28 December 2005

All-Baseball.collumn: Pirates of Pennants?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992, when they took the last of three consecutive NL East titles, under the leadership of Jim Leyland. Since then, their "best" season was a 79-83, second place finish, five games behind the Houston Astros, who won a very weak NL Central Division in 1997. But as the great Mr. Zimmerman said (Bob, not Heinie), "the times, they are a-changin'..."

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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New Blog: Pending Pinstripes

To your left, you'll see the newest link to this blog, the logo for Pending Pinstripes, a blog about the New York Yankees' minor league teams and players, authored by Yours Truly.

The following is the first original essay for said blog, a simple breakdown of five players the Yanks added to their 40-man roster in November:

The New York Yankees added several players to their 40-man roster in November: RHP T.J. Beam, RHP Matt DeSalvo, RHP Jeffrey Karstens, LHP Matt Smith, and OF Kevin Thompson. Let's take a look at each of these individually, using their statistics as reported at thebaseballcube.com

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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20 December 2005

The December 20th All-Birthday Team

Baseball-Reference.com is a wonderful website. They've got stats for every major leaguer who's ever played, plus managers, and notable personalities from the Hall of Fame, like Negro Leaguers, Executives and even some umpires. They've got the pages for players, teams, franchises and leagues throughout history, even short-lived entities like the Players' League and the American Association. They've got an Oracle of Baseball, which will give you a Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon type of connection between any two players in history, say, Kevin Barker and Count Sensenderfer, for example.

But one of the coolest things they have is the Birthday Page, wherein you can find every major league player in history who shares your birthday. This being my birthday, I thought I would share with you my All-Birthday Team. These are (in my estimation) the best seasons from players born on my birthday, December 20th, compiled into a team, so that I have sufficient innings and plate appearances to play a 162-game schedule.

Note: OPS+ and ERA+ are the league and park adjusted OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) and ERA for that season, so you have an idea of what the numbers really mean in context. The .349 batting average Spud Davis put up in 1933, during the offense-crazed Depression Years, does not mean nearly as much as the .352 Cecil Cooper hit in 1980, a relatively down offensive time. Their adjusted OPS numbers (55% better than average compared to "only" 34% better) help to compensate for that. Anywho, this is what I came up with:

Starting Lineup PA Avg OBP SLG R HR RBI SB OPS+
C G. Hartnett (1930) 578 .339 .404 .630 84 37 122 0 144
1B C. Cooper (1980) 678 .352 .387 .539 96 25 122 17 155
2B J. Williams (1899) 689 .355 .417 .532 126 9 116 26 159
3B D. Wright (2005) 657 .306 .388 .523 99 27 102 17 138
OF O. Gamble (1977) 470 .297 .386 .588 75 31 83 1 162
OF H. Stovey (1889) 634 .308 .393 .525 152 19 119 63 161
OF D. DeJesus (2005) 523 .293 .359 .445 69 9 56 5 114
DH A. Huff (2003) 706 .311 .367 .555 91 34 107 2 139

This is a pretty darn good team. Or at least a starting lineup.

I'll probably hit 2B Jimmy Williams (not to be confused with Jimy Williams, erstwhile manager of the Red Sox and Astros), as he has the highest OBP. Though it may seem like he didn't hit for power, those nine homers tied him for 3rd in the NL in 1899, Williams' rookie season. Harry Stovey will hit in the #2 spot, as he gets on base and has plenty of speed, with 63 steals, which were good for 10th in the American Association in 1889, tied with Hall of Famer Bid McPhee and Tommy "Foghorn" Tucker, but well behind league leader "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's 111 base swipes. Unfortunately Hamilton was born in February, so he can't help us. (Stovey also led the 1889 AA in Slugging %, Homers, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Runs, RBI and was among the league leaders in several other categories that year, one of the last for the American Association, which folded after 1891.

Cecil Cooper will bat third, keeping the precious little speed we've got together. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett bats cleanup. No argument there, I trust. DH Aubrey Huff and 3B David Wright bat 5th and 6th, respectively, giving us a right-left-right stagger in the heart of the lineup. (This way the June 26th team can't bring in Mike Myers to shut us down in a big inning.)

