30 March 2010

Press Release: Meet the SWB Yankees!!


The Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees just released about 50 tickets for the Meet the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Dinner on April 7 at PNC Field in Scranton.

There will be a private batting practice session at 3:45 followed by cocktails and light fare in the stadium restaurant. This will be followed by an autograph session with the 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. They have added a silent auction this year with some game worn jerseys, fan experiences and NYY signed baseballs.

Tickets are $75 with proceeds benefiting the Kids Night Out Program that provides game tickets to needy children and groups. For tickets, call the SWB Yankees office at 570-969-2255 and ask for Kelly Byron.

Last year’s dinner was attended by Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson and Austin Jackson. It’s a great opportunity to meet the future stars of the Yankees and MLB.

Official Link here.


With that said, it's worth noting that there really are not a lot of "future stars of the Yankees and MLB" on this team, not that we can see at this point. Juan Miranda is probably the best bet, of all the baseball betting you could do, and he projects as a platoon DH, which isn't much. I mean, sure, he could turn into the next Travis Hafner, but that's a wager than no online sportsbook would give you.

The only SWB players on Baseball America's Top 10 prospects list fort the Yankees is RHP Zach McAllister, who hasn't yet thrown a pitch above AA, but could eventually turn into a solid back of the rotation starter. Mark Melancon makes the top-11 list for Baseball Prospectus, and projects as a set up man, at best. In short: No stars. All the Yankees' best prospects are in the low minors right now, or in a couple of cases, Double-A.

Still, you could potentially meet coaches (and former MLB journeymen Butch Wynegar, Scott Aldred or Aaron Ledesma, as well as manager Dave Miley, who never made it to the Show as a player, but managed the Cincinnati Reds for almost 300 games. You could meet Kei Igawa, who actually WAS a star in Japan, even though he's ind of lousy on this side of the Pacific.

And if nothing else, you can have a fun day/evening at the ballpark, and contribute to a good cause. Which is worth something.

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11 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #16 - #20

#16. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: 2011

It's tempting to compare Castro to Alcides Escobar, given that they're both Latin American, NL Central shortstop prospects, tall with wiry frames (6'1", 160 lbs) and known for their defense. Escobar is already 23, though, and has a starting job on a major league contender, whereas Castro won't be 20 years old for two more weeks, and will be given more time to develop as his major league team rebuilds.

The difference, however, is that while Escobar is expected to be a speedy, punch-and-judy hitter who wins Gold Gloves, Castro for some reason is expected to turn into Alfonso Soriano. As he has hit about .300 everywhere he's played professionally, and they're listed as the same size, I guess I can see that, but Soriano hit for power in the minors.

Castro seemingly has no power at all, having never hit more than three homers in any season in the minors, and none at all in over 110 AA at-bats last season. He hit one in the AFL, to go with his .376 batting average, but as you're probably tired of hearing by now, everyone hits in the AFL, so take that with a grain of salt.

I suppose it's possible, since he's so young, that he'll eventually develop some power, but more likely he'll become a hack and slash, or at best a line drive hitter who swings at everything and makes up for some of that with his speed and his glove. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but when you're expecting Soriano and you end up with Royce Clayton, people are bound to be disappointed.

He does have some speed (47 stolen bases in his 3-year career) but perhaps not great instincts, given that he's gotten caught as often as once in two or three tries as some stops in the minors. If the speed is there, it will at least help him with his defense, even if it's not an asset on the major league basepaths.

Personally, I think it's a little early to dub this guy on of the best prospects in the game, as so far he's only shown glimpses of the player the scouts expect him to become. So much can happen between age 19 and reaching the majors, and so much that's expected can fail to happen, that anyone without shock the world talent at this age should be grasped loosely.

#17 Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 19

ETA: Mid-2011

Perez has a low-90's fastball an above average change-up and perhaps a major league quality curveball despite the fact that he won't be 19 years old for almost another month. After embarrassing players in the high-A Sally League for most of the year (105 strikeouts in 93 innings, 2.31 ERA), Perez got roughed up a little in AA. But don't let that "1-3, 5.57" next to his name on the stats sites fool you.

First of all, it was only 21 innings. Secondly, it was more due to bad luck (a .374 BABIP) than bad pitching. According to FanGraphs, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a metric that takes luck and defense out of the equation and scales it to look like an ERA) at Double-A was only 3.82. That's still well above the 2.46 he'd posted in Single-A, but also perfectly acceptable for an 18-year old at the second highest rung of the minors.

The Rangers will perhaps let him spend all of 2010 at that level to allow him to learn how to pitch a little more, but he could be in the majors by the middle of next year if everything goes well. At which time he'll still be just barely 20 years old.

Other than his youth, there's not much going against Perez. He's got good control (fewer than 3.5 walks per nine innings in the minors), good mechanics and two quality breaking pitches to go with a solid fastball. Baseball Prospectus called him "the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball", and no, they did not forget about Madison Bumgarner and Brian Matusz.

The Rangers are the only team with three players in the top 20 this year. Though they haven't sniffed the playoffs in over a decade, that could change soon.

#18 Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: Mid-2010

Hellickson's got unbelievable command and control, walking barely two hitters per nine innings in the minors while striking out almost ten. His fastball is only 90-92 at best, but he's got such command of it, and its movement, that it may not matter. He's also got a very good curve and a major league quality changeup that produce a lot of swings and misses.

There are two things he does not have, however:

1) Anything left to prove in the minors, or

B) Anywhere to pitch in the majors.

Which is a problem.

Given that the Rays already have a young, talented starting rotation, they have little choice but to start Hellickson out in AAA again, which is not completely awful given that he is just 22 and that he's pitched only nine games at that level. Command guys who don't have overpowering stuff tend to take a while to develop as major leaguers anyway.

#19 Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: Mid-2011

This first round draft pick out of high school impressed everyone by hitting .318/.409/.491 as an 18-year old in the 2008 rookie league, and he acquitted himself well in single-A in 2009, even though he only hit .251 there. Like Perez, he was victimized more by bad luck (only a .307 BABIP) more than poor performance, and his numbers should bounce back this year. He's a switch hitter with patience, speed and a cannon arm that threw mid-90's gas as a prep school pitcher, but with some work to do before he can get to the majors.

He's projected as a five tool player, though after getting caught eight times in 18 tries last season at Single-A, it appears that he needs to learn how to better utilize his natural speed if he's going to be a base stealing threat. Watching his swing, he reminds me of another switch hitting centerfielder, Carlos Beltran, though to be fair, it's pretty much a textbook swing.

#20 Logan Morrison, 1B, Marlins
Opening Day Age: 22

ETA: 2010

Though not the blue chip prospect he was after hitting .332 in 2008 in a pitcher's league, Morrison is still hanging on to his spot in the top 20. And this despite suffering through a wrist injury that limited him to only 82 games and eight homers in 2009. His pedestrian .277 batting average belies his skills at getting on base, which are more clearly evidenced by his .411 OBP. He hit 24 homers at A-ball in 2007, but hasn't shown that kind of power since, even though his body and his swing suggest that he should be a slugger.

Perhaps the wrist injury forced him to be more patient or perhaps he's just maturing as a hitter, but 21-year olds who walk more than they strike out are few and far between. Still, Morrison has shown the ability to hit for average, power or on-base percentage at different stops throughout his minor league career, but never more than one of those skills at a time. If he's healthy this year - and that's a big "if" since he's only 1-for-14 in spring training as I write this - he'll need to put together at least two of those three to stay at the top of prospect lists.

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10 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #11 - #15

#11. Dustin Ackley, OF/1B/2B, Mariners
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: 2011

After hitting over .400 in each of his three years at UNC, Ackley got a six million dollar signing bonus as the #2 pick in last year's draft. And don't think the batting average is the only thing he's got going for him. He also got on base almost 50% of the time, slugged almost .650, walked almost twice as often as he struck out and stole 43 bases at a 75% success rate.

Due to arm problems, including a Tommy John surgery, he only played first base in college. Normally, a bat like his could play anywhere he wanted, but the Mariners are apparently moving him to second base, and it seems to be going well. At 6'1", 185 lbs, Ackley's not the lumbering physical specimen that you would expect from a slugging firstbaseman with numbers like his, and the Mariners seem to think he had the physical agility to play the keystone in the majors. Or more likely, they don't think he'll develop the kind of power expected of a first baseman or left fielder.

He played second base in the Arizona Fall League and apparently did well enough, in addition to hitting .315/.414/.425 in 20 games. Everyone hits in the AFL, so take that with a grain of salt, but at least the switch to wooden bats didn't cripple him. Note that his power output was considerably less, though that was what I said about Buster Posey after last year's AFL and he turned out OK.

Ackley projects more of a Derek Jeter type, perhaps with less propensity to strike out, with only modest power but with speed, average and patience to more than compensate. I'm always leery of dubbing someone one of the best prospects in baseball before he's faced any real competition, but if Ackley starts out at High-A ball and progresses as they expect, he could be in the majors by the middle or end of next year.

