Saturday, December 03, 2011

Twitter Snobbery

A few of us were talking on Twitter the other day about Twitter snobbery. Some baseball writers have thousands of followers and yet follow hardly anyone. One of these Twitter buds was particularly tweaked about it. That, naturally, piqued this writer's curiosity enough to investigate the matter. You expect a bit of this snobbery to crop up among celebrities and ball players. Ozzie Guillen, the former White Sox manager now ensconced in Miami has hundreds of thousand followers and yet follows only one person (Olney?) That's to be expected. Alyssa Milano is an exception. She has over a million followers but follows over a thousand people. But what about baseball writers?

All of us, if we are smart, use Twitter to announce our posts. That is one great use of Twitter that we all do. But at best, Twitter is a community. It's about people with like interests interacting. Many of us see it that way anyway. And a lot of the heavy hitters among baseball writers see it that way too. The legendary Peter Gammons has over a hundred thousand followers and follows over six hundred people. That's acceptable. Why? Because having a large number of follows (people you follow) can make for a confusing timeline. Your host and Fan has 475 followers (thank you) and follows 705. That's sort of unusual as most people have fewers follows than followers. And even with 705 follows, the time line can get jumbled in a hurry.

So what is acceptable for a sports writer not to be a snob? An arbitrary number has to be contrived. Three hundred follows seems to be the number that makes sense to this observer. If you follow three hundred other baseball people, you care about the opinions of others and you show an interest in how others think about baseball and the news created by it. But are we being fair here?

Is it fair to call a writer a snob if he/she doesn't follow anyone? Perhaps their view of Twitter is simply to announce to their fans what they have written lately. Perhaps they view Twitter as a real time way to announce what they know...a form of reporting they have always done in the print medium. Perhaps we can cut them some slack here. But the heart of the matter is that if a big time writer follows no one, then we can assume that they perceive themselves to be an island in no need of peers. Again, perhaps unfair. But that is the perception given a lack of follows. 

Out of curiosity, the Fan did a study of some of the heavy hitters in the industry. The list isn't all-inclucive but it gives you a general idea. So here is the result of that research. What follows (pun intended) is a list of perceived big time writers and analysts and how many follows they have relative to how many follow them. They are listed in no particular order. While viewing the list, remember our 300 follows snob threshold:
  • Adam Ruben (ESPN): 19,533 followers, 209 follows
  • Jordan Bastian ( 10,834, 4,065
  • Scott Miller ( 5,442, 238
  • Jon Heyman (SI): 115,103, 483
  • D. Knobler ( 14,833, 707
  • Tango Tiger (Inside the book): 2,193, 6
  • Jay Jaffe (Baseball Prospectus): 4,674, 302
  • Darren Rovell (CNBC): 148,306, 1,479
  • Tony Lastoria (STOHD): 2,381, 97
  • Duk (Yahoo): 9,549, 561
  • Buster Olney (ESPN): 318,222, 325
  • Craig Calcaterra (NBCsports): 9,239, 331
  • Maury Brown: 8,683, 2266
  • Jonah Keri (Grantland): 17,688, 543
  • Jeff Sullivan: 6,668, 52
  • Keith Law (ESPN): 361,612, 281
  • Ken Davidoff (Newsday): 17,678, 1,122
  • Ken Rosenthal (Foxsports): 146,712, 105
  • Karl Ravech (ESPN): 34,070, 81
  • Matthew Leach ( 13,918, 454
  • Pete Bott (New York Daily News): 3,550, 195
  • Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus): 4,356, 190
  • Mark Feinsand (New York Daily News): 19,630, 1,472
  • Bob Klapisch: 9,814, 85
  • Jane Lee ( 8,258, 102
  • Heidi Whatney (NESN): 39,155, 132
  • Brittany Ghiroli ( 8,982, 144
  • Troy Renck (Denver Post): 13,827, 6,597
  • Marty Caswell: 6,388, 112
  • Shi Davidi (Sportsnet): 10,315, 550
  • Jeff Passan (Yahoo): 17,908, 16
  • Dave Brown (Yahoo): 3,925, 2,079
  • Ramy Jazayerli (Grantland): 7,948, 110
  • Alden Gonzalez ( 2,749, 119
  • Mike Fast (Baseball Prospectus): 2,335, 72
  • Larry Stone (Seattle Times): 8,322, 307
  • Christina Kahrl (ESPN): 4,190, 502
  • Todd Zolecki ( 27,542, 296
  • Tim Brown (Yahoo): 14,830, 153
  • Jerry Craznick (ESPN): 43,317, 763
  • Aaron Gleeman (NBCsports): 9,550, 250
  • Joe Sheehan: 13,639, 86
  • Kevin Goldstein (BP and ESPN): 15,271, 1,111
  • David Cameron (Fangraphs): 9,016, 70
  • Susan Slusser: 8,936, 72
  • Joel Sherman (NY Post): 29,960, 141
  • Peter Gammons (NESN): 107,277, 647
  • Jason Beck ( 9,019, 232
  • Jon Morosi ( 26,128, 752
  • Joe Posnanski (SI): 50,263, 78
  • Rob Neyer (SB Nation): 33,820, 567
  • Bill Simmons (Grantland): 1,544,980, 98

