Saturday, January 14, 2012

Domonic Brown Ready for Duty

Twitter exploded last night with the big news of the deal between the Yankees and Mariners. It kept on going with the news the Yankees had also signed Karaoke Kuroda. Such news would provide the easiest route to creating a blog post. But, geez, there have already been a million posts on the topic already. What can be said that Dave Cameron, Brien Jackson and Buster Olney haven't already written? This writer's take in a nutshell is that the Yankees performed a masterstroke for their rotation which should already improve what was a 92-win team. However, Montero is a special talent and that may hurt for a long time. Thinking about a prospect like Montero led to thoughts of another "can't miss" prospect that has had trouble getting started in the big leagues: Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Brown was only a 20th Round draft pick (2006) so he sort of came out of nowhere. But since that time, he's landed on Baseball America's top fifty prospect for the last three seasons. Each year on the list came lower and lower until he was ninth on the list before the 2011 season. But Brown's start to his major league career have been bumpy.

That beginning began at the end of July in 2010. Domonic Brown made his debut on July 28, 2010 against Edwin Jackson and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona. Brown went two for four with a double and two RBIs in his first game. Nice debut! He was a late replacement in the next game and went hitless in one at bat. The following day, he went two for four and after three games was hitting .500. Let the fun begin! Except it didn't.

Brown played fairly consistently the rest of the season but he looked more and more lost. By the end of 2010, in 35 games, Brown finished with a slash line of, .210/.257/.355. Ugh. That wasn't what the Phillies were expecting. The Phillies did keep Brown on the post season roster but he only got into a couple of games and was zero for three in the post season. What was doubly disturbing about Brown's performance was that he struck out 35 percent of the time. The whispers were that he was totally lost at the plate and pitchers had found flaws in his approach and were exposing them. The strikeouts and lack of walks were totally uncharacteristic of Brown's minor league statistics where he was seen to be a patient hitter who made consistent contact.

Brown didn't make his 2011 debut for the Phillies until May 21 and after his first ten games was batting .333. And Brown played regularly through June and into July. But by the end of the month of July, his average was down to .246 and the Phillies made a big push for playoffs by acquiring Hunter Pence from the Astros. Pence took over Brown's spot and Domonic Brown was sent to Triple A where he finished the season except for a brief couple of games at the end of September.

So why would such a middling campaign of 2011 be interesting for Domonic Brown? First, his high strikeout rate disappeared. After fanning 35 percent of the time in 2010, he cut that down to 16.7 percent in 2011. The lower rate was a result of more discipline at the plate where he brought his rate of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone down from 30.8 percent in 2010 to 28.9 percent in 2011. Plus, his swinging strike rate went down from 13.5 percent in 2010 to 7.7 percent in 2011. Combine all that to improving his walk rate from 7.1 percent in 2010 to 11.9 percent in 2011 and it seems to show a young hitter much more comfortable in his approach and putting up numbers much closer to his minor league performance. The other promising sign from Brown's 2011 season was that he fared very well against left-handed pitching (he bats left-handed).

But he still only hit .246. That might be a reflection of his .274 BABIP which almost certainly will improve in 2012. And that's where we are now. The Phillies have (it appears) finally gotten over their absurd love affair with Raul Ibanez. Ibanez had some big hits for the Phillies at opportune times, but overall, he was a drag on the Phillies' offense and an millstone to the team's defense. The negative fielding metrics for Ibanez were nearly historic in 2011. Domonic Brown hasn't shown a whole lot defensively either, but he has to be better than Ibanez.

So what should we expect in 2012? Shane Victorino will play center and Hunter Pence will be in the line up all year. That would seem to open up the third outfield position to Domonic Brown. And projections from Bill James believe Brown will respond and have a fine season. Other projections such as Fans and RotoChamp aren't so sure. James believes Brown will be an every day player where the other two only predict 300 plate appearances or so.

And that's the rub here. The Phillies seem slow to believe in Domonic Brown as a full time option. Yes, he's been their most talked about prospect, but the Phillies don't act like they are sure he's the real deal. From this writer's perspective, the Phillies really should give Domonic Brown a full time shot and see what happens. If he blossoms, then all the better. If he fails to shine, then at least they will know and can make other plans. Domonic Brown looks like a great player and needs to be given a full opportunity to show what he can do.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Players to Celebrate in 2012: Ivan Rodriguez

This is the fourth segment in a series on players we've watched for a long, long time who we might get to enjoy in 2012 for the last time. In the first three segments, the players covered have a definite home in 2012 and can count on playing time. The fourth player in our series is still a free agent, he's still unsigned and it's not guaranteed that he'll catch on with a team in 2012. His name is Ivan Rodriguez.

