Friday, March 28, 2014

Not buying the Jason Bartlett chemistry angle

Jason Bartlett's comeback attempt after sitting out 2013 was a curiosity when Spring Training began. And when the NRI invite by the Minnesota Twins turned into a spring without any hits, the thought was the comeback attempt was doomed as much as Abreu's was with the Phillies. But despite a 3 for 36 spring, Bartlett has made the Twins!? This linked article describes the decision as due to Bartlett's flexibility and what he can add to the chemistry of the team. Are you buying that?
I, for one, am not. There are only two possibilities at work here. The first is that the Twins actually believe in this chemistry thing and, as the article linked above states, feel the team needs leadership to move forward or this reeks of a team helping an old friend reach his tenth year of Major League service thereby qualifying for the added retirement benefits such a milestone gives a player.
Let's look at the possibilities one at a time.
Let's say that the team is serious about this chemistry thing. The first thing this says is that the team does not believe in the leadership abilities of Joe Mauer and some of the other veterans. That makes Mauer and others a symptom of a "losing environment." Is that a fair assessment because the team has fallen on hard times? Is that a good message about Mauer and others?
How much stock is put in this "chemistry" or "leadership" thing? Can players who no longer have the ability to perform at a Major League level really respected by their teammates? Let's say you and me are working in a factory on an assembly line or something and one of our co-workers is a veteran of many years but can no longer keep up with the things we do. Do we respect that? Maybe. Maybe not.
Nobody predicts the Twins to make significant gains this season. The team may be a couple of years off from being competitive again. Does a stopgap "chemistry" guy like Bartlett make much difference in what will happen years from now? I cannot buy it or wrap my head around it.
I know from what many former players say that most believe that "good clubhouse guys" are a legitimate concept for players. But does that really mean anything? Kevin Millar was a great clubhouse guy for the Red Sox when he was producing. Did his shtick still mean the same when he was no longer able to produce? I don't think so.
Bartlett says that he learned about clubhouse dynamics from Torii Hunter. Didn't Hunter throw his ex-Twin teammates under the bus when he said they were afraid of the Yankees? I don't know. It seems to me that perhaps there is something to be said for veterans who can "police" a clubhouse. But leadership comes from the managers and coaches, or it should. Is Gardenhire the right guy for this current situation? Does Bartlett really help him if he can no longer contribute as a player?
Bartlett was not in the Majors last year because he career basically sank beneath the waves. After his one very good year in 2009, his career and wRC+ sank like a rock and his defense suffered toward the end too. You could blame his spring to rust after missing a year. But three singles in thirty-six plate appearances is perhaps more rust than can be scraped off.
My feeling is that all this talk is nice, but is a smokescreen for what is really happening here. Bartlett was sitting at home and at some point said to himself, "Hmm, I need another year to guarantee me $100,000 for a pension." He then called some old friends like Terry Ryan and said, "Hey, can I come to Spring Training?"
Ryan, needing all the help he could get took the flier and perhaps was complicit in his old friend's desire for one more year of service. I would not have trouble with any of that if Bartlett could still contribute. But I don't think he can. Perhaps I will be proven wrong and eat my words. If so, great for the Twins and good on Bartlett. But I wouldn't take a bet on it.
The bottom line for me has always been the same. Any team in question has a moral obligation to paying customers to put the best product out the team can. Whatever reason Jason Bartlett is on the team, whether it be as a "chemistry" teacher or as a guy getting a break to get his ten-year plateau in, is not fulfilling that obligation.  That's just my two cents and a cup of coffee.
If Bartlett doesn't last more than a couple of months on the team before being jettisoned, then we will have our answer and it will stink a bit. Because a chemistry teacher needs more time than that if you believe in such things.

Josh Thole's knuckleball mitt beats out Kratz's bat

The Toronto Blue Jays made their decision on a backup catcher yesterday when they kept Josh Thole and sent Erik Kratz to the minors. From the outside looking it, it appears that Thole's one skill set determined the outcome--his experience with R.A. Dickey.
I should say in advance that I was rooting for Erik Kratz. So anything I write on this subject could be prejudicial. I admit it. I was rooting for Kratz because of his perseverance.  The guy toiled in the minor leagues for twelve years and finally received a real taste of the Majors for the Phillies in 2012 and 2013.
Someone who spends twelve years in the minors and parts of eight seasons in Triple-A seem to deserve a shot. That kind of career is as blue collar as his name. And Kratz has shown some pop in his brief Major League experiences. He hit nine homers in each of his last two seasons with the Phillies or eighteen in just 378 at bats.
But Josh Thole has been R.A. Dickey's personal catcher for three years now. Thole seems willing to put on the knuckleball mitt and try to catch butterflies. And it seems understandable to a point. After all, Thole has caught 70 of Dickey's 102 starts since 2011.
There has to be a comfort factor for Dickey with Thole. His ERA when pitching to Arencibia or Blanco last year were much higher than with Thole. And that holds true with the last three seasons with the exception of Mike Nickeas who caught him more successfully than even Thole when with the Mets. Nickeas is also with the Blue Jays organization now which is not really a surprise.
It would take some study which I don't have time for this morning to see if Thole has actually been more successful catching Dickey than others (passed balls, wild pitches, caught steals, etc.). Doing so would perhaps prove or disprove the catcher ERA thing.
But one thing is known: Josh Thole is going downhill as an offensive player. His OPS has gone down for four years in a row and fell into the abyss last season at .497. Ouch. Kratz, meanwhile had hit .400 this spring and could have added some pop into the Blue Jays' lineup when he played. That is something Thole could not give them.
The question lies open on whether Dickey's comfort level and success with Josh Thole is worth the ten or so runs the Blue Jays will lose with Kratz's offense. Without further study, I cannot answer the question. I just know that I am bummed for Erik Kratz.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The crystal ball shows us all

