Sunday, October 31, 2010

Should the Giants Shut Down Sanchez?

After last night's Game 3 start, there's a lot of chatter questioning whether the Giants should shut down left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for the remainder of the season.  Sanchez was excellent all season, showing flashes of dominance.  In his first postseason start, he was lights out.  He held the Braves to two hits over 7-1/3 innings while striking out eleven and walking one.  His last three postseason starts (Games 2 and 5 in the NLCS and Game 3 of the World Series), could be best described as inconsistent, although some might call them forgettable.

While I haven't seen the pitch f/x data for his four postseason starts, the anecdotal evidence indicates Sanchez is suffering from fatigue.  His average fastball velocity appears to have fallen off, which would explain why his K/9 rate has steadily dropped off since his first postseason start.  His location hasn't been as crisp, which has led to an increase in line drives.  Finally, his control is all over the place.*        

*In his first start, Sanchez threw 65.7% of his pitches for strikes.  In his second start, he threw 64% of his pitches for strikes.  In his third (and most forgettable start), he threw 48% of his pitches for strikes.  In last night's start, he threw 59.7% of his pitches for strikes.  As a frame of reference, Sanchez threw 61.5% of his total pitches for strikes this season. 

Normally, I would chalk his poor performance over last few starts up to small sample size variation.  Unfortunately, I don't think we can say that here.  Sanchez threw 193.1 innings during the regular season, plus an additional 20 during the postseason.  This number exceeds his 2009 total (and previous high) by 50 innings.  When you consider the anecdotal factors listed above, his total workload, and the additional stress and pressure that comes from pitching in the postseason, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Sanchez is suffering from a dead arm.  Sanchez claims his arm feels fine, but do you really expect him to say anything else?  If the schedule holds, Sanchez is on pace to pitch Game 7, which is something every pitcher dreams of doing.  He's not going to risk that.

This brings us back to the question:  Should the Giants shut Sanchez down?  No.  They should not shut him down completely.  That said, it might be a smart idea to start Madison Bumgarner in Game 7, while making Sanchez available to pitch out of the bullpen.  Bumgarner has been outstanding over the past two months (44/5 K/BB ratio and an ERA under 2.00), and he seems to have plenty left in the tank.  Pitching Sanchez out of the bullpen should minimize Sanchez's feelings of fatigue, while giving the Giants the power lefty out of the bullpen they need.  Making this difficult decision probably puts the Giants in the best position to win their first World Series since 1954 if the series goes to seven games.

Today's Special

Everyday, I read a ton of great baseball articles.  Unfortunately, I have only so much time in my busy schedule to put together posts.  (In case you haven't noticed, I'm pretty long winded...)  So each Sunday, I'll post a bunch of links of articles I recommend.  You can read them, not read them.  It's up to you.  Let's put it this way, if I'm posting them, there's probably a good reason for it.
  • Fangraphs' Dave Cameron continues his great Contract Crowdsourcing series.  This week, his subject was first basemen.  Check out the results.  There are some pretty surprising outcomes.
  • Rob Neyer has a take on one of my all-time favorite punching bags (Giants GM, Brian Sabean), and how his "plan" helped get the Giants back to the World Series.
  • Joe Posnanski gives us his take on anti-competitive nature of the intentional walk.  If there's one must read article on here, it's Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Fire Brand of the American League's Charlie Saponara takes an objective look at J.D. Drew's prospects for 2011.  Based on his projections (one that I agree with), it looks like the 4-5 WAR production we saw from Drew in 2008 and 2009 is long gone.
  • I am a huge fan of linear weights like wOBA, FIP, etc.  This article by Hardball Times Jeffrey Gross uses linear weights to find out what would happen to Ichiro's batting average if he decided to focus on power rather than hitting singles.  
  • Do you not have enough reasons to think Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman was a giant tool?  Well, get your fix with Patrick Sullivan's (Baseball Analysts) piece on the Blue Jays hiring of Jon Farrell and Heyman's reaction.
  • If there's one Yankee blog that I would classify as "Must Read" it's "It's About the Money Stupid."  Check out their rational, objective take on how the 2009-2010 directly contributed to the Yankees missing the World Series.
  • Crash Burn Alley's Bill Baer put together a great series on Chase Ultey.  Check out the article--even if you only check it because of the clip from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
  • Sabernomics is a great site.  The author, J.C. Bradbury, gives baseball a fresh look by analyzing the game through the lens of economics.  This week he asks the question, "What is Jayson Werth, Worth?"
  • The Book's MGL gives an excellent explanation of what sabermetricians mean by luck.
  • Nick's Twin Blog exposes Bill Smith's greatest weakness--overvaluing his young player's future performance. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Luck of Clay Buchholz