#12. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: 2010

One of several players to repeat on this year's top 20 (along with Heyward, Posey, Bumgarner, Feliz, Alvarez and Stanton), Alcides is again the only one of the score predominantly here for his glove and not his bat. Escobar's defense is very, very good, with incredible range and instincts and a great arm, but he's also got speed to burn and a decent line-drive type of swing. He doesn't have much patience or any power and at 6'1", 155 lbs isn't likely to develop the latter - but then neither did Ozzie Smith, and he had an OK career.

The future is now for Escobar, who will be the Brewers' everyday shortstop after they traded JJ hardy away in the off season. Because both his range and his speed on the bases depend so much on his speed, he'll be more susceptible than most to any sort of leg injury, but if he develops as expected, he's a perennial Gold Glove middle infielder who can hit for a respectable average and steal 30+ bases.

#13. Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

This is the body you expect to see with Dustin Ackley's numbers, except that Smoak has the numbers too, or at least he did in AA. After mashing the ball for three years in the SEC, Texas made him the #11 overall pick in the 2008 draft, and he's moved up quickly through the ranks. Though he hasn't shown much of the power he had in college, he has shown some, and his body (6'4", 220) and approach suggest that the homers will come.

He stalled a bit in the second half of last season, after his promotion to AAA, though how much of that was difficulty adjusting to the highest level of the minors (well, short of the National League, anyway) and how much had to do with an oblique strain is anybody's guess. Given that he hit nine homers in nine World Cup games in the fall, he's probably not favoring that oblique anymore, I would say.

#14. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: Mid-2010

After posting a 15-3 record with a 1.46 ERA in Single A as an 18 year old, there was really nowhere for Bumgarner to go but down, statistically speaking. he did, but not very far. He posted a combined record of 12-2 at High-A and AA with an ERA comfortably under 2.00, but his strikeout rate dropped dramatically, from about 10.4 per nine innings last year to about six per nine this year in AA, before fanning ten batters in ten frames at the major league level.

Most sources seem to agree that the drop in strikeout rate coincided with a drop in velocity, continual over the year, which could be a harbinger of problems. Indeed, I said in my prospects article last year that his mechanics, particularly the long, sweeping arm action, concerned me, and perhaps this is a sign of a shoulder injury beginning to rear its ugly head. Or, it might just be because he threw too often and too vigorously between starts, as he and the Giants seem to think. That, of course, begs the questions of

1) Why it wasn't an issue in 2008, if he had the same training regimen, or

B) Why he bothered to change his regimen in 2009, if everything was going so well in 2008.

So far this spring, his velocity is still down a bit, so we have to wait and see. With his control and his long, left handed delivery, he can still be a good starter in the majors, but to be great he's going to need those extra few mph on the heater.

#15. Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: 2011

Phillies fans, this is the reason that Cliff Lee is no longer on your team.

Well, that's not precisely true, but essentially GM Ruben Amaro figured that Brown was not enough of a prospect to tide the farm system over without getting a little help. So after practically emptying the cupboards to get Roy Halladay, he sent Lee to Seattle for more prospects, including another toolsy outfielder, Tyson Gillies.

Brown's big frame had some projecting him for eventual 30-homer major league power, but he's shown little evidence of that in the minors so far. He did hit 11 homers in 238 at bats at High-A last year, but then smacked only three in almost 150 at bats at AA. He's got great speed, but it comes from his long stride rather than quick movement, so he gets caught stealing a little more than you would like. Overall he's been caught about 28% of the time, though in some stints it's been as much as 35%, which hurts the team. Not as much as thinking, but still.

His body type and statistical profile remind me a lot of Bernie Williams for some reason, though I think he's probably got less patience and a better arm. Bernie took a while to develop, and wasn't really an impact player until age 26 or so, and I see a similar path for Brown. He's still working on the patience and power, but all the tools are there for success. Given the Phillies' crowded major league outfield, he should have time to master both AA and AAA before he gets much exposure in the Show. Best case scenarios have him in the majors in the middle of next year, though I would guess a September 2011 call up is more likely.

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04 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #6 - #10

#6. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

This is why the Rays are in no hurry to shell out tens of millions of dollars to Carl Crawford. After hitting well enough (.316/.395/.486) in AA to win Southern League MVP, Jennings went to AAA for a month or so and hit even better (.325/.419/.491). He's got tremendous speed (52 for 59 in steals and 10 triples in 2010) and that helps make him a potentially elite defensive center fielder as well. He also has the plate discipline, at 23, that Crawford is just starting to develop at age 27.

He hasn't shown a lot of power yet, but his 6'2" frame could probably carry more muscle than the 180 lbs he currently sports. Even if he never bulks up much, a lead off hitter who can smack a dozen homers and steal 40 or 50 bases while getting on base 40% of the time and playing excellent defense in center is a huge asset for any team.

Not that he's going to produce like that right out of the gate, but it shouldn't be but a year or two before Jennings is one of the best young players in the game. Technically, Jennings is "blocked" by Matt Joyce at the moment, but on a scale of one to ten, Joyce is not that good. Jennings should be in the majors by mid summer.

#7. Buster Posey, C, Giants
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

In my column on last year's top prospects, I had two, tentative criticisms of Posey, both of which he answered with aplomb in 2010. One was that his having recently been converted to catcher made him something less than a stellar backstop, but then he went out and caught 45% of would-be base stealers at two levels in 2010, so I can't say that anymore.

The other was that his power, displayed only in his last year at Florida State, had not yet emerged as a pro. Well, after hitting 18 homers and 31 doubles between High-A and AAA, with a slugging percentage well over .500, I can't say that anymore either.

While Posey's seemingly got little to prove in the Minors, the Giants are not known for their bravado in promoting prospects, especially when they've got a comfortable - if not especially good - major league option. Having re-signed Bengie Molina for the year, Posey will likely get some more seasoning in AAA, but assuming that he continues to hit the cover off the ball, he should be up in the majors for good by the end of May.

Long term, he's likely to soon become the best catcher in the game, but in the short time he'll just be jockeying for playing time. If the Giants fall out of contention, he'll probably get more playing time in the majors, so they can help him develop, bu tif they can somehow stay within earshot of a playoff berth, look for them to give Molina the bulk of the playing time while Posey wiles away on the bench or in AAA.

Ironic, isn't it? The more they need him, the less playing time their best catching option will get.

#8. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

You've got to give Alvarez (and agent Scott Boras) credit: They may have made a big stink about his signing last year, but it was with good reason. When he finally got to play, Alvarez struggled a bit in High-A ball, hitting only .247 although still with impressive power, making some wonder if the Pirates had made a mistake.

Nevertheless, upon his promotion to AA, Alvarez raked at a .333/.419/.590 clip, having one of the best second halves in all of professional baseball. He's expected to start the year in AAA, and given that Andy LaRoche is the only thing between him and a major league job, we should see him in the majors by June or July. He's too big and too slow to be a third baseman for long, but then the Pirates aren't exactly stocked with great hitting first basemen either, so he should get his chances to play once he's there.

#9. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 21
ETA: 2010

Another questionable inclusion on a prospect list, after having spent two months on the Rangers' roster and pitching 31 stellar innings, but at least he's not within 5 innings of the "rookie" limit. Feliz has a 100 mph fastball that moves and a solid slurve, plus a change up that is still developing. His trouble as a reliever has always been walks (with a rate of almost 4 per nine innings in the minors) but in the majors last year he pitched only in relief, where he could rely mostly on the fastball, and it worked.

The Rangers, understandably, want him to start, but right now their projected starting five has an average age of about 25, with Rich Harden as the most seasoned veteran, at 28, so there's no hurry. In any case, he'll have a hard time succeeding if he can't get the walks down. One saving grace - and it's something he'll need, pitching half his games in Arlington - is that his stuff is so filthy it's almost impossible to hit it solid, which is why he's allowed only seven homers in 276 minor league innings.

Make no mistake: Despite all the hype about the three-digit fastball, Feliz is still a work in progress. But that work can be done at the major league level.

#10. Carlos Santana, C, Indians
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: 2010

Santana spent all of 2009 at AA Akron, where he hit for decent average (.290) in addition to remarkable power (55 extra base bits) and patience (90 walks). He's not a great defensive catcher, having caught only 30% of base stealers at AA, but unlike Montero, he is serviceable. He hits with power to all fields, swings at few bad pitches (as evidenced by his having struck out only 83 times in 535 at-bats) and generally makes life difficult for pitcher wherever he goes.

He's behind Lou Marson and grizzled veteran Mike Redmond on the Tribe's depth chart, but if Pronk or Russel Branyan get hurt, they could conceivably call Santana up to DH or play first base. With the Tribe trying to rebuild, there's really no hurry, and Santana hasn't even been to AAA yet.

His bat is good enough that he could be an adequate MLB first baseman right now, or at least that's what Bill James' projection says. CHONE is a lot more conservative, while PECOTA's more modest, but closer to James. the one real issue is playing time. Unless something really bizarre happens, Santana isn't likely to see much MLB action before he gets a chance to master AAA, which means late 2010 at the earliest.

