Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jeter and Gardner Need to Be Separated

There has been some discussion this week of whether Brett Gardner will lead off for the Yankees or whether it will be Derek Jeter. Most favor moving Gardner into the lead off spot and moving Jeter down to second. To this observer, neither matters as long as Jeter is batting behind Gardner. If Jeter leads off and Gardner bats ninth or if Gardner leads off and Jeter bats second, you still have the problem of Jeter behind Gardner. And why is that a problem? Double plays and Jeter's desire to hit the first pitch of any sequence, especially if it's a fastball.

Derek Jeter has averaged 21 grounded-into-double-plays in the last four years. Despite any kind of change to his stance or approach to hitting, Jeter is going to get his fair share of double plays. He hit 22 GDPs last year. Of those 22, thirteen occurred when Gardner was on base. Why is this important? Well, the one reason you want Gardner in the line up is his ability first, to get on base, and second, to create havoc on the bases once he gets there. Gardner's on base percentage in 2010 was .379. But since he was on base thirteen of the times Jeter hit into a double-play, that effectively ruins thirteen of his on base opportunities and in effect lowers Gardner's OBP to .356 (subtract 13 from his 216 on base events in 2010). That's thirteen less times that Gardner can steal and cause the defense and the opposing pitcher more stress while he romps around the base paths.

Add to this Jeter's penchant for hitting the first pitch. Derek Jeter loves to jump on a first pitch fastball. He's made a Hall of Fame career doing so. Of Jeter's 739 plate appearances in 2010, 102 of them were decided on the first pitch. A guy like Gardner on the base paths needs enough pitches to make his move. He can't always run on the first pitch. If he does and Jeter hits a line drive, he's dead. If Jeter hits a fly ball, Gardner's effort is wasted. If Jeter hits the ball on the ground, at least the double-play is avoided. The other problem with Gardner on first and Jeter hitting behind him is that Jeter likes to hit the ball the opposite way. If Gardner steals, Jeter loses the hole between the first and second baseman. That would lead to Gardner staying put on first more often than not with Jeter batting, which leads to double-plays.

The solution in this Fan's eyes is two-fold. If you want to bat Gardner first, you have to move Jeter down in the line up to sixth or something.  And then you have to risk upsetting the long-time Yankee captain. Personally, the Fan believes Jeter is going to bounce back quite a bit in 2011 and should get his OBP up to a respectable .360 to .375. If he does that, he's still worth leading off. Then slide Gardner into the number two hole. If Jeter doesn't get on base, you can still get Gardner on base in front of the big boys batting behind him. If both get on base, you have the possibility of double steals (Jeter still stole 18 bases last year).

With those two solutions, you accomplish the one thing you want to accomplish. You never want Jeter batting behind Gardner. Consider all you want whether you bat Jeter lead off with Gardner ninth or Jeter second with Gardner leading off. Neither works optimally. Getting Jeter out from behind Gardner is your best move.

Dead Weight

Now that the hate-affair has ended in New York with Luis Castillo and the Mets removed one long-standing issue out of their two (the other being Oliver Perez), there is one less dead weight hanging for a team. And Luis Castillo was certainly not alone in that category. Other teams have simply hung on to players that may have been useful at one time but now represent a black hole sucking life and value away from their respective teams. It has always been the case in baseball. Severing ties isn't as easy as it looks. The purpose of this post is to look at some other dead weights around the majors. The definition here is for a player who has played  for a number of years while adding little or no value in their most recent seasons. Here are just a few that stand out.

A. J. Pierzynski - Chicago White Sox: Peter Gammons' most recent piece for uses Pierzynski as a recent example of how Chicago owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, is one of the best owners to play for in baseball. Gammons told the story of how Pierzynski had yet to be signed during the winter meetings in Orlando. According to Gammons, Pierzynski called Reinsdorf and was signed the next day. While Pierzynski will be a better value this year at $2 million than he was last year at $6 million, Pierzynski has outlived his usefulness for the Chicago White Sox. He really hasn't been a good starting catcher since 2003. And though he manages to find a way to attain positive WAR through the bonus points given a catcher for that position, Pierzynski is a black hole on offense. His walk rate has really begun to rival the elder Molinas and he walked only fifteen times in 503 plate appearances last season. His defensive metrics did rate above his past several seasons however though he's never been particularly good at throwing out those attempting to steal. Gammons may give bonus points to Reinsdorf for signing Pierzynski for another two years, it seems for this writer to be a continued step in the wrong direction for the White Sox.

Jason Kendall - Kansas City Royals: Perhaps it is pick-on-catcher day here in the FanDome. And perhaps there is a good reason for that as the talent in the catching realm is about as thin as it has ever been in the major leagues (sounds like a good post subject for the future). And of all that lack of talent, Jason Kendall might be the least valuable long-standing starting catcher for a team in baseball. Hated in Kansas City's fan population nearly as much as Luis Castillo was in New York, Royals fans were actually celebrating Kendall's injury in Spring Training. And for good reason. Though he is still a somewhat decent receiver, he is a black hole on offense and has been for quite some time. He walks more than Pierzynski, but other than that, he's even less valuable a hitter than Pierzynski is. Kendall's OPS+ rates for the last four years say it all: 62, 75, 71 and 71. Enough said.

Carlos Lee - Houston Astros: It was just a few years ago that Carlos Lee posted a 144 OPS+. Offensive production like that can overcome total inadequacy in the field and come close to being worth the $19 million in salary. But the only good thing that can be said for Lee's 2010 offensive season was that he still hit 24 homers. Other than that, he fell off a cliff in all other offensive categories and add that to his continued fall off defensively and you get a dark pit that cost you a whole lot of money to dig. Lee's slash line for 2010 was not pretty: .246/.291/.417. According to the way that figures wins above replacement (WAR), Lee finished with a negative value of -1.6 WAR. Ouch. That's a black hole alright. Lee's offense might rebound a little for Houston in 2011, but there is no way his defense recovers at the age of 35.

J. D. Drew - Boston Red Sox: You can probably argue this one both ways. But to this observer, Drew is a black hole that plays with a joyless lack of enthusiasm and is guaranteed to miss 30 to 40 games a year due to nagging injuries. Drew managed to stay above average in OPS+ and in his fielding metrics. But his 2.5 WAR in 2010 did not come close to earning his $14 million paycheck. He's long been a darling of the analysts for his on base percentage and the fact that he continues to slug at a decent rate. Drew has outlived his usefulness in this writer's opinion and probably stands in the way of players like Kalish who deserves a shot at being a much cheaper alternative for the Red Sox in the outfield.