There's been a lot written about Clay Buchholz over the years. Prior to being drafted by the Red Sox in 2005, he was arrested for stealing computers from a middle school. In 2007, in his second career start, he threw a no hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on 115 impressive pitches. In 2008, amidst incredibly high expectations, Buchholz struggled to the point where the Red Sox eventually demoted him to AA. After a rebirth in 2009 (which resulted in a Game 3 ALDS start), Buchholz was given a spot in the Red Sox rotation.

In 2010, Buchholz had a very successful season, particularly by traditional standards. He put up a 17-7 record with a 2.33 ERA, and was frequently named as a serious contender for the AL Cy Young. On the surface, Clay Buchholz appears to have been one of the majors best pitchers. While Buchholz was very good, I'm here to tell you that he's probably not worthy of serious consideration for the Cy Young Award. (Gasp! I know. A Red Sox fan is actually being objective about a player on his team. This is incredibly rare.)

Buchholz seems to have benefited from an extraordinary amount of luck in 2010. How do I know this? Well, for starters, I looked at his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In a given season, most starting pitchers will register a BABIP between .285 and .310, with the majority of pitchers being within a few points of .300. Pitchers that register BABIPs outside of that range in one season will typically see that number regress back to the expected range the next season. Based on the numerous studies, analysts have found that pitchers have little, if any, control over their BABIP. Essentially, a pitcher's success with this statistic is largely (but not entirely) based on luck and the quality of the defense behind them. So how does this affect Buchholz's performance? In 2010, Buchholz gave up 142 hits, resulting in a .265 BABIP, which is significantly below the expected range. To determine that amount of "luck" Buchholz had on balls in play, I calculated his expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on his rate of giving up line drives, fly balls, and ground balls. After stripping away luck and quality of defense, I was able to calculate that Buchholz probably should have registered a BABIP closer to .301 (nearly dead on with the expected .300). This would've resulted in Buchholz giving up 154 hits, as opposed to 142. While 12 hits might not seem like that big of a difference over the course of 28 starts (and it isn't), it's the timing of those hits that matter.  Using linear weights, a single is, on average, worth 0.9 runs (based on wOBA).  Multiplying 12 singles by 0.9 runs, you get 10.8 runs which we'll round up to 11 runs. This would have a significant effect on his ERA, raising it from 2.33 to 2.90.  His ERA could, of course, be higher if he gave up those 12 hits with runners on second and third in each situation. 

Buchholz wasn't just lucky on balls in play. He was also lucky on balls hit out of the park. To determine his rate of luck in this factor, I chose to use a statistic called home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate. Like with BABIP, HR/FB rate seems to be a normalized rate. By and large, pitchers typically register a HR/FB rate between 9.5-11.5%, with the league average being at 10.5%.* If a pitcher registers a HR/FB rate well above or below that range in one season, he'll typically regress back to that range the very next season. After registering HR/FB rates of 14.7% and 15.7% in 2008 and 2009 (albeit in smaller sample sizes), Buchholz registered a 5.6% HR/FB rate in 2010. This stands out as a little fishy for two reasons. One, his 2010 rate is well below the expected rate of 10.5%. Two, his 2010 rate is significantly lower than his rates in 2008 and 2009. While I can surmise that Buchholz was somewhat unlikely in 2008 and 2009 on HR/FB rate, I'm fairly certain he benefited from the pendulum swinging the other way last year. So how lucky did Buchholz get? Well, in 2010, he gave up nine home runs. After normalizing his HR/FB rate at 10.5%, I found that Buchholz was expected to give up 17 home runs based on his fly ball rate. At minimum, that's an additional eight runs toward his ERA--and that's only if we assume all of those expected home runs were solo shots.  Assuming all eight home runs is not only overly simplistic, but it's also unlikely.  Instead, we'll use the linear weights estimate (derived from wOBA) for run expectation of a home run--1.95 runs.  Taking 1.95 runs and multiplying it by eight home runs, you get 15.6 runs, which we'll round to 16 runs.  After adjusting his ERA for the additional sixteen runs (and the 11 runs from the BABIP adjustment above), that bumps his ERA up to 3.73--not far off from his 2010 Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP) of 3.61.

