June 30, 2007

Santana vs Verlander

Great pitching matchup in Detroit yesterday: Johan Santana vs. Justin Verlander. The Twins won fairly easily, 11-1, as Verlander had one of his worst outings of the season (although he was really good for a few innings) and Santana pitched like he always does. Santana's record is a respectable 9-6, but the Twins have scored three runs or less for him in 10 of his 17 starts so far, which is why his win total isn't higher. Santana's the best pitcher in the game today; here's a recap of some random things I noticed about him in this start:

Santana threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, but that wasn't really his fault; he faced five hitters and threw only seven balls. His high pitch total (25) was more due to the fact that guys like Polanco and Guillen were fouling off lots of pitches. Santana did give up two singles to right field; Polanco's was on a fastball up in the zone, and Sheffield's was just a great piece of hitting on a changeup away.

Then, in the second inning, Santana was apparently trying to keep his pitch count down and just throw strikes, as every pitch that inning was a fastball. It worked, too; he sent Pudge, Craig Monroe, and Marcus Thames down in order on only eight pitches. He was lucky to be facing poor hitters, though; both Monroe and Thames saw good pitches up in the zone, but each managed no more than a flyout. Santana resumed mixing in his off-speed after that, although he all but abandoned his slider after the fourth.

Santana's changeup is arguably the best pitch in all of baseball, but he didn't seem to be using it as often as usual. He was throwing more fastballs, but he was still effective. His fastball must have a lot of movement, because the Tigers were fouling a lot of his pitches straight back (meaning they were timing it okay, but couldn't make clean contact). He didn't really have very good command of his slider when he was throwing it, putting it in the strike zone only three of nine times.

Santana's fastball was in the 93-94 range all day, though I've been skeptical of Comerica Park velocity readings ever since last postseason, when all the Tigers pitchers mysteriously added three mph to their fastball. I seem to remember him being more in the 91-92 range when I saw him at the Metrodome last summer. Regardless, his fastball-change combo is very effective, as he takes a good 10 mph off his change (consistantly at 83).

The thing I would be worried about is that Santana was leaving way too many fastballs up in the zone; his change and slider were mostly down, but his fastball was often above the belt. Polanco put one of his fastballs over the left-field fence, and Guillen and Thames each hit warning-track flyballs that might have been homers in another ballpark. I'm guessing this has been fairly common for Santana this season, as his HR rate is at a career high.

As for Verlander...he was great in the second through fourth innings, but he gave up two runs in the first and four in the fifth. In both cases, control was the issue. Verlander walked Jason Bartlett and Joe Mauer in the first to load the bases; Bartlett and Luis Castillo both scored that inning. In the fifth, Verlander walked Jason Tyner to lead off the inning, and then walked Castillo and Bartlett to load the bases again, setting the state for a rare Joe Mauer grand slam. Control problems often are among the first signs of pitcher fatigue. Verlander was pulled after five innings, but he still threw 99 pitches because he was so ineffective. I still believe that Verlander will end up on the DL or with a very bad stretch at some point this season, and this start showed why.

A couple other random thoughts:

Boy, Placido Polanco sure is a battler, isn't he? He saw 16 pitches in three at-bats against Santana, ending up with two hits.

Santana sure knows who to pitch to...Sheffield only saw one pitch up in the zone, while Marcus Thames and Nefi Perez got a lot of fastballs at the letters.

Curtis Granderson is one of baseball's better young players, and he probably deserves to be in the All-Star game this year. But one thing he still needs to learn is plate discipline. Granderson saw 16 pitches, swung at 10 of them, and only put one into play (a grounder to first). Granderson saw a lot more off-speed than anybody else, due to his free-swinging nature; there are players who can succeed with this attitude (Vlad, Soriano), but it's pretty rare.

One of the Detroit announcers (don't know which one) said this about Nefi Perez: "When playing everyday, Perez is a very good bunter." Wow! Jim Leyland must be a fool for not playing him due to his bunting skills! Why wouldn't Perez play everyday, so he can become an even better bunter? Oh, right, his .297 career OBP. And his career OPS+ of 63 (100 is league-average). And the fact that bunting is pretty much his only offensive skill, and it's a pretty useless one at that.

June 29, 2007

Around the Horn: AL West

Around the Horn goes through all the teams in a certain division, talking about what they've done right, what they've done wrong, and what they need to do to get better. Usually I'll get to about two divisions a week. Today: the AL West.

Anaheim LA Angels: The Angels aren't the best team in the AL, but they'll probably end up with the best record because they get to play so many games against the AL West, which is a much weaker division top-to-bottom than the East or the Central. If this does happen, it will kind of be a shame, because it will mean the two best teams in the AL (and in all of baseball), in my opinion, will meet in the division series (those two teams being Cleveland and Boston). But, regardless, the Angels are still a really good team, and they are certainly capable of winning 11 games in October if fortune spins their way. The Angels' 49-30 record is the best in baseball, thanks mostly to their stellar play at home (an AL-leading 29-13). Vladimir Guerrero is playing as well as usual, OPSing .989 and driving in 69 runs to date. Casey Kotchman has also played extremely well at first base, also with an OPS above .900, and rookie Reggie Willits has an OBP of .430. Signing Gary Matthews, JR. for 5/50 in the offseason was a terrible idea, but he's actually been pretty good so far. Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins have both missed time this year due to injury, and some of their rookies (I'm looking at you, Eric Aybar) haven't played up to their potential. Kevilm Escobar and John Lackey both have ERAs under 3, and Jered Weaver is following up last year's stellar rookie season with another good year. Ervin Santana's numbers aren't great, but his splits are really interesting - he's 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA at home, but 1-6 with a 7.54 ERA on the road, and what's more, he's had the same splits his entire life. And the Angels have the best bullpen in all of baseball, between Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, and a number of other solid relievers.

There really aren't many fixes that the Angels need; their rotation is pretty solid, and they are one of the two or three teams that doesn't need bullpen help. Their main trading chip at this point is Shea Hillenbrand, who was designated for assignment today. Obviously, they'll get very little in return for him, but the Yankees are interested in the rather mediocre first baseman. The Angels have apparently had discussions about Mark Teixeira and Adam Dunn, for some reason, even though they don't really need a first baseman. I don't really see a whole lot of improvements they can make in their lineup, though if they can pick up a DH cheap they might look into that.

Seattle: Wait a minute - Seattle? What the hell are they doing here? Shouldn't they be at the bottom of this list? The Mariners are a very surprising 42-33 this year, although they're still 5 games back of the Angels and a couple games out of the wild card. But don't let their record fool you - their run differential is that of a .500 team, so they're lucky to be where they are. In addition, most of their players are playing better than they should, so they're not likely to stay at anything close to this pace. Their hitters have been fairly solid up and down the lineup, which is surprising because they don't really have that many good hitters. They view themselves as contenders, and I guess when you're 9 games above .500, you've got to take a shot at the playoffs, but I wouldn't be too optimistic if I were a Mariner fan. Felix Hernandez has been very up-and-down, and Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista have been good starters, but they could certainly use another pitcher or two. Jeff Weaver has pitched like...well, Jeff Weaver, and his ERA is an ugly 7.71. J.J. Putz has been absolutely dominant as the M's closer, and the rest of their bullpen has been surprisingly solid.

The Mariners could certainly use some help in their rotation, and possibly their lineup, but they don't really have anybody that other teams covet. They might try to trade away Jose Guillen, as they have a solid replacement waiting in the wings in Adam Jones, but I'm not sure they could get anything for him. It would make sense to try to trade one of their overachieving relievers in a market that is starved for pitching, but I don't know who exactly would be interested in them, either. They've looked into Mark Buehrle, but I can't imagine they'd be able to come up with an enticing package of prospects for him.

Oakland: The A's have a better run differential than the Mariners, but are just two games above .500 as of today. They definately still have a shot at the playoffs, but they've got a lot of teams to catch if they are to get into the postseason. They've been hit hard by injuries; Rich Harden has ace stuff, but can't stay healthy. But the biggest problem for the A's is an anemic offense. Nick Swisher's .858 OPS has been fine, and Dan Johnson is starting to hit pretty well, as we expected, but the rest of their hitters are just mediocre. Bobby Crosby has a .284 OBP, and Jason Kendall is officially the worst hitter with a starting job in the major leagues - his .513 OPS (.259 SLG!!!) can attest to that. The other half of the game has not been a problem for Oakland - they've allowed the second-fewest runs in the AL (one more than Boston). In a just world, Dan Haren would be your All-Star game starter (we should know on Sunday whether or not that actually happens), with a 1.91 ERA and a WHIP under 1. All of their other regular starting pitchers have ERAs under 4. Their bullpen hasn't been spectacular, but it's been solid. Without any offense, though, they'll probably remain around .500.

The A's just recently cut outfielder Milton Bradley, for reasons not fully explained, and they dealt him to the Padres for reliever Andrew Brown, who should help them some, although they don't really need more pitching. MLB Trade Rumors has also speculated that they might trade Joe Kennedy, who is a free agent after this year, but that's probably unlikely. I don't see Billy Beane making any major moves this year; the A's will probably contend next year if they can pick up a little bit of offense thru free agency, and they don't really have anybody that other teams really covet.

