Friday, December 14, 2012

This Has To Be Trolling, Right?

I didn't want to get into the Hall of Fame debate.

I really didn't.

But with every article coming out more polarizing than the next, it was only a matter of time before I reached my tipping point.

Enter Howard Bryant. Now I've pretty much disagreed with everything he's ever written, it's only out of a great sense of self-loathing that I even read his work, but his article today asking people to stop blaming the writers really got me going. It wasn't just that he got up on his soap box to wag his finger at us mere mortals without a Hall of Fame vote, but it was the backwards anti-intellectual arguments he used to make his points which really got to me. So let's analyze his work:
The latest Hall controversy -- who deserves entry into Valhalla -- has taken place amidst a field of straw men (MacGuffins, to use the Hitchcock phrase), which divert the eye far from the truth, from what all the consternation is really about.
I assume this means there will be no straw man arguments in this piece.
The straw men are everywhere. Ex-players are angry (still angry) that the Baseball Writers Association of America and it alone has been bequeathed such Supreme Court-style privilege over initial selections and has had it for as long as there has been a Hall of Fame. Those players use this tired, annual charade as a vehicle for transferring decades-old player-writer grudges and grievances into a contemporary talking point. 
The anger the players may have for the writers is nothing compared to the contempt the writers have for the players. Take Mr. Bryant's entire article as an example. It probably also helps that writers actually have an outlet for their "tired annual charade" since you know, they are employed as writers.
Pretending to be progressive in recent weeks, Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman from the Phialdelphia Phillies, expressed his belief reform was needed, and offered a plan to do just that.
I've never seen a writer suggest that the Hall of Fame needed to be reformed.
There is also the angry new generation of new media, long without access or sources or voice in the traditional sense, yet convinced it knows what it was watching better than the reporters in the press box and often the players in uniform. 
"You kids better stay off my lawn!"
This Generation M (yes, for "Moneyball") has been enabled and empowered by changing times, changing emphases on player evaluation, greater democracy (both within the sport and at the keyboard) and the dramatic diminishment of the newspaper as a public force. In many ways, from enumerating the rise of statistical analysis in front offices to spreading the influence of analytics without traditional clubhouse reporting, the Moneyballers have enjoyed the spoils of reader and online attention.
This is where he really loses me. Moneyball has somehow become the symbol for all that's wrong with baseball from the "old-school" baseball men. Moneyball was a system looking to determine what types of skills are truly related to winning in baseball and how they could be used to exploit market inefficiencies. Shouldn't this be the goal of every front office? I don't understand why this is being looked at as a bad thing. Is it just a fundamental lack of understanding? People in baseball have worked EXTREMELY hard to formulate a system where players can be properly evaluated and future performance can be predicted and history has shown this method to be extremely effective. The disdain which seems to effervesce from Mr. Bryant because he doesn't seem to care to put the time into understanding some of these new metrics is exactly what is wrong with society. Since I don't care to understand what you're talking about I'm just going to belittle you into shutting up. It's disgusting and Mr. Bryant should be embarrassed, although I'm sure that thought never crossed his mind. People evolve and we get smarter. We no longer practice medicine the way we did 100 years ago, and nor should we evaluate baseball players the same way either.
 Where they haven't gained much ground in the overheated revolution and culture war is in the one area that infuriates them the most: the honor and responsibility of voting for baseball immortality. It remains gallingly in the hands of the BBWAA, a group that does not own their professional respect.
The lack of respect comes from the shocking lack of effort on many members of the BBWAA's parts to try and understand what has been learnt about baseball in the last two decades.
The straw men of reform and outrage stand hollow in the field, and only the hot air whistling through their stalks gives them voice to offer solutions where there is no problem.
Colourful imagery aside, I can't possibly agree that there is no problem. I understand that we are discussing a trivial matter such as baseball while there are children being shot in schools, but we're here and we're involved, so let's not pretend that this isn't important to us. There seem to be major disagreements in the world of baseball on how the Steroid Era should be viewed. In the world of baseball, that's a problem.
There are, however, two real truths to face. The first is that, since the Great Depression, the Hall of Fame has asked the writers to choose which players on the active ballot will be enshrined. The Hall can, any time it chooses, revoke this right and give it to Bill James or Bill Lee or Bill Gates. It has chosen not to do that, and for good reason. The system is not broken.
Fixing a broken system does not mean that it has to be handed over to a magical algorithm. The Hall of Fame has reformed the voting process many times in its past and will likely continue to do so into the future. The five-year waiting period after retirement didn't exist until 1954. Until the late 1950's voters were advised to vote for the maximum 10 players. In 2001 players dropped from the ballot became eligible to be voted in by the Veteran's Committee and the Veteran's Committee's procedure has changed many times over the years. Problems exist, and solutions are found.
The BBWAA is as much a part of the sport's lineage, for better and for worse, as the Hall itself. The awards the players respect and cherish the most -- MVP, Cy Young, etc. -- are the ones historically awarded by the baseball writers. On numerous occasions, both baseball (the Hank Aaron Award, for example) and the players association (the Players Choice Awards) have attempted to undermine or at least compete with the power of the BBWAA's awards, defeated by the same conclusion: the players, the ones who make up the game, want to win the same awards that DiMaggio and Williams and Mays and Aaron and Koufax won.
Try not to strain a muscle patting yourself on the back there. It's true, the players do value the MVP over the Hank Aaron award, but I think that has more to do with the definition of the awards than who is voting on it. If MLB decided to drop the BBWAA voting and adopt another MVP award as their official one, I don't think many players would notice.
Then there's the second truth: Despite the false narrative that voters are slightly less competent than NFL replacement referees, virtually everyone who belongs in the Hall of Fame is there. There are comets (Kirby Puckett, Ralph Kiner) and compilers (Don Sutton) and legends (Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle). There are cases considered to be borderline by writers, executives, fans and players alike who were finally inducted (Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice), and those who still are not (Jim Kaat, Jack Morris). That's why they are called borderline. There are players who have been denied entry by the Hall and the game (Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and his Black Sox). The idea that the process needs to be reformed is nothing but a mask to resume hostilities or add a few seats at the table for people upset that they've never had one.
I think Ron Santo might disagree. This also applies just his standard to all the players in the Hall. A writer who voted for a player for 15 straight years only to see him drop off the ballot might take issue with this broad stroke of the brush.
The next straw man is that, because of the steroid era, the baseball writers are going to guess who deserves enshrinement based on who had big muscles or who had a suspicious career year. Thus, goes the thinking, the system must change. It is a disdainful mindset that doesn't just miss the bull's-eye, but the entire target altogether. It is the great MacGuffin of the game, and reveals a complete lack of respect for voters who for years have done the work, covered the games, and taken the privilege seriously.
From Dan Graziano: I don’t know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don’t have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I’m suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked […] This isn’t about whether I believe what Bagwell says. It’s about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It’s about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn’t hold up in a court of law."

