Saturday, November 05, 2011

Why You Have to Root for Chien-Ming Wang

Wait. That heading sounds way too much like a command. You don't have to root for Chien-Ming Wang. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that this writer has to root for Chien-Ming Wang. You might have heard that he recently signed with the Washington Nationals for another season for $4 million. It's a rather small and safe investment on the Nationals' part and from the sounds of things, it's where Wang wanted to be because he was grateful that the Nationals stuck with him through his long injury ordeal. And that's just one reason to root for Wang to succeed. Actually, that's two in one. Before this gets too confusing, perhaps the best way to get these thoughts out are in list form. Therefore, in no particular order, here's why this writer roots for Chien-Ming Wang.

1. The Fan is a sucker for a comeback story. Wang was heading for his typical season for the Yankees in 2008. Perhaps he was heading for his best season yet after winning nineteen games for two years in a row in 2006 and 2007. He was 7-2 after a seven inning gem against the Oakland A's on June 10, 2008. The Yankees moved into interleague play after the Oakland series and headed to Houston to play the Astros in a National League park. That meant that pitchers had to hit. Chien-Ming Wang squared up against the Astros' best pitcher, Roy Oswalt, on June 15. Wang struck out on his first two at bats. But the Yankees had built a 3-0 lead on Oswalt heading into the sixth inning. Wang had thrown five shutout innings. Those were the last five innings he pitched in 2008.

In the top of the sixth inning on that day in June, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano had led off the inning with singles. After a fly out, Wang was asked to bunt. His bunt wasn't exceptional and Posada was thrown out at third. Unfortunately, that left Wang on first base. Johnny Damon hit a ground ball and Wang ran hard to second and again, unfortunately, the shortstop made an error and everybody was safe. Wang was on second and the bases were full when Derek Jeter came to the plate. Jeter hit a single. Cano scored and Wang scored behind him. In the process, Wang blew out a tire and that injury effectively killed his season. George Steinbrenner, in the last acts of his bluster, blasted baseball for making pitchers hit in interleague games (a point which gets an agreement from this observer). Wang got the win for the game and he finished the season at 8-2.

Jump forward to the spring of 2009. You could tell right from the beginning that Wang wasn't right after missing the last half of the 2008 season. On April 8, 2009, Wang made his season debut and gave up seven runs on twelve base runners in three and two-thirds innings. Five days later, he lasted an inning and gave up nine base runners and eight runs. Five days later, the same thing happened: one and a third innings and eight runs. After three starts, his ERA was 34.50. The Yankees pulled the plug. They tried to pitch him at various times during the year and after all was said and done, he pitched twelve times including nine starts and finished 1-6 with an ERA of 9.64. To anyone who had eyes to see, there was something clearly wrong with Chien-Ming Wang. The problem was his shoulder and a July 30 operation ended his 2009 season.

At the end of the 2009 season, the Yankees, despite winning the World Series that season, had little charity in their heart for a pitcher that had pitched so well for them for two full seasons and two partial seasons. In the dynastic world of Yankee baseball, winning is all that matters and Wang was jettisoned. The Nationals signed Wang to a free agent contract, but Wang was simply not ready and after much speculation, the Nationals finally announced that he would miss the entire 2010 season. And that leads us to reason Number 2.

2. The Nationals could have washed their hands of Chien-Ming Wang after getting nothing for their money in 2010. Yes, they non-tendered him, but then signed him to a one year contract for less money than the previous contract and he started the 2011 season on a formal rehab assignment. Kudos to the Nationals for sticking with the pitcher and giving him another chance. The move was not altogether altruistic. After all, Wang was a winner in his Yankee years and if he could get somewhat back to what he used to be, he could be useful.

To be honest, the Fan followed Wang during his minor league rehab starts and the results were mixed. But the Nationals were seeing a return of Wang's velocity and were convinced he was ready for major league action. Wang made his first major league start for the Nationals on July 29. He missed by a day starting on his two year anniversary of his shoulder surgery. And this Fan remembers how many naysayers there were on Twitter especially when people found out Wang was going to start a big league game. The naysayers sure sounded like soothsayers in Wang's first two starts, both losses. In those first two starts, Wang pitched a total of nine innings and gave up twelve runs, six of them earned on fifteen hits (one a homer), two walks and two strikeouts. The comeback story looked like a failure. But then we get to reason Number 3.

3. Things picked up with his third start of the season. He blanked the Cubs for six innings to get his first win. Then he pitched six more innings and gave up four runs against the Reds but got his second win. Wang's next five starts were uneven and he lost one of them and received four no-decisions. They weren't great starts. But Wang closed out his season with two straight wins, the last one a six-inning, one-run performance against the Braves on September 24 that did considerable damage to their wild card hopes.

In total for 2011, Wang made eleven starts, finished with a positive 4-3 record and a respectable 4.04 ERA. Wang finished his sixth season in the majors with his fifth winning record. But the thing about Wang is that he doesn't strike out anyone. He finished 2011 with a paltry sum of 3.61 strikeouts per nine innings. This isn't extraordinary for Wang. The two years he won nineteen games for the Yankees, his K/9 rates were 3.14 and 4.70 respectively. Wang has only had one season (his aborted 2008 season) where his FIP was lower than his actual ERA. And that leads us to reason Number 4 to root for Chien-Ming Wang.

