!

Tovar then caught the second inning. Tom Hall relieved him on the mound and pitched a great game. Tovar then went to first base in the third. He had one chance there, but it would have been a tough one as he got a ground ball and had to feed the pitcher covering first. But it was successfully completed. Tovar moved to second in the fourth and caught a pop up. The then went to short in the fifth with no action other than covering second. It was on to third in the sixth and got no action. He moved to left in the seventh and got two putouts on a liner and a fly ball. It was on to center in the eighth and he had one putout on a fly ball that ended up being a sacrifice fly. He played right in the ninth with no action and his mission was complete. Tovar went 1-3 in the game with a stolen base, a run scored and a walk. The Twins won the game.

Jose Oquendo played with the Mets and the Cardinals from 1983 to 1985. He had the nickname of, "Secret Weapon." The name would fit because of all the positions he played (he pitched in three games in his career) but he wasn't that great a player. He had two decent seasons in 1988 and 1989. But other than his super utility status, he didn't have that great a career AND he never played all nine positions in a game. He played all nine positions in the 1988 season, but that's not the same thing (though impressive). And thus, we once again learned not to believe everything we read.

We jump now to the year 2000 when two players pulled this stunt. One of them was Shane Halter, a thoroughly forgettable player who played all or parts of eight seasons for the Royals, Mets, Tigers and Angels. He was only a semi-regular for two seasons (2001, 2002) and those seasons were his only seasons with a WAR above zero. Halter's claim to fame again came from being a super utility guy. He played over fifty games at five different positions and more than 15 games at seven positions. He also caught twice and pitched twice. He had the game of his life though on the last day of the season (October 1) in 2000. That was the game he played all nine positions, batted 4-5 with four RBIs and he scored two runs including the game winning run in the ninth inning. In between, he played all nine positions. He only pitched to one batter and that batter walked, so Halter didn't even have an ERA that season.

Halter started the game at first base and in the inning, fielded a grounder from David Ortiz that he flipped to Moehler to get the out. In the second inning he moved to third and had one grounder that he fielded without problems. He went to right field in the third and didn't have any putouts, but he got his exercise running down two doubles to the gap. The next inning he went to center and had a putout on a fly ball, then it was to left field in the fifth. He did not get any putouts there, but there were two doubles hit his way. There is no telling from the box score if a better fielder would have had them. But if Moehler was upset about all the doubles, he should have stopped pitching where they could hit the ball to Halter.

Halter played short in the sixth and did not have any assists or putouts, but he was certainly busy as the Twins scored five times in the inning. Halter must have been running around a lot that inning too. In the seventh, Halter went behind the plate. The move forced Brad Ausmus to move to third. Halter got his money's worth behind the plate as the Twins scored three more runs and he was back there a long, long time. In the eighth, he pitched to and walked the first batter and then moved to second base, where he stayed the rest of the game.

Scott Sheldon might have had the most undistinguished career of this bunch. He played a total of only 141 major league games spread out over five seasons. But again, he played all over the field  He had multiple games at seven different positions, but only pitched and played first base once, on September 6, 2000 in Comiskey Park II. And unlike the three previous instances we've talked about, this one game for Sheldon seems like a fluke that wasn't planned. The White Sox blew out the Rangers in the game 13-1 and were ahead in the game 10-0 by the bottom of the second. Secondly, Sheldon didn't even get into the game until the fourth inning. Entering the game so late, he had to move fast to play all the positions. It helped that he entered the game as a catcher, replacing Bill Hasselman. He moved to first in the fifth. He played short and second in the sixth. He played right and center in the sixth and then he went to left in the seventh.

It was the eighth inning where it really got interesting. He started the inning in left for his seventh position. Then he pitched a third of an inning, striking out Liefer for his only batter. Then he went to third to finish out the game.

And there you have it. A complete run down of the four guys that played all nine positions in the same game. Of current major league players, only Bill Hall seems like a current candidate to repeat the "history" of this stunt. Hall has played multiple positions...everything really...except catcher. Hall has even pitched and was recorded with an 89 MPH fastball. If the feat is going to be done again, Bill Hall is the guy. But again, the feat requires a meaningless game played by a team going nowhere.