James Loney - Los Angeles Dodgers: Loney has gained the reputation as a good clutch guy for the Dodgers. But over the long haul, he has remained one of the least productive first basemen in baseball. That was okay when he was making a million a year while in his early years under Dodger control. But now he is going to make nearly $5 million in 2011 and he's never going to be that rockem-sockem first baseman that most teams seem to have. He's never going to hit more than 10-12 homers a year (he has none this spring) and his batting average and his slugging percentage have gone down three years running. He always bats in the middle of the Dodgers' line up and he just doesn't belong there. He's a good fielding first baseman, but 1.1 WAR out of that position is not going to help you.

There are probably others we can talk about here, but this list is already draining the Fan's energy...much like these players drain energy for the teams for which they play.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Retired Numbers

A custom has developed in Major League Baseball where a team honors a player who was a star for the team by retiring the uniform number worn by that player. Without looking it up, the customer probably started with the Yankees and they have retired a bunch of numbers. Other teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks are so young as a team that they have no numbers retired. Well, none except for Jackie Robinson's 42, a number that is retired throughout baseball. Mariano Rivera is the last active player that will wear that number. The Fan thought it would be fun to go through all the teams and list the retired numbers and perhaps make a suggestion or two along the way.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks - None besides 42. Suggestions: 51 for Randy Johnson because he had four unbelievable years there and won them a World Series. 20 for Luis Gonzalez because of his winning World Series hit and his leading of the team in most offensive categories. 
  • Atlanta Braves - 42, 3 (Dale Murphy), 21 (Warren Spahn), 31 (Greg Maddux), 35 (Phil Neikro), 41 (Eddie Matthews), 44 (Hank Aaron), 47 (Tom Glavine). Coming soon: Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz.
  • Baltimore Orioles - 42, 4 (Earl Weaver), 5 (Brooks Robinson), 20 (Frank Robinson), 22 (Jim Palmer), 33 (Eddie Murray). Suggestions: Boog Powell, Luis Aparicio (the guy IS in the Hall of Fame), Mark Mussina.
  • Boston Red Sox - 42, 1 (Bobby Doerr), 4 (Joe Cronin), 6 (Johnny Pesky), 8 (Carl Yastrzemski), 9 (Ted Williams), 14 (Jim Rice),  27 (Carlton Fisk). Umm...Hello!? Wade Boggs. Roger Clemens, Dick Williams.
  • Chicago Cubs - 42, 10 (Ron Santo), 14 (Ernie Banks), 23 (Ryne Sandberg), 26 (Billy Williams), 31 (Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux). Suggestions: Charlie Grimm and Bruce Sutter.
  • Chicago White Sox - 42, 2 (Nellie Fox), 3 (Harold Baines), 4 (Luke Appling), 9 (Minnie Minosa), 11 (Luis Aparicio), 16 (Ted Lyons), 19 (Billy Pierce), 35 (Frank Thomas), 72 (Carlton Fisk). Suggestions: Wilbur Wood and Al Lopez (great manager).
  • Cincinnati Reds - 42, 1 (Fred Hutchinson), 5 (Willard Hershberger and Johnny Bench), 8 (Joe Morgan), 10 (Sparky Anderson), 13 (Dave Conception), 18 (Ted Kluszewski), 20 (Frank Robinson), 24 (Tony Perez). Suggestions: Pete Rose! Barry Larkin and Bucky Walters.
  • Cleveland Indians - 42, 3 (Earl Averill), 5 (Lou Boudreau), 14 (Larry Doby), 18 (Mel Harder), 19 (Bob Feller), 21 (Bob Lemon), 455 (Fans for 455 straight sellouts). Suggestions: Satchel Paige, Sam McDowell, Gaylord Perry and Tris Speaker.
  • Colorado Rockies - None besides 42. Too new a franchise. Only suggestion would be Larry Walker.
  • Detroit Tigers - 42, 2 (Charles Gehringer), 5 (Hank Greenberg), 6 (Al Kaline), 16 (Hal Newhouser), 23 (Willie Horton).  Suggestions: Sparky Anderson will happen in 2011, Harry Heilmann, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Mickey Lolich.
  • Florida Marlins - None besides 42 and 5 for Carl Berger (an executive). Too new a franchise. No suggestions. Maybe Conine.
  • Houston Astros - 42, 5 (Jeff Bagwell), 7, (Craig Biggio), 24 (Jimmy Wynn), 25 (Jose Cruz) Seriously!? 32 (Jim Ulbricht) Who? 33 (Mike Scott), 34 (Nolan Ryan), 40 (Don Wilson), 49 (Larry Dierker). Suggestions: Dickie Thon and J. R. Richard and maybe Cesar Cedeno (led them in WAR five years in a row).
  • Kansas City Royals - 42, 5 (George Brett), 10 (Dick Howser), 20 (Frank White). Suggestions: Brett Saberhagen, Whtey Herzog, John Mayberry, Bo Jackson? and for sure: Dan Quisenberry.
  • Angels - 42, 11 (Jim Fregosi), 29 (Rod Carew), 30 (Nolan Ryan), 50 (Jimmy Reese). Suggestions: Frank Tanana, Bobby Grich.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers - 42, 1 (Pee Wee Reese), 2 (Tommy Lasorda), 4 (Duke Snider), 19 (Jim Gilliam), 20 (Don Sutton), 24 (Walter Alston), 32 (Sandy Koufax), 39 (Roy Campanella), 53 (Don Drysdale). Suggestions: Dazzy Vance, Leo Derocher and Wilbert Robinson. The latter two are long-time managers that won World Series titles. Dazzy Vance is in the Hall of Fame for Pete's sake.
  • Milwaukee Brewers - 42, 4 (Paul Molitor), 19 (Robin Yount), 34 (Rollie Fingers), 44 (Hank Aaron). Suggestions: None.
  • Minnesota Twins - 42, 3 (Harmon Killebrew), 6 (Tony Oliva), 14 (Kent Hrbek), 29 (Rod Carew), 34 (Kirby Puckett). Suggestions: Jim Kaat, Burt Blyleven, Tom Kelly, Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Bucky Harris. The Twins started life as the Washington Senators. None of those old Senators are honored and they should be.
  • New York Mets - 42, 14 (Gil Hodges), 37 (Casey Stengel), 41 (Tom Seaver). Suggestions: Jerry Koosman, Davey Johnson, Keith Hernandez, Tug McGraw.
  • New York Yankees - 42, 1 (Billy Martin), 3 (Babe Ruth), 4 (Lou Gehrig), 5 (Joe DiMaggio), 7 (Mickey Mantle), 8 (Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra), 9 (Roger Maris), 10 (Phil Rizzuto), 15 (Thurmon Munson), 16 (Whitey Ford), 23 (Don Mattingly), 32 (Elston Howard), 37 (Casey Stengel), 44 (Reggie Jackson), 49 (Ron Guidry). Suggestions: Graig Nettles, Dave Winfield and Joe Torre.
  • Oakland Athletics - 42, 9 (Reggie Jackson), 24 (Rickey Henderson), 27 (Catfish Hunter), 34 (Rollie Fingers), 43 (Dennis Eckersley). Suggestions: Mark McGwire, Tony LaRussa, Vida Blue, Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove and Dick Williams. Would add Connie Mack, but he wore a suit.
  • Philadelphia Phillies - 42, 1 (Richie Ashburn), 14 (Jim Bunning), 20 (Mike Schmidt), 32 (Steve Carlton), 36 (Robin Roberts). Suggestions: Dallas Green, Pete Rose.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates - 42, 1 (Billy Meyer), 4 (Ralph Kiner), 8 (Willie Stargell), 9 (Bill Mazeroski), 11 (Paul Waner, 20 (Pie Traynor), 21 (Roberto Clemente), 33 (Honus Wagner), 40 (Danny Murtaugh). Suggestions: Barry Bonds, Bob Friend, Jim Leyland, Arky Vaughan, Bill McKechnee.
  • San Diego Padres - 42, 6 (Steve Garvey), 19 (Tony Gwynn), 31 (Dave Winfield), 35 (Randy Jones). Suggestions: Dave Roberts, Bruce Bochy.
  • San Francisco Giants - 42, 3 (Bill Terry), 4 (Mel Ott), 11 (Carl Hubbell), 20 (Monte Irvin), 24 (Willie Mays), 27 (Juan Marichal), 30 (Orlando Cepeda), 36 (Gaylord Perry), 44 (Willie McCovey). Suggestions: Barry Bonds (didn't that already happen?), Will Clark and Leo Derocher. 
  • Seattle Mariners - None other than 42. Suggestions: Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Lou Piniella and Randy Johnson.
  • St. Louis Cardinals - 42, 1 (Ozzie Smith), 2 (Red Schoendienst), 6 (Stan Musial), 9 (Enos Slaughter), 14 (Ken Boyer), 17 (Dizzy Dean), 20 (Lou Brock), 24 (Whitey Herzog), 42 (Bruce Sutter), 45 (Bob Gibson). Suggestions: Ted Simmons, Rogers Hornsby.
  • Tampa Bay Rays - 42, 12 (Wade Boggs). Too new a franchise for any more. Maybe Fred McGriff.
  • Texas Rangers - 42, 26 (Johnny Oates), 34 (Nolan Ryan). Suggestions: Buddy Bell, Frank Howard, Curt Flood.
  • Toronto Blue Jays - None besides 42. What's with that? Suggestions: Dave Stieb, Pat Hentgen, Jon Olerud, Robbie Alomar, Cito Gaston.
  • Washington Nationals - 42, 8 (Gary Carter), 10 (Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson), 30 (Tim Raines). Suggestions: Larry Walker.

