30 April 2007

MVN.com RoundTable Discussion, 30 April 2007

Question #1:
If you were starting a team from scratch and had to pick one player and one pitcher to build around, who would they be? There’s only one stipulation: No MVPs or Cy Young award winners are allowed.

There are lots of remarkably good players who have never won a Cy Young or an MVP award, so this should be easy, right? But we want a guy we can build a team around, which means that five or six years from now, we need him to still be very productive.

Derek Jeter should have won last year’s AL MVP Award, but Jeter’s going to be 33 years old in a few months, not exactly the kind of young player around which you can build a dynasty, at least not any more. Travis Hafner, an excellent hitter (with an excellent name!) is 30 years old, and doesn’t play defense anymore, so he’s not really the type we’re looking for here. Ditto for David Ortiz, who’s fat and slow, in addition to not being named Travis. Strike three, go sit down, Papi.

What we need is someone who excels at several phases of the game, hitting, fielding and baserunning, and who is young, probably not more than 25 or 26.

Miguel Cabrera is an incredible hitter, having raised his batting average, OBP and slugging percentages since he entered the NL at age 20, back in 2003. He’s only an adequate defensive third baseman, though, and doesn’t steal bases, so we’ll pass on him.

Grady Sizemore plays center field pretty well, hits for a decent average, and is improving his patience, power and base stealing technique, so you could do worse than to start with him. Joe Mauer and Brian McCann, the best young catchers in their leagues, seem like excellent players, but as catchers, are not likely to play more than 140 games a season very often. They may be natural choices for team captains, and good hitting catchers are tough to find, so I wouldn’t fault you if you took one of them, but I’m going to let them go too.

Most general managers would sell their own children into slavery if they could get just one young player who looks like the kind of building block we’re talking about here. The Mets have two. Jose Reyes, with blazing speed, a quick bat, improving patience and developing power despite his diminutive size, looks like a perennial All-Star, and if the Mets win another division title, he could very well win the NL MVP award this year.

Okay, so he’s a lousy defensive shortstop. But just a few feet to his right, we have David. David Wright, like Reyes, is only 24, plays on the left side of the Mets infield, and should be a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. Unlike Reyes, however, Wright’s got the right stuff when it comes to defense, with FRAA numbers comfortably above average in each of the last two seasons. His batting average and slugging percentages have increased each of the three years he’s been in the majors, and his base stealing is getting better.

Furthermore, Wright seems to have the charisma to handle the New York Star Maker machine, the down-home country charm to win the hearts of fans and the bat and glove to quiet any nay-sayers. So, Wright’s my man.

As for pitching, that one’s easy. The best pitcher in the majors who’s never won a Cy Young Award is Roy Oswalt. He’s gone 101-48 in his career to this point, twice winning 20 games and once winning 19, with 220+ innings in four of the past five seasons, and has placed in the top five in the Cy Young race four times.

His win-loss record wasn’t quite as gaudy last year due to lousy bullpen support (he took the loss in five quality starts and got a no-decision in seven others), but in terms of meaningful statistics, he’s posted almost exactly the same season every year since 2004, and that season just happens to be excellent. He’s not terribly young, at 29, but aging patterns for pitchers aren’t as clear-cut as they are for hitters.

Most of the best pitchers are nearly as good at 34 as they were at 29, some better. I’ll take the next five years of whatever Roy Oswalt has to offer over anyone else in the majors who doesn’t already have some hardware on his mantle.
Question #2:
Is a 162-game schedule too long, too short or just right? If you were commissioner, how many games would each team play? Would you stick with the unbalanced schedule?

I may not be the best person to ask about this, as I would probably have the teams scheduled for doubleheaders every day from April to October if I got my way. I really like watching baseball. It's like pizza or sex: even when it's bad, it's good. With that said, though I think 162 games is about all the market (and the players) can really tolerate, so let's not mess with it.

There is no way to maintain a balanced schedule if you’re only going to do partial interleague play, and I don’t think anyone is advocating for complete interleague play, which would essentially dissolve the two leagues into one. However, the combination of interleague play and an unbalanced intraleague schedule creates several problems, especially with teams from different divisions vying for the same wild card berth, as they may have faced significantly different competition.

The Braves, for example, must have ticked off someone in the scheduling office, because in addition to having to fend off the reigning NL East Champion Mets, the upstart Marlins and the Phillies, they have three interleague games apiece against Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland, plus six games against the Red Sox.

Meanwhile the Padres, in addition to padding their numbers in numerous games against the Rockies, D-Backs and what will probably be a pretty sub-par Giants team, find their interleague matchups to be much more attractive: Three games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston, and six against Seattle. Among those, only the Red Sox had a winning record last year.

So while it’s impossible to eliminate the unbalanced schedule without also eliminating interleague play, there ought to be some more thought given to how these games are allotted, and how to keep sub-par teams from getting into the playoffs by padding their records against so many weak teams.

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Anonymous said...

Wright over Cabrera? The overhyped Wright would be nothing more than a very good young player if he played anywhere else but N.Y. Cabrera is compared to Pujols offensively, and has no lineup protection. If Miguel played on the Mets, he'd be even more lethal. Cabrera is above average defensively. He had a better fielding percentage than Wright last season, as well as a better batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and more doubles. Cabrera has put up better numbers than Wright in nearly every offensive category except steals, and you still consider Wright the better player? Also, Wright has 0 home runs thus far this season.

Travis M. Nelson said...

You make some good points, Carolyn. Cabrera's got gaudier stats, and he's about 4 months younger than Wright, but your argument about his defense being better simply doesn't work. It's true that he had a lower fielding percentage last year (.954 to .957) but fielding percentage is not a great metric for defense, given that players who rarely make plays also rarely make mistakes.

Range Factor and Zone Rating are somewhat better gauges, and Wright's were both slightly better than Cabrera's last year. This year they're tied in FP and Wright is way ahead in the other two, though admittedly in a small sample size. Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs bear out the same story.

With that said, given their youth, there's every reason to think that both of these guys will only get better for the next 3-4 years or so, and you could hardly go wrong with either of them to start a franchise.