Make your own conclusions, but that's the list. 

Michael Pineda's First Season Was Impressive

After another woeful season, the Seattle Mariners showed once again that they simply couldn't hit the baseball. The shame of that sad fact hides another terrific season by their starting pitching. Felix Hernandez wasn't as dominating as he was the year before, but he was pretty darned good. Doug Fister showed how good he was once he was traded to the Tigers and rookie, Michael Pineda, somewhat quietly set the world on fire with his rookie season. And Pineda's numbers, no matter how deep you dig, are simply outstanding. How good can this kid be?

Pineda was so good for the Mariners in their 2011 Spring Training, that he forced his way on the major league roster after only 60+ innings in Triple A. The Mariners used him very well and he pitched 171 innings a year after tossing 141 in the minors the year before. At face value, his 9-10 record with a 3.74 ERA doesn't seem that spectacular. His ERA+ was only 103 if you look at that statistic. But you simply can't look at that and call him a league average pitcher.

Michael Pineda threw three pitches in 2011: fastball (62.2 percent), slider (31.5 percent) and a change up (6.3 percent) and they all rated above average. His fastball was 9.3 runs above average, his slider was 9 runs above average and his change up was a half a run above average.  Here is his ranking in some other categories:

  • Contact percentage: tied for the fifth lowest among starters.
  • Swinging strike percentage: Best of all starters at 11,8 percent.
  • First pitch strike percentage: 13th highest among all starters
  • Strikeouts per nine innings: 7th highest among all starters.
  • Strikeout per walk percentage: 3.15 good enough for the top 25 percent of all starting pitchers.
  • Batting average against: fourth lowest in baseball among starters at .209.
  • SIERRA: 17th lowest among starting pitchers.
  • O-Swing: Which is the ability to get batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Pineda was 15th.

That's some pretty darn good pitching. Pineda was especially dominant against right-handed batters whose OPS against him was a paltry .587. Left-handed batters fared a little better with an OPS against of .653 but even that is way below league average.

Michael Pineda struggled mightily in July and again some in August. But he finished strong despite not getting any wins down the stretch. He's only 23 years old in 2012 and if his rookie season is any indication, Pineda is going to be a terrific pitcher if he stays healthy. This observer can't wait to see what he does, especially if the Mariners can find a way to improve their offensive output.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Getting to Know Heath Bell

The Miami Marlins reportedly signed Heath Bell for a reported $9 million per year for three years pending a physical. The yearly rate is somewhat lower than Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, but does put Bell in the second echelon below them on the pay scale for closers. Bell has saved over forty games a year for the San Diego Padres for the last three years after taking over that slot from the great Trevor Hoffman. Since Bell is known mostly for his antics in the All Star Game and toiled in relative obscurity in far flung San Diego (there's some East Coast bias for you), perhaps we need to get to know Heath Bell a little bit better.

WAR doesn't always work for a closer. They pitch sixty to seventy innings a season. So unlike starting pitchers and position players, their body of work is not large enough to generally make the pay proposition work when using WAR. Bell is no different. Bell has averaged $6.9 million of worth per season based on his WAR valuation for the past five years. He's had a high of $9.8 million during that time and a low (last season) of $2.3 million. That hardly justifies paying him $9 million a season. Perhaps we have to look at Win Probability instead. If we look at the last three years, Mariano Rivera leads all relievers in WPA followed closely by Papelbon. Joakim Soria is a distant thrid behind those two and Heath Bell is right behind Soria. Based on that, his pay slot not in the top tier but in the second tier makes sense.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sport tweeted this last night: "Marlins give Heath Bell and his rapidly declining K rate $27M, per. Good to see em spend. Whether it's wise, on the other hand ... That seems a bit hyperbolic to this writer. Yes, Heath Bell struck out only 7.32 batters per nine innings last season. But it's not like that is a long term slide. In 2009 and 2010, Bell struck out 10.21 and 11.06 per nine respectively. That's not a slide. More it is a one year fall. You have to look at other factors to see whether that large dip is worrisome or not. 