So there goes another theory Mr. Bryant.
The truth is that the writers are reduced to being a mop, left with cleaning up a colossal mess created by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for enormous profit. 
No one is asking them to do any of the sort. In fact the BBWAA has explicitly not changed the instructions that accompany the Hall of Fame ballot.
The fans also must take their share of responsibility simply because professional sports franchises respond only to loss of revenue. To the people watching, steroids were always someone else's problem, not an issue to get in the way of the fun and games -- until their guy was accused or their team wronged
This is true although I fail to see the relevance to Hall of Fame voting. The fans were responsible for segregation too but Ty Cobb still got voted into the Hall.
The journalists whose job it was to hold the institution accountable failed, too, for too little reporting allowed a corrupt culture to flourish.
I think this is a point that deserves much more than one line in Mr. Bryant's piece. He continually states the importance of the writer and how their access makes their word carry so much more weight than the bloggers. Access is good, but it's what you do with that access that's much more important. Where were the journalists breaking the big steroid in baseball stories in 1998? For a group of people who spend so much time around athletes their investigative journalism skills clearly have to be questioned. Are these votes against the Steroid Age players just trying to correct for past oversights by journalists?
The emerging Generation M, influenced by its Godfather, Bill James, and his capo, Billy Beane, is also deeply culpable for allowing their calculations to blissfully ignore steroids and, through that omission, attempting to legitimize the whole dishonest era (and themselves) by attempting to make the game revolve around only numbers.
For the life of me I have absolutely no idea what this means. Apparently people who value numbers are in the mafia and the calculations were setup to ignore steroids. I don't know, this is mostly nonsense.
It is no surprise, then, that two of the Gen M standard bearers, power and on-base percentage kings Manny Ramirez and Jason Giambi (directly linked to Beane and James) were both disgraced by steroids.
Along with half the league, most of which didn't have the power or on-base percentage of Manny and Giambi. Greg Zaun took PEDs and I never saw him mentioned in Moneyball. I also don't remember any Scott Hatteberg steroid rumours and he was the face of Moneyball. No straw man here, let's move on. 
The biggest culprits, though, remain the people who could have prevented the current mess but were too busy building record numbers of stadiums and collecting record-breaking contracts.
Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile. I'm not saying that was okay, but that was the culture then so we have to evaluate it in it's proper context. Just like we have to evaluate the segregation and greenie eras in their proper context.
Focusing on whom the writers select and whom they do not is the easy way, the lazy way, the cowards' way to complain about the broken past.
 I object to being called lazy, this is already over 2000 words.
It continues to hand the leaders of the game the free pass they have had since Brady Anderson wafted his first home run (on his way to 50) over the fence way back in 1996. Nobody in baseball publicly questioned that feat then, and nobody has publicly admitted they saw anything amiss in a clubhouse since, and yet the entire charade collapsed around them in a heap of subpoenas and diminished record books.
So it's a good thing we have you now Mr. Bryant 16 years later to retroactively correct everything.
It is also an intellectually vapid and historically naive position, for anyone who knows anything about the Veterans Committee knows that no voting body is more insular and petty and crony.
The irony, it hurts.
To assess how the Hall of Fame will look over the next decade is to stay on target, to maintain focus on the institution of baseball and all it did not do. It is to consider the consequences when Reggie Jackson stated the obvious, that Alex Rodriguez used steroids and that affects how people will think about his career. The Yankees silenced the Hall of Famer.
True, but it won't affect any of the numbers Rodriguez put up, MLB has made sure not to change any of those. So the numbers don't change, and he never broke any rules, seems like you have to analyze the numbers for what they are.
It is to think about Jeff Conine, who last week said he believed the Hall of Fame should be free of the steroid taint, but that same Conine played 17 years in the major leagues during the steroid era and was, like his union brothers, silent.
 Again Mr. Bryant, where was your mid-90's book on steroids? It didn't come out until 2005. Convenient.
More than anything else, if there is to be anger that the Hall of Fame may not enshrine perhaps the greatest pitcher of his time (Clemens), perhaps the greatest player of all time (Bonds) and the one of the great, most exciting sluggers of his time (Sosa), it should be directed at them for the choices they made.
They aren't the ones with any control over the issue now. It serves no purpose to be angry with the players. It's the writers who seem to have just recently discovered their backbone. Since the writers are the only people with any authority at this point, it's extremely justified to direct the anger at their pettiness.
It should be directed at Jeff Bagwell, who now if not inducted will be conveniently cast as a "victim" of the steroid "witch hunt" when the truth is that Bagwell never once during his playing days voiced a single bit of concern that he was a clean player being tainted by dirty players. Like everyone else, he rode along and took the money.
I think I just wrote something about being petty.

He continues to swing at hypothetical straw men for a little more but I think that's enough from this article. My opinion on Howard Bryant's Hall of Fame voting has been formed for years and this most recent tirade only strengthens my opinion. He's about as inconsistent as they come and plays by his own personal set of insane rules.

He doesn't vote for players on the first ballot unless they are on the "A List". 
The first Hall of Fame class consisted of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb. This is the standard for the first ballot. 
This is obviously ridiculous, but it's the reason that Rickey Henderson was the only player he voted for on the first ballot, and "Greg Maddux will be the next candidate."

To make it even more frustrating he adds that "all [players] are equal once inducted, but the first ballot should be reserved for the definitive." I think he's trying to set a record for most contradictions in one paragraph.

Mr. Bryant seems to truly value the 15 year period of eligibility. He didn't vote for Andre Dawson in 2008, but did in 2010 when he finally captured enough votes for entry. I would love for him to tell me what Dawson did between those two years that suddenly made him Hall of Fame worthy.

According to Mr. Bryant, year-to-year "one uncast vote matters little." I guess that depends on how many people take his point of view.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Winter Meetings Wrap

Taking a look at some of the more significant moves since the big Jays-Marlins swap and during the Winter Meetings, while throwing in a few insignificant moves just for fun.

Angels trade Jordan Walden to Braves for Tommy Hanson, sign Joe Blanton
In two moves that seem to indicate the Angels are resigned to letting Greinke go, they added two rotation pieces for the upcoming season. Hanson is 26 years old and is under team control for 3 more seasons. His first three seasons with the Braves were excellent, pitching to a 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, with 8.4 K/9. His 2012 season was a bit downhill as he suffered from shoulder issues and couldn't get his fastball speed up to what it was when he first came to the majors. The Angels are obviously hoping that last season's decline was just a result of injuries and he can get back to his pre-2012 form. I really like this move for the Angels. They get a good, young, cheap, and controllable rotation piece for a reliever. Walden has been good with a 3.06 career ERA and 11.1 K/9. He has had walk issues though and was unable to hold onto the Angel's closer job this season. Ultimately though, any time you can turn a reliever into a young proven starter, you jump at the opportunity. This move is a little more puzzling from the Braves' point of view. They had an excess of starters, but the back of their bullpen has been excellent (second best bullpen ERA in the league) and I have to believe that they could have gotten more for Hanson than just Walden or could have looked to fill a greater need.

I don't like the Joe Blanton addition for the Angels nearly as much. I'm not entirely sure who the Angels were bidding against when the offered Blanton two years at $15M since aside from staying healthy, Blanton does not offer much else to a team. He's never had higher than 8 K/9 in a season and his carrer low in ERA was 3.95 back in 2007. For a team with World Series aspirations, they'll need more than just an innings eater to get it done.

Astros claim Phil Humber
What do you do after a 107 loss season? Look for diamonds in the rough. One might remember my lack of enthusiasm for when Humber threw a perfect game earlier this season. To this point in his career Humber seemed like a quad-A player who was unable limit his hits enough to be a viable starter in the majors. Little has happened since to change my mind, but I like this move purely from a philosophical point of view. It never hurts, especially when you're a bad team, to stockpile players. Throw enough guys out there and maybe you'll find one that works. When the player comes cheap and you're in a season with low expectations it can't hurt to see if a guy can recapture some of the magic that let him get 27 straight outs in a single game.

Rangers sign Joakim Soria, re-sign Geovany Soto
The Rangers bullpen was good last year, but for a team looking for a World Series win, another arm always helps. They have also lost a few players to free agency or the rotation so adding the Royals ex-closer will ease the transition. Soria had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the entire 2012 season but looks to be ready for May 2013. Before the injury Soria was one of the most consistent pitchers in the league, compiling a career 2.40 ERA. His 2011 season was his worst but the Rangers are hoping that he rediscovers his old form after the surgery. He's still fairly young, only 28, and the contract is very affordable at two years, $8M. He'll be a reliable setup arm behind Joe Nathan this season as the Rangers look to recapture the division.

