Saturday, March 05, 2011

No Love for Seattle Mariners in Projections

This post was going to start out by saying: "Whenever a team has a season like the Seattle Mariners did last season..." But that was quickly abandoned because it has been a long time since any team had a season like the Seattle Mariners did last season. Their team offense completely disappeared in such a dramatic fashion that Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award precisely because voters were amazed that he won 13 games despite no run support. The rest of the sentence that was supposed to start this post would have read: " would seem favorable for the team to bounce back even a little bit." But the early projections for the Mariners attach little love for the Mariners and predict them to lose 93 games.

The offensive projections predict another awful offensive season. Baseball Prospectus, for example, has predicted they will score only 575 runs or just 3.55 runs a game. And since the pitching is expected to give up 676 runs, you can see the problem. Is there a chance that these projections are overly pessimistic? For example, Zips projections, Baseball Prospectus and one other obscure projection this Fan looked at all predicted Ichiro Suzuki to bat below .300. That's pretty pessimistic since he's NEVER been under .300 in his career. Heck, BP even has him pegged in the .270s! Sure, the guy is 37 years old, but still.

Chone Figgins is another that is not expected to bounce back. Last year, Figgins had his worst year and in 2011, BP and Zips puts him around the .254 mark with a .330s OBP. Figgins is a career .287 hitter with a career OBP of .359. Despite him being 33 years old, wouldn't you expect him to at least reach his career norms? He'll be back at third base this year after being moved to second last year. So the move should make Figgins more comfortable and happy. The Fan expects him to perform much better than last year.

None of the Mariners young players are given much chance to succeed in 2011. Dustin Ackley (.246./327), their best hitting prospect, Justin Smoak (.236/..337) and Michael Saunders (.229/.295) are not given much hope of hitting well. Say if two of those three can beat those projections and beat them by quite a bit, then that would make a huge difference.

No matter who plays shorstop, you're not going to get a lot of offense. Jack Wilson is who he is. He's a slick fielding, somewhat injury prone, below major league average hitter. Brendan Ryan, who the Mariners acquired from the Cardinals, is as good or better a fielder than Wilson and, despite a horrible offensive season last year, may just have a higher offensive upside than Wilson. If the Fan was a GM, then Ryan would get the first shot at the job. The trouble with that scenario is that Wilson makes a lot of money. Ryan could play second, but the feeling seems to be that the Mariners would love Ackley to win that job.

Franklin Gutierrez is projected to hit .249/.299 for the season. Again, that projection is very low and pessimistic. There is no reason to doubt that the center fielder can hit in the .270 or .280 range with an OBP in the .330s. That's still not great, but it's a heck of a lot better than the projections.

The catching situation was abominable last season and doesn't figure to be any better this season. Miguel Olivo is the current starter and though he should be better than Adam Moore was last year, he's still a terrible offensive player. How bad? Well, how about BP projecting is OBP at .271? Oof. Moore has had two years and has not been able to show he can hit major league pitching, but his upside is still higher than Olivo. but Olivo will be the catcher.

The DH features Jack Cust and Milton Bradley. Bradley has hit well this spring, but who knows where his life will be this summer. Cust has fallen off after years of being a fearsome slugger who struck out a lot and walked a lot. He won't enjoy trying to hit homers in Seattle. But at least he still should walk a lot. Either way, the DH production HAS to be better than last year.

From looking at what could happen in a best case scenario, it is certainly possible for the Mariners to score 625 runs instead of 575. Fifty runs would make a huge difference in their win total. The pitching has to be as good as projected though.

The bullpen will struggle to be league average, and that's assuming that Aardsma will be available at some point this season. The rotation is, of course, anchored by King Felix, who should have another great season. But Fister, French, Vargas, Pineda and even Bedard have to have good seasons. Surprisingly, Bedard has pitched this spring and it went well. Stranger things have happened.

So what do we have here? Well, we don't have a contender, that much seems sure. Not in 2011. But this team could be a lot better than last year, especially on offense. Several things have to go well, but it just seems to be asking a lot for things to be as bad as the projections think they'll be. The one good thing is that the projections are so low that if just half of the line up can be a lot better, this team could win 72 to 75 games. That would at least be a lot less painful to watch for Mariners fans.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Ten Most Boring Plays in Baseball

Even a baseball purist and all time apologist like the Fan knows there are  times when a ball game can get a bit stagnant. So it's not really sacrilegious to say it out loud. If you have watched hundreds of baseball games, there are certainly times that make you roll your eyes or have them glaze over. And baseball is not alone with this problem. Hockey has its icing rule. Football has the extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial routine. Every minute of every game can't be a hootenanny. So here are the ten worst, in no particular order.

1. The idea for this post came from something that bores the Fan endlessly. And that's when a person on Twitter does a play by play of an exhibition game. Do we really need that to happen? Anyway, this tweeter tweeted (isn't all this language silly?) twice in a row about two players grounding out unassisted to first base. And thus, this event makes our list. By the way, the order of this list is meaningless. We aren't rating them. Boredom is boredom and there aren't degrees. But getting back to No. 1, is there a more futile at bat then when a left-handed batter grounds unassisted to first base? The only time this event was not boring was when Bill Buckner screwed his event up.

