Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dumas, Cologne and Third Base

For the second night in a row, this Fan's first-ever bout with insomnia ever is getting really...well...tiresome. It's truly amazing the things you think about when prone in a bed for hours attempting to find that magic solution to falling asleep. At one point the thoughts drifted back to the mid-1970s when a slack-eyed teenager from New Jersey went away to New Hampshire College. It was there that the first experiences with fragrance and love occurred.

New Hampshire College in Manchester was a very new college when this writer first arrived there. Only a few hundred students lived on the campus in those early years and it was definitely a party school. It was mostly a dumping ground for rich kids then as the school didn't even require an SAT score to attend. While your Fan was far from rich, it was the only application a lazy teenager managed to finish during high school. Wouldn't you know that application was accepted. 

It was hard for a shy momma's boy of a Sicilian mother to fit in. One of the ways found was to become a disc jockey for the college radio station. Toward the end of the first semester, the station's manager was trying to come up with ideas to boost the station's profile and somehow the idea was mentioned of doing a marathon and publicizing the heck out of it. The original idea was for the marathon to happen in tandem. But your favorite Fan was first up and never got off the air. It started on Monday and the broadcast was continuous and without sleep until Friday. It went a total of 99.5 hours. It was a world record for about two month and didn't even get this fool into the Guinness Book of World Records.

But the marathon did have its perks. One of them was that the wire services picked up the story and the Fan's picture was in every major newspaper in the country. Talk about your fleeting moment of fame. The local television station interviewed during and after the event, so there was some notoriety there too. The other perk was that this girl from the campus got wrapped up in the event and out of the blue started bringing the jockey food and would message his shoulders during the broadcast. She was a beautiful girl, dark-haired with a Mediterranean-featured face and flawless skin. She was of french heritage and she was not a party girl. 

Needless to say the disc jockey was smitten. During her visits, we would debate the merit of female singers. The disc jockey was a music snob who didn't think much of the fair sex behind a microphone. The beauty gushed on about Barbra Streisand. After the marathon was over and life got somewhat back to normal, the beauty suggested that the disc jockey go up to her dorm room on a Friday night to listen to Streisand. The disc jockey readily agreed. He knew that she had this big strapping boyfriend back home, but what the heck, miracles could happen, right? Oh, you should know that this writer had never had a girlfriend to that point. Yeah, what a stooge, eh?

So the appointed day, the disc jockey went up to the girl's dorm and hunted up the beauty to listen to Streisand. After knocking several times, a pretty blonde across the hall came out and told the disc jockey the beauty had unexpectedly gone home for the weekend and suggested the blonde pinch hit for the Streisand lesson. Somewhat crestfallen, he agreed. To make a long story short, that lesson involved five hours of listening to Streisand and the Beatles and hours of conversation with the pretty blonde. The disc jockey and the blonde married two years later.

After the disc jockey and the blonde became inseparable, your writer got a cushy work-study job hosting the campus movie night. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. The pretty blonde was studying one night and didn't attend the movie. But the dark-haired beauty did. Since there was still friendship there, the dark-haired beauty sat next to the work-study kid to watch the movie. She was wearing perfume. It was Estee by Este Lauder. The combination of the perfume and the beauty was so intense that it was all that work-study kid could to to keep from jumping on her and mauling her right there and then.

Being a frank kind of person, the work-study kid told the beauty about his predicament and they moved another foot apart. She promptly told the pretty blonde that the blonde better go out and purchase that perfume, which she did. Since this was this author's first experience with scents and such things, it was decided to purchase one of the male varieties. The choice was Aramis and the blonde thoroughly approved. You should know that this guy is pretty unpretentious. No jewelry, not tattoos, no earrings and that cologne was seldom used but on rare occasions. It didn't exactly go well with flannel shirts.

After getting married, it was discovered that one of the pretty blonde's favorite writers was Alexandre Dumas and her favorite actor was Richard Chamberlain. Thus, the Three Musketeers was a must see. The blonde loved it. The husband watched politely and without comment. But wouldn't you know, one of those musketeers was named Aramis!

So finally, after that giant story that rambled through a sleepless night's brain, we get to the third part of our story which gets us back to baseball, which is what this site is supposed to be about. With two major Aramis life moments already in tow, lo and behold, there was a baseball player named Aramis Ramirez. How about that? This Fan always thought it would be cute if some Spanish American mother named her child, "Aramis Colon," but the Fan has never seen one.

Anyway, Ramirez caught the Fan's attention early on in his career for the reasons already mentioned. And after watching him a few times, particularly in 2007 when the Cubs made the playoffs,a funny thing happened. The Fan didn't like him. There is no rhyme or reason for why such judgments happen. It's simply one of the things fans do. He just seemed like an arrogant prig. But then again, most players are, so why was Ramirez singled out? Don't know. He just was.

