30 December 2008

Let the Yankees Spend Their Own Money

The Yankees have long been the favorite targets of rival fans, rival team owners and media pundits for a very long time. In the early 1970's we were told that free agency would ruin baseball, mostly because it was thought that nobody could afford to pay players what they were actually worth, essentially. Even George Steinbrenner himself said,

"I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball."

As it turned out, though, teams like the Yankees could afford to pay the going price for (presumably) the best available players, while other teams sometimes had to struggle to get by. Free agency was the best thing to happen to the Yankees since Mickey Mantle. King George was smart enough to realize this, so afterwards he kept quiet about the issue, while others lambasted him for spending so much money on free agents like Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Rickey Henderson, among others.

Not that it worked. I mean sure, the Yankees used free agency to supplement a pretty decent team in the late 1970's and they won two World Series for their efforts, but then they went 18 years before they won another one, and went 14 years without even making the playoffs, despite the perennially high payrolls.

Efforts to sign big-name, superstar free agents were often unsuccessful and sometimes disastrous. Ed Whitson, Jack Clark, Terry Mulholland, Kenny Rogers and Danny Tartabull come to mind, among others. Even if they performed, it wasn't up to par with the fans' and writers' expectations, and so they were quickly dispatched to the far reaches of the major leagues, usually for pennies on the dollar.

When they did start winning World Series, they did so with teams predominantly composed of home-grown players (Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Ramiro Mendoza) and the products of shrewd trades (John Wetteland, David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Tim Raines, Scott Brosius, Roger Clemens, David Justice). Granted, many of those trades (like the ones for Clemens and Chuck Knoblauch) only happened because the Yankees could most easily afford to meet their salary demands, but still, the Yankees were shrewd to make them.

Not that free agents played no role, but when they did, those players were often complementary (Darryl Strawberry, Orlando Hernandez) rather than stars. For what it's worth, in their four most recent championship seasons, any Yankee MVP or Cy Young votes usually went to either home-grown players or those acquired in trade. Only David Wells, a journeyman southpaw who who had signed as a free agent before the 1998 season, bucked this trend by getting a smattering of votes for each in that year, and the Yankees were as surprised as anyone when he briefly blossomed into a star.

But this new crop of free agents is expected to carry the team.

The recent signings of Mark Teixeira (8 years, $180 million), CC Sabathia (7 years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million) has spurred a lot of bitterness in the baseball writing community, at least amonth those who are not Yankee fans. Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer says that the Yankees' free spending ways, in the midst of poor economy, is
"...the most egregious display of financial irresponsibility in the history of sports."

Which is ridiculous. That title obviously belongs to the $55 million contract the Dodgers gave to Darren Dreifort. Or perhaps the $65 million Chan Ho Park got from the Rangers. No, wait, Russ Ortiz. Or maybe Barry Zito or Mike Hampton. Or whatever we spend to train the Olympic curling team. At least Burnett, Sabathia and Teixeira are actually good players, and stand a decent chance of continuing to be good for a few years.

The San Francisco Examiner's Bob Franz thought the Yankees were ruining baseball, and that was before they signed Teixeira. He too cites the lousy economy, as well as the fact that the Yankees' new ballpark is partially being paid for by taxpayer money. (Well, the infrastructure improvements are, anyway, but let's not be too picky.)

Bill Bradley of the Sacramento Bee thinks these signings show the sport's need for a salary cap, and Brewers' GM Mark Attanasio agrees. This notion comes out every time something like this happens, and there's never been any real progress on the matter. Nor will there be, if the MLB players' union remains as strong as it has been for the last three decades.

Phil Rogers points out that the Yankees have spent about $130 million more on their free agents this winter than the other 29 teams have spent combined, which is interesting. Still, though, it's not as staggering as he would have you believe, since there was nobody anywhere near as good as the Yankees' three signees to whom the other 29 teams might pay that kind of cash. Rogers also correctly notes that if nothing else, these free agent signings make 2009 an all-or-nothing year for the Yankees, and especially field manager Joe Girardi.

Todd Jones of the Sporting News suggests that the Yankees can't buy themselves a championship, and though he mixes metaphors inappropriately and mis-quotes some stats (Burnett won 18 games last year, not 17), his point is taken.

The problem with most of these arguments is that they confuse the lagging economy and government bailouts of big businesses with what the Yankees spend and how they decide to spend it. While baseball may not be "recession proof", the Yankees still find themselves with a lot of advantges going into 2009:
  • They're still the most recognizable brand in sports
  • They still play in the largest market in the country
  • They still have their own cable TV network
  • They have a brand new sadium opening this spring
  • They won 89 games in 2008, enough to have won two of the six divisions in baseball
  • and they had about $70 million coming off the annual payroll.
Add to this the facts that they missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half, and that the talent coming up from the minor leagues is not yet poised for stardom, and the reasons the Yankees should not spend lavishly on free agents become difficult to explain. Why should they wait and hope like other teams when their window is now, and they can take advantage of it with just another piece or two (or three) in the puzzle.

They're not asking Uncle Sam to foot the bill for Sabathia and Teixeira and Burnett and A-Rod and Jeter. They're not laying people off like Ford and GM, and then turning around and asking for more money for themselves. They're not using taxpayer dollars to offset the expenses of golden parachutes offered to their departing executives. They've managed their own business well, and can spend the profits however they please.

The Yankees have their own money. They're not asking for handouts. They're selling a product, and their fans don't show any signs of reluctance to buy it. They've made lots of money in the past and they expect to continue that trend. And if the failing economy starts to hurt them at the gate, they'll be the ones forced to pony up the dough for these big contracts, not us.

And lest you assume that the Yankees will raise ticket and concession prices to recoup their losses, please understand that it doesn't work that way. Basic economics states that the prices are regulated by supply and demand, and in this case the supply is set at 52,325, so it's just demand. If the demand goes down, the price will go down, not up. If attendance starts dropping, they'll be forced to lower ticket prices to make up in volume what the've lost in margin.

One of the few reasonable voices out there, Will Carroll points out that the Yankees really aren't spending money they don't have. They had room in the "budget" with the departures of Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, and (we assume) Andy Pettitte, and they took advantage of that fact.

Even with the 2009 salaries and signing bonuses of these three players, plus another $10 million or so in raises to current players like A-Rod, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Chien-Ming Wang, Xavier Nady and the Melk Man (who failed to deliver), the Bronx Bombers still find themselves about $20 million shy of last year's historically large payroll.
You see, the Yankees keep themselves in check. It's only because they overspend on free agents that they are not even more successful. The pressure of playing in New York requires them to overpay for free agents, and that means that when a signing proves to be a bust, it's that much more spectacular and tragic.

That, in turn, makes them a little more wary next time around, or ties up their payroll in costly albatrosses like Carl Pavano, so that when a Carlos Beltran or Johan Santana hits the market, they can't always snatch him up. Granted, often they can, but just as often they end up eating about half the contract when the player ages prematurely or, as in the case of Jason Giambi, stops taking steroids and gets and intestinal parasite.

Some teams may have to wait and hope for victory. Royals fans may remain delusional on the issue. The Oaklands and Tampas can play Moneyball and the Minnesotas can play little-ball and the Brewers can try to catch lightning in a bottle, but the Yankees were already spending a lot of money on their team, even before the $423.5 million they promised to A.J., C.C. and Mark and if they wanted to have anything to show for it next year, the only way was to spend even more.

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15 December 2008

Baseball Observations from Tickets3D.com

Observations from an insider
by LB Valentino

Boston Red Sox tickets are probably the most popular baseball tickets in demand this season. This Beantown team has had a loyal following since they began playing in the early 20th Century and their millions of fans are always the first in line at the box office and on the Internet.

But fear not, you can always get a great selection of tickets for all sports, concerts and theater events at http://www.livelookdo.com/tickets.htm. They have exclusive 3D venue maps that let you see a view from your seat and buy your tickets at the same time ' all in under a minute. Don't be fooled by imitators. You can also pick your own price and search for tickets by city, artist, team or venue. It's the best place to buy tickets on the web!

New York Yankees tickets are also in high demand from fans across the nation. This legendary team is probably one of the most high-profile, popular teams in the history of the sport. From Babe Ruth to Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have been thrilling fans since 1901 with their spectacular feats of athletic prowess and their personalities.

As far as East Coast teams go, Chicago Cubs tickets are another hot commodity all year 'round. When they play on their home turf, at Wrigley Field, the stands are jam-packed with fans; and when they're on the road their fans are right behind! They are known as bounce-back kings, having been down-and-out early in their seasons only to come back and show everyone what tenacity really means. With some of the greatest players in the league, they never disappoint.

There's no shortage of excitement on the West Coast either. Los Angeles Angels tickets are always a great way to bond with your buddies or your girls. There's no place better to see baseball live than underneath the California sun ' so close to the Pacific Ocean that you can smell the sea air. Palm trees, sports and fun in the sun ' it doesn't get better than that.

Take a short drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway and you'll find one of the most legendary cities in the world, Los Angeles. From Hollywood and the Sunset Strip to the celebrity residences of Malibu, there's no shortage of LA attractions to pique your interest. World famous restaurants and museums are just the tip of the iceberg. LA has fantastic theme parks that are fun for the whole family, and some of the best shopping on the planet. So make sure to bring your sunglasses for all the glitz and glamor and feel free to stay awhile.

On the outskirts of Los Angeles is the place that created the phrase, 'valley girl.' Of course there are plenty of other things to do in the San Fernando Valley besides stand around talking like a teenage girl. You may want to check out their exciting nightlife and club scene, which includes hotspots in Studio City and Burbank ' cities that are also magnets for Hollywood movie types.