With Napoli on his way out the catching market looked extremely thin. Soto was bad last season having posted a .198/.270/.343 line with the Cubs and Rangers. However when looking at alternatives such as A.J. Pierzynski or Rod Barajas, the Cubs are decided to roll with Soto again and hope that he can put up numbers like he did with the Cubs in 2008 or 2010. This is really a lateral move for the Rangers and I have to think that they're looking at trade options (J.P. Arencibia?) but with the thin catching market there weren't a lot of alternatives.

Nationals sign Dan Haren
A quick disclaimer. I have this irrational weakness for Dan Haren. No matter his inconsistency, I think he's always one season away from a Cy Young award. His time in LA started great, which I think made his later performances seem worse than they actually were. In 2011 Haren pitched 238.1 innings with a 3.17 ERA. He looked to be an anchor of the Angels' rotation for many years to come but a 12-13 record in 2012 with a 4.33 ERA led to the team passing on his option. Haren replaces Edwin Jackson now in the Nationals rotation on a very affordable 1 year, $13M deal. The deal works for both sides, Haren looks to rebuild his value this season in search of another multi-year deal, and the Nationals get a player who put up 12.1 WAR in two seasons the last time he pitched in the National League. Washington will have a solid rotation again this year, and with full seasons from Harper and Strasburg, they have to be considered the favourites to repeat in the NL East.

Red Sox sign Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli
The Red Sox added a new outfielder and first baseman to fill the holes left by Carl Crawford, Cody Ross, and Adrian Gonzalez. Victorino and Napoli both signed 3 year, $39M deals. These new players come with some pretty significant warts though. At this point in his career Victorino has basically become a platoon player.His numbers against righties this year were terrible as he hit only .229/.296/.333. He is still a great hitter against lefties, .323/.388/.518 in 2012, but since he'll face about 2.5 times more righties than lefties this is going to be a major issue. Now that he's 32 he's not likely to improve either. He's still a good defensive outfielder, but the Red Sox might be marginalizing his talent by playing Ellsbury in center and Victorino in right. It's a fairly big contract to give to someone who likely won't be an everyday player by the end of the deal.

Napoli's days at catcher seem to be coming to an end as he'll most likely be the Red Sox everyday first baseman. Napoli has gotten most of his value in the past from being a catcher. Over his two years in Texas, including his crazy 2011 season, Napoli has put up a .398 wOBA, putting him first place among catchers, and by far in first place among American League catchers. That number drops to 4th though when we consider him among first baseman. If we stretch the time period out to the last four seasons to try and temper down a bit what seems like an anomalous 2011, Napoli slips to third among catchers in wOBA but down to 9th as a first baseman. At the age of 31 Napoli is likely to be on the decline for the next few seasons. He's a better option than James Loney, but there's a reason he was traded for only Frank Francisco just two years ago. With his days off from catching he's going to need to keep his power numbers high to make this contract worth it, especially given how much he strikes out and that he's a negative defender at both first and catcher.

I'm not sure how excited I'd be as a Red Sox fan if this is where the money is going from the Dodgers blockbuster trade.

Rays trade Derek Dietrich to Marlins for Yunel Escobar, sign James Loney
"It's a player making more than league minimum! Quick trade him!" I assume that was the sentiment in the Marlins front office after a Jays trade in which I can only assume the Marlins were forced to take back Escobar. Escobar's hitting took a step back last season but he was excellent defensively and by pushing Zobrist over to second base, he'll give the Rays one of the best defensive infields in the league. Escobar has the infamous eye black issue at the end of last season and was traded out of Atlanta when the Braves had similarly soured on him, but if there's one manager in the league I have confidence in to work out these issues it's Joe Maddon.

Loney adds to the solid defensive infield but his signing came as a disappointment to me. The Rays are in serious need of offense and power and we've seen enough of Loney to know that it's just not going to happen. his career high in homeruns was 15, back in 2007, and it's tough to play in the AL East with a first baseman like that. It's a cheap contract, but at some point the Rays are going to have to make a play for a real bat if they want to play into October.

Giants re-sign Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan
Two prime examples of how a good performance in a contract year can payoff. Last season Angel Pagan was traded for Andres Torres, a player who has since been non-tendered by the Mets (Edit: Torres has since been signed by the Giants for 1 year, $2M). Pagan has arguably his best season in 2012 though and earned himself a 4 year, $40M extension. I'm mixed on this signing. Pagan will be 31 next season and I don't think has shown enough in his career yet to warrant a 4 year commitment. On the other hand, unless the Giants wanted to start wading into the B.J. Upton/Michael Bourn bidding war, Pagan may have been their best option. If he can produce 4 more years of the type he did this past year, this contract will end up being one of the best signings from this offseason.

I love Scutaro from his two seasons in Toronto, but prior to his trade to the Giants this season I don't think anyone could have imagined that he would get a three year $20M deal. Between his Toronto and San Francisco stints Scutaro put up a .281/.334/.390 line which included a .320/.379/.434 line in 54 games at Coors. Not bad, but nothing particularly special, comparable to players like Jeff Keppinger or Omar Infante. But then Scutaro came to the Giants, hit .362/.385/.473, won the NLCS MVP, and was a big reason the Giants won the World Series. That was great for him and the Giants, but it was obviously a performance that was unsustainable in the long term. Meanwhile the contract that Scutaro got is almost twice as big as the one Keppinger just got, except that Keppinger is 32 years old while Scutaro is 37. I don't really see how this contract can possibly be worth it and I'll be impressed if Scutaro is still a regular starter at the end of it. I think the Giants too highly valued his recent performance with the team instead of looking forwards to what would be best for the team.

Orioles re-sign Nate McLouth
Since McLouth's 2008 All-Star it's been pretty much all downhill. In the four seasons since he's hit .235/.332/.381 with only 37 HR. Fortunately he ended last season on a bright note, going .268/.342/.435 with 7 HR in a third of a season after being traded to the Orioles. McLouth reportedly wanted only a one year deal to try and reestablish value which works out well for the Orioles. He played well for them at the end of last season and he's a cheap option to carry this year as they try and make it back to the playoffs. His BABIP spiked in his time in Baltimore, but even if his average regresses, if he can keep his power and become a 20 HR player again this contract will be more than worth it. This is more of a treading water move than one that pushes the Orioles back into the playoffs, but a full season of McLouth at the level he played at at the end of the season won't hurt.

Mariners sign Jason Bay
The best part of Bay's buyout from the Mets is that he was available super cheap to the rest of the league. The Mariners capitalized by signing him to a more than reasonable, low-risk, 1 year deal for $1M with an additional $2M in incentives.

It's difficult to tell exactly what kind of player Bay is anymore. From 2004-2009 Bay posted a .280/.375/.519 line while averaging 30 HR per season. Then Bay moved from the hitter's confines of Fenway to the spacious outfield of Citi and hit .257/.349/.402 in his first season with the Mets. It was easy to blame the change in home park, but after two more seasons at .221/.302/.351 including a .215/.297/.321 road line in 2011, it's difficult to attribute his lack of hitting to coincidence anymore. There's still hope though, we've seen the player he was and at 34 he's a few years removed from that, but hopefully not over-the-hill. One of the biggest things that works for Bay in Seattle (aside from the Canadians coming down from Vancouver) is that Seattle's outfield isn't very good. Casper Wells and Michael Saunders aren't scaring anyone with the bat. There could also be DH opportunities for rest on the rare days that Miguel Montero catches. It's not a big move, but it's extremely low-risk. It gives Bay a chance to keep playing baseball while earning his big Mets money, and the Mariners can easily cut-and-run if Bay really is done.

Diamondbacks sign Eric Chavez, White Sox sign Jeff Keppinger, Pirates sign Russell Martin
I'm grouping these players together not because of the teams they signed with, but because of the team they didn't sign with. The Yankees expressed interest in all these players and for various reasons were not able to land them. When was the last time we saw that happen?