For one, Bell's velocity did not dip in the slightest. He has consistently thrown his fastball at 94 MPH for the past several seasons. 2011 was no different. Unlike Rivera, who lives on the inside part of the plate, Bell stays away from batters on both sides of the plate. His heat maps are little different from years past in his approach.  The horizontal movement of his fastball was no different in 2011 than it was in 2010. It appears he lost some vertical movement from previous seasons (10.2 to 9.2). So that may explain a bit of the downward movement of his strikeouts this past season. But the reasons might be elsewhere.

For one, his curveball--a pitch he throws about 28 percent of the time--lost value in 2011. That pitch has always been rated as above average in the previous years. This past year it was in the negative. Looking at the heat maps again, fewer curves landed around the strike zone than in the past. So that might explain some of the dip in his strikeouts. 

But perhaps we can also conjecture that Bell pitched more for contact this past season. The stats seem to bear that out a little. He threw his highest percentage of first pitch strikes in his career in 2011. From 2008 to 2010, Bell averaged 1,224 pitches a season. Last season, his pitch count was down to 1,098. So without talking to him, we might guess that pitching to contact was part of his strategy. In fairness, though, he did pitch fewer innings last year than the year before. But the strategy seemed effective as he recorded a .266 BABIP against this past season.

With everything looking close to his career norms, it's hard to get too worked up about Heath Bell's strikeout rate. After all, Mariano Rivera's strikeout rate has been all over the place over the years. With Bell's homers per nine looking pretty darned similar to previous years, the loss of strikeouts is less worrisome. 

Heath Bell is the third or fourth best closer in baseball. His productivity and success have been consistent over a five year period. The Marlins paid him in a range that is befitting of his ranking among his peers. Many, of course, will shake their heads at the over-inflation of closer reputations. But not in this space. After the Marlins' adventures with Leo Nunez last season (or whatever his real name is), there will be a lot more peace in their fans' minds when the ball is handed to Heath Bell in the ninth inning.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

BBA Link Fest - General Impressions

Thursday's link post is back after a Thanksgiving respite. The turkey is finally gone from the fridge, but there are no turkeys among the Baseball Bloggers Alliance General Chapter. Lots of great writing is going on out there. Here is your Thursday links. Please give these folks a click and comments. Here goes!

Over at the Hall of Very Good it's only fitting that they are considering this year's HOF ballot. They also have a great piece on a strong supporter of Luis Tiant.

The Hot Corner Harbor must be Lucy to Ricky's, "You got some splainin' to do." Theo is still splainin his post season picks. But they are entertaining reading.

Baseball writers are well-rounded people. Our friend at Left Field proves that unlike any other as his interests are far and wide. This great read is a link about a beer and a baby. Well done!

Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are fighting for the same jobs it seems. Major League A-Holes has a preference. Read up!

Jonathan over at MLB Dirt is doing a great job with his prospect series. Here's his latest featuring the Orioles.

Everyone is buzzing about the new VH1 baseball wives program. This Fan refuses to watch. But Old Time Family Baseball watched and give this report.

The guys of The Platoon Advantage must be trying to set themselves up for better reputations with Santa as they are in the midst of a "Why I Love" week. Frankly, the thought of TCM without sarcasm is a strange one. Check out his entry.

Pro Sports Wrap wishes a happy birthday to a legend.

Replacement Level Baseball Blog have had a great series of building 25 man rosters of the best players of each era. It's fun stuff. The latest is here, but check out the others in the series while you're at it.

This Fan always has to stop over at The Sports Banter to check out the Monday Mullet. It's an institution!

Sully over at Sully Baseball gives us Bobby Valentine, lobster and Arnie Beyeler. Who is the last one? Check it out.

There is always so much great content over at Through the Fence Baseball so it's hard to pick one link. But this Fan has a soft spot for columns by prospects. Plus, this one has a brilliant title.

Dory LeBlanc is a very good writer. But she usually covers the NFL and NCAA, but her Jose Molina piece over at X-Log is excellent and fun to read.

It's been hard to keep up with uniform changes in baseball this off season. But have no fear. Russell Blat of 85% Sports wraps it up nicely for us in one place.

Ryan Sendek of Analysis Around the Horn has been on vacation. But he gives us a report of a report he reported for another reporter.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball thinks that the "Cubs are finally getting their crap together." She offers proof.

