Saturday, February 12, 2011

Will Travis Snider Get His Chance in 2011?

Back in 2006, the Toronto Blue Jays made Travis Snider their number one pick. The fourteenth overall pick, Snider was drafted ahead of guys like Kyle Drabek, Joba Chamberlain, John Johnson, Daniel Bard and Chris Coghlan. Granted, he was a rawboned eighteen year old at the time and fresh out of high school, but it's been five years. The thought of him in the Jays' starting line up has been a dream of Toronto fans for several years now. Snider has seen action in parts of the last three years, but it seemed as if his manager, Cito Gaston, did not want to commit to Snider full time. Now that there is a new sheriff in town with new manager, John Farrell, the question becomes whether Travis Snider will truly get his shot.

And even more intriguing a question if Snider does get to play is how he will do. Snider might not have benefited from trends around him in Toronto. The drop in the team's on base percentage from a league average in 2008 and 2009 in the .330 range, the Blue Jays fell to .312 in that category last season. And it seemed to this observer that was a direct strategy of the manager. While the Blue Jays certainly hit the long ball with monumental ease, a .312 on base percentage is going to cost you some games. What is somewhat frightening from a prospect standpoint for Snider is that his on base percentage has mirrored the team as a whole. While his plate appearances in the last three years have increased from 80 to 276 and finally to 319, his OBP has gone from .338 to .328 to last year's .304. And worse yet, the drop in his OBP began in the minors. He was a patient hitter early in his minor league career. The longer he played in the minors, the lower his OBP became (with the exception of 2009).

So what can we expect if Travis Snider gets to play? Well, for one thing, he hits some of the most explosive home runs in baseball. He and Jose Bautista could have a lot of fun slamming the ball over the fence. If Snider gets 600 at bats, he should hit 30 homers with 40 doubles. But will he hit for average? Thus far, he has the batting average of Bautista without the walks. He'll strike out about 100 times, which isn't bad, but his batting average needs to be higher than the .241 and .255 he's put up the last two years.

It's not really laughable as it seems that Snider's comps on are Pete Inkaviglia and Willie Mays. He could be either one of those guys at the plate. Incaviglia was once one of the biggest college prospects ever to come to the majors. He put up a lot of homers early, but didn't walk much and didn't hit for average and he became sort of a bust as a first round pick and only compiled a little over 8 in WAR for his career. Of course we all know what Mays did.

But Travis Snider isn't exactly Willie Mays in the outfield either. And where is he going to play? Jose Bautista has stated publicly that he's rather play the outfield than third base. That cements right field to Bautista. Snider really isn't a center kind of guy, which leaves him with left? This Spring Training will be interesting as Farrell has to figure all of that out.

What the Fan knows is this: Travis Snider was a big commitment by the Toronto Blue Jays when they made him their first round pick in 2006. At some point, they have to give him the chance to earn that pick. Letting him have fifteen at bats a week isn't going to do that. So they either have to play him, or cut their losses or use him as trade bait. Personally, this Fan would like to see Snider get a chance to show what he can do with 600 at bats. The Fan just hopes that if Farrell allows that to happen, Snider will deliver.

Why Cano and Swisher's Defection to Scott Boras is Trouble for Yankees

Robinson Cano, the Yankees star second baseman and Nick Swisher, the personable media star and valuable outfielder have both signed Scott Boras as their agent. Cano was represented by Bobby Barrett and Swisher by Joe Bick. This development is not a coincidence as both are free agents after the 2011 season unless the Yankees sign those players to long-term extensions. The Yankees do not negotiate during the season as we all learned with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and even Joe Girardi. With Boras as their new agent, those two players almost certainly will be on the open market once this coming season is over.

Robinson Cano is the most important part of this discussion. His young age and stardom at a premium position stands to make him a lot of money in free agency. Swisher will be 31 in 2011 and will have to hope for someone to give him a Werth kind of deal, which will not be likely. But Boras finds a way to get his clients the money. And that's what is so troubling about this development.

The Yankees would probably let Swisher walk. They have enjoyed his contribution which has been far over the value of his current contract. But a right fielder is easier to replace and less important in the grand scheme of things than a premier second baseman. However, Swisher is more than just a valuable player. He has become a fan favorite, a twitter darling and a madcap kind of presence in the Yankee locker room that in the past was a bit stodgy. Many credit such characters as Swisher and A. J. Burnett with loosening up the stiff atmosphere around the club and many say that contributed to their 2009 championship after so many disappointments. While that is impossible to measure and discounted by analysts (it's about the performance, Baby), Swisher has also provided pop in the line up and on base opportunities.

