Monday, February 28, 2011

Please Pardon this Brief Interuption...

Oh, I had such grand plans for today.  I was going to spend all afternoon and evening writing here, and then I got an email from Evan Brunell telling me that ESPN wanted us to contribute articles to the Sweet Spot tomorrow.  Hopefully, you guys understand.  My article (topic unknown) will probably run tomorrow afternoon, so check it out.  Also, I'll post the link once it uploads.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Round-Up - 2/27/2011

Sorry these links are a little late today.  I had to go work off the lobster and brie grilled cheese, duck fat fries, and two heavy, hearty stouts I had last night, at the gym.  It was delicious and definitely worth it.  Without further adieu, here are the links.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fun with WAR graphs

I have a serious baseball fetish.  I love playing around with WAR graphs on Fangraphs.  This first one is of a few of the great second basemen over the last 40 years:  Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Ryne Sandberg, and Roberto Alomar.  Interesting thing to note...Whitaker and Grich produced higher WAR totals for their career than Sandberg and Alomar.  Somehow, the former fell off of the Hall of Fame ballot after their first year of eligibility, while the latter are currently enshrined.  While I'm not saying Sandberg and Alomar shouldn't be the Hall of Fame (Alomar for sure and Sandberg maybe), but Grich and Whitaker certainly deserved a better fate.

Do you remember those debates 10-15 years ago about which shortstop was going to have the better career:  A-Rod, Nomar, Jeter, or Tejada?  Well, it turns out that debate was pretty silly right from the beginning.  A-Rod far out classed everyone in terms of performance, while Nomar was dead even with Jeter until injuries derailed his promising career.  As for Tejada?  Well, he was pulling up the rear for quite a while, but finally, he's caught up with the third place member of the pack (Nomar).  It only took him six years to do.

This last WAR graph includes Edgar Martinez, Tony Perez, Andre Dawson, and Jim Rice.  The latter three are Hall of Famers, while Edgar Martinez is on the outside looking in.  Martinez, unlike the three undeserving Hall of Fame inductees listed above, not only beat them in terms of career WAR, but did so while playing most of his career playing DH.  Every season, he he was at at least a one win disadvantage (the difference between the DH and a corner OF spot), and somehow he managed to beat them all.  How did he do it?  He actually was a great hitter, unlike the other three who were great hitters by reputation. 

That's all for now.  Next Saturday, I'll post some more fun WAR graphs, which hopefully will spur some discussion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cabrera Claims He's Not An Alcoholic; Jim Leyland Claims He's Never Smoked

Ok, obviously the second part of that title isn't true but I'm sure you see the point I'm trying to make here.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitting first basemen in baseball. He's coming off arguably the best season of his career. In 2010 Cabrera batted .328 with 38 HR and led the league in RBI with 126. Throw in a league leading OBP of .420, 111 runs scored, and an incredible WAR of 6.9 and you have a more than a valid argument that Miguel Cabrera and not Josh Hamilton deserved the MVP. (Cabrera finished second.) There is no question that Cabrera is a unique talent.

He's also in a state of denial more massive than our national debt.

Upon arriving for Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Florida this morning, Cabrera immediately faced the media and issued a public apology for his February 16th arrest for driving under the influence and resisting arrest. Thankfully he's planning to undergo treatment through the MLB's players union. That's certainly encouraging news but what was perplexing was this statement from Cabrera:
"I have it under control. It was just a bad decision. I plan to continue with treatment. I made a mistake this time, and all I can do is continue treatment."
Cabrera basically said everything except, "I can stop whenever I want to." This is a textbook reaction from someone who doesn't want to admit that he's an alcoholic. I'm sorry but when you get caught driving drunk without a license (he only has a permit), resist arrest, and drink liquor straight from the bottle in front of the cops, it's not just a "mistake."

What's sad is that this is not the first incident for Cabrera. On October 3rd, 2009 Cabrera spent the entire night binge drinking, got into an altercation with his wife, and had to be taken in for questioning. Just last August TV station WXYZ obtained a police report involving Cabrera. Said reported alleged that Cabrera got into a verbal confrontation with people in a restaurant outside Townsend. He threatened physical violence and even claimed he had a gun.

And now we have this latest incident. What's befuddling is that Cabrera also stated the February 16th incident "was out of the ordinary." Anyone with a modicum of self-awareness can see that this is patently not the case. There is a chain events involving Miguel Cabrera that establishes a pretty strong pattern of abuse.

On a positive note, the Detroit Tigers front office is apparently willing to do whatever it takes to see Cabrera clean and sober. Treatment for Cabrera will continue throughout the 2011 season. Cabrera is in the midst of an 8 year $152.3 million contract so it's clear the Tigers' interest is financial as well as personal. And why shouldn't it be? Detroit has invested a lot of time and dollars in the 27 year old first baseman. I believe they've earned the right to intervene and Cabrera seems to be on board. Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski even stated that the Tigers were willing to allow Cabrera a companion on the road, ala Josh Hamilton, to help him steer clear of drugs and alcohol.

However, until Cabrera stops saying he's made "mistakes" and admits he has a problem, all the assistance and support in the world won't amount to a pile of dirt on the pitcher's mound.

Article at ESPN has been Posted

Hey guys!  I just wanted to tell you that my article was posted over at the ESPN Sweet Spot.  Here's the link!  I hope you enjoy!

Thanks again guys for all of the support that you've given me over the past four plus months!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kenny Williams Calls Pujols Demands "Asinine"

Never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams shared his thoughts on the idea of paying Albert Pujols $30M per season. 
“For the game’s health as a whole, when we’re talking about 30 million dollar players, I think it’s asinine,” Williams said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. “We have gotten to the point of no return. Something has to happen. And if it means the game being shut down for the sake of bringing sanity to it, to franchises that aren’t going to stop the insanity, I’m all for it.”
So it's asinine to spend $30M per season on a perennial 7 WAR player (Pujols), but it's a good thing to spend $26M per season on two players (Konerko and Dunn) who are not only older, but will only provide 4-5 WAR per season.  Gotcha. 