And so when Aramis Ramirez bottomed out in 2010 and became one of the symbols of a failed Cubs team, there was some gratification that apparently his (up to then) good career was over. Except it wasn't. Quietly--because the Cubs were terrible--Aramis Ramirez had a beautiful season in 2011. According to Fangraphs, he was the fifth most valuable third baseman in baseball in 2011. His .871 OPS was good for a 136 OPS+. His 3.6 fWAR would have been better if he wasn't such a lead-butt base runner and was a better fielding third baseman. Even so, he had a tremendous season.

Which of course, wasn't all that welcome in this household. From a perfectly subjective standpoint, there was some satisfaction that he turned down arbitration from the Cubs and is currently plying the market for the best deal. With third base being pretty much a wasteland around baseball, he's going to make some coin. The only question is how long a team is going to go with the duration of the contract. All biases aside, it was good for the Cubs and Ramirez to part ways. The Cubs need a fresh start and need to cut out a lot of those old faces to erase their losing ways. And that's not to say that it was Ramirez's fault. But sometimes you need to start clean.

Again, all biases aside, Aramis Ramirez has had a fragrant career. See what the Fan did there? Ramirez has amassed 702 extra base hits in his career, good for a .500 lifetime slugging percentage. He's hit over .300 six times in his fourteen year career. For every 162 games he has played in his career, he has driven in 108 runs. And he has accumulated 33.8 fWAR in his career to go along with a career wOBA of .358. Heading into his 34th year, he just might have a few productive seasons left in him in the right situation. It will be interesting what ballpark he calls home. Some of his stats have been helped by a career .925 OPS at Wrigley Field, but his homer splits at home and on the road are nearly identical.

This long and meandering post is what happens with no sleep. Your Fan is not going to go back and reread it because that might be embarrassing. To sum it all up, Aramis has been a pleasant memory and a not so favored ballplayer. But even so, teams could do worse by signing him. He'll help somebody.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

BBA Link Fest - General Speculation

Happy Thursday everyone! Northern Maine has it's first real snowfall of the season and we've all been glued to Twitter on the latest developments from baseball's winter meetings. Rumors and speculation about and the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is all over it. As is our Thursday tradition, here is a collection of links around the General Chapter. Please give a click and perhaps a comment or two on these fine sites.

Russ Blatt's friends had a conversation about Ron Santo's Hall of Fame selection. Blatt recorded the interesting conversation for 85% Sports.

Ryan Sendek (as always) has an educated and terrific response to a question about the Marlins' spending spree. Check it out over at Analysis Around the Horn.

Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball doesn't think that Jose Reyes looks good in a Marlins uniform. But then again, perhaps she doesn't think anybody would look good in those duds.

Absolutely love the post from Baseball Franchise Rankings on who the second wild card would have been over the last sixteen years.

Baseballism isn't thrilled about the prospects of Neftali Feliz as a starting pitcher. Agree or disagree, it's worth checking out.

The terrific Blaine Blontz always has something good to read over at Call to the Pen. Check out his post on Yu Darvish.

Mario Salvini of Che Palle! has problems with baseball's new press dress code. What, no flip flops!!

Matt Whitener posted this Cardinals' wish list before the Pujols bomb over at Cheap.Seat.Please.

TheNaturalMevs has the skinny on Jay Bruce's new off season workouts. Guaranteed that it won't be what you expect when you go to Diamond Hoggers.

Dugout 24 contrasts the four richest baseball teams to the global economic crisis. Interesting.

OCP over at For Baseball Junkies is thrilled that Ron Santo was elected to the Hall of Fame. Speaks for most of us here.

The Baseball Index has the scoop on a very bad day for James Loney. All which proves that you can bring a player to the trough, but you can't make them smart.

If you haven't been following along with The Golden Sombrero's Top 50 Prospects series, you're missing out. The latest is on Robbie Erlin.

The Hall of Very Good is having a great off season and stayed very active. This post about John Rocker's new book is the kind of content you don't see anywhere else.

Theo of Hot Corner Harbor has a great post about the new draft lottery. Let's just say he's not a fan of the newfangled thing. Terrific read.

The Fan's good buddy over at Left Field has a terrific post on the Hall of Fame season.

Major League A-Holes has a few choice words for baseball writers and the Hall of Fame in a style all their own.

The terrific and prolific Jonathan Mitchell of MLBDirt really likes Nestor Molina.

Sam Evans has a terrific article on the reunion of the Maddux brothers in Texas for MLB Reports. Great read.

Erik Eitel of Number One Baseball sums up the winter meetings.