But Robinson Cano is a whole other kettle of fish. If you use just one hand to count the best second basemen in baseball, Cano would certainly occupy one of those fingers. He made only three errors in the field in 2010. He's become a power threat with two seasons in a row over 24 homers. He's accumulated 1,075 hits in his six seasons and he has learned how to earn a walk. His 57 walks in 2010 were a career high. If he continues improving his walk performance combined with a low strikeout total, add in his defense and doubles totals and you have a superstar. Cano is not an Alphonso Soriano who only adds a few weapons for a team. Cano is the real superstar. And he will be playing the 2011 season at the age of 28.

His relative youth and elite class at his position will make Cano a pile of dough on the open market. If the Yankees do not get some sort of extension done in the next couple of weeks, added to their stance of not negotiating during the season, Boras will almost certainly make Cano his blue chip of the 2012 free agent season. The Yankees, who suddenly seem to have a budget, will have to outbid everyone else to keep their star second baseman. That will be really expensive. With Boras, you can forget a home town discount.

And say the Yankees do outbid everyone to keep Cano and sign him long-term, then they will have an infield signed for years and years to current superstars that in a few years grow older and older and older together. To be sure, few will shed any tears if the Yankees are stuck in such a position four or five years from now (though Jeter will be off the books by then). Even so, of all their players, Robinson Cano seems to have the highest future upside. They almost have to make that deal.

Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners had to collectively groan when the news was announced of the Boras hiring for two of their star players entering their final season in Yankee control. It will force their hand to have to aggressively shop Swisher who is a valuable cog in the Yankee line up and won't be as easy to replace as they might think. And it means they will have to open their wallets for Robinson Cano if they are to keep one of the best players at his position for a long time. The aggressiveness of the Red Sox this off season further complicates their decision making. Good luck with all of that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Day a Father and Son Hit Homers Back to Back

Of all the players that have played baseball over the years, only a few instances have occurred where a father and son both played in the major leagues (it's happened 178 times). It's rarer still to have a father and son play on the same team. It is even rarer for the father and son to play in the same game. But has it really been more than twenty years now since September 14, 1990 when both Ken Griffeys--father and son--playing on the same team--the elder batting second with his son batting third--hit back to back homers off of Kirk McCaskill?

The elder Ken Griffey was a pretty good ball player. He played 19 years and compiled 2143 hits. He had a little power, but hit only 152 homers in all those years. He finished with a career 118 OPS+ which is pretty darn good. He didn't drive in a lot of runs and scored a lot early in his career, but not so much from the middle on. He was a less than adept fielder in the outfield. Yet, he was one of those "professionals" that every manager loved to have around. He was a good bat off the bench late in his career and he hung around a long time.

Though time is starting to erode Junior Griffey's accomplishments, he was by far the better player. You can't take away his 600 homers or the fact that it would have been a lot more if the injury bug didn't plague him late in his career. Revisionists are rewriting his defensive skills, but for many of us, he was the class of his generation, even if the numbers weren't quite as superlative as we thought they were. Even so, he was the Mariners' first round pick in 1987 and just two years later, his era began as the starting centerfielder for the Mariners starting in the 1989 season. He had star written all over him.

Meanwhile, the elder Griffey was stumbling toward the end of his career. He was released twice in 1988, once by the Braves and then by the Reds. The Reds signed him again in 1989 but cut him in 1990. The Mariners, in a decision of sheer brilliance, picked him up. What a public relations bonus! Both the father of the phenom and the phenom himself would play for the same team. The first time they played together in the field, they made history. When Griffey Sr. hit a homer against against Mike Boddiker on September 7, 1990, the pair made history as both father and son had homers for the same team in the same season.

The pair made history again when the elder Griffey connected off of the Yankees' Tim Leary on May 6, 1991 when a father's son scored on the father's homer. That would be the elder Griffey's last major league homer. But September 14, 1990 takes the cake by a landslide. That was the day they hit back to back homers.

The fifth place Mariners were playing the fourth place Angels in Anaheim. It was a dry, 82 degree night in southern California. Derryl Cousins was the home plate umpire. Kirk McCaskill was the Angels' starting pitcher. He was the inning eating variety of pitcher, neither spectacular, nor terrible. He finished 1990 with a 12-11 record and a 3.25 ERA. He didn't strike out many and probably walked more than he should. But he gave you innings. he would lose 19 games the following season. If you could hear the announcers for that game, they probably called him a "crafty right-hander."

Harold Reynolds led off for the Mariners. He was a slick-fielding second baseman for the Mariners before he was the hugging broadcaster. He led off the game against McCaskill with a walk on five pitches. McCaskill then got the elder Griffey into an 0-2 hole and must have thrown one of the worst 0-2 pitches ever as the ancient Griffey smashed it on a line over the left-centerfield wall. His son was there at the plate to greet him. But then it was the son's turn. History was about to happen.