If you put two serious baseball fans in the same room and told them they had to argue the merits of Ivan Rodriguez's career, the two would have a lot to talk about. And one would probably sound a lot like Fred Flintstone with a lot of "yeahbuts" thrown in the conversation. Rodriguez does that to people. You are either wildly impressed by his career or thrown cold by certain aspects of it. Here's a sample of how that conversation might go:
  • Fan1: Ivan Rodriguez is the only catcher (80% at that position) in history with more 500 doubles for his  career!
  • Fan2: Yeahbut, he's also the only player in history who has more than 500 doubles that has more career doubles than walks.
  • Fan1: Seriously? Well of all catchers who have ever played, I-Rod has 500 more hits than the nearest guy.
  • Fan2: Yeahbut, he's played the last six years without being a league average hitter.
And on and on it would go. There are three things that cloud the career of Ivan Rodriguez. First, he has played long past his prime. Many would argue that he should have retired five years ago. Second, the catcher's allergy to taking walks have lead to some very famous numbers. Lastly, he's been implicated in the great PED debate. Let's talk a bit about all three.

First, when a player retires should be based on the market and on the player's desire to play. Many will say that Willie Mays hung on too long. Many will say that Greg Maddux hung around too long. To those arguments, this Fan says, "Bull." Baseball players have been playing the game since they were little boys. It's all they have ever known. If their enjoyment for the game far outstrips their ability and teams are willing to pay the player to do what they still love to do, then who are we to tell that player he shouldn't play? But what if they are just hanging on for the paycheck? Well, geez, does that make them any different from those of us who stay at our jobs long enough to collect our retirement? Why the double standard?

Plus, there is a value/payment proposition involved here. As long as the team doesn't pay the player too much money and the player adds some value to the team, why is there a problem? If you go to Willie Mays' B-R page, look at his Player Value section. Are there any negative WAR numbers for Willie Mays? Nope, not a single one. Are there any negative WAR numbers next to Greg Maddux's Player Value section? Nope. The same holds true for Ivan Rodriguez. He has provided value in every one of his seasons.

Our problem is that we want our superstars to only keep playing as long as they are superstars. As soon as they are physically unable to perform at their previously high level, we want them to get out of there. Jason Giambi is 41 and is still playing long past his prime. Many fans hate that. Why should they? The guy is enjoying himself and getting paid. Why shouldn't he?

The walk issue for Ivan Rodriguez is a problem we can't talk around. It's certainly a fact well documented. He does have more doubles than walks for his career. His 2007 season was record breaking. It is the only documented season ever where a catcher had more than 500 plate appearances and less than ten walks. The only other position player to have less walks in a season with more than 500 plate appearances since 1949 to have less walks than I-Rod that season was Shawon Dunston who famously only had eight walks in 1997. So yes, this writer will grant that Ivan Rodriguez didn't like to take a walk.

As for the last argument against Ivan Rodriguez that he was implicated (by Jose Canseco) as a user of PEDs, you already know that this writer doesn't care. He certainly wasn't alone. You can all have your fun if you want and poke holes and call him a cheater if you want. Not this guy.

As most of you know, value also comes from other places than hitting. There is also base running and fielding. Base running is something that has only been calculated since 2002. Ivan Rodriguez had already been catching and squatting for eleven years to that point. That he's only cited by Fangraphs as a -3.8 runs in base running since that time isn't half bad for a guy who has been getting into the crouch that long. But fielding? That's another story entirely.

According to Fangraphs, nobody has saved as many runs defensively as a catcher than Ivan Rodriguez. According to that site, he has saved 159 runs for his career. The closest to him is Jim Sundberg at 115. Baseball-reference agrees, giving Rodriguezz 167 runs saved for his career to Sundberg's 114. Rodriguez has the most assists of any catcher since 1961. Of all modern catchers, he has the highest career caught stealing rate which sits currently at 45.68. His only modern rival is Yadier Molina who sits at 44 percent. Even at the age of 39, Ivan Rodriguez threw out 52 percent of those that tried to steal against him. It was the ninth time in his career that his percentage was over 50 percent.

Mike Fast's work on how effective catchers are at getting strikes for their pitchers covered the years when Ivan Rodriguez was between the ages of 36 to 39. And even so, Fast rated Rodriguez above average in that category. An earlier study on the subject by Dan Turkenkopf rated Rodriguez even higher.

Plus, Ivan Rodriguez has been just fine at limiting passed balls over his career. All facets of his defense lead this writer to believe that Ivan Rodriguez was the elite defensive catcher of his generation. Add that to his offense, which up until six years ago, was among the best at his position, and you have what this writer believes is a Hall of Fame career. He was the lead catcher for two World Series champions, his arm was a cannon (and still is) and he's always been great fun to watch.

We don't know if Ivan Rodriguez will find a job in 2012. If he does, celebrate his career. There have been few we've seen better at his position. This writer will celebrate him, warts and all.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

BBA Link Fest - Generally Giving

Welcome to another week of links from around the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. What follows are some of the best baseball writers around the country and the world. Plus, we have a very special event taking place this weekend that you really need to know about. So please be a good egg and gives some of these links a click and some comments. You won't be sorry you did.

