Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The remarkable career of Yuniesky Betancourt

The baseball world has been filled with stories about remarkable baseball players whose careers may or may not be rewarded with a nod to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball writers who have a vote in such proceedings are filling columns on how remarkable they thought each career was. Those of us without a vote are doing the same and making fun or tearing our shirts asunder over the former. At least sixteen of the players on the HOF ballot had remarkable careers. But sometimes, a career can be remarkable for other reasons. Sometimes, a career can be remarkable because it exists at all. Yuniesky Betancourt is such a player. And not only is it remarkable that Betancourt has enjoyed nine seasons in the Major Leagues but according to MLBTradeRumors.com, that career will remarkably continue.

The theory behind the WAR statistic is that it measures the relative wins a player is above replacement. It is obvious to many that the two major statistic sites measure the statistic differently. But the theory is the same. The idea for general managers and baseball minds around the country is that a player will be above or better than replacement. The replacement part of that wording means your average minor league player that could come up and do the job instead.

Once that number is obtained, the general manager can then attempt to price a player accordingly based on how much a "win" is valued in the market. The cost of a "win" has been going up dramatically. What was worth $3.7 million just a couple of seasons ago, the "win" is now valued at $5 million and rising. With the cost rising, you better sign a player that will be worth that kind of money.

Yuniesky Betancourt is not that guy. According to the Society of Baseball Research that Baseball-reference.com uses to report how much a player has made in his career, Yuniesky Betancourt has made $15,755,000 in his career. I wrote out the full number so you could see how much it really is.

Based on that kind of money and going by today's valuation for "wins," you would expect Betancourt to have a career WAR of around 3.1. If only that was the case. B-R gives Betancourt's career rWAR as -2.5. Fangraphs.com is more generous and values his career at -0.7 fWAR. According to Fangraphs, this remarkable career has cost his teams a total of $6.8 million. In other words, Betancourt's career valuation is -$6.8 million.

And yet, it keeps on going. MLB Trade Rumor's headline reads: "Yuniesky Betancourt Drawing Interest." Why exactly? The story goes on to say that several teams are interested in him. That is remarkable.

It is even more remarkable in that Betancourt is no longer a shortstop. One could half blink in this day and age in the dearth of shortstop talent in baseball to understand why a terrible shortstop would have at least a little value in this market. But Betancourt has not played shortstop since 2011. He has played five games at that position in total in 2012 and 2013.

Okay, at least Betancourt played 46 games at second base in 2012, another up-the-middle position. But he only played five games there in 2013. He was a corner infielder (1B, 3B). And MLB Trade Rumors goes on to say that teams are interested in him as a corner infielder. Seriously.

Betancourt played 68 games at first base for the Brewers last season and 59 games at third. Last time I checked, those positions are considered offensive positions where a little defense is nice to have as well. And every time I check, I see that Betancourt has never been an offensive player. Well, he has been offensive, but that is a different use of the word.

From 2006 to 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, Betancourt's on-base percentage was .310, .308 and .300 respectively. He has not topped .288 since. His wOBA figures since then read like this: .273, .281, .280, .257. Yeesh. Betancourt will hit the occasional homer and has a career ISO of .127, so there is that I suppose.

Consider that Betancourt has a career walk rate of 3.3%. Consider that "Plate Discipline" and Yuniesky Betancourt are not synonyms. So he is a horrible offensive player. But he is also a terrible fielder. Fangraphs has his fielding at -63 runs. B-R puts that figure at -74 runs. So why exactly are teams beating down his door?

Since 2009, or from 2009 to 2013, Yuniesky Betancourt has been the worst player in baseball according to Fangraphs' leaderboard. If you set those years as parameters, his value in that time is -4.6. Nobody else is close. The next player to him is -3.6 (Kotsay). If you play with the headings, he has been the worst offensive player, even worse than that catcher named, Mathis. And he has been the 69th worst fielder (out of over 300 players!).

Let's get back to this replacement idea. I see no reason to believe that the Brewers could have done worse using Triple-A guys like Scooter Gennett or Hunter Morris in place of Betancourt. There is no way they could have provided less value on the field. And they would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper.

According to most reports, Betancourt is not a guy who is fine with a supporting role. He wants to play. He agitates to play. He still considers himself a starting player. So even if you go with the Joe Maddon-ish idea that Betancourt has some value because he can play five positions--which I don't--you still have a guy who isn't wired to think that way. Oh, he will do it. But he does not consider himself a role player. Well, maybe he does now, I don't know.