Chavez and Keppinger were both being looked at to fill the void at third base that ARod's hip created. I can't fault Keppinger for chasing the money the White Sox offered. The Yankees don't usually get outspent, but going 3 years at $12M for Keppinger seems a bit crazy. Keppinger had his first good season last year, posting a .325/.367/.439 line, albeit with a .332 BABIP. Before last season though he's been fairly awful, posting a career -0.6 WAR. He won't add a lot to the White Sox infield and 3 years seems to be a long commitment to a corner infielder with no power.

The Chavez signing is more intriguing. The one-year $3M contract the Diamondbacks gave him should prove to be a great deal and something the Yankees could have definitely afforded. He played well in a reserve role for the Yankees last year so it seemed to be a good fit going forwards. Maybe there was some drama between him and the team which hastened his exit.

Martin got a good deal, 2 years $15M, from the Pirates, which I'm surprised the Yankees weren't willing to match given their now awful catching situation and the fact that Martin has done reasonably well in his time in New York. His .211 AVG last season leaves a lot to be desired, but he had a last-for-catchers .222 BABIP, and was league average in most other offensive categories. Although the money he got is fairly reasonable, getting it from the Pirates took me by surprise. Pittsburgh is a team that still needs to upgrade a lot of positions and dedicating $15M to a catcher who isn't a major upgrade over recently departed Rod Barajas seems like an inefficient use of limited funds.

Rockies re-sign Jeff Francis
It isn't easy to get pitchers to sign in Colorado so it's nice to see that Francis and the Rockies have found and re-found each other over the years. Francis is not a particularly good pitcher, which works out since the Rockies are not a particularly good team. I'd say Coors Field has been messing with his numbers, but he actually has a better ERA at Coors, 4.82, than his career ERA of 4.86. The contract is cheap though, $1.5M-$3M depending on incentives so if Francis can stay healthy he'll have some value. Really this is just a way for the Rockies to eat innings as they look forward to 2014 and beyond.

Phillies trade Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins for Ben Revere
I have to think that the Phillies know something about Worley that the rest of the baseball world doesn't. Maybe they believe his elbow injury will have much longer lingering effects than what's currently showing up on medical reports. If this isn't the case though, then I really have a hard time explaining this one. The Phillies definitely needed outfield help, thus all the Bourn rumours, but Ben Revere is hardly the answer. He's a speed demon who will track down balls in the outfield and cause some havoc on the bases, but beyond that he's won't be of any help. If he can't track down a ball on the fly, the Phillies are going to need about two cutoff men to handle his weak arm. The stolen bases are impressive, he's 4th in the league over the last two seasons, but he doesn't hit or get on base nearly enough to fully take advantage of it. He also has absolutely no power. He currently leads the league in plate appearances without a home run and even with all his speed he was only able to muster 19 extra base hits last season. For a team that's in "win now" mode like the Phillies with their aging core, a player like Revere is not going to give them that final push to put them over the threshold. 

Vance Worley seems like the superior player in the deal, which makes it even more surprising that the Phillies threw in Trevor May, who projects to be a mid-rotation starter. Worley needs to show he can pitch a full season, but he's young, controllable with some good experience under his belt. He doesn't have a great out pitch which may make his current K rate seem a bit unsustainable. He can give up a fair amount of contact, but getting a better defensive infield behind him should help. I don't see how the Twins don't win this trade. They clearly didn't see Revere as their answer in CF, and Bourn may not have been the solution in Philly, but I really can't say that it will be Revere. Also with the Blanton signing (I realize that he was traded from Philly last year) and now Worley gone, the Phillies rotation is starting to look very thin after their top three.

Red Sox sign Koji Uehara
What do you do after you've stripped your team for parts? Sign a 38 year old reliever to a $4.25M contract!  Now Boston's bullpen was a mess last season, finishing 4th worst in the AL with an ERA of 3.88 and Uehara has been great since coming to the MLB, pitching to a 2.36 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, with a 11.4 K/9 over the last 3 seasons, but this move will have only a minor effect on the overall team. Uehara has never been worth more than 2 WAR in a season, and at his age there isn't much room for improvement. His health will be a concern after spending 77 days on the DL last season with a shoulder strain. I like the move and it will help the Red Sox, but if the their rotation isn't able to put together some good outings, it's going to be a long season for Uehara.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Obligatory Awards Post

I guess I should have seen this coming. A part of me still believed that Trout would pull through, but I was clearly only kidding myself. I really didn't know what to expect. I thought it would be anything from a slim Trout win to a Cabrera blowout but that was probably born more out of false hope than anything else. Part of the problem was probably that I try and read only baseball writers that I respect, and most of those writers heavily favoured Trout. By isolating myself to reading only the minority, I forgot how much of the baseball world still seems to be stuck in the past.

Miguel Cabrera had an awesome season. He won the Triple Crown. For that he more than deserved an award, the award is the Triple Crown. Why does there need to be an award on top of that?

Cabrera also won the Hank Aaron award though for the league's best hitter. I'm more than alright with that. Unfortunately that's where Cabrera's value ends. He provides negative value on the base paths and as a fielder, two areas where Trout is among the best, if not the best player in the league. Maybe it all comes down to team wins. Although the Angels won more games than Detroit, so I guess we can scratch that theory off the list.

I'm not going to deeper into the stats comparing the two, enough has been written about that. Suffice to say I'm disappointed that the real value of players isn't being properly recognized, even in the year 2012 where so much of this data is so easily available.

Some more award thoughts:
  • Price and Verlander had almost the same amount of votes for Cy Young, with Price essentially edging out Verlander by one first place vote. I don't have a problem with this, both of these guys were deserving and the voters were split. It confuses me then how Verlander picked up 58 MVP vote points, being listed on 12 ballots, while Price only picked up 26 MVP points, being listed on only 5 ballots. How did these two basically tie on the Cy Young vote but have such a difference on the MVP vote. Was it just a fluke due to the different voters for the different awards? Is there something about the word valuable that is completely different from determining who the best pitcher is? Someone needs to solve this.
  • Jared Weaver got two second place votes for Cy Young, both from the LA voters. What the hell is this? I realize Weaver pitched a no-hitter this year, but he was inferior to Verlander in almost every other way. This hometown bias needs to be eliminated. Maybe change the rules to disallow voting for a hometown player? I don't know, but this is ridiculous.
  • John Lowe gave Jim Johnson a third place MVP vote. That wasn't a typo. Look, Johnson was good this year. He had a 2.49 ERA, led the league in saves, and was a big contributor to Baltimore's unlikely record in close games. This is just insane though. Forget comparing him to the batters and starting pitchers on his team who obviously contributed more to Baltimore's season. Forget comparing him to other relievers in the league like Rodney who were clearly superior. Jim Johnson wasn't even the best reliever on the Orioles. Darren O'Day had a lower ERA, higher K rate, lower walk rate, a lower WHIP, and only pitched 1.2 less innings. Johnson got 51 saves though, so guess that makes him the third most valuable player in the AL.
  • Someone gave Raul Ibanez a 10th place MVP vote. Some of his 19 HRs were clutch, but he was a part time player, an absolute disaster when he played the field and outside of those few clutch homeruns, really did very little at the plate. His OBP was the worst of any regular player on the Yankees and his average beat out only Granderson and Russell Martin. To make this even funnier, the voter who gave Ibanez his vote was again John Lowe.
  • Ken Rosenthal gave Chipper Jones a 10th MVP place vote. It's hard to think of this as anything other than a token vote for his career work.
  • The two Mets voters gave Yadier Molina first place votes. So I guess only for catchers are MVP voters allowed to consider defense (and what I assume is only defense).
  • As a fan, I find it especially difficult to care at all about Manager of the Year awards. Managers seem to have very little influence and more often seem to hinder their team than help it. It's difficult to evaluate what goes on behind the scenes so this award just ends up going to the manager whose team vastly exceeds what their talent was on paper at the start of the season. Was the cause of that some great speech the manager gave that got his players to work together as a team? I don't know and since I really can't evaluate most of it, I don't care.
  • I was relieved to see that Trout unanimously won Rookie of the Year. With the current voter crop, you just never know what someone might do. I'll leave you with this memory: Michael Young got a first place MVP vote last season!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jays Acquire State of Florida

It's probably not the smartest thing to comment on this trade in my early stages of euphoria, but I'm going to try anyway. First the trade as it looks now:

To Toronto
To Miami
Josh JohnsonYunel Escobar
Mark BuehrleAdeiny Hechavarria
Jose ReyesHenderson Alvarez
Emilio Bonifacio  Justin Nicolino
John BuckJake Marisnick
$4MJeff Mathis
Anthony DeSclafani

Wow that looks good. After years of being accused of being cheapskates, Rogers has opened up the pocketbooks and taken on some major commitments. A total of $163M in salary is coming to Toronto and that doesn't even include what Bonifacio is due to earn in arbitration. Let's take a look at the different pieces of the deal.