Here at the FanDome, Crystal Ball Day is the same as Groundhog Day. It only happens once a year, people are mildly curious about what happens and then everybody forgets all about it. This is my sixth year doing this post right before the start of the season. The old sphere doesn't pass the biblical test because it's only correct about 37% of the time. Even my game picks do better than that. Despite all that, let's take a deep gaze and see what we can see.
  • Derek Jeter will play more games than Jose Reyes.
  • Phil Hughes will win thirteen games for the Twins.
  • Albert Pujols puts up a .900 OPS.
  • The Angels will be the best team in the AL West.
  • Don Mattingly will say everything is fine between him and Yasiel Puig at least 64 times during the season.
  • Puig will have more steals than TOOTBLANs, but not by much.
  • Billy Hamilton will have an OBP of .305 and steal 80 bases. Reds fans will still think that's better than Choo.
  • My wife will call Dustin Pedroia, "Jammy Pants," at least 78 times during the season. She'll call David Ortiz, "Big Poopy," half as many times.
  • Brian Roberts will play more games than Steve Lombardozzi and have a higher WAR.
  • Chris Davis will hit 38 homers.
  • Ryan Howard will drive in 100 runs and still be worth less than 2.5 wins.
  • The Rangers will come in third place in the AL West.
  • I will win the It's About the Money fantasy league and then will not believe it was my first time ever playing.
  • Instant Replay will cut down manager ejections by 67%.
  • A.J. Pierzynski will still block the plate and get away with it.
  • David Robertson will have 40 saves and blow six of them and people will think he's terrible.
  • The Padres will play over .500 baseball and the Rockies will come in last place.
  • Every team in the AL East will finish the season with an 84-78 record.
  • The Cleveland Indians will push hard for the division despite not being able to beat the Tigers.
  • Starlin Castro will not be the starting shortstop for the Cubs by the All Star Break.
  • Wil Myers will have a higher OPS than Evan Longoria.
  • John Mayberry will forever be in in RFD (Ryne's freakin' doghouse).
  • Adam Dunn gets traded by the trade deadline. The Brewers will get him.
  • Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will combine for 80 homers.
  • Matt Harvey will pitch in September.
  • Madison Bumgarner and Stephen Strasburg will really challenge Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young Award.
  • Tim Hudson will win twelve games for the Giants.
  • For the fourth year in a row, I will have no idea who lives in the MLB Fan Cave and that is fine with me.
  • The Twins' home opener will feature music from the movie, Frozen.
  • Several White Sox youngsters will have good seasons and give the fan base hope.
  • For the fourth year in a row, Alcides Escobar will have more stolen bases than walks.
  • The NL East finish: Nats, Braves, Mets, Marlins, Phillies.
  • Josh Johnson will come back and pitch a complete game shutout and then hurt himself flinching from a pie in the face.
  • Randy Wolf will get ten starts someplace.
  • Max Scherzer will again win the Cy Young Award. But Justin Verlander has better pillow talk.
  • At least one of Joe Maddon's road trip ideas will be a complete dud.
  • The Dodgers will have a Kangaroo Court and Zack Greinke won't want to go.
  • A GM will get fired this year. Contenders: Seattle's, Dbacks' or Phillies'.
  • There will be 3,258,393 hyperbolic statements about Derek Jeter this year from broadcast booths around the country.
  • Giancarlo Stanton will hit 35 homers but miss 40 games due to leg injuries.
  • The NL West will finish: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Dbacks, Rockies.
  • Matt Carpenter will have a slightly disappointing offensive season.
  • Buster Posey will win the batting title.
  • Joey Votto will drive in 90 runs and nobody will be happy with him.
  • Adrian Gonzalez will still be my least favorite player.
  • Josh Hamilton will have a very good season.
  • The Mariners will struggle not because of their offense but because of their pitching.
  • Ryan Zimmerman will play first more than third this year.
  • The Yankees will trade a catcher by the deadline.
  • Bill Cowher and Kirk Gibson will create a new reality show and try to out intense face each other.
  • The Carlos Santana third base thing will work out okay.
  • The Houston Astros will win 74 games.
  • The NL Central will finish: Cards, Pirates, Reds, Brewers, Cubs.
  • Ryan Braun will have a great season.
  • The AL Central will finish: Indians, Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Twins.
  • Ron Washington will bunt no matter what those numbers guys say.
  • Adeiny Hechavarria will have a slugging percentage over .300 this year. But not by much.
  • Aroldis Chapman will throw a pitch 100 MPH and staples will be flying everywhere like that witch in the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
  • Aaron Harang will make Braves' fans pine for the days of Freddy Garcia.
  • Freddie Freeman will have a better season than Paul Goldschmidt.
  • The Padres won't trade Chase Headley because they will be in the wild card hunt.
  • The AL West will finish: Angels, A's, Mariners, Rangers, Astros.
  • Chone Figgins will be a nice story this season.
  • Jose Molina will share his framing secret as pretending the baseball is a moon pie.
  • Dexter Fowler will have a season to make the Rockies look idiotic.
  • Manny Machado will surprise us all with how many games he plays and how well he does.
  • Yunel Escobar will turn back into Yunel Escobar.
  • The Phillies will work out trades for both Cliff Lee and Jimmy Rollins and both will say no and refuse to go.
  • Tanaka will win rookie of the year and everyone will say the rules need to change.
  • PED suspensions will become tougher thereby punishing Hispanic players even more.
  • The Rockies will have a problem with pot in the stands.
  • And last but not least, Mike Trout will again be the best player in baseball and still not win the MVP Award.
Happy Baseball Season!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The quiet quality of Cliff Lee