If you're in the mood for a drive through the desert, you'll find plenty of things to do in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just a 5-hour drive from the City of Angels, Las Vegas may not exactly be considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, but it has electricity that can be felt all through the Rockies. Spectacular casinos, shows, restaurants, clubs and the pulse of a million heartbeats make this a popular spot any season of the year.

But if you like something a little earthier than bright lights and the big city, there are plenty of things to do in Seattle, Washington. Seattle may be known for its rainy weather, but it's also well-known for its hospitality and as the birthplace of the grunge music scene. It's also the birthplace of perhaps the world's most famous coffeehouses, Starbucks. From music to fishing to coffee and major sports teams and concerts, Seattle offers a wide variety of fun for the whole family.

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13 December 2008

CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Melky's Impending Departure

Wow, that was a busy week.

As predicted, the Yankees wound up signing CC Sabathia, for a contract within about 0.6% of the total amount I estimated a couple of weeks ago, albeit for one less year than I thought. The signing came as little surprise to anyone, excepting perhaps Los Angeles GM Ned Colletti, who apparently had an imaginary encounter in which Sabathia professed to want to play for him. When push came to shove, apparently it was about the money, stupid, as Jason Rosenberg will tell you.

Also as expected, it's the largest total and largest average value for any pitcher's contract in history. The unexpected thing is that there's a player option to get out of the contract after just three years, after which the Yankees will have spent "only" $69 million on him, and after which he will be 32 and perhaps starting to (or about to) decline.

That's where the real issue lies, though. While some people have posited that the opt-out clause is actually a good thing for the Yankees, as CC will undoubtedly decide to take it so he can get more money and move closer to his home in southern California. That's only true however, if he's been both healthy and good for the first three years of this contract.

If either of those eventualities does not occur, especially in the third year, the Yankees will almost certainly be "stuck" with Sabathia for the next four seasons. Can you really imagine a pitcher who just went, say, 5-8 with a 4.93 ERA in 87 innings opting out of a four-year, $92 million contract? I don't think so.

In any case, there is every reason for the Yankees and their fans to be excited about what CC means for 2009: A legitimate, #1 ace pitcher to anchor the rotation.


And speaking of those...

The Yankees also signed A.J. Burnett this week. Burnett, coming off career highs in innings, wins, strikeouts, technically has nowhere to go but down from here, but there is some reason for hope, despite my previous protestations (begging, really) against this signing. The biggest reason to look on the bright side is that Burnett's BABIP was .318 last year, well above the MLB average of .300, but don't make too much of that. We're only talking about eleven hits here, if he reverts to the average.

Burnett gets $82.5 million over five years, which as I pointed out previously, is four more years than he's ever stayed healthy at a stretch. I hope, and fully expect, that the Yankees would not so cavalierly spend money on such a high risk, and must therefore know something I don't about Burnett's prospects for continued health. Of course, I thought that when they signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, too, and those hopes turned out to be misguided, at best.

Six years ago, I worried about Burnett's health and how Jeff Torborg's abuse of his arm might have harmed him in the long run, and apparently I was on to something. Burnett had Tommy John surgery the following April and missed most of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, plus parts of the 2006 season due to TJ-related scar tissue problems. His track record is the very definition of "spotty".

But when he's good, he's really good, a workhorse who not only eats innings but misses bats, striking out enough batters to take a substantial part of the load off the Yankees' porous infield defense. He's a number one starter the Yankees will never have to sue as such since Sabathia will (hopefully) always serve that purpose.

I find it interesting that Burnett has received a lot of criticism for his apparent unwillingness to pitch when he's anything less than 100% healthy, this from some of the same people who criticize managers for over working pitchers. It seems a bit disingenuous to me to say that Burnett should be willing to pitch even if he doesn't feel great about it, when they also criticize the culture that discourages pitchers from voicing such concerns, and retroactively villainizes managers who send pitchers out there with known ailments that eventually lead to things like ligament replacement and rotator cuff surgery.

I don't know whether Burnett could pitch through those maladies, and just chooses not to, but I know I'd rather have him at 100% for 28 starts a year than at 75% for every start through JUly and then not at all for the rest of the season.


The other notable Yankee news this week was the rumor that they're planning on trading Melky Cabrera to Milwaukee for Mike Cameron. This would give the Yankees a stable, if aging and expensive, centerfielder in place of Melky Cabrera, who had a terrible year in 2008 and eventually got sent back to AAA.

Though his terrible batting line was largely due to his .271 BABIP, well below the MLB average, the caveat here is that even if he'd hit .300 when he put the ball in play, he'd have only amassed ten more hits. That would have brought him up to a .277 batting average instead of .249, and would have given him only the 5th worst OPS among regular MLB centerfielders, instead of the third worst. Oh, goodie.

If the Yankees had taken my advice in the spring and traded Melky before the season really got underway, they might have gotten more in return for him than a 36 year old centerfielder with a .250 career batting average who might make almost $11 million in 2009, if he meets all his incentives. Cameron's not all bad, as he's got some power and takes enough walks to make up for the low batting avergae.

As it is, though, they're selling low on Melky, but if he's not likely to get any better, they might as well get something for him now. The market for centerfielders who play mediocre defense, don't steal bases and hit .275 with no power isn't likely to be much better when Melky hits his arbitration years.


There are rumors that the Yankees aren't done, either with free agents or trades, as they're still trying to reel in Andy Pettitte with a much more modest contract than he got last time around, something more in the $10 million range for a year or two. That would give them a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain, with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy relegated to Scranton until such time as somebody gets hurt again. I'm not sure they need Pettitte, frankly, as I still think Hughes and/or Kennedy can prove useful, but then they never listen to me.

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03 December 2008

Harold Baines for the Hall of Fame?

It amazes me that I'm even writing this.

It seems to me that if you've got a player whose main job, nay, ONLY job for most of his career was to hit, he ought to have some damn impressive stats if you're going to talk about putting him in the Hall of Fame. Harold Baines won a Silver Slugger and was a six-time All-Star, but Darryl Strawberry made eight All Star teams, Frank McCormick nine, and Steve Garvey ten. Bill Freehan went to 11(!) All Star Games, and when he came up for election, he got two lousy votes and promptly fell off the ballot.

A Designated Hitter ought to amass 200 or more hits at least once. A run producer should pile up 100+ RBIs more than three times in 22 seasons, or score 100 runs, even 90 runs, at least once. A great slugger ought to lead the league in slugging more than once, or hit 30 homers at least once, or at least be among the league leaders occasionally.

Harold Baines did none of these things, and yet there are still folks out there who think he belongs in Cooperstown, along side Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio and Carl Yastrzemski and Dave Winfield.



Scott Merkin, a White Sox beat writer for MLB, is one of them. He's got a column on the MLB website calling for the longtime Pale Hose wearer to get some serious consideration for Cooperstown. To make his case for Baines, Merkin interviewed such non-partisan folks as White Sox GM (and former Baines teammate) Kenny Williams, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox color commentator Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, and Harold Baines himself. Way to keep it neutral there, Scotty.

I have never thought of Baines as a Hall of Famer, and usually just glaze over his candidacy with a few sentences between discussions of more serious candidates. Apparently few of the BBWAA voters have either, only about 28 of them, out of the 540 or so who get to vote. This is important because their opinions, unlike mine, actually matter. Merkin and others like him will need to change the minds of almost 400 of the BBWAA writers, which is unlikely.


A few tidbits from Merkin:

Clutch hitting for Baines [...] led to an amazing 1,628 RBIs despite only topping the 100-RBI plateau in 1982 (105) and 1985 (113) with the White Sox, and with Baltimore and Cleveland in 1999 (103). Baines turned 40 before the 1999 campaign.

It's a model for consistent excellence on Baines' part, accomplished the right way through dedication on and off the field, without any questionable shortcuts.



First of all, being 28th all-time at something does not constitute "amazing" in my book. A-Rod is right on his heels, and will pass him before the end of May next year. Jim Thome and Carlos Delgado are about 140 RBIs back, and could both pass him in the next two years, without necessarily even being much good. Chipper Jones is about 250 back, and could pass him inside of three years easily. Any two of those four will push Baines out of the top 30, and thus his best case for Cooperstown will weaken quite a bit.

Also, it's hard for me to agree with "consistent excellence" as an appropriate term to describe someone who hit, on average, .289 with 22 homers per 162 games. (His actual average per season was about 17.5 homers, because he rarely played more than around 145 games worth of the Chicago White Sox schedule.) More like "typical goodness" which sounds a lot less compelling.

Sure, I'll give him three snaps in Z formation for not using steroids, but then do we even know that for sure? He played almost half his career in the so-called steroids era, and suffered little apparent drop off in skills as he went into his late 30's, when most players slow down.

Baines hit the second most homers of his career at age 40, in 1999, the height of the PED era, and also had the third highest slugging percentage and RBI totals of his career that year, then fell off the table, hitting just .254 with 11 homers in Y2K. If players as mundane as Jason Grimsley and Ricky Bones and Hal Morris and David Justice and dozens of others were all using, is it so hard to believe that Baines could have, too?



Even assuming that he was clean, was he the amazing clutch hitter that Merkin makes him out to be? White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Kenny Williams think so, but then if you asked any owner and/or GM about a longtime fan favorite on the Cooperstown ballot, they'd probably say something nice like this. But is there any (non-anecdotal) evidence?

Baines hit .289/.356/.465 in his career overall, and while he did hit .313/.387/.427 as a pinch hitter (presumably a clutch situation, most of the time), his "Close & Late" numbers (.284/.360/.474) and other clutch stats hover right around his career marks. In short, there's no evidence that he was any more clutch than anybody else.