At first, it didn't look like history was going to happen as McCaskill went to a 3-0 count to the younger Griffey. In an attempt to simply throw a strike, McCaskill must have been surprised the second year player had the go ahead sign and swung at the offering. He too hit the ball on a line over the left-centerfield fence. History was made as for the first time ever (and the only time since) a father and son had hit back-to-back homers in a game that counted.

As it turned out, the heroics by the family affair weren't enough. The Angels still won the game because Matt Young, as he was often apt to do, had a big five-run inning that featured wild pitches, walks, hits and all sorts of mayhem. Young was one of those pitcher that would keep both teams in the game. He struck out a lot of guys but walked a lot. He was the A.J. Burnett of his time. He did his thing and then the Angels scored two more runs on a couple of errors later in the game and won the thing 7-5. But nobody will remember a game between a fourth place team and a fifth place team. It was just another near-the-end-of-the-season grinder kinds of games that meant little in the grand scheme of things. Dave Winfield hit a homer for the Angels on the way to his Hall of Fame career. But it was a momentary magical event in that first inning when the most improbable thing that could happen in baseball happened. A father and son hit back-to-back homers.

This quote from Junior can be found here. But it says a lot about the event and its place in history:

“After he hit his, I was watching him run the bases. When he crossed home plate, he said “That’s how you do it son!’ and went back to the dugout. I looked at him and then after I hit mine, I couldn’t wait to get to the dugout and say “That’s how you do it Dad!’ He waited until after I congratulated everyone else, then he gave me a hug and said you did it. That’s something that will never be done again. Everyone else in the dugout was shocked and excited to see a part of history.”

Indeed, it's an event that will probably never happen again.

Here's a link to the video of the event. Very worth watching!

Twins Would Be Foolish to Trade Francisco Liriano

Frankly, reports of the Twins being interested in trading Francisco Liriano seem half-baked. Why would they weaken their rotation because they have six possible starters? For one thing, three of those six didn't pitch very well last season. For another, why would you be interested in trading a pitcher that gave you $24 million in pitching value last year with a $1.6 million salary? Liriano is going to make $4.3 million in 2011. He could have a mediocre year and earn that much for the Twins. It would be silly to trade him.

Again, this Fan doesn't believe the hype. Sure, Liriano has always vexed the Twins. He doesn't fit their mold of a strike throwing machine, though he did post his best walks per nine ratio since 2006. But still, he walked 2.7 batters per nine when the team averaged 2.4 as a whole. This is a team, after all, that released Craig Breslow because he walked too many batters. They should have thought that one through a little harder. Plus, Liriano did have two really lost seasons in 2008 and 2009. For sure, that has left a bit of the nerves in the Twins going forward.

But seriously, Liriano, if he is as close to being as good as he was in 2010, is a stud pitcher that would make most managers drunk-happy. He only gave up nine homers in 191+ innings. His 3.62 ERA is totally misleading. That stats show that Liriano was unlucky. He posted a batting average against of .331 on balls in play. That should really be around .300. He was particularly unlucky on the road, where is BABIP skyrocketed to .362.

To gauge a true look at how well Liriano pitched in 2010, you have to look at his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and his xFIP. His FIP was 2.66 and his xFIP was 3.06 according to Fangraphs. Liriano induces way more ground balls than fly balls and as such, he induced fifteen ground ball double plays. Again, this is a very good pitcher.

The only thing the Twins could be thinking IF they are thinking about trading him (again, the Fan doesn't believe it), is the post season. The Twins have made the playoffs several times and can't get past the first round. Liriano has not produced in the post season. But again, if you look closely at that game he pitched against the Yankees in the 2010 Division Series, he was a bit unlucky again. He struck out seven in his six innings, gave up no homers and just seven base runners. But he still gave up four runs.

No, it's not a good idea to trade Francisco Liriano. He is under the Twins control for the next couple of years and he will be relatively cheap. For the value he can add to that pitching staff, they would have to get a whole bunch of value in return to make the deal worthwhile. But unless that is the case, trading Liriano would be stupid.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weaver's Arbitration Hearing Continues Angels' Weird Off Season

After spending a gazillion dollars to acquire Vernon Wells from the Blue Jays, the Angels quibbled with Jered Weaver, their best player, for a million and a half dollars. In a rarity for a Scott Boras client, a pre-hearing deal with Weaver did not come together and his case went to the arbiter. Weaver lost the case meaning he'll make $7.365 million in 2011. Weaver submitted $8.8 million. You would think a $1.1 million difference could have been overcome.

Having the case go all the way to a hearing leads to several questions:

1. Are relations between the Angels and Boras that bad that the two sides can't even settle a case as close as this one?

2. How will Weaver respond to this hearing and how much will it reduce the likelihood that Weaver will stay with the Angels long term?