***UPDATE***  Was just thinking: If a player would start the game at DH, this record can be broken! There could be ten positions in the game. Of course, the AL team would have to go without the DH the rest of the game...

Jason Frasor Smart to Take Arbitration

Jason Frasor really had no choice but to accept the Blue Jays' offer of arbitration. Despite a high bar set for setup relievers by the Joaquin Benoit's deal with Detroit, Frasor really wasn't in a position to cash in on what will be a banner year for relievers. Which is tough luck for Frasor because he is really good at what he does.

Frasor's problem was being saddled as a Type A free agent. So even though he has a golden arm and knows how to use it, no team would give up two draft picks for a reliever. No matter how good the reliever is, that's a poor value proposition for teams to make. Frasor should sue whatever organization makes up the free agent ranking system.

But Frasor will be okay. Either his arbitration case will use the Benoit signing as a baseline or the Blue Jays will offer him a decent contract now that they have no choice but to keep him. By accepting the arbitration offer, Frasor guaranteed himself a job with the Blue Jays for 2011. This Fan has to wonder if the Blue Jays would rather have had the draft picks.

But Frasor's decision will be worth it to the Blue Jays too. He will cost them some money (and those two lost draft picks), but Frasor is terrific out of the bullpen. He struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings in 2010 and had a sterling homer per nine rate of 0.6 (0.8 for his career). Frasor walked more batters this year than in 2009 and he gave up more hits. But the hits are due in part to a high BABIP of .320. Plus, Frasor was much more effective in the second half than in the first. In the second half, he was just as effective as his 2009 season (his best in the majors) but the first half stats skewed his results for the entire year.

This Fan may be dense, but the whole Type A and Type B thing has the Fan completely stumped. Frasor is a Type A but Kerry Wood is a Type B as is Kevin Gregg? It all seems rather arbitrary and it ends up costing guys like Frasor a lot of money because he isn't the type of risk/reward that would warrant a team to give up two draft picks to sign him.

But that's where Frasor found himself and accepting arbitration buys him another year and perhaps then, he'll get a different rating or perhaps, smarter still, this silly system will go away and be replaced by something that makes sense. Meanwhile, Frasor has a home for another year and the Blue Jays have the services of a great reliever.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If Not Tulo, Then Who?

Keith Law was just one dissenter in the seven year extension the Rockies just bestowed (or are about to bestow) on Troy Tulowitzki. The signing means that the Rockies have Tulowitzki locked up until the 2020 season with an option for 2021. The prevailing opinion is that the deal is too long and contains too much risk. The Fan disagrees and Tulowitzki is probably the only player on the market where the Fan would make this length of a deal.

Keith Law compared the contract to the Ryan Howard deal for incredulity. But Howard doesn't add the value that Tulowitzki does.  There is nobody in baseball like Tulowitzki. He stands alone as the best shortstop in the game today. He has it all. He hits for power. He hits for average. And he is superb at his position. That combination exists to any degree in one other shortstop in baseball: Stephen Drew and Drew's numbers don't compare to Tulo's. These two shortstops were the two of the three regular shortstops in the majors that were in the plus column for both hitting value and fielding value. Uribe was the other (though just barely).

There were only five shortstops that finished above the zero line in value on offense: Tulowitzki, Drew, Hanley Ramirez, Uribe and Jose Reyes. And Tulowitzki was on top of the list with a 31.9. Hanley Ramirez was a distant second (in an off year) at 25.9.  Drew was third at 13.0.

There were only eight shortstop in the majors that ended up with a value of over $10 million in 2010. We are not exactly in the golden age of shortstops. And to have so many shortstops under $10 million in value despite getting a 7.5 positional punch and a 20 replacement punch and that's pretty sad. According to the value charts, Derek Jeter was the ninth highest rated shortstop despite what many consider to be a terrible season.

