Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Link-o-Rama

What better way to finish off 2010 than to share some of the best links of the week.  It's chock full o' Hall of Fame goodness.
  • If you haven't read Joe Posnanski's Hall of Fame articles, stop what you're doing right now, and click these links.  He hits upon the "Easy Nos", "The Close But Not Quites", and "The Definitive Hall of Famers".  As of this moment, the "Borderline Guys" aren't up, but I'll add the link as soon as it is.
  • Rob Neyer takes a look at Bob Ryan's Hall of Fame column, and gives some outstanding commentary on Jack Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy.  No matter how you look at it, he just isn't a Hall of Famer.
  • Joe Pawlikowski of Fangraphs takes a detailed look at Adrian Beltre's remaining suitors.  Why aren't the Blue Jays making a serious run at this guy?
  • Dave Cameron takes a look at the Cheap DH cycle.  Who will be left without a chair when the music stops?
  • Can you tell if a player did steroids based on physical appearance alone?  Jason Rosenberg at IIATMS makes a convincing argument that you can not.
  • Craig Calcaterra has been kicking ass and taking names when it comes to Jeff Bagwell and his HoF candidacy.  He also compares the steroid witch hunt to the McCarthy era.  Is he right?  I think so.
  • More on Jack Morris?  Yes.  More on Jack Morris.  Lar Granillo of Wezen-Ball and Hardball Times asks an important question.  Is collusion to blame for Morris's HoF case?
  • If you've been following Twitter, Dave Cameron and Patrick Sullivan have been discussing WAR, Jim Rice, and Chet Lemon.  Patrick Sullivan weighs, and gives his thoughts on the subject.
  • What are the HoF voters doing wrong?  Jonah Keri knows, and he's not afraid to share it.
  • Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley asks "Could the Phillies falter in 2011?" 
  • Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness questions, what makes an ace an ace?  As always, it's a good read.
  • The Common Man and Bill of The Platoon Advantage go head-to-head regarding Jack Morris's Hall of Fame case.  To say that it's anything less than entertaining would be an understatement.
Thanks for a great 2010.  Here's hoping 2011 is even better!

    Orioles Agree to One Year Deal with Derrek Lee

    UPDATE (12/31/2010 at 4:51 p.m.):  Jon Heyman reports that Lee's deal will be for $8M.  This report is unconfirmed, so stay tuned.

    Original Post (12/31/2010 at 4:07 p.m.):  The Orioles finally landed a free agent.

    Dan Connely of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles and Derrek Lee have come to terms on a one year contract.  While the terms of the contract have not been disclosed, Lee was rumored to be looking for a contract between $8-10M. 

    As I mentioned about a week ago, Lee is a better option for the Orioles than LaRoche.  Instead of paying for three years of average offensive production from LaRoche, they get one season of low-risk, high-reward production out of Lee.  Yes, Lee had a down year in 2010, but there are encouraging signs he could rebound in a big way in 2011.  Lee still has above average power (54 XBH in 2010), good patience at the plate (11.7% walk rate), makes solid contact (22.5% line drive rate versus 1.3% pop-up rate), and plays average to above average defense at his position (2.1 UZR).  All things considered, Lee should be worth 2.7-3.0 WAR in 2011, which would make his theoretical $8-10M salary a huge bargain.

    With the Orioles out of the running, LaRoche appears destined (or resigned, depending on how you look at it) to signing with the Nationals.  Unless he can get another team like the Rays involved in the negotiations, LaRoche will probably get stuck with signing a one-year deal for the second season in a row.

    Top 10 Worst Rotations - 2011 edition

    Buster Olney wrote two columns in the past week discussing which team had the strongest rotation, the first of which was his opinion and the second of which was the opinion of talent evaluators from major league teams. In each case, the Phillies were given the Conch by a wide margin. (P.S. For those of you who don't understand the Conch reference, please go immediately to your local library, push through the crowds of homeless people pretending to read the New Yorker for 3 hours so they can escape the cold, and read Lord of the Flies.) Given that this question has been agreed upon and resolved, it falls upon the people of America to answer the difficult, somewhat disturbing question that lies at the other end of the rainbow. Namely, which team has the worst starting rotation in MLB as the Hot Stove season winds down and we enter the 2011 season.

    In the grand tradition of all things American, I will now steal Olney's gimmick and create a Top Ten list of the worst rotations in baseball. Yes, this does make doubly unoriginal, but the Hot Stove has just about wrapped up and we have to write about something. If this comes off as a failure, just remember that everone makes one mistake. At the absolute worst I will do a better job on this list then Jim Hendry has assembling a team in Chicago i.e., overpaying Soriano, Dempster, Zambrano, Fukodome, Samardzija and a cast of others to the point that you cannot compete with a 144 million dollar payroll.

    This list will be done from 21st to 30th so that I can give those last few teams their proper due.

    21) Cleveland Indians- While lacking a dominant #1, the Indians do have a couple of solid options at top in Carmona and Masterson (especially if he can get a little luckier with his BABIP and strand rate) and a young back end of the rotation that is capable of improving as they move closer to their primes.

    22) Minnesota Twins- The Twins are the first of three teams to show up on this list that fit the elite #1, dumpster fire 2-5 mold. I love Francisco Liriano as much as the next guy but Slowey, Blackburn, Baker, and Duensing are the reason that the Twins are always a bridesmaid never a bride once the playoffs turn around. Also, any time your #1 has had as much surgical work on their pitching arm as Liriano has, it pushes you down a couple spots in the rankings as you are only one twinge in the elbow away from Armageddon.

    23) Seattle Mariners- Superficially the numbers for this rotation are not to bad. However, park factors play an enormous role in making long relievers like Jason Vargas and Doug Fister look good. Outside of was Hernandez, not a single one of these pitchers were ever projected to do anything good and if not for the cavernous dimensions none of them would. The 4.55 road ERA as a team stands as evidence of their mediocrity, especially as Hernandez's stats count as a part of that stat.

    24) Arizona Diamondbacks- Not much to say about the Diamondbacks. Kennedy, Hudson, Saunders, and Enright are the textbook definition of mediocrity. If any of these pitchers steps up as an elite option, Arizona can move up off this list.

    25) San Diego Padres- The Padres are basically a carbon copy of the Mariners. They rank lower for 3 reasons though. One, we have less evidence to indicate that Latos will consistently pitch as well as he did last year then we do for Hernandez. Two, the park factors for the Padres are even stronger than those for the Mariners per Three, the Padres have Wade LeBlanc, a pitcher who somehow succeeds despite not having a single pitch that ranks above 45 on the 20-80 scale.

    26) Baltimore Orioles- The Orioles suffer from having the worst 3-5 starters not found on the bottom two teams on the list. Bergesen will go down in history as the player who hurt himself throwing too many pitches for an offseason Orioles commercial. Tillman is such a gopherball specialist that team #24 turned him down in trade preferring a mediocre reliever. Arrieta is just Arrieta a player good enough to make the majors without having the talent necessary to flourish once there. If the Orioles can pick up Pavano, they would move to the top of this list. Without him, they are left hoping that one of their many young hurlers can step up to shore up this rotation.

    27) New York Mets- Johan Santana is on the DL and coming back from major surgery, their #2 starter is a 36 year old knuckleballer who has never pitched half as well as he did last year, and they are still starting Oliver Perez and paying him 12 million dollars for the privilege. At least they have a wealth of minor league talent to fill the gaps, right? Oh no, I forgot, they had Omar Minaya as a GM so the pickings are thinner than Glenn Beck's credibility as a media member.

    28) Washington Nationals- Strasburg's Tommy John's surgery pushes the Nationals almost all the way to the back of the line. I love Jordan Zimmerman's stuff but we have no proof that he can hold up over an entire season. John Lannan has combined a 4.5 K/9 with a 3.1 BB/9 ratio to create peripheral stats that only his mother could love, and honestly even she doesn't start him on her fantasy team, go ahead and ask her. Livan Hernandez is 36, or 42 in Latino pitcher who somehow misplaces his original birth certificate years and has worn the title of innings eater for so long that we will rename it after him when he retires. Unfortunately, this is the top half of their rotation. Only the abject misery beneath them keeps them from settling to the bottom of the heap.

    29) Kansas City Royals- The simple fact that the Royals are not the bottom rotation in this league chills me to my very core. There is not a single starter anywhere on this rotation that qualifies as anything more than a barely serviceable #4 starter. The simple fact that Vin Mazzaro qualifies as a city's great white hope is a stronger argument for contraction than I am comfortable with as a baseball fan. Gil Meche is getting paid 11 million dollars to play long reliever because, as Joe Posnanski has covered on several occasions, Royals management subscribes to the "stop crying Tinkerbell, 150 pitch counts were good enough for Old Hoss Radbourn and they are damn sure good enough for you" school of asset management. Although, I do see Dayton Moore's rationale. Why spend money on your pitching staff when it can be better spent on extra base hit phobic catchers, an outfielder with platoon splits so bad that Jim Abbott could strike him out provided he was willing to pitch left handed, and a center fielder with the most negative WAR amongst eligible players in 2010.