But still. The idea is that you fill your roster with guys who can at least be replacement level or better. Betancourt has not been that guy since at least 2009 and before that was a starter playing at close to replacement value. Yuniesky Betancourt is not a guy who is going to give you replacement value. Instead, he will cost a team close to a million dollars to be worse than replacement. And yet somehow, his career just keeps on going. Another contract and he will get his full ten-year pension in. And that, folks, is truly remarkable.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

And ode to Paul Blair

Did you know that Paul Blair, the great center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, played in the infield for the Yankees in 1978? Did you also know that he played a pivotal part in two post season wins for the Yankees? Read all about it here: http://itsaboutthemoney.net/archives/2013/12/28/paul-blair-yankee-infielder-and-post-season-hero/

Friday, December 27, 2013

Brad Peacock could show bright colors

Curiosity is a wonderful thing. This time of year, like everyone else, I spend a lot of time looking at mlbtraderumors.com to see what is going on in the baseball world. A little blip about Brad Peacock in a recent post caught my eye and made me curious. The little blip said the following:
"Jason Collette of Fangraphs examined the transformation that Astros righty Brad Peacock made after being sent down to the minors midway through the 2013 campaign. Peacock adopted a slider that made a world of difference for his repertoire, and as Collette notes, the changes were obvious to GM Jeff Luhnow, manager Bo Porter and catcher Jason Castro."
I took my curiosity and went and poured over Peacock's numbers, particularly in the second half and found some pretty surprising things. I then read Jason' Collette's piece and came away with the conclusion that the Astros just may have gotten some value after all in Peacock as part of the trade with the Astros for Jed Lowrie

When you first arrive at Brad Peacock's player page at baseball-reference.com, 2013 was not a pretty sight. He made 18 appearances and 14 starts and it all led to zero rWAR, an ERA of 5.18, a WHIP of 1.380 and 1.6 homers per nine innings. There is no way to slant those numbers to make them pretty. According to Fangraphs.com, his RA9-WAR was -0.2. Ugh. 

It is only by going to the splits that you see what Collette, Luhnow, Porter and Castro were talking about. But let's go a little bit further back than last year and take a broader look at Peacock's history. 

Brad Peacock was born in Palm Beach, Florida, which is pretty cool because that is where my mom lives. He must not have been that highly touted a high school prospect because he ended up going to a community college in that same community. Scouts could not have rated him that highly there either because he was not drafted until the 41st round (by the Nationals) in the 2006 draft.

Peacock then spent four years trudging through the low minors in unspectacular fashion. And then he suddenly had this magical year in 2011 that saw him combine a 15-3 record with a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He got called up to the Nationals at the end of 2011 and went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings that included three appearances and two starts. A 17-3 season with those ERA numbers were impressive enough to rank him as the 37th top prospect before the 2012 season by Baseball America.

He was then traded to the Oakland A's as part of the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. And his 2012 was not good at all. He spent the entire year in Triple-A in the PCL, a difficult place to pitch and everything fell apart. His ERA for the season topped six. His WHIP went over 1.5, his strikeouts dipped slightly and his walk rate rose.

Despite his bad season, the Astros, probably influenced by Kevin Goldstein, who was always high on him as Collette mentions, asked for him in the trade that sent Lowrie to the A's. Despite his poor Triple-A season, the Astros invited Peacock to Spring Training and he made the opening roster for 2013.

It could not have gone worse for Peacock in the early part of the 2013 season. He made five straight starts to open the season and lost three out of four decisions. His games scores for those starts (with 50 being average) were 51, 49, 47, 17, 26. He then was banished to the bullpen and made four outings more out there.

By the time he was sent down to the minors at the end of that run, his ERA was 8.07. His WHIP was 1.759. His strikeout to walk ratio was only 1.32. And he was getting hammered by homers. All batters combined to have an OPS against him of .998. Oy! It now seems obvious in hindsight that he was a pitch short of being a Major League pitcher.

The Astros did the right thing and sent him back down to the minors. And he was a pitch short, which he admitted as Collette mentioned in his article. The evidence is in his swing and miss rate. Even in his brief time with the Nationals in 2011, he only had eight swinging strikes in those twelve innings he pitched. And he only missed 26 bats in his first 138 batters he faced in 2013. 

According to Collette, Peacock discovered a slider down in the minors and he must have done so fairly quickly upon turning up there. He made fourteen appearances for Oklahoma City in the PCL and thirteen of those were starts. He went 6-2 with a 2.73 ERA. His WHIP was very good at 1.101 and his strikeout to walk ratio was 3.85. Something obvious had changed.

The Astros brought him back in early August and he came back with a bang (granted, it was against the Twins) and struck out ten batters in his first start back. His missed 13 bats in the outing. He had never before topped eight swinging strikes in his brief career.

August ended up a pretty good month for him. His ERA was still a bit high at 3.94. But his OPS against was a much better at .673.

What I really want to focus on is September. Brad Peacock was really good in September. His OPS against in four September starts was .622. His ERA in that month was 3.28 with a FIP of 2.80. His strikeout to walk ratio was 4.17 and his home run rate plummeted. Most impressively, his strike rate was over 64% in the month of September. 

If you look at his pitch type and at his PitchF/X totals, he did not throw a slider in the Majors until he returned from the minors in August. And yet that pitch was valued at 2.6 runs above average. He has found a real weapon to miss bats. As Collette mentions, he was more aggressive in the strike zone which allowed him to put away batters at a rate he had not achieved before (25%). 