Texas: Can Sammy Sosa just go away now? He's gotten his OBP up to .311 now, but that still isn't really helping the Rangers much. He's still contributing some through his .475 slugging percentage, but the Rangers aren't winning now or anytime in the near future; they need to start giving at-bats to their younger players. (The same can be said for the state's other team; Craig Biggio's been even worse than Sosa this year, and the Astros had some hope of contending at some point this season, though that's all but faded.) Mark Teixeira has been the lone bright spot for Texas, giving them a .959 OPS; Ian Kinsler's given them decent production from second base, but Michael Young isn't having nearly the year he was projected to, and they really haven't gotten a whole lot of offense from anywhere else. The bigger problem is their pitching; they've given up the second-most runs in all of baseball (only Tampa Bay's been worse), and they don't really have anybody on their team who has been underachieving - their pitchers just aren't any good. One would like to think that Brandon McCarthy (acquired from the White Sox this winter) at least has potential, but his ERA is 5.90 so far, and that's the lowest of any Rangers starter. Their bullpen's been okay, but not all that great.

Who do the Rangers move? Anybody that someone else wants. Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka have been pretty good coming out of the bullpen, and a number of teams (especially the Indians, who have some history of trading with Texas) have interest in both pitchers. Mark Teixeira is the best hitter on the market, but a deal for a hitter of his ability midseason seems somewhat unlikely (see Alfonso Soriano last year); they'll probably have more luck shopping him during the offseason. The Dodgers have interest in Teix, and they have the prospects to get a deal done, but they won't want to give up most of their young players.

June 27, 2007

Mark Buehrle: Rumors Flying...

The news on Mark Buehrle is all over the place today...I don't even know where to begin.

First off, Boston being the frontrunner for Buehrle was never actually the case; apparently, it was planted by the White Sox front office. I do believe the Red Sox looked into trading for him, at least when Schilling hit the DL, but there was no way a deal between the two teams was ever actually getting made.

This morning, MLB Trade Rumors reported that Buehrle was close to signing a four-year, $50 million deal. Personally, I think that would actually be a good signing by the ChiSox; it's true that Buehrle isn't an ace or even a #2 starter, but in this market, experienced #3 starters make eight figures a year. Buehrle probably won't succeed late into his career, as his K rate is already really low, but keeping the contract relatively short helps that. It'll be paying a little more than what you'll actually get, but that's what you have to do. Apparently PECOTA isn't as optimistic about this deal from the team's point of view, though...

But this evening, some more confusion was created; MLBTR again wrote that the two parties were nowhere near as close to agreeing on an extension as some thought. 4/50 did seem kind of cheap, given the market we're in; Buehrle could probably get something in the 5/70 range this winter. We'll wait and see if some more information comes out, but right now there really isn't any definitive info to be had.

June 26, 2007

All-Star Voting: National League

Only three days left until the All-Star voting closes...you can still vote on MLB.com. But don't do that just yet - take a minute to read through the following analysis of who you should vote for. I already covered the AL in an earlier post; here's the NL:

Catcher: This one's rather easy. Russell Martin's OPS is almost 100 points higher than anyone else's, and his is just .822. He leads all NL catchers in just about every offensive category (especially steals, where he has about as many as everybody else combined), and he's at least decent defensively. Brian McCann is having kind of a down year, hitting just .256, and there just aren't any other great catchers in the league.

How the voters are doing: Martin is leading the voting, but Paul Lo Duca is within striking distance. Lo Duca, by the way, has a .680 OPS - that's even worse than Brad Ausmus. He has 3 homers and 20 RBI in almost 250 at-bats. The only way he should be a part of the All-Star game is maybe as a catcher in the HR derby.

Who I'm voting for: Russel Martin.

Acceptable to vote for: Nobody else. There's just no argument to vote for anybody else here.

First Base: Prince Fielder's 1.003 OPS is third-best in the NL, and tops among first basemen. He's got 27 HR - 11 more than anybody else at the position - and his 62 RBI lead that category by an equally comfortable margin. This is a loaded position, though; six players have an OPS at or above .900. Derrek Lee is quietly putting up great numbers, last year's MVP candidates Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols are stellar again, and Todd Helton and Dimitri Young are doing very well also. Padres 1B Adrian Gonzalez seems to be in the middle of a breakout season, too; he's not getting on base quite as much as you'd like, but he's slugging .512 and has 51 RBI.

How the voters are doing: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Derrek Lee are #1, 2, and 4 respectively - all are solid choices. Carlos Delgado (batting just .225) at #5 is not such a good choice. And Nomar at #3 may be the worst choice at any position in either league, given the depth of this position. He's slugging just .332, and his .648 OPS is last - that's right, last - among all starting first basemen (in either league). The Dodgers are planning to move him to third to make room for James Loney, which is a great move, and one that should have been made three months ago (if not last year).

Who I'm voting for: Prince Fielder.

Acceptable to vote for: You can't really go wrong voting for D-Lee or Howard, and you can never go wrong voting for Pujols. After that, it gets harder to justify voting for anybody else.

Second Base: Just as easy as catcher was. Orlando Hudson's having a good year, but Chase Utley is at another level. Utley's .320 BA, .399 OBP and .553 SLG all lead the position, as well as his 58 RBI. Dan Uggla and Kelley Johnson are all playing well, too, but you've gotta go with Utley.

How the voters are doing: Utley leads the way, with 1.3 million votes. Jeff Kent is in second place; he's doing pretty well, but nowhere near Utley. Craig Biggio (.279 OBP - just get to 3,000 hits already!) is third, somehow.

Who I'm voting for: Utley.

Acceptable to vote for: Nobody else. In an alternate universe, where Rickie Weeks is healthy and hitting well, maybe he at least challenges Utley, but right now there's nobody close.

Third Base: A really tight race between Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones. Jones has a slight edge in OPS (1.014 to .998), but Cabrera's done it over 75 more at-bats, so his counting stats are much higher. Milwaukee rookie Ryan Braun has done really well since his callup, but he hasn't played nearly as much as the first two guys. Aramis Ramirez and David Wright are both having pretty good years, but there just isn't really a case to be made for either of them over Cabrera or Chipper. (I honestly haven't looked at the totals yet, but I guarantee you that Wright's leading the voting, though.)

How the voters are doing: Hey, I was right! Not surprisingly, Wright leads the voting, with about 300,000 more votes than Cabrera. Chipper is third.

Who I'm voting for: Miguel Cabrera. He's hit extremely well over more at-bats than Chipper, which gives him the edge in my opinion.

Acceptable to vote for: I can't really argue much with Chipper, either. I guess one could make a case for Ramirez and Wright, but it would be hard to convince me.

Shortstop: Talk about a loaded position. Edgar Renteria, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, and Jose Reyes are all great hitters at the toughest defensive position (plus Rafael Furcal, who's having a down year). And Troy Tulowitzki and Stephen Drew will probably jump into that group within the next year or two, if they continue to develop well. Christian Guzman is having a good year for the Nationals, though there's no way you can vote for him at a position this loaded. Hardy was easily the right choice through the first month and a half, but he's fallen off some since then; his OBP is a rather average .340, and his batting average isn't helping his cause (.285). Rollins is actually slugging exceptionally well this year (.514), but he also isn't getting on base much. It gets really hard to separate Renteria, Ramirez, and Reyes; Renteria's rate numbers are slightly better, but we're talking about very, very small differences here. Reyes has the most speed, followed by Renteria, and I think Reyes is the best fielder as well.

How the voters are doing: Reyes leads the voting, of course, although Hardy is pretty close behind him. Furcal is third, despite having a down year (lots of Dodgers seem to be doing well in the voting), and Rollins is fourth. Fifth? Oh my god, don't make me say it...it's none other than David Eckstein. That's right - 571,000 people think that David Eckstein is the most qualified shortstop to start the All-Star game. I can't even think of anything to say here. That's more votes than Ramirez or Renteria. Let's just move on.

Who I'm voting for: Reyes, just barely ahead of Ramirez and Renteria.

Acceptable to vote for: Ramirez and Renteria definitely, and Rollins and Hardy are also fine choices.

Outfield: Outfield in the NL is kinda tough. Matt Holliday has to be in - his .993 OPS is impressive anywhere, even at Coors. He's really underrated, but he is probably the best corner outfielder in the NL right now. Barry Bonds has 75 walks and a .498 OBP - he gets on base literally half the time he comes to bat. I don't care if he's likeable or not, that's extremely valuable. Picking a third OF is tricky. Ken Griffey Jr. actually has a .964 OPS, which surprised me; the Great American Ballpark is a hitter's park, but that's still good. Hunter Pence has OPSed .984 this year, but he was called up during the season, so he doesn't have as many plate appearances as the others. Alfonso Soriano started off really cold, but he's heated up lately. Adam Dunn is having a really good year amidst the trade rumors. Eric Byrnes is having a really good year; he's not an ASG candidate but I felt like pointing that out.

How the voters are doing: Beltran, Griffey, and Soriano are the starters as of today; Beltran's OPS is below .800, but the other two are fine choices. Bonds is fourth, but he's within 120,000 votes of Soriano. Andrew Jones is fifth despite having an absolutely atrocious year (.197 BA), and Holliday is sixth.

Who I'm voting for: Holliday definitely, Bonds definitely, and...crap, this is hard. I'll go with Griffey.

Acceptable to vote for: Hunter Pence, Dunn, Soriano, and probably a few others.