In short, players like Tulowitzki don't come around very often. And when you compare shortstops around baseball as apposed to first baseman, where there are at least fourteen that are seriously productive, Tulowitzki is the cream of the crop.

Many have taken great pains to point out how expensive Tulowitizki will be in the back end of this deal. But if you factor in his value over the life of the next ten years, the Rockies should get their money's worth because they are getting a bargain for the next four years. For example, he will make around $5 million in 2011 and he was worth almost $26 million in 2010 even though he missed some playing time.

Baseball Prospectus projects Tulowitzki as a $28 million dollar player in 2011, $26.5 million in 2012 and sliding down about $1.3 million a year every year after that. According to their projections, he should still be worth $19.5 million in 2018. If you added all that value up, according to their projections, Tulowitzki's values should come almost dead on with what he is being paid. The only real risk, according to BP is in the last two years of the contract and the Rockies have already taken care of that in 2020 when only $14 million is guaranteed.

The only real precedent for this deal at this position is Derek Jeter. And Jeter arguably played terrific in eight of the ten years of his contract. The Fan thinks that the Rockies would be happy with similar results from Tulowitzki and Tulo is a much better fielder than Jeter ever was and he has much more power.

To sum up the Fan's feelings on all of this, Tulowitzki is the best player at a position that does not have a lot of talent around the majors. The projections on Tulo seem to add up to what he will be making. That combination seems to be a sweet deal for both Tulowitzki and for the Rockies and certainly for the fans of the Rockies.

PED Use - The New Scarlet Letter

The Hall of Fame ballot for 2011 was announced the other day. But it wasn't announced with the usual press release. The opening line of the piece reads: "Suspected steroid users Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez are on baseball's Hall of Fame ballot for the first time... "  The Fan's first thought upon reading that sentence was, "Oh, for crying out loud." What a negligent way of putting a news story out there. Here's why.

First, starting the article with such a negative connotation takes away from the honest (perhaps) contributions of those on the ballot who did not do anything wrong. Instead of celebrating their careers and talking about their Hall of Fame contributions, we are immediately slapped across the forehead with that opening line. What a disservice to all the players on the ballot by featuring a couple of tainted players.

And secondly, PED users have become the new sex offenders of baseball. There must be a database somewhere that automatically spits out these people's names every time they are mentioned in public. "Rafael Palmeiro"... EEEEHHHHHTTTT....BEEP BEEP...[[siren goes off]]. There must be some Internet code created to put that information along side each of their names whenever they are mentioned.

We have always done this in America, haven't we? That's why the Scarlett Letter is one of our most famous works of literature. We love nothing better than putting labels on people. Mention a director of motion pictures and immediately comes: "Blacklisted in the 1950s." Pamela Anderson...former Baywatch star." "Halderman - part of the Watergate scandal." "Joe Jackson - Member of the 1919 Black Sox team." How long do people have to carry these letters on their foreheads?

Do you think Mark McGwire's name will ever be mentioned in print again without some sort of disclaimer? And at least get the fact straight when you do bring it up. Palmeiro wasn't a suspected user. He tested positive and admitted using. Same for McGwire and several others. "Suspected" paints a picture of tension hanging over the person's head. Palmeiro is already "outed" and is either wallowing in guilt or is laughing with all his millions. Who cares!?

As for Juan Gonzalez, this Fan can't remember if he was in the Mitchell Report or not. If he is, he's not "suspected." If he isn't, then he IS suspected, but unless we have proof, we should just shut up about it. How many posts will be written between now and the announcement of the Hall vote about whether or not Bagwell was a user.

Lord knows, the Fan knows he is spitting into the wind here. This stuff is going to happen from now until who knows when. Probably when McGwire passes away fifty years from now, the story will mention it. Probably what set the Fan off so much on this particular day was that the story led off so blatantly with that theme when it really should have been about Burt Blyleven and Robbie Alomar and some other worthy contenders. It should have celebrated their careers instead of putting them all on the same floor with the dregs of baseball's reputations. It was a shameful excuse for reporting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Good is Clay Buchholz?