* There are factors that can push this rate above or below this range for certain categories of pitchers. For instance, pitchers that pitch in extreme environments could have their HR/FB rate affected. Fenway is not one of these environments, as it favors doubles over home runs.

Additionally, the rate at which a pitcher gives up ground balls does not factor into the equation. A pitcher that has a 50% ground ball rate should theoretically have a similar HR/FB rate to a pitcher that has a 35% ground ball rate. That said, the pitcher that gives up ground balls at a lower rate should give up more home runs because of his elevated fly ball rate.

I don't want to give the impression that Buchholz wasn't a good pitcher last season--he was I also don't want to give the impression that his future isn't rosy--it definitely is. I do want to caution that there are factors that contributed to his performance in 2010 that we can't (and shouldn't) expect to be repeated in 2011. If he was to repeat his season exactly (in terms of strikeouts, walks, batted balls, etc.), we would likely see him register an ERA closer to 4.00 rather than 2.30.

Buchholz does have a bright future ahead of him.  He gives up ground balls at a rate above 50%, which means he'll be one of the better pitchers when it comes to avoiding home runs.  He induces contact at a rate below 80%, while inducing a whiffs at nearly a 10% rate. This indicates that we should see his K/9 rate increase from 6.22 to around 7.50 or higher (based on pitchers with comparable rates). In turn, this would improve his K/BB rate, while reducing the number of balls put into play (and therefore hits allowed).  One area that Buchholz needs to improve upon if he's ever to become an elite pitcher is his walk rate.  His 3.47 BB/9 rate was in the bottom quartile of American League qualifying pitchers.  Simply by reducing his walk rate, he'll be able to avoid the larger variances in performance that stems from poor luck (through BABIP and HR/FB rate).

Negro Leagues

Joe Posnanski is easily the greatest living baseball writer not named Peter Gammons.  In his latest blog entry, he touched upon a very important, and often overlooked subject.  The Negro League Baseball Museum, after years of poor leadership decisions and loss of direction, is in financial disarray and in danger of closing.  I'm not going to go into too much detail on the subject because I can't do it justice, but I do want to touch upon the main thing that really struck a chord with me.  I recommend reading the full article.
"The Negro Leagues remain a difficult thing to celebrate.  For obvious reasons, almost nobody mourned its death.  If anything, people mourned that it had ever existed at all.  How do you celebrate an anachronism?  How do you commemorate a piece of America that was not touched by what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature?  And yet, as Buck would say, these guys COULD PLAY, MAN.  These teams were centerpieces of bustling black communities.  The biggest games were played on Sundays after church, following Saturday nights overflowing with jazz — this is American history too.  Buck dedicated the later part of his life to keeping this history alive, these memories alive, to keeping the players alive, to reminding people that, yes, Willie Mays was the GREATEST MAJOR LEAGUE player he ever saw, but Oscar Charleston was the GREATEST PLAYER he ever saw.
I agree with Joe when he asks, "How can we celebrate an anachronism?"  He's right.  There's no way to celebrate a situation that never should've existed in the first place.  The segregation instilled by Major League Baseball robbed baseball fans the opportunity to see some of the greatest players the game had at the time, all because of racist self-interests.  It's sad.  The men who played in the Negro Leagues didn't play baseball for the money, the prestige, or the recognition.  They did so because they loved the game.  That's what should be celebrated.  Major League Baseball rejected them as not being worthy of participating in their league, yet their love and desire of the game propelled them to play anyway. 