Baines' hit total of 2866, 40th all-time, is his other main argument. It's as close as any eligible player has gotten to 3,000 hits without getting elected, and two-thirds of the next 30 players on the list are either in the hall or will be someday. That 3,000 mark has always seemed like a lock, and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf blames himself for Baines' inability to get there:

"What really has bothered me for a long time is that if we hadn't traded him, he would have his 3,000 hits and he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. We traded him twice and into bad situations where he was a platoon player. If he stayed with us, he would have gone over 3,000 hits. If he doesn't get in, it would really bug me. I talk to him about it, and he just shrugs it off."


Should Reinsdorf blame himself for the fact that Harold Baines elicits so little support for election to the baseball Hall of Fame? Besides the fact that 3,000 hits is by no means an automatic ticket to the Coop, given how bland Baines' other numbers look, is it actually possible that Baines would have gotten more playing time and therefore more hits if he'd stayed in Chicago? Let's see:



In 1989, he was traded to Texas on July 29th, and he played in only 50 of the Rangers' remaining 62 games, but not because he was a platoon player. He got five sporadic days off, but then missed seven consecutive games in September, after being pinch hit for in the 6th inning of the last game before the missed week. We have to presume an injury here, and if so, we cannot presume health if he'd stayed in Chicago.

So at best maybe he gets five more games. But does he really? The White Sox had not played him every day either, as he appeared in only 96 of the team's 102 games up to that point, a day off every 17 games. In Texas, not counting the alleged injury, he sat about once every 11 games. So that gives him less than two more games, if he sits once every 17 instead of once every 11. Hitting .321 (his White Sox BA that year) in those two games would give him maybe three more hits. Woo hoo, only 131 to go!

But his performance slipped a bit too when he went to Texas, his batting average dropping from .321 to .285. There's no saying why this was, but let's just pretend that Harold was sad when the ChiSox traded him, and didn't hit as well because of it, and that he would have continued to hit .321 in the remaining 52 games in 1989, instead of .285 in 50 games. How many more hits would that have gotten him? That would give him 58 hits in 188 at-bats instead of 49 hits in 172 at-bats, his actual numbers in Texas. So we've got a total of nine additional hits. Down to 125.

The next year he split between Texas and Oakland, hitting .284 with 118 hits in 415 at-bats. Baseball Reference says that if he'd spent the whole year with Chicago, he'd have had 115 hits in 412 at-bats, three less than his actual total.

But let's also assume that he'd have gotten more than the 135 games they gave him in Texas and Oakland, too. Some of that was due to normal days off, but others may have been injury-related, like when he missed three games in May after playing all of a doubleheader, or when he missed nine games in July, after a game started in which he only got one at-bat, and had only a two-inning appearance in right field in the middle. He played only 103 games of 129 with Texas before the trade to Oakland, where he actually did play every day (and hit only .266).

We can't give him the 12 or so he presumably missed due to some ailment, so we'll give him seven days off (one every 17 games, like in 1989 with Chicago), plus the 12 due to boo-boos, which leaves him with 143 games played instead of only 135. With four plate appearances per game, he gets 32 more plate appearances at most, but he did walk some, so that takes away about four plate appearances. Hitting a 1990-Comiskey adjusted .279 in 440 at-bats instead of the .284 in 415 at-bats he actually compiled gives him 123 hits that year instead of 118. That's five more hits, and we're down to 120.



You see where this is going? I've written over 1,600 words, and we've managed to find 14 hits for him. At this rate, I'll have written a novella about Harold Baines before we get him 3,000 (real and imaginary) hits. But let's keep it up...

I'm not going to make adjustments for the five years in between Baines' first and second stints with the White Sox. He spent two seasons in Oakland and three in Baltimore, never playing more than 141 games in a a season. Let us presume that this was because he was a 30-something DH with bad knees and not because his managers didn't care about getting him into the Hall of Fame.

If that's the case, there's little reason to think that he would have played more often in Chicago than he did in Baltimore and Oakland. Furthermore, adjusting for ballparks (via Baseball Reference) shows that Baines would have had fewer hits, not more, playing half his games in Comiskey, a slight pitcher's park. We'll leave well enough alone there.

Anyway, the second trade Reinsdorf was talking about happened in late July 1997, two days before the famed White Flag Trade. Baines had played 93 of the team's 103 games to that point. When he went to Baltimore, he was in a platoon, mostly with righty Geronimo Berroa, who hit .277/.366/.426 after Baines' arrival. Baines, for his part, hit .291/.356/.418 for Baltimore, playing 44 of the team's remaining 59 games, but his OPS was 120 points lower against lefties than righties that year, so it seems the platoon was justified.

Reinsdorf would have you believe that Baines would not have been platooned in Chicago, but with 1B/DH Frank Thomas hitting .347 that year, I find that hard to believe. Thomas hit .344 against righties that year, and therefore did not need to be platooned, but if they only used Baines as a DH against righties and played Thomas at first those days, Baines still would have gotten less playing time, not more.

Even if we believe Jerry's argument and we give Baines nine more games (6 games off in the remaining 59) and about nine more hits (using the same .300 batting average and the same ratio of at-bats to games played). Now he only needs 111 for the Hall to come calling.

The next year he was platooned again, this time with Joe Carter and Eric Davis, mostly, but he also missed about 32 games from late June to early August due to an injury, so at best he might have played 117 games that year (with the normal game off every ten days) instead of the 104 he actually played. This exercise typically picks us up about one hit per game, so we'll give him 13 more hits, and now he "only" needs 98 more, and they're obviously not going to be found.

By this point in his career, Baines was a part-time player, and deservedly so. He wasn't getting to play as much because most clubs, including the White Sox, had better options at DH than a 38-year old who couldn't hit lefties and didn't have much power. Reinsdorf is just flat-out wrong.

Another quote from Reinsdorf:
"He's going to have a tough time [getting HoF votes] because for a good part of his career he was a designated hitter and a lot of writers won't vote for a DH,"


No, writers will vote for a DH if he's good enough, as they did for Reggie Jackson, and as they will for Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas. It's not because Baines was a DH, it's because he wasn't a great DH.

Merkin also argues for Baines, if you can believe this, based on his defense(!):

Many people will forget Baines' natural ability as an outfielder during the early portion of his career, finishing with 10 assists for three straight seasons from 1981 to 1983 and with 15 assists in 1986. But Baines did not play the field from 1993 through his retirement in 2001.


Assists are not the best measure of an oufielder's defense, but they are a measure. In this case, Baines' 15 assists were not in the top 30 among outfielders between 1980 and 1986, the last year he played the field regularly. The 10 assists he had in other years probably would not be among the top 100 marks in those seven seasons, and he never won a Gold Glove. That's not everything, but it tells you that he was never considered one of the three best defensive outfielders in the league when he played.



Surprisingly, according to Baseball Prospectus he was a pretty decent outfielder, good for between 11 and 17 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) each year from 1983 to '86. That's not fantastic, but it is pretty good. Still, you can't give him credit for what he might have done with good knees without throwing everything else off, so we have to evaluate him based on what he actually did, which was DH.

And as a DH, he just doesn't measure up. It's not Reinsdorf's fault. It's not the voters' fault. Baines just wasn't great enough. Being "pretty good" for 22 years should not be, and will not be, enough for Cooperstown.

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01 December 2008

Problems in Projecting C.C. Sabathia: The $140 Million Question

Rob Neyer and Anthony McCarron have weighed in on the large-looming presence that is CC Sabathia, and the even larger one that will be his next contract, well north of the $100 million mark. Neyer followed that up with some comments on a Sports Illustrated article discussing Sabathia's size and other attributes as well.

I discussed CC a bit last week, but did not go into too much detail. Hopefully I'll remedy that oversight here.

Ben Reiter of SI thinks that CC's as good a bet as anyone to be a very good pitcher for the next several years, in spite of his size. McCarron things that this is a big risk, but one the Yankees have to take, and I mostly agree with that, though I don't necessarily think that comparing him only to other $100 million pitchers is fair, exactly. For one thing, the $100 million is just a convenient benchmark. If you brought it down to, say, $85 million, still a hell of a lot of money, you'd have the likes of Mike Mussina and Carlos Zambrano, neither of whom can be considered a bust, at least not yet.

And if you look at average annual value, the list gets even bigger. Andy Pettitte and Jake Peavy both made more money per year than Brown or Hampton, but then so did Roger Clemens and Jason Schmidt, and those didn't go so well. Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay aren't far off that mark, either, and their clubs are all pretty happy with them, but then there's also John Smoltz and Chris Carpenter, so...we just don't know. Spending money is a risk, and the more you spend, the bigger the risk. This is not news.



But among the few things we can say with confidence about CC Sabathia, there is this: He is not Barry Zito. Or Kevin Brown. Or Mike Hampton. Unfortunately, neither is he Johan Santana.

Still, for the sake of argument, it might be helpful to look at the warning signs associated with these other huge contracts, to see if they "should have known better", or something.

Rob Neyer had reasons that three of the previous four megadeals should have been avoided, but I find a few problems with his arguments:

"[Kevin] Brown had been up and down, durability-wise, and was well into his 30s
when the Dodgers signed him (and it should be said that he did pitch brilliantly
for two years)."

Granted, he was 35 when he signed, and should have been considered an injury risk for that reason alone, but "up and down"? He missed a month in 1995 with a dislocated finger, and missed some time in September of 1989 and 1990, but had been a veritable workhorse every year from 1991 to 1998, averaging well over 200 innings per 162 games.


The Dodgers got three very good (if non-consecutive) years and two injury-plagued ones from Brown, and then they traded him for two good years of Jeff Weaver (his last two good ones, it would turn out) plus two other pitchers. That's about as good as they could have hoped, given the fact that they were dumb enough to sign a 35-year old pitcher through his 40th birthday.