- We start with a very special event happening this weekend. Old Time Family Baseball will host a "blogathon" to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. The event has received national recognition (see here) and as that link indicates, there will be at least one big name that participates. As this is a terrific organization being supported, please stop by this weekend and do what you can to help. And just so you don't think the site has been sitting around waiting for the weekend, here's one of their current posts. It's hot.

- Another one of our General Chapter sites has received national attention of a different sort. The Platoon Advantage lost their Sweet Spot affiliation with because they tell and spoof the truth. The same day that was announced, Bill, questioned a BBWAA member and got called, "Saber-Boy." So Bill became Saber-Boy and gained more followers than anything the site ever garnered at ESPN. What a mixed up world, eh?

- It's hard to follow acts like that. But on we go. 85% Sports reports on some interesting comments by Barry Larkin on suspected PED users and the Hall of Fame.

- Analysis Around the Horn analyses (hey, that's what they do) fantasy draft results from several different sites. By the way, this Fan voted for Mechanical Brains as a preference for AATH's fantasy league name. 

- Sooze at Babes Love Baseball thinks the Ozzie and Zambrano show should be reality television. The Fan would watch that. It would be more entertaining than that baseball wives travesty.

- Probably this Fan's favorite read this week is this excellent post by Stevo-sama over at The Baseball Enthusiast. It concerns what everyone calls, "The Ryne Sandberg Game," but the post is oh, so much more than a memory.

- Baseballism reports on and celebrates the election of Barry Larkin to baseball's Hall of Fame. The Fan adds his congratulations here as well.

- Aaron has a great read over at Blogging From the Bleachers on how the San Diego Padres are slowly revitalizing their team. Great stuff.

- Call to the Pen loves the deal the Giants just game Ryan Vogelsong. Couldn't agree more.

- Our Italian site, Che Palle! celebrates forty years of Sal. Who is Sal? You'll just have to click the link and read the entertaining post to find out.

- Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please took a stab at his own "ballot" of Hall of Fame votes and wrote a very good piece supporting his picks.

- It would truly be a surprise if Diamond Hoggers didn't celebrate Barry Larkins vote into the Hall of Fame. So this Fan looked forward to their post. It was not a disappointment.

- Dugout 24, our German entry, has some thoughts on the news that Jorge Posada is hanging up his spikes.

- For Baseball Junkies also reflects on Jorge Posada's career and this Fan pretty much agrees with their conclusions.

- Projecting a team's line up in the coming season is always a fun idea and The Baseball Index runs with the idea for the Toronto Blue Jays. 

- Going Yard has some very interesting thoughts about what the Brewers will do if Ryan Braun is suspended. Great read.

- Golden Sombrero continues its excellent prospect series, so you are all encouraged to read that. But this week's link for them is one of this Fan's favorite site features, the lookalikes. This one features Mike Quade with fun results.

- Love, love, love Grubby Glove's "What's Wrong With This Card" series. Last week, we gave you the puzzle. This week, the puzzle is solved.

- Curley Bender of the Crum-Bum Beat builds the case for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. Couldn't agree more.

- Our French friends at contemplate Manny Ramirez's return to baseball. 

- A Tyler Beede rap? Who would imagine such a thing from the only first round draft pick not to sign. The Hall of Very Good fills us in with style.

- In a terrific post by Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor, he compares the BBA Hall of Fame voting with the BBWAA. Yes, we are way smarter.

- The Fan's good buddy over at Left Field continues to write great posts no matter what he is writing about. This week, he ties some of his favorite music for 2012 to some of those artist's favorite baseball team.

- MLB Dirt has so much great content, it's really difficult from week to week to pick a favorite. Between Jonathan's superb prospect series and Andrew Martin's terrific interviews and that other guy from Maine who writes over there, how to choose? This week, the Fan is going with Mike Schwartze's prospect pitching duos because the Fan really liked that one.

- What is WAR all about? And how is the statistic useful? Look no further than this terrific article on the subject over at MLB Reports.

- J-Doug over at Rational Pastime gives us that site's picks for the Hall of Fame. Great stuff!

- It really bugs a writer at the Replacement Level Baseball Blog that no player has ever received a 100 percent vote for the Hall of Fame. So the writer gives us thoughts on which players should have been unanimous. The Fan picks this post as the best post of the Generals this week.

- The consistently entertaining Sully of Sully Baseball has ten thoughts on the recent Hall of Fame vote. Terrific read.

- In another candidate for the best post of the week, Logan Lietz of Through the Fence Baseball explains Theo Epstein's real value to the Cubs. 

Thank you again for supporting our sites. We certainly appreciate you, our readers. And please, stop by Old Time Family Baseball on Saturday and support a great cause (and view some terrific blog posts!). Have a great weekend, everyone.