Roy Halladay - Easily the Best There Is

Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies makes pitching look so easy and opposing batters look so feeble against him that it's almost sickening to watch. The batters simply have no chance. They are not going to walk. They are not going to get into hitter's counts. The batter is either going to hit a slow roller someplace, strike out or pop the ball up. Not since Greg Maddux has a pitcher looked so reliably in control. Watch carefully because the kind of pitching Halladay is performing these days only comes around once in a generation.

Just look at his sick strikeout to walk ratios the past three years: 5.28, 5.94 and last year, 7.30. Those are Maddux-like numbers from his early days with the Braves. Some of the numbers are unbelievable. For example, Halladay got to a 3-0 count only 17 times in all of 2010 in 945 opposing plate appearances. That's 1.7 percent folks. Contrast that to another pretty good pitcher in C. C. Sabathia, who got to a 3-0 count 54 times. Also consider that Roy Halladay only needed to intentionally walk one batter in all of 2010. One.

The other thing that strikes this Fan about Halladay is how tenacious he is. In games where the Phillies scored two runs or less in 2010, his ERA was 1.72. In other words, he wasn't going to give up no matter what. That he won four of those ten decisions is remarkable when you consider that almost all pitchers lose pretty much all of those games.

Most pitchers do really well when they get to an 0-2 count. With Halladay, you might as well start walking to the dugout if you're the batter. When the at bat was determined on an 0-2 pitch, the slash line against Halladay was .100/.099/.130. And say the batter somehow managed to continue the at bat after an 0-2 count, then the slash line only improves to: .151/.163/.215.

Now here's the Fan's favorite statistic for Halladay in 2010: In 945 opposing at bats last year, Halladay threw a first pitch strike 532 times or 56.3 percent of the time. Here's the Fan's second favorite statistic for Halladay in 2010: Roy Halladay had an OPS against of .554 against all lead off batters. But there is more. There is so much more.

Halladay's home park is a notoriously good hitting park. And yet, Halladay's OPS against at home of .634 was better than his road OPS against of ..659. And just how good is that OPS against, both home and on the road? There were only six batters in all of the majors leagues last year that had an OPS of .650 or less and qualified for the batting title. So in essence, Halladay was pitching to a lineup full of Erick Aybar every single game. Aybar finished with a .636 OPS in 589 plate appearances for the Angels last year.

And of course, there is no let up in Roy Halladay, known for his legendary work ethic and showing up at the ballpark before six in the morning. In eleven spring training innings so far in 2011, he's yet to give up a run and has only yielded seven hits.

Roy Halladay is special. He's the best pitcher in baseball and whether you root for the Phillies or against, enjoy each and every one of his starts. We won't see anything like him for a long while.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Player I Never Heard Of - Michael Morse

How did Michael Morse escape notice until now? It's funny how you can pour over every box score every day and still have players crop up that you never heard of before. Until Michael Morse started hitting moon shots so often in this 2011 Spring Training season for the Nationals, I had never heard of that guy. And that's really odd because he had 293 plate appearances last year. It's not like he played a game or two and I just didn't catch it. The odds of this guy playing 98 games without me noticing seem astronomical. And yet there it is.

The only reason I discovered this obvious blind spot was because after all his homers this spring, I wanted to check out his minor league numbers to see if this was some sort of fluke. But not only has Michael Morse played 98 major league games in 2010, he has appeared in 138 games spanning the five seasons before that! Golly. That IS a blind spot.

So how did he do in those 98 games last year and is this big spring power surge some kind of spring anomaly? Well, his slash line last year for the Nationals was .289/.352/.519. Those aren't pumpkin numbers. Those are good numbers! He hit fifteen homers last year. Again, how did I miss that? Morse has enough at bats over those six partial seasons to have one full season with 685 plate appearances. He has a 117 career OPS+. That's highly interesting!

The only reason I know him now was that I watched a Nationals spring game on and he hit this massive opposite field homer. Whoa! I thought. And I also thought he looked huge. He looks as big as a linebacker and as big as Jose Canseco and Mike Piazza looked when they were playing. So my first guess was that he's always been a first baseman. Wrong again! This huge guy played major league shortstop in 57 games! Well, he was standing out there at least because his fielding metrics from those 57 games are awful. But still. Who would put a huge guy like that out and short? He's also played nine major league games at third and 100 in the outfield. He wasn't particularly good in either one of those places either. But in his limited time at first base, obviously where he belongs, he's played that position 37 times and has good fielding metrics there.