The Ball Caps Blog gives us a cool post on an iconic baseball game. But it might not be what you expect.

We all know about the extra wild card teams that Bud Selig has foisted on us. Baseball Franchise Rankings gives us a fun report on who would have been the extra teams had this rule been in effect for the past couple of decades.

The Baseball Hall of Shame gives us the baseball dressing (or blessing) in the turkey of Thanksgiving.

Christopher Carelli of The Baseball Stance sadly reports on the fading star that is Grady Sizemore.

Justin Hunter of Call to the Pen isn't a fan of the Bobby Valentine hiring. Check out his thoughts here.

This Fan found Che Palle's post about Greg Halman extremely poignant and sad for what we have lost.

Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please. agrees with the Ryan Braun MVP Award in an excellent argument.

Diamond Hoggers weighs in on the Bobby Valentine hiring. Once you read the post, be sure to click the link (below the post) of when the author met the new Red Sox manager.

Dugout 24 also weighed in on Bobby Valentine, but the link this week there is on chewing tobacco.

For Baseball Junkies isn't a big fan of the Astros moving to the American League. Couldn't agree more with The OCP on this one.

The 2012 Hall of Fame ballot was announced this week. The Baseball Index is not impressed. Agreed.

The Golden Sombrero is in the midst of a terrific series on the top fifty prospects in baseball. The latest is a report on Randall Delgado by Daniel "Dee" Clark.

The Grubby Glove always provides a good read. This week the GG is enjoying the off season and we get to go along for the ride.

And last but not least, MLB Reports has a great interview with prospect, Robby Rowland. The Fan told you he's a sucker for those kinds of things. This piece shows you why.

Iannetta Great Move By DiPoto

The days of catching insanity are over for the Angels. For a pitcher with little upside (Tyler Chatwood), the Angels received Chris Iannetta from the Rockies and have instantly improved themselves by a couple of wins. For some reason, the Rockies were never fully invested in Chris Iannetta and after several testy seasons have basically let him go for a song. Meanwhile, the Rockies replaced Iannetta with Ramon Hernandez who they signed as a free agent on the same day as the Iannetta trade. Hernandez was the long time catcher for the Reds.

Iannetta at 28 years of age is a better player than Ramon Hernandez who is six years older. Iannetta's only real weakness as a player is a low contact rate meaning he'll never hit for a high average. But at this point in their careers, Iannetta has more upside than Hernandez. Iannetta is a better receiver defensively than Hernandez and Iannetta's plate discipline is much better. The power numbers are pretty much a wash. You have to question the Rockies strategy in this move as they appear to have weakened themselves at the catching position, given up a good and fairly young catcher and only received a starting pitcher in Chatwood that isn't an upgrade on any of their current starters.

Perhaps the Rockies are banking on Hernandez being a mentor for Wilin Rosario, Baseball America's #49 prospect before the 2011 season. Rosario has some pop in his bat but has shown little patience at the plate in his minor league career giving the Rockies two free-swinging catchers who have similar games--one old and one very young. Rosario got his first taste of the majors last season and didn't fare well in a very small sample size.

Under Mike Scioscia, Chris Iannetta should become an even better catcher for the Angels than he has been. And what he has been was good for three runs above average on defense last season. It's not like replacing Mathis with Iannetta is going to cost the Angels a lot behind the plate. And at the plate there is no comparison. Iannetta is pretty much guaranteed to give the Angels an on base percentage above .350 with something over .370 much more likely. His home and away splits for the Rockies are kind of scary though. We'll have to see how that plays out with the Angels. But even the worse case scenario for Iannetta is better than the best case scenario for the offensive wasteland of Jeff Mathis.

Iannetta is Jerry DiPosto's first major move and it's a very good one. The Angels come up roses on this deal. The Rockies? Well, let's just call this a head scratcher.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Team Pitch Values

Relating to baseball fans that are bored this time of year is difficult for this Fan of Major League Baseball. There is the constant speculation about what teams will do to improve themselves. There are manager hires and front office changes. But best of all, there is a full season of stats to pore over and if you love looking at numbers, what could be better than that? The stat this writer is having the most fun with lately is Fangraphs' pitch values. A couple of posts have already been written on the subject over at this writer's other home over at MLBDirt. The focus for those posts was on individual players. Today, the focus shifts to teams.