I really wish these "the sky is falling" arguments with regards to Pujols's contract demands would go away.  These same cries were around when A-Rod signed his landmark 10 year $252M deal in 2000 as well.  Do you know how many $200M+ deals have been signed since?  One.  One!  A-Rod's 10 year $275M contract in 2008.  If Pujols signs a comparable contract, I think it's safe to say that it won't change the landscape of baseball's financial structure.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Michael Young Video and Other News

If you haven't seen this video of a mother telling her three year old son that his favorite baseball player, Michael Young, will probably be traded from his favorite team, the Rangers, you should.  It's as adorable as it is heartbreaking.  At first he doesn't understand what his mother is trying to tell him.  Once he figures it out, the little boy becomes both deeply distressed and saddened by the news.  I think it's safe to say that baseball lost a young fan--no pun intended.  Hope you enjoy the video!

Also, it might be a little quiet content wise over the next couple of days.  For those of you who don't know, as a columnist for Fire Brand of the American League, I've been given an opportunity to write an article for ESPN.  Originally, my article was supposed to about Derek Jeter's prospects for returning to form, but that article proved to be too long for ESPN.  Instead, that article will run at Fire Brand on Friday morning.  In it's place, I'm putting together a commentary piece on Hank Steinbrenner's recent comments.  If you're interested, you'll be able to read it on Thursday afternoon at the ESPN Sweet Spot on the MLB page.

Greinke Not Shy About Thoughts On the Press

After reading about Zack Greinke's comments regarding the press today, I couldn't help thinking about the South Park episode where Cartman pretends to have Tourette's Syndrome. During the episode he said, "I can say anything and people will call me brave." Obviously, Greinke's battle with social anxiety disorder is completely legitimate and has been chronicled in the media ad nauseum. I have to admit though there are certain advantages to SAD like say for example being able to say this:
"...then random people come and waste my time talking every day. It takes eight minutes to get a real question out because they're like buttering me up. Then they get to the question and it's a stupid question. So it's a waste of 10 minutes and in that 10 minute time I don't get to do what I needed to do."
Now far be it from me, someone who has suffered from depression off and on over the last fourteen years, to criticize a person with SAD but I think Greinke's comments are just a tad too honest. The media has been extremely accomadating when it comes to meeting his demands for pre-scheduled press meetings and throwing up softball questions. For Greinke to come out and bite the hand that writes his box score stats is a little insulting. Greinke's statements are a perfect example of why he could never have pitched in New York, where the press considers SAD to be passing on a third Scotch and soda at Brandy Library on North Moore Street. Sometimes you need to engage the filter quicker Zack.

Contrastingly the media should read Greinke's comments as "get to the friggin' point!" I know the media has to be sensitive to Greinke's condition, but sometimes there is a thin line between business and BS. If the media has a direct question for Greinke then just...ask...him. I'm sure Greinke would appreciate Milwaukee reporters being candid. That way he won't have to issue statements that cut deeper than an inside fastball. Brewers' beat reporters won't have to butter him up either. A little Crisco will do just nicely.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gonzalez Cleared to Swing the Bat

In case anybody missed this earlier today.

Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reports that Adrian Gonzalez has been cleared to start swinging the bat.  According to the report, Gonzalez was examined by team medical director, Dr. Tom Ginn on Friday, and was reported to have "full range of motion, no tenderness, and excellent strength" in the surgically repaired shoulder.  After a discussion with Dr. Altchek, the man who performed surgery on his torn labrum this past fall, the two sides agreed that Gonzalez was ready to take the next step in his rehab.

Earlier this morning, Gonzalez took that next step by taking 20 swings off of a tee, and apparently he did not hold back.

"I didn't hold back," said Gonzalez. "I took good healthy swings and I felt fine. You're waiting to see if you feel something different, and I didn't, so it was a good sign."

Over the next three days, Gonzalez will continue to take swings off of the tee.  If all goes well, there's a chance the training staff could clear him to start taking live batting practice by early next week.  While there's no word as to when Gonzalez will make an appearance during the Grapefruit League schedule, he is expected to be 100% ready to contribute by Opening Day on April 1st.

Clearly, this is great news for both the team and Red Sox fans.  Gonzalez is considered by most to be the acquisition that tipped the balance of power in the AL East away from the Yankees.  In 2010, Gonzalez put together an All-Star caliber season posting a .378 wOBA with 5.3 WAR and Fielding Bible Award quality defense, while with the Padres.  Many figure his numbers to improve this season after moving from the pitching friendly environment of Petco Park to Fenway Park, a park known to heavily advantage hitters.

Stay Away from Bleacher Report

This link was floating around Twitter this morning.  Not that you really needed any reason not to read the Bleacher report, here are some excerpts from something they wrote not that long ago about Carl Crawford.
"This guy too has wheels, wheels, wheels. He makes swiping bases and fielding look so easy.
Crawford has so far been a successful baseball player and continues to get better, and has gone form being on one of the worst teams in baseball years ago, to one of the better teams.
He is the face of the Rays franchise. Too bad his Rays are in the AL East."
My mom took me to the store.  It was good.  We bought clothes.  Then, mom took me to Friendly's.  The french fries tasted great.   Seriously, that's the quality of their writing.  Here's some more.
"Again, Crawford should be a leadoff hitter. He has all of the right tools to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.  He can hit, has some pop, steals bases, great fielder, blazing speed and range, and gets on base.  Crawford can really hit anywhere in a lineup and will always be productive, and has now become one of the best No. 2 hitters in baseball, but he could be one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.  He is so fast, and has the potential to be one of the fastest base stealers and players in baseball history, and also has some pretty good pop. He is only 28 years old also, and continues to get better."
I can't make this up.  This was either written by a five year old boy, or a teenage valley girl.  To make matters worse, this was in one of those asinine slides shows.  I hates me some slide shows.  Seriously folks, avoid Bleacher Report like the plague.  There are much better places to get your daily sports news. 