    30) Pittsburgh Pirates- The last time a team assembled a rotation this bad they were trying to tank the season so they could move the team to Miami. Unfortunately there is no Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn on this rotation to save them from the cellar of the NL Central. The Pirates acquired Scott Olson this offseason after he was cut loose by the Washington Nationals and Kevin Correia after he was let go by the Padres. Apparently Neal Huntington thinks that signing players not good enough for the 25th and 28th rotations will somehow improve his franchise. I know that one year WAR results do not possess predictive value by themselves but Correia was worth 0.1 WAR last year. The entire 6 man rotation clocked in at 5.4 WAR, highlighted by the combined 1.5 WAR for Correia, Olson, Ross Ohlendorf, and Charlie Morton. Honestly, it was difficult to separate the Royals and Pirates on this list. The main factor that dooms the Pirates to the cellar is that reinforcements are not on the way. The Royals have a wealth of prospects on both sides of the diamond that they can offer in trades to improve their rotation along with the possibility of one or more of the pitchers cracking the major league rotation. The Pirates are who we thought they were(ah Dennis Green the gift that keeps on giving) and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

    Well the list is done for now. All that remains is to sit back and wait for the negative comments to trickle in from the readers offended that I made a Jim Abbott joke or ranked their team too low on the list. I can't wait to read them.

    NOTE:  Please see the companion post I wrote to combat Josh's assessment of the Twins rotation.  

    Rays Interested in Fuentes

    Mark Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times confirms that the Rays are interested in bringing left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes to Tampa to be their closer in 2011. 

    While Fuentes likely won't be as dominant as former Rays closer (and current free agent) Rafael Soriano, he should have no problems holding his own late in the game.  Fuentes, now 35 years old, isn't armed with a plus-fastball anymore, but it's still very effective.  His secondary pitches (slider and change-up) tend to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Despite being a side-arming lefty, Fuentes shouldn't be viewed as a LOOGY type of pitcher.  Over the past several years, he's been equally as effective against right-handers as he has been against left-handers.  Even if he doesn't remain in the closer role long term, he would have no problem fitting in as a left-handed set-up man in their bullpen. 

    His 2.81 ERA in 2010 seems to be a bit of a mirage.  Fuentes was helped by a rather fortunate .227 batting average on balls in play, and an abnormally low 6.9% HR/FB ratio, despite allowing 58.5% of all batted balls to be hit in the air.  This makes him a prime candidate to see a healthy dose of regression to the mean in 2011.   I wouldn't be surprised to see his 2011 performance to be more closely aligned with 2009 than 2010. 

    Fuentes is reportedly looking for a three year contract in the $15-18M range. Considering his age, current performance baseline, and likelihood for regression, committing three years is a pretty risky proposition.  While Fuentes will likely be fine in the closer role in 2011, the picture is much fuzzier in 2012 and beyond.  The Rays would be wise to try to negotiate a two year deal with a vesting third year option.

    Thursday, December 30, 2010

    And Then There Were Two...

    Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Carl Pavano has narrowed his selection down to two teams.
    From all we hear, Carl Pavano now has to choose between two teams -- the Twins and Washington.
    The hang-up is supposed to be that Pavano wants a three-year deal and teams are unwilling to go beyond two for a pitcher who will turn 35 in January and -- as much as Twins fans cherish the 17 victories in 2010 and his veteran presence -- still has a four-year black hole in his career from the Yankees contract.  Any general manager who ignores that 145 innings-for-$39 million bust, regardless of what's happened since, is not exercising reasonable caution.
    The solution is pretty obvious, a two-year deal with some kind of option for 2013.

    I think Sinker is right.  Unless Mike Rizzo gets another case of the crazies, and offers him a three year deal with a full no-trade clause,Pavano will likely sign a two year deal with a option for a third year.  It seems like only a matter of time before he signs with the Twins.  With Mauer, Morneau, and Lirano in tow, the Twins are legitimate contenders for a title.  If that's not enough, Pavano doesn't want to leave.  It just makes too much sense.  The Nationals seem like nothing more than a pawn being used to drive up the price on the Twins.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a deal done within the next week.

    Bartolo Colon Has Three Suitors? Really?

    Bartolo Colon looking svelte and toned as always...

    According to Nick Collias of MLB Trade Rumors, the Rangers, Indians, and Yankees have expressed interest in signing right-handed starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.
    ...Colon told reporters in the Domincan Republic yesterday, "Texas, Cleveland, and the Yankees are interested in me." 
    The Indians had been known to be watching Colon's progress, and Colon had previously mentioned that he "maintains conversations" with the Yankees, but the Rangers' interest hadn't been previously reported. Asked if he had a preference among the three clubs, Colon simply said, "I'll go with the one that signs me.

    I have a hard time understanding why anyone would take a chance on Bartolo Colon, 37, at this point.  Colon, plagued by various shoulder maladies, hasn't pitched effectively in the majors since 2005 when he won the AL Cy Young Award.  In parts of four seasons since that time, Colon put up a 14-21 record with a 5.18 ERA, and 2.3 WAR in 257 innings, while splitting time between the Angels, Red Sox, and White Sox. 

    Colon did not pitch in the majors in 2010.  He did pitch in the Dominican League's regular season, and put up a 1.47 ERA in seven starts.

    Rosenthal on Steroids, Hall of Fame

    Ken Rosenthal is an incredibly smart, well respected baseball writer.  While he's by no means perfect, he's one of the best (if not the best) reporter around.  He researches his articles well, and usually digs up the most reliable of sources to corroborate his stories.  I guess this is why I was so irritated with his most recent article for Fox Sports titled "Steroids Change Game for Hall Voters."  Instead of being based in logical or rational reasoning, Rosenthal prefers to use innuendo, suspicion, and paranoia as his the cornerstones of his argument.

    I picked a few passages from his argument that I wanted to comment on.  While I understand if most of you disagree with me (and that's fine--that's the joy of debate), I hope that you'll understand where I'm coming from.  Just to clarify, I do not condone steroid use in anyway. 

    The Hall of Fame vote never was simple. Distinguishing between players from different generations never was apples-to-apples. But at least before steroids, the comparisons were baseball comparisons.

    Now it’s, “Who did what? For how long? To what extent?” No one knows the answers. It’s likely that no one ever will. But if you believe, as I do, that the questions matter, you can’t help but be torn.

    My first problem with Rosenthal's argument is his use of the word "believe."  Beliefs are not fact.  They're not based off of rationality or logic.  They're not truth.  Instead, beliefs are based on faith.  Faith is a flawed entity that exists solely because a person wants (not knows) something to be true.  Rosenthal believes the answers to those questions matter because he want to think they matter--not because they actually do matter.  Rather than doing the research to determine whether his hypothesis holds water, he chooses to make dangerous assumptions.  To him, and most other observers, it seems logical and obvious that steroids would improve a player's ability to hit more home runs.  The correlation between steroid use and home runs does exist.  While this certainly helps his argument, it does not prove it.  As I pointed out yesterday, correlation does not equal causation.  Steroids may have caused the spike in home runs, but it's also possible there could've other reasons contributing to the spike.  Factors like smaller ball parks, improvement in equipment, changes to the composition of baseballs, and/or evolution of strength and flexibility routines are all viable contributing factors, yet he's ignoring these favor in favor of the "silver bullet theory"--steroids.

    I’m not comfortable wiping out almost an entire generation of players, not when the use of performance-enhancing drugs — while illegal in many cases without a prescription — was part of the game’s culture.

    I’m also not comfortable ignoring the excesses of the era, not when the playing field was uneven. A certain baseball morality was violated. Users had an unfair, and undeniable, competitive advantage.

    I'm also not comfortable with wiping out an entire generation of players.  It's both ridiculous and unfair.  That's why, if I had a vote, I would treat all players in the same manner.  We don't know which players did steroids, so I would treat everyone as if they had.  Then, I'd adjust their statistics for era and park factors accordingly.  Is it fair to the non-users of the era?  Maybe not.  But we don't have a way to prove who those non-users were.  Therefore, in the absence of proof, adjusting everyone's statistics is the most fair manner in which to handle the situation.

    Furthermore, the playing field has always been uneven in baseball.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't see a line of distinction between so-called performance enhancing drugs and other forms of cheating like spitballs, corking bats, sign stealing, game fixing/betting, and using greenies for a little extra pep.  Cheating is cheating, and it's has long been part of the sports--not just baseball.  Steroids are just the next step.  Claiming that a "certain baseball morality has been violated" comes off as preachy and sanctimonious. 