What else is there to know about Michael Morse? He's just about to turn 29 and was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, one of my favorite places on earth. He was drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Chicago White Sox. So this Morse guy has been hammering away at pro ball for a decade.  In 2004, the White Sox traded him to the Seattle Mariners along with Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed for Freddie Garcia and Ben Davis. Morse got his first taste of the majors with Seattle. He was then traded by the Mariners to the Nationals in 2009 for Ryan Langerhans. It appears the Nationals got the better end of that deal.

Morse has spent parts of ten seasons in the minor leagues including parts of five years in Triple A. He seems to be one of those weird players who has gotten better with each step up he took in the minors. He played the bulk of his bulk at shortstop during those years. But this guy is definitely not a shortstop. His total career numbers in the minors are not impressive and include a .771 OPS. But his OPS is .814 in Triple A. He batted over .300 for four years in a row in Triple A until last year when he fell off to .254. But it was last year that the Nationals called him up and gave him quite a bit of playing time. Interestingly, his minor league numbers do not show the kind of power he is exhibiting now.

All he is doing in this spring (remember these stats are meaningless) is batting .429/.436/.914 with five homers  in 35 at bats. He's only struck out four times but he's only walked twice. Patience at the plate is not one of his talents. Based on his 98 games last year and his performance this spring, it seems impossible that the Nationals would head north without him. Not bad for a guy a boxscore-junkie like me somehow never noticed before.

The Triple

Back in 2007, Curtis Granderson, then of the Detroit Tigers and Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies did something very special. They both hit over 20 triples that season. And those two seasons were even more rare for reasons we'll get into later. What makes the 20 or more triples so special is that since 1901, it's only happened 64 times. Many of those seasons were in the dead ball era early in the 20th Century. To get a bigger grip on the feat, it's only been done seven times since 1951: Rollins and Granderson (2007), Willie Mays (1957), George Brett (1979), Lance Johnson (1996), Willie Wilson (1985) and Cristian Guzman (2000). Compare that with players getting 45 or more doubles. That's happened 88 times since 1901. A player has hit 50 or more homers only twelve less times than a player has hit 20 triples.

It may be a meaningless stat by itself. For example, Christian Guzman hit 20 triples in 2000 and batted in the .240s, which is probably the worst season ever for a player with that many triples. But on the other hand, a triple counts for three total bases, just one less than a homer. And that certainly helps a player's slugging percentage, a statistic that is deemed somewhat important. Plus, besides the inside-the-park homer, the triple is probably the most exciting play in baseball.

And to give you a further idea of how rare the 20-triple season is, only six players in history have done it more than once. All of the six, with the exception of Stan Musial, did it before 1931. And Musial performed his two 20-triple seasons in the mid-1940s.

Getting back to Granderson and Rollins' seasons in 2007, it was only the sixth and seventh time since 1901 that a player hit 20 or more triples, 20 or more doubles and 20 or more homers. And of those seven times, only Rollins, Willie Mays and an obscure Hall of Fame player, Jim Bottomley, did it with more than 30 homers. Mays had "only" 26 doubles in his season in 1957, so only Rollins and Bottomley had 20 or more triples, 30 or more homers and 30 or more doubles. In 110 seasons! And to further show how amazing a season 2007 was, only Rollins and Willie Mays have ever hit 20 homers, 20 triples, 20 doubles and stole more than 30 bases in a season.

"Wahoo" Sam Crawford, who played from 1899 to 1917 had the most triples in the National League Era (1876-2010) with 309. Of the top 20, only Stan Musial and Paul Waner played after 1930, so triples were much more prevalent in the dead ball era. To give you an example, Sam Crawford's 309 triples accounted for 21 percent of his career total bases. Ty Cobb, whose career leaked into the live ball era is second on the all time list in triples and his triples accounted for 15.5 percent of his total bases. Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose career was cut short by suspension* had 19.5 percent of total bases per the triple.

* Shameless Posnanski asterisk ripoff: Did you know that Jackson played the entire 1920 season? The perception is that those Black Sox players didn't play after the 1919 season, but Jackson played all of 1920 before he was suspended and he had one of his best seasons ever, batting over .380.

Since 1951, (and excluding Musial, whose career started well before 1950 and ended well after), Roberto Clemente hit the most triples with 166. The top five since 1950 are: Clemente, Willie Wilson (147), Lou Brock (141), Willie Mays (140) and Willie Davis (138). Only 7 percent of Willie Mays' total bases were from triples. Compare that to Willie Wilson whose triples account for 15.1 percent of his total bases. In fact, the year that Willie Wilson hit his 20 triples, those triples accounted for 21.5 percent of his total bases! Of active players, Carl Crawford is the leader with 105 triples. Johnny Damon has hit 100 of them and Rollins has 98. Crawford has an outside shot of catching Clemente.

The triple is among the rarest events in baseball. Only two percent of all base hits in 2010 were triples. To put that in perspective, for every 100 hits you'll see, only two will be triples. In fact, the percentage of runners thrown out trying to steal occurs more frequently per nine innings than a triple (.22 to .18). There is nearly double the chance every game that you will see a double play or a hit by pitch than you will see a triple. And there is more of a chance you'll see an intentional base on balls than you will of seeing a triple.

Just for fun, the Fan will leave you with a quiz. Among active players, who has the most and the least amount of triples among the following: Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, Omar Vizquel, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson? Omar Vizquel has the most of this group with 75 and Derek Jeter has the least with 61. Bet you wouldn't have guessed that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are These Two MLB Rules Ignored?

Before we delve into this post, a disclaimer of sorts is needed. First, the point of this post isn't to answer any questions. The point is to ask two questions to which the writer acknowledges in advance that he isn't smart enough to answer. And so the questions are posed open-ended for your discussion. That said in advance, there are two rules listed in the official MLB rulebook that seem to be ignored. Are they? Let's look at them both.

The first one is Rule 7.04(c) and reads as follows (as part of a larger section):

Rule 7.04(c) Comment: If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should fall into a stand or among spectators or into the dugout or any other out-of-play area while in possession of the ball after making a legal catch, or fall while in the dugout after making a legal catch, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder fell into, or in, such out-of-play area.

Okay, got that? So how many times have you seen a first or third baseman (or the catcher or an outfielder) pursue a fly ball or pop out and fall into the dugout or over the fence or into the stands? It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens enough to have seen it quite a few times in a lifetime of viewing. According to what this rule is saying, Once the fielder falls out of the playing field, the runners get to advance a base and the ball is dead. Yet, how many times do you see a fielder falling into the stands and come up firing the ball back into play? 