Oscar Gamble and his Afro hit #7, even though he actually has the highest adjusted OPS on the team. Unfortunately he only got 470 plate appearances, and I don't want to have Jim Norris or Jack Manning batting cleanup 200 times, you know? David DeJesus hits 8th and whomever we get to play short will bat last. Alternatively, if we end up in the NL, Huff plays the outfield in place of DeJesus, who goes back to the bench. Speaking of which...

    Bench                PA   Avg   OBP   SLG    R   HR  RBI   SB  OPS+         
C B. Rickey (1906) 226 .284 .345 .393 22 3 24 4 135
IF P. Baumann (1915) 260 .292 .380 .388 30 2 28 9 130
IF A. Ojeda (2001) 162 .201 .269 .271 16 1 12 1 43
OF J. Norris (1977) 517 .270 .360 .364 59 2 37 26 101
OF J. Manning (1876) 295 .264 .281 .330 52 2 25 0 101
Team Total 6395 .309 .376 .499 971 201 953 171 137

This isn't a terrible bench, as Manning and Norris both had reasonably productive seasons as outfielders, with Norris likely serving as a pinch runner for Hartnett or Huff if we need to eek out a late run. Paddy Baumann played a lot of 2b and 3B in his career as a backup, and hit pretty well in 1915, if not the rest of his life. Augie Ojeda, the only below-average hitter on the team, only makes it because he has exactly the same birthday as me. Branch Rickey will become the first Player/Manager/General Manager in history, making trades from the bench. And speaking of trades...

    Trade bait         PA    Avg   OBP   SLG   R  HR  RBI  SB  OPS+
C B. Henline (1922) 481 .316 .380 .479 57 14 64 2 112
C S. Davis (1933) 540 .349 .395 .473 51 9 65 2 134
IF F. Merkle (1911) 604 .283 .342 .431 80 12 84 49 113

December 20th is blessed with an abundance of catching talent, but no shortstops worth their weight in lead. Not only do we have Hartnett and Rickey, but Butch Henline and Spud Davis were both good or very good at some point in their careers, and there's always a team that needs catching. Maybe I can get the July 23rd Team to trade me Pee Wee Reese or Nomar Garciaparra for Spud Davis. Heck, they could have Henline straight-up for a 1924 vintage Hod Ford. At least I'd have something worth running out there every day. Somebody has to bat 9th, right?

The pitching was not quite as easy to fill out, and whomever we don't trade for shortstop help is going to have to net us a solid reliever or two.

       Rotation            W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+ 
SP G. Pipgras (1928) 24 13 3 3.38 300.7 103 139 111
SP J. DeLeon (1989) 16 12 0 3.05 244.7 80 201 119
SP B. Laskey (1982) 13 12 0 3.14 189.3 43 88 115
SP J. Manning (1876) 18 5 5 2.14 197.3 32 24 105

Yes, that's the same Jack Manning who's also a backup outfielder, and I made a point to pick a season in which he was worthwhile as both a hitter and a pitcher.

       Bullpen             W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+
SP P. Moskau (1980) 9 7 2 4.01 152.7 41 94 89
RP M. Valdes (1997) 4 4 2 3.13 95.0 39 54 135
RP V. Colbert (1971) 7 6 2 3.97 142.7 71 74 97
SP/RP D. Pfister (1962) 4 14 1 4.54 196.3 106 123 92
Team Total 95 73 15 3.39 1518.7 515 797 108

In truth, most of these guys are swing men or long relievers. There isn't a single guy born on December 20th who's got more than a handful of saves in any season of his career. Maybe I can get the November 28th team to part with Dave Righetti, since they have Robb Nen, after all. With Wes Westrum and Heinie Peitz (poor kid...) on the team, they don't really need catching, but Fred Merkle could do a nice job at first base for them.

Well, enough with this exercise in silliness, but if you've got a birthday team that
can beat mine, or better yet, if you have a shortstop or a closer to offer, let me know.

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19 December 2005

All-Baseball.com: A Royal Mess

I saw a headline Friday that piqued my curiosity:

Elarton, Grudzielanek among Royals additions

This made me wonder if it were possible that there may have been some other players in the major leagues with the same last names as Scott Elarton and Mark Grudzielanek, even though I am aware of the statistical improbability of even one of the latter existing. I thought, what possible reason could a team like the Royals, who in 2005 managed to accomplish the nearly-unprecedented feat of losing more than the 104 games they had lost in 2004, have for wanting a mediocre player in his mid-30's and a starting pitcher who's hurt and/or bad more often than he's healthy and good?

