Saturday, January 25, 2014

Joe Torre versus Joe Girardi in bullpen usage

I have long been curious if Joe Torre really did beat up his bullpens and if Joe Girardi was as good with bullpens as his reputation. So I crunched their numbers and spit out my results in a post over at It's About the Money, Stupid. I hope you go over there and enjoy it.

BBA Linkfest - General snow drifts

Welcome to another edition of the BBA Linkfest, where I scour the earth for links from my fellow members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance general chapter. "General," here means that the sites that make up our chapter do not focus on one particular team, but all of baseball and in some cases, all of life. The title of this post comes from staring out my window at another gray, wintry day where the wind is howling and it seems like I live in the frozen tundra. Reading these writers at the very least makes me think of spring and better times when baseball again will be here.

Before I start linking to our sites, special mention has to be given to Michael Clair and his Old Time Family Baseball. Clair, a hilarious individual who gives me great pleasure from his writing and his Twitter persona, completed his third annual blogathon last weekend to benefit Doctors Without Borders. Not only did Clair exceed his goal by a landslide, but he also brought together hundreds of the best baseball writers in the land who submitted work for him for the weekend. I salute Michael Clair and all those writers that made the goal just a stopping point on the final total. Great work, everyone. And trust me, you could spend an entire day reading all those excellent posts. So do it! I also love his recent post on one of his favorite players of the past.

And here we go with the links!

Justin Miller is a good baseball guy and I like his articles and his prospect scouting reports. This post talks about the recent signing of Grady Sizemore, a guy who most of us are rooting for in his comeback. InsideTheMLB is the site's heading.

Over at the Baseball Hot Corner, Jason Leary has a great post titled, 5 Tattoo Ideas for Tortured A's Fans. You have to check that out, right?

I am so pleased that High Heat Stats has joined the general chapter. This is a world class site that started on as that site's blogging crew. They have only gotten better as they left B-R and have gained new writers (many from our crew here in the general chapter!). Their post I am featuring today is written by Doug and is so packed with information, you need to set aside some good quality time. But read it!

David, over at has a great post about prospects to watch in 2014. Great stuff.

Over at Know Hitter (I love that title), there is a suggestion for what the Mariners' new acquisition, Corey Hart, should play.

Kenneth Matinale of Radical Baseball has an interesting post in which he takes issue with the Yankees' off season strategy. I'm not sure I agree, but that's what makes baseball so great!

The Playoff Pitch site has had a series going with breaking down 2014 teams, which is always a fun exercise. The latest one is on the 2014 Red Sox.

Off the Bench is an interesting and fairly new site not afraid to make bold stances. Take, for example, this post and then the response gotten from that post. Makes for fun reading.

I enjoyed the post over at Baseblog94 on the Cubs' new manager, Rick Renteria.

Even though it is not a recent post, I am constantly moved by Stevo-sama's post about his father over at The Baseball Enthusiast. It was reposted from Baseblog94 with additional pictures. Very moving.

One of the great things about my affiliation with the BBA is watching all these folks who become friends who go on to better things. Chris Carelli is a great guy and a great writer whose The Baseball Stance featured his stuff. The site now provides summaries and links to his work for Yahoo Sports along with the occasional full piece. Very cool and I am happy for him.

Matt Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please takes a stab and listing the top ten shortstops in the Major Leagues today. How many do you agree with? Matt and I definitely agree on the number one name.

In his latest post, Grubby Glove talks about where he has been. I'm just glad he's back!

Theo of Hot Corner Harbor has another of his usually thoughtful posts on predicting the Hall of Fame. Interesting stuff.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, For Baseball Junkies compiled a list of the most questionable votes by the writers.

Chuck Booth of the always reliable MLB Reports talks about the the first week of the season and Australia. BTW, I always appreciate the site's #FF support each week.

My buddy, Bryan O'Conner, of Replacement Level Baseball also talks about the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Stats. Did you know that he is better looking than Ben Affleck?

Through the Fence Baseball has really continued to expand and get better each year I have done this. They have become a don't miss site! For example, here is one-of-a-kind content on the best freshmen college baseball players of 2014.

Dan at The Ball Caps Blog had an interesting take on Richard Sherman's bombastic interview. But if we stick to baseball, his amusing take on Phillies fans is a fun read.

Call to the Pen is another site that has grown tremendously since I have been doing this. They are now part of the Fansided network. Cool on them. Dan Zinski's report on Tony La Russa's HOF logo is a case in point of why they are where they are.

Italy's Che Palle! by Mario Salvini shares an amazing picture he found on Twitter. It is amazing too.