And, just for the hell of it, here are my ASG starting pitchers: Dan Haren in the AL, Jake Peavy in the NL. Now go vote!

All-Star Voting: American League

Just three days left until the All-Star voting closes...you can still vote on MLB.com. But don't do that just yet - take a minute to read through the following analysis of who you should vote for...(just the AL in this post)

Catcher: One of the easiest choices on the ballot...you pretty much have to go with Jorge Posada. He's second in OBP, to Joe Mauer, but he's first in BA, SLG, and OPS. And Mauer was hurt for pretty much the whole month of May. Victor Martinez does have a huge edge in homers and RBI, but Posada's still slugging better and RBI is a pretty meaningless statistic. Plus, Martinez is a terrible defensive catcher, and Posada is probably about average. Here's something kind of interesting - KC catcher John Buck has 13 homers, but only 26 RBI - obviously a function of the KC lineup. (He's actually second among catchers in HR despite having almost 100 less at-bats than V-Mart and the other top candidates.) Posada has won in the past just because he's a Yankee (like last year, when he somehow beat out the infinitely more deserving Joe Mauer), but this year he actually does deserve it.

How the voters are doing: For once, they actually haven't elected the Yankee...and they've gotten it wrong in doing so. Pudge Rodriguez holds more than a 200,000 vote edge on Posada, with both Varitek and Mauer close behind Jorge. Pudge isn't having a terrible year, but there isn't a single meaningful or even semi-meaningful category in which he leads Posada. Martinez is fifth, way behind the top four.

Who I'm voting for: Jorge Posada.

Acceptable to vote for: Victor Martinez, I guess - his offensive numbers are just about as good as Posada's. I can't really see voting for anybody else, given that Mauer got injured.

First Base: This one gets sort of tricky, because the game's in an NL park, so DHs like David Ortiz and Travis Hafner are on the ballot as first basemen. Carlos Pena's 1.026 OPS is very enticing, but he hasn't had as many plate appearances as some of the other guys, and besides, do you really want Carlos Pena starting in the All-Star game? Casey Kotchman's quietly putting up a great year, as he's third in OPS among true first baseman. Mark Teixeira was doing well, but he's hurt now. For a while, it looked like Kevin Youkilis was the right choice, but he's fallen off over the past couple weeks, and now has "only" a .920 OPS. That's good, because he's just a write-in candidate now that Ortiz is on the ballot, so it's not like there was any chance of him starting anyways. I'm not really sure I see any standouts here...Justin Morneau was having a pretty good year; he got hurt last Friday in a collision at home plate but it looks like he'll be back pretty soon. David Ortiz probably has the best numbers, including a 1.016 OPS, but you could really go with a lot of people here. Travis Hafner is having a surprisingly average year, OPSing just .838.

How the voters are doing: Pretty good. Ortiz leads, by a pretty large margin. Morneau is second, and he's done pretty well also. The Tigers must be pushing their guys pretty hard, because there's no way in hell Sean Casey belongs anywhere near the #3 spot - he's hitting just .289 with one homer, and his .730 OPS is 12th among starting first basemen. Typical Yankee bias shows up with Giambi in the top four despite not really doing all that well.

Who I'm voting for: David Ortiz. Plus, you get the comedy of him trying to play first base for the first three innings.

Acceptable to vote for: A long list here...Youkilis, Pena, Teixeira, Morneau, and Kotchman are all solid choices.

Second Base: This one's tough. There's nobody on this list I really want starting for me if I'm Jim Leyland. B.J. Upton has a huge lead in OPS, with an 80 point edge over anybody else at the position, but he's missed most of June with an injury. Plus, he's been pretty lucky to get the stats he has; he has struck out a ton, and he doesn't have enough power and doesn't walk enough to balance that out. He'll probably start a couple all-star games in the future if he stays at second base, as this is his first full season in the big leagues, but I have a hard time voting for him this year. The problem is that there isn't really another deserving candidate. Nobody at the position has good counting stats - Ian Kinsler leads the group with 14 homers, and he's the only one in double digits. Brian Roberts is second in OPS, and he's swiped 24 bases, which is an overrated statistic but it's still kind of notable. Dustin Pedroia's having a good year (3rd in OPS).

How the voters are doing: It's hard to do really poorly at this positino, because you can make a case for just about everybody. Placido Polanco leads by a fairly comfortable margin, which is a combination of the pro-Tigers and pro-batting average biases that appear in the voting. Polanco leads all 2Bs in batting average (.329), but that's pretty much his only skill. Robbie Cano is second (of course) despite having a pretty poor year. Pedroia's third and Upton is fifth, sandwiching the random Luis Castillo (.336 SLG, 12 RBI).

Who I'm voting for: I'm leaning towards Brian Roberts...he's probably got the best overall numbers.

Acceptable to vote for: Pretty much anybody, frankly. Except Luis Castillo. Upton, Pedroia, Kinsler, Polanco, and Aaron Hill are all reasonable candidates.

Third Base: The easiest vote on the ballot...it's gotta be Nick Punto, of course. Seriously, if you don't vote for A-Rod and his league-leading 1.140 OPS, you're crazy. Troy Glaus and Mike Lowell have been pretty good, also, but there's no rationale for not voting A-Rod.

How the voters are doing: A-Rod leads all AL vote-getters with over 2.5 million votes, and deservingly so. Lowell is second, Tigers 3B Brandon Inge is third.

Who I'm voting for: A-Rod. He's slugging .707!

Acceptable to vote for: Sorry, A-Rod is the only answer. Well, maybe Nick Punto.

Shortstop: With apologies to Jhonny Peralta and Brendan Harris, this is a two-man race. Carlos Guillen and Derek Jeter each are having good years, with OPSes over .900. Jeter has a slight edge in batting average, but Guillen has almost a 100 point edge in slugging percentage. AL shortstop used to be a loaded position, but A-Rod's move to third combined with Tejada's relatively poor year mean that there isn't a whole lot left.

How the voters are doing: Jeter #1, Guillen #2, Jeter has a big edge. But I absolutely love the fact that Julio Lugo is fifth. Over 500,000 people voted for a guy whose batting average is .191! His OPS is .541 (third-worst of any AL regular)! You don't think there's anything wrong with the voting?

Who I'm voting for: I'm going with Guillen. He's a better defender, too.

Acceptable to vote for: Jeter. And absolutely not Julio Lugo.

Outfield: Let's see...Magglio Ordonez has to be on anyone's ballot. His 1.096 OPS is a hundred points better than any other outfielder's, and is second in the league to A-Rod. He leads all OFs in all the rate stats (BA, OBP, SLG) and is second in RBI. Vladimir Guerrero is second in OPS (.989), with a pretty significant edge over anybody else. Vlad is also third in HRs and leds all OFs in RBI. Torii Hunter is quietly having a monster year - .306/.353/.557, with 15 HRs and 11 steals - in the last year of his contract; someone (probably Texas) is going to give him a lot of money this winter. Manny started off slowly, but he's gotten back to his usual self of late. Ichiro's still doing what he does best, and Alex Rios has 17 homers, most among OFS. Gary Sheffield is listed as an OF, although he's been primarily DHing this year; his .922 OPS deserves consideration. Curtis Granderson is slugging really well (also .557), although that 24:71 K/BB percentage is awfully ugly. Here's something interesting, though: Granderson has 14 triples so far this year. That puts him on pace for about 30 for the season, if he were to keep it up. Well, 30 triples would place him fourth on the all-time single-season list (the record is 36). And almost everybody on the list playhed in the dead-ball era or shortly thereafter, when triples were much more common. The leader post-WWII is Dale Mitchell (who?), with 23 triples in 1949. Lance Johnson's 21 in '96 are the most in the past 50 years.

How the voters are doing: Vlad #1, Magglio #2, Ichiro #3, with Manny just a handful of votes behind Ichiro and Hunter also in the running. Gary Sheffield (of course, another Tiger) is sixth.

Who I'm voting for: Magglio, Vlad, and Hunter. I dock Sheffield a few points for not really playing outfield.

Acceptable to vote for: Ichiro, Sheffield, Granderson, Manny, Rios, and Grady Sizemore are all reasonable selections. Lots of good outfielders in the AL.

That's all for the AL...I'll be back with the NL pretty soon.

June 25, 2007

Random stuff...

I didn't feel like writing anything over the weekend, so here are some random thoughts from the past couple days...

This is going all the way back to Thursday, but Roger Clemens had his worst start of his (short) season to this point in Colorado, giving up four runs in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out six and only walked one, but the two homers he allowed were the problem. I wouldn't be worried about this; I still think he ends up going something like 11-6 with an ERA in the low fours.

What I was more interested in was his splits;
I noticed last time that he did poorly against lefties and when hitters put the first pitch into play. Well, hitters seemed to be more aggressive against Clemens this time, putting the first pitch in play three times in just over four innings, but it didn't help them a whole lot; they went just 1-for-3, with the lone hit being a Willy Tavares bunt single. (By the way, fast hitters have been taking advantage of Clemens' 44-year-old legs by bunting a lot off him; he's gonna have to get used to it, because it's not going to stop.) The lefties in the lineup - Kaz Matsui, Todd Helton, and Brad Hawpe - went a combined 2-for-6 with a walk; the righties were 5-for-14 with both homers, and that includes two at-bats by pitcher Rodrigo Lopez. Colorado's righties tend to be more dangerous than their lefties, however, as Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday are two of the best hitters in the league, and rookie Troy Tulowitzki is hitting very well.