Players to Celebrate in 2012: Todd Helton

This is the third part of a series celebrating players we have enjoyed watching for many years who we might be seeing for the last time in 2012. Today we celebrate Todd Helton. Helton actually has a contract that runs through 2013, but the Colorado icon is 38 and the contract was front loaded and he wouldn't be leaving a large sum of money on the table to walk away after this coming season. In light of his physical struggles the past few seasons, it's not out of the range of possibilities that 2012 could be Helton's swan song.

Placing Todd Helton's career in historical context is difficult for the same reason it has been to do so for Larry Walker. Helton has played his entire career for the Rockies and Coors Field is about as bad a stigma to baseball writers as PEDs seem to be. To this writer, judging Helton's numbers due to his home ballpark would be a large mistake. After all, Helton has a career on-base percentage of .421. Thin air does not aid taking a walk. Even if you took away his massive amount of intentional walks (183), Helton would still have an on-base percentage over .400 for his career.

What is often forgotten concerning Rockies' players is that despite playing half of their games at Coors, a large part of their road travels take them to tough hitters parks in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Todd Helton has played 1,039 games at Coors but has also played 333 games at those three sights. While that totally doesn't alter perceptions for his career splits from a home/road perspective, it certainly makes it somewhat understandable. And Helton's .869 career road OPS is nothing to sneeze at. That's a very good number. Yes, the home stats are incredible, but we can't say he was nothing on the road.

Helton's back problems have sapped his power in recent seasons. He hasn't slugged .500 since 2005. But he continues to hit and four of the six seasons since 2005 have been over .300. Plus, only one of those six seasons saw his OBP drop below .385. We all want first basemen who hit a lot of homers. Helton isn't that player anymore. His loss of power is similar to that of Don Mattingly who also struggled with back problems. But unlike Mattingly, Helton had a peak longer than Mattingly's but has managed to be quietly effective for a longer period beyond the peak.

And what a peak it was. Between 1999 and 2005, his OPS figures were in order: .981, 1.162, 1.116, 1.006, 1.088, 1.088 and .979. Between 2000 and 2005, his OBP was never lower than .429 and his batting average was never lower than .329. Between 1999 and 2005, Helton averaged 34 homers a season and 48 doubles! During those six seasons, Helton scored 741 runs and knocked in 807! Those were amazing seasons. Helton's teams were never very good through those years. But despite that, between 2000 and 2005, Helton had three top ten finishes in MVP voting and top twenty finishes in the other two seasons. He also won three Gold Gloves Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards.

Throughout his career, Todd Helton has also been a very good fielding first baseman. gives Helton 9.8 dWAR for his career and Fangraphs gives him 56.7 runs above average for his career in the field. Add his defense on top of a great offensive career and you have had a treat of a career. It's hard not to like that Helton has struck out more than two hundred times less in his career than he's walked and Coors or no Coors, a lifetime slash line of .323/.421/.550 cannot be dismissed lightly. OPS+ takes into account park effects and Helton still comes out with a 136 OPS+ for his career.

Helton has been a class act and a graceful performer. Celebrate his career in 2012. It might be your last chance to do so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kevin Youkilis - Brittle?

Last night and this morning, yours truly had a short conversation with Chris McBrien of the terrific Dear Mr. Fantasy website and Chip Buck, the creative contributor for the awesome Fire Brand of the American League and it was astounding that Chris from a fantasy perspective and Chip from a Red Sox team-based site had little faith that Kevin Youkilis will play 100 or more games in 2012. The conversation proved just how fickle the game of baseball can be. Youkilis, a major player in the 2007 championship run, a featured story of Moneyball and a guy just recently named one of the top fifty players (35th) active in baseball has now become an afterthought.

It is easy to understand Chris McBrien's stance. It's part of his job for his readers to assess fantasy baseball risk on players. This Fan doesn't play fantasy baseball and so there is no expertise in that area. But to think that you wouldn't want to touch Kevin Youkilis with one of your picks in that world just blows the mind. According to Fangraphs, despite only playing 222 games the past two seasons, Youkilis has still achieved a value of just over $33 million with his play. Despite only 120 games played in 2011, Youkilis still hit 32 doubles, 18 homers and drove in 80. The guy is a stud, isn't he? His batting average did dip inexplicably to .258 in 2011, but he still got on base a little more than 37 percent of the time.

It's also easy to understand Chip's point of view. He called Youkilis, "brittle," and despite emotional objections to that word, the facts bear it out. Since Youkilis became a fixture on the Red Sox in 2006, he's never played 150 games in a season. Seeing that in his player card was a total surprise. Kevin Youkilis has never played a full season. His 147 games played in 2006 were his tops in that category. Well, holy A-Rod! Who knew? Does that make Youkilis the current incarnation of John Valentin? Valentin was another on-base machine for the Red Sox in the 1990s who couldn't find a way to stay healthy. His career was basically over by age 32. Youkilis will be 33 in March.