Another one of Neyer's retrospective assessments:


"Zito was a disaster waiting to happen, his performance obviously slipping long before the Giants signed him. "


Have to disagree there, too, to some degree. There may have been some advanced metrics to suggest the impending drop in performance, but his slipping performance was hardly "obvious". At the time of the signing, Zito was a 28-year old lefty who had averaged 16 wins, 220 innings and a much better than average ERA for the previous 6 years. Those aren't the only important numbers, naturally, but you can hardly make a case for an obvious drop in skills.

Even if you just looked at the previous 2-3 years, he was still a durable, better than average lefty starter, which is a rare commodity. Of course, $18 million a year is too much to pay for that commodity, but there was little reason to think that Zito would turn out to be as bad as he's been the last two seasons.


"And Hampton was a very good pitcher who was thrown into an extreme environment."

Not sure about this one either. If anything, he was a so-so pitcher who had thrived in one extreme environment, and was therefore highly overrated. Hampton had been helped significantly by the severe pitchers' parks in Houston when he was with the Astros and in New York. His career ERA split after the 2000 season was 2.88/4.09, in over 1,200 innings of total work, meaning that away from those pitchers' havens, he was basically a little better than average.

Not only was he removed from that extreme environment, but he was forced to pitch half his games in an even more extreme environment, one with the exact opposite properties of those that had masked his mediocrity. That revealed his weaknesses, and severely so. Colorado to their credit, unloaded him after two seasons, and got some value in return.

Sabathia is none of these things. Unlike Brown, he's not almost 35. Unlike Hampton, his success does not come from the parks he's called home. Unlike Zito, he doesn't have rising walk rates and dropping strikeout rates and his best season was last year, not five seasons ago.

He doesn't have control problems. He doesn't have obviously problematic mechanics. He doesn't just "get by" with a decent fastball and a whole lot of junk. By all accounts, he's not a self-absorbed jerk, or a hot-head, or a primadonna, or a clubhouse cancer, or anything of that ilk. He doesn't appear to wilt in the heat of a pennant race or the playoffs. In short, there's really nothing wrong with him, except...


His size. Unlike Neyer's assessment, though, this is not the elephant in the room nobody talks about. For one thing, everybody's talking about it, and for another, can't we come up with a less loaded analogy than that for a fat guy? "Sabathia's weight is the gauche, pink drapes in the room everyone's ignoring!" Nah, now we're upsetting a different demographic. Sorry, fat guys.

He's listed at 6'7", 290 lbs, which means he's probably well over 300 lbs these days. There's never been any pitcher his size who's been successful for any length of time. Heck, there's really never been anybody his size in MLB. A mediocre relief pitcher named Jumbo Brown, who pitched before World War II, was listed at 295 lbs, but he was gone after his age 34 season, perhaps to fight the war, and never even pitched more than 90 innings in a year.

A handful of other pitchers are listed as being over 250, but most of them (Jeff Juden, Jeff Nelson, Chris Young, maybe Tim Stoddard) are very tall and a different body type from CC. Others, like Dennys Reyes and Bartolo Colon, are much shorter and fatter, whereas CC is more thick than fat.

And the ones who might be comparable physically, like Bobby Jenks or Chris Britton, don't have the same workload put on them because they pitch only in relief. There's a big difference between throwing 800 pitches a year and 3,500, and we have no idea how Sabathia's knees (and back, and arm...) will hold up under that strain. Either that or they don't have enough of a MLB track record to say anything about them, like Colter Bean or Humberto Sanchez. There just isn't a reasonable comparison for CC anywhere.

And because of this, the others in the exclusive $100M club, Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Barry Zito and Johan Santana, are almost nothing like Sabathia, except perhaps that three of the four are lefties. The pitching styles, and perhaps most important, body types, are very different from CC's. This is what makes it so difficult to project Sabathia's performance going forward.

Baseball Prospectus, an organization that makes a living at telling you what baseball players are likely to do, says that CC's "Similarity Index" (incorporating body type and performance) is 5, where anything less than 20 is "historically unusual". That "5" means basically that they don't have any idea at all.

For comparison, coming into 2008, Andy Pettitte was a 41, Roy Halladay a 43, Matt Morris a 56, Cole Hamels a 48. Those guys were reasonably common, and more or less performed as you might have expected them to perform. (Much better than that, in Halladay's case.)

Jamie Moyer and Kenny Rogers were both in single digits, like CC, and while Rogers basically pitched as badly as BP expected, Moyer was much, much better than anticipated, and nobody exactly knows why. Randy Johnson's Similarity Index is a zero, meaning that there's really nobody even remotely like him for comparison's sake, and CC's not much better so take anything you see about what he might do with a grain or two of salt.

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25 November 2008

Red Sox Pursuing Junichi Tazawa

The Boston Red Sox are pursuing yet another Japanese pitcher. No surprise there. But the background of the pitcher in question raises some real questions, and that's where things do get a little interesting.



Twenty-two year old right hander Junichi Tazawa was reportedly offered a contract by the Red Sox for something in the neighborhood of $6 million, though the number of years, and how much of that counts as a signing bonus are as yet unknown. Some reports suggest the contract offer could be as little as $3 million, so we'll have to wait and see.

Boston's already got two prominent Japanese pitchers on its major league roster, Daisuke Matsuzaka and reliever Hideki Okajima, and this supposedly will help them to sign Tanazawa, but I don't buy that. Seattle has Ichiro Suzuki, who is still, apparently, worshipped like Babe Ruth in Japan, catcher Kenji Jojima, and their new manager is of Japanese descent as well.

The Yankees have Hideki Matsui and (if he ever gets out of AAA...) Kei Igawa, though it seems that they're taking the high road and refusing to enter the bidding, a foolish decision, if you ask me. The Dodgers have Hiroki Kuroda and Takashi Saito, (plus three Koreans, if you don't mind lumping the Asians together).



Several other teams have at least one Japanese player, including the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays and the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Why wouldn't he want to play for one of them? Even Detroit, apparently as incapable of producing good baseball players stateside as they are at producing good cars, has sent an envoy to scout Tazawa in hopes of signing him. If you can't beat 'em, join em, right? No word on whether the Tigers expect Congress to pay Tazawa's contract.

Here's the thing, though: Tazawa has never pitched professionally, so you may not even see him in the majors this year, no matter whose contract he signs. ESPN's Keith Law ranks Tazawa just 25th among his top 50 free agents, and not even the top Japanese pitcher. That honor goes to 33-year old Koji Uehara, a righty finesse pitcher with lots of experience but some injury history the last two years. Given the right environment, he could be a decent 4th or 5th starter right now, whereas Tazawa will need to prove himself in the minors for a while first.

Tazawa pitched for Nippon Oil in Japan's corporate league, which is a much bigger deal than it sounds. Japan, like many Asian countries, has an economy dominated by large corporations, and these companies have tens of thousands of employees from which to choose. It might be comparable to the talent level you'd get in a league of NCAA I-AA schools or something like that. Most of the time it's not worth paying them much attention, but every once in a while a Jim Bunning or Bob Gibson or Eddie Plank comes out of a school like that, so you can't just write them off.



We forget that this was exactly how a lot of the great players were found during the first 50-75 years of organized baseball in this country. Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, there was no farm system to speak of, and the so-called minor leagues were not nearly as expansive as they are now, plus they paid peanuts. One hundred and thirty years ago, you couldn't make a living at baseball yet, unless you were one of the very best. But if you were good enough, you could get hired by a steel mill or a mining operation or an insurance company to work in some cushy job by day and serve as the company baseball team's ringer on weekends. Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit All-Star Pinky Higgins was discovered this way.

Of course, those were companies with a few hundred employees, maybe a few thousand at the most. Nippon Oil has something like 13,000 employees. Japan Central Railway has over 15,000. Honda has over 150,000. That's a much bigger talent pool than Providence Consolidated Insurance or Indian Valley Tin Company or whatever, and those companies put a lot of money into these teams.

Look at this video of Tazawa pitching against the Japan Railway team in this year's playoffs, and look at the size of the stadiums, how many fans are there, the quality of the equipment, etc. Heck, the fact that it's broadcast in HD ought to tell you something about how seriously these corporate leagues are taken over there.

Then, as now, if you were good enough, some scout might get word of you and sign you to give up the pretense of a day job and play baseball full-time, in the majors, which was what you wanted to do in the first place, right? So the notion of a player dominating a corporate league and eventually making it in the majors is not as far-fetched as it might appear at first glance.



Not that Tazawa was necessarily hired by Nippon Oil for that purpose, but regardless of that, the fact is that the young man has some talent. He can throw in the low-90's and has a serviceable splitter and curve. Initial reports had indicated that he could reach 97 mph, but those kinds of stories are almost always inflated. Keith Law says he throws 88-92 mph, which is good enough if he's got decent off-speed stuff, but not so good that they'd be likely to put him in a major league rotation right away.

InterWebs scouting reports differ significantly on his talent level, with some saying that he's got good movement on his fastball, while others say it's pretty straight. The latter looks about right to me, and while it's true that he's got a curve and a splitter, I don't see the slider that one report suggests, just an off speed pitch, probably the split. That's plenty, I think, if he's got control of three pitches. No need to attribute a 4th pitch to him.

Specifically, he'll need to demonstrate that he can get his stuff over for strikes when the umpires aren't as generous as those in the video. One report suggested than this year with Nippon Oil, he walked only six batters in 54 innings, with a 1.00 ERA, which is like Greg Maddux vintage 1995 control. Nobody is that good (well, except Maddux...) not against an appropriate level of competition, which Tazawa has clearly not yet seen.