Baseball's Best Kept Secret

In today's New York Times, Tyler Kepner wrote a piece about Major League Baseball's best kept secret, Braves catcher Brian McCann. 
"McCann, whose three-run double made him the All-Star Game’s most valuable player last summer, is a .289 career hitter with a .360 on-base percentage. He has hit between 18 and 24 homers in each full season, and he was 6 for 14 (.429) in the Braves’ first-round playoff loss to the San Francisco Giants last fall. 
Even so, he remains something of a secret. As catchers go, Mauer is king, and Yadier Molina of St. Louis and Buster Posey of San Francisco have caught the last out of the World Series recently. The Braves have been defined by starting pitching, Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox. Jason Heyward gained fame as a rookie last season; he did a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated last week.

McCann’s consistency obscures him nationally, but he said he did not care. The aces have retired, Jones is nearly 39 and Fredi Gonzalez has replaced Cox as manager after 21 years. The Braves are becoming McCann’s team."
As I mentioned in my piece titled All Underrated Team, McCann is plagued by the fact he doesn't display any skills that stand out from the rest of his peers.  Rather than being great at one particular skill, McCann is instead good at everything.  As a result, he tends to be overshadowed by flashier catcher like Mauer, Molina, and Posey. 

Still, the Braves can't be disappointed with a player that consistently produces 4-5 WAR per season out of the catcher position.  Catchers who produce at that level, whether underrated or properly rated, are incredibly tough to find.  At 27, McCann figures to have at least 4-5 seasons of solid production remaining.  With already 23.9 WAR under his belt, it wouldn't be surprising to see him eclipse the 50 WAR barrier, thus making him a viable Hall of Fame candidate. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Round-Up - 2/20/2011

Today’s links are brought to by Kevin Youkilis.  Unlike Rangers DH Michael Young, he doesn’t have an attitude about changing positions.  He leads by example, not reputation.
  • Link of the Week:  If you don’t read Craig Calcaterra, the blogger formerly known as Shysterball, over at Hardball Talk, you should.  Earlier this week, he wrote a tremendous piece for Baseball Prospectus (free article) on an a fascinating concept he calls “Metafandom.”  For those of you amateur analysts and Hot Stove junkies, this article is definitely for you.
  • Thank god for Twitter!  This one is hot off of the presses from Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory.  In this piece, he posts the 2011 ZiPS projections for the Red Sox.
  • Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals didn’t come to agreement on a contract extension by Pujols’s self-imposed February 16th deadline.  This week, Joe Posnanski wrote two articles about Pujols that were so great, I couldn’t pick just one.  In the first article, he discusses the value Pujols provides to the Cardinal franchise.  In the second, he discusses how Pujols can cash in without the Yankees.
  • What would any link-o-rama be without a piece by Rob Neyer.  In the piece I chose, he discusses how the Royals will have to get worse before they can get better.  And believe me, they will get better.  Their farm system is the best in baseball, and might be the best in 20-25 years.
  • Who knew the Wall Street Journal had a Sports section?  Well, I did, but that’s besides the point.  Daniel Barbarisi puts together an article all Red Sox fans should read.  He asks a poignant and amusing question:  is this the fattest Yankee team ever?  Direct quote from Joe Girardi, “I tell you what, we’ve got some big ol’ pitchers. Good gosh.”
  • Should the Red Sox make Bard a starter?  Mike Silver at Fire Brand says it's not as a crazy idea as it least theoretically.
  • The ESPN Sweet Spot Yankee blog, It’s About the Money Stupid, has long been one of my favorite sources for rational and interesting Yankee news.  This week, Brien Jackson provides a great take on Tony LaRussa’s comments regarding Pujols and allegations pressure by the MLB player’s union.  Also, Mark Smith discusses long term contract extensions, and uses the Yankees, Reds, and Rockies as the bases for his arguments.
  • Brad Johnson of Hardball Times asks a fascinating question.  How would a team of players all making the minimum salary fare?  Given his sample, the answer might surprise you.
  • Over at the Platoon Advantage, The Common Man has been counting down the forty worst offseasons in baseball history.  It’s a four part series, so here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and USS Mariner is one of the smarter writers around.  This week, he looks at Jose Bautista’s brand new five year $65M contract, and discusses whether or not Bautista could be better in 2011.
  • Jesse Wolfersberger on Fangraphs discusses the factors that affect a pitcher’s home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate.
  • Are the Phillies missing a right handed power bat?  Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley takes a detailed look.
  • Pip of Fungoes makes a convincing argument that the Cardinals should try a four man rotation this year.
  • As far as Dodger blogs go, Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness is tops in my opinion.  This week they look at the six reasons to be optimistic about the Dodgers.
  • Noah at Brew Crew Ball compares the top two players at each position in the NL Central.  I like the idea so much, I may just do one for the AL East later this week.
  • Which relievers should break camp with the Red Sox?  Ben Buchanan of Over the Monster has the goods.
  • What are the chances pitching prospect Andrew Brackman makes the Yankees?  Joe Pawlikowski gives his opinion on the matter.
  • Random non-baseball link of the day:  This is just terrifying.  6′ 11″ power forwards should never wear pink dresses and blond wigs.  Still, it’s worth sharing for comedy’s sake.
If anyone has any great articles or sites that you think I missed, please either shoot me an email or leave a message in the comment section.

