Saturday, December 11, 2010

Catch But Don't Walk

After posting about the Seattle Mariners' woes at the catching position the last few years, it occurred to the Fan that there have been a lot of recent catchers that don't like stand at the plate for very long. Perhaps they have restless leg syndrome after doing all that squatting. Ivan Rodriguez had a famous season where he only walked nine times the entire year. All that being said and thought about, this Fan thought it would be fun to compile the ten lowest walk rates for catchers in the last 30 years. The minimum number of plate appearances is 300 so it had to be a regular catcher who played at least 50% of his games at that position. These are the top ten...or should the Fan say: Bottom ten?

  • Bo Diaz - 1988 Cincinnati Reds. Diaz walked only seven times in .327 plate appearances. His On Base Percentage that year was .236. Yeesh.
  • Miguel Olivo - 2008 Kansas City Royals. Olivo, who the Fan just wrote about, walked seven times in 317 plate appearances. His .278 OBP was just north of his .255 batting average that year.
  • Einer Diaz - 2003 Texas Rangers. Nine walks in 361 plate appearances. .294 OBP.
  • Eliazor Alfonso - 2006 San Francisco Giants. Nine walks in 309 plate appearances. .302 OBP. At least he was over .300
  • Miguel Olivo - 2006 Florida Marlins. There he is again! Nine walks in 452 plate appearances. .287 OBP.
  • Ivan Rodriguez - 2007 Detroit Tigers. This is the one people remember. Nine walks in 515 plate appearances. It doesn't seem possible. One of those walks was intentional. .294 OBP.
  • Rich Gedman - 1982 Boston Red Sox. Gedman was a good hitter until he met a certain unnamed batting coach.. Ten walks in 305 plate appearances. .276 OBP.
  • Dan Wilson - 1980 Seattle Mariners. Ten walks in 303 plate appearances.
  • Bob Kearney - 1985 Seattle Mariners. Disturbing trend here. Eleven walks in 326 plate appearances. .277 OBP.
  • Bob Melvin - 1990 Baltimore Orioles. Eleven walks in 318 plate appearances. .267 OBP.
  • Pat Borders - 1991 Toronto Blue Jays. Eleven walks in 312 plate appearances. .271 OBP.
  • Mike Methany - 1998 Milwaukee Brewers. Eleven walks in 314 plate appearances. .278 OBP.
  • Ivan Rodriguez - 2005 Detroit tigers. Eleven walks in 525 plate appearances. .290 OBP.

Ivan Rodriguez is king of the non walk catchers.

Catchers with the ten lowest On Base Percentages in the last thirty years.

1. .236. Bo Diaz (327 plate appearances),
1. .236. Eli Marrero (1999 Cardinals, 343 plate appearances).
3. .242. Bob Boone (1984 Angels, 486 plate appearances! Yowza!)
4. .243 Mike Methany (1996 Brewers, 341 plate appearances)
5. .244 Dan Wilson (1994 Mariners, 303 plate appearances)
6. .245 Matt Walbeck (1994 Twins, 359 plate appearances)
7. .246 Tony Pena (1993 Red Sox, 347 plate appearances)
8. .252 Tim Laudner (1987 Twins, 317 plate appearances)
9. .256 Todd Hundley (1992 Mets, 390 plate appearances)
9. .256 Steve Yeager (1983 Dodgers, 366 plate appearances)

Seattle's Catcher in the Nigh

Isn't it funny how some teams just can't seem to find a player to play a certain position? For example, the Tampa Bay Rays have no luck in finding a DH that hits any better than a pitcher. For the Seattle Mariners, that position seems to be the catcher. For years, the Mariners have underwhelmed when it came to their catching corps and the signing of Miguel Oliva does not lend inspiration that their dry spell behind the plate will get any better.

Here's a look at some of the gory details the past few years:

  • 2010: Slash line - .201/.263/.303   Okay, that's pitiful. They did manage to throw out 28% of base steal attempts. That's pretty good these days.
  • 2009: Slash line - .224/.282/.354.  Not as bad, but still, pretty awful. They were good, however, at throwing runners out, which they did at a 40% clip.
  • 2008: Slash line - .252/.297/.377. That's three years now with an OBP under .300. 29% of base steal attempts gunned down.
  • 2007: Slash line - .291/.331/.429. Johjima's best offensive year, but the team still had only 22 walks from the catching position in 639 plate appearances. Johjima was very good at throwing base stealers out. 39%.
  • 2006: Slash line - .269/.310/.420. 23 walks in 645 plate appearances.