Where is the limit of the rule? Say there are runners on and there are less than two outs. Lance Berkman hits a towering pop up and Ike Davis tracks it in foul territory. Davis inches over to the dugout and makes a spectacular play, but in the process, falls down the steps of the dugout. What constitutes the dugout? Is it the steps? The floor of the dugout? In such a case, shouldn't that be a situation the rule talks about? Berkman should be out and the ball is dead, but any runner on base should be given an extra base. Isn't that what the rules says? Have you ever seen that called?

The same thing is true when falling into the stands. Is it like football where your feet have to land in bounds? If the fielder comes down in the stands, that should relate to this rule, no? Have you ever seen a runner given a base?  Remember the famous play with Derek Jeter flying into the stands? If that hadn't been the third out, wouldn't this rule apply? The Fan has been watching baseball a long time and can't remember this rule ever being enforced. Has it been?

The second rule involves plays that happen much more frequently. The second rule is 7.06 and it reads thusly (with our discussion point in bold print:

7.06 When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal "Obstruction."  If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batterrunner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.NOTE: The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.

When was the last time a catcher was called for obstruction on a play at the plate? Have you seen it in your lifetime? This author hasn't. And yet the plate gets blocked all the time. Once the catcher has the ball, he can block the plate. But not until then. But catchers block the plate all the time. It seems to be accepted practice. Lately, the Fan has also noticed that on steal attempts--since so many runners attempting to steal slide in head first (or hands first if you want to be technical)--fielders waiting for the throw from the catcher are blocking the base with their knees. That seems to be obstruction as Rule 7.06 defines it. The key thing is that the runner is entitled to a free run at the base. Once the fielder has the ball from the catcher, then all is fair in war and baseball, but until then, the base-path belongs to the runner. Have you ever seen a runner called safe on such plays due to obstruction?

Again, these questions are posed in an open-ended way. Feel free to comment because the Fan doesn't know the answers. These seem to be examples of two rules that are often ignored in baseball. Thoughts?

When Your Opening Day Starter is Ian Kennedy...

Ian Kennedy is a respected pitcher in that he's a total effort, competitive guy who had a good season last year. But if Ian Kennedy is your Opening Day starter, a position usually given to your team's best pitcher, then that speaks volumes of what you have for a starting rotation. Pretend Ian Kennedy is a Lego piece and you could pick him up and place him on any other team. Is he the Opening Day starter anywhere? Pittsburgh maybe? Is that what you want to be compared to?

Again, don't get the Fan wrong. The Fan has been a fan of Ian Kennedy for a long time...ever since his embarrassing start to his major league career with the Yankees. He was one of the pitchers Brian Cashman wouldn't trade (along with Phil Hughes) for Johan Santana (a smart move in retrospect). But the Yankees gave up on him and he became a part of the monster trade before the 2010 season that sent Kennedy to the Diamondbacks, Granderson to the Yankees, Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers. As smart as the non-trade for Santana was, when Cashman did trade Kennedy, the Yankees gave up three major league baseball players.

Ian Kennedy is at best a third or fourth guy in a rotation kind of pitcher. There is a concern about the jump in his innings pitched last year. His BABIP was extremely low causing his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) to come in at 4.33 or +.53 to his actual ERA. Kennedy has to do better at keeping the ball in the yard and for the type of pitcher he is, he has to lower his walk rate. He can probably do those things, but he's still not a top end of the rotation guy. And yet that's where the Diamondbacks have him.

The only other choice for the top end of the D-backs' rotation is Daniel Hudson. Hudson, who just turned 24 was an absolute steal for the Diamondbacks last year who traded Jackson for him and saved a bunch of money for what could be a better pitcher. Hudson went 8-2 for the Diamondbacks with an ERA of 2.45. Like Kennedy, Hudson should see some regression because his BABIP was even lower than Kennedy's and his FIP was higher than his ERA by almost a full run. But Hudson is probably a Number 2 or 3 pitcher in the slot and along with Kennedy, forms a nice young pitching core for the Diamondbacks. But neither is a staff ace, which is the point being made here.

The rest of the rotation spots aren't hopeful. There is Barry Enright, who has had some success but whose strikeout per nine rate is half of Hudson and Kennedy's. Enright just doesn't seem to have enough stuff to be a major league starter for very long. That leaves Joe Saunders, who has looked so bad this spring that he could get cut, Galarraga, who is in the same boat as Saunders, Zach Duke (same) and Aaron Heilman (same). The Fan keeps hammering you with how meaningless spring statistics are, but even from that standpoint, the Diamondbacks have the second highest team ERA in exhibition games this spring season. Only the Cubs have been worse.

So yeah, the Arizona Diamondback's rotation wouldn't be regarded as a strength of this team. And nothing points that out more than naming Ian Kennedy as your opening day starter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Weird Career of Wes Westrum

There have been sixteen major league players in baseball's entire history (since 1901 anyway) who have batted .220 or lower with more than 100 plate appearances and yet had an on base percentage of .370 or higher. Wes Westrum did it twice. The list looks like this:

Wes Westrum (.219/.400), Jim Wynn (.207/.377), Wes Westrum (.220/.374), Alex Kampouris (.212/.384), Nick Johnson (.220/.415), Lee Mazzilli (.206/.380), Joe Lahoud (.214/.372), Snuff Stirnweiss (.216/.373), Randy Milligan (.220/.379), Tommy Glaviano (.203/.410), Ed Mensor (.202/.372), Sixto Lezcano (.207/.392), Mike Jorgensen (.196/.375), Charlie Sands (.196/.370), John Mizerrock (.185/.374), John Jaha (.175/.398).

The list is in order of WAR the years generated for the players. The two seasons by Westrom and the season by Wynn all came with over 400 plate appearances. Lahoud and Kampouris both had 244 plate appearances. The rest were under 200. John Jaha's season in 2000 for the Athletics probably should get some distinction as the largest swing between BA and OBP for any player over 100 plate appearances with a batting average under .220.

The difference for Westrum and Wynn were that they were starters for their teams. Wynn's season for the Braves in 1976 is remarkable in that he walked 127 times (only one intentional) and only had 93 hits. He has the distinction of having the most plate appearances in our search with this criteria

Westrum was born (1922), raised and died (2002) in Clearbrook, Minnesota. He broke into the big leagues in 1947 and played his entire career with the New York Giants. The first season was only a cup of coffee, but he played in 66 and 64 games in 1948 and 1949. By 1950, he was the Giants' starting catcher and would remain so for four years from 1950 to 1953. He slipped down to 98 games in 1954 and then went full circle and became the back up catcher again until he retired after the 1957 season. He was great at throwing out steal attempts and finished in that category at 50% for his career. But he made a lot of errors and had a lot of passed balls over the years. But it was his years as a starter that are quite remarkable.