4. Wang is the anti-analyses pitcher. He defies all the definitions we currently have for what a pitcher is supposed to be to be effective in the major leagues. Don't get the Fan wrong. This writer loves these newfangled statistics as much as anyone (perhaps more than most). But isn't it cool to have one guy who defies all that logic? Besides Chien-Ming Wang, name one other pitcher in the last fifty years who has logged more than 110 big league starts, has a winning percentage north of .600 and a strikeout per nine rate for his career less than 4.2. Go on, the Fan will wait. Think of one? Give up? There isn't any. Chien-Ming Wang has made 111 career starts, has a winning percentage of .670 (!) and yet has a career K/9 rate of 4.17. There has never been anyone like him in the last fifty years.

Since his debut in 2006, with a minimum of 700 innings pitched, only three other pitchers have a higher ground ball percentage than Wang. They are Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. But Webb struck out 7.26 batters per nine, Lowe, 5.94 and Hudson, 6.11. Wang doesn't come close to any of those guys. He is an anomaly. You have to go all the way back to the 1950s to find anyone like him (Bob Lemon and Eddie Lopat) with that kind of winning percentage despite that low a K/9.

Put it all together and this Fan has four big reasons for rooting for Chien-Ming Wang. First, he's on the comeback trail. Second, he's signed out of loyalty to a team that has treated him far better than the Yankees did. Third, he had a somewhat successful comeback. And lastly, his success defies all the logic today's valuation stats have for a successful pitcher. No, this writer isn't coming up with some sort of, "he just knows how to win," stuff and no, this writer isn't dumb enough not to understand that run support has a lot to do with his success. But still. It sure is fun to see how long he can keep it going. This Fan of major league baseball hopes Chien-Ming Wang wins nineteen games again this season. Wouldn't that be a gas?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Shelly Duncan - Starter?

A story over at caught this writer's eye today. That happens every once in a while when certain headlines are read quickly and the headline reads, "Duncan prepared to be more than a role player." So the Fan went ahead and clicked the link with a scoff waiting to form at the back of the throat. Seriously!? Shelly Duncan? Duncan, of course, is the son of Dave Duncan, Einstein pitching coach with the World Champion, St. Louis Cardinals. Shelly's real first name is David too, but "Shelly" avoids the confusion. The story certainly paints a rosy picture for Duncan in his .293 heroics in the last 43 games of the 2011 season. But the reality continues to be that Duncan has been pegged as a role player for so long that it's hard to imagine anything else for him. He is 32 years old after all.

Who knows if Shelly Duncan could have been a star. He was drafted eleven years ago by the Yankees in the second round. Before Brian Cashman got his way and started banking on home gown talent again, the Yankee reality from 2001 until the latter part of that decade was that young players were trade bait. The Yankees would fill their major league roster with older, more established players. Therefore, you got the endless parade of Ruben Sierra/Gary Sheffield types to play with over-padded paychecks while guys like Shelly Duncan were never realistically going to get a chance.

And so Shelly Duncan became lost in that endless shuffle as a 4A player who never got traded in those big deals. He had his first cup of coffee for the Yankees in 2007 and made quite a scene in 83 plate appearances. He belted seven homers good for an .883 OPS. But Spring Training came around again in 2008 and Duncan didn't fit. Subsequent cups of coffee in 2008 and 2009 produced diminishing returns. After eight years in the Yankees' system, he was going nowhere and was finally a free agent after the 2009 season. He signed with the Cleveland Indians.

Duncan saw his most amount of playing time with the Indians in 2010 getting into 85 games covering 259 plate appearances. His .736 OPS was hardly inspiring, nor was his 29.3 percent strikeout rate. But his wOBA wasn't bad at .324 and surprisingly for such a big guy, his defensive metrics weren't bad. In 2011, he again split time between Triple A and the majors but after the first half, his OPS stood at .674. He probably would have sunk into oblivion if the Indians hadn't had an outfield that couldn't stay out of the trainer's room. All the outfielders got hurt and somebody had to play out there. Duncan was given the call and had the second half mentioned earlier.

So what does it all mean? Choo will be back and Brantley will be back. So will Shelly Duncan get any kind of shot to get significant playing time? And should he? After parts of five seasons, Duncan has about a season's worth of plate appearances at 669. Judged by his slash line of .239/.313/.441, it hardly inspires much. But in those season worth of appearances, he has hit 30 homers and 31 doubles and has driven in 105 runs. So maybe...maybe what? If you clicked over to that link that started this piece, you get the words of Jim Thome who calls Duncan, "a monster." Thome has been around long enough to inspire a listen. Plus, Thome himself carved out a lot of serious WAR well into the late stages of his career.

Is there anybody like Duncan out there we can look at? Well there's Michael Morse, who was drafted a year after Duncan and who was similarly passed over a number of years before his breakout season last year. But Morse is two years younger on one hand and a much worse fielder than Duncan on the other. Is Morse a good comp? Could a full time Duncan put together a 4 WAR season?