Old Time Family Baseball is the first to present to us a very scary picture based on today's news.

Bill, one of the always reliable gang over at The Platoon Advantage, brings back a long-forgotten baseball award. Terrific as usual.

Pro Sports Wrap gives us a peak of where Mark Buehrle could land before he actually landed in Miami.

"The Worst Idea in Sports." Now how is that for a provocative post heading? What's it about? You'll have to go to Replacement Level Baseball Blog to find out.

MSpiciarich has a great post of his winter meeting thoughts over at The Sports Banter. Really enjoyed this.

Sully over at Sully Baseball is really glad that David Ortiz and the Red Sox remain married.

Dan Kirby over at Through the Fence Baseball thinks that Bryce Harper will start the season with the Nationals this year. That would be cool.

Mike Cardano over at X-Log really believes the Yankees should get Gio Gonzalez. Couldn't agree more.

Thanks for checking in for another week of links. Hope your weather is much better than ours! Holy cow! The Angels. Pujols. Wow.

LaTroy Hawkins Is a Survivor

The surprise isn't that LaTroy Hawkins is still pitching in the major leagues. The surprise is that anyone would sign a 39 year old pitcher that isn't left-handed. If reports are correct, Hawkins has signed a one year deal with the Angels for $3 million pending a physical. If the deal becomes finalized it will mean an eighteenth season for Hawkins with his ninth different team. It will also be his fifth free agent contract. All this comes to a pitcher who started out with the Twins as one of the worst starting pitchers ever.

It was fortunate for LaTroy Hawkins that the Twins didn't simply discard him after the 1999 season. Instead, the Twins converted Hawkins to the bullpen where they found he was pretty decent. How bad was LaTroy Hawkins as a starter? He made 98 starts at the beginning of his career covering 521 and a third innings. In those innings, he gave up 357 earned runs. on 680 hits. Ouch. His ERA in those starts was 6.16 and his hits per nine were 11.73. He also gave up 1.48 homers per nine innings during those starts.

His 1999 season was historically bad. The 129 earned runs he allowed that season led the league and is the fourth highest total for any pitcher in history in a season with less than 180 innings pitched. And yet after that season (arbitration?), he got a raise of over $600,000 dollars! Hawkins hasn't started a game since.

Hawkins became the closer of sorts for the Twins in 2000. He didn't get a whole lot of opportunities as the Twins were awful that season. But he did save fourteen and posted a 3.39 ERA. He was still the closer in 2001 for the Twins but he had a bad season. Despite 28 saves, his ERA was close to six and his WHIP ballooned to over 1.9 that season. But by 2002, the Twins had installed "Everyday" Eddie Guardado as the closer and Hawkins found himself as a set up guy. Hawkins had a very good season in 2002 as the Twins reached the ALCS that season (a loss to the Angels). Hawkins had six vulture wins that season and was credited with 13 holds. He was even better in 2003 for the Twins when he compiled an ERA of 1.86, picked up nine vulture wins and earned 28 holds along with two saves.

2003 was Hawkins last year with the Twins. He was granted free agency after that season and he signed with the Cubs to become their closer. His overall stats for the Cubs in 2004 don't look too bad. His 2.63 ERA that season to go along with a walks per nine of only 1.5 look great, as do his 25 saves that season. But he yielded ten home runs and blew nine saves as the Cubs came in a disappointing third place that season. He became the target of boo-birds in Wrigley. He began the 2005 season even worse and the Cubs and they traded him at the end of May to the Giants for David Aardsma and Jerome Williams (two familiar names!). He did not do well in San Francisco to finish out that season.

After the 2005 season, the Giants traded Hawkins to the Orioles for Steve Kline. Kline was out of baseball after the 2007 season. Hawkins is still going. Hawkins didn't have a great season with the Orioles in 2006 but he picked up 16 holds. He filed for free agency after that season and was picked up by the Rockies and considering Coors Field, he didn't have a bad season in 2007. He picked up 18 more holds and finished with an ERA of 3.42.

After Hawkins' season with the Rockies, he was a free agent again and the Yankees signed him. That was a disaster and Yankees traded him to the Astros for an obscure minor league player. But Hawkins excelled for the Astros in 24 appearances there. He was also superb for the Astros in following season (2009) which led to his free agent contract with the Brewers in 2010.

Injuries and ineffectiveness sum up Hawkins' experience for the Brewers in 2010. It was a horrible and a lost season and Brewers' fans must have been wondering what the heck the Brewers were thinking when he had an important role in the Brewers' 2011 bullpen. But he had a great season in 2011 during the Brewers playoff run. His twenty holds for the Brewers in 2011 were a big part of their success. And then he had a very good post season, pitching four innings without giving up a run. The Brewers will need to replace his innings somehow as it appears that the Angels have signed him.

