Saturday, February 05, 2011

Pondering the White Sox Rotation

Before the 2010 season, this writer predicted the White Sox would again fall behind the Twins. During those projections, the starting rotation for the White Sox was no perceived to be a strength. Another blogger from Chicago (one of this Fan's favorites) questioned the sagacity of the author of that post. He was insistent that the White Sox rotation was one of the best in the American League. It didn't seem to turn out that way. Oh sure, the top three of Buehrle, Danks and Floyd were better than league average, but more was expected of them. Jake Peavy was shut down early, Freddie Garcia started strong and finished dismal and the fifth spot never did gel (you could count Edwin Jackson there, but he theoretically took Peavy's place).

But were they really a disappointment? Certainly it was a disappointment that Peavy can't get healthy. The White Sox gave up a lot for him and it would be great at some point if he can consistently take the mound. As for the rest, the Fan has to keep in mind that the White Sox didn't score a lot of runs. 104 of the team's 162 games featured an offense that scored five runs or less. Considering that stats, the pitching staff probably held the White Sox in the division race longer than they had any reason to hang around that long. The rotation as a whole posted a healthy 2.33 strikeout to walk ratio. They gave up only 0.87 homers per nine innings. In other words, they did fine.

Entering the 2011 season, the same cast of characters is still there minus Garcia. The strongest pitcher and the closest you could call an ace would be John Danks. Danks completed his third straight solid season in 2010. His win/loss record never really shows how good he is. But every year, Danks has increased how deep he works into a game. He is a model of consistency as far as his walks, strikeouts and hits allowed are concerned. He did much better in 2010 of limiting homers and best of all, he's left-handed. Actually, that isn't the best thing at all. The best thing of all is that Danks is only 25. Perhaps Danks is overlooked a bit because of his name. It's not a glamorous one, is it?

Mark Buehrle is Mark Buehrle. He's going to give up his hits. He's going to work fast. He's going to keep the ball in the park, get his share of double play grounders and throw strikes. He wasn't as good in 2010 as he was in 2008 and 2009, but at age 32, Buehrle should have plenty left. His slipping strikeout rate is a big concern though. Buehrle was all the way down to 4.2 per nine in that category in 2010. That's down from 5.8 in 2008.  But still, he's going to give you 210 innings and will battle for his team all the way. Even if he finishes with a .500 record, that's a plus for the White Sox.

Gavin Floyd is a bit of a mystery for the Fan. Floyd is only 27 and yet has been a sub-.500 pitcher for the last two years after winning seventeen games in 2008. But appearances are often deceiving. His strikeout rate, walk rate and WAR are really about the same for the last three years. The two key things the Fan sees in his stats were a higher hit rate in 2010 and the fact that he's made the same amount of starts the last three years, but his innings pitched keeps dipping. That says that his manager isn't confident to keep him in the game as long as before. Floyd did lower his homer rate in 2010, and that's good. But you keep thinking that Floyd should be better than this. But keep in mind that luck does play a role. His BABIP in 2008 was .285 and it was .324 in 2010. Whether that means that he's getting hit harder, his fielders are worse or he was just a lot less luckier, the Fan will leave for smarter people to figure out. In any case, Floyd needs to step it up a bit. He's a better pitcher than he's shown lately.

Edwin Jackson is an even bigger mystery than Floyd. The story goes that the White Sox simply obtained Jackson to flip him to another team, but that deal fell through. So they are stuck with him. But is that a bad thing? Well, the White sox ARE his fifth team already and Jackson is only 27 years old! He's got a great arm, but traditionally has thrown too many pitches and walks too many batters. Jackson also struggles with the long ball. But if he can ever pull it all together like he did in flashes for the White Sox after he landed there, he could be a terrific pitcher. Jackson certainly has the talent.

On any given day, having Jake Peavy as your fifth starter sounds like a really good thing. But whispers are that Peavy won't be available until June. That leaves the fifth spot open again. Chris Sale, the sensational young pitcher the White Sox drafted last year pitched at the major league level in the same year he was drafted, which is remarkable. The White Sox would like to consider making him a starter, but many smart people in the Web world think he'll break down too much if he does that. We know he's terrific in relief, but it would be great for the team if similar success could happen as a starter. Lucas Harrell is probably not the answer as that young pitcher can't throw enough strikes. His walk rate in his few starts for the White Sox were no surprise when you look at his minor league career. How he managed to keep his ERA under five with more than two base runners per inning is beyond comprehension.

When you take it as a whole, the White Sox rotation looks like the strongest part of their team. A whole lot of things have to go well though. Floyd and Buehrle need to revert back to 2008 form and all of the pitchers have the ability to pitch well on any given day. The Fan sees this rotation with optimism. It's certainly better than the Twins' rotation and is at least as good as the Tigers (who still lack a fifth starter). If the White Sox can score more runs this year with the addition of Dunn, then these pitchers will all look a lot better.