    Many sabermetricians, in particular, ignore this aspect of the discussion — heaven forbid anyone suggest that their sacred numbers aren’t pure. But the non-users were the true victims of the age.

    Reputable SABR/stat guys always adjust statistics for era, league, and park factors.  While analysts might dispute the magnitude of the effect steroids had on the overall numbers during the steroid era, I doubt anyone would claim that the numbers of the era weren't largely overvalued.  It's a fact that hitting 40 home runs was not as valuable in 1999 as it was in 1968.  A 2.50 ERA is far more valuable in 2010 than it was 1918.  Baseball statisticians are aware of these realities more than anyone.

    Let’s be clear: This is not a trial by jury. A voter does not need to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a player used performance enhancers in determining his choice. The Hall, in fact, invites subjective views, instructing us to consider character, integrity and sportsmanship, as well as a player’s record, playing ability and contributions to the team(s) on which he played.

    Rosenthal is right.  This is not a trial buy jury.  Sadly, a voter doesn't need to establish that a player is guilty of using PEDs beyond a reasonable doubt.  Still, this doesn't this make it right?  Should we be passing judgment on certain players based on body type and/or home run totals?  And why are we, as fans and baseball writers, inconsistent in who we decide is either guilty or innocent of this supposed crime  We are making judgments based on weak circumstantial evidence.  Isn't it a bigger crime to keep someone who didn't use steroids out of the Hall of Fame based on mere suspicion, rather than allow someone who did use steroids get inducted?

    Yes, the Hall of Fame argument is largely a subjective one, even if objective measures are used.  Yes, the Hall instructs voters to consider character, integrity, and sportsmanship, in addition to on-field performance when casting their votes.  That still doesn't change in the inconsistent manner is which votes have been cast over the years with regards to the character clause.  Ty Cobb, who was a belligerent racist, was elected into the Hall of Fame despite having obvious character flaws.  Gaylord Perry, who openly championed his use of the illegal spitball, is allowed in despite breaking the moral bonds of sportsmanship.   Babe Ruth was a womanizer, cheater, and drunk.  Are these considered to be characteristics of morality and character?  Not to my knowledge!  That's my problem.  Members of the BBWAA have decided that certain aspects of character, morality, and cheating are acceptable, while others are not.  The rules of voting allow the writers to be the morality police, and that shouldn't be their role.  I can't speak for the writers, but I know that I'm certainly not without flaws.   As someone who isn't without flaws, should I really be casting stones at those who have less than savory morals?

    Some voters choose to ignore the use of performance enhancers entirely, voting as if the drugs never existed. What they’re saying is, “We don’t know what exactly happened. We can only vote on what we do know.” It’s not an unreasonable viewpoint. But in the end it’s a cop out.

    I don't think it is a cop out.  We don't know exactly what happened.  We don't know the true impact steroids had on each player.  We don't know who did or did not use steroids outside of a select few players.  How can anyone make an informed decision based on the facts when we only have a small percentage of the facts available?  It's impossible!  It's not a cop out if you look at the situation rationally.  That said, it's a cop out to assume you know all the answers, while passing moral judgments on players when you don't have all of the available facts. 

    Some argue that players from previous eras used amphetamines; those drugs also were performance enhancers. I can’t dispute that. I just feel that steroids created a far greater imbalance. And in the end, a voter’s feelings on the matter, like a fan’s feelings, are personal.

    Yes, I understand that you feel steroids had a greater impact on performance than amphetamines, but that's very different from knowing the truth.  Do you see the distinction?  You're making an assumption based on little to no evidence.  I feel that chocolate is better than vanilla, but does that make me right?  No, of course not.  It's an opinion--not a fact.

    Furthermore, while I understand the feelings of a voter and fan are personal, maybe that's part of the problem.  You're allowing emotion to influence your vote, rather than rational thought.  Perhaps if you tried to remove your emotions from the process, your votes could become consistent and more objective, rather than purely subjective.

    It’s not a matter of being sanctimonious; baseball writers — beat writers especially — are among the least sanctimonious people you will ever meet. It’s a matter, simply, of wanting to do the right thing.

    Really?  Let me introduce you to Mike Lupica, Dan Shaughnessy, and Bill Plaschke.

    We did not, as a group, do the right thing with our initial reporting on steroids in baseball. Most of us whiffed pretty badly and were rightly criticized for it.

    I was among those who failed to properly recognize the problem. I feel a special obligation to pay particular attention to the issue, both in my writing and my Hall of Fame votes.

    While I respect his humility in admitting for shortcomings during the steroid era, I don't feel it's appropriate for the writers to hold players accountable after the fact.  Baseball writers had their opportunity to blow the steroid story wide open during the late 1990s and early 2000s.  They chose not to.  Rather than do their job, and report the scandal that was supposedly destroying the sport, they chose to sit on the story out of fear of retribution.  Their lack of courage during that period is telling.  They're just as immoral of hiding the truth as those in the game were of using steroids.  

    I think Craig Calcaterra said it best in one of his articles for Hardball Talk earlier today.  The steroid issue and the Hall of Fame have created a "McCarthy Era" type state in baseball where we "blackball" certain players as steroid users despite having little or no proof.  It's a very sad state of affairs.  Hopefully, something happens to change this state of affairs before too many lives become destroyed by BBWAA's witch hunt.  The future success of the Hall of Fame depends on it.

    Early CAIRO Projections

    The very, very, very early CAIRO projections for the 2011 standings have been released by the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog.  While these projections are fun to look at, we shouldn't take the findings too seriously.  There are still plenty of moves to be made, and several free agents are still available.  With players like Adrian Beltre, Carl Pavano, Rafael Soriano, Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez still on the market, this version of CAIRO's projections are still very much a work in progress. 

    Additionally, the author of the blog points out the inherent limitations of projections systems.  Systems like CAIRO, CHONE, and PECOTA estimate a player's true talent level.  As such, they're incapable of predicting large swings in unpredictable behaviors like career seasons or extreme good (or bad) fortune/luck; hence, the reason why projections on certain players (or even teams) can significantly miss the mark.  This doesn't mean the system is flawed.  It only means that the player exhibited an unexpected level of performance during that season.  Furthermore, while projections systems can predict the number of games a player might miss due to their historical injury pattern, it can not predict unexpected catastrophic injuries like torn ACLs or rotator cuff injuries.  Therefore, projections systems can't predict how the loss of a specific player would affect a team's ability to perform at their expected level.

    The early CAIRO projections currently have the Red Sox winning the AL East with 98.1 wins, the Twins winning the Central with 85.7 wins, and the Rangers winning the West with 89.7 wins.  The Yankees and Rays, despite having poor offseasons by some standards, are still projected to be among the best teams in the American League.  As it currently stands now, the Yankees would likely edge out the Rays for the wild card with 89.1 wins.

    In the National League, the Phillies are the class of the National League, and are projected to win the NL East with 96.1 wins.  The Cardinals (90.2 wins) would take the Central, and the Rockies (85.9 wins) would edge out the Giants by about two games.  The Braves (88.5 wins) are projected to edge out the Brewers (87.2 wins) for the Wild Card.

    Like I said, it's too early to take too much stock in the projections, as they'll be run numerous times between now and Opening Day.  Additionally, when it comes down to it, the games are played in the field, not the computer.  Last year, the Giants were picked by most projection systems to finish fourth (ahead of the Padres) in the NL West, and they ended up winning the World Series.  Anything can happen once the season starts. 

    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Angels Now Clear Front Runner for Beltre

    According to Ken Rosenthal, we can now name the Angels as the official front runners in the incredibly dull Adrian Beltre sweepstakes. 
    The Angels, more than ever, look like the front-runners to sign free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.
    The A’s, who made Beltre multiple offers, pulled out of the talks this week to pursue other players, according to major-league sources.
    The Rangers, while maintaining interest in Beltre, remain uncomfortable with both the price and fit, sources said. 
    So the A's have officially ended talks with Beltre and Boras, which makes sense considering how they've been jerked around.  Last offseason they offered him a 3 year $24M deal, and Beltre turned it down in favor of a one year $10M deal with Boston.  This offseason, the Athletics stormed out of the gate offering him 5 years at $64M.  Rather than give them a simple yes or no, Beltre and Boras sat on the offer until A's GM Billy Beane finally pulled the offer.  According to Rosenthal's sources, Beane improved his offer to Beltre at least once, only to be rebuffed.  Rather than waste his time, Beane has started looking to redirect his resources toward bullpen options like Hideki Okajima and Chad Qualls. 

    With the A's out of the running, and the Rangers stuck in neutral unless they can unload Michael Young, there appears to be a pretty clear path for Beltre ending up with the Angels.  The Angels pulled their 5 year $70M contract from the table a couple of weeks ago.  Knowing Arte Moreno's take-it-or-leave-it style of negotiating, it's hard to imagine him giving in to Boras's demands of 5/$85M.  With no clear cut competitor, I don't see any reason why the Angels should feel compelled to go to far above their original offer.