First the Miami franchise. They acquired some nice pieces in this deal which I'll get to, but the team is a disaster right now. After moving to Miami and building a new stadium with $360M in public funds the Marlins made a big splash in the offseason with the signings of Buehrle, Reyes, Heath Bell, and acquiring manager Ozzie Guillen. Those guys are all gone now, along with Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and Hanley Ramirez, who all started the season last year with the Marlins. No doubt it was a disappointing season in Miami last year but it hardly called for such a massive overhaul, especially given the massive investment both in money and years given to some of these players. Marlins fans should feel screwed and Marlins players can't be too comfortable in their current situation. I don't know how much longer Giancarlo Stanton will stay in Miami, but unless they can offer him a ton of money with a no trade clause I don't see why he would want to stay and play for an ownership group that can't seem to decide on what direction to take the franchise. Almost everything that isn't nailed to the floor has been shipped out of town and it wouldn't surprise me if guys like Ricky Nolasco were playing in a different city when the 2013 season starts.

After previous fire sales from the Marlins the state of the franchise should be a major concern for Major League Baseball. Given the history, it's no surprise that guys like Albert Pujols weren't interested in coming to Miami last season without a no-trade clause. I don't know their opinions of Toronto, but Reyes and Buehrle can't be too happy about their current circumstances after making long term commitments to Miami last offseason. Players can be traded at almost any time in baseball but I imagine they thought they'd be spending more than one year in the Sunshine State with no state income tax before heading out to the socialist tundra of Canada. The Marlins are going to have a difficult time attracting free agents in the future given how they treated their last batch.

Let's look at the actual players involved in the trade though. The Marlins picked up 3 major leaguers in Escobar, Alvarez, and Mathis, and 4 very promising minor leaguers. Some of this trade looks like it was done due to positional necessity. Hechavarria was the prized shortstop prospect acquired, but after his end of year stint in the majors it definitely seemed as if he can use some more tuning with the bat before being made a full time starter. Escobar is a very serviceable shortstop, who if he rediscovers how to walk could be the best shortstop in the division. Some of the "character issues" that seemed to ruin his time in Atlanta popped up at the end of his stay in Toronto, but I still don't see why the right manager and team atmosphere couldn't alleviate those issues. Maybe Miami is the right place for that.

Henderson Alvarez is an interesting player. He'll be pushed right into the Marlins rotation, not that they have a real choice after trading half of it away. After being a bit of an emergency callup from AA in 2011, Alvarez put up good enough numbers in his first rotation stint to earn a second in 2012. In 2012 he made 31 starts but it's tough to tell whether that was due to necessity or skill. Alvarez wasn't terrible last year but he left a lot to be desired. He had a 4.85 ERA and struck out a measly 3.8 per nine innings. Against left handed batters he had major walk problems and tended to get hit hard. He's also probably going to need to throw his offspeed pitches more (and more effectively) if he's going to remain a starter. He's only 22 though and skipped AAA, so he could definitely still improve. Moving out of the AL East into the NL will probably also make him look better.

The Buck-Mathis part of the deal isn't particularly interesting. They both have one year left on their deals and would have to be backups in Toronto. This looks mostly like a way for the Marlins to save about $4M. Mathis is the better defensive catcher but excluding last year's catastrophe for Buck, he has been the far better offensive player over their careers. If Buck can get close to to the performance he had in his previous stint with the Jays in 2010 which was his career best, he'll be one of the best backup catchers in the league. If he's good enough and d'Arnaud progresses fast enough then Toronto could definitely have a catching controversy on its hands by the end of the season. I don't really know where Bobby Wilson fits into any of this. It seems like his only opportunities are going to come from injury.

Now onto some of the prospects, which in addition to the previously mentioned Hechavarria is why this deal actually got done. If we go by Fangraph's most recent rankings, the Marlins got the Jays' #5, #6, and #10 prospects from a well stocked farm system.

There was no way the Jays were going to get through this deal without giving up at least one of their big arms from Lansing and Justin Nicolino was the Marlins' prize. Nicolino is a lefty with excellent control who has already shown above average command of his offspeed pitches, the curve and changeup. He doesn't project to be a power arm but he's only 21 and has been progressing well through the minor leagues. 

Depending on the list you look at, Marisnick was often rated as the top outfield prospect in the Blue Jays organization. The inclusion of Marisnick may have been a bit more exciting a year ago before he had some trouble against the higher level hitting. His swing has been reworked a couple times but he still projects to be able to hit with power. He is a tremendous athlete who has shown to be an excellent outfielder. After last season it's clear he still needs some more work with the bat, but he can definitely be a starting outfielder in the years to come.

DeSclafani is not a big prize from this trade as he projects to be a reliever. He's still probably a couple years away from big league time though which will give him the time to work on his secondary and offspeed pitches.

Looking at the prospects given up in this deal it's impressive how much the Marlins were able to get while simultaneously how little the Blue Jays had to give up. After years of working the draft and loading up on prospects the Jays had one of the top ranked farm systems in the league. The Jays were able to keep two of their three Lansing arms, they kept d'Arnaud, Gose, Osuna, Norris, and their entire 2012 draft class, among others. We've seen how trades for other superstars, such as what the Phillies did for Halladay and Lee had wiped out farm systems and nothing close to this has happened for the Jays. There aren't many other teams in baseball that could offer such a prospect load and still keep together a highly rated minor league system.

Let's turn our focus to what really matters for Jays fans though: Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle, and Bonifacio. First off, WOW! These guys aren't without their warts, but oh my god, when was the last time we saw such talent come into Toronto? Roger Clemens? He was just one guy. We'd probably have to go back to 1990 and look at the trade for Alomar and Joe Carter. It's an exciting time to be a Jays fan. The last year or so has been mostly looking at waiver wire transactions on loop while we watched perennial losers like the Orioles pass us in the division. But right now the entire baseball world is talking about how good the Jays can be in 2013 and it's a refreshing change of pace.

Over the last 5 seasons Jose Reyes has been one of the best shortstops in baseball. You could make an arguement for Tulowitzki, Jeter, Rollins, or Hanley taking the top seed, but the conversation starts with Reyes. He leads all shortstops in that time in steals and is in the top 3 in both AVG and SLG. The defensive metrics haven't been in his favour the last couple seasons, but back in his real speed demon days he was one of the best fielders around. There are definitely some injury concerns thought. Although he remained healthy most of last year he has had some leg problems in the past, specifically with his hamstrings. For a player so reliant on his speed to be productive, keeping him healthy will be a major priority.

Reyes comes to the Jays with what is now the largest contract on the team. He has 5 years and $92M remaining plus a $22M team option with a $4M buyout. It's a big contract but Reyes is still only 29 and if healthy should still be a productive player near the end.