Pondering the Orioles' Line Up

The Orioles relented and gave Vladimir Guerrero the money he was looking for. As long as Guerrero passes his physical (no slam dunk), he will join a line up already being touted as a good one. But will it be a good line up? There are dangers apparent to these eyes. Let's look at it first. Here is Buster Olney's projection:

  • 2B - Brian Roberts
  • 1B - Derek Lee
  • RF - Nick Markakis
  • DH - Vladimir Guerrero
  • LF - Luke Scott
  • 3B - Mark Reynolds
  • CF - Adam Jones
  • C - Mark Wieters   oops! Matt **
  • SS - J. J. Hardy

Personally, this Fan would probably move Hardy or Jones to second in the line up and move Reynolds down to the bottom. But if you look at the line up, doesn't it appear to be a bit creaky and clunky to you? Lee, Guerrero, Scott and Markakis are all slow of foot. Roberts missed most of last year with back problems. Hardy is a mystery. And then there will be the strikeouts. As Buster Olney pointed out, the Orioles might be the new Diamondbacks and it's easy to make that observation based on Reynolds being in there. But how whiff-prone will this line up be? If you add up all those nine players and their lifetime strikeout rates, then divide by nine, the Orioles will strike out 21 percent of the time. Fortunately, signing Vlad doesn't add to that total. Avoiding strikeouts has been one of Guerrero's signature skills and of the nine, he has the lowest lifetime strikeout rate. Even so, compare the 21 percent with the Red Sox's projected line up which comes in at an 18 percent strikeout rate and that's skewed upward by adding in Saltalamachhia which is not a given yet.

That might not sound like much of a difference, but 21 percent compared to 18 percent means that the Red Sox put the ball in play more often and not only that, the Red Sox will walk a lot more often than the Orioles too. It's almost like the Orioles have taken too literally to the Earl Weaver credo for the three-run homer. But Weaver's team could also field their positions well and pitch. The Orioles infield with the exception of Hardy, is a weak fielding team. The outfield wasn't bad last year, but put Luke Scott out there and you've weakened the outfield defense too.

A lot would have to go right for this line up to be as good as the Orioles think it is. And unless Hardy bounces back and Lee and Guerrero hold off age for one more year, the line up could implode in a hurry. You have to give the Orioles credit for trying hard. The Duchsherer deal could be a great one. But it seems that this team still isn't as good as the Blue Jays never mind anyone else in the division.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Fan Says Goodbye to Andy Pettitte

Immediately following the news (that entered the top ten in trending on Twitter) Andy Pettitte was retiring, the two most common "tweets" were questions about his Hall of Fame status and what the Yankees were going to do without him. Obviously, Andy Pettitte doesn't give a tweet about those things or he wouldn't have retired. His age and win total paralleled Tom Glavine, so he probably would have gotten to 300 wins. But he stopped at 240. No, the first thought that came to this Fan's mind was sadness that we would never again get to watch him pitch.

He was our Andy. He was simply this consistent force that we could count on every five days to give us a gritty and determined performance. We watched him in more big games and in more big situations than anyone else. Was he the greatest pitcher of his generation? No, but that's not the point. The point is that he was a professional pitcher who cared deeply about his team, his teammates and his performances. You always knew that Andy Pettitte would bend a little. But he would seldom ever break. His worst performances in the post season were against the Indians (yes, that team was good once). The Indians just seemed to whack him around in the playoffs. If you take out those three games against them, his post season performance is even more outstanding.

And if anyone questions his post season savvy, consider that Tino Martinez said that if he had one choice to pitch a post season game, it would be Pettitte. Andy Pettitte won nineteen post season games. Tut tut, you may say because anyone could have won that many with that many chances. But the point often missed is that what was Pettitte's genius wasn't throwing shutouts. It was holding down the other team long enough to get to the great Mariano and giving his team a chance to win every time he pitched. His performances in the post season were remarkably similar to his regular season line. Except, they were all one tick better. His career ERA was 3.88. His career ERA in the post season was 3.83. His regular season K/BB ratio was 2.34. In the post season, it was 2.40. His WHIP in the regular season was 1.357. His WHIP in the post season was 1.304. His career winning percentage was .635. His post season winning percentage was .655. See?

His consistency over the years was what we really liked. You could count on Pettitte. He didn't have slumps. He didn't loose his composure. Games didn't get away from him. He just did his thing. He gave up his hits and his walks, but he never gave up the game. Pettitte had a .670 winning percentage at home, but it was just barely under .600 on the road. He was always better in the second half of the season. He had a .595 winning percentage with a 4.07 ERA in the first half, but then had a .682 winning percentage in the second half with a 3.66 ERA. Isn't that when you would want him to be good? Just how did Pettitte keeps his team in the game? In games where his teams scored three to five runs, he won 63 percent of those games. And that doesn't count all the no decisions where his team eventually won.

How consistent was Pettitte? His OPS against the first time through the batting order was .704. The second time through the order, it was .705. The third time through the order it rose a bit to .759. That kind of thing will get you to Rivera more often than not. And he beat the teams he needed to beat. His record against teams with a record better than .500 was 97-70. And his record against AL East teams:

Baltimore (who weren't always terrible): 27-6 with a 3.52 ERA
Toronto: 21-12 with a 4.16 ERA
Boston: 18-10 with a 3.91 ERA
Tampa: 16-6 with a 4.11 ERA

Total that up and Pettitte was 82-34 against the teams in his division. To put that another way, he won nearly 71 percent of his games against the AL East.