2. More than one pick-off attempt to first base. The pick-off attempt is pretty lame anyway. Rarely does it work. It's even worse when there is a man on first and third and the pitcher does one of those karate moves by faking to third and then to first. First of all, isn't a balk when you try to dupe the runner? But beyond that, as boring as pick-off throws are, at least throw the darn thing.

3. More than one pitching change in an inning. This is THE baseball equivalent to the extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial thing. It's especially pukey when it's done with nobody on base. If there was one rule the Fan was allowed to make it would be only one pitching change an inning. The Fan actually throws things at the television when a LOOGY is brought in, walks the only lefty he was supposed to get out and then gets pulled immediately after. What a waste of time.

4. Catcher/pitcher conferences. Jorge Posada is the Zen master of this particularly irritating and boring event in baseball. Why would a catcher have to go out to the mound to talk about signs the first time a guy gets on second? You couldn't have discussed that in the dugout?

5. Manager/umpire arguments. Many of you will argue this one and you would be right sometimes. But that manager has to be good at it. If you have a Lou Piniella or Billy Martin, it's down right entertaining. But if you have a Mike Scioscia with his hands in his back pockets calmly discussing the umpire's call for eight minutes, it's boring. There are more like that latter than the former.

6. Pitchers bunting. This is a National League problem only. Personally, the Fan likes seeing a good-hitting pitcher hit. But even those guys are asked to bunt repeatedly if someone is on base. Everyone knows it's going to happen. Everyone knows the third baseman is going to field it and throw the guy out at second. It's bloody awful.

7. The intentional walk. This is another rule that the Fan would like to abolish. 45,000 people just paid $25 to $200 to see Albert Pujols hit and the other team is simply allowed to walk him on purpose. What a crock. Last year, there was quite a flap in New York because Mariano Rivera got mad at Joe Girardi for the latter's instruction to intentionally walk a batter. Rivera is a real man's man and he knows that the intentional walk is an act of cowardice. It's also boring. And why does the pitcher have to throw the pitches? Why, because one out of a couple hundred times, the catcher might miss the ball, allowing the runners to move up? As long as you are going to have a sissy, boring rule, you might as well just have the catcher put his hands up and the batter simply trots to first. How lame.

8. A fielder calling time out to go get his sunglasses. Sorry, Pal. If you didn't bring them out with you, you should be out of luck. But no, we let them run all the way in from center field and get the darn things. But the Fan does love when this happens AFTER the fielder let a ball drop in safely because he lost it in the sun. It's a little late now, don't you think?

9. The infield fly rule. The Fan knows that this rule is necessary because it IS unfair if the infielder simply lets the ball drop to get a cheap double-play. But it's still boring. Anytime there is an event in sports where there can be no doubt about the outcome is boring.

10. A broken bat that doesn't result in a ball put in play. A bat shattering but the ball in play is kind of exciting in a demolition derby sort of way. But when the broken bat simply results in a foul ball, then we have to wait while the batter works on the new bat to get it to feel just right. Can the Fan ask a stupid question? Why wouldn't you simply have two or three bats already prepared before the game starts? Does putting pine tar on the bat before you use it cause the wood to rot?

Honorable Mention: The sequence when the pitcher and catcher disagree on the sign and then the batter steps out. This is usually followed by No. 4 with a pitcher/catcher conference.
Honerable Honerable Mention: The in-the-stands broadcast team member. These are always boring except for the Tampa Bay Rays telecasts. They are the best this Fan has ever seen at making this feature work.

Warts and All

There is an old expression that you can take someone or something "warts and all." Apparently that's no longer the case. Brian Matusz, the promising pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, has become the second player (that we know of) that is missing time this spring due to a wart. A while back, Michael Cuddyer of the Twins was said to miss at least two weeks of Spring Training because he had to have a wart removed from his foot. The Fan isn't making light of the problem. It's just odd, isn't it?

Every year we seem to have a fashionable injury. A couple of years ago there was the hip injury that afflicted Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley and Mike Lowell. Last year and heading into this year, we've seen a rash of calf strains. While some of these new maladies become fashionable, others remain fairly consistent and others seem to fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, concussion syndrome is in the news more than every before. Certainly, we aren't thankful that concussion are occurring, only in that they are being reported and treated. In the past, the only time we even heard about concussions in baseball was when a player got seriously beaned. But baseball is getting smarter that this is a dangerous injury and needs to be treated as such.

Another injury that is much more heard about than in the past is the torn meniscus in the knee. Perhaps in the past all knee injuries were lumped together. Now we separate them into torn ACL's and torn meniscus. We started hearing about the ACL tears, which are much more serious than meniscus tears, which are more painful than debilitating. C. C. Sabathia is just one who had an off season operation for such an injury. Juan Castro was just diagnosed with a torn meniscus and will miss a chunk of time now.

Before the year 2000, this writer never heard of a any player getting a calf strain. Perhaps the Fan just wasn't listening. Now we hear them a lot. Adrian Beltre has a calf strain. The hip problem only came up once a decade or so before the trio mentioned earlier in this post. Albert Belle was one. Bo Jackson was another. But can you think of any other player sidelined with a hip problem before those two? The Fan can't.