Brad Peacock came back in August as a different pitcher. Now, two months do not make a career. I understand that. And we will have to see how he builds on it from here. But Brad Peacock is not getting any love from projections like Oliver and Steamer. But he could be a real sleeper and, if he stays healthy and does what he did at the end of 2013, could be a real good pitcher for the Astros in 2014. Remember his name because Brad Peacock could show bright colors in 2014.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Freddie Freeman - fabulous or fluky?

Freddie Freeman's first two years in the Major Leagues were remarkably similar. He finished his rookie season of 2011 with an OPS of .795. He then finished his second full season with an OPS of .796. Since Freeman was a first baseman which is supposed to be an offensive position, the two finishes seemed to indicate the kind of player Freeman was and it was not quite good enough. For example, he was the thirteenth best first baseman in 2012. But then 2013 happened and Freeman's OPS jumped a hundred points to .897 and suddenly he was the fifth best first baseman in baseball. Which is the real Freeman?

The two projection systems checked for this piece--Oliver and Steamer--both predict Freeman to be better than he was the first two years but not as good as he was in 2013. Do you buy that? Should we buy that? Projections are simply computer calculations based on historical data used to project future performance. Success of those projections are certainly better than flipping a coin, but certainly not in the 100% category of a biblical prophet.

So what should we expect from Freddie Freeman then? I literally poured over his numbers and devoured them like Christmas dinner and came up enthusiastic. There are two outstanding things that jumped out at me. The first was his age. Entering his fourth full time season, Freeman is only 24 years old. The second is that Freddie Freeman is a line drive machine.

The age thing really surprised me and it probably should not have if I was paying attention. I really had no idea he was that young. His next three to five years should be peak and he is learning on the job and adjusting well as he goes. Some recent studies have questioned the regression cycles that have long maintained that after the age of 28 or 29, regression is inevitable. The new studies seem to suggest that the age of regression starts younger. So perhaps Freeman is as good as he is going to get. But if that means his 2013 numbers, we'll take it.

Anyway, the line drive thing. If you have looked at batted ball data, line drives are the bomb. The Major League average BABIP on line drives was .664 in 2013. In other words, if you hit a hundred line drives over the course of a season, sixty-six of those will fall in safely. The problem is, very few hitters hit a hundred line drives over the course of a season.

Freddie Freeman hit 132 line drives in 2013! The average player in the Majors hits between eighteen and nineteen percent of his batted balls as line drives. Freeman's line drive percentages over the last three years? Try 23%, 26% and 26.7%. His prodigious line drive percentage rivals Votto's.

What has happened to those line drives over his past three seasons have been the major factor in his overall BABIP and thus his batting average. Remember I said that the average BABIP on line drives is .664. In 2011, when Freeman batted .285, his line drive BABIP was an incredible .795--way over average. In 2012, when his batting average fell to .259, his BABIP on line drives went down to just above league average to .667. In 2013, it rose again to .765. A remarkable 100 of Freeman's 2013 hits came on line drives in 2013!

Those numbers can be looked at two ways. First, you could figure that 2012 was a more realistic line drive BABIP since it was league average. But then again, two of his three seasons have been amazingly higher than league average and the fact that his spray chart shows his line drives going all over the field, lead me to think that the two high years are his norm and not 2012.

Freeman's fluctuating total BABIPs over the three years are probably one of the things that dampens his projections a bit. They were respectively: .339, .295 and .371. His BABIPs on ground balls and fly balls have been stable so the difference has been the line drives. If his spray charts were more mundane, I would tend to go with a dampened projection as well. But I don't think that will be the case.

The other thing to notice about Freeman is his consistent power numbers. His home run per fly ball rate has only risen slightly in three years. They were: 14.0%, 14.8% and 15% respectively. Thus, his home run total has been like a metronome with seasons of 21, 23 and 23. His overall OPS then would seem to continue with similar slugging and ISO numbers. Oliver projections, which does a five year projection, has his home run total pegged at 23 every year of the five years, which is somewhat comical.

It would seem natural that his power numbers would go up as he matures as a hitter. If that is the case, even if his line drive BABIP, that we talked about so much already, falls to league average, his slugging percentage should rise to make up the difference. I do not see any reason why he cannot raise his home run total to 30 in the coming years.

What else is there to like about Freeman? Well, there is also his splits, which improved greatly in 2013. His OPS against left-handed pitching in 2011 and 2012 were rugged with 2012 being slightly higher at just above .700. But that went up to a respectable .764 in 2013 and if he can maintain that or get even better against southpaws, then he will continue to improve as a hitter.

Another thing that I noticed was his success in 2013 in high leverage situations and with men in scoring position. Freeman was pretty abysmal in both of those situations in his first two full years. Last year, he was fantastic in both and perhaps that is another indication of his growth and maturity as a hitter.

One of the largest amount of negative feedback this site has ever seen was last year when I mentioned that Freeman was not much of a fielder at first base. Braves fans accused me of all kinds of boorish behaviors. Heh. The truth is that he has scored negatively at first base on both Fangraphs.com and on Baseball-reference.com. The two sites have not agreed at the level of that negativity. Fangraphs has been much harder on him than B-R.