Several players on Twitter tweeted that they were glad Pettitte was retiring because he was nasty. He had the respect of his peers.

For a Fan, he can be forgiven his three years in Houston and his short term HGH use since it was simply to recover from an injury. He can be forgiven that he was never a flame thrower or ultra-flashy. He was our rock and it helped that he was handsome and had that way of peering over his glove when taking the sign. We could see his determination. We could see the way he cared about his craft and the game's outcome. He was always first class and never did anything to disrespect anyone. Ultimately, he chose his family over his profession. We wish it weren't so, but it says a lot about who Pettitte is. He could have hung around and gotten his 300 wins. But he has his five rings, plenty of money and the gratitude of all of us who got to watch him perform for the last sixteen years.

It's been a true pleasure and we'll let historians figure out his place in the pantheon of stars. For us, all that matters is that he was a big part of a dozen great teams and a common and consistent performer who took it up just a notch whenever the team needed a win. We'll miss you, Andy Pettitte. It's been a treat.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Is Alexei Ramirez The American League's Best Shortstop?

The National League gets a lot of flack these days. Quite often the league is called the AAAA League. Of course, winning the 2010 All Star Game and World Series does a bit to dampen that kind of talk. But one thing is for sure: The National League has the best shortstops. Troy Tulowitzki, Stephen Drew, Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez all finished in the top six in fWAR in 2010 with Tulowitski, Drew and Ramirez finishing one to three respectively. With Derek Jeter famously having a bad year in 2010, the AL is looking weak, especially on offense. Drew, Hanley, Uribe and Tulowitzki all had good offensive seasons. No AL shortstop had a good offensive season. But who led the AL in WAR among shortstops? That would be Alexei Ramirez, who just signed a four year deal worth $32 million.

Let's face it, Alexei Ramirez leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Ramirez walked only 4.3 percent of the time in 2010. Only Yuniesky Betancourt had a lower rate. His .313 on base percentage did much to sap the good out of his .282 batting average and 185 hits. But Ramirez did hit 18 homers and his wOBA led all AL shortstops at .322. But that's not very good and sheds a lot of light on how bad the state of offense is among shortstops in the junior circuit.

What sets Alexei Ramirez apart is his defense. Among AL shortstops, only Cliff Pennington is near his equal.  In fact, Ramirez was rated second on defense to only Brendan Ryan in all of the majors. And looking at the past three years, it seems remarkable how far Ramirez has come defensively.

So, yes, the answer is that Alexei Ramirez was the American League's best shortstop in 2010. Unfortunately, that isn't saying much. But at least it's better that he had a great year defensively than the other way around. Ramirez is one of those players where you think you haven't seen the best of him yet. But he is 29 years old. At that age, it's hard to imagine him getting much better than what he is now. He is more than worth the contract he signed. But the AL needs to step it up in the shortstop department.

2011 Nonroster Invitees

Despite having a 40 man roster, most teams around MLB will invite 60 or so players to Spring Training. Among the invitees are highly regarded prospects that are given a chance to show what they can do at a big league camp. But there are also veterans and fringe players such as Mike Hoover, a 34 year old catcher who has found a way into forty major league games spread out over seven years.

It's a bit frustrating to have to search all over the Web to find out who the various teams are inviting. So as a service to you, faithful FanDome readers, what follows is a link list of the teams and their invitees. Unfortunately, the list isn't all-inclusive. But at least you can do some one stop shopping for many teams here. Here goes:

Boston Red Sox - Best chance to stick: Andrew Miller and Rich Hill

Philadelphia Phillies - Best chance to stick: Dane Sardinha and Dan Meyer.

Atlanta Braves - Best chance to stick: Rodrigo Lopez.

Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres - Found them on the same page. Not a complete list, but some notables. More Padres here.

Milwaukee Brewers - Mark DiFelice.

San Francisco Giants - This is a great post and gives a full run down.

Seattle Mariners - Another very good post.

Kansas City Royals - A nice rundown on the favorites.

Chicago Cubs - Brief but at least it's a list. Todd Wellemeyer among the favorites.

Washington Nationals - A good list.

Houston Astros - Very good and thorough post.

Cleveland Indians - Post and comment thread are fairly interesting..

Detroit Tigers - Not bad.

Florida Marlins - Just a couple mentioned.

Minnesota Twins - Color of the site makes it hard to read, but it's written well.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on the West Coast of America on the North American Continent. Sorry. Can't help making fun of their stupid official name. It will be fun to see Trout. Not the fish. The player.

Cincinnati Reds - They stood pretty pat over the winter, so this is the only excitement there is.