Not a pretty picture. At least in 2006 and 2007 they slugged a little bit. But for years now, the Mariners have had catchers that never took a walk. Last year, of course, was the nadir of them all. You can't survive with a .569 OBP from your catchers. 2010 was supposed to be the year Adam Moore took over as catcher. But he didn't hit (.195). He didn't walk. He didn't throw out base runners (19%) and he struck out a lot without any power. Moore had an .850 OPS in the minors and had good success throwing out runners, so perhaps this small sample size is unfair to his abilities. He is only 26 and could turn it around.

But Miguel Oliva is no upgrade. First of all, he's had ten or more passed balls in three of his last four years and four times in his nine year career. He's not bad at throwing out runners. But check out his career slash line: .246/.283/.427. Just what the Mariners need, another catcher with a sub-.300 OBP. Last year's offensive numbers were inflated by Coors Field in Colorado. Olivo has walked only 125 times in 3058 plate appearances. That translates to 4%. That makes the Molina brothers look like Frank Thomas.

So maybe Moore will get another chance and just maybe he'll show a little bit of his minor league success. But if not, the Mariners are headed into their fourth straight year of woeful offensive catching.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Angels Signed Somebody!

There! Now doesn't that feel better? Reports are stating that Scott Downs has agreed to terms with the Angels on a three year, $15 million deal. The Angels who have often gone without a left-handed reliever for several seasons have now signed two this off season. Downs is a bit old to be given that much money as he is 35 and has pitched nine seasons in the big leagues. But he's a lefty, and in the major leagues, a lefty means forever.

But that's a bit unfair to Downs as he's been terrific the last few seasons. Since 2007, Downs has posted ERA+ figures of 207, 238, 144 and 158. And his strikeout to walk ratio has been well over three for the past two seasons. If downs can do that for at least two more seasons, this deal will pay for itself with his performance.

The bullpen was a major weakness for the Angels last year and with two good left-handed arms now in house, the Angels have added the kind of quality depth that makes for a good bullpen. Trust Mike Scioscia to figure out the best combination out there.

The Blue Jays, who are accumulating draft picks like McDonalds' Monopoly game cards, get two more now that Downs has signed outside of Toronto.

Are the Angels Smart or Stupid?

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in California on the West Coast of the United States of America sure are taking a beating these days. Even one of their own players, Torii Hunter, is upset because the Angels whiffed on free agents Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, etc. It is doubtful that they will be in the final bidding for Cliff Lee. That leaves Adrian Beltre as the last big ticket free agent available to them. But do the Angels deserve the pile driving they are taking?

According to this writer's scorecard, Jayson Werth was overpaid, Carl Crawford was overpaid, Cliff Lee will be overpaid and Beltre is still an unknown as to what he is asking. Is a team stupid for turning away from making foolish contracts for players that will not be worth their value at the end of the terms of their deals? There's a strong indication against this being stupid but instead it could be wise. This Fan can guarantee you that Cliff Lee may have three years of effective pitching left in him. Carl Crawford may be this good for another three or four years. Werth has been improving steadily and could have four good years in him. Can you blame the Angels for blinking when all that cost will probably be eaten at the back end of those contracts?

On the other hand, the Angels as their roster now stands is full of holes. They don't have a DH, a third baseman or a bullpen. The DH (and probably the bullpen) is easily remedied as there are still a bunch of slow footed, stone gloved sluggers out there. Bullpen arms flood the market. Beltre would be perfect for third base for the Angels. So those situations are fixable. But the Angels have little if any value to trade and their system isn't exactly teaming with prospects. Since they haven't exactly built a system capable of feeding them young talent, the only way they can quickly improve to stay up with the Rangers is to buy the talent. At this point, that isn't going so well.

Others have insisted that the Angels are poor negotiators and are inflexible in their terms. Is that true? Is it a crime to attach a value at a player they covet and stick by that value? It's not like the Red Sox just out bid the Angels by a few measly dollars. The Red Sox out bid the Angels by almost $30 million! Which team is the stupid one here? History will have to give us the answer. But for now, this Fan can't blame the Angels for picking a timeline and a price tag that makes sense based on a player's value and projected value. If you break down their offer to Crawford, it's awfully close to Baseball Prospectus projections for how much Crawford will be worth over the next six years. The Red Sox, on the other hand, overpaid those projections by nearly $15 million and with the extra year guaranteed the back end of the deal to be an extreme risk. If the Angels whiffed on free agents and the difference between the prices offered was minimal, then, yeah, you have to question their tactics. But that is not the case here. The Torii Hunter contract is a very wise and fair contract for what Hunter has given them.