Youkilis on Changing Positions

Yesterday, Steve Silva of the Boston Globe caught up with Kevin Youkilis, and had a chance to ask him about moving from first base to third base.  Here's what Youk had to say.
"I enjoy third base because I've been there my whole career," he said. "It's a little bit more of a challenge. I like the challenge ... of trying to get better at a position that I need to get better at and it's going to be a spring training of challenging myself and challenging myself and throughout the year challenging myself to be a better third baseman than I am the day before."
Rather than being bitter about being forced to change positions, Youkilis is positive.  He's not complaining to the media about the Red Sox jerking him around.  Instead, he's looking forward to the challenge of playing third base again full time.  That's refreshing.  Michael Young would be wise to follow his lead.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mark Teixeira Speaks His Mind

Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York had a chance to sit down with Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira the other day.  Despite all of the naysayers, Teixeira tells Marchand not to count the Yankees out just yet.
"We're the underdogs this year," Teixeira said. "I love it. No one is picking us right now. Everyone in here should be looking forward to winning a championship. When you put on the pinstripes that is exactly what your goal should be every year. I think everyone understands that just because the public may not be picking us it doesn't mean we don't believe it in here."
While it might seem strange for anyone to call the Yankees, a team with a payroll pushing $200M, an underdog, I think the description fits.  For some reason, everyone seems to have left the Yankees for dead.  To an extent, I see their point.  After all, the Red Sox made key improvements by adding Crawford, Gonzalez, Wheeler, and Jenks.  The Yankees signed Rafael Soriano, but lost out on acquiring their primary target, Cliff Lee.  Still, it's never a good idea to count the Yankees out.  They're like the serial killer in a horror movie.  Until you've killed them twice (yes, twice), there's always a chance they could come back. 

Teixeira didn't stop there.  He also had something to say about the recent speculation about the Yankees making a move for Albert Pujols next winter.
"I'm not going anywhere," Teixeira said as Yankees position players reported on Saturday. "I got that no-trade for a reason. I'm going to be buried in these pinstripes. You know what, I would be disappointed if the fans of New York weren't looking to make our team better, but they've just got to know I'm not leaving."
Well, that pretty much settles that.  If Teixeira says he's not going anywhere, I tend to believe him.  Really, it doesn't make any sense for him to waive his no trade clause.  He plays for the premier franchise in major league baseball, and is all but guaranteed a legitimate shot a championship every season.  How many players can say that?   While playing for the Cardinals, in a tremendous baseball town with a storied history, has it's benefits, Teixeira would have to live with following a legend in Pujols.  That's an impossible act to follow.  Furthermore, Cardinal fans may eventually learn to love him, but he'll ever achieve Pujols status.  In lieu of a huge financial incentive, I don't see any reason Teixeira should leave New York.  The man has it made. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Indians to Give Santana Time at First Base

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that the Indians are going to have catcher Carlos Santana learn how to play first base.
"Next thing on Santana's spring-training checklist is learning how to play first base.  Eduardo Perez and Mike Hargrove, former first basemen and recently hired by the Indians, will help him in the weeks to come."
While Santana will retain his job as the starting catcher, the Indians have decided to teach him first base as a way to try to keep him in the lineup while giving his legs a break.  While this makes sense logically, his bat loses significant value going from the strongest defensive position on the diamond (catcher) to one of the weakest (first base).   While he showed a lot of promise swinging the bat last season, it's far too early to tell if he'll provide enough offense to justify playing him at first.  Still, versatility is never a bad thing, so at the very least it allows the Indians greater positional flexibility.

The Indians intend to play Santana at first base in a few Cactus League games.  There's no word as to whether or not he'll play first base once the season starts.

Santana spent some time playing third base while in the Dodger organization, so the transition to first base should be pretty painless.

Bautista Scores Big Contract

In case you missed it yesterday, the Blue Jays and power hitting 3B/OF Jose Bautista finalized a five year contract worth $65M.  According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Blue Jays will pay Bautista $8M in 2011 and $14M per season from 2012-2015.  The deal includes a club option in 2016 for $14M with a $1M buyout. 

With Bautista entering his third and final season of arbitration eligibility, he went for broke and submitted a salary request of $10.5M; the Blue Jays countered with $7.6M.  The extension makes those proposals meaningless, and allows both parties to avoid a potentially ugly arbitration hearing.  The deal buys out Bautista’s first four (or perhaps, five) seasons of free agency.  As a result, the earliest he can become a free agent is after his age-34 season.

Around the industry, the feelings about this deal have been mixed.  If you think he’s likely to repeat his big time power production, you love the deal.  If you think the 54 home runs he hit in 2010 were somewhat of a fluke, then you probably hate the deal.  There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room.  

Personally, I think the deal's a huge gamble.  I have serious doubts as to whether Bautista can sustain his elevated fly ball (54.1% in 2010 vs a 45.8% career) and HR/FB rates (21.7% in 2010 vs 13.8% career).  The whole season just screams "outlier" to me.  Given his previous career norms, I think it's much more reasonable to expect him to hit 25-30 home runs per season over the next few years.  Will that be enough to justify paying him $65M over the next few years?  I don't know.  That depends on how you project his position (3B or OF), ability to stay in the lineup, play defense, and ability to get on base.  I tend to think he'll justify the deal, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.  Why?  Assuming salary inflates at a rate of 5% per season, Bautista only needs to provide 11.8 fWAR over the next five seasons to justify his contract, which averages out to be just over 2.36 WAR per season.  In other words, he needs to prove that he's worthy of being a starting quality hitter/defender over the next five years.  I think he can do it.