But both sites showed great improvement in 2013. B-R has come to use BIS defensive runs above average for their WAR calculations and Freeman had a +7 in BIS for 2013. Fangraphs still has him at a -3, but that is a vast improvement over where they rated him before.

In either case, the bottom line is that he is improving his defense and either he is as good as Braves' fans suggest, or he is on his way to getting there. That much is sure at least. The bottom line on his fielding is that along with his hitting, Freddie Freeman has improved his net worth to the Braves and looks to continue doing so.

My only real worry about Freddie Freeman is the offense around him. In successive years, the Braves have lost Chipper Jones and now Brian McCann. The lineup does not look improved thus far in this off season and unless guys like Heyward, Uggla and the two Upton brothers get over their funks of recent years, Freeman might struggle to get pitches to hit. That combined with his relative impatience at the plate (he swung at 35% of pitches out of the strike zone in 2013) might hurt him.

But overall, I am bullish on Freddie Freeman. I think he has arrived as a star in the league and will continue to improve in the coming three or four years. I am falling on the Fabulous Freddie Freeman category and am calling his 2012 the fluke. We shall see in the coming years how correct I am...or not.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A photo quiz for a quiet holiday evening

My wife, Jayne, drew this in pencil in 1992. I love the piece to pieces!

Here is my quiz for you.  Can you guess the player who was the model for the art work?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

BBA Linkfest - General holiday greetings

I have not done this in a while and it is time to get back at it. I am the president of the General Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. General is such a bland word. I think of generic when hearing the word. But that is far from the case as you see the links below. General simply means that the writers of this chapter write about everything baseball and are not specifically a site about one team or fantasy baseball or something like that. They are a great group of people writing about baseball because they love it. This post is about their work.

What I do is go to each site and pick out one of the posts I find there. It is a time-consuming thing to do, but there is a lot of rewarding reading that occurs because of it. I have done the work for you, so all you have to do is click the link and enjoy yourself. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from this Flagrant Fan to you wherever you are.

The links:
A radio personality has issues with Matt Harvey. The Hall of Very Good rightly pokes a few holes in the stupidity of what the radio guy said.

In its most recent post, Off Base Percentage's Mike Hllywa took a look at the Yankees' spending spree this off season.

Over at The Golden Sombrero, Mike Rosenbaum posted some video from the recent Arizona Fall League featuring Austin Hedges, a Padres' prospect catcher.

This post from Grubby Glove is the oldest of the link list, but it was such a fine piece and such a noble thing, that I linked it anyway.

If podcasts are your thing (and I like them a lot), Eric and Jana from #Off the Bat presented by Number One Baseball had a great time discussing the off season.

TheNaturalMevs of Diamond Hoggers has some real juicy gossip for you concerning the Tigers and Prince Fielder. I needed a napkin for this one.

My friend, J-Doug is a brilliant, brilliant guy. His most recent post at Rational Pasttime gives us a real cool win probability map of the most recent World Series and David Ortiz's role in it.

Mike, over at The Sports Banter left a blueprint of what the Mets' off season should look like. At least one of his suggestions has already come true.

Our German entry, Dugout 24, has an interesting article (once translated - thank you Internet!) about aluminum bats.

Ben, of Ben's Baseball Bias, gave his thoughts on the trade between the Cardinals and Angels that swapped David Freese and Peter Bourjos.

Did you know that the Mets have a Santa Claus curse? Just ask David Wright. Michael Clair of Old Time Family Baseball has all the details.

I don't always agree with Sully of Sully Baseball. But he is easily one of the most entertaining podcasters in baseball today. Here is one of his latest.

The Sisco Kid put a lot of thought on the recent mega-contract of Robinson Cano for his most recent post at Baseball Sisco Kid Style. Definitely worth the read.

I met Dan, the author of Left Field, over the summer at a minor league game. He is not only a multi-talented writer and beer connoisseur, but a great family man and a terrific guy. And he is making head way in the baseball writing world and now writes for High Heat Stats and has his articles featured in a major newspaper. This post I have linked is also his work and it caps the year in music. Awesome stuff.

A lot has happened in the past year for my good friends at MLB Dirt. They are now part of the Field Rush network and are teeming with great writing talent. I am still a part of their roster, but haven't had time to write for them in forever. Here is one of their latest and greatest from Andrew Martin.

Mario Salvini of Che Palle! has some fun with the Matt Kemp gossip that has been keeping TMZ happy.

A lot has also happened with Call to the Pen over the last year as they have become a part of the Fansided network. They also have a large crew of talented writers. Here, one of them reports on the latest Jonathan Papelbon rumor.

One of my favorite buds, Daniel Day of The Ball Caps Blog, has some perspective of our weird money distribution in light of the Robinson Cano deal.

Through the Fence Baseball has to be one of the hardest working baseball blogs in our chapter. One of their terrific team of writers, Jake Mastroianni, has a fine piece on the rebuilding of the Chicago White Sox.