He could eventually be a pretty decent starter, but he'll have a rude awakening when he gets to AA or AAA and meets a bunch of guys who have faced major league pitching and aren't fooled by his big, looping curve and straight, low-90s fastball. Still, a few million dollars for a 22-year old with this much upside is a pretty decent investment, and the Red Sox could get a lot for their money.

Just not this year.

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19 November 2008

Yankees Possible Free Agent Signings

The Yankees have made no secret of the fact that they have a lot of money to spend this winter. As I detailed in my last post, they have about $70 or $80 million coming off the books this winter, and Brian Cashman has already begun putting the spin on the money they'll spend this winter. He told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick,

"Even if everything that we hope and dream for happens, we'll spend less money this free-agent market than we did last free-agent market,"


As though there were another player on whom the Yankees might be tempted to spend over a quarter of a billion dollars, as they did on A-Rod.

Obviously, nobody else in in that stratosphere, so keeping the 2009 winter's budget under the $400 million mark should not be a problem. However, there is no shortage of talent available on the market this year, and the Yankees will fill some holes, mostly pitching, via that route.


First things First:

There was an apparent hole in the 1B/DH spot in the lineup when the Yankees chose to buy out Jason Giambi's option for $5M instead of paying him another $22M to hit .250 with 30 homers again next year. However, with the acquisition of Nick Swisher, that hole may be filled. Swisher was a first round pick for Oakland in the famed Moneyball draft of 2002, and he moved through the ranks quickly, making it to the majors just two years later. He hit 35 homers for Oakland in 2006, walking 97 times and then drew another 100 walks with decent power in 2007, during which he also cut down on his strikeouts a bit.



Traded to the White Sox last winter, Swisher ran into a lot of bad luck and hit only .219 this year, though he did hit 24 homers and walk 82 times. His BABIP was almost absurdly low, .249, compared with a league average of .302, which likely just means that he hit into a lot of bad luck. A return to the norm in this area will bring his batting average a little closer to respectability, to about .240, not far off the production they were getting from Giambi. The Yankees are probably going to let him try to prove that 2008 was a fluke.

All of this is to say that Mark Teixeira is probably not on the agenda. He's the best position player on the free agent market, who plays a position for which the Yankees had a vacancy just a week ago, but all the news out of New York seems to be suggesting that the Yankees are going primarily after pitchers.

So, without further ado...


Pitching the Pitchers:

Before I get to which players the Yankees might sign, a few comments on the ones they did not:

Ryan Dempster: Won 17 games last year with a 2.96 ERA and got some CYA votes, this after spending most of the previous four years as a reliever, and not always a good one. It's not like he'd never been a good starter before, it's just that it had been a long time, and in those days, Dempster typically gave you about 100 walks with your 200+ innings.

With much-improved control, it looks like Dempster has turned a corner, and that's what the Cubs obviously believe as well, or they would not have given him that 4-year, $52M contract. I'm not as convinced, though I can find little in the statistical record to suggest that the season was an unrepeatable fluke.


Jeremy Affeldt: After six years of mostly awful pitching in Kansas City and Denver, Affeldt finally had a decent year in 2007, for the Rockies, of all teams. Then, as a free agent in 2008, he signed with Cincinnati, another team with a brutal park for pitchers, but somehow he made it work, tossing 78 innings with 80 strikeouts and a 3.33 ERA. He was all but unhittable on the road, with a 1.77 ERA in 36 innings, but considerably more pedestrian at home, 4.64 in 43 innings, mostly due to the fact that he surrendered 7 of his 9 homers there.

In 2007, Affeldt had a bizarre reverse-ballpark split, with a home ERA of 1.74 (at Coors Field!) and a road ERA of 5.46. Relievers are a fickle lot, and he could just as easily post an ERA of 2.5o as 5.50 next year and nobody would be particularly surprised either way. A lefty reliever with stuff good enough to pitch in long relief, not just LOOGy spots, Affeldt got $8M for two years, which seems to be the going rate for a good southpaw (Damaso Marte got $12M for three years from the Yankees.)

Keith Law commented that going to AT&T Park, which suppresses homers, if not runs, should only help him. While I would not have agreed with Keith about ranking Affeldt #15 among all available free agents this winter (ahead of K-Rod, Brian Fuentes, Ben Sheets, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina?), I do agree that San Francisco is as good a fit for him as he could have wanted.


Anyway, moving on to guys the Yankees can sign...

C.C. Sabathia: The Yankees have reportedly put an offer on the table for something like $6 years and $140M for Sabathia, which would be the biggest contract for a pitcher in history, both in terms of total value and average annual salary. The big lefty won the AL Cy Young Award in 2007 ans then was even better in 2008, with a lower ERA, more innings, more complete games and shutouts, and a lot more strikeouts. Since he spent about half his season in each league, he didn't win the Cy Young Award for either, though he got some votes in the NL.



Sabathia led the majors in 2008 in Starts, Innings, Complete Games and Shutouts, and was second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA and adjusted ERA. He was 5th in the majors in WHIP (Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched, a rough measure of a pitcher's ability to keep men off base) and strikeouts per nine innings, and 8th in Strikeout to walk ratio.

In addition, until the last two seasons, C.C. had not logged an overabundance of innings on that precious, young arm. He finished second in MLB in Pitcher Abuse Points (a metric calculated by Baseball Prospectus, which can help predict pitcher's chances of injuries and/or loss of effectiveness), but before that, he'd never finished higher than 17th. Add to this the fact that he's only 28 years old, still in the prime of his career, and you've got yourself the best free agent pitcher to hit the open market since, well, maybe since Greg Maddux in the winter of 1992.

Most of the big contracts doled out to starting pitchers in the last decade fall into one of three categories:

1) Exclusive Negotiating Rights: Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Mark Buehrle, Chris Carpenter - these were all contracts with no direct competition, since the players were still in their arbitration years. C.C. can negotiate with anyone he chooses.

2) Great, but Much Older: Pedro Martinez, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine - all older when they hit the free agent market, most in their mid 30's already, so you knew (or should have known) that their best years were already behind them. C.C. just turned 28 in July and should have ten more years as a useful major leaguer, and as a superstar for some of those.

3) Same Age, Lower Quality: Mike Hampton and Barry Zito both hit the market around age 28, but both had a history of success based largely on pitching for good teams in pitcher's parks, and both had only decent fastballs and a penchant for walking guys about 100 times a year. Those kinds of flaws manifest themselves more clearly as a pitcher ages. C.C. has a blazing fastball (94-97 mph), plus a nasty slider and change up, and typically only walks a batter about once every five innings.


All of this likely means that, if he has a good agent, he ought to get a contract in the range of eight years and $160 million. The Milwaukee Brewers' GM Doug Melvin was complaining last week that he thought the Yankees were overbidding by offering $140 million when the only other offer on the table was for $100 million, but the Yankees know what they're doing. They're still $20 mil under his market value.

Notes of Caution: Despite the relative paucity of innings before 2007, C.C. has seen more innings in the last two seasons than any pitcher in the game. Those numbers are not extraordinary for a pitcher of his quality, by any means, but it's worth remembering that the Brewers, in their push to make the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century, regularly rode C.C. pretty hard.

Also, Sabathia is not exactly a statue of a Greek god, if you know what I mean. He's listed as 6'7", and 290 lbs, which probably means he's comfortably over 300 or 310. There's no reason a man that size can't be successful, especially since he won't typically have to run the bases in the AL if the Yankees sign him, but his body will be more prone to breaking down under the strain of its own weight than, say, Johan Santana's.

Derek Lowe:

I've got to hand it to the Dodgers' front office. At a time when Lowe was coming off the worst season of his career, and was on acrimonious terms with his bosses in Boston, Los Angeles gave him a 4-year $36 million contract that seemed ridiculous at the time. It was suggested by some parties that perhaps the Dodgers knew something we didn't, and it turned out that they were more than right. (Alas, they did not start him three times a week, as I had suggested.)

At a time when pitchers who amass 190 innings and win 12 games were getting contracts worth $15 million per year or more on the free agent market, Derek Lowe was making $9 mil, and averaging 13.5 wins, 213 innings, and a 3.59 ERA that was about 20% better than the league adjusted average.



With that said, I'd be very surprised of Lowe could move back from a pitcher's park in an easier league and have any kind of sustained success with the Yankees. His home/road splits are extreme, 2.95 at Dodger Stadium in the last three seasons combined, 4.24 on the road. His interleague record is nothing special either, just 6-9 with a 3.91 ERA, including 0-4, 5.13 in 2008. The Yankees' infield defense does not exactly inspire confidence in the hearts of ground-ball pitchers like Lowe, and he'll be near 40 at the end of whatever contract he signs, and few pitchers are still effective at that age.

He might be a decent bet for another NL team, and/or one with a pitcher's park and a good infield defense, perhaps the Padres or the Brewers, who are going to need another starter when C.C. leaves, or even an AL team like Kansas City or Seattle, where homers are hard to come by. But the Yankees are probably not a good option for him.


A.J. Burnett: Other than the silliness of having two starting pitchers known only by their initials, there are lots of reasons for the Yankees not to sign Burnett.



1) ERA's Heading North as He Goes South: He's 31 years old, and just posted the highest ERA for a season of at least 100 innings in his major league career. (With adjustments, his 2001 season was slightly worse, but that's picking nits.)

2) 200 Twice in a Row?: This is the third time in his career Burnett has pitched at least 200 innings at the MLB level. After the 2002 season, in which he pitched 204 innings and won 12 games, he made only four starts (23 innings) in 2003 and then made 19 starts (120 IP) in 2004.

He then logged 209 innings and won 12 more games in 2005, but injuries limited him to 136 and 166 innings in the following two seasons, respectively. This year he pitched 221 innings, and I would be very afraid that his injury bug will find him out and limit him to about half of the innings you expect to get for a guy making $15 million or so.