Westrum had a little bit of power and hit 69 homers over those four years but he must have lacked speed as he only hit 41 doubles over those four years. Again, what sets Westrum apart from anyone else was the large disparity between his batting average and his on base percentage. These were his four years as a starter:

1950 - .236/.371
1951 - .219/.400
1952 - .220/.374
1953 - .224/.352

It appears that the pitchers finally wizened up by 1953. The big question this Fan would have looking at those numbers is why would anybody not just throw him strikes since he couldn't hit? It looks like by 1953, the pitchers figured it out. Westrum's OBP would slide the rest of his career as did his batting average.

In the weird career of Wes Westrum, he would go on to get 2,849 plate appearances. His final slash line says it all: .217/.356/.373. He walked 489 times in his career and only had 503 hits. Westrum would go on to manage for parts of six years in the major leagues. He had the misfortune to follow Casey Stengel as the Mets manager from 1965 to 1967. They were, of course, abysmal. Westrum then managed for parts of two seasons for the San Francisco Giants. His big league managing career finished with a .410 winning percentage.

Time to Break Out the Crystal Ball

Once a year in the FanDome, the crystal ball is found on the top shelf of the closet covered with a green felt wrap. Carefully, the glistening sphere is carried out to the dining room table where the sunlight is the brightest. After gazing deeply into its depths, the writer forgets all about projections and common sense. The spell it casts erases all on paper scribblings about what player or team is the best. The spell is impartial. The predictions are only compromised by the human lack of understanding. The crystal ball knows all and all the Fan can do is write as fast as possible to capture so many images. With human weakness and humility, this is what the old ball says:

In 2011:

  • Ian Kinsler will win the MVP Award. He will display the power of 2009 along with the batting average and on base percentage of 2008 and he'll have a monster year. He will top Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia in WAR.
  • Jake Peavy will win 12 games with an ERA in the threes and win Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Pablo Sandoval feels so good to feel like an athlete again that he goes on to compile a .920 OPS.
  • Derek Jeter will bat .310 and collect his 3,000th hit by June 2, 2011. His haters will gnash their teeth.
  • Alex Rodriguez will hit 40 homers and bat over .300. He will come in second behind Kinsler for MVP.
  • Clay Buchholz will win more games for the Red Sox than Matsuzaka and Beckett combined.
  • The Rockies will win the NL West and Troy Tulowitzki will win the MVP in the National League. After he wins the award, there will be twelve blog posts about his Home/Away splits.
  • There will only be two no-hitter/perfect games.
  • Ichiro Suzuki will fail to get 200 hits for the first time in his career. But the Mariners will still score fifty more runs than last year.
  • The Braves will run away with the NL East with a surprising first couple of month. The Phillies will rally at the end of the season but will have to settle for the wild card.
  • The Cardinals will win the NL Central and Albert Pujols will tearfully tell the fans there that it's been fun while it lasted.
  • Roger Clemens will be convicted. Barry Bonds will not.
  • By mid-season, Kila Ka'aihue will be the regular first baseman for the Royals.
  • Jose Bautista will hit 45 homers and a .930 OPS. He will be ignored in MVP voting again.
  • The NL East will finish: Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals, Mets.
  • The NL Central will finish: Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates, Cubs, Astros.
  • The NL West will finish: Rockies, Dodgers, Giants, Diamonbacks, Padres
  • The AL East will finish: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Bay Rays, Orioles.
  • The AL Central will finish: Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals, Indians.
  • The AL West will finish: Rangers, Athletics, Mariners, Angels.
  • Roy Halladay will again win the Cy Young Award in the National League.
  • The NFL labor issue will be settled by July 4, 2011 as owners like Kraft and Jones cut through the chase for the rest of them. This, the regular season will be saved and Bud Selig will be disappointed. 
  • Jim Hendry will finally get fired at the end of the regular season.
  • The Mets will never overcome the Madoff story and Terry Collins will lose the team by August 1, 2011.
  • Edwin Rodriguez will start Bonifacio one hundred times and analysts will blow their gaskets.
  • Scott Rolen will not be a major factor for the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Cleveland's Grady Sizemore will play more games than Adrian Beltre. Both of whom will play more games than Chase Utley and Carlos Beltran.
  • Michael Young will be traded to the Minnesota Twins. That 7 foot tall pitcher will be part of the deal.
  • Kevin Youkilis will play only 130 games due to nagging injuries.
  • Dustin Pedroia will only hit .275/.350/.425.
  • Bryce Harper will hit .400 in the minors.
  • Hosmer will get to the big leagues before Kipnes and Chisenhall. But not by much.
  • Matt Cain will finally have an ordinary or sub-par season and analysts will finally be right after three years of being wrong.
  • Jose Reyes will out hit David Wright.
  • Livan Hernandez will have more wins than Carl Pavano.
  • McCutchen will be the best centerfielder in the National League.
  • Jason Kendall will continue to be the starting catcher for the Royals and KC fans will gnash their teeth.
  • Elvis Andrus will hit a homer this season.
  • Brett Gardner will finally look at Tony Pena, point to his nether regions and say, "Bunt this, okay?"
  • Logan Morrison will have a breakout season.
  • Jordan Zimmermann will have a break out season.
  • Chipper Jones will play 135 games and compile an OPS of .880. His Hall of Fame ticket will be punched.
  • John Mayberry Jr. will get more playing time than Ben Francisco.
  • Defense will betray the Twins.
  • Jeff Bagwell will get elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • One of the Phillies starters will strain a calf muscle and lose a lot of time. Couldn't see which one, but betting it's Oswalt.
  • Carlos Gonzalez will have a very good year but not as good as last year.
  • Jason Giambi will break John Jaha's record for highest on base percentage (.398) with a batting average under .200 with more than 100 plate appearances.
  • J. J. Hardy will have a good year at the plate and match his fWAR with his oWAR. He'll continue to be the best shortstop that nobody wants.
  • Stephen Drew will have a break out season. He'll finish second in NL MVP voting. It won't save Kirk Gibson from getting fired at the end of the season.
  • The Bay Rays finally lose patience with B. J. Upton and replace him in centerfield.
  • Manny Ramirez will compile an OPS of .890.
  • Brett Myers will not be able to duplicate last season's results.
  • Jason Marquis and Kyle Lohse will be this year's surprise pitching stars.
  • Kevin Goldstein's head will grow larger than Kevin Mench's big dome.
  • Jonah Keri's book, 2 1/2% will be the highest selling baseball book of the year.
  • Robinson Cano will get thrown out of at least one game by an umpire for walking all the way around the plate on a swing and miss.
  • Speaking of umpires, we'll see even more controversial plays on the field this year and the clamor for video will overwhelm Bud Selig.
  • The Padres will sink back to last place and the fans in San Diego won't notice the difference.
  • Adrian Gonzalez will have the fifth highest WAR among AL first baseman.
  • Buck Showalter will get a wood chipper by June 15 and chew up Mark Reynold's bats in it while glaring at Reynolds and saying he doesn't use them anyway.
  • Orlando Hudson will again put up respectable numbers for his team while infuriating his manager. He will move on again next year.
  • Russell Branyon will hit a homer for his 72nd team of his career.
  • Bartolo Colon will be the Yankees' fifth starter.
  • Russell Martin will again become one of the best catchers in the game and the Yankee pitchers will laud him as the big difference in their season.
  • Jesus Montero will be the regular DH by July.
  • Aaron Miles will pitch in a game, somewhere...for somebody.
  • Justin Morneau will have a very good season and people will talk about something besides his head.
  • Jason Bay will not have a good season and people will keep talking about his head.
  • Carlos Zambrano will win 18 games, but Garza will be a bust. Zambrano also hits five homers.
  • Marcum will turn out to be the Brewers' best pitcher.
  • Milton Bradly will quietly put up a .800 OPS.
  • The Giants will find someone else to play shortstop by May 30.
  • Jeff Franceour will again wonder why he isn't playing every day.
  • Adam Laroche will strike out 150 times and have a good year for the O's.
  • Ryan Zimmerman steal's Longoria's title as baseball's best third baseman by the end of the season.