Many point to the Mo Vaughn contract as the reason the Angels are gun shy about long-term megadeals. But gosh, wouldn't you be? After averaging over five wins above replacement the previous five years for Boston, the Angels signed the splashy Vaughn for huge dollars and Vaughn responded with two years of 1.5 and 1.0 WAR for the Angels. They finally unloaded him off to the Mets for Kevin Appier and ate a bunch of the contract. That would sour a lot of people. If you put your finger in a light socket and get zapped, you're not going to do it again.

But it's not like they are nickel and diming people either. Hunter got a nice deal and offering Crawford six years and $105 million isn't exactly chump change. In the end, this Fan has to give the Angels props for being fiscally intelligent in not overpaying talent. That said, the result might be another year or two of being the second best team in the AL West. But winning isn't everything if it means offering stupid contracts. Just ask the Yankees or Rangers  four years from now when Cliff Lee is just another league average pitcher.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Twins Taking Big Risk Trading Hardy

Last week in this space, this observer posted on the puzzle that J. J. Hardy seems to present. After posting great numbers in 2007 and 2008, Hardy fell off a cliff in 2009 and 2010. Apparently, the Twins don't want to try to figure the puzzle out and traded Hardy and the far less useful Brenden Harris, to the Orioles for a couple of minor league arms. The Twins seem to be putting all of their infield eggs in a Japanese basket they haven't even signed yet.

Hardy might well have worn out his welcome. Who knows what goes on inside a clubhouse, but Hardy only played a few games over 100 last year due to various ailments. The Twins seem to thrive on players they consider "grinders" or "gamers," and perhaps Hardy doesn't fit that category in their minds. So instead, they have traded their only viable shortstop in the hopes they can sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who by most accounts, is an Ichiro acolyte without Ichiro's talent. They have no guarantee that this kid from Japan can even play in the major leagues. Wouldn't you like to find that out before trading your only shortstop?

And what if that doesn't work out? The Twins' only talented prospect at the position is 17 years old. You won't see him (Miguel Jean Sano) for a few years yet. There is Alexi Casilla, but he's the second baseman. If not him then take your pick between Trever Plouffe and Matt Tolbert. Uh. No thanks.

The Twins are taking a huge risk here. If Hardy has proven anything, he's proven that he can play shortstop in the major leagues. The Orioles should enjoy their new shortstop.

Comparing Carl Crawford to Bobby Abreu

There is no doubt in every one's mind that the Carl Crawford signing by the Boston Red Sox combined with their acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez makes them the team to beat in the American League East. This writer certainly has no arguments with those sentiments. The Fan thought the Red Sox were the favorites before Crawford signed. It just seemed a good time to take a good look at Crawford as a player since he will be in the thick of Red Sox seasons for years to come. When considering Crawford, the first name that came to mind was Bobby Abreu. But is that even close to being a good comparison?

Obviously when it comes to fielding, the Abreu/Crawford comparison is stupid. Abreu was at best an adequate fielder in his prime and an awful one after. Crawford, by all accounts is a wonderful left fielder. But Fenway Park and its configuration mitigates some of that value Crawford provides because left field in Fenway is like playing in a sandbox. But there are other comparables.

First, neither hit much for power. Abreu did have some good power years early in his career, but they are somewhat suspect in retrospect. His true power value seemed to be anywhere from 18 to 22 homers. Crawford hit 19 homers in 2010, his highest total in his career. That gives an edge to Abreu. Crawford hit many more triples than Abreu though. But still, Abreu's career slugging is .488. Crawford's is .444 and 2010 was the first season in Crawford's career that he slugged higher than .488 in a season.

Second, Abreu always had more patience at the plate. Both stayed around the .300 mark in batting average, but Abreu would consistently post .400 OBP or higher. Abreu walked over 100 times in a season for eight straight seasons. Crawford has never walked more than 51 times and has a career OBP of .337. In his peak years, he should post OBP totals from .350 to .365. Edge Abreu.

Base running is again a silly question, though not as silly as you would think. Crawford has averaged 50 steals a season with an incredible 82% success rate. Part of that could be explained by all those games facing Varitek and Posada, but still. It's incredible the success Crawford has had on the bases. Abreu was no slouch on the bases and in his peak nine years averaged 30 steals a season with a 77% success rate. But pitchers were never rattled with Abreu on the bases like they are with Crawford. Edge Crawford.