Of course the Tommy John surgery is in vogue more than ever. The percentage of pitchers that have had the operation must be getting near 10 percent or higher. It's gotten to the point where you feel better about a pitcher who has had the operation than those that haven't. We picture it almost as bionics. While the elbow problem can now be fixed, we don't hear about shoulder bursitis as much as we used to. Shoulder injuries don't seem as previlent as the elbow injury. The most likely reason for that is that in the past, an elbow blowout meant you were done where a shoulder problem at least gave you a fighting chance. Shoulder conditioning is probably much more sophisticated than it used to be. Actually, shoulder tendinitis is much more heard than rotator cuffs and bursitis. Those latter two were heard much more often in the past.

Some of these new injury descriptions are a result of the glut of reporting in our instant media age. In the past, we may have just read that a certain player was hurting and would be out for a while. Now, there are instant reports and even the doctors have news conferences. Twitter gives instant updates on a player's condition and what the team has announced about the injury. But even today a guy like Francisco Cervelli can confound team doctors and have an injury that requires much more study. Or perhaps that's just a smokescreen to get Montero in the line up. Who knows. But we've never had injury reporting like it is now. It is comprehensive, instantaneous and is giving us all an education in anatomy. Yes, even down to the warts and all.

Thoughts on the Hall of Fame

Some sportswriters live in mortal fear that the baseball Hall of Fame won't be exclusive enough. They fear a watering down of the sports' greatest players by making the rules easier for players to get into the hallowed place. Many of these sportswriters are more than happy to have one or two guys make it in a year. As such, they debate endlessly over who deserves to get in and who doesn't. They invent reasons not to vote players in including either the certainty of steroid use or now in the case of Bagwell, just the unfounded suspicion of it. It would be interesting to ask some of them what they thought the percentage of players in the HOF should be.

Would some say three percent? Five percent? How many is too many? To keep the number low, we have the 75 percent rule where a player needs 75 percent of the writers' votes to get elected. That's an extremely high number and it does its job by eliminating all but a few players a decade. Then you have the Veteran's Committee, a body that seems to change every other year with rules that change just as often. Those guys hardly ever elect anyone.

The true fact is that you would be hard pressed to get 75 percent of any slice of the population to agree on anything. It's possible that any random thousand people would have trouble getting a 75 percent consensus to agree that Mother Theresa was a saint. But that's the hurdle that faces every retired ball player. But it isn't just that hurdle. Players on the ballot have to get a minimum amount of votes to stay ON the ballot. And so guys like Lou Whitaker get tossed off the ballot before we can even have time to debate his relative merits. And once a player gets tossed off the ballot, the odds of getting a second chance by the Veteran's Committee are astronomical. That committee should right the wrongs of past votes, but that rarely happens.

According to, 17,497 players have played Major League Baseball. Of those thousands, only 202 are in the Hall of Fame. That works out to 1.2 percent of all players or one out of 85 players that have ever played the game. Of those 202, 36 percent are pitchers and 35 percent are outfielders.  There are 23 shortstops and 21 first baseman. Of all the inductees, only 13 are third basemen.

Besides the players, there are 35 players from the Negro Leagues (out of the hundreds that played), 26 executives and pioneers, 18 managers and eight umpires. Those percentages are minuscule too.

What recent votes have taught us is that a lot of people disagree on players for a large variety of reasons. And with the 75 percent threshold, a very few writers can effectively block a deserving player. It's just too high to be workable. Would the talent in the Hall of Fame be seriously diluted if the figure was more rational, such as 60 percent? Would it be a terrible crime to allow players to stay on a ballot for ten years instead of falling off after one vote? Would that be such a terrible work load for writers to sift through? No and hardly. If 60 percent of any slice of the population agree on anything, then that's pretty darn impressive.

And shouldn't the voting population be reconsidered? Baseball writers are no longer just newspaper and magazine guys and gals. Many Internet writers pull in an amazing number of readers. Shouldn't broadcast journalists be included?

If we made this a much more fair process, the sky won't fall and we won't get a bunch of B.J. Surhoffs in the Hall of Fame. But we just might get a Jeff Bagwell.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Curtis Granderson Positioned for Good Season

Let's be honest about this. Curtis Granderson has not been a very good player the last two years. And it was puzzling after his breakout season in 2007. While playing for the Tigers that season, Granderson shared the spotlight with Jimmy Rollins by hitting 38 doubles, 23 triples and 23 homers. He also stole 26 bases that season and batted .302. He had become the most exciting player in baseball at that point and each night was another highlight reel on ESPN's Baseball Tonight.

He was nearly as good in 2008 though his total bases dropped by 63 and his average dropped to .280, his on base percentage actually increased from the year before. It was another year of being one of the players that everyone wants to see. In two years he has amassed 10.5 bWAR  Fangraphs valued his play over those two seasons at $45.7 million. Not bad for a guy only earning a million dollars at the time.

But the last two years have seen him slip in every part of his game except power. His batting average has been in the .240's for the past two seasons. His on base percentage plummeted to the .320s. Worst of all, he became totally useless against lefty pitching. Well, that's not actually correct. He's always been useless against lefty pitching. Even in his phenomenal season in 2007, his OPS against lefties was .494! Ugh! Part of the problem was that his futility with lefties was covered up with his amazing success against pitchers that threw from the right side.