The thing to love about pitch value stats is that they can really show how good a team's hitters or pitchers are and conversely, how bad. Take the Red Sox offense (which Mr. Valentine will gladly do). There wasn't one pitch type the Red Sox didn't have a positive value against. It didn't matter what you threw the Red Sox, fastballs, curves, sliders, cutters, you name it and they hit it. Other teams like the Cubs could really hit fastballs but couldn't hit sliders. Alfonso Soriano would be their poster child for what was a team problem. And pitch values really underscore how bad an offense the Mariners were or how bad a pitching staff the Orioles were. The statistic can also show why some teams struggle against other teams. While it doesn't always hold true, the Yankees had trouble with the Red Sox in 2011 perhaps in part because their weakest link on offense was hitting the cutter and Boston's pitching staff had more pitch value with the cutter than any other pitch type. It's all fascinating stuff.

What do these numbers tell us? Pitch value is a number given a player and a team in sum for how many runs above average the player or team is against a certain pitch. For more information on how the stat works, click  here. The Red Sox, when adding up all the value given all pitch types were 170.7 runs above average on offense, the best in the majors. As mentioned, they had no weaknesses against any pitch type. The Rangers were second at 159.1 runs above average. The Rangers struggled against the curve and the slider and had the best rate in the majors against the fastball. The Yankees were third with 125.3 runs above average. They hit the fastball well and were the best in the majors at hitting sliders. But as mentioned, they weren't good against cutters. The Royals came in a strong fifth and no National League team slides onto the board until the Cardinals come in sixth as the best in the NL.

One thing the statistic tells us is that in 2011, major league batters love them some fastballs. For a league total, MLB batters scored a total of 414.4 runs above average on the fastball. The most devastating pitch in baseball is the slider (or at least it was in 2011 - Fangraphs warns us not to use this stat as a predictive tool). The slider proved to be the bane of hitters and all hitters combined scored a -516.1 runs below average. As mentioned earlier, the Yankees were the best team against the slider and they scored a grand total of 8.7 runs above average against that pitch. The Giants were the worst team hitting the slider followed by the Cubs.

As much as baseball players love hitting the fastball, it then is puzzling how poorly the Mariners hit them. They were by far the worst team against the fastball with a score of -95.1. But then again, the poor Mariners didn't fare well against most pitch types and scored a combined -133.3.

On the pitching side of things, the Phillies had the highest total pitch value, which is really no surprise. The Giants were second followed by the Braves. In fact, the top six teams are all National League teams with the added benefit of facing the pitcher in the batter's box instead of the DH. The Rays scored seventh and were the highest pitch value pitching staff in the American League.

The Orioles had the worst pitching pitch values in baseball. They faced the devastating offenses of the AL East and completely fell apart as a staff. They were an unbelievable -108.8 throwing the fastball. With the Red Sox and Yankees second and third against that pitch in the majors (the Rays were sixth), having the poorest score on fastballs is not a good thing.

For your reading pleasure, the Fan has provided you some picture views of both batting and pitching by teams. Much thanks again goes to Fangraphs for providing this wonderful data and for being so generous in allowing us to export the data and play with it.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Positioning Has Hurt Teixeira

Mark Teixeira in 2007 and 2008 was Joey Votto. Since he's become a Yankee, Teixeira is now Adam Dunn (before 2011). Well, that might be an over-exaggeration. But the truth is that Teixeira was a .300+/.400+/.500+ guy in 2007 and 2008 and with the Yankees the last two years has become a .245+/.340+/.480+ kind of guy. You could look at his BABIP that has been .268 and .239 the last two years respectively. The reflex would be to say that he's been unlucky. If it's just luck, then he's broken his rabbit's foot for two years running. The big difference in his outcomes seems to be positioning.

To be frank, this writer isn't an expert on the science of positioning. But there is a nebulous understanding that teams have gone high tech in this area and plot charts of every batter help teams understand where to play their fielders in just about every situation. This seems to be the case with Teixeira's numbers. Most aspects of his game have been consistent.  His infield pop ups have increased the last two years somewhat dramatically. And the last two years have shown a rise in his overall fly ball rates. His home run to fly ball ratio has been consistently high. His pull rate has been remarkably consistent. You can count on 130 to 133 balls in play being pulled every season like clockwork. The only evidence missing here is the MPH of the balls off his bat, which admittedly is a big hole in this writer's logic.