Many people have lauded the Cy Young Award voting with Felix Hernandez winning the award despite not having an impressive won/loss record. This Fan agrees. Other than wins, King Felix led the American League in most pitching categories including WAR. But he was beaten in one category: ERA+. The winner there was Clay Buchholz. And yet, Buchholz finished sixth in Cy Young voiting. If we assume that this year's voters were much more statistically savvy, what turned them off to the young Red Sox hurler?

Part of the vote seems to be the K/BB ratio. All the pitchers that finished above Buccholz were over 3 in that category except Sabathia, whose 21 wins naturally pushed him higher on the list. Buchholz came in at 1.67 with 3.2 walks per nine and 6.2 strikeouts per nine. As Buchholz gets more reps, his strikeout rate has declined. He was at 6.7 in 2009 and over 8 the two partial years before that. And yet Buchholz had a marvelous season with a 17-7 record and a sparkling 2.33 ERA.

Jon Lester, whose ERA was higher than Buchholz finished higher on the Cy Young voting list. There is also the questions of BABIP and xFIP. Buchholz had a .263 average against on balls in play. That and some other statistics pushed his xFIP up to 4.20. There is a part of this Fan that still rebels against such numbers, but the truth is that guys with low BABIPs and low K/BB ratios are not going to get as much love.

The question of WAR is again troubling. B-R gave Buchholz a WAR of 5.4 in 2010 which would have placed him tied for second in the AL behind Hernandez. Fangraphs gave him a WAR of 3.7 which places him significantly down the list. So which one is closer to reality?

A couple of things factored into the success that Buchholz had in 2010. For one thing, his homers per nine innings were minuscule at 0.5. He only gave up nine homers all year. Though his fly ball percentage rose slightly from 28.6% in 2009 to 31.5% in 2010, his percentage of fly balls that went over the wall went from 15.7% in 2009 to a remarkable 5.6% in 2010. He also raised his infield flyball rate from 2.4% to 8.1%. That means that fewer of his fly balls went over the wall and he got more cheaper outs on infield fly balls than in 2009. That will certainly help a pitcher, eh?

Buchholz threw the same percentage of fastballs in 2010 as he did in 2009, but he threw more sliders and less curves and change ups. But one big difference is that the value placed on his fastballs were much higher. His fastball in 2010 was rated at 20.8 wins above average compared to having a negative value the year before. Good fastballs can either lead to more strikeouts (they did not) or weaker contact (seemingly). His slider and change up both had positive values but his curve finished in the negative numbers--probably a good reason he stopped throwing it so much.

Buchholz seemed to learn the trick of getting more strikes with less pitches thrown in the strike zone. His percentage of swings on pitches outside of the strike zone went up while his percentage of pitches in the strike zone went down. On the pitches outside of the zone, there was more batter contact--another good reason for his low BABIP, this Fan would say.

Buchholz, in this Fan's mind, learned how to pitch in 2010. By getting batters to swing at his pitches and at pitches just outside the zone, he produced more outs and had great success. He also induced 23 double plays in 2010, undoing some of the damage his base runners could have done otherwise. And Buchholz is only 26 years old.

Experts don't rate Buchholz as high as Lester because Lester puts more batters away without contact. Bill James gave Buchholz a projection of 13-9 with an ERA of 3.54 in 2011. That seems conservative. Buchholz may not be as good as Jon Lester, but he's going to be a great pitcher for the Red Sox for years to come.

We Need More Nicknames

Growing up and loving baseball, one of the best things about the game was its nicknames. There was the Terminator and the Mick and Smokey and Yogi. We had Yaz and Nails and Rags and Pags. And of course, before them all was the Babe. We tend for forget that though baseball is big business, it's played by a bunch of young people. Young people always come up with nicknames for people. It's just the way it works. When this writer did a book report in the sixth grade on The Hobbit, sure enough, the writer became Bilbo. But maybe the players make so much money now, we've lost a bit of that kids stuff. Nah. We are just in a bit of a dry spell.