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Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #1 - #5

A year ago I looked at the top 20 prospects from Baseball America's annual Top-100 list, so I figured that now would be a good time, with Spring Training beginning, to do a similar thing.

I'll break it up into four posts this time. here are prospects #1 through #5:

#1. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: 2010

Nobody doesn't like Jason Heyward. He's the #1 position player prospect on everybody's list, and with good reason, as there seem to be no weaknesses to his game. Scouts like his tools and his athleticism. Stats geeks like his ability to take walks, hit for power without striking out a ton, and steal bases without getting caught. braves fans like him because, frankly, their outfield has been kind of a drag since Andruw Jones was in his heyday. Everybody else's fans may not like him, but have to concede his talents.

He's hit for average and for power, with patience, at every professional level where he's been tried, with a composite .318/.391/.508 line across five levels (mostly single and double A). He doesn't steal a ton of bases, but when he attempts one, he's usually successful (26 for 31).

He's played mostly right field in the minors, where his cannon arm has racked up 22 assists in only 190 games, but he's reportedly got the speed to play center if needed, too. If there's a chink in his armor - and really, it's just a scratch, at worst - it's simply his youth and inexperience, as he has only 3 official games above AA, though he also hit .300/.364/.475 in 24 spring training games last year, for what they're worth.

Expectations are that the Braves will give him every shot to win a job as their everyday right fielder right out of spring training, but even if they send him back to AAA for a while, he'll probably be back up to stay by the end of May. This guys gonna be a lot of fun to watch. I'm glad he's not in the Yankees' division.

#2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Opening Day Age: 21
ETA: Mid-2010

Speaking of fun-to-watch-prospects-not-in-the-AL East...

Strasburg is quite possibly the most hyped prospect in a very, very long time, perhaps ever. In baseball circles, he's already a household name in spite of the fact that he has yet to throw an inning of pro ball. Well, he tossed 19 innings in the AFL, amassing 23 strikeouts and a 4-1 record despite a 4.26 ERA, inflated by one bad outing (of five). That's not exactly top notch competition, but the AFL is known for the high level of offense, and Strasburg generally acquitted himself well there.

The man has a perfect pitcher's build (6'4", 220 lbs), good mechanics, a 100-mph fastball that he throws regularly with pinpoint control at 95-98 mph, a knee buckling curve and an above average change-up, despite being only 21. He has no chinks in his armor. The only things than can stop him now are some form of Steve Blass Disease, or an injury. And those are no small things, as there have been countless "can't miss" prospects who somehow did, simply because they couldn't stay healthy or forgot how to pitch.

#3. Mike Stanton, OF, Marlins
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: Mid-2010

I remain unconvinced on Mike Stanton as an uber-prospect. After mashing up the Sally League as an 18 year old in 2008, he was promoted to High A Jupiter in the Florida State League, and maintained most of his rate stats in 50 games there. In fact he was named an FSL All-Star and was leasing the League in homers when he got promoted to AA Jacksonville.

Here is where he kind of fell apart.

Sure, the power is still there - his .224 Isolated Power was exactly the same number David Ortiz had last year in the majors - but he hit only .231 and struck out in a third of his at-bats. he did hit well in the Arizona Fall League, but in only six games before being shut down with a sore back.

He's still only 20, but he'll have to learn to hit the kind of breaking stuff they throw in AA and AAA before he can even get to the majors, much less be an effective major leaguer. I expect that the Marlins will start him in AA again and advance him quickly if he seems to have made the necessary adjustments.

I still think his closest comparison is Russel Branyan, and you could certainly do worse, but when everyone expects Reggie Jackson or Dave Winfield and they get stuck with Branyan, well, folks will be disappointed.

I think Baseball America's ETA of mid-2010 is a bit ambitious, given that he needs to master not one but two minor league levels before he would get called up, and that the Marlins have a perfectly acceptable (and relatively young) outfield trio of Cody Ross, Chris Coughlin and Cameron Maybin. September is more likely, if that.

#4. Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: 2011

Montero, like Stanton, was born in November of 1989, though a few weeks later than Stanton. And like Stanton he was tearing up the FSL last year, though he got promoted to AA too soon to take his rightful place on the All-Star team. Unlike Stanton, however, he did not falter at the higher level, hitting a robust .317/.370/.539 in 44 games in the Eastern League, a total decreased by the broken finger he sustained in . Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus reports that Montero hit an astounding .400/.457/.718 away from Trenton, which is evidently a severe pitcher's park. So, you know, that's pretty good.

Unfortunately, Montero's too big and clumsy to be a catcher in the majors. The Yankees are doing what they can to help him improve, but the word is out that he can't catch base stealers, who attempted 108 steals against him in only 59 games in 2009, and were rewarded with an 80% success rate.

He's a first baseman or DH waiting to happen, and as good as he is, the Yankees have no place to put him either now or in the forseeable future. That means he's trade bait if the Yankees decide they need a starting pitcher or if the Gardner/Winn platoon in left field falters. Whoever gets him, and wherever he plays, he's going to mash.

#5. Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: 2010

This is a little sketchy, including Matusz on the list of prospects for 2010, given that he pitched 44.2 innings and won five games for the Orioles in 2009, but whatever. Matusz skipped AAA entirely, and won't likely go back down to the minors unless he shows some problems in the majors this year. His repertoire is a low-90's fastball, slider, curve and change, which sounds kind of pedestrian until you consider that all four of them are above average pitches, and that he's only 23 and has fewer than 50 innings of seasoning above AA.

His minor league numbers, limited though they are, portend a mid-rotation starter with impressive control (he struck out 121 and walked only 32 in 113 innings in A and AA ball). His build (6'5", 200 lbs) suggests that he can handle the workload, and his mechanics are solid. He's left handed too, so he'll get lots of chances even if he falters a little.

Prospects #6 through #10 will follow tomorrow...

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28 February 2010

Book Review - Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, by Larry Tye

"History binds Josh [Gibson] and Satchel at the hip as the two towering figures of the Negro Leagues, but nature left them as mismatched as yin and yang. Josh was a hitter who mashed pitches, Satchel a pitcher who undid batters. Josh's power emanated from his huge arms and torso, Satchel's from his string-bean legs. The differences, however, went deeper. Josh steered clear of the limelight. Satchel lived in and monopolized it. Josh was eaten up by the limits of his ravaged knees and his Jim Crow world, consoling himself with booze, which had been legalized, and opiates, which had not. Satchel learned to cope and triumph. Josh was a player's player with a bench full of friends. Satchel played to the crowd, which made his teammates admire more than love him."

- Satchel, by Larry Tye, p 73

King Arthur. Davy Crockett. Paul Bunyan.

There are individuals throughout history who so inspire us that their legends grow well beyond their actual stature, becoming so entangled in the stories of their lives that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the man ends and the lore begins. Such is the case with Leroy “Satchel” Paige, about whom Larry Tye has penned a new biography, simply entitled, “Satchel”.

For a man who may have been seen in person by more spectators than anyone else in history, there was precious little written about Satchel Paige, at least little that can be called 'reliable', anyway. Perhaps the task of unraveling the mystery surrounding the man appeared so daunting to so many. Perhaps many felt that clearing up those mysteries would take something away from the man himself. Tye has managed to do the former without sacrificing the latter, though it took him two years to accomplish it.

Having pored over every available reference on his subject, Tye sifted and sorted and deciphered all of the available information on Satchel and weaved it into not only a coherent whole, but a telling, endearing and interesting story as well. It’s well written without being pretentious or excessively verbose, making for a very accessible and easily read narrative that flows well. Tye provides sufficient background on people and places without boring you and without feeling the need to inform the reader of every possible nuance about a given individual or situation, and most important, without making the reader feel that he's gotten off track.

He manages to point out and discuss the various social injustices of Satchel’s day without sounding condescending or sanctimonious, something too many who have written about the Negro Leagues seem to feel is their duty. This makes it possible for the reader to enjoy the narrative for what it is, to appreciate the charming, nostalgic aspects, to react with distaste when he discusses racial slights and slurs, but not to become so overburdened with guilt that the reading becomes less than enjoyable. Indeed, few would read such a book if they had to fear being scolded for long-past wrongs they never committed on every other page.

Tye begins at the beginning, which is not as easy at is sounds in the case of Satchel Paige, whose birth name was Leroy Page and whose birth date was virtually anybody’s guess. I won’t ruin the surprise, except to say that part of Satchel’s mystery included the fact that throughout most of his professional life, nobody knew exactly how old he was. The birth date mystery was such a part of his legend that there was even a Trivial Pursuit card that included three possible birthdates as the clue to "Satchel Paige".