Such a season might not be beyond the levels of reason. Brantley can play center, Choo in right and Shelly Duncan can play left. Such an outfield isn't horrible defensively and could be quite good offensively. We all know that Sizemore isn't in the mix anymore, so why not? There are few other options the Indians have without dipping into trade and free agent waters.

It's certainly a possibility that Duncan could get a shot full time and there is just as much a possibility that he can succeed. It just sounds awfully weird doesn't it? You have to root for a guy like Duncan. He's played 976 minor league games including 355 in Triple A. His Triple A OPS is .883. If he can put together an .850 OPS and hit thirty homers, would you take that for league minimum pay? This writer would. It's just the skeptics in us that find the notion unreasonable.

The Golden Era Ballot

Rarely in life are there second chances to right a wrong committed in the past. That in a nutshell is the purpose of the Hall of Fame having a committee tasked with reconsidering players (and managers, executives, etc) who have missed making it to the Hall of Fame based on the voting by sportswriters. In the recent past, this committee has been tasked to review players from certain eras in baseball history. This year, the committee will make recommendations on players and others from the period from 1947 to 1972. The full ballot and story can be found here. The purpose of this post is to help the committee with their responsibility. Are any of these players worthy of the Hall of Fame?

Let's take a look:

Ron Santo: Santo is a patron saint of Chicago Cubs baseball. While he was on the ballot after his playing days, he had none of the buzz-worthy numbers people were looking for. He didn't reach 3,000 hits. He didn't hit .300 for his career. He didn't hit 500 homers. Part of Santo's problem is that he only played fifteen years and was out of baseball by the age of 34. But did he pack enough into those fifteen years to merit the ultimate prize? For this Fan, the answer is yes. Santo was an elite third baseman. He did compile 342 homers. Santo led the league in walks four times including 96 walks during the infamous Year of the Pitcher in 1968. For his career, he averaged 25 homers, 96 RBI and 80 walks per 162 games played. He has a lifetime OPS+ of 125 with 66.4 of accumulated rWAR. Santo finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times and had two other top twenty votes. And he was a nine time All Star. Third base is somewhat under-represented in the Hall of Fame. Good ones are hard to find. Santo was a great one. Between his playing days and his beloved run as a Cubs broadcaster, Santo needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

Gil Hodges: Hodges played longer than Ron Santo and a couple of his younger years were cut off by the war. But his playing stats don't add up to Santo's despite the extra time. He has less career rWAR than Santo, less career RBI, about the same number of homers. He was a seven time All Star and figured in eight top twenty MVP votes. You could add in points for his managerial stint which includes the World Series title with the Mets in 1969. He was loved by his players but otherwise, his managerial record is far from impressive (.467 winning percentage). Hodges finished below 50 for his career in rWAR (44) and as a first baseman/outfielder, his career doesn't make it for this writer. Hodges never lead the league in any category besides games played and strikeouts.

Ken Boyer: Boyer was one of the best fielding third basemen to play the game. And Boyer did win an MVP Award for the Cardinals in 1964, the same season remembered for the thrilling, seven-game World Series against the Yankees. Boyer hit two homers in that World Series, his only post season appearance. But was he good enough for the Hall of Fame? He was great for his first nine years, all with the Cardinals. He was an All Star in seven of those seasons and six times finished in the top twenty for MVP votes. But unfortunately, after 1964, Boyer fell off a cliff. He played five more seasons after 1964, but they were no where near where he was from 1964 and before. Because of that sharp decline, he has less career numbers for his 15 years than Santo and unfortunately fails to pass muster for this writer's Hall of Fame meter. Boyer also managed the Cardinals for three seasons with a uninspiring .466 winning percentage.

Minnie Minoso: Minoso is a very interesting player. He is best remembered for playing in major league games when he was 50 and 54 years old (in mostly a publicity stunt). He is also remembered for his personality and the warmth he brought to the game. Minoso was a seven time All Star and six times finished in the top twenty in MVP voting. He was known for his speed and led the league in triples three times and stolen bases three times. But he also led the league in being thrown out stealing six times and his total stolen base percentage is not pretty at all. But still, Minoso built an excellent career. His career average of .298 and career OBP of .389 are superb. But like Boyer, Minoso hit the age of 34 and his skills simply vaporized. A very good outfielder, his total of 52.4 rWAR leaves him just short of this writer's Hall pass.

Tony Oliva: Another player from Cuba like Minosa, Tony Oliva was a superstar from 1964 to 1971. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and for the next eight years was one of the best players in the sport. Unfortunately, he played in an era before the sports medicine we have now and devastating leg injuries finished him as an elite player after 1971. He hobbled around as a DH for several years but was never the force he was before the injuries. Sadly, the three-time batting champ with a 132 career OPS+ finished with only 42.4 career rWAR and out of contention for Hall of Fame honors.

Jim Kaat: There has to be a place in Cooperstown for a guy like Jim Kaat. He won 283 major league games as a pitcher. He didn't buzz the ball by batters like Koufax or Clemens. He was a finesse pitcher who baffled batters for 25 years. Because he wasn't a strikeout pitcher, his career rWAR is low and under 50, but geez, he started over 30 games in a season twelve times, threw 31 shutouts and finished 180 of his starts. He was also a good hitter with 16 career homers and won the Gold Glove sixteen times. Since his playing days, he's been a wonderful ambassador for the sport. This Fan would love to see Jim Kaat in the Hall of Fame.