In other follow-up news...
Justin Verlander threw again Saturday, and had another really good outing - seven innings, only one earned run, earning him his ninth win of the season. That run came via a homer, which isn't great news; Verlander has been giving up an increasing number of home runs as the season has brogressed. His 11:2 K-BB ratio, however, is excellent news. He was under 100 pitches in his last outing, but was back up to 110 this weekend, which probably isn't good for the Tigers. The one thing I noticed after his no-hitter was that his first-pitch strike percentage had been decreasing throughout the season, causing me to wonder if he was hurt and to predict that he would either get hurt or lose his effectiveness, although he made me look dumb by throwing 17 of 28 first-pitch strikes in his next outing. On Saturday? 15 of 27. He wasn't very effective with his pitches, throwing more than four pitches per hitter, which still isn't a good sign; but it does seem that his first-pitch strike woes were an aberration and not a sign of anything important.

One more pitcher to follow up on: Yovani Gallardo. I wrote about
his debut last week, and I was pretty impressed. Well, he actually pitched better yesterday, thrwoing seven innings of one-run ball, although he didn't get a win out of it. Gallardo had eight strikeouts to just two walks and five hits, and kept his pitch count under 100. I wasn't watching the whole game, and I can't find a comprehensive recap online, but from the highlights it seems that Gallardo was using his fastball and slider more instead of relying too heavily on his outstanding curve. His fastball was hitting 93, too, and it would be great if he could eventually get that up into the 95-96 range.

As the calendar turns towards July, trade talk obviously begins to heat up; the White Sox remain the most powerful team on the market. There are some new rumors out that, in addition to Mark Buerhle, Chicago might move some starters who are not free agents at the end of the year, including possibly Jose Contreras and Jon Garland.
The Mets are very interested in Contreras, and if the White Sox actually can get Lastings Milledge in return for Contreras or a package centered around him, I think they should definitely do it; Contreras is 35 and not getting any younger, and his ERA+ has gone from 123 in 2005 to just 98 this year (an ERA+ of 100 is league-average).

Meanwhile, the Mets had been the favorite for Buerhle for a while, but on Thursday Jayson Stark said
the Braves were the favorite. Then, over the weekend, it became the Red Sox. I wouldn't say it's likely that any team gets him at this point; there are plenty of interested teams, and it's going to take a while for things to sort themselves out. I will say that at this point it doesn't seem likely that he goes to the Mets; the Red Sox and Braves both have more to offer in the way of second-tier prospects, and the Mets have made it clear they aren't including Lastings Milledge in a deal for a three-month rental. The Red Sox don't really make sense as a destination, as they will have five good starters when Jon Lester comes back, but it's possible that Curt Schilling's injury is more serious than people initially thought.

Nobody really seems to know where the top hitters - Adam Dunn, Jermaine Dye, and Mark Teixeira - are going to end up. People around baseball seem to think it's very likely that Dunn gets traded, although I personally don't think he'll leave Cincinatti. Teixeira's been rumored to the Angels, though he doesn't help that lineup all that much, and Bill Stoneman is a relatively conservative GM. The Yankees have had interest, but they aren't going to give up what it takes to get him. The Dodgers seem to be the most likely trade partner at this time, as they have plenty of good young players, but I think Teixeira stays in Texas. He's not a free agent until after the 2008 season, so they'll probably have more success trying to deal him this winter. Dye seems to be the most likely hitter to be dealt, and the Padres seem to want him pretty badly, but teams aren't going to give up too much for him when he's only hitting .230.

Clearing the Bases: Sox are Loaded

Clearing the Bases: going through some of the most notable links from the past week...

Baseball Analysts describes how the Red Sox look like one of the two or three best teams in baseball, both for this year and the future...

a great article on Johan Santana...(thanks to Rob Neyer for the link)

More trouble for Elijah Dukes - this time
on a local radio station. And here's yet another good quote from the troubled outfielder...

Congrats to Oregon State for their second straight college baseball national championship. Here's their championship celebration, in hip-hop form, from both this year and last year (link via Deadspin). Let's just say it's much better than Juan Pierre's victory rap...

One of my favorite baseball writers, Keith Law, had
an interesting chat last week...

a great set of stories about Bo Jackson from one of my favorite blogs, The Soul of Baseball.

A humorous look at how the
Jason Giambi-George Mitchell discussions might go down...

Random video of the week: I don't think this is a gyroball, but it sure is a sweet pitch...

June 22, 2007

Best Player?

Here's the current poll question on the front page of ESPN.com today:

Healthy and in his prime, which player would you want on your team?
-Barry Bonds
-Ken Griffey Jr.
-Alex Rodriguez
I thought about it for a second...and then for another couple minutes...and I still couldn't decide. I'm a little young to remember Griffey in his prime, but I know he was an outstanding player. Bonds' offensive numbers are unbelievable, but that was in an era (21st century) where lots of people were putting up great offensive numbers, and he was a bad defender (at a relatively easy defensive position), while the other two were excellent defenders at tough positions. Let's break this thing down, stat-wise, using a player's five best consecutive years as his "prime".

Barry Bonds: Bonds was a great player in the 90's, but according to his stats, his peak years were his 2000-2004 seasons. During these years, his average line was .341/.535/.782 (BA/OBP/SLG), which is absolutely ridiculous. For five years, he was getting on base more often than he was getting out. That's just amazing. His OPS for those five years - again, five whole years - was 1.317. I try to refrain from hyperbole, but I honestly don't think I'll see anyone string together five offensive seasons like that in my lifetime.

Young Bonds was a great defender, but 21st century Bonds was nothing close to that. During these peak years, Bonds was a combined -8
FRAA (Fielding Runds Above Average), which is actually a bit better than I thought. His baserunning skills were obviously almost gone by this time as well, but neither defect really comes close to cancelling out his hitting skills.

Let's look at some of the more advanced stats. His
OPS+es from 2002, '01, and '04 are first, second, and third respectively all-time at 275, 262, and 260. (An OPS+ of 100 is league-average; the stat is adjusted for the league so it is comparable between eras.) And his 2003 OPS+ was 231, tied for 10th all-time. His 2000 OPS+ was "just" 191, good for 90th all-time, meaning that Bonds was in the top 100 for all five of his peak years. Neither A-Rod or Griffey have any seasons in the top 100. That's pretty good. Bonds' adjusted EqA was over .400 every year from 2001-2004, including two years above .450 ('02, '04). EqA takes into account all offensive contributions from a player, and is evaluated on the same scale as batting average; i.e., a .260 EqA is about average and a .300 EqA is roughly all-star caliber. So when a player posts a .456 EqA, like Bonds did in 2004, it means he's having possibly the greatest offensive season of all-time. Let's take a stat that includes defense as well: WARP3. WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) takes into account all contributions by a player, including defense, and it is possibly the most complete measure of a player's value avaliable. Bonds' WARPs during his peak ranged from 11.7 to 16.2, meaning that, for those years, Bonds alone gave the Giants 12-16 more wins than a replacement player (i.e., a AAA player or a mediocre utility guy) would have.

Here's Bonds'
Baseball Prospectus player card, where I got all the info from; all the stats I used were adjusted for all-time.

Ken Griffey Jr: Griffey is known as the best all-around player in the 90's, and that is probably an accurate label. We have to cheat a little bit for Griffey, as he was hurt in 1995, so I'm going to use 1993-1998, excluding '95, as his prime years. This does include the strike-shortened '94 season, but all the stats I'm using are rate statistics, so that shouldn't make a difference. His average stat line over those years was .304/.390/.635, which isn't really even comparable to Bonds' raw line. Griffey was playing in the rather spacious Kingdome and in a less hitter-friendly era, but his OPS+ numbers still don't really compare - a peak of 172 in '93.

Still, Griffey gets a lot of points for being a great defender at a very important defensive position (center field). His FRAA is less than I thought it would be (a combined +12 over those five years), but he still gets a lot of points for being above average at a position that is tough to play. This is kind of off-topic, but Griffey's defense has been awful since 2001 - a combined -75 since then.

Griffey's EqA over those five seasons was very consistant - a low of .325 in '98, and a high of .345 in '94. Those are great numbers - a five-year peak like that, combined with a couple other good seasons, should make you a hall-of-famer. But they aren't even in the same spectrum as Bonds' EqAs. If you look at WARP3, the numbers get closer, however. Because Griffey's defense is factored in, the two players are actually comperable - Griffey's numbers range from 10.5 to 12.6, with three of his five years being above 12. Those are five great seasons, but they're still pretty significantly less than Bonds'. Looking at the numbers, I can't find any way to justify choosing Griffey over Bonds.

A-Rod: A-Rod's 2007 may change things somewhat, but for now, his peak years are 2000-2004, ironically the same years as Bonds'. His average line: .304/.396/.593. Again great numbers, very similar to Griffey's, but nowhere close to Bonds. His OPS+ numbers are even less impressive, But remember, A-Rod was a shortstop (the toughest defensive position besides catcher) for the first four of these years, peaking at "only" 167 in 2000. A-Rod gets kind of unfairly hurt by this system because his 2004 season wasn't that great; if I was able to include his 2005 MVP season, all his numbers would go up. But at this point I'm kind of stuck with the system I arbitrarily made up.