There are a couple of teams missing. But at least you have a head start. Happy reading.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Writer Go Round - Writers Making News

This post is not about baseball. It's about those who cover baseball. Usually the players are the ones making the news, but for one flashy week, the baseball writers are the ones making the news. The biggest shock, of course, was Rob Neyer's sudden departure from to SB Nation, where he is now the national baseball editor (and he still writes). That was such a bomb on the market that for a short while, Rob Neyer was the number one trending story on Twitter. Now that's amazing. But Neyer isn't the only one. The highly popular and much lauded Wezen-ball writer, Larry Granillo, is taking his keyboard over to Baseball Prospectus. In fact, BP made a flurry of additions. Fangraphs, not to be outdone, has added the dynamic Jonah Keri. What does all this mean?

For this observer, it means that some of the power is moving away from the traditional powerhouses in sports media and shifting to upstart sites that have become just as big as those former monoliths. It also means that these upstarts like BP, BR and Fangraphs are gobbling up talent. Such a talent grab has always been the way of American business. New industries arise and a few companies do it better or get luckier and get bigger than everyone else. Soon, there are less and less competitors and those large success stories swallow up the rest. There is one difference though. The Internet.

The new industry in this case is sports blogging. This Internet phenomenon has in many ways supplanted the old style media world and spun them around on their hind corners. Some have gracefully entered the new world and others have been dragged into it kicking and swinging. Former stars for newspapers and big print services are now Internet blogging stars. Some, like Joe Posnanski, have gracefully started in the old world, joined the new one and now have feet planted in both worlds. But while Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-reference and SB Nation continue to grow and expand, they won't be able to stop what the Internet does better than anything else. New writers and new blogs will continue to appear and talent will rise to the top. It wasn't long ago that Big League Stew was just a lowly blogger with big talent and now is in the big time. There will be others.

One thing that has to shake out is the definition of good writing. Currently, those proficient with sabermetrics have a greater edge. The spreadsheet and those able to unscramble the math have carried the day. Numbers don't lie and discoveries in the numbers carry huge weight with readers around the country and rightly so. But after a while, entertaining writing will always be desirable and writing can be entertaining without a spreadsheet. For every Yin there is a Yang and writers who do the math will be rivaled by writers who are simply great at turning a phrase.

There are already too many generalities in this post and the Fan doesn't mean there to be. It isn't like there is this polar shift or something. Probably the most beloved of writers is Joe Posnanski, and though he has trained himself in the fine art of crunching numbers, his popularity is in his prose. No one does it better. In this writer's mind, he inherits Peter Gammons' crown as the king of writers. Let's just hope that he doesn't get sucked into the visual media like Peter Gammons did and thus lose something along the way.

The Rob Neyer story has been the most fascinating. He was such an institution over at He was there for fifteen years! He really was the bridge between the early guys like Bill James to the new guys like Dave Cameron. What Neyer did best was discover talent. He was sort of like Johnny Carson. If a comic made Carson laugh, he became big. If Rob Neyer thought you had the writing and numbers savvy, he would promote these small bloggers in his links columns and careers were made.

The Fan thinks this move will be good for Neyer. We've already seen some of his best writing in years this past week with his last couple of posts on and his first couple of posts on SB Nation. In this Fan's view, Rob Neyer got a little stale in his last two or three years at He became less of a writer and more of a commenter on other people's writing (good or bad). Everyone, no matter how good they are, needs a change of pace once in a while. This should be a new breath for Rob Neyer.

It's unfortunate that in the wake he left behind at, that site's readers are not being kind to the writing being performed in Neyer's old house. has had a couple of revolving writers add posts in the Sweet Spot and the comments haven't been kind. And that's unfair. This writer happened to think both pieces were quite good. Look, nobody is going to replace the original. Nobody could replace Johnny Carson. But the shows that followed found their own voice and gained a good following. Give it time. has too much at stake.

After all this is said and done, how does the old Fan feel about all this? It's EXCITING! Yeah, it is. Many of these writers have sat in the basement like this Fan does and cranked away and built followings and created careers. There is certainly room for more. There's no reason to not try and chase the old American Dream. The Internet does provide a level playing field. And this writer is leveling his best shot. And if this is as good as it ever gets, so be it. As long as the experience is enjoyable, the Fan will keep typing. The success stories like Jonah Keri, Dave Cameron, "Duk" and so many others gives hope that if we keep on plugging, good things can happen. Best of luck to all those who found new jobs and new homes this week. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ellsbury a Big Key for the Red Sox

How many people would guess that Jacoby Ellsbury had a higher ( Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Carl Crawford in 2008? And in 2009, Ellsbury had more hits than Crawford, more stolen bases, 25 less strikeouts (and nine less walks), more triples and only one less double? The only difference between Ellsbury and Crawford in 2009 was defense and homers. Crawford was coveted by many teams because of the impact he can make in a line up. Ellsbury is nearly the same player.

And yet last year was a complete disaster. Broken ribs derailed his entire season. But it wasn't just the broken ribs, it was teammates who questioned Ellsbury's team spirit (see here for one) and the battle the player had with the Red Sox over the nature of his injuries. Let's just say that between the service time lost and the good will lost, it was a year to forget for the outfielder who won't turn 28 until September.