Tye describes Leroy’s difficult youth in Mobile, Alabama, one of many children in a very poor family, beholden to an alcoholic father who died young. Leroy had trouble with authority even then and spent a third of his youth in a reform school, which helped shape him into both the man and the ballplayer he would eventually become. Upon his release, he almost immediately took up with a local semipro team, was given his famous moniker (though there are even more stories as to how he became Satchel than there are potential birth dates, it seems) and as he realized that his skills could take him much farther, he began to hone them.

Trips through the minors of Black Ball in the 1920’s took him all over the South, to Mexico, the Caribbean, and eventually to Pittsburgh, to the Black major leagues, where he would become a star. Not that he stayed there long. Contracts in the Negro Leagues were looked at as something to do until something better came along, and for the likes of Satchel Paige, it frequently did. He hopped around North America, playing in Pittsburgh, certainly, but also in North Dakota, California, Colorado, and Kansas City, as he felt inclined.

Effa Manley bought his rights twice for the Newark Eagles, though he never suited up for them. He also went back to the Caribbean, playing in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and even Venezuela, where he was nearly killed by natives, if you believe his story. It was probably Satchel, not Babe Ruth (or, as James Hirsch would have you believe, Willie Mays) who was baseball's first true international superstar, and this before he ever suited up for the major leagues.

But believing Satchel’s stories is exactly what makes writing his biography so difficult. There are lots of stories that have trickled down from Satchel Paige and other stars of the Negro leagues, and many of them, if they are true at all, are only slightly so. But they’ve been told and retold so many times that few know the difference anymore.

Part of the charm of the Negro leagues, it seems, was that in an industry that either did not have the money or did not have the interest in recording every event meticulously, the history became entangled with the tall tales, and everyone was basically OK with that. The men who played there lived their lives and spun their fables, never with malice in mind, and they made for good stories and good story tellers, which was what people wanted anyway. Why bother to point out that Satchel never really struck out Babe Ruth in a barnstorming game at Yankee Stadium? He could have, everyone knew, and that was all that counted.

Along the way, Tye describes interactions and exploits with some of the greats of both black and white baseball, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Double Duty Radcliffe, Oscar Robertson, and Cool Papa Bell, to name a few, but also Bob Feller, Dizzy Dean, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, and many of the barnstorming stars of Major League Baseball.

Satchel eventually made it to the major leagues, the first pitcher to break the color barrier. He had been more than a bit irked by the fact that Branch Rickey did not come calling for him, rather than Jackie Robinson, who had played barely one year in the Negro Leagues, whereas Satchel had paid his dues for almost two decades. But Satchel, besides being over 40 years old, was never one to honor a contract or turn the other cheek, so Rickey deemed that he was something less than an ideal candidate for his grand experiment.

Instead, Indians' owner Bill Veeck took a chance on Satchel and made him the American League's first black pitcher. Satchel, at 41, became the oldest "rookie" in major league history, and four years later, its oldest All Star, and then in 1965, he became the oldest pitcher in MLB history, throwing three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox, at the age of 58. The Los Angeles Times story on the game called it, "A gimmick, yes. A joke, no."

Veeck and Paige would enjoy a life long relationship, and Paige could thank Veeck for giving him second and third chances when he wore out his welcome with previous employers, as he seemingly always did. Veeck brought Paige in to pitch for the St. Louis Browns and then later on for the Miami Marlins, a minor league team for whom Satchel pitched in his 50's.

Because he'd never saved any of his money and didn't have the kinds of sponsorship opportunities afforded to either today's athletes or white stars of Satchel's heyday, Paige never did stop pitching, really. He just kept going, barnstorming in places like Alaska, North Dakota, California, and Missouri, just to make ends meet. Even after he was finally inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, Satchel kept on making appearances and pitching. He was paid as a consultant when a film was made about his life, but otherwise, he rarely had the luxury of not pitching if he didn't feel like it.

As far as Tye's book goes, it is a joy to read. It's his first baseball book, I believe, and he gets a few of the minute details wrong, such as referring to Joe DiMaggio as "Jumpin' Joe" or indicating that the number of games in the baseball season was 151, rather than 154, but these are minor and forgivable offenses. Tye gets the main and plain things very right, and goes above and beyond the call of duty in writing this book (as attested to by the fact that he has almost 80 pages of notes and bibliography).

Satchel Paige was the kind of interesting, incredible, lovable, frustrating, talented but flawed character that we all wish we could have known or could have been. The stories of his life, such as they are shared in Tye's book, fill out the holes in the legend probably more than Paige would have wished, but no less than his legend deserves.

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12 February 2010

Big Re-Hash: Frank Thomas Retires - Now What About the Hall of Fame?

Most of this material was penned almost four years ago, but since Frank Thomas announced his retirement today, I thought it might be worthwhile to freshen this up a bit.

There's been some discussion and debate over the last few years about whether Frank Thomas really belongs in the Hall of Fame. Based mostly on the fact that the second half of his MLB career constituted such a severe drop off from the level he established in the first half, many have said that he'[s only a marginal candidate.

This is poppycock.

Frank Thomas Posted by Hello

This is about the silliest thing I've heard all week. I could understand if they were saying that Frank Thomas, moderately productive outfielder of several 1950s and '60s National League teams, didn't belong in the Hall of Fame. That Frank Thomas hit .266 in 16 seasons, never hitting .300 in any of them, finishing in the top ten of the MVP ballot only once (4th in 1958), and never leading his league in anything but games played, hit-by-pitch and sacrifice flies (once each). That Frank Thomas certainly doesn't belong in Cooperstown.

But this one? The Big Hurt? The 1B/DH who has terrorized American league pitchers for the last decade and a half? Let's look at his credentials, along with someone else's, shall we?

Name      AB     R    H     2B   HR   RBI
Hurt 10074 1494 2468 495 521 1704
Splint 9791 1798 2654 525 521 1839

Hurt .301 .419 .555 974 156
Splint .344 .482 .642 1116 191

The 'Hurt' line is, of course, Frank Thomas' career. The second line is that of the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. Four years ago I compared these two, up to a similar point in their careers, and now it turns out that they will both complete their careers with exactly 521 home runs. I'll be issuing lottery predictions for 2014, later tonight, thank you.

In all seriousness, though, are they the same? Of course not. Nobody was as good as Ted Williams, in his generation or any other, save perhaps Ruth and Bonds. But are they close? You're damn right they are. Williams had a few more of just about everything, but not a lot more of anything. He struck out a lot less, but so did everyone else at the time. Pitchers throw harder now, and relief pitchers are trained to get the strikeout, with Thomas having to face them much more often than Williams did.

The second set of stats, their averages, shows a much greater difference between them, but it also shows something else. That last statistic is park and league-adjusted OPS (On-base plus Slugging), a rough but effective measure of a hitter's prowess. Ted Williams ranks second all time, behind only the Babe. Thomas is tied for 19th, with 13 of the 20 guys who are either tied or ahead of him already in the Hall.

Among the other seven, four are not eligible for Cooperstown because they didn't play at least ten seasons (Dave Orr), are banned from baseball for gambling issues (Shoeless Joe Jackson) or have not yet been retired for five years (Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds).

Bonds' case is a little sketchy, given that of Mark McGwire, who's also ahead of Thomas on the OPS+ list, but who has failed to garner more than about a third of the votes he needs in his first three seasons on the ballot. But based on numbers alone, both Bonds and McGwire are no-doubt Hall of Famers.

The sixth is Dick Allen, who was a heckuva hitter, but who played only a dozen full seasons and who was basically washed up by age 35. Also, as I understand it, he was kind of a jerk to the sportswriters, but then they didn't exactly hold that against Ted Williams.

The last is Pete Browning, who played almost half of his ~1,200 game career in the 1880s American Association, beating up on sub-standard pitching while all the best players were in the National League.

Thomas is one of only 14 players to hit over .300/.400/.500 in a career of over 2,000 games. Almost all of the rest are in Cooperstown or will be some time soon. Here's that list:

Already in the Hall of Fame:
Cobb, Ty
Foxx, Jimmie
Gehrig, Lou
Heilmann, Harry
Hornsby, Rogers
Musial, Stan
Ott, Mel
Ruth, Babe
Speaker, Tris
Williams, Ted

Still active or recently retired (years played):

Thomas, Frank (19)
Martinez, Edgar (18)
Ramirez, Manny (17)
Jones, Chipper (16)

Edgar Martinez, despite playing one fewer season than Thomas, played in only 267 fewer games, and did not hit for nearly as much power ("only" 309 homers). He got about 36% of the BBWAA vote in his first year on the ballot, which bodes well for his candidacy overall.

Ramirez and Jones, both excellent players, aren't likely to improve upon their current career averages being already 37 years old, but are having Cooperstown-worthy careers.

So that's 10 Hall of Famers, one potential Hall of Famer in Edgar, two guys who should be enshrined eventually if they follow normal career paths (and if the voters don't hold Manny's PED suspension against him). Pretty good company, I think.