Luis Tiant: Another player from Cuba, Tiant has a tantalizing career line. Unlike Kaat, Tiant did know how to strike batters out, especially early in his career. He had two seasons where he finished under 2.00 in ERA (1968 and 1972). He completed 187 games in his career and threw 49 shutouts. He reinvented himself after his fastball was gone and was still an effective pitcher late into his career. Tiant was a perfect 3-0 in the post season with a 2.86 ERA and won 229 big league games with a .571 winning percentage despite the fact that he once went 9-20 for a terrible Indians team. He only gave up 7.9 hits per nine innings for his career and finished with a WHIP of 1.199. His 60.1 career rWAR makes him a Hall of Fame pitcher in this writer's book.

Allie Reynolds: Reynolds had a really short career with only twelve full seasons. He won 182 games against only 107 losses, good for an amazing .630 winning percentage. But the bulk of that was with those amazing Yankee teams of the 1950s. He was the right-handed Andy Pettitte of his day. His WHIP of 1.386 is not impressive, nor is his career rWAR total of 29.  He did throw 36 shutouts and added in 49 saves, but even so, he only really had one great season and falls way short of Hall of Fame consideration.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

BBA Link Fest - Generally Exciting

Thursday is link day here at the FanDome. As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and couched nicely in the General Chapter, every Thursday the Fan brings you great writing from around the chapter. Enjoy the links and have a great weekend.

Mike Cardano over at the X-Log has already handed the St. Louis Cardinals the ESPY Award. Couldn't agree more.

Though the Fence Baseball thinks Theo Epstein made the right call in not considering Ryne Sandberg as a managerial candidate. Dan Kirby gives us the details.

The ever entertaining Sully would like to see Albert Pujols wearing Dodger Blue. Cardinal fans will probably turn white over this Sully Baseball post.

The Sports Banter does have great sports banter. But a feature this Fan loves is the Monday Mullet feature. This week's is Pete Incaviglia, one of this Fan's favorite legends.

J-Doug of Rational Pastime didn't post this graph on his own site, but it's worth a look to see just how improbable the Cardinals' run was this post season.

Pro Sports Wrap obviously has a healthy dislike for Jeff Passan. The Fan links, you judge (to borrow a Rob Neyer line).

The Common Man over at The Platoon Advantage missed some time for the birth of "the girl." But his writing is like riding a bike. He catches up here.

Old Time Family Baseball celebrates John Axford's mustache.

Number One Baseball congratulates the Cardinals and looks forward to the off season.

One of this Fan's favorte player Twitter follows is Steve Karsay, the former relief pitcher. MLB Reports caught up with Karsay and did a great profile. Great work, Jonathan, and we're looking forward to the interview.

MLB Dirt always has great stuff to read. This week's link is a Michael Schwartze piece on his American League post season award picks.

An epic fail by a Fox station in Texas is recorded by Major League A-holes for posterity.

One of the great things about Left Field is that it's written by people who know what they are talking about. This week features a great explanation of why Adrian Beltre's play on the Holliday pick off was not obstruction.

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor discusses the worthiness of the Cardinals as World Series Champions. Interesting post!

The Hall of Very Good has a great post on the Golden Era Ballot Candidates.

Grubby Glove writes some of the most thorough and interesting posts. You'll enjoy this one on the Arizona Fall League.

Daniel Clark over at The Golden Sombrero has a great update on prospect, Francisco Lindor.

Kenn Olson speculates about where Prince Fielder will land in this well thought out post over at his Going Yard site.

A very good post over at The Baseball Index speculates on where Aramis Ramirez will land.

For Baseball Junkies riffs on the Silver Slugger Awards. A super argument starter for sure.

TheNaturalMevs talks about the end of an era in Cleveland as Grady Sizemore's option was not picked up. Diamond Hoggers has the story.

Lots of smile were caused by this post by Taylor over at Crack of the Bat as Taylor watched the World Series with his girlfriend.

Matt Whitener exults at dreams that come true over at his Cheap.Seats.Please site.

MSalvini of Che Palle! our Italian site tells a story about Ron Washington that is interesting to say the least.

FHPromos discusses the whirlwind we just witnessed over at his Baseballism site. Another great read.

Stability in the Bronx is the message brought to us by Christopher Carelli of The Baseball Stance after C.C. Sabathia's deal was done.

The Baseball Hall of Shame has another perspective on the Grady Sizemore story.

It only seems natural that The Ball Caps Blog would tip a cap for Tony LaRussa, right?

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball thinks the Sabathia deal is ridiculous.

Ryan Sendek is one of our newest bloggers over at Analysis Around the Horn, but golly, he's good. Check out this post on signing Albert Pujols.

And last but not least, 85% Sports writer Eugene Tierney doesn't think it can get any better. The Fan doesn't think so either.

Did All Three Alou Brothers Really Start the Same Game?