I am a huge baseball fan.  I always have been, and always will.  That said, there's this huge part of baseball history (the Negro Leagues) that I know very little about.  That changes today.  While I may not have the disposable income to donate money to the Negro League museum (like Craig Calcaterra did after posting his take on the NLBM situation), I will make every effort to honor Negro League players by reading, researching, and learning more about their league and their accomplishments. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Twins have a Fever, and the Only Cure is More Kubel...

As Hardball Talk's Aaron Gleeman reports, it appears the Twins have picked up Jason Kubel's $5.25M option.  While I feel Kubel is a useful player in some way, I can't help but wonder if that money could be better spent elsewhere.  Kubel, primarily a designated hitter, is coming off of a season where he posted a career worst .326wOBA (+2.2 wRAA).  For a guy that's being relied upon for his ability to create offense, that's pretty bad.  This isn't really a new phenomenon for Kubel.  Outside of a good 2009 season where he seems to have benefited from a higher than expected BABIP (.327), Kubel has been a league average player ever since he became an everyday player in 2007.

People tend to overrate Kubel because he's consistently put up at least 20 HR and 80 RBI over each of the past three seasons, but he's very much an average offensive player.  He has a decent, but not great batting eye (8.9% walk rate, .335 OBP), and he provides good, but not great power (career SLG of .463, averages 28 doubles per season).  All in all, this adds up to a player worth +5-10 weighted runs above average (wRAA).  Once you factor in defense, durability, and positional adjustments, Kubel comes out to just above replacement level.  In the past four seasons, Kubel has been worth 0.8, 0.5, 3.0, 0.3 WAR (starting in 2007).  That's an average of 1.15 WAR or approximately $5M per season.  While his $5M per season value might seem to be inline with his $5.25M option for 2011 (especially for a player still theoretically in his prime), we need to realize that his average value includes an outlier (2009).  If you were to remove his 2009 season (3.0 WAR, $13.4M), you'd find that his true talent level is actually closer to 0.5 WAR, $2.3M.

While Kubel might seem like a pretty safe bet to provide adequate production out of the DH spot, there are other options out there that may end up being cheaper and more productive.  Plus, if the Twins declined the option, they might end up being able to re-sign him to a contract that's more inline with his true value.

More on the World Series, Ron Washington Blunders

What has gotten into the Giants?  No, seriously.  What has gotten into them?  Offensively, they’ve exploded for twenty runs in two games.  All of this coming from a team that finished ninth in the NL in scoring with 697 runs scored.  Coming into the series, everyone knew that the Giants had the slight edge in pitching, (with the exception of Texas’s Cliff Lee), and that the Rangers had a huge edge in hitting.  What we didn’t know was that the Rangers bats would fall silent, and the Giants would wake up after nearly a season long slumber. 

Through six and a half innings last night, we had a tremendous pitching duel.  Matt Cain was inducing lazy fly balls, while C.J. Wilson kept Giant batters off balance by mixing up his array of pitches.  Then, with the Giants up 1-0, Wilson was forced out of the game after 101 pitches and one batter faced in the seventh, due to a blister on his pitching hand.  Darren Oliver came on in relief, and pitched fairly well giving up one hit and an inherited runner. 

After a quick eighth inning for the Giants (Cain was removed with two outs and replaced by Javier Lopez), the Rangers trotted back out to the field with righty Darren O’Day on the mound.  O’Day gave up one hit (a single to Buster Posey) and struck out two, before giving way to lefty Derek Holland.  Washington’s choice of Holland could be best described as perplexing because he was brought in to fact two right handed batters, Burrell (who was immediately replaced by the left-handed Nate Schierholtz) and Cody Ross.  Perhaps Washington’s strategy was to get Burrell out of the lineup for the rest of the night.  If so, mission accomplished.  Either way, the strategy backfired.  Holland walked three consecutive batters on 13 pitches before getting pulled.  The Rangers were now down 3-0.  In hopes of turning things around, Washington calls on Mark Lowe to finish off the inning.  This doesn’t work either.  Lowe walks Juan Uribe, which brings in another run.  (Yes, the same Juan Uribe that has a career .300 OBP and 5.6% walk rate.  I can’t make this up.)  The score is now 4-0 Giants.  Then, with the bases still loaded, Lowe gives up a single to Edgar Renteria, which goes just past the statuesque Mike Young.  Two runs score, Giants up 6-0.  Washington’s had enough, and makes another call to the bullpen.  This time he calls for Michael Kirkman.   Does Kirkman stop the bleeding?  Well, eventually, but not before giving up a triple to Andre Torres and a double to Freddie Sanchez.  When the inning is finally over, the Rangers are behind 9-0, which ended up being the final score.