Josh Johnson is another player who comes to the Jays with some injury concerns. He's already had Tommy John surgery and has missed significant time in the last couple years due to shoulder inflammation. He managed to make 31 starts last season, but it was his worst year since his first couple in the majors. He's only had one season with 200+ IP but hopefully he'll have the strength to keep up this season. There are definitely some concerns with him moving from the NL to the AL East, but he has a 2.95 ERA in inter-league games (albeit in only 109.2 innings) and he's not especially home run prone, so it looks promising.

Johnson's contract will make is situation with the Jays interesting this year. He's in the final year of his deal and will earn $13.75M this season. If he stays healthy he'll be one of the top free agent targets next offseason  so it's tough to imagine he wouldn't want to test that. The Jays will likely extend him a qualifying offer at the end of the season but there's definitely no guarantee that he'll be in Toronto for more than one season. If the Jays are out of it down the stretch his name will probably also appear as one of the top trade targets in the rumour mill.

I've always had a bit of an irrational love for Mark Buehrle. I used to love seeing his duels against Roy Halladay border on the two hour mark for the entire game. In the age of Daisuke Matsuzaka staring into space between every pitch, it's relieving to see a pitcher stay on the mound and keep up a good pace.

Buehrle is starting to get up there in age but there are few 33 year olds pitching who I would be less concerned about. Buehrle has been the absolute mark of consistency, starting 30+ games for the last 12 seasons. He'as a soft throwing lefty who doesn't strike out a ton but he has remarkable control and can be trusted as a work horse for any team. Against all odds he's thrown a no-hitter and a perfect game. He has a career 3.88 ERA against the AL East in 517 IP, although that goes up to 5.27 against just the Yankees and Red Sox. Either way, I'm excited to have someone reliable in the Jays rotation and he should be fun to watch for the next three years.

Bonifacio is entering his first year of arbitration and will be an interesting fit on the Jays. He doesn't hit for any power (7 career HR) but he can absolutely fly. In the last three seasons he's stolen 82 bases while being caught only 14 times. His 30 SB last season came in only 64 games. I'm not entirely sure where he fits on the Jays roster though. He's traditionally played CF or 2B but those spots seem to be currently occupied by Rasmus and Izturis. He could play LF but I'm not sure how much of a better option he is than Rajai Davis. A lot will depend on who the Jays hire as their next manager and how he likes to utilize speed. Between Reyes and Bonifacio coming in, and Davis and Gose already rostered, the Jays will probably be tearing up the base paths next season. Hopefully the new manager will use a little more discretion than Farrell though when determining what situations to give the green light in.

Speaking of the new manager, I keep seeing how now after this trade the Blue Jays managerial job has become much more enticing. Seriously?!? There are 30 manager positions in the MLB. In any given season there are about a half dozen openings. There is currently one. Almost every ex-player, newscaster, and fanboy would sell their soul to get one of those positions. Unless you're a guy like Terry Francona who can pick any job he wants (and have you seen the Indians roster?) the players on the team shouldn't really matter to a potential manager. The fact that the job is open is usually enough.

I'll conclude this on an upbeat note. For a few years now we've praised Anthopoulos and his strategy in acquiring players. The process has seemed sound even if the results weren't. Trusting the process can become difficult though after repeated disappointments. Well here we are with another trade that was a result of great moves by the Blue Jays front office. It might not work out, players can get injured, age, or just lose their talent; but today I feel more optimistic as a Jays fan than I have in a long time and I can't wait for the 2013 season to start.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Three Tools Triple Crown

It's time to dump on Miguel Cabrera some more. Well not so much him, but the system that's about to give him his first MVP. In what was truly an impressive season this year, Miguel Cabrera led the league in home runs, RBIs, and batting average, allowing him to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

I don't fully understand the Triple Crown though, and this has nothing to do with RBIs no longer being recognized as a stat completely correlated with skill. The Triple Crown is meant to recognize three different skills: hitting for average, hitting for power, and ability to produce runs. The problem is that the third skill is very much a function of the first two. RBIs are produced by being able to hit for power, and being able to frequently hit. Even if you're not getting lucky by having a lot of runners on base in front of you, if you have a high average and a high home run total, the RBIs will naturally follow.

In fact there have only been four instances in baseball history where a player has led the league in home runs and batting average without leading the league in RBIs:
  • In 1912 Heinie Zimmerman led the league with 14 HR and a .372 AVG, but his 99 RBI total put him in third behind Honus Wagner at 102 and Bill Sweeney at 100. With such low home run totals Zimmerman was able to be passed, and it didn't help that Sweeney had 80 more PAs and Wagner had 15.
  • In 1924 Babe Ruth won the home run race with 46 HR, 19 more than second place Joe Hauser. His .378 AVG led the league but he finished second to Goose Goslin 129-121 in the RBI race. Ruth actually ended up with more plate appearances but a lot of those were "wasted" in walks. Ruth's walk total of 142 dwarfed Goslin's 68.
  • In 1939 Johnny Mize won the home run title by 1 with 28, and led the NL with a .349 AVG. His 108 RBIs finished third though to Frank McCormick's 128 and Joe Medwick's (who won the Triple Crown two years prior) 117. The 20 RBI difference is the largest on the list. McCormick finished second to Mize in AVG, and similar to Goslin and Ruth, was able to get more at bats by having 52 less walks. 
  • In 1941 future two-time Triple Crown winner Ted Williams easily won the batting title, becoming the last player to top .400 with his .406 AVG. He won the home run race by 4 with 37, but only finished 4th in the RBI race with 120, falling behind Joe DiMaggio (125), Jeff Heath (123), and Charlie Keller (122). DiMaggio played a great season, finishing 3rd in the home run race and 4th for the HR title, and having the benefit of playing for a Yankees team that won 17 more games than Williams' Red Sox. Similar to the past two guys, Williams was losing RBI opportunities to walks. He led the league with 147, far ahead of DiMaggio's 76, Heath's 50, and Keller's 102. If he takes another couple swings in those 71 extra walks, he probably gets those 5 RBIs he needed for the crown, but his average also probably drops below .400 too.
Winning the batting title and the home run title in the same season is a tremendous feat. Winning the RBI title once you have those two is almost a given. If we're going to give out awards celebrating different skills in baseball we should be looking at metrics that aren't as closely related. We often talk about 5-tool players in baseball, so I'm going to redefine the Triple Crown in terms of the three offensive tools. If we want to talk about the range of skills a player has, lets focus on the Three Tools Triple Crown, which requires leading the league in AVG, HR, and SB to win.

The Three Tools Triple Crown is much more difficult to win than the traditional Triple Crown. In fact it's only been done once. Ever. In 1909 Ty Cobb hit 9 HR, batted .377, and stole 76 bases to lead the league in all three categories. Although it should be mentioned that all 9 of Cobb's home runs that season were inside the park.

No player has come close to winning it in a long time. In the age of stolen base specialists, it's difficult for players with any power to keep up with some of these speed demons. Aside from Cobb, the only times a player was even able to win both the SB and HR crowns were Chuck Klein in 1932 and Jimmy Sheckard in 1903. Both of those guys lost the batting title by at least 20 points. 

The early 1900's saw a few more close calls. Ty Cobb missed the HR title by 3 in both 1907 and 1911. Although that 3 HR gap seems a little larger when you consider that the leaders had 8 and 11 respectively. Honus Wagner came 4 HR away in 1907 and 2 HR off in 1908. In the age of bigger home run totals, Mickey Mantle was the last player to win two of the categories and finish top ten in another. In 1956 he won the home run title by 20 but came up 11 SB short of being the steal king. Unfortunately those 11 SB would have been more than double his year end total of 10.

Last season gave us our closest threat in recent years. Matt Kemp won the HR title by 1, and finished third by 13 points for the batting title. His 40 SBs put him in a 4-way tie for second, but he still finished 21 SBs back of winner Michael Bourn.