I also met Bryan at a minor league game this past summer and I came away so impressed. In one of the best posts I have read this year, Bryan talks about the 2013 Red Sox and his son. An amazing piece of writing over at Replacement Level Baseball Blog. Like Dan, Bryan also now writes for High Heat Stats.

Chuck Booth of MLB Reports (one of the most faithful #FF guys on Twitter!) has a terrific piece on Tommy John Surgeries over the years.

For the last three years, Graham Womack has invited the public to list the greatest 50 players not in the Hall of Fame. Theo of Hot Corner Harbor has a very interesting post about his selections.

In a really enjoyable piece, Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please has a great run down of free agent signings. I was torn between picking this piece or the previous one on what all second place teams needed. Cool idea!

Christopher Carelli has neared the big time as he is writing for Yahoo Sports. He deserves every success. His The Baseball Stance blog is a good place to keep up with his various writings and this one shows that he has been watching closely at what the Yankees are doing this off season.

Of all the links here, and I love them all, you HAVE to read this one over at The Baseball Enthusiast. You just HAVE to. Unbelievable writing.

Nik of Nik's Baseball Corner made all his free agent signing predictions back in November. It is fascinating to look back. Nik hits the nail on several and was way off on several. But it's all fun.

The heading of this piece about the Braves acquiring Ryan Doumit (or Dumbmitt as I call him) drew me in immediately. And it gave me a good laugh. But the article is good except for the part about Doumit being a respectable catcher. Check it out at Off the Bench Baseball.

A discussion of the 2013 season's best pitchers is the topic of the latest post over at Payoff Pitch.

Radical Baseball is one of our newer sites and is written by Kenneth Matinale. I love posts like this one on the worst left-handed batters against left-handed pitching over time. Great job.

Another of our newer sites is not happy with the Seattle Mariners' off season and not for the reasons you'd think. Check out Ben's entertaining post over at Know Hitter.

Dave, over at Baseball Roundtable has some Hall of Fame predictions and thoughts.

Did the BBA really get High Heat Stats!? In my chapter!? Woo! That site is the bomb! They used to be the blog for baseball-reference.com until that site stupidly cut it loose. This post by Doug on Seth Smith shows why the site is so great.

Another great new site to the BBA is Baseball Hot Corner. Here is that site's take on the Rangers' new deal with Shin-Soo Choo.

There you have it. Phew! I had forgotten how much time that takes. I was a young man when I started this post. Have a wonderful holiday season and here's to a very good baseball New Years to all of us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nick Franklin and his 50/50 future

One thing I learned a long time ago was not to make sweeping statements that I cannot back up with facts. Doing so is one reason that Tim McCarver was so often skewered by the Twitter crowd. Facts are much harder to argue about. I have been curious about Nick Franklin ever since Robinson Cano signed his mega-deal and made Franklin moot for the Mariners. That team has been taking trade offers and his market appears to be a strong one. If a team is successful in obtaining him, that team has about a 50/50 chance Franklin will improve on his rookie season.

I have a blessing and a curse in that I am very, very curious. That is a good thing in this day of number analysis in baseball. The curse is that I was very good at math when I was young, did not do anything with it and now do not have the chops today's market requires to boldly state number observations. But I dug in with Franklin anyway.

I saw that he was a first round draft pick for the Mariners back in 2009. I noted his more than respectable .819 OPS in the minors. I also noted that much of his minor league career was playing for teams in Arizona and California and includes two years in the PCL, a noted offensive league. So the two facts sort of equaled themselves out.

But I did note him making several top 80 prospects lists from 2011 to 2013. So people have been high on him. His team, which took him in the first round, now has no regular spot for him because it signed Cano and likes Brad Miller better as a hitter.

I dug a little deeper into his rookie season. I, naturally, figured that his home ballpark would have put some dent on his offensive numbers. I found just the opposite. Nick Franklin hit much better in Seattle than he did on the road. That was weird. Those away games do feature a lot of games against the Angels and A's, two teams that play in tough hitting parks.

I also noted that he slid hard in the second half of last season and had a major slump in August. I mused a little bit on Twitter about my confusion about Franklin and a very good follow that I follow piped in to my musings. Here is the brief discussion:

I like Howard Cole a lot and I respect him even more. But even respected people make those sweeping statements I was talking about. The "count him among thousands..." caught my attention the most.

So I did a search using Baseball-reference.com's Play Index. I searched for players since 1961 (53 years) who played their first year at the age of 22 and in their first year had more than 350 plate appearances (both true of Franklin). Doing so led to only 44 players since 1961. Nick Franklin's OPS finished 32nd among those 44 players. Using OPS+ would have been better, but I used OPS.

Of those 44, Franklin was joined in 2013 by fellow rookies, Arenado, Puig and Myers as new members of the start-at-22-and-get-350-plate-appearances club. So that leaves us 40 other players we can look at.

Of those 40, only thirteen players had a career OPS significantly higher than their rookie OPS. By significantly higher, I meant at least 20 points higher. They included guys like Pete Rose, Ellis Burks, Omar Vizquel and Will Clark. Just as many (13) finished with a career OPS that was lower than their rookie season OPS.