The positioning effect on Teixeira's performance seems to show itself most prominently in his ground balls. If you watch enough Yankee games (and this writer watches a lot of them), most teams now employ the shift on Teixeira, especially as a left-handed batter. Teixeira has struggled mightily with this strategy. In 2008, Teixeira hit 209 grounders and batted .278 with those hit trajectories. In 2007, Teixeira hit 151 grounders good for a .245 average. In 2006, he hit 199 grounders and had a batting average of .236. Now jump ahead to his Yankees years. In 2009, he hit 182 grounders with a .187 average. In 2010, it was 172 grounders and a .186 average. In 2011, he hit 170 grounders and batted .184. We can see this better in chart form:

Obviously, Teixeira's power production hasn't suffered. He hit 39 homers in 2011 and drove in over a hundred. Perhaps the Yankees would continue to be happy with that. But Teixeira needs to make adjustments. Batting left handed, he has to beat the shift occasionally to make teams pay for their execution. Without the adjustments, this writer is firm in the conviction that what we've seen from Teixeira the past two seasons is what we will continue to get for the duration of his Yankee contract. That may be good enough, but he could be a whole lot better too.

It's also obvious, that a better analyst than this amateur could do more with these numbers. Feel free to do so. There will never be a claim here to expert analysis. But the points do raise questions about how positioning has defeated the overall effectiveness of Teixeira as an offensive player.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sixteen Best Ever Seasons By a Catcher

Catching talent is a bit like looking for lumber in a stack of sale-price boards. There might be a few good ones in there but the rest of them are a bit warped and full of knots. Nothing brought this home any closer than news that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded one mediocre catcher (John Jaso) and signed another (Jose Molina). The dearth of good catchers is why Joe Mauer was given his current contract and also why that contract would be worth considerably less to the Twins if Mauer were to change positions. Everyone can list off Hall of Fame catchers. There's Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochran, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza and yes, Ivan Rodriguez and Joe Mauer. Sites in the past have tried to list which of these catchers was the best ever. But what about greatest seasons ever? This post will attempt to bring you the best sixteen seasons ever by a major league catcher.

Why sixteen? Well...that arbitrary number was because Yogi had the sixteenth best season ever and if this post didn't go that far, he would have not made the list. We couldn't have that. So it's sixteen. How do you determine the best seasons ever? That's a bit arbitrary too. This post will use WAR. But which WAR? And that's a great question. Take 2009 for instance. Both AND Fangraphs gave Joe Mauer a 7.9 WAR that season. But the year before (2008), B-R gave the same Mauer a 8.7 WAR while Fangraphs gave him a 6.2. Wuh? So what this writer did was to seek out the best seasons adding up both the rWAR and the fWAR and dividing by two. If you think there is a better way to judge, feel free to comment or come up with your own list. The Fan would love to see it.

Some of these great seasons will surprise you. Sure, it is sprinkled with Hall of Fame catchers. But there were some one-hit wonders in there too. Some were outstanding for the offense the catcher generated that season. Others were a combination of great offense and great defense. WAR adds all that stuff up and gives us a number we can use. So here goes. Here are the best sixteen seasons by a catcher ever. Oh, wait. One more thing, a catcher had to catch at least 50 percent of his games played that season to qualify. Here we go.