3. How can the Angels be so spend-thrifty on one hand and so niggling on the other?

Of course, the Fan likes to ask questions more than answer them. But we have heard all along that the Angels and Scott Boras are not on each other's Christmas card list and we can point to several Boras clients on the market this off season that were linked to the Angels' wish list. None of those players were signed by the Angels.

Which also leads to speculating about the second question. If the Angels and Boras are already in cold water, how will that impact the negotiations with Weaver once the pitcher reaches free agency? And will Weaver give the Angels a "hometown" discount now that his case had to go to a hearing over a measly one and a half million dollars? The Fan would think that the chances of the Angels signing Weaver long-term just took a giant hit and with Boras as his agent, the odds were long to begin with.

And why is this important? As we have certainly seen this off season, starting pitching is at its highest premium. Every team covets those assets and were willing to suspend logic and reason to land someone like Cliff Lee for way too much money spread out over way too many years. And Jered Weaver is arguably as good or better than Cliff Lee (a fact that would surprise quite a few folks).  Weaver led the Angels in WAR this year at 5.4 (bWAR) and has done so two of the last five years. He had a masterful 2010 season despite his 13-12 final record.

And Weaver is one of those guys who is going to give you 34 starts and 220 innings every season. In 2010, he struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings while only walking 2.2. His WHIP was a minuscule 1.074. The only thing he didn't do well in 2010 was find a way to win more ball games. Santana had an ERA of 3.89 compared to Weaver's at 3.01 and went 17-10. Sometimes things just work out that way. Weaver came in fifth in Cy Young voting and could easily have finished second.

So here we have one of the best pitchers in the American League going into his season before free agency. His team had a chance to lock him up for a while and failed. If the Angels saw the writing on the wall, they should know that Boras will have his client on the market for open bidding, a situation certain for the Angels to lose. That said, the other thing this situation creates is the need for the Angels to deeply consider trading Weaver if they fail to get off to a good start and fall out of contention early.

The Angels seem more puzzling every day...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Elvis Andrus Versus Starlin Castro

We have already talked about the dearth of good shortstops in the majors, particularly in the American League. The National League has more good shortstops, but overall, the picture in the majors is bleak. Two of the new breed of shortstops have caused quite a buzz in their early career stages. Both entered the majors and an astoundingly young age. Elvis Andrus is entering his third season for the Rangers and he doesn't turn 23 until August. Starlin Castro made many of us groan when he became the first player in the majors who was born in the 1990s. The question posed here is: If you had a choice of the two, which would you want? Oh! And before the Fan forgets, Ian Desmond could fit into this conversation since he too is young. But he hasn't created the buzz of Castro and Andrus. So if you want Desmond in the conversation, you might have to write your own post.

First, we'll dispense with the easy part. Neither Andrus or Castro will be banging balls out of the park. Castro hit three in his rookie season and judging from his minor league career, that's the most you can expect. Some of the projections have Castro hitting six homers in 2011, but that isn't very significant. Andrus hit six homers his rookie season but hit zippo, nadda, none in 2010. It's pretty hard to go 674 plate appearances, half of which are in a good hitting park, and not hit a homer. Heck, Even Brett Gardner hit five of them. So power isn't their game. But for Andrus, it goes beyond that. In 1,215 plate appearances in his first two years, Andrus only hit 32 total doubles and added 11 triples. That's not exactly punching the ball with authority. Castro on the other hand, hit 31 doubles and five triples in his rookie season. Castro's slugging percentage then was .408. Andrus has put together two seasons with his slugging percentage below that (.371 and .301). The .301 is incredibly low for a full time player. Advantage, Castro.

Castro also hit for average as he batted a nice and even .300 his rookie season. Andrus has hit .267 and .265 his first two seasons. Advantage Castro. But that may be evened out by their walk percentage. Andrus walked 9.5 percent of the time in 2010. Castro finished with a walk percentage of 5.7 percent. Thus, Castro's on base percentage was .347 and Andrus finished at .342. That's a virtual wash.

Andrus strikes out with greater proficiency. He struck out 16.3 percent of the time in 2010. That's a little lower than his minor league stats, so it shows he is cutting down some on the strikeouts. Castro finished with a strikeout rate of 15.7 percent, which again is nearly a wash. The one difference is that Castro averaged a lot less strikeouts in the minors, and his 2011 figure should be a lot lower than his rookie season. Andrus swings at far less pitches out of the strike zone (21 percent) compared to Castro (32 percent) and Andrus makes contact at a slightly higher rate when he swings. Add all those up and it looks like you again have a wash.

Elvis Andrus appears to be the better base runner of the two. His speed component is 5.7 compared to 4.7 for Castro. And Andrus stole 15 bases in 18 attempts. Castro tried to steal 18 times and was only successful 10 times. Seems like he should be better at stealing than that. Advantage Andrus with the one reservation that with his speed, he should convert more of his singles into doubles.

Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro both had remarkably similar line drive percentages (19.5 and 19.3 respectively). Both hit many more ground balls than fly balls. But Andrus hit much less line drives in 2010 than he did in 2009 and hit more ground balls. More on that later.

Now we get to fielding and for a shortstop, that's a pretty important component of value. Castro made 27 errors in his rookie season. Only Ian Desmond made more. Andrus only committed 16 errors after making 22 his first season. But as we know now, fielding percentage isn't the only thing we need to look at. UZR, despite its problems, at least breaks fielding down into three categories, which help us see a fielder's overall skill. There are the errors, the range and the double play success. Obviously, Andrus bested Castro in the error department (Castro almost cost the Cubs a full win with his errors). But Castro shows much more range and is given better ratings in converting double plays. Combine them all together and Andrus comes out on top with a Fangraphs' final score of 0.1 for his fielding (down from 2009 though). Castro, due largely for his errors, scored a -2.1. Advantage, at least for now, to Andrus.

Just one more note about fielding. According to the Fans Scouting report, Andrus has better instincts, a better first step, better speed, gets rid of the ball quicker and is slightly more accurate. Castro has the greater arm strength. Their overall scouting score in the field gives Andrus a 76 score and Castro a 62. Those scores seem to give Andrus a clear edge on the fielding side.

The thing the Fan likes about WAR is that it combines all of these things into one score. It's not the be all and end all to the discussion, but it's a good place to look. Castro, in about a dozen less games than Andrus, finished with a WAR of 2.0 (Fangraphs version). Andrus finished up at 1.5 (down from 3 the year before).

After going through this whole process, the Fan has gotten himself very confused. Andrus had a higher value his rookie year than Castro did his. But Andrus second year was half as valuable as the year before and under what Castro did for his rookie year. It appears that Castro will always be the better hitter, while Andrus gets on base more with walks and runs the bases better. Andrus is also the better fielder. The Fan guesses that the final conclusion on these two will have to wait a few years until we have more of an idea how their careers progress. They are both so young and have all those years ahead of them.

We should spend a moment here and talk about Andrus' offense. It has to be a great concern to the Rangers that Andrus is not making progress as a hitter. With his line drive percentage down and his ground ball percentage up, it would seem that Andrus seems content to be a slap hitter. But that may not be in his best interest as his "slaps" wind up as outs too often. How long will the Rangers be willing to live with a shortstop with a .301 slugging percentage? Again, Andrus does offer the Rangers an excellent fielder on the left side, which when combined with Adrian Beltre, should certainly prevent a lot of runs. But again, the Rangers had to have expected a lot more offense than Elvis has shown. It will be interesting to see what kind of year Andrus has in 2011.

So what do you think? Who would you take? Elvis Andrus? Or do you like the upside to Starlin Castro better? It's a tough call, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Mark Kotsay Syndrome

Mark Kotsay joined his sixth team in his fourteen year career when he signed recently with the Milwaukee Brewers. Way back in 2002, Kotsay was a fairly valuable player. But he ceased to be valuable a long time ago and yet, every year, he signs a new contract. The Fan has nothing against Mark Kotsay. More power to him if he can keep garnering a paycheck doing something he loves. Good on him, as they say. What the Fan doesn't understand is why teams feel the need to make these kinds of moves.

So, let's pick on Mark Kotsay. According to, Kotsay has had a negative value for four years in a row and five of the last seven years. That's pretty brutal. And for most of that time, teams were signing him for $6 to $8 million dollars. At least the Brewers only paid $800,000. Kotsay has had negative defensive metrics eight of the last eleven years. It's not like he's going to be a defensive whiz for you. His only real skill at this point is that he can play four or five different positions. The question is: Do you want him to?

Kotsay is mostly an outfielder who can play a little first base. The Brewers are set this year for first base so that's a moot point. So he's an outfielder. His stats are virtually identical in either league, so you're not going to get National League bonus points. He's going to be 35, so it's not like he's going to get better in the outfield or as a hitter. Again, we are talking about a guy who has had a negative value for four straight years. The indication that tells us is that he's not going to be worth the $800,000 so all he is then is a placeholder in the outfield when someone needs a day off. Is that worth $800,000? This Fan doesn't think so.

Why not? Okay, the Brewers have a guy in Triple A (Nashville) named Trent Oetjen. He's not on anyone's top ten list of Brewers' prospects. He's not on Keith Law's Top 100. He's just a guy in Triple A who happens to hit pretty darn well. For Nashville last year, Oetjen batted .320 with a .906 OPS. Yeah, that's Triple A. But the guy isn't a big time prospect. He's just a guy plugging away in Triple A. But for half the cost of Kotsay, couldn't he be the placeholder for outfielders taking a day off? How could it hurt? If he ends up with a negative value like Kotsay, at least it will be a less expensive negative. Why don't more teams do that?