There are reports this morning that Matty Alou has passed away in Miami. If the reports prove to be true, then another piece of this writer's youth has passed into the great beyond. Since this Fan was a boy, the story of the Alou brothers has been legendary. They are baseball royalty as only the DiMaggio brothers can claim the same kind of history. Matty, Felipe and Jesus Alou all started their careers with the San Francisco Giants. Matty and Felipe went on to some degree of stardom on other teams. Jesus had a long career but was never as good as his brothers. Felipe was the most powerful of the brothers and compiled the most rWAR for his career. Felipe also managed in the big leagues. One of the stories you often hear about the Alou brothers was they once all started in the outfield for the Giants in 1963. Of course, this was the one and only time such a thing happened in the majors. But nobody tells you any details about that game. And so this Fan of the game (since way back when the Alou brothers played) got immersed into to find the game itself.

The easiest way to find it was to look at Jesus Alou's game log for 1963. Since he played the fewest games that year for the Giants, it was the least painful route to take. Jesus played only sixteen games in 1963 for the Giants starting on September 10. In that first game, all three brothers got into the game. Felipe started and Matty and Jesus pinch hit. That alone is history. On September 11, 1963, Felipe and Jesus both started in the same outfield and Matty pinch hit. Here are the rest of Jesus's appearances until we find "The Game."

  • September 12 - Felipe starts, Jesus come in at the end of the game as an outfield defensive replacement.
  • September 13 - Felipe starts in right. Jesus starts in left. Matty pinch hits.
  • September 14 - Felipe starts. Jesus comes in late as a left field defensive replacement. Willie McCovey was playing left. Remember that the Giants had a center fielder. He was pretty good. Willie Mays.
  • September 15 - A laffer won by the Giants. Felipe started and played all outfield positions. Jesus replaced McCovey and played right field. Matty replaced Willie Mays and played left. All three are in the outfield together. History!
  • September 17 - Another easy win for the Giants. Felipe starts in right and moves to center when Matty takes over for Willie Mays late in the game and plays left. Jesus pinch runs for Harvey Kuenn and then plays left until Matty arrives and then plays right. All three in the outfield again!
  • September 20 - Felipe starts. Jesus is a defensive replacement in left late in the game. No Matty.
  • September 21 - Felipe starts, Jesus and Matty pinch hit.
  • September 22 - Easy win for the Giants over the hapless Mets. Felipe starts. Matty takes over for Willie Mays. Jesus takes over for Orlando Cepeda. All three are again in the outfield together. Felipe in center, Matty in left, Jesus in right.
  • September 24 - Felipe starts. Jesus pinch hits for Kuenn and plays left field late in the game. No Matty.
  • September 25 - Felipe starts. Both Jesus and Matty pinch hit but don't play the field.
  • September 26 - Felipe starts in right. Jesus takes over for Willie McCovey in left late in the game.
  • September 27 - Felipe starts in right. Jesus pinch hits. No Matty.
  • September 28 - Felipe starts in right. Jesus starts in left. No Matty. Uh oh.
  • September 29 - Felipe starts in right. Jesus pinch runs for McCovey and plays an inning in left. It's the last game of the season.
By culling through the game logs of Jesus Alou, this Fan found seven occurrences when all three Alou brothers made the box score and two times where all three played in the same outfield at the same time. But in a post that began as a way to celebrate the "day that all three Alou brothers started in the outfield in a game in 1963," turned out instead to be a post about debunking this myth. It never happened. Felipe Alou was traded the following year to the Milwaukee Braves (can you imagine playing along side both Willie Mays AND Hank Aaron in the same career!?) so it couldn't have happened after 1963. And 1963 was Jesus Alou's first season so it couldn't have happened before 1963.

The myth is even perpetuated by itself. But it never happened. In one of the coolest facts of all of baseball history, all three Alou brothers DID play in the outfield at the same time. It happened twice as listed above. And all three appeared in 1963 Giant box scores seven times. But they never started together in the outfield. There was no way you were getting Willie Mays out of that line up.

*** Minor Correction - The Alou brothers actually patrolled the outfield together on three occasions. Messed up the count

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Phil Plantier and the Circle of Life

When you've watched baseball as long as this writer has, news about ball players, coaches, managers and executives all start to blur together into one big Elton John song called the Circle of Life. Just the other day, someone mentioned that Mickey Mantle would have been eighty years old this year. Eighty! Forever in this mind, he's a strapping Number 7 with rippling muscles and a swing that wrapped air around itself. Another reminder of how life itself can wrap around on you is the hiring of Phil Plantier as the new hitting coach of the San Diego Padres. It seemed like just yesterday he was the rookie sensation for the Boston Red Sox.

It wasn't yesterday, of course, but was twenty years ago. Twenty-one years ago, Phil Plantier got his first taste of major league baseball with a cup of coffee for the 1990 Boston Red Sox. The kid caught this writer's interest immediately because he was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, a city of fond memories. It was in Manchester that this writer spent three unprofitable years at New Hampshire College and had his first significant job working for Radio Shack in the downtown of that pretty city. Plantier was born in Manchester in 1969. His family moved away to Poway, California eventually because that's where Plantier went to high school. But for all this author knows, they might have passed each other during the years 1975 to 1977 when those college days occurred.