There have been reports that the Red Sox were considering trading Youkilis for pitching or other needs. Looking at the value proposition of such a deal, the pitcher better be pretty darned good for that to happen. As mentioned earlier, Youkilis, as a part-time player the last couple of years has been worth over $16 million a season and has a very reasonable contract that pays him around $13 million. That contract does run out after 2012 (with an option for 2013), so perhaps that factors into such a strategy.

Kevin Youkilis is not as good a third baseman as he was a first baseman. But saying so discounts how few real options there are in the majors for third basemen out there. Even playing 120 games, Youkilis was the third most valuable third baseman in baseball last season. It seems to this author at least that 120 games of Youkilis at third would be a better option than 160 games from anyone else not named Adrian Beltre (why the heck didn't the Red Sox re-sign that guy?) and Evan Longoria.

There is one other statement this author would like to make concerning Youkilis: His .944 OPS in the post season and the way he grinds at bats, there are few other batters a contending team would rather face in big situations than Kevin Youkilis. This Fan has never really liked the guy, but there is a lot of respect for him as a batter. If the impossible happens and Youkilis can stay on the field for 140 or more games, that can only be a benefit for the Red Sox. Yes, folks, that was an understatement. To this observer, Kevin Youkilis is a big key to the team's success in 2012. And yeah, if the Fan played fantasy baseball, Youkilis would be grabbed in the first round if those two other guys weren't available.

Players to Celebrate in 2012: Mariano Rivera

The 2012 season may be the last for some of the best players of this generation. Yesterday we focused on Chipper Jones in the first part of a series celebrating these players. Jones has a contract possibility of playing in 2013, but it seems likely that this will be his swan song. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is another player who we could be seeing for the last time. Despite seeming ageless and continuing his dominant pitching even at the age of 41, his current contract runs out after this season and the gut feeling here is that this will be it.

And it seems astounding to actually type that. He's been such a fixture for so long that it's hard to imagine Major League Baseball without him. Love or hate the Yankees, everyone respects Rivera. Despite the bad rep "closers" have an the analytic community, all number-crunching writers have nothing but positive things to say about the Sandman. He is the exception to the antipathy of the save rule. To some, he is the number one reason the Yankees won five titles since 1996. To others, he's just a great player in a great situation. Despite which side of the fence you sit, no one will say that Mariano Rivera doesn't have a spot guaranteed for him in Cooperstown.

Let's forget about the save record for a moment. Very few people like that statistic. This writer doesn't happen to be one of them, but understands the displeasure others have for the save. So this post will only this one time mention Rivera as the all time save leader. He also holds the record for games finished. But if you'd rather have another statistic rather than the save, consider that since he started in 1995, Rivera has the highest WPA of ALL pitchers (starter or reliever). And since 1961, only Roger Clemens has a higher WPA. That Rivera, a "closer" has the second highest WPA in the last fifty years has been remarkable.

A relatively new measurement is the weighted pitch value. We can now rate pitchers fastballs, cutters, curves, sliders, split-fingered, change ups and knuckle balls. While the statistic only goes back to 2002, since that time, Mariano Rivera's cutter has been the fifth most valuable pitch in baseball behind only Roy Oswalt's fastball, Randy Johnson's slider, Johan Santana's change up and Roy Halladay's curve. You'll notice all those guys are starters.

Mariano Rivera has faced 4,814 batters in his career. They have a combined batting average of .210, an on-base percentage of .262 and a slugging percentage of .290. Right-handed batters have a career OPS against him of .583. Left-handed batters have an OPS against him of .522. In his last 404.2 innings pitched, he's walked a total of 60 batters. He walked only six batters in all of 2008 and only eight batters in all of 2011 (two were intentional). Rivera's home run per nine inning rate for his career is 0.48.

Rivera has had a season ERA under 2.00 in eleven of his seventeen seasons. In five seasons, his FIP has been under 2.30. His career SIERA is 2.58.

It didn't matter where Mariano Rivera pitched. His ERA at home is 2.48. His ERA on the road is 1.99. His OPS against in day games is .571. In night games, it's .540. In domes, it's a surreal .464. It also didn't matter what part of the season you faced him. There isn't a single month of the season when his OPS against was over .600 in his career.

In nine of Rivera's seventeen seasons, his WHIP has been under one. He has a streak going of four straight such seasons. His career WHIP is 0.998. People always associate Mariano Rivera for save situations. But he's actually pitched 327 times when there wasn't a save situation. In those games, Rivera is 54-32, a .628 win percentage. And he's compiled an ERA of 2.35 in such situations. His OPS against in non-save situations is .567. Rivera didn't just close out wins the Yankees needed, he also won games at the end of the game. He's been a multipurpose weapon.

And we haven't even covered his post season records. In the biggest games of all, he has a 0.70 ERA with 42 saves and an 8-1 record. His WHIP in the post season is 0.759. Sure, the Red Sox stole a run off of him in 2004 and the Diamondbacks dinked their way to a win off of him in 2001. But otherwise, he's been money.