Hawkins can still deliver a fastball around 92 MPH. But he doesn't blow anyone away. He only missed 5.1 percent of bats last season. But he's increased his ground ball percentage and throws a lot of first pitch strikes. He's never been the best reliever in the world and he's had a couple of bad seasons. But you have to give the guy props. After beginning life as one of the worst starting pitchers ever, LaTroy Hawkins has had a long and profitable career. Seventeen seasons has only added up to 15.3 total WAR, but after his next paycheck he'll have earned $41 million dollars. Not a bad reward for a survivor.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Shea Stadium Killed a Dream

Anyone who has visited this site from time to time knows that this Fan grew up in New Jersey and fell in love with the New York Yankees. You also might know that team-crush began in the mid to late 1960s when the Yankees had fallen from grace and played for empty stands. Those teams couldn't hit although they pitched rather well. After Mantle retired, there simply wasn't an iconic batter for the team to root for. And then Bobby Murcer arrived on the scene in 1969.

Murcer's career was late to start because he had to serve two years in the military. But when he finally did break into the line up upon his return in 1969, he started a love affair for this Fan and for all of the New York tri-state area. He was an Oklahoman like Mickey Mantle. He was handsome. And he played center field. What was there not to love? 

Murcer's first two years were promising. He didn't hit for a high average (just .259 and .251) but he walked a lot and hit for power. He hit 49 homers combined those first two seasons. Still, his OPS+ for those seasons were 119 and 116 respectively. But he became a superstar in 1971, his third full season. In 1971, Murcer batted .331 and led the league with a .427 on-base percentage. After striking out a hundred times in his first two seasons, he struck out only 60 times in 1971. He had 56 extra base hits and led the league in OPS at .969, good for a commanding 182 OPS+. He came in seventh in MVP voting and had the highest WAR of all position players in the AL that season. The Fan's man-crush deepened.

Murcer didn't have quite as good a season in 1972, but he actually finished with a higher WAR. His defense in center was better and he raised his homer total to over thirty for the first time in his career. He led the league in runs scored and total bases that season. It was clear that he wasn't going to be Mickey Mantle. But he was as good as Carlos Beltran early in his career.

Bobby Murcer's overall numbers were down in 1973, but he still hit over .300 and made the All Star team for the third straight year. He hit 22 homers and his OPS was good for a 134 OPS+. He was still one of the elite players in the American League. He became the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle to make $100,000 a year, a symbolic number in those archaic days. He was our star. He was our standard bearer. And then the dream ended. The Yankees announced that they were going to renovate Yankee Stadium and move to Shea Stadium for two seasons starting in the 1974 season.

Shea Stadium broke Bobby Murcer. The dimensions at Shea did not suit Murcer like Yankee Stadium did. Murcer's home run total fell to ten in 1974. He hit only two homers in Shea Stadium all season. Suddenly, Murcer had warning track power. His OPS fell to .710. After compiling 23.9 WAR the previous four seasons, he fell to only 1.1 in 1974. He wasn't even the center fielder anymore. Elliot Maddux took over that position in 1974 and Murcer moved to right. The writing was on the wall.

The Yankees were on the move during those years. George Steinbrenner had purchased the team and he was determined to build a winner. Murcer's production wasn't going to cut it with George and after the 1974 season, Murcer was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds. Our hearts were completely broken. Bonds was a good player, but he wasn't our guy. Our guy went on to have four decent seasons for the Giants and the Cubs. His power somewhat returned and he hit 50 homers combined in 1976 and 1977, but it wasn't for us. He never made another All Star team. He never led the league in any category again.

Steinbrenner, as was his wont, brought Murcer back for a swan song in 1979. He was there for us after Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. He got us through those days. But he was a broken down, role player by then. He gave us some moments to smile and cheer. But his career that seem headed to glory before Shea Stadium fizzled and withered away. Shea Stadium killed our dream and cost us our hero.

There are some things in life you never get over. The fall of Bobby Murcer as a Yankee superstar and his eventual trade were two things that hurt all these years later. That's why this Fan can relate to the Mets losing Reyes and with the Cardinals if they should lose Pujols. It hurts, man. It really hurts.

How Does Pagan Equal Torres AND Ramirez?

Angel Pagan seems to be equal to Andres Torres. Torres has more power and had a higher value than Pagan in 2011 with a better fielding year. Pagan can steal some bases and was worth more than Torres in 2010 but not 2011. Pagan is also three years younger than Torres. With all those thoughts in mind, a straight up swap doesn't seem absurd and a case can be made for it. But then the Giants threw in Ramon Ramirez into the deal and that doesn't make any sense at all.

