Thursday, February 28, 2008

Top 5 Interesting Teams (Part 2 of 3)

In my comment, I gave away all the suspense by naming the Tigers as my #1 most interesting team for this upcoming season. Whatever; after trying to rank the greatest highlight of all time and watching both "Greatest Highlight" and "Who's Now" both take away from SportsCenter within eight months of each other, I'm trying to stop the suspenseful countdowns.

3. Tampa Bay Religiously-Neutral Rays. First of all, awesome name change. Probably the second-best of this decade, with the first obviously being Colby College's transition from the "White Mules" to the "Multicultural Mules." Way to go.

On the field, there is a lot to watch for. They were busy this offseason, trading Delmon Young away for Matt Garza, who is still a long way from being that good. They still have their full complement of young guys, headlined by Carl Crawford and BJ Upton, who will always live in his brother's shadow. Evan Longoria seems to be generating a lot of hype, especially seeing that he's pushing Iwamura (who was okay last year) to second base. Rocco Baldelli is always hurt, and this will bring me to the most interesting part a little later on.

If you're a Religiously-Neutral Rays fan and you happened to turn up your hearing aid to hear "Scott Kazmir" and "MRI" in the same sentence this week, you're probably nervous. Apparently it's just an elbow strain, but that would really be a bummer if he got a serious, long-term injury.

Bringing in Barry Bonds as a DH/Baldelli injury insurance would make this team by far the #1 most interesting. How would these kids respond to a) playing in the clubhouse with the ultimate anti-Captain Intangible? How would they deal with the constant media/Pedro Gomez presence? What if Baldelli goes down and then Bonds goes to jail? It would be an absolute mess. But it would bring curious butts to St. Petersburg, which may actually create a fan base more effectively than "Raymond." A fan base that can absolutely latch on to a team that will absolutely win their fair share of games against the titans from Boston and NY.

With or without Barry Bonds, there's a lot of talent for the TBRNRs, but they're not ready yet. It's almost like watching a game here at the AA Affiliate. If these guys can stay healthy and stay under contract for a few more years, they'll contend. For this year, I'll go out on a limb and say they will not finish in last place. 77 wins. And at least one bench-clearing brawl against the Red Sox.

2. New York Mets. Pat's favorite Mets fans will have plenty to talk about this season. Willie Randolph kept his job after last year's embarrassing implosion. They're considered the front-runner in the National League, but as far as I'm concerned, the Phillies can definitely give them a run for it. Santana pitching in the National League--maybe Ticket is right, maybe he could win 25 games. Or maybe he's hurt. I read a few days ago about NY having high expectations for John Maine, and they somehow retained both Heilman and Pelfrey despite trading for Santana.

Plus, they still have Pedro. Watching to see how he bounces back, especially seeing that he's saying he feels as good as he did at age 28 should be interesting. Speaking of bouncing back, will Jose Reyes continue to be the September 2007 Reyes, or will he be first-ballot HOF material as Mets fans promised a year go? And how good is David Wright? Those two questions might be answered this year.

This squad seems to be destined for controversy, too. The Pedro/cockfighting thing (though I don't think it's a big deal, as it's legal in the D.R.) kind of blew over, but you know that if Pedro is throwing well and someone looks at him wrong, he'll throw at someone. Billy Wagner said yesterday (and with good reason) that he'd drill a college kid in revenge for a bunt. And this team has to be thinking revenge for what happened last year.

All of those things, paired with the general behavior of Mets fans as reported by Pat, make the Mets the second-most interesting team in baseball coming into this season.

14 comments:

The GM said...

Another solid thing that makes the RN Rays interesting is Carlos Pena. Like Posada, where the F did last year come from? He got his money. Is a year like last year to be expected from Pena now?

Pat F said...

dv,
your anti yankee commentary today is getting me psyched for the season...i like it. posada and pena in the same sentence in terms of "where did 2007 come from"? WHAT?!?! since 2000, when posada became the fulltime catcher, he has turned in rbi totals of 86,95, 99,101,81,71,93, and 90. home run totals of 28,22,20,30,21,19,23,and 20. thats EIGHT OUTSTANDING seasons. the only thing that REALLY came out of right field was the batting average (while other stats may have been career highs, they were ballpark career highs). this happens sometimes, especially because he has ROUTINELY been a top 3 offensvie catcher in the game.

carlos pena, on the other hand, had one decent season, and one great season, mixed in with a lot of pretty poor or non-existent play. i get where you are going with posada, as it is unusual for a catcher to post career highs at his age, but it isn't like it was totally out of the blue. the guy puts up huge numbers pretty much every year, and for whatever reason saw a big spike in BA last year, which helped other numbers (obp, ops) go up to career high levels as well. you really can't even ask the question of posada, "where did it come from"?in comparison to pena, the two seasons, in the context of their careers, are not even comparable.

from the bronx said...

i believe jorge is a juicer, and probably has been for some time. you don't catch that many games at his age and not go on the DL or have your offensive production suffer significantly. yogi berra was 30 the last time he caught 140 games. by the time he was posada's age, he was a full-time outfielder.

and it wasn't just posada's average that jumped. the guy had a career high in doubles and slugging %. that doesn't just happen to veteran catchers, especially in this day and age.

Pat F said...

i thought it was innocent until proven guilty in your book?

from the bronx said...

it is. i have no proof and will continue to root for jorge. but, in this day and age, i can't help raising an eyebrow when a 36 year old catcher who seems to catch 140+ games every year sets career highs in avg, doubles and slg%.

John said...

unfortunately, it is never 'innocent until proven guilty' anymore. Anytime someone does well in a season that they shouldn't have(age, injury whatever) everyone is going to be thinking whether they juiced or not. Just by thinking and discussing it you are implicating them to a certain degree.