However, you have to remember that A-Rod was a shortstop (the toughest defensive position besides catcher) for the first four of these years, and he was a great shortstop to boot. His combined FRAA for those four years: +31, including an amazing +15 in 2000, his last year in Seattle. (Random note: he was awful last year at third, with a -18 FRAA - that means he cost the Yankees almost two full wins with his glove. Random note #2: In 2003, the year before A-Rod came to the Bronx, he posted a +8 FRAA. Jeter posted a -23. Guess who moved to third base?)

A-Rod's EqAs are relatively uninspiring for those five years, trending downwards from a .346 in 2000. But WARP3 likes him much better, because of his outstanding defense. His low was 10.0 in 2004 (although he went on to post a stellar 12.9 the next year), but his 14.6 in 2000 was outstanding. Overall, here's the average WARP3 for these three players during their peak years:

Bonds: 14.3
Griffey: 11.7
A-Rod: 12.9

So, based on these numbers and the others, I have to go with Bonds #1, A-Rod #2, and Griffey #3, and it's actually not even that close. Sure, Bonds probably used steroids, but that doesn't really matter in this discussion (and how can you be positive the other two didn't?).

Naturally, here's how the voting looks: Griffey - 57%, A-Rod - 30%, Bonds - 13%. What did you expect?

June 21, 2007

Around the Horn: AL Central

Around the Horn goes through all the teams in a certain division, talking about what they've done right, what they've done wrong, and what they need to do to get better. Usually I'll get to about two divisions a week. Today: the AL Central.

Cleveland: The Indians have ridden baseball's second-best home record (24-11, second to the Angels) to a tie for first in the division despite playing just .500 ball on the road. They have had good run differentials in the past two years, though their win totals haven't been indicitive of that. Usually, a team's winning percentage will roughly match their run differential (a theory basically known as the Pythagorean Expectation); when that doesn't happen, it is usually the result of luck, and to a lesser extent, a bad bullpen. The Indians can't do anything about the former, but they've tried to fix the latter, with some success; closer Joe Borowski still seems to be a question mark, with a 1.52 WHIP and an ERA over 6, but middle relievers Aaron Fultz and Rafael Betancourt have been good. As for the rotation...Fausto Carmona's 3.12 ERA means that Jeremy Sowers is the odd man out of the rotation, at least for the near future. C.C. Sabathia is quite possibly the most underrated pitcher in baseball; he's an ace and a workhorse, yet he doesn't get the publicity that comparable pitchers such as Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter get. There's not much to say about the lineup...Victor Martinez probably only has one or two more years left as a catcher before he gets shifted to first base, but in the meantime, he's probably the best offensive catcher in the game. Grady Sizemore is one of the first players mentioned in any "best all-around player in the game" discussion, and he's only 24. Travis Hafner has an .833 OPS, and he's having a down year. And there are lots of other hitters on this team.

So, what do the Indians need to do? I don't think they really need to do much; in my mind, they're one of the top two teams in the game (side-by-side with the Red Sox and slightly ahead of the Tigers). But their bullpen could use a little help. They've been mentioned in talks about Eric Gagne, but Gagne has an odd partial no-trade clause that reportedly includes the Indians. That doesn't mean a deal is impossible, but it makes it a little harder to pull off. I haven't heard any other specific names, but I'd imagine they'd be in the hunt for almost any other reliever on the market, as they have a fairly good stash of prospects to deal from.

Detroit: The Tigers have played better than I had expected, but they're not really playing above their talent level - they're just a better team than I thought they were. Unlike the Indians, the Tigers have actually been fairly mediocre at home, but have baseball's second-best road record (24-15, second to the Red Sox). Baseball Analysts today put up a better overview of the Tigers than I could ever write, so I'll just direct you there. Magglio Ordonez is somewhat randomly putting up MVP-caliber numbers; his 1.122 OPS is the best in baseball. Everyone else is hitting, too, though I'm not sure Curtis Granderson can slug .569 all year. First base seems to be the lone problem area, as Sean Casey is barely servicable offensively for a first baseman. The Detroit rotation has been excellent all year; we all know about Justin Verlander, but Jeremy Bonderman is also great, and the rest of the rotation has been solid. The bullpen, considered a strength at the beginning of the year, now seems like a problem area; closer Todd Jones' ERA is approaching 6, and Joel Zumaya is on the DL.

The Tigers also don't have many holes to fill, and I'm guessing they mostly look for bullpen help as well. They've kicked the tires on Gagne also, as dozens of teams will probably do, but I don't expect a match there. They're planning on trying to deal Mike Maroth to an NL team once Kenny Rogers returns from the DL; Maroth could be a very solid back-of-the-rotation starter there, and they could probably get some relief help in return. They may look at Tampa Bay's Al Reyes, but he probably won't be traded.

Minnesota: The Twins are my favorite team, but even I could see they were going to finish third in the division this year. They just don't quite have the lineup depth to match the Indians' and Tigers'. Reigning AL MVP Justin Morneau is as good as usual, and Torii Hunter is playing out of his mind in his contract year, but there hasn't been much else outside of Michael Cuddyer. Joe Mauer missed more than a month of the season due to injury, and they just don't have reliable hitters in other positions (i.e., Nick Punto and his .288 slugging percentage). The Twins are one of only three or four contenders that doesn't need any bullpen help; they're perfectly content with Pat Neshek, Juan Rincon, Glen Perkins, and Joe Nathan. Johan Santana is, well, Johan Santana, and Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva have been decent in the #2 and #3 spots. The back of the rotation has been a disaster, as Terry Ryan (one of the game's best GMs) inexplicably decided Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz were the guys to fill those holes at the beginning of the season. Predictably, both guys were gone by June, but their combined 6.18 ERA has already done enough damage. Kevin Slowey seems set as their #4 starter, but Scott Baker might not be in the rotation much longer; it's probably only a matter of time now before Matt Garza gets the call up from Rochester.

The Twins don't really need to do much at the deadline - they most likely won't win anything this year, but there are very few teams with a better future (although, unfortunately, the Indians probably do within their division). They certainly would like a third baseman, but they probably won't find anything they like - Mike Lowell is too expensive, and apparently they aren't getting Ty Wigginton from the D-Rays. They could go the other way and deal off some veterans, such as Luis Castillo, but I wouldn't expect that either.

Chicago: No team is being watched more interestingly than the White Sox. They're a very disappointing 10 games under .500, although most statheads could have predicted that they wouldn't be in contention for very long. Jim Thome's really the only one who has been hitting, and he missed a pretty good portion of the season. Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye are struggling, and there isn't enough talent in the rest of the lineup to make up for it. Their rotation has actually been good, with Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland each owning ERAs under 4 and Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras each under 5, but they're too far behind to go anywhere at this point.

But the White Sox have been in the middle of practically every rumor out there. Both Buerhle and Dye are prime trade candidates; Kenny Williams is not a shy GM, so they will probably not be in Chicago by the time August comes around. Also, Williams has somewhat of a history of dealing long before the deadline; he dealt for Freddy Garcia in June a couple years back to get an extra month out of him. So you could see a Buerhle trade very soon, although it could just as likely be July 31st. The Mets have been the most-rumored destination, although those talks have died down somewhat recently. The Cardinals and Mariners are also possible trade partners for Buerhle, and today Jayson Stark mentioned the Braves as a place he could very likely end up. Dye is probably going to be harder to move, given his slow start, but there will still be plenty of interested teams out there; the Padres seem to be popping up a lot in Dye discussion. The White Sox's relievers aren't great, but someone might go after Mike MacDougal.

Royals: Do I really have to write about the Royals? Here's the good news: Catcher John Buck is hitting, hyped rookie Alex Gordon seems to (finally) be starting to hit a little, and Gil Meche's 3.21 ERA makes Dayton Moore's 5 yr/55-mill investment actually look wise. Here's the bad news: Everything else. This team is at least three years away from contending for a playoff spot, and they're in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

There aren't really any fixes for the Royals on the horizon, unless they can petition Bud Selig to move them to the NL Central. They need to stop giving Mike Sweeny at-bats and install Billy Butler as the new DH; Butler has remarkably poor fielding skills, but he can hit as well as any young prospect out there. There aren't really any trade rumors concerning the Royals, mainly because they don't really have any players that anybody wants. Things don't really look good for KC baseball...

News of the Day: Sosa's 600th

Well, it finally happened - Sammy Sosa hit his 600th homer last night. Don't worry if you didn't hear about it; it isn't really big news. But, since people like big round numbers and because people seem to want to make a story about it, I'll write.

Sosa's 600th homer has made people revisit his Hall of Fame candidacy, because baseball's HOF is still the only one that matters.
Seven of eight ESPN experts said yes, although I'm not sure you should try to extrapolate to all the writers, as ESPN's guys have been more reasonable about the steroid era than some of the other BBWAA writers. Jerry Crasnick was the lone no vote, although Steve Phillips has been the target of most of the blog community for saying that Sosa probably didn't use steroids because, I quote, "Why would a player on steroids cork his bat? He wouldn't." But, Steve Phillips aside, I think most of the ESPN guys have it right.