Ramirez isn't a spectacular relief pitcher. But he is a solid one. All three of his pitches (fastball, slider, change) were valued in the positive numbers last season. His career ERA is 3.17 with a FIP of 3.74, but he's been even better for the Giants. Since the Giants acquired him from the Red Sox in 2010, Ramirez has pitched 91 times and compiled an ERA of 2.07. He's kept the ball in the yard consistently except for the early part of 2010 when he lost favor with the Red Sox which precipitated his departure there.

For most of Ramirez's career, he's been death to right handed batters who have a combined .580 OPS against him. But last year, he was even better against left-handed batters who batted only .204 against him. So it appears that Ramirez has learned how to get them out. Except for one season previously, Ramirez has given up more fly balls than ground balls. But he reversed that in 2011 with a 1.59 ground ball to fly ball ratio. Plus, he's hard to square up. His career line drive percentage against is only 16.7 percent with the highest of 18.7 percent reached in 2008.

The one weakness of Ramon Ramirez is that he walks too many batters. But his low hits per nine total seem to even that weakness out and he had a very good WHIP last season of 1.17. What this Fan likes especially is that his WPA has been positive for every year of his career except for 2007. Ramirez has 63 career holds and eleven saves to go along with 20 wins against just 17 losses.

So again, Ramirez straight up for Angel Pagan might work. But then Andres Torres messes up the trade again. Angel Pagan's very name is an oxymoron. Is he an angel or a sinner? The last two years have shown both. In 2010, Pagan's defense was worth 15.4 runs above average. Then last year, he gave almost all of those back with a -14.3 showing which included ten errors--an absurdly high amount for a center fielder. He's been labeled as a low-Baseball-IQ kind of guy who throws to the wrong bases, etc.

Torres, meanwhile, has been worth 22 runs and 9.4 runs above average in center for the last two seasons respectively. Both Torres and Pagan run the bases well. Torres walks slightly more often but also strikes out more often than Pagan. And again, he is three years older.

No matter how this Fan tries to slice this, it turns out to be a sweet deal for the Mets and a head-scratcher for the Giants. A straight up swap of Pagan for either Torres or Ramirez makes some sense. But swapping Pagan for both players seems to be a steal for the Mets.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Daniel Bard Wants to Start

When Jonathan Papelbon walked away from the Red Sox to sign his lucrative contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the assumption was that Daniel Bard would inherit the closer role. Now it seems that Daniel Bard has long desired to be a starting pitcher and the Red Sox are considering the option. A few years ago, this writer would scoff at such a notion. But the last two years, the Texas Rangers have showed that it can be done as C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando have successfully made the switch. That muddies the water for this observer and it's pretty hard to be so obtuse about such a move.

Is there any reason to think that Daniel Bard can do this? He hasn't started since 2007 in the Red Sox minor league system. And to be frank, he wasn't very good at it. He made 22 starts for the Red Sox in 2007 covering two different levels and the numbers were frightening. He struck out batters at a 5.6 K/9 rate and walked 9.4 per nine. He also gave up over nine hits per nine innings and had a WHIP over two. It wasn't until 2008 after the Red Sox converted him to a relief pitcher that Bard's stock began to rise. He took to the bullpen and suddenly he was fabulous. Despite some struggles in the second half last year, Bard has repeated that success over three years with the Red Sox.

Bard does have three pitches in his arsenal. Both his fastball and his slider are superb and have ranked highly since he hit the majors. His third pitch is a change up which he throws about seven percent of the time. The pitch has never risen into the positive numbers in pitch value according to Fangraphs. So he has two plus pitches and one not so plus. You would have to think that he would not be able to maintain his 97 MPH fastball average as a starter. But if he can maintain 93 to 95, that would be more than acceptable.

Bard does well at inducing ground balls. He has a career ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.39. With an excellent infield behind him in Boston, that would work well for him. His hits per nine innings are excellent, but again, that's throwing gas in a short spurt for three batters during most outings. How that translates over six or seven innings is the big question.

The Red Sox do not have much for blow-them-away starting pitching talent below their major league club and Bard has proven to be a very good arm. It's easier to rebuild a bullpen than it is to find good rotation starters. So the thought makes sense for the Red Sox. It certainly makes sense for Bard as a good starting pitcher can make a heck of a lot more money than a good relief pitcher can (though absurdly, the gap is narrowing). And again, the Rangers have showed that such a conversion can work. Just color this Fan skeptical. Yes, it's been done. And yes, Bard should be given the opportunity. It just doesn't seem likely to work given Bard's history.

Graig Nettles Worthy of HOF Consideration.