Now, if you’re like me, you have this sneaking suspicion that something isn’t quite right.  I can’t quite put my finger on it…  Oh wait.  Yes I can!  Rob Neyer, take it away:

“It's 2-0 in the eighth inning of the second game of the World Series. You've already lost the first game (through no fault of the manager). If you don't win this one, you're in big trouble. You've got tomorrow off. Your best pitcher hasn't pitched in nearly a week, and has pitched only three innings in the last two weeks.

And you never use him. You leave Neftali Feliz rotting away in the bullpen, just as you've left him rotting away through most of October.”

Sound familiar?  Didn’t I say the same thing after Game 1 of the ALCS?  Why is Ron Washington so afraid to use Feliz in non-save situations?  I don’t get it.  Look, I’m not saying Washington should’ve brought him in instead of Derek Holland.  Perhaps bringing in Holland was the right move at the time because it forced the Giants to remove Pat Burrell from the game.  I can accept that.  What I can’t (and won’t) accept is the idea that keeping Holland in the game after he walked Schierholz was the right move.  I also won’t accept that bringing in Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman after Holland failed were the right moves either.  (Just to note, Feliz didn’t get up once to warm up during the eighth.  Had Kirkman failed to get the final out, potential Game 4 starter Tommy Hunter was apparently next in line to pitch.)  Washington needs to manage his team in a manner that puts his team in the best position to win, and he’s not doing that.  He’s leaving his best relief pitcher to rot in the bullpen, while inferior pitchers are being asked to handle the most crucial situations.  This is unfair not only to Feliz (who I’m sure is dying to pitch), but the whole team. 

Look, I’m not saying the Rangers would’ve won had they put Feliz into the game after Holland walked Schierholtz.  They wouldn’t have.  The Rangers failed to score any runs all game, and I don’t see any reason to believe the outcome would’ve been any different had Feliz come in to get the final out in the eighth.  My argument is that pitching Feliz would’ve put the Rangers in a much better position to win.  (A team down 2-0 has a much greater chance of winning than one down 9-0.)  To win a best of seven series, a manager needs to take advantage of situations that give his team an edge.  Washington has shown time and again this postseason (especially through the first two games of the World Series) that he’s not up to the task. 

UPDATE:  NBC’s Hardball Talk Craig Calcaterra added this hysterical anecdote about Ron Washington’s managing ability:

“I’ll simply add that watching Ron Washington manage the Rangers’ bullpen in the postseason has been like watching Richie Tennebaum against Gandhi at the U.S. Nationals tournament. All I can think is that Washington’s adopted sister married Raleigh St. Clair yesterday, throwing him off his game, leading to all of these unforced errors.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Red Sox Going Hard After Crawford?

If you believe Peter Gammons (and I usually do), the Red Sox are going to be big time players in the Carl Crawford sweepstakes:
"There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to go really hard after Carl Crawford.  That will be a matchup with the Angels, and you know there are some puffs of smoke coming out of New York that suggest the Yankees might go after him, even though their primary need is pitching."
This isn't really a surprise.  Cameron was a huge disappointment after sustaining a torn abdominal muscle early in the 2010 campaign.  Who knows what they'll get out of him next year?  Plus, I don't think the Red Sox see him as a starting player in 2011.  Ellsbury failed to take that pivotal next step forward as he struggled with cracked ribs and a possible case of Boras-itis.  Many out there believe he will be used as trade bait this offseason.  J.D. Drew was remarkably healthy last season, but he's going into his age-36 season, which will be the final season of his semi-controversial five year contract. 