Let's look at where Thomas falls in history:
Stat:   R  2B  XBH  HR  RBI  BB  TB  TOB  OBP  SLG  OPS
Rank: 68 55 26 18 22 9 37 28 21 25 15

Overall, he's got to be one of the two dozen or so best hitters in history, and maybe only beneath Jimmy Foxx and Joe DiMaggio among right-handed hitters, both of whom have less playing time on their resumes than Thomas does. Even without giving him credit for time he's spent injured, his numbers are clearly Hall-Worthy.

Bill James listed him as the tenth best firstbaseman ever back in the 2000 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, and since then he's had two and a half productive seasons, and one and a half seasons lost to injury. That still adds to his career value, in my mind.

Criticisms of Thomas as a Hall of Famer center around the argument that because Thomas was injured so much the last several years, and because he didn't maintain the pace he started in the early 1990s, and "didn't do anything in the playoffs", his Hall of Fame credentials are somehow weak. While certainly the first two of those things are true, should they really cause us not to vote for Thomas when he becomes eligible for Cooperstown?

From 1991 to 1998, Thomas racked up eight consecutive seasons with at least 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBI. No, he didn't maintain that pace, but since no one had ever put together more than four such seasons consecutively before, why should we expect it from him? (Jeff Bagwell later had six.) And that streak includes not one but two strike-shortened seasons, making it all the more impressive.

Thomas made five All-Star Games in that span, and won two MVP Awards, in 1993 and 1994. He's also finished in the top ten in the MVP voting seven other times, finishing 4th at the age of 38, and 15th one other time. Only a dozen players in history have amassed more MVP shares than Thomas, and they're all in the Hall, except Bonds, Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. Those guys all won at least three MVPs and are not yet eligible because they're either still active or too recently retired ot have come up for the vote.

For that matter, 12 of the next 13 players on that list after Thomas are also in the Hall, and the 13th is Pete Rose. (I guess 13 isn't his lucky number.) Only three of the next 25 or so elligible players have not been elected, and Thomas is obviously far above them. In short, anyone considered so frequently and so seriously as the MVP of his league is by definition a Hall of Famer.

Thomas was one of the greatest hitters in history over the course of his career, though as Rob Neyer points out, "only" about the 45th greatest player, given what a lousy defender and baserunner he proved to be. But still, 45th out of something like a bajillion players? That's pretty rarefied air. But if he isn't elected to the Hall of Fame when his time comes? That would really be a Big Hurt.

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02 February 2010

Is Ryan Howard the Greatest Slugger in Phillies History?

Metro is a newspaper given out for free in some of the larger cities in the northeast. It's a short paper, intentionally so as it's usually read on on public transportation, and therefore rarely gets more than half an hour of attention from any one reader. Most of its stories lack any real depth of insight and given the youth of most of its staff, any real perspective on life. I usually don't bother with it, but as I happened to have nothing better to read on the train on the way to work (and really, how much Tetris Mania can one man play on his phone?) I decided to peruse the rag.

What I found both shocked and appalled me.

Angelo Cataldi is a talking head on Philadelphia's WIP radio, and he fills a few inches of space in the sports columns for Metro on occasion. Among his offerings today is a brief column entitled "Which Phillie is Werth it?", addressing the need for Philadelphia Phillies' GM Reuben Amaro, Jr. to decide whether he will sign OF Jayson Werth after the 2010 season ends and he becomes a free agent, or save his money and wait for 2011 to re-sign 1B Ryan Howard.

Cataldi unfortunately doesn't conclude anything, but remarks that his radio show callers apparently preferred Werth, though he does not indicate whether it was presented to them as an either/or decision or a both/and. This was not the shocking or appalling part.

Buried in the middle of this largely pointless column is this little gem of revisionist history:

"[Ryan] Howard is a superstar.

Already, he is the best power hitter the Phillies have ever had — and don’t forget that a fellow named Mike Schmidt once played here."


That's a huge statement to just throw into the middle of a couple of paragraphs on impending free agency, don't you think? Is Ryan Howard really "the best power hitter the Phillies have ever had"? Can you seriously dismiss Mike Schmidt so easily?

By the end of his age 29 season, Schmidt had three National League HR titles (to Howard's two) and had led the NL in slugging percentage once already, something Howard has never done. While he had not yet won an MVP award at this age, Schmidt would go on to win three of them, as many as anybody had ever won before Barry Bonds and his friendly, neighborhood steroid dealer came along.

Howard has one MVP already, but probably won't ever win another. For that matter, even the one he has probably should have gone to Albert Pujols, who was a slightly better hitter and a much better fielder at the same position in 2006. But most of the BBWAA writers like home runs and RBIs the way monkeys like shiny objects, so, Howard has an MVP award. Congrats.

At this age, Schmidt had more of everything - more home runs, doubles, triples, RBIs, runs scored, hits, a LOT more walks - and all of that in an era when power hitting was not such a cheap commodity. Much of that difference is because Schmidt was talented enough to get into the lineup two years earlier than Howard did, though it helped that he wasn't being blocked by Jim Thome, as Howard was. Schmidt was also talented enough to stick around for another ten years after his age 29 season, a lot longer than the generously-proportioned Howard probably will.

Schmidt would go on to lead his league in home runs eight times, more than anybody in history not named "Babe Ruth". He led the NL in slugging and OPS five times each, in adjusted OPS six times, in walks and RBIs four times each, in OBP and total bases three times each, in intentional walks twice and even once in runs scored.

By contrast, Howard has those two HR titles, three RBI crowns (which depend largely on how many baserunners happen to get on base in front of you), and one time leading the NL in total bases. That's it.

And as far as his accomplishments as a Phillie, Howard has amassed only 222 career home runs. Don't you think he should set his sights on Pat Burrell (251) before he takes aim at Mike Schmidt (548)?

Howard does have a slightly higher career slugging percentage (.586) than Schmidt (.527), but then when you adjust for the eras and ballparks in which they played, Schmidt has the higher career OPS+, 147 to 142. Put Mike Schmidt's bat in Philadelphia in the 2000's and he would hit almost 650 homers, according to baseball-reference.com's era translator. If Howard plays ten more years, as Schmidt did, his rate stats are bound to drop off a bit.

It seems to me that sports fans, as a rule, tend toward one or the other extreme when comparing current players to those of eras past. Either they think that the players of yesteryear were much better than today's players, an error rooted mostly in nostalgia and the fact that they were like eight years old when they first saw those guys play*, or they assume that today's players are much better, an error rooted in misunderstanding the ways in which the game has changed over the years. I would have guessed that Cataldi would be prone to the former, given that he's almost 60 years old, but alas, he seems to have lost the perspective that all his years should have afforded him.

*Sort of like when you recall those great, big cookies your grandma used to make when you were a kid, but then you see them as an adult and they're about the size of a silver dollar, it turns out. Or maybe that's just me.

Don't get me wrong here. Ryan Howard is a great player, and the Phillies would be fools not to re-sign him when his contract is up. He's had a pretty nice run, but he's had roughly one-third of Mike Schmidt's career so far. Let's not relegate the greatest third baseman who ever lived, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and the best and most prolific slugger in Philadelphia history to second fiddle just yet.

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20 January 2010

San Francisco Giants get Bengie Molina for a Bargain

Let's get this out of the way right now: Bengie Molina is not a bad baseball player.

Granted, he's not great. But he is good.

The news out of Bay City this morning is that erstwhile Giants' catcher Bengie Molina will also be the future Giants' catcher, at least for 2010. Having spurned a similar offer from the Mets, where a lot of people expected him to wind up, he's returning to the safety (and relative non-dysfunctionality) of San Francisco. ESPN is reporting that he's signed a one-year deal for $4.5 million, and apparently no buy-out or vesting options (as the Mets had offered), though there are incentives for up to another million and a half dollars based on playing time.

The Giants had reportedly lost out on the chance to re-sign Molina, as GM Brian Sabean said after the winter meetings in December, but this sudden news obviously negates all of that. Perhaps Molina saw the difficulty the Mets are having replacing their departed free agents, or started thinking more seriously about all the bizarre stuff that seems to happen there. Perhaps he remembered his career .130 batting average at Shea Stadium, and forgot that they don't play there anymore. Perhaps he feared living up to the high standard for Molina catchers in New York put up there by his kid brother...no matter. That's all ancient history now.

The thing I don't get is why Giants' fans are so upset about this. McCovey Chronicles has a fairly hilarious take on it (H/T to Rob Neyer), and Brian Sabean has done some pretty dumb things in his tenure as General Manager there, but I'm not sure this is one of them. The argument against the signing is that Molina's not a very good hitter and he's a terrible baserunner (so much so that commenters on a Joe Posnanski blog post once suggested that slowness could be measured in "Molinas"). But the reality is that Molina's not so terrible, and neither is the deal. In any case, somebody has to catch the ball, right?

The supposed plan was to use rookie Buster Posey as the Giants' starting catcher, but Sabean had second thoughts, or at least managed to convince Molina that there was nothing better out there (i.e. a multi-year deal). I suppose the fans are upset because they were looking forward to their wunderkind backstop, much as another team's fans, also wearing orange and black but 3,000 miles away, were looking forward to Matt Wieters at this time last year.