The last two years, the mask was off and since he was not hitting as well against the right-handers, his futility against the lefties was exacerbated. It got to the point where observers and Yankee fans alike were wondering why the Yankees would give up Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for Granderson. Austin Jackson basically became the kind of player for the Tigers that Granderson used to be. The Yankees got the original, but seemingly should have kept the copy.

But there is cause for hope with Granderson. It's become a familiar story that he started working hard with the Yankees' hitting coach, Kevin Long. The value of coaches has been debated long and hard in analytical circles and this Fan is wondering if we'll ever get a good picture of how to evaluate coaches. But in this case, it certainly seems that the combination of Long's teaching and Granderson's willingness as a student have turned the forgotten Yankee around.

Need proof? In 2009, Granderson was never a great player. His OPS in the first and second halves were very similar (.789 and 769 respectively). The decline continued in the first half of 2010 (he was also injured at the start of the season) and his OPS for the first half was .719. But then we started hearing of his work with Long and the work looked to be paying off. He wasn't an automatic out against lefties anymore. He had multiple hit games against them and his front shoulder hung in there better and he hit the ball up the middle. His second half OPS was .861 and his final average for the year of .234 against lefties with a .647 OPS against them was a total victory after three straight years of having an OPS under .500 against southpaws.

Another good sign was in an early Spring Training game earlier this week when he hit an opposite field homer.  Of Granderson's 125 major league homers, only 10 have been to the opposite field. And that number nearly matches his career batting specs. Of all the balls Curtis Granderson has put in play over the years, only 10 percent of them have gone to the opposite field. So, if Granderson's work with Long also includes hitting the ball where it's pitched, then that could be further indication that Granderson is poised and ready for a big season.

For those of you who play fantasy baseball, and for you Yankee fans, Curtis Granderson is going to be a major force in the Yankee line up in 2011. All the projections have him hitting in the .260s and yes, that will be a grand (pardon the pun) improvement. But don't be surprised if he hits .280 or higher and puts up 30 homers and sixty extra base hits. And after it is all said and done, Granderson just might make you forget all about Austin Jackson.

One Word of Contrition Concerning the post

I had a lot of fun writing a guest post for today. I really appreciate the chance to cross-pollinate and am grateful to the folks over there for their gracious invitation. I'm pretty proud of the post with one exception.

At the end of the post, I seemed to be making a point that the Reds' projections are colored by opinions of Dusty Baker and the Phillies blowout in the playoffs last year. That comment was ill advised and should have been expanded to those who talk about the Reds' chances without statistical analysis. I am a big fan of the work done by and would never think that their algorithmic approaches are ever colored by personal opinion. Their unbiased opinion is why I spend my hard-earned money to be a member of that site. I know that they do the best they can do to stick to the numbers. So for that misconception that I might have implied, my apologies.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Projecting 2011 Rookie Managers

The old expression, "Hope springs eternal," should be changed for baseball to, "Spring hopes eternal."  It's a new season, a new chapter, a chance for some teams to redeem themselves, a chance for some teams to try to repeat past success and for some teams, a hope that this could be the year that turns the franchise around. For some teams, hopes revolved around players acquired in the off season. For others, there is hope that a rookie will be the real deal and help turn things around. But for six teams and their fans, hope also involves rookie managers. The list includes some that got their feet wet on an interim basis last year: Mike Quade (Cubs), Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks) and Edwin Rodriguez (Marlins). The other three teams have managers with no MLB experiences: Don Mattingly (Dodgers), Ron Roenicke (Brewers) and John Farrell (Blue Jays).

Sparky Anderson once said that players make the manager and not the other way around. While that is a modest approach and typical of Anderson, he's not entirely correct. The wrong manager in the wrong place doing the wrong things can hurt a team. And the right manager in the right place at the right time can help lift a team a couple of games higher than expected. The Pirates of the last few years would have been a bad team no matter who the manager was, but John Russell was just the wrong guy at the wrong time. The same can be said for the Royals the last few years. Conversely, this writer really believes that the Rays were two or three wins better because Maddon was in the dugout and the Angels overcame funky run differentials because Mike Scioscia wast in their dugout. Can the Fan prove that statistically? Probably not. But just the same.

It's a real mind exercise to project managers that have never managed before. But we can look at some team projections and other situations in those six opportunities to get some sort of feel for what lies ahead for these managers. For some, the pressure will be intense, but for others, expectations are lower. So let's look at the six rookies and see what they may face, starting with the interim-turned-managers. They are listed in no particular order.

Kirk Gibson - Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks finished last season with 97 losses. It was a pitiful year which saw the team set a record for strikeouts...but not by the pitchers. They also had one of the worst bullpens in recent memory. Kevin Towers has taken over now and has made strides to improve the team. Strikeout guys like Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche are gone and bullpen help has been added. Kibson took over for A. J. Hinch after the first 79 games and sadly, Gibson's winning percentage was not much higher in his 83 games as the team went 34-49 the rest of the way. The team is projected to lose 87 games in 2011. That's a ten game improvement, but according to projections, the record will still keep the Diamondbacks in last place. The upside for Gibson is that the expectations won't be so high. If the team can improve ten or more games on 2010's season, it will be somewhat of a success. Upton and Drew still have further upside potential and could break out to be superstars this season. The bullpen may not be as much of a craps shoot. The potential downside is that Gibson isn't really Towers' guy as Gibson was already on staff before Towers got there. If the team loses 90 or more games again, Gibson probably won't survive. The pitching staff, while potentially better, has to have a lot go right to succeed. The Fan's Projection: This will be Gibson's only full season in the saddle.