In the current age of specialization it's tough to see a player ever winning this award again. Miguel Cabrera barely won the batting and home run titles this season, but he finished 45 SBs short of Mike Trout. Trout may actually represent the best current challenger to the Three Tools Triple Crown. He won the stolen base title last season and finished second in the batting title race by 4 points. He only finished 14 HRs behind Cabrera, but he missed an entire month of the season and at the age of 21 might still be getting stronger. I wonder if he were to win all three of these categories if that would be MVP worthy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Didn't See That Coming

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Sometimes it really does seem as if the baseball gods are just messing with us. For 162 games they continuously let us believe one storyline, and an instant later they rewrite the entire script.

Last night Pablo Sandoval became the fourth player to hit three home runs in a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth (did it twice), Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols. This one just seems a little more shocking to me. It isn't that Sandoval isn't a solid power hitter, but his name doesn't yet seem to carry the same gravitas as the rest of the list. It's just tough to see something like this coming from a guy who has yet to top 25 HR in a season.

Pujols had already had four 3-HR games when he had his game and Reggie Jackson had done it once. This of course was Sandoval's first such game. Going into their World Series games, Jackson averaged a home run once every 19.9 PA, Pujols was at 16.7, and Ruth was at a spectacular 15.7 (first time he did it). Sandoval is way up at 30.4.

Of course though, anyone can have a good night. It just didn't seem likely to happen to a Giant this season, especially while playing at home. The Giants finished dead last in the league this year with only 103 homers. Of those 103, only 31 came at home. Miguel Cabrera alone hit 28 at home! Sandoval himself was only one of three Giants to even hit three homers at home this season, being responsible for seven. He hit almost half his home season total last night. They weren't cheap shots either, two to dead center, and one going the opposite way. It was only even the second time that anyone hit three homers in a game at AT&T park. Ever.

To make it more fascinating, two of the homers came off reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Maybe worrying about having to bat got to him.

What does any of this mean for the rest of the series? Probably nothing. Just know that the baseball gods like to keep things interesting.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Things I Was Wrong About

The expiration date on any sports media content is usually only a couple days. Anything but the most revolutionary or inflammatory is usually forgotten quickly after the first read. This is especially true with blog posts where the high density of available content on any topic often makes any one opinion inconsequential. This allows people to sometimes get away with outlandish claims or opinions as they know they will never be held accountable for them.

So this is me holding myself accountable. The following are things I got wrong this season. Some of these were discussed on this blog, others were just private opinions. But I stand here today trying to understand my mistakes, learn from them, laugh at my incompetence, then hopefully move on.

Terry Francona
I didn't think there was a shot that Francona would sign on to be Cleveland's manager. Francona was one of the most respected managers in the game, could probably get almost any job he wanted, and likely demanded a salary a lot higher than most teams would be comfortable paying their manager, and it's not like the Indians are loose with the purse strings. Francona also had a great job with ESPN that he seemed to be pretty good at. I've gotten so used to dumping on Cleveland that I assume everyone feels the same way. Apparently not Francona, "People who don't know me may have thought I was looking for something different." I thought Sandy would finally get his big break, but it's looking more and more like he'll have to move elsewhere to get his shot, which now ironically may be best taken in Boston.

August Trades
Well I was right that Cliff Lee and Jed Lowrie wouldn't be traded, but I was completely wrong about saying there was no way any blockbuster would go down. Just going by the past 3 seasons, almost half the players traded were below replacement level, and only 5 of the 33 players traded had more than a year left on their contract at the time of the trade. Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford completely broke the mold on this.Although I anticipated the Dodgers being more free-wheeling with their expenditures, I didn't think that would really start to kick in until this offseason. I also didn't realize how desperate Boston was to blow up their entire team and start from scratch. Sure they weren't doing that well, but that didn't seem to me like it would be an issue to a team with almost unlimited funds. So although I was wrong here, I'm not faulting myself to heavily as a trade like this was completely unprecedented.

Travis Snider
Starting in left field for your 2012 Toronto Blue Jays, Travis Snider!!! That was how I expected the season to start. Never really seemed to happen. He got a 10 game appearance for the Jays in the middle of the season before he was shipped off to the Pirates. I'm really just disappointed with the entire ordeal. I thought he was the Jays best option with the most potential and that he should get the first shot, but also whenever he got the opportunity he never seemed to handle it well. Both him and the team were both at fault and it was sad to see this roller coaster ride end so unceremoniously. He has become quite a good defensive outfielder, but even after his trade to Pittsburgh and his opportunity for regular playing time he still wasn't able to do anything with the bat. I wish him the best, because I guess this was just never meant to be.

Powerhouse East Divisions
I'll take off half a point here. More than 50 games into the season there were points where every single team in the AL and NL East were above .500. This was obviously unsustainable but I didn't anticipate how far some teams would fall. I'll elaborate more on some of these below, but the Jays pitching staff hadn't made their collective trip to Dr. James Andrews yet, the Red Sox were still pretending they liked Bobby V, Philly still had some of their pitchers healthy, the Marlins hadn't imploded, and the Mets, well I was right about the Mets. On the other hand, both East divisions had a wild card team and the #1 seed in each league. The West has started making a push, but the East isn't going anywhere any time soon.

The Chicago White Sox
For the past few years I've been all-in on the White Sox only to be disappointed. This year I finally lowered my expectations, only to see them step up their game and almost take the Central division. The team had a sour taste coming into this season. They had lost two of their better players in Mark Buehrle and Carlos Quentin, and they seemed to be focused on the future by trading away relievers such as Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor. Alex Rios and Adam Dunn were also coming off of two of the worst seasons in the history of baseball. So what happened? Rios and Dunn regressed to the mean, which in their case was a good thing, and their pitching ended up being extremely good. Peavy and Sale both pitched tremendously and will grab some lower Cy Young votes and they even got a perfect game out of Philip Humber. I'm not sure how sustainable this all is though. Peavy will be a free agent if his $22M is not picked up as expected and this was only Sale's first season as a starter. Quintana outperformed his peripherals and Francisco Liriano did not show anything in Chicago that would discount the poor performances he'd had in Minnesota over the last few seasons.

Yoenis Cespedes
I could use this space to talk about the entire A's team, but I'll focus on Cespedes. I originally thought the signing was a disaster. It was a major investment, by a team that finished 22 games out of the division, in a player that all indications was at least a year away from the majors. The power was definitely there, but how could he possibly consistently hit against Major League pitching? Well all he did was hit. The A's placed him in their Opening Day lineup and he proceeded to hit homers in 3 of the first 4 games. He kept it up all season though, finishing with a .292/.356/.505 line. Without Cespedes, the A's are probably watching the playoffs from their couches instead of playing them on the field.

The Giants Offense
Who on this team was supposed create runs? Posey coming off his missed season? Brandon Belt who can't figure out how to stay in the majors? The disastrous outfield combination of Gregor Blanco, Aubrey Huff, Angel Pagan, and Nate Schierholtz? Well yes. Posey looks like he's going to get the Giants their first MVP winner since Bonds left and Pablo Sandoval came up with big hits when healthy. I feel a little redeemed now the Melky Cabrera proved that his performance really was all smoke and mirrors, but I still did not see them scoring this many runs.

Aaron Hill
26 HR, .522 SLG. This was the Aaron Hill I thought was dead. Turns out all he needed was a fresh breath of desert air. This one still hurts, especially while watching Kelly Johnson strikeout over once per game.

Ricky Romero
The warning signs were there, but I definitely didn't anticipate a season like this. Last year Ricky put up a 2.92 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP. He put up career highs in IP and Ks while also allowing a career low in hits. His FIP of 4.20 and BABIP of .242 seemed to indicate he was getting a little lucky and was due for some regression, but his 2012 was an absolute disaster. He was striking out 1 less batter per game while walking two more. He seemed unable to hit the outside corner and went long stretches where he couldn't throw a strike to save his life. I expected him or Morrow to lead the pitching staff in 2012 but going forwards I question whether Ricky will even be able to stay in the majors. I suspect his true talent level lies somewhere between the last two seasons and maybe there was something else that we don't know about that was affecting his play this year, because this was a train wreck.