If Ellsbury can come back and be the kind of player he was in 2008 and 2009, the Red Sox will have two guys who can drive the ball to the gaps, run around the bases and run like the wind all over the outfield. It's funny how both Ellsbury and Crawford would both be so much more valuable if they could increase their walks. Both don't walk nearly enough. And if a lot of Ellsbury's game doesn't come back, that lack will greatly diminish his value to the Red Sox.

But just say that Ellsbury can bat .300 again and push his OBP over .350 and still get his 50 to 70 steals and ten triples, the Red Sox could be a monster. And say the Red Sox can get over their man crush on Marco Scutaro and put Jed Lowrie in the line up full time, holy macaroni, this could be a scary, scary team to face for any pitching staff. But to this writer, Ellsbury is a key component. If he can get back and improve upon his 2008 and 2009 performance, the Red Sox are that much better a team. If he can't get his career back on track, then the Red Sox are merely terrific. And terrific just might not be good enough to win the AL East.

Why I Can't Help Loving Manny Ramirez

I've tried. I really have. I've tried to hate Manny Ramirez. I've tried to disavow my feelings for him. But I just can't. Every time I've tried to put him away as a joke, a freak, a quitter, a child or a cheater, he keeps popping back up onto my mouth as a smile. The funny thing is, the smile on my lips is the same smile that you so often see on Manny. It's like we are all in on the same big joke. And maybe we are. Manny Ramirez is like our Peter Pan. He probably leads us places we ought not to go, but we are always glad we made the trip.

Last year was a difficult year to love Manny because Manny wasn't Manny. He was quiet and so was his bat. There was no drive in his swings. There were no results. There was no drama. There were whispers that he was done. His bat was slow. He probably quit again on the Dodgers just like he had with the Red Sox. He was supposed to save the White Sox who had paid for letting Jim Thome go. But he was just a singles hitter for the White Sox. He failed in big situations. The White Sox sunk out of the race. So this is the end of Manny Ramirez?

Then the off season was upon us and everybody was signing except for Manny and Vlad. Vlad probably wants two years and too much money. That's probably kept him off the merry-go-round. But Manny wasn't signed because there was doubt he had anything left AND because he's always had...umm...issues. But there were other stories. There was one that he was hurt much of last year and an off season rehab has him in great shape. He showed up in Tampa minus 12 pounds and looking great. Could Manny have something left to offer? Can the Manny circus ride into town again with the elephants trumpeting and the tall men on stilts juggling their way through the town commons? Just the possibility is enough to wet the whistle of the man crush again.

And how fitting is it that he signed in tandem with Johnny Damon in Tampa? The two are so incredibly linked to the Red Sox of 2004...the Red Sox that finally beat the curse and allowed old men in Boston to die happy. Anyone who thinks that 2004 team would have won without Manny or without Johnny is crazy. With Manny, it was all about fear. The pitchers were just plain scared to face him. He remains one of the smartest hitters on earth. You don't think the pitchers know that? There is no way David Ortiz becomes Big Papi without Ramirez. And Damon just finds a way to beat you. He did it with the Red Sox in 2004 and the Yankees in 2009. And now they are together again. And what a show they put on in the press conference yesterday! Yes, the circus has arrived in Tampa.

And you know what? This could actually be a world class triumph of front office genius on the part of the Bay Rays. Both Manny and Johnny could have that one last good year to cap their careers. With Manny only DHing and Damon having some versitility, the Bay Rays could get lots of production from both players, more production by far than what the Bay Rays are paying for the two champions. And that will be a switch with Manny.

Why a switch? Well, one of the biggest secrets in baseball is that Manny has only twice out performed his contract since 2001. Sure, he had some big years, but with his defense (or lack therein), he made lots of money and he only twice earned it. Once was nearly on the nose (2002) and the other was 2008 when he blew his salary away. Every other year, he's performed under his salary level. It is an ironic switch that he is now probably vastly underpaid for what the Rays will get out of him. Manny chose the Bay Rays despite his saying that others were offering more (kind of doubting that). So now one of the greatest right-handed hitters of this generation is playing for less than Edgar Renteria and Jeff Francoeur. Maybe that is a bit of poetic justice. At least some will view it that way.

But what we love about Manny is the unexpected. He is the most enigmatic player of our times. He is just as apt to smile child-like as he is to turn churlish. We all think he's just one big kid playing in his own sandbox. His mere presence in the majors gives more entertainment value than just about anyone else. And perhaps I am just naive, but I don't believe that his hitting over the years has been PED aided. He's just an amazing talent, an amazing talent that has always beaten to a different drummer.

I've tried. I really have. But I just can't. I just love the guy. I hope he hits 40 homers and drives in 100 runs. I can't help myself.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why Carlos Beltran's Mets Contract Was a Good One

The other day here in the FanDome, a post compared the five year stats of Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios and Shane Victorino. The post did not include Carlos Beltran and Grady Sizemore because of all the injuries those two players have dealt with over the past two years. But that's the point. Even with all the time lost, Beltran and Sizemore have the highest combined value for centerfielders in the past five years. By a lot too. And Beltran is the top dog in value among CFs the past five years. Those years have been spent with the Mets.