But like I said, I wouldn't bet my life on it.

Dancing Around the A-Gon Contract Situation

As many of you probably remember, soon after the Red Sox finalized the Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Padres, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the two sides had secretly come to terms on a seven year contract extension worth $154M.  According to sources, both parties agreed to wait until after Opening Day to announce the deal in order to avoid paying the competitive balance tax.  While the report was vehemently disputed by both Adrian Gonzalez and key members of Red Sox leadership, the rumors persisted.
This past Tuesday, deep within column on Albert Pujols trade possibilities, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports mentioned that a few sources had confirmed Nightengale’s original report.  The only difference was the amount of money involved in the deal.

“Then there are the Red Sox. Sources say they are set to sign Gonzalez to a seven-year, $164 million extension, but will wait until after Opening Day to announce the deal, enabling them to save on the luxury tax.”

Not surprisingly, Theo Epstein denied the rumors that the Red Sox were “set to sign” Gonzalez to a contract.  While he didn’t specifically address Rosenthal’s report, he did indicate there was “mutual good faith” between the two parties that would hopefully allow for smooth negotiations.  With Adrian Gonzalez having already reported to Spring Training, there’s a good chance negotiations will ramp up the in next couple of weeks potentially leading to an agreement.

To read more of my thoughts on Adrian Gonzalez’s value, check out my latest article (posted Friday at 8:00 a.m.) for Fire Brand of the American League.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pujols's Sincerity Is Receeding Faster Than His Hairline

As a baseball fan I've become very jaded over the years in some aspects. Greed, steroids, making racial and ethnic slurs in public, slamming the ownership and the manager, banging everything that moves, and generally acting like a class-1 ass clown has become as commonplace in baseball as a Lindsey Lohan arraignment hearing. Naturally you'd assume that Albert Pujols's latest comments about his future as a Cardinal would fall under my umbrella of disillusionment.
Well you' be wrong. Dead wrong.
Pujols's comments to the media at Cardinals' spring training in Jupiter Florida today were more disingenuous than an episode of "Glenn Beck" on FoxNews. His comments that "You have to put a deadline....because you don't want to bring distractions to the ballclub" and "I want to be a Cardinal forever" would be hilarious if they weren't so insulting to Cardinals' fans and management.
After the posturing, offers, counter-offers, and circus show antics that have gone on in recent weeks, how can Pujols possibly play the I--don't--want--to--bring--any--distractions--to--the--ball--club card? MTV's Jersey Shore has less drama than this fiasco. It is starting to make the Derek Jeter/New York Yankee episode look tame by comparison. Guess what Albert? Your contract situation is already a distraction, has been for weeks, and will continue to be so throughout the season. Putting a deadline on contract negotiation talks is equivalent to putting Val Kilmer on a diet. Neither action is going to produce the required effect. Speculation will reign about your future with the Cardinals whether you have a deadline or not.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Well Pujols isn't fooling anyone, especially me, when he makes claims that he wants to be a Cardinal forever. Really?? So that's why he's allegedly turned down every offer from the Cardinals, all of which were in the excess of $200 million dollars and/or a stake in the franchise? That's why he's pushing for a reported ten year $300 million dollar deal? It sounds to me like Pujols is willing to be a Cardinal for life if, and only if, the money is right.
Speaking of money, Pujols and agent Dan Lozano have refuted manager Tony La Russa's claims that the players association put pressure on them to "set the bar" on the new contract. Interesting. On a related note I also believe in Santa Claus. As sure as the bird on St. Louis's uniforms is the color red, you better believe the players association put pressure on Pujols and Lozano to have a record breaking contract. How can I believe otherwise? These kind of shenanigans have been occurring for decades going back to the groundbreaking contract Cecil Fielder signed in the 80s. The MLB players association is the gold standard and the envy of every labor organization worldwide. It is a union president's nocturnal emission. For decades the players association has had a stranglehold on labor negotiations. The Pujols case is just another power play in the ongoing chess game between players and owners.
Realistically I have no idea how the Cardinals and Pujols are going to make this work. Neither side seems to be backing down. The Cardinals payroll is going to be in the $100 to $110 million neighborhood this year and isn't likely to change in the near future. They've already publicly stated they can't go into the huge money ranges that the Yankees and Red Sox are accustomed to. I really can't blame the Cardinals for choosing the fiscally conservative route either. Why be held hostage to a titanic contract that allows no wiggle room to acquire starting pitching, bullpen relief, utility infielders, or re-sign quality veteran players? Sad to say that St. Louis fans may not have Pujols for much longer. It's tragic because he is as iconic to that town as Stan Musial.
Too bad that "The Machine" continues to produce more garbage with each sentence he utters.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Teams Line Up to Acquire Mediocre Player

Another day, another team interested in Michael Young. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the latest team to express interest in trading for the disgruntled former All-Star.  

“The Diamondbacks view Young as a possible upgrade over Melvin Mora at third base, but their talks with the Rangers have yet to escalate – and might not, according to major-league sources.

The D-Backs are in a similar position to the Marlins, another team that is pursuing Young but has only limited payroll flexibility.”

Yes, Young would be an upgrade over Mora, but not as big of an upgrade as many would like to believe.  Young’s reputation as both a leader and hitter far exceeds his actual capabilities.  After publicly demanding a trade; airing his grievances with GM Jon Daniels to the media; and having not one, but two temper-tantrums in two years after being asked to switch positions, it’s pretty clear to everyone (or at least it should be) that Young is not the team leader most of us assumed him to be.  I’m not saying he’s not within his rights to be disappointed.  In fact, he has every right to be upset.  I would be as well. That said, a true leader swallows his pride, and does what’s best for the team.  Young has had several opportunities to handle the situation with class and dignity, and he’s failed to do so every step of the way.