The Fan saved his favorite stat for last. It was interesting to note that Abreu has a career BABIP of .343. Crawford's career mark is .331. That means that more of Abreu's career batted balls fell in for hits than Crawfords. Why would that be? This observer thinks the difference is line drive percentage. Abreu's career live drive percentage is 22.1% (since 2002. The stat wasn't kept before that). It was common for Abreu to break the 25 to 26% mark during his best years. Carl Crawford has a career line drive percentage of 19.6% and it was 16.5% in 2010.  The highest mark Crawford ever put together for a season was 2003 with a 21.1% season. A lot of comments around the Net today mentioned that Crawford should pepper the Green Monster. But you have to hit line drives to do that. Crawford doesn't with regularity.

Abreu during his peak years had WAR ratings that rivaled or surpass Crawford's yearly totals and it wouldn't be close except for Crawford's fielding edge. So, believe it or not, Abreu was as good a player as Crawford is now.

What's the reason for bringing all this up? Two reasons. The first was to make the point that Bobby Abreu never scared this Fan with his play. If he was coming up in an All Star Game or a playoff game or a World Series game, there was never any quaking about what he might do at the plate. There were always other betters that scared you more. The same is true for Crawford. When the Yankees played the Bay Rays, Crawford was never a batter that put dread into you when you were watching in a close game. The question the Fan has is who would scare you more during a big playoff moment, Crawford or Werth. This Fan would have to say Werth.

The second reason for bringing all this up was to mention that Abreu's WAR totals started declining in his age 31 season. That's two years away for Crawford and his deal is for seven years. Again, don't get the Fan wrong. Crawford is a wonderful player and the Red Sox are the team to beat. The Fan just doesn't think he's as great as he's made out to be and doesn't think he will be worth over $20 million for the next seven seasons.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Bay Rays Give Bartlett Away

Jason Bartlett isn't the best shortstop in the majors, but he's far from the worst either. You would figure that the Bay Rays would at least get something for him. But the two pitchers they acquired in the deal with San Diego, Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell, have shown little in their minor league career since getting drafted. Ramos had a brief cup of coffee with the Padres the last couple of years and was banged around in his short outings. Bartlett didn't have a good year in 2010, but he has some history of success and would seem to have brought more value to the Bay Rays than what they received.

By the looks of things, 2009 was an outlier for Bartlett. He had never shown that kind of power (14 homers) and his 133 OPS+ is the only year in his career where he finished over 100 in that category. But last year's woes (.254 final batting average) was a bit flukey too. His BABIP was dead on at .299, but if you break that down to hit trajectories, his BABIP on ground balls was like .199. Plus, he started slowly as this Fan does in the morning with sub-.200 months in May and June. But the rest of the year showed him hitting for the .280 average you expect from Bartlett for his career.

San Diego gets a major upgrade from last year and Bartlett should be a nice piece for them. He should hit in the .270 to .290 range with an OBP of around .360. He is an unspectacular, but effective shortstop with good range and good hands. He only made 11 errors last year. Bartlett will never hit for power, especially not in San Diego, but he will be a steady shortstop for that team and in this market for shortstops, that's a pretty good deal.

As for the Bay Rays, Brignac should play short and the Fan is all in favor of that. Brignac can become a really good player in the AL if given a chance to play 155 games. Even so, the Bay Rays should have gotten something better than the two pitchers they received for Bartlett. Perhaps they see more in those pitchers than these dry stats show, but the stats aren't pretty and the two seem destined to be minor league arms.

The Year Phil Neikro Won AND Lost 20 Games

In 1979, Phil Neikro won 21 games and lost 20. The feat is not unique to Neikro though. Wilber Wood did the same thing a few years earlier. But the feat is rare in the live ball era of baseball. Prior to 1920, it happened a lot and before 1900, it really happened a lot. But Neikro's season in 1979 might be the last of its kind in this day of five men rotations and pitch counts and relief specialists. And thus, Neikro's season was special.

The Braves were terrible that season and finished in sixth place for the second straight time under their new manager, Bobby Cox. It was Cox's first stint with the Braves before his side trip to the Blue Jays for a few seasons. But Cox wasn't yet known as a great manager. In fact, if you lived in Atlanta at the time, nobody would even call him a good manager. The Braves lost 94 games and won only 66. Phil Neikro won 30% of them.