And yet, if you listen to the cacophony of New York fans and a lot of writers, Beltran has been a bust for the Mets and a poster boy for opulent spending that has led the Mets down the road to ruin. Not only is that unfair, it's untrue. You can point to a myriad of factors to the unraveling of the New York Mets. But you can only mention Beltran for 2010 as part of that conversation. Even his diminished playing time due to his balky knee in 2009 almost achieved the value of his salary that year.

Part of the problem is that the Mets have failed to reach their objective. They lost two late season division races to the Phillies and the last two years have been out of contention altogether. When you get a superstar like Beltran and he is listed as one of the pieces to get you to the Promised Land, and the team never gets there, the first reaction is to blame the star player. But Beltran was brilliant from 2006 to 2008. He was very, very good in 2005 (his first part year with the Mets). Yes, Beltran has earned his keep.

Consider that Fangraphs evaluation, Beltran has been worth a combined $105.1 million since he joined the Mets. And yes, that includes the last two years when he was only physically able to produce seasons worth $14 million and $3.7 million. rates his value even higher. So what did the Mets pay for that $105.1 million in performance? Roughly $96 million. That's a nine million dollar bargain. Oh, but he has another year on his contract that will pay him $18 million in 2011. Even if Beltran can produce in a full season what he produced in a reduced 2009 (when he only played 81 games and still added $14 million of value), the Mets will still come out ahead. How many long term contracts can you say that about?

This Fan doesn't think that Carlos Beltran has been nearly appreciated as a player as much as he should have been. From a fan's perspective, there were few players on the field more graceful and sweet to watch. He was the class of his position for much of the last decade. He's driven in 1062 runs in just 12 full seasons (the last two abbreviated). He's scored 1106. He's compiled 351 doubles, 67 triples and 280 homers. He has stolen 289 bases and was only caught 39 times (an incredible 88% success rate). He needs 20 homers and 11 more steals to become one of the very few in the 300/300 club. He has almost a .500 career slugging percentage. Add to all that, he's compiled a 1.302 OPS in 22 post season games that include 11 homers and eight stolen bases (without ever being thrown out). He's been the best centerfielder of his generation.

All Carlos Beltran has to do in 2011 is play about 130 games and compile an OPS of around .800 and he will fly by the value yardstick and easily earn the paycheck he's received from the Mets over the years. The Mets have had a lot of bad things happen. The Mets made a lot of mistakes. But Carlos Beltran was definitely NOT one of them. This Fan hopes he has a great comeback season.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Have We Seen the Best of Joe Mauer?

Joe Mauer was pretty darn good last season. He hit .327 with an on base percentage of .402. He had a 137 OPS+ and a wOBA of .373. It seems anyone would take those numbers every year and smile a lot. But those final numbers seemed a bit of a letdown after the season he put together in 2009 with his unexpected 28 homers and the gaudy 1.031 OPS he put on the board. Mauer's 2010 campaign, after his years from 2005 through 2008, make 2009 seem more like an outlier than a season he could repeat again. In some ways, 2009 for Mauer is looking oddly reminiscent of the season Wade Boggs had in 1987 when Boggs hit 24 homers, the only season he ever hit more than eleven.

But can the Twins be thrilled with the Mauer of 2010? Well, heck yes. But with one caveat. According to Fangraphs, Mauer's 2010 season was worth $20.4 million. That's the good news. The not so good news is that starting in 2011, Mauer will be making $23 million. You would want your star player making that kind of money to at least be worth what he is making. But then again, even at his 2010 production, Mauer was the best catcher in baseball. That's worth a lot right there.

But there are certainly questions on how long Mauer can catch. He again got dinged up pretty badly in 2010. There were various reports of sundry health problems during the course of the season. The dilemma for the Twins is whether to keep Mauer behind the plate where the wear and tear can ruin his health and his value, or do you move him out of that position and put him someplace where he isn't as valuable? His batting style is valuable as a catcher but maybe not as much so as a left fielder.

Early projections are still bullish on Mauer. Bill James projects Mauer's 2011 to include 15 homers, a .338 batting average to go along with a .927 OPS. The Fans projection (not this Fan mind you) projects Mauer at .333 with 14 homers and a .901 OPS. The Twins would be happy with that and those numbers would again make Mauer the best catcher in the world.

There is one other sign of concern with Mauer. The last two years, Mauer has sunk down to 26 percent in throwing out potential steals. In Mauer's first few years, those numbers were: 39, 43, 38, 53 and 36 percent. The drop certainly could be put in the pitcher's pocket for not holding runners well. But the number is disconcerting after those numbers just listed.

Joe Mauer is going to be 28 in April and should be at the peak of his career. The Twins are banking on that being the case. If Mauer stays behind the plate, he will continue to be the best catcher in the game. And in his 28 years, he's already won three batting titles and an MVP award. The big question for this Fan is whether or not, despite his age, we've seen the best of Mauer already. This Fan sure hopes not.