As a hitter, Young’s reputation is largely predicated upon two things:  (1) his ability to hit for power, and (2) the five consecutive 200-hit seasons he produced between 2003 and 2007.  While Young has retained his ability to hit for power, he hasn’t retained that same level of skill when it comes to getting on base.  Young, never skilled at drawing a walk, was the type of player who reached base the old fashion way (getting a hit), and achieved a paltry 6.7% walk rate during his ten year career.  As he aged, his ability to get on base, via the hit, regressed.  Not surprisingly, without a high batting average to prop up his OBP, Young began creating additional outs, thereby limiting his ability to contribute offensively.  As a result, Young has been a decidedly average hitter over the past four seasons, producing 9.3, 1.5, 27.6, and 8.0 weighted runs above average (wRAA).  His four year wRAA total of 46.4 runs puts him in the same company as Cody Ross, Marlon Byrd, and Adam LaRoche.  This shows that while Young is a solid hitter, he’s by no means elite.

While five consecutive 200-hit seasons might seem impressive, it’s really not when you consider the number of opportunities he was given (725 plate appearances per season, on average) to achieve that goal.*  Young’s streak of 200-hit seasons was largely opportunity based, and frequently came at the expense of plate discipline and creation of additional outs.  Furthermore, I don’t see how his five 200-hit seasons, the last of which occurred four years ago, have any bearing on his future performance.  Over the last three seasons, Young has had ample opportunity to prove he was still capable of accumulating 200 hits in a season.  Despite receiving similar number of plate appearances, he’s failed to come within reasonable striking distance of meeting that threshold.  This is a clear sign that Young’s hitting abilities are in a state of decline.  Considering his age, 34, and recent performance history, it’s pretty unlikely that Young will achieve another 200-hit season before his career ends.  While it’s factually correct that Young achieved five consecutive 200-hit seasons that fact is largely irrelevant when discussing his expected future performance.

* I don’t want to devalue his achievement, but there’s an important distinction to be made here.  The ability to hit is skill based.  The ability to accumulate hits is opportunity based.  In my opinion, Young’s achievement was largely based on opportunity.  His position in the batting order, along with his inability to draw walks (6.7 BB% for his career), gave him considerable opportunity to compile hits.  Hitters either more patient or hitting lower in the batting order would not have the same number of opportunities to compile hits as easily as Young; therefore, they’d like accumulate fewer hits as a result.  The difference in hit totals doesn’t make them lesser hitters than Young.  In fact, it’s possible they’re better than Young due to their ability to not only draw walks, but also create fewer outs.  Still, most people will consider the player with the higher hit total (Young) to be a better hitter.  Why?  Most fans and sports writers don’t consider the context of the situation when making that determination.

As for a potential trade, the Diamondbacks are in the same situation as the Dodgers and Marlins.  With little room for payroll flexibility, Arizona would likely need the Rangers to absorb a sizeable portion of the $48M remaining on Young’s contract.  How much would they want the Rangers to absorb?  I don’t want to speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were asked to eat anywhere from 50-75%.  Additionally, the Diamondbacks are not on Young’s no trade exception list, so the two sides would need Young’s buy-in prior to completing a trade. 

If you ask me, it sounds like the Diamondbacks are doing their due diligence by kicking the tires, which is something Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is famous for doing.  In all likelihood, trade discussions will not progress any further. 

The Countdown is Over

The Albert Pujols negotiating window has officially expired.  Last night, there was word from SI’s Jon Heyman that the Cardinals had offered Pujols an eight year deal with an average annual salary that was “south of $30M.”  A couple of hours later, a source close to the Pujols camp spoke to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports and decried the rumors as “inaccurate, reckless and outrageous.”  So much for confidentiality…

Based on a report by ESPN’s Buster Olney earlier this morning, it appears the two sides may’ve stopped negotiating a few days ago.

"Pujols contract talks are over. Deadline will pass without a deal. Have not been proposals swapped in last 100 hours or so."

At this point, it’s irrelevant when the two sides last swapped proposals.  All that matters is that the deadline has passed, and negotiations have ceased.  Barring any unforeseen development, Pujols will become a free agent for the first time this winter.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cardinals Offer Pujols 8-Year Contract

Goonies never say die, and apparently neither do the Cardinals. 
According to SI's Jon Heyman, the Cardinals have made an eight year contract offer to superstar first baseman Albert Pujols.  While details of the proposal aren't known, Heyman's confirmed that the offer was for less than $30M per season.  With only 15 hours remaining in the negotiating window, prospects of a deal coming together appear bleak. Still, it's important to note that deals like this frequently come together quickly at the last moment. 

One interesting thing to note.  According to Heyman, Pujols's negotiating team, at one point, "asked for piece of the team."  While this isn't technically possible, it's incredibly complicated, and would likely need buy in from the Players Union.  Understandably, the Cardinals declined. 

Pujols has been reported to be seeking a ten year $275M contract on par with the one Alex Rodriguez received from the Yankees after the 2007 season.  The deadline to sign Pujols is noon on Wednesday.