Will Sosa actually get into the Hall? I think the biggest plus for him at this point is that he still has five years until the voters have to make a decision. By 2012, the steroids thing will be a little easier to handle, in the sense that either we'll know better who used and who didn't or we won't know anything at all and therefore won't use it as a big factor in HOF voting. Still, public opinion of Sosa still needs to change. There was a poll just a couple years back about whether or not Sosa would get in, and only something like 25% of the voters said they'd put him in. Now, I believe that poll was taken just after the Congressional hearings, when the steroid witch hunt was at an all-time high, but I can't imagine that number would have tripled in the past two years. Still, I think he gets in eventually, as I think time will heal all the wounds inflicted by the Steroid Era.

I definitely think he should be in. His numbers are HOF-worthy, and there isn't nearly enough evidence for me to keep him off my hypothetical ballot for steroid use. Really, what evidence to we have that he juiced, besides the fact that he grew as he got older and that he hit home runs? He was called in front of Congress...that was just because he was one of the biggest names in baseball, not because Congress had some evidence that he used steriods. He wasn't named in Canseco's book or anywhere else. All we have is speculation, and that's the biggest problem with HOF voting in the steroid era - people will speculate and will randomly decide who they put in and who they keep out. Personally, I wouldn't keep anybody out of the Hall for suspected steroid use (McGwire and Bonds included), but that's a discussion for another day.

That being said, it's not like his 600th home run has anything to do with my hypothetically voting him in to the Hall. What, 588 wasn't enough for him to be a Hall of Famer, but 600 is? Frankly, this season has kind of tarnished his reputation, for me. Sure, Sosa has 12 homers, but he really hasn't been helping the Rangers at all. His OBP is just .297,
160th out of 180 qualifiers. And that isn't what you want from your DH. I haven't really watched Sosa enough to be sure, but scouts have said that he's just sitting on fastballs, trying to find something he can hit out of the park and boost his HR total. Hopefully, now that he's reached his milestone, the Rangers will stop playing him; they're currently 27-44 and have no shot at the playoffs, so they need to be looking ahead to the future. Plus, getting someone in the lineup who can actually get on base should help them today.

Edit: I suppose all this teaches us is that people are dumb, but here are some of the results to today's ESPN poll about Sosa:

1) Is Sammy Sosa a Hall of Famer?
70.3% Yes
29.7% No

4) If Sosa had retired with 588 home runs, would he be a Hall of Famer?
56.4% Yes
43.6% No

Uh...so one out of every seven voters feels that the extra 12 homers makes Sosa a Hall of Famer? In 1998, Sosa hit 66 homers and had an OPS+ of 160 (100 is league-average). In 2000, he hit 50 homers and had an OPS+ of 169. In 2001, he hit 64 homers, had an OPS+ of 201 (one of the 50 best OPS+es of all-time), and slugged a ridiculous .737. But, apparently, to a fairly large percentage of America, it was this season (93 OPS+, .297 OBP) that made him a Hall of Famer.

June 20, 2007

News of the Day: Barrett Traded

Michael Barrett is no longer a Chicago Cub; he was traded along with some cash to the Padres today for backup catcher Rob Bowen and an outfield prospect, Kyler Burke. Barrett was obviously traded for his inability to get along with pitchers, having fights with Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill just this month. And I'm sure his .307 OBP didn't really help his cause, either.

Offensively, Barrett does still have some value. Barrett put up a terrific .307/.368/.517 line last year, and he probably can turn things around despite his slow start. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system thought he would post a .834 OPS, exatly 100 points better than he's doing right now. PETCO Park isn't the best place for him to boost his raw numbers, but overall his bat is still useful. His glove...not so much. Barrett is certainly one of the five worst defensive catchers in the game right now, and he probably has an argument to be #1. Apparently Barrett will get most of the starts behind the plate for the Padres, though they may get frustrated with his defense fairly soon.

Chicago now has three catchers; Bowen, Koyie Hill, and Henry Blanco (currently on the DL). None of these three are very good options; it won't really matter much who they'll play there. Blanco and Bowen are both very good defensively but mediocre at best at the plate.

Here's what MLB Trade Rumors had to say about Burke:
Burke, 19, was drafted 35th overall out of high school last year based on his huge power potential and athleticism. He hasn't shown anything against pro pitching yet. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus says Burke has an "enormous ceiling" with a strong right field arm. This is an upside play by Jim Hendry - Burke could be a star or a complete bust.

Overall, I'm not sure who to give the edge to in this trade...I think the Padres come out ahead in terms of talent, but the Cubs have to be very happy to get a prospect with Burke's upside, given that they were obviously unhappy with Barrett in the clubhouse.

By the way, I never mentioned this earlier...but Chone Figgins hit a walk-off triple to give the Angels a win to cap his 6-for-6 game against the Astros. Think about it - how hard is it to hit a walk-off triple? You have to hit the ball in a place where it's a stand-up triple and you have to reach third base before the runner on first crosses home. I guess the other way you could do it is by hitting a triple, then scoring the winning run on a bad throw to third by the outfielder. Either way, it seems like it should be very rare.

Well, Jayson Stark answered that question in today's blog (the first time I've ever gotten my name into a Useless Info article!) and the answer is, it isn't as rare as you'd think.

But the question we did get -- from two loyal readers (Scott Sukenick and Kevin Whitaker) -- was this: How rare is a walkoff triple?

Well, theoretically, it is tough to hit one. So we checked. But it turns out it isn't as rare as you'd think. We found a bunch of them in the way-back machine -- and nine others just in the last decade (four by the Twins alone). Here are the five most recent before Figgins did it:

Grady Sizemore (versus Ambiorix Burgos) on Aug. 11, 2006
Lew Ford (versus Justin Duchscherer) on Aug. 3, 2005
Quinton McCracken (versus Todd Jones) on July 18, 2005
Jim Edmonds (versus Scott Service) on Sept. 17, 2004
Marquis Grissom (versus Matt Mantei) on May 27, 2003

Wow. I would have certainly expected that it would be much rarer than that. But that's what statistics are for...

June 19, 2007

Verlander follow-up; Gallardo debut

This is getting a little old, but on Sunday, Justin Verlander made his first start since his no-hitter; it also happened to be the first since I predicted doom for Verlander, in large part because of his high pitch counts and low first-pitch strike percentage. Well, Verlander had a great start in terms of making me look dumb; he went six effective innings, threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 28 hitters, and his pitch count was under 100. The Philles' broadcast was very inconsistant in showing the pitch velocity, and Verlander seemed to be throwing a lot of off-speed stuff (at least when I was watching), but his fastball, at least by the end of the game seemed to be in the mid-90's, around 94-95. This is a far cry from the 102 he was hitting at the end of his no-hitter, which I think is actually a good sign - it shows that he's not throwing his hardest the entire game, which will probably make him more durable.

Am I going to go back on my original prediction - that Verlander will get hurt or see a significant rise in his ERA by the end of the season? Not yet. I'd still like to see the Tigers be a little more careful with him, and I'd like to see Verlander continue to get ahead in counts. But this was a good start towards a healthy rest of the season for Verlander.

The biggest on-field story of the day yesterday was the debut of the latest pitching phenom, Brewers righty Yovani Gallardo. Overall, the Brewers have to be very pleased with what they saw, getting 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball out of Gallardo. He had trouble getting Barry Bonds out (1/1, 2B, 2 BB), but was very solid against everybody else. Granted, the Giants aside from Barry Bonds certainly aren't one of baseball's better hitting teams, but it's still a great start. Gallardo hit a RBI double in the second inning as well, for whatever that's worth.

Gallardo's stuff is excellent, especially his curveball. He still has a lot to learn about pitching - one of the few at-bats I saw was when he tried to throw three straight breaking balls to Pedro Feliz in the seventh inning; the third one ended in the left-field bleachers.
Keith Law agrees with me: (insider-only)
His pitching plan relied on heavy use of his curveball -- probably too much, with Gallardo throwing it on nearly half of his pitches in the first inning, including the hanger that Bengie Molina hit for an RBI single. Gallardo is a three-pitch pitcher, with a solid changeup. But he barely used the change before he pulled it out of his back pocket in the sixth inning. That said, when he began pitching more off his fastball in the second inning, he started rolling, relying on his outstanding command and hitting the lower outside corner repeatedly to keep the Giants' hitters from making solid contact.
Can he be a future ace with just a 91-93 mph fastball? If his command is as good as advertised, he can be, especially with that great curveball he's got. Gallardo's next start is Sunday against another rather impotent lineup, the Royals.

And guess who blanked the Mets 9-0 today, with no walks and only 92 pitches(!)...that'd be none other than the remarkable Johan Santana. For all the talk about the "down" year he's having - he does have just a 7-6 record - he still has a 2.91 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Yeah, he's still pretty good.

June 18, 2007

News of the Day: Perlazzo fired

The big baseball news of the day is that Sam Perlozzo, formerly the manager of the Orioles, got the ax this morning. Bullpen coach Dave Trembley takes over in the interim as the O's try to find a replacement. Joe Girardi's name has come up in a number of places, though some say he's more interested in a high-profile job such as the Cubs or the Yankees. He appears to be the O's #1 target; if he rejects their offer, I don't know which direction they will go.