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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15 December 2005

Javy Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

The Arizona Republic and the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that the Chicago White Sox have made a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Javier Vazquez. The Pale Hose are sending RHP Orlando Hernandez, relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino, and outfield prospect Chris Young to the Snakes in exchange for Vazquez and cash, who has two years of remaining on the 4-year contract he signed with the Yankees in the winter of 2003, but who announced in November that he wanted to be traded to an East Coast team. No word on when Illinois is trading Chicago to a state on the East Coast.

There are quite a few perspectives on this move, most of which make the White Sox look like geniouses. One view says that they got a very good, front-line starter and gave up only a replaceable relief pitcher, a swing man with a cool nickname who might be 57 years old for all we know, and an outfielder with a lot of potential, which is another way of saying that he hasn't done anything important yet. Looks good for the ChiSox.

Another view says that the White Sox added a LAIM pitcher making about $12 million per year to a rotation that already had four, maybe five guys who are better than him. And spending an extra $12 million in salary to

A) only marginally improve the team in a category in which you are already head-and-shoulders above the competition and

2) keep young and talented starter Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen for another two years...

...does not seem wise. Therefore, we can interpret the White Sox actions in one of three ways.

1) Maybe they don't think that their starting pitching really was all that good, or more accurately, would be that good in 2006, without Vazquez. Maybe they think that Jose Contreras' miracle season was a fluke, and he'll go back to serving up gopherballs at the rate of about one every seven innings. Or they think that Garland's miracle season, in which he somehow cut his walk rate nearly in half, will prove to be a fluke, and he'll go back to being LAIM or worse. Maybe they just can't imagine that they'll get 32 starts or more out of all four of those guys again.

B) Maybe they don't think Brandon McCarthy's really all that good. Sure, at the tender age of 22 he's already proven himself at every level of the minors. He struck out 536 batters in 470 innings while walking only 92 while rocketing through six minor league teams in three and a half years. Sure, he looks like the most talented pitcher to come through the White Sox system since, well, teammate Mark Buhrle, probably. But maybe they felt like they needed some insurance on that.

C) They're not done making moves. The White Sox traded away their centerfielder in the Jim Thome deal, and Brian N. Anderson (the "N." stands for "Not the pitcher") is the only true centerfielder on the roster. Somehow I doubt that his 13 major league games, during which he hit .176 last year, were enough to inspire Ozzie Gullen that Anderson's ready for a full-time job. Scott Podsednik has played CF, but isn't very good at it despite his speed, and anyway that leaves left field open for...Joe Borchard??? Talented? Perhaps. Experienced? Not really. He's hit .191 in just over 100 major league games spread out over four seasons, striking out almost once every three at-bats, so I'm not certain he's the answer either.

Anywho, my money's on option #C, which means that the White Sox will probably use their surplus of starting pitching to acquire an outfielder with some pop. So someone, most likely Garland, is probably on his way out the door, though the rumors have it that he'll be traded for pitching prospects, not a major-league outfielder. Chicago was relatively weak offensively last year, only 9th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored, and they'd be wise to do more than add an aging, oft-injured 1B/DH

to the roster if they want to improve in that category and repeat as AL Central champs. Heck, they had one of those last year, and it didn't do them much good.

In any case, this doesn't seem to have been a move designed for success in October so much as it was for the regular season. Historically, teams with five really good starters (few though they may be) haven't necessarily fared better in the playoffs, when one or two of those starters is relegated to the bench and/or long-relief.

Just ask the Braves.

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12 December 2005

Johnny Damon: The Seven Year Itch

Here we are, in mid-December already, and the best free agent hitter available this winter is, well, still available. Admittedly, this is a pretty weak free agent class, but being the best of a mediocre lot is still better than being mediocre in a good lot, at least for the player. Johnny Damon, centerfielder, leadoff hitter, idiot, and spokesman for shaving products, can fill all those holes for any team who's willing to pony up a seven year deal in the neighborhood of $84 million, according to Damon's agent, Scott Boras.