    Still, things are never cut and dry with Scott Boras clients.  Mystery teams always seem to appear at the perfect time.  Not surprisingly, the mystery teams always seem to confide in Scott Boras's BFF, Jon Heyman.  Strange how that always seems to happen...

    Rosenthal names a few teams that might become interested in Beltre if things fall the right way.  For instance, he opined that the Orioles may become interested if talks for LaRoche and Lee fall through.  While they have Reynolds at third already, they could move him to first to make room for Beltre.  The Orioles, having been burned several times this offseason by free agent targets, may be motivated to make a strong (and surprising) move for Beltre.  The other teams he named were the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, and Marlins.  These candidates are only possible in the most ideal of situations as they consider Beltre to be too expensive.

    It's probably only a matter of time before Beltre eventually comes to terms with the Angels.  We'll just play the waiting game until that happens.  Then again, Scott Boras clients do have a tendency to end up in unexpected destinations (see Jayson Werth, Johnny Damon).

    Jack Morris is Not Hall Worthy

    There are a lot of arguments going back and forth regarding Jack Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy.  Personally, I'm against it.  The arguments for him being the best pitcher of the 1980s ring hollow to me considering the decade from 1980-1989 is pretty arbitrary.  Why not 1977-1986 or 1983-1992?  The 1980-1989 decade includes the tail ends of great careers by pitchers like Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, and Steve Carlton.  It also removes half of a decade of Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens performances.  If you expanded the ten year span to include 20-25 seasons, would Morris even make your top ten for best pitchers in baseball?  How about top fifteen?  He wouldn't make either of mine.

    The arguments about him being a great postseason pitcher don't really ring true either because he was pretty underwhelming during the 1987 ALCS, and incredibly forgettable during the Blue Jays World Series run in 1992.  In fact, he was so bad during the playoffs in 1992, that I would go as far as saying they won the World Series in spite of his pitching performance.  In 1993, he was so ineffective during the regular season, the Jays left him off of their postseason roster entirely.  That's not exactly high praise for a pitcher that supposedly rose to the occasion in the playoffs.  Yes, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was great, but you can't build a Hall of Fame case out of one game. 

    If you're looking for a great analysis of Jack Morris's Hall of Fame case, I strongly suggest you read Dan Szymborski's case against his induction.  (Sorry, ESPN Insider only!)  It's outstanding, and doesn't include a lot of emotional rhetoric.  Hope you enjoy!

    Dotel to Close in Toronto

    According to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, it looks like Octavio Dotel is being given an opportunity to seize the Blue Jays closer role.   His agent Dominic Torres had this to say:
    "Octavio is excited about playing for a team that will give you the opportunity to close games in the strongest division in baseball."
    As I said the other day, Dotel's always had nasty, strikeout inducing stuff worthy of the closer role.  His problem has always been control and a penchant for allowing home runs.  If he fails to hold down the closer role, the Blue Jays could always fall back on long-time bullpen stalwart Jason Frasor to assume the closer duties.   Stepping into the closer situation would not be new to Frasor, as he filled the role admirably at times during the 2004 and 2009 seasons.  Frasor,33, induces strikeouts, and solid control, and tends to give up more ground balls than fly balls.  All told, he might be a better option for the role than Dotel.

    Dotel's contract is for one year $3.5M with an option for a second season at the same price, or a $750K buyout.  The deal will be finalized pending his physical that is scheduled to occur sometime next week.

    Bob Ryan on McGwire, Steroids, and the Hall of Fame

    Bob Ryan posted his Hall of Fame column today.  While I don't agree with all of his decisions (voting for Jack Morris), I respect the process in which he made his decisions.  Within his piece, he posed a somewhat unique opinion on the topic of steroids and the Hall of Fame that I thought I'd share with you
    I haven’t voted for Mark McGwire in the first four years he’s been on the ballot. I need to hear some serious contrition, but it has not been forthcoming. You call that stuff he was saying during last spring training a meaningful apology and/or explanation? I don’t. “It didn’t enhance performance’’? Stop it
    Let’s get back to Messrs. McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens for a moment. There is no unanimity of opinion about what to do with these guys. Some voters are of the opinion that if juiced pitchers were throwing to juiced batters, there’s nothing we can do about it now. The numbers are the numbers. Let ’em all in. As time goes on, more and more voters will think that way. And one day in the late teens, I may wake up and say, “You know what? Those guys are right.’’ I’m not ruling out that possibility.
    I don't have any problem with Ryan's stance on McGwire.  While I think McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame, I understand his reasoning for not giving him his vote.  He's not saying he'll never vote for him, or other suspected or admitted steroid users; he's saying he wants some actual contrition before making that next step.  We can argue all day about whether or not going on 60 Minutes and giving a tear filled interview shows enough contrition, but some of his comments do show that perhaps he's not being completely honest with himself.  Ryan's point of view is logical and rational.  I can stand by that.  I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see someone that's open-minded about the possibility to voting for an admitted steroid user, rather than just shut the door and lock it forever.

    Unfortunately, several members of the BBWAA don't view candidates of the steroid era in the same manner. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that steroids were the primary cause for the home run spike between 1994-2004 because I honestly don't know the answer.  I can tell you there appears to be a strong correlation between steroid use and power hitting, but that's as far as I can go.  Correlation does not prove causation, and I haven't seen indisputable data either proving or disproving the steroids hypothesis.  Sadly, there are plenty of journalists who prefer raw emotion to rational thought.  Those are the ones who use their Hall of Fame vote to cast moral judgment on players of their choosing without even a basic understanding of how PEDs may or may not have impacted the game of baseball. 

    A couple of months back, I read a very interesting (and rather lengthy) study about how changes in the composition of major league quality baseballs may've have contributed to the spike in home runs during the steroid era.  This phenomenon isn't unique to the steroid era as it had happened a few times throughout baseball history including including the "Rabbit Ball" era of the 1920s. the 1977 season, and the 1987 season.  While this hypothesis doesn't disprove the steroid argument, it's convincing and certainly clouds the steroid argument with a shred of doubt.  The idea that steroid use helps improve a player's power output is conventional wisdom.  It's an obvious, logical answer to a complicated question or problem.  Frequently, conventional wisdom, once exposed for all of its flaws, is disproven to be nothing more than a hoax.  This may or may not happen with steroids and power output, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.  

    Additionally, I find it to be laughable that people claim to "know" not only who did steroids, but also can measure the impact of PED use without doing a shred of research or objective analysis.  Outside of a few select players, we know very little about who did or didn't use performance enhancing drugs.  We also don't know how many warning track fly balls were converted to home runs as a result of steroid use.  That's impossible to know without a ton of research and statistical analysis.  Considering most fans and writers have a tough time grasping advanced statistics like WAR, wOBA, and UZR (through no fault of their own, mind you), I don't how they could possible "know" the answer to those questions. 

    Furthermore, suspecting Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza of using PEDs, while assuming players like Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey, Jr. were clean is not nothing more than an exercise in moral masturbation.  (Note:  I'm not saying any of those players did steroids.  I'm only pointing out the inconsistencies in thought process.)  We don't know that for sure.  There wasn't testing prior to 2004, so why are we pretending to "know" something we actually do not know?  Because we, baseball fans and writers, are angry.  We have to direct our anger at someone.  Pointing fingers at bulky sluggers with high home run totals (like Bagwell and Piazza) is convenient.  Jeter and Griffey, on the other hand, are considered heros "who played the game the right way," and have a true "baseball player's body type."  It's possible they didn't do steroids--perhaps even likely.  But assuming there's no chance they used PEDs is foolish.

    All I ask is that everyone keep an open mind regarding the impact steroids have had on the game of baseball.  There's still a huge knowledge gap between what we know, and what we don't know.  Making irrational judgments based on a few weak facts and characteristics is grossly unfair.  We need to wait until we have the full range of facts available to us before we pass judgment on someone we suspect of wrong doing.  If we're going to extend this courtesy to suspected voilent criminals, shouldn't we extend this same courtesy to suspected PED users?

    Orioles Still Pursuing Lee...But is it Mutual?