The GM said...

And this is the exact EXACT problem we are currently facing with the steroid issue, as we discussed last Friday off of the "A-Rod's Drug Suspicion: Whose Fault?" thread.

Baseball execs, chiefly Selig and Fehr, as much as they want to say warm, fuzzy things in front of Congress like they did yesterday (in a meaningful congressional steroid hearing that has nothing to do with a witch hunt), are still sickeningly soft on drug policy. I could write a lot more on this, but I'll save it in an archive somewhere for later use.

Because baseball is hardly doing anything to curb drug use, this suspicion over Posada, Pena, A-Rod, or whoever decides to have a Brady Anderson-type season will continue. It's a shame, and it's also the case in track and field. But this is the way sports are right now.

The GM said...

P.S. Thanks Bronx for making my Posada-related points against Pat's messages of dismay. It's not like Posada's strange climb in the batting average league leaders was just an increase of scratch singles in between first and second base...like JD Drew might be able to do this year. Posada drove the ball all season like he never has before. Yes, I agree that he's always been a very good catcher both offensively and defensively. But in 2007, he was a feared hitter!

from the bronx said...

i will add one thing in jorge's defense to at least play devil's advocate. jorge's defenders this year have claimed that he worked with kevin long on hitting the ball to all fields, and that his average went up as a consequence. there could be some truth to this. anyone who followed the yankees closely this year knows that kevin long definitely spent a lot of time with hitters working on going the other way. [i'm pretty sure that jeter, arod, cano, melky and posada would even play a game with each other in BP that centered around hitting the ball to the opposite side of 2B.] additionally, if you ignore posada's curious doubles totals from 2007, you are still looking at about 25-30 more base hits than posada normally gets.

i took a look at posada's spray charts for the 2007 season and his hits were fairly well distributed to all fields (his home runs show a bias towards right field, but that is normal for Yankee Stadium). there is no doubt that some this can be explained by posada being a switch hitter, but long's work could very well have been a factor.

problem is, when i went further back in posada's career to see what his older spray charts looked like, i found very similar distributions. again, he's always been a switch hitter so his distribution should be more normal than someone else's distribution, but the argument that posada opened up the entire field for the first time in his career during the 2007 season doesn't really hold up to scrutiny.

the real interesting statistic for jorge's 2007 season is his excellent BABIP of .386. if you are an extremely fast runner, then the statistic isn't that meaningful, but if you are not (and jorge is as slow as anyone in the league) then it is a good measure of how hard you hit the ball. .386 is 60 points higher than posada's career average, and ~.80 over his BABIP from 2005 and 2006. posada's BAPIP had been declining steadily since 2000.

looking at other metrics, his slugging declined from 2003-2005, but has risen sharply since then. his line drive % has been constant, his rc/27 has moved with his slugging %, as has his ISO. all of this is circumstantial, obviously, but it is interesting to see there has been a significant uptick in posada's power metrics in each of the last two years. this probably shouldn't be happening to a catcher at the age of 34/35/36. posada's numbers, or at least the trend lines, should look more like varitek's, which don't move too far from his career averages and have trended slightly downward over the last few years.

Pat F said...

dv and bronx,
all fair points. i wasn't arguing that posada didn't have his best season, which is certainly odd at his age and his position. i was just saying it isn't THAT out of the blue he had a season like he did, especially comparable to a guy like pena's 2007. maybe it is just because i watch the yankees every day. but i have always thought posada's offensive game was bigtime. he always gets his 20 homers. he always gets his 90 rbi. for whatever reasons (suspicious or otherwise) he set some career highs. but the only really, truly, outlying number is BA. sure there was a spike in doubles, but it was only 2 over his career best. sure there was a spike in slugging, but it was only a touch over his career best. i think posada ALWAYS drove the ball, and don't think last year was that far off in that department. but like i said, that could be just because i watch every day.

the gm at work said...

Wow. Bronx, you had all of it covered right there. Sure, it's fair to give Posada and Long credit for spraying the ball around the field, but 45 more hits than 2005? An 82% increase in doubles (42 in '07, 23 in '05)? Not to say he is juicing, but if he's not, it's a really impressive improvement. Maybe he just really, really wanted to make a half-marathon per year starting at age 36 and started getting up at 6:15 AM. No, wait, only A-Rod works that hard.

Just to keep the witty jabs equal, Bronx mentions Varitek's downward "trend line." He fails to mention that Varitek's intangible trend line, especially since getting a C on his uniform despite the fact that he's not a hockey player, has increased like a parabola. I wonder if there's such thing as intangibility-enhancing substances. If there are, Varitek's the most obvious user in the history of baseball.

from the bronx said...

pat, i've watched posada quite a bit over the years, too, but the statistics don't lie. he hit the ball a lot harder last year. his BABIP stat was a significant outlier, and the previous high in doubles you are referring to came when he was 30 years old and in only his third season where he wasn't sharing significant amounts of playing time. the trend lines are very curious from 2005-2007. the site i like to use is www.fangraph.com (i use the spray charts on mlb.com), and i invite you to see for yourself.

gm, there is no stat i know of that measures intangibles. that is probably a good thing for varitek because i suspect his cover would be blown if there was one.

Pat F said...

again, i agree the stats don't lie , and it is a bit curious. but while it could be explained in a PED way, it could also be explained as a good hitter having a huge season. still curious, but it happens. my original point is that this is in no way comparable to carlos pena having a big season out of the blue. and that is my only point.

whose excited for baseball today? i expect to blog about the recap, and liveblog their first televised game sunday. anything, anything, anything, but the boring subjects we've been covering on this blog all winter.

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