Meat Tray and Intergalactic Gas - It Might Work

Casual (and no so casual) observers have sat around this off season watching the New York Yankees pass on every pitcher on the board. It's almost like once they couldn't get Cliff Lee (who, of course, signed with the Phillies), nobody else looked good enough. They passed on Webb, Duchsherer, Young, Pavano, Capuano and Francis. What's left out there doesn't inspire anyone (Millwood, Garcia, etc). And so it looks like the Yankees are looking at Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova as their fourth and fifth starters.

The only sure thing for the Yankees is Sabathia. He'll do what he always does and put up consistent and sometimes dominating numbers. Phil Hughes at times looks unhittable and at others, vulnerable. A. J. Burnett is a huge question mark. So it's not like the top three of the rotation looks all that stable. This puts even more pressure on Mitre and Nova to somehow make it work. Let's look at the two individually and then collectively.

Mitre, or "Meat Tray" as he is unaffectionately called by Yankee fans, doesn't inspire confidence of any of those fans. Mitre is the guy the Yankees would bring in the game (in 2010) when it was the eighth or ninth inning and it wasn't a close game. His counting stats look good for 2010 but they are a mirage. His still gave up more than a homer per nine innings just like always, but on batted balls overall, Mitre gave up a .226 batting average. There is no way to sustain that kind of luck. The other thing about Mitre is that he simply doesn't strike out enough batters. His 4.83 is soft and again, it's hard to sustain that kind of strikeout rate and stay competitive.

So, yeah, Mitre had a good ERA last year at 3.33. But his FIP was 4.69 and that isn't that great. The one positive about Mitre is that he throws many more ground balls than fly balls. That's a plus in a homer heavy park. Last year, the Yankees' infield wasn't very rangy, but they didn't make any errors either. If they can repeat that kind of fielding at least, ground balls are a good thing for the Yankees.

And then there is the intergalactic gas of Ivan Nova. The gas isn't for his fastball, but the heartburn most Yankee fans feel as him being counted on so heavily. Nova had some good moments in his brief stint in 2010 and he did finish with a positive WAR. His FIP of 4.40 was lover than his actual ERA of 4.50. But the two things that are bothersome about him are his immaturity and his lowish strikeout rate. Nova displayed some negative behavior in games that did not go well in 2010 and was unhappy when getting pulled from the game. He upset one team for head hunting after that team hit a homer against him. And then there is his strikeout rate of 5.57. That's better than Mitre, but it isn't great, especially in light of giving up 3.6 walks per nine innings. The Fan would be fine with this if he showed good strikeout rates in the minors, but he didn't. He did just about what he did for the big club.

And yet Nova has an upside. He, like Mitre, throws more ground balls than fly balls and unlike Mitre, Nova has a professional history of keeping the ball in the park, which carried over into the majors. His curveball was rated his best pitch in 2010 by Fangraphs. All of his other pitches came in slightly under zero on their scale. The other element that is interesting about Nova is that he tended to breeze through the batting order the first time and then ran into trouble the second time. If he can get through the batting order a second time and get some depth to his games, then he will be effective.

The fact that Mitre and Nova are ground ball pitchers makes their rotation status a bit more palatable...much more so than if they were fly ball pitchers. But still, it's no the kind of back end of a rotation that inspires any kind of confidence.With that said, you have to wonder why the Yankees let so many high risk (but also high reward) free agent pitchers go by without offers high enough to win their services.

It's going to be an interesting year in the Bronx.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Will Danny Valencia Continue Improbable Success?

Danny Valencia was drafted in nineteenth round of the 2006 draft. He was going to be one of those organizational picks that teams make to keep the minor league rosters full. But Valencia kept hitting and held his own with the glove. He had an .816 OPS in 2007 and an .866 OPS in 2008 and then in Double A and Triple A in 2009, he put up an .803 OPS. But even prior to the 2010 season, Baseball Prospectus stated that he had no real stand out tools and would be at best, a lower division, every day player. BP called him a two-star prospect (in a four star system). The Twins didn't feel all that strongly either and started 2010 with journeyman Joe Crede at third base. When that didn't turn out well, the Twins turned to Valencia. The 26-year old from Miami, Florida, hit the ground running and never looked back.

He now enters the 2011 season as the Twins' established third baseman. And still skeptics abound. Bill James predicts Valencia will have a .771 OPS season with only ten homers and 139 hits. The Fans projection system is even less bullish, predicting he'll finish with a .748 OPS season. Neither expect him to repeat his .799 OPS from  his 85 games in 2010. Why do so few believe in Valencia? James and Fans both expect Valencia's strikeout rate to increase. Will they be right?

As we have already seen, Valencia has already beaten the odds. It's a funny thing about prospects. Despite how good Keith Law's projections and Top 100 lists are, many of those top picks will never pan out and others, drafted low in the bottom rounds turn out to be very good players. There was no part of Valencia's game that looked like it could take a dive in 2011. He fielded his position very well (5.9 rating by Fangraphs) and he hit a solid .315. His .351 wOBA falls right in line with his minor league average. Why shouldn't he be able to keep up this pace?