Another site that has come a long way is MLB Dirt, which is now part of the Field Rush network. Alas, I used to write there semi-regularly and have great guilt that I no longer have the time to do so. Jonathan Mitchell is one of the greatest guys on the planet and his feature recently covered Grant Balfour returning to the Rays and that C-word.

Another great bud is Dan from the Left Field site who also writes for High Heat Stats. Dan is a real interesting guy with a great family and what I like about his site is that it features baseball, his favorite music and his love of craft beer. Check out his recent playlist.

The Sisco Kid of Baseball Sisco Kid Style hit the nail on the head with his HOF picks, which is pretty amazing. Whether I agree that it should have only been three or not is neither here nor there.

The always interesting Sully of Sully Baseball has probably the best solution I've heard to the problem of which hat to wear to the Hall of Fame for those chosen. Good solution! Interesting post!

Ben's Baseball Bias salutes the three HOF inductees.

If you've ever wondered how a baseball is made, Dugout 24 has just the video for you!

The Sports Banter posted some interesting, sometimes hilarious and random thoughts in a recent post.

Clint of Diamond Hoggers is part of one of my favorite baseball podcast teams. And I don't just say that because they invited me to join them once. The latest installment is linked here.

Mike Hilywa has a real fun post over at Off Base Percentage on Australian baseball. I love the pic and the heading too.

Apparently, Jack Morris is tired of getting scrutinized by baseball writers. Shawn Anderson of The Hall of Very Good gives us all the details.

There are the links, but before I go, I figured I would leave you with one toot of my own horn. Your favorite Fan recently garnered his first ESPN byline. Very cool for me!

See you next time and stay warm! Baseball season will get here eventually.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The fine wine of Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre has been perhaps the most unappreciated player in baseball over the past four seasons. They have been four seasons in which he has averaged thirty-one homers and a hundred runs batted in and a .385 wOBA. According to the leaderboard, Beltre has been the fifth best position player in the Major Leagues during that time. In fact, if Adrian Beltre were to never play another game, he would be the eighth best third baseman of all time. Six of the seven in front of him are in the Hall of Fame. The seventh, Chipper Jones, will be.

Beltre's consistency has been remarkable. You may--if you think of Beltre at all--think that his success over the last three years would be from hitting in Texas half of the time. And yes, Texas is a great place to hit. But Beltre does not have Nelson Cruz-like splits. His wOBA at home last year was .891 and on the road it was .879. In fairness, the splits were a little more dramatic his first two years in Texas and perhaps facing the Astros helped in 2013.

But look at his wOBA over the last four years. They are, in order from his year in Boston to last year: .391, .381, .388, .379. That is a great four-year spread. Beltre's triple slash line over the four years: .314/.358/.545. Nice.

But of course, Beltre is not just a great hitter. There has also been his defense at third. Beltre is currently ninth on's all time total zone runs for third basemen. Perhaps Beltre is slowing down a bit. His numbers on both and went into barely negative territory for 2013 for the first time in his career. And this has been part of a slow decline in his fielding numbers over the last four years.

But regression as a player probably shows up more on the field than anywhere else. He is heading into his age 35 season after all. So how much longer will Beltre be a great player? If history tells us anything, perhaps three more seasons.

I studied the WAR graphs of some of the great third basemen over time. I left off Mike Schmidt because he blows away the curve. But when comparing Beltre to Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Chipper Jones, and Ron Santo, only Santo was done by Beltre's age. The others all had three more productive seasons after Beltre's current age and then leveled off.

Take a look at the WAR graphs of some of these greats:

Source: FanGraphs -- Chipper Jones, Adrian Beltre, George Brett

What I find remarkable about this chart is how similar all those careers were. Not only that, how well Beltre stacks up against all those great third basemen. For his age, he is right there with all of them at similar points in their careers. And, again, only Santo was done by age 34. 

Adrian Beltre has been a terrific player over his entire career. He has done it with the bat and with the glove. His statistics with the bat over the last four years show consistency and have been prolific. When you watch Adrian Beltre play a baseball game, don't just think of him currently as one of the better players in the game. Think of him as one of the best third basemen of all time.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Can the Seattle Mariners compete in 2014?

Last night I was tweeting that writing was coming hard for me lately. After cranking out over 3,000 long-form posts over the last five years, the cupboard has gotten a bit empty. After bemoaning my state, a long-time Twitter bud, Chris Cochran (@kingkube), suggested I write about the Seattle Mariners' chances of winning the AL West. I wrote back that I had to believe that was a possibility before I could write it. But for Chris' sake and since Mariners fans are about as passionate as there are in baseball, let's take a look anyway.

Before we start assessing where they currently are, we need to look at what happened last year. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mariners ranked 22nd out of 30 teams in runs scored, 26th in runs allowed giving them the 26th worst scoring differential in baseball. The team's Pythagorean win/loss record should have been 67-95, but the team actually won 71 games.