Edwin Rodriguez - Florida Marlins: Edwin Rodriguez took over for Fredi Gonzalez after 70 games. Gonzalez was fired because the team was staying around the .500 level and that wasn't acceptable. Well, Rodriguez finished at 46-46...yup, .500. But that was enough to take the "interim" tag off his name plate and give him the job full up. The Marlins have a lot of upside but a lot of question marks too. They have young talent, an enigmatic shortstop and they lost Dan Uggla's big bat in the middle of the line up. The team is projected to win 84 games this year, which is better than last year and enough to be a pest in the NL East, but not enough to compete for the division or the wildcard. The upside for Rodriguez is that if this team gels and puts together 90 wins, he would look like a genius. And with their young talent, that very well could happen. Logan Morrison, Chris Coglan, and Mike Stanton could all blossom together. Hanley Ramirez is saying all the right things and if he can back it up, he's one of the best players in the league. This team could really take off if the pitching holds up. The dangers for Rodriguez is in being too much of a players' manager. Ramirez certainly needs a firm hand at times as will others. The other danger for Rodriguez is that he could just be a one year stopgap for the Marlins' last year in their old ball park. The Fan's Projection: This will be Rodriguez's only full year with the Marlins. They will hire a bigger name going into their new park in 2012 unless the Marlins break out spectacularly to a 90+ win team.

Mike Quade - Chicago Cubs: None of the other interim-turned-full-scale managers are under the pressure that Mike Quade is under. The Cubs have a large payroll, a long history of not winning the World Series and are a highly supported team in one of the best baseball markets in the world. Faithful Cubs fans want to win so bad, they ache. Quade seemed to make a statement last year that sometimes, a manager can make a difference. The team was moribund under Lou Piniella and were sitting at 51-74 when Quade took over. The team went 24-13 the rest of the way. The projections are for the team to win 80 games in 2011 and come in fourth place in the division. Obviously, the projectionists aren't convinced. Matt Garza joins the rotation, which could help. The obvious pitfalls are the fact that the Cubs are just as poorly constructed personnel-wise as they were last year. They are still stuck with some clunky contracts for guys that haven't been earning their keep of late. And Jim Hendry is not high on the faithful fans' holiday card list. So the GM will be under a lot of pressure as well. Another potential pitfall is that Quade set the bar really high in his 37 games last year. However, if the older players can have good years and if Garza pitches big and Zambrano pitches like he did at the end of 2010, this team could excel and win 90 games. The division is wide open. Perhaps the Cubs will be the Reds of 2011. The Fan's Projection: Quade will survive the year. The team should have no trouble meeting or exceeding the projections and if they can do that, he should be fine. Everyone seems to like the guy.

And now for the rookie rookies:

Don Mattingly - Los Angeles Dodgers: In some ways, Mattingly is in the best situation of all the rookie managers. The ownership of the team has become a circus, everyone knows they don't really have that much money to throw around and the team finished just below .500 last year. So any kind of improvement will be seen as a positive for Mattingly. Of course, his lack of any kind of managing experience will be scrutinized with every move he makes and he is following a legend in Joe Torre. Projections for the team have been optimistic with 87 wins being seen as the expected outcome. That would put the Dodgers three games behind the Giants' projection and in position to compete for the wildcard too. So the upside for Mattingly is all rosy in that if those projections work out, Mattingly's season will be a success. Kemp could bounce back and Ethier could stay healthy all year. The pitching looks fine. The potential pitfall is that Mattingly could make a couple of glaring rookie mistakes that would put his lack of experience under a microscope. The Fan's Projection: Mattingly has a honeymoon year, the team is better than last year and he will be deemed a success.

John Farrell - Toronto Blue Jays: Farrell is also in a no lose situation. The team seems to be focused on the future with the way it is hoarding prospects. And thus, the expectations for this year are not as high. He will also get a lot of benefit from his reputation and the reputation of the organization he came from (Red Sox). The projections are really low for the team too considering they won 85 games last year. They are projected to win only 76 in 2011. This is a little mind-blowing considering the young pitching and the firepower in the line up they have. If Adam Lind and Aaron Hill come closer to their 2009 seasons than their awful 2010 seasons and J. P. Arencibia can take over as the catcher and if Yunel Escobar can live up to his talent, the upsides for Farrell are all over the place. Anything over 81 wins will be seen as a success and a building block to 2012 and 2013. The only pitfall for Farrell is if the team really crumbles and finishes with 90 losses or something. The Fan's Projection: Farrell will be just fine for a fan base that was ready to see Cito Gaston go.