The Red Sox need to start rebuilding their outfield now.  What better way to start the outfield rebuilding process than to sign a player that's accumulated 12.6 Wins Above Replacement over the past two seasons?  Crawford is an outstanding player.  He has tremendous speed, a decent batting eye, good power, and unbelievable defensive abilities in LF.  Going into his age-29 season, he's a five tool player that doesn't show any signs of regression.  To sign Crawford, the winning bid will likely need to pony up a 6 year deal worth close to $100M.  While the Red Sox have seemed reticent to pony up for big time free agents in recent years, I don't see them having any problem meeting this price tag.

Is he worth it?  In years one and two, I'll set the regression rate at 0.5 WAR per season; in years three, four, and five at 0.75 WAR per season; and in years  six at 1.00 WAR per season.  As with my previous examples, I will assume a 5% increase in the value of a win on the free agent market over each of the next six seasons.  Based on my initial 2011 projections, Crawford will be a 6.0 WAR player.  Here's how Crawford stacks up over the life of a theoretical 6 year $100M contract:

                Age       WAR       Value       Salary       Variance
2011          29         5.8         $23.8      $16.66         +$7.1
2012          30         5.3         $22.8      $16.66         +$6.1
2013          31         4.6         $19.8      $16.67         +$3.1
2014          32         3.8         $17.2      $16.67         +$0.5
2015          33         3.1         $14.7      $16.67         -$2.0
2016          34         2.1         $10.5      $16.67         -$6.2
Total                      24.7       $108.8     $100.0         +$8.8

(All monetary values in millions.)

So Crawford would definitely be worth a theoretical 6 year $100M contract, barring major injuries--and then some.  Considering Crawford's age and talent level, he will likely have several high profile suitors (Yankees and Angels) to go along with the Red Sox.  This could push his contract closer to an average annual salary of $17M to $18M.  I'd be ok with this, as this would be Crawford's theoretical break even point.  All-in-all, the Red Sox should make a full fledged effort to sign Crawford as long as his contract demands stay within the parameters I've set.  Once it goes above those levels, the contract becomes a losing investment, and likely puts the Red Sox payroll flexibility at risk. 

Pedro Looking to Comeback?

ESPN Deportes Enrique Rojas tweets that Pedro Martinez was training at Licey Tigers facilities in San Domingo, and has some news:
""I'm looking for motivation to come back."
After sitting out the entire 2010, Pedro is looking to make yet another comeback.  I am a huge Red Sox fan, and I will forever love Pedro Martinez.  What he accomplished between 1997-2003 (and especially 1999 and 2000) was quite possibly the single greatest run by any pitcher in history.  If you haven't looked at his Baseball Reference page recently, do it now.  That said, Pedro has not been an effective pitcher since May 2006 when his ailing shoulder finally started to come apart at the seams.  If he was to be successful in making his comeback, he would enter the 2011 season as a 39 year old pitcher.  I have to wonder how much he has left, if anything.  When he last pitched in 2009 for the Phillies, his average fastball velocity was 88.5 MPH, and he was forced to rely on movement and pinpoint control.  When he wasn't able to locate, he struggled.

If I was Pedro, I'd hang up the spikes.  There's nothing sadder than a watching a once great player continue to play after he's lost it.  I'd rather remember him as the great player he was, not the player who struggled late in his career.

Sanity Returns...but Only for a Second...

It appears that Ron Washington's sanity has returned.  Vladmir Guerrero has been removed from the Rangers starting lineup, and will be replaced by David Murphy.  As I discussed earlier, Vlad gives the Rangers a slight advantage offensively (over Murphy), but that advantage is completely erased (and then some) by his complete inability to field his position.  It appears that Washington's return to sanity appears to be short lived:
"If we come back here for Games 6 and 7, I'm going to play Guerrero a game here too," Washington said. "We're here because of Vlad. So I'm supposed to play two games in San Francisco and not let him touch the field? It won't happen."
Well, it appears that Washington is not only insane, but also a bit delusional.  Guerrero was certainly a big reason for the Rangers making the playoffs, but he's far from being the reason they're "here".  If anyone is the reason the Rangers are in their current position, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, C.J. Wilson, Neftali Perez, Cliff Lee, and Colby Lewis are all better examples.  Plus, it's not like he's been lighting up the world in the playoffs where his OPS is .612 in 49 at bats. 