And finally...

  • The Yankees will win the World Series.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Continuing Saga of Michael Young

According to this report, the Texas Rangers are still trying to trade Michael Young and still asking a lot for him. If you've read the posts in this space for any length of time, you already know this Fan's position on Young's "demands." But just in case you haven't, the feeling here is that Young has 16 million good reasons to just shut up and do whatever job the Rangers ask him to do. But saying that and getting all that out of the way, the question still comes down to whether the Rangers are better off with or without Michael Young. And that question is evolving.

When the spring started, it was thought here that the Rangers were better off with Young than without him. Since they did not resign Vladimir Guerrero, they needed a proven bat to man the DH position and Young is a proven bat. He's no longer a proven glove and his bat isn't as good as Vlad's was last year, but considering the alternatives, Young seemed like a good fit at DH. He has some Texas power (yeah, it doesn't translate to the road) and he's got a lot of hits in his career. But after watching the Rangers this spring and looking at their albeit meaningless stats thus far, Young's contributions seem to be less necessary.

For one, Chris Davis is knocking the snot out of the ball this spring. And yeah, it's the third straight spring he's done that. And for the past two seasons, he could not carry that success into the season. In fact, his start to the 2010 season was downright disastrous. But perhaps this is the year that Davis can carry his spring into the season and be the type of major league hitter Texas has always thought he could be.

For another, Mike Napoli has been crushing the ball too. Napoli's addition to the club seems to be what pushed Young over the edge. And perhaps the threat of Napoli foraging into Young's at bats seems to be a real possibility. Against right-handed pitching, Napoli has to be in the line up if this spring (and his past history) is any indication.

The real problem for the Rangers is the injury to Adrian Beltre. Beltre hasn't played at all this spring and has a history of injuries. The Rangers paid a ton of money for the guy based on Beltre's unbelievable season last year for the Red Sox. While it's ironic that Young has had to fill in at third for the injured player that was signed to take his place, heck, again, the Fan says that Young is getting paid a lot of money to do whatever the Rangers ask him to do. But Chris Davis can also play third, so it's not overly important to keep Young around for Beltre-insurance.

Young has told his teammates that he won't be a distraction. And Young's history of whining in the off season but being a pro during the season has historical relevance. But it's still possible for the Rangers to dupe some team to give them a decent prospect or two in exchange for Young. It doesn't seem likely at this point, but it's still a possibility. The Fan once thought that the Rangers would be weaker without Young. But that feeling is melting a bit. A return of Adrian Beltre would erase the feeling completely.

What to Make of the Oakland Athletics

One of this writer's favorite places to go in the past few weeks is a blog called C70 At The Bat. It's run by Daniel Shoptaw, a writer from Arkansas. A couple of years ago, he started a series in the spring called, Playing Pepper. The feature culls opinions from two to four writers from each team's blog-sphere to answer specific questions about about that team's upcoming season. It's a fascinating concept and in essence led to the formation of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, an organization that Shoptaw started and currently serves in the office of president. Most writers who start team blogs start out writing as huge fans of the team they cover. But over time, the writing demands a dose of realism to enter their posts. And as such, the contributors have provided honest assessments of their teams for the Pepper series. The lone exception so far has been the Oakland Athletic installment. Those two writers polled were absolutely bullish on the Athletics' season in 2011. Their optimism flies in the face of projections for the team. So who will be right?

First, the Fan has to admit something. The Oakland Athletics play so far away from where this author writes that they often become lost in the shuffle. It doesn't help that they are often mentioned more because of the disastrous ballpark situation than they are about their team. The other times you hear about the team mention the nebulous "Billyball" thing named after their longtime general manager, Billy Beane. With all of those factors in play, the Fan really had to dig to form any concrete opinions of this team. But there is nothing more fun than digging into things about baseball, so it was well worth the trip.

Okay, back to the point of this post. The largest part of the optimism of the Oakland bloggers was about the pitching. And there is no doubt that last season's version of the Oakland A's pitched about as well as anyone in the American League. As is the modus operandi in Oakland, the pitching, particularly the rotation, is very young.  It was this Fan's perception that this young rotation wasn't about fire-ballers who struck a lot of people out. Instead it seemed to be a group of young guys with a strong competitive desire to do well and to push each other to success. And certainly, guys like Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden show a lot of competitive fire. Braden's was exhibited in the A-Rod incident in 2010 and by his no-hitter.

But the Fan also thought from looking at the stats that they were all pitching better than their xFIPs and had very low BABIP scores. This seems to be confirmed by the projections that predict regression for every single member of the rotation. For one of the few times this spring, the Fan can't take issue with those projections. But don't make the mistake of thinking that means the Athletics won't pitch well. They will. There isn't one starter in the bunch that is projected to have an ERA over 4.00. The projections all predict the rotation will be filled with guys with ERAs in the 3.50 to 3.80 range. That should still be better than anyone else in the American League West. It just won't be as good as the sub-3 ERAs we saw in 2010.

Add to the strong rotation a very good (if not great!) bullpen on paper. The addition of Brian Fuentes and Grand Balfour to an already strong group of Andrew Bailey, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler make this a dynamic bullpen if they all pitch to what they've done in the past. Breslow has been one of the best kept secrets in baseball the last two years and his release two years ago by the Twins is one of the few bonehead moves that team has made in recent history.

So yes, the pitching is there for the Athletics to compete. Despite regression projections, they are still the best in the AL West and should allow fewer runs than anybody. But will the 2011 Oakland Athletics score enough to take advantage of the great pitching? Ah, there, friends, is the million dollar question.

Before looking at the projections, let's take a moment to look at context. The Athletics are going to play a bunch of games against its own division. This Fan is no fan of the unbalanced schedule. It gets boring when you are playing the same teams over and over again to the tune of 18 games a season. Even the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry gets watered down when they have to play each other 18 times. But that's where we are and that's what we have to look at. So the A's are going to be playing Seattle, the Angels (whose geographical name will never be correctly mentioned here) and Texas a lot.