Rick Roenicke - Milwaukee Brewers: Roenicke is the rookie manager on the hot seat. His team went out and got Marcum and Greinke to anchor the rotation and the offense is potent. Projections for the team are for 85 wins and a shot at winning the NL Central crown (tied with the Cardinals). That's a lot to live up to for a rookie manager. The Brewers fully expect to compete in 2011 and it's critical to maintaining the momentum in fan base they have experienced in the last five years. No pressure though. The upside for Roenicke is that Fielder will be playing for a contract no matter what happens in the future. And the Brewers general manager has given Roenicke the tools he needs to compete. The pitfall, of course, would be the very high expectations of the team for 2011. If the team is slow out of the gate and ends up a non-factor, Roenicke's romance with Milwaukee will end quickly. The Fan's projection: The Brewers will compete in 2011 and Roenicke survives his first year as a manager in the bigs.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Doing the Fredi in Atlanta

How to you replace a legend? You don't. All you can do is build your own legacy. And it's been done before. The Dodgers had this manager named Walter Alston who managed the team for 23 years and won seven National League pennants and four World Series titles. That's a long and beloved run that spanned the Dodgers from their Brooklyn days through that team's move to Los Angeles. When Alston retired, he was replaced by Tommy Lasorda. That worked out pretty well. Joe Girardi replaced a legend in Joe Torre. Girardi won a title and is making his own mark. And now it's Fredi Gozalez's turn as he replaces the retired Bobby Cox.

Girardi was a known entity as the Yankee catcher during the early years of their title runs in the late 90s. Lasorda was a bit less so as he pitched all of 58 innings in the majors and then managed in the minors until he got his shot. Fredi Gonzalez has been around, but he's not a guy many people are familiar with. He managed the Florida Marlins for three and a half years, but hardly anyone noticed except that in 2008 and 2009, the team did surprisingly well despite the lowest payroll in baseball. People in Atlanta know him because he was a coach on Bobby Cox's staff before taking the Marlins job. But basically, he's not well known outside of Atlanta and Florida.

To be sure, the Cuban born manager had an obscure professional career. We can find him in the 1982 draft when he was selected in the 16th round by the Yankees as a catcher out of Miami Southbridge High School. It was a terrible draft year for the Yankees. They had no first round pick and their two second round picks were wasted on Bo Jackson who went on to Auburn to play football and Tim Burtsas, a pitcher who did see some irregular time in the majors. But when the highlight of your draft is Dan Pasqua and Jim Deshais, then you know it's a bad draft. Drafting Gonzalez didn't pan out either.

According to the Wikipedia page on Gonzalez, he played six years in the Yankees farm system. But has no record for him. It is unknown if this guy linked here was the same guy, but that's as close as this writer could find on a Yankee catcher named Goznalez in the minors during that time period. The "Andres" Gonzalez found on the linked page could not be found in the Yankees drafts of 1983 and 1984, but perhaps he was signed out of Latin America or came from another organization. The Fan tends to doubt it's the same guy as Fredi's draft name was the same as it is now. His Wikipedia page indicates that he never rose above Double A. But you would think that if he rose that high, we could find him.

But anyway, Gonzalez toiled away in vain in the minors and somewhere along the line started managing instead in 1990 when he was all of 26 years old. The Marlins were a brand, spanking new team and Gonzalez was one of their early minor league managers when he joined that organization in 1992. You have to say that Gonzalez paid his dues managing in the low minors and working his way up. He made it to the majors as a coach in 2003. When Joe Girardi was fired as the manager of the Marlins, Fredi Gonzalez took over.

In his first year as the Marlins' manager, the team regressed a bit, but they finished with winning records in both 2008 and 2009. But when the team seemed stuck at the .500 mark in 2010, he was fired and Edwin Rodriguez took over. They didn't get any better under Rodriguez.

In between his first major league coaching season in 2003 and his Marlins managerial stint, he had slipped over to the Braves to coach for Bobby Cox. He must have made a favorable impression because it was assumed early on that he would succeed Cox when Cox decided to step down. Once Cox did announce his retirement in 2010 and the Marlins has made Fredi available, Gonzalez was named the heir officially.

It's hard to get a pulse on what kind of manager Fredi Gonzalez is by the statistics of his Marlins teams. Judging from the number of at bats people received, he wasn't the kind to mix and match his positional players. It appears that once he had his line up, he stuck to it and to his players. And that seemed to work for him as they were in the top five offensively in 2009.

Since he always had young starters in the rotation, his relievers got a lot of work. Three of them made more than 70 appearances in 2009 and another was over 60. But he didn't over work them and almost all of them had less innings pitched than games. That seems to indicate that he likes to play situational baseball with his pitchers. So Braves fans should be ready for lots of pitching changes, especially late in the game.

Gonzalez appears to be a good manager on teams that performed well under him despite payroll constrictions. He inherits a team that went to the playoffs last year and has a good solid mix of young studs and veteran players on his team. Bobby Cox was an institution, but that's not to say that he always got the most out of his teams. It will be interesting to see how the Braves play now that they are doing the Fredi.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Comparing Carlos Beltran to Duke Snider

We all mourn the passing of Dodger great, Duke Snider. Snider is a Hall of Fame player and an icon for a glorious era in baseball. There is no doubt that Snider deserved the comparisons with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle at his peak and there is no doubt that Snider should have won the MVP award in 1953. And it also seems a bit fitting that one of the best center fielders of our time, Carlos Beltran, is in the news a day after Snider's passing. Beltran, coming off of various knee ailments the past couple of years, has said he'll move to right field for the Mets this season. The duality of the stories led this Fan to start thinking about how the two players compare. Of course, comparing players from different eras is always dicey, but, regardless, it's a fun exercise.