There has never been a pitcher like Mariano Rivera. Among a skill-set often discounted, he is the exception. He's been so good for so long that it's big news when a team scores a run off of him and he blows a save. His pinpoint control, his ability to repeat his easy motion time and time again have set him apart from all peers. There have been relief pitchers who have had better years than Rivera. But Mariano Rivera's overall body of work will stand the test of time and sets him apart from all others. Take the time to celebrate his career in 2012. It might be the last time we get to do so.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Players to Celebrate in 2012: Chipper Jones

Baseball is, among all major sports, the game most suited for reflection. Thirty teams play 162 games a season and that's a lot of baseball. The game is also one most tied to the fabric of generations as children play catch with parents and inherit team loyalty and a love of the game. Whether you are young or old, there have been players we've watched who have built a body of work that exceeds those of their peers. We know who they are and we follow them from their rookie seasons until they hang up their spikes for good. With all these thoughts in mind, today begins a series of articles about players who we might watch for the last time in 2012. These are players we've seen in All Star Games and post season games and this coming season will probably be last of their play on the field. Such occasions should be celebrations. Try to forget that they can't run like they used to and miss an occasional fastball they used to crush. Celebrate the memories, the moments these players gave us as fans as they play out their swan songs. Today, we start with Chipper Jones.

It took a long time for this writer to come around to Chipper Jones. He played for a team this writer didn't particularly like. His Atlanta Braves teams always seemed to come in first place and Jones seemed like an arrogant guy on an arrogant team. But it takes a certain amount of arrogance to succeed in sports and all the great players have a touch of it. Baseball is a constant battle between the pitcher and batter, the offense against the defense and the team against another team. You have to believe you are better than the other guy(s) to win. And Jones has softened with age and perspective (as many of us do). His recent conversation recorded here shows a humble player who knows he is nearing the end and his words are frank and touching.

But put all those feelings aside for a moment and simply consider the performance on the field. That's what it's all about when all is said and done, isn't it? While we often know that a player like Albert Pujols is in the midst of a terrific career, it isn't over yet. It's not until a career nears its end can you put it fully in context. Chipper Jones will go down as one of the best players of this generation. His numbers stack up with anyone and even if he never played another game, he should be a first ballot Hall of Fame vote.

One of the things this Fan likes to do is to compare current players with players from the past. And as others have written, to consider a Hall of Fame case, you not only compare a player with the peers from his own generation, but also to those who came before this generation. Such a comparison as the latter becomes difficult because the game changes. Fortunately, stats like WAR and OPS+ help because it puts seasons in perspective as well as park effects and competition. Still, it's a bit of a slippery slope. But, it's fun anyway or else people wouldn't have been doing it since the sport became as huge as it is.

Comparing Chipper Jones' career to other great third basemen of years past finds few peers. Yes, we know that Chipper played a year or so in left field. But primarily he was a third baseman, just like the great Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies also played quite a bit of first base toward the end of his career. Mike Schmidt might be the best third baseman this writer has seen in fifty years of watching baseball. Yet Chipper Jones compares favorably with the great Hall of Fame player. Let's take a look:
  • Games played - Schmidt (2,404), Jones (2,387)
  • Batting Average - Schmidt (.267), Jones (.304)
  • OBP - Schmidt (.380), Jones (.402)
  • Slugging - Schmidt (.527), Jones (.533)
  • OPS+ - Schmidt (147), Jones (141)
  • Homers - Schmidt (548), Jones (454)
  • Doubles - Schmidt (408), Jones (526)
  • Triples - Schmidt (59), Jones (38)
  • Runs Scored - Schmidt (1,506), Jones (1,561)
  • Runs batted in - Schmidt (1,595), Jones (1,561)
  • Stolen bases/Attempts - Schmidt (174-92, 65.4 percent), Jones (149-46, 77.6 percent)
  • oWAR - Schmidt (94.4), Jones (82.7)
  • Post season play - Schmidt (36 games, .236/.304/.386), Jones (92 games, .288/.411/.459).
That's some pretty good comparisons, are they not? Schmidt gets the final nod plus, Schmidt is acknowledged the superior fielder (by a wide margin). The bottom line is that if Mike Schmidt is one of the best ever, Chipper Jones isn't too far behind him.

Chipper Jones is limping into the final chapter of his career and despite battling bad knees and other health issues, still managed an .814 OPS last season. The last three seasons of his career have fallen behind his previous standards, but all have been above .800 in OPS. Schmidt was done by the age of 39 and finished with .742 and .668 OPS seasons. Jones has been to the post season in eleven of his eighteen seasons. It would be nice to see him get one more shot at it. But whether that happens or not, celebrate Chipper Jones this coming season. He's been among the best of his generation and his career stacks up well with the greatest third basemen of all time.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Who Should Play Short for the Rays?