Neikro made an incredible 44 starts that season. 33 starts is the modern day norm. Neikro pitched 342 innings. The norm today is around 220. He completed 23 of his starts. He gave an astounding 113 walks and still managed, with all those innings, to post a 3.0 walks per nine innings total. He gave up an astounding 41 homers, or the average number of homers Hank Aaron hit in a season. But probably the most amazing stat of Neikro's season was that he got a decision in 41 of his 44 starts.

Consider that no other Braves' pitcher that season made more than 31 starts. Consider that only one reliever on the team had more appearances (Gene Garber, the closer). Consider that Neikro posted all those innings and all those losses and still had a 120 ERA+ that season. He pitched so many games that he had the fourteenth most plate appearances for the team that season.

In 1979, Neikro faced 1435 batters. Their slash line was: .241/.306/.384. That adds up to an OPS of .691. He averaged 7.77 innings per start. That year he had two or less runs of support from his offense 13 times. He would go 1-11 in those starts. His team would score five runs or less in 29 of his starts. His record in those starts was 7-20. They didn't record pitches thrown in those days. In his game logs for that year, only two games have the amount of pitches recorded. One of them was for 158 pitches. It would be safe to state that Neikro probably averaged around 130 pitches a start. This was just 31 years ago, but there is no relationship to what he did that year and the baseball played today in Major League Baseball.

And the thing of it was, this was nothing new for Neikro. He led the league in innings pitched in 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1979. He led the league in games started in from 1977 through 1980. During those years (77-80), he posted ERA+ figures of 111, 142, 120 and 102. But during those four years, he lost twenty games twice and lost 18 games the other two times. His record during that time was 71-76 though he pitched that well and completed 77 of his starts. He even managed five relief appearances during those years and recorded a save.

Oh, yeah. The Fan left out one pertinent fact about 1979. Phil Neikro was 40 years old at the time. He would pitch eight more seasons after that one including a memorable 1984 where he went 16-8 for the Yankees with a 3.09 ERA (123 ERA+) in 31 starts.

Many will question whether Phil Neikro belongs in the Hall of Fame. But there was nobody else like him. Yes, Wilber Wood was another great knuckleball pitcher, but he never had the breadth of career that Neikro did. Neikro pitched in the big leagues for 24 seasons and won 318 games. Yes, he lost 274 games. But he played for some truly awful teams. His 1979 season will always be a memorable one for this writer. And the Fan truly never expects to see another one like it.

Nice to See Konerko Stay in Chicago

When a player has played a long time in one city and becomes the face of an organization, it's really hard to see him play someplace else. Tony Gwynn just belonged in a Padres uniform. Biggio belonged in Houston. Jeter belongs in New York. Sometimes it doesn't make fiscal or even competitive sense. But it's still great for the fans. In Paul Konerko's case, the fiscal case doesn't make sense, but at least for a year or two, the competitive decision makes sense for the White Sox.

Konerko is a hard player to figure out. He's hit over .304 one year and then .234 the next. He batted .312 in 2010 after batting .240 just two years ago. But all things considered, other than 2003, Konerko always finishes well above league average in OPS+. He takes his share of walks. usually slugs near .500 or above and according to White Sox fans, plays his position well (though that fact isn't supported by fielding metrics).

The signing also means that Konerko and Dunn can do some damage to AL teams in tandem. If Konerko had left, then you were basically replacing his production with Dunn's leaving the White Sox no better than last year. But the two in tandem gives the White Sox, with their pitching and bullpen, an excellent shot at the AL Central title since the Twins have no improved significantly and need to sign Pavano just to be as good as last year. The Tigers have improved, but don't appear to be significantly better or worse than the White Sox or Twins. Konerko's signing makes a great deal of difference in this division and thus is probably worth the cost to the White Sox.

We won't get into the material costs of signing Konerko. They probably will not work out in the White Sox favor any more than Jeter's contract will be worth the money the Yankees paid. But in this world of free agents, team hopping and instability, it's nice to have one face of a franchise (or two or three) stay in one place for his career.

Some Final Thoughts on Jeter and Werth

Derek Jeter has been the focus of a million stories the last three weeks or so. People wrote daily speculations based on every shred of rumor imaginable. There were some writers that scolded the Yankees for treating Jeter so coldly. But most focused on Jeter not facing reality and for asking for too much. As the Jeter story came to a resolution, then the Washington Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a mega-contract and all heck broke loose. The Nationals and their GM have been under intense condemnation on the deal, its length and its terms.