The Web is flowing with Hall of Fame posts. Ron Santo was just elected by the veteran's committee, which is a great thing. But that body also left out a couple of deserving candidates. Bill over at The Platoon Advantage bounced off of a Rob Neyer piece and asked who the next Ron Santo should be. The great Bob Netherton of On the Outside Corner made an excellent case for Ken Boyer. Graham Womack is doing some nice things with his collection of the best players not in the Hall of Fame. This Fan hates to be left out and has his own candidate: Graig Nettles.

Yes, the Yankees are over-represented in the Hall of Fame. But Nettles also played the early part of his career with the Indians and a few good seasons with the San Diego Padres before he hung up his spikes. But if you look at Nettles as an offensive player, you might be sorely disappointed by his traditional numbers. His career slash line of .248/.329/.421 will not exactly make you giddy with excitement. But there are two things you have to put into context. First, you have to compare him with other third basemen in history and secondly, you have to consider the offensive landscape of the time he played.

Let's deal with the latter first. It's hard to judge a player like Nettles from the perspective of today's offensive game. Yes, the last couple of years have gone down offensively, but we are just coming out of an era of unprecedented offense. So Nettles numbers look rather tame. But for his time, Nettles' numbers were well above average. He finished his career with a 110 career OPS+. And that number would have been better if perhaps Nettles hadn't hung around three years too long. Nettles was a six-time All Star and had two seasons where he finished fifth and sixth in MVP voting. As a power hitter, he struck out only 73 times a season on average and walked 65 times. His slash line, therefore, is deceiving.

If you rate Nettles along with other third basemen in history, you get another great picture. To qualify for this writer's list, you had to play 80 percent of your games for your career at third base. Of all such players, Nettles is third in career homers behind only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Matthews. He is sixth all time at his position in RBIs. He is ninth in hits and seventh in walks. Add all this up and you have a largely positive offensive player who was also excellent on defense. ranks Nettles as the sixth best fielding third baseman ever. Fangraphs has him seventh. If you look at WAR, Fangraphs has him ninth all time for his position and B-R, seventh. Surely, one of the top ten third basemen of all time deserves consideration.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Best and Worst Hitting Pitchers

Watching a pitcher hit is about as much fun as looking at a flower garden in Maine in early October. There might be an Astor blooming here or there, but otherwise not much is happening. The four likeliest outcomes in order of frequency are: strikeout, sacrifice bunt, single, double play. According to, the pitcher is the only position player that hit into more double plays than homers. So yes, it's not an exciting prospect. But occasionally you have pitchers that can swing the bat. These pitchers are usually called, "great athletes." Some have been legendary. Micah Owing is one. But he simply hasn't been able to pitch well enough to even get enough at bats to qualify on this post.

Some of the good hitting pitchers play in the American League right now and thus their bat is gone (except for interleague games in a NL park). Dan Haren is one. C.C. Sabathia is supposed to be another, but there is no real evidence to show that to be true. There is for Haren as we shall see.

For this exercise (while we wait to see what happens in the winter meetings), the ten best hitting pitchers in baseball will be presented along with the ten worst. How will those lists be determined? First, we will look at data from the last three years. That takes away the fluke season. For those three seasons, the pitcher must have at least 100 plate appearances. This eliminates Micah Owing but it also eliminates the relief pitcher who happened to come to the plate once and miraculously got a hit. We can't go by WAR here because there is too much disparity of plate appearances to make that a fair judge. The stat we will use here is wOBA or weighted on-base average. These lists will use for the wOBA scores.

The ten best hitting pitchers:

  1. Dan Haren. It's a real shame he toils in the AL now because Haren could hit. Haren only had three at bats in 2011 and got one hit. But he is the only pitcher who has a wOBA over .300 in the last three years. Haren had a .904 OPS for the Diamondbacks in 2010 before he was traded to the Angels. He would have been a better hitter than Jeff Mathis.
  2. Carlos Zambrano. In retrospect, Zambrano should be on top of this list. The volatile pitcher has compiled 5.3 WAR as a batter during his career. But for the last three years, his wOBA places him second behind Haren. Zambrano has 23 career homers and has hit at least one in nine straight seasons.
  3. Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo slugged .508 in 2010 and has hit well over .200 the past two seasons. He has nine career homers in five seasons.
  4. Mike Leake. Leake has no power with a .291 slugging percentage, but he gets a lot of hits. He's a .262 hitter so far in his short career. The most impressive stat for Leake is that he went the entire 2010 season without hitting into a double play.
  5. Daniel Hudson. It took a year for Hudson to adjust to hitting as his first year in the NL wasn't very good at all. But he found his strike in 2011, batting .277 with three doubles and a homer. He won the Silver Slugger Award for pitchers in 2011.
  6. Chris Narveson. The left-hander fell off in 2011 after batting .327 in 2010. He has no power though as his .262 career slugging percentage attests.
  7. Derek Lowe. Lowe makes the list most likely because he's had nine extra base hits in the last two season. But it's hard to get excited about a guy whose slash line features numbers all below .200 across the board. Traded to Cleveland, Lowe's offensive days are over.
  8. Adam Wainwright. The wagon builder missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery. But in 2009 and 2010, Wainwright compiled thirteen extra base hits. That's heady.
  9. Randy Wolf / Johan Santana / Cliff Lee. Wolf gave the Brewers three of the top hitting pitchers in one rotation in 2011.