  1. Johnny Bench (1972) - 9.65 average WAR. Bench was spectacular in 1972. He slugged .541 that season with 40 homers and 125 runs batted in. gives a 1.4 of defensive WAR (or dWAR) to Bench that season. He threw out 40 of the 70 base runners that attempted to steal (57 percent!). And he walked a hundred times that season too. He was the (like duh!) MVP that season.
  2. Mike Piazza (1997) - 9.35 average WAR. Mike Piazza has arguably the best offensive season of any catcher ever in 1997. Indeed, his 1.070 OPS that season is the all time high. He batted .362, second only to Joe Mauer's .365 as the highest batting average for a catcher. Piazza had over 200 hits that season including 32 doubles and 40 homers. He scored 104 runs and drove in 124. The 9.7 oWAR baseball-reference gave him that season has to be the highest ever and had to make up his obvious defensive shortcomings which both sites always landed him in negative territory.
  3. Darrell Porter (1979) - 8.2 average WAR. Surprise! Bet you didn't expect to see this name on this list never mind third all time!. But his 1979 season was that spectacular. Porter walked 121 times that season and only eight of them were intentional. Porter scored 101 runs and drove in 112. He hit 22 doubles, ten triples (!) and 20 homers. On top of those kinds of numbers, he threw out 57 base runners in 121 stolen base attempts. It was by far his best season in an overlooked career.
  4. Johnny Bench (1974) - The Big Red Machine revolved around Johnny Bench. His 1970 through 1975 campaigns just might be the best catching run in history. On top of another great offensive season, Bench threw out 49 percent of base steal attempts and only allowed three passed balls in 121 games behind the plate. How Steve Garvey won the MVP in 1974 is beyond logic.
  5. Gary Carter (1982) - It's funny how when you don't like a player, you kind of block out how good he was. Gary Carter was terrific. He was just all goody goody about it which made you want to dump water on him. 1982 was Carter's best season but he had five great ones. His OPS of .890 was good for a 146 OPS+ and just added to terrific fielding behind the plate. He was the complete package.
  6. Joe Mauer (2009) - The memory of Mauer's season in 2009 is fading, but it shouldn't be. It was one of the most remarkable offensive seasons of all time from a catcher and probably rates second behind Piazza's season. His .365 batting average was easily good enough for the batting title and the highest batting average for a full time catcher in the modern era. He hit with power that season too for some reason and finished with a 1.030 OPS. Unbelievable. And the MVP.
  7. Roy Campanella (1953). Campanella started his career in 1948, just after the color line was broken in baseball. His career was cut short after ten years due to an accident that left him paralyzed. It's a shame too because he was as good or better than Yogi Berra during those seasons. 1953 was his best. Campanella played 140 games behind the plate and threw out 53 percent of all base steal attempts and only allowed three passed balls all season. He was dynamic on offense as well, hitting 41 homers and led the league in RBIs with a staggering 142. It was the second of his three MVP seasons.
  8. Roy Campanella (1951). His first MVP season wasn't quite as good offensively as 1953 but it was close. And he threw out 63 percent of base steal attempts. Can you imagine!?
  9. Bill Freehan (1968). 1968 was the year of the pitcher, remember? Only one batter in the AL that season batted over .300 that season. With such little production everywhere, Freehan's .819 OPS was more impressive than it sounds. Plus 1968 was the third of four straight Gold Glove Awards for Freehan behind the plate. And the Tigers won the World Series that season. Freehan started every game behind the plate in that post season. Freehan is another often overlooked catcher. And if it wasn't for Yaz in 1968, Freehan might have won himself an MVP that season.
  10. Joe Mauer (2008). If you remember from the intro to this post, this was the season where B-R thought he was superfantastic and Fangraphs thought he was just fantastic. Mauer did win the batting title that season, but the difference in the WAR that season was how each site viewed his fielding. B-R--obviously--thought it was better than Fangraphs did.
  11. Darren Daulton (1992). Another surprise entry on our list. But Daulton was unbelievable in 1992. That season was another down year for offense and Daulton's .908 OPS for the Phillies was good for a 154 OPS+. He also led the league that season in RBIs. His season in 1993 was nearly as good and that was the year that Joe Carter's home run won the World Series for the Blue Jays to defeat the Phillies. Daulton was never that great before those two seasons and would never be close to that good after they were over.
  12. Mike Piazza (1993). 1993 was the season Piazza burst on the scene for the Dodgers and won the Rookie of the Year. It was also one of the few defensive seasons where he rated in the positive numbers. Add that to his  .932 OPS that season and that spells one of the best seasons ever for a catcher.
  13. Chris Hoiles (1993). Chris Hoiles!? We mostly forget about Hoiles because he only played ten seasons and retired at the age of 33 (and he was still an effective catcher at that point too). But 1993 was his best season. Hoiles hit 29 homers that season and in 503 plate appearances, put together this fantastic slash line: .310/.416/.585. Wow! He also threw out 41 percent of base steal attempts that season and only allowed two passed balls the entire season. Chris Hoiles. Who knew? Oriole fans probably did.
  14. Carlton Fisk (1977). Fisk was the iron man of all catchers. He played 24 seasons and is obviously in the Hall of Fame. What set apart 1977 for Fisk was that it was his best defensive season (he was always a very good offensive player). He threw out 50 of 110 base steal attempts and only allowed four passed balls (and only 12 wild pitches!). Fisk caught an incredible 151 ballgames that season.
  15. Gary Carter (1983). Fangraphs and B-R disagree on Carter's value that season, but it was another great one. Carter had better offensive years for Montreal and later the Mets, but 1983 was arguably Carter's best defensive season.
  16. Yogi Berra (1956). In 1956, Berra came to the plate 597 times and only struck out 29 times. And that was high for him. Berra slugged .534 that season with 30 homers and drove in 105. Berra also threw out 47 percent of base steal attempts that season. Berra had won the MVP Award in 1954 and 1955, but 1956 was his best season overall. He only came in second in the MVP voting that season because of some guy named Mickey Mantle (who hit for a Triple Crown).
There! That's the Fan's list of the sixteen greatest catching seasons ever. What do you think? Comments are always welcome. Below is the calculations used for this post with the added bonus to see who comes below these sixteen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Barry Bonds Poll Results Are In

A poll was presented in the side bar of this site on whether you folks thought Barry Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame. After 105 votes (thank you), 74 of you decided that Bonds should be left out of the Hall of Fame. That's 67 percent. No doubt your views will be shared by the baseball writers when Bonds is eligible for election next season. This Fan of the game is struggling with that viewpoint.