I, Umpire

With the computer Watson blowing up CBS on Jeopardy! this week and visions of Skynet from The Terminator dancing in my head, it struck me: Will machines one day replace umpires in baseball and furthermore would it be a good idea?
For several years now ESPN has employed the "K-Zone" software to help analyze and show where pitches fall in the strike zone as defined by the rules of MLB. Fox also uses a similar program that was prevalent throughout the 2010 playoffs, almost to the point of being annoying. From what I observed, the computer representations of where the pitches fell in the strike zone was dead on. More importantly it was impartial and that's why I think, if the technology some day becomes available, specialized computers should replace umpires.
Numerous reasons abound as to why this would be an excellent idea. First and foremost would be a consistent strike zone. One of the most irritating aspects of baseball for players has to be adjusting to a particular umpire's strike zone. Some are wide as Michael Moore's waistline, others are smaller than Papa Smurf. By introducing a pre-programmed strike zone that is unilateral throughout all major league ballparks, it removes the guessing game and hopefully reduces ejections and fights.
Another reason why baseball could profit from robotic umpires is that computers are completely devoid of emotion. How many times in baseball do you see a manager or a player argue balls and strikes and the next thing you know the strike zone shrinks quicker than Seinfeld's George Costanza emerging from a cold ocean? The idea of impartiality for umpires is both naive and a falsehood. I'm not trying to say that umpires are dishonest or that they don't try to be impartial. I'm just saying I've seen the situation I've just described happen too many times to not realistically think that heightened emotions play a factor in calling the games.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include the most obvious benefit to robotic umpires: accuracy. It is a proven scientific fact that computers are much more accurate than human beings when it comes to quantifiable data. Routine diagnostic checks would ensure that the robot/computer would consistently do its job correctly.
Right now people reading this article who prescribe to the idea of "the human element" are probably approaching my townhouse with torches and pitch forks. But before you go all angry mob on me why don't you go ask the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals how much the human element benefited them in game six of the World Series? Or ask the 2001 Oakland As to argue the merits of the "human element" when it comes to plays at the plate?
In any case the "human element" will remain. Managers still have to know when to pinch hit, when to sacrifice, or what reliever to bring in. Players will continue to anticipate the next pitch, decide when to steal second, or when to play shallow in left field. The human element isn't going anywhere.
Now the realistic question is will this ever happen? Probably not. Traditionalists and others will argue that something will be lost if we hand over the umpire duties to computers and their contentions will undoubtedly be enough to stymie any Isaac Asimov-like takeover. To be fair I can see their point. I'll take the crack of the bat and the smell of fresh cut grass on opening day over WAR and FIP every time. However, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like BBIMH, we are more inundated by computers than any time in the history of the world. Is it so unrealistic to think replacing umpires with robots is a distinct possibility? Like the success of popstar Ke$ha anything is possible. So don't get angry when I suggest that replacing umpires with machines might happen.
I only call 'em like I see 'em.

Ken Rosenthal's Crazy Pujols Trade Proposals

Ugh.  So we're at that point in the offseason now.  Ken Rosenthal shares some speculative trade ideas involving Albert Pujols.  Buckle in kids, this is going to be a bumpy ride.
"WARNING: What you are about to read is pure speculation. It has not, to my knowledge, been discussed at any level. In fact, it is not even my idea.

Harold Reynolds mentioned the possibility Monday on MLB Network. My colleague, Jon Paul Morosi, informed me of it later that night. I then stole the idea from Morosi as if I were Lindsay Lohan in a jewelry store.
Albert Pujols for Mark Teixeira.

And, if that doesn’t work, Pujols for Ryan Howard.
Think it’s nuts? Think again." 
Yeah, you're certifiably nuts.  First of all, you made the mistake of actually taking anything Harold Reynolds says seriously.  Come on, Ken, you're smarter than that.  Reynolds?  These are the kinds of inane ideas you expect out of him.  Hence the reason he's been employed as a TV analyst for ESPN and MLB Network.

Secondly, neither one of the aforementioned trade proposals, nor the ones he later proposes involving Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez, are plausible.  There are just way too many moving parts involved to make this happen.  Yeah, it's fun to speculate, and I'm sure he's just bored out of his mind, but still.  If we're going to speculate, shouldn't we speculate intelligently?

Marlins Check in on Young

Seems like everyone's kicking the tires on Michael Young these days.  According to Ken Rosenthal, the Marlins are the latest team to express interest in the former All-Star. 

Not surprisingly, a source with knowledge of the discussions called the trade prospects between the two clubs "a real reach."  In order to make a deal work, the Rangers would have to eat a substantial portion of the $48M remaining on Young's contract.  Now, this is pure speculation, but considering the Marlins status as a low revenue club, I'd have to imagine they'd want the Rangers to eat as much as 75% (similar to what the Dodgers reportedly requested) of the contract.  As I've mentioned before, it doesn't make sense for the Rangers to bite a such a lopsided deal because it would hamper their ability to improve their roster going forward.

The Marlins do need a third baseman.  Currently, Matt Dominguez, who hasn't started a game above AA, is listed as their starting third baseman.  Ideally, Young would be an upgrade, but he figures to be too expensive to be considered a reasonable option. 

Additionally, the Marlins are not included on Young's no trade exception list, so he'd have to approve any trade before it gets finalized.   For reference, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the eight teams on Young's no trade exception list are the Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Twins, Yankees, Cardinals and Astros.

Sabathia Expected to Opt Out

Yesterday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post had a chance to catch up with Carsten Charles Sabathia.  Despite numerous opportunities to outright state his intentions to decline the opt out clause in his contract, as he'd previously stated, and remain with the Yankees through 2015, he refused to give a concrete answer either way.
“Anything is possible in a contract.” In another, the big lefty said, “Who knows what is possible, but I am not thinking about anything beyond Opening Day.”
Yeah, that answer should end any and all speculation right there.  Yup.  Nothing to see here.   Did I miss the article where C.C. announces his intention to attend the Albert Pujols School of Distractions? 