On top of this tough season, stories blew up from their former manager and a former front office guy that the organization was a disaster and they are currently looking for a new president of team operations. All these factors do not point to a pretty picture.

But the Mariners made a gigantic splash into the free agent pool and got the biggest fish of the off season in Robinson Cano. Most Mariners fans are not mindful at the staggering cost and years of the contract and instead are focusing on the short term benefits, as they should. Cano is going to help.

They also signed Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison. On top of those items of good news, they will start the season (so it seems) with two great prospects in the rotation with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, who won't have to pitch all that well to beat the likes of Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang and Brandon Maurer (though I am not giving up on Maurer just yet).

Such developments lead Mariners fans to hope for much better results in 2013. But will they be enough? The A's are still tough, the Rangers have weakened a bit and the Angels should be better. Is there any chance at all they can leap frog all of those teams this coming season?

Let's look at the starting lineup:
  • Batting First (projected): Dustin Ackley. Mariner leadoff batters had an on-base percentage of .296 last season (Yuck!) and an OPS of .688. Ackley has a career OBP of .315 and while that is not very good either, he showed ability to get on base in the minors. He is still young and could finally start to figure things out. Improvement possibility here.
  • Batting Second: Kyle Seager. The batting order position for the Mariners had a .700 OPS in 2013. Seager had a .764 OPS last year, so that is a big improvement. Seager has to figure out how to hit in his home ballpark. His OPS on the road was 147 points higher in 2013 and 189 points higher for his career. If he can lick that, he can be a star.
  • Batting Third: Robinson Cano. The third batters in the Mariners' lineup compiled an OPS of .697 in 2013. If Cano cannot beat that by more than 150 points, it will be a huge disappointment. He should considering his history.
  • Batting Fourth: The fourth batter in 2013 for the Mariners had a compiled OPS of .782. It was their most productive batting order position with Kendrys Morales batting there. He is not back and Corey Hart takes his place. Hart has a lifetime OPS of .824 and he has been around that area consistently. But the Mariners play in a park that is much tougher on offense than in Milwaukee and Hart has missed an entire season. He should be able, despite all this to at least equal .782.
  • Batting Fifth: Justin Smoak: While Smoak still has a ways to go to prove he can be an offensive threat in MLB, his OPS last season was .746, or 57 points higher than what Mariners' fifth batter hitters compiled last year.
  • Batting Sixth: The sixth batter for the Mariners was their second most productive in the lineup with an OPS of .782 in 2013. Logan Morrison is penciled into that lineup slot according to MLB Depth Charts. Morrison's career OPS is .764, but has not risen above .709 the last two seasons. My thought is that he will finish around .730 to .740. So I am giving this position in the order a -42 points.
  • Batting Seventh: Michael Saunders. Saunders had a .720 OPS in 2013 and the batting order position for the Mariners compiled a .717. So let's call that one a wash.
  • Batting Eighth: This one is difficult because new catcher, Mike Zunino is there backed up by John Buck. Zunino was fast-tracked with only two years of minor league ball. His .775 OPS in Triple A and .690 in his brief MLB experience gives some indication that perhaps .730 is a decent range for him. Buck is a career .701 OPS guy. But combined, they should beat last year's .650 OPS by Mariner eighth place hitters by 50 points.
  • Batting Ninth: Brad Miller finished his short season at the MLB level at .737 and was much higher consistently in the minors. A .750 OPS is not a stretch for him this year and it could be much higher. Mariner ninth batters compiled a .530 in 2013, so we have a 200 point plus there--at least when the pitcher does not have to bat there during interleague games.
As you can see, the offensive is actually looking quite improved this season. Every position in the batting order except one should be better, most by a long shot. If Walker and Paxton are the real deal and greatly enhance the rotation after Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and the bullpen can be better anchored from the beginning of the season with Lord Farquhar, then perhaps the optimism is warranted.

Will the Mariners compete in 2014? Maybe I am more optimistic than when I started this process. But all these things mentioned have to go well just to get them close to the A's and the rest of the AL West. It should be a lot more interesting to watch than I originally thought.

Leadoff batters, where are you?

Everybody has their own idea of what a leadoff batter should be. Some think it should be the fast guy who can steal bases. Others like the speed / power combination. Some think that the leadoff batter should be the guy with the best on-base percentage. Some, writing in the past, focus on OPS. I tend to favor one or two of the latter. But if I had to commit myself, my preference would be the guy with the best on-base percentage who is not necessarily the elite hitter on the team.