The ten worst hitting pitchers

  1. Tommy Hanson. Hanson has had 164 plate appearances in the last three years and has ten hits. Enough said.
  2. Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez is unique in that he has -1.3 WAR as a pitcher the last three years and a -1.1 WAR batting. Bonus!
  3. Charlie Morton. This guy has struck out 49.6 percent of the time, the clear leader in that category among all starting pitchers. Pathetic.
  4. Ted Lilly. Ted is a Lilly-livered hitter, so this certainly works. The lowest BABIP of all starting pitchers the last three years.
  5. Matt Latos. At least Latos has hit two homers in the last three years. But other than that, he strikes out at a cool 44.9 percent rate.
  6. Jeff Karstens. What a pitching rotation the Pirates have had! Morton, Maholm and Karstens are one, two and three in the highest percentage of strikeouts per at bat. Tony LaRussa wouldn't have batted these guys eighth.
  7. Johnny Cueto. At least Cueto doesn't strike out (29.2 percent). But he doesn't hit either. 
  8. Hiroki Kuroda. He gets the bat on the ball. But it doesn't go anywhere. But he's only hit into two double plays during his career.
  9. Paul Maholm. He's hit a homer in the last three years, but his 48.1 strikeout percentage does him in.
  10. Barry Zito. More fuel on the fire for those who think he's had the worst contract in baseball.

Even the best hitting pitchers have a wOBA below league average. And yes, this is why this author is a card-carrying member of the DH-supporter club. Yeesh.

Prediction Comes True - Jose Reyes to the Marlins

To have a prediction come to pass is a toast of fine champagne. This writer called it less than thirty days ago. And so it comes to pass that Jose Reyes has agreed to a six year deal with the upstart Miami Marlins. But along with the thrill of correct prognostication comes a sadness for New York Mets fans that their exciting and personable shortstop has indeed flown the coop.

These are heady and frightening days for those who follow the Miami Marlins in their first year under that designation. Fresh off of signing Heath Bell, the once frugal franchise has splurged in major fashion in the dugout, in the bullpen and now at shortstop. All this comes in anticipation of entering a brand new ballpark and a new season of intent. All the while this is happening under remembrances of years past when World Championships were bought and then disbanded and the threat of the federal government circles around the ballpark deal the Marlins allegedly swindled from the taxpayers of southern Florida.

The Mets, with legal problems of their own, lose their most bankable player, albeit one that has missed major chunks of time with physical mishaps. But still, Reyes was the smiling face of the other New York franchise and despite more injuries, Reyes showed the glory of his talent by winning the batting title and became the most valuable shortstop in baseball. The Mets must lick their wounds and with a talented front office begin the re-fabrication of their franchise. Think kindly of Mets fans tonight as this has to be a bitter day for them.

And so Jose Reyes is the new Marlin shortstop. What of their own once-highly-touted shortstop? Hanley Ramirez was the most valuable of commodities just a few short years ago when he challenged Albert Pujols for that title in the National League. Two years of whispers about his effort, his size and the stark reality of his performance lead to speculation. Ramirez has made it known that he considers himself the Marlins' shortstop. He's probably the only one left in that organization that thinks so. Will he fight the Marlins if they move him to third or the outfield? Should they trade him if he does? For this to be as effective a signing as it should be, Hanley Ramirez needs to embrace this and forget about where he plays and reestablish the offensive force he once was. If he can do that, the Marlins will get two great players in this deal instead of one. The ball will be in Ramirez's court.

As for Jose Reyes, congratulations on hitting the big time. Ah to be young and rich and living in south Florida! He got his big payday and now has a chance to change the power of the National League East. This deal could be the best thing to happen to the Marlins and their fans in a long, long time. That is, if Jose Reyes can stay healthy and get the most out of his abundant talent.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Pedro Martinez Was a Joy to Watch

Arrogance is one of the tools used by great starting pitchers. Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens had it. Greg Maddux had it. Cliff Lee is right there on the arrogance meter. Bob Gibson had it. Pedro Martinez certainly did as well. Arrogance here is defined by knowing that the pitcher held all the advantage in his match up with a batter. To use an old cliche, it is the gunslinger's mentality that he'll always be quicker on the draw then his opponent. To put it another way, great pitchers have supreme confidence.