Let's take the Werth signing first. The Fan can't help but agreeing that the Werth deal is too long and for too much money. It is understandable for other GMs to be outraged. But at the end of the day (and the end of the bandwagon), this Fan can't blame the Nationals for making this deal either. In order for a culture like the Nationals to turn around, you have to turn to people who have been on winning teams. That sounds simple, but when a group of players has never known winning, how would they know how to get there?

Werth has been there. He has been right in the thick of pennant races, playoffs and the World Series (twice). Accepting losing or even expecting to lose will not be a part of his thought processes. The Nationals are making an extended effort to turn their fortunes around. They have drafted strongly (Strasburg, Storen, Harper, etc.) and are building a core of talented young players. There is a definite feeling that Ryan Zimmerman should have been in the MVP conversation after his 2011. He's probably the second or third best third baseman in baseball right now. So the Nationals are building a young core. You need guys like Werth to show the way. He will be the example they all follow.

Jayson Werth is not a superstar. He was paid like one, but he isn't one. But he's a darn good player that will make a difference in Washington.

As for Derek Jeter, this Fan has to admit that there is joy in the fact that it is over and that Jeter will remain with the Yankees. This Fan doesn't fault the Yankees for being tough with negotiations (they had all the leverage) and there is no fault to Jeter for having a figure and parameters that he wanted. But the Fan does take issue with how the Yankees went public with two very inflammatory remarks. The first had to do with the "go explore the market to see if you can do better" statement. The second was the reality pill statement.

Now it's perfectly fair for the Yankees to tell those things to Jeter's agent. But when it is told to the media, it leaves no choice for the fans but to think that Jeter was a jerk who was asking too much. Those statements rightly irked Jeter and never should have been made publicly. It was grandstanding in the worst kind and something that Scott Boras would do. The worst part is that it might have been a calculated move to force Jeter to capitulate knowing that Jeter couldn't take his name being mopped around in the press. And that's pretty low.

The other Fan peeve here is the stupid rule not negotiating with potential free agents until the player's contract is over. The Yankees guarantee extra stress and tension in such situations by having such a strategy. There is no reason why the Yankees and Jeter's agent couldn't have been working on this quietly during the 2010 season. The Yankees can claim such a strategy gives them the best picture of what a player is worth, but that's a bunch of hooey.  If this deal had been worked one earlier, none of this Broadway Musical production would have occurred.

Oh well, all's well that ends well, this Fan supposes.

Can Carlos Pena Rebound For The Cubs?

The Chicago Cubs picked up free agent first baseman, Carlos Pena, according to reports. The move fills the void left vacant when the Cubs traded Derrek Lee to the Braves last year. The question is whether Pena can rebound from what turned out to be an awful 2010. Pena did hit 28 homers and that should play well in Chicago. And the risk is slight with only a one year commitment. But perhaps Chicago can finally get a break with this signing

The good news is that Carlos Pena has averaged 36 homers and 101 ribbies the last four years along with an average of 93 walks a year. The Cubs will be happy with that kind of performance this year. Plus Pena is a decent first baseman with good range and nice hands around first. But his offensive trend is pretty scary.

Pena has lost at least 19 points on his batting average every year for the last three years culminating with last year's sub-Mendoza finish. Many point to his extremely low BABIP in 2010 as part of the problem. His BABIP was .225 which is ridiculously low. So if you combine a high strikeout rate with a low batting average on the balls you do put in play, then a .199 batting average is easy to understand. But Pena has always been a low BABIP guy with a career mark of .272. Yes, if he can get back to that, his average will improve. But there is another disturbing stat.

For his career, Carlos Pena has hit a line drive 28% of the time he's put the ball in play. Last year, that figure fell to 17%. That's scary. It means that Pena is not squaring up on the ball and hitting the ball more weakly when he doesn't homer. That should be the focus on the Cubs to get Pena to get the good part of the bat on the ball and drive it as much as possible. With his power, he will get his fair share of homers, but he has to do something with the other at bats too.

This may be an unfair observation, but none of Pena's teammates (with the exception of Evan Longoria) had a good year at the plate last year. That being the case, you have to wonder a bit about the kind of hitting instruction that is going on down there in Tampa. Perhaps Pena can be supported better by the staff in Chicago--that is taking for granted that he is good at being open to instruction, which may or may not be the case.