Percentages of users or "cheaters" if you will, vary whenever you read up on the subject of Performance Enhancing Drugs. You'll read a range anywhere from fifty to eighty percent of ball players that used the stuff. There is still a debate in some circles on how much of an effect the PEDs were on performance. But even if you concede that performance was enhanced, for every Barry Bonds, there was a Jeremy Giambi. Using was no guarantee that you would succeed. Obviously, Bonds succeeded big time.

As others have mentioned, if Bonds is kept out of the HOF, then the all time hit leader will not be there nor the all time home run leader. What kind of Hall of Fame does that make if the best players aren't there? Your opinions (and those of the sportswriters) will also mean that Roger Clemens doesn't make it in either, right? Certainly, the writers have spoken on Mark McGwire.

This Fan isn't saying you're wrong. It's just troubling. For this writer, the Hall of Fame is about players that dominated their eras. And if an era was full of cheaters, should that mean that nobody from that era gets in? That's what you are saying. If that isn't true, then we have to make some kind of value judgement on who used and who didn't. If we do that, will we always be right? Again, the Fan isn't arguing with you. It simply doesn't sit well here. 

Jerome Williams is 16-2 in 2011

The 2011 Major League Baseball season was a season of comebacks. Ryan Vogelsong made a magical comeback for the San Francisco Giants after not pitching in the majors since 2006. A few hours south of San Francisco, Jerome Williams came out of nowhere to post a 4-0 record for the Angels in six starts and ten total appearances after not pitching in the majors since 2007. Williams, who famously was homeless for parts of the past couple of years, became a sensation after winning three of his first four starts at a time when the Angels were still relevant in the American League West and wild card races. When Williams recorded his third win in his fourth start, the Angels were only two and a half games behind the Texas Rangers in the standings. Now pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, Williams is 5-0 there in six starts. The wild ride continues.

Williams was so successful in his brief number of starts for the Angels that he has made that team's 40 man roster and is actually eligible for arbitration for the first time for 2012. That means that he could be making the best money of his career as well. But what will the Angels do with him? Is he their fifth starter? Will the Angels be comfortable with that? Or is he even the fourth starter with the uneven season that Tyler Chatwood just endured? Joel Pineiro is a free agent, so he's probably out of the picture. If 2011 showed one thing, it showed that starting Williams can be a successful venture but him coming out of the bullpen is dangerous.

There is a crying need at this point to shout, "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!" So take these next stats with that grain of salt. In six starts, Williams was 4-0 with an ERA of 2.89. In four relief appearances covering five total innings, Williams gave up thirteen hits and eight runs. That wasn't pretty. Those five innings of relief yielded three homers which ballooned his per nine rate to 1.2 for the season and along with his 3.07 walks per nine pushed his FIP to 4.62 for the season. Take out those relief appearances and we get a totally different picture.

Jerome Williams had gone 7-2 in the Angels' minor league system and since the season has made six strong starts for Novegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela. That makes him 16-2 for the 2011. Not a bad year. Williams is sort of amazing. His fastball averaged 91.3 MPH for the Angels. He had never before averaged over 89.5 and that was way back in 2004. He averaged under 88 on the gun in his last two major league seasons in 2006 and 2007. His 11.1 percent swinging strikes in 2011 was also the most of his career.

Williams is a ground ball pitcher and fifty percent of his ball in play were of that trajectory. That gave him a nice 1.49 ground ball to fly ball ratio. That's a good thing because 2011 was no different than his previous big league experience as a lot of his fly balls go over the walls in the outfield. But he also had a nice 14.9 percent infield pop up rate and was much more effective in 2011 at inducing batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone than ever before.

There is a lot to think about when considering Jerome Williams. His winter league success following his storybook season with the Angels leads to a lot of interest (at least for this author) in what kind of pitcher he is going to be in 2012 and if the Angels will have enough confidence in him to give him thirty starts.