Valencia needs more patience at the plate. He swings at about 25% of balls outside the strike zone. The Yankees used that weakness against him a bit in the playoffs when he only batted .222. His aggressiveness leads to few walks, but not an over abundance of strikeouts. His season in 2010 projects to about 90 strikeouts over a full season, again in line with his minor league career. If he can limit his swings to the strike zone--something he can do with experience--he puts the ball in play 91% of the time he swings, which is excellent. Fangraphs gives his pitch value in the positive numbers for every pitch type besides the curve, which had a slightly negative value.

Yet, despite his fine play in 2010, when he finished with a 2.7 WAR, good for a value of $10.8 million in half a season, he isn't projected to be worth more than a 2.4 WAR for the entire season in 2011. Ah, those doubters. Valencia has proved the doubters wrong his entire baseball career. Barring injury, 2011 won't be any different.

Ten Ways Attending Baseball is Better than Football

There is nothing quite like going to a baseball game. Perhaps in northern sections, a game in April or late September can get a bit chilly. But most of the time, the weather is nice, the atmosphere is electric and eclectic and there is no better experience in sports (in one man's humble opinion). This Fan isn't knocking football. Football can be thrilling to watch, but unless you are a Buccaneer fan or a fan of a team that has a dome, it can be downright cold in there. That's just one reason going to a baseball game is better than going to a football game. Here are ten more:

1. The Seventh Inning Stretch. The origins of this wonderful custom are veiled behind the mist of time. Some claim President Taft originated the custom. Others claim some Manhattan College friar was involved. But there is evidence of the custom dating as far back as 1869. It's a time to stretch your legs, get a beverage and sing with thousands of other people the grand old song of baseball. The Chicago Cubs have perfected this tradition and there is nothing like it in sports.

2. Keeping Score. You can keep score at a football game, but Oy! there are so many players to keep track of. There are substitutions on every play with players running on and off the field. Good luck keep track of that if you are an average fan. But keeping score at a baseball game is a tradition that is as leisurely and lovely as the game itself. Every kid should learn how to do it properly and the scorecard becomes a keepsake you can have for life recording a moment and time between you and your team. Hey, some of those scorecards become valuable and collectors may buy it off you for some nice change.

3. Vendors and the Food! Yes, the Fan knows you can get food and beverages at a football game. But have you ever tried to eat a warm hot dog when it's 25 degrees outside? It doesn't stay warm for long. And the Fan isn't sure about you, but drinking a frosty beverage is a lot more enjoyable in warm weather than it is in cold weather. And is Cracker Jacks a baseball or football tradition? Case closed. A lot of stadiums now have special food. It's an added benefit to some, but unnecessary to this writer. All you need is a hotdog and popcorn and maybe Cracker Jacks if you're not allergic to peanuts.

4. The Diamond. The baseball diamond is aesthetically beautiful a creation as there is in sports. Football gridirons can be nice. But they get torn up or frozen and it's shape is too symmetrical. It's just a long rectangle cut up into smaller rectangles. And the football dimensions are the same wherever you go. Each ballpark has different outfield dimension and only the infield is written in stone in the rule book. Plus, baseball stadiums get features that become part of the folklore. Pesky's Pole, the Green Monster, The Ivy. There is nothing like walking into a stadium in the middle of a concrete jungle and entering the field with the lights, the green, the diamond. Perfection.

5. Need to keep track of only 13 players at a time. And they are all spaced out to watch. They aren't all in a clump like in football. This is related to the scoring issue.

6. Timing. People complain about baseball being boring. For shame! There is more dead space in football than there is in baseball. You have halftime in football where nothing happens for 10 minutes. You have a touchdown, an extra point, a commercial, a kickoff and then another commercial. In baseball, there is a two minute break between each half inning. Other than that, the game is continuous.

7. Ahem. The scenery. Again, unless you are watching football in Arizona, Florida or Texas, baseball happens in warmer weather. That means people wear less clothes. That's good for both genders is it not?

8. No matter where you are sitting. the action stays the same distance away from you. In football, you could be sitting at the 20 yard line and the action could be in the red zone at the opposite end of the field. That's a bummer.

9. Foul balls. A foul ball at a baseball stadium always creates a buzz in the stands. If the ball comes anywhere near where you are sitting, everyone gets in a frenzy and it's exciting. And to actually catch one of those souvenirs, that's the ultimate in being a Fan. In football, if you are sitting behind the goal posts, you may get a stray football, but it isn't likely. If you are sitting at the fifty yard line, forget it.

10. There are no penalties. You just watched a great play in football. Wasn't that cool? Yeah, but it doesn't count because there is a yellow flag on the field. That's like giving a cookie to a kid and then taking it back. In baseball, if there is a great play, it always counts. There are no penalties in baseball.

Honorable mention: When the players fight, there are no helmets. Ball girls are pretty cool. Especially if they don't catch the ball very well. Baseball mascots are as a rule, better in baseball than in football. We'll give football the cheerleaders, when it's warm enough to enjoy them not all bundled up. Football never had a doubleheader. Organ music. The Fan loves baseball organ music. Many of the younger set probably scoff at that though.

To see the source of all pictures, simply click on them.