But say Pena can bat at least .230 and walk 90 times and hit 30 homers and drive in his share of runs, the Cubs would be more than happy with that. That kind of production would guarantee a return on their $10 million investment. And of course, that is what the Cubs are counting on. It remains to be seen though, if Carlos Pena has that kind of year left in him.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Towers Making His Presence Felt In Arizona

Kevin Towers has certainly made an early stamp on the Arizona Diamondbacks since taking over the GM position for that ball club. He inherited a team mired in a woeful mess and has quickly made early steps to address some of their issues. It's not that Josh Byrnes wasn't a good executive. He was and will continue to be in his new assignment. But things didn't go well for him in Arizona and a shift in priorities and expectations are in order.

First, Towers let it be known that the Diamondbacks strikeout ways are over. By declaring that Justin Upton was on the market, he set a tone that the current trend could not continue. His trade of Mark Reynolds to the Orioles sealed the statement louder than anything else. This observer has no doubt that Upton was given a message by seeing his name in the headlines. As for Mark Reynolds, his average should recover some but he has shown no ability to cut down on his unique claim as the biggest strikeout artist of all time. Towers has set the tone that unless a player is willing to improve, he will look elsewhere.

Towers is also in the midst of doing what he did so well in San Diego: Build a bullpen. He got two arms in the Reynolds deal (one outstanding arm) and he just signed J. J. Putz. Putz became just another symbol of all that was wrong with the Mets the past few years. They made a big splash to sign the superlative set up man who picked the wrong time to come up injured. His ineffective year in New York was one of the few he's endured in his career. Finally healthy, Putz was back to his nasty self striking out 65 batters in 60 innings while only allowing 15 walks. He immediately makes the Diamondbacks' bullpen much better. And without a doubt, it couldn't have gotten much worse than it was last year.

Towers has so much experience building teams with modest payrolls into highly competitive teams. The 2010 Padres, though a year removed from Towers' leadership there, were a direct result of his effectiveness. The Diamondbacks and their fans have to be thrilled with Towers on board. More will be written on this team as the roster for 2011 takes more shape. In the meantime, it's fun to watch the man work.

Ryan Howard's Contract Absurdity Lingers

The Washington Nationals are certainly getting skewered on their seven year contract given Jayson Werth. Several general managers around baseball were said to be angered and shouting. The Mets' new GM, Sandy Alderson, tongue-and-cheeked about the deficit not coming down in Washington. The deal brought out the litany of other crazy contracts over the years. The A-Rod, Zito, Wells and Park contracts were brought up like they always are. Joe Posnanski coined a new word called, "Texpensive," named in honor of the Mark Teixeira contract. But this writer still finds it absurd that Ryan Howard's contract with Philadelphia is never mentioned. Can someone tell this Fan why that is?

Howard's contract, which keeps him on the Phillies payroll until 2016 (or when he will be 36) pays Howard $18 million in 2011 and $25 million a year from 2012 to 2016. The contract includes an option for 2017 which will cost the Phillies another $10 even if they decide to buy him out. How come this contract is never mentioned? This contract alone will affect future negotiations with anyone who wants Prince Fielder and it certainly will impact any Albert Pujols negotiation. It is among the top five in overly excessive contracts among all active players.

Ryan Howard has been a wonderful slugger for the Phillies. This Fan is not quibbling about that. His four year run from 2006 through 2009 was amazing. But even they did not come near being worth the kind of money that Howard will be making. His numbers fell off a bit in 2010. He hit less homers (31). His RBIs came down to All Star quality (108). His walk rate was down. And according to Fangraphs, his year was worth roughly $8 million. Thats a full $10 million below what he was paid. His high leverage stats were still very good, but not nearly as good as in previous seasons. If 2010 is his new norm, then this contract looks even worse.

Ryan Howard will be paid $143 million from 2011 through 2016. Baseball Prospectus estimates that Howard will be worth $65.14 million during that period. And keep in mind that BP over estimated his 2010 season by nearly 200%. All that money will be tied up with an aging, strikeout-prone, poor fielding first baseman that the Phillies will not be able to move anywhere else.

So, yeah, Jayson Werth's contract may be a bit of a stretch. And a lot of those other deals casually mentioned as a result are costly. But Howard's deal probably cost the Phillies their right fielder and almost certainly will not live up to the performance of the great slugger over the next six years. Pretty soon Cliff Lee will join Howard in the top five of excessive and regrettable contracts. Fans of the Rangers and Yankees should each be hoping the other team wins the sweepstakes. And when Lee gets his deal, this Fan would like to see Howard's contract named among the foolish. Howard will hit a lot of homers for the next six years, but not nearly enough to pay his freight.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Shaun Marcum - Nice Pick Up for Brewers

The Blue Jays traded their opening day starter for a blue chip prospect and the Brewers got the pitching help they desperately needed. While losing Shaun Marcum to the Brewers, the Blue Jays seemed to weaken themselves, but as we shall see, it's not going to be as big a loss for the Blue Jays as it seems. Meanwhile, pitchers going to the National League from the tough American League East seem to thrive. There is nothing but upside for the Brewers.