I really don't know if Perlozzo deserved to be fired or not. The Orioles have not done well under Perlozzo's watch, and they don't really have that much hope for the future. They just aren't very talented, and they don't get enough out of the talent they do have. The biggest problem this year has been the bullpen, although that is one area in which the manager does have some control. Still, there are just no competent arms out there, which is very surprising given the amount of money and time the Orioles spent trying to improve it over this past offseason. They really don't have any hope at this point, so firing Perlozzo certainly doesn't do any harm, but I'm not sure a lot of good is coming out of it, either. There are major problems in this organization, starting at the top with Peter Angelos. I have a tough time seeing this team being competitive under Angelos's watch.

One thing that I do know is that one of the reasons pitching coach Leo Mazzone came to Baltimore was that he was very good friends with Perlozzo. I'm not sure, but I think I read that Mazzone's contract expires after this season. He certainly hasn't had the same success in Baltimore as he did in Atlanta, but I would imagine there would still be quite a few teams who would want Mazzone as their pitching coach.

The other news seems to be dominated by trade talk. On
Mike and Mike this morning, Buster Olney mentioned a possible trade between the White Sox and Mets: Mark Buerhle for Lastings Milledge. Buerhle becomes a free agent after the season, but he fills the Mets' immediate need for starting pitching. Milledge still seems poised to be a major-league outfielder in the near future, though he doesn't seem as likely to be a star as he used to be. This does look like a good deal for both teams, though I can't help but think the White Sox might ask for a bit more in return; Buerhle isn't really any more than a #3 starter right now, even in the NL, but they might be able to get more value for him than Milledge, whose stock has dropped a lot since this time last year.

Apparently the Yankees
are interested in Shea Hillenbrand, though this doesn't really make sense to anybody. For one thing, Hillenbrand is one of the more flammable personalities in the game, as he is possibly most notable for being cut by the Blue Jays last year for criticizing the front office. For another thing, they already have someone just like Hillenbrand.

Hillenbrand's three-year (2004-2006) splits:

vs LHP: .328/.363/.514 (BA/OBP/SLG)
vs RHP: .280/.323/.433

Josh Phelps's three-year splits:

vs LHP: .288/.343/.551
vs RHP: .236/.293/.378

Hillenbrand would be a bit of an upgrade against righties, but still not very good. A better option for the Yankees would be someone like Carlos Pena or Rich Aurilia.

A follow-up on Justin Verlander and some info on Brewers phenom Yovani Gallardo tomorrow...

June 17, 2007

Clearing the Bases

Clearing the Bases: going through some of the most notable links from the past week...

some new information on BABIP that goes contrary to what sabermetricians had previously believed;. In the past, it had been stated that a pitcher's batting average against excluding BBs, Ks, and HRs (aka BA on Balls In Play) was not something he could control, and instead was based more upon luck and the defense behind him, but this new research shows that pitchers do indeed have some control. I had kind of suspected this for a whlie - after all, the best BABIPs tend to belong to the best pitchers - but here's some actual proof that there is a correlation. (Link courtesy of Rob Neyer - insider-only)

College baseball really hasn't taken much of a foothold nationwide yet, but ESPN and other media groups are really trying to push the sport, and I think it's kind of working (and I'm glad). So what better way to increase your sport's popularity than by
banning blogging from the press box?

Staying kind of on the same topic...Even I have some trouble getting into the MLB draft; these players are usually at least two or three years away from making an impact, and I've never seen them play before. Still, Carlos Gomez has some absolutely wonderful
video analysis of the top 10 draft picks. It's probably worth reading, not so much for the actual information but to see what kind of things he looks for in a prospect.

The Twins may soon
call up Matt Garza to replace the struggling Scott Baker, and, as a Twins fan, it's about time. Baker does have a future as a back of the rotation starter, but he's not ready right now, and Garza's too talented to leave in Rochester for another three months. (Link found via Buster Olney)

Guess what? A New York columnist
said something stupid!

Scott Boras and Jayson Stark have a rather heated discussion over one of Boras' clients, Andrew Jones. J.C. Bradbury chimes in with his take.

Random video of the week: How long did it take this guy to pull off
this shot? And wouldn't they have gotten kicked out of the bowling alley by then?

Clemens vs. NY Mets

The Subway Series resumed on Friday with Roger Clemens pitching against Oliver Perez, and it was a tale of two teams going in different directions. The Yankees had won their past 9 games, while the Mets had dropped nine of their last 10. The Mets ended their slide and the Yankees' streak with a 2-0 victory, as Perez threw a gem. I was really interested to see how Clemens threw, however; this was his second start in the big leagues, with the first being a decent game against the Pirates (6 IP, 3 ER). Overall, you have to say that Clemens has been everything the Yankees hoped for thus far, although his throwing 6 1/3 innings of 2-run ball and getting hung with the loss was a flashback to his Houson days.

In particular, there were two numbers from
his 2006 splits that stood out to me:

1. Clemens was exceptionally tough on righties last year, holding them to just a .185/.228/.286 (BA/OBP/SLG) line. But he was startlingly mediocre against lefties, allowing them to hit .254/.322/.368, still not great numbers but much better than lefties. This stat was particularly relevant to Friday's game, given that the Mets have arguably the best collection of left-handed hitters in all of baseball in Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Green, and Valentin. This should be as good a test as any to see if Clemens continues to pitch at his '06 splits.

2. Hitters hit very well off Clemens when the count was 2-0, which is to be expected; hitters in all of baseball hit best on 2-0. But the next best count for hitters against Clemens was 0-0 - when swinging first-pitch, hitters had a stellar .455 batting average and a .750 slugging percentage, in a somewhat significant sample size (44 AB). So I was curious to see if the Mets hitters would take advantage and swing at the first pitch more often, given that it's apparently easier to hit than the subsequent ones. This kind of makes sense - Clemens' fastball isn't as dominating as it was in his prime, but his splitter is still excellent; maybe he throws a lot of first-pitch fastballs and uses his splitter later in the count.

Anyways, I went back through the game (with help from
MLB.TV) and looked at his pitches more in-depth. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

Regarding the first two splits I mentioned: The lefties in the lineup went 4-for-15, including a Reyes HR, while the righties were 3-for-12 (with two of those being Carlos Gomez bunt singles). Not really conclusive proof either way. Delgado had an awful game - three K's against Clemens, with another after he left - and the others didn't really seem to see the ball well either; Reyes was really the only one hitting well from either side of the plate. As for the other split: Only three players put the ball in play on the first pitch, and all three got hits (although, to be fair, one was a bunt) - Beltran's single in the first, Reyes' aforementioned homer in the fourth, and Gomez's bunt single in the seventh. Again, it seems the best strategy against Clemens is to take advantage of that first pitch. Clemens threw first pitch strikes to 15 of the 27 hitters he faced, and he threw fastballs to the majority of the hitters. By my count, the Mets only swung at six of these first pitches (and two were bunts!); they might have been able to score another run or two if they had been more aggressive. (By the way, in his debut against the Pirates, only one player put a first-pitch offering in play - Adam LaRoche, who hit an RBI single to center.)

Clemens' fastball is no longer a plus pitch in terms of velocity or movement, but he sure knows how to use it. His location on his fastball was excellent - almost everything was on the corners, and he didn't leave much up in the zone. His pitch topped out at 91, but it was consistantly in the 89-91 range, and he sets it up nicely with his splitter and slider. (Actually, the my9 radar gun said 97 once, but I'm pretty sure that was a misread. Their coverage actually sucked for this purpose; there were more than 20 pitches where they didn't show the velocity reading. Lesson learned...) His command was really good as well - 42 of his 67 fastballs were for strikes.

His splitter, on the other hand, is still probably one of the top ten or fifteen pitches in baseball, from any pitcher. He threw it 29 times, and only thre 9 balls; almost every pitch was in the lower third of the zone, as well. He throws his splitter much more to lefties than he does righties. Clemens did give up three hits off his splitter - a seeing-eye grounder by Reyes that scored Gomez, a one-hopper by Wright that would have been an out if Jeter had any range to his left, and Gomez's bunt single. If he keeps commanding this pitch this well - it usually read in the 84-86 range - he's going to remain a very useful pitcher.

His off-speed stuff really isn't very good at all any more. He throws his slider almost exclusively to righties, but didn't keep it in the zone very well. He tends to throw it pretty early in counts, instead of using it as an out pitch or a chase pitch. He only threw a handful of curveballs, mostly to lefties; he left this up in the zone occasionally, and put one belt-high and over the inner half to Reyes, who hit probably the farthest homer of his life. Again, he used this early in the count as well, mostly to keep hitters honest; he's basically a two-pitch pitcher to lefties now (although those pitches are pretty damned good).

Clemens is going to take some heat for allowing four stolen bases, and he does deserve some of it - he is kinda slow to the plate, and studies have shown that pitchers are just about as responsible as catchers for stolen bases that happen when they're on the mound. However, I think we now have to look at Posada as well - the Mets added another steal after Clemens left and stole five more bags on Saturday, so it's very possible Posada just doesn't have the arm he used to. Yes, the Mets are the best base-stealing team in baseball, but come on - 10 SBs in two games? That's really bad. (Not that I'm complaining - I have Reyes on both my fantasy teams...)

Julio Franco sure is patient...he only swung the bat four times, and he's walked nine times this year in only 45 at-bats. Too bad he can't really hit anymore...

Is the book on Carlos Gomez that he can't hit off-speed stuff? He sure saw a lot more junk than anybody else...

Clemens only walked one, by the way, and got 8 strikeouts; his control was that good throughout the game.