The Fan isn't picking on the Brewers in particular. For every Kotsay, there is a Hairston or an aging Molina or Gregor Blanco and a Getz. All these fringe major league players have to get raises every year they play in the majors. But the Fan has this brilliant kind of idea: Why not always have a first year marginal guy to be your utility guy? Wouldn't that be cheaper and in the long run give you about the same value?

Oh sure, for every one of these arguments, some GM could rebut that Kotsay and Hairston and Molina and others are "good clubhouse" guys that help a team gel and are like player-coaches. Folks, that's bull-tacky.Teams are going to win or lose based on performance and not "chemistry." Chemistry never helped the Finley-owned Oakland A's.

No, I think guys like Kotsay and Molina and Hairston and all the other marginal major league players out there serve as comfort food for the GMs and the managers. "Hey, at least we have a pro in there who won't embarrass us." Well, yeah, but they won't help you either. It just baffles this little mind to wonder why this happens so often and how these guys have such long careers of mediocrity.

It's not Mark Kotsay's fault. He's just hanging on and riding the wave as long as he can. The Fan would do the same thing. And it's not really the Brewers' fault either. ALL the teams hang onto or sign that veteran who "gives you some versatility." Why else would Melky Cabrera be heading into his fifth or sixth season? No, it's a disease that most teams share. For now, the Fan will call it the Mark Kotsay Syndrome. Hey, the disease has to be named for somebody. Perhaps in a year or two, we can name it for Aaron Miles.

Twitter - I'm Getting Addicted

I've always known that I have an addictive character trait. First, there is family history with alcohol and I was heading down that road when I was young and dumb and went to college for the first time. After I woke up in a closet upside down, I swore off hard liqueur and haven't touched it since. But the thing about addictive tendencies is that you can get addicted to anything. I was addicted to chatting on IRC and AOL back in the early 1990s. I know that I'm addicted to Coca-Cola and greasy foods. And there are other addictions I'd rather not talk about. Now I'm addicted to Twitter.

At first, Twitter was a means to an end. You can click a post you've just created and create a "tweet" that automatically puts a link to your new post on Twitter. I'm not about gaining "followers" like a lot of people are. I could care less really. I do care about attracting new readers, so that's why I created my account. But a funny thing happened. The first person I followed on Twitter was Nick Swisher. Nick Swisher!? Get out! I could actually get tweets from a real ball player? Yeah, even at my age, I'm still into hero worship. Sheesh.

But following players are actually quite boring. Swish likes to promote his charitable work and uses Twitter to do so. More power to him, that's great. But it's not really interesting. Curtis Granderson tweets things from his Yahoo Sports tear-off calendar or something and tweets birthdays of long lost players. Whuh? Logan Morrison of the Marlins can be interesting, but really young players like him and Austin Jackson are...well...young. So the glow has worn off quickly then.

No, the real juice for me is following the writers. There are writers with wit and those with sarcasm, but you get a glimpse in 140 character segments of who these people are that are what I aspire to be. Some are hysterical like Dan Szmborski (@DSzyborski). A morsel? One of his recent tweets: "I had a bad case of mono. But then I discovered one of the speakers was unplugged." Well, it was funny to me.

Keith Law will respond to fans, usually sarcastically since their questions are usually pretty dumb. The same can be said for Kevin Goldstein. But all of these wonderful writers are tweeting regularly and it's fascinating. Peter Gammons tweets. Imagine! One of my all time icons as a writer and there he is on Twitter. Joe Posnanski is on there. Jonah Keri and so many others. I just soak it in and dream. They always seem to have the right answers and the right way of looking at things. They cut through the BS and see the real stuff most of us miss. It's awesome.

I also enjoy working with my fellow BBA members, particularly those who are like me and striving for success. On Friday, everyone shares "followers." They call it #FF day which stands for Friday Follows or something or other. I do enjoy when one of my tweets gets retweeted. It's all so weird sounding, isn't it? That's how you know it's an addiction. But when someone retweets you (reposts your post so others can read it), it's sort of a thrill, especially when it's a known writer. Gawsh, I'm sounding like a groupie. And maybe I am. Except I don't want to sleep with these people. I just want to be where they are.

So now you know one of my dirty little secrets. I'm getting addicted to Twitter. But at least it's yet another way of losing sleep that doesn't make you have regrets in the morning.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Will Colby Rasmus Survive in St. Louis?

At the tender age of 23, Colby Rasmus put up a slash line of .276/.361/.498 good for an OPS+ of 132. But even so, he and Tony LaRussa, his manager on the St. Louis Cardinals, did not have a rosy year in 2010. And the way Rasmus handled the situation prompted a calling out from Albert Pujols. Such a year from a young slugger would prompt dreams of future glory (or even higher glory than what he already achieved). But there is this nagging feeling that this won't end well. Just what is the problem?