Brien from IIATMS had this to say about the Sabathia situation:
I’m personally ambivalent on whether Sabathia decides to opt-out or not. The Yankees gave him that option, so he’s certainly got every right to do so if he wants. And heck, if it were me I’d opt out without giving it a second’s thought. I’m sure some people will write columns about how Sabathia doesn’t care about anything but the money, but those will be marginal voices and before long everyone will forget about the whole thing. But if Sabathia opts out after making everyone think he said he isn’t going to, those voices will be a lot louder and they’ll find a much larger audience that sympathizes.
Brien's absolutely right.  Sabathia's issue isn't that he hasn't made a decision.  The problem is that, in December, Sabathia emphatically stated that he would not be opting out after the upcoming season.  Now, all of the sudden, the decision is up in the air.  I suppose we should have seen this coming all along.  Then again, shouldn't Greg Genske, Sabathia's agent, have seen the opt out questions coming as well?  Isn't that what he's paid to do?   If I were Sabathia's agent, I would've sat him down, and come up with a prepared, standard response to any and all questions on the subject.  Something like, "I'm aware of the clause.  While I haven't made any decisions, I fully intend to sit down with my agent at the end of the season to discuss my options.  Right now, I'm solely focused on leading my team to championship number 28," would have been more than sufficient.  If he'd used that statement (or something similar) back in December, Sabathia's comments the other day wouldn't have been news. 

Later, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that a source "with knowledge of the situation" informed him that "barring a major injury or unforeseen circumstance," Sabathia would exercise the opt out clause and become a free agent. 

As I've mentioned in previous articles, opting out is probably the smart move for Sabathia.  While leaving four years and $92M on the table is a risk, it's certainly warranted given the five year $125M contract Cliff Lee received from the Phillies in December.  Sabathia is both younger and a slightly better pitcher than Lee, so it's not out of the realm of possibility he exceeds Lee's contract both in terms of length and average annual value.  In all likelihood, this is his last chance to really cash in on his talent.  He might as well make the most of it while he can.  If I were him, I wouldn't give it a second thought.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Andy MacPhail is Terribly Wrong

Just a little bit more from Bob Nightengale’s article on Pujols…

His article uses a much discussed quote by Orioles president Andy MacPhail that I wanted to touch upon.

"I read that he's looking for $30 million a year, and I just can't see how that's going to happen…Alex Rodriguez to Texas was the worst signing in the history of baseball in my view," said MacPhail, referring to the 10-year, $252 million deal signed in December 2000. "There is this assumption that because this guy got (a huge contract) and this guy got (an even bigger contract), Albert Pujols has to get (more than both). Well, what if there are no bidders? What if the music stops and there are no chairs?"

In most cases, I’d agree with MacPhail.  In the game of musical chairs, it’s never fun to be left without a chair when the music stops.  Still, isn’t MacPhail the pot calling the kettle black in this situation?  Isn’t he the front office executive that offered Vlad Guerrero a $2M contract, and then later tripled the offer despite the fact there weren’t any non-imaginary bidders?  Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’d be best for MacPhail to keep his mouth shut.

In addition, MacPhail couldn’t be more wrong about his assessment of A-Rod’s contract with Rangers.  Was it ill-advised?  Probably.  Could it have been avoided?  Absolutely.  Was it the worst contract in baseball history?  Definitely not.  In fact, it’s not even close.  Furthermore, A-Rod’s contract didn’t ruin the Rangers.  It was the large sum of money the front office chose to spend on replacement level players that did them in.  Their pitching staff, in particular, was absolutely putrid.  During the A-Rod era, only once (among qualifying pitchers) did a Rangers pitcher produce a season that exceeded the replacement level threshold.  Once!  That pitcher was Kenny Rogers in 2002 with an unbelievably feeble 0.1 fWAR. 
So how poorly did the Rangers spend their money?  Let’s take a look.

In 2001, the Rangers spent $40.2M of their $87M payroll on the following players, and received 1.6 fWAR in return:  Kenny Rogers ($7.5M), Darren Oliver ($7M), Andres Galarraga ($6M), Rusty Greer ($4.6M), Rick Helling ($4.5M), Ken Caminiti ($3.5M), Randy Velarde ($3.15M), Mark Petkovsek ($2.05M), and Chad Curtis ($1.9M).

In 2002, the Rangers spent $58.7M of their $106M payroll on the following players, and received 1.7 fWAR in return:  Juan Gonzalez ($11M), Carl Everett ($8.67M), Kenny Rogers ($7.5M), Chan Ho Park ($6.88M), Rusty Greer ($6.8M), John Rocker ($2.5M), Ismael Valdez ($2.5M), Frank Catalanotto ($2.5M), Jay Powell ($2.5M), Dave Burba ($2M), Todd Van Poppel ($2M), Gabe Kapler ($1.85M), Dan Miceli ($1M), and Rudy Seanez ($1M).

In 2003, the Rangers spent $54.9 of their $103M payroll on the following players, and received 3.4 fWAR in return:  Juan Gonzalez ($13M), Chan Ho Park (13M) Carl Everett ($9.15M), Ugueth Urbina ($4.5M), Jay Powell ($3.25M), Ismael Valdez ($2.5M), Todd Van Poppel ($2M), Einer Diaz ($1.87M), Esteban Yan ($1.5M), Herbert Perry ($1.3M), John Thomson ($1.3M), and Doug Glanville ($1.0M).

During the A-Rod era, the Rangers managed to spend approximately $155M on mediocre talent, while receiving 6.7 fWAR in return.  For those of you who aren’t quick with math, that equals out to be $23M per win—hardly an efficient use of funds.  For reference, by today’s standards, the average cost of a win is around $5M.  Back in the early aughts, it was around $2.5-3.0M. 

Blaming A-Rod’s contract as the reason the Rangers failed during his time in Texas is both false and intellectually dishonest.  A-Rod did everything he possibly could to help the team win.  It’s not his fault the team wasted millions (nearly 40-50% of the overall payroll) on replacement level quality players.  That blame rests squarely on the front office.