June 15, 2007

Around the Horn: AL East

Around the Horn goes through all the teams in a certain division, talking about what they've done right, what they've done wrong, and what they need to do to get better. Usually I'll get to about two divisions a week. Today: the AL East.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox were the best team in baseball through May, starting their season 36-15. But they've cooled off considerably since then, dropping 9 of their last 14 and losing almost half of their lead on the Yankees. If you're a Sox fan, don't get too worried - Coolstandings.com still gives them an 80% chance of winning the division, and Baseball Prospectus is even more optimistic. Their hitting has been very solid; people are saying Ortiz is having a down year, but that's just not true - his HR numbers are down a bit, but he's still OPSing over 1.000. Youkilis and Lowell having All-Star seasons; they're both slugging over .500. You'd expect more than 8 homers out of Manny so far, but his numbers are still solid: .293/.394/.461 (BA, OBP, SLG). J.D. Drew isn't hitting at all - just a .230 batting average and a putrid .340 slugging percentage - but he's still walking a lot, which is a sign that he'll turn things around soon. Dustin Pedroia's been everything he was supposed to be at second base; despite relatively mediocre power numbers, he owns a good .390 OBP. The pitching is very solid as well; Josh Beckett's 9-1 start has been a little overrated, as he has *only* a 3.39 ERA, but he's been a great pitcher. Aside from Julian Tavarez (5.25) - who will stop getting starts once Jon Lester returns - the rest of the Sox starters all have ERAs of 4.52 or lower. Paplebon's been terrific, and reliever Hideki Okajima - who was brought in mainly to ease Dice-K's transition to America - has been outstanding, giving up just four runs in more than 30 innings.

The two problem areas for Boston have been center field and shortstop. Julio Lugo is hitting just .212, and although he has 18 steals, he's not really contributing anything of value offensively for the Sox in either the on-base (.270) or the power (.316) departments. He's actually been a decent hitter at Fenway, but away from home he's OPSing a historically abysmal .447. Crisp has been even worse - he's following a very disappointing 2006 campaign with an even more disappointing season this year. To be fair, Crisp has been very good defensively in center field. As for Lugo, I haven't heard anything, but he isn't above average in any meaningful fielding statistic.

What are the fixes? They could use a little middle relief help, but so could almost every team; it's not a particular concern of the Red Sox. I wouldn't expect a whole lot out of Lugo this year (or any time in the future), but he should be better than this, and the Sox can't really do much else at short with Lugo signed for the next four years for $36 million. As far as Crisp goes...Baseball Prospectus and PECOTA projected him for a .310 BA this year, but given how poorly he's hit over the past season and a half, I don't see him getting anywhere near that. Still, with the offense they're getting from the other seven positions and the fact that there aren't a whole lot of center fielders avaliable to get this summer, I think they're best just sticking with Crisp and hoping he heats up. Jacoby Ellisbury is one of the Sox's best center fielders, and he will be the starter in 2008, but I don't think he's ready to come up soon (as others have suggested), at least not until much later in the season.

New York Yankees: Although you wouldn't believe it from the media coverage, a lot has gone right for the Yankees. Jorge Posada's OPS is almost 1.000, something I never would have thought possible at the beginning of the season. Jeter and Matsui are both hitting over .300. They're getting pretty consistant offense out of all nine positions, except maybe first base. And, of course, they have that A-Rod guy. Yeah, I'd take a .680 slugging percentage and 25 homers on my team, too. They've won their last 9 games to move back above .500 and to close the gap to 7.5 games behind the Red Sox. Pettite and Wang both have ERAs under 3.50. And their bullpen - although thin - has been pretty competent; Rivera, Proctor, Myers, and Bruney all have thrown well so far, although a couple of their arms may fall off by August if their starters don't start going deeper into games (which they have, during this winning streak).

The worst thing to happen to the Yankees this year has been luck. They gave too many starts to Kei Igawa, and Mussina hasn't pitched well, but the other problems with their pitching have all been injury-related - every starter except Pettite has missed some time. But the biggest problem has been luck in another form - wins versus performance. Their Pythagorean Record says they should have 38 wins so far, while they're actually just 33-31. (For the many of you out there not familiar with Pythagorean Records, the basic premise is that a team's run differential is a better indicator of how well they have actually played than their win-loss record; therefore, their Pythagorean record - based off their run differential - is a better predictor of future performance). So the Yankees' resurgence has been primarily a correction of the bad luck they had earlier in the season.

I'm not really sure what the fixes are for the Yankees; like I said, the best way for them to improve is to just be patient and wait for their luck to balance out. I'm not really sure there are any fixes out there for their rotation - Roger Clemens is getting himself into shape, and Phil Hughes is coming back sometime later in the summer. The one area they could improve is first base - Josh Phelps can hit lefties, but he needs a platoon partner; Miguel Cairo won't cut it (and Mientkeywizecjeakcz isn't much better). They aren't really a candidate for the top first basemen on the trading block, namely Mark Teixeria. There were rumors of a Bobby Abreu-for-Jermaine Dye trade, which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for either team, but those died quickly. I've seen Todd Helton mentioned, but I dn't really think the two teams could work out a deal. There'll be someone the Yankees go after this summer, but I don't really know who it might be.

Toronto Blue Jays: I'm actually kind of surprised that this team has a .500 record; they haven't had much good news. Troy Glaus has been playing really well since returning from a wrist injury (especially against lefties - a ridiculous 1.322 OPS vs LHP), but at this point, he may be most valuable to the Blue Jays through a trade. Alex Rios and Aaron Hill are having good seasons, but they're pretty much the only standouts on a mediocre roster. Vernon Wells isn't doing much to earn his new $126 million contract, with just a .246 BA thus far. And their pitching staff has been completely decimated by injuries; star closer B.J. Ryan is done for the season, and although Roy Halladay has been pitching for most of the season, he hasn't been doing it well; he owns a startlingly mediocre 4.28 ERA, and his K rate is down. Their bullpen has actually been exceptional, making the loss of Ryan much easier, but their pitching staff has not had nearly as much success. A.J. Burnett has a respectable 4.00 ERA, and Dustin McGowan is improving, but most of the other starters have numbers in the fives.

With a bad rotation and a mediocre lineup, the Jays are probably sellers at the trade deadline. They probably won't give up many of their good players, as they can probably contend next year with an upgrade or two, but I do wonder if they might move a reliever or two. They've been shopping Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers, but that's a bit like going to a car show and offering to sell your 10-year-old broken tricycle. Glaus could fetch a pretty penny in a trade, and if the right deal comes along, they might do it.

Tampa Bay: As usual, the Devil Rays are sellers in the trade market, although the prospects of a major deal are probably slim. However, this year offers something new for Devil Rays fans - hope. B.J. Upton is having a stellar season at the plate - although his high K rate suggests that his numbers may decline soon - and they have other talented position players, such as Carl Crawford, Delmon Young (who will come around soon, I promise), and Japanese import Akinori Iwamura. And, for the first time in a long time, the D-Rays have some promising pitching - James Shields, Andy Sonnasnstine, and Scott Kazmir have all showed promise, though the latter has yet to pitch at the ace level he was projected to. Al Reyes has been one of the game's best closers through two months as well. By the way, the Devil Rays demonstrate the flip side of Pythagorean Records (see the Red Sox section for explanation) - the Rays have a respectable 29-35 record, but their run differential says they should only have about 25 wins. So it is likely that their record will drop even more from what they have.

The D-Rays look like they will contend for a playoff berth by 2009 or '10, but they could use some infield prospects and some more pitching prospects. They'd love to move talented outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes, but neither has any trade value at the moment, due to injuries and off-the-field problems, respectively. They'll probably try to move Reyes and hot-hitting first baseman Carlos Pena, and Ty Wigginton could be a servicable third baseman for a team such as the Twins.

Baltimore Orioles: Unlike the Devil Rays, the Orioles have actually played significantly better than their record would indicate - they are eight games below .500, but they have scored basically as many runs as they have allowed, so one would expect them to have about a .500 record. However, they still shouldn't play well enough to be contenders from here on out. There isn't a single player on their roster with an OPS above .800, which isn't a good sign. Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, and Nick Markakis will hit, but probably not enough to bring this below-average lineup into shape. Their starting pitching has been pretty good - Erik Bedard seems to be thriving under Leo Mazzone, and he will probably become a top-15 pitcher in baseball within a year or two. Steve Trachsel has an ERA under 4.00; he could definitely get traded. Daniel Cabrera has lots of talent, but typically doesn't get much out of it - his 5.16 ERA isn't far off his career norm. Their bullpen has been very disappointing. Closer Chris Ray has been very inconsistant all year, and none of the other relievers have done much better.

The Orioles are also sellers this year, though they aren't far off from contending. Roberts and Tejada both have a couple years left in their prime, Bedard is maturing into an ace, and Markakis is only 23. They could definitely use some bullpen help, but that's probably best left to the offseason and free agency. I'd expect that you see the requisite Miguel Tejada rumors (especially with the Angels), but I would doubt that he's going anywhere. Trachsel could definitely go somewhere, but as MLB Trade Rumors points out, his ERA should rise soon. I'm not exactly sure who the Orioles would target in a trade - they'd love to have young guys with potential that can play in the big leagues right now, but teams don't like to give away those kinds of assets.