Phillies Pitching
I know they were older and the rest of the division had improved, but I still thought that behind Halladay, Lee, and Hamels the Phillies would cruise to another division title. Alas it was not meant to be. I mostly blame injuries, although I didn't know that that could happen to Doc. This was a guy who took a liner of his head and still managed to make his next start. But even after coming back from his injury he still put up only a 4.93 ERA. I thought Vance Worley would develop into a solid starter and it looked to be going that way until he started pitching through bone chips and was ultimately DL'd for the season. In their place Kendrick and Blanton weren't bad, but no where near good enough for the Phillies to win the division. That, combined with the injuries to key offensive players like Utley and Howard was just too much for Philly to overcome this season.

Gio Gonzalez
I'll be honest, I was never really a believer in Gio and I thought the Nationals overpaid. He walked way too many guys and seemed to be a product of the Coliseum. Well he was amazing this year. He cut down his walk rate, led the NL in K/9, and put up a fantastic 2.89 ERA. Pitchers do tend to look better when moving to the NL, but Gio was a legitimate Cy Young contender this season and without him the Nationals probably don't win the division.

The Marlins
After restocking this offseason I thought the Marlins would contend for a wild card spot. Instead they finished with 69 wins and finished last in their division. Jose Reyes took a step back and only Stanton was able to provide the team any power. The Zambrano experiment started well but quickly fell apart. Nolasco showed no signs of improvement and Heath Bell was a disaster out of the bullpen. To top it off, when things started to crumble, the Marlins quickly bailed on the season by trading away Hanley and Anibal Sanchez. The season definitely didn't go the way Loria expected it to in the new ballpark. Sure the players didn't do to well, but I think the main cause was the sculpture in centerfield. That thing needs to be sent to the dump pronto.

Baltimore Orioles
I'll admit I was wrong about their record and them making the playoffs, but that's all I'm admitting to on this one. This team reeked of luck. Their +7 run differential is BY FAR the worst of any team with as many wins as they had. They won a ridiculous 16 extra inning games in a row, went 29-9 in one-run games, and they were an absolutely insane 74-0 when leading after 7 innings. Their bullpen may have been good, but no one in the majors is that good. Just for comparison, when leading after 7 innings, the Yankees lost 5 games, the Nationals lost 7, and the Reds lost 7. Guys like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and JJ Hardy had great years, but I still look at this team and wonder how they made the playoffs. Only 61 of their starts went to players with an ERA under 4 (the Yankees were at 84, and the Rangers were at 85). Nothing about their success this year seems sustainable to me, so I'm not caving on this one so easily. Good for them, and good for their fan base, but I'm far from convinced.

I'm undoubtedly missing a few big ones here, don't hold it against me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Triple Crown What Ifs

The baseball world's got Triple Crown fielder! Depending on how Miguel Cabrera does over the last week of the season, we might have our first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

What I'm interested in finding are players who not so much missed the Triple Crown by maybe one category, but were perhaps just playing in the wrong season. Players who ordinarily may have won the Triple Crown but happened to fall victim to another player's outstanding performance.

I looked at all the seasons since Yaz's Crown win to see if anyone just got unlucky. I split the 44 full seasons since into both 5 and 11 year intervals and averaged the league leading RBI, HR, and AVG totals for each season in the interval to see if a player in any season could beat the average title stats.

I found myself disappointed. Not a single player since 1967 was able to beat the averages in either the 5 or 11 year intervals. We no longer recognize some of the stats that make up the Triple Crown as great indicators of performance, especially when RBIs is much more a factor of the players around you than your actual performance. Sometimes though we have to step back and recognize when something truly special is happening. The Triple Crown is damn hard to win.

So I lowered my expectations. I took one standard deviation off the average title stats to see if anyone could meet this new threshold. I now had 9 seasons to look at, plus Jim Rice in 1978 which I'll include since his average was off the title mark by just slightly over one standard deviation. These are the players:

Albert Pujols200343124.359
Vladimir Guerrero200044123.345
Todd Helton200042147.372
Mike Piazza199740124.362
Larry Walker199749130.366
Ellis Burks199640128.344
Dante Bichette199540128.340
Jeff Bagwell199439116.368
Fred Lynn197939122.333
Jim Rice197846139.315

Any player leading their league in a statistic has that statistic in blue, and any underlined statistic means that the player was able to beat the average title winning statistic from their time era, and not just the one-standard deviation below threshold.

Only two players beat the average in two stats (and coincidentally led the league in both) so let's focus on those players first. Todd Helton's 147 RBIs and .372 batting average are impressive in any era and are in fact the highest marks in each category on the table. Unfortunately nobody around the year 2000 had any chance of leading the league with 42 HRs. The 42 put him 8 behind league leader Sammy Sosa and you'd have to go back to 1992 or forward to 2010 to find an NL HR leader with 42 or less HRs. You could maybe chalk up Helton's missed Triple Crown to steroids, but you can't say that he got unlucky in 2000.

Jim Rice had a bit of a tougher beat. He destroyed the HR and RBI categories, winning them by 12 and 18 respectively. His average was the problem though. He finished third to Rod Carew, who batted .333, but you would have to go back to 1972 when Carew batted .318 or ahead to pretty much never to find a player who won a batting title in the vicinity of Rice's .315, and since Rice never batted higher than .325 in any season, it's difficult to see this as a tough loss. Although it is interesting to note that of all the players on the list, Rice was the only one to beat the average HR title level in his era.

The main reason to look at all of this though is that although league average performance changes gradually, the best performers in close seasons can have wildly different stats. Ellis Burks and Dante Bichette put up almost identical numbers in back-to-back seasons. Bichette ended up winning two of the Triple Crown categories which Burks couldn't do better than second in any. Bichette is an interesting case since .340 is a very impressive batting average. Unfortunately for Bichette he played in the same league as Tony Gwynn, whose .338 lifetime batting average almost equaled Bichette's mark from 1995.

Including both Piazza and Walker from 1997 seems a little silly since Walker beat Piazza in every category. Good all-around season from Piazza, but not good enough. Same thing for Guerrero and Helton in 2000. Although Guerrero did manage to hit more homers, his RBIs and batting average from that season paled in comparison to the leaders of the era.

So how does Miguel Cabrera look? He has a solid lead on the RBI total and should be able to hold on in batting average. He currently trails Josh Hamilton by 1 HR, but he's also only 1 ahead of both Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion, either of which could be one game from passing him. When we compare Cabrera's stats to past seasons he sizes up pretty well. Since 2007 only Jose Bautista has hit more than Hamilton's current lead of 43 HR in a season. He's also blowing recent RBI numbers out of the water, it also having been since 2007 since a player could match his current total. He's getting a bit lucky when it comes to batting average though. His current average of .329 would have only beaten Joe Mauer's .328 for the batting title in the AL over the last 8 years and if nothing changes it will be the third lowest average to win a batting title since 1972. It seems like a very similar situation to that of Rice in 1978, only instead of losing to Carew, Miggy just has to hold off the fading Mike Trout who has only been batting .278 over the last two months.

So Cabrera winning might not be as special as it could be if he ends up riding this lucky season to a batting title. But given that in the last 45 years no one has really come close, with or without the aid of luck, it's nice to sit back and just watch something special happen. Now although it would be cool to see, I'm personally rooting against it. I'd like the stigma to live on and when someone finally does win the Triple Crown, it would be great if all my analysis of comparing season-to-season didn't apply. Also I want to see Trout win the MVP and the difference of one or two homeruns for Cabrera could end up making the difference in the race. Either way though, it should be a fun final week of the season.