When looking at those AL West opponents, the A's won't be facing a lot of great pitching. Seattle has King Felix and a bunch of question marks. The Rangers have a decent rotation, but they aren't dominant that way. And the Angels have Weaver and Haren and then mediocrity. That less than stellar competition within their own division should help the offense beat some very pessimistic projections.

And what of those offensive projections? They are brutal. Here are the projected OPS figures for their everyday players: Crisp (.691), Barton (.719), DeJesus (.713), Willingham (.782), Matsui (.749), Ellis (.648), Suzuki (.668), Kouzmanoff (.679) and Pennington (.647). Ugh! Willingham has the highest projected WARP at 1.8. That IS some serious pessimism.

At face value, those projections are easy to understand. Coco Crisp has been an enigma his entire career. He shows flashes of brilliance and then he goes on the disabled list. At other times, he shows flashes of mediocrity and then goes on the disabled list. But let's say he stays healthy and plays the entire season. If that happens, he should blow away his projection.

Barton just completed his second full season. The first was in 2008 when he batted .226 in over 500 plate appearances. In 2009, Barton fought to get out of the minors and then did well once he got with the A's. And then last season, he led the league in non-intentional walks. So it's easy to see how the projections can be low with only one successful season behind him. To think that he would only garner a 0.6 WARP after putting up a 4.5 WARP last year seems a stretch. The highest projection for Barton that the Fan has seen is 3.5 WARP. That seems at least more plausible than the 0.6 figure. Barton will beat projections. Now if only he could hit a few more dingers and stop bunting.

The DeJesus projection seems fair. But he could beat that if he stays healthy and he's another player like Crisp who has had trouble doing that. Willingham's projection seems too high but upon reflecting on his career, it's probably spec on. Matsui's projection is easy to understand because of his age. But he was much better than people think for the Angels last year. He had a good season, he really did. And there is no reason as a DH that he can't duplicate that. If he does, he'll blow away his projections.

There is little to expect from the offense of Mark Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington. They all man the infield because of their gloves and not their bats. They are NOT good offensive players and their projections all seem fair to this observer.

That leaves us with the riddle of Kurt Suzuki. In 2008, it looked like Suzuki was going to be one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. But in 2009, his batting average went down five points, his OBP went down 33 points but he doubled his home run production. That in part helped him come close to the WARP of the previous season. But last year, his hitting fell off a cliff and his batting average, on base percentage and slugging all tumbled. Suzuki has lost all patience at the plate and his walk totals are starting to rival Benji Molina. He has to address that and take a few more walks. The projections seem to split the difference between a down 2009 and the downer of 2010. That seems fair. But if he can (perhaps stay healthier?) get back to his production of 2008, then he can perhaps blow away his projections.

So where does all this lead us? The Oakland writers that started off this piece predict 90 wins. The projections state 83. After working through all of the above, the Fan's conclusion is that they should win 85 or 86 games. Whether that is good enough to compete in the AL West depends on how well the Rangers do. The Rangers are capable of winning over 90 games. But if things don't go well, they could win as few as 85. The Athletics' chances depend on which Rangers team shows up.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rockies Season Depends on Pitching

The Colorado Rockies are going to score some runs. Between Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, bounce back seasons from Dexter Fowler, Chris Iannetta and Todd Helton, there are few doubts the Rockies will score runs. The question for the team as always remains around pitching. And the projections seen so far aren't optimistic. The projections make the Rockies the highest scoring team in the National League West. But those same projections predict the Rockies will give up the most runs in that same division. Thus, we get a projected team that will again settle at third place like last year with a record just above .500. Is there any room in those projections for hope?

The quick answer is possibly. Projections for Ubaldo Jiminez seem overly pessimistic. He is projected to have an ERA of 3.94 and a win-loss total of 13-10. Doesn't that seem pessimistic to you? It does here as well. There is nothing this Fan has seen to dispute that Jiminez is one of the top pitchers in the National League. He won 19 games last year with an ERA of 2.88. His WHIP was 1.19. But the projections say his WHIP will be 1.38. That would be a major regression over both of the last two years. There is no indication so far in his spring starts (yeah, the Fan knows they don't count) that he isn't throwing as well as last year. Jiminez will be better than the projections.

Aaron Cook supposedly came into camp out of shape and was quickly injured. This may be a good thing for the Rockies. The Fan has never been big on the Cook bandwagon and with young arms like Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, Cook wasn't anything more than a fourth or fifth starter to begin with. If you bump up those two young guys and then Jason Hammel, then all you have to do to replace Cook is find a fifth starter that can at least hold his own.

De La Rosa is a guy that you expect to break out at any time. He throws a heavy fastball that induces his share of ground balls. He strikes out people. His two flaws to date are his walk rate and his homer rate. Even so, he finished last year with a WHIP of 1.32 and an ERA of 4.22. And yet his projections have him pitching with an ERA of over 5 in 2011 with a WHIP of 1.50. Again, that is projecting a regression for a pitcher that gives every indication that he is becoming a better pitcher and not the other way around. The Fan expects De La Rosa to beat projections too.

Jhoulys Chacin is the most intriguing arm on this team. All raw talent and no real results yet in the majors, Chacin got his feet wet in 2010. He finished with an ERA of 3.28 and a WHIP of 1.27 in 21 starts and seven relief appearances. His homer rate was fine. He gives up slightly more ground balls than fly balls and he struck out nine batters per nine innings. Like De La Rosa, he needs to pound the strike zone a bit more and give up fewer walks. But again, his projections are pessimistic with a projected ERA of 4.83 and a WHIP of 1.49. Puzzling. Chacin should beat those projections and really have a good season.

Jason Hammel is not a top of the rotation kind of guy. He gives up a lot of hits and isn't stingy enough with walks. But he's posted a sub-5 ERA for three straight years despite a career WHIP of 1.48. His WHIP the last two years are 1.39 and 1.40. So he's shown some improvement in that area for two straight years. But again, his projection for 2011 show an ERA over five and a WHIP of 1.48.

That's four straight pitchers we've looked at so far in the rotation that are expected to regress in 2011 instead of progress. The Fan can't see it and the thought here is that all four, or at least three of the four will be significantly better than projections. Of course, the team will have to figure out who the fifth starter will be among Felipe Paulino (ugh), Greg Reynolds or someone.

It's too early to think about the bullpen. Huston Street has injury problems every year it seems and this spring seems no different. He's not an elite closer anyway and hasn't been since his rookie season. But Belisle, Betancourt and Linstrom are all serviceable pitchers and the Rockies should be able to figure out something there. Bullpens are important but the Rockies' success or failure in 2011 ultimately seems to fall square on the rotation. If their top four guys in the rotation beat the projections like this observer thinks they will, the Rockies could content in the NL West.