3) Burnett came out of the Marlins organization in the early 2000's, a very bad omen for a lot of pitchers. Some of the others who were in those rotations with him include:

  • Ryan Dempster, who struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness for five years before this season, which may yet prove to have been a fluke
  • Josh Beckett, who's had one good year in three since leaving Florida for Boston
  • Brad Penny, who's logged 200+ innings once since 2001, and spent half of 2008 on the DL
  • Carl Pavano: Unmitigated disaster. 9-8, 5.00 ERA in 146 total innings during the 4-year, $40 million contract the Yankees gave him.
  • Dontrelle Willis, erstwhile 22 game winner who logged only 24 MLB innings this year, and was sent down to Single-A(!) to straighten himself out.


And those are the success stories! Remember when all of those guys, plus Claudio Vargas, Blaine Neal, Wes Anderson and Geoff Goetz were supposed to become stars? Remember Nate Bump and Hansel Izquierdo? Yeah, neither does anybody else.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying the Yankees shouldn't sign Burnett. All I'm saying is:

PLEASE, PLEASE, PRETTYPLEASEWITHMONEYONTOP DO NOT SIGN A.J. BURNETT AT ANY COST!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously.

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Yankees Departing Free Agents...

The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half this year. The excuses for that failure are many and varied, and mostly irrelevant when it comes to how the Yankees will approach the free agent market this winter.

Certainly the Yankees can look to available free agents to fill perceived performance gaps, and they will. But the 2008 Yankees had more than their share of bad luck, with injuries that devastated the roster and promising prospects who mostly failed to live up to that promise, at least so far. The free agent market is no panacea, and no excuse for not developing your own talent, but the Yankees need a shot in the arm badly, and this winter, they plan to acquire the tools they need to get over the hump.

First, a look at the major players departing:

1B/DH Jason Giambi (38) $23.4M, .247/.373/.502, 32 HR, 145 games

Giambi won an MVP award in Oakland and then, one year later, signed the big free agent deal everyone covets when the Yankees came calling. While he never quite reached the heights he had in Oakland, five of the seven seasons he spent in Yankee pinstripes were quite productive, even if his batting average rarely ventured much above the .250 mark. This past season was one of those, and so despite his age and obviously limited range of usefulness, the man can clearly still hit.

The bizarre summer of 2004, in which he missed time for all manner of exotic illnesses and then felt obligated to apologize for...well...nobody exactly knew, because he never said what, is a distant memory. Unfortunately, the Yankees want someone who can play first base for them over the long haul, and Giambi's not that man. He could land back in Oakland, where they still value walks and power above foot speed, defensive prowess and batting average.


RF Bobby Abreu (35) $16M, .296/.371/.471, 20 HR, 156 games

Abreu's not old, exactly, but he is aging. He'll turn 35 during spring training, and he hasn't hit .300 or better for a full season since 2004. Worse yet, he hasn't had an OBP above .400 since 2006, and over the last four seasons his stolen base numbers have dropped from 40, to 31, to 30, to 25, to 22, with comparably declining success rates. Simultaneously, his walks have dropped from 127 to 84 to 73 in the last three seasons, after nearly a decade of 100+ walk seasons.

Clearly, he's slowing down, and his defense in right field, once simply lackluster, has become atrocious. He could probably still be a solid DH for an AL team, at a reasonable price, but the Yankees haven't made any noises about re-signing him yet.


RHP Mike Mussina (40), $11M, 20-9, 3.37, 200 IP

Moose had a horribly unlucky season in 2007, then more than bounced back in 2008, winning 20 games for the first time in his career at age 39 and even garnering some Cy Young and MVP votes. Better yet, he did it the old-fashioned way: He just pitched better. Sure, he got a little improvement in his batting average on balls in play, but he significantly increased his strikeout rate, too, simply allowing fewer balls in play, and therefore, allowing luck to play less of a role.

With that said, the odds of a 40-year old pitcher repeating a performance like that are nano-scale slim. He might be a decent bet to pitch 180+ innings of league average ball, which, it should be said, is worth about $10 million in today's market, but he's more likely to get paid based on what he did last rather than what he's likely to do, and that should place him off-limits to a team trying to build for the future. The Yankees could afford to re-sign him to another deal like the one he just had, say, two years and $20 million, but any more than that, in either years or dollars, is just plain foolish.

UPDATE: Or, he might retire...


LHP Andy Pettittte (36), $16M, 14-14, 4.54, 204 IP

You'd like to look at Pettitte's 2008 BABIP of .338 and say, "Well, look how far above the league average that number is! he'll bounce back in 2009 and his ERA will drop about 3/4 of a run or so..."

Except you'd be wrong.

While the league norm for batting average on balls in play is usually around .300, Andy Pettitte is generally a different animal. Since 2001, his BABIP numbers have been .336, .322, .322, .278, .270, .331, .325, .338. That .278 mark was posted in only 83 innings in 2004 in Houston, and that .270 mark was 2005, when he won 17 games with a 2.39 ERA.

Otherwise, the league usually hits about .320 or .330 off him when they don't homer or whiff. This presumably is because his stuff just isn't good enough (i.e. fast enough) to overpower hitters if either his cutter or sinker isn't working, so when they hit him, they hit him hard. He still gets enough strikeouts and keeps the walks mostly in check so that he doesn't get in too much trouble, but any bid for him should be made in the belief that his ceiling is as a LAIM for the next couple of years.

Ivan Rodriguez (37), .276/.319/.394, 7 HR, 115 games

I-Rod was only a Yankee for a couple of months, his presence being necessitated by Jorge Posada's injury and Jose Molina's persistence at being, well, Jose Molina. A career back-up catcher, Molina saw career highs in games and at-bats this year, and his weaknesses were truly exposed as he hit just .216/.263/.313, so the Yankees got I-Rod and the last two months of his $13M salary for Kyle Farnsworth, and Pudge promptly hit exactly like Molina had all year: .219/.257/.323, and worse yet, his defense wasn't nearly as good.

So it looks like he's done. He'll get another contract, probably incentive-laden, based on his reputation alone, but not from the Yankees, who plan to have Jorge Posada back next year.


There are some others as well, like Wilson Betemit (already traded to Chicago for Nick Swisher) and Xavier Nady and Brian Bruney, but those guys are due for salary arbitration and will probably be kept for something similar to what they made in 2008. Not a significant effect on the total team salary.

Next up...a look at the guys the Yankees might sign...

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11 November 2008

Rockies-A's Trade Analysis: Matt Holliday for Street and Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez...Maybe

Though the deal is not yet official, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (author of License to Deal) is reporting that the Rockies are trading outfielder Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's For starting pitcher Greg Smith and two other players, perhaps including closer Huston Street and OF Carlos Gonzalez. Unfortunately, at this point, nobody's exactly sure who will go from Oakland to Colorado, though one AP report speculated that closer Huston Street and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could be Denver-bound as well. So let's go with that.

For the Rockies:
The Rockies, who finished 15th in the 16-team National League in ERA, are obviously in need of pitching help, as they always are. Smith, they hope, can eat up innings for them effectively and somewhat improve the dearth of pitching. Though he finished the year just 7-16, his 4.16 ERA was the best among qualified Oaklanders (all both of them), and 25th best in the American League, and his 190 innings were 22nd best. At least that's how Scott Boras would spin it.



Smith came to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade and he significantly outperformed what anybody expected of him, but he walked 87 batters and struck out only 111, and his minor league numbers do not suggest that he'll ever be much more than a LAIM. In fact, before this year, Baseball Prospectus had his closest comparables as a bunch of lefties with very, very short careers. That he's done as well as he has already defies all logic.

In any case, he's going to Coors, where the thin air and his lack of a reliable out pitch will likely cause his ERA to balloon over 5.00. Baseball-reference.com suggests a modest ERA increase of just half a run, but their algorithm doesn't compensate for how outs get made and runs get scored. A finesse lefty, without blinding speed or a sharp sinker or a big curve, naturally has to rely on his defense, and Smith, a severe fly ball pitcher, is no exception.

How severe? Out of 89 qualified MLB pitchers in 2008, Smith's Ground/Fly ratio was 82nd. And he's leaving sea-level Oakland, where a lot of those pop flies were either caught in the outfield or in the expansive foul territory. Without a true strikeout pitch, he'll be forced to throw pitch after pitch of his breaking stuff, which won't break as much as he's accustomed to. Those offerings can be repeatedly fouled off, until eventually he'll have to throw his middling fastball over the plate, at which point the National League's hitters will tee off. Smith pitched 190 innings this year with an adjusted ERA almost average (an ERA+ of 97), but I'll be surprised if he can even stay in the Colo-rotation next year.

Of course, Smith is not all the Rockies will get in exchange for their vaunted outfielder, who finished second in the NL MVP voting in 2007.



Since the Rockies will likely lose closer Brian Fuentes to free agency, Street would theoretically help to fill that need, though Street's not exactly a top-flight closer. After injuries last year and struggling with effectiveness this year (for which he eventually lost his job to rookie Brad Zeigler) Street's star may have lost a bit of shine. Still, he's reasonably effective and not eligible for free agency for two more seasons.

Gonzalez came to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade as well, just a year ago, and immediately went from being Arizona's #1 prospect to being the A's #1 prospect. He hit a modest .283/.344/.416 in 173 at-bats in Saramento, then posted a meager 634 OPS (.242 with 4 homers in 302 at bats, for you old-timers) in Oakland. Still, the whole team hit .242 this year, and in his defense, he did better against right handed pitching, hitting .263/.298/.406 in 228 plate appearances. But he sucked very much bad against the sinister ones (a 454 OPS, fortunately in only 88 plate appearances).