Carlos Beltran has already played more games in center than Snider did. Snider also moved to right as he got older. The Duke played over 797 games in center. Beltran has already played over 1,500 games at that position. The Duke scored 67.5 wins above replacement (WAR) according to and 71 for Fangraphs. Beltran, who is currently five years younger than when Snider retired, has a 54 WAR for Fangraphs and 56.5 for

Snider clearly has Beltran on the offensive side. The Duke compiled a 140 OPS+ over his career, Beltran is sitting at 118 and doesn't look to improve upon that in his latter years. The Duke averaged 30 homers per 162 games while Beltran has averaged 28. The Duke averaged 27 doubles per 162 games and six triples. Beltran has averaged 35 doubles and seven triples. But the Duke has Beltran on career batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

Carlos Beltran has been a much better base runner over his career with 289 stolen bases against only 39 times when he was thrown out. The Duke stole only 99 bases but the times he was thrown out are incomplete since the stat wasn't recorded before 1951. But in the times it was recorded, the Duke was thrown out 50 times. That Beltran has a higher doubles and triples rate also shows his base running skills.

It's in the field that Beltran really shines over the Duke. The outfield assists are really close with 123 for Snider versus 108 for Beltran. Beltran's career fielding percentage is .986 and the Duke's was 985. Where Beltran nearly catches Snider is in the total zone ratings with Beltran's career zone runs sitting at 76 while Snider finished with a negative number.

Duke Snider was a better offensive player than Carlos Beltran, but Beltran is the better base runner and fielder. If Beltran can play five more years and stay relatively healthy, he should be able to catch Duke Snider in WAR for his career.

This exercise was in no way intended to demote Snider as a player. The man was truly an icon and rightly so. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as one of the great center fielders of all time. The point of this post is that Carlos Beltran has been a great player and sometimes that gets missed by familiarity since we've seen him every year. It's probably the right time for Beltran to move out of center. But make no mistake about it, the guy is the premier center fielder of our era.

Optimism Growing For Jesus Montero

Yes, it was just one exhibition game that doesn't count. And, yes, three at bats and a few innings of work behind the plate make little difference in the grand scheme of things. But it was still convincing enough to grow optimistic that Jesus Montero is ready for the big leagues right now both at the dish and behind it.

More than anyone else at the plate yesterday in the Yankees' B-team line up, Montero simply looks like a great hitter. He never seems off balance and he seems to track the pitch really well. Against Joe Blanton (no slouch pitcher) in his first at bat, Montero smashed a liner but it went right to the Phillies' third baseman. The second at bat showed a little lack of patience as Montero swung at the first pitch and jammed himself on a fastball that was diving at his hands. He grounded that pitch weakly to the left side of the infield. His third at bat was convincing. Again, Montero was jammed and this time the pitch sawed the bat right out of his hands so that all he was holding was the knob. But he's so strong that the ball nonetheless zipped through the infield for a single.

But what was even more impressive to this observer was his work behind the plate. No, he didn't have to try to throw out any base runners and no, he didn't have to block any balls in the dirt. But he did look natural back there and relaxed. He didn't cuff the ball when he caught it but received it softly and held it fast for the umpire to get a good look. Montero looked like he was in control of the situation and worked well with his pitchers. The only bad moment was the first pitch from Sergio Mitre. It seems that Mitre and Montero weren't on the same page with the signs and the pitch fooled Montero. We all got a scare when the ball deflected off of Montero's bare hand back to the backstop. But the catcher seemed okay and got through the inning with no further damage.

You can't give a catcher too much credit when the pitching goes well, but it was nice to see that all the pitchers pitched well in Montero's innings behind the plate. Nova was excellent. Betances was jaw-dropping and Mitre showed why he can be effective for an inning here and there.

Overall, the game was a great showcase for the debut of Jesus Montero and it was great to hear Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, say during the game that Montero has been a pleasant surprise so far this spring and has improved greatly since last year as a catcher. It's only one game. It was only one game that didn't count. But it was enough to drool over the prospect of Montero opening the season with the Yankees. Russell Martin isn't being helped by lingering knee issues so far early this spring as Francisco Cervelli looked more than capable in the Saturday's game against the Phillies. And now Montero looks like the bomb.

Speaking of bombs, again, it's only one game and only an exhibition, but Ivan Nova looked commanding and confident in his two innings of work. And Betances was outstanding framing a walk with three strikeouts in his one inning of work. From this Fan's perspective, it is hoped that these kids get the chance and that general manager, Brian Cashman, can resist the temptation to trade away young talent for another pitcher that might not throw as well as these kids do for the Yankees right now.

In one other Yankees note, Jorge Vazquez hit his second homer in two games. Maybe the Yankees should forget about this Eric Chavez experiment and just use Vazquez as their back up first baseman.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pirates Have it Backwards

Two posts on the Pirates in two days! The Fan is giddy. Yesterday, this space featured a post saying that baseball needs the Pirates to become competitive again. Judging by what team president, Frank Coonelly, is saying, this Fan's wish will not be coming true anytime soon. Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nailed it absolutely on the head in his article about Coonelly's statements. In fact, Collier's response is brilliant.

To boil it down for those of you not inclined to click the link, Coonelly says that he can only increase the payroll if there is a corresponding increase in attendance. Coonelly has it completely backwards. As in the Field of Dreams, "build it and they will come." Attendance and fan interest are a result of how the ball club plays and not the other way around.