Plantier didn't do anything of note that first year. He was noticed because of his birthplace, but not for anything that happened during his brief appearances that season. There wasn't the information machine in place back then like there is now. So we wouldn't have known that he was a major force in the minors for his power numbers. Today, he would have a rating besides his name on the major baseball sites. Back then, he was just another unknown rookie getting his feet wet. The Red Sox came in first that season but were swept in the ALCS by the Oakland A's in the year of Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley and some guy named Tony LaRussa. Plantier was not on the post season roster.

Phil Plantier didn't make the opening day roster of the 1991 Red Sox. He started the season in Triple A but was called up to the big club and played eleven games in June. Not much happened. In those eleven games, his slash line was an unimpressive, .235/.278/.235. He'd only collected four hits with no extra base hits. He was sent back to the minors. He was recalled on August 10, 1991 and the rest of that season was a run of beauty.

On August 13, 1991 the Red Sox played a double header against Cleveland. Plantier played both games and went five for six with three walks and two doubles. He sat on the bench for two games and then on August 16, 1991, Phil Plantier hit his first major league homer, a two-run job off of the Royals' Storm Davis in the eight inning when the Red Sox had been down 2-1 in the game. 

The next game, Plantier hit a triple and drove in two more runs. His legend was growing. Plantier played just about every day the rest of the season and in those 131 at bats, he hit eleven homers, seven doubles and a triple and drove in 32 runs. His slash line during that run was .344/.436/.664, good for a 1.100 OPS in that time span. A new star was born.

Except it wasn't. Plantier was a starter for the Red Sox right out of the gate in 1992. It was a season of transition for the Red Sox. Butch Hobson was the manager. Dwight Evans was gone. Wade Boggs inexplicably hit just .259 and would soon find his way out of town. The Red Sox, after contending for several seasons, found themselves at the bottom of the division. Plantier wasn't of much help. The Red Sox thought they had found their next star. In 1991, Plantier had hit everything and everybody. His OPS was over one against both right-handed and left-handed pitching. Suddenly, in 1992, he couldn't hit lefties (he was a left-handed batter). And his power dried up as well. It was almost a blessing for him and the team when he got hurt and missed thirty games at the end of August. When he came back, he was only a part time player.

The Red Sox had seen enough and basically traded him for nothing after the 1992 season to the San Diego Padres. The Red Sox got Jose Melendez, a pitcher that pitched a handful of relief appearances for the Red Sox in 1993 and 1994 and was never seen again in the majors. But the trade was a boon for Phil Plantier. Getting traded close to home and back in California, Plantier had his best year in the majors for the Padres in 1993. He hit 34 homers and knocked in 100 runs. He didn't hit for average (.240), but he slugged over .500 and he quickly became a fan favorite in Jack Murphy Stadium. 

Unfortunately, 1993 was a really bad year for the Padres. Despite Plantier's season and despite having players like Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Tony Gwynn and Derek Bell, the Padres lost 101 games. The 101 losses were a full eleven games worse than their Pythagorean win-loss projection. That was a bad team led by Jim Riggleman as the manager.

1994 was no better for the Padres in that strike-shortened season. They were again a terrible team under Riggleman and the season is only noteworthy as the season that Tony Gwynn was just a few hits shy of hitting .400. Plantier battled injuries and hit 18 more homers in 96 games but his average fell down to .220. It was the beginning of the end for Plantier. He was traded to the Astros in the middle of the next season and was never again close to being a full time player. He hung around for a few more seasons but 1997 ended up as his last season in the majors.

To Plantier's credit, he didn't end his life there. He got a college degree, and started his career as an instructor and minor league manager. He succeeded and by 2010 was the minor league hitting coordinator for the Seattle Mariners. And now he is the hitting coach for the Padres at the major league level.

And Plantier will have his hands full. The Padres finished dead last in the National League in batting average, slugging and OPS in 2011. Plantier will need to change the hitting culture in San Diego. The odds are certainly against him, especially at Petco Park.

For this writer, Phil Plantier is just another spoke on that great cycle of being a Fan of Major League Baseball. This writer watched him cut his teeth as a rookie, become a sensation, fade, resurrect and then slowly fade out of baseball. Now he's just another player this writer has seen through an entire career come out on the other side and become a coach on the major league level. There will be many others, God willing, and this Fan will continue to root for them all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gold Glove Awards - Your Real Trick or Treat

For the first time ever, we get a preview of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the award has let us in on who the nominees are. Twitter buddy (and terrific writer), Ian Bethune from over at Sox & Dogs has the list of nominees up on his site. With just a few exceptions, the list of nominees is a joke. It's an embarrassment to baseball and to Rawlings. And it will be an embarrassment to ESPN when they host the award announcement show. The only good news from the list is at least we won't get Derek Jeter to kick around this year as he is not on the ballot. Thank goodness for small miracles.

There is an alternative to the Gold Gloves called the Fielding Bible Awards.  And while this is a much better award process, the drawbacks are that it's hosted by just one of the fielding metric systems (Baseball Info Solutions) and it only names one overall major league winner at each position instead of naming one in each league at each position.

What the Fan proposes to do for the rest of this post is to list the Gold Glove Award nominees by position, give you their prospective rank from Fangraphs and and then who should have been the Gold Glove Award winner for 2011. Feel free to argue. One other note. Since the catcher rarely starts as many as the other positions, that position won't go by qualifying for the batting title. The other positions go by at least 400 plate appearances as you should be near a full time player to qualify for a fielding award (IMHO). Here we go:

Pitcher - Aw, forget the pitcher. Who really cares.