    Now that the Adam LaRoche negotiations have settled into a permanent stasis, the Orioles have turned their full attention to signing former Cub first baseman Derrek Lee.  The only problem is that Lee might not be interested in coming to Baltimore.
    The question is whether the Orioles can satisfy Lee competitively, financially and geographically — and how strongly the Nationals remain in the mix for the 14-year veteran, who is coming off surgery on his right thumb.
    The Padres offered Lee a one-year deal for more than $8 million before signing free agent Brad Hawpe to play first, sources say. Lee, 35, presumably would want similar money from the Orioles or Nationals, if not more.
    His preference, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking, is to play for a contender and/or play out west. Lee, who is from Sacramento, Calif., now has a home in southern California.
    Lee doesn't have a lot of options left at this point.  When he spurned the Padres one year $8M deal, they turned to the much cheaper Brad Hawpe to fill their opening at first base.  That left only the Orioles and Nationals as viable options for Lee.  Of course, the O's and Nats satisfy neither of Lee's primary desires:  playing for a contender nor playing close to home.  Since he can't satisfy either of those two desires, he needs to act quickly to ensure he still gets a contract representative of his value.  If he allows LaRoche to sign first, he would be limiting his market to one team (unless a "mystery team" appears--Jon Heyman is probably cooking one up as we speak), which greatly inhibits his negotiating power.  This would force him to slash his salary demands further, and likely force him to sign a contract well below his true value.

    I won't be surprised if the Padres $8M offer ends up being the best offer Lee ends up seeing this offseason.  It's a shame he turned it down because it seems like an ideal situation for him.  Such is life on the free agent market.  Contrary to popular belief, the free agent market is filled with just as much risk as it is riches.

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    The Mexicutioner Goes Rogue

    Well, this is sure to rev up the rumor mill.   Note:  The report originally came from the Mexican paper Vanguard.
    "I didn't put it there, my agent did, as a strategy," Soria said. "But if the Royals decide to trade me to New York I would gladly go to play with the Yankees or any other team... I repeat, I would not block a trade to the Yankees. I like to play baseball and I would play with any team."
    Based on the way Soria worded his statement, it sounds like his six team no trade clause is virtually meaningless.  The Yankees are reported to be on that list along with the Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Cubs, and Cardinals. 

    According to Jack Curry of YES, the Royals explicitly told teams they weren't interested in trading the hard throwing closer.  Many articles you'll read on this subject are likely discuss how Soria's decision to go rogue about his no trade clause speaks volumes about his desire (or lack thereof) to remain in Kansas City.  While this very well may be true, I'd like to offer an alternative hypothesis.  If the Royals were to trade Soria mid-season to a team on his no trade list, Soria's agent could then use his no trade clause to force the acquiring team to decline all three of his option years.  Why would he want to do that?   Well, by declining all three options season, Soria would become eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.  With the way money has been thrown around this offseason, it's pretty obvious why Soria would be interested in forgoing the security of near guaranteed money for a larger pay day.  Soria, knowing the Royals weren't interested in trading him, had to no choice but to force their hand in the matter.  By going rogue, he increased the likelihood of not only escaping the Royals, but also becoming a free agent after the season.  If this actually is the case, it looks like a pretty smart move by Soria and his agent.

    Orioles, Gregg Still Negotiating

    Two weeks ago, ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald reported they were close to finalizing a 2 year $12M deal.   Today, a deal isn't signed, but discussions are still ongoing.
    the , who quietly had a decent winter despite all the rejections by free agents, are in talks with rhp kevin gregg
    First of all, I'm not sure why the Orioles want Gregg when they already have Koji Uehara.  I guess a 2.41 FIP and a 55/5 K/BB ratio in 44 innings isn't good enough for the closer role.

    Secondly, closers are a luxury.  They're the last piece of a contending team's puzzle.  Last I checked, the Orioles weren't that close to contending.  Instead of wasting $12M on a closer they don't need, why not use the money to sign one of their newly acquired infielders to an extension?  Or what about an extension for Adam Jones?  Just an idea.

    Gregg is coming off a season where he saved 37 games in 43 chances while putting up a 3.51 ERA, a 58/30 K/BB ratio, and provided 0.8 wins above the replacement level.  Considering his age (33 years old) and the his three year value baseline (1.4 WAR), he seems like a poor bet to provide enough value to justify his contract.

    Rangers Still in Mix for Beltre

    Don't count the Rangers out of the running for Adrian Beltre just yet.  In an interview with 1310 Sports Radio in Dallas, team President Nolan Ryan indicated they still had interest in signing the power hitting third baseman.
    “Well, when you have a player of his caliber out there, you have to have an interest if it’s realistic within what your budget is and how he would fit into your ball club and how you would hit him in the lineup and stuff of that nature. So, obviously with our ball club, it wouldn’t be nearly as clear-cut as somebody else, say whether it be the Angels and the rumor is that Oakland has made him offer. I would say if you looked at the free agent market right now, he’s probably the premier free agent that’s still unsigned.”

    As I've mentioned before, the Rangers would have to move incumbent third baseman Michael Young and the $48M remaining on his contract before they could make a serious run at Beltre.  Outside of the Rockies, no one else has stepped forward as a viable (or even casually interested) trading partner.  Those talks came to a screeching halt three weeks ago, and there aren't any signs the Rockies are interested in re-opening discussions.  The only other option is to move Michael Young to another position like first base or a corner outfield spot.  Considering his reaction to being moved from short to third a couple of years ago, I doubt the Rangers are interested in an encore temper-tantrum by Young.

    One thing I haven't previously mentioned regarding Beltre's free agency is his Type A designation.  If Beltre ends up signing with the Rangers, the Red Sox would receive the Rangers first round pick plus a "sandwich pick" between the first and second rounds.  If he signed with either the Angels or Athletics, the Red Sox wouldn't receive their first round picks as compensation because their first round picks are protected.  Instead, they'd receive a second round pick, plus the sandwich pick as compensation.  Obviously, for purely selfish reasons, the Red Sox are quietly routing for the Rangers to sign Beltre. 

    The Rangers indicating any level of interest in Beltre is great for Scott Boras.  At the very least, he can use the Rangers as leverage in negotiations with the Angels and Athletics.  Without an official offer on the table, Boras needs all of the leverage he can get at this point.

    Eleven Teams Interested in Fuentes

    According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated via Twitter, there are eleven teams interested in signing left-handed relief pitcher Brian Fuentes.
    while like fuentes, they have company. others w/some interest: tor, tb, colo, sea, minn, pitt, phil, milw, nyy & nym
    Fuentes, a former closer for the Rockies and Angels, is reportedly looking for a three contract similar to the ones Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs signed earlier in the offseason.  At this point in the offseason, a three year contract for that kind of money might be a tall order as most teams have spent the bulk of their money and are looking for bargains.

    Last season, Fuentes pitched pretty well splitting time between the Angels and Twins going 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA (3.85 FIP) and a 47/20 strikeout to walk ratio in 48 innings.  While Fuentes could close for roughly 6-8 teams, most of the teams Heyman named as interested parties would likely use him in a role other than closer.  For example, the Red Sox would likely use him as a lefty-specialist with Papelbon, Bard, and Jenks already eating up the bulk of the high leverage innings.  The Yankees, Phillies, Rockies, and Brewers would use probably use him as their primary left-handed set-up man.  For the Twins and Mets, he'd serve not only as their primary set-up man, but also a reliable fall back option should their established closers need extra time recovering from their maladies (for Nathan it's physical, for K-Rod it's mental).  Only the Blue Jays, Pirates, Rays, and Mariners have potential closer openings.  Of those teams, Blue Jays currently have viable options in Dotel and Frasor already in the mix.  The other three teams are both low revenue clubs, and are unlikely to open their wallets wide enough to offer a three year deal worth $15-18M.

    It looks like the player's market that was in full effect just a couple of weeks ago has shifted to more of a team friendly market.  Adrian Beltre, Carl Pavano, Rafael Soriano, and Grant Balfour are among the players, in addition to Fuentes, who haven't been able to convince teams to meet their contract demands.  If Fuentes can't convince a team to meet his demands, it's probably the smartest move for him to sign a one year deal with a team interested in giving him the closer role, even if it means less money.  This would give him an opportunity to rebuild his value for when he hits the market again after 2011.

    Disclaimer: This is not About Steroids

    When Corrye, Chip and I discussed who would write up each of the individual Hall of Fame candidates for the site, I used my first pick on Rafael Palmeiro. I will dismiss all suspense now by saying that my vote for Palmeiro is a NO vote. Per the disclaimer, this has absolutely nothing to do with Palmeiro's steroid use or comically stubborn performance in front of Congress. With the exception of three players, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Tony Gwynn, I basically have resigned myself to the possibility that all players have augmented their performance in some manner. I am excluding these three players based on body types that in no way jibe with the use of muscle building chemicals whatsoever. My opposition to Palmeiro is rooted in my opinion of what the Hall out to be, no more no less. I am a Small Hall person who believes that it ought to celebrate those who transcended their peers and their time period and posted truly dominant performances, regardless of how long their respective prime might last. I don't care about accumulated stats or benchmarks including 300 wins, 500 homers, or 3000 hits. Johnny Damon, assuming he can play 3 more years, will have posted a serious of quite impressive numbers (3000 hits, 100 triples, 500 doubles, 250 HR, and 400 stolen bases). However, can you remember any time in the past 20 years that you said to yourself that Johnny Damon was even one of the 20 best players you had seen that year. The same logic that applies to Damon applies to Palmeiro and that is why he receives my no vote.