To answer Washington's question, though, the answer is yes.  You are supposed to play games 6 and 7 in San Francisco, and not let him touch the field--not even for a second.  Guerrero is still an above average hitter, but he's below average in every other facet of the game.  The best strategy to winning in a best of seven series is to put your best players on the field at all times.  Allowing Vlad Guerrero to play any position other than DH compromises the Rangers ability to put their best team on the field.  As the manager, Washington has the right to play Guerrero in RF, but at his own peril.  

Will the Steroid Debate Ever Go Away?

ESPN New York columnist Ian O’Conner approves of the Mets hiring of Sandy Alderson as their General Manager under one caveat—he apologize for his role in the steroid era:

“Who would dare reject that resume? Alderson sounds more like a commissioner of a first-rate sport than a general manager of a second-rate team. In fact, maybe a quick fix of the Mets puts him in line to succeed Bud Selig.

Don't get us wrong: Sandy Alderson has a resume perfect for the Mets' GM job. But his role as an enabler in baseball's Steroid Era can't be ignored.

But when he steps to the microphone as Omar Minaya's replacement, Alderson should take the time of offer an apology. He should say he's sorry for being an enabler at a time when baseball desperately needed a whistle-blower and a leader.

He should say he's sorry for allowing the monstrous steroid culture to grow fangs on his watch.”

Alright!  Please spare me.  I’ve had enough of the sanctimonious garbage.  It’s time to move on from the steroid discussion.  The sooner we move on, the sooner we can put the era into perspective and begin to heal from an era that apparently has caused people so much pain.  Frankly, though, I don’t get it.  I loved the steroid era.  It was fun and exciting.  Home run balls were flying out of the park at an alarming rate.  Records, once unattainable, were being broken.  We all loved it.  Then, we found it out it wasn’t real, and our memories were cheapened.  Or at least, we think it wasn’t real.*  And our memories were cheapened.  We just chose to feel that way. 

*I have read a few studies that pose a very convincing argument that steroids were not the cause of the jump in home runs.  Instead, the baseball itself was fitted with a livelier core composition and wound tighter, thus creating an increase in home runs. This was done in an effort to draw fans back to the game after the lengthy 1994-1995 strike.   After the fan, media, and government outrage over steroid usage in baseball became overwhelming, MLB, knowing they had to do something, changed the composition of the ball around the same time league-wide steroid testing commenced.  This has led to a gradual decline in home runs since 2005.  While this argument may seem far fetched, it is certainly plausible; especially when you consider MLB’s obsession with public image. 

Furthermore, several studies have questioned the effect additional upper body muscle mass has on an individual player’s ability to hit home runs.  Steroids build muscle mass in the upper body, while most of a player’s power ability is derived from the lower body.  Additional upper body mass restricts flexibility, thereby making it tougher for a player to maintain bat speed.  Out of the studies I’ve read, analysts have estimated that players who used steroids were able to hit a fly ball an additional 3-5 farther than comparable players who do not use steroids.  While that will certainly account for a part of the jump in home runs, it does not account for the bulk of the increase.

We can’t change the record books.  Steroids or not, these records fell.  We can’t create an alternative record holder just because we feel like it.  We can’t go back in time to stop these things from happening, so the best thing to do is accept it for what it is.  We need to appropriately adjust these statistics in comparison to other eras in order to make sense of what we experienced.  Depending on the year, a 50 home run season has different values.  For instance, a 50 home run season in 1968 (the Year of the Pitcher) would be far more valuable than a 50 home run season in 1930 or 2000 (peak offensive years). 