Except for the lack of fannies in their seats and dollars in their coffers, the Tampa Bay Rays are the darlings of baseball. The front office is continually feted and they sport the current American League Manager of the Year in their dugout. The Bay Rays are a talented team with the kind of young pitching that can again push them to battle for the AL East title. But, they are not without question marks. They do not yet know who will play first base or which bat will be the designated hitter. But perhaps their biggest question mark heading into the spring is who they will employ at shortstop.

Shortstop was a disaster last year. As a team, the shortstops did perform a tick above league average in the field, but at the plate, it was a wasteland. In 596 total plate appearances, the Bay Rays' shortstops threw up this amazing slash line: .193/.256/.282. They combined to strike out 147 times and walked only 35 times. They hit only 26 extra base hits all season. Now, it's not like the majors are brimming with great hitting shortstops. Major League shortstops combined for a total slash line of .263/.317/.380, which is pretty pathetic. But those league numbers sure look a whole lot better than what the Rays did in 2011.

According to the depth chart, the same three candidates to play the position in 2011 are still in place: Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez (who is on the depth chart for every position including KP duty). Out of those three, who should get the job? In other words, who has the best chance to succeed? Let's look at them one by one.

Reid Brignac: This Fan has always liked Brignac. And last year about this time, this Fan pushed for Reid Brignac to be given the job to play for 155 games. And the Rays did just that to start the season. Brignac was pretty much the regular shortstop until mid-May. By May 21, Brignac was sitting on a slash line of .170/.210/.180. Ugh! Things couldn't get any worse than that. His playing time was limited after and he never recovered. He ended the season at, .193/.227/.221. Like many of the Bay Rays, his troubles were magnified at home. He actually hit .286 on the road but only .153 at home.

While Brignac's defense remained solid and while he has the most range of any of the candidates, there is certainly a question of if he will ever hit big league pitching. Brignac was the 39th highest rated prospect by Baseball America in 2008 and he's still only 25 years old. But he has little discipline at the plate, strikes out nearly 25 percent of his at bats and has lost any pop he showed in his bat in the minor leagues.

There are a couple of iffy positive signs for Brignac. For one, his line drive percentage was at 22.5 percent and sits at 21.1 for his career. When he hit line drives, good things happened. But when he hit grounders and fly balls, nothing ever fell in. His absurdly low .254 BABIP is surely a factor in that when his hit trajectory was on the ground or in the air, he went a combined 18 for 139 at the plate. That's either pathetic contact or terrible luck.

Elliot Johnson: Johnson was inserted after the Bay Rays could no longer handle Brignac's daily struggles. And by the end of June, Johnson was holding his own at the plate. He wasn't spectacular, but his slash line on May 23, 2011 was, .258/.306/.409. Compared to Brignac's numbers, that was great. But he faded, and by August 11, 2011, was down to batting .179. He never fully recovered either and ended the season with a slash line of, .194/.257/.338.

Johnson did play excellent defense according to all fielding metrics. That's a bit of a surprise as he was never considered that great a fielding shortstop in the minors. His entire minor league career is uninspiring. He never made a top prospect list and has never projected to be anything more than a role player.

Sean Rodriguez: Rodriguez became the Rays' shortstop by default after Brignac and Johnson failed to produce. He ended up playing sixty games at the position. Though shortstop was Rodriguez's natural position in the minors, he's not quite the fielder there as the other two. He's a league average shortstop with the glove who seems better suited at second base in the majors. But at least he did a few more things with his bat than the other two. While his final slash line of, .223/.323/.357 won't thrill any analyst, it was a darn sight better than the other two. The one area of concern is that the right-handed bat of Rodriguez seemed totally ineffective against right-handed pitching. His splits that way showed an OPS difference of almost 300 points.

Sean Rodriguez showed consistent power in the minors and his hitting there blows the other two out of the water as far as what he could potentially hit in the majors. While he isn't uber-selective at the plate, he has more discipline than the other two. The feeling here is that of the three, Rodriguez can be a consistent force in the majors on offense. But realistically, you'd prefer to see him at second permanently with Zobrist in right.

Others:  The Rays' Triple A shortstop is the journeyman, Rey Olmedo, who at the age of 30 doesn't appear to be much more than minor league filler. Tim Beckham is a highly touted prospect who did well at Double A but regressed a bit once he hit Triple A last season. He's probably another year away.

Conclusions: The lack of Brignac and Rodriguez (and even Upton to a degree) to develop as hitters in the majors thus far leads to questions of how good their hitting instructions are at the major league level. That may not be fair, but you would think one of these guys would hit as well in the majors as they did in the minors.  Well, okay, there is always Zobrist, but still. This Fan doesn't personally see Elliot Johnson as an answer. So unless Brignac can show some life in Spring Training, the Rays might be forced to install Sean Rodriguez as their everyday shortstop until Tim Beckham is ready. One thing is for sure, 2012 Rays' shortstops can't possibly be as bad at the plate as 2011.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Nonplussed by the Career of Jorge Posada

When this site was created in 2003, the intent was to write about baseball from a fan's perspective. And while that may or may not have held true over the nine years of this site's activity, to be truthful, the writer here has too many journalistic aspirations and inspirations to really allow the fan side of things to take over completely. As a writer that writes about all baseball teams and players, a level of objectivity has long been maintained as this writer's goal. Jorge Posada defeats all of those high and lofty objectives. And because of the problems he brings to this writer's emotions, summing up his career (that reports have indicated is now over) is difficult. What kind of player was Jorge Posada?