    Rafael Palmeiro's career statistics include 569 home runs, 1835 RBI, and 3020 hits. On face value alone, these numbers sound like the resume of a first ballot HOF. However, if we have learned anything worshipping at the altars of Bill James, Rob Neyer, and Dave Cameron, it is that all statistics have meaning only when placed into context. Palmeiro played during the single greatest offensive explosion the game has seen or is ever likely to see. For example, 15 of the 25 highest single season home run totals occurred during the 14 year period between 1997 and 2010. The question then becomes how does Palemeiro compare to those at his position during his playing career. There were literally hundreds of 1st baseman who played during Palmeiro's career for the sake of brevity I will restrict the comparison to those most likely to receive HOF consideration when their time comes. Rafe's competition for this exercise is Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome. According to Fangraphs WAR metric, Bagwell is the 7th greatest 1B of all time, Thomas is the 11th, Palmeiro the 15th, and Thome the 17th (although Thome only trails Palemiro by 2 WAR and is rather likely to pass him by the end of this season). If we use Baseball-Reference's WAR calculation, which does not allow us to sort by position, Bagwell is the 57th best player, Thomas the 64th, Thome the 80th, and Palmeiro the 109th. Palmeiro comes in fourth despite the fact that he played as many, if not more, seasons than any player he was compared to in this exercise. The gap is even greater if we cherry pick each of the players 5 greatest seasons by Fangraphs WAR. Bagwell leads the pack with 38.2 WAR, Thomas is 2nd with 36 WAR, Thome is third with 32.2 WAR, and Palmeiro brings up the rear with 31.6 WAR. If we utilize the wRC+ metric from Fangraphs, we see a pronounced difference in the 4 players abilities as a hitter. Thomas is the 10th ranked 1B, Bagwell the 12th, Thome the 16th, and Palmeiro the 58th. This ranking actually places Palmeiro behind such legends of the games as John Kruk, Pedro Guerrero, and the Clark Brothers (Jack and Will). Palmeiro was an above average defensive player evidenced by his +52 fielding runs accumulated according to Fangraphs. This total placed him 2nd in this group behind Bagwell and in front of the defensive black holes that were Thome and Thomas. However, this gap is simply not large enough to cancel out the significantly greater offensive value offered by Bagwell, Thomas, and Thome. In the end, Palmeiro was the inferior player in this comparison.

    Palmeiro is a good player who you could count on for 38 home runs almost every year during his prime, although this is somewhat attributable to positive park factors he received from playing in Texas and Baltimore. However, this is more to offensive value than hitting the long ball and as a complete player he was simply not as dominant a force as Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome. If you cannot dominate your era, you are not a HOF in my book.

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Cliff Lee afraid of the NY media?? Laughable!

    Now that the Cliff Lee dust has settled it's time to clear the air on what I think is a ludicrous argument by Yankee fans regarding his signing.
    Some people are under the ridiculous delusion that the reason Cliff Lee didn't sign with the Yankees was because of the tough New York media. As far as I'm concerned that argument has as much credibility as a report that The Dome Of The Rock is hosting Bar Mitzvahs.
    Granted New York and Boston are two of the toughest cities to play in when it comes to the media. With so many papers vying for a story reporters are up players' asses more than a proctologist. It takes a certain kind of person to deal with the New York media. Randy Johnson couldn't do it, Jeff Weaver couldn't do it, and Jack Wilson couldn't do it. As a player you better be thick skinned if you want to play in New York.
    However, saying that Cliff Lee decided to play in Philadelphia rather than New York because of the media is absurd. Hello??? It's freakin' Philadelphia. You know? The same town that booed Santa Claus, booed Mike Schmidt, threw bottles at refs, cheered when Michael Irvin almost broke his neck, and threw batteries at J.D. Drew. Philly isn't New York but it's not Omaha either. And Cliff Lee sure isn't Zack Greinke. Lee doesn't have self-esteem issues or social anxiety disorder as far as I'm aware.
    As a player you have to have a high degree of mental toughness to play in the City of Brotherly Love. Just ask Allen Iverson. Oh that's right you can't he's at practice in Turkey. (Wait we talkin' 'bout practice in Turkey? Practice? In Turkey? Practice?)
    To put it bluntly Yankee fans (myself included) Cliff Lee didn't want to go to New York because he did not want to play for the Yankees. Think about it. This guy re-signed with a team THAT TRADED HIM THE YEAR BEFORE. It had nothing to do with money or the media. In point of fact in might have had something to do with how poorly Lee's wife was treated by the fans during the ALCS. (You stay classy Yankee fans!)
    Lee for better or for worse is now a Philly. But don't think for one moment that if he has a bad April that the media and the fans won't be all over him. They will. At that point he'll have to demonstrate the kind of mental toughness in the locker room dealing with reporters, that fans have become so used to seeing on the mound.
    So don't kid yourself Yankee fans. Stating that it's a good thing Lee didn't come to New York because he couldn't deal with the media is just chugging the Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid that just happens to taste like sour grapes.

    Roberto Alomar the Spitting Image of a HOF Player

    When people discuss the great baseball players of all time most of them have that one defining moment that encapsulates him as a player. Carlton Fisk hitting the game 6 home run in the 1975 World Series, Kirby Puckett making a clutch catch and hitting a key home run in the 1991 World Series, or Joe Dimaggio hitting safely in 56 consecutive games are classic examples.
    Unfortunately, sometimes the opposite is true. A player, no matter how great, is sometimes defined by an infamous incident. Think of how great defensive end Jim Marshall was, but all anyone ever seems to remember about him is the "wrong way" play. Ty Cobb was one of the best hitters ever but many still remember him as being a racist and sharpening his spikes to intentionally hurt shortstops when sliding into second.
    Such is the case with Roberto Alomar. Despite being one of the best hitting second basemen ever to play he is most often remembered for "the spitting incident" which occurred on September 27, 1996. Stating that umpire John Hirschbeck uttered a racial slur against Alomar, the second baseman spit into Hirschbeck's face. The issue further escalated when Alomar claimed after the game that Hirschbeck was still bitter about his son dying of ALD. Subsequently Alomar and Hirschbeck reconciled and have since raised money for charity together.
    Nevertheless the damage was done and I believe that is why Alomar wasn't a first ballot hall of famer last year. He was only eight votes shy last year garnering 73.7% of the vote. What a joke. The committee ought to be ashamed of themselves for not voting in Alomar on the first ballot.
    Numbers don't lie when it comes to Alomar. Check it out:
    --12 straight All-Star appearances
    --10 Gold Gloves
    --4 Silver Slugger Awards
    --300 lifetime average
    --2,724 hits,
    --210 HR
    --1,134 RBI
    Additionally, Alomar rated an OBP of over 400 five times in his career and batted over 300 nine times. He was also a constant threat on the base pads throughout his career, stealing over 30 bases eight times and scoring over 100 runs 6 times. Add to that over 500 career doubles and 80 triples and you quite simply have one of the greatest hitting second basemen ever.
    When you compare him to Cincinnati Red great Joe Morgan, Alomar's numbers are on par and in some instances better. Alomar has a higher lifetime batting average, more RBI, more Gold Gloves, and more doubles. Both have the same amount of World Series titles with an edge going to Morgan on the MVP awards. (Two to Alomar's none). Hell I rate Alomar better just because I haven't had to deal with him in the broadcast booth on ESPN in the last ten years.
    In my opinion the verdict should already be in on this one. Alomar may have not been a class act but as a second baseman he was in a class by himself.
    My Vote: An emphatic YES

    Checking in on Pavano

    According to Nick Carfardo of the Boston Globe there are three, maybe four, teams still interested in right-handed starting pitcher Carl Pavano:
    Pavano elected to go slowly in negotiations and let the market play out, so there was no deal before Christmas. Now what? Well, he remains the top free agent pitcher on the market and will hold out for three years. A lot of teams are interested, including Minnesota, Washington, Texas, and possibly Seattle if it can free up some money.
    With Brandon Webb signing with the Rangers yesterday evening, we can pull them out of the running for Pavano.  They could surprise me and make a run at Pavano (they do have money to burn), but I don't see them being interested in signing another injury riddled right-hander who is on the wrong side of 30.  That is, unless he's willing to take a two year deal at a slightly reduced price. 