Boras has been quoted making comparisons of Johnny Damon (at this point in his career) to Bernie Williams in the winter of 1998-99, when he signed a 7-year deal with the Yankees for $87.5 million, an average of $12.5 million per year, and that was before former Braves' leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal signed for $13 million per season with the Dodgers. Boras has argued that Damon '05 and Bernie '98 are very similar, and therefore worthy of similar deals, that the Yankees certainly could have been a successful team without him, but not as successful as they have been with him.

This assertion begs two questions, and no, one of them isn't "Is Scott Boras nuts??!?":

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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10 December 2005

Pending Pinstripes: Swag from the Tony Womack Trade

The New York Yankees traded IF/OF/OM Tony Womack to the Cincinnati Reds for two minor leaguers on Thursday. The Reds sent 24-year old 2B Kevin Howard, who had played at AA Chatanooga in 2005, and 24-year old OF Ben Himes, who spent the 2005 season in Class A Dayton of the Midwest League.

We know why the Yankees made this trade: They needed to get rid of Womack, who played poor defense at three or four positions in 2005 and didn't hit a lick. (Lee Sinins says that Womack had the 5th worst OPS vs. the league average in Yankees History for a player with at least 100 at-bats). Womack's numbers will probably look a little nicer next year because the Great American Bandbox is pretty kind to hitters and because there's really nowhere to go but up from a year in which you hit .249/.276/.280, but he probably won't help the Reds much more than he helped the Yankees, in reality. This move clears about $2 million from the Yankees' payroll (i.e. about 1%) and more importantly, frees up a roster spot so they can let someone like Kevin Reese or Mike Vento get a few at-bats in the Show, not that either of those guys was ever likely to become the heir to Bernie Williams' CF job.

But what kind of talent did the Yanks get for Womack?

Find out at Pending Pinstripes...

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09 December 2005

Busy Day Week at the MLB Winter Meetings…

What the Heck Are They Thinking in San Diego???

The San Diego Padres have reportedly traded starting 2B Mark Loretta to the Boston Red Sox for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, who had been the backup catcher for Boston and personal caddy for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for four years. He’s got a little more pop than most backup catchers, but that’s like saying that Kate Moss is a little thinner than most supermodels. Relatively speaking, they’re all pretty close together on that bell curve. Mirabelli is not going to be able to replace Ramon Hernandez, who signed with the Orioles for four years and $27.25 million.

The real curiosity here is on the Padres' side. Loretta had hit .334 with 76 RBI in 2004 before a thumb injury slowed his production in 2005. It’s probably not reasonable to expect him to hit like Tony Gwynn again in 2006, but his batting average and OBP were right in the 50th percentile of Baseball Prospectus' projections for him in 2005. His power dropped way off, which makes sense in light of his thumb injury, but if he’s healthy (and if the Sox traded for him, I imagine he must be) then he should have been a pretty solid player at the Keystone next year. Why they'd want to trade a guy like that, when Josh Barfield hasn't even played a game in the majors, Eric Young has probably played one of his last, and Bobby Hill is never going to be an everyday second-sacker, is beyond me.

The Pads also re-signed Trevor Hoffmann to a 2-year, $13.5 million deal, which isn't bad for the Padres in light of what B.J Ryan, Mariano Rivera and some other closers are making these days, but he's already 38 and I wonder how much gas he really has left in the tank. Too many teams over-value the role of a closer, wasting 10% of their payroll or more on a position that could be ably filled by a lot of guys making not much more than the major league minimum.

They also traded 3B Sean Burroughs to Tampa Bay for RHP Dewon Brazleton, who's got a great arm, a career ERA of 5.98, and not much else. Of course, Burroughs doesn't seem like he's got much of a future in the major leagues either, so this was a, "Hey, why not?" type of trade for both clubs.

What the Heck Are They Thinking in Texas/Washington???

The Nationals traded 1B/OF Brad Wilkerson, OF Termel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga to Texas for 2B Alfonso Soriano, the second time Soriano's been traded in three years. Nats' GM Jim Bowden purportedly has a fetish for "toolsy" players, and Soriano is nothing if not toolsy, but it seems to me that if you're going to acquire such guys, the time to do it is when they're 22 or younger and fresh out of the Dominican Republic, not when they've been playing organized baseball for a decade and still can't hit a curveball. Even with the horrendous strikeout and walk rates, Soriano's speed and power easily rank him in the top third of major league secondbasemen. Unfortunately, Washington has already got a secondbaseman, Jose Vidro, who's signed for 3 more years and is owed $23 million.
Evidently one of them is going to have to be traded, as neither seems willing to change positions.