That leaves 14 players whose career OPS was very close to what they did in their rookie seasons. So maybe the 50/50 was generous.

That is not to say that Nick Franklin cannot be a useful player. He can. The Oliver projections for him show an OPS that does not move significantly at all over the next five years, but shows solid defense making him a two and a half to three WAR per season player for the next five seasons. Many teams would take that.

But those projections are based on his fielding holding up well and his batting being about as mundane as it was in 2013. That is hardly a clarion call for teams wanting to take a look at him. But, he is young and controllable (read: cheap) for a while and that is attractive in itself.

 I would certainly like someone to check my data as, again, it is not my strength. But from what I am seeing, the player some Mariners fans and other teams pine for has just as good a chance at panning out as he does of crapping out as a baseball player. As always, time will tell.

Player 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Career vs first yr
Austin Kearns 0.907 0.819 0.740 0.785 0.830 0.765 0.627 0.641 0.746 0.764 -0.143
Evan Longoria 0.874 0.889 0.879 0.850 0.896 0.842 0.870 -0.004
Andrew McCutchen 0.836 0.814 0.820 0.953 0.911 0.869 0.033
Gordon Beckham 0.808 0.695 0.633 0.668 0.694 0.694 -0.114
Nick Markakis 0.799 0.848 0.897 0.801 0.805 0.756 0.834 0.685 0.801 0.002
Will Clark 0.787 0.951 0.894 0.953 0.805 0.895 0.860 0.799 0.932 0.880 0.093
Pete Incaviglia 0.783 0.829 0.788 0.745 0.721 0.643 0.749 0.848 0.716 0.758 -0.025
Robinson Cano 0.778 0.890 0.841 0.715 0.871 0.914 0.882 0.929 0.899 0.860 0.082
Andy Van Slyke 0.777 0.723 0.774 0.795 0.866 0.851 0.677 0.832 0.801 0.792 0.015
Rafael Furcal 0.776 0.691 0.710 0.794 0.758 0.777 0.814 0.687 1.012 0.749 -0.027
Jason Kendall 0.773 0.825 0.884 0.939 0.882 0.693 0.706 0.815 0.789 0.744 -0.029
B.J. Surhoff 0.773 0.611 0.626 0.706 0.691 0.635 0.709 0.821 0.870 0.745 -0.028
Ellis Burks 0.765 0.848 0.836 0.835 0.736 0.744 0.793 1.066 0.856 0.874 0.109
Steve Kemp 0.765 0.778 0.941 0.851 0.809 0.808 0.718 0.771 0.664 0.797 0.032
George Scott 0.757 0.839 0.473 0.716 0.821 0.758 0.746 0.858 0.777 0.767 0.010
Chris Chambliss 0.749 0.724 0.732 0.645 0.770 0.765 0.781 0.703 0.764 0.749 0.000
Oddibe McDowell 0.735 0.767 0.751 0.666 0.724 0.652 0.718 -0.017
Ron Hunt 0.730 0.763 0.635 0.711 0.689 0.667 0.702 0.776 0.759 0.715 -0.015
Gerardo Parra 0.729 0.679 0.784 0.727 0.726 0.731 0.002
Blake DeWitt 0.728 0.633 0.709 0.718 0.705 -0.023
Garry Maddox 0.725 0.810 0.720 0.750 0.833 0.772 0.741 0.729 0.664 0.733 0.008
J.J. Hardy 0.711 0.693 0.786 0.821 0.659 0.714 0.801 0.671 0.738 0.740 0.029
Pete Rose 0.705 0.645 0.828 0.811 0.808 0.861 0.940 0.855 0.793 0.784 0.079
Everth Cabrera 0.703 0.557 0.347 0.648 0.736 0.672 -0.031
Chuck Knoblauch 0.701 0.743 0.699 0.841 0.911 0.965 0.800 0.765 0.848 0.783 0.082
Dave Collins 0.700 0.699 0.613 0.536 0.765 0.736 0.735 0.646 0.671 0.689 -0.011
Bernie Williams 0.686 0.760 0.734 0.837 0.878 0.926 0.952 0.997 0.957 0.858 0.172
Dale Sveum 0.682 0.757 0.621 0.560 0.685 0.570 0.620 0.538 0.676 -0.006
Mark Bailey 0.661 0.787 0.590 0.674 0.013
Mariano Duncan 0.633 0.589 0.589 0.641 0.821 0.699 0.680 0.721 0.713 0.688 0.055
Jerry Remy 0.622 0.615 0.633 0.671 0.697 0.700 0.706 0.661 0.639 0.656 0.034
John Bateman 0.583 0.543 0.637 0.781 0.495 0.635 0.578 0.658 0.623 0.621 0.038
Jack Brohamer 0.565 0.597 0.660 0.639 0.688 0.748 0.612 0.644 0.637 0.633 0.068
Enzo Hernandez 0.545 0.492 0.512 0.562 0.539 0.640 0.550 0.005
Omar Vizquel 0.534 0.593 0.595 0.692 0.618 0.650 0.684 0.779 0.715 0.688 0.154
Hector Torres 0.510 0.400 0.633 0.550 0.436 0.295 0.633 0.533 0.628 0.542 0.032


Monday, December 16, 2013

Ellis a perfect puzzle piece for the Cardinals

It is difficult to turn to the MLB Depth Charts page for the St. Louis Cardinals and find any holes on the team. While defense might be the only big "if" for the Cardinals, the addition of Mark Ellis will not hurt the defense while solidifying every position on the field. And the fact the Cardinals got Ellis on just a one year deal works perfectly with Kolten Wong being either ready for a bit more seasoning or to spend a year learning from Ellis on the Major League roster.