In any case, the man just turned 23 two weeks ago, and his hacking style of offense (81K's and only 13 walks this year in the majors, typically about 3 or 4-to-1 in the minors) should be helped significantly by playing in Coors. He won't have to walk much because pitches that fool him at sea level will be easier to hit, and fewer of the balls he doesn't hit squarely will get caught for outs.

Additionally, Gonzalez has the speed to cover a lot of ground in CF, something the Rockies need with their ballpark, as John Dewan rated him as +3 plays in CF this year. That means that Gonzalez could allow them to keep Willy Taveras (who was -5 this year, and also can't hit at all) on the bench, where he belongs.



The other possibility for inclusion in the trade was OF Ryan Sweeney, who hit quite a bit better than Gonzalez this year (.286/.350/.383) and also went 9/10 in stolen bases, though he is about eight months older than Gonzalez. He never showed the same power as Gonzalez in the minors, but he walked more and struck out less, and is therefore a safer bet to be a useful MLB player, albeit one with a lot less upside. Gonzalez could seemingly "break out" in Colorado, playing half his games in a much easier park for hitters, and all of them in a slightly easier league, without actually getting any better.

For the Oaklands:
But what does Oakland get for its trouble? The A's finished last in the American League in batting average, slugging, adjusted OPS, hits, doubles, runs scored and strikeouts. Well, technically, they finished first in K's, but it was the bad kind of first. They were tied for last in OBP with Seattle. Nobody on the team with 30 or more games played hit better than .286, and the team hit just .242, the lowest team mark in MLB since the 119-loss Tigers hit .240 in 2003. To their credit, the A's walked the 4th most in the league, so they scored about 50 more runs than those Tigers did. Yippee.



So they need help. Oddly, Matt Holliday is a left fielder, the one position in the Oakland lineup that was actually somewhat productive on offense. Jack Cust played about 90 games there, and his 132 OPS+, 77 Runs, 77 RBI, 33 homers and 111 walks all led the team, and that 111 mark led the whole American League.

Unfortunately, so did his 192 strikeouts, and his .231 batting average was, shall we say, less than stellar. Also, in those 90 or so games, according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible, Cust made about 14 plays less than an average left fielder would have. When you consider how often he was probably removed for a defensive replacement, well, here is a man born to be a DH, right?

Matt Holliday, by contrast, was +11 plays in the field, in more than twice as many innings, so they've probably just improved the outfield defense by a dozen runs or more. The real question is what will happen to Holliday's offensive numbers if he goes to Oakland? Until now, he's always played half his games in Colorado, the best hitter's park in the history of MLB. Now he'll be heading to McCavernous Coliseum in Oakland, which decreases run scoring by almost 10%.

Granted, Coors Field has been toned down a lot in recent years, mostly due to the use of a humidor to keep balls a little mushy, but it's still a park that increases run scoring by about 10%, compared to an average ballpark. Specifically, it's about 30% easier to hit a homer in Coors than it is in a neutral park, which is the biggest effect in the National League. The team hit 54% of its doubles and homers there this year, and 3/4 of its triples, and its OPS was over 100 points higher in Denver than elsewhere.

Hits of all kinds are easier to get there, to the tune of about 8-10% each, because of the thin air and the spacious, overcompensating outfield. Oakland is down about sea level, or, you know, Bay level, but most of the reason for its reputation as a pitchers' park is all the foul territory, up to 30 feet more on each baseline, compared to Coors Field. This makes balls that are routine fouls in the stands at other parks into outs in Oakland.

Holliday's been great in Colorado over the course of his career, hitting .357/.423/.645 in 359 games, with a respectable .280/.348/.455 on the road. That split was not as severe this year as it had been in the past, only about a 100-point OPS gap, instead of about 250 or more. Still, there's no question that he's benefited, and no doubt that he'll see a decline in his numbers, at least on the face of them, in Oakland.

Baseball-reference.com's park adjuster gizmo says instead of the .321/25/88 he hit this year, he would have hit .311/24/77 in Oakland, but this seems too modest a drop to me. ESPN's park adjustments show the effects on individual types of hits and runs overall, and if you apply those ratios to his 2008 home stats, and then re-tally...

            R   H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Home=OAK 95 161 36 1 21 77 76 109 .299 .393 .486 .879
Home=COL 107 173 38 2 25 88 74 104 .321 .409 .538 .947

That looks more like it.

Holliday can be expected to strike out a little more, and hit for extra bases quite a bit less. He loses about a dozen runs and almost as many RBI, and the fact that his new teammates can't hit a lick means he'll probably do even worse than I've suggested in those areas. If Holliday's healthy all year in 2009, he'll play about 20 more games than he did this season, and should add to the counting stats, though those averages look about right.

And that, my friends, is not enough to make the A's a good team again next year, but that may not be in Billy Beane's plans. Holliday is eligible for free agency after the 2009 season, and Oakland is not usually the type of team to sign would be free agents approaching 30+ years of age to big, long-term deals.

It's possible, I suppose, that they see something in Holliday that will give them pause, want to make an exception. More likely though, they decided that they could do without Street, since they have Brad Zeigler, and Gonzalez, perhaps because the young, hack-tastic outfielder isn't their type, and that Greg Smith's stock will never be higher. Getting Holliday engenders some good feeling from the fans, and gives the sparse Oakland ...ahem, crowds someone to cheer, and if the team is still out of the running come next June, they can flip him to the Yankees or someone else for more prospects, before he becomes expensive.



And that scenario is pretty likely, as in order for the Oaklands to make a threat next year, they need a lot of young, untested players to all start succeeding at once. There's no lack of potential on the Oakland roster, but they need Dana Eveland and Justin Duchscherer to keep pitching well, and stay healthy, and for some combination of Sean Gallagher, Dan Meyer, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and/or Josh Outman to start pitching well, for more than a quarter of a season.

They also need continued production from Ryan Sweeney, Kurt Suzuki and Jack Cust, if not improvement, and they need at least three decent bats from the likes of Daric Barton, Aaron Cunningham, Eric Patterson, Rajai Davis, Donnie Murphy, Cliff Pennington, Travis Buck and Chris Denorfia. They're already saddled with Mark Ellis, who's at least acceptable, if unlikely to improve, for two more years, and Bobby Crosby (who's neither acceptable nor likely to improve) for one.

They're also stuck with the disabled Eric Chavez and the minimum $26 million they owe him through 2010, if they buy out his 2011 option. So there's not a lot of money to throw around at free agents or other big-name trade bait. They've tried to stack the deck in their favor by compiling lots and lots and lots of prospects and projects, and they've got to hope that the statistics hold up and at least a few of those pan out to be useful major leaguers. And if they get some nice surprises and the team Tampas the American League in 2009, they've got a star to help with a playoff push.

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07 November 2008

Notes on the 2008 Gold Gloves

National League Gold Glove winners were announced Tuesday, and the American League winners came out yesterday. There were several new names, a lot of old ones, a few surprises, and a few really, really bad decisions.


First the names, and the number of Gold gloves they've won (in parentheses):

P: Mike Mussina, NYY (7) and Greg Maddux, LAD/SD (18)
C: Joe Mauer, MIN (1) and Yadier Molina, STL (1)
1B: Carlos Pena, TB (1) and Adrian Gonzalez, SD (1)
2B: Dustin Pedroia, BOS (1) and Brandon Phillips, CIN (1)
3B: Adrian Beltre, SEA (2) and David Wright, NYM, (2)
SS: Michael Young, TEX (1) and Jimmy Rollins, PHI (2)
OF: Grady Sizemore, CLE (2), Torii Hunter, LAA (8), and Ichiro Suzuki, SEA (8)
OF: Shane Victorino, PHI (1), Carlos Beltran, NYM, (3) and Nate McLouth, PIT (1)



Pitchers:
The most remarkable thing about the list is also the least remarkable: It includes Greg Maddux for the 18th time, more than any player at any position in history. Jim Kaat and Brooks Robinson both had 16, and nobody else has more than 13, or is likely to challenge Maddux any time soon.

The most among active players is 13 by Pudge Rodriguez, who will be 37 at the end of this month. Most catchers aren't even playing anymore by age 42, much less catching, much less catching well enough to win a Gold Glove. Ditto for the quatragenarian Omar Vizquel, with 11 to his credit, and Ken Griffey Junior, who's becoming increasingly senior, and who now hasn't added to his 10 Gold Gloves in a decade.

The closest thing to a real possibility is Andruw Jones, who has 10 of them, but will be 32 at the beginning of next season, and just had a horrible year, thanks largely to a bum knee. He would not only have to heal completely, but he would need to hit well enough to keep an everyday job and field well enough not just to remain a centerfielder, but to not look over matched out there. Oh, and all of that, every year through 2016. Not gonna happen.

The AL pitcher who won, Mike Mussina, gets his 7th after a hiatus of a few years. He last won the award in 2003, when he made no errors in 215+ innings. He wasn't quite as flawless this year, but since Moose won 20 games and made only one error, they must have figured he deserved it. According to Plus/Minus, Moose wasn't really all that good, while Kenny Rogers was actually about 16 plays above average, but the voters presumably saw that 5.70 ERA and losing record and chose to ignore him. It would be an interesting study to see how many pitchers have won the Gold Glove in an otherwise down year. Not many, I bet.

Catchers:
The Fielding Bible doesn't rate catchers, but according to the Hardball Times, the leading defensive catcher in the AL by Win Shares was Kurt Suzuki, with an amazing 11 WS. Joe Mauer was second with 9.2, so he's certainly a deserving candidate, if not the most deserving. In the NL, Jason Kendall led all fielders, not just all catchers, with 11.9 fielding Win Shares. Kendall may not be able to hit his way out of a paper bag anymore, but it seems he could field baseballs with one if he needed to.