The elite hitter usually bats third or fourth and the long-standing theory is that the leadoff guy gets on base and the big guys get him home. If they are also speed guys, that's great as long a they can be successful stealing 80% of the time. If they have some pop, that's also great. But the bottom line, for me, is that the first guy in the lineup can get on base at least 35% of the time.

I compiled the league spit total for all of the Major Leagues for the past fifty years. And except for one golden age we will talk about in a minute, the collective of MLB leadoff batters have not been overly more successful of getting on base better than the collective of MLB batters as a whole. See the chart below:

The last four years is the first four-year stretch since the early to mid-1960s where the collective leadoff batters did not average a .330 on-base percentage. The downturn follows the overall downturn in offense over the last four years.

But as you can also see, the current offense is similar to the offense of the mid-1980s but that was also the dawn of a golden age of leadoff batters that lasted until 1995 or so. That was the period of Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Lenny Dykstra, Tim Raines, Brett Butler and even Bip Roberts. All those guys were terrific at getting on base despite whatever the league averages were and dragged the entire category up with them.

The average year for a leadoff batter resulted in an on-base percentage of about 10 points higher than all players as a whole. During those glory years, it often rose as high as 18 points. 

Why is that significant? Some writers have suggested that a good leadoff batter can add as much as 15 runs to his team. Generally, leadoff batters have a thousand plate appearances league-wide more than the number three hitter on the team, or about 33 more plate appearances for each of the thirty teams. 15 runs is a little more than a win. A win is worth $5 to $6 million. A win could also make a difference in the standings.

I have found in my research that unless the collective of leadoff batters have an on-base percentage of .330 or higher, they will not score more collective runs than the number three batters in the league. And that is for a thousand more plate appearances! So, yes, it does make a difference.

As I stated, the last four years, the collective leadoff batters (by the way, I am using's league splits) have averaged less than a .330 on-base percentage. This past season (2013), only six leadoff batters--or one-fifth of all teams--had a leadoff guy whose on-base percentage was over .350: Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Carpenter, Norichika Aoki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kinsler and Jose Reyes.

Is it any surprise that two of those guys were two of the highest paid free agents this off season and another, Kinsler, was part of one of the biggest trades?

As recently as 2009, there were fifteen leadoff batters (I have been using 400 min. plate appearances at the position) whose on-base percentage was over .350. So we went from half of all teams to a fifth. In 2008, there were fourteen. In 2007, there were fourteen. But there have been only six for the past three seasons.

Perhaps the leadoff batter has become a market inefficiency. Or perhaps the trend simply indicates a pitcher dominated era. There also might be a reflection of the acceptance of the strikeout as just another out somewhere in the mix too. Whatever the case, the leadoff batter is not what it used to be even as recently as 2009.

Lead off
Year OBP LG OBP Difference
1963 0.318 0.309 0.009
1964 0.317 0.313 0.004
1965 0.318 0.311 0.007
1966 0.324 0.310 0.014
1967 0.307 0.306 0.001
1968 0.314 0.299 0.015
1969 0.331 0.320 0.011
1970 0.335 0.326 0.009
1971 0.325 0.317 0.008
1972 0.315 0.311 0.004
1973 0.336 0.325 0.011
1974 0.336 0.324 0.012
1975 0.340 0.327 0.013
1976 0.328 0.320 0.008
1977 0.339 0.323 0.016
1978 0.323 0.330 -0.007
1979 0.342 0.326 0.016
1980 0.348 0.320 0.028
1981 0.330 0.324 0.006
1982 0.329 0.325 0.004
1983 0.343 0.323 0.020
1984 0.333 0.323 0.010
1985 0.333 0.326 0.007
1986 0.333 0.331 0.002
1987 0.349 0.331 0.018
1988 0.336 0.318 0.018
1989 0.332 0.320 0.012
1990 0.345 0.325 0.020
1991 0.343 0.323 0.020
1992 0.342 0.322 0.020
1993 0.350 0.332 0.018
1994 0.349 0.339 0.010
1995 0.350 0.338 0.012
1996 0.350 0.340 0.010
1997 0.347 0.337 0.010
1998 0.347 0.335 0.012
1999 0.349 0.345 0.004
2000 0.349 0.345 0.004
2001 0.331 0.332 -0.001
2002 0.332 0.331 0.001
2003 0.333 0.333 0.000
2004 0.343 0.335 0.008
2005 0.342 0.330 0.012
2006 0.343 0.337 0.006
2007 0.345 0.336 0.009
2008 0.345 0.333 0.012
2009 0.347 0.333 0.014
2010 0.329 0.325 0.004
2011 0.328 0.321 0.007
2012 0.324 0.319 0.005
2013 0.329 0.318 0.011
0.335 0.326 0.010