The Cardinals' off season has been darned near perfect. Last year, they had holes in center field and at shortstop. You could probably add third base to that list depending on how David Freese was going at the time. The additions of Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta and now Mark Ellis solidifies all of those positions.

Jon Jay's weakness in center became manifest in the post season. He was just slightly above average at the plate and a liability in center. Bourjos should be the same kind of hitter as Jay with more speed and has the ability over the course of 150 games to be one of the top fielding center fielders in the game.

And to be honest, he is going to need to be with Allen Craig in right and Matt Holliday in left. While both of those players are excellent offensively, they can be cringe-worthy on defense.

Big Matt Adams has power, something that has become a bit of a shortage in the Majors and thus, he is worth keeping at first for now. I think eventually, he will become a trade chip and Craig will play first with the monster talent of Oscar Taveras coming up by mid-season. Tavaras is one of the most exciting offensive talents in the minors right now.

Matt Carpenter can now follow up his breakout season by playing third base full time, which is his natural position. He held his own at second, but should be better over at third. Peralta will give up some range over Kozma, but the offensive production will be like night and day and Peralta makes all the plays hit at him at least.

But with Ellis, the Cardinals have two viable options at second. They can choose to delay the clock a bit on Wong and have Ellis put in 150 games or they can start Wong at Triple-A and come up for the second half of the season.

Ellis has been one of the most underrated second basemen of his generation. For one, he is not flashy at the plate and while much better than Kozma there, he will come in under league average with his bat. But defensively, Ellis has been consistently excellent and should provide solid up-the-middle defense whenever he is on the field.

Wong has hit at every level in the minors and struggled a bit in his brief tour at the Major League level last year. But if you look at his minor league stats, he should hit in the Majors if given the opportunity. Ellis gives the Cardinals choices on how fast they want to introduce Wong to that opportunity.

People get very annoyed when experts talk about how smart the Cardinals are with their organization. But gosh, the proof is in the pudding (cliche alert!). They came up just short last season and lost the World Series to the Red Sox. With six viable options in the rotation and a great bullpen, with Ellis, Peralta and Bourjos on board, the Cardinals are in even better shape heading into the 2014 season.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Taking Rick Reilly's point to the max

Rick Reilly, the writer for ESPN.com, recently caused a lot of conversation with his piece, "Guilt by Association." And the conversation is understandable because the piece was all about newly elected managers, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa getting a pass into the Hall of Fame because "the three managers being inducted oversaw at least 34 players who've been implicated as PED users and never noticed a thing wrong." Naturally, any conversation that includes PEDs leads to polarizing views. Half of Twitter is shouting, "Right on!" While others are saying it is the worst thing ever written.

While my position on the PED players and era is firmly established in the, "I don't care" category and do not believe in banning any players or managers from the Hall of Fame, you might think that this piece will fall on the bashing Rick Reilly side of things. But I am not going to do that. This is America after all and everyone is entitled to their opinion. It was not long ago that everyone was piling on Rob Neyer for something he said, and yet, he was bashing Reilly today. 

Instead of focusing on the writer and on his intent or moralistic leanings here, I would rather focus on the logic of what he is saying. And if I paraphrase the entire thing, then he is saying in a nutshell that if the players are not getting a pass on the PEDs they may or may not have used, then the managers who were in charge of those players should not get a pass either.

In one aspect, he is right in that players did things they should not have done and the managers may or may not have known they are doing those things. So by either turning a blind eye or at worst, not paying attention, they are guilty by association.

So that should then mean that no manager from the PED era should ever make it into the Hall of Fame because perhaps as high as 60 to 80% of all players in the game were probably using. If you take Reilly's logic to the max, shouldn't that be the case? Forget about it, Jim Leyland or Joe Maddon or Mike Scioscia or any others that might have a case in the future.

If you are going to make this argument, then you have to take it all the way. The common belief is that all segments of the baseball society fell down the rabbit hole in the PED era. The scouts, the commissioner, the league presidents, the managers, the general managers, the trainers, the union, the publicists, the agents, and yes, the writers and broadcasters all had to know that something was not right in the game and yet it happened anyway. They were all complicit.

Take Reilly's assertion to the maximum and Bill Madden of New York, Nick Peters of San Francisco, Rick Hummel of St. Louis, Tracy Ringolsby of Denver and Peter Gammons should not have gotten a free pass to the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. 