For his part, Wieters struggled in his first few months in the majors, hitting just .259/.316/.407 before the All-Star Break,before finding his stroke in the second half (.301/.351/.415). Overall, he was just an average major league hitter, which is pretty good for any rookie, much less a catcher. But he was far from the second coming of Mike Piazza that the pundits expected.

And Posey's projections for 2010 aren't even as good as Wieters' were for 2009. FanGraphs suggests that Posey could put up an OPS in the neighborhood of about .740 next season, though it's worth noting that he's got only about 40 games of experience above high-A ball. Compared to Molina's projection of about a .720 OPS, based on more than a decade of MLB service, the difference is all but negligible.

Granted, at just 22 years old, Posey's got a lot more upside, and the additional $4 million they'll have to pay Molina isn't negligible, but for a major league team, it's close enough. If Molina's suddenly a live option, at least for 2010, better to put off Posey's promotion for all or part of a year and give him a good chance to adjust to the majors than to rush him in and risk ruining one of the game's best prospects.

And this is where my initial statement, about Molina not being such a bad player, comes in. According to FanGraphs, Bengie was worth $8.1 million in 2009...and made "only" $6.5 million. This year they expect him to be worth between six and seven million dollars, depending on whose projections you want to believe, and he will again make about a million dollars less than that. This, my friends, is the very definition of a bargain.

Is he the best catcher in the majors? No, not by a long shot.

But was he the best catcher available? Yes. By an even longer shot.

He's as slow as pond water on the bases, on the rare opportunities he has to "run" them, because he only takes an unintentional walk about once every three weeks. But he does hit for a modest batting average and has enough pop in his bat to keep pitchers somewhat honest. He seems to call a good game, though his ability to catch would-be base stealers is less than stellar. Still, with a staff that doesn't allow a lot of baserunners and strikes a lot of men out, this is not such a big deal.

Take a look at the alternatives:

Brad Ausmus, Age 40

Positive: Posted his first OPS above .700 for a season since Y2K!
Negative: Needed a week off between starts to do it.

Ausmus has been the archetype for the good-field, no-hit catcher for more than a decade, surviving on his supposedly legendary pitch calling ability, his tenacity as a competitor and his "brains" (which Ausmus himself admits is a nice way of saying that he can't hit) for far longer than anyone would have guessed. He gives hope to all the Dusty Ryans and Francisco Cervellis of the world.

But he's old. He can't hit. He can't catch often anymore. He's not an option for the Giants.

Paul Bako, age 37

In his first two seasons in the majors, he was a semi-regular and posted a combined .690 OPS in 580 plate appearances, a useful amount of production out of a backup catcher. But in the 10 years and more than 600 games he's played since, he's hit .220/.299/.307. The only other players who have appeared in at least 600 games in that span without hitting better are John McDonald, a defensive wiz who plays three infield positions, and seven relief pitchers.

Jose Molina, age 34

A year younger than his brother, but can't hit even more (less?) than Ausmus can't, and never could. He parlayed a couple of months of hitting a little bit while backing up Jorge Posada into an extra two years with the Yankees, and has a World Series ring for his efforts, but doesn't have a clue with the bat or any business starting regularly for a major league team.

Yorvit Torrealba, age 31

Not so old, and seemingly better with the bat than some of the other options, except that his home road splits during his time in Colorado suggest that he's really just as bad, if not worse. His road OPS from 2006-2009 is about .650, which would make him one of the half dozen or so worst hitters in the majors if he got enough playing time.

Rumors are now that the Mets may sign him. That makes sense.

Shawn Riggans, age 29

The youngest of the group, and he's not all that young. He's hit around the Mendoza Line in parts of four seasons with the Rays, and his minor league numbers are unimpressive.

Rod Barajas, age 34

Barajas is Bengie Molina without the "batting average". He's almost the same age, hits a few homers, doesn't walk and doesn't run, though he can at least keep base swipers in check, having caught about one out of every three who ran on him in 2009, 4th best in the majors. there's no particular reason to choose him over Molina, especially considering that Molina has a relationship with the team already.

And that's it, really. Those are the free agents, and there's really nobody on the trading block at the moment who can catch. Sure, Posey will be very good, eventually, but probably not this year. He had about 150 at-bats at AAA last year, and that's it. A little more seasoning certainly won't hurt him, but forcing him into a starting role on the sport's biggest stage might.

The Giants are inexplicable contenders in 2010, and don't want to risk that, and surely don't want to risk Posey's future if they can lean on Molina for another year. They finished 88-74 in 2009, and were within a couple of games of the Wild Card lead in mid-September. The team's got some stiff competition with the Dodgers and Rockies in their division, but with their pitching, they could make a run.

The offense, though, was atrocious in 2009. The team's ranks in OPS at each position in 2009:

C: 16th
1B: 26th
2B: 29th
3B: 1st
SS: 21st
LF: 22nd
RF: 28th
CF: 19th

That's seven of eight positions where the team's hitters overall were below average, including Molina, who's just barely below average. Actually, he posted a .711 OPS and the NL average was .709, so he's a shade above the mean. Aubrey Huff isn't great, but he hit only .260 on balls he put in play in 2009, and should therefore bounce back a bit himself. Keeping Molina should at least maintain their position at catcher.

But the rest of the team, outside of Kung Fu Panda, was atrocious. In 2010, with a whole year of the flawed-but-useful Freddy Sanchez instead of Emmanuel Burriss, a full year of Mark DeRosa instead of Eugenio Velez, Fred Lewis and Randy Winn, they should be improved in two positions. Nate Schierholtz always hit well in the minors and will be 26, so he looks like he could improve. Edgar Renteria was supposedly hurt last year, and therefore could bounce back a bit himself.

A few runs here, a few runs there...and maybe the Giants can give the Rockies a run for their money, if not the Dodgers. In 2010, at least, Molina will help them to that end more than he will hurt them.

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05 January 2010

Jon Heyman's Wacky World of Hall of Fame "Logic"

Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman tweeted a couple of weeks ago that he voted for Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, and Roberto Alomar. At the time it struck me as the kind of list you'd see from someone who had not really looked at the numbers very closely, or if he didn, hadn't really understood them. I didn't write about it because that sort of thing happens all the time, so it's not really news.

To Heyman's credit, he at least puts his votes out there for public consumption and then even defends them against his detractors, which is noble if not effective in swaying public opinion. The trouble is that heyman, like most people in his position, simply appears to have made his decisions and then looked for evidence to back them up, as opposed to the reverse of that, which would be better. Today, Rob Neyer has has highlighted Heyman's convoluted argument for refsing to vote for Bert Blyleven. As best as I can tell, Heyman's criteria go as follows:

  • Apparently, if you were some kind of icon in the 1980's for a while, he'll vote for you, especially if you won an MVP award. Unless you're Dale Murphy.
  • If you were an overrated, stats-compiling power hitter for more than 20 years, he'll vote for you, especially if you had some of your best years in Chicago. Unless you're Harold Baines.
  • If you were a really good middle infielder who hit for average and power, played great defense, stole bases and led teams to the playoffs and a World Series championship, he'll vote for you. Unless you're Alan Trammell.
  • If you won a couple of batting titles, made seven all star teams and hit for good but not great power for almost 20 years but had a couple of injury-plagued seasons in the prime of your career that kept your career totals down, he'll vote for you. Unless you're Edgar Martinez.
  • If you were a very good, sometimes great pitcher for a long time, he'll vote for you, especially if you helped your teams to win a couple of championships, even if you never won the Cy Young. Unless you're Bert Blyleven.
  • If you were the second greatest lead-off man and base stealer in history, he won't vote for you, Tim Raines. (Though he admits that he's "on the verge of being convinced.")
  • If you were a prolific, power hitting firstbaseman in the Steroid Era, he won't vote for you either, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, or Andres Galaragga, even if you have better career numbers than Mattingly and Parker. Which you do.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of Heyman's criteria, which are consistently inconsistent, as you can see. The best I can tell is that if he thought you were a Hall of Famer when you were playing, then he'll vote for you now. That explains Mattingly, Dawson, Parker and Morris, but the absence of Dale Murphy is curious.

He seems to appreciate that a guy doesn't have to get 3,000 hits to belong the Hall, and he votes for Alomar and Larkin who were both excellent hitters and defenders at two of the toughest positions on the field for a pretty long time. Both were better than Trammell, but not that much better. He clearly doesn't hold Parker's role in the early 1980's cocaine scandal against him, but then he doesn't vote for Raines either, and Raines was a much more valuable commodity over the course of his career.

In the article that Neyer refers to, Heyman compares Blyleven to Harold Baines, who we both agree does not belong in the Hall. On the coincidence that they both fell about 4% short of one of the magic numbers (3,000 hits or 300 Wins) Heyman declares them equal and therefore equally unworthy of induction, all the while ignoring piles of other useful information that suggests that they're really quite different. Without rehashing my old arguments, you can see what I think about Baines and Blyleven here and here, respectively.