By all accounts, Marcum had a terrific 2010 season and all his peripherals were great for his comeback season after losing time to Tommy John surgery. All the numbers are terrific starting with his 1.247 WHIP  and 3.84 strikeout to walk ratio. Marcum throws strikes and he will pay occasionally with a somewhat high homer rate. But he's easily better than anything the Brewers had behind Yovanni Gallardo. But why would the Blue Jays give him up?

Essentially, the Blue Jays traded from depth as they have a wealth of good young pitching talent. Plus, Marcum did not help the team in the AL East. Yes, Marcum was 3-0 against the Orioles, but against the Yankees, Red Sox and Bay Rays, he was a combined 1-5. His ERA against Boston was 5.55 with seven homers allowed in five starts. He only started one game against the Yankees but he lost it and had a 7.50 ERA in that game. Against the Bay Rays, he had an ERA of 5.55 in four starts and lost both of his decisions. It's all well and good to have a solid pitcher like Marcum, but you have to be able to beat your division rivals too.

The Brewers have to like that Marcum was 3-0 in four interleague starts. He beat the Padres, the Diamondbacks and the Phillies and had a strong start against the Giants in a no decision. He averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings in his outings against NL opponents.

The Blue Jays get a terrific prospect in Brett Lawrie, considered the Brewers second best prospect. Lawrie is only 20 years old and he's a bit without a position. He started as a catcher but has been playing second in the minors. Most project him as a corner outfielder. But the Jays have to love that Lawrie is Canadian and can hit the stuffing out of the ball. He has great doubles and triples power and could develop homer potential as he gets older. He's shown fair patience at the plate but strikes out a bit too much. Lawrie could be a star for the Blue Jays in a year or two and give them a home town favorite. If Aaron Hill doesn't bounce back, he could play second for the Blue Jays.

This is a great deal for the Brewers. Marcum is only 29 and has a brand new elbow that should be able to give them reliable starts from the start of the season on. The Blue Jays give up starting depth they can replace and get a great prospect. There is little downside to find in this deal for either team.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Angels Are Awfully Quiet

When is the last time the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on the west coast of the United States of America have been in the news? It's been a long time. They were rumored to be in on the Carl Crawford sweepstakes, but nothing has been heard since that early rumor. The Dodgers have been in the news several times but so far nothing from Moreno's Marauders.

According to Buster Olney, the Angels are abandoning their recent practice of making an offer, having it be a final offer and setting a deadline. Olney says there will be more give and take. If there is some give and take going on, they are very good at keeping the maneuverings off of the news wires. The Angels need a third baseman and they need pitching. The Fan would add catching to that list, but perhaps this will be the year of Hank Conger.

Getting Kendry Morales back will be like making a free agent signing because he's a heck of a player. So first base is covered. Hunter is all set in right. Bourjos, the young center fielder, showed some promise last year in his debut, but he didn't hit for average. The Angels will probably let him start the year in center and see what happens. Hopefully, that will work out better than the Brandon Wood situation. Kendrick is fine for now at second and Erick Aybar is just okay as a shortstop. That all leaves left field, third base and catcher as weak spots.

If the Angels could land Crawford, he would be a dynamic upgrade in left. Abreu could DH at that point. Abreu has to do something but play left field. His age is really catching up with him. Adrian Beltre would be a great pick up at third too. If the Angels could land Crawford AND Beltre, they would vault right up there with the Rangers again as a real contender for the AL West.

But they need pitching too. The bullpen was bad last year. There is no better way to say it. But there are a lot of relievers out there on the market and there is no reason why the Angels can't rebuild a bullpen. The rotation has the makings to be very good. Kazmir should be dropped as that experiment is not going well. But Weaver is one of the elite pitchers in the AL and Santana, Pineiro and Haran make them solid 1-4. They just need to come up with a fifth. Their best pitching prospects are not yet available. But a flyer on some of the other borderline starters out there could work out just as well or better than Kazmir.

As they stand now, the Angels don't appear to have the talent to keep up with the Rangers and that's why it must be a little disconcerting for Angels' fans to have heard so little to this point. But the good news is that the Angels are just two moves away from being a really good team. The question is whether they can or want to get that done.