Madden covered New York sports including many of the same players Joe Torre is being accused about. Peters certainly witnessed the Barry Bonds superhero show. Hummel should be just as complicit as LaRussa. Ringolsby was writing when Matt Williams was playing and others in Denver. And nobody knew more people or had more connections in the game in his heyday than Peter Gammons. So take those on too, Mr. Reilly.

Speaking of Matt Williams: Now that he is a manager, what is going to happen if he wins ten World Series in his managing career? What a mess that will be, eh?

And what of broadcasters who often traveled with these players and stayed in the same hotels. Should Jack Buck have gotten the Ford C. Frick Award? He called McGwire's homers after all. What about Eric Nadel who was voted in this year after his lifetime of broadcasting the Rangers. Did one broadcaster cover more PED users than Nadel? Bob Uecker has covered Ryan Braun's career since the beginning. Should "Uke" be a Frick Award winner?

No, this blame and punishment thing can go on and on and thus it is all pointless. You cannot erase history by executing all those who participated in the bad things that happened. You cannot have a Hall of Fame that does not include the best players of their era. You cannot have a Spink Award without the best writers and the Frick Award without the best broadcasters.

Let it go. The numbers are staying. There are no asterisks. The players that created them, the managers who managed them and the writers and broadcasters that breathlessly reported them all need to be drawn in the times that they played, managed, wrote and broadcast. Blame does not get us anywhere. Heck, even the commissioner is going to be in the Hall of Fame someday. My point and response to Rick Reilly is not to blast him but to simply remind him that the entire game of baseball, including those who covered and broadcast it, are guilty by association.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bad pitchers are like bad boyfriends

The first day of my senior year in high school provided a shock. With my head on the desk in homeroom, attendance was being called and the name, Felicia Rivera, rang out. I suddenly lifted my head. That was the name of my first boy-crush in the sixth grade. I looked around and spotted this raven-haired beauty wearing a mini-dress in the back of the room. It was her but all grown up. I caught her after homeroom and indeed, it was the same girl who had moved away to Florida a week after I gave her an ID bracelet. Unfortunately, since she moved back, she had already found a boyfriend.

Still, I got to know her and got her a job where I worked. She did not have a car, so every day after school, I stopped at her house so she could get dressed and then I took her to work with me. She told me stories about how cruel her boyfriend was to her. I tried to convince her to take up with me instead and she always laughed and said I was too nice.

That pattern has gone on probably forever. Young girls are drawn to bad guys. The rogues with the leather coats with the shady criminal records. Nice guys finish last. This might be in part because of some motherly instinct that believes with a lot of love, the bad boy can change. Some do, most do not. 

So what does that have to do with this being a baseball forum? Well...bad pitchers are a lot like bad boyfriends. Teams cannot help themselves and believe a bad pitcher can change. How else could you explain that within hours of each other the Phillies would sign Roberto Hernandez and the Pirates would sign Edinson Volquez?

And these two have been really bad pitchers. And like bad boyfriends, the teams that signed them think they can change what they are. Good luck with that.

The Padres and Dodgers already tried with Volquez. Teams are tantalized by his one golden season when he came in fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2008. But then he was hurt much of 2009 and 2010 and when he was not hurt, he was awful. 

The Red eventually got very tired of him and he was a throw in for the big deal that sent Mat Latos to the Reds. The Padres thought they could fix Volquez. Plus, they had a much more favorable ballpark for him to pitch his home games.

It did not work. After sixty starts with a 1.545 WHIP and a -1.5 rWAR, the Padres gave up and released him. Thinking they too could fix him, the Dodgers picked him up soon after...for a pennant race, no less. Volquez responded with an 0-2 record for the Dodgers in six starts. Yeah, that helped their cause. 

So now the Pirates waltzed over to the boy with the leather jacket and think they can change the guy who had the worst RA9-WAR in all of baseball last year. Volvquez has pitched parts of nine seasons in the Majors. He has pitched 850 innings. His career WHIP is 1.505. In all of those years and starts and innings, he has compiled 1.7 rWAR. Bad boys don't change, honey.

Roberto Hernandez burst on the scene in 2007 as Fausto Carmona, a fake name with a fake age and who knows what else was fake about him. He won 19 games that season and earned a 6.2 rWAR. That was then, this is now. In that one season, he earned 6.2 rWAR, so you would figure his career WAR would be over that, right? Wrong. It sits at 4.7. That is a whole lot of ugly pitching in between.

The Rays thought they could fix him. The Rays can fix anybody. Heck, they even made James Loney look good. They could not fix Roberto Hernandez. On an otherwise winning team, he went 6-13. A ground ball specialist, he has one problem: Just about every non-ground ball goes over the fence. Granted, that might be fluky that a pitcher would have a 20% home run to fly ball rate.

That could be what the Phillies are thinking. After all, Hernandez throws strikes and he throws them often. They can fix him! Good luck with that.

But it has always been this way. Remember Sidney Ponson? Phil Hughes found a home. Harang and Saunders will again too. Heck, the Minnesota Twins make a charity drive of such pitchers every year. Someone is always falling in love with the bad boy thinking he will change. They rarely do. Sometimes, bad is just bad.