The Philadelphia Phillies won 102 games in 2011 and won the National League East. That season completed a two-season arc that saw the team win 199 games. That seems so long ago. In the last two seasons, the team won only 154 games and has fallen into the also-ran status. None of that can be blamed on Cliff Lee. Lee has been basically the same pitcher from the good times to the bad.
How well Cliff Lee has done has gotten lost in the shuffle. I am newly aware of fantasy baseball rankings as I have begun my first adventure in that world. It struck me odd that Lee was owned by 99% in leagues. Shouldn't that be 100%? The guy is the closest thing there is to a metronome in pitching. Year in and year out, his peripherals rarely vary.
Everybody knows that Cliff Lee does not walk people. But they also forget that he strikes out batters to the tune of one an inning. Just look at his K/9 rate over the last three years respectively: 9.2, 8.8 and 9.0. You cannot get more consistent than that. I just looked at his spring numbers. His K/9 rate this spring is 8.7. The metronome.

He has led the National League (and probably baseball) in strikeout to walk ratio in each of the last two years and three of the last five. Over the last four years, he has struck out 852 batters and walked only 120. That is a four year average of 7.1 strikeouts per walk. Amazing.
Cliff Lee has also been reliable as they come. He has six straight seasons of over 200 innings. His WHIP in his four years with the Phillies has been 1.058. He has made a lot of money. And he has earned it.

In his four years  with the Phillies, Lee's FIP has been under 3.00 three times and has never been higher than 3.13.  And somehow, he has kept getting better as he has gotten older. His rate of getting batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone has never been higher than it has been the past four years. His rate of getting first-pitch strikes has never been as high as the last four years. His swinging strike rate has never been higher than the last four years.
Throughout his time with the Phillies, he has never been considered the Number One pitcher on his team. There was Halladay, who was brilliant and there was Hamels, who shined off and on. But Halladay is gone, Hamels struggled in 2013 and is starting slow with injuries this year. Through it all, Cliff Lee has been the pitcher to count on.
There has been a lot of talk this spring about the Phillies trading Cliff Lee. After all, they do not appear to be going anywhere presently. The team could eat a lot of the money and still save and perhaps get prospects in return. And that might be a good thing for Lee, though he might not see it that way.
And that's because Cliff Lee should be pitching to more glory than he is. Since the Phillies have fallen on hard times, he has been forgotten a bit. And that is a shame. Because Cliff Lee has been fantastic.
Over the past six seasons, his rWAR has been 37.5 or 6.25 rWAR per season. Fangraphs has him at 37.1 or 6.12 fWAR over the same period. That is a half dozen years of wonderful quality. The projections do not expect him to slow down much despite the fact that he is now 35 years old. And if this spring is any indication, Cliff Lee just keeps rolling and dealing.
It is just too bad that he might be doing so for a team going nowhere.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My first ever fantasy baseball team drafted

My colleagues over at It's About the Money twisted my arm into playing fantasy baseball. I resisted the urge to tap into my many Twitter buds who specialize in such things and decided to see how I could do on my own. There are twelve teams in the league and I went first, which means long stretches in between picks.
Here is my team. What do you think?
Apparently, my only real problem is that Ryan Cook is heading to the DL. I hadn't heard that. So it is what it is.
What do you think? I would love to hear from my expert friends to tell me about my team. This is a one-year league. Not dynasty or anything fancy like that. We will see what happens. the way...My team's name is, "Nights in Josh Satin."  #MoodyBlues