    The Mariners don't seem like a great bet either.  This is especially true considering I haven't seen any reports indicating the Mariners are even casually interested in bringing Pavano to Seattle.  This, of course, doesn't mean they aren't interested.  It just means it's less likely to be interested.  Furthermore, I'm not sure it's in the best interested of the Mariners to sign Pavano.  Currently, they're a rebuilding team with a below average rotation that's projected to be 70-75 win team in 2011.  Even with Pavano in the mix, they're still a rebuilding team with a below average rotation.  Signing him maybe adds 2-3 wins onto their year end total.  If signing Pavano doesn't make them a legitimate playoff contender (and it likely won't), it's probably more prudent for the Mariners to save their money for a rainy day.  Until we hear otherwise, we should probably assume the race for Pavano is of the two team variety.

    That leaves the Twins and Nationals as the de facto front runners.  After throwing $126M and a full no-trade clause at right fielder Jayson Werth, they were rumored to be more than slightly interested in signing this year's premier free agent starting pitcher, Cliff Lee.  Lee ended signing with the Phillies, so the money they had earmarked still remains.  The Nationals shallow rotation is currently headed up Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis, so obviously, they have a need for another starter.  Normally, I would suggest they follow the same path I suggested for the Mariners, but it's clear their not interested in making rational signings--only big splashes.  The Twins, knowing Pavano is interested in remaining in the Twin Cities, have a huge edge on their end of the negotiations.  Until their hand is forced, they have no reason to offer Pavano a contract beyond two years.  If Pavano has any chance of getting a three year contract this year, he'll probably have to convince Nationals GM Mike Rizzo to blink first.

    The longer Pavano waits to sign a deal, the more his situation becomes reminiscent of Joel Pineiro's situation from last offseason.  The difference between the two situations is that Pineiro was coming off an unlikely comeback season that followed five seasons of ineffectiveness.  Pavano, of course, has a two year track record of success after his four year run of ineffectiveness.  A few have speculated that interested teams are reluctant to sign Pavano to a three year deal based on his performance during his four year deal with the Yankees.  While that might be a legitimate reason, I think teams are far more concerned about giving a three year deal to a player at his age and injury history.  In all likelihood, I think Pavano ends up signing a two year contract, especially if negotiations extend beyond the BCS title game on January 10th.

    Dotel Signs with Blue Jays

    According to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, Octavio Dotel is close to reaching an agreement on a one year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.  The deal appears to be nearly identical to the contract he signed with Pittsburgh prior to the 2010 season, which was worth $3.2 M plus $500K in incentives.

    With Scott Downs having signed with the Angels and Kevin Gregg exploring other options, it appears Dotel may be given an opportunity to close in Toronto.  At 37, Dotel still has whiff inducing stuff, which includes a lively fastball and sharp breaking slider.  For his career, he's racked up a career K/9 rate of 10.95 in 834 innings. 

    The closer role is nothing new to Dotel.  He's encumbered the role a few times throughout his career with the Astros, Athletics, Royals, and Pirates with varying degrees of success.  Due to his penchant for issuing walks and allowing home runs, he's probably best suited as a seventh or eighth inning set up guy.  Still, you could definitely do worse than Dotel in the closer role--like Kevin Gregg, for example, who held the role for the Blue Jays last year. 

    Sunday, December 26, 2010

    Greatest Red Sox Pitching Performances of the Last 25 Years

    I really don't want this blog to revolve around the Red Sox, so these types of posts will be rare.  I got this idea after reading someone else's post on a bulletin board I frequent.  I'm adapting his idea slightly by focusing on the last 25 years, rather than the last 50 years.  I made this decision due to the great number of tremendous pitching performances the Red Sox (and their fans) have experienced in the quarter of a century.  The initiator of the bulletin board post is a regular reader of this blog, so I want to give him credit for coming up with such a great idea.  (I'd give him props for coming up with the idea even if he didn't read the blog as well.)  Without further adieu, here are the top ten greatest Red Sox pitching performances of the last 25 years.

    10.  Pedro Martinez 1998 - This was Pedro's inaugural season in Boston, and he didn't disappoint.  He went 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA (3.40 FIP), 9.67 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, and 6.7 WAR in 233.2 innings.  He came in second place in the Cy Young Award voting to Roger Clemens who achieved the pitching version of the triple crown for the second consecutive year. 

    9.  Roger Clemens 1988 - Clemens was terribly underrated in 1988, which was largely due to the number of losses (12) he accumulated.  Clemens put up his best strikeout season at the time, which would only be bested in 1997 when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Clemens finished the season 18-12 with 2.93 ERA (2.17 FIP), 9.92 K/9, 4.69 K/BB, and 10.0 WAR in 264 innings.  Criminally, Clemens finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting behind pitchers who were far inferior, including winner Frank Voila and eventual winner (1992) Dennis Eckersley.  Clemens led the league in complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, K/9, K/BB, and WAR. 

    8.  Roger Clemens 1987 - 1987 was somewhat of a lost season for the Red Sox, but Clemens kept them afloat.  During this season, he won his second consecutive Cy Young Award on the strength of a 20-9 record, 2.97 ERA (2.91 FIP), 8.18 K/9, 3.18 K/BB, and 9.3 WAR in 281.2 innings.  He led the league in wins, complete games, shutouts, K/BB, and WAR.

    7.  Josh Beckett 2007 - Josh Beckett willed the team to it's second championship in four seasons through a series of unbelievable shut down performances.  During the regular season, he was pretty great too.  He finished second in the CYA voting (and rightly so), and finished with a 20-7 record, 3.27 ERA (3.08 FIP), 8.70 K/9, 4.85 K/BB, and 6.5 WAR in 200.2 innings.  Beckett led the league in wins.

    6.  Pedro Martinez 2002 - Pedro's 2002 season looks almost pedestrian when compared to his 1999 and 2000 seasons.  Still, despite some stiff competition from teammate Derek Lowe (who just missed making this list), Pedro recaptured his spot as the best pitcher in the major leagues.  He went 20-4 with a 2.26 ERA (2.24 FIP), 10.79 K/9, 5.98 K/BB, and 8.3 WAR in 199.1 innings.  Pedro finished second behind Oakland's Barry Zito in the Cy Young Award voting despite having better statistics in every category but Wins.  Pedro led the league in ERA, ERA+ , FIP, winning percentage, strikeouts, K/9, K/BB, WHIP, and WAR. 

    5.  Curt Schilling 2004 - What didn't Curt Schilling do in this year.  He not only carried the Red Sox to the playoffs, but carried them on a wounded ankle through the postseason to their first World Series championship in 86 years.  His contributions to the team can not be understated.  He finished second in the Cy Young Award voting (and rightly so) going 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA (3.11 FIP), 8.06 K/9, 5.80 K/BB, and 7.3 WAR in 226.2 innings.  Schilling led the league in wins, winning percentage, and K/BB.

    4.  Roger Clemens 1986 - Only number four?  Yeah, but that's only because Clemens 1990 season and two transcendent Pedro seasons beat it out.  Clemens started out 14-0 as he steamrolled his way to the Cy Young Award, MVP, and a near World Series championship.  While a lot of people will never forgive him for supposedly asking to come out of the Game 6 (never confirmed to be true), the truth is that the Red Sox never would've made the playoffs, let alone the Series without him.  He finished up the season with a 24-4 record, 2.48 ERA (2.81 FIP), 8.43 K/9, 3.55 K/BB, and 8.0 WAR in 254 innings.  He led the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA, ERA+, FIP, and WHIP.

    3.  Roger Clemens 1990 - This is often the forgotten season for Clemens, and it's a shame because it was his best in Boston.  I can't think of any logical reason why he didn't win the Cy Young Award this year.  Voters were blinded by Bob Welch's eye popping 27 win total.  Unfortunately, those wins were pretty hollow as they were propped up by run support and a fantastic bullpen.  Clemens on the other hand went 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA (2.18 FIP), 8.24 K/9, 3.87 K/BB, and 8.7 WAR in 228.1 innings.  Also, he led the league in ERA, ERA+, FIP, shutouts, K/BB, and WAR.  Not bad for someone who finished second in the CYA voting.  The winner?  Oh, he led the league in wins...and that's it.

    2.  Pedro Martinez 2000 - I originally had this at number one, but decided to move it down to number two.  Really, it could go either way.  Pedro's 2000 season could best be described as transcendent, and is one of the four or five greatest pitching seasons of all time.  Many might point to Sandy Koufax's run from 1963-1966 as being more dominant, but he didn't pitched an environment that heavily favored pitchers.  Pedro's dominance (1997-2003) occurred at the height of the greatest offensive era in baseball history.  Pedro won his third Cy Young in four seasons going 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA (2.17 FIP), 11.78 K/9, 8.88 K/BB, and 10.1 WAR in 217 innings.  He led the league in ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, K/9, K/BB, WAR, and shutouts.