There is a preponderance of hyphenated nicknames these days. Blame that on two things: rappers and Hollywood gossip reporters. There is J-Lo and Run-DMC to blame for all the A-Rod, K-Rod, Dice-K, Car-Go, A-Gon, etc. While those are easy to remember and great for Headline writing, they lack a bit of imagination. We have a Pudge, but that's a retread of an earlier Pudge. Top headline players like Adrian Beltre and Joey Votto don't even have nicknames. Though you could make a case that "Joey" is a nickname for a Joseph Votto. That's not the same thing.

There are also too many abbreviations. Was there ever as many as we had today? We have C.C and A.J (at least three come to mind) and B.J. and J.D. and C.J. and R.A. We have so many of them that it has become acceptable not to put a space between the letters, which is a pain in the neck looking them up on stat sites.

We do have a Donkey. We have Hip Hip Jorge, which is clever. But there just isn't enough nicknames to spark our fancy. Sandman is pretty cool. Wandy would be a pretty cool nickname if that was his nickname. But it's his real name. Where are the Mookies and the Boogs? How many players do we have today that we know by their nickname rather than their real name? No fan ever called Berra by his given name of Lawrence and nobody called Wilson by his given name of William. And when you search stat sites, you don't search for Lawrence Berra, you search for Yogi. And there he is too! There are no Cookies but we do have a Coco, probably the best nickname in the game today.

In fact, the trend has gone to more formal name calling. We have Jonathan and Hunter and Clayton and Justin. Perhaps the formalities symbolize the kind of value proposition players have now. It would hard to be business-like negotiating with Smokey. But don't you long for more names like Crash, Maz, Joltin' Joe, Casey and even a Sandy? We need Wee Willies and Big Trains and Hammerin' Hanks.

Some of the nicknames we do have are a bit weird. Big Papi? What the heck is that? Doc Halladay makes sense, but it's not imaginative enough. How does Doc Halladay compare to Dizzy Dean? Limply. King Albert is the best we can do? No, we've got to do better. When J-Roll is the best nickname of the Phillies, we have a problem. We need nicknames for Ryan Howard. Chase Utley? Sounds like a lawyer. Ryan Howard, one of the biggest players in baseball who is gigantic in stature should have a nickname. He has none. There is something wrong with that.

We are in dire need of nicknames. Every blog that covers a certain team should have a nickname contest and create some. Or we need to find the living descendants of Charles Finley so we can invent some more Blue Moons and Catfish names. We should have top minor league players start to list their nicknames, or better yet, have their teammates nominate some. Those names should be handed to the franchise publicist to trademark and exploit. Baseball without nicknames is boring. And "boring" already comes up too much around the country when baseball is mentioned.

Come on, people! Let's get the ball rolling. We need nicknames and we need them now.

Javier Vazquez Was Brian Cashman's Mistake...Again

Javier Vazquez (according to multiple reports) just signed with the Florida Marlins with a one year deal worth $7 million. That's not a bad paycheck for a guy who according to WAR brought zero value to the Yankees. With the travails of A. J. Burnett being so prominent on every one's mind, the Vazquez debacle was often overlooked. And the thing about the mistake in signing Vazquez was that it was the second time the Yankees made it.

In some aspects, it's hard to blame Mr. Cashman on what happened with Vazquez in 2010. The pitcher pitched quite well for the Braves the year before and compiled a 5.2 WAR for that team in 2009. The pitcher's fastball was in the 91 MPH range regularly with Atlanta and he struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.8 in those same nine innings. That's terrific pitching and it would seem reasonable that he could repeat it. And $11.5 million seems like a steal if a guy could come close to those kinds of numbers again.

But there had to be some hesitation based on Vazquez's first experience in New York. That year (2004) was Javier Vazquez's worst year since his sophomore season in 1999. And if you are Javier Vazquez, you have to have that in the back of your mind too when you are negotiating as a free agent and have choices on where you will pitch. So put a little blame on the player too. But like it or not, sometimes what a general manager does backfires and this was one of those occasions. The Yankees got no value at all for the money they spent on Vazquez.