I guess that players who hang on and try to contribute even when the skills of their youth have clearly eroded are less Hall-worthy than those who simply curl up and disappear around age 35 or so. And players who are really, really good for a short while are more desirable than players who are just really good for a really long time. Even that doesn't fully explain his votes, though, and I imagine that even Heyman's mind doesn't totally understand Heyman's mind on this subject, as his criteria must have to shift frequently depending on which vote (or lack of vote) he's defending.

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21 December 2009

The December 20th All-Birthday Team, 2009 Version

I have posted this column in some form several times over the years, but thanks to the fact that time marches on, I can actually improve my December 20th All-Birthday Team by incorporating some recent seasons from players who share that date. Let's see how much better my team looks as 2009 draws to a close...

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

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

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

Starting Lineup PA Avg OBP SLG R HR RBI SB OPS+
C G. Hartnett (1930) 578 .339 .404 .630 84 37 122 0 144
1B C. Cooper (1980) 678 .352 .387 .539 96 25 122 17 155
2B J. Williams (1899) 689 .355 .417 .532 126 9 116 26 159
3B D. Wright (2007*) 711 .325 .416 .546 113 30 107 34 150
OF O. Gamble (1977) 470 .297 .386 .588 75 31 83 1 162
OF H. Stovey (1889) 634 .308 .393 .525 152 19 119 63 161
OF D. DeJesus (2008*) 577 .307 .366 .452 70 12 73 11 118
DH A. Huff (2003) 706 .311 .367 .555 91 34 107 2 139
*David Of Jesus had his best year in 2008, according to adjusted OPS, so we've replaced 2007's campaign with it, even though it's about 130 plate appearances shorter. We've haven't got a great bench, but the pitching will be much improved with this iteration, so I think we can compensate for the lost plate appearances with defensive substitutions. More on this later. Also, in case you're curious, Aubrey Huff's 2008 performance (.304/32/108) was almost exactly as good as his 2003, but we got a few more games and plate appearances from 2003, not to mention a slightly higher adjusted OPS, so I decided to stick with what I had.

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

I'll probably hit 2B Jimmy Williams, not to be confused with Jimy (one-M) Williams, erstwhile manager of the Red Sox and Astros, as he has the highest OBP. Though it may seem like he didn't hit for power, those nine homers tied him for 3rd in the NL in 1899, Williams' rookie season.

Harry Stovey will hit in the #2 spot, as he gets on base and has plenty of speed, with 63 steals, which were good for 10th in the American Association in 1889, tied with Hall of Famer Bid McPhee and Tommy "Foghorn" Tucker, but well behind league leader "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's 111 base swipes. Unfortunately Hamilton was born in February, so he can't help us. (Stovey also led the 1889 AA in Slugging %, Homers, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Runs, RBI and was among the league leaders in several other categories that year, one of the last for the American Association, which folded after 1891.

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

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

    Bench                PA   Avg   OBP   SLG    R   HR  RBI   SB  OPS+  
C B. Rickey (1906) 226 .284 .345 .393 22 3 24 4 135
IF P. Baumann (1915) 260 .292 .380 .388 30 2 28 9 130
IF A. Ojeda (2009*) 309 .246 .340 .345 38 1 16 3 76
OF J. Norris (1977) 517 .270 .360 .364 59 2 37 26 101
OF J. Manning (1876) 295 .264 .281 .330 52 2 25 0 101

*Augie Ojeda's season has been replaced with his most recent work. He still can't really "hit", but he manages to eek out a double once in a while, walks more often than he whiffs (32 to 28) and can play second, third or short, as needed. He's got a couple of hundred extra plate appearances in 2009 than he did in 2007, which compensates for the playing time missed by DeJesus. Sort of.

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

Branch Rickey will become the first Player/Manager/General Manager in history, making trades from the bench. And speaking of trades...

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

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

More likely I'll just have to press Merkle into service as the shortstop. He was generally described as an agile firstbaseman and was not a hulk of a man, though at six feet, 190 lbs, he was a bit large for his day. Hopefully he doesn't make any bonehead plays there.

I was tempted to put Snooks Dowd on the team because he attended Lehigh University, like me, and because a team with a Spud, a Branch, a Gabby, an Augie, a Butch and a Paddy could use a Snooks as well, if only to make it entertaining to watch them lose. But alas, Snooks had only three hits in 18 career plate appearances, and would therefore be a waste of a roster spot.

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

       Rotation            W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+
SP G. Pipgras (1928) 24 13 3 3.38 300.7 103 139 111
SP J. DeLeon (1989) 16 12 0 3.05 244.7 80 201 119
SP J. Shields (2008*) 14 8 0 3.56 215.0 40 160 124
SP B. Laskey (1982) 13 12 0 3.14 189.3 43 88 115
SP J. Manning (1876) 18 5 5 2.14 197.3 32 24 105

*James Shields was just slightly better in 2008 than he had been in 2007, including tying for the AL lead with two shutouts, so we've updated his line. He also pitched reasonably well in the playoffs, though he went 0-2.

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

George Pipgras had his best season in 1928, leading the AL in starts, Wins, Innings, Hits allowed and batters faced. Pipgras was one of many players who were traded to the Yankees from the Red Sox in those days and who promptly became, if not a star, then at least a very useful regular. Naturally, when his usefulness was all but expended, the Yankees sold him back to Boston for a hundred grand.

Jose DeLeon -well, if it weren't for bad luck, he'd have none at all. He started his career with the Pirates, four years after they won the World Series, and led the NL with 19 losses in 1985. He's traded to the White Sox in 1986 - three years after their last division title - and endures the rest of a 90-loss season with future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Carlton Fisk, who are, alas, no longer great. Teammates Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams will have to wait to be Field Manager and General Manager, respectively, before they will see a championship.

DeLeon is traded to the Cardinals before the 1988 season, three years after their last pennant, and pitches well in a couple of lackluster seasons before again losing an NL-leading 19 games (of the Cards' 92 losses) in 1990. When he's released in 1992, it's the last-place Phillies who pick him up, of course. But before he can go to the World Series with the Phils in 1993, they trade him back to the Pale Hose, for reclamation project and former teammate Bobby Thigpen. He pitches well for the White Sox in a losing effort in the ALCS in 1993, and pitches even better in 1994, but misses the playoffs because of the Strike.

He falls apart in 1995, and is exiled to Montreal, a year after they were leading their division, and pitches a handful of poor innings before his major league career ends. Obviously, we used his best work, but with his luck, his very presence on this team could doom the rest of us to failure.

I don't know much about Bill Laskey, except that his rookie year was his best work - really his only good season - so I used that.

       Bullpen              W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+
SP P. Moskau (1980) 9 7 2 4.01 152.7 41 94 89
RP M. Valdes (1997) 4 4 2 3.13 95.0 39 54 135
RP V. Colbert (1971) 7 6 2 3.97 142.7 71 74 97
SP/RP D. Pfister (1962) 4 14 1 4.54 196.3 106 123 92
SP/RP C. Narveson (2009*) 2 0 0 3.83 47.0 16 46 105

*Narveson is a new addition, after a decent season as a swing man for the Brewers this year. He's a lefty, but not a LOOGy, as he had a bizarre reverse split, allowing a .313 opposing batting average to lefties, but holding righties to only .224. In any case, he's still pretty useful in a limited role, and we've got the roster space.

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

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

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15 October 2009

2009 ALCS Preview: Yankees vs. Angels

The Yankees easily dispatched the Minnesota Twins last week, but they've got their work cut out for them in facing the LAnahfornia Angels of WhereEver in the American league Championship Series.

Compare/Contrast with the Minnesota Twins:

The Angels finished a close second to the Yankees in run scoring this year, with 5.45 runs per game, compared to 5.65 for the Yankees. Minnesota had scored 5.01 runs per game, but they did so in a pitchers' park, while both LAnahfornia and New York played their home games in hitters' parks, so Minnesota actually had a slightly better adjusted OPS than the Angels, 109 compared to 104. The Yankees' 119 OPS+ easily led all of MLB.

Of course, the fact that Justin Morneau was unavailable for the postseason after having provided 30 homers and 100 RBIs toward the Twins' offense during the season probably puts the Angels roughly on par with the Twins for our purposes. The Angels stole a lot more bases, but otherwise, the net result was about the same.

In terms of pitching, it would seem that the Twins and Angels were very similar as well, given that both teams allowed about 4.7 runs per game (4.69 for the Twins), and had ERAs that were very close (4.50 for the Angels, 4.45 for Minnesota). Again, however, the ballparks skew these numbers, so that the Twins's adjusted ERA+ was only 92, well below the league average, while the Angels were a tick above average, at 102.