Back to Alderson, though.  What does he really have to apologize for?  Yes, he was the GM of the Oakland A’s when Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were bashing their way to three consecutive AL pennants and a World Series championship.  Yes, he had suspicions about Canseco.  But so did a lot of people.  Owners, fans, players, baseball writers, and outside observers all had these suspicions, and no one really did anything about it until it blew up in our faces.  Did Ian O’Conner have suspicions?  I don’t know. As someone close to the game, I suspect he may have.  If he did have suspicions, there is no evidence that he did anything with that information to bring it to light.  I’m not going to pass judgment though.  I’m not going to claim to know what he did or did not know.  That’s neither my job, nor is it his.  To make a claim that Alderson not only knew, but was also complicit (or worse, encouraging) in the steroid era, is borderline reckless.  To claim that he owes everyone an apology for his supposed role is nothing short of arrogant.

A Bunch of Savages in this Town...

Aww...yeah!  I just got outta jail, biotch!
 I know that I’m a couple of days behind on this story, but I felt that it was necessary for me to hold off a few days so I could write about it in a fair, unbiased manner.  Tyler Kepner of the New York Times gives us the scoop:

“When the millions start piling up at the negotiating table this winter, the behavior of a few rowdy Yankees fans will probably make no difference to Cliff Lee, the Texas Rangers’ ace and a pending free agent. But Lee’s wife, Kristen, was disturbed by the fans at Yankee Stadium during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series last week.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” she told USA Today. “When people are staring at you and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

This might shock you, but apparently Yankee fans were shouting obscenities, throwing cups of beer, and spitting from the balcony above—or as I call it, a typical Yankee fan’s Saturday night.  (Perhaps, I should’ve waited a few more days to write this post…)  All of this occurred while Cliff Lee’s wife, Kristen, was sitting in the family section of the stadium.

Since this report came out, bloggers, sportswriters, and talking heads have been trying to put their spin on what this means for the Yankees chances of signing Cliff Lee.  I’m here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that this situation will have absolutely no effect on the Yankees ability to sign him.  If there’s one thing the Yankees have going for them, it’s their ability to change a player’s perception simply by throwing additional money around.  I’m not saying this as a bad thing either, because it’s a great advantage to have.  While it certainly would be a nice story if the World Series champion Rangers (assuming they win) were able to re-sign their ace pitcher to a long-term deal, I’m not sure it’s realistic.  The Yankees are coming off of a season where they failed to reach the World Series.  In Yankeeland, anything short of a championship is considered to be nothing less than an absolute failure.  Considering how shallow their rotation as been in each of the last two seasons (particularly the postseasons), Lee seems like an obvious target.  Once the Yankees identify a target, they very rarely miss the mark. 

I have no doubt the Rangers will put forth their best effort to retain Lee, but it’s hard for me to imagine him not following the money.  I’m not saying he’s greedy by any means.  I’m saying without some sort of nostalgic reason (beyond the winning a championship), I don’t see him taking a “home town discount” to stay in Texas.  For someone that’s been passed around like a cheerleader at a frat party over the past two seasons ( he’s played for four teams:  Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Texas), Lee is going to look to cash in and settle down.  What better place to do that, then New York.  Unfortunately…

Hendry to Welcome his Exiled Cub Back to the Pride

Yesterday, the Yankees declined their $11M option on Kerry Wood.  I know.  Shocking!  After combining for a total of 0.6 WAR between 2009 and 2010, Wood’s true value is probably closer to $1-1.5M per season.  (He did pitch much better once he had been traded to the Yankees.)  Despite Wood’s struggles over the past two seasons, it appears he has at least one suitor—the Cubs Jim Hendry.  As ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine reports:

“A source familiar with the situation said Wood would be welcomed back to the Cubs organization if general manager Jim Hendry has enough money in the offseason to be able to sign Wood and add the other dimensions to become a contender.”

I find this quote to be very confusing—and amusing.  Both Levine and the unnamed source take a wild leap in assuming that Hendry is going to be retained as the Cubs GM.  While it certainly is puzzling that Hendry hasn’t been fired yet (and I stress the word yet), it’s only a matter of time.  Hendry’s inability to manage a roster, maintain payroll flexibility, and build a solid farm system is the reason the Cubs are in the mess they’re in now.  With new ownership fully in place, it’s only a matter of time before they decide to put their own touch on the organization.  When that happens, Hendry will likely be given the first ticket out of town.

Oh, and for the Cubs signing Kerry Wood?  I would pass unless they get a really great deal.  They need to shed old, expensive players, not acquire them.