Well, from LaRussa's standpoint, there are all those strikeouts. Rasmus struck out 148 times in 2010. His 31.9 percent strikeout rate was by far the highest in Colby's professional career and much higher than the 20 percent rate with which he struck out in 2009. That is a bit alarming. While nobody should confuse Rasmus with Mark Reynolds, the strikeouts are something for LaRussa to be unhappy about. There is also the matter of the center fielder's defense which dropped alarmingly in 2010. Both and Fangraphs show a deep decline in the young outfielder's fielding from 2009 to 2010. Since we only have two years worth of data, we have no idea yet if this is a trend or a one year result from nagging injuries that might have plagued Rasmus. The other thing LaRussa can point to is the high number of times Rasmus was thrown out trying to steal. But then again, if the guy is getting thrown out, stop sending him, no?

But still, the Fan thinks there is more to this than we are being told. Could this be political? Could Rasmus run contrary to the conservative right leanings of the leadership of the Cardinals? You can't discount the possibility. You also can't discount that Tony LaRussa has had plenty of other ball players over the years that became a boil on LaRussa's butt. LaRussa always wins those battles because he can. You can't argue with the manager's success, so his power base is legitimate. So the question is whether Rasmus is a victim or does Rasmus have some growing up to do?

You have to look at some history to get a little clearer picture. Prior to 2010, scouting reports always indicated that Rasmus had above average make-up. What does that mean? It means a lot of things. It means that he has the right attitude for a ball player, he works hard, he's a good citizen. Scouts don't give those kinds of endorsements lightly. So if Rasmus got high marks for his make-up prior to 2010, what happened to him in 2010?

Some times things just don't click between a leader and some of his charges. The Fan has been in those positions. Some times, it becomes a relief for both parties when the employee transfers out to a different department. Perhaps the best thing for Rasmus is to get himself included in some kind of mega-trade. Or the player can dig down and succeed despite the problems he may have with LaRussa.

The Fan finds it interesting that so far, none of the early projections predict Rasmus will have as good a year in 2011 that he had in 2010. Are they too suspicious of the situation? Or are there simply flaws in the game of Colby Rasmus. People say that the game is all about adjustments. It seems obvious that opposing pitchers found some sort of weakness in Rasmus's approach and that caused the strikeouts. Rasmus will need to make an adjustment and get his strikeout rate again down to the 20 percent level or it will be hard to maintain the performance he had in 2010.

The situation in St. Louis is fraught with story lines this coming season. Will LaRussa winning the balance of power fight and his insistence on the Puntos and Theriots of the world work out? Will this be Pujols' last season in St. Louis? Can Lance Berkman play the outfield? And yes, will Colby Rasmus survive in St. Louis? History seems to show that he won't. This fan isn't optimistic. Which is too bad because the kid has a bright future with scads of talent.

The Giants Won't Repeat...Will they?

No team has repeated a World Series title since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. It's just not an easy thing to do. But the Giants showed last year that they have the time of pitching that can win a short series. The problem is that they have to get there first. The Dodgers don't appear they can be as bad as last year, the Rockies have improved as have the Diamondbacks. What the Padres do depends on their pitching, but they don't appear to be the factors they were last year. The Giants won 92 games last year and it would appear they need to win 90 to repeat as division winners. Is their 2011 team within two wins of last year?

For the Giants, it all comes down to pitching. With Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner, the Giants may have three of the top ten pitchers in the National League. Barry Zito can still fill out innings, just don't expect much more. The real key is Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez mysteriously lost some velocity last year and was ineffective for much of the latter third of the season. And Sanchez was the weakest link on the post season rotation as well. Sanchez simply throws too many pitches. If Sanchez could ever find the key to pounding the strike zone, he could be a tremendous fourth starter for the Giants and that alone could be enough to carry the division. Of course, good health is crucial. The Giants did not lose any significant time by any of their pitchers last year, which is pretty remarkable in itself.

Another key for their pitching staff is Matt Cain. Cain has long been undervalued by analysts for a long time now. The post season showed what a great pitcher he can be. The prevailing wisdom is that Cain is simply lucky. Lucky? For two years in a row? His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABiP) was .267 in 2009 and .254 in 2010. Yes, you can look at that and say he's lucky. But is he? If he is, someone better find out his superstitious rituals then and copy them, because his string of luck has lasted a long time. All this Fan can tell you is that Cain led the rotation in Walks plus Hits for Innings Pitched (WHIP) and has lowered his walks per nine for three years in a row. Will his "luck" take a hit this year due to Tejada at short instead of Uribe? It could.