Starting Pitching:


The Angels and Yankees' starters overall had composite ERAs very close to each other, 4.44 for the Angels, 4.48 for New York, but those overall numbers ignore the fact that this Angels' pitching staff is not the same one that started the year. Gone are Sean O'Sullivan, Shane Loux, Trevor Bell, Anthony Ortega and Dustin Moseley, who combined for a 6.51 ERA in 26 starts this year. Sixteen of those 26 starts went to two pitchers (Bell and O'Sullivan) who had never pitched above High-A ball before the start of the 2009 season, and it showed.

And though he isn't "gone", Ervin Santana and his 5.03 ERA are banished to the bullpen and replaced in the rotation by lefty import Scott Kazmir, who has generally pitched well against the Yankees (2.67 ERA in 87 career innings). Kazmir compiled a 1.73 ERA in six late season starts for the Angels, though he got knocked around by the Red Sox in his lone postseason start this year, and is not known for his stamina.


Everyone knows that the Yankees plan to use a three-man rotation for the ALCS, with CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte the three named men. Joba Chamberlain is relegated to bullpen duty, where he has excelled throughout his major league career, though he's done little of that kind of work in 2009. If all goes to plan, the only one who will need to pitch on short rest is CC Sabathia, and if he falters, Joba should be able to step up and blow it by the Angels' hitters for a couple of innings to bridge the gap to the usual bullpen suspects.

The Yankees struggled to find an effective 5th starter all year, which skews the team's starter ERA way up, mostly due to Chien-Ming Wang and Sergio Mitre, who won't pitch against LAnahfornia.

The composite stats for the starters who are expected to pitch in this series are as follows:

Team     W   L   ERA  ERA+   G    IP   WHIP    H/9   HR/9   BB/9   SO/9
Angels 53 32 4.22 109 117 721.2 1.33 9.04 1.10 2.96 6.63
Yanks 46 25 3.83 117 99 631.2 1.30 8.30 0.90 3.42 7.70

The Yankees' numbers here are for just three starters, but they do have a notable edge in most areas, except walks per nine. (If you use only Scott Kazmir's work as an Angel the teams are almost dead even, but then why would we want to throw out his deeds in the first two-thirds of the season simply because he didn't have a big "A" on his hat when he compiled them?)

Overall you'd have to say the Yankees have an edge here, if only a slight one, which may be negated by the fact that CC will have to pitch on short rest.


If the Yankees can get to Kazmir (or any of the Angels' starters) early, their hitters should be able to feast on their relatively soft bullpen, which was 23rd among the 30 MLB teams in ERA, while the Yankees bullpen compiled a 3.91 ERA that was good for 13th in MLB. These, again, are numbers skewed by pitchers who are not on the ALCS rosters. The relevant pitchers' composite numbers are:

Team     W   L   ERA   SV   IP    ERA+  WHIP   H/9   HR/9   BB/9   SO/9
Angels 37 21 4.12 50 509.1 116 1.34 8.61 0.99 3.48 7.12
Yanks 39 20 3.81 51 552.2 117 1.25 7.95 1.14 3.27 8.62

Here the Yankees have advantages in almost every category> The difference in homers allowed is probably mostly due to the New Yankee Stadium's bizarre performance early in the year, but in all honesty, I did not check on that.

These numbers include Joba's stats for the Yankees and those of Ervin Santana for the Angels, each of whom should be considerably better when restricted to relief duties. It's worth noting that Santana has made only three relief appearances in his four-year major league career, plus two in the postseason, with mixed results, but there's no reason to think he can't adjust to the role.

Overall I'd have to give the edge to the Yankees' bullpen, who are more likely to get a key strikeout in a big spot and do a slightly better job of keeping guys off base.


I don't have to tell you that the Yankees led the major leagues in run scoring this season, not to mention homers, OBP, Slugging, OPS and OPS+. The Angels were not far behind the Yankees in runs scored, but they accomplished this, as they seemingly always do, more with timely hitting than with sheer brute strength, like the Yankees.

The Yankees got men on base better than any team in baseball and just took their chances at getting timely hitting. The Angels did a decent job of getting men on base (they were 3rd in MLB in on base percentage, thanks mostly to Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins, who nearly doubled his walk rate this year). But then the Angels hit .297 with runners in scoring position, compared to just .272 for the Yankees. Whether that pace is maintainable is anybody's guess, but in any case, the Angels know how to score runs.

Neither team really has any holes in its lineup, either. The Yankees famously got 20+ homers from seven different players, with another 18 from Derek Jeter and more than a dozen from melky Cabrera. Every starter on both teams hit at least .270 except Nick Swisher, who was 2nd in the AL with 97 walks, providing for a respectable .371 OBP. The Yankees have both speed and power on the bench, too, as Brett Gardner and his 26 steals and Eric Hinske's .512 slugging percentage will attest.

Everyone in the Angels' lineup hit between .287 and .306 except Mike Napoli, who hit .272 and smacked 20 homers in only 114 games. Despite all the talk you've heard about how Abreu made the team more patient this year, nobody besides him and Chone Figgins really likes to walk much. They've got some power, but Vlad Guerrero isn't the threat he once was and Kendry Morales is the only player in their lineup with more than 25 homers. As a team, they were just 8th in homers, though they were 4th in slugging percentage. The Angels can bring in Macier Isturis off their bench, who hit .300 and stole a baker's dozen worth of bases, but the bench gets pretty thin after that.

Again, the advantage seems to be with New York, but a few timely hits by the Angels could negate a lot of patience and brute strength on the part of the bronx Bombers.


The Yankees split the 10 games they played against the Angels this year, but their 5-5 record belies how badly the Yankees played in many of those games.

      R  2B  3B  HR  SB  CS   BA    OBP   SLG  OPS  BAbip
ANA 65 18 5 9 17 7 .315 .386 .473 859 .363
NYY 55 15 1 15 9 0 .272 .355 .456 811 .291

Other than hitting more homers than the Angels, the Yankees were out-hit in just about every respect. Both teams walked and struck out at about the same rates, but the Angels hit more singles, doubles and triples, hit for a higher average, and stole a lot more bases. Of course, getting caught seven times in 24 tries essentially negated the value of the 17 bases they stole, at least on paper.

In reality, it wasn't quite so cut and dried. The conventional wisdom is that the Angels' speed and Jorge Posada's sub-par arm will allow LAnahfornia to run all over the Yankees, but I'm not so sure about this. Looking back at the season series, I see little indication that the Angels are truly great base stealers. In fact, when you look at all 25 times they tried a steal, they actually succeeded in scoring a meaningful run just one time.


Let me explain:

Among those seven times caught stealing (plus one pick-off of Torii Hunter, courtesy of Andy Pettitte's infamous move to first) five of them resulted in the third out of an inning. Three of those eight times (including the pick-off) came in games that were decided by one run. The Angels may have run themselves right out of three wins.

Even among the 17 successful steals, only five of them clearly helped the Angels. The rest of the steals either resulted in a runner being stranded on 2nd or third, or the runner scoring on a homer, which would have occurred regardless of the base the runner had been on at the time. And of the five that "helped", only one occurred in a game decided by fewer than three runs.

You see, the running game is not nearly so important as some would have you think. For one thing, steals are not always successful. When a base stealer fails, or even if a runner gets picked off, you lose both a baserunner and an out, which compromises anything that might have been done that inning. Even when a rally isn't killed by getting caught stealing, it can certainly be suppressed somewhat. And even when a steal is both successful and results in a run, it is not always a run that's needed to win.

So even if the Angels do manage to wreak havoc on the basepaths - and with all the rain in New York this weekend, it's hard to imagine that - it won't necessarily lead to victory. So what else have they got going for them?

Well, overall, in the ten games they played against New York, they hit quite a bit better, as I mentioned. The most glaring difference is that the Angels hit .363 - more than 70 points higher than the Yankees - when they put the ball in play, easily the highest BABIP mark by any Yankee opponent this year, and considerably better than the Angels' season mark of .322. Given that the league averaged .300 this year, it's possible that we could see some regression to the mean, but a short playoff series doesn't always allow for the time needed for such regressions.

The Yankees allowed a 6.28 ERA to the Angels in their ten games this year, and though an optimist might point out that a lot of the runs they allowed were given up by the likes of Mark Melancon, Brian Bruney and Jose Veras, players who are not on the Yankees' ALCS roster. The pitchers who might pitch in the Series, however, combined to allow the Angels a still unimpressive 5.89 ERA. Not a good sign.

Meanwhile, the Angels' pitchers allowed a 5.28 ERA against the 2009 Yankees in the regular season, but when you eliminate the runs allowed by Anthony Ortega, Justin Speier and others who aren't on the postseason roster, that number comes down to a more respectable 4.52, which is pretty darn good when you consider that the Yankees averaged 5.65 runs per game overall.

In short, looking at the teams' overall numbers seems to show an advantage for the Yankees at almost every turn. Looking at just their head-to-head stats, the Angels appear to be better, but those were only 10 games out of 162, so I'm not willing to lend them so much credence.

My best guess is that the Yankees win it in 6, with at least four of the games being decided by two runs or fewer. It's going to be a great series.

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