The Fan and his wife got married in June of 2000 and thankfully, she was more than happy to allow this Fan to watch baseball on television. Pedro was pitching for the Red Sox in those early years during perhaps the highest drama of the Red Sox - Yankees rivalry. She is much less analytical in her approach to watching a game. There were only heroes and those other guys. When Pedro was pitching, she hated his guts because of his demeanor on the mound. To be sure, she wasn't alone. But to this day, she still remembers a game when Pedro wasn't pitching and his teammates had tied him to a pole in the dugout and she laughed hysterically at his big smile and sense of fun in that moment. She couldn't quite understand the dichotomy of those two settings.

But that was Pedro. When he was on the mound, he was all about making you look as silly as possible. He didn't just get the batter out. He demoralized and sapped the humanity right out of his victims.

It's a real shame that we only have our wonderful tools of valuing pitches with all the Pitch/FX data we now have but the data only goes back to 2007. That means that we only have three years of data for Pedro Martinez when he had obviously lost his velocity. But even what we have for those three years, after Pedro was no longer the dominant force he had been from 1997 to 2002, the numbers give us a glimpse of the kind of pitcher Pedro was in his prime.

The great Tao of Steib, a Blue Jays writer (@TaoofSteib) mentioned on Twitter this morning that the thing he remembered was the movement on Pedro's pitches. It was a spot on comment. From what little data we have from 2007 to 2009, Pedro's pitches still danced a lot. This Pedro was a shadow of what he once was, and still his change up had 8.9 inches of negative horizontal movement. This writer looked at the two best change ups of 2011 and they were thrown by Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez, two pitchers in the prime of their careers. And while the change up is a devastating pitch because of its deception, the other factor is movement. Felix Hernandez got the same 8.9 inches (in his prime) as Pedro did as a broken down pitcher. Hamels has less movement. Can you imagine what Pedro could do when he was at the peak of his career?

And what a peak it was. Pedro was certainly very good as a youngster for the Montreal Expos from 1993 to 1996. But starting in 1997, Pedro Martinez found his highest art and dominated the sport until 2002. Pedro was still very good from 2003 to 2006, but those years were somewhat less than his peak. This Fan made the comment on Twitter last night that in fifty years of watching baseball, Pedro Martinez between 1997 and 2002 was the best pitcher this Fan had ever seen. The comment was immediately challenged. Others were just as good, they said. In fact, Randy Johnson had a higher WAR during that time period. Others chimed in for Greg Maddux and Bob Gibson. There is no one who will argue that those are all Hall of Fame pitchers who were devastating in their prime. Roger Clemens was offered. But this Fan would still go with Pedro.

The first year of Pedro's peak (1997), he pitched for the Montreal Expos. But the rest of those years were against the American League with the DH in the peak of offensive seasons in Major League Baseball. From 1998 to 2000, the American League teams averaged more than five runs a game, the first time that had happened since the 1930s. It was an era of unprecedented offense. And yet, Pedro Martinez made it look easy during that time. Pedro was so good in 1999 and 2000 that he should have won two MVP Awards to go along with his Cy Young Awards. His ERA in those two seasons of 2.07 and 1.74 were so good in relation to the runs scored in the league that his ERA+ was 243 and 291.

Pedro stopped walking people in 1999. His strikeout to walk ratio in 1999 and 2000 were 8.46 and 8.88! And those numbers back up what these eyes saw. For one season (1986), Roger Clemens could hit the glove on every pitch. The thing that was so amazing about his twenty-strikeout performance that year (this Fan watched that game) is that every pitch hit the target the catcher put up. That was the single greatest game of pitching this Fan has ever seen. And Clemens was that way the whole season. But that was one season. Pedro did that for years. He always seemed to hit the catcher's mitt just where it was set. To do that with the amount of movement he had on his pitches was amazing.

And in those years, he was throwing his fastball upwards of 95 to 98 MPH. You take that kind of velocity along with pinpoint control and you have a pitcher who is nearly impossible to beat. Maddux had the movement and the control, but not the velocity. Randy Johnson had movement and velocity, but not the command. Bob Gibson had maybe the best year in modern history in 1968, but that was the only season he scored over 200 in ERA+. Pedro did it five times.

Other Yankee fans want to deconstruct the greatness of Pedro Martinez. They say things like he only averaged 15 wins a season over his eighteen year career. Nonsense. For this observer, Pedro was the best. He was on the wrong team, but he was a true joy to watch. He was the Vincent Van Gogh of pitchers. He is a first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher.

Thanks for the memories, Pedro.