  • Nominees:  AL - Matt Wieters (F -1, B-R - 2), A.J. Pierzynski (F - 38, B-R - 45)  and Alex Avilla (F-37, B-R - 19)
  • Nominees: NL - Yadier Molina (F - 39, B-R - 3), Brian McCann (F - 57, B-R - 63), Carlos Ruiz (F - 52, B-R - 13)
  • Who should be the Gold Glove: AL - Matt Wieters. The other two nominees are a joke. There are whispers that the Oriole pitchers don't like throwing to Wieters because he is so tall.  NL - Miguel Montero

First Base

Second Base


Third Base

Left Field

Center Field

Right Field

Once again, it's very depressing that there is such a disparity between the fielding metric systems. That doesn't make this job very easy. But it's easy to see already that four of the Gold Gloves are going to be dead wrong. That's already in the 25 percent error range. And that's too bad. Because once again, with that kind of error rate, the Gold Gloves will once again be without merit and laughable.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Washington Nationals in Good Hands with Johnson

In what would have been the most important managerial news of the day if it wasn't for a certain guy in St. Louis, Davey Johnson was announced as the Washington Nationals 2012 manager. Johnson was brought into the dugout by Mike Rizzo after Jim Riggleman fell on his own sword. Johnson had been acting as Rizzo's special assistant before the move. Like Rizzo points out in the linked piece above, the only question concerning Johnson was his energy level and his interest in leading the Nationals to the future. Rizzo no longer has such doubts and neither should we.

Davey Johnson has a proven track record. His fifteen years in the dugout is less than half of Tony LaRussa's, but Johnson has a much better winning percentage over that time (.561). In his fifteen years as manager, Johnson has five first place division finishes, one World Series Championship and one league pennant. His teams have also finished second seven times and third twice, which could be just as important in this day and age of wild cards (there could be two by 2012). And Johnson also has experience bringing along young teams which will come in handy with the terrific young talent the Nationals possess.

And Johnson does have a chance to really see a new era in Nationals baseball. Young talent abounds led by Stephen Strasburg, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez and Jordan Zimmermann. Established young stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and veterans such as Jayson Werth make this team very interesting. He does have some question marks to figure out though.

Ian Desmond at short hasn't come along as much as you would like after two full seasons. Desmond only cut down his errors by a handful and his fielding metrics are not great to look at. That might balance out if he was effective at the plate but he's not. Center field is another problematic position. Rick Ankiel played about as well as Rick Ankiel can play which would be okay if he was a role player. But if he's your starting center fielder, that's not ideal at all. And will Jayson Werth rebound from what was a dismal season compared to his previous seasons? You would like to think so, but time will tell. And is Michael Morse for real?

The Nationals, of course, will go as far as their pitching takes them. If Strasburg stays healthy and gives them thirty starts, that's great and the same goes for Zimmermann. Those two should be the top guns for years to come. But what comes after them? Ross Detwiler showed that perhaps he might be rounding into a decent starter. Chien-Ming Wang could be surprisingly effective despite never striking anyone out. But that's two big ifs there. John Lannon doesn't fill this observer with much enthusiasm. Brad Peacock's strikeout rate in the minors didn't translate to the majors in a very small sample size, but if he can approach his minor league numbers, he could be effective. Strong pitching has always been the hallmark of Davey Johnson teams. If anyone can figure it out, it's Johnson.

The bullpen is terrific with Storen, Rodriguez and Clippard leading the way. If the starters get the lead to the bullpen, the wins should come.

The Nationals have major league talent now and have more in the pipeline (Bryce Harper anyone?). They need a centerfielder and perhaps one more starter, but they could surprise a lot of people next season. They play in a tough division but with Davey Johnson in the dugout, they have an experienced and successful manager. If anyone can pull the Nationals to the next level, it's Davey Johnson. Today's news should be very good news for Nationals fans.

Tony LaRussa Retires as Cardinals Manager

Even as this writer's fingers are strolling along the keyboard, Tony LaRussa's voice is speaking in the background taking questions as to why he is retiring as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Twitter is aflame with the sudden and surprising news. It's a shocker. The timing, according to LaRussa had nothing to do with the final outcome of the Cardinals' championship season. He says there are eight factors that all led to his decision. Even so, what a way to go out, as the championship manager of 2011.

Those who have read this writer for a long time understand that Tony LaRussa has never been a favorite here. He was the Don Shula of baseball. Arrogant? Yes. Bullheaded? Yes. His way or the highway? Yes. But those of you who have visited here often also know the great respect that this writer has had for Tony LaRussa as one of the best managers the majors has ever seen. Three world titles and six pennants to go along with a .536 winning percentage over 33 years of managing says it all.

It's too early to digest what all this means for the Cardinals moving forward. They've lost LaRussa. Is Albert Pujols next? Who knows. We'll have plenty of time to digest it all in the days ahead. For now, there is undeniable shock that Tony LaRussa is walking away from one of the best jobs in baseball. He is bowing out on top of the game. 