    1. Pedro Martinez 1999 - See above.  In this case, he was even more dominant.  This is far more dominant than any season I've ever witnessed, and it's certainly more than anything done since World War 2.  Just as an example of how dominant Pedro was, he registered double digit strikeouts in 19 of his 29 starts.  He also had nine strikeouts in three of his starts.  His final stats were 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA (1.39 FIP!!!), 13.20 K/9, 8.46 K/BB, and an astounding 12.1 WAR in 213.1 innings.  He led the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, strikeouts, K/9, K/BB, and WAR.  He finished second in the MVP balloting because two sports writers (George King and LaVelle Neal) left him off of their ballot entirely because they felt a pitcher should never win the MVP award.  King's no vote was incredibly hypocritical (and controversial) because he'd voted for Rick Helling and David Wells just one season before.

    Brandon Webb Signs with Rangers

    UPDATE (12/27/2010 at 11:40 a.m.):  Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Webb's deal is for one year $3M plus incentives that, if reached, could make the total package worth between $8-10M.  This seems like a bit of an overpay to me.  While Webb was one of the best pitchers in the NL for a period of four or five seasons, it still doesn't change the fact he hasn't pitched in two seasons.  Plus, the workouts he's held since last summer could best be described as underwhelming.  Seems like a lot of unnecessary risk to me.

    Original Post (12/26/2010 at 4:46 p.m.): According to Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse, 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb has agreed to contract with the Texas Rangers.  Considering Webb's injury history, it should come as no surprise that the deal will not be finalized until he passes a physical.  Terms of the contract have not been disclosed, but it's expected to be for one year. 

    Webb hasn't pitched since Opening Day 2009 when he tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder, so clearly this signing comes with quite a bit of risk.  The amount of risk, of course, depends on the amount of money Webb is being paid.  Considering the fact he hasn't pitched in two seasons, his salary isn't likely to exceed $1-2M.  If that's the case, it looks like a pretty solid deal for the Rangers who are desperately in need of pitching depth.

    Prior to his injury, Webb was a consistent 6.0-6.5 WAR pitcher with great control, whiff inducing stuff, and an above average ability to keep the ball in the yard.  Expecting him to recapture that form in 2011 is unrealistic.  If the Rangers can get even 2.0 WAR out of Webb, it will be nothing short of a victory.  Webb will likely use the 2011 season to rediscover his velocity, improve his stamina, and rebuild his value.

    In 2008, Webb put up a 22-7 record with 3.30 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 7.27 K/9, 2.82 K/BB, while providing 6.0 WAR in value.

    Uggla, Braves Still Making Progress on Extension

    Ten days ago, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe mentioned that the Braves and Uggla were near an agreement on a five year $60M contract extension.  As of today, they still haven't finalized the deal.  What's holding it up?  Cafardo has an update on the ongoing discussions.   
    By the way, since we first reported that Uggla was closing in on a five-year, $61 million deal, talks have slowed as he sought a few more dollars. But a deal should get done the first week of January.
    It's hard to imagine how much more Uggla can squeeze out of the Braves.  Uggla is a power hitting middle infielder.  Those types of players don't exactly grow on trees, so the Braves will likely pay a bit of a premium to retain his services long-term.  That said, Uggla is a below average defender at second base, and doesn't seem like a good bet to remain at the position past 2012 or 2013.  Considering Uggla's age (turning 31 in March), the Braves would be wise to not let the total value of Uggla's contract exceed five years $65M.  Uggla is a very talented player, but I'm highly skeptical of Uggla's ability to produce enough value to justify his salary in the last season or two of his next contract. 

    Should the Pirates Extend McCutchen?

    With Jay Bruce recently signing a six year $51M contract that buys out all three of his arbitration and his first three free agent seasons, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review took a look at the potential impact it could have on Pirates ability to keep budding star Andrew McCutchen in the fold long-term. 
    General manager Neal Huntington has not yet approached McCutchen's agent about a multi-year contract extension. But you can figure McCutchen's market value is close to that of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, who just received a six-year, $51 million deal.


    McCutchen, who debuted in the majors June 4, 2009, has 1.123 years of service time (262 games). Bruce, who debuted May 27, 2008, has 2.125 years of service time (357 games).


    Bruce was eligible for arbitration this year as a "Super Two" player — that is, those with less than three years' service time who are among the top 17 percent for cumulative playing time in the majors in this class of players and were on the major-league roster for at least 86 days in the previous season.

    Unless he also becomes a Super Two, McCutchen won't be eligible for arbitration until 2013.
    McCutchen just turned 24 years old in October, and has above average skills for his age.  Offensively, he makes solid contact (18.7% line drive rate), gets on base at an above average clip (career walk rate of 10.8%), and is very effective on the base paths (+5.4 runs on EQBRR scale, 78.5% success rate on stolen base attempts).  McCutchen has shown decent power (103 extra base hits in 1146 plate appearances) so far, and has potential to develop additional power as he enters his prime (60-70 extra base hits per season would not be far fetched).  Purely in terms of age and offensive value, Jay Bruce and Justin Upton look like excellent comparable players.

    McCutchen's defensive value is another question entirely.  While scouts and fans have rated him very highly, the defensive metrics greatly disagree.*  Over the past two seasons, John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) has him worth -18 runs, while Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has him rated at -15.7 runs.  McCutchen's ratings vastly differ from the ratings Jay Bruce (+28 DRS, +29.5 UZR) and Justin Upton (+18 DRS, +15.3 UZR) have received.  While this discrepancy is due, in part, to the fact McCutchen plays a more physically demanding position (center fielding) than either Upton or Bruce (right field), the gap between the parties would still exist even if we were to adjust for difference in position (approximately 5 runs per season).  Unless McCutchen can turn these numbers around, Bruce and Upton project to be more valuable commodities over the course of the next 5-6 seasons.

    *  Why the difference in opinion?  Well, for starters, the advanced metrics don't become statistically valid until a player has accumulated three seasons of data.  While the data is helpful, the two year sample size makes the findings less than ideal.  On the flip side, the scouting argument is not without holes either.  Scouts and fans rely on memory when making assessments of a player's defensive skills.  Memory, by it's very nature, is flawed and subject to emotional bias.  We tend to remember only the moments we feel are significant (in this case, either the tremendous or embarrassing defensive plays), while we forget the ones that seem routine.   

    Additionally, the plays monitored by fans and scouts are subject to selection bias.  It's impossible for a single observer to watch every single play in every single game over the course of a season or a group of seasons.  Typically, the majority of fans will watch games played by their favorite team.  As a result, they tend to rate their team's players much higher than those from other teams.  Furthermore, we only see the end result of each play.  Very rarely do we take note of things like defensive shifting, reaction time, or the route run by the player fielding the ball.  If a player makes a diving catch, we assume it was a great play.  That may be true, but it's that's not always the case.  Perhaps the fielder reacted slowly.  Maybe he misjudged a fly ball's speed/angle, or took a bad route to the ball, which forced him to make a diving play.  In those cases, the diving catch was the result of a series of errors that was saved by the player's athleticism and agility, not by his defensive talent.  

    Advance metrics don't take all of these factors into account, but they are more inclusive.  Metrics like UZR, DRS, Total Zone, and SAFE measure every play in every game, not just a small sample of the total plays made over the course of the season.  While these metrics don't take the speed in which a ball is hit (instead it uses categorized batted ball types like line drives, pop-ups, etc.) or the speed/agility of a particular player, it does take range, arm, and park factors (among other factors) into account.  The Field F/X system, which was instituted in 2010 will have a huge affect on the future improvements of these systems. The data is not yet available, and will likely take a few years before it proves to be meaningful. 

    Another major factor in determining the type of extension McCutchen (potentially) receives depends on whether he receives "Super Two" status (for arbitration eligibility) after the 2011 season.  If he does, it makes sense for the Pirates to try and negotiate a contract with McCutchen that would buy out not only his four arbitration seasons, but also two or three of his free agent years.  If he doesn't receive "Super Two" status, he won't become eligible for arbitration until after 2012.  This would allow the Pirates to exercise the reserve clause on McCutchen, and then re-sign him to a one year deal at or near the league's minimum salary.  In all likelihood, the Pirates would choose to wait until mid-2012 season before opening up serious negotiations with the centerfielder.

    On one hand, by holding off, the Pirates could risk additional market inflation for a player with McCutchen's skills; thereby, pricing themselves out of the market and forcing them to trade away another young talent.  On the other hand, waiting to re-sign McCutchen allows the Pirates to more accurately project his future value (in particular, his defensive value), thus allowing them to avoid risk from signing a relatively unproven commodity.  Based on everything I've seen from McCutchen, I see no reason not to expect him to be a 4-5 WAR player (on average) over the next six or seven seasons.  While I still think it would be wise for the Pirates not to buy out his pre-arbitration seasons, I think giving McCutchen a contract on par with the six year $51M deal Jay Bruce signed two weeks ago, could end up looking like a huge bargain by the time the contract expires.