Tim Lincecum is always a question mark in this writer's mind. His slight build and the incredible torque he uses to pitch just seems bound for a short career. The Fan hopes he's wrong, but with Lincecum, the Fan is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It did drop for a while last summer when Lincecum struggled. But then he pulled it together down the stretch and into the post season, where he was terrific. Thankfully, the Giants have Bumgarner emerging as the new ace of the staff. Bumgarner possesses great control and good velocity, a hard combination to beat. For a young guy, he had the lowest walks per nine innings of all the starters.

The Giants' bullpen appears set. The big three of Wilson, Romo and Casilla were lights out all season. But we all know how unpredictable bullpens can be. There is a weakness in lefty relievers on the team, but the three pitchers just mentioned can get anybody out. Runzler was very good at many points last season, so he may be their top lefty. Affeldt walks too many batters to be a good LOOGY.

The Giants 2011 batters have so many ups and down sides. Posey will have a full season, which is an up side. Tejada will not replace Uribe's production. That's a down side. Sandoval has worked hard this winter to get in shape. That's an up side. There's no way that Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell repeat their success last season. That's a down side. Brandon Belt looks like the real deal, but how will he do out of the gate? If he falters, Cody Ross is just an okay player despite his post season heroics. The Fan can't see Freddie Sanchez repeating his mild success of 2010. Andres Torres should be better than last year. See all the ups and downs? Over the course of the season, the Giants just have to be a little better than last year with their pitching to repeat the division. But if the pitching falters at all and this line up doesn't at least produce last year's frail offensive performance, there won't be any repeats of anything.

Nobody expected the Giants to do what they did last year. But that's the glorious thing about baseball. Anything can happen and it certainly did with the Giants. If the Giants just play their game and forget about having to prove anything, they could be just fine. But a lot must go right for this team to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Rockies or Rangers - Who Needs Michael Young More?

The reports of the Rangers wanting to trade Michael Young refuse to die. Buster Olney seems to be at the epicenter of the rumors but Olney has never once mentioned the Rockies. But other writers have stated openly on Twitter that the Rockies are the team the Rangers have been talking to. And how does all this counter Nolan Ryan stating earlier that Michael Young will be the opening day DH for the Rangers? It all seems a bit puzzling, but perhaps it has all been created because Young no longer wants to play for the Rangers. But the question the Fan keeps asking himself is which team needs him more, the Rangers or the Rockies?

A second questions is when Michael Young became Mike Young? Okay, perhaps that question doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But the Fan hates when people change the names players go by in mid-career. The Fan remembers giving up even mentioning Albert Belle after a while. Alright, enough about that topic. Let's get back to the topic at hand.

Why would the Rockies want Michael Young? The Rockies are obviously set at shortstop with Tulowitzki. But Tulo has found a way to get hurt here and there and it would be nice to have Young around in case that happens again (heaven forbid!). Young's other two positions are second and third. The Rockies have two guys in those positions coming off two disappointing years in a row. Clint Barmes plays second and Ian Stewart plays third. Stewart is just okay in the field and Barmes seems to be pretty darn good playing second. So adding Young at either place hurts little at third but a lot at second. But both of those Rockies have really struggled at the plate despite the deceiving power numbers that are inevitable at Coors Field. Steward ended up with a 0.9 bWAR last year and Barmes finished with a bWAR of 1.0 thanks largely to his fielding. Young has averaged a bWAR of 3.0 for his entire career, so he is a significant upgrade for the Rockies in either case.

But there is another possibility here. The Rockies outfield is pretty pathetic. The Rockies could slide Young into left and gain significantly. So the bottom line is that the Rockes could desperately use someone like Michael Young. The question is how much of that value they are willing to obtain and at what cost. Young is going to be making $16 million this year. That's a lot of coin for a guy who will be worth more in the $8 to $10 million range. Can the Rockies get the Rangers to eat $6 million of the deal? That would make the deal worthwhile for the Rockies.

What about the Rangers? This Fan loved their plan to have Young as the DH and also be able to play all over the field to spell others and create some good split match ups. If the Rangers trade their long time star, they will lose a lot of flexibility as well as lose a DH who will give them three wins above replacement. Those three wins are hard to replace with what's left on the market. Branyon is still out there, but he is a health risk and can't hit lefties. Plus, Branyon can only slide over to first base if needed. He wouldn't be a good bet to play anywhere else. So the bottom line here is that the Rangers are much better off with Young than without him. The only instance where it's better to trade him is if he'll hurt the team by pouting. But Young seems too much like a pro to let that happen once the season starts. The Fan would hesitate to ever think Young would be a distraction or a problem once the games begin.

On balance, the Rockies could use Young more than the Rangers can. Young improves the Rockies much more than hurts the Rangers if they lost him. All of that equation changes though on who is paying Young's salary and at what proportion. This writer can't imagine the Rangers would get much in return for Young with the money that is on the table in salary. Saying all that, the Rangers are better off keeping Young as another cog for another run at the AL West title.