First, the fan side problem. Since this writer was a little boy, the New York Yankees have been the favorite team. That sentiment has been avoided as much as possible in the words of this site. In fact, to this day, people on Twitter still ask about the Fan's favorite team. Which means that the goal of objectivity has been achieved somewhat successfully. Perhaps we are blowing that out of the water today with Jorge Posada. But it's not what you think. Though the 1996 to 2000 run was perhaps the most gratifying span in this Fan's history, Posada has never been a favored part of that warm and toasty memory bank. Jorge Posada has never been a Fan favorite. In fact, it's been just the opposite.

To be totally out front about things, MLB.TV has been a part of this writer's world for as long as that feature has been available. Writing and rooting from northern Maine makes watching a lot of baseball impossible except for daily Red Sox games on NESN. The money spent on MLB.TV has been largely spent to watch the Yankees. And as such, more of that team's games have been watched than any other. The overriding feeling watching Jorge Posada day in and day out was that he sucked as a catcher. Not only did this Fan feel he sucked as a catcher, he seemed like a bully, especially to young pitchers.

The bullying part will have to be explained later, but the fact that Posada was a lousy catcher, especially the last five years of his career are backed up by defensive metrics. According to, Posada only had five seasons of his sixteen total where his defensive metrics were not in the negative category. Both B-R and Fangraphs give him similar fielding numbers with B-R coming in at -32 runs for his career and Fangraphs at -22.1 runs. But it's even worse than that.

In Mike Fast's seminal work over at Baseball Prospectus, he confirmed what this writer had thought for a long time. Jorge Posada cost his pitchers a lot of strikes. Fast has a chart of his findings and put Posada third from the bottom (ahead of only Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird from 2007 to 2011. Fast put his findings into a run format as well, and if his work is correct, then Posada cost his team slightly over 50 runs in just that four year span. So in four years, he nearly doubled the amount of runs he cost the Yankees with other facets of his defense for his career.

Add up all that negative stuff and add in that he led the league in passed balls twice and racked up 142 for his career, PLUS, he wasn't good at throwing base steal attempts out and was only successful 28 percent of the time for his career, the total picture is of a catcher that wasn't very good at his position.

The defensive beliefs of this career are easy to prove via the numbers we have available to us. There is no such defense for the bullying charge other than watching hundreds of games over the years. It is this writer's belief (that will be awfully hard to shake) Posada was a bane to young pitchers like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and others. They were going to throw Posada's pitch choices and that's all there was to it. There were an awful lot of complaints about the amount of times Posada trotted out to the mound to talk to his pitcher. And indeed that happened with maddening regularity. They almost always happened after a pitcher shook off the catcher's sign.

There were numerous times when this Fan literally screamed at the television to a particular sign given the pitcher in big situations. One that seems etched in this brain forever is a pitch to the Tampa Bay Rays' Dan Johnson. Johnson simply couldn't hit big league pitching. But the Rays always seemed to bring him up to face the Yankees and it always seemed to work. Dan Johnson hit 58 homers in his big league career. The eight he hit against the Yankees were his most against any other team. This writer can't remember the game, but at the time the Yankees and Rays were battling for first place in the division. Posada called the pitch and as soon as that finger was put down, this Fan started screaming and soon enough, Johnson was rounding the bases and the Rays had won the game. Perhaps it was the game on September 10, 2010 when Johnson hit two off of Phil Hughes.

Anyway, as you can see from this post so far, there is a lot of antipathy concerning Posada's career with the Yankees. And yet, when the numbers are compiled, they will show that since 1901, Jorge Posada was the fifteenth most valuable catcher by fWAR. Almost all the names in front of him are Hall of Fame players and others will be (Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez). By those same measurements, he was the twelfth most valuable offensive catcher since 1901. Those are hard numbers to argue.

And Posada had some memorable hits during the Yankees' post season history. But as this writer has said before, when you get that many chances, good things will happen on occasion. His post season offense wasn't particularly spectacular. His .745 post season OPS is pretty good but not terrific. He has been called a clutch player, but no numbers bear that out.

There is no chance for this writer to remain objective about Jorge Posada. He was an old friend on a favored team that maintained excellence from 1996 to the present day. He'll get a lot of attention when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame. Many will vote for him. He's got five rings on his fingers. But for this simple writer, give this Fan Joe Girardi or Russell Martin behind the plate any day of the week and not Jorge Posada.