For that matter, what are the Rangers thinking? They don't have a major-league ready 2B right now, but they were up to their armpits in corner IF/OF guys even before the trades for Wilkerson and Sledge, so there must be another trade in the works that we just don't yet see. Stay tuned...

I Know What the Heck They're Thinking in Pittsburgh...

The Pirates have made a flurry of moves in the last few days as well, trading LHP Dave Williams for erstwhile Reds' 1B Sean Casey, trading utility IF Rob Mackowiak to the Chicago White Sox for LHP Damaso Marte, and trading LHP Mark Redman to the Royals for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and minor league pitcher Chad Blackwell.

Williams has never been healthy enough to pitch 160 innings in any season of his career, and given the presence of Zach Duke, Pat Maholm and Oliver Perez (a health concern as well) on the roster, Williams was expendable. They didn't really need a firstbaseman making $8 million who doesn't hit for power, but he can't possibly be worse than the dreck they've run out at the position for the last few years, so you can at least understand the desperation aspect of the move.

Redman, too, was expendable, as he's really only reliable for 180-200 innings of league-average work, most of the time, the quintissential LAIM (League Average Innings Mincher). His one "good" season, 2003, was largely due to the friendliness of Pro Player Stadium to pitchers (2.88 ERA at home, 4.27 on the road). The Pirates, not expected to be contenders in 2006 (or 2007, or 2008...) shoudl be letting the younger, cheaper guys pitch in that rotation so they can see what kind of talent they've got, rather than reaffirming the "adequacy" of guys like Redman for 4 or 5 million dollars a season. This move makes a little more sense, especially because Bayliss has some potential and could help them in the bullpen in a year or two.

Mackowiak had come up through the Pittsburgh system in his five-year stint with the Pirates had played every position except pitcher, catcher and shortstop. His career .742 OPS at age 29 suggests that he'll never be a starter at any position, but that he can be a useful utility man, especially against right-handed pitching (only .681 career OPS against southpaws). With only one year left before free agency, the Pirates wisely got rid of him for a more useful (if no less expensive) player.

Damaso Marte has bounced back and forth between the roles of setup man, closer, and clubhouse scapegoat when the White Sox went into their September swoon this year, but is a very good reliever. He has a career ERA of 3.20 and 323 strikeouts in 304 innings pitched. Like most southpaws, he's more effective against lefties (.200 career batting average against), but is no slouch against righties either (.240) so there's no need to use him as a LOOGY. The Pirates just lost their closer, Joe Table, to the Rockies, other than whom nobody on the team had more than three saves last year, so they may be intending to give that job to Marte. UNder contract for next year at $2.25 million with $3 million club options ofr 2007 and 2008, this deal could turn out to be a steal.

Kudos to the Pirates for getting someone in the front office who seems to know what he's doing. The Cam Bonifay Era in the Iron City lasted way too long.

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06 December 2005

All-Baseball.collumn: Rafael Furcal a Bargain at $39 Million

I have been given the opportunity to expose myself to more readers, and even though there are ladies present, I have decided to take that opportunity. My work has been syndicated on 360thePitch.com, which was recently bought out by Most Valuable Network, which also owns All-Baseball.com, home to such great blogs as Cub Reporter and Ducksnorts, to name a few. I will continue my blog here, but I will have a weekly column on All-Baseball.com now as well, a link to which will appear here on Boy of Summer. Just like Sunday Teddy Lyons, I'll be the go-to guy once a week for the All-Baseball.com team, except that Teddy was a switch hitter and I like girls. I will also have my own blog about the Yankees minor leagues on MVN.com, but this has not yet happened. Anywho, without further ado...

Free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal has reportedly signed (or is on the cusp of signing) a 3-year, $39 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In doing so, the Dodgers immediately picked up one of the best free agent bargains in recent memory, and the best shortstop in the National League. Stick around and I’ll explain why.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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