Look, there are only two ways to build a winner. One way is to be uncanny in your judgment of roster construction and pay the best players to play on your team. The other way is to be brilliant in player development and home grow a talented team. Unfortunately, the Pirates are not very good trying either course. They tried the former in the past and it didn't work. Now they are trying the latter and it's not working either. How can your team rank 16th in the majors in your farm talent after getting high draft picks for seventeen straight seasons?

To some degree, this observer can sympathize with Mr. Coonelly. His team is bloody awful, so they don't have the resources some of the other teams have. Well, the Fan would be more sympathetic if that were totally true. With revenue sharing, the Pirates are getting a ton of money from from the sales of baseball gear and from the luxury tax and other revenue streams. They may have attendance problems, but 1.6 million fans attending your games brings in a lot of money none-the-less. A fair question is to ask where a lot of that money is going. In fact, the player's union recently asked the Pirates that same question.

Gene Collier is exactly right. Coonelly's statements were utterly stupid and the exact wrong message the fans need to hear. You don't say to the fans, "show up and we'll spend more on payroll." That's just stupid. And unfortunately, stupid is the best word that describes anything Pirates-related for a long, long time.

Why We Put Up With Ozzie Guillen

You would have to be in Chicago and be a long-time member of the fans of the Chicago White Sox to understand the strange cult of personality that is Ozzie Guillen. Certainly this writer has no qualifications to make judgments. There have been no scientific polls conducted on behalf of this post to support or deny its conclusions. So why write it then? Well, two reasons. First, Mr. Guillen has a large tendency to let his mouth get him into the news. And secondly, there is no other manager that has ever been like him and that makes his existence very interesting.

There has never been a long period of quiet when it comes to the managerial stint of Ozzie Guillen. Every year there is some sort of flap hovering around him. In some ways, his tenure as manager of the White Sox reminds an old timer of any of Billy Martin's tenures as manager. There is always a story. There is always some controversy. The latest, of course, is the soap opera that has developed around departed pitcher Bobby Jenks. Jenks has taken potshots at Guillen. Olney Guillen, Ozzie's son, tweeted nasty things about Jenks. Ozzie said his son shouldn't have done that. Kenny Williams wasn't pleased. Jenks later made further unflattering statements and now Ozzie has threatened to rip Jenks' throat out. Just another week at the office for Ozzie.

To an outside observer, Jenks is the punk here and initially acted like a child. But Ozzie is supposed to be the adult between the two and he just couldn't help himself but lower things down to Jenks' level. Acting like an adult just isn't in Ozzie's DNA. So again, why do we put up with this constant verbal philandering from the manager of a team in one of the biggest baseball markets in America?

Let's just recap some of Ozzie's transgressions:

  • He publicly throws his players under the bus and tells the press when his players have stunk up the joint. This is a no-no for any manager. Criticism is always supposed to be handled with employees in house and in private.
  • He verbally spars with his bosses in the press and otherwise. Such a combative relationship with those who employ you is usually career-suicide. But thus far, Ozzie is still there and by all accounts, will be there for some time to come.
  • His ideas as a leader don't always work. His attempt to recreate the go-go Sox fell flat last year as the team struggled to score runs. Such creative decisions usually present a ticket to the unemployment line. No for Ozzie.

Now it may seem that this post is all about asking why Ozzie Guillen is still the manager of the Chicago White Sox. You couldn't be more wrong. This post is simply asking a question of why the White Sox and baseball put up with such shenanigans. To be honest, having Guillen around is a blast for the average fan who isn't particularly a fan of the White Sox. Who else in Guillen's position provides so much entertainment? Life in the MLB would be infinitely less interesting and more stodgy if Guillen wasn't providing his verbal gymnastics. Where would we be without his tweets and his bombast? We'd be a lot more bored.

This post isn't asking the question of what Guillen's...umm...approach to managing does to his team and if it has a negative or positive impact on his players. This writer isn't qualified to answer the question. There is no access to the players to know. That is a question that Kenny Williams needs to monitor on a weekly basis and report to his bosses. When Williams and his owner finally feel that Guillen is more of a negative than a positive, Guillen will be fired. But he hasn't been yet, so the bottom line has to be that Williams and his owner do not believe Guillen is a negative force for his team. That's the assumption we have to take.

This far, the reason we put up with Ozzie Guillen is that he is successful. He has now managed the White Sox for seven years. Those seven years include two first place finishes, a World Series title and 15 wins over the Pythagorean won-loss record the team should have had based on their run differential. His .529 winning percentage is higher than Jerry Manuel's was in the six years previous to Ozzie. And Manuel was as dull as they come with negative body language and a lack of inspiration. Ozzie, at least, will fight you tooth and nail to get to the finish line first. He may not always make it, but you know he's going to leave it all out there trying. Despite a fundamental flaw in the design of last year's team, he had them tied for first at one point after a terrible start. That's why we put up with Ozzie Guillen.

Some day, as inevitably as that the winter will some day end, Ozzie Guillen will reach a point where his antics do not remain lower on the judgment scale than the winning baseball he brings. Someday, Kenny Williams or the owner of the White Sox will say enough. But for now, the ultimate answer for why we put up with Ozzie is that because, for the most part, it works.