And make no mistake about it, 2010 was a disaster. Only Shields of the Bay Rays gave up more homers than Vazquez and Shields pitched fifty more innings. Vazquez gave up 32 homers in just 151+ innings for a 1.8 homer per nine rate. He finished with an 80 ERA+. His fastball was in the 87 to 88 range instead of 91 (suitors for Cliff Lee take note). It's only 4 MPH, but it made a huge difference in results.

Well, we could also blame the departed pitching coach, Dave Eiland, who didn't help Vazquez get back on track. It's always good to have a fired guy to blame results on. You can also blame a couple of catchers who had really poor years behind the plate. Perhaps there is plenty of blame to go around. The bottom line though is that Vazquez was a bust for the Yankees and if he cost them three or four games, he cost them the AL East title.

Now Vazquez will go and play for his Puerto Rican buddy in Florida. The Marlins could get lucky as Vazquez has this quirky every other year thing going. Vazquez has thrived in the NL East before. The ball park in Miami doesn't yield homers easily which could help Vazquez. Maybe he will have a great year again. It's a gamble worth taking for the Fish.

And if he succeeds in Florida, then all Brian Cashman can do is scratch his head because the Yankees tried Vazquez twice and got bit twice for doing so.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taking Up the Chad Billingsley Challenge

In this space yesterday, this writer gave the Dodgers thumbs up on the Jon Garland signing. In the post this writer threw in as an aside that the move would make Chad Billingsley a terrific fifth starter. A comment suggested that this writer was all wet because there wasn't a knowledge of how effective Billingsley was last year. Many times, comments from "Anonymous" readers can be taken with a grain of salt, but just for the ego's sake, the Fan went and took a look at Billingsley's season. And you know what? The comment could be dead on.

Billingsley basically got lost in at least this writer's consciousness after a disastrous second half of the 2009 season. After a 9-4 first half that season, Billingsley went 3-7 with an ERA of 5.20. Opponents slugged .436 against him in the second half after slugging only .339 the first half. His struggles were magnified because the Dodgers were in the heat of a pennant race. He lost so much favor with Joe Torre that he was taken out of the rotation in the playoffs and only pitched one disastrous relief appearance against the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS.

Then in 2010, the Dodgers fell out of contention the last month of the season. Their season was lost in the shuffle of reporting and Billingsley finished an undazzling 12-11, the same record as 2009. It's safe to assume that the Fan (and perhaps others) simply figured that the same funk that Billingsley encountered in the second half of 2009 carried over into 2010. That assumption was incorrect. By all peripherals, Billingsley had a valuable year.

Billingsley finished with an ERA in 2010 of 3.57. It was good for a 109 ERA+ which is better than league average but not overly inspiring considering he pitches in a pitcher's park and pitches against weak hitting teams like the Padres and Giants. But his FIP was 3.07 which indicates that his season was much better than his final ERA indicates. Billingsley had his best BB/9 of his starting career, had a more than respectable 2.58 K/BB ratio and was better on the road than he was at home. The peripherals suggest he was just as good as he was in 2008 when he won 16 games for the Dodgers.

Consider also that the Dodgers scored two runs or less in 11 of his 31 starts and five runs or less in 23 of his 31 starts. He wasn't exactly supported by his offense. Torre also had a quick hook in 2010 and the struggles of the bullpen certainly put a damper on Billingsley's win total. Fangraphs gave him a 4.6 WAR in 2010 which in dollar figures was worth an impressive $18.4 million dollars. Baseball-reference rated him lower but it's safe to say that Billingsley was every bit as good as he was in 2008 and was a very valuable pitcher.

Billingsley pitched poorly on the road against the Reds, the Cubs and the Cardinals in small sample sizes but was very good against the Phillies, Braves and was exceptional against the Giants. He's made 30 starts or more for four straight seasons, with over 190 innings in each season.

Billingsley had a very good season in 2010 and has been a successful major league pitcher for the last four seasons with the one exception of a July and September of 2009. The Fan stands corrected.