Aramis Ramirez Opt Out Good for Cubs

One of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's first decisions leading the Chicago Cubs was picking up the one year option for Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs third baseman for the past nine years. The option was for over $16 million. And thus it was surprising when the Cubs did indeed pick up that option. Fangraphs did peg Ramirez's worth in the field at $16.2 million for his 2011 campaign. But his last three year average due to injuries and a downturn in his play comes in at just under $9 million a year. So what the heck were Epstein and Hoyer thinking? Turns out that they might have known just what they were doing.

Ramirez had made it clear that it would take a multi-year contract from the Cubs for him to stay. And as reported here, had a contractual option to opt out of the option and forfeit the $2 million buyout as well. And that's exactly what Ramirez has done. The Cubs still have the option to offer him arbitration, which they most likely will do so that when Ramirez walks as a Type B free agent, they will get one draft pick as compensation. 

Losing Ramirez in this manner is the best of all worlds for the Cubs. They save $16 million. They save $2 million on the buyout and they get a draft pick. They also lose a player that has been part of the entrenched culture of the Cubs for the past nine seasons. There are wins all around in this scenario for the Cubs. Let's start with the performance issues.

Metrics show that Aramis Ramirez has declined in the field to pretty dramatic levels. In his peak years, he rated from -1.5 to -3.0 in that department. His last two years have come in at -6.5 and -9.4 respectively. His base running has also declined. While he was never great on the base paths, he's compiled a combined -10.7 in that category the past two years.  He did have a good year at the plate in over 600 plate appearances in 2011. He surpassed his career wOBA and wRC+ with his 2011 play. But his ISO is down from his peak years and realistically, you can't expect him (at the age of 34 and onward) to repeat those kinds of numbers going forward.

Then there is the culture issue which isn't as black and white as the numbers are. The last few years seem to show a large dysfunction behind the scenes for the Cubs. Whispers have been that there are factions in the clubhouse. These were allowed to develop during the Lou Piniella years and it's hard to know how much success Mike Quade had at squashing that kind of problem. Even if all this speculation is hooey, there is a culture of losing in Wrigley that can only be washed out by letting some of the most entrenched players move along. It simply is time for Aramis Ramirez to move along.

Of course there are drawbacks for the Cubs in allowing Ramirez to leave. Third base was a virtual wasteland for MLB last year and there won't be any great shakes for third basemen on the market this winter either. Oh, perhaps the Cubs could pry David Wright from the Mets, but he's a worse defender at third than Ramirez, though he is younger and could presumably replace whatever offense is lost by Ramirez's departure. And there are not exactly a plethora of minor league replacements either.

But sometimes a team has to make additions by subtraction. And that philosophy seems to apply here with the Cubs losing Aramis Ramirez. It's time for the Cubs to move in different directions. Ramirez, meanwhile, has probably cost himself a few million in pocket change. Will any team seriously give him $16 million for his services in 2012? It seems highly unlikely. It seems even unlikelier for any team to offer him that kind of money long term considering his recent injury history and the fact that he will be 34 for the 2012 season. It seemed more in the third baseman's interest to get max value for one more season before having to settle for what he could get from 2013 forward. It will be interesting to see what he gets for offers.

As for the Cubs, a good move and a smart play by the new chiefs in town.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nick Swisher Option Pick Up Is Smart

The New York Yankees today picked up the options for 2012 on Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. While the Cano option at $14 million is easily explainable, many (on Twitter anyway) have questioned the Yankees for picking up Nick Swisher's option for 2012 at $10.5 million. Based on what? Seriously? Based on a bad post season? Based on two bad post seasons? One Twitter bud stated that the Yankees already have too many DH options. What is this Fan missing here?

Based on his player page over at Fangraphs, Nick Swisher has averaged $15.8 million in value the last three years. He's going to be 31 years old. What are we equating this to? It's not like the Yankees are signing him to a Jayson Werth type deal or something. We're talking about a one year commitment at two thirds of his present value.

Nick Swisher was the ninth best right fielder in the majors last season. He was the eighth the season before that and ninth over the last three years. According to fielding metrics, Swisher has gotten much better in the field. Pegged with an 0.7 fielding metric last year, that figure was 6.9 this season. Even if we listen to the experts and average that out over three years, we're still talking about a valid every day right fielder.

Swisher's on base percentage the last three years: .371, .359, .374. Swisher's slugging the last three years: .498, .511, .449. He walked 95 times this season. His wOBA and wRC+ have remained consistent. And this writer loves that he is a switch hitter than can hit (without complaint, mind you) anywhere in the Yankee line up.

This Twitter bud called Swisher a J.D. Drew with personality. A great line, no? But even if it is accurate, this writer would take the 31 year old Drew who compiled a 4.4 fWAR. The difference now, of course, is that Drew will be 37 years old in 2012. Swisher is six years younger.

And that personality makes him the perfect New York player. The fans love the guy and from all accounts, he's a good clubhouse guy too. This is a perfectly spot on decision by the Yankees. This writer believes he was hurting pretty badly in the 2011 post season. Sure, he didn't perform and the Yankees didn't make the big show. But let's be real here. The Yankees could still get good value from him in trade, but this writer hopes he stays in New York. It's hard not to root for a guy who is performing over value and does so with a smile at the office every day.