Playing half his games in Miller Park, with lots of foul ground around home plate, no doubt helped to boost his stats, specifically put-outs, but he also nabbed 43% of would-be base stealers, far and away the highest percentage in the majors, so it's not all a park effect. The others atop the fielding Win Shares lists also play in such places, as you will see.

Molina was second in the NL in Win Shares, with 9.2. It should be noted, however, that this Molina was Bengie, of the Giants, not Yadier of the Cardinals. Yadier was only the third best (and therefore, the worst) catching Molina, trailing Jose (9.1) as well. Overall, he was just the 5th best receiver in the Senior Circuit, behind Chris Snyder and Geovany Soto as well, by Win Shares.

Ironically, Yadier Molina didn't even do well in the sorts of things voters usually like. He had the worst fielding percentage among qualified NL receivers, making the second most errors, and starting only seven double plays, about half as many as Kendall. Maybe he made some snappy SportsCenter-type plays or something, but otherwise, I can't make much sense out of this one.

First Base:
Carlos Pena was 4th in the AL in 1B Fielding Win Shares, but first in the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus, if you discount Mark Teixeira, who spent most of the year in the NL, so I've got no complaint there, really. Lyle Overbay and Kevin Youkilis were both over 3.5 Win Shares, and among the league leaders in +/-, so you could have gone either way if you wanted. The voters undoubtedly saw him atop the AL Fielding Percentage list and stopped looking for more evidence.

NL winner Adrian Gonzalez doesn't even show up in the +/- ranks, and is, coincidentally enough, also 4th in fielding Win Shares in his league, but he was also first in fielding percentage, tied with Pujols and Lance Berkman, who was second in the NL in both WS and +/-. Albert Pujols was tied with Gonzalez in WS, with 2.1, though he led the NL with +20 plays, according to the Fielding Bible.

This means that Albert Pujols got jobbed again, as he no-doubt will with the MVP vote, as all the knuckleheads who look no further than Homers and RBI will end up voting for Ryan Howard instead of the perennial best player in the NL. But I digress.

Second Base:
Brandon Phillips led all NL secondbasemen in Win Shares with 7.1, and was a respectable +17 in the Fielding Bible's list. Chase Utley, who was second with 6.1 WS, led all of MLB at any position with +47 plays, which is so much bigger than any other number on those lists that you have to wonder if it's a typo. Indeed, before this year, Orlando Hudson, generally considered one of the best defensive secondbasemen in MLB, with three Gold Gloves himself, was +53 plays total, from 2005-07.

In the AL, Dustin Pedroia led all secondbasemen with 7.6 Win Shares, a comfortable lead over Akinori Iwamura, at 5.9. Plus/Minus has Oakland's Mark Ellis being about 11 plays better than Pedroia, though Ellis is only 8th in WS. Oddly, Robinson Cano comes up a close 3rd in AL fielding WS, with 5.8, but dead last in MLB in +/-, at -16 plays. The reverse is true for Adam Kennedy, who shows up 3rd in MLB in +/-, at +19, but 35th in Win Shares. Something is very wrong here.

I find disagreements like these very interesting. Though I've read both Win Shares and the Fielding Bible in their entirety, I don't understand their algorithms well enough to even speculate why the two metrics would differ so much. How could Win Shares suggest that Phillips is marginally (about 1/3 of a Win) better than Utley, while +/- says that Utley was about 2.5 times better than Phillips? Worse yet, how could metrics that generally agree on Pedroia and Phillips so significantly disagree on Cano and Kennedy?

I suspect that eventually the smart folks behind each of these, John Dewan and Bill James, already so closely associated with each other, will put their heads together and figure out which of them, if either, is right, or at least more right. But for now, there's not much reason to complain about either Gold Glove selection, only to scratch our heads about some of these other curiosities.

Third base:
Adrian Beltre (this is probably thei first time ever that two Adrians were named, by the way) led the majors with +32 plays, according to Dewan's Fielding Bible, but was only 6th in the AL in Win Shares. He was also third in Range Factor and first in Zone Rating, so no complaint there, really. The difference between 1st and 6th in Win Shares is about 1.5 WS, so there's no reason to get too bent out of shape here.

David Wright was not among the top third in MLB third basemen in +/-and was only 5th in WS in the NL, but he won it last year, he's young, he's still hitting, and it's going to be tough to take it from hm for a while, now that he's got a reputation. Troy Glaus (1st in WS) might have been a better choice, or perhaps Blake DeWitt, who's the only NL hot cornerman to show up on both lists (2nd in WS, 1st in the NL in +/-).

Shortstop:
Jimmy Rollins led all MLB shortstops with +32 plays, according to Dewan, and was 3rd in fielding WS. J.J. Hardy (2nd in +/-, 1st in WS) was also very good.

Michael Young, however, is a bizarre case. He was second in the AL in Win Shares this year, with 7.1, trailing only Orlando Cabrera's 8.0. Seems like a good pick, right? Except that Young was not among the top 10 among MLB shortstops in +/-, and until this year, he was perennially in the bottom six. From 2005-07 he was a total of 64 plays worse than an average MLB shortstop, trailing only Manny Ramirez (-109) and Derek Jeter (-90) as the worst defensive player in the majors at any position.

Like second base, shortstop seems to have a notable difference in how Win Shares and +/- evaluate worth, as Young usually is among the best shortstops with 5-7 WS per year, despite the thrashing he usually gets from Dewan. Derek Jeter gets similarly divergent treatment from the two metrics.

Outfield (AL):
As a blanket statement, before I get into specifics, let me just reiterate that the voters should be required to select players from three different positions, right, left and center, not just pick three center fielders as they usually do. Carlos Crawford and Franklin Guittierez were both very good in left and right field, respectively, and Alex Rios was just as good splitting time between center and right, so it's not as though there are no other options for the voters. Now on to specifics...

Torii Hunter was tied for first (with BJ Upton) among AL outfielders with 6.7 WS, though he doesn't show up in the top 10 on the +/- lists. He was 6th in both Range factor and ZOne Rating among AL centerfielders, but his perfect 1.000 fielding percentage must have made the voters swoon, so he's got a little more hardware.

Hunter won his first Gold Glove in 2001, when he was +25 FRAA (Fielding Runs above Average) according to Baseball Prospectus, but he had a negative number every year since then until 2008, when he was +15, a perfect example of a player skating on his reputation, rather than perfomence, when it comes to this award. (David Wright's going to have to hit Mayor Bloomberg in the forehead with an errant throw before the voters stop giving him the award, I think.)

Ichiro is another one. A right fielder with some speed and a good arm, he comes up +12 plays according to Dewan, which is nice, but only about 6th best in the AL. Win Shares ranks him about 27th, and Baseball Prospectus gave him a -4, the first time in his career he's been below average for them.

Grady Sizemore...well, you've got me. He shows up badly in two of the advanced metrics: -13 FRAA according to Baseball Prospectus, and not among the top ten center fielders in +/-. Plus he's 8th in WS among the 14 AL teams, which is of course in the bottom half of the league. He's 6th from the bottom in the majors in Range Factor, but 4th best in Zone Rating. But he made only two errors and had a .997 fielding percentage, so I guess he gets the vote. Never mind the fact that he doesn't make errors because he hardly ever makes, you know, plays.

The real injustice here is Carlos Gomez, who led all MLB center fielders in RF, ZR, and +/-, and came up a respectable 6th with 4.5 Win Shares. He's only 22 right now, so he's got time to win some awards.

Outfield (NL):
Carlos Beltran picked up his third consecutive award this year, and deserved it, as he was second among MLB centerfielders with a +23 mark, according to Dewan. He was also 3rd in RF and ZR and 4th in fielding percentage.

The other two picks are oddballs. Shane Victorino was 2nd among NL center fielders in ZR and 3rd in fielding percentage, but dead last in Range Factor, presumably because he pitched behind a staff with a lot of groundball pitchers (Myers, Moyer, Blanton, and to some degree, Hamels). Dewan has him as +10 plays, and Baseball Prospectus is consistent with that, giving him a +5 FRAA mark, i.e. decent but far from the best in the league.

When it comes to defense, though, being a tough llittle fireplug of a guy (Shane is 5'9", 160) and/or making flashy-looking plays goes a lot farther than, say, effortlessly getting to every single ball hit anywhere near you. Add a great nickname (and "the Flyin' Hawaiian" is one of the best I've heard in a long time) and you've got yourself a recipe for success.

The third NL outfielder selected, Nate McLouth, is positively baffling. If the players could run campaigns for and against each other, the smear ads against McLouth might read something like this:

Nate McLouth...

He says he made only one error all year, and that this was an unjust call because he never even touched the ball, but let's look at the evidence:

He was only 11th in Range Factor and 17th in Zone Rating (among 19 qualified MLB centerfielders). He ranked 29th among all MLB outfielders in Win Shares, and there are only 30 teams!

Independendent watchdog group Baseball Prospectus rated him as 17 runs below average, and freelance auditor John Dewan labels him 40 plays below average, the worst defensive player at any position in all of MLB in 2008.

Nate McLouth: Wrong on Range Factor, wrong on Zone Rating, wrong on FRAA
and Win Shares and Plus/Minus.

Plus he'll raise your taxes and probably would have let Willie Horton out of jail, given the chance.

We can't afford to vote for Nate McLouth.

[I'm Chris Young and I approved this message.]


Young, Brian Giles and Willie Harris all had good years according to Dewan, and Chris Young also led NL outfielders in defensive Win Shares, so he's the obvious alternative candidate.

Next week we should start seeing the major awards given out, so I